Disclaimer: Never was, isn't now and never will be mine.

Warnings: Wonder of all wonders, none.

Sentimental

"Zaraki-san! Please, wait!"

The large-breasted girl was trailing along behind him, scurrying, really, and inwardly he bristled. Yachiru had never scurried, had never, even at her silliest, acted with anything other than purpose. It grated on his nerves, the indecisive way of moving; it was the type of thing that got one killed. Scurriers were an offensive nightmare. They simply didn't belong in battle and, as such, were a complete waste of his time. He had places to go, Hollows to kill, and nuisances to disembowel. He was a busy man.

Yet somehow he found himself slowing his steps, allowing her to draw up alongside him.

"What do you want, ojou-san?" he asked gruffly, refusing to even glance in her direction. Just because he was talking to her didn't mean he had to be polite. "Make it quick."

"Oh, are you busy? Of course you are. Everyone here always is. I'm sorry to bother you; it's just that this is important." She panted a little, slightly out of breath, although she still managed to find enough air to smile vacuously.

Kenpachi may have growled impatiently; he wasn't quite sure. He quite possibly had and it simply didn't register: he never bothered himself to keep track of such involuntary reactions. Waste of time, like scurriers. "I doubt it," he grumbled. "Unless you're going to tell me Ichigo wants to fight."

"Ah, no." The woman's manner grew even flightier, if such a thing were possible. If Kenpachi were the type to have moments of fancy, which he certainly was not, he'd have envisioned her spouting wings and taking to the sky. However, he being a sensible, down-to-earth man with severe inclinations towards the practical, he refrained from such imaginings and simply focused his intellect on extracting some sort of value from the girl's words. Luckily there wasn't much in the way of extraneous speech.

"It's about Yachiru. And-and her current state," she bubbled, putting heavy emphasis on the last word.

He snorted, vaguely disappointed. She was concerned about his brat of a vice-captain? Now there was a waste of energy. Irritated, he allowed his steps to quicken. If she was really that concerned, she'd make the effort to keep pace. "What state would that be? Idiocy?"

"Huh?" Orihime was honestly confused for a moment and then appeared to shrug it off. She smiled rather vapidly and, in the face of becoming uncouth, he reminded himself that she was a lot more resourceful than she seemed. Deceptive appearance, this one had, and Kenpachi grudgingly admitted that she and Yachiru were not too dissimilar in that regard.

"I don't know how to say this, Zaraki-san," the human blushed softly –soft, now there was a good word for her- and looked anywhere but at him. "I usually talk to mothers about this. I'm a student health advisor, you know," she suddenly beamed.

So she was Fourth Division in her world. That explained the softness. No wonder Ichigo and the other humans were so careful with her.

Speaking of which…

"Get on, woman," he abruptly ordered, drawing to a stop.

"Wha-?" he startled her into meeting his eyes. Hers were pretty, in a my-naiveté-is-going-to-get-me-killed sort of way.

"Get on," he repeated, gesturing impatiently towards his back. "There's someone I want to meet and don't have time to listen to your blathering."

"Okay!" Orihime agreed cheerfully, no further explanation required, and scooted quickly up his back. There she went, scurrying again. Like a friggin' squirrel, she was, and too damn trusting.

They ran for a time in silence. She did not seem inclined to pick up the threads of conversation. She clung to his back like… all the similes he knew were war related and utterly unsuited to someone so clement. He knew of only two things that stuck to him with the same tenacity as she: Yachiru and dried blood. Neither comparison was particularly apt.

"You were saying?" he reluctantly asked after far too much time had passed. "And make it quick. It won't be long now."

"Yes!" she chirped. "Quick, quick," she muttered. "How to say… Ah! I noticed the other day when Yachiru hugged me that she's starting to, um, to grow up," Orihime concluded meaningfully, and shifted a bit on his back.

"Yachiru?" He was confused. "She hasn't grown in forty years."

"Really? Wow," the girl chattered. "How long is a Soul Society year in human years? Does it work like it does with dogs?"

Well. Now there was a leap of logic not often equaled. Perhaps she was a little like Yachiru, after all. Such a thing should have been impossible. There probably wasn't a god, after all. Put kind of a damper on his fringe benefits.

"Idiot. Make sense," he commanded gruffly.

Yachiru would have shrieked, 'waaah! Ken-chan is mean!' right in his ear or smacked him across the face. Orihime just laughed wantonly and wiggled a bit.

"Pffft! You're so funny, Zaraki-san! You sound just like Kurosaki-kun," she twittered, apparently having none of his reservations about drawing unjust comparisons.

It was time for the conversation to end. Immediately.

"Woman. What's the point of this?" he grit out, grinding to a halt in mid-stride. The girl nearly tumbled from his back and had to throw her arms around his head to keep her perch. He rather wished she'd let go.

"Ahh! I'm sorry. Am I too heavy? Am I slowing you down?"

"Yes," he said, just because it was easier than explaining otherwise and maybe, maybe if she thought she was being a burden she would get to the point.

"Ahhh! I'm sorry! I ate a big lunch today. I knew I shouldn't, but I was so hungry…"

"And Yachiru…?" he prodded.

"Um, I don't know what she ate."

Silence.

"Oh. Oh! Well, Yachiru, she needs a bra," Orihime stated bluntly and far too easily after all the effort Kenpachi had put into making her talk.

"Yachiru? A bra?" He was confused. What was a bra and why would Yachiru need one? The only weapon she needed was her zanpakuto, idiotic looking though it was. If she required anything else he was sure she'd scrounge it up somewhere on her own, would probably swipe it from Ikkaku, Yumichika or that Maki Maki moron if the occasion called for it.

"Or maybe some chest wraps would have been better?" the girl mused, tapping a finger on her chin. "Somehow those seem more appropriate to wear under robes. Does Soul Society have the same traditions as home? I wonder… Well, I guess it doesn't matter, really, so long as she gets the support she needs!"

Now he was really confused. Humans were strange, he knew, but generally they at least made sense. Generally.

He didn't have time for this; his opponent was rapidly approaching and he couldn't afford to be distracted. It was time to get serious.

"She doesn't need any support," he informed the girl, feeling a familiar weight settle across his shoulders. "She's a vice-captain."

"Oh, but she does!" Orihime insisted. "Please believe me. It's very important to catch this sort of development early before things start to go downhill and, er, sag."

"Go downhill? Sag?" He was only half paying attention, his mind on more important matters, like the intense spiritual pressure rapidly approaching from the west.

"Who's sagging? Matsumoto-oba-san?"

"Ah! Yachiru-chan!" Orihime started violently enough to regain Kenpachi's attention and he realized she hadn't noticed Yachiru's arrival half a minute earlier. This would have been one more mark against her, except expecting her to have noticed Yachiru's presence was an insult to the brat's skills. Orihime wasn't as useless as she first appeared, but that didn't mean she was on a par with his annoying vice captain. Even Ichigo hadn't noticed her at their first encounter and he was strong enough to defeat Kenpachi.

The admission chafed. He wanted that rematch more than ever; his anticipation was practically tangible. He could practically taste the blood. But he tended to get sentimental about those sorts of things…

"What are you doing to Ken-chan, Hime?" Yachiru demanded, springing off his back and onto the woman's.

"Oof! You're heavy, Yachiru-chan!"

Confident that his vice captain was in full control of matters, Kenpachi reapplied his attention Important Things, and they would have remained there had the bothersome woman not started crying out in earnest. Her pained yelps were most annoying and he made a note to one day teach Yachiru the meaning of moderation, especially before she discovered sake, though he suspected he was too late on that point.

"Oi. Leave her alone, idiot," he growled, plucking his vice captain off of the cringing human.

"But, she called Ken-chan dumb," she whined, her feet dangling a good five feet above the ground. "Ken-chan may not have a sense of direction, but he isn't stupid."

"Aaa, I'm sorry, Yachiru-chan, but you misunderstood me," Orihime insisted, attempting to rub the small of her back and her head at the same time. She wasn't coordinated enough. "I only meant that Zaraki-san isn't the best person to talk to about this sort of thing."

"Ken-chan is the best to talk to about anything!" Yachiru insisted. She beamed brilliantly at the object of her admiration and mollified him enough so that he allowed her to clamber up his arm and onto his back. She nestled her head next to his and glared menacingly at Orihime. "You got something you want to say, Big Boobs?" she bristled.

The girl seemed at a loss for words. She stare up at them with wide, guileless eyes and for a moment Kenpachi felt an emotion that he might have mistaken for pity if he had believed himself to be capable of feeling such a thing.

Yet Orihime surprised him again. She withstood Yachiru's ire with a gumption his underlings would do well to learn. He could pinpoint the exact moment when she mustered her courage, steeled her determination and forged forward on her mission, mainly because her emotions were as blatant as Yumichika's eyelashes.

A stubborn set to her jaw, she shoved a hand into her pocket and withdrew a scrap of fabric. "Here," she said, shoving the cloth into Yachiru's general vicinity. "Ishida-san helped me make this for you. It should be the right size. He's very good at this sort of thing, you know. He's president of the sewing club and, well, we did our best to make it very comfortable. I think you'll like it if you just give it a try! Call it women's intuition."

Yachiru accepted the cloth, though not without obvious reservations. One eyebrow raised, she unfolded it for closer examination. It looked like an abbreviated sleeveless shirt, with a thin band of elastic inside its bottom hem. It was... befuddling. "It has ruffles," she said skeptically, inspecting the small article of clothing.

"Just one, Yachiru-chan," Orihime happily observed, innate cheerfulness restored, "and we embroidered flowers on it, too."

"Flowers…" she repeated blankly. She stared at the scrap for a few seconds, then waved it in Kenpachi's face. "Waaa, Ken-chan! What do I do with this thing!"

"You wear it, idiot," he grunted, his powers of logic being slightly keener than his vice captain's. This piece of knowledge having been imparted, his attention once more focused on the approaching pocket of spiritual pressure. He did so love a challenge…

"But, why?" Yachiru insisted in a tone of voice Kenpachi recognized very well: she used it when she had been pushed to the limits of her patience, which happened rather frequently.

"Because you're a young lady now, Yachiru-cha… san!" Orihime announced, beaming proudly. She said something more, but Kenpachi missed exactly what because Ichigo had arrived.

He walked straight to his friend, sparing nary a glance for her companions. "Oi! Inoue! I've been looking for you!" The orange-haired shinigami was irritated as usual, a dour expression on his face. He was still swathed in bandages, vestiges of his fight with Byakuya. Either he failed to notice Kenpachi and Yachiru or he was pointedly ignoring them. Kenpachi could guess which.

"Ah, Kurosaki-kun. I thought I smelled you nearby!" Orihime enthusiastically greeted him, smile brighter than ever.

"Geez. We've been looking everywhere for you. Tell someone next time you wander off, huh?" he chided. "There could still be some bad guys lurking around out here."

"Sorry, Kurosaki-kun, but I had something important to give to Yachiru before we left," she explained, then looked startled. "Ahh! I wasn't supposed to say anything! It was supposed to be a secret!"

"It-it's okay," Ichigo assured her, looking confused. "I'll pretend you didn't say anything about it."

"You will! Ahh, thank you, Kurosaki-kun!"

Kenpachi decided it was time to introduce himself to the conversation, lest any additional inanity further delay his fight. "Ichigo," he said flatly, fingering his zanpakuto. "How are your wounds?"

Ichigo froze, as if he'd actually expected the captain to completely ignore his presence. He faced the taller shinigami with a look of rather badly concealed reluctance and grimaced a smile. "Kenpachi," he returned painfully.

"Ichigo," he nodded civilly and then attempted to rend him from shoulder to hip. Ichigo, eyes agog, barely avoided the strike. His surprise did not, however, prevent him from making a rapid retreat. Grabbing Orihime, he tossed her over his shoulder and sprinted quickly away.

"Bye-bye, Zaraki-san, Yachiru-san!" the girl waved from where she lay sprawled across his back, not at all upset at his attempt at disemboweling her friend. "Good luck with… with further developments!" she called, her voice quickly fading with distance.

And then they were gone.

Kenpachi sighed. Another opportunity to prove his strength, wasted. And he knew just who to blame for the loss.

"Oi! All your squirming messed up my timing, idiot!" he grunted, twisting his head to peer over his shoulder.

The force of her slap snapped his head quickly around to the front. "WAAAH! Ken-chan is a pervert!" Yachiru accused, sounding more indignant than angry.

"If you wanted privacy, there are better places to change than on my back," he reminded her long-sufferingly.

She ignored him, squirming around a moment longer. Her proper state of dress was quickly restored and she leapt lightly to the ground before him. "How do I look, Ken-chan?" she asked, spinning in a circle with her arms held wide.

"The same," he told her honestly.

"Good," she replied, reclaiming her perch. "I don't want to get older. Then I couldn't ride on Ken-chan like this."

"Lazy idiot," he chided affectionately.

"Stupid pervert," she returned, snuggling into his neck.

Only once she was settled did he start the long walk back to headquarters.

Yachiru might have been growing up, but she was far from being grown.

-the end-