Story Title: Through the Eyes of a General
Summary: A collection of one-shots about or in the point of view of Yamamoto Soutaichou. My attempt at portraying the General of the Gotei 13 in a more sympathetic manner than is usually found.

Author's Note 1: I'm probably one of the only people, if not THE only person, who will say this, but I like Yamamoto. And not in a love to hate him sort of way. The only time I've every really felt angry toward him was when he was fighting with Ukitake and Kyouraku after the aborted execution. Even then I was only mad because he wasn't letting them explain themselves, and I could actually understand why, given that he must have been feeling pretty betrayed. With every other decision/action he's made (yes, including Rukia's execution and abandoning Inoue), I've understood his reasoning completely, and even felt I might have done the same had I been in his position. Maybe I'm a little too rule-oriented... Anyway, I'm sick of seeing him portrayed as a heartless bastard in fanfics, since I honestly don't believe he is one. As such, this fic will be my attempt to give Yamamoto credible reasons for his actions, while still portraying him in a sympathetic way. Some of the chapters may seem highly unusual, especially to people used to hating him, but hopefully you'll enjoy them anyway. And maybe some people might come to hate him a little less.

Chapter Title: Young Love
Author: Saigo no Hajime
Summary: The tragic story of Yamamoto's first and only love, and how it affected his decisions concerning Kurosaki Ichigo.
Genre: Romance/Tragedy
Disclaimer: Bleach is not that's a tragedy!
Author's Note 2: I'll never allow myself to directly contradict canon information, since that would destroy the point of what I'm trying to do, but some chapters may seem like a pretty long leap of logic. This first chapter is one of these. It isn't impossible, though, and while the circumstances might seem far-fetched, I believe the characterization works completely. Please let me know what you think, though. I adore reviews, and will personally thank every reviewer (signed, at least) with a response. Well, anyway, I hope you enjoy the story!

Contrary to popular belief, it was Yamamoto who came up with the idea to make Kurosaki Ichigo a Substitute Shinigami. Most people, even the other Taichou, believed it had been Ukitake's plan. Even Ukitake himself believed that. The sickly Taichou had spent the week after Aizen's betrayal eagerly researching some way to reward Ichigo for his actions in saving Rukia and, indirectly, Soul Society itself. As he searched the library, he had stumbled on a picture of a long dead human woman. Studying the heavily abridged records, he found that she had been the first and only Substitute Shinigami. He had immediately thought of giving Ichigo the same position, and had presented the suggestion at the next Captain's meeting with clear delight.

What none of them realized was that Yamamoto had planted that picture for Ukitake to find. It would never have been discovered otherwise. The venerable Soutaichou had deliberately removed all record of the original Substitute's existence from public view. She was both his greatest pride and his deepest shame. She was the reason the loaning of power to a human had been forbidden. And she was the one woman Yamamoto Genryuusai Shigekuni had ever loved.

He had met her back when he was merely the youngest son of a minor noble family and the newest member of the Shinigami Corps. In that long ago time, there had not been a Gotei 13, and the shinigami were not divided into divisions. All male nobles with spiritual energy were recruited into the Corps, regardless of desire, and to refuse was to bring the deepest shame to their family. No citizens of the Rukongai were allowed anywhere near the Seireitei, much less accepted as shinigami. It didn't matter how powerful or skilled or intelligent they might be, the commoners were too lowly to associate with the upper class. And females of both classes were considered too weak to fight.

There was also no Academy. Until one entered the Corps, training was run entirely by the aspiring noble's family. As the youngest of six, all of which possessed spiritual energy, Yamamoto Genryuusai had received the least attention of the family trainers. Thus when he entered the Corps, he had very little skill in the shinigami arts. His raw power, on the other hand, was incredibly strong, and it was for that reason that he was immediately sent on a mission to the living world.

And it was there that he met her: Shiroki Masaki, the 19-year-old daughter of a samurai lord. She was a beautiful young woman with long, thick, golden orange hair, and spirit power that was off the charts. She was a strong woman, always laughing, always encouraging, and always doing her best to keep her loved ones happy and safe. Genryuusai was smitten the instant he laid eyes on her.

In those days, there was no such thing as a gigai. Genryuusai thought nothing of following Masaki, watching her and protecting her from the hollows attracted to her power, because he honestly believed she was unaware of his presence. What he didn't realize was that she was watching him also. She had seen him arrive, jumping out of a round portal in the middle of the sky. She had seen him fight the hollows, and though he was able to win, she was also able to see how poor a swordsman he was.

Masaki had long since learned the way of the sword. She hated fighting, but she hated seeing people hurt more, and with a sword she could defend them. She needed to defend herself too, from the people who saw her unusual golden hair and whispered that she must be cursed. She had been able to see hollows for as long as she could remember. But she had never been able to fight one herself. And her courage had always failed her when she thought of approaching the men in black kimonos to ask if they would teach her. But this man, young and handsome and so vibrant with power that she could actually feel his presence without seeing him, she thought she could speak to.

And she was right. She approached Genryuusai one moonlit night, finding him resting in her family's rice field. And infatuated as he was, the young shinigami immediately agreed to her deal: teach her how to fight hollows, and she would teach him the proper form for sword fighting. He immediately started showing Masaki how to tap into her power, and she began to drill him in basic forms. But Genryuusai wanted more. He could see that she was a fantastic swordswoman, and he wanted desperately to give her the incredibly euphoric sensation of having a sword that was a very extension of your soul. So he started to spend his returns to Seireitei studying in the libraries, searching for a way to offer her that joy. And finally, almost two years later, he found one.

The next time he saw his young lover, for that was what Masaki was now, the two of them having given in to the passions of their bodies and hearts some months before, he eagerly explained what he wanted to do. Masaki was overjoyed as well, for she had envied Genryuusai's growing bond with his zanpakuto. That very night, he very carefully transferred half of his power to her. He knew it would only take that much to stimulate her natural power, and unlike Kuchiki Rukia's attempt far off in the future, it worked perfectly.

That night, they slept together once more, only this time they were both in spiritual form, and the passion and beauty and love they felt far exceeded anything they had ever experienced before. Three months later, there could be no doubt that their union had produced a child. Both Masaki and Genryuusai were ecstatic, but they wanted their union to be official so their child would have two legal parents. But how could that be when Genryuusai could not be seen by any other humans?

Taking a huge risk, he brought his human lover with him to Soul Society. It was an action he would never forgive himself for. Had he been thinking clearly, he might have known better. But he was too in love to remember that he was a soul, and Masaki was still a living human.

At first, everything seemed perfect. The leader of the Corps sympathized with Genryuusai, and he awarded Masaki with a position created specifically for her: Substitute Shinigami. The two young lovers were married in a beautiful ceremony, and six months later their son Koichi was born. He was a beautiful child, the spitting image of Masaki, with short spiky hair of the same golden orange color.

The new family chose to move out of the Yamamoto family mansion, and settled in a new home near the edge of Seireitei. Masaki, who was far more open minded than most, began to befriend some of the closest Rukongai neighbors. Following her lead, Genryuusai began to look at the commoners with a different eye, and soon discovered that a number of them were like Masaki had been, possessing untapped spiritual power and wanting to help combat hollows. He started to approach others in the Shinigami Corps, suggesting that perhaps the Rukongai people might be just what they needed to bolster their forces.

Slowly but surely, he was able to obtain followers who agreed with his new thoughts and plans. But he also started making a number of enemies. And those enemies chose to target Masaki and Koichi, a mere human woman with borrowed power and a half-breed child, rather than the now very skilled and powerful Yamamoto Genryuusai. At last, when Koichi was nearly 5, the attacks had become too common and dangerous to ignore. Though all three grieved deeply at the parting, Masaki and Koichi retreated to the living world once again.

But though their bodies had successfully been preserved, allowing them to reenter them, human society was not so forgiving. Cruel rumors of where she had disappeared to, and who could be the father of her child began to spread. The whispers of a curse that had followed Masaki throughout her childhood now expanded beyond belief. Finally, the two of them were forced to flee into the wilderness, hiding in the depths of a tangled forest.

Genryuusai had made sure to continue visiting them, bringing them food and necessities, and any extra comforts he could obtain. But one day, those visits proved disastrous. Genryuusai had continued to push forward his hopes and plans to include both women and the Rukongai people in the Shinigami Corps, and thus his enemies continued to try and find ways to fight him. The day after the leader of the Corps agreed to support the formation of the Shinigami Academy, opening the attendance to all with spiritual power, a group of noble assassins followed Genryuusai to Masaki and Koichi's hiding place. As soon as he left, they attacked.

Masaki, frantic to protect her young son, left her human body in order to access her full power to fight. But they were too much for her. Genryuusai, sensing the fighting, returned to the scene just in time to watch his wife fall, impaled by many different swords. In a blind rage, he surged forward and tore the assassins to pieces. Little Koichi, traumatized by the sight of his mother's death and such carnage afterward, fell into a swoon, and Genryuusai was finally brought back to himself out of his anger.

Sobbing brokenly, he made the decision that he needed to take his son somewhere far away, somewhere he would be safe and, hopefully, loved. The boy could not remain in contact with the spiritual world any longer. Leaving behind his duties, he spent the next two months searching, and finally he found a home he thought might work. Gently hugging the still traumatized Koichi close, Genryuusai bid farewell to his son and pressed a letter into his hand. Then he turned and walked away, returning to the Soul Society without a single look back.

In Seireitei once again, Genryuusai hardened himself, steeling his heart not to feel if it was at all possible. He didn't want to face the pain of knowing he would never see his beloved wife and son again. Masaki had died as a shinigami, and would even now be facing reincarnation. Koichi might someday come to Soul Society, but it was so hard to find souls in Rukongai that it was likely they would never meet again. They were lost to him forever.

And worst of all, it was his own fault. He should not have allowed Masaki to enter the world of the shinigami. He should not have given her the power of one. In doing so, he had destroyed her life, and eventually erased her chances of having an afterlife. And he also was now left bereft of love and happiness. It was with that in mind that he approached the leader of the Shinigami Corps, and the Central 46 itself, and requested that the power transfer procedure he had developed be forbidden. To protect the human soul from facing the pain and suffering that Masaki had experienced, and to save the shinigami from the grief and loss that was now tearing him apart, this must never happen again.

Anyone who would willingly cause such pain deserved to be punished. But though he begged it of the leader of the Corps, his request to suffer the appointed punishment for the crime was refused. So instead, he bowed his head and gathered up all the records and all the physical reminders of his wife and son, and then he hid them in as inaccessible a place as he could find. And he worked as hard as he could to wipe their existences from his memories.

By the time Kuchiki Rukia loaned her power to Kurosaki Ichigo centuries later, Yamamoto hadn't thought of Masaki or Koichi for decades. He had so thoroughly blocked out their presence in his mind and heart that news of Kuchiki's actions did little more than stir up the thought that something seemed familiar about all this. It wasn't until the morning of the execution that he finally broke the self-imposed seal on his memories. Staring up at the incredibly powerful Ryoka child, who had just shattered the legendary stand of the Soukyouku with nothing more than his own single zanpakuto, Genryuusai's eyes opened once again. The boy had bright golden orange hair and the feel of his uncontrolled power was incredibly, painfully familiar.

He threw himself into fighting his rebellious students, trying to force the resurrected thoughts and feelings from coming fully to the surface. Afterward, he felt slightly ashamed at dismissing their words. They had been acting on his teachings. With clear thoughts, he was willing to acknowledge that. But he had been so desperate to keep his heart still and cold and clear that he had barely even heard them speak. The fight had been a distraction, and Aizen's betrayal had been even more so. But once everything was over, once the injuries had been tended and everyone was trying to rest and recover from the ordeal, there was nothing to prevent his thoughts from fleeing back into the past.

He wandered aimlessly through the Seireitei, remembering the places that had remained since his days with Masaki, pointing out to himself all the spots where they had once spent time together. Had he been paying attention, he would have been grateful for the nighttime darkness and the deserted streets. As it was, though, he would not have noticed if all of the Gotei 13 was staring and shouting at him.

He was both surprised and not so when he found himself stopping at last in the Ryoka boy's recovery room in the 4th division. He studied the sleeping boy carefully, easily picking out countless small details that he simply knew without ever having met the child before.

"Masaki," he whispered softly. "Am I getting another chance?"

Kurosaki stirred, turning onto his side, his hand fumbling sleepily off the bed. His fingers met the wrapped hilt of his oversized zanpakuto where it rested against the wall and closed around it. He gave a soft sigh and relaxed back into sleep, the frown on his face dissipating into a peaceful half-smile.

Yamamoto sighed too, letting his eyes slide wearily shut. He could remember now how dearly he had wanted to give his beloved wife the joy of having a weapon that was a part of her own soul. He shouldn't have succumbed to the temptation, and this boy should not have come to possess this power either. But now that he had it, it would be incredibly cruel and heartless to steal it away. No curse upon his fate would be as painful as that loss. There was a reason, after all, that the stripping of a shinigami's power was considered such an extreme punishment.

Yes, he decided, this was a second chance. And he would do everything he could to protect this child, as he had not been able to protect his wife and son. But he would have to do it within the boundaries that had already been set in place. With a heart that was strangely heavy and light at the same time, Yamamoto left the room and went to find the records he would need to set his new plan in motion. This story would not end in tragedy. He would see to that.

Author's Note: Has anyone ever noticed that Yamamoto has done quite a bit to keep Ichigo away from the front lines? He keeps sending groups of high ranking officers to Karakura every time something happens there, so Ichigo doesn't have to protect the town alone. He specifically ordered Ichigo not to go to Hueco Mundo, claiming it was a suicide mission, even though he seems to have had plans to send an invasion force eventually anyway. He's certainly never directly asked Ichigo to help with any of Soul Society's problems. Given him warnings about certain dangers, yes; accepted Ichigo's aid when he offers it first, yes; but he's never actually asked for anything. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the story, and that you'll let me know what you thought!