Shiohin Yoruichi woke up groggily and quickly took measure of her surroundings. She was in a dormitory room of the Spiritual Arts Academy; one that did not have an occupant, she noted. Beside a bed there wasn't anything else in the room. She tried to stand up but only managed to flop to her side, finding her leg constricted somehow. She was still in her cat form and there were white bandages running from her middle to one of her back legs.
The door opened and Potter Harry entered with a saucer and bottle in his hands. Yoruichi backed up but the bandages still tripped her up. He kneeled across from her and poured milk in the saucer. The way water was beading on the bottle told Yoruichi that it was definitely chilled, just the way she liked it best.
Carefully he laid the saucer right in front of her where she was crouched on the bed. "Go ahead, you need to build up your strength," he said. Yoruichi dipped her head and lapped up the delicious milk, realizing that she was starving. He chuckled and said, "What? You don't think I poisoned it?"
Yoruichi purred contently. "If you were going to kill me you would have done it already. Poison isn't your style." She continued drinking the milk. "Can I have some more?"
He reached over and poured more in the saucer. "You are very calm for a prisoner," he said.
"And you are very kind for a jailer, Potter Harry. You healed me, sheltered me, and fed me." She stared at him fixedly for a moment before going back to her milk.
He did not respond to her but simply watched her while he rested against the wall of the room. Yoruichi finished the milk, feeling much more refreshed and prepared for the confrontation with the first year cadet. Seeing how he had cared for her, she imagined it wasn't to be a physical challenge but a mental one. She decided to take the initiative, "So why did you save me after I tried to kill you?" Yoruichi watched the expression on his face carefully; he seemed bored or maybe he was just tired.
He shrugged and said, "Who knows really why?"
Yoruichi licked her paws to buy time for her next question. "Just like I know that you won't poison someone, I also know you won't let someone who's tried to kill you live. Your underlings, Tokiwa and his boys, talk about your ruthlessness all the time."
He smiled at that, a wry and amused expression. "It's probably not smart to believe rumors, cat. I can see it bothers you not to know why I let you live, so let's just say I have some questions only you can answer."
"I beat you easily before, Potter-san. I see you don't have your Zanpakutō even. Do you really think you can make me do anything I don't want to?" Yoruichi said and projected her reiatsu; even if it was weaker in her cat form, it was enough to rip apart the bandages on her, leaving her free to revert to her human form. She was a little annoyed to see that Potter was not impressed. He had that same bored tired expression he had been sporting since he'd come into the room.
"Old cat, you're welcome to attack me again if you like," he said and yawned displaying his ennui.
Yoruichi decided that she would at least scratch his face to make him take her seriously. She wasn't yet ready to change into her human form and escalate matters. She leapt from the bed with claws extended and smacked into an invisible barrier at the border of the bed. The air shimmered blue to show her Kidō symbols inscribed on the bed sheets, the wall the bed was flush against, and in the air as well; she was boxed in. Throwing caution to the wind she tried to change into her human form but failed when a terrible pain shot through her bones. There was another Kidō spell stopping her transformation. Until that moment, Yoruichi had not known such a spell existed.
She mewled in pain on her back. "That was a dirty trick."
"You tried to kill me, cat. It's smart to control your movements," Potter said. "I didn't really know how you would react when you woke up, but this was the worst case scenario, so I planned for it."
Yoruichi righted herself, feeling the shock of the barrier Kidō spell wear off quickly. She stared at the boy who had her at his mercy until she figured out a way to break the Kidō cell he had her trapped in. "I overreacted, you had me at a disadvantage and a cat never likes to be in that position."
He nodded with a tired smile. "That's ok. I would've done the same thing. So now to the questions I have. Was the only reason you tried to execute me that I couldn't control my sword?"
Yoruichi nodded her fuzzy head. "But it looks like I don't have a reason to do that any longer, since you dominated your sword just as I stuck it through your back."
He rolled his eyes. "Yes, that was very pleasant, thank you. So now that my sword is no longer a problem, do you still intend to execute me?"
Yoruichi licked her lips; a gesture of amusement of her cat self. "If I say yes, you would just kill me within your trap right now. If I say no, you would have no reason to believe me, because I would say anything to get out of this situation."
"Yeah, I guess that was a pretty stupid question. Well, next one then, I'm guessing you're part of the secret corps since you were spying on me all this time, and I also think that you were the only one on my case because no one has showed up looking for you since you disappeared three days ago. Am I right?"
Yoruichi was surprised to hear she had been unconscious that long. The hit she had taken had not been that hard. "I was the only one watching you. Whether I am from the secret corps or not you can keep guessing about. Now answer me a question, how is it that you're still here? There must have been an investigation into who killed those students."
"They're still alive," he said, but didn't elaborate.
"That only makes your situation worse. They would've reported who injured them so badly," Yoruichi insisted.
He shrugged again and cleaned his glasses on his robes in affected casualness. "Things just worked out. They're alive and working for Tokiwa now. No one else found out anything."
Yoruichi was burning with curiosity; obviously there was more to it than that, Potter as much admitted it with his body language if not with his words. If she escaped she would definitely find out how he managed to cover up what he had done.
"I have one more question for you, then you can go. Tell me, and please be honest, do you know anything about witches or wizards? Are you one yourself?" he asked with open desperation.
Yoruichi curbed her immediate impulse to be flippant about the question like she had been the first time he had asked her. She realized that their positions had been reversed since then. At that time he had been her prisoner. "No, Potter-san, I do not know what wizards or witches are, nor am I one. I am sorry that I am not the one you're looking for."
He sighed and softly hit the back of his head against the wall in disappointment. "Aye, I had a feeling my luck wasn't going to turn for the better."
Yoruichi stood on the bed and asked, "Will you let me go now?"
He came out of his sad reverie and stood as well. "Yes, but before you leave, you should know that if I die you will die as well. I have cast a special binding Kidō. It took me two days to craft in your blood. Visit me once a month to make sure you continue living. If you don't the spell will activate by itself."
Yoruichi felt her blood turn to ice and she hardly noticed when he dissipated the Kidō cell he had trapped her in. "You bastard, what if you're killed during your training or by a Hollow?" She growled.
He turned his tired eyes at her and gave her a look of loathing. "You said yourself that it's not like me to let anyone live who has tried to kill me. Unfortunately I can't kill you, which leaves me in a bad position. I can ensure you won't try to kill me again by making certain that you'll die with me. So this is the only way I can feel safe, cat."
He began walking away but Yoruichi vaulted off the bed and stood in his path, blocking the door frame. "Why didn't you just kill me outright?" She was beyond enraged but as the one who would one day command all the Secret Corps she understood well the value of information and knowing the motivations of the enemy. If she was going to find a way out of the binding on her, she needed to know Potter's mind.
He scoffed and smiled as if the question amused him. "You agreed to my dying request to use my sword to kill me because you felt you owed me for saving your friend's life. Now, I don't know who that friend is, but I have a very good guess who it might be, and I don't want to bring her grief." With that explanation he left walking down the dormitory hallway.
"Such a soft heart!" Yoruichi mocked behind his back. She ran to a window, planning on rushing back to her manor. She needed to find a way to contact an old friend, one who was the most powerful Kidō master she knew.
As she ran through the Academy grounds fear gnawed at her. She had seen Potter Harry's skill with Kidō at his entrance exam. He was a master himself no doubt. There were few who advanced to Level 60 spells and only the elite could execute Level 80 Demon Magic. Potter Harry had performed both at the exam, and performed the higher level magic without incantation; an ability which was rare even amongst Kidō masters.
The small hope in Yoruichi's heart that Potter was bluffing began to die. She could believe that he had crafted such a magic, after all he did look as if he had stayed up two days with his slow movements and dark circles under his eyes.
She cursed herself for her oversight. She had been so focused on the danger his sword represented, she had forgotten about the power of the boy. And now the princess of the Shiohin Clan, heir apparent to the clan and the Secret Corps was bound to the life of a ruthless Shinigami-to-be from the outreaches of Rukongai.
There was one hope, however, she thought. Shiba Kukaku was their mutual friend, and he had spared her life for Kukaku's sake. Maybe she could gain his trust through Kukaku and have him release the magic he had cursed her with.
The princess ran breathlessly, reminded of mortal fear for the first time in three hundred years.
I sensed the spiritual signature of the cat animagus leave the Academy grounds and sighed in relief. Dealing with that situation had taken more energy than I had to spare. The consequences of the last few days of bad choices loomed, so I decided that I deserved a little distraction and took the path to the Academy's healing ward. It was the day of Akihasa-senpai's release and I was curious to see if she had recovered well. Her classmates had thought that she would want to see me.
One wing of the third floor of the Academy housed the healing ward. I saw less and less people as I made my way to it for the first time. I imagined it was because not many people had a reason to be around the healing ward and those few there were quiet out of consideration for patients. The sudden and loud steps of someone coming my way startled me; it seemed the man was not concerned that he was probably disturbing someone. He was looking at the floor ahead of him as he stomped, probably caught up in some thought. When it became obvious he was going to run right into me I called: "Watch out."
He snapped his head up and glared at me from a white painted face, his yellow eyes protruded, and his teeth were bared in anger or madness. Instinctively, I stepped back and my hand went to the hilt of my sword. He passed me by doing nothing more than shooting me a hateful look. I stared after him and noticed the gloves he was wearing which stretched all the way to his elbows; they were gloves that healers wore to protect themselves from reiryoku contamination. So the man was a healer, yet he wore a student uniform. Putting him out of my mind for the moment I walked around the corner to find yet another person rushing down the hall. He wore the black uniform of a Shinigami and also the healer gloves which Retsu had never thought to make me use when she was training me.
"Did you see Mayuri-san walk by?" he asked, agitatedly.
"If you mean the one with the white painted face and yellow eyes, yes. He went that way." I pointed over my shoulder, now more curious about what was happening.
"Thank you. If you're here for help, I can't take care of you right now. Come back later," he said brushing past me.
"Just here for Akihisa-senpai," I said, unable to keep the annoyed tone out of my voice. Some healer he was, turning away a patient like that.
"Good!" He shouted back, "Make sure she gets to class safely." And then he turned the corner and was gone from sight too.
"What the Hell?" I wondered out loud to myself. Finding myself standing alone like an idiot in the once again hushed hallway I decided to go meet Akihisa-senpai, whose care had been committed to me so callously by the healer.
The healing ward was divided up by fusuma walls, so I randomly began to slide them to check into rooms. It seemed that the ward was fairly empty. I was peaking around a divider, making sure I wasn't walking in on someone, when someone tapped my shoulder. I whirled and found myself face to face with the frowning eyes of Akihisa-senpai. It was the first time I was seeing her in daylight but my first impressions of her still held true: she was of medium height, with brown hair cut below her chin, with a plain and clear face. In the morning, however, her brown eyes were very large and uncomfortably expressive, because right then they were expressing deep suspicion.
"Why are you peeping, Potter-san?" she asked angrily.
"I was looking for you, Akihisa-senpai. I heard you were being released today," I said with a smile to cover my embarrassment.
Her eyes narrowed. "So you were trying to peep on me?"
"Uh...you have the wrong idea. I was just looking for you to see how you're doing." I raised my hands in an 'I'm innocent' gesture.
She smiled and nodded. "Good. I didn't want to believe all those bad rumors about you, Potter-san. Thank you for coming to see me but I have to go to class." She turned on her heel with that and rapidly started walking away.
"Wait! The healer said I should stay with you to make sure you get to class alright." I ran up to her and she gave me a pleasant smile as I fell in step with her. We left the ward and started making our way to the classrooms wing of the Academy. I felt the silence was awkward and tried to think of something to say but she didn't seem to mind. "So, how are you feeling, Akihisa-senpai?" She froze in her tracks and bowed so fast I had to leap back to save myself from her head colliding in my chest.
"You saved my life, Potter-san. Thank you so much. As your senpai, it should have been me who was watching out for you, forgive me," she said with deep emotion, staying bowed at the waist.
"Senpai, please, it was my duty, you don't have to thank me." I awkwardly guided her to stand by her shoulders.
She looked at my hands on her shoulder and frowned at me. "Potter-san, it's inappropriate to touch a lady you are not familiar with."
I jerked my hands back as if burned. "Sorry."
She smiled happily. "See? You really are a kind person. I keep telling everyone you're not a raping vagabond from the outlands."
I was a little stunned at her observation and it took me a few seconds before I chuckled awkwardly and said, "Thank you, I think."
She nodded and briskly made her to the classrooms, not giving a sign that only a few days ago she had been gutted by a creature of nightmares. Shinigami, much like wizards and witches, are surprisingly resilient beings.
"Potter-san, why do I hear so many bad things about you?" she asked curiously.
I shrugged. "I don't know, Akihisa-senpai. My friends tell me that I don't know how to show respect. I don't mean to offend people. Honestly, I am too busy to think of anyone really."
She nods. "You are the only student in Class Zero, Potter-san. It's an honor, you should behave better than everyone since they look up to you. You're supposed to be the best of the new students at the Academy." She shoots me a sidelong look which seems very teacher-like.
"Thanks for the advice," I chuckle. She is such a socially awkward girl to be so forward with someone she doesn't really know. She was a well meaning person, however, as I came to learn the better I got to know her.
"I know you're a good person, Potter-san. The problem is that you don't have a senpai watching out for you or a class representative to teach you the rules. So from now on I will take care of you." She reached out and patted my head in a very patronizing manner, but the warm smile on her face stopped my rebuke.
"I don't really care what other people think of me, Akikisa-senpai, you don't have to worry about me." I picked up the pace a little bit, hoping to bring the girl to her classroom as fast as possible.
She clucked her tongue in a disapproving manner. "But I care what others think of you, Potter-san."
"You are too kind," I said uncomfortably, I hoped she wasn't going to ask me on a date any time soon.
"You can blame them for not trying to know the truth about you, but you have a responsibility to be the best person you can be as well, Potter-san. You are the pride of the Academy and one of my precious juniors," she said.
Ah! I understood: now that she had taken me under her wing she would protect my reputation as if it were her own. It was almost charming how seriously seniors took the care of those juniors they had claimed responsibility for. It would be nothing short of unforgivably disrespectful to deny Akihisa-senpai now. I bowed shortly in response.
She paused in front of a door and fixed her uniform. I stepped forward to slide the door open for her. The history instructor motioned me in, but I stood aside for Akihisa-senpai to enter ahead of me. "Excuse me, sensei," she said and the room hushed.
"It's Akihisa the dunce…I thought the Hollows ate her," someone said not quietly enough. I whipped my head toward the source but could not tell who had said it. There were some murmurs as Akihisa blushed and I glowered.
"Not a problem, Akihisa-san, please take your seat. Potter-kun, what did you need?" The grey haired man asked me kindly.
"I'm just escorting Akihisa-senpai, sensei. I'll be taking my leave now," I said and bowed.
"Wow, they don't trust Akihisa the dunce to even walk to her own class, she gets an escort!" That same someone commented and the class erupted in snickering.
"Please, do not call Akihisa-senpai that name in my presence." I came out of my bow and faced the class tapping the hilt of my sword meaningfully.
"Quiet everyone. Potter-kun, fighting is not allowed outside of-" The instructor was saying but was interrupted.
"Oi! Who the Hell do you think you are to challenge us?" A grown man stood up from his seat in the middle of the room.
Akihisa stood as well. "There won't be any fighting. Potter-kun, please, as member of class zero you have to set an example. Apologize to the teacher." She pointed her finger at me imperiously.
From any other person I wouldn't tolerate that, but seeing as I was the one trying to defend her, it wouldn't do to not listen to her in front of her classmates who were only too happy to make fun of her. I bowed again once to Akihisa-senpai and then to the instructor, "My apologies for disrupting the class. Please, excuse me. Akihisa-senpai, take care, and please call on me if you need anything."
I took off hearing the instructor attempt to settled his class which was practically buzzing now. The rumor mill would be sending around tales of my latest altercation, I was sure.
That night was my date with Tohsaka Yukika, the young woman in Class One of first years. The peach blossom festival was celebrated at night, where people walked amongst the trees and admired the blooming pink flowers. I was in my normal school uniform but everyone else was dressed up for the occasion. My date, Yukika was wearing a pale green yukata with a pink sash tied at her back. Her silky blond hair was held in place by two bone white combs to fall in a symmetrical sheet behind her. She turned her face up to me and smiled softly, pleased that I was gazing at her. I blushed and looked away, finding it hard to meet her deep black eyes. The way her hair had streamed to the side and exposed her slender neck when she looked up at me was inviting a caress; she was a beautiful woman and she knew it well.
"Thank you for bringing me here, Potter-san. Isn't the moon beautiful tonight?" she said, taking my arm in her robe covered one.
"Ah, yeah…but all these lamps in the trees are making it hard to look at it," I said distractedly, more focused on the fact that she was touching me. I knew well that there was no way that a woman of her social standing would deign to be romantically interested in someone like me, but I couldn't think rationally faced with her charming looks.
We walked a little more on the cleared paths in the garden of peach blossom trees, watching the trees lit up by lanterns, and pausing to speak to other classmates. Small fires, the lanterns, and the comfortable press of people enjoying themselves, made me feel warm and at ease. It was nice to see all these people act happily and friendly whereas I usually saw them learning to fight monsters or one-man-upping each other. Even Tohsaka Yukika who I counted amongst the most arrogant people in my year was sweet to people that night. It was she who stopped to speak to others, I mostly stood at her side and smiled politely. Sadly, it seemed that people didn't know what to make of me and didn't do more than nod or bow awkwardly to me.
"It is a beautiful night to gaze at the moon and drink, Potter-san. You're right, the lamps are spoiling the view. I know a quiet place where we can enjoy peacefully," she said and tugged me off the path. We walked over tree roots before the ground opened up to small quaint house. On the veranda there were several couples or people sitting by themselves with sake bottles and saucers.
We sat on cushions laid out by servers. A woman offered us drinking saucers and pored us some sake. Yukika-san scooted her cushion close to mine and leaned on me as she settled to watch the moon. We stayed like that for while, letting the whispers of others around envelope us just like the moonlight did. I admit I began to slip and my eyelids fell as I descended into that half-asleep half-awake land. After the days I had had it was a wonderfully relaxing moment and I held on to it for dear life; it was easy there in on the edge of river of dreams to forget everything.
"I'm happy," I said, puzzled by my thought. I didn't know how long it had been that I had been without worry.
"I'm glad to hear it, Potter-san," Yukika said, placing her hand on my arm.
And just like that the magic of the moment was broken. I opened my eyes and took a fortifying sip of sake. "Yukika-san, thank you for coming with me to the festival."
She smiled at me, looking even more beautiful in the soft moonlight. The solid blacks of her eyes were like smoothed stone, closing off anyway for me to see what she was thinking or feeling. I remembered Rangiku's eyes; I had seen them washed under the moonlight just like I saw Yukika-san's then, but there the similarity ended; Rangiku's grey gaze was always full of naked emotion. When I thought of Rangiku openness, the closed off mystery of Yukika-san made me wary.
"It is a pleasure to be here with you right now, but I have to ask, what do you want with me?" I said.
"It was you who asked me to come with you, Potter-san, don't you remember?" she asked and giggled, which only set me on edge.
"Yes, that's true," I said. "But it makes me wonder why a noblewoman such as you would accept my invitation."
"Are you not enjoying yourself, Potter-san? You said you were, so why ask?" She adjusted her legs so she was no longer leaning on me. She took a sip from her saucer and kept looking at the moon as if it was all that mattered.
I sighed, knowing that if I pressed her more it would be impolite. "Yukika-san, you are a noblewoman, you are very beautiful, and I know you don't think much of anyone who is not of noble blood. Accepting my invitation and being seen with me should be beneath you."
"It is odd, you don't seem to have a problem with Shiba Kukaku being in your company, Potter-san," Yukika -san countered, the light tone now absent from her voice.
"I know her motivations and I know that it does not matter to her where I come from." I picked up the bottle to pour more sake for the both of us.
"Thank you." She bowed shortly. "It is not polite to be suspicious of a woman who is willing to bear your company, Potter-san."
"Ah, you see, now that sounds more like you," I said with a smile.
"Why must I do this!" She slammed the saucer down on the floor hard enough to crack it and spill the sake. The couples around us quieted to stare at us but went back to their own conversations soon enough.
I felt a little hot from embarrassment and anger; I had known it was all an act on her part but I had let myself enjoy the charade. The only consolation I had was that I hadn't let it continue. Now for some answers. "Yukika-san, I think a lot of people dismiss anyone who isn't a noble or doesn't come from the inner districts of Rukongai. Many people look at me and think I'm an uncultured thug just because I am from the far districts. That is your mistake, but it doesn't concern me, I go about my own business. Now, however, you have decided that you want something from me and for some reason think that being a little nice to me and dressing up will make me forget about your personality and your views. I don't know if you're aware of this, but you are very vocal about the superiority of the nobles and how people from the far districts shouldn't be in the same classes as you."
We drank in silence for a while and I didn't press her more. That she had not denied anything I had said was confession enough for me. Would she tell me what she wanted or not was really immaterial. All I needed to know was that she wished to use me. So I did like the others are enjoyed the night.
After a long time when couples began to leave the veranda and we were perhaps the last two left she spoke, "Potter-san, how much do you know about noble families?"
"Only what Kukaku has told me."
She scoffed. "Not much then." She quieted again and I began to wonder if perhaps I should get up and take us back to the paths. "Forgive me." She quickly took a gulp of sake, stealing it from my hand. "It was dishonorable of me to act the way I did. I can't believe I'm apologizing to a commoner."
I laughed, finding her self-disgust more amusing than insulting. "Don't worry, I'm as surprised as you are."
She frowned at me and stared. "Potter-san, why are you not upset when I speak my mind?"
Annette whispered something in my mind to say to Yukika-san. I smiled to the moon. "Yukika-san, you are more beautiful when you're honest."
She blushed and lowered her eyes; it was possibly the first true womanly thing she had done that night.
"Then I will tell you why I did what I did, because I don't think you will try to use it against me. I am the youngest daughter of a noble house, a noble but poor house. We have a good name but our influence is no longer the same as it once was. I need to distinguish myself in the Shinigami Academy and the Shinigami Court to bring prestige to my family." She finished the sake in my saucer and passed it back to me. I filled it up for her since I was done drinking for that night.
"And to do that you would go low enough to attach yourself to me?" I asked, wondering how that would really help her. Doing well at the Academy was all about your prowess in the Shinigami arts. It wasn't as if she needed me to do her homework for her.
"You will rise in the Courts, it is as clear as the moon tonight, Potter-san. With you I could rise as well, at least, that is what I had thought," she said.
I stood up and gave her a hand which she took with some surprise. She stood as well and I led her into the trees to find the path back to Academy. "Sounds like you have given up on that idea. I would say that is wise."
"Yes, I was wrong about you. You are too suspicious and I can't stand acting like a love struck girl," she said with a lot of annoyance, making me laugh again.
"Please stop being amused at my irritation, Potter-san." She glared.
"You led me around all night long, Yukika-san, it's only fair I get some honest enjoyment out of your company now. Why you would think being my girlfriend will get you ahead I can't understand."
"Your star is rising, Potter-san. You were handpicked by the Captain Commander of the Thirteen Divisions of the Imperial Guards to be the one and only student of Class Zero, even above Class One, the supposed class which is first before all," she said getting angrier and angrier.
"Yeah, I know all this. All it has gotten me is an impossible training schedule and ticked off instructors. It's not all that it's cracked up to be," I said.
"You don't understand, do you? The Captain Commander chose you himself, you won't be allowed to be anything but successful. I bet he already has a vice-captain position for you waiting somewhere," she growled, and I had to catch her as she stumbled over a tree root in her indignation.
"Yukika-san, you do have eyes don't you? Can't you see I am not enjoying any favoritism from the old man? I had to run on the bridge of regret and fight Hollows in my very first week at the Academy. Students don't fight Hollows till their fifth or sixth year!"
"Why do you think it is so infuriating for the rest of us?" she snapped as we came out of the tree cover and onto the path. I noticed that the lanterns had been taken down, the festival had ended. "It almost would have been easier to accept if you were just a political favorite of the Captain Commander with no real skill, but you are powerful and intelligent. It is too much to bear!" She threw up her hands and stormed off.
I, of course, laughed at this. She whirled and raised her hand beginning the incantation of the fireball spell. I rolled my eyes at her and opened my hand palm up with a small fireball already in it. She took one look at it and dropped her hand, clenching it in a fist by her side.
"You are truly unbearable, Potter-san."
I walked to her and took her arm. "Yes, I am." I smiled at her. "Let's get back to the Academy."
She sighed and nodded. "I will allow you to escort me back, it is the least I can do after deceiving you."
Her arrogance really did tickle me. "Yukika-san, you are truly beautiful when you're honest."
Her blush was lovely.
In a few days time all my dates were over and done with; awkward affairs all of them. In fact, going to the festival with Tohsaka Yukika had been the highlight. Of course, I was forgetting that my 'date' with Mao Melissa was still outstanding, she had postponed it to my relief.
I hadn't seen Rangiku for a long time, I was avoiding her after the incident with the upperclassmen. It had been long enough that I was beginning to feel foolish and not a little embarrassed about getting so upset with her. Well, either way, I could no longer avoid her. That evening was the first meeting of the calligraphy club in which she and I had been forcibly conscripted. I did not mind much, my Japanese writing was atrocious and it would be nice to do something besides learning how to kill things.
So I found myself looking forward to our first meeting and making peace with Rangiku. I was pleased when I rounded the corner to the club room and saw her standing there. Her back was to me and she seemed to be staring at something.
"Alright there, Rangiku?" I called out.
She jumped a little at my voice and then rolled her eyes at me. "Do you know what's going on here?" She motioned toward the entrance of the club room which was packed with women of all ages and class levels. They were holding parchment and buzzing with a manic sort of excitement.
"I don't believe it," I whispered. "They look a lot like groupies."
"What?" Rangiku scowled, coming to stand next to me. "What the Hell is a groupie? They look like they're hungry for something."
I hung my head, feeling my excitement about the club disappearing. "Please, please tell me that we don't have some pretty boy in this class. I bet that's who they are here for."
Rangiku punched me in the shoulder lightly and grinned. "See? This is what happens when you ignore me, you start getting silly ideas. They probably have snacks before the meeting starts. That's probably what that scary gleam in their eyes means, I have seen it before, you know."
"Want to bet?" I crossed my arms, knowing Rangiku would never back down from a bet.
She goggled at me. "You want to bet on something? No-Risk-sama?"
"If I'm right you have to go with Mao Melissa in my place on our date." I smirked at her.
"Fine, and if I am right, you…hmmm…you will have to confess your love to Genboro-sensei." She thrust a fist in the air in triumph, happy to have found something humiliating enough for me.
"Dear Merlin, I hope I am right. Let's go and see if we can get in then." I shoved her toward the door and she tried to elbow me. And just like that we were back to our usual antics. I had missed her.
It was a veritable sea of red and white robes of the female cadets of the Spiritual Arts Academy. I was the only man there and was really worried, the women didn't look too rational. Rangiku was pressing forward between the girls with my hand firmly clutched in hers. I was getting to know a lot of those women really really well.
"Sorry…didn't mean to touch there…just coming through…oh! that was lovely, sorry! It was an accident!" I tried to look as innocent as possible.
"Freak! Pervert!" was the general chorus around me.
Just about when I thought I was going to die by the hands of what looked like the entire female cadet population an excited scream went up around us and soon everyone was joining in the happy shrieking. And it was this way that I saw Sousuke Aizen for the first time.
The pretty boy had arrived.
Rangiku somehow managed to get to the head of the classroom while I was left with my back to the wall at the end. A scroll of blank paper was spread in front of me with an inkwell and brushes ready for use. That said, I had been there for half an hour and all the activity was centered around women of different ages showing 'Aizen-sama' the calligraphy they had done over the holidays. I was beginning to really hate the simpering and breathy way all of them said his name, as if it was pure ecstasy just to say the name and have him respond.
I sighed and fidgeted not for the first time since I had been there. I wish I could've hated the man more, but he was the furthest thing from an attention seeking predator I'd seen, considering that I had known Gilderoy Lockhart that was saying something. Well, if I couldn't hate him, I could certainly resent him: good looks, broad shouldered, tall, with thick brown hair, the fringe of which threatened to invade the tops of his rectangular glasses. He spoke gently but his voice carried, he was someone who could make himself easily heard without making an effort. Yeah…the women wanted him for him. When it comes to me they just see a convenient stepping stool to fame or higher status. Aizen looked like a nice guy, Cedric Diggory had been a nice guy, I didn't really like either of them.
I smiled to myself when I saw Rangiku plant herself squarely between Aizen's groupies and all but demand attention with her big smile and hair toss. She probably planned it to so that her orange red hair smacked the groupie leader across the face. Aizen was immediately attentive and took a brush to write something on Rangiku's scroll. She made appreciative noises and leaned in close to him. I couldn't hear what she said but it made Aizen chuckle. Well, no matter what he was, he wasn't immune to Rangiku's charms; then again, I don't know if there is anyone who is.
I closed my eyes and took deep breaths, slowly entering a meditative state. The club looked like a lost cause, at least I could 'calm the river' like Retsu says. I had discovered that after learning how to control Annette's thirst, I had to learn other aspects of her as if she were my Zanpakutō; much like I had been doing when I was trying to learn the name of my sword spirit originally. I had wondered with more than a little excitement if it meant I was going to have two Zanpakutōs but Izanami shot down that hope. Annette's powers were mine to command but they wouldn't be simply turned into a sword for me to swing about. So there I sat, pondering on the feel of Annette's hunger, her boundless joy in the night, the way her magic had felt when I had mesmerized women into offering me their bodies for blood. It was easy for me to forget at times how powerful Annette had been in life, she had been the queen of vampires, an ancient creature of the night herself. Her sweet face and shy subservience were misleading; she could literally consume the mind and blood of her enemies, move within shadows as if she were one herself, enchant thoughts and emotions. In my old life I would have looked at her and would have been disgusted but in the afterlife I understood the value of Annette's magic. As I meditated on her I fell into a place which was at once removed from my surroundings and intimately aware of them. I thought I could hear the heartbeats of the people in the room with me, I imagined I could smell their different scents, the odor of ink, the surprisingly loud sound of scroll paper brushing against floor mats. It was the hyperawareness of the vampire queen which I was tasting, and it was an incredible rush.
I stayed in that state exploring the new sensations and trying to spread my consciousness farther than the room. After a while I began feeling heartbeats leave the room, but I wasn't concerned, knowing Rangiku would come for me when she was ready to go. Finally there was only one other heartbeat than mine in the room and it approached me. I didn't have to open my eyes to know it wasn't Rangiku; I knew the feel of her reiatsu too well to be mistaken.
As I sensed the stranger sit in front of me I opened my eyes and found myself facing Aizen Souske. I could see the pores on his face, hear the sound of saliva as it moved in his mouth when he opened it to speak to me. "Good evening, Potter-san."
I felt the vibrations of sound in the air and smiled. "Good evening, Aizen-san."
"Forgive me for not speaking with you sooner," he said with a smile and a shrug in a 'what can you do?' manner. Maybe it was just my resentment of good looking nice men but I thought his eyes were just a little too sharp and his body gestures not as casual as they seemed.
"You are popular with the girls, it's alright," I said.
"No, no." He waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. "They are just very enthusiastic about calligraphy." This time his smile made the corners of his eyes crinkle.
I arched a brow at his dissembling. Either he was stupid or thought I was stupid, and given what Genboro-sensei had told me about him I somehow doubted the former. "Poor girls, I must give them a hint that they should be even more clear about their intentions. If that is even possible."
His smile fell to a smaller and significantly more believable one. He met my eyes and seemed to take measure of me, I looked blankly back. Then he ran a hand through his hair and laughed softly. "You're not the type to allow people their illusions, are you, Potter-san?"
"I don't mind as long as it's only themselves they intend to deceive. I just don't care for being forced to buy the illusion too," I said. It was odd, I wasn't really the type to call someone a deluded liar usually, maybe something of Rangiku's forthrightness had rubbed off on me. Or maybe it was just what I was reading of Aizen's body language through Annette's hyperawareness that made me feel insulted at the face he was showing me.
"Ah, the girls had warned me that you are not very polite. With that attitude it isn't a surprise you are upsetting the social order of the Spiritual Arts Academy. Perhaps you should consider acting and putting on a better face for the general public," he said. I was pleased to see that he was speaking evenly with me now and not affecting that nice guy pose.
"Acting is one of two things Genboro-sensei wants me to learn from you. He said something about you know how to act so that people don't resent you for your talent." I smiled my amused smile this time.
Aizen's face was a blank but his eyes were still assessing. "Genboro-sensei always has been perceptive," he said. "Tell me Potter-san about your talent, I have heard from the vice-captain of the Healing Division that you can cast a Level-80 spell without incantation."
"The Thunder Canon, yes," I said. His brows rose in honest surprise, as far as I could tell. "Don't worry, it's the only thing I'm good at."
"Ha! I wonder if you expect others to 'buy' that illusion." We shared a smile at that comment. "Casting the Thunder Canon without incantation is unbelievable, I now understand why they resent you."
"It's their problem, not mine."
"That depends on what you wish to do in this life, Potter-san. One needs the good graces of other people to rise in the Thirteen Divisions. I cannot see you settling for a lowly position." He cocked his head to the side, waiting to weigh my response.
I shrugged feeling cagey about sharing my goals. "From what I've seen of Soul Society, power is the only thing that really matters, but you are my senior so I will accept that you perhaps know something I do not."
He shook his head slowly, the gleam in his eye a pleased one. "No, Potter-san, there are very few I have met who truly understand our world. Power is the ultimate rule of Soul Society."
His blood rushed and heartbeat quickened, he was definitely happy, this much his body gave away to Annette's senses. Unfortunately that made me trust him less. "So you seek power?" I asked.
"Isn't it the goal of every dutiful Shinigami?" he asked in return.
I scoffed at his innocent tone. "Of course it is. And, what would you do with greater power?"
"I wonder now…" he said, smiling in pleasure again. "Your reiatsu is very interesting, Potter-san. Your control of it is remarkable, but I can still sense it. Did you know your reiatsu smells of blood?"
That was a very clever diversion from my question, I had to admit. "I did not know," I answered, feeling a little exposed.
He nodded. "I wonder, Potter-san, what would you do with power." He stood up and bowed. "It was a pleasure meeting you. I have to return to my duties now, I hope to see you next week when we meet for calligraphy."
I stood as well and bowed, watching the man leave. Suddenly I felt very naked without my sword. I wish I could've asked Izanami of her opinion of him. Best I could tell, Aizen thought I was a kindred spirit, and I couldn't decide if that was a good thing or a bad one.