Arc: Twin Souls
Beta: incandescens, without her this wouldn't be possible.
Word Count: 3184
Summary: Shunsui goes on a mountain adventure with his classmates.
Disclaimer: I don't own or make money off of Bleach. It's all fictional. Really.
All the shelters were built. The fire was roaring in a fire pit that Daisuke-san and Kaoru had dug. They'd filled two cookpots with snow and put them by the fire. Hot tea was a blessing against Shunsui's throat. Daisuke-san had made sure everyone started out with two bamboo bottles of water and replenished them at the lunch stop, but everyone was still deeply thirsty. The fire melted out an area all the students could crouch in, out of the wind. The deep snow created a natural wind break and natural cover so that the fire's light wouldn't go out into the woods.
One of the pots was filled with water, rice, dried seaweed, bonito shavings, and the ripped leaves of a green vegetable. It was giving off excellent scents, and everyone gathered together and drooled.
Daisuke-san stirred the pot carefully. He picked out a piece and blew on it, then tasted it and shook his head. "Not quite done. We probably have time for one small lesson before it's done." Everyone groaned, and he smiled at the groans. "I'm glad you feel you can express your real feelings around me." Shunsui laughed at that.
"Okay. The lesson. I want each of you to name a strength that has nothing to do with the grades and class work you do at the Academy for each of the others in your group. Then I want you to name one, just one, of your weaknesses. No one else is to help anyone with their weakness." Daisuke looked around the circle. "Are the instructions understood?"
"Aye, sir," they all said, but Shunsui could see drawn brows all around the fire.
"So, who wants to go first?" Daisuke-san looked around the group. Everyone looked away from him. "Well, then, I shall lead by example."
He pointed at each of the students in turn. "Ryuu-kun sees more than nearly anyone. Ito-kun is flexible of body and mind and fast when under pressure. Shiba-kun is strong and stubborn. Kuchiki-kun does things exactly as they should be done. Kyouraku-kun doesn't let others' opinion of him stop him from doing what needs to be done."
"Stubborn is a strength?" Kenshin asked as he laughed.
"Indeed. It can be a very useful trait in a large number of circumstances," Daisuke said, smiling.
"And your weakness?" Kali asked with a tilt of her head.
"I cannot be left alone," Daisuke said quietly. His tone grew remote and his words slowed. "When I died out of the living world it was while leading a rear guard action, for a withdrawal by Yamamoto-sama's forces. I can't remember why that war was even being fought now. But I and my men held the road long enough for the other forces to escape.
"We counted as we fought and died. We killed everyone that tried to come through us. We kept them long enough. But they resorted to archery, and shot my men around me. Then they buried me, alive, amidst the bodies of my own men, the ones I had trained and fought with and would have been proud to die with. They made me die alone."
The entire circle was quiet but for the flickering lick of flames and the pop and hiss of burning pitch from the wood. Shunsui found that his hands were clenched tight inside his mittens. The noble houses were formed of people who could give birth to new souls. Anyone in Soul Society that gave birth was automatically included in the lower nobility: those with a record of being able to conceive new souls, powerful souls, were what made the Noble Houses. A few of the members of the noble houses were the dead that were powerful enough to be adopted, so he wasn't sure if anyone in their group could comprehend the story they'd just been given. He certainly couldn't.
"Since then, I have been terrified of being left alone. It is one of the reasons why I wish to teach you all I know about how to survive, and how to allow you to help each other to survive. But you will notice that I am always within sight or sound of one of you. That is my weakness." Daisuke-san bowed his head over the fire for a moment and then looked up at all of them. "Which of you is next?"
There was a slow sigh around the circle. Shunsui used the moment's silence to collect himself.
Then Kali narrowed her eyes. "Can we use the same strengths that other people do, if we agree with them?"
"Of course," Daisuke said pleasantly.
"Should we include you?" Kaoru asked as he leaned back into the snow bank behind him.
"If you like, I would be honored," Daisuke answered. "But I'm more concerned about how you deal with your teammates here, than with me. I will be with you for a few years, but eventually this group will have to function on its own."
"What about Ukitake?" Kenshin asked as he watched the fire. "Should we include him, too?"
"I'd like to," Shunsui said quietly. And everyone around the fire nodded but for Hayato.
Hayato pursed his lips. "Does Ukitake really belong with us? He's... so... weakened by that illness of his. How can he function with us if just a cold can take him out? Kyouraku, I already know your opinion, so you don't have to answer."
Shunsui deflated. He heard Kali giggle. Kenshin was frowning at the fire.
It was Kaoru that leaned forward, "I believe that Ukitake does belong with us. Although his weakness is obvious, his strengths are equally obvious. And he can already do several things that the rest of us cannot."
Kenshin's head came up at that. "Like what?"
"He has an understanding and empathy with the lower class. When he strikes with all his conviction and will, he strikes deeper and faster than any of us. His intuitive understanding of people makes them flock to him for advice. No one would say that last about any of the rest of us." Kaoru delivered the statement in an even tone, almost flat.
"Well, I'd go to Kyouraku for the last, not Ukitake," Kenshin said with a frown. "Ukitake seems too... well... good, if you know what I mean, to really get it when, well, I'm stupid."
"I think we are getting into the exercise, now," Daisuke-san said with a laugh. "Maybe we should all list Ukitake's strengths and maybe your answer will fall out of that, Ryuu."
Hayato nodded. "I think I've heard enough to be persuaded to try."
"Very well, then, go ahead." Daisuke-san took a long sip from his tea.
Hayato focused on Shunsui first. "Kyouraku is willing to help anyone, even if he really should hate them." He turned. "Kuchiki will serve the higher purpose however he understands it. Shiba..." He paused and tilted his head, looking more like a hawk then ever. "Shiba, for all his bluster and bravado, sticks with what he does through to the end of it. Ito is as curious as a cat and will stick her nose into anything, for which I am grateful. Daisuke-san..." Again, Hayato paused, thinking, "... you feel like an endless well of experience. Someone who could give us anything we needed if we could just figure out how to ask."
Shunsui felt his jaw drop.
Kali laughed, "I think that was as damning as it was enlightening."
Hayato gave her a small bow. "And all of you already know about my problem with enclosed spaces. My other one is... nearly the opposite of Daisuke-san's. I would much, much prefer to do all of this on my own. I hate being near people, in general. I usually can't stand them and can't stand being in constant close proximity with others. I'm starting to realize how this limits me, though. So I am willing to learn."
"What about Ukitake?" Daisuke-san asked. "What do you see as one of his strengths?"
Hayato thought for a moment. "I see that he is decisive. His will is strong where his body is weak, perhaps because his body is weak."
"Again with the good with the bad," Kenshin said. "Can't you make up your mind?"
Hayato shrugged. "Do I need to?"
Kenshin growled, "It would be easier to understand. Oh, seven hells, I'll go next." He stood up and started ticking off his fingers. "Ukitake can kick my ass. Kyouraku can drink me under the table. Ito's cute." Shunsui heard Kali snort at that. "Ryuu can go higher than I thought any human being could go and survive. Kuchiki..." Kenshin slowed brow furrowed. "I can't read Kuchiki to save my life. Daisuke-san could probably take us all out in a heartbeat, but he's teaching us instead. You all know now that I hate heights. I'm not as smart as all of you. I fuck up at stuff, but when I fuck up, I usually get up and try again."
"Swinging..." Shunsui added under his breath. Everyone looked at him. He shrugged. "I said, Shiba, that you actually get up swinging when you go down. It's a gift. Ito's curiosity allows her to look for more than any of us might even think might be there. Ryuu has a fierce courage that burns hottest under pressure and danger."
Shunsui saw Hayato blink at that. He smiled and continued. "Kuchiki is as polished and refined as a mirror, shielding all with his brightness. Ukitake..." Shunsui paused and thought on how to condense his feelings into one phrase. "Ukitake sacrifices himself and just himself to make things right, he never counts the cost. Daisuke-san is proof, for me, that the warrior's way may be my salvation. I hadn't realized there were so many ways to save people's lives in the act of trying to destroy others."
Shunsui took a breath. "My failings and weaknesses are many. Women, wine, a... distractible temper, a wayward heart, no sense of time, few motivations, and an often wavering sense of honor or will."
Kali laughed, "Well, I won't argue with that."
"I either." Kaoru said softly. "But, as I said earlier, that might be your greatest strength as well, Kyouraku."
"What, my countless failings?" Shunsui asked in surprise.
"Exactly. You, of all of us, have the most sympathy for those who fail somehow, be it Kenshin and his cliff, or Jyuushiro and his lungs," Kaoru said, quietly. "I have already spoken of the strengths Ukitake possesses. Ito has grace, beauty, and a fine eye for social situations and how they might be resolved. Ryuu is the eagle hovering over all, able to see alone what might not be seen by those involved. Shiba cannot be deterred. Daisuke-san shows us that while one may seem unassuming, one may still be powerful in all the necessary ways."
Kaoru stopped, and everyone else leaned in, waiting.
Finally, Kenshin said, "Well.. what do you see as your weakness?"
A slow sigh came from the heavy-lidded noble. "I cannot tolerate failure."
"That's a weakness?" Kenshin cried, "That's stupid."
Kaoru gave a small sniff.
Shunsui thought about it for a while, but he decided not to say anything.
It was Kali who turned towards her long-time friend, "Kuchiki, is your statement the opposite of what you complimented Shunsui for?"
Kaoru smiled at her, in a most gentle curl of those chiseled lips. "Precisely, Ito. I will not fail at what I do. I, therefore, have little to no sympathy for those who fail at anything. It makes me hard to approach, hard to deal with, and very hard for me to associate with anyone. I do not lay blame on anyone for having little sympathy for me when I have so little for them. But the actions and attitudes Kyouraku has displayed have shown me that there are easier ways to accomplish things that require greater effort on my part."
Shunsui felt his eyes glazing a little at the long-winded explanation. His stomach growled again.
Kali laughed. "My turn!" She got up and patted each of the young men on the head as she walked by them. At Hayato she said, "Survives anywhere." On Shunsui's head she said, "Tolerant." On Kaoru's head she said, "Perfect." On Kenshin's head she said, "Bull." She stopped in front of Daisuke-san and bowed gently. "A warrior's way with a warrior's heart.
"I love to know what goes on everywhere. I have a tendency to trust myself too far, and go where I shouldn't go. I do what I shouldn't do simply to see what happens when I push that one block just that much too far. My brothers hate me for toppling more of their games than anyone else. I usually can wiggle out of it. Some day I won't. Can we eat now? I'm starving!!"
Everyone laughed, including Daisuke-san. He dipped his spoon back into the pot, blew, grinned at all the eyes watching him, and then tasted. "Soup's on, trainees. Let's eat."
Shunsui was woken for his night watch by Daisuke-san. Shunsui had been sleeping peacefully with his toes dry, warm, and snug in the tabi Jyuurshiro had made him. He had no idea how the old man figured out which form he needed to shake in the pitch darkness of the inside of the snow shelter at night. He thought it would have to be some kind of kido or something. The wind slapped him in the face, and he resented not feeling any more awake after being hit by the cold than before. Daisuke went with him to the watch shelter where Kaoru sat, awake and far more alert than Shunsui felt.
"You have twenty minutes to wake up, Kyouraku. Kuchiki is still on watch until the end of his shift, but you'll need to wake up and get yourself together for your two hour watch. I'll bring Ito twenty minutes before her watch as well. You should go take a piss before your watch commences, Kyouraku." Daisuke-san's tone was matter-of-fact and his voice quiet. In the dark it was hard to see any expressions.
Shunsui stumbled out into the trees, remembering the guard he'd taken out by the hideout and suspected that that man hadn't had a Daisuke-san to organize his watch. It was good to know what it was supposed to be like. Then, remembering his other assumption, he stumbled back to the watch shelter.
"Daisuke-san," Shunsui whispered.
"No whispering," Daisuke-san said in a quiet voice. "Believe it or not a whisper will carry, on a quiet night, much further than just a quiet tone of voice. Not that we have exactly that problem tonight with the wind. But it's a good habit."
Shunsui changed to a low murmur. "Ah. Okay. Why do we only have one person on watch? Wouldn't two be better if there was an attack by... say... a single Hollow?"
"Well, if the one just high-tailed it and ran screaming back to the shelters, they wouldn't have to deal with any Hollows on their own, now would they?" Daisuke-san asked, sounding a little amused.
"Well... yeah... we're close enough to do that." Shunsui frowned and thought more.
"Are you wondering if the guard positions around that gangster's hideout were useful ones?" Daisuke-san asked.
"Yes. I assumed they'd have positions along the most likely avenues of approach, just off the road from the city and along a deer track through the forest. And they did, but none of them were close enough to just run and yell to alert the inner guards."
"Did they have any other means of communication?"
"Not that I could see." Shunsui said.
"Then they positioned them wrongly. The primary purpose of outposts and pickets is to communicate the approach of enemies. Outputs can fall back on pickets, and pickets can then fall back on the main group. This is most useful in open, straight terrain, with lots of avenues of approach. As you can see here, there is only one approach to the site we chose, and a very large open space in front of it that can be clearly seen and heard for miles." Daisuke-san's voice was quiet as if he were discussing the weather or something obvious like a cloud or the shape of a river. "Our group is small. To balance the amount of energy spent on a posting against the energy we'll need tomorrow to make our planned campsite, I decided to only use one person every two hours in five shifts to cover all the night when we were asleep. Sleep is very important to any force."
"When do you get to sleep?" Shunsui asked quietly.
"I sleep exactly an hour and a half at a time: it's what my body likes and needs and allows me to make sure each watch is settled properly before I go back to sleep again. With five of those I get seven and a half hours of sleep, which is quite enough for me to function well for another day. But I don't object to getting more when I can." Daisuke-san chuckled. "Speaking of which, it sounds as if you're awake enough to take your watch. I think I'd like to get back to sleep. Kuchiki-kun?"
Kaoru turned and nodded. "Yes, sir."
"Shall we go back to our shelter?"
"Certainly, sir." Kaoru turned to Shunsui. "The watch is yours, Kyouraku. Have a peaceful one."
Shunsui spent most of his peaceful two hours thinking that he still had a lot to learn.
Shunsui spent most of the next four days absorbing a great deal of practical information on how to survive out in the cold and wilderness without killing his teammates or making them want to kill him. Terrain analysis intrigued him and using the painting skills his family had never valued, because drawing exactly what you see -- as he had always done -- wasn't a trait that made great art. He started experimenting with how to make sketch maps of terrain and how to represent cover and concealment, fields of observation and fire for kido, and avenues of approach.
Daisuke-san took interest in the maps, and asked for copies. Shunsui, for the first time in a long time, took pride in what he could do, rather than a bitter satisfaction in all the things he couldn't.
Then, of course, on the last morning, Ito Kali had the last watch of the night. When she didn’t show up back at the camp at the end of her watch, Daisuke-san took Hayato with him to look for her. They came back to camp at a run.
“Everyone pack up fast." Daisuke-san commanded, calm as ever. "She’s gone, we’re going to have to track her.”
>> Next Chapter >>
Most of these references are older references, probably still too modern for 2000 years ago, but I'll handwave it like the technology.
-- Gerke, Randy, When Storms Rage: Or How To Build A Snow Cave.
-- O'Neill, Timothy R., The Recon Field Manual, published by the 28th Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, a Civil War reenactment group.
-- Yates, Lieut. W. T. 71st Infantry "Mountain Warfare", Australian Military Journal, Jan. 1915.
-- Mountain Survival's "How To Time a Tough Hike"