Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach. This one-shot is not affiliated with "Shelter from the Storm".
Zaraki didn't go in for fanciness, in terms of swordplay or wordplay. He'd always been unreachable that way; not one of his enemies so far had been able to weaken him with words, or overcome him with their power. Ichigo doesn't count; in Zaraki's mind, Ichigo stopped being an enemy as soon as he'd been able to draw the Kenpachi's blood. Ichigo didn't use words, either.
And so as he stood there, the yapping of the tall espada floated past Zaraki's ears: he only listened enough to bark back a suitable challenge. He saw the orange-haired girl drag Ichigo out of the line of fire, and smiled grimly. Looks like the kid pushed himself too far again. As if echoing his thoughts, a small voice piped up at his shoulder:
"Silly Ichigo," Yachiru observed. "Good thing Big-Booby-san is here to take care of him."
"Yachiru," Zaraki said, "go help with Ichigo." Time was, the kid could cling to his back in a fight, but she was getting bigger now, and something about the spoon-headed freak in front of him was unsettling him.
"Hai, Ken-chan!" His vice-captain chirped, and shunpo'd away. Zaraki turned his attention to the arrancar in front of him.
"So what did you say your name was again?"
The espada turned the corners of his rather large mouth down in displeasure. "It's Nnoitra Jiruga," he hissed. "And you still haven't told me yours. Isn't it a custom among the shinigami to display their arrogance by naming themselves?"
Zaraki, unperturbed, drew his sword. "I'm Zaraki Kenpachi, Captain of the Eleventh Division," he rumbled and, without further ado, launched himself at Nnoitra.
The first thing Zaraki noticed was that Nnoitra was taller than him, but far more scrawny. The second thing he noticed was that despite his frailty, the espada was immensely strong. The third thing he noticed was that Nnoitra seemed to have a penchant for talking whilst fighting. Zaraki ignored this and focussed on the first two facts.
Nnoitra's giant zanpakutou, though impressive as a ranged weapon, was awkward and unwieldy at close-range: Zaraki took advantage of this, his sword slicing around and through the espada's openings. The espada was fast, however, and was managing to dodge most of what Zaraki through at him. The 11th division captain grinned and redoubled his efforts: ah, the delight of having to work towards victory!
With a savage elation, Zaraki aimed straight for Nnoitra's face - the stupid creature was still babbling. The espada dodged, but Zaraki managed to catch and tear the flesh on the espada's shoulder. First blood. He could hear Yachiru clapping.
Nnoitra skidded backwards, breathing heavily, scorn twisting his face. "Pathetic shinigami!" He called, amusing Zaraki to no end; he'd lost count of how many enemies had called him pathetic right before he'd defeated them. Nnoitra was still hurling insults, but Zaraki let them pass by, instead putting on a disappointed face.
"Fifth espada?" He said, shaking his head and sighing. "I shoulda gone looking for number one. Here I thought this was gonna be a fun fight, and already you're bleeding?"
The taunt had the desired effect. Nnoitra's face tightened; Zaraki could feel the reiatsu spike. It was bitter, the green taste of jealousy, ambition, and unripe spinach: this one fought out of pure hatred, he could tell. It motivated the arrancar's every move; it was the fuel that drove him. Zaraki was disgusted; he may be insane and without conscience, but he had never felt hatred: it got in the way of a truly good fight. It was disrespectful to yourself to let hatred spoil your enjoyment of battle.
"You don't know who you're messing with, shinigami!" Nnoitra was saying. "I am far more powerful than the others; I'll prove it by your dead body!" Snarling, the espada launched his crescent-spear at Zaraki.
Zaraki couldn't help it; he laughed. "And you say shinigami are arrogant?" He asked before launching himself, still laughing, towards Nnoitra. It was a full-on attack, and he knew the espada expected him to dodge the spear coming straight at him. He didn't. He could feel the blade slice through his cheek and half of his ear; disregarding the wound, Zaraki plunged onwards: Nnoitra was left wide open, and the blade of the captain's zanpakuto went straight through the arrancar's unwounded shoulder. Zaraki quickly pulled back, attacking again, but Nnoitra dodged and ran several feet away, attempting to get space in which to operate his spear.
Or so Zaraki thought. With a look of cunning triumph on his face, Nnoitra called out his sword. Zaraki ripped off his eyepatch; his reiatsu skyrocketed, and he felt the familiar, power-induced high enveloping his mind as suppressed power ran through his veins like liquid electricity. His immense, yellow reiatsu billowed forward to hit Nnoitra's straight on: a shockwave ran through the area.
"Arrogant..." Nnoitra's voice came drifting through the clearing smoke of his transformation. "You would have to be, to expect to defeat me." The smoke cleared, and Zaraki was confronted by Nnoitra's released form. He was tall, very tall, and his body was a mass of crescent-shaped blades, mostly of Hollow bone, but the ones he held in his hands were of zanpakuto steel.
"Now die, shinigami." Nnoitra spun, and threw his blades like discuses: they flew towards Zaraki, who jumped into the air over Nnoitra, focusing on a downward swing of his zanpakuto. It was vibrating oddly: he clenched his fists on it to be sure of an accurate swing.
His blade crashed down on the bone of Nnoitra's shoulder...and bounced off. Surprised, Zaraki grunted and shunpo'd backwards: Nnoitra sent several crescents flying towards him, and he saw them and fended them off. What he didn't see, however, were the two blades that had been hurled at him before: they flew back, boomerang-style, to hit Zaraki squarely in the back.
Zaraki crashed to the ground, the clash of momentums throwing off his balance. The two crescents had sliced through his reiatsu, and were embedded in his shoulderblades: he reached behind himself and wrenched them out.
"Surprising," Nnoitra sneered from afar. "Had you been any weaker, those would have torn you in three."
Zaraki said nothing, but grimaced as he stood back up. Nnoitra spread his hands: crescent blades of steel materialized and spun out towards Zaraki: he lifted his sword to deflect them, focusing his reiatsu around him as an abrasive shield (nothing about Zaraki was purely defensive, and he prided himself on this). He swung his sword, knocking several blades back at Nnoitra. A good many blades hit his reiatsu and disintegrated; five others pierced his shield, three of them lodged themselves in his abdomen.
Nnoitra cackled and, as Zaraki yanked the crescents out of his stomach, sent a flood of tiny blades like a swarm of bees to shred what remained of Zaraki's reiatsu shield. The moment it fell, Zaraki felt a strange quiver go through his sword, as though it had been struck. He launched himself towards Nnoitra: blades passed through him as though he were a single-minded wisp of cloud. With all of his will, Zaraki plunged his sword through Nnoitra's chest: the espada cried out in pain and rage, and, using two crescents which he held in his hands, punched Zaraki hard enough to send the captain flying backwards. On a normal shinigami, the punches would have gone clean through the ribs: though skin bruised and bone broke, Zaraki's immense frame remained whole. He sat, gasping, at the base of a pile of rubble, bleeding out.
Nnoitra loomed over him, blood discolouring the bone-white blades which made up his body. "You stupid fool," he spat at Zaraki. Twitching a finger, Nnoitra sent two more blades at Zaraki, pinning his arms to the rock behind him. "Captain you may be, but realize your place: not even another arrancar can defeat me."
Zaraki snorted, then coughed as blood flew into his lungs. His sword, still clutched in his right hand, was vibrating so hard that he could almost hear it. It was making his arm numb. Or maybe that was the bloodloss.
"Ken-chan!" He could hear Yachiru dimly, just before Orihime grabbed her and Nel; sending one fearful glance back at Ichigo's unconscious (healed) body, the orange-haired girl began to run back towards the undestroyed buildings of Hueco Mundo.
Nnoitra made no effort to stop them, but nodded towards the rapidly-fleeing women: Yachiru was struggling to get back to the battlefield. "That yours?" A malicious grin spread over his face.
"Che," Zaraki turned his head to the side, refusing to play Nnoitra's game. But the espada had already seen the band on Yachiru's flailing arm.
"Your Vice-Captain, eh? Why would you employ a baby?" Nnoitra started to giggle. "She looks nothing like you; she can't be your daughter! Did you find her and take her in?" The espada asked, putting on a tone of mocking awe. "Oh, isn't that precious! You're a good man, captain," - he said the words as if they were a curse - "to show such kindness. She can't be much use, though," he said dismissively. Zaraki said nothing: he was attempting to gather his reiatsu, but something about the blades was leeching it: it was as if they had the same properties as his eyepatch, and they were much larger. The ringing of his sword was clashing in his ears.
"So why do you keep her?" Nnoitra asked, and sent another tiny blade to embed itself in Zaraki's neck. "Huh? You waiting for something? Waiting for her to grow up so she can be useful?" The ringing crescendoed into a roaring: Zaraki was no longer sure if it was his sword or his rage.
Zaraki might not have been one for fanciness, in swordplay or in wordplay, but he knew what Nnoitra was implying. Nnoitra, however, didn't leave it at an implication: delighting in the absolutely dark expression on Zaraki's face, he pushed and prodded the captain further towards the edge.
"Good thing she doesn't look like you, captain. No offense, but fucking a woman with a face like a chisel isn't my idea of a good time...I bet she'd scream. She's loud enough - You'd like that, wouldn't -"
Zaraki didn't hear any more. The roaring of his sword had eclipsed all other sound within his ears: rage burned and swam before his eyes in the shape of an immense black dragon with yellow eyes. In his mind's eye, the dragon howled soundlessly: in his ears, he heard the violent scream of his rage. It wasn't hard to put two and two together.
"Shriek," Zaraki rasped, and hesitated; the dragon reared in his mind, spreading wings made of obsidian blades. Zaraki found his voice: "Ryuukeromaru!" he roared: hoisting his already-released sword aloft, he looked Nnoitra squarely in the eye. "Ban kai."
Nnoitra's eyes flew wide as reiatsu pulsed: his crescent blades were thrown back at him with deadly force. Dodging, Nnoitra spun around to face Zaraki Kenpachi and his bankai.
There were blades. Rows and rows of obsidian blades, protruding in deadly uniformity from immense black wings, which unfolded from the revitalized body of the 11th division captain. The sword gripped in his hand was black, with a wicked yellow streak running along its gleaming edge: Zaraki swung it, and cut cleanly through the dust hovering in the air, splitting the particles in half. A lizard-like tail lashed about behind him, spiked with blades down to the tip.
Zaraki roared; the sound reverberated through the air of Hueco Mundo, pieces of destroyed buildings falling to the quaking ground. His sword had found its voice. Behind him, Ichigo, Tesla and Grimmjow lay, simultaneously wakened and pinned by the power oppressing the entire area, fighting to breathe.
Nnoitra began to spread his hands: Zaraki leapt into the air. With one clean movement, Ryuukeromaru cleft through the Hollow bone blades of the espada's body. Sheared in two, without the chance for a parting word, Nnoitra's face registered surprise before sliding apart to fall at Zaraki's feet.
Inside him, the dragon screamed: Zaraki fought the urge to hack away at the body before him, something other than the familiar triumph pulsing through his brain. He suddenly felt disgusted with himself, and turned his back to the body: he'd let the espada get to him. And his sword...it dropped from his hands, but he didn't let go of bankai: the sword clattered to the ground in front of him. The dragon was quieter now: Zaraki had the idea that it had been trying to make itself heard for a very long time.
But he'd ignored it: he'd muzzled its potential in favour of his own brute strength; he hadn't seen that by combining his strength with the unusually sharp blade of his sword that something new could emerge. Now he understood. And he allowed Ryuukeromaru to be angry.
He wasn't aware that he'd fallen to his knees until Yachiru was standing before him, and he only had to incline his head slightly to see her instead of bending his entire body. She was looking very solemn; a ways behind her, a smaller, green-haired child stood with the orange-haired girl. They had come back, for whatever reason. The older girl kept throwing glances behind her at the three men who, silently, had sat up to watch.
"Ken-chan." Yachiru's voice carried clearly through Ryuukeromaru's noise; the dragon immediately quieted, and Zaraki, for the first time, felt the trickle of blood running down the side of his neck from his severed ear.
"Yachiru," he rasped. She was breathing heavily; his clouding mind unconsciously reigned in his reiatsu, and Yachiru began to breathe easier. "I named another person today, Yachiru," he said.
"Ken-chan is good with names." Yachiru said quietly, offering him a half-smile. She bent, and the sword screamed as her fingers drew near to it: Zaraki made an involuntary gesture towards the sword - whether to protect her from it or vice versa, he never knew - but the next moment Yachiru was holding the naked blade in her hands, and the dragon was calm.
"Thank you," Yachiru said, and bowed, her hands still holding the Ryuukeromaru horizontally in front of her, as if presenting it ceremonially to her captain. It occurred to Zaraki that she was bowing to the sword. "You saved Nel-chan. You saved us all. Thank you." She said firmly, and presented the sword, hilt-first, to Zaraki: the bladed wings and tail vanished, and he felt something hum in approval, deep inside him.
A sort of warm cloudiness was stealing over his brain. He heard, very faintly, an obnoxious "Uwaaaa!" from the green-haired child, and felt Yachiru's small hand on his face: the orange-haired woman was bending over him, saying something. He took Yachiru's hand in his: he knew, then, that everything was going to be alright.
A/N: My deepest apologies to the Japanese and all of those who speak the language for my naming of Zaraki's sword. I translated the words for "dragon" and "black" and mashed them together into something cool-sounding. I hope that it's not too wince-worthy.