Author's Note: I'M ALIIIIIVEEEE!
Okay, jokes aside, I'm VERY VERY VERY sorry for the long wait. But after I updated the last chapter in December I wanted to spend the holidays with my family instead of sitting in front of my screen. And then, in January and February, I had to study for my exams. I only had time to write in between. I still have to write a paper, but that isn't as much work as studying to be honest (at least not for me :P)
The chapter is shorter than usual, and for this I am sorry, too. To those who expected a gand chapter to make up for the long wait: I'M SOOOORRRRRRYYYYYYY!
I don't want to keep you up any longer than I have already.
The lovely WindSpiral84 was kind enough to be my beta reader again :)
Yamamoto sighed when he set his papers down. He turned his head to stare out of his giant windows and out onto the gardens of the First Division.
The words of his newest student were still ghosting through his head. It was only been yesterday, but he just couldn't forget the expression on Ichigo's face.
The incredulity at his decisions and arguments, the anger at him in favor of the people of Rukongai he wouldn't – couldn't – help, and the defiance to accept his decision and superiority over him. The boy would need that defiance, stubbornness, and belief in his ideas, as well as the picture of how the Gotei 13 was supposed to work so he could stir it into that direction when he eventually gained a position of power.
Though Yamamoto hoped he hasn't scared the boy off with his actions, but judging from the stubborn light in his eyes he doubted Ichigo was the kind of guy to give up so easily. At least Yamamoto hoped he wouldn't.
The Central 46 was watching every step he took. They were still dubious about the Gotei 13. They were an unknown factor for them, too new to really appraise. And this uprising in Rukongai was making them skittish. They were a narcissistic bunch. Their ranks haven't changed in over a century, they have grown complacent and lazy in their position, and this new army was posing a threat for this position.
The only thing standing between them and this mass of armed people out for their position of power was the sparsely manned Kido Corps, their Stealth Force and the newly build Gotei 13 which they still didn't really trust just yet, especially not with people like Unohana manning the higher ranks. This was the Gotei's crucible.
Unohana was another one of his problems. She was eager to join in on the fighting, so much so that any unranked Shinigami who are not part of her Division didn't even go near their quarters anymore because they just couldn't handle the bloodlust that oozed out of the Eleventh Division.
And the way things looked at the moment he will have no other choice but to pull her in for real. He was reluctant to do that. He still wasn't convinced of her loyalty towards the Gotei and feared she would use the opportunity to get back to her old life. But one reason why she joined the Gotei in the first place was because it promised her a better chance to find worthy opponents. If he didn't let her fight in this conflict she may leave still.
He has already deployed the Divisions Three, Five, Eight and Thirteen while he split up the Fourth to give them medical support about two weeks ago.
The problem, though, was that the forces they encountered were bigger than predicted. He had given out orders to determine the real enemy strength to the Captain of the Second Division. They were also to determine how in the name of the Soul Kind those forces came into the procession of Asauchis and Zanpakutos!
They had a mole in Seireitei, a rat that sold them out and supported this uprising, and he needed to find out who it was. But for now, he would let the Onmitsukido handle the situation in that regard.
The more pressing matter was the distribution of additional troops as support for the ones already set out. He was about to set out the Sixth and Seventh Division as well. He was reluctant to send any other Division because of their Captains. He really wasn't sure if they would stay loyal or if they would promptly desert if a better opportunity presented itself.
In addition to the wrong evaluation of hostile forces and the Asauchis and Zanpakutos, the enemy even started sneak attacks on the first twenty Districts. He simply hadn't enough men to counter all this.
If it went on like that he would have no choice but to pull in the Academy graduates. But he wouldn't be able to just position them in the first few Districts to prevent such sneak attacks from happening again. They were far too inexperienced in counter-espionage for that. They just wouldn't be able to know when an attack was happening in the first place and act accordingly. He would have to leave the prevention to the Second Division as well.
No, if he was going to pull them in then he would have to do so as support for their main troops. Though the students didn't have much experience in actual combat it was still more than in counterespionage and the prevention of guerilla attacks.
Yamamoto sighed when he imagines how many of the Academy students would leave their lives in this conflict. Though he would only pull in the graduates they were still only inexperienced students. They have never seen war, and not many of them have ever seen actually life and death combat. Many would die, in that Yamamoto had no illusions.
It would be a heavy blow for the next surge of Academy graduates and through that a blow for the next Shinigami to enter the Gotei 13.
But Yamamoto had no other choice. The Gotei was still too young, had little men to counter such a threat.
With a heavy heart, Yamamoto grabbed a brush and a piece of paper and started to write.
Ichigo hasn't talked with Shunsui and Juushiro since their catastrophic training session, and he was nursing a guilty conscience for the rest of the weekend. He shouldn't have snapped at them like that.
Maybe it was hypocritical of him to think that, but those two were still children. Deadly children with pointy objects, true, but children nonetheless. They haven't gone through what Ichigo had, hadn't ever fought for their life and the lives of the people they loved. They haven't countered megalomaniac tyrants, emotionless monsters, and sadistic lunatics on a regular basis, and they haven't seen their closest friend about to be executed by a corrupted and archaic institution. Maybe if they did they would have a different mindset. They would get into that different mindset eventually (that Ichigo has seen with his own eyes), but right about now they were carefree, loyal and trusting children, maybe even a little naïve, Juushiro more so than Shunsui. They needed to grow up first.
It wasn't Ichigo's place to criticize them for not growing up quick enough. It was unfair and even a little cruel. He wished that he could have grown up sheltered like them, or at least not with this abundance of violence thrust towards him and his precious people. To demand and criticize them for not going through the horrors he has seen was uncalled for and unfair.
He decided to apologize for snapping at them like that as soon as he saw them, but for that, he had to find them first.
The entire classroom was packed. And with packed, he meant that even in the places to stand students were pushing and pressing against each other to have even a minimal amount of space.
Scowling at the group of people Ichigo quickly took to the air. He gathered enough reishi under his feet to stand on and looked for his friends amongst the crowd. Some students stared up at him flabbergasted, but most didn't even realize he was there.
He spotted Shunsui and Juushiro somewhere in the middle with one last unoccupied seat beside them. That they obviously kept a seat free for him in this madness only made him feel guiltier than he already did. Quickly he jumped over to them, nimbly landing on the table. Surprised squawking erupted around him, but he ignored it and settled in his seat.
He sighed heavily before turning towards his friends, but before he could utter even a single word Juushiro was already talking.
"We're so sorry Ichigo!" he said and lunged over to grab Ichigo's hands, almost flattening Shunsui who sat between them.
"Err," Ichigo replied wide-eyed. "That was actually what I wanted to say." Guilt was crawling up his throat again, and he could feel how his face darkened. "I shouldn't have snapped at you like that."
"But we're sorry, too," Shunsui said in his usual laidback way, but if Ichigo looked close enough he could see the little uncomfortable twitch of his eyebrows that wasn't there when he met Shunsui in the future but hadn't gotten rid of just yet. "We understand that our approach or Yama-Jim's approach is probably not the best, especially because you grew up in Rukongai. We can only imagine what this situation there is doing to you."
His gaze turned from lazy understanding to something a little more determined. "But we also know Yama-jii longer than you do, and we trust that he will never be unnecessarily cruel or inactive. When he hasn't gotten involved yet then because he has reasons not to. You see, as much as the old man tries to appear strong and in control, there are a lot of things he has no influence on, and the Gotei 13 is still under the command of the Central 46. Then there are the Onmitsukidou and Kidou Corps, too, that have to be taken into consideration. Force level, supplies, strategy, all of this and more play a part in this, and if Yama-jii hasn't taken action until now than because he couldn't, not because he didn't want to."
Ichigo hummed noncommittally. Maybe he has underestimated his friends understanding of the situation, especially Shunsui (like people tend to do more often than not; he should know better by now).
Ichigo hasn't even considered that there may have been something that stalled Yamamoto's hand. Maybe he was too used to the ancient, inactive and rigid Yamamoto of the future to let the almost idealistic and engaged Yamamoto of the past come forth. Hasn't he seen the fire in the old man's eyes when talked with him in his office? The way he tried to defend the Gotei 13 and its future? The temperamental and almost short-tempered Captain-Commander of this time probably wouldn't have wasted unnecessary time to prove the worth of his organization. Ichigo still didn't know when exactly the Gotei was founded, but this was probably their first crucial test after building their ranks, the first situation to test how they acted under duress, if they would prevail or if they would break under the pressure.
Ichigo sighed. He put his elbow on the table in front of his and rested his head on his fist. "I understand where you are coming from, but still. I would have wished he would have taken action sooner than this."
"We know," Juushiro said with a sympathetic smile. "We wish he did that, too, but we also understand why he didn't. We just hope that one day getting involved in something like that will be self-evident." He chuckled mirthlessly. "I mean, what use is an organization that is supposed to protect the spirit world if it doesn't do any protecting?"
Ichigo smirked and nodded. He could only pray that the Gotei will move into that direction. He would make sure it would.
The entire room fell silent when Yamamoto entered up front. He swept his eyes over the gathered students, but his eyes lingered on Ichigo for a fraction of a second longer.
"As many of you undoubtedly know the Seireitei encountered some problems in the Rukon Districts. The forces we encountered were higher than anticipated, and so we decided that we will pull in the recent Academy graduates as reserve troops," the Captain-Commander announced.
His proclamation was met with excited murmuring and whispers, and now Ichigo knew why all graduates were gathered in this room. It was also slightly worrying that the Gotei 13 didn't have enough men to counter this threat. The decision to pull in students may be controversial, but if the man really didn't have enough Shinigami… It seemed that the Squads were worse for wear than he originally thought.
Some more people in Shinigami uniforms entered the stage up front with papers in hand. "We will now call on the students and the squad they are assigned to," one of them said and started to read out a very long list of students and squad numbers.
Of the three of them, it was Ichigo who was called on first, and he was placed in the Thirteenth Division. Shunsui was placed in the Fifth, and Juushiro also in the Thirteenth.
"Oh come on," Shunsui whined when they gathered in a row to step forth and receive their Shinigami uniform. "Why couldn't I have been placed with you two guys."
"Maybe Yamamoto-sensei thought you were better suited for the Firth," Juushiro tried to comfort him. "I've heard their Captain is a very easygoing and fun guy. You will probably like him." Shunsui just sighed and nodded in defeat.
When they have finally made their way to the front they were handed a black uniform with a blue armband to identify them as Academy Students. Girls got a red armband, just like the Academy uniforms were diverted in color.
The entire time Ichigo could feel Yamamoto's eyes lingering on him. When he looked up he met the old man's gaze and scowled. Yamamoto's eyes were as intense as the time he ordered him to his office, or that time after they delivered Ukitake to the Fourth. They had this burning intensity that he only got when it was about the future of the Gotei 13. Ichigo really didn't know what the man's deal was, nor did he want to be the focus of his ambitions.
But was it so bad to be the center of his ambitions? When Yamamoto saw some kind of future for his organization in him, then that may be the in he needed to change the Gotei into a direction it should long have stirred into before he showed up in his own time. Back then (or was it rather 'will be'? He hated time travel!") The Gotei has been stuck in their old ways and wayward traditions. This could be his way of changing it for the better.
That still didn't mean he liked to be watched over all the time. Not to forget that Ichigo was still a little vexed.
So when Ichigo met Yamamoto's intense gaze he scowled and turned away again. Without turning back he hurried after Juushiro and Shunsui who have walked on already.
Ichigo couldn't focus on Yamamoto and the future for now. First, he had to survive a war.
Unblinking Kanae watched the row of dead Shinigami being carried off the field. She stared each and every one of them in the face, or, in some instance, at what was left of them. When all their dead were carried off she raised her eyes and let her gaze wander over the battlefield. It has once been the fields outside the 58th District, but where it has once been green and maybe a little wild and overgrown it was now scarred, overthrown and drenched with blood, the blood of her own soldiers and those of their enemies.
Most of their corpses were still lying around while some of her men that weren't busy with securing the area were going around and gathering them up to burn them. The hostile losses were for greater than her own, but the enemy had greater forces at their disposal, too, so they could cope. Whenever they felled an opponent another took their place. So all in all they were pretty much at a stalemate at the moment, but where the enemy could draw upon the sheer vast numbers of Rukongai the Shinigami Academy only spouted out graduates once a year. On top of that came the occasional Hollow attack and their duties in the World of the Living.
Kanae knew that, in the long run, and at this rate, they would lose.
Something had to happen, and quick. For now, the Gotei 13 was still going to get out of this relatively fine, but they have been fighting for only a couple of weeks. How would the situation look in a couple of months? Or the Soul King forbid, in a year or even two?
What they had to do was cut off the snake's head. Fighting these foot soldiers was doing nothing to end this constant bloodshed. They had to take out the leaders.
With a heavy sigh, Kanae took one last glance over the battlefield before turning around and returned back to camp. They have taken residence in the half destroyed and abandoned houses of the District. The men were grumbling about it, some of them even demanding they take over some of the houses of the residents, but she quickly shut those people up and assigned them to latrine duty. Those men were generally scions of one noble house or another who probably thought that their name meant something out here.
Kanae knew it better. Names, money or influence in Seireitei didn't mean anything in this part of Soul Society. The only thing that counted here was power and the amount of fear you could invoke with it. Nothing more, nothing less. She herself has lived by that principle for many, many years.
"Captain!" she heard a high voice shout from up ahead. Kanae smiled gently when her eyes fell onto her Lieutenant. Many have laughed at her when she appointed Momoka Saika as her Lieutenant, but Kanae had gone on unperturbed. She has met the little girl while she was still living in Rukongai. When she has accepted the position in the Gotei 13 Momoka has insisted that she would follow and immediately enlisted in the Academy. She was a sweet and loyal girl, but sometimes Kanae doubted she had it in her to do the dangerous job of a Shinigami. That is why she was keeping Momoka as close to her as possible to protect her.
Momoka stopped in front of her, panting heavily. "Captain," she puffed out after a couple of moments. "The Lieutenant of the Sixth Division is in your tent to see you."
Kanae's interest perked up at this news. Of course, she knew that the Sixth Division has been the Division sent out to aid her own, but she hasn't counted on them arriving that quickly.
"Thank you Momoka," Kanae smiled and headed towards her tent. Momoka skipped after her with a pleased smile on her face. She was really a good and loyal girl who wanted to do nothing but help. But that was exactly what Kanae was afraid of, that Momoka was too loyal to her.
What if she gave the girl an order she refused to obey if it would mean leaving her behind? Or what if Kanae did a grievous mistake of some kind that would make the Gotei chase after her to put her down? Momoka would surely refuse to leave her and thus could easily get caught up in the crossfire. Live in the military wasn't easy, and Momoka was still so young. Kanae feared that her adoration for her will put the little girl in danger she didn't know was coming, that she would follow her even to the grave.
Kanae shook her head. It was no use working herself up over possibilities and imagined catastrophes. She had to trust Momoka to take care of herself. And if that wasn't enough to soothe her worries she had to make sure she had the proper training she needed to make it out of every fight alive.
But that would have to wait for now. First, they had to survive a war.
A/N: I ended the chapter sooner than I had originally planned. I was in the process of writing more to add to the wordcount, but then I realized that there wasn't much else to add to the happenings just now. The stuff I already wrote were forced and didn't lead anywhere. They were boring and unnecessary, and I just couldn't bring myself to write it (another reason why it took me so long to update).
Anyway, I hope you liked this chapter, though I admit that it was more of a filler chapter than anything else. I wanted to explore Yamamoto's mindset a little closer regarding the war, and I wanted to introduce 1 1/2 new Characters (Momoka didn't have much screen-time, that's why she doesn't really count :P)
I hope you liked it either way, and sorry again for the long wait. I try to not let it happen again