Scars that Sting

7:15am

East Rukongai

Inside the walls of Sereitei, there was a popular saying amongst Shinigami.

"It could be worse, we could be in East Rukongai."

During his time as a Shinigami, Hisagi had heard countless variations of this joke and he'd noticed that it never failed to draw a laugh or chuckle from those within earshot. There had even been a time when he'd used it himself.

6 Months Ago

9th Squad Barracks

"Captain Tousen has gone..."

The men and women of Squad 9 had been in shock over the sudden announcement.

"...he won't be coming back anytime soon."

"Lieutenant! Where's the Captain gone?"

"To Hueco Mundo, with Captain's Aizen and Gin."

A mixture of excited and nervous chatter had erupted all around him. The men had obviously struggled to understand how this could happen. Why would their kind, beloved, honourable Captain betray them?

Hisagi couldn't blame them; he didn't understand it himself.

"The Captain's gone?"

"What are we going to do now?"

"I bet it's that damn Kenpachi's fault."

It had happened when Hisagi had been listening to the panicked whispering of the others. Feeling lost and helpless an idea had suddenly struck him. Clearing his throat he managed to gather most of the attention in the room, "I know this is a bad situation. But at least the Captain isn't in East Rukongai."

…...

Hisagi had regretted the words as soon as they'd left his mouth. He'd panicked and made a stupid joke when he should have been showing strength and leadership, that the men could trust him to lead them through this tough time. "I a..." his attempted apology was cut off by a chuckle. Followed by another. Then another.

It spread like an infection around the members of the squad and it wasn't long before laughter broke out. The discomfort that had filled the room moments earlier vanished in the sea of guffaws. Hisagi knew that part of it was down to nerves, that the men were so close to a pit of despair that if they didn't laugh then they might fall in. But he'd taken it.

In fact, he'd been thankful for that inappropriate joke.

However, after walking through the streets of East Rukongai for the last thirty minutes. Hisagi swore that he'd never utter those words again.

Soi Fon's eyes were everywhere. The surrounding people didn't know it of course.

But they were.

Striding through the dust filled streets and past ramshackle houses, Soi Fon was very aware of the eyes that peered out at them from within darkened doorways and past rag curtains.

Usually left alone, the mere presence of Shinigami frightened the citizens of East Rukongai; for them it meant trouble. A criminal maybe, or even worse, a hollow.

So they cowered in their homes, watching the Shinigami approach, breathing sighs of relief as they passed and watching them once again until they disappeared from view. For it was only then that they'd consider themselves safe.

Soi Fon knew the reputation and layout of this place all too well, and it would probably surprise other Shinigami to know that this wasn't her first visit to this dump. Before her ascendancy to the rank of Captain Soi Fon had come here on no fewer than three occasions, hunting criminals with other members of the Special Forces.

To her expert eyes she could tell it hadn't changed at all.

Behind her the Lieutenant was lagging slightly, taking in the scenery like it was some damn sightseeing tour while, at the same time, taking great care not to fall far enough behind for her to scold him for slowing them down.

She'd increased the speed of her stride three times now and each time he'd adjusted accordingly.

It was beginning to get annoying.

Spotting a flicker of movement out of the corner of her eye Soi Fon slowed slightly, her eyes immediately focussing in on the area while at the same time staying alert for signs of an ambush.

A woman, dressed in what could only be described as a bed-sheet stumbled out of one of the doorways and staggered towards them. To say she looked like death would be generous. Matted blonde hair, congealed with dirt and god knows what else framed a face that was so gaunt and sickly looking that Soi Fon found it impossible to hide the revulsion she felt. Eyes, deliriously wide stared at her and a jaw, seemingly without muscles, hung gaping as the woman began a stuttered shamble towards them, one arm outstretched.

Soi Fon stopped and a few moments later Hisagi, having caught up, appeared at her side.

For a moment she had trouble finding the right words to put to the Lieutenants expression. Grimacing, she thought it was a reaction akin to her own, revulsion. But something about it was different. His eyes didn't show any of the trademark signs that this man had just seen something that utterly repulsed him; which the thing currently shuffling towards them certainly brought about in her. There was something sad in them.

Suddenly, the Lieutenant started to move again. However, instead of continuing down the street like any sane person would have, he was actually approaching the hideous mess.

Soi Fon watched silently as he met the woman halfway, reaching out and grasping the outstretched hand in his own.

He was saying something.

The woman's eyes softening slightly and the gaping mouth closed, Soi Fon strained to hear what it was the Lieutenant was saying to her. However, no matter how hard she tried his voice was just low enough and her distance just far enough to make hearing anything a virtual impossibility.

Finally, with a nod Hisagi turned and made his way back to Soi Fon who regarded him with a cool gaze.

The woman, clutching something in her hand, stumbled round and began the pathetic march back to her makeshift home.

"Making friends Lieutenant?"

"No ma'm," his face was infuriatingly passive as always.

"I should hope not, we're here to do a mission, not to make nice with the locals. Try to remember that."

"I'll try."

"Was that sarcasm?" Soi Fon couldn't be sure, for a moment she just stared at the Lieutenant who remained unflinching as always before turning on her heels and continuing on her way.

Hisagi couldn't help but allow a small smile pass his lips before following.

Inside her shack the woman unwrapped the gift given to her by the handsome stranger.

A singsong voice drifted out past her lips, "He was nice," her toothless mouth warping into a giddy smile.

On the floor, resting atop the beige cloth they were concealed in, lay five circles of silver.

"We should eat something."

Surprised, Hisagi's first thought was that he'd misheard the Captain. Since the incident with the woman they'd been walking in silence and at a brisker than normal pace for the past two hours. Due to this they were extremely close to the border and making good time. Hisagi had assumed that the Captain would want to continue at their present pace.

She turned to glare at him, "Well?"

He was wrong. "I understand."

The glare narrows threateningly, "Are you mocking me Lieutenant?"

Hisagi's eyes widened at the accusation, "Of course not Captain."

"I should hope not, it wouldn't end well for you," turning Soi Fon silently fumed as she surveyed the surrounding area. They'd left the main residential district an hour ago, since then food stalls had been few and far between. The choices were some sort of dumpling stall or a rather pathetic looking noddle shack. Neither of which looked very appealing.

Eventually, Soi Fon decided to go with the one that looked less likely to give her food poisoning and headed towards the rather portly man in charge of the dumpling stall who was idly fanning himself with a sheet of paper. Upon seeing a Shinigami approach, not to mention the fact that the young woman's eyes were glaring a hole though him, the owner swallowed nervously and almost fell off of his stool in an effort to get up. "C...Can I help you Miss?"

Soi Fon eyed the steamed dumplings in front of her suspiciously, "I'd like some of these, preferably the ones that won't kill me."

The man nodded despite the pang of indignation at the accusation she'd made, "Of course, how many would you like?"

The woman had already turned and was headed towards one of the rickety tables in the shade, "Just bring me a plate, I'll tell you if it's too much."

Watching her take a seat the owner frowned and turned back to the dumplings only to get the fright of his life upon seeing another Shinigami.

Noticing the man Hisagi pointed at the dumplings, "If it's not too much trouble, I'd like a dozen of the pork," dumbfounded, the owner could only nod at the request, "Thank you, I'll be sitting over there."

Moving away Hisagi approached the table where Soi Fon was seated, from what he could tell she seemed to be staring off into the distance. He paused behind her for a moment, unsure of whether or not she expected him to sit somewhere else.

"Good thing you aren't an assassin Lieutenant, your footwork is terrible."

Hisagi felt a blush begin to creep up his neck, "I wasn't sure that I had permission to..."

"Just sit down Lieutenant," Soi Fon watched as he slid into the seat diagonally opposite hers. He looked uncomfortable, his eyes moving to various locations before finally settling on staring past her. "We're making good time," he nodded in response, "if we keep this up we should be halfway to our objective before the day ends," another nod.

Hisagi stared at the owner who, with a rather worried expression on his face, seemed busy remaking the dumplings. He could feel the Captains eyes burning into him. Calmly, he turned to meet her gaze, "May I ask you a question Captain?"

Soi Fon cocked an eyebrow and she almost looked amused by the question, "Oh? So you can say more than "Yes ma'm" and "I understand"?"

Hisagi ignored the barb and decided to take her sarcasm as a yes. "A moment ago you asked me if I was mocking you. Have I given you that impression?"

Soi Fon's face clouded over slightly and it was her turn to avoid his stare, "No, you haven't. I sometimes forget you're not my Lieutenant."

"Lieutenant Omaeda."

"That's right, that idiot constantly spouts his own opinion while complaining loudly about every little thing."

"Would you like me to begin doing that?"

Her eyes were back on him immediately, "Not if you value the use of your legs. I put up with Omaeda because he is my Lieutenant, chosen by me, since I made that mistake in the first place then I consider putting up with his incessant whining to be my punishment. I do not want nor need another Omaeda."

Strangely, Hisagi thought that if Omaeda actually heard how his Captain was talking about him right now, he'd be elated. The 2nd Squad Lieutenant never had been that bright. "I understand."

"Good," noticing the owner approach Soi Fon eyed the trembling plate set in front of her while reaching into the cloth bag at his side and extracting a pair of yellow and black chopsticks.

Hisagi did the same while nodding his thanks to the man who had already hurried away. Before they both started eating he decided to ask one more question while he had the chance, "Captain, why was I chosen for this mission?"

At first he was ignored. Picking up the first dumpling and popping it into her mouth Soi Fon proceeded to chew and swallow it before meeting his questioning eyes, "Do you have a problem with being chosen?"

"Of course not, but there must be others better suited to meeting a noble family than myself."

"I agree..."

Hisagi flinched internally, "She certainly doesn't mince words."

"...but you are a capable Lieutenant who was available for this mission, as such you were the best possible candidate to accompany me in the eyes of Captain Commander Genryuusai," Soi Fon thought about adding in the part about her fervent objections to his being assigned but decided against it; if she had to work with him for the next month or so she may as well try to keep it as civil as possible.

"I appreciate your trust."

"It's not my trust Lieutenant, don't forget that," or not.

Stiffening slightly at the venom at which accompanied the words Hisagi nodded, "I won't," turning his attention to his untouched plate, he began to eat.

Soi Fon followed suit, but at the same time she felt a very uncharacteristic feeling in her gut. Frowning at the sensation best described as a pang she eyed her plate once again before glancing over at the nervous owner who'd been watching them from his stool since he'd brought the food.

"If I get sick, I will come back and kill you while you sleep!"

As if able to read the young Captain's mind, the owner hurried inside.

Soul Society Badlands

At the same time that Hisagi and his temporary Captain were paying for their final meal before they began their deadly trek across the desert known only as The Badlands, a man stands at the entrance to a cave staring out over the arid wasteland that stretches as far as the eye can see.

He watches the approach of the Hell Butterfly with a shifting impatience and as the small insect begins its final ascent up the side of the mountain towards the cave the man, unable to keep patient any longer begins the descent from his sanctuary with giant leaps to meet it halfway.

Finally, the tired butterfly rests on his finger and, after a moment the man's formerly stern expression twists into a smile. Turning he bounded back up the rocks with the confidence that only someone with years of experience navigating the terrain could provide and re-enters the cave.

Moving swiftly through the maze of tunnels he arrived at a darkened chamber. He could sense the two others somewhere in the darkness, "You're gonna love this," he said, taking a seat beside a pile of unused zanpakuto.

"Is that a fact?" a young woman's sultry voice drifts over from the opposite side of the chamber.

In the darkness the man can just about make out her outline, resting against the wall with arms folded, "Yeah, it is," despite the gloom he holds up the finger that is still acting as a temporary perch for the butterfly, "Sereitei's on the move again."

"Oh, that is sooner than expected," the woman's voice muses playfully while she stroked the jagged wall gently, "I do hope it's somebody worthwhile this time. Playing with grunts is beyond boring."

"Can't argue there," raising his head to where he knows the last person is resting on a rocky outcrop ten feet above them he calls, "You wanna see?"

A sigh filters down and movement is heard as the person pushes themselves upright and into a sitting position, "Fine, show me."

Sensing a new designated address the Hell Butterfly cuts its break short and departs, this time on a far shorter journey. Ascending rapidly it reaches its target in no time and once again relays the information given to it.

"What'd I tell ya? Pretty good huh?"

The man on the outcrop smiles.

To Be Continued

Once again, I apologise for the delay, there's really no excuse after all the support I've received from my first story. Underneath this note I would personally like to thank all of the people who have taken the time out of their lives to review my story, I hope you can forgive me and I hope you enjoyed this chapter. People may think this is pandering but as far as I'm concerned if you took the time to show your support then I can take the time to show my gratitude for it. To HELL what the others think.

If you did enjoy this chapter and are still following the story after all these months (I'll understand if nobody is) then you'll be happy to know that I'm already halfway through the next so there DEFINITELY won't be that long of a wait.

So, without further ado.

A very special thank you to:

sevendreams: Hope you're enjoying the saga and I'm trying to avoid OOC, which is surprisingly difficult

Gypsygrrl: I'm glad my story has (hopefully) changed your mind about het stories and you'll give more a chance, actually never read a Shuuhei/Kensei story despite how popular they are but will be sure to give it a try

More2life: Sorry there's still no love in this chapter but it'll come, trust me

IVIaedhros: Glad I intrigued you, hope I'm continuing to do so

vulgarite succulent: Thank you for the support and don't worry, despite the infrequent updates I fully intend to finish this

Jibby: Thank you for the two reviews, the fact that you've decided to review not once but twice helps me in many ways, not only as support (which is obviously greatly appreciative but it also shows me that I'm managing to hold your interest which is the longterm goal really. Thanks again.

vitalstar: Not only have you also reviewed twice but both times your reviews have been fantastically supportive and give me an outsiders insights into my own story. Thank you very much for that and I hope you are still enjoying the story

Notchka: At least it's longer than the last...right...right? Thank you for the support

arguellovspryer: Thank you for the support and I hope you don't stay up too late to read it

pstatic: Thank you for the support, for me the story is the most important thing and my goal is that the battle/love scenes will only enhance it

BleachBoy95: Thanks for the review, I'm actually quite surprised at how rare this coupling is myself. The two characters have loads of fans but they just don't seem to be put together that often, hopefully more people will try in the future

Bad one: Here's more for you, hope you enjoyed it and thanks for the support