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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 > BleachjezaeiriFR13223,729306316,67626 Oct 0926 Oct 09Yes

Awake

Disclaimer: I do not own Buffy the Vampire Slayer nor do I own Bleach. Each belong to their respective creators and I gain no profit from this. Please do not sue me. You will get nothing.


A/N: I know I shouldn't be starting on yet another series but this has been kicking around in my head for a while as a lone one shot that I happened to mention to my great fellow writer and friend Nightwolf on Paradise Lost and somehow thanks to her it's grown into something else.

This is a completely new genre for me and I would love any and all feedback as this is the first in a series of three stories. This one is fairly short as will be the second one but the third will be comparable to most of my other stories. Be warned.


Now here we go.



Illustration






Death is lighter than a feather, duty heavier than a mountain.

It really was. But death was her gift. Her gift to give, her gift to accept. The choice was her own. The choice was the easiest one she ever had to make. Dawn or death.

Death is lighter than a feather and for one overwhelming moment in her pain as she fell through the vortex so was she.



*



Rain and the sounds of the night. Heavy air and pain. So much pain. Echoes of voices, the words unclear and then blissful oblivion.



*



Distant sounds of water, the smell of incense and other things. Voices, words with no meaning over and over again as the darkness and pain came and went. How many times? Ten, a hundred? She didn't know.



*



The taste of water, cool and welcome. The pain was so much less than other times. The water left her throat and her eyes opened. Soft light and warmth. This was not what she'd expected hell to look like.

Where was she?

She turned her head, pain flared, sharp, a hundred small blades at the base of her skull. Easily ignored after so much greater pains for what felt like lifetimes. A large room, ornate yet simple. But her perspective was distorted, she realized why. Not on a bed but closer to the floor.

Then it came together, the look of the room. She'd seen ones like it before. A hundred other times thanks to Xander's love of wire fu movies. Asian.

Not home.

Not hell.

But she'd died. So where was she?

Blackness descended again before she had any answer.



*



A voice, soft and almost lilting. Gentle hands and cool water. Her eyes opened and met a deep gray gaze. Surprise and kindness? She blinked and the eyes moved back. She could see the whole face now. A woman, brown haired with small features. Almost like the fairy pictures on Tara's bedroom wall.

A blue gray kimono and delicate build. The woman's lips moved, the sound soft and kind but the sounds made no sense.

Not hell but......

“I don't understand.”

Darkness, a curtain falling over her.



*



The room was empty when the curtain of darkness receded again. The pain was almost gone, only waves lapping at the shore instead of a tsunami. She managed to sit up with a small effort and took in her surroundings once again.

Self preservation leads one to do things that others rarely understand, such was the reason few, if any, knew just what she hid beneath the surface.

Which was why she knew what culture her surroundings were from. Japan, and not modern.

The why and how though were very unclear.

A panel of the wall opened, revealing a face she remembered. Kind gray eyes, delicate features, dark hair. Surprise quickly hidden as the woman entered the room. Green silk and movements, water flowing down stream.

The woman sat, a small smile, encouraging and kind. She spoke but the sounds, words had no meaning. Whispers of nothing. She looked down at her hands, half hidden by pure white sleeves. “I'm sorry. I don't understand.” she looked up and met gray eyes.

There was a moment and then that kind smile came back as understanding settled over the woman's features. A delicate hand, rose up and touched her chest. “Michiko.”

That Buffy understood. A name. It was a start and she needed a start. Needed to know what had happened. She'd died, she knew it. Like she knew the sky was blue. But where was she? Not hell. No one with eyes that kind could be from hell. Not heaven, she was sure that she wouldn't still hurt if she was there. So where? And why and how?

Soft voice again. “Michiko.” the woman's hand was on her chest and Buffy's brain began to work. That had been the second name but obviously it was the woman's first name.

Understanding dawned. Last name came first. “Summers Buffy.”

Michiko smiled and bowed her head in greeting. Buffy did as well. And then Michiko reached out and placed a hand gently on her shoulder, pushing her to lay back.

Michiko said something else that she didn't understand but the intent was clear. Rest.

So she did.

And once again the curtain fell.



*



Pink petals danced in the wind, the breeze making her hair move around her shoulders. It was beautiful, peaceful. Not heaven she had decided, nor hell. But so distant from Sunnydale that it didn't matter. But she was dead, she could sense it in her very bones. Which meant that her blood had stopped flowing and that the world was safe. Everyone she loved was safe.

They would take care of each other, the Scoobies. They always did. Which left her with this. She didn't know why she was here, or even for certain where here was, but never the less there was nothing she could do about it.

And it was peaceful and so beautiful. Even if she didn't understand anything that was spoken to her.

Though she believed Michiko planned to change that. The older woman, though she could not have been more than forty at worst, had been there when she had woken again with food and fresh clothing and soft kindness.

Indicating things and giving the word for it as she had helped Buffy to dress and eat and become presentable. She had little doubt that Michiko intended for her to learn the language.

But she had gathered some things, some information. The house that she was in, it wasn't simply a house it was an estate, a huge one. With many buildings and gardens and people. And that Michiko wasn't just a servant. From the way that the few people she'd seen acted the estate had to belong to Michiko, or at least to a member of Michiko's family.

Dark green silk fluttered in the breeze, pink petals dancing around her. What would she do now?



*



Days bled from one to the next. Slowly, peacefully. Left to her thoughts peace came, acceptance. It was slow but it came and other things came to occupy her mind by bits and pieces. Learning mostly, and she did. The first being that the house, estate was in fact Michiko's. An intimidating realization but one that was made much less so by Michiko's personality. But that was not the only thing she began to learn. If Michiko could not be with her a servant was, Kasumi. Young, sweet and incredibly patient she began to teach.

Languages had never been her strong suit, she'd barely passed French in high school but there was something to be said for having your own private teacher.

And for being surrounded by a language all the time.

She still only understood only one word out of ten after two months but she was finally starting to make a little progress. Now that she had accepted that this was where she was going to be spending her afterlife anyway.



*



Thump!

“Owww!” Buffy rubbed her head where Kasumi had smacked her as she sat up in bed. Just over a year before she'd thought Kasumi was sweet, now she knew better. “What was that for?”

Kasumi looked over her shoulder, oh Buffy knew that look. That was the 'you're a moron for asking' look. Buffy really wished she didn't understand Japanese now, because at least then she'd had the illusion that Kasumi wasn't a pain in her ass.

Not any more though. She understood and could speak and Kasumi knew it. Which explained the book to the head. “Get up, lazy! Mimasaka-dono has requested your presence.”

“Michiko-san?” Buffy got out of bed and walked over to where Kasumi was digging through her clothes. Silk kimono's went flying until Kasumi found the one she was looking for. A green and blue one that was more formal than the other ones. She held it out. “Put this on. We can't keep Mimasaka-dono waiting.”

Buffy took it and retreated behind the screen in the corner of the room. It'd taken her a while to get used to the clothing everyone wore but she could get dressed now without help.

Well except for one thing and only with what she was currently putting on. She adjusted the sleeves a bit as Kasumi came around the screen. Kasumi was technically her maid, appointed by Michiko but she didn't act like one. Well, she did when Michiko was around but any other time? Nope, not really. More like an bossy older sister with violent tendencies, a foul mouth, and a freaky love of bad romance stories.

“Too slow. Move it!” Kasumi began to tie the sea green obi as Buffy ran the comb Kasumi had handed her though her long hair.

“Will you shut up! I'm going as fast as I can.” Buffy griped as she twisted her hair up and reached over to grab two ornate hair sticks from the low table to her left. She jabbed them in and turned. “There, ready. Happy?”

Kasumi began to head for the door. “No. Come on moron.”

Buffy followed her into the hallway. “Keep it up and I'm hiding your collection again.”

Kasumi just glared at her as they kept walking, brown eyes clearly not happy. Not happy in the sense that Buffy knew she wanted to smack her. But Kasumi had long ago learned that attacks while Buffy was asleep were the only ones that worked. Buffy might have been dead now but she still had all the perks of being a slayer.

Which she needed to handle Kasumi because the older girl was very very good at inflicting physical damage for a maid.

They reached the door to Michiko's private rooms and waited as Kasumi knocked. From inside came Michiko's soft voice. “Enter.”

Kasumi slid the door open and Buffy entered, leaving Kasumi to slide it closed. Michiko sat before a table, tea waiting before her. Buffy, now well used to how certain things went made her way over an sat, her body tucking in to the traditional method of sitting easily.

“Kasumi-chan tells me that you have mastered speaking in our language now.” Michiko began to pour the tea for the both of them, It wasn't normal for the Head of one of the Five Great Noble Houses to pour tea but she'd learned that Michiko wasn't normal behind closed doors. Not that she knew anyone outside of the manor to tell anyway.

Buffy looked down at her hands and then back up. Yes she could speak in Japanese now with little effort but a good fifty percent of that had come from her constant bickering with Kasumi. You can't have a verbal throw down with someone unless you can use the language. She stifled a snort. “Yes. Kasumi-chan has been very........helpful.”

A knowing smile at the fact that she used chan instead of san just to annoy Kasumi.. Buffy was sure the other servants and guards reported in on how she and Kasumi acted with one another. But then for all that Kasumi was her maid and teacher Buffy also counted her as a friend.

One that she'd realized she desperately needed since she hadn't left the Mimasaka estate since she'd arrived. In Soul Society. The name still made her want to snicker. But only the name. Soul Society was exactly what it sounded like. A place for souls. Some, like Michiko were born there but most came from earth. Those souls who didn't go to heaven or hell immediately, they stayed in Soul Society. In a place that she'd learned wasn't perfect but it wasn't purgatory either.

And it really was a society. Upper and lower classes, police, doctors, merchants, everything. And Michiko was a member of the nobility. “You're wondering why, perhaps, I asked to see you today.” that was Michiko for you, not big on the standing of formality from what Kasumi had told her. Much to Kasumi's and everyone else's chagrin at times. Michiko was kind, caring, like a loving aunt.

And Buffy did love her. Michiko had saved her, taken her in. Treated her like family for no other reason than that she was a good person.

“Yes.” she saw Michiko fairly often, every other day. Mostly they would talk about her lessons or Buffy's family. Michiko had been her shoulder to cry on when the grief had finally hit. And then she'd been there as Buffy built herself back up and made her smile.

Michiko's face became serious, a look Buffy rarely saw. “The house of Mimasaka is a noble one. One that has had a woman as its head for many generations.”

Buffy knew this. Michiko had been the head of the Mimasaka family since she was Buffy's age. Michiko had a younger sister, Tomoko who had few interests besides the gardens of the estate. That was no surprise though, the Mimasaka family was known for its skills in the arts. But she didn't understand why Michiko was bringing it up.

Michiko seemed to understand her confusion and went on. “Over the generations we have begun to grow weaker, something I cannot continue to allow.” Buffy wasn't sure she liked where this was going. Michiko was strong, just not the usual type. It was a quiet strength, the kind that few understood the value of until it was too late. “My sister does not have the...qualities needed to lead our house and so I must find a suitable heir.”

Buffy just stared dumbly for a moment as it sank in. Michiko had been married once and he had died. An odd thing considering that this was a place full of the dead but it was possible. Once you died in Soul Society you were finally reborn into the living world again. Or at least that was what she'd been told. But Michiko had loved her husband and had refused to remarry despite protests from others.

“That is why I would like to make you my heir.” Buffy looked up from the table sharply. Her? The heir of the Mimasaka house? She went completely non verbal. Michiko gave another of her kind smiles. “You have the strength of character required. I cannot allow the Mimasaka family to fall and you above all others are the best choice.”

Buffy just sat there. Brain working a mile a minute. Her, head of the Mimasaka family. It didn't compute. She wasn't nobility. Especially not the top notch of nobility. Hell, she had only just mastered the language.

“I...I'm not sure what to say.” it wasn't an eloquent answer but her language skills were failing her. Along with the rest of her brain. She'd had a year to come to terms with the fact that this was her life now, a year to let go and to learn to be happy with what she had. A year to gain two friends and learn how to smile, really smile.

But this? It was one thing to be a permanent guest and 'companion' to Michiko, it was another to have the duty of being the head of a noble family.

“I need to think.” was the only answer she had.



*



Three days, three days where even Kasumi gave her a break. No sneak attacks, no booby trapped doors, not even any name calling. She almost missed it, almost. Not having to stay on high alert for shoes or books flying at her head was a nice change. But the quiet did give her time to think, to consider the path laid before her.

Should she do it? Her old life was gone, left behind her the moment she'd died. The closest thing she had to family now was Michiko. The woman who had taken her in and offered her a place. It wasn't as if she had any other ties.

But could she do it? Could she lead a noble family?

After saving the world it didn't seem like such a great challenge. Not really anyway. But could she cut that last tie? Could she stop being Buffy the vampire slayer and be Buffy the heir of the Mimasaka family?

It wasn't being normal in the way she'd always dreamed when she was alive but yes she could.



*



There were cherry blossoms floating in the breeze out in the garden. Sakura, she reminded herself. Most of the time she found herself still thinking in English but sometimes, bits and pieces popped in in Japanese.

More and more, actually.

But she loved the smell and the beauty of them, so calm, so peaceful. So everything her life hadn't been before she died.

When Michiko sat down next to her she wasn't surprised, she still had her slayer abilities, well all of them except the instinct to fight constantly. That had calmed down until a lot and what little urge to fight she had she used dodging attacks from Kasumi

“You have reached a decision.” Michiko didn't make it a question. She didn't have to. Buffy knew that Michiko knew her well enough after a year to know when she had something on her mind.

Buffy gave a nod, not really trusting herself to speak in any language.

“Then tomorrow your training shall begin.” Michiko looked as serene as usual but Buffy felt a sense of dread fill her.

Training?



*



“Damn it Kasumi! That's too tight!” Buffy couldn't breathe. And air, air was her friend.

“Stop whining, dumb ass.” was accompanied by a thump to the back of her head. Only she could end up with a personal maid who liked to smack her on a regular basis.

No respect. Well at least not from Kasumi. Not that she was overly fond of the massive formality that she'd been treated with over the last five years. Actually she didn't like it at all. Everyone who wasn't Michiko or Kasumi treated her like she was a damn doll. Easy to break and all stuffed shirt. Well stuffed kimono anyway.

It was always Amaya-dono this Amaya-dono that. Lady Amaya her left foot. Since the day that Michiko had formally adopted her and given her the Mimasaka name she hadn't had any real peace. Music, politics, tea ceremony, art, dancing, manners, on and on and on and friggin on for five years. Five years!

She was actually beginning to miss the Sunnydale days when she at least could get out and wander. At least then she'd been Buffy. Given she was Buffy the slayer who had to balance a real life and the duties that came with slaying but still. Being Mimasaka Amaya was nothing like she'd thought it would be.

Being the 'princess' was oh so boring and tiring and formal. Nobody would just talk, really talk with her. Nobody would joke with her. Nobody treated her like she was just a person any more. Besides Kasumi, but five years with only one person to talk to or joke around with sucked. Not that she wasn't grateful. She loved Michiko and Kasumi but she honestly wanted a break.

But today was most definitely not the day she was going to get it. A big massive, bright flashing neon sign of no. Because today she was being formally introduced to the whole of Soul Society elite as Mimasaka Amaya, the heir of the Mimasaka family.

Oh goody. Note the sarcasm blaring.

“Kasumi! Air!” if Kasumi got the obi any tighter she was going to pass out in the middle of the ceremony.

“Stop being a baby.” she turned her head around and glared at Kasumi. If the brunette wasn't her best friend she'd have probably have gone all psycho slayer on her years ago. As it was she reached up and flicked Kasumi between the eyes.

“Ow!”

“Who are you calling dumb ass, dumb ass?” god she'd gotten foul mouthed. Well only around Kasumi. If Michiko heard her she'd probably get that look she hated so much and then feel all guilty.

She walked away from Kasumi as the other woman visibly fought the urge to toss something at her, which was the norm when they decided to have a go at one another, and stood looking out over the gardens. The cherry blossoms were in bloom again, all pink and white and a reminder that spring had come once again.

Six years, longer than she'd spent in Sunnydale. Longer than she'd been the slayer on Earth. She still didn't know why she'd ended up in Soul Society. Only those born there or spirits that didn't pass on ended up there.

So why had she?

She doubted she'd ever know.

“How long until the ceremony?” it was a big deal, her first presentation to the world outside the Mimasaka manor. She wouldn't admit it but she was nervous. Very nervous. All those people, watching her, judging her.

She was not going to have a panic attack. She'd saved the world, she could do this.

Yeah and the sky was purple and pigs could fly.

“Stop worrying.” Buffy looked over at Kasumi who stood by the door waiting, “You'll be fine.” Buffy blinked. Kasumi wasn't generally the encouraging type.

“Uh...”

Kasumi smiled. “Besides, I'm the only one that's allowed to mock you.”

Buffy headed for the door. Here went nothing. “You're so supportive.”

“I try.” Kasumi chirped and Buffy marveled at the fact that anyone could chirp in Japanese.



*



She was not panicking. She wasn't. She was just having a small meltdown. Really. That was all. Focus, she needed to focus. Focus on something, anything to keep her mind off the formalities going on around her.

Michiko was almost done with the big introduction and all she had to do was wait in the background of the balcony until she was called for. She'd come up, put on a pretty smile and then the big formal thing would be over.

Only then she'd be doing individual introductions.

Focus, focus on something, anything. Not the stiff looking crowd below, that only made it worse. Focus on something else. The sky, the buildings. Yeah, that was safe.

She focused and felt something tugging at her, a sense of something she hadn't felt in years. A sense of danger. That tingling at the back of her neck, that wave of heat under her skin. She felt the hairs on her arms stand up, senses go into alert. Violence, it was coming. She could feel it, taste it and inside her something that had lain dormant perked it's head up and took notice.

Like some great napping cat that suddenly perked its head up at loud noise.

The world slowed around her, even the air seemed to slow as she moved. Arrow plucked out of the air inches from Michiko, tossed to the ground and sword pulled from the scabbard of one of the guards.

She didn't know the why of what was happening but it didn't matter. All that mattered was the fight that suddenly landed before her. The man clad in black before them that brushed off the attacks by the guards as though nothing.

All that mattered was the feeling of something deep inside herself as she put herself between Michiko and the unknown.

He said something but she didn't hear him, lost in a fog of something else. That old thrumming of her heart, that sense of anticipation and the coil of something unfamiliar as it sprang to life the moment he rushed her. Like earth and sky exploding in her head.

Her borrowed sword came up and blocked the attack and something flared. A flower blooming. The next seconds slowed as she flipped over his shoulder, sword slashing as she went. The cascade of blood, the feel of steel and flesh.

It was over before she had even drawn a single breath. And when she did draw that breath. Oh gods. A body on the ground, the air pulsing around her, the sounds of combat and yelling. Aborted shouts, and through it all the thrumming in her very bones.

She looked up and met Michiko's gray eyes.

And then the world snapped away.

Another curtain falling.



*



An attack. Unprepared for and unexpected. Though very unwise. An arrow racing through the air at the head of Mimasaka Clan. The instinct to move, only to know that it was too late.

A small figure in greens and golds and the arrow was caught, tossed to the side as though nothing. But it wasn't over. A frontal attack. He moved to offer aid.

“You will remain.” old voice, the Captain Commander. He stopped, mid motion and waited.

Reatisu flared, thick and heavy. The taste of storms and sand. His eyes widened. The reatisu, it was strong, so incredibly strong. It made the very earth shake around them and the air dance with it.

The girl moved, a mane of golden hair dancing in the air. Fast, too fast for anyone who had not been trained at the Academy and then it was over. He stared as the small golden figure crumpled from sight. Ukitake Jushiro wondered who she was.



*



Her head hurt, dull throbbing and pain behind her eyes. She hadn't hurt like this in years. Six years actually. The last time she'd actually been in a real fight instead of just dealing with Kasumi. Buffy opened her eyes.

Too bright.

Uggh.

Eyes closed.

“You definitely made an impression.” Kasumi's bored voice. Oh goody. Just what she wanted to hear with a headache. Well at least she hadn't gotten a zori or a book to the head like usual.

“On a scale of one to ten exactly how bad is it?” she didn't open her eyes. Kasumi gave a snort. How very unladylike. Ahh. Too much time spent around her tutors.

“Three.” well that was reassuring. “But Captain Commander Yamamoto Genryuusai of the Gotei 13 is speaking with Michiko-dono right now."

That got her attention. Eyes open, sitting up in one movement.

Ohhh bad idea.

"Idiot." there wasn't a lot of conviction to the insult. She must have looked pretty bad for Kasumi to not be having at her. "You've been requested as soon as you're up."

Buffy looked over at where Kasumi was standing. Holding a simple kimono and wearing a very blank expression.

Not a good sign.



*



Buffy sat under one of the many sakura trees in the garden thinking. The sun was setting, casting a red orange glow over everything. Oh how she would have liked to just focus on it and nothing else but she couldn't.

Not after the last few hours she'd had. An offer to become a shinigami. To join the ranks of those who protected Soul Society and the real world. She wasn't quite sure what to think. Take the offer and join or stay where she was in her padded princess like life. Part of her wanted to stay the princess.

The other part missed being what she was at heart, a fighter. Missed the rush of adrenaline, the pounding in her ears, the knowledge that she would win. Six years without it and suddenly she wanted it back.

Six years as Amaya the 'princess' with the feeling that something was missing and then one guard with a grudge and suddenly she felt alive again. A shadow fell across her and she looked up to see Michiko standing there.

"Amaya, you should join them." a reminder, that name. She wasn't Buffy Summers any more she was Mimasaka Amaya. Miss nobility now. Night rain, the name meant. Michiko's idea since she'd arrived in the Mimasaka garden in the middle of a late night storm. Buffy the Slayer was dead, but part of her didn't want to feel dead.

Kind eyes still, resolution in Michiko's voice. It was reassuring and yet gut twisting at the same time.

"But what about here? You?" she didn't want to leave Michiko without a heir after all the years spent getting her ready for the job.

"A person is rarely one thing only." Michiko smiled and turned to walk away.

Returning to her native language for once she watched Michiko's retreating back. "How very Yoda like of you okaa-san."



*



Ukitake Jushiro was willing to concede that the rooftop spot that Shunsui had chosen provided an excellent view. Though how his friend had convinced him to spend one of the mornings he felt well watching Mimasaka Amaya 'test' into the Academy was a mystery.

Though it was not the official test that was being given, her rank and previous display of reatisu had ensured she did not need to take the entrance test. But a different sort of test instead. The Mimasaka Family was one of the five great families. Each family had its specialty, the Mimasaka were known for their greatness in the arts. Never battle. In twenty six generations none of those who were part of the Mimasaka family had shown any interest in combat of any form. Nor had any shown the spiritual pressure Mimasaka Amaya did.

He watched, Mimasaka Amaya stood in the center of the testing circle, a dozen unseated shinigami waiting for the order to attack her. He'd witnessed dozens of potential students standing there but never had he seen anyone doing what Mimasaka Amaya was doing.

"My, my, that's dangerous." he shared Shunsui's opinion. She just stood there, golden hair pulled back in a braid with her eyes closed and stance relaxed.
"Begin." the Captain Commander's voice rang out and it started.

Twelve threats, thirty one blows, and then twelve figures on the ground in a matter of seconds. Not a flare of reatisu from her nor had she drawn her sword. She had merely avoided the blows that came at her with all the deftness of someone trained for Special Operations.

"That was impressive." he glanced over at Shunsui's words. That gleam in those brown eyes, real interest. Real approval, and not of the fact that Mimasaka Amaya had a pretty face.

Again, the order to begin. This time with eighteen . The results were similar save that this time Mimasaka Amaya did draw her sword. But only to block blows, not once to strike herself. It was as though she didn't want to hurt them. As though she was afraid she could. She was holding back like Captains did against lesser opponents.

And a third time with twenty four. At the end she stood, wisps of golden hair around her face with a small cut on one cheek and a trickle of blood running down her left hand. Still, she had won with only the smallest flare in her reatisu. And it had not been to lend her speed or strength but when she received a blow, more like she was angry with herself rather than fear.

"Very impressive." he murmured. She had been exceptionally well trained in hand combat, her sword skills fast and effective but lacking polish. Though once those in the circle were allowed to release their zanpakutō he had little doubt that she would not win.

"Yamma-gi is up to something." Shunsui had a thoughtful expression. He was right though. This was not the normal progression in the determination of where a potential student's skills lay. "She defeated a guard with his blade in shikai in one blow?"

He nodded, watching the small figure below. "Though I believe surprise had it's place." and a flare of reatisu that was very close to captain level.

Shunsui made a humming noise as a seated member of the Second Division stepped forward into the circle and released his shikai. A fifth seat, but a seated member none the less. "Ohh shiny." the femenine voice drifted up, sounding very much like she'd found a toy she wanted to play with as she took a defensive postion.

That earned a chuckle from his best friend.

The attack came swiftly and once again he smelled rain and sand as her reatisu flared. But it was the smallest flare, nothing compared to the surge he had felt whe she had defeated the guard. Ten minutes and it was over, not because of the power of either fighter's reatisu but because every time she attacked she used a different style, a different approach. Every time she attacked or blocked she did it differently and in the end the golden haired figure was the victor but but not without a price.

"I like her." Jushiro had to agree. She was more than good, she was exceptional in her fighting abilities. Her reatisu though was not what she relied on. Smart, too often reatisu meant nothing if your opponent was far more skilled. He heard her say something about a play date to her oponent.

"Enough." the Captain Commander's voice.

And a pointed look in their direction.



*



Well someone woke up on the wrong side of their entire life. The old man put the grumpy in the expression grumpy old man. She shifted, waiting. Suddenly two other men appeared, both in the standard issue shinigami robes but with white haori over them.

Oh so not of the good. Her left arm throbbed, cut from nearly shoulder to elbow in a shallow but painful gash. It'd stopped bleeding already, slayer healing kicking in. But she was getting tired, fast. She hadn't been in a real fight in six years. And while the slayer in her had kept her in good fighting shape and her skills still good, they were far from her once peak condition. Slayers were built to fight, built to live in battle but time had kicked her ass it seemed.

And now there were two Captains pulling their blades, Captains! She knew she wouldn't last very long. Five minutes tops. And that was if they went easy on her. And if she was lucky, really lucky. Didn't mean she'd give up though. Slayers never gave up. She never gave up.

She took a moment to assess them. One had white hair, brown eyes and a kind look to him. The other, almost like he could have been Xander's cousin or something from the flowery robe he wore over his uniform and haori, basically the ancient Japanese equivalent of a Hawiian shirt. But he had that same look in his eyes that Xander did, humor and something deeper.

She wasn't fooled by either of them. Kind eyes or humor or not. They were Captains and that meant they were not to be under estimated. They were dangerous. The only consolation she had was that they wouldn't kill her. Just make her hurt. Very likely a lot.

She kept her eyes on them for another moment and then decided on another course of action. She couldn't win with skill or power, they had her beat. But she could buy time, throw them off. She kept her face blank as she changed her stance, shifted her weight to the balls of her feet and relaxed her muscles. She closed her eyes, stretched her senses. She was a slayer, instinct and sense were something incredubly strong in her. And it was all she had.

It was a dangerous move, potentially fatal in other circumstances but a calculated risk. She needed to buy time, let her healing do what it could. Assess them by seeing which would attack her first. That would be the more impatient one and the easier one to take on. Impatience made you stupid, arrogance made you stupid. Dangerous but stupid.

"My, my, what an unusual choice eh Shiro?" a deep rumbling voice and yet it was full of humor and music. The darker one speaking. Especially since Shirou meant whitey and the other guy had white hair.

"An intelligent one actually." the second voice was softer, more elegant but still strong and very male. The one with kind eyes.

“Begin!” the word was sharp from the Captain Commander.

She stretched her senses, allowed herself to tap into that deeper aspect of herself. Felt herself flow with it. Sand in the wind, clouds in the sky.



*



Mimasaka Amaya stood between himself and Shunsui, her stance relaxed and yet poised for violence to anyone who knew the signs. Knew what the bend of a knee meant, a shift of weight. Her eyes were closed, unusual but not to be taken lightly.

Very much so when he felt her reatisu begin to build, a small trickle. Faint and like waves lapping at the shore. The faintest smell of sand and some strange sweetness, like a flower, in the air around her.

It was clear she had been given some training. Some, though not nearly enough. She had so much potential. Power just under the surface, waiting to come free. Adaptability and intelligence. Perhaps enough one day to become a Captain herself.

He had no desire to attack her, to engage her in any type of battle but the Captain Commander had ordered it and he would obey this order because he knew neither he nor Shunsui would wound her seriously. A thought struck him and he smiled, potential indeed. She was waiting. Waiting to see which of them would strike first. Know the enemy, learn their weaknesses. And her stance, meant to throw them. Clever.

He struck out first, a high blow. He was far more patient than Shunsui but throwing her was his intent. Sougyo no Kotowari came down, not at his full speed but the move was pointless. She ducked down and around, her fist moving out to strike. A viper quick movement that he sidestepped. Had he not the skills of a Captain he would have surely been hit. Impressive.

From there things slowed, her eyes were open now, regarding both of them. Then she smiled and it was like sunshine and sakura and steel.

She moved.

The fight was almost completely one sided, she knew she could not win it seemed but refused to back down none the less. An admirable trait. In only a few moments they had her cornered, wounded but nothing dire. Her zanpakutō was held in an arm that was mostly useless, her own blood dripping down and off curled fingers. He could see it in her eyes, she knew she was beaten but she would not give in. Not for anything. Not ever. It was not in her nature to accept defeat easily.

It was admirable but a lesson needed to be taught. To know when to fight. To know when patience served better. He moved to disarm her, to end it.

Her eyes closed.

Reatisu flared.

He lept back, watching as it became visible around her, golden red and midnight blue. It swirled and pulsed, her control sloppy but it didn't matter. Strong, it was so very strong. The earth around them gave way to it and the wind danced wildly. He could smell sand and rain and that strange scent of a flower again. And then things began to grow dark around them. He looked up at the sky, clouds moving like great looming monsters. Lightening flashed, struck the building behind them.

"Not finished yet." her voice was small, soft but so determined. Steel glinting in the now gone sun.

The reatisu around her pulled in, going from a swirling circle to an orb that obscured her completely.



*



She could not win. Not against them. They were too good. Too strong. But she was a slayer. She did not give up, not ever.

Take away her friends. Take away her family. Take away everything. What was left?

Her.

She closed her eyes as the white haired one, Shiro, came at her. She had one shot left, one chance. She would NOT waste it.

She would not go gently into defeat.

“We cannot be defeated. Not if we are together.” a voice in her head, a flash in her mind.

She could see it, all around. A great vast desert all in the distance. It was bright and yet dark at the same time. Reds and golds and sand beneath her feet. But above her rolling clouds, dark and heavy with rain to come.

And on the next dune a figure. A woman. Her hair was a mixture of colors, a black so dark it was almost blue with slashes of burned bronze in them. Eyes the color of amber with flecks of bright green, like tropical plants. She wore a top, a flowing creation of swirls. Loose and yet not. Tight around the torso though the sleeves draped, held by simple ties that ended in a split near the wrist. Her pants were dark, leather. The color of rust with flowing patterns in darker black. Knee high leather boots with buckles and straps.

“Who are you?” she had never seen this person before. She was not the slayer, not that primitive creature of paint and rags. She was something else. Something out of time, beyond it.

“You know who we are. You have always known.” a voice like a whisper, like wind.

“You're not the slayer.” it was a statement of fact, nothing else. The slayer, the first slayer, was something primal and predatory. A creature with a degree of intelligence but only a degree.

“No, we are not. You are. And we come from you.”

She furrowed her brow. We? This came from herself? The wacked out desert theme was in her head? A mental shrug. Go figure.

Then she saw them. A flash, a mirage. Two blades. One a scimitar. A blade that dipped in, grew thinner in center before flaring out. A handle that would curve around the hand. The other, a shamshir. Longer, elegant, curved. A wave of a blade.

Two swords, in the sand. Only feet before her.

She reached out, drawn to them.

They were HERS. She could feel it in her blood.

“Take everything away and we remain. We are the start. We are the end. From above and below."

The words came unbidden, a ceremony that she knew and yet had never been a part of. “We are strong.”

“We are.....” the name came to her as she felt cool steel in each of her hands.



*



“Areno Ame.” a name. A flare. The orb of reatisu around Mimasaka Amaya shattered. His eyes widened as he had to shield his face from the explosion of it. Dust and power and when it cleared.

She stood before them, her back to the Captain Commander holding two blades. Two.

Only he and Shunsui carried two blades in all of Soul Society. And for each of them the blades were identical. Hers were not. Both were Persian, a scimitar and a shamshir. One of her hands held a blade forward, one facing back.

Desert rain, the name meant. And all around him he could smell the storm. Could hear the thunder rolling above them and the hum of the earth.

“Enough!” the Captain Commander's voice was harsh, booming. Her golden head cocked to the side, a mimic of a bird's.

“Spoilsport.” the comment had barely left her mouth before her eyes began to roll up in her head. He did not move in time to catch her before she cracked her skull on the stones but Shunsui did.

His best friend glanced up at him with amused eyes that covered the mind behind them. “Well, well, it seems she's full of surprises.”

He looked down at the small crumpled figure on the stones. So small. And yet.

His gaze turned to the Captain Commander's and he understood. Mimasaka Amaya was the heir of one of the great noble houses. One that had no ties to the Gotei 13. Pushing Mimasaka Amaya until she reached shikai and a point of no return was intentional. It was not only political move though. She had great potential. Very great potential. Her first day among them and already she had reached shikai. And the Captain Commander had made sure she was pushed until she reached it.



*



“How is she?” he stood in the doorway, eyes on the unconscious figure of Mimasaka Amaya. Mind going over the discussion with the Captain Commander he had just left.

“Nothing a day of rest will not remedy.” Unohana's eyes were also on her patient but his began to stray to the two blades that lay on either side of the sleeping figure. Two zanpakutō. Two. A most unusual surprise. “She was pushed too far too quickly.” the words were spoken in his fellow Captain's usual soft tone but the meaning was clear. She did not approve. In honestly with himself neither did he. But the Captain Commander was of another opinion.

Still, to be able to best so many trained shinigami at her testing showed great skill. And to have learned the name of her zanpakutō so quickly and easily showed even greater potential. It seemed they had a prodigy on their hands. One the Captain Commander intended to push.

To the appointment of a seated position under ten years. He believed it would be far less. He had seen the intelligence in those green eyes, the cunning and determination. She would be through the Academy in under under the six year requirement.

He smiled in spite of himself.



*



She was cranky. And a little tired. Four days into her entering into the Shin'ō Reijutsu Academy and she'd had her first round of training in kidou. She sucked at it.

"She didn't even have to take the entrance test!" a male voice, it sounded annoyed.

"She's a noble! Of course she didn't. They don't ever have to work for anything." another male voice. She ground her teeth as her pace slowed.

"I heard the Captain Commander tested her himself."

"Nah, I heard she had to fight a Captain."

"I think I'd have rather taken the entrance test if I were her." the first male voice again. She kept going even as she fought the urge to hit something. It was bad enough that she was getting looks and whispers from the other students. Mimasaka Amaya, the noble. The one who had reached shikai during her initial testing. Who had faced the Captains of the Eighth and Thirteenth Divisions. Who the Captain Commander had taken an interest in. The ones she'd just passed had to have been the younger students because the older ones already knew more that was actually true.

It was like high school all over again. Only this time she wasn't sixteen. This time she was grown and not used to lots of people being around her. Six years spent with only tutors, Michiko, Katsumi and servants around her had changed her from someone who played the stupid kids games into someone else. And even though she'd have liked to make friends most of the other students seemed completely terrified or in awe of her. The 'princess'. They were so scared of incurring the wrath of a noble. Or they apparently resented her. Or she just didn't understand them.

Still, it was only four days in. She still had time to make friends. And she had bigger concerns. Like surviving the Academy. She was Mimasaka Amaya and to fail meant bringing scorn on Michiko. She couldn't do that. And she was also Buffy Summers, slayer. She couldn't fail at any type of combat training, it just wasn't in her nature.

And she wasn't failing so far at everything. She'd tested into the classes with the senior students for hand to hand combat and sword training. At the moment she could beat almost all of them but once she'd gotten herself back to prime physical condition she had few doubts that she could beat them all.

At least until they pulled out their shikai. Then she'd have problems. All of the other students had had at least a year to train with their released zanpakutō, she'd only learned the name of hers three days before. But she'd always been a fast learner. She just had to find the time to go off on her own and practice.

She kept her steps silent as she moved along the long hall of the Academy for the entryway. She was planning on finding time, say...nowish. She needed the distraction after the disaster of a kidou lesson. She understood the principles well enough but it just felt too much like magic to her. And she'd never been the magic girl.

Though she had gotten down the basic principle of hardening her reatisu down. That had made sense to her in the practical fighting department. Harden her spirit energy and be able to withstand harder blows, move faster. It made sense to the fighter in her. Everything else though just gave her a headache.

The sunlight gardens came into view down the long hallway and she smiled. A little exercise would make her feel better and maybe then she wouldn't feel like banging her head against a wall.

She felt the sunlight hit her face about a half a heartbeat before she sensed the presence of two others. She turned, instincts working as she tensed and spotted to figures she hadn't seen in the four days since she'd passed out in the middle of her test.

Captains Ukitake Jūshirō and Kyōraku Shunsui .

Oh, probably not good.

Captain Kyōraku was leaning against the thick wood of one of the railings to the walkway around the building, his head tipped low and hidden by his hat. Captain Ukitake stood a few feet away, a small almost friendly smile on his face.

“Captains?” she made it a question because she knew that Captains standing at the entrance of the student dorms wasn't normal. At least she hoped not. It'd play hell on her plans to sneak off on her own and train.

“Mimasaka-san, You seem to be feeling better.” Captain Ukitake's tone was friendly and polite. And she knew part of why. He was the head of a noble house, a lower noble house than her own. But he was a Captain, a Captain well over eight hundred years old and she was a student. Not even a full shinigami yet.

Still, she'd heard the talk. She knew he suffered from a lifelong illness. And for some reason she just couldn't help the lone eyebrow that went up at him asking about her own health. “I'm fine, Captain Ukitake.” that got her a small smile.

“Good, good.”

“You're making her think she's in trouble Shiro.” that deep drawl caught her attention almost as much as the words. How had he known she was a little put off by them being there?

“I didn't mean to.”

She looked at both of them again closely, assessing them again. Their almost playful way of talking, their mannerisms. Something was up. Two Captains didn't just show up and talk to students. Not even two Captains born of noble houses.

They were still talking to one another, going back and forth like old friends. Like she'd once done with Willow and Xander. Like she did with Kasumi.

“Uh Captains?” they both turned to look at her, two very different, very tall older men who could snap her like a twig at the moment. “Is there a reason you're here?” she didn't want to seem rude, she'd had manners more than halfway beaten into her by Michiko, but she only had a few hours of free time before the sun set and she wanted to practice as much as she could for her sword combat lesson the next day. She didn't want to go down without putting up some sort of fight when shikai's got released.

“My, my, she is direct isn't she?” Captain Kyōraku grinned at her then winked, like he approved.

“We wanted to see how you were settling in and how your training is coming.” she met Captain Ukitake's kind eyes and knew he wasn't lying but he was leaving something out. And she was pretty sure what.

Slayer senses had a lot of uses and pitfalls but she wasn't going to complain too much about her advanced hearing. It had allowed her to hear a lot of things that no one had told her directly because they were afraid of her. The little thing she'd heard in the hall wasn't even the tenth time she'd heard people talking about her in four days. Like the fact that it was common knowledge that only two Shinigami in all of Soul Society had a dual sword shikai.

Well besides herself it seemed. She still had no clue what that meant for her. But the two in front of her......

They were the two.

And she was the new oddity.

Oh joy.

A smile started to play on her lips, they were Captains yes. Older than she was, yes. Stronger, yes. Good at lying? Not so much. Especially since she was neither as stupid as people had once thought or uninformed. “Well enough, Captain Ukitake.” the smile turned full blown. “Are you worried that I can't handle it?”

That made Captain Ukitake widen his eyes and Captain Kyōraku laugh. “That settles it. You're coming with us for a drink.”

Now that got a surprised look from her. A drink? With them? With Captains?

Why did she now feel like a sitting duck?



*



She felt like her head had been hit by a train. They'd drug her out for a 'drink'. Well Captain Kyōraku done the dragging, Captain Ukitake had just let him. A drink hadn't turned out to be one drink. Oh no, not at all. A drink had turned out to be about ten bottles of sake.

At least she thought it'd been ten. It was all kinda fuzzy.

She'd tried to decline. She wasn't much of a drinker. Not after Cave Buffy.

But this was lesson one of the noble thing; Do not offend your superiors.

Which had thus brought her to lesson one of the Surviving the Captains thing; Do not ever go out drinking with Kyōraku Shunsui unless you wanted a splitting headache the next morning.

Of course a whole morning of strange looks and whispers along with her training hadn't helped any. She shook her head as she stepped down onto the paved path that led away from the dining building and led to the dorms. She had about half an hour before her next lesson, and she planned on using it to hopefully get rid of her headache before she had to do any fighting.

“You don't look any worse for wear little one.” she nearly growled at the sound of Captain Kyōraku's voice coming from above her. Her head hurt, she hadn't gotten in any training the day before because of him and he was tap dancing on a nerve calling her little one. She turned around and glared up at his form lounging on the tiles of the roof.

“Call me little one again and I'm gonna find a way to force feed you that hat one day.” she was so breaking every single rule for politeness there was but no one called her tiny. NO ONE!

He laughed and like a damn flash he was standing in front of her. Stupid flash steps. She couldn't wait till she learned how to use them. He was grinning down at her, his laughing eyes shadowed by his hat as he reached over and patted her head. “But you are so tiny.”

Said the guy who's like six foot three. She actually did growl at him.

“Watch it flower power.” the words were out of her mouth before she'd even realized it. And suddenly she felt like she could have kicked herself, hard. He was a Captain! And hello! Stupid Buffy insulting him! Oh she was in so much trouble.

She expected him to squash her, make her feel tiny and stupid and point out that he was a Captain and she was a lowly student. What she didn't expect was for him to throw back his head and laugh again. Hard.

She knew she had to look like an idiot, a complete moron in fact. Because her mouth was hanging open and her eyes were all big and bugged out.

He looked down at her again, his shoulders still moving in silent laughter “It's official. We're keeping you.” he flashed her a wide grin and then she felt wind tug at her clothing about a heartbeat before her eyes registered that he was gone.

She just stood there, mouth open. Keeping her?

She then noticed the small group of other students near the doorway staring at her. Looking at her with a little shock and curiosity. Ten to one they'd seen Captain Kyōraku laughing at her and heard what they'd said to each other.

She closed her mouth and straightened her shoulders. Inside she was Buffy Summers, the dead girl thrown very off kilter by having a guy roughly two hundred times her age say he, and she assumed his fellow Captain Ukitake, keep her. Outside she was Mimasaka Amaya, heir to the Mimasaka house and she couldn't let anyone think that she'd just been mentally dropped on her butt.

She turned, started down the path. Though she did absently note that her head didn't hurt any more.



*



The sun was setting before them, the smell of sakura in the air. “The old man has plans for her.” he looked over at Shunsui out of the corner of his eye. Yes, the Captain Commander did indeed have plans for Mimasaka Amaya, that much had been clear. Though it was not a surprise to him. Their once teacher had had plans for the golden haired young woman before and had even more so now that the basic abilities of her shikai had been revealed.

Not only did she possess a dual bladed shikai but dual abilities. Dual affiliations. One for each of her different blades. One over earth, the other over storms. Desert Rain. To have two blades was a true rarity, to have dual abilities was a first among the shinigami.

It revealed a great deal about her. More than what his own eyes had seen at first glance. It spoke of a duality in her. Two different forces of nature. The earth, the sky. Hot desert and cold rain. It spoke of balance. Their zanpakutō were manifestations of their souls. It seemed that in Mimasaka Amaya two forces were at work.

Most unusual indeed.

It gave her far more potential for greatness than he had first believed. But it would also give her greater challenges to meet. Mastering a single reflection of one's soul was difficult, mastering two would be daunting without proper guidance.

“It seems we'll be helping her then.” he smiled at his friend. Shunsui gave a slight shudder. “She can control storms.”

He nodded.

“And you saw the lightening.”

He smiled. “I did.”

Shunsui just took a drink of his sake and looked out at the setting sun, but he did shudder the smallest bit. Lightening indeed. He smiled as an image of Shunsui with fuzzy hair came to mind.



*



Six months. Six months she'd been at the Shin'ō Reijutsu Academy. And for six months she'd had what she'd started referring to as her 'fairy Captains' pop up. Sometimes she saw only one of them alone, sometimes together. Captain Kyōraku showed up more often than Captain Ukitake. Sometimes they popped up three or four times a week, sometimes she'd go a whole week without seeing either of them.

A few minutes here, an hour there or advice on how to perfect her flash steps. They'd both just sort of become a staple of her life. Though to be honest, Captain Kyōraku annoyed the hell out of her every chance he got. Just to see her crack and be a little less formal than she should be. It seemed he had really meant what he'd said about 'keeping her'.

And it got a lot of talk. A. Lot. Of. Talk. She hadn't really made any good friends at the Academy, a hand full of the older students talked to her in passing. Still, all of the students talked about her more than they ever talked to her. About how two Captains had made her into their 'favorite' and how the Captain Commander had shown up to more of the lessons that she was in than any others. About the 'princess' who had an unfair advantage. Unfair advantage her butt. She'd heard what the real testing to get in the Academy was and it was a hell of a lot easier than taking on a ton of opponents followed by two Captains! And she so didn't have an unfair advantage in anything else. She was in combat classes with students who'd been using the single zanpakutō a lot longer than she'd been using dual ones.

It'd started putting a lot of pressure on her. She was used to pressure as the slayer. You have to save the world and it kinda put things in prospective. But this wasn't the same kind of pressure. This wasn't 'Win or the whole world dies.' this was 'Do well or you will disappoint a lot of important people'. It made her want to hide sometimes but mostly it just pushed her harder.

She had made progress though. She'd mastered flash step. She'd blown through all the fighting technique classes. Being a slayer and only needing to see a move once to learn it had helped on an epic scale. She'd even managed to only cause one minor fire trying to learn how to use kidou. Which she still sucked at but she hadn't blown herself or anyone else up yet so it had to be something right?

And she was making some progress with Areno Ame. In the matter of sheer blade work with the two different swords she was good. Well better than any of the other students. She wasn't naturally ambidextrous but she was getting there pretty fast.

It was learning to use Areno Ame's abilities that kept throwing her. Most element based zanpakutō only dealt with one element. Like the Captain Commander's dealt with fire. Her's on the other hand was apparently considered the most unusual in all Soul Society because it used two. Her zanpakutō was named Areno Ame, Desert Rain.

Areno was the scimitar and so far she'd figured out that she could use the earth itself in a fight. Though she'd kinda learned by accident when she'd flung a chunk of the training grounds at an opponent. She could call the earth to her, sand and rock and soil. So far she'd learned how to use it in a few ways. One was to make shields. Another to turn the earth itself into fine grains that she could use to attack or confuse. She knew there was more she could do with it, so much more, but she hadn't figured out what yet.

Ame was the shamshir, and with it she'd learned she could control the weather. Well kinda. Storms. Rain storms specifically. Weather was unpredictable at the best of times and she'd already gotten no less than fourteen lightening bolts to various body parts trying to figure out how to control what looked the be her best offensive weapon, lightening. But she had figured out a bit about how to use Ame. When the rain came she could use the water as another form of shield, though it didn't seem as strong as using the ones of earth she could make. And slowly but surely she was mastering the ability to use the rain itself like she did the fine grains of earth.

So she was making progress, just not as much as she'd hoped. And especially not with the Captain Commander looming in the distance watching her with those old hooded eyes.

She concentrated, pulling on the feel of Ame. She knew she could do more with it she just had to push herself. All around her was quiet save for the sound of raindrops hitting the leaves of trees in the distance. She was off on one of her lone training times, which she had more of now that she'd finished all the hand to hand and basic sword training classes available. She'd found a nice quiet spot far enough away from everyone and everything that she felt pretty safe using her shikai without possibly dropping a lightening bolt on a bystander.

She stood in the gently falling rain, hair stuck to her head before falling into a thick braid down her back, and concentrated. She knew she could do so much more with Areno Ame, could see it in her head.

It was learning how to do it and mastering control that was giving her problems. After all, how do you control a storm?

How do you bend the very earth to your will?

She focused on her breathing, let her reatisu flow through her, a calming wave. She raised the hand with Ame in it, focused on the feel of the rain hitting her skin. She visualized a stronger storm, the rain pouring in hard sheets instead of a light spattering.

The rain came.

Good. She'd only needed one try to do it. The same as the last time she'd snuck off. Though she doubted anyone wasn't aware of her off practicing on her own. How could anyone NOT see the big ol' storms that suddenly popped out of nowhere, lasted a few hours and then just disappeared?

She smiled as water rolled off her nose and then pulled the storm back, returning it to a more consistent and lighter thing. She turned her mind to the lightening. Everyone needed an offensive weapon and so far it was the only strong one she had. And she needed to work on her control and accuracy. She could hit her target three out of five times but it wasn't good enough. It had to be five for five. Nothing less would do.

She felt the charge above her, could smell the faint wisps of ozone in the air. She visualized the patch of earth covered in rocks about thirty feet from herself that she'd picked as a target and....

A hand on her shoulder and her control went away as instinct took over. Her eyes snapped open as she flash stepped back out of the way only a heartbeat before the lightening struck where she'd been standing. She blinked the rain out of her eyes and looked across the now charred spot at who had grabbed her shoulder.

There stood her two 'fairy Captains' under an umbrella smiling at her. “Well that was exciting little Amaya-chan.” Captain Kyōraku made it an amused drawl. “Your aim was a little off though.”

She scowled at him, not acknowledging Captain Ukitake yet. “I don't know. It would have fried you if you hadn't had Captain Ukitake to drag out out of the way.” it probably wouldn't have, not really. She was pretty sure he could have brushed it off like it was nothing but it might have made his hair stand on end for a few minutes. And she knew he could have dodged it all on his own. She wasn't that good with Areno Ame yet.

“You seem to be making progress.” ahh Captain Ukitake to the rescue again. Mr. Peacemaker.

She smiled at him and pulled back the rain even more until it was a mere drizzle. She didn't want to look even more stupid with water dripping off of her nose in front of the two Captains. “Thank you Captain Ukitake.”

“Let's see if you can make more.”

Her brow furrowed. “Huh?” not exactly articulate but she was a little thrown.

“Your lightening is your only offensive ability in shikai currently. Captain Kyōraku will help you improve your control.” his eyes were still kind but there was that look under it. A teacher. Almost a friend. Almost Giles-ish.

And then she thought of what he'd said. Her? Against flower power man? He'd beat her like it was nothing. She'd improved her abilities a lot in six months but she might never reach the level of power even one of them had. “Uh, thanks. But I'd kinda like to not end up a walking bruise.”

“Target practice.” Captain Kyōraku smiled at her from underneath his ever present hat.

“Huh?” why was it that they both had the ability to either make her feel like an idiot or that Captain Kyōraku could piss her off?

“I'll be the target.” her eyes widened. He wanted her to use him as a target? Was he nuts? Then that bad little voice in her head pointed out that not only was he offering but that, on the off chance she actually hit him, it probably wouldn't hurt him.

And it might be funny.

“Shiro, I don't like the way she's grinning at me. Too much like Unohana.”

“I'm sure you'll be fine. It's just a little lightening.”

“From the little lady.” he grinned and she ground her teeth. Little! Little! Must not kill!

“Oh look, she's angry Shiro. A tiny little angry shi...”

THUNK!

“OWWW! That hurt!” she looked down at the ground between the two Captains. Her sandal. Just laying there.

And Captain Kyōraku rubbing the side of his head from where she'd hit him with it. Captain Ukitake was smirking, so maybe she wasn't a dead woman for having just lobbed one of her sandals at a Captain's head.

Even an annoying one.

“Now that wasn't nice little Amaya-chan.” Captain Kyōraku. He was whining! Captains weren't supposed to whine! Several hundred year old men Did. Not. Whine!

And he'd called her little Amaya-chan again.

She didn't hesitate as the second sandal went flying and hit him square in the face while lightening danced around her. Kasumi was such a bad influence. Never once while she'd been alive had she chucked a shoe at someone's head.

THWAK!

“Owww! You're so mean Amaya-chan.”

“And you're so incredibly annoying! And childish for a man that's at least eight hundred years older than me.” dear god when had all the manners that her okaa-san had drilled into her gone out the proverbial window?

Oh yeah. About the time Captain Kyōraku Shunsui had decided to see if he could make her crazy.

Then another thought struck her. One that had been nagging at her for six months almost. Why? She kept her gaze on both of them Though Captain Kyōraku was still rubbing his nose where she'd hit it.“Why are you two doing this? Helping me? Showing up all the time? You're Captains, don't you need to be doing Captain things?”

Both of them had kinda surprised expressions cross their features for a moment, like they'd never even considered that she wouldn't understand. Then they changed. Both eerily alike in some ways but still different, very different. “Many reasons.”

She frowned at Captain Ukitake. Many reasons? Like what? Aside from the three of them being from noble houses and having two zanpakutō when in shikai they had nothing in common.

Nothing.

They both just smiled at her. One serene and seemingly wise and kind man with white hair and elegant features and the other with the grin that reminded her of a trouble making teenager who'd just found himself a playmate.

Oh gods help her. She'd been turned into one's pet project and the other's favorite pass time. Somehow she just knew that it was either gonna make her crack like an egg or end with some sort of blowup.

“Let's start.” she heaved a sigh as she felt the cold wet grass under her bare feet. She was about to use a freakin' Captain for target practice.

Oh this so wasn't going to go well.



*



It was her birthday. It would have been her twenty ninth birthday if she'd still been alive. But it wasn't the age she was claiming. Nope, she was 23 according to the records Michiko had made. Her foster mother knew her story, her whole story in vivid detail. The rest of Soul Society didn't.

Because it would have messed things up. To all of Soul Society she was Mimasaka Amaya, the heir of the Mimasaka family. Born in Soul Society to a childhood friend of Michiko who had died during Amaya's birth. Adopted and raised by Michiko.

Why? Because it would have looked strange any other way. Souls that ended up in Soul Society did not fully remember their human lives, some didn't remember anything at all. She remembered everything. And then add to it that Michiko had adopted her. To adopt a common child would have caused more waves and rumors than any of them were comfortable with. Scandals could ruin noble families. So keeping her origins secret worked.

But still. She got to keep her real birthday. And it'd been a great one until she'd reached her room. It'd been nearly three years since she'd become a student and in a week she'd be free of it.

Free!

Most students averaged all six years in the Academy, some a little less. She'd be finished in under three. The new record. Graduating in the nine hundredth year of the Academy. And she had been older than most of the other students when they started learning. And unlike the others she had two different blades to learn rather than one. Of course she could master an entire fighting style in under a month so she had an advantage. And she'd progressed further too. Most students came out as run of the mill Shinigami. She wasn't. She'd already been offered the spot of lieutenant of the Eighth Division.

Captain Kyōraku had offered it to her.

And she'd been half tempted to turn the big teenager down. But she hadn't. She didn't really want lieutenant duties and she knew that Captain Kyōraku was gonna drive her nuts but she liked the idea of not being bossed around by a bunch of ego maniac males. Her two 'fairy Captains' were enough.

Not that she'd ever called them that to their faces. They were still Captains and she wasn't.

But all it had taken was her lobbing both of her shoes at Captain Kyōraku's head and then letting her use him as the target in her target practice for her to start to see them differently.

Captain Ukitake had somehow become like her older brother. He listened, gave advice, pointed her in the right direction when she needed it. He smiled and laughed and showed up at the oddest times with piles of candy or tried to teach her how to cook. Which was always a disaster. (She hadn't burned down the whole building but only because she'd pulled Areno Ame and caused it to rain.)

Captain Kyōraku had become the fun thorn in her side. He irritated her all he could, used her as a shield to keep people from killing him for his pranks and regularly booby trapped her room. But he'd also become kinda like an older brother. Immature one minute to the extreme; whining, teasing, making stupid jokes or harmlessly flirting. Pretty much anything and everything he could possibly do to make people underestimate him. But he also made her laugh. They both made her forget that she didn't have any close friends at the Academy. They were her outlet to relax, to smile.

And both of them had pushed her like the Captain Commander did. Though they were nice and funny and helpful about it. The old grouch just pushed her. One on one lessons for the last year as a matter of fact. She'd blown through all the combat classes offered and once she'd gotten a good handle on how to use Areno Ame she'd beaten all of her classmates in combat.

It'd left her with no one else to fight and she still hadn't reached the full potential of her shikai. Not because she had so much more power than everyone else, but because she had something that none of the others did, a dual blade and dual elemental abilities to control.

Earth and water. Two very powerful elements when put together she'd learned. But it'd been the hard way. The really hard way. The epic scale painful hard way. The Captain Commander might look old and frail but he wasn't. He had the most powerful zanpakutō in all of Soul Society based on sheer destructive capabilities and those were based in fire. And enough spirit pressure to knock her on her ass the first few times until the slayer in her had learned how to cope with it.

And Areno Ame had gotten tired of it. Her zanpakutō was a refection of her own soul and the slayer was part of her soul. It made for a very interesting partner. Areno Ame was a fighter, a warrior. But she was also witty and sarcastic and wise. A young face and great clothes and old eyes. Her zanpakutō didn't like to loose, was sneakily cunning and had the temper of a pissed of mountain lion. It'd helped a lot when facing the Captain Commander because she'd needed all the help she could get.

Basically she'd had her ass handed to her about a million times in the last year by the old grump. Most of them to the point of having Captain Unohana having to treat her. She almost had her own room in the Fourth Squad's barracks she'd been in there so many times. She'd heal up, he'd squish her. She'd heal up, he'd squish her. Over and over and over and over. And he'd held back a lot.

But it had had it's desired effect. Not only could she wield Areno Ame in shikai well but she'd learned all of the abilities it had in it's first release. Captain Ukitake believed that given a few decades to fully grow into her full potential with shikai she'd be able to start to progress to bankai. Bankai was incredibly rare, that he thought she could reach it kinda blew her away. Even without the Captain Commander wailing on her on a regular basis.

Though she'd worked out why he was doing it. She was from one of the most powerful noble families, it only heir. And The Gotei 13 were still new enough (a century was nothing to them) that they needed backing. They needed her.

And if she could learn bankai then she might one day make it to Captain status. And she had the very distinct feeling that was the direction the Captain Commander was pushing her in.

She smiled as she slid the door to her room open. She'd have to pack it up soon. Of course the thought completely left her the moment her brain actually registered what her eyes were seeing amidst the myriad of color.

Her room.

Her room was completely full.

Of brightly colored balloons.

So full that a couple of them fell to the floor near her feet.

She scowled. She knew who had to have done it.

She reached up, pulled the sharp hair stick from her hair and let the heavy blonde mass fall down her back. She reached out, jabbed at one of the balloons.

It was like a hundred little firecrackers going off. Black Cats. It was a chain reaction. One pop made all of the other ones pop. A trick using kidou.

And when they did....

A freakin explosion of glitter and confetti. She yelled, not even able to jump back fast enough to get out of the way as she was assaulted by the pressure pops and flying party stuff.

It blew her hair around and she had to blink about a dozen times to get her vision to clear. All around her confetti was floating to the ground. It was everywhere. On every surface of her room like brightly colored and sparkly snow.

She was gonna kill him.

She looked down at herself. Covered, completely covered in it.

Yep, gonna kill him.

She heard laughter and whispered voices and looked to either side of her. On one end of the hall about twelve feet away stood the two Captains who had decided to 'keep' her and on the other was a quickly growing group of other students.

“Little Amaya-chan looks so pretty doesn't she?”

That. Was. It.

She didn't quite move at shumpo speed but close and then......

THWAK!

“Ow. Ow. Ow. Amaya-chan!”

THUNK!

“It hurts!”

She ignored her soon to be Captain and focused on the silver haired one of the duo. “Trying to kill my future Captain would be a bad idea right?”

He smiled, “No one would fault you for it.” his smile grew. “Unohana might even provide you with tips.”

“Shiro.” it was a whine.

She shrugged, she couldn't actually kill him but she was defiantly going to plot revenge. “I'm guessing you're here for a reason.”

He smiled at her, happy and open. “We're taking you to celebrate.”

Her eyebrows went up and then down. To celebrate? Translation, to drink. Which always ended with her having a headache the next day. “My birthday?”

“And your new position as Lieutenant of the Eighth Division.”

Oh. Oh man. She was so gonna feel like crap come the next sunrise.

Help?



*





*Reviews are not only welcome but highly encouraged as this is a new genre for me. Also I have the second half of this story already completed and waiting. I'll be posting it in a day or two.

Seriously......I'm highly insecure about this one. I'm terrified I'm gonna fall on my face and get road rash. So reviews=big honking relief in the fear thing.
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