Zanpakuto by magicsmith

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Tite Kubo owns Bleach.  I just borrowed the characters.
I wanted to give Zaraki another chance.  He is fair in battle, well most of the time.  Please read and review. 
Too Late
Many of the Captains and Soul Reapers of Soul Society did not think that Zaraki was a particularly reflective person.  He always seemed to be doing something, not necessarily something he should be doing, but he rarely sat idle unless he wanted to irritate someone.  Walking purposefully from one place to another, looking for a fight, getting lost, sleeping, yes Zaraki would do all those, but think? Become introspective? Not likely.  Yet, Zaraki wanted a quiet place to think.
Zaraki was pleased no one had found him talking to his zanpaku-to.  He did not feel he would be able to explain it away.  He could kill the person who found him, but that led to problems.  People knew he was violent and liked fighting, but he always had to give a reason when he killed someone and that was a pain.  Often he asked Yachiru to help him in making up the reasons because she had a vivid imagination.  The only problem would be when she would make up some strange name to describe the person.  It seemed unlikely that Yachiru had heard him talking to his zanpaku-to; otherwise he was pretty sure she would have mentioned it by now.  She wasn’t discreet by nature.
He thought back to the last time he tried to talk to his zanpaku-to.  It had answered him with the words ‘too late”.  Sometimes when he had tried to sleep, he heard those words again.  It was too late to learn his zanpaku-to’s name.  He might have a reiatsu unequaled by anyone; he might be the strongest, toughest captain and the only person to achieve the rank of captain without the ability to bankai but he felt he needed to progress as he didn’t think it was not possible to improve his normal fighting abilities. 
With the threat of the possible return of Aizen and the monsters created in Las Noches Zaraki was feeling a little uncomfortable.  He knew that many of the other captains had been training and trying to increase their abilities, especially their bankai.  It had been brought to his attention that Ikkaku Madarame had been urged by Abarai to try for a captainship, but had turned him down.  He had the suspicion that Madarame may have done the unthinkable for a member of the 11th Division and achieved bankai.  If Madarame had done so, he, Zaraki should have the ability.  It should be easier for him.
Madarame was a friend and they had known each other a long time, but Zaraki still felt that he had been betrayed.  To keep silent about an ability that could assist in fighting seemed a betrayal.  Maybe Madarame was scared that he would be thrown out of the division.  Zaraki did not normally try to guess other people’s motives and he quickly gave up now.
Thinking like this was useless.  It just made him angry and he tried to avoid anger as much as possible.  Anger caused him to make mistakes.  He hated to make mistakes.  Mistakes were for losers, not the Captain of the 11th Division.
Maybe he should talk to someone who could communicate with their zanpaku-to, but who?  That was the best idea he’d had so far.  Obviously it couldn’t be anyone in his squad.  That would destroy his reputation and make a mockery of the mockery he made of people who needed to bankai.  It really should be someone he could trust.  That immediately ruled out most of the other captains.  Assistant captains would blab to their captain as soon as they could, so they were also ruled out.  It had to be someone whom he respected.  Someone he respected and trusted.
Asking the old man (Yamamoto) would be too embarrassing, so while he respected and trusted him, he was not an option.  The kid (Toshiro), no.  The kid was cute, but Zaraki did not really trust him not to tell Rangiku.  Clown face (Kurotsuchi) was definitely out.  He did not like him, trust him or even want to be in the same room with him.  Fong would probably laugh at him.  At one time he might have asked Gin but that was not an option now.
Zaraki sighed, shut his eyes and ran his hands over his face.  This was taking too much time.  Thinking so hard was a pain and he wasn’t making any progress.  In fact the thinking was making his head ache.  Headache?  Headache!  That was it!  He would ask Unohana.  She was quiet and didn’t gossip much, for a woman and if he went now she might offer him some tea, or if he was lucky, some sake.  He thought he could trust her.  As long as none of the others in 4th Division tried to hear their conversation.
Zaraki made his way to the medical relief headquarters.  As he was ushered into her office he notice she was sitting, quietly having some tea and talking with Isane about some new medical treatment they were developing.  On seeing Zaraki enter the room, Unohana immediately offered him some tea and sent Isane to gather some snacks. 
“I’m surprised to see you Zaraki.  We don’t have any of your division here at the moment, so you’re not visiting anyone.  You don’t normally drop in to chat, so I surmise that you need some information.”
Zaraki’s jaw dropped.  He was surprised at how quickly she had understood his purpose.  He had not realised that she was so perceptive.  Did that make it easier, or more difficult?  Zaraki scratched his head.  He was already here; may as well ask.
“I do need to ask you something, but it is something I don’t want to get around, if you know what I mean?”
Isane’s return caused a pause.  She laid out the food.
“Isane, have you finished that paperwork?  It really should be completed by tomorrow so we can requisition the new supplies”, Unohana said.
Isane looked a little surprised.  “No, I haven’t finished.  I’ll do it now if you don’t need me here.” 
She shot a quick look at Zaraki, then looked at her captain and raised her eyebrows. 
“No, I don’t need anything else, thank you.  I think we can take care of ourselves.  Thank you, Isane.”
After Isane left the room there was a moment’s silence and Zaraki and Unohana looked at each other.
“Please, have some food, Zaraki.  It’s fresh and our cook is pretty good.”
Zaraki picked up a rice ball and ate it in one bite. 
“Not bad, not bad.  Nice pickle.  Is that enough small talk?” he asked.
“I know you are direct, so I will be also.  If it is about the medical condition of anyone aside from you, I will not disclose the information.  I’ve told you that before.  If it is about gossip, I try not to speak ill of anyone or spread rumours.  If you want me to examine you, I would prefer if you made an appointment.”
Zaraki shook his head.
“No, none of those.  Look, what I want to say can’t go any further.  This has to be kept absolutely private.  Can I have your word that you won’t tell anyone, not even Yachiru?  I will return the favour.  Anyone you want beaten up, just tell me.”
Unohana almost smiled.
“I don’t gossip and I respect other peoples” secrets.  You can have my word, but you don’t need to harm anyone for me.  I’d only have to treat them afterwards.  Anyway, I don’t think you could easily reach Aizen or the others.  I’m more than happy to help another captain,” Unohana replied.
“Okay.  I want to talk to my zanpaku-to.  I’ve tried talking to it twice and nothing.  Well not quite nothing.  Last time when I talked to it and asked its name, I think I heard it say ‘too late’.  I,  er, I apologised for not asking before.  I feel like an idiot now I say it aloud.  Look, I think this was a mistake.  Forget I asked.”  Zaraki started to stand.
“No, wait a moment, Zaraki.  I’m honoured that you came to me about this.  Tell me everything you said.  There may be something you don’t see because you are too close to the problem. 
She continued, “I felt silly when I first talked to my zanpaku-to, but as time passed it became easier.  You have to recognise that the zanpaku-to has a soul.  It is not just a lump of hardened metal.  If you can learn to harness it, it becomes a trusted companion,” Unohana assured Zaraki.
Zaraki then told her everything he remembered saying to his zanpaku-to and how he had been interrupted.  It took some time and as he talked, Unohana listened, asked no questions as she sipped her tea.
“Have you tried talking to it since, Zaraki?” Unohana asked once Zaraki finished talking and began eating another rice ball.
“No, there didn’t seem any point.  It said ‘too late’, so it’s too late.  I just wanted to be stronger for when Aizen comes back.  I can’t raise my spirit power higher, but if I could communicate with this damned sword…...”
Unohana interrupted.  “You have to stop thinking and talking that way.  It’s not just a sword,” she paused.  Now let me see.  You apologised, talked to it and it said ‘too late”.  Too late.”  Unohana paused again, lost in thought. 
“Atonomatsuri.  That would be logical”, Unohana commented to herself. 
“Zaraki, next time you talk to the sword try calling it “Atonomatsuri”.  I think that was what it told you when it said ‘too late”.  It was telling you its name.  But I think you will have to apologise again.  Every time you insult your zanpaku-to, it will affect it badly.  Calling it a sword is an insult.  I have no idea what form your zanpaku-to will take, but if we have guessed the name correctly, then it might manifest in physical form to you.  Don’t be surprised at how it looks.  With that name it could be anything from a clock to a vulture.”  Unohana smiled at Zaraki.
For the second time since arriving, Zaraki’s jaw dropped.  Why hadn’t he thought of that?  He felt like hugging Unohana he was so pleased but instead shook her hand. 
“Thank you, Unohana.  Thanks.  I think you must be right.”
“You can let go of my hand now, Zaraki,” Unohana said.
Zaraki realised he was still holding her hand.  He flushed, releasing her hand.
“I got carried away,” Zaraki apologised.
“No problem.  Let me know how it works out.  Now, why don’t we just relax and chat for a while, unless you want to try talking to your zanpaku-to now.  I’ll get some sake.  We should celebrate,” Unohana offered.
‘Sake?  Yeah, that’d be good.  Talking to the zanpaku-to can wait ‘til later.  Good sake should never be refused.”
For the rest of the afternoon Zaraki and Unohana talked and drank sake.  Zaraki fully intended to talk to his zanpaku-to the next day, but for now he would relax.
Author’s Note:
It took me ages to find someone who would translate ‘too late” into Japanese.  Okay, I was lazy. 
Next chapter, Zaraki calls his zanpaku-to by name.  Will it answer, will it manifest?  Is there a point to this rambling?  Not really.  I just got caught up in the moment.

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