Chapter 055 - Greed and Destruction! Matsuri's Life in Danger?!
Later that night, in Karakura Town...
"I've been feeling Abarai and Sado-kun fighting each other for days. And earlier today, I felt Inoue-san and Kuchiki-san starting their training... I need to become stronger as well! There are new enemies out there, powerful enemies! I need to..." Uryū's eyes widened and his head turned back in the direction from where he sensed many spiritual pressures increasing. "What's happening?! Why are there so many Hollows?! Wait... They feel more like..."
"Again thinking on what you shouldn't, Uryū?" Ryūken appeared out of nowhere, startling his son who stared back to him. "I thought you promised me you wouldn't meddle in the business of Shinigami ever again, didn't you?"
"I wasn't worrying about the Shinigami. I was worrying about the sudden appearance of..." Uryū trailed off for a moment, before he stared his father in the eyes. "What are they anyway?"
"Arrancar, Hollows that gained Shinigami powers..." Ryūken revealed, while he lighted a cigarette. "...and the reason why I kept you down here to train. Any progress?"
"I think so. I've managed to change Kojaku into something else." Uryū said, before he grabbed hold of his Quincy Cross and created a bow of bright blue reishi, shaped like a pentacle.
"Oh? So you've managed to improve your Kojaku into a Ginrei Kojaku? I guess it's about time..." Ryūken didn't seem impressed and quickly turned his back on his son to leave. "Even so, it didn't take long after he received his new cross. Uryū might become strong..."
"Where are you going? Didn't you come to see my improvement?" Uryū suddenly fired an arrow that came dangerously close to Ryūken's face, but that only destroyed half of his cigarette. Annoyed, Ryūken focused back on his son. "How about I test its powers against you?"
"You've become really annoying, Uryū..." Ryūken stated, before he formed his own bow.
"The ones who've reached the end are you guys!" Hitsugaya jumped of a building and let himself fall towards the horde of Hollows that surrounded Rangiku and the boy she was protecting. The Hollows were all identical, like they were clones. Each of them resembled an armadillo, with brown fur covering their backs while their legs were a light purple with a ring of brown near the feet. Their Hollow masks had large mouths with no other features present on it. The masks extended over their spine, with spikes protruding from it every few inches. However, there was another trait they shared: their Reiatsu was more Arrancar-like than Hollow-like. "Sit Upon the Frozen Heavens, Hyōrinmaru!"
Hyōrinmaru extended slightly in length and gained a crescent-shaped blade attached to its hilt by a long metal chain. Ice started to form around its blade, until Hitsugaya waved Hyōrinmaru, unleashing a flow of ice from the tip of its blade, shaped like a dragon. The ice dragon consumed the horde of clones, freezing them one by one, until a large prison of ice spikes formed around them all. With all the accumulated spiritual pressure, an explosion occurred, causing the prison and clones to break apart in thousands of pieces, before they were enveloped in a pillar of bright energy.
"That was amazing, taichō!" Rangiku complimented her Captain's efforts, before she noticed Ikkaku and Yumichika arriving. "Yumichika! Ikkaku! Are you alright?"
"Hmph! Don't underestimate us!" Ikkaku told her, with a wide grin on his face. "Things of this level are no problem for us."
"Well, in terms of numbers it was a bit of an hassle..." Yumichika ended up admitting.
"Shōta! Where are you going?" Rangiku followed after the Plus boy she had been protecting, as he ran across the park in the direction of a bench, where a little Plus girl was seated on.
"Yui... Yui!" Shōta tried to wake up the little girl. When he felt, Rangiku stopping behind him, he looked back over his shoulder. "It's Yui! My little sister!"
The next morning, September 11th, 2001. In Hueco Mundo...
"They're still asleep..." Menoly confirmed, while she peeked into Starrk's room. Indeed, Starrk was snoring loudly, while Lilynette slept peacefully not too far away from him.
"Good! Let's go!" Loly commanded, before she quickly paced herself down the corridor, while Menoly closed the door carefully. Loly quickly pushed a secret door and motioned for Menoly to follow her. Being Aizen's aides, they usually received orders to deliver messages all around Las Noches, so they knew the secret passages well. They only took a couple of minutes to reach the main building in Las Noches, the 5th Tower, the one where Aizen and the other Shinigami resided. Once there, they only took a couple more to reach their desired location. "Go check, Menoly."
"Sure..." Menoly slowly pushed the door open and peeked inside. Matsuri was still asleep. Menoly nodded slowly to her partner, who grinned maliciously. They both entered the room, sure they went in undetected. Menoly let herself fall back against the door, with her arms crossed over her chest, while Loly advanced slowly towards the bed.
"Wake up call time!" Loly screeched, as she grabbed Matsuri by her hair and forced her up, immediately awakening her. The startled Matsuri didn't have any time to react and, before she even noticed, she was being slapped around by the jealous Arrancar. "Ahahah! Thought you would get away with it, bitch? Where's your big savior now, huh?"
"Wh-What do you want from me?" The scared Matsuri asked, as tears were starting to form in her eyes. She could already taste her own blood from the Hierro-enhanced slaps she took from Loly. "What... What did I ever do to you?!"
"You were born." Loly simply answered, before she slapped Matsuri again, this time harder than ever before. The Arrancar crazily laughed, before she grabbed Matsuri by her hair once again. "My, my... You got pretty hair."
"S-Stop..." Matsuri begged, pain throbbing through her head. Loly stared at her in disgust, before she ripped some of hair off, causing the blonde girl to prepare a scream of pain. Before she could unleash it though, Loly covered her mouth and pointed her dagger-like Zanpakutō to her throat.
"If you scream, you die... Understand?" Loly questioned, with Matsuri nodding slowly, until the Arrancar released her. Loly stared at the long blond strings of hair in her hand and seemed confused for a moment. "Ever noticed her hair was this long, Menoly?"
"She had it in a ponytail, with some sort of headband accessory." Menoly reminded her partner, who looked around the room until she noticed the said accessory on top of a table.
"Oh? Is it that?" Loly started to walk towards the table, causing Matsuri's eyes to widen as much as they could. "I guess I'll have it for me, then."
"NO!" With a rush of adrenaline, Matsuri used Shunpo and was able to reach her headband and grab it before Loly. That only angered the Arrancar more, as she hit Matsuri across the face with a backfist, sending her flying back to her bed.
"Bitch! You dare to say no to me?!" Loly asked her.
"Y-You... can't have... it. It's... Konoka-sama's... gift..." About to lose consciousness, Matsuri put the last of her strength in tightly clutching Konoka's gift.
"That's it, Loly! I'll cut all her hair off! She won't need that dirty headband, then!" Loly drew her Zanpakutō once again and started to walk back towards the bed. Menoly noticed things were getting out of hand, but before she could even try to stop Loly, a Garganta opened under Matsuri, causing both of them to freeze in shock. Two thick, white tentacles appeared from the inside of the Garganta and wrapped Matsuri's body, before dragging her inside. The Garganta closed, leaving both aides speechless. "M-Menoly..."
"Someone knows! Let's get out of here!" Menoly told to her partner, before both left the room as fast as they could. Far from there, in one of the other towers of Las Noches, an Arrancar waited anxiously for his reward to arrive. The tentacles that came out of his sleeves continued to retract and, soon after, Matsuri was being dragged from the inside of the Garganta the Arrancar opened in his room.
"Aah... You've finally arrived, babe! I was waiting for you." Matsuri heard the Arrancar speak, before she struggled to open her eyes. After a moment, she could see him clearly. The Arrancar was a male with youthful, but effeminate, features. He had short, curly though unevenly cut black hair and lavender eyes. Above his left eyebrow, he had a row of three pink stars. The remains of his Hollow mask, which consisted of a top row of teeth, rested atop the left side of his head. "Oh, sorry! Where are my manners? I'm the Sexta Espada, Luppi Antenor. What's your name, neesan?"
"Sexta... Espada..." Matsuri repeated the ranking, before she took a better look at Luppi. His attire consisted of a long-sleeve shirt, enough to cover and cloak his hands. Luppi's shirt had an opening on the left side of his body, just below his arm, allowing him to place his Zanpakutō within it. In addition, there were two large square-like holes on the bottom portion of his shirt that revealed his left and right abdomens. He also wore a white hakama, black sash, black tabi socks and a pair of low-heeled open-toe shoes. "Matsuri... Kudō..."
"Matsuri-neesan, is it? How nice..." Luppi's eyes traveled through her entire body, causing her to shiver in fear.
"He's dangerous!" Matsuri thought, before she changed her position, preparing to stand up. "Why did you save me? What do you want from me?"
"Well, those are two questions that have the same answer... and we both know what that is." A tentacle suddenly stretched from Luppi's right sleeve and wrapped around Matsuri's torso, before it retracted, forcing Matsuri's body against Luppi's. With their faces only inches away from one another, Luppi licked his lips, causing Matsuri to pull her head back in disgust. "Since I saw when Ichimaru brought you to Las Noches, I haven't been able to take you out of my thoughts. Finally, a fine female appeared! I was sick of only having whores like those two who attacked you to stare at!"
"N-No! Let me... go!" Matsuri tried to force herself out of Luppi's grasp, but to no avail. Angry by her attitude, Luppi tightened the grip on Matsuri, almost causing her to faint in pain.
"Now... let's enjoy ourselves, babe..." Luppi was about to do something to Matsuri, when he felt a hand on his shoulder. Looking back, he saw Grimmjow staring at him in disgust. "You?"
"Let her go, Luppi." The blue-haired Arrancar told to his successor.
"Or what?" The new Sexta Espada let out a mocking grin, before he tightened his grip on Matsuri even more, causing her to scream loudly. Her eyes silently begged to Grimmjow to help her, before she lost consciousness. Annoyed by that, Luppi threw her away like trash, before he turned to face Grimmjow with his full attention. "Tsk, way to spoil my fun, Grimmjow..."
"I could care less about her, but she's part of Aizen-sama's plans. You would get in trouble if she got seriously hurt." Grimmjow told him, while he looked in her direction.
"You want me to believe you really care that much about me? Hmm?" Luppi questioned the blue-haired Arrancar, before he laughed. "Oh sorry! Sorry! I see now... You're actually grateful I was gracious enough to allow you to be my Fracción, instead of letting them kick you out to Tres Cifras!"
"Funny bastard, aren't you? Well, the only reason I want you around is so that I can kill you with my own hands while you're at your best!" Grimmjow pointed in Luppi's direction with a furious expression on his face.
"Your own hands? Really? What about that left hand of yours, hmm?" Luppi pointed out, causing Grimmjow to grow lowly. "An attached limb from some defeated Arrancar doesn't really apply as your own, I would say... Besides, with all the power you lost, how do you expect to defeat me, Grimmjow? In fact... I could kill you right now!"
"You could, Luppi Antenor. I wouldn't advise it, though." A deep voice made itself heard, causing both to look towards the door. The Arrancar who wore an elongated, white mask with eight holes, had been watching their argument.
"Aaroniero..." Grimmjow sneered, while Luppi chuckled.
"Really, Aaroniero? Don't you know what happened when Grimmjow lost his power?" Luppi questioned the fellow Espada, who didn't move an inch. "He became weaker than me and I became the most powerful Arrancar to represent the Aspect of Death known as Destruction. The moment that happened, my spiritual pressure increased dramatically, making me stronger than you, Szayelaporro and Zommari! So, as you see... I could defeat you here and now as well."
"I am aware of that, but you seem to be forgetting something about my powers." Aaroniero continued to speak in his deep voice, until he pointed to the side of his mask. Then, he spoke in a very high-pitched voice. "Sincronía, the ability to broadcast information of whatever I'm seeing or experiencing to others."
"You wouldn't dare..." Luppi's eyes narrowed, but he did nothing to stop Aaroniero from walking past him and Grimmjow, until he reached Matsuri.
"Aizen-sama wouldn't like to know one of his pet projects was being endangered by one of his Espada." The high-pitched voice continued to speak, until Aaroniero picked Matsuri up from the ground, carrying her in his arms. Then, the deep voice spoke. "Let's keep what happened here a secret between us three, shall we?"
"What about you? Where are you taking the girl?" Grimmjow questioned the Noveno Espada.
"To my palace. Aizen-sama gave me orders regarding this girl. From now on..." Aaroniero's voice changed from deep to high-pitched once again. "She's under my care."
A couple of hours later, in the Living World...
"You could've asked me, you know? I wouldn't say no." Urahara rubbed the back of his head, as he spoke. Only now did he found out that Rukia and Orihime spent the night inside of one of his wardrobes. Rukia was already out of her Gigai, while Orihime stood by her side, staring down to the ground. Behind them, Chad and Renji had already started their training.
"Considering how you handled Inoue's situation last time, I decided to sneak in instead." Rukia said, while she crossed her arms over her chest. "Go on, say it."
"Say what?" Urahara asked, before Rukia angrily pushed his head down with one of her hands, nearly making him bow.
"Say 'I'm sorry for the things I've said to you' and make it quick! We still have a lot of training to do." Rukia ordered the much more experienced Shinigami. Urahara stared to Inoue for a moment and noticed she felt unconfortable to be in his presence.
"I heard you regained your attacking powers. Is it true?" Urahara asked, while he sat down with his legs crossed. Orihime nodded twice to answer. "Was it Hachigen Ushōda?"
"How do you...?" Orihime didn't finish her question, as she realized Urahara was the kind of man that somehow knew everything, so she ended up just nodding once more.
"I knew that Hacchi could do it. I didn't mention him to you because... The problem about you isn't whether you have your attacking power or not." Urahara sighed and continued. "The problem about you is whether you really want to be part of the fight or not... Have you reached a conclusion?"
"I won't remain behind anymore. I wan't to protect everyone, like they do." Orihime answered, none of her words shaking. Urahara closed his eyes and sighed once again.
"Very well." Urahara, with his eyes still closed, bowed down to her. "I'm sorry for the things I said to you. Please, feel free to use my humble training ground for your improvement."
"Good! Training outside is too troublesome... Let's go, Inoue!" Rukia started to walk away and called for Orihime to follow her. The Human girl bowed in grattitude to the shop owner and quickly followed her.
"Are you sure this is the correct decision?" Tessai questioned Urahara, who didn't even bother to stand back up.
"When the times comes, Inoue-san will fail. She's too kind to be on a battlefield. However, one thing we can learn by her meeting Hacchi is that she won't stop just because we tell her to stop." Urahara fixed his hat, so he could see the two girls preparing to fight each other. "Inoue-san will be there. This training may make the difference on whether she survives or not."
At the same time, in Soul Society...
"Oh, Fujimaru-san!" Hanatarō greeted his new friends, as soon as he saw him passing by a near corridor.
"Hello! You're Hana... Hana... something..." Fujimaru found his eyes closed to slits, as he couldn't believe he was forgeting the name of the Shinigami he befriended just a day before. "Uh... Yamada-nanaseki?"
"Hanatarō Yamada. You can just call me Hanatarō." The 7th Seat didn't seemed bothered about it at all. "Some people have trouble remembering my name."
"Is that right? That's funny, it seems like a pretty easy name to remember... even though I couldn't quite remember it..." Fujimaru rubbed the back of his head, while he let out his characteristic silly smile.
"I'm sure you're here to meet Unohana-taichō, right?" Hanatarō questioned his new friend, who nodded to answer. "Unohana-taichō is in her office. Please follow me."
"Eheh! Thanks, Hanatarō!" Fujimaru followed the 7th Seat, even though he already knew the way to Unohana's office. It wasn't the first visit, after all.
"Is this a guest, Hanatarō?" Isane asked to the small Shinigami, who nodded with a big smile on his face.
"Thanks for your recent help, Kotetsu-fukutaichō." Fujimaru bowed to the Vice-Captain, who didn't recognize him at first.
"O-Oh, it's you!" The surprised Isane also bowed to greet the visitor. "Are you here to meet with Unohana-taichō?"
"Indeed. I wanted to thank her too." Fujimaru told her.
"I'll take it from here, Hanatarō. You can get back to work." Isane instructed the 7th Seat, who nodded.
"Hai! Please enjoy your visit, Fujimaru-san." Hanatarō bowed to both and left in a hurry. Isane motioned for Fujimaru to follow her and they both walked towards the door of Unohana's office, with Isane knocking twice on it.
"Come in." Unohana allowed. The door opened and both her Vice-Captain and the blond Shinigami entered, causing her kind smile to be warmer than ever before. "How good of you to come, Fujimaru."
"Unohana-taichō!" For some reason, Fujimaru actually had a urge to dash towards the Captain and hug her, but restrained himself to the formal bow. "I've been wanting to speak with you ever since I saw you in that Captains' meeting."
"I was actually thinking the same thing, but it seems our schedules have been incompatible until today." Unohana said, surprising Isane. The Vice-Captain never expected them to be able to speak so easily with one another.
"How is it that you know the Captain?" Isane found herself asking.
"Why so curious, Isane?" Unohana questioned her second-in-command.
"It's just that it's unusual for you to call someone by their first name..." Isane answered, with a blush slowly forming on her face. It didn't pass unnoticed to Fujimaru that Isane was one of those people.
"Now that you mention it, I suppose nowadays you're the only one I do that with." Unohana pondered out loud, causing Isane's blush to intensify. Seeing the questioning look in Fujimaru's face, Unohana continued. "I guess it's because I rarely see anyone outside of work anymore."
"You must be really busy." Fujimaru said thoughtfully, as he remembered Hanatarō's explanation on the duties of the 4th Division.
"It's precisely because I'm so busy that I want to take most of life beyond work. So I do hope you'll come visit whenever yuo have the opportunity." Unohana told Fujimaru, causing him to be the one to blush this time. "Isane, would you prepare us some tea, please?"
"Hai, Unohana-taichō." Isane bowed and left the office to do as ordered. Unohana motioned for Fujimaru to sit on a chair, while she did the same.
"I will do as you ask, Unohana-taichō." Fujimaru nodded more than bowed, before he continued. "So how have you been?"
"Very well. We at the 4th Division are, after all, the source of vitality for the Gotei 13." Unohana reminded him. "And the Captain of the Division can't go about with a sour look on her face, can she?"
"Everyone would be concerned, I imagine." Fujimaru pondered on that for a bit, as he remembered when Seigen was worried about the upcoming battle against Arturo's forces.
"That means I need to stay happy and healthy so that won't happen." Unohana told him.
"But there must be times when that's hard for you, right?" The younger Shinigami questioned the experienced Captain.
"Part of a Captain's duty is to find a way to keep one's spirits up so things don't get hard." The master healer lectured him.
"It's tough being a Captain, isn't it?" Fujimaru asked, to which Unohana nodded.
"I will say that I did have a difficult time after Konoka passed." Unohana suddenly admitted, startling Fujimaru. He didn't expect the conversation's topic to change like that. "I threw myself into my work to help me forget the heartache. With no one to share my grief, it was a particularly painful time."
"I'm so sorry..." Fujimaru stared down, thinking on what the people who kept living their normal lives following the battle with Arturo had to go through.
"That's why I'm so very glad to have a chance to talk with you like this." She said, causing him to look back up. "To be able to share our sadness and our memories of Konoka."
"I'm glad too..." Fujimaru felt a smile slowly forming on his face. "You're the only one who seemed to know Konoka-sama really well."
"Mm hm..." Unohana nodded, before she stared to her office's window. "I went to see Konoka yesterday. That's why you missed me... I made her a promise in front of her grave."
"What kind of promise?" The curious Fujimaru asked.
"I told her that I'd take care of you, Fujimaru, so she didn't have to worry." Unohana revealed, while she looked back to him. She suddenly stood and bowed to Fujimaru, causing his eyes to widen greatly. "You are a treasured legacy of Konoka. If you'll allow me to, I'd like to help look after you."
"N-No... I mean, yes... I... please don't bow." He clumsily asked her and she complied, before he sighed softly. "That's a very kind offer."
"There's no need to hesitate accepting it. This is something I want to do, not just for Konoka." Unohana continued to speak and, seeing as he was still reluctant, she didn't stop. "I'm asking you as Konoka's dear friend, not as a Captain."
"As her friend...and not as a Captain..." Fujimaru mumbled.
"You can be friends with whoever you wish to, as long as you don't become a Shinigami. As long as you remain who you are... Fujimaru Kudō."
End of Flashback
"I see..." Fujimaru smiled as Unohana and Kūkaku's words echoed on his mind. He then stood and bowed to the respected Captain. "Thank you very much for that. And I hope that I can be of service to you too!"
"I'm sure that you will." She smiled, before someone knocked on the door. "Ah, it seems tea is ready."
Later that afternoon...
"Unohana-taichō will discharge Ganju in a couple of hours. I better hurry up." Fujimaru hurriedly entered in the station and looked for someone to help him. He saw a large man, almost twice the height of the person Fujimaru was looking for and probably over four times her weight. "Uh, excuse me?"
"Yeah?!" The man spoke quite aggressively, clearly not enjoying Fujimaru bothering him. He had black hair and wore the standard Shinigami robes with a large purple collar. He also wore expensive, personalized jewelry. "What do you want?"
"I'd like to meet with Suì-Fēng...taichō, if I may?" Fujimaru nervously answered, almost forgetting to use the proper honorific.
"The Captain isn't here." The man who was the Vice-Captain of the 2nd Division, considering his armband, curtly answered. He opened a bag of rice crackers and quickly picked one, which he devoured in an instant.
"Then... can I make an appointment?" Fujimaru insisted, as he really didn't want to go back to Rukongai without speaking properly with Suì-Fēng.
"What a pain..." The Vice-Captain groaned, before he picked another cracker. "Here! I'll give you a rice cracker if you'll just go home!"
"Huh? A rice cracker?" Fujimaru asked, while he stared to the snack. That wasn't what he came there for.
"Yeah, I'll even give you two." The large man quickly picked another one and dropped both crackers in Fujimaru's hands. "Now, go way!"
"No, you see... I was hoping to get an appointment..." Fujimaru tried to explain, causing the Vice-Captain to grow angry at his insistence.
"What?! Do you want three? Is that it?" The Vice-Captain grabbed Fujimaru by his collar and shouted in his face.
"That's not what I..."
"What's will all the commotion, Ōmaeda?" Suì-Fēng appeared out of nowhere and interrupted the argument. Seeing her, the man called Ōmaeda immediately released Fujimaru and walked in her direction.
"Ah! T-T-Ta-Taichō..." Ōmaeda nervously spoke to her, while he started to sweat profusely. "There's someone here to see you. I'm trying to get rid of him, but he's not taking the hint."
"There's no need to chase this one off." Suì-Fēng informed the Vice-Captain, who seemed quite confused.
"Hmm? That's unusual..." Ōmaeda thought. It was part of his orders to get rid of visitors, so he didn't comprehend why Fujimaru was an exception.
"Are you busy again today?" Fujimaru asked, while he saw Suì-Fēng passing by Ōmaeda and walking in his direction.
"That goes without saying." Suì-Fēng told him, before she extended her right hand to give him a piece of paper. "I'll let you have this. Take it."
"What is this?" Fujimaru as he picked the paper and started to read it.
"It's my schedule. Come when there's an opening." Suì-Fēng turned her back on them and walked towards the entrance of the station. "Goodbye."
"But... wait!" Fujimaru still shouted, but Suì-Fēng was already gone. Sighing, he turned to Ōmaeda, who was already eating once again. "She's always that busy?"
"Yeah, the Captain makes the most of every minute." Ōmaeda told him, while he walked in Fujimaru's direction. When he reached his side, he pointed to the paper Fujimaru had on his hand. "Check out the schedule."
"W-Wow! What the hell?!" The shocked Fujimaru couldn't believe how tight Suì-Fēng's schedule was. There wasn't a single free time on it. "T-There's no time in it for sleeping or eating!"
"Yeah, you can see there isn't even time to 'go'... you know?" Ōmaeda added, causing Fujimaru to give him a quick, confused stare.
"Time to go?" Both of them froze, with their eyes turning blank, as they heard a familiar voice right behind them. "Time to go where, Ōmaeda?"
"Oh! Erm... No time to go anywhere that's, uh, not on the schedule! Ahah...ah..." Ōmaeda nervously laughed, as he tried to explain what he said to his Captain, but the only answer he got was an Anken being thrown and passing inches away from his face. Beeing so close to die, Ōmaeda felt he was about to faint. "Tai...chō..."
"She really looked like she was about to kill him... It's actually amazing he's managed to stay alive this long." Fujimaru said thoughtfully, while he stared to the unconscious Vice-Captain. Suì-Fēng was nowhere to be seen again. "Let's see... This was faster than I thought, so I still have some time. Hmm... I think I'll go pay Kyōraku-taichō a visit. I haven't had a chance to really talk to him yet. I wonder if he's still enjoying life in his usual manner..."
At the same time...
"Nanaaao-chaan..." Shunsui Kyōraku, who was resting on his couch, called for his Vice-Captain, who was taking care of both his and her paperwork. "Can I go for a walk?"
"No." She curtly answered, without taking her eyes from the paperwork.
"C'mon! Please? Pretty pretty please, Nanao-chan?" Kyōraku insisted, with a smile forming on his lips. "Besides, I'm not doing anything anyway, so you could..."
"You're not doing anything, because I'm doing your part of the job! Do you want to be scolded by Yamamoto-sōtaichō again?" Nanao raised her voice, causing Kyōraku to flinch. The idea of being scolded by the old man once again sent him shivers down his spine. "Since I'm doing your work, you could at least be decent enough to keep me some company."
"Oh, I would like to keep you company... if we were a little closer. But all you do is remain behind that desk, so... I guess I would like to go to one of my favorite places in the Rukongai." Kyōraku fixed his hat, as he prepared to leave. "Can I go, Nanao-chan?"
"No." She curtly answered yet again, before she actually stopped what she was doing. "Why is it that for the last couple of days you always insist to go out at this time of the day?"
"Oh, you see... I've been hoping to meet a gorgeous young girl, blond, sweet blue eyes... in the hopes she would pour me a couple of drinks... and keep me good company." Kyōraku revealed, causing Nanao's eyes to narrow. "Don't tell me you're jealous, Nanao-chan?"
"I'm NOT jealous!" She told him, with a scandalized look on her face. Before she knew, he was extending her a cup, with a silly smile on his face. "I'm NOT going to pour you a drink! Go do that with your blond friend!"
"You said it..." Kyōraku pointed out, before he disappeared with a Shunpo, leaving a shocked Nanao in her place.
"He tricked me..." Nanao mumbled, before all the veins in her forehead popped out. "KYŌRAKU-TAICHŌŌŌŌ!"
Back in Hueco Mundo...
Matsuri was lying down in an improvised bed, when she woke up. The room was dark, with the only source of light being two candles positioned near her bed. She took quite some time to adjust her eyes to the lack of light, before she finally started to move. As soon as she did, she heard steps. Someone saw her awakening and was walking in her direction. Having a bad feeling, she quickly assumed a defensive position, while still inside her bed. After a few moments, a person walked out of the darkness and stopped in front of her. She recognized him as the one that watched her while she got beaten around by Loly and Menoly the first time, due to his long mask, his dress garb and his nobles' coat.
"Another Arrancar? What do you want from me?" Matsuri asked him, noticing that her voice was more high-pitched than usual. "What do all of you want from me?"
"My name is Aaroniero Arruruerie. I'm the Noveno Espada." Aaroniero said in his deep voice, before bowing down to the Shinigami girl. When he straightened himself, he started to speak in his high-pitched voice. "Please forgive them. They're not used to see a Shinigami around."
"Noveno Espada..." Matsuri quickly tried to determine his Aspect of Death and, if she wasn't wrong, Aaroniero was the Espada of Greed. "It's a good thing Starrk and Lilynette told me about these things. I can more or less determine their intentions."
"You're trying to determine what I want from you, based on my Aspect of Death, aren't you?" Aaroniero's deep voice startled Matsuri, who never expected him to understand her so easily. Then, his high-pitched voice started to speak. "However, that only works with Menos Grande or Arrancars, Matsuri. It won't work with me."
"What?! How do you know my name?" Matsuri asked. Even though Aizen could've told the Arrancars her name, none of the ones she met had showed knowledge of it. Aaroniero slowly took of his mask, causing Matsuri's eyes to widen as much as they could. She immediately recognized the aqua green eyes and spiky raven black hair of the man in front of her. "It...It can't be! K-Kaien-kun?!"
Moments later, back in Soul Society...
"Hello? Is anyone here?" Fujimaru asked, as soon as he entered in the station of the 8th Division.
"Ugh...Where has Kyōraku-taichō gone..." Nanao appeared out of a nearby corridor, heading towards the station's entrance, without even seeing Fujimaru standing there.
"Oh! Uh... Sorry! Ise-fukutaichō!" Fujimaru called for her, as soon as she passed him by, without even noticing him.
"What?" She asked furiously, without even looking at him.
"Um, excuse me! I came looking for..." The blond Shinigami found himself following her out of the station, as she didn't slow down at all.
"The Captain is such a handful!" Nanao stated, causing a confused look to appear in Fujimaru's face.
"Let me guess... Is Kyōraku-taichō missing again?" Fujimaru questioned her, now understanding why she was acting so out of character. "I came here to pay him my respects, but by your reaction..."
"Hai... The Captain is presently unaccounted for." She answered, a bit more calmly.
"Unaccounted for... I guess that means he's off somewhere drink..." Fujimaru quickly concluded, but Nanao turned around and covered his mouth with one of her hands, preventing him from saying it.
"Shh! Keep it down!" She ordered him, before she resumed her march. "You're obviously aware of Kyōraku-taichō's habits... If you have any knowledge of his whereabouts, by all means, share it with me."
"Well, let me see..." Fujimaru pondered for a bit, before his eyes widened slightly. He knew where he was.
"Aaah!" Kyōraku sighed in appreciation, as he finished his bottle of sake. "This spot sure is the perfect place to enjoy a leisurely drink."
"How nice for you." A woman with pinned back black hair, light blue eyes and glasses stated.
"Ohoh! And there's even a beautiful woman here who looks and sounds just like Nanao-chan!" Kyōraku happily stated, while he opened a second bottle and filled his cup.
"I am Nanao!" The Vice-Captain angrily shouted, causing him to believe her.
"How'd you find me here?" He asked, while he drank the sake.
"How'd you manage to keep this place secret all these years?" Fujimaru asked, after appearing by Nanao's side.
"Oh? So you finally showed up... I figured if I waited long enough, you'd turn up here eventually." Kyōraku grinned and picked up a bottle, extending it to the younger Shinigami. "Here! Sit with me and let's have a drink together!"
"Have you forgotten that you're still on the job?" Nanao reminded him, causing him to sigh sadly.
"Was there work left to do?" Kyōraku asked.
"The paperwork has been submitted." The Vice-Captain informed him.
"Well, then, we're all set!" Kyōraku happily shouted, before he started to open Fujimaru's bottle.
"I had to do it!" She angrily told him, causing him laugh.
"Seems like nothing's changed!" Fujimaru stated, with a happy smile on his face.
"That's not true." Kyōraku shook his head, with a serious look appearing on his face. "Thanks to Nanao-chan's proficiency... I actually have more time than I used to for relaxing!"
"He's even worse than before!" Fujimaru pointed out, with his silly grin masking his face.
"I'll admit I do enjoy myself." Kyōraku chuckled, before he finally opened the bottle meant to Fujimaru. "All right, then! Let's begin celebrating our little reunion?"
"I think not!" Nanao stubbornly stated, before crossing her arms over her chest. "We should get back to the office."
"Aww, c'mon, Nanao-chan... Have just one little drink with us." Kyōraku offered, but that only made Nanao angrier.
"That is not permitted!" She actually screamed, causing Kyōraku to understand he had crossed a line. He even shed some tears and fidgeted for a moment in order for Nanao to pity him, but found it useless, as Nanao completely ignored him.
"Oh, okay then..." Kyōraku rested the bottles on the bench and started to walk in the direction of Seireitei.
"Wow... she's so commanding." Fujimaru stated, before he saw her bowing down to him.
"Thank you very much for your cooperation." She thanked him, before they both followed behind Kyōraku.
Less than an hour later...
"Nanao-chaaaaan! Can I please go out?" Kyōraku begged her.
"What?!" The shocked Nanao actually dropped her writing brush. "You just returned!"
"Just for a little while?" He asked her with puppy eyes.
"If you've finished the pile of papers on your desk, then by all means, go ahead." Nanao said, obviously knowing he had not even touched the papers.
"I'll do those later. I work fast when I want, don't I?" Kyōraku still tried to convince her.
"Then it won't take you long to get them done before you leave!" Nanao found herself shouting once again. She took a deep breath and actually walked out of the office to get some air. "You're hopeless."
"Nanao-chan?" Kyōraku still called for her, as he had not expected her to leave.
"Ise-fukutaicho seems angry." Fujimaru pointed out. He had followed both of them back to Seireitei, so he decided to remain there and watch them work. "Maybe I shouldn't have come back with you two."
"Nah! Don't worry about it!" Kyōraku shrugged it off, before he seated closer to Fujimaru. "So tell me, what do you think of Nanao-chan?"
"Well... She's very attractive and very good at her job." Fujimaru gave his sincere opinion.
"You think so too, eh?" Kyōraku grinned widely and, as it seemed to Fujimaru, proudly as well. "Nanao-chan is indeed a beautiful and considerate person."
"So I thought you would say... but she also seems a bit scary." Fujimaru pointed out, to which the experienced Captain shook his head.
"Nah! She's not. She might seem tough on the outside, but she's really very kind. She's the perfect Vice-Captain for me." Kyōraku stated, before he slowly turned his head towards the office's door. Fujimaru's characteristic silly expression made it clear he understood why Kyōraku did that. "Oh hey, Nanao-chan! I didn't know you were there."
"Oh!" Nanao appeared by the door, with a deep blush in her face. "I wasn't trying to listen in on your conversation, I just... Excuse me!"
"See? She's a real sweetheart." Kyōraku said, as soon as Nanao ran away, obviously embarrassed.
"I'm positive he made sure she heard all of that. That must be why he's the boss." Fujimaru thought, before he found himself laughing.
"Let's make our escape now that she's gone!" Kyōraku hurriedly grabbed his pink haori and his hat, before he signaled for Fujimaru to follow him out of the window.
"Won't you get in trouble with Ise-fukutaicho again?" Fujimaru asked, as both used Shunpo to get out of there.
"Considering what I said about her just now, I'm pretty sure I have her permission. Let's go!" Kyōraku leaded the way back to the place where Fujimaru and Nanao had found him earlier. With Shunpo, they didn't take very long to reach it. "She already knows about this place anyway."
"You really like it here, don't you?" Fujimaru asked with a smile.
"It's a good place to reminisce about the past. After all..." Kyōraku let out a grin, while he walked to the drink seller. "It's the place where I first met you."
"What sort of things have you been reminiscing about?" Fujimaru asked, while he walked towards the bench he knew they would be using. Kyōraku bought a bunch of sake bottles and went to sit by his side.
"The ones who come and go. I'm actually pretty old already by Shinigami standards, so I've seen many people enter in my life and then disappear to never be seen again." Kyōraku revealed, causing Fujimaru's eyes to widen in surprise. "Kinda like what happened with you kids, Suzunami and his sister... And of course, about all the many things that happened while you were gone. The last century has been quite eventful... This and that. You know."
"Oh..." Fujimaru stared down, not expecting such a thing from Kyōraku. He knew the Captain had his moments of seriousness from time to time, but he never expected him to show such importance over what was lost. He also didn't expect Kyōraku to share it with him.
"Even with all that's happened, the scenery around here doesn't seem to change much at all." Kyōraku stated, while he opened a sake bottle and started to pour the liquid into a cup.
"Yeah, it appears to have stayed pretty much the same." Fujimaru agreed while he stared up and down the street they were in. Kyōraku extended him the cup, causing him to sigh. "Fine, just this one."
"Some of the details are quite different... but the big stuff never really changes." Kyōraku continued to speak, while he poured some sake for himself. "Sure, lots of little things aren't what they used to be, but the view from where I sit has been very consistent."
"Well..." Fujimaru's eyes narrowed, as he didn't quite like the words used by Kyōraku.
"Does it make you mad to hear me dismiss the changes as little things?" Kyōraku questioned, before taking a sip of his sake. "Let's see if you understand..."
"Not sure. It kinda does and kinda doesn't." The blond Shinigami answered, after pondering for a while. "I don't consider what I've lost small or insignificant at all. But at the same time, it's true. While Seigen-sama and Konoka-sama aren't here anymore, Soul Society has remained more or less the same. I guess that's whay you call the 'big stuff', right?"
"You're right. Fujimaru, it's okay for you to think the losses you've suffered are no small thing. You shouldn't get so used to this age too soon, as it will sort of make the past irrelevant. It's better for you to experience this time period in a way that's true to yourself. In a balanced way." Kyōraku rested his sake cup on the bench and stared up to the sky. "At the same time, it's good you realize the importance of the 'big stuff'. It does help us keep perspective. It really does. Do you understand the message I'm trying to pass on to you?"
"Hmm... I guess you want to me to live in a balanced way?" Fujimaru asked him.
"Glad you understand it. I told you, I come here to reminisce. That's because I value the little things. But at the same time, I must put importance on the big things, as it is my duty." Kyōraku shifted his position, and stared down to the ground. "If you place too much importance on the little things, you may become selfish and walk out of the path that is right."
"Like Yamada-fukutaichō?" The younger Shinigami tried to guess.
"I see you heard about it. Yes, like what happened with Seinosuke Yamada. His actions only followed his own beliefs and that led him to his downfall. Another case of that could be Aizen and those who followed him." The Captain said, while he stared back to the young man. "But if you put too much importance on the big things, you may lose your identity and live a life of suffering. After your and Yoruichi Shihōin's disappearance, Suì-Fēng-taichō did that. And for a hundred years, until she reencountered Yoruichi a month ago, Suì-Fēng did live a life of suffering."
"Poor Suì-Fēng..." Fujimaru was shocked to hear that from Kyōraku. More than ever, he felt like he really should find some time to speak with the Captain of the 2nd Division.
"It won't be an easy road, my friend. You intend to seek out Seigen and your sister, don't you?" After a long time, Kyōraku finally finished his first cup of sake. "Well, if you ever need any help in your search, just say the word."
"I see. He intends to put a break on me if I start to behave in that selfish way he was talking about." Fujimaru smiled and nodded to the Captain. "Thank you, Kyōraku-taichō."
"That's on one condition, though... It'll be your job to convince Nanao-chan to let me go. Got it?" Kyōraku grinned, causing Fujimaru to laugh. "Seconds?"
"Unfortunately, I'll have to say no." Fujimaru shook his head and stood, before bowing down to the older Shinigami. "Unohana-taichō should be discharging Ganju right now, I should go."
"Sure, I understand. Let's meet some other time, kid." Kyōraku nodded to Fujimaru, who disappeared in a Shunpo afterwards. The Captain sighed and stared back to the sky. "I'll wait for you a little longer... I sure hope you bring your sister with you next time."
Back in Hueco Mundo...
"You died?!" The confused Matsuri asked, after she heard that from Kaien himself. "It can't be... How are you here, then?!"
"I don't know for sure, but I guess the Hollow that attacked me before I died had something to do with it... My body recomposed here in Hueco Mundo." Kaien continued his explanation. "Soon after that, I found out that Aizen was ruling over the Hollows and had an army of Arrancars under his control. I was found out by one of his Espada..."
"The Noveno Espada?" Matsuri tried to guess, with Kaien nodding to confirm it.
"I was somehow able to defeat it and take his place... I infiltrated Aizen's group to learn more about what has happening and have been hiding behind that mask since then." Kaien continued to speak, until his eyes narrowed.
"What is it, Kaien-kun?" The blond girl questioned the man in front of her, completely convinced that he was Kaien Shiba.
"Something I said wasn't quite right... I said a Hollow attacked me before I died, but it wasn't the Hollow who killed me. I don't want you to think that." Kaien stared Matsuri in her eyes, before he continued. "The one who killed me was... a Shinigami."
"A Shinigami?!" The shocked Matsuri asked, before she bit her lower lip in thought. "Who killed you?! Why?! You're such a nice person, who would dare to do such a thing?"
"I can't imagine why, but I can show you who." Kaien laid his right hand on Matsuri's forehead and showed her one of his final memories. It was raining. Covered in his blood, the assassin was a female Shinigami. She had violet-colored eyes and her hair was black, with several strands of hair hanging between her eyes. Matsuri shivered, as she recognized the woman. More so, from Kaien's point of view, Matsuri also able to see the woman's Zanpakutō going through Kaien's stomach. "The one who killed me was... Rukia Kuchiki!"
"R-Rukia...chan..." Matsuri mumbled the name of the girl she once befriended, with tears running down her face.
"Today, we're gonna talk about Fracción." Gin spoke, before the kanji for Fracción appeared on the big screen behind him. "Fracción are Arrancar that serve a specific Espada. As proof of their status, the Espada have the right to select subordinates from among the Números to supervise directly. They can choose one or many Fracción, or even none at all." Pictures of Grimmjow's former Fracción appeared on the screen. "Grimmjow used to have five Fracción himself. Nowadays, he's Luppi's Fracción."
"Dare to say it again!" Grimmjow suddenly appeared out of nowhere and pointed his sword to Gin's throat.
"Now, now, Grimmjow... You don't want to get in more trouble, right?" Gin tried to reason with the Arrancar, who grunted and sheathed his sword, before walking away. "Well, let's continue... Starrk has Lilynette as his single Fracción. Others like Ulquiorra, Aaroniero and Yammy don't have even one."
"Hey, I have a Fracción!" Yammy appeared on the set, with an upset look on his face.
"You do?" Gin seemed genuinely surprised.
"Hey, Kukkapūro! Come here!" Yammy called for his Fracción, only for a puppy with a Hollow mask to appear in the set, wiggling his tail. "Here you have it, Arrancar #35, Kukkapūro!"
"Really? I never expected this!" The Shinigami stated, before he started to pet Kukkapūro. "It makes me want a Fracción myself."
"Eh! You could have that one, for all I care... He's nothing more than a useless mut!" Yammy snarled, before he walked away from the set.
"How mean! What do you say Kukkapūro? Want to be my Fracción, instead of big ol' scary and mean Yam..." Gin picked up Kukkapūro as he spoke, only for the Arrancar dog to pee on his face as an answer. "AAAARGGGHHH! MY EYES! IT BURNS! IT BUUUUUUUUUUURNS!"