Swords in Back Alleys
by tag

Disclaimer: Bleach and characters are copyright © Tite Kubo; Rurouni Kenshin and characters are copyright © Nobuhiro Watsuki.

A/N #1: This one-shot is a part of Vathara's "Clean and White" universe, taking place after "Jungyaku". Authorized and betaed by Vathara.

A/N #2: The Clean and White universe now has its own website! Check out http:/ vathara. t1goold. net/CaW/ (remove the spaces) for story listings and timeline.

Kenshin glanced around thoughtfully as he exited the gate. Rukongai. A mid-district, judging by the look of things. No one around. Good. Now, where is-

An arm wrapped around his shoulders, and before he could react, he felt his hair ruffled. "There you are, kid! I've been waiting for you!"

"This one is not a kid, Isshin-san," Kenshin said - as he always did. He was beginning to think that Shiba Isshin, Captain of the Ninth Division, just liked to exasperate him.

"Hey, Captain," Isshin said, thumbing his chest, "new shinigami," he continued, pointed at Kenshin. "That makes you a kid, by anyone's books. And will you stop calling me '-san'!"

"And when will this one stop being a 'new' shinigami?" Kenshin asked, as Isshin steered him down the street in the direction opposite the Gate to Seireitei that could be seen in the distance. He ignored the request, also as usual; he deserved to get some of his own back.

"After your first century," Isshin replied. "Of course, then you'll be a young shinigami."

Kenshin refrained from rolling his eyes with an effort of will - which then became easy as he sensed... something. A whisper-soft sense of presence on their back-trail. "Isshin-san. One must ask: were you followed?"

"Followed? Who'd follow me?" Isshin asked. With one wave of his hand, shadow-ribbons appeared - only two of which showed the characteristic red of shinigami. "Nope!"

Kenshin eyed the shinigami captain doubtfully. The whisper-soft presence had faded to the point that he couldn't sense it any longer, but he'd learned to trust his senses. It had definitely been present.

"Relax, kid. Lots of shinigami like to come down to this area of Rukongai to relax. That's why I told you to come here - it's easier to hide a needle in a stack of needles than a stack of hay. It was probably just someone looking around and not wanting to be spotted by a captain.

"Especially if they were supposed to be on duty," Isshin added a moment later. "Do you know how many times I've found some of my ranking officers in Rukongai getting drunk off their asses when they were supposed to be on duty?"

"No, this one does not," Kenshin muttered, as they crossed into the next district. "Where are we going, Isshin-san?"

"Sixty-fifth district," Isshin replied. "There's rumours of Hollows going around that area. I figured it would be a good place to practice."

Kenshin sighed quietly. No use telling Isshin he didn't need to practice; and besides, Hollows did need to be dealt with.

It didn't take them long to reach the sixty-fifth district; once they got to a more crowded area, Isshin led the way through shunpou. And once there, it took even less time to find a nest of Hollows.

"Not good," Isshin muttered, as Kenshin studied the group of Hollows - at least fifteen of them - approaching them.

"How so?"

"Despite what you saw when we found you and Hiko, Hollows grouping together is not normal, kid," Isshin explained, hand shifting on his zanpakutou hilt. "Normally they hunt alone."

"Then why would there be a nest here?" Kenshin asked.

"That's the question, isn't it. I don't know, but it worries me."

He didn't get the chance to say anything else, however, as the horde of Hollows attacked.

They were in the middle of dealing with them, Nekomata a constant purring snarl in the back of his mind, when Kenshin heard a yell.

"Isshin, look out!"

A moment later, the whisper-soft sense of reiatsu was back, only stronger. Much stronger. Lieutenant strength at least. And suddenly more Hollows than Kenshin and Isshin could account for were disappearing.

Kenshin landed after a Ryuu Tsui Sen and glanced around to see that the Hollows were all gone, and there were two strangers present.

Both looked young, despite the white hair on one of them. Neither wore shihakusho; the one with the curly brown hair wore a pale pink gi decorated with sakura petals and a slightly darker pink pair of hakama, and the white-haired one wore a plain dark blue gi and hakama. Despite that, they both felt like shinigami. High-class shinigami at that.

"You'd do well to be more careful, Isshin," the white-haired one said mildly.

"Ah... heh... What are you two doing here?" Isshin blurted out.

"Following you, of course!" the pink-clad one replied cheerfully, grinning at them both. "You've really got to work on your reiatsu sensing, Isshin. I know it's a weakness for Shiba, but your young recruit there was able to sense us when you didn't!"

"Er... recruit?" Isshin repeated.

The white-haired one shook his head. "Isshin." Then he turned to Kenshin. "Himura Kenshin, I presume? I am Ukitake Juushirou; this," he gestured to his companion, "is Kyouraku Shunsui."

Those names were familiar. Two of the most ancient of the captains, according to Isshin and Urahara. And they knew who he was? The uneasy feeling he'd had since he had first sensed that whisper-soft hint of reiatsu increased exponentially. This is... not good.

"You... uh... know who he is?" Isshin asked.

"Honestly, you'd think we were as dumb as some of the younger ones," Kyouraku-taichou said, shaking his head.

"Shunsui!" Ukitake-taichou scolded firmly. "Yes, Isshin, Himura-san, we know. As far as I'm aware at the moment, we are the only ones who know."

"Yeah," Kyouraku-taichou agreed. "And... we need to talk."