Bloodstain Yachiru and the Laundry Technician
My favorite part of my job is doing laundry! But, the only bad part of doing the laundry is carrying the huge bundle out to the courtyard of the Relief Station. Hanatarou-sempai used to help me with that, but he's been so busy recently, so I can't ask him. It takes a little longer, but I have to break it up into smaller piles, and make several trips.
I like Squad Four best. I know everyone picks on us, but that doesn't keep them from calling for us when they're injured, right? So, I think of it as Squad Four being the littlest brother of all the other squads. The smiling, kind-hearted, brother who always runs into the house and finds band-aids when you scrape your knee. Of course you pick on your little brother, but deep in your heart, you'd be upset if he suddenly disappeared, right?
I had a little brother... But, that was before I died and came to Soul Society. His name was Heisuke, and his favorite thing in the world was his pet rabbit, Zabu. He had leukemia, my brother, but somehow I ended up dying before he did. Strange how the world works, isn't it?
Because of my brother, I wanted to become a nurse, a nurse at a children's hospital. Some people made fun of me for being a guy, and also wanting to be a nurse, but that didn't matter to me. Heisuke was proud of me, so it was alright.
I worked really hard to become a nurse, harder than all my classmates, who all seemed to be much better than me at medicine. I had to study a whole extra year before I could take my final exams. And then, the night before graduation, I got hit by a drunk driver.
You know what my last thought before I died was? "Wow. This is just like in one of those public service commercials."
But, then I came to Soul Society. And, eventually, I ended up here, working for Squad Four. I like Unohana-sama. She said to me once, "Medicine can be learned, Keisuke-kun, but you have to be born with a bedside manner. And you have deep care for all suffering people. That's all you need, so work hard."
So, I do, I work hard every single day. Laundry isn't bad. It's actually fun. And our patients need clean linens, nice crisp linens. The small jobs have to get done, too.
I don't know much about the other squads, but that's alright. Hanatarou-sempai says that some of them are pretty scary, and I've seen some really awful injuries come in to the Relief Station on guys that look fairly invincible. Being a shinigami is WAY dangerous, but thankfully, the worst that has ever happen to me is getting laundry soap in my eyes.
Today is a sharply chilly day, and the linens make snapping noises when the wind zips around the courtyard. It's a nice sound, I think. Reminds me a little of when Heisuke and I bought those poppers from the firecracker stand. He laughed a lot that day. I remember all the days when he looked happy, instead of sick and pale, and it makes me feel warm inside.
"Goodness, we're getting a bit of a chill. We'll have to break out the bed-warmers pretty soon, don't you think, Keisuke-kun?"
I look up from my tub, to find Unohana-sama smiling down at me. She's really just the kindest person you could ever meet, and she's a genius at healing people. There sure would be a lot fewer shinigami, if it wasn't for Unohana-sama.
I bow, as best I can with soap-covered hands, and smile back at Unohana-sama. "Strange weather for Soul Society, isn't it? Can't say I dislike it, though."
"Yes, it is strange." Unohana-sama laughs a little and reaches over to pat the top of my head. "Perhaps Hitsugaya-san is practicing this morning."
Well, I don't know who Unohana-sama is talking about, but I nod, nonetheless. "Did you need me for something, Unohana-sama?"
"No, no. I just came out to get some fresh air. It's been quite a busy morning, and..."
Suddenly, the Fourth Officer appears beside Unohana-sama. I'm so startled, I accidentally splash some suds on my uniform. Well, it's not a horrible thing, I guess. Just means my clothes are that much closer to being clean, right?
"Captain. Another has arrived. This time, it's Officer Yumichika. We've stopped the bleeding, but he'll definitely require your attention."
I watch as Unohana-sama looks up at the sky. There's a sad expression in her eyes, one I don't think I've ever seen before. "This is no good," she says softly, "What could possibly be going on over there? This is the ninth injury from Squad Eleven this morning."
"None of them will say," the Fourth Officer replies. "They refuse to utter a single word about how the injuries were incurred. It's strange, isn't it, Captain?"
Unohana-sama folds her hands together for a few moments, and closes her eyes. I try to wring out the wet side of my uniform while I wait. Quietly, though, I don't want to disturb the important people discussing...whatever important matters they're discussing.
"Keisuke-kun," Unohana-sama whispers. I'm worried that I did something wrong, and I'm all ready to apologize, when she opens her eyes and smiles lightly. "I need you to do something for me."
"Yes. I'd like you to go to the quarters of Squad Eleven, and change out all of their linens."
"But, that's..." Irregular. And frightening. Way beyond frightening. I don't know much about Squad Eleven, but I do know that they like to crumple members of Squad Four into balls and toss them down the road like bowling balls. Besides, picking up linens from other divisions' houses is the job of an officer, not a nobody like me. "I mean...I..."
"And, if you happen to see what might be going on over there, and then came back to let me know, it would probably be very helpful." Unohana-sama smiles again, a soft smile that can put almost any patient or subordinate at ease. "Can you do that for me?"
Before I even really think it through, the words, "Of course," jump out of my mouth.
I'm so dead.
Oh, man. What the heck am I going to do? I wish I'd run into Hanatarou-sempai, so he could give me some good advice. Hanatarou-sempai may not look it, but he's a pretty clever person, a good healer, and way dedicated to his job.
I don't want to be crumpled, trampled, or pretzeled. And I really, really, really don't want to be cut into a zillion pieces. I wish I'd listened better when I was training to become a shinigami. I think I missed "How Not To Get Beaten Up By Squad Eleven 101."
On the other hand, Unohana-sama is counting on me, so... I don't really have a choice. I guess I could just run away, but...then, who would do the laundry?
I take the sewer tunnels to the Eleventh Division quarters, a load of fresh linens on my back. It's not too heavy. Alright, it's pretty heavy, but right now, that's the least of my worries.
When I finally arrive, I decide to peek my head out, just a little. If it's a total battleground up there, I'll have to think of another plan. I push the tile up, and slowly peek into the darkness. It's an alleyway to the side of the building, a place where the squad usually puts their refuse.
"We should go back. We can't just hide like this all day."
I duck my head a bit, wondering if I've been spotted. It takes my eyes a few moments to adjust, but I finally see them -- two huge shinigami sitting on the tops of the refuse bins. One of them has his arms crossed, and is looking up at the strip of sky above the alley. The other one, slightly smaller, has blood leaking out of his nose. He repeatedly lifts a cloth to his face to check whether the injury is clotting.
I don't think they can see me. Oh, please, oh please, please, please, don't let them see me.
"Forget it. There's no way I'm going back in there. Look, I've been in thousands of fights, killed hundreds of Hollows, and I have never experienced anything as terrifying as..."
"But, that's our Captain in there."
Both of them sigh simultaneously. Actually, they look a bit forlorn. Maybe the Eleventh's guys aren't all that bad. Maybe they just have an unfair reputation. Maybe they...
That's when the bigger one slams a fist down on the refuse bin and puts a dent in it the size of my head. I swallow so hard, it makes my throat hurt.
"She wasn't always like this," the larger one declares. "She used to be...wonderful. Frightening and annoying, but wonderful. Remember?"
"Nah, I'm pretty new."
"Back then, Yachiru-sama was knee-high to a cicada. Just a tiny little thing. And she was always laughing and saying childish stuff, giving everyone nicknames and crap like that. Sure, she was kinda strange, and you really, really, didn't want to get on her bad side, but still... She was kinda like Squad Eleven's terrifying little mascot. And, she was always happy. Always."
Nosebleed guy shakes his head. "We can't be talking about the same person. I mean, surely, Bloodstain Yachiru was never a cute little kid."
The big guy shrugs, and hops off the bin. "Let's get out of here. I know a guy in Squad Ten who'll let us hang out until everything blows over."
I watch as they walk back towards the street. Well, walk is a relative term. The big guy is definitely limping, and nosebleed guy barely avoids running into things.
Carefully, I crawl out of the sewer and squat on the stone road, trying to figure out my next move.
I really want to avoid, if at all possible, someone named "Bloodstain Yachiru".
Now, if I'm right, there should be a service entrance for this building. They've fallen out of use, but Hanatarou-sempai told me about them, once. He said if I ever needed to escape the street fast because of a fight, I should look for the service entrance to a Squad House. Usually, he said, they put them close to the refuse bins. Aha. It should be right over here...
I move aside a pile of wood used for emergency repairs, and find a small square-shaped metal door. It barely comes up higher than my knees. I have to wonder why they'd put in such a small door, but...
Huh? What's this?
I dig out my flashlight and click it on. Right there, painted on the service door, are the words:
YACHIRU'S SECRET HIDEOUT.
TRESPASSERS WILL BE LIQUIFIED,
AND SERVED AS HEALTH DRINKS
TO THE MIGHTY KEN-CHAN.
I cringe, and clasp a hand over my mouth to suppress a squeak of horror. I don't know who "Ken-chan" is, but I'm guessing that this "Yachiru" is the same one those guys were talking about earlier. Bloodstain Yachiru.
Seriously, that's just a really bad name. Why can't people around here have nice names? Like Crisp Laundry Keisuke. See, that's a decent sort of name, one that doesn't make people feel like they want to run away.
Well, I don't think I should use this hatch. But, my other option is going up to the front door, and that's an even scarier thought. Oh man, why did I become a shinigami, anyway? Unohana-sama never said anything about this when she was recruiting people with medical knowledge.
I kneel down and fumble with the latch. If it's locked, then there's just nothing I can do, and I'll have to go back. No key is no key, and there's not much that will change the... But, unfortunately, it's not locked. It creaks and groans as I pull it open.
Oh man. It's dark in here. I try to crawl forward, but I feel a tugging on my back. A hand? No. It's just my big pack of linens. It got caught on the tiny door. Phew. I try to find a good foothold, and lean forward with all my might so as to dislodge my pack. I'm a dummy, though, because of course this causes me to go flying forward when the bundle finally pops through the small door.
I go crashing into the darkness. When I finally stop moving, I feel something strangely sticky on my left hand, so I point the flashlight at it.
Ew, ew, ew. Frantically, I wipe my hand on my uniform. I'm going to have to wash it TWICE when I get back.
"Ah, um...anyone here?" Slowly, I lift my flashlight. "Um, if anyone is in here, I didn't meant to disturb you."
This room... Hanatarou-sempai told me that the rooms connected to the service entrances used to be stocked with emergency medical supplies, cleaning equipment, and so forth. But, this room...
The first thing I see is a chair. Not a regular chair, oh no. This one is about half the size of a normal chair, and has been painted pink. Beside it stands an equally pink table. I tiptoe closer to get a better look.
Sheets of paper and wax crayons are strewn across the table, along with bits of ribbon and origami animals.
Is this...has the service room been turned into a child's playroom?
Yes. But, no one has been here for a long time. Everything is covered with a thick layer of dust, and a myriad of (ew) spiderwebs.
Whomever was here liked to color. Heh. My brother loved coloring. He used to spend whole afternoons on my floor, coloring while I studied.
I pick up a stack of the papers and flip through them. The first one appears to be a spiky-haired guy with a really menacing look on his face, and an eyepatch. Alright, that one's a little creepy. The next page depicts some sort of battle. The spiky-haired guy is fighting what I can only assume is a Hollow. Geez, I hope that's a Hollow, and not the product of someone's imagination. Scary. Then, there's a picture of the spiky-haired guy fighting an orange-haired dude.
I wonder if the red marks are supposed to be blood.
The pages go on like that. They're all of the spiky-haired guy fighting.
Wait, no. This last one... This picture is different than the rest. The spiky-haired guy is in it, but he's standing next to a smaller figure. It's supposed to be a little girl, I think, a little girl with pink hair. They both are holding up swords marked with the same red that denoted blood in the other pictures.
At the bottom is the caption: "Ken-chan and Yachiru! BEST FRIENDS 4-EVER!"
Well, at least now I know who Ken-chan is, I guess.
I put the pages back on the table, and shine my flashlight around again. The origami figures all turn out to be rather beastly Hollows. They've been positioned in a circle around an expensive-looking porcelain doll -- a doll that's had its delicate hair greased into spikes with little bells on the ends, and an eyepatch drawn over one eye. She's even used a scrap of metal for a makeshift sword.
Carefully, I pick up the doll. The little bells make a decidedly lively-sounding tinkle as I brush the dust off of her.
"Your mistress has left you here for a long time, hasn't she?"
I can almost imagine this place happy, and alive, despite the deep funk of sadness that seems to come with forgotten toys. I pet the doll's hair carefully as I remember Heisuke stroking Zabu's soft fur. The non-human friends of our youth are so easily left behind, aren't they?
One of the little bells pops off into my hand. It has a friendly sound, really. Maybe I'll hang it from one of the clotheslines, so I can hear it when the wind blows. It'll be a good reminder of the horrible mission I survived.
If I survive.
I shine my flashlight around the room, looking for the door. I try to pay no attention to the creepy graffiti on the walls, slogans like:
BALDY LUCKY DANCE! BALDY LUCKY DANCE!
NO BLOOD, NO FUN!
SQUAD ELEVEN WILL EAT YOUR MOTHER'S FACE! YUM!
BUBBLES OF DOOM!
KEN-CHAN SEZ, "SEVERED LIMBS ARE NOT TOYZ!"
I have to wonder if the little girl, this Yachiru, had some serious psychological trauma at the time she played here. I took a few basic psychology courses when I was training to become a nurse, but this is WAY beyond anything I learned.
I finally locate the door into the squad quarters, but I need to take a few breaths before I continue.
I just hope these breaths will not be my last.
This place, I've never been here before, but most of the squad houses are laid out in vaguely the same manner. There are rooms connected to the wooden hallways which stretch in a prong shape around a large courtyard. The front of the building generally gets used for administrative purposes. Residences are to the left, and training halls are to the right. Well, except that, in the Fourth, instead of a training hall, we have a hospital for injured shinigami.
I've ended up near to what seems to be the Eleventh Division's dojo. At least, I'm really hoping that the dojo is the main cause of the overwhelming smell of dried sweat and old blood that permeates this hallway. Plus, dozens of frightening weapons are hanging on the walls, each with someone's name on a placard beneath it. Half the time, I don't even know the names for the weapons, and Unohana-sama makes us study the heck out of weapons, just so we know how best to heal the kinds of wounds a specific weapon might make.
I'm thankful, slightly, that the hallway appears deserted. No one here means there will be no one to pick on me, right? Unfortunately, this also means that I am on the other side of the building from where the linens are used.
Maybe, if I am stealthy, I can get to the other side of the building and replace all the linens before anyone finds me here. Unohana-sama told me the mission was only to replace the linens, so if I don't find out anything else, she'll be disappointed, but... I won't have failed in my mission!
I creep along, as best I can, keeping to the shadows when possible. At any moment, I figure, someone will come out of one of these rooms, and I will surely be a goner. I wonder if Unohana-sama knows how to put stomachs back inside of people, because mine feels like it is about to leap out of my mouth.
"Sheesh, I don't know what Yumichika said to piss her off today, but I don't know why I have to stick around here and deal with her, while he gets to be lazy at the Relief Station."
"Yes, that's true, fukutaichou, but she did break both of his arms. I doubt he'd be of any help in such a state. And you know Yumichika-san, he really can be a little, well..."
I fall into a doorway and clamp my free hand over my mouth to keep from squeaking. My goodness, he's huge! A really huge guy! He's so big that he has to hunch over in order to walk down the hallway. And the guy walking with him...
...Is the baldest person I've ever seen.
They both make me shiver. It's like Unohana-sama says sometimes, "The Fourth Division is the only one that doesn't carry the aura of death." Sure, I've seen other shinigami before, mostly in our hospital. They aren't quite as scary, I think, when they're fighting to breathe. Then, I feel sorry for them, want to help them, wish I could comfort them. But, these guys, these guys have an almost palpable mist of bloodlust swirling around them.
They're even worse than the guys in the alleyway!
"I've never seen one of her moods get this bad, though. I mean... You know, she has a temper on her, our Captain, but lately, lately..."
The bald guy reaches over and bumps his fist on the big guy's arm. "That's why we're going to do whatever we need to do to cheer her up. Don't worry. In all the years I've known her, this has never, ever, ever failed."
They finally turn the corner, and head towards the administration section of the building. Good grief! I think I may have swallowed my own tongue. In fact, I put one finger in my mouth to make sure my tongue is still there, because, frankly, most of my body feels numb.
Well, what can I do? What can I do? I just need to keep moving. Go, feet, go.
So, maybe I am a bit of a coward. What's wrong with that? I never claimed to be a bad dude with a Giant Zanpakutou of Painful Oblivion. I'm barely even a shinigami. I just joined because Unohana-sama said that it would be a chance to continue learning about medicine and healing. For the love of Pete, in the mortal realm, my entire family were extremely devout Buddhists. I've never even had a beer! Oh, geez.
I slog forward. The air must be filled with lead or something. Each step feels heavier than the last. And that's when I hear:
"KA-THUMP, KA-THUMP! Thumpity-thumpity-thump! KA-THUMP."
Are those...drums? They're so loud, the floor is vibrating. I put my hand on the wall to steady myself, and that's when a high pitched whistle joins the cacophony. It wavers, lingers for a moment, and then slides into a merry harmony.
A powerful voice fills the hallway. "No one can resist! The songs and dances! Of the Eleventh Division's aaaaaaaamazing! Ikkaku-sama!"
Oh dear. I think I can resist. I think I can definitely resist.
But, Fate's hand is driving me closer and closer to the source of the music. At this rate, I'll have to pass right by this absurd recital...
I turn the corner and creep down the passageway. Maybe these people will be so involved in this musical production that they won't even notice me.
There's an open shoji, and a square block of light cuts into the darkness of the hallway. I press my back to the wall and slide along until I can peer inside. I'll need to wait until their attention is definitely averted before I try to pass.
Inside... Yes, there's that bald guy again. He appears to be doing some sort of dance, and has a flute in one hand, and a fan in the other. Behind him, the really big guy is sitting on the floor with some odd-looking drums.
I tilt my head a little, just to get a good view of the room, and suddenly, every muscle in my body contracts. I'm completely immobile. What is this terrible feeling? Before... Before, I was afraid, afraid of those two men in the alleyway, terrified of the guys in the hallway... But, now, now I am quite literally petrified.
I recall the moment of my death. Yes, at that time, the pain of my bones being crushed by the speeding car was awful, truly awful, but it was nothing in comparison to the knowledge that I would never again see my parents or Heisuke.
Separation... This is the feeling of being torn away from all that you know, all that you love. It is strangling me. This horrendous riatsu is slowly squeezing me to death.
I have to struggle to breathe, much less to move. My gaze darts around the room in front of me as I try desperately to focus on something, anything. I don't want to pass out! If I pass out, and am found here, who knows what will happen?
The figure in the corner... Yes, I see her now. She's leaning to the side, her elbow against a low table, her cheek propped up by the back of her hand. Her unbound pink hair has fallen across her face, and the ends pool in disorganized loops and crescents against the lacquer. Her free hand lazily swirls liquid around, and around, and around in a small cup. Sake, I'm guessing. There's a dish in front of her, containing a few triads of dango, and a few empty sticks.
She's wearing a Captain's vestment, but the sleeves have been torn off in a less than delicate manner, leaving uneven fringes around the arms of her shinigami uniform. In fact, the long white haori seems too big for the woman, as if it were made for someone much taller. Even lying on her side, as she is, the white fabric continues far past the hem of her hakama.
Is this...Bloodstain Yachiru, Captain of the Eleventh Division?
I was expecting someone...bigger, I guess. I mean, certainly, in the service room, the drawings she'd made of herself depicted a little girl, but from the way everyone kept talking, I'd thought she'd grown into some sort of monster. This person, she can't be much bigger than Hanatarou-sempai's friend Rukia-san.
Her head dips slightly, and I wonder, for a moment, if she's nodded off to sleep. Instead, a too-happy voice chirps, "Get out, Ikkaku."
The bald guy stops dancing, and just stands there for a few seconds, rubbing his chin. "If you don't like that dance, Captain..."
"Didn't you hear me?" I don't get it. Her voice is as sweet as Unohana-sama's, though more playful, but something about it gives me the chills. "Are you mocking me, Baldy?"
"No, Captain! I would never, ever, do such a thing." He's pretty gutsy, though. He points a finger straight at Yachiru-san. "But, this is unhealthy. Look at you, drinking, moping around, and injuring your own squad for the stupidest of reasons. You need to snap out of it."
"Not today, Baldy."
"Especially today!" Ikkaku-san stamps his foot on the ground. "Zaraki wouldn't have approved of this sort of..."
At first, I'm not sure why Ikkaku-san stopped talking. Then, I realize Yachiru-san is no longer holding the cup of sake. I didn't notice her put it down. She has her hand lifted, hovering over the plate of dango, but I can't figure out...
Ikakku-san bends over, and that's when I see what happened. He has a dango stick poking out of his foot! A tiny pool of blood is forming on the tatami.
That can't be...sanitary. Sticking something that has been in your mouth through someone else's foot just isn't right!
How fast she must move! I didn't see her throw the stick. I didn't notice a thing.
Oh, well, that's good. Maybe she'll kill me before I even notice anything.
Ikkaku-san yanks the stick out of his foot. He holds it up and peers at the bloody end. "You're not the only one who misses him, you know?"
The room explodes with movement. I can barely follow what's going on. One moment, Yachiru-san is reclining on the tatami. In the next instant, she's standing over a kneeling Ikkaku-san, and holding a blade at his neck! Dislodged and broken tatami litter the floor.
For the first time, I get a glimpse of Yachiru-san's face, now that it is no longer covered by her unkempt pink hair. A pleasant face it is, one that seems to be clinging to the last vestiges of girlishness. Yes, the face is pleasant, except for the rather disturbing addition of an eyepatch.
"Ikkaku," Yachiru-san says, a tiny smile on her lips, "You're dismissed."
Yachiru-san grabs Ikkaku-san by his neck. I open my mouth to shout, to try to stop the violence, but the only thing I manage to emit is a halting gurgle. With a graceful flick of her arm, Yachiru-san sends Ikakku-san flying, flying towards where I am hidden in the shadows of the hallway!
The shoji, along with several large panes of the paper wall, break away as Ikkaku-san crashes into the hallway. My heart skips more than a few beats as I am swallowed by darkness. Am I dead? Have I once again been killed by something that has nothing to do with me?
I manage to get one eye open, and realize that I'm not dead, I'm just covered by the broken shoji. I try to curl myself into the tiniest space possible. So far, I don't think I've been discovered.
There's a hand some feet away from me, lying palm-up on the floor. The fingers spasm at regular intervals, so I'm hoping that the hand is still connected to an arm that's beyond what I can see from my viewpoint.
"Ikkaku-san!" Heavy footsteps thump in my direction. "Ikkaku-san, are you alive?" It must be the big guy, the one playing the drum. "Did the Captain kill you all dead?"
The hand clenches into a fist. "Quit bein' such a wimp, Toji. Course I ain't dead." Ikkaku-san's voice doesn't sound very good, though. He coughs, a hacking noise which makes me wonder if he has blood in his lungs.
"Take him to the Relief Station, Giant-kun." Yachiru-san's command still maintains a certain level of cheerfulness. But, somehow, it is a cheerfulness which sounds more empty with each subsequent word.
There's a rustling sound, and I assume Toji-san is pulling Ikkaku-san out of the rubble. I know I should crawl out from beneath this thin piece of fallen paper wall, and offer my services as a healer, but I just can't manage to do it. Ah, well, Ikkaku-san's injuries are probably far beyond what I could fix, anyway.
"C'mon, Ikkaku-san. We'll go get you fixed up," Toji-san whispers. "Cause then I'm gonna hafta beat you up later for pissin' off the Captain."
"Right," Ikkaku grumbles. "As if."
Those same heavy footsteps travel away from me, and an eerie silence settles in the hallway. I'm a little worried still about crawling out, because I don't know if Yachiru-san has left the area. Instead, I mentally check all my various body parts for pain. I think I might have gotten a few scrapes from the fallen shoji, but nothing bad.
The whisper makes the hair on the back of my neck go rigid. It's followed by an odd noise, the ragged gasp a child might make before they start a good bawl. But, the only thing that follows it is another whisper.
"Ken-chan... I'll come to you..."
Separation. Loneliness. It grabs my heart and twists. With all my might, I push myself forward a few inches, so as to peek out of my rubble hideaway. There, at the end of the hall, I spot the Yachiru-san's back. She's dragging her fingers along the wall, and her gait, unsteady and punctuated by odd lurches, is slow.
Is she...injured? She seems injured. I was unable to see a lot of what happened, so is it possible that maybe she also was hurt in the fight?
I know I have a mission, a mission given to me by Unohana-sama. But, one of the primary rules of the Fourth Division is never to ignore an injured shinigami, no matter how much they protest treatment. I really don't want to even get near Yachiru-san, but I can't just let her remain wounded.
I should at least...
I should at least follow her. If she goes to the Relief Station on her own, then there won't be any need for me to even talk to her. Then I can hurry back here and complete my mission.
It's a...good plan...isn't it?
As long as I don't die, it's a good plan.
My body still feels heavy and stiff, but I am getting a bit more used to the effects. By the time I pull myself out from underneath the fallen shoji and shed my bundle of linens, however, Yachiru-san has long since disappeared into the dark corridor.
My first few steps are unsure, and I almost fall flat on my face. No, I can not. I must not fall down! I must walk forward, and forward, and forward, until I find Yachiru-san.
I begin to run down corridors. I don't even know if I am going the right way. Finally, I catch a glimpse of Yachiru-san as she pushes a door open, and steps outside.
I don't know how long I've been walking. A long time. Yes, it is now late afternoon. Thankfully, the pleasantly brisk weather from this morning continues, or I'd be dehydrated by now.
I'm not familiar with this section of Seireitei. Some time ago, we passed the manors of the lesser noble houses... I didn't know that there was anything beyond that area, but Seireitei never fails to surprise me by its sheer size.
At first, following Yachiru-san proved difficult. She took so many turns, yet I had to keep my distance, not only for fear of being discovered, but also because of the troublesome effects of her mere presence. Then I began to see signs in the places she had passed. Most notably, any shinigami that happened to get in her path ended up rooted to the spot, a look of sheer terror plastered on their face. All I had to do was follow the trail of motionless or trembling shinigami to keep up with her.
Every time I caught a glimpse of Yachiru-san, I slowed my gait a bit. That way, I stayed far enough behind her that, hopefully, she wouldn't notice me.
But, it's pretty obvious that Yachiru-san isn't heading for the Relief Station. So, what can I do? I can't do anything but keep following her until I figure out what I should do.
We enter a gated grove. The grounds are slightly overgrown, but not to the point where the place might be termed "wild". There are quite large trees here, larger than you see in most of Seireitei. Tiny white flowers grow everywhere, and sway softly in the brisk breeze. It's a lovely sort of place, not where you'd expect to find someone with a nickname of Bloodstain Yachiru.
Yachiru-san leans against a massive tree, and slowly sinks to her knees. I decide to hide behind another tree, the thickest one I can find. Though, I'm pretty sure that if I am discovered, she won't have a problem cutting through the trunk to get at me.
What can I do? What can I do? I guess I can only hope that she'll pass out from whatever wounds she has, and then I can treat her while she's unconscious.
I see now that there is a rock of some sort between the thick roots of the tree. It's about the size of my head, maybe a little bigger, and the top has been sliced away, leaving only a flat plane. Is it a marker of some sort? Yes. I think it is.
Yachiru-san runs her fingers over the rock. I wish I could see her face better, but her long pink hair is just -everywhere-, tangled and in desperate need of a good brushing. I feel a little bad for her, for a moment, thinking that she reminds me rather of a child who needs care, needs someone to put a comb to her hair, and mend her long Captain's haori. But, then I come to my senses and remember that -this- is Bloodstain Yachiru I'm thinking about. She doesn't need a caretaker. She probably needs a straightjacket and some tranquilizers.
"Ken-chan, why'd ya have to go and die? That was real stupid of you. Real stupid. You told me you wouldn't die. That you couldn't die. If you were around... I'd... I'd...bite your ear something fierce for lying to me... I'd...make ya real miserable..."
I watch as Yachiru-san talks to the stone. How can such a cheerful voice sound so alone? She keeps scratching at the rock with her nails, producing a soft grating noise that reminds me of a faraway cricket. I'm pretty sure, now, that she's not injured. Well, not in any way that I can heal. But, for some reason, I just can't leave. As private and personal as this is, I just can't leave.
I don't even feel it anymore, the terrible bloodthirsty riatsu from before... I know it's here, but...
"I'm gonna hold it against you for a long time, Ken-chan. I'm gonna tell bad lies about you! What are you gonna do then, huh? You can't do nothin' about it unless you come back here, right quick, and take it up with me proper-like. You better come back... Quick like a bunny... Or quick like one of those squirrels I used to chase before we became shinigami. Remember? I'd chase them around with the little pocket knife you gave me... And you'd just laugh and laugh..."
Yachiru-san makes a noise that I think is supposed to be a giggle, but it's all bound up in a sob. Her fist goes smacking into one of the tree's huge roots and it gets pushed back underground. I try desperately not to squeak.
Is this what it is like for Heisuke? He always depended on me so much... I wasn't supposed to die before him. I was always supposed to be there for him! For the first time since I died, I feel really angry about it.
"Why'd you tell me to stay here and be Captain, Ken-chan? You know it doesn't mean anything to me... Not without you. Why? Wasn't it any fun anymore? We coulda found more people to fight...somewhere. I don't know where... Didja leave because it wasn't exciting to be here anymore? If that's so... If that's so..."
Yachiru-san slumps forward and presses her cheek to the rock. "If that's so," she says quietly, "I'd rather have gone with you."
She sits like that for a while, and I wonder if she's gone to sleep. But, then I hear her muttering something. I can't quite make all of it out.
Suddenly, Yachiru-san jerks up. Her hair is tossed behind her, and for once, I can see her face. The eyepatch still gives me the chills, but her other eye has a small crinkle at the outer edge, a crinkle that bespeaks years of laughter.
And that's when I see the pocketknife -- a small blade, and even I can tell that it's a fairly cheap and flimsy item. Yachiru-san has it grasped in her right hand. What the...? I pull in a deep breath, and mean to yell at her to stop, but...
Yachiru-san plunges the knife into her left forearm. It goes clean through, and I can see the tip of the blade sticking out of the other side of Yachiru-san's arm.
Blood rushes out, leaking onto the ground, and dribbling down Yachiru-san's wrist and hand. She shakes her arm once, splattering herself and the rock.
I can't understand the expression on her face. Why is she smiling? Why is she hurting herself?
Before I recognize my phenomenally stupid move, I leap out from behind the tree and scramble across the few feet of grassy glade between us. "Yachiru-san, no! No, don't!" I lunge at her arm. I have to heal it... There's no reason for this. It's madness! I have to stop her.
But, that's going to be hard to do...with Yachiru-san's zanpakutou pointed at my neck.
I can't believe she's holding it with her injured arm. My eyes go wide, and all I can do is try not to swallow, or scream, or...breathe.
"And you are...?"
Who am I, again? Oh god, I've forgotten.
I try to stammer out my name, my rank, and my division, but it comes out as a very garbled string of syllables. Finally, I just give up, and say, "Your...arm...is bleeding."
Yachiru-san pulls her zanpakutou away from my neck slightly, and lifts her arm closer to her face. "It's just a scratch."
"But, the knife..." The knife is still sticking through her arm.
"I barely even felt it." Yachiru-san's smile doesn't really make me feel more at ease. She looks down at the stone. "Thought I'd give Ken-chan some blood. Thought I'd get him a little riled up. Thought I'd...make him think we had a good battle going on up here."
"I just want to...bandage your arm, Captain." I try to smile innocently, but I'm pretty sure that I look like I just swallowed a bug. "Please? At least let me patch it up until you can have someone better take a look at it?"
Yachiru-san shrugs a little, and returns her zanpakutou to its sheath. She plops back down on the ground, and sits cross-legged, her arm to the side so I can look at it. Before I can even get to my knees, she's pulled the knife out, and looks not at all phased by the task.
I rummage around in my uniform for my emergency bandages and salves. There's no way I'm going to be able to heal this as well as Unohana-sama might, so I'd best bandage up what I can't fix. My hand comes out with a whole pile of useful things I keep in my uniform -- bandages, pills, thread, ointments, a flashlight, clothespins, and one tiny little tinkling bell. I drop them all onto the ground, and begin to look for what I need.
Yachiru-san, however, jerks her hand away from me. She reaches into the pile and picks up the bell. "This is Ken-chan's." The bell is thrust at my face. "This is one of Ken-chan's bells!"
"Yes, well...um...you see... About that..." I don't really want to tell her that I stole it out of her former playroom. Thieving from dolls is probably an even worse offense than my extreme cowardice.
I'm suddenly crushed to Yachiru-san's chest. I think this may be a hug, but if it gets any tighter, my ribs might crack. "He sent you, didn't he? Ken-chan sent you to me as a sign!"
"Mmmflle...fidone oh zactee..." I can't breathe. Help.
Yachiru-san lets go of me, and brings her face very close to mine. "Who sent you here?"
"No, I mean here to Soul Society. Who killed you?"
"I was killed by a drunk dri..."
And that's when it all comes rushing back to me.
The first thing I noticed after I died was how much lighter I felt, as if someone had turned down the gravity a few notches. The second thing I noticed after I died was that the massive fire engulfing the nearby ancient hatchback wasn't hot, even though a large hunk of the burning metal sat only a few inches from my face.
I scrambled away from the fire only to find that I was connected to it by a large length of chain. A chain, in fact, that appeared to be -attached- to my chest. I tried pulling on it, but it just wouldn't come loose.
At first I heard nothing, nothing but white noise. Then, above the static, rose a voice. No, not the placid chorus of some diaphanous afterlife, but a very human, very angry voice.
"I know you're here! I know you're fucking here, you damned asshole!"
The man in question lurched into the empty road. He was weaving, and stumbling, and ranting at nothing -- the surest signs of drunkenness I knew. He looked like a pretty solid fellow, with a few tattoos and several facial scars, definitely not the sort of person I -ever- wanted to meet. I decided to hide behind a section of the burning car, just in case.
"Can you hear me, asswipe? You tell her I'll be comin' around when I get done here. You tell her..."
I didn't really pay much attention to what he was yelling about. I was slightly more concerned with my own metaphysical state, as my death was just then beginning to dawn on me.
The police arrived within minutes. They had to call for backup, just for help to subdue the drunken man. When I finally gathered the courage to get back onto my feet, the police were trying to shove him toward a squad car, and he was howling like an enraged beast.
"Tell her I ain't forgot. We got names! I may got shit for brains, but I ain't forgot her name! I ain't forgot none of it! You tell her! You tell her that Kenpachi is having a goddamn blast... Remember it! Remember to tell..."
The rest of his command was cut off by the slamming of the police car's door.
That was his name.
And all this time, I thought he was just drunk.
I have to wonder how many people he's killed, just to get his message to Yachiru-san.
Still, next time I see him, when he comes back to Soul Society, I think I'll give him a piece of my mind about killing me so abruptly and recklessly, just so I could deliver a message. I'll be good and stern with him. I'll get right in his face, and tell him exactly what I think about that.
On second thought, maybe I'll just write him a letter.
It's not really as bad as you'd think, being assigned to work as the onsite nurse for the Eleventh Division. Sure, they pick on me sometimes for being from the Fourth Division, but it isn't anything I can't handle. I do have a rather permanent bruise from being punched "playfully" in the shoulder, though. And I may be developing some very slight brain damage from the knocks to the head, but I can still walk straight.
Unohana-sama told me that my new mission is to stay here, at the Eleventh Division quarters, and act as a medic for any cuts and scrapes they may incur during the course of a normal day. And, you wouldn't believe how many injuries that is! I'm busy all the time. Plus, I do their laundry, because, oh boy, do they get a lot of blood on it.
"Hey, Mumbles, get over here, and do that crazy thing you do with my hair. It's all messed up again."
Apparently, according to Yachiru-sama, my name is now Mumbles. She says I'm too quiet, and that she can never hear me, because I only mumble. Well, I don't mind, really. There are a lot of worse nicknames to have.
I kneel down behind Yachiru-sama and start brushing her hair out. It's like a wild beast, sometimes. Every time she fights, it get back into such an awful state. Plus, I don't think Zaraki-san ever really taught her how to take care of it...
Yachiru-sama flops over on her side and pours herself some of the tea I brought from the kitchen. It's a health tea, my special brew. I make a big batch every day for the entire Eleventh. They seem to like it.
We're watching some of the Eleventh's members spar in the training dojo. I'm more used to it now, all the yelling and violence. I hardly even flinch at all.
"Been about a year now since you and I met," Yachiru-sama says listlessly. "Ken-chan sure is taking his time."
I try to get a snarl out of Yachiru-sama's hair without pulling hard enough to incur her wrath. "That just means he's having fun. Right, Yachiru-sama?"
Yachiru-sama sits up a little. "That's right!" I hear her break into a bit of a giggle. "Bet he's having some good battles. I can't wait to hear about them."
I manage to get Yachiru-sama's hair tied up into a ponytail. Sometimes, I try to braid it, but not when she's moving around so much. "Ya..." I bite my tongue. It's been bothering me for a while, but Yachiru-sama and I, we get along pretty well now, so... I don't think she'll kill me if I ask. "Yachiru-sama, can I ask you...? What I mean is... I mean I wanted to ask about..."
"Geez, spit it out."
I take a deep breath. "How did Zaraki-san die, anyway?"
Yachiru-sama pulls her ponytail over her shoulder, and runs her fingers through it. I'm a bit worried that she's going to tell me that -- not only is it none of my business, but if I ever ask something like that again, she'll put a blade through me. Instead, she sighs happily.
"We were fighting. Sparring. Nothing serious, just passing the time. Ken-chan was making fun of me for jumping around, and telling me to stay put so he could rip me a few good ones. We were laughing. Then I lunged at him, cause I knew he could dodge. But, he didn't dodge. He moved right in front of it, and my zanpakutou went straight through him. At first, I thought he was just being silly again, but..."
Yachiru-sama shakes her head and takes a sip of her tea.
"I'd seen him recover from worse things than that. Like when he and Icchy tore each other up something fierce. I wasn't too worried, not really, and after checking him out, I was all ready to go get Unohana-taichou, but then he grabbed my hand and pulled me back down. He said that I'd be a fine Captain now, so I should stay and do that, and that he'd come back, eventually..."
Yachiru-san looks over her shoulder at me, and smiles.
"And then he said, 'It's been damn fun, Yachiru. Real damn fun. I think I'm gonna go do it all again.'"
Thanks for reading! I'm pretty new to the Bleach fandom, so please let me know if I've misspelled or misplaced anything major, and I will correct it, ASAP.