Chapter 13: Suspicion
A/N: Hi everyone, sorry for the delay. I had family visiting so was super busy but I'm doing well and I hope everyone is doing well! I do apologize for how long it takes me to update but I hope it was worth it. A big shout out to my very patient followers and reviewers! Yes this will be finished, however it will be a long fanfic. On another note there have been a few comments on the appearance of Sakura. I will say, her physical appearance isn't a big factor to me and although I've been doing my best to stay true to all the characters, I do want to have a few liberties in what words I choose to use to describe them. Thank you to Elizabeth for your passionate review as I felt it motivated me to address this. But thank you to all my reviewers, I do try torespond to all comments and thank you for the ideas as well (The Woman on a Flaming Pie and Oranmflare to a name a few)! I will take them into consideration as I continue with the fanfic. And yes mameha-san I have been doing well and am so excited to hear from you. Please enjoy, I will start on the next chapter so expect an update by the end of July!
"Where are you going?" The cold tone halted her trek as Sakura aimed her fiery glare at the sixth division captain. Icily, she replied, "To the fourth division. I am the captain after all." The bit of her words caused a small smirk to appear as he acquiesced his head. Turning, he started to walk away, leaving behind a confused Sakura.
"If you wish to go to the fourth division, I suggest you follow me. Unless you wish to return to the manor." A fierce blush colored her cheeks as she realized that she had no idea where she was heading. Muttering an oath, she began to follow the man. In a few quick strides, she was beside him as she began to memorize her surroundings. Next time she wouldn't need his assistance when searching for her own division.
"I believed my lieutenant escorted you before? Did you already forget your way?" Although the words appeared to be an attack on her abilities, she could sense the genuine curiosity in his query. Unwilling to take part in another spar of words she merely replied, "I haven't had the opportunity to visit the division since that day and I will admit I was engaging your lieutenant in conversation so I wasn't paying attention to the direction we were heading."
Byakuya stiffened at the mention of her conversing with Renji. Narrowing his eyes, he determined he would need to speak to his lieutenant about his dalliances. Although he was curious to the nature of their conversation, his pride prevented him from asking. Instead, the pair walked in mutual silence as they continued their path to the fourth division.
It wasn't long before the familiar white walls surrounding the outside corridors of the barracks appeared. Turning a corner, the duo was greeted by the sight of the pagoda-inspired building. It was larger than she had recalled, although Sakura would admit she hadn't taken the time to explore the barracks during her last visit. Brushing back a loose strand of hair, she turned to Byakuya.
"Arigato. I will be able to find my way back to the manor later." Bowing slightly, she turned to enter the barracks, her mind already pondering the different measures that would have to be done. Unbeknownst to the woman, Kuchiki watched as a small ebony butterfly appeared, gently landing on her shoulder before he disappeared. Approaching the building, she was surprised as the silk screen doors gently slid open revealing the familiar face of her lieutenant.
"Sa…Sakura-san!" Shock was evident on her lieutenant's face as her dark gray eyes widened at the sight of the new captain. Irritated at her slight stutter she calmed herself as she asked, "What brings you to the fourth division?"
A pink brow rose at the inquiry as she observed her lieutenant before responding, "I wanted to examine the fourth division and observe how the members are healing their patients. I heard the fourth division barracks also house the Sōgō Kyūgo Tsumesho. I believe it is time I start learning my duties, no?"
"Of course. I just heard you were injured and I wasn't expecting you to arrive any time soon." Her soft admission revealed a lot to Sakura as she realized her lieutenant's personality, although brash when dealing with battles appeared to be innately reserved and shy. Similar to Hinata, although her coloring mirrored Kakashi. A small smile twisted her lips as she nodded her head at the lieutenant. "Hai, I recovered quickly. Thank you for your concern. Can you please direct me to the relief station?"
The woman's gentle tone surprised Isane as she had expected her to be cold and aloof. Not unlike the sixth division captain, although a brief shiver ran down her spine as she recalled how Sakura had handled Iemura-san. Uncomfortable at the memory, she nodded her head as the duo entered the division.
Sakura was surprised at the quiet corridors. She had expected it to be rowdier, although her last visit was riddled with conflict. However, if the division housed a relief station, she had expected a lot more noise, and the smell of antiseptic at the very least. A faint furrow appeared in her brow as she followed her lieutenant. A relief station wouldn't be different from the one in Konoha and that was always bustling with patients, be it shinobi or civilian, yet here it was, an unusual silence that she found off putting.
"Ano…Sakura-san." The sound of her lieutenant's voice broke her concentration as she examined the woman. Briefly she observed her surroundings as took in the sight of the large door. A dark wooden plaque marked the room's owner, although the familiar kanji for Taichou, alerted her as to where her lieutenant had guided her. Surprised at the gesture, she eyed her lieutenant who was staring at the floor. The set of shoulders and slight shake of her hands indicated how emotionally charged her lieutenant felt at the moment. Pursing her lips, Sakura sighed before saying, "I asked to be taken to the relief station. I will not be staying in the barracks so this was unnecessary."
Shocked at the cold indifference of the woman's words she glared at her supposed captain. "It wouldn't be correct if our new captain refused to stay in the same barracks as the others. You will have no authority here."
"I already seem to have no authority as everyone appears to be haunted by their former captain. Make no mistake, Isane-san. I will exert my power over everyone, no matter the means, but do not believe I am dense enough to realize how you, along with the others have not grieved over Unohana-san. How do you expect to heal the wounds of others if you are unwilling to heal yourself first? I will not move into the fourth division until I have been accepted by yourself and the others. Now, the relief station?"
Any anger she had initially felt evaporated at the woman's words. Unwillingly, a few tears began to form as she realized the truth of Sakura's admission. She never allowed herself to grieve for Unohana-san. Attempting to halt her tears she merely muttered straight ahead, before disappearing. Quickly she flash-stepped to her own room, the familiar walls comforted her as she felt herself sink to the floor. Alone, the tears she had attempted to hold back began to fall as the pain of losing Unohana-san washed over her.
"Gomen, Taichou. Gomen."
The muttered apologies were riddled between sobs as the lieutenant's own grief made itself known. Seconds turned into minutes, before Isane's tears began to disappeared. Leaning her head against the door she glanced up the ceiling, her tear stained face glimmered in the room as she slowly shut her eyes. Her once shaky voice steadied as a wave of peace filled her as a small admission of gratitude fell from her lips
"Plagiarizing I see?"
The sound of Fenikkusu's voice rang in her mind as Sakura proceeded down the corridor. She had expected Isane to disappear after their conversation, although she was thankful Isane had at least given her directions to the relief station.
"Those words were what guided me at the time I was experiencing my own pain. It felt correct to pass them on to another who is also suffering, don't you agree?"
A faint smile appeared on Fenikkusu's lips as nodded in response. "I remembered, although I believe what has passed may be the start of Isane lending her support. You were correct, in what you said. Although your promise would prolong your stay with Kuchiki, I'm proud of you."
Sakura couldn't help the smile that danced on her lips as she replied, "Thank you. Let's hope the others will begin to fall in line soon after." Pausing her steps, Sakura glanced at the entryway as the bold print read, Sōgō Kyūgo Tsumesho. Pleased she had found the relief center, she pushed the screen door aside before entering the room.
All eyes zeroed in on the petite woman as everyone recognized their new captain. A slight tension settled amongst the division members as they stiffly awaited word from the silent woman.
"Don't let my presence phase you. Continue your work. I will just be observing." Briefly, her eyes scanned the relief station. It was reminiscent of a hospital during war time, where cots were lined amongst each other, providing no privacy between the patient and the doctor. A few of the members were wearing the traditional shinigami uniform, while others were dressed in the traditional garb of a nurse uniform, although the pink lining of the uniform feminized it. Allowing her surroundings to sink in, Sakura began to walk around the room, thoughts already flickering in her mind as to how to improve the relief station.
"Ano…is that the new captain?" A timid voice whispered the question to the tall man who was eying his captain with a mixture of animosity and fear. Breaking his gaze, he addressed the petite nurse who was nervously shuffling papers as she awaited the man's response.
"Hai." The stony reply was met with a soft gasp as the brown-haired nurse appraised the new captain. Her slight build and height was similar to her own, but a regal confidence characterized how she carried herself. She was doll-like in appearance with her long rosy hair and green eyes, but there were shadows hidden in her expression that hinted at trauma from past experiences. A small frown twisted her lips as she pondered her new captain. Would she be like Unohana? Lost in her thoughts, she didn't realize the door to the relief station swung open.
"Get the cot ready!" The familiar form of Ogidō appeared, as the slumped body of a child was being lifted from him arms. Sakura watched the quick response to an emergency, as everyone fell into place. Stepping back, she peered at the young nurse who began to summon her kidō. The pale green light illuminated the young woman's face as she gently began to focus on the healing process. A frown twisted Sakura's lips as she glanced at the child's unconscious form. He was paler than expected and the beading of sweat on his forehead indicated a possible fever. Why weren't they examining him before healing?
Displeased, she quickly pushed past the few individuals who were standing in front of her. Briefly her green-eyed gaze met Ogidō who froze at the sight of his captain but briefly inclined his head as a sign of greeting. Brows furrowed she returned the greeting before placing her hand on the nurse's shoulder.
"Stop." The strict command caused the nurse to flinch as immediately her concentration broke her kidō. Confused, she glanced at the person who had interrupted her, eyes widening as she was faced to face with the new captain.
"Tai…Taichou?" The brief stutter did little to sway Sakura as she quickly examined the young boy. Barely breaking her assessment, she asked, "Why are you already using kidō to heal? If I am correct, kidō would start with restoring an individual's reiatsu before you are able to fully heal the body…"
"Hmph. You are correct, which makes it pointless and dangerous to interrupt a person who is in the midst of healing. Maybe you should go back to your studies." The nurse gasped at the audacity of Aoga. She knew he didn't like the new captain but he had to at least treat her with respect. Although a part of her was also irritated that she was interrupted during her treatment.
"Thank you for your concern Aoga. However, if you pushed aside your prejudice, did you realize the child was suffering from a fever? Or if anyone of you chose to examine the patient before jumping automatically to healing, you would've realized he just needed fluids, rest, and medication to fight off the cold he had caught? Tell me, Aoga. Will we have a repeat with Iemura?"
Aoga stiffened at the threat as he chose to remain silent. Sensing the possibility of a fight, Ogidō stepped in. "We did not realize it was a mild cold. Our assumption was to heal in order to ensure the survival of the patient."
"I don't disagree Ogidō, after all a doctor's duty is to save a patient, but come here. Aoga and, your name?" Sakura briefly glanced at the woman who bowed her head before responding, "Ai."
A brief smile twisted her lips as Sakura nodded her head before turning her attention back to the boy. "Ai…how fitting. Now, instead of healing, are you able to use your kidō to examine the child's body?"
The three acquiesced their head before summoning their own kidō. Sakura stepped back as she allowed each of the members to individually examine the boy.
"What did you find?"
Ai was the first to speak. "He is suffering from a cold as you said. His lungs although healthy, are irritated, probably from the coughing he was experiencing." Nodding her head, she glanced at Aoga who muttered, "His throat is also inflamed, indicates a sore throat." Pausing he continued, "There was also a lack of fluid in his body, from the fever as you observed earlier."
"Ogidō? What did you see?"
Furrowing his brow, he replied, "There was a lower amount of white blood cells in his blood stream, making it difficult for him to fight off the sickness. Surprising since he is still so young."
A pink brow rose as Sakura crossed her arms. Tilting her head, she addressed the three. "Your assessment of the child is correct, each of you were able to determine he was suffering from the typical cold symptoms, although it was lacking. Individually, I wouldn't have trusted any of you to heal the child on your own. Ai, if you had chosen to heal only his lungs, the fever and throat wouldn't have been cured. Aoga, focusing only on the throat wouldn't resolve the issues with the lungs. Ogidō, you were able to find what I was hoping all three of you noticed, but because you didn't know what to do with the information, you wouldn't have been able to help the child."
"You can't assume we wouldn't have been able to heal the child." Aoga was brimming with anger at the woman for belittling his ability. They had taken care of countless patients in the past, all still alive today and yet this woman who knew nothing was accusing them of being incompetent.
Frowning, she glanced at Aoga, "I didn't say you wouldn't have been able to heal the child, just I wouldn't trust you three too. The reason for the lack of white blood cells which you noted Ogidō, was because the child has not been able to build up his immune system to counteract the cold on his own. This could be because every time he was struck with a cold he was immediately healed instead of allowing his body to build up a tolerance. If we continue to heal even the most minor ailments, we are hindering the body's ability to survive on its own. A broken bone will heal by itself over time. Just as a child can recover from the flu, cold, or any other minor illness on their own. If he was elderly, then yes, we could speed up the recovery process because their immune system is weaker. But because he is a child he needs to be allowed to develop his own immunity and that is done by allowing the cold to run its course. There are other possible reasons for lower white blood cells, but they are a rarer occurrence than what I've described. For now, give the boy an iv and monitor his temperature until his fever breaks. Once he regains conscious, feed him broth and medicine. He will be better in a week. Once he is released have him return in a month's time to do a physical to see if his white blood cell count has increased or decreased. Depending on the result, we can prescribe another treatment option."
The trio blinked at the woman's detailed assessment before varying expressions appeared. A mixture of respect appeared on Ai's features as she quickly nodded her head before hurrying off to start Sakura's treatment plan. Ogidō was silent but a small smile twisted his lips as he realized the new captain was at the very least skilled in what she was doing. It was Aoga who maintained his frown but a grudging glimmer of respect appeared in his eye.
Pleased that Ai was following her instructions she turned to address the men. "I would like to hold a meeting with all the fourth division members. Is there an area we will be able to gather so we could speak?"
Aoga raised his brow but crossed his arms as he looked away. Ogidō was the one to step up and speak. "There is a common room where we usually have meetings. I will gather the others."
Sakura nodded her head before muttering a "Thank you." Ogidō inclined his head before gesturing for Aoga to follow. Once the duo disappeared, Sakura returned her attention to the boy. Her expression softened, belying the usually strict guise she wore. Briefly she placed her hand over the boy's forehead. The heat from his fever worried her for the possibility of brain damage, but he would survive. She was sure of it. Brushing back the few strands of silky black hair, a faraway look appeared in her eyes as a hidden desire burned within her, but she quickly quenched the unnecessary thought.
"You must love children." The familiar voice of Ai broke her internal struggle as she glanced at the young woman. A curious note was hidden in her comment. Briefly, Sakura nodded before replying, "Yes. I do."
"Do you want children by any chance?" Ai regretted her inquiry as she watched the woman stiffen at the question. Fearful that she had ruined her opportunity to learn more about the captain, she moved to apologize but was surprised by Sakura's response.
"I did at one point. Not anymore. I do have some other questions I would like to ask you later. For now, can you gather the health records of all the captains? I want to ensure every one of them are up to date and are receiving their physicals."
Ai was mildly distracted by the sad undertone of Sakura's admission but she pushed her curiosity aside as she sheepishly replied, "Ano…we don't have records for the captains. We attempted to get them to come in but they ignored all our requests, and only appear when they have been injured. They never stay long enough for us to do an exam."
A frown appeared as Sakura realized how similar the Shinigami were to her fellow shinobi. "That will change, I assure you. Please continue checking on the boy. Watch to make sure his fever is going down, if by the end of today his fever hasn't begun to lower with the medication, heal him, however only enough to make sure the fever has gone. I want him to be able to at least fight off the cough and cold on his own."
"Hai!" The enthusiastic reply caused a small smile to appear as she realized Ai's energy was infectious. Nodding her head, she turned to leave. There was much she needed to discuss with her members, along with the other captains. Formulating her plan, she didn't realize until she left the relief station, that she didn't know where the meeting room was.
Muttering a sigh, she glanced around the hallways as she attempted to retrace her steps with Isane-san. Turning a corner, she was irritated by the sight of another hallway branching off into three different paths. Tempted to just guess, she was surprised by the sight of the ebony butterfly fluttering in front of her. Curious as to why the butterfly was there, she moved to touch the creature but was intrigued when it maneuvered away from her hand before disappearing down a corridor. Deciding there really wasn't anything to lose, she followed the butterfly.
"Sakura." Her zanpakutō's voice didn't surprise her, but it did momentarily cause her to lose sight of the winged creature.
"Yes?" The slight irritation was evident but it didn't dissuade Fenikkusu from his query. "I was surprised by your honest reply to the nurse. I had expected you to be more guarded. Especially about that."
"There was no reason to lie about it. I wanted a child at one point in my life, but that all changed after that day."
She could feel the warmth of Fenikkusu surrounding her as she realized a tear trickled down her cheek. Brushing it aside, she focused on the small creature. The butterfly appeared to dance in front of the wooden screen door as Sakura glanced at the small plaque.
"Conference Room" was written in elegant kanji. Her eyes widened as she felt the jigokuchō rest on her shoulder once more. Smiling at the little creature, she brushed her fingertip gently over the butterfly's thorax, enthralled when the creature shivered in delight.
Responding to her name, she wasn't surprised to see he lieutenant, Isane-san standing before her. Although she appeared composed, Sakura saw the reddish hues of her eyes and the light puffiness that surrounded them. Pleased that Isane had at least followed her advice, she gestured to the room.
"I assume you heard my request for a meeting? Has everyone gathered?"
The faint frown caught Sakura's eye, already worrying her request was being disobeyed. Fighting off the desire to glare, she slid the screen door open. The large room was sparse but the warm colored tones created a comforting environment. A vast table was stationed in the middle of the room but what frustrated her was only a handful of members had heeded her orders.
"Where are the others?" The cold tone had Isane tensing but she met Ogidō's steady gaze as he briefly encouraged her to speak.
"We told the others to gather but a few are out taking care of errands while the rest…"
"Decided not to come." An icy gleam appeared in Sakura's eyes as she crossed to the head of the table. Sitting done, she surveyed the few members who had appeared. Five, including her lieutenant meant six individuals who would listen to her. It was a start to say the least.
"Very well. I will speak with the absentees later. This meeting will be quick as I'm needed for a captain's meeting. As you already know, my name is Haruno Sakura, and I will be taking over the captain seat for the fourth division. I have heard of the former captain's death and I do express my apologizes as the loss of a comrade is never easy to forget." Pausing she observed the different variations of despair littering her members' expressions, although her lieutenant was staring straight ahead.
"Although it is difficult, I do not expect…"
The sound of the screen door sliding open interrupted her, but Sakura was surprised to see Aoga standing at the entrance. Behind him, she could make out the form of Ai, the nurse from earlier and other individuals she didn't recognize. Arching a brow, she greeted her guest.
"Aoga and Ai."
Ai smiled at the captain before bowing her head at the members. Secretively she elbowed Aoga who grunted at the unnecessary action. Glaring at the woman, he briefly inclined his head before speaking.
"We were told there was a meeting."
Ai rolled her eyes at the lack of response before stepping forward. "Aoga was able to gather the others. You were right about the boy. After you left I was able to monitor his fever and it started to go down, minutely but there was a change. I have two nurses watching over him and gave them instructions to gently wash the boy's body with cold water every other hour. They are following orders and I believe he will be conscious tomorrow."
"Great job, Ai." A smile danced on her lips as she saw the slight blush color Ai's cheek from embarrassment.
The room was silent a Aoga along with the other division members stared agape at Ai. They couldn't believe she was already willing to accept Sakura, let alone acknowledge her status as captain. Angered at the easy acceptance, Aoga turned to leave.
"You do not have to address me as taichou, Ai. This applies to all members. Until you all can accept me as captain, you may address me as Sakura. I will not be using Unohana's room or residing in the fourth division either. If you need to find me, I will be at the sixth division. However, my lack of absence will not change the new rules that shall be implemented and expect my constant presence in the relief station in order to ensure my orders are being followed. Are there any objections?"
Ai blinked before looking at Aoga who still had his back turned. She could see his fists were furled, but glancing at his expression, a small relieved smile appeared as she saw the glimmer of tears fill his eyes. Even some of the other individuals who were gathered behind Aoga were also teary eyed as no one raised their voice to object against Sakura. Seeing how no one would speak, Ai meet Sakura's gaze before shaking her head.
"There are no objections, Sakura-san."
Amusement danced in her bright green eyes as she said, "Very well. Sit, let us continue with meeting."
The sound of feet shuffling could be heard as Isane watched a majority of the fourth division members trickle into a room. She had already known of Sakura's request, but the announcement to the other members seemed to quell their own fears of having a cold tyrant as a captain. Looking at Sakura, even Isane was fearful after the incident with Iemura, but a part of her knew Sakura wouldn't be a cruel leader. After today, most of the members would probably change their thoughts about Sakura as well. Smiling to herself, she saw a similar expression being mirrored by Ogidō.
The looming figure lingering outside the fourth division was uncanny as the sight of the sixth division captain outside his usual domains were unusual to say the least. His reputation was notorious, as were his looks, but many were too fearful to approach the man. A few spattering of Shinigami walked past the silent man who appeared to be waiting for someone.
A frown adorned his lips as he realized she was late. The meeting would begin soon but she was nowhere to be found. Her lack of direction and knowledge of Soul Society had embolden him to fetch the woman although a part of him acknowledge he had…personal reasons for wanting to get her.
"Taichou-san, shall I retrieve Sakura-san for the meeting?"
The sound of his lieutenant's inquiry broke his concentration. Narrowing his eyes as he realized Renji's question, he calmly asked, "Why?"
Scratching the back of his neck Renji shrugged his shoulders. "Considering she went to the fourth division, I figured she may get lost attempting to find her way to the meeting room. I mean last time I escorted her to the fourth division, she wasn't as aware of her surroundings."
"Why is that?"
Not oblivious to his captain's icy tone he quickly replied, "She was asking questions about the former fourth division captain. We were focused on conversing so I don't think she was observing her surroundings."
A black brow rose as Byakuya signed the last document. Rising from his seat, he dropped the stack of papers on his lieutenant's desk.
"Review the documents and select the few recruits you want to bring into the division. I want them done after I return from the meeting."
Renji eyed the stack of papers, a look of exasperation and irritation colored his features as he glared at his captain's retreating form. Not even bothering to think about the fourth division captain, he grumbled as he reached for the first application.
Although he had left the jigokuchō with Sakura, it was safer for him to escort her rather than his lieutenant. A smirk appeared as he recalled the stack of papers he had left for his lieutenant. It was unlikely he would bother to think of the fourth division captain anytime soon. The sound of footsteps alerted him to another's presence. Stepping forward he was greeted by the sight of Sakura who had a bright smile on her face as she played with the jigokuchō that was fluttering about her.
Focusing on the man, she calmly replied, "Kuchiki-san. Are you here to escort me to the meeting?" Silence was her only response as he turned away before heading towards the conference. Unperturbed by his behavior she followed suit. The meeting had gone well with her members. A majority of them were open to her proposals. Although, she would need to enlist Zaraki's assistance to see if he would be willing to train her members. Regardless, even if one section of the fourth division was dedicated to fighting, she would rather her members were well rounded and capable of holding their own in battle. The goal was to create an equality among members based on knowledge, whereas their own personal skills and abilities will give her insight on what needed to be improved. She would also need to speak to the captains about their physicals and ensure all members of the Gotei were routinely checking their health.
"You appear to be in high spirits." Byakuya's quiet observation helped distract his mind as he was still fixated on the sight of her smile. It was joyous, and a sight he hoped to see again although he was pleased Renji wasn't here to see it. Frowning at the thought he waited for her reply.
"Hai. My members were opened to my proposals and we will begin implementing them after I have discussed it with everyone during the meeting. I also informed them I would not be living in the fourth division until they are able to accept me, nor will I expect them to address me as captain. I believe that was the turning point for most."
An inky brow rose at her proposal. Curious he glanced at her. "You do not care for your title?"
"My title was given to me out of convenience. The respect that is attached to it is earned on my own accord, and I will earn their respect." A smirk twisted her lips as a determined gleam twinkled in her eye. The enthusiasm that radiated off of her was contagious as Byakuya smirked. "Your determination is admirable, although it would be best to learn how to get to the fourth division on your own first."
Sakura eyed Byakuya, before a teasing smile danced on her lips. "And here I thought you enjoyed escorting me. I'm quite disappointed Kuchiki. You could have sent Renji-san in your stead. At least he wouldn't be complaining."
The speed in which Byakuya faced her didn't surprise Sakura, but she couldn't help the grin that appeared as she watched the irritation break his usually stoic façade. "My lieutenant has matters to attend to but if you are so inclined, feel free to join him."
Crossing her arms at his cold word, she simply replied, "I was kidding, Byakuya-san. I do appreciate what you have done and contrary to your behavior your company is enjoyable. With the amount of time we have spent bickering, I can easily say you are the third person I feel comfortable with."
"Of course, Ukitake-san is first with Shunsui being second. Maybe if you were friendlier or smiled more, you would be first." Unable to help herself, she stuck her tongue out at the man before walking away. Byakuya was shocked as he replayed the scene as he would admit it had been the longest time since someone would bother to tease him, let alone stick their tongue out like a child. A small chuckle escaped him as brushed back a few strands of hair. Just being around the woman had him acting in ways he would've never expected. Although her simple admission of being comfortable around him warmed a part of him, as he had realized there weren't many others he allowed in his personal sphere. Even those who were, never had the audacity to tease him unlike this woman. He couldn't deny the comfort she brought to him that was intoxicatingly addictive after spending countless years distanced from the others. It was frightening.
"We're going to be late, Kuchiki."
Meeting her gaze, he could sense her confusion but he briefly closed his eyes as he proceeded to walk past her. Even if she could conjure these unknown feelings within him, he wouldn't allow himself to feel anything for her. He would quench this need to be with her, as it was a weakness that needed to be overcome. There won't be a repeat of the past. He would never allow himself to love. Not when all that awaited him was inevitable pain.
"Sakura-chan." The sound of his voice caused her to cringe as she narrowed her eyes at the blond-haired captain of the fifth division. Glaring at the man, she ignored him as she started walking towards an empty seat.
"Aww don't ignore me, your seat is right here." With a smirk, he gestured at the empty chair beside him.
"I prefer this one. Away from you." The pointed emphasize on the latter half of her statement caused a chuckle to escape from Shinji as he jovially replied, "We are seated based on our division order. You are fourth and I'm the fifth division captain."
Seeing as there wasn't any reasonable excuse from avoiding the captain, save for the strong desire to kill him, she quickly sat beside him, pointedly ignoring the man who was enjoying the situation.
"How have you been settling in? I've heard there were issues with the fourth division members." The lighthearted tone belied the serious note in his eyes. Frowning, she briefly replied, "It was resolved. It will take time, but there will be changes to the division that I will bring up during the meeting."
"What changes?" All pretenses of foolery were gone as he waited for her to speak. The other captains who had settled in also waited as they had overheard glimmers of the conversation. Irritated for being put on the spot, she was ready to berate Shinji, but it was the cool tone of Byakuya's voice that broke the silence.
"It will be revealed once everyone has gathered." Shinji frowned before relaxing in his seat. Briefly his eyes flickered over to the now quiet man before glancing at Sakura once more.
"Very well. I will say, I'm excited to hear about these changes, Sakura." The drawling of her name had her glaring at the man, but she could sense the warning that was hidden in his words. They still did not trust her, and it appeared she would be monitored by a few captains. Pursing her lips, she mentally made a note to speak with Ukitake later to determine where the tense animosity was coming from. It was understandable to be on guard, but there was a wariness amongst a few of the captains, although…Sakura turned her attention to Byakuya who was silently waiting for the meeting to start. Sensing her gaze, he briefly met her eyes, an eyebrow quirked at her sudden interest. Deciding it best to push her thoughts aside, she nodded her head in a sign of thanks before glancing at the two captains who had entered the room.
"Yo pinky, feeling better?" Zaraki's large form filled the doorway, blocking the smaller captain who merely nodded his head at her.
"Yes, thank you Zaraki-san." A crooked smile appeared on the scarred face of the captain as he pressed, "Good. We need to have a rematch."
Crossing her arms, she smirked at the captain, "Oh? Ready to lose again?"
"Ha! Let's see you try to beat me this time."
"Zaraki-san." The sound of Hitsugaya's voice interrupted the two as the tenth division captain gestured for the bigger man to move. Shrugging at the unnecessary interruption, the two headed over to their seats, as the remaining captains appeared.
The sight of Shunsui and Ukitake had Byakuya tensing as he recalled what had occurred prior. Unwilling to allow his irritation to be seen, he remained stoic as he waited for the two to seat themselves.
"I'm glad everyone is here. The reason for the meeting was the increase in activity in Karakura town. After the incident with Yuki-san and Shino-san, both Zaraki, Hitsugaya, and Sakura were sent to dispatch the adjuchas. Hitsugaya-san, please recount what occurred."
"The adjuchas appeared to be operating under the orders of another. It was able to call forth gillians in the midst of the battle, but what was interesting was the adjuchas' decision to hold onto Yuki-san's blade. It is unknown why, but it is possible the one who controlled the adjuchas was curious about the Shinigami?"
"This could be true." Ukitake's voice echoed in the table as he responded to Hitsugaya's question. "When I spoke with Yuki-san, he did say the adjuchas had expressed an interest in his blade, stating it might be useful to the master. Based on that statement, it is likely whoever controlled the adjuchas appears to be powerful, or at the very least has not ventured out into the human world. I had also ordered Kiyone-san to investigate after their return. She didn't find anything unusual."
Shunsui lit his pipe as he listened to the captains. Inhaling the smoke, he pondered over the past events. "Karakura is notorious for its hollow activity, but what recently has occurred is a bit worrying. Ukitake, please contact Rukia and have her along with Ichigo and the others alert in case any unusual activity occurs. I expect Rukia to report her findings if she does come across anything suspicious."
"May I speak?" The sound of Sakura's voice had Shunsui peering at her with interest. Lazily, he gestured for her to proceed. "From what has been discussed, I would insist, Ichigo and Rukia, whoever they are, to focus on the area where we engaged the hollows. If the adjuchas was working for another and has not returned, it is likely whoever is its master would be curious enough to venture into the human world in order to find the adjuchas."
"I agree with Haruno-san." Hitsugaya's voice was accompanied by a few nods from the other captains. Shunsui was also pleased with Sakura's idea as a part of him thought there was a possibility of the "master" appearing in Karakura. If they were able to encounter the master, it would be possible to determine what its motives are or at least understand how powerful the master was. "I see no harm, although it may be difficult to have them on constant surveillance. Zaraki-san, please send two of your men to assist Ichigo's group."
"I'll send Ikkaku and Yumichika. Those two have been in the human world before so it should be no trouble."
Pleased, Ukitake smiled at Zaraki before murmuring "arigato." Although Rukia and Ichigo would be able to handle any hollows they had real lives to deal with so it would be difficult to have them patrolling. Satisfied, Ukitake was ready to move onto the next topic when he realized no one had answered Sakura's question.
"Ah! Apologizes Sakura-san. Rukia-san is a member of the thirteenth division and Byakuya's sister-in-law. Ichigo and his group are humans who have assisted the Gotei with battling hollows and other incidents in the past. If you go back to Karakura, I will be sure to have Rukia introduce you."
Sakura merely nodded in response, but she was surprised by the revelation regarding Byakuya. Sister-in-law. Did that mean he was married? Peering at the man in question she wondered if she was intruding on his space, but she never did meet another woman inside the manor that she could imagine as Byakuya's wife. Puzzled, she almost didn't catch Shunsui's question.
"Now that we have dealt with that issue, how are things with the fourth division?"
Feeling everyone's gaze, Sakura calmly replied, "As it was already known, there are still issues with my position as captain, but the members are at least willing to accept my presence. I have spoken to them of some possible changes I would like to implement and most were well received, especially in regard to having all members trained in fighting. I am aware of the fourth division's non-combative approach, but I will still require all members to be adept at wielding their blade in case they are sent out to assist in healing the others. It may be unconventional but I believe it is necessary." The last part of her statement was addressed to Shunsui who had a small smile on his lips. Knowing that she had recalled their last encounter regarding the matter, he decided it best to remain silent, as her decision to train all members to fight was different from sending the members out to fight. It was evident the woman knew how to get her way.
Pleased that Shunsui was not disagreeing with her, she continued. "Based on that, Zaraki-san, since your members are known for their fighting abilities, I was wondering if you could assist me in training my members."
Zaraki snickered as he replied, "I do not mind, but it is the men you will have to speak to. It is known the fourth division doesn't have the greatest reputation amongst the other divisions. However, if you are able to convince my men to assist you, feel free to take them."
A pink brow arched in response to Zaraki's challenge. "If your men wish to be healed after a fight, I suggest they start understanding the fourth division's worth. That goes for all other division members who look down on the fourth division. If there are any issues, I would be more than happy to deal with them myself." The saccharine smile belied the threat as Zaraki simply smirked in response, although a few of the other members were a little put off by the unnerving grin.
"Oh, which reminds me. I was made aware that the relief station does not have records regarding the health of all the captains and division members. I expect all the captains to be at the division within the next few days to do a physical. I would like to ensure all of you are healthy."
A few of the members blinked at the request as all of them were certain they weren't dying. It was also unnecessary for the division to keep records and a waste of time. A frown appeared on Zaraki's face as he replied, "Pointless. Don't expect me to be there Pinky."
"I have no problem dragging everyone of you there by force, or if you would prefer for all my male captains, I don't mind doing a physical in front of your division members. After all I find men are more comfortable having a prostate exam once they have seen their peers undergo one."
All the men stiffened in their seats as a look of horror was etched onto their face. Even Byakuya looked highly uncomfortable as all the male captains glanced at Shunsui. The unspoken request for him to step in was evident, although the second division captain was highly entertained.
Clearing his throat, Shunsui smiled at Sakura before saying, "Well a physical isn't really important for us Sakura. It would be better for you to focus on the civilians rather than the captains."
Sakura returned Shunsui's smile as she leaned forward, "Do not concern yourself with my other patients. A physical is necessary as Ukitake's own struggle with an illness demonstrated it is possible for Shinigami to get sick. Besides Shunsui, your constant use of tobacco worries me, do you not know the repercussions of smoking? And unless any one of you are trained in the ways of healings or are doctors, do not presume you are able to determine if you are in good health or not. Like I said, I will have no problems with dragging you there by force, but the decision is yours. By the end of the week I will have records for all the captains along with the division members. Is that clear?"
Shunsui stared at the woman in shock as he realized there was no way to escape the inevitable. Silently apologizing to all the men in the room he merely nodded to the dismay of the others. Pleased with Shunsui's submission, although she could feel Mayuri's glare along with Zaraki's. Smiling to herself she turned to Shinji-san who flinched at the sight.
"Shinji-kun. I expect to see you tomorrow first thing in the morning. If you are not there by 10 am sharp, I will find you and will perform your prostate exam in front of the other Gotei members as an example for those who are unwilling to do their physical. Am I clear?"
The fifth division captain gulped at the threat before shakily smiling at the fearsome woman. "Of course, Sakura-san. I'll be there."
Six months passed with little reports on suspicious activity in Karakura Town. Not once had the so-called master appeared and it was worrying to say the least, but Shunsui had suggested they remained vigilant even though there weren't any signs of hollows or adjuchas attacking Karakura. Although Sakura was disappointed, she couldn't deny she was busy with running the fourth division. In the few months she had started tending to the relief station, a mutual air of respect developed between herself and the division members. They were implementing the changes and adapting will to her advisement in regard to treating patients, although there was still the issue of training them to fight. It was evident the eleventh division members were ignoring her request for training. Zaraki's taunting words about the members disregard of the fourth division frustrated her to no end, but she didn't have time to go speak to the members at the moment. Between the countless training she was undergoing with Fenikkusu and practicing her kidō, she was lucky if she had time to rest before heading over to the fourth division to review past documents. The biggest success was obtaining records for the captains after their first physical. She couldn't help but chuckle as her threat had worked very well as every captain had appeared when requested. Even Byakuya had appeared, but after that exam she hadn't seen or spoken to the captain. It didn't help that she was returning to the manor late every night although she always had a jigokuchō guiding her to ensure she wouldn't lose her way.
Pausing in her paperwork, Sakura glanced around the conference room she had turned into her office. Sticking to her promise she hadn't step foot in the former captain's corridors, choosing instead to use the conference room to do all her work and speak with the members. Relaxing against her chair she thought about the sixth division captain as she realized she never had the opportunity to speak to him about his sister-in-law. Although it was too personal and he wouldn't want to explain himself to her. But…she wouldn't deny that a part of her did miss his presence. It was expected since she was forced to live with him…
Muttering a sigh, she organized her paperwork before rising from her seat. Tightening her sword around her waist, she exited the room, politely greeting the few members who were passing by before heading towards the entrance. Her distraction wouldn't allow her to get any work done. Maybe if she returned to the manor on time, she might be able to see Byakuya and have dinner with him. Sensing the woman was leaving, the small butterfly followed suit, ready to guide her home. Smiling at the small creature, a small warmth blossomed in her as she had inadvertently discovered a few months prior that Kuchiki was the one responsible for sending the jigochukō with her. It was a kind gesture and one she never had the opportunity to thank him for. Quickening her step, she was set on returning the manor but halted her stride at the sight of her lieutenant who was having a heated argument with a younger female.
Frowning at the sight, as after she had gotten to know Isane, she knew the woman wasn't prone to arguments, she decided to step in.
"Isane-san. Is everything alright?" Two pairs of eyes focused on her as she found an uncanny resemblance between the blond-haired female and her own lieutenant. Dark blue eyes were set above a slim nose as a shock of straw colored hair surrounded the woman's round face. Her uniform was modified as a white collar peeked from underneath the traditional garb and white gloves encompassed her hands.
"Sakura-san!" A red blush colored Isane's cheeks in embarrassment as she glanced at her younger sister before addressing the woman. "I'm sorry, I was having a conversation with my sister. Ah..her name is Kiyone Kotetsu. She is part of the thirteenth division."
The name sounded familiar as Sakura briefly recalled the meeting where Ukitake had spoken of a Kiyone who had surveyed the area after her fight. Smiling at the woman, she was surprised by the calculated gaze the younger Shinigami was giving her.
"Hello Kiyone-san. Is everything alright between you two?"
Sheepishly, Isane replied, "Yes…it's just my sister wants to go to Karakura to assist with the investigation but I rather she stays here. After all there weren't any sightings of hollows so it's unnecessary for her to go." Sakura could sense the worry in Isane's voice, which was understandable as that was her younger sister, although if she was a member of the thirteenth division, it meant she was more than capable of taking care of herself.
"Ahh…well if it was a command from Ukitake-san, then she would have to go. The fact that she is in a squad indicates she has skill, Isane." The slight reminder elicited a sigh from her lieutenant who glanced at her sister. Although she knew she was capable of handling herself, she couldn't help but be worried at all the possible dangers that could occur.
"You should listen to her, nee-chan. I'll be fine. You are the fourth division captain, correct?" The direct question didn't faze Sakura as she merely nodded in response. Although the rapid fired questions that followed suit had her defensive.
"How long have you been captain? Are all the division members even listening to you? How did you become captain? Are you even capable of leading the fourth division?"
"Kiyone!" Isane's angered cry didn't stop her younger sister who was eagerly waiting for Sakura's response. Frowning at the woman, she glanced at Isane who was bowing her head in apology. Wary about all the questions, Sakura replied, "Six months, and my members are fine. I was chosen by Shunsui-san to be captain, and I believe I can lead the fourth division. Is there anything else you want to ask?"
Kiyone blinked at the cold tone as she briefly composed herself. Blushing she apologized before speaking once more. "Gomen. I heard some rumors about you but never had the opportunity to meet you. Plus, you are in charge of the division nee-san is in and I just wanted to make sure she was okay. I tend to be overzealous at times."
A little bemused, Sakura smiled as she understood Kiyone was only curious about her for the sake of her sister. "It's alright, although I need to leave. Isane-san, all the paperwork is completed, you just need to review them. If you need me, you know where to find me. It was nice meeting you, Kiyone-san." Bidding farewell to the siblings, Sakura turned to leave. Passing by Kiyone, she felt an odd but familiar sensation take over her. Halting her steps, she glanced back at Kiyone who was chatting with her sister once more. Frowning at the feeling of foreboding, Sakura brushed it off before continuing towards the Kuchiki manor.