Note: Yes, I have multiple Naruto stories out and no, I haven't forgotten them. The current manga is so fail right now, though, that I honesty can't write for it. Black Sheep is still alive and I will finish it, I'm just waiting until I get inspired.
Bleach, on the other hand, has been nothing but win for the last month or so. That's why I'm doing this. This is Soifon-centric, so if you don't like it, and I know a lot of my regular readers won't, no hard feelings. For the rare few that will like it, enjoy my first Bleach fic!
Disclaimer: Don't own Bleach. Wish I did, though.
What an odd thing nostalgia is. Much like a record of an old song, your brain starts to play it at the strangest times when even the faintest bit of deja vu sets in. You find yourself reliving the past at the drop of a hat, unable to force your subconscious to back down, to cast away the memory. That's the strange thing about your brain, though. It has a mind of its own. It is in constant battle with the "you" that lives on as a ghost inside itself and the "you" that is living in the real world.
These were the thoughts that were going through Fon Shaolin's mind as she stood before the assembled ranks of the Onmitsukido.
Just a few hours previously she had been in the fight of her life against the other division commanders. At stake was the recommendation from the entire second division for the position of captain. Of course, she would still have to go through the proper channels, but Soifon, as she is known to the division, wasn't worried. Only resigned and resolute to this path. The fights had been nothing but a warm up to the slight-looking woman. Just another stepping stone to her goal: Yoruichi. To surpass the woman who had stolen everything from her, and then crushed it without remorse all those years ago. Silently, without betraying any emotion, Soifon again cursed herself for getting reminiscent upon seeing the entire Second Division in rank and file like it was now. Such a thing hadn't happened since...
"...Vice Captain Soifon, are you listening?" The condescending voice of the second squad captain brought the girl's attention back to the present. He had been one of the first to fall in the four-way melee. "As I was saying, we have submitted the petition to the Commander-General." Soifon almost smirked at the difficulty her soon-to-be subordinate was having actually getting through the speech.
The date for her captain examination had already been set and the petition was just a formality at this point. She, as the former lieutenant and acting captain, would have gotten a chance to prove herself regardless of the little inner-division squabble. Soifon had been the one to suggest it, simply because Yoruichi had argued against such things during her tenure. Petty to be sure, but it made the young girl feel better.
With the formalities over with, the little conclave was dismissed. The third squad captain couldn't be away from Maggots Nest for too long, after all. Thinking of that accursed place was enough to make Soifon frown. That...person had been the former third squad leader, the person that had...no, no need to drag even more bad memories up again. With little more than a look back at the members filing out of the massive hall, Soifon retired to her own quarters.
Once, a long time removed, her commander had inhabited them. Now the spacious living area was converted into a training gym; being the acting commander had its perks after all. Deeper into the compound was Yoruichi's personal bedroom. It was in much the same state as it had been when said woman had left fifty years prior, excepting a few more...decorations. The large bed was still in an immaculate state and the closets still full of the Shihoin House's ceremonial robes. As much as she wanted to toss them out or burn everything in a bonfire of hatred, Soifon had always put it off for another day.
Ignoring the relics of happier times, the acting Captain of the Second Division slipped out of her shinigami uniform and headed straight for the showers. Not that she really needed it, of course. Soifon had long outpaced her rivals in the division so the earlier fight wasn't even a good warm-up. However, she was restless for some reason and that always made her muscles and joints far too tense. She actually decided to indulge herself for once and opted to take a bath in the sprawling spa, ignoring the small shower that had been installed some time after the original bath had been built.
Water, much like memories, washed over the slight woman. The spa, which was easily the size of a communal bath that the lesser ranks had to share, allowed Soifon ample room to simply drift. So much had happened in the last few weeks. There were several new captains that had been recently named. The Third, Sixth, Seventh, Ninth, and Twelfth Divisions had all lost their captains after the great betrayal. Until recently, their day-to-day running had been shared among the older leaders. The Second Division, as secretive and obtuse as it was, managed to find a replacement from within its own ranks.
Soifon wondered if she was ready for such a responsibility. Perhaps she'd crack under the pressure like Yoruichi had done? Idle spoculation had never been a hobby of hers, though, so Soifon didn't allow herself too much time to dwell upon the thought. There were rules and they would be followed. Rules and regulation, it was with those that the young girl found a common thread with Kuchiki Byakuya, as loath as she was to admit it. There had been...rumors...about his involvement with Yoruichi that had gotten on Soifon's nerves over the years. However, after getting married, he had become much colder and such gossips had been silenced. Though, Yoruichi had spent quite a lot of time at the Kuchiki residence over the years...
That thought left a bitter taste in the Soifon's mouth and she abruptly stood up in the water. Things like personal attachments should mean nothing once you pass through the gate into Seireitei. Once you don the shinigami uniform, attachments become useless, as time and experience had taught her. The only absolute in this place was the law.
Away from the eyes of others, Soifon allowed herself a mirthless chuckle. "And people dare say I have no personal philosophy," she stated in a low, subdued voice. Actually, most everyone thought she was some kind of a robot the Twelfth Division had cooked up because of the lack of viable captain candidates. As if that psychopath that had somehow wormed his way up the ranks to Captain, Kurotsuchi Mayuri, could be bothered to actually make something useful. "If only I had been recommended as captain a year ago, I could have had a chance to deny that criminal such influence," Soifon groused. There were many things that she would have liked to prevent in her lifetime. Being born into the Fon house, being a member of the Second Division, ever meeting that woman...
"Ridiculous musings not fit to be dwelt upon," Soifon told herself as she rose from the water, her emotionless mask going back into place as swiftly as it had relented. The bath must have had some affect on her judgment, best to have it removed upon becoming Captain. Near the towels, Soifon found her evening robes and slipped them on, poignantly ignored the other set sitting next to them. Yet another thing to be removed as soon as possible.
Back in the main bedroom, a small insect was waiting on the small Vice Captain. At once, Soifon held out a finger for the Hell's Butterfly to rest on so it could relay it's message. Without any apparent motions or kido, the tiny messenger began it's mission. No words were able to be heard by anyone outside Soifon's own mind, such was the genius of the creatures. The only outward appearance that anything was going on was Soifon's lips tightening into a grim line. Its work done, the butterfly fluttered off out of a nearby window, leaving the message's recipient to her own devices.
Soifon wrapped her arms around her herself as she watched the creature take to the skies. This was only a momentary laps in her demeanor, as she soon closed the window completely. With that same emotionless expression in place, Soifon walked over to Yoruichi's former bed and, after spending a short moment simply looking at it, as she always did, bent down to retrieve her own futon from beneath it. The bedding looked to be as old as Soifon herself, it's once yellow sheets worn into a dull, but sturdy, gray. The vice captain pulled the futon until it was exactly two paces away from the large bed and slipped under the top covering. This is the way it had always been ever since she had first been assigned to Yoruichi's personal guard.
"So, they've moved the test up to tomorrow." It wasn't so much a question as it was Soifon informing herself out loud. Everything would change tomorrow. Just for tonight, for the first time in four decades, Soifon allowed her mind to replay the memory of a softly-snoring Yoruichi sleeping slightly to her right. Just to allow herself a decent nights sleep, the soon-to-be captain told herself as she drifted off.
As always, Soifon arose slightly before the crack of dawn. Also as per her usual habit, her zanpaktu was at the ready. Instead of fighting the old pre-dawn ritual, however, the small woman had embraced it and made her usual rounds through the Second Division's offices, searching for threats to a master that had long-since departed. She watched the night guard switch out with a small sense of satisfaction. Inner-Division guards was an idea she herself had spearheaded and it had been adopted by several other divisions. From among the division's own ranks, those judged to be the loyalist shinigami were to weed-out traitors and spies. Already, the Maggots Nest had to be expanded several times to accommodate the new trash that had been caught and Soul Society was all the better for it. One day, Soifon hoped to house a very special prisoner there, if only until her execution. That would be the only day she would allow herself to feel a true measure of fulfillment.
Life, however, caught up with the vice captain all too quickly. With her vice captain's badge on and her zanpakuto strapped to her back, Soifon left the safety and familiarity of her headquarters for the grand meeting hall in Seireitei where she would be tested. Inside, the Commander-General, Yamamoto, was lounging about on his small chair, idly chatting with his lieutenant. When he noticed Soifon, he perked up and made a motion for her to approach. As she did, Soifon could feel the aged captain start to loosen his control on the spiritual pressure he was admitting.
Simply being in this man's presence had always been taxing on her, even with the comfortable reitsu of her former captain wrapped around her. Now, though, it was lapping at her like an ocean against a tiny stone, eroding her to the point that all of Soifon's concentration was focused on simply staying aware and cogent. Soifon wondered how Yamamoto's Vice Captain could stand being near him like this.
Amused by the tiny struggles of the girl before him, the elderly general motioned for Soifon to approach him even further until she was standing before him. He examined her, not in the sense of a man examining a woman, but in a way that made Soifon feel as though she were a blacksmith's blade haven been freshly pulled from the forge. "Dull, but still a weapon," he mumbled. The old Captain hacked a bit and raised his voice. "Vice Captain Fon Shaolin, you are here to take a captain examination, are you not?"
It was all Soifon could do just to nod.
Just that effortlessly, Yamamoto reined in his reitsu. The loss of pressure was so sudden, Soifon actually stumbled forward. When she looked back up at the general, he was slightly smiling and the Vice Captain was given the impression that answering him was simply a test.
"The two other captains who will be supervising this examination will be along shortly," Yamamoto explained. "The test will be given in three parts: First, you will have to demonstrate your mastery of your ban release. Secondly, you will answer a battery of questions from your examiners. Finally, there will be an examination of your record as a seated officer of the Second Division. Normally, your own division captain would be called to testify, but..." he trailed off, not having to mention that Yoruichi had turned traitor. "Well, we can complete the first part now before the other two get there. I expected them to be late, anyhow." Yamamoto paused, giving the young girl an even look before continuing. "Is this space adequate for your bankai or should we move outside?"
Soifon took a calming breath and looked around. With the vaulted ceiling and wide space, she shouldn't be too cramped. "This place will suffice, Commander-General," Soifon stated as she drew her sword.
Several buildings over, a pair of shinigami paused in their purposeful stride towards the captain's meeting hall. There was a spike of reitsu that surprised them. One of the two, a man who looked to be in his forties, sighed with a smile and tipped his bamboo hat. "Looks like the old man has started the examination early. Don't you think so, Dai-sempai?"
Retsu Unohana, captain of the Fourth Division, gave a small look to her companion. "We graduated the Academy many centuries ago, Shunshui. You need not call me that any longer," she responded. Still, the captain of the Eight Division had a point. It did seem as though the Commander-General had began the examination without them. "I'm sure that General Yamamoto planned on us being late. Let us not keep him waiting any longer."
"So, what do you know about this girl that wants to take on Yoruichi's spot?" Shunshui asked as he walked on, unrushed. That old man was going to do what he wanted anyway so being a little later than planned would be fine. Probably.
Unohana sighed and matched pace with her old classmate. Thinking over his question, she could only remember vague things about the girl. "Fon Shaolin...she was Yoruichi's former second so her ability should prove to be a competent captain. I remember her coming to my division quite a bit for healing, most of the time with Yoruichi herself tagging along." The older woman's smile grew wider upon remembering the scolding the former Shihoin princess would heap upon Shaolin every time she would accompany the poor girl. "Most of those injuries were from protecting her captain. That shows devotion to the Gotei 13."
"I'm sure old man Yamamoto will love to hear that when we get to the question portion." Shunshui laughed as the pair finally arrived at the grand doors leading into the meeting hall.
Upon entering, they weren't surprised to find Soifon resting off to the side. For her, someone who had only achieved ban release in the last decade, maintaining bankai and then releasing it multiple times, as the test required, was fairly taxing. The girl didn't look too tired, though.
Yamamoto raised a woolly eyebrow at the lateness of the two. Shunshui he could understand, but Unohana? "I'm glad you two could finally join us. You are just in time for the second part of the exam."
Soifon acknowledged her superiors with a stiff bow, much as she had done for years when she would be invited by Yoruichi to sit in on a captain's meeting. "Kyoraku-sama, Retsu-sama, thank you for attending my examination." The thanks was rigid and not sincere at all, but it was polite for someone of a lesser house to thank those of the higher breeding for their time.
Not to be rude herself, Unohana bowed back with a smile while Shunshui only chuckled. They both took their places on either side of the Commander-General to begin the second part of the examination. Now rested, Soifon stood before the trio and awaited their questions.
It was the Commander that took the floor first. "Fon Shaolin, what is your opinion of the current state of affairs in Soul Society?" It was a standard, but important question. For someone as prominent as Yamamoto himself to ask you what your opinion was about his business was an indicator that you were now worth his time.
It was a great honor for the slight young woman.
"It is weak."
Of course, honor would not make Soifon hold her tongue. Not anymore. "We have had several prominent captains desert their posts in the last century. Soul Society is bordering on lawlessness with former criminals being given the highest posts and the standard for excellence that the Gotei 13 had been known for is being tarnished."
"And how would you fix it?" Yamamoto challenged, not insulted in the least.
"I would eliminate the position of Kenpachi and expand the rules governing the Maggots Nest," Soifon immediately answered. "Anyone who uses their position for personal gain or enjoyment is not fit to wear the robes of captain."
Surprisingly, it was Shunshui who spoke up next. "There are those that say that the Second Division is full of murderers, assassins, thugs, and nobles who only care for their reputation. How do you answer them?" Indeed, that was the way most of Soul Society saw the Second Division.
Soifon's eyes grew colder as she stared at the laid-back man. "Soul Society only exists by the sword of the Second Division. We guard those that would do us harm, we destroy hollows that would otherwise rampage unchecked, and we silence what harms the great machine that is the Gotei 13. You can not exist but for us." It was a scathing critique to be sure. "And undeserved nobility should be expunged with prejudice," she added with such a hateful tone that even Yamamoto raised an eyebrow.
"What, then, would you do with your former captain should you find her?" Unohana asked, effectively slaying the giant elephant in the room with a single question. Even Shunshui, the man with no tact, look surprised at the bluntness of the question.
For a moment, Soifon just stared at the older woman with a completely blank face. Then, slowly, a feral snarl sprang from her lips, encompassing most of her visage. Her eyes became shrouded in the shadows her lowered eyebrows provided and her lips curled, showing her accented canines. "I will kill her with my own two hands." There was not a hint of boasting or threat in her voice, only a promise carved from the stone her heart was made from.
Unohana's eyes widened at the blunt answer. "You would so easily kill your former captain?" she asked. "You seemed so happy with being Yoruichi's lieutenant from what I saw."
"My...happiness...was only dirived from serving a captain in the Gotei 13," Soifon fired back. "Any obligation to that woman was severed when she cut her ties with the Commander-General." The young woman didn't offer any further explanation and awaited the next question. A question Unohana looked ready to deliver.
Yamamoto, however, raised his hand to cut the other captain off. "Well now, I believe that will conclude the second portion of the examination." In actuality, the examinee looked ready to spontaneously combust on the spot. "Will Miss Shaolin please follow my lieutenant out into the waiting area? We will be reviewing your record in a closed session of the examination."
Dutifully, Soifon bowed and followed the quiet vice captain out into the adjunct hallway. When the large door slammed shut, Shunshui let out a long, low whistle. "That little lady is carrying around a lot of emotional baggage. How did she ever get into the Second Division? Don't you have to bottle things up there?"
"She's dangerous and unstable," Unohana sighed. "But loyal to a fault. I don't think she will ever think outside the box again after what she believes she's been through." A mindless robot, dedicated to the will of Soul Society. A potentially dangerous thing, but also an alternative to the rash of desertions among the Captains.
Yamamoto quietly laughed and tapped his cane on the hard floors. "Her record is admirable, her loyalty unshakable, and her devotion unquestionable. In my opinion, she would be a far more desirable captain than her predecessor. Yoruichi was like a stray cat, as was Kisuke." The old man seemed to be getting worked up and his shoulders shook with agitation. "To say nothing of them, the other deserters that have left so many divisions in confusion alone show that we need more captains with Fon Shaolin's mindset."
Unohana turned to fully look at her former teacher. "So you are set then? You will hand over the Second Division to this girl?" she asked. "Yes, she is one of the most loyal shinigami I have seen, but if it comes down to doing her duty or getting revenge upon Yoruichi, which do you believe she will pick? Worse yet, what if Yoruichi and Kisuke wish to do actual harm to Soul Society? If they turn her, we could lose yet another captain." That gave the old general pause and he sighed as he stroked his bead.
"Ah, I have a simple solution!" Shunshui said with a snap of his fingers. Sometimes his brain did make an appearance when it wasn't drowned in sake. "Since she's bent on capturing Yoruichi, why not make that a part of her job? The Second Division is good with things like that, anyway." It was a simple solution, but often times the most direct decision was the better one.
"That's quite ingenious," Yamamoto agreed. "Fon Shaolin would be the perfect person to head such an enterprise. Kisuke Urahara and Shihoin Yoruichi would be the focus of the orders, but other traitors would undoubtedly be rooted out in the investigation...you didn't have anything to drink today, did you?" A guilty flinch from Shunshui proved him correct.
Soifon, never one for idle banter, stood quietly outside the great hall. Her companion, the first division's vice captain, didn't look to be into small talk as well. Suited her just fine. When the booming voice of Yamamoto beckoned her to reenter, she didn't hesitate. She noticed that Shunshui looked quite pleased with himself while Unohana had a small frown. Who knew what that could mean.
Clearing his throat yet again, Yamamoto rose from his chair and approached Soifon. The girl instantly bowed to one knee, but a worn and weathered hand rested on her shoulder to guide her back to her feet. "Fon Shaolin, it is the opinion of the three captains in attendance that you should be recognized as the captain of the Second Division. This edict goes out immediately and is given by myself with the full authority of the Central 46 Chambers."
Stunned, Soifon had nothing to say. It was one thing to talk about becoming a captain, to preform the duties of her former captain, and even to be acting captain...but to be one of the thirteen...for someone of her station... It was overwhelming. But, Yamamoto didn't stop there.
"In addition, based on your person experience with matters of loyalty and order, the Second Division is to be given a new directive." The aged commander stood tall, his face looming over the new captain. Not in a menacing way, but it was obvious he took these words very seriously. "You are hereby given full authority to conduct an investigation into the whereabouts of former Captains Kisuke Urahara, Hirako Shinji, Muguruma Kensei, Rose, Aigawa Love, and Shihoin Yoruichi. Once found, you will have jurisdiction over their capture, interrogate, and...execution."
Sweeter words, Fon Shaolin had never heard.