Arc: Twin Souls
Beta: incandescens without her this wouldn't be possible.
Characters: Kyouraku, Ukitake
Rating: PG-13 - adult concepts
Warning: Boy on boy kiss, the consequences of naked steel.
Word Count: 3571
Summary: Ukitake gets back into shape after his illness. Kyouraku tries to test his new technique with unexpected results.
Disclaimer: I don't own or make money off of Bleach. It's all fictional. Really.
Notes: Also many thanks to all those that helped me through the block.
Jyuushiro always hated how it felt when he'd been ill; but he knew how to deal with it, how to build his strength and endurance back up after the weakness that was always his after a long bed-ridden bout. The shakiness in his limbs and motions was as familiar as his breathing. He knew how to push, what to test, and how to apply weights, running, and the stretching meditative aspects of complex kata in order to regain his strength.
So Jyuushiro spent an extra hour every day, before classes even started, in the dojo.
Ever since the bath, Shunsui had treated Jyuushiro as if he'd been made of spun glass; and Jyuushiro had taken the distance and kept it. They'd slept in the same futon together while Shunsui treated him that way, but Jyuushiro remembered breaking down when Shunsui had touched him. He didn't want to risk that again.
When the dozen other Academy students had shown up at Jyuushiro's infirmary room to help him move all his stuff back to the dorm room, he'd seen Shunsui look a little perplexed at being so surrounded. Jyuushiro had just kept his head down and smiled and talked with everyone else.
Dozens of students now came to their shared room for homework and study sessions after classes, and Shunsui had joined in. But then Shunsui had chased the girls until everyone was distracted; Jyuushiro finally had to shake some sense into the big man so that everyone could work. He'd seen those brown eyes hood at the scolding.
That was when Shunsui disappeared for the night and didn't come back until morning.
Shunsui did come back before class. He was hung over, sporting bruises on his throat, and smelling faintly of hyacinths. Jyuushiro had quietly fed him willow bark tea, and given him a back-of-the-neck-massage that left the bigger man groaning but capable of eating the breakfast Jyuushiro had brought him on a tray.
In the midst of breakfast, however, Shunsui had slid his hand into Jyuushiro's hair. Jyuushiro hadn't pulled away, even when Shunsui had pulled him down and kissed him, slow and hard. Jyuushiro had returned it just as solidly, even though Shunsui had tasted of bitter willow bark tea and a long night. Shunsui had swallowed and lowered his eyes at Jyuushiro's inquiring gaze, but he had hugged Jyuushiro and had gone with him to class.
Since then they'd slept each in their own futons. When Shunsui went out now, he came back at a more reasonable hour, and took a bath before he went to bed.
Still, in the middle of the night, when Shunsui's reiatsu reached for his, Jyuushiro entwined his power with the bigger man's and they both relaxed and slept better for it.
Jyuushiro sweated and panted gently in the dojo. He had done fifteen sets of exercises with weights attached to his bokken, and now he felt good. His sweat was the clean, light sweat of getting back into shape, and the flow of air through his lungs were clear and free.
Jyuushiro stepped and struck, blocked and cut, swung and turned. He kept his legs under him and practiced strikes, trying to get them perfect, over and over, engraining them into his muscles' memories. Twenty times in a row, getting the distance, the jump, the hit exactly right. Another twenty from the other side. Twenty from underneath to the right and then underneath to the left. And again... and again...
"Haven't you killed that poor dummy enough?"
Jyuushiro jumped at the unexpected voice.
"Though, given what hour it is in the morning, it might be better off dead," Shunsui said, musingly. He was in his full armor, except for the helmet, and peeking from the folds of a holding cloth were all the pieces of Jyuushiro's armor. Over his other shoulder were three shinai, two of regular length and one cut down to half length.
"Shunsui?" Jyuushiro wasn't quite sure what he was asking.
"Will you help me, Jyuushiro?"
Jyuushiro frowned, and then nodded. "Of course."
"Then put this on. I need for you to fight me," Shunsui said, handing over the bundle of Jyuushiro's armor.
Jyuushiro looked at Shunsui, "Fight you?"
"Yeah. I need some help with my technique."
Jyuushiro frowned a little at that. Shunsui's skills at kendo, zanjutsu, and kakuda had improved with the extra teaching and extra training he'd done as penance and then just continued. With both of them at the upper end of the martial arts classes, Ryuu-sama had made both of them teach lagging students more often than they'd gone up against each other. And they certainly hadn't since the mountain trip.
But Jyuushiro knew that he could only go so far on his own in his training. The Tactics class was going to start patrolling the various Clans' military units in a week: he needed to be ready. So he took the bundle and donned his armor. Shunsui sat seiza patiently, watching a spot on the floor as Jyuushiro tied and settled his equipment about himself.
"Why, Shunsui?" Jyuushiro asked, not quite sure what he was asking.
Shunsui shrugged. "Because Ryuu-sama said that you would be good for me to try this on."
Jyuushiro nodded. He took one of the long shinai and put it by his right hip.
Shunsui stood, moving as smoothly as a fall of water, and Jyuushiro swallowed hard. Then the bigger man took his stance opposite Jyuushiro. They bowed gently to each other.
Jyuushiro armed himself. Shunsui had his arms crossed, one hand holding each blade by his side. They both drew, and Jyuushiro faced two blades, one held to either side.
"What do you need help with?" Jyuushiro asked, a little daunted.
"I need you to try and knock these from me. It should be easier for you to disarm me when you have both hands on your sword compared to my one," Shunsui said. "I'd also like you to attack me and try and hit me and not get hit, like any fight."
"How are you going to call your strikes if you're striking to two places at the same time?" Jyuushiro asked, fascinated.
"Uhm. I think we'll have to figure that out after I get to it," Shunsui said, laughing. "I haven't gotten that far, yet."
The laughter put Jyuushiro more at ease, and he slid his foot to get a better stance. They circled, and Jyuushiro had to try and think how he could attack Shunsui and not get the other blade at his back.
While Jyuushiro thought, Shunsui swept in with both blades, one on either side. Jyuushiro jumped to the left to avoid the longer blade coming in on his left, and blocked the shorter blade as it swept in from his right. When Shunsui's arms crossed, he leaned in and snapped a blow to Shunsui's side.
The big man couldn't get his arms uncrossed in time. He grunted with the force of Jyuushiro's hit.
"Sorry," Jyuushiro said, contritely.
"No. No... I have to learn what works and what doesn't."
Together they said, "Crossed arms don't work."
"Right," Shunsui laughed.
They moved towards each other again. This time Jyuushiro attacked first, a straight head cut that Shunsui blocked with both blades crossed. Jyuushiro kept his momentum and ran by Shunsui to his own right, and then whirled to his left to block a high strike by Shunsui. He turned with the block and used his momentum to strike at Shunsui again, who blocked with the smaller blade. They made a few more passes.
"You sling a lot of strikes to the side," Shunsui observed. "You don't block directly."
"Shiba hacks away like he's using a meat cleaver, and blocks like he has a staff instead of an edge."
Jyuushiro laughed. "I bet."
He got a flash of teeth from Shunsui from behind the bars of the mask, and he felt lighter than he had in a while.
You're both being half-hearted about this. You're laughing instead of fighting. You should be using us. Not that bamboo thing, said a voice in the back of Jyuushiro's head.
Jyuushiro pulled back startled. No, I don't want to actually hurt him.
How else will he learn to use the real powers of his soul? asked the voice. Jyuushiro suddenly recognized it as the voices of the fish that were behind his zanpakutou, one voice but oddly doubled, echoed on itself.
"You okay, Jyuushiro?" Shunsui asked.
"Yeah. My... zanpakutou is saying that we ought to be practicing with them, not... with the shinai," Jyuushiro said, troubled.
"Huh," Shunsui said, rocking back on his heels. "Uhm. I guess mine agrees, and is... damnit, shut up! I don’t want to hurt him, idiot!"
Jyuushiro's eyes widened, but then he realized whom Shunsui was actually talking to.
But then he'll actually get cut by his mistakes. I don't want that.
Avoiding pain is not the answer, Jyuushiro. It will simply motivate his power and his will even more, as it will yours. Then you'll get to show him our true strengths, not just your bamboo skills.
Jyuushiro snorted a laugh. But we could kill each other.
You will die of your disease. You could die today slipping on a patch of ice. You could die of a bad bit of food. How does that make it any different from the rest of your life?
Because this would be of my own choice, Jyuushiro said quietly.
Do you really think the two of you are that weak? That a single slip of the blade, now, could end your lives here?
Jyuushiro paused and thought over the months and months of training his reflexes, of blocks and blows and reactions engrained into his muscle and brain. He thought of not just his strength, but, suddenly, of his trust and respect for his friend's strength.
"Hey. Shunsui," Jyuushiro said quietly, as he dropped to a resting stance, squatting to almost sit on his heels, his knees were apart to make it easy to get back up again.
"Yes, Jyuushiro?" Shunsui asked, looking distracted.
"You really think we could?"
Shunsui looked at Jyuushiro, eyes focusing. "Could what?"
"Fight each other with naked blades and not... not accidentally kill each other?" Jyuushiro said, and realized that his own gut wanted this, wanted to really test his real strength against the bigger man, as much to take both their measures for real as for the fight itself.
Shunsui frowned, and then grinned a grin the matched the feeling in Jyuushiro's gut. "You're strong enough," he said. Jyuushiro felt his emotions spike higher.
"You're strong enough, too," Jyuushiro said quietly and saw the bigger man's head bow in acknowledgement.
"Then let's go," Shunsui said softly.
Together, they went over to their sheathed zanpakutou. The two swords were still identical in appearance, slightly curved katana with simple black cording on bare tangs and unornamented hand guards. They were still asauchi, but there were already differences. Shunsui's had been given one that was a little longer than Jyuushiro's, to match his height and reach. Jyuushiro had rewrapped his hilt to match his slenderer hands, and to give him a better grip along the bottom of the hilt. Shunsui had rewrapped his hilt just behind the hand guard to give himself a more solid grip right there. Jyuushiro assumed it was because with the two-sword techniques, Shunsui needed more control and less swing.
They both picked up their swords. Shunsui hefted his quietly, and kept the shorter bamboo shinai in his left hand.
"Is that going to actually work against my blade?" Jyuushiro asked.
In answer, Shunsui flared his reiatsu and held out the shorter blade. Both of them ignored the startled cries from outside the dojo at the flare. "My guy says we'll try and reinforce it and it's really the strength of our souls that will cut or block, along with the soul particles in the thing itself."
Jyuushiro swung his blade, hard enough to cut bamboo. His sword clanged and then slid off the pale wood. He smiled, and flared as well.
Yes, the voice whispered in the back of his head. That is the way of it. Your asauchi serve as a focus for we who are within you.
There were more startled voices, "Someone's fighting with reiatsu?" "Feels like... Ukitake and Kyouraku..." "What the hell is going on?"
That last voice was Ryuu-sama.
"Better get started," Shunsui said grimly.
Jyuushiro stepped in and swung for Shunsui's left shoulder. Jyuushiro's breath was faster, and the world was starting to slow down the way it only did when he was really focused.
Shunsui huffed out a breath, and his short shinai was up and in block position, but the bigger man was also moving with the block, getting his body out of the way. The angle he took the blow on the smaller blade made it slide off down his side.
Jyuushiro ran through on his strike on Shunsui's left side. He whirled to his own right to keep Shunsui in front of him, and then kept turning as Shunsui struck with both blades. The longer blade was on top, the shorter blade on the bottom.
They both came from Jyuushiro's right as he was turning, so he angled his blade to block both and pushed power into the block, fusing his will and desire with the circular motion of his turn. His body was completely behind his blade. There was a clash and then a screech of metal as the swords met.
Shunsui had the bottom third of his longer sword against the top third of Jyuushiro's blade, so Shunsui had leverage in this position. Jyuushiro gave up the position by moving down and to his right again. He deliberately swung out of the path of Shunsui's blades, sliding his steel away from the kiss of Shunsui's zanpakutou.
Shunsui followed up hard, swinging both blades parallel again, just enough apart that Jyuushiro had to pick a very specific angle for his block. The power behind the strike slid Jyuushiro back. They were both using their full will and strength. Frustrated, Jyuushiro pushed back the block again, but this time he kiaied and riposted as soon as he freed his blade. He swung hard for Shunsui's side.
"Hidari-do!" Jyuushiro cried. But Shunsui blocked, grunting, with the larger blade. Even as he slid back a few steps from the sheer power in Jyuushiro's blow, his smaller blade licked up, light shining on the bamboo. It sheared right into Jyuushiro's armor on his left side, and Jyuushiro cried out as something bit into his body, bitter and cold, even as he moved to his right, following through with his footwork.
"You... are you okay?" Shunsui asked, his reiatsu fading back as he realized what he'd done with the bamboo shinai.
"I feel stupid. That's all. Didn't... fucking think it could... cut, damnit," Jyuushiro panted. "Stupid, stupid... " He rushed Shunsui, whose reiatsu slammed back up. As Jyuushiro saw the long blade flick up to block what looked like an overhead blow on his part, Jyuushiro flicked his tip back and then down at a different angle at the left side of Shunsui's helmet, "Migi-men!"
The shorter blade came up, but not quite in time. With the power of Shunsui's reiatsu behind it, it did slow and deflect the angle of the strike; but Jyuushiro felt his blade, his will slice down through the steel of Shunsui's helmet and into Shunsui's shoulder armor, stopping there.
There was the ring of steel as the sliced-off portion of Shunsui's helmet hit the wooden floor.
They both stopped, panting. Jyuushiro pulled the blade from the armor covering Shunsui's shoulder. There was the faintest sheen of blood on the edge. Shunsui reached up to touch his ear, and he looked at his fingers. Jyuushiro saw no blood on either.
"Are you trying to kill each other?" The lazy drawl held curiosity, no menace. Both of them looked over to see Ryuu-sama, in front of nearly a dozen students, all open-mouthed. "Or just die on each others' swords?"
"Neither really, sir," Shunsui said, rolling his shoulders and wincing a little.
"Our... our zanpakutou wanted... thought... " Jyuushiro floundered in the face of that black-eyed calm. He heard a snort at the back of his head. There is nothing wrong with what you're doing, youngster.
"Well, I needed to test my technique and real strength against Jyuushiro's real strength. We weren't... weren't quite doing it with the practice equipment," Shunsui said.
"And yet you're using a bamboo shinai against steel," Ryuu-sama noted. "Fascinating."
"And armor," Jyuushiro added, ruefully poking at the slice in his torso armor. He could feel the cold sop of blood on his gi underneath, and he didn't really want to look, yet.
"Yes, when you start doing real zanjutsu, armor isn't of much use. Your resting reiatsu is your armor more than anything physical could be," Ryuu-sama said quietly. "I'm still trying to formulate a useful training regimen for full zanjutsu, beyond the techniques and practices of kendo. Straw bales, I can see, are just not going to be enough. The old-fashioned way of throwing a new fighter up against hollow incursions is too wasteful for me. I can only be there for so many students." He eyed the two young men.
Both of them looked right back at him.
He sighed and then nodded. "Well, if that's the way you're going to be about it, at least have someone from the Infirmary here in case you do slip, right? And maybe we'll add a live practice session to the classes to see if this will help anyone else develop their powers as well."
They both bowed to him. "Thank you, sir," they chorused.
Ryuu-sama shook his head. "Don't thank me. Just get stronger."
After checking in at the front desk, they'd been sent to one of the rooms together. They both sat side by side on the edge of the examination table, still sweating and panting from the last exchange. Ryuu-sama had sent them to get someone assigned to the afternoon class, and to have their wounds seen to before they went back to their classrooms.
Jyuushiro finally got tired of the small separation, and leaned quietly against Shunsui's uninjured shoulder. Shunsui's arm went around him. Jyuushiro still trembled with the aftereffects of adrenaline and the fight itself.
"Jyuushiro..." Shunsui said quietly, and then stopped.
Jyuushiro waited for a while and then asked, "What, Shunsui?"
"Why..." Shunsui closed his eyes.
"Why do you like me, still? Even after... after the girls?" Shunsui asked quietly.
"Why am I not jealous?" Jyuushiro asked. "Is that your real question?"
Shunsui rolled his eyes. "No.... yes... not... shit... I don't know. It's not like I want you to be jealous. But... I still... want you." The timbre of his voice dropped on the last two words, sending quiet shivers up Jyuushiro's spine.
"Yes. I think I want you even more, after doing what we just did," Jyuushiro admitted.
"What? Why?" Shunsui looked a little startled.
"You trusted my strength. You knew you could do what you needed to do and I'd be... if not uninjured, that I'd be all right in the end," Jyuushiro said, "I said I needed to know you. But I also guess I needed you to know me, too."
Shunsui simply sat for a while, and the two of them waited a little longer. Shunsui then stirred. "Well... if you still need to know me. Would you... for midwinter break, would you like to come to my family's house for part of it?"
Jyuushiro straightened up at the thought, then hesitated. "Uhm... which part?"
"Well, if you don't want to..."
Jyuushiro laughed and broke in, "No... no... I want to, a lot, but my birthday is over the break, and my family would be horrified if I wasn't home for my birthday."
"Your birthday?" Shunsui asked. "When is your birthday?"
"The 21st of December... right in the middle of the break. So if we went to your house first, and then went to my family's home, then they'd get to meet you, too." Jyuushiro smiled and kicked his feet a little. "I think they'll love you, and then you could be there for my birthday party, too. That's always fun."
Shunsui nodded at that. "We could do that. My family... " He shrugged. "You'll see. I don't anticipate quite as warm a welcome, but I think they'll like you. Everyone likes you."
Jyuushiro had to laugh at that.
There were steps coming to the doorway, and Jyuushiro came up off Shunsui's shoulder. Shunsui gave him a quick squeeze, and the door opened to reveal the long-haired girl with the sweet face. She was the same one that had brought the huge meal to Jyuushiro while he was still in the infirmary and hadn't believed he could eat it all.
"Ohayou gozaimasu," she said quietly, bowing.
"Ohayou," the two men chorused.
Shunsui said quietly, "I'm Kyouraku Shunsui."
Jyuushiro added as formally, remembering that he'd never exchanged names with the girl before, "Ukitake Jyuushiro, at your service."
She smiled at that. "Well, really, I'm the one that's going to be helping you, I believe." She considered both of them. "I am Unohana Retsu. Now what is this I heard about you two practicing with live zanpakutou?"
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