Chapter one: Hollow Stains

Harajuku, noon and a half, Friday. Shuuhei sat in the cafe, drinking tea spiked with sake from a thermos he brought from the Soul Society. It was an odd combination, but it suited him. People watching was the best in Harajuku as everyone wore such odd clothing. So what if he was supposed to be on duty? Being a captain had its perks. Yamamoto had sent him out to find a replacement vice-captain for the seat he had just left vacant upon promotion. So, here he was, sitting in the middle of Harajuku, staring at the multitude of decora, gothic lolita, ganguro, and generally strange fashion. One girl in particular kept staring in his direction, as if she could see him checking her out. Out of habit, he kept avoiding her gaze and grinning irrepressibly as she would glance over at him. If she could actually see him, as ludicrous as that idea was, she was doing an incredible job of not smiling back.

She stood, looking off in the distance behind him and narrowing her eyes. Shuuhei felt it too. She slipped what resembled a penguin Pez dispenser out of a pouch on her belt, popped a candy in her mouth, and left her body sitting in the cafe, quietly sipping cappuccino. Her freed soul had no chain connecting her to her body and a zanpakutou was now hanging from her CAUTION tape belt. She ran towards Shuuhei's table, leapt up onto it, and hopped again to the cafe's roof, making lingering eye contact with Shuuhei as she passed. Being that it was part of his duty as a shinigami, he took off after her just in case. She looked more dangerous, somehow, when detached from her body, which waved at him as he got up and used shunpo to follow her.

The girl leapt easily from roof to roof, following the trail of the hollow's reiatsu. It was very close, she could tell. There was a smaller, weaker reiatsu tracing with the hollow's, and she kept that in mind as she hurried to find whatever it was. Finally closing in on the hollow's precise location, the girl jumped from the roof of a bookstore into a wide alleyway. The hollow was leaning over a small soul in the form of a little girl of maybe eight or nine years.

"Hey!" Shuuhei heard the girl call out before he was in view. He hopped easily down from the bookstore's roof to watch and help if necessary. "Yeah, I'm talking to you, fishface!" The hollow looked up and growled at the girl, backing off from the petrified child to walk menacingly towards her. "What, you think a little meow is gonna scare me?"

"Do you have any idea who you're dealing with?" the hollow demanded, raising itself onto its hind limbs. The girl spat on the ground and grinned, loosening her sword from its sheath.

"Do you think I care?" she asked, walking calmly towards the hulking beast. It didn't seem to know what to make of her, staring down at the advancing girl. She got close enough to it that she could probably smell its breath. She distracted the hollow with her boldness, maintaining eye contact while she silently drew her sword. Both standing utterly still, awaiting the other's move, the girl and the hollow stayed nose to nose for at least a minute before the hollow made an attempt to pounce on her. It sailed over her head as she quickly dropped to a cross-legged sitting position and held her sword point-up with both hands for steadiness. A long gash was ripped in the hollow's soft underbelly and it emitted a most horrible shriek, landing clumsily in a dumpster. The girl stood up, brushing off her clothes coolly. The hollow stood, dripping blood as it moved, and faced the girl once more. She leered at it, jerking her head to tell it to advance. The hollow didn't waste any time attacking; it launched itself from the ground with large froglike legs, this time with better aim. Connecting with the girl, the hollow grabbed her shoulders and pushed her into a connected somersault where she ended up pinned to the ground. Its large feet held her legs in place while its foreclaws maintained a rough grip on her shoulders. It pulled back its lips to reveal several rows of sharp teeth and a long, gooey tongue. A few drops of its saliva dripped onto the girl's face, but she didn't squirm or resist as the acid burned small places on her cheeks. In fact, her taunting smile never waned. Shuuhei wondered if she'd survive. There was no way she could get out of this. He readied his hand on his sword when the hollow spoke.

"Damn you, why won't you look scared? All of my past victims have died with such a pleasant look of horror on their faces. You are a disappointment," the hollow breathed, rumbling its anger deep from its chest.

"Who said I was a victim?" At once, four black balls of energy appeared in the air around the hollow. Two attached to the hollow at the shoulders while the other two fit to its hips. The girl snapped her fingers and all four exploded in a spectacular display of kidou and shattered reiatsu. The hollow's arms and legs completely severed from its body and its body in turn fell heavily on the girl. She easily lugged it off, rolling from under it. She stood up, covered in the hollow's blood, and pierced it through the center of its mask with her zanpakutou. She then turned to the little girl, smiling a gentler smile. "Would you like to go to a nice place, full of people who were once like you, stuck on earth with no one to protect them? Where there are people like me and that nice gentleman over there to keep those nasty hollows at bay?" Shuuhei was almost flattered that she acknowledged him. The little girl nodded, mustering the bravest smile she had. The older girl patted her head. "It'll all be fine in the Soul Society. Don't you worry your pretty head." With that, the girl performed the exclusive cleansing ritual used by shinigami. The small girl faded, waving happily at her savior. "Good-bye, little one," she said, waving back. She turned to Shuuhei and said brightly, "Well! That was a messy fight. You could've helped, you know."

Shuuhei blinked at her, surprised by her boldness. Then he remembered that she probably didn't recognize captains' garb. "You looked like you had it under control," he managed to respond, unsure of what to say.

"I did," she beamed. "But you know how hard hollow blood is to get out of clothes! How do you captains keep your white robes so clean?"

"We have extras... Wait. How do you know about shinigami ranking?"

"It's a moderately long story. Come back to the cafe with me and I'll tell you. I'm Mikan. Kaninabe Mikan," she said, bowing lightly.

Out of habit and courtesy, Shuuhei bowed as well, announcing, "Captain of the Ninth Company of the Gotei Thirteen, Hisagi Shuuhei."

"Impressive title. Do you carry it with you everywhere?" Mikan asked, raising an eyebrow. Shuuhei could amost feel a blush creeping up in his cheeks, but years of suppression training kept it back. "Shall we?" She didn't wait for an answer; she simply began walking back to the cafe.