Ayasegawa Yumichika's first question when he woke from his coma was, "How's my hair?"
"You almost slipped into vegetative state for the rest of eternity, and all you're concerned with is your hair?" Ikkaku bent over the bed. He exhaled heavily. "Gave me quite a scare, you. Don't do it again."
"You haven't answered my question."
Ikkaku considered his phrasing, then decided to go with the soft approach. "You still got that wig from when Ichigo first attacked?"
Yumichika groaned. "That bad?"
Komamura sat by the unnamed grave marker and brooded. As he did often, since Tousen left.
"Mizuki. Looking for me, I see." Komamura waited until she came up to him. "What's wrong?"
"Does there always have to be something wrong when I look for you?" Mizuki asked. She placed a hand on his shoulder to take the weight off her left leg.
"You look for Juushiro when you need life advice, Shunsui provides you emotional support whether you want it or not, and Yamamoto-soutaichou when it's regarding finances. My job? Listening to your little problems and big woes."
"You have a hard life, Koma-san."
"That I do," he sighed. "Despite everything that happened, I felt rather relieved after the recent debacle."
Mizuki managed to ease herself into a sitting position. "Why?"
Komamura said nothing, only ran a large hand over the grave marker. Mizuki rested her head on his shoulder.
"I'm glad he wasn't here for that either, Koma-san."
"Yeah." He bent his head to look at Mizuki. "So? Aren't you going to share?"
"Nada. Just... I have been taking you for granted lately. Like, for the past one hundred and twenty years." Mizuki leaned against his strong body, and let the security of his presence wash over her.
"You got eternity to make up for it."
"Perhaps. Or perhaps they'll attack in force tomorrow, and I'll be dead."
"You are morbid. We will prevail: your great granduncle has seen many wars, and this one is just a little one." Komamura tousled her hair in reassurance. They sat together on the little hill, enjoying the golden gleam of the setting sun, and waited for the moon to come up.
He wished life was easy.
But things... tend to go wrong. Not because there was some evil mastermind behind the scenes, working the controls, but because life tended to get messy and chaotic and people screw up.
Gods knew he screwed up often. Like just now.
"'How was life with Gin like, Rangiku?' Really brilliant observation, Shunsui. So sensitive it hurts." He stopped in his tracks to look around him. His feet had led him to a familiar building. "Since I'm here I might as well get some work done then."
Kyoraku mounted the steps to the eighth division office, and realized someone else was there. Her dark hair spilled down her back, and in the steady light of the two lamps she looked ethereal. Then she turned.
"Taichou, what are you doing here at this hour?"
"I could ask the same of you, Nanao-chan." He strolled up to her desk. The look she sported now was a gentler, more approachable one. He felt privileged to witness it. "You work too hard. Aren't you afraid of crow's feet, hmm?"
"I always finish my work before I go home, taichou. Unlike a certain gentleman I could name..." Her pen tapped on his hands which pressed on her papers. "... who leaves me with his work as well."
Kyoraku smiled lopsidedly at the rebuke. "Nanao-chan, you don't go out to have a life you're not going to get a life outside of work."
"I enjoy my work, taichou. My work is my life."
He sprawled in his favorite spot, watching her add notes or calculate totals. "Is that why you dislike Mizuki-chan so much, Nanao-chan? Because she doesn't take her work seriously?"
Great. Another reason to award me with Seireitei's Most Insensitive. Must be the sake talking.
Ise Nanao bit her lip. "I don't dislike her, taichou. I disregard her."
"Matsumoto is very similar to Mizuki, and you get on well with Matsumoto."
"Matsumoto never slept with her captains, taichou."
So that was the main reason, Kyoraku thought. Mizuki's surmise was right.
Nanao got up from her seat. "I'm going home."
"Talk to me, Nanao-chan. I want to understand."
She paused in the process of pinning her hair up again. "I know I'm too much of a stickler in matters of propriety and etiquette, but there are some things a female shinigami can and cannot do. Getting romantically involved with her captain – whether reciprocated or not – is a major no-no."
Kyoraku chuckled. "That's really traditionalist of you, Nanao-chan. Even Yama-ji doesn't think that."
"But what if things got out of hand, taichou?" She whirled around, forgetting about her hair pins. The dark tresses tossed about above her shoulders. "What if it doesn't end properly and they still had to work together? It's... it just makes everything difficult and complicated."
"Emotions tend to be that way, Nanao-chan. Doesn't mean we got to shut them up."
"Does it mean you can indulge them?"
"Mizuki tends to let her heart dictate her actions, but I can think of at least twenty others in Seireitei with the same problem. And, numerically speaking, she hasn't had a lot of lovers for you to judge her that way."
Nanao's tone hid a tint of bitterness as she spoke. "And she has so many people speaking up for her. I wish... I wish I knew her secret."
"Getting along with people. I can't do that. Even though I'm a commoner and she's a noble, she mingles with others far easier than I can ever try to be."
Kyoraku laughed again. "That's the basis of your antipathy?"
"People love her so easily, taichou. Ukitake-taichou, Komamura-taichou, Madarame, Kuchiki-taichou... even you."
Kyoraku nodded. "She's easy to love, that's true." Then he saw a shadow of hurt pass over his lieutenant's elegant features. "But I love her like a daughter."
Is that why Nanao-chan hated me talking to Mizuki-chan? "I see her and I remember the tiny baby girl in swaddling cloths, waving her tiny fist and boffing me on the chin as our introductory meeting."
"Oh." Something seemed to leave Nanao's tense shoulders. "Oh."
"When I see Juu-chan, I see someone who is admirable, humble and a person as close to being an angel without growing actual wings. I see Matsumoto and I see a drinking buddy who has serious issues with trust and reliability. And when I look at you..."
Nanao raised her eyes to gaze into Shunsui's understanding ones. He continued in a low voice, "I look at you and I see a real woman, unafraid of speaking her mind, beautiful because she knows who she is, sexier than a team of naked blond gymnasts and the damn best lieutenant any captain can hope for."
"Naked blond gymnasts?" she asked, a hint of a smile on her lips.
Kyoraku grinned wickedly. "A man gets to dream."
"What's this?" Kiyone Kotetsu picked up the folder lying at the entrance of their captain's house.
"It's a letter, dumbass!" Sentaro Kotsubaki put down the heavy supper tray.
The two tussled over it before realizing it was meant for their captain.
"I'll deliver it!"
"No, I'll deliver it!"
"Be quiet please," said Ukitake as he emerged from his room. He was thinner than usual. "Ah, good. supper. Did you get waffles?"
"YES TAICHOU! SPECIALLY MADE BY ME THIS EVENING, FRESH FOR YOUR CONSUMPTION AND HEALTH!!"
Ukitake smiled tiredly. "It's okay, Sentaro, you don't need to yell."
"See? Even taichou thinks you're too loud," crowed Kotetsu triumphantly. She grabbed the brown folder and handed it to Ukitake with a bow.
Ukitake ripped the envelope open. "What's this...This is a deed to the Kai family estate." His clear blue eyes looked up sharply. "When did you find this?"
"When we got here five minutes ago, taichou!"
Ukitake chewed on the knuckle of his thumb. Then he went in, threw on his captain's coat and, ignoring his snack, left to look for answers.
"Soutaichou," Sasakibe said, "someone left a crate of books for your perusal ."
"Books?" Yamamoto finished securing his beard. "When did they leave it?"
Sasakibe remained kneeling. "It was in the office. This was the letter that came with it."
Yamamoto gestured for his lieutenant to pass it over. As he scanned the letter over his reading glasses, he realized the value of the books.
"Sasakibe, bring the books over now. Lock it in my study."
'Dear Yama-ji, the books are my journals. You don't have to read all of them – frankly, I'd prefer if you don't, they're kind of embarrassing – but the flagged pages might be of use. In case you are short of time, the journal with the red leather cover is a summation of Aizen's and Ichimaru's habits and quirks. If anyone can make use of the information, feel free to disseminate it. I'll do what I can to help your cause. Love ya.' The captain-general read through the lines again, certain that he did not misunderstand what it said. Her journals? She never let anyone read her journals, not even her favorite Komamura.
Yamamoto crumpled up the thin sheet of paper. What the hell did she think she was doing?
After she bade Komamura goodnight, she went to her inn on the outskirts of Soul Society. A gathering of scum of all Japan, according to Ikkaku, who'd said it with a straight face and twinkling eyes. Mizuki grinned at the memory of their one and only date. They might be lowlifes, but one look at her and they knew that, to touch her meant a deep pit of trouble with Seireitei.
She called it an inn; it was a dilapidated shack with rooms being rented out for whatever money the lowlifes could get, just so they could screw or fight or die in private. The amount of cash she had tossed over the counter had made the inn hers, however, and she made a mental note to deed the place to Ikkaku.
He'd love to have his own brawling center.
She wondered idly if the shinigami whom she'd bribed to let her out of Seireitei would tell; he'd received the equivalent of his whole year's salary, but someone might just bribe it out of him again. Or, more probably, beat it out of him.
Flopping onto the couch, Mizuki played with the one item she was taking with her, other than her zanpakuto. The silver comb was now polished to a bright gleam, tiny sakura flowers blossoming from the metal. Her lids lowered over her eyes.
'Your reiatsu levels have evened out, Kai-san,' Unohana-taichou said, her long fingers over her wrist. 'Most of the damage was physical.'
'You sure?' Mizuki asked, darkly amused when Unohana frowned on her levity. 'Thanks, Unohana-taichou.'
The elegant captain stood and helped Mizuki up. 'Do take care of yourself, Kai-san. I can heal bodies, but I cannot heal hearts.'
'Mine would have ended if not for your care, Unohana-taichou. Thank you.'
Perhaps the fourth division captain would catch the hidden meaning behind her words; the woman was extremely perceptive.
Mizuki sighed and rubbed her face. She had a little while to spend before she could leave. Her uncle had yet to revoke her pass to move between Societies – she hoped. Her eyelids lowered and she felt herself relax.
"You were going to leave without saying goodbye?" A smooth, low male voice. Mizuki smiled but kept her eyes closed.
"I already bade goodbye in my own way to people I care about. I wasn't expecting you though. Aren't you supposed to be in Hueco Mundo?"
"I was. I just returned to find out you've left."
"I'm surprised you could find me."
"I can find you anywhere in the world if I so choose."
"So the girl is fine?"
"She will be. I've no doubt her friends will take care of her."
"And your lieutenant?"
"He'll be fine too."
She felt him approach, felt him run his fingers through her fringe, felt his fingers hovering just above her lips. She parted them in a small smile. "You want me to get up?"
"I'd prefer if you did. You ready to go?"
Mizuki opened her eyes, her smile languid. He looked handsome, forbidding and aloof in the harsh light of the inn's broken lamps. "I'm ready."
First a BIG THANK YOU to those who have been reading and/or reviewing until the very last chapter.
I know it's a cliffhanger but I can't find a neat way to round everything up, since the manga is still going on and I dunno what Aizen's complete plans are. I wanted to reveal who the last person is, but after some rewriting, I think I'll keep it ambiguous... If you review and ask then I'll provide my own answer, but bring your own subtext if you prefer.
(Strumpeting alert) Now writing Hitsugaya's Date, a T-rated fic, completely unplanned and uncharted and growing bigger by the second... (Strumpeting ends)