Characters: Shuuhei, Kenpachi, Ikkaku, Yumichika, Yachiru,
Warning: Spoilers for Soul Society Arc
Description: Companion piece to 'Blind'. He mused on it for hours on end before finally realizing there was nothing left for him to do but ask.
It had been bothering him for days. Once the idea had entered his head, it refused to leave, bouncing around in an endless circle that he couldn't ignore, even if he wanted to. He mused on it for hours on end, found himself cutting eyes at the man from across courtyards or even going to watch him battle or train. He debated with himself over and over if it was even possible before finally realizing that there was nothing left for him to do but ask.
Thus, Hisagi Shuuhei found himself standing on the doorstep of the eleventh division, able to hear the ruckus within from outside. It was definitely different than the quiet dignity of his own squad. And he couldn't help but wonder if it might be better that way. Loud and noisy, lacking in all of the things that Tousen had preached. Obviously, something was right in the eleventh division. And he aimed to find out exactly what that was.
His knocking went unanswered, though that might have had something to do with the fact that it likely couldn't be heard above the noise. Shuuhei was stumped. Proper etiquette dictated that he be invited before going inside, as Tousen had always taught him. But no one was answering, despite the fact that he knew there were people inside. And he wasn't about to simply give up and walk away either.
It was only proper to be polite. It was honest and civilized to knock or announce oneself's presence, just as Tousen had always said.
It struck Shuuhei just then.
As Tousen had always said.
He had the sudden and insane urge to kick in the door. And might have done so if not for the fortuitous appearance of Ayasegawa-san just behind him.
"Hisagi-san?" the fifth-seat questioned with some surprise.
Shuuhei turned and found that Yumichika was carrying a few jugs of sake in his hands. Flanking him, belatedly noticed, was Ikkaku Madarame, who was grinning ear to ear, already looking quite sloshed. Shuuhei realized that he probably looked a little crazy, standing outside of the eleventh division and staring as if it were the door to paradise or something.
He fought down the uncharacteristic urge to redden. "I knocked, but no one answered," Shuuhei explained rather lamely as purple eyes proceeded to examine him thoroughly.
There was always something about Ayasegawa that unnerved him, the fluttery fifth-seat acting like he were only pretending to be airheaded. There was something calculating in his purposeful glances, as if he were categorizing every weakness, deciding which was the best method for getting under someone's skin. Shuuhei remembered all too well losing to Ayasegawa, something he had never expected to do.
Ikkaku lifted a brow. "Shit," he responded, striding forward to sling one arm over Shuuhei's shoulder and directing him towards the door. "They can't hear it o'er the fights," he slurred, kicking open the entrance and hollering almost exactly in Shuuhei's ear. "We brought the boooooooze!"
A chorus of cheers echoed around the squad as Shuuhei was blinded by lights and noise and the smell of food and alcohol. Without his consent, though he had wanted to go in from the beginning, he was led inside. Yumichika trailed along after them, closing the door in their wake.
Instantly, they were mobbed as the lower Shinigami came to relieve Ikkaku and Yumichika of their burdens and spread the sake around. With their duties taken care of, Ayasegawa promptly disappeared into the crowd, but Ikkaku didn't relinquish his hold on Shuuhei, instead directing him further through the throng.
"Ya lookin' for someone?" he practically yelled, straining to be heard over the raucous laughter and cheering.
Somewhere beyond Shuuhei's sight and the press of bodies, he detected the sounds of swords clanging and the low grunt of those sparring. He couldn't seem to get over the noise of the squad, the unruly chaos that was spread out around him. Ikkaku easily navigated them through it, even stepping over bodies that were already unconscious, smiling even in sleep, some nuzzling empty sake jugs.
In the back of his mind, Shuuhei vaguely remembered hearing something about the eleventh division being off rotation for the week, though he couldn't recall exactly why. Maybe it explained the chaos; maybe it didn't. He had the sudden wondering thought of who did their paperwork. Surely, a squad such as theirs racked up enormous amounts of it.
"Yo, Hisagi!" Ikkaku yelling in his ear caused Shuuhei to blink.
"I'm looking for Zaraki-taichou," Shuuhei explained, finally answering the third-seat's prior question. He had to lift his voice louder than usual to be heard. Even though it was undignified to do so, as he had always been told.
One had to be a gentleman at all times, after all.
Ikkaku lifted a brow in his direction but shrugged and promptly snagged an open jug from a lower-seat passing by. "Whatever ya say," he responded, ever present arm directing Shuuhei towards some unknown location.
He couldn't stop his eyes from wandering as they navigated deeper into the building. Over in one corner, a rousing game of poker was being played with chips and pay being exchanged at a rapid pace, not to mention physical blows as well. Another corner held a trio of Shinigami engaged in a drinking contest, and it didn't look like anyone was going to win. But despite that, everyone looked... well, happy.
"What'cha lookin' for taichou for anyways?" Ikkaku suddenly asked after taking a giant swig from his jug and grinning widely.
Shuuhei wasn't sure how to answer in a manner that the half-inebriated man would understand. Truthfully, he wasn't entirely sure himself. His coming had been half-whim and half-plan, some desperate attempt to find closure on a confusion that had been plaguing him since his captain's betrayal. Or maybe he had just been looking for something different, for some kind of understanding.
He just didn't know.
Luckily, he was saved from answering when a pink and black blur appeared out of nowhere, latching itself onto Ikkaku's head. Shuuhei blinked, belatedly recognizing it as the eleventh division's vice-captain. Ikkaku's jug crashed to the floor, surprisingly empty, as he gave a sharp cry of shock and tried to detach Yachiru. But she was tenacious and promptly began chomping on his head.
"Get off, brat!" Ikkaku growled, hands gripping onto her uniform as he tried to pull her away.
Shuuhei could only gape in abject shock as this game of tug-of-war continued with no one else surprised at all. Yachiru continued to giggle before finally noticing that they had an audience.
"It's Pretty-chan!" she declared, smiling at him.
"Erm… good evening, Kusajishi-fukutaichou," Shuuhei managed, still staring at her latched on Ikkaku.
Where she didn't remain for long.
She cocked her head to the side and watched him for a moment before suddenly launching herself over to him and perching on his shoulder. She was lighter than he had suspected.
"Nyah!" she chirped in his ear, clinging to him. "That's no fun! No-Eyes is gone! You should party!"
Shuuhei blinked again. No-Eyes? Did she have a nickname for everyone? And what the hell, Pretty-chan? Didn't he deserve something a bit manlier?
But Yachiru just grinned. "Ne, make me a scarf sometime, 'kay?" she suggested before promptly darting away, screaming something about "Sneaky-Beard."
He couldn't help but feel as if he had just been attacked by a whirlwind and a flock of birds all at once. And then, being promptly left stranded on a deserted island.
Ikkaku, rubbing his head where teeth marks were plainly visible, snickered in his hear. "Hell, at least yer not Frilly-Brows," he said with a chuckle. "Come on, Hisagi; taichou's this way."
Shuuhei could only nod, still a bit disturbed by the encounter as Ikkaku managed to successfully navigate them through the rest of the crowd. Finally, he caught a glimpse of Zaraki inside one of the window seats, looking as harmless as Shuuhei had ever seen him. He had a bowl of sake in one hand and several empty bottles at his feet, while his hair was down from the usual spikes and bells. He looked slightly less fearsome but not by much.
The third-seat clapped him on the back with enough force to cause Shuuhei to stumble. "Good luck getting' 'im to sign any paperwork. See ya, Hisagi."
Ikkaku deserted him then, melding back into the crowd without so much as an introduction, leaving the vice-captain to approach Zaraki on his own. And Shuuhei watched the oblivious man for a moment, struck by how almost normal the renowned bloodthirsty captain seemed. Did he even dare call the situation peaceful?
Of course, Zaraki chose that moment to shatter the illusion by suddenly downing his sake and looking into the crowd, single eye pinning one of his subordinates.
"Oy!" he bellowed, just loud enough to be heard over the shouts and calls and fighting. "Bring me another bottle, ya lazy bastard!"
Said subordinate promptly snapped to attention and rushed off.
Shuuhei shook his head. Yes, there were definitely a lot of differences between the ninth and eleventh. He paused in his thoughts, glancing around once more.
But that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. And he was still determined to find out just what made the eleventh division tick.
Gathering up his resolve, Shuuhei pushed his way through the throng and made it to Zaraki's side just as a lower-seat was scampering away after having delivered the demanded bottle. The captain caught sight of him from the corner of his eye and over the rim of his bowl, a bizarre expression on his face.
"Strange to see ya here," Zaraki commented as bowl and jug clinked together when he poured.
It probably was. Tousen never had much to do with the eleventh division. They were beneath him.
Shuuhei only nodded in response.
Grunting, Zaraki gestured towards a pile of cushions. "Sit down," he offered. "Want a drink?"
Shuuhei's first thought as he lowered himself was to say no. It was, after all, a work night, and he would have to be in bright and early the next morning to stress himself over more paperwork that couldn't be signed and others that needed to be. Over running a squad that threatened to lose its morale at any moment. Over trying to find his own beliefs again in all the confusion. But then, he remembered that Tousen wasn't going to be there to chastise him or give him lectures. And honestly, what could it hurt?
So he nodded again. "Yes, thank you."
The captain watched him for a moment before digging another sake bowl out of nowhere, pouring alcohol into it and handing it over. He then pulled a pipe out of the same invisible space and proceeded to start smoking without so much as another word. It was like he was merely waiting for Shuuhei to find his bearing, as if he knew why the vice-captain had come and was giving him time.
The man was damned perceptive, and it was rather disconcerting.
After a tentative sip and grimace, Shuuhei couldn't stand waiting any longer. He had to know.
"Did you know?" he suddenly blurted.
Zaraki blinked. "Know what?"
The vice-captain shifted on his cushion. "About them. About Aizen and Ichimaru and... Tousen. Did you know?"
Something gleamed behind that one eye of his before Zaraki let out a bark of laughter, much to Shuuhei's surprise. "Finally figured it out, didja?" he asked with a smirk. "That ole Zaraki Kenpachi's not as dumb as he looks."
Shuuhei hid his shame behind his bowl because Tousen had commented on more than one occasion just how stupid he believed the eleventh division captain to be. And while he hadn't entirely agreed, he had never thought to argue or disagree either.
He cleared his throat. "How did you know?"
"Che. Wasn't too hard to figure out. Once ya know to look, it's easy to spot what's comin'. No one's that damned perfect. Aizen always looked like he was laughin' at us from behind those glasses. And as for yer captain, it was easy to see justice had blinded him in more ways than one." He paused to suck on his pipe before continuing, "And only a moron couldn't see somethin' was wrong with Ichimaru. Boy's got a daddy complex a mile wide."
Shuuhei's eyes widened at the frank answer, especially the one concerning Ichimaru Gin.
"Daddy complex?" he repeated in confusion.
Rumors about the relationship between Aizen and Ichimaru had almost immediately circulated following their betrayal, but he hadn't heard anything similar to that explanation.
The captain shrugged. "Got that desperate look to 'im. Same one ya see in those kids in Rukongai that live in the streets. Always caught 'im watchin' me and Yachiru with funny looks. And the nobles with their kids, too." He exhaled softly, single eye glinting. "Even saw him lookin' at that kook scientist and his daughter. Like he were envious or somethin'."
"But why didn't you ever tell anyone?"
Zaraki snorted. "Tried to tell the fuckers… but didn't none of them believe me. That drunken fool Shunsui waved me off, and Unohana just gave me that damned empty and serene smile o' hers. Even that sick bastard Ukitake didn't wanna listen. I figured none of the rest would, so I stopped tryin'."
He had tried, and still, no one had listened.
Shuuhei looked down into his bowl, wondering just how much his own beliefs had been tainted by Tousen's lies. Everyone had been in Aizen's thrall for so long, and the one person to figure it out had been Zaraki Kenpachi. Even worse, the only man who would've been willing to listen to him was the very one who was creating the conspiracy.
"Was all of it a lie?" he asked himself aloud, not really intending to direct it at his companion.
"What? Didn't notice anythin' was wrong?" Zaraki inserted, having caught his question. "Che. What the fuck's that school for anyway? Don't seem to teach ya anythin' worthwhile, does it?"
The Academy. Thoughts of it reminded Shuuhei of something else.
"Aizen saved me once," he began slowly, unsure exactly why he was telling Zaraki this. "It was only recently that I realized it was from Hollows created after his own experiments. He had deliberately sent them," Shuuhei explained bitterly, one hand lifting to trace the scars on his face as his stomach roiled unpleasantly. "Those Hollows killed my friends before Aizen and Ichimaru showed up." He paused before glancing up at the captain. "You think we're all idiots, don't you? Izuru, Hinamori, and me."
Zaraki's gaze slid to the crowd beyond their small niche, watching his subordinates drink and yell and laugh and generally have their own definition of a good time. "The real idiots're the bastards who've known Aizen for the longest and still didn't suspect nothin'." He shrugged, dragging his eye back to Shuuhei; it was filled with more knowledge than the vice-captain ever thought he would witness. "I guess it's the ones ya trust the most are the ones who fool ya in the end."
Shuuhei let his words sink in, bouncing around in his brain with their aura of absolute truth. It had taken Zaraki to discover this, to figure it all out, and no one had listened. How much could have been saved, he wondered. How much heartache could have been prevented?
"Sides, ya stuck by that Kira kid didn't ya?" Zaraki's voice punctured Shuuhei's thoughts. "When everyone thought he was a traitor?"
Nearly everyone had accused Izuru of being in league with Gin, only to be abandoned by his captain in the end. At the time, it had almost been like Seireitei was scrambling for a scapegoat to blame and had their eyes on Kira simply because he wasn't unconscious in a hospital ward like Momo. It wasn't enough that it was the actual traitor's fault, but they wanted someone to punish who was easy to access.
"Izuru's not a traitor," Shuuhei stated a bit more forcefully than he intended, his fingers tightening around his bowl.
"Shit… anyone with one eye and a lick of common sense could see that," Zaraki countered. "Then again, no one ever claimed they had any."
Shuuhei couldn't help himself; he laughed at Kenpachi's frank assessment of Seireitei. It was all so surreal, this strange identity crisis of his. Here, he was, having sake with the man who Tousen had always considered vile and uncouth, and Zaraki was making sense.
Surely, the world had ended.
The captain started chuckling himself and set to pouring more alcohol for himself. "You're not so bad, after all, Hisagi. There might even be some fun in ya. Sake?"
Shuuhei didn't even have to think about it, feeling strangely free from the madness that had surrounded him ever since Tousen's betrayal.
He held out his bowl.
I couldn't get the idea for this plot out of my head so this is the second piece. There might be a third eventually though I can't say how quickly. I'm currently writing about eight different fics so when I find the time I suppose. Thanks for reading! Leave a review if you could. I'd love some feedback.