Chapter 44: What is Gained and what is Lost

*I'm condensing two chapters into one; unfortunately this doesn't make it long. The reason being is because if I spilt it then the two chapters will be too short for my liking and I can't think of ways of extending them. So that means there will be just this chapter and one more and then we'll be done with this arc.

Sadly I kind of want to wrap this arc up quickly. ^_^' The energy and zeal I had going in was taken out by school and life. What can I say?

I do agree Dark-heika that it is ironic that I'm writing about a summer setting (through most of the story) when it's actually fall. Try writing a sunny summer day when it's snowing outside your window. Remember I started this in the dead of winter.

I know the feeling of wanting to put things off because you have no feeling of wanting to do them. That doesn't mean you're getting bored with my story does it?

As always please review, they are always appreciated and much loved.

Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach, Seirin or Ayame, just some OCs.*

Life at Urahara's shop was the closest thing to normal Sakura ever had. Those that lived with her wished her a good morning every time she woke in the morning and bade her good night when she retired to bed. She had access to three square meals a day and even allowed seconds and dessert. Every day she had a sure roof over her head and a warm bed. The teen had never felt so secure for so long.

Being a woman of her word Sakura answered all of Urahara's questions about her former home life. He wouldn't let a question go unanswered but merely set it aside for later. He was kind and gentle with his prodding but relentless too. After assessing the damage that had been done to her by Asuna Urahara, with Tessai and Yoruichi's help, went to work fixing that.

Yoruichi put her through different training regimens to work her body and burn off anxious energy. Tessai made her specifically designed meals to help the malnourished teen regain depleted vitamins, minerals and body fat. Urahara taught her meditation and how to overcome some of her more deeply rooted emotional problems and fears. Though he has yet to successfully help her over her debilitating fear of spiders.

To Sakura, working at the store and helping out in any other way was a small price to pay for all the help they had given her. Of course some people didn't see it that way. Masaki and Mihana were worried at first but Urahara won them over quickly but Ryuken still held some serious distrust to the shopkeeper. Whether it was because Quincies and Soul Reapers were naturally distrustful of each other or something else remained to be seen.

Sakura grew accustomed to the black-market selling and dealing of contraband spiritual goods done at the shop over the years. At first she was apprehensive but after being reassured multiple times by Urahara that nothing would go wrong her uneasiness abated.

But this... This was something else entirely.

She stood firmly in the doorway and her eye twitched.

"So we're housing fugitives now?" She asked tersely.

She was looking at three people sitting at a low table, two of them eating. One of them was a male captain with dark hair and across from him was his blonde green eyed lieutenant. Urahara looked up at her, feigning innocence and ignorance, and waved his fan.

"Whatever do you mean by fugitives Sakura?" He asked pleasantly.

Her other eye twitched before both eyes narrowed. "You know damn well what I mean."

The blonde dropped the act but still kept the pleasant air about him. "Hey I told you you'd be getting into some not-so-legal activities when first started working here."

"Yeah but that was just storing some illegally gotten Soul Candy and gigais! This is completely different. We're housing a captain and his lieutenant who are on the run!" Sakura argued.

"Hey! Who are you calling a fugitive Quincy?" The dark haired captain argued.

Sakura twitched in surprise that he was able to deduce what she was in their brief encounter but got over it.

"You both defected from Soul Society and have no intention of returning, what else I'm I supposed to think?" She shot back.

"Sakura is that an engagement ring I see?" Kisuke interrupted.

She paled before turning a light pink and burying her left hand in her crossed arms.

"Did Soken and Setsuna's boy finally pop the question? Personally I think it's about time I mean just about everyone could see what was really going on between you two." Kisuke prodded.

"It's none of your business." The Quincy hissed as her cheeks became noticeably more flushed.

"Or is it because of something else? You have been eating more lately, maybe you're eating for two now?"

"I would never do something as shameful as having premarital sex!" Sakura yelped.

"You sure about that? What with all the late night study sessions you two have together who knows what's really going on behind those closed doors." Kisuke teased.

The Quincy's pale cheeks were now a vibrant rosy red. Any comeback she had died on her sputtering lips until she gave a frustrated growl and stormed off. Kisuke chuckled with mild amusement.

"Teasing her is too easy but still so worth it." He said airily while waving his fan.

"Still glad you wanted to come with me Naomi?" Isshin asked, leaning over to his lieutenant.

The blonde swallowed her mouthful of noodles. "Hell, yes. Being here is way better than being back home and being forced to marry that stuck-up cold hearted prude that is Byakuya Kuchiki." She chewed on some more noodles before murmuring, "I wonder if they'll need a photographer for their wedding."

"Care to wager that World War III will be sparked because of those two?" Dairou jokingly murmured to Soken, who was sitting beside him.

"I'm surprised they haven't drawn blood yet. They must really be holding themselves back." The other Quincy man replied.

The two husbands were watching their wives converse with each other. Both women were dressed finely for their children's wedding as were their husbands. The ladies were staring each other down with cold venomous eyes and taut passive faces.

It had been a few decades since these tow particular women crossed paths but like natural predators they instantly recognized the other for who they were. If it hadn't been for the fact that Setsuna cared and saw Sakura as a daughter she would've outright opposed her son's marriage like Asuna. Although she may have done that just so her daughter wouldn't be happy.

Soken and Dairou couldn't help but sigh and shake their heads at their wives antics around each other. It was entertaining to see them dance around each other as it was to see a tiger and anaconda face off.

Even with a fresh black eye Asuna was still able to glare at Sestusna. She wondered mildly where Asuna got that shiner. It couldn't have been Ryuken because she and Soken had taught him better then to raise a hand against a woman or anyone for that matter. There was only one other person Asuna would pick a fight with and expect to win.

The corner of her lip twitched upward with a bit of pride. Magnificent job on fighting back Sakura. Pity it had to be on your big day.

"Pick a fight you couldn't win again Asuna?" Setsuna said with a chilly edge.

"No, my ingrate of a daughter made the mistake of fighting back but no matter. You must be pretty happy about your son getting married Setsuna or should I say Tsukiume?" Asuna said with a cruel upward twist of her lips.

Years of experience was the only thing that helped Setsuna keeping her perfect poker face. But her silver eyes still gave away the shock that Asuna was able to recognize her after all these years.

"I see that name still rings a few bells. I must say I was shocked when I learned that my daughter was marrying the son of the cowardly woman who abandoned her people just so she could debase herself with her lowly bodyguard. Pity he couldn't have my better daughter and he has to settle with that useless runt." The former Oshiro heiress sneered.

"I never quite understood your unhealthy misguided admiration and devotion to your other daughter Sada. Sakura is a fine young woman. She is intelligent, kind, just to anyone she meets and perseverant. Basically a complete opposite to you." Setsuna said evenly.

"Perseverant is just another term for stubborn or strong willed. A quality I find extremely bothersome in a pawn." The other woman hissed.

Then it clicked in Setsuna's head. "You wanted Sada to marry my son because she was easier for you to control." But if that's true then she must've known who I really was all this time. "You would have a clear opening into our family and to me. And I think I can guess why, you want revenge for what happened to your brother, don't you?"

"Even after all these years of being out of court politics you still got it." Asuna venomously complemented.

Setsuna ignored her and continued. "But when you had two daughters instead of one like you planed that threw a wrench in your plans. So you blamed Sakura and took your frustration out on the poor girl. Your plans were skew even more when the daughter you wasted your time dotting over left you."

"Clever as always. But one of my own children is about to marry yours. So how do you know I still won't be able to enact my plan?" Asuna confidently drawled.

"Your pride. It will get in the way because you'll be unable to swallow it even if it means achieving revenge. You wanted Sada to marry my son not Sakura." The Ishida woman stated tonelessly.

"Sakura is still my daughter. How do you know she won't help her dear mother?" The other woman burred.

"Years of neglect and abuse have, pardon my French, come to bit you in the ass. There is absolutely no way she would ever help you and you know it." Setsuna replied with a hint of satisfaction.

Music started to softly drift from where everyone was gathered signaling that the ceremony was about to start. The Ishida matriarch turned gracefully around to her husband.

She said over her shoulder, "Now if you don't mind I have a wedding to attend."

"How do you know she won't still try and harm any of us?" Her husband asked as they fitted themselves into a near the front pew.

"She knows she's failed. Her biggest mistake was not making her plans flexible enough to handle any unforeseen or unplanned variable. Refusing to be flexible can result in your death. Another thing I picked up and have kept from my years of observing court politics." Setsuna explained softly.

She looked down the aisle like everyone else when the double doors opened to reveal the bride and her father.

"Sakura truly looks beautiful doesn't she? A vision in pure white."

"You can't tell me you're not the least bit tired."

A pair of wide matching blue eyes stared up at her before he continued to nibble on the ear of a helpless stuffed bear. The sound of a rattle brought the fairly new mother's attention to another child who should be tired but didn't appear to be.

The four, almost five, month old was propped up by a few pillows and a folded blanket on the large bed with her mother and brother. The baby had the same shade of blue-black hair as her brother but unlike most babies her age she had a head full of downy hair. Her eyes were just as blue and innocent as her brother too.

The baby girl's face scrunched up in frustration as she hit the rattle on the bed. She then attacked it with her mouth, gnawing on it and most likely trying to alleviate the soreness of teething.

"Now I know you should be tired little missy. You didn't sleep, or let anyone else sleep for that matter, at all last night." Sakura chided softly. She reached over for a teething ring and traded with her daughter for the rattle. "Here, maybe this will help."

The baby gnawed on the ring before she started fussing. Her mother, sensing that she was going to start crying unless she did something, picked her daughter up and laid her in the crook of one arm. She reclined back against a wall of pillows and her son crawled up to her other side. Despite being more comfortable the baby still whined and fussed.

Sakura gently jostled her daughter, "Shh, I know Naoko, I know. Teething isn't fun but it won't last forever."

The little babe didn't take that too well. She angrily tossed her teething ring, though it didn't go far. Another pair of small hands retrieved the ring and handed it back to his baby sister. Sakura smiled proudly at her little boy, she wrapped one arm around him and nuzzled his hair.

"You're such a good big brother Uryu. I hope you stay that way and you two don't descend into sibling rivalry." Their mother said.

She looked down at the two of them and felt maternal love and pride bloom in her heart. Honestly how could anyone hate their cute little faces? How could anyone hate their own blood?

"Now there's a question I'll never be able to ask your grandmother." She muttered with a shake of her head.

Her mother, father too, had been dead for months and yet they still tugged at her memories. She shook her head and chuckled.

"I think your father might be right for once. I don't think I have to worry about becoming anything like my mother. I could never lay a hand against either of you, my sweet little treasures." She said softly.

Uryu was resting his head against her side, clutching the teddy bear close to his chest and his eyes were beginning to droop. Naoko was slowly sucking on her teething ring as her eyes started to close. Sakura smiled maternally and knowingly.

"I knew you two were tired. A mother always knows."

*I apologize if the chapter was crappy and short I really do. I spent a large chunk of this week focusing on an essay for a class and even after I finished and turned it in I still couldn't focus on this chapter. Honestly my mind was either wandering or in a fog. You guys know what that's like right? When you can't focus on a chapter and no matter how many times you edit it you just can't make it any better?

I just wanted to highlight a few key parts I really wanted to do. I'm thinking of making a story full of outtakes, one-shots and omakes that I couldn't fit into the story. What do you guys think?

For the part between Asuna and Setsuna I hope you can understand a little more about Asuna's all around bitterness. Think about it this woman was a step away from being royalty and it was all stripped away because someone else wanted a happy ending.

Gin: ...EmpressSaix...

Me: Don't start Gin! I know I set that one up. Point is she was robbed of a privileged life she thought she deserved. As for the general insanity that was a defect thanks to God knows how much inbreeding. Did you know that some mental disorders are hereditary?

Naoko: Is that call for concern?

Me: *looks around nervously* ...No... So please leave a review for my not-so-great chapter. Again I apologize for this chapter but I am tired and frustrated with it. I might go back and edit it, I don't know. Please review, each one inspires and motivates me more to write. One more chapter and then we get back to the main characters.*