Arc: Twin Souls
Beta: incandescens without her this wouldn't be possible.
Characters: Kyouraku, Ukitake
Rating: PG-13 - adult concepts
Word Count: 3675
Summary: The snowball fight! And Kyouraku gets a different kind of defeat.
Disclaimer: I don't own or make money off of Bleach. It's all fictional. Really.
Note: Thank you and love to rasetsunyo for the icon. XDD
The war was going badly for the Tactics and Strategy Class.
Or at least that's what it looked like to Jyuushiro from the couch on the sidelines, which he was sharing with Kali. He and Kali were bundled up until they nearly looked like snow men themselves as they watched the wide field of combat before them.
Having flash step on both sides meant for a fighting style very, very different from the entrench-and-slug-it-out strategy the Tactics boys first attempted to try. They'd dug a shelter, built a wall with the diggings, and then tried to throw snow balls from the center of it. It had worked for them as kids. But these kids...
Yoruichi just appeared over their heads, let loose a whole cascade of snowballs, and then flash stepped away again. Kisuke managed to create some kind of running kidou that mass produced snowballs when he unleashed it. And then Kuukaku started blowing up the walls.
"That's the last f-- agh... dratted straw!" Kenshin roared, as he reared up out of the ruins of the walls of their fort.
Shunsui didn't help matters much by falling over laughing at Kenshin's word substitutions.
Hayato gave a tsk of disgust and leaped high into the air with an armful of snow, and then flash stepped over to where Kisuke was concentrating on his kidou and let fly.
Yoruichi grunted as she drove a flash step through the falling wall of snow, and deflected most of it from hitting Kisuke hard enough to break his concentration.
Hayato laughed and then ooofed as Yoruichi appeared behind him and pushed him unexpectedly. The surprise and change in momentum sent Hayato tumbling, but somehow he tucked, twisted, got a foot against a tree trunk, and flash stepped up into the crown of a different tree.
When Jyuushiro saw that Hayato was safe, he let his breath out in a long sigh that turned into a series of cough.
"Careful, there, Ukitake..." Kali said quietly. "You've only just recovered."
Jyuushiro just nodded, feeling a little wry about that. He was recovering, but more slowly than he wanted. Shunsui was still treating him like he was made of glass. It amused Jyuushiro to suddenly realize that he actually missed the bigger man making passes at him.
Kenshin shouted as he plowed heavily through the ruins of the wall towards Kuukaku, who stuck her tongue out at him. With her lighter weight, Kuukaku skimmed across the top of the snow. When Kenshin managed to get close to her, she giggled and set something off. The sharp bang knocked snow off of the pines above them, and Kenshin, cursing without restraint, was half-buried by the snow.
At least, thought Jyuushiro as he laughed, the snow muffled what Kenshin was saying.
Shunsui got off his butt at that point and just started firing snowballs at whichever child showed themselves. His aim was surprisingly good. When he actually hit Kisuke the ball knocked the child over, stopping the snowball factory.
So, of course, Yoruichi targeted Shunsui. He went down in a shout of laughter and a hail of snowballs.
"He's just like one of the kids, isn't he?" Kali said, laughing.
"Well, at least he's not taking it quite as seriously as the other guys." Jyuushiro said. "Probably to his benefit."
Kaoru just watched from this seat by Kali's couch. Both Hayato and Kenshin had given him a hard time for refusing to join in the fun and games; but he hadn't seemed that disturbed over having to argue the point.
Nakamura Kiyoko, the leader of the third shift of Medical staff picked her way across the snow, holding a large tray with a sake jug and quite a few small cups, as well as a thick-walled pot of some other liquid and plenty of mugs. "Heya," she called, and then started laughing, as Kenshin burst up out of snow that half buried him only to get another armload of snow from Yoruichi. Yoruichi took Kuukaku's hand, and the two girls disappeared in a flash step and landed in one of the pine trees.
"You can carry someone already?" Kenshin yelled. "How the f--- gah, heck can you already carry someone? I can't carry someone, yet, and..."
Yoruichi giggled and both girls yelped, as Hayato started pelting them both from his perch in another tree. Kuukaku slipped and started falling with a scream.
Hayato stepped just as Yoruichi stepped, and Hayato ended up with both girls in his arms. He twisted his body as he fell, and managed to land on his back in the piled remains of the Tactics team's fort. All three of them oof'ed or yelped at the landing.
"That's gotta smart," Kiyoko said, laughing. "Cease fire! Cease fire!! I brought hot drinks, y'all. Y' gotta stop and get 'em while they're hot!"
Hayato helped push the girls up for Shunsui pick up in order to gently place on their feet. Hayato then took Kenshin's forearm for help up. The girls chattered the whole way over to the table, none the worse for the fall. Kenshin just rolled his eyes. Shunsui cocked an eyebrow. Hayato went to the tray, where Kiyoko was pouring.
"It's nigorizake, Ryuu-kun. So shake it and then pour," Kiyoko said, chuckling. "I thought you boys would want something a bit more fortifying than the hot sweet soy milk I brought for the kids and Ukitake-kun."
Jyuushiro sighed, "Soy milk."
"You baby, you," Kenshin said, punching Jyuushiro on the shoulder.
"He is not!" Yoruichi yelped. "It probably does something to his lungs, does it not, Nakamura-san?"
Kiyoko laughed at Kenshin, and tried not to spill the soy milk as she ladled.
Jyuushiro came to her rescue, coughed, and said, "Yes, Yoruichi-chan, alcohol impairs my breathing when I'm already badly off."
"Hey, that looks like our soy milk," Kuukaku said as Hayato poured a steaming milky white liquid into the small round ochoko. Shunsui took the first one and sighed with bliss at the first sip, his eyes closing.
"Ew, it smells weird, though," Kuukaku said as she got closer.
"I don't think you'll like this as much as your drink," Shunsui said quietly. "But it's a very nice, unfiltered sake, Kiyoko-san. Thick enough to stand up to the heating. Thank you."
Kiyoko waved off the thanks as she poured four mugs full of the sweet soy milk and gave them to the three kids and Jyuushiro, and then poured a fifth for herself. She plopped onto the edge of the couch with a sigh. "Break time for me, but I gotta get back on duty, so no sake for me. Family sent it, Great-Uncle brewed it up and bottled it."
Kaoru asked, "Kali, which do you want?"
Kali chuckled. "I think I'd like to be like one of the kids, and have the soy milk, please."
"Yay!" shouted Kuukaku. "She wants to be like us!"
Kaoru pulled off his fur mitts, but kept his hand guards on as he poured soy milk for Kali and himself.
Kisuke took his mug in his small hands and tipped it to gulp the contents. "Ow!! It's hot!"
"Drink it more slowly, Kisuke-kun. It's supposed to warm your hands, as well as be a drink," Hayato said severely.
Kisuke hmphed, but did tilt it a bit more cautiously.
Kali smiled tiredly. Her arm was still lightly bandaged. When Kaoru came back to her, she held her hands out for the mug, and wrapped her left hand around it to sip it. "Kiyoko-san, how are the wounded doing?" she asked.
Kiyoko made a noncommittal sound, "There's two that're still touch 'n go at the moment, sweetie. Mosta da rest are stable."
"What happened?" Jyuushiro asked.
"Shihouin clan sent a patrol to ride out with Ryuu clan's. They swept the area around where we were attacked," Hayato answered, studying his drink more than the people around him. "Father sent his scouts out in pairs in a wheel search pattern from where Kali was attacked. The two that headed northeast just... disappeared at the time the other scouts were a mile out from the center point."
Yoruichi frowned a frown that looked odd on her little girl's face. "I'd not heard that part. I just heard that your father's people did a proud job of leading our troops to where the nest was, and that the battle was bloody for both clans. That is the other reason I came to the fighting infirmary today."
"To ask for medics for the next foray?" Jyuushiro asked.
"No," she said. "To visit my mother's injured people and get a more detailed report of what happened, but that is also a good idea, Shiro-kun. Nakamura-san, what do you think of that?"
Kiyoko tilted her head. "I think it's a great idea. I think at least one of those that died might have made it if they'd gotten attention right on the battlefield."
Yoruichi's eyes darkened just a little, but all she did was nod.
Kenshin frowned, and asked Hayato, "What... what did they find? Or... maybe, what found them?"
Hayato's lips twisted. "Yeah. What is about right. By the time the patrols found what was left of the scouts..." He glanced at the children and frowned. "Well, anyway, there was a big group of the small ones, some big ones, and then they got surprised by three huge things that... no one had seen that kind of hollow before."
Kuukaku looked a little sick and she went over to Kenshin, who gently took her into his lap. She snuggled in and he wrapped his big arms around her. She leaned against him, sighed, and sipped her hot drink quietly.
"What did they do?" Yoruichi asked, her frown fierce. "How did they cleanse the nest?"
"Father loosed his bankai," Hayato said. The Tactics students and even the kids made awed sounds. Nobles knew about the possible powers of zanpakutou, as they had seen their own parents demonstrate them. "But even with that backup, half a dozen people were hurt and two killed. The huge things were more powerful than anything we've seen before. The only ones that could even cut them were my father and his lieutenant, who has shikai. I guess those hollows were eating each other, or had found more gifted souls to eat than we'd realized."
"We can't just call them 'huge things'," Kenshin said, his nose wrinkling. "Is there a name for them?"
Yoruichi spoke up. "The report that came to me called them Menos Grande, since they were so large and made from dark soul energy."
Kenshin gaped at her, "You get reports?"
She nodded. "Well, my mother thinks it's good for me to read the reports she gets so I have a better idea of what kind of information I'll have to handle eventually."
"The Clans are pulling together," Kaoru said quietly, "and backing Yamamoto's position because they do not wish to back each other. Even my parents are starting to speak of agreements with Yamamoto, of allowing certain slights to pass with the other Clans, and reining in duels and other minor conflicts."
Jyuushiro asked, "Duels? There are duels between the Clans?"
All the other Academy students looked at Jyuushiro.
"Well..." Shunsui said it slowly. "There aren't supposed to be duels, but everyone knows that they happen. Slights and insults, mistakes and wounded pride, and some idiot takes a sword and does something about it."
"It's one of the reasons why some of our parents were eager to get us into the Academy. Yamamoto made it clear that everyone who came was going to be taught kendo and how to use our reiatsu in a fight," Hayato said. "My sword play wasn't particularly good. I was happier hunting or climbing, but my parents didn't want to leave me wide open as a target if Clan politics got nasty."
"I heard that Tanaka Isamu and Sato Takumi are probably fighting this Saturday over the honor of Takumi's sister. He's going to rip Tanaka-san a new..." Kenshin stopped as Kuukaku stirred in his lap.
Jyuushiro made a choked noise. Kenshin peered at Jyuushiro, "You really had no idea there were duels? Wow.. you really are from the back country."
"Everyone knows that poor Tanaka-san is being targeted, since he's one of the heirs to a major branch of the Hatsuzora clan. Takumi is probably being hired by another potential heir. His sister is just an excuse," Kaoru said, with a quelling look at Kenshin. "It is not as if the Ukitake family is embroiled in high level power plays, now is it?"
"No, we're not, really," Jyuushiro said thoughtfully.
Yoruichi smiled. "That sounds like a good way to live."
Jyuushiro quirked a grin back.
Yoruichi tilted her head to the side. "Well... my mother has spoken of the possibility of creating sponsorships for certain Academy students, so that they can join our Clan's troops. If these grouping Hollows need higher powered fighters to deal with them, the most reliable source for trained people is going to be the Academy."
"Sponsorships... that's interesting. With those, there might be more of those Rukongai b-- .. uhm... souls coming here for schooling," Kenshin said, frowning as Kuukaku looked up at him, puzzled.
"What's wrong with that, Uncle? If they're good..."
Kenshin gave a grin. "Well, they can't be that good if they're not nobles, right?"
Kuukaku wrinkled her nose up at him. "I don't know." She looked over at Jyuushiro. "How will they tell if they're good enough?"
"Probably do some tests on their reiatsu levels," Jyuushiro said thoughtfully.
Kali added, "From what I heard, everyone will still be held to the same standards on the entrance examination for knowledge, strength, and ability to reason."
"Well, that'll take care of anyone that can't make the grade," Kenshin said with satisfaction.
A man in black, with a hood on, appeared in a poof of smoke and genuflected before Yoruichi. "I apologize, Shihouin-sama, but it is time to move onto your next appointment."
"Well, an' my break's over too," Kiyoko drawled quietly. She started gathering up the cups and jugs. The others hastily finished what they could of their drinks, and deposited them on the tray. "I kin escort ya in, if ya like, sweetie."
Yoruichi smiled at the last word. "I'd really enjoy that, Nakamura-san. I would be honored."
"And da resta you, I'll senda coupla orderlies out for ya." Jyuushiro and Kali smiled.
"What about the snowball fight?" Kisuke pouted. "I'm not even tired yet!" His words were cut off by a huge yawn.
"I think, Kisuke-kun, it is time for Shunsui to get you back home. I rule that the kids won. You managed to topple all the walls of the Tactics Team's base, and I think Yoruichi-chan hit everyone far more times than they were able to hit anyone. What say you?" Jyuushiro asked all the faces turned towards him.
"Aye!" everyone chorused.
Kisuke wrinkled his nose. "Oh... all right then. Can I ride piggy-back, Shunsui?"
Shunsui laughed, "Sure, kid."
Kuukaku hopped out of Kenshin's lap and ran to Yoruichi. The black-clad man flinched, but at a look from Yoruichi, he stayed back. Kuukaku threw her arms around her new friend and said, "You are so much fun! I love you! We gotta do this again! Right?"
Yoruichi grinned, "Right. We do have to do this again." She glanced at Jyuushiro and he gave her a nod. He would be sure to ask the Shiba girl over the next time. Yoruichi gave Jyuushiro a smile, and then kissed Kuukaku on the forehead. "It'll be fun to be your friend."
Kuukaku beamed, and hugged Yoruichi again. The ninja flinched again, but stayed out of her line of sight. Then Kuukaku ran back to Kenshin, who eyed the ninja distrustfully, and gathered the little girl up into his arms. "Bye!" Kuukaku said cheerfully. "See you soon!"
"See you!" Yoruichi said, smiling. She took Kiyoko's free hand and they went back to the infirmary, trailing the ninja bodyguard behind them.
Kisuke looked after his friend and shrugged, shoving the hair out of his eyes. "I never thought to hug her," he said quietly. "They were always around... and..."
Shunsui tousled the blond boy's hair so that it fell back into his eyes. "I'm with you. They're scary. You saw his reaction, right?"
"Then you're the smart one."
"Yeah. Maybe you're right. But I didn't get the hug..." Kisuke said quietly.
Shunsui reached down and lifted the boy up and hugged him. "I know, it's not the same, but..."
Kisuke sighed and hugged Shunsui back, "Thanks, Kyouraku-san. I guess we'd better get me home."
"Sure thing, kid." He gave the rest of the Tactics team a salute, which they returned. Then Shunsui carried Kisuke away, turning the kid upside-down to delighted shrieks before disappearing around a corner.
Jyuushiro had to grin at that and shake his head.
Kali laughed, "Yup. Just like one of the kids."
Shunsui felt Ryuu-sama knock the shoto from his left hand, yet again; and he was still in no position to strike back with the daito in his right. The short bamboo shinai clattered against the far wall. The whack on his helmet was just an injury added to the overall insult.
Shunsui had done his usual stint for Ryuu-sama as a tutor for the students who weren't doing so well with their swords. Since the whipping, he'd done his penance as Ryuu-sama's assistant, but had chosen to stay at the task on finding that he liked working with the students just as much as he liked the exertion and challenge of being good enough to teach them. Now, having been reminded about the duels amid the nobility, he worked even harder with them.
Ryuu-sama noticed the extra dedication. When he commented on it, Shunsui asked for a private lesson to test his theory about using two bamboo shinai at the same time. Ryuu-sama's eyebrows had gone up, but he'd acquiesced graciously, and now they were at it.
Shunsui wasn't sure if he was glad about that or not.
Ryuu-sama waited for him to retrieve the lost bamboo blade. When Shunsui returned, he asked, "What do you think happened, Kyouraku?"
"I'm... I'm a lot slower than I expected to be." Shunsui frowned. "I was thinking that I'd be faster to react to the left."
"Why did you think you'd be faster?" Ryuu-sama asked.
"Uhm... it's a shorter distance, sir?" Shunsui said, hesitating.
Ryuu-sama nodded. "But what do you think makes up speed in a strike or, for that matter, effectiveness of a block?"
"I thought it was reflex. Just the time between seeing something and doing something about it..." Shunsui frowned. "But it's not just that, is it?"
Ryuu-sama shook his head and instead of giving Shunsui an answer, just waited, watching Shunsui with dark eyes.
Shunsui sighed, "You're not going to tell me, are you, sir?"
Ryuu-sama grinned. "How about we try it again? This time, maybe deal with the fact that you aren't going to be that fast with either sword alone. What can you do with them anyway?"
Shunsui groaned quietly, "Each alone is slower and weaker. What, then, does it buy me?"
"Exactly the question I have," Ryuu-sama said.
"Well... there's now more edge I can swing..." Shunsui said, doubtfully.
"Let's try it again. And this time, remember you don't have all your strength to back up your edges or your blades." Ryuu-sama took his ready stance.
Shunsui took his stance, and thought about what Ryuu-sama had said. He couldn't have all his strength in either blocks or strikes. If one arm or hand were damaged he'd have the same problem. So how would he fight someone that was just that much stronger?
Shunsui shifted his stance to the side a little, holding the longer daito in a slanted overhead stance, and instead of leaving the shoto at his hip or paralleling the longer blade, he held it to threaten at the shoulder level.
Ryuu-sama shifted at that. Good, this was something he hadn't expected. Shunsui shifted again, planted his back foot in preparation, and at the motion, Ryuu-sama blurred into an attack.
Shit. Shunsui twisted to the side, using the planted foot as a pivot rather than doing what he would normally have done, which would have been to do a straight block. Instead, he used the already raised shoto to deflect the blow to his outside, while twisting his body to the right to get it partially out of the way as well. Ryuu-sama lowered his shinai, neatly avoiding Shunsui's block; but by that time, Shunsui's daito had already come down on his helmet. "Men!" Shunsui cried with the moment of the hit.
But that left him straight open to Ryuu-sama's, "Hidari-do!" The sharp crack of the practice blade on his armor would have just sliced him open along the belly if it had been real.
"Gah!" Shunsui said.
"Mmm..." Ryuu-sama said. "Mutual hits. But you didn't lose the blocking blade. You're figuring it out, I think, Kyouraku. You're going to have to develop your strength on both sides, and remember that you're still going to be weaker; but that you can do hits with both blades at any time. You're going to have to learn what a single blade cannot block. You'll have to learn how to deflect. You're going to have to learn how to use both blades independently of each other and control both at the same time. That's..."
"... going to be hard work," Shunsui said sighing.
"And you're going to have to practice against someone good to actually learn good technique and habits. I'd recommend Shiba and Ukitake, when that boy gets out of the infirmary. Their styles are different enough, they'll keep you from getting complacent." Ryuu-sama bowed to Shunsui. "I wish you luck in your pursuit."
Shunsui bowed back, deeply. "Thank you, sensei." And Shunsui was left with a lot to think about.