Author's note - I am NOT the owner of Bleach; that honor belongs to Kubo-sensei, who's put together an excellent story. This is my castle in his sandbox, because I like to play with the works of others. If at any point it appears I have plagiarized another FF writer's work, mention it - and if it turns out you're right, then I get to apologize.
I always thought Kazeshini would work better as a she, so in this story, that's how it will go. Romance is something I have only ever used as a subplot (I GM for l5r and D&D for my buddies), and I tend to do a slow buildup. That said, things aren't likely to be hot n' steamy; Romances in my mind are more about relationships and the interplay of both parties than sexual tension. Additionally, I love the Isane/Shuuhei pairing, and I feel that a meager contribution to it would be helpful.
This story has not been written to completion, and I am a (relatively)busy man. As I develop the story (I'm saving more for later), I will post what I have. Please be considerate about the spelling/grammar errors; I have no beta. All I CAN promise, is that I will never mistake cloths for clothes - oh, letter e, how we abuse you . . .
That said, if you enjoy, please say so.
An officer, Not a Gentleman
Five men in shades sat quietly in the dim, smoke filled room, cards shuffling quietly as they raised, folded, and moved on to the flop. No loud cries, moans, or curses were heard as the bald man took his winnings, the deck passing to the somber blond, who began to shuffle and then deal a new hand. A new round of sake was distributed as blinds were made and the next round began. Minutes later, the grim, scarred man took his winnings as the deck was passed once more, and shuffling commenced. A chime was heard and the men looked to the west wall, waiting. A moment later, a section of the wall moved aside, the soundproofing making a soft scraping noise as the section fell away and Iba entered, his face as intimidating as always behind his black shades. Hefting the cases of sake into the room, he rose from the small space and slid the square shut, enclosing the men in a soundproofed silence once more. The cases were put in the cooler, a seat offered, poker chips placed before his seat, and his cigar lit. The game was placed on hold as the others looked at him expectantly. Iba took a few satisfied puffs before leaning his head back and breathing out above this head.
"Well? What news, Iba?" The lieutenant took another set of puffs on the cigar.
"Who bought the cigars this time?"
"I did, Iba-san."
"Kira, you're a good man, but you don't know good tobacco. Don't buy these again."
"Now that you've needlessly insulted one of us, how about a bit of news, Testuzaemon?" The 7th division Lieutenant rose from his slouch and placed his arms on the table, giving the other man a look that was hidden behind his glasses as he clenched his cigar carefully between his teeth.
"Fine, Abarai. You're getting the promotion. Word is it's most likely gonna to be the fifth, given that you know Hinamori-san so well." A deep drag followed, smoke billowing out as he talked in a curious display of fortitude. "Kuchiki's gonna be th' one to tell you officially, but he spent a good half hour trying to convince them to delay it. He said yer' too impatient, not experienced enough with yer' Bankai, and that you need at least another twenty years a' tutoring 'fore yer' ready t' be a Captain. T' top it off, he said yer maturity was 'of some concern' an' that he wasn't sure ya wouldn't break the rules on fraternization. The ole man pretty much told him we're down three Captains that need to be replaced and the details cn' be worked out later." Ayasegawa gave muted congratulations to Abarai as Iba helped himself to some sake, taking a large gulp from the bottle itself before pouring it into his cup. No one mentioned Rukia or Byakuya's dig about her; they didn't want Renji worrying that his Captain knew.
"Th' meeting was a shitstorm, guys. Every Capn' got chewed out for sumthin'r other, an' most of'm more than once. Soi Fon, Unohana, Komamura, Kyoraku, Hitsugaya, Kenpachi, and Kurotsuchi were all forced to stand in front of the others one at a time an' explain, in detail, exactly why their lieutenants haven't achieved Bankai yet. Soi Fon an' Kenpachi basically were excused since their Lieutenants are still learnin' how to really use their shikai, and Kurotsuchi apparently built his daughter to be able to do it, but didn't finish putting part of her soul chain in place, so that's been assigned as his primary task for now. Kira an' Hisagi are gonna get chewed out later for not pushing themselves into it, since they don't have Captains to blame. Hinamori though…." Iba looked between Renji and Kira, and his shoulders betrayed his uneasiness as he took a stiff drink.
"Iba-san, even if she is not your friend, she is at the least your coworker and fellow lieutenant. If you share a fact, there is neither shame nor insult in it." Madarame and Hisagi nodded in agreement with Kira; Renji grunted and refilled both Iba's cup and his own.
"Avoiding an ugly truth simply compounds the ugliness shown when it is finally addressed." Madarame and Abarai spared a grimace at Ayasegawa's flowery platitude. Iba sighed.
"Captain Unohana defended Hinamori-san on the ground that she's still mentally shaken from the betrayal and attempted murder by her former Captain. The ol' man basically said that if she hasn't improved and begun working towards Bankai within a year, or possibly sooner, then…. She'll be removed and a new lieutenant will be put in place." Indignant shouts filled the air as Iba raised his arms in placation. "That's just what he said. None of the Captains looked happy with it, but he was really droppin' the hammer, and there's worse news coming."
"How much worse?"
"You're gonna wanna hurt someone by the end, Shu. We all will."
"Well fuckall, Iba. Get on with it, then." Madarame reached for a new bottle of sake and Renji poured the last of another into Kira's cup – the blond was looking a bit pale, and his hand was starting to shake. Not about to let him shame himself, Renji smacked him on the arm before taking a drink; Kira's hand stilled, and then he drank too.
"Right, well, somebody spilt the beans about you to your Captain, Madarame. He didn't flat out say it, but he volunteered you as a possible candidate if you underwent kido training. You're gonna be sent to kido boot camp within the week, and removed from active duty until you can cast up to level 80 incantations without difficulty."
"Fucking hell! Who the fuck talked? Who, damnit!"
"No one told anyone about your secret Bankai that doesn't exist, Madarame-san." Kira successfully hid a smile behind his sake cup. He looked better now.
"My bet's on yer' Lieutenant, Ikkaku. Kusajishi's twisted like that. Why d'you think my Captain always has some kinda treat to ward her off, eh?"
"Oh, it gets worse. Kyoraku got off the hook because Ise has to be ready to completely master her Bankai on the first try, or it'll kill her, apparently – an' before ya ask, no, they didn't say what it's gonna be or do. In the meantime though, she's gonna be your initial kido tutor, so Kyoraku's gonna be on your back too."
"Whoopdee-fuckin'-doo. A bitch an' an overprotective captain. Sweet."
"Depending on how everything else goes with the progress the rest of us do or don't make, you may be made a Captain, too."
"FUCK!" Madarame grabbed the bottle of sake and took several deep swallows.
"Oh it gets better. Rangiku-san has one year to make substantial progress on her own Bankai with her Captain's help, or, since she's been around a long time and still doesn't have it, she'll be forcefully demoted to 3rd seat and barred from being a Lieutenant for the rest of her service as a shinigami." Loud cries and curses filled the room as they vented their anger at the threat to the busty blond who was friends with everyone worth knowing.
"You mean to tell me the ol' man's gonna shit on all her experience just 'cause her sword's uncooperative?"
"Renji, Hitsugaya ripped into the Captain-Commander on that one, and the commander flexed his reiatsu until Captain Hitsugaya was panting on his hands an' knees. He said a weak lieutenant is preferable to a stagnantly lazy one." Silence filled the room. "Ukitake Taicho got a real dressing down over refusing to promote a lieutenant and was forced to demote Kotetsu and Kotsubaki to tenth seats with explicit instructions that they were to be replaced within one week and that they aren't allowed a position above 5th seat until they both have shikai and can go for two months in constant contact without fighting once."
"In other words, never again." Shuuhei didn't like the sound of that, as it made more personal complications for himself. Isane and Kiyone were close – irritably so.
"Yeah." Iba helped himself to more sake and brushed off his ashes into a tray. "Isane-san and I are going to be trained by our Captains to get an idea of how close we are and if it can be done. It's likely that Kuchiki-Taicho will take either Kira or Hisagi under him as an instructor, since he got the credit for Renji's Bankai, and-"
"Like hell he did!"
"-Soi Fon or Ukitake may tutor the odd man out."
"It doesn't really matter, Renji. They want people with Bankai, and they're going to do what they can to increase the number at their disposal, no matter how ugly they have to get in order to do so." Yumichika sipped his sake with a grimace.
"At one point the ol' man basically called us all fodder; said we likely wouldn' survive the battle, so the more of us that get Bankai, the more of the enemy we may kill, and perhaps a few of us might survive 'cause of it." Silence filled the room as the men reflected on the latest bit of news Iba was able to acquire – having one of their own able to sneak in on Captain's meetings unnoticed was very handy, despite the implications it had on the nature of their informant. Kira tossed the deck onto the table, spilling across the remaining chips.
"I think I'm no longer in the mood for cards, everyone. Being considered as a highly disposable military asset doesn't do much for my temperament."
"Me neither. Having to spend time with Ise and nobody to beat the shit out of just completely killed my buzz."
"Eh, look at it this way, Ikkaku. You blow yourself up, you get to visit Isane-san and Unohana Taicho. That's a plus, right? Attractive women leaning over you all the time? You're a tit-man, too, if memory serves."
"You touch her and I'll cut the hand off."
"Hey, last I heard, Scarface, she wasn't even talking to you. Besides, it's none of your business where I point my eyes or why!"
"I don't make threats, Madarame. I give warnings. She gets into you? Fine, no harm, no foul. You start anything? I'll know. More importantly, you'll regret it."
"While I don't agree with you making threats or issuing warnings, Hisagi-san, why exactly is she so upset with you? The last time she wouldn't speak to you, it was for three months because you had called her sister 'talent-less' and that she was . . . oh, what was it? Something crass . . ."
"He said she was in need of a good humping, and then she'd get along with Kotsubaki a helluva lot better. Why she got her panties in a twist is beyond me – I still think you're right, Hisagi. Those two need to get laid, badly." Ikkaku leaned back into his chair, scratching under his shades. Beside him, Yumichika looked horrified.
"What an ugly thing to say, Shuuhei! How could you?" Hisagi threw his arms wide.
"Oh come on! Look at those two together for five minutes, how they stand, how they act, how they practically have their hands all over each other before the yelling starts, and tell me in all sincerity, that it isn't foreplay! "
Silence followed. Hisagi crossed his arms and sank in his chair, head bowed slightly.
"Besides, it's not my fault I'm not good at being flowery with my words! Maybe if women didn't jump at the chance to take things the wrong way and weren't so damned finicky . . ."
"That still doesn't explain why she isn't talking to you now, however." At this, the 9th division Lieutenant's face reddened and he scratched the back of his head, looking at his suddenly and amazingly interesting feet.
"Well . . . I . . . may have . . . I mean, we were walking together, and she had on that one uniform of hers that's just a little too small on her, and I was talking, and . . . I . . . might of possibly . . . well, I made a comparison I . . . shouldn't have."
"What do you mean? And if you told her something ugly, I'll slap you."
"Well, we were just talking about how I got in trouble for talking about her sister, and . . . then. . ."
"Oh by every god under the sun please tell me you didn't imply that she needed a good humping and then volunteered yourself in the same sentence! DO NOT tell me that! Hisagi, if you did, friend or no, I swear I will jump over this table and throttle you! That's so ugly!" Hisagi threw his arms out in a mix of agitation and disbelief.
"I did no such thing! All I said was that we should be thankful we handled ourselves better than her sister and Kotsubaki do and she slapped me and stormed off! She wouldn't even let me apologize later, and I even waited two days to do it!"
"Good, because you were an ass and that makes it a one week penalty! You insensitive ass!"
"Where the hell do you get your rulebook from, queer-bait? I made an honest observation!"
"One that didn't bear repeating! You essentially told her you at odds because of sexual tension as if it were the only problem between the two of you! No wonder she won't talk to you! That one line makes it obvious that you have the emotional intelligence of a five year old! If she's smart, she'll just end things for good and leave it at that!" Ayasegawa ignored the suddenly frantic mood that overcame Renji and Kira who tried to issue subtle warnings as he continued to speak, while Iba shifted to be ready to stop Hisagi from attacking the feathered 5th seat. Ikkaku reached for a new bottle of sake in the dangerous silence that followed – if it spilled in a fight, it would be criminal negligence.
Hisagi rose to his feet and tossed his shades onto the table, scattering chips and cards. His face was completely blank as he looked Ayasegawa in the eye, his voice, low and calm, his eyes sharp and hard. Ikkaku hugged that sake bottle like an infant – though in fairness, it was the expensive shit, and he hadn't had any yet.
"You're right, Ayasegawa. Perfectly right. If she is smart, then she won't have anything more to do with me. I'm a killer in the making, right? The antithesis to a doctor and healer in all respects. Every man in this room is a cold blooded killer. To every one of us, an ability that promises a gruesome death once we reach Bankai; hell, half of us should be assassins for 2nd squad. Maybe that's why she can't help but feel uneasy around me, which would be a valid reason. Maybe the same reason why Hinamori-san was so fixated on Aizen instead of giving Kira a chance back when he wanted her to, or why every date Iba goes on ends in a one-night stand or a bust. We're killers. Unflinching, unhesitant, remorseless killers serving as cannon fodder for a battle we likely won't survive and probably won't influence significantly, which makes us stupid killers on top of it all. Perhaps they all know it, somewhere underneath. If I were a woman with a heart, I wouldn't want to get involved with a casualty in the making either. In fact, from now on, I won't even try – obviously, I, at least, can't do this right." Hisagi made his way to the door and opened it, not looking back over his shoulder. "Sorry about the queer-bait comment." And then he was hunched over and gone, the door sliding back into place with a soft 'thud'.
"Well, that was a sudden turn for the dramatic. I know it was wrong of him to make fun of ya, Yumichika, but did ya really have t' rip into him over Isane? You know she's the only one who can go back and forth with him like that. And it ain't really his fault he's no good with emotions, y'know." Yumichika huffed and straightened the table.
"It is never acceptable to insult someone over their sexuality, religion, or political ideology. He knows better than that."
"Perhaps he would have reacted better if you had tried to make yourself appear objective instead of instantly siding with her, Ayasegawa-san. After all, no one is perfect, and we have no idea exactly what she's done to him the few times she ended up apologizing. Remember a few years ago when all he did was sulk and do paperwork? How he ended up in the 4th for malnutrition? He never told us what she did or said to provoke that reaction, and she seemed guilty over it for months."
"We don't know that was because of Isane-san. It could have easily been because he has as much a problem with hyper-masculinity as Iba-san. Don't take advantage of her gentility, Kira."
"And what pray tell do ya mean by that, Featherface?"
"You smoke your damn cigars, you walk around in shades even in a thunderstorm or at night like a rapist, you only listen to that heavy metal trash that Hisagi likes so much, and your number one reason for dismissing habits or lifestyle choices is 'That ain't manly!' Is it any real wonder why your dates go wrong? I'll grant Hisagi-kun is bad with emotions because he suppresses all of them, but you, dear Iba, seem insistent on removing anything from your person that is remotely feminine. All hard and no soft makes for someone who is decidedly not cuddly, so at best, the ladies think you may be good for a night out and some rough, no strings attached sex, but would they take you home to meet their mother? Never." Yumichika tossed his hair and sipped some sake contentedly as Iba clenched his cigar a little too tightly.
"Still, Yumi, ya' gotta admit that striking him in his only real weak spot like that when he's already down was just as uncalled 'fer as his name callin'." Ikkaku stood and stretched, sake bottled safely tucked into the folds of his obi. "'Sides, he apologized 'fore he left. Sounds like you owe him one too." Kira and Iba began to clean up the chips, sake bottles and ashtrays as Ikkaku moved over to the cooler for the other bottle of the expensive sake, given the spare room in his belt next to the first bottle.
"Perhaps, but he'll have to wait for it. Apologies aren't beautiful, and I've had my share of ugliness for the night."
Hisagi eyed the twilight warily and let out an aggravated sigh before turning and walking between the trees, ignoring the chill of the wind that taunted his spine. He had been about to lay down for the evening before he found himself here, and when Kazeshini brought him into his mind-scape, it was always with a goal in mind - and usually a fight, before all was said and done. As he made his way to the field ahead and toward the edge of the forest, he decided that whatever the cause for this disturbance, the bitch would find him uncooperative tonight. He reached the edge of the forest and stopped, looking down the hill into the field below.
The encampment looked like an old samurai field camp – bamboo poles holding large square sections of black silk aloft, just above the ground, arrayed in a maze leading to the center of the camp where the general would have been seated. Each sheet bore the symbol of the 9th division in gold at its center; before he had been assigned, they had been blank. All around, suits of armor stood where a sentry would have stood guard. Warily, he made his way into the maze of silk and grass. The angry, whipping nature of the wind, the icy chill, and the way the grass reflected blood in the moonlight, not dew, told him more about her mood than anything else. He was in for a bad time, and once more, he found himself at the mercy of a fickle, vengeful woman. By the gods above, he was cursed; only two important women in his life, both angry at him, and no understanding, affection, or sex to show for it.
It only took him minutes to find his way, given the hours he had spent traversing it while under attack from every direction. As he made his way to the center chamber where the general or Daimyo would have been, he stopped to survey the area.
Kazeshini lounged on a couch in a corner across from the entryway under a sun tent of the same material as the camp walls, despite the complete lack of sunlight; the only illumination was from the moon and the candles placed at even intervals. As always, a second couch sat beside it, almost touching; to date, he had yet to share it with her. Her black, form fitting kimono had always been indecent; stopping at midthigh, only a transparent and thin, black veil hung down to her knees, so as to give her easy mobility in combat – though the calf-high, black leather boots seemed the worst choice of footwear for combat. The chest must have been inspired by Matsumoto, though she had a little less to show off; a deep cut into the breast pulled somewhat closed by a blood red obi. Her sleeves ran down her arms, tattered silk that waved softly in the breeze that was a permanent fixture of his mind. Her blood red mane floated in the wind, wild and untamed, obscuring her porcelain face and cruel, wicked eyes. She was facing away from the entrance, like always; why she encouraged him to always attack from behind, he would never truly understand.
"Perhaps if you truly, sincerely considered what we are, then maybe you wouldn't wonder. You'd understand." Her voice was soft and harsh, the tone she used most often when dealing with him. She shrugged her shoulders gently, the fabric sliding to reveal a pale shoulder that shone under the moonlight. "Then again, Shuu-kun, you are a little thick headed, so perhaps it will always be beyond you . . . just like your favorite silver-haired harlot." He was used to the malice, the hate she used when talking about Isane, and the way it radiated off of her, though the reason was still beyond him. That problem he had spent some time thinking on; as of yet, no progress.
"I have made it very clear that you are not to talk about her like that." He made sure to keep his voice calm and level; he knew a fight was coming, and the longer he remained calm, the more information she would feed him. She, in contrast, stood in a flash, spinning to glare at him from under the bloody mane, voice as soft and deadly as poison. The harshness was gone now; replaced by bitterness, flavored lightly with longing and desperation.
"And why, Shuuhei? Why, hmm? That's what she is to me, you fool! Every ounce of your wasted emotion on her is one more ounce not directed at me. Oh, you are happy, delighted, even, to hate me and she gets all the attention and affection, the sympathy. Tell me, Hisagi, is she there when you fight? Is she there in the middle of your meetings, your pondering, when you are at your highest, your lowest? Is she there when you have to wipe the blood off of me and act like it's nothing to you, that it doesn't make your soul wish it hadn't forgotten how to weep? Is she there when you're lying awake at four in the morning in pain with an erection that could brain someone to death, left to suffer because your damn pride won't let you deal with it yourself? Is she there when one of your soldiers falls, and you realize you could have killed their killer first and saved them had you not been such a pussy and faced what you are, become stronger? Or even used my shikai when you could have?"
"Well, Shuuhei? If memory serves me right, the lanky bitch is only interested in you when she needs you, your needs be damned. Oh, she'll patch you up – after someone else has done most of the work, cop a feel if you're under and won't know to complain about a double standard, let you spend money on her with careless abandon, but does she let you get close? Hell, does she even put out? No. Not even a hand-job for your efforts, Shuuhei. She uses you, uses you so readily, so easily, so damn blatantly it's disgusting! And here I sit and have to watch it all, and do nothing. You have no idea how close I've come to just materializing and cutting the bitch in the infirmary, Shu." Hisagi stood stock still, his arms folded, waiting for her to lose some steam, eyes cold and hard as he watched her pace. She stopped behind him, draping her arms over his shoulders and arms, her voice softer, gentler in his ear as her body pressed against his back, cold and breezy as though she didn't stop the wind, sharpened by the sticky sensation of blood seeping through his uniform. Her voice turned plaintive, sad even, as though she would cry, but didn't know how.
"We are bound together, Shuuhei-kun. I will die without you and you without me. We have been together since you first opened your eyes and breathed in reiatsu, though you couldn't hear me. I may as well be your wife, Shuuhei, given how much you need, depend on, under appreciate, mistreat, and ignore me. I was willing to overlook Kanisawa; I was developing too, so you aren't so much at fault for that. I know your dense, manly-thick skull can't wrap around it, and so I'll be merciful and explain things rationally like you so often bemoan we women won't. You cheat on me, Shuuhei. You cheat on me every time you offer a bit of your heart to her; that she always throws it back in your face doesn't matter. I had you first, and you've been nothing but cruel, hateful, neglectful, and spiteful to me. You are unfaithful to me every time you look at her with longing, every time you think of her and lament her absence, every time you kiss her filthy, lying lips." At this, her slender fingers gripped his chin forcefully, turning his head so he could stare at her blank, white eyes. She gently moved a thumb over his lip, and remembering what happened when he shrugged it off or bit at it in the past, he decided to remain still this time. The thumb kept moving while she talked, and it tickled as the blood smeared. Thankfully, the anger made it tolerable.
"I am a part of you, Shuuhei. You look at me and only see a lust for death, destruction, the compulsion to take a living being and rob them of life; a murderess, and assassin. That's you too, Shu. All of it is a part of you. You are a soldier, yes, and they kill, yes, but you are familiar with brutality, close to it; it is a part of you, just like your friend Kira. But you deny that part of you, hate yourself for it, and thereby, hate me, keep me distant. And so long as you keep me out, so long as you hurt me like that, so long as you betray me time and time and time again with that ungrateful, unappreciative, duplicitous, useless, selfish, gangly whore, I will hate her. I promise you Shuuhei, if you lose control of me for just a second, just one around her, and you haven't made peace with me, I will kill her. I will strike her dead with gleeful abandon, even if you are executed because of it, because I will have you more in death than I ever have in life, and I despise her for stealing from me. You wish to remain the 9th Division Lieutenant? You need Bankai? Lose the broad, and then we'll talk." He turned to lash out at her, to hit her, for threatening Isane like that, but she was gone, drops of blood staining his arms where her fingers had touched, blood soaking through the back of his shirt where she had lain against him.
"You touch a hair on her head and I'll resign my position and never use you again, you psychopath! Do you hear me? I'll cut you off, never to hear me ever again until you die, never knowing what killed us!" He waited, and felt the wind pick up, but he didn't hear the telltale chime her blades made as they flew. Her voice flitted in his ear, soft, emotionless, but her body did not form.
"You forget I'm a woman, Shuu, and hell hath no fury like a woman's scorn. Just for that last threat, I think I may terrorize Itegumo for a while, since you seem so dead set on your favoritism. I think you should reflect on what you've learned tonight, Shuuhei. If Iba's news is right, you're about to be forced to go for Bankai, and I have a list of demands to be met before I'll even let you try."
Before he could respond, he awoke in his bed, furious. His rage increased when he sat up and realized, just as every time she summoned him, he had awoken to the real world, covered and soaked in blood. To make things worse, his bed sheets and the tatami mats were soaked and ruined, too. Cursing, he went about throwing them out before heading to his shower, ignoring the laughter on the winds in his head.
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