Wow... two hundred reviews... When I started this story, I never imagined it would go this far. Thank you to everyone who has ever reviewed:
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I would like to give special thanks to FlareKnight who has never failed to notice the little things I throw in there just for fun and of course, Racheal Noelle, who has been with me since the beginning. You rock!
And now, finally, the newest chapter. It's a bit short, but hopefully it will make up for that in content. Read on!
Ukitake moved as if to stop the fight, but Aizen held out a hand and stopped the older captain in his tracks. Ukitake glanced at the Captain Commander who merely nodded at Aizen. His face furrowed, Ukitake stepped back in line and turned his eyes on the third division captain.
Sora had barely managed to deflect the captain's zanpaktou in time. It glanced off the top of the tessen and the harsh screech of metal on metal filled the air. She ducked under his next swing just a little late and Ichimaru's sword sliced through one of Sora's sleeves. She jumped back.
"Why-" Ichimaru ignored her protests attacked again. Sora held up the fan and it snapped closed against the force of the captain's strike. She flicked her wrist, sending it flying open again and then did a complex spin, slashing out with the edge of the fan. Ichimaru flashed away, causing Sora to growl in frustration.
"We have to stop them, before Sora gets hurt," Hitsugaya hissed to Hinamori.
"You saw the captain commander, he approves," Hinamori whispered back. "I daren't interfere and it would be idiotic for you to. And technically there's nothing odd about it. There's no rule against captains sparring with people. Plus didn't Captain Ichimaru practice with you in class?"
Hitsugaya wished he hadn't told Hinamori about his run in with one of the most powerful people in Seireitei. "But this is different," he demanded. "Sora just accomplished shikai, she doesn't know how to use her zanpaktou's new form. She'll kill herself – if Captain Ichimaru doesn't first!"
"You don't know that," Hinamori reasoned. "Plus I doubt anyone is going to die with Captain Unohana standing right there." Hitsugaya glanced at the fight again and Hinamori grabbed his arm. "Don't."
A cluster of girls had squeaked and jumped out of the way as Sora staggered backwards under a particularly vicious blow. So far she had managed to block most of Ichimaru's blows, and jumped out of the way when she couldn't. She was beginning to get the hang of how to hold the tessen and how to block most thrusts. But it wasn't enough against a practiced shinigami who had mastered their weapon. Her sleeves were now tattered and her obi had long since come untied.
The captain, however, seemed oblivious to her obvious discomfort and continued to –a strike, diagonal, streaking towards her face, only just barely being parried by the open fan – then another blow too quick to see, curving and twisting like some hideous snake – barely dodging, a wild swing of the fan cuts across her opponent's chest, slicing deep into the white haori, though missing the flesh. If anything, her attack only caused Ichimaru to grin wider, his smile stretching impossibly across his face.
Sora however, ignored her opponent's face and focused instead on his torso. When she saw the slight twitch of his chest that gave away which direction he would hit next, she twisted and bowed below his arm, fan scoring a shallow gash near Ichimaru's hip. The captain laughed and held his short katana out, pointing it away from Sora. She crouched and held her zanpaktou up in a guard. Ichimaru crouched, spun, and pointed his zanpaktou directly at Sora shouting, "Shoot to kill, Shinso!"
The sword glowed and then burst forward, the blade extending directly towards Sora's heart. The girl jumped away and changed the katana's path with her tessen. But it wasn't enough and Shinso cut through her uniform and cut a path along the top of her right shoulder. Sora staggered backwards, cluching the wound with her left hand. Blood seeped through her fingers. Ichimaru's expression remained impassive and he stalked forward, pointing his zanpaktou at the girl who gazed at her assailent with a mixture of confusion and anger.
"No!" a distressed yell made both student and captain glance around, startled. Hinamori was pressing through the crowd of students. Sora fell to the ground and Ichimaru lifted his sword to block the boy's, his elegant 's' shaped hilt locking with the four-pointed star one.
"Toshiro, no!" Hinamori yelled again, but her friend ignored her.
"Sit upon the frozen heavens, Hyourinmaru!" Hitsugaya swung Hyourinmaru in a figure eight, causing the half-moon blade to flip around and score Ichimaru across the cheek.
The skies darkened and the spectators, students and captains alike shivered as the atmosphere cracked and sent a fleeting chill across the field. It began to mist as clouds drew together above the boy with white hair. His icy gaze pierced Ichimaru who seemed taken aback. But the expression vanished in an instant and he pointed his zanpaktou at his new opponent. It shot across the distance between them like a bullet. But Hitsugaya, unlike Sora managed to shunpo away quickly enough, appearing behind Ichimaru. He lifted his zanpaktou – Ichimaru wouldn't be able to turn in time would he –
"Stop," intoned the captain commander. Ichimaru and Hitsugaya froze. Everyone was staring at them – staring at Hitsugaya. Realizing what he had just done, Hitsugaya blanched. He had attacked a captain. He quickly sheathed his zanpaktou and many of the students sighed in relief as the pressure in the air from the weather and the combatants' reiatsu vanished. Hitsugaya's knees gave way. While his attack had seemed smooth and effortless, it had taken a lot out of him. Even when he had sparred Ichimaru in class, the captain hadn't been as good as now.
"What do you have to say for yourself?" boomed the captain commander. "I have been lenient with you before-" Hitsugaya winced, catching Matsumoto's sheepish gaze. "- but this time you have gone too far-"
"Please 'tain Commander," Ichimaru bowed mockingly to the old man before moving to stand infront of Hitsugaya. "'tis my fault. We 'ad an 'pointment and Mr. Hitsugaya here just jump' the gun, that' all." Ichimaru turned around and winked at the boy behind him. Hitsugaya shivered. The last thing he wanted was to owe Ichimaru a favor and the captain saving him from the captain commander's wrath definitely counted as such. He ignored the captains' discussion and crawled over to Sora who was being cradled in Hinamori's arms.
"You idiot," muttered Sora. Her face was white and from the stained grass, it seemed she had lost quite a bit of blood. "I can take care of myself."
"What were you thinking 'shiro?" demanded Hinamori. "You could've… could've…"
"Died? Been injured? Scarred for life?" Hitsugaya supplied sarcastically. He turned his gaze on Sora. "And you're welcome." He stalked away. He was met with whispers as he maneuvered through the crowd. But he was past caring what other people thought of him. Matsumoto caught up with him.
"Are you ok?"
He nodded stiffly.
"Well, the captain commander wants to talk to you," she said apologetically. "I'm sorry Toshiro. If I hadn't dragged you along on my trip to the living world..."
"Don't," he mumbled. "If I remember correctly, I was the one who insisted on coming with you. It's not your fault."
He followed Matsumoto until he was back before the captains. He bowed.
"Hitsugaya Toshiro," the captain commander's face was impossible to read. "You have attacked a captain of the Gotei 13 without provocation."
"There was provocation," said Hitsugaya muttered under his breath, but nobody heard him.
"Said captain has vouched for you nevertheless, but be warned. If any more instances like this reach my ears, then the repercussions will be severe."
"None will," Hitsugaya said emotionlessly. Will reach your ears, he thought.
The rest of the evening wasn't particularly eventful. Isane healed Sora's shoulder and Ichimaru's gashes. Hitsugaya watched smugly as the captain flinched against the healing magic applied by the vice captain. He hadn't even gotten hurt. Ichimaru Gin still disturbed him and he didn't trust the man not to do something crazy. And he worried what the captain would demand in payment for the favor he had so unwillingly thrust upon Hitsugaya.
Sora and Hitsugaya remained at odds through Sora's birthday on the tenth of June, but made up when Hitsugaya finally swallowed his pride and Sora finally stopped yelling at Hitsugaya long enough to let him apologize. But their friendship was fragile and the approaching graduation in less than a week made everyone nervous and excited. They had one week to decide which squad to join.
On the morning of graduation, Hinamori woke Sora and Hitsugaya up early and helped them get ready. Sora's hair had grown out enough that she could put it up and she wore her zanpaktou belted at her waist. The girls attacked Hitsugaya with hair brushes trying to get his unruly hair to stop sticking up in every direction, but failed miserably. They ate breakfast together and then went out to the main courtyard where chairs had been set up. The students filed in and sat in alphabetical order.
The ceremony had very little pomp and circumstance. On stage there were the captains of each squad. There were a few speeches from the teachers and Ukitake and then Ukitake began to read out the names of the graduates. There were only twenty-six graduates. Each went up on the stage and was handed a diploma certifying they had graduated because they had obtained all the essential skills required for a shinigami, and then they went to stand with the representative. When Hitsugaya's name was called, he went to stand with Kiyone and Sentaro who were handling the thirteenth squad's new members as Ukitake read names. By the time Ukitake got to Sora's name, the first, second, seventh, ninth, and twelfth squads had all gained a member. The eleventh and fifth had gained two, and the fourth and eighth had gained four apiece. Sora accepted the certificate from Ukitake with a slight bow and went to stand with Gin Ichimaru. They exchanged a grin and began to chat amiably. Hitsugaya tried to catch her eye, but she had carefully positioned herself so her back was to him. After the twenty-sixth student was called, the captains dispersed to go and show the new shinigami their quarters.
Hitsugaya was the only new member of the thirteenth squad. After going to his dorm room one last time to get his few belongings, Kiyone and Sentaro led him to the thirteenth division barracks, explaining that only seated officers got their own rooms. One glance at the barracks and the strange looks the other shinigami were giving Hitsugaya caused the boy to vow to become a seated officer as soon as possible. The third seats left him with a reminder that Ukitake would want to talk to him in an hour.
Hitsugaya's new home was Building C, one of four buildings for unseated members of the thirteenth squad. Each building was divided into two sections, one for women and one for men. With each building somewhere between thirty to forty shinigami were housed. Hitsugaya was one of twenty-eight men in their room. He had been assigned the bottom bunk of a bunk bed in the corner farthest from the door. It had only been a few seconds since the third seats had left him and he was already feeling claustrophobic.
It was the middle of the day so only three other men were in the barracks. But the near empty room did nothing to reduce Hitsugaya's embarrassment as he changed into his new black shinigami uniform and slung his zanpaktou across his back. Hyourinmaru's comforting weight calmed him and he turned around. The three men were staring at him unashamedly and Hitsugaya suddenly felt naked even though, after a quick glance downwards, he discovered he was quite entirely clothed. After locking his belongings in the locker near his bunk, he hurried out into the sunlight, the gazes of his now fellow shinigami scorching his back.
The thirteenth division's area included a buildings for each of the seated officers, offices for the seated shinigami, barracks for the unseated, two mess halls, a small bath house (there were several bigger ones unaffiliated with any squad), three practice areas, a three-story practice hall, a lake, and a huge garden surrounding a greenhouse. Hitsugaya was on his way to Ukitake's office when he almost ran into a small girl with jet black hair indigo eyes. She was exiting one of the small houses that belonged to the seated officers.
He greeted her with a bow.
"I wasn't aware you were a seated officer, I'm sorry ma'am," he said to Rukia, watching her reaction. Her eyes hardened and a small twitch of her sleeve brought Hitsugaya's eyes down to her clenched fists. Then she sighed and relaxed.
"I'm not," she said, through her teeth. She tried to smile at him, but it was more of a grimace than a smile.
He was cut off as Kiyone and Sentaro came bounding up to them. They practically dragged Hitsugaya away and in the direction of Ukitake's office shouting things like 'Captain wants me to take him!' and 'But Captain believes I am the better one for fetching new recruits!' and such. Hitsugaya waved weakly at Rukia who frankly, seemed quite relieved to see him go. It appeared he would have to learn about Rukia's circumstances later, a mystery to ponder on a rainy day.
He was brought, or rather shoved, before Captain Jushiro Ukitake by his pair of enthusiastic officers.
"We have brought you Titsugaya Hoshiro, Captain Ukitake sir," Kiyone announced regally.
"You idiot, it's not Titsugaya," Sentaro said with an air of importance. "His name is Hitsugaya Shiro!"
"It is not!"
"It is too! I heard that girl from the fifth division call him that!"
"But Captain called him Titsugaya Hoshiro! I know he did."
"That is enough, thank you," Ukitake told his subordinates sternly, though his eyes twinkled. "You did wonderfully. Do you think you could go and check on Jinsoku and Sessoku? I hear they've gotten into yet another fight."
"Yes sir, Captain sir!" Sentaro saluted. Kiyone bowed furiously and they dashed from the room. Hitsugaya raised an eyebrow at the Captain whose face was twisted somewhere between a look of disbelieving amusement and utter confusion.
"Excuse me sir, but 'Titsugaya'?"
Ukitake let out a long suffering moan and gave Hitsugaya an apologetic look.
"I'm sorry Toshiro, but even I can not curb their boundless energy. Only direct it."
"Are they always like that sir?"
"More often than not."
"Charming," Hitsugaya's tone indicated he thought anything but. "So what was it that you needed to talk to me about?"
"Nothing much," Ukitake shrugged. "I just wanted to welcome you to the Thirteenth Division. I know it wasn't your first choice, but I hope you like it here. Of course you can always transfer if you can convince one of the other captains." Seeing the skeptical look on the boy's face, Ukitake added, "I won't mind. Of course I'd love to have you here in my squad, but it is your decision and I wouldn't dislike you for following your own path."
"Thank you sir," Hitsugaya said stiffly. "If that's everything…"
"Actually," Ukitake said, standing up. "I could show you around the practice areas and courts. Unless you want Kiyone or Sentaro…"
"No, thank you," Hitsugaya said fervently. Ukitake chuckled.
"Well let's go then. I'll introduce you to your fellows."
They exited his office and began to walk towards the walls when Hinamori flashed into being before them. She was panting.
"Err…" she stuttered. "'shiro, you better come. I'm afraid Sora's gone quite insane."
Hehe. Hopefully this wasn't too horrible. I think I missed a few typos, but I'm too tired to go back and check. Right now I'm thinking about how much longer I want this story to go. Whether I want to end it, or just keep it open in case I want to keep going. I'll definately do at least a few more chapters, but unless I get some sort of message that people want me to keep writing, I think I'll put this aside for awhile and work on something else. There are dozens of ideas buzzing in my head.