Tite Kubo owns Bleach. I just borrowed the characters. I do own Atonomatsuri (the bird) and Piecrust (the jerk). I make no money from this work. However, writing it makes me laugh.
The Uncomfortable Truth
One of us? What did the Hollow mean?
He knew but didn't want to as he was forced again to remember the uncomfortable truth. He'd been a Hollow until he encountered the Captain Commander. This memory provided the usual unpleasant emotions and the desire to reject the knowledge was strong.
"That was a long time ago," he managed to say.
"Time doesn't matter. How can you judge us this way when you were no better?"
"I chose to change."
"I was never given the chance," Sasori said. "Neither was Raketsu and now he is dead because of you."
Dumfounded, Zaraki ignored the accusation, as it didn't matter if the creature was right or wrong, and asked, "Do you want to change?"
"I don't have the choice anymore. We are maimed beyond all recognition and the changes to us will make it impossible to be anything but monsters. If we die, we may not even have the dismal satisfaction of coming to soul society because our souls as well as our outward form are corrupted. Who knows if we will even become reiatsu?"
This didn't sound like the same Sasori who'd insulted and fought with his companion. There was a sadness in his voice, which Zaraki hadn't heard until now. Staring at the 'scorpion', he found it impossible to read his expression, but the slight shift of his body indicated an emotion he hadn't anticipated. It almost seemed the shoulders sagged, or that was the impression given.
He hated being around sad people. Before this whole incident with the bird had begun, he'd been low, really low and being in the company of another person feeling like that brought back those memories. He'd thought becoming stronger by knowing the name of the spirit of his zanpakuto would take away the emptiness and feeling of futility. It hadn't, not completely. He'd been too busy to brood on the lack of confidence he'd developed after losing to the orange haired kid, but the underlying feelings remained.
When Yachiru cried he'd do anything to placate her, including giving into her constant demands for sweets as it made the tears vanish. Sometimes he suspected she knew this and possibly had the ability to manufacture tears at will but it didn't matter. Seeing another person suffering a negative emotion made him recall the feeling of despair and the anger at being unable to change the situation.
However, he didn't care how Kurotsuchi felt, ever. He hoped the man was sad, though he never seemed to experience any emotions except anger and pride. If arrogance and belief in his superiority were emotions, it would be different.
Even when Atonomatsuri showed her pain, he had to struggle to hide his response and mostly shielded himself by mocking the bird or getting angry to hide the more complicated and difficult feelings. If the bird ever worked that out, he'd be in a great amount of trouble. The thought of having two females able to manipulate his actions through the display of their emotions was enough to make him shudder, but he should be concentrating on the Hollow in front of him.
"No one knows what happens to the soul after we die," he began.
"We're already dead," Sasori broke in.
"Yeah, we are, but we still exist."
"Don't try to con me with phony bullshit about there being a chance of an afterlife after this afterlife. When does it end? When are we finally at peace and not forced to change to suit the fabric of the new environment? I don't want to live anymore."
Hell, he had a suicidal altered Hollow on his hands! He'd been looking for a fight, not trying to talk his enemy out of... wait. Why did he have to talk Sasori out of this? He'd already decided he had to kill these twisted creations and now he was considering trying to talk one of them into remaining alive. No.
"You want to die? Fight me!" Zaraki almost shouted. It was the simple solution. He'd get rid of a threat to the Seireitei, as well as not having to listen to the emotional disturbance of a Hollow.
"What's the point?"
The answer stunned Zaraki. What was the point? He was offering a fight. That was the point! A fight was fun.
"If Raketsu was still alive there would be a point. I hated him and loved him. He made me believe we could escape and go somewhere, a place people wouldn't care what we are," Sasori gave a short, hollow laugh. "We were fooling ourselves but it gave hope. Hope was all we had and now he is dead, there is no hope, no point."
Listening to this person was a real downer. If he continued to talk, Zaraki might begin to think about things he really had no desire to consider. It was bad enough being reminded of his origins but all this other stuff was draining him of the will to fight. Nothing normally made him feel like this. Next, he might start acting like Izuru and moping all over the place and depressing anyone who so much as looked at him.
"Fight me." If he could start this fight, the hollow would stop talking and he might feel better when there was action. Talking only confused things.
"I said there was no point! Don't you listen?"
The touch of anger was good. If he goaded Sasori, he might even get him to attack. "What have you got to lose?"
It seemed a bitter look crossed Sasori's face but it was hard to tell because of the Hollow mask. "I have nothing, I am nothing. Cursed by death and fate."
Damn it. He was going all introspective and self-pitying again.
"The fellow seems to have an emotional problem," Atonomatsuri observed.
"You'd know all about that, wouldn't you," Zaraki muttered.
Sasori turned to him, apparently startled by his words. "I know my life," he said.
Grinding his teeth slightly, Zaraki rasped, "I wasn't talking to you."
Sasori, diverted from his contemplation of his situation looked around. Following his gaze, he saw that Abarai and Kuchiki were now free of the web but Akon was still struggling with the chameleon as Kuchiki was meticulously removing any strands of cobweb, rearranging his hair and generally removing the traces of his entrapment.
Madarame and Abarai were having a loud argument about the best way to free Akon who was struggling and squealing but at least the movement down the gullet of the chameleon seemed to have halted. Closer observation indicated this was due to the zanpakuto held by Akon, which he had managed to lodge in part of the head, but it was hard to tell where. The white knuckles indicated he was holding on as tightly as he could to prevent any further ingestion of his body, but his frantic implorations for assistance went unanswered. If Zaraki could get this morose hollow to fight him, he could deal with the last 'Super' Hollow and they could go home. Of course, he could just kill Sasori, but where was the fun in that?
Kurotsuchi appeared to be examining the corpse of Raketsu and Sasori was staring closely at the man. The 12th Division Captain crouched beside the broken body and seemed indifferent to any of the events, which were taking place around him. As they watched, the 'Captain' removed a serrated knife and began to cut through the bone that covered part of the face.
He saw a something moving extremely fast and the next thing was Sasori was holding Kurotsuchi with one of his large pincers and shaking him. "What do you think you're doing?" he screamed loudly in the man's face. "One of you stupid Shinigami's killed him and now another is trying to cut him up!"
"I am a scientist! It is my duty to examine the corpse to see what changes were made, how to improve the next..."
A sharp voice cut in. "There will be no further experiments on Hollows in this manner. Until now I have interfered little in your research, Captain, but these creatures are not a viable use of resources." The Captain Commander was leaning heavily on his stick and his stance and expression were hard.
"The decision has been made."
"Can I at least examine the remains?" Kurotsuchi seemed to forget where he was and who was threatening him.
At his words, Sasori swung his tail at Kurotsuchi's face.
Zaraki didn't like the man, nor did he like the Hollow. If one killed the other, it mattered not to him, but it seemed Sasori was angry enough to fight and Zaraki felt it was unfair that he was prepared to fight someone who seemed more interested in creating monsters and then cutting them up when he had no further use for them. Without thinking about it, or meaning to, he found his feet were moving fast and he blocked the sting attack with his zanpakuto.
"Why are you defending him?" Sasori asked with a jagged break in his voice. "He is the cause of all of this."
"I keep telling you, I want to fight." Did the guy have problems with his short-term memory or something?
"Let me kill this man and then I will fight you," Sasori bargained.
It seemed like a fair deal. Kurotsuchi had tortured Sasori and Raketsu and revenge was something he understood very well. Before he could agree, he noticed the Captain Commander was shaking his head.
"No, Captain Zaraki. You cannot permit one of your own to die this way," he said.
Kurotsuchi laughed. "Don't you think I took precautions against this? I have an anti-venom circulating in my veins which will protect me against anything you can do." He smiled arrogantly at Sasori who had ceased shaking him and was struggling to get past Zaraki's blocks.
A hard laugh stopped his smile. "You haven't visited us recently and obviously no one has noticed the CCT footage has ceased. I have different venom to any you could imagine."
"What?" Kurotsuchi sounded incredulous. "You don't know what you're talking about."
Zaraki remembered the spider and scorpion attacking each other and injecting their toxins into each other. Is that what Sasori meant?
"Are you inoculated against the combined venom of the spider and scorpion?" Sasori asked, his anger noticeably growing.
"That's impossible," the 12th Division Captain spluttered. "It could only happen if you were insane enough to attack each other and the results might be fatal."
He didn't know anything about science, nor was he interested, but would mixing two types of toxins have any real effect? Could it alter the basic structure or make the toxin stronger or different? One of them had said something about the toxin being even more damaging, but wasn't there something about it being a short-term effect?
Sasori tried again to sting Kurotsuchi but Zaraki blocked him again, wondering why the creature was reluctant to fight him.
"We had time. We got bored," was the response. "We didn't have a lab to do 'experiments' but when you have too much time; invention is something which can happen."
"Impossible," Kurotsuchi said as he struggled, trying to free himself. He could not draw his zanpakuto due to the way he was being held and his attempts to reach into his sleeves for any of his devices were hampered by the scorpion. "Just stinging or biting each other isn't a way to create. You have no idea what you are talking about."
"Do you?" The Old Man asked Kurotsuchi.
"What the creature is proposing is beyond reason."
"I thought the creation of 'Super' Hollows was beyond all reason, but you proved me incorrect. What makes you certain the Scorpion is mistaken?"
The question seemed to stun Kurotsuchi who now looked ridiculous as he gaped in astonishment, dangling from the claws of Sasori. His haori was slowly being pulled up exposing his stomach, which added to the effect. In spite of how his clothes made him look, underneath he wasn't the bloated man he appeared to be. Yet he looked pathetic dangling with only the claw of the scorpion as support, his legs waving as if to find some purchase to assist him in escaping.
"You, Hollow, whatever your name is, put him down," the Captain Commander ordered.
For a brief moment it seemed Sasori might obey, but he rallied very fast and replied, "You do not give me orders. I am not your subordinate, nor am I a stupid, arrogant Shinigami. I put this fool down and your trained bully kills me."
Zaraki, stung by the words shouted, "I promised a fair fight. And I'm sick of you talking. Everyone is always talking about stuff and not doing anything."
"You said you would kill me. I witnessed your murder of..."
"I was defending myself," Zaraki said through gritted teeth. "Self defence is not murder."
"It might be considered man slaughter," Kuchiki suggested, as he was finally free of any trace of the spider's cocoon.
"Why aren't you assisting Akon?" the Captain Commander asked.
Kuchiki raised his right eyebrow slightly. "Due to concern for one of my 'brother' captains. I believed I could mediate Captain Kurotsuchi's release and negotiate the terms of surrender of the Super Hollows. The mention of murder also attracted my attention."
Zaraki bared his teeth in a mirthless grin at the reply. "Thanks, Brother," he said loudly as he stared at Kuchiki.
"It is a serious allegation," Kuchiki said, his face as cool as normal and Zaraki wondered at his intervention.
"It is a stupid allegation. If we accept it then we will never kill another Hollow because we will be worried about being accused of murder. It's insane." Why wasn't it clear?
"Ken-chan never murdered anyone," Yachiru said as she appeared by his side. "Well, not many", she temporised after a few seconds thought. "He's killed people but most of the time he doesn't even kill anyone anymore because he thinks it's a waste. And we're meant to kill Hollows, aren't we?"
Zaraki groaned and wished he could remove himself from this place as quickly as possible. More chatter and debate about the politics of the nature of Hollows. Why did it cause an ethical dilemma?
The Captain Commanders brow furrowed even more. "While the discussion may prove interesting, perhaps now is not the best time to pursue it to its conclusion. Release the Captain and we will listen to your complaints, scorpion."
"My name is Sasori, not that you bothered to ask. It is typical of the way Hollows are treated by any Shinigami they are unfortunate enough to meet."
"Most of the Hollows we encounter are trying to kill either humans or us, so who is really unfortunate?" Kuchiki said with a lift to his left eyebrow.
"Survival of the fittest," Sasori quickly said, turning his head to the Captain, apparently trying to make his case.
A quick flurry of movement and the haori remained dangling in Sasori's hand while Yachiru dumped Kurotsuchi in front of the Captain Commander. "Thanks Captain Frosty. You provided the necessary distraction so I could get Clowny."
The bundle at the Captain Commander's feet rose swiftly, fixed a cold eye on Yachiru, and spluttered in a tone of outrage "What did you call me?"
"What she called you is not important at the moment. It might be respectful to thank the assistant Captain who rescued you from the grip of the sc... Sasori," the Old Man said firmly.
"You contradicted yourself," Kuchiki was saying to Sasori at the same time. "If we are talking about nature red in tooth and claw, which is one version of survival of the fittest, there can be no mention of murder. Kill or be killed. Survive against those who would remove you from the food chain and the chance of evolution. Murder is a criminal act, which is not considered when discussing survival of the fittest. You claim Captain Zaraki murdered your friend but at the same time you were both attacking him and trying to kill him. At worst, he could be accused of self-defence. I do not think a manslaughter charge would hold in this case, either."
Sasori looked more uncomfortable and angry at each word. "You are twisting my words," he burst out.
Kuchiki folded his arms calmly and tilted his head to one side. "Would you elucidate? I have merely repeated some of the words and terms you used and then for a moment explored their meaning."
"Is anyone going to help that poor fool, Akon?" Zaraki asked.
The heads of Kurotsuchi, the Old Man, Yachiru, Sasori and Kuchiki turned to him briefly and then turned away as they observed each other.
"Oh, frack it," Zaraki said and left them to it. They wanted to talk; he wanted to act and at present Sasori didn't seem like a worthy opponent. Then again, he might be a surprise.
With a few steps, he was level with Akon who have stopped shrieking and was feebly struggling while Madarame and Abarai tried to pull him free.
"We're fine, Captain," Abarai told him. "We don't need any help."
Zaraki laughed. "I'm not here to help you. I'm here to help Akon which you two seem to be stuffing up."
"Be kind, Kenny boy. They are trying," Atonomatsuri said. "Many can help one. Though in this case it might be slow help is no help."
Without meaning to Zaraki muttered, "And you are trying."
"Thank you for noticing," Atonomatsuri said. "Though the sarcasm could be discarded. A sarcastic person has a superiority complex that can be cured only by the honesty of humility."
"Can we talk about this later?" Zaraki said through mental clenched teeth. "I want to save this guy sometime in the next millennium."
"Fine, be like that," Atonomatsuri said. "I thought we were getting somewhere."
He could hear the hurt in her voice but didn't want to explain or enter in a fruitless discussion while Akon appeared to be giving up.
Instead, he went up close to where Akon could be seen and then held his hand out until he touched the scaly surface of the Super 'Chameleon'. What he planned might not be easy. He traced his hand up towards the mouth and then tried to insert his hand under Akon.
"What are you doing, Captain," Madarame asked with a tinge of concern in his voice.
"Something else," he replied shortly, easing his arm in a little further. It was hard to tell which were clothes and which was the object he was seeking but he managed to wiggle his fingers a little and then located something that did not feel like cloth. He grabbed for it but is slipped out of his grasp.
"We're getting somewhere," Abarai yelled with surprise and Zaraki felt Akon being pulled over his arm. The outward movement lasted only seconds and they were back in the same pattern of simply preventing him from entering the gullet any further.
Spurred on by his success, Zaraki slowly manoeuvred his arm and hand in the direction he thought the object he was seeking may have moved. Moisture from the saliva was soaking into his arm but it didn't matter. Akon was bathed in it and for a second Zaraki wondered how much digestive juice was in the saliva and how it would affect him. Some of the cloth around Akon seemed fragile and shredding slightly, but it was difficult to estimate how long he had been subject to the enzymes.
"Better work quickly," he told himself. "Don't want my fighting arm affected. Where is that damn tongue?"
Again, he felt something muscular and slender within his grasp. This time he grabbed and held it. The 'Chameleon', not liking the contact was shaking its head. In response, Zaraki tugged on it, hard and the mouth shot open. The pressure being exerted by Abarai and Madarame on trying to pull Akon had the effect of pulling him out of the mouth at high speed and all three of them fell in a heap on the ground some distance from the Hollow.
This placed Zaraki in an interesting position. If he let go of the tongue would he end up in the Hollow's mouth or would it try to blend into the background and attack someone else.
"Lebbb gooo obbb myyy oooongueeee," he thought it said.
"Not bloody likely. You'll try and swallow me," was his reply.
The 'Chameleon said something else, which he interpreted as: "It makes it hard to talk."
"And even harder to swallow," Zaraki laughed. "Give me a reason and I'll pull it out."
He head jerked backwards at his words and he almost lost his grip and his footing. Due to his quick reflexes, he managed to stay upright and retain his hold. "Bad move," he told the creature. Then it shook its head and he found he was off his feet and the jaws of the Chameleon clamped down hard on his arm as the teeth ground down. It hurt and in response, he jerked the tongue harder. "Bad idea. Trying to bite my arm just irritates me."
The teeth were withdrawn but the pressure of the jaw remained.
"What do you want us to do, Captain? We don't want to make you lose your arm," Abarai said, his voice higher than normal, possibly due to excitement.
"Let go of Ken-Chan's arm, you bully," Yachiru said. Her unexpected arrival made Zaraki try to turn to look at her and noticing the momentary lapse in concentration, the Hollow again swung its head, trying to make Zaraki release his hold of his tongue.
Yachiru, in response, slapped its nose hard with the flat of her hand. "Stop that! You aren't playing fair and you tried to swallow the Clown Captains' helper for no good reason. Why didn't you try to swallow Clownie instead? He was the one who made you like this."
"Why are we talking again?" Zaraki wondered. He found his feet and then kicked out hard, trying to strike the chameleon in the stomach. His leg was not long enough but Yachiru must have noticed because she darted under the creature calling out, "Hey Crimson Kamikaze and Baldy, punch it in the stomach."
He couldn't see what was happening but the mouth of the Chameleon opened and he felt a wave of moisture pass his arm. Fearful of what it might be he released the tongue and saw the Chameleon had indeed vomited due to the unwelcome attention paid to its stomach.
Looking around he saw what looked like a sink and ran to wash to coating of mucus and other substances off his arm, hoping the Hollow wouldn't take this chance to disappear. Akon, now able to walk followed him there and began to wash to secretions of the creature off the affected parts of his body and clothes.
He heard Yachiru talking to it as he washed. "You're lucky Ken-chan is nice..." She paused and then he heard her exclaim, "What's wrong. Aren't you feeling well? A few seconds later he heard a loud thump and Yachiru asked, "Why have you fallen over?" She then demanded, "Captain Clown, what's wrong with it? Why can I see it clearly now? Why has it stopped moving?"
"It's dead," Madarame said in answer.
"I think it swallowed it's tongue when the Captain let go," Akon was heard to say softly. He was observing some white blisters on his feet. "It is possible the saliva contained a potent stomach acid and I will need to neutralise this as soon as possible. He pulled a salve from his sleeve, applied to his exposed skin and then rubbed some on Zaraki's arm without asking permission.
The unexpected contact was unwelcome, but aside from his initial jerking away, he permitted it to happen. He didn't want blisters and who knew what was in the stomach of the creature.
"It is dead and therefore of no interest to me," Kurotsuchi declared. "Learning how it died will not provide me with any relevant discovery."
"There is more to life than your research."
Zaraki wondered who had spoken. Obviously it must be the Captain Commander, but he was astounded to realise Akon was the one who had spoken the words.
The shocked looked on Kurotsuchi's face mirrored his astonishment and Zaraki wondered what new problems would be faced especially as the scorpions sting dangled menacingly over the head of the 'scientist'.
This chapter is not meant to condone suicide. Suicide is a step, which not only ends the life of the person, but can also affect friends, family, acquaintances and the people who have to deal with the other details. If you are ever in a position where you are contemplating taking this action, please talk to someone. You are not alone or the only person who has these thoughts. Many countries have telephone counselling services where people will listen to you talk and give you space to explore your feelings or you can talk to family, medical professionals or friends.
Thank you to those people who read and review.