Defining 'Shinigami'

A/N: Written for Maat Seshat for her winning Help Japan bid. She requested Unohana backstory, and this is what came out. Any reviews/feedback is appreciated.

In the millennia before the formation of the Thirteen Squads, Yamamoto Genryuusai wandered through the villages on the outer reaches of the world that would, centuries later, become known as Soul Society, with the zanpakutou Ryuujin Jakka—his weapon and companion—at his side. Yamamoto was in his usual state—injured and wary as a wild creature. Fighting off the giants who now rose on the edge of the world occupied his days and nights. He could destroy them, yes, but he was a lone fighter. The worry that once he hit his inevitable mortality, there would be none capable of taking up his burden constantly nagged at him.

One zanpakutou existed—his—and though he travels across the world in search for souls strong enough to wield another. None of the katana he had marked so far had shown signs of having evolved. Still, Yamamoto continued on. Even one more shinigami—a vain name to give one's own kind, he admitted—would make his travels worth the weight of a thousand raw blades on his back.

As long as there were steps to take, Yamamoto would walk as far needed, even through the injuries. Even if he could fall, Ryuujin Jakka would take Yamamoto by sleeve and pull him in the direction his instinct called "right" to the next battle, to the next person whose energy showed even the slightest seed of potential.

Here. Rest here.

Ryuujin Jakka had always pushed him further, and yet in front of a dilapidated gate with the sign "Unohana house" painted on a sign above, it chose instead to stop Yamamoto and insist on rest.

This reiatsu, do you feel it? Or have your journeys dulled your senses? This gut-instinct communication Yamamoto had with his sword sounded almost amused, but once alerted to the presence of spiritual energy here, Yamamoto understood. The second zanpakutou would be revealed by someone here.

An older-looking woman, tall and graceful, waited for him.

"Have you room for a weary traveler?"

The inertia that kept him moving these past decades left his body, and with much indignity he allowed the woman to assist him into the ramshackle building that belonged to the sign.

Unohana House, a perpetually ruined hospital ran by a side branch of a clan known for its healers, stood at the western edge of the known world. Those who could not go into the larger cities or those who could not afford the healers who made their homes there found refuge in a building severely in need of a new roof and a few fresh coats of paint. The whispers of the truly desperate said the doctors at Unohana house could cure anything.

Unohana Retsu, the third-youngest granddaughter of the current head of household rushed through the main corridor. She was in her usual state—hungry, but too busy rushing about to eat anything more than a few bowls of rice and some broth, much to the amusement of her cousins and her fellow healers. At least she didn't waste her few spare moments without studying the scrolls of anatomy and medicine between bites.

"Retsu! Prepare a room!"

Grandmother walked in, accompanied by a man approximately her age. By sight, Retsu already noticed that at least two of his ribs were broken, as well as his nose, and still bleeding cuts joined half-healed scratches across his face. Those only counted the recent injuries. Judging by the way he shuffled, Retsu guessed that older injuries had been allowed to heal haphazardly. Retsu wondered as she rushed to fetch the bandages, herbs, and hot water her grandmother insisted upon for her magic, how one grew so beaten without actually collapsing.

Still he lived, and Retsu, having already seen her share well-intentioned but too-weak warriors who attempted to fight off these new threats being referred as hollows and perished in the process, took that as testimony to his abilities. Unohana house had their share of monster visits, but fortunately those who came near were weak enough that young Retsu—who did the menial chores and cleaning up—could dispose of them with an ordinary blade. Perhaps this stranger encountered the stronger ones, and managed to survive despite the injuries.

As the days passed, Retsu kept her ears open for more talk of the stranger, whose name was Yamamoto. Though she did most of the everyday work in the care of their guest, including eating with him, as both of them had large appetites, her grandmother and eldest cousin took charge of Yamamoto's treatment, which as Retsu had first suspected required both the healing of current wounds and repair of damage caused by injuries left to heal of their own will.

"He calls himself a shinigami" she overheard her cousins conversing as they slid the door to Yamamoto's room closed.

"Shinigami? So, a god of death? How arrogant."

"Or a ghost? Maybe he just forgot to fall down when he died."

"How grim."

"He claims to be able to talk to his sword. Whoever heard of people actually talking to their weapons?"

"Now, I'm sure he meant that metaphorically."

"He eats like Retsu," The eldest said with a sidelong glance at Retsu as they passed by.

"Maybe, she's a Shinigami as well. When the hollows come around, she's the one who sends them away."

Retsu shifted. Taking care of the monsters that threatened the clinic had just been a child's chore, nothing more, nothing less. Grandmother and the other healers had more important things take care of than the stray nuisances who attacked, she repeated to herself while continuing on her way; not that she had a particular interest or talent for fighting them for fighting's sake.

"Not a shinigami," Retsu whispered to herself as her cousins turned down the corridor and out of sight.

Before Yamamoto left a few months afterwards, Retsu received a gift from him.

"A token of my appreciation," Yamamoto told her, "for your family and their generosity towards this lone wanderer." He hands her a dai-katana, nothing special, just less worn and torn on the edge than the one Retsu currently used to fend off hollows. "Please use it in protection of this place."

Retsu took the sword he gave her, and made a cursory show of checking the blade before sheathing it and bowing to him. If she never saw Yamamoto again, he would never know her intention to never use a blade once she became a real healer. "Thank you, sensei." The question that has been a mild itch for the past few months came forward. "Is it true that you talk to your sword?"

Yamamoto strokes his bearded chin. "More accurately, it talks to me. It sends me to where I'm needed,"

"My cousins say you call yourself a shinigami."

"Yes. Would you like to become one?" More than her cousins' teasing remarks, Yamamoto's casual question called Retsu's ordinariness into doubt. "The world needs strong fighters, now that the hollows have begun to invade."

Retsu shifted. Even if the world changed in to ones where warriors were more necessary, Retsu still would prefer the herb to the blade. Of that, she felt certain. "No, sir, I prefer healing to fighting." Hollows near the clinic were rare enough, and while it was true that Retsu had been assigned to fend them off, she still hoped to become a healer one day and pass on the fighting duties to those whose temperaments were better suited to the job.

"We will see," Yamamoto said at last.

She had a feeling circumstances would bring them together again.

Two and a half decades passed. Little by little the world continued to reform at the hands of the hollows, particularly in the western corner of the world where Unohana House stood. Bit by bit, the villages broke apart as the settlers moved to safer ground. Those remaining faced more powerful hollows, and most of the patients who stayed at the clinic were now at least novice fighters, if not fully-trained mercenaries. Their news was grim—the sky tore regularly, bringing not just lone hollows but groups of two or three at a time. Those hollows that Retsu's blade met were more powerful than those she'd dealt with in childhood.

By default, Retsu became the sole protector of Unohana house. Even as her medical abilities grew enough to treat wounds as well as any adult in her family, she still spent an uncomfortable amount of her time patrolling the area, the katana given to her by Yamamoto in hand. No longer did she have the child's delusion that the disposal of monsters was a low-level but necessary chore instead of a duty that fell on Retsu's shoulders alone. Reluctantly, she shouldered a warrior's burden.

Sometimes while she wielded the katana Yamamoto gave her those decades ago, she swore she could hear the empty high-pitched whistle of a rising wind. Perhaps her imagination had latched on to the stories he told her—of swords that talked to their master and guided them to where they needed to be. And sometimes the sword's soft whistle did grow louder in the presence of hollows.

It wailed now, as she made her way towards the burning town outside Unohana's house and against the tide of people fleeing for their safety. Retsu made mental notes of the number and types of injuries of the refugees. The clinic's beds would fill up most likely, but they could pitch tents outside and house some of the less injured there until the time came that they could make journey for a new home.

A group of warriors were already on the scene when Retsu arrived.

"What are you doing here?" One turned to ask. "The hollows don't discriminate between armed warriors and bystanders."

"I'm here to assist the wounded," Retsu said simply.

"Just stay out of the way."

Retsu nodded. She would allow them the first chance to fell the foes. After all, the less energy she spent fighting the more energy would be available for the no less strenuous task of mending the wounded.

Two tears opened in the sky, and from each dark gap, a giant stepped out. Retsu stilled herself, afraid but unwilling to allow it control over her while the threat remained. The warriors leapt forward in protection of their borderland town, and from the spring of their heels against the dirt paths, Retsu understood better than they who would fall in this battle without interference. She made a simple calculation, the number of lives saved if she drew her blade in this very moment. The weight of the warrior's pride and her own desire to never shed blood measured against those who would fall were the hollows to continue on the path out of time.

Retsu launched. Her body shot past the warriors still making their approach and sliced one of the hollows straight through its mask and breaking off the top corner. It yowled in a combination of pain and fury. The other one swiped its claws in Unohana's direction fast enough that the sweeping breeze rustled her hakama.

"That one's yours!" Retsu pointed to the injured hollow while she regained her balance between the uninjured one's shoulder blades. Five trained mercenaries on a single hollow seemed an achievable win, while she subdued the other one in the meantime.

The fresh hollow flailed at Retsu, trying to at least shake her off since its too short arms could not reach her. The hollow wailed as Unohana buried her katana between its shoulder blades, the pain making it thrash. Retsu's knuckles whitened as she struggled to maintain her position. At the last moment, Retsu braced herself and withdrew her sword. She and her blade went flying. Retsu twisted and unfurled her body her body, so that, even when her hands and feet stung from hitting the hard dirt, she could immediately send herself back towards her adversary.

A glance over her shoulder in midair showed the five warriors—mercenaries—still struggling to cut the first hollow. Retsu made a quick cut through the center of the mask of hers and into the comparatively soft head beneath. The hollow dissolved into flakes of black that vanished like smoke. Retsu landed again and reassessed the five-on-one situation where the mercenaries tried unsuccessfully to chip away the remainder of the mask. Retsu murmured a very simple binding spell. The frozen hollow became an easy target for the proud mercenaries.

When the last hollow fell, Unohana felt an external sense of satisfaction surround her. The sounds of whistling wind grew louder in her ears even the trees around her remained almost unnaturally still. Only when the blade returned to its sheath did the noise ebb.

"What are you?" One of the warriors asked. The question pulled Retsu out of her trance.

By instinct, Retsu almost gave her clan name, occupation, and given name before the use of "what" and not who registered. These warriors stood in awe of her. While Retsu had come to acknowledge her knack for battle, the expression on these warriors' faces and the simple mathematics of battle reminded her that she still underestimated her abilities. These were not the town residents wielding improvised weapons while others retreated; they were mercenaries of the type who took care of roving packs of wolves and bandits. "Just a healer from the Unohana clan," she responded when her own surprised moment subsided. It felt true, even if the imaginary word Shinigami might have made more sense in that moment.

"How'd you do that?"

Having no answer that did not sound immodest, Retsu countered with a question of her own. "Are any of you injured?" Judging by Retsu's initial evaluation, none seemed to have any wounds more serious than their bruised pride.

"No, ma'am."

"Then I'm afraid I must attend to the evacuees," And with that Retsu put the thought of being a death god out of her mind once more.

More years passed. With the surrounding villages scattering, Retsu relied more on her feet and their mysterious talent of flight to carry her across ever expanding tracts of territory. By necessity, the warrior in her grew side-by-side with the healer. The grim utility of a sword became a tool of survival as much as her scalpel, bandages, and herbs. The mercenaries willing to face the threats grew rarer even as they became more capable against the threats they faced.

The battles began to call to her, and the high whistling sound in her head—almost a voice—grew louder, almost clamoring to be understood. When she followed, she met hollows and grew stronger. The blade Yamamoto gave her retained its edge even as years passed and battles added up.

Then one ordinary battle changed everything.

One moment, Retsu fought on as usual, her mind and instincts concentrating on the least damaging and most efficient path. The next, the world around her retreated until only combat remained real. She became unaware and uncaring of anything: the number of hollows pouring through the breaches in the sky, the town, or the scared civilians evacuating. All else faded to the sounds in her head that strengthened and separated out to a four-count beat. Four syllables came into focus. She still held no love for fights, but when she fought the words almost became intelligible. And so, the battle continued until, at last, Retsu snapped.

Everything stopped. The tide of hollows from the rip above might have stemmed. She might have looked around and seen the bodies of those she'd sworn to protect around her. Maybe she died. Retsu could not be sure if she lost consciousness in that moment or if she just, for the first time, became aware of everything in the world.

Air surrounded her. Wide expanses of blue and green—ocean and forests—spread beneath her feet. The tears and the sky and the town she had been defending were nowhere in sight. If she didn't fall it was only because she had mastered the arts of walking on little more than clouds.

Was she dreaming? Had she really died? Had Retsu simply wandered off after battle, leaving the injured untreated? She looked around. Save for a flock of crows flying in the distance, nothing appeared live in this world. A breeze passed above her head. Retsu looked up and realized she was not alone.

A person—a figure dressed in face-concealing robes, gender indeterminate—floated above Retsu's head. It wore clean bandages across its front.

"Who are you?"

No answer. The childhood restlessness Retsu had previously tamed in her youth returned. "Who are you?" Retsu repeated.

Only the empty breeze and the clamor in her head answered. Retsu's hands flexed with the resisted urge to claw at her head and shaking it until the answer came, but the figure—the most important piece of this fell away. Retsu gritted her teeth. Agony could be felt and healed later, but the answers around her needed to happen now. She pushed forward. The figure continued its retreat while Retsu struggled onward.

Debris swirled around her, just bits of dust at first that impeded visibility and irritated her eyes, then larger chunks that threatened to dent her armor. Then larger shards fell and sliced at Retsu's exposed skin. She looked up. Through the sky's jagged edges, she could see darkness. Used to seeing tears in the sky from the hollows, Retsu thought nothing of them until nothing poured out.

Thus, she became slowly aware of the world falling apart—and the sense that if she lets this happen, if she somehow could not catch this figure who eluded her no matter how much she chased, that Something Bad would happen. "Tell me who you are!" She shouted across the sky.

The figure stilled at last. "I have been telling you since the old man first gave me to you. It is time that you listen…"

The old man? Retsu boggled as the pieces fell into place. Her sword!

Retsu closed her eyes and let her ears feed on the ambient sounds of this world—birds chirping and the thrum of distant rainfall. The figure stayed silent while the world crumbled around them. A name came to Retsu's lips. Her awareness of the real world returned.


The katana disappeared—no—transformed into a creature easily the size of a small house, with smooth glossy skin, a blunt nose, and broad fins. It swallowed the wounded in a single gulp and stared at Retsu with a dull gaze before it flew off. Retsu leaped into the air, taking advantage of the wind currents to propel herself higher. The creature paid her no attention at all. Retsu easily kept it in her line of sight even as she struggled to close the gap.

Several minutes later, the creature finally circled a clearing in the forests and landed. An exhausted Retsu touched ground later. A cursory look around revealed no obvious sign of hollows. Secure in that, Retsu turned to her companion. As she approached, the creature made no attempt to flee or fight.

"Minazuki?" Retsu reached out for the creature who has been her zanpakutou. Despite its looks, Minazuki's skin was surprisingly rough and dry against her fingertips. Gingerly, she pet it, letting her breath even out and hoping that the creature would remain calm. Minazuki backed away slowly. A low gurgle sounded in its stomach, and Retsu jumped out of range in time to see the first of the wounded roll out of the creature's mouth coated in gastric juices. The rest followed not far behind—all of them soaked and smelling faintly of bile but otherwise, to a preliminary glance at least, in better condition than they were before.

"Interesting." Retsu turned to find Yamamoto—the old man who had given her the katana so many years ago—landing behind her, his toes raising the faintest cloud of dust.

"Have you been waiting long?" Retsu asked.

"Longer than you can imagine." Yamamoto stared at those whom Minazuki had regurgitated and healed. They now either tried to figure out amongst themselves what had happened to them if not looking for somewhere to wash. "Ever since I found Ryuujin Jakka, I've been searching for someone else who could learn the name and nature of their zanpakutou." When she was done with Yamamoto, Retsu would have other questions to answer.

"Minazuki. So that's the nature of my Zanpakutou?" Retsu said, "I expected a dragon."

"They're not all dragons." Yamamoto chuckled. "Zanpakutou choose the shinigami best suited towards its nature."

Retsu looked again at Minazuki and immediately understood. A sword that could only kill was of limited use to her, one that could heal and, she realized, carry her and her patients from one site of need to another and to safety suited her much better, almost as though she herself had been the one to chose this relationship between weapon and wielder.

"More importantly," Yamamoto said, "it proves that the powers that go into a shinigami are not a one-time fluke."

Shinigami? The words her cousins said so long ago came into her mind. Retsu had become a shinigami. She understood what Yamamoto meant when he talked about his katana speaking to him, something that no one else could imagine. The word should be hateful for her—as a healer, death was often a mark of helplessness, if not outright failure—but now she needed a name, any name to describe what she had become.

"What do Shinigami do, Yamamoto-sensei?" Retsu asked as Minazuki dissolved back into its sheath. The weapon too had changed; the blade had grown longer—too long to make wearing it at her hip practical—and the sheath had morphed to fit across her back.

"We look for ways of making more of them, Retsu-san."

She stared at him.

"By which, I mean, training them."

"We're the only two now. Perhaps this is still a fluke."

"Perhaps, but we're a replicable fluke now. We can train more fighters to face this threat, and some of them will become Shinigami."

Retsu felt her stomach sink again as the true definition of shinigami returns. To Yamamoto, who came first and coined the term, shinigami were only fighters. No matter that Minazuki proved that not all Zanpakutou were created for killing, Retsu feared his vision would overwhelm all others.

"What's your plan for making more Shinigami?" Retsu asked, more to buy herself more time and information than from a genuine interest.

"Open an academy. Teach people to fight, and encourage the more powerful ones to discover their Zanpakutou. Yamamoto pointed to the horizon where more hollows gathered for an attack. "You're with me." Together, they could be taken out before anyone got hurt.

"For this battle." Retsu considers her stance, "but I still have more to learn."

When Yamamoto nodded, she felt more defeated than victorious as she wondered what else Shinigami meant to him, and what more he expected her to do.

Another century with Minazuki passed by. Retsu's scope of her protection continued to widen until she covered the entirety of the western borderlands. Her sword had proven to be a useful—if not amiable—companion, and during the years Minazuki remained silent, Retsu put thought of Yamamoto's words out of her mind. The world still fell apart. Hollows had a nose for her now. Her energy attracted them better than any previously discovered bait. More and more she spent her time away from civilization.

Still, Retsu did not spend all her time alone. Occasionally she came upon potential students—mostly fighters, who wished to spar and meditate with her—monsters were not the only ones drawn to her reiatsu—with a few healers who remembered the healer who showed up to heal entire towns in a matter of days. Among those who stayed, her reputation spread.

Retsu was always content to spar with those who asked, but as even the most martial of her short-term pupils discovered, she was more reluctant to heal those wounds. "You should have considered that before challenging me to a battle," she would say with the most pleasant of smiles. When they invariably protested that they could not cast the most basic of healing kidou or improvise a splint, she taught that too. If nothing else, her students were motivated to learn more than mere fighting.

The time with pupils became precious, not just for their development and the perpetuation of Retsu's skills, but because the time in isolation doing nothing but fighting hollows brought the edge out from Minazuki. The discovery of her zanpakutou's name—and almost as significantly, its voice—only made it more demanding of her, more battles, more meditations on the connection between the killing of hollows and the healing of patients, and the inner workings of life and bodies themselves.

One-hundred years of questions and resulting answers congeal into a deep-red word: Minazuki's true nature revealed itself to her.

Almost immediately, she decided to never reveal this aspect of Shinigami knowledge to the world.

A few years later, she and Yamamoto crossed paths again in the midst of a frenzied attack. The hollows, attracted to spiritual power, came out in force when both shinigami arrived in the same area to defend the very last of the large borderland settlements. At least, Retsu came to defend; Yamamoto's motives remained unclear. Her arms strained to hold Minazuki high against the pressure of a hundred hollows. Her limit drew close, but at her side, Yamamoto did little more than toy with the Hollows who had followed him, keeping them busy but doing nothing to dispatch them or relieve Retsu of her burden.

"Stop this." Retsu gritted her teeth and held Minazuki above her head. Her feet were sinking into mud—formerly the solid rock she preferred her ground battles on. She struggled with herself too. The promise she had made only a few years ago faced an impossible test.

Yamamoto could end this, Retsu thought with rage. But he wouldn't while Unohana's power remained unmeasured. Whether she wanted it or not, Yamamoto ceded this particular fight to Unohana, Minazuki and the uncomfortable partnership between woman and blade. Mere skill could not suffice in this moment, and the pressure of her sword dragged her to the grim places her meditation had brought her over these wandering decades. Now, the question was not 'if' she would show her blade's true nature, but when. How much longer could she hold out?

"Is everyone out?" She shouted to Yamamoto over the howling wind. Minazuki grew hungry. Retsu didn't wait for Yamamoto's answer. "If you insist on a demonstration, get them out of here first!"

The only answer Retsu received was a new onslaught of hollows as the ones who were giving chase to Yamamoto turned towards her instead. Retsu built a barrier around herself and Minazuki, as much to keep the power within her contained as to keep those who attacked her out. Her thick braid flattened against her back as she compressed herself into as small and tightly controlled presence as she could. Time had no meaning. Retsu only concentrated on holding on.

"Retsu-san, the civilians are now safe." Yamamoto's voice penetrated the barrier.

The words opened the floodgate. Retsu no longer had the presence to hold Minazuki back; she and her Zanpakutou were indeed one. "Bankai!"

Sickly green light flashed. The hollows around them dissolved. Cloyingly sweet carrion smells filled the air, and with the single exception of the green patch Retsu stood upon, the grass had turned not just brown but already half-decayed into new soil. Minazuki's whistling voice returned back to her. All the lives she saved—will save in the future—must be returned eventually.

"So, you too?" Yamamoto stroked his beard, and tried to sound as though he had not just forced her to reveal the depths of her sword's power. "Interesting."

"Rest assured when I say that I wish to never demonstrate it again, Yamamoto-sensei." Retsu addressed the now sealed and sheathed Minazuki as much as she did her inadvertent mentor. Yamamoto regarded her, his wrinkled eyes in search of an incentive to convince her.

"Fair enough," Yamamoto said, walking towards her. Retsu wondered if she saw a quiver in Yamamoto's legs. "Have you considered my idea?" She remains deliberately silent, looking to force Yamamoto into reminding her. "The idea about opening an academy."

Retsu closed her eyes. There would be more of them in the world: more shinigami, more zanpakutou, more warriors, and more death. "There is still more work to be done here." Retsu gave the answer that would allow her more much needed time. "When the last of the border lands have been taken care of, we can think of other matters."

"Very well."

Yamamoto walked away, but it wouldn't be the last time Retsu saw him.

The world shifted again in the following decades, and with civilians no longer living on the borders of the world, Retsu returned to Unohana House—now fallen completely into disuse and assumed her position as head of the house. The new world solidified, and with fewer hollows around, Minazuki's voice softened. Unohana fought only occasionally, the rest of her time occupied with repairing the clinic where she first learned the arts of healing.

Few patients came to the house anymore; and those who did were fighters themselves, looking for treatment and moment's respite before they resumed their hunt. Mostly though, whether by the feel of her energy—almost but not quite perfectly under control—or the spreading reputation she slowly became aware of having, Unohana's visitors were students, already strong and competent looking for advanced training, either in the sword or the scalpel. Unohana taught both, with the condition that all fighters learned battlefield first aid.

"Unohana-sensei!" Kanon—one of her martial arts students—ran up to Unohana one sunny day, plain katana swinging wildly outward from her hip. "We have a visitor."

Unohana closed her eyes and felt the faint, familiar hum of dormant spiritual energy. It was a confirmation of an expected visitor. "Set up the tea room, and send him there."

"Yes ma'am."

Four gathered in the tea room, though the curious students would only see two. Unohana had yet to tell them about her travels with Minazuki or her previous encounters with Yamamoto. If any of them manifested a zanpakutou and become a Shinigami, Unohana would face it then. For now though, their knowledge only let them see their teacher and her guest sitting across from each other over a cup of smoky green tea. Ryuujin Jakka at Yamamoto's side and Minazuki on the wall in its place of honored uselessness would remain, for now, only swords to them.

"This place has changed." Yamamoto looked around with extra time spent staring at Minazuki on the wall.

"The world has changed," Unohana said.

Yamamoto nodded. "There's a king now, as well as nobility and a counsel. Soul Society—that's what they're calling it these days—has sealed the borders between this world and the hollows."

Unohana takes a sip of her tea. "The crisis is over."

"The world still needs shinigami, more than ever. Hollows still exist, and they've started to cross over into other worlds. There's still a need for those who will face that threat. The king has requested that an academy for the training of shinigami to fill the ranks of guards and warriors be opened." Yamamoto closed his eyes, and his energy heightened, just slightly, but enough to create an atmosphere. Unohana considered her previous encounters with the other shinigami, and this time, the air pressing down her didn't feel nearly as oppressive.

Outside, she heard the breath of her students still, and the way their energy dampened in the presence of Yamamoto, letting her know exactly whose strength had grown. Unohana kept her head high, and let Yamamoto's attempt at intimidation roll away like rain on oiled paper. After all, she expected the coming of this day. "I have considered some matters," Unohana said. "This is a world that needs healers as well as warriors. I am not ready to put the safety of others in the hands of the battle lusty alone."

"It appears that you have a nice little school going here yourself, Unohana-sensei."

"That's true. I could be quite content here." Unohana folded her hands and rested them on her lap.

"What if you were provided with a better offer, Unohana-sensei?"

She smiled. "It would depend on the offer."

"They're thinking of making an entire army of shinigami, complete with divisions. Some of them would be headed by the noble families of course, but one of the free divisions would be yours to do with as you wished." Yamamoto leaned forward. "Unohana-sensei, you say you would not leave Soul Society to the hands of those who lust for battle. This is the opportunity you should take."

"We shall see."

Unohana's new office at the Shinigami Academy stood at the center of the empty compound that would become both her division's headquarters and the hospital barracks once the thirteen squads became established. The halls, to be filled with healers and patients, were at their emptiest waiting for injured shinigami to return from their first field missions. Until then, the everyday training injuries would assure her students a constant flow of cases to study and treat.

She held no fear that her division would remain empty, despite the dismissive jokes that already passing around the school about the healing courses. Not a single one of her former students, given the opportunity to switch to the martial course, chose to leave her tutelage. Even Kanon, easily the most martial of her students when Yamamoto made his offer, eagerly embarked on the path of a battlefield medic. Besides, Unohana thought, she noticed how silent some of those students became after a polite reminder of how well trained-healers and trained-warriors complimented each other.

Yamamoto arrived at Unohana's office to greet her just as she was hanging a her modified diagram of xang-fu organs and their relations to one another, next to her illustrations of kampo herbs. Her reference scrolls already filled up the shelves, and Unohana imagined that a flower arrangement would look nice on the far corner of her desk.

"Settling in, I see. Your apprehensions seem to have disappeared." Yamamoto stroked the beard he now grows.

"Not disappeared." Unohana grew thoughtful. More zanpakutou would be made—discovered—in the course of training more people with high amounts of spiritual energy. Not all those powers would be ones to brandish easily. On a case-by-case basis, those shinigami would need to learn to balance their power's desire to expand outward with their own beliefs. "But I think the students will come to have a much different idea of what a shinigami does than either of us. And that's a good thing." At that moment, the first members of her fledgling division ran by, all four of their faces obscured by the stacks of towels or bandages they carried.

"Is that so?" Yamamoto could not—or at least would not—disagree with her.