A/N: First, I'd like to apologise for the extreme delay. At first, I meant to update after a couple of weeks, much in the way that had been going on previously, but then I got a job and after that life decided to hit me like a box of sledgehammers. Or those lumps of blue ice you get that break your car windscreen without warning, only for you to find out that it's actually a massive chunk of frozen excrement. (That's an actual thing, by the way.)

I will be continuing further with TWiBaW, although I can't promise regular updates for the time being. I hope this interlude is satisfactory for the time being, though. There are a ridiculous number of plot bunnies following me around, some of which involve assorted eldritch Lovecraftian abominations that enjoy making dresses and Keigo's sister and Mizuiro being badasses, others which involve badass angels, Szayel having a slightly better reason for being insane, the most awesome computer hacker on the planet, and some other junk I won't bother you with at this time.

Also, it is ridiculously hard to write someone who a) you have never seen for longer than two/three episodes, and that over a year ago b) was part of a filler arc and c) you don't actually care much about in the first place. At least Rin was amusing.

Also also I'm not sure whether I should be flattered or outraged that Tite Kubo got round to writing his bit of plotkai before I managed to incorporate something similar but with actual reasoning behind it. Uryuu is mad that he is no longer everyone's favourite Quincy.

Five forms wait in the shadows, one raising something pale up to the sky in the ruins of the tower…

A child, weeping, screams out for his brother, struggling to break out of his father's restraining grip as the older boy is led away by black-clad figures…

A boy with silver hair watches on silently, blue eyes wide, unnoticed as the smiling shinigami ambassador cuts down the guards around a tent. It burns to the ground, sending white smoke into the air as cries of hollows echo, drawn forth from the Menos no Mori by the scent…

For the sake of a fearful god, we sacrifice that child, this gift, over and over again…

For the sake of that one child, that false creature cowering in its throne will be torn down, so that the eternal cycle may be broken…

For the sake of you, I will end it all.

Uryuu wished that the white hospital ceiling wasn't quite so depressingly familiar by this point. It seemed to have become a staple of his life, from the very first time he'd decided that he was going to sneak out in the middle of the night to build a 6-foot-tall snowman in the park. The resulting bout of flu from his antics had lasted for a good week and a half.

Great… now I have to listen to Ryuuken lecturing me about my health again. My chest hurts, too...

"Ah… good morning…"

He blinked as a dark-haired blur moved briefly before his vision.

That's not the – wait, the last thing I remember was being on Soukyoku Hill and trying to stop that man, Aizen. So what's happened since then?

"Uh, your glasses are by the side, but they said we have to keep you down here for the time being… are you thirsty?"

"Not right now." Uryuu frowned, squinting in an attempt to make out the features of the person in front of him. "Who are you?"

"I'm Hanatarou… I'm from the Fourth Division, actually. They assigned me to look after you for the time being since you were unconscious for a while, but everything's a bit messed up at the moment, given that three taichous just left the Gotei 13." There was a brief pause. "They're not really sure what to do with all the ryoka, actually…"

He felt a brief surge of panic. "What?" If they all got caught... especially Ichigo, the shinigami would kill him in a heartbeat –

Calm down already, Uryuu. Ichigo's mental voice was more subdued than normal. It's fine. Besides… I think they've got a lot of problems right now. They're not going to just off everyone for breaking into the Seireitei! Well… except for me, and even then only maybe.

Not reassuring, Kurosaki.

Hanatarou shifted slightly, apparently uncomfortable. "Actually, I think that they said Soi Fon-taichou would be coming to escort you as soon as you woke up… I'm meant to let them know when you've recovered."

Uryuu sat up, frowning. "What? Why would they want to – "

"Uhm. The people from Twelfth Division said you were officially a taichou?"

Oh god. I still can't believe everyone actually followed a rule like that.

He blinked as a thought occurred to him.

"Wait a minute," he said, slowly. "Does that mean that I can have a say in what happens to the other ryoka?"

"Er… probably not. I think the taichous have to be officially instated, not to mention that normally that sort of decision would go through Central 46… but they're all dead at the moment, so the Soutaichou is probably handling it instead?" This last was said with a measure of uncertainty.

That sounds ominous.

There was a click as the door swung open, revealing a black-and-white-clad figure.

"He is awake?"

"Y-yes, but I haven't – I mean, we haven't checked to make sure he's completely recovered – " Hanatarou stammered, before being interrupted by the female shinigami.

"That won't be necessary. He will be coming with me now."

Uryuu attempted to stand up off the bed, only to realise that his wrists were chained to the bed by some odd whitish metal. His heart skipped a beat briefly before his fingers brushed against the cool silver of his Quincy bracelet, hidden beneath the white sleeve of the hospital gown.

Thank god they didn't take that off me. Or perhaps nobody realised what it was… either way, the situation isn't so bad, although these cuffs seem to be blocking my abilities for the moment. If I could just get them off –

There was a click, the other end of the cuffs unlatching to allow him to move more freely.

"Stand up."

The voice was clinical, cold. Uryuu followed the instruction automatically, surveying what little he could make out of his new captor.

She's shorter than I expected… I suppose this must be Shaolin Fon, head of Onmitskidou and Second Division, given the description Nemu gave me before.

"Follow me."

Hanatarou pressed something into Uryuu's hand. He raised it up to his face for closer inspection, before realising what the object was.

"Thanks," he commented, replacing his glasses and bringing the world back into focus. Hanatarou smiled nervously at him.

Maybe he's related to Rin… they look quite similar…

"Come on," Soi Fon snapped at him curtly, gesturing towards the door.

A masked shinigami awaited them outside, leading the way through a mazelike complex of corridors. Medics hurried by, some of them pushing trolleys of assorted medical and surgical tools Uryuu vaguely recognised from history books, others carrying stacks of paperwork or wheeling IV stands. Some of them openly stared as they went past; he supposed that it wasn't exactly common for a foreign taichou to escort someone.

Soi Fon swung open a door, letting in bright daylight as Uryuu shielded his eyes. In comparison to the pale striplights inside the building, the sunlight was obnoxiously bright, searing his retinas and giving him a headache.

How long was I unconscious for? he wondered, glancing around as he trailed his new captor. It looks like spring, but then it might have been springtime before. There aren't really many green spaces around here to be able to tell… do they even have seasons in the Seireitei?

"Don't even think about trying to escape," the taichou commented brusquely, apparently taking Uryuu's interest in his surroundings as an attempt to get away. "There are fifteen members of the elite cadre of my Onmitskidou shadowing you at the moment. You wouldn't make it a single foot before they struck you down."

"I wasn't," he protested. "I just… is Rukia alright?"

Soi Fon gave him an unreadable look. "Miss Kuchiki is currently recuperating in the Fourth Division headquarters. Rest assured that her fate is rather more tenable than your own."

"So… they're not going to have her executed, then."

She pursed her lips, taking a right turn before stopping in front of a building. "It has been discovered that certain orders apparently given by Central 46 were… falsified in order to further goals that were against the interests of the Seireitei. Nonetheless, that is irrelevant to you now."

The doors to the building swung open.


Mouth suddenly dry, Uryuu stepped inside.

There were several taichous already there, arrayed in the manner of a court with an elderly-looking man heading the entire proceedings at a desk. He knew better than to judge Yamamoto Genryuusai by appearances, though; even with the limiting cuffs on, the reiatsu in the room was still tangible.

Or maybe that's just Zaraki Kenpachi, he thought, glancing at the giant man. There was a faint jingle of bells as the taichou turned towards him, leering in a rough approximation of a grin. Uryuu wasn't entirely sure whether that was meant to be a sign of approval or a 'wait until later so I can gut you'; it was quite probable that they were both represented by the same facial expression, given what information Nemu had given him of the other taichous.

Nemu. Come to think of it, where is she?

There were other taichous there; a great fox-headed man (or perhaps wolf-headed, it was hard to tell) that was probably Sajin Komamura without the helmet. Kyoraku Shunsui's distinctive pink haori was there, too, although it was difficult to see his expression due to the shadow cast by his straw hat. Jyuushirou Ukitake gave him a friendly smile, though; he seemed somewhat pale, but still reasonably healthy. Most of that, he supposed, was probably due to the ministrations of Retsu Unohana, whose serene smile was somewhat unsettling.

Toushiro Hitsugaya is missing… perhaps he was badly injured in the fight.

The doors swung shut behind him, Soi Fon silently slipping past and into place beside the soutaichou.

Yamamoto rapped his cane against the floor, causing Kyoraku's head to jerk upwards guiltily.

Well… Nemu did mention that Shunsui was fairly lazy, but actually nodding off whilst waiting for a meeting? I mean, seriously –

"As most of you are aware, this meeting has been called to discuss the issue of the ryoka." The soutaichou levelled a severe glare at Uryuu. "What is your name, child?"

"Uryuu Ishida. Sir."

Kyoraku stole a look at the boy from underneath the rim of his hat. Skinny, check; blue eyes, check; black/navy hair the more poetically inclined might describe as 'raven', check; terribly shortsighted – he supposed the boy's glasses would have to do. There was probably some kind of cosmic joke going on at the expense of the Quincy, given the most powerful of their kind always seemed to be incapable of reading a book unless either a) they were wearing some kind of sight aid, or b) it was shoved two inches under their nose.

In short, the boy was practically a carbon copy of his namesake, if not the man himself reincarnated.

And wouldn't that just be ironic, he mused. One of the greatest and most feared commanders, becoming a shinigami taichou… but they'll never let that slide.

Soi Fon's eyes narrowed. "We were informed that the Ishida line went extinct 87 years ago, when the last remaining member was sent on to Rukongai."

"…who, exactly, gave you that information?"

"Your predecessor."

"I take it you're referring to the… man responsible for the death and subsequent kidnapping of my grandfather's soul." The boy's voice was shaking slightly now, although it was difficult to tell whether out of fear or anger. "In that case, I would consider any information passed on to be dubious at best."

Kyoraku winced underneath his hat.

I'd heard rumours, but you can't act based on a rumour, and he would probably have had some kind of contingency plan if we found out, but even so, we've been getting lax. What with all the years since the Gotei 13 encountered any significant resistance, I guess Mayuri took advantage of his position to indulge in personal projects. After all, nobody exactly kept track of everything that went on in every single division, and kami knows enough paperwork gets lost in the system.

Komamura frowned, ears twitching slightly. "Do you have any evidence of this?"

"There are records within the Scientific Research Institute databases of this, although they're hidden files. And I was present at his… at the time of the attack." Uryuu took a deep breath. "Mayuri's presence was unmistakable, given his unique appearance."

"Perhaps," rumbled Yamamoto. "However, that still does not resolve the issue of the fact that you then proceeded to break into the Seireitei. With a Vasto Lorde class hollow."

"I was concerned over Kuchiki-san's welfare, given that I was under the impression she was to be executed." The boy's eyes briefly flickered towards Byakuya Kuchiki, who stared back impassively. "Had I had the opportunity, I would have chosen to testify at whatever trial your justice system had organised, but…"

"Living humans are not generally considered as acceptable witnesses to the machinations of the Soul Society," Soi Fon pointed out sharply. "Given that they are incapable of perceiving shinigami – "

"…I'm standing in front of you, right now, as a self-proclaimed Quincy, and you're seriously asking whether or not I make a competent witness due to my inability to see souls?"

Soi Fon looked abashed. "Nonetheless – "

"I believe we are getting away from the original topic here," Retsu pointed out, smiling.

Coming from her, though, it might as well be a declaration of war.

Kyoraku shuddered slightly, as Yamamoto rapped his cane against the floor again to regain attention.

"Uryuu Ishida. Do you or do you not admit to knowingly releasing a Vasto Lorde class hollow within the boundaries of the Seireitei?"

The boy scowled. "I would hardly call it 'releasing'. Ichigo Kurosaki is not some kind of deranged beast – if he were, then shinigami would have been alerted and dispatched much sooner to deal with him."

"No aspect of Soul Society has ever allied itself with Vasto Lorde before," Komamura muttered, frowning.

Jyuurshirou cleared his throat slightly. "Actually, there is the precedent of the original pact from the old Council of Thirteen of the Menos no Mori. Vasto Lordes aren't exceptionally violent by nature."

"The pact which was then broken by the Vasto Lorde who referred to himself as a God-King?" Byakuya pointed out mildly, raising an eyebrow as the elderly taichou shrugged.

"It was generally accepted that Barragan Luisenbarn was an exception."

"…Sousuke Aizen just proved himself to have been allying himself with the hollows, however. Trusting a hollow he specifically arrancarised and then left behind in Seireitei – "

" – Would really make for an excellent spying opportunity," Kyoraku offered lazily, silencing Soi Fon. "I mean, it's not as if any of us would seriously think about trusting a hollow we know nothing about, who just turned up on top of Soukyoku Hill, then turned into an arrancar. Right?"

There was silence, broken by a brief mnup-mnup noise as Kenpachi jerked to attention, his one visible eye opening.

"We still discussing that crap 'bout the kids breakin' in?"

"Yes," Soi Fon managed to say through gritted teeth.

"Ah. Well, if there's a vote, mine's for 'em. 'Specially that brat that beat the shit outta Kurotsuchi… oy, fox-face, wake me up if there's a fight, willya?" The eye closed again.

Komamura bridled at the comment, before Byakuya cut in.

"Spying opportunities or otherwise, the fact remains that Uryuu Ishida is unsuitable for the post of taichou of the 12th Division."

"Bullshit." Kenpachi's eye was narrowed as he glowered at Byakuya, awake again. "He beat the crap outta Kurotsuchi, what more'd ya want?"

"Perhaps brute strength might be suitable for the Eleventh Division, but in general, most of the other divisions require more… subtlety. Particularly when they also generate the majority of technological devices used by the Gotei 13."

"The hell'd you say?" snarled Kenpachi, reaching for his zanpakuto, only for Unohana to lay a calming hand on his shoulder.

…I doubt it'd be possible to kill Kurotsuchi with brute strength. Besides, that boy isn't exactly unskilled, given that he managed to break up the Soukyoku's bindings. I'd say him still being alive was more of a problem, not to mention he's barely even an adult by human standards… Yama-jii isn't going to let that stand.

The rapping of a wooden cane interrupted his musings.

"Enough. Uryuu Ishida." The soutaichou gave the boy a stern look. "I have reached my decision… in the absence of the Central 46 –"

"Yama-jii – " Jyuushirou began, before falling silent on the expression on his old sensei's face.

" – for the failure to report to duty during a wartime situation… you are hereby stripped of your rank and placed under probation, effective immediately."

"Sir – "

"In addition," Yamamoto continued, ignoring Soi Fon's protest, "you will not be paid for any duties conducted from that time until today. Is that clear?"

"…yes, sir."

"Good." Yamamoto's moustache twitched slightly. "In that case, you are free to return to the Fourth Division with an escort. This meeting is dismissed for now. Soi Fon…"

The taichou of the Second Division scowled, but led the boy away nonetheless.

Shunsui glanced at his long-term friend, as the other taichous left the room.

"Quite the resemblance, huh?"

Jyuushirou sighed, frowning. "I had been afraid of the outcome… particularly given past relationships between the Quincy and Soul Society as a whole. I'm not sure that Central 46 will be too happy about it, but that's a concern for the future." He glanced at Shunsui. "And in the meantime, I have another person to visit…"

"Nostalgia?" asked Shunsui, the corners of his lips pulling upwards slightly in a wry smile as the doors swung open again, letting sunlight filter back into the room.

Jyuushirou stiffened slightly at the comment. "Something like that."

Ichigo half-dozed in the room, waiting for something interesting to happen. The shinigami had chained his arms up to the wall and removed all the weapons they could find on him, before sealing his legs in manacles made of the same kind of sekki-sekki used to build the walls of Seireitei. The cool stone itched slightly against his skin, sapping away at his reiryoku, but he ignored it.

There isn't much I can do from here, other than listen to Uryuu and Kaien's mental musings… I wish I could get some proper pants, though. He shifted slightly, causing the loincloth to rub against his (soft, human) skin. Not to mention, a mirror would be nice. Also, tea. And chocolate pocky with a notepad to scribble in. I'm sure there's a good idea for a story in there somewhere…

Ichigo. You do realise this is probably the highest security cell they have in Seireitei? Even the Maggot's Nest doesn't have these kind of restraints. They're not going to ask you if you're comfortable here!

Well, maybe, but… you'd think they would at least follow the basic niceties…

You broke into the Seireitei. What did you expect, hot springs and a personal masseuse?

"Ah… excuse me? Arrancar-san?"

The door swung open, letting light filter through into the room and revealing someone who was probably the most unlikely captor in the universe.

Ichigo stared at the midget shinigami. He – (she? It?) – the Hana clone somehow managed to be shorter than Rukia Kuchiki, which was quite an achievement considering the large bit of hair sticking straight up into the air. A clipboard was tucked under one arm, completing the image of a somewhat bedraggled scientist along with the oversized white laboratory coat.

…huh, I guess they're not bothering with any good cop/bad cop routine here, then.

"Um, hi." The shinigami waved nervously. "I'm Rin… they just sent me to ask whether there was anything you wanted to eat and to run some tests, but… uh… the other people in Twelfth were all worried about you eating people and nobody else wanted to go, so I got forcibly volunteered…" Rin's voice audibly lost enthusiasm during his speech, his hair drooping visibly.

"Of course not," assured Ichigo. He looks like Hanatarou… how could I eat a person that depressed? He'd probably give me indigestion… not to mention Uryuu'd kill me if I did something like that.

"So… uh, are you hungry?"

Ichigo considered this question. There was a weird feeling of sort-of-completeness that he hadn't really felt for a long time, not since the chain in his chest had ripped out. The hunger was rather less prominent than it had previously been as a Vasto Lorde, although he did have to admit he still felt mildly peckish.

"I could do with some Pocky," he volunteered hopefully. "And maybe some paper and a pen."

"Pocky… you mean those biscuit sticks that you can get in the living world? Coated in strawberries?!" Rin's eyes sparkled as he gazed wistfully off into the distance, apparently reminiscing about Pocky. "There's no way he can be a bad person… nobody who's evil could like Pocky…"

Okay, I think I'm the only person getting confused in this conversation.

You just don't appreciate fine art.

"Personally, I like the chocolate flavour best," Ichigo commented meaningfully.

"Chock… lite?"

The arrancar's eyes widened, staring at Rin as the shinigami shuffled awkwardly from foot to foot.

"…you don't know what chocolate is?"

"I don't think they have it in Seireitei. Sorry," Rin added as an afterthought.

"You don't know about chocolate," Ichigo repeated, almost in a daze. I mean… that's just… barbaric. How can they not know about chocolate? It's one of the key staple foods of life!

…I'm pretty sure not everyone takes the same attitude to sweets that you do, pointed out Kaien. Besides, where would we even get the materials to make it? Seireitei isn't exactly a tropical location, and neither are any of the outlying districts, so it's not like they'd be able to get the beans readily – they'd need to bring it in from the Living World or some other afterlife region, and the Seireitei doesn't really trade with the other regions. I'd never seen coffee before, either…

No coffee or chocolate?! The humanity! Oh god, the humanity –

We're shinigami.

A knock sounded, just before the door swung open again, admitting another familiar face.

"Ukitake-taichou!" Rin's head bobbed down in a nervous bow. "Is there something I can – "

"Please leave us for the time being. I'm sure that your division could better use your assistance at this time."

The scientist glanced at Ichigo, his gaze lingering for a few moments. "Are you sure you don't – "

"I will be fine, Tsubokura-san," Ukitake interrupted, gently but firmly.

Rin gave Ichigo one last fleeting glance before scurrying out of the room, the door swinging shut behind him with a quiet click.

Uh. What're the odds he's going to try to gut me in order to 'help'?

Kaien considered the question. Pretty low, unless you put your foot in your mouth. Still –

"I had wondered whether I was mistaken at first." The expression on Ukitake's face was an odd mixture of compassion and anger, although at what Ichigo wasn't sure. "Your reiryoku was hard to perceive when I saw you first, and there are many souls who might have had the same features through coincidences, but Nejibana – "

– I think it's best I take over for now.

Ichigo reluctantly relinquished his control over his body, feeling his facial muscles twitch slightly into a smile.

"Yeah, I… uh… it's kinda complicated." Kaien hesitated, wincing slightly. "I didn't… that night… the hollow didn't die then. Metastacia was crippled by Kuchiki's attack, but it managed to survive by using my body to protect itself, and it managed to get back to Hueco Mundo. And then it got eaten by an arrancar that basically leeched off my powers for the next few decades before Ichigo came along… but it turned out that he's actually my cousin, and then Kuchiki turned up so I couldn't exactly let her die."

Ukitake gaped openly, lost for words for a good half-minute.

"You lent your bankai to a Vasto Lorde?"

"Ishida-kun!" Orihime greeted him, beaming as Soi Fon silently ushered him through the door.

She was still wearing the shinigami uniform; apparently nobody had retrieved their old clothes just yet.

I'll have to do something about that... it's not as if we can just go around looking like we're shinigami, after all.

"Inoue-san," he began, before sensing the tell-tale signs of an approaching Asano Tackle Hug and dropping to the ground.


He was grudgingly forced to admit that Soi Fon had excellent reflexes, snatching Keigo out of the air before he managed to hurtle out of the open door.

The taichou scowled down at Uryuu's errant friend.

"That," she pronounced, prodding the boy with a geta-clad foot for emphasis, "was the most pathetic attempt at escape that I have seen."

Uryuu felt compelled to intervene on his friend's behalf.

"Actually, that's his standard way of greeting me…" he began, before tailing off at the expression on Soi Fon's face.

She removed her foot from Keigo's back, apparently dismissing the entire episode as ridiculous.

"You are free to move within the Seireitei with an escort from the Fourth Division, for the time being. The soutaichou has decided that given the current circumstances, it would be best if you return to the Living World in a few days, once you are completely recovered. I have my own duties to attend to for the moment, so if you'll excuse me..."

Soi Fon turned towards the door.

"Wait," Uryuu called out. "What's going to happen to Ichigo?"

The taichou paused in mid-step.

"That remains to be decided."

Well... that sounded ominous, Uryuu thought, watching her vanish in a brief burst of shunpou, before turning back to his friends.

"...so what happened?" Keigo asked tentatively, pushing himself up off the floor.

Uryuu shrugged in response. "They decided I'm not actually meant to be a taichou." As if that wasn't blatantly obvious already...

"You? A taichou?" Ganju scoffed openly. "They must be outta their minds if they let you - "

"I just said they didn't - "

"Congratulations, Ishida-kun!"

"Don't think you can just start giving me orders because you're higher ranked - "

"Ah... Ishida-san is moving up in the world, it seems... we're no longer wanted~"

"How could you abandon your friends to work as a shinigami - "

"They just stripped me of a position I didn't actually have in the first place!" Uryuu took a breath, calming down. "Okay?"

Tatsuki scowled at him. "No need to shout about it... although I'm glad. You being a shinigami would be weird."

He briefly evaluated his friends' appearances. All of them seemed reasonably well; Orihime seemed a little tired, possibly because the Fourth Division had asked her to help out. Keigo was as exuberant as ever, Mizuiro and Sado were equally their standard selves, and Tatsuki seemed to have regained her karate uniform once more. The only person still apparently recuperating was Ganju, who sported bandages wrapped around his arms -

"Where's Nemu?"

Orihime's smile slipped.

"...she didn't make it," she murmured, refusing to meet his gaze. "We had only just got there, and you were on the ground, and before any of us could do anything - "

Tatsuki forced her friend to look her in the face. "Orihime. It's not your fault."

"I should've been able to do something about it!" The girl was practically in tears now. "Ever since Sora-nii - "

"Inoue-san. It's alright." Sado's deep voice interrupted, his dark eyes compassionate. "You did your best."

Uryuu hesitated, glancing at Tatsuki. His friend was now scowling at him, making hand gestures towards Orihime whilst pulling her into a hug with the other arm.

Comfort her, dammit! her expression said.

"Inoue-san..." He took a breath, bracing himself for whatever reaction might be about to come. "It would be impossible to expect you to be able to heal everyone. Even the shinigami wouldn't be able to do what you could - "

Uryuu's gaze unfocused briefly.

Father did not make me so weak as to be destroyed so easily.

Made... His mind flickered back to the shinigami who'd turned out not to be a shinigami at all, but –

You can't reconstruct something without the original pieces.

"What did they do with her body?"

"Huh?" Keigo blinked, the first to respond to the question. "I think some guy with a droopy face and a weird bit of hair sticking up went and carried her off to Twelfth Division or something. He was helping to bring people down from the hill, too, but I don't - hey, what are you doi-?"

But Uryuu was already out the door, his mind halfway to Soukyoku.

If my guess is right… hopefully one of the members of the SRI can recreate her – reigai, wasn't it? – or at least Kisuke will be able to. He owes me enough favours for that…

Back in the Living World, Kisuke sneezed.

Well… I suppose I know what a pincushion feels like now, he thought, ruefully evaluating the results of Ryuuken's annoyance. If there was something positive to be said about the Quincy's visit, it was that at least he hadn't completely destroyed any vital organs. Or cut off Kisuke's head with Seele Schneider. Or gelded him, for that matter…

As it was, he was currently nursing a large number of burns. Quincy arrows being comprised of a lot of energy, they had seared his flesh in numerous places, even where he'd actually remembered to (discreetly) activate his hierro, and after the Seele Schneider had come out even that hadn't done him much good.

"Did you have to use the Sprenger?" he asked, ruefully inspecting the raw patches of skin.

Ryuuken glowered at Kisuke, before turning away, flicking the ash off his cigarette – onto the specially-laid sand that made up the floor of the Urahara Training Basement, a fact that the owner of said basement might have protested had he not still been recovering.

I'm not bleeding out, at least…

He concentrated briefly, sending a mild surge of reiryoku to his skin and muscles and causing the wounds to begin to close up and heal over once more. If he had to pick from 'benefits you get for being a Visored', then instantaneous cellular regeneration would definitely top the list for the number of times it had saved his life. Although I do have to admit that it's terribly itchy waiting for everything to heal over again, not to mention the energy drain…

"Well… this is nostalgic. Didn't know you'd gotten new staff, though."

Kisuke turned around just in time to see Isshin step off the ladder, looking around with mild interest.

Ryuuken scowled at the other doctor.

"Kurosaki. Is it not enough that I put up with you on a regular basis?"

"So harsh! Actually," Isshin grinned sheepishly, "I had no idea you were here… my shinigami powers are still recovering after last time."

This… is not good.

"Come to think of it," and Isshin's face suddenly seemed a lot less friendly, "at what point were you going to mention my son was still around?"

Belatedly, Kisuke recalled memories of the person in front of him bringing down more than one Vasto Lorde. Not without reason had Isshin been put forward for promotion to the Royal Guard, and even if it had been several years ago, there were still pretty good odds that Isshin's high recovery rate at the clinic was partly due to the maintenance of those kidou skills… not to mention the additional rumours that Isshin had once almost strangled a group of delinquents with a stethoscope after they'd followed his son home.

"Look," he began in a placating tone of voice, "things have been quite busy, and besides, I was trying to keep things quiet so as not to attract attention – "

"My only son? Really, Kisuke? I mean, this must be a new low – "

Kisuke winced. "I had no idea how you'd react, and I wasn't even in the country at the time! We were starting over in South Korea!"

Given the thunderous expression on Isshin's face, his attempts to calm down the ex-shinigami weren't working. Desperate, he glanced at Ryuuken in the hope of his salvation, but the Quincy seemed mildly amused more than anything else.

…Wonderful, he thought. This might be the first time I have to regrow my kidneys twice in the same day.

Shaolin Fon was a proud woman. She had her post, and took some satisfaction in her job; even if the results of her squad's actions often went unnoticed, that was as it should be. It wouldn't do for people to take note of the daily activities of the Onmitskidou, after all, or the security could be compromised.

Nonetheless, she thought with some distaste, this has to be done.

Soundlessly, the door swung open, revealing an orange-haired male who might pass for human were it not for a) the large hole through the sternum and b) the crescent sliver of bone around the right eye.

The arrancar's eyes were shut, but flickered open the moment she stepped forward into the room.

"Hi." It yawned. "Actually, I've been waiting for you."

Soi Fon bit down on the irritation that this creature had anticipated her actions.

"As a result of the extenuating circumstances – "

" – you're going to make me an offer, right?"

She glowered at the infuriating arrancar.

"Under normal circumstances, we would have you purified instantly, although it's possible the Scientific Research Institute might have requested your body for research purposes." Perish the thought of what Mayuri might have done had he ever obtained a complete arrancar. "However… given the recent actions of three taichous… we are willing to be lenient, in exchange for information."

"Spying, in other words." The arrancar's head tilted to one side slightly. "On Sousuke Aizen, who has undoubtedly, by now, claimed dominance over the entirety of Las Noches, not to mention a significant part of Hueco Mundo. Not to mention a ridiculous amount of power, and the ability to arrancarise hollows. That's what you're asking for? My assistance in his death?"

Soi Fon frowned.

I had expected resistance… although I had rather hoped to give him some idea of positive incentive first, rather than get around to threatening him immediately.

"In addition – " she began, before being cut off by the arrancar.

"Sure." He shrugged flippantly. "Why the hell not?"

She blinked.

"Excuse me?" she replied, once she managed to regain her voice. "You're telling me that you're willing to help out the Seireitei?"

The arrancar gave her a sardonic look.

"That man was responsible for the death of my mother, as well as my own. Not to mention…" His expression darkened briefly. "Trust me when I say it'd be my pleasure."

Well… this is not what I had expected.

"One condition, though. Those humans that came with me… let them go free. And make sure they stay safe."

Soi Fon considered the chained arrancar.

"Very well," she replied, finally. "I will be returning shortly, before your departure. We will discuss the matter further at that time."

She departed as silently as she had come, although her thoughts were now preoccupied with the arrancar left behind.

What manner of hollow makes such a request for the sake of humans?

Ryuuken sighed, frowning at the papers on his desk.

Really… do things have to be so complicated?

Sometimes, he felt, it might have been easier to remain at his previous post, rather than having to take on the onerous task of managing an entire hospital. There was just so much paperwork to the position that at times he had to envy Isshin's position, being able to run a small clinic and manage his own work, whilst equally having a minimal amount of the stuff.

He scowled at the thought of the eccentric shinigami-cum-doctor.

No, I've got enough problems to worry about without taking him into account. Such as, for example, a certain foolish teenager rushing off half-cocked into the Spirit World, for the sake of a shinigami he's only just met. What was he even thinking? Especially with a hollow –

Ryuuken jerked himself out of his reverie.

Something's wrong.

His gaze passed over the items in the room. Everything seemed to be in its normal place, various sheets of paper neatly stacked up in his in-tray, and a small number of forms ready and waiting to be passed onto his secretary, next to a computer, the window was still ajar as he had left it –

He stood up abruptly as the door opened, reaching instinctively for the Quincy cross at his wrist.

"Wow, this place is nice, Hou!"

A pair of twin boys had come into the room, and were now looking around appreciatively, inspecting the water cooler. Both had water bottles tucked under one arm and looked relatively innocuous, but the mere fact that Ryuuken hadn't been able to sense them coming was enough to set him on edge.

No… they're not children, he realised. Children wouldn't be able to conceal their reiatsu in such a complete fashion. Even a shinigami would have difficulty hiding themselves so completely from my perception unless they used some kind of power-sealing gigai… Not to mention that Kimiko would hardly have let a pair of children wander into my office.

A brief memory of a lesson with Souken coming back to him, from before the time he'd decided to walk away from his heritage.

"It's not really what I'd expect from the last Quincy, though… don't you think this is pretty sad, Ban?"

Ryuuken's eyes narrowed at the comment.


"What have you done to my secretary?" he asked flatly, causing the two Bounts to turn towards him, angelic expressions on their faces.

"Us?" asked the cap-wearing bount innocently, in tandem with his brother's reply. "We didn't touch her."

"She was very happy to help us after we said we were looking for you, though." The capped one – Ban? – smirked evilly, the expression seeming horribly out-of-place on the face of an apparent seven-year-old. "All we had to do was talk about funding, and how it was so sad that we probably wouldn't get to see our tenth birthdays – "

" – although actually we're ten times as old as she is," continued his brother, "but it doesn't really matter, she bought it anyway." He unscrewed the cap on the water bottle, perfectly synchronising the action with that of his sibling.

"Are you going to come willingly or not?" they asked in chorus, water streaming out of the bottles to form twin liquid tendrils, swaying in the air.

Ryuuken made no response, instead choosing to make use of a brief burst of Hirenkyaku.

There is no point in bothering myself with the dolls when I can simply eliminate their controllers instead.

The twins reacted admirably fast, water arcing through the air in a failed attempt to snare him. One smooth chop was delivered to the neck of the older-looking boy with minimal regret, knocking him down and causing one of the water elementals to falter –

"Going forward!" chirped a high-pitched voice from behind him.

He felt a brief sensation of disgust at his own foolishness – really, forgetting the possibility of support? – before the sharp pain in his back was swiftly followed by unconsciousness.

Hou got up, scowling as he retrieved the sealed form of his doll.

"Why did you have to interfere, Mabashi?"

The orange-haired Bount shrugged nonchalantly. "If Jin wanted us to destroy the hospital, I'm sure you would have made a fine job of it. But we're not here to draw excessive human attention. It's only natural that Ritz is the best suited, isn't it?"

The Quincy – or, to be more precise, Mabashi's doll in his body – straightened up, flushing slightly.

"Thank you!"

Hou's expression darkened even further.

That man… as if his interference was necessary! Guhl and Günther would have performed the job perfectly well without his help…

Maybe, Hou, but not without harming the Quincy. Kariya needs him brought back alive for our plans, after all.

"Fine… but I won't accept you interfering when we reach Seireitei. Our revenge is ours alone!"

Hou resisted the urge to punch that smirk off Mabashi's face.

"I'll be sure to remember that. In the meantime, though, shouldn't we be getting somewhere?"

"Yes, Mabashi-sama!"

The four of them left the office without any resistance; it seemed the receptionist hadn't noticed anything, although she glanced up as they walked past her desk.

Ritz had obligingly slumped upon Mabashi's shoulder, giving the impression of an infirm man.

"Ishida-sama? What happened?" The receptionist made to stand up, before Mabashi gave her a reassuring smile.

"Flu combined with overwork, I think. He should probably rest for a little while; he offered to help out with the charity, but I think it's best if I take him home for now."

He beamed at the young woman.

"Ah… yes…" She sat down slowly again, slightly dazed by the encounter. "I'll cancel his meetings for the day, in that case… I always say that Ishida-sama pushes himself too hard – "

Ban gave the woman a sour look.

"Let's get 'Ryuuken' back home, shall we, boys?"

'Boys'?! We're older than he is!

Not here, Ban. We don't have time to make a scene. Not now, when we've come so far…

Seething, he managed to restrain himself all the way out of the hospital, where Ryou Utagawa awaited them in the car.

Finally, we can stop this ridiculous pretence… and then Seireitei will regret the day we were created.


Meanwhile, in Canon...

URYUU: I am the Last Quincy, and I hate -

ICHIGO: [interrupting] Hey, wait a second, didn't you have to come from somewhere? Unless you're trying to claim that you Quincy guys come about by some sort of weird immaculate conception...

URYUU: [testily] Look, if you say 'Penultimate Quincy' it doesn't sound as good. I mean... it's just not as catchy! There are far too many syllables for it to work well in a sentence, you might as well ask people to laugh at you. Besides, I'll be the Last Quincy when Ryuuken dies anyway -

ICHIGO: Aha! So you do admit you were lying!

URYUU: ...

Timeskip to latest arc

ICHIGO: Hey Uryuu! Where'd all these relatives of yours come from?

URYUU: They're already dead, they don't count as Quincies any more.

ICHIGO: Well, maybe they're dead, but they're still using the same powers -

URYUU: [interrupting] Doesn't count!

Timeskip to latest plotkai

ICHIGO: Hey Uryuu... turns out I was a Quincy all along!

URYUU: ...

ICHIGO: You do realise that means I'm the last Quincy now, right?

URYUU: ...not if I kill you first.

ICHIGO: Wait, what're you doing with that Seele Schnei - Hey! This isn't funny any more -

[URYUU chases ICHIGO offscreen. Faint buzzing sounds as of multiple chainsaws can be heard in the background, as well as other, more visceral noises and a gurgling scream. After a brief period, URYUU returns to the screen, grinning maniacally and splattered with blood.]

URYUU: I am the Last Quincy... god, that felt so satisfying to do that...

TITE KUBO: Isn't your father still around?

URYUU: You're right! I should go find him as well!

TITE KUBO: [sweatdropping] That's not what I meant...