Ah, and for the first time, we see another character's POV. Just a bit of info, this fic will be told from three character's POVs only: Ichigo, Aizen, and Urahara. This time it's Aizen's POV. He's a bit different from the Aizen I usually write, but I hope you'll see why I composed him this way and enjoy it nonetheless. Thanks!
Chapter Five – Allies
Talking to Kurosaki Ichigo is the first risk that he took after the years had passed, and he deemed it sufficient to try again. And that is what it brought him. Now, Aizen Sousuke prepares to take his second biggest risk. He has to. He owes Kurosaki-kun that much. It is his fault that the boy has been taken by the Shinigami.
Standing before the Urahara Shouten, however, Sousuke cannot help feeling uneasy. He is here to ask for help from a man who should hate him, far more than Kurosaki-kun ever had reason to. He is under no illusions that Urahara Kisuke will grant it either. He only hopes that the man will understand the situation and do it for the boy’s sake, rather than Sousuke's own. Urahara is his only chance to save his former student. And he hates that he must do this, but do it he will.
Sousuke enters the door quietly, his skills in combat still effective even if his reiatsu is not. He no longer has any spiritual powers, but he can still sense them. The house itself practically trembles with it; reiatsu soaked into the very walls and floor. It is dark within, the candy shop that serves as Urahara's front dim and shadowed. The curtains drawn, “Closed” sign hanging crooked in the window.
He wishes he could tell if anyone else was at home, but there is nothing to be done for that. Steeling himself, he creeps by the displays and heads to the back of the shop. There are voices beyond, a couple of children and an older man. None are Urahara though.
Stepping into the lit hall, he isn't immediately noticed. So far, so good. He creeps by several doorways and unoccupied rooms and spots the aforementioned trio in the kitchen. They don't notice as he slips by and continues further back. He passes a room where a bunch of stuffed animals are moving by themselves and wrestling with one another, voices spilling from their plush mouths.
Rather than stop and stare and try to convince himself he is not seeing things, Sousuke continues. It is better if he doesn't think about it. Who knows what odd experiments Urahara has been performing in his long absence from the strict guidelines of Soul Society.
Sousuke finds his target in a back room, cooling cup of tea abandoned on a desk as he stands before a bookshelf, avidly scanning the contents. A half-filled bag sits lopsided on the floor, its contents spilling onto the floor. Sousuke can't recognize them and doesn't bother trying. He simply stands in the doorway, half in the shadows, and announces his presence.
“Still poisoning others with your tea, Kisuke?” He watches as the shopkeeper freezes and ever-so-slowly turns around, hand falling to his side.
“I don't recall ever giving you permission to use my name,” Urahara returns, face a careful mask and eyes shuttered behind the rim of his hat.
Sousuke is trying for nonchalant, effecting a pride he no longer has. “And still as feisty as ever. Nothing changes.” He reminds himself that if he infuriates this man, no aid will come to Kurosaki-kun. He can't have that.
Turning to face him entirely, Urahara abandons his search. “How are you still alive?” he demands warily, every movement full of caution.
“A question that can be saved until later,” Sousuke redirects as he steps out of the doorway and slides it shut behind him. It is better if Urahara's underlings do not bear witness to this conversation. “For now, there are more important matters to discuss.”
Urahara’s hand settles near his zanpakutou, sliding comfortably around Benihime's hilt, effectively disguised as the head of a cane. “Why are you here?”
Ah, that is the heart of the matter, isn't it?
Sousuke resists the urge to fidget. He sighs. “As much as it pains me to admit, I require your assistance. A certain acquaintance of ours faces an undesirable fate.”
A flurry of emotions crosses the blond's face, and Sousuke is surprised to witness them.
“Ichigo,” he murmurs, and his free hand clenches at his side. It is no shocker that Urahara has probably already heard the news himself.
“Then, it is true. He is siding with you?”
Sousuke shakes his head. “He has not made the choice yet, but I'm optimistic he will soon. Do not worry. Ichigo-kun is not a traitor.”
“Don't be so familiar with him either,” Urahara retorts sharply, and a swell of reiatsu sweeps through the room, making Sousuke's head spin.
He swallows down a burst of nausea and ignores the sudden wobble in his knees. No doubt the shopkeeper is doing this on purpose. He is too much in control otherwise.
Sousuke bites his tongue. “I apologize,” he replies, swallowing down his pride for the moment. He reminds himself that the boy’s fate is his fault. “But Kurosaki-kun requires help. And I am unable to provide it.”
“Ironically enough.” Urahara sneers. “Especially since this rests on your shoulders. What lies have you told him?”
“Only the truth.” Sousuke spreads his hands helplessly, hating the bead of sweat that gathers on his brow. The shopkeeper has not let up in his reiatsu, and it is discomfiting. “The same as I will tell you. Don't lie and claim you still believe in Soul Society.”
Urahara snorts, and his hand drops from Benihime, likely realizing that with Sousuke the way he is now he doesn't need it to cause damage. He is effectively harmless like this. A Hollow could just as easily take him down as a student from the Academy. Sousuke hates feeling this powerless.
“Don't tell me that you're still trying to become god,” Urahara retorts and tips his head a little. His eyes become visible, hard slits of barely restrained anger.
“A little difficult now, don't you think?” He gestures to himself, highlighting the fact that he has no abilities at the moment. “Hasn't it occurred to you that despite knowing it was all my manipulation, they still have not released the exile on you?”
Urahara scoffs, even as realization pours over him. “As if they would ever admit their own mistake.” There is a sense of agreement in his tone, however. He is no more enamored of Seireitei than Sousuke is.
“Precisely. And they are about to make yet another one.”
“For a man seeking my help, you're not acting like one.” In contrast to his earlier wariness, Urahara turns away from him, scooping the half-filled pack off the floor. He sits it on the desk and begins rifling through it, adding other things to the bag.
He exhales softly. “I realize that I am in no position to ask you of any favor, but I had hoped that you would disregard that for the sake of your student.”
“And trying to redirect this to Ichigo is not going to help your case either.” More odds and ends join the others in the pack, and Sousuke suspects that some of it is not even necessary. “I should have killed you myself. Can't rely on anyone in Soul Society these days, it seems. Useless bastards.”
Sousuke grits his teeth. “What would you have of me then? Are you saying that you are not going to help me?”
“Help you?” Urahara snorts and zips up the bag, slinging it over his shoulder. He stares Sousuke down, geta clacking against the floor. “Hell, no. Help Ichigo? Without a doubt. But you're going to have to do something for me first.”
He has expected as much. Sousuke keeps his silence, wondering how far Urahara would want him to go. After all, he ruined this man's life once upon a time. The shopkeeper has every reason to despise him.
Urahara tilts his head to the side, an almost malicious glint to his eyes. “Would it be beneath you to kneel, Aizen Sousuke? Could a former overlord find his knees on the floor? Or was Ichigo merely your pawn, after all?”
He is being tested; that much is obvious. As surely as Urahara bears a grudge towards him, Sousuke is certain that he is also concerned. Kurosaki-kun must be precious to him. Will he be saving his former student and dear friend only to put him in Sousuke's manipulative hands? Those must be his worries.
The remnants of Sousuke's pride immediately balk. He remembers how he once was, lord and master of his domain. Power beyond all imagining, enough to send most of those who opposed him to their knees with just a look. He had been leader of an army, a true threat to Soul Society's existence.
And now, he is nothing more than a regular soul, awaiting reincarnation, his dreams failed pieces around him. He is a man who finds himself being watched by someone who hates him, waiting patiently for his decision. What remains of his pride is effectively trampled, and he knows this is partly what Urahara wants from him.
He is nothing more than a defeated overlord, who finds himself slowly lowering his knees to the floor. Urahara watches him, expression unchanging, until Sousuke can no longer even see his face. The wooden floor, polished and clean, is nonetheless hard beneath his knees. He can smell the polish as he bends low to the ground, hands folded in front of him and fingers touching the cool surface.
“Please,” he says. And the last bit of Aizen Sousuke, lord and master of Hueco Mundo, crumples into ash, dying a pathetic and shameful death. “He is in need of your help.”
Urahara takes a single step, geta a noisy clack against the floor. “Funny how now it is Ichigo who needs my help and not you.”
Benihime comes down with a sharp snap near Sousuke's head, and it takes great effort not to leap in surprise. Urahara would enjoy it if he did.
“There is one more thing you've yet to do,” the blond begins.
He wonders how much lower Urahara could possibly want him to go.
There is a brush of fabric against the floor as Urahara crouches, his presence much too close and sizzling with reiatsu. It burns against Sousuke's unprotected senses, like fire ants crawling over his skin.
“Now say, I'm a megalomaniac asshole with delusions of grandeur,” Urahara states, and Sousuke swears he can hear the smirk in his voice. “And Urahara Kisuke is both smarter and better than me. Always has been and always will be.”
His fingers curl against the floor, a dull scraping sound, and Sousuke bites his tongue against the sharp retort he would rather say. He can't help but think how very juvenile the request is, but he knows better than to comment on that fact. If it is this humiliation that Urahara desires, it is what Sousuke will give him. Though the man should be ashamed for seeking revenge before deciding to help his student.
His tongue feels leaden in his mouth, but he forces it to move anyway. He repeats those words, tasting ashen and bitter. Sousuke reminds himself that it is his own fault he has come to this position. Kurosaki-kun would have never been taken for a traitor were it not for him and his sudden appearance in the boy's life. Especially when all he wants is to forget.
He grits his teeth, and he bears it because this is responsibility to do so. And then, he feels the ache in his knuckles as he clenches his fingers too tightly, the shame difficult to bear.
“There. Now, was that so hard?”
Urahara is mocking him. He keeps his silence for fear that anything else will be biting and sarcastic, and Urahara will demand more of him. Oh, how he hates this man. He really does. In this very moment. He has always disliked the quirky ex-captain of the twelfth division, but this brings that distaste to a whole new level.
Something pats him on the head. He suspects it is Urahara's hand.
“Say 'yes, sir.' And we'll call it a day. Hmm?”
He bites his tongue. “Yes, sir,” Sousuke grates out, and damn if it isn't one of the hardest things he's been forced to do in his entire life.
Satisfaction ripples through the room, and the press of reiatsu, causing his forehead to bead with sweat, abruptly vanishes. Urahara rises to his feet.
“You're in luck,” he says in a bright tone, far too cheery for the humiliation Sousuke has just forced himself to endure. “I was already planning to save my favorite student. He's rather dear to me.”
Sousuke's head snaps up, gaze finding the shopkeeper in an instant. “Then, that display?” he demands, voice edging towards a growl as he rises to his feet and dusts off his clothes. All for the sake of appearances. He feels as if he has been cleverly tricked.
His eyes are shaded by that damned, hideous hat. Sousuke can remember clearly seeing that on the battlefield of Karakura, cleaving through his ranks. He can remember his plots being effectively countered by Urahara Kisuke. And he can remember cultivating a steady distaste for the exiled Shinigami.
Urahara emits a noise of disgust. “I'm not you, Sousuke. I don't need a reason to help Ichigo.” He shoulders his pack and gestures for his guest to precede him out the door, still not entirely willing to trust him at his back.
Time is of the essence, so Sousuke obeys the wordless command. He slides the door back open and steps into the hallway. Urahara follows him and pauses in the doorway, the grin on his face slightly malicious.
“Besides,” he adds, Benihime dangling from the curve of one arm. “It will amuse Shinji to hear it.”
Despite himself, Sousuke stalls, the past choosing to flicker through his mind in grainy reels. Like a black and white picture. He sees his former captain grinning at him across the battlefield, sees him standing side by side with Kyouraku Shunsui as they stare him down. Remembers the harsh bite of Shinji's sword and the gurgling echo of his voice behind the white of his mask.
“Shinji? As in Hirako Shinji?” He is stunned into immobility as Urahara attempts to usher Sousuke ahead of him. He does so but only because he is so surprised by the shopkeeper's statement.
“I'm sure you remember your former captain.” A sly tone fills Urahara's voice as he urges Sousuke down the corridor, back towards the front of the store. “You betrayed him, too. That's become a bad habit for you, Sousuke.”
Sousuke stops in the hallway, turning to regard Urahara curiously. “Why are you going to him?” He tells himself that he is absolutely not concerned for the shopkeeper’s plans.
“How else do you honestly expect me to rescue Ichigo?” the blond questions, lifting one brow. “It is impossible for me to enter Soul Society, and you'd be useless once you managed to get there.”
For the moment, Sousuke ignores the not-so-subtle jab at his current capabilities. There are more important matters at hand. But he will not forget it. In fact, he plans on returning it in full later.
“You're going to ask them for help.”
“I won't need to ask. They'll volunteer.” A smile, which is more a knowing smirk than anything else, creeps into Urahara's expression. “They despise Soul Society, and Ichigo is one of their favorite people.”
Sousuke, however, cannot help feeling uneasy. The Vizard despise him as much as they hate Soul Society. As much as Urahara hates him. And he admits that he has no love for his former captain. Especially since Shinji was the one to defeat him. That left a bitter taste in his mouth.
He knows that Urahara has a point. Neither of them will be of any use in rescuing Kurosaki-kun. The Vizard are their only hope. He simply watches as Urahara steps by him, reiatsu a protective bubble around him, and stops at the door. Sousuke remembers that room as the one where all the stuffed animals are moving on their own.
“Kon, it's time to go,” the shopkeeper calls out sternly, voice easily cutting through their banter and loud play.
There is the sound of several squeaks before a stuffed lion appears in the doorway, hands propped on what would be his hips. “Ichigo's always in trouble,” he complains, even as Urahara reaches down and picks up the creature. “And we always have to save him,” the toy adds with a huff and then seems to notice Sousuke. He releases a half-squawk. “What's he doing here?”
“He,” Urahara answers patiently, as though he were talking to a child and not a stuffed creature, “is the reason Ichigo's in trouble again. Kon, you're going to have to look over his body for awhile.”
Giving Sousuke a dismissive look, Kon sniffs. “I won't even get a speck of gratitude either. Che. And nee-san's been gone for so long!”
“That's a mod soul,” Sousuke states with sudden understanding, finally glad to apply reason to this madness.
“That he is,” Urahara agrees and turns to shove Kon into his pack with a faint squeak of the toy's body.
He pops his lion head out immediately, somehow conveying indignation. Urahara ignores him.
“Now,” the blond inserts before Kon can comment, “let's get going. It's already going to take time since we can't shunpo.”
Sousuke feels a vein in his forehead tick. He really does hate this man.
A twenty-minute walk later, through the darkened shadows and street lights of Karakura, Sousuke finds himself standing before a very familiar building. One he had just been within a week prior. The lights belonging to the clinic are muted, registering that it’s after hours, but the lights within the house are bright and cheery. If he concentrates, he can hear the noise of a TV and the sound of water running in a sink.
It is most definitely not where the Vizard are hiding.
“Why are we here?” Sousuke asks, even as he follows Urahara up the walkway and to the front door.
“Ichigo will need some things,” Urahara informs him, even as the stuffed animal leaps out of the pack and drops to the ground with a squeak. “He won't be able to return home when all this is over. Surely, even you can see that.”
The implied fact that this is all Sousuke's fault lies unspoken but nevertheless heard. Urahara doesn't need a sword to cut others down. His wit is enough.
“And I suppose you already have somewhere special that you can stash him until all is safe again,” he counters, intrigued by the protectiveness that Urahara displays for his student. It goes above and beyond what seems necessary.
The shopkeeper bristles faintly and casts a brief glare over his shoulder before climbing the steps to the front. “Of course, I do. It is the benefit of actual planning. Something you should probably consider,” he answers and then lifts a hand to knock on the door, leaving Sousuke to twist his jaw at his back.
How he hates this man.
The door swings open before Urahara can so much as touch knuckles to the painted wood. Kon darts in ahead of them with several squeaks that lose their comedy once Sousuke glimpses the man in the doorway. He is one who Sousuke recognizes. A former captain of Soul Society. Isshin, who is now a Kurosaki but hadn't always been. Back then, he'd been something else. Someone else.
“Isshin,” Urahara greets, but he is ignored.
Dark eyes immediately land on the two of them, shifting quickly past Urahara and landing completely on his companion.
“Kisuke, move aside.”
There is not a moment of hesitation. “As you wish,” the shopkeeper chirps just a bit too cheerily. He moves off the steps and out of Isshin's path.
Sousuke has a minute to look at the man who is Ichigo's father before he finds himself staring up at the sky, a blinding pain in his face. He sees the stars above him, and his head spins. One hand instantly rises to cup over his nose, where blood pours freely. Coughing, he moves into a sitting position and halfway registers that Kurosaki-san is standing over him again, the fury of a parent glimmering in his eyes.
“Aiiro-san!” He recognizes that voice as belonging to one of Ichigo's sisters. The same who had been kind enough to offer him tea and cookies as he waited for her elder brother to return home.
The sound of footsteps announces the arrival of yet another witness. “His name's not Aiiro, Yuzu,” Ichigo's other sister states in a flat voice. “It's Aizen. As in Aizen Sousuke.”
There is a small gasp of surprise, and Isshin is still standing over him. His face is dark, no trace of the usually playful man in his expression. His hands are curled into dangerous fists at his side, and Sousuke wishes his head would stop spinning long enough for him to form a defense. The former captain hits with a force strong enough to rival Komamura.
The aura of violence around Isshin grows thicker, and for the first time, Sousuke feels the tell-tale ripple of reiatsu from the ex-captain. He is usually so adept at concealing it, but his roaring emotions are fuel to his abilities. And they seek to escape from his human shell, no doubt alarming the more perceptive of his two daughters.
Urahara, perhaps sensing the violent urge to destroy coming from Isshin's direction, hurriedly intercedes. “Mah, I understand wanting to pummel Sousuke, too,” he interjects with a faint chuckle. “But we should take this inside. Your neighbors are staring.”
Isshin snorts and turns back towards his home, reaching for his daughters and ushering them ahead of him into the house. “Come in before you cause any more problems,” he throws over his shoulder, and Sousuke can't shake the last glimpse he gets of Yuzu, disappointment glimmering in her eyes.
“In a minute,” Urahara happily calls after the departing family. “I don't think Sousuke can get up so quickly.”
The door is left open, and Urahara shifts his gaze back to Sousuke. His head is still spinning, but it’s remarkably less dizzying than before. He may actually be able to stand soon. It is then that a cloth is dropped into his lap. He looks up at Urahara.
“I would hate for you to drip on their floors. Yuzu-chan works hard to keep them clean,” the man explains, and his smile is anything but welcoming. In fact, it is more like mockery.
Sousuke glares at him, as best he can with what feels like a broken nose. He reluctantly accepts the handkerchief, thankfully black, and pushes it over his bleeding nostrils. With that done, he looks around him and finally spots his glasses within arm's reach to his right. Snatching them up, he replaces them on his face, giving him a chance to see the amused look in Urahara's eyes more clearly. At least, the frame isn’t bent.
“You are enjoying this far too much,” he remarks, slowly and carefully rising to his feet. It is a bit of a struggle and lacks his usual grace. His head spins at the motion, and he realizes that he will soon be suffering from a headache of epic proportions. And he doubts anyone will be kind enough to offer him an aspirin.
Shadowed eyes narrow pointedly. “If you think that you have suffered enough, you are sorely mistaken,” Urahara returns icily as his companion dusts off his clothes with his free hand, removing bits of grass and stone.
“It is a good thing I have not asked for your forgiveness then,” Sousuke replies. “Especially since I do not regret it.”
“For his sake, I hope that Ichigo sees this side of you quickly.”
With that, Urahara turns and enters the house, his geta a sharp click against the walkway and the steps. Left alone outside, Sousuke takes the moment to breathe again, wincing at the pain blooming in his face. Kurosaki had held nothing back, but at least the blood has slowed to a drip. He gingerly presses fingers against the bridge of his nose, relieved to find that it didn't seem broken. Just severely bruised. No doubt it will be quite unattractive tomorrow.
He reminds himself again why he is putting himself through this. The boy’s fate is his fault, and without either of them – Kurosaki-kun and Urahara – it would be rather difficult to meet his goals. There is a vow he made more than a century past that he is determined to keep. And finally, he cannot stand the thought that his existence has boiled down to a swift defeat at Seireitei's hands.
Squaring his shoulders, Sousuke wipes away the last few dribbles of blood and composes himself. He folds and tucks the handkerchief into his pocket – to be washed later – and follows the others into the house. Urahara is not kidding about the neighbors. He last glimpses several of them peeking out from their curtains before he pulls the door shut behind him.
He comes face to face with Karin the moment after he slides out of his shoes and steps into the main room. She is several inches shorter than him, but her presence makes up more than enough for the height difference. In fact, she resembles her brother very much, he notices.
Sousuke will not apologize to Urahara. He refuses to let those words pass his lips for the shopkeeper. But to Ichigo's sisters, he is willing to say them. It is obvious that their brother is dear to them, and it is for that reason alone they are angry with Sousuke.
He opens his mouth, the words dancing on the tip of his tongue. He doesn't get a chance to say them. Karin's dark eyes regard him accusingly, and then, her face twists with anger. He doesn't avoid it because he doesn't expect it, only later registers the savage pain in his abdomen as he stumbles against the wall. The Kurosaki family is rather violent, he comments to himself, even as it becomes difficult to breathe.
“If Ichi-nii dies, that's only a taste of what I'll do to you,” Karin spits at him, and her juvenile reiatsu curls around her, lashing at his skin. Her body trembles with anger, hands balled up into shaking fists.
“I apologize,” Sousuke manages to gasp out, sucking in a stuttering breath. “I did not mean for this to happen.”
She hits like a man, not a teenage girl. And harder than her father, he dares estimate.
“I'm sure you didn't,” she hisses, and there is more than fury in her voice. There is the beginning hatred, certain to grow stronger if her brother does not come out of this alive. “But that's not enough for me, bastard.”
With that, Karin whirls on her heels and stalks away from him, brushing by her sister, who has been watching the events with a startled expression. Sousuke looks at her, and more than the anger her twin is cultivating, Yuzu seems disappointed. Her eyes glimmer at him, as though biting back on tears. And then, she is following after her sister, heading upstairs. The silence is far more telling then Karin's angered words. And the heavy feeling of guilt clenches down on Sousuke's insides.
He has already known that what has happened to Kurosaki-kun is his fault. He is to blame. Their reactions only cement the guilt. He is loathe to admit it, but Urahara is partially correct. This humiliation is hardly sufficient to cover the pain that the boy’s family must be enduring. That Kurosaki-kun himself must be suffering.
Rubbing his abdomen, where he is certain a bruise will form later, Sousuke pulls in several shallow breathes. He aches, and his head is still spinning faintly from too much reiatsu all at once. This is what it feels like to be human, he realizes. And oh, how he despises it.
“You stay right there.” Isshin's voice pours into his ears before Sousuke even has a chance to step any further into the house. He is still standing in the entryway. “I don't want you in the eyes of my neighbors, but I don't want you in my home either.”
Sousuke obeys because it is better to do so and stays standing by the entryway. He can see both Isshin and Urahara from where he is, the former directing his attention to the latter.
“Why did you bring him here?”
Urahara shrugs helplessly in the midst of transferring things from one bag into another. Likely Kurosaki-kun’s things that his family prepared for him.
“He came begging to me for help.”
Isshin lifts an eyebrow. “He actually cared?”
Rather than allow Urahara to speak for him, Sousuke decides to invite himself into the conversation. “Kurosaki-kun's fate is a direct result of my actions. I take responsibility for them.”
Isshin barely spars him a glance, aggression evident in every movement he makes. “Where are you going to take him?”
“Do you honestly want to know?” Urahara counters.
The father grimaces, clearly thinking of the other children he must look after as well. “It is not that I don't want to, but that I shouldn't,” he replies with is a sense of defeat in his tone. “I can't do anything for him, can I?”
And for a minute, Sousuke thinks he hears something like disappointment in Urahara's tone. He swears that the shopkeeper is giving Isshin a look of disapproval.
“You missed your chance,” the blond adds. His eyes are even more shadowed than usual.
Isshin sighs and rakes a heavy hand over his hair, leaving Sousuke to wonder at this strange exchange. He feels it must have something to do with the secret the both of them are keeping from Kurosaki-kun, the truth behind Isshin's origins. He can't understand why they won't tell the boy.
“I thought as much.” Dark eyes shift to the window and then to a clock on the wall, and Isshin shakes his head. “You'd better get going, Kisuke. With that baggage, it will take you longer.”
It's clear just what he means. The very fact that Sousuke can no longer shunpo is pretty obvious.
Slinging his now bulging sack over his shoulder, Urahara nods. “I'll get him back,” he says, and it sounds like a promise.
It is the last thing Isshin says to them. And he directs nothing to Sousuke. There is a promise in his glance, however. A threat of further violence if his son does not emerge from this fully intact. The same that Karin has already vowed in her own demonstrative fashion.
Sousuke feel his nose and abdomen twitch uneasily. He hates this feeling. If he were half the warrior he was before Soul Society stole his abilities, he would have nothing to fear from them. But as he is now, even Karin's reiatsu is like a lashing, desert wind. And her father's is ten times worse. It leaves him weak and powerless, a feeling that Sousuke despises above all others.
As he steps out of the house after Urahara, the door slamming shut behind them, Sousuke resists the urge to exhale in relief. The whole aura of the household has stressed his senses, and he can barely hide the tremble in his legs. And it doesn't help that he knows their next destination is to the Vizard. They will not appreciate his arrival any more than the Kurosaki family had.
Urahara is ahead of him, noticeably silent considering the events. Sousuke is surprised that he hasn't shifted back into their usual repartee. He can't say that he is disappointed. It is pleasant to not have to defend himself.
Tipping his head back, he glances at the sky, where dawn is creeping across the horizon. The edges are already a pale blue, faint traces of pink slowly sliding in. The stars are fading. They really don't have much time.
Ahead of him, Urahara draws to a halt, lifting one hand. It takes Sousuke several seconds to realize that it is because a Hell Butterfly is flitting towards them. But it is no normal butterfly. Rather than the typical dark wings, this one is a pure white with only the edges outlined in a dusky black. There are a select few capable of attracting such a creature. Sousuke himself has never seen one with his own eyes, only in books at the Central Library.
He watches as the butterfly lands on Urahara's finger, and the shopkeeper listens to its message intently. His eyes widen in surprise at the contents, jaw nearly dropping before the butterfly flits away, its purpose complete.
His interest piqued, Sousuke steps up beside the other man. “What did it say?”
“Ichigo is safe,” Urahara answers as he slowly lowers his hand, fingers tightening around the strap to his pack. “And then, it gave me a meeting time and place where I can pick him up.”
Sousuke blinks, certain he heard the other man wrong. “Pick him up?” he repeats, confused by what Urahara seems to be implying.
“He'll be waiting for us. Courtesy of Kouichi.”
Sousuke's eyes widen at the mention of the name that sends a jab of pain through his heart. This is no trick, he realizes. Soul Society can't possibly know or understand how much this name means to him. How important this person is to his very being, to everything he has done and the man he has become. Only someone who knows him, knew Kouichi, would know to reference that name.
Only someone who has saved Sousuke once before.
“It's not a trap,” he says because he can see the suspicion in Urahara's face clearly. “Wherever it said, Kurosaki-kun will be there.”
There is a second where it is obvious the blond wants to argue with him. But perhaps there is something in Sousuke's eyes, a look on his face, which causes the shopkeeper to drop his words. He just shakes his head.
“Shinji will be disappointed,” is all he says and turns around, taking a different direction than he originally planned. “Let's not keep Ichigo waiting.”
a/n: A couple notes of reference here. One, Aizen and Urahara despise each other in this story since I draw heavily on Turn Back the Pendulum, which is very different from my usual relationship that I chose to have between them. They will continue to snip and snipe at each other throughout the story, and it's only going to get crueler. Don't worry, Aizen will make Urahara pay for that humiliation. He is down, but not yet out.
Secondly, a note about how they refer to each other. It's more to do with Japanese honorifics than anything. I'm not claiming any sort of authority of knowledge on how the Japanese utilize their honorifics, but drawing from what limited information I have assimilated, the way the two (Urahara and Aizen) reference each other is also subtle bits of insult. By constantly calling Aizen "Sousuke" Urahara is being extremely disrespectful (even worse when he shortens it and adds the -chan to make Sou-chan), and by denying Aizen the right to call him "Kisuke" and call Ichigo "Ichigo", Urahara is also denying him the right to be familiar, or even friendly really. I could probably go on and on about this, but I'll save all the intricate details. Just keep it in mind that the names used here are important in determining the level of relationships amongst the characters, which are only going to get more complicated.
Thirdly, I also vaguely draw from one of my drabbles in my series Seireitei Monogatari and some of Aizen's reasoning is borrowed, but altered from my Minutes to Midnight series. If you are a fan of either, you might spot the resemblance, but there are differences as well. More will be brought to light in the next chapter.
Well, other than all that, I hope you enjoyed. Aizen is sorta a punching bag here, but his position gets better. As it is right now, he is very much despised and he has few allies, so he endures because the benefits (in the end) will make it all worthwhile.
Still, I hope you enjoyed! I don't know when I'll update again, but I assure you, I will not abandon this story! Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your comments!
On to chapter six!