Disclaimer: Tite Kubo can afford to spend all of his days writing. Given that I'm currently using the school holidays and my break to do the writing part of things and assure you that I'm still alive, I think it's fairly safe to say that this is not my full time job.

If only.

Listening to: Sia – "I'm in Here (Piano Version)".

Chapter 17

Isane knows she's overprotective.

In reality, she was never going to be anything else. Ten years may pass in the blink of an eye in this world, but as an age gap between siblings it becomes a different beast altogether. She and Kiyone may have been born in one of the nicer Rukongai districts, but after the deaths of both their parents and their being shunted from one part of the extended Kotetsu family to the other, life was far from easy. It fell to Isane to become the consistent parental figure in her younger sister's life.

Once they got to the academy, it didn't really change. Sure, their lives were a little less precarious, and they were no longer at the mercy of various relatives who begrudged them every last scrap of food, but it was hardly paradise. The Gotei Thirteen, for all its supposed equality, was still very much a man's world, and a nobleman's world at that. They were simply two young women from the Rukongai, albeit, the less disreputable districts of the Rukongai (If you misbehaved in the bars there, they threw you out the door. In the scarier districts, they threw the door at you, and then threw you through a wall).

So she continued to act as Kiyone's protector. Isane didn't mind; having a purpose made it easier to face the things she was afraid of, whether she was awake or asleep.

Still, she knows that now, given that Kiyone is a lieutenant and a perfectly competent one, it is no longer really her place. The love between the two sisters has never been particularly strained (though it came close when Rukia Kuchiki was to be executed), but now there is an underlying tension.

Kiyone no longer needs protecting, at least, certainly not in the way she used to.

Isane has lost her purpose.

Oh, she knows it's not quite as melodramatic as all that. Her sister has simply grown up; it was always going to happen, and now that's one less responsibility on her shoulders.

Except she can't seem to see it that way when her heart is involved. Her nightmares, when they're not completely 'bat-shit insane' (Kiyone's term, and she has to concede, it's true), are about failing in her duty, about letting those she seeks to protect die. She cannot help it; she feels responsible for so many. Her squad need her, as one of the strongest people there with a combat zanpakuto, and Kiyone, despite what she thinks, is without a captain and needs her too.

Isane knows she's stubborn.

That's why she can't let this sense of responsibility go. That's the reason that she, with her entirely combat-based weapon, is the lieutenant of a healing squad; when she decides to do something, she won't stop until it is well and truly done.

It's probably this trait that won't let her simply walk away from protecting Kiyone. No matter how old Kiyone is, she will always be Isane's only living family (those penny-pinching, nasty old coots they lived with as children don't even come close to counting), and she will always be her younger sister. Isane can't just walk away.

In her head, she knows that her sense of responsibility to the entire Gotei Thirteen, in spite of (or, perhaps, because of) its faults, is somewhat disproportionate to what it should be. But she believes in duty and responsibility (all the things her fellow lieutenants call 'boring crap', though they uphold these things every day), and she cannot stop herself.

Maybe it's because the Gotei Thirteen ended up being the first real home she and Kiyone ever had; the only home they've ever had.

She owes it her loyalty, at the very least, and with that comes her overprotective nature, her stubbornness, her overwhelming senses of responsibility and duty.

xXx

Isane knows she's overprotective.

That's why she volunteers to patrol the Rukongai on the nights where everyone else decides they want to party. She'd condemn them for that attitude, but she can understand why they feel they need that escape from the horrors their reality sometimes faces them with. She cannot begrudge them that and, as she's never really enjoyed parties anyway, she's happy to do this for them.

It's also why nothing ever misses her gaze, sharp, like a hawk's. Her determination to ensure nothing gets past her guard, and so it's easy for her to spot the problem, even easier as the screams reach her ears.

Even the worst districts don't have background noise like this.

Isane knows she's stubborn.

Protocol dictates that she call for backup, so she does, sending the hell butterfly out into the night. But there are only ten of them, and none of them are particularly strong arrancar. She cannot ignore the desire to prevent anyone else from having to face this, nor the desire to stop the carnage before her eyes.

She draws her zanpakuto.

xXx

Isane knows she's overprotective.

That's why she charges in when she's outnumbered, stepping between a battered scrap of humanity holding a squalling infant, and the leering, masked creature that comes for them.

That's why her blade whirls and kido sparks from her free hand as she dispatches her foes.

Isane knows she's stubborn.

That's why, even when the first of their blades bites, scoring across her thigh, she does not let up her assault. There are only four left now, but she knows that she is beginning to falter, and this wound will not be the last.

That's why, even when the last of them pins her to the wall, its blade through her stomach, she does not stop. Itegumo bites, tearing through the exposed throat, and the creature stills, allowing her to draw the weapon out of her body, letting her slump to the ground.

She can see the stars dimming and she knows that she is dying on this dusty street, but she doesn't mind, not entirely.

She has died as she has lived.

A protector, once and forever.

xXx

So, I'm back.

For all of about a week, so don't get too hopeful. The good news, however, is that this shouldn't be the only thing I post in the next few days.

As for this, let me know what you think. This story will probably pause for a couple of months (not really new, I know), just until I can start the next Bleach epic that will run alongside it. Don't panic – I hate reading a story and getting into it, only for it to end up abandoned, so I'm not about to do that to someone else.

R and R, y'all!