A/N: Whew! You wouldn't believe how long spell-check takes when you have so many Japanese words in an English document. Anyway, this chapter is done and I am going to finish this story dammit! I know that there are a few plot holes, but bear with it. I apologize for any spelling errors, too. I'll revise everything once it's finished. Enjoy, readers. R&R

Disclaimer: Don't own Bleach. Wish I did. Don't.

Chapter 1: Captaincy

Ichigo awoke to the glare of the morning sun invading his cozy bedroom and slanting angrily across his face. He groaned and jerked his covers over his head, silently cursing whoever had decided that living beings needed so much light to survive. He wanted nothing more than to return to a peaceful slumber, but he knew he would have no such peace today. For today, something momentous was occurring that had not happened since his death 100 years prior.

"Captain Kurosaki, the others have requested your presence at the exhibition grounds," Kira Izuru said through the closed doors of 3rd Division's Captain's quarters, further irritating Ichigo.

The orange-haired shinigami grumbled at the heavy wooden doors from his downy, self-made prison, but made no move to rise from his bed. Izuru knocked on the door.

"Captain Kurosaki…"

"I'm coming dammit!" Ichigo yelled. He stumbled to his feet and tossed a pillow half-heartedly at the doors, willing Kira to be a dream that he would soon wake from. With a snort of the irony of that thought, he quickly donned his Captain's haori and stormed towards the entrance to his room.

The doors creaked open and Ichigo found himself staring into the face of one Kira Izuru, the blonde Lieutenant's hand poised for another knock. An orange eyebrow raised itself toward an equally orange hairline, daring the older shinigami to make another forward movement. Kira gulped, turned around, and started towards the barracks' exit and the exhibition grounds.

Ichigo growled and ruffled his bright hair. "Why do important days have to start so early?"

The 3rd Division Captain and his Lieutenant arrived to find the other high-ranking shinigami and company already stationed in the observation box. They were apparently awaiting his arrival. Great.

"Kurosaki-kun!" Orihime shouted happily from her seat next to Captain Ukitake.

Curiously, when Ichigo and his friends had passed on to Soul Society, their physical forms reverted to those that they possessed when they first gained their special powers. Even more interesting, they had all retained their memories of the world of the living, including those concerning their strong connections to each other. Not even Captain Kurotsuchi could explain these occurrences, and Ichigo eventually chalked it up to the insane amount of reiatsu that each of them harbored.

Regardless, Orihime and Chad had immediately enrolled in the shinigami academy. Upon graduating, they rose quickly through the ranks, Orihime becoming the Lieutenant of the 13th Division (much to the chagrin of Kiyone and Sentarou) and Chad commandeering the position of 9th Division's Lieutenant under its new Captain, Renji. Rukia became her brother's Lieutenant at his request and Shuuhei Hisagi had been transferred to the 5th Division to be its acting Captain after Momo requested forty years prior that she be demoted to the squad's Third Seat. Isshin Kurosaki was currently chief advisor to the Captain Commander, but that did nothing for his goofy demeanor. Ichigo's sisters had also become shinigami in the 4th Division, although neither of them was nearly as powerful as their brother.

Still, everything had worked out fine so far, and Orihime waving from her seat was proof enough of that. Ichigo still couldn't figure out why Uryuu had become a member of the 4th Division, given his prejudices, but some things were meant to remain mysteries.

Ichigo gave a curt nod to the Captain Commander and sat stiffly in his seat. He knew why the Captains and Lieutenants were assembled at the exhibition grounds. The situation had been exactly the same when he entered the Soul Society permanently 100 years ago: the Captains were about to test the mettle of the potential candidates for the captaincy of the 5th Division.

Even after all this time, no shinigami had even dared to attempt to usurp Aizen's old seat. So it was going to be interesting.

"Why the hell are these guys even trying?" Ichigo whined to Kira. It had been two hours since the first candidate had entered the grounds, and three others had passed through in that time. Traditionally, when one was tested for captaincy in this particular manner, the candidate was allowed to choose one of the presiding Captains to demonstrate his powers on. All of the candidates so far were male, three were members of the stealth force, and all of them had chosen Zaraki as an opponent. A terrible decision. No doubt they all assumed that the Captain's lack of refined shunpo and his general tendency to bull rush his opponent would work to the advantage of their stealthier tactics. None of them ever made it to bankai and the longest match had been between the battle-crazed Captain and Shuuhei, which lasted forty-five minutes. Ichigo had to say that the Lieutenant had done an impressive job of not getting sliced up.

Still, none of the four were any match for Zaraki's brute strength and each one found himself face down in a puddle of blood far too soon for Zaraki's liking. Because of that, the exhibitions were beginning to become tiresome, and the orange-haired Captain thought that he saw the Captain Commander nodding off, although it was difficult to tell since his eyes were perpetually closed.

Kira leaned over and whispered to his commanding officer, "It's almost over. There's only one left."

Ichigo breathed a sigh of relief and silently planned to hop straight back under his covers once he returned to the barracks.

Captain Commander Yamamoto announced the last candidate for the exhibition. "Our fifth and final demonstration will be from 6th Seat Kanaye Ronin of the 13th Division."

All of the Lieutenants raised their eyebrows in surprise, several of the Captains dropped their jaws, and Ichigo saw Captain Ukitake scratch his cheek in puzzlement. Apparently, not even this man's Captain had known that the 6th Seat was eligible for the position of Captain. If he were to be truthful with himself, Ichigo had to say that none of those present believed this relatively low-ranked officer stood a chance in hell.

A figure flashed into view on the exhibition grounds, standing calmly facing the observation deck. He was a young man, maybe 100 years old at the most. Messy black hair hung to the base of his neck and into his field of vision so that the color of his eyes was obscured from view. He was slightly shorter than Ichigo, but was of slightly stockier, more muscular build. Orihime and Rangiku fleetingly thought that his face was handsome, with a strong jaw and straight nose.

Ichigo saw that the drawn zanpakuto in his right hand was simple – the blade was faintly wider than a normal katana and about five inches longer – but the tsuba was elliptical with what could only be described as a wolf's fangs within the ellipse. His spiritual pressure was average at best and his calm demeanor made him appear to be something of a pacifist. Why in the world would someone like this be a candidate for captaincy?

"Kanaye Ronin, select your opponent," Yamamoto boomed.

Seconds later, a pleasant, velvety smooth voice replied, "I select Captain Ichigo Kurosaki."

If possible, the jaws of the Captains dropped even lower.

"Hm. He's got gall, I'll say that," Captain Kyoraku chuckled from beneath his straw hat. Rukia glanced at Ichigo nervously, shaking her head.

Ichigo shrugged and rose from his seat, drawing the giant cleaver from its place on his back and leaping forward to land several yards away from Kanaye. This kid didn't know what he had gotten himself into. Ichigo was regarded as the strongest captain in Soul Society, second only to Yamamoto. And with good reason. The former substitute shinigami defeated two Espada in the Winter War and vanquished Aizen forever. This kid had signed his death warrant.

"Begin!"

Ichigo slipped easily into a fighting stance, poised with Zangetsu nearly vertical to the ground, awaiting the impending attack from his opponent. Kanaye did no such thing. He merely cocked his head to the side and smiled. "Aren't you going to attack?" he questioned.

The Captain of the 3rd Division snorted and let a smirk spread across his face. "Don't say I didn't warn ya." With that, he pulled his massive sword over his head and allowed his dense spiritual pressure to flow through his body. Amber eyes glowed electric blue and those with inadequate strength faltered under the weight of the infamous Kurosaki reiatsu. "Getsuga…Tenshou."

On the last syllable, he brought Zangetsu downward, tearing a bright azure rift in space. When the dust cleared, all that could be seen was the canyon where Ichigo's attack had pierced the earth. However, Kanaye was nowhere to be found. "Heh, guess I vaporized the poor guy," the Captain sighed. "I thought he would at least block it enough to survive."

A chuckle to his right caused him to jerk his head in the direction of the sound, his eyes stretching wide at the sight of an unscathed Kanaye.

"Damn, that actually hurt. I couldn't block all the spiritual pressure from getting through. I woulda been dead if I hadn't moved," the dark-haired shinigami laughed. "Would you like to see my attack now?"

Ichigo snorted once more and readied himself again, this time forcing his reiatsu to swirl in electric blue tendrils about him. "Bring it on."

Kanaye smiled sadly. "Don't say I didn't warn ya."

The young shinigami pulled his zanpakuto to the right so that it was perpendicular to his body, twisting it quickly so that the edge of the blade was pointed toward Ichigo. Suddenly, an overwhelming wave of reiatsu washed over the grounds, splintering some of the trees that had already been broken from previous battles. Ichigo stumbled a bit, catching himself and raising Zangetsu to guard. He spared a glance at the observation deck and saw that the Captains were in awe of this supposedly untalented shinigami. The 3rd Division Captain pulled back, preparing to shunpo, when he saw Kanaye lift his head. The younger shinigami's eyes shone bright silver, startling his more experienced opponent. And then he spoke.

"Bite him to death…"

The blade of his sword glowed an iridescent red so bright that it seemed almost white, and he swung violently, teeth bared in a growl.

"…Ankoku!"

A brilliant arc of the same red-white energy covering Kanaye's blade erupted from the tip of the zanpakuto, ripping through the air faster than Ichigo could have imagined. It was larger than a Getsuga Tenshou and more raw. It was actually similar to the ability of the Arrancar, the Cero. It felt like power. It rocketed forward and enveloped Ichigo in its untamed force, masking his body from view.

Rukia watched in awed silence, praying that the man who had rescued her countless times was still alive. He couldn't die from that, he just couldn't. He wouldn't be Ichigo if he did. But all she could do was grip the armrests of her chair and grit her teeth, hoping against hope that such a wildly powerful blast had not destroyed him.

"Ichigo…"

A/N: Wow. Seems kind of fast-paced now that I look at it. A little bit choppy. Oh well, I just have to roll with it. Review, please. It would make me happy.