As a told a few people I'm here with a new story. I can't really stay long without writing something... anything. So, I'm drawn to psychological dramas, and this could be considered my attempt at one - Toushiro being my main victim, of course.
This one is set directly after the Winter War. Ichigo has lost his powers and is out of the game, Aizen has been thrown into Muken, the Espada disposed of, and the Soul Society is trying to piece itself back together. I personally thought that Kubo could have spent a little more time tying up the lose ends the war left behind, but noooo he couldn't wait to jump into the next arc. Anyway this is my shot at continuity.
And so, prepare yourselves for a (moderately) long ride of mind-games, heart-wrenching feelings, and how people actually recover from a war.
Part One - Recovery
Chapter One - Let's Get Better, Okay?
"I believe that this is checkmate, my friend."
"It looks like that, doesn't it?"
"Your key player is out of the game."
"Ah but so is yours. Mine is simply locked up; whereas yours has lost all his power. Who has the better draw now?"
"My pieces still outnumber yours, or do you have another trick up your sleeve?"
"I have many tricks up my sleeve. Do you still wish to play?"
"Of course, but let's change the rules a bit, shall we?"
"A new board, perhaps? There are many different pathways we can take."
"Shall we pick new players?"
"I think it's time we do."
Look at all these brave soldiers, standing so neat and pretty. They know not of their demise, or of the people who sit safely and unseen, playing out a puppet show and laughing as they die. If they knew that they were just part of a game would they fight so willingly? Would they still lay down their lives for blank faces? Would they still turn to the puppet masters with trusting, bright eyes?
Look at all these stupid men, standing in rows like sheep. The battles they fight are just old men's pastimes. Duty and honour is already decided; their movements already planned out as they are yanked into action, arms and legs bent for a marionettes' morbid show. They fight for their lives, but they have already been marked by fate the moment which they entered the cruel game.
Look at all these pretty puppets as they dance on their strings. It is a long, tiring, and misguided dance, a dance for the pleasure of others. They struggle along with the complex steps. Often do they stumble and fall, but are yanked upright by a harsh jerk of a string. The poor, worn, pretty, little puppets are only cut loose when they die.
And sometimes not even then.
Only two more pages to go and he could call it a night. He cracked his knuckles and dipped his brush into the ink pot. As he bent over to sign his name at the bottom of the page a sudden lancing pain shot through his left shoulder. He froze, his vision went red, and he felt a sharp blade slice through muscle and bone. He even heard the thump of his arm falling to the floor and felt warm blood pour down his side. He clenched his jaw to keep from shouting in pain and the room began to spin around him –
Toushiro gasped, clutching his left shoulder and jerking upright. He sat for a couple minutes with his eyes closed and his right hand gripping the rough fabric of his kosode. He almost sighed in relief when he felt that his left arm was still attached to his body. Had he fallen asleep? He must have. Eventually, after what felt like an eternity to him the throbbing subsided and he let his arm fall back to the desk.
"Captain?" Rangiku asked in concern. She was halfway off of the couch and was waiting for his response before she rushed to his side.
"I'm fine, Matsumoto." He ran a hand across his forehead, grimacing as he collected a few beads of sweat on his palm.
"You dozed off again. Haven't you been sleeping well lately?" Rangiku sank back down onto the couch and rested her chin on the backrest.
"I'm fine," he repeated firmly, "If you're not going to do any work then you might as well go home."
"Did you dream of the war again?"
He raised an eyebrow. "This is neither the time nor place to discuss this, Matsumoto."
She sighed. "You're going to make yourself go crazy if you continue to keep things bottled up like this. No wonder you're having so many nightmares."
He rolled his eyes. What did she know? She drank herself to sleep every night. Having nightmares were somewhat healthy at least. This was all a part of his recovery and he was determined to get better.
"That's it, Captain Hitsugaya, just five more."
Captain Unohana's voice had the small, white-haired shiniami swearing viciously in his mind. Sweat was dripping down his arms and back, making it seem like he had been caught in a rain storm. He was lying on his stomach on a mat with a resistance band hooked around his left ankle and was attempting to bend his knee, stretching the band towards his body. It had been a simple exercise at first, but after what seemed like a thousand repetitions the muscles of his newly healed leg were screaming in agony. Unohana at least counted down the last five with him and when he reached the last one he let his leg fall to the floor with a loud thump. His hamstrings were spasming almost rhythmically and he was ready to believe that he would not be able to walk out of the exercise room.
"Good job," Unohana congratulated him, "that's it for the day. I hope you've been remembering to do your stretches every night, and I'll see you again next week."
She smiled at him when he mustered up the energy to roll over and sit up. His left arm felt like jelly and was very unresponsive from a few pervious exercises. He was breathing heavily and was a bit miffed that such simple exercises had him so worn out. Unohana noticed his irked expression and patted his sweaty shoulder in reassurance.
"It'll get better; physiotherapy isn't an easy road for anyone. Remember when we had just started and you could barely even move your arm and leg? Now look at you; you can almost walk on your own."
He nodded and stood up, using the wall to help him balance. Unohana handed him a glass of water and when he had finished drinking, a crutch. He sighed and hooked the crutch under his left shoulder.
"Thank you, Unohana," he mumbled as he hobbled out of the exercise room. "But I'm still looking forward to the day when I don't have to use this thing."
She chuckled, "Be patient; you can't rush healing."
He sighed again and grabbed his uniform and captain's haori from a hook by the door. "I'll see you next week. "
She waved him goodbye with one hand as she scribbled a few notes in his file with the other.
The thunking of the crutch on the wooden floor of The Fourth Division made him shake his head. It had only been just over a month since the Winter War and nobody was fully healed yet. He should have been happy that just last week he had been told that he could suffice with one crutch instead of two, but he was angry that his training had been put on hold. He could feel Hyourinmaru rumble in agreement. A few people had it just as bad, though; Soi Fon had also lost an arm – he had seen her in physiotherapy a couple times – and the head-captain was not able to get a replacement for the arm he lost in battle. Since he had blown his arm off with kido it was impossible for them to reattach a new one. Toushiro did not pretend to understand the logistics of reattaching limbs and nor did he really want to.
Yes, it was going to be a while before the Seireitei was whole again.
It took him much longer than usual to get back to The Tenth – regardless of the fact that he stopped at the bath house to clean his body of all the sweat and to change back into his uniform. He greeted a few of his men in the hallways, nodding in response to their salutes. He always felt slightly awkward when they saw him hobbling about on his crutches. How could he possibly be a leader when he couldn't even walk properly? But, up to this day, he was always pleasantly surprised when they offered their well-wishes for a speedy recovery and told him, with smiles, that the training grounds weren't the same without him.
Toushiro had been likewise shocked when he had first awoken after his surgery and found his room full of bouquets and boxes of chocolates and other confections from several of his men and was even more stunned at the amount of visits he had received. He still had not figured out a way to show his thanks, however, so he had given them more time off than necessary or wrote simple thank you cards and mailed them with their pay checks. Rangiku had laughed and called him cute, but he put her to work after he pointed out that she was the one who had eaten all of his get well chocolates.
Back in the office Rangiku was, of course, sprawled out on the couch and snoring away. He shook his head and went over to poke her with his crutch.
"Hey, get up," he called as she rolled over and yawned. "I've told you before; either get to work or go home."
She groaned as she stretched, "You're so mean, Captain, I'm supposed to be on sick leave."
"Yes, but you haven't 'left' yet. Why even bother to say that when you come to the office every day?"
She shrugged. "I need to make sure you don't work yourself to death."
He rolled his eyes and hobbled over to his desk. "I appreciate the concern, but it's unnecessary."
"Sure, sure. How was physiotherapy, by the way?"
He grumbled and sat down. "Same as last week; it freaking hurts."
She smiled, "Next time you'll think twice before getting your limbs hacked off in battle, huh?"
"Yeah, because I did that on purpose, right?"
She giggled and lay back on the couch.
"Hey, don't go back to sleep!"
When he received no reply he let out a deep sigh and leaned back into his chair. Goddamnit Rangiku, he thought as he picked up his brush and pulled out a small stack of files from his top drawer. Surely her bed was more comfortable than the office couch. But from the years which he had known Rangiku he had learnt that she could sleep almost anywhere. At least like this he could keep an eye on her wellbeing and make sure she didn't drink too much.
Toushiro opened the top file and gingerly picked up the first sheet of paper – a report from one of the platoons he had sent to scour the nearby districts of the Rukongai for unusual hollow activity. Squad Ten had been placed in charge of monitoring any strange hollow activity after the Winter War. The Gotei Thriteen wasn't sure how much Aizen had impacted the hollow levels and wanted to keep an eye on anything strange. Toushiro hadn't minded the extra work; his men needed to be kept busy even if he couldn't participate in the missions himself.
Hyourinmaru rumbled in comfort and he caught himself rubbing his thigh – the place above his knee where his leg had been re-attached. It still throbbed from time to time, especially after his physiotherapy sessions. He had learnt to accept that much, though. What he didn't accept, however, was that it froze up sometimes. His knee often locked itself into place and caused him to stumbled over his own feet. He also had difficulty holding onto and picking up small objects with his left hand – but he was getting better at that with practice.
He scanned the page quickly before moving on to the next one. He would have to decide whether or not he would send out a new platoon to join the current one after this month. He finished reading the report and made a few notes before setting the file to the side and picking up the next one. He would ask Matsumoto her opinion on the matter when she woke up. If she wanted to spend her sick days in the office then he would make do and – try to – put her to work.
Despite telling himself that he would wake his lieutenant in an hour or two he found himself working late into the evening without making any attempt to rouse her from her sleep. He only noticed how long he had been working when he had to get up and turn on the lights. The fluorescent bulbs woke her from her slumber and she looked around confused.
"Is that the time, already? Captain, why didn't you wake me up?" she asked jumping up and stretching.
"I get more done without you awake and disturbing me every five minutes," he grumbled as he limped back to his desk.
He sighed as he slumped back into his chair, noticing that Rangiku was staring at him with a tiled head.
"I feel like a damn old man with this leg," he muttered rubbing at the rough scar through his hakama.
She giggled, "But you're a cute old man."
He shot her a sharp glare before shaking his head and picking up another file from the stack in his draw. He was about to open it when it was plucked from his hands. Rangiku stood towering over him with her free hand on her hip.
"I think that's enough work for tonight, Captain. You need to rest."
"Give it back, Rangiku."
"Captain Unohana said-"
"I know what she said. Give it back and we can close up for the night." He held out his hand for the file, pleased when the stiff paper made contact with his palm. He instantly opened it and pulled out the form that lay inside.
"Captain!" Rangiku whined.
"Just this one, then I'll go to bed."
"That's what you always say," she pouted.
Grinning to himself he dipped his brush into the ink pot again, but was disturbed by a knock on the door. He huffed as Rangiku flounced over to slide the door open.
"Yes?" she chirped.
It was a messenger from The Fourth. Toushiro's grin slowly turned into a frown and his heart began to thud heavily against his ribs. There was only one reason why someone from The Fourth would be sent to him at this hour.
"Lieutenant Hinamori has regained full consciousness."
His eyebrows rose; that sentence was not what he had been expecting to hear. It was good news, but troubling nonetheless.
"That's good news, isn't' it, Captain?" Rangiku asked, clasping her hands behind her back and grinning widely.
Toushiro had stopped moving. His brush had fallen from his grasp, spilling ink all over his desk, and his eyes had gone wide. The only sign that he had not suddenly turned to stone was the slow, yet pronounced, rise and fall of his chest.
The messenger had left after he had delivered his message and said that Captain Unohana was expecting him to visit his sister some time that night. Toushiro had not responded and was currently staring off into space seemingly unsure about how to react.
He blinked, jerking back into reality, and blinked a few times more before turning to Rangiku.
"Yes, I uh, I suppose that is good news," he muttered.
"Let's go visit her."
He paled. "Uh, not now; maybe a little later." Or a lot later.
She frowned and perched herself on the edge of his desk.
He took a few calming breaths. He hadn't seen Momo since their encounter during the Winter War. Well, he had seen her; he had visited her a few times when she was unconscious. But now... He couldn't fight the fact that he would have to face her eventually. He couldn't hide from her, but he was not looking forward to seeing how she would react to him. He had stabbed her through the chest, after all. He was the one who had put her into a coma, again. How could she possibly forgive him this time? From the way she had seen it, he had rushed at her with all of hell's furry and tried to kill her for no apparent reason. The look of utter shock and disbelief on her face when he realised that it was her, not Aizen, had given him nightmares up till this day. She had even questioned his betrayal before she had fallen unconscious and him attacking her was probably her most recent memory. He could not possibly face her after that and still expect her to accept him with open arms. That would be asking for far too much and Momo, though kind beyond reason, was not a saint.
He gritted his teeth and hung his head. He was not ready to face her just yet. He was not ready to ask, no, he did not deserve to ask for her forgiveness. Rangiku placed a gentle hand on his shoulder.
"You should go see her. I know it's going to be hard, but it's better to get closure now than to sit here wondering. Trust me, if that were Gin waking up I would run to his side without hesitation."
He blinked and looked up at her. "Rangiku, I'm sorry."
"No, Captain, it's fine. But now Momo is awake and I'm sure she's wondering where her little brother is. Let's not keep her waiting."
"She probably doesn't want to see me."
"How do you know that? Momo doesn't keep grudges. And I'm sure she understands the situation. You shouldn't be scared, Captain."
He sighed and she patted him on the head.
"Plus, I'll be right beside you the whole time. If things turn sour I'll be the one to send her back into a coma."
Toushiro shook his head. "That's not funny, Rangiku."
"It is... just a little."
"No. Not in the slightest."
"Have you chosen your piece yet?"
"This little one seems intriguing, and I suppose you'll take the girl in that case."
"You know me well, old friend."
"I do, and yet I know not the outcome of this game. Shall we begin?"
Look at all the soldiers, standing in a neat row. See how they wait, like toys, to be played with, to be ruined, damaged, then thrown away.
If only they knew. Would they fight back? Would they cut their strings? Would they overturn the game board, attack the puppet masters, and take back their lives?
If only they knew.
Was it bad, good, worth my time to continue?
Well, I've already got this whole thing outlined, so you're stuck with me anyway :)
Yes, I was inspired by the nursery rhyme'two little dickie birds' for the italic parts at the beginning and the end. But just who are the two playing games with the little shinigami?
Any guesses? If so, you could very well guess my entire plot... maybe :D