Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach
The call had finally gone out for the Captains to to gather for the results of the fierce competition which had been the cause of so much excitement. Once more the Sereitei was abuzz with anticipation, more so than usual as this time the majority of the Shinigami had actually witnessed the possible Captains in action. Every squad had noticed when their Captains and Lieutenants had left the barracks together, so they now waited to see what the results were.
In the Captain's hall itself, the air was just as tense as outside, if not more so. Even the older Captains who'd seen many Captains come and go had become somewhat entertained by the excitement in the air. Normally it'd be down to only a few Captains and the Captain-Commander after they'd seen the results of the Captaincy exam. The rest of the Shinigami, Captains included, would only know who the new Captain was when they were initiated as the Captain of whatever squad it was. There were rare exceptions, such as the old rule of becoming a Captain by defeating another in combat and the case of Ichigo Kurosaki – which was decided in light of his past actions rather than giving him a pointless test.
"This has really got the place buzzing, ne?" Kyoraku chuckled, nudging his long time friend.
"Well, it's not exactly the usual – my third seats have been beside themselves." Ukitake smiled, getting another chuckle in response.
"I can see why, you should be more excited about this, Nanao." The Captain practically whined, glancing at where his Lieutenant was standing behind him.
"I'm as interested as the next person, Captain." She replied primly, used to her Captains childish actions.
She also wasn't about to divulge that the SWA was planning on a special about the new Captains as soon as they'd been announced by the Captain-Commander. Especially since she'd caught Hisagi's eye as they went into the room and she knew that he'd have the same idea. It wasn't often that their publications came into direct competition, but both knew that this would be an ideal time to make some money. The tattooed Lieutenant gave her a nod and moved over to start conversation with Komamura, one of the few Captains he felt he could openly talk to.
"Maybe if you drank a little sake you'd feel the excit-" The older Captain tried, for the billionth time, to offer her a drink. Alas, he always received the same answer.
"I'm fine, but thank you for the offer." She sighed, sending him a look that only a long suffering subordinate could know of.
"You won't drink, Ichigo won't drink, what are today's youth coming too." Kyouraku melodramatically lamented, looking to his long time friend for support. Ukitake smiled his as he usually did and put his hand on his friends flowery Kimono.
"Maybe they saw you and decided against it?" He said, in such a kind voice that it only hurt all the more.
Kyouraku froze as Nanao forced herself not to laugh, knowing that the only thing stopping her Captain from moping to a bar was that the Captain-Commander had asked them all to be there – and going to a bar was not an adequate excuse. Instead Kyouraku looked around for someone he could go and whine too to try and cheer himself up.
"I didn't know you could be so cruel, Juushirou." He sniffed, playing it up for all he could.
Ukitake blinked. "Cruel?" Maybe Rukia had been right when she'd said that sarcasm wasn't his forte. Then again she'd also said that it was considered the lowest form of wit in the human world, so perhaps he just didn't understand it as well as he though.
Before the comedy show could continue, the large doors swung open and Yamamoto walked through, Unohana following close behind him and Sasakibe on his other side. It wasn't all that common to see the Lieutenant of the first squad at meetings even when the Lieutenants where asked to attend: mainly because the Captain-Commander would tell him the contents and he'd already be doing what needed to be done. The fact that the Lieutenants where here at all for the initiation of two Captains was amazing, in recent years they'd been allowed more and more access to events such as these – which previously were reserved for only Captains.
Though the older Captains had a sneaking suspicion that there was a good reason for the Lieutenants to be there for this initiation in particular.
All traces of his foolish faced gone, Kyoraku nodded at the 11th squad Captain and took his place in line, Nanao following after him. By the time the Captain-Commander had reached his position all of the Captains were in their proper place, save for three empty spaces that stood out quite noticeably. Two could obviously be accounted for, but the third...
"Where is Captain Kurosaki?" Yamamoto asked gruffly, and was met with a silence as his gaze travelled around the room.
Luckily, his answer came moments later when Ichigo flung the doors open, looking more than a little flustered and out of breath. Rukia arrived just after looking slightly more dignified but still a little out of it, both of them mumbled an apology and moved to take their place, ignoring the looks which they were getting: some amused, some curious...and one deathly glare. Yamamoto simply gave a mental sigh and hoped that as the two grew older they'd learn some discretion, he wouldn't address the issue now but if it became a problem then questions would have to be asked.
Right now he doubted he could make the young lovers feel much more uncomfortable than they already did.
After waiting a few seconds for everything to settle down he looked up and addressed the collected Captains and Lieutenants.
"As I'm sure you all know, the event which we held was unprecedented in our history as a method of selecting Captains. However, the betrayal we suffered was equally as unprecedented. The mark of these traitors has stained the ranks of the Seireitei far too long, so now I will announce the two who will take their places among us." He stopped after his speech, waiting for a moment for the gathered Shinigami to absorb the information.
It may as well have been a pause for dramatic effect. The Captains were all listening for who their new comrades would be, who would be next to make their mark on a thousand years of tradition. The Lieutenants were waiting to see if it would be any of them who would take their place in the highest position possible – to do something only one in a million, no, one in a hundred million, could do.
To be a Captain.
Yamamoto took a breath through his nose and glanced around the room, his gaze invisible behind his wrinkled, ancient, eyelids. He had not meant for this to be an event this dramatic, but in some ways he could understand their anticipation.
"Rukia Kuchiki, step forward."
The words hung in the air like a black hole, drawing everyone's attention to them, none more so than the woman herself. The tension was like nothing she had ever felt before: even when she'd gone to a noble party for the first time, when she'd told her brother about her and Ichigo's relationship, when Hisana had come back. Some how this moment was so all-encompassing that everything else faded from her mind.
She shared a single glance with Ichigo, Byakuya and Renji as she blinked a few times to clear her head, then stepped forward, turning to face the Captain-Commander. The old man looked over his selection once again, reminding himself why he had chosen her when there had been more powerful choices available to him. More experienced choices.
For the first time in a long time he'd looked ahead of him and seen that his time would eventually be over as Captain-Commander. The Seireitei had changed to much in the last few years in so many ways, fantastic, amazing ways. It, despite the constant threat of death by a hollow their soldiers faced, felt livelier than ever. Or perhaps that he felt more involved now that they'd had to face a problem as large as the had. Whatever the cause he had realized that whilst he was still unchallenged, he was also a relic.
It wasn't self-depreciation, it was the truth: he was someone who'd stood his ground for over a thousand years without budging. But it wasn't a thousand years ago and more and perhaps it was time that he looked to what he could do with the new potential that hat sprouted all around him. He was already watching Ichigo closely so as he could make sure the young man developed properly, but he wasn't the only one.
Kuchiki, Rukia Kuchiki: she had potential. Had the potential to be a major player in the long line of soul society Captains. He should know, he'd been there to accept them all into their folds,
"I offer you the post as Captain of the third squad. Do you accept?"
The question that didn't need to be asked, yet had to be asked. Rukia took a deep breath and looked up at him with eyes full of determination.
"I accept, Captain-Commander Yamamoto." She said, bowing to him as she finished.
When she rose she saw him hold out his hand and have a Haori given to him by his Lieutenant, and then proceed to hold it out to her. Hands almost trembling, she took it from him with both hands and bowed her had again.
"Thank you, Captain-Commander." She said from the bottom of her heart, not expecting a response. Indeed, she didn't receive one and summarily took her new place in the hall: standing to the right of Ichigo between him and the Captain-Commander himself.
In one swift movement, born from years of training as a noble, she pulled the Haori over her arms and returned to a posture of attentiveness, masking the excitement and pride she felt just as her friends and family were also doing. The one who was failing to do so most was Ichigo, who could only just contain the twitches of his lips every now and then that she'd managed to achieve her goal.
"The new 9th squad Captain will enter in a moment." The old man said simply, making everyone wonder who it was if it wasn't one of those who'd entered the tournament. Surely that'd been the point of having one?
Renji forced himself not to react to the news, yet couldn't hide the nagging his his head that needed to know why he hadn't been chosen. He was happy for Rukia, but that didn't make it any harder that after all this time he still hadn't reached his goal of being someone who could stand against Byakuya. The original meaning for doing so may now be moot, but it was still the goal that drove him forward to new heights, to catch up with the man forever in front of him. He, at the very least, wanted to be someone which his Captain could consider an equal on some level – though he would never be a noble.
So he'd be lying to himself if he wasn't disappointed, mostly in himself as he wondered why the Captain-Commander had chosen Rukia over him. What would his Captain think? Rukia was his sister and he surely wanted her to succeed, but would he be disappointed that his Lieutenant had been bested by his sister and some unknown newcomer?
Before his worried thoughts could truly take shape, the large doors opened and a familiar face walked in with a toothy grin on them.
"You know, there was a time when I never wanted to set foot in the Seireitei again...how times change, right, Ichigo?"
"Shinji?!" The young Captain replied in shock, his eyes widening when he saw the Vizard who had trained him and in all honesty saved his life.
"Long time, no see." He drawled, glancing from Ichigo to Rukia. "Looks like you've finally figured out your feelings, eh?"
Ichigo blushed slightly and coughed, changing the subject rather than responding to the bait.
"How are things with Hiyori and the others?" He questioned, getting an uninformative shrug for a response.
"Good thanks, but more importantly to make sure it stays that way we thought that we needed to have a little more pull in the Gotei 13." He grinned again and returned his gaze to the Captain-Commander, his expression not giving anything away.
Slowly the reinstated Captain walked up until he stood before Yamamoto, their positions similar to his first initiation but their situation now completely different. One was a Captain who had been exiled on false charges and forced to hide for years on end – the other was the person who'd given that order. It most situations this would have resulted in more than a little animosity between the two, but this one had one overriding factor.
Neither of them were the cause of Shiji's exile. That man sat in his perfect prison, able to reflect on the lives he'd damaged for centuries to come.
"Hirako Shinji, I cannot offer you command over your old squad, instead I offer you command over the 9th Squad. Do you accept?"
"That's why I'm here." The Vizard answered straight away, staring straight up at Yamamoto. With a nod of his head, the older Shinigami presented the Haori, which was swiftly donned by the new Captain of the 9th squad and ex-Captain of the 5th squad.
Shinji wordlessly took his place in the lineup: for the first time in a while the hall was full of Captains and Lieutenants. The Captain-Commander looked over his officers and raised his voice one final time.
"Those gathered here are the example by which all Shinigami will aspire, we must continue to lead them forward and save the souls of humanity. With that, you are dismissed – the Captains of the 3rd and 9th Squads will now introduce themselves to their members." As simply as that the meeting was over and Yamamoto left the room, the Captains and Lieutenants also filing out to congregate outside the large hall.
Almost as soon as they left the hall Renji stopped with a frown, again pondering over how he had been looked over as a potential Captain. However, his musings didn't last long as he heard a voice behind him and turned to see his own Captain looking at him with a carefully blank expression on his face.
"Lieutenant Abarai." He said simply, not blind to what he imagined Renji to be feeling.
"Yes, sir?" The Lieutenant asked, wondering what he was about to be told. In truth, in all his time spent as the Lieutenant of the 6th squad he'd still never been able to decipher his Captains poker face.
"In the arena I saw that you had improved your control of our bankai – would it be prudent for me to test it myself?" His words were official and businesslike, but there was a hidden message which surprised the Lieutenant.
'I will spar with you, if you like.'
"Yes, Sir." He answered with a grin, this time more confident. That's right, being a Captain was never what he really needed, it was just assurance. What he needed was to fight with his Captain and win, to stand equally with him on the field of combat. Would he still feel disappointed if there were no Captaincy slots open? Would he mentally grumble until one of his comrades finally fell and then jump at their place?
No. He would continue to train, continued to improve his skills until he could raise Zabimaru with pride and challenge his Captain. He didn't feel the same as Ikkaku, who only wanted to fight alongside Kenpachi – no, he wanted to test his skills against Byakuya.
Speaking of which, the tall Captain of the 11th squad had made a be-line for Shinji and seemed to be trying to get him into a fight, no doubt aware of his powers as a hollow. However, Shinji was having none of it and beat a leisurely retreat with his new Lieutenant, deciding to start their relationship by talking about something which they had in common.
"This is a first right?" A voice said right next to Ichigo's ear, making him jump in surprise, only to find Yoruichi grinning cheekily at him.
"What is it you and Urahara like about sneaking up on people." Ichigo muttered, shooting Rukia a glare as she snickered at his expense.
"Oh, I suppose it's a pre-requisite for being the head of the stealth corps." She answered dryly, before smirking. "And if we didn't do that, then how else would be know that you two were-"
Two hand covered her mouth in an instant and she mentally cackled at the faces which were practically glowing with embarrassment before her. Of course, she had no intention of spilling the beans right there and then, but they didn't have to know that. Slowly, she felt the hands move down and the the Captain's regained their composure – ever a difficult thing in front of someone so troublesome.
"Here I hoped you'd just come to congratulate Rukia." Ichigo groaned, getting a snort of amusement for his trouble.
"That's a given, but I knew that she'd get the position." She said slyly, before continuing. "Besides, isn't it you who should be doing that, Mr. future-husband?"
Ichigo twitched in irritated at her taunting, but not before he realized that she was actually right. He hadn't congratulated her on such an important event. However, he was stuck with a small problem when he turned to look down at her – he had no idea what to say. He imagined she was excited, ecstatic even – and perhaps a bit overwhelmed by the fact that her desire had actually come true. So now, when she looked up at him with gently shining eyes and a trace of a blush hovering on her cheeks.
He found himself speechless.
Contrary to popular belief, he was not a poet. He liked Shakespeare and could admit he had his moments where he could string something together in the heat of the moment, but it wasn't what he was most comfortable with. Most people at his school would have called him blunt, perhaps even rude depending on how well they knew him. It wasn't like he didn't try to be respectful, but his personality was admittedly...a strong one.
So now, as he searched for words to say to the woman that he loved, the one who had changed his life and who had just achieved a more than impressive feat. He could only think of something that came straight from his heart.
"Think you can make a better Squad than me?"
Rukia blinked in surprise, then smiled brightly at his challenge; it was what he knew she wanted. She didn't need congratulations from someone who already praised her quite frequently, or to hear him tell her how well she'd done. She knew how he felt and she'd no doubt that at some point he'd explode and tell her how proud and happy he was that they could stand together. Doubtless he'd also become embarrassed after saying that and she'd reward him with some...fun which both of them would enjoy.
But right here and now, he'd told her in 9words that he had faith in her and knew that she was on the same level as him.
"That depends, do you think Nel can match me as a Lieutenant?" She replied with a smirk, watching as Ichigo gave a chuckle.
"We'll just find out, won't we, Rukia?"
"That's right, Ichigo."
Nope, I don't have any excuse as to why this took so long, I just didn't get around to doing it. That said whilst writing it I did really enjoy it, I hope you enjoy reading it even if it is a bit late. If this story goes according to me (revised) plan, then there's only three or so chapters left, give or take an epilogue.
Regardless thank you for reading, and my apologies for keeping you waiting. Thank Hellsing fanfiction for bringing me back.