Summary: Seireitei isn't the capital of Soul Society, it's the capital of the Kingdom of Souls—just a normal kingdom ruled by King Yamamoto and his twelve advisors. Within this kingdom, people are born into one of two categories—dominant or submissive. Follow the courtship of Seireitei's many strong-willed submissives as the lead us into Seireitei's Golden Age. (Of course, they'll have to deal with Aizen first, but that's just the way it goes.)
Pairings: Shunsui/Ichigo, Shinji/Momo, Kensei/Shuuhei, Juushiro/Orihime, Renji/Rukia, Lisa/Nanao, Rose/Izuru, and others
Warnings: Power Dynamics, Some Violence, BDSM Elements, Explicit Sex with Het, Slash, and FemSlash couples
Notes: This setting/plot of this story is a combination of The Tale of Genji, The Princess Bride, several Feudal Japan animes, some BDSM!AUs, and all of that with Bleach characters. Now, while this is a Medieval AU, it's not as formal as true Japanese Historical romances would be. Every chapter will start with a different two-line poem (tanka) from The Tale of Genji by Shikibu Murasaki, and as such they are all written by her.


My mountain door of pine has opened briefly
To see a radiant flower not seen before.
Chapter 5, The Tale of Genji

The Kingdom of Souls was truly a beautiful place. There were some foreign dignitaries, on stately visits to the kingdom, that questioned its name—why Souls? Was that not a bit morbid?—but they would soon be distracted by the lush forests, the bustling outer sectors, and the gleaming white capital city of Seireitei. Truly, no one really remembered why the Kingdom of Souls was named such. It held humans like all the other kingdoms, and the humans of this kingdom were really no different from the humans of the Kingdom of Heuco Mundo or any of the other surrounding lands. Still, no one was of the mind to change the name so the Kingdom of Souls it still was.

King Yamamoto Genryusai was the seventieth ruler of the Kingdom of Souls. He wasn't blood related to the original king, though that king had held the same name. Indeed, there was no tradition of blood being the factor of hierarchy within Seireitei, though there were noble families and clans that held some power. Since the Kingdom of Souls was founded, there has always been a king or queen and under them the twelve captains who served as the ruler's advisors and the leaders of his or her army. Just like with the king, the captains were chosen by the power and aptitude, not by blood.

Of course, blood was occasionally a factor. The Kuchiki Clan had consistently had one of their own as Captain of the Sixth Division for hundreds of years, just as the Shihouin Clan held control over the Second Division. Still, most of the Divisions didn't hold to such tradition and indeed many of the current captains had been born into non-noble families outside the walls of Seireitei and worked there way up through the Shin'ou Academy—an institution created by the original King Yamamoto and open to any and all dominants who wished to train to be a member of the Kingdom's soldiers.

Indeed, because only the dominants trained at Shin'ou, the minimum age of entrance into the Academy was puberty—the time when it became clear through matters of biology whether an individual was dominant or submissive. And while dominants could chose to join Shin'ou or stay and work their family lands, submissives were not given a choice. All who developed the telltale traits of a submissive in puberty were immediately carted off to the Sanctuary, where they were trained in the ways of submission and prepared for their future as consorts of whomever should deem to court them.

Courtship was a lengthy process involving quite a number of rules and regulations that, as rules often were, sometimes broken. It was said that the higher up in a rank a dominant was, the more eccentric their chosen submissive tended to be. This wasn't an entirely accurate assumption, as highly ranked consorts had even more protocol to follow then those of lower rank. However, it was true that the reason many of the captains of Seireitei had yet to settle down was because they were bored by the usual simpering submissives they met during the regular Sanctuary galas and were looking for a male or female with a little more spirit, a little more strength, a little more something.

The following tale details the beginning of what is now known as the Kingdom of Soul's Golden Age, but of course at the time the figures within weren't aware they would go down in history such. Indeed, all that the unmarried dominants knew was that it had been a long time since any truly remarkable submissive had graced the Sanctuary galas.

Little did they realize a wave was coming—and it all started with the announcement of the king's chosen heir to the throne.

~o~

Kyouraku Shunsui played with the collar of his white haori. The black kosode and hakama he wore underneath were made of the finest silk in the kingdom. He hated them, hated the way they felt against his skin. He much preferred the cotton he tended to wear, but he had no choice today.

The door opened and Shunsui lifted his gaze in the mirror so that he could watch his best friend, Captain Ukitake Juushiro, walk in. Juushiro smiled at him and approached. "You're fidgeting."

"It's not sitting right," Shunsui grumbled.

Juushiro sighed good-naturedly. "Let me." He reached up and flattened out Shunsui's color with deft hands. Shunsui let him, folding his hands inside his sleeves. He was used to Juushiro touching him. They'd become best friends during their days at Shin'ou Academy and, like many dominants, had learned to keep each other company on lonely nights. It was nothing too serious—he didn't pine when Juushiro wasn't by his side like he would for a lover—it was simply comfortable, a way to pass the time until they both found submissives they could adore.

That had yet to happen, for either of them. Sometimes, Shunsui worried. Neither of them were getting any younger. Perhaps, he thought, they were both being too picky.

"You're brooding," Juushiro said. "About the ceremony?"

"No, actually." Shunsui turned back to the mirror. "Not about that."

Juushiro met his gaze in the mirror. "Are you being obtuse on purpose, or because you feel like it?"

Shunsui smiled involuntarily. "Ah, Juu-chan, I was being serious. Can't I act all grown up on my coronation day?"

"Not you," Juushiro said, smiling back. "We just have a few more minutes until the attendants come in to make sure your ready, so tell me what's bothering you, Shunsui, and we'll make it so you don't look like the world is on your shoulder when you're presented in front of the kingdom."

"This is why you're my best friend," Shunsui stated. "Always the practical one." Shunsui walked over to the nearby cabinet and poured two glasses of sake. "Yama-jii gave me a deadline."

"A deadline?" Juushiro pressed, taking a sip of his sake.

"He wants to retire," Shunsui said. "But there always needs to be a Royal Consort."

"Ah," Juushiro said. "I see the problem. He's telling you to choose a submissive."

"Yeah." Shunsui reached up and then scowled as he realized he wasn't wearing his usual straw hat. Tugging at its brim was a very telling habit, but it was a comforting one nonetheless. "My consort needs enough time to be trained on the duties of being the Royal Consort, so Yama-jii asked that I pick one and marry them within the year."

"Do you think he's worried?" Juushiro asked, his voice dropping slightly. "About his health?"

Shunsui shrugged. Yamamoto was certainly old, but, to Shunsui, he'd always been the picture of strength.

Then again, the king had noticeably slowed down the past few years—which was why Shunsui had to wear the stupidly fancy clothes he had on. He rubbed a hand down the silk and scowled. "It should have been you."

"Being crowned prince? I think not." Juushiro shook his head.

"You're just as much Yama-jii's protégé as I am," Shunsui said. "And you'd be a nicer king."

"The kingdom doesn't need a nice king, they need a strong one," Juushiro argued. "And with my health…."

Shunsui looked away. Juushiro huffed a slapped him in the arm. "What was that for?" Shunsui asked, rubbing the spot.

"You're being morbid, stop that." Juushiro met Shunsui's gaze. "You'll be a good king, Shunsui. The people like you."

"They adore Yama-jii."

"They'll grow to adore you. Besides, you don't have to do it alone. You know that I, and all the other captains, have your back."

Shunsui sighed and the forced himself to smile. "When you're right, you're right."

Juushiro backed away from him as someone knocked on the sliding door. "As for finding the right submissive," he added quickly. "Don't worry, Shunsui. You'll find one. Kami-san wouldn't leave the kingdom without a good Royal Consort, you'll see."

"I hope you're right about that too, Juu-chan," Shunsui said. "I really do."

~o~

The new prince's coronation was beautifully put together. Citizens of the kingdom filled the large courtyard outside the northern gate of Seireitei. The ceremony was indeed taking place on top of the gate itself so everyone who wanted to could see. It had been Kyouraku's idea, supposedly—whether that was true or just a rumor to get the people's favor was a different question.

All those who filled the courtyard and ranged along the upper wall were either dominants or consorts. It was a very rare circumstance when an unmarried submissive was allowed to be in the company of dominants. However, even the strict teachers of the Sanctuary weren't so cold-hearted as to prevent the submissives who wanted to from seeing the crowning of their new prince.

So, in a tall building just next to the courtyard, several dozen submissives stood gazing out from a balcony. It wasn't perfect, of course. A number of dominants were still able to easily cast looks at the submissives. The instructors compromised by requiring all the submissives to wear hoods or veils and keep fans covering their mouths. At the very least, no one would be able to lip-read what they were saying to each other.

The submissives themselves formed in various subgroups composed of close friends. One such group was envied by many of the others. Among the classes in the Sanctuary, it became very clear who had the natural grace, the intelligence, and yes even the strength to be courted by the higher-class dominants. To all the other submissives, the group standing in the middle was that type.

The group was a mixed one, made up of submissives born and raised into the noble families and submissives found in the dredges of the lower districts. The members of this group all entered the Sanctuary around the same time—with a couple exceptions. Indeed, Matsumoto Rangiku had been at the Sanctuary longer than any of her fellows. Also true, Shiba Ichigo and Kuchiki Rukia had both entered a few years later than the others of the group. Still, on the whole they were equals and they were all aware of that.

At the moment, the group—like everyone else—had their eyes fixed on the captains lining up on the wall. They came in two rows, starting with the last divisions. Ukitake Juushiro, Captain of the Thirteenth, stood at the far right end while Urahara Kisuke, Captain of the Twelve, stood at the far left. Next to Ukitake was Kenpachi Zaraki, next to Urahara was Ichigo's father, Shiba Isshin, and so on.

"Wow, Ichigo," Rangiku said, fanning herself slightly. "It's been a while since I've seen your dad look so fancy."

Ichigo rolled his eyes. Every time his parents and dominant younger sister, Karin, came to visit him and his other sister, Yuzu, at the Sanctuary his dad always wore a casual yukata—most of the time even forgoing his Captain's white haori. "Me too. Though it looks like Byakuya is as well-put together as ever."

"Ni-sama always dresses appropriately," Rukia stated, dutifully holding her purple fan over her mouth.

"If, by appropriately, you mean overly formal half the time, then I suppose so," Hisagi Shuuhei stated. The edge of his dark fan brushed over the bridge of his nose. "Don't know how your older sister puts up with him."

"Hisana-san is just really nice," Hinamori Momo stated.

"And tolerant," Kira Izuru added.

Rukia huffed, but there was a smile on her face. They all knew just how much the short black-haired submissive loved her sister. However much she'd come to respect her brother-in-law and appreciate the care he showed for his consort, Hisana would always be more special to Rukia.

"Oh, the lieutenants are coming out too," Inoue Orihime noted, forgetting to keep her pink fan over her face for a moment and she craned her head to get a better look. Ise Nanao silently fixed Orihime's fan for her, her own brown fan hardly moving from it's perfect position in front of her face.

Indeed the lieutenants were, now that all the captains save the two men of the hour were standing in their spots. Ichigo's cousin, Kaien, walked over to stand behind Ukitake. Behind Ichigo's dad was the young prodigy, Hitsugaya Toushiro. Yadomaru Lisa stood near the empty spot that should hold her captain, her face showing nothing of what she was feeling about the man's upcoming coronation. The lieutenant spot behind Outoribashi Rose of the Third Division was empty. Sarugaki Hiyori, one of the other youngest graduates of the Academy, stood behind Shinji—taking the place of a different lieutenant who used to stand there.

Seeing all the captains and lieutenants like that reminded the submissives present of the events that had transpired almost six months before. As one, they turned to look at Momo and Rangiku. Rangiku reached over and slipper her hand in Momo's. Momo seemed to sink in on herself slightly, bringing her dark fan up to cover even more of her face.

Both of the submissives had only been in the midst of courting, though not yet married, with the traitors—but that was certainly enough for them to have refused to attend any of the Sanctuary's galas since. It was arguably worse for Rangiku than for Momo. Rangiku had grown up with Gin and had told all of them in the past at some point or another how she was certain there was no one else out there except him.

Still, after Aizen Sousuke, Tousen Kaname, and Ichimaru Gin had been exiled from the kingdom for treachery, it was Momo that had been the most shocked. Aizen, after all, had been nothing but sweet and gentle to her during their courtship. She'd been in love with him and even now she beat herself up over her own naiveté—no matter how much the others tried to convince her she couldn't have known.

"The past is the past," Ichigo said, drawing them all from their darkened thoughts. "And the future is coming right now, isn't it?"

"So poetic, Ichi," Rangiku teased, taking the out for what it was. "I always though that was more of Izuru's forte."

Izuru covered a laugh in his green fan.

"Oh, the consorts are coming now," Rukia said. "There's nee-san!"

Leading the procession of consorts was Sasakibe, the Royal Consort. He easily knelt on a cushion the submissives could just barely see that had clearly been laid out for him ahead of time. It would place him right next to the king when the man appeared. The other consorts went to kneel beside their dominants. Ichigo's mom, Masaki, easily folded her knees to settle at Isshin's side. Nearby, Miyako did the same for Kaien. Ichigo's mom and his cousin-in-law got along amazingly well, supposedly, which—according to Ichigo, who'd heard from his cousin Kukaku—had surprised no one in the Shiba Clan.

"It's a bit sad, isn't it?" Orihime stated. "So few of our captains and lieutenants have consorts."

That was very obvious now that all the consorts had knelt. The graceful trio of Masaki, Miyako, and Hisana were obvious—as was the gentle way all three of their dominants brushed their hands against their consorts' heads almost habitually as they waited. In some contrast, Sasakibe knelt in rigid formality on his cushion. Near to him, Captain Shihouin Yoruichi's consort, Soi Fon, kept her back straight and her expression like stone. Every once and a while, Yoruichi looked down at her consort with an amused smile on her bronze face, but otherwise the woman didn't even try to pet her consort like the other consorts were receiving.

That was all—just five consorts for twenty five captains and lieutenants. Some, such as Lieutenant Okikiba Genshirou of the First Division, had lost their consorts some years before. Most, though, had simply never found a submissive to court within the Sanctuary's walls.

"It's a bit nerve-wracking, isn't it?" Izuru said. "The captains and lieutenants don't go to galas very often, but when they do everyone tends to forget their training."

Shuuhei nodded. "You'll see," he said, talking especially to Ichigo, Rukia, and Orihime. The three would be attending their first gala two nights from then. "This upcoming gala is going to be a big deal. Mistress Konaeda said that the king himself is demanding all the unattached upper rank dominants attend. It's the first time that's happened in ages."

Nanao adjusted her glasses. "Don't get too excited," she said. "Many of the captains and lieutenants don't come to the galas for good reasons. They have high expectations and, like Izuru said, many of the Sanctuary become bumbling idiots around them."

"Well, we'll just have to be better than that," Ichigo said, brashly confident like he always was. "But not for them. We all deserve to find the right person, that's all. We can't screw up our own chances so easily."

The submissives smiled at Ichigo. The slightly older ones sometimes forgot how the eighteen year old was wise beyond his years. He'd joined the Sanctuary at fifteen, when he'd been confirmed as a submissive after several years of being trained like the dominant his parents had thought he was, and had made a huge splash inside those traditional walls.

"It's starting," Rukia said, effectively shushing any future conversation.

King Yamamoto, Captain of the First Division, Commander of the Kingdom of Souls, walked up the stairs of the towering wall. Behind him came Kyouraku Shunsui, Captain of the Eighth and soon to be Prince.

Yamamoto looked around at the gathered crowd, their respect for him shown in the utter silence. His lieutenant cleared his throat and began to recite the ceremonial words. They droned on over the silence like a haunting song. Finally, Okikiba bowed and stepped back.

Yamamoto nodded once and gestured Kyouraku forward. Kyouraku knelt before the king and Yamamoto placed once wizened hand on his shoulder.

"You have always been a son to me," Yamamoto began. The words were soft, but the submissives were high enough on their balcony that the wind carried them over. "I could not ask for a more capable dominant to lead this kingdom in my stead. Know that when I name you my heir, I do so with pride and confidence."

"Thank you," Kyouraku whispered back.

Yamamoto smiled, so quickly that many of the crowd missed it. When he turned his face up to them, he was as serious as ever. "My people, I present to you my heir, Prince Kyouraku Shunsui."

A cheer rose up from the crowd. Kyouraku stood and bowed to them.

Something amazing happened then. Starting with Ukitake and moving down the line, every single one of the captains and lieutenants got to their knees and bowed to their new prince. Upon seeing this, the crowd in the courtyard followed suit and, up on the balcony, the submissives hurriedly did the same.

Surrounded by his friends, Ichigo looked up in the middle of his bow to see the new prince's expression. Kyouraku looked stunned, reaching up at his head and then dropping his hand a moment later. Then, he shook his head and, a second later, a gorgeous smile lit his face.

Ichigo felt his breath catch as he looked upon that open expression. At that time, he was absolutely sure that this man would make a good king. Anyone who looked upon his future subjects with such honest happiness and shocked reverence was someone who would hold the hearts of his people close.

Pleased with the realization, Ichigo dropped his gaze back to the ground and completed his bow with the rest.

~o~

The day of the gala was filled with much scurrying around and minor hysterics on the parts of the submissives and staff of the Sanctuary. Though the staff of the Sanctuary had all taken the vow of chastity and therefore weren't looking for their own courtships, they still took their job of finding good matches for all the submissives under their care.

For their part, the submissive friend group made up of Ichigo, Orihime, Rangiku, Momo, Nanao, Izuru, Shuuhei, and Rukia were helping each other get ready in one of the sitting rooms. They all wore traditional furisodes, brightly colored kimonos with long sleeves. Most of the time, the submissives wore komons—more casual kimonos. During courtship meetings, the submissives were often required to wear iromujis or houmongis. Therefore, the only time the very formal and truthfully beautiful furisodes were worn was during the galas.

Nanao helped Orihime tie her obi into a large bow on her back. Nanao's furisode was the most plain of all of theirs, showing just how much the woman didn't like to stand out. Still, all furisodes were decorative and even Nanao's had a beautiful depiction of a rock garden along the lower skirt and sleeves. Orihime's, on the other hand, was colored with flowers of all different types.

"I hate these things," Ichigo grumbled as he straightened his sleeves. "They're too restrictive."

"You look pretty in it, though," Izuru said.

Ichigo huffed, but said nothing about the compliment. Instead, he walked over and helped Izuru put his hair up with a jade hairpin, the color matching the soft green of his furisode. Izuru often wore green, as it matched his eyes and complimented his blond hair. Similarly, Rangiku often wore soft blues and Rukia tended to wear shades of purple.

"Not too much makeup," Rangiku said, speaking to Rukia. "You're beautiful without it anyway."

In front of the mirror, Shuuhei was studying the three vertical scars over his right eye. The rest of his face was unmarked, but those scars were rather obvious. "Should I try to cover them up?" he asked, talking Momo. "You know I don't usually bother, but with all the captains and lieutenants…."

"Don't," Momo said softly, but firmly. "It's a part of you." Her gaze was strong as she looked at the scars. Shuuhei had gotten them in the fight that had led to Aizen, Tousen, and Ichimaru being labeled as traitors to the kingdom.

Shuuhei frowned. "Are you going to be okay with going to gala tonight?"

Momo looked at Rangiku, who smiled. "We'll be fine," the blond said. "It's been six months and… well we have to move on sometime, don't we?"

She didn't sound as convincing as she was trying to and Momo looked down at her feet. Still, the rest of the submissives let the matter drop.

There was a knock on the door a moment later and it opened to reveal Deiko, one of the older instructors at the Sanctuary. The grey-haired male looked them all over. "Good, you look presentable. The gala is starting soon—your presence is required in the gala compound."

"Yes, sensei," they chorused and followed after him.

The gala compound, which sat at the edge of the complex of buildings that made up the Sanctuary, was a set of six or so rooms. The largest room was where the food and refreshments were set up in small tables of no more than two or three. At any time during the night, a dominant could ask a submissive to serve them something to eat or drink and to engage in conversation while they both partook.

Next to the refreshment room was a performance room where submissives could dance, sing, or play an instrument. Near to that room was a room with several sets of goban where submissives could play with each other to be observed by the dominants or with a dominant. Another room was simply filled with cushions on which submissives could sit and be approached for larger group conversations.

Just outside the compound was a simple garden with a couple small paths and bridges for dominants to take submissives on more private walks—all still under the watchful eyes of the Sanctuary chaperons.

All the submissives of the Sanctuary over the age of eighteen and not contracted into an exclusive courtship with a dominant already, were there that night. The group of friends had decided beforehand to stick in small groups at least until they were requested to go alone with a dominant. This was especially to help the three submissives new to the galas, though all submissives were trained in what to expect before they turned eighteen and therefore came of age for such things.

Thus, Nanao and Orihime set themselves up across from each other at a goban. Rangiku and Rukia went to sit together on a set of cushions. Izuru picked up a kugo—a sort of harp—and began to strum it while Momo began to practice her singing. Shuuhei and Ichigo sat out on the veranda near the garden, softly talking about the last spar they'd had. Though learning to fight was hardly required in the Sanctuary, the art of the sword was an optional class that all eight of the friends took—and in fact the class they'd become friends in.

Within half an hour of the submissives getting into their places and the other submissives of the Sanctuary filling in around them, the dominants began to arrive. As it was an upper class gala, only dominants ranked third seat and above within the divisions were there. There would be another gala the next night for any and all other dominants who wished to come, but that night was a special event and it was no surprise than more than one submissive was nervous.

A number of the submissives had their eyes solely on the newly crowned prince, but there were protocols in place and it was considered too forward for a submissive to approach a dominant instead of the other way around—thus many of the nameless submissives with eyes upon Kyouraku were in for disappointment that night.

For Prince Kyouraku Shunsui, walking as he was near the veranda Ichigo and Shuuhei were sitting on, overheard the conversation they were having. In particular, he heard quite clearly as Shuuhei recounted with no small amount of amusement what had happened during the last class. And Shunsui—well, his interest was certainly peaked about the individual at the center of such a tale.

~o~

"I still can't believe Gobo-sensei did that," Shuuhei stated, continuing their conversation about their class. "It's a sword fighting class, not a visual arts class."

"You'd think," Ichigo agreed.

"I mean, it's not like you were slashing the walls," Shuuhei said. "You were just fighting like you were trained."

"That's the problem, isn't it? My dad trained me." Ichigo huffed. "I fight too much like a dominant apparently."

"You fight like you want to survive. None of that ridiculous twirling and giggling behind the blade," Shuuhei stated. "The fact that Gobo-sensei got so worked up about your form is the funniest part."

"'You're not presenting at all'," Ichigo said in a high falsetto. He snorted. "Because jutting my hips out is a really good way to keep balanced."

"It's no wonder dominants don't think us submissives can fight. We're trained all wrong," Shuuhei said. "I'm glad you're in our class, Ichigo."

Ichigo nodded, smiling slightly. "I'm glad you guys came and asked me for help outside of the class," he added. His tutoring of all his friends in proper form and fighting technique was how they'd become friends.

Shuuhei traced the scars over his eyes. "Well, it saved my life. I owe you that."

Ichigo reached over and pulled Shuuhei's hand away. "Don't dwell on it."

Shuuhei smiled and nodded. "When you're right, you're right." He pulled away from the veranda ledge. "We should probably head inside, shouldn't we?"

Ichigo nodded, but before he could turn to head inside, he saw a figure out of the corner of his vision. He turned toward that figure, immediately on guard. The male, for it was fairly obviously a male, came around the corner. Even if it weren't for the captain's haori he wore, he'd be recognizable.

"Kyouraku-ouji-sama," Ichigo said, getting to his knees and bowing. Behind him, he heard Shuuhei copy his movement.

The newly crowned prince approached them both and stopped just in front of where Ichigo was politely kneeling on the veranda floor. "Greetings," Kyouraku said, his tone easily jovial. "Would you stand and tell me your name?"

Ichigo rose to his feet. Shuuhei rose as well, but kept himself back. Ichigo met Kyouraku's strong gaze. "Shiba Ichigo," he stated, and then remembered to drop his gaze demurely.

"Ichigo," Kyouraku said, surpassing the family name as was expected when addressing submissives. Unlike with dominants, family names weren't destined to stick so it was far more common for submissives to simply get addressed by their first name. "And your friend?"

"Hisagi Shuuhei, your highness," Shuuhei said.

"Pleasure to meet you, Shuuhei," Kyouraku said. "I hope you don't mind leaving me with Ichigo here?"

Ichigo looked back, his eyes a bit wide. Shuuhei looked between him and Kyouraku and then over to where one of the chaperones was standing at the front of the garden—within sight. Shuuhei reached forward and brushed his fingers against Ichigo's arm in a silent goodbye, and then disappeared inside the compound.

Ichigo folded his hands inside the folds of his sleeves. Kyouraku studied him silently for a moment and then smiled a bit sheepishly. "You're making me feel bad," he stated. "Just now I was listening to you talking with such spirited opinions, and now here my presence has turned you silent."

Ichigo considered the man for a moment. It would feel like a trap, except Ichigo honestly didn't care. If the dominant was giving him permission to talk bluntly, then he'd take it. "Well, my fighting sensei isn't the most practical," he said. "Or rather, he thinks more in what is practical for our getting matches."

"And perhaps that is why so few of my fellow captains have found submissives they respect," Kyouraku murmured, as if to himself. Ichigo wasn't sure if he was supposed to reply to that, so he settled for snorting softly and saying nothing.

"Walk with me," Kyouraku said. His words were very obviously a command—though less of one that ordered and more of one that requested, if that made sense. It was the sort of command that made Ichigo want to follow, not rebel.

"Okay," Ichigo said, because Kyouraku—despite being the prince—had not earned a "yes sir" from him.

Judging by the interested expression on Kyouraku's face as he led him to the garden path, he realized exactly what Ichigo's challenge was in that simple world. And he didn't seem upset about it being issued.

Ichigo hid a smile in his long sleeves, intrigued despite himself.

~o~

Orihime stared at the pattern on the goban, frowning. She knew she wasn't able to beat Nanao in an even game, but Nanao had given her a seven-piece handicap. Still, an hour into the game, Orihime was pretty sure that what the stones were saying meant she'd lost.

"Oh," Orihime groaned. "Here, right? I should have connected these two pieces. I totally missed that."

Orihime looked up to gauge whether she was right, but instead of Nanao being in front of her, there was a white-haired dominant. She flinched backwards, her face turning bright red.

The dominant held up his hands. "I'm sorry if I scared you," he said.

Orihime shook her head. "No, I'm sorry. I didn't realize you… that Nanao…."

"Your friend was called away," the captain, for he was wearing a captain's haori, said. "I offered to play the end game."

"I didn't notice," Orihime stated obviously, her face still red.

The dominant chuckled. "You were concentrating very hard. It was cute."

Orihime, if possible, felt herself blush harder.

"Ah, I suppose I should introduce myself," the dominant said. "My name is Ukitake Juushiro, Captain of the Thirteenth. Pleasure to meet the acquaintance of such a determined go player."

"Inoue Orihime," she murmured. "Please to meet you, Ukitake-taichou." She bowed low and then blushed again as her movement knocked over several of the stones on the goban. "Ah, I'm so clumsy," she muttered angrily as she quickly tried to replace the stones where they had been.

"Oh no, let me help!" Ukitake said. He reached over, but in doing so knocked over stones on his side of the board as well. They went clattering on the floor, mixing with the ones Orihime had knocked over. Orihime stared, looking from the stones to Ukitake—whose cheeks had turned a bit pink.

Then, because there was really nothing else she could do, Orihime started to laugh. Ukitake joined her a second later, until they were both in a fit of giggles that would slow only to start again as soon as they made eye contact.

Finally, Ukitake managed to get a hold of himself and, seeing that, Orihime held her giggles in. Ukitake smiled at her and now Orihime could see it was a very kind smile. She flushed again under the attention.

"How about, I'll pick up the black stones and you pick up the white ones?" Ukitake offered.

"Yes, sir," Orihime said easily and did as asked. Within five minutes, they had all the stones back in their containers. She waited with her hands on her knees, wondering whether the dominant was going to leave then.

Except, Ukitake rose to his feet and held out his hand for her. Blushing even more, Orihime put her hand in his and was easily brought to her feet. "I heard something about tea," Ukitake said. "Would you mind showing me the way?"

"Not at all." Orihime smiled, pulling her hand back so she could clasp it in her other one. "Please follow me, sir."

She led him to the refreshment room and got him situated at one of the tables. She was naturally clumsy, so she was happy that she managed to not spill any of the tea as she poured some for the dominant and then for herself, at his insistence.

"Well then," Ukitake said. "Now that we have all that initial awkwardness out of the way, why don't you tell me about yourself?"

Really, Orihime reflected, it was very easy to relax around Ukitake. He didn't intimidate her like the other dominants, for all he was a captain and obviously very strong. She brushed a strand of hair back behind her ear and smiled again. "What would you like to know, sir?"

It was as easy as that.

~o~

On the other end of the refreshment room, Nanao sat across from Yadomaru Lisa, Lieutenant of the Eighth Division. She hadn't known what to expect when the dominant had requested accompaniment to get some snacks, but now—almost twenty minutes later—she had to repress her anger.

Nanao knew she wasn't the most attractive of submissives, but she made up for that in intelligence and hard work. All she wanted was a dominant who respected her, one who looked past her classes and plain hair and dull colors and saw Nanao for what she was really worth.

And here Yadomaru had spent the last fifteen minutes talking about past submissives she'd attempted to court.

"I mean, it wasn't that Mao-chan wasn't pretty," Yadomaru continued. "She was. Huge amenities, if you know what I mean." Yadomaru cupped her breasts, as if her point hadn't been clear already. Nanao resisted the urge to put her arms in front of her own breasts, or the lack there of. "But what a bore! Always going on and on about her hair and her makeup and her nails. Honestly, the only time I could get her to stop talking was when her mouth was, well, otherwise occupied." Yadomaru winked.

Nanao carefully set down her cup of tea. "Yadomaru-fukutaichou," she stated clearly. "I don't appreciate you talking so disrespectfully of my fellow submissives. I am not one of your fellow dominants you can discuss such things with, though it was my hope that such conversation does not occur." She glared behind her glasses as the suddenly quiet lieutenant. "If all you need is a willing body to jabber at, then may I suggest a manikin? Either way, I am not interested in continuing this conversation any longer. Good day to you."

Nanao stood, quite intent on just leaving.

"Sit down," Yadomaru ordered, her tone clear. Nanao looked back and stilled at the look in the dominant's eyes. They weren't angry, upset, or anything so obvious. Instead, they seemed intrigued and a little bit, dare Nanao hope, respectful. "Please."

Nanao considered for a moment longer, and then folded back over her knees. She hadn't yet finished her tea anyway.

Yadomaru watched Nanao sip in silence for a minute, and then she smiled. "You're right," she said. "That was disrespectful of me. I apologize." She shrugged. "Call it a test, if you will."

"I do not appreciate being tested like that," Nanao stated tersely.

"That much you've made clear." Yadomaru still had a smirk hovering at the corner of her lips. "I called you to join me for two reasons, and neither one were to talk to you about former submissives."

"Then why did you?" Nanao wasn't quite ready to let go of her anger, not yet anyway, but she was curious despite herself.

"The first was because Ukitake-taichou wouldn't stop making eyes at your earlier companion." Yadomaru snorted at the memory. "The second was your game."

"The go game?"

"Yes." Yadomaru smiled, her cheek rested on her palm almost lazily. "Will you play one with me, before you go storming off?"

Nanao set down her now empty teacup. "So long as you don't complain when I win."

Yadomaru laughed. "Right back at you, Nanao-chan."

"Don't call me that," Nanao muttered, but her annoyance didn't stop her from standing and following Yadomaru back to the game room.

~o~

Shuuhei sighed, looking around. After being dismissed by the crown prince, the crown prince himself!, he'd hoped to find another one of his friends to talk with. Except, the only ones he did see were busy with dominants. It was frustrating, if only because Shuuhei didn't want to be all awkward standing around with nothing to do.

Scratching his head, Shuuhei turned, wondering if he should go join the dancers, or maybe pick up an instrument and help play the music for said dancers. Before he could take more than a step toward the dance room, he was stopped by a hand on his shoulder.

Shuuhei reacted instinctively, ducking away from the grip and bringing his right arm up to grab the wrist of whomever had touched him out of no where. He turned angry eyes upon the person, only to come back to himself a moment later—realizing he was at a Sanctuary gala, not on a battlefield.

Taking a step backward, Shuuhei immediately let go of the wrist he'd been clutching. He noticed first the captain's haori, then muscled bare arms, and then finally the face of his non-attacker. He vaguely recognized the man as Captain of the Ninth Division, but he couldn't remember the man's name.

Said man quirked a smile at him and pulled his hand back from where it hung awkwardly in the air. "Good reflexes," he said.

Shuuhei relaxed a bit, glad the man wasn't mad. "My apologies," he said, dropping his gaze. "I was startled."

"Hmm." The dominant stepped forward, bringing the same hand up. "Hold still." Without any other warning, he captured the side of Shuuhei's face in a strong grip, turning Shuuhei's head so that Shuuhei's right eye was in the light. "Those are some scars."

Shuuhei pulled back abruptly. "Good night, sir." He turned away.

"Woah!" The captain grabbed Shuuhei's arm, stopping him.

Shuuhei ripped his arm away and didn't turn around.

"Look, sorry, I didn't mean to upset you. Let's start over. I'm Muguruma Kensei, Captain of the Ninth."

Shuuhei thought about it for a moment, but eventually he sighed and turned back around. "Hisagi Shuuhei. I don't like to talk about these," he gestured to his three long scars.

"Did you get them in a fight?"

Shuuhei glared, but he nodded curtly.

Muguruma crossed his arms. "Then you shouldn't be ashamed of them. They show that you're a survivor." He grinned, rough around the edges. "I like that."

Shuuhei considered the captain for a moment. "You're not really good at this, are you?"

Muguruma shrugged. "Not really. Are you?"

Shuuhei laughed. "Not really," he copied.

Muguruma grinned. "Then why don't we find a place to be not good at it together? What do you say?"

Shuuhei rolled his eyes, but he couldn't help but smile. "Why not?"

~o~

"Are you nervous?" Rangiku asked.

Rukia glared. "No." She huffed. "I'm fine."

"It's okay to be nervous," Rangiku said. "I mean there are captains and lieutenants around."

"Ni-sama is a captain."

"So? You never submitted for him in that way have you?"

"No." Rukia crossed her arms. "Stop teasing me."

Rangiku laughed, fanning herself. She opened her mouth as if to say something else, but just as quickly closed it. Her gaze switched to someone over Rukia's shoulder. Rukia twisted around to see what Rangiku was looking at.

A red-haired dominant was staring at them. He flushed a bit seeing them look, but then visibly bolstered himself and sauntered over. "Rukia," he greeted.

It took Rukia a second to place the man. She didn't like to remember her time in the children's home her sister had been forced to leave her in when Hisana had gone off to the Sanctuary. Of course, a couple years later Rukia had been allowed to join her in these walls, but for those years in between Rukia had been pretty miserable. Everything and everyone had been distant, cold, and mean—except for the one red-haired kid with the loud mouth and the big heart.

"Renji!" Rukia gasped.

Renji smiled and nodded. "You remember me. I wasn't sure… it's been a long time."

Rangiku stood then. "I'm going to go find Momo," she stated easily. "Have fun." She winked and Rukia blushed.

Renji scratched the back of his head as she left. "Do you, uh, mind if I sit down?"

"Of course not." Rukia gestured toward the pillows Rangiku had just been lounging against. "Please."

Renji sat down. They both stared at each other in awkward silence, until Renji cleared his throat. "I, uh, was hoping to see you here. Hisana-sama said you'd be at the gala tonight, but I was worried you'd be entertaining other dominants."

"You talked to my sister?" Rukia asked, ignoring the other comment. There weren't many dominants in comparison to the number of submissives, since all the Sanctuary's available members were there for only some of the high ranked dominants.

"You don't know?" Renji blinked. "I'm Byakuya's lieutenant."

"Oh! Ni-sama never mentioned…." Rukia flushed. "That is to say, I don't see him very often so I'm sure it just slipped his mind."

Renji laughed. "No worries, I'm sure I don't rate highly in his list of things to talk about when he and Hisana-sama are visiting you here."

Rukia shrugged. "But anyway, how have you been? I mean good, obviously, since you're a lieutenant and all. What happened after I left for the Sanctuary? How are the others?"

Renji smiled and launched into a detailed explanation. Rukia eagerly listened, forgetting for a moment that this was a gala. It was easy to slip back into the familiarity that had once been between them as children. If Renji's gaze burned a bit hotly on her skin, well she wasn't going to bring that up until he did. She wasn't the dominant here, after all.

~o~

Izuru set aside the kugo, his fingers tired of playing. Momo had been pulled away for a dance by some third rank several songs ago. He gratefully ceded the music making to some other submissive. Stretching, Izuru rubbed his knees. He'd been kneeling a while in one position. Though they were trained for that, they were also trained to know when they'd cramped their muscles. He gingerly got to his feet and, like he'd suspected, his knees buckled.

"Careful there," a male voice said, one arm catching Izuru around the waist.

Izuru blushed, pressing a hand to the male's chest. There was a white captain's haori over his kimono. Izuru stepped backwards, a flush still clear on his cheeks. "My apologies."

"No need to apologize for allowing me to wrap my arm around a beautiful submissive, even if but briefly."

Izuru stared, taking note of the captain's long blond hair and sincere smile. "I… oh."

The dominant laughed, but it was a gentle sound. "I am Outoribashi Roujuuro, but I would be pleased if you would call me Rose." He ran a hand across his white haori, as if Izuru hadn't already recognized him as Captain of the Third. "Would you grace me with your name?"

"Yes, sir," Izuru murmured. "Kira Izuru."

"Izuru," Rose said, the name rolling off his lips. "A gorgeous name for a gorgeous submissive."

"You flatter me, sir," Izuru said, trying to calm his reddened cheeks.

"What else is a dominant good for, if not to lavish attention upon a willing submissive?" Rose smiled and held out his arm. "Would you care to dance with me?"

Izuru looked to the dancers and then to Rose. "If you wish, sir."

"Not if I wish," Rose gently chided. "If you do."

Izuru blinked, stunned despite himself. He looked at Rose's patient expression and then nodded. "Yes, sir. I would love to dance with you."

"That makes me very happy," Rose said. He took Izuru's hand in his and leading him into the fray.

Despite his potential misgivings about such an over-the-top dominant, Izuru found himself enjoying swaying to and from Rose's deceptively strong arms. If Rose's compliments helped with that, well it wasn't so surprising.

~o~

"Another dance?" the officer asked.

Momo shook her head, her skin crawling at the thought of spending any more time in close contact with the man. "No thank you."

The officer's face twisted, before smoothing out into fake pleasantry. "How about we get some tea, then? You do know how to serve tea, don't you?"

"I am well aware," Momo said, making her voice sharper than she probably should. "However, I believe another submissive may be more suited for you."

"Excuse me?"

Momo folded her arms together inside her sleeves. "I have no further wish to spend time with you. Good day." She turned on her heels, intent on walking into another room. She'd just had to spend nearly an hour with the overbearing dominant. With every unintentional insult the man had thrown at her, she'd felt less and less ready to be here—to be entertaining dominants so soon after Sousuke, no Aizen had been revealed for his true self.

"You little–"

Momo flinched back as the dominant gripped her arm and spun her around. She tried to pull her arm away, but the man's grip was tight and his expression furious.

"Let me go," Momo stated.

"Don't tell me what to do," the dominant hissed, his fingers gripping her hard enough to leave bruises.

"Let her go."

Momo looked left and saw as Hirako Shinji, Captain of the Fifth Division, strolled up with a hard look in his eyes.

The officer immediately sprang back from Momo. "Taichou!"

"You're giving us dominants a bad name, pushing your weight around like that," Hirako stated, his tone cold. "Leave."

The man didn't even dare argue, fleeing as soon as Hirako had shifted his gaze to Momo.

Momo bowed. "Thank you, Hirako-taichou." She knew Hirako, if only because he'd been Aizen's captain and Aizen had been her… had used her. She didn't know much about the man, only that Aizen had always told her the captain was the manipulative kind.

Considering what Aizen turned out to be, Momo wondered if that was true.

Then again, she thought as she saw the look Hirako was giving her, it perhaps wasn't entirely false either. Hirako obviously recognized her.

"Hinamori Momo, wasn't it?" He gave her that stereotypical wide smile of his. "Walk with me."

Momo had fallen into step beside the captain before she'd even registered the command. She looked up at the man as they walked out onto the veranda. Hirako had a commanding presence about him, nothing like the gentle strength she'd been so assured of with Aizen.

"It's been six months," Hirako said after several minutes of silence.

"Yes." They both knew what he was referring to.

"I always suspected, but I hadn't known." He caught her gaze. She couldn't read the expression on his face. "I apologize. If I'd been more proactive about the… situation… then perhaps I could have spared you more pain."

Momo's temper was already frayed and now she had Aizen's ex-captain pitying her. She stopped walking, spreading her legs just slightly as a physical proof of her standing her ground. "Ever since he was banished, I've dealt with people wondering if I knew. After that, I've dealt with people assuming I was broken. I've dealt with pity and sorrow and I'm tired of it."

Hirako looked stunned at her outburst. Good, she thought.

"If you wanted to talk to me to assure yourself I'm okay so you can stop feeling guilty, then leave now with a lighter heart," Momo continued. "I am not fine, but I'm getting better. I don't need people like you looking down on me."

Hirako opened his mouth, and then closed it. When he opened it again, he had a different look in his eyes. Like before, Momo couldn't quite read it, but she knew enough to tell that it wasn't pitying anymore.

"I owe you another apology," Hirako said. "I didn't intend to offend you."

Momo took a steadying breath and walked past the man, continuing their earlier path across the veranda. She felt more than heard as Hirako followed after her. Eventually she came across the garden and stopped. Hirako stepped up besides her, looking out over the garden.

It was only after Momo had calmed down enough to feel embarrassed about her earlier words that she glanced up at Hirako. "Forgive my harshness," she murmured. "You weren't the only one at fault."

"Just the one you chose to vent upon."

Momo flushed and looked down. "I apologize."

"Don't."

She looked up and saw Hirako with a starkly serious expression, his usual large smile absent on his pale face. "Sir?" she asked.

"Don't apologize. I needed to hear it." He huffed softly. "Though I'm probably not the only one."

"No," Momo agreed. "But you took it better than they would, so thank you."

"Anytime," Hirako said. He waited until Momo had met his gaze before saying, "I mean it."

Momo smiled. "Thank you, sir."

~o~

Rangiku leaned against one of the doorways, watching Momo talk with one of the captains. She looked calm, calmer than she had before the gala. Rangiku didn't know how to feel about that.

Rangiku shook her head and stepped out from the doorway and onto the veranda. Careful not to catch the attention of Momo and her current partner, she walked around the corner to a clear patch. She looked up at the crescent moon. The curve reminded her of Gin, of the smile he gave everyone when he didn't want to let his true feelings show.

"I'm pathetic," Rangiku murmured to herself. She felt tears trickle at the corner of her eyes and carefully rubbed them away.

Gin, she thought. Where are you now, I wonder?

~o~

A kingdom away, Gin looked up at the same crescent moon, his heart tugging.

"What troubles ail your mind?"

Gin looked away from the moon and toward Aizen. He knew his face was showing nothing of what he was feeling, but Aizen had caught something of his melancholy anyway. What a scary man, he thought, not for the first time.

"Maa," Gin said, shrugging. "I suppose I'm simply impatient."

Aizen laughed, the glint of his eyes turning mad. "Soon," he stated, spreading his arms as if to emphasize his ambition. "Kyouraku has been named the crown prince. It's only a matter of time now."

Gin let his smile widen. "Soon," he agreed.