Author's Note: This is my second story in the Bleach fandom. I'll admit that I'm still rather proud of my first Bleach fic, 'Old Soldiers', which was a semi-serious one-shot piece that relied mostly on the subtle interactions between friends for its humor. It focused on the fairly somber topic of the bond between those who have faced death together and lived to tell of it, and made an effort to at least partially humanize Aizen, taking the viewpoint that he was probably a fairly decent person at some point in his life. It was a fairly low-key, dignified story.
This story is not very much like that at all. In particular, low-key dignity will not be making an appearance.
You have been duly warned.
Chapter 1: Where there's smoke, there's fire. Where there's fire, the 11th Division is probably involved.
Kenpachi Zaraki was not what you would call a deep thinker. It wasn't that he was dumb; quite the opposite. His tactical skill alone marked him as being of above-average intelligence. He just didn't like thinking, much preferring to slam headlong into whatever life happened to throw at him. However, even he appreciated the fact that sometimes, in some things, you were supposed to at least think a LITTLE BIT before you rushed ahead and did it. Not fighting, of course, but SOME things.
Unfortunately, he'd apparently failed to instill even that tiny, insignificant bit of restraint in his subordinates.
"Well, guys. I'd really love to know exactly what happened here." Zaraki said, staring at the raging fire that was currently consuming the 11th Division barracks at an alarming pace. Standing with him were his three primary aides, Vice-Captain Yachiru Kusajishi, 3rd Seat Ikkaku Madarame, and 5th Seat Yumichika Ayasegawa. Sometimes, Zaraki wondered why his 5th Seat was apparently more powerful and respected than his 4th Seat, but knowing Ayasegawa it probably had something to do with the attractiveness of the various numbers, which meant Zaraki really didn't want to know the details. "So talk. I KNOW one of you three was responsible for this."
"How do you know it was us?" Ikkaku protested.
"Because it's ALWAYS you three. Everyone else in the division is too afraid of me to do something this stupid."
"…Point. But you can't blame me for this one; I was in the training grounds. I didn't have access to fire."
"Fair enough. Ayasegawa?"
The effeminate 5th seat sighed. "It IS a rather striking inferno, isn't it? I feel it really brings out my eyes…"
"… are you even listening to me?"
"Hmm? I'm sorry, were you asking me something? I just couldn't help but stare at these delightful flames. They remind me a little of my hair ornamentation." he said, gesturing to the red and yellow feathers attached to his hair and eyebrows. "Now THAT is a fashionable disaster…" Ayasegawa said, drifting off into his own little world again.
Zaraki shuddered slightly. Freak.
Ikkaku turned to his friend. "Yumichika, you do realize that all of your clothing and makeup was in there, right?"
THAT got the 5th seat's undivided attention.
"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! DAMN YOU, FLAMES! OH, THE CRUEL WHIMS OF FATE MAKE THEIR TWISTED ATTEMPTS TO STRIP ME OF MY BEAUTY YET AGAIN! ARE YOU THAT JEALOUS, GOD?" Ayasegawa screamed, falling to his knees and shaking his fist at the cheerily burning building.
"It'll be okay, peacock-head." Yachiru said consolingly, patting him on the shoulder. "I'm sure you'll find a way to be just as girly and weird without all that stuff!"
"AHEM!" Zaraki cleared his throat, casting his imposing glare at his young charge, who met him with a cheery grin as always. "Yachiru… third times the charm. What did you do?"
The small, pink-haired girl scratched her head thoughtfully, as though considering exactly what to say in this situation. She remained that way for several seconds as she pondered, then looked up at her captain and friend. "It's possible… just possible… that I maybe, MAYBE, was trying to bake a giant, 7,000 pound chocolate cake for myself, and while I was doing it, I got bored and ran off to play and possibly left the fires in the oven burning. Maybe."
"It's a theory. And in an unrelated note, I learned that smothering a fire with towels only works if you cover the WHOLE fire. Otherwise, it just makes the towel burn." Yachiru said knowingly.
"Just remember, this is all a theory." Yachiru said seriously.
"Ah-ha. Well, whatever the case, this puts us in an odd situation." Zaraki said. "I didn't have anything I'll miss in there, but the division needs someplace to sleep. Where are we going to find beds for two-hundred people?"
"OH GOD, MY BED IS GONE TOO! HOW AM I GOING TO GET MY BEAUTY SLEEP WITHOUT MY SILK SHEETS? I HAVE SENSITIVE SKIN!" Ayasegawa wailed.
"… damn it, what have I told you about sharing information about yourself?" Zaraki growled.
"Don't ever share information about myself, because I'm a creepy freak?" Ayasegawa asked.
"Exactly. You think anyone wants to hear about your sensitive skin? I damn sure don't."
"Well, to be fair, I mostly just say things to hear my own voice."
"Well, then talk about something manly, at least!"
Ayasegawa blinked. "Well, I can try. Um… okay… sports, alcohol… moisturizer, facial cleanser…"
"… Okay, new policy, you only talk when I tell you to." Zaraki said, suppressing another shudder.
"Weirdo makes Ken-Chan's face scrunch up like biting a lemon!" Yachiru said helpfully. Then her eyes widened. "Ooooooooh, maybe we can all go get lemonade! And then we can eat it with some sweet buns, and we can go finger-painting, and beat up wimps, and then ride a pretty pony and then fight the pony andthengoshoppingandbeatupshopkeepersandbuysomecandyand…" Yachiru began babbling, picking up speed until she was basically just saying one huge word. Zaraki, recognizing the signs that his Vice-captain was approaching critical babble-mass, reached into his captain's jacket, pulled out a cookie, and shoved it into her mouth whole.
Zaraki didn't much like the prissy, stuck up, 'too good to fight to the death for no reason' Byakuya Kuchiki, but he had to thank the guy for passing on the long-sought secret to making Yachiru shut up. Now if only people would quit stopping him from picking a fight with the jerk, no way could those sissy little cherry blossoms slow him down, and THEN they'd see who the Gotei 13's greatest captain was…
As Yachiru demolished her new-found treat, Zaraki turned back to his subordinates. "Okay, now that we've taken care of all our personal issues, can we do something about this?" He said, waving vaguely at the smoldering ruin behind him. "Come on, I'm not a thinker! You guys are the brain trust here! I need you focused on the matter at hand! Suggestions?"
"Sleep on the ground! Yaaaay, camping!" Yachiru cheered, crumbs still clinging to her face.
"Ha… just close your eyes, and let your instincts guide you!" Ikkaku said, smirking. He gave a thumbs-up sign, the sunlight glinting off his head.
"I would… hmmm… probably commit seppuku out of the despair of losing my home. Beautifully." Ayasegawa suggested.
"Okay, why is it you guys give me the same exact advice no matter what the problem is?"
"We do not!" Ikkaku protested.
"Yes, you do! Yachiru suggests I do the most random, simplistic thing that pops into her head, you tell me to 'trust my instincts' or 'use my mind's eye', and Ayasegawa tells me to surrender!"
"Don't you think you're being a little simplistic, sir?" Ayasegawa asked.
"Oh, really? Okay, than advise me on what we should have for lunch today."
"Go out running in a random direction and eat the first thing we happen to run across!" Yachiru cheered.
"We just close our eyes and let our sixth senses guide us to the proper food!" Ikkaku said confidently. He gave a thumbs-up, the sunlight glinting off his head.
"Hmmmm… I suggest we simply give up our hopes of ever being truly happy with our food. Beautifully." Ayasegawa suggested.
"I seriously need to get a better brain trust," Zaraki groaned. "Okay, here's what we're gonna do…
Twenty minutes later…
Toshiro Hitsugaya, Captain of the 10th division of the Gotei 13, put his seal on the last of the day's paperwork and leaned back in his desk. "Wow!" He said cheerfully. "That was easy, and I got it done quickly!"
"That's because I did half of it!" Nanao Ise said.
"Why, Vice-Captain Ise, what are you doing here? You're the vice-captain of the 8th division!" Hitsugaya asked.
"Oh, not anymore! Now I'm your Vice-Captain!" Nanao said cheerfully.
"Yes, really! And unlike your old vice-captain, Rangiku Matsumoto, I actually do my half of the paperwork instead of forcing you to do it all yourself, so it all gets done in half the time!"
"I don't understand! Whatever are you saying?" Hitsugaya asked, mystified by the concept.
"Well you see, Captain Hitsugaya, I take half of the division paperwork, and fill it out myself. Then, you only have to do half of it yourself instead of all of it! And since you're only doing half the work, it only takes you HALF AS LONG."
"You mean…" Hitsugaya said, scarcely daring to give voice to the conclusion he had just reached. "You mean, that I finally have a vice-captain who doesn't come into work hung-over and fall asleep on my couch? Who realizes that if she helps with the paperwork, then we BOTH get more free time? A vice-captain who, in short, does her damn job?"
"And because of this, I now have the free time to do the things I want to do? To catch up on my reading, to take long walks in the park, to go star-gazing?" Hitsugaya asked.
"Oh, my…" Hitsugaya said, tears of joy running down his face. "This… this is just so wonderful… it's almost too good to be true…"
"Oh, that's because it is," Nanao said cheerily.
"I'm sorry sir, but this is just a dream. You're going to wake up now, and Matsumoto will still be your vice-captain." The bespectacled Shinigami said. "Which is really a shame, at least you wouldn't hit on me as much as my real captain…"
"What? NO! No, it can't be true! NOOOOOOOOO!"
Hitsugaya sat up at his desk, his eyes shooting open. Sure enough, there was Matsumoto, curled up on the couch he kept in his office, sleeping like a baby. Dammit… not only does she ruin my dreams, but now she has ME falling asleep on the job!
To be fair, in most respects, Matsumoto was an exemplary vice-captain. She was clever, skilled in both swordsmanship and kido, and fiercely loyal to him. And although he would never admit it, particularly not to her, he was sort of fond of her. She was such a lively, boisterous presence that it was impossible not to be a little cheerier when she was around.
It was simply that sometimes… particularly now, when the pile of papers on his desk was taller than he was, and he had barely slept the night before… he wished he could have a second-in-command who had Matsumoto's good qualities, but lacked her laziness and borderline-alcoholism. The recent disaster with Aizen (followed by Hinamori's spiral into depression and denial) had left his mind troubled lately, and he would have deeply appreciated some extra time to himself to get his thoughts in order.
Instead, he thought bitterly, looking down at the sleeping woman. I'm left babysitting a woman who's twice my age! I wonder if it's too late to actually trade her in for Vice-Captain Ise? I'm certain captain Kyōraku wouldn't mind… Hitsugaya considered the free-spirited, womanizing Captain of the 8th division, then looked over his Vice-captain's revealing robes and gigantic bosom. Wouldn't mind? He'd probably give me a medal. Then he sighed a little sadly. More than once, he'd gotten fed up with her antics, got out the transfer papers and filled them out, and prepared to trade her in for a new vice-captain… and then every time, Matsumoto would do something goofy and give that silly grin of hers, and remind him that she was pretty much the closest thing to family he had these days.
Stirring in her sleep, Matsumoto sighed softly. "No, cap'n, I don't know how that inkwell exploded all over me and my papers, you'll just have to go get new copies and fill them all out for me while I go clean off my clothes…" Matsumoto muttered in her sleep.
My god, is she sleep-slacking? That has to be a new low, even for her. Hitsugaya thought in awe. Then, struck with inspiration, he leaned down over the sleeping woman and whispered in her ear, "Oh, don't worry Lieutenant, I keep some fresh robes in your size right here in my closet for just such 'accidents'. And I just HAPPEN to have some extra copies of your forms too! You can fill them all out right now. While I watch."
"Hmmmmm! No, no, that's okay, I really should go clean up…" Matsumoto, still asleep, whined.
"And by clean up, you mean go out drinking with Kira, don't you?"
"Well… yeah…" Matsumoto murmured, her sleep now looking considerably less comforting.
"Oh, didn't you hear?" Hitsugaya said, his smirk widening as he went in for the kill. "In response to the growing threat posed by Aizen's faction, all Shinigami must be at top alert status 24/7. All alcoholic beverages have been outlawed in Soul Society until the crisis has been dealt with."
"NOOOOOOOOOOO!" Matsumoto screamed, shooting awake. Her chest heaved as she hyperventilated and a cold sweat had formed on her brow.
"Sleep well?" Hitsugaya asked calmly.
"Oh, Captain, I just had the most horrible dream… and you were there! And Kira! And Renji! And also a monkey."
"Well, now that you're… what? A monkey?"
"We were going to go drinking with the monkey." Matsumoto said vaguely. "Although I'm not sure why…"
"Well, regardless, now that you're awake, do you suppose you could, possibly, finish your work for the day so we can all go home?"
Matsumoto got a wide, fake grin. "Suuuuuuure. Now, where's my inkwell…"
"I had your inkwell glued to the desk. You know, to keep you from 'accidentally' spilling it again."
Matsumoto pouted. "But Captaaaaaaaaaain, all those times really were accidents! I didn't mean to spill ink all over my chest! These things have a mind of their own!" she said, gesturing at her ample chest. "They hurt my back, they make jogging impossible, and…" She lowered her voice to a conspiritorial whisper. "Sometimes, at night, I think I can hear them plotting against me!"
"Uh-huh. Matsumoto, you spend most of your time lying down, so I don't think your back is a huge problem. You would never, ever jog under any circumstances… God alone knows how you aren't fat. And to the last part… I have a question. About how many nights a week are you drunk?" Hitsugaya asked dryly.
"All of them. Why?"
"Yeah, there goes that last part. Although honestly, I think deep down we both knew your rack wasn't planning some sort of rebellion." Hitsugaya said dryly.
"Wow, Captain! You've really put my mind at ease, sir! I'm going to take a few hours of time to really consider my life and think about what you've told me!" Matsumoto said gratefully, walking for the door.
"Yes, yes, you do that." Hitsugaya said sagely. Then he considered exactly what was going on. "NO!"
"Too late!" Matsumoto giggled, pulling open the door and running out. She zipped down the hallway using her flash steps and jumped straight down the stairwell, her Captain hot on her tail.
"MATSUMOTO, GET THE HELL BACK HERE!" the child prodigy roared at his fleeing vice-captain.
Matsumoto took the time to turn her head back, flash a grin at Hitsugaya, and stick out her tongue as she reached the door leading outside the 10th division's barracks. At least until she slammed into a wall.
Now, who put a wall right outside our door? Matsumoto thought. And why is the wall wearing a captain's robes?
"Hi, kids." Kenpachi Zaraki said, his three primary advisors standing next to him (Or hanging onto his shoulder, in the case of Yachiru)... and the entire 11th division standing behind him in the courtyard. "Mind if we crash here for awhile?"