Bleach Fan Fiction ❯ Mixing Memory ( Chapter 24 )

[ 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).
Mixing Memory
Warning: Angst and other stuff, including sentiment.
He was only half listening to Atonomatsuri, musing instead on the scheme and the possibility of discrediting Kurotsuchi. The plan had changed radically and bore very little resemblance to his original idea, but having heard the weaknesses of his proposal outlined, he was satisfied that the new strategy might work. Not that it mattered, but the money he had paid for the dolls, the chair and the coat were not wasted and he would be free of that bloody rum that had belonged to the previous Captain of the 11th Division.
He hadn’t told the complete truth when he said he didn’t like rum because of the taste. It was true he didn’t enjoy the flavour, but he hated rum because of the man he’d killed for his position. While he wore his coat as a badge of honour, the smell of rum reminded him of the man more clearly; made him recall why he hated him so viciously and killed him in the most humiliating way possible.
Casting his mind back to when he entered the Soul Reaper Academy with Yachiru, many people had looked at him, shocked at this tall, atypical man with a doll like child as a companion. One or two had tried to dissuade Yachiru from entering the Academy, saying she was too young and would find the life of a Shinigami difficult. She had not been pleased at the implied criticism.
“Return when you’re older,” one said. “You are still a child and should spend your childhood enjoying yourself.”
“Like starving to death? Or being beaten? Or used as a slave? No one takes care of the children out there, you know that numbskull. The kid stays with me. Either we both enter, or we both go. If we leave, I might just take a keepsake to remember this place, like your ear.” Zaraki growled at the man, unimpressed by his words or his fear.
“I was only thinking that… Why should I explain? You’ll find out,” the teacher said, turning his back and walking away. Zaraki watched him leave, not even slightly interested in what caused his fear.
“What was that about Ken-chan? Are we staying? Do I get to wear the cool black outfit and carry a zanpaku-to like yours?” Yachiru chirruped, grabbing him by his hand.
“Yeah, we’re staying,” he assured her.
Zaraki had resolved that he would earn the title Kenpachi Zaraki as soon as possible and to try to speed up the process he’d talked to his zanpaku-to, once, but didn’t really believe anything would happen, and it didn’t. Instead he honed his fighting skills and looked for a possible Captain he could challenge. It had to be a renowned fighter so it would at least be a contest, but he wanted another factor; something to make the fight more interesting.
When they finally graduated, and were placed in the 11th Division, he found out why there had been the attempt to persuade Yachiru to wait until she was older. Some depraved jerk had placed them both in the Division that contained a Captain, well liked and respected by all; except children. The very few children in the Seireitei were kept out of his sight. Few knew of his problem, but everyone knew of his liking for rum. Many who wanted to gain his favour regularly presented him with bottles of rum, Zaraki never did.
People had been fond of the guy, just as they had liked Aizen, fooled by the pretence, unwilling to look beyond the surface. It hadn’t concerned him, the guy was his Captain and they had little to do with each other. One gave orders, the other obeyed, as much as he felt was necessary. Zaraki had been able to tolerate him, thinking the guy was fond of Yachiru as he gave her sweets and constantly told her how cute she was.
Cute, but also clever. Yachiru would take the sweets and throw them away as soon as she was out of visual range which made him wonder because she would then force Zaraki to buy her more. What was so different about the sweets the Captain gave to her and the one’s he bought? Whenever the Captain was near, she would stay close to Zaraki, often hiding behind him, or clinging to the back of his uniform, burrowing against him. He asked her about it, but she just shook her head and changed the subject and he didn’t feel like following it up. She would tell him one day, if it was important.
One day it became essential. Zaraki had been injured fighting a number of Hollows. He’d let his attention wander, just for a second because the fight was boring in its predictable dialogue. Why did Hollows want to talk during the fight? It was tedious hearing them constantly yapping on about how sweet Shinigami blood tasted and then saying that he would be defeated within minutes. Talking interrupted the fun.
Despite his protests, Yachiru had dragged him to 4th Division all the while scolding him for letting his guard slip. There was a lot of stuffing around in the medical area, with a number of Shinigami requiring attention, and he’d told Yachiru to wait for him back at his quarters knowing she might become bored and decide to make her stay more interesting. That would make 4th Division even less productive, and he wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible.
Finally someone attended to his wounds and permitted him to leave. Walking through the twilight, he felt a measure of contentment in going home. He’d share a meal with Yachiru, and she’d go back to her quarters to sleep, but he liked her company when he was eating. He hadn’t made too many friends since he’d become a Shinigami, but with Yachiru he didn’t feel lonely. Some of the other members of his Division seemed scared of him, but at least the fear seemed mixed with respect.
Approaching his rooms, he noticed they were unnaturally quiet. The girl was usually singing or laughing or talking to herself, but he heard nothing. Opening the door he blinked hard at the smell of rum that mixed bizarrely with the normal scent of the lollies Yachiru ate, and then he blinked again at the sight before him. His captain was kneeling, pale with either fear or anger, Yachiru’s blade at his throat. He’d seen Yachiru angry before this time, but never had he seen her beset by implacable rage and ready to kill. A red hand shaped mark was on her face which had not been there when he last saw her. Who had dared to hit her?
Too often people accepted the appearance of childhood and treated her accordingly. She might look and act like a child, when it suited her, but that was part of her defence. Beneath the innocent exterior was a sharp and enquiring mind and very fast reflexes. Her graduation from the Academy had not been due to any favouritism, but instead a tribute to her extraordinary abilities. Their Captain had underestimated her, believed what he could see rather than what lay beneath the façade, and she never allowed that to occur twice.
“Ken-chan, could you take this person away from here, please, before I kill him?” It may have sounded like a question, but he had no doubt it was an order.
Hauling his Captain to his feet, Zaraki threw him over his shoulder and took him back to headquarters. Dumping the man outside he heard him protest, “She didn’t understand. How dare she treat me like this? I’m her Captain and she should never draw her zanpaku-to on me. I will speak to the Captain-General. Discipline must be maintained.”
“Shut up, fool. I’m not interested in what you have to say. I trust Yachiru but I don’t trust you. I’m going to find out what happened and then, if it’s bad, I’ll come after you.” Zaraki left with that warning. As he walked back he dreaded the facts he might discover.
Opening the door, he noticed Yachiru sitting quietly, reading a book and not eating sweets. This was unusual behaviour and he hesitated a little before entering the room, unwilling to discover if his fears were correct. “Tell me,” he said after closing the door and shutting the windows to make sure they were not overheard.
“No,” was her blunt response.
“Kid, I can’t help if you won’t tell me.” It was true. It was rare that she kept anything from him and she didn’t like to ask for help. That would be weak and she despised weakness in others.
“Ken-chan, can I move my bed in here? Can you make sure you’re always with me?” She did not look at him as she made the request, her attention still fixed on the book in her hands.
Zaraki began to feel sick, anticipating the problem. “”Did that depraved parasite touch you?”
Her eyes were shadowed with a wariness he had never seen before, her mouth drooped and she spoke as she rarely did, exposing her true nature. “It’s not what you think, Ken-chan. He likes to hurt little kids; it makes him laugh to make us cry and makes him feel like a big man, but only when he’s drunk. I’ve heard that one kid in Soul Society died when that man took it too far, but no-one did anything because he’s a Captain and he bribed the family to keep it quiet. The kid had only arrived two days before he was killed and no-one cared. I knew about him; someone told me in the Academy, just to warn me. That’s why I’ve been so careful to never be alone with him. That man tried to make me cry by hitting me, but he forgot that I’m a Shinigami and that you taught me how to fight. He only hit me once because that man did not bring his zanpaku-to and did not try to defend himself because he expected me to act like a kid. You were right about surprise being a factor when you fight a battle. I’m glad you came when you did.” A small tear slipped down her cheek.
It was then his target was chosen. Not just because he’d made Yachiru cry, not because of his conduct with children, not because the guy was a drunkard, not because it was his own Captain and one of the most respected fighters in the Gotei 13. The main reason was the overwhelming fury that this disclosure had created within him. The Captain had treated them both with a lack of respect that made Zaraki’s blood simmer; in addition the man had underestimated their skills. That mistake could not be repeated.
The next day he challenged the Captain, publicly, after training was finished. The man had accepted with fear and pained acceptance in his eyes knowing Zaraki’s reputation and his expertise. Although the Captain had achieved bankai, it was not enough. The fight was over too fast for Zaraki to enjoy, but it finished with the predicted result. His Captain had fallen and he had earned his name. Yachiru was revenged. He had the man’s coat, his position and his office and one bottle of rum that no one would drink. Now the rum would be a tool for payback.
His unpleasant reverie suddenly shuddered to a halt when he arrived back at his quarters. As he opened the door, his mind recalled something that now seemed important. What had the poor imitation of a buzzard said? Something about a former Hollow? He now realised that talking to Atonomatsuri was marginally more attractive than listening to a Hollow, but at least he could kill a Hollow to shut its mouth permanently.
“Hey, carcase breath, what was it you said? You mentioned a Hollow. Where? Is it in the Seireitei or does it only exist in that thing you call your mind.” He wondered if she would even answer.
“I’m drowsy. I told you before that you should listen to what I say,” Atonomatsuri yawned.
“Why are you always sleepy when I want to talk and why should I listen to your dim-witted chatter when I’m not interested?” was his irritable response to the bird. He searched his memory for a time when he had wanted to talk to her and she hadn’t feigned sleep or something else.
“Why won’t you converse with me when I’m awake and interested in the exchange of ideas? Hey, Kenny, The man who strikes first admits that his ideas have given out.” the bird demurred.
“Adages, half truths, lies, damned lies, and bloody insults. Next you’ll quote frigging statistics at me or some other half arsed crap. Explain,” Zaraki found his temper was slipping out of his limited control.
“Explain,” said Atonomatsuri meditatively. “Explain. Well, statistics are the result of collating data to provide numerical explanations for growth or…”
“Atonomatsuri,” Zaraki bellowed drawing his zanpaku-to in preparation.
With a quick displacement of air, the vulture appeared in front of Zaraki, looking very confused, and as worried as a vulture could. In her case, she looked very worried. Before she could move Zaraki kicked out at her, forcing her to sprawl on the floor and deposited his foot heavily on her wing. She had answered his question when he’d done this previously, maybe it would work again. He flicked the point of his weapon over her wing once, just as a reminder and then rested the point on the membrane.
“We’ve been here before, Kenny. I thought you’d have your thick hands around my neck by now,” was the bird’s mulish comment. She did not struggle but lay there not even attempting to use her barbed tongue to poison him.
“You can’t talk when I do that and this time you’re going to talk. If I ask while you’re not visible, you won’t answer but this time you were stupid. For a creature that tells me how dumb I am you make some freakishly bad mistakes. I warned you and you didn’t listen. I don’t give a damn if you drag me back to that place you call my mind. Tell me; is this the big secret you’ve been hinting at?” Zaraki felt pitiless and Atonomatsuri was quiet, unmoving. He was unsure if she was thinking or attempting to annoy him, or he suspected, probably both. This time he would allow her to speak first. He wasn’t that tired, he’d had a nap in the afternoon so he could quite happily remain where he was for some time.
“He who knows nothing, doubts nothing.”
The point of his zanpakuto trembled as he fought his desire to stab her and finish their unceasing battle. This struggle had plagued his recent days, compelling him to act in ways he had never wanted to behave, changing his life beyond the narrow limits where he had been comfortable. She wanted to dominate him with her words and he strove to defeat her with his strength. Neither would win, it was an equal contest as each of them had the same strength and the same determination. He was unsure if stabbing her would even kill her. The times she had told him that he could not kill her with herself, that if he killed her he would die and it was imperative that they trust each other, that partial truth and adages hid secrets, suddenly gave him the key.
“Truth,” Zaraki said recalling the strange thing the Hollow had said to him in the dream.
“The secret truth is that you were a Hollow. The Captain-General was the person who freed you from that state. When you arrived in Soul Society you were full of self-hatred because you had killed your family while a Hollow. You hated yourself so much you sought death by constant battle with others, each fight taking you further from sanity but then your salvation came in the form of Yachiru. She changed you from the monster into the man,” Atonomatsuri spoke as if reciting a lesson she had learned long ago.
Hearing the admission, Zaraki removed his foot from her wing and sat heavily on the bed. Truth was not what he expected, nor was it what he wanted to hear.
Atonomatsuri got shakily to her feet and looked at him in astonishment; at least that was the emotion he thought he could see on her face. “Who told you? Who knew that prompt, that single word that would unlock that secret? Only you were supposed to know that word, but you never used it as a single sentence before. How did you work it out? In the spider-web of facts, many a truth is strangled. How did you clear the web?”
Zaraki was still trying to understand everything she had said. He had been a Hollow. That was the thing he didn’t want to know; it was something he was aware he’d blocked from his memory. Why would he want to have that knowledge? He’d had the Hollow dreams when he had originally arrived in Soul Society and he’d paid no attention to them, trying to ignore their importance. This was the important truth that Atonomatsuri had promised to tell him before, but had refused to utter. She had required the key word: truth.
Trying to sort it out he began to speak aloud, to hear the words and see if he could understand them better. “I was a Hollow. The old man knows this because he defeated me.” Pausing he found he could accept this, but it was not easy or palatable but it brought back a conversation he’d put out of his mind.
Shortly after he had reached Soul Society, the old man had found him. “I want you to train at the Academy. A place is waiting for you and I have a zanpaku-to for you,” he handed over the weapon. “I’m giving you this as a sign of good faith and in an attempt to demonstrate that I am in earnest.
“I’m not interested. I don’t want to be a Soul Reaper, or whatever the hell you call it. You expect too much, old man. I’m here because of you, but you don’t have to watch over me. I don’t need anyone. I’ll take the sword, but not the advice. See you.” He took the offered blade and turned preparing to walk away. The guilt he denied he felt made it hard for him to function or even to talk to this man who had killed him too late. When he’d been a Hollow he had never had to face that emotion and loathed experiencing it again.
“We need you; I need people like you. People with your level of spirit pressure are rare. You would be a valued member of the Gotei 13 and help in the ongoing war against the Hollows,” the old man had persisted amazed at the rejection of his offer.
That last comment stung. “I’m not interested in your ongoing war. If I went to your stinking Academy, everyone would know I was a Hollow once. Go and find some noble moron who actually cares.” If he was rude enough, the self styled saviour might leave him alone. He never wanted to see his face again because it brought back all the despised memories.
“No one would know. Why would they? There were no observers in our battle, no other participants. Give it a chance.”
“Not now. Maybe later, old man. If I ever see a reason I’ll let you know.” He began to walk away, ignoring the other as he set out to find his place in this brutal world.
Although he had forgotten much, he had never really managed to erase the suggestion from his mind. It had always been an option in the place where there seemed to be no escape. Eventually, he had accepted the offer, mainly because of Yachiru.
Recollecting something he had said to Atonomatsuri the first time she had taken him into his mind, jarred him. He had told her that when he fought, he was fighting Death and had to win because if he lost then Death won. It was a crappy explanation. He had told himself the half truth so many times, he believed it. The bird had been correct when she said he screened the reason from himself. When he fought he was fighting himself, both the Hollow and the Soul he had become in Soul Society. He was the Death he constantly fought against.
Getting up he retrieved the bottle of sake stored in his cupboard, ignoring the outraged exhortations of the squawking, infuriated avian. It was highly possible that she was talking to him, but he could not hear her over the hum of his own thoughts. Instead of using a cup, he opened the bottle and swigged directly from it, ignoring the taste. If he could quiet is mind enough, he could think this through, but his thoughts were scattered and refused to come into focus. “I am Death. I am a former Hollow. I am Kenpachi Zaraki. I am no one. Death is all I am capable of giving. Life is the great lie and I am here to destroy and dispel all lies. ”
“Zaraki, listen to me. I’m talking to you. Kenny. Kenpachi. Kenny boy. Thickhead. Hey you. Listen to me.” Terror echoed through the voice, but he didn’t listen.
He felt a sharp sting in his hand and looked down, momentarily distracted from his thoughts, and saw blood running freely from a large cut to his palm.
“Zaraki, are you listening. Can you hear me? Answer me you fool,” the voice was insistent and very anxious.
“I listen to no one because I am Death. Death cannot be commanded or controlled, but can be granted to those who deserve the gift. I am swift and sure. I bow to no one, obey no rules except my own. I rule all I touch, for my touch brings death and release from pain,” the voice in his head kept talking, reciting his thoughts in the days before Yachiru crawled into his life and showed him there was more than blood and pain in the world. He could hear his voice repeating these words aloud and this convinced him that he had been completely insane before her influence moderated his life, believing that his true purpose was to bring death to all.
He had told Yachiru that he had no name when he met her, though he often mentally called himself Thanatos. A snivelling man had called him that as he drove his blade into the man’s chest and he liked the sound of the word. Later he looked it up and found out it was the Greek name for the incarnation of Death. On the whole he preferred the name Kenpachi Zaraki, because now everyone knew that name and feared or respected its owner. He still was a death bringer, a death god, but now he fought more often to protect, and have a bit of fun, rather than just kill.
It was Yachiru’s influence that caused him to spare Madarame’s life when they first fought. She liked to watch him fight, celebrated his victories, encouraged him to enjoy his battles, but her distaste for needless killing slowly changed him. “Why do you always kill them Ken-chan? If you don’t kill them, one or two of them might learn how to fight properly and then you can play with them again.” He had smiled at her, the simple words she spoke affected him and he had let Madarame live.
“I knew it. I knew you wouldn’t be able to cope with this. Get a grip, you stupid Shinigami. The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep.”
Sleep? Despair? What was the vituperative vulture going on about this time? “Crap, another adage. What do you mean I wouldn’t be able to cope with this? Did that bug in your brain lay eggs, or something? Get a grip! The only thing I want a grip on is your neck,” Zaraki wondered why the bird was acting like this. “Do you think I’m so weak minded that being told I am a former Hollow would drive me nuts? I was just remembering, then and now. I was insane then, now I’m not, despite what any frigging cream and black faced Captain, or you, think. Why did you cut me this time? Was it because I ignored you earlier, or I didn’t thank you for your advice? Which particular slight made you to do this, or are you trying to prove something, that my reflexes are not as good as they were? What is it? Come on, tell me.”
“You’re lucid? You’re making sense, well as much sense as you ever make. I didn’t think you were capable of adjusting to this new truth.” The respect in Atonomatsuri’s voice was an illusion he was sure. She was going to say some particularly bad adage at any moment, he knew it.
“Lucid? Yeah, so? You knew about the Hollow dreams returning. The Hollow in the dream told me. No, that’s wrong. The Hollow said something about using the word only. He’d been raving about truth so I thought that might be what I was meant to say. At least it worked this time. For once you answered my question without the usual garbage,” Zaraki took another swallow of sake not wishing to think about who the Hollow might be. The slow burn down the throat felt good and it felt even better when it hit his stomach but it did not warm him. “That’s good. Do you want some?” He offered the bottle to Atonomatsuri.
She indicated she didn’t want any, still looking at him, bemused by his words.
“I just realised something about one of those adages you used when Madarame was being stupid, the one about the early bird. That couldn’t apply to you, could it? I mean you’re always too late, so you can never be the early bird,” Zaraki started to laugh at his joke and noted that the bird did not seem appreciative of his wit.
Atonomatsuri flexed her wings to their full extent, again enforcing the fact that she was larger than a normal vulture and would probably terrify any unsuspecting Shinigami. The decomposition which had been plain in his earlier interactions with her was not so obvious and she seemed to phase into that form less often. After stretching her wings she rearranged her body, arching her neck and blinking her eyes slowly as she swayed slightly back and forth. Noticing her strangely hypnotic movement, Zaraki watched her closely, apprehension causing him to note whether her beak stroked her feathers or if the tongue emerged. He didn’t want to go back into his mind. When she dropped to the floor without doing either, he drank another slug of sake in a silent toast to his luck, or lack of it. The alcohol was not calming him and he considered that his interaction with the bird was turning him into an alcoholic like his former Captain. His mood deteriorated significantly at that possibility.
“If you’re trying to anger me, you will fail,” she began.
“Yeah, you’re such a serene individual. Is my mind playing tricks or were you scared? You even called me Zaraki which indicates you must have been frantic. Why would you worry if I went crazy?” Asking questions he knew would not be answered, Zaraki felt resentful.
“I wasn’t worried. You’re mind is tricking you because you abused it for….”
“So long that it prefers to trust a vulture addicted to adages,” Zaraki concluded the sentence for her, bitterness rising within him, at yet another slight from the feathered freak show. `You were scared that a simple memory would drive me over the edge so you cut my hand to get a response. Don’t try that with me, Atonomatsuri, because you’re too late. You were scared out of your skin that a simple truth had crushed my mind and you panicked. Now, why is that?” He grinned at her savagely and then drank some more sake. He knew he should stop, but the last few days had been full of events, not all of them pleasant and this was another of the disagreeable dealings.
“Still seeking forgetfulness, Zaraki?” The bird’s voice was barely above a whisper.
“Zaraki, again! Yeah, I want to forget. Tell me what’s so good about remembering things?” He did not try to conceal the hostility he was feeling. The new knowledge had changed him irrevocably. The only bright side to this situation he could see was that at least he wasn’t stuck in that wilderness of his mind that he had grown to loathe, but he wasn’t sure how long that would last.
Author’s Note:
As you may recall, Zaraki mentioned he hated rum in the last chapter and it made me wonder why. That explains why the first part of the chapter was not an immediate response to the Atonomatsuri’s disclosure.
The excerpt of the poem by T.S. Elliott I quoted in Chapter 18 was, of course, The Hollow Men. If I told you then it would have given too much of a clue, so I didn’t. I do not know if anyone has read this story as closely as I have (why would you? You have better things to do) but I have been laying the groundwork about Zaraki being a former Hollow from before Chapter 9. I got the idea of Zaraki being a former Hollow from a story by Gigawolf1 called What If? In this story, Zaraki is an Arrancar, but I liked the former Hollow idea. Great story, but it hasn’t been updated for some time, which is a pity. I asked Gigawolf1 for permission to use that idea and this was kindly given. Thanks again.
I sometimes make subtle changes to the already published chapters when I note spelling mistakes or confounded grammar or something stupid. If you’re re-reading a chapter (see brackets above) and think it might have changed, you may be correct.
In the next chapter I hope to once again feature Piecrust, delve into a little payback and maybe raise the stakes for the bets between Madarame and Renji. That’s the plan, Zaraki and Atonomatsuri permitting. (Don’s knuckle dusters and full body Kevlar and retrieves bayonet in preparation for the coming fight. Okay you two, I will win or I might if I had a zanpaku-to.) ^.^
Thank you for the reviews so far. Please review this chapter.
Falls the Shadow