Title: Set Apart
Universe: Bleach
Rating: PG-13 for language
Pairing/Character/s: Iba, Komamura, Shuuhei, Ikkaku, Yumichika, Kenpachi, Yachiru, Renji, Byakuya (lightly ShuuheixYumichika)
Word Count: 1,739
Time: 2 hours approx?
Warning/s: Spoilers for the SS arc.
Summary: What sets the eleventh division apart. OOC and sap.
Dedication: sophiap- it was great talking to you again after all that time. YOU EASE THE LONELINES. XD
A/N: Started as a kind of abstract drabble idea and then promptly ran in the other direction thumbing it's nose at me. I think you can tell when you read it. XD;;
Disclaimer: Not mine- I'm not that creative.
Distribution: Just lemme know.

Tousen's absence left many holes in the lives of the people who were important to Iba. His best friend, who lost a captain, also lost his ideals, and for a long while didn't know what to think.

Iba's captain, who lost a best friend, also lost his faith, and for a long while didn't know what to believe.

"He taught me what to fight for," Shuuhei admitted one night at the bar, in a naked moment of bitterness. "And then I found out I couldn't even do that because I was beaten, and then I found out I was doing it all for nothing."

"He taught me that looks didn't determine a man," Komamura sighed one day atop the hill he'd shared with Tousen, in a naked moment of longing. "And then I found out that neither did beliefs. Am I beast then, after all? Are we all?"

Iba didn't know how to help them because he'd never been told what to fight for before—just to fight. He'd never been told what to believe either—that had never seemed important.

He wondered for a while, what was so different about him and Shuuhei and Komamura that he seemed to have come out of this the one unscathed. Maybe it was because he wasn't as close to Tousen, though he'd respected the man very much. But even still, it didn't seem as simple as that.

He thought at the very least, he should be more concerned with how easily the shinigami had been infiltrated by sinister forces.

But he wasn't. Not really anyway. He wondered why.

"It's obvious, isn't it?" Yumichika twittered, while everyone hung out and recouped from their injuries.

"It is?" Renji asked.

"No, it's not. Yumi's just bein' a bastard," Ikkaku assured the redhead.

Iba stared at them all. "I'm serious! I need to help those two. Why are they all messed up? Why are we okay? Doesn't it fuckin' bother you guys?"

"Not really," they said.

He scowled.

Yumi winked at him. "It's just how the eleventh is."

No wonder the eleventh division was never taken seriously.

He paused at that. Blinked.

Yumichika smiled at him, sweetly.

"Oh," he said. "Oh."

Iba realized that if Shuuhei had had a captain that taught him what to fight for, the difference between them was that Iba hadn't. He'd just had a captain who'd made him fight—he'd found his own reasons to somewhere in the chaos because he'd had to. Proof of that was that he was still alive.

And if Komamura had had a friend who'd taught him what made a man, Iba hadn't. Once, long ago, he'd just had a captain who'd been his own man and made Iba find a definition for himself somewhere in the silence. Proof of that lay in the fact that he and the three friends he'd met under that one same captain had all turned out to be radically different types of men.

And if Shuuhei and Komamura had had a leader and a comrade lost to them respectively, Iba had always had family, even as far removed as he'd become from it.

Proof of that lay in the fact that as he was having his big epiphany, Ikkaku and Renji were having a contest to see who could throw the most decapitated dandelion heads down the front of his gi before he noticed.

He stood abruptly. "I gotta go." He turned and jogged off.

"Division dinner on Saturday!" Yumichika reminded him with a casual wave.

"Yeah," he called back. "Set two extra places!"

"Set them yourself, asshole!" Ikkaku shouted after him.

Iba left.

Come Saturday he dragged a reluctant Komamura and a self-conscious Hisagi to the eleventh division headquarters. Each was holding a pie.

"Why are we here? We're not part of the division," Shuuhei griped, and seemed to be looking around like someone was going to jump out at him and kick his ass (again) any second now.

"You're not part of the division anymore either," Komamura reminded him, looking a mixture of puzzled and maybe hurt.

"But we've always been family," Iba said, like that explained something. He didn't know if it did, it was all he could think to say. Embarrassed, he pushed through the doors without another word.

Shuuhei and Komamura shared a look but followed—neither knew what to expect on the other side of the gates.

"I'll fuckin' kill you!!" was what greeted them first, and they both instinctively went for their swords but were left rather embarrassed when said threat was immediately followed by the distinctly disarming sound of girlish laughter.

"But now baldie's got two faces on his head! You can see behind you and in front all at the same time!"

"Wash it off! I mean it, Yachiru, wash it the fuck off now!"

"Boo wash yourself!"

"He's not very good at that, fukutaichou, as you can smell."

"Shut the hell up, Yumi!"

Shuuhei and Komamura blinked.

The rest of the eleventh realized they had guests.

Iba fidgeted. "Er, guys?"

Renji sniggered. "When you said to set extra places I thought you were bringin' dates!" he whooped. "Er, no offense, Komamura-taichou, sir."

Komamura stared. "Um. None taken."

"Dinner's on in five!" Ikkaku announced.

"Everyone please wash your hands!" Yumichika added. "Those with dirt still under their fingernails will be in charge of administering fukutaichou's after-dessert clean up!"

Everyone ran to wash their hands.

Zaraki idled out of the porch to his office a moment later, beer clutched in hand. He blinked blearily and noticed giant Komamura and shell-shocked Hisagi. "You two here for dinner?"

"We brought pie…" Shuuhei said, lamely.

Kenpachi grunted. "Sweet. Go wash your goddamned hands."

The newcomers looked at one another. "Okay."

They washed up automatically, probably too surprised to do anything but as they were told.

After they did, Yumichika grabbed Shuuhei's arm. "This way, fukutaichou," he said in low tones, and led the vice-captain away with glittering eyes.

Shuuhei swallowed and followed. "…okay." One last helpless look was thrown over his shoulder at Komamura.

The fox would have moved to assist, but then he was being tugged off himself, in the opposite direction with surprising force.

"I wanna eat with the big puppy man!" Yachiru declared, and no one thwarted her.

"Puppy man?" Komamura echoed, dumbly.

He was dragged to Kenpachi's end of the table.

Dinner was served, and Komamura and Shuuhei watched—dumbfounded—as eleventh division shinigami piled around and ate in organized frenzy. Amidst it all they stared as Renji picked the onions out of his food and slipped them onto Ikkaku's plate when the third chair wasn't looking (because he was too busy slipping peas onto someone else's plate). And they watched as Kenpachi made Yachiru eat all her vegetables before she was allowed any pie, though he was magnanimous enough to let her eat extra spinach in lieu of the carrots she hated. Both noticed the fact that there were thirty extra places set at the table—empty and not mourned, but acknowledged all the same. Looking at them, Komamura suddenly remembered the death report for the eleventh division after the ryoka invasion and Aizen's treachery. All the sake cups at those places were filled to the brim.

Everyone smiled and talked and laughed and cursed like those places were occupied anyway.

A fight over who got to take the wishbone broke out towards the end of the meal, and escalated to name-calling and then an arm-wrestling competition until Yumichika declared—very sweetly-- that he wanted it this week. The competition was dissolved almost instantaneously and the prize was graciously offered to him by the former participants, now all smiles and good manners.

Yumi beamed back and insisted Shuuhei be his partner. The grasped either end and pulled together, Shuuhei unable to look away from that smile while Yumichika congratulated the vice-captain on his fabulous luck when he ended up—somehow-- winning. The ninth division shinigami got to close his eyes and make a wish a few minutes later.

Komamura—out of his element—unknowingly promised Yachiru a rousing game of tag before her bedtime. Kenpachi snorted beer when he did and admitted that at least fox-boy seemed to have some brass ones.

Komamura didn't know what that had to do with a game of tag, but his instinct told him that maybe he was in for more than he'd initially anticipated.

Yachiru, all anticipation, glowed at the big captain and climbed up on his shoulder to eat her pie. She got berry juice in his fur.

Shuuhei eventually managed to get comfortable enough to smile shyly back at Yumichika once or twice that night, and approximately six eleventh division Saturday dinners from his first, found his own reason to fight in those eyes.

Komamura played tag with Yachiru once a week every Saturday afternoon and made a friend who didn't look at what he was and make him feel as if he had to prove his humanity, but who acknowledged what he was and didn't let it make a single difference anyway. She loved his tail.

Kenpachi occasionally grumped about having become the gotei-13's babysitter, but liked the pie enough that it was fine either way.

A few weeks after Iba brought Shuuhei and Komamura to dinner Renji got the brilliant idea to drag Kuchiki Byakuya along too. He brought some expensive sake though, so it was all good. Yachiru adored his hair curlers.

Everyone was made to wash their hands before eating and learned from the empty place settings that inevitably graced the table each week, that for men who could die today or tomorrow or the next day, there were things more precious than ideals or beliefs or even faith, things that could actually be grasped with one's two hands, that could be heard, seen, tasted, touched, laughed at, threatened, made fun of, or eaten with pie and warm tea during raucous backyard barbeques on Saturday evenings.

Iba wasn't sure if that clarified anything for his best friend and new captain, but it was all he could think of to explain it. This was what set them apart, maybe—what kept them from crying about yesterday and living in today and then moving on to tomorrow without a backwards glance.

This was why the eleventh division was never taken seriously and why, in the end, it was always okay.

No matter what happened, they were always okay.