This story is the kindofish sequel to As the Pillar Crumbles which can be found in Bleach: A Collection if you check my profile. It is not necessary to read both to understand either.

Modus Operandi of a Mastermind

by: Ryokoful (Lewd Concubine)

The first thing Ryuuken noticed about his new roommate, other than his heritage, was the man's icy glare.

Aizen clearly had a type. This ironically meant that Ryuuken's living conditions would not be worse for his new companion.

"Quincy," the man began, after his Arrancar escort left them. He was tall, stood straight, and was still in possession of his zanpakutou. Much like Ryuuken's bow, it didn't mean much here. Still, it was good to know.

Ryuuken folded the outdated trade journal he was reading-one of the few luxuries allowed him-across his lap and returned the glare directed his way with one of equal measure.

"Shinigami."

Silence grew and stretched between the two. Neither moved until finally, as if a spell had been broken, Ryuuken crossed his legs at the same time the Shinigami took a step forward. The other man's gaze slipped away to cover the love seat, swept over the table with two chairs, and past the bookshelf filled with classic tomes to linger on the single king-sized bed. Another might have raised an outcry or questioned it, maybe nodded in acceptance. This one merely let the weight of his gaze speak for itself. Although, if he was expecting Ryuuken to take the cue, he was sorely mistaken.

Finally having intuited this, and again without saying a word, the Shinigami strode past him to gaze out of the huge window whose reiatsu-proof glass pane took prominence in the center of the even larger wall. Moonlight and the low lamplight warred for dominance across the mark of the Shinigami's rank drawn so boldly on the back of his cloak.

It would be another day before they spoke again and even longer before Ryuuken learned the Sixth Captain's name. In the interim, they slept in the same bed, ate at the same table, and languished in the same silent hell.

"How long have you been here?" The man's voice jarred after so long. It startled Ryuuken out of the reverie in which he had been indulging. His gaze slid sidelong to meet the Shinigami's own.

"Long enough."

"Hm," came the reply.

Ryuuken looked away, and the silence resumed for another ten minutes. But it appeared the Shinigami was in a talkative mood today-or tonight, who could truly tell?-for he spoke up again.

"You are the ryoka, Ishida Uryuu's, father."

It wasn't a question and he didn't bother to answer. Instead, Ryuuken puffed on his cigarette a few times.

"Soul Society fell," he said, when he was done. Aizen had been gone for a time, and now this. It was the obvious conclusion.

Ryuuken didn't think the Shinigami would respond, and he was right. It wasn't until their meal arrived that their talk resumed.

"And the Imperial Guard?"

Another long moment passed, with the Captain of the Sixth taking his time lifting a small rice cake to his mouth and then chewing.

"Defeated," he finally said. The Shinigami closed his eyes in a slow blink that Ryuuken knew from experience belied deep emotion. Pain, in this instance.

Ryuuken was now aware of everything he needed to know.

They did not speak again. Not when it came time for bed and they both undressed, not when the Arrancar came to take Ryuuken to Aizen's private chambers late that night, and certainly not upon his disheveled return. The Shinigami even had the decency to pretend to be asleep despite the fact Ryuuken could tell by his reiatsu he was not. That Ryuuken was allowed this respite to his dignity after another night of affronted pride and that he was also permitted to shower and then finally sleep in peace had him, if not liking, then certainly appreciating the man a little.

At least until breakfast the next morning when the subject finally reared its ugly head.

"This is our purpose."

Ryuuken paused with his chopsticks halfway to his mouth. Though the man's gaze remained steadily on his own, he could tell he noticed the lurid bruises marring the pale column of Ryuuken's throat. His disgust was thinly veiled. Ryuuken took no offense. He knew it wasn't directed at him per se.

"You should prepare yourself," he said, for he could tell by that utterance if nothing else that the Shinigami had yet to endure such a trial. He also knew it would come sooner than later. Aizen didn't usually mark him so obviously. Ryuuken was well aware of the fact he was being used in a different way here. He closed his eyes and breathed in deep, then let it out slow. "He will use us against each other." It was more than he would usually have said, but given the circumstances Ryuuken felt it appropriate.

"He will try."

Ryuuken nodded once. He met the Shinigami's eyes and an unspoken vow was made. Whatever their circumstances, they would not become a weakness for each other.

Ryuuken might have loved Isshin, but he despised Shinigami in general. He could tell the Captain of the Sixth felt something similar. It should have been easy, but where Aizen was concerned nothing ever was. Ryuuken came to learn this the hard way after Aizen gave Uryuu to one of his abominations as a present when Ryuuken refused to cooperate. It was only the threat of further punishment for Uryuu that made him pliable now. Despite outward appearances, Ryuuken really did care about his son. He simply always believed in tough love where the boy was concerned. Uryuu's temperament and keen interest in their heritage made it necessary. Ryuuken fully admitted both to himself and to Isshin that he wasn't the best at it-he had not wanted children in the first place-but he always did what he thought was best for the boy. One day, Uryuu would understand. That was if their circumstances ever changed.

Ryuuken set his chopsticks down.

"Who does he have?"

A pause before the Shinigami answered. "My sister."

Ryuuken noted the fact the Shinigami had not given him any more information than was strictly necessary. He could appreciate that. They finished their meal in silence.

That night-he assumed, it was always an assumption-and the next, and the one following that, Aizen called for him. Yet they did not speak of it despite the increasing viciousness and visibility of the marks on Ryuuken's body. He was used to it, but he knew the Shinigami was not. While Ryuuken may not have said it, he was grateful for the consideration. On the matter of pride, at least, he trusted the stranger in his bed.

Up until this time, Aizen hadn't mentioned a thing about the Shinigami and nor had Ryuuken asked. It was to be what felt like three weeks this way before the man-who-would-be-god broke down this barrier as he had with all Ryuuken's others.

"How are you finding my dear Byakuya-kun?" Aizen's voice sent an unwanted thrill through Ryuuken where he hung twisting from the ceiling. Whatever kind of god he imagined himself to be, Aizen didn't seem ready to abandon his shady proclivities in the near future.

"Will you toss me aside soon?" Ryuuken kept the hope from his tone, but he couldn't help the little hitch in his breath. Aizen caressed his side at that very moment almost as if he had planned it that way. Although to be fair, Ryuuken reasoned, he probably anticipated the response.

"And miss out on our repartee?" The man's smile was magnanimous, but Ryuuken knew a monster lurked underneath. He was convinced that the only reason Aizen didn't have his Octava, that abomination calling itself a scientist of all things, render him mute was because Ryuuken's acerbic replies aroused him in some way. Sure enough, he silenced Ryuuken with a possessive kiss that put all his hopes and fears to rest.

Ryuuken returned to his-their-room that night sorer than ever, but in possession of a name for the face pretending to sleep so soundly despite the ray of light crossing his cheek from the open door at Ryuuken's back. He let it fall closed but Kuchiki Byakuya's breath didn't so much as hitch. He was very similar to Ryuuken in many respects, after all. Aizen definitely had a type.

It was soon after this that Aizen summoned Byakuya instead of Ryuuken. The Shinigami rose from his evening meditation to stand stiff and tall. His gaze cut across the creature sent to fetch him. Ryuuken imagined he saw it flinch. He certainly almost did, but not for the obvious reason. It was because he remembered the first time this had happened to him, how he had refused, and how Uryuu had paid the price for whatever small insubordination he managed. It wasn't worth it. It wasn't-

"Don't." Ryuuken was surprised as much by the sound of his own voice as he was for the fact he had spoken up in the first place. He cleared his unused throat as the now familiar weight of Byakuya's gaze settled on him instead. "It's not worth it."

The shift in the Shinigami's expression was subtle, but telling. Ryuuken said no more. He didn't need to. Another might have second-guessed it or assumed the worst, but Ryuuken had come to know this man and his silences very well indeed. A reply wasn't necessary when nuance sufficed just as well, better in fact.

Byakuya left and Ryuuken was all alone. He found he minded it much more than he used to. For better or worse, two men who should have been anathema to each other had become companions in this hell. The only tension that remained between them was the uncertainty of when this very event, Aizen finally acting on his perverse desire toward the man, would occur. Now this too was dispelled. There was nothing left.

Nothing but the way in which Aizen would use them against each other. Ryuuken was no fool. He knew that whatever comfort he received was actually a form of control. This was no exception. But all that would come later. For now, he had nothing but his books and magazines to fill the lonely time. Ryuuken picked up one of his outdated trade journals and began to leaf through it. To no avail.

Eventually he paced the room, stared out the window, took a shower, and finally lay down to feign sleep.

It was hours more before Byakuya came back. Ryuuken returned the favor, but he couldn't help but notice the shuffling sound of Byakuya's steps and the fluctuations in his reiatsu. He was injured, badly even. Still Ryuuken didn't move. This was severe, yes, but worse still would be an injury to the man's pride. The body would heal, but a wound there might fester or, indeed, give Aizen more power over both of them.

Ryuuken was up and ready well before Byakuya awoke. An unusual occurrence, but one of which he would take full advantage. He had his medical equipment ready and was prepared to use any number of Quincy healing techniques he himself devised much earlier in his life. Byakuya rose and allowed him to treat the broken arm and fractured hip. Ryuuken sped along the healing of both of these injuries, but set Byakuya's arm in a homemade sling just in case. While he didn't think Aizen would allow it, if the bone grew in wrong it might end up a permanent injury. No words were exchanged during this or Ryuuken's precise cleaning and bandaging of the myriad little wounds on his body. It wasn't until all was done and the Arrancar who usually brought their breakfast came and went that Byakuya said anything at all.

"I owe you thanks, Ishida Ryuuken." There was a subtle difference to his expression. This was one he never saw the man wear.

"I am a healer." Ryuuken made careful use of a term he was certain the Shinigami would better understand. He meant to resolve any perceived debt of honor between them and assure Byakuya that this was par for the course with him.

"She is safe." The expression made more sense now. Byakuya was happy. More mysterious was how this had come about.

"How?" For once, there was a question in Ryuuken's tone. A subtle lilting of the end syllable that would normally have gone unnoticed.

"I did not deny him anything. Perhaps it was not what he wanted from me. But she is safe." Before, Ryuuken surmised that Byakuya refused him to end up so damaged. Now he knew otherwise. He also knew first-hand that Aizen needed no excuse for sadism, most especially in private, and that these injuries were not simply the result of thwarted plans. Aizen would find another way to get what he wanted, maybe a worse one.

"I have done you no favors, Kuchiki Byakuya. He will have his way in the end." This was the most they had spoken at one time. Ryuuken expected it to end there, but it did not. Being in Byakuya's perceived debt apparently eased the man's stoicism toward him.

"It is more than I had hoped."

They talked more after this, and would in general ever after. The two would never be as loose lipped as some of their contemporaries, but now they could share quiet conversation and the occasional disagreement in addition to their numerous companionable silences.

Byakuya, as it turned out, shared many of Ryuuken's aesthetics. And neither begrudged their myriad differences in light of the circumstances.

It was only when it grew closer to that time that a more somber mood overtook them. The unspoken question of exactly who would be called to entertain the would-be god hung in the air between the two. Ryuuken would have slept if he would've been able to manage it. He retreated into the safety of the familiar worn volumes lining the shelf instead.

When the hour came, each perked up at the slow, steady sound of footsteps approaching the door. There was a fleeting second of normalcy before the massive weight of Aizen's reiatsu engulfed them both. Ryuuken's eyes widened just the slightest and he met Byakuya's equally astonished gaze. The door swung open to admit Aizen a mere second after this silent exchange. He strode in and stopped in the middle of the room. Aizen's expression was warm, as usual.

"You seem to be fairing well, my dear...gentlemen." Aizen's tone was smooth as ever and his gaze amused. Ryuuken wasn't fooled. It could have meant anything or nothing at all. "Which of you would like to accompany me?"

There was a moment's pause where he saw Byakuya begin to stand out of the corner of his eye.

"I will go," Ryuuken said, before either of the two men could interfere. He stood and made his way to Aizen's side before any objections could be raised. He told himself that he wasn't doing it for a Shinigami of all people. It was simply that he was used to and could handle it.

"Very well, Ryuuken." The way Aizen said his name made him shiver. It was full of dark promise. Here was truly a god of Hollow: voracious, insatiable, and merciless. However he appeared to them and to his various other followers, Aizen's true colors revealed themselves behind closed doors. It was only then that he allowed his benevolent facade to slip.

This time when Ryuuken returned, Byakuya was waiting for him. If the man knew how much Ryuuken despised tea after so long in Aizen's company, he might not have two cups ready and waiting on the table. Ryuuken would have to drink it now as a matter of pride if not the thanks the gesture deserved.

Steam rose from both cups to drift gently upward into the white nothingness of their shared space.

"It was unnecessary," Byakuya said, after Ryuuken sank, wincing, into his seat.

"This was not for your benefit."

Byakuya gazed at him over his glass. He didn't say a word, but it was clear from this alone that he didn't believe Ryuuken. Still, the honorable thing to do was not to question Ryuuken's reply and Byakuya was nothing if not that. They finished their tea in silence and retired. And if they were a little less stiff and formal with each other between the sheets, Ryuuken didn't question it.

The next day Aizen returned with the same question. This time Byakuya took action before Ryuuken could. When he returned, Ryuuken set out the same two cups of tea for the both of them. Byakuya bore no physical injuries this time, but there was a shadow in his gaze that Ryuuken found disconcerting. He didn't ask about it though. Byakuya would tell him if he felt the need.

"This is what he wants," Ryuuken said, instead.

"I know."

There was nothing more to say about the matter.

After that, there were no more Arrancar escorts. Aizen came every time with the same question. He never waited more than a second for the reply. Weeks turned into months and still Aizen didn't tire of this game. Ryuuken knew his expressions well by now and swore Aizen was only growing more amused over time. Ryuuken also knew the man was building up to something, but he couldn't quite fathom his end goal. What he did know was that he had something else for which to live and fight. It wasn't Byakuya per se, but the idea of Byakuya, the idea of someone else, someone tangible who he could protect somehow. Even if that protection amounted to little more than volunteering in his stead. Ryuuken succeeded at least half the time. He, they-for Ryuuken was certain Byakuya felt the same way-, might have been playing right into Aizen's hands but it didn't matter. They would control what they could and protect each other where they might. In such a way, their individual senses of pride and honor remained unblemished even while they were forced to degrade their bodies.

They became comfortable with each other, too comfortable he was sure. They didn't speak much, but then they didn't need words to communicate. One year together and Ryuuken felt he knew Byakuya almost as well as he knew his own son. Which said something about his skills as a father, he knew. He was almost starting to forget what that was like. He was almost starting to forget what it felt like to love Isshin as well.

One morning Ryuuken woke tangled in Byakuya's arms. Neither, of course, said anything about it, but Ryuuken now felt he knew what Aizen wanted from them. They had time enough for this to become habit rather than exception, time enough for a deep sense of desperate longing and shame to take root in Ryuuken's heart. Still, it was even longer before Aizen acted on what he surely knew by then.

His answer came the night when Aizen beckoned both to his chambers. The two shared a glance. Both followed in tandem with Byakuya in front and Ryuuken's eyes glued to his back the whole way.

"Please, undress," came Aizen's usual command when they arrived. Another glance before each looked deliberately away as they both disrobed. They might have slept in the same bed and used the same shower, might have lived together in the same room and been subject to the same kind of violation, but never at the same time. Seeing Byakuya like this was wrong.

Aizen surveyed them with his usual warm, amused smile from his monstrous throne-like seat. He beckoned Ryuuken with one crooked finger and said to Byakuya, "kneel."

Ryuuken strode forward with stubborn confidence as Byakuya sank to his knees behind him. He met Aizen's gaze and the man's smile widened. Aizen didn't have to gesture for Ryuuken to drop to his knees as well. After all this time, Ryuuken knew just what he wanted. In this, at least.

Ryuuken found Aizen already hard. He tugged aside cloth and took him into his mouth. As Ryuuken began to suck, he heard Aizen tell Byakuya not to look away. Then he threaded his fingers through Ryuuken's hair.

"Lift your hips." Ryuuken complied with the order. "Higher."

He lifted himself until his flesh was completely exposed. All the while, he could feel Byakuya's gaze burning into him exactly where Aizen wanted it. Ryuuken relaxed his throat and admitted Aizen deeper. Aizen didn't so much as flinch.

"Doesn't he look good like this, Byakuya?" Aizen's tone was conversational and betrayed nothing. "Come." Soft footfalls echoed through the room until Byakuya was right behind him. Ryuuken labored with his mouth while sick anticipation drew his mind elsewhere. This was wrong, worse than anything he'd ever been forced to endure. The worst part about it was that he wanted it. He wanted Byakuya. Ryuuken could admit that now. Aizen knew it, too. He knew because he was the one who had orchestrated the whole thing.

There was one thing Aizen would never take from him though. Ryuuken's insurmountable pride would remain untouched in this and this alone and if it were to be taken away the entire thing would fall like a house of cards. Aizen knew that, too. Everything hinged on the decision Ryuuken would make in his heart.

"Tie his hands."

Byakuya hesitated, but complied after Ryuuken lifted his arms for him. He tied them tight. Ryuuken shuddered as he lost contact with the ambient reishi and all that he managed to collect was drained away. He was more vulnerable now than ever.

"Take what you've been wanting, Byakuya." Ryuuken glared daggers at Aizen to no avail. Hesitant, calloused hands fell to his back and Ryuuken's paradigm shattered. He knew Aizen wanted him to doubt Byakuya and he wouldn't do it. What crippled his resolve was how cared for and comforted he felt at that mere touch. Ryuuken hardened. He made a strangled noise in his throat that even caused Aizen to look down at him.

"Are you that excited, my dear Quincy?" His ever-amused gaze traveled the length of Ryuuken's body to where Byakuya stood. The hands on Ryuuken's back drifted lower. He shuddered as Byakuya's warm palm cupped one cheek and then spread him. Those same fingers that had tangled in his hair that morning in a kind of intimacy that could only be brought by solidarity against terrifying circumstance now readied him with the same gentle familiarity. It was as if they had been lovers for years. The intrusion came soon after and had Ryuuken groaning around Aizen while he struggled to accommodate Byakuya and then match his tortuously slow strokes.

Aizen shifted and tensed for the first time. He swelled in Ryuuken's mouth.

Ryuuken continued taking both of them even when Byakuya sped up. Just that minute amount of time and he already felt ready to explode. Ryuuken knew he wasn't by himself in this, either. He would have been able to tell from Aizen's now-smoldering gaze alone that the man was close. Byakuya gripped him tighter too.

An eternity and an instant on that precipice. Ryuuken broke first. He somehow managed to keep going long enough for Byakuya to send his nose bumping against Aizen's torso until the would-be god finally relented, and Byakuya himself soon after. Ryuuken felt him shudder and accepted all he had to give.

"Beautiful," Aizen said. For once, Ryuuken agreed.

That night back in the illusory privacy of their shared room, they didn't wait for sleep to twine them together. Instead, and without words, they came together under the light of the ever-present moon and held each other while they fell asleep. Byakuya kept his deep, dark eyes on Ryuuken until he closed his own.

Ryuuken and Byakuya didn't speak or act differently afterwards. There were no apologies, and there was no debating or defining of the issue. They both, it seemed, long ago accepted their reality for what it was. What happened in that room stayed in that room. What happened in their room was different.

Ryuuken would never let himself be with Byakuya that way here. He couldn't. Ryuuken already had a boyfriend whom he loved. To sleep with anyone else of his own volition would be a betrayal of the worst sort. He wouldn't do it as a matter of loyalty and pride. Though his regard for Byakuya had come to rival what he had with Isshin, he still couldn't. Ryuuken's house of cards might sway with the whim of the breeze, but it could never be allowed to fall. But Ryuuken didn't need to tell all this to Byakuya and he wouldn't. Suffering came with the territory and he always accepted and bore with it.

Thereafter, Aizen would either come with his usual question or summon them both. He never asked Ryuuken to do anything to Byakuya though. It was as if he knew, given the choice, Ryuuken would disobey him instantly. Aizen had a further game in mind that Ryuuken couldn't begin to fathom.

Time passed, one year turned into two. Ryuuken no longer read his trade journals.

A fourth party joined them in Aizen's bedroom, a woman this time. The Tercera might have differed in species and gender, but she shared the same stoic personality. Aizen definitely had a type. Privately, Ryuuken felt she was also less than pleased to share their position. This was an odd though for shouldn't she be overjoyed at the chance to service her god? For all his time in Las Noches, Ryuuken never interacted with any Arrancar on more than a cursory basis. Her apparently complex motives and loyalties remained a mystery to him.

After their first time with the female Arrancar, Byakuya finally acted on what they had both been feeling for more than a year. Ryuuken woke to soft lips on his neck.

"I can't," he said.

The lips stopped, but Byakuya held him tighter. "I know."

It would be a long time before either found sleep again that night.

Ryuuken enjoyed the respite when Aizen didn't show one night soon after. He didn't begin to worry until three more passed without so much as a word. It was the longest Aizen ever left them alone. The would-be god's needs rivaled his spiritual strength, as well Ryuuken knew. To add to his suspicions, the Arrancar who served their meals seemed jittery. Ryuuken would have questioned it if he felt that would get him anywhere. But Aizen didn't tell his peons much. The mind of a god was not for mere followers to know. He, Byakuya, and the female Arrancar were likely the closest of any besides Gin to understanding him and even then it was far from a perfect knowledge.

Another two nights and Ryuuken was absolutely certain something was going on. His worries were verified by Byakuya who suddenly said, "something is amiss."

Ryuuken stood and joined him at the window. There was smoke rising from somewhere in Las Noches. If he stood to the far side of the window from it, he could almost make out the source. Somewhere around the Cuarta's area. Ryuuken shared a glance with Byakuya. Of all the places for it to be emanating from... Hope and fear warred in Ryuuken's chest. Both hands would've been squeezed into fists, but Byakuya took hold of one of them just as he turned from the sight to pierce Ryuuken with his dark, steady gaze.

Neither dared say a word. Ryuuken, especially, as among the reiatsu signatures he thought he felt someone familiar.

The day passed in tense silence, with more smoke and even an explosion somewhere. Ryuuken felt more than heard anything and his heart beat all the faster for it. Dinner never came. That night, he waited anxiously for Aizen to appear and began to pace and chain smoke when he did not. Byakuya, it seemed, suffered a similar agony although he dealt with it by meditating instead.

Later, much later that same night, Ryuuken woke to damp sheets and the certainty that someone was coming for them. Byakuya lay awake beside him gripping Senbonzakura's sheath in a tight fist. Both sat up at the loud and awkward cry of a dying man. Seconds later and the door burst open to reveal-

Isshin.

For a moment, Ryuuken's heart stopped. He opened his mouth and closed it but no words came. And then Isshin was on him, never doubting anything despite appearances, with plaintive cries of his name. Ryuuken hardly registered the other people, other Shinigami crowding into the room. His arms rose slowly and he gripped the fabric of Isshin's shihakushou as his once lover crushed him against his huge chest. Behind him, Uryuu was pale-faced but smiling.

"Isshin, Uryuu..." he said, finally. It was all he could manage. He hardly had time to register a small, female Shinigami he assumed was Rukia giving Byakuya a more dignified version of the same treatment before Isshin pulled him up.

"Ryuuken, we have to go. We have to go now."

Then they, all of them, were running. Ryuuken drew his bow for the first time in forever, but there was no need. Corpses of Arrancar littered the corridor. No new ones appeared. He could now see clearly the source of all the smoke. The palace was a mess wherever he looked.

They ran and finally, for the first time in over two years, Ryuuken stepped outside the walls of Las Noches and onto the great desert plain of Hueco Mundo. He, Isshin, Byakuya, and a host of other Shinigami. Sand kicked up under his feet and his unused muscles screamed, but still they ran. Then, when they were far enough that even Las Noches looked small, they stopped. One of the Shinigami drew out a round object and held it out in front of them. A gargantua began to open, but a mere second later the dream was over.

Ryuuken registered the warmth of the blood on his face before anything else. The red color came second. The groans were just beginning to hit his ears by the time he realized he needed to wipe off his glasses to see. And when he did just that, the dull thuds of many bodies hitting the sand registered. Bodies everywhere, blood on everything, and Isshin face down on the sand. All this must have happened in the blink of an eye, but to Ryuuken there was an eternity between what he saw and the realization of what it meant.

He, Byakuya, Uryuu, and Rukia stood in the middle of all their dead would-be rescuers with Aizen off to the side. Kyouka Suigetsu was in its sheath, but a line of blood nearby on the sand suggested Aizen had shaken the zanpakutou off and resheathed it. The man was smiling that same smile.

For once, Ryuuken didn't think. He only charged with Byakuya and the others right behind. A cry built in his throat until two years worth of anguish and impotent rage came out all at once as his arrows, feet, and fists flew.

Aizen dodged everything, of course.

All he said was, "what did you think would happen, my dear Quincy?" Then with a single flick of his wrist, Ryuuken was out.

He awoke back in the accursed room with Byakuya lying next to him. Ryuuken didn't move or acknowledge Byakuya when he spoke. He simply stared open-eyed and uncomprehending at the white nothingness of the walls as they stretched toward an intangible yet permanent ceiling.

Ryuuken didn't move or eat. Aizen came that night as if nothing had happened, but Ryuuken didn't so much as blink.

Byakuya left, Byakuya came back.

The next day he forced ice chips past Ryuuken's unresponsive lips. Later, he made him sit and fed him soup. Much later, Aizen came again.

Byakuya left, Byakuya came back. So the routine went for many days. Byakuya taking his place. Byakuya making him eat and drink. Eventually, Byakuya making him shower, Byakuya shaving away the stubble. Byakuya talking to him, Byakuya reading to him.

Then one night, soft lips on his neck. And this time, this time Ryuuken didn't refuse him. There was no reason to turn him away anymore. Ryuuken buried that thought deep inside even as Byakuya buried himself in his body. Byakuya, who understood him. Byakuya, who soothed him. Byakuya, who loved him.

Ryuuken cried out his name as he came. Afterward, Byakuya did his best to kiss away his sorrow and guilt. Ryuuken didn't say anything. He just let Byakuya know with his eyes how he felt.

Their gazes locked and it was like drowning.

.

They came together again, and again that night, his lovely pets.

Aizen watched them over the video feed with the same beatific smile he always wore.

Gin found him that way when he came. Aizen didn't bother turning off the feed. He seldom hid anything from his treacherous second-in-command, nor did he want to. More spice for their particular game.

Aizen half-listened until Gin mentioned them.

"Giving 'em reason to hope like that wasn't very nice. What'll you do now that you got what you wanted?" The man's cruel smile stretched.

"Oh, I'm just getting started." Aizen answered as if Gin wasn't perfectly aware of his past and future plans for the two.

"Not bored with 'em yet?" A chuckle. "Well, I suppose they'll like getting outta that room now and then."

Gin spoke of the fact that the short-lived Arrancar rebellion was over and that all detrimental elements had been removed. Aizen had been waiting on this for years. Now that only the faithful remained, the corridors, as it happened, were safe for their passage. And, of course, since he had laid a trap for their hopes and dreams before crushing them under his feet, he had no reason to fear they might try to escape. Not that there was anywhere to run. Everything and everyone in their place and he above it all.

"Yes, I'm sure they will."

For a moment, the warmth in his gaze dissolved to reveal nothing but the resplendent darkness of his heart. Then the moment passed and it was as if it never was.

.

I needed a flirt with something deeper and Maya (Emochromatic) said it couldn't be done, or rather that it would be almost impossible to do. So, of course I had to accept the challenge. And you know what? She was right. Byakuya and Ryuuken are not characters that lend themselves easily to happiness. Especially with each other. Then there is the matter of Aizen. It was destined to come to this end. Although, in the bottom of my sadistic, keikaku-loving heart, I love him for it.

Edit 11-1-13: Thank you to all those who have faved and reviewed. It's always a joy whenever I see these notifications in my inbox :) I've had some interesting conversations with a few of you and I'm grateful for it. Thank you also to Awesomehat for pointing out my overuse of 'myriad.' Since I can't reply to anonymous reviews, I hope you come back here and see this! I think I hit up everyone...apologies for any misses-definitely not intentional!

Modus Operandi of a Mastermind II focuses on Szayel and Uryuu's relationship aaaand is now available for your reading pleasure in my profile. I'm currently at work on the third and likely final installment and will throw up a misc compilation of outtakes from the Modus universe sometime after that (Aaroniero/Rukia, anyone?).