This fanfiction came about as the result of a few speculative topics and ideas tossed around on TFF, The Fanfiction Forum. Forum posts made there will probably stay a few scenes ahead of chapters posted on FFN for editing purposes, retcon and general feedback. An account is needed to register (a link is in my author profile).

While this fic will follow some familiar progression much like the manga, there will be major changes that will become apparent later on. This isn't going to be the run-of-the-mill "Make a small plot change and then rigidly stick to canon by the fingernails while kicking and screaming to fend off the whirlwind of butterfly changes that should be occurring" story.

As this story was written and published one scene at a time, author notes were also published for each scene at the same time. Author notes for each scene are posted at the end of each chapter.


Scene One

Only a sliver of light shone down from the night sky, the new moon having occurred the day before. She was wary as she crouched on top of the pole: it had been a well-documented phenomena that Hollows liked to attack the human world at night close to the new moon, perhaps off some primal predatory instinct to strike with the least amount of light available to prey. Another thing made her careful of her surroundings, an anomaly that simply should not be occurring: in the two weeks since she had been posted in Karakura Town by her white-haired captain, not a single Hollow had shown up on radar.

A lesser shinigami would have brushed it off and been glad that he had less work to do. Not her. She just knew it meant a build-up to something big, in this spiritual hotbed.

Another thing confused her. In Karakura Town, there were so few spirits wandering around. A city of three hundred thousand humans should have been sprawling with the souls of the perished, yet she had encountered only a small handful that needed to be treated with Konso to be sent on to the Soul Society. Certainly, not every human remained attached to the material world after death, but many more should have than she had found.

Then there was her paranoia acting up, as if something was watching her at all times, like the hot breath of a rabid Hollow radiating down the back of her shihakusho. No matter where she went, she could never shake the feeling. At times, it became even more intense, subsiding only slightly at late night, when the human population mostly went to sleep. All in all, it all added up to something fishy going on. At times like this, she wished she could talk to her sister more easily, but cross-dimensional communications required more set-up than could normally be afforded to a personal sisterly chat. Her wages as a member of the 13th Division were not that generous.

Sighing, the Shinigami slowly rose up from her crouching position, and then started hopping over the power poles, making her way east across the river. Nimble of foot, she pulled off each step with the expertise of over a hundred years of training in the arts of battle, and much of that energy ended up expended towards impressing her captain. With a quick deep breath, she finally perched on another pole, intent on surveying the surrounding area for a few minutes. Her reverie was quickly broken.

"What are you doing here, Shinigami?"

She had heard the words being spoken, but being a 'ghost' as she was, unseeable to most, had ignored them, assuming the voice to be speaking to somebody else. That was, up until the very last word was spoken. Startled at somebody calling her out by her status as a member of the Gotei 13, military of the afterlife, she turned her body and head around in a jolt in the direction of the voice, standing below her close to the base of the pole she currently was propped up on.

All she could ascertain was the figure was male by his voice. His body was far more slender and feminine in appearance, disguised by a cloak almost uniformly white in appearance, with a hood donned over the man's face. All she could make out from the light of the street lamps were two dark eyes, boring into her own grey.

Anticipating her natural curiosity, the figure raised its arms to remove its hood, and she continued staring. A young human male of approximately teenage age coolly stared back at her, his small blue eyes stationary compared to what she felt were her own darting grey irises. Near-shoulder length dark hair framed his narrow, almost-perfectly angular face.

She must have been staring too long because his eyes narrowed, the surrounding skin folding in on itself, and he spoke, his voice noticeably angry. "I ask you again, what are you doing here, Shinigami? Your kind isn't needed here."

Of all the nerve! she thought to herself, a tic developing on her forehead. She pushed that thought aside and went on autofire, questioning him, "Who are you? More importantly, how can you see me?" No normal human should have been able to see her unless she was inhabiting a gigai.

"Me?" The figure asked back, mockery subtly laced in his tone, a smirk working its way across his lean features. "I am this town's guardian, something I do not need any help with in the least. Tell me, Shinigami, just how many Hollows have you killed or even sensed in the last few months?"

She hadn't been here for months, only a few weeks, but the mere question still tripped her danger senses in a flash. In less than the blink of an eye, she moved to stand in front of him, zanpakuto out and at the ready in case she needed to use it...only to find the man no longer there, instead standing on the street side opposite her, a narrow road separating the two. He gave a few brief tssks, raising his right hand to his face, fingers sliding up to the bridge of his nose. "Not just a shinigami, I see, but a rude one. Attacking me after I ask a few questions. The last shinigami stationed here, useless oaf he was, at least had the good sense to stay out of my way."

The words hit her with a sting, and she started clenching her teeth, fingers shaking as they turned white in their tight grip around her zanpakuto hilt, before she finally let it all out in a holler. "Who do you think you are, you asshole?! What do you have to do with the lack of Hollows around here?"

His eyes gleamed with delight, as if he were demented. "Simple, I am a Quincy...the Last Quincy." Seeing her flinch was all the proof he needed. "I see you know of the Quincy. You should know we were masters of reiatsu manipulation, unlike you stupid Shinigami. As a Quincy, I am able to feel jibakureis once they have partially developed into Hollows, while your inferior senses only tell you when there is a fully-developed Hollow around. Since I eliminate any jibakureis before they have a chance to grow further, there has not been a Hollow in Karakura Town in three months."

She reeled at the Quincy's statement, taking a few steps back until her body was up against the power pole, eyes wide open with shock. "Three whole months?" She mouthed, astonished. "No wonder my radar never picked up any Hollows since I got here!" To her dismay, that last sentence was said out loud enough to be picked up by the newcomer.

The white-cloaked self-proclaimed guardian of Karakura Town snorted, before sneering at her, turning his face ugly, "Radar? You rely on a radar? You cannot even detect Hollows on your own? My, how the mighty Shinigami have fallen these days."

"Y-y-you!" She stuttered as she looked at him again, her anger coming faster than her words, creating a disconnect between mind and tongue. "Y-you! At least we don't outright destroy souls with our zanpakuto!" Her face lit up at a thought, something that could abridge the two opposing sides here – her captain had always taught her to make peace, not war, wherever possible (unless it was a Hollow, of course). "Hey, wait a minute! If you can spot jibakureis, you can direct me to them ahead of time. That way I can purify them instead of-"

"There will be need for that," The teenager interrupted her in his condescending tone, brushing aside a few loose strands of hair as his fingers found the bridge of his nose again, before bringing his hand back down in front of him in a flourish. "I learned how to make my arrows purify instead of destroy ages ago."

Her jaw dropped at that. Those who had actually paid attention in the Spiritual Arts Academy's history class knew why the Quincy had been ordered exterminated. The Quincy had been several thousand strong at the time, and if even a one of those thousands had devised a way to do what the Shinigami could do, the whole affair could have been avoided. And this...this boy (she was already over a hundred and fifty, even if her physical appearance was that of a teenager – she felt she could quite rightly call him that) had managed to come up with something his more experienced predecessors had not?

It was simply outrageous.

So caught up in her internal thoughts she was, she barely missed him speak again. "So as you can see, stupid Shinigami, you are not needed here. Go back from whence you came, tell your superiors Karakura Town needs no Shinigami."

Red coated her vision for a few seconds, before the hazy curtain passed, her zanpakuto whispering sweet murmurs into her mind to calm down. Eyes readjusting, she forced her head to stop shaking and her teeth to stop chattering at the slight against herself and the implied one against her division and the Gotei 13 as a whole, only to nearly reignite she saw the Quincy boy walking away, his white attire sticking out in the pallor light of the surrounding streetlamps. That bastard, she thought to herself, How dare he walk away just like that?

It took a considerable amount of effort to restrain her choicer words (no matter how angry she got, it was still forbidden to kill a human without a very good reason, and she had a feeling getting into a war of words with him would quickly escalate into something she would regret) and call out at him, "What is your name, Quincy boy?"

The Quincy barely graced her with one last look before continuing to walk away, finally speaking out loud as he turned to move again, "You may call me the Hermit." He had paid no attention to her calling him a mere boy.

Quietly, watching the Quincy who titled himself as Hermit walk away, she was startled again to realise his footsteps made no noise. Only the chirping of cicadas and the soft breeze pierced the silence of night.

She should report this to her Captain. He would be interested to hear about this so-called Last Quincy, and how he had taken it upon himself to purge Karakura Town of Hollow presence. The Gotei 13 did not like any other spiritually-aware entities stepping on their toes, and this was more like her stomping on her fellow 3rd Seat's toes whenever he got out of hand. The Quincy could have been lying about his arrows purifying instead of exterminating Hollows. She really should direct this to somebody of higher authority, who would probably send the task off to investigation by the 2nd Division.

But natural curiosity won out, as she turned to walk in the direction opposite that the Quincy had gone, intent on finding the local supply outpost for Shinigami posted in the real world. She had a gigai to retrieve and a mystery to solve, and Kiyone Kotetsu would stop at nothing to unravel it.


Scene Two

One day, The Fool was made to wander. Eighty years later, The World would never be the same.

As befit schools in all large metropolises, Karakura High School was an enormous bustling centre of learning, its four thousand students cramped into two five-story buildings spread out over a campus the size of a city block.

Due to the highly competitive nature of Japan's culture, students came and went rapidly, whether themselves seeking to find a potentially better location for learning, or as a result of a father's job transfer to or from the sleepy western Tokyo suburb. As such, it was routine for the class to have new students introduced shortly into the school year.

"Class, this is our new student," Ochi-sensei said, bright cheer decorating her features as many of her students groaned at being up so early in the morning. "She came from Kyoto, please treat her well!"

Said new transfer practically bounced with energy towards the whiteboard. Lifting up the marker, she cheerily greeted the class, "Good morning, everybody! My name is Ko-tet-su Ki-yo-ne," She enunciated every syllable as she wrote down her name. Turning around to look at the class, she listened to the whispers of gossip going on about her.

"Another person with orange hair?"

"Nah, I think she's more blonde than orange."

"I thought Ichigo was one of a kind, then I came here and I saw Orihime-san and I guess it was two-of-a-kind, is there a plague going on that makes your hair orange or something?"

"What do we call orange-haired people? Orangettes? Orangutans?"

"I swear I will goddamn hurt you later for that."

Kiyone's eyebrow twitched.

Ochi-sensei made to look around the class for an empty spot, even though there was only a single seat available. "Well, Kotetsu-san, why don't you take a seat behind young Ishida-san back there? He is our number one student, if you ever need help, you can ask him. I hope to see you do well."

Kiyone narrowed her eyes at seeing just who 'Ishida-san' was, not that she didn't already know. Scrunching her face back up into the pose of innocent naiveté, she turned back to her teacher and gave her a brief curtsy and a rushed "Thank you!" before walking down with her bag and sitting down behind Uryu Ishida.

Kiyone was a girl, and like nearly all girls, she was naturally attuned to the unstoppable force known only as gossip. She was keenly aware of what it would look like if she was to jump on Ishida right away while people were still buzzing about her and surveying her. Instead, she waited a few minutes for the looks to drop and turn to the lecturing teacher before leaning forward and whispering to the Quincy who fancied himself Hermit, "I don't know what you think you're doing, but you should stay out of our work. You have classes to attend and supposedly you're the top-scoring student in this class, you wouldn't want to jeopardise that, would you?" She asked, topping it off with what she thought was her most devilish grin, even though Ishida wasn't looking at her.

A few seconds passed without a reply. Then, once Oshi-sensei turned her head back to the whiteboard to start drawing a diagram, Ishida turned his head back slightly towards Kiyone. "Hmm, you say something?"

Her eyebrow twitched again.


Scene Three

When The World was about to fall, Strength held it up on its shoulders.

Three and a half hours later, once the lunch break had arrived, she confronted him a little more forcefully once he had gone outside onto the school grounds with a lunch basket.

"Alright, what the hell do you think you're doing," Kiyone spat out, trying to sound forceful. "Do you really think the Gotei 13 isn't going to notice the lack of Hollows showing up here sooner or later? We have a Research Institute, they'll find it odd, and then somebody will be sent to investigate. In fact," She crossed her arms, "If I were somebody else I would have already reported this to my superiors. You should thank me, if you stop now and let me take over you can save yourself a whole bunch of trouble." Surely blackmail would work!

In response, Ishida merely looked up from his lunch, which he had spread out over a picnic blanket (and which Kiyone had to visibly refrain from staring at, lest she salivate too much and let her stomach overpower her brain), and commented, "Not just a stupid Shinigami, but a stupid stalker Shinigami."

"Y-you!" Her face started turning red, both with embarrassment and anger, as she ran forward to lash out at him. This basically amounted to her wailing with her fists against his arm, which he used to block any hits against his chest.

"Not just a stupid stalker Shinigami, but a stupid stalker psychotic Shinigami," he appended his earlier statement, standing up and catching her wrists with his own hands before she could strike out at him again. "Enough, you!" Kiyone still tried to fidget and break free of his grip, and he held tight until he felt her arms grow limp as she gave up the good fight. "Who set you up with a gigai again, that old man in the hat-and-clogs?"

Kiyone paused, having just about to start an onslaught of angry words to substitute for the fists that were currently incapacitated (while restraining herself from thinking about how a guy was holding her hands lest it cause her to blush uncontrollably), and thought about what Ishida had just said. The words clicked in her head. "Oh, you know Urahara-baka as well?"

"All too well," Ishida reponsed, finally freeing his grip on her wrists and watching satisfactorily as they fell to her side instead of attempting to strike him again. Bringing a hand up to push his glasses back up to the bridge of his nose (he hadn't been wearing glasses last night, she noticed), he continued, "Given you already showed yourself to be a stupid Shinigami, you probably needed to track me down, and I'm sure he was all too willing to supply the name and location of the Last Quincy." He added one last mutter under his breath, which Kiyone barely caught, "The fool."

It was a good thing for Kiyone that she was already flushed with anger and exertion and embarrassment over the Quincy's insults, or else her face might have lit up as red as a Christmas light as she remembered all too well Urahara's antics. The sandy-blonde had poked and prodded at her gigai body, made to be a near replica of her spiritual self's appearance, making comments laced with innuendo all while giggling. Were she not aware that he was quite dangerous, she would have been tempted to attack him with the same disregarding of self as she had just attempted on Ishida.

But if Ishida knew Urahara, a supposed former member of the Research Institute (or so he claimed), then it was quite possible his Quincy arrows could purify instead of destroy. And if that was the case, and if he could find souls partially but not wholly transformed into Hollows and purify them before they became a problem, then, well...what use precisely was she?

No! Kiyone affirmed to herself. She couldn't allow defeatist thinking.

"Stupid shinigami, are you paying attention?"

Broken out of her inner thoughts, she growled at Ishida, stepping forward into his personal space, "Stop calling me that! I have a name, you know! I said it in class! It's Ki-yo-ne!"

"Still a stupid shinigami to me, but I'll comply, Kotetsu-san," Ishida replied acerbically, and somehow Kiyone expected that to be the best she would get. "Since you seem to be slow on the uptake, let me get this straight. I hate, abhor, loathe, despise Shinigami."

His attitude towards the Gotei 13 had already been communicated to her before, but hearing it so bluntly stated, Kiyone staggered back, eyes wide open at the sudden hate in his voice. The man continued, seemingly unaware of her near-paralysis. "My grandfather was the last known active Quincy. The Shinigami had to have known of his whereabouts and doings at all times. So it was a surprise when, one day, we were attacked by nearly a hundred Hollows and it took the Shinigami two hours to respond."

Her eyes continued to widen as he continued his tale, "My grandfather, blessed be his soul, wanted what little was left of the Quincy, him, and me, a Quincy-in-training, to cooperate with the Shinigami. We could track the growth of demi-Hollows, and we could fend off the fully-grown Hollows without outright killing them until a Shinigami could show up to finish the job of purification. And instead of taking him up on his offer, the Shinigami let him die through their deliberate negligence, as he died from the exertion of killing so many Hollows. So you see," He pushed his glasses back up again, a habit that seemed to be ingrained in him, "I swore never to need the help of a Shinigami. I studied the Quincy arrows until I could make the pierce and purify instead of cut and extinguish. I am better than you stupid Shinigami, I am faster, and I have kept Hollow attacks in this town at zero."

"You are not needed here, but it is my understanding you are posted here anyways. Why don't you just consider this a vacation for yourself, go shopping and touring in the real world, and stay out of my way, you stupid Shinigami. Now, leave so I may eat my lunch."

He sat down, partaking of the food he had spread out, not even bothering to look up at Kiyone. The orange-haired girl herself didn't dare look at him, only sparing a parting glance at the food before walking away. She wasn't even consciously controlling her body, the gigai going on autopilot as she found a large tree to sit down against.

Her body shook as she choked back a sob. The Quincy must have been only a tenth of her age, and yet he had clinically torn her down to pieces without even meaning to. Shinigami history said the Quincies had been exterminated, but from the neutral written perspective, it had barely phased her. The spoken testimony of the Last Quincy as to the death of his grandfather was something altogether different.

And...and, and, and if he was doing such a good job protecting Karakura Town here, on the side while regularly going to school...just what use was she?


Scene Four

The Fool guides The Wheel through Life.

"Ah, if it isn't The Wheel," The mysterious shopkeeper said, swinging his paper fan shut with a flick of the wrist as one of his favorite faux-customers came in. "Want a candy?" He stuck out his tongue, showing the yellow sweet he was currently sucking on.

"Yeah yeah yeah, why do you have to call us those names anyways?" The temperamental newcomer growled. "You're the only person who uses them, the rest of us would have been fine with simpler codenames. I already get enough third wheel jokes from Keigo."

"Is that so?" The blonde-haired man asked as he worked up more saliva from his mouth to wet his sweet, walking around to the front of the counter, using his cane as a support in the process. "The Hermit had no problem with giving it to the new Shinigami girl."

"In case you didn't realise it, which I know you did, Ishida gave her that name because his real name isn't something he exactly wants to hand out like your disturbing propensity to push candy on us." He hissed in reply. "A caution you decided to throw to the wind, and apparently give the school and class Ishida went to as well." The teenager crossed his arms, giving out a loud, exasperated sigh. "At least I know just how well The Fool suits you."

"Mah, mah, Ichi-kun, that's so hurtful," Kisuke brought his free hand up to his chest, for all the world trying to act wounded, before his face suddenly tightened and his eyes narrowed. "So what did you need anyways?" His legs, previously shifted so much of his upper body weight was held up by his cane, now were positioned apart in a battle-ready stance.

"That new Shinigami," Ichigo replied, his voice deceptively calm, concealing the annoyed tone underneath, "I nearly had a panic attack when she stepped right into our classroom. I was coming to warn you about this, only for Ishida to intercept me and reveal that you deliberately set her on us. I requested Mi-fine, Temperance, He amended after seeing the widening eyes of Kisuke as he dared to use a person's real name instead of his codename, "To go after this Kiyone, after I heard about the tongue-lashing she got from Ishida. You know it's only because of Orihime that our school doesn't attract Hollows, right?" He had decided to refrain from indulging Kisuke in his codename fancy for the rest of the conversation.

"Yes, yes, her ability to reject," Kisuke had his straight face on still, as he set his cane up against the wall, turning back around to face Ichigo once more. "I had no worries. I tested Karakura High many times over. Orihime's power does not seem to degenerate, though I only have data for a full year. Even if there is the slightest chance of it somehow failing, the kido Tessai and I put in should work. After all," He looked around his shop, his brief sigh wistful, "How else could this shop have been here for so long if our kido was imperfect?" It was true. Urahara Shoten was only the second residence he had taken up in his time in the living world, the first building having been destroyed in the war.

He continued, "And as I have mentioned before, both techniques are absolute. Outside of that school, you cannot sense anything inside. Inside that school, you can sense what is going on outside, but inside is still essentially a spiritual dead zone. There was no chance of Kotetsu Kiyone-chan sensing any of you, and that's why Ishida has always been told to play the role of Karakura's resident guardian if ever questioned, because as a Quincy he is the one person who nobody will question if they cannot feel him, and when you are outside of the school...well..." He trailed off.

Ichigo let the conversation drop, his annoyance slowly draining, his stature becoming straight in the process. But the strength of his glare still bore into Kisuke. "You're planning again, aren't you, Urahara Kisuke?" The aforementioned Kisuke winced. It was not often Ichigo used anybody's full name like that, and when he did, it meant Ichigo was pissed. "You're scheming something and not letting the rest of us in so we won't spoil it." He surveyed the shop, noting not what was there but rather what wasn't. "I see none of your shopkeepers are around. Tessai, Ururu, Jinta, where are all of them? I didn't even seen Yoruichi outside, and she normally likes soaking in sunny days like this. Even your newest helper is missing."

"Hmmph," Kisuke barked out a laugh. "You know me too well, Ichigo." The cane was back in his hands in a flash, as he continued speaking. "Dark clouds are approaching. I had a feeling that things would come to a head soon with Big Brother, so Yoruichi and Tessai are in the Seireitei." That they were on reconnaissance didn't need to be said out loud. "As for Ururu and Jinta, they're down in the basement with our new friend." A hand went up to his hat, as he brought down the rim to cover his face. He did not want one of his trusted confidantes to see the shame in his eyes at bringing such younger children into a potential war situation, even if he had rescued them off the streets, "I don't want them to get involved in what is to come, but if he chooses to force the issue, I want them prepared."

"Noble words, for a man who hides his nobility," Ichigo nodded, satisfied at having once more seen the hidden side of the man he called friend, teacher, older brother. "I'll take your leave to go down there and check them out myself," Seeing a nod from Kisuke, he strode past the blonde, adding in one jab, "And by the way...please don't make a 1984 reference in the future. It's really disturbing to hear from a centuries-old Shinigami."

"So hurtful!" Kisuke cried out again to somebody who really wasn't paying attention.


Scene Five

Death finds life ironic.

There were many advantages to gigai. The main one was being able to take a physical form in the material world so those other than the spiritually aware could see, physically interact and communicate with you.

There was also being able to eat as much ice cream as you wanted without getting fat.

It was the latter which Kiyone found herself taking as she was into her third bowl of the afternoon. Ice cream had truly magical powers, like keeping at bay the depressive funk that was threatening to come on. The local delicacies were also far more appealing than the singular option of vanilla that was available in Seiretei (in a society where even the youngest soul was at least fifty years old, food culture moved along very slowly).

Putting another spoonful in her mouth, she let out a deep breath, sitting back against the cushioned booth. Allowing the ice cream to melt on her tongue, she savoured the flavour. Closing her eyes, she basked in the warm rays of sunlight shining through the diner window. Truly, this was bliss. Far better than thinking about a sickly captain or a hardass vice-captain or an annoying fellow 3rd seat, or an uppity Quincy.

"Ah, I see you've already discovered one of my favorite places in Karakura."

Kiyone's eyes flew open, placing a face to the voice that had just spoken. "Ah...you're, um..." She faltered.

"I'm Mizuiro, Kojima Mizuiro," The black-haired teen introduced himself as he brought his hands up to pluck out earphone buds hidden by his long bangs. Without invitation, he took the seat opposite Kiyone, grabbing the menu off to the side. That was alright, though, as he managed the look of a mild-mannered, relaxed teenager, "You may remember me as Keigo's friend who was standing off to the side."

"Keigo? Oh," Kiyone's face contorted. She could match that name to a face fairly well. The most surprising part of the whole incident was that nobody had even looked up as the brown-haired boy had wailed on the floor about the fate of his poor, wounded shin, which she had kicked in response to his poor attempts to charm her. Clearly casual violence like that was somehow tolerated in Class 1-3.

"If he attempts something like that again, just call him Asano-san," Mizuiro advised, while flicking a hand out to catch the interest of a passing waitress. "He hates it when we call him that and he'll get into a funk long enough to forget about trying to ask you out." As the waitress came over, he turned the menu over, pointing his finger halfway down on the deserts list, "Can I get this item to stay, please?"

"Certainly," said the waitress before she left off in a hurry.

"You've been here before?" Kiyone asked, having seen how the high school student opposite her hadn't even needed to look at the menu prior to ordering. "Wait, of course you have. You just said this was one of your favorite places in Karakura."

"Yes, the ice cream here is especially good, as I notice you've found out," He remarked, blue eyes shifting to his right, and Kiyone blushed, suddenly self-aware of the two empty bowls sitting behind her half-full one. "It isn't a particularly popular hang-out, but some of us in 1-3 like the place for after-hours and weekend get-togethers. I'm sure you had one or two such places in Kyoto."

Kiyone froze up, mind suddenly going into overdrive, before she forced her gigai to thaw out, and she released a soft breath. Finally, she spoke, relying on the few bits of history she had studied in the Seireitei on modern Japan, but more on the one trip she had made to Kyoto about, oh, a few decades back? "Yes, I did. I never realised how modernised the rest of Japan had become, architecturally, until I left Kyoto. Back in the old capital, there are machiya all over the place, and many of the Imperial buildings, especially the Imperial Palace, and the Tô-ji. My father insisted I come here to Karakura to study, saying it wouldn't do to get culture shock from living in one of the prefectures."

"Ah," Mizuiro nodded, "We don't have much for culture in Karakura Town. I like to think it's made up for by our more colourful characters. You've already met Asano-san, of course."

"Oh?" Kiyone queried, a giggle slipping from her before she could restrain herself from it. Mentally, she reprimanded herself – here she was, chatting it up with a human a tenth her age, falling far too easily into the schoolgirl persona she had taken up simply to speak up-front with the Quincy, Uryu Ishida. But that man's devastating onslaught of words had affected her, and with her limited psychoanalysis abilities, she guessed she was leaning onto her fake role as a crutch. "Do tell."

"Well, Keigo has a big sister complex," Mizuiro whispered in a hush tone, hunched over the side of the table. "Don't ever say that to him that or he'll overreact. He overreacts to everything, but he'll especially overreact to that." Leaning back up again, he accepted a cup of coffee from the waitress, who had come by again. Pouring some cream in, he stirred his coffee. "Inoue Orihime, is a very nice, very pleasant girl, honestly the nicest person I have ever met. She's the girl with the orange hair, and yes, it is natural."

Breathing softly across the surface of his coffee cup, he took a brief sip before setting the cup back on the table. "But whenever you talk to Orihime, you absolutely must keep an open mind. Orihime is, well, how should I put it?..." Delicately, he looked inward for the words, and Kiyone raised an eyebrow at the intense focus on his face. "Very free-spirited, very creative. Just a few days ago, for an assignment where you draw yourself as you envision yourself in the future, she drew herself as a robot in post-apocalyptic Tokyo."

After his rapt audience had her brief fit of giggles, Mizuiro continued, "And if she ever, ever, ever offers you lunch, do absolutely nothing to hurt her feelings, but gently try to let her down. Orihime has the most bizarre palate I imagine I will ever see. Only yesterday she was offering egg sandwiches with melted chocolate and Chinese cabbage."

The palling of Kiyone's face was enough for Mizuiro to be satisfied the message had gotten across. "I said to not hurt her feelings, and that's not just because we all genuinely like Orihime, her quirks aside. Her best friend, Arisawa Tatsuki, protects her from anybody she sees as attempting to bully Orihime. She is a bit, erm, aggressive in that pursuit," He allowed, drinking some more of his coffee in between sentences. "But she's a good person as well."

"Not so good? That would be Reiichi Oshima," Mizuiro said, finishing off with a slight growl, and Kiyone was taken aback as a young man who had thus far presented himself to be mild-mannered and pleasant to chat with for once showed a hint of negativity. "He's a big bully, and not the sort that tries to verbally bully you, but the one who literally carries around brass knuckles, and uses numbers to intimidate others. If you ever run awry of him, don't fret – you can talk to Tatsuki, or Ichigo, or Chad."

"Who are those other two, sorry?" Kiyone asked, curious, but also trying to find a way to lead Mizuiro to talking about Ishida. "I'm afraid you'll have to put names to their faces for me."

"Ah, my apologies," Mizuiro gave a small bow of his head, "Ichigo is the guy who's always scowling, and has orange head." Now Kiyone remembered, she had remarked for a moment that he looked amazingly like Kaien Shiba had decades before. "Yasutora Sado, we call him Chad usually, is the big guy, over six feet tall, who has already got a bit of facial hair. Heh," Placing both hands around his warm cup of coffee, he seemed to stare into the distance. "I remember meeting them both, the day I first attended Karakura High School. They came from a different Junior High School, and had a reputation as thugs. Keigo was worried when they barged in, but was convinced otherwise when they beat up Oshima and kept his bullying antics to a low since."

"What about that one guy, Ishida-san was it?" Kiyone asked, only to kick herself mentally for asking such a question so abruptly. Oh well, what was done was done. "I never really saw him talk once throughout the day."

Mizuiro leaned back, scratching his cheek idly with his finger, eyes rolling up to look at the diner ceiling. "Ishida-san? We all call him by his last name, we wouldn't even know his first name if it weren't for attendance rolls I swear. He's a quiet guy, keeps to himself except for the handicrafts club, where he sews, and apparently he's the top student in the class, if not the grade. I honestly can't say I've ever seen him out of school, he doesn't hang out with people much I guess."

Darn, Kiyone thought to herself, That's not very much to go on. Well, except for the fact that uppity Quincy was keeping Karakura Town Hollow-free while going to school and being the top student! Then the rest of Mizuiro's debriefing caught up with her and she raised an eyebrow again, smirking, "Sewing?"

Mizuiro shrugged. "That's his prerogative. Orihime says he's rather good at it. But what about you, Kiyone-san? Who did you leave behind in Kyoto?"

"Ah, call me Kiyone, please," She replied, stalling for time to come up with a response. It would be rather impolite for the teen opposite her to describe a quarter of the classroom and her not to reply in kind. Finally, she decided to throw all caution to the wind. "Well, probably the person I miss most was my senpai, Juushiro." Dreamily, she scooped up the liquid-part of the ice cream out of her bowl, taking a sip of the melted dairy treat. "He's such a nice, kind man, everybody else looks up to him, and they always came to him for advice."

"You must have really liked him, then," Mizuiro observed.

Already, Kiyone was feeling invigorated by the conversation, as she remembered just who was all waiting for her in Soul Society. "Yes, I did. He was an inspiration to us all. If he has asked us a favour, we would have set everything aside to help." Snapping back to attention, she felt a bit of embarrassment at how freely she had expressed her devotion to her captain to a person she had only talked to for the lesser part of an hour, even if she was obfuscating everything by casting him as an upperclassman in a human school. She decided to move on. "And then there was...no sorry, then there was a close friend of mine, part-time rival."

"Ah, a frenemy," Mizuiro observed.

The sandy-blonde stared back at him. Was that some sort of new human terminology? Skipping over that thought, she continued, "His name is Sentarô, and he is - was extremely annoying, constantly trying to compete with me over everything, and I mean everything. I hit his toes on so many occasions," She freely admitted in a sing-song voice.

"Uh...yeah," Mizuiro responded carefully in the first break from the innocent manner he had shown all conversation long.

"Yeah, there were lots of people back in Kyoto," Kiyone sighed, mentally substituting the Gotei 13 for Kyoto. Many of the people in the 13th Division, Hidetomo-san, Yuki-san, heck, even that one girl who had been pulled out of the 13th division several decades ago - what was her name again? Oh well, it didn't matter. "But I hope to make new friends here in Karakura," She added in a rather ham-fisted manner. "I do have three years here, after all!" She swallowed a lump in her throat at the lie that passed through it so easily. More like three months to finish serving out the tour of duty for that incompent Zennosuke...not that she had ended up being any more competent, now that a Quincy was around.

"That shouldn't be a problem," Mizuiro said, taking a brief glance at the timepiece on his wrist. "I'm confident you'll fit in. In any case," He said, reaching down into his pocket and grabbing couple of yen notes out, "I need to leave before Asano-san throws a fit about me ditching him. Will you be here the same time tomorrow?"

Kiyone blinked. Was this human boy really asking..."Yes, I will be," She affirmed in a moment of battle between a full century of military discipline and the desire to genuinely get a vacation out of this tour of duty.

It was a considerably more upbeat Kiyone that left the diner later. She would only later realise just how quickly and earnestly she had taken the Quincy's words to consider her posting a vacation to heart.


Author Notes

Scene One

Before the revelation that this is Kiyone Kotetsu in the last paragraph, there are a total of two hints that this isn't Rukia. The more blatant is in the second-to-last paragraph when she talks about her 'fellow' 3rd seat. The second is the mention of her 'sister', but since Rukia has a sister as well and this is supposed to be heavily AU one would assume Hisana is perhaps still alive. The 13th division is mentioned once, and Ukitake is mentioned once, though not by name (and 'white-haired captain' could refer to 3 people).

Kiyone being here instead of Rukia is plot-relevant, not just a change made to deviate the plot from canon more.

'Jibakureis' was translated as 'Demi-Hollow' in English. One appears in the Don Kanonji arc, and it is roughly a Plus that has partially gone through the Hollow transformation but is not completely one.

Ishida isn't wearing glasses in this scene. Every time he pushes the bridge of his nose is a result of his habit of pushing his glasses up when he is wearing them.

No matter what Ishida says about jibakureis and being 'the' guardian of Karakura Town, don't take everything he says at face value. There is a reason he is goading Kiyone beyond his normally acerbic attitude towards Shinigami.

Scenes Two and Three

Kiyone does not have many appearances in canon, but she sufficed as a 3rd seat meaning she had some skills to replace Rukia. With only a few appearances, some personality had to be built for her, and so she was basically make a genki girl who performs stupid actions a lot, though she can think strategically. Additionally, as the two Karakura Town patrols in Chapter 530 have not yet had their division specified, it was believed that only the 13th specifically patrolled Karakura (Rukia, Zennosuke and Ryunosuke are all 13th division members), so using somebody from the 13th made sense.

If Ishida spilling his life story appears a little fast, it is meant to be that way.

Scene Four

Originally, Ishida was supposed to show up along with Ichigo in this scene. Writing him out turned out to be a good choice. It was a bit touch-and-go with keeping Kisuke in character as much as I could as well.

I realised something that seemed like a contradiction but isn't. Kiyone earlier questioned Ishida if he knew Urahara when she got Ishida's name and location from Urahara. She's just assuming here that Urahara likes to keep tabs on everything in Karakura, and that he could know about the Last Quincy without the Last Quincy knowing about him.

Regarding the italicised quote at the top...reading up on Tarot Card symbolism may just confuse you more

Scene Five

The very first scene of this story takes place about a week after the start of what would have been Chapter 1 of the manga. Therefore, Orihime would have already done her crazy robot picture by now.