Arc: Twin Souls
Beta: incandescens -- without her this would be impossible.
Word Count: 2832
Summary: Healing is hard to do...
Disclaimer: I don't own or make money off of Bleach. It's all fictional. Really.
"Heya, Ukitake-kun, Kyouraku-kun," said a fresh-faced Nakamura Kiyoko with a soft drawl. She wore her zanpakuto even in the wards. She was the leader of one of the three medical teams at the Academy, and everyone met her at some time or another with their practice field injuries.
"Good morning, Nakamura-san," said both the young men.
Rolling after her were two carts and six other medical personnel.
She took four of them over to Shunsui. They laid back the quilt and sheets, and examined Shunsui's back. Jyuushiro heard a sharp intake of breath from Shunsui as one of their classmates, Sato Saburou, laid his hands over the green and purple bruised, cut, and swelling-ridged skin. Kiyoko said softly, "Gently, now... like we practiced..."
Saburou concentrated, brow furrowing and brought up his reiatsu slowly, focused on just the area of Shunsui's back. Shunsui groaned softly, muscles playing across his back. Saburo was able to hold the glow there for a good five minutes before he let it up, sweating and breathing hard. Shunsui was sweating, too.
"Atta boy, Sato-kun. So, y'all see what you're supposed ta do?" The other three nodded. Kiyoko eyed Shunsui. She reached over and took his pulse and thought a moment, "Just two rounds ta start, and we'll see how y'all hold up."
Kiyoko turned her attention to Jyuushiro. "Now you."
The air was cold when she peeled back the warm quilt. Jyuushiro shivered.
"Wimp," Kiyoko said half laughing, "Warning ya, my hands are cold."
Jyuushiro laughed, "They always are." Her hands were like ice against the heat of the bruises and burning of his back, he couldn't help gasping at that. "But it feels good this time."
She tsked softly, "Stupid boy."
"What?" Jyuushiro blinked.
"Gettin' beaten this way, 'steada honest battle wounds," she said, dryly.
He shook his head, "Maybe a different kind of battle," he said before he thought not to.
Kiyoko's head tilted, and she looked at his face. "Mmmm..." she nodded. "I'll take yer word for it. Okay. I'm comin' attcha."
And with just that much warning, Jyuushiro felt the rise of Kiyoko's considerable reiatsu spread across his torn and aching back. It felt like when he was running or fighting, when his body was pumping at full capacity, and everything was flowing smooth and high and light. His heart beat faster, his breathing quickened, and he could feel his blood being pushed through his back, though the wounded areas, accelerating everything into the site, pulling the wastes, the broken things out of the area.
He fought to form words between pants. "You're... feeding me... after... right?"
"Don't I always take care'a you, after?" She didn't even sound strained. And she lasted a full fifteen minutes before she finally pulled back. "Ha... Well... after these two are done with ya. Gotta lotta residues still in there we kin just pull out even without too much energy from you."
Her now warm fingers pressed gently against Jyuushiro's throat, measuring his roaring pulse. "Yeah... just the one round for you, don' wanna trigger anythin' 'til we wanna test sample."
"Ah," said Jyuushiro and sighed, "Time to do that again?"
"Yeah. Oughta take 'vantage of you bein' here anyway." Kiyoko smoothed Jyuushiro's hair with a gentle hand. "Sorry. Parta the package."
He nodded, "I know. I just..." He shook his head, "Never mind. It must be done."
"Coupla hours after breakfast, I think, after visits."
Jyuushiro grinned, "Thank you." He endured the other two treatments and concentrated on just keeping his breathing as even as possible and got through it without a problem.
Breakfast was reward enough for the effort. Grilled red sea bream, crisped along the edges, the flesh tender and sweet against the salt of the miso rubbed on it for flavor, made Jyuushiro's eyes close at the first crisp bite. The miso soup was rich and salty and hot enough to sooth his lungs and the raw back of his throat with its gentle steam. Jyuushiro ate the lightly poached egg over his rice, letting the rich yolk coat everything so that he could enjoy all of it, the sharpness of the various types of pickles lending a tang to everything. He asked for thirds of the rice and got a smile and an extra poached egg from Kiyoko.
"You're fun ta cook fer, Ukitake-kun, you always appreciate it so much."
Jyuushiro blushed even as he broke the egg over his rice, "Well... I guess I'm always hungry."
After breakfast was visiting time.
Hoshiko and Rina led the charge, and suddenly what had seemed like a huge infirmary room was made small by a dozen giggling women crowding into the room.
Baskets of sweets appeared. Manju buns, dorayaki pancakes, soft mochi, dozens of the fish-shaped taiyaki, and even a beautifully arranged bowl of daifuku which Hoshiko triumphantly handed Jyuushiro.
"Where did you find peaches this late?" asked Jyuushiro, marveling at the jewel-colored fruit amid the quivering white gelatin.
Hoshiko blushed. "My uncle kept a few in his ice house from late summer... and I knew you'd love them."
"I do, very much so." Jyuushiro happily ate the whole contents of the bowl. "Thank you, very much."
Shunsui's futon was surrounded by all the other women, whom he was cheerfully complimenting. Jyuushiro saw Shunsui's large hands lightly stroking a nearby hip, bringing up a chin, brushing a blushing nose, or gesturing to expand on an innuendo that had half the girls gasping and the other half blushing. Then the whole group of them laughed uproariously at something Shunsui said.
"Do you envy him?" murmured Hoshiko into his ear. Jyuushiro blinked and thought about it.
"No. I can't... imagine... juggling that many hearts without fear of breaking them all," he said very softly.
Hoshiko kissed Jyuushiro, surprising him. Some of the women around Shunsui gasped at the boldness of Hoshiko.
Shunsui pouted, "What? Why am I not allowed such honeysuckle lips, soft as flower petals, spread and warm..." He made puppy dog eyes at the women around him, "May I have one, too, please?"
Rina laughed and leaned in and kissed Shunsui thoroughly. Shunsui cheerfully pulled her closer and continued the kiss until everyone in the room was blushing. Jyuushiro noted, though, that as soon as Rina made a motion to break the kiss, Shunsui did so, gracefully setting her back up.
"Oh!" said Rina, blushing happily, "We also brought your school assignments!"
Both young men groaned to the laughter of all the women.
"Kuchiki-sama said that if you were going to just lie around you might as well write those history of kido essays and spell projects you didn't turn in at all, Shunsui." Rina said, grinning, "And we're here to help explain all the assignments to you!"
There was a cheer from all the women and Jyuushiro couldn't help but feel a little sorry for Shunsui as the tide of feminine helpfulness closed over his roommate's head.
After finding out that Jyuushiro had made serious inroads on the treats basket during the impromptu group study session, Kiyoko decided to go on with another healing session and then lunch. "While you have the energy," she said rather ominously.
Again, Shunsui managed two rounds of his four medics to Jyuushiro's one with his three. Jyuushiro inhaled his lunch, so hungry and tired he wasn't nearly as keyed into what his food was as he had been at breakfast. His eyelids got really heavy after the meal.
Kiyoko pointed at his futon. "Sleep." She flipped a hand at Shunsui as well, "You too. Now."
They didn't argue at all, just rolled into their beds, and the world faded.
When Jyuushiro woke, the sunlight was the gold of late afternoon, slanting through the paper walls. He sighed softly.
"'Wake?" asked Kiyoko's voice softly, from where she sat by one of the walls.
"Yes," Jyuushiro said, watching the ceiling.
"Ready?" she asked.
"As I'll ever be," he answered reluctantly.
"You want I should leave like usual?" she drawled, laconically.
Jyuushiro got up, "Yes, please." He was glad the room was warmer now than in the morning.
Kiyoko cleared a mat from the polished wooden floor. She produced a porcelain bowl. "In here, if you please. I'll wait in the hallway." She placed a small bamboo tube by the bowl.
In just his loincloth, Jyuushiro quietly knelt close to one edge of the bared floor. If it got messy, this would be easiest to clean. He picked up the bowl in his right hand, and the tube in his left. He took a slow, shivering, deep breath. He then gently pushed all the breath from his lungs, put the tube to his lips, and breathed a tiny bit of powder deep into his lungs.
He dropped the tube and put both hands around the bowl to keep it safe -- he'd smashed one before -- and then started coughing. Small coughs built into bigger ones, until he was racked with them. Then the blood started to come, blocking his breath, almost choking him as he felt the liquid heat of it flow up through his chest. He had enough control to get the bowl into place and caught the splatters of red in the white, pure bowl. He kept coughing, and soon another something burst and he had to do that weird fight against gagging and trying to breath while bringing up the thick heat and sour salt of his own blood. He fought to calm the coughing. He held the sample, crouched over it to protect it as his body rocked with coughing
A feeling touched him. Familiar. It was safety, his gut told him. He couldn't see, couldn't know which way to go... so he risked loosening his death grip on the bowl with the hand nearest the touch. He grabbed at it, tried to pull it around him, as he still coughed.
Strong, warm arms wrapped around his chest and shoulders and pulled him gently up and back against warm skin, hard muscle, into a cross-legged lap. Jyuushiro didn't give a damn about the quick sear of pain in his back as he turned into the warmth, now cradling the bowl with both hands again... and both arms gathered him in, tucked him under a chin, against a slow, steady pulse and the steady, deep sound of someone else's breathing. He relaxed into the embrace, trying to slow his body to slow the coughing, trying to match his own breathing to that slower pace. Big hands stroked his hair, his face, his upper arms and low back, and when he had some air he whimpered just a little at how good that felt.
He heard the door slide open. The body next to his stiffened just a bit, but then relaxed again. He heard Shunsui's voice against his ear, deep in the chest supporting him, "Ah. Good afternoon, Nakamura-san."
There was satisfaction in her voice when she answered. "Ah good... afternoon, Kyouraku-kun. Thank you for takin' care of the stubborn bastard."
Shunsui's chin rubbed gently against Jyuushiro's hair, "He is that, isn't he?" Then a pause, "What is this for?"
Jyuushiro opened his mouth and was coughing again as he tried to breathe in to say something. His wheezing now was bad enough to trigger coughs with a simple breath through the mouth. So he stopped trying to say anything, but opened his eyes to see where Kiyoko was. She was kneeling right in front of him, hands open for the bowl. He handed it over.
Kiyoko looked Jyuushiro in the eye, "You want I should tell him?"
"I'm gonna deliver this, first. Tests won't wait on a story, but I'll be right back. Don't wanna waste yer efforts. All right?" she said.
Jyuushiro nodded and closed his eyes.
"Here's a wet cloth, Kyouraku-kun, clean the botha you up while I'm gone." The door slid open, and footsteps tapped quickly away.
Shunsui rubbed the warm, wet, rough cloth against Jyuushiro's face, chin, and throat. He stopped when Jyuushiro had to cough some more, but, thankfully, held the cloth to Jyuushiro's mouth when he brought up just a bit more phlegm and blood. Shunsui carefully folded the blood deeper into the cloth before wiping Jyuushiro's mouth again. Then Jyuushiro felt Shunsui use the towel on his hands, rubbing gently against fingers, the webs between fingers and thumb, and palms before setting it to the side.
Jyuushiro tiredly rubbed his face lightly against Shunsui's throat, and just concentrated on the deep, regular breathing under his ear as his own body shook with short, fast, shallow breaths through his nose. Shunsui's hands gently stroked his hair. Shunsui leaned away for just a bit. He pulled over a quilt, which he wrapped carefully around the two of them.
The door slid open again, "So cute, you two." Kiyoko's voice was bemused.
Jyuushiro felt Shunsui shrug and wince at the shrug. He heard the thump of Kiyoko's knees as she knelt before them.
"Anyway... hmmm... where ta start? Ukitake-kun caught tuberculosis as a kid. Exposure to someone that was actively infectious. A crime, really, but he had it, or it had him. So long as it's an active infection, it's infectious. So when he was given the invite to the Academy, Yamamoto-sama made it conditional on gettin' the active infection burnt outta him to keep everyone else safe."
"Burnt out?" asked Kyouraku, "You can do that?"
"Dunno, actually. Theoretically, since he was extra hot and heavy in the reiatsu department, we could boost his body's ability ta fight the thing. Like yer backs but multiply. Side effect was his own body burnin' itself while fightin' the live infection. Burnt part of his lungs so's they're real sensitive nowadays, burnt his endurance and strength, burnt his hair white." Jyuushiro felt a gentle touch on his short hair. "Lung scarrin's such that he's likely to get attacks fairly frequently, maybe the resta his life, and scars'll tear to bleed. But it's possible we cleared the live infection."
"It's also possible we didn't. So's to make sure, we're takin' samples every season of the burst contents of the pockets in his lungs. Test 'em to see if they're live or dead. If any of 'em are live, out he goes with the bathwater. So far, they're dead as nails. We'll be culturing this one for the days you boys are here, wanted ta get the sample early so's he could get out free and clear when your backs are baked."
"So not only could he have lost the peak of his physical abilities, but he could also get kicked out for something he can't control?" Shunsui asked in a tone so light Jyuushiro tensed. Shunsui's arms tightened just a bit around him.
"Pretty much. Sucks, don't it?" said Kiyoko just as cheerfully.
Jyuushiro was actually glad, for the first time in a long while, that he couldn't say a thing.
Shunsui dropped his chin onto Jyuushiro's hair, gave Jyuushiro a very gentle shake, and whispered, "Do you always try to save everyone else at such heavy costs to yourself?"
Jyuushiro blinked, startled, "Maybe..." he said, coughed a few more times, and was warmed by the chuckle that rumbled through the chest next to him.
"Oy... lemme go get some o' that cough syrup for you, Ukitake-kun. Might put you backta sleep, but that might be best." Kiyoko got up.
"Nakamura-san..." Shunsui hesitated, "Thank you, very much."
Kiyoko rolled her eyes, "Don't thank me, it's his story ta give or not. Thank him properly..." she grinned a wicked grin, "... but not until he can breathe again, right?"
Again that warming rumble as Shunsui said, "Right."
That night, drugged and exhausted, Jyuushiro was glad it was Shunsui that dragged his futon over and wrapped himself quietly around the slighter man. Together they slept the sleep of the deserving.
References and Thank Yous
Wikipedia's article on pulmonary tuberculosis. Most fic writers just say Jyuushiro is not infectious, but given that there's a 20% likelihood of anyone even exposed to a single bacterium to actually get infected, I thought Yamamoto would do his best to make sure. incandescens came up with the idea on how to get from here to there... so thank you, very much.
I also assumed that if various technological experiments could be done before Yamamoto's memory, that there would be labs and experimental abilities even now. I figure even bacterium give a different spirit energy than people, so they might be more aware of what's going on than regular human beings could be at that time.
Finally, incandescens wrote a fanfic triptych, and just at the end is a small scene I took to heart.