While this isn't the first story I've written, this is the first work of fan fiction I've attempted. I tried to keep the characterizations as close to canon as possible, although I can see that I took some liberties with Soifon. I'm also not intending to write an exceptionally serious story, my goal is to keep it fairly lighthearted without quite going into outright parody. Whether or not I succeeded is, as they say, in the eye of the beholder.
Also note that my Japanese is next to nonexistant, so I'm keeping Japanese names and terminology to a minimum whenever possible. If that ruins it for you, then I'm sorry.
Since I'd like to improve my writing if at all possible, reviews are appreciated.
I do not own Bleach, or any part of it.
Chapter One - All great journeys begin with a single misstep.
There's really no such thing as an insignificant event. Even the most minor and trivial of actions will, over time, gather momentum and relevance as small changes clear the way for larger changes, until the death of a single insect or the beating of a hummingbird's wings can alter the course of human history, or even evolution itself. Of course, millions upon millions of years have to enter the equation before something like that happens.
Sometimes, though, a tiny mistake snowballs into a huge problem in less than a day.
10th Division, Captain's Office - 5:33 a.m.
Toshiro Hitsugaya, Captain of the Tenth Squad of the Gotei Thirteen, blinked and rubbed at his burning eyes. He looked balefully at the stack of papers in front of him. It had taken most of the night, but he had finally finished off the backlog from last week. Though he was making progress, swimming upstream against a roaring river of red tape, he still had a long way to go.
Maybe volunteering to handle the extra load from the shorthanded squads wasn't my brightest moment. He thought gloomily. What was I thinking?
He looked over at the form sleeping on his couch. His frown deepened. Crazy as it is, I guess I thought I'd have a lieutenant to help with the extra load. He had to privately admit to himself that for a boy genius, he was making a lot of bad calls lately. He stretched momentarily, and then reached for the next stack, wondering what sleep felt like. The next form came in a sealed envelope. Hitsugaya raised an eyebrow and opened it.
Inside was an utterly mundane request for more ice from Isane Kotetsu, Squad Four's lieutenant; Hitsugaya rolled his eyes. While he never publicly complained about his more mundane duties, it still felt a little demeaning, as though he was being treated like a short, white-haired vending machine. On the other hand, he'd once heard a rumor that Head Captain Yamamoto was invited to roughly a dozen barbecues per week, back in the day, so maybe he was getting off light. As he opened the folded paper further to fill it out, however, a smaller form and a matching envelope slid out. That form was a cryptic message that apparently required approval from the Head Captain himself – his signature was already on it – as well as two other captains before reaching its destination. A brief statement at the bottom of the form declared that he was to get this to Captain Soifon at his earliest convenience.
He scratched his head. That wasn't how things normally worked. Typically there would have been a joint meeting, or else the form would have come his way first before going to Yamamoto by way of central dispatch. The backwards way that this form was reaching its destination suggested that Yamamoto was trying to bypass any agents Aizen might have left behind in his squad. The message didn't clarify what it meant – it seemed to be mostly confirmation of existing orders, although the one order on the paper was straightforward enough.
In addition to Yamamoto, Captain Komamura had also approved it. Hitsugaya shrugged mentally and added his signature. He then filled out the ice request, and sealed both of the forms in their respective envelopes. He had picked up his pen again to address them, when one of his squad members burst into his quarters.
"Captain Hitsugaya! Emergency!"
The white-haired captain shot out of his chair. "What is it?"
"One of our squads was sent to deal with an above-average threat just outside of Moscow. They've tentatively identified the threat as an Arrancar, and have taken heavy casualties."
Hitsugaya scribbled a hasty note to his vice-captain before flash-stepping out the door. In moments he was halfway to the gates leading to the living world, requesting that his limiter be removed.
10th Division, Captain's Office - 10:24 a.m.
Rangiku Matsumoto awoke reluctantly and gracelessly. Her head was pounding, and her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth. Also, her captain had apparently convinced Squad Twelve to install floodlights right above the couch she was sleeping on.
Ugh… how much did I drink last night? Never again… She thought, for the eleventh time that month. She got up and managed to find her way to the kitchen, after tripping over something big, hard, and wooden, knocking several papers to the floor. After downing several cups of water and splashing some on her face, she headed out to face the day. It was at this point that she realized three things.
She wasn't at home, but rather at the Tenth Division headquarters, specifically in the captain's office.
She had promised Captain Hitsugaya that she would help him sort out last week's backlog last night, but had become sidetracked when Lieutenants Hisagi and Kira had invited her to have 'a drink' with them.
It was now mid-morning.
Rangiku slapped a hand to her face, immediately regretting it as her headache flared again. Perfect. So she'd remembered enough to show up to help out, and then had passed out on the couch, giving her captain something to focus on as he did her share of the work. Not again…
She knew that she had two options: she could try to make up the lost productivity now, or transfer. Sighing, she made her way over to Hitsugaya's desk, picking up the paper and the two envelopes she'd displaced earlier. Both of the envelopes were sealed, but blank. The paper was a note scribbled out in Hitsugaya's sloppiest handwriting, and simply read:
Went to handle emergency. Mortal World.
The envelope on the right - Captain Soifon.
The other one - Vice-Captain Kotetsu
Contact gate guardian for shipping.
- Captain Hitsugaya
Rangiku frowned. She knew her captain was probably alright in the mortal world, and the last line was unambiguous – the gate giants were sometimes called upon to move heavy things from point A to point B, but…
She frowned at the two envelopes. She couldn't really remember which had been where before she'd bumped them off. She shrugged and arbitrarily chose the bigger one to go to Captain Soifon. They couldn't have been all that important if Toshiro was doing them both at the same time, could they? She addressed both of them quickly and tossed them into the out box, reaching for the stack that her captain had abandoned.
4th Division, Intensive Care - 7:01 p.m.
Isane Kotetsu finished washing her hands and grabbed the towel by the operating room sink. All in all, today had been a good day, and for once it looked as though she wouldn't have to work late. She stepped out into the hallway and began heading toward the front door of the Fourth Division compound. She found Captain Unohana about halfway there, coming out of her office, and Isane fell into step behind her. "Good evening, captain."
"Good evening," said Unohana, smiling serenely. "How was your day?"
Isane sighed. "The usual, captain. There were more completely avoidable injuries from the Eleventh Squad, and a bunch of hollow injuries from Squad Ten, but nothing major."
Unohana nodded. "That's nice to hear." She stopped smiling as they rounded the corner, a look of faint disapproval coming to her face. When Isane caught up a moment later, she quickly stifled the smile threatening to creep onto her features. Facing them was a large poster that someone had tacked to the wall, showing a goofy caricature of a squad-four medic sporting a big smile while trying to do several unpleasant jobs simultaneously. A caption beneath the picture read:
Because the upcoming raise is just a rumor.
Isane raised an eyebrow and looked at her captain. "Do we have to take this one down? It's not nearly as bad as the last one…" And so very true, she thought to herself.
Unohana simply moved to the wall and gently took down the poster, rolling it up and tucking it under her arm as she began moving toward the exit again. "You know my stance on this, Isane. This kind of thing is hardly 'motivational' – despite the name – and damages morale. The joke will wear off quickly, but the implication of unjust working conditions will linger."
Isane ducked her head to get under the door frame – at over six feet tall, she towered over most female Soul Reapers, which bothered her a bit more than was healthy. Unohana had told her that the problem existed mostly in her head, but Isane still felt self-conscious about it, as though she stuck out too much wherever she went.
It didn't bother her too much now, though. Outside, both women paused and took a moment to look at the sunset – it was rare that they got to see it, after all, since both typically worked well into the night. After a minute or two, Unohana quietly asked, "Would you care to join me for a drink, Isane?"
Isane took a deep breath of the fresh air. "No, thank you." Unohana asked her that every night. Unlike Lieutenant Matsumoto, when Captain Unohana said 'a drink,' she really did mean one drink – the difference being that when Matsumoto showed up to work drunk, Hitsugaya's blood pressure spiked, while Unohana showing up to work drunk might kill half a patrol group. As a result, Unohana practiced incredible restraint when drinking – or when doing just about anything, really. Isane envied that kind of discipline and control. Her captain never overdid it when participating in any celebration, had no known vices, never swore, never said a bad word about anyone, exercised perfect manners at all times, and practiced healthy living. She didn't quite hold her subordinates up to her standards, but did demand that they keep up a positive and clean appearance at all times, specifically for the proven benefit to patients that it provided. She had made it clear to Isane, particularly, that the officers of Squad Four were, essentially, to grin and bear it when they received less-than-glamorous jobs or took abuse from the other squads, which included clamping down on the self-deprecating and gallows humor that most of Squad Four indulged in regularly.
Isane did her best, but she never really felt that she was living up to the standards set for her, which was why she always politely declined her captain's invitation – she felt like she hadn't earned it. If that makes any sense.
Unohana just nodded, and the two of them set off for the barracks at a leisurely pace, taking the shortcut like they always did. Neither of them noticed the jet-black, silent creature that began stalking them the moment they left the Clinic…
10th Division, Captain's Office - 7:03 p.m.
Rangiku looked down at her handiwork. There, she thought, I've managed to get through the whole stack. It hadn't been proofread as well as it probably should have been - or at all - but it was done, and for the first time since Aizen's rebellion, the out box on Hitsugaya's desk outweighed the inbox. She got up and stretched, just in time to hear her captain release Hyorinmaru outside the door. She ran outside to see what was wrong, but relaxed as she saw her captain create a massive pillar of ice in front of Jidanbo, who appeared to be wearing giant-size mittens.
Hitsugaya re-sealed his Zanpakuto as Jidanbo grabbed the ice and carried it away. He stopped and stared at Rangiku when he saw her in the doorway. She stared back. Frankly, he looked like hell. There were numerous cuts and tears in his clothes, and he was bleeding from somewhere under his collarbone. Rangiku decided to try being positive. "Did your trip go well?" She asked brightly.
He glared at her. "Nyet."
She blinked. "A mission to Russia, huh? Are you alright?"
He sighed and plopped down at his desk with an uncharacteristic lack of concern for professionalism. "I guess so. I managed to kill whatever hell-beast was terrorizing the spirits there, I got all my squad members out alive, and I found out that my Russian is rusty in a way that I'll probably laugh about later. I'm just… really tired, ok? So let me finish… uh…" He seemed to notice his desk for the first time since he walked in. "Rangiku," he asked weakly, "did you finish all of what was on here?"
"Um… maybe?" Rangiku scratched her head. "I mean, I felt kind of bad about last night, so I really buckled down, and I think I got it all."
"Even the envelopes?" Hitsugaya gave her a strangely intense stare.
Rangiku blinked. "Sure! They were the first thing I took care of."
Hitsugaya seemed completely speechless for a moment. "I… uh… thank you, Matsumoto. I think I'll turn in now, then."
"Sure thing, captain," said Rangiku. She smiled and headed out the door, thinking about crashing herself, secure in the knowledge that she had undone all of the damage she'd caused this morning.
Second Division, Captain's Quarters - 7:05 p.m.
Captain Soifon, leader of the stealth forces, had a rare problem – for once, she had too little to do.
It was only a recent development. Up until now, she'd been furiously preparing for her next mission – one important enough that she'd see to it personally. She'd had to do it over the course of three weeks, in between managing the Second Division and cutting orders for the stealth forces, but now it was finished, and she looked at her handiwork.
Everything was packed. She had her Zanpakuto, of course, along with an arsenal of necessary equipment. She had bandages. She had antidotes. She had several changes of clothing. She had a disguise kit. She had surveillance equipment that she'd personally stolen extorted requisitioned from the R&D department. She had toiletries. She had mortal money. She had a towel. She had gadgets, for God's sake!
She'd prepared mentally, too. She knew every street name inside the rather large target area. She'd read all about all of the possible leads and gossip pertaining to her mission. Contacts were in place and ready to begin feeding her data the moment she got in touch with them.
Most of all, she was eager to go in a way that she wasn't used to. The whole mission had been conceived when she had finally, after hours of sifting through gathered information, managed to uncover a large part of one of Aizen's multilayered plots. Now she was set to go to the world of the living and do as much damage to it as she could. There was a chance that it was a trap, of course, but if it was, Aizen was willing to sacrifice several of his best pets – and his best shot at winning the war early – to spring it. On top of that, Soifon was one of the best in the business when it came to firepower and speed, and was confident that if everything hit the fan she could at least withdraw. I've got you now, bastard.
She had to admit that wounded pride was a big part of her motivation. When you were the head of Covert Ops and Intelligence, people weren't supposed to be able to fake their own deaths, murder the entire government, play the military command structure like a fiddle, steal a precious artifact from inside a prisoner you were guarding, and escape on your watch. While the traitor in question had clearly been concealing a great deal of power and cunning, and had started out from a position of trust, the fact remained that Soifon viewed the entire Aizen debacle as mostly her fault. Even now, just thinking about it stirred a dull, burning shame somewhere in the pit of her stomach.
But maybe that would change soon. She was, as they said in the world of the living, 'ready to rock.' The only thing she was missing was the confirmation orders she needed to head through to the world of the living. In fact, she'd been ordered to stand down and remain stationed at Second Division HQ until she received them, and now there was nothing to do but wait.
4th Division, Barracks Courtyard - 7:35 p.m.
It was well past sundown by the time Unohana and Isane reached the barracks. Isane stopped out back and got ready to wish her captain a good night, when the creature made its move. It swooped down and spread its wings to catch its fall, its wingspan easily twice the length of its body. Malevolent shimmering accompanied its movements, leaving a faint afterimage as it flew. Coupled with the darkness, Isane didn't know what was happening until it was right in front of her…
"Oh, a hell butterfly!" Isane said. She stretched out her finger and the creature landed on it docilely. When she touched it though, something strange happened. The red spots on its wings shifted to yellow, and it sprang back into the air and hovered in front of the two soul reapers. The butterfly said, mechanically, "The following orders are addressed to [Isane Kotetsu]. Any attempt to prevent them from reaching [Isane Kotetsu] will be construed as treason by the Gotei Thirteen and would be punishable by death. Not a good death, either, since our execution grounds are under repair. Lots of blood and screaming. Anyway, begin message." Isane and Unohana looked at each other. Suddenly, a trilling flute was heard, which ended on a high note, followed by an entire orchestra playing fast paced, edgy music. A few seconds in, the music was joined by a voice she didn't know.
"You are to proceed immediately to the senkaimon gate located in the basement of the Squad Six training barracks, there to begin your mission in the world of the living. This has top priority, so move out now. This hell butterfly will self-destruct in five seconds."
"End message." The butterfly chirped as the music cut off. A couple of seconds passed in stunned silence. Then the butterfly spoke up again. "What was that about a-?" With a small pop, the butterfly imploded, leaving only a fading trace of spiritual energy, and a sheet of paper that fluttered into Isane's hand. It was a transcript of the message, along with the signatures of captains Yamamoto, Komamura, and Hitsugaya.
Isane was a very intelligent woman, but looking at the paper, she simply stared for a few seconds before asking, in a very dignified manner. "Wait, what?"
Unohana blinked a few times. "It seems you have a mission in the world of the living."
Isane took a few more seconds to process that, before asking, in a somewhat less dignified manner, "Wait, what?"
Unohana raised an eyebrow. "You'd better get moving."
Isane finally recovered enough to form an objection. "Captain… hold on. I don't go to the world of the living on missions. Especially not on short notice! I'm supposed to be here, helping deal with casualties. I haven't been on a patrol to the mortal world in decades for that very reason. Why would they send me now, and like this?"
Unohana looked thoughtful. "Well, our resources are still scattered and redeploying after Aizen's betrayal. It's entirely possible that a healer of your caliber was needed in the mortal world quickly. At any rate, I see Head-Captain Yamamoto's signature on it, so that pretty much removes any chance of this being some kind of mistake."
Isane nodded nervously. It still felt all wrong to her. "Yes, captain. I'll be going, then."
Unohana nodded and gave a small smile. "Good luck."
6th Division, Training Barracks - 9:08 p.m.
Isane looked at the senkaimon gate opening before her. She thought she'd known where all the gates were, but this was a first for her. At this late hour, the training barracks were unoccupied, so there was no one to see her off. She brushed herself off nervously, hoping that the somewhat overstuffed medical bag she'd looped over her shoulder would be enough for whatever she needed to do. Itegumo, her Zanpakuto, rested in its usual place on her hip. Between the two, she could probably handle most emergencies that the living world could throw at her.
The gate finished cranking open. It was certainly the slowest one she'd ever seen, although the ponderous opening of what looked like a very flimsy screen door didn't give off very much spiritual pressure. Frankly, she had no idea where she was going to end up, but took a deep breath and stepped through. Just a day or two in the mortal world, she thought. What could go wrong?
Notes: Hmm... this ended up being a bit more serious than I intended for it to be. Not by much, but a bit. Unless I get an overwhelmingly negative response to it, I'll start on Chapter Two as soon as possible.