Disclaimer I do not own Bleach. Or else Kukaku would have a bigger role because she rocks hardcore.

Strength

Scrape

The first cannon that Shiba Kukaku ever builds is the one that takes her right arm. All she remembers is the blood seeping jaggedly through her fingers, the bone scrapping her hand raw, arm like a missing puzzle piece of her body only a few steps in front of her. Someone is screaming so loud it hurts her ears, worse than the loss of her arm. She remembers Kaien's voice, loud and panicked for the first time she'd ever heard it, even worse than when he'd been stung by wasps, worse than death, and definitely worse than his never-ending hunger that they hadn't been able to diagnosis properly. He's apologizing over and over, and she wishes he would just shut up. What is he apologizing for? People are rushing towards her, the cannon shards of debris by her feet and all she can think is that -her arm is right in front of her lying on the floor with tendons and veins and bone sticking out where it should be connected to her body- she doesn't want to die. The sight is ingrained in her mind, and even when the darkness starts to creep along the sides of her vision, she can still see her pale white, slender arm grasping the flit she'd just used. She registers the sound of her screaming before she falls into a puddle of her own blood, warm like her body should be, and an hourglass dripping sand greets her as her blood pours down like rain, and the darkness robs her of her sight and her arm.

Feel

The sun is shining cheerfully onto her when she wakes up, the birds singing songs about spring's arrival, the air smelling heady rich of flowers dribbling perfume. The blankets she lies on are fresh and crisp, cool and cocooning her body lovingly as her mother used to when she was little, her tongue still tasting the peaches she was just treated to, which she might believe as strange since peaches are a bit out of season and she rarely ever gets her favorite treat. None of it matters. She is missing an arm. She feels it like it is there, and the fact that it doesn't bend to her will, help her as she struggles to sit up, is worse than any feeling of emptiness she has ever experienced. Blankly, detachedly, she wonders what she last used her arm for, before the explosion. She'd been using it, and it is strange to think that it is no longer part of her body no matter how many times she looks at a smooth expanse of blanket where her limb should be, to practice channeling spirit force. Will she be able to do such feats again? She does not think so, and this thought should disturb her though it barely registers in her mind. The fact that she cannot feel any emotion right now while it is almost required that she did is more disturbing to her than any shreds of feeling she can conjure up right now. Just like her limb. Where is it? She can still see it behind her closed eyelids bloody and smooth and still clutching the flint that separated it from her. She stays in bed for weeks, long after the stump of what remains of her arm has heal.

Echoes

The Shiba Clan was prestigious back then. She received numerous visitors, people who claimed relation to her whom she never met, people from the other noble clans like Kuchiki and Shihouin, and various well-wishers. It didn't matter what elaborate gifts they brought, what pretty poetry of condolences they showered upon her, or even the kind-hearted concern a few rare individuals shown. As soon as they saw what was left of her arm, they blanched, pity churning all across their faces, horror illuminating their eyes. To them, she was nothing but the arm that wasn't there, and never before had she ever wanted to set fire to something in her entire life. She wanted to scorch all their sympathy off their faces. Just because she had one less arm didn't mean she was less of a person. Did it? Of all the visitors she received, eventually they returned to their cozy mansions, content with the fact that they had two arms and she didn't. Surrounded by a mountain of gifts like admissions to a zoo, she felt lost, hopeless. Where is her arm? She could still see it behind the rims of her eyes, and though her hand had long since healed, the bone that missed its mate still scratched along her palm, snarling. Condolences could not erase the fact that her own stupidity, eagerness to show off, and hot tempered nature had set her to where she was. If only... The night stretched on silently for eternity, and still she could hear the echoes of her own screams.

Left

Kaien arrived only after all the remnants of their guests/sight-seers had disappeared, bringing a present of his own. She hadn't seen him since that night -"Hey Kuku, do you think you could ever take over the family business? Really? Why don't you start now?"- and she had missed him. Kaien was smarter and more interesting then her other brother, and he never failed to make her laugh or throw a temper tantrum. They were both hot headed, rough-mannered, and not all that they appeared. Most people called Kaien a no-good ruffian until he handed their parts back to them without throwing a punch. Most people had assumed that Kukaku was weak and demure just because of her gender until she blew something up and laughed the entire time. They were a pair either fighting or plotting together, so close that sometimes she knew what he was thinking even if his dark gaze gave nothing away, could always make him laugh by just being herself, and was always comfortable in his presence, though everyone was. Kaien couldn't stand it any other way.

"Here." He was always gruff, not good at giving presents, worse at receiving them. The one that was thrown unceremoniously onto her lap was wrapped in horribly, taped to cover all the gaping holes, but she could still see what was supposed to be concealed. Her brother may be a prodigy, but it was still good to know that he was still somewhat human. She gave him her first real smile, a small one, painful across her lips -like sharp bone digging across her skin to draw a line of blood- and opened it slowly, cautiously, her one hand awkward. She had always been right handed. As the last sheet of paper fell away, so did her smile.

"What the hell is this?" She demanded, glowering at her brother, the first real sign of any emotion she had shown since she'd awoken bereft of an arm. Nestled like a cockroach in the wrapping, like sheaves of scrap wood glued together, was what was supposed to represent an arm if she could squint. All she could see was a stick that looked more like the exoskeleton of a bug with a square, ugly head and five heavily jointed feelers sticking out of it unceremoniously. The wood was rough to the touch, and she was surprised that there were no splinters in her hands, in her eyes. It was the most disgusting thing she had ever seen in her life, and she flung it at her brother angrily, tears dribbling down her chin. She would recognize the wood anywhere. It was what was left of the cannon she had made, and even the scraps burned into her palm. Did he want her to lose the only arm she had left? Kaien barely escaped with his life.

Reminder

Kaien wouldn't destroy the thing no matter how much she cried, begged, or threatened him to. They didn't speak for weeks afterwards, and during that time he became a real Shinigami, a true asset to their family. His genius rivaled even that of the heir of the Kuchiki family, and brought honor and prestige to their name once again. Everyone only had praises to speak of him, and their words were like salt on the wound that had yet to be healed. She hated him. Her brother wasn't usually heartless, but to give her such a gift... She ignored him every time he came to speak with her until he kicked down the door to her room, still flourishing the grotesque mockery of what had been stolen from her.

"Let me explain!" He commanded with as much temper as she wielded at him, forcing her to sit down with one heated glare, and grudgingly she did. She found herself getting weak, tired, and listless all the time, and each passing day just drained her more. She could no longer remember the feeling of pure sunlight on her face, the scent of grass, or the taste of tangy blackberries plucked from the nearby bushes. No longer did she run through the house shrieking with laugher, no longer did she bother to pick on Ganju who made teasing so easy, and fire only made her start to scream uncontrollably. She listened because she does not have the strength to fight back. "Look at this. Look at it!" She refused until he grabs her chin, forcing her to see what she does not want to even remember. "This is what is left of your first cannon, the one that had too much gunpowder stuffed into it! The one that when you lit it, it blew off your arm!" She's fighting now, earnestly. She didn't want to hear her mistake. She already lives with it everyday, a silent reminder of her stupidity. Kaien's grim expression is almost worse than the hideous monstrosity he has constructed for her out of the blood and bone and innocent childhood she left splattered like splinters across the floor. "Don't look away from it. Don't get angry at it. Make your mistakes a part of you, don't hold grudges, but remember the lesson it has taught you. Remember what it took from you and take back what you gained from your loss so that it won't all be in vain. You are strong enough to do this Kuku. Do not disappoint me by giving into weakness and dying with your limb. It wasn't even the best part of you." He leaves it by her bedside when he exits through the gaping hole that was once her door, and she does not move to fling it after him.

Grudge

She finds the strength to stand soon afterwards, and begins life anew again. She does not forget, she does not yield, but she will not wear what Kaien has fashioned for her.

"With this, you could be whole. I know it's not particularly good-looking, but it has my spirit force in it to help animate it. Surely knowing that I lost a lot of sleep over it makes you want to wear it now, doesn't it? I have two subordinates back in Soul Society that would wet themselves to have anything that I touched. C'mon Kuku. Even people with two arms aren't as strong as you are." She doesn't wear it, doesn't touch it, but every night it is the last thing she sees. How can she not hold a grudge against it? Where is her arm?

She builds cannons, the will to smile again, and even spends time with Ganju that aren't all dedicated to her winning every competition that they could possibly have together. Life is falling back into place for her, but there is an arm shaped piece of her that she misses, that feels like a phantom limb struggling to strangle her every night, and it is only through the break of down and purity of fire that she can be free of it. Already she can best anyone in the Shiba Clan. Except for Kaien, but he has so many more lessons that she will never know. She ignores the one he gives to her for free.

Understanding

Miyako is the one who convinces her to wear it. With her kind smile, her cool understanding, and the crinkle around her eyes when she laughs, she can charm her way into the heart of any beast, including her brother. Their wedding is beautiful, lavished, and she laughs at the sight of her brother looking so embarrassed and so formal with his lovely, polite bride on his arm. The two make such a good couple that it is almost enough to break any cynical thoughts she has of marriage and love, if she bothered to think of either subject at all, and she is oddly pleased that her brother has found someone willing to put up with his antics. He's horrible, she's the best, he's rough, she's smooth, and they compliment each other so perfectly it's like they're molded out of the same clay.

"Welcome to the family. You can back out any time you want to." Kukaku insists, grinning fiercely when she makes the woman laugh. Miyako has a way about her that makes everything seem genuine, every laugh, smile, and gesture. Nothing about her is rehearsed, faked, and she finds it hard to believe that a woman as pure as this would marry her brother. She can understand why when the two of them look at each other, even across a crowded room, and she knows there was no one else alive that would have been able to convince Kaien to wear formal attire.

"No, no thank you. I'm looking forward to having you as a sister." She talks to her face when she says this, her eyes never straying far from her own, and she never looks down at the empty abyss where her right arm should be. It's not avoidance, merely acceptance, like one could easily brush off the fact that someone has blue eyes or brown hair or dainty feet. It's just part of that person. "As your new sister, could I ask you a favor?"

"Only if I get one in return. And if it's not for me to stop smoking." Kaien has already tried, saying it's a horrible habit, and they fight about which is worse: too much sake or too much smoke. Miyako smiles gently, fondly, as if they have already had these exchanges hundreds of times before -and they will and she knows this, the only thing that keeps this from being reality is time- and leans forward slightly, as if she has a conspiracy to plan with her.

"Please wear what Kaien made for you. It was formed out of love, not out of calloused indifference. What it can teach you would be most beneficial. Your brother cares deeply for you, and it pains him so to see you so unhappy. He often says you never used to care about your appearance and would wear everything and anything just to make a statement. Please be that girl again, as your wedding present to Kaien and me. Nothing else would bring us greater joy." Who could say no to that?

Precious

She was in the middle of striking Ganju with her famous right hook for being stupid enough to let his precious little 'Bonnie-chan' -who was never little to begin with but the man has a softer heart than Kaien and more stubborn than the animal he's bet with her he will be able to ride- track mud all over her room when it suddenly goes limp before it can make contact with her brother's face. They both stare at it, and she feels ice creeping up her veins. Kaien.

The sight of his bloody body, the smile on his face, and the tears of his subordinate are enough to make her reanimate her limb. 'Do not hold grudges' his eyes say to her. And then he is gone. Her tears are like fire scorching her face.

Heart

When Kurosaki Ichigo and his friends appear on her door, bearing Kaien's words and his visage, she cannot turn them down. It is a good thing she has taken her brother's words to heart, and she toasts his spirit because she is sure that he would smile down on her. He has molded her into something stronger. The least she could do is carry out the lesson he imparted with her along with the arm that is her reminder. Even if it still looks a bit like a cockroach, it contains the love and the threads of what is left of her brother.

Author's Notes I really like those fifty one sentence stories, but unfortunately I'm too long winded for that kind of fun, so I did this instead. Still acceptable, right? Anyway, Kukaku is my favorite girl character. I mean, she totally dominates everyone, has the best house ever, and could obviously take anyone down in a fight. She's awesome and makes me glad I'm female. XP There needs to be more stories about her, and what better than to explain why in the anime she has that ugly prosthetic when she has such a beautifully made cannon? I hope you enjoyed and that this was believable. Please review!