Special Blend

Rukia stifled another miserable cough, and wished that her lungs would just vanish. At least that way she wouldn't be making so much noise. It might even mean that she could stop breathing, which at the moment could only be a positive step forward.

The seasonal wave of colds had hit Seireitai like -- well, it wasn't half as majestic as a winter storm or a tidal wave, but it was resulting in much more bad temper and general sniffling.

Of course, her honoured elder brother didn't catch colds. Even thinking of something as demeaning as a red nose or creaky voice in connection with Kuchiki Byakuya somehow seemed wrong. And Rukia had to live up to that. However miserable she felt. She couldn't go round trying to ask for privileges or any sort of consideration just because she had a cold, especially given how she was the newest of the new here in Thirteenth Division . . .

She sneezed. Again.

Ukitake-taichou's desk was as tidy as she could make it. The room itself was spotlessly neat. She had no further excuse for hiding from other Thirteenth Division members in here by claiming she was cleaning it. Everything was in order.

Something on the desk caught her eye. It was one of Ukitake-taichou's private bottles of cough medicine, left available in case of emergency.

A frightening yet glorious thought began to bloom in the back of her head. Everyone knew that Ukitake-taichou's cough medicine was the strongest of the strong. It had to be, given his afflictions. (Not that she was very precise on the exact afflictions, but hearing him cough just the once had been bad enough.) She wasn't so stupid as to try taking the same level of dose that he did, but maybe just a couple of drops would help this ghastly cough and cold that she had. Maybe just one drop. Maybe just dampening her finger against the rim of the bottle and licking it.

To think was to act. She looked nervously towards the door, then darted over to the desk and flicked the bottle open.

A pleasant smell of aniseed and violets drifted up at her.

She used her finger to scoop up a little bit -- a tiny, tiny little bit -- of the residue from the lip of the bottle, and licked her finger clean before closing the bottle.

Nothing immediate happened.

Well, maybe she had been a little bit stupid. No, make that very stupid. To go round thinking that Ukitake-taichou's cough medicine was some sort of cure-all, or that it could have some sort of special virtue because he had touched it.

Though that would explain why it was glowing.

Rukia blinked. Yes, definitely, the bottle was glowing. She was glowing herself. That must be because the cold was all gone. She could breathe clearly now. The air ran through her lungs and came sprinting out again on tiny little feet. The wind was singing happy songs outside, and look! The window was open! What a perfect day to go flying!

Ukitake disliked Kurotsuchi Mayuri, for too many reasons to conveniently list, but courtesy demanded that he receive a fellow captain politely, and without doing any obvious flinching or putting out oilcloth drapes to avoid slime trails.

"More tea?" he asked.

Kurotsuchi took the cup, gargled it down in a single swallow, and sat there meditatively. "Mmmm. Interesting flavour."

"That would be the Iron Goddess of Mercy blend," Ukitake said politely. "One of my favourites."

Kurotsuchi leaned forward. "Have you considered my proposal?" he husked. "I'm sure that your vice-captain could handle the Division in your absence, and the new advances in technology would make your convalescence a matter of mere days. And then think of the advantage! No more tuberculosis! No more lung problems!"

"No more lungs," Ukitake felt the need to point out.

"Precisely!" Kurotsuchi's eyes were glowing with maniacal enthusiasm. "And what's more, with your example --"

Kuchiki Rukia leapt through the open window. With a happy smile on her face, she ran around the room three times, saying, "Whee!" then jumped out of the window again.

Ukitake poured himself more tea numbly.

"Ahhhhh," Kurotsuchi Mayuri croaked. "I see that you've been experimenting with speed modification too. We had that problem with the intellect as well."

"Still in development," Ukitake agreed vaguely, and tried to work out what the hell was going on.

"Well," Sentarou said, "looking at the evidence --"

"And considering all possibilities --" Kiyone said.

Shiba Kaien waved a hand. "Get the hell on with it."

"We think she might have had some of Ukitake-taichou's cough medicine," Sentarou said, and tried to edge behind Kiyone. He was much bigger than her, so this didn't work very well.

Ukitake lowered his head to rest on his hand. "Right," he said. "Kaien, you have two objectives. Find Kuchiki. And do it before she runs into her brother."

"About your leaving your cough medicine out on your desk again, Ukitake-taichou . . ." Shiba Kaien began, with what both Sentarou and Kiyone considered lunatic bravery.

Ukitake fixed him with a mild look. "Do I need to recall the Lizard King incident?" he inquired. "Especially in front of Shiba Miyako here?"

"Please do, sir," Shiba Miyako said respectfully. "I've never heard the full story on that one --"

"Kuchiki Hunt." Shiba Kaien saluted, and dragged his wife out of the office with his spare hand. Sentarou and Kiyone followed.

"But where do we start looking for her, sir?" Kiyone asked.

"Poke around the place." Shiba Kaien shrugged. "How hard can it be to find one little girl?"

Rukia flew through the air like a -- like a -- like a flying thing. She was a little uncertain about the details. Bird. That was it.

Look! A snake! She flew down and tried to pick it up, but it was too heavy. So she trampled on it before flying away again.

Shiba Kaien got there five seconds too late. Just too late to grab Rukia, but not too late to have to make apologies for her.

"I'd kinda like an explanation," Ichimaru Gin said, rubbing the back of his head.

"Ah," Kaien said, giving his biggest smile. "Well. You know how the kids sometimes get a little out of touch when they're bonding with their zanpakutou?"

"That usually means them sitting round in corners and going into trances and looking stupid when ya brush the dust off them," Ichimaru said, returning a smile that looked like a razor edge which had grown up to develop extra sharpness. "It don't usually mean grabbing vice-captains and jumping up and down on their heads while screaming, "I have you now, stupid snake! Aha! Aha!""

Kaien looked to right and left, then leaned closer. "Keep your mouth shut about it and I give you a jug from the Shiba private wine cellar for Rangiku."

"Two jugs," Ichimaru said promptly.

"One jug and a date with my sister," Kaien countered.

Ichimaru thought about that. "Deal. I've always wanted to meet your sister."

"I'm sure you'll get on like a house on fire," Kaien said. "Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to catch a subordinate."

"She went thataway," Ichimaru said helpfully.

There was a big roaring lion rampaging underneath. Rukia jumped over it. Whee!

It hit her. Splat!

"We're terribly sorry," Sentarou said.

"Terribly, terribly sorry," Kiyone said.

"Naaah." Zaraki dismissed their apologies with a casual gesture that left the air quivering and traumatised. "I'm impressed. Don't often get young shinigami who have the nerve to try challenging me. Tell her that there's a place in Eleventh if she wants it. When she wakes up."

"It's okay, Ken-chan," Yachiru said, appearing on his shoulder in a flash of pinkness. "I gave her some sweets and she got up and ran away again!"

"Oh bugger," Sentarou said.

"Please excuse us, sir," Kiyone said.

Everything was confused. The little pink bee had given her honey but Rukia was still dizzy. She had to get back to work. Yes. Back to work.

Then she ran into the cherry blossoms. Lots and lots of pink cherry blossoms, all there to take care of her. She burrowed into them happily.

"Kyouraku-taichou," Nanao said, in tones that combined gentle softness with an underlying stiletto to the neck.

"Nanao-chan!" her Captain exclaimed in tones of absolute relief. "Get her off me!"

Nanao took a step closer. "Normally, sir, when I find you with a woman in a compromising position --"

Her Captain managed to get a hold of Kuchiki Rukia's collar, and dragged her out of the folds of his robes. She resisted. "Nanao-chan, my lovely, sweet Nanao-chan, I am innocent. I just walked in here and she leaped on me . . ." He frowned. "Nanao-chan, you look strangely unsympathetic. Do you think that I would honestly try to flirt with a sweet little innocent girl like this?"

"Sir," Nanao said in clipped tones, "I've caught you slipping sake bonbons to Kusajishi-fukutaichou in meetings, making eyes at that girl they've just taken into Fifth, trying to convince Kotetsu Isane that medical examinations should be full-body naked and on the principle of 'equivalent trade' . . ."

"Leaving that aside," her Captain said hastily, "I just came over here to have tea with Jyuushirou and with Yama-jii, and I was jumped on by this charming young maiden. Maybe it's her zanpakutou influencing her?"

"Please hold her a moment, Kyouraku-taichou," Nanao said. She approached the squirming girl. "I'll check her reiatsu."

Rukia stiffened. An alligator was attacking! She had to respond! But her arms were stuck to the cherry tree! She couldn't use her zanpakutou! She would have to blast the alligator with kidou!

Ukitake poured tea.

There was a screamed invocation from a few rooms away, audible through the walls, and the crump of a flaming explosion.

Yamamoto picked up his cup. "Let me guess," he said, smiling paternally. "Ise-fukutaichou came over with her Captain and is giving kidou lessons to your junior officers."

"She's so helpful," Ukitake said fervently. "I see a bright future for her."

Nanao picked herself off the floor and beat stray cinders out of her hair and robes.

"She really does have a lot of reiatsu there," her Captain said thoughtfully, raising the squirming Kuchiki Rukia off the ground. "Do you want to try some healing kidou?"

"Actually, sir," Nanao said, rolling back her right sleeve, "I was thinking more of a healing uppercut to the jaw."

"I can't hit a woman!" Kyouraku-taichou protested.

"Don't worry, sir," Nanao said grimly. "I can."

Rukia woke up in bed with a headache.

"Rukia?" her honoured elder brother said.

Rukia tried to get her eyes to focus. Everything seemed rather hazy. "Mm think that's me," she whispered.

"Ukitake-taichou sent you home to recuperate from your pneumonia. He added a note that you were to be commended for trying to work through it, but not to do so again." Her honoured elder brother sounded faintly approving. "He also attached commendations from Kurotsuchi-taichou, Zaraki-taichou, Kyouraku-taichou, and a request that you attend for kidou training from Ise-fukutaichou. You have been busy."

"Mm," Rukia said, and tried to stop the way that the ceiling was spinning.

"I'll leave you to recover," her honoured elder brother said, rising to his feet. "Think about what you have done today and meditate on it. Learn from it."

Rukia would have nodded, but he was already gone, which was a good thing, because it meant that her head didn't fall off.

She'd definitely learned something from today.

Never ever ever to touch Ukitake-taichou's cough medicine again.