Time Placement: Between the Arrancar arc and the Fullbringer arc, Bleach verse.

Kenpachi first saw him just after he'd walked into the building where Yumichika and Ikkaku had crammed the new recruits for the year. As usual, the Captain stepped through the door and the room fell into silence as everyone's gaze turned to him. Immediately he glanced around the room, sizing up the fresh meat for future reference. From first glance, most of them looked like the normal shinigami the eleventh squad attracted: Brash, flamboyant, and just waiting for a good fight. It would take decades for any of them to become a decent challenge, but for the most part Kenpachi was pleased with the 'haul'. Didn't mean he wanted to be there. After all, if he was there, than he wasn't out fighting.

Just as he turned to head through the shivering (half from fear, half from anticipation) crowd, he caught a glimpse of bright hair in the back corner. That wasn't what drew Kenpachi's attention as particularly blinding hair colors weren't exactly rare in the Seireitei. No, what really drew his attention was the complete and utter calm flowing from the man.

Pausing, Kenpachi turned to take a closer look at this newcomer. Very short with fire-red hair, he calmly met Kenpachi's eyes and then gave a slight, respectful nod. Not once did he look away as most men who caught Eleventh Squad Captain's attention did, nor did he give off the air of wanting to challenge him as the rest of the new recruits would have.

At that moment, Kenpachi came to the conclusion that one of two things would happen with this kid: Either he would become an incredible fighter, or he'd ask to leave within the week. Judging from his stature most would say he fell under the category of a 'horribly naïve young man, looking to prove himself while trying something out of the ordinary'. If that were the case, Kenpachi expected the transfer papers from The Captain of the fourth squad in a couple of days as that's where he'd end up, bloodied and broken. However, something about this man told Kenpachi that he was assessing a seasoned fighter, and that he could probably take any of the other new recruits.

He hoped it was the second. He hadn't had a good fight since Ichigo had dragged them all into Hueco Mundo.

Flashing a large, anticipatory grin in the man's direction, he turned to the front of the group and gave his usual address before practically flying out the door. It was one of the few jobs he really couldn't shirk, or the old man would get on his case. Again. The last thing he needed was the old codger breathing down his neck, so he made sure to accomplish the bare minimum that would keep him in his captain's robe. How else could he get all the good fights? Still, the sooner he finished with his boring duties, the better.

xXx

The soft, but confident knock on the door not a week later marked Kenpachi's first actual meeting with the kid. Few people could really catch the Eleventh Squad Captain working, as he usually left the duties up to Yumichika (something about orderly being beautiful); however some documents still required a captain's signature.

"Whaja want?" he growled at the door, expecting whoever was on the other side to scurry away. Not many people dared cross him when he finally deigned to occupy his office.

Instead, to his surprise, the small red-head practically slid silently through the door. Kenpachi raised an impressed eyebrow. The kid moved with slow, deliberate steps that while soft did not seem weak or fearful, only more wary. He also looked completely at ease with both his body and the situation.

Very unusual.

Kenpachi suddenly found himself grinning. Must have set off the kid's warning bells, because he stopped abruptly, immediately going on guard. Not that he hadn't been on guard before, but it seemed to go up a notch or two.

The eleventh squad captain's grin widened.

"You," he said. It came out as more of a greedy growl, but the young man ignored the tone.

"Good day, Captain Zaraki," he said politely, bowing just enough to add a touch of respect to the words, but not enough to say that his admiration went any further than the title. Kenpachi raised an eyebrow. Apparently he hadn't earned this man's respect. No touch of fear from him either. Again. At least none that Kenpachi could detect. When he straightened, he stood with nearly perfect posture for a swordsman: Loose and easy, but not lazy. With the way he moved, Kenpachi knew the slightest wrong move could cause his stance to change from defensive to offensive. The Captain began to debate which method of provocation would be best. The fighter inside of him desperately wanted to know if the kid could actually put up a decent fi-

"Captain, this unworthy one comes to you today to ask for a transfer."

Kenpachi's train of thought froze. They sat there staring at each other for several seconds, neither one willing to be the first to look away. Then the eleventh squad captain stood up, swearing loudly. The kid didn't so much as flinch, although he did take a smooth, tactical step back.

"Why wouldja wanna transfer?" he yelled, mind blown. He had the kid pegged for fighter. The idea of him leaving the squad just didn't compute. His squad drew fighters, and anyone worth their salt in swordplay could see this kid could fight just by the way he moved. Why would anyone who could fight give it up? It made no sense!

For the first time since Kenpachi had seen the kid, he looked nervous. "You see," he started slowly, choosing his words carefully, "this unworthy one finds this squad...uncomfortable."

Kenpachi couldn't believe his ears. If the kid were leaving due to bullying he'd eat his zanpaktou. Without salt. For several moments, he could only stare at the brat. By the time next moment passed, he'd drawn his sword and attacked.

Surprise dawned on the other's face, but he'd already drawn his own sword to meet Kenpachi's attack, albeit barely. In moments, they'd crashed through the door and into the wall on the other side of the hall behind where the wood gave way from the force. Kenpachi scoffed at the shoddy craftsmanship. The newbie grit his teeth, but didn't say anything as he tried to keep The Captain's sword at bay.

The eleventh squad leader broke off first and began to swing almost recklessly, not particularly caring if he did any damage or not. Most of his squad couldn't keep up with him like this. The kid did. It both frustrated and excited Kenpachi when he saw how the brat read his movements and dodged with the least amount of effort necessary.

After a few moments, the red-head was able to jump to a semi safe distance and landed, showing only the barest amount of fatigue as he slid his sword back into its sheath with a practiced motion.

"If ya move like that, why don'tcha attack me?" Kenpachi yelled, sorely disappointed.

"This one does not wish to fight, that he does not," the boy said with clipped words, not taking his eyes off of Kenpachi. He also had a hand resting on his sword's hilt so easily—like it belonged there.

It just ticked The Captain off more.

"Then why didja join the eleventh squad?" he practically spit.

"This position was the only one available that this unworthy one could take."

Kenpachi frowned, thinking back. He did remember someone saying something about only the eleventh squad having room for graduates this time around. "Che," Kenpachi muttered, swinging his sword onto his shoulder. "You belong here. Yer a fighter."

The red-head looked down sadly. "This one does not wish to fight," he repeated.

For a moment, Kenpachi found himself torn. It wasn't something he experienced often. Part of him wanted to rid his squad of the weakling that refused to wield his sword as he should. The other part of him knew that if he let the kid leave now, he'd never experience the potentially incredible fight they could have once the brat gained a little more power. He already had control down. Not once had he wasted energy on an unnecessary move.

Grinding his teeth, Kenpachi glanced around at the members of the squad who had tentatively gathered at each end of the hall, trying to see past the crumbling damage that their captain had left in his wake. Again.

Kenpachi's narrowed eyes then turned back to the red-head. He'd forced himself to stand there when he could have attacked or run, and he'd held back, even against the stronger opponent.

The kid was lying. Not just to Kenpachi so much as to himself. It wasn't that he didn't want to fight; it was that he was afraid to fight. Just like Ichigo was.

"Che," he muttered again, and turned to walk away without another word.

The kid's surprised voice suddenly sounded out. "W-wait, Captain," he said. "This unworthy one wishes to transfer, please!"

Kenpachi paused and looked back over his shoulder, never bothering to even turn fully around. "When you can honestly tell me ya don't want ta fight, I'll sign whatever ya want."

He practically felt the kid's horror as he froze, looking up at Kenpachi with wide, disbelieving eyes. "But-"

"Until ya can either do that or give me a decent fight, I don't want to see ya again. If I do, I'll kill ya."

With that, he turned and continued walking down the damaged hall. Forget paperwork, he had to go see if one of the other captains was in a bad enough mood to fight him. That or he'd find Ikkaku and beat the stuffing out of him again.

xXx

The next day, Kenpachi thumped grumpily down the hall, irritation still running high. Of course that just happened to be when his lieutenant came running up, probably hyped up on the sugar buns that pathetic Kuchiki insisted on giving her. He rolled his eyes, but didn't stop Yachiru from jumping onto his arm and climbing up to her usual spot on his shoulder.

"Ken-chan! Ken-chan! I heard you got into a fight yesterday!"

"Where have you been?" Kenpachi muttered, not wanting to talk about the disappointment that boy had been.

"I had a sleepover with Nemu!"

Kenpachi paused for just a moment and glanced warily over at the child that had more or less become a kind of surrogate daughter, best friend and most loyal fan all rolled into one.

"At the twelfth squad barracks?"

She shook her head, still grinning like mad. "No, at Rangiku-chan's captain's place!" Kenpachi relaxed. That white and black tattooed freak could do whatever he wanted to Kenpachi, but even he should know better than to try and get to Yachiru. Not that the freak would be able to actually do anything to her. A rather amusing picture of several worn-out twelfth squad seated officers trying to catch a happily running, pink-haired girl flashed through his mind, and he couldn't stop the sides of his mouth turn up in a rather unpleasant smile.

"So," his lieutenant continued excitedly, "tell me about this new guy!"

Kenpachi's mood immediately soured again. "Boring."

"He's no fun to fight then?" she asked in a pitying tone that only a child could really pull off without sounding condescending.

"Would be if he'd fight back," Kenpachi muttered.

"He won't fight?" Yachiru asked as if she couldn't quite understand.

The Captain couldn't help but smile, just slightly. At least someone else didn't get it either. "Weakling."

Yachiru contemplated that. "So he's weak because he won't fight?"

"He's weak 'cause he won't admit that he likes t' fight," The Captain responded.

"Like Ichi?" she asked.

He snorted. "Exactly."

"Does he have a hollow inside too?"

Kenpachi hesitated in his steps for just a moment and glanced over at the girl. That did pose a good question. Did he have some sort of strange reason like Ichigo? Of course, Ichigo's reason was stupid, but if Kenpachi could figure out the reason, then he might be able to get the kid to attack him. He frowned, asking himself yet again why someone so obviously good at fighting claimed to not like it.

The peaceful moment's contemplation passed just a few minutes later as he shrugged and continued on his way. Who cared what the kid's problems were, as long as he got over 'em.

"What's his name?" Yachiru asked randomly.

Kenpachi cocked his head as if trying to remember, then grunted when he proved to be unsuccessful.

"Dunno. Never been introduced."

xXx

"Himura," Yumichika said without looking up. Instead, he seemed to be concentrating on the elegantly pristine characters on the page in front of him. He glided the paintbrush back and forth in well-practiced movements, slowly filling out the paper. "His name is Himura Kenshin. Why?" He finally glanced at his captain, somehow managing to make even that simple movement look graceful.

Kenpachi grunted and looked away, feigning his normal boredom. "Kid got on my nerves."

The pretty boy raised his decorated eyebrow. "And he's still alive?"

The Captain shrugged. "Not worth it."

"What exactly did he do?"

"He ticked me off. Where's he from?"

Yumichika's eyebrow inched higher, but he was intelligent enough to not say anything more than an answer to the question. "Just a moment," he muttered distractedly as he began shuffling through some papers. A few minutes later, he held a file up. "Ah, here we are. Himura Kenshin is from the Rukongai district 72. He traveled through the districts often and claims to have been doing so for about 120 years. When he applied, they asked him why he wanted to be a shinigami, and he said he was decent in a fight. When asked if he had a squad preference, he said he didn't, so they put him into one of the last open positions available."

"Hmm," Kenpachi mumbled. "The more I learn about him, the more he ticks me off."

"Why do you say that?" Yumichika asked.

"Told me he doesn't want to fight," the Eleventh Squad Captain said as he turned and left the room, leaving his fifth-seat to stare after him.

xXx

It was no secret that Zaraki Kenpachi would gladly give up any other activity to fight. Sadly, no matter how much he tried, he couldn't remain in a constant fighting state as he tended to beat all of his opponents rather quickly these days. As such, he'd begrudgingly had to find other ways to occupy his time. Running around the Seireitei with Yachiru on his back was one past time he rather enjoyed, plus it had the added benefit of keeping him in good condition.

His third favorite activity consisted of long, lazy naps near gathering areas (so he could wake up and join a fight in case one broke out). He was nowhere near as lazy as the eighth-squad captain, nor did he ever fall asleep in plain view. It just wouldn't do to have half the Gotei 13 see the strongest captain dozing and vulnerable, and while he had no problem fighting to the death, he was not stupid enough to simply invite a knife-or in this case, zanpakutou-to the back (not that he thought anyone would actually try, but still). If he had to die, it would be while swinging his sword at an opponent, fully enjoying life.

It wasn't unusual for him to overhear gossip before and after those naps. Actually, that's how he tended to find the best fighters and keep tabs on the progression of the men in his squad. They may not be much now, but some of them would eventually rise to a point where they might be a decent warm up.

On this particular day, he'd just begun to doze off beneath the stands of his favorite training ground when he heard someone call out.

"Himura-san!" At first he couldn't remember where he'd heard the name before. After a few moments, the image of a small, red-haired man came to mind and he scowled.

Oh. Him.

"Yamada-san," the cheerful voice returned. Yamada? There wasn't anyone in the eleventh squad named Yamada, was there? There had to be. Why would anyone from the eleventh squad talk so cordially to someone else?

"I never got the chance to thank you for the other day," the first, very weak-sounding voice gasped. "You really helped me out, and against your own squad members!"

Kenpachi frowned. Had he heard of that fight? He liked to keep track of the different rumbles; made it easier to keep track of the different fighters. He wracked his brain, but nothing came to mind, so he made a mental note to ask Yumichika later.

"This unworthy one was only trying to help, that he was."

"But you took them all out without even drawing your sword!" Kenpachi's eyes widened at that. Just what kind of skill did this man have? And why was he hiding it? Several colorful words began to shoot through Kenpachi's mind, and he reached for his zanpaktou. "Where did you learn to fight like that?" The first voice continued.

"This one does not remember that he does not. Actually, this one believes he may have learned to fight while he still lived..."

Kenpachi's hand gripped his sword loosely, but he made no other move to attack the men. So the kid used to be a fighter on Earth? That explained a lot. Still didn't explain why he wouldn't want to fight now. Besides, no warrior on Earth could stand up to a shinigami. Except Ichigo and his friends, but that wasn't exactly common.

"So that's why you're in the eleventh squad? You're the only eleventh squad member we fourth squad members feel like we can approach."

Fourth squad. Go figure. Kenpachi almost snorted.

"Actually, this one is trying to gain permission to transfer, that he is," Himura admitted.

"But you fight so well. If you're going to transfer, why did you join the eleventh squad?"

Kenpachi heard the second man shift uncomfortably. "It was that or wait a year, that it was. This unworthy one wished to gain admittance to the Gotei 13 as soon as possible."

"Why?" Yamada asked.

"This one is looking for someone, that he is."

"Oh? Who?"

Himura sighed. "This unworthy one does not remember, that he does not. This one only knows that she is important. Very important."

"How will you find her? And how do you know she's here?"

"This one will know her when he sees her. This one will also admit that he does not know if she is a shinigami, but it is the only place that this one has not been able to search."

A sort of awed silence fell over the companions for a moment. Then Yamada spoke up again. "You visited all of the districts?"

"Yes."

Kenpachi found himself torn between being impressed and annoyed: Impressed because few people visited all of the districts; annoyed because anyone going through those higher-numbered districts would have to know how to fight. Even more proof that the brat was holding out on him!

"I hope you find her," Yamada said quietly. "Was she someone you knew when you were alive?"

"This unworthy one believes so."

Great, so the kid was just a love-struck brat. Kenpachi set his sword down and with a frown and curled up to go back to sleep, hoping they'd take their conversation somewhere else soon.

"How do you know she's even dead?"

"This one lived long ago. Humans do not live as long as spirits do, so she must have died."

Yamada's next words seemed hesitant. "W-what if she became a hollow?"

Himura's response didn't sound like it was from the same man. Neither did the threatening spike of riatsu.

"Do not say that again."

Kenpachi's eyes flew open and he turned to peer out between the gaps in the stands. Just a few feet away, two short figures stood looking at each other. The dark-haired one seemed hesitant and even a little afraid. The red-haired man seemed almost threatening, and far more offensive than the eleventh squad captain had ever seen him.

That was the warrior Kenpachi had been glimpsing every time he caught sight of the kid. He grinned and was about to jump out when the kid literally deflated back to the scared brat he'd always been, right before Kenpachi's eyes.

"Forgive me, Yamada-san. I did not mean to startle you. It's just, this unworthy one cannot imagine such a sweet soul as hers becoming a hollow." He looked down, ashamed. Even Kenpachi could feel the uncomfortable silence that fell, although he didn't particularly care all that much. He was just debating on whether he should actually expose himself and kill the brats or let it all be, as it still wouldn't be a decent fight with a fourth squad member and a shinigami that still didn't want to fight.

"I-I was just saying that because it could have happened. Even sweet spirits can become hollows. I didn't mean to offend you," Yamada stammered.

Himura forced a smile. "This one knows, and just wants to protect those he holds close to his heart, that he does."

The fourth squad member returned the smile, relaxing slightly. Himura didn't. Yamada had had shaken him. Kenpachi's predatory grin returned. He could use this.

"But anyway," Yamada said, obviously changing the subject, "I wanted to let you know that you can come to me any time you get in trouble or need to be healed and don't want it on the record. I'm pretty good with that."

"Oh no, this unworthy one could not impose."

"No, no," the fourth squad member protested, "it won't be an imposition! It would be an honor!" With that he bowed and began backing away, grin firmly on his face. "I have to finish my chores, but I had to let you know how grateful I am! I will see you later, Kenshin-san!"

"And you as well, Yamada-san," Himura replied with a bow. He watched the fourth squad member leave the area for a few moments before turning and looking directly at Kenpachi. For a moment, the eleventh squad captain braced for a fight before the kid turned and walked deliberately away.

Kenpachi watched his back for a moment before turning and shoving his sword through his sash. He had a fourth squad captain to see.

xXx

He wasn't intimidated by Unohana Retsu. He wasn't. He just...didn't understand her. Where he lived to fight, she lived to stop conflict. She healed, loved and nurtured where he would just bluntly tell the truth, tossing consequences to the wind. And she was strong too. Anyone could see that.

He really, really just didn't get it.

Perhaps that's why the expression of utter shock on her face amused him so. Then she smiled and all his amusement vanished. That smile did not bode well.

"Excuse me, Zaraki-san," she said sweetly. "I don't believe I heard you correctly."

"I'm sick of the paperwork," he said, repeating his proposition. "If your brats won't fight back, than I'll lend one of mine to...discourage the weak cowards that can't pick a fight with anyone stronger."

She shook her head as if she couldn't comprehend what she was hearing. "Did you not say that letting your squad pick on my squad kept them on their toes?"

He had said that, hadn't he? Perhaps a good two decades ago. He had hoped she wouldn't remember that, but he really should have known better.

"Changed my mind," he said as nonchalantly as he could. "Can't fight if I'm signin' stupid papers all the time."

She didn't move or react to his words for several seconds, just kneeling behind her desk on the cushion with a calm air and perfect posture.

"So you wish to place one of your better fighters with some of my officers?" she leaned forward ever so slightly. "Won't that just escalate the situation?"

Kenpachi grinned. "They'll be so focused on each other that they won't worry 'bout your little s-"

The look on her face cut him off. "My little what?" she asked.

"Squad members," he muttered. Whenever she smiled like that he got an image of himself being left on a bed somewhere, unable to move his body at all. And she wouldn't do it in a fight either (he never had seen her fight). She'd find some underhanded way to put him out of commission, and of all the people in the Seireitei, he believed she could do it.

"Hmm," she said, putting a hand to her chin thoughtfully. After a few moments she looked back at Kenpachi. "I believe a trial run would be in order. If it works, than perhaps an arrangement could be made."

It took every ounce of self control Kenpachi possessed to not outright grin in triumph.

xXx

One week later, Kenpachi found himself back in the fourth squad captain's office.

"I must commend your insight, Zaraki-san," the dark-haired woman said with a genuine smile. "It seems that after only two instances, the team Himura-san has been assigned to have been able to get far more work done than they otherwise would have. My only worry is that during those first two instances, a brawl broke out and my squad members had to treat the rest of the eleventh squad members that Himura-san beat."

The larger captain blinked down at her, his one exposed eye not seeming to be able to focus on or comprehend what the woman just said. "Two attacks and no one will fight them? What happened?"

Unohana shrugged. "Apparently Himura-san beat the other eleventh squad members without even drawing his zanpaktou. Most of them came in unconscious and bruised. I found more than one with cracked ribs, although that seemed to be the worst case scenario. I am highly impressed at Himura-san's skill."

They sat in silence for a few seconds before the fourth squad captain looked up at the commander of the eleventh squad. "Zaraki-san?"

Kenpachi barely heard her. "Two fights?"

"Yes," Unohana said, sounding mildly surprised and pleased. "So if you have any other recommendations, we can implement those this week."

Again, the man seemed like he could barely respond. "That's all it took to scare 'em off?" A touch of anger crept into his voice. "I really am gonna kill him!"

"Zaraki-san," Unohana asked. He looked down to see the creepy smile back in place and couldn't fully stop himself from blanching. "Whatever do you mean?"

He lent her the members, mostly to appease her and get out of there as fast as he could.

Two weeks later, the members the eleventh squad lent to the fourth squad for protection were recalled for making the problem of the fighters bullying the healers worse than before.

Kenpachi vowed never to visit the fourth squad in any shape, way or form again.

xXx

"Wait, you want me to what, Taichou?" the eleventh squad twelfth seat—a tall, dark-haired man with more than his share of scars criss-crossing over his visible skin—addressed his captain incredulously.

"The new kid, red-hair, this tall," he held his hand out somewhere around his belly area. "He's been holdin' out on me. Won't fight. I wanna see how strong he is."

"Wait, is he the only guy still protecting the fourth squad wimps?" His captain snorted in ascent. "You think he'll be a match for me?" the man asked skeptically.

Kenpachi just grinned. "I hope so."

xXx

"What's this?" Kenpachi asked with a threatening growl to a new stack of papers Yumichika had thrown on his desk. If one wanted to live, one didn't give him more paperwork when he happened to be there to see it. The fifth seat knew this, so it had to be important.

"Notice from the fourth squad. Apparently our twelfth seat was admitted this morning. He should be released this afternoon."

The brush Kenpachi had been using for his monthly paperwork necessities suddenly found itself buried in the desk.

xXx

"Taichou!" Kenpachi paused in the doorway leading to one of the training areas and turned to see a familiar, dark-haired, very feminine-looking man come jogging up to him gracefully.

"Well?"

"It seems our ninth seat was admitted to the fourth squad today," he flipped his hair out of his face. Kenpachi ignored the dramatic gesture and Yumichika continued. "He recommended I let you know."

The fifth seat's eyes widened as Kenpachi suddenly kicked out, dark glower firm on his face. The door he'd just opened suddenly shattered on the far side of the room.

xXx

"Taichou, there you are!" Kenpachi glanced behind him to see Yumichika doing his best to keep up as they raced through the Seireitei.

"Pretty's following us, Ken-chan!" Yachiru said with a grin.

"Huh," the spiky-haired captain snorted.

"I just got a report about our seventh seat from the fourth-" He stopped, eyes widening as the nearby buildings began to collapse in on themselves. Few buildings could remain upright after he'd swung his sword with that much energy.

"Wow," Yachiru said from her perch on his shoulder. "I haven't seen Ken-chan that angry in a long time."

xXx

"Captain," a tentative voice broke through the void his unconscious mind fell into when he slept. The fifth seat would probably never know how fortunate it was that Kenpachi knew whose riatsu had approached him. He hated skewering people when they weren't expecting it. Never got a good fight out of it.

He opened his eyes to the dark, damp shade that lay beneath the seats surrounding the training arena.

"What?"

"Ikkaku would like to speak with you."

That got his attention. "Where is he?"

Yumichika gulped. "Apparently he and Himura-san were both admitted to the fourth squad an hour ago."

If it hadn't been his favorite napping place, it probably would have been destroyed too. It seemed Yumichika was getting smarter when it came to informing Kenpachi about Himura.

xXx

When Kenpachi walked into the healer's room that would be his third seat's temporary bedroom, he couldn't help but notice the grin that happened to split Ikkaku's bruised and swollen face.

"You never said he would put up that good of a fight!" the bald man said through the smile.

"Did you get him to draw his zanpaktou?" Kenpachi asked.

Ikkaku raised an eyebrow, obviously not expecting the strange question from his normally straight-forward captain. Then he shrugged (trying to hide his slight wince at the movement).

"Yeah. Weirdest thing though. The blade is reversed."

Kenpachi didn't remember what the kid's sword looked like. He didn't often care enough to pay attention to little details like that. However, this new information caused him to growl fist clenching at his side. "He beat you with a reverse-blade sword?"

Ikkaku looked indignant. "Whoever said he won?"

His captain didn't respond, but his scowl deepened.

"No really, I won," Ikkaku assured him. "Knocked him out cold. He did this weird nine-strike thing. Never seen anyone move that fast—except maybe Ichigo. Had a lot of power behind it too, but I still got up, released Hozakimaru, and finally was able to get in a few good hits. Gave better than I got.

"Funny," he paused, looking thoughtful. "He refused to release his sword. Said if he did that, 'it would no longer be in the best interests of those he was protecting.'"

They sat in silence for a while contemplating that before Kenpachi broke it. "Was he strong?"

Ikkaku's grin widened. "Yeah."

Kenpachi matched that grin and raised it a few inches.

xXx

The things he did for a good fight. He was back in the fourth squad captain's room, facing a very scary, smiling woman. Again.

"You wish to take Himura off of protection detail? Why?"

Kenpachi snorted. "You were right. Brought more trouble than it solved. If I take him off of protectin' your brats, he won't get admitted as often."

"Won't he?" Unohana asked skeptically.

Kenpachi shrugged, but didn't say anything. He didn't often use his brain, but he really wasn't stupid. Any other answer he gave her would only incriminate him. He had to buy time somehow, get Himura somewhere where he didn't want to transfer, or at least where he would have a harder time. Kenpachi could figure out how to make the kid fight him later.

Finally, the fourth squad captain sighed. "Very well. Once he is well enough to leave, he will return to his normal duties."

"Thinkin' about trying to get him away from the Soul Society for a little while," he said, voicing his words carefully. "Getting him a detail on Earth."

"Zaraki-taichou." Some days, he felt she reserved that smile specifically for him. One day he would wipe it off of her face…he hoped. "I hear he has asked for a transfer, but you refused him."

Kenpachi's expression hardened. "I told him when he could talk to me without lyin' to my face, I'd transfer him wherever he wanted to go. He hasn't come back."

Her smile fell to a small frown. "I hope you are doing this with Himura-san in mind. If you're not, you will answer to me. He has been most cordial to my squad members."

The eleventh squad captain raised his eyebrow and leaned forward with a hungry grin. "Is that a challenge?"

"No, Zaraki-san," she replied, her own smile returning. "It is merely a promise." She looked down to the desk in front of her. "Oh, and something else I wanted to speak with you about. It seems your yearly check-up is due shortly. Would you please make an appointment with my Fuku-taichou on the way out?"

If it had been anyone else, he would have said the word he thought aloud.

xXx

It really wasn't that hard to get the brat assigned to an area in Japan near Karakura town. He was given a stretch of country to patrol that would hold enough hollows to keep him on his toes without having to get anyone else in the Seireitei involved directly, as stronger hollows and arrancars rarely moved outside of the spiritual land that made up the former substitute shinigami's home town. Himura, like the others assigned to Earth, had strict instructions to leave the Karakura area alone. Few shinigami were allowed to go near the town without special permission now-a-days.

With Himura out of the picture (at least somewhat), the Soul Society and eleventh squad returned to normal again. Unfortunately for Kenpachi, normal meant boring. At least after Ichigo and his friends had invaded the Seireitei they'd all been in a state of high tensions as everyone trained and prepared for the Winter War.

After the war, though, things really started to get old again. The year the brat had rescued the girl he'd come after had been one of the best of Kenpachi's life. He'd gone up against strong guys who could fight and kill, and it had all been such a blast! Then…nothing.

No wonder he'd latched onto the possible potential Himura had. What a disappointment.

Weeks passed; then months and still nothing happened. As such, Kenpachi and his squad had begun to get restless. Yes, there were still the occasional clean-ups from the war consisting of arrancar and hollows tearing into the human world and even the Rukongai, but as usual, the eleventh squad was held in reserve in case Aizen had planned something to exact a revenge of some sort (in the case of his capture or death).

Then they began to get reports from several shinigami outside of Karakura who claimed arrancar and huge hollows had begun to appear and eat or destroy all of the old spirits that still wandered around Japan. Kurosutchi said something about the denser spirit land finally affecting many the areas surrounding it and the fact that it would soon spread to the entire country. They had been expecting this result, just not quite so soon or so strongly. Japan had enough of a history that ghosts weren't exactly uncommon. According to The Captain Commander, this new turn of events bordered on a potential disaster.

Kenpachi couldn't help the grin that came to his lips when he heard that. Perhaps this would provide entertainment.

"Because of this new development," Yamamoto explained from his usual chair at the front of the room, "at least two of the shinigami on duty have fallen. As such, until we can appoint new members to those duties, the following shinigami will be required to patrol the extra area near their original assignment: Miho Yoshi from the tenth squad, and Himura Kenshin from the eleventh squad. Captains, please inform them, I don't care how. Make sure they know by the end of the day. This situation should not be a problem for longer than a week."

Affirmative answers met his words.

The Captain Commander's estimation was optimistic to say the least. Their potential disaster had been ongoing for almost three weeks when Himura stopped reporting in.

xXx

"Taichou," Yumichika's voice drifted over to him. Kenpachi cracked his eye open and frowned. Under the bleachers again. Must be something bad.

"What?" Kenpachi muttered, closing his eye again.

"I just got a report on one of our men from Earth. It seems he isn't reporting in."

Kenpachi opened his eye again. They only had one man on Earth. "The brat got himself killed?" He couldn't help the disbelieving tone in his voice. How could a kid that strong be taken down by a hollow?

"That's just it, Taichou," Yumichika went on, looking over the paper in his hand. "His assignments are being handled. This is too similar to a certain previous situation for comfort. The Captain Commander wants to send someone else to Earth. I was going to send Ikkaku. Thought you'd like to know." He flicked his hair dramatically again. Kenpachi ignored the gesture again.

"I'll go."

Yumichika's eyes widened. "But Taichou, there is no need to send a captain! We just need to assess the situation, not apprehend him."

"I'll go," he repeated more firmly. "Bored lately anyway. Wanna see what that brat's up to."

The smaller, dark-haired shinigami blinked. "It would only be you. There is only permission to send one, so Lieutenant—"

"I gotta leave Yachiru here, I got it. Just don't tell her and we'll be fine."

Yumichika nodded. "As you wish, Captain. I'll make arrangements right away."

xXx

It felt empty to not have Yachiru with him as he made his way over the Earth's surface. Of course, not having her there meant he could actually find who he was looking for. The riatsu locater in his hand helped there too.

As usual, he ignored the environment as he made his way towards the blinking dot on the screen. The science team had found it strange that they could locate the kid's presence so easily. It didn't bode well for him.

Finally Kenpachi stopped in front of a building and glanced around. Screen said the kid was on top, so the Captain ran up the side, landing on the roof and half expecting to see the brat lying face down and unconscious.

He didn't expect to find nothing. Angrily he looked back at the phone and cursed under his breath. "Stupid thing's broken," he muttered. He couldn't find the kid himself due to his under-used ability to sense riatsu. The problem was he could feel something close by; something of hollow origin. Sensing may not have been his strong point, but he could tell the difference between nothing and a hollow, even if he couldn't pin point the hollow's position. So if the kid was here, he'd probably be waiting for it.

So where was he?

Just then, a movement to his right caught his eye and he looked over to the edge of the building. He could have sworn no one had been there before, but there the brat stood as if he'd always been there, ready and looking perfectly healthy as he faced Kenpachi with an expression he couldn't have imagined on the kid's face before.

Although he seemed to be giving off a completely controlled air, it didn't feel like the anticipation of a fighter, nor did it feel like the fear of a weakling. In truth, it seemed more like a cold mask of nothing. His face remained expressionless, like one who was about to do something he had been forced to do hundreds of times before; something he hated. It was the face of a professional.

"This is my fight," he said, voice just as expressionless as his stony features.

Kenpachi didn't respond for a moment as he studied the person in front of him. This was the warrior he'd seen. This was the person he wanted to fight.

Finally, he couldn't help but grin. "Now yer soundin' like a member of my squad."

He'd expected denial or anger. In reality, he only got a stony response. "I don't care. Don't get in my way."

Kenpachi's grin widened. He didn't respond. He didn't need to. As long as Kenpachi got the next fight, the kid could have traipsed right into Hueco Mundo for all he cared. Whatever got the kid riled up.

In a haze of shunpo, the red-head vanished, appearing in the clearing below just as a large, clawed hand came tearing through to Earth from Hueco Mundo.

As Kenpachi watched, a hollow shoved itself into reality. The Captain cocked his head, wondering if this thing had any relation to Komomura. It had the body of a sleek, preditory animal with dark fur and the many tails, swinging almost dantily behind it.

"You came to meet me," a distinctly female voice carried over the wind to Kenpachi. "Does this mean you accept?"

Hurry up and get to the fighting, Kenpachi's gaze darkened, but he didn't move a muscle, choosing instead to watch intently as the pair interacted below.

"Where is she?" the brat asked.

The hollow cocked its head. "She?"

"The other woman from my memories. The one with blue eyes," Kenshin responded. That got a small reaction from Kenpachi. So the kid knew the hollow. He'd heard of such cases. They were rare, but not unheard of.

The fox-hollow's dark fur bristled in anger, making it seem much larger than it actually was. "Is she more important than me? You would choose your second wife over your first?"

Wife, huh? Kenpachi glanced at the brat, expecting an answer from the straight-forward person. Again the kid surprised him when instead of speaking, he slid into a battle stance, although he still didn't draw his sword.

The hollow seemed unaware of what his stance meant because it laughed. "Of course not," it said. "You've chosen me. It is obvious. After all, you don't even remember her name. It would break her heart if she knew. It is a good thing I killed her then. Now you can be with both of us. Come, let me eat you."

It had said the wrong thing. Kenpachi's smile returned in full force as the kid released a threatening spike of riatsu, although he never came close to losing control. The Captain approved. The kid had guts and a cool head to not atack after a statement like that. Oh yes, he would be an excellent fighter indeed.

"What of my children?" Kenshin asked, a warning note now in his otherwise steely voice.

The hollow scoffed. "I could never find them. But do not worry, my love. If it is for you, I will search for them."

"No," the red-head responded. "You will not."

He placed his hand on the hilt of his sword as his riatsu spiked again. Oh, this was going to be good! Kenpachi knew this kind of building. The kid was about to release his sword! The Captain's smile widened even more and he made a mental note to do something for Yumichika when he got back. If his fifth seat hadn't warned him, he wouldn't be here to see this now. In Kenpachi's opinion, he couldn't have had better timing!

The hollow had begun to realize that everything was not going according to plan. "What?" it asked softly.

"I will send you on," the kid said just as softly, the steely edge in his voice giving way to pity for his opponent. Kenpachi's grin fell at the unprofessional tone. He wasn't going to go easy on the hollow, was he?

"You refuse…you…betrayer!" the hollow screeched, launching itself at Kenshin.

The kid didn't so much as flinch as he spoke. "Chakushoku shimas, Shiruiume*!"

White Plum, huh? The only difference Kenpachi could see was the cross-shaped scar that appeared on the brat's cheek. He frowned. That had been a bit of a let down. The Captain continued to watch, hoping the release was stronger than it sounded. It certainly felt like it would be, but that was no serious indication.

Kenshin continued to stand there as the hollow approached. Kenpachi raised an eyebrow, wondering just when the kid would draw his…

It happened in the blink of an eye. His sword had been drawn and sheathed, and anyone under a third seat probably wouldn't have been able to follow it. The Captain blinked for a moment as the grin returned full force.

For some reason though, it hadn't done anything to the hollow. That should have sliced clean through the mask. No sooner had Kenpachi thought this, then the brat dove into a roll, landing on his feet and facing the area he'd just vacated. Then the hollow vanished into thin air. The Captain scowled. It hadn't used sonido, nor had it disappeared to Hueco Mundo. It had simply vanished on the spot. Scanning the area quickly, Kenpachi caught a glimpse of it, chomping down on air where Kenshin had stood not moments before.

It happened again, blade flashing for the barest fraction of a second as it sliced cleanly into the hollow's torso.

The Captain blinked, wondering what had just happened. It didn't take him long to figure out that the hollow had used an illusionary technique of some sort. Kenpachi's disgust for the creature rose several notches, although he became even more impressed at Kenshin's skill for seeing through the cheap trick.

Screaming, the hollow retreated, managing to turn itself to face its attacker. "How did you know?" it screamed. "My Wil-o'-the-wisp always worked before!"

So the kid had seen it and been taken in some time in the past. That would probably explain whey he'd been favoring his left side thoughout the battle. The brat hid it well, but he'd been hurt sometime before this fight and had been ignoring the pain.

"It is your special trait to leave an illusion of yourself along with your riatsu sense in your enemy's mind while you attack them from behind. It will not work on me again." As he spoke, he returned to what Kenpachi had dubbed his 'default stance'.

"NO!" the hollow screamed. "I will have you! You will be mine!" That quickly, Kenpachi knew the battle was over. It launched itself at Kenshin again. Instead of reacting, the kid closed his eyes, head unconsciously tilting to one side as he listened for the true direction of the hollow's approach. Right. The hollow's special ability only affected sight and riatsu sense.

His sword flashed for a third time to his left, and the fight was done. The hollow collapsed in a heap, somehow having managed to avoid having its mask sliced through. As such, it didn't disintigrate as the red-head ran towards it.

That was enough for Kenpachi. The kid had just proven to be an excellent fighter. He only felt badly that the whole battle hadn't lasted longer. Rising to his feet, he drew his zanpaktou, anticipating his own fight with the kid.

Kenshin unsheathed his blade and aimed for the final blow, but instead of slicing through the thing, Kenpachi saw the sword flip mid swing. The dull edge struck the hollow's mask, shattering it. The Captain felt a growl escape his throat. The kid was acting weak again. His next actions didn't helps Kenpachi's opinion of him at all. The moment the brat saw her face, he sunk down to his knees.

They began to converse in tones too low for Kenpachi to hear. Not that he cared to. Angry now, he leapt down from the building and began to stalk angrily towards them. He paused at the edge of the scene when one of the hollow's large, black hands grasped the brat's fallen zanpaktou.

"What are you doing?" Kenshin asked warily, panic underlying his words.

"I do not wish to be a monster any longer," she said. Kenpachi almost snorted. Who cared if you were a monster or not, as long as you could fight. "And I will not burden you with my death a second time."

The Captain raised an eyebrow at that. So the kid had killed her before? Didn't seem like something he would do. Then again, people who needed to fight sometimes felt they had to rid themselves of distractions. Kenpachi would never be that weak, but other people did things like that, or so he heard.

Before she could plunge the sword through her chest (a sword that most certainly did not look reversed), the red-head laid his small hand on her overly large one. Together they drove it through her chest.

The kid just watched her vanish, face twisted in pain. "No," he said, barely loud enough for Kenpachi to hear. The Captain doubted the brat knew he was even there. "I will not dishonor her memory with such thoughts."

Alright, he'd have enough of this. If the kid was as good as Kenpachi thought he was, he didn't need much of a warning. Stepping forward (and making sure his feet clomped against the ground and the bells in his hair jangled in the slight breeze) he swung his sword.

The kid didn't block it, much to Kenpachi's extreme displeasure. The blade cut through his flesh deeply. For a second, they just stood there, Kenpachi with a sword through the other's chest, Kenshin unable to move. Then The Captain jerked his sword back.

"Yeh could've blocked that," he said harshly.

"T-taichou," the brat managed to say as he fell to the ground. The scar on his cheek had begun to fade and his blade shifted to a reversed blade. Kenpachi could have even sworn the kid's eyes had been yellow before they faded back to a sad blue. "T-this one does not wish to fight," he gasped. "That he does not."

"Yeh really mean that, doncha," Kenpachi growled as he frowned down at his subordinate. It wasn't a question. Kenpachi could see that much from the earnest expression in the kid's face. His eyes began to lose focus, but he managed to answer.

"This one only wishes to protect…that he does."

Kenpachi wanted to grab the kid and shake him until he saw reason, but he knew that nothing would come of it. He'd lost his chance to fight with the brat.

"Where do you wanna go?" he muttered, making sure to emphasize his extreme displeasure at the entire situation.

The kid didn't seem to notice. "To where Kaoru is," he muttered. "Not…possible." Kaoru? Had that been the hollow the brat had just defeated? Maybe the other woman the hollow and shinigami had discussed earlier? Either way, there was no way the Gotei 13 would allow any shinigami an extended leave of their duties to search the Rukongai for a recently purified soul.

"Whatever, brat," Kenpachi grumbled. Right about then was when the kid lost consciousness.

Kenpachi just stared at him for several moments before reaching down and picking him up unceremoniously. Then he tossed him over his shoulder, grabbed his blade and started for Karakura town. He wasn't sure how to get the kid his wish, but he was pretty sure he knew someone who would

xXx

Kenpachi had been back a week when he received the butterfly from Urahara. The shinigami frowned when he realized who had sent him a message. Had something happened with the kid? He didn't really care, Urahara should know that. They'd already arranged everything, and he'd reported Himura Kenshin to have died in combat. Once the kid healed, Urahara would drop him off in the Rukongai with his riatsu sealed so the brat could look for the girl and hopefully never bother Kenpachi again.

"Zaraki-san," he heard from the butterfly. "I have something here you may want to come and pick up…alone. You may want to take a few days off."

That was all. For a moment he just stared at his finger as the butterfly lifted and fluttered away. Then he stood and walked towards his office. Yumichika would have to arrange something, but Kenpachi doubted it would be too difficult. He didn't want to have to break protocol again and have the old man breathe down his neck, but there was no way he'd miss whatever the shopkeeper had in mind.

xXx

"Ah, Zaraki-san," Urahara Kisuke said from behind his fan as he walked out from the back of the shop and stepped into his sandles. "And Yachriu-chan."

"Hi Bucket-head!" Yachiru grinned enthusiastically from Kenpachi's shoulder.

"Whaja want?" Kenpachi muttered. He'd wracked his brain, but nothing seemed to come to mind that would have the shopkeeper asking specifically for him.

"Please follow me, Zaraki-san," the blond man replied, as mysterious as ever.

Kenpachi let out a snort but complied.

"You know, with my stay on Earth, I've come across several legends," the shopkeeper said as he lead the Captain through the twisting halls.

"Don't care," Kenpachi said boredly.

Snap! Urahara shut his fan and glanced back at them with a smile. "But Zaraki-san, you will care about this one. You see, there was a man who fought in an uprising over a century ago. He was known as Hitokiri Battossai, and he was said to be unbeatable."

Kenpachi raised an eyebrow. "So?"

"So," Urahara stepped aside to reveal a trap door. "In gratitude for everything you have done for Himura-san, he and I have arranged for you to fight him."

The Captain's eyes widened in surprise before the familiar, twisted grin came back.

"Hear that, Ken-chan! You're going to get to fight!" Yachiru squealed.

"The entire area is shielded, so you can use your maximum power, but please try not to do too much damage," the shopkeeper asked resignedly.

Kenpachi didn't even register his words as he jumped down into the hole.

"WEEEEE!" Yachiu yelled and giggled as they fell quite a ways down.

"Any damage that needs to be repaired will be added to your bill!" Urahara called down after them.

As soon as they landed, Yachiru hopped down off of his shoulder and shunpoed to the top of one of the larger rocks that littered the enormous training room.

Kneeling in the center of the clearing directly in front of Kenpachi was a familiar red-head, no longer wearing the black uniform of a shinigami. Instead he had on a colored gi and white hakama.

"You were a hitokiri?" Kenpachi asked incredulously.

Kenshin stood unhurriedly and turned around. "Indeed, this unworthy one was."

Now that he thought about it, that actually explained a lot. Kenpachi couldn't help but smile expectantly. Normally his grin would send people running, but Himura just stood his ground calmly.

"I thoughtcha didn't want ta fight."

The brat cocked his head slightly. "This one does not like to fight, that he does not." With that, he slid back into his default stance. "That does not mean that this one is not good at it. This one will set aside his normal opinion so as to thank you for everything you have done for this one."

"I'm not goin' easy on ya, brat," Kenpachi said as he took out his sword, still grinning maniacly.

"Then this one will have to use all of his strength as well," Kenshin replied as he placed a hand on the hilt of his Zanpaktou. "Chakushoku shimas, Shiriume*!"

As the scar appeared on Kenshin's cheek, Kenpachi dashed forward, sword raised high. When he swung down, their zanpaktous clashed in the first blow of what promised to be the best fight he'd had in months!

End


*Chakushoku shimas, Shiriume = Stain White Plum Blossom

I have to say, I loved how this turned out. There is now a companion story to this from Kenshin's point of view called "Fight Two: To Kill" in my stories. (I'd put up the link, but FFnet doesn't seem to like that)

I will also shamelessly admit that this is strictly out of me wanting to pit "Kenshin" against "Ken-chan". :D ^^;