Disclaimer: Bleach belongs to Kubo Tite.
A/N: One-shot centered on Kurotsutchi Mayuri and somewhat Urahara Kisuke. Mayuri's a pretty interesting person, despite his habit of blowing up members of his division. Constructive criticism is greatly appreciated.
Once a long time ago, he idolized the eccentric fool of a brilliant scientist before he was transferred to the twelfth division. It was a passionate admiration which bordered on obsession. It was almost unhealthy, but it was difficult not to be drawn in by the happy-go-lucky idiot, who went on about smiling and laughing, even when his experiments blew up in his face and turned him blue.
And sometimes orange. He remembered a time when an explosion that threatened to blow off an arm only shaved half the fool's hair because he had enough sense to duck under a table. Many of his unit snickered and howled with laughter outright, and he bore it all with mock dramatics, already on another experiment to grow back the lost hairs.
He often thought it strange that the man, clearly knowing full well what to expect, still went on ahead with it anyway. They seemed like purposeful acts, and knowing what an eccentric he was, they most likely were.
The blue-haired shinigami rarely smiled, and when he did, people told him to smile less often, because of the eeriness of the gesture. He had to agree, albeit reluctantly, so he heeded them.
Then he was placed in the twelfth division as the fool's second in command.
He encouraged the vice captain to smile more often, but to no avail. He would crack silly jokes and tell tall tales with wild gesticulations. Occasionally, he would purposely fiddle with his own experiments so that something disastrous would occur, just to get the young captain to show some expression of mirth.
The vice captain was ashamed of his multiple failures. Every time something went wrong, every time something decided to explode, he expected to hear no end of it.
But the captain did not meet his expectations. Instead, he helped the younger man mop up the messes, sweep out the broken glass, and he did it all even while his second in command stared dumbfounded. Then he would ruffle the neat blue hair into a mess that was, fortunately for the vice captain, fixable.
"Ah, you know, that frown is going to become permanent someday. Just keep practicing. This division is all about blowing things up before success." Then he'd grin and toddle away to his office, no doubt ready to pull some brilliant idea or another out of thin air.
He resented the man for being so understanding of everything, everyone. He wished the captain would scold him, just once, so there didn't have to be the image of a near-perfect man stuck inside his head during every waking moment.
"Everyone calls you a genius." He could not help but sound slightly bitter.
In response, "Even a genius has to learn something at least once to know it."
To retort, "But a genius is still a genius, and they stand above everyone else."
"Oh, but even a genius would find it unsatisfying to stand alone."
"Is it so bad to be alone?"
"Not if it's your preference."
And there would be no more retorts on his part or pursuing of the issue on his captain's part, because he could never actually be sure of his own words and his captain never pushed anything personal.
One could not say the man was extremely ambitious, but he wasn't sluggish either. It wasn't as though he didn't try. The man was very outgoing in most things he did, even if he had to embarrass himself to accomplish what he set out to do. He just wasn't motivated enough to surpass his own limitations, even if those limitations were seemingly few. The young vice captain saw that and it bothered him.
"If you can achieve perfection, then why not do so?"
"Eh? Well, look at it this way. If an aspect of life was perfect, there could be no improvement in that aspect. The job of a scientist is to make things better. Plus, we would be out of a job if perfection existed. It's the imperfections that make life worthwhile and allow us to continue making a living."
He didn't quite understand in the way he might have been meant to, but didn't say so. Still, he had the sneaking suspicion his superior already knew.
The captain was not very image-conscious, unlike his vice captain, who didn't want his image to become further tarnished with eerie smiles and strange habits. He kept his blue hair neat and tidy, while his superior barely picked up a comb half a dozen times in his lifetime.
There were times when he was uncomfortable to be in the presence of the man, especially in public. He did truly admire the man's genius, but he was somewhat mortified of the man's unconventional practices. Sleeping during the strangest of times and positions, even while standing; rushing out of the laboratory to play quick games of tag with the Shihouin heiress.
The fool liked to take walks everywhere and anywhere, often with the company of others. It was another of his odd habits. The vice captain would follow close on his heels on the occasions when there was no one else, not knowing why he chose to follow in the first place. Then steadily, they filled their silences with conversations.
"Everyone says you're a quack, that you were crazy since birth." Normally, he wouldn't dare speak to just anyone like that, but his captain never seemed adverse to it coming from anyone.
The man dismissed the notions with a wave. "That's ridiculous. I wasn't born crazy. Hyperactive, maybe. Crazy, no. At least, I don't think so."
"They all doubt you're ability to command a whole unit."
"I haven't had any complaints yet, so I must be doing something right."
"They all doubt your mental stability."
"Any sane person would."
Their conversations gradually deviated back and forth to other topics.
"They say my smile is scary." It was a ridiculous thing to dwell on, and even more ridiculous to bother a superior with it.
But the man merely shrugged. "So? They say when I smile, everyone should flee for the hills, but you don't see anyone running for cover when I'm happy."
"But they say I look creepy." He mentally berated himself for sounding so much like a whining child.
"So, look creepy! Look demented! Put red juice on your face and look homicidal!"
"You're not very helpful." There was a sigh of exasperation.
He pouted. "I'm not? That hurts." Then he smiled widely, not at all looking hurt.
The vice captain rolled his eyes, choosing instead to ignore the man until he could give helpful input.
He suddenly lost the jovial attitude. "Well, it seems like you care too much about what a load of nameless people think of you. Weird, don't you think, that you don't even know who most of them are? Whether you should care or not is up to you. It's no one else's decision but your own."
And his wide smile returned as he began spouting cheerful nonsense once more.
It was utterly bewildering. One minute, the man would be spewing unethical and nonsensical twaddle, then the next he was all business. It was also frustrating, like trying to keep up with a child's mood swings.
But the man had a point. He could choose to care, or not. This time, he chose not.
It was the first time the young man smiled in years.
But those times were never meant to last.
It was inevitable, and they both knew it was coming. The coming of change.
He was starting to become far more envious of his captain, the eccentric genius who could do plenty wrong but got away with it. Over the years, his own abilities improved far more swiftly than he could ever have imagined. For a moment, he believed he could challenge the twelfth division captain and win.
But that idea was dashed quickly and effectively when he experienced the power of his former captain and Benihime firsthand. Ashisogi Jizou was no match against the Crimson Princess. He was no match for the man. He doubted anything could have been a match against the pair that night. The man was paralyzing with wave upon wave of spirit energy and the princess was thirsty for blood.
So when he awoke the next morning alive and still capable of moving, he was instantly perplexed, even more so when he learned that while there was much bloodshed, there were no casualties. It seemed, that despite how much Benihime wanted to cut down everyone in her path, she could not control the intentions of her wielder.
The man had been born a fool and grew to be a foolish bleeding heart. It was what he wanted to believe, but he always knew that was not the case. They were two different people entirely and on significantly different levels. And while he was sure his ex-captain had no trouble understanding him, he also knew he would never be able to comprehend the mind of the fool.
It didn't bother him very much at first, because with the man gone, he was free to take the position as twelfth captain. His grin could not have been more wide or devoid of mirth.
Still, it was not a victory. No, it would never be a victory until he escaped the shadow of his predecessor. He wondered if the effort was futile. Always he was the follower, never truly the leader.
Even his daughter and vice captain was a product of the ex-captain's research. While he was the one who created her, he was not the one to develop the mechanics and techniques. She turned out to be less than perfect, having gained a will of her own. He supposed that was the original intent, to create something that could learn from experience. Only the fool would be so concerned with such things.
He wanted an obedient servant, and he made one. Just with an added unwanted bonus.
The twelfth division often spoke of the eccentric, as if hoping if they spoke of him enough he would return and rid them of their fear of their current superior. Their voices did not ring for long. They grew fainter with each mysterious disappearance, and eventually fell silent.
Kurotsutchi Mayuri never left the shadow of his predecessor, but he extended his own. The shadow was grand, leaving behind a chaotic mess of bloodied dismembered limbs, oozing scorched flesh, and not enough success in the results to cover the overwhelming damage. It was just another mess of numerous experiments, but it was a mess he couldn't simply sweep or wipe away.
He remembered the nights he and the fool spent in the laboratory poring over his own research notes, correcting numbers and devising methods together. He remembered the man's experiments, how he always used himself as a guinea pig for his theories, refusing to endanger others of his unit even when they volunteered.
He remembered the nights he spent in the laboratory poring over cold metal tables, dissecting the bodies of several Quincies in order to understand their flows of spirit energies and how they were concentrated. He remembered the countless lives sacrificed in order for him to come closer to attaining perfection.
After over a century of flipping through memories, a single question out of all the others started to occupy his mind: Who was the real fool?
A/N: Is quincy already pluralized or is it quincies?
It seems like several of the captains ignore their subordinates (even Yamamoto seems to think little of his), that is, everyone in their unit. No idea whether Urahara was a little better or worse, but I don't think (unless there's evidence) he lead his division with the kind of methods Mayuri uses. Whether Mayuri was even his vice captain, or that they even knew each other on any level, is debatable.