Tite Kubo owns Bleach. I borrowed the characters and make no money from this work.
How do you solve a problem like ... Piecrust?
The return was swift as the Old Man led the way. As they went through the door, Shinigami from Fourth Division arrived, carrying a variety of bundles, which Zaraki glanced at but did not investigate or even contemplate what they might contain. Maybe Yamamoto had waited until he heard their approach before he decided to leave; it was a coincidence or some other reason, but it didn't matter. Zaraki was pleased to leave the place and grudgingly grateful he would not need to return. The events which had occurred there had altered too many things and for now he didn't want to be reminded of change. If he thought about it too much he might begin to question the way things were and why events had advanced the way they did. Thinking that way would give him a headache and probably the vulture would see it as an invitation to make her normal complaining comments. No one needed that.
Following the others, he firmly put any thoughts of his conversation with Atonomatsuri from his mind. Pah! Who wanted to think about emotions or stupid decaying vultures who knew more about complaining than listening? Instead he looked around, trying to see if any of the places they passed brought a sense of recognition. While he knew his sense of direction caused amusement amongst a number of people, even he sensed the path they took was faster and possibly more direct. Had Kurotsuchi tried to lead them they wrong way for some reason or to delay arriving? If so, why? Did he believe in magical thinking and the problem would be removed when they arrived. Yamamoto must have known they were being misdirected. Why hadn't Yamamoto corrected his subordinate?
Had the Clown Captain sent someone ahead to fix things? It seemed unlikely as he was very reluctant to allow anyone to accompany him and it seemed only Akon knew of the experiments and location. It was hard to work out his motives. He had disclosed the problem and knew there would be an investigation of some kind. Trying to conceal something, as he had, would bring only ire from the Captain-General. The Old Man being the way he was, might probably decide he had to investigate.
Zaraki shook his head strongly as if trying to shake out the thoughts. Why was he even thinking this way? He didn't understand Kurosutchi. If he didn't understand the man he couldn't understand the motive, the thinking, the actions or beliefs. Thinking this way was a waste of letting his mind idly review matters which interested him or, even better, not thinking at all.
Arriving at the entrance, the Old Man dismissed everyone with some speech to which Zaraki did not bother to listen and he was prepared to follow the rest but stopped when his commanding officer signalled for him to wait. Yachiru looked as if she was preparing to remain but a small motion of Yamamoto's head indicated to her that she was also required to leave. A small, mutinous look crossed her face but she left, constantly looking back over her shoulder as her zanpakuto trailed behind, the little wheels attached to the bottom, turning without noise. She quickly tired of this and jumped onto Madarame's shoulders and grabbing his ears, attempted to steer him in the direction she wished to go. Zaraki heard his subordinates arguing, one complaining he was not an animal for her to ride and the other telling him he had far too much to say for an animal.
Yamamoto waited until everyone appeared to be out of hearing range before he spoke. "As you may guess, this ends the challenges and you are freed of further obligations in this instance. Whether Kurotsuchi lives or dies is the only thing which will determine if he stands trial. His insubordination is proven by his apparent refusal follow my orders. As to whether he is guilty of treason? In this case, it matters little. He will never take my position and if he has the misfortune to survive and recover from his wounds, there is little doubt he will remain in the Maggot's Nest for as long as he exists on this plane of being."
Zaraki wondered at the sentence being passed before the trial, but simply nodded. This news was good for him. No more challenges, which meant he could return to his normal existence. He almost smiled at the thought of long afternoon naps and trying to find someone worthy enough to fight him, but before he could indulge in more than a momentary fantasy, Yamamoto spoiled it for him.
"You will continue to train, what is it you call him? Pieplate?"
Zaraki's pleasant and tentative plans for his return to a pleasant routine died before they could be given substance. He felt a wave of regret course through him, but instead of grieving, coughed and corrected Yammomoto, "Piecrust. Look, sir, he is not a good fit for Eleventh Division. I don't care if his father was the dog I killed. The man has no aptitude for fighting..."
The Old Man turned his gaze on him and the words died on Zaraki's tongue. "I would remind you what happens to people who do not follow my orders."
Zaraki sighed and scrubbed at his face with his hands, trying to rub the unpleasant truth away. "How do you teach someone who cannot and will not learn?" not expecting a helpful answer. The only helpful answer would be if Piecrust were moved to another Division.
"You keep trying; using different methods and techniques," was the reply. There was little patience in the words or the voice, and that was a warning which few people chose to ignore. "If one does not work, try the same thing a different way a few days later. Deprive him of food and rest but make him work."
Despite himself, Zaraki shook his head. He knew he was making a mistake, but he didn't care. He was tired and wanted to be rid of a person who offered nothing but trouble and dissent. After his foolish intrusion into the female bathhouse, Piecrust might have learnt some sense but he appeared to be unaware of all the unspoken laws and customs he had flouted and broken. Zaraki wanted to raise this matter and say more but instead contented himself with saying: "Some people can't learn certain skills. Trying to teach them is futile."
There was a short silence. Zaraki hoped the Old Man would relent. Neither Madarame or Ayasegawa deserved the punishment of training Piecrust. If he was to be a good Captain that meant...
"I don't want to train him either," Atonomatsuri told him loudly, breaking into his thoughts. "If you train him it means I have to help and I refuse."
Before he could address her words Captain Yamamoto spoke, with what sounded like a tinge of regret. "If not a sword, a bow. If not a bow, a knife. If not a knife, a spear and so on. Each weapon requires a different muscle co-ordination, thought process and skill set. If he can at least defend himself while he escapes it is better than if he fails to fight and dies."
"Eleventh Division do not use bows," was Zaraki's short answer.
In spite of himself he felt insulted. Bows? The weapon of the Quincy and one which disgusted him. Standing far away and shooting at a person like they were a target? Where was the fun in that? How could anyone receive satisfaction from shooting pieces of sharpened wood from a long distance? There was none of the shuddering contact which reverberated through the body when a blow landed. Could a archer feel bloodlust or even pride in what they did? Did they feel any satisfaction when they took a person's life in such a cowardly manner without the target being aware they were under threat? When they had no chance to avoid or defend themselves against a swiftly flying stick?
Archers felt they were too good for the close contact of hand to hand fighting. It was true he'd seen some archers who also used short swords or knives if the combat became closer but even then they seemed to be removed, as if they didn't enjoy the exercise, the contact and potential blood loss. The thrill of battle was lost on them.
Fighting was an intimate activity where you actively tried to hurt or maim a person in close proximity while keeping your own wounds to a minimum. If you got cut, then that was a badge of pride or a warning you were being sloppy and not fighting at your best. Maybe he had a few minor wounds from fighting with the so-called 'Super Hollows' but they would heal quickly. Archers were weakened if one of the arms was broken or they ran out of arrows. It took time to shape the stick and attach the points. He despised archery and even crossbows were weapons he did not wish to wield.
Bows and arrows? Next the Old Man might suggest Piecrust learnt Kido. Kido in Eleventh Division was not an idea he wanted to entertain, unless it was with mockery and derision. He'd built his Division around the premise that Kido was used by people who couldn't fight face to face or even shoot arrows. In other words someone he held in more contempt than archers.
The Old Man was speaking again so he dragged his attention away from his disgusted thoughts of bows, arrows, crossbows and Kido. "Eleventh Division should be skilled in all forms of fighting. I had planned to mention this to you previously; archers can prove instrumental to victory in a full scale battle. You need to see past single combats and hand to hand fighting, Captain Zaraki. We will be in a war and we need to fight as a unit, not a collection of individuals, unless you mean to re-write the way warfare normally takes place. I am sure Sun Tzu would be interested in your new methods of fighting multiple enemies."
"Don't answer angrily," Atonomatsuri warned him. "He has a point and you know it."
He shut his mouth which he had been on the point of opening and arguing with Yamamoto. Life was supposed to return to normal but now it seemed he had to make even more changes. Change was beginning to grate on him and the thought of further changes and ones which affected the way he ran his Division, irked him beyond the point he could remain calm. "He has a point? So? A pencil has a point but I don't take advice from graphite and wood."
"He is your commanding officer. You want to keep your Division and your head, don't you?"
Taking a deep breath, he exhaled slowly. "I don't have any archers. I don't have bows and arrows. I have men who can fight in close combat..."
"But your command could be so much more. If Eleventh Division is meant to be the fighting unit of the Seireitei then it should contain all manner of fighters. Archers, those skilled with knives, crossbow, martial arts, all manner of weapons and unarmed fighting. Not everyone has your strength or ability, Captain Zaraki. There may even be a purpose in training some of your subordinates in stealth tactics. You will need to speak to the Second Division regarding that type of training. Also, there are few women in your Division which I believe is an oversight. You will come to my office tomorrow, when I send for you, and I will outline my expectations. This will provide you with an opportunity to devise the initial plan for training Pie... I mean Yuki Hisutanga." The man stared at him for a few minutes and then turned away. "There is no point in arguing with me, Captain. I rule the Seireitei and with the potential loss of another Captain, effective changes need to be made. My Captains must be reliable and follow direct orders."
As the commanding officer began to walk toward his office, or so Zaraki suspected, he did not look back. He had spoken, explained his reasoning and now left, expecting obedience to his demands. Why would he expect anything but obedience?
Except, in view of recent events, his expectations had not been met.
It took a great amount of internal strength, but Zaraki managed to keep his anger under some semblance of control until he thought Yamamoto was out of earshot. When he was nearly certain that no one would overhear, he released a barrage of words which might have been offensive to various life forms, planets, small furry creatures, politicians, philosophers, rocks, belief systems, larch trees, assorted inanimate objects and certain food items if they had been listening, or could hear and understand. If any of the aforementioned groups had been listening, all of them would have been offended.
As his voice tired from the invective, Zaraki became aware he was not alone.
"Ken-chan, you'll have to explain some of those words to me," requested Yachiru. She looked at him with great amusement, obviously not offended as she knew none of the words were meant for her. "I've never heard anyone called an 'androgynous haemophiliac with ..."
"I know what I said, Yachiru. You don't have to repeat it."
"Is it bad to be a haemophiliac?" she asked innocently.
The question made him laugh and then sigh almost in the same breath. "Bloody terrible." He ignored the loud groan from Atonomatsuri.
She smiled at him and then her face turned pensive. "Who is going to train Piecrust? I heard the Old Man say we had to do something with him and it seems he means some form of martial training," Yachiru seemed concerned. She has previously expressed her dislike of the man and there was little he could say to her as he shared her negative feelings toward him.
Zaraki briefly wondered how she had managed to overhear. She'd given every indication of obeying the commander and moving out of hearing range but past experience reminded him if Yachiru wanted to overhear a conversation, it was very difficult to prevent.
"Do you want to train him?" the words were out of his mouth before he could stop them. "You can use any method you like." Remembering the fear in Piecrusts' eyes when he'd looked at Yachiru after the bath house incident, he realised this might be a solution to a seemingly insolvable puzzle.
Yachiru shook her head, vehemently, but then frowned. "Train him? Me?"
"Yes." Maybe she could. If she did, then it meant he could supervise, from a suitable distance and possibly while lying down with his eyes closed after drinking a bottle of sake.
Atonomatsuri burst out, "I don't think that is a good idea, Kenny. He might contract Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes if she insists he follows her diet and exercise regime."
"Not your business, bird. He won't listen to anyone..." he began to remonstrate.
"If he won't listen to you, why would he listen to Yachiru...," the bird paused, as if thinking. "He's scared of her after she er.. disciplined him?"
"Yeah. Fear is not always the best motivator, but it can work. Anyway, if he complains no one will believe that he is scared of her. She's his superior officer and most people judge by appearances," Zaraki told her, realising that it might work, if people continued to underestimate Yachiru, at they often did.
While he was distracted by talking to the bird, Yachiru had stood still, a frown deeply etched on her forehead and her bottom lip firmly clamped by her top teeth. Her eyes flickered from place to place as she thought and he saw her shrug once and then shake her head.
"But, what will she teach him?" Atonomatsuri enquired with interest. "What can anyone teach him?"
"Her method of battle is different each time she fights," Zaraki said reflectively. "Unlike most Shinigami, she doesn't rely on her zanpakuto, or kido, but seems to use instinct to select the weak points of her opponent."
"I don't know, Ken-chan. Others have tried to teach him. You've even tried," he heard Yachiru say. Her forehead no longer bore the wrinkles of a frown. "Baldy said he'd never try to teach him again unless it was how to hold his breath under water for a day. Pretty Boy laughed when he said that and said he'd be prepared to explain how to , as long as he didn't have to demonstrate."
Zaraki was curious. She had not dismissed the idea completely and this gave him some hope. "Will bribery help?" he asked, eager to find out if she would succumb to her addiction to sweets.
"Do you mean lollies?" she asked swiftly.
"As many as I... I mean, you can carry," he offered, hoping she wouldn't notice the change. If he had to carry her purchases, he couldn't begin to estimate how much she would buy. She might even hang baskets from his shoulders and fit up a harness so he could pull a wagon behind. Quickly he blocked these thoughts from his mind. Yachiru wouldn't make him into her pack mule, would she?
"I can carry you, Ken-chan," she reminded him with a small smile.
Trying to stifle a groan he realised he too had fallen into the trap of underestimating her abilities and she had noticed. "Yachiru, there is more to life than lollies..."
Her eyes flashed with anger at his words. "There is more to life than fighting. Are you prepared to give up fighting and follow the aesthetic path?"
What was she trying to say? Was she equating her enjoyment of sweet things with his need for fighting? Fighting was more than a pleasant indulgence. She couldn't be even hinting at that. She was wrong, she had to be wrong. Fighting was not an indulgence. He was there to fight Hollows to protect those who could not protect themselves and if he had to fight, he may as well learn to enjoy it.
As if on cue he heard the bird laughing, the sound raucous and almost triumphant. "Defeated with words instead of actions. Who thought the great Kenpachi would be confounded by his Assistant Captain simply pointing out a matter of perspective? You fought everyone you met long before you became a Shinigami, not through need. You do not need to fight to survive. If you wish to retain your position, fighting is essential, but not the core of your existence."
"You're wrong, 'Suri," he began and then tried to think of a strong refutation. "If someone wants to challenge me to be the next Kenpachi, I have to fight," he said, then realised he had spoken aloud.
Yachiru's face scrunched up as she glared at him. "It is rude to have two conversations at once. I said there is more to life than fighting and you mention something we both know. Even Atonomatsuri knows how you can be replaced. But it's not an answer. Why is your love of fighting more important than my love of lollies?"
He waited for the bird to make a comment, but she was silent. Once again he was forced to try to think of a response which might deflect the question, but previous experience with Yachiru indicated he might have to either bribe her, which probably wouldn't work given what they were talking about, change the subject, which would also not work, or answer her properly.
"Fighting is the first thing I remember," he finally answered. "Until I met you there was nothing in my life but fighting. Fighting was my reason for existing." He stopped, trying to think of a way of impressing the influence of his earliest memories and way of life before he met her, but she cut in.
"You fed me sweets, within a short time of meeting. That is my earliest memory. The taste of sweetness in my mouth and the feeling that I was finally safe."
He'd forgotten that part of their meeting. She'd been so young and he'd kept some konpetio he'd taken from a body in a previous fight to restore his energy when needed. He'd given the sweets to the strange child he'd met who swallowed them happily and continued smiling at him. That smile had woken him from his blood drenched dreams and forced a change in his life. If he had not met her he would probably still be searching blindly for a worthy opponent, not that he met many. He would not have become a captain or had a division to run. If his path had not been altered he did not know if he would still be that blind beast who only felt something when it was fightinng.
At the same time he was not blind to the parts of being a captain that he loathed.
But it was better than having no real purpose and aimlessly killing people he met for no reason. At least the people he now killed needed to be killed, or so he was told.
"You're safe, kid. As long as you are with me you are relatively safe," he tried to reassure her.
"Kenny, Yachiru is no relative to you, so how can she be relatively safe," the bird quipped, her voice full of amusement.
So now she was trying word play? Did she think it might be better than the normal snarky attacks she used to get his attention, or was there something deeper than the silly words? For a brief time he considered replying to her but instead listened to his second in command.
"I know I am safe, Ken-chan. I've always felt safe with you 'cause you'd never let anyone hurt me. But I don't feel safe around Piecrust..."
Interrupting he tried to express the concern he felt at her words without trying to alarm her. "Has he tried anything, like when he invaded the changing room in the bathhouse?" He had tried to moderate his voice but it came out much louder than he anticipated and he took a deep breath.
Instead of showing alarm or mirroring his concern, Yoruichi laughed. "No. Don't be silly, Ken-chan. You don't have to perform surgery on his limbs. What I meant was I don't feel he's safe around me. How can I explain it?" She bit her lip thoughtfully and seemed lost in though. He waited, curious as to what she could mean.
"Most of our recruits don't seem to care if they get hurt. They take it and use it as a way to learn from their mistakes. He doesn't learn. If I train him I might hurt him because I don't listen to him. He complains if it is a slight nudge or something which might leave a bruise. How can I gauge his pain or wounds if he whines at the slightest pain?"
She had explained what she meant very well and he found he was nodding in agreement.
"If I don't listen and continue training him and he dies, the Old Man will be unhappy with me," she said reluctantly.
"Yeah. We were well and truly damned by his decision to join our Division," he said as he tried to examine her words and work out a solution.
"How can two such high ranking officers be so dense? Why not run a controlled experiment with the idiot?" Atonomatsuri asked.
What did she mean by a controlled experiment? He asked, expecting sarcasm and criticism, "What controlled experiment? I don't want to use chemicals and putrid dishes."
"You mean Petri dishes, I think. No chemicals are needed. It is so simple. Get Madarame and Ayasegawa to vary the type of pain they inflict on Piecrust and measure the level of noise. It will hurt the creature, but it will also give you a valuable guide to how he expresses his pain. If he starts writing poetry about his pain, it probably is not a wound to his body that will kill him. If he screams and begs for death, it might indicate he is badly hurt, or not," was the explanation offered by the bird.
Without thinking about it much, Zaraki explained what the bird had said to Yoruichi, even telling her that it was a suggestion from Atonomatsuri.
She frowned for a moment, as if confused with the suggestion and then a wicked smile crossed her face. "Baldy and Pretty Boy might like the idea. Let me talk to them and we'll try and work something out."
Zaraki nodded as his assistant captain skipped away. She seemed happy, there was one possible solution to a definite problem but he still had a number to solve.
Did life, or afterlife, ever become easier?
Sorry for the extended delay. No excuses because they are excuses and too many excuses are being offered for terrible decisions and planned bad behaviour currently.
Thank you for reading. Please review.