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GRADUATION DAY

The headmaster held out his hand, his fingers curled slightly around the scroll that held Takeshi's results.


"Congratulations Sawada-san", the headmaster congratulated him as he was given the scroll, "you've passed with flying colours. The entire teacher corps is proud of you. We all wish you the best of luck with your career in the Gotei 13".


Takeshi bowed, thanking the headmaster before returning to his friends.


"Oi Takeshi, could you wipe that smirk off of your face please? It's not like you didn't know what you would get for a score", Akimoto grinned as he twirled his own scroll around with his fingers.


"Oh, sorry, I was thinking I should reassure you that at least one of us had passed Akimoto", Takeshi replied dryly, not even trying to hide the sarcasm in his retort.


His comment caused quite a few grins to appear on the faces of the small group of now ex-students. They'd all passed, no surprises there, but they were surprised to hear that almost every single student of the final year had passed. In total there were only a handful of people that had flunked the course.


"So, who of you has decided what squad to join?", Saruwatari asked, curious as to where her friends would go. She knew that Akimoto would probably follow her to wherever she went, so she didn't worry about him.


"Not really", the response came in unison, the excuses ranging from a simple "I don't know yet" to a downright lame excuse of "not having been able to contact the division of choice".


"So, where are you going to Takeshi-kun, Akane-chan?", she asked when she noticed neither of them had answered yet.


"First of all we're going to talk with my father", Akane replied, "he wanted to see us. After that, we'll probably go visit Yoshikune Taichō. He asked us to come by once we had finished our training here".


"Where are you and Akimoto headed", Takeshi asked, curious as to where the other couple were going.


"We're probably going to join the third division, under Yamamura Taichō", Akimoto replied, "which means we'll probably won't be seeing you that often anymore since I'm expecting you'll join either the fifth, the ninth or the eleventh".


"I am not joining the eleventh", Takeshi said, an annoyed look on his face, "those guys would be constantly picking fights with me, which I don't really like at all".


"Fair enough", Akimoto nodded in agreement as he recalled the events of the exam.


"Well then, I'm off to catch up some sleep before I go visit a random division headquarters", Sakamoto said as he slowly stumbled away.


With nothing better to do, the rest of the students soon followed his example and left the grounds, walking towards the headquarters of the division of their choice.


Takeshi however was led on a different path altogether as Akane pulled him towards their attic. After having changed into their official shinigami attire, picking up their valuables and saying a mental goodbye to their makeshift home, they walked towards the academy entrance.


"This is it", Akane said as they reached the gate, "the moment we step through this gate, we're full shinigami".


Ah, Akane", she heard her father say as he walked into the central hallway. "I've been expecting you, and you as well Sawada-san", he nodded to Takeshi, "please, follow me, we have much to discuss".


Bowing in acknowledgement, Takeshi quickly followed Akane and her father as they walked deeper into the building.


The manor seemed to be even bigger on the inside than he'd been able to see on the outside. He eventually lost his orientation as they kept on walking through hallways, taking a turn every now and then until they eventually reached a large room. The only furniture was a small table with several pillows lined on each side. It was clear that the room's only purpose was to hold discussions in.


"Please, Sawada-san, Akane, take a seat", Kazuma said as he sat down on one side of the table, indicating for them to sit on the opposite side.


"I understand that the two of you are involved in a romantic relationship", he continued as the couple sat down.


Nodding in acknowledgement, Akane eyed her father. She'd suspected it would be about something like this and she'd been worried that he might not approve of her relationship with Takeshi.


"This however brings along some minor difficulties", he continued, "for you see, I had planned on betrothing you to a member of one of the other noble families, the Hayashi family to be precise, whose heir, Hayashi Toru, is also my fukutaichō".


Hearing her father explain, Akane visibly paled, despair appearing in her eyes as she first looked at Takeshi and then at her father.


Takeshi too had stiffened when he heard the words. He'd known about arranged marriages, but never had he thought that he'd be faced with one, but now that he was, he'd be fighting it every step of the way he promised himself.


Noticing the tension rise in the couple before him, Kazuma quickly raised his hand, attempting to ease them a bit as he indicated that he hadn't finished yet.


"I had planned that, but who am I to decide my daughter's fate", Kazuma said, smiling a bit as he watched the youngsters visibly relax.


"I will approve of your relationship, but only under strict conditions. First of all, Sawada-san, you will start living together with Akane, starting today. Second, you will pledge your loyalty to Akane and solemnly swear not to betray either her or the Shimizu family, which means that you will marry her within the year. And third, neither of you will join the ninth division, it might develop conflicts between you and my fukutaichō, and I'd hate to see the fiancée of my daughter to be crushed under his recently achieved bankai".


Kazuma smiled, he'd seen his daughter and her companion brighten with every word he spoke until Akane had thrown herself into Takeshi's arms, the force of which, combined with the surprise of the sudden glomp causing him to topple backwards onto the tatami mat.


Silent, he watched the couple laugh, tears of joy causing Akane's eyes to glisten in the now fading light.


"Thank you very much for giving me permission to marry your daughter Shimizu-sama", Takeshi bowed when he'd finally been able to get back up after Akane had calmed down a bit.


"Please, call me Kazuma, we're practically family now, no need to be too formal here", Kazuma smiled at the man in front of him,later they was to meet with Yoshikune Taichō.


"We're here to see Yoshikune Taichō", Akane said to the guard standing at the gate of the fifth division headquarters.


"And you are?"


"Shimizu Akane and Sawada Takeshi".


"Ah, right, I was told you'd be paying us a visit, follow me please", the guard nodded before leading them into the complex.


"So, are you going to join the fifth?", the guard asked as they walked through the corridors.


"Probably, it depends on what Yoshikune Taichō has to say to us", Takeshi said.


"Hehehe", the man grinned, "I sure hope so, I've heard quite a bit about you two and I was wondering if the rumours were true. Anyway, we're here".


He halted near a door, knocking on it before entering the room.


"Sir, Shimizu Akane and Sawada Takeshi are here as you requested", the guard announced as the newly graduated shinigami walked into the room.


"Very well, dismissed", Shinji nodded at the guard as his guests entered his office.


The office was smaller than Takeshi had expected it to be, though it might've been the stacks of scrolls and papers that lined the walls. Several wallscrolls had been put up, each one with a different motivational speech. The clutter apparently had spread to the taichō's desk as well, either that, or that was the point of origin for the mess.


Takeshi decided that is was probably the latter as he watched the man in front of him put some more papers on a dangerously unstable pile, seAkanengly unaware of the potentially catastrophic chain reaction it could have on the rest of the stacks littered across the room.


"I've been waiting for you", Shinji said as he quickly put aside some papers in order to make some room on his desk.


"Honestly, I thought you'd be dropping by yesterday", the man exclaimed as he leaned forward a bit, gesturing at his guests to sit down, wherever there was place available that is.


"We're terribly sorry for not meeting with you yesterday Yoshikune Taichō", Akane bowed, "but my father had requested that Takeshi and myself meet with him as soon as possible after the graduation ceremony. The meeting just happened to extend well into the night".


"That's all right", the taichō smiled, "it's not as if Soul Society is going to end because of it. But let's get to the point. Sawada Takeshi, Shimizu Akane, I hereby request that you join the fifth division as the respective third and fourth seat of my division. I have recently lost my previous third and fourth seats during a high risk assignment and I have not yet had the opportunity to fill in the vacant positions. I understand that it is rare for a graduate to be assigned as a seated officer, but both your levels of power more than qualify you for the position".


Amusedly, he looked at the two youngsters in front of him, their faces covered with disbelief and shock. He knew they'd been expecting to receive an invitation to join his division, but probably not one like this. It usually took a shinigami years, even decades, to reach the level suited for a seated officer.


"Sir, we can't accept this", Akane breathed. She still had some difficulties fully comprehending what had just been said to her. This was above all of her expectations. She wanted to say more, but was suddenly interrupted by Takeshi.


"You're holding something back aren't you Yoshikune-san", Takeshi grinned as he looked closely at the taichō.


"I guess", the man grinned. He hadn't expected Takeshi to find out so quickly, but now that he was aware of the fact, he guessed that he shouldn't hold anything else back anymore.


"Indeed, as you have said, there's more to this than first meets the eye. Takeshi-kun, both you and Akane-san here have astounding powers, but you still don't know how to fully control them. Not only that, but there currently are powers at work that might want to take advantage of your powers, I'm sure you remember the attack on the academy. We still don't know who was behind it, but the fact that the two of you, together with several of your friends, were specific targets, isn't reassuring. Because of this, I decided, together with several other taichō, that you should be trained as much as possible so that you can defend yourselves without any problem. We have also implemented a new patrol system. Instead of a lone shinigami patrolling an area, we now have shinigami working in pairs to cover each other's backs. This is why several of your tests, including the final exam, during the academy were also in pairs."


"So you mean that there's people after us?", Akane asked nervously.


"Not just after you, but after your friends as well. This is why several taichō have decided to take a pair of students that have a lot of promise under their wing. I will be personally supervising your training, with Handa Taichō, Fukuzawa Taichō and Fukuda Taichō occasionally taking over for when I'm unavailable. So, what do you say? Are you ready to join the fifth division of the Gotei 13?"


A few moments of silence passed between the taichō and his two recruits. Takeshi looked at Akane, he couldn't stop a massive grin from forming on his face, and apparently, neither could she. Both looked at Shinji at the same time.


"We accept", their answer sounded in unison.


Excellent", Shinji smiled, "then I'll have my secretary hand you your badges as symbol of your rank. Afterwards I'll introduce you to the rest of the division, and don't worry about a place to sleep,


"Misaki-san, would you please be so kind as to give Takeshi-kun and Akane-san their badges and show them to their residence?", he spoke to his secretary, who stood up immediately, gesturing at the couple to follow her.


The house was not as large as the Shimizu estate, but still, it was quite large to Takeshi. Then again, he had been living in a small apartment during the last few years of his life, after which it had become a single dormitory room and later on, a relatively small attic.


"So this is going to become our new home eh?", Takeshi smiled as he gently touched one of the wooden pillars supporting the roof over the exterior walkway. As with all of the other buildings in Seireitei, this one was also built in the classic Japanese style, which meant a lot of sliding doors, thin walls, wooden floors and long hallways. Not that he particularly disliked the style, far from it, it was just something he had to get used to.


"Uh huh", he heard Akane whisper as she slowly put her arms around his waist. Returning the gesture, Takeshi slowly pulled her closer until they were locked in a gently hug. They stayed that way for a few minutes, until the sound of rattling wooden boards drew their attention. It was the signal for everyone to gather in the division assembly hall for the welcoming party for the two new officers. Quickly, they locked the door of their new home, made sure they had their badges and made for the party.


"I'm sure many of you have heard about these two already", Shinji began as he stood in at the head table, Takeshi and Akane were standing on the right, while Shinji's fukutaichō, Hayase Mitsuki, stood to his left together with his secretary.


"For those of you that don't know them yet, these are Sawada Takeshi and Shimizu Akane. Both of them are some of the most promising graduates in the academy's history and they've accepted my offer to join our division as the new third and fourth seat. I sincerely hope that you show them the same amount of respect that you show to me or Mitsuki here", he said, pointing at his fukutaichō.


"Now, enough with all the official stuff, it's boring enough as it is. Let the party begin".


This comment caused cheers to roar through the assembly hall as people immediately started the party, some decided to eat some things, others found drinking more interesting while some came to the head table to congratulate the two newest members of the division. Only a few people noticed the angry looks the couple were receiving from some of the fifth division members, and even those that noticed didn't pay too much attention to them. If they had, the night might not have turned bad later that evening.




Chapter 13

CHALLENGE IN THE SEAT


Takeshi had been oddly aware of just about everything happening at the part. This was what saved him from being struck by a bottle of sake that had apparently found it amusing to sail through the air, aimed squarely at the back of his head. He snapped his head to the side, allowing it to sail over his shoulder before he easily snatched it out of the air.


"Why did you throw that bottle Fifth seat Takuya?", Takeshi asked without even looking over his shoulder, the fluctuations in the reiatsu present in the room clearly pointing out the culprit. He'd expected that some of the officers would be holding both Akane and him in contempt after being passed over by two shinigami fresh from the academy, but even so, he found it to be utterly annoying to be proven correct.


"You still ask why?", the man shouted in a fit of rage. The man was obviously resenting both him and Akane. He was just glad his anger was focused on him instead of on Akane, both for his and the other officer's sake.


"I'll tell you why. Because some snot nosed spoiled academy brats suddenly barge in and take up the positions that should have been reserved for officers with more experience, such as myself".


Takeshi sighed, he'd known this would eventually be cropping up and he decided to nip all the possible 'rebellions' in the bud. He quickly apologised to Akane, Shinji and Mitsuki and stood up before they even had a chance to react.


"Don't worry", he said calmly to his superiors, "I won't hurt him too much, I just plan on making it clear that it would be foolish to challenge our assignment. It's better to avoid having constant infighting in the division. I'm sorry that this might seem a bit harsh Yoshikune Taichō, but I see no other way".


"Don't worry Takeshi-kun", Shinji smiled, reassuring the new officer, "I'm very well aware of that fact. Both Mitsuki and myself won't be butting in during the fight, something that will undoubtedly happen, though I very much wonder if it will be much of a fight though".


"Thank you for your confidence in me Taichō", Takeshi smiled as he slowly moved towards the door of the building.


"Let's take this outside Fifth seat Takuya. It wouldn't be wise to cause unnecessary damage in our own compound".


Takeshi's words however fell on deaf ears. Blinded by both rage and liqueur, the shinigami stormed forward, his sword drawn, the tip pointed at Takeshi's heart.


Sighing, Takeshi sidestepped the blade, his movements almost like water flowing about as he swivelled around his opponent, landing a quick punch against the rear of the knee as he went, causing Takuya to stumble forward. Some curious squad members that had been standing outside had to jump aside as the drunk officer came rolling out of the building, Takeshi calmly stepping outside, ignoring the strange looks he was getting by those unaware of the situation.


"Don't you dare get cheeky with me boy", Takuya screamed as he was enraged even further by the humiliation he had just suffered, "Pound, Tekken!".


Instantly, his fists were encased in a strange, red glowing material, giving them the appearance of boxing gloves. His hulky frame accentuating the depiction of a boxer even further. Without a second thought, he charged in again, his right fist held back, ready to strike. Takeshi on the other hand had already shifted into a fighting stance. One hand pointing out at the opponent, palm upwards, while the other was held near the temple, the palm pointing outwards.


"You won't get me with another one of those weird techniques boy", Takuya yelled as his feet quickly closed the gap between them, his long strides eating up the ground as if it were nothing. In an instant, he had Takeshi within his range. He smirked as he launched his fist forward. Nothing had ever taken one of his punches and lived to tell the tale, be it hollow or anyone else, Quincy and shinigami alike. Thus, his surprise was immense as he found that his fist hit nothing but air, but instead found himself being tossed into the air.


The instant Takuya had launched his punch, Takeshi had sprung to action, intercepting the punch with his outstretched hand and gently leading it away from him, allowing the destructive power to flow harmlessly past his face. At the same time, his other arm had snaked its way towards Takuya's throat, slamming into it before grabbing a hold of the man's clothes. Mustering his strength, Takeshi swung his leg forward in a low kick, his hand pulling Takuya upwards as his leg swiped the support from underneath his opponent. Time seemed to slow down as Takeshi watched his opponent float horizontally in midair, the man's eyes barely even registering the change in position.


Deciding not to give the man time to recover, Takeshi brought his elbow down, slamming it into Takuya's midsection, several snaps indicating some broken ribs as his arm ploughed its way downward.


With a deafening bang, Takuya slammed into the ground, cracking several tiles in the process.


Silence immediately fell over the small courtyard in front of the building. Takeshi still standing in his last position, his elbow still pointed down towards Takuya.


"I believe I have made my point about why I'm worthy of this position, haven't I, Takuya-san?", Takeshi asked the man lying on the ground as he slowly righted himself again before walking towards Akane, Shinji and Mitsuki.


"Damn you, using a dirty fighting style like that. Somehow it doesn't surprise me that you have such a style as your own", Takuya spat as he carefully crawled to his knees, cradling his ribs with his left arm.


"For your information, the fighting style of an individual doesn't mean a thing, I fought you fair and square, and I won. Besides, that wasn't my own fighting style".


At these words, Takuya's face contorted in rage.


"What do you mean with that?"


"It means that the techniques I used against you were not part of my personal fighting style. As you should know, I'm a lightning elementalist. Those moves were more part of the style used by a typical water elementalist, such as my fiancé here", Takeshi explained, casually pointing in Akane's direction near the end of the explanation.


"The reason I used her style against you is simple. If I had used my own style, you'd be dead before you could even blink. So let this serve as a warning to you and everyone else that has any thoughts about attacking. If you attack me, you might escape with some minor injuries, but mark my words, if you dare hurt, or even attempt to hurt Akane, I'll personally make sure it's the last thing you'll ever do", his voice suddenly turning icy, fury reverberating in every syllable, causing a shiver to run down the spine of some of the lower ranked shinigami.


His cold attitude changed drastically though when he saw his taichō hold open his palm to a pair of eight seats, not even trying to hide his smirk as he pocketed the money they put there.


"Did you just bet on me?", Takeshi asked his superior in disbelief.


"Hey, they started up the betting, I found it just as fair as to put some money on you. Can't blame me for raking in the profit", Shinji replied, a smug look still plastered across his face.


Sighing, Takeshi shook his head in defeat. He had known that Shinji had some quirks, but he would never have thought him to act like that.


"I think it would be best if we retreat to our home Taichō", Akane said as she took a hold of Takeshi's hand.


Shinji's demeanour changed immediately at hearing her statement. In an instant he had transformed from a happy go lucky man who had just won a bet to a commanding officer of a major military division.


"Agreed, even if Takeshi made it clear that any insubordination won't be tolerated, it would still be best to lay low for a while, especially after the little show that was put on here. For now, I think it is best that you retreat to your quarters. As for the future, come to my office tomorrow, I think I've got something for the two of you".


"Understood", Takeshi nodded in agreement. Not only did he have the same opinion about it as his superior, he also wanted some time alone with Akane.


A few weeks later it had become a common sight in the fifth division headquarters to see the third seat and the fourth seat walking around the grounds. They had even been spotted outside of the headquarters quite often, They had already visited the third, fourth, sixth, eleventh and twelfth division headquarters.

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