Rough chapter, needs beta, sorry sorry for spamming flist.

Kazu Arakawa was tired. Training in Academy had been it’s own sort of backbreaking struggle, but nothing there had prepared him for the Fifth Division. He stood with his back straight and shoulders squared, staring straight ahead. The night air was still thick with summer heat and sweat prickled his brow and dripped down his back. Former students twitched and swayed to either side of him, snapping upright when their instructor passed in front of them and wilting when they were out of her sight. His feet hurt and his sash was crooked, but he made no move to fix it. Not while she was speaking.

“I expect better of all of you.” Third Seat Nagisa Motomara’s voice rang out across the courtyard and echoed back to her from the barracks behind the gathered recruits. “Very few of you are in proper uniform and some of you are barely dressed at all. Your formation took entirely too long to form and is still loose and sloppy.”

She paused for a moment and Kazu flinched even though she wasn’t looking at him.

“However... I do see improvements.” Nagisa stopped center to the group and studied all of them with a sharp gaze. “Everyone is here and everyone remembered their zanpakuto this time. Hold those two things above all else! If given a choice between arriving here fresh from the bath and zanpakuto in hand, or in proper uniform and nothing else, make damned certain the towel is tucked properly!” Her sharp look softened. “All of you are the pride of the Fifth Division now. No matter what squad you are assigned to or what duty, you represent the Fifth in whatever you do and wherever you go. Remember that for your next drill! Proper dress and presentation! Are there any questions?”

Kazu twitched as he tried to maintain that stiff posture and almost toppled over for his trouble.

“Arakawa! Did you have something to say?”

“No, Third Seat!” He winced when she took a few long strides to stand in front of him. “I mean, yes, Third Seat!” Kazu yelped. “Uh... When will we be assigned to squads, I meant!”

Nagisa’s lips pressed into a tight smile. “When the good captain gets around to it. At the moment he seems rather occupied with those supply requisition forms he so fond of.” She sighed and raked a hand through her short hair. “At least he’s staying out of the way for now.”

“When... will we actually get to see him?” Kazu held his hands up and took a step back before Nagisa could reply. “N-not to say we’re entitled or anything or that he isn’t busy and I know captains have better things to do than wander around with new recruits and all that and--”

“That’s for the captain to decide,” Nagisa said in a curt tone. She planted her hands on her hips and again her voice called out clear and loud. “Recruits, you are dismissed until the morning bells. Keep up the improvement and maybe you won’t have to do this in the middle of the night. Get some sleep and be ready for morning practice drills! We’ll be starting right after breakfast.”

Kazu held his breath until she was out of sight. Other new recruits and even some of the older veterans around him let out a collective sigh. Sandals scuffed against stone and someone cursed when their bare feet struck a loose cobblestone. “Is this... Is she going to make us do this every morning?” Kazu asked the night air.

“Until we get it right!”

Kazu yelped and spun around, nearly toppling over in the dim light of the training court yard. “Yuriko!”

She spun around and shot him a bright grin. Her uniform was neat and professional and her [training sword] hung from her side. Every bit the proper new recruit. “What are you complaining about, Kazu? This is what we wanted, right? Routine and security and all that?” She tapped her chin. “Well, you wanted routine and security, I wanted fighting and excitement. Don’t worry, it’ll balance out!”

“I wanted a full night’s sleep... Go back to bed, alright? We’ve still got a few hours before the morning bells.” He was sore and he hurt and Kazu had no doubt he would sleep like the dead when he got back to his cot in the [dormitory]. He managed only a single step in that direction before Yuriko seized his wrist and dragged him away. “W-wait! What’re you doing!”

“I want to see our new captain!” Yuriko said. She danced light on her feet, hauling Kazu along as though he were the one half her size rather than the other way around.

“He’ll be asleep! Anyone with any sense at all would be asleep right now! We should be asleep right now!”

“Nope! Too excited! We start patrol soon! Think about it! We’ll be joining the ranks soon, following in... Someone’s footsteps!” She laughed for them both, as she always had, even starving together on the streets of Rukongai. “People will follow in our footsteps, okay, Kazu? I just wanna see the guy that’s going to lead us, is all.”

She stopped and Kazu stared at her. Even in the thick shadows he could see the gleam of her smile. “Okay. But... just a quick look! Not even that, okay? We just... stand outside his quarters or something, alright? We can... we can do a formal visit tomorrow.”

Yuriko let loose a squeal that would have drawn stares if anyone else were left in the courtyard to hear it. “We’re going to see our new captain! Don’t worry, I know a shortcut!”

“That’s not what I said!”

She still dragged him along as though he hadn’t said a thing. Kazu groaned and ran after her, tugging his sash tighter with one hand and adjusting his uniform with both when she finally let go. Yuriko’s steps were quick and light to Kazu’s solid trot and she paused at every corner so he could catch up. He wondered how much longer it would be until she learned flash step. She took off in a blur often enough that Kazu wondered if she already had.

“Kazu... look at this place.”

She didn’t have to prompt him. They had never ventured that far into the Fifth Division grounds by themselves, always accompanied by older shinigami and sometimes even some of the rare seated officers. Always kept to the barracks and training grounds and main halls and away from some of the old battle scars the grounds still bore. Decades later it still looked like a war zone.

The scorch marks from careless kido had been scrubbed away and the rubble cast by Hollows and shinigami alike had been carted off. Patches of plaster gleamed distant silver in the moonlight along the walls and the pitted surface of the [sidewalk/path/cobblestones] had long since been filled in. Kazu saw, however, where those stray kido had gouged into stone and where wire bristles had gouged deeper still to wear them away. The new plaster was rough and stark against the smooth ivory of the older walls and the brick lining the [path] was uneven.

Repaired, but not restored.

“I bet this is where they took him down.”

“Who?” Kazu hugged his arms over his chest and kept a wary eye around them. The moon cast deep shadows along the walls and pale light along the center of the path. It was a haunted sort of place, visited more by memories than those who carried them.

“One of the old captains. Tsuzuki found something on him. Under control of a Hollow, I think.” Yuriko’s voice was soft and hushed and she stood still, moonlight pooling around her instead of being scattered into shadows. “Some sort of infestation. He couldn’t find much that wasn’t classified. I think he read most of it off scrap paper.”

“Come on, let’s get out of here. I just... I don’t like this place.”

Yuriko shrugged. “I said it was a short cut, not that it was a scenic route.”

“You didn’t say much at all, you just grabbed me and ran,” Kazu muttered. He gave her shoulder a brief squeeze. “Come on, you wanted to see our captain, let’s go.” The sooner her curiosity was satisfied, the sooner he could find some measure of sleep before the morning drills began. He followed her, both of them at a slower pace, through those battered [streets] until they reached another courtyard. It was larger and more decorative than the training space before their own barracks; trees lined the walls and grass was underfoot when they stepped off the stone path. The captain’s quarters was almost it’s own [space], separate and aloof by more than just distance.

Yuriko jumped quick and nimble up the stairs leading to long [walk/porch] at a pace that left Kazu’s breath dry in his throat. “Careful!” he hissed up at her. Each creaking board beneath his feet sent his heart skittering up his throat. He tugged at her sleeve to keep her from running ahead. The muscles in her arm tensed and she went still.

“...Kazu, I don’t think he’s here.”

Heavy bolts hung from the doors and Kazu smelled the distant ozone snap of active kido crackling around them. He tugged harder at Yuriko’s sleeves. “Are you sure these are the captain’s quarters?” The night air was wet and thick with the scent of dust. Branches leaned into the [walk/porch] and dripped leaves across the walkway. “I don’t think anyone’s been here in years.”

“But this is where Tsuzuki said it would be... We even took the same route yesterday.” She shrugged and her sleeve slipped in Kazu’s grasp. “Not this far, but... Where else would he being staying?”

“Let’s go back. We shouldn’t be out and we shouldn’t be out alone.” He tugged her close and ruffled her hair. “Maybe Tsuzuki got the directions wrong in the first place or maybe the captain’s just staying somewhere else.”

“Tsuzuki doesn’t get directions wrong,” Yuriko said and he heard the faint hint of a pout creep into her voice. “He always knows where to find stuff.” She straightened and spun around away from Kazu. “Let’s try the officer’s barracks! Maybe he’s staying there while this place is fixed up! Or the main hall!”

Kazu stared at her even though he couldn’t quite make out her face. “You’re not going to let this go are you?” he moaned.

She grabbed his hand again and dragged him off. Their odd little system was back in play again, Tsuzuki providing answers and directions and staying well out of the way, leaving Yuriko to bound ahead in her endless energy with only Kazu to keep them all out of trouble. He followed her as he had followed her into Academy, struggling through the classes and passing only with the aid of Tsuzuki and Yuriko pulling him through far too many times to build confidence. Retracing their steps through the narrow backways again and darting forward through streets Kazu had never seen before. He trusted Yuriko to know the way.

Yuriko came to a stop before he could ask her to, a stumbling jerk of a thing that sent her stumbling back against his chest and cracking her head up under his chin. Kazu clapped a hand over his mouth and swallowed a yelp when she stepped on his foot. He gave her a rough shove ahead. “What happened?” he hissed.

“That’s him!”

They’d come to a halt in one of the training yards near the main barracks and pressed their backs into the shadows along the wall. A small figure barely Yuriko’s height stood in the lone pool of light cast by a lantern set on the ground. His white haori was folded neatly and set aside, the division number softened to gold in the lantern’s small fire. Zanpakuto drawn and flickering, liquid crimson in his hands as he shifted from one practice kata to another. He stumbled and his sandals scuffed against the worn stone beneath him. One long breath and then another and he resumed his stance, zanpakuto quivering before him as he tried to hold it straight before him.

It was Yuriko who plucked at Kazu’s sleeve to drag him away and Kazu who tried to remain. He pulled at her to hold her still and she pulled harder to move him. They tussled like small children struck mute until they heard the metallic scrape of sword against stone. Yuriko peered wide-eyed over Kazu’s shoulder, her arm around his neck and he froze in a rough crouch in front of her.

That young man who had claimed himself their captain knelt in front of the lantern. He leaned heavy and panting on his zanpakuto, using it like a cane. Dark strands of hair clung to his cheeks and his thin shoulders shook with each shuddering breath he took. He staggered as he climbed to his feet. His zanpakuto was cleaned with a soft cloth and slid neatly back into its sheath on his back and his haori cradled under his arm. The small pull of light around the lantern vanished with a single breath.

Kazu scrambled to his feet and dragged Yuriko up with him, hauling her to her feet and yanking her after. Dawn gilded the edge of the sky and slowly burned the darkness and fill the world with the ash of early shadows. They ran, Kazu in the lead and Yuriko trailing after him, reaching out to tug at his sleeve and nudge him in the right direction when they came to thick tangle of backways and paths that would lead back to their barracks. The first morning bell pealed across the Fifth Division grounds by the time they saw their new home. Kazu stumbled to a halt with Yuriko behind him just as the others were pouring out for morning formation.

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