Title: For the Children
Universe: Bleach
Theme/Topic: Yachiru's strength
Rating: PG-13
Character/Pairing/s: Kenpachi, Yachiru, Byakuya
Warnings/Spoilers: Slight spoilers for Byakuya's backstory, Kenpachi and Yachiru's backstory, and the SS arc.
Word Count: 4,077
Summary: Byakuya's rude awakening.
Dedication: for sophiap's birthday fic! Man, I was going back and forth between this and the other request, but for some reason, ONE line for this one got ingrained in my head and there was no looking back after that.
I don't know if it even makes sense. XD;;
Disclaimer: Not mine, though I wish constantly.
Distribution: Just lemme know.

Kuchiki Byakuya may or may not have already harbored a marginal sense of distaste for the eleventh division when he entered its grounds today, but considered himself magnanimous enough to be able to ignore his prejudices in light of more important matters, ones he felt needed to be dealt with post-haste. Just because Renji still had the appalling habit of occasionally slipping up with a "we" rather than the appropriate "they" when the redhead was referring to his old division wasn't enough of a reason to make Byakuya bitter, after all.

Besides, what he was here for was far more pressing a matter than whatever misplaced loyalty Abarai had for this place: a child's future was at stake.

After spending some time with Kusajishi Yachiru (apparently someone had put it in her head that he would be more than willing to fund whatever food cravings she had if only she asked and asked and asked and asked), he'd eventually come to the conclusion—based on some of the things she told him during those outings— that the eleventh division was no place for a little girl to grow up (properly) in, no matter how many ways you threw it. And while she already lacked the basic manners and social graces any normal girl her age should have, Byakuya felt that if this matter was dealt with in a timely manner, all of the more distasteful habits she'd picked up from Zaraki and his hooligans over the years could be easily set to rights. All she needed was some proper discipline and a good environment to grow up in. He still had great hope that Yachiru could be molded into a functional member of polite society.

The battlefield was no place for a child after all, and Kuchiki was certain that with the aid of one of his household's illustrious tutors, Yachiru's behavior could be corrected, such that she could enjoy what remained of her childhood as a real little girl, and not some soldier of fortune thrust into one ridiculous situation after another at Zaraki's brash, often thoughtless commands.

And if—after she was of age— she still wished to be a shinigami, she could enroll in the academy, go through the proper procedures, and be picked up by a respectable division with a respectable leader sometime in the future, like everybody else did. By the book.

Thus Kuchiki Byakuya found himself at Zaraki's office door today, here to confront the larger captain about how selfishly and thoughtlessly he was destroying this young girl's youth. The sixth division captain was ready to fight if need be, for the right to take Yachiru away from this place.

He knocked on the door.

"Whad'ya want?"

He entered.

And instead of being faced with Zaraki alone in his office like he'd expected, there he was faced with the very object of the discussion as well—Kusajishi Yachiru tugging on Kenpachi's hair and begging to be taken outside for some play.

"Go play by yourself, ya great brat. Ain't nobody here who wants to waste time with you doin' stupid ass shit when we all already got our own stupid ass shit to do."

She pouted. "Ken-chan I'm bored!"

Byakuya cleared his throat.

Kenpachi's one eye roved up to stare at him. "The hell do you want?"

"Byakushi!" Yachiru bounced, and bounded down off of Zaraki's shoulder like an excited puppy, looking at him from the eleventh division captain's desk with a bright smile. "Hiya!"

"Hello," Byakuya greeted politely, before turning to Kenpachi. "Zaraki, there's a matter of importance I wish to discuss for you."

"And yesterday I wished for a giant squid monster with a rainbow heart tattoo across its head that read "I love my mama" to appear outta this big black hole in the sky so it could eat up all my paperwork. Too bad we don't all get what we wish for."

Byakuya raised an eyebrow.

Yachiru laughed. "That's silly! Why a rainbow heart, Ken-chan?"

He scowled at her. "Would you get the hell outta here already? I already said I ain't playin' with you!"

She pouted and poked his arm. "Meanie."

"Yeah, go find some nicer friends, pain in my ass."

Byakuya was appalled. "Zaraki," he began again, this time with less patience than before, "we will discuss this issue now."

Kenpachi actually paused then, looked up at the sixth division captain with a smirk. "Damn, hime, you weren't so sparkly pretty like that I might actually get scared when you take that tone with me."

"Byakushi's not scary! He's like a flower!" Yachiru breathed. "Smells like perfume!"

Byakuya blinked. "Er… Yachiru, would you please excuse us for a moment?" he asked, and used his best adult tone of voice.

"Sure!" she said, brightly. "But I would'ta noticed that you farted if you just hadn't said nothin', Byakushi," she told him. "You're 'scused."

Zaraki snorted at her. "Knew I kept you around for a reason."

She grinned. "'Cuz you like me!"

"I like you when you leave me the fuck alone. Now get outta here." Pause. "Think it's Makizou's turn to clean the dojo today, maybe if you hurry, you can catch the dumbass before he leaves and throw him around some in there."

Yachiru pondered this for a moment. And then, "Okay!"

Byakuya was sick of being ignored.

"Later, Byakushi!" Yachiru called as she bound past him out the door. "Let's go get yakiniku later! Yum!"

The sixth division captain sighed as he watched her run off, before closing Zaraki's office door behind him.

The sound alerted the bigger captain, and he turned to regard his peer again, a bit surprised. "What, you still here?"

Byakuya didn't let himself get angry because that would be stooping to Zaraki's level. Instead he strode forward—imperiously—and took a seat opposite the other man. "The matter I wish to speak to you about has to do with Yachiru…"

Zaraki eyed him up and down, perfect posture and all. "Shit," Kenpachi chortled after a moment, "you can marry her if ya want, but truth be told, I think she'd be a little much for you to handle there, Kuchiki-hime."

Byakuya stared. Then his eyes narrowed, marginally. "I'm here to discuss taking her out of your custody. Beyond yours or your men's influences. She needs the proper care and education a real family can give her—a childhood free of violence."

Zaraki looked back at him, silent for a long moment. "Childhood free of violence, huh? Ain't you a little late for that?"

"At the risk of being cliché- better late than never. She can't live like this. She isn't you or your subordinates. She's a helpless little girl, Zaraki. And while your efforts to protect her thus far have been commendable, she has the opportunity to live differently than you now. Children should be given every opportunity."

"Kids can't live like this, you say? Fuck, you ain't ever spent a day in Rukongai in your life, have ya?" Zaraki said, and grinned in a knowing sort of way at the smaller captain.

Byakuya didn't like the way the other man was looking at him, like he was privy to some great secret the nobleman wasn't, wouldn't ever be. Either way, Byakuya rather thought that that was neither here nor there—the issue at hand was Yachiru's future, not his.

And Zaraki could see that Byakuya didn't get it either, maybe, because after a moment he just grinned and leaned back some, that one eye laughing at the Kuchiki leader rather shamelessly. "Tell you what, princess. You're so keen on looking out for her best interests, why don't you go with her today?"

Byakuya's brow arched slightly. "Go with her?"

"We got dispatch orders for some spot troubles in the northern end of our area of the human world—I was just gonna send Yumichika so he'd stop poking around in the records rooms tryin' to clean that shit up. Fucker always messes with my systems, ya know? But since you're so keen on keepin' Yachiru outta trouble, maybe I think I'm gonna send her—take care of her boredom'n give you the chance to play good Samaritan or "better big brother on the second go around," or whatever it is that's drivin' you right now. How's that?"

The personal attack was just what he'd expected from a common thug like Zaraki, so Byakuya let it slide. "You would send her deliberately into danger just to irritate me? I didn't think you'd sink so low."

Zaraki smirked. "Ain't no gentlemen's rules where I come from, hime-sama. Best you learn that about me—and her—now, before you get in too deep. That badge ain't on her arm just 'cuz she likes shiny pretty things, ya know."

Byakuya glared—frosty. "I refuse to be part of this nonsense."

Zaraki looked unapologetic. "Too bad then, I guess. She's goin' either way. You can go'n play the big man, protect her if you want to. But you leave her to go on her own you ain't any better than me in the end, are ya?"

Byakuya was about to protest that logic (clearly flawed), but before he could, Zaraki turned to holler out the window. "Oi, Yachiru!! Get your annoyin' ass in here for a minute, will ya?"

A second—maybe less—after Zaraki called out, a small pink head appeared in his windowsill. "Yeah, Ken-chan?"

"Got a job for you."

"Aw, but Maki-Maki'n I were just havin' fun!"

"He still conscious?"

A beat. Then a slightly sheepish little girl's, "Maaaybe?"

Kenpachi snorted. "Like I said, got a job for you." He held up a slip of paper with some instructions on it.

"Zaraki…" Byakuya began, protesting again.

He was ignored— again.

"Is it gonna be fun?" Yachiru asked, and craned her neck to peer at the paper in Zaraki's hand.

"Just the kinda fun you like."

Her eyes lit up. "Goodie!"

And then fast enough that Byakuya would have missed it if he wasn't so intent on the pair already, she had the slip in her hands and was back on the windowsill, brow furrowed in concentration as she read it. "Double goodie!" she announced, when she was done. "Thanks, Ken-chan!"

He grunted. "No problem."

And then Yachiru was gone.

It all happened so quickly that the sixth division captain barely had time to let everything register—especially about the part where he'd been essentially, disregarded the whole time— before he realized he'd best give chase. Knowing Kenpachi, the eleventh division captain had sent her into a veritable death trap while promising a good time.

"We'll talk about this later," the sixth division leader tossed over his shoulder coldly, before stepping into shunpo to catch up.

"Remind me to lock my door next time," Zaraki shot back, before Byakuya was gone.

The door shut behind Kuchiki then, and Kenpachi stared at it for a bit after that, before grunting noncommittally to himself and standing. He needed a beer. Knowing Yachiru, she'd be back in a couple of hours, tops, and he ought to get what respite he could while the kid was out.

He thought to himself that he was definitely getting too old for this shit.

In the meantime, Byakuya caught Yachiru just as she stepped through the portal she'd created into the human world, and without hesitating, followed her in after her, intent on chiding her for just running off after being given a task like she had, without forethought or planning as to how she was going to go about rectifying the situation.

Though he supposed—to be fair—she was too young to be put into these types of situations in the first place. That was all Zaraki's fault.

When they stepped through on the other side he expected to find her there—maybe a step or two ahead of him at the very most, but from what he could tell, she was nowhere to be seen. Frowning, he stepped into shunpo again, and headed north, moving to catch up. She couldn't be that far, he could still feel fresh traces of her reiatsu on the path before him.

He could admit that he was impressed with her speed so far—it would serve her well in the future, after graduation from the academy, if she decided to become a shinigami again (of her own free will). The ability to move well was one of the most prized skills gained over the years at the academy, and the fact that she would be this far ahead of her classmates made him really believe that she had a promising future, if only it was left in the right hands.

And then he heard the screams.

Approximately two miles northeast of his current location. Fearing the worst, the sixth division captain increased his speed in the direction of the noise, hand at the hilt of his zanpakutou. Ready, but cautious— always those in combination.

When he came upon the scene— admittedly no longer quite ready, but still rather cautious— he could hardly believe himself.

The grip on the hilt of senbonzakura loosened as he took in the chaos that greeted him, a family of trapped spirits huddled together as a flash of yellow-pink light tore through the skies above, through the two monster creatures that had cornered the group.

He shook himself.

Right. First thing was first.

Byakuya took a deep breath and brought himself to the sides of the frightened ghosts, drawing his sword quickly. They cowered, pleaded, begged him not to hurt them.

"You're safe now," he assured them calmly, and ever efficient, began to perform konsoh as protocol dictated: on the mother first, the children next, the father last. Because if they were separated as they crossed over, that was the safest means for the children, would ensure that they passed into Soul Society close to at least one parent, thus increasing their possibilities of survival in the harsh Rukongai environment they would soon find themselves in.

By the book as always— Kuchiki Byakuya had learned first in the academy, and then in real life, that there were always rules to be followed, that those rules had been put in place for a practical reason.

Yachiru, in the meantime, was anything but by the book.

He turned his attention back to the battle once the last soul had been put to rest, intent on helping, because there was no way Yachiru could hold off the pair of enormous hollows she'd found today—not on her own.

Suddenly, as if in answer to his assumptions, a limb the size of the west wing of the Kuchiki manor— it was presumably an arm, from the looks of things—landed with a wet smack on the ground at his feet. Dark, black blood splattered onto his coat, stained his scarf and face.

He blinked.

And then Yachiru promptly landed on the severed limb, covered head-to-toe in black slime and grinning. "Byakushi! Hi!" she greeted, before picking the limb up and spinning it around experimentally in her deceptively tiny hands. When she found the side she was looking for—that is, the side with the protruding edge of a very sharp-looking bone spur—she turned it towards its original owner and chucked it hard at its already bleeding head.

Byakuya watched as the hollow's face was very effectively cut in half with its own arm. The mask promptly shattered and the creature gave a tremendous wail before falling, writhing as it died and faded away.

She didn't even stop to admire her handiwork before she was bounding off again, this time to the dead hollow's remaining companion—a giant monster with two dangerous looking viper's fangs protruding from the mouth of its mask. It had similar talons tipping the ends of its claws, and roared its outrage at its partner's demise.

It lunged at Yachiru just as she shouted "Hi, wormy!" at it in greeting before its forked tongue darted out and wrapped around her tiny body, quicker than lightning.

That was enough to spur Byakuya into action, except before it could retract its tongue (and thus the little vice-captain) back into its gaping maw, the sixth division captain felt her spiritual energy triple in density, the molecules of reiatsu condensing into a fearsome yellow light all around her small frame—hot enough to burn, and not unlike Zaraki's.

The kind of power that caused an attacker to bleed from trying to hit her. He watched—a little dumbfounded—as the end of that forked tongue melted right off.

The creature screamed—no longer roaring—and swiped at her with its enormous claws. She dodged around one clumsy blow after another, that dark, dense reiatsu still rising up from around her as she laughed happily to herself and took a small breather on the indignant hollow's shoulder. It smacked at her again and opened up a cut on its own wrist in the process. It shrieked and tried to smash its jaws around her and shattered its teeth, including those prized fangs protruding from its mask. Enraged and helpless it shook her off and slithered backwards with lightning quickness—in obvious retreat.

Byakuya probably felt about the same as that hollow—stupefied for lack of better word—and let out the breath he hadn't known he was holding. He stepped forward after he'd regained his senses, feeling relieved that the seemingly impossible was over now, that she'd come out of the fight safely.

He moved then, to do his part. He unsheathed senbonzakura, ready to destroy the remaining hollow now that it was clearly out of the little vice-captain's attack range.

But then she spun around and pitched her zanpakutou at the back of the retreating hollow's head.

It was apparently, a throw with enough force that the sword went straight through the back of the monster's head and was shot out the other side, the blade only stopping once half of its hilt and onwards was protruding from the hollow's right eye socket, the last bit of it still logged inside.

Stunned—and probably in a great amount of pain—the beast temporarily forgot about running and began to shriek, which left just enough time for Yachiru to shoot forward (her shunpo really was flawless), perching herself curiously at the top of its head. She even looked a little disappointed.

"You're just a big 'fraidy cat after all!" she accused the hollow, like somehow, the fact that it had tried to run away just now had ruined her fun. "That's not playin' fair." She rapped on its crown with one small fist.

The monster screamed and batted at its head, clawing itself trying to get her off.

"Boo," she chastised, and then scrambled down to retrieve her zanpakutou. She reached in and dug it out, eliciting more pained cries, before reversing it, and quite efficiently reintroducing it—the right way this time— into the hollow's mask. A two count, and then she slashed down, hard.

The mask severed perfectly down the center in two huge pieces, and the hollow roared angrily as it began to dissolve away.

Byakuya was tempted to avert his eyes—as protocol dictated—but for some reason he couldn't look away from the beast or the small vice-captain that now stood crouched on the ground, wiping its blood from the edge of her sword. She didn't look away either, he noted, not even when the memory of the spirit the hollow had once been was looking plaintively back at her.

"Bye-bye! Next time try harder, 'kay?" she told the ghost, and waved as the man hung his head and faded away with the rest of his dark thoughts.

Byakuya swallowed, watching the last of who that hollow used to be as its spirit was delivered to the great beyond, Kusajishi Yachiru's innocently cryptic words of parting the last things in this world that that soul would ever hear.

And then she sheathed her sword and bounded right back up to the silent sixth division captain, covered head to toe in blood and dirt and looking like she'd just had the time of her life. Like she could still go ten rounds just like that, if only there was someone willing to play with her.

"Byakushi!" she cried, and tugged on his sleeve. "Let's go eat yakiniku now, like you promised!"

He looked down at her, at once feeling helpless and resigned. She beamed back up at him.

"Only once you get cleaned up," he told her, after a long moment of silence.

She cheered. "Yay!! Can Ken-chan come?"

"… if he likes."

He ignored the mess and carried her on his shoulder all the way back to seireitei, before depositing her neatly onto the front steps of the eleventh division headquarters and telling her to run along and get cleaned up quickly so they could go eat.

In the meantime, he headed straight for Zaraki Kenpachi's office.

He didn't bother knocking this time, instead breezed right in and stood face to face with Kenpachi as the larger man sat at his desk, shirking his duties in lieu of sipping beer and fiddling with a Chinese finger trap.

Zaraki looked up when Kuchiki entered, and read his expression right away—laughed at it. "Welcome back, hime-sama. Have fun?" Pause. "Your dress got all dirty."

Byakuya glared. "She acts like it's a game," he said, and didn't know what he was accusing the other man of exactly.

Zaraki simply took a sip of beer, put down the finger trap, and stretched his neck. "Damn right she does. Only thing I ever gave her in her whole life," he said, and the look in his one eye was challenging Byakuya to dare judge him on that.

Byakuya sighed, closing his eyes for a moment and knowing he couldn't, no matter how much he wanted to. "Was it that hard?"

"Out there? The real world? Harder," Zaraki shot back. "Me'n Ikkaku and Yumichika—between the three of us, that was the only thing we could give her so she wouldn't either die or go crazy."

Byakuya swallowed, and turned his gaze downward, feeling cowed for one of the first times in his life. "I see."

Zaraki loved it. "You get it now, princess? It ain't a fairytale world after all, and you can't fix her just by wishin' real hard for her to be a real girl all of a sudden."

Byakuya wanted to be angry—indignant—at the other man's presumptions, but he knew he couldn't. Because then he thought about Hisana— about how she'd abandoned Rukia— and while he'd never been able to understand why she'd done it, he knew also, that it had never been his right to try and understand that world in the first place.

He'd never lived there.

He thought about his sister's long, hard fight to survive as well, thought about how it was difficult for her even now, to smile without wondering how quickly the cause of her joy would be taken away from her. Like she was waiting for it, constantly.

He hadn't been out there. Not a day in his life.

And finally—reluctantly— he thought of three hardened men of Rukongai who were also carrying a helpless little baby girl, and tried to imagine what they possibly could have done for her to try and preserve that smile, if not that innocence.

A game.

They'd created a wonderful game for her.

He sighed at that, and sat down—plopped more like—into the chair across from Zaraki's. "She plays very well," he allowed after a moment, and didn't know what else to say.

Zaraki grinned and reached into the ice bucket under his desk that no one outside of the eleventh division was supposed to know about, picking up another beer. He slid it across his desk to Byakuya. "You think that was good, you should see her when she fights Ikkaku," Kenpachi chuckled, and leaned back in his chair, picking up the finger trap and fiddling with it again.

Byakuya cracked his beer and took a long, slow pull. Wrinkled his nose when the taste hit.

Zaraki snorted, but for once, didn't say anything disparaging.

"So," Byakuya began after a moment, and set the bottle back onto the desk, "do you want to come eat yakiniku with us?"

Kenpachi never laughed so hard in his entire life.