Pest Control

Chapter Four: Busy Bee

Pairings: MashiroxKensei, ShinjixHiyori, LisaxRose (And hints of other pairings)

Disclaimer: I do NOT own BLEACH, nor do I claim to. If I did own it do you honestly believe I would be writing fanfiction about it?

Special Thanks: You know the drill. My brother, my friend PhoenixSong (I am dropping the numbers since I get dyslexic with them most of the time), and my reviewers. I can't believe I'm up to fifteen reviews at this point! It makes my day to read through them. I know the pacing is kind of odd and I do a lot of character work but you guys seem to love it so it works.

Another huge thanks to BlueQuartzFoxy. She and I have been coming up with some awesome Naruto fanfiction ideas so I got a little distracted but she lead me back to my story after helping me overcome my writer's block. Check out all of her fics if you like Hinata Hyuuga pairings because your favorite pairing is bound to be there or in the works.

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Time seemed to pass in the blink of an eye for Soul Society. Mashiro had effortlessly blended into her division and after a while the novelty that she was a woman seemed to wear off and she was simply seen as a lieutenant.

She was helpful in training for hand-to-hand combat along with Shinobu and Heizo. She patrolled at night with Tosen, often having long talks with him and learning more and more about him even when he said very little. She even helped Todo arrange a few pranks.

Her paperwork was always on time though she had a very bad habit of doodling on the forms when she got bored and usually waited until the very last minute to do any of it, much to her captain's chagrin. She also took weekly trips to the Kido Corps to train with Hachi on improving her kido, befriending the gentle giant in the process.

Secretly she'd also started to train in front of her mirror at night, trying to control her impulse to fidget while she was forced into quick thinking. It had occurred to her that the movement would betray her thoughts and the fact that Kensei had noticed and gone to the trouble of helping her with it made her determined to fix it.

Behind everyone's backs she worked very hard to stay in top form and only Kensei and Shinobu had noticed. She was still breezy and playful around everyone to the point of sometimes being an annoyance but if one looked hard enough they'd see dark circles under her eyes or the way her smile made her lips press too thin.

She'd become a beloved and essential member of squad nine as well as a role model to newcomers in the Soul Academy. Even other captains and vice captains took the time to chat with her when they visited her division or else when she ran an errand to theirs.

The only person that seemed to not be getting closer, and in fact doing their best to push her away, was her captain.

She'd noticed, of course, but didn't let it bother her as she made her own assumptions about him and was a bit too happy to care. Everything kept her busy and she didn't have time to stop and think which suited her just fine.

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Shinobu had been biding his time for a while as he watched Mashiro settle in but he knew that if he waited any longer his chance would pass him by. He felt ridiculous for being so nervous asking a woman out but Mashiro was far from an ordinary woman.

They'd just finished combat training for the day and he watched as she tried to get their captain to talk to her.

"Kensei! Where are you going now? I still need to tell you what Hachi said!" she pouted, stomping her foot.

"Not now, Mashiro. I don't have time for your stupid stories" Kensei snapped as he turned his back on her and began to march to their shared office. They all knew once he got there all he'd do would be to look over old paperwork and map out hollow appearance patterns: Busy work.

Mashiro watched him go looking irritated but as Shinobu approached her smile returned. He noticed she looked tired, more tired than she had all week and it worried him. He knew he had to take her out now, if only to make her relax.

"Howdy Shinobu!" she greeted cheerfully with a large wave of her whole arm.

"Hello Kuna-san" he smiled, enjoying the fact that all of her attention was on him.

"How many times do I have to tell you to call me Mashiro? Kuna-san makes me sound like an old fart" she whined, punching him lightly on the arm before deciding a small barrage and shouting would get the message through better. "Mashiro! Mashiro! Mashiro!" she continued to chant with each tiny punch.

The fourth seat laughed good-naturedly and held up his hands in surrender. "Fine… Mashiro-san" he conceded.

Mashiro stopped her assault and stepped back to smile at him. "Not quite but I'll accept it, I guess. I suppose you have to add stupid honorifics if I'm in a higher position than you…" she grumbled.

"Well… Mashiro-san", Shinobu gulped as he thought out exactly how he would ask, "I was wondering if you-"

"Wanna go get something to eat? I'm starving" she interrupted, looping her arm in his and dragging him along with her. "I want sushi. You like sushi, right? Good. Sushi it is" she stated, not giving him any time to reply.

Relief washed over the man as the difficulty of inviting her out was handled for him. There was just the matter of letting his interest be known and requesting that she tie down to an exclusive relationship with him.

He had a hunch that there was something strange between the vice captain and their captain: Kensei never backed down from a challenge unless he saw it as too big to handle. Was Mashiro a challenge for Kensei? And what kind of challenge?

None of the members of squad nine had seen Kensei participate in an active relationship. They hadn't even seen him pursue a woman. Still they knew he did have women that stayed the night, but the visits were few and far between and the captain never talked about them. Sad thing was he had his pick of a variety of desirable women from the admirers that sent him letters every month. If he wanted to he could settle down and date any time he wanted.

What if Mashiro was what he wanted? Worry and a twinge of jealousy welled up in the usually amicable man as he thought of the stubborn captain admitting to himself that he wanted Mashiro and would damn anyone that got in his way. Shinobu could still feel the phantom sting of the solid punch he'd gotten when he'd misunderstood what had happened the first time he'd shared his quarters with Mashiro.

"You okay? You're quiet… And pale" Mashiro chirped, bringing Shinobu out of his thoughts.

"I'm fine. I was just thinking" he admitted.

"About what?" she asked, cocking her head to the side with curiosity.

Worry had made way for courage in Shinobu as he blurted out the first thing that came to mind. "I like you a lot".

He turned even paler and his eyes got wide but there was a feeling of relief from getting it out in the open. When she smiled at him he felt his heart soar and hope blossomed in his chest.

"I like you a lot too! You're a great friend" she cheered, latching onto his side in a warm hug that made him stop walking. They were in the middle of a busy street in Seireitei and all eyes were watching them. Suddenly Shinobu didn't feel so great about his plan.

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Kensei sat at his desk brooding. He was trying to force himself to focus on his work but having little luck. Hollows had been appearing more frequently on the outskirts of Rukongai and there had been casualties to civilians and soul reapers alike. A few men from his own squad had been killed in action and he deemed that the next time a hollow was reported he and Mashiro would investigate. She needed to be in the field anyway.

She was his problem.

He was frustrated by the fact that his attraction to her hadn't waned with the self-imposed wall he'd erected between them. The only time he saw her anymore was when they had to work together and even then he only spoke to her when necessary. It felt cowardly to him but it was better than acting on whatever was going on.

He wasn't the kind of man who expected or desired love. He didn't get poetic or philosophical about feelings like Love and Rose, nor did he let himself be lead around by his loins like Kyoraku. He was work-oriented and serious. Things like affection, flirting, and romance were lost on him.

He did, however, understand attraction and lust: He was a man after all. The problem never really came up when surrounded by a division of men and if he ever felt the itch he would visit or invite over a lady friend who was only interested in a fling. Afterwards he'd be able to dive right back into his work and forget about women altogether.

And then Mashiro came along with her tempting and petite form and fiery wit that set off something inside of him he thought he'd shut down. He noticed things about her body that he longed to explore and her personality challenged him in the best of ways. He felt irritation as he bickered with her but would later reflect on everything that was said and enjoy the way she could not only handle his temper but fearlessly fight back. Every man in his division quickly backed down from him but she rose to the occasion.

She riled him up in the most infuriatingly exciting way and he ached to let her know just how much.

Disgruntled yet again by the fact he was lusting after his vice captain he growled and started reading through a statement made by a survivor of the most recent hollow attack. He put a pin in the exact location where the attack had taken place, took note of the time of attack and begrudgingly added the number two to represent the casualties.

The feeling of bitterness over lives lost managed to numb his musings on Mashiro and he was able to concentrate again. If he could he'd speak to Urahara about possibly trying to predict attacks based on the research since he'd heard the man was a brilliant scientist and he had just been promoted to captain of the twelfth division.

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Shinobu had managed to escape the prying eyes on the street and didn't bother saying anything else until they arrived at the restaurant. Mashiro had insisted on placing the order for both of them and he winced at the price for the sushi boat she demanded to have.

Green tea and steamed edamame were presented for them to enjoy as they waited for their food to be prepared and the green haired girl dug in.

He figured while her mouth was full he could try again without the risk of being interrupted. "Mashiro… What I said earlier. I..." He had to pause to bolster his confidence again. "I mean that I am interested it you…" she gave him an odd look so he elaborated with "Romantically".

She stopped eating immediately and her demeanor seemed to become calm and relaxed as she sipped some of her tea. She watched him for a moment as she seemed to think about what she would say.

He could feel himself starting to sweat but the sensation was nowhere near as uncomfortable as the emotional maelstrom churning inside of him. "You don't have to say anything" he began to rambling, needing the awkward silence to be filled.

She smiled gently at him and shook her head. After another long pause she looked off to the side and tapped her chin. "I'll think about it" she said.

He blinked at her, surprised she'd answered.

"Just gimme some time to think on it, okay? I like you too but… Oooh sushi's here!" her seriousness melted away at the sight of their meal and the tension in the air evaporated. She was chirping happily as she made a plate for herself as well as the seemingly stunned fourth seat, telling him what he'd like and why.

He didn't hear a word of it. He just stared at her. Was that a yes? Was it a no?

She began to pour out soy sauce for them and he noticed that she stopped to lovingly tie back the long sleeves of her uniform instead of carelessly bunching them up at her elbows and moved the ends of the scarf he'd gotten her back over her shoulders before she began to eat, still chattering away.

He smiled at the sight of the pink scarf holding onto her neck. It was the first thing he'd noticed the day after he'd given it to her. She kept her promise and wore it every day… Although she also wore her other gifts (Tosen's glasses, Heizo's scabbard, and Kensei's robes) every day as well.

He wanted to ask her why she had to think about it. Was it Kensei? Another rival he didn't know about? He'd heard rumors that she and Tosen had long talks when they patrolled together. He couldn't remember the last time Tosen had ever greeted him.

"You're thinking too much. Stop worrying and enjoy the food" Mashiro chastised as she used her chopsticks to press a tuna roll up against his lips. "Eat" she prompted.

He opened his mouth and robotically accepted the food, hardly tasting it as he watched her resume eating her own meal. She didn't even bother looking at him when she spoke again. "I said eat. Do I have to order you to do it? I will you know".

He quickly began eating his food, watching her the whole time.

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Mashiro wished Shinobu goodnight and headed back to her room. As she was about to let herself in she stopped, deciding to make a detour.

She'd known that the fourth seat was interested in her; she just never thought he'd act on it. Usually she intimidated anyone that was drawn to her, though not in a menacing way. It was more that no one really knew what she was thinking. She didn't really want anyone to know, either.

Knocking on the door she waited to hear a welcome before entering.

"Hi Kensei!" she said, slipping into a comfortable smile and bouncing into his room. She saw the surprise flicker on his face before it was hidden with irritation as she walked over and fell onto his bed. It smelled like him, though she wasn't sure why she would expect it to smell like anything else.

"What are you doing here?" he snapped, doing everything in his power to not look at the tempting woman lying on his bed. He was glad he'd brought paperwork back to his room since he was hiding behind it now.

"I was bored and I wanted to bother you" she sing-songed, kicking her legs up in the air to work the muscles.

"Well you've bothered me. Now get out" he grumbled.

"Nah… Let's talk. Why're you avoiding me?" she asked bluntly, rolling onto her stomach and resting her chin on her hands. "And don't say you're not. I'm not stupid. Tell meeeeeee!" she urged, pouting.

"Because you're an annoying little brat. Go to bed".

"I'm in a bed" she laughed.

"Not my bed, dumbass" he sighed, placing his palm over his face. He'd stolen a look at her and he was regretting it. He could feel the back of his neck and his ears burning with his blush as his thoughts raced with all the things he wanted to do in that bed with her. "Get. Out" he demanded.

"Not until you tell me!" she snapped right back, sitting up and putting her hands on her hips. "Look at me! I'm talking to you!"

"Why would I want to look at you? I know what you look like!"

"Why are you so mad!? Kensei!" she got up and marched over to him, grabbing onto his arm. "Kenseeeei!" she whined.

He tensed as he felt her touch and he knew he had to get the hell away from her. He stood quickly and took hold of her by her upper arm, dragging her toward his door as she tried to dig her heels into the floor.

"Kensei talk to me! Dammit talk to me!" she shouted at him, starting to hit him on the arm that pulled her but not enough to actually harm him. "Kensei! You're a meanie Kensei! I just want to talk! What's wrong with you?!"

He flung her out of the door and watched as she fell onto her butt, looking up at him with indignant shock. Some of the high seats had come to investigate the cause of the shouting, including Shinobu and Tosen. Mashiro didn't notice anyone but him as her anger grew.

"You can't shut me out forever! I'm your vice captain! We have to work together and know each other! What's wrooooooooong?!"

"YOU!" he shouted, feeling himself become overwhelmed by everything that he was feeling. In that moment he honestly hated Mashiro. She made him lose control of himself. She was the one who turned his whole division, his whole life, upside-down. The feelings he had for her were unwelcome and regarded as a weakness. She made him weak and that made him pissed.

Without meaning to he lunged at her with full intent to harm her.

As if in slow motion he watched her face morph from anger and confusion to one of hurt and surprise. The look told him that he'd gotten what he wanted: The wall was up. She just watched and waited for him to attack her as again her face changed to one of determined acceptance.

When he was just about to reach her he felt himself be hauled back on both sides and after a brief struggle he relaxed and stepped back, trying to calm his breathing.

Everyone was silent.

Tosen and Shinobu (the two that had held him back) were watching him to see if he'd try and go after her again while a few of the other seats helped Mashiro up and asked her if she was hurt.

She continued to stare at Kensei, their eyes locked as she told him everything she was feeling in a single look.

Without a word she brushed everyone off and walked calmly back to her room even as her spiritual energy fluctuated as violently as Kensei's.

Tosen turned his head as if watching her go while Shinobu continued to level a deadly glare at his captain.

"Dismissed" Kensei stated, his voice drained as a headache set in and he turned to walk into his room, slamming the door shut behind him.

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A tense calm had fallen over the division and everyone treaded lightly in the presence of the captain. Mashiro was still friendly and kind but the light in her eyes had dimmed and she was more distracted than usual. Heizo had defeated her in a small demonstration match with ease because her fidgeting made her every move transparent. He'd kindly admitted that were she not upset he knew she would've won but the defeat still weighed her down.

Shinobu had done all he could to distract her from her worries by taking her out regularly to get food together, though neither of them openly referred to the outings as dates since Mashiro hadn't responded to his first advance. Still he was thankful for the time he got to spend with her and they were undoubtedly coming closer together but he felt guilty that it was at the expense of her relationship with their captain.

Shinobu couldn't lie to himself. He knew that there was something under the surface between the captain and vice captain. From observation he saw that neither had acted on anything they were feeling but at least a very strong attraction was simmering between them.

Perhaps it was because he was on the outside looking in that he saw it so clearly. Meanwhile he couldn't determine if Mashiro would ever even give him an answer. He'd grown irrevocably attached to her and while it hurt to be lead around by his heartstrings he wouldn't expect any different from the woman he'd invested his interest in.

Call him masochistic but he found her to be worth the pain.

They were sitting at a ramen stand and Mashiro was playing with the noodles in her bowl instead of actually eating. Her appetite had died down and she didn't look well. He knew she was working herself down to the bone to distract herself from her thought and it worried him that she was being so careless with herself.

"You have to snap out of this, Mashiro-san. The division needs you at your best. If you'd like I can talk to Kensei and…" He stopped, automatically regretting that he'd dared to speak the taboo name between them.

Mashiro stiffened and took a moment to look at him but when she did she was smiling weakly. To anyone else he knew she'd appear normal but in getting to know her he could see the signs of her turmoil. Dark rings shadowed her golden-grey eyes and there was redness at the corners that broke his heart to see.

Resolve to make things right again, even at the expense of his own happiness, filled him and he stood up. After laying down the money for their meal he bowed to her and wished her farewell before Shunpo-ing back to squad nine's headquarters.

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Surprisingly someone else had beaten him to the punch. Tosen was sitting in front of Kensei's desk with his back ramrod straight and his voice tight. "I understand this, captain, but you must see the way your behavior is effecting the division. I am aware that Kasaki-san has already spoken to you on this matter regarding Kuna-san…" He stopped talking when he noticed Shinobu walk through the door.

Kensei looked up at him and it was obvious the captain was far from pleased with the most recent developments stemming from his actions. "Are you here to yell at me too?" he snapped at his fourth seat.

Shinobu tried not to smile. It was a bit refreshing to see that Kensei was not made of steel and that Mashiro wasn't the only one suffering. The fact that a bottle of sake was out on Kensei's desk told him what he needed to know. "Not yell so much as discuss" he stated diplomatically.

"How is she?"

Tosen and Shinobu looked at their captain in shock. Recovering quickly from it they both looked at each other before looking at the powerful man behind the desk.

"She is… Not herself" Shinobu said, not wanting to give too much away since he wasn't sure where Kensei was going with the line of questioning.

Silver brows furrowed.

"Captain… For the sake of everyone, including yourself and Kuna-san, you should speak with her immediately and sort out whatever complication it is you have" Tosen suggested, though his voice still sounded strangely forced.

"I'll think about it. You're dismissed, Kaname" Kensei stated gruffly.

Tosen got to his feet and bowed before walking out to return to his duties.

"Sit down, Eishima" Kensei prompted.

Reluctantly the fourth seat did as told, feeling incredibly uncomfortable being put on the spot.

Kensei took a long drink from his sake bottle and shuffled through a few papers before speaking. "You're behind in your paperwork" he told the fourth seat, his golden eyes locking onto him. It was like being stared down by an angry tiger but Shinobu remained calm, though regretful and embarrassed.

"Oh! Right, of course. I'm sorry I've just been so busy with-"He caught himself right before he could say the name.

"With Mashiro. I'm well aware of the fact you've been fraternizing with my vice-captain" Kensei growled and Shinobu could hear a bit of emphasis on the word 'my'. It seemed Kensei was very possessive for something he had no ownership of.

Anger boiled under Shinobu's skin even as he remained outwardly placid. "She's been upset over recent developments and you did put me in charge of her wellbeing. I'm just following orders" he replied with a barbed tone.

"Are you really just doing it because I ordered you to?"

Shinobu was again surprised. Instead of sounding angry the captain now just seemed tired. He hesitated to answer as he thought over his words. "I've grown very attached to Mashiro-san but… She is hesitant to pursue anything as of right now" he admitted honestly. The words burned to say but he didn't want to withhold the truth. Kensei was still his friend and a woman wouldn't change that.

"I need to go to the twelfth division so I can speak to Urahara about some research. Have Mashiro meet me at the gates so we can go together" Kensei sighed, getting to his feet and stretching.

"Yes sir" Shinobu bowed, heading for the door.

"And Shinobu", Kensei's voice made him pause. "Thanks".

The word was weighted with just everything Kensei was grateful to him for and he found he could smile as he left to fetch the woman that haunted both their minds.

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Mashiro saw Kensei leaning against the wall by the gates. He looked up at her once but lowered his gaze back to the ground quickly. She sighed to herself but her steps never faltered until she stopped to stand a few feet in front of him.

"We're going to the twelfth division. Try not to pester Hiyori too much" he said as he began to walk away.

She caught up to his strides and easily kept pace with him despite the difference in height. "Oh but I'm so good at pestering!" Her voice was whimsical and carefree but the words were loaded and he winced at having his anger thrown back at him.

Scratching the back of his neck he tried to think of what to say. "Mashiro…" he began awkwardly before grunting and trying to walk faster. He wasn't good with words. Why couldn't she just be over it by now?

"Yeeeeeeees?" she prompted, smiling at him with a gleam in her eyes that had been missing for some time.

He stopped walking. Dammit, she knew he was trying to apologize! He couldn't back out now. He turned to look at her directly, glad that the main road to get to the twelfth squad was abandoned for the moment. She'd probably been waiting the whole time for this, expecting him to swallow his pride.

He held off a groan and resisted the urge to massage his temples. The sake in his system helped to numb the blow his pride was about to take. "You know I'm not good with words so just listen to me cuz I ain't repeating a damn thing. I'm… I didn't mean to… You were just being so…" he gave in and rubbed a palm across his eyes. Slaying a herd of hollows would probably be easier than apologizing for the ninth squad captain.

"You're the only one I can't really figure out, Kensei. Everyone else really seems happy to have me as their vice captain and at first I thought you were too but now… Do you like having me as a vice captain?" Mashiro asked, cutting off his bumbling attempts at an apology.

'More than you know' he thought miserably, only to curse the wayward thought for making its way into his head. "I meant what I said when I told you I was glad. If I didn't you wouldn't be my second seat".

"You're an idiot" she huffed.

He was inclined to agree but felt irritated nonetheless. "And you're an annoying brat that needs to learn some respect" he snapped, but it fell on deaf ears.

"So we're going to see Hiyori and the new twelfth squad captain? Who got assigned? Do I know them?" she asked, and just like that it was as if all awkwardness were gone. He'd apologized and she'd forgiven him.

He was in awe of how simple it seemed now when moments ago the task had been daunting and impossible. "Kisuke Urahara. You danced with him at your promotion party" he told her, still a bit in blown away.

"How do you know who I danced with?" she asked him in a teasing lilt.

He let the question drop as they continued their trek to see the scientist and his anger-addicted vice captain.

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When Kisuke Urahara greeted his guests his nose was freshly bleeding and Hiyori stood at his side looking thoroughly displeased. "Ah, Captain Muguruma, vice captain Kuna… It's nice to see the both of you" he grinned, waving as if there wasn't blood trickling down to his chin.

"Kisuke!" Mashiro cheered, waving at him and smiling brightly. "Congratulations on becoming captain! When is your party?"

"I'm not planning on having one. Too much to do, I'm afraid. Things have been happening around town that need to be taken care of" he told her apologetically; though his eyes met Kensei's when he spoke.

Kensei nodded once that he understood before turning to glare at Hiyori. He pointed his thumb in Urahara's direction. "Oi, did you do that?" he asked the shortest person of the group.

Hiyori grunted and looked over his head as she crossed her arms over her chest. "What if I did?" she asked gruffly.

"Fang!" Mashiro cheered, bounding over as if to hug the pigtailed person and causing Hiyori's eyes to go wide in mild panic.

"Not you again! Keep her ass away from me!" she shouted, dodging the taller girl's affectionate hello.

"Fang? That is an unusual nickname" mused Urahara earning him a deadly glare from his vice captain. He shrugged it off, still smiling lightly. Turning to Kensei he seemed a bit more serious. "I've alerted Kurotsuchi-san of your idea and he is fairly certain that a prediction and tracking system is possible. We just need to see your notes".

"Mashiro, stay here with Sarugaki and try not to get yourself killed" her captain warned her before following Urahara.

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"My, my. Who knew such a brutish man would be this intelligent. I can't say that I'm impressed but I suppose I am surprised" Mayuri Kurotsuchi informed Kensei after going over the data he'd collected and organized. It was as close to a compliment as anyone would get from the painted man who only had words of praise for himself.

Kensei remained quiet and edgy. He trusted Urahara's judgment but having a high-level criminal in a lab of things that had the potential to obliterate Soul Society made him understandably nervous.

As if reading his mind Urahara let out a small chuckle and waved his hand at the wrist as if dismissing Kensei's worries. "Mayuri-san is completely trustworthy".

"Don't be so sure about that… And I prefer to be addressed formally as 'Kurotsuchi-san' you infuriating man" Mayuri piped up from his researching, knowing and possibly enjoying, that he was adding to Kensei's discomfort. "It will take some fine-tuning and several tests as well as more data but your idea is plausible".

"You really think it will work, Kurotsuchi?" the silver-haired man asked.

"Honestly does no one have manners anymore? 'Kurotsuchi-san' with an honorific, you barbaric simpleton" Mayuri complained as he turned around to look at the other two in the room. "If I build it then it is bound to work, it will just take some time to build and fine tune it" he huffed, losing patience with the ones he saw as so far below him.

Kensei bristled and was about to retort until a hell butterfly fluttered in. He held out his hand so that the insect could perch on it and listened intently to the message. His eyes widened before narrowing and he looked up at the others who were watching him with open curiosity.

"Hollow in the Inuzuri district. Twenty civilians and five shinigami in a single strike" he explained, adjusting the hilt of his zanpakuto and turning to leave.

"More data, excellent. Be sure to gather as much of it as you can and report it back to us… And don't die. It'd be too much of a bother to collect it myself" Mayuri chirped before returning to his work.

"Good luck to you and Kuna-san" Urahara cheered as senior captain left.

"Kuna-san?" Mayuri asked, looking back over his shoulder and waiting for Urahara to explain.

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"Mashiro, time to go!" Kensei snapped. He didn't bother asking why she was running around the courtyard with Hiyori chasing her waving her zanpakuto. Mashiro was just laughing and playfully darting out of reach.

She stopped so abruptly that Hiyori ran into her back and fell back onto her behind. "Hi Kensei! Want to play?!" she asked.

"For the last time! We weren't playing! I was going to kick your ass for calling me that stupid name!" Hiyori raged from the ground as if ready to breathe fire at any moment. She glared at Kensei as if it was his fault and he noted that she was a little bit disheveled. It looked as if Mashiro got her hug after all.

"We have a mission. Hollow attack in the seventy-eighth district. Let's move" he told his lieutenant, ready to Shunpo.

"Woohoo! Some real action!" Mashiro cheered, doing a quick happy dance before waving at Hiyori. "Bye Fang!" she giggled before Shunpo-ing to the location of the attack with Kensei and leaving a fuming Hiyori in her wake.

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The heady scent of blood and death hung heavy in the air when they appeared at the edge of the Inuzuri district. Mashiro quickly pulled her scarf up over her nose to try and block it out, looking at Kensei to determine their next move. The hollow wasn't in sight but there was a trail of damage that would lead them to it.

His jaw tightened and she looked to see what upset him before gasping and feeling as if she'd been punched in the gut. There were two bodies crumpled against one of the destroyed buildings, their robes having no sleeves.

She recognized them as part of the group of helpful peeping toms from her first night in the division and her heart sank with grief. As Kensei motioned for her to follow him she couldn't tear her eyes away from the sight of the bodies littering the trail. Women, children, the elderly… No one had been spared.

She wiped at the corners of her eyes and steeled her nerves, feeling her blood buzz with adrenaline as she craved to avenge all the unfortunate souls.

Kensei watched her closely out of the corner of his eye and was impressed by how she was handling the situation. Many others had become ill at the sight of such merciless carnage and others had openly wept. She remained strong and sturdy, reminding him that he'd made the right choice in vice captain.

"Prepare yourself, we're closing in on it" he warned, a hand cautiously placed on the hilt of his zanpakuto as he took the lead.

She nodded and remained close behind, fidgeting nervously but seemingly unaware of it. He could tell she was anxious and hoped she was ready.

A roar ripped through the air and rang in their ears as they stepped out into what looked like the fallout zone of a bomb. Buildings were flattened and debris was scattered everywhere with a hulking monster at its epicenter.

The hollow stood on two spindly legs that supported a massive torso with a bone mask set into the center. Giant arms flexed as it sensed the spiritual pressure of the captain and vice captain and it roared again while turning slowly to face them.

"Go" was the only word that left Kensei's mouth, and it was all that Mashiro needed to hear.

Suddenly, she was between the beast's legs, her hands planted firmly on the ground as her own feet spun through the air, kicking both of the Hollow's legs in opposite directions, sending the behemoth crumpling into a nearby house as Mashiro flash stepped to a safe distance.

"Hey, don't go around causing any more collateral damage, dammit!"

She half-heard in her adrenaline-fueled focus. She was so focused on the fallen Hollow, in fact, that she didn't even notice a sharp looking bone-white blur flying at her from a nearby tree. She was alerted to it soon, however, by a sharp pain in her side and a loud scraping clash, as she suddenly found herself on the ground, staring at the hem of Kensei's hakama.

Her gaze trailed upwards, until she saw the back of Kensei's head, and in front of him what looked like an overgrown skeletal condor, its beak being held open by Kensei's hands on the top and his foot planted firmly against its lower jaw.

'There was another Hollow hiding?' she thought to herself as she jumped to her feet. "Sorry, Kensei!" She sing-songed as she turned just in time to see the Hollow she had just felled crawling to its feet. "Kensei, the other-" She started, but stopped when she saw her captain standing in front of the Hollow in question, with his sword at the ready.

She turned, wondering what had happened to the one that had attacked her, but all she saw of it was the tip of a wing dissolving into ash. "Wow…" she breathed in honest astonishment before turning back to her superior.

A quick yet powerful swing of Tachikaze connected with the beast's cheek, but much to Kensei's surprise did not cut all the way through its mask.

"Shit," he spat as he turned towards the giant's incoming fist, jumping away as he dodged.

Mashiro ran past him, tapping him on the hand as she did, and jumped into the fray, slamming her heel into the Hollow's forehead with a high-pitched "kick!"

The beast let out a pained groan as its mask cracked, and Kensei jumped back in, shoving his blade in between the cracks that his vice captain had made, finally reaching the flesh underneath the hardened face, and retreating to a safe distance as the beast let out one more shriek before dissolving into nothingness, leaving no clue it had ever existed besides the havoc is had wreaked.

The two were quiet as they looked at each other, catching their breath and coming down from the adrenaline high. She smiled to let him know she was fine and he grunted to let her know he was too.

"You did good" he told her as he returned his zanpakuto to its scabbard and wiped his brow free of sweat.

"You didn't do so bad yourself" she laughed, lighting up the tense atmosphere around them.

He walked toward her and they stood side by side looking over the now quiet zone.

"You've seen a hollow before".

It wasn't a question but she nodded anyway. "A few attacks happened where I grew up" she told him, not offering any specific information. Instead she played with the glasses on her head, bobbing them down over her eyes then back up into her hair only to repeat the process.

"The slums?"

"Yup…. Bet you never expected such a cute girl to be from the wrong side of town" she said, still playing with the goggles.

"You're tough. You don't get that way unless you gotta be" Kensei replied sagely.

"I guess…. But tough varies according to each person and their own situation. I bet members of the noble families have their own issues to deal with" she sighed. "I'm hungry. Can we stop talking about this and go get lunch?" she asked.

"We have to wait for the salvaging crew to arrive, take notes, and write up our reports… I gotta take copies of our info back to Urahara and the clown…"

"What?! But I'm hungry. That fight worked up an appetite!" she moaned, stomping her feet.

"You're always hungry. Let your stomach eat itself and do your damn job!" Kensei barked, annoyed already.

"But Kenseeeeei!" Mashiro whined, falling dramatically onto her back and rolling from side to side as she kicked up her feet.

"No buts! If you're lucky maybe your boyfriend will bring snacks to you while you're working at your desk!" he snapped before stomping off to greet the salvaging and construction crew that arrived.

Mashiro sat up and watched him go, letting her confusion show on her face.

Author's Note: So I'm VERY sorry this took so long to get out. I knew exactly where I wanted to go but I didn't just want to timeskip to get there. This is pretty much filler but at least stuff happened that has to do with the plot. I am looking forward to the upcoming chapters so hopefully they will come out faster. The song that got me through this at the end was 'Just Tonight' by Jimmy Eat World and I am eternally thankful to BlueQuartzFoxy for having me listen to it.

God I am glad this chapter is over. It is not my best but by God I got through it. Please review as they are truly inspiring and continue to make my day. Thank you! Goodnight everybody!