Chapter 54
Word Count: 706
Timeline: pre-series through fake Karakura arc
A/N: Angst, pointless vignettes. Y'know, the good stuff. How I've missed it...

Toushiro remembers clearly the first time he broke his zanpakuto.

Within his first year as a Shinigami – he's thrown himself into his duties with a fervor born from the desire to forget his days at the Academy, and kami knows that desire is all-consuming. In his mind Hollow-fighting is still an exercise to be worked through, a sort of grim dance with steps you might recite to send yourself to sleep.

That day, he performs all the steps flawlessly, but it doesn't matter. As soon as he gets close enough to make a strike, the Hollow just grabs Hyourinmaru in one of its bony-looking claws and snaps.

Toushiro skids across the grass, his sword hand loosening in shock. It's the worst thing he's ever felt – like the bottom of his soul falling out and taking all his insides with it. Part of him wants to scream, but his voice has been rendered just as useless as his fingers.

Having been thus struck down, he half-crouches with his fingers digging into dirt and roots and prepares to die with his eyes open.

Inside his head the voice of his sword whispers, "I am still here."

So Toushiro picks up the fallen blade, at least what's left of it. (The rest is lost in the grass somewhere, in all probability disintegrating into spirit-particles.) Its deadly, elegant curve now cuts off abruptly at a ragged edge, but the reiatsu trail linking it with its wielder flares up, unbroken.

Did you think you were through fighting? Did you think a living blade would abandon you like simple inanimate metal? He can't and he won't, not this time, not as long as you still say the word. Do you understand yet, innocent little Shinigami?

(For the first time Toushiro really does understand.)

The dragon-spirit hisses, low and angry, Let me kill the bastard.

"'Let you'? Hell, we have orders."

His sword whole and heavy in his hands, he swings.

Toushiro remembers even more clearly the first time he broke his bankai. (As it should be; it was much more recent.)

For once, he's feeling good about himself; he defeated Luppi, saved Rangiku and the others. It feels as though his powers have been tested, for the first time in many years, and he's passed the test. And alright, it didn't go exactly as well as it could have, but those few moments, shamelessly showing off his bankai – they'll make a damn good memory anyway.

But Shawlong's voice is so soft and solemn as he speaks of being too young, having limits, please accept my final respects, little captain

It hurts when his wings crumble. The price for sharing strength is that now he and Hyourinmaru share pain, too; bankai is like Hyourinmaru giving Toushiro a little bit of his own body, and now that piece is spread all across the sky and it feels like having a limb shattered.

(You're right, Arrancar, right about everything.)

The voice in his head whispers, "I will not let you fall."

His body hits concrete. He feels every inch of pain and he does not fall.

Within his first fifty years as a Shinigami Toushiro breaks himself, against the wall of pervasive, understated cruelty that is Sousuke Aizen.

He breaks spectacularly, in a shower of ice and blood.

In his mind something breaks too, like a sword cracking under too much stress. This break, too, is a spectacular one. Within his heart the moon explodes outward, and its fragments crack the sky.

Did Hyourinmaru feel this way, the day the Hollow snapped him in two?

Does he feel now the way Toushiro felt then – his heart falling out from under him, whole one second, in useless pieces the next?

A broken zanpakuto needs only its master's presence to heal itself…but there is no such power waiting obligingly to put Toushiro back together. If there is one little piece of his soul left in the rubble somewhere that still has a voice to call, I'm still here and I want to come out! then all it can do is shore up all its fortifications and wait.

Two voices inside his head scream in harmony.

They remember breaking, but only for a moment.