Chapter 1: The Escape
"You look surprisingly calm this morning, Cousin," said Byakuya, settling at the garden table and waiting as his attendant set a cup of hot green tea in front of him, "As today is the first day of your new assignment, I would have thought you would be running a bit on the restless side. Instead, you seem unusually peaceful."
Tetsuya smiled and nodded.
"I should be anxious," he admitted, "but all I can seem to feel is grateful. You and I both know exactly how close to an assignment like this I would have come without your recommendation, Byakuya."
The noble's lips curved upward slightly.
"You have more than earned the privilege, Tetsuya," Byakuya replied, sipping at his tea, "Your performance as our head of household security has been exemplary. And as I could not recommend you for a position in the military, due to your inclusion in our council of elders, I thought that this would be an appropriate alternative."
"I cannot begin to tell you how honored I am, Cousin," Tetsuya said appreciatively, "As an assistant to Councilor Yukimura, I am but a step away from a position on Central 46's council, myself."
"And Norio himself is very pleased to have you as his intern. He told me that he looks forward to having the input of someone with 'an ounce of common sense' and the tact it takes to manage the vagaries of diplomacy."
"I am glad to hear that," Tetsuya said, smiling and drinking the last of his tea, "But it's getting late. I have to be going."
He rose from the table and gave a soft whistle. There was a moment of hesitation, then a tall black stallion appeared on the trail outside the back fence, and cleared it easily in a lovely jump, then crossed the gardens and came to a stop in front of the blue-eyed noble.
"Enjoy your first day, then," Byakuya said, nodding, "I will be interested in hearing about it when you return."
"Very well," said Tetsuya, vaulting easily onto the horse's back, "I will see you for dinner, then."
The young noble left the manor and walked his mount along the streets and to the gates leading into Central 46. He dismounted just outside, then patted the horse and sent him trotting away as he turned towards the gates, and felt a soft flutter of uncharacteristic nervousness inside. The guards at the entrance checked his credentials carefully before waving him through the main gates and sending him along the long bridge to the front doors. He calmed as he went, breathing slowly and quietly reminding himself to be certain to act in ways that would reflect well on his family and bring them honor. A second set of guards stopped him at the doorway, then questioned him briefly and granted him entrance.
"May I help you?" asked the woman at the greeting desk.
"I am here for a scheduled meeting with Councilor Yukimura," said Tetsuya.
"Ah, yes," said the clerk, consulting her computer, "You will go straight down this hallway and turn left at the end. His office will be the first on the right after that."
"Arigato," Tetsuya said, earning a lovely smile from the clerk.
He walked on down the hallway and quickly arrived at the councilor's office, to find the man within and talking to a few other male shinigami colleagues. He smiled as he saw Tetsuya outside the doorway.
"Ah, Tetsuya," said the councilor, a silver-haired man with a surprisingly pleasant demeanor for one of the Central 46 councilors, who were usually more dour and reserved, "You arrived just in time. I was about to go down to oversee the transfer of a prisoner. It seems that some damage occurred to Sousuke Aizen's cell during the night, and a councilor is required to be on hand while he is moved so that it can be addressed. We can return here and get you started afterward, ne?"
"Of course," said the younger noble, falling in with the group as they left the office.
Tetsuya felt a nervous, yet somewhat excited twinge inside at the thought of seeing Aizen for himself. He had never laid eyes on the man directly before, but had heard from Byakuya that he had been a rather docile seeming captain, who everyone liked...at least, until he was revealed to be the devil, himself. And not being allowed to enter the military, Tetsuya had been relegated to protection of the manor and its inhabitants as Byakuya had gone off to Hueco Mundo to brace Aizen's Espadas head on. Despite understanding why things were the way they were for him, he did feel he missed much being kept so sheltered. But his safety was enormously important to his cousin, and the feeling was mutual, so he had accepted his situation quietly in honor of his bond with the Kuchiki clan leader.
But now, it seemed, he would be in close quarters with that man they had pursued, the one who had outmaneuvered everyone for so long before being brought down by Ichigo Kurosaki and Kisuke Urahara. He wondered briefly if the man's mouth would still be bound or if he would be allowed to speak. He imagined that if the man did, it wouldn't be something that he would particularly enjoy hearing. He was used to being around mannerly, quiet people, and so was somewhat shy. He had heard that the former captain was anything but shy...and was callous and very, very wicked. Although the well behaved, disciplined part of himself was wary, the more youthful spirits inside him were deliciously piqued.
He stayed at Councilor Yukimura's right side as the group left his office and proceeded down several hallways. At one point, he felt a pair of eyes watching him and looked up at the councilor's associates, but wasn't able to determine which among them had been watching him. They passed through a guarded doorway and entered the first prison level, and Tetsuya noticed immediately, the intense quiet of the environs and the heavy feeling of the power repressing shielding that affected all but the prison guards and councilors. And because he was newly appointed, Tetsuya sensed that his powers, in this area, were held back.
Their footsteps echoed as they continued down the corridor and found the door that led into the next level. They worked their way inward, stopping at each checkpoint and being searched repeatedly. And when they entered the final level, only guards had use of their powers and all others were required to leave their arms at the watch commander's desk. Tetsuya removed his weapon and placed it with the others, pausing as one of Councilor Yukimura's associates laid down his weapon ahead of him, and offered the young noble a friendly smile.
Tetsuya blinked and smiled tentatively back at the man, wondering why he had seemed familiar for a moment. He followed the councilor and his entourage into the eighth level and down the hall to where a guard detail waited at Aizen's cell door.
"Councilor Yukimura," said the head guard, bowing.
"Proceed," the councilor answered.
The guard entered a code into the keypad outside Aizen's cell door, then stepped back and waited as a second guard added another and a third guard added his. Then, the watch commander pushed on the door and it slowly opened. The guards disappeared into the room and returned pushing a wheeled chair, to which Aizen had been meticulously bound. Tetsuya was somewhat disappointed that the man was barely visible beneath his bindings, but he flinched as Aizen's one unbound eye fixed on him for a moment, then moved on to look at the man Tetsuya had noticed before.
Tetsuya felt an odd sense of something about what he was seeing being wrong, then an arm wrapped around his slender waist, and the point of a blade touched his bare throat. Tetsuya froze as a smooth voice sounded in his ear.
"No one can see or hear you now, so screaming or misbehaving will only get you killed. I warn you...if you do not do exactly as I say, I will kill each and every man here, starting with you."
"Who are you?" Tetsuya asked breathlessly.
"It doesn't matter," said the voice, "Just do as you are told and you won't be hurt."
Tetsuya's captor backed him carefully away from the others, leaving a copy of him where he had been standing, and positioned him behind Aizen. The young noble felt a shock pass through his body and dropped to the floor as the one who had been holding him cut through Aizen's bonds. The former captain came slowly to his feet and turned to face the man.
"Arigato," he said smoothly, "Kyouka Suigetsu."
Tetsuya caught his breath sharply, staring as Aizen's eyes found his again.
"But it seems we have some loose ends," he commented, "Why did you include him?"
"He saw me," explained the zanpakutou, "I had no choice but to incapacitate him. Should I kill him?"
Aizen's brown eyes studied Tetsuya's collapsed and frozen form.
"No," he said finally, "He comes with us."
"He may be a loose end, but he will, perhaps, prove useful. Bring him."
Unable to move, Tetsuya was lifted and thrown over his captor's shoulder. Aizen accepted the two swords the zanpakutou handed him and lifted one, studying it quietly, then looking more carefully at Tetsuya.
"Interesting," Aizen said, "Kyouka Suigetsu, I want you to make them believe he collapsed...of an undiagnosed heart condition. He will die before help reaches him."
"What...?" gasped the noble.
"Do not worry," Aizen reassured him as Tetsuya watched the copy of himself fall to the floor, causing an instant reaction in the councilors and guards.
They wheeled the illusory copy of Aizen back into his cell and hastily locked the door, then called for healers. Councilor Yukimura leaned over the illusory copy of Tetsuya and examined him briefly, then shook his head sadly and brushed the young man's eyes closed.
"We won't need a healer," he said in a low, affected voice, "Send a messenger to Kuchiki Manor to inform Byakuya that his cousin has collapsed and died. We don't know why."
He turned to the guards.
"And after we leave, lock this area down until we determine why he died so suddenly. I want to know if it was a medical condition or if this was something else!"
"Why did you do that?" Tetsuya cried, trying in vain to make his body move, "Byakuya is going to think I'm dead!"
"Exactly," said Aizen, calmly, "And that distraction means that we will have more time to make our escape and get free of the Seireitei before anyone realizes I escaped."
"You won't get away!" Tetsuya hissed, "As soon as you enter the central senkaimon, you will be sensed and they will be after you!"
"A problem that we were struggling with until now," Aizen acknowledged, "However, as you are able to use your clan's senkaimon, we will be able to slip away as soon as we are out of the prison levels. And even if your clan checks their records after, senkaimon mechanics are not an exact science. They won't know exactly when I escaped, so they will just assume that you used the senkaimon shortly before your collapse and won't connect the incident to me at all. And be thankful for that. If I thought any among them would question it, I would kill you as soon as we entered the senkaimon. The cleaner would clean up the mess and leave no sign that you ever left Central 46 alive."
Tetsuya fell silent as Kyouka Suigetsu carried him and followed Aizen and the councilors out of the eighth level. He tried, as they moved upward, to loose himself from the strong kido that bound him, but found himself unable to move his limbs at all. The men in the group filed calmly out of the prison and back into the main building. Aizen smirked and motioned for Kyouka Suigetsu to wait as Tetsuya's illusory body was removed from the prison and taken to the prison mortuary for autopsy.
"You see," he told Tetsuya, "They have no idea. And they will continue to have no idea what I have done until it is far too late."
Tetsuya glared at him defiantly.
"You won't get away with this, Sousuke Aizen!" he cried, "I will find a way to stop you!"
Aizen watched in calm amusement as he continued to struggle, then frowned as Tetsuya shattered his bonds and tore free of the zanpakutou spirit. The young noble loosed a blast of kido and destroyed a small monument in the middle of the hallway. He turned to run and was halfway down the hall, when the doors opened ahead of him and Byakuya flash stepped into view. Aizen appeared ahead of Tetsuya and held his blade ready to attack the unsuspecting clan leader as Byakuya hastily inquired about his cousin.
"They don't see the damage to the monument yet," he said in a warning tone, "and I can kill Byakuya now, and he will lie on the ground for days before anyone sees he is there. Do not attempt to cause any more disruption, Tetsuya Kuchiki. It is not too late for me to change my mind and kill you."
Tetsuya didn't answer immediately, but only stared at Byakuya's devastated expression as Councilor Yukimura arrived and explained the details of Tetsuya's 'death.'
"Do not hurt anyone else," he said finally, "most especially not my cousin. I will cooperate with you."
"An intelligent choice," Aizen said, sheathing his blade.
He bound the noble's hands in front of him and sealed his powers away, then led him to the entry door. They waited until the doors opened to admit a councilor, then slipped out and crossed the long bridge. They passed through the final gate and moved into the heavily forested area nearby. Aizen took the second blade that Kyouka Suigetsu had given him and drew it. Tetsuya caught his breath as Aizen commanded the noble's blade to open the senkaimon. And as though it had been Tetsuya, himself who had given the command, the gate opened.
The noble shivered inwardly as Aizen watched Kyouka Suigetsu enter the senkaimon, then caught Tetsuya's bound hands and pulled him along. They stopped just inside as the doors closed, and Tetsuya's heart began to race as the traitor gazed down at his captive's blade. He turned his gaze on the young noble with a chillingly serene expression.
"You sensed it before, didn't you?" Aizen asked softly, "When I threatened Byakuya and the others...you knew I had no intention, even then, of letting you live. That is why you cooperated. You didn't want to risk additional lives, especially not Byakuya's. Very commendable. I was touched by your devotion to him. I am sorry to have to be the hand that separates you from him. But it is going to require a great deal of time to find a way to free myself from the hougyoku..."
"Free yourself?" Tetsuya managed in a trembling voice, "You mean that you..."
"I no longer wish to be bound to it. It abandoned me, and now I wish to abandon it. But it will be difficult to do, and I don't want to be distracted by pursuit, or by loose ends getting in the way. Don't worry, I will make your death swift. You won't even feel it."
Tetsuya's eyes went wide as his own blade rose, then fell towards him in slow motion. It stopped mid-fall as a ringing neigh sounded, and a heavy blast of ice blades rained down on Aizen and Kyouka Suigetsu.
"Arashi!" cried Tetsuya desperately, trying to pull away from Aizen as the escaped traitor blocked the incoming attack and tightened his grip on the noble.
"You command that horse?" Aizen asked.
Tetsuya merely glared at him in response and struggled, trying again to break free.
"I will spare your lives if you will convince him to carry us to Las Noches," Aizen said, fending off an incoming kido blast, "My powers are still sealed away and Kyouka Suigetsu has not regained his completely. It would take us much longer to reach the fortress without you. But you had best make him cooperate or I will have to kill you both right here!"
Despite his desperation, Tetsuya realized quickly that fighting the man was not going to help, and that he stood a better chance of escaping, the longer he lived. He nodded to the stallion.
"Arashi," he said quietly, "You will take us to Las Noches."
The horse's blue eyes flared, but he settled somewhat and calmed as Aizen nudged Tetsuya forward and the two mounted the stallion. Kyouka Suigetsu met Aizen's eyes for a moment, then faded.
"My zanpakutou will kill you immediately if you try anything," he warned Tetsuya, "And remember, you cannot kill me while the hougyoku is fused with me. You have no choice but to do as I say."
Aizen looked up as the sound of the cleaner rose up in the distance.
"Come now, let's be off."
Tetsuya met the traitor's brown eyes furiously for a moment, but then sighed in resignation and nudged the horse with his heels. He flinched as Aizen's arms wrapped around him.
"You are quite spirited," the brown-eyed shinigami observed quietly, "Both of you. I am rather glad I found a reason not to kill you, Tetsuya. I find you oddly interesting."
"I find you repulsive," Tetsuya said under his breath, bringing an amused smirk to Aizen's lips, "And I hope you die painfully."
"Spoken like a true member of the Kuchiki clan," the traitor said, shaking his head and tightening his arms around the noble.