So, I wasn't expecting to update this just yet. It was supposed to be Melodies Unheard first, which I have been working on all week and am almost done with. But I got stuck on a scene with that, and then the writing for this just came easily :) Also, I want to remind everyone that both the past and present timelines are not in order all the time. Don't be confused by that!

Oh, and because of my excessive writing and frenzy to update all my stories this week, I seem to have gotten behind on my review replies. I'm sorry, everyone! I promise, I'll get right on it.

Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or any of its characters.

Ryou groaned heavily as he stirred, his vision blurred from the drowsiness making his head spin. He cracked open his eyes, trying his best to see past the fuzzy outlines of moving shapes, but it seemed to be no use. And, truthfully, he simply had no more energy left to even try any longer.

Two days had passed now, since his parents had suffered from that fatal accident that had stolen their lives. He'd cried his eyes into red and puffy messes the first time, and the mysterious soldier who had kidnapped him hadn't liked that. But he'd remained unharmed, for some odd reason, and he later came to learn that it was because of a man they called Aizen.

The six-year-old had never met the man himself. Instead, he'd only ever heard snippets of his chilling voice, giving harsh orders to anyone in the vicinity with a tongue that dripped with malice and a sinister ring. Through those broken conversations, Ryou learned that this man – this twisted and wholly evil man – had planned for his parents' death, and only because they worked so closely with the military that they could possibly become a hindrance in his future plans. His parents had died simply because of one man's whims, and Ryou had been helpless to stop him.

"Szayel," he heard that sickeningly familiar voice speak up now, apparently somewhere on his right. "I trust we are almost finished?"

"Of course, Aizen-sama," the creepy scientist answered. "The boy has been thoroughly transformed. Would you like to test him?"

At those horrifying words, Ryou immediately began to struggle, but the chains tying him to the table he rested on were too strong. After all, if he could, he would have escaped long ago. But instead, he'd been forced to lie still as some eccentric man he did not know hovered over him, injecting him with liquids that put him to sleep but ignoring him otherwise. As always, he was powerless.

"Oh, it looks like our young guest is awake." Aizen's voice drifted through the room, sounding more amused than anything as he watched the six-year-old drop his head and give up on his struggles. Someone clicked their tongue in irritation.

"I think he's becoming resistant to the drugs I give him," Szayel snapped, sounding annoyed. "Recently, he's been waking up sooner than ever."

Aizen chuckled, filling the room with the deep sound. "No matter," he appeased the scientist. "The deed has been done, so there is no need to put him to sleep much longer. In fact, I think I'm prepared to release him back to Earth now."

Ryou felt his heart flicker with hope at those words. He was getting out of here? He would be free again? Of course, he couldn't allow himself too much happiness, because when those dreams were crushed, it would be twice as painful. The promises of home and safety were simply too enticing, though.

"Of course, Aizen-sama," Szayel replied gleefully. "But allow me to explain the modifications and effects to you before his return." The man grunted in assent, and the scientist picked up again, his voice giddy with excitement. "You will have full control, My Lord. You, and no one else. Any command, and he will complete it – unconsciously, of course, and as if it had been his own thought to begin with."

"Excellent work, Szayel," his superior praised him, joining in with his excitement. "I trust that he will still function normally, even if I have free control of his choices and free will?"

"Of course!" Szayel replied haughtily. "The chip is not built to restrict anything other than what you asked of me."

"And you did not disappoint," Aizen assured him, sounding amused once again at his subordinate's affronted reply. He paused for a moment before eliciting a small hum of thought. "You mentioned side effects, Szayel?"

"Oh! Yes," he replied, as if he had just remembered. "Well, it's a rather unfortunate mishap, and it gives the boy a little too much power for my taste. But since you control him, I suppose it won't be difficult to keep him in line." He gave a weary sigh, as if disappointed in his failure. "Because the boy is being controlled by a Leoan – and such a powerful king, no less – there is the possibility that he may inherit some...special privileges from our race."

Aizen was intelligent enough to see through his vague reply. "You mean he will inherit our demon magic," he stated, ignoring the scientist's attempt to kiss up to him.

Szayel nodded, pursing his lips. "That might be the only effect, though. And, of course, he will have no memories of his contact with you, so he can at least enjoy a clean conscience."

"Terrific work," the king praised him one last time, his voice so calm it was deadly. "Finish up your work, and then erase his memory. It's time to test our project on the human army."

.. ღ ..

Orihime gulps heavily, tightening the scarf over her head with trembling fingers. This is so wrong, yet she can't squash the growing excitement in her stomach. And, of course, it's a sweeter feeling knowing that it defies all of Ulquiorra's orders.

"Hey there, young miss!" a nearby vendor suddenly calls out to her, flashing her a toothy grin. "How about some fresh fruit to keep you cool under this heat?"

She returns his grin with a weak smile, though mostly from the sudden fright at being addressed. "Not today, thank you." Thankfully, her voice does not crack, though she attributes that to the fact that at least he's not the very first Leoan she has ever spoken to.

He makes a face, but cheerfully waves her along anyway, to show there are no hard feelings. She feels herself grow braver from this successful interaction, and her steps are more sturdy as she makes her way through the marketplace. Fortunately, all the other women in the area are also wearing scarfs atop their heads to shelter themselves from the scorching sun, so her choice of head gear doesn't stand out. The only difference between them and her, however, is that she's done so to hide her apparently famous orange hair, which is a dead giveaway that she is the only human walking amongst them.

It is a thrilling experience to finally escape from the palace for a day and explore the planet she had longed to see since first arriving. Well, not since first arriving, but first getting comfortable. Ulquiorra had forbidden her profusely, reminding her without fail that no one would save her should she get injured. He'd slandered her physical strength in that indifferent way of his, as well as sneered at her trusting personality. It had irritated her to no end, though she'd let her docile character control any thoughts of fighting back. And now, just because of him, it feels to liberating to finally be free.

The only spoiled part of the plan is that she had betrayed both Rangiku-san and Karin-sama by sneaking out. Both had made her promise to stay within the palace walls and resist her urge to wander out. Though they'd defended their home planet frequently, they also admitted that the country might not take too kindly to a sudden intrusion by a human. Orihime definitely feels guilty for disobeying them so easily, but she just couldn't resist any longer, so she'd sneaked out when the maid had been called out to help with dinner preparations and her bodyguard had been asked to train with new soldiers for the day. She would just have to make sure she returns early enough that they don't realize what she had done, but for now, she planns to enjoy everything presented before her.

With unhidden interest in her eyes, she watches everything around her and tries to burn it to memory. Women mill around the stalls, scurrying to grocery shop before the sun sets and they have to make dinner. Children rush through the streets carelessly, playing games that only those with such innocence and imagination could truly enjoy. She giggles as a group of boys rush past her with their arms outstretched, making buzzing noises with their pursed lips and pretending to fly. It's a game she had often seen children play on Earth, and it's delightfully surprising to see it in this foreign land. Perhaps they aren't so different from her and her race.

"Hey, girlie!" someone suddenly calls out for her, and she jumps once she realizes she's being sought out again. Peeking out cautiously from under her scarf, she spies an ancient woman down the street waving her over. The crone looks harmless enough, so she gingerly walks over to her.

"Um, can I help you?" she asks, feeling her nerves on edge.

"A young lady like you should be respecting your elders a bit more," the woman suddenly lectures her, much to her surprise. Before she can reply, the woman shoves heavy bags into her hands. "Now, put your youth to good use and help an old woman take her goods home."

Without waiting for Orihime's consent, she begins limping down the street, expecting the flustered girl to follow. Of course, being the pushover that she is when it comes to Leoans, she attempts to run after her without question. But the packages, on top of being ridiculous in number, are so heavy that they throw her off balance. She gives a yelp as her feet stumble under her, and she lurches forward.

"Whoa!" yet another strange voice cries out, and she feels two arms wrap around her to steady her before she falls flat on her face. She breathes a huge sigh of relief, before turning her attention to the boy who had saved her. He smiles charmingly before asking, "Are you all right?"

"Y-Yes," she replies meekly. With a chuckle, he takes a few packages from her arms to lighten the weight. She flushes, suddenly aware of how handsome he is, though he doesn't notice as he follows the woman down the street.

"I'll help you," he offers when she rushes to catch up to him. "I saw how she didn't give you much choice in the matter, but please don't let it bother you. She's that way with everyone."

"You know her?" she asks, unable to keep the surprise out of her voice.

He laughs heartily at her question. "I think every young person knows her around here. She likes to take advantage of anyone in sight by reminding us of her age. You must have just moved into the area to not know of her, am I right?"

"Um, y-yes," she stutters, afraid that they're treading close to dangerous territory. She stays quiet the rest of the trip, in case she might slip up and reveal her origins.

Near the end of their errand, she starts to feel slightly nervous. It had already been evening when she'd first sneaked out of the castle, and now it's getting quite late. She knows she can't stay missing forever without it being noticed, and she had inwardly planned to head home at this time. The sun is starting to set, basking everything in an orange and pink glow, and she knows the palace is nearing close to their meal time – a dinner she is supposed to be present for. She feels worry gnaw at her, making her anxious that she might not make it back in time, and she quickens her steps.

The old woman lives too far for comfort, though now Orihime can understand why she tries to take advantage of any help she can find; it would be an impossible task for her to do on her own so often. But by the time they drop off her groceries and she sends them away with an irritable wave of her hand, the sun is almost dipped below the horizon, and the human guest realizes she'll have to sprint back to the palace to make it in time.

"Are you heading back home?" the young boy suddenly asks her, noting her panicked expression. They're both walking back together after the errand they had just run, and they turn into a desolate alley they had used earlier that cuts straight back to the marketplace.

She bites her lip to show her worry. "Yes, I should be going back now. I'll be late, and people will begin to worry."

"Oh, come on," he speaks up, nudging her playfully. "Stay and chat with me for a while? We've only just met, and I want to welcome you to our area."

She furrows her eyebrows when she realizes he's attempting to make a pass at her, surprised because he had not seemed that type of boy earlier. He'd been nothing but charming and helpful, making her laugh at the right times and carrying most of the load because it was too heavy for her. Now, however, his smile seems mischievous and dangerous, and the way he looks at her makes her shift self-consciously. The realization makes her stomach twist uncomfortably, since she's never interacted much with men because of both her brother's influence and protective nature. Suddenly, she becomes hyper aware that the two are alone together, and the marketplace – filled with other people – is still too far away for her liking.

"I don't think so," she tries to politely decline, stepping away from him and scurrying towards the end of the alleyway. She doesn't get far before he grabs her elbow from behind, yanking her back.

"That's no way to repay my kindness," he teases her, but the mirth in his words makes her shiver in fear. "I helped you selflessly with your tasking errand, so manners say that you must repay me." Grabbing her chin, he roughly tugs her frightened face into his view. "And now that I look at you properly, you're certainly a pretty one."

A weak whimper rips through her lips before she can stop it, and he laughs boyishly at the sound.

"There's no reason to be afraid of me," he tries to soothe her, though it only makes her sick to her stomach. "I simply want payment for my services. It's a rather normal exchange that happens everyday, you know."

Shaking her head furiously, Orihime rips her elbow from his grip and attempts to make a break for it down the alley. But he catches her before she can get far enough to call for help, and he slams her back up against the wall. His cheerful facade seems to have ended, as he's breathing quite deeply and angrily.

"Don't think of running," he spits out, wiping at his lips. "That just makes me mad." Pinning one her arms to the wall, he thrusts out his other hand to wrap around her neck.

She sees it coming at her fast, too quick for her to think of stopping it, and she just squeezes her eyes shut. Beads of tears gather at the corners of her eyes, but her throat clogs up in her panic, so she can't cry for help. All she can do is wait for it.

But it never comes. All she hears is a grunt and snap, and when she opens her eyes, her attacker has a look of horror plastered on his face. His hand is suspended right in front of her face, trapped from moving by someone's death grip on his wrist.

"You better have come prepared to lose this hand when you targeted her," Ulquiorra hisses, his dead eyes planted on the boy. And without waiting for any response, he smashes his head against the wall beside her. She screams as the boy passes out from impact and collapses on the ground, unmoving.

Ulquiorra turns his gaze on her next, and though his expression does not change, she can sense the disapproval coming from him in waves.

"I warned you of the dangers," he states stoically, but that makes it worse. "You have deliberately disobeyed everyone."

"H-How did you find me?" she squeaks.

He eyes her critically, possibly wondering whether to bother telling her. "I returned from training and you were missing. This was the only explanation, so I followed your trail using those who saw you." After a troubled sigh, he grabs her by the wrist and pulls her down the alley. "Your maid started a fire and dinner was delayed. If we hurry, no one will know that you were missing."

Orihime follows him wordlessly, amazed that he is willing to help her cover up her blunder. It seems unlike the cruel soldier she has come to dislike, but she feels so grateful; she does not want to be caged in even further because of this. Perhaps he understands that. She would not have expected it of him to sympathize with her in any way, but then again, she had never expected to feel anything other than fear or dislike towards him either.

But when she'd first opened her eyes to find him here, protecting her so valiantly even despite his apathetic nature, she couldn't deny that her heart had betrayed her by fluttering in her chest.

.. ღ ..

Aizen adjusted himself in his throne, smiling in that calm way of his that set everyone on edge. In front of him stood a wide screen, displaying a white and black image of a room similar to an office, and it shook quite terribly, as if the camera man was intoxicated. He could hear the light thumping of what were obviously footsteps.

"Ryou-san," a young woman behind a desk beamed towards the camera. "Your counselor is waiting for you. It's the first door on your right."

"Thank you," someone off the screen replied politely, and then the camera jiggled over to the indicated room. A hand reached out, and someone knocked three times before twisting the doorknob and stepping in.

An older woman sat behind the desk this time, and she impatiently waved in someone behind the camera. "Come in. I haven't got all day."

Aizen settled back, uninterested in the more polite mannerisms between humans. There was only one part of the conversation he needed to hear, and that would come much later. He listened carelessly as the woman and Ryou discussed his classwork and his tremendous grades, during which the counselor gushed on about him inheriting his intelligence from his brilliant parents, and then many of his final test scores and high school classes. Finally, she asked the question the Leoan royal had been waiting for.

"So," she ventured, "what are your plans following high school?"

Aizen leaned forward in his seat, almost in anticipation, and placed a remote-like device against his mouth. Keeping his gaze on the screen, he pressed a button and whispered, "Army."

Automatically, the person behind the camera spoke up, almost mechanically, "Army."

The old woman gazed up in surprise, fumbling with the sheets on her desk. "A-Are you sure? What about school? You have such a brilliant mind, and it should be put to good use."

"It will be," Aizen stated into his device, "in the Army." And the person off screen repeated him word for word.

The counselor frowned for a moment, readjusting her thick glasses before she sighed. "Well, it's your life, so I won't stop you." She opened a drawer and pulled out a brochure, handing it to the person. "Here, this will have information on your prospects, answer any questions you might have, and tell you how to apply for service. You can also come to me, of course..."

The manipulative king let the woman's voice tune out, uninterested in her banter. What he had wanted was finally achieved, after years of patiently waiting for this very moment. Curse humans and their age restrictions on soldiers. Now, he would have to be careful to keep this boy from screwing up anything, if he wanted to advance up the ladder and be useful. One slip up, and things could go downhill fast. And that would only displease Aizen, who had finally succeeded in beginning his plan to place a spy in the enemy military.

Years later, when Ryou was named Commander of a squad and given access to secret records of all government planning, the King could only smirk in victory.

.. ღ ..

Karin walks briskly down the hallways, one hand planted on her stomach. It's become a habit of hers, ever since she learned of her supposed pregnancy, almost as if she's feeling for the life inside her. She knows it's not possible, of course, especially as it's clearly too early to tell, but a part of her aches to know the truth soon so she can finally share the news with her husband.

Hitsugaya is locked away in some room for a meeting, so she has had the afternoon for herself. But she anticipates the moment he'll be released, which should be fairly soon, as she's been longing to see him all day. So she rushes to the throne room, hoping she can sneak into the conference without being noticed and wait for its end.

As she passes by one of the rotundas, however, she hears a snatch of conversation taking place in a whisper inside. She doesn't mean to eavesdrop, but she's close enough to the apparent couple that she accidentally overhears their private conversation. And what she hears makes her stop in her tracks.

"I'm just worried about what she'll think," she hears someone decidedly female say, and her eyes widen when she recognizes it as Orihime's voice. What could their human guest possibly be doing in a deserted corridor, speaking in a hush?

"I mean, she's been so nice to me," the girl goes on to say, and Karin tries to crane her neck to see who she's talking to. "They've all been kind, really. I even feel bad for keeping it from Rangiku-san."

To the queen's irritation, whoever Orihime is conversing with is hidden perfectly behind the corridor's wall. The only way to see would have been to stick her head around the corner, and that would only have given away her presence. So she's stuck listening closely on the other side, hoping she can hear the other party soon enough.

"I'm not sure how they'll react, though," the voice continues to float down the hall. Karin wonders what she's speaking of, though she has a horrible feeling in her gut that she's not going to like it. "They'll probably say it's too dangerous, even though you can protect me so well. And I'm afraid they might misunderstand and think you're just taking advantage of me." There's a long, heavy pause, and then the girls asks, horribly timid, "You're not, are you?"

"Of course not," her partner replies coolly. It's a soft, indifferent voice that sounds almost as if the owner is completely detached from the world. Karin feels her breath hitch in her throat as she recognizes it, and she jumps around the corner just in time to see Orihime shyly kiss Ulquiorra's cheek.

"What the hell is going on here!" she screeches, and the human jumps from the shock while the soldier simply freezes. She swerves around to see who their intruder is, and her expression falls drastically when she notices Karin watching them, completely shocked down to her core.

The queen, who feels her emotions rise quickly to the surface, maybe from the pregnancy, lets her rage overtake her.

"You two," she snarls, "have got some explaining to do."

.. ღ ..

Toushiro sighs heavily as he finally gets a chance to stretch his legs. After sitting in meetings all morning, it feels wonderful to walk down the halls like this. The only damper on his mood is that Karin had not shown up to greet him at the throne room, as she had hinted she might. He had hoped he would get to see her face after being trapped with ancient, boring men all morning and afternoon.

'No matter,' he assures himself. 'I'll just go find her now.'

But it's her voice he hears first. On his way to their bedroom, he passes by one of the more abandoned wings of their palace, and as he's walking by a certain corridor, his wife's melodic voice drifts to his ears. And she's screeching at someone.

"Are you out of your damn mind!" he hears, and it makes him freeze in place. This could not be good. "I trust you two to behave yourselves. Hell, I made you her bodyguard so she would stay away from shady men! And then you two go behind my back and pull this?"

"Karin?" he calls out cautiously, stepping around the corner to see what has her so riled up. What he sees is a terrified Orihime clinging to her apathetic bodyguard as his wife practically breathes down their necks. Needless to say, he's shocked. "What's going on?"

"Oh, I'll tell you what's going on," she fumes, practically rounding on him. She jerks a finger towards her two victims. "These two have apparently been having some sort of affair behind everyone's backs, and I just caught them in the act."

He turns his incredulous eyes on both of them, thinking it slightly unbelievable that either of them would engage in such a thing – and with each other at that. Ulquiorra had always seemed the type to never care for women in any way, and he always seemed to honor his duty more than anything. And, not that he'd given it much thought, but he would have assumed that Miss Orihime would have preferred a slightly more...emotional man. But he'd married someone so completely different from himself, so he can't judge others.

Karin seems to have lost interest in him for the moment, because she turns her attention back on the two under her scrutiny. More specifically, Ulquiorra.

"You," she hisses dangerously. "How dare you touch a human in any way. This is not why I gave you the job of watching over her!"

"Please, Miss Karin," Orihime interjects, jumping in front of her apparent lover in defense. "It was me who reached out first. Don't blame him!"

"I damn well will blame him!" she yells, and to Toushiro's horror, she lunges in for an attack on one of the most skilled soldiers in his armies. Knowing there's no way he can let her do such a thing, he reflexively jerks forward and loops his arms around hers from behind, effectively locking her in place against him. Not that it stops her from twisting and struggling and kicking her legs.

"Karin, stop," he orders her coolly, slightly exasperated by her antics. She's been getting quite antsy lately, though he can't understand why.

"Let me go, Toushiro," she demands with a glare, still trying her best to get away.

"No," he answers simply, shooting the two across from them a look of contempt for putting her in such a state. They don't seem to notice, however, because their eyes are trained on his strangely deranged wife.

Finally, she lets loose, and what she says might just be the most astounding thing he has ever heard.

"Damn it!" she yells, turning her head to glower at him. "Don't you know not to get in the way of a pregnant woman, dumbass?"

And then, too late, she realizes what she had said in her frenzy. Obviously she had not meant to say it, because she clamps her lips shut and widens her eyes in shock. But they had all heard it, loud and clear, still ringing in the empty hallway, and no one is sure how to respond – least of all, Toushiro.

They all just freeze.

Ha ha, yes, that's how he finds out :P A lot of you wanted to read this scene, so I decided to write it now as an apology, since this story was missing for so long.

Well, that will also be the last of Ryou's major scenes. He'll probably be mentioned in the future and still get appearances, but his major part in the plot is over. I hope you guys understood his strange history and part in Aizen's plan, since I know it's kind of confusing. If you didn't, just let me know and I'll gladly explain it!