Chapter 1: The New Officer
Chapter One: The New Officer
Yumichika stifled a bored yawn as he and Ikkaku walked in the direction of their squad's central meeting room. Today was the day that a new member was to be inducted among their ranks, as the sixth seated officer of Squad 11. The timing was odd, as new officers were usually appointed around the same time as the graduates from the academy were divvied up amongst the thirteen squads and graduation was still a few months off. However, with things going the way they had during the Winter War it was really no surprise that several squads had decided to promote new officers into their ranks early.
So many of the lower-ranked officers had perished against Aizen and his forces that it wasn't uncommon to hear people joking about the so-called 'Sixth Seat Curse.' The belief was that you were only truly safe if you were ranked fifth seat or above, as no one holding such rankings had met their end in the fierce battle. Unless you counted Kaname Tousen, who had once been a captain.
Tousen had met his end at the hands of Captain Zaraki, a fact which caused nearly all the members of his squad to walk about even more proudly than usual when they returned home. Ikkaku had lamented not being there to witness the former captain's demise, but Yumichika had assured him that he likely didn't miss much because he doubted it had been a very beautiful ending. It was Captain Zaraki who had killed him, after all, and the man was the most barbaric member in all of the Gotei 13.
"So who do you think the new guy is?" Ikkaku asked, carrying his sword across his shoulders the way he always used to when wandering around Rukongai looking for a fight.
"I don't know," Yumichika replied, running a hand back through his impeccably-groomed hair. "Personally, I can't think of a single person within our squad who would be worth promoting."
"I heard he's not from our squad," Ikkaku remarked.
"Oh?" Yumichika asked, turning to his friend, his curiosity piqued. "Which squad sent him over as punishment, then?"
They both knew very well that Squad 11 was where all the 'problem' shinigami got shipped off to when their captains no longer wanted to deal with them. Renji Abarai had been sent to them by Aizen after constantly getting into fights as a member of Squad 5, as had many others over the years.
"Does it really matter?" Ikkaku wondered. "As long as the guy can fight, who cares where he came from?"
"Fair point," Yumichika conceded, recalling the speech Captain Zaraki had made the day they came under his command. It didn't matter where they were from, or what their lives had been like before joining the squad. All that mattered was that they were strong and could fight.
He knew that he and Ikkaku could easily head a division of their own, as skilled as they both were in combat, but Ikkaku had pledged a vow of loyalty to Zaraki before they had even come to serve under the captain's command and Yumichika had sworn an oath of lifelong partnership to his bald friend after he'd saved him from nearly being killed – and worse – when they first met in the slums of Soul Society. He'd been young and inexperienced with a sword then, but through observing Ikkaku had learned much about the skills and techniques required to be a good fighter. By the time they'd happened upon Kenpachi Zaraki, he'd been more than capable of holding his own in a fight and had to restrain himself from going to the aid of the man who had saved his own life years before. Now here they were, over a hundred years later, still serving under the same man whose blade had nearly taken his best friend's life.
"Let's get this over with," Ikkaku grumbled when they finally reached the assembly hall. Yumichika couldn't help but smile, knowing the other man hated any sort of formality and would likely much rather be off napping somewhere than attending the induction ceremony. It was part of their job to be there, though, as seated officers of the squad, so Yumichika had insisted they go. Ikkaku had been resistant, until it was pointed out to him that the new squad member might be someone worth sparring with.
Yumichika opened the door and allowed Ikkaku to proceed into the hall before him, since he was the higher-ranked of the two of them. He closed the door once more upon entering behind him and looked around at the others who had gathered for the occasion, slightly dismayed by their lacking numbers. Before the war, the entire room would have nearly been filled to capacity with the burly men of Captain Zaraki's squad. However, their squad members hadn't been immune to the giant blast that had taken out a good portion of soldiers in the battlefield, and now at least a third of their men were gone.
The captain sat at the head of the room, his posture slouched and his mouth set in a scowl. His hair was styled in its usual spiked fashion, with the bells he so painstakingly placed at the tips of each section. Yumichika still found it amusing that such an imposing man wore bells in his hair, of all things, even if the reason for wearing them made sense. Sitting next to the captain was his lieutenant, Yachiru Kusajishi. The diminutive, pink-haired girl waved cheerfully upon seeing them enter, grinning as she let out a child-like giggle.
"Heya, Yumi-kun! Baldy! You made it just in time," she called to them. Yumichika felt his partner's temper flare at the nickname, and laid a hand on his arm to remind him not to show his anger or else the teasing would only get worse.
"Yeah, we're here," Ikkaku replied as civilly as he could through clenched teeth. "So where's this new guy?"
"Not here yet," Zaraki answered in his naturally gruff voice. "Should be here any minute, though."
"Tch, not even here yet?" Ikkaku muttered as he and Yumichika took their places on the other side of the captain, standing and facing the door as they awaited the new officer's arrival. "And you said we'd better hurry or we'd be late."
"Stop complaining," Yumichika said with a sigh. "I purposely gave you the wrong time so we'd be sure to make it here with a few minutes to spare."
"Why the hell would you do that?" Ikkaku asked, turning to glare at him.
"Because you have never been very punctual, and we'd look bad if we walked in during the middle of the ceremony," he answered in a slightly condescending tone, his eyes still fixed on the door.
"You know, Yumichika, you're the only person in this whole squad who even gives a damn about shit like that."
Yumichika turned toward him, about to give him another lecture on the importance of them setting a good example for the others as officers of the squad, but the sound of footsteps approaching rapidly outside drew his attention back toward the entrance of the assembly hall. They stopped abruptly upon reaching the doors, and everyone fell silent in their conversations about the room as they anticipated the entry of their new officer. After a moment of complete silence, the doors finally slid open and Yumichika raised an eyebrow as the others began resuming their previous conversations and Ikkaku scoffed next to him.
"Just some stupid messenger girl," he grumbled. "Probably here to tell us our new officer is going to be late."
Captain Zaraki let out a low chuckle, and Yumichika looked over at him and found him smirking at Ikkaku's comment. His eyes went a bit wide as he returned his attention to the girl who had just entered. She was small in stature, with ebony-colored hair pulled into a messy knot at the back of her head which was secured with two delicately-carved wooden chopsticks – save for her bangs, which fell down across the right side of her face and into her brown eyes. The way she carried herself as she walked into the room suggested that she wasn't from the slums, but likely born of the aristocracy within the seireitei itself. It was hard to believe someone of such social standing could be a mere messenger, which meant only one thing...
"Kitty-chan!" Yachiru called, waving happily at the woman much like she had when greeting him and Ikkaku. "You're here!"
"I'm sorry if I'm late, Captain Zaraki," the woman apologized, bowing deeply before the large man. "Lieutenant Abarai asked to see me prior to coming here today."
"Still trying to talk you out of this, is he?" Zaraki asked with a touch of humor in his voice. "What did you tell him?"
"Simply that Captain Kuchiki has already agreed to the transfer, so it's no longer up for discussion," she told him, smiling.
"Wait... Transfer?" Ikkaku said, blinking several times in shock as he turned to his captain for an explanation. "You mean to tell me this is..."
"Finally figured it out, didja?" Zaraki remarked, his grin widening at the looks of surprise on the faces of his third and fifth seat officers.
"Men! Listen up!" he bellowed, silencing everyone else in the room and drawing their attention toward him. "The reason we're here today is to introduce you all to your new sixth seat officer."
Yachiru hopped up from her seat next to the captain and went to the woman, grabbed her hand, and turned her around so she was facing all of the shinigami present. Still holding her hand, the tiny lieutenant pointed to her as she grinned happily.
"This is Kitty-chan!" she announced brightly, causing the woman's pale skin to gradually turn pink. "Everyone be nice to her!"
The room was suddenly full of the sound of murmuring voices, most of them sounding skeptical. A few people laughed, and one even whistled as he moved toward the front of the room.
"Way to go, Captain!" he called, grinning lecherously. "You finally brought us all a nice piece of ass to share."
"Excuse me?" the woman said as she walked toward him, crossing her arms over her chest as her calm brown eyes narrowed viciously.
The shinigami smiled as she approached him and he looked down at her, licking his lips. He began slowly walking around her as he examined her body, once more whistling appreciatively.
"Her tits could be bigger, but they'll do," he commented, unaware of the way she was watching his every move like a hawk waiting for just the right moment to swoop in on its prey. "Nice ass, though."
He reached out with one hand to grab her rear and suddenly she turned on him, grabbing the offending appendage and wrapping her fingers around his wrist before effortlessly twisting his arm behind his back at an awkward angle that forced him to his knees in pain. A howl of agony escaped his lips as she continued putting pressure on his wrist, and with a flick of her own wrist came the distinct sound of bone snapping and an even higher-pitched cry from the man at her feet. Making a satisfied sound, she shoved him forward, throwing him onto his face on the floor, and turned to face the rest of the men present. Her hands were clenched into fists at her sides, and her eyes burned with bloodlust as a cruel smile slowly spread across her berry-stained lips.
"The next person who tries to grab my ass loses his entire arm," she informed them as the wounded shinigami pulled himself into a fetal position and cradled his limp hand to his chest. "Any takers?"
A chorus of 'no' washed over the room as the men before her shook their head and slowly backed away from her. The woman nodded in satisfaction, the fierce look in her eyes melting into one of kindness as her smile took on a more congenial tone and her muscles visibly relaxed once more.
"Good," Zaraki said, standing from his seat and kicking aside the wounded soldier as he went to stand near her. Yachiru immediately took the opportunity to climb up onto his shoulder and perched there with her head resting in her hands. "I don't want any of you causing trouble for your new sixth seat, got it? You are to respect her as you would any other officer of this squad. And don't for a moment think she's weak, because I never woulda accepted her transfer request if she was."
"You mean she actually asked to be placed here?" Ikkaku wondered, speaking so only the man standing next to him could hear. "Who the hell in their right mind does that?"
"We did," Yumichika reminded him.
"That's different," Ikkaku insisted.
"Well... 'cause we're men," he reasoned, even though his best friend was far from 'manly'. "And you said so yourself: this squad is full of bloodthirsty meatheads. So what's a decent-looking gal like her wanna be in it for? It just don't make sense."
Yumichika sighed, choosing to remain silent rather than continuing to argue with him. He knew that the woman likely had her own reason for wanting to be in Zaraki's squad, much like they did, but he had no idea what that reason was. He knew that pointing out the fact that she had one would just prompt Ikkaku to question her motives for being there even more, though, so he decided to keep his mouth shut concerning the observation.
"Who cares why she's here?" he said instead, running a hand back through his hair as he sighed once more. "As long as she can fight, she should fit in just fine, right?"
Ikkaku scoffed. "Yeah, I guess. But aren't you worried?"
"About what?" Yumichika asked, his violet eyes turning toward his companion.
"Now that she's here, you're not the prettiest member of the squad any more," Ikkaku remarked, smirking at the look of horror on the other man's face before approaching the captain and their new recruit.
"I'm third seat officer, Ikkaku Madarame," he introduced himself, then hooked a thumb over his shoulder at his friend. "The pretty boy is fifth seat officer, Yumichika Ayasegawa. You'll have to excuse him for the moment. He was so taken by your beauty that he's currently at a loss for words."
Ikkaku looked over his shoulder at Yumichika – who was still floundering a bit in shock at the revelation that he now had competition for most beautiful squad member – and gave him a teasing wink which only further aggravated him.
"I know who both of you are," she said as he turned his attention back to her to find her smiling admirably at him. "The two of you fought bravely in the war. I heard all about it from my brother."
"Your brother?" Yumichika asked, deciding it was unbecoming of him to just stand around and gape rather than make an attempt at civil conversation with the woman just because some might find her more attractive than him.
"Oh! Where are my manners?" she exclaimed, looking embarrassed. She clasped her hands together in front of herself and bowed deeply in respect before the two of them. "It's a pleasure to meet you. I am Katsumi Ukitake."
Yumichika's eyes went wide. "Uki..."
"...take?" Ikkaku muttered in unison with his best friend, his own eyes a bit wider, as well.
Yumichika silently observed her once more, and suddenly wondered how he had failed to see the resemblance. She had the same eyes as her brother, the same kind smile, and her hair even fell into her face in the exact same way.
"Kitty-chan is Uki-chan's little sister," Yachiru cheerfully explained. "Right?"
"Yes," Katsumi replied, nodding. "I am the youngest of Captain Ukitake's siblings."
"I wasn't aware he had any siblings," Yumichika managed to say in spite of not yet having recovered from finding out the woman's identity.
"There are eight children in the Ukitake family," she informed him. "I'm the youngest, he's the oldest, and I have an older sister and five more brothers. Onii-chan and I are the only two who have any shinigami powers, though."
"So how's your brother feel about you being in Squad 11?" Ikkaku asked, slightly amused that the sister of the sickly captain was now a member of the most brutal squad in the Gotei 13.
"He hates it," she replied, laughing a bit.
"Why? What's he got against us?" the bald man demanded, his hand instinctively resting on the hilt of his sword.
"Oh! No, nothing at all," Katsumi assured him, waving her hands before her. "Like I said, he speaks very highly of you... all of you. It's just that he's concerned for my well-being, that's all. He didn't want me joining the squad because he knew I'd end up more involved in the battles and he doesn't want anything to happen to me. He's always been a bit over-protective."
"That's why you went behind his back and asked for the transfer yourself," Zaraki commented with an amused grin. "If your captain had done it, he woulda found out about it and stopped ya."
"Exactly," Katsumi said, nodding. "Although Captain Kuchiki never tried to sway my decision, even though I was set to be offered a promotion within his squad."
"Well, enough chit-chat," the captain said. "Let's get this show on the road. Say, uh... Yumichika? How the hell do we do this again?"
Yumichika blinked. "You're asking me? How should I know what we're supposed to do?"
"You're the one always carrying on about 'proper appearances' and stuff," Ikkaku pointed out.
"But that's the captain's job, not mine," Yumichika argued.
"Aw, hell with it!" Zaraki remarked, waving off the whole thing with one of his large hands. "You're here, you're in. Welcome to the squad, Katsumi."
Chapter 2: An Old Friend
Katsumi reconnects with a friend from her days at the Academy, and ends up getting coerced into a situation that may end up having a negative impact on her emotions.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Chapter Two: An Old Friend
"I still can't believe you abandoned me, Katsumi."
Katsumi laughed a bit and looked over her shoulder at the girl who was sitting upon her futon and addressing her. The girl appeared to be in her late teens, but in reality was nearly four times that age. Her blonde hair was pulled into a neat ponytail high atop her head, save for her bangs which fell just barely into her eyes, which were the same shade of green as the ribbon tied into a bow at the base of the ponytail. She pouted in response to being laughed at, toying with the flower pendant she wore around her neck, looking very much like a child who was upset that her parents weren't letting her get her way.
"Hikari, I didn't abandon you," Katsumi corrected her. "We've been over this a hundred times, already. Are you really going to make me repeat myself again?"
"I know you said we could still be friends and that you'd continue my training, but you don't understand!" the younger woman exclaimed. "No one else in the squad likes me."
"I'm sure that's not true," Katsumi assured her with a small sigh, placing a picture of her parents upon the small altar she had set up in the corner of her new room in Squad 11's barracks.
"The captain hates me," Hikari whined. "He thinks I'm a pest."
"You are a pest, Hikari," Katsumi gently informed her. "How many times have you bugged him today about putting you on the battlefield?"
"Only twice," Hikari responded.
"So far," Katsumi pointed out. "Look, it's not your fault. You are who you are. Captain Kuchiki is just a serious person. You can't really expect your personalities to do anything but clash."
"Whatever," Hikari huffed, crossing her arms over her chest. "It still sucks that you left."
"You could always put in for a transfer, too," Katsumi suggested, smirking.
"To Squad 11?" Hikari asked, her voice squeaking slightly in disbelief as her eyes went wide, shaking her head fervently. "No way. I do not need to surround myself with big, dirty, sweaty men. Besides," she added, sighing, "Captain Zaraki would never accept a weakling like me."
"Then stop complaining," Katsumi ordered. "I'm here now, and I intend on staying here."
"I still think you're crazy. You do know you were about to be promoted to third seat, right?"
"I knew that," Katsumi told her, nodding slightly. "Which is exactly why I put in for the transfer when I did."
"I'm surprised no one tried to stop you."
"Captain Kuchiki wasn't exactly happy about my decision," she replied, unpacking a small crate of personal items and placing them on top of a short vanity against the side wall by the bed, "but he respected my wishes so he gave his blessing and signed the paperwork. Renji put up more of a fight, which surprised me since he used to be in Squad 11."
"He probably figured you'd get your ass handed to you by the guys in the squad," Hikari remarked.
Katsumi chuckled a bit. "He would think that, wouldn't he? Honorable Renji Abarai, always thinking us poor girls need protection."
"How's Captain Ukitake taking the news?" Hikari wondered, turning serious. She knew that Katsumi and her brother were particularly close, and that everything she did was an effort to make him proud of her. Their parents had both died within a few months of each other, when Katsumi was still an infant, and Juushirou had more or less raised her, treating her as his own daughter as much as he treated her like his sister.
Hikari envied that about her. Having come to Soul Society after suffering her mortal death as a child, she had no family to speak of. Katsumi treated her almost like a younger sister, though, taking her under her wing when she entered Squad 6 and helping her become a more capable fighter while also providing the only real source of friendship she'd had since arriving in the seireitei. She was truly one of the kindest people Hikari had ever met – a trait she shared with her brother, she noticed upon first meeting him – so it had been a shock when she learned of her ambition to become a member of Squad 11, which was full of bullies.
"You know how he is," Katsumi replied after a moment, a small smile gracing her lips. "He kept asking if I was sure, telling me he didn't want me to end up getting hurt. I assured him I'd be fine, but he still insisted on me telling him if anyone gives me a hard time."
"Has anyone given you a hard time?"
"One guy though I was the squad's new whore," Katsumi told her, her smile growing wider. "He actually tried to grab my ass, so I broke his wrist and threatened all the others with losing an arm if they tried the same thing."
"The captain didn't punish him?" Hikari asked, perplexed. If that sort of thing had happened in Squad 6, Captain Kuchiki would have punished the offender for his disrespectful behavior.
"Captain Zaraki knows I can take care of myself, even if he's never fought me, personally."
"If you didn't fight him, then how did you get him to accept your transfer?"
"I fought his lieutenant," Katsumi told her. "He said he didn't want to 'risk messing up my pretty face' by fighting me, himself."
The door of the room suddenly slid open, and both women turned to find the short, pink-haired lieutenant bounding excitedly into the room with a huge grin on her face.
"Speak of the devil," Katsumi muttered a moment before being tackled from behind.
"Kitty-chan!" Yachiru happily exclaimed, her arms wrapped tightly around the other woman's neck.
"Lieu-Lieutenant," Katsumi gasped, reaching up with both hands and attempting to pry her grip loose. "Air."
"Sorry," Yachiru apologized as she let go, giggling.
"Good afternoon, Lieutenant Kusajishi," Hikari greeted the pink-haired child, bowing slightly in her seated position.
"Hiya, Hika-chan!" Yachiru replied, waving happily for a moment before her expression became confused. "What are you doing here?"
"Just visiting," Hikari announced, shrugging.
"You two know each other?" Katsumi asked, looking from one of them to the other and back again.
"Yep!" Yachiru replied, nodding and hugging her from behind once more. "She's in our secret club."
"She means the Women's Association," Hikari explained. Katsumi rolled her eyes and repressed a groan. She had heard all about the Shinigami Women's Association from her former captain, who occasionally attended meetings in place of his sister during her absences from Soul Society. From what she understood, it was merely nothing more than an excuse for Yachiru to gorge herself on treats while forcing the other women in the club to do her bidding in order to amuse her.
"We'll see you at the meeting today, right?" Yachiru asked Hikari. The blonde nodded, but the small girl's words caused Katsumi to tense slightly.
"What do you mean by 'we'?" she asked, cautiously looking over her shoulder at her new superior.
"You're coming, too!" Yachiru cheerfully announced, giggling. "I'm president, so you have to!"
Katsumi closed her eyes and let out a weary sigh. She had wanted to finish getting herself situated into her new quarters and spend the evening relaxing with a good book after having dinner with her brother at the family estate, but now it looked as if those plans were about to be changed against her will. She knew she couldn't fight it, though. Yachiru was used to getting her own way, and Katsumi knew first-hand how deadly she could be when she was in a good mood. She wasn't about to test the waters and find out how much more lethal the little girl would be when she was upset.
"Fine," she reluctantly acquiesced, earning an excited squeal from both of them. Hikari had been trying to get her to join the Women's Association for years, but she had always turned down her offers to go to the meetings with her. Now, however, she had no choice.
She just hoped it wasn't as bad as Captain Kuchiki had told her.
"We're here!" Yachiru cheerfully announced as she and Katsumi entered the secret meeting room of the Women's Association, which was hidden away within the vast Kuchiki estate. Katsumi waved to the other members of the club with her free hand, the other one currently in the clutches of the girl at her side.
She blinked in surprise at hearing her name and looked around for who had said it, her eyes finally coming to rest on a buxom woman with long, strawberry-blonde hair and pale blue eyes. Recognition settled over her features and she smiled as the woman got up and came over toward her.
"Rangiku," she said the woman's name a moment before being pulled into her bosom in a crushing hug.
"It is you! You haven't changed a bit!" Rangiku exclaimed, laughing merrily as she continued hugging the shorter woman to her chest. Katsumi flailed her arm around, tapping her on the shoulder in an attempt to alert her of the way she was being smothered by her chest. Rangiku suddenly noticed her predicament and let her go, laughing again.
"Sorry about that," she apologized.
"It's okay," Katsumi replied, smiling a bit as she caught her breath. "How long has it been, anyway?"
"About... A hundred years or so," Rangiku told her, scratching her head in thought. "Last time we saw each other was back in the Academy."
"Who is your friend?" Nemu asked blandly, coming over to stand by them.
"This is Kitty-chan!" Yachiru happily announced, dragging Katsumi over to where everyone was sitting and climbing up on the podium at the front of the room. "She's my new sister!"
"Actually, she's Captain Ukitake's sister, Katsumi," Captain Unohana announced as she joined them, causing Yachiru to pout.
"Captain Unohana," Katsumi addressed the other woman, bowing respectfully.
"I heard from your brother that you joined Squad 11," the older woman stated, taking her seat at the head of the group. "Shall I be expecting to see you in my unit more often, now?"
"Nah, Kitty-chan beats everyone else up, right?" Yachiru announced in a chipper voice, swinging her legs back and forth as they dangled above the floor while she sat on the podium in front of the others.
"Only if they provoke me," Katsumi responded, taking a seat with a sigh. Hikari quietly followed her into the room and sat next to her, with Rangiku taking a seat on her other side. She looked around at the remaining members of the group and recognized the lieutenants of Squad 4 and Squad 12 – who was actually the one who asked who she was – as well as one of her brother's own third seats, who happened to be the sister of Squad 4's lieutenant. Across from where she sat was a woman bearing a striking resemblance to Captain Kuchiki's late wife, Hisana, who Katsumi knew to be Rukia Kuchiki from her brother's squad. Seated near Captain Unohana was the lieutenant of Squad 8, who she knew from seeing the woman beat her brother's best friend over the head with a book numerous times. She didn't recognize the last woman present, but she recalled Captain Kuchiki saying something about the woman who had taken over Squad 2 and the Onmitsukido after Yoruichi Shihouin's departure from Soul Society being a member, as well.
"Well, then, is everyone present?" Captain Unohana asked, looking over the faces of those present.
"Yoruichi-sama will not be able to make it," the woman Katsumi didn't know answered. "She has a pressing matter to attend to in the world of the living."
"Of course," Unohana replied, nodding in understanding. "I trust you will fill her in on what she missed, Captain Soifon?"
Soifon gave a single nod and sat silently with her legs crossed and her arms folded over her chest. Rangiku leaned over and nudged Katsumi in the side with her elbow.
"Did you know those two are involved?" she whispered.
"Who?" Katsumi asked quietly.
"Yoruichi and Captain Soifon," Rangiku informed her. "They're actually a rather cute couple. Soifon always seems so stern, but you should see her around Yoruichi. She's like a totally different person."
"Good to see you're still up on your gossip," Katsumi remarked, smiling slightly. Rangiku always had a knack for knowing what was going on in the personal lives of everyone in the seireitei, something she'd picked up from Gin.
"And who are you seeing these days?" Rangiku asked, playfully winking at her.
"No one," Katsumi replied, attempting to pay attention to what was going on during the meeting while carrying on their quiet conversation. "I haven't the time nor desire for something as frivolous as romance, these days."
"Could it be that a certain lieutenant broke your heart and you still haven't gotten over it?"
Katsumi turned to look at her, blinking in surprise at how casually she broached the topic. While it wasn't the case, she would have at least expected the other woman to have a bit more tact when discussing a failed relationship with someone.
"Shuuhei and I are still on good terms with one another," she informed her. "There was no breaking of anyone's heart. It was a mutual decision to end the relationship."
"So the two of you are still friends with one another?" Rangiku asked, looking at her out of the corner of her eye.
"Yes," Katsumi replied with a nod. "While we don't generally see each other that often, we do have an amicable relationship with one another."
"Excellent," Rangiku said with a grin. "Then you can join us tonight for drinks."
"You want me to go out drinking with you and Shuuhei?" Katsumi asked, her face going a bit paler than usual. Even back in the Academy, Rangiku had a reputation for being a big drinker, and she knew from her time spent with Shuuhei that he could also tolerate high amounts of alcohol with no ill effects. On the other hand, Katsumi herself didn't fare very well whenever she went out drinking, usually ending up tipsy by her second drink and completely smashed by the fourth or fifth – which wasn't even a single bottle's worth of sake.
"Not just us," Rangiku assured her, thinking that the other woman had gone pale at the idea that she might be plotting an attempt to get her and Shuuhei back together. "Kira will be there, too, and Captain Kyouraku usually drops by, as well."
Katsumi visibly relaxed as she learned that the captain would likely be present at the drinking party. The man drank like a fish, so with him there she wouldn't have to worry about ending up completely drunk – she could just discretely pass her drinks off to him. Lieutenant Kira's presence would also be advantageous. She had known him since he was just a boy, having met him shortly after his parents had both died, but they hadn't spoken much in the past twenty years or so. The catching up would give her an excuse to talk rather than drink.
"Alright," she agreed after a moment, smiling slightly as Rangiku grinned excitedly. "Sounds like fun."
"Great," Rangiku chirped, grabbing one of her hand between hers. "We can all play Truth Or Dare. The boys never want to play, but with another woman on my side I'm sure we can convince them."
"Yeah, sure," Katsumi said, laughing a bit nervously.
The idea of playing Truth Or Dare with Rangiku was unnerving. The gossip-loving woman always went straight to the core with her questions, and Katsumi had a fair idea what would be asked if she chose to reveal the truth during the game. She supposed she could always choose a dare instead, but Rangiku's dares had a reputation causing whoever was brave enough to take them to end up receiving a lecture from their captain – at the very least. She could still remember Renji complaining about how he'd been docked a month's pay in order to pay for the repairs to Squad 7's barracks after she dared him to ride Hihiou Zabimaru around like a pony – which normally would've been an easy dare, except Renji was smashed and ended up firing off a shot from his massive Bankai's mouth that blew up most of Captain Komamura's private quarters.
Maybe she'd get lucky, though. Maybe Rangiku had forgotten about it in the past hundred years since they last saw one another. It had been a miracle she didn't somehow figure it out back then, so perhaps it wasn't too much to hope that she'd given up on ever discovering the truth.
Katsumi could only hope that was the case, because she really didn't want to relive the pain of those old memories.
For the sake of age clarification: Katsumi graduated from the Academy with Byakuya, who was still a student 110 years ago (as seen in the Pendulum Arc). Gin had just recently graduated at that time. Rangiku started at the same time as Gin, but didn't graduate in a single year like he did. So... She would have still been a student, along with Byakuya and Katsumi - thus making it entirely possible they all could have known each other from that time.
Chapter 3: Drinking Party (Near) Disaster
Captain Ukitake reminisces about his sister's youth. Later, Katsumi nearly ends up regretting going to Rangiku's drinking party when a game of Truth or Dare almost exposes a secret about her relationship with her former captain.
Chapter Three - Drinking Party (Near) Disaster
Juushirou stood in the doorway of his youngest sister's bedroom in the family estate, smiling as he watched her standing before a mirror while she brushed out her hair. It was hard to believe it had been nearly one hundred years since the days when she used to sleep in this room every night, back when she was still a student in the Academy. She'd moved out after graduation, taking up residence in Squad 7's barracks after being assigned to the division as an unseated member.
So much had changed over the years. He'd watched her become more experienced and witnessed her power steadily increasing as time went on. She had become a low-ranked officer within her first year out of the Academy, and worked her way up to eighth seat of the division before Byakuya Kuchiki recruited her as his fifth seat just over two decades ago. Juushirou had been proud of her accomplishments, but he was even more proud of her when Byakuya told him he was considering promoting Katsumi to third seat of the division. He'd had a hard time containing his happiness for his sister, and let the secret between him and the younger captain slip while they were having dinner together one night. Not a week later, he received word that Captain Zaraki had requested Katsumi be transferred to his squad. The news had been surprising, to say the least, but what shocked him even more was when he found out Byakuya had actually approved the transfer.
He'd gone to see Byakuya after learning about what was going on and asked him why he'd sent Katsumi away after saying he was getting ready to promote her. A part of him feared something had happened between them and that had changed his mind and prompted the transfer, but the head of the Kuchiki family told him it had been Katsumi who asked for the transfer and that he had merely been complying with her wishes. That had completely thrown Juushirou for a loop. Someone as sweet and kind as his sister certainly didn't belong in Squad 11. He had no qualms with the members – in fact, he rather respected them for the capable warriors that they were – but he worried about how they would treat someone like her, especially when she was coming in from an entirely different squad as a ranked officer.
Katsumi had assured him over the dinner they just shared that the other squad members were treating her well and she could handle anything they tried to throw at her. He knew about what had happened, though. He'd run into Zaraki earlier in the day and asked how his men had taken the news of having a female superior. The other man had barked in laughter and relayed the story of a shinigami who had made an inappropriate comment and touched his sister in a very unwanted way, and how Katsumi had broken his wrist as punishment.
Juushirou must have looked concerned, because the other man had slapped him on the back – causing him to stumble forward a couple of steps from the force of it – and told him not to make himself sicker with worry over his sister because he didn't want to have to listen to Captain Unohana bitch about him being in her squad's headquarters again. He had looked at the man a bit suspiciously then, wondering when the head of the relief squad had ever 'bitched' about him to Zaraki, but instead of asking he requested the captain let him know if Katsumi ever had a hard time with any of his men again so he could take care of them. Zaraki jokingly asked if he was going to cough all over them, but agreed to let the elder captain know if the youngest of his siblings needed his help – not that he thought the woman would ever need it.
Juushirou shook himself out of his thoughts and smiled as his gaze refocused on Katsumi. She had fastened her hair into a knot at the back of her head once more, the front section falling stubbornly into her eyes the way his own hair had a habit of doing. People always commented to him about how much alike they were in appearance, something he often blamed on having raised her himself from the time she was an infant.
"I was just thinking about how much things have changed over the years," he told her with a wistful sigh. "Seeing you as a grown woman and an accomplished shinigami makes me feel old."
"You are old, Juushirou," Shunsui remarked with a hearty chuckle as he came up behind him and placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Like you're one to talk," Katsumi said in a teasing voice.
"Old in years, but not in spirit," Shunsui argued, giving her a playful wink which caused her to groan a bit as she rolled her eyes.
"Didn't anyone ever tell you it's a bad idea to flirt with your best friend's sister?" she asked him.
"Hey now, you know I practically consider you my little sister, too," he reminded her. "But I doubt Juushirou would mind if we went out. After all, we're goin' out tonight, aren't we?"
"First of all," she said, crossing the room to stand before him, "we just happen to both be going to the same drinking party. We're not going together. And secondly, I don't date old farts like you."
She reached up and flicked the brim of his straw hat with her hand, nearly knocking it off his head, and Juushirou laughed as he turned to his best friend with a smile.
"Looks like she told you, Shunsui."
"I don't get it," Shunsui stated, scratching his scruffy chin in confusion. "Why don't any of these pretty young women find me irresistible any more?"
"You're a charming and attractive man, Shunsui," Katsumi assured him, sighing. "Perhaps a bit too charming, sometimes. But, like I said, you're my brother's best friend and far too old for me."
"Yeah, we know. You like 'em younger," Shunsui teased her, earning himself a punch in the shoulder.
"That's not entirely true, and you know it," she told him, giving him a meaningful look. "Just because I had a few years on Shuuhei doesn't mean I prefer younger men."
"I'm aware of that," Shunsui said, his tone more serious than normal for him as he gave her a knowing look.
"Well," Juushirou said with a pleasant smile, attempting to break the tense atmosphere that had settled around them. "You two should probably get going. You wouldn't want to be late."
"It's not called 'being late,' Juushirou," Shunsui corrected him with a wide grin. "It's called 'making an entrance'."
"Either way, Onii-chan's right," Katsumi said. "We should be on our way. I'm sure the others are already starting in on the sake by now, and I know how you hate to miss any form of drinking."
"You got that right," Shunsui remarked with a chuckle, offering her his arm. "Shall we, then?"
Katsumi laughed a bit and wrapped her arm around his, bidding her brother good night as she waved to him over her shoulder on their way out. Juushirou waved back and watched them leave, then let out a heavy sigh. She had certainly grown up over the years, and though it was still hard to think of her as a woman he knew he had to let her go and allow her to make her own decisions, even if he didn't always completely agree with them.
"Well, it's about time you two got here!" Rangiku exclaimed, rising to her feet, hands planted firmly on her hips and eyes narrowed into a glare as she regarded the two newcomers to the group.
"Rangiku-san, calm down," Izuru Kira said as he stood next to her, placing a calming hand on her shoulder. "It's not like we're having some sort of important meeting."
"I know, but Katsumi was supposed to back me up when I said we should play Truth Or Dare, and she wasn't here," Rangiku said, slurring her words slightly.
"Katsumi?" Shuuhei Hisagi repeated the name, blinking in surprise and looking up from his cup of sake to where the two people who had just walked in were standing.
"Hello, Shuuhei," Katsumi greeted him, bowing slightly before turning to look at Kira. "Izuru... It's been a while. How are you?"
"I'm doing well, thank you," Kira replied, a slight blush rising in his cheeks.
"Oh-ho!" barked Ikkaku, laughing heartily. "Is that I blush I see? What, Kira, do you have a crush on Katsumi or somethin'?"
"I... I do not!" Kira insisted, the color on his cheeks darkening considerably as he took his seat next to Shuuhei once more.
"I don't know why anyone would have a crush on someone like her," Yumichika muttered under his breath as he took a sip of his own sake. Ikkaku poked him in the side with an elbow.
"You didn't have to come to this party if you didn't want to, you know," he said quietly, leaning over so that the others wouldn't hear. "I told you she'd be here."
"I know, and that's precisely why I came," Yumichika told him, his eyes darting to their squad's new officer. "I wanted to see just how much of a fool she makes of herself when she's drunk."
"Well, you'd better watch how much you're drinking, or else you'll be the one making a fool of himself," his friend warned, nodding toward the bottle of sake as Yumichika topped off his cup.
"Please," Yumichika said a bit indignantly. "I'm not nearly as much of a lightweight as you make me out to be."
"So..." Rangiku said in a singsong voice, going over to Katsumi and grabbing her by one of her arms to drag her over to the table with the others. "Now that everyone's here, why don't we play Truth Or Dare?"
"No," Shuuhei, Ikkaku, and Yumichika all said in unison.
"Oh, come on," Rangiku whined, leaning over the table to flash her ample cleavage at them in an attempt to gain their favor and get them to agree to her request. "It'll be fun, and you three can get to know each other better," she added, pointing from Ikkaku and Yumichika to Katsumi.
"On second thought, I think it's a very good idea," Yumichika said, smiling slyly. Rangiku cheered and clapped her hands together, pointing at Shuuhei and Ikkaku.
"See? Now you two are outnumbered!" she exclaimed.
"It's still two to two," Shuuhei argued.
"No, Katsumi agreed to play earlier, so it's three to two," Rangiku insisted, sticking her tongue out at him.
"Kira, back me up," Shuuhei requested, turning to his best friend. "Say you don't want to play."
"I really don't mind, one way or another," Kira said, shrugging.
"Captain Kyouraku?" Shuuhei pleaded with the other man, looking hopeful.
"I think it sounds like a fun time," the older man said, chuckling a bit as he took a seat at the table with the others. "But how about we omit the 'dare' part, though, since those have a habit of not turning out very well."
"So the only option will be to tell the truth?" Katsumi asked, turning to him with wide, frightened eyes.
"No," Shunsui remarked, holding up one finger. "You can choose to tell the truth, or – if you don't wish to answer the question – you can drink."
"Oooh, I like that idea!" Rangiku replied, nodding fervently.
"Of course you would," Shuuhei grumbled, giving her a look. Out of all of them, her love of sake was second only to that of Shunsui.
"I want to ask the first question," Ikkaku requested.
"I thought you didn't even want to play?" Rangiku asked in a teasing voice.
"I don't, really, but I'm curious about something," the bald man replied.
"Then ask away," Rangiku told him, gesturing with one hand for him to go ahead and ask his question.
"Y-Yes?" Kira nervously replied, turning toward Ikkaku when he said his name.
"Do you really have a crush on Katsumi?" Ikkaku asked, smirking. Kira flushed, stuttering a bit, and opted to down his entire cup of sake in a single gulp rather than answer the question.
"I'll take that as a yes," Ikkaku said with a laugh, still smirking at him. Katsumi blushed a bit and shared a look with Shuuhei. Both of them already knew Kira had a bit of a crush on her, ever since he was a boy. Shuuhei had even asked him if it was alright that he date Katsumi before asking her out on their first date because he was aware of his friend's not-so-secret crush on her. Katsumi had known he liked her since he kissed her one day while he was still a student at the Academy, but she'd only ever seen him as a friend and had to let him down easy.
"Kira, since you got asked that question, why don't you go next?" Rangiku suggested, holding back her laughter at his expense.
"Alright," Kira said with a nod, then remained quiet for a moment while he thought of what he wanted to ask.
"I've got it!" he said, turning to Katsumi. "Why did you break up with Hisagi-san?"
Katsumi smiled a bit awkwardly as she looked at Shuuhei around Kira. She would have expected him to tell his best friend why they decided to split up, but apparently he hadn't given him any details. She wondered if it would bother him to reveal their reason for deciding to break off their relationship in front of so many people, and so she was prepared to drink the cup of sake Shunsui handed to her. Shuuhei nodded, however, silently telling her it was alright to answer the question, and she nodded in return, thankful that he wasn't going to immediately send her down the path toward drunkenness.
"We simply decided that things wouldn't work out, in the long run," she told Kira. "He and I were from completely different backgrounds, and while we enjoyed each other's company-"
"I wasn't entirely comfortable in the world of the nobles," Shuuhei cut her off, completing her sentence for her.
"I see," Kira said, his blush returning slightly. He and Katsumi were both from families of lesser nobility in the seireitei, while Shuuhei had grown up on the streets of Rukongai.
"I didn't know you two had dated," Yumichika commented as he took a small sip of his sake, deciding it would be best to slow down his pace of drinking lest he be asked some questions he'd rather not answer. He could think of one in particular that Shuuhei might pose to him, which he would likely end up killing him for in the event that he actually asked it.
"Yumichika," Katsumi addressed him, turning to look at him across the table. "There's something I've wondered about you for a long time."
"About me?" he asked as he blinked in surprise, placing a hand on his chest.
"Yes," Katsumi said, nodding, her eyes briefly moving toward Ikkaku before settling on him once more. "Are you gay?"
Ikkaku snorted in laughter, nearly spitting out his sake when she asked the question, and Yumichika shot him a dirty look.
"What makes you ask that?" he wondered, gazing coolly at her and taking another sip of his sake.
"You're always hanging around Ikkaku, and I heard you made quite a scene when he was defeated while guarding his pillar," Katsumi remarked, placing one of her elbows on the low table and propping her chin in her hand as she met his gaze with an unblinking stare, a small smile tugging at her lips. "It almost sounded like you were lamenting the possible loss of a lover."
Yumichika's face turned scarlet and his eye began to twitch slightly. The woman didn't even know him, and she was already making such absurd assumptions? Yes, he was extremely close with Ikkaku, but the only sort of love between them was that of best friends who were practically like brothers.
"I am not gay," he replied through clenched teeth.
"Alright," Katsumi said, nodding. Satisfied with his answer, she sat back up and broke her eye contact with him, unfazed by the way he was still glaring at her for questioning his sexuality.
"You know, Yumichika," Ikkaku said, placing an arm around his partner's shoulders, "you shouldn't let her question get to you. I have it on good authority that half of the shinigami in the Gotei 13 think you're gay."
"What?" Yumichika practically yelled, tossing Ikkaku's arm off his shoulders as he turned toward him angrily.
"Well... It's not surprising, really, with the way you look," Rangiku said thoughtfully.
"What's wrong with the way I look?" he demanded, his anger now being directed toward her.
"You've always had a rather feminine appearance," Kira said.
"I actually thought you were a woman, the first time I saw you," Shunsui commented with a chuckle. "I was about to hit on you when I heard you speak and realized you were a man."
"I don't think those feathers help much, either," Shuuhei added, pointing to the colorful decorations on Yumichika's right eye.
"That's it!" Yumichika huffed, standing from his place at the table. "I do not have to sit here and listen to you all talk about how gay you think I am."
He turned on his heel and stormed out of the room, slamming the door shut behind him, and Ikkaku let out a heavy sigh before finishing off his sake.
"I guess I should apologize for him," he said, leaning toward Katsumi over the table. "He's kinda sensitive about that. Sorry I didn't warn ya."
"It's okay," Katsumi replied, struggling not to smile. "I feel kind of bad for upsetting him, but apparently I'm not the only person who's been curious about it."
"So whose turn is it now, with Yumichika gone?" Shunsui asked as he opened up a new bottle of sake and poured himself a rather full cup.
"I'll go," Ikkaku replied. He looked over everyone present, then smirked a bit when his eyes settled on Shuuhei.
"Alright, Shuuhei, spill: How the hell did you manage to fail the Academy entrance exam twice?"
Shuuhei grumbled and refused to answer the question, saying it was too embarrassing and opting instead to take a drink. He then asked Rangiku what she looked for in a man, which caused everyone else present to raise an eyebrow. The only person who hadn't noticed his obvious interest in her was Rangiku herself, since she was already well on her way to becoming drunk. Rangiku asked Shunsui how many women he'd been with, prompting him to take a drink because, "a true gentleman doesn't kiss and tell."
The questions continued around the table for a few rounds, and Katsumi completely forgot about her fear of the game. She continued drinking as the others asked questions amongst themselves, not really feeling left out in spite of them never seeming to think to ask anything of her. She sipped at her sake, completely disregarding her low tolerance for alcohol, and in no time was feeling a pleasant buzz which left her blissfully unaware of the trouble she was about to find herself in.
"Katsumi?" Rangiku addressed her, and she turned her head slowly to look at the other woman, her eyes taking a moment to focus on her face.
Rangiku gave her a slightly wicked smile. "What's the story between you and Byakuya?"
"Byakuya?" Ikkaku echoed, blinking as he slowly lowered her cup from his lips. "As in, Captain Kuchiki?"
"One and the same," Rangiku told him with a nod before looking at Katsumi once more. "Well?"
Shunsui had stopped drinking the moment Rangiku asked the question, his grey eyes watching Katsumi intently. He should have known the gossip-loving lieutenant would broach the subject sooner or later during their little game. After all, she and Katsumi had been students at the Academy around the same time, along with Byakuya. It made sense that she would have picked up on something between the two of them, even though he knew they had done everything in their power to keep their relationship under wraps.
"He was my captain before I transferred to Squad 11, silly!" Katsumi told her with a laugh, slapping her playfully on the shoulder. Rangiku also laughed a bit, still smiling as she leaned closer to the other woman.
"That's not what I meant," she clarified, pointing a finger in her face. "I want to know what happened between you two while we were all at the Academy together."
Shunsui cleared his throat before Katsumi had a chance to answer.
"Well, would you look at the time?" he said as he stood up, finishing off his sake before setting the empty cup back down on the table. "I promised your brother I wouldn't keep you out late. Come on now, Katsumi. I'll walk you back to your room."
He grabbed Katsumi by her elbow and pulled her to her feet, and she wavered a bit before regaining her balance. He bade the others good night and she vaguely echoed the sentiment as he carefully steered her out of the room, feeling slightly woozy from the amount of alcohol she'd consumed in such a short time. Once they were outside in the cool evening air, he sighed heavily and turned toward her as she leaned against the wall next to the door.
"Are you alright, Katsumi-chan?" he asked, noting the sad look in her eyes.
"I'm fine," she replied with a nod before turning her head to look at him. "Thank you, Shunsui."
Shunsui gave her a small smile.
"You don't need to thank me," he told her, offering her his arm. Katsumi linked her arm through his and sighed heavily as she leaned slightly against him and they began making their way in the direction of the Squad 11 barracks.
He still remembered the day he'd found her halfway between Squad 6's area and Squad 7's. She had been on her knees in the middle of the road, slumped over into a quivering ball, crying her eyes out. She had trouble speaking when he asked her what was wrong, but he could see in her eyes exactly what had happened: She'd had her heart broken. He was no stranger to seeing that look, since he had caused it a good number of times himself, but seeing it on her face had made him both sad and angry at the same time. He knew exactly who it was who had broken her heart, but he had a hard time determining why. It was only later, after he talked to Juushirou about what had happened to his sister, that he figured out what had gone wrong. He didn't tell Katsumi, though, because he knew she would just end up feeling worse.
"You know," Katsumi said quietly after they had walked a good while in silence, "I'm over him. I really am. But whenever I think about what happened... It still hurts."
"I know," Shunsui told her, nodding sympathetically. "He was your first love. It always hurts the most to lose them. Just remember what I told you back then."
"I remember," Katsumi said, looking up at him and smiling a bit. "He wasn't willing to fight for me, and therefore didn't deserve me."
"Exactly," he replied. "Don't worry, Katsumi-chan. You'll find a man who will do whatever it takes to be with you, and when you do you'll forget all about ever having loved Byakuya Kuchiki."
"Yeah," Katsumi sighed, resting her head against his shoulder as they continued walking in silence.
From within the shadows of one of Squad 11's buildings, Yumichika watched the two of them making their way toward the barracks. A small, somewhat sinister smile formed on his lips as he suddenly came up with an idea of how he could get back at her for bringing his masculinity into question, and he giggled a bit to himself as he began making his way toward the office of the Seireitei News Magazine.
Chapter 4: Payback's A Bitch
Katsumi discovers that a certain flamboyant member of Squad 11 has started a rumor about her as payback for questioning his sexual orientation, and decides to get some payback of her own.
Chapter Four: Payback's A Bitch
Katsumi groaned and shuffled along the road just outside of the Eleventh Division, a hand held to her head as it throbbed even more painfully with each step she took. She knew she shouldn't have had as much to drink as she did the previous night, but at the time she had been too buzzed to listen to her own common sense telling her to lay off the booze.
Things had been going so well, too, and she'd actually been having fun up until the point where Rangiku had to open her big mouth and ask about her previous relationship with Byakuya Kuchiki. It was hard enough dealing with her wanting to know about their romantic past, but now nearly half a dozen other shinigami also had some idea that something had happened between her and her former captain – one of who happened to be a member of her new squad. She was grateful to Shunsui for pulling her out of there the way he had, not only because of the painful memories the question had evoked, but also because she knew that if she had been plied with more alcohol she likely would have turned into a sobbing, incoherent mess and spilled every gory detail of the incident.
She winced as she heard her name being called loudly by a familiar, high-pitched voice. Hikari didn't usually get on her nerves, but her hangover magnified the girl's voice and made it sound even more shrill than usual to her ears.
"Wait up!" Hikari called, jogging a bit to catch up with the other woman. Katsumi sighed wearily and stopped walking, leaning against the wall of the building she had been passing by and bringing her hands up to massage her temples. Hikari easily caught up with her, and stood in front of her doubled over and panting as she tried to catch her breath from having run halfway across the seireitei to find her.
"Is... Is it... true?" she asked between gasps, clutching at a stitch in her side.
"Is what true?" Katsumi asked, slightly annoyed. She was in no mood to be playing guessing games, especially so early in the morning.
Hikari didn't say a word. She simply held up a rolled-up newsletter in her left hand. Katsumi recognized it as the monthly Seireitei News Magazine. Brow furrowed in confusion, she took the newsletter from the younger woman's hand and opened it up to find she had folded it back to reveal the gossip section.
"I don't see what you're making such a fuss about," Katsumi said as her eyes began scanning the page.
"At the bottom," Hikari directed her, "Left corner."
Katsumi sighed and flipped the folded newsletter over in order to read the bottom of the page, even more annoyed that the girl couldn't just tell her what she was so worked up about. She was about to ask her for a straight answer when her eyes fell upon a headline in bold print:
Breaking News! Captain Kyouraku's New Love Interest!
"What the..." Katsumi muttered, and she began skimming the article. Apparently, the gossip editor had it 'on good authority from an anonymous source' that the captain of Squad Eight had been seen having a romantic tryst with the youngest sister of his best friend – namely, Katsumi Ukitake. The short article went on to describe how the two of them had been canoodling outside of the Squad Eleven barracks late the previous night, and even quoted the source as saying that she seemed 'extremely infatuated with him.'
Katsumi fumed as she gripped the newsletter tightly in her hands, her anger growing with each line of print she read. She had a fairly good idea who the 'anonymous source' was who gave the gossip columnist the false tip about her and Shunsui being a couple.
"I'm going to kill him," she growled, then crumpled the newsletter up in her hands and began stalking off in the direction of the central canteen. She'd already been on her way there to get herself some breakfast before beginning her daily training, but now she had a more pressing issue to deal with than getting something to eat.
"Katsumi, wait up!" Hikari called after her, scurrying to keep up with her increased pace as she charged toward the middle of the seireitei with an angry gleam in her eyes.
Katsumi bumped into several people along the way, not bothering to apologize to any of them the way she normally would. She was pissed, and the one person who dared to turn in her direction to yell at her to watch where she was going was met with a deadly glare that promised all sorts of pain if he didn't just shut his mouth and go about his business. In the back of her mind, she was imagining all of the slow and torturous things she wanted to do to the person behind that rumor, starting with messing up that pretty face of his.
"Ahh, Katsumi-chan!" Shunsui called out to her in his usual easygoing tone, waving at her as she passed him just outside of his squad's area.
"Have you seen this?" she asked him gruffly, shoving the crumpled newsletter against his chest. Shunsui blinked in confusion and smoothed out the pages as he held them out in front of him to read. He blinked upon seeing his own name in one of the headlines on what appeared to be the gossip page, then read a bit of the short article and began to chuckle.
"It's not funny!" Katsumi scolded as she hit him in the shoulder. "Now pretty much everyone in the seireitei is going to think I'm a slut!"
"Hey now, I think I've just been insulted," Shunsui remarked, his composure not wavering even a bit, and he calmly folded the newsletter up and handed it back to her. "Besides, it's just a silly little gossip column. It's nothing to get so worked up about. No one takes that stuff seriously."
"Plenty of people will believe this trash, Shunsui," she informed him. "Especially if anyone saw you walking me back to my room last night. All it takes it one person who can say they saw us together and that will be enough to 'validate' these claims. And you should be getting worked up about it, too. After all, what will your precious Nanao think when she sees that you've been out running around with me while you've supposedly been faithful to her?"
"Nanao-chan and I don't have that sort of relationship," he corrected her, shifting a little uncomfortably on his feet.
"Maybe not officially, but I happen to know for a fact that you have a thing for her and that you haven't been out with a woman in the last twelve years because you're hoping she'll suddenly fall madly in love with you."
"Your brother sure has a big mouth," Shunsui said with a sigh, smiling a bit. Hikari giggled behind Katsumi and she shot the younger woman a dirty look before turning back to him.
"Don't blame Onii-chan," she told him. "I hadn't seen you around with any women in a long time so I asked him what was going on and he told me."
"Well, now I have been seen with a woman," he said, waving the folded newsletter in front of her face and grinning playfully. "Care to come by my quarters later for some tea?"
"Not funny," Katsumi replied as she snatched the paper away from him and pushed past him to continue on her way. Hikari bowed politely to Shunsui before scurrying off behind her once more.
"Maybe Captain Kyouraku's right," she tried to reason with her. "Maybe you're making too much of a big deal out of this. You should just ignore it and let it blow over."
Katsumi stopped walking and turned around to face her, slapping the rolled-up newsletter so hard against Hikari's shoulder that she winced slightly in pain.
"Do you know what will happen if I decide to just ignore this? People will talk. Things will get added to the story, and it will progressively get worse. Before you know it, people will be saying that we're planning on eloping because I'm pregnant with his love child. So you see, Hikari, I have to take care of this and make sure an end is put to it as soon as possible before it even gets a chance to get off the ground. Hopefully, I'm not already too late for that."
She spun on her heel and continued walking at a brisk pace, and Hikari continued to follow silently until they finally reached their destination.
The chatter filling the air of the central canteen died off considerably when Katsumi entered, all eyes turning toward her and several of the shinigami in attendance whispering to one another behind their hands. Katsumi groaned and rolled her eyes. Apparently, she hadn't acted quickly enough to stop the rumors from getting out of hand.
"Katsumi," Shuuhei Hisagi called as he got up from his usual table near the door and approached her, holding up his hands in a peaceful gesture. "I swear, I had no idea about that article being run. If I had known, I would have kept it from ever going to print."
"I know, Shuuhei," she told him, looking around the room as she spoke. "Don't worry, I'm not angry with you."
Her gaze eventually fell upon a familiar-looking head full of shiny black hair, and her eyes narrowed viciously as she began making her way over to the table where he was sitting with several other members of their squad, leaving Shuuhei to stare after her in fear for the other man's life.
"Yumichika," she addressed him simply, causing his laughter to taper off. "I know you did it."
"Did what?" he asked as he turned his head to look at her over his shoulder, feigning innocence.
"This," Katsumi replied, shoving the crumpled and folded newsletter into his face. He brought up a hand and pushed it away distastefully, closing his eyes so he wouldn't have to look at her angry face.
"I have no idea what you mean," he insisted. "I have nothing to do with the Seireitei News Bulletin. That's Squad Nine's job. If you want to complain to someone, I'd try yelling at Lieutenant Hisagi."
"Shuuhei knows better," she told him, slamming the newsletter onto the table in front of him. "Most of the people who were there last night at that drinking party know better, except for you and Ikkaku."
"Ikkaku," Yumichika addressed his longtime friend, acting shocked. "How could you? Starting such a defamatory rumor against our newest squad member."
Katsumi growled and grabbed him by his bright orange collar, pulled him to his feet, and dragged him to the nearest wall.
"Cut the crap, Yumichika," she spat as she threw his back up against the wall, surprising him with her strength. "Ikkaku isn't the type to do something as catty as start a rumor about someone."
"Nor am I stupid enough to incur the wrath of a woman," Ikkaku chimed in before taking a sip of tea.
"Stay out of this!" Katsumi and Yumichika yelled at him, in unison.
"Alright, fine, I did it," Yumichika admitted. "But it's not as though you don't deserve it after what you said about me."
"Are you still carrying on about me questioning your sexuality?" she asked him, her voice raising slightly in pitch. "Get over it!"
"It was entirely uncalled for," Yumichika argued back.
"Uncalled for?" Katsumi echoed in disbelief. "Then what the hell do you call what you did? At least I merely asked you a question, in private. You publicly started a rumor that I'm having an affair with my brother's best friend!"
"Who's to say you aren't?" he asked smugly. "I saw the way you were hanging all over him last night outside your quarters."
"I was drunk!" she roared, clenching her hands into fists at her sides. "He merely escorted me to my room because he promised my brother he'd make sure I got back safely."
"So you say..." Yumichika said a bit suggestively, smirking at her.
Katsumi growled and threw a punch at his face, which Yumichika deftly blocked by crossing his arms in front of him. She had been expecting him to do that, however, and immediately followed up by bringing her knee sharply up into his groin. Yumichika howled in pain and dropped his hands to guard his more sensitive areas from any further injury, his knees buckling slightly under him. This left his face completely unguarded, though, and Katsumi took the opportunity to land a punch straight to his nose. She pulled back her arm in preparation of throwing another punch to his face when a gloved hand came down to rest upon her shoulder, halting her. She looked back to find Byakuya Kuchiki standing behind her with his usual stoic look on his face.
"Ca-Captain Kuchiki," she addressed him, bowing slightly with her fist still raised in the air. "What are you doing here?"
"I think he's learned his lesson," Byakuya said, nodding toward Yumichika, who was leaning back against the wall behind him for support with one hand held protectively over his crotch and the other covering his nose, whimpering about how she had ruined his beautiful face.
Katsumi looked at the man she had just beat up, slowly lowering her hand back down to her side as she suddenly began to regret letting her temper get the best of her. After all, she had hoped to be able to find her place and fit into her new squad and all she had served to do so far was make enemies. She muttered an apology and turned on her heel, quickly walking out of the canteen in embarrassment. Byakuya looked around at the rest of the shinigami present – all of who had fallen completely silent in order to watch the fight – then followed in her wake, easily catching up with her just outside the building.
"Katsumi," he sternly called her name, causing her to stop in her tracks and wait for him to catch up to her.
"Why did you come here?" she asked him once more without turning around to look at him. "The kitchens at Kuchiki manor burn down last night?"
"Hikari came and got me," he told her. "She was worried you might do something rash and end up getting hurt."
Katsumi let out a small chuckle and turned around to face him, crossing her arms over her chest.
"In other words, you were worried I'd do something rash and end up getting hurt, so you've had her checking up on me since my transfer into the eleventh was official," she accused him.
"Squad Eleven is full of nothing but ruffians and miscreants," he told her, stepping a bit closer to her and lowering his voice. "It's bad enough that you have chosen to associate yourself with the likes of them. You should not be bringing yourself down to their level. Need I remind you that there are still three captain slots open?"
"And need I remind you that I don't even qualify for any of those positions as I don't have a bankai?"
"Yet," he added, giving her a knowing look. "You've been working on it, though. It is only a matter of time, now."
"I don't want a captain's position," she told him, shaking her head. "You know that. Squad Eleven is where I have always wanted to be."
"And you have proven that you have what it takes to be there," Byakuya said. "So, in essence, your mission is accomplished. It is time to look ahead for a new challenge. Before you end up getting yourself hurt."
"I can take care of myself, Byakuya," she replied, keeping her voice down so no passersby would hear the familiar way she was addressing him. "You know that."
"I do, but Zaraki is an animal and so are his men. There is a reason there aren't any women in that squad."
"Stop," Katsumi said firmly, holding up her hands. "I appreciate your concern, but I really can take care of myself. If one of them tries to physically attack me, I can handle it. If one of them tries to... violate me in some way, I can handle that, too. I already have an over-protective brother – practically two. You agreed to my transfer. So stop acting like sending me there was some sort of death sentence just waiting to happen."
She turned on her heel and began walking away, leaving her former captain speechless. After all, she had a point: He had agreed to let Zaraki have her. He could have easily denied the request and kept her on as his third seat, but he had known her for over a hundred years and ever since they first met back in the Academy she had always talked about wanting to become a member of Squad Eleven in order to prove herself to her brother. Perhaps simply getting into the squad wasn't enough for her. If she had something else to prove, he hoped she managed to do it before one of her new comrades managed to get the best of her.
"And no more talk of this captain business," she called back over her shoulder as she kept walking, causing the faintest of smiles to tug at his lips.
She was more like certain members of the Zaraki Squad than he wanted to admit. Truth be told, she actually fit in there quite well.
Chapter 5: Contemplation and Confrontation
Katsumi receives a surprise visit from Yumichika after Ikkaku convinces him to duel her in order to settle their differences.
Chapter Five: Contemplation and Confrontation
"Would ya stop fussing already? You look fine," Ikkaku insisted as he leaned against the wall next to the door of Yumichika's quarters, watching as his best friend preened in front of the full-length mirror he kept at the back of the room.
"My nose doesn't look right," Yumichika complained, wrinkling his nose and leaning even closer to the mirror to further inspect his own reflection.
"You're imagining it," Ikkaku assured him. "Captain Unohana set it perfectly. She said there'd be no lasting damage."
"I swear it's not centered any more," Yumichika whined. "That bitch ruined my perfect face."
Ikkaku let out an exasperated sigh and rolled his eyes. The same thing had been happening every morning for the past week, ever since Yumichika's confrontation with Katsumi over the false rumor he had started about her and Captain Kyouraku. Each day he'd come over to collect him so they could go get breakfast and begin their daily exercises together, and each day he'd end up having to compliment him and stroke his ego just to get him out of his room.
"Ya know," he said as he stretched lazily, holding his sword up high over his head, "jealously is really rather unbecoming on you."
"I am not jealous!" Yumichika insisted, violet eyes flashing angrily as he looked over his shoulder at the other man.
"Then why d'ya keep fishing for compliments?" Ikkaku wondered. "You know you're good-looking, and yet you're never satisfied lately until someone else reminds you of it. You never gave a rat's ass before whether or not people told ya you look good, so what gives?"
Yumichika opened his mouth to reply, but Ikkaku cut him off.
"I'll tell ya what gives," he said, pushing off the wall behind him and crossing the room to stand before his partner, pointing the business end of his sheathed sword in his pretty face. "Ever since that girl joined the squad, you've felt threatened by her."
"Why would I feel threatened by someone like that?" Yumichika scoffed, crossing his arms over his chest.
"She's prettier than you, for one thing. For another, she's probably stronger than you."
"Is not!" Yumichika protested, turning to face him completely, his cheeks gradually reddening.
"She's not prettier, or not stronger than you?" Ikkaku asked, smirking.
"Either," Yumichika spat indignantly.
"I don't know," Ikkaku said as he scratched under his chin thoughtfully, teasing him. "She's pretty hot."
"You have never had any concept of what true beauty is in your entire life, Ikkaku," Yumichika told him.
"Are you sayin' she's ugly?" Ikkaku asked.
"No," Yumichika mumbled, letting his hands fall down at his sides, reluctantly agreeing with his friend. "She's not ugly. She's... good-looking in an average sort of way. If you like that kind of thing. But she is by no means prettier than me!"
"She's stronger than you, though," Ikkaku mused, twirling his sword around in one hand.
"No, she's not," Yumichika argued, hands clenching into fists. "She merely caught me off-guard. No one expects to be attacked in the middle of the canteen like that. Especially not by a woman."
"Yeah..." Ikkaku drawled in disbelief. "No one ever expects to be attacked by a woman they pissed off, especially when that woman just so happens to have requested a transfer into Squad 11."
"I could have fought back," Yumichika insisted haughtily, turning back to his mirror and fussing with his hair. "I simply chose not to. I didn't want to hurt her or embarrass her in front of our men."
Ikkaku didn't bother pointing out that Katsumi had seemed plenty embarrassed after she'd been caught by her former captain. If it helped Yumichika sleep better at night to think that he'd done her some sort of favor by not fighting back, then he'd let him think that. Besides, he was getting tired of arguing with him day after day about what had happened.
"Why don't you just challenge her?" he suggested off-handedly. "Ask her to fight you, one-on-one, to see who the stronger one is?"
"I don't fight girls," Yumichika remarked almost distastefully.
"Even if ya got a grudge to settle with them?" Ikkaku asked. "Come on, Yumichika. Your honor as a man is at stake, here... Unless you're too chicken to fight her."
"I am not afraid to fight her!" Yumichika growled, turning around and pointing his sword in Ikkaku's face.
"Then go talk to her," Ikkaku told him, reaching up to nonchalantly push away his blade with one hand. "Challenge her to a duel to settle your differences, once and for all."
"What if she refuses?" Yumichika asked as he re-sheathed his katana.
"You really think she's gonna refuse?" Ikkaku asked, raising an eyebrow. "Fine, on the off chance that she does, just provoke her."
"How?" Yumichika wondered, crossing his arms over his chest once more.
"Make some sort of remark about the way Captain Kuchiki dragged her out of there," Ikkaku suggested. "Suggest that he took her off somewhere to help her 'cool off,' if ya catch my drift. That oughta do it."
Yumichika hummed a bit to himself, reaching up to stroke under his chin with one hand.
"I suppose I could invite her to a friendly sparring session," he muttered thoughtfully. "That would give me an opportunity to not only assess her true abilities, but to also put her in her place and prove that I am the better of us two."
"That's the spirit!" Ikkaku encouraged him, reaching over and slapping him on the shoulder. "Just try not to hurt her too much, okay? Captain Ukitake might look frail and sickly, but you don't wanna end up on his bad side."
"Unlike you, Ikkaku, I'm not an idiot," Yumichika reminded him.
"Could've fooled me," Ikkaku said under his breath as the two of them finally departed for the central canteen.
Katsumi sighed softly as a warm breeze blew against her face, sending the loose strands of her dark hair billowing about. She opened her eyes and looked out over the calm, clear water of the lake that stretched out endlessly before her, listening to the leaves of the apple tree somewhere behind her rustling in the wind. She shifted her position on the flat rock in the center of the island where she was sitting, turning slightly in order to gaze up at the waterfall that tumbled out of the sky seemingly out of nowhere, the water noiselessly falling into the lake that surrounded her.
"What'ssss on your mind?" a deep, yet feminine voice rasped behind her, hissing slightly.
"Who said anything was on my mind?" Katsumi asked in return without turning around.
"I know everything about you, remember?" the voice replied. "We are the ssssame, after all."
Katsumi smiled slightly, closing her eyes and bowing her head in defeat.
"That we are," she conceded.
"Sssso tell me, then," the voice requested as a large figure moved closer to where she was sitting, its shadow stretching out along the ground next to her.
"It's nothing, really," Katsumi insisted, shaking her head and opening her eyes to look back up at the clear blue sky of her inner world. Her companion sat down behind her on the same large stone in the center of the island, placing her back against hers, then reached around to hand her an apple with a scaly black hand.
"If it really wassss nothing, you would be able to look at me when you ssssay that, child," the other woman chided.
A short, humorless laugh escaped Katsumi's lips as she took the offered piece of fruit, still refusing to look at her companion, then she turned back around and began rolling the shiny red apple over and over in her hands before finally bringing it to her lips and taking a bite.
"Issss it that man?"
Katsumi nodded. "It's not what you're thinking, though."
"Are you not feeling vexed by this man?" the voice of her zanpakutou asked, sounding amused.
"He's such a pain in the ass," Katsumi muttered, staring at the apple in her hand. "He thinks he's so much better than everyone else, like the rules don't apply to him because he's so great," she explained, her own voice tinged with bitter sarcasm.
"He issss not a bad persssson," her zanpakutou gently reassured her. "He jusssst can't deal with hissss feelingssss."
"What feelings?" Katsumi asked, looking slightly over her shoulder.
"Jealoussssy... and, perhapssss... dessssire..."
Katsumi let out a short bark of laughter as she turned to face forward once more.
"Yumichika doesn't desire me," she corrected.
"Perhapssss he doessss," the spirit of her sword countered.
"Why would you think that?" Katsumi asked in disbelief.
"Or, perhapssss... You ssssimply dessssire him," came a quick-witted reply.
"I do not!" Katsumi angrily denied the accusation, causing her sword to chuckle mirthfully for a moment before suddenly falling silent once more.
"What is it?" Katsumi asked, concerned by the abruptness of the quiet.
"He issss here," her zanpakutou informed her. "The one who vexessss you."
Katsumi opened her eyes and found that someone was knocking rather incessantly on the door of her private quarters. Sighing a bit, she lifted her zanpakutou up off her lap and set it aside before going to answer the door. Just as the spirit had said, Yumichika was standing on the other side.
"What do you want?" she asked, her voice coming out more quiet and meek than demanding.
"I've come to challenge you," Yumichika announced, puffing out his chest a bit.
"Challenge me?" Katsumi echoed, brow furrowed in confusion.
"Yes," he replied, nodding. "I challenge you to a duel."
"Seriously?" Katsumi asked, blinking, her eyes going wide with surprise.
"We'll settle this once and for all," Yumichika told her. "Whoever wins is the better of us two, and shall rightfully command the respect of the other."
"Very well, then," Katsumi agreed, smirking a bit. "Shall we go right now, or at another time?"
"Why not get this over with as soon as possible?" he suggested in return. "No one is currently using the training grounds."
"Good, then I won't have to hold back," Katsumi said, turning to go back into her room in order to retrieve her sword.
"And neither will I," Yumichika called in return as he waited for her.
Katsumi picked up her sword where she had left it sitting on her bed, then resheathed it and placed it within the sash of her shihakushou, watching Yumichika out of the corner of her eye the entire time. Yes, she could admit he was an attractive man – although he was more 'pretty' than 'handsome' – but there was no way she would ever desire someone like him. He was selfish and narcissistic and thought he was right all the time, all of which were qualities she detested in people.
She was going to thoroughly enjoy kicking his ass.
Chapter 6: Showdown
Katsumi and Yumichika duel in order to determine who is the stronger of them.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Chapter Six: Showdown
Katsumi smirked a bit as she followed in Yumichika's wake on their way to the training grounds for their duel. The way he carried himself reminded her of a snobby princess: shoulders perfectly square, head held high, nose stuck up slightly in the air in a superior manner. He even preened himself on occasion as they walked, slowly running his hand back through his hair with a sigh as though he was relishing the feel of the silky dark locks through his fingers. She rolled her eyes at him, remembering how he'd vehemently denied acting gay while here he was putting on as flamboyant a show as ever for those they passed by.
"Do not let his appearance fool you, child," her zanpakutou's voice warned in the back of her mind. "He issss sssstronger than he lookssss."
"I know that," Katsumi replied under her breath, slightly annoyed that her own sword thought she had forgotten one of the most important lessons she had ever learned about fighting.
"Excuse me?" Yumichika said in a indignant tone of voice.
"Don't worry," Katsumi told him with a mocking smile, "I wasn't insulting your masculinity. I'll save that for our duel."
Yumichika huffed and crossed his arms over his chest, glaring at her back as she stepped around him and continued on her way to the training grounds. He followed a few paces behind her, silently appraising her appearance. From behind, she looked like nothing more than a small, feminine shinigami. He'd seen first-hand, though, that she was much stronger than she looked. The soldier whose wrist she had broken was one of the largest members of their squad, and she'd taken him down with ease.
"So what are the terms of this little match?" she asked nce they reached the entrance to the training grounds, stopping in her tracks and turning to face him.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I sincerely doubt you want to go to the death," she pointed out. "Even if you somehow managed to win, my brother would kill you."
He didn't doubt that one bit. As frail as he was, Captain Ukitake was a dangerous man when he fought seriously. It suddenly struck Yumichika that everyone in that family must have deceptive appearances.
"How about first blood?" Katsumi suggested, a wicked smirk playing upon her lips. "The first person to draw blood from the other wins."
Yumichika narrowed his eyes at her upon hearing her suggestion. He knew exactly what she had in mind. She was going to go for his face in an attempt to permanently mar his beauty.
"You're on," he told her. He'd be damned if he let her blade anywhere near his perfect face. He just hoped Captain Ukitake wouldn't hurt him too much if he happened to cut hers, instead.
Katsumi held her hand out to him, and he reluctantly shook it as a show of good sportsmanship. She gripped his hand tightly, a pleased smile forming on her face when his eyes widened briefly in surprise at the strength of her grip. With the terms decided and agreed upon, they entered the training grounds and walked to opposite ends of the field. Yumichika watched her remove the blood-red sheath holding her zanpakutou from her sash, studying the blade as she pulled it from within. The hilt was the same deep, rich color as the sheath, and the guard looked like it was in the form of some sort of tightly-wound coil. The length of the blade seemed comparable to his own, and he was satisfied to see its surface shining brightly in the late morning sun.
"Well it appears you do have one redeeming quality," he called to her as he unsheathed his own sword. "At least you take good care of your zanpakutou."
"Of course," she called back, giving her sword a few swings through the air to warm up. "They're a part of us, so it only makes sense that we would treat them as well as we ourselves would like to be treated."
Yumichika thew his head back and laughed. "Are you sure you belong in this squad?"
"Care to find out?" Katsumi asked him with an amused smile.
Before he could answer, Yumichika found her coming straight at him with amazing speed. He barely had enough time to register the incoming attack and bring up his own sword to block the blow.
"That was dirty," he scolded her, putting his strength behind his sword and pushing her away from him. "I didn't say I was ready."
"You should always be ready in the face of an impending battle," she replied, pointing her sword at him. "I would think a member of the most battle-hungry squad in the Gotei 13 would remember one of the very first lessons taught to us at the Academy."
"You think I actually paid attention to any of that nonsense?" he asked her before launching an attack of his own. She side-stepped him, sticking her foot out to the side, and tripped him. Yumichika let out a yelp as he fell face-first to the ground, breaking his fall with his hands so he didn't end up landing on his face and breaking his nose again.
"Perhaps you should have," she told him, laughing. "Maybe then you wouldn't be lying there in the dirt."
Yumichika growled in annoyance and rolled over onto his back, then leapt to his feet and charged at her once more. This time when she tried to dodge he anticipated the move, and took a step in the opposite direction as he swung his arm around in an attempt to catch her off-guard. Their swords clashed, and the two of them launched into a series of attacks meant to wear the other down more than anything else.
"I'm tired of playing," Yumichika said after several minutes had passed, his breath coming out a bit harder than he would have liked. Fortunately, Katsumi seemed to be getting worn out, as well. "Time to get serious."
He launched at her with a barrage of sword attacks, looking for an opening. Seeing one, he looped his sword around hers and managed to send it flying across the field. Katsumi swore under her breath as she watched it soaring through the air to end up impaled within the ground several meters away. Yumichika cried out triumphantly and raised his sword above his head, bringing it down at just the right angle to land a deciding blow to her left shoulder. She noticed the movement, however, and leaned to the side to avoid contact with the blade, grabbing his wrist and stopping him mid-swing. Yumichika turned his head and glared at her, and she brought up her other arm and elbowed him sharply in the diaphragm, leaving him doubled over and wheezing for breath.
With him incapacitated, she made a break for her sword, but found it more firmly embedded into the earth than she though. Yumichika recovered quickly from her unexpected blow and ran after her, swinging his sword in an attempt to catch her arm while she worked on dislodging her blade from the ground. Katsumi narrowly dodged the attack, his blade catching her sleeve and tearing it open but not making contact with her skin. Growling in frustration, she placed her hands on the hilt of her sword and used it for leverage as she swung her legs around and planted both of her feet firmly into his chest, sending him staggering backwards several feet. The distance and the time it took him to recover gave her the opportunity she needed to finish pulling her blade from the ground.
"You studied under Urahara," Yumichika remarked as he remained standing a distance away from her.
"What of it?" she asked, wondering why he was suddenly bringing up the name of the man who trained her in hand-to-hand combat so many years ago.
"Nothing, I just recognized that move as one of his. Now I see why you're so well-versed in using your body as well as your sword for fighting. Pity that it won't help you one bit, now."
He held his sword out in front of him, his self-assured smirk growing as he ran his hand along the length of the blade.
Katsumi watched as the blade began to shift and change, taking on its released form of four identical, curved blades attached to the hilt. She whistled in mock appreciation of his sword, then took several steps back and held her own sword up, mimicking his actions by drawing her hand along the blade as she released her own zanpakutou.
Yumichika made a thoughtful noise as he watched, waiting for her sword to change. He expected something vastly different than what she had started with, but the only real differences he noticed were that the end now came to a sharp point rather than being angled, and there was a black snake etched into the side of the blade.
"Is that it?" he asked, raising an eyebrow. "I admit, it has an interesting look, but that pretty little snake on it really isn't going to help you in battle."
"We'll see about that," Katsumi remarked before running toward him. Yumichika brought up Fujikujaku to block, but she stopped several feet away, throwing him off. With a flick of her wrist, the blade of her zanpakutou separated into a dozen smaller pieces linked together by a chain – and the end came straight at his face.
Yumichika recovered from his initial shock just in time to duck his head to the side, narrowly missing the blade. He'd known all along that she was going to end up going for his face, but he'd been expecting her to have to get within arm's reach to do it.
"You missed!" he taunted her in a sing-song voice.
"What makes you think I didn't hit what I was aiming for?" she asked, her whip-like sword curling around her feet almost as if it were a live snake.
Yumichika reached up to feel his face for cuts, wondering if she'd somehow managed to just nick him. Instead, he found that the feathers at the corner of his right eye were cropped off. Looking down, he saw the majority of the length of the two colorful feathers lying in the dirt at his feet.
"You bitch!" he yelled, lunging furiously at her. Katsumi gave a sharp tug with her hand holding the hilt of the sword, forcing the separate pieces back together, then blocked his attack with the reconstituted blade.
"Temper, temper," she chided him, clicking her tongue against the roof of her mouth and stepping aside as she deflected another of his blows. "That's what got you into trouble before, if you'll recall."
"Shut up," he spat, turning to her and sweeping upward with the four blades of his shikai.
We could easily shut her up, you know, a cocky voice reminded him in the back of his head.
Not now, Yumichika screamed back in his subconscious. The last thing he needed was someone to walk in on them while he had her tied up in the vines of his zanpakutou's true form.
The brief internal exchange with the spirit of his zanpakutou had left him wide open, and Katsumi flung her sword in his direction. The blade once more split into smaller pieces and wrapped around the four blades of his weapon. With one sharp tug, she had him disarmed, and he watched as his zanpakutou was flung to the other side of the training grounds. Growling, he started to shunpo after it, but she beat him there and he found the pointed end of her sword sticking at his throat.
"This is why I trained under Urahara," she told him, advancing on him even as he backed up in an attempt to get away from her. "He's a master at hakuda. Therefore, even if by some chance I manage to find myself without a weapon, I'm still able to defend myself. Unlike you."
"Oh, yeah?" Yumichika said, his mouth twisting into a smirk. "Well, I may not be good at hakuda, but I do have a few other tricks up my sleeve."
He raised his hand and pointed at her, preparing to render her immobile with a bakudou, knowing it was the only chance he had of beating her without his zanpakutou.
She turned her head at the sound of her name being called, and Yumichika quickly dove for his zanpakutou, grabbing it off the ground and making a wide-arcing swipe with it as he stood, cutting into her left leg. Katsumi yelped and bent down to grab at the bleeding wound, giving him a dirty look.
"Never let your guard down when facing an opponent," he told her smugly. "I believe that was the second thing we learned at the Academy."
"Katsumi, are you alright?" Shuuhei Hisagi called as he ran out into the training grounds, his sword ready in his hand.
"I'm fine, Shuuhei," she assured him, wincing slightly as she stood up. "What are you doing here, anyway?"
"I ran into Madarame, and he said you were having a duel with this sneaky bastard," he informed her, pointing his sword at Yumichika. "I wanted to make sure you didn't get hurt."
Katsumi let out a short laugh. "Have you forgotten who you're talking to, here?"
"I know you're a talented fighter," he told her, lowering his sword to his side and helping her over to a nearby bench to sit down. "But I also know that he's a lot more dangerous than he looks."
"Watch it, Hisagi," Yumichika warned him through clenched teeth.
Shuuhei cast a glance at the other man over top of her, shaking his head slightly to silently let the other man know he wasn't going to tell her his big secret. Yumichika visibly relaxed, and so Shuuhei turned to examine the wound on Katsumi's leg.
"It's not very deep," he told her after his initial assessment of the damage.
"It still hurts like hell," she said, wincing again when he touched the cut running at an angle up her calf.
"Kira can probably fix this in no time," he assured her, standing up and turning to Yumichika. "I take it you guys are done, right?"
"Yeah, they're done," Ikkaku said before Yumichika could reply, joining them all out on the training grounds. "Yumichika, Captain wants to see us."
"Oh? What for?" Yumichika asked as he merrily skipped over to his friend.
"Some sort of mission in the world of the living. Come on, he said not to dawdle."
"Ooh, sounds fun!" Yumichika exclaimed as he resealed his zanpakutou and placed it back into the sheath at his waist. He then turned and went over to where Katsumi was sitting, bending down to put his face even with hers.
"By the way, I win," he told her, grinning triumphantly.
Katsumi's eyes narrowed as he chuckled and turned to prance off after Ikkaku, his mood very much improved from how it had been earlier. As he left, her eyes wandered down to his sword. Something was off about it. She just couldn't put her finger on what that was. Perhaps Shuuhei knew, but she doubted he was going to tell her.
"He's stronger than he looks," she muttered under her breath, recalling the words Kurohebi had uttered to her on their way to the training grounds.
"That's for damn sure," Shuuhei remarked with a derisive snort, standing and holding a hand out to her. "Come on. I'd carry you, but I know you'd knock me over the head for even trying."
"Damn right," she told him, giving him a faint smile as he helped her to her feet. "I can still walk, thank you very much."
"Let's go get you fixed up," he told her, going over to pick up the sheath of her sword where she'd dropped it at the beginning of her duel with Yumichika. He brought it back to her and watched the blade of her zanpakutou take on its original form before she placed it back into the sheath, then tucked it away within the obi sash of her shihakshou.
She hated to admit it, but as she followed Shuuhei to Squad Three's headquarters in order to have Izuru heal her leg she began to realize that the more she learned about Yumichika, the more intrigued she was becoming by him – and, at the same time, the more she wanted to wipe that over-confident smirk off his pretty little face.
The released form of Katsumi's zanpakutou is modeled off of Ivy's sword in the Soul Calibur video game series. The release command translates to, 'Strike, Black Snake.' Which explains why the sword's spirit hisses when she talks.