Arc: Twin Souls
Beta: incandescens Without her this would not be possible.
Characters: Kyouraku, Ukitake, Unohana
Rating: R for violence
Warning: Fighting and blood and the results of sword fighting against Hollows and claws.
Word Count: 4,198 words
Summary: Shunsui, Jyuushiro, and Kaoru go on border patrol with the Shihouin squads as part of their training.
Author's Notes: Had to start this one with a fight. Sorry this took nearly two months to get out, but Shunsui basically wrote half the next chapter for me, so the next update will be sooner rather than later.
Disclaimer: I do not own or make money off of Bleach. It's all fictional, really.
The previous chapter.
"I hate this," Shunsui stated.
Karou sighed. "Orders, Shunsui."
"I know what our orders are. Doesn't mean I have to like them, does it?" Shunsui said. His hands clenched in frustration, even as he saw Jyuushiro leaning downhill as well, knuckles as white as his hair on the hilt of his zanpakutou.
The three of them stood just below the snowy hilltop, so they weren't silhouetted at the top but were overlooking the battleground. The Shihouin patrol fought head-to-head with a horde of lesser Hollows, three of the giant gillian, and behind them a single powerful, squat, and still figure. Light glinted from the creature's eyes occasionally as it turned its head in their direction, so they knew that it was watching them.
"They are doing well," Kaoru said thoughtfully.
Jyuushiro gave the two of them a glance, and returned watching the fray below them. Shunsui finally stopped his pacing and watched as well.
They'd been out with the group for just two days, each playing their parts as they'd been assigned. Kaoru earned the disdain of everyone by equally disdaining them. Shunsui found he couldn't actually drink at night because no one drank when out on duty, and the folks he'd found by the campfires had been so close-knit, it'd been hard to get into a conversation with anyone. It didn't seem that Jyuushiro had had much luck either: for all his seeming lack of status with Kaoru and Shunsui, he hadn't been able to attach himself to anyone either.
In fact, when Jyuushiro had had a minor coughing fit after working for a while at splitting wood for the campfire, there had been groups of folks that had turned away muttering. Afterwards, there were people who wouldn't even look Jyuushiro in the face. Shunsui had been livid. He'd started trying to talk with anyone. And no one would.
But one kinder man had said, "Wait until after our first fight together. Then we'll see."
On the third day the scouts had come back in a flurry of flash steps. Ito Masaru had called a battle council, which had included all the Academy students and Unohana Retsu as the hired medic from the Academy. Given the orders from the Academy, they were all told to stay out of the way. The kinder man had turned out to be Ito Eiji, the second oldest of Kali's brothers. He'd shrugged when they were ordered to their out-of-the-way position, and the rest of the Shihouin patrol joined battle.
The patrol spread itself across the terrain so that no single stomp or hit by the gillian could take everyone out. Shunpo flashed everywhere; the Shihouin didn't fight standing still. When one man took out five Hollows all within twenty feet of each other, Shunsui realized the other reason for spreading out: it gave everyone involved plenty of room to do what they needed to do.
Three black-clad members of the twenty-man patrol acted as bodyguards to Ito Masaru, the father of Kali and her brothers, but they clearly took their orders to include killing off all the threats around them. They joined the rest of the brown-and-purple-clad Shihouin in killing off the Hollows with deadly-fast dispatch.
A Hollow couldn't flash step. Shunsui remembered that from the textbooks.
One by one, there was a flash, the crack of a sword hitting the mask of another Hollow, and it would puff into dust. The gillian moved in and started swinging, but the Shihouin were smart enough to stagger and randomize which Hollow they hit, not do them in a row. When a set of claws connected unluckily hard with one of the brown-clad forms, and the body arced through the air, another form appeared in mid-air, landed hard and short of the original trajectory with the first in its arms, and then flashed away before the enormous hollow could hit them.
It looked like a simple mop-up exercise as the lesser Hollows were decimated by the flickering band.
Then the squat figure disappeared.
For one moment Shunsui wondered where it had gone. In the next moment, there was a scream, and blood splattered across the forest snow as the squat figure slashed through one of the ninja bodyguard.
"Oh, shit," Shunsui breathed. He saw Jyuushiro shift his balance towards an attack. Kaoru anchored all three of them with his solid stance on the snow.
"I guess Yamamoto-sama will have to change his text books," Kaoru murmured.
"What is that thing?" Shunsui asked.
"Maybe it's one of those smaller super-powered Hollows," Jyuushiro ventured. "Daisuke-san said we should look out for them. What was the name?"
"Adjucha," Kaoru said shortly. "It is probably an adjucha, the patrols have seen them before. We are to observe its abilities."
In a parody of what the Shihouin had done to the crowd of normal Hollows, the squat thing, now reeking of a hungry rage of reiatsu, flashed right next to each of the patrolmen and took them out. Every few seconds there was another horrible sound of claws shrieking against steel and rending flesh and bone.
"Okay, we've observed. Come on," Shunsui said. "We have to help."
"How?" Kaoru asked quietly. "What can we do that they are not already doing?"
"Hit it," Shunsui said wildly.
"How?" Kaoru asked again. "They have zanpakutou, too, and they do not lack reiatsu to back up their blocks and blows."
Another patrolman went down with a snap of steel and a choked off scream. Shunsui closed his eyes. "I'm going to hurt you if you come up with another reason not to help them out. Give me one way we can actually help, not why we can't."
It was Jyuushiro who said fiercely, "Kido. None of the Shihouin use kido. But I'm not sure how to solve the distance problem; we can't do it from here. Our range isn't that good."
The Gillian took advantage of the dismay and terror that the adjucha was leaving in its wake. They started bellowing and swinging at anything they could see, landing far more blows on the distracted patrolmen now that their attention was on the terrifying adjucha.
"Then we will move in closer," Kaoru said quietly
"At last you're talking sense," Shunsui said.
Then one of the brothers-five reacted: Indra, it had to be Indra, Shunsui thought, as he saw the blaze of flames that swathed down the blade as the youngest, shortest-tempered, and fastest of the five brothers released shikai. He engaged one of the Gillian and sliced a burning gap into its bulk; for his troubles, it slapped him aside like an irritating puppy. He bounced back up and went back in screaming.
"Go for the Adjucha," Jyuushiro bit out. "The Gillian are only a menace if we're too still and too close, but halfway down this hill, we should be close enough to fire any time it stops."
"Right," the other two both said, and all three took a shunpo step halfway down the hill.
They spoke their chants in unison, and when the squat figure appeared next to a patrol member, all three of them unleashed fire kido at the shadow. It squalled and flinched when the fireballs hit, and the patrol member managed to take advantage of the distraction. She brought her sword edge right down on the white mask.
The blade stopped right on the surface of the mask, unable to cut it. From where they stood, they heard the thing cackle. It picked the patrolwoman up, and snapped her like a stick over its knee, then threw her to the side.
And Indra came down on it like a flaring comet.
The squat figure blocked Indra's strike with its claws. The beast hissed and spat. Indra's head jerked to the side. He swung his sword blindly, it dodged easily, and then it batted him away. He fell, grunting when he hit, tumbling. The snow in his path hissed into instant steam.
Two more shikai released. One tasted of fertile earth and golden rice in the sun. The other was wild and drunk, intoxicated with a burning faith that brimmed with laughter. Both bolted for the Adjucha, which flashed away, and both reiatsu sources blinked after it.
Shunsui felt something stir within him. Who the fuck is that?
The drunk bastard.
Soma, I think. Kali's third brother. Rumors are he can really hold his liquor, too.
Oh, right, that one. You need to hear my name, brother. Maybe you should follow his lead and just get drunk enough to listen for once.
Hey! I listen, you just don't say anything.
That's what you think.
Think? Shunsui snorted as he let loose another fire kido, this time at one of the unoccupied Gillian.
Jyuushiro and Kaoru followed with their shots, and all the kido splashed against the huge, dark figure, leaving scorch marks and flickering burns. It screamed, a sound so huge that, Shunsui had to put his hands against his ears.
"Well, that hurt it," Jyuushiro said in satisfaction.
The Gillian stopped screaming and looked to see where its tormentors were. Then it lowered its head and charged towards them.
"Yup. It did," Shunsui said with a laugh as he drew his swords. He heard his zanpakutou singing something fierce and guttural in the back of his soul.
"Shunsui," Kaoru said, "go for the head after Jyuushiro takes it on its left side and I go for its right."
"Right," they both said. Suddenly Shunsui was bathed in fall-cold reiatsu on one side and ocean-deep reiatsu on the other, even as he unleashed that dark humor from within himself.
Kaoru and Jyuushiro flashed away. Shunsui let himself take three breaths, and then followed. With practice, he and Jyuushiro had learned quite a lot about asynchronous hits, and how hard it was to block a blow after just having had to block another with your only weapon. The gillian got its claws up to block Jyuushiro's blow, and then swiped at him with the same clawed hand. Blood flew in the air. With the gillian's complete attention on the white-haired student, Kaoru managed to get a good, solid hit at its right side. He didn't have the power of shikai, but Shunsui saw Kaoru's shining blade disappear into the dark mass of the monster.
It bellowed in pain and slapped Kaoru aside, forcing a pained grunt from him. That was when Shunsui jumped from above. He gathered all his intent and might and swung the heavier, longer katana to strike at the apex of the giant mask. He kept his shoto back and ready to see if anything opened up after the big strike.
Killing intent blasted him just as Jyuushiro screamed, "Behind you!!"
Shunsui whirled towards his left, the smaller blade in his left hand moving out first. His intent was in the tip of the shoto. That tip slammed into something moving so fast that it tore the smaller sword right out of his grip, even as something huge and heavy hit him so hard he blacked out for an instant.
He woke to a screaming so loud it felt like he'd been stabbed in his left ear.
Claws slammed into his shoulder, piercing muscle, cracking bone. This time it was Shunsui that screamed.
He heard his name shouted and felt the energies of his friends and a third that blazed like a falling star all converge on him at once. Three, he thought muzzily. Who is helping? Then the ground hit him, a voice in the back of his head whispered You should have listened, and he passed out.
Jyuushiro wiped the blood out of his eyes, ignored the gillian, and put all his killing intent, all his power behind his strike at the adjucha's back. He knew he should hit it while its talons were still stuck in Shunsui's shoulder. What was more, Shunsui had somehow managed to skewer the creature with his shoto.
He felt the edge of Ito Masaru's intent in a front strike and Kaoru coming back in from the creature's right. If they all struck straight...
The adjucha jumped toward Kaoru, who brought his blade down to block a vicious talon swipe at his belly Both Ito-sama and Jyuushiro changed their angles of attack. Jyuushiro dropped his tip to make sure there was no chance he might accidentally block Ito-sama's strike for the mask. He felt a sudden muscular ripple in the back of his head, shining with water, and at the height of that motion, he struck where a man would have had kidneys.
The tip slid into the bone-white surface of the adjucha slowly, so slowly, as if cutting into stone. The adjucha screamed. That was when Ito-sama struck. His golden blade sliced through the adjucha's mask like a knife through an eggshell. The sharpness of the crack when the mask broke caused Jyuushiro to flinch. Dust flew around them.
That was when the gillian they'd ignored sent its claws slashing through Jyuushiro's back and right side.
The wound didn't feel like anything at first. Jyuushiro brought his sword up and struck hard at the back of the gillian's knee. He cut through the tendons, and saw its leg buckle even as he felt Kaoru harry the huge thing from the other side. He saw Kaoru sent flying for his troubles.
Jyuushiro foundered under a wave of weakness and dizziness. Something was fundamentally wrong with his body. He fought off the feeling, but Ito-sama's sudden flood of reiatsu pushed him off his feet. He went down hard on his knees, even as Ito-sama moved in and sliced deeply into the gillian's mask.
Jyuushiro fought off the dizziness, lowering his head as the dust from the huge Hollow blew by in a cloud. That was when he realized the blood flooding from his right side was pooling by his right knee. He touched his side, and felt the sickening sensation of a wide flap of his own skin moving under his touch, and something moving inside him through the opening. He gagged at the wrongness of the feeling.
There was a huge crash, and Jyuushiro looked up. One of the other gillian had fallen. Indra's wild cry of delight rang out.
"Fool," Ito-sama growled. Sure enough, the last gillian and the remaining Hollows all moved toward Indra. His father disappeared in a flash of shunpo. But it was the reiatsu that tasted of ripe grain and fallow fields that got the last gillian. Another reiatsu made a golden drunken stagger through the remaining hollows until Ito-sama's golden edge swept through them like a scythe through rice.
Jyuushiro collapsed into seiza and held his side together with his right arm. The immediate danger to Shunsui, Kaoru, and himself was gone, and the worst of the threats had been killed.
Kaoru walked up with his left arm cradled in his right. His forearm was twisted at an odd angle and his face was white, lips thin; but his zanpakutou was correctly sheathed and belted on.
That was when the edges of the world went black. Jyuushiro looked at Kaoru as if through a tunnel. When Kaoru bent to ask him something, the tunnel closed in.
Jyuushiro dreamed of being in his home ocean, when the bitter fall winds had kicked up and the water felt warmer than the air. He floated in a warm, night sea, dark and weighty, that moved his body about like a cork, uncaring of his motions. The warm water lapped at his pain, sucking it away in vast ribbons of calm.
Then he heard someone yelling, "You get them out of that beast now, missy! They fucking saved me and held that damned squatty thing so Dad could kill it. They don't deserve to get eaten for that!"
A very calm female voice, muffled by whatever was holding him, spoke in gentle reply, and while there was some sort of argument, Jyuushiro couldn't hear any details.
Jyuushiro tried to open his eyes, but it was just as dark after as before, and what he'd dreamed of as being water felt far too thick and sticky. He tentatively touched his side. It didn't hurt: best of all, nothing moved that shouldn't have moved. In the dark, he reached out only to touch warm wet walls all around him. There was a sound like a whale singing in deep water, and suddenly there was sunlight.
He tumbled out, covered in a coat of slime, under the astonished eyes of several members of the border patrol. He felt for the hilt of his zanpaktou and found it at his obi, sheathed and safe. That was when he looked up and realized there was a giant manta ray-shaped creature crouched over him. Jyuushiro crab-crawled to the side, as his grip tightened on his zanpakutou's hilt. The little beady eye on that side followed his motion. He tried to keep his voice even when he asked, "I was in that?"
Kaoru walked over to him. The nobleman's left arm was held in a sling, and he eyed Jyuushiro curiously, "Yes. How was it?"
Jyuushiro had to think about it, but then answered honestly, "Uhm... warm, surprisingly safe and warm."
Unohana Retsu glanced at Jyuushiro and smiled. She turned back and gently said to the border patrol, "See? Now will you allow me to treat your wounded as well?"
"Treat 'em? Getting swallowed by that monster treats them?" Indra sounded incredulous. The smallest of the five brothers had patches of swollen red blistered skin around badly-irritated eyes, but he seemed none the worse for that.
"How are you doing, Jyuushiro?" Kaoru asked, going to one knee by Jyuushiro. His good hand stroked back the slash in the clothing along Jyuushiro's side. Indra unceremoniously came close and dropped to his knees to see as well.
Jyuushiro sat up without the dizziness he expected. He looked down with surprise at the skin Kaoru exposed. There was a thin white scar across his skin. There was none of that horrible, sick feeling of things moving that shouldn't. Gently he poked at himself, feeling the muscles and other things yielding correctly. "Good, I think. Can you tell me how bad it was?"
Kaoru frowned, then said, "Your intestines were hanging out. Your blood had spread further than you are tall. I was not entirely sure you were going to live."
Indra blinked and without even asking, reached out and touched the long white line that ran belly to backbone around Jyuushiro's side. "Holy fuck."
Jyuushiro nodded. He looked at Indra, and asked, "Is that woman with the broken back still alive?"
Indra simply disappeared in a pop of flash step. Several of the surviving border patrol members realized what was going on as well, and flashed away to bring their still-breathing companions.
The huge manta ray gave a slow moan, and out tumbled Shunsui. Jyuushiro caught the bigger man gently. Shunsui simply lay there, eyes closed, breathing steadily. His shoulder was completely bare from where his clothing had been ripped right off him, and a silver web of faint lines shone against his dark skin.
Jyuushiro straightened Shunsui out on the ground, reaching into his sleeve for a clean cloth only to find it as damp as the rest of him. He still used it to wipe the extra drool (or whatever the liquid was) from Shunsui's face, and then sat back to wait for Shunsui's awakening. Kaoru moved to stand by Unohana, away from her zanpakutou.
The Shihouin patrol members flashed back in with limp bodies in their arms. The huge ray nosed Unohana's shoulder, groaned a sound, and she nodded. "Please open up, Minazuki. I know there are quite a few here, but we'll do what we can to save these lives."
The big ray opened its mouth and gently received the limp forms. It moaned softly, and Unohana stroked its nose with a gentle hand. Sweat was starting to bead on her forehead.
"Can we help with our reiatsu?" Jyuushiro asked.
Unohana shook her head. "Sadly, I have no idea how to use the strength of others directly. I... no, we just need to be strong enough to save them."
Jyuushiro looked at Kaoru, at his splinted, probably broken forearm and the wound along his ribs that seeped red into the bandages. "You knew that?"
Kaoru simply nodded, then shrugged. "My wounds were not life threatening."
Jyuushiro nodded and then got to his feet, making the effort because he was curious. He slowly approached the giant ray, and watched its eyes swivel to follow him. Gently he rubbed it between its eyes the way he used to pet the more reasonably sized manta rays on the beaches at home. Its skin was oddly dry, but still silky smooth like the smaller rays. Like them this enormous one rubbed up against his touch: he smiled and stroked it, and it purred. "Is this your shikai, Unohana-san?"
She nodded with a slight blush. "Yes. I discovered it on my previous patrol, when I was first hired by the Hatsuzora patrol. You don't have to call me Unohana-san, Ukitake-kun, it seems too... formal."
"Well, how about Unohana-sempai, then?" Shunsui drawled from where he lay.
"You're awake!" Jyuushiro exclaimed, feeling a weight slide off his shoulders, one he hadn't even known was there until Shunsui spoke. He saw Shunsui's fingers feel for the hilts of both of his swords, then go still again on finding them.
"Yup." Shunsui didn't move his body at all. He just watched the sky; his face was peaceful, quiet. Then his eyes flickered over to Jyuushiro. "Who saved our asses?"
Jyuushiro grinned, "Which time?"
"The time I went down. I don't know about the other one," Shunsui said. Then he added, "One or ones?"
"One, I think. Well, two if you count Unohana-sempai putting us back together." Jyuushiro bowed gently in Unohana's direction, and she blushed. "Beyond that, who saved whom is still up in the air; but when you were going down with the adjucha... tangled up with yourself... Well, if it felt like a comet out of the sky, it was Ito-sama."
"Right," Shunsui said. "That's the one I was wondering about."
Both of them paused as exactly that feeling walked up to them. Kaoru and Jyuushiro bowed the appropriate bow. Shunsui gave a little salute, and then grimaced as he tried to sit up.
"No, no, as you were. No need to get up on my account." Ito Masaru bowed stiffly back to the students. Then he turned to address Kaoru. "Kuchiki, much as I hate to admit it, you and your classmates have proven useful."
Kaoru bowed in acknowledgement. "We were foolish enough to be badly injured..."
Ito-sama's eyes narrowed. "We'll recompense you for the damage."
Kaoru shook his head. "I meant that as an apology, not a complaint. You struck all the telling blows, we simply provided distractions."
"My strikes would have failed without your distractions," Ito-sama growled quietly. "I've had enough of that Kuchiki nit-picking, brat. Take your compliment, like it or not. It's yours and earned."
Shunsui laughed at that. "With that, I think I must pay my respects, Ito-sama." He took Jyuushiro's hand. Jyuushiro felt him sway just a bit as he stood up, but his bow was steady and polite. Ito-sama laughed and returned it as well.
All of them turned to look as Unohana's beast moaned and spat out bodies that groaned, then moved, to the surprised cries of those around them. One of them was the woman they'd seen broken over the adjucha's knee: she sat up, unsteady but capable. Indra whooped.
"We owe that Academy healer for a lot beyond the price we paid." Ito-sama shook his head. "I'm still not sure 'bout my men getting swallowed by that thing, but it really seems to work."
Soma staggered up, and surprised Jyuushiro by throwing his arms over both Shunsui and Jyuushiro's shoulders. "You guys... wow. And even you, you sickly thing, you took one for the team, man! Botha you. I think we're acknowledging ya tonight. Yeah, Dad?"
Ito-sama looked pained. "Yes, Soma."
"Hey, Kuchiki!" Soma looked across at Kaoru from between the other two students. "You gonna marry Kali?"
Kaoru's eyes went very wide and then, without hesitating a beat, he said, "If she'll have me. Yes."
"Good!" Soma added cheerfully, "Now we won't have to kill you! That's even better."
Soma staggered off down the hill with four bemused looks following his back.
"That's going to cause trouble with your kin," Ito-sama remarked placidly.
Kaoru bent his head with a slight smile, and then imitated the Ito clan's drawl. "Yeah, so I reckon."
"Oh, Kazegami, if a Kuchiki starts soundin' like us, it'll be the end of the world." Ito-sama shook his head. "Come on, boys. We need to bury the dead still and take care of the wounded. You're here to experience border patrol life: the experience doesn't get much more real than that."
Bat rays feel really cool and when they're fed, they actually do come to people for petting. It's really neat: