He's starting to get sick of waking up here.

He sighs, staring at the ceiling, and unwilling to drag himself up and face the King right at this moment. That universe had been sickening. The knowledge that, in the right circumstances, he can be that brutal, that deadly, and not even care. He knows why that Ichigo had done what he did, how could he not after being in his head, but to be that emotionally confused at a single person, and turn it all into that twisted of a revenge…

A hand invades his vision, a decidedly normal looking and not faintly glowing one, and he turns his eyes down to look at Aizen. The older man doesn't seem particularly pleased at offering him a hand, if his narrowed eyes are anything to go by, but the hand remains regardless. He takes it after hesitating a moment, and Aizen hauls him to his feet without apparent effort.

He looks around, not seeing anyone in the off white room, and shoots Aizen a questioning glance. The older man gives a tiny shrug, releasing his hand.

"The King's not here, or at least not visible."

"Oh," he voices, watching the taller man. Awkward silence reigns for several long moments before he sighs, raising his right hand to drag through his hair. "Do you think he's telling the truth?" No clarification is needed for Aizen to respond.

"I don't see a reason for him to deceive us. You're also not that type of person," the traitor pauses, a grimace flickering across his face, "usually."

He can't help snorting, gaze falling to the floor. "Not a fan of that universe either, huh?"

Aizen makes a mildly disgusted noise and he looks back up in time to catch the edge of a frown on the older man's face. "Not as such. Was he caught in the trap?"

"Yeah, him and the espada and a bunch of smaller arrancar. So that Aizen knew?"

The taller man gives a small nod, eyes flickering around the room for a moment before once again settling on him. "It was his idea. He figured if they sent a slightly underpowered team to Las Noches, and at least one member was killed, that Kurosaki would attempt to strike and Yamamoto could kill him."

"Decent logic," he says softly, and Aizen gives a quiet chuckle.

"Of course. My intelligence remains regardless of the universe, you've seen that." Just a bit ago that would have made him angry, sent him yelling at the older man in argument, but now he sees the truth in the statement. The only part that irritates him about the statement now is the implied assumption that Aizen's intelligence far outweighs his own. Which is – for the most part – true, but still. Aizen could stand to be a little less obvious about thinking that.

"I think you're underestimating me, Aizen." His words are quiet, but Aizen still picks them up without problem. The traitor's eyes narrow and the smirk on his lips fades.

"Yes, I'm beginning to understand that, Kurosaki. I seem to do it in every universe, don't I?" He swallows under the intense look, jaw clenching a little in automatic defense. The moment passes and Aizen gives a tiny smirk. "So, what are your thoughts on this whole thing?"

He relaxes a fraction and shrugs, glancing once more around the room for any sign of the King's return. "We don't really have a choice, do we? I mean, do this or what… let our universe fall into chaos, let everyone die, on the chance that some other universe will do what we refused to? That seems like a hell of a chance to take," he meets Aizen's eyes, "and besides, would it really be that bad to share the role of King?"

Aizen's eyes narrow again and he almost shivers at the thoughtfulness in the older man's gaze. "I suppose it would depend on the company," Aizen murmurs, and for some reason – which he doesn't understand and refuses to look closer at – he flushes, staring at the traitor with wide eyes.

Luckily, or perhaps unluckily, the King chooses that moment to reappear, announcing himself with a clearing of his throat. "Sorry, had something to take care of. You guys ready for the next stop on our little tour?"

Aizen watches him for a moment more before giving a thin smile and turning his eyes to the King. "Yes, I believe we are." He swallows and ducks his head, refusing to look at either of the two men.

"Then let's go."

Yeah, this whole falling into darkness thing is getting aggravating too.


"Kurosaki-san?"

He shakes his head and focuses on his teacher, Ryuuken, with a tiny grin. "Sorry, sensei. Got a bit dizzy for a second."

The older quincy strides forward, bow fading into thin air, and firmly takes hold of his chin. He sighs and rolls his eyes, letting his own bow evaporate from his hand as his best friend's father drags his head this way and that, examining him.

"Really?" he gripes, "I'm just fine."

Ryuuken eventually releases him and steps back, a frown on the older man's brow. "Perhaps I've been pushing you too hard, you are fairly new at this after all."

He scowls, hands clenching. No, Ryuuken can't back off from this now. When the shinigami had come for his family, slaughtering both his parents and sisters and only missing him by bare minutes, the older man had promised to teach him how to control the quincy powers his mother had passed on to him. She had never taught him, claiming that in this world it was better not to be a quincy, but obviously that's out of the question now. The shinigami hadn't cared that Isshin - an exiled shinigami - hadn't so much as left his gigai in years, or that his mother - one of the last quincy still alive - hadn't summoned her bow in even longer.

Supposed peace or not, they had come after them, and he can't afford to stay untrained for any longer. How long will it take before they come after Urahara, or Uryuu, or any one of his friends that are starting to show signs of powers?

"No! You don't have to baby me, sensei, I'm stronger than that and you know it."

Ryuuken looks down at him, eyes narrowed behind his glasses, and then gives a sigh and steps back. "You certainly inherited Isshin's stubbornness, Kurosaki-san. Very well, but don't expect me to go easy on you either."

He gives a small grin and pulls at his own energy, channeling it through the small pendant hanging around his wrist to create the blue bow quincies are so well known for. His isn't normal looking like Ryuuken's, or Uryuu's, or even his mother's; he can thank Isshin for that. While it is the stereotypical blue, it's thinner than average, though not smaller in total, and a mixture of silver and black energy spirals around what would - if the bow wasn't made of energy - normally be the wooden limb of the bow, melting into the top and bottom seamlessly. Ryuuken thinks it's overly flashy, as does Uryuu, but he rather likes it.

There are a few other things he got from Isshin. While he certainly has all the quincy traits, he also has a ridiculous amount of shinigami potential locked in him, due to Isshin being a former member of the royal guard, and passing that power onto him. All it really means is that he has more power than any other quincy he knows, and if he really wants to he can also - Urahara's offered - train himself as a shinigami.

Wouldn't that be something? A captain level or higher shinigami that's trained as a quincy. It's tempting… Maybe when he's trained to Ryuuken's satisfaction he'll see what Urahara can do for him.

An arrow whizzes past his head with absolutely no warning and he jerks to the side, taking off running and lifting his bow to fire a few quick shots back at his teacher. He has to scowl as Ryuuken literally shoots his arrows out of the air and retaliates with a volley that makes him leap and launch off a wall to avoid. There are more arrows at him before he even lands and he – with skill that both Ryuuken and Uryuu have painstakingly drilled into him over the past month – does his best to replicate Ryuuken's trick. He doesn't manage to get all of them, but he at least manages everything that would have hit him. He's nowhere near Ryuuken's skill level, but the older man's been a quincy for almost sixty years now so it's not real discouraging. He is getting close to Uryuu though. Not in skill, but his reiatsu gives him endurance and speed that his black haired friend can't match, and he's far from humble enough to not get satisfaction from that fact.

Uryuu can still kick his ass half the time, but Ryuuken - grudgingly - has admitted that he's getting much better. Or at least he's picked up that much from Ryuuken's snippy comments of how at least he's not stumbling over his own feet anymore.

He slips to the side and lets a few more arrows go, noting with aggravation - as Ryuuken once again lazily shoots his arrows into nonexistence - that he's going to need to get much closer if he's going to have any effect. Ryuuken might be his superior in all arts quincy, but he's better at hand to hand, and the less time he can give the older man to respond to his attacks the better. True, he'll more than likely get some nasty cuts out of the deal, if Ryuuken doesn't just straight out shoot him, but it'll be totally worth it if he can get in even a glancing blow.

He leaps out of the way of another volley, rolling to standing, and then uses a step of hirenkyaku - which for some reason even Ryuuken can't explain he's really good at - to jump into the air above the older man and unleash another burst down at the silver hair. Immediately after that he steps again, coming in crouched low behind the older man, and draws an arrow to fire into Ryuuken's lower back. Quite suddenly there's the burning fire of an arrow at his throat as his own presses into the older man's stomach.

He grins up at Ryuuken, sweat from the hours he's been here beading on the back of his neck, and keeps the bow drawn tight despite the energy it takes. "So?"

Ryuuken gives a tiny shake of his head and rolls his eyes, drawing back and letting the arrow on his bow fade. "At least I cannot fault your speed, though your strategy and skill still leave much to be desired. Again."

When the older quincy finally releases him at nearly two in the morning, he's completely exhausted. He can go a full day with Uryuu and still have energy to spare, but sparring with Ryuuken is an entirely different matter. He wanders upstairs from Ryuuken's super-secret basement and to his room, a converted guest room, crashing onto the bed without bothering to undress or anything. While his sleep is easy, his alarm clock still wakes him up far too early for his liking, and after his morning ritual he's on his way to school.

While Ryuuken had argued against him continuing his schooling - due to the fact that the shinigami might try and finish the job they'd started - he'd eventually won that particular match. He refuses to go into hiding and give up his entire life because of them, and while he knows they're watching him - can routinely see them perched on buildings and trees - they haven't come after him yet. They seem content to watch, and for the moment he's alright with that. He isn't sure exactly how strong his watchers are, and he doesn't want to try challenging them about it until he's sure he can handle whatever the shinigami throw at him.

His friends meet him in the halls, as usual. Orihime, Chad, Keigo, Mizuro, and Tatsuki. General greeting exchanged, they slip into class seconds before the bell rings. He takes his seat next to Uryuu - who always beats him here, somehow - and ignores the disapproving glare the teacher throws at him and his friends. He pulls his notebook out, perfectly willing to ignore everything the teacher is talking about for the moment, and glances out the window. That stills him for a second in surprise. The usual shinigami watcher isn't perched outside in the tree, in fact he doesn't see anyone at all, which is completely unheard of.

"We have a new student in today, class."

He looks back up, stiffening slightly in his seat at the girl that walks in through the open door. She's small, black haired, with large violet eyes, and even from here he can feel the reiatsu in her frame. He glances over at Uryuu who gives him a miniscule nod, his friend's eyes narrowed behind the glasses covering them.

Shinigami.

The girl introduces herself as Kuchiki Rukia and takes the strangely empty seat on his left, flashing him a blindingly bright smile as the teacher continues with the normal lesson. "Let's be friends, hm?" she murmurs, eyes so absurdly pleasant he can only assume it's faked.

"I don't think so," he hisses back, and gets a stealthily delivered elbow to the ribs from Uryuu. He rounds on the shorter man with a glare and finds the quincy completely ignoring him, blue eyes turned up to the front.

Class, for the most part, proceeds without any more than the usual distractions - Keigo's screaming, Chizuru's molestations, etc. But throughout the entire class he can feel the shinigami girl's gaze burning into the side of his head, though the few times he glances over she's not looking at him. Finally it's over and he drags himself from the chair, careful to get out on Uryuu's side, and joins the group of his friends that are slowly pulling together. But before they can head out and upwards to their usual hangout on the roof the shinigami girl approaches them.

"Hi," she says, one hand reaching out and clearly expecting him to shake it, "I'm Rukia!"

He almost just ignores her, but under the eyes of his friends, and Uryuu specifically who is giving him the look of 'go along with this right now or I'll kick your ass', he reluctantly shakes the girl's hand. "Ichigo," he grunts out, and she smiles and holds onto his hand a moment longer than necessary.

"It's good to meet you, Ichigo-san."

Uryuu calmly grabs hold of his arm and pulls him to the back of the group as they swarm forward to meet this strange and fascinating new girl. "Be nice, Ichigo."

"Why?" he demands, and Uryuu gives him another look, this one screaming 'you're being a dumbass, listen to me.'

"They're testing you, isn't it obvious? They're done watching, they want to know if you're a threat or not. Behave, or so help me I will put an arrow in your ass, you understand?"

It makes too much sense, and he grits his teeth for a moment before relaxing. "Alright, fine. I'll be nice, Uryuu, promise."

The group heads up to the roof, with the addition of the shinigami girl, and settles in with the hum of comfortable conversation, lunches splayed across the concrete roof. Predictably the girl - he does in fact remember her name - manages to seat herself right next to him.

"So how are you, Ichigo-san?" she starts, and it's only the burn of Uryuu's gaze on his shoulders that forces him to remain polite and restrain the sarcastic comment on the tip of his tongue.

"Fine, I guess. You?"

She smiles again and he reaches for his lunch, pulling the sandwich - which he'd made because Ryuuken is pretty crap at all things domestic - from his lunch bag and biting into it. "Good! And your family?"

He nearly chokes, coughing and forcing himself to swallow the last bit of sandwich before looking over at her. "Excuse me?"

Her smile is bright but there's something in her eyes, some flicker of inspection, that proves she knows just what she's doing. "Your family, Ichigo-san, how are they?"

He almost hits her, rage flaring sharp in his chest, but manages to bite it back. "Dead," he answers bluntly, and her smile flickers a little but remains. He drops his sandwich to his lap and focuses on her, carefully holding back the reiatsu that wants to escape his control even though there's nothing he can do about the anger in his eyes.

"Is there something you want from me, shinigami? Or are you just here to antagonize me?"

He can feel her reiatsu flicker as her eyes flash in surprise, and he feels Uryuu's give a similar flicker behind him. "I don't know what you're talking about, Ichigo-san," she says brightly, and he can't help but snort.

"Sure you don't. Excuse me." He gathers his things and stands, moving over to where Uryuu's sitting several feet away and settling beside him, carefully putting the fellow quincy between him and Rukia. "Don't bite my head off, Uryuu."

"I won't, I heard the conversation," the quincy looks over at him, "I'm honestly surprised you didn't attack her, I've seen you do more for less."

He shrugs, fiddling with the sandwich on his lap and staring resolutely at it. "Yeah, well you told me not to."

"Like you ever listen to me," Uryuu snorts, picking at his bento box - which Uryuu had made because he doesn't trust anyone to make it to his specifications.

"I listen to you when it's important, for the most part."

"Sure," the quincy says dryly, "the way you listened when I told you that my father was going to come up behind you and not to your side like you thought. As I recall you listened to me that time too, nearly gave us both a heart attack."

He winces, recalling the particular training session that Uryuu is talking about. It'd been him and Uryuu against Ryuuken and Uryuu had tried to tell him that the older man was going to attack from behind but, well… he hadn't listened. He'd gotten an arrow through the chest for that and he's never seen Ryuuken more worried than that day.

"Turned out fine, I got to lie in bed for a week and have you fawn over me and smother me."

"Hah! Try that again and see if I do the same thing."

He shoots Uryuu a small grin that immediately vanishes on sighting Rukia past the quincy's head. "You would and you know it," he murmurs, and Uryuu snorts and shakes his head.

"Idiot," his best friend mutters fondly and idly smacks him in the ribs with very little actual force, "Eat your food. I'll keep her away from you."

Uryuu is true to his word. While the shinigami does try to approach him a few more times, Uryuu manages to casually intercept her each time, either stepping in her path or calling attention to some aspect of the conversation that she simply must comment on because she's the new girl. It helps that Chad – his closest friend behind Uryuu – keys on pretty quickly to what the quincy is doing and does his best to assist. By the time they leave she's quietly fuming, though only her reiatsu betrays it.

He'll give the girl that much, she can act.

However as the rest of the group breaks off in their own directions, she follows him and Uryuu, running up and tagging along with the excuse that her house is in the same direction. Uryuu casually places himself between them, beginning a cool conversation with the shinigami girl about some meaningless thing that he doesn't pay attention to.

Instead he watches the streets, the rooftops, eternally wary because as Ryuuken has continuously drilled into him he must be wary all the time. Shinigami don't need to wait for darkness or solitude to strike, not when the general population can't see them. They can strike at any time, any moment, and no one will be the wiser. So he ignores the shinigami just feet away from him, trusting that Uryuu will watch her, and scans the streets. They're bare of shinigami, though he can feel a few in the distance, but he does spot a few members of the gang that likes to harass him down an alley. Luckily they never bother him when he's with anyone, probably due to that one time that they'd underestimated Uryuu and he had handily proved that despite his slender build he was still more than a match for them.

"You seem wary, Ichigo-san." The comment cuts into his awareness and he turns, finding Rukia looking at him with narrowed eyes, Uryuu's lips pressed tightly together in irritation.

"There's a gang that likes to bother me around here," he lies easily, shrugging, and she makes a disbelieving sound.

"Is that right? Not looking for the murderer of your family?"

Strangely it is Uryuu that snaps out a hand instead of him, grabbing the shinigami's arm and dragging her to a halt. She squeaks in surprise but doesn't struggle, violet eyes narrowing. Ichigo stops, anger bright in his chest along with a sickening ball of grief and guilt in his stomach, and glances at Uryuu. The quincy's blue eyes are narrowed, an icy fury in his posture and the stiffness of his shoulders.

"Kuchiki Rukia, I don't know exactly what you hope to gain from antagonizing Kurosaki the way you are, but I will not stand for it," Uryuu's grip tightens on her arm and the shinigami hisses in pain, giving a little jerk as if to escape, "Know that the only reason I have not killed you here and now is that I am well aware of the shinigami's continued observation of us. However, continue to dredge up unwanted memories of your murder of Ichigo's family and I promise I will cease restraining myself, and him."

She tilts her chin up, defiance easily readable in her eyes even though there's a faint tremble to her shoulders. "Threatening to kill me, Ishida-san?"

Uryuu gives a tiny smirk and releases her, "No. But there are quite a few hollows in Karakura, maybe you'll fall to one."

She flinches and her eyes widen, he can feel the quiver of fear in her reiatsu as her control of it slips. He almost sneers as it brushes against him, sensing her power and resisting the urge to loose some of his own in response. She's weak, he can feel that, enough so that it is entirely plausible she would fall to one of the hollows that roam Karakura. They're stronger than average, gorged on the high spiritual power of the souls in the town, and a shinigami like her wouldn't be much of a challenge. One misplaced strike, or dodge, or even a simple slip could kill her. And if Uryuu has his say it will.

"Am I understood, shinigami? Or will you continue with your foolish mission to provoke him?"

She steps back and her head ducks, fear in her eyes. "I'm sorry. I was just following orders, Ishida-san, Kurosaki-san." She runs and they let her, though the still present swirl of emotion in him begs him to chase her down and kill her.

"Come on, Ichigo. We need to tell my father about all this, he knows best how to deal with shinigami."

He follows after only a moment of hesitation, glancing in the direction she'd run and swallowing down the anger and grief. He hates himself for not being there when the shinigami had come for his family, hates himself for choosing on that particular night to run his mother's errands for her. He'd felt it from across town as they descended, felt the reiatsu spike from all the members of his family and the shinigami sent to kill them. He'd gone as fast as he could but Ryuuken, Urahara, and Uryuu had caught him barely a block away from his home, dragging him to the ground and holding him back as he felt his family die, felt the shinigami kill even their souls. He'd hated them for it too, for weeks afterwards, right up until the funeral. It was then that he approached Ryuuken, demanding that the older quincy teach him how to use his powers.

"You owe me that much, Ryuuken."

It doesn't hurt as badly as it had at first, nearly two months ago, but the mention of his family is still enough to wake powerful emotion in him that he can't hope to control. That part of a quincy – the ability to control his emotions and turn them into power and determination – he hasn't mastered yet. Still, he's better than the days where any taunt would make him violent.

When they arrive at the Ishida's house – and his now, too – they find Ryuuken waiting for them in the living room, a cup of tea in his hand and one long leg crossed over the other. The older man seems calm on the outside, but his anger can be read in the even tighter than normal control of his reiatsu and the miniscule tightness of his mouth.

"Sit," Ryuuken nearly hisses, and they obey because really, there's nothing else you can do in the face of an angry quincy. "Uryuu, would you explain to me the reiatsu I felt at your school that then accompanied you halfway back here?"

He sighs and leans back into the couch as Uryuu begins speaking in clipped, polite tones. Luckily, at the end of Uryuu's explanation, Ryuuken seems more irritated than truly angry. The older man sighs and raises a hand to rub over his eyes, brow furrowed.

"Nothing to be done for it now, I suppose. Ichigo, Uryuu, you're both excused from training for tonight. Get to bed at a reasonable hour, don't leave the house."

He nods and rises from the couch, stretching and then wandering over to the kitchen with Uryuu at his heels. Minutes later he takes his steaming bowl of ramen upstairs to his room, leaving Uryuu to create his own dinner – which, he knows, will take the picky man at least another half hour – and settling into his desk chair. Mindless homework ensues, with only the small interruption of Uryuu stopping by for some inane reason, and he loses himself in the accumulated work of the week.

He can feel Uryuu eventually settle into sleep, the quincy's reiatsu smoothing and relaxing from where he normally keeps it tightly contained. Ryuuken doesn't follow, not moving from his study despite the late hour. Finally, at what has to be nearly three in the morning, he feels it.

A gate opens across town and someone, some shinigami, steps out of it. He stiffens and looks up and out his window, the pen still in his hand. The shinigami crosses the town in barely a minute and winds up standing on the roof across the street from him, watching him. He straightens and stands, feeling the power of the shinigami – who he can see from here is wearing a white captain's coat – even though the man has very good control of it.

He's tall, though his build is impossible to tell inside the loose robes the shinigami favor as a uniform, and brown hair hangs around his face and neck, shading glasses. A sword is sheathed at his waist on the left, barely visible under the captain's coat, and the shinigami's left hand idly rests on it. The captain raises his right hand and makes a beckoning motion, mouth flat.

So, this is it then. Rukia, the bitch, clearly figured they were dangerous and therefore needed to be eliminated. He sighs and runs his left hand through his hair, glancing down at himself and grimacing at the realization that he's still in his hideous school uniform which is most certainly not conducive to fighting. He raises his eyes back to the shinigami, finding him waiting patiently and gestures at his clothing with a raised eyebrow.

A tiny smirk slides across the captain's face and he nods, hand falling from his sword. He leans forward over his bed and tugs the curtains closed, not real comfortable with the idea of the shinigami watching him change. He slips out of the uniform and into much more comfortable clothes – a white tank top, black cargo pants, and sneakers. That done he snags the quincy bracelet sitting on his desk and slips it over his left wrist, deeming himself ready.

Ryuuken is waiting by the door when he reaches it, watching him with a strangely neutral expression. "You're not ready to face a captain," the older man states plainly.

"What choice do I have? I go out there or he comes in here, and I'm not putting the both of you in danger for this." He shrugs and grasps the pendant hanging from his wrist in his hand. "I'll do what I can to convince him it was all me."

Ryuuken stares at him for a few moments longer before sighing and shaking his head, doing that trademark quincy thing where he adjusts his glasses and makes them flash against the light. "The Kurosaki family… stubborn bastards, the lot of you." The older man leans down and picks up a foot or so long piece of silver metal, holding it out to him. "Here, you're better with a sword than a bow anyway. I assume you know how to use it?"

He takes the tool – a Seele Schneider – and hooks it into one of the belt loops on his pants, feeling the potential in the piece of metal. "Yeah, Uryuu taught me a few weeks ago. Thanks, Ryuuken."

The older man nods and straightens up, adjusting his shirt. "I'll make sure Uryuu doesn't get involved. Try not to embarrass our name, hm?" Ryuuken leaves without another word, ascending the stairs on nearly silent footsteps, and he steels himself before opening the door and stepping out.

The captain is waiting on the surface of the street, brown eyes flicking over him in examination. He gets closer, watching the older man carefully for any twitch of his hands towards his sword. The captain gives a small smile as he comes within ten feet and inclines his head a bit.

"I assume you're Kurosaki Ichigo," he nods and the captain echoes it, "I'm Aizen Sousuke, captain of the fifth division. It's a pleasure to meet you."

He snorts, eyes narrowing a little. "Can't say the same. You're here to kill me, yeah?"

Aizen gives another nod, smile vanishing. "Unfortunately. The Captain-Commander has decided that you have too much potential to be allowed to live, so I've been sent to ensure that you don't have time to realize that potential."

"A captain, huh? I'm that much of a threat?"

The captain chuckles and shakes his head a little. "What can I say? I think Yamamoto-soutaichou is overestimating the skills you've acquired, but it wasn't my place to say so. Better than underestimating you, I suppose?"

He shrugs and glances around the street, jaw clenching for a moment. "Can we, not fight here?" The captain gives him an inquisitive look and he scuffs one foot along the ground. "I don't want anyone else getting hurt. You're here for me, fine, let's keep it that way."

The captain watches him for a moment and then nods, something like respect in his eyes. "Very well, do you wish to lead the way, or shall I?"

He hesitates and then gives a rough laugh and a tiny grin. "I'd prefer if you did, honestly. Not sure I trust you not to stab me in the back."

Aizen laughs, his voice deep and rich. "Understandable, Kurosaki-san. Follow me, then."

The captain swirls and takes a step of shunpo back to the roof he'd been standing on before. He feels a tiny swell of relief. The flash-step had been fast, but nothing close to what he can keep up with. Of course it's more than likely that the step isn't even a fraction of what the captain is capable of, but he'll choose to be optimistic for the moment. He follows the captain up with hirenkyaku, enjoying the tiny flicker of surprise in Aizen's eyes. A moment later it's gone and the captain gives a tiny smirk, brown eyes alight with challenge, and takes off.

He isn't pressed to keep up, not yet, but taking a page out of Ryuuken's book, – "Always make your opponent believe you are less capable than you are." – he makes it seem like he is. When the captain finally stops in the midst of the woods beside Karakura he lands a good twenty feet away and makes a show of panting, feigning the exertion.

"Need a moment?" the captain asks, and he straightens up, slowing his breathing back from its falsely accelerated rate.

"No, I'm alright."

There's a rasp of metal as Aizen draws his sword, and without thought he summons his bow to his hand, automatically creating an arrow and drawing the bow tight and ready to fire. The captain smirks and he mirrors the expression, eyes narrowing as he focuses in on the older man. Focused as he is, he sees the attack almost before it happens. Aizen steps around him in shunpo, coming in on his left side with his zanpakuto raised high, and he turns to meet the older man, ducking low to avoid the slice and firing his arrow up at the captain. Surprise widens Aizen's eyes as the captain jerks aside, the arrow slicing through the cloth covering his shoulder and cutting a neat groove into his skin.

He stays on the older man, matching his step back with one forward and loosing a few more arrows straight at the captain's heart. Aizen moves away with shunpo and he follows immediately, coming out in front of the older man with the next shot already flying from his bow. This one Aizen ducks under before immediately striking, the older man's sword slicing through the air and just barely nicking his cheek as he throws himself backwards. He rolls and comes up kneeling, bow drawn, to find the shinigami watching him with narrowed eyes.

"You're faster than you let on, Kurosaki-san. I'd imagine you're faster than either of your fellow quincies, aren't you?"

He gives a tiny shrug, slowly rising to his feet. "Uryuu, definitely, but Ryuuken can still match or exceed my speed most of the time. The speed came with the shinigami heritage, far as Ryuuken can tell."

Aizen darts forward, zigzagging across the space between them to make less of a target, and he jumps to avoid the swing, flipping over the captain and firing straight down. The older man turns in the blink of an eye, slicing his arrow out of the air, and lashes out with his free hand. He yelps as the captain grabs him by his right arm as he lands and drags him forward, neatly shoving his sword through his side. He cries out in pain and pulls against the captain's grip, struggling to get his hand far enough over to draw his bow. Aizen easily holds him back – damn the shinigami's superior physical strength – and he fights to ignore the pain of the sword in him.

"Bastard!" he snaps, letting the bow go and reaching back for the Seele Schneider with his free left hand. It takes under a moment to channel through the tool and create the accompanying sword – or arrow, as Uryuu insists – and he grips it like a knife, swinging it around at the captain's ribs.

Instant reaction or not, Aizen can't draw back in time. The energy sword carves a thick gash into Aizen's side as the older man releases him and draws back, splattering blood across the forest floor. He staggers at the withdraw of the sword in his side, but still switches the Seele Schneider to his right hand without hesitation. It feels natural there, properly balanced and just like any one of the bouken he'd sparred with back in the days he'd taken martial arts classes.

The captain looks down at his wound, brown eyes narrowed, and he can't help but grin a little in victory. Adrenaline is raging through him, spurred on by pain and excitement and anger, and he grips the metal handle of the energy sword a little tighter. The frown turns to a smirk and the captain looks back up at him, glasses glinting in the moonlight coming through the trees.

"Not bad at all, Kurosaki-san."

His grin twitches upwards a fraction and he gives a rough laugh. "Thanks. But if this is you restrained I don't think I want to try facing you once you get rid of that limiter."

One eyebrow rises before Aizen gives a quiet chuckle. "I assume you're referring to the restraints that fourth seats and above are given in order to keep us from damaging the surrounding area too badly?" He nods and Aizen legitimately laughs, shaking his head. "I am not restrained, Kurosaki-san."

His eyes widen and he freezes, watching the captain in shock. No way. He's been fighting the captain with his normal power? He can actually face down a captain like this? True Aizen hasn't made any motion to go into shikai or bankai or even use kidou of any kind, but still. From what he's heard of captains and what he's gleaned from sparring with Urahara, Aizen should be able to more or less wipe the floor with him if he's not restrained in any way.

"Seriously?" he asks cautiously, and Aizen nods, smirking with that one eyebrow still high.

"Did you believe that this kind of speed was merely me contained at a quarter of my strength?"

He flushes but doesn't take his eyes off of Aizen. "Yeah, I guess. I just assumed that captains were these ridiculously powerful people that couldn't really be matched."

"We are," Aizen says softly, eyebrow finally down though the smirk remains, "How long have you been in training, Kurosaki-san?"

"A month," he answers plainly, and Aizen's eyes widen in clear surprise.

"Only that?" Something flickers in the captain's eyes as they narrow again. "Kurosaki-san, would you…" Aizen pauses and he stares at the captain, utterly confused.

"What?"

The older man shakes his head, a small smile on his lips. "Never mind, it was a foolish idea. Let's continue, shall we? It would be rather silly to stand here talking till one or the both of us bleed out, hm?"

Aizen is on him again just like that and he parries with the Seele Schneider and retaliates, whipping the sword out. It cuts through Aizen's coat but doesn't actually catch the captain, and he gains a shallow cut across his left forearm for even that. He feels Aizen loosen control of his reiatsu and gives a tight grin, jumping at the captain with a horizontal slash and feeling the power slide across his skin like water. He isn't capable just yet of absorbing reiatsu like spirit particles, not on his own, but he can do it with Seele Schneider's help, no problem.

He feels the influx of power as it gathers into his sword and the energy the blade is made up of glows a bright white in response to the reiatsu it's absorbing. He breathes a little harder, still grinning, and parries a blow with very little effort, flicking it to the side and launching a strike of his own that raises a line of blood across Aizen's throat.

The captain jumps back and he follows, a step of hirenkyaku taking him around and behind the older man. Aizen whirls away and around him, their backs touching, and he feels the captain's breath on his shoulder. "Ah yes, the trait that makes quincies so very dangerous. You're still very new to be absorbing reiatsu as power, Kurosaki-san."

He doesn't move away, head turned to the side to watch the older man's right arm and, consequentially, his sword. "Seele Schneider's trick, not mine. I can't do it yet."

Aizen moves, turning and striking, and he turns to meet the blow. The captain's sword pushes against his and he's forced back. He realizes his mistake when his back slams hard into one of the trees around them, halting his retreat. There's no time to dodge before Aizen shoves his sword through his chest and then steps back, leaving him pinned to the tree. He bites back a cry, head arched back against the wood and teeth gritting. He feels the energy blade flicker, lacking his concentration to hold it together, and he tightens his grip and swallows thickly.

As Aizen begins to step forward he raises his arms, summoning his bow and setting Seele Schneider on it. Yeah, sure, arrow. He has no hope of pulling the sword out on his own, it's in too deep and it's a terrible angle to be pulling anything, but Aizen's not getting it back that easily either. The captain is no more than four feet away, there's no way he dodges a shot at this range.

He lets the sword-turned-arrow go and Aizen does his best to get out of the way and, for the most part, succeeds. Seele Schneider still punches through his right shoulder, but it misses anything vital. The captain staggers, pain clear in his eyes, but quickly collects himself and straightens up, left hand to the bloody wound.

He sags and shudders against the tree, arms falling to his sides and his bow flickering into nothingness. Quincy he might be, but he's still human when it comes down to it and he can't take the kind of injuries that shinigami can. Aizen moves forward, cautiously, and he gives a quiet snort that turns into a sharp cry of pain when the captain grips the sword and pulls it out of him. He slides to the ground, leaving – undoubtedly – a streak of blood on the trunk behind him.

The sword slides beneath his chin, tilting his head up with the flat of the blade, and he meets Aizen's gaze. "Any last words, Kurosaki-san?"

He pauses for a moment, feeling cold steal into his fingertips. "A request, actually," he says softly, and Aizen nods for him to continue. "Make sure my cross and the Seele Schneider get back to Ryuuken?"

The captain raises an eyebrow, surprise and some measure of wariness in his gaze. "You're asking me to go to the home of your teacher after killing you, while wounded?"

He gives a painful laugh, coughing on the blood he can feel sliding up his throat. The strike has pierced one of his lungs, he can tell. He won't live even if the captain doesn't kill him. "Ryuuken won't, do anything. He knew I came out here to die." He chokes out another laugh and spits out blood. "Will enjoy knowing I injured you at all, probably."

Aizen watches him for a few seconds before giving a tiny smirk. "I'll do one better, Kurosaki-san. I'll make sure your body is returned for a proper burial along with your tools, deal?"

Well that's more than he expected. "Yeah, alright."

The captain nods and his smirk falls, eyes narrowing as his blade pulls back. "I'll make it fast."

"Thanks," he gasps out, and then gives a groan as the sword slips into his chest with perfect aim, puncturing his heart. It's a strange dual feeling, since the zanpakuto is a spiritual weapon and is injuring both his body and his soul at the same time. He chokes out a cry as the sword is withdrawn and he can feel the rush of blood soak his clothing, turning what little of it was still white, red.

He closes his eyes, letting his head droop, and allows the darkness to take him without struggle. Mentally, in the last moments of his awareness, he sends a silent apology to Uryuu.


A/N: Thank you all for reading, as always! Beta-ed by the wonderful, theultimatenerdgurl.