Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach
It was late in the humid evening, and Shiba Kuukaku sat smoking quietly on her doorstep, waiting for the heavy clouds to break. Shiroganehiko and Koganehiko, relieved of their guard duties, were still cleaning up from supper, and Ganjyu was off somewhere with his punk friends. That was fine with Kuukaku; peace was hard to come by in the often-chaotic Shiba household. The coals in her pipe glowed and a few drops of rain pattered to the dust of the path that led up to her house.

She wondered absently how Kaien was doing; he hadn't visited for a few weeks now. Too busy chasing after the girls at his new school, no doubt.

A low rumble of thunder rolled across the sky, rooting itself in the hills. Kuukaku massaged her right bicep; the wound was healing, slowly. She'd have to look into prosthetics; perhaps Yoruichi's happy-go-lucky friend would be able to procure one for her.

The heat, thick, all-encompassing, pressed down on her; the bandages itched and scraped against new flesh, and her pipe sputtered. Suddenly uncomfortable, she stood and stretched; lightning split the sky, highlighting the solitary figure standing between the enormous carven legs which held her banner aloft.

Kuukaku didn't pause for a moment in her stretch; relaxing, she snapped her fingers. Shiroganehiko and Koganehiko sprang into being behind her.


"The usual, Kuukaku-sama?"

Kuukaku grinned, tilting her head back over her shoulder. "Yeah, the usual. And don't forget the antiseptic this time."

The twin guardians hustled back into the house, where Shiroganehiko would prepare the guest room and run the bath, and Koganehiko would gather the first aid materials and stand by with a stretcher. Quite a few unsuspected visitors ended up entering the Shiba household on that stretcher; Kuukaku was a solicitous host.

Random drops were still falling to the ground in short intervals, and Kuukaku could feel the electricity of the storm zinging through her as she walked towards the motionless figure. The itch had migrated from her arm to the middle of her back, giving her a restless, irritated feeling.

As she got nearer, she could see that the man was tall - taller than her by at least a foot - with long, greasy brown hair and a large build. He wasn't fat - nobody in this area of Rukongai even came close to being well-fed; just big, as if he had been constructed on a different scale than other humans. A sword was in his right hand. In his left, he cradled a pink-haired baby.

Lightning flashed, and it began to pour. Neither Kuukaku nor the stranger flinched as water roared down in a solid sheet to the ground. The child squirmed in her sleep.

"Shiba Kuukaku." She barked at the stranger, her normally loud voice carrying clear over the noise of the rain. "This is my land you're trespassing on."

"Zaraki Kenpachi." A crackle of lightning gave the man an eerie yellow aura as he stared down at Kuukaku. "I need a place where the kid can wait out the storm. She's not doing so well."

A man from the eightieth. Kuukaku sized him up once again. On closer inspection, she could see that the girl in his arms wasn't a baby after all, but the massive size of her companion made her look far younger than her five or so years. There was a ragged, open gash running from hairline to jawbone down the left side of the man's face. He must have been bleeding elsewhere; red rainwater puddled on the path underneath him.

"Sheathe your sword." Kuukaku said abruptly, making up her mind. "I don't allow naked weapons past the gates."

The man didn't break eye contact with her as he replaced his sword at his waist. Kuukaku, satisfied, turned and began walking back to the house, squinting slightly against the rain. She knew that the Kenpachi would follow.