An overly-gracious smile shined out from beneath straight blonde bangs.
Grimmjow Jaggerjaques found himself awestruck as he looked at the man that was currently strolling down the aisle and toward the Captain-commander's seat; he and this man had fought one time, almost twenty-five years ago. Grimmjow, along with the rest of Soul Society, had assumed the Vizards had disappeared completely after the Winter War had ended.
Yet Hirako Shinji stood before them, zanpakuto tucked into the belt of his grey slacks as he stopped in front of Unohana.
"Hirako," Unohana said, her typically mellifluous voice tinged with malice. "Why have you requested an audience before us?" Several of the lieutenants in the room began to shift their eyes nervously. An angry Unohana Retsu was not a pleasant sight.
The Vizard's smile widened as she addressed him; if he was shaken by the menacing tones in her voice, he didn't show it in the least.
"I just wanted to swing by and give you a belated congratulation on your promotion," Shinji said, his smile never faltering as he looked up at his former captain. "Retsu."
"It would be wise," Madarame Ikkaku, captain of the eleventh division, spoke up from the far end of the room, "not to waste our time with mockery."
The bald captain was standing with his eyes closed and his hands tucked into his tattered white sleeves. Grimmjow couldn't help but note the calm composure of the captain; Ikkaku was now far-removed from the hellacious brute he'd first met years ago. His captaincy had brought out a level of maturity from him that one would have been hard pressed to believe existed. But more often than not, it was Captain Madarame who played the voice of reason in tough situations.
"Of course not," Shinji said without taking his eyes off of the woman in front of him. "Time is one thing we all are short on, it would seem."
"Why have you come here, Hirako?" Unohana's voice was still calm, but the irritation was beginning to become more prevalent in it as she repeated her initial question.
"Well, Retsu," the blonde-haired exile said, his smile growing impossibly wider. "I'm gonna be blunt with you: I seem to have a problem on my hands and I was wondering if good ol' Soul Society wouldn't mind lending me a hand with it."
"Bullshit."Soi Fon hissed in front of Grimmjow, causing him to chuckle. His captain had always been pleasantly brazen with her opinions; it was one of the things he liked best about her. That and she was sexy as hell.
The rest of the room began to stir in displeasure as well. Grimmjow glanced briefly across the aisle at third division Captain Kira Izuru. He had traded his typically melancholy expression for a much more expressive one, his face twisting into sour disapproval. Behind him, Lieutenant Kurotsuchi Nemu remained as stoic as always.
"You ask us for assistance after remaining decidedly absent from the Winter War?" Unohana could no longer mask her exasperation at the former shinigami. "The Vizards, who stood idly by when Seireitei needed your aid the most, now come begging for the support you were so keen on withholding?"
"Perhaps a century was still too short a time to mend some wounds," Shinji replied without skipping a beat, his grin still peeking out from under the flat-cap that adorned his blonde head. "But I assure you that our absence from battle was not a showing of allegiance towards Aizen."
"It was simply you proving your unending bitterness?" Abarai Renji questioned from the fifth spot in line, lieutenant Kuchiki's shocked expression at her captain's words apparent on her face.
The story of the Vizards had become well-traveled after the death of Aizen Sousuke. When Captain-commander Unohana had allowed Urahara Kisuke to contest his state of exile, he'd subsequently come out with the truth behind Aizen's "hollowfication" experiments. The Vizards were absolved of all crimes in the eyes of Soul Society, and after Kurosaki Ichigo became captain of the thirteenth division, the fear of hybrid shinigami was all but abolished.
Besides, Unohana had already quelled the final trepidations of the Arrancar by taking Ulquiorra Schiffer as her lieutenant.
But despite Soul Society's admittance to its past errors, bad blood remained because of the Vizard's lack of aid during Aizen's attempt at overthrowing Seireitei. And Grimmjow could feel the loathing in the room as Hirako Shinji turned to face the tattooed captain.
"When the men and women you consider family stab youin the back," the blonde man's smile finally shattered, falling like glass into a sharp frown as he spoke to Renji, "we'll see how indefatigable yourbitterness is."
The two men held their glares for a moment longer before Shinji's grin returned and he faced the Captain-commander once more.
"I'm not asking much, Captain-commander Unohana," he said, unabashedly sprinkling formalities into his otherwise rude speech patterns. "We've just been seeing an abnormal amount of hollow activity in the transient world lately. We've tried to take care of it on our own, but they're getting stronger and stronger as time goes on. There's only the six of us anymore, and we can't be defending the real world on our own forever."
Unohana closed her eyes and sighed. The mood in the room tangibly shifted from anger to disappointment; Unohana Retsu's compassion for those in need was legendary. It was completely unheard of for her to turn down a request like this. The twin line of officers and lieutenants began to shift like cilia in a discomforting current as the Vizard before them smiled wider.
Unohana opened her eyes once more, the cold and angry orbs having been replaced by the warm and gentle ones that she was most recognized for.
"Hirako Shinji," she said mildly, but her voice maintaining a touch of authority to it. "Soul Society will consider your request for assistance. You will return to the material world as we deliberate upon a decision."
The room erupted into a faint chorus of groans and sighs, but the blonde man acted oblivious to it all. He simply smiled at the Captain-commander, bowed his head slightly, and turned to walk out of the hall.
He shot Grimmjow a smirk as he passed by.
Grimmjow snarled slightly, but the man had already walked through the room and out the enormous set of double doors. The massive wood panels swung shut behind Shinji, leaving a room filled with upset shinigami. An uneasy silence settled over the room for a few seconds as all eyes slowly drifted over to Unohana. The Captain-commander sat with her eyelids shut as she patiently awaited the inevitable outcry.
"Captain Unohana," it was Kotetsu Isane who broke the silence, her voice timid as she addressed her former captain. The Captain-commander's eyes opened at her addresser, her mouth smiling as she looked at the captain of the fourth division.
"Perhaps granting the request of the Vizard was not the most…" Captain Kotetsu paused slightly, fishing for words. "…judicious of decisions, ma'am."
"I disagree," Captain Komamura Sajin's voice boomed from the middle of the line, not allowing the Captain-commander the opportunity to respond. "The Vizards were completely within reason to abstain from the War; it was not their battle to fight. We shouldn't punish them any more than we already have."
"Aizen betrayed them also," Hisagi Shuuhei spoke up from next to the canine-like captain. "If not to a greater degree than Soul Society did. Their inactivity on both sides shows a level of cowardice and partiality that I have little desire to be associated with."
"Yes yes yes," Kurotsuchi Mayuri spoke up from the end of the lines, his black and white face paint running in geometric patterns over his skin, eerie chuckles escaping from his peculiar smile. "I would usually be inclined to agree with Captain Hisagi. However, aligning ourselves with the hybrids may be a wonderful opportunity; my data shows that by acquiring hollow powers, these shinigami stand to ascend beyond all known levels of ability. Having them in league could prove to be a wise decision." He tittered as he pointed across the aisle from himself. "We've already had oneof the half-breeds prove useful."
Ichigo simply rolled his eyes at the insult. Mayuri had been hounding him about needing blood samples and other similar secretions, all of which Ichigo had refused to provide. The orange-haired captain knew that it was only a matter of time before Captain Kurotsuchi would turn to poking and insulting. For some reason, Mayuri thought that demeaning his peers would help his various causes. Ichigo just thought it was cruel.
It had already driven his daughter to the third division.
"As much as I hate to admit it, Captain Kurotsuchi has a point." Hitsugaya Toshirou spoke up. "We could benefit greatly from their allegiance to the Gotei 13. This band of exiles—"
"But they aren't exiles anymore, Captain Hitsugaya," Soi Fon spoke up. Grimmjow knew she hated arguing against Hitsugaya. For some odd reason, one especially peculiar to him, the two were like brother and sister to one another. But he liked it when she did; her disagreements with Toshirou always brought out her desire to win. Which was another facet he loved about his captain.
"The Captain-commander has repudiated their banishment," she said, aggressively. "We've had our doors open for a while now. What more do they require from us, a formal apology?"
"It could be a start," Ikkaku spoke up again, opening his eyes to the room. "I dislike the idea of aiding the Vizards, but eventually this emotional baggage will need to end. We wronged them and they wronged us. Perhaps it's time to call an ending to the standstill."
Unohana stood before any of the other captains could respond. She smiled warmly at the room before speaking. "As I said to Hirako Shinji," she said, "we will consider his request. The captains shall meet again tomorrow morning to discuss this matter further."
She turned and walked off, Ulquiorra following her into the bowels of the first division. The rest of the room began to disperse, lieutenants falling in line behind their captains as the group of commanding officers began to file out of the room. Grimmjow grinned as the fresh air of Soul Society began to flow across his chest; once everyone left that room behind them, they were friends again.
Except for Mayuri and his lieutenant, Akon. The two of them practically sprinted back to the twelfth division after every meeting.
"Scary, scary," Ayasegawa Yumichika said as he strolled up alongside Soi Fon and her third-seat. "I thought you were going to bite poor Toshirou back there."
Soi Fon ignored Yumichika's snide comment. She knew he was making a joke, but unfortunately the dark mood of the meeting was still lingering with her. The eleventh division's lieutenant was one of the few people in Seireitei Soi Fon would consider an actual friend, but something about the appearance of the Vizard had left her slightly shaken. Yumichika, on the other hand, was not about to let her bad mood bring him down.
"Oi, Grimmjow," he said, sliding back to keep stride with the former Espada. "Some of us are going over to the ninth division to participate in a 'friendly' sparring tournament this afternoon. Are you in?" The inflection on the word friendlywas not lost on Grimmjow, causing him to grin widely.
"He can't" Soi Fon interjected before her subordinate could respond. "He has prior engagements in the second division."
Grimmjow looked at Yumichika and shrugged, his face suggesting that the decision was not his to make. Yumichika rolled his eyes and cracked an invisible whip in the air as he turned and walked the other way to rejoin Ikkaku. Grimmjow glared and extended his middle finger to the lieutenant before turning to his captain. The two second division members we soon alone as they walked along the streets of Soul Society. Grimmjow cast a glance over his shoulder before turning back to his captain, his mouth curved upwards into a vicious smirk.
"You know, Soi," he said with a teasing tone to his voice, "I've already visited the Maggot's Nest today. You don't need to be shy about it; if you want my company, all you need to do is ask."
"Grimmjow," she said, her eyes cutting over to look at him by her side, "while I am your captain, it is not my intention by any means to restrict you from participating in activities you find pleasurable." She paused as they reached the doors of the second division. She turned to face him, looking up into his blue eyes. "However, I am in an extremely foul mood. I plan on going home and indulging myself with a hot bath. If you would rather join Lieutenant Ayasegawa in pummeling other men instead of assisting your captain…" She smiled wryly and turned away from him, her silver eyes trailing as they teasingly looked into his.
"That is your decision."
Grimmjow stood outside the division entrance for a few seconds longer before smiling and following her in.
"Where's Grimmjow?" Hisagi asked as Yumichika and Ikkaku arrived at one of his training fields. "I assumed he'd get here before you guys."
"Captain Soi Fon had 'errands' for him to run," Yumichika said sarcastically, looking out at the group of ninth division fighters warming up. He sneered inwardly at the bunch; he knew a few of them to be seated officers, but nothing above an eighth seat. Members of the eleventh began to show up on the field, but they were also of low rank; Ikkaku had specifically wanted some of the weaker students to accompany them. Yumichika had a feeling that this afternoon was going to be a little more boring than he'd hoped.
"What a shame, too," Ikkaku said as he sat against a nearby tree, pulling a bottle of sake out from under his haori. "It would have been great to sic a couple of these green-gilled officers against him. Builds great character to get your ass handed to you by a third-seat." He took a swig from the bottle before tossing it to Shuuhei.
"A third seat that is easily as powerful as a captain," Hisagi commented before taking a swig of the bottle. He too sat against the large tree, enjoying the shade it cast as the sun began to fall from the top of the sky, his sleeveless haori blowing in the summer wind.
"Yeah, but these kids don't know that kinda shit yet," Ikkaku replied "These academy grads just see us as war heroes; they're probably chomping at the bit to prove themselves against one of us."
The statement was as true as gravity. The shinigami that had stopped the invasion of Aizen Sousuke a quarter-century ago were legends on paper. But none of the young men on the field had been there to see them in action. To these newcomers, the story of Captain Madarame slaughtering the entire eleventh division while under hypnosis, only to have Lieutenant Ayasegawa fight against his bankai without even properly releasing was just that. A story.
"Well," Yumichika spoke up as he finished downing some of the alcohol, "we could always get drunk and let them have a shot? It would make this afternoon a tad more interesting?"
The other two laughed as he tossed the bottle back to the head of the line, Ikkaku catching it and drinking deeply. "That's not too bad an idea, Yumi," he said with a grin. After draining more of the bottle, he stood up and walked over to the men of the two divisions, Hoozukimaruslung over his shoulder.
"Oi!" he called out to the group of men. "I have a challenge foryou runts: if any one of you can lay a finger on Lieutenant Ayasegawa, you will be bumped up a rank immediately!"
"I-Ikkaku!" Yumichika called out as Hisagi laughed.
The bald captain returned to the circle and tossed the sake bottle at his lieutenant with a wide smile. "You may want a little more of that before you get started, Yumi."
Yumichika groaned and pulled from the bottle; he knew that Ikkaku wouldn't be dissuaded from the game he was playing, so the effeminate shinigami figured he could at least try and have some fun with the competition. That, and it was a good excuse to polish of the rest of the sake. He killed the bottle and tossed it at Hisagi before jogging over to the ten shinigami in the field ahead of them.
"Hey! There's nothing left!" Hisagi called out to Yumichika, but the lieutenant was already out of earshot. "Son of a bitch."
"Okay, boys and girls," Yumichika called out as he approached the group. He could already feel the sake begin to fuzzy up his brain; this would prove to be an entertaining day, after all. "You heard the captain. If even one of you can hit me, you get a promotion. Ready?" he said, slurring slightly. "Set… Go—"
The entire cluster of black clad men leapt at him simultaneously, snapping to action nanoseconds after being given the cue. This only resulted in half of them tripping over one another as their target disappeared in a flash of shunpo. Three of the shinigami were soon pinned to the ground by kidoutriangles, their panicked eyes looking around in confusion while they struggled to free themselves. Yumichika was hovering above them, laughing softly as the other seven rushed at him in hopes that they would do better.
Ikkaku and Hisagi watched this all with passing interest. Ikkaku had already taken another bottle of sake out; Hisagi had long ago learned not to question where the bottles came from. He would simply continue to assume that Madarame kept them strapped to his belt.
"You think any of them will catch him?" Hisagi asked lazily as his fellow captain passed him the bottle. The sun was sinking lower, staining the sky with a light orange tint.
"Them? Not a chance. Yumi's way too fast for 'em." A moment of silence passed between the two captains as they observed the lieutenant ahead toying with the last two shinigami that were still unrestrained. The bottle went between the two men a few more times, the sun falling ever faster as time silently went on.
"Oi," Hisagi said, finally breaking the impasse. "You trust him?"
"I don't really care about it," Ikkaku said, not taking his eyes off the training field. "I don't see much of a reason to think the guy's trying to fuck with us, though. Bad blood aside, it should all be water under the bridge by now, right?"
Hisagi Shuuhei closed his eyes, the setting sun casting a long shadow from his body as he sat against the tree.
read "so" if you haven't already. otherwise, as you may have noticed, you'll get a little lost.
reviews are always appreciated.
halloween - dave matthews band