Mizuki: When I walked into the division headquarters, I was surprised to see the woman I shared my duties with seated upon my desk. Surely such behavior would have been frowned upon by her beloved onii-sama. In truth, it didn't bother me much: I actually found it quite cute of her. "Kuchiki-fukataichō," I greeted the smaller woman, a broad smile pulling across my lips. Her answering smile was oh, so welcome. "Shindo-fukataichō." "What brings you into the office this morning?" I inquired, my smile refusing to leave. Rukia and I shared our duties: I took care of the office work and watched after our taichō while Rukia took the more people-oriented task of training the members of our division –especially the green, headstrong new graduates from the academy. "I came to request that you join me this morning. I think that you would have quite an influence on them –or at least scare them into behaving at times." She shook her head ruefully before adding, "You're so much stronger than I am, and I just… I feel like they all know that." Heat rose to my cheeks. "Strength isn't everything, you know. I have to be strong, or Akihiko would walk all over me." I gingerly grasped the hilt of my sword, as though to let Akihiko know I'd spoken of him. Hell, I thought, I have to be strong, or others will know just how broken I am inside. There were more pressing matters at hand, though. "Are the others doing something cruel to my Rukia-chan?" I inquired seriously, my expression reflecting my intensity. "If I said 'yes', would you force them to behave?" "If you said 'yes', I would annihilate them." She held up her hands in surrender. "They aren't… they aren't being cruel, per say. They just… they are just a bit disrespectful. I think a lot of them joined the Thirteenth in hopes of training under you –you're almost as famous as Ichigo around here." Steel worked into my spine. I supposed I had some of the stubbornness that afflicted some of the more influential nobles: there was nothing that I found more offensive than others failing to show their betters the respect they deserved. "I shall assist this morning, then. They will learn to respect you, Rukia. Either that, or they will end up looking just like the last person who shouldn't have picked a fight with Kuchiki-taichō." I sighed. "You know I trained under Zaraki-taichō. There's a likelihood that rough will be an understatement for how I treat them." "They need someone to be tougher on them than I am, Mi-Mi." Nodding slowly, I carefully observed her expression. "Alright, then. Give me a little time to look in on our taichō and let him and Kyōraku-taichō know that I'll be working with you this morning. Where would you like me to catch up with you?" A pensive mask slid over her features. "The training grounds. I know you're sensitive to reiatsu –just find mine and follow it." And with some well-executed shunpo, I was alone in the office, as I had expected to be in the first place. Sighing as I eyed the piles of paperwork surrounding my desk, I wondered how horrible I would be on my first attempt to help Rukia out with her duties. What I'd said to Rukia had been very, very true. Zaraki-taichō had been one of the shinigami to train me, and to call him 'rough' was an understatement. He had taken to having all of the recruits charge him at once, but I doubted I would be able to manage his signature method. At least I was good at thinking on my feet. My mind light-years away, I prepared my taichō's tea the way he favored it and snagged a bottle of sake for Kyōraku-taichō. I knew he was with my taichō this morning: I could smell the familiar sake scent and feel the silken texture of his reiatsu. When the tea was piping hot and the sake reached room temperature, I retrieved the various other fixtures and utensils they would require. Carefully, I balanced all of them as I walked to where both taichōs sat. Kyōraku-taichō was the first to notice me. "Shindo-fukataichō," he greeted with his normal winning smile. "You look quite radiant this morning." "Thank you, Kyōraku-taichō." I offered him the bottle of sake and one of the cups I'd brought out. "I believe you might find yourself in need of these." At his enthusiastic grin, I turned to smile at my taichō. With practiced ease, I poured a cup of tea from the teapot and handed it to him before settling the fragile teapot beside him. "Jūshiro-taichō," I greeted, my smile gentling exponentially. "Mizuki-fukataichō. Thank you for the tea. Did you need something from me, or did you just come out there to spoil Shunsuí and myself?" He looked slightly pensive, as though I were a jigsaw puzzle and he was trying to fit in the final pieces. I didn't know why he was trying to figure me out: he already seemed to have a more than just functional knowledge of the way my mind worked. "Spoiling two of my favorite taichōs is always a joy. However, I actually wanted to inform you that Kuchiki-fukataichō requested my assistance with some of the duties she claimed today and I accepted." "Is she having some sort of difficulty with them?" he inquired, his words slow and drawn out. With a practiced shrug, I pretended that it wasn't a large matter. "I assume they might be acting a bit disrespectful and unruly. Either way, I will be out with her this morning, so I'm afraid I won't be able to continue to spoil you both as I prefer –at least, not this morning." "Should I warn Ritsu-taichō that there may be a sudden influx of our personal?" he asked me softly. "I'm not Zaraki-taichō: I won't half-kill them." I wanted to squirm under his perusal. How had he deduced my anger from behind my masks? Not even Ran was that good when it came to that! "I suppose we may wish to keep a single member of Division Four on hand," I relented. I knew that my anger could be hard to control, and nothing angered me more than the notion of people disrespecting Rukia. I turned to offer a smile to Kyōraku-taichō. "Do look after my taichō, please. As thanks, I'll bring you your favorite sake the next time you're here." He reached out and took my hand. "But of course! I'm always happy to be of aid to a beautiful woman." I rolled my eyes but smiled good-naturedly. "Thank you, Kyōraku-taichō." My gaze swiveled back to rest on my taichō. "I should be back this afternoon," I informed him with a deep bow. "Have fun, Mizuki-fukataichō. Don't let anyone get too hurt. I'd had to spoil my reputation." His soft smile was wry. "Hai, Jūshiro-taichō." I bowed to him once more. "Enjoy your morning." Slipping back into the office, I checked to see if any of the wraps had loosened. I was a mused to find that they hadn't. As I prepared to use leave, I sent an errant though to my zanpakutō. 'Hey, Aki, you wanted some exercise. How do you feel about green recruits that need to be taught respect at the point of your blade?' His chuckle was amused. 'I just hope they provide us a challenge, Mi.' 'Ah, so do I, Akihiko. So do I.' My eyelids drifted closed as I felt Akihiko retreat further inside of me. He always did know when I needed to concentrate on something. Seeking out sensations with my mind was always a tricky process. Still, I found it fast enough, and when my eyelids flickered open again, I could see a trail of beautiful falling snowflakes that led away from the office. I followed the trail of cold reiatsu until I felt the familiar sensation of cool raindrops falling upon my skin. It only took a few instants because of my proficiency with the shunpo. Rukia seemed small somehow as she stood before the sea of black-clad shinigami. I arrived just as she was informing them of today's plans. "Shindo-fukataichō will be assisting me today. I strongly suggest that you all give her your absolute undivided attention." She waited until after she finished her statement to turn and face me with a smile. "Mi-Mi," she greeted, her voice soft as so to not be overheard by the others. "Rukia," I returned with a small smile and a tone as soft as hers. Facing them seriously, I allowed my eyes to wander over them slowly, taking their measure with my eyes. Not wanting the distraction, I shoved away my particular skill and affinity with reading reiatsu before I opened my mouth to speak. "I'm sure you're all aware of who I am, considering that you are a part of Thirteenth Division. In case you don't, I'll introduce myself. I am Shindo Mizuki, the other fukataichō for this division. I am well aware of the rumors that have spread about my power and I'm under the assumption that all of you are, as well. By the end of this session, I'm certain most of you will be wishing that they had been great exaggerations." I offered them a violent, sharp smile that I had perfected during my time in the Eleventh Division. It allowed me to take a moment to figure out how to refer to my counterpart: as a lady of the Kuchiki family or as a fukataichō. Both titles belonged to her; it was just a question of which would stir more respect. "My former division was Eleventh, were I was placed immediately after graduating from the Academy. When Kuchiki-fukataichō asked me to assist this morning, I warned her of this: I demand respect. I worked hard to reach this position, as did Kuchiki-fukataichō. If for any reason you cannot respect me as a shinigami, you must respect my zanpakutō. It is my intention to teach you respect and discipline with this blade." The members of my division stared at me in stunned silence. "Kuchiki-fukataichō, would you be so kind as to select an opponent or me?" I looked to her and gave her a small smile as I noted her surprise at my approach. It was my style to combat the disrespect of someone I greatly respected head on, so Rukia would have to deal with the fact that I had no subtlety in this situation and forge ahead. "Ito Kai." I grinned. "Ito Kai-kun. Front and center, if you will." Unease wove through the mass of shihakusho-clad members, but not a single soul moved. "Perhaps I was unclear. Ito Kai-kun: you will come to the front as you have been ordered," I ground out, my tone icy. A slender male stepped forward. He was angular and muscular. I could see where the planes of muscles ended and bones began. His hair was chin length and platinum blond and his blue-green eyes were twin seas of disease. "I hope that this means that you are Ito-kun," I remarked coolly. Allowing my kosode to drop and hang about my waist and baring my wrapped torso, I widened my stance and drew Akihiko from his wine-colored sheath. "I expect you to come at me with the intention of killing me. Any less, and Akihiko and I will not be satisfied," I informed the young one, butchering one of Urahara Kisuke's most famous lines and praying that word would never reach Kisuke to inform him that I'd done so. 'I won't tell if you don't,'Akihiko informed me with a chuckle. Ito hesitantly widened his own stance and drew his own zanpakutō, a blade which in its unreleased form looked much like a normal tachi. He watched me as though awaiting something. I gave him a harsh smile. I felt the hesitant pulse of his reiatsu and knew that I could defeat him without even releasing Akihiko. "I will not be releasing my blade, Ito-kun, though I do recommend that you chose to do so. Attack me." He swallowed and then charged. I deflected his furious swipes easily, dodging a few of his thrusts just to prove that I was faster than he was, even without shunpo. I didn't use shunpo at all, well aware that such a tactic might leave me at a bit of a disadvantage, but the judgment had been based on what I could feel of his reiatsu. With my skills and my normal speed, it was an alright risk. After five solid minutes of Ito attempting to attack me, he was panting, his chest heaving fitfully. I stepped back slightly, not even breathing hard. "Release your zanpakutō, Ito-kun," I commanded. Let's see if it elevated the boy to a level closer to mine. He called out his release phrase and his blade widened, taking on the appearance of a heavy claymore. I wondered absently how such a slender man would be able to wield such a heavy sword. Still, I beckoned him playfully. "Come on, Ito-kun. Let's see if you can even slice my wraps." His charge was harder this time, perhaps, because he felt as though I'd taunted him. To be perfectly honest, it had been nothing more than curiosity. His blade took more effort to block, but I still was even exerting myself. Five more minutes of this left him sweat-drenched and panting. His hair clung to his face and neck. I smiled softly. "Kuchiki-fukataichō, would you select a new opponent for me? Let's allow Ito-kun a bit of a rest." Rukia nodded in acknowledgement. "Yagari Ichio." Another male stepped forward. This one was dark-haired with dark eyes. He was a bit broader and more muscular than Ito had been, but I took all that in stride as I registered his reiatsu levels. "I recommend you release your zanpakutō, Yagari-kun," I told him pleasantly. His reiatsu was greater than Ito's had been, and I hoped he'd provide Akihiko and myself more of a challenge. He drew his unreleased zanpakutō and called out the release phrase to reveal a blade that paralleled the structure of a saber. The weapon was elegant enough, though I'd only seen one other shinigami with a similar blade. I doubted he would measure up to the level of swordsmanship the other had. When he charged me, he had more power behind it than his previous opponent. Still, blocking his surprisingly flexible blade was simple enough. When Yagari-kun used shunpo, I sensed his destinations and side-steeped him. When he used a lower-level kidō, I countered with my own, the force behind which knocked him to the ground. He sat there, slightly stunned and panting hard. I wondered for an instant if he would try why Kurosaki Ichigo was famous for: rising once more with a drastic increase in power. Unfortunately, he stayed where he was, his reiatsu dropping slowly. "Kuchiki-fukataichō, another please." "Souma Isamu." The lithe male that stepped forward was taller than I, and his reiatsu was stronger still than my previous opponents. His hair was black and his eyes were pale –lavender, I decided as he stared at me as though I might be some great mystery. "Will you be the one to cause me to release my blade?" I inquired lightly. "Will you offer me more of a challenge, Souma-kun?" He watched me intently for a moment before asking, "Do you really want one of us to challenge you that much, or it this just an exercise to teach us to respect our betters, Shindo-fukataichō ma'am?" A smile pulled at my lips. "It's both, Souma-kun. I do enjoy sparring –probably more than most female shinigami. But when I heard that some had been disrespecting those that I respect and would give my life to protect, like Kuchiki-fukataichō… that makes me angry that some of you are still behaving as though this is a class. This, my dear children, is a war. We face the Hollows to protect people, not because we find any enjoyment in it. Every time that you face an opponent, there is a chance that you won't survive. That is why it is necessary to train together as a unit, to trust each other, and to protect each other. It's also why it is necessary to listen to and respect your superiors. I know that you all are young, but believe me: these officers have been fighting this war longer than you and they know how to handle most situations you will find yourself in. You can get others killed if you question orders instead of following them, and you do not want to have such a thing on your conscience." A smile pulled at my lips once more. "Release your blade, clever Souma-kun, and try to challenge me." He nodded and did as I bade, calling out his release phrase like a prayer. His release zanpakutō resembled a slender version of the over-sized khyber knife that Ichigo carried. I grinned fondly, recalling just how much fun I always had when I sparred with Ichigo. Perhaps Souma would give me reason to release Akihiko after all. 'I can hope.' Souma lunged at me, and it was the first time I had to work to counter a hit today. My grin widened as he moved away to invite my strike. Not wishing to disappoint him, I rushed forward and struck, the force of the collision pushing him back nearly a yard. His eyes narrowed and we continued like that, back and forth, until he nicked the bare skin of my shoulder. His eyes widened and I stepped back with a smile. "I'm glad that you were the first to give me a challenge. Shall I give you one in return?" I extended my blade in front of my pelvis, gripping the hilt with both hands as I called Akihiko out casually. "Taiyō yori akaruku kagayaku, Akihiko." Instantly, I heard Akihiko's warm voice echo in my mind. Despite the fact I could converse with him without releasing him, the connection was always more intense when he was unbound. 'With pleasure, Mi. shall we challenge the boy, or hold back?' 'He has earned the challenge,' I returned the instant before Akihiko's blade seemed to disintegrate. 'Very well,'Akihiko responded. 'I am yours to command.' His admission sent a rush of warmth through me. it always made me happy to hear him acknowledge me. Souma stared, wide-eyed as a cloud of tiny fragments of reflecting light flew toward him as I extended one hand toward him. it wasn't necessary for me to direct the blades with my hands: I really could do it all in my head, but it made the playing field a little more level for my young opponent. "I do hope you can keep up, Souma-kun." The swipes of his blade deflected several of the tiny shining blades, but I knew the instant that Akihiko cut his skin. 'Please be gentle, Akihiko. He seems a good pupil.' Akihiko chuckled. 'As you wish, Mizuki. Are you hoping for another Ichigo?' 'I don't think he'll ever be that much of a challenge for me, but I would love to see it happen.' I called the blades back to survey the damage. True to his word, Akihiko had only cut him shallowly but there were several cuts in several places. Lavender eyes peered out from beneath dark finge as blood ran down his cheek. He charged toward me once more and I narrowly stepped aside in time. 'Hm. I like his spirit,'Akihiko remarked. 'Me, too,' I told him. 'Let's go once more. A little harder with him this time.' 'As you wish,'he repeated. I directed the blades toward him like a symphony that swirled and circled about him until he was blinded in a column of light. The move mimicked one of my favorite special attacks –'Hareyakana Senpū'– but at a slower pace. Though Souma attempted to counter the blades, I knew when Akihiko cut him deeper than before. I could feel the blade as it sliced his skin and he cried out in pain. Immediately, I withdrew the blades and directed them to form a column at the end of the hilt but not fuse back into the single blade. I wondered if he would charge again, but then I saw how hurt he was. Smiling softly, I directed Akihiko to return to his sealed state, which he did with a tinkling laugh. 'Attached to your partner already, Mi?' 'A little. He's a smart kid,' I returned, sheathing Akihiko and retrieving the first aid kit as Souma's zanpakutō reverted to its sealed state. I used shunpo to reach him quickly, even though I wasn't ver far from him. I gave him a gentle smile. "Will you trust your fukataichō to bind your wounds, Souma-kun?" I inquired serenely. He nodded, blood dripping from his cheek and potions of his shihakusho in shreds. Rukia was by my side quickly. "Is Souma-san alright?" "He'll be fine. I went easy on him, because I sorta like him." I winked at the boy. "Choose five strong ones for me? Let them all taste the power of Akihiko and remember when they disrespect my friend." She smiled. "Of course. Do you need help with him?" "I've got it. Go ahead. You can also show your strength to a group, if you'd like. You're not as weak as you seem to think, Rukia." Her blush was adorable. "Mi-Mi!" she scolded cutely. I turned my attention back to Souma as she returned to the group. "You went easy on me," he accused. A smile pulled at my lips. "Of course I did, Souma-kun. Otherwise, you would be dead." Those wide lavender eyes made me smile. "I like you. You remind me of a boy I like to spar with, and you're intelligent. You watched the first two and learned from them." I pulled down his kosode until it pooled around his waist. Various small cuts crossed his chest and his arms. 'Did we cut his legs, as well, Aki?' I inquired softly. 'Of course, Mi. Below his knees only.' 'Thank you.' The boy looked at me strangely. "You're in constant contact with your zanpakutō, right? You have to control thousands of tiny blades with your hands." I decided not to tell him that the blades numbered in the millions and I really didn't have to use my hands. In fact, using my hands slowed me down so much it was a handicap. "Ah, Akihiko does all of the work, really," I told him, still smiling as I began to bind the wounds on his arms. "We're partners. A team." My hands soothed salve over his side before I bandaged the other cuts, as well. "He said that he liked your spirit, earlier," I told him, looking at his face. I had to admit, Souma was adorable when he blushed. "What does Akihiko look like?" he inquired, trying to keep his mind off his injuries. I knew he meant as a spirit, since he'd seen the blade for himself. "Regal, like a prince or a high noble. He had long hair down to here," I told him, sliding my salve-covered hands to his waist as I doctored the wounds on his other side, "so pale that it's almost white. He's gloriously handsome and wears a kimono of red silk." I applied salve to the wounds crisscrossing his pectorals and abdominal muscles. 'Keep touching the boy and he'll fall in love with you –or at least in lust.'Akihiko chortled. "He can also be exceptionally crass," I informed both of them as I finished bandaging his chest. Souma cracked a smile at that. "Do I want to know what he just said?" "Not unless you fancy blushing." I moved away only a bit to check his back. To my surprise, we hadn't sliced him there at all. 'You told me to go easy,'he reminded me with a chuckle. 'So I did.' I crouched in front of him once more. "Legs, Souma-kun." His eyes widened. "How –?" "Akihiko is aware of where he touches flesh." I smiled at him. "So let me see your legs." He bunched up the legs of the hakema around his knees and I bent down to attend the wounds. "So, is it true what they say?" he asked, changing the subject. "Depends on what it is," I returned, smearing salve and bandaging his right leg. "There's a story about the first time you met Zaraki-taichō. They say that you not only could stay upright under the weight of his reiatsu, you told him it felt nice to be surrounded by it. Ow." "Sorry about that," I told him. "Ah, well, the part they don't tell you is that I also told him his zanpakutō cried out to him, desperate for him to hear it. I'm very sensitive to the voices of zanpakutō –the cries were the equivalent of screaming to me." I looked up when I finished with his left leg. My openness about the incident was startling to me. I rarely talked about the incidents that made me famous, but there was something about Souma that made me want to open up. "How did he react?" "He looked at me with one eye –he was wearing his eye-patch– and asked if I could help him learn his zanpakutō's name. Would you like me to tend the cut on your cheek?" I inquired. "I think I should keep it. My first battle scar," he intoned, amused. "You're too young for those, Souma-kun, and soon you'll have some from real battles." I whipped away the blood gingerly and swiped salve over it. "I'll leave it unbandaged, though." "Did you help him?" he asked. "Zaraki-taichō?" "Yeah." My smile was sad. "I told him his reiatsu kept him from hearing its voice. So I taught him ways to conceal and control some of his reiatsu. I think he's may have heard its voice, but I don't know if he's heard its name. On the bright side, he can now walk into a division without leveling the personnel." I gave him a brighter smile. "All done, Souma-kun." "Thank you, Shindo-fukataichō ma'am." I shrugged. "For what? I caused the wounds; I mended them. it helps me feel better about hurting my sparring partners." He shook his head. "Not for that. For talking to me. I like that you're not as distant as you presented yourself." Ruffling his hair, I smiled ruefully. "Sometimes, it would be better if I was." "I don't think so. I like that you care." His smile was beautiful because it reached his eyes. "I think that's one of your strengths."