Author: vayshti - no beta.
Characters: Kenpachi, Yachiru
Warnings/spoilers: Set just after Kenpachi claims the mantle of Eleventh Division Taichō
Summary: Kenpachi can be read like an open book – except for one page.
Written for bleachness January Birthday contest
The History of Skin
Kenpachi lay on his front, his body sinking deep into the pile of furs that lay beneath him.
Others, had they ever been able to see into his inner sanctum, would have been surprised by the rich display – sables, winter and summer minks, tiger, leopard, bear – they were thrown onto the futon in a haphazard manner. It was like a twisted bed of a princess with a hundred down mattresses, the furs tossed down like they were worth nothing, rather than their bounty of thousands of yen.
Kenpachi knew the value of the skins to others, as items of luxury and prestige, but for him their value lay in their history, in their relation to his pride. Every skin was hard won, wrested from their owners by his hand alone. Each skin had a history; each skin bore the marks, the personality of the beast that had once claimed it for its own. Each skin bore the scars of battle; battles won, battles survived - and the final battle lost against him.
He lay on this cloud of fur, the front of his naked torso gently warmed by the coats stolen from others. His back lay exposed to the air and to the touch of his personal masseur. Their hands were yet to touch his skin, and there was that heavy feeling of anticipation; would the hands be cold, warm – would they be dry, or slicked with some fancy scented lotion not of his choosing? One thing he could be sure of; the hands that would eventually lie on his skin knew his back better than he did.
No matter how he may have twisted and turned in front of a mirror, he would never see all of himself, never see what his little masseur saw.
The fingers dug in, and there was a moment as his muscles tensed before he grew accustomed to the cool dots being pressed into his skin. He forced himself to breathe out, to not resist, to not fight the touch of another. These fingers knew no foreplay – no tentative touch or exploration, no gentle easing into the knotted muscles – they honed in on the exact spots where Kenpachi hurt the most, the fingers knowing exactly what trigger points to press to make him melt further into his bed of fur – but only after they caused a little pain by toying with the corded, solidified muscle.
One finger darted in, stabbing a point below his left shoulder blade. ‘Do you remember that one, Ken-chan? That one was from that Sneaky-sneaky who tried to get you in your sleep.’
Kenpachi moved his head, the fur brushing against his cheek. ‘I remember.’
The finger lifted from his skin and he could feel the instruments of pain hover above him while their wielder decided where next to strike. His muscles tightened as they landed on their next target. ‘And this one? Do you remember this one?’
The fingers stroked the angry pucker, the spot where the skin had welded together poorly. Years had passed, the angry purple long faded, but the scar still spoke of rage, of viciousness. An ordinary sword had run him through, only missing his vital organs through luck, not lack of skill. There was a matching exit wound pressed against the furs. It ached in sympathy as those tiny fingers attended to its twin. ‘You shouldn’t really have this one at all – ten of them together wasn’t really fair.’
Kenpachi smiled. ‘You make it sound like I took them on alone.’
The fingers paused, their touch light on his back. ‘You did.’
He laughed, and the fingers resumed their tracery of the warped folds of broken and mended skin. He shook his head, setting his bells chiming. ‘You forget your own involvement. We had odds of five to one – something we can handle easily, ne?’
The fingers poked a little harder. ‘I didn’t do much at all! All I did was sneak up behind them and cut their tendons just above the ankles.’
Yachiru’s disconnected voice floated over his shoulder. He heard her words with different ears – the ears of a stranger. It was plain that her actions seemed ordinary to her; she might as well have said she had been feeding stray cats, or had matcha tea at breakfast. Kenpachi usually thought nothing of the violence that had been Yachiru’s nursemaid – it had kept her alive, like it had him. And yet -
He reached for the probing hand on his back, connecting instead with Yachiru’s thigh. He gave it a squeeze, far lighter than the massage he was getting. ‘It would be best if you don’t tell the others our stories.’
Yachiru giggled and lifted his hand from her thigh, pressing his hand above his head before massaging the arm. ‘True! It is better if they think me too small to be your Fukutaichō. Surprise would make battles fall in my favour quickly.’
Kenpachi did not correct her misunderstanding of his point. Her reasoning was faultless after all. Letting her enemies misjudge her abilities would keep her alive – did it matter that she did not understand that keeping quiet would also mean she would gain friends for the first time in her life?
‘This one! I remember this one. That was the lady with the pointy stick and the fatso who wanted you to sell your sword. Do you remember, Ken-chan?’
He did not need to reply. Yachiru already knew he remembered every slash, every thrust, that he had catalogued every mistake, every move in order to be bigger, better for the next one. She finished stroking his arm, moving to his back again. Kenpachi left his arm where it lay, limp and boneless. It was an unusual sensation; this lack of will to move. The itch to fight, to always, always be looking for new battles, new skills, new sensations, the pump of adrenaline – they had all melted between fingers and fur.
She gently probed the newest of marks on his skin, the latest etchings that told his own history. His skin itched where she clipped a scab with her nail. ‘His face… he looked as if your challenge was just a dream or a joke, and the crowd in the arena just as much an illusion.’ She giggled. ‘I thought he was going to drop his zanpakutō when you cut him.’
She gripped Kenpachi’s shoulders between her thumb and fingers, squeezing until the sinew she held beneath the skin popped free of her grip. ‘I don’t think he believed you were serious until then. He looked surprised that there was blood.’
Kenpachi could see the moment Yachiru referred to, the way that the now former Eleventh Division Taichō’s mouth fell open as he looked from his bleeding arm to his challenger and then back at the arm again. He had passed his zanpakutō from hand to hand, weighing and testing his blade, trying to stall as soon as he realised that he was confronted with a real fight and not some frivolous show or simple training exercise complete with bound blades and rules of fair play. It had been a fight with consequences. Kenpachi had never considered it as anything else. He had walked into that arena having already won because of that.
Yachiru’s fingers dug deep, searching out the nodes where tired muscle met and melded with bone, the sides of her hands used to pummel the rainbow patches of fading bruises. ‘He was so surprised that you won’t have any reminders of your fight.’
She sounded so sad as she said this that he wished he’d been more careless, been able to gain another notch in his hide just so that she could finger it in the future, ask Do you remember… just so he could nod and smile and say Yes…
Her work was almost done. He could feel his eyes pull closed, the threat of sleep grow as the pain and tension shrunk in his body. The pain told him he was alive, the tension said he was ready – but in this brief respite after a battle, in these moments where his mind was still and not seeking out the next fight, always, always the next fight, he could afford to let them go. It was a luxury he had never experienced until he’d found his pink, fearless bundle of nameless joy and been granted the privilege of being by her side. It was a luxury worth far more than the skins beneath him.
Her fingers stroked the final unattended scar gently. This one was small, hardly anything at all to look at. ‘Do you remember this one, Ken-chan?’
‘You will tell me about it one day, won’t you?’ She sounded hopeful, and yet unsure. Kenpachi wished he could flip over, hug her until that insecurity faded, but he was unsure himself. He wanted to tell her – but not yet, never now. As the years passed by he wondered if it ever would be now. Yet his answer would never change;
‘One day, I promise.’
One day he would tell her the history of this tiny white scratch, tell Yachiru of her namesake, explain why she wasn’t around anymore - this only other person Kenpachi could ever, ever admire. Unlock those flashes of colour and noise, the laughs, the touches – the pain, the tears.
Yachiru stood up, patting his shoulder, leaving all of Kenpachi’s skin exposed to the air again. ‘You did good, Ken-chan. Lots more battles now you’re a Taichō.’ She clapped her hands, laughing. ‘We were bored, ne? Ken-chan?’ He rolled over, wrapping himself in a fur to stop goose bumps from forming on the uncovered skin. His little masseur was smiling down at him, her eyes bright. She pointed a finger. ‘Now there’ll be a lot more fights that you’ll win, ne? Ken-chan?’
A lot more fights. That was a given. And he’d let Yachiru believe that fighting was his only motivation, that notions of security and safety and concern for her welfare after he was gone had nothing to do with his decision to become the strongest Taichō of the Gotei 13. He nodded, and did his best to smile at Yachiru, at his sole reason to keep living beyond each battle and not be happy to die in one.
Not everything about him was written on his skin. Maybe the day that Yachiru realised that would be the day when One Day would become Now.