Take Two

A/N: Happens after Stained. Set in the Clean and White AU. (Does anybody believe I own RK or Bleach? Didn't think so. Heh.)

Despite his abortive attempt to blend in as a shinigami with Orihime, Ishida knew he wasn't a naturally sneaky person. He might not be as brash, loud, and ludicrously impulsive as Kurosaki, but the pride of the Quincy demanded that your foe know what was about to kill him.

Besides. That was the whole point of having a bow instead of an oversized meat cleaver. You could stand off at a distance and fill your enemy full of arrows. And smirk. Just a little.

Easing into Urahara's shop with as little noise as was humanly possible, Ishida didn't feel like smirking.

One step, two... Kurosaki's not anywhere near here, even I couldn't miss that overgrown monster of a reiatsu...

"Hey!" The red-headed menace of a kid Urahara kept to do the real work with Ururu glared up at him, broom in hands. "What do you think you're doing here?"

Regretting the fact that I ever thought this was a good idea. "I need to speak with Urahara," Ishida said bluntly.

"Well, too bad! He's busy. Come back later." Jinta's eyes narrowed at him, hands moving on the broom handle to bat him back out the door. "Maybe Urahara-san doesn't care about what you said when we rescued you-"

"You were about to flatten us with an overgrown bat," Ishida deadpanned. "Some rescue."

"Well, Tessai caught you, and that means-"

"Jinta." Tessai himself walked out of the back of the store, a sober mountain in a dark blue apron. "Ishida-kun. How can we help..." He trailed off, mustache bent in a frown.

Grimly, Ishida kept his fingers from curling into fists. "That obvious?"

"Only to someone who has studied it before," Tessai stated. "Come. Urahara-san could use the interruption."

"He can?" Ishida said warily. What's Sandal-hat up to now? And - studied it before? Tessai knew what this was?

I should have known. Cryptic shinigami, in Karakura... what are the odds they don't know each other?

Tessai smiled slightly. "We'll just have to be careful going down."

Careful, Ishida thought, forcing himself to keep climbing down the ladder into Urahara's impossible training room. Where they climbed seemed to be shielded from the chaos below, but given the thumps, bumps, and yells-


"Scream, Benihime!"

And explosions. You could not leave out the explosions.

"It's him," Ishida said numbly. It's him - and Urahara just pulled shikai to fight him. Oh, hell.

"Hmm," Tessai nodded, stepping off the ladder. "I thought so."

Black and green, red and blond, blurring across the chamber in a hurricane of shunpo. "One cannot - believe - you were - that stupid!"

"Now, Himura..."

"In her gigai? In her gigai?" the redhead growled. "To fade into her spirit - and you knew nothing of what that might do to her spirit! - as she became mortal?" Another flurry of blows. "A Kuchiki! Did you think that clan would not search for her?"

"Well... not quite this fast..."


Steel sang against steel, and the fighters parted, each skidding to a stop on air. "You are not so foolish, Urahara Kisuke," the rurouni said sternly. "If the Hougyoku is in Aizen's hands, you allowed for the possibility that it would be there."

Ishida froze. He - what - no!

"Himura-kun." There was a dangerous smile on the shopkeeper's face. "We have company."

"Ishida is older than I was, when I first chose to kill," the redhead said coldly. "You would throw children - children, Kisuke! - against Aizen? Then one of them should know what you are."

I'm dead, Ishida thought, oddly detached. The minute I'm out of Himura's sight. If I'm the only human who knows Urahara helped Aizen...

Urahara weighed him in calm gray eyes, and sheathed his sword. "There are reasons."

"There always are." Himura sheathed his own, walking down air to the cavern floor. "Ishida-kun. One has no doubt that Urahara-san is your ally, in truth. And he does have good reasons." Violet flicked a wry glance at the ex-captain. "One also has no doubt he will never tell you all of those reasons. He never does."

"He's not the only one," Ishida said darkly. "Who are you? And what did you do to me?"

"It's a long story." Boring, Urahara's smiling wave implied. You really don't want to know.

"It is," Himura said precisely, "not that long."

"Kenshin." Urahara's face was serious again.

Not another word, yet Ishida felt the ancient argument between them. One wanting to shroud everything in a cloak of bloody mist; the other willing to let truth cut to the bone. It was... getting hard to breathe...

Tessai cleared his throat. "The only spying devices we found were Kurotsuchi's, on Ishida. I suspect Aizen would have hijacked those, and spread them to the others, rather than plant his own. Since we destroyed the germs... given Aizen's obsession with the Hougyoku, he is unlikely to pay further attention to a Quincy. To Aizen, they are," his voice soured, "only human."

"Hmm." Urahara tipped his hat down, shading his eyes.

Ishida saw red. "That - that murdering monster is spying on me?"

"Was," Urahara said cheerfully. "I think he thought he was being subtle."

"We were watching for such measures," Tessai informed him. "Aizen has a habit of spying on his enemies."

"Aizen was willing to destroy Rukia to get that device of yours, and that is unforgiveable," Ishida declared. "Outside of that, he wants to bring Soul Society down." He challenged them all with a gaze, and who cared how much more power they had. "Why should I care?"

"If he truly wished to end the rule of the Council of 46, one might understand his methods. If never condone them," Kenshin said darkly. "But he does not. He wishes power, Ishida-kun. The weak are food for the strong." Violet eyes were haunted, but determined. "I have seen this before. It begins with a leader so convinced of his rightness he draws others like moths to flame. It ends in fire, and murder, and those who chance to survive weeping in the ruins."

Ishida felt the hairs prickle on the back of his neck. Not spirit power. Utter, unshakable conviction.

"Shishio Makoto was human," Urahara pointed out.

"And more than perilous enough, for those who faced him as humans," Kenshin returned. "One could well have used kido for that battle, that I could have."

"Shishio Makoto?" Ishida frowned.

"One of Choushuu's hirokiri during the Revolution," Kenshin replied. "After the battles were won, they thought him too dangerous to live. Which was true. They shot him, set him on fire, and believed they were done with him."

"They were wrong," Ishida guessed.

"Very," Kenshin agreed. "In 1878, he moved to overthrow the government, and burn Kyoto to the ground."

Ishida raised an eyebrow. "I never read about that in the history books."

"One doubts the government wished to admit they owe the city's survival to a former Shinsengumi, Kyoto ninja, and the dojo of Kamiya Kaoru," Kenshin said dryly. "For all that the era of Meiji was meant to be one of equality for all, owing their lives to an enemy and a woman grated on them."

Urahara smirked. "You left out, owing another Choushuu hitokiri."

Kenshin blinked innocently at him. "Oro?"

"You want to know the truth, hmm?" Urahara turned his gaze on Ishida. "Ishida Uryuu, Himura Kenshin. Assassin, 1863 to 1865; after that, a skirmisher, until the battle of Toba Fushimi. When he left his swords on the battlefield and vanished."

Ishida frowned. That sounded almost familiar.

"Lived as a rurouni after that, until he finally settled down with a nice lady kendo instructor in Tokyo," Urahara went on. "Tried to live quietly, outside that mess with Shishio. Though even today, the Yakuza tend to twitch when you mention the name... Hitokiri Battousai."

Ishida stared, half-remembered nightmares of his grandfather's stories surfacing from memory. But... he's tiny, and... tiny!

Kenshin sighed. "One guesses you have heard stories."


"Ten feet tall, the muscles of an ox, hair dripping the blood of his victims?" Kenshin asked wryly.


"Ishida-kun. Think. Would someone like that have ever gotten close enough to his victims to assassinate them?" Kenshin pointed out. "Much less, have been able to hide in Kyoto's crowds afterward?"

"...Oh." Ishida shook his head, still stunned. "But shinigami don't care about the living world. Why would you get involved in one of our wars?"

"Until the eleventh year of Meiji, one was not a shinigami," Kenshin stated. "And the first thing one ever recalls a shinigami saying was, Oops."

Ishida looked at him. Then at Urahara, who for once looked ruefully serious. And at Tessai-

The older ex-shinigami inclined his head, soberly amused. "Did you think Kurosaki was the only substitute shinigami in the world?"

I want to sit down now. "Then why aren't you helping him?" Ishida said at last.

"What he needs, this one cannot teach him," Kenshin said firmly. "Ichigo-kun is a front-line fighter. The tip of the spear, enduring the clash with the enemy to tear it to pieces." He gestured at himself. "Does this one look as if such a battle would be anything but disaster?"

Frankly, no. But- "One of the most scary shinigami I've met is a pink-haired little girl," Ishida shot back.

"Ah, Yachiru-chan." Kenshin shuddered. "Terrifying little one... and yes, among shinigami, size matters little. Still. One has always fought best as a skirmisher, and that is what one can teach. Yet there is another reason, and one far more important."

"Which is?" Ishida said coolly. Ready for betrayal, or even just simple, heart-breaking calculation. Gods knew they'd seen enough of that from Urahara.

"You wish to protect your friends," Kenshin stated. "And you need this one's help."

"They're not my friends!"

"Your rivals, then," Kenshin said without turning a hair. "Whom you have fought beside, against those Aizen manipulated, and so gained his attention." Violet weighed him. "A powerless human's life is not safe for you; that it is not."

"And you plan to change that," Ishida challenged him.

"One allows you the option. If you are interested."

Ishida struggled with himself. He ought to climb back up that ladder. These were shinigami, he hated them, and dealing with any friend of Urahara's just had to be trouble-

"I want to know what you did to me."

...Face, meet palm. Repeat.

Urahara was smirking, damn him.

Kenshin eyed the manic shopkeeper, and heaved a deliberate sigh. "Perhaps you could find something to take apart elsewhere?"

"Oh, I'm sure you could use a hand-"

Tessai cleared his throat.

Urahara looked between them, one brow raised under his hat. "You brought him a lunch. Didn't you."

Tessai glanced aside. Kenshin looked almost innocent.

"Damn it, that's cheating."

Kenshin smiled. "Perhaps I could bring you a lunch, Urahara-san? I am sure Kaoru would be more than happy to cook one for you."

"...And you say you're not into torture." Shuddering, Urahara headed up the ladder. "Fine. Don't break anything. Unless you plan to pay for it."

As Tessai bowed and headed after them, Ishida tried to make sense of it all. "What just happened?"

"Tessai enjoys my cooking," Kensihin said, smile bright as sunlight.

Ishida eyed him.

"My wife's cooking is... an experience," Kenshin said mildly. "I believe it managed to destroy Urahara-san's gigai, once."

"Ah," Ishida managed. Because really, once you'd dealt with one of Orihime's lunches, the idea of food as an instrument of torture just wasn't surprising anymore.

"Well." Kenshin nodded once. "We begin."


Something hit him, and the world went black.

...And faded back in, wavering, as Ishida fought to breathe. It hurt, and everything was heavy-

He touched the heavy chain, saw himself on the floor, and clamped his jaws on a scream.

"Be calm," Kenshin said gently, holding his hand where it was on the chain of fate before Ishida could do anything drastic. "This is the first attack a Hollow will use on you, if it thinks it has the time to be cruel. They can simply kill. But if they sense you once had power, or if a stronger Hollow orders them, they will try to tear you from your body. A dead soul has some measure of protection, and may escape. One ripped untimely from its body is wounded, and far more likely to be transformed to a Hollow itself."

"Powerless human soul," Ishida said dryly. "Hollow. I can do the math-"

Still sheathed, Kenshin's blade struck spirit links.

Oh. God. It. Hurts...

"That is the next attack." Kenshin's voice seemed to come through deep water, as Ishida found himself on his knees. On the floor; and hard as falling there must have been, he couldn't feel it, not with that soul-shaking pain vibrating through him. "They will try to cut your chain. That does not always kill the body, not immediately. But it weakens you. It leaves you vulnerable to their corruption-"

"And there's nothing I can do about it," Ishida rasped. "I have no power. You know that! Even if I did, I'm a spirit like this. I'd destroy myself-!"

Pain. He wanted to curl around it, nerves afire. He wanted to make it stop, gods, how could anybody torture a man like this and call themselves human...

Oh gods, he could see it coming again, no-

He's tiny.

Which didn't mean anything when you were talking about a shinigami, but Ishida was beyond rational thought. Smaller opponent, about to cause pain, had to be stopped. Hand. Saya. Grab. Twist.

Kenshin flipped away, leaving black lacquer in his hands. And blurred-

Teeth bared in anger and pain, Ishida seized the hilt and swept up in a block.



"Good." Violet gleamed with hints of steel blue, as Kenshin's saya pressed against-



Ishida froze, a heartbeat from flinging the thing in his hands as far and hard as he could.

"Hold," Kenshin said again, more quietly. "That blade was made by Arai Shakku. He would not look kindly on one who mistreated it."

Ishida made himself breathe, and took a second look at the sheathed sword. "...It's not a zanpakutou."

"It is an asauchi," Kenshin said levelly. "And as it is spirit, as you are spirit in this form, it will stay with you."

"Stay?" Ishida tried not to sputter. "But - sword - you-"

"Arai does not make bows and arrows," Kenshin shrugged. "You will keep it, Ishida-kun. You may be powerless, but you will not be defenseless."

"I don't want it!"

"Yes, you do," the shinigami said grimly. "Trust me, Ishida. And think. When you were attacked, when you were in pain, when you thought death was a heartbeat away - you wanted." Violet was all blue, now; hard as steel. "It is not in you to lie down and die. If a Hollow attacked you, if it tore out half your soul - you would want, Ishida. And you would reach. For the power all Hollows have. The power that would make you one of them."

Ishida froze. And, reluctantly, looked at the sword again. Plain. Black lacquer, dark blue grip, a shakudo and shibuchi tsuba that rippled shades of violet and blue-green. Nothing special about it at all. But it felt...

It didn't feel wrong.

"Why?" Ishida said unsteadily. "Shinigami don't care about the living. And as far as Quincys are concerned... why are you doing this?"

"Never involve yourself with shinigami again." Kenshin eased back half a step, the air of coiled threat vanishing as if it had never been. "With those you have fought beside, and bled beside, and who truly wish you well? He claims to be your father; and if that is so, he may make such demands. But if you are truly alone, truly roushi - then you have the right to choose your own battles. And your own comrades." Kenshin shook his head. "My shishou once gave me an ultimatum. And I broke it. I believed what I had done was unforgiveable. And because I believed so, because I gave up hope - many suffered. And many died, who might not have needed to die."

Which made no sense, Ishida thought. He didn't choose to fight beside Kurosaki. It just happened to be the best way to stick it to the shinigami. Or had been, before he'd taken off the sanrei glove to take revenge on Kurotsuchi. And he couldn't even get that right...

Ishida blinked. He'd meant to grip the saya and hand the damn sword back, last resort or not. Instead-

The saya was tucked through his belt, tsuba an odd pressure against his side. Like it belonged there. "What did you do to me?"

Kenshin smiled, wry and kind. "You do not know the tales of nekomata?"

His sword. The forked-tail cat demon. It's not just a name?

"Their powers are many," the shinigami went on. "But the one that has touched you... it is said they have power to bring life to the dead."

The hair on the back of Ishida's neck rose. "I am not a vampire." I think I would have noticed by now - wait. He's laughing at me!

Not out loud. But that amused glint in violet couldn't be anything else.

Ishida's eyes narrowed. "I thought your humor was on Kurosaki's level. Obviously I was being too generous."

And Kenshin did laugh, kneeling by his body. "One has spent too much time with Sano, it seems. One forgets how serious the young can be... here." He held up the Quincy cross. "Let us see what we can manage."

Reluctantly, Ishida drew the saya out of his belt again. What is he going to-

Silver touched wrapped steel, and the world shimmered.

"That should help," Kenshin said thoughtfully. "In, in. Too long out is harmful. Even when one does not have a teacher beating one about one's spirit's head."

Flesh seemed to suck him down like cold water.

Ishida opened his eyes, blinking slowly. Breathing... felt odd.

"Stay still, one moment more," Kenshin murmured, green-glowing hands resting on Ishida's chest. Black robes were gone, replaced by a more-or-less modern red shirt and jeans. "It is never lightly done, to leave your body early. Outside the confines of your flesh, pressed to your limits, your spirit changes. And not all of that change subsides when you are embodied once more." He flexed his fingers, sending a warmth of spring through aching muscles. "One not born shinigami can adapt to that change, but it does require... interference."

Stain, Kenshin had commanded his sword. Ishida tried not to shudder. "You put... shinigami power... in me."

The shinigami inclined his head.

"You put shinigami power in me when I'm living in the same town as Kurosaki," Ishida forged on. "A substitute shinigami who can take on captains. Who can't control his own reiatsu!"

"Hmm," Kenshin nodded.

"You... you... I am not a shinigami!" Ishida bit out. "Damn you, even Rukia gave Kurosaki a choice!"

"True," Kenshin agreed. "But I am a shinigami. It is my duty to protect the souls of the living and the dead. Including yours." He raised a red brow. "I was not yet born when your people were destroyed, but I understand your pain. More, I understand your fury. Why kill Quincys? Why kill anyone with the courage to stand against the darkness, when one could simply teach them another path?"

"I choose my own path!" Trained reflex took over; Ishida pulled on power, letting the cross drop to dangle, glittering-

Tried to pull on power. Everything seemed turned inside-out. He could sense the reiatsu in the air, just waiting to be formed into bow and arrows. But it slipped his grasp, like melting ice.

I won't lose! I won't let a shinigami beat me. I am a Quincy! I. Am not. Afraid!

Strength rushed out of him, blazing through the cross like moonlight. He lifted his arm, ready to pull-

The ghostly blade flickered, an inch from Kenshin's throat.


He might have lunged. He might have bolted, Ishida wasn't sure what he was doing-

There wasn't even a blur before he was off his feet, on the floor - gently, how very odd - and caught in the warmest hug he'd had since...


"Shh." Fingers stroked his hair, just like Grandfather. If Souken had ever been so small. "I gave you no choice. That, you may tell your father, and Kurosaki, and anyone you might need swear it to. I gave you no choice." Kenshin sighed. "And now I will tell you why."

"The real reason?" Ishida said shakily. He could still feel that ghost of steel in his grip, even after it had vanished with his resolve. He felt young, and exposed, and desperate not to be alone. "Or just what Urahara wants us to know?"

"The real reason," Kenshin affirmed, violet eyes dark. "It is not a pleasant one. Do you know why Rukia was so ready to die?"

"...No." She'd been taken prisoner, after all. Who could fight all of Soul Society, guilty or not? And Rukia had given Kurosaki her powers to save people. Why wouldn't she want to be rescued?

Except... Kurosaki had muttered something about just that, when they were all recovering. "Shut up and let me save you," had been the most coherent mumble. Why?

"Soul Society is corrupt," Ishida stated. "Why would anyone think their courts had a right to judge her for saving Kurosaki's sisters?"

"Why indeed," Kenshin said dryly. "It was not always a crime to give powers to a human in need. Even two centuries ago, it was not. I believe I know who changed that." He sighed. "Kuchiki Rukia wished to die, because years ago, a shinigami she cared for deeply died on her blade. His name was Shiba Kaien..."

Long minutes later, Ishida rose and paced. The story was incredible. Awful. Plausible, damn it all to hell. "So this Hollow made it look like Shiba Miyako was dead. Rode her body right in through security, so it could kill more shinigami. All while it was... eating her alive."

"Yes," Kenshin said quietly.

"A special Hollow, like nothing anyone's ever seen, luring a captain and a lieutenant away from Soul Society. A Hollow that could dissolve a zanpakutou..." Ishida swallowed dryly. "It was a trap. Aizen's trap."

"So we believe," Kenshin nodded. "We have no proof. But you have met Aizen's creations."

And if there were two groups warping Hollows out there, they were all screwed. If a Hollow could get inside someone-

Ishida blanched. "You thought he'd do that to me," he got out. "That he'd... put something inside of me to get to Kurosaki."

"Or any of your friends, or all of Karakura," Kenshin said levelly. "A human with no reiatsu of his own, but whose body and spirit were trained to contain it? He could not have found a better victim."

"I won't be a victim!"

"Good." Kenshin looked utterly serious. "When dealing with assaults on the mind and spirit, strength of will is as important as reiatsu. Believe you will fight. Believe you will win." He met blue eyes, steady and sorrowful. "I have heard how Kaien suffered, driven by the Hollow to kill those he loved. I will do all in my power to ensure that never happens again."

He heard? But Rukia didn't even tell Kurosaki; he'd have said something. Which means- "You know Captain Ukitake."

"Not too loudly," Kenshin cautioned him. "Yamamoto-Genryuusai-soutaichou does not yet know of me. We would prefer to keep it that way."

Ishida's eyes widened. "Are you... alive?"

"Not since the Kanto Earthquake." Kenshin looked away, into memory. "My wife died, bringing the injured out of the fires... It was as good a way as any to leave the living world." He shook himself slightly. "No, this is a gigai. I simply have remained in the shadows a very long time. And until we are certain Aizen took all his allies with him, which I am not - one prefers to be a sword in the dark, that I do. It is, after all, what hitokiri are best at."

Ishida winced. Aizen might still have minions left in Soul Society? Chilling thought. Not that he trusted shinigami... but Chad? Orihime? Kurosaki? They did. Too easily.

And Rukia, Ganju, Kuukaku, Hanatarou, that redheaded idiot Renji - they were all still back there. He didn't like it. He didn't like it at all.

"Ukitake-taichou will watch over those who helped you," Kenshin assured him. "Rukia is his officer, and you saved her. And he is a good man." A quiet smile. "She saved his life, you know."

Ishida blinked, and reran Kenshin's story in his head. Ukitake was a shinigami captain, he hadn't needed Rukia's help to- oh. "By being there," Ishida realized. "An unseated officer. Someone who couldn't hope to take on a Hollow that powerful and survive."

Kenshin nodded. "Ukitake-taichou would have hesitated to fight Kaien. They were friends. He would have tried to save Kaien, to the last."

"But he had to protect Rukia," Ishida said quietly. Bit his lip, and looked away. "Why? Why does he have to be noble? I know what shinigami are like. I saw what Kurotsuchi did!"

"Kurotsuchi is a madman, who never should have been released on the world," Kenshin said tautly. "And for that, you may indeed blame Urahara. He did not cause Kurotsuchi's actions - but he is the man who let that creature walk free." The redhead sighed. "As he is the man who created the Hougyoku. And the man who has done... other things. And has tried - tried - to atone for them." Kenshin looked down. "One knows what it is like, to feel one's hands will never be clean of blood."

Under all the evil, Hollows were human once.

Ishida refused to shudder. He'd become a Quincy to protect people from Hollows. Because the pride of the Quincy would not let him stand by while the shinigami failed...

But Kurosaki wasn't failing, was he? the archer admitted to himself. He was doing Rukia's job. He was protecting Karakura. If he'd been a shinigami, when Grandfather was attacked-

Just thinking about it hurt.

...And Kenshin was watching him. "What do you want?" Ishida demanded.

"There are ways to summon that blade to your hand when you are not a spirit," Kenshin informed him. "But that may be more than you wish to learn."

Which, damn it, wasn't an answer-

Except it was. "You want me to decide," Ishida stated.

"I want you to decide what you want," Kenshin said bluntly. "You are a Quincy. You were born a Quincy. That pride is yours, paid for in blood. You have earned it." He paused. "But why are you a Quincy, Ishida Uryuu? For pride? For your heritage? Or for the souls you have saved, stalking Hollows in the darkness?"

Ishida's fists clenched. "I won't let the shinigami win!"

"The shinigami?" Kenshin's tone could have shaved steel. "Or the laws of Soul Society, that would condemn your people to death, as they condemned Rukia?"

What's the difference! Because there had to be one. Kenshin wasn't like Urahara, he didn't play with people's heads just for fun... Ishida nudged up his glasses, buying time to think. What was he missing-

I'm an idiot.

"Oops," Ishida quoted. "You were born after the massacre. After it was illegal to give humans shinigami powers. And Yamamoto-Genryuusai doesn't know about you?" He stared at the smaller man, still not quite believing it. "You're illegal."

Kenshin grinned.

"But - you - how long-?"

"Since 1878," Kenshin shrugged. "Of course, Ukitake-taichou did catch this one, eventually... Fortunately for us both, there are loopholes."

"Loopholes," Ishida repeated, disbelieving.

"What do they teach you of samurai, and ki?" Kenshin mused. "Did your grandfather never tell you of Hidesato and the dragon king?"

"Of course he told me about the archer who killed the giant centipede..." Ishida stood very still. How many Hollows had he seen, who looked like centipedes? Or worse?

"Saliva, like blood, can be used to carry reiatsu," Kenshin informed him. "Have you never heard of the Shinsengumi, licking their blades to make steel cut deeper? The ancient sword-styles taught one how to use reiatsu. And if a student should happen to reach within, and pull power from his very soul? It happens."

"I don't know kendo," Ishida said, stunned.

"Kenjutsu," Kenshin corrected him. "I do."

"I..." Gods. "I can't... I need some time. To think."

Kenshin inclined his head. "One expected no less. It is never lightly decided, to take up the sword." He glanced at the ladder. "Where do you wish to meet tomorrow?"

"I don't-"

"I am not asking for a decision, Ishida-kun. Not so soon." Violet glanced at him. "One only wishes to show you what a human can learn, without becoming shinigami."

Reasonable. Utterly reasonable.

Which didn't change the fact that he could feel the offer made. Solid as the ghostly hilt by his side.

"...There's a place."

Ryuuken's going to kill me.

A/N: About wiping out Kurotsuchi's spy microbes in this AU... canon letting Mayuri get away with that was sick, wrong, and altogether too much of a Karma Houdini for me. (Let's not get into the rest of what he gets away with.) After what he did to Souken, the fact that canon implies he got to watch Quincy techniques of training for Ishida to get his powers back just sucks. So in CaW, he's not getting away with it. Besides; realistically speaking, would Urahara want to be potentially spied on by his former subordinate, especially when it came to Ichigo and his inner Hollow? I doubt it.

The folktale of Hidesato and the Dragon King is sometimes called "My Lord Bag of Rice," after one of the magical items the Dragon King gave him.