"My sister says not."
"What does your sister know? Okay, how about Lieutenant Kira?"
"Nah, and don't mention Lieutenant Hisagi either. Do you really think it would be someone at that level?"
"Hssst! A captain? Like Ichimaru?"
"Komamura? Nah, he'd never take that thing off his head."
"Doesn't need to, now does he? But no, I don't think it's him either. He never does anything that seems improper."
"Wasn't when this happened, and he was super nice. Not Byakuya, definitely not."
"He's a man."
"A frozen tundra of one. Look, it's no use ...shit! Shut up, shut up!"
Captain Hitsugaya paused in front of a particular door, glancing up at the window display. "Hmmm, this reminds me."
Lieutenant Matsumoto scowled at the eyes watching them, eyes that quickly looked away when she spotted them. "What reminds you, captain?"
"I need a gift." The young silver-haired leader of Division Ten frowned. He'd not informed his lieutenant of the information he'd received from some of his fellow captains only that morning.
Rangiku froze as his hand reached for the door handle, she could almost literally feel the crazed eyes of the gossips on her back. "No!"
Captain Hitsugaya paused, turning to stare at her.
"You'll be late, and you hate being late!" Rangiku let out a relieved breath as his hand left the door handle. She couldn't let him walk into THIS shop, with her ...in front of everyone! Not when she was trying to squash those ridiculous rumors about herself. This would only put fuel on the whole situation!
The youthful captain gave her a long look, then nodded almost absently. "You're right. I know nothing about something like this, it could take longer to choose a proper gift than I have to spare. Fine. You do it. Have it wrapped and brought back to my office, I'll deliver it personally."
Rangiku's lungs froze and her expressive eyes widened. "Don't you need me for your meeting, captain?" No, no, no! This couldn't be happening!
To her abject horror, the captain shook his head thoughtfully. "I can manage on my own for a bit. You take care of this so that I know it's done properly."
The honey-blonde's nerves were twitching as she broke out into a cold sweat. "But ...but I don't know who this is for!"
Captain Hitsugaya looked around, as if just now noticing the attention of some of the people around them. He frowned. "I don't want to say out here. Starts rumors. Just get something appropriate, gender neutral. Nice, very nice actually. Have it wrapped and bring it back to my office, then come find me. Don't take all day with this either, Rangiku."
The pretty lieutenant gave a jerky nod of her head as she watched her captain turn and leave her behind ...standing alone in front of the baby boutique. Her shoulders slumped as she reached for the door handle with trepidation.
"You alright, lieutenant?" Came a hesitant voice.
"I feel sick." Rangiku said before filtering her words through the thinking part of her brain. When her own words registered, she looked up in shock. "I didn't mean it like that!"
The other shinigami, a seventh seat in the ninth division watched her with delighted eyes. "Crackers and tea will help with the morning sickness according to my sister. And congratulations, lieutenant!"
"Shit! Shit! I'm not! No! Oh, fucking shit! Ah damn it!" Rangiku hissed, then turned as the door to the baby boutique opened from the inside.
Captain Komamura had to duck ridiculously low to get out the door, making Rangiku back up quite a bit as she stared at him in shock. He was holding a gift in elegant silver paper with blush pink and baby blue balloons all over it.
"C...Captain?" Rangiku stared in wonder even as a hell's butterfly flew up to them, delivering a message that the captain was needed at the Seireitei wall's east gate as soon as possible.
"Oh no." Captain Komamura held up his gift. "I really don't have time to deliver this personally, but don't want to ask the shop to do it."
Rangiku knew his barracks to be in the opposite direction from the east gate. "I'll drop it by your office for you if you'd like, Captain Komamura." Rangiku offered, holding out her hands without forethought. "Or ask the boutique to do that." She amended as she realized what she'd just done.
The large captain dipped his head, hidden as it was beneath the concealing bucket of a mask. "My thanks, lieutenant."
Rangiku held the package as she entered the shop with her head held high.
"Did you see that? Scratch Captain Komamura off the list then, if he's giving her baby gifts."
"What about Captain Tosen then? Those two are close."
"Yeah, friends with Komamura. But do you ever see him hanging around with Lieutenant Matsumoto? No. Whoever is the father of Rangiku's baby, it is definitely a captain though."
"You don't think ... Hitsugaya?"
"That's sick, he's too young."
"They're always together."
"She's his lieutenant! Of course they're always together. But I don't see them out and about with him socially."
"She's slept in his office more than a few times, I heard from a very reliable source."
"No ...no ...just ...no."
"Well, who else could it be? Zaraki?"
"Hardly, he only thinks of bathing and fighting. Never see him out and about either, or hardly ever."
"Kyoraku? Ukitake? Captain Kyoraku is definitely a flirt and Ukitake? There's always something shady about the nice and quiet ones."
He was quiet and still, and it hurt her heart to see him like this. The bandages were clean and the wounds weren't draining too much. The healing was going smoothly and there would be no lasting damage.
Retsu's hand dipped into a jar of half-filled ointment, putting the herbal remedy directly on Kenpachi's left bicep. This was a more superficial scrape, and she told herself she was just being thorough in her duties.
She wasn't even fooling herself.
The need to touch his skin, to feel the heat of his life force in her hands, was paramount. She needed this more than he did.
Her fingers wrapped around the large muscle of his bicep, not reaching all the way around. The size of the muscle reassured her of his innate strength, even in this unconscious state, bringing a lump to her throat as she rubbed in the ointment.
She didn't pause her actions, even as she felt the spiritual pressure approach the room. Her back did straighten and her hands perhaps turned a touch more clinical and less of a caress as the door opened behind her.
He was alone. She didn't have to look to know, being a master at sensing spiritual pressures. The sound of the door closing behind him was soft. She waited, but he said nothing at first.
"It's not like you to apologize. And I doubt you're sorry anyway, for you would have your reasons." Retsu broke the moment. "You don't explain yourself. And you know from my reports that Zaraki is recovering. To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?"
"Could be something official." The voice of the Head Captain rumbled behind her.
"You would have notified me by hell's butterfly." She rejoined.
The older warrior sighed very slightly. "You called him Zaraki. Just now. Not very intimate."
Her hands stilled, then reached for more of the herbal remedy. "Don't look too heavily into that. We are used to keeping our relationship to ourselves."
"Not for much longer." His voice was softer just then, though not apologetic.
Retsu finally turned her head slightly, watching her Captain Commander stand at the foot of Kenpachi's medical bed. He caught her gaze with his own and gave a slight nod of his head. "Your condition would have led to many rumors, many more than poor Matsumoto."
She frowned slightly. "Lieutenant Matsumoto? Rangiku?"
"Rumors are, she's the pregnant one. Despite reassurances from her captain and others, the rumors are proving hard to dispel." He chuckled lightly.
Retsu felt off balance all of a sudden. "Wait? You announced my pregnancy in front of many of the captains to ...save the reputation of another?"
The Head Captain shook his head at her. "Hardly. I announced your condition because it would be difficult for you to hide it for too long."
Retsu stared at him a moment, knowing he was lying. She'd known this man for a very long time. "And the fact that several of the captains have taken it upon themselves to post higher numbers of shinigami around the medical barracks has nothing to do with it?"
The old man didn't even have the grace to look away as he shrugged. "You are vulnerable right now."
"I can take care of myself." She snapped.
Yamamoto straightened and tilted his chin towards Kenpachi's prone form. "The Ryoka have beaten one of our very best. And you have not fought like that for centuries."
Retsu stood, wiping her hands off as she faced her commander. "Do not forget, I was your first Kenpachi."
The old man pointed at the man she had married. "He is my best Kenpachi. And not even at his highest potential, not even slightly."
Breath hissed out of her lungs as she glared at Yamamoto.
"And that is the closest I will ever come to having a grandchild." He pointed at her midsection, making her eyes widen with shock.
Retsu shook her head in disbelief. "Shunsui and Jushiro are like your sons, we both know it."
The old man sighed deeply, taking a moment to gather his words into some semblance of order. "Yes. And if and when they ever marry and begin families, I will celebrate. But you ...you are different."
"I am not your daughter." For a hair-raising moment she wondered if that were true. What if ...
"No, I'm not." His simple words ended her wild thought and she was grateful. "You were my nemesis. The one standing in my way that I was not sure I could beat or withstand."
"You would have won." She offered him the words from deep in her heart. "Your forces would have taken the day, and the battle."
Yamamoto nodded at the truth of her statement. "But at what cost? My forces would have been severely weakened by such a monumental battle. And you? It would have taken so much out of me to beat you."
"Leaving you open to other forces, I know." Retsu said quietly. "That's all history now. I surrendered."
"Allowing me a much larger victory." Yamamoto took in a deep breath, then sighed. "Do you ever regret it?"
The healer stilled at his question, then gave a small rueful smile. "The battle between us would have been epic."
"True. But not the thrust of my actual question." A ghost of a smile flew over his face and then it was gone. "You gave up fighting to give yourself over to healing, to follow me and the Gotei 13. Started a new life."
He let his words sink in, allowing silence to fill the space between them as she pondered his question. Did she regret her decision so long ago? Yes. And no.
Learning healing had been a challenge, and a welcome one. A change that suited her, actually. Even suiting her zanpakuto. It was as if a missing piece of her soul now suddenly fit. But then she'd settled into a routine. Had she missed fighting? The thrill, the danger, the singing of death as her sword separated life from death? Well ...yes. And yet.
There was also the thrill of reuniting life with the body of one not yet ready to die, to face off against death and claim victory. To snatch a soul from the abyss and heal the wounds that would have squashed so much potential.
"Sometimes." She admitted. "But I would never choose to go back."
"Hmph." Yamamoto nodded slowly. "You changed not only your name that day, but your whole life. Becoming an entirely different person, and yet not. You were still you. I fell in love with you that day."
Startled, dark-gray eyes widened in distress.
The old man waved a hand in front of his face. "Not like that, not like that. I just mean that I admired you so much, for giving up everything for something you believed so strongly in. That humbled me."
"No, don't interrupt an old man, it's rude." Yamamoto gifted her with a small smile. "You proved yourself the stronger warrior that day, by surrendering. Then you gifted me with your support once you accepted the fact that you would not be allowed ritual suicide."
Retsu wasn't sure how to feel, much less how to respond.
"Your family, has been ...less than familial." The Head Captain's voice dripped with disdain. "I am not your father, nor do I think of myself that way, not entirely. But realize please, that this old man thinks very highly of you and will sic all the shinigami in the Seireitei on you for your own good if he deems it necessary."
"It's not necessary." She blew out a long breath, already knowing that she wasn't going to change his mind about this. He thought she needed protection. Announcing her pregnancy to the captains had assured their protective instincts would collectively kick in.
The Head Captain headed for the door, looking back at her. "Humor an old man, please. Don't kick the extra protection to the curb."
A moan from the man in the bed, had them both stopping. Dark eyelashes twitched and Retsu sat down beside the bed, reaching for his arm.
"You know, he's the type to come back from this a stronger warrior than he was before the battle." Yamamoto opened the door, ready to leave. "Because he's just like you and me."
Kenpachi felt weighted down, and even though he wasn't self-aware he fought against the feeling. Instinct, pure and simple. Dark eyes blinked open, then shut against the light. Immediately, he opened his eyes again, not even willing to let pain or light or discomfort keep him from ...what?
He sat up abruptly, then gasped as pain flooded every nerve in his body. His eyes widened and one hand reached up to his face. The eyepatch was back in place.
"Nasty thing." Came a dry comment to his side.
Kenpachi turned, again out of instinct, his muscles tensing ready to fight in spite of the pain racking his body. Sharp pain, dull pain, aching pain and throbbing pain. It all hurt.
It meant he was alive. Which meant he was able to fight!
Yet, instead of a young man with a strange hair color facing off against him. He blinked twice to clear his vision. Retsu. His wife.
"How are ...erp!"
His hand moved lightning fast and cupped the back of her head, yanking her halfway across his lap. Anything that she might have said was lost as his lips claimed hers.
She should have stopped him. She could have stopped him. But everything that had hardened deep within her at the thought, the sight, of him injured yearned for just this.
Neither heard the deep chuckle of the man who left the room, closing the door firmly behind him.
It was several long moments before Kenpachi came up for air, staring into Retsu's face. Dark gray eyes traced every inch of his expression as he grinned down at her.
Her hand reached up and pushed an errant hair spike, with it's attached bell, out of his face. "Aren't you hurting?"
Kenpachi grunted. "Yes."
Retsu frowned. "Where? How badly?"
"Everywhere." He smirked at her. "And it hurts like a son of a bitch."
Exasperated, she frowned at him. Pushing at his chest until he hissed with pain and she stopped. "Let me go and I'll get you something for the pain."
His grip tightened on her. "Rather not." His gaze was hot as he held her.
Retsu shook her head, and pulled away. Kenpachi frowned that she was able to get up at all. "Damn it." He muttered.
"You're too injured for that anyway."
Kenpachi scowled at that, even if he did suspect she was right. "Let's test that assumption."
Retsu's hand moved over the table next to him as she leaned in and gave him a long kiss. Her hand reached out, tracing a line over his right pectoral and down over his abdomen. Kenpachi groaned in approval, and pain.
The kiss continued as her hand slipped under the sheet and he was delighted that despite the pain, his body was stirring. But her hand didn't reach for what he thought would be obvious. Instead she traced the line of his muscle down to his hip, over to his backside.
The pain there was small, sharp and sudden. A puncture.
Kenpachi's head reared back and he glared at her. "I just fucking woke up, don't even know what day it is, and you're putting me back under? Bitch!"
A knock on the door had neither looking away from the other as Captain Ukitake poked his head in despite the overheard protests from Lieutenant Kotetsu.
"Ah, he's calling you names and insulting you. I presume that means he's on the mend?"
Retsu twitched the sheet back up, covering Kenpachi. Then frowned as she she realized it didn't cover him enough. She was still standing between the door and the aroused patient, however, and she quickly reached for the blanket at the foot of the bed.
"On the mend. And no, I was not dosing you to put you back under as you put it. It was something for the pain. Grouch." Retsu said quietly even as she pulled the blanket up over her husband for modesty's sake.
"Voices! We hear voices!" Yachiru burst through the door and took a flying leap towards Kenpachi's bed when Captain Ukitake caught her mid-leap around her small waist.
"Whoa! He's still hurt, lieutenant!" Chuckled the white-haired captain. "Be more gentle, child."
To his shock, Yachiru growled at him and her teeth snapped at his arm. Captain Ukitake carefully put the pink-haired girl down next to Kenpachi's bedside, relieved when she immediately smiled and climbed onto the bed. Gently.
"Had your rabies shot yet, captain?" Laughed Ikkaku and Yumichika from the doorway. Ikkaku leaning on a crutch and still bandaged.
"It's not wise to get in our lieutenant's way." Yumichika added with a grin.
Captain Jushiro Ukitake sighed lightly. "I can see that."
"Kenny! Kenny! Guess what?" Yachiru fairly thrummed with excess energy. "Icchi hasn't been caught yet, but he challenged Byakki. So you have a chance to fight him again! Wouldn't that be fun?!"
Retsu's breath hitched and she shook her head. "Kenpachi must heal first."
The healer's eyes shut with frustration as she saw her husband's excitement at the very idea of a fresh fight. "Heal first." She admonished.
Kenpachi's hands went to his blankets.
"Pants second." Retsu choked, making a grab for the sheets.
"Bitch." Kenpachi sighed, settling back on the bed with a glare. "Where are my clothes? Do I need to fight you in order to get out of here?"
Ukitake chuckled. "I wouldn't, if I were you, Zaraki. Seems our Captain Unohana is expecting, and married. Her husband may not take such a threat so kindly."
Everyone in the room stilled, staring at him. Belatedly Jushiro realized just what he'd announced. "Oh, I forgot you've been out and not in the latest captain's meetings. My apologies."
Yachiru poked a finger next to her mouth. "How did you know about the baby?"
"Baby?" Ikkaku's eyes were wide with shock, then a delighted grin. "Really? Really?"
"We need a party!" Yumichika crowed. "With a beautiful cake!"
"Cake!" Yachiru bounced on the bed at that word. "Can pregnant women eat cake? I thought crackers were best?"
Retsu watched Jushiro's face with sympathy as his face froze. She smiled at him. "Indeed, cake would be nice."
"A beautiful cake! I'd better be the one to order to decorations." Yumichika announced sternly. "I don't trust any of you to do a proper job."
The questions were reeling around in Ukitake's mind. Retsu could almost see them. How had Yachiru known about the baby? Why would Ikkaku be so excited, didn't Division 11 hate the medical squad? Why in the world would Yumichika think he had the right to throw a celebration? His eyes moved over to Kenpachi.
The warrior grinned back at him. With a lot of teeth. A lot of teeth.
Retsu cleared her throat and Jushiro's eyes moved back to her. The white haired captain gave her a weak smile. "Congratulations."
"The proper response is, thank you." Retsu sighed.
Jushiro looked spooked as he turned to stare at the wounded man in the bed.
"Thank you." Kenpachi looked beyond smug even as he spoke.
Yachiru flopped down on the bed, next to Kenpachi. "Fight first, or cake?"
"Fight." Kenpachi asserted with a gleam in his visible eye. "Definitely the fight."
Captain Shunsui Kyoraku looked up from his lounging position, the epitome of laziness.
Captain Ukitake sat down next to him.
"You look like you saw a ghost." Shunsui commented, pulling his straw hat back down over his face.
"No." Jushiro sighed then offered a soft chuckle. "Just met Captain Unohana's husband though."
Shunsui now pushed his hat back so he could look at his friend. "Yeah?"
"Yes." Jushiro nodded, looking away quietly.
The other man waited, but his friend was not forthcoming. "Yeah, so who is it? Someone I know?"
Again with the silence.
Shunsui sighed and even bothered to sit up, staring at his friend. "Stop torturing me. Who is it?"
"I have to go. Preparations to make. Squad member to save. Questions to answer. Murderer to catch." Jushiro stood, brushing off his still pristine robes.
"Don't be a jerk. Just tell me. Jushiro? Wait. Jushiro?" Shunsui watched his friend carefuly. "You don't really know." He muttered, but then frowned. Yeah, Jushiro didn't lie. So that mean he did know. "Crap. We know him?"
Jushiro stopped at that and pondered the question. "That is too difficult to answer. Not really, but maybe ...some days. Then again ..."
"Mostly." Jushiro allowed with a quirk of a smile.
The white-haired captain dipped his head in the affirmative.
"Not you or me. Old man is out too."
Jushiro nodded again.
"Not friendly, a colleague ... Tosen? Byakuya?"
Shunshi blinked, readjusting his thoughts. "Ichimaru? That doesn't seem right."
A shocked breath had Shunsui's eyes widening in horror. Jushiro nodded slowly. "Really? Kurotsuchi?"
Jushiro's face fell and he changed from a nod to a frown. "That's where your mind went?"
Shunsui sighed heavily. "Where else is it supposed to go? Captain Zaraki? He has hated her for over a century and I know he kissed her that one time, but it hardly worked out and ..." He stopped, staring at Jushiro's sudden smile. "No ..."
Jushiro nodded very slowly.
Shunsui looked beyond shocked. "No ... really? But for how long?"
The white-haired man suddenly stopped, thinking. "I ...I don't exactly know."
Captain Kyoraku chuckled. "Well, it's probably recent. I mean really. They couldn't have been together for long and kept it secret." He paused. "Could they?"
Jushiro shrugged. "Retsu can hold things tightly, but I don't see Zaraki being subtle. I'd bet this is new."
Shunsui sighed. "And I wonder how long it'll last before one of them kills the other."
Both men laughed as they pondered their fellow captains.