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Learning to Breathe

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This story is No. 1 in the series "Breaking the Fall". You may wish to read the series introduction first.

Summary: Nothing ever happens the way we think it will. Not even dying.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Anime > BleachjezaeiriFR13223,729306316,45026 Oct 0926 Oct 09Yes

Alive

Disclaimer: See Chapter one.

A/N: Ok so I am completely blown away and humbled by the sheer amount of reviews the first chapter got in under 24 hours. I honestly didn't think anyone was all that interested in Bleach stories. Color me completely wrong. Which is a big yay since I've been a Bleach fan since the day the first chapter came out and even like the anime despite the filler.

*****READ THIS!!!********I'm gonna answer what I saw as the two big blaring questions in the reviews now. The first is the timeline. When in history of Bleach this is. Renji states that he was a graduate during the 2066th year of the Academy. Buffy was a graduate during the 900th year. So not only does her time in Soul Society greatly predate over 98% of the current characters involvement but it leaves me with a lot of room to play with. I had a couple of questions about Lisa and Nanao and it's pretty simple, Buffy was a lieutenant well before either of them were either born. But I have given Buffy a tie to one of them. If you look carefully at Kasumi you'll see it.

This is the second half of the first story in the series. The second story will also only be two chapters while the third story will be the large one and involve the characters we all know and love more. But the third story might be a few weeks in coming as I haven't actually started writing it and I'm determined to finish of Watching Forever before I begin another epic sized tale.




Now. On we go.











She stood in front of the assembled members of the Eighth Squad and felt like she was standing before a battle, or maybe her own execution.

Or maybe she was standing in front of over three hundred people she'd never met before and was suddenly in command over and that was making her feel like she'd been sucker punched.

“Hey. Hey. Everyone listen.” Captain Kyōraku gathered the attention of everyone who'd been whispering quietly to one another. “This is Mimasaka Amaya, the new lieutenant.” he pulled a hand free from being tucked into his sleeve and pushed her forward a bit. She glared at him for a moment before looking at all the faces staring her way.

The rumors and gossip had already started, she'd been able to hear them. Having a recruit straight out of the Academy as a lieutenant was unheard of. And that didn't even go into what family she came from, how the Captain Commander had been interested in her, that she had a dual sword shikai or that she'd had two Captains watching over her for the last three years.

Three years of not having any friends save for those two Captains. Three years of everyone treating her with so much freakin' 'respect' to her face “Mimasaka-dono” and then gossiping behind her back. Three years of busting her ass to get the job she was damn near afraid of now.

“Pleased to meet everyone.” she smiled and gave a slight bow.

“You're never that polite to me Amaya-chan.” a mutter under his breath from her new Captain. Only it wasn't really a mutter and everyone heard it.

“Shut up.” it came from the corner of her mouth in a hiss.

“Little Amaya-chan is neeervoooous.” he barely had the mocking and sing song words out of his mouth before her leg was moving. She got him square in the nose.

“That hurts!” she could hear the gasps from behind her as she turned to yell at her Captain. Most people were afraid of their Captains or respected them. She respected her new Captain as a fighter but she'd also seen him use her as human shield against Captain Unohana and with frizzy hair after she'd dropped a lightening bolt on him. Plus he acted like a big teenager all the time. Kinda hard to go all timid and afraid of him unless he decided to kick her ass. Which so wasn't his style.

“Good! Moron! You couldn't just be quiet for ten minutes without trying to annoy me!”

He curled back from her like a little kid who was in trouble with his mommy with a big eyed expression on his face. Gods he was such a big damn kid. “Amaya-chaaaaan.” he was going for cute and helpless and she'd figured out this trick of his before the end of her first year at the Academy.

“Shut up! You big baby!” she started to turn. “Dumbass.” it was said under her breath but everyone had to have heard it. And then she looked at everyone.

Over three hundred wide eyed looks.

Oh crap. There went any respect she was gonna get. She squared her shoulders though and looked down on all of them. “Dismissed!”

“Yes lieutenant!” over three hundred voices in sync and all of them bowed deeply with respect.

What the hell?

She just watched them start to disperse, one hand going up to scratch the side of her head as she tried to figure out what exactly had just happened. At least until she felt a hand come down to rest on her shoulder. She turned her head and met her Captain's eyes. He had a knowing look and it took a second but it all clicked into place. He'd caused the scene on purpose.

Bastard.

“Does anyone else realize just how manipulative you can be?” she raised an eyebrow at him and folded her arms over her chest as he smiled at her and dipped his head. A move he used to hide his eyes because of his hat.

“Well, yeah.”

She smirked at him, oddly grateful for him forcing her to make a scene. “Just checking.” she shrugged and headed for her new rooms. She needed to get unpacked and figure out what to do about the fact that the standard uniform just wasn't going to work for her. Plus the uniform just plain sucked for those with their own sense of style. And she didn't like carrying a sword at her side.

Nope, she didn't like the uniform at all. And after three years in that ugly as hell get up that students had to wear she was so planning making some adjustments.



*



“Kasumi!” she had to duck to avoid a flying book at her head less than ten seconds after walking into her rooms at her okaa-san's manor. She'd already been to see her okaa-san and gotten a warm welcome and had a nice talk over tea. They hadn't seen too much of one another for the last three years and the knowledge that she could just go see her okaa-san whenever she wanted was nice. No more having to wait for 'holidays' or for permission because she was the heir of the Mimasaka clan.

But after three hours of chatting with her adopted mother she'd left so that they both could see to things that needed to be done. Or in her case wanted to be done. She'd headed to her rooms with the intention of raiding it for things to take back to her rooms with the Eighth Division and to see about having some changes made to the standard uniform to make it suit not only her own fashion sense but fighting requirements.

“Dumbass!” Kasumi looked kinda pissed but on a scale of one to ten it looked to be about a two. She caught another book that was lobbed at her head with deadly accuracy. Ok so maybe a high two bordering on a three.

“What's your problem?” she put the book on a side table and then leaned against it with an eyebrow raised.

“You're a dumbass!”

“Yeah yeah. I got that. Me dumbass. You nuts.” she folded her arms across her chest and ignored the funny feeling of the lieutenant's badge that was wrapped around her arm. “What gives?”

Kasumi seemed to deflate, brown eyes loosing their fire. She looked down at the floor and then back up. It took a lot to make Nanao Kasumi pull that kind of look, she only knew of her okaa-san who could. Everyone else was scared to death of Kasumi, even the guards. “I'm bored.”

She just blinked at Kasumi. Bored? Her best friend was bored. Then it sank in. Bored was Kasumi code for lonely. She felt like a complete idiot. Those two words were better at making her wake up than all the books in the manor being lobbed at her head. Then an idea popped into her head. It was so bright and sudden she should have had a light bulb over her head. “Join the Academy.”

“What?”

She smiled. Now that she knew how to identify spiritual pressure she understood that prickling of her senses when Kasumi got mad. And the fact that Kasumi actually got hungry was another indicator that everyone had just ignored over the years. “You've got enough spiritual power to probably pass the entrance test and if you can make through the Academy I can try and convince Captain Kyōraku to get you into the Eighth Division. Then you can harass me and lots of other people all you want.”

Kasumi looked torn. Like she liked the idea but wasn't sure. “But Michiko-dono.”

She shook her head. “Okaa-san will understand and it's not like you've got a lot to do now that I'm not home much.” plus she really liked the idea of having her best friend around. Given she'd have to avoid projectiles aimed at her head as much as she tossed them at her Captain but it'd be worth it. Kasumi looked like she was about to protest so a hand went up. “You go find me someone who can fix this abomination of a uniform for me and I'll go talk to okaa-san. Deal?”

“Yeah.” she smiled at her best friend and pain in the ass and headed out of the room, not even bothering to slide the door closed behind her.



*



“Vice Captain Mimasaka.” bows from half a dozen members of her new division as she made her way through the grounds of the division. Scared looks almost hidden by attempts at blank faces. The little stunt at her introduction had helped some but the careful way everyone looked at her, addressed her was still there.

She knew what they saw her as. Mimasaka Amaya, the little princess who was made lieutenant. Miss Gets Everything On A Silver Platter. It bothered her, a lot, even after three years. She wasn't spoiled, never had been. She'd fought her way to her new position just like she'd had to fight to learn to use her very temperamental zanpakutō. Earth was constant, or at least she'd thought so at the beginning. She knew better now. It was always changing even if no one could see it. And storms, storms were unpredictable at best. And Areno Ame was both of those things. And highly temperamental if she got in a snit.

Oh her zanpakutō was a reflection of herself alright and had clearly mastered the bitchy aspect of her personality.

It was late in the afternoon of her second day and she'd already gotten her rooms in order the after coming back the night before from the manor so she was exploring. She needed to know her way around the Eighth Division if she was going to be any kind of useful.

She rounded a corner of the path and found a garden before her. Complete with a small stream with its own red painted bridge and sakura trees in the last days of bloom. Wind rustled the hem of her hakama pants and brushed along her bare arms. The first order of business when Kasumi had gotten the seamstress in was to have the sleeves removed from her uniform to make movement easier for her. She'd always worn tight clothes while fighting when she was alive and the big flowing sleeves didn't work for her.

Especially when she released she shikai. The sleeves became heavy from the rain and were dangerous. She'd had to take to rolling them up and out of the way when she'd been at the Academy. Not any more though. Captains and lieutenants could get away with changing their uniform to suit them better or to show their personality.

Seriously, look at her Captain. Mr. Flower Power himself with the stupid hat.

The long sea green obi that had replaced the traditional white one was something that reminded her of her okaa-san. Her foster mother had decided that green was her color and as such pretty much all the clothing she owned had green in it somewhere. It was longer than the standard one with a subtle swirling to it. Like everything that came from her okaa-san it was expensive but understated. She'd moved her lieutenant's badge to her waist as well, securing it there rather than on her bare arm where it didn't feel comfortable.

She was a fighter at heart and since the days of her just needing a stake and maybe a blade were gone she'd decided to opt for practical a little more than anything else. She'd stopped wearing socks with her sandals her first week in the Academy because squelchy toes sucked and she didn't like wearing her sword at her side either. So she'd wore it strapped to her back with a strap that matched the color of her obi.

She'd opted for more practical but she still looked good. Really good compared to standard uniform everyone else seemed to wear. She smiled as the wind picked up a little, blowing a few sakura blossoms through the air.

“So you're Captain Kyōraku's new lieutenant.” she turned around at the sound of the voice. Not twenty feet from her was tall dark haired man with a lieutenant's badge held onto his right arm. He face was a little scruffy and his hair short and he wore the traditional uniform with only one adjustment to it. A sort of thick piece of narrow armor over one shoulder.

“Who are you?” most divisions didn't interact all that much unless there was some sort of crisis, each sticking to their particular duties and section of Seireitei. The only exception to that she knew of all the Captains and their Divisions being different was in the case of the Eighth and Thirteenth Divisions because their Captains were friends and their barracks close to one another.

"Lieutenant Isshin of the Thirteenth Division.” she blinked at him. This guy was Captain Ukitake's lieutenant? She'd never even heard of him before. Then she remembered the manners that both of her mothers had tried to drill into her.

“Mimasaka Amaya. Nice to meet you.” she waited for the inevitable, for him to suddenly start treating her like everyone else did but her two 'fairy' Captains.

It didn't come. “Amaya-chan.” he smiled at her and it was a big goofy grin.

She just stared at him. He was treating her like a normal person. Then the stare turned into a grin.



*



“How is Amaya-san settling in?” he looked over at his best friend as they walked along the edge of one of the Eighth Division's many gardens.

“Fine, fine. She's taken ove...” Shunsui's words were drowned out by a series of loud bangs and yelling.

“Oh. Oh. What's this?” he followed Shunsui's gaze to the side of the building that held the Captain and lieutenant's quarters along with the Division's office.

The series of bangs continued along with the yelling.

“Isn't that Amaya-san's room?” he wondered what was going on and then didn't have to wonder any more as his lieutenant came bursting out of the room through the door at high speeds as he went flying.

“My, my. So dangerous.” Shunsui was grinning as he watched Isshin impact with the division's far outer wall. He looked back at the door of Amaya-san's room to see her standing there, hair looking as though she'd just woken up in nothing but a simple green sleeping robe.

“Next time I'm gonna kick harder dumbass!” she spun on her heel and disappeared into the darkness of her room. It was nearly noon and Amaya-san had been asleep?

“Little Amaya-chan's not a morning person.” Shunsui chuckled as he watched Isshin streak back to the room at high speeds. “It's a beautiful day Amaya-chan!” he disappeared into the room. “You should be up an...AHHHHHH!” Isshin came flying out the door again.

“I SAID STAY OUT DUMBASS!”

He smiled. So Amaya-san was settling in fine it seemed.



*



He wasn't going to laugh. Much.

"You ate all of her sweets again didn't you?” he fought down a chuckle. Shunsui was pinned to a wall by over a dozen blades with an ink mustache over his lips and the word idiot on his forehead.

“My little Amaya-chan over reacted again.” he was just hanging there, bland as could be. Fairly impressive considering he was a good few inches off the floor.

Two years Amaya-chan had been Shunsui's lieutenant and for two years he'd been finding his best friend in similar situations. Though the time she'd tied Shunsui up and left him as a present for Unohana had been the funniest. Mostly due to the note pinned to his hat.

He felt the whoosh of air as something came flying past his head from behind but he didn't move.

THWAK!

A ledger smacked Shunsui in the face before falling to the floor with a dull thud.

“And you can fill out your own damn reports today too!” Shunsui just smiled at his lieutenant. He turned, saw Amaya-san standing in the doorway with her hands on her hips and a scowl on her face. A scowl that changed to a bright smile at him “Oh hi Captain Ukitake!”

“Amaya-chan.” it was a whine. A specific whine from a specific voice, his own lieutenant. Amaya-san turned her blonde head and leaned out the doorway. “Shut up Isshin. I'm coming.”

“You're so inconsiderate, making us wait. Typical.”

Amaya-chan rolled her eyes at her fellow lieutenant's whining. “Bye Captain Ukitake.” she smiled at him and then looked over at Shunsui “Don't make me tell Captain Unohana who put purple dye in her lieutenant's tea pot.”

“Amaya-chan!”

She whipped around and was gone but they could hear her outside “That's it Isshin!” there was a pause, a thud and then a loud “OW! That hurts!” from his lieutenant.

Jūshirō sighed and shook his head as he looked over at his best friend. Shunsui just shrugged. Shunsui would never learn.

Neither would his lieutenant. But then it seemed that it was good for both of them and Amaya-san



*



“You're sure you want to do this?” she eyed Kasumi across the open field carefully. Her best friend was clad in the red and white uniform all the female students of the Academy wore, her zanpakutō held at her side. In the three years since since Kasumi had joined the Academy she'd avoided fighting her best friend in shikai when they sparred. Instead opting for using her speed and other skills because she didn't like facing anyone with both her blades if she could help it.

It wasn't for lack of skill on her own part, or her belief of anyone else's lack of skill either. It was because she felt like she had an unfair advantage. She had the skills of a slayer flowing through her and it had apparently become common knowledge that she could best anyone in Seireitei in unarmed combat. And when she added her zanpakutō it only got worse. She had two blades against pretty much everyone else's one. She had dual abilities where everyone else had one.

And then add to it that she had the slayer instinct in her that told her that killing something that wasn't evil was wrong. Fighting someone not evil was wrong.

But Kasumi had reached shikai the year before and her best friend was skilled and didn't have the outlets for training she'd had. Which was good because the Captain Commander tended to crush you like a bug and bad because her Captain and Captain Ukitake had helped her so much to learn how to use her zanpakutō.

“I'm sure dumbass.” the feel of reatisu as it began to swirl around Kasumi, a pale blue in color that caused the grass around her to simply disappear under the pressure.

Impressive.

She let out a sigh and closed her eyes. Not even Isshin had goaded her into releasing her shikai when they sparred. She focused on her own tightly controlled spiritual pressure and pulled on the string that she visualized in her mind that held it in. The reaction was instantaneous as that familiar feeling hit her and she opened her eyes to see the usual deep red and grayish dark blue green swirl around her. She felt the power build as she looked across the space to where Kasumi had released her shikai. “Michishio, Areno Ame.” the power, her power flared and obscured her vision as it always it as she felt the cool of Ame and the subtle heat of Areno in her hands.

She felt the rain begin to fall as she shifted her stance and weight. “Let's do this.” she pushed off into a run the very moment Kasumi did.



*



Kasumi was using her sword to keep herself upright, the blade having gone back to it's sealed state. She looked like a drowned rat with huge splotches of mud and blood all over her.

She moved over to her friend, Sliding Areno Ame back into her spot on her back as the rain began to taper off into almost nothing. “You...” pant “.....could...” pant “....have warned me.”

She draped Kasumi's uninjured right arm over her shoulder and supported her friend's entire weight. “I did warn you dumbass. I spent a three years sparring with Captains and a year getting beat down by the Captain Commander. Kinda gave me an unfair advantage.” she was going to leave out that she did have an unfair advantage for all the good it didn't do her against the three men who had pushed her to her limits and then taught her how to break those limits.

“Come on, lets get you to Captain Unohana so you can get patched up.” she held on more tightly and then flashed stepped them out of the completely demolished field.

There were a lot of reasons she didn't like to use her shikai. Many of them to do with her own issues with her natural abilities but the biggest one was fear. Not for herself but what she knew she was capable of with just her shikai. If she ever made it to bankai she knew she'd have even more issues.



*



“GOOOOD MOOOORNING AMAYA-CHAN!” she didn't even sit up from laying down in bed to knock the ever living crap out of Isshin as he pounced on her bed, or tried to.

THUD!

“I don't do mornings dumbass!” it wasn't quite her normal bellow at Isshin when he pulled his early morning stunts but she was tired. Two hours of sleep made for a cranky Amaya. Almost especially since she'd been out all night dealing with a hollow incursion with twenty of her men.

“It hurts!” she could tell Isshin was holding his nose from the sound of his voice.

“Kurosaki!” uh oh. Kasumi had arrived. She smiled as she rolled over onto her stomach and buried her face in her pillow. Her two best friends were constantly at odds with one another. Isshin usually lost though, Kasumi fought dirty.

The resulting five minutes of yelling and thumps and yelps as Kasumi drug Isshin out of her bedroom was ignored as she tried to force herself awake. The night before had been tiring but not all that dangerous. Just a lot of running around and killing hollows. Still, she was so not a morning person and unlike her Captain she didn't take afternoon naps or pull the lazy routine.

She sighed, ten years of Isshin harassing the hell out of her was normal. Thirteen years of her Captain harassing the hell out of her was normal. Nearly twenty years of Kasumi giving her hell was normal. And she wouldn't have had it any other way.

She flipped back over and sat up in bed. She could still hear her best friend and fourth seat trying, and probably succeeding, in kicking the shit out of her other best friend. Which was generally hilarious because Isshin was a lieutenant and Kasumi a fourth seat but no one messed with Nanao Kasumi.

She sighed and started to get up. It was another day and like all the ones before she needed to go face it.

Actually, despite the chaos she knew was waiting she wanted to face it.



*



She was gonna throttle him! Maybe drop a lightening bolt on his head! And she could do it too. Thirty plus years as a shinigami had only seen her power and control improve. She'd started above the curve in the Academy even with two blades to master and that curve had only gotten more steep over the years. Another sixty or seventy years and she might even be able to try for bankai if she wanted to.

Still, gonna kill him. She'd left him a stack of paperwork to do three days before with specific instructions that it had to be done and she'd gone to get it out of his office...

Only to find it exactly like she'd left it. She doubted he'd even gone in the damn room! She kept working her way to one of her Captain's favorite lazy spots. She'd find him and kill him! Lazy bum.

She turned the last corner and heard him begin to sing. Lazy bum or not he had good senses. She only knew about six people who could hear or sense her coming in all of Soul Society. A deep rumbling voice, actually a good singing voice if it didn't annoy the hell out of her. “My Amaya-chan. My lovely tiny tiny tiny Amaya-chan” she reached where he was laying on his back on the porch with his legs through the gaps in the railing and stomped her bare foot down on his midsection. “Ahhhh!”

“Dumbass!” she ignored him grunting in pain as she pulled back her foot. “I asked you to do those reports three days ago!”

“Things won't stop because I didn't do some paperwork Amaya.” he didn't use chan for once or even call her little. OooKaaayyy. What was wrong with him? She hadn't hit him any harder than usual and she was pretty sure the man could take on a train and come out unscathed.

When he reached up and grabbed her arm she yelped in a very girly way as he used the momentum of pulling her down to sit himself up. He chuckled, a deep rumbling sound that made her growl. She ended up on the wooden planks with a dull thud. “What the hell?” she glared at him.

“You're always come alive as the night falls Amaya-chan.” his voice was serious. Alright, someone had to have done something to him. He never got all serious with her unless it was in regards to some sort of fight. Then his words sank in and she sighed, his mood seeming to pass into her.

She picked her words carefully. How was she supposed to explain that slayers were night time creatures? She couldn't. Wouldn't. No one knew her past before she'd died and they never would. She still carried the slayer in her, always would, but she wasn't the slayer any more. She wasn't Buffy Summers any more. No one had even called her by that name in nearly half a century. She doubted she'd have even answered if someone had called her by it. “Some people are night time people, Captain.”

He hummed as she shifted into a more comfortable position, sliding her legs through the gaps in the railing like he had. They stayed like that for hours, watching as night chased away day and a different kind of life settled over everything.

She dropped a bookcase on him the next day for not doing the paperwork though.




*



"The Captain Commander has plans for my daughter doesn't he?" it was worded as a question but he knew it wasn't. He was certain Shunsui knew it as well. His friend had always seen to the heart of matters clearly, as did Mimasaka Michiko it seemed.

"The old man seems to think she's got the potential to be a captain someday." Shunsui's comment was bland and slightly amused but also proud. The first day his friend met Amaya-san had made an impression and she'd only furthered it since to both of them. She was lively, headstrong and different but those were all good qualities. She was also intelligent, insightful, wise, cunning, determined, strong willed, and a natural leader as well. Someday she would make an excellent captain. If she could ever reach bankai.

A nod from the small fine boned head of the Mimasaka family. "As I suspected." she smiled, a smile of a proud mother who also saw the truth of things. And was willing to let them take their course. "She's in the gardens with Kasumi-chan if you wish to see her before you leave." a dismissal. One that she could give. The Mimasaka family was one of the five great noble houses, none stood higher save for the King.

They both rose and made their retreat. Once the door slid closed they began to walk down the hall. "My, my, I know where Amaya-chan learned scary from."

He smiled, Mimasaka Michiko reminded him of Unohana and Unohana could be a very frightening lady when she wanted to be. And Shunsui knew it better than most. "Amaya-san?"

"Lets find little Amaya-chan. I bet she looks so pretty in a kimono."

It didn't take long to discover where Amaya-san was, they only needed to follow the sounds of bickering once they reached the gardens. They barely had Amaya-san in sight when Shunsui began to sing.

"My cute Amaya-chan! My lovely, lovely Amaya-cha....."

THUNK!

The book hit Shunsui in the face with all the accuracy of every other projectile that came his way from Amaya-san. Which meant it hit him right in the nose.

"Owwww!"

“Captain Ukitake? What are both of you doing here?” Amaya-san looked worried and he knew very few things could make such a strong willed and minded woman as Mimasaka Amaya worried. He smiled at her. “Mimasaka-dono wished to know about the progress you have made.”

“Oh.” the simple word was full of both understanding and confusion. One that set his mind to work as well.

Something was not as it seemed.




*



She'd been a shinigami for a little over a eighty six years when everything in her world, her new life changed. There was no warning, none. One day Michiko, her okaa-san, had been alive and well. The next she was gone. Gone from an illness that her okaa-san had kept hidden from her.

Her okaa-san was gone. Her second mother.

She stood at the far edge of her division's training grounds, the men she'd been training forgotten, as the skies turned dark and the earth shook. She stood there numb to all of it as she gripped the letter in her hand.



*



“Captain Ukitake!” the man looked frazzled. A man from the Eighth Division.

“Yes?” worry settled into him. Something was wrong.

“It's lieutenant Mimasaka, something is happening. Captain Kyōraku needs your help.” the worry did more than settle, it pooled. Something was wrong with Amaya. Very little ever was truly wrong with Amaya. She might man handle Shunsui on a regular basis and consider taking on twenty hollows alone fun but little ever went wrong with her.

He moved like the wind.



*



Pain, raw and deep and sharp and soul searing and her okaa-san was gone.

She was alone. Alone.

“No friends, no family, no hope. All that remains...”

She blinked through painfully dry eyes, saw the desert around her. Felt the storm under her very skin. “Is us.” the words were like the sand, small and insignificant alone but in the desert....

In the desert they were vast.

Her eyes focused on Areno Ame, the same form that had always been there. The same face, the same eyes, the same clothes.

Always the same.

Her zanpakutō's face was solemn, a mirror of things lost over time. “You do not have to be alone. Not ever. Take what is offered to you. Mourn what passes. We remain.”

“Alone.” the word was like fire and ice and dead things. Her mothers, both of them, were gone. Her human life was gone. Her past was gone. Death had taken everything.

“Take it!” a shout, rolling thunder and the earth itself screaming at her.

She felt the weight of her swords in her hands.



*



His lungs burned, too much exertion to go from his family's manor to the Eighth Division's training grounds so quickly. He ignored it as he stopped next to Shunsui with Kurosaki-san and Nanao-san further down. They stood high on the wall, staring down on the rolling orb of reatisu. A reatisu he knew, Amaya's.

“What happened?” he did not take his eyes from the the orb, ignored the feel of the rain as it poured down in harsh sheets. As the earth shook and lightening flashed through the sky.

“Her mother.” Shunsui's voice was serious, worried for his lieutenant. How could he not be after nearly a ninety years of her in their lives? He felt the power shake, spike. Like an angry rolling storm for long minutes. Then suddenly it went from the harshness of a hurricane to the eye of the storm in the blink of an eye as the orb seemed to be sucked in.

Leaving two figures standing in the pouring rain. One he knew, Amaya-san. Dressed in her modified uniform, the sleeves gone, her sword sheath strapped across her back and the ends of her green obi dancing around her. The other he did not know. She stood facing Amaya, her hair dark, skin pale, eyes bright. Dressed in tight and yet flowing clothing that spoke of the western world.

Areno Ame.

The very personification of Amaya's sword. He knew what was happening. He'd lived it himself once.

All around him things stilled, the wind that had howled around them, the rain that had poured down, the earth that had trembled. He stood, a statue, as the blade in the foreign figure's grasp came down on Amaya-san only for the small golden woman to catch it in one hand, letting it cut but holding it steady. Blood flowed down her arm as the second blade lashed out and was caught as well.

Amaya grunted in pain as she pulled both blades closer in a hard motion and the faces of the two became level. “Over and over it all goes away and I remain.” Amaya-san's voice grew hard as reatisu began to build so strongly it would have hurt most to endure it. All around the two figures the ground beneath their feet began to shift and disappear under the pressure. The pit that had already formed growing deeper. “I've always been stronger than you.”

A bright light flared all around the two figures that made him close his eyes against it and when he opened them all that remained the the small crater was Amaya. Mimasaka Amaya, the now head of the Mimasaka family and wielder of a bankai over a century before he believed she would. She was on her knees, her zanpakutō held in a limp and bloody hand as rain poured down on her, but he could see the tears in her eyes.

He glanced at Shunsui, his friend's face was somber as he stared at his lieutenant. But only for a moment before Shunsui moved faster than anyone else.

He followed and reached their side as Shunsui draped his haori over the small figure and pulled her sobbing form into his arms. "I'm so sorry Amaya-chan." so was he.



*



She could feel them behind her, the four people who had been her rock over the last few weeks. The ones that had kept her going, kept her sane. Kept her from falling apart.

Areno Ame had kept oddly silent since she'd broken down, a fact that she was oddly grateful for. She had no desire to think about the fact that she had joined the ranks of those who had reached bankai.

The breeze ruffled her hair, reminded her that she was still moving, still breathing even though she was dead in the human world.

“Mimasaka-san.” Captain Ukitake's voice brought her back to reality further. Back from the separation her mind had been in for the last few weeks as she'd dealt with the loss of her okaa-san, with becoming the head of a noble family, with everything changing around her. Back to the stiff formality that she'd never been comfortable with but that the culture she was now a part of held to.

“Amaya, just Amaya.” they had been part of her rock, her foundation. Just like the slayer had become part of her foundation, just like the Scoobies had once been. Just like both of her mothers had been.

She kept her gaze on the sunset painting the sky in vibrant colors. Another chapter of her life had ended and now another lay before her. She'd never been ready for them when they happened but she always made it through somehow.



*



“There are several possible candidates, Mimasaka-dono, you need only to ch...”

“Hold it right there!” this was not happening. Not. Happening. No, could not be happening. The Mimasaka house elders did not just tell her she was expected to pick someone to marry off a list!

Only they were. They expected her to get married. To just pick someone from a list and do it. Just like that. So it was turning out that her okaa-san had been protecting her from this little bit of enormously not fun.

And so not happening.

“I am not getting married!” one of them opened his mouth to protest and she put a hand up as she reigned in the urge to have a hissy fit. She'd just have to use logic, her logic. And if they didn't like it tough. She was the head of the house now not them.

“I refuse to get married. Not to someone I don't know. Not to someone who just wants to climb the social ladder. And especially not right now!” she didn't quite yell the last part but it was close.

“You must obey the clan's laws, Mimasaka-dono.” that name, that title. It didn't make her flinch any more but she still didn't like it. Mimasaka-dono had been her okaa-san. She was Amaya-chan.

The clan laws. The stupid clan laws. She was not going to have a screaming fit. She was too old for it and it wouldn't do any good. She sighed. She'd signed up for this with fairly open eyes to how antiquated the society was. How traditionally Japanese which was a contrast to her very modern Californian mentality.

She'd accepted it and now she was gonna have to eventually deal with it.



*



“You could always marry Captain Ukitake.” they were drunk, very drunk. All four of them. Herself, Kasumi, Isshin and Captain Kyōraku. It'd been her sake loving Captain's idea. Captain Ukitake was having another bout with his illness.

She scrunched up her nose at Kasumi's suggestion as her Captain laughed. “No way. It'd be like marrying Captain lush over here.” she poked her Captain in the side with a finger. She was using his haori as a pillow because she could barely move. The thing about sake was that it didn't taste like alcohol but it hit you like a freakin truck pretty fast, basically the minute you tried to move. And of the four of them she was the biggest lightweight.

“Well you've made it pretty hard for them to find you a husband Amaya.” Kasumi and Isshin had taken her at her word and called her just Amaya now but Captain Ukitake and her Captain still called her Amaya-chan. At least it was an improvement over anything else they could have called her.

And urgh her brain hurt. And her legs were numb. Sake equaled evil only she couldn't even slay the stuff.

She realized that she'd left everyone hanging for a minute as her brain tried to function. “Yeah. So hopefully it will be a very long time before they bug me about it again. Me and marriage just aren't going to work.”

Huge epic scale not going to work. And especially not an arranged marriage.

“The head of the Shiba clan isn't married.” she moved just her eyes over to Isshin, nothing else wanted to move after the effort it took to poke her Captain. “Half the Shiba Clan is crazy.” another one of the great noble families or not there was no way she was gonna marry a member of the fireworks making Shiba clan.

She wasn't going to marry anyone if she could help it. She hadn't even thought about romance since she'd died for cripes sake.

“You want another drink Amaya-chan?” she rolled her eyes over to where her Captain was sitting, looking the most sober of all of them.

“You suck.”

The last thing she remembered before finally passing out was him laughing at her.



*



“Shinji!” she looked around the mostly demolished state of the office she 'shared' with her Captain. Not that he ever used it. “Kasumi!” the room was littered with Sake bottles and the half dressed bodies of her three closest friends. “Isshin!” though she was really wondering how she'd ended up with three hopeless cases for good friends.

She was still wondering why she hadn't throttled the seventh seat of the Fifth Division yet too but she'd been wondering that since the day he'd sort of fallen in with them ten years before.

“Hey, hey, Amaya-chan! Come join us.” her Captain's head popped from around the edge of the desk and she just gaped.

Of course her Captain was the only one not passed out. In the middle of the afternoon, drunk. She might sleep until nearly noon every day when Isshin didn't try to sneak attack her but this was unbelievable.

“Idiots!” un-freakin-believable.

Wait. Who was she kidding? Yeah it was.



*



“So how's Captain life treating you?” she handed the bottle of sake over to Kasumi since she refused to take a whole one of her own. She was opting to steal drinks from Kasumi's bottle.

“Good.” Isshin took a drink out his own bottle. He'd only been a Captain a couple of weeks and it was still taking some getting used to. Captain Kurosaki. It just sounded weird. A reminder that things changed.

She was half sure that given a century or two she'd end up a captain too. After all, she suspected that's where the Captain Commander had been pushing her since she'd first entered the Academy. Well, she more than suspected it, she pretty much knew it. Then she'd been the heir of a noble house that had never shown any signs of becoming involved with the Gotei 13. Now she was the head of the Mimasaka clan with a bankai under her proverbial belt that she'd finally mastered.

“Things are changing again.” she pulled her knees up and tucked them in close to her chest as they watched the sun set from their rooftop spot.

“They often do.” Isshin agreed and she tipped herself slightly and leaned her head onto his shoulder.



*



The sounds of her feet on the boards as she moved beat in time with her thoughts. Don't screw up. Don't screw up. Don't screw up.

She couldn't screw up. Could not.

The Captain Commander had been pushing her in the direction of being a Captain since day one. Ukitake and Kyōraku both believed she could pass otherwise her Captain wouldn't have nominated her for the position as the Captain of the Tenth Division. They thought she could do it. Her friends thought she would be a good Captain.

She wouldn't let them down. She slowed, stopped in front of the door where the Captain Commander and two other Captains waited for the testing.

She could do this.

She took a deep breath and moved.



*



Her rooms. Her rooms for over a century. The only other rooms she'd had longer were the ones she'd first woken up in at the Mimasaka manor because she refused to move into the rooms that had been her okaa-san's. She was leaving her place. Her second home in Soul Society. Moving into the Captain's quarters of the Tenth Division. It felt like she'd been in the rooms before her forever and yet it didn't. Over a century had just seemed to fly by.

Funny how time seemed to matter so much less sometimes when you were dead.

“Don't look so sad Amaya-chan, you'll make me sad too.” she looked over at her Captain, her friend. “Sorry Captain. I just...”

“It's Shunsui now.” he smiled at her. “No sad face. Today we celebrate.”

“Uh.” she wasn't sure if she was saying it regards to calling her, now former, Captain by his first name or the thought of his and her friend's idea of celebrating. She still couldn't remember the entire second half of the party they'd thrown when Isshin had been made a Captain.

He grinned at her and her stomach sank a little. Oh boy.

She was going to be completely useless the next day because of the hangover.



*



She'd heard people say that age made you more wise. She'd always thought that it meant that you made fewer mistakes. That you were more sure of things. That you got better at dealing with certain things. You know, been there, done that and all that jazz.

The truth was less neat. Less simple than the way people said it was. You got older and over time you did get a little wiser but the truth was that you quickly forgot some of the lessons you learned and had to learn them over and over again.

And some things never got easier.

Not loosing those she led, not loosing those she loved. Knowing the right things to do. But time did teach you things. About yourself, about who you really were. About how to live every day to the best of your ability.

Age didn't always bring the wisdom she'd once thought it would but time taught her a lot in it's place.



*



“I'm starting to turn into Shunsui.” she really was. Being Captain, having a lieutenant that actually did work had left her with more free time. Twenty odd years before she could have used the time to get a handle on being the head of the Mimasaka clan. Now though she had it well under control and things ran smoothly.

Her division ran like a streamlined machine thanks to Kirio and it was leaving her with a lot of free time. Time she had no idea how to spend. Before she'd died she'd had school and the slayer. After her death she'd spent all her time learning in one form or another or running the day to day of the Eighth Division. But being a Captain meant leading in tough situations and overseeing. Less hands on.

So she was going completely stir crazy with nothing to do.

“You could always take up a hobby Amaya.” she glanced over at where Jushiro was feeding his koi.

“Any good ideas for what?” she had no decent ones. She'd already learned ikebana, calligraphy, kodo, and sado. You know, the girly stuff proper 'ladies' were supposed to know.



*



Maybe if he didn't move he wouldn't be noticed. Well, if he was very lucky. “Is that?”

“Yes.”

“Why is she?” he almost didn't want to know.

“Hobby.” Kasumi shook her head.

“Jushiro didn't?” but his eyes were telling a different story. His once Captain had.

A nod and a shudder. “He did.”

“Why?”

“Because he's clearly insane and half suicidal.” well wasn't that the truth.

“Do we have to?” he'd have rather faced a Menos bare handed and drunk than face what was before them.

A resigned sigh from Kasumi. “Yeah, we do.”

The things he did for his friends. Amaya's cooking was potentially fatal. “Fine, but if I have to suffer so does Shunsui and Shinji.” if one of them had to suffer Amaya's cooking then all of them were going to do it together.

And maybe throw Jushiro into his koi pond later for suggesting cooking as Amaya's new hobby.



*



“I still think you were trying to kill us.” she looked over to where Kasumi was sprawled out on the floor, still looking a bit green from the previous night's dinner.

“I was not!” ok, so she sucked at cooking. Really sucked. But she honestly hadn't meant to make everyone sick.

“You need another hobby.” Isshin had his face buried in his bunched up Captain's haori, apparently trying to use it as a pillow. Not that anyone else was much better off. If she didn't know any better she'd have sworn even Jushiro's hair had a green tint to it to match his face.

“Well yeah.” Shunsui's head popped up a little bit and she could see it over the edge of the table. “Music, Amaya-chan, try music. You can't kill us with music.”

“Until she decides to use the instrument as a weapon.” she glared at Isshin.

“Don't give her any ideas.” Jushiro had a cloth on his forehead and his eyes were still closed. Shinji didn't even move. She was pretty sure he was passed out.

She glared at the room in general even though it was half of what it should have been. Slayer constitution or not she was still suffering from her attempt at cooking too. “Thanks so much for the love guys.”



*



She was crouched down, her haori pushed back to keep from being a nuisance as she and Jushiro hid from the students that were hunting for them. A tactical trial day, her idea now that she'd been teaching at the Academy off and on for a nearly a century. A fun game to make sure that their rising number of Academy recruits could handle real life situations. The premise was simple; hunt down and capture the Captains.

Next to her there was a sudden loud clatter. “Oops.”

She turned her head to glare at Jushiro “Oops? Oops!” a shrill whisper. No self respecting man Shiro's age should say oops! The sounds of fast movement around them and she looked around.

Crap! Students, lots of students. “Run!”

They moved, shumpo their friend. “You seriously suck at the stealth thing Shiro.”

“I said oops!” his white hair was flying behind him.

“Because that's gonna make it ok if a bunch of student's beat us!” they kept moving but she knew they still had at least half a dozen of the more experienced students following.

Oops her left butt cheek.



*



They were standing in the dark, all of them sitting together on the roof of the Eighth Division's Captain's Quarters. It was their spot, the place they all had seemed to gather over the years the most for various reasons.

“I'm going to talk to the Captain Commander tomorrow.” she wouldn't do it. She wouldn't be part of a war with humans. She didn't care what the Central 46 or the Captain Commander said. She didn't care what the Quincy's did. She would not kill a human. She shinigami in her had long since learned and accepted the way things were in Soul Society but the slayer in her had it's own code of ethics.

The slayer in her would not let her kill a human, even a spiritually advanced one.

“You're walking a dangerous path Amaya.” she glanced over at Jushiro and nodded. He believed in two reasons to fight. To protect and for honor. She only believed in one, to protect.

Going to war with the Quincy's wouldn't be protecting the thing she'd sworn to protect first, human life.

“I won't kill humans, Shiro. And nothing anyone else says is going to change my mind.”



*



You look like hell.” she glared at Isshin as he sat down near her bed.

“Of course I look like hell, I took two dozen blades to the body to give you and Jushiro the damn opening to deal with Baishin.” it'd only been twelve hours since she'd been wounded and she was one of the lucky ones. They'd lost sixty three seated officers and two Captains in the last three days, she was lucky she was still 'alive'.

Others hadn't been so lucky. Too many others. It left a bad taste in her mouth.

“The Captain Commander called a meeting.”

“I know, Unohana refused to let me go.” she was fond of the other Captain, she really was, but Unohana was not to be messed with if you were smart.

“We've been ordered to fill the missing ranks and offer our nominations for the open Captain positions.” his face was somber, tired. They were all tired, worn. In all her years in Soul Society they'd never lost so many vital people at once. It made her mind play the 'what if's' like crazy while she lay confined to a bed.

She gave a nod. “Kirio's qualified and she'd be a good captain.”

“Hikifune?”

She gave a small nod. “She reached bankai about ten years ago. I don't think she knows I know about it though.”

“You'll have to find another lieutenant then.”

“Yeah. Maybe I'll harass Shinji into taking the job.”

A small chuckle. “Because that will go so well.”

“At least I won't be so bored all the time.” she really had been bored for the last five hundred years. She'd pick up a hobby and either master it or fail epically and move on and unfortunately there were only so many things she could learn. Teaching at the Academy had kept her from going completely crazy but it wasn't enough to fill up all her open time.

Besides, it wasn't like she didn't know how to do paperwork. She'd done it for years with Shunsui and she doubted Shinji would be so bad. No one could beat Shunsui at avoiding paperwork.



*



“I don't have a lot of time for this today, Sousuke.” she almost wanted to glare at the Mimasaka elder for dragging her away from her duties but just couldn't do it to the old man. Besides, forcing Shinji to have to deal with the two dozen new members of her Division appealed to her vindictive streak after he'd cracked a short joke at her earlier in the day.

“Mimasaka-dono, I have finally made arrangements for your marriage with a candidate that meets your requirements.” her eyes went big. Ok huge really. Marriage?!! Arrangements?

See very large panic button. See Amaya hit the very large panic button very very hard.

Ok, breathe. Just breathe. Just breathe dammit!

Ok what had her requirements been? Think. Uh. No one who wanted to marry up the social ladder. No one she didn't know. And not right then.

Oh.

Then. Then had been almost seven hundred years before.

Once she'd managed to calm down to only a mild state of panic she focused on Sousuke. “Marriage to whom?”

“Kuchiki Byakuya, heir of the Kuchiki Clan.” her eyes went wide again. “But-But-Bu..”

“The contracts have been arranged Mimasaka-dono. To refuse now would bring dishonor to the Mimasaka Clan. You trusted me in this matter and I have finally found a future husband for you that meets all of the requirements you placed upon me.”

She wanted to scream. To have a hissy fit big enough to scare even her closest friends away, but she couldn't. Not in front of Sousuke. Not as the head of the Clan.

But she was trapped. Freaking trapped. She had to obey the laws of her clan, couldn't dishonor her okaa-san's legacy.

She couldn't do it.

Even if it meant marrying someone she hadn't met yet and didn't love. But she had time, a lot of time. Kuchiki Byakuya was young still, in his teens still if she remembered right which meant that maybe she could put off the inevitable for a very long while.

She watched Sousuke bow and leave the room before she completely deflated and just dropped down onto the floor to sit in a heap.

Married. Married to the heir of another one of the great noble families.

She wanted to throw up or just pass out.



*



He saw her standing there, petals dancing around her as the white of her haori reflected the sun. She was bright, shining, more so than even the sun to him. Bigger than life, bigger than anything he had ever seen before. She was the sun with sakura blossoms in her hair.

She was Mimasaka Amaya.

She was his future wife.

In a few moments she was everything.



*



“I give up!” she planted herself on one of the boulders in the hidden training grounds that Kisuke had built under Sōkyoku Hill. The kid was a genius even if he was a little quiet and shy. Basically Yoruichi's own version of Willow in the best friend department.

She smiled as Yoruichi came to a stop on another boulder about fifty feet away and did a little victory dance. Yoruichi was young, not even an adult yet, but she had to admit that one day it was likely that the student was going to beat the master.

Yoruichi had clearly just proven it by beating her in flash steps. The dark complected girl had a lot of potential and she was glad she'd agreed to help begin the future head of the Shihōin Clan's training early. The clan ran the Special Forces and Yoruichi's father wanted to make sure that his successor would have no problems later being the first female head of the family.

As the only female head of one of the great noble families she'd been willing to help. Besides training Yoruichi and Kisuke kept the boredom at bay. And her being busy meant that Shinji actually had to work, the blonde pain in the ass.

“Alright you two, that's it for today.” she pushed herself up from the rock. She might make Shinji do the work of a lieutenant but she actually did the work a Captain was suppose to do unlike Shunsui and she wasn't about to let the Tenth Division fall into any kind of disorder.



*



Nine hundred and eleven years.

The one thousand eight hundred and third year of the Academy.

That was the year. That was when the pain took her by surprise. That's when she was ripped apart.

There were sakura blossoms in the wind the day Willow ripped her away.

The day another curtain fell.



*




*I know I've tweaked the timeline a bit and made Byakuya older than he's supposed to be but the image of him being older that Yoruichi and her calling him little Byakuya like she does all the time just gave me the giggles and worked so well for later in the story. Don't hate me for it.

Now reviews are my friend and this concludes the first story in the Breaking the Fall Series. Next story to follow in a few days.


And remember feedback/questions/ideas/whatever are loved but flames will be fed to my balrog bunny Buggy.

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