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There was once, lost in the deserts of Hueco Mundo, a crystal of untold potential. It had rested on top of the cool sands, beautiful and dangerous in a way that drew in and frightened the Hollows that lived in the area. It was capable of thought of its own, and had been content with its short-long life.

And then the sands began to shift, creating a cave with the crystal deep inside it. The crystal didn't mind at first, but as the years went by, the sentient crystal began to grow lonely. In its desperation to end its loneliness, the crystal expanded its awareness, brushing against three different minds with its plea.

The first two misunderstood the voice, thinking it was a stroke of genius in both of their respective minds, though it would take one of them years before he actually began working on it. The third mind it touched was much closer, finishing a solo scouting mission in Hueco Mundo, and actually understood. 'Well, you have unlimited potential, don't you?' the shinigami thought back, moving towards its cave. 'So why don't you make your own body and leave?'

That…had never occurred to the sentient crystal. With a growing sense of excitement, it began to create a body for itself, searching through the approaching shinigami's memory for ideas. It wanted blue eyes like the sky the shinigami had seen, and blue hair the same shade. It wanted an average height, and skin as pale as the sands of Hueco Mundo. And lastly, it wanted to be male, like the shinigami that had now entered its cave. The crystal metaphorically held its breath, and…

Blinked his eyes open.

"Well, happy birthday, I guess."

The blue eyes blinked again, and the boy looked up at the shinigami in front of him. He had black hair that hung down to the nape of his neck, and sharp grey eyes that the boy enjoyed looking into. The once-crystal tried to stand up, but stumbled. Before he could hit the ground, the noirette caught him and helped him stand properly. The boy nodded to him. "Arigato, shinigami-san."

The man snorted. "It's Nijimura, brat." He then crouched down, showing his back to the boy. "Now hop on; I'll get us to Seireitei while you come up with a name for yourself."

The boy-once-crystal didn't argue, thanking the man again as he got on his back. The man proved to be incredibly fast, and the boy grew curious about his rescuer. "Who are you?" he asked.

"Nijimura Shuuzou, captain of the Tenth Division." The boy guessed that that was what his haori signified and made an understanding sound. As they travelled across the white sands, the captain began telling the boy information about Soul Society and the Gotei 13, the boy nodding along as the information was assimilated into his mind.

It finally occurred to the boy to ask – "Where are you taking me?"

Nijimura grunted and slowed down for a moment before returning to his original speed. "I'm taking you to the Shinigami Academy. It'll be easier to simply sponsor you there than to just drop you off in a district to fend for yourself."

The boy was unsure of what the emotion he was feeling was, but guessed it to be 'gratitude' based on what he gleaned from the captain's memories. "Arigato," was all he said in response, and neither mentioned the way the bluenette held tighter to the gruff man for a moment.

When they made it to the Academy, the captain made quick work of getting the boy signed up for classes. When it asked for his name, Nijimura looked over at the boy. With a barely there smile, the boy looked into his savior's eyes, and said, "Kuroko Tetsuya".

And so their story began.

Tetsuya found the Academy to be rather dull, but it was certainly more interesting than his previous life in the desert, and so he spent his days buried in his classwork, only stopping to eat, sleep, and see Nijimura on his very rare days off.

The man's vice-captain was a certified idiot, Tetsuya learned. He had a strong sense of leadership, but was still a blundering moron and Tetsuya had no interest in exacerbating his idiocy or having it rub off on him by talking with the man.

Tetsuya also found out that, compared to everyone else at the Academy and the Tenth Division, the bluenette had all of the emotional expression of a brick wall. Nijimura didn't seem bothered by it, but was the only one as his subordinates would eventually get fidgety the longer they interacted with the boy, to Tetsuya's growing frustration.

"Some people just aren't emotive, brat," was all Nijimura had to say on the matter, his head bent toward some paperwork he was filling. "You haven't been mortal for that long, so it isn't that surprising that you can't show emotion well." Tetsuya remained silent in frustration and the noirette picked up on it easily, looking up from the current bane of his existence. "If it bothers you so much, there's two things you can do; you can either learn to emote as much as you're seen, or be seen as much as you emote."

"Hide my presence?" Tetsuya clarified, curiosity tinging his voice.

Nijimura nodded, his eyes flickering to the wall behind him as he stood. "Yeah." He moved to the small bookshelf behind his desk, reading over each of the titles. "You complain that people are calling you a brick wall, but how noticeable is a brick wall when it comes down to it? So you can either paint your brick wall, or can learn to avoid the notice of anyone around you. Ah," plucking a book from the shelf, he tossed it to Tetsuya.

"The Art of Manipulating the Gaze?" the bluenette read aloud, his brow barely furrowed.

"It's on how to bend the senses, and have people simply look past you. I used it for a while when I was a new shinigami in the division. Damn those Eleven bastards." Nijimura trailed off as he glared out his window, towards where Tetsuya remembers the Eleventh Division sits.

Tetsuya mulled over his savior's words, then bowed, hands tight on the book in his possession. "Arigato, Taichou."

The captain waved his hand dismissively, but there was a pleased smile on his face that made a part of Tetsuya's chest grow warm. "No problem, Kuroko. You'd better head back to the Academy; this paperwork won't finish itself, unfortunately."

Tetsuya huffed a breath that they both translated to be a laugh, and returned to his room, his eyes locking onto the book as soon as the door closed. He opened the first page and began to read, his homework completed on his desk. "Chapter 1: The History of Illusion…"

It was during Tetsuya's first year in the Tenth Division that he and his captain came across their first two "strays". Well his first two, Nijimura's third and fourth, if his guffawing vice-captain is to be believed later on. "You were his first, kiddo," Shiba-fukutaichou laughed, and Tetsuya slapped his hand away when he moved to ruffle the blue-haired boy's hair.

"Please don't do that," he intoned and, when he and his captain were alone in the latter's office, looked at the older man with a current of accusation in his eyes. "Is this a normal thing for you to do?"

"If it is, it's your fault," Nijimura returned without missing a beat, looking up from finalizing the paperwork that would have Aomine Daiki and Momoi Satsuki as first-year students at the Academy. "You were my first stray, after all."

Tetsuya didn't let how much that pleased him show, but Nijimura saw it none the less if his smirk was anything to go by. "Who was your second stray?" Tetsuya asked, curiosity getting the better of him.

The captain hummed, shuffling his paperwork before plucking a sheet out and turning it for Tetsuya to see. "Akashi Seijuurou. I found him two years ago in the outer districts. He's in his fourth year at the Academy now."

"He's progressing quickly," Tetsuya noted, looking at the boy's picture. He took in the red hair and eyes, before frowning and returning the paper.

"He's hoping to graduate next year," Nijimura agreed, returning the sheet to a small folder which he put to the side. "Oh, and thanks for stopping the brats."

Tetsuya didn't react, but you could feel the amusement seeping from him. "If I didn't, we would not have been able to eat lunch. Not that you cared."

Nijimura shifted in his chair, trying to look offended, before giving up and snickering. "I wanted to check his stealth," he defended poorly.

"His stealth was atrocious," the blue-haired boy countered bluntly, and Nijimura gave up and outright laughed at that remark. Tetsuya continued, "As were his observation skills. He didn't even notice I was there until I caught him."

And that was very true. Aomine Daiki, with his massive and uncontrolled reiatsu, was not a creature built for stealth, and that was one of the reasons he and Momoi Satsuki had been on the edge of starvation in their district. In his desperation, the orphan had decided to try and pickpocket the captain, who was going to let them go in a moment of pity, before he had fully registered his reiatsu and flicked a look to his companion.

Tetsuya, now a master of observation and especially attuned to the looks his friend and savior gave, had caught the street rat's wrist in an iron grip in response.

From there, it had only taken Nijimura an hour to convince both teens to attend the Academy, and another hour to fill out the needed paperwork. The school had taken the admittance of Aomine well, but were skeptical of Momoi's abilities before Nijimura shut them down with a curt, "That's because she's hiding it. Trust me, she'll end up being one of the best in her kidou classes," to which the head of the school shrugged and agreed, not wanting to offend the captain.

"Well," Nijimura's drawl returned Tetsuya to the present, and blank blue eyes looked at the amused captain, "that's not entirely fair. I've seen you scare Onmitsukidou officers before, Kuroko. You have a talent for stealth that makes many of our division members want to kill me for giving you that book years ago."

Tetsuya's lips twitched at the thought, amused and displeased by the notion. "No they wouldn't, Taichou. They adore you too much. They'd just attack Shiba-fukutaichou by proxy."

Nijimura laughed again, and they fell into a comfortable silence, the captain doing paperwork while Tetsuya looked outside, wondering why he felt as if this wouldn't be the last of the "strays" they come across.

15 years later, Tetsuya desired nothing more than to hit his head against a wall for not heeding the warning that had rung in his head on that day.

The feeling that Tetsuya had sensed on that day proved to be correct, but the blue-haired boy waited until the captain was done signing the last one up for the Academy and everything was going smoothly before giving him a look. "Seven, Nijimura-taichou. Seven."

"If it makes you feel any better," the noirette groaned in response, his head firmly planted on his desk as he tried valiantly to stay awake, "I didn't plan this. And Aomine technically found the last one; I just sponsor him."

"And hold him when he cuddles you," Tetsuya continued, his voice flat but with an undercurrent of annoyance. "And tutor him when he struggles in classes. You didn't tutor anyone else."

"No one else struggled with their classes, or at least they didn't tell me they were struggling." A single grey eye appeared, locked on his Seventh seat. "Did you struggle with your classes?"

"No," the teen admitted, some of his feathers smoothed out by Nijimura's logic. "I would just prefer that he wasn't so…demonstrative with his affections." Especially towards you.

"Which is a pity because last I heard, Kise adores you in particular."

Tetsuya sniffed but didn't comment on the muffled reminder. Their newest addition, Kise Ryouta, did indeed adore Tetsuya, as well as Nijimura and the shinigami that had saved him from a Hollow, Aomine. When the dark blue-haired teen had found out that the blonde was trying to enroll into the Academy, he had done what he always did when he wasn't sure how to respond to something.

He went and got Nijimura.

In all fairness, Akashi had done the same thing ten years ago, when he just appeared one day at the Tenth with a giant purple-haired teen trailing behind him. While Tetsuya had gripped his zanpakutou in response to the door slamming open, Nijimura had just looked up, eyed the larger teen, the stood to take him to the Academy. Tetsuya followed behind, he and Akashi entering a staring contest that didn't break until Nijimura had seen him and the purple-haired teen – Murasakibara Atsushi, Tetsuya would learn later – back to their division and room respectively.

"Why did Akashi-kun go to you to sponsor Murasakibara-kun anyway? Aomine-kun makes sense, since Eleven's Taichou wouldn't care to sponsor anyone, but Hirako-taichou wouldn't have minded." Their decision to transfer to other divisions annoyed Tetsuya to this day, but he understood. Hirako Shinji had a cunning and manipulative mind that fascinated Akashi while Aomine thrived in the battle-mongering Eleventh Division.

Momoi had found her niche, under Nijimura's recommendation, in the Fourth Division (though she took an unhealthy glee in beating up any Eleventh member that tried to bother her, as did every other member of their little group), and Murasakibara seemed quite content in the Thirteenth Division, though none of them knew if that was because of the people or because the captain constantly gave him sweets.

"I honestly can't remember," Nijimura mused, his upper body rising from the desk as he glanced over his paperwork with glazed over eyes. "Something about not trusting him? That entire division sounds like a never-ending mind game."

Tetsuya hummed in agreement. "Where do you think Midorima-kun will go?" The fourth-year tsundere was doing quite well in his studies, and planned to graduate from the Academy in a year.

"Well he'll probably start at the Tenth, like everyone else, but after that…I think the Ninth. Muguruma-taichou will be a good match for him overall."

"Kuna-fukutaichou won't."

"Right…" Nijimura began to snicker, and Tetsuya's lips also twitched at the thought of Midorima interacting with the hyperactive vice-captain.

"And what of Kise-kun?"

"Probably the Third. He'll either start in the Tenth or the Eleventh, then go from there. If he lives long enough in the Eleventh to transfer, that is."

"Hm." Tetsuya didn't like how ungrateful all of Nijimura's "brats" appeared on the outside, each of them going to different divisions as they got comfortable. The captain didn't seem to really care, but the blue-haired teen had heard him ask the other captains on their wellbeing in passing, if he didn't have time to visit them himself. It made Tetsuya feel conflicted, happy to have them gone but disliking how little they interacted with their rescuer.

The teen simply blinked and kept his peace; if they were foolish enough to not see how much Nijimura cared for all of them, Tetsuya wasn't going to point it out to them.

Seven years later, rumors had begun spreading about all of Nijimura's kids, each one impressive given their age and absolutely frightening when working together. In about twenty years, the captain of the Tenth had overall managed to find seven recruits that all rose to a seated position within their respective squads. Not only that, but each one would prove to be an absolute juggernaut if working with another of their little group, each person's individual skills providing a level of lethality that was terrifying when compounded on one another.

"You should bottle your whims, and sell them to the highest bidder," Tetsuya noted dryly, watching his captain stare at the report in his hands with something akin to horror. "You'd make millions."

"Shut up." Nijimura threw the paper onto his desk and groaned. "Why am I doing their paperwork? They have captains, last I checked. Captains that aren't me."

"They probably figured that, since they're using members from different squads with the same sponsor who happens to be a captain, it would be easier to just let you deal with all of the paperwork for the cooperative missions."

"So they're collaborating to make me suffer." Tetsuya chuckled lightly as Nijimura reintroduced his head to his desk, and kept it there for a moment. There was really nothing that Tetsuya could do to make his captain feel better about the situation, so he simply patted him on his head before moving to his bookcase.

Nijimura sat back up, grumbling and making sure to give his Sixth seat and the paperwork equally dirty looks before returning to work, his growls fading to hums that Tetsuya listened to as he leaned against his captain's desk to read.

The silence between the two was comfortable, and Tetsuya reveled in it.

"Don't forget your first resolution, Achiyalabopa!"

Tetsuya's breath caught in his throat as he heard those words and felt his captain's reiatsu spike. He spun towards the voice, skewering a Hollow that was blocking his line of sight, and stared.

His captain had blood running down the side of his face from a glancing blow he had received, and his clothes had rips and tears throughout them. His standard-looking katana had shortened somewhat, and now had a more elaborate hand guard and a chain that ended in a rainbow-colored tassel.

Sensing the increase in power, the horde of Hollows around the two lunged at the larger man, only to have the first wave of them dissipate as they were brutally stabbed. Letting out another harsh breath, Nijimura swung his sword again, releasing a flurry of rainbow-colored feathers that cut like the sharpest knives as they made contact with the Hollows' flesh.

He then disappeared in a shunpo, appearing behind them to release another wave of feather-knives. When the last of the Hollows was gone, Nijimura finally lowered his sword, panting harshly. He moved to say something to the worried Sixth seat, but suddenly began screaming.

To Tetsuya's horror, he sensed that a power quite similar to his own but weaker was striking out at his captain and, without thinking, tried to neutralize it. The backlash had Tetsuya stumbling and Nijimura's screams gained a new level of agony as the wall between he and his zanpakutou was stripped away, rather than the wall between Hollows and shinigami. Beautiful rainbow feathers sprouted along his back, a crest forming on his head. With a sick rip, wings ripped out of his back and flared with his pain, and his scream turned into a bird-like shriek.

"Taichou!" Tetsuya called out, shunpoing over to his captain as the screams wore off to harsh pants, his blood spotting the ground around him. When he stopped in front of him, clawed nails grabbed onto his arms as a pair of multicolored eyes bored into his own, his captain's expression one of pain. "Nijimura-taichou," Tetsuya tried again, his own hands closing on the older man's haori. "Calm down; it's me."

For a chilling minute, the glare in Nijimura's eyes didn't let up, until the man finally blinked, and began slowly relaxing. "Kuroko?"

Tetsuya breathed a sigh of relief at his friend's recognition. "Hai, Taichou. Are you alright?" A rather foolish question, the blue-haired teen recognized, but it was the formality of the question that the two were clinging to.

Nijimura swallowed roughly before nodding. "Yeah," he rasped, "everything just hurts, is all."

Tetsuya wanted to laugh or cry, but let neither of those show. He began to detach himself from his captain when the older man suddenly swept him into his arms, wings hiding him from view. The blue-haired teen had frozen in surprise, and now shot his superior a look. "Taichou?"

"Someone's coming." Nijimura explained. "Only one person, so it's not reinforcements, and they're heading right towards us, so they know we're here." The captain's voice dropped, chilling and serious. "Kuroko, hide us."

Tetsuya didn't hesitate to grip his zanpakutou. "Meet once in a lifetime, Misdirection." In an instant, the Sixth seat felt the world around them shift as their presence was wiped from the world, the reiatsu feeling like the spiritual energy around them and Nijimura's feathers shifting to match the surrounding earth. They waited in a tense silence, Tetsuya enfolded in steel-feathered wings, when a bespectacled brunette appeared right by them.

'Aizen-fukutaichou…' Tetsuya's eyes widened fractionally in surprise. 'It's true that he seemed far too kind for it to be nothing more than a façade, but I wasn't expecting…whatever this is.' The two watched in a tense silence as the vice-captain looked around at their fallen comrades, before a slight frown graced his calm visage and he disappeared once more.

Tetsuya let out a silent sigh of relief and moved to release the illusion when Nijimura breathed a quiet, "Keep it active. We can't trust that he isn't hiding. His zanpakutou is…unknown." He growled the last word, fear mixing with the paranoia from his recent transformation to create a deeply suspicious creature. Tetsuya nodded slightly in response, and barely moved as Nijimura's grip tightened on him and his wings opened, carrying the two aware from the place that had destroyed one and awoke a deep hatred in the other.

'I will make Aizen pay for this.' Tetsuya swore to himself, his passive eyes clouded in what might have been abhorrence for the traitor.

Kuroko rarely spoke to Akashi Seijuurou, but that didn't stop the redhead from believing him when he received a jigokuchou from the bluenette that simply repeated the words, "Division compromised, please arrive at once." Seijuurou nodded sharply, and the butterfly disappeared. 'Division compromised' meant either his division or Kuroko's, and the thought made the redhead frown in displeasure.

'Shuuzou,' Seijuurou thought quietly, remembering the stern but effective young captain that had stumbled upon him in the outer districts years ago. He briefly thought back to that day, when he'd locked eyes with a pair of passive grey ones that'd widened at something he'd seen, before suddenly finding himself in the man's arms as he looked up at him. Where are your parents, he'd asked, and Seijuurou told him that he didn't have any, and the man smiled, small and sincere. Three days later, Seijuurou was attending classes at the Academy, desperate to prove himself to the man that had improved his life.

The Eighth seat of the Fifth Division narrowed his eyes before stepping out into the night, entering a seamless shunpo as his foot hit the flooring outside. There was a specific place they all had to go to if the 'Division compromised' alert went out, Shuuzou having taught it to them when he had realized that they would be interested in transferring to other divisions.

It took five minutes for Seijuurou to arrive at the spot, a small shack in the 37th District. As he entered, the redhead's eyes skimmed the ground before stopping on a trap door beneath a well-worn table. A quick pull and the trap door creaked open, Seijuurou slipping into the rather spacious cellar. He didn't have time to blink before he was taking out his zanpakutou and blocking an incoming blade with a screech of steel against steel.

The offender's blade retreated immediately, and an impassive voice rang out. "Gomennasai, Akashi-kun. I didn't expect to see you so soon."

"Kuroko," Seijuurou greeted, a slightly strained smile on his face. He and Kuroko got along on principle, but there was always an undercurrent of tension between the two of them. He pointedly ignored the blue-haired teen after speaking to him and turned to his benefactor. "Shuuzou." The tone was much warmer in comparison to his interaction with Kuroko, but ended in a confused lilt as he registered his father-figure's expression. The captain of the Tenth looked pained, haunted, and it set something boiling in Seijuurou's veins.

"Wait for the others, Akashi." Was all Shuuzou said in response, but he looked more relaxed, obviously relieved to see Seijuurou unharmed, and that only made the redhead more suspicious.

The others began trickling in after that, Daiki arriving with Satsuki, both steel-eyed and uneasy, Ryouta slinking in with Shintarou beside him, and Atsushi the last to arrive, his head brushing against the ceiling with his latest growth spurt. Once the purple-haired teen had arrived, Shuuzou let out a relieved sigh, his shoulders slumping an inch before he regained his composure and approached where they were standing in a semi-circle to take point, Kuroko lurking in his shadow.

"It is good to see you all," Shuuzou greeted, his eyes looking over each of them with care, "but I must be brief. Aizen is a traitor." Sharp breaths were taken in response, but it was nothing compared to what would come next. "He attacked me earlier today with an item that broke the barrier between myself and my zanpakutou. I have now merged with Achiyalabopa."

Cries of outrage echoed throughout the cellar, Daiki one of the most outspoken. "That son of a bitch! I'll kill him; I swear to God I'll kill him!" Daiki moved to leave the cellar, most likely to hunt Aizen down in his rage, but Seijuurou couldn't allow that just yet.

"Atsushi," he called out and, immediately, the large purple-haired teen gripped the back of Daiki's shihakushou, letting him flail about in the giant's grasp. The redhead tried to keep his calm, but it was the equivalent to cupping water in his hands; there but ever waning.

The Eighth seat was infuriated. His vice-captain had touched something that wasn't his. He hurt Shuuzou, and that was unacceptable. Each time Seijuurou closed his eyes to try and calm down, he saw his benefactor's face when he had entered the cellar. He saw the hunted expression, the pained eyes, the heartbreak that flashed across his face as he tried to contact the other half of his soul, only to come away empty-handed.

With his expression tight, Seijuurou spun to the flailing ganguro, and snapped, "Be quiet," and the chill in his voice stilled Daiki, who froze before falling limp in Atsushi's grasp. He then turned back to Shuuzou, who gave him a nod of thanks before continuing.

"I suspect that Aizen knows I am still alive, and by tomorrow, I will most likely be discredited and deemed a traitor and killed if found in Soul Society. Therefore I cannot stay within Soul Society. So I will get down to the other reason I called you here tonight: Kuroko and I are going into hiding in the Human World."

Again, cries rang out through the room, but Seijuurou's voice silenced them all. "Why can't we go as well? Why only Kuroko?"

Here Kuroko stepped up and addressed the others. "To answer your first question, not only would it be more difficult to remain in hiding while in a group of eight but, with you here, we can keep an eye on the Gotei 13 and Aizen."

"As for the second question," Nijimura spoke up, his voice hiding whatever discomfort he might have been feeling. "Kuroko has a stealth-based zanpakutou; if I go missing, he will be immediately suspected and charged with aiding and abetting a criminal. It would be better to take Kuroko along in my great escape."

Seijuurou grudgingly agreed, and didn't seem to be alone in his frustration if the others' reiatsu were anything to go by. "Very well, Shuuzou. We'll respect your wishes. But you must tell us where you plan to go; we won't go however many long years it will take for us to get your name cleared before we can see you again."

"Agreed," Shuuzou nodded at him and the small, childish part of Seijuurou that he rarely acknowledged was put at ease. "We were thinking about going to a small town in Japan, called Karakura. From what little we've seen from reports, it has some of the highest spiritual energy readings in the nation, but is small enough to not draw the attention of the Gotei 13. We have the gigai we'll be using and have some human currency that will last us until we establish a form of living. We'll be leaving directly after this."

The room was engulfed in silence after that, each one wanting to speak up but unwilling to be the first. It was Satsuki who finally ended the standoff, tears in her pink eyes as she threw herself at Shuuzou. The grey-eyed ex-captain didn't hesitate to hug her back, gentle as only a father-figure could be. "Please be safe," she sobbed. "You're all we have, Tou-san. Please stay safe!"

"I'll do my best," Shuuzou promised, a hand running through her hair in comfort. "You guys just don't forget me, okay? I will be gone a long time –"

"We'll sooner die than forget you, Dad!" Ryouta cut in, his golden eyes shining in his conviction, and the others nodded around him.

The smile Shuuzou shot them warmed Seijuurou and made them all stand taller, proud to put that look on their father-figure's face. He let go of Satsuki with a soft kiss on her forehead, and turned to the rest of them, clapping Daiki on the shoulder, clasping Shintarou and Atsushi's arms, patting Ryouta on the back when the blonde tackled-hugged him, and ruffling Sejuurou's hair. "Be careful," he warned them once more, before a mischievous smile broke his serious demeanor. "Alright, let the espionage begin."

"High school is boring, Nijimura-kun," was the first thing Tetsuya told his former captain and current flat mate when he came home from school. Every day. The blue-haired teen could tell that Nijimura was honestly considering stabbing himself in the ears to get away from it, but he couldn't help it. Even the Academy was more interesting than high school, though that may be a bias since he didn't really know much about life as a spirit at that point.

"I know it's boring, Kuroko," was all the other man said in response, his attention barely wavering from the newspaper in front of him that was aiding in his latest job hunt. Their starting money had taken a hit after Nijimura had found a man that could forge documents that would get them in the system, ensuring that they wouldn't get caught by the human police for not existing, so the man was even more desperate to find a job that could buffer their savings. "But we need to figure out how far along the Human world is, and this is one of the best ways to do that. Hmm…"

Tetsuya may have been annoyed, but he did see his friend's point of view. "Did you find a job?"

"Maybe." The noirette stood up, grabbing his coat as he went to the door. "We'll see."

Tetsuya was happy when his captain came back successful, but could do nothing but stare when he showed up the next day at his school as the new math teacher.

At least it wasn't history.

Once Tetsuya had graduated from high school, he looked to Nijimura for what to do next, only to receive a newspaper to the face and a far too cheerful chirp of, "Job hunting time!"

"Well, what would you recommend, senpai?" The blue-haired teen shot back, opening the newspaper to begin skimming through available jobs. "What job did you like the most? Math teacher? Science teacher? Histo–"

"Librarian." Nijimura answered, curt and unamused. "And we never discuss the week I was a history teacher; it is now taboo in this house."

Tetsuya snorted quietly in response, but answered with an obedient, "Hai."

Nijimura gave him a dubious look, obviously doubtful of that order actually being followed, but went on. "You seem to get along easily with children, so maybe something in that area. You could be a care-taker, or personal tutor. After six more years of working, we will then go into hiding for a while."

"It's a good thing I found you now, then." A voice interrupted, and Tetsuya had them against the wall with a sword at their neck before he recognized the voice. The unamused look in the dark blue eyes of the intruder had the recent graduate backing off, sheepish but unrepentant.

"You shouldn't surprise us like that, Aomine-kun." He deadpanned, and Nijimura snickered into his tea.

"You're one to talk, Tetsu," was all Aomine said in response, clearly unimpressed by the other's irony, before turning to look at Nijimura. "Honestly, Oyaji, we didn't even know how to start looking for you!"

"Apologies," the older man drawled. "Next time, I'll be sure to put up a sign outside. It's not supposed to be easy to find us, you brat."

Aomine grumbled but accepted the other man's words, slumping into the chair across from him, to Tetsuya's annoyance as they only had two chairs for the kitchen table in the first place. "It's like you predicted," the dark blue-haired teen started. "You're now considered a traitor for 'selling out classified information.'" The disgust in his voice was nearly tangible, before his tone lightened somewhat. "However, they all think you're dead, and Akashi thinks that even Aizen might believe this. So, whatever they used on you, it was meant to be fatal."

"Hmm…" Nijimura sounded contemplative, and Tetsuya realized with a small flash of guilt that he had forgotten to tell his former captain that whatever had struck him had felt like Tetsuya in his crystal form.

"No one really seemed to notice that Tetsu went missing until a few weeks after the fact, and he's thought to have been killed in a Hollow attack while on patrol," Aomine continued, oblivious to the other teen's concerns. "So overall, you guys seem to be off the hook. So why are you leaving?"

"That's reassuring," Nijimura commented idly to himself, "and we're leaving so that we can come back in ten or so years. Someone is bound to notice if we look as if we haven't aged a day after ten years, so we'll leave, let people forget about us, and come back."

The nod Aomine gave his father was one of acknowledgement and respect. "So where do you plan on going?"

The noirette leaned back in his chair, eyes moving from one teen to the other. "I was thinking Amazonia. It's far from human civilization and so doesn't really fall under the Gotei 13's radar, and has large amounts of spiritual energy due to the increased Hollow population there, which stays rather high since shinigami don't patrol there."

The Fourth seat of the Eleventh Division gave a low whistle, looking impressed with his father's moxie, and Tetsuya had to admit that Nijimura's nonchalant certainty that they would be able to live surrounded by nothing but trees, animals and Hollows without any difficulty for ten years made a shiver of apprehension and excitement go down his spine.

It wasn't long until Aomine stood up, looking reluctant to leave but unwilling to jeopardize his father-figure's plan. The two fugitives waved him off and promised to tell the group still in Soul Society when they were leaving, so that no one freaked out when the time came.

Once Aomine was out of view and the two had returned to the kitchen, Tetsuya took a fortifying breath. "Nijimura-kun, it occurred to me just now that I forgot to tell you something I had discovered when Aizen struck you with his 'weapon.'"

The onyx-haired man raised an eyebrow and took a sip of his tea. "Alright. What is it?"

Tetsuya shifted uncomfortably for a moment before stilling. "The 'weapon' he used utilized powers I had as a crystal."

Where someone else would have done a spit-take at a statement like that, Nijimura managed to swallow the drink before a surprised look overtook his visage, which then shifted to worry. "You…well, not so much told me but I got the impression when you contacted me as a crystal that you had unlimited potential, right?" Tetsuya nodded, and the former captain frowned before getting up and returning to his seat with a bottle of sake on hand. "So, Aizen created a crystal with the power to do anything? Is there any good news you can tell me with regards to this?"

"When I tried to stop the crystal from hurting you, I wasn't on the right frequency, and instead made it 'miss' and hit some other part of you, but I think I may be able to 'communicate' with it."

Nijimura hummed in contemplation, and Tetsuya didn't miss the way his eyes clouded in grief for an instant before hardening. He was probably wondering if he would still have Achiyalabopa if the attack had hit him where it was aimed, before brutally reminding himself that it didn't matter; it hadn't, Achiyalabopa was still gone, and wondering would only hurt him more.

"Try to talk to it, Kuroko." Nijimura said at last, taking another sip of his tea, calmly pouring some sake into it. "It may very well recognize you as the reason it exists, or even consider itself an extension of you. We need to know as much as we can about it, so talking to it wouldn't hurt, so long as it can't talk to Aizen. Then we'll continue job hunting."

"Hai," Tetsuya nodded sharply and stood up, moving to the sitting room and settling onto a cushion. He soon entered a meditative state and extended his consciousness out, looking for the crystal. He found it after a few minutes of searching, and carefully brushed against it. The crystal seemed surprised, before brushing back excitedly.

Father? It asked, eager but nervous, and the blue-haired teen blinked.

Of a sort, Tetsuya agreed, and the crystal seemed to vibrate in happiness as it matched its frequency to his and the two came together with no difficulty. What is your name?

HumanCreatorMaster calls me Hougyoku. It responded and Tetsuya didn't bother hiding his displeasure.

He is not a good master. The human crystal chastised and the Hougyoku recoiled for a moment before growing curious.

Then who is? Tetsuya was somewhat surprised with the Hougyoku's nonchalance regarding Aizen, but guessed that it was too young to have really formed an attachment to the man.

Tetsuya mused on his "son's" question before he felt reiatsu brush against him in concern and took a breath in realization. Nijimura, of course. The man had saved him, what was to say that he couldn't save his "child"? Tetsuya quickly snared his captain's mind and dragged him into the "conversation". He is.

What the –? Kuroko, what am I doing here? Oh, uh, hello. Nijimura was quite obviously confused as he turned and greeted the smaller conscious, which poked back curiously.

You know Father? It asked, with all the curiosity of a young child.

Yep. Nijimura answered back, his presence touching the Hougyoku's in a way that made Tetsuya feel as if he had done the equivalent to ruffling the younger crystal's "hair". I've known him for about 25 years now.

The crystal shied away from him for a moment, before pressing closer. You feel familiar. Have we met before?

Kind of, Nijimura answered, and Tetsuya wasn't sure if he liked where this was going. You broke the barrier between my zanpakutou and me five years ago at Aizen's behest.

The horror the young crystal felt in response didn't surprise Tetsuya that much, but it did Nijimura who moved back in surprise before reaching out to comfort it. I'm sorry! The Hogyouku cried, clinging to the older man's presence. I didn't know! I'm sorry, Master!

While the former captain seemed baffled on how to respond to the Hogyouku's reaction, Tetsuya just resigned himself to another person he would have to share Nijimura with.

When he woke up from meditation, the blue-haired teen was startled to see that his captain was out cold on the floor nearby, before remembering that he had rather unceremoniously dragged Nijimura into the conversation without checking to see whether or not he was sitting. The bluenette winced in apology, but said nothing as the man sat up, groaning in discomfort. He also didn't respond as Nijimura smacked him in the back of the head, knowing he deserved it.

Checking the other man over, Tetsuya noted the connection he now felt extending from Nijimura to the Hogyouku, before looking at his uncertain friend in amusement. "Does this mean that we have joint custody?" He asked bluntly, and stifled the smile that threatened to emerge as the ex-captain spluttered in response.

The six years working passed much more quickly than the four Tetsuya spent in high school, and it wasn't long until Nijimura sold the house and put all of the savings into a bank with a mention of going onto a long vacation into the woods and around the world to find himself, so the bank wouldn't react to the long periods of inactivity.

And now, Tetsuya stood in front of Nijimura with nothing but a bag of medical supplies and another bag of more medical supplies, food and their gigai in their portable forms. "How do you plan for us to get there?" He asked his friend skeptically, and was actually surprised to see Nijimura grin before a pair of multicolored wings appeared on his back, flapping and sending a gust of wind in his direction. "Ah," was all he could say in response before Nijimura picked him up, gave him the bags, and took off to the east.

They eventually arrived at the forest, the living zanpakutou landing on one of the thick tree branches before carefully putting his passenger down. They were almost immediately attacked after that but Nijimura didn't seem bothered as his claws went through the Hollow's mask like a knife through butter.

Once they had made a campsite and began planning to collect provisions, Tetsuya came across a concerning issue. "Nijimura-kun," he began, "we don't have enough food to last that long without contact with humans."

The former captain looked up, his wings gone once more for the time being. "We can collect edible vegetation and hunt some of the animals." For a moment, something dark passed across his face, before it cleared once more. "We can also eat that which always tries to eat us."

Tetsuya immediately understood, and wasn't sure how to respond. "Are Hollows edible?" He asked.

Nijimura cocked his head to the side, blinking and unfocused as if he were looking at something far away. "Hollows can eat us, and eat one another in order to get stronger. They should then, in theory, be edible." Though he shrugged, the man didn't look bothered. "When I was a child, I once ate a Hollow I managed to kill, as I was dying of starvation and too desperate to care. I'm still alive, aren't I?"

"How long has it been since you were a child?" Tetsuya asked, curious.

"Over two hundred years, I'd wager. I was captain of the Tenth for one hundred years, give or take a few years, so who knows how long it's really been since I was a street urchin fighting tooth and nail to survive in the 37th district." Nijimura looked away as old memories overtook him, before he shook it off and looked at his fellow renegade once more. "Well, let's begin. From the time we awake until noon, we'll search for plants we can eat, then we'll spar until dinner, then hunt Hollows and eat some for dinner."

"Hai," Tetsuya nodded, and their temporary life in the rain forest began.

Five years later, Akashi swept in, focused and enraged. "Shuuzou!" he shouted, crashing into their campsite and nearly startling both renegades into taking his head off by reflex.

"What the hell, Akashi?!" Nijimura shouted back, his hand jerking off of his zanpakutou as if it had burned him, while Tetsuya kept a hold on his own.

Akashi scowled and sat by the camp fire, snagging a piece of cooking Hollow meat and biting into it. He made a face at the texture of the oily flesh but swallowed it and answered. "Aizen has struck again."

Immediately, Nijimura sat across from him, eyes focused on his second stray. "And?"

"Earlier today, Captain of the Twelfth, Urahara Kisuke, was found guilty of experimenting on eight captains and vice-captains and turning them into Shinigami-Hollow hybrids." Akashi grimaced and took another bite of the meat he'd grabbed. "He, the hybrids in question, Shihouin Yoruichi and Tsukabishi Tessai escaped and are now in hiding."

Tetsuya frowned as Nijimura leaned forward curiously. "Which captains and vice-captains?"

"Ushouda Hachigen, Lieutenant of the Kidou Corps; Outoribashi Rose, Captain of the Third; Hirako Shinji, Captain of the Fifth; Aikawa Love, Captain of the Seventh; Yadoumaru Lisa, Vice-Captain of the Eighth; Muguruma Kensei and Kuna Mashiro, Captain and Vice-Captain of the Ninth; and Sarugaki Hiyori, Vice-Captain of the Twelfth."

"Add in the other three, and the Gotei 13 has just lost half of their captains," Nijimura surmised, a grim look on his face.

"Their current whereabouts are unknown –" Akashi began, but Nijimura cut him off with a wave of his hand.

"They're most likely in Karakura Town. They're captains; it wouldn't surprise me if they've done their research on the matter as well. Send Midorima or Kise by that way if they're sent on a mission, and they might be able to find them before they start hiding their reiatsu. If none of you can stop by when we leave, we'll send one of these." Nijimura gestured with his hand and a dark blue butterfly landed on his hand before flitting around Akashi for a moment.

The redhead blinked. "Is that a jigokuchou?"

Nijimura smirked. "Almost; they've mutated in our care. We call them tengokuchou."

The Fifth Division member looked somewhat stunned. "What do you feed them to cause a mutation?"

This time Tetsuya answered, equally proud of their accomplishment. "We feed them Hollow blood and pieces of Hollows. They now can make small portals like Hollows to get from place to place."

Akashi gave the two disbelieving looks. "They're now part-Hollow so you named them tengokuchou?"

"Well, jigokuchou was taken," Nijimura answered innocently, and Tetsuya snickered as he bit off a piece of his own cooked Hollow limb. "Anyways, we might not go back to Karakura if so many former higher ups are going to stay there. We'll have to figure that out and, once we made a decision and if you aren't here to tell, we'll send a tengokuchou to alert you of our destination."

Akashi nodded and stood up, preparing to leave. "Very well. Thank you for giving us prior warning. I have to return before anyone questions my disappearance."

Nijimura stood as well, briefly enveloping the redhead in a hug. "Be careful, Seijuurou," he said, and Tetsuya saw Akashi stiffen in surprise before hugging back tightly in response.

"You too, Father," he said back, before the two separated and Akashi disappeared in a burst of shunpo.

The two renegades stayed silent for a little longer before Nijimura sighed and sat back down in front of the fire, Tetsuya joining his friend as he stared into the blaze. "Kuroko," Nijimura called out, and the bluenette looked at him immediately, taking in the pensive look on his face.

"What is it?" Tetsuya asked, leaning so that their shoulders were touching.

"Nigou just spoke to me," he began, referring to the Hogyouku by the ridiculous nickname he'd given it, much to Tetsuya's initial annoyance and the younger crystal's constant delight. "He says that another Hogyouku exists, belonging to a certain Urahara Kisuke. From what he's told me, Aizen wants to merge him and the other Hogyouku to make them complete and stable. And we don't know the other's frequency, so you can't talk to it either." There was a tense silence as Tetsuya took in this new information, Nijimura absently gnawing on the bone in his hand and gazing into their campfire.

"Whatever's happening," the living zanpakutou said, throwing the bone into the fire after he'd sucked the marrow out of it, "won't stop with this. Something tells me that the stage has just been set for something much greater to happen. We're just pawns, supporting actors, and that's…rather infuriating, but can you do, I suppose. So I say we not just sit and wait for the star to show up. That may be when stuff actually happens, but that doesn't mean we have to sit here and let our abilities stagnate."

Tetsuya looked at the Hollow leg in his hand before looking back at Nijimura. "I wouldn't call what we're doing now 'stagnating'." At the ex-captain's look, the bluenette lifted his free hand up in surrender. "But I understand what you're saying. Just keep doing what we're doing now, correct?"

"Right," Nijimura nodded, drawing a knee up and resting an arm on it. "And another thing; we'll be living with one another for the next who knows how many years."

Tetsuya waited for him to continue and, when he didn't, answered the not-question. "Yes."

"So, let's act like it." Nijimura paused for a second before chuckling. "I mean, we've already known each other for about 30 years now, right? And we don't interact with each other like how the brats and I do. They're like my children but you and I, I'd say we're more like partners at this point." The living zanpakutou paused again, and Tetsuya wasn't sure why his heart was beating so quickly. "So, what do you say, Tetsuya? Partners?"

Hearing his first name for the first time from Nijimura's mouth made his stomach drop pleasantly, and the living crystal smiled at him in response. "Partners…Shuuzou."

Their hands clasped to seal the deal, and Tetsuya was almost certain that the other male could hear his heartbeat through their hands, and just didn't comment on it.

The first thing that Tetsuya noticed when they returned to civilization: Shuuzou and his reiatsu had significantly increased. It wasn't noticeable in the rainforest that was covered in spiritual energy and Hollows, but it was much more noticeable when people hit the ground for the first week that they were back in the city. The two had to spend a few months to remember how to restrain their reiatsu properly, and by the end they could once again cast a multitude of different kidou spells of varying difficulties.

It was only when they encountered another hollow in Kyoto, where they had gone rather than back to Karakura as a number of paranoid Hollow-hybrids had staked their original base of operations out, that they found out their reiatsu now felt more like a Hollow's, as one of his prey had looked incredibly puzzled and yelled that question at him before Tetsuya struck it down and brought its body back to eat. That didn't seem to surprise Shuuzou too much, and Tetsuya didn't particularly care either, so the information was noted, told to Shuuzou's children, and ignored.

To make things easier for the two, they had modified their gigai to start in their younger years (14 for Tetsuya, 24 for Shuuzou) and age properly. Once 25 years had passed, they would hide in the rainforest for 10 years and return to a different town with the gigai reset. Having an actual plan was comforting to both of them and it was this that they did for the next century, hiding and training and building up a rather impressive amount of money in their bank account.

The only time that they truly suffered from this plan was when Shuuzou was drafted for the Second World War. They only just returned to civilization and the War had already started, but Japan couldn't have cared less as they took Shuuzou away from Tetsuya without another word. It was only due to their connection through Nigou that Tetsuya didn't go mad for those years. It was apparently the same for Shuuzou, who was struggling to understand humanity with the level of cruelty he was witnessing daily.

The only kindness he ever saw was his own as he displayed mercy for man, woman and child that he could. When the War ended, he actually fell into the now 19-year-old Tetsuya's arms and sobbed, the death of millions of humans and his part in it destroying whatever innocence the centuries-old captain had managed to keep. He lived the next 20 years they were stuck in civilization as a battered war veteran, with Tetsuya even more protective of his friend. Trials took place to convict those who had acted severely out of line, and Shuuzou was saved from that out of the kindness of the many people he had helped throughout the war.

It was only what they had saved from their decades of being in the Living World, Tetsuya's efforts, and what compensation he got for serving that kept them afloat as Shuuzou struggled with PTSD more severe than anything he'd felt before.

The next 20 years couldn't come fast enough, and Tetsuya was quite happy to drag Shuuzou back into the wilderness. He'd begun cutting off his connection to Nigou early on into the war in an effort to not hurt the younger crystal, and in the safety of Amazonia Tetsuya unleashed his reiatsu and quickly contacted Nigou to reestablish the connection, before adding a bond that tied him to his friend as well.

Why bother with that?Shuuzou asked softly, his thoughts rolling around in his head like thunder. Tetsuya settled the link more deeply into his mind, before shielding Shuuzou from some of the dark trails of thought that lashed at him.

Because the little one won't understand yet, and I need you. Tetsuya thought back, brushing their minds together gently in the equivalent of a hug before receding, the bond now humming between them. Tetsuya felt Misdirection stir a little, the shadowy entity nudging at the bond before subsiding with an approving sound.

I need you too, the older man admitted, not ashamed of what many would consider a weakness as he clung to the new bond between them to anchor his thoughts. The admission warmed Tetsuya, so he smiled at the other and brushed his hair out of his face.

Sleep, Shuuzou, he soothed. I'll take watch tonight.

The ex-captain fell asleep fitfully, Nigou curling up mentally around him.

They returned with Shuuzou now listed as the son of a deceased Captain in the former Imperial Japanese Army, and with Tetsuya having attained a newfound wariness towards the humans. It wasn't so much what they personally had done but what they had made Shuuzou do and the amount of time it took him to heal that made his newfound wariness so strong.

They were living in Osaka now, and Tetsuya marveled at the subtle changes in both dialect and the language itself. He could still remember the way the people spoke 50 years ago, so formal and polite in comparison to the minute differences that each person had when they conversed. Shuuzou actually wrote and published a book on it, which held the interest of people in and out of the country.

Tetsuya decided to follow in his partner's footsteps and became a writer once he graduated from his university, though he focused on novels rather than research or non-fiction works.

It was ten years into this new life-style, and Tetsuya had only just published his second novel when Midorima swept in, eyes hidden by the glare of his glasses. "Father, Kuroko." He nodded to them, and they nodded back, Tetsuya in simple acknowledgement and Shuuzou in relief at seeing one of his children again.

"It's good to see you again, Shintarou," Shuuzou said, and Midorima adjusted his glasses in discomfort and pleasure at his father's blatant happiness.

"Has something happened, Midorima-kun?" Tetsuya asked, wanting to get to the point of this sudden appearance and discover what had caused the line of tension in the Third Seat's shoulders.

Midorima scowled at the thought. "Your vice-captain has been declared missing in action, Father."

There was a moment's pause before Shuuzou facepalmed. "1000 yen says he met a human girl and fell in love with her."

"No bet," the other two chorused. As ridiculous as the scenario sounded, the noirette did have an understanding of his former vice-captain that all captains needed to work well with them. If he thought that was what happened…that was probably what happened.

"Again, their location is unknown –"

"1000 more yen says he's in Karakura." Shuuzou added, and the younger two shot him perturbed looks at his complete certainty on the matter.

"Why do you say that?" Midorima asked, somewhat skeptical.

Shuuzou waved a hand dismissively. "Just a hunch. Plus, since he probably wants to be with her in the Human World too, the pointless romantic that he is, Urahara is the only person he could go to for a gigai and he's living in Karakura as well."

"…I see," Midorima finally said, torn between astonishment and lingering skepticism. "I will see if any of us can find Shiba-san there to confirm it for you. Will you be moving before we return?"

"Probably." Shuuzou got up and stretched, grimacing at his gigai's slowly aging joints. "Something tells me that it's almost time for the tides to change. Whatever's going to happen, it'll be in Karakura and…I kinda want to be there for it."

"So you're going to Karakura?" The two nodded in confirmation and Midorima sighed. "I'll be sure to alert Akashi. What will you two be doing while you are there?"

"We'll both be authors, I imagine. I focus more on research, Tetsuya more on mysteries and light novels." Shuuzou looked at Tetsuya, who nodded in agreement, before he continued. "We'll have our reiatsu output be where we appear able to see spirits but little else to others."

The other two nodded again before Midorima sighed once more and began cleaning his glasses. "That should be all, if I'm not mistaken. Do you have any questions to bring back to the others?"

Shuuzou paused in his stretching and looked at his son, curious and sad. "Have you all attained your Bankai yet?"

Tetsuya snapped his head up to look at his partner with wide eyes while Midorima's glasses gave an ominous creak at his grip tightening in surprise. Shuuzou continued on, a bittersweet smile on his face. "You've probably had it for decades now, but none of you wished to bring it up, and I respected that. But now, the tides have changed for some reason, so we all need to be prepared and I have to know if my children will be able to defend themselves to their utmost ability when the time comes."

Midorima shifted a little before sighing in understanding. "I have reached Bankai, as has Akashi, Kise, Aomine, and Murasakibara. Momoi is on the brink to doing so."

Tetsuya nodded thoughtfully at this new information, eyes trailing to Midorima's zanpakutou, Lucky Item, which he had a tight grip on in the face of his discomfort. He was curious on what his Shikai and Bankai looked like, since only Nijimura and their respective captains knew about the Miracles' Shikai. Shuuzou smiled at the green-haired shinigami and patted him on the shoulder. "That's good to know. We'll be seeing you guys in Karakura next, I imagine."

"Hai." The man nodded to his father and friend, before shunpoing to an appropriate place in order to return to the Seireitei.

The two sat in silence at the new information they've been given before Nijimura sighed again. "Isshin is such a fucking idiot sometimes."

Tetsuya raised an eyebrow. "That's rather kind of you, Shuuzou. I think he's an idiot all of the time."

His partner laughed at his blunt opinion and nudged him fondly, which still made Tetsuya stiffen a little at the contact in surprise, before he stood and began moving to his room to grab the essentials. "Well, let's start packing. We need to set up advertising to rent the place out while we return to our house in Karakura." Tetsuya nodded and moved to follow, somewhat off-balanced from the other's actions.

Advertising only took about a week, and they soon got out of the house and returned to where they had first run a century ago. Karakura Town.

Tetsuya was prepared.

Five years later, Tetsuya felt distinctly unprepared. "Hello class," he bowed politely to the students, his face void of emotion, as a number of them screamed in shock at his "sudden" appearance. "I am Kuroko Tetsuya, your Literature teacher." He blamed this entirely on Shuuzou.

For some reason, Shuuzou told him that he needed to begin teaching at the local high school. When questioned why, the living zanpakutou just shrugged uncomfortably and said it was a feeling before he walked back to his desk, trying to get used to his aching muscles and joints. The two normally got out of their gigai and stretched every few days, and Tetsuya could see that staying cramped in their false bodies was giving them both a type of cabin fever.

Tetsuya was fairly certain that merging with his zanpakutou had given Shuuzou a type of precognition that he himself couldn't understand. It only came occasionally and in small things, like knowing where the other hybrids were and whether Tetsuya could interact with Nigou. Shuuzou didn't even know it himself, only that these feelings were right and to listen when they appeared.

They continued like this, and Shuuzou lasted a few more years before the cabin fever took over and he took a week long hiatus from writing and left his gigai at the house to go flying over some of the other cities, and Tetsuya quickly took a vacation as well to join his partner, using his reiatsu to hover alongside his winged friend, whose feathers glowed like molten metal in the sun. They were in a small town called Namimori, watching people who could only be called nutjobs run around with their heads on fire when Shuuzou jerked as if he had been struck.

"Isshin!" he shouted, horrified, and began moving to return to Karakura, his wings beating furiously to get him back to help his former vice-captain. Tetsuya didn't know what was going on in Karakura, but he wouldn't let it risk his partner's discovery.

With a small flex of his power, Shuuzou's wings receded into his back and he began to fall before he righted himself. The ex-captain began shunpoing after that, and Tetsuya let a small wave of guilt wash over him as he temporarily removed his best friend's reiatsu. It was an easy enough technique, especially since the two of them had been practicing it for decades now, but it didn't make the heavy feeling in his stomach lighten at all.

Shuuzou hit the ground with a grunt of pain before struggling to his feet, Tetsuya landing beside him. "What are you doing, Tetsuya?!" his friend actually shouted, confusion and fear in his eyes as he started limping to Karakura, his healing slowed without his reiatsu. "Something's happening! Isshin's family –"

"Will be fine, Shuuzou," Tetsuya tried to soothe, his voice as flat as ever. "Shiba-san wouldn't let any of them get hurt. Even if something was happening, your appearance wouldn't be appreciated and may put you in danger."

But still Shuuzou hesitated, pained by something only he could sense before he nodded and stopped, turning to instead go into an abandoned house. When he reached the building he didn't even bother to enter the house, instead curling up on the porch and staring blankly ahead. Tetsuya looked at his friend in concern when he didn't even twitch as his reiatsu and wings were restored, only cocooning Tetsuya in his wings and continuing to stare into the distance.

They returned to find out that Shiba – now Kurosaki – Isshin's wife was no longer of this world, leaving behind her husband and three children. They hovered near the site during the funeral, Misdirection keeping them hidden from view as Shuuzou watched on sadly and Tetsuya leaned against him in silent support. Shuuzou blamed himself without reservation, and that just made the blue-haired man feel worse.

Six years after that, all of the hunches and feelings that Shuuzou had felt over the past century finally culminated in the person to end this cold war.

Ichigo listened with a bored look as his Modern and Classical Literature teacher talk about a book he was assigning the class while they discussed World War II in History. "This will not be a pretty piece," Kuroko-sensei warned them. "War is not a pretty thing, and Setting of the Rising Sun does not try to play it off as such. It is from a Captain's point of view, and many of the excerpts were taken from the journal he gave to his son upon his death."

"So how did the author get the information?" someone near the front asked.

Their sensei smiled sadly. "The author is the Captain's son, and is a close friend of mine as well."

Some of the class shifted in discomfort at that, but Ichigo just raised an eyebrow, interested. His interest spiked even more when their teacher's eyes slid slightly to the corner of the room, where Ichigo had seen a spirit hovering earlier. 'So Sensei can see spirits as well, huh? I can't tell if that will make this class more interesting or less.'

Nonetheless, the teen accepted the book from his teacher and flipped through it a little before shutting it once more. From what little snippets he'd seen, Kuroko-sensei was right; this book was not going to be a happy one, but it was interesting to see how the war changed the man who struggled to remain merciful without betraying his country. At least, that's what Ichigo got from the bits he read and the summary on the back. He read the author's name: Nijimura Shuuzou, son of Nijimura Shizuo.

The orange-haired teen knew a little about Captain Nijimura, but not much. He was, of course, a Captain during the Second World War, but was one of the few found not guilty of acting out of line as many survivors appeared during the trial claiming that he had saved them during attacks on their cities. He was both praised and admonished for this, and had returned home with the people unsure of how to treat the hero-traitor.

He didn't know much else, but he had a feeling that that would be rectified soon.