Mizuki: The blinding light of the morning sun through my window woke me the next morning. I shifted, squeezing my eyes shut against the hangover, only to realize I was pulled against a strong, warm body and completely naked. Opening my eyes slowly, I found myself gazing upon an exquisite tattooed chest. The events of the night before came back in a nauseating headache, but I still didn't want to extract myself from this embrace. However, we were both fukataichōs and we was expected to set a good example for the rest of our divisions. Regretfully, I drew back from the warm body in my bed. Dropping a kiss on the tip of his nose, I tried to wake him by gently shaking him. "Ren. Ren! Renji, you've got to get up," I informed him, pushing at his chest with my hand. I looked at his sleeping form for a moment longer before I wondered aloud, "What will Kuchiki-taichō do if you're late, Ren?" His eyes flew open and widened exponentially, instantly awake and aware. "Never, ever again," he exclaimed with a shudder. I guess Kuchiki-taichō punishes Ren harshly when he's late, I thought wryly. Still not wanting to leave my warm bed, I forced myself to do it anyway. When I stood up, my feet flat on the floor, I felt Renji's eyes on me. I tossed an inquisitive look over my shoulder at him. "What is it, Ren?" "Ah,.. uh… that is, we didn't even turn on a light last night… and you're so pretty in the sunshine…" His face flushed, rivaling his beautiful hair in color. "And, it seems that I, uh… marked you. I'm sorry." I smiled at him warmly, returning to the bedside so that I could cup his cheek. "Did I ever tell you not to?" I inquired softly. "I told you, Ren. No regrets, no strings. Besides, I seemed to have left a few marks on you, as well. You might want to consider a different hairstyle until that fades… I apologize for that…" Finding that I couldn't resist the urge, I claimed his lips once more. His arms wrapped securely around me, pulling my body back onto the bed and over-top his own. "Being late could be worth it this morning," he murmured to me, his hands sliding down my sides before coming up to cradle the weight my breasts. Clever thumbs flickered across my nipples lightly, teasingly. Moaning out his name, I smothered his reply with my kiss as I slid one hand into his hair and the other down his chest. When we separated, we were both panting hard and painfully aware of our arousal –and that the other was also affected. I drew away, feeling the regret grow with every millimeter I put between Renji and myself. "While I would adore staying here with you all day, Ren, I really have to get all of that blasted paperwork done. If we get one more delivery of it, we will all be buried alive in it. Trust me: this is the more enjoyable option and I'd rather be staying here… but I can't." Sliding out of my bed and crossing over to the wardrobe was hard to do. It was eased somewhat when I heard the sounds of Renji crawling out of my bed and crossing the floor. When his arms wrapped around me and he bent to kiss my neck, I wasn't at all startled. "I wish I could stay here today, as well, but Kuchiki-taichō would be pissed. Shall I see you tonight, at the usual place?" "Probably. You might even have to come fetch me again," I teased, resting my hands overtop his. He kissed my neck again with a chuckle. "You know, there is more to life than paperwork, Mi-Mi," he reminded me warmly, before stepping back. A rustling sound filled the room, and I couldn't help but smile. He was probably having trouble finding his clothes. Now that I thought about it, I was curious where mine had ended up, as well. But I dismissed the thought out of hand and set about locating my zanpakutō. 'I am under your bed, Mizuki! Of all the indignities I've suffered, I think this one tops the list!' I couldn't contain my smile. 'Oh, relax, your highness. I shall fetch you nearly immediately. Do you know where Zabimaru is, or has Renji found him already?' 'Zabimaru has a more careful master who left him in a more respectable position. Check the table.' 'I see. Thank you, Akihiko.' Glancing over, I noticed that Zabimaru lay right where Akihiko had indicated. I taped Renji's now-clothed shoulder. "Zabimaru is on the table, in case you forgot." Renji smiled crookedly at me. "Thanks." Instead of fetching his zanpakutō, however, he pressed a kiss to my bare shoulder. I smiled fondly at him and gave him a little push. "Go on, Ren. You need to finish getting ready, and Kuchiki-taichō isn't going to accept 'I got lucky last night' as a viable excuse for tardiness." "I wish he would. Perhaps then he might think strenuously on getting laid, himself," he added with a scoffing laugh. Still, he crossed to retrieve his blade. He pressed one more kiss to my lips before using shunpō to quickly reach his own home. Bending over, I retrieved my sheathed sword from under my bed. 'Thank you. Is there a reason you couldn't get rid of that barbarian sooner?' Akihiko demanded snidely. I rolled my eyes, long-since used to the antics. 'Akihiko, he's not a barbarian. He's a very kind… generous man.' 'Are you telling me you finally decided to resend your vow of chastity?'He sounded absolutely astounded. I arched a brow. 'There was no 'vow'. And he's… inadvertently easing me past my fear, Akihiko, and you should respect him for that, if nothing else.' 'But Zabimaru is a brute!' Honestly. Our zanpakutōs were talking last night? 'Of course we were! You two were obviously engrossed in each other, and if that continues, we will be in close quarters for long amounts of time. However, if that brute is near me again, I may not be responsible for my actions!' Curiosity and cats be damned. 'What did he do to you? You're too upset for it to simply be his attitude…' 'I… He…'Akihiko made an exasperated sound. 'He implied that if our partners were perusing an intimate relationship, we should, as well.' I stroked the hit of my zanpakutō and his yet-sheathed blade in an attempt to offer him some comfort. 'I'm sorry, Akihiko. I obviously should have been paying more attention last night.' 'It... It's fine, Mizuki. If your barbarian makes you happy, I shall put up with Zabimaru.'His tone echoed his sincerity. 'I can have a word with Renji about him, if you'd like. He may be able to rein him in some.' 'No, no. It would lead to an awkward conversation for you two, which would include but not be limited to the topic of your zanpakutōs being aware of you having sex, which would evolve into us being in your heads while you do it… I shall just deal with the brute.' 'Psh. You obviously weren't in my head last night, or you would have known my 'vow of chastity' is still intact,' I reminded him dryly, trying to lighten his mood some. 'I can leave it be, if you like. Can I do something else to make you feel better?' 'Go back to the Eleventh?' Akihiko inquired sweetly. I laughed. 'No can do. Unohana might refuse me the Fourth Division's assistance if I abandon a post she recommended me to so soon. Anything else?' 'Exercise would be nice. You know your inner world is quite lovely, but I do miss the touch of steel to steel…'His voice seemed to echo wistfully in my head. 'I'll see what I can do,' I promised. 'For now, will you go play with Zu-Zu while I dress?' He scoffed. 'She calls me 'Ki-Ki' and follows me around. That does not equate 'playing'.' Still, he withdrew as I had requested. I had to smile. For all of his bite and bluster, Akihiko had warmed up to me a great deal in our time together. He seemed to like pleasing me on occasion –on more than just the odd occasion if it involved a serious fight. Of course, having a male zanpakutō had made for some very interesting problems when I'd first come to the Seretei. Luckily, with Akihiko being as beautiful and androgynous as he is, I was able to completely ignore his gender and concentrate on earning his trust, learning his name, and working with him. With a sigh, I pulled my thoughts away from one of the constant voices in my head and crossed the room to dig through the top dresser drawer. I hadn't used the wraps much since I had transferred to my current division. Some part of me idly hoped it was like riding a bike. Shaking my head against the stupid thought, I quickly went to work on binding down my breasts. Well, more accurately, my entire torso. I'd picked up this particular habit in the Eleventh Division. As one of the few women in the division, I'd spent many a day in sparring sessions. I had watched my male opponents shrug out of the top portion of their shihakusho with great envy, because sparring was hot and their maneuverability often improved. One day, I had decided enough was enough. When I prepared myself for sparring, I had wrapped from my armpits down to the flare of my hips. It functioned correctly –meaning it kept me from nearly killing myself with my sizable breasts– and it was much cooler than fighting in the hot shihakusho all afternoon, not to mention it improved my ability to maneuver myself and my sword. My partner that afternoon had been easily defeated –probably because he got distracted by the expanse of skin he could still see. Zaraki-taichō had found the whole thing amusing and he'd let me do as I pleased. When one of the men had complained to Zaraki- taichō, he had pointed out, "Mizuki-san has sizable breasts. If she can make them less of a detriment to her fighting, more power to her." And that had been that. I could have bound them loosely, if I'd just been intent on covering the love-bites Renji had left behind. But I had promised Akihiko that I would do my best to exercise him some today, and tightening the wraps later would just be a hassle. As I finished wrapping my torso, I wondered who might have the free time to spar with me. Rangiku probably had paperwork –she would try to avoid it or hide it so her taichō wouldn't notice. It was her fault for trying to pull one over on the former child-prodigy, anyway. Renji was always busy during the day, and I since I fully intended to take up more of his time tonight with other activities, I thought it best I allow him to be of some use to his taichō, at least. Ichigo –my favorite sparring partner of all my sparring partners– had school and other responsibilities. If he slipped to the Seretei to spar, it would be awesome, but I doubted it would happen today. He only seemed to have enough time on the weekends and he seemed to understand that I didn't like going to the human world, though he was unaware of why. Rukia had to train our division and that was work enough to tire anyone out. I wondered if I could entice any of the men from my former division into a match. Ikkaku might jump at the opportunity, but like the others, he was swamped with work. I still had no business sparring with Zaraki- taichō, even if I could breathe under his spirit pressure and hear his bells. Zaraki- taichō seemed to believe that any good spar was a death match, and I couldn't afford to be laid up when there was so much work to be done. Absently, I wondered in Nanoa had the time and inclination to play with me a little, since her taichō was always at my division anyway. I'd never sparred with her before, but Rangiku said she was formidable and I did love a challenge. Making up my mind to ask her nicely if she would enjoy a spar, I smiled and continued to pull on my undergarments. Slipping into fresh robes, I noticed in passing that the shihakusho covered more than usual –probably because my breasts were so thoroughly contained at the moment. I wondered to stand in front of the mirror as I tied the white obi. I studied my reflection for a few moments, noting absently that there would still a few hickeys visible if I put up my hair the way I usually did. With a sigh, I reached for a brush and set about the task of managing my hair. The man who'd raised me had always encouraged me to keep my hair long. I wasn't exactly so sure as to why. It might have had something to do with the fact that his female friend that frequently came around kept her hair long. Or, it might have just been his slightly-outdated ideals of femininity. I had never asked him, and I didn't intend to seek him out to ask such a dumb question now, 70 years after I'd died. Not that it mattered. Due to his influence, I'd always kept it long. However, my hair now reached my butt –making it quite a bit longer than even Kuchiki- taichō's hair. Unfortunately, such long hair could be a detriment in battle –that was why I had taken to wearing it in a prim bun: it kept it off my face, out of my eyes, and out of my way. 'I believe Senbonzakura keeps his hair around that length.' I cocked my head slightly. 'You've seen that elusive man? Is he as lovely as Kuchiki-taichō?' 'Lovelier. If I must be pressured into an intimate relationship with another male, he's the one I'd pick. There's no chance you might actually choose intimacy with Kuchiki-dono, is there?' 'You know, that's not exactly just up to me,' I informed him wryly. 'Though he is one beautiful man, Akihiko, I'm barely making baby-steps on that phobia 70 years later. If you want me to take that man as a lover, give me another 50 years of baby-steps.' I could almost see him frown. 'Do you think your barbarian can help that happen faster? You're not getting any younger.' 'Yeah, yeah. I'm just getting deader.' I thought about it for a moment. 'Renji may be able to increase that speed. He had no trouble with me needing to be on top last night.' 'I thought you didn't have sex with him.' 'We didn't have sex. I didn't say we both didn't come, Akihiko.' I chuckled lightly. 'Should Renji ease me through this any faster, I shall keep your preference as to my next lover in mind, alright?' I knew Akihiko's pouting voice when I heard it. 'Could you please hurry up with it, then? I would enjoy spending time with Senbonzakura, Mizuki.' I wanted to laugh. 'I'll see if Kuchiki-taichō might allow you two a play-date, if you wish.' 'A play-date? Please tell me that would include a good spar.' 'I don't know. Kuchiki-taichō is very particular, and I have no notion if I would fit his needs as a partner. I can ask Rukia when I see her. She'd know best on that matter.' I felt Akihiko pull on stores of power and materialize behind me. He placed warm, graceful hands on my shoulders. "I believe you two would have a very exciting match, if not just because the releases of Senbonzakura and myself are so similar," he intoned warmly. "Brush." I handed it over, knowing that he would do whatever he pleased to my hair and I would handle it with as much grace and poise as possible. "It would be interesting," I agreed, "but he's still much, much stronger than I am, and he's had more years to unite with his partner. I fear that if I were to ask Kuchiki-taichō for a match, he would look at me with the frostiest look in his eyes and tell me that I am decades too early to challenge him." Akihiko chuckled at that, drawing the brush through my hair gently and bunching it together in a different place than usual. "You might be surprised. After all, Senbonzakura has noticed that Kuchiki-dono seems to have taken an interest in you." I met his cerulean gaze in the mirror. "Just how recently have you been talking to Senbonzakura, Akihiko?" I inquired, more than a little curious. He shrugged, pulling the mass of hair tighter but not hurting me. "We talk sometimes. Usually at night, when Kuchiki-dono is snug in his mansion and you are back here in the barracks alone and asleep. Anyway, he tells me that Kuchiki-dono's interest only seems to be deepening." Fucking hell. My sword wandered off while I slept to talk to Kuchiki-taichō's sword. Perhaps we would have to have a serious conversation, after all. "Kuchiki-taichō's only interest in me is that I share tasks with his younger sister. He might be intrigued that our blades have similar attributes, but I doubt it goes any deeper than that." "Why do you keep pretending that you are not, in fact, a beautiful woman?" he asked me as he tied my hair tightly to keep it where he put it. "You're also quite powerful. Not just anyone has the ability to be my partner, Mizuki." I turned around to look at him. His pale blond hair fell sleekly down his back, several strands seeming to cling to the red silk of his kimono. Those azure eyes of his held compassion and trust and something softer and more intimate than the other two. "We both know exactly why I pretend I'm not a 'beautiful woman', Akihiko. I can handle being a powerful warrior, but until I manage to fix myself, I fear I'll never be able to view myself as a beautiful woman again." His face fell, as though he could empathize with my pain. Well, he was a part of me, so he was probably literally feeling my pain. Still, he reached out and wrapped his arms around me. He pulled me to him and situated me until my head rested upon his strong shoulder. "No man here will hurt you, Mi," Akihiko told me softly, his breath brushing against my ear. "No man will ever hurt you again, Mi. Not when you have so many by your side." "I had you by my side then, Aki. It still happened." My voice was soft, pained. He shushed me. "You need to stop being so afraid of everything, Mi. You need to learn to live again. After all, you've been dead 70 years." Warm lips brushed against mine for an instant in time. "Now finish getting ready, Mi. You wouldn't want to be late." When my partner returned to my inner world, I took a moment to look at my hair in the mirror. I actually smiled. Akihiko had done my hair in the same way that Senbonzakura wore his: in a single ponytail at the crown of my head. Several strands slid forward and I tucked them behind my ears. The ponytail still draped most of the way down my back, but it covered most of the other love-bites and would keep my hair out of my face when I needed it. "Thank you, Akihiko," I whispered to the empty room as I toed into my shoes and gathered my things 'You're welcome, Mizuki.' I walked slowly to my division, trying to clear my head as I went. Absently, I wondered if my strength as a warrior came from ignoring the weaknesses of my person.