A/N

This story is set in an AU version of pago's Bleach universe, So it's an AAU I suppose. Assume all material from Winter War is still in effect, but nothing from Espada's Masquerade or anything after it. Plenty of cameos by canon bleach characters as well as some of pago's characters. The link to Winter War is here, s/5567628/1/The-Winter-War-Anrak-s-Tale

Chapter 1

"Do you know why I've called you back from the Rukon?" Yamamoto was addressing his subordinate alone in the Captain's Hall. His 4th seat had been away for more than a year, hunting rogue Soul Reapers in North Rukongai.

"No, Captain-Commander. I was only three marks away from completing the list you gave me. What do you need?"

"There have been several changes in the command structure of the Gotei 13 in the last year. Several Captain's positions have been filled. Only Squad 3 remains without a Captain." The soldier in front of Soul Society's supreme military officer glanced up at his Captain with bright gray eyes. His silver hair had grown long and hung down across his face. His shihakusho was slashed and tattered revealing scarred and heavily muscled arms. His feet were bare, his sandals had long since broken from walking out in the wilds. "I am placing you in Squad 3 at the level of 3rd seat. During this trial period you will report directly to me.

"Sir?" Kinji Kotetsu's head shot up in surprise. His heart literally skipped a beat. For over 100 years he'd taken the dangerous assignments, the jobs no one else was willing to do. And now the thing he had been running from had finally found him.

"This is not a request 4th Seat Kotetsu. We both know you've delayed this day for far too long. It is time." Yamamoto's stern voice, along with the reminder of Kotetsu's rank, made him hesitate before voicing his dissent.

"Captain Commander. I ask that you reconsider. I'm not sure the plan will still work. I'm no longer trusted by most in the Seireitei."

"Irrelevant. The Gotei 13 needs 13 Captains. And you are the best qualified candidate. I am placing you at 3rd seat, as we discussed."

"And my other duties-?" Kinji asked. He'd been personally assigned to the Head-Captain for so long, it would feel odd being part of the normal command structure again.

"-will be handled by the Onmitsukido for the foreseeable future. Tomorrow morning at sunrise you will be present at the Captain's meeting for the announcement of your transfer. Dismissed." Yamamoto slammed his cane on the floor signaling the end of the meeting. Kinji rose, bowed and left for his quarters. It had been over a year since Aizen's death and after that event he had been freed. He had believed himself a close friend of the man and many agreed. When Aizen Sosuke had betrayed the Gotei 13 he had been kept under house arrest in case he was a mole left behind to cause havoc. He opened the door to his room, his prison, and decided he would sleep outside. The first division had a meditation garden that was really quite peaceful at any time. But at night he couldn't ask for a more tranquil place to rest his head. He laid down in the sand and closed his eyes, silently praying that tomorrow wouldn't go as badly as he believed.

The Captains that had assembled in the meeting hall were talking quietly among themselves. Kyoraku was standing next to Sui-Feng. He rambled endlessly about which types of sake suited which time of year. Sui-Feng bore it all absently, her mind elsewhere. Specifically what to do about her Lieutenant vacancy. The post had been open since the end of the Winter War, she'd tried a number of replacements. Most of them had failed miserably. They had no stomach for the kind of work such a position demanded. Weaklings, one and all in her opinion. She needed someone who could get their hands dirty and not come whining to her about irrelevant things like conscience or sleeping the night through. Komamura was his usual stoic self. Huge and silent. Hitsugaya was barely half his height but he imitated the fox-captain's demeanor perfectly. Unohana was off to Sui-Feng's right, smiling and waiting patiently for the meeting to begin. She brought an air of much needed warmth to the hall. But with Kurotsuchi Mayuri standing less the 10 feet away the warmth was barely noticeable.

Byakuya Kuchiki stood with his head bowed and his eyes closed. He'd also been busy looking for a Lieutenant since Renji had been promoted. The red-haired man stood impatiently at his side in the hall. This was not his first Captain's meeting but Renji had still not become comfortable with his rank. Byakuya glanced to the end of the line and saw Anrak Ushii, another freshman Captain. He wore the pleasant smile of a man whose life was good. Across from him was his former Captain. Zaraki Kenpachi had a familiar scowl on his face. It was a look the other Captains had become accustomed to over the years. It was a sure sign the man was itching for a fight. There were two absences, Hiisagi was unavailable to attend and the Captaincy of Division 3 remained open. Yamamoto entered from the back of the hall as usual. The old man looked much as he had for the past few centuries, white haired and radiating power. He thumped his cane on the floor to begin the meeting.

"Today the Gotei 13 will finally be made whole. I have found an officer capable of leading Division 3 as it's Captain. Kinji Kotetsu! Step forward." A young looking man entered the hall through the main door. He had his silver hair cut to a medium length and he had gray eyes to match. A black hilted katana hung on his hip. But he wasn't wearing the white haori of a Captain. Byakuya's eyes locked on him immediately, along with three other Captains. Unohana smiled at him warmly, Mayuri scowled fiercely, and Kyoraku lifted his sakkat with a thumb to get a better look. All the Captains examined him closely. His hair was tied back but a good deal of his bangs were loose and hung just to the sides of his eyes. His physique looked to the thin side of average. He had a scar showing at the very top edge of his collar above his sternum. His expression was somber, but he had a small smile for Unohana and he offered a nod to Byakuya. He got up to Yamamoto and knelt in the manor of a subordinate. "Unless any valid objections are raised, Kinji Kotetsu will be promoted to 3rd seat of Division 3. If he has performed acceptably after half a year he will be promoted to Captain. If you have anything to say, say it now." Most of the Captains were taken aback by this aberration from normal procedure. None of them had been consulted to conduct a Captains exam. But it was Mayuri's voice that broke the tense silence.

"I object to this dog leading a Division." Mayuri said loudly.

"On what grounds?" Kyoraku asked.

"On the grounds that he is untrustworthy. This man was closely associated with Aizen before his betrayal. To give him such a position would only encourage a second rebellion." Kinji kept silent. Saying anything would only damage his standing. But he wanted to. He wanted to shout the other man down, scream at him that he was betrayed by Aizen just like everyone else.

"He has proven himself loyal to Soul Society many times since then. His dedication to the Gotei 13 is beyond reproach." Yamamoto said. Mayuri stepped back into line.

"What's this all about Yama-jii?" Kyoraku asked. He was concerned. Kinji Kotetsu was known among the older Captains as Yamamoto's personal bounty hunter. When he wanted someone captured or killed and didn't want to involve the Onmitsukido, he sent Kinji. Kyoraku and Unohana were both old enough to remember when the young man first graduated from the Soul Academy. Yamamoto had placed him with the Onmitsukido for 50 years than moved him to Division 1. No one other than Yamamoto himself knew why. But it was obvious to everyone present that Kinji Kotetsu enjoyed the Head-Captain's full confidence and support.

"The vacancy of a Captain's seat is unacceptable. I have been patient and waited for one of the other Divisions to produce a candidate. My patience is at an end. The Gotei 13 must be made whole." Yamamoto understood Kyoraku's question perfectly, but his dodge made it clear that the old man would not be answering that question.

"If I may offer a suggestion?" Byakuya Kuchiki said without stepping forward. When Kinji heard his voice he wondered what his fellow noble had up his sleeve. He'd expected the Kuchiki to support his

"Speak." Yamamoto allowed.

"Most of those assembled here have no history or knowledge of this man. It would put our minds at ease if we were allowed to witness his proficiency test."

" I agree." Mayuri spoke up. "We do not even know if he is suited to the position of Captain. A weakling as a Captain is worse than no Captain at all."

"Then why're you still standing here clown?" Zaraki said. Mayuri's hand went to his zanpakuto. The Head-Captain slammed his cane down to end the argument. More than one of these meetings had become wasteful due to bickering. He would not allow it to happen today.

"I agree with your proposition, Captain Kuchiki. After his trial period he will undergo the Captain's proficiency exam." Kuchiki didn't say a word. That wasn't what he'd asked for and everyone there knew it. Under ordinary circumstances the test would have been administered prior to a meeting being called. At every turn the old man was blocking any attempts at transparency. Anrak and Renji, the only two Captains present who hadn't gotten used to the routines of their status, looked at each other. Renji raised an eyebrow at his long-time friend. Anrak shook his head indicating that he was confused too.

Kinji kept silent, as he been instructed. He understood the wisdom of Yamamoto's plan. Didn't stop him from feeling insulted though. Patience, my host. Came the voice in his head. His zanpakuto reminding him to play along for now. Her voice was soft and pleased. She approved of intrigue. Her face flashed into Kinji's mind briefly. Pale white skin and pitch black hair that fell to her ankles. A strip of white cloth covered her eyes and her mouth was eternally turned up at the corners in amusement. As usual she was pleased and he was suffering discomfort.

The hall remained silent. After a long 10 count Yamamoto declared the matter settled and dismissed everyone. But Kinji didn't leave. He needed to speak with his superior before everything started.

"Head- Captain?" Yamamoto nodded for him to continue. Kinji rose from his kneeling position. "I know why the trial period is necessary, but why not have me take the proficiency test? Am I not ready?"

"You are more than ready. But such a test would reveal things we have worked hard to conceal. Bear the indignity for now. All that I have asked of you is necessary."

"Yes, Head-Captain." Kinji stood and walked back to his barracks. His things were already being moved into the small house reserved for the high ranking officers of the 3rd Division. He wrestled with the uncertainty of his position. If he was still standing when the smoke cleared the Captain's seat would be his. But he had a lot of work to do before the real plan started. His new Division had been leaderless for quite a while.