Chapter 47

I was seldom able to see an opportunity,

until it ceased to be one

Mark Twain

The West Rukongai

The Second District.

The three men sat outside a small tea house drinking in the shade. They had just finished a hearty meal of ramen and gyoza, and were now just easing their digestion along with bowls of green tea. Normally tea would not be their beverage of choice, but the day was hot and their meal had been heavy, so in order to balance their meal out they opted for the lighter repast. They also were due to be on training missions later in the day, and showing up inebriated before their squads would help no one. Especially since two of the three were Temporary Acting Captains until suitable replacements could be found. The third had a captain that would not in any way tolerate such sub-standard professionalism, and the remonstration would be severe to say the least. So plain green tea was all that they could be trusted with.

Renji Abarai, the Sixth Division's Lieutenant sat back and took stock of his two best friends with interest. The normally dour Izuru Kira, Temporary Acting Captain of the Third Division, had as of lately started to appear as if he was shaking his morose attitude and take on the appearance he once had before his captain had gone rogue. It was hard to see which lieutenant had been harder hit by the defection of their captain: Momo Hinamori or Izuru Kira. Both lieutenants had felt the blows keenly; the desertions had been felt on a professional as well as a personal level. Many thought that neither would bounce back. There was a point where he had felt honest panic at the depth to which Izuru's depression had dipped down to. But then it had all changed, and that change had come in the form of Kiyone Kotetsu. The Third Seat over at the Thirteenth had slowly but surely pulled his friend out of the mire of crippling self-doubt and recrimination in order to take control of his flagging and bewildered division, and offer it a small glimmer of hope. The ditzy but effervescent young woman had breathed life into Izuru, and for that he would always be grateful.

Thinking of one of the Kotetsu sisters automatically brought Renji's attention to his other friend, Shuhei Hisagi. Renji knew that Tosen's treason had hit Shuhei just as hard as all the others had, but you would have never know it by looking at the man. The enigmatic and taciturn man gave little if anything away. When Shuhei had been asked to take temporary control there had never been any hesitation, and Shuhei had acted as if his own captain had not defected for all time, but rather had just decided to take an unexpected vacation. Renji had been worried at first as he had felt as if Shuhei was not confronting reality, and instead was trying to bury both the past as well as the present. But when Renji had voiced his trepidations Shuhei had quietly but firmly informed Renji that he was well aware of the situation, and dwelling on things would only impede on any future progress. Renji had laughed at that as not was Shuhei only concise but he was also pragmatic. Which was not fitting his recent behavior. Lately Shuhei had been in what could only be termed as a foul mood. Where one friend had found a pleasurable release with one Kotetsu sister, his other friend had found nothing but consternation and even hostility with another. Renji knew without a doubt that Isane Kotetsu was the reason that his friend had been not his usual self. He also knew that it was time for Shuhei to let whatever he was ruminating on out.

Renji gave a deep sigh and took a long drink of his tea as dark eyes slide in his direction. He raised a red brow questioningly at the answering scowl.

"Stop looking at me like that , Abarai, you are starting to annoy me..."

"Stop looking at you like how, Hisagi?" Renji said innocently.

Izuru gave a muffled snort.

"You know how," came the low growl. "I am sick and tired of you always watching me as if you felt sorry for me some how..."

"Oh shit," Izuru said under his breath. He knew exactly where this was leading to, and he wasn't sure if he wanted to be a part of it. He and Renji had spoken many times about Shuhei and his recent behavior. Both of them had agreed that Shuhei was not acting normal. Something was brewing inside the man, and though he should have been extremely happy, if at least just supremely content, he was far from it. Shuhei was running his division with extreme efficiency (and many thought that General Yamamoto was letting Shuhei have some experience under his belt before just slipping him in to permanent captaincy), but he was finally on intimate terms with his long-time but until recently unrequited love, Rangiku Matsumoto. Two things that should have made Shuhei at least crack a smile, but if anything made the storm in his eyes seem wilder.

"Brother, I don't feel sorry for you," Renji said shaking his head and hardening his jaw. "You do that enough yourself. But what I do wonder is why you are so tied up in knots? Your cares should be few and far between, and yet here you sit there as if there is a sword hanging over your head and any second it is going to fall! You are running your division better than your old captain ever did, and you have one of Seretei's most beautiful women at your beck and call. So why do you perpetually have a look on your face as if you haven't moved your bowels in days?!"

Izuru's blue eyes widened as they slowly looked over at the deepening scowl on Shuhei's face. He should stop this, but he knew that what was going to be said needed to be said...

Shuhei growled deep in his chest but kept his mouth tightly shut. Looking over at Izuru Shuhei raised one brow slowly.

"Do you feel the same way, Kira?"

"Yes," the blonde man said quietly. "I too think that lately you just haven't seemed like your old self. I can't help but think that things aren't fine with you."

Shuhei looked as if he was going to object, but then thought better of it. Closing his eyes he let out a long, drawn-out breath. He suddenly and uncharacteristically ran his fingers through his hair and grasped them tightly before letting go. Dropping his head down in a dejected manner he sat like that as if somehow composing himself but opening his eyes and straightening his posture. He looked at his friends with a look that could only be described as embarrassed.

"Everyone thinks that things are different then they are...they are but they aren' one understands... It's just that...oh, Gods!" he finally said in frustration. Taking his tea he drained it in one swallow and then reached over to Izuru to have him pour some more.

"That is tea, and not saké ," Renji said sardonically. "But if you need something stronger we could-"

"Fuck no," Shuhei said in almost-horror. "You know that once we start we won't stop in time. Besides, wasn't once enough showing up in front of your Captain drunk? If you don't remember the repercussions I sure do..."

Renji winced at the memory. Shaking the unpleasantness away he placed a hand on his friend's shoulder. "So tell me, Sempai, what has you all wound up?"

Shuhei smiled lightly at the old term, even though it had been a long time since he had been his senior. Now, they were peers and friends.

It is all because of Isane..." he said glumly.

Both Izuru and Renji looked at each other and nodded knowingly. Of course it was, they knew that ever since Captain Kurotsuchi had showed up that one night a bunch of them had been out drinking and thrown down about how Isane would and would not be treated that things were going to change. That had caused fodder for many thoughts. But in the end everyone, but obviously not Shuhei, had had genuine respect for Captain Kurotsuchi staking his claim on Isane the way he had. And more importantly- Isane had deserved it.

"Why should Isane offer you any problems now, Shuhei, when she has not in the past?" Izuru said in a suspiciously bland tone. "I have always been under the impression that the two of you were nothing but the most convivial of friends."

Shuhei gave a noncommittal grunt and shrugged his shoulder. "I thought that we were, but ever since she has gotten together with him she has changed...She isn't the same girl that she used to be",
he said lowly.

Both Renji and Izuru looked at Shuhei silently. Renji gave a snort and shook his head.

"What you really mean is that she isn't mooning over you or at your beck and call the way she used to be," Renji said baldly. "Admit it, Shu, you were so used to having her as a fall-back or ego stroke that when she finally woke up and found someone that would reciprocate her feelings it got your nuts in a twist."

Shuhei looked like he was going to snap at Renji but then thought better about it. "Yes," he finally admitted.

"Well at least he admits it," Izuru said with a small smile. "We thought that it would be a battle having to get you to come to terms with the situation."

"I know how Isane felt about me, and believe me- I tried many times to reciprocate it, just wasn't there. I can't help that, but I really tried, for what it was worth."

Renji shook is head sadly. "Yeah, Shuhei, but did you ever tell her any of that? No, you didn't. All you ever did was get her hopes up. Hell, it was a known secret that Isane really liked you, and that you didn't feel as strongly as she did. It got to the point where it was starting to become almost pathetic. I know at one point Yumichika even had a talk with her about it..."

Shuhei looked as if someone had slapped him across the face, as he flinched sharply at the verbal retort.

"I believe her heart was broken when you started seeing Ran in a serious manner," Izuru said. "She seemed pretty down in the dumps there for a bit when she realized that not only was there no room for hope anymore, but that she had been nothing more than second-best."

"It wasn't like that at all," Shuhei said defensively. "I tried, but it just didn't work for me. But I also never gave her any promises of any kind," he said looking over at Renji. "I also never made any bones about how I felt about Rangiku either. Besides, that woman isn't..." he said trailing off dejectedly.

"Trouble in paradise so soon?" Renji said with a surprised look on his face. "Hell ,Shu, you have only been dating for what, a month? You having your first lover's tiff already?"

Shuhei shrugged. "Honestly? I think that her heart is elsewhere. I think that I am nothing more than a temporary diversion for her..."

Both Renji and Izuru wanted to be supportive of their friend, but they also knew in no small measure did Shuhei deserve to feel what it was like to be on the other end of such a relationship. If at least temporarily for Isane's sake.

Renji made a rude noise. "She still pining over Ichimaru?"

"No," Shuhei said shaking his head. "She got over Gin a while ago. She came to terms years ago. No, this is someone and something stronger..."

Izuru's eyes opened wide. "Captain Hitsugaya?"

Renji looked at Izuru with horror while Shuhei looked over with resignation.

"Yeah, him..."

Renji looked at the other men aghast. "Are you serious?! She is years older than him, and they are soooo not compatible. I mean...No way!"

"Are you so surprised, Renji?" Izuru asked. "Captain Hitsugaya is not only her perfect foil, but he also both guides and controls her. He knows when to hold her back as well as when to give her her lead. They are a perfect match, if you ask me."

"I figured it out when I saw her watching him one time," Shuhei said. "She had this look in her eyes that I had never seen when she was looking at me. It was as if he was the only reason for her to get up in the morning. She watched him with every bit of her essence."

"Well, she is going to have to wait more than a few years for him to grow up a but more. Gods! He is just a teenager, and she is a tad more mature in her years, let's just say..." Renji shook his head like he couldn't even begin to fathom any of it.

"I think that she will do just that," Renji," Izuru said. "True love has immeasurable patience and understanding."

"So as of now I am nothing more than a Boy Toy for her," Shuhei said with resignation. "I am good enough to kill time is all."

"And that isn't what you want, is it, Shuhei?" Izuru poured all three of them more tea.

Shuhei shook his head.

"So that puts you in a sort of bind now, doesn't it?" Izuru said cocking his head to the side. "You could have had all that and more with Isane, but gave it up to have less that what you thought with Rangiku now. Does that about sum things up?"

Renji hissed in his breath. "Shit, Izuru, that sounds kind of cold, don't you think?"

Izuru shook his head. "No, that is just stating plain facts."

"No, Renji," Shuhei said, "Izuru is right. He is only stating the obvious truth."

"But if you could get Isane back, would you really want her? More importantly, would she really want you..." Izuru took a sip of his tea and looked at his friend seriously. "Or would you really only want her because of what went on with Captain Kurotsuchi and yourself?"

"I still don't see what she sees in him," Shuhei said darkly. "I would almost rather her be involved with Captain Zaraki over him..."

Izuru nodded as if he understood everything.

"She would probably do very with the Captain of The Eleventh too. Isane needs someone that is her total opposite," Izuru said to both of his astonished friends. "I am serious. Shuhei, you and Isane would have never worked out. You are both too alike. Both of you, and not just Isane, needs a partner that is their contrast in order to find true happiness. Yes, Isane and Captain Kurotsuchi have many things that are at odds with each other, but they also have many things that mesh seamlessly as well. They have together both a great diversity and commonality that makes them more than well suited. I commend them on their triumph."

Izuru took a calm sip of tea and looked pleased at his observations.

Neither Renji nor Shuhei could say anything for a few moments. All they could do was look on at their friend in wonder and bewilderment. Finally Renji gave a great laugh and slapped Izuru smartly on the back.

"Well, well, well! Who knew, Shuhei, that we were friends with such a philosopher?"

Izuru turned a beet red and looked away in embarrassment. "It is nothing more than common sense, idiot.."

"Well," Shuhei said after the laughter had calmed down, "whatever it is I am not sure that I like it," he finished darkly.

"What it is, Shuhei, is something that you need to leave alone," Renji said. "You can't afford to really go up against Captain Kurotsuchi. None of us can, and you heard him that night. He won't just take you down fast and hard, but rather long and slow...and I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy. Leave her be, Shuhei. Just leave the whole situation be."

Looking off into the distance Shuhei gave a long, low growl. But not because of what he heard, but rather what he saw: Isane Kotetsu. She was walking with a basket of goods, and slowly perusing the near by stores. He had become fixated upon her, for some reason. He had suddenly made a decision, and would not in any way be swayed. Somewhere behind him he heard one or both of his friends call his name as he left them and walked with a purpose toward his quarry. Their pleas got dimer and dimer as he got farther and farther away...

The Twelfth Division

Mayuri poured over some new computations at his desk, and he was becoming increasingly frustrated with them. He had three very important experiments going on simultaneously, and each one was depending on the others. A snag in one meant that there would be difficulty with the others, and right now he was looking at what could possibly turn into a cluster-fuck. It wouldn't get too out of hand as those working directly under him would never let anything get too out of control. Mostly because they were just that professional, but also because they feared any possible repercussions. But he surprisingly felt no ill-will or annoyance at anyone in regards to these temporary set-back. Since Isane had been off the previous night they had met at her new apartment, and had spent a very pleasurable evening doing very little more than laying about in each others arms. He had never thought of himself as being a romantic man, and in many ways he still didn't, but there was something alluring to spending hour after hour naked with a beautiful (and also naked) woman. Where once before he had thought the idea wasteful and trite, now it had a certain elegance to it. Plus, it just felt so damn good...

It was late in the afternoon, and he still felt that fuzzy satisfaction and somnolence that lingered after such prolonged encounters. With a light hum of mild annoyance he pushed the papers aside and sat back in his chair. He would get something to eat and ponder further what could have happened to his research projects when he felt a sudden jolt to his system. It was Ashisogi Jizo, and he was agitated.

Mayuri-sama, Itegumo has just told me that they are being waylaid in the market over in the Second District. It is the Temporary Acting Captain Hisagi who has stopped her on her way back to The Seireitei. Shall we go to them now?

Mayuri immediately snapped to attention; he became tense with agitation and a quickly rising fury. How dare that idiotic miscreant even go anywhere near Isane, and after all that he had told him! Who was he to think that he could pull such a maneuver? Ignore the Captain of the Twelfth? Was the Temporary Acting Captain an imbecile?! He stood immediately to flash-step his way to her side when he suddenly stopped.

He decided that he could possibly use this opportunity to conduct an interesting experiment...this might prove to be highly enlightening.

"Are they in any danger, Ashisogi Jizo?"

No, but Itegumo said that Isane is becoming very agitated... Aren't we going to them?

Mayuri smiled at the angry impatience surrounding his zanpakutou.

"Ashisogi Jizo, can you hear their conversation through Itegumo what is going on? Without having to bother either Itegumo or Isane, that is..."

Yes. Itegumo is very open, as she does not seem to mind me hearing conversations that she has with Isane. I don't think that Isane minds either, but if I do listen in I don't think that she even always knows...I think that both of them like the feeling that neither you nor I are very far away. ..

"How accommodating Itegumo is," Mayuri said slyly. "And no, we are never so far away that we cannot at any moment come to their rescue. Why don't we just sit back and wait a bit, shall we? No need to intervene yet, Ashisogi Jizo."

He thought it amusing that his zanpakutou would occasionally eaves-drop without the other pairs knowledge. How very like himself! Yes...this might make a very interesting experiment. A very fascinating foray into what one could and could not do if zanpakutou were so perfectly aligned such as theirs. Sitting back down he made himself comfortable. Folding his hands together and placing them across his stomach he closed his eyes and drifted off.

The West Rukongai

The Second District.

Isane stood in the middle of the busy street immobile with incredulity. Here standing before her was Shuhei, and with a look of such intensity that she had never seen before. She was stymied as to why all of a sudden he would want to have anything to do with her, and especially since their last meeting. When he had waylaid her on her way to see Captain Komamura he had all but accused her of being desperate and naïve. It had simultaneously enraged and depressed her; how dare he make such accusations when he had made it clear that their relationship was nothing more than casual. And now here he was acting like a scorned lover...

"Shuhei, I don't understand what you want," Isane said hesitantly.

"I was just wondering if you wanted to walk back to the Seireitei with me, that's all."

Isane looked at him as if trying to sense an ulterior motive. Unable to figure out exactly what it was that he could want she shook her head, shrugged, and started walking. She seemed as if she couldn't care less if he kept up with her or not. But he did, and he even walked slightly closer than normal to her.

"We haven't seen each other in a while, Isane. I was just wondering how you were doing," he said casually.

"I have been busy with my division, you know how it goes," she said absentmindedly.

"I heard that you have an apartment away from your division, is that true, Isane?"

Isane nodded but said nothing. She just kept walking, but with each step that she took the small furrow between her eyes was growing.

Shuhei startled her by taking her arm and pulling her off to the side, and out of the way of all the bustling pedestrians. Looking down at the hand that had her arm captive Isane slowly raised her stormy eyes to meet Shuhei's obsidian ones. At her side she thought she felt a small pulse travel between her and Itegumo, but it was gone almost as quickly as it began.

"Shuhei, what is it?" she asked impatiently. "I have to be on-duty pretty soon, and I don't have time for this..."

"Did you get an apartment off-division, Isane?" Shuhei now held both her slender arms in his large, strong hands.

Isane was silent for a moment before answering. "Why do you want to know, Shuhei? Is it because you are thinking of getting one for yourself?"

Both knew by the tone of her voice and the look in her eye that the question was rhetorical. Both knew the answer to that question.

"I was thinking that maybe I could come over and visit you sometime," he said quietly.

It was then that Isane felt Itegumo almost thrum against her side, but once again she was too concerned about what was literally in front of her then to wonder about what might be going on with Itegumo. Since her snow cat had been keeping silent she figured that those ruminations could keep until later. If there was anything pressing then Itegumo would have spoken up. Besides, it was time for her to force Shuhei to say what he really wanted to say. He never was one for obfuscations, and which was why she was so so confused now.

"Shuhei, what is it that really really want to know? Just ask me."

Shuhei looked down momentarily at the ground and growled low in his throat.

Isane's eyes widened at a sudden thought.

"Shuhei, why aren't you spending time with Rangiku? I thought that the two of you were happy together? You should be spending the time with her right now. Today is her day off."

Shuhei gave a small flinch as he momentarily looked away. "I think that maybe I ran my course with her," he mumbled.

Isane looked incredulous. "So the two of you aren't together anymore?"

Shuhei shrugged. " Not all the time."

Isane nodded as if she understood, and in many ways she did.

"So, now that you find that you have all this free time, so to speak, you want to start spending it with me?"

"It isn't really like that, Isane, you make it sound like-"

"I make it sound like exactly what it is, Shuhei," Isane said tightly. "Before you hooked-up with Rangiku, and I started seeing Mayuri, you really didn't have too much time for me. Or, I should say that you only had time for me when it was convenient for you."

Shuhei flushed slightly at her bold words. He also didn't fail to notice that when she phrased the pairings she made her relationship with Kurotsuchi appear to be much more important and substantial then the one he had with Matsumoto.

An audible vibration was heard, and Shuhei gave Isane a perplexed look.

"Did you hear that, Isane? What-"

"Never mind about that right now, Shuhei, what I want to know is why I have become interesting again, or maybe just all of a sudden?"

Taking an uncharacteristically menacing step toward Shuhei she got almost in his face. And any good mood that she had been in before meeting him was now absent from every bit of her person; her face was frowning and her body was tight with irritation. Shuhei visibly braced himself. He had seen her temper before, and though it only reared occasionally when it did come to the surface it wasn't very pretty...

"Shuhei," she said softly, " don't think that I can't figure out what is going on. I may be slow at times but I do figure things out eventually. I did figure us out not to long ago... I know that I liked you more than you liked me, and I am fine with that. Sometimes that happens. At least you didn't find me totally repugnant... You have always held a torch for Ran, and I understood that too. Many men do. I eventually figured all that out as well. I might not have been as fast as everyone else in the Seireitei, but I wasn't too far behind, and no matter what most people think. So, I am asking you again, and please tell me the truth this time, why would you want to start spending time with me?"

For a brief moment silence hung heavy in the air between them. It was palpable and expectant.

"Because I finally realize what I lost, Isane," Shuhei said simply. "And I hope that it isn't too late..."

Isane's eye grew wide, but then she closed them and shook her head. She let out a long breath of air and opened her eyes to look clearly into Shuhei's.

"Shuhei, maybe one time that might have worked for me; me sitting off to the side while you figured out what you wanted, and all the time enjoying yourself. But now? Now things- and me in particular- have changed. I am very happy and content with my life, and even with all the upheaval that is going on around me right now with my sister, the Shinigami Women's Association, and all the extra work that the Fourth has been given. I sometimes don't know if I am coming or going, but even that is fine by me. And do you know why? Because in all that chaos, turmoil, and frustration I have something- someone- that takes some of the burden off my shoulders and stops the world from spinning so fast."

Shuhei's face gave away nothing of what he was possibly thinking about inside.

"That's right, Shuhei, it is exactly who you think it is: Mayuri. He has stood in front of me when I was being threatened in order to protect me, has stood by my side when I felt myself falter, and stood behind me to watch my back when people thought that they could malign me without having to face me. And the most wonderful and incredible thing about him was that I never had to ask for his help. Not even once. He was always just there, and most times before I even knew that I needed him. He anticipated correctly exactly what I needed, and without having to be asked just gave himself to me. Not many people have such a person in their life, but I certainly do, and I for one wouldn't dream of squandering or taking advantage of such a wonderful gift. So the idea of you and I as anything more than friends is ludicrous."

Suddenly both Itegumo and Kazeshimi seemed to sing. Where Shuhei looked shocked and even slightly alarmed, Isane appeared calm and blissful.

"Do you see what I mean, Shuhei? I never walk alone. Not since I've had him in my life."

And with a large smile, and a toss of her hair Isane walked proudly back to her division.

The Twelfth Division

Mayuri threw his head back and gave a long and lusty laugh. After many moments when his laughter had died down to occasional chuckles his body still vibrated with extreme pleasure. What had started out as a simple experiment to satisfy his curiosity had ended with not only that curiosity being slaked, but just another reason why Isane was so perfect for him (and apparently he was just as perfect for her as well).

Mayuri couldn't wait to see Isane, and for many reasons. He was curious to see if she would tell him of her meeting with the cretin Hisagi, and how much detail she would go in. He must also remember to ask Ashisogi Jizo what he thought of the whole thing, and how much Itegumo was aware of their silent observations. He now felt only a tenuous connection to Itegumo through Ashisogi Jizo, and only if he concentrated very hard. During their height of the encounter he had felt as if he was in Itegumo himself, and had heard and seen things very clearly through the Isane/Itegumo pairing. His head was still spinning at the contact high that he had felt while being connected to all three simultaneously. He couldn't wait to try that again!

A sudden thought came to him that caused a devious grin to split his face. He had been badgered by General Yamamoto to give a demonstration of the bond between his and Isane's zanpakutou, and at first he had dug in his heals and cried foul; a breach of trust superseded any professional security that was believed to have been breached. Debate and arguments were still being bandied about between Captains about whether they should or shouldn't conduct this experiment. Soi Fon thought his and Isane's relationship a threat somehow to the natural order, and he thought she was just being a jealous, interfering bitch as usual. Unohana was dead-set against it, and standing on the platform that Mayuri made for her of personal privacy being violated. The others he felt were just plain curious, and nothing more. Where once he had been adamantly against it, but now? As possibilities and probabilities were starting to form he was starting to look at things in a new light. Now he might be ready to show them all what a strong bond the four shared. In fact, he was ready to rub a few faces in it to prove his point and gain personal satisfaction and amusement. Yes, he would gladly show his fellow captains (and maybe even their lieutenants as well?) what they were missing out on. Let them look on in despair; not of what a threat such a union would bring, but rather what some would never have. He especially relished the idea of those that did have a partner now seeing how lackluster and mundane their own pairing truly was.

There was no way that he was going to let this Golden Opportunity slip by...Yes, for once and for all he would set more than a few people straight!

A/N: This chapter just wrote itself (for good or bad- pardon any errors). I am in the midst of writing the next. I so have Mayuri-on-the -brain right now!