Arc: Twin Souls
Beta: incandescens many thanks for a really solid beta.
Word Count: 3677
Summary: The boys go back to classes.
Disclaimer: I don't own or make money off of Bleach. It's all fictional. Really.
The next few days in the infirmary reflected the first, pretty much. The staff opted to stop the back treatments on Jyuushiro on the second day, but then went ahead on the third: lightly, to make sure he could breathe well enough.
For the study sessions Hoshiko brought a quiet Akemi and talkative Mei to have a few more folks studying with Jyuushiro. The large group grew boisterous, and soon the women were circulating in one big group around both the young men. Jyuushiro cheerfully accepted the pats on the head, and the sisterly hugs. Shunsui went just that much too far and got slapped by Naoki, but Shunsui apologized with references to straight trees as honest as truth and ended up with a kiss on his hair, as well.
By nightfall, they were both too exhausted to do anything but put their futons together and sleep, knowing the other was simply there. By morning, they didn't even bother pushing them apart anymore when the medical teams came in.
On the fourth day, buoyed by the sea of women came a very bewildered Shiba Kenshin with, of all things, another package of homework assignments.
"'Tactics and Strategy'?" Shunsui asked, one eyebrow rising in question.
"It's a new class. Taught by Yamamoto-sama and entry into the class is by invitation only." Kenshin wrinkled his brow. "And both of you are invited."
"Interesting." Jyuushiro said, turning the book over in his hands. "How many are in the class?"
"That's what's so... interesting... about it. There are only six of us. All of us are from high families or direct descendants -- other than you, Ukitake-kun."
Shunsui and Jyuushiro just stared at Kenshin until he put his hands up to ward them off. "And, no, I don't have a single clue why. Everyone is asking me why you two got in when... when..."
"When we were just beaten within an inch of our lives before everyone," Shunsui supplied in the most helpful of tones.
Kenshin had the grace to blush. "Well, no one quite says it that way."
"They should," Shunsui said absentmindedly. "That's what it felt like."
"Well, no one is quite sure how they're supposed to treat you two guys yet, either," Kenshin said, frowning. "I think it's going to depend on how the teachers treat you."
"Alone or together?" Jyuushiro asked, thinking hard.
"In class, I suspect," Kenshin said, looking a little hunted.
"So I'm the black sheep and you're the poor cousin, and we're both outcasts," Shunsui said. Then he added brightly, "This could be fun! They're not going to expect anything out of us."
"Shunsui... Shiba-kun is one of "them", too. He's not stupid," Jyuushiro said warningly.
"Hey, then you can be one of us, too!" Shunsui said to Kenshin. "Maybe we'll outnumber them faster that way."
Jyuushiro patted him on the back, "Think of it as proper application of the class materials, Shiba-kun."
Both Kenshin and Shunsui just looked at Jyuushiro.
"Strategy and tactics. It could be very interesting," Jyuushiro said with a smile.
They got out of the infirmary the next morning, and headed off to classes.
Jyuushiro was very careful to stay with Shunsui during the day. Jyuushiro collared him, twice, when he chased a girl into a corner, and dragged him off to class. The girls had giggled and said hello to Jyuushiro as well.
The teachers all treated Jyuushiro and Shunsui with the same courtesy they treated the other students. So it made it infinitely easier for Jyuushiro to introduce Shunsui around to the other people in the classes, old and young alike. For the most part Shunsui behaved nicely enough to everyone else. Shunsui really didn't do well in either the kido or the shunpo classes, but Jyuushiro saw him laughing with the other lower-ranking students there. So he was making friends quite readily there as well.
What proved most challenging, though, was that after the lunch break, they had a break of an hour between classes. While Shunsui ate lunch with him, he'd disappeared by the time they had to get to Ryuu-sama's hand-to-hand class.
Not quite knowing what else to do, Jyuushiro tried to send out his reiatsu to try and find Shunsui. Instead, he startled a great many students by flaring his reiatsu right in the middle of the lunch room. Two girls passed out and he caught them before they could fall, but then he had to deal with how to put them both down gently.
Of course, that's when Shunsui came running to see what had happened to make him flare.
Shunsui laughed so hard he cried before lending Jyuushiro a hand.
Which was why Jyuushiro found that he was quite ready to beat the living daylights out of Shunsui when they arrived in Ryuu-sama’s class.
Everyone bowed in thanks to the school, bowed in thanks to the teacher, and bowed in thanks to each other, and then class began. Warm up, stretching, then practice hits on the dummy, then kata with receiving line and attacking line.
Jyuushiro loved kata. He loved the sliding of his bare feet against the smoothness of the wood floors with time enough to make each motion absolutely precise, absolutely perfect.
"Again!" Ryuu-sama said. "Forward, into the lure, you have to be close enough that your opponent is tempted to strike at you. Now jump back, dodge, arms all the way up so that they're out of the way, too. Step with the left foot to bring your center forward and strike for the head. Receivers dodge back, defend your eyes! Another step. Attacker, up. Hold the threat and timing for the strike. Now back to center, threat to the knee, then retreat... Again..."
And again... and again... and then another, harder, more complex, but still at that pace. Teaching reflexes, how to see what a threat looked like, see what an opportunity looked like. To know where the center of ones reactions best came from.
Everyone was sweating by the time they were done, and a few were grumbling quietly about leaving enough time to spar.
Ryuu-sama laughed, "Well... does that mean you want to skip live blade practices?"
A cheer went up. Sparring was done with bamboo shinai, kata with bokken, wood swords that had the same weight as the real ones, but still it was the difference between a model and reality. Neither practice weapon helped train the reiatsu. That could only be done with live blades.
Hay bales were set up on stands to get them to the right height of an opponent. Ryuu-sama organized everyone in lines for the ten bales.
"You're to approach these bales and let your resolve form, and then hit them with everything you've got. Try and cut from top to bottom, as you would through a Hollow's mask. There won't be the resistance you'll get from a live opponent, but the thickness and density of the bale should make up for a good deal of it. I don't expect any of you to get all the way through the bale, but I do expect you to apply yourself as best you're able."
"Hai!" said the whole class.
Then the lines went at it. Little bits of straw floated in the air, as hit after hit started fraying the tops of the bales. The air sizzled with energy, with reiatsu, as each student extended themselves. Jyuushiro felt a little dizzy with all that energy pushing at his.
Kenshin's flare made everyone's head turn, and he got a big cheer as his blade bit through the bale before him, ending just inches from the bottom of the bale.
Jyuushiro and Shunsui went at the same time. The whole class hushed as both men drew and their reiatsu went up. They raised their arms, kiai'ed, and THOOOM...
Straw went flying everywhere as both bales burst from their cut ties. There was coughing and a little giggling. When the dust finally cleared, both had cut through to the stands that the hay bales were standing on. Shunsui had gone through the stand itself, splintering the bamboo. There was a collective gasp.
Ryuu-sama studied the results. Then he had two other students wrestle a bale onto another stand and another bale on the stand Jyuushiro had left. Then he waved the lines back into motion.
When everyone had had their turn, he waved Kenshin, Jyuushiro, and Shunsui out of their lines.
"Your reiatsu, your will is both defense and offense in your fights. You must keep your resolution, your need to do what it is that you do high, or else your defense as well as your offense will fail. It's not just about the cutting, the skill with a sword. It's about your hearts as well."
"True killing intent can only come from true confrontation. So... let's confront," Ryuu-sama said with a grin that showed teeth. "I can't quite trust you trainees to swing at each other, yet. There's a certain level of control and capability you have to have before you won't do serious damage to each other by mistake, even with shinai. That's what sparring with shinai and bogu is for. But, for now, you can take live swings at me."
Ryuu-sama's reiatsu came up, and everyone flinched away. The three closest to him winced and Jyuushiro found that he could barely look up, much less think about taking a swing.
"Ukitake-kun. Bring your reiatsu up if you can," Ryuu-sama asked, as he took a ready stance.
Jyuushiro almost panicked. He wasn't sure if he could...
"Will, Ukitake-kun. Why are you here? What are you defending? What are you fighting for?" said that implacable voice.
Jyuushiro took a long, shaking breath and closed his eyes. He didn't want to see Shunsui and Kenshin looking at him with that dread in their eyes as they tried to figure out how they were going to do what was asked of them, too. Why was he here? The family... he gathered up his family, the whole huge number of them to his heart. But there was... more: Old man Yamamoto standing in that courtroom, Shunsui looking so lost, and the feeling he got when he'd agreed to take the pillory. Those huge fish had asked him if it was just... justice for all actions taken, all hopes won.
... and he felt his reiatsu blaze up.
He felt that sea, those fish he'd nearly touched, swimming with powerful strokes, moving through a part of him he had only just known he possessed. He breathed again, and it was easier, with them. He opened his eyes and looked Ryuu-sama in the eye. His teacher smiled, "Good. Ukitake-kun. Strike."
He felt that fire falter when he thought about hitting his teacher, but... this was in order to learn what he had to learn. And his trust in Ryuu-sama was such that he took his teacher at his word, and gathered up all the intent he could find. Then he raised his sword and struck.
Ryuu-sama's blade didn't even move. Jyuushiro had a moment's horror, as he brought his blade down right on Ryuu-sama's head, but then his blade just stopped, kissing that black hair. The same edge that had gone through four feet of hay, now gently, so gently, sheared a single lock of hair away.
Ryuu-sama's eyebrow went up. "That's quite good, Ukitake-kun. You actually touched me."
Jyuushiro started shaking as he went back to where the other two young men stood.
"Shiba-kun, you next."
Kenshin flared much more quickly than Jyuushiro had been able to do, and he went for a gut shot instead of the head. He got no further than Jyuushiro, but got praised for the quickness of his release.
"Kyouraku-kun. You're up, now."
Shunsui's head had been in a whirl ever since Ryuu had asked Jyuushiro why he was here. Shunsui wasn't sure why he was here any more. The old reasons didn't seem to make sense anymore, and he didn't have good new ones. He had so little honor anymore and had no family that cared whether he succeeded or failed. He had no goals or ambitions to be the best in the class.
He did feel he had the skills and the abilities to hunt Hollows, to help protect others, but those others were just vague shadows to him. Rumors or names, things unseen; how could such things have a hold on his heart?
That's when he heard his name called, and his head went up. Jyuushiro was looking at him, all expectant, and he grabbed at that. Jyuushiro believed in him, he had taken that beating and stuck by him. The dream Jyuushiro had saved him. The real one had listened to him, so deeply as to actually have kissed him when he'd longed for so much more... but that audacious action had imprinted the fact that the other had understood what he'd meant rather than what he'd said.
"Kyouraku-kun," drawled that aggravating instructor, "We're all waiting..."
It was the dream grave, the feelings that Shunsui had felt when he was pulled up, that he pulled out and wrapped his heart around when he wrapped his hands around the hilt of his zanpakuto. The bittersweet feeling of being saved through the pain on the pillory brought his reiatsu up and higher. Being lost, being found, the beauty of the summer field at night, and his zanpakuto whispered in his ear...
He felt his reiatsu rise.
"Strike, Kyouraku-kun. Strike."
Shunsui raised his power, raised his arms, and then focused on his target. He could feel Ryuu's intent pushing at him, poking him into anger. He pulled together his intent as he knew he should... and then charged with his kiai, as trained. He brought the blade down. Even knowing that his instructor was strong enough to turn him easily, even knowing that his strength couldn't be enough, he saw that he was trying to kill a human being.
And he faltered just as his edge was about to strike. His reiatsu blew out. And Ryuu's reiatsu, at the sudden loss of resistance, flung him backwards to hit the wall of the dojo.
"Shunsui!!" Jyuushiro saw heads turn at his very familiar addressing of his friend, but he didn't give a damn. He just ran over to his friend, and was relieved to see him stir. He offered Shunsui a hand to get up, and Shunsui took it. "You all right?"
Ryuu-sama came over, "You lost it. Right when you realized what you were doing... neh?"
Shunsui shook his head ruefully, “I did.”
Ryuu-sama griped Shunsui's shoulder, "It's natural to not want to kill someone else, but if you want to do this job, you're going to have to get over it."
"Get over it?" Shunsui asked, "Get over trying to end a life that has so much more it could do?"
Ryuu-sama said, steadily, "So much more it could destroy, so many more people it could eat, or add so much more death and suffering in the world?"
"Do you mean you or some Hollow?" Shunsui cried. Jyuushiro reflexively kicked Shunsui in the shin before he could say more to get him into trouble. Shunsui whirled at the light blow, and the anguish in his eyes took Jyuushiro's breath away. Jyuushiro found himself automatically going into a hand-to-hand ready stance.
Shunsui's fist balled up. Then he looked at it and then at Jyuushiro, and then he just ran away.
"Sir? May I follow him?" Jyuushiro asked Ryuu.
"You'd better. He has to figure this out and it might be better if he doesn't do it alone," Ryuu-sama said.
It took Jyuushiro nearly an hour to find Shunsui again. He'd gone up one of the flame-leaved oak trees on campus, and the canopy made it hard to spot him. Jyuushiro wasn't going to try the reiatsu thing again, but he was relieved to find Shunsui. He had to remember how to climb trees. He collected scraped elbows and a rip in his hakama for his troubles.
He climbed up and Shunsui was slung between the trunk and a secondary branch, and even though the branch swayed as Jyuushiro came up, Shunsui didn't move. He didn't even open his eyes.
"Shunsui?" Jyuushiro said quietly, "I'm... I'm sorry..."
"What are you sorry for? You got it right. I screwed my own part up on my own, thank you so much." The tone was biting, and Shunsui's eyes still hadn't opened. Then he sighed and opened his eyes.
"Rude and true," Jyuushiro said peaceably as he sat on a different secondary branch, settling into the sway of it as the wind pushed at the dying leaves. He put his back to the trunk as well. "But I can say sorry for things that happened that I didn't necessarily do. I can be sorry for the death of a flower, the age of a koi, the falling of the leaves."
"Now you sound like my zanpakuto," Shunsui grumbled, his eyes closing again.
"You hear your zanpakuto?" Jyuushiro asked.
"Yes... but it rambles, and I can't always hear it clearly," Shunsui said. "I heard it right before..." he trailed off.
"Right before you struck?" Jyuushiro asked.
Shunsui just nodded.
"Me, too," Jyuushiro said.
Shunsui's eyes went wide open, "You heard my zanpakuto?! "
"No! No. I heard... no... not really... I felt mine before we hit at Ryuu-sama," Jyuushiro said thoughtfully.
"I don't know if I want to find mine if I have to try and kill someone to get it," Shunsui said.
"I don't think the killing part of it is the important part," Jyuushiro said quietly. Then he shook his head. "I think it's what we're protecting that's important... Ryuu-sama didn't ask me how much I wanted to kill him. He asked me what it was that I had to protect, what I was fighting for, not what did I want to destroy."
There was silence for a while up in the tree. Jyuushiro relaxed as he listened to the rustle of the leaves, the quiet voices of other students walking by, and the tree gently rocked him back and forth.
"But death..." Shunsui sighed, "dealing death is permanent..."
Jyuushiro knew that some part of his own mind was thinking that Shunsui was thinking too much, why didn't he just take orders as they were given and deal with it? But there was a flash in the back of his heart that said, No, he's finally getting to the real point of it all. The training, the safety measures, the practice tries to hide it all from you to make it easier to convert you into something that can destroy as well. Of all of you, he sees.
Jyuushiro shivered quietly at that, and wasn't at all sure what to say.
Finally, Shunsui blew a breath out, "I guess I should get to the track. I've got... hmmm... one hundred and twenty five laps to get to before the end of the term. I might as well get started."
"Wait," Jyuushiro said, finally pushed to it. Shunsui stopped on Jyuushiro's branch, looking at him, eyes dark. "You're right. I hadn't... seen it that way. That even if it is for something, there's something destroyed." He got a nod. "But I'm not... I'm not sure I can care the way you do. I am sorry about that."
Shunsui blew out another breath, and gripped Jyuushiro's shoulder. "I'm not so sure you should be sorry for that, either. I gotta go."
"Yeah. I'll see you in detention," Jyuushiro said.
"What? You got detention, too?" Shunsui asked in surprise.
"No, but there aren't any rules about keeping me out," Jyuushiro said with a smile. "Besides we can catch up on more homework together, then."
Shunsui hesitated and then said, "But, you know... you don't have to... baby sit me. I'll come back, now."
Jyuushiro blushed, "If you don't want me to come, I won't, then. I didn't mean to make you feel..."
"No, you did mean to make me feel wanted, but I'm just feeling a little hunted, I guess," Shunsui sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. "Sorry. Damn, we both seem to be saying that a lot, lately. How about just 'see ya later, bud'?"
Jyuushiro gave a wry grin, "Okay. I'll see you."
Shunsui dropped from the tree. Jyuushiro stayed up it with the warmth of his blush and a feeling of loss. He wasn't sure why or what it was he'd lost, but he wondered if it was his own fault.
After six years of competitive fencing, practicing with live blades on people is, for me, emotionally, like practicing with loaded handguns on people. It actively squicks me. Even with fake blades and protective gear I still carry scars. A lot of early kendo training has to do with putting on the bogu, the protective gear, correctly.
When I first saw the anime, the cartoon bits of Urahara and Ichigo "practicing" in the practice cave under the store made me just go, "oh well, the creator had no clue... they have healing, it's just the way the anime is... they practice with live blades... ugh." But then I got the manga, and the terror on Ichigo's face when he first realized Urahara is actually trying to cut him was exactly the expression I'd have gotten on my face. Kubo Tite knows, I thought. Then why the heck are they doing that?
When I really studied the passages, I realized that Urahara isn't teaching technique, he isn't teaching reflex, he isn't teaching target recognition. He's teaching Ichigo how to use his will, his force, and pushing him into a corner so that he can bring it all to the fore.
So I figured most sword training would follow traditional techniques, but once they had the basics down they'd have to deal with the same problem Urahara had to deal with by himself with Ichigo. How do you train the power without the threat? Maybe there just is no other way.