Bleach Fan Fiction ❯ Fat Chicken or Sick Duck ( Chapter 55 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
Tite Kubo owns Bleach.  I just borrowed the characters.  I do own Atonomatsuri (the bird) and Piecrust (the jerk).  I make no money from this work.  However, writing it makes me laugh.

Fat Chicken or Sick Duck?

The announcement of Kurotsuchi’s win didn’t bring forth loud cheers.  There was token applause, and all the while Zaraki tried not to snarl too noticeably.  Damn Piecrust had made him lose and now he had to train him.  Instead of making it seem like a reward, the man would know it was punishment because Zaraki was determined he would force him to leave or seek enrolment in another Division.  Either that or the man tried to learn some technique.  Or he might die.

He’d known he would lose almost as soon as he saw who he was meant to train.  Then something the Old Man had told him struck home.  If he had chosen the other possibility, helping Piecrust learn the name of zanpakuto, it could have led to disaster!  Unless no one expected him to choose that option, or they didn’t think Piecrust was capable.  Why did he give the warning when he could have chosen that option, or was he predictable?  

The whole problem revolved around who had chosen the subordinates.  Once this was over he would find out and repay them in kind but not kindly.

Oh, what the hell.  He was going to be saddled with Piecrust no matter what and he knew it was highly likely completing all the challenges might be necessary to satisfy Kurotsuchi.

« We are now moving to the next challenge, » Ise announced and once more the judges left the table.  Hitsugaya didn’t look in his direction but Ukitake shrugged slightly once he caught his eye.  Did that mean he’d attempted to convince the younger man to give him more time?  What was with him?  

At the same time his spirits lifted slightly.  If they finished another challenge then there might be an end in sight.  Then he could return to normal life of sleeping, fighting and arguing with Atonomatsuri.  The last thought shocked him.  When did arguing with Atonomatsuri become part of normal life and why was he even including it as something he enjoyed.

« I knew you were beginning to like me, » the bird said.

« I thought you couldn’t read my mind, » he grumbled, annoyed she might use it against him.
 
« You practically shouted it aloud.  I can hear when you think really loudly. »

Which raised the question, how did you think loudly?  Wasn’t all thought about the same decibel level?  Before he could ask any questions he heard Ise clear her throat and he decided he might as well listen to her.  The bird wasn’t going anywhere, blast it!

Ise stared at both Zaraki and Kurotsuchi as the new judges filed in.  He noted the 10th Division’s Assistant Captain, the 4th Division’s Assistant Captain and the 2nd Division’s Captain.  All females?  An inward groan was his immediate reaction.  It was going to be something heavily weighted on the female side.  Logic?  Tatting? Flower arranging?  

Tables were brought in and pieces of paper were arranged on top as seats were placed.  Paper?  Paperwork!  How could anyone use this as a challenge?  But there were no pens.  

« The challenge is quite simple.  Assistant Captain Sasakibe will demonstrate how to fold a simple origami figure: a crane.  You will then be given half an hour to recreate the figure.  The Captain who produces a crane closest to the model provided by the Assistant Captain will win this challenge. »

The need to let his jaw drop was nearly overwhelming.   Bloody origami!  He’d never even attempted to fold paper into anything that resembled anything else.  He’d tried to shred paper, mainly the paperwork, but that didn’t help.  Folding paper was for people who didn’t have any real abilities.  He fought, not folded.    A zanpakuto was something you held and used; it was solid and dependable, not a flimsy wisp of a thing that crumpled if you treated it too rough, ripped if you exerted any force or tore apart if you got it wet.  Paper was fragile and he didn’t have the delicate touch required to fold the damned stuff.  The calluses on his hands and fingers make delicate manipulation difficult.

A quick glance at Kurotsuchi’s face didn’t reveal how the man felt about origami.  He was used to working with flimsy, tiny things.  But at the same time, did he have to do much folding of paper to perform his weird experiments?  

Sasakibe, in all his rigid fake British formality, walked to the front of the tables, his lips stretched into some rictus of a smile.   Was he enjoying this?  Earlier he appeared to like the attention paid to him when he was filling in for Ise and now he was in the spotlight again.  All eyes were on him and until he finished making whatever contorted shape out of paper Ise said.  A crane.  Would it be able to fly?  That might be interesting; to make a thing out of paper that if thrown flew.  

« I bet it won’t be that cool, » he thought to Atonomatsuri.

« I can fly, » she answered with more pride than he expected.

Stifling the laugh that rose from her comment he shot back, « You can barely keep airborne and you’re almost too heavy to get off the ground. »

Was her beak grinding?  « Ha!  Don’t imitate the fly before you have wings. You can’t fly, at all.« 

« Nearly, » he said.

« Pigs might fly, but they are most unlikely birds, » she said, still unhappy.

It seemed a little harsh.  « Are you calling me a pig? »  Was he hurt?  Did her opinion of him matter enough for these words to make him feel bad?  No.  It didn’t matter.  

« If the cap fits, Kenny boy. »

« I don’t wear caps.  My hair is my hat. »  Even as he said it, he knew it sounded stupid.  

« No, your hair is an eyesore and gel manufacturers everywhere would mourn your demise.  How many tubs of it do you use a day?  Oh, why am I asking the question?  I know.  It must get expensive Ken Ken. »

Ken Ken?  Did she spend all her time thinking up stupid adages and horrible nicknames?  

« My money, my choice, Sewage. »  He’d have to think of a better nickname.  « Why.  Do you want something? »

« Just my life back,  Ken Ken.  Just my life. »

« Your life and mine are on hold until these challenges are over.  You know it, I know it, and probably even Piecrust knows it, though I doubt it. »  Bitterness shaded his voice. Acceptance of his role of champion of the Seireitei had lead to this and he’d had no choice.  His stupid plan to discredit the 12th Division Captain due to the man being a pain put him here.

Ultimately he was responsible for this predicament and he didn’t like the idea.  

It was the bird’s fault, or someone else.  It had to be the vulture.  Until she insisted he started thinking, planning and acting on the plan wouldn’t have crossed his mind or he’d have run out of drive to follow through.  Or he’d have napped a lot more.  He wished he could have a nap now instead of being faced with the horrors of folding a piece of paper.

Reluctantly he sat at the table as indicated by Ise.  The paper placed there looked like ordinary paper yet he decided not to touch it until he watched the Assistant Captain twisted the paper around.
 
A small, excited sigh drew his attention to the man who was waiting for his attention.  How anyone could be excited about demonstrating their feeble attempts to form paper into anything eluded him, but recent events were proving that everyone had different ways of enjoying their time.  

« Watch carefully.  I will show you only once, » the man said.

That’d be right.  He’d show them once and if Zaraki blinked, he’d miss the most important fold.  

As he folded the paper, Sasakibe explained each fold, outlining the importance of keeping each fold crisp and the paper in one piece.   He cast a wry glance at Zaraki as he mentioned it.  Trying very hard to watch every move, he refused to blink or even pay attention to anything else happening.  

It didn’t take long for the little folded paper to be finished.  It didn’t look like any crane Zaraki had seen.  « It looks more like you, » he said mockingly to Atonomatsuri.  

« I look nothing like a crane or origami.  It’s impossible for a piece of paper to capture my essence, my drive, my magnetic personality. »

« Yeah, maybe you’re right. It’s much prettier than you. »

« Keep it up Ken Ken and I won’t help you fold the paper. »

Was she suggesting she knew how to do origami?  « You paper fold in your spare time? »

A small pause preceded her reply.  « Not exactly. »

« Then what? »

« I watched closely.  How hard could it be? »

« Your time starts now.   15 minutes has been allocated which should be ample time to copy the simple fold required to complete the task. » Ise sounded even more formal than normal.

« Sit down Zaraki.  Wipe your hands before you touch the paper because it seems you only have one chance and one piece of paper. » Atonomatsuri was attempting to keep her voice calm, or at least he thought so, but the advice was unwanted.

With a show of reluctance he wiped he hands on his sleeves with a flourish that made the people watching laugh and then sat.  The paper he’d been given was green, not some girly colour, and he noticed Kurotsuchi had a piece of red paper.  

« Stop admiring the paper.  Pick it up and make the first fold.  Focus on what you saw. »

Zaraki sighed heavily.  What had been the first fold?  Was it a diagonal?  

« That’s right, Ken Ken.  Now! Again! »

Following the instructions he folded the paper diagonally again and then again.  He remembered that much.

« It doesn’t look much like anything except a piece of paper someone folded, » he said, disappointed.  There had been other steps, he was sure.  

« Unfold it once, » Atonomatsuri said.

He did, but it still didn’t look anything like a crane.

« You make one piece look like a square. »

« How do I do that?  Rip it? »  Picking it up the paper he prepared to try and do so.

« PUT IT DOWN, Zaraki!  Don’t rip it! »  

Shocked he let the piece of paper fall to the table.  

« Okay, okay.  Take it easy.  It’s a piece of paper.  I’ve lost one challenge, what’s losing another one?  It won’t matter.  None of it matters.  It’s a damned dumb set of activities to entertain the masses while the Old Man tries to work out what we should do.  He wants to remove any possible internal problem before we tackle the external ones. « 

With a lot of instructions supplied by the bird, who seemed to remember some of the folds, he managed to make a square and then another.

« Why?  First it’s a triangle, now it’s a square.  Still looks like paper. »

« Patience, Kenny Boy.  It takes time. »

« I don’t have much time, » he knew there was a limit, but doubted it could be completed.

With more coaching from the bird he made more folds, each one making the paper eventually making the paper into a diamond shape.  His hands began to sweat slightly, making the paper less crisp.

Without being told he wiped his hands again, making certain to remove any sign of moisture.  How did a diamond become a bird?  

« Five minutes, » Ise announced.

Five minutes?  How could he have spent minutes on this and it still looked nothing like the ‘crane’ proudly displayed on the table in front of them?

Two failures in a row.  

« Focus.  We have a chance.  Honestly we do.  Don’t give up.  Here, just let your hands follow my instructions and we might do it. »  The coaxing tone and the list of instructions seemed simple enough and rather than give up, he did what she told him.  

« Please finish now, » Ise instructed.  

Looking at the result of his work, it looked more like a flower than a bird.

« Quick, fold down the edges, » Atonomatsuri said.

He did.  Now it looked like a portly chicken.  

A Shinigami collected his ‘work of art’ and another collected the one produced by his rival.   It didn’t matter who won this.  There was no honour in winning this challenge, though in a way it had been slightly interesting.  Probably nothing he’d want to do again.  The last few days had introduced him to a number of things he had no plans of repeating, for example being in daily contact with Kurotsuchi.  If he saw the man less frequently than previously, it was fine with him.  Better than fine.

The three ‘cranes’ were placed side by side.  It was easy to distinguish the one created by the First Division Assistant Captain, aside from the fact it was white in colour.  There was his ‘chicken’ and Kurotsuchi’s … what was it?  It looked like a sick duck.  Which was better?  A fat chicken or a sick duck?  

A quick glance at the three judges showed at least two of them were smiling, slightly mockingly.  Shoulders tensing, he attempted to force any emotional reaction to the background.  Winning this challenge meant less than nothing to him.  They had to end eventually.   Eleven was a finite number and even if they padded out this thing with more stupid ‘rock, paper, scissors’ exercises, it had to end.  

If this was over soon, they might finish another today unless it was another of those endless guessing competitions or staying awake while doing mundane things.  

The judges had picked up the origami and were examining it more closely.  A few folds were undone and refolded and the ‘birds’ were passed back and forth.  Heads bent together, the women seemed intent on discussing the merits of each.

« Get on with it, » Kurotsuchi muttered loudly enough for Zaraki to hear.

Until this situation had arisen, Zaraki hadn’t even considered if the people around him were impatient.  Kurotsuchi was proving to be bad tempered, impatient, rude and even more unpleasant than he’d expected.  It was easy to see why his daughter sought friendship outside her division as the man probably handled his division with the autocratic attitude evident in the man’s speech and actions.  

« The result of the origami challenge is as follows, » Ise’s announcement drew his attention.

« Both attempts do not reflect the artistry of the original. »

« No surprise there.  ‘I did not learn; and what I knew was far removed from their understanding.’ « 

« No surprise there:  you used another adage. »

An impatient sigh informed him that Atonomatsuri had reached her level of impatience.  « I was trying to be supportive Ken Ken. »

« Drop the Ken Ken and you have. »  If he didn’t make the suggestion the bird might not know he hated the name.  Oh, who was he kidding?  She probably guessed he hated the name and that was why she was using it.  Mentioning it to her only affirmed her suspicion.

« But Ken Ken!  It’s a lovely name and suits you so well. »

He was struck by inspiration.  « You call me Ken Ken and I call you Vully. »

A strangled choking sound indicated the name might not be to her liking.  It took a few seconds for her to find her voice.  « Vully?!  Vully!?  VULLY!!?? »  The iteration of the name was shrieked louder and louder.

« You don’t like it? »  His attempt to sound affronted wasn’t convincing.  It’d be great once this was over as Yachiru might have lots of fun thinking up new nicknames for the vulture.   It didn’t matter if she liked the person, nicknames had to be given and new ones created when the old one grew boring.

« I DO NOT LIKE IT! »  

At least she was answering him without the attendant adages and other word tricks she used to put him off guard.  

« You know what to do. »

A hissing angry sigh was the beginning of the answer.  « If I stop calling you Ken Ken, will you stop calling me Vully? »  

He thought for a moment.  If she hated the name as much as it appeared, he might also request she cease calling him Kenny Boy.   Before he had the chance to make an alternate offer she spoke sharply.  

« A one-time offer only.  No alterations or substitutions are allowed.  He who wants a great deal must not ask for little. »

Speed was essential in dealing with Atonomatsuri and not being called « Ken Ken » was a definite plus. All the same, was it a great deal or should he ask for more?  Then again, the bird would often say something he didn’t find relevant, or in fact quite contradictory, but when he mentioned it she’d become unhappy and make unreasonable demands.

« Okay.  Deal.  I’d ask you to shake on it but don’t want your maggots touching my skin, » he sniped.

« Why not?  They match the insect infestation in your mind and are infinitely preferable to your personality, » was the fraught reply.

« Captain Zaraki.  Is there a problem? » Ise’s voice broke through the conversation he was having with the vulture.

« Huh? »  

« You were mumbling to yourself and I became concerned there was a problem.  Do you wish to hear the result? »

« Huh?  Oh, yeah.  Who lost this time? »  Winner or loser, as it was only a two sided competition whoever lost the other won, so it didn’t matter how it was announced.

« The result, » Ise paused, possibly for dramatic effect and drew in a deep breath, » The result is a draw. »

A sigh ran around the audience at the announcement.

Zaraki didn’t even bother hiding his sigh.  A draw.  Neither a win nor a loss; just maintaining the balance.  

« Why? » he asked.

« Neither of you completed the crane.  Both attempts showed considerable effort, but also missed the vital last steps. »

Six challenges completed.  He’d won 4, lost 1 and drawn 1.  Five challenges left which meant there was still a possibility Kurotsuchi might win.  Suddenly he felt tired.  All the effort and he was only 3 ahead.  

« We now move onto the next challenge, » Ise announced with a reasonable amount of hesitation in her voice.

Why did she sound worried?  What possible challenge might pose a concern for anyone?  He noticed she glanced nervously at the Captain-General as if seeking assurance. His firm nod made her swallow hard.  

« Would the judges for this challenge please come forward, » she almost squeaked.  

Even Zaraki realised this was a method of delaying the announcement of what the challenge would be.  Until now the judges had swapped over without reminder.  

This time he was amused to see the 6th Division Captain, the assistant captain from 4th Division and the fat guy from 2nd Division take their places.  None of them appeared to have a sense of humour which might indicate something about the challenge, or not.  

Ise cleared her throat, and then cleared it once more.  A small coughing fit over took her as she cast one more pleading look at the Captain-General who frowned in reply.  A sharp nod indicated he wished her to get on with it.

« This will be the last challenge of today, » Ise said.

She was still delaying the announcement.  It was obvious and a small murmuring began in the audience.  « Get on with it, » a disguised voice yelled.

Ise flushed and gabbled quickly, « Drinking contest.  First contestant who cannot walk a straight line after drinking each cup of sake will be the loser. »

Giggles and laughter greeted this announcement, making Ise flush an even deeper red.  Knowing her Captain, it didn’t surprise Zaraki she found the contest distasteful, but he felt the gnawing discomfort he’d not noticed until this point grow less.

Drinking sake was no challenge for him. He was used to walking after drinking, possibly not walking in a straight line while people watched, but he’d get a drink out of it and possibly a good night’s sleep. With any luck they’d be using the good sake which was a pleasure to drink.

« The drink will be ordinary drinking sake, » Ise continued.

The announcement made Zaraki shrug.  He was used to drinking it and it shouldn’t pose too much of a problem.  Then he wondered.  Did Kurotsuchi drink?  Obviously he drank rum as he had confiscated the drugged bottle of alcohol in Madarame’s possession, but did he drink often, or only when he was in possession of something which rightfully belonged to another person?  It wasn’t possible to estimate the effects of alcohol on him as the rum had been drugged and would have made even the most immoderate drinker fall asleep rapidly.  

For a panicked second he wondered if anyone had taken the bottle or rum, which was incriminating evidence if anyone had found and bothered to test the contents.  A few seconds searching through his memories let him breathe a sigh of relief as he remembered Ayasegawa had taken the bottle and emptied the contents, destroying the bottle in the process and replacing it with a similar bottle of rum, also half full.  He’d forgotten that particular detail but his 5th seat hadn’t, thankfully.

« You expect senior officers in the Sereitei, Captains no less, to take part in a drinking competition? »

Kurotsuchi was protesting, as expected, but the next sentence made Zaraki cough in an attempt to cover the laughter that threatened to show his agreement.

« And then you propose we are served ordinary sake?  Ordinary sake?  I am affronted. »

The man was complaining about the standard of the sake being offered.  Didn’t he understand the concept of a free drink?  You didn’t argue about the quality, unless it was undrinkable.  Most of the complaints he normally uttered or received concerned the quantity.

« It’s not a tasting competition, man, it’s a drinking contest, » the 6th Division Captain’s mouth was downturned as he made his comment.  « I have already voiced my opinion on the method of this challenge, but was ignored. »

Suddenly the choice of judges made sense.  If it had been possible he was certain Ise would have been one of the panel members selected.  

« Do we get snacks? » Zaraki asked wickedly.

Ise looked startled at the question but more amazing was the reaction of his co-challenger.  « Yes.  If we are given ‘ordinary’ sake, we should also be given snacks to hide the flavour. »

Feeling an overwhelming urge to laugh, he gave into it.  Why try to hide his amusement?  The situation was stupid, they were about to start a drinking competition and he hated the man who was to be his drinking partner.  

« It is not funny, Zaraki.  Ordinary sake is bad for my palate, » Kurotsuchi sniped at him.

« Yeah, tragic.  I like snacks because they help me drink more if they’re salty. »  He didn’t care what the Clown Captain said.  He was making his case and they better listen.

After the interchange, Ise gave them both a strange look and went to speak to the judges.  They conferred, Kuchiki, shaking his head and becoming sterner as the others talked.  Even from where he stood, Zaraki could hear him say, « It will slow down the overall effect and perhaps make them drink more.  To feed them is to encourage a public display of intoxication by Captains.  I say no! »

« Feed them! »  The Captain-General’s voice cut through the debate.

Kuchiki rose to his feet so fast his chair slammed to the ground behind him.  « I protest. »

Turning to face the protest, the Old man leant heavily on his stick and said, « Protest noted.  Now, sit down and shut up. »

The 6th Division’s Captain’s face clearly showed his shock at the order, as he obeyed it.   

“I won’t accept insubordination from my captains, just as you won’t accept it from your subordinates. You weren’t chosen as a judge for this challenge because you’d enjoy it.  You were chosen because you’d keep it honest.”  The voice was sharp as the Captain-General spoke pointedly at the judges.  

Kuchiki inclined his head as if he was thinking the Old Man’s words through and then slowly nodded as if accepting the words, with little favour.  

“Bring snacks, tables and chairs,” was the next order.

“Can I have someone else to drink with?  I don’t drink with people I don’t trust.”  Zaraki knew he was pushing the matter, but by now didn’t care and knew he would care less once the rush of alcohol hit his system.

For a moment he thought he saw his superior officers lips twist as if he were amused by the request.  “No.  I’m certain Captain Kurotsuchi trusts you as much as you trust him, but this is a contest, not a time for pleasantries.”

One table and two chairs were rushed into the centre of the arena as the other furniture was removed.  Some small dishes, bowls, sake bottles and cups were arranged and Ise indicated Zaraki and Kurotsuchi should seat themselves.

With a mild mental curse, Zaraki took his position, hoping the other man might succumb quickly to the effects of the sake, but feeling at the same time his luck wasn’t that good.

Author’s Note

Apologies to any people who have the ability to fold origami.  Zaraki’s opinion is not mine and I don’t have his abilities in fighting either.  I have trouble folding a sheet of paper to fit into an envelope and I almost framed the only successful paper plane I made, until someone threw it out the window.  Despite my natural reaction, the person who did so did not follow the plane out the window as we were on the first floor and the damage to them would be minimal.

Once again, the story has been delayed due to family commitments.  Weekends are not my own, my evenings are often spent studying and life is rushing by too fast.  Oracle SQL is not my idea of fun.  Life without it might be considerably more enjoyable.

Please review.

MS

 

Misplaced Power
Effective Cruelty