Stray

Rose was nowhere to be found.

Izuru gazed up at the sun, squinting as he gauged its trajectory overhead. It was climbing higher with every passing moment, he reflected darkly, a sure sign that time was moving on and it would almost be afternoon. Yet despite the fact Izuru had spent the best part of his morning session mired in paperwork waiting for his Captain, there had been neither hide nor hair of Rose. Ultimately, restless and frustrated, he had left his desk, scouring first the Division barracks for his missing leader, and then, after hearing from the Third Seat that Rose had left the compound some two hours earlier, into Seireitei itself.

The streets were busy with patrols, familiar faces barking orders this way and that, and Izuru stepped back to allow a column of Ninth Division officers through on their way to Rukongai.

"Hisagi-san, have you seen Ootoribashi-taichou anywhere?"

The Ninth Division Vice Captain brought up the rear of the group, and before Izuru knew what he had been intending to do he had raised his voice to ask the question. Hisagi faltered, shooting him a startled glance, then shaking his head.

"We've been out on patrol, and we've not left Ninth's allocated areas," he said apologetically, giving his friend a little shrug. "Has something happened?"

"Mm, no, not really," Izuru hesitated for a moment, letting out a heavy sigh. "I just wanted to check a report detail with him - I'm still getting used to his system of filing. But it's not that important. I'm sorry to have held you up on my account - I'll go look for him somewhere else."

"All right," Hisagi shot Izuru an odd look, but to the Third Vice Captain's relief, he did not ask any further questions. Instead he raised his hand to indicate to his gaggle of followers that they were moving on, and Izuru stood back, watching the neat formation of shinigami march back towards the Ninth Division barracks.

He sank back against the wall of a nearby building, folding his arms bad-temperedly across his chest.

Where the hell has he got to? He told Rikuu he was going out for a bit and that was two hours ago. Doesn't he realise that there's papers to file and sign and all kinds of other things that need his seal or at least his attention before I pass them on to the higher ups? Now I'm having to scurry around looking for him. I never had to do this when Ichimaru-taichou was in charge. Even on my own, I knew where everything was and how it should all be, but now...

He groaned, reaching up to rub his eyes. A dull ache was settling behind his skull, an ominous omen of another heavy day, and he could feel the tension coursing through his body more and more with each passing minute. He was annoyed - yes, he was, genuinely so, but, as he analysed his own reactions with his usual dour detachment, he knew that his annoyance was not really at the missing Rose. On the contrary, it was anger directed at himself - that he, who for so long had held Third Division's head above water single-handedly, should not be able to remain two hours in his office without worrying about his new leader's whereabouts.

Am I so dependant as all that, that I cling to the first person in a haori who walks across my path?

Izuru assessed himself bitterly.

What's wrong with me? Ootoribashi-taichou has been here a week, and it's not as though he's done much to change the fibre of how Third runs in that time. He's listened, observed and redecorated every single room to which he has a key, but he hasn't interfered with the patrols or the hierarchy. All of that is as its always been...as I've kept it, since...everything happened. Most of the documents in the office I could sign and seal without his seeing them. So why am I so flustered? I barely know the man...why don't I want to let him out of my sight?

But even though he asked himself the question, he already knew the answer. It was there, lurking in the shadows of his thoughts still at every point of the day and night. The fox-like grin of the silver-haired Captain that, one day, had disappeared from his line of sight, never to rematerialise. Ichimaru had died in the real world, leaving more questions than answers and although Rangiku had seen it all, Izuru had not asked, nor wanted to hear about his former leader's final moments. The sting of betrayal was still too raw and deep for him to have overcome it in such a short space of time...and now, even though he knew that Rose was not Gin, he could not help but be worried that his Captain's absence might have a more sinister cause.

I don't want to be abandoned again.

Izuru clenched and unclenched his fists, beating them absently against the wall as he vented his frustration.

It's pathetic and I hate it, but I can't help it. I want to trust him, the same as he's trusted me. But when he vanishes, I don't know...if he's coming back. And that's not something I can explain to him. It's just something that I need to work out within myself...if I even can. I don't want anyone else to know how pathetic I am...this time I want to stand on my own feet, not simply follow someone else's lead.

"Izuru?"

The voice made him jump, swinging around hastily to meet the concerned gaze of Rose himself, and, at the Captain's expression, he felt himself reddening, aware that he had been muttering to himself and pounding his fists against the wall as though he had been loosed from some kind of asylum.

A moment of awkward silence passed between them, then,

"Are you all right?"

Rose's tones were soft and in any other circumstances Izuru would've found them soothing, but in that moment he wanted the earth to open up and swallow him whole. Pushing his hands down against the sides of his shihakushou in a futile attempt at nonchalance, he nodded mutely, wishing for words to come to explain himself, but suddenly devoid of even the slightest inspiration. Rose eyed him for a moment, then a thin, slender hand came out to rest on his shoulder, and the lavender eyes bored thoughtfully into his. At this close scrutiny, Izuru felt himself going even redder, but he resisted the urge to pull back, instead sliding his gaze away as though trying to conceal his awkwardness.

Rose sighed, and the hand was loosed from his shoulder.

"I'm sorry. You were looking for me, weren't you?" he appraised finally, and Izuru's gaze jerked up, surprise in his expression. Rose laughed ruefully, shaking his head.

"We're neither one of us quite in harmony with this yet, are we," he murmured, more than half to himself. "I went out to get manuscript paper, that's all. I didn't bring enough back with me from the Real World. Last night I had a dream that left me with this particularly haunting melody, looping through my thoughts and I had to get it down. It took me the best part of the night, but I used up the last of my manuscript, and well, most traders aren't keen at selling the stuff past midnight, for some reason."

He shrugged his shoulders.

"Anyway, I thought I would go see if the same store I used to buy from was still there, and it is," he added, his eyes lighting up. "I really didn't intend my errand to take this long, but I got talking with the shop owner, and then time flew by and...well, the sun was as high in the sky as this and you have documents for me to sign and process. I'm sorry, Izuru. It's been a long time since I was a Captain and I'm not sure I was ever a very practical one, even back then. It might take me a little time to remember that my time isn't always my own any more...but I'm coming back now. I'll look at whatever you've got put by for me, I promise. My song is more or less drafted out - the best copy can wait till after everything's handled."

"Taichou," Izuru found his voice at last, feeling both relieved and guilty in equal measure at Rose's frank confession. Despite himself, he managed a feeble smile, letting out his breath in a rush.

"Rikuu said you were on an errand," he admitted. "I shouldn't be chasing around after you. You're my Captain. It's not my business where you go or what you do."

"Maybe not, but I could probably be a little more informative," Rose stifled a yawn, and Izuru remembered that the man had said he'd been up all night. "Well? Your coming all the way out here suggests there's a small mountain of paperwork building on my desk...am I right?"

"There's some," Izuru admitted. "I mean, now that Third has a Captain, I thought...well...it's usual that..."

He trailed off, and Rose shot him another rueful smile.

"You'll get used to me, I promise," he said frankly, causing Izuru to stare at him once again. "I trust by the time you do we'll still be speaking to each other and you won't be barracading yourself in your office and making violent threats against my manuscript books like your predecessor. I think we can work well together, but I shall try and be easier to track down. It would be no good in an emergency, would it, if you couldn't reach me and the Division was under attack."

Izuru's gaze drifted back in the direction of the Third Division barracks, and his lips thinned, remembering again that day when he and Rangiku had crossed blades and he had first learned the depth of his Captain's deception.

"I hope that won't ever happen, sir," he said honestly. "I think I've seen enough of war to last me several lifetimes, not just this."

"Mm," Rose's own eyes became shadowed briefly, then he shrugged. "But they say war brings forth change and change is a part of life. We can't alter the past, Izuru, so lets not dwell on it more than we have to. We both have more important duties to attend to - and I'd like to get that last phrase of my piece straightened out before the sun goes down if at all poss..."

He faltered, sending Izuru another sheepish grin, a faint flicker of guilt in the lavender eyes.

"But not until I've finished the paperwork," he amended, and despite himself, amusement touched Izuru's features.

"Third Division is really going to be a lot more musical from now on, sir, isn't it?" he observed lightly, and Rose let out a peal of laughter, nodding his head.

"I'm afraid so," he admitted. "I don't really know how to do things without it, so I'm afraid you're probably going to find me humming or singing or playing at all hours of the day and night. Possibly even when doing paperwork. Chikane-san never did understand that...I find it so much easier to concentrate on all of those things when I'm allowed to let the music reign free. She always tried to stop me, saying it was a distraction, and then things ended up all over the place and she became vexed - but even though nobody seems to believe me, I'm a much more logical soul if I'm able to do things my way."

He shot Izuru a sidelong glance.

"My friends say I'm a music-mad, art-mad idiot, although with the greatest of affection," he added. "Probably it's true, but I promise you it's not that I'm playing music instead of working. I play music during office hours in order to work. Paperwork is dry and soulless and I find it hard to concentrate on something that dull. So I try to brighten it up a little, make it easier to swallow. Everything in this world has its own particular place and harmony, even supply forms and deployment releases. Maybe that's hard to believe, but its so."

His fingers twitched slightly, as though fingering the notes to an imagined tune on an invisible instrument, then he shrugged his shoulders once more.

"That's something quite difficult for other people to understand, I think," he acknowledged in resignation. "But with your love of Basho, I hoped I might persuade you to try. I'd like to start as we mean to go on. I'm not good at doing things in the regimented way other squads seem to favour, and I think it's unlikely that will change. Chikane-san thought that made me impossible to work with and when she stopped my music, I confess I probably became impossible…but I'm hoping that we can avoid that stage and go straight to the harmonious working partnership that some of my colleagues enjoy."

"I don't know anything at all about music, to be honest," Izuru reflected, as they stepped through the gates of the Third Division to see Rikuu hurrying across the cobbles to greet them. "I don't know if I'll understand that side of things at all, since I've never played or even thought about playing. But..."

He faltered, unsure how to phrase the next few words, and Rose offered him a knowing smile.

"So long as the Captain pulls his weight and doesn't make Third look like a cuckoo's nest, you'll bear with it?" he asked softly, causing the Vice Captain to flush violently red a second time.

"Sir, I didn't...I wasn't...I..."

"It's all right, Izuru," Rose interrupted him, and at the faintly teasing look in the lavender eyes, Izuru found himself relaxing. "I said it myself, didn't I? You might have more trouble getting used to me than the other way around. I have already seen this week that you have most of the affairs of Third Division nicely in order and even if I make a few logistical changes, I don't think there's much else to be concerned with. But judging by the fact you came looking for me this morning, I think I ought to say it out loud, just so that it's clear between us. I go wandering about quite a lot. I like to walk, I like the air and here in Seireitei I get to see life and nature in a way that was so much more difficult in the Real World. I admit, I also get distracted by beauty and harmony, and sometimes I lose track of time. A century is a long time to be in exile, and sometimes I felt as though I was locked in a box with no hope of ever seeing the light of day again. Just because I roam about, though - musically, physically, or even existentially - I have no intention to stray. Seireitei is my home and I will stay here now. I don't have any regrets about my decision to come back. I'm Captain of the Third Division, and so long as I have this haori, I'm always going to find my way back to Third's barracks,"

He winked, touching the edge of the haori as he did so.

"I said my name meant Phoenix Bridge, and it does, but in this case you can consider me a homing pigeon," he said with a grin. "Third Division is my nest and I have all of you to oversee and, if need be, defend. And besides, I was thrown into exile once without being able to go back and explain to my Division what had happened or why things were suddenly changing. I'm not going to let it happen again. You have my word on that."

Izuru stared at the Captain for a moment, digesting his words slowly. So he had seen it, then. He had understood Izuru's reasons for searching, even though Izuru had sought to keep them to himself.

But instead of feeling humiliated by Rose's perception, he felt somewhat relieved.

I'd forgotten, but Ootoribashi-taichou is like me. He was betrayed too. He was taken from his Division, just as Aizen lured Ichimaru away from us. He was abandoned by Soul Society just as Ichimaru abandoned us. He has reasons to put down roots and start over here in relative security, too.

He glanced around him, realising that he had walked a considerable way from Third's base, and that, even if Rose had come from Rukongai, he would have had to have taken a detour to reach this point on his way back home. His brows furrowed as he registered this fact.

Well. Maybe Taichou came looking for me too. Maybe he could sense I was upset - or more likely, maybe he didn't want to be too far from base for too long when everything is still so new for him too. This is Seireitei, where he was born, but it's a Seireitei that's still new to him in a lot of ways. I can't imagine doing that - being pulled out of everything familiar and then thrust back into it a hundred years later with a bunch of people I'd never seen before. Maybe Taichou is looking for stability too...and that's why he came this way. I'm Third Division's Vice Captain, and I know it like the back of my hand. I am that stability...me, and Rikuu, and all the others here. I shouldn't worry about such pointless things. Ootoribashi-taichou isn't like Ichimaru-taichou, and I can believe him when he says that he'll always come back.