Arc: Twin Souls
Beta: incandescens, without her this wouldn't be possible.
Word Count: 4261
Summary: The boys catch a cold.
Disclaimer: I don't own or make money off of Bleach. It's all fictional. Really.
The first hard cold snap of the year brought along with it the first round of colds to the Academy's students. People started going through the hallways, along the pathways, and in the corridors of the school sneezing, coughing, and sniffling. Both Shunsui and Jyuushiro woke up the same morning with sore throats and sniffles.
"Ugh," Shunsui said. "This is such a pain, we're supposed to get that special assignment today." He had to dig through his foot locker, but he managed to find a clean handkerchief.
Jyuushiro sat at his desk looking pensive and a little sad. "Yeah. I really wanted to go, too."
"Well, just a cold isn't going to stop you, is it?" Shunsui asked, and then sneezed explosively. "I'm going to class, it's just a cold." He blew vigorously and started getting the books and his notes for the class together.
Jyuushiro grinned, lopsidedly, at Shunsui. "Yeah... maybe. I'll come to class at least."
They filed in with everyone else and settled behind the desks, as Yamamoto came in with the old guard. The old guard eyed Jyuushiro, and Jyuushiro looked like he was trying to hide behind his desk. Shunsui couldn't understand why Jyuushiro was so skittish.
The old guard spoke quietly to Yamamoto, and Yamamoto's eyes narrowed. He beckoned to Jyuushiro, "Come here, Ukitake-kun."
Jyuushiro's face fell. Shunsui frowned and bit his lip. Jyuushiro had to go by him to get out of the row. Shunsui couldn't help it; he gently grasped his friend's hand as he went by. Jyuushiro gave him a quiet smile, gently squeezed his hand, and then kept going towards Yamamoto.
On the way Jyuushiro pulled out his handkerchief and sneezed into it. Both Yamamoto and the old guard nodded at that. Yamamoto then said, "I am sorry, Ukitake-kun, but I am going to have to make it a direct order that you go to the infirmary."
Jyuushiro's mouth opened, and then closed, along with his eyes. The other students in the class sat up. Jyuushiro took a breath, coughed once, and then opened his eyes and nodded. "Yes, sir. I understand, I think."
The old guard patted Jyuushiro on the shoulder. "It's for your teammates' safety as well as your own. I don't want to risk us having to haul you miles back on limited resources."
"Ah," Jyuushiro's head bowed just a bit more at that. "Thank you, sir. That makes it very clear."
Shunsui stood up. "But... sirs... it's just a cold."
"Kyouraku-kun, for you it is just an inconvenience, certainly. For Ukitake-kun, it is a different matter. I am making it a direct order so that he cannot be seen as shirking his duties, but I will not have him going on the winter training exercise with you." Yamamoto was maddeningly calm.
"Why, sir?" Shunsui asked, knowing that all the other students' eyes were on him.
Yamamoto thumped his walking stick on the floor and his reiatsu started to simmer with temper. "Because it is necessary, and I have the experience and authority to make the order."
Shunsui wanted to say, So it's just you throwing your weight around? But he couldn't quite bring himself to do it. He'd never seen Yamamoto just use his authority in order to prove that authority. He sat down. That was when he saw Jyuushiro; his eyes were smiling even as his mouth was still formally straight. Defeated on both fronts, Shunsui put his head in his hands, and listened to Jyuushiro leave.
"Now, we shall go over the packing list and plan for the exercise. This is my long-time tactical specialist, Uekiya Daisuke-san." Yamamoto indicated the old guard.
Daisuke gave a bow to the class. "You may call me Daisuke-san, please. I am honored to be able to teach you, and I will do my best."
They all stood up to bow back, according to their station.
Daisuke took a stance of relaxed attention with the ease of someone who could hold it for hours. "Thank you. I'll be the one to lead you on this winter's exercise, as it is a training exercise in the tactics of rough ground, cold weather, and how to survive in such conditions. You had one outdoor exercise with Yamamoto-sama this fall, but this one'll be different, as there are many technical aspects to this exercise that will change because of the conditions. You've practiced most of these techniques in warm and comfortable situations. Now you will use them in real situations."
"The main plan is to leave from here tomorrow morning, and go out into the forests north of Rukongai. We will then head further north towards Iriai Mountain. We won't make it but a few thousand feet up, but it will be snowy conditions and enough rough terrain and slopes for you to get a good idea of what to do when you're out there."
Kenshin raised his hand.
"Sir, why are we going out there? Isn't our duty to just protect the souls in Seireitei?" Kenshin asked, brow furrowed.
Daisuke looked taken aback. Yamamoto coughed. "No, Shiba-kun. The long-term plans are to clear all of Soul Society and the lands around it of Hollows."
Kenshin frowned deeper. "Sir, you mean we're going to even protect the scum in the high numbered districts of Rukongai?"
Shunsui's fists tightened at the words. He suddenly realized that without Jyuushiro in the room, Kenshin was saying something he thought every noble in the room would agree with.
Yamamoto sighed, "Yes, Shiba-kun. We will go even further than that, to the rice farmers on the paddies and the fisherman out in the Hatsuzora shores. We will destroy Hollows until they cannot live in our lands and cannot destroy souls without looking over their shoulder for us anywhere we can reach."
Kenshin looked shocked. "We're going to risk our lives to protect thieves, whores, and those stupid poor people?"
Shunsui nearly punched Kenshin. Instead, his hand shot up.
Yamamoto eyed the hand. "Do you wish to answer that question, Kyouraku-kun? Or do you have another?"
"I believe Jyuushiro had an answer, Yamamoto-sama." Shunsui said lightly. Yamamoto nodded at him to continue.
The details of the rescue of the hostages had been released to the tactics class as one of their study cases the previous week. Shunsui had read it in disbelief when it had commended him, Shunsui, on his patient and dogged investigation to get to the root of the problem, rather than being distracted by the lower level criminals around him. The actions the two had taken were a dry list of criminals captured and the one man killed by Jyuushiro. It had simply mentioned Jyuushiro's injury in helping Shunsui close the case properly. Shunsui felt as if the report had missed everything important, but he hadn't quite known what to say about it.
"Ukitake?" asked Kenshin, "He saved Shihouin-sama. He killed the gangster, which was pretty impressive. But what does that have to do with the scum?"
"He didn't know that the girl was Shihouin-sama, she was dressed in rags along with all the other hostages in the cave, Shiba-kun. He thought they were Rukongai street brats," Shunsui said softly, watching Kenshin's eyes. "Just like I did."
"But Ukitake's just low house. Maybe he thought he was saving some of his enormous family or something." Kenshin's voice was now doubtful.
"You..." Shunsui knew Jyuushiro wouldn't want him thrown out of the winter exercise before he even got to go, so he stopped himself. "I started it."
Kenshin finally looked Shunsui in the eyes. "Why?"
Shunsui saw Daisuke just shake his head and cover his eyes. That allowed Shunsui to slouch and smile as he looked back at Kenshin. "Because I thought they were worth more than you."
Kenshin clenched a fist, and remembered where he was. "And I thought you'd have a serious answer. How can some dirty, starving, penniless, useless, weak slummy be worth anything, much less the life of a noble?"
Kaoru stirred and addressed Shunsui. "I am quite interested in your answer as well, Kyouraku."
Kali was frowning quietly to herself, but Hayato's sharp gaze focused closely on Shunsui. Shunsui wondered if he was leaking killing intent and Kenshin was just too dense to notice it. Kali and Hayato were particularly sensitive.
"It's worth my honor," Shunsui said simply, looking more at Kaoru than Kenshin. "As a noble, I have a responsibility to all those that seek protection under my Family's name. As someone with strength, equipment, and training I owe it to myself to use these gifts to the advantage of the whole of Soul Society. Not just the ones I deem worthy or not."
Kaoru dark gray eyes met Shunsui's brown, and the heavy lids dipped in quiet acknowledgement.
Shunsui saw Hayato lean back with a quiet breath. Kali stopped looking quite so distracted.
Kenshin frowned. "I think I kinda get that..."
Daisuke sighed, "Please, let's get back on topic." The unassuming old man, took out a few pages. "These are the packing lists and the place where we will meet before going on our trip. Please have all these items packed and on you. I do not need to say that you should bring your zanpakuto with you, we do not know exactly what we'll meet out there."
Shunsui took two copies of the lists: Jyuushiro would probably be interested in the details, even if he couldn't go. Everyone looked at the lists. Kali raised her hand, tentatively.
"Sir, do we really need this many pairs of tabi?" Kali asked, looking puzzled.
"Yes." Daisuke's face relaxed into a smile, "You will need every pair."
The room felt too empty when Shunsui got back to it after classes and Jyuushiro wasn't there. He packed quietly, sniffling and sneezing, and when he was done he had no other homework. He thought a moment, tucked the lists into his inner kimono, and then walked the cold walk to the infirmary with a shuttered lantern.
Winter had settled through Seireitei. The snow crunched beneath his thick straw waragutsu. The shape of the kanjiki snowshoes intrigued Shunsui and he wondered how hard they'd be to wear and walk in; but the snow around the city wasn't thick enough to support the webs easily. Shunsui had on several layers and a fur-side-in pelt coat. He pulled up his scarf as a wind kicked up and swirled white flakes against the black sky.
He got to the infirmary and opened the door. A blast of wind and snow swirled in after him, and the girl at the front desk squeaked, “Close that!”
He did, as quickly as he could, and smiled at her. “Sorry, beautiful Chika-chan.” He slouched to rest his elbow on the desk and his chin on his hand so that he wasn’t quite as intimidating. “Would you please let me see Jyuushiro?”
She blushed, “But it’s not visiting hours anymore.”
“Well, it’s not like he’s in any danger, is he? And I brought a class assignment for him.” Shunsui waved the papers before her nose quickly enough that she couldn’t read them.
“Well, if you have school work...” She sounded reluctant, so Shunsui gave her his most winning smile, brushing his fingers along her cheek and jaw. She closed her eyes. “Room 129.”
“Thank you very much.” Shunsui breezed into the corridor and walked down the silent, darkened hallway until he came to Jyuushiro’s room. He knocked gently on the door.
“Come in,” Jyuushiro said, sounding distracted.
Shunsui slid open the door, and peeked in. Jyuushiro was sitting up in his futon with a backrest cushion. He was reading a book on a cushion, but his hands were working so quickly that Shunsui had to move close to see what it was his roommate was doing. Shunsui left his shoes outside the doorway, next to Jyuushiro's, and entered.
“You’re knitting,” Shunsui said, dumbfounded.
Jyuushiro gave a grin and a nod to Shunsui. “What? You’ve never knit tabi for pocket money?”
"Uhm... well, no, now that you mention it. They just kind of get... delivered." Shunsui wrinkled his nose, "I never really thought about where they come from. How did you get those... sticks?" He shed his coat and a few of his outer layers, and folded them into a pile on the floor in a corner of the room. He blew out the lantern and set it by his clothing. He took a deep breath and finally relaxed. He'd missed feeling Jyuushiro's reiatsu and now it surrounded him.
"Fire hardened bamboo, cut and then polished and finished. My uncle makes lots of them, they sell really well so he keeps the prices pretty reasonable." Jyuushiro coughed lightly. He found a handkerchief and blew his nose. He put it away again and his slender white fingers flew over the needles as he read.
"How do you do that?" Shunsui put his head down on the futon so that he could watch Jyuushiro's eyes. Those brown eyes looked at him and one black eyebrow raised.
"What? The knitting or the reading? You know how to read..."
"The knitting while you read, you don't even have to look." Shunsui grinned at Jyuushiro's eye roll.
Jyuushiro stifled another cough. "Practice."
Shunsui snorted and knelt by the futon. "That's no answer."
"Do you need to look, now, to draw your zanpakutou?" Jyuushiro asked while looking up at Shunsui. Jyuushiro's fingers still flew, and suddenly, he changed sticks, hands moving smoothly from one set of sticks to the other, yarn still wrapped neatly about his left hand. He kept looking up at Shunsui while he did the transfer.
"No. But…“ Shunsui frowned, "I guess I couldn't do that to start."
"Practice." Jyuushiro's eyes went back to his text book, and his breath hitched as he had another small cough.
Shunsui eyed Jyuushiro, "You're coughing."
"I am?" Jyuushiro's eyebrows drew together as he coughed again. "I am." He tried a deep breath, and ended up coughing harder. He fought it down. “It’s what usually happens when I have a cold.”
Shunsui sighed quietly and moved so that he was sitting next to Jyuushiro. He was not quite close enough to get in the way of Jyuushiro’s arms and hands, but definitely close enough to bask in Jyuushiro's calm, deep resting reiatsu again. Jyuushiro chuckled and coughed and rolled his eyes, and then reached down to tug at Shunsui’s leg. “I need your foot.”
Shunsui complied, turning his body so that he could give Jyuushiro his foot. Jyuushiro rolled the top of Shunsui’s tabi down his leg, and then pulled the tabi off of his foot. He then took his work and pulled the open tube end, away from the spiky bits, over Shunsui’s foot, over his ankle, and then up his calf. The fabric was thick and stiffer than what Shunsui was used to from his bought socks. The sock looked gold in the lamplight rather than the usual white.
“What is it made of?” Shunsui asked, and wiggled his toes, which were protruding between the sticks.
“Oak leaf silk,” said Jyuushiro, pursing his lips in thought. He coughed softly under his breath. “There’s a type of silkworm that eats oak leaves instead of mulberry leaves, so it takes on the hue of the autumn oak leaf instead of being pure white. It’s a bit coarser than mulberry silk, but that’s a useful trait for tabi.” He measured what was left of Shunsui’s toes. “Hmmm… I can probably finish this pair for you if you want to wait for just an hour or so.”
“Can I lie around you or something, so I’m not in the way and can see?” Shunsui asked, knowing he sounded a little plaintive, but not really caring. They were going to be apart for a week for the first time since the whipping. He’d take what time he could.
“Sure.” Jyuushiro pulled the back support out from behind himself, crossed his legs, and raised his hands so that Shunsui could lie on his side and wind himself around his friend. He laid his head on Jyuushiro’s right thigh. Shunsui put his top arm along his side and behind Jyuushiro’s back, the other he tucked under his own neck, under Jyuushiro’s folded leg. Shunsui sighed and relaxed for the first time this day.
Jyuushiro ruffled Shunsui’s hair. “Was it rough?”
“Yeah. Kenshin turned into an asshole again.” Shunsui used his free arm to get into his kimono and pulled out the papers from class. “Here.”
Jyuushiro took the papers and propped them up on his left knee. Shunsui watched Jyuushiro's eyes scanning the lines. A black eyebrow went up, "Well, I'm glad I decided to make these your length."
"Mmmm.. yeah, even Kali-chan said it seemed like way too many tabi," Shunsui mumbled.
"Hmmm... and no tents?" Jyuushiro frowned a little at that.
"Daisuke-san had gotten reports that the snow is thick enough up there for us to use the snow shelters like the ones we built down here for practice," Shunsui said. "They are warmer."
Jyuushiro chuckled and coughed again and leaned back against Shunsui's warmth, abandoning his reading efforts. His fingers flew faster. Shunsui was fascinated by how the big toe suddenly grew from the body of the sock. The toes soon followed, not quite as quickly as the big toe, but still faster than Shunsui expected. Jyuushiro then used a sewing needle to finish the end of the toes.
Wordlessly, Jyuushiro stretched to the left to reach Shunsui's nearest foot. He smoothed the sock back on Shunsui's foot. The big toe of the sock fit to the root of his big toe. The toes of the tabi hugged his toes gently. The arch of his foot was wrapped in a thick swath of smooth fabric, and the tops of the tabi stretched easily over the big part of Shunsui's calf.
"That feels great," Shunsui said.
"Are you going to sleep here tonight?" Jyuushiro asked quietly. He took the new sock off of Shunsui's foot and put the old one back on it. He picked up another tube with a heel. Shunsui frowned as he watched his friend's hands. Jyuushiro somehow started loading his knitting sticks with stitches from an end tangled with some red thread.
Shunsui roused, "Uhm... I could, I guess."
"Given that Chika-chan let you in at all, I suspect that you could," Jyuushiro said quietly as another big toe started to grow from one end of the open tube. "But I'll probably be coughing all night, and it might keep you awake when you'll need your sleep before tomorrow."
"You sound like my mother," Shunsui teased. and then he sneezed and pulled out his handkerchief and blew.
Jyuushiro laughed, "I sound like my mother. That’s a little frightening." He stroked Shunsui's hair and Shunsui's throat tightened. "I'm just wondering if I should kick you out for your own good so you can get over your cold quicker, or keep you here for my own selfish reasons." He coughed again.
Shunsui looked up at Jyuushiro. The two of them had gotten closer in the last few months, more nights just sleeping in the same bed together, more quiet touches when they were alone in their room; but Jyuushiro had still held back, begging for more room, more time. It made Shunsui ache so badly, he almost put a fist through a wall on more than one occasion. Now Jyuushiro wanted him for selfish reasons?
Jyuushiro shook his head. “I shouldn’t keep you here. I’m getting... “ He stopped and watched his knitting for a bit. With a whipping motion, he used a needle with an eye to close off the big toe. He got to work on the toes grew quickly.
“Tired?” Shunsui asked, frowning.
Jyuushiro’s eyes widened.
Shunsui waited but Jyuushiro said nothing else. "What then?"
"I think I depend on you too much," Jyuushiro said softly. “I missed you today.” His eyes closed even as his fingers still flew. “I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do with myself for the next week, without you here.” Jyuushiro opened his eyes and grinned, abashed. “It sounds so stupid when I say it out loud.”
“It is kinda stupid,” Shunsui said with his best smile.
At the smile Jyuushiro’s hands slowed, stilled. He looked at Shunsui with that look that Shunsui felt could pierce armor, bone, and flesh. That look that always got past his defenses, his façade, and saw him for who and what he really was in a way no one else could see. Shunsui held back the shiver, the ache that bloomed in his heart, but knew that Jyuushiro would see it in his eyes.
Shunsui whispered, "Because I felt exactly the same way about you, all day. Stupid. When I actually hit a target with kido, when I got five flash steps in a row, when I got back to that cold, dark, empty room, when I walked alone under that freezing, star-lit sky, and when I thought about how lonely and beautiful the wind sounded in the trees; I thought about you. I thought about wanting to share it all with you and I couldn’t."
Jyuushiro's lips parted and his eyes went to Shunsui's lips. Jyuushiro bent and when he couldn’t quite bend far enough, his fingers tangled in Shunsui’s hair. Shunsui cried out softly as he rose with the pull to meet Jyuushiro’s kiss. But rather than the fire and power he’d come to expect out of the slender man, those smooth lips ghosted softly, so softly over his in a kiss so tender, so slow, so sweet he trembled. Jyuushiro kept the kiss going, soft and slow, as he turned his body so that his hips, his lap, were under Shunsui’s upper body. He wrapped his arms around Shunsui, easily supporting his weight. Shunsui wrapped his arms around Jyuushiro. That's when Shunsui discovered the rather unmistakable evidence that Jyuushiro really wanted him.
Shunsui let his mouth open just a bit to that gentle, so soft kiss, but Jyuushiro just slowly tasted first his lower lip and then his upper. Then Jyuushiro turned violently to the side and started coughing again.
Shunsui closed his eyes and leaned his head against Jyuushiro’s chest. His own breathing was ragged, but he could hear Jyuushiro’s breath rasp softly within his chest.
“I’m sorry,” Jyuushiro said when he could finally breathe again and he leaned against Shunsui.
“Me, too. You’re in no shape for this.” Shunsui sighed and hugged Jyuushiro tightly. “I guess I’ll go back and go to sleep by myself. Probably better for both of us. I'm going to be out there for a week, I'd better be able to handle one night.”
Jyuushiro laughed ruefully. “Probably.” He sighed. “Take care. I’ll be thinking of you.”
Shunsui sighed and nodded. “While I’m out in knee-deep snow I’ll probably be thinking of you here, too. Warm and comfy and knitting.”
“Oh!” Jyuushiro picked up the discarded second sock and with a few more stitches, handed it over. “There. Maybe you’ll be grateful I can knit when you’re out there in these.” He laughed and coughed another quiet string of coughs.
“Maybe,” Shunsui said as he put his coat and layers back on, picked up and lit his lantern, and went to the door to get his shoes. He tucked his new pair of tabi carefully into a sleeve. He wondered how much money Jyuushiro usually got for his work, and what it meant to him to give that up for a friend. "I'll see you."
“Yeah, I’ll see you,” Jyuushiro said.
Shunsui stepped out into the dark hallway. He slid closed the door, and walked back to Chika-chan. He smiled at her and she smiled back. For an instant, Shunsui was tempted to try and seduce her for real, not just the play and grab everyone expected of him. He could see her bracing herself for it already. But she was on duty, and he really did need his rest tonight. He couldn’t bring himself to disappoint her expectations, though.
Shunsui widened his smile and spread his hands and said, "Lovely Chika-chan, wouldn't you want to share your womanly warmth with a poor, cold student the night before a long winter trek?" He waggled his eyebrows.
She giggled and blushed and squealed when he reached for her. She slapped his hand, hard enough to sting.
He put on his mournful look, but smiled with his eyes so she wouldn't feel too guilty. "Aww... well. Have yourself a good night, Chika-chan."
She blushed again and said, softly, "Good night, Kyouraku-kun."
Shunsui stepped out and the cold bit deep. He was glad of it, as it helped tame the arousal he'd gotten while in Jyuushiro's arms. Shivering, he got back to the dorms, and arrived in his cold, dark room, empty of that sea-calm reiatsu. He set up the lamp, got ready for bed, burrowed under the cold covers, and slowly warmed up. With quiet determination, he went to sleep.
>> Next Chapter > >
Samurai Knitting, it really happened, but Edo period.