A Listening Silence

By Dreaming of Everything

Disclaimer: I do not own the characters, events and other parts of Bleach at all in any way, shape or form. Furthermore, I don't own the poem Afterwords, written by Mark Strand—my apologies to him!

Author's Notes: This is a ONE-SHOT and will NOT be continued.

I may post something else about these two later. They're threatening to become my favorites.

Sorry about the line breaks; ff(dot)net's been eating them, recently, but they have yet to devour these.

Enjoy! I had fun with this—my first piece of Bleach fanfic ever!

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"…A man was scaling a cliff, then stopped and turned, and
opened his mouth to scream, but when the screams arrived
they were faint and cold, no different from the snow
that kept on falling through the windless night."

--Afterwords by Mark Strand

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Zaraki Kenpachi has found himself sitting quietly and just listening more and more often after his fight with Ichigo.

Names. He hadn't had one for years. Until Yachiru. He hadn't needed one, and that was loneliness. Not being alone, but having no name, because there was no need for one. No one to use it, to need one to use.

But he had met Yachiru in the aftermath of a battlefield—though no actual battle had taken place; it had been a slaughter.

She crawled out of the carnage, still an infant, her smile as innocent and unnatural as her hair color. She had grasped at his sword.

He took her with him, because there was nothing else he could do. She chose him, and he let her, and that was still the way of things, even now.

And now he had a name. Zaraki Kenpachi. She had needed something to call him. He had given her a name of her own at the same time—she would never know what he had known, about names. Another way he could protect her.

He didn't know the name of his sword. Kurosaki Ichigo had claimed that that had allowed him to defeat him; Kurosaki Ichigo thought of his own sword as a fully functioning being.

Ichigo Kurosaki also attempted to break into Soul Society to rescue a convict with the help of four people and a cat. And he had fought him. He clearly wasn't firing on all cylinders.

But he had still won.

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He had asked his sword its name, and received no reply. Had he taken too long? If he had, would the sword forget its name? Cast it aside, or let it fall into disuse, because there was no point? Would it just refuse to answer, bitter, or no longer be able to find words at all? At one time, he had been edging close to the point where speech was useless. He knew that desperation.

He didn't know if his sword would answer his question, if he even wanted it to.

He wasn't sure he'd like what it had to say.

But still, he listened. It wasn't like he had anything better to do.

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Many people claimed he was a monster, a demon. Of course, the one who had been the most outspoken about it—Tousen—ended up siding with the hollows. Still, he wasn't sure he could disagree with him. His only joy in life was fighting, and he had killed, and he hadn't cared. Didn't care. Yes, he had killed…

Yachiru disagreed with them, though, loud and angry on his behalf. And when she did, he was never sure if he wanted to ruffle her hair or hug her like he had when she was younger, before she could remember, now, or kill whoever said it for upsetting her, or kill her for making him hurt this way, or leave and never come back, because he was a monster and so she was too by definition.

He hadn't left yet, though, and she was still alive.

He had done to his sword what had hurt most in his own past. No name, no comfort, no one else. Nothing.

Death. He had offered it death, and a lifetime of service, but no recognition. Not even a name to recognize it with. Little wonder the blade was brittle and chipped, had worked against him.

Monster indeed.

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Nobody else would think to call him a hypocrite, but that was because nobody but Yachiru knew him well enough to see it, and she never would. Very few people even knew he thought about something other than battle.

His sword was still nameless. He was not—he even had a nickname. Ken-chan, though only Yachiru called him that. At least it was better than some of the ones she had given to others.

If anyone else called him that, though, they better be damn sure of their combat skills.

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The silence that came when he listened was beginning to remind him of the silence that had come before Yachiru.

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It has been a while since he has traveled, but he remembers how people would look at him, how the fear would settle and forgiveness would soften faces, just slightly, when he shifted and Yachiru's face would be revealed, happy and smiling and sometimes drooling, held up by one huge battle-torn hand, his own scowl firmly in place. And how people would look up in fear, panic in their eyes, when he walked into a store, until he asked for formula powder or toddler's clothes, his changing disposition juxtaposed against Yachiru, and what had been her needs, and what had been—was—his true self.

He still sees it, when he passes by new recruits, waves of whispering springing up in his wake. Yachiru's older now, of course, but she is still far from intimidating, until she draws her sword and her aura flares, or unless you know who she is and what she is capable of.

He had liked the days when they had traveled and seen no-one most.

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He listens but all he ends up hearing are his own thoughts. It's frustrating, and he almost thinks he's beginning to feel lonely again.

But Yachiru is still there, and the rest of his command, and the few people he's begun to respect, at the very least, but he knows he'll only die for Yachiru, though he pretends that he won't, that he doesn't know, doesn't think about it all.

And when she comes to him one night, far later than she is normally awake—he is still doing paperwork, of course; he's a captain—and, nearly timidly, asks if he'll put her to bed, as he hasn't for years (he had thought she had forgotten that he had, for a short while,) he can't help but feel something akin to happiness, and relief.

The next day, it's easier to listen. There is less doubt, less internal distractions; just the outside ones, like Yachiru crawling over and around him, dwarfed by his frame.

Some things haven't changed. He hopes that they won't, at least not until he grows tired of this.

He ignores the part of him that says he never will—that it's beyond his control, and has been for years.

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When he manages, decides, to ask his sword's name for the second time, he's not prepared to receive an answer at all.

But somehow he's not surprised that his sword is named Yachiru.

She certainly isn't. She thinks she's known it all along. She isn't a sword, but she is a weapon, and she is Ken-chan's person, the one who needs her as much as she needs him. She his not his sword, but maybe they are the same.

Maybe Yachiru—her name, the sword's name—is just the word that Ken-chan had rattling around inside him, needing a release, something to name. Maybe he just asked her name before he asked the sword hers, and that name answered the first time but meant it for the latter.

Maybe it's just coincidence. It's just a name.

Just a name. After all, if you have one but nobody to call it, to speak it, does it make any difference? Ken-chan thinks so, but she's not sure he's right, this time.

She's still Yachiru either way.

End