"Induction! The Fifth Division's New Captain?"
email: falsefate (at) gmail (dot) com
notes: This is a work in progress and technically an 'open beta' fic. Concrit is welcome and helpful as well as any guesses as to just how the new captain was chosen! This chapter might be removed or edited at a later time.
Kazu Arakawa was running. His straw sandals slapped down on the worn stones of the street and the walls were a blur on either side of him. He kept panting for air and his face flickered between a splitting grin and a trembling grimace. His uniform was crisp and pressed, every crease sharp and precise even if the whole thing was half a size too big and flapped in the wind as he ran. Nothing could diminish the searing pride he felt after completing the six years of training and finally earning his place among the shinigami.
If only he could find where that place was.
The sun was high overhead and cast short, dark shadows along the narrow streets. Arakawa could hear the distant tolling of bells and he counted each and every echo as it bounced along the distant walls. Six years had seemed so immeasurable and everlasting, each hour stretching on for days and the days stretching on forever. Now the minutes were slipping through his fingers like water. He couldn't be late. Not on his first day, and certainly not on the very day he would meet his division's new captain. That alone had seemed like a sign, a new band of recruits and a new captain for the Fifth Division. New blood and a fresh future.
Arakawa pressed on and ran harder, passing people and darting around crowds as he got closer to the center of the Seireitei. He ducked down a narrow alley and burst out into a crowded market center teeming with people. It was a odd mixture of aristocrats and their servants, shinigami out of uniform and their family. All of them milling about with a calm disregard for Arakawa's growing panic that only fueled his frustration. He apologized to every person he bumped into and some responded with an indulgent smile as though they knew he were barely more than a student and others merely brushed it him off and went about their way. No one seemed to know where the Fifth was holding the introduction ceremony that would formally induct both new recruits and captain into the fold.
The shadows seemed just a bit deeper and the bells just a bit further away when Arakawa finally made it towards the barracks proper. He fled past signs helpfully pointing the way towards the Fourth Division and the Third, but none seemed to guide him towards the Fifth. Down one narrow ally and another, the buildings stretching on and people everywhere but he didn't have time to stop and ask where he was going. At least not until he barreled into someone and almost went tumbling over himself.
Arakawa was rather distressingly average in build and height, but the young man blinking up at him made him feel almost a giant. He was short and scrawny in an underfed sort of way with a youthful face that would be easy to forget if one wasn't paying attention. The young man yelped and scrambled to his feet and started snatching at papers that had been scattered all around him. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry! I'm running late and I'm trying to get somewhere and I could really use--"
Arakawa scowled without heat or malice and grabbed the papers in a rough pile and shoved them at the young man. "Can't help, gotta run, where's the Fifth Division?" Arakawa said quickly.
"Just around the corner and to the right. Are you one of the new recruits?" The young man offered a puzzled smile when the papers were shoved back at him. "I'm--"
"Sorry, thank you, I really need to run!" Arakawa called back and bolted down the street and around the corner and to the right.
He saw familiar buildings and faces and he could hear some of his former classmates (now fellow shinigami! his mind gleefully reminded him) calling out to him. Even as Arakawa reminded himself to find that little guy again later and offer a proper apology, it flickered away in the excitement of the moment. He melted into the growing group of people and pushed his way towards the front where it had become a proper crowd.
"Arakawa! Over here! Where were you?" A tiny woman that was only half his width and somehow occupying twice his space grabbed Arakawa's hand and dragged him further into the crowd. "I kept telling Tsuzuki that you were on the way even if that bastard kept saying, 'No, no, Arakawa turned tail and ran back home to the Rukon, blah blah blah' and I kept saying, 'Shut the hell up Tsuzuki, you don't know what you're talking about, Arakawa'll show as soon as he finds the damned place!'" she said with a babbling grin. It never ceased to amaze Arakawa that such rough language could come from such a delicate looking mouth.
"Thank you, Yuriko," he said. "How late am I?"
"Don't worry, you aren't late, the captain is! I've heard he's a veteran shinigami, been here almost a hundred years and even went on some missions to Heuco Mundo and the living world!" Yuriko said. She twitched to and fro from foot to foot, leaned forward and leaned back, hands linked behind her back. Arakawa would have been dizzy trying to follow her face if he weren't used to it. "Guy like that has gotta be a real hardass, you know? Tough guy, survivor type. Just what the Fifth Division needs!"
"We just got here, we don't know what the Fifth Division needs," Arakawa hissed when he saw a couple of the seated officers send sharp looks in Yuriko's direction.
"Needs us, that's what it needs!" she said, bright and utterly oblivious. "Fresh blood and new faces!"
Arakawa balanced on the balls of his feet to peer a bit higher. "Just... how late is our new captain?" A worried murmur was starting to ripple from one edge of the crowd to the other and back all over again, picking up speed as it went. The courtyard was packed with people and all of them looking to the front of the main barracks and expecting the captain to appear at any minute. "I mean, he's the captain, so I guess he can show up whenever he wants to, but..."
Even Yuriko had settled somewhat, fidgeting in one set of directions instead of two. "Yeah. I know."
There was a thump and a yelp and a single piece of paper caught on a breeze and wafted down from the sky to land delicately in front of the main barracks. A hush fell over the entire crowd and Arakawa's gut dropped down to his knees. "Oh, no."
"I'm late! I'm so very sorry!" The Fifth Division's new captain peeked from behind one of the doors, an embarrassed smile twitching on his lips. He kept trying to tug his arm through the other sleeve of his white haori and hold onto a bundle that kept shedding papers everywhere at the same time. A silence thick as a roar settled down over each and every person. He stepped out from behind the door and managed a single step before tripping over the sagging hem of his haori. He landed with a muffled 'Oomph' and the papers scattered into the air like a flock of startled birds. No one stepped forward to pick them up or help him up.
The captain stood up on his own and looked helplessly at the papers and seemed to deflate for a moment, shoulders sagging as that helpless look was aimed at his feet. Then he stood up and met his new division with a direct look for the first time. His eyes were blue and his hair dark and short and gathered at the nape of his neck in a stunted braid. His uniform sleeves were cut short and gathered up to his shoulders with a white sash that crisscrossed over his chest. He tugged his haori on straight and proper and Arakawa saw that it was sleeveless and lined in a light torquoise. A zanpakuto hung from his waist. For a moment, there was a look of determination and pride in that small, youthful face and he seemed almost like a proper captain instead of a child playing dress-up. That moment was gone the instant he bowed far deeper than he should to a crowd of subordinates and new recruits.
"Oh, no." Arakawa didn't know if he wanted to burst out laughing or curl up weeping.
"I, um... My name is... I mean-- I am the new c-cap..." He took a deep breath. "I appreciate meeting all of you and I hope to do a good job. I mean I will do a good job! We all will!" Another one of those faint, twitching smiles. "I am the new... um. The new c-captain. My name is Hanatarou Yamada."