The Charismatic Smile
Hirako Shinji buzzed into the main courtyard of the First Division. He knew he needed to get away from Aizen to fight, but he didn't want to get too far. After he beat Gin, he wanted to be right back with the rest of the gang. He knew that they should be fine without him for a while, but Aizen's zanpakuto was especially dangerous. Sakanade would give the group an important edge against Kyouka Suigetsu.
Ichimaru Gin flashed into the courtyard. Shinji narrowed his eyes at his former subordinate. He knew he'd need to end this quickly. Ichimaru was an extremely capable fighter. Though the main threat today was Aizen Sousuke, his second in command was not to be taken lightly.
"Are ya sure it was a good idea to leave 'em with Captain Aizen?"
This was what Shinji was the most worried about. While Aizen was most definitely the master provocateur, Ichimaru Gin cut a close second.
"I'm sure they'll be fine," Shinji said. Ichimaru's grin curved up slowly at the corners. Shinji felt it in his stomach.
"Ya think so?" Gin stepped forward. Shinji immediately moved back and to the left, slowly beginning a circle. Gin stayed still, his face following Shinji almost unnoticed. Shinso was hidden in his robes.
"You think," Shinji began, "that they can't handle Kyouka Suigetsu? It's a tricky ability, but—"
"About Kyouka Suigetsu."
"What are you talking about?"
Shinji searched Gin's unwavering smile. It only stretched further.
"Are you saying," Shinji continued, "that I'm wrong about its ability?"
"No," Gin replied, smile growing. "You're wrong in only fearing Kyouka Suigetsu."
"Think about it," Gin said. "The only reason Captain Aizen got all them Arrancar to follow him in the first place wasn't because of his Complete Hypnosis. They followed him because he was strong. Even without the threat of Kyouka Suigetsu, they knew he could kill them if they didn't follow his command."
Shinji growled. Gin's smile stretched further.
"Can't you feel it?"
Suddenly, Shinji could. He felt the reiatsu of his Vizard companions flickering dimly in the distance. Hiyori's was almost non-existent. Kensei's was the strongest, and even then there wasn't much reiatsu left to feel comfortable about. Had Aizen truly been that much stronger than the rest of them? Had he actually brushed the six of them off that quickly?
"Shit," Shinji hissed, turning his head toward the exit.
He saw the flash out of the corner of his eye. He didn't have enough time to pull his zanpakuto—he was forced to block the sword with his in the scabbard. He pushed his arms up, blocking the blade above his head. The long zanpakuto glinted in the afternoon sun for a moment before vanishing. He lowered his arms, sliding Sakanade out of the sheath. A trickle of blood slid down his cheek from his temple.
"Ya shouldn't be so careless," Gin said, "Hirako."
Gin's smile faltered and he shot Shinso out at the Vizard. Shinji jumped away, Sakanade twirling around his wrist, a pink haze spreading out into the air of the courtyard. He'd never told Ichimaru Gin about the ability of his zanpakuto—about the reality-warping side-effects of the zanpakuto's mist—but judging from his reaction, Gin had learned about it at some point. Shinji grimaced; he'd wanted the element of surprise.
Shinso fired forward once more, the blade crashing into the wall harmlessly. Shinji chuckled from behind Gin.
"It's too late for that," Shinji said, twirling his zanpakuto some more. The faint scent of roses wafted around them. "Somehow you figured out my shikai. You should really understand the trouble you've got yourself in."
Gin didn't reply.
"So," Shinji resumed, "while I've got you here, why don't we have a little chat, eh?"
Gin's smile stretched up a bit. "Oh? About what?"
"For starters, where's the hougyoku?"
Gin snickered. "Bankai. Kamishini no Yari."
The zanpakuto swung out immediately, slicing a wide arc across the sides of the courtyard. Gin twirled on the balls of his feet, twisting his body in a tight circle. It didn't matter where Shinji was standing—the blade was cutting itself across the entirety of the First Division. He brought up his blade, bracing it with his forearm and shoulder, taking the forceful attack straight on. The long blade slammed into him, sending him tumbling into a wall.
The wall's crumbling alerted Gin to Shinji's true whereabouts. The traitor knew that Sakanade would turn his senses upside down and backwards—but he'd been prepared for that. He shot Shinso at a spot opposite of where he'd seen Shinji land. The spear blasted into the wall in fast repetition, hammering its tip where the Vizard should be lying.
A buzz sounded above him. Shinji appeared, his mask pulled over his face, a fist balled in front of his chest. He aimed it down at Gin, the cero beginning to swirl over his clenched fingers. He let the blast roar forward, collapsing the floor of the courtyard beneath Gin's feet. A trail of smoke flew upward from the dust cloud, arcing outward and landing softly across the plaza. Ichimaru Gin emerged from it, his left sleeve singed but otherwise unharmed. Shinji's eyes narrowed behind his mask. He swiped it off.
"Ya get it, right?" Gin asked, looking at Shinji floating upside down above him. "Ya might be able to switch directions on me, but my Kamishi no Yari is too fast. I'll just shoot in every direction till I hit ya."
Shinji sighed and resealed his zanpakuto, turning right-side-up and floating down to the cracked tiles beneath them. He kept his sword high, even though Gin had slipped his back into his robes somewhere. Shinji eyed him cautiously.
"Why'd ya wanna know about the hougyoku?" Gin asked. "I thought ya knew it was fused with Captain Aizen?"
"I just wanted to make sure, "Shinji said.
"Oh? Ya thought it was a lie all this time?"
"Now who's misunderstandin' who?"
Gin's smile fell a bit.
"What I meant," Shinji continued, "is I wanted to make sure you knew where it was."
"What'd change if I didn't?"
"Maybe your readiness to follow Aizen."
"I've followed Captain Aizen this long," Gin sneered. "Why would I stop now?"
"Don't fuck with me, Ichimaru," Shinji said, a smirk playing over his teeth. "I've been watchin' you recently. You ain't exactly been happy with the way Aizen's been running things, have you?"
Gin's smile fell. "Why'd ya go and say a thing like that?"
"I've seen the looks you've been giving him."
"That's not what I meant," Gin said. "I wanna know why ya said it. What do ya think you're gonna gain with a question like that?"
"Maybe it was simple curiosity?" Shinji said, not taking his eyes off of Gin.
"Or maybe you were tryin' to convince me to stop fightin' ya."
"Well," Ichimaru Gin said, taking a step back and dropping into his striking stance. "How silly of a thing for ya to think."
Without so much as a sigh, Hirako Shinji launched himself forward, pulling on his mask. He now knew that this was futile. Talking to Gin was no longer an option—despite the numerous signs of discord he'd seen over the past few months, Ichimaru Gin wasn't about to betray Aizen Sousuke. Their bond was too strong, the hold Aizen had on the younger Shinigami was too complete. Shinji reared back with his sword, aiming at Gin's chest.
Shinso launched itself from the back of Gin's robes, the spear no longer hidden as it lanced through Shinji's shoulder. The Vizard's mask shattered as the sword carried him across the courtyard, pinning him to a wall. The zanpakuto retracted, tugging out of Shinji's flesh and leaving him to slump, bug-eyed, to the ground. He couldn't move. His entire body felt numb.
Gin's shadow loomed over him.
"Ya ain't as tricky as ya think," Gin said, kneeling down so Shinji could see his face. "I knew ya hadn't actually released the effects of Sakanade. Yer toosmart to do somethin' crazy like that."
Shinji tried to growl, but only a faint hissing whisper was heard. Gin smiled and lifted up Shinso. A chip was missing from the center of the blade.
"Ya see this?" Gin asked, his finger tapping the hole lightly. Shinji could only give a wordless response. Gin smiled in the deepening yellow light. "I left this inside ya when I pulled it out. Shinso has a powerful venom that can obliterate cells, eating them one by one as they spread through yer body."
Gin stood and turned. "But I ain't gonna do that to ya, Hirako Shinji. I've only left in a sedative. It should wear off in a while, but ya won't be able to move till then."
"Why?" Shinji hissed, drool draping over his lips.
Gin stopped. "Why?" He turned and looked over his shoulder. "Because only I am allowed to kill Captain Aizen."
Ichimaru Gin left, his white robes flowing in the fading afternoon. He walked to the nearest exit of the courtyard and stopped, turning his grinning face over his shoulder. If Shinji could, he would have growled. Ichimaru began walking back.
"Although," he said, "I would be remiss if I left you alive and didn't give you some advice." His smile fell as he grew closer. "After all, I'm about to go an' do somethin' silly."
He reached Shinji and kneeled, his lips curving to a serious frown as he looked into Shinji's eyes.
"Kyouka Suigetsu's secret," Ichimaru Gin said, his blue eyes looking into Shinji's, "is to touch it. That's the only way to break the hypnosis."
He stood and left the courtyard.
"Captain Kyouraku," Unohana Retsu said softly. "May I come in?"
Shunsui looked away from the paperwork splayed across his desk, regarding his fellow captain with an indifferent eye. She was hanging on the doorframe, a hand reaching across her body to touch it below where her shoulder leaned.
"I suppose so," he said, turning back to his desk.
"I sent a butterfly for you a few hours ago," she said, taking a small step into the room. She stopped, placing her hand on a vacant chair at an empty desk. "I never received a response."
"Well," he said, "without a lieutenant, this stack just keeps getting taller."
She heard the spite in his voice but hoped she'd only imagined it. She took another step forward and stopped. She couldn't bring herself any closer.
"Perhaps," she started, "you would like to discuss the matter of your lieutenant?"
"What's to say?" he asked, flipping over a new page and replenishing the ink on his quill. "I need a new one, that's all."
"But," she began, softly, catching herself in mid-breath, hoping he hadn't heard her. She didn't want to tell him what to do, and she most certainly didn't want to come off as bossy.
"Go on," he said.
She sighed. "It's been nearly a month. Almost all of the vacant spots have been filled. Kaname Tousen was just awarded captaincy of the Ninth Division. With the exception of his lieutenant and the captain of the Tenth, there aren't any other spots to fill. Except for yours."
Shunsui turned another page. "I'm aware of this, Captain Unohana."
"You need a lieutenant," she said. "The rest of your duties as captain are suffering because you insist on doing the paperwork that Lis—"
She stopped. He sighed heavily and shuffled the papers into a stack. He turned in his chair. His eyelids were heavy and his face was slack. The stubble that covered his chin and cheeks were starting to grow shaggy and unkempt. He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. His eyes turned to the floor.
"I know I need a lieutenant," he said, softly. "But I'm pickier than most. I'm not going to just slap an armband on my grandson or anything like that." He looked up. "I'm waiting for the right one."
"And just how long is that wait going to be, Shunsui?"
"You'll all have to forgive my sluggishness," he said politely, though his face darkened. "I wasn't as willing to throw them away as some."
The unmistakable accusation stung her. She had been one of the more vocal voices that pushed for the banishment of the hybridized Shinigami a month ago.
Unohana turned around. A young girl was standing in the doorway, her head only inches about the middle of the doorframe. A small pair of glasses were snug on the bridge of her nose, and a large book was cradled tightly to her chest.
"Ah, Nanao-chan," Shunsui said, standing. "Is it that time already?"
He placed a hand on the girl's shoulder and led her toward the main chamber of the division.
"If you'll excuse me, Captain Unohana," Shunsui said, walking past her. "The job of a lieutenant never stops."
Lisa buzzed into the courtyard, positioning herself next to Unohana Retsu. Kyouraku Shunsui was nowhere to be seen, but Lisa knew better that to assume he hadn't arrived yet. The afternoon was growing, and the shadows of the division were languidly stretching themselves out across the tiles below. Shunsui would be waiting in these shadows, his patience as sharp as a snake's. His shikai had already begun her game.
"You don't need to be here," Unohana said, her eyes still focused on their surroundings. "I understand that fighting him may prove too painful for you."
"Who the hell do you think you're talking to?" Lisa barked, a cloud rolling over the courtyard, the newfound shade making the blue of her jeans look black and the black of her tank top like midnight. "I'm not going anyw—"
She leapt up as a black blade erupted from the ground. She and Unohana both flashed to opposite ends of the plaza. Shunsui slowly spread upwards from the shadow, his body emerging as the cloud above vanished. Orange light filled the courtyard once more, glinting off his twin scimitars and staining the white of Lisa's thin hoodie.
Lisa had pulled on her mask without even noticing. With a growl, she wiped it away.
"I see you've tagged along," Shunsui said with a charming smile, "Lisa-chan."
She clenched her jaw to keep from grimacing. Or grinning.
"Are you sure she won't get in the way, Retsu?" he asked, looking at the Captain-commander. She said nothing. Lisa's bottom lip quivered slightly.
"You know she won't put her heart in it."
"Asshole!" Lisa roared, pulling her mask back out and dashing forward.
Shunsui sighed and raised his blades. Her nodachi slammed into his right scimitar. She vanished as he swung his left though the air where her belly would have been. She appeared behind him, spinning her shikai over her head.
"Smash, Haguro Tonbo!"
She brought the back end of the spear down, the heavy golden ball smashing into Shunsui's gut and sending him flying across the courtyard, his pink haori fluttering. He flipped and landed on his feet, crouched, and sprang forward at her, his blades crisscrossing in front of him.
"Bushougoma," he called out, a cyclone spinning out and hitting Lisa. The winds roughly circled around her, forcing her to stumble back and twist. She regained her line of sight, but Shunsui had vanished. He reappeared in the air behind her, both scimitars raised high.
He brought is zanpakuto down, but Unohana had stepped in front of Lisa, blocking the two swords over her head. Shunsui buzzed away, placing distance between himself and the two women he was fighting. He grinned again.
"If she'd hit me with the pointy end of her zanpakuto," he said, looking at Unohana, "I'd be done for by now."
Lisa growled from beneath her mask.
"I thought you hated two-on-one fights," he said. "Is it because you agree with me? That Lisa isn't cut out for this battle?"
Unohana sighed and closed her eyes. She stayed like this for a moment before flashing forward, slashing at Shunsui as she reappeared. He had already buzzed away, however—her zanpakuto only cut through the cloth of his pink haori as it fluttered, abandoned as he flashed toward Lisa.
"Irooni," he said, cutting forward. "White."
Lisa raised her spear, but his blades cut through it and into her side, immediately staining her white jacket red. The force of the slash sent her careening across the courtyard. A trail of blood and shattered ivory followed her, sprinkled on the floor tiles. Unohana flashed toward her companion, buried under the rubble. She knelt down, placing her hand over the fallen Vizard. Shunsui kept his distance. Unohana Retsu stood and turned, looking at him over her shoulder.
Her normally gentle eyes—comforting even in the midst of battle—were dark and hard. Her eyebrows weren't furrowed—they were simply a pair of straight lines hovered almost lightly over her harsh pupils. She turned to face Shunsui fully, her free hand slowly undoing the braid that she kept twisted over her chest. With a smooth movement, she swept her hair back, revealing a scar in the center of her sternum. Shunsui smirked.
"Well now," he said, "that's a face I haven't seen in a long time." He reached a hand up to his forehead. "The face of the first Kenpachi—Unohana Yachiru."
He tore on his mask—the visage a grinning face not unlike a clown's, a pinch of agony at the corner of the eyeholes. She rushed at him, her long sword swinging out as she neared him. He blocked, cutting at her with his free scimitar. She scraped her blade along the length of his, forcing his arm back in time for her to block forcefully. His left arm also swung away, and she lunged forward, taking this sudden advantage to be on the attack.
He skipped backward as she slashed repeatedly, just barely blocking or dodging her enormously powerful strikes. He crossed his blades over his chest and caught her sword between them. He slashed outward and knocked her back. His mouth opened and a pink cero swirled between his teeth. It blasted outward, Unohana's form disappearing in the bright beam's light. She appeared just to the left of the cero's trajectory, her left arm darting out. A small lance flew from the sleeve of her jacket. Shunsui barely dodged it, the short spear clipping his mask, cutting a groove into his cheek. A second spike flew at him, hitting and lodging in his left shoulder. He stumbled back and reached up, jerking it out of the muscle. Blood poured down his chest.
"That's a nice little trick," he said, wiping his mask away. "How'd you hide those so well?"
Unohana didn't respond.
"Aw, don't be like that," he continued. "I finally get you to be yourself and you keep so quiet? After centuries of smiling and pretending to be so gentle, you're telling me you aren't going to take this opportunity to speak truthfully?"
A small smile spread across her lips. It made her dark face seem even more ghastly.
"You want me to speak?" she asked. "Then I will speak. These years have gone by in a pleasant haze for me. Even though I was pretending to be someone else, I liked who I was pretending to be. The smile, as fake as it was, had started to feel good on my face. Even when my army was decimated and Soul Society was conquered, I couldn't seem to banish it from my lips."
"And now you have," he said. "For me? I'm flattered."
"It would only be appropriate," she replied. "Watching you cut down your beloved subordinate proved to me that the real Kyouraku Shunsui is no longer here. There is no point for both of us to deny our true selves."
Shunsui frowned and placed his mask back over his face. Unohana gripped her blade with both hands.
"This battle will end with at least one of us being truthful."
She lunged forward, her speed surprising Shunsui as she swung her sword down at the top of his head. He blocked upward with both his scimitars, but her two-handed strike was powerful enough to knock him onto his back. She lurched forward again, hitting the tiles as he barely made it to his feet in time. He darted backward, again missing a slash intended for his midsection.
"Bushougoma!" he yelled, throwing a cyclone at her. She cut through it as it attempted to envelope her, the tornado bifurcating and spinning off to her sides. She rushed forward and struck downward, hitting Shunsui across the chest, the tip of her blade coming out of his skin at the hip. He buzzed away, reappearing across the plaza. He was slightly bent over, breathing heavily as his blood dripped steadily onto the ground. His mask began to crumble away, pieces of it drifting away into the air like snowflakes, some dribbling to the ground like salt.
"I always knew you were scary," he said between breaths, his trademark smile slipping over his face. "But this is downright terrifying." He stood up straight, a grimace replacing his smile. "It's time to end this, isn't it, Retsu?"
Unohana's eyes softened slightly. "I'm afraid so, Shunsui."
The wind blew gently through the yard, cooling the afternoon as another set of clouds drifted over them. Shunsui jabbed his blades into the ground, both of their tips bursting from the ground beneath Unohana's feet. She had already flashed forward at him, her blade swinging low, its edge just above the ground, both her fists clenched around the handle as she swung up, cutting another gash across his torso. His left scimitar went flying off across the yard. He gasped and fell backward, hitting the ground.
She stood over him, silently, looking down at his face. He strained his eyes in the sunlight. With a weak smile, he winked at her and leaned his head back, closing his eyes. She raised her sword, the edge glinting in the sun, before lowering it. Sheathing it, she turned and slowly began to walk away.
Shunsui launched himself off the ground at her, his left hand chucking his white haori at her. As the robe eclipsed her, he raised his blade into the air, swinging it down through the cloth, slicing viciously into the woman behind it.
His blade stopped. The white cape of his former captaincy slipped to the ground, revealing Yadomaru Lisa. She glared at him over her glasses, the back end of Haguro Tonbo held in her left hand, blocking his sword. Her white hoodie was gone. Blood trickled freely from the gash in her black shirt. His left arm dangled at his side, his right suspended in the air. Their eyes met for a brief moment before she squeezed them shut and her grip tightened on the sharper half of her shikai.
"Irooni," she said, swinging the blade. "Black."
The spear plunged into his chest, almost completely burying inside his ribcage. He let out a wet cough and she pulled it out and stepped back, letting him fall freely. She quickly caught him and eased him to the ground. Unohana Retsu stood behind her, her eyes softly downcast as she watched her oldest friend's blood spread out on the ground. Lisa stayed kneeling, placing a bloodied hand on his stubbly cheek.
His eyes opened and he looked up at her. He smiled.
"Well, this is nice."
"Shut up," she whispered, her eyes growing hot. Unohana closed her eyes and turned away, leaving the courtyard.
"You know," he continued, his voice raspy, "Once you little ones grow up, you're always so dazzling. We old men always need to look away."
"Shut up," she repeated, sniffling.
"But now that I can look, you certainly have grown more beautiful since the last time I saw you."
He closed his eyes and smiled.
"Ain't that the truth."
actually not a whole semester between updates this time!
kubo could not have made better timing. right as i was preparing myself to write the chapter with unohana and shunsui fighting, he does all that great stuff in canon. (if you haven't been following since the fullbringers, it's time to catch up. holy shit is it ever time to catch up.)(also, why do i feel like the only person who liked the fullbringer arc?)
anyhoo, we're nearing the end. seriously, there's only a few more chapters to go. expect it done by june. ish.
big shout outs to jazzpha, as always. homedude knows how to give me what i need to know. check out his stuff.
and reviews are always appreciated.
the charismatic smile - tub ring
sectile - metallic taste of blood