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 Benediction

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i.

The Captain of the First holds the sword in his grip. It whispers against his fingers, of dark nights splashed in crimson, the scathing crescent moon. It has been a time since he has beheld the two reiatsu, felt them in such strength and purity of purpose.

The Captain of the First believes in law. Without law, there is no duty. Without duty, there is no honour, no pride. But he understands debts between men. He understands gratitude. And he understands that a debt leaves a duty. To ignore the duty that lies concealed within a debt is to ignore honour.

Without law, they are nothing more than animals. Without honour, they are less than animals.

His single hand closes around the hilt. His power builds around him, scorching, like fire, dark, like embers. He is old, but winter is yet to come. His power is like flame, like the burning mane of the sun, like a mantle of molten magma.

He lets it flow into the blade which turns a dark, angry scarlet.

"May you always fulfil your duty," he says.

-

The silent shadow takes up the sword, bears it up in both hands. The heat licks at his fingers, uncompromising, stern. It is old steel, strong and proud; it has borne this world upon its shoulders for two thousand years, and it will endure for all long as it must.

He breathes, feeling what power he has coruscate between his fingers and the tip of the burning blade. His is a quiet power, but no less strong for the years he has borne at the side of his Captain.

He touches the blade, lets it taste of solemn lightning and the sharp pride of duty and loyalty and obedience to what must be done.

"May you be content to serve," he says, too quietly for anyone but the Captain of the First to hear.

-

ii.

The Captain of the Second holds the sword in a peculiar fashion. She brings it up in a reversed-grip. Unorthodox, some would say. But she has always been slightly unorthodox as a Captain and as the commander of the omnitsukido.

Her power is a subtle power, infusing the sword with two sharp stings and the taste of poison. It is precise. It is graceful. This is a weapon, the power whispers. To strike out at your enemies. To win no matter the cost. This is what you must do.

She does not think about being abandoned so often now, but her power murmurs hatred for traitors, and steel-like determination to master her own weaknesses.

So it is that she says, just as quietly, "May you know victory."

-

He takes the sword from his Captain, knowing better than to let it dangle limply from his hands. The sword is golden-yellow now, bleeding bright blue-white.

Laziness. Fear. The arrogant confidence that comes of knowing that his family is powerful. They are all part of him, woven into his being, and these flow into the blade. But there is something stronger, underlying all of these: pride. He has earned his place. He is not ambitious. Not too ambitious. But he has not gained this position through wealth alone.

Pride, hubris…power spiked and crushing, meant to bludgeon into submission. He bears up with his will, and he does not tremble as the sword feeds on what he gives it. His power remembers the one who shattered it, remembers it vividly.

"May you be powerful," the Lieutenant of the Second says.

-

iii.

There is no one to stand here as the Captain of the Third. There was a man, but he is now gone. He was supposed to be a traitor, but perhaps, the Acting-Captain thinks, he was a man who could not trust anyone else to protect what he held dear.

He accepts the sword humbly, head bowed. His power speaks to the sword, telling of despair. Of humility. He has changed since he has spoken to Wabisuke. He has learned to see a little more clearly into the despair that is war, the emptiness at the heart of things. It saddens him, but it also frees him of expectations. To know despair is to be free.

A hooked, angular blade, sharp taste of metal and rust and despair; these all pass into the sword, which drinks it in like the land drinks rain.

The Lieutenant of the Third speaks.

"May you know despair."

-

iv.

How ironic, the Captain of the Fourth thinks, that this is a blade to heal a wound, to mend a rift. Her fingers run along the length of the sword, listening to the hum of mingled power in the sword.

Her power wells up from deep within, in response to her will. She lets it spill out over the blade like warm honey, singing of sunlight, of wounds, of healing and new life. They have survived the winter, and now spring, at last, is upon them. There are new faces in the Gotei Thirteen, and the next generation is stepping forward.

They are, at last, at the beginnings of a crossroad.

Her fingers stroke the steel, feeling her power and her will and her intent shape the blade. She speaks then, a healer's blessing.

"May you find healing," she says. Because the war is over, but still, many of them are lost.

And it is only right, that the one who has bought them this peace shall find it for himself.

-

If they have put the full force of their powers into the sword, the Lieutenant of the Fourth thinks, then she should not be able to hold it. The power is staggering, but it is…comforting. She senses her Captain's power there, a comforting thread of warm sunlight and the healing waters of a deep mountain spring.

Hers is a meager power in comparison, but nonetheless, she calls it up, lets it spread out through her clasped fingers. It is the sunshine on a bright winter's morning, when the window is open, revealing vast stretches of space to play in. It is the snowflakes descending from the sky, each one a perfect piece of joy.

It is the killing cold, that seems harmless until one falls asleep, never to awaken again.

And because this is the sort of person she is, the Lieutenant of the Fourth says, "May you be well."

-

In this gathering of giants, he is outnumbered by far, and out of his league. And intimidated. He almost, almost hunkers down defensively, but his Captain has told him not to fear and he has followed her orders into Hueco Mundo. It will take far more for him to bolt.

He grips the sword, willing himself not to drop it. The power…it frightens him, but he knows why he has been called here. Why his Captain has allowed him to do it.

He reaches for the power that suffuses him, willing it into the sword, the same way he gently bolsters a patient with a healing spell. His power is nowhere near as vast as his Captain's, nowhere near as impressive as his Lieutenant's, but it is power, and a good healer always does whatever he can, doesn't he?

His power murmurs of healing, of wounds giving way to pinked flesh, of surprises and hidden reversals. Small things can carry many different surprises and are best not underestimated.

The Seventh Seat of the Fourth Division almost-stammers, "I…I hope you'll feel better, Kurosaki-kun."

-

v.

He is here, not as Captain of the Fifth. That is long past him. Nevertheless, here he stands. It is strangely appropriate, he thinks, hefting the sword thoughtfully. Huh. Maybe the current Gotei Thirteen does have some juice after all.

Still, that damnable kid did it. He'd owe him for taking out Aizen. So he flips the sword, feeling its balance, and then catches it in the opposite hand with a lazy smirk. Reversal.

His power responds to his call, now dark in places. The darkness is a part of him, now, for better or for worse. Something he has learned to accept. Deception, his power says. Betrayal. Reversal. It is the flash of sunlight in the mirror, the shadow-flicker of movement in the glass, the soft mist of condensing breath that fogs vision.

He pauses. Never been one for ceremonial shindigs.

Ah, well.

"May you accept your darkness," the former Captain of the Fifth says. It is the most profound he can bring himself to be.

-

Still wounded, still aching with betrayal. She is here, leaning on her sword as Lieutenant of the Fifth. This is her duty, and in a world where most of her absolutes have been destroyed, she clings to that still, like a raft.

She is brave, but even the bravest of hearts, the biggest of fires, can be reduced to embers.

There is a quiet. A fragile, wounded quiet as she touches the sword, cupping it in her hands like a spell. What can you give me, Tobiume? She asks quietly.

Everything, her sword whispers. Slowly, because she is tired and still wounded, the power trickles into the sword she holds. It is the fire of summer, of sunlight, of plum-blossoms and spring. It is the green of growing plants, the grass that endures the winter's scourges and grows anew. It is heat blazing through her veins, now cooling embers, but still a small fire, a small series of sparks.

As the wildfires sear the forests, so does misplaced trust damage all that is left, scarring the soil, destroying the grasses and the shrubs and the blossoms.

But there is new life, springing forth from the soil. Sometimes, it takes a wildfire for forests to grow new sharp blades of grass, to become lush and luxurious, for the plum-blossoms to slowly flower.

She dips her head. She remembers the boy screaming a warning, but too late. He tried to save her. For that…she is grateful.

She is scarred now, older, wearier. And wiser.

"May you find a good person to place your faith in," the Lieutenant of the Fifth utters.

-

vi.

He is a man very much capable of appreciating irony. As the Captain of the Sixth bears up the sword like an heirloom of his house, he is keenly aware of just how ironic it is that he is now helping to return the Kurosaki boy's powers to him.

His power stirs as he touches the sword, silk and steel gliding against his skin. Soft, bright petals, yielding to the sharpness of steel. He knows how to combine gentility with the warrior's steel, and his blade hums by his side as he summons up more of his power. A storm of petals, constantly spinning aside to deflect attacks, always in motion. Yielding before strikes, only to return and to slice deep. Senbonzakura's petals may be deflected but they will be destroyed before they fail to reach their target.

He understands honour. He understands duty.

And he understands family. Love. Promises made.

He understands—however he hates it—gratitude. He acknowledges his mistakes honestly. But he hates making mistakes. He cannot be anything less than perfect. As he has said to a ryoka boy so long ago, "If we do not set an example by following the rules, who will follow them?"

But in the end, it is not just the Captain of the Sixth, but a man who is holding the sword now. And he has been taught that there is no shame in that.

So it is that the Captain of the Sixth lays a single hand on the shimmering blade of the sword and says, "May you keep your promises."

-

If challenged to explain how the ryoka has become a friend, the Lieutenant of the Sixth would find it hard to exactly express it. In the Eleventh, friendships were made by beating each other up. By the standards of the Eleventh, they are friends. He bloodied Ichigo, and Ichigo repaid him by breaking Zabimaru.

By the standards of the Academy, they are friends because they banded together against a common enemy to save Kuchiki Rukia, and then went into Hueco Mundo together to save the kidnapped Orihime Inoue.

The truth lies somewhere between the two of these; to him, the truth is uncomplicated. Kurosaki Ichigo is a friend. He'd anything for a friend. In Inuzuri, that is how friendship works. A friend is whoever you'd trust at your back. You watch their back, and they watch yours. That sentiment is at the beating heart of his conception of friendship, even now.

"Let's do this!" he mutters to Zabimaru.

He slams his palm into the pommel of the sword, feeling his power course an angry scarlet through his veins. Energy blasts through his veins, scorching them like the power channeled through a Baboon Bone Cannon as Zabimaru musters power in answer to his call. He gathers his power, feels it sink close to his skin, hot and heavy and powerful like the taut muscles of a baboon, sinuous like a snake.

Loyalty, impulsiveness, determination. These are written all over his reiatsu as he empowers the blade.

Panting, the Lieutenant of the Sixth relaxes, the scarlet aura dissipating. "Heh. Stop moping around, Ichigo," he says. "Got it?"

-

vii.

The Captain of the Seventh is a tall humanoid. Once, he has gone under a mask in order to conceal his features, for fear of being shunned. He knows all too well how it feels to be cast out because of one's appearance.

The sword is surprisingly small in his strong, gloved hands. He holds it carefully, because the power within is capable of cutting him.

"As Yamamoto-dono commands," he says quietly. He owes all he has to that man, and the Captain-Commander's word is law. He lets out a wordless snarl, feeling the power surge through him, entering the sword. His power is steel and the iron law, the harsh and unyielding nature of judgement, a double-edged sword. As you judge, so are you bound by your judgements.

Tenken is the starkness of iron, the absolute fist of the law and tightly-controlled discipline. As within, so without.

And the Captain, too, knows of gratitude, of debts which he can never truly repay. It does not matter if the boy or the Captain-Commander insists there is no true debt. It does not remove the obligation on his part to shoulder these debts.

He speaks to the sword as his power fades away. "May you be just," he says, for the memory of a friend.

-

Obligation.

It is just as binding as any other set of chains. Duty. He shoulders them stoically, as he has been taught. In a sense, he has never been as at home in any division as the Eleventh. In another, he has just begun to discover how much he has changed. He enjoys a good fight and sake, but the badge he wears carries responsibilities.

And parental obligations or otherwise, he'll be damned if he doesn't discharge these duties.

This is the power his touch imparts to the blade. Obedience. Duty. A spirit as free as any of the Eleventh Division members, but stronger because the chains he wears are those of his own choosing.

The Lieutenant of the Seventh grimaces slightly as his power departs him, and says, "May you be content."

-

viii.

"Yare, yare," the Captain of the Eighth says, as he holds the sword, tests it with a flick of his wrist. The blade slices air, but it is not the cut that he is listening to, not precisely. "That's quite a bit of power…"

His lieutenant looks as though she is about to consider hitting him over the head with her book if that will get him to hurry up and add his power to the sword. He looks over at her and grins. "Relax, Nanao-chan," he says.

The next instant, his power expands. Children's laughter, as fickle as the wind. The bone-dry sensation of inadvertent malice; the cruelty of childhood, as well as a genuine quality to the laughter. Katen Kyokotsu is always ready-at-hand, always in the experienced moment, with a taste of sneering laughter like the rolling of bone-dice, and bright summer sunshine.

Malice and innocence, cruelty and kindness; Katen Kyokotsu is the complex unification of two opposites. Hence, two swords.

Child's play.

He feeds strands of reiatsu to the sword, twirling the threads idly.

Jushiro will owe the boy, for saving Rukia-chan. That alone would have given him a soft spot for the boy, except that the boy and Kisuke dealt the final blow to Aizen.

He smiles, considers saying something about pretty girls, but then discards the idea in the face of the solemnity of the moment. "May you always enjoy living," he says instead.

-

The sword is surprisingly awkward in her grasp. If anything else, it brings home the reminder the blade is not hers. She is used to fighting with a shorter weapon.

The Lieutenant of the Eighth wastes no time imparting her power to the blade. In many ways, a part of her will always be shaped by the young girl who had to learn what treason meant. In many ways, part of her will be shaped by the shade of Yadomaru Lisa.

She is confident now, in her own place and her own abilities. And she owes far more than she can ever express to her Captain, who was like a father to her. Responsibility. Gratitude. Loyalty. Grace. Self-confidence. These and more, her power whispers to the sword.

Her Captain is as free as the wind, because she is the anchor, always reminding them of what they must do. She has had to grow up quickly after the disappearance (death, she'd thought) of her friend, especially when her Captain took it hard.

This guides the words that she speaks.

"May you be responsible."

-

ix.

He stands here, in place of his Captain. Like everyone close to the defectors, he has pondered. Wondered how he could have so gravely misjudged the man he respected and served. Remembered killing his Captain.

He holds the sword, balanced across his palms. Respect. Fear. His Captain taught him to fear his blade. Some shinigami would laugh at the very idea. Renji told him it was stupid. His zanpakuto was part of his soul, and he shouldn't fear himself.

His power blazes through his veins, scrapes like the whirling maelstrom of steel that Kazeshini can become. The unstoppable whirlwind of bladed violence is a part of him, but tightly held under control. Bright killing green, his power seeps into the sword. He has asked himself questions, spent so many lonely nights doing the paperwork, standing patrol, and doubting.

Once, his Captain offered him certainty. Now, he is beginning to learn that certainty cannot be offered. Not by any man.

The thought is…frightening. Liberating.

He fears his blade. This is the core of who he is. He fears his blade, hates the form of it, but respects Kazeshini. And so it is that he can afford to master his weapon, to unleash the killing storm when he must.

Wisdom begins from fear. This is what he knows. He will be wary of where his Captain fell from grace. And he will honour the man he thought he knew by demonstrating the correct way of embodying his Captain's principles.

The Lieutenant of the Ninth says, "May you fear your sword."

-

x.

The sword is heavy and humming with the weight of power. To the Captain of the Tenth, it is like the moment before a storm, the air tight with the sharp scent of ozone and crackling with static electricity. He senses the power even before he lays a hand to the hilt.

He can make out the individual voices in the chorus of songs: darkened, now, but burning steadily with the hint of plum blossoms, a taste of sharp winds and callous laughter, the blazing infernal heat of Ryujin Jakka.

Come, the dragon says, before he even has to ask.

He reaches for the power, feels it spilling from his hands. The cold of a moonless night. The stillness of a lake in winter, with untold frigid depths. Slow and inexorable as a glacier, and the fury of a snowstorm. He is the heart of the storm, water and crushed ice swirling like scattered stardust to his command.

He is the howling voice of the wind; he has plenty of strength, but what is strength without direction? Strength without purpose, he has come to learn, is meaningless.

It is this purpose which drives him, which he sees in Kurosaki. Strength without duty is meaningless. A Captain cannot afford to abandon duty. But Kurosaki has shown him a strength far more important.

Coolly, the Captain of the Tenth says, "May you protect."

-

The Lieutenant of the Tenth holds the sword. Already, it is brimming. Already, they are almost through the Gotei Thirteen. Three more divisions and the sword burns in her hand, now like fire, now like ice, and she can hear her Captain's power, deep like the oceans, singing like burnished silver.

Blue-white power rises within her, in response to her call, and she supplements the blade with her own reiatsu. It wavers for a moment, shifting hazily like a curtain of ash. Yawns like a sleepy cat. She imposes her will over it, and then it responds again, chastened. A hint of a mischievous, Cheshire smile.

Ash, and fire, cinnamon and hunger and the last part of a teasing smile.

In its wake: loneliness.

In a way, she has always been lonely. In a way, Gin had been the only constant, coming and leaving like the ever-changing moon. The feel of her power sharpens, sprouts claws with the sharp taste of grief.

In some ways, she is not alone. She has her Captain, her friends. Her drinking buddies. Her Captain reminds her, sometimes, of Gin, and so she tests him the most of all, driving him to distraction with pranks and stubborn games of tug-of-war. He is like the moon too, and even his sword reflects that.

If there is anything, she never wants to be alone again.

As the last of her power passes into the sword, the Lieutenant of the Tenth says, "May you never be alone."

-

xi.

The Captain of the Eleventh grips the sword, tests it. Even flexes it a little, but the old man doesn't so much as flinch this time. Huh. Must be getting used to his way of doing things.

A line of blood runs along his palm where the blade has cut him, and he laughs with delight. This sword is not dull; it is practically alive with power, and even with his level of skill at discerning reiatsu, he can all but tell whose reiatsu constitutes the blade. Sharp enough to cut him, even without being wielded.

Learning the kid had lost his reiatsu was a bit of a wrench. Ichigo was always good for a fight, even if tracking him down was damned hard. To get him back…he lets loose, giving everything he has to the sword. Yellow energy crackles through him and then blasts through the sword in a fury of speed and power. Everything that the eye patch doesn't restrain, he gives to the blade. Taste of copper-that-is-blood. Sharp flash of pain. Iron tang of a sword, beaten into shape by pure force. Thrill of the fight flooding him, and the joy of battle and finding an opponent who will draw out his strength.

You never know what's inside you, what your limits are, until someone else beats the tar out of you and forces you to keep pushing past what you thought you wouldn't and couldn't do.

Because everyone else is damned well doing it, the Kenpachi lays a hand on the edge of the blade itself. As the sword runs with blood, he says, "Fight well, kid. Die well."

-

If anyone thinks the Captain of the Tenth is too young to assume his position, at least he carries a sense of gravitas beyond his years. The Lieutenant of the Eleventh is a child, but no one has challenged her right to be here.

The last one to do so was ripped apart by her Captain. The one before that, she beat until he became her stoutest defender. Typically, he was from the Eleventh.

She puts a hand to the sword, laughing happily as she feels Ken-chan's power shift like a lazy blanket of violence and raw power and killing intent. It is as close to home as she'll ever get. In response, her power stirs within and then explodes outward, the lion roaring, stretching fanged teeth.

Pink swirls and settles into the sword.

"Now you can give Ken-chan another good fight, Ichigo!" she says. Fighting makes Ken-chan happy, and above all, she loves watching Ken-chan's eyes light up when they are happy.

The lion purrs and settles a little closer. Its fur is silk against her skin, and she breathes.

-

The Third Seat of the Eleventh lays his hands on the hilt of the sword. He feels eyes on him, watching him, and not just because of the sword. The empty positions in the Gotei Thirteen are gaping holes, waiting for individuals with bankai to fill them.

His grip tightens around the hilt. Never. His only most fervent wish is to die fighting, and to die fighting as one of Zaraki's men. Strength floods into him, along with resolve. He respects strength. He respects a man who can give him a good fight, who can challenge him and force him to give his all. Holding back on his bankai…if he does so, it is only because staying in the Eleventh matters far more to him than losing a fight.

Hozukimaru's power burns through him, flaming scarlet like a bright starburst of adrenaline. He feels his lips peel back in a grin as he claws at his reiatsu, sending it streaming in bursts towards the sword.

He remembers fighting Ichigo, all those days ago. He has learned to accept his luck, in surviving a fight. But if anything, he wants to die fighting. A death trapped in a life of quiet, peaceful normalcy…he cannot think of anything worse for someone like Ichigo, slowly smothering in the life of a human when he has known the freedom of battle.

Che.

He says, "Be lucky, Ichigo!"

-

The Fifth Seat of the Eleventh Division is here because the Third Seat is here, and because they have a kind of acquaintance with Kurosaki Ichigo. So it is that he is next to accept the sword, to allow it to draw from his reiatsu.

It blossoms to life at his practiced grasp, vines streaming, entangling the sword. What he takes, he can give, and now he is giving of his power, feeling it bloom and diminish.

They are all flowers; they bloom and they fade. The division's insignia is yarrow, but he will admit to a preference for the amaranth, the undying flower that always retains its beauty.

He holds the sword, hilt-first, and then he speaks.

"May you die beautifully," the Fifth Seat says. And that is one of the most beautiful things he can imagine.

-

xii.

The Captain of the Twelfth Division strokes the hilt with his long, spindly fingers. A delicate touch elicits the faintest of responses from the power suffusing the hilt, and he wishes he could have far more time to study it. He recognises the traces of Urahara's power, yes, but now, this other darkness…

Someone clears his throat.

He glances up, eyes narrowed, but proceeds. He prides himself on scientific detachment; he is the perfect, impassive observer, and he wants nothing more than to be allowed to carry out his experiments. He cares little for wars except as a staging ground for the advancement of science.

He could care little for Kurosaki Ichigo, but the idea of such a specimen, with such remarkable growth…

His power slips through him like an oil slick, oozing into the sword. He gives of himself a little, and then speaks grudgingly, hands still stroking the hilt in rhythmic, circular movements. "May you be…intelligent," he says.

-

The Lieutenant of the Twelfth holds the sword respectfully. As the Commander and her father have ordered, so she will obey.

Devotion. Her power is devotion, the harsh sound of insults and curses. Happiness, found at obeying her father. A world dissected and neatly categorised, and the stolen moments…the odd dissonance where she finds a little gratitude to the Quincy. It is small, but she loves her father, in her own way.

She speaks, as the rest of them do. "May you honour your father," she says. She ignores the odd, pitying looks some of them direct at her. Let them say what they will. This is the life she leads and she is, in many ways, content.

-

xiii.

The Captain of the Thirteenth remembers.

His power is soft with memory, and it speaks to the sword, and the sword remembers a talented boy with dark hair and the feeling of ocean waves and sea wind and salt-spray and swallows wheeling overhead in the blue sky. His power is shaped by sorrow, and sorrow speaks to the sword, and the sword listens.

Sorrow speaks of hope, sorrow's joyful sister, of similarity, of a boy with orange hair and a scowl and a boy with dark hair and a spirit flaming bright, and a smirk. He dreams of hope, of spring, of second chances.

The sword trembles.

He knows compassion too, a compassion for the young. He is a man far older than he looks. Sometimes, he feels older than time. Sorrow has made him old. He appreciates Ichigo's conviction, his bluntness, his youth, his determination. He is grateful to the boy for saving Rukia.

For that alone, he would have given his power.

He speaks.

"May you be joyful," the Captain of the Thirteenth says.

-

The new Lieutenant of the Thirteenth remembers.

This is a familiar moment, an almost-familiar blade, throbbing with the combined power of the Gotei Thirteen. The blade hums against her fingers, singing of gratitude, of pride of ambition. Of the humble kindness that she has come to recognise as her Captain's.

She does not give deeply to the blade. It will be her hand that delivers the stroke, as her hand has done slightly more than a year ago. It is, she thinks, appropriate.

Her power is snow, and ice. Her breath forms like white mist, condensing on the mirrored surface of the blade, and then her power seeps in like the first touch of winter frost; turning the blade the pure white of Sode no Shirayuki.

She has always laboured with the feeling she is unworthy. With the reluctance to trouble people. But Ichigo…he has taught her that some burdens are meant to be shared. Take my power, Sode no Shirayuki whispers, and ice glides down the length of the sword.

Gratitude.

Thank you, Ichigo.

Kuchiki Rukia breathes on the sword. "May you live a good life," she says. Ichigo.