Bleach Fan Fiction ❯ Static Growth ( Chapter 34 )

[ 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).
Static Growth
« So what? He doesn’t know. His mother, Hiromi, left his father immediately when she found out about his ‘preferences’. She was worried that he would try to hurt her son and wouldn’t allow any contact between father and son and wouldn’t tell Piecrust anything about his father. She even changed the family name which is why you didn’t recognise it. Piecrust was only 18 months old. He couldn’t remember. The child is the father of the man, » was Atonomatsuri’s nervous response.
Zaraki stopped trying to wrench his foot free and stood still, remembering what the Captain-General had told him. Even though Piecrust’s mother hadn’t told him who his father was, he had decided at a young age that he must be a Shinigami. Why he came to that conclusion was anybody’s guess, but given the natural arrogance of the man it was surprising he hadn’t claimed Yamamoto as his father. After the death of her husband, Hiromi had approached the Captain-General and asked for assistance. She wanted her son to be admitted to the Academy.
At that stage, he would soon be of an age where he would be eligible to enter the Academy and he was very conceited, but Yamamoto had tested him, in person. It had taken considerable patience, due to the jerks inability to follow simple instructions without argument, but the results indicated that his reiatsu was sufficient to earn him a place. His natural ability with unarmed combat was the main factor that swayed the Captain General’s judgement but he felt the boy’s attitude wouldn’t work well within the learning institution. The 1st Division Captain had explained that because of these doubts he had delayed his admission for some years. He had provided money to assist the small family until Hiromi had remarried.
Not long after he gained a stepfather, Yuki had demanded that he was admitted to the Academy and was granted the privilege. Yamamoto had not gone into the man’s family life or the reasons that he left home so abruptly, and Zaraki didn’t care. The guy’s personal life didn’t interest him. Piecrust hadn’t fared well at the Academy. It was only because of Yamamoto’s intervention that he hadn’t been thrown out in the first year when he insulted his teachers and offended many of his peers. As it was he remained there longer than any other student as efforts were made to improve his skills and he consistently failed the exams. Eventually many of the instructors gave up on him, stating that if they wished to waste time there were better ways of doing so. The classes he excelled in were unarmed combat where he was one of the best students, but still not near Zaraki’s standard. He was also good at horticulture which was an optional subject and seemed to enjoy talking to plants. Zaraki had joked unkindly that he would help in planting the guy. Yamamoto had not been amused. Yuki had some grasp of kido, but it was very weak and often could not summon the necessary focus to use the spells.
By some fluke Piecrust had managed to graduate, but there was no mention of the number of times he’d failed the examination and while Yamamoto didn’t admit it, Zaraki guessed that he had bypassed the normal methods of allocation and placed him in 11th Division without following the standard formalities. This strengthened his resolve that all new recruits would be vetted by one of his seated officers, preferably Ayasegawa or Madarame. The Piecrust mistake would not be repeated.
What he wanted to know was the special ability that the old man had mentioned. He also didn’t want the jerk finding out that he was the man who had killed his father. Not because he was ashamed of the execution, which is how he saw the death of the captain, but because he knew that the fool would over react and probably challenge him. He didn’t want to fight him again; it would be boring and pointless and the jerk would make mistakes and probably start crying. Killing him would bring no pleasure as it would be too easy.
The question that burned in his mind, spewed from his mouth while he was talking to the Captain-General. « Why put him in my Division? Why am I the dumping ground? »
« His mother requested specifically that he be placed in his father’s Division. She knew it had been his wish. All the same, you are the Captain best suited to have him under your charge. You won’t indulge the man, » Yamamoto had replied.
« That’s sentimental crap and you know it. No Captain would indulge him, except Ukitake and maybe Kyoraku. You could have taken him into 1st Division if you wanted him to be taught by a Captain. Why did you say I’m the best one to train him? »
The old man gave Zaraki a contemplative look. « You’ll have to find that out yourself. There will be ample time for you to learn that once you begin providing personal training to Piecr.., I mean Hisutanga. Without the necessary skill to use his zanpaku-to, he will provide little assistance to your Division. I am very disappointed you haven’t already begun working with him. »
That comment had made Zaraki nearly lose it completely. The man was admitting that Piecrust was useless. « I did, once. But otherwise, when? He’s bloody always in 4th Division after someone’s tried to kill him. Even you admit he’s hopeless. I won’t train him, not personally, » was his attempt at defiance. He was yelling, but didn’t care if he ended up in the cells. This was not the way the old man usually operated. Was there something more; another thing that Yamamoto was not telling him? Obviously there was, but he had that stubborn look on his face which convinced Zaraki that he wouldn’t say anything more. Why the man had to keep these secrets he didn’t know and it infuriated him. He was acting like that annoying budgie who was masquerading as a vulture and only gradually imparting important information.
« You will train him, Captain Zaraki. It is essential, aside from the promise I made to his mother. You have to train him. No other captain will accept him and your inability to use kido, kendo and bankai place you in a unique position. Your strength is the key, I’m sure of it. » The man’s voice was low and urgent and his gaze was fixed intently on Zaraki. « I’m asking for this, as a favour. »
This last speech from Yamamoto shocked Zaraki and took the edge off his anger. The man had only asked him for a favour once before, when he’d asked him to join the Gotei 13. « I don’t do favours. It’s a waste of effort, » he replied, feeling disturbed at being placed in this position.
« It’s a chance to practice fighting against someone, » the 1st Division Captain began.
The last statement made a haze of red rise before his eyes and his fury, beginning to cool, rose ever hotter. Didn’t the man realise who he was talking to? Not some fool who did as he was told and followed orders like they were mandates from God. Now he had the taste to create havoc somewhere to remind the Captain-General that Kenpachi Zaraki was one of the most feared fighters within the Seireitei. Managing to keep his yell at a dull roar he answered, « Practice fighting? Against Piecrust? Fighting? I’ve got to hold back more than normal when I fight that guy. It can’t be called fighting! He does more damage to himself than anyone else, » the injustice was fuelling his anger. « I won’t do it, Sir, and you can’t damn well make me. »
Before a further protest could be uttered he stormed out of the office, needing to get away from the old man before he ripped the office apart.
Now he was standing in his mind with the vultures talon’s sunk in his foot. The day had started in a good way, but now all the good was draining away. Yamamoto was forcing him to work with his untalented subordinate and even provide a defence for him in a case where he’d clearly been in the wrong. If this continued, next he’d be cleaning the jerks room and doing his laundry.
« Bird, get your talons out of my foot, » he said heavily. There were things he had to do and spending time with Atonomatsuri ranked low in his priorities.
« Are you calm, Zaraki? Vows made in storms are forgotten in calms, » she said seriously, her head cocked to one side. The dim light glinted off her beak which seemed to shine with a polish he had not seen before.
He let out his breath which came out as a roar of outrage. Another adage! Hadn’t there been enough junk to deal with and now he had to listen to the bird mangle the air with her words.
« So, not calm then. He who has the courage to laugh is almost as much a master of the world as he who is ready to die, » Atonomatsuri said, apparently unmoved by his show of anger.
Trying to move, Zaraki felt her claws dig in further. « Do you frigging think your adages are going to help? »
« No. »
« Then why use the bloody things? »
Instead of answering, Atonomatsuri shifted her weight, bringing more pressure to bear on the injured foot. The pain didn’t concern Zaraki, but being trapped in one place did.
« Being trapped somewhere can be quite scary. You wonder when you’re going to be free, to go where you wish, talk to whom you want. It like being forced to remain static when you want to grow. Be not afraid of going slowly; be afraid only of standing still. I know this to be true, » the female said sternly as she looked up at Zaraki.
Fuming he glared back at her. She could never let anything go, could she? Always had to remind him of her imagined grudge. Why couldn’t she let it go? Did he act like he was interested when she prattled on? It wasn’t likely, but he didn’t know how she thought. This time he didn’t say anything in response. There was no point as he was certain she’d ignore any of his words. Atonomatsuri didn’t listen; she only talked and exasperated him.
The vulture sighed noisily as she slowly waggled her head. « I’m not talking about me, Kenny. »
« What? » had he misheard her? She’d said she wasn’t talking about herself, which was hard to believe for a start, but he was sure that string of words was leading to yet another Atonomatsuri-centric tirade which he’d have to listen to as he was pretty well trapped.
« I’m talking about you and, » she paused.
« I thought you wanted me to calm down and now you’re playing stupid games with me. Spit out what you want to say, or don’t say anything, » was his attempt at disinterested encouragement, as he interrupted her quickly.
« Piecrust, » the name was a murmur on the breeze and he knew he didn’t want to hear it or know why she had insisted on mentioning that burke to him.
He directed his eyes toward the heavens that span above his head. The planets were now completely formed and he could nearly swear that he saw a comet dodging between some of the stars, but while it was interesting it didn’t sidetrack him enough. For once the vulture didn’t burst into frantic explanations about what she meant and while he knew she was waiting his reaction, she could wait. He didn’t want to think about why she was championing Piecrust, or what she wanted him to do. It was plain that he didn’t want to know her reasons, just as he didn’t want to know any more of the secrets she kept revealing. Each time she told him something important it meant that he was again forced to deal with something objectionable. At the same time he wanted to know everything she was concealing so that she couldn’t use it as a weapon to confound him. Trying not to think reminded him of the time before he had first tried to talk to the spirit of his zanpaku-to. Was it better then, when he wasn’t forced to confront all these issues? Sure he’d had problems with Kurotsuchi, but he hadn’t cared, not that he cared now, he reassured himself.
The dying sun flared slightly and a jet of flame could be seen rising from the surface, bleeding into the heavens. He watched the bright glitter cascade, then fade, then die. A moment of brilliance before it was extinguished, lighting the sky so briefly only to be forgotten. After standing silently, his anger began to wane slightly. He had stopped struggling against Atonomatsuri because there was little point. Noticing this she eased some of the pressure and her talons no longer pinned his foot to the ground.
« I never wanted to grow, » he averred stubbornly, trying to assert some sense of independence.
Her face gazed at him with a mixture of pride and grief. « Except in strength and skill, but both come at a cost. If you will accept some advice… »
« No. » He was very quick to respond but then thought about. Some of her advice had been sensible, except the stuff about the two eye patches and other things he couldn’t remember. Yet, this time she seemed genuinely concerned about him, which made him wonder if she might have something to say that might be of benefit to him.
« It won’t cost you anything, » she urged.
This time Zaraki looked closely at Atonomatsuri. It was not just her beak which gleamed. Her feathers glistened with care and she looked proud of the way she looked, standing upright and sleek.
« I owe you. You polished me and that affected me more than you can imagine. You polished me without hatred or any expectation of reward. It was in answer to a request I made and I am more grateful than I can express. »
« If you’re so grateful, get your talons out of my foot, » he said, not really hoping that she would agree.
The next moment he was free. Looking down he saw the blood spilling out of the tears in his foot, but that didn’t seem important. Retsu would fix it later.
« My advice is to train the jerk, personally. I don’t know why, but I believe Yamamoto. There is something more there than either of us has seen. I will observe him and maybe I can plumb the depths of his abilities. If you train him it will make it easier. One eye of the master sees more than four of the servant’s. »
He paused before he answered. This sounded like a solution, but he didn’t trust it. First, though, he had to set the birds to rights on something. « You’re not my master. Yeah, I’ll train him, » he said reluctantly but then he felt slightly cheered as he remembered something. « I can’t train him while he’s injured. »
« No, but the Captain-General expects you to visit him and train him once he’s recovered, » Atonomatsuri reminded him. « I think it’s his way of making you act as he has instructed. Might is right. »
Growling, Zaraki realised she was correct. The man was forcing him into a situation he resented and it wasn’t easy to see a way out. « I’ll take Yachiru with me, and Ayasegawa and Madarame. We’ll train the jerk together and he’s now probably more scared of Yachiru than me. »
« It’s possible, but I don’t think so. One ability that man does not have is observing what is below the surface, even when it has been proven to him more than once. Proof rather than argument do not work on that man. He would rather argue than accept any proof. »
He was forced to accept the truth of her words. Bemused by the turn of events he began to try to frame a question about something else that was bothering him. « You mentioned that Aizen set something in motion before he left. »
« Yes. »
The stillness of his mind was not disturbed by the movement of the breeze, but the slight buzz of insects was the only thing that could be heard. Zaraki had expected more than a simple yes from the bird, but she did not seem inclined to say anything further.
« What about it? »
« Later. »
His surroundings faded and he found he was standing in the field again, his foot aching slightly as he stood there. He tried to talk to Atonomatsuri but received no answer. The silence in his mind was soothing. Changing his balance his exerted more weight on his undamaged right foot. Running was not an option. Slowly he made his way to 4th Division. At first it wasn’t too bad, but being confined to a walking pace much slower than his normal speed, began to irritate and eventually infuriate him. He ignored the exclamations and stares of the passing Shinigami as he walked; the volume of his cursing increasing the longer he walked.
« Captain Zaraki! I request that you moderate your language. I hope you do not use those words in front of your assistant captain, » a chiding voice broke through his anger and he glared around to see who dared to tell him what to do this time.
« Now, Nanao. I think the Captain is in some pain if you look at his foot. Here, lean on me and I’ll help you walk to 4th Division, » Captain Kyoraku offered, the amusement in his tone not concealed. « Stepped on a pitchfork did you? That is the only explanation I can venture for that sort of wound. »
Zaraki stopped trying to walk and glowered at the 8th Division Captain who was smiling at him with his hat pushed to the back of his head. « I don’t need help, » was his ill tempered response. He tried to step forward as a fresh gout of blood welled from his foot and his ankle turned.
The other captain grabbed his coat and prevented him from falling, removed his hat and gave it to his assistant captain to hold. « I think you should stop walking on that foot. Your threshold for pain is known, but let me help. » He placed his shoulder under Zaraki’s arm and the support helped. « If I help you, the payment is that you stop swearing. My sweet Nanao has an aversion to swearing and I try to indulge her when I can. »
« You’re her Captain. She shouldn’t tell you what to do, » Zaraki told the man through the side of his mouth.
« Just as you tell Assistant Captain Kusajiki what she should do? » was the good humoured response.
The man was correct. Yachiru was more likely to tell him what to do, when she thought she could get away with it.
« And you are wise to follow her advice on occasions, » Nanao said calmly, showing she had overheard the low voiced conversation. « Not necessarily about the consumption of sweets, but she sometimes has very clear and sensible opinions at the Shinigami Women’s Association. Much has changed since she became President. »
« Miss the glory days, do you Nanao? » The teasing note in the 8th Captain’s voice did not escape Zaraki.
The frosty stare she bestowed on her Captain indicated that the wound from being replaced was still fresh. « I will go ahead and inform 4th Division of your imminent arrival, » the comment was delivered to Zaraki as the assistant captain moved swiftly ahead.
« Why are you helping me? » Zaraki asked Shunsui now they were alone.
« I was bored. I wanted to drink with Ran or talk to Jushiro, but they’re both busy with this hearing. I thought I’d go for a walk with Nanao; see if anything interesting was happening and I heard rumours that Captain Kenpachi Zaraki was shocking the residents of the Seireitei with his language. I thought I’d come and see if it was as colourful as I was told. »
Gossip always travelled fast. « Humph. And was it? »
A quiet laugh was his answer and they continued walking for a few minutes before the Captain gave a more complete response. « I think you used some words I’ve never heard before. What’re carpal tunnel syndrome and scampi? Are they particularly bad invectives? And there were quite a few mentions of some bird of other. »
Zaraki groaned. « I don’t know what those words mean. I heard someone use them and I was getting bored with the other stuff. »
« Maybe we could swap phrases one day when Nanao is caught up with her duties at the Women’s meetings. Have a drink together, » was the astonishing suggestion.
Briefly Zaraki closed his eyes. What the hell was going on? Was this another offer of friendship? He didn’t want, or need, anymore friends.
« I mean all the Captain should get to know each other. I’ve been thinking that for a long time, » was the very quiet explanation. « We work toward a common goal and yet most of us are strangers. »
What was the guy talking about? Of course they were strangers. They had little in common except their rank and possibly a liking for sake.
« It’s been noted that you have formed a friendship with Captain Unohana, a person I respect and admire. If she has seen fit to become friends with you, can I do anything less? »
Their arrival at 4th Division fortunately interrupted the conversation and Zaraki didn’t have to reply. He was quickly taken inside where Retsu attended to him.
« What have you done this time? » She glanced at his set features, nodded to herself and commenced washing and binding the foot in an efficient manner. While she was working she said quietly, « Atonomatsuri. I can see the talon marks. If the wounds had been one fraction of a millimetre different we would be looking at major injuries, but she appears to have intentionally disabled but not permanently damaged your foot. I will have to keep you in overnight. »
« Oh, hell Retsu. I don’t want to be here overnight, » he began. He hated being confined to 4th Division, it made him look weak.
« I’ll play backgammon with you again, » she offered, smiling.
« Does this mean you’re not still angry about Piecrust? » he allowed himself to hope briefly but a dark look crossed her face.
« I’m not angry with you about Piecrust. I am aware that the man acted contrary to your orders, » she said, her voice gentle, but the content harsh.
« Ur, yeah. I’ll stay if you cook, » he said trying to change the subject as quickly as he could.
Retsu placed her hands on her hips and looked down at him, a gentle smile on her face. « You expect me to heal you and cook for you? »
He realised she was teasing. « Yeah, why not? You don’t expect me to cook with this foot, do you? »
A worried frown crossed Retsu’s face. « Can you cook? Have you even tried? »
Grinning he replied, « I can cook but it’s basic. If you don’t mind burned rice and raw meat I’m your man. » He wasn’t going to tell her that he was a little better than that. How did she think he and Yachiru survived during the early years they were together? He’d learnt, but didn’t enjoy preparing food. It was easier to buy it, or persuade someone else to do the work. « I’ll make a meal for you later. »
Shuddering Retsu shook her head. « I’m not fond of raw meat unless it’s sushi. Very well, Zaraki, I’ll prepare a meal, but be prepared to lose at backgammon, again. »
The last time they’d played she had won every game, but this time he thought he’d worked out her strategy. She seemed very confident that she’d be victorious, but now was not the time to contradict her. If he did, he’d have to eat whatever slosh they fed the other patients in this place. Suddenly he remembered something. He wanted to find out why Retsu was so angry earlier. Her fury had seemed excessive, but maybe he could distract her first.
« Hey, what happened to Aizen’s assistant captain? What was her name? Hinamoron, or something? » If she woke up maybe she could offer some background, maybe even give some hints as to what they guy was planning.
« Momo Hinamori. She is still here, still comatose. We have tried so many treatments to bring her back to consciousness, but the wound given to her by her Captain was grave. She nearly died. I believe that was his intention. » Retsu was very grave as she explained. « Why do you ask? »
Zaraki thought about it. He didn’t give a damn about what happened to the girl. He’d barely noticed her before this. It was obvious her condition worried Retsu and that seemed unfair. It seemed even more unfair that he had been the unwitting cause of bringing her so much work.
« Making conversation. I really wanted to know why you were so angry with Piecrust, aside from the obvious, » he stated. Maybe she would answer him, maybe not.
He glanced at Retsu from the corner of his eye and what he saw made him wonder. Was Retsu turning red? Was she blushing? If so, what had Piecrust said or done that had affected her like that. He vaguely remembered she’d said something, but what it was he didn’t remember.
« No reason, » Retsu said. Her voice sounded like that of a stranger. It was choked and high, very unlike her normal utterance.
« Oh, come on, Retsu. We’re past all these stupid games. Tell me and I’ll rip his guts out for you. »
A knock at the door interrupted before she could answer. A messenger opened the door and bowed slightly. « Captain Yamamoto has requested that you visit him immediately, Captain Unohana. » The messenger shut the door, without waiting for a response.
Watching the 4th Division Captain, Zaraki noticed she didn’t seem too surprised.
« That’s the 4th time this week, » he heard her murmur as if to herself.
« You mean the Old Man has asked you to talk to him 3 times already this week? » It seemed a bit odd to Zaraki and he wondered what she had done to attract this much attention. He was used to being summoned for one reason or another, but he hadn’t heard that Retsu was required often.
« Yes. He’s wished to talk to me about inconsequential matters a few times. Each time I thought there was an important matter, but it was only tea and conversation. I think, perhaps, he’s lonely. »
« And you’re one of the longest serving captains, » Zaraki said, guessing that the Captain General felt he had some things in common with Retsu. « Has he done this before? »
Retsu shook her head, not seeming to be paying full attention to the conversation. « I apologise for the interruption, Captain Zaraki. I will see you on my return. »
« What about the meal you promised? » He felt disappointed at missing out on a free meal.
« I’ll order something for you. I’d better make haste. The Captain General doesn’t like to be kept waiting. »
Retsu left without looking in his direction again and for a moment he wished she had just nodded reassuringly at him before she left.
« That’s not good, Kenny. I wondered if this might happen, » Atonomatsuri broke in sadly and Zaraki groaned. Why did the bird have to stick her beak in everywhere?

Author’s Note:
I was very pleased to see that so many of you guessed that Piecrust didn’t know who his father was, or at least you seemed to. As you may had noticed there are a few further things about Piecrust to be revealed, but they will come, with time.
One reviewer asked if Ichigo will appear in this story. It’s unlikely because it’s quite relaxing for me to write a story where he is not a central character.
Zaraki did not know Piecrust’s parentage before the Yamamoto told him in the last chapter and I hope I’ve made it clear that Piecrust doesn’t have a clue (in more ways than one) who his father is.
Please review.
MS
 
Case Origin
Pieces of a Scar