Prologue: Stolen from the Sky

Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach...wouldn't want to. So many characters! But I'm more than happy to play around with the ones that have been created... (lures Ishida with thread and needles and locks him in her closet) All miiiiine...

Rating: (T) Teen for very descriptive violence and some language.
Pairing(s): Mainly IshiHime, but will be strongly IchiRuki, as well.
Genre(s): Drama/Suspense/Angst/Romance/Humor
Spoilers: Lots. Bunches and bunches of lots.
Summary: Ishida must make a choice. Now that Soul Society has waged war on the Arrancar, he must choose which is more important to him: his promise not to associate with shinigami, or his duty as a friend. The decision may cost him more than he could imagine.

Ishida Uryuu glanced up to the sky as the very last star was stolen from view by ominous black clouds. A cool breeze swept down from the heavens, sending a chill through his body.

Ahead of him, Inoue Orihime walked away. Her pale silhouette became smaller and smaller as her footsteps brought her farther from his view. Three more steps and she would be gone. Halfway over the rise that would bring her into the next stretch of shadows, she turned, offering an apologetic wave. Her words barely reached him, but he thought she was saying, "See you later, Ishida-kun!"

He waved back, just slightly, knowing he should walk away, too, and turn from all of this, but he couldn't. He just stared raptly ahead until he couldn't hear her footsteps or see the ghastly shadow cast by the lifeless illumination of overhead streetlamps. He took a breath as if to speak and reached out, taking a half-step forward, but he caught himself.

He really should have walked away right then.

If he had, things wouldn't have turned out the way they did.

But at the same time, if he'd walked away...Inoue would probably be dead.

So when he heard her scream, he ran to her.

That morning's tranquil sky gave no hint of the turmoil that would tear through it before the next day dawned.

The early morning streets were free of traffic and noise, and a warm orange sun was just beginning to peek up over the tops of trees and buildings, setting the rooftops ablaze with the amber glow of sunrise. Strewn across the sky as if they hadn't a care in the world, the clouds took on the pale peach tint of sunlight. Insects and birds carried on with schedules set for them by nature. They didn't worry about tomorrow, or even the next moment. They simply were.

Through that tranquil morning haze, a single figure walked.

Except Ishida Uryuu was anything but calm. For the first time he could remember, his lanky hair was uncombed, erratic and loose. Haphazard strands of hair slid over his glasses, obscuring his vision. Haphazard. How he hated that word. But for now, it was the only one fit to describe him.

Ishida walked quickly ahead, not daring to look back, afraid of what he might see.

What am I running from?

And immediately, he answered his own question. My friends. Myself.

I am running away from the things I should be running toward.

It wasn't so simple, however. Nothing was ever simple. There had been a time when the world had all been defined by what was right and what was wrong, when he had devoted himself to learning because he had truly believed that he could stop the suffering inflicted by hollows upon humans and spirits.

But it wasn't as black-and-white as that.

Ishida walked until he found himself in a park, and he sat down on a bench, turning his face to the sky and asking himself the question that haunted his thoughts. My friends...or my word; my pride as a Quincy. Which one is more important to me?

"I need to think a few things over."

Those were the words he had spoken.

"I'm sorry. I may not be able to see you guys for a long time."

He had walked away.

Was it really only last night that he and the others had returned from Hueco Mundo, the world of the Hollows? It seemed like centuries had passed. Ishida closed his eyes and pressed his fingers to the bridge of his nose. He'd gone home briefly in the early morning when they had arrived, but he'd been pacing ever since the first ray of light shone in the sky.

When they had taken Orihime from Aizen, he had worked together with two true shinigami, and those two were working under the approval of a shinigami captain. Soul Society had already planned an offensive against the traitor Aizen, using the information about Las Noches given to them by Ishida, Ichigo and the others. And now that they were back, safe, with Orihime, and now that the war between Hueco Mundo and Soul Society had been started, Ichigo most definitely wasn't going to stand idly by and wait to hear news of Soul Society's predicaments. He was going to want to fight. By doing so, he would ally himself with those Ishida had promised not to associate with, and thus, would become one of them.

Ishida couldn't rationalize this away anymore.

His word or his friends?

He could return to his old life, return to the strict studying schedule and the infinite silence of loneliness, or he could break the promise he had made. He could risk his father's wrath, risk losing his powers...risk showing that he really did care about more than that damned Quincy pride. He couldn't choose, because nothing was ever, ever easy.

By the time he grabbed his things and left school that day, the sky was starting to darken, tumultuous black clouds racing in from the horizon. The night would have been beautiful but for that. The heavens were cast with a beautiful array of stars, all glinting brightly in the sky like crystal shards lit by fire. Only a few remained visible now, though, behind the rumbling clouds.

It would rain soon.

For some reason, the heaviness of the sky seemed to weigh on his shoulders and on his step, slowing his fast pace down to an absentminded walk. His eyes focused on his feet, but they saw nothing. His mind raced over the memories he'd shared with Kurosaki, Sado-kun, Kuchiki-san and Inoue-san. It really didn't seem like much.

Just a while back, he'd known of Inoue only as a fellow handicrafts club member, a girl whose bright demeanor and genetic fortune brought her much attention. Kurosaki had merely been another bumbling kid with high spiritual power. At one time, the very last thing in the world he would have asked for were friends. He'd thought that he was all he needed. But then Kurosaki became a shinigami, and making friends was the last thing on his mind.

He'd come to Kurosaki as a challenger and he had found an ally.

But allies come and go, he assured himself.

Then why can I not imagine going back to life without them?

He clenched his teeth.


He looked up suddenly at the cheery voice to find Inoue Orihime in his path. "Hello, Inoue-san," he murmured.

Push past her. Go home.

"Ishida-kun, you didn't come to lunch with us today, and then you didn't talk to us or anything, and every time Kurosaki-kun threw something at you, you didn't even look at him." She walked backwards in front of him, slender arms tucked behind her back, body bent low so that she could see his downcast face. "Something wrong?"

He cleared his face of expression and looked up. "Nothing is wrong, Inoue-san. Please do not take my actions personally. I have to make a choice, and it would be best if I stayed away from you until that choice is made."

Orihime's smile dropped just a bit. "Oh...about that promise?"

He nodded.

"I'm sorry."

"It's not your problem." The words came out with raw bitterness, and he cursed himself.

Inoue's expression was agonized. "Oh... I guess I should go, then." She averted her eyes and shot him a pasted smile before turning around.


She stopped.

"Please...please be careful. Aizen can't be happy about losing someone with abilities as valuable as yours, and...he might try to target you again. You shouldn't be out alone."

Inoue smiled, tucking a long strand of hair behind her ear. "I'll be fine."

"But..." Ishida cleared his throat and pushed his glasses up high on his nose so the streetlight's reflection would hide his eyes. "I could...walk you home."

This time it was her turn to look away. "I'm very sorry. I'm meeting up with Kuchiki-san and Kurosaki-kun."

"Oh...I see."

Inoue gave him a parting smile and turned around, walking away into the spreading darkness.

He wanted to go after her, but he couldn't let himself. At the same time, he couldn't leave, so he stayed until she had melded with the darkness. Ishida stared at the sky for guidance, but as he watched, the very last pinpoint star was snuffed from view.

And that's when he heard her scream.

He saw the hollow, and for the briefest moment, a hidden fear flickered through him. The fear of dying, the fear of action and reaction. He had worked hard to overcome it, but still it lingered deep in his soul. At times, he tried to comfort himself with the thought that as long as one lived, one wanted to protect the life given to them. As long as people were alive, they could be driven to do horrible things to sustain that life.

They could hide.

He grimaced inwardly. He could not be like that, not ever again. He had hidden from his grandfather's attackers, and through inaction, had allowed him to be killed.

That fear, that instinct to live...he loathed it. Being afraid could not help him. It could only hurt others.

He felt something inside of him, and despite his earlier indecision, he made his mind up in that moment.

Yes, life was important to him, and yes, he was afraid.

But there was a life more important than his own that he could not allow to end.

"Orihime-san!" He didn't realize that he'd said her first name. She was sprawled against the thick trunk of a tree, eyes open but glazed. The hollow had just recoiled from its attack. It was frightening. Most of the hollows he had seen looked awkward, uncertain, but this one was lithe and controlled, almost humanoid but for the animalistic back legs. Its mask had fierce slits for eyes, and deep red lines followed the edges of the eyes, sliding down from the mask like slick marks of blood and outlining the edges of the hollow's streamlined body. It leaned forward on two strong legs, their strength showing in the hollow's quick, tense movements. Its hands were like talons, with long, razor-like claws extending from them.

As it turned toward him, he could barely perceive the movement.

So fast...

But that was the farthest thing from his mind as another realization dawned on him.

He could not feel—and had not felt—an ounce of spiritual pressure. This hollow was able to conceal it.

One of Aizen's creations.


The hollow narrowed its dark eyes, viewing him as a mere obstruction. Ishida readied himself to summon his bow, but in one lightning-fast movement, the creature swung one of those arms. He wasn't sure where he'd been hit, but suddenly the whole world snapped out of focus and he was in the air, and then, with a sickening thud on the asphalt, he slammed down. He coughed and tried to bring in a breath, but his chest felt empty and heavy, every bit of air knocked from his lungs. He gasped, willing his eyes to focus, but he realized that his glasses were gone.


Ishida stood shakily to his feet, trying to draw a breath deep enough to satiate his lungs. The world around him seemed to tremble beneath his feet, threatening to overturn. His vision, slightly out of focus without his glasses, was darkening around the edges. Right now there wasn't much he could do.

That was another thing he hated. Helplessness.

"Hey, Hollow!"

He summoned his bow and aimed it directly at the hollow's head. His vision was innacurate. Damn, where were his glasses? If he shot now, there was a possibility might injure Inoue.

The hollow moved close to her, and she just sat up, back pressed to the tree she'd been thrown against. She tried to stand, but he couldn't see any more than that. The hollow completely obscured her.

When he was little, he had always been taught that one sacrifice was better than many, but he couldn't bring himself to fire when he knew Inoue-san might get hurt.

You have too much compassion. It will be your downfall, you know. You need to rid yourself of such useless weight.

His father had always told him this.

Bring it down in a single shot. To avoid the possibility of harm to others, you must be certain. You must not waver, Uryuu.

His sensei's words.

Neither helped him now.

If he tried, he could hit the hollow's head. Doing so would erase any possibility of harm coming to others or to himself, but there was a large possibility that Inoue could be injured. If he was fast, though, he could hit the hollow in a less vital place, but one where the shot held no danger of injuring Inoue. Once she was out of harm's way, he could kill the hollow.

If he was fast enough...if he could do this, then no one would get hurt.

That was his only choice.

He fired. He knew his potential, and so he used his speed to send two quick arrows into the hollow's shoulders.

The hollow arched back from the blow, trying and failing to lift its arms. It turned around. He was no longer a nuisance to be ignored. Its full attention was now on him. Good.

"Inoue-san! Run for it! Find Kurosaki and Kuchiki-san!"

She had stood to her feet, and from behind the hollow, she looked like little more than a doll. She shook her head forcefully. "I can't! I...I want to help."

She couldn't help. Despite all she'd been through, despite the things she had forgotten and learned while with Aizen, despite her formidable powers, she had no intent to kill at all. She would only be a hindrance. But...she would not go.

"You aren't safe here!"

He aimed his bow as a soft sizzling arose from the wounds he had inflicted on the hollow. Slowly their range of motion improved. The hollow flexed its claws.

It was healing.

"Get out of here!" he screamed.

She looked at him, then at the hollow, and her eyes searched the path behind her.

"You'll only be a distraction here," he said coldly. "Run away now!"

He saw the pain in her eyes, but he ignored it. As long as she long as she lived, he would have the chance to apologize for that.

She turned away and took a few uncertain steps. He sighed.

Thank goodness.

He barely had a second to feel relief, because another feeling swept through him, banishing everything else.


So fast...the hollow was so fast. He didn't even see it coming.

He'd been distracted.

He looked down shakily. His legs felt as if the slightest breeze would topple them.

In fact, he was pretty sure that the three talons impaled through his torso were the only things keeping him upright. He tried to breathe but he felt a wetness rising in his throat, and a cough came out instead. Frothy blood slid from his lips. The talons were withdrawn, the pain so much more intense than it had been before. As they came out, soaked with his own blood, his body fell down, tugging on the departing blades and deepening the wounds until he was on his knees. The last little bit of warmth in the sky felt like it had been sucked away.

"Run," he whispered.

Inoue had stopped completely, eyes wide, hands halfway open and trembling at her sides. She stared at him.

The hollow seemed satisfied that Ishida would pose no problem, and it turned from him once again.

Ishida tried to scream to Orihime but the best that came out was a raw gasp. "Find Kurosaki!" he said as loudly as he could. "Find him. He'll keep you safe."

Even though the hollow was advancing, Inoue Orihime didn't move.

"Run! Do it now!"

It was more a plea than a demand. He was losing consciousness fast, and he knew that if Orihime didn't move, there would be nothing he could do. She must have heard the emotion in his voice, and for once, emotion did him some good, because she responded. She started running. "I'll get help!" she promised.

The hollow was hiding its spirit power, but if Inoue was able to get to Kurosaki and Kuchiki-san, she would be safe. They could protect her from any future threats. But as for this one...

Ishida manifested his bow and aimed quickly, frantically, hoping that he could stay alert for just a few more seconds. He drew a bead on the hollow's head, and released the arrow.

The hollow disintegrated , leaving only darkness behind, and he saw the back of Inoue-san's head as she disappeared over a rise.

That hollow...had he hit its head? Maybe...maybe not. Either way, for the moment, it was gone.

"Run quickly, Inoue-san," he whispered.

The last of the light around him faded as he fell onto his hands. Blood dripped steadily from the wounds, rivaled only by the rain that had finally begun to fall. He slumped to the cold ground as the rain and blood spread out beneath him.

Run...and be safe.

Author's Notes: I hope the characters are not OOC. This is my first long-term Bleach fic. Please, please comment and tell me what you think so far! Is this story worth continuing? (offers the review button with pleading puppy eyes)