Arc: Twin Souls
Beta: incandescens, without her this wouldn't be possible.
Characters: Kyouraku, Ukitake, Yamamoto
Word Count: 3559
Summary: Kyouraku finds Ukitake in bad shape. Yamamoto gets a debriefing from this old sergeant.
Disclaimer: I don't own or make money off of Bleach. It's all fictional. Really.
Shunsui made his aching way across the campus, thinking as he walked. Their room was still cold and dark; warmer, physically, than the snow shelters he'd shared with Kenshin, but still empty. Kenshin's reiatsu had been much smaller than Jyuushiro’s and not so familiar until the end of the week.
He got to the infirmary and remembering the last time, he shut the door quickly after himself. Tanaka Jirou gave him a small nod, lantern light glinting off his glasses. He was another Academy student that was doubling up as a combat healer and Shunsui had seen him in kido classes.
Shunsui signed in. Jirou went back to his book, and made no sign of objection as Shunsui walked down the same hallway he had walked down a whole week ago.
Shunsui felt different, though. He felt very different from how he had felt a week ago. He felt lighter, somehow. Stronger. The mountain and the hardships out in the cold had honed him in some way and given him connections to someone other than just the man he was about to see. The other tactics students had seen him, seen what he could do. They'd accepted who he was, good and bad. They'd used his strengths during that terrible running fight at the end, and he hadn't let them down.
Also, he'd seen what Daisuke-san's shikai could do. After the blessing by that one spirit, after learning how knowing enough might save lives, Shunsui now wanted that kind of strength for himself. Now he knew why he was fighting, why he was at the Academy, and why he wanted to be as good as he could be. His zanpakutou, sheathed peacefully on his right hip, murmured softly, not quite awake, not quite asleep, but he got the feeling it knew he now wanted to fight.
So it was something of a shock, when he knocked on and slid open Jyuushiro's door, to be engulfed by a cloud of fighting reiatsu. It was like walking into a coastal storm, buffeting and blowing, crackling with the scent of lightning and the rumble of thunder.
Shunsui's reiatsu flared in protection, and there was a soft, choked cry from the bed; and then very familiar coughing, as wet and nasty as on the day he'd seen Jyuushiro tested.
The reiatsu around him subsided. Shunsui wrapped his own tighter about himself, quieting his own dismay. "Jyuushiro?" he asked. The room was hot and humid, filled with the scent of something pungent and clear; perhaps, he guessed, something to aid breathing. He was glad to see the charcoal heater in the room.
There were the sounds of a cloth being unfurled and used to wipe something away, and then a soft voice murmured one word between each panting breath. "Shun... sui... how... was... the trip?"
Jyuushiro lit a lantern by his bed. The glow revealed sunken eyes, tight lips, and a drawn face. There was blood on the corner of his lips. Jyuushiro wiped the blood away with an already bloody cloth. He was propped up with some pillows, slender body covered by the sheets and quilts. His white hair sprang in all directions around his face, well beyond rumpled. He looked wild, close to some inner breaking point.
"It was good. You look awful, Jyuushiro," Shunsui said without thinking.
Jyuushiro gave him a soft chuckle. "Sleeplessness... will do... that."
"You couldn’t sleep?"
"I kept... dreaming... of... being… crushed." Jyuushiro's eyes closed. "Better... now... but... tired."
Shunsui kept the This is better? that sprung to his mind behind his lips. If the fever had broken, this was, indeed, better. Shunsui was wretchedly glad that he'd come when it was better. He started shedding layers, folding and laying them neatly in a pile in the corner. "And that reiatsu? Are you using that to breathe?"
Jyuushiro nodded quietly. "It... helps."
"Then go ahead," Shunsui said quietly. "I can take it."
"Hurt... when... you... blocked," Jyuushiro said, but he smiled as he said it.
Shunsui thought, he's smiling while he's in this bad a shape? But he grinned back. "I'll stay tucked in, then. You just surprised me."
"Stronger," said Jyuushiro, looking up at him.
Shunsui nodded. "I am."
"Tell... me?" The pleading behind the question was naked in Jyuushiro's eyes.
Shunsui moved to kneel by Jyuushiro, "That's why I’m here. Thought you'd want to know what happened to us. We don't even know exactly what happened at the end, but tomorrow we'll see if Ito is up to talking to us about what the hell she was doing when the Hollows found her."
Jyuushiro's eyes grew wide, and his face suddenly filled with intent, rather than the slack tiredness Shunsui first saw when he walked in.
"Let me tell the story, first, and you can then see if you have anything left to ask. Probably easier on both of us," Shunsui said, and Jyuushiro nodded at the suggestion.
Jyuushiro threw Shunsui another glance. He hesitated, then said, between pants, "Can.. you... hold... me?"
"Of course, I was hoping you'd ask." Shunsui stripped down to his loincloth, and slid in behind Jyuushiro. Jyuushiro moved to accommodate his bulk, and then they were together again, body against lean body, skin against skin. Shunsui tucked Jyuushiro under his chin as he had the other time in the infirmary, and felt that same wonder when he felt the slender man relax against him, felt the trembling in the lean muscles lessen, slow.
"Raise your reiatsu, if it helps," prompted Shunsui.
The head under his chin nodded, and then he was surrounded again with that storm surge of power. His own reiatsu he kept tightly to himself, but for a few wisps he used to sense things. He could feel the fact that Jyuushiro was, somehow, limiting the raging whirl that surrounded them to the confines of the room.
Eventually, he realized that the waves in the power around him were synchronized to Jyuushiro's breathing.
Jyuushiro's slender hand twined quietly with one of his own. "You doing all right in this?" He almost sounded normal but for the weight of tiredness underlying his voice.
"Yeah. I think I can ride this, but I'll need a midnight snack or something and I just ate," Shunsui chuckled.
"The infirmary will send a tray in an hour or so, we'll share." Jyuushiro settled back against Shunsui. "Now tell me."
"Right," Shunsui said and gave Jyuushiro a detailed account of the last few days, sparing himself not at all.
Jyuushiro laughed at his solution to the cliff, but his hand tightened on Shunsui's. He asked a few questions during Shunsui's attempted recitation of what they'd all said of each other during the strengths and weaknesses exercise. Jyuushiro's eyes hooded a little at the constant repetition of his physical weakness as his main fault, but he listened wide-eyed at all the weaknesses that the others had revealed. He gave a short cough at Kaoru's, but then looked thoughtful.
"I... I don't forgive easily, either," was all Jyuushiro said to Shunsui's look.
Shunsui went on with the night watch, the setting up of the camps, the days out in the wilderness. How satisfying any food was when eaten while tired and really hungry, the feeling of what it was like to sleep in the snow shelters knowing that the ceiling was always falling in a little bit, and the new way he could see terrain and record it. He told how everyone on the trip had lost their honorifics, though they were all still going by family names. Shunsui referred to Daisuke-san extensively, and Jyuushiro listened carefully.
Then Shunsui spoke of the surprise they'd woken to that morning, and described the running battle of the day. Jyuushiro shifted during that account, but didn't interrupt. When Shunsui got to the part where they managed to get home okay, Jyuushiro's body relaxed again against his and he heard a small puff of a sigh.
"I wish I could have helped," Jyuushiro said. "Is Ito okay?"
"They said she would be, tomorrow. Maybe if you get a good night's sleep we can get you into the debriefing?"
Jyuushiro chuckled and nodded. "It should be easier tonight. My breathing's short, but I'm not fighting the fever, too. It's easier to sleep sitting up. I'm becoming more used to it."
Shunsui automatically leaned his forehead against Jyuushiro's. The skin there was the same heat as his own. "Good."
Jyuushiro smiled tiredly into Shunsui's eyes. "I'd like you to stay, if you want."
Shunsui's own tiredness made him bare his teeth more than grin. "I want." His hands slid along Jyuushiro's skin, and the slender man moaned softly as he arched against the touch. Then he coughed. Shunsui started at the reminder of Jyuushiro's fragility, and he stilled his hands.
Jyuushiro slid his hands over Shunsui's, and then Shunsui felt Jyuushiro start to tremble, and then shudder. The rhythmic surge of power around them both went ragged, and then blew out. Wet drops hit Shunsui's arm, and that was when he realized that Jyuushiro was crying, his body shuddering with sobs he couldn't voice.
Shunsui gathered Jyuushiro closer, pulling in his legs and knees and tucking as much of him in as closely as possible to Shunsui's own body. He stroked that remarkable hair, that bony back, and hugged Jyuushiro close.
Jyuushiro's whispered hiss of rage caught Shunsui by surprise. "I... I hate this... I hate... my... breath... I hate... living... this way.... I hate... being... like this...." Sobs, when released, turned into racking coughs. Shunsui looked for the cloth, and held it for Jyuushiro, who took it in his own pale hands and caught his own blood and tears.
Shunsui wasn't sure how to fix this. He felt so helpless and powerless, so soon after how powerful he'd felt during the field trip. But he'd seen the cracks in Jyuushiro when he'd first stepped into the room. So instead of saying anything, he just sat there by the man who had just been there when he had been the one racked with weakness, self-hatred, and pain.
Gradually, Jyuushiro cried himself out. Shunsui thought Jyuushiro had gone to sleep, given how still he was, when there was a knock on the door.
Jyuushiro stirred, sluggishly, "Leave... by... door... please."
"Aye," said a female voice. "I have, Ukitake-kun. I hope you enjoy the meal."
Shunsui kissed Jyuushiro's hair. In a soft voice he said, "I'll get it."
Jyuushiro nodded. When Shunsui extracted himself, Jyuushiro collapsed on the futon, just curled up on himself. Shunsui went to the door. When the far door to the hallway slid and closed, he opened the door and pulled in a fragrant tray. His stomach growled. He peeked under the covers; it was unagi-don, sweetened, marinated, grilled eel on rice. It had been divided into two large portions, each in their own box, and he grinned a little wryly at seeing two sets of chopsticks by the food. So it wasn't just a double portion for Jyuushiro.
He brought the food over to the futon and Jyuushiro's head came up.
He'd been half-afraid he'd have to feed Jyuushiro, but Jyuushiro painfully rolled over and sat up. Shunsui handed him a box and sticks, and Jyuushiro brought the container to his lips. With no art whatsoever, Jyuushiro started shoveling the food into his mouth.
Shunsui wasn't that far behind him, and he felt better when he was done with his food. He took the empty dish from Jyuushiro. He put both back on the tray and put the tray back out into the hallway. Then he made his way back to the futon, thinking about sleeping sitting up so that Jyuushiro could breathe.
Shunsui stacked pillows; the buckwheat hull ones were solid enough to support him well. He sat in front of them, sliding down enough so that his head could rest back against the cushions. He gathered Jyuushiro into his lap, his arms. Jyuushiro came to him like a sleepwalker, one already half in a dream. Shunsui wrapped himself around his exhausted friend. He pulled the quilts all around them, and leaned back into the yielding support of the cushions. With the warm weight of his friend on him, Shunsui went quickly to sleep.
Uekiya Daisuke was not having nearly as comfortable a time of it as Shunsui. He had managed to get in a good, long, hot soaking bath in the teachers' bathhouse. It had eased his aching joints. A good meal had rounded off the feeling of contentment. But after those amenities he'd immediately gone to Yamamoto-sama's quarters.
The starkness of the old man's quarters always amazed him. It was like the old general didn't want to acquire anything that he couldn't take out into the field with him. It was just a single, cold room at the Academy, high above the teaching theaters. It had polished wood floors, tatami, and a few privacy screens for a sleeping area and wash area. The eating area had a table with quilts spread all around it.
One painting hung on the wall by the eating table. It was of a massive, old, gnarled pine tree with black-green needles jutting out from the wall of a snow-covered cliff. Endurance and longevity through uselessness, perseverance in the face of suffering, it seemed a perfect symbol for Yamamoto-sama's existence.
It's not like you're that much different, Gardener, Takekaze murmured to him in a rustling of leaves.
True, true. But my mementos are living.
Not in mid-winter.
They merely bide their time.
Yamamoto-sama shuffled in. A servant scurried around him to add glowing coals to the smokeless charcoal table heater that was the one concession to the weaknesses of the body. The servant burrowed under one of the quilts and came up again without the coals and then scurried off again.
The kotatsu's burner was set into a depression under the table. Daisuke placed himself on the east side of the table, pulled up the quilt, and set his legs into the warmth. The heat traveled up his kimono and he sighed in comfort. He asked for a cup of hot water when he'd first come in. The thick earthenware cup comforted Daisuke's hands, which ached with cold.
"Good evening, Daisuke-san."
"Good evening, Yamamoto-Genryuusai-soutaichou."
"Interesting. Being thoroughly formal today, are we? Is this a reporting situation, my gardener?" Yamamoto settled himself on the North side of the table, pulling the quilts hanging over the side of the table over his lap. He sighed. The servant brought an earthenware cup of tea to him. Daisuke could smell the bitter green scent of a whisked matcha, and saw the lovely light green foam on the surface. The old man wanted clarity, hm?
"It is, sir," Daisuke said. He met his old captain's eyes and saw them narrow.
"Three groups, all appearing this morning, starting about twenty miles north by north west, and then at three miles in and two miles in beyond that. The first group contained two smart ones, six small, with a flanker. Then one with six small. Then two in enfilade, west of our group."
Yamamoto-sama absorbed the information. "You force-marched those children twenty miles today?" He gave a great sigh. "Faithful gardener."
"Thank you, sir. They didn't complain at all."
"One. Ito-kun is injured." Daisuke frowned. "Though it was almost as if they lured Ito-kun out when she was on watch. Not that she's hard to intrigue, but it looked deliberate. Something hadn't blundered into the trip line, but found it and played with it to make her curious. We'll have to see what she says in the morning."
"Her family is shouting about pulling her from the Academy. Too dangerous for a woman, they say."
Daisuke snorted, "As if it isn't dangerous for the men, too."
"But she is the only female in the tactics group."
"And can hold her own with the boys. She's used to dealing with her brothers, I suspect."
"What do you think of them, gardener? The children?"
"They are being honed. Still young, still brave, still growing like young shoots. I wish I had their energy. It was startling to watch Kyouraku-kun suddenly solidify when called on. Ryuu-kun stepping up for the others was unexpected. Shiba-kun's brash, but really does hold up his end of things. Kuchiki's attachment to Ito-kun may complicate things badly, especially if... no... when Family politics start in on them. I don't want her brothers calling duel on him for inappropriate contact."
Yamamoto-sama chuckled. "Yes. When. I will fend off the powers that be as I am able. For now they need to keep getting stronger as quickly as they are able. When they prove their abilities, the Families may be more amenable to their leadership."
"Aye, sir. And the groupings?"
"Ah, yes. The groupings. The stronger, better fed Hollows may be organizing hunts on the gifted. There have been disappearances in that area of people with high reiatsu. The numbers are rising. It may have just been misfortune that prompted this particular attack..."
"... but unlikely?" Daisuke finished his old commander's thought.
Yamamoto-sama nodded, "Three sets of Hollows, rather than the random loners each hunting on their own. Packs. One pack with two of the bigger ones working together seems utterly improbable without some sort of treaty or agreement on their part. Bad enough that they are not just eating each other, they now seem to be actively hunting souls together."
Daisuke shivered quietly, even in the warmth of the heater. "Are we..." Daisuke started and then stopped.
"... taking the correct actions?" Yamamoto-sama continued. "I do not know for certain. This reaction was, if not expected, at least anticipated as a possibility. We will do what we can, including more regular patrols on our part just to understand the extent of their cooperation."
"How do we hold off the Families if they find that the threat has worsened? What about support from the Hatsuzora clan? How will showing them what these kids do persuade them to help the Academy?" Daisuke was confident enough in his commander to ask the questions that most bothered him.
"The threat may bring the Families in even closer together. Nothing unites like a common enemy. The children may well hasten Hatsuzora joining us by demonstrating capabilities that they cannot easily train in their own youth. Perhaps there should be some demonstration of capabilities at the end of the year, a testing for positions of responsibility and command for the following year." Yamamoto-sama met Daisuke's gaze.
Daisuke considered. "That might work, especially when the noble families are convinced that they will always be superior. If they prove to be even more so with the Academy... that may well help."
"And it would leave the door open for anyone of ability to test high enough for the command positions," Yamamoto-sama said.
Daisuke chuckled, "Yes, even those of us who were once lost souls from Rokongai."
Yamamoto-sama nodded. "Exactly so."
"They won't like that," Daisuke said quietly.
"That is so," Yamamoto-sama said. "But if we are to muster enough strong souls to combat the gathering forces, it will have to be done."
Daisuke bowed his head at that statement. "I wish Ukitake-kun had been able to go with us. Though... maybe his apparent disability will make the highborn even more likely to agree to the testing."
Yamamoto-sama nodded. "The disguise should serve that purpose."
Daisuke raised an eyebrow, "Isn't that too strong a description, disguise? Are we hiding strengths from an enemy?"
"Yes," Yamamoto-sama said with a slight smile. "I believe we are."
Daisuke rocked back at that. So, the old General thought that the Families and their politics were his opponents in a struggle to marshal the gifted souls in Soul Society. This could prove very interesting indeed. He sipped his lukewarm water and sighed. Daisuke didn't particularly like interesting, he liked boring, quiet was nice, too.
"Is there anything else you would like to know, sir?" Daisuke asked quietly.
"What time will you be looking in on Ito-kun? And would you like me to make an appearance as well?" Yamamoto-sama asked.
"I intend to be there just before the second morning check, around 8 a.m.," Daisuke answered. He frowned a little. "I'm afraid they will watch their words far more carefully if you are there, so I would prefer that you not come and make them second-guess their answers."
Yamamoto-sama nodded. "Very well then. Good luck and do your best."
"Thank you, sir."
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