Author's Note: Some of you might recognize this story. I had previously posted it under a different user name on here, but since I'm working on consolidating all of my fanfiction under a single account (see my profile for more information) that old version has been scrapped in favor of this new posting.
For those who may be wondering... this is not a yaoi fic. Welcome to the rare Yumichika het romance. Don't like it? Go read someone else's fic.
Also worth noting: I started writing this story before the end of the Winter War in the manga. Therefore, certain events that happened in canon do not ally to this story - or any of the other Bleach stories I'll be writing, for that matter. Consider this a complete AU.
And for the record, once again: I do not own Bleach. I'm not making any money off this. It's just for fun.
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."