Bleach Fan Fiction ❯ Falls the Shadow ( Chapter 23 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

Tite Kubo owns Bleach. I just borrowed the characters. I did create Atonomatsuri (the bird) and Piecrust (the jerk).
 
 
Falls the Shadow
 
“Stop thinking; stop worrying. The dreams began when I started thinking, and if the demented bird is right, the guilt is a result of thinking. Guilt! Why do I have to feel guilt? I won’t think about it. I don’t feel bad about anything. Why should I? There are other ways to be stronger. I could learn kido….. But that means memorising the damned words and getting them right and making sure they bloody work. It’s too slow. I don’t want to be mumbling words while an Arrancar is shoving his arm through my chest. The time I spent trying to get the zanpaku-to to talk back and this is the result! A bloody Hollow talking rubbish in a landscape that looks like my mind.” As he had the last thought, Zaraki realised it was true. The landscape did resemble the ruined countryside of his mind, but it also reminded him of another place he’d seen. The memory did not come into focus; no matter how much he concentrated, always slipping onto another thought, not connecting with the recollection.
 
“I am; you want,” the Hollow repeated, the voice rasping through the mask, echoing eerily though the devastation; the sound being amplified by the wind. The Hollow stood immobile and almost seemed to be secured to the ground while its head remained; craned around looking directly at him. He could not see the eyes, only cavernous black pits under the mask.
 
Returning the gaze, he grasped he did not even know if he was making eye contact. “What the hell am I doing?” He sheathed his zanpaku-to which he’d automatically drawn and turned his back on the Hollow, deciding to walk away. The Hollow could stay there until it rotted; he was finished with it.
 
As he put distance between the Hollow and himself, he looked at the sky. It did not contain the expected destroyed planets and dying sun; it was black, unlike the sky of his mind. A black sky; empty of stars and moon. The light came from the ground on which he walked and the insight made him feel disorientated. This was wrong. Light should come from above, not below. A black sky offered no hope; no relief and the terrain presented the same air of desolation. “I’m not in my mind. Is that good? What do I care? I want out of here.”
 
A blur of movement to his left caught his eye; it was the Hollow but there was no indication it had moved except for the faint blur he’d seen. This had happened before; the Hollow did not allow him to leave it behind. It caught up with him and then uttered nonsense words he did not want to hear.
 
“Harder to want to be stronger,” the Hollow enunciated carefully.
 
“Yeah, sure. Stronger to want hard to be. You want; I am. Frigging great. Can’t you say anything that doesn’t sound like crap filled gobbledygook? Have you got a brain behind the mask, or does it hide a hole? A Hollow with a hole in place of a head? Yeah, that’s probably it. I can’t see the hole anywhere else. Get out of my way and leave me alone or I’ll stick this through your mask and see if I can hit anything,” Zaraki patted his sword. “You can’t avoid it forever.”
 
“You can’t avoid forever,” the Hollow stated; not moving; no inflection present in its voice.
 
“A Hollow, talking philosophy? Maybe you’ve been speaking to Tosen and learnt the method of sounding like you’re saying something when you’re really speaking junk. Go and annoy him and get out of my way.” Zaraki strode past the Hollow, his anger rising. Not only was his temper being affected, he was experiencing a level of frustration he normally attributed to his exchanges with Atonomatsuri. Was the Hollow part of Atonomatsuri? That couldn’t be right. One spoke at length, constantly using adages that made him feel like throttling her; and the other could barely form a coherent sentence.
 
A few more steps and the Hollow was again on his left. Without further thought Zaraki was driving his zanpaku-to toward the mask of the Hollow. It swayed; a slight movement to the left and the blow passed by, while the Hollow gasped Zaraki’s arm. The disgust at the contact increased his ire but he found the zanpaku-to was dropping out of his hand as the cold flesh imprinted on his arm. He jerked his arm, it refused to budge. Trying again he felt the grip tighten as he exerted more strength.
 
“Listen,” said the Hollow. The voice again rang in Zaraki’s mind. He’d heard the voice before, he was sure of it, but still he couldn’t remember. The distortion caused by the mask could be the cause, but he ignored that idea. He wanted to get away from the Hollow and out of the dream.
 
“Listen? To you? You’re actually going to say something intelligible? I can’t wait.” His sarcasm was wasted on the creature.
 
“Listen to the truth, the secret truth, but speak the word only.” The words came to him faintly as the Hollow released his arm and faded out of sight. The ground melted under his feet. Melting ground? What was with that?
 
Sitting up with a start, Zaraki felt relief when he recognised he was in his office. “Does anything in my imagination talk sense? Can’t anyone just say what they mean without talking riddles? I suppose I’m going to hear from she who will not shut up, quoting something at me. Something to do with truth, or secrets, or lies,” he thought. A glance out the window showed that dusk was falling. Atonomatsuri, inexplicably, remained silent.
 
“Better go and reclaim my 5th seat; hopefully Retsu is not still annoyed with me,” speaking aloud for the benefit of anyone listening, Zaraki left, locking the office behind him. “I wonder why Yachiru did not come back. Hope that doesn’t mean that Madarame is in bad shape. Damn it, the guilt thing again. I’ll ignore it; think about something else, even though thinking got me into this situation. What’s that Hollow dream about; why can’t I just sleep? I’d ask Retsu but she’s not happy with me and I don’t want her to know. It has to be a failing of something to explain why I keep having idiotic dreams.” These and similar thoughts occupied his attention as he walked.
 
 
***********
 
He didn’t feel comfortable until they were seated in the tea house and that lasted seconds only. Retsu had allowed Madarame to attend, simply because he refused to stay behind. He was sitting stiffly, looking pale and moving as little as possible. His arm was bandaged tightly but his eyes glittered with something other than pain, possibly expectation. Ayasegawa was visibly annoyed that he’d missed out on the fight, pouting slightly and tossing his head every so often. Retsu was avoiding eye contact with everyone except Yachiru and Hanatoro. She had barely greeted Zaraki when they had met outside 1st Division and he had noticed. They were sitting next to each other but she had turned so that he saw only her shoulder and back, rather than her face. Yachiru seemed on a sugar high, making Zaraki think that she’d got hold of more sweets while at 4th Division. She was giggling and making faces at Ayasegawa and occasionally tapping Madarame on his injured arm. Hanatoro sat quietly next to his captain, sporadically glancing around the room.
 
Madarame was the first to break the uneasy silence. “What are you going to do with the dolls, Captain? I only came so I could find out.”
 
That explained the expectant look.
 
“What dolls? Ken-chan you didn’t take my dolls did you,” Yachiru began thumping his knee and Madarame shot him a look of relief. At least she wasn’t poking his arm while she was quizzing Zaraki.
 
“No, I didn’t take your dolls,” Zaraki snapped, put out by the sober mood of the supposed celebration. He quickly explained what he had purchased, but not the reason. Retsu, Ayasegawa and Hanatoro looked at him very oddly. “I’m going to use them to play a prank on the Clown Captain,” he admitted in response to the looks.
 
“I thought you already had,” Retsu’s voice was cold and her eyes hard. “He was plaguing my Division this afternoon demanding to know what the other ingredients were while he waved around some vile concoction. It stank of rotten fish and was bright pink and he said that he’d tried so many combinations but it wouldn’t work. I don’t know what he was talking about, but he was most insistent that he’d heard you speak about an experiment I was conducting. He insisted on inspecting my private research area, which he entered without my permission but all my experiments were finalised and he could find nothing. Captain Kurotsuchi then indicated I should invite him to dinner, but luckily I could claim this prior engagement. Why he wanted to dine with me, I do not wish to ponder. You have disappointed me twice today, Captain Zaraki. It was at your hands I had to suffer the incursions of that man and spend time in his company. I only attended tonight to keep an eye on Madarame.”
 
Hearing the explanation made Madarame laugh, but then he clutched his chest. “Proof, it’s proof! He is bugging your office. Rotten fish heads and rhubarb. We’ve got to check your office Sir, as soon as possible.”
 
Again, Zaraki had to spend a few minutes explaining the accidental trick he had played. “I wouldn’t have guessed that the guy would be rash enough to come and talk to you about it. I’d hoped he’d keep trying until he realised it wouldn’t work.”
 
Ayasegawa was looking more miffed than before. “I’m locked up for one day and all this happens. I’m ready to settle scores with the Captain of the 12th Division. I don’t think you went far enough. You should have thought of something more humiliating to add, something disgusting and repellent, like him.”
 
“He wouldn’t notice,” Hanatoro said quietly as he ate some nuts.
 
“What do you mean?” demanded Ayasegawa taking the nuts from him. He then proceeded to pick out the pistachios.
 
“He likes disgusting things, hadn’t you spotted that? I suppose not, as 4th Division have more to do with 12th Division,” noticing that everyone was paying attention to his words Hanatoro flushed and stopped speaking.
 
“Remember, I advised you not to make personal comments,” Retsu said. Her voice was indulgent and she smiled at him. “It’s true; little seems to repel the good Captain. I could have used your help today, Hanatoro. As you were absent I had to make other arrangements for our `special guest’.” She turned her attention to Zaraki. “I’m afraid that Yuki Hisagi had a combined laxative and sleeping potion given to him as I feared. Apparently Isane was temporarily absent and some one must have misread his chart, or so I choose to believe. I worry this may delay his return to your Division. No one will attend him, except Hanatoro and Isane, and they do so only because I’ve asked.”
 
“Is that why Piecrust was crying so much? I thought he was acting like a baby.” Yachiru made a face as she remembered his behaviour. “He smelt.”
 
Hoping to get back in Retsu’s good graces, Zaraki quickly mentioned his discussion with Madarame. Watching her closely as he spoke, he noticed a spark of hope in her eyes and finally she smiled at him.
 
“That is an inspired idea. Hanatoro, you wouldn’t mind visiting 11th Division every day to check on Yuki Hisagi, would you?” She spoke earnestly to her 7th seat.
 
“For you, Captain, I am happy to do that. Iemura has become a little stressed since his arrival and I think he is not very happy about the situation; nor is anyone else. I want everyone to be happy.” A look of relief spread across Hanatoro’s face.
 
The waiter finally arrived and Zaraki ordered copious amounts of food and drink. “Friends again, Retsu?” he asked quietly.
 
“We are friends again only because you’re taking Piecrust off my hands. I realise that you did not expect Captain Kurotsuchi to infest my division, but I do not enjoy the experience of dealing with the man. He has recently begun to stand close to me and watches me intently. It makes my skin crawl to have him within metres, let alone centimetres.”
 
Hearing about this behaviour troubled Zaraki. The conduct was unusual and made him pause. Why was the guy standing close to Retsu? Without realising it, the disclosure was making him angry, but he didn’t want to be angry. Anger, while an emotion he recognised and enjoyed did not seem the mood he wanted
 
All these unfamiliar emotions were appearing and he didn’t want any of them; they made his well-known feelings wrong, disjointed. What this new emotion might be was something he didn’t want to reflect on. The bird would tell him soon enough; she wouldn’t let an opportunity like this pass, but she said nothing.
 
The waiter returned unexpectedly fast. After serving the food and drink, he left, closing the door behind him.
 
Conversation ceased as they ate, with only the occasional requests for certain dishes to be passed. Madarame seemed more intent on drinking rather than eating, but after a severe glance from Retsu and a quiet remark from Hanatoro, he drank water and toyed with the food. He did not seem very hungry. Zaraki let his mind drift as he ate thinking about the conversation he’d had at the tea house with the 2nd Division intruder.
 
“But what about the dolls?” The question came from Madarame.
 
Returning from his reverie, Zaraki realised that all the members of the party were now eating slowly and were waiting for him to explain why he bought the dolls.
 
“I want to guess. Let’s all guess,” Yachiru demanded excitedly. “Are you going to send them to each person they look like and say they’re from Captain Clown?” Yachiru seemed enchanted by the idea. “Everyone will think it’s creepy. I would, or would I? Is there a doll of me, Ken-Chan? Can I see it? Will you give it to me? Pleeeease?”
 
“That’s a stupid idea. Sorry, Assistant Captain, but that won’t work. Sure it’s creepy but not really enough for payback.” Ignoring the tongue that Yachiru was poking out at him, Madarame made his suggestion. “I know what you’re going to do. You’re going to treat them like they’re voodoo dolls. Do things to the dolls that make them look like you’ve put a curse on them and then send them to their real counterpart, signing the finks’ name. That would freak me out and cause a lot of worry,” Madarame’s mouth twisted into a half smile as he made the suggestion.
 
The last possibility had not crossed Zaraki’s mind. That idea was good, but he still preferred his own.
 
Ayasegawa shuddered. “Voodoo is ugly. If it were me, I would dress all the females in male traditional costume and the males in female traditional costume. It would be cute, and might be seen as a threat of some kind. But some of the costumes could be so beautiful.” Ayasegawa cradled his chin in his hands as he imagined the beauty of the trick. “Although I don’t think it would suit you, Captain,” he said to Zaraki after a few seconds of contemplation.
 
Madarame stared at his friend. “What the hell are you talking about? Who would make the clothes? You? What’s threatening about that? Cross dressing? It might be more threatening if you implied that the crawler was trying to set everyone up as couples, like sending a doll of Nemu dressed in wedding clothes to you. Make it seem like she was making a proposal, but I don’t see how you could tie that to Captain Kurotsuchi. Both are seriously deranged ideas and I’m willing to forget them, it you are.”
 
The suggestions, interesting as they were, offered a distraction from his thoughts. “Ayasegawa, that suggestion would have to be the furthest from my idea so far. Cross-dressing? Not bloody likely.” Zaraki smiled a little as he reflected on the idea. It was funny, but was not getting even.
 
Ayasegawa pouted and then said waspishly, “If you want a basic idea you could knock the Captain unconscious in his quarters, disrobe him and then arrange the dolls in various stages of undress to make it appear he has perverted sexual tastes. The way that man treats his daughter is criminal and I’m sure he has strange preferences.”
 
Retsu shuddered noticeably at the thought and Zaraki felt slightly queasy as he identified the obvious flaw in the plan. “That means someone would have to undress him. Are you prepared to touch him, Ayasegawa?”
 
Frowning in response, the fifth seat shook his head quickly. “No. I think there are some things in this life I would prefer not to explore.” The disgust in his voice was strong.
 
“And you’d have to get into his quarters, and then make certain the Captain-General visited him,” Madarame pointed out, rubbing his arm gently. Retsu reached out and removed his hand from his arm, with a quiet remonstrance.
 
Zaraki shook his head hard, trying to dislodge the unfortunate mental picture that the suggestion had brought to mind. Where did the guy get his ideas? It was bad enough having to look at the guy fully dressed.
 
“You haven’t got some way to animate the dolls so that they will attack Captain Kurotsuchi, have you, Sir?’ Hanatoro lisped. “It would be very embarrassing if he was found being chased by a group of small dolls.”
 
Looking at the man, Zaraki wished it were possible. How could he animate the dolls? “Good idea, but no,” he reluctantly said.
 
Retsu glanced around the group. “Everyone else has guessed, so it’s my turn. I have no idea what you have planned, Zaraki. You could put the dolls in his quarters and invite the Captain-General to accompany you on a visit to Kurotsuchi to show no ill feeling. If the dolls were found in his room, it might make him look strange. I know it’s a weak idea.”
 
“He doesn’t need help looking strange,” Ayasegawa fluttered. “He must be hideous and tries to hide it under all the paint and body adornments. I fear seeing what he would look like au naturel. My earlier suggestion caused me to frown and I don’t want the wrinkles.” Theatrically he threw himself into a position of prayer. “Please don’t let me see the Clown Captain without his make-up or clothing. I withdraw my suggestion without reservation and apologise humbly for subjecting everyone to that disturbing mental image.”
 
Yachiru giggled and clapped her hands. “You’re being silly, Pretty Boy. I like it. Say something else funny.”
 
Throughout the interplay, Zaraki reflected on the variety of ideas people had for the prank. In a way, he would have liked to use the perverted idea that Ayasegawa had suggested, but knew he wouldn’t be able to touch the Captain and could not expect anyone else to do so. He waited until Ayasegawa and Yachiru stopped exchanging insults and cleared his throat loudly.
 
“Yeah. The problem is I’ll need your help, Retsu.” He stopped, unsure how to continue and did not know if he even wanted to continue.
 
“Careful Kenny. There are only two tragedies in life. One is not getting what you want. The other is getting it. The dilemma is you want what you are requesting. I told you to think about this carefully. If it accords with advantage, then act. If it does not accord with advantage, then stop.” The sound of Atonomatsuri’s voice momentarily shocked him. She had been so quiet until now, that he had forgotten her warnings.
 
“You’re talking to me again? I thought you’d finally worked out I didn’t want to talk to you. I’ll try to be less subtle next time. I wish I could feed you to that Hollow I keep dreaming about,” Zaraki didn’t want to be distracted, but answered in case she decided to nag at him while he tried to talk.
 
“Nil sapientiaw odiosius acumine nimio. Nothing is more hateful to wisdom than too much cunning. You are not wise, Kenny boy; I am. Nor are you cunning, except with the shrewdness of a brute beast. Using your instinct is not cunning, nor is voicing needless, hurtful insults. I despair; truly despair that we will be able to come to any further understanding. We are stuck forever at this impasse, where you will not even consider any type of compromise.” Atonomatsuri did not draw breath as she spoke.
 
The sound of her voice hurt Zaraki’s mind and he tried to think of an insult or threat that might hush her, but decided it was a waste of time. The warnings she uttered did not interest him. Once he shared his plan, the worst they could do was laugh. If it was a really bad idea, they would let him know and maybe he would use Madarame’s suggestion, with a few changes.
 
“Here’s my plan. I want to get a replica of the Captain-General’s coat, and his chair. When we have them and when its quiet I need you to visit Kurotsuchi in his office with some drugged sake, Retsu. I think it would be best if it were you, from what you’ve been saying. Encourage him to drink the sake. When he’s unconscious, we go in; place him in the chair; change coats and set up the dolls like they’re there for a Captain’s meeting. We can put in a few of the others, especially the traitors. I want it to look like he aims to replace the Captain-General.”
 
There were a few titters and gasps as he finished talking.
 
“So who will make sure the Captain-General sees this little tableau?” Ayasegawa asked avidly.
 
“Oh, it’ll have to be me. I’ll pretend that I want to put aside our differences,” Zaraki said, sighing. The lie would hurt, but he was prepared for that.
 
“It’s too obvious, Zaraki. The Captain-General is not stupid; he’ll know it’s a hoax and we’ll both be implicated. When he visited me today, Captain Kurotsuchi was expressing his view that you had lost your reason and should be stripped of your rank and either executed or expelled from the Seireitei as you pose a danger to everyone. He cited a number of proofs including: you’ve been seen talking to yourself; undergone a personality change as demonstrated by your adjusted direction for 11th Division and you could now be labelled violently unpredictable due to your `unprovoked’ attack on your 3rd seat. If you try to play a trick like this, it might be seen as confirmation.” Retsu drew a deep breath and sighed as she finished.
 
This news was a disagreeable shock. He knew that the Clown Captain hated him, but had not realised to what extent the hatred had grown. Exactly what threat did he pose that made the man wish to destroy him, even cause his death? It made little sense. It toughened his desire for revenge.
 
“It could still work, if Captain Zaraki didn’t mind changing it a little,” Hanatoro said. “It might be humiliating for you, Captain, but could prove more realistic.”
 
All eyes immediately fastened on the quietly spoken medical officer. “Tell us, tell us,” squealed Yachiru excitedly.
 
“Yeah, I want to know,” Madarame urged, nodding quickly. His eyes still had the fevered gaze Zaraki had noticed earlier.
 
“Captain Zaraki should be the one to visit with the sake,” he began. “It would seem like a gesture of reconciliation if he visited, maybe taking some food as well. In fact you could request the meeting formally.”
 
Retsu was nodding. “I would have to be the one to bring the Captain-General. I see that; it would be more convincing.”
 
Zaraki glanced at Hanatoro and realised something else. “To make it really forceful I’d have to be drugged as well and put in a subservient position; that would make it seem more likely he had planned it and drugged the sake. I hope you don’t want me to be kneeling because I wouldn’t be able to remain upright.”
 
“Unless you were bound in that position,” was the thoughtful observation of Ayasegawa.
 
Zaraki erupted at the thought, revulsion tangible in his voice. “Drugged I can cope with, but not tied up alone in a room with that guy. That’s not even kinky, it’s beyond deviance. What if he woke up? You’ve been going on that the Captain has a fetish for me. Damn you, Ayasegawa. Now I feel even more edgy about this.”
 
“But he’s right, Captain. If you were tied up, it would be more effective.” Madarame reluctantly supported his friend’s submission.
 
Zaraki scowled at them both. His idea was rapidly becoming more unpleasant as further suggestions were made. He could not deny that the recommendations would make the whole scenario more plausible, but at what cost? It would be shaming for Captain Kenpachi Zaraki to be found in an inferior position, especially to someone he despised. This scheme would not work and he would have to think of another.
 
“I warned you, Kenny boy, didn’t I? Water conforms to whatever vessel it is placed in. When in a glass, it takes the shape of the glass. When in a pitcher, it takes the form of the pitcher. When it flows in a river, it moves freely and without restraint. Your idea has been released from the shallow confines of your feeble mind and is growing into a raging flood over which you have no control. It is futile to try to contain the power,” Atonomatsuri was cackling madly as her earlier caution was proved.
 
“I think it’s a bad idea if Lolly brings the Big Man. He knows you are friends and so does the Clown. It’ll seem dodgy,” Yachiru piped in. “We need someone from another Division.”
 
Zaraki remembered his earlier conversation with the intruder in his office. Their agreement covered just this type of situation. “I have an idea.” Quickly he outlined the new strategy.
 
“I’m not sure that asking someone else to be involved is wise. The more people that know, the greater the chance that the secret will become general knowledge,” Ayasegawa pointed out one matter that had caused Zaraki some unease. It reminded him of one of the adages that Atonomatsuri had used.
 
“The 2nd Division normally holds aloof from the feuding that occurs between most Divisions. Captain Fon’s integrity is beyond question,” Retsu spoke slowly, examining the suggestion as she talked. Her face and tone were thoughtful and she picked up her cup to sip the sake.
 
“If we do this soon, there’s less chance of someone blabbing. Let’s do it tomorrow,” Madarame urged. “I’ll help.”
 
“Can we get a coat and chair that quickly? They’re special items,” Ayasegawa wondered aloud. He was tapping his fingers gently on his chin as his eyes gazed at the ceiling.
 
“I’ve already arranged for them,” Zaraki had made a detour on the way to 1st Division. The coat and chair would be delivered tomorrow. If you knew the right contacts, anything could be obtained for the right price, even replica Captain’s coats.
 
Zaraki passed the sake around. His idea had not been dismissed but it still made him feel uneasy, being found drugged and tied up in the whey faced maggots office.
 
Retsu sighed and shook her head. “It won’t work; I know it won’t work. The Captain would not trust you enough to drink with you and no one will believe it if you are found tied up in his office. Who could believe that Captain Kurotsuchi overcame and bound you, Zaraki? You managed to defend yourself when you were in a weakened state only a few days ago. The other problem is that when he became conscious he would realise he had been drugged.”
 
It was true. The idea had these major flaws. Feeling disheartened but also glad that he didn’t have to be tied up, Zaraki drained his cup and quickly drank another. Damn it. He hadn’t thought revenge would be this hard. The voodoo suggestion was now the only one left but it would take time and he wanted to act fast.
 
“You can never plan the future by the past. Think about it another way. Do I have to spoon feed you the idea, Kenny, or do you see what is required? You’ve just been too lazy to think it through properly. Think about the man; think about what you know about the man. You are missing the key element.” For once, he was pleased to hear Atonomatsuri’s voice. She was telling him something in her usual manner, but her words had sparked an idea.
 
`You’re right, Retsu. It won’t work because the guy is not predictable, except in one thing, his greed. He’d never wear the Commander’s coat when there was any chance of anyone seeing him. He wouldn’t drink with me, no matter what, but he would take stuff if he thought he could get away with it. I’ve had another idea, but the problem is we’ve still got to get into his office. How?”
 
Ayasegawa jumped slightly and then opened his mouth, thought better of it, shut it and then he shook his head. A slight tinge of colour stained his cheeks and Zaraki looked at him dubiously. Was the guy blushing?
 
“What is it? Come on Yumichika, tell us. It’s about that secret visitor you’ve had for the last two days? I’ve listened to the gossip and I saw her leave.” Madarame smiled widely at his friend. “I heard you yelled at her recently, in front Yachiru and the Captain. Was that when it started?”
 
Glaring, Ayasegawa waved a finger in his friend’s face. “Shut up. It’s my business. Anyway it was your idea as a way of getting back at…” He seemed very upset at the knowledge that he was being watched.
 
“Yeah, I suggested it in passing, but you didn’t have to do anything about it. I thought you’d tell me first seeing we’re such old friends,” Madarame continued, ignoring the interruption.
 
“I did tell you I was thinking about it, but you don’t remember. You were drunk. Anyway, why should I tell you everything? It’s not like it’s important.” Ayasegawa annoyance was plain in his voice and he almost frowned.
 
“What the hell are you two talking about? I’m not interested who Ayasegawa is sleeping with,” Zaraki really didn’t want to know.
 
“He’s sleeping with the Clown Captain’s daughter. For some reason he felt sorry for her after he yelled at her and they bumped into each other that night. Remember, we’d just worked out your office might be bugged and I mentioned to this idiot that one way to get back at the guy was to subvert his daughter. I didn’t expect him to do this. Shows real loyalty, doesn’t it, Captain?” Madarame was quite happy to provide the explanation, disregarding Ayasegawa’s complaints.
 
All eyes were turned on the protesting man. He seemed uncomfortable at the observation and refused to look at anyone. Zaraki started to laugh. Fate was playing into his hands and he wanted to take advantage of this new fact.
 
“You can arrange access to the office. Great! You’ll fix up that for us won’t you, Ayasegawa? With your special friend,” try as he might, Zaraki could not keep the grin off his face.
 
“Pretty Boy has a girlfriend? I didn’t think you liked girls, or people really, except Baldy and the Captain, oh, and me, of course,” Yachiru observed, her voice slurred by the sweets she had stuffed into her mouth.
 
“She’s not my girlfriend and we’re not sleeping together. Hell, we’ve only talked. She’s nothing to me, except a tool to get back at her father,” the blustering had an element of candour in it.
 
“Poor girl. Don’t be needlessly cruel to her. She already has a great amount of sadness in her life without being used against her father,” Unohana cautioned. Her manner was grave as she looked at Ayasegawa. “I hope you are telling the truth.”
 
“I am. The girl and I talk, that’s it and not for very long. Her father wants her to be nearby so he can abuse her when he feels like it,” Ayasegawa protested. “I haven’t touched her.” Zaraki stopped smiling as he heard the sincerity in the words. For a moment he felt a new respect for his friend.
 
“It’s a pity she’s such a drip,” Yachiru observed. “Maybe I should help her.”
 
The room erupted into laughter as everyone present thought of how Yachiru could help Nemu.
 
“How would you help?” jeered Madarame. “Get her addicted to lollies? Great idea, she’ll be on a sugar high and still be a drip.”
 
“There’s nothing wrong with eating lollies,” Yachiru yelled back her face twisted with anger. “It’s better than having a head as shiny and empty as yours.”
 
“Or will you persuade her to put training wheels on her zanpaku-to? I don’t remember ever seeing her use one,” Hanatoro suggested quietly.
 
“I think it is a good idea, Assistant Captain, if you try to help her. You have a kind and generous nature and I think you would be a good friend to Assistant Captain Kurotsuchi,” Retsu said supportively with a smile for Yachiru. “She needs friends.”
 
“Don’t talk about me,” Ayasegawa insisted. “You can instruct her in the finer points of chocolates, cinnamon and Pocky, anything; but don’t talk about me.”
 
Madarame eyed his friend, a hint of mirth in his gaze. “Any why don’t you want them to talk about you?”
 
“So you won’t be able to get us in the office?” Zaraki interrupted before anyone could continue down this embarrassing track. Ayasegawa was becoming noticeable agitated, his brow was creased and he was pulling stray threads off his uniform. The slight tinge of pink on his cheeks threatened to become more florid.
 
“No, I can get the keys, that’s easy enough,” Ayasegawa sighed unwillingly. “I already took an impression of them when she borrowed my concealer to mask some bruises. I felt sorry for her, but the situation was too good to pass up. I can get the key made tomorrow.”
 
“We have the dolls, we have access. Now how do we get the skunk drunk or drugged enough to make this work. We can’t expect the girl to help,” Zaraki was thinking this through. One more piece was needed in this puzzle.
 
Retsu suggested, “If Captain Kurotsuchi met someone he felt had slighted him, or whom he didn’t respect, carrying a bottle of fine sake, would he take it? Trick him out of it some way? We know he’s greedy and doesn’t forgive insults readily. Would that work?”
 
The silence in the room allowed time for consideration of the suggestion. It couldn’t be a Captain; it had to be an underling. This awareness made him also understand that if he were not directly involved in the execution of the scheme, it would make any connection more difficult to prove. “It’s risky. It would have to be very good sake, or rum. I have some very good overproof rum. I don’t drink it, hate the taste; maybe we could use that,” Zaraki suggested.
 
“But why would an ordinary shinigami carry expensive spirits around? That idea’s for the birds.” Madarame crushed the suggestion ruthlessly.
 
“Birds? Did someone mention me?” Atonomatsuri asked eagerly. “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. The early bird catches the worm.”
 
“What are you squawking on about? You’re not in a bush and you’re not worth anything. Do vultures even roost in bushes; I thought they hung around in trees waiting for something to die. Do you even eat worms? Do you eat? Why are you using those adages anyway? They’re pretty boring. Are you finally running out of the bleeding things? Wait a minute; Madarame used an adage.” Zaraki realised as he was talking to Atonomatsuri. Glaring at his underling, Zaraki noticed that Madarame had become quiet and pale while clutching his wounded arm to his chest. The rage he had felt earlier when Retsu had talked about the 12th Division Captain returned, with more intensity.
 
“It was a mistake. I take it back. I didn’t mean it,” Madarame stuttered as he quailed under the heat of Zaraki’s gaze. It was obvious he realised his error.
 
“What is going on? Madarame, have you got a pain in your chest or do you have pins and needles in your left arm? Let me take your pulse. Why are you staring at Madarame like that, Zaraki? Stop it; and stop growling,” Retsu urged, shocked.
 
Zaraki hadn’t noticed he was growling. He continued to glare while he controlled the unconscious threatening noise.
 
“He said an adage and Ken-chan hates the things. He warned us never to say one in front of him and not to mention birds,” Yachiru said in a subdued voice. Her sugar high had left her and the smile on her face fled as she looked anxiously at her Captain.
 
“But it’s only an adage, just a group of words,” Retsu said confused while she checked the wounded man’s pulse and then seemed to remember. “Wait a minute. Adages and Atonomatsuri! Oh, I understand the reaction now, but it’s needless anger. Zaraki; let it go; you nearly killed the man today.”
 
“Nearly, but I didn’t. You’re on warning; understand, Madarame?” Zaraki found it hard to speak around the rage that was nearly choking him. “
 
“I’ll do the paperwork tomorrow,” was the quavering response. “I’ll finish it all.”
 
“I nearly finished it all today,” Ayasegawa remonstrated, feeling his work had been ignored but quietly so as not to attract Zaraki’s ire.
 
“You can’t write with your arm in that condition,” Retsu protested.
 
“I don’t care about the frigging paperwork but you’ll do it anyway because it will hurt. Right, Madarame, you’re the patsy. You can be the one who Kurotsuchi takes the rum from. We’ll put you near his office or in the gutter, drugged or drunk, whatever? You’ll have two bottles, one empty to show you’re drunk and the rum. I know I’ll put a card on it to say it’s from me to you as an apology.” Listening to what he said made Zaraki stop. He didn’t apologise. Then he had an inspiration. “If the guy thinks I’m seriously unbalanced he would believe I’d apologise. Hell, he’d want to believe it. Taking a gift from you would suit his personality. He feels that you stuffed him around when the ryoka were here and he’s petty enough to want some reprisal,” in his anger, Zaraki realised this was the missing piece. Madarame injured and drunk would prove an irresistible target for the 12 Division Captain. “You better be nearby, just in case he wants to get physical,” he directed Ayasegawa.
 
“Okay, okay, anything, Captain. I didn’t mean it,” Madarame’s colour was returning to normal. “Can I have some sake? To recover from the shock?”
 
Zaraki gave a grim smile and poured sake for all of them, except Yachiru who was reaching into the bag of lollies. “Let’s talk about something else. Any one know any good jokes?”
 
An hour later, after many jokes and silly stories were told, the party broke up. As he walked back to his quarters, Zaraki was surprised he had not killed Madarame. “Must be maturing or something,” he thought.
 
“You, mature? Not likely; but you didn’t act badly, for a former Hollow,” Atonomatsuri stated sleepily.
 
Author’s Note:
 
Finally, I managed to explain why he bought the dolls. (Yay. *Does the lucky dance*). Additional questions will be answered in the next chapter.
 
If you want the details of what happened with the 2nd Division person who broke into Zaraki’s office, the spin-off story: The Limited Edition Doll will provide that information.
 
It was a close run thing. I almost slipped a romance between Ayasegawa and Nemu into this story, but came to my senses. I don’t wish to receive death threats because of the non emergence of the romance story between Zaraki and Unohana. (It’s on the list, really; see it’s number 4. Ooops. I didn’t mean to show you that list. Now you know about the one-shot featuring Kurotsuchi, which is at the top of the list. Quick, look deep in my eyes, you are feeling sleepy, very sleepy; you’re asleep. You will forget about that list and instead write a review. Wake up now, you’re refreshed and preparing to write a positive review of this chapter. Well, I can hope anyway.)
 
The next chapter will be shorter.
 
Please review.
 
MS
Defence: Whole and Hollow
Mixing Memory