Arc: Twin Souls
Beta: incandescens, without whom this would be impossible
Characters: Kyouraku, Ukitake
Rating: PG-13 for language
Word Count: 5,402 words
Summary: The boys go to Shunsui's home, Kyouraku Castle, for part of Winter Break, and get to meet his family.
A/N: Many thanks to aruarian_dancer and flemmings for helping the the nuances of translating Kyouraku's profile.
Yes, the castle is not Yama-period, as it would mostly just be a wooden wall for defending the ford, only used in times of war. But I had so much fun researching Japanese castles here, here, and here, that I used what little actually made any sense.
Disclaimer: I do not own or make money off of Bleach. It's all fictional, really.
< < The Previous Chapter
When Kyouraku Shunsui returned home, he found himself astonished by how much everything had changed. The river ford, the height of the hill the Kyouraku-jou was built on, the angle of the walls, the tile of the roofs, and even the distance between the walls and the edge of the forest cleared from around the embankments were all as they'd always been, but now he saw them differently.
Even with the terrible hangover from the night before, he could now see just how all those characteristics made the castle defensible. The view the building commanded from the hilltop and covered the valleys and plains all around. The cleared forest now looked like a firing range, the palisades transformed from an amusing climbing challenge to a death trap, the rings of moats changed from places to cool off and fish in the summer to become barriers that would take time to cross and expose the enemy in the process, and the twisted paths within the various walls turned from a great place to run away from irate shopkeepers into a way to trap invaders and kill them.
Shunsui groaned and held his head.
Jyuushiro tapped the bamboo drinking tube at Shunsui's side. "Drink. It'll only help."
"That's not going to help what's in my head."
Shunsui took a long pull, tasting ginger and honey, and felt the dried and twisted bits of his mouth, throat, and sinuses uncurl. His classmate had been handing him the damned tube the whole walk from the Academy, and he couldn't deny that it was helping the hangover; but it wasn't helping the fact that his head hurt in other ways.
He stole a glance at the slender, self-composed young man at his side and couldn't help but feel glad and proud that he was bringing Jyuushiro home. Shonetsu was going to try for Jyuushiro, but both of them might give Shonetsu a bit of a surprise. The thought gave Shunsui a sense of satisfaction that surprised him.
Jyuushiro's gaze turned from the rolling winter's hillsides towards Shunsui with speculation and a sort of amused curiosity. "What in the world are you thinking, Shunsui?"
Shunsui grinned. "About what a surprise you will be to my honored elder brother."
"Me?" Jyuushiro's eyebrow came down. The darkness of his eyebrow, contrasting against the white of his hair, always made Shunsui's breath catch.
Jyuushiro shrugged. "And was what Daisuke-san said last night a surprise as well?"
"Daisuke-san...." Shunsui frowned.
The night before was mostly a blur after he and Jyuushiro had gone to the Infirmary to tell Nakamura-san about her younger brother, who had died on patrol with them. That had been cause enough for Shunsui to want a drink.
The whole of the Tactics class had been invited to the Red Boar by Daisuke-san, and Yamamoto-sama had shown up just for the dinner. Yamamoto-sama then left the tab open for the whole class. Five things still stood out from a happy mist of drinking, singing with Hayato, groping the waitresses, kissing Chika-chan (whom he'd invited since Unohana-senpai had had to go on with the Shihouin patrol to their castle), and wrestling with Kenshin and Hayato over who was brave enough to swallow a live goldfish swimming drunkenly in a sake bowl.
The first was that everyone had survived their assignments, though it hadn't been from lack of trying on Kali's part. She'd sniffed out and upset a nest of Hollows. The second thing was that Kenshin and Hayato hadn't trusted Kali any further than they could throw her, so had followed. Shunsui was still bemused that Kenshin had gone up a cliff for Kali. The fitting third thing was that the three of them had tackled an Arrancar with about the same results as when he, Kaoru, and Jyuushiro had tackled theirs; they'd been cut to bloody ribbons. Kenshin still had burn marks on his throat and arms from a thing Kali labeled a "cero", so Hollows now had something like their kido skills.
Kuchiki Akemi, Kaoru's great-grandfather, had come to their rescue, as the sheer amount of reiatsu the students had thrown around had managed to alert the whole of the Kuchiki camp. That had launched a discussion about how infrequent bankai was and how impossible it was even in the noble families, much less amid common Lost Souls, which had given Shunsui his fourth memory. It was a sudden, sharp glance between Yamamoto-sama and Daisuke-san that had fired off all kinds of speculation about what his teachers were capable of doing.
The fifth was the wiggle of the goldfish in his throat as it had gone down.
That was kind of unforgettable, along with the fact that both Hayato and Kenshin had downed one as well, with looks on their faces that... well... right. Wiggle.
Shunsui gagged a little at the memory, and felt another tap on the bamboo flask. He took another drink. "Uhm... what did Daisuke-san say?"
"That it looks like war this Spring, when everyone can move around more easily; that he and the high families have finally agreed that enough is enough. These new Hollow threats cannot be ignored."
Smaller and smaller farmers' plots turned into kitchen gardens, all dormant under snow; slowly, the houses crowded closer and closer again. There was very little of the ramshackle, falling-down huts of the worst Districts; this was the Fourth District, so all was in good order, and small market squares started appearing with more businesses clustered around them.
Eventually, Jyuushiro continued their conversation. "That. Why doesn’t it surprise me that you're not surprised?"
"Mom told me to not come too soon today, as Dad was in Seireitei for the four days and wanted to be home to greet us. I suspect Yamamoto-sama had a few meetings while we were on duty, and that some of our scouting reports had to do with it."
Jyuushiro frowned. "The butterflies?"
"Yes." They'd used Hell Butterflies to send back reports during patrol.
"So everyone knows about the ceros and the flash-step abilities?" Jyuushiro looked thoughtful.
"Hopefully so. Then they can plan for..."
"Young master!!" The cry was followed by an impact of a hug that made Shunsui's head hurt even more. What was more disconcerting was finding that the beanpole-thin body that was clinging to his was now taller than he was.
"Hotaka-chan, by all that's holy, you've grown into your name," Shunsui laughed, and then groaned as the laugh felt like it jarred his brains from his head again.
"Oh, man, you're not still hung over, are you?" the tall, thin boy with hair the color of ripe rice crowed. "Tole Shonetsu-san that you'd stay yourself, and even that old man's Academy couldn't wring you out. He owes me." A cool, long glance at Jyuushiro and the mended Academy uniform, and the boy cocked his head. "Bringing a poor student home as charity?"
"Shit, do I have to wipe the walls with you to get you to shut up and be polite, Hotaka?"
"No no... I'd love to know," Jyuushiro said with a pleasant smile. "Is Kyouraku-san in the habit of bringing home poor students?"
Hotaka had the grace to blush. "Nah, not the young Master. It’s Shonetsu-san that brings pretty, poor boys home, and they earn their keep. "
Shunsui whacked Hotaka on the back of the head, making the young man yelp, and then ducked the return blow.
"Heh, still got those reflexes. Good. I'll run tell the dojo and housekeeping that you're back, with a guest." The long-legged boy galloped off.
Shunsui watched Jyuushiro's eyes, tracking the motion. "It's going to be all across the castle before we get there. Before we actually walk into the walls, I should warn you."
"Yes, please do." Jyuushiro's tone made Shunsui want to hold his head in his hands again, until Jyuushiro laughed quietly and touched him lightly on his shoulder. "I'd like to know the lay of the land before we... engage."
Shunsui chuckled at Jyuushiro's choice of words. "There's a rock in the river just before the main gate. I'd like... it'd help me to be able to sit there while we talk. The water will mask our talk, and it's a view I've been missing since I went to school."
Jyuushiro nodded, and they walked together.
The houses opened up to the river, and the sight of the dark slow water eased Shunsui's heart. The big rock on this side of the river was still there, and he climbed up onto the black surface. It was veined through with white and gray, and as he'd hoped, the solid bulk of it was warm from sitting in the sun, even while there was still a skim of snow on the ground all around them. Jyuushiro made a pleased sound as he sat down at the top.
"The river is beautiful."
"You can see the path it took from the Koifushi range in the Third District. I always thought it was some dragon lying in the sun, loops coiled among the rolling hills."
They sat there soaking up the sun. Then Shunsui sighed and began.
"So, yeah. I'm the second son. Shonetsu is the first son. He is already the master of the dojo, and he will get the grounds, the castle, the gallery, and will be the head of the family household when it is time. He takes it very seriously, and has had an arranged marriage with the third Hatsuzora daughter since he was two. He doesn't sleep around with girls, as it would jeopardize the marriage; but with boys there's no problem of pregnancies and illegitimate children."
"I am no boy, Shunsui."
Shunsui couldn't help the lightening of his tone when he said, "I am the same age as many of his boys, Jyuushiro. He's not a monster about this at all, they only stay if they really want to, and he's very practical about the arrangements for them and their families. He's always taken care of all his responsibilities and duties and excelled in everything my parents wished he would."
"And for all his discretion you’re still disgusted."
Shunsui shook his head. “How do you hear that, Jyuushiro?”
Jyuushiro shrugged. “I know your reiatsu, now. It’s surprisingly easy with you, especially when your tone goes…” Jyuushiro lifted his hand. “You sound like you’re trying to make a joke out of something spearing through your gut. Is he why you… you went off to just drink and never try?"
"No." Shunsui took a slow breath and lay back on the rock. "Hell if I know why. I was... I was just the spoiled brat of the family."
Shunsui saw Jyuushiro wince.
"Oh, it wasn't that bad. They just let me do what I wanted to do, and it had nothing to do with fighting, with martial arts, with any of the arts for that matter, as they were all things that warriors do that... Shonetsu did. It was all going to be a dead end, and no fun to boot anyway." Then he added bitterly, "It’s not like I wanted to kill people."
"And you don't; you cleanse Hollows."
Shunsui tried to say same difference, but in the back of his head someone or something showed him the memory of the relief, the joy in the woman's spirit after he'd cleansed her, and his throat closed.
Quietly, so quietly, he said, "Yes. I cleanse Hollows."
Jyuushiro sighed. "They're going to expect you to be what you were."
"And I'll probably be exactly the ass I was before I met you," Shunsui said grimly.
"You don't have to be. Especially around me, you don't have to be."
"It's not that easy."
"No, it isn't. I don't expect it will be for me, either."
That unexpected answer lightened Shunsui's mood. It wasn't an empty promise that everything would be all right. "That's so you, Jyuushiro."
"Thank you. Just... remember. You do have me at your back, now."
"Hmmm... I'll try."
For a moment they just sat there in the sunshine, listening to the water sliding by their rock perch, and then Shunsui sighed. “Into the den.”
Jyuushiro looked pleased. “I’ve always wanted to meet dragons.”
Shunsui’s laughter nearly took him into the water; Jyuushiro’s cool slender hand caught his, and he held on as Jyuushiro brought him back up onto the rock.
For all his brave words to Shunsui, Jyuushiro felt intimidated. The wooden walls, gates, huge palisades, and cramped quarters within the Castle did the work they were supposed to do. He saw all the slits for crossbows, arrows, and hot sand. The gates were painted dark as night, and opened soundlessly to a huge gathering of servants that all greeted Shunsui with the proper respect of retainers for the lord’s son.
Well, most of them did. Some of the man servants pummeled Shunsui, and they laughed together, and the maids and laundresses and some of the cook’s assistants had given Shunsui some very familiar looks indeed. When Jyuushiro had discreetly moved away from Shunsui and his reunion with those that knew him, the bigger man immediately looked for him; and the look in those dark eyes had brought him right back next to Shunsui’s side.
He was glad of that cover when Shunsui’s parents entered the hall, and everyone except Shunsui went down on their knees. When Jyuushiro made a motion to go down as well, Shunsui’s big hand wrapped around his upper arm and kept him standing.
The Kyouraku Lord and Lady were everything Jyuushiro would have expected them to be, and then some. The Lord was the same height that Shunsui was, and the Lady nearly as tall. Dark of eye and hair as their son, they had come from their morning audience, so were dressed in gorgeous, long formal robes. The Lady carried a fan as well. Their reiatsu was powerful, solid, hinting of deep roots and the depths of moonlit nights. Their regal bearing and shining silk made Jyuushiro feel very mean and road-stained.
Lady Kyouraku surprised Jyuushiro by laughing, and then moving to Shunsui with surprising speed, given the tightness of her kimono. She threw her arms around him. Shunsui caught her and hugged her back happily.
"Mom," he said quietly.
"My spring waters," she said happily and kissed Shunsui on the cheek. "Welcome back home."
"Indeed, I never would have thought it, but you've actually distinguished yourself, Shunsui," said Lord Kyouraku as he came over. He looked over Jyuushiro. "You must be Ukitake. Shunsui has said only a very little about you, but your reports have spoken volumes as to your judgment and eye for capabilities."
Jyuushiro bowed low. "Thank you, but your son had his part in those reports as well. I am named Ukitake Jyuushiro. Honoured to meet you."
"Kyouraku Yori," offered Shunsui's father.
"I am named Kyouraku Miyako," said his mother.
With a lift of an eyebrow, Yori-sama asked, "Shunsui actually wrote part of the report?"
Jyuushiro shrugged. "They were my butterflies, but Shunsui and Kaoru helped me with what to report back."
Both of Shunsui's parents looked at Shunsui, and he straightened under their combined interest. "But I was the first to get taken out in the actual fight."
"You were also the first into that hellish fight, because you had to help them out," Jyuushiro said acerbically.
The sound of indrawn breathes all around the room was the first thing to remind Jyuushiro that he was speaking in front of a room filled with retainers. The second was Shunsui covering his face with his palm under the very, very interested gaze of his parents.
"Serving the good of the people before you?" Miyako-dono's voice was gentle and amused, and Jyuushiro saw the hot blush flood into Shunsui's cheeks.
"I guess so, mother."
She gave him another hug. "I'm proud of you."
"I don't know why... I nearly died."
"Still slacking, hm, Shunsui-chan?"
The man that strode into the room seemed to fill it with his presence, as well as the heat and strength of his reiatsu and the intensity of his regard. Powerfully built, he was shorter than Shunsui, but wore the simple garb of traditional black kimono and hakama. There was nothing to detract from his solidity and forceful motions. Dark hair in a traditional queue, dark-eyed, clean-shaven and upright, the man who was obviously Shunsui's brother eyed Jyuushiro.
"Indeed, honored brother." Shunsui's smooth tone locked into place with an almost audible click.
"Typical of you, running into a fight you weren't equipped to handle. Haven't they been teaching you anything there?" Shonetsu prowled closer to Jyuushiro, even as he spoke to Shunsui.
"A few things," Shunsui said, slouching even more, "... but lately I've been learning a bit with a few friends I've been sparring against. I'd love to show you sometime."
Jyuushiro met Shonetsu's eyes and offered, "I am called Ukitake Jyuushiro. And you...?"
The polite inquiry, put so formally, should have put some distance between them: nothing quite so formal as to give offense, but also nothing friendly to grasp as well.
Shonetsu brought up short with the faintest exhalation. "I am Kyouraku Shonetsu."
They both bowed to each other, and the look in Shonetsu's eye was speculative as he continued, "I shall look forward to meeting you in the dojo if you are one of Shunsui's sparring partners."
"Likewise, I'm sure," Jyuushiro said quietly, and didn't react at all to Shunsui's sudden grin behind his brother's back. The "if" hadn't escaped Jyuushiro's attention, and the implied meanings should have amused him, but instead he felt a hot resentment that surprised him with its intensity.
It must have showed in his reiatsu, as there were a few gasps from the retainers, Shunsui's eyes went wide, and Shonetsu's head went up as if slapped.
"Excuse my... inexperience," Jyuushiro said quietly and earned a surprising snort from, of all people, Miyako-dono.
Miyako-dono rapped Shonetsu on the back of the head with her fan. "You deserved that, with the strength of his reiatsu. Idiot. All right, off everybody, you have work to do. You'd think your only duties were to gawk at the young master and his friend. Get going."
They got. Laughing and chattering, the crowd flowed out of the room.
Miyako-dono then looked at Shunsui and Jyuushiro. "I need to get out of these robes and into the kitchen for tonight's dinner. I expect you two there. Take your friend on a tour of the place so that he doesn’t get lost later, and don't get too badly hurt the first day in the dojo. Please?"
"I'm not about to work up that big a sweat," Shunsui said laughingly.
Jyuushiro watched in fascination, as both Yori-dono and Shonetsu shook their heads at exactly the same instant with exactly the same expression of disapproval.
"Well, if you do, there's a change of clothing for both of you for dinner. I'll expect you to use it."
"Yes, ma'am," Jyuushiro said.
The crack of Miyako-dono's fan startled Jyuushiro more than it stung him. It was far heavier than he'd expected, given how gracefully she wielded it, and was that an edge? "'Ma'am.' Next thing you'll call me is 'old grandmother'. Try Miyako."
"Uhm... yes, Miyako-dono."
"That's better, but... why does no one listen to me?" she asked exasperated, and sailed off in the wake of the bemused expressions on all four men's faces.
"That was a battle fan," Jyuushiro said in awe.
"Sort of," Shunsui said, amusement deepening his voice. "That was Mom's zanpakutou."
It had taken Jyuushiro a very long time to persuade Shunsui that yes, indeed, they should go practice in the dojo. There were only a few months before the spring campaign, and both of them would lose far too much ground if they skipped too many days.
Still, when Shunsui saw the crowd packing the dojo, he turned around. Jyuushiro's hand on his shoulder made him stop.
"I'm not... not some show animal to be paraded before everyone."
"I seriously doubt they're thinking of it that way."
"You don't understand what it's like to have magically great martial arts things expected of you your whole life."
"No, you're right. I don't." The humor in Jyuushiro's voice made Shunsui look at him. "They mostly expected me to just die."
Shunsui sighed. "You want to practice in the middle of all that?"
"You want to practice where your brother might be able to see us?"
Shunsui groaned. "When you put it that way, maybe we should just find a cave or a mountain top or something. Shit, Jyuushiro. That's..."
"Running away?" The smooth voice cut through the babble, silencing it immediately.
"Yes," Shunsui said decisively, without even looking up.
"What and leave us unenlightened as to what Yamamoto-shishou is now teaching his student with respect to sword play?"
"Yes. It's not... we're not enlightening, honored brother."
"What? And I heard that you had a few zanjutsu tricks that were giving Ryuu-sama headaches."
Shunsui groaned. "That's not..."
"They're not exactly tricks," Jyuushiro said thoughtfully.
That made Shunsui look up, and he saw Shonetsu standing far too close to Jyuushiro. Half a dozen of the eldest students were clustered about, watching the whole conversation with interest.
"No, they're not tricks," Shunsui said, feeling oddly defeated. "They were just what we had to do to figure something out."
"Figure what out?"
"Two-sword techniques," Jyuushiro said and drew a frown from Shonetsu.
"How do you compensate for the lack of strength in a single arm compared to both arms?"
"Compensate?" Shunsui asked a little confused. "I just duck faster..."
There were chuckles of amusement from some of the students. Shonetsu took the opportunity, as ever, to make it into a lecture. "A sword in one hand always moves more slowly than a sword wielded with both hands, because one arm is always weaker than two. You will always be at some disadvantage on every hit or block."
"If it's a straight-on block," Jyuushiro said quietly, "and if one's strength is the same as one's opponent's."
"Ah, right, that's where the ducking comes in then."
Both Jyuushiro and Shunsui nodded.
"Show us?" Shonetsu asked and made it sound like a challenge.
Shunsui felt Jyuushiro watching him, and he knew that his friend would actually back him up on any decision he made, even if it was to just skip practice today when they really couldn't afford to do so...
"All right," Shunsui said and felt Jyuushiro relax.
"Will wonders never cease?" mocked Shonetsu, but he gave way to let them enter the dojo first.
They bowed at the door of the dojo and then moved in. Shonetsu and the other students followed, doing the same. There were other workouts going on: several other classes, some taught by senior students, while other students were just sparring or stretching.
Jyuushiro and Shunsui had brought along their full armor and shinai, as well as bokken for kata. When they were just practicing reflex work, the armor kept the accidental damage to a minimum. So they strapped everything on, and walked onto the floor to face each other.
"Wait a minute." Shonetsu's voice was smooth. "I'd like to face you myself, Shunsui. I want to see how you've developed while you were away."
Shunsui sighed and played for a moment with the idea of just saying no, but he saw Jyuushiro watching him quietly.
"Do you really want to play at zanjutsu, or just kendo?"
"Let's start with plain kendo."
Shunsui nodded, relieved: if it was just the plain question of technique against technique, and not power on power, he could deal with his brother.
They saluted, bowed to each other, and drew their shinai.
Jyuushiro smoothly sat seiza at the side; both their sheathed zanpakutou and his shinai to one side, his helmet and gloves to the other. He'd taken to using two long shinai when working with Shunsui to master the non-synchronous hits that could not be blocked by a single blade. He still used his single blade against most other opponents, but for safety's sake, he was learning how to block Shunsui with both.
Other students settled by Jyuushiro, all giving the fighters plenty of room to move.
There was a moment's pause as everyone settled. Then Shonetsu ran in, with an overhand blow straight for Shunsui's head. Shunsui dodged to his right, but Shonetsu's shinai followed. The change in direction made the strike slant, so Shunsui reinforced that slant with his shorter shoto, using Shonetsu's own shoulders as the fulcrum for turning his brother's body. He caught the tip of Shonetsu's blade immediately above the hilt of the shoto, the weak part of Shonetsu's blade to his strong, and brought up his long daito, threaded edge up, to whack the throat plate of Shonetsu's armor.
Shonetsu disengaged, moved back, and murmured, "Ducking, hm? Let's try that again."
They circled again.
This time Shonetsu kept his distance, letting the play develop, and giving himself the room to react to Shunsui's first movements. This was harder. But Shunsui let himself relax, flow with what he saw instead of what he thought, and let both hands go in to play.
Shonetsu started with two quick cuts right and then left at his full distance, where the tip would just reach Shunsui, but Shunsui jumped back. He followed Shonetsu's retreat after that attempt and thrust straight forward with his daito. Shonetsu intercepted neatly, pushing it out of the way and then coming back in a fast sweeping backhand strike. Shunsui had no choice but to try and block the edge with the shoto in his right hand. He changed the angle so that the blow hit the hand guard hard, rather than the blade; and, as he had hoped, the force of Shonetsu's attack knocked him back several yards.
Shonetsu wasn't holding back.
Good. Even without flaring his reiatsu, Shunsui heard that voice in the back of his head and the clear approval of what he was doing.
The exchanges got faster and harder, and neither of them stopped even at what would have been scoring blows. Shunsui figured out that his brother couldn't reach quite as far as he could, so he danced on the edge of Shonetsu's range, turning blows with one shinai while hitting him with the other. Then, somehow, Shonetsu got even faster. He saw Jyuushiro's head go up, as Shonetsu's sun-hot reiatsu started flooding the area.
Shunsui growled, "No reiatsu play, you said."
"Well, to start, I said. You have some: Ryuu-sama told Dad about those reiatsu tricks that you can do even with shinai. Use them on me."
"I want to see everything you can do, Shunsui."
"And if I don't want to show you?"
Shonetsu laughed, flared completely, and charged Shunsui.
The power within Shunsui growled, and he flared as well; his reiatsu ran down the edges of his shinai, just like when he'd done the live blade practices with Jyuushiro. Well, if the fool wanted to see everything....
Instead of paying any attention at all to Shonetsu's attack, Shunsui struck with his long daito first, using all the additional reach he had, in an attempt to land the tip of that blade on his brother's chest before his brother could even touch him
Shonetsu aborted his attack to block Shunsui's weapon with his own. In reaction, Shunsui moved in more closely and used his shoto to slice right through Shonetsu's side armor. A line of red sprang vivid on the lacquered surface, and there was a moan of disbelief from the students.
Shonetsu whirled and tried to gut Shunsui, but Shunsui blocked it easily with his shoto. The shoto was better suited to in-fighting than the long blade of the daito. Shunsui didn't bother bringing his longer blade back in, and sure enough, Shonetsu was the one that disengaged, jumping back.
He'd backed into the stand that held his zanpakutou... and that was when Shonetsu surprised the hell out of Shunsui by grabbing his zanpakutou and saying, "Suntiger, flare!"
The dojo rumbled with the hot power of Shonetsu's release, the heat of it flickered all over Shunsui's skin; and even as he took two steps back he saw half the watching students keel right over.
Jyuushiro's sea reiatsu flooded forth, as he stood up with his zanpakutou bared.
Shunsui growled, "No. This is stupid. It was supposed to just be..."
In the middle of his sentence, killing intent chilled him to the bone; and Shonetsu charged him faster than he could actually see. Trained reflexes fired, and there was a wordless shout of power in the back of his head. He blinked and found three blades crossing the flame of his brother's released zanpakutou; crossing and stopping the power that streamed forth from it.
Shonetsu snarled and pushed, but together Jyuushiro and Shunsui held even in the surge.
Then just as abruptly as his zanpakutou had flared, it snuffed out. Two hot fast breaths later, Shonetsu stepped back and bowed a short, abrupt bow.
"Well done, brother."
Shunsui stared at him, bewildered at the praise, and then awkwardly straightened before throwing both of his shinai at the far wall. They hit with a satisfying crack. "You asshole! What the fuck were you trying to pull! That was the stupidest shit I've ever..."
Shonetsu punched Shunsui in the shoulder. "What... you can't take a joke?"
"A joke is 'a horse walked into a bar'; it's not trying to kill me!"
Shonetsu shrugged. "You've improved."
"You were still trying to kill me!"
"Couldn't do it. You're better than you were, and you brought everything you had to bear on the problem, including your friend here. That's not something you used to do, and I thought I'd really see how much you could do."
Shunsui brought his fist back, and then felt Jyuushiro's cool touch on his elbow. He growled but relaxed his stance.
"Fucking warn me next time..."
"Your enemies won't warn you, either, Shunsui."
"Are you saying you’re my enemy?"
Shonetsu looked taken aback. "No."
"Then why the fuck did you do that?"
"To know where you are, what you're doing, what you've done these last few months. You're much better than when you left. The whole concept of using two blades is good, given that you've really improved your reiatsu. One of your swords in your left hand should be a match for most people once you've attained shikai."
"And with bankai he'd be more than a match for nearly everyone," Jyuushiro said quietly.
Shonetsu's eyes narrowed. "If your Academy can actually figure out how to teach people to attain bankai, then it really will be worth it."
Shunsui groaned, and used his empty hands to grab Shonetsu's shoulders and shake him. "You still haven't answered my question! You can't tell me you were trying to kill me just to see how strong I was, can you?"
"What else are brothers for?" Shonetsu laughed.
Shonetsu patted Shunsui on the back, and gave Jyuushiro a far more polite bow than at their first meeting. "See you two at dinner. Enjoy the dojo."
Together Jyuushiro and Shunsui watched Shonetsu help some of the recovering students back up from where they'd fallen, and then gather them up for a class.
"Do you see why I hate him?"
Jyuushiro nodded, and said thoughtfully, "I think I see."
Shunsui went and picked up his shinai, and came back avoiding the looks from the students around him. "Do you still want to practice here?"
"Sure, why not?"
"After that fiasco?"
"What fiasco?" Jyuushiro gave Shunsui a grin.
"Well, look at them."
Shunsui had kept his focus entirely on Jyuushiro up to this point. He finally looked around, and saw that some of the stronger students were now watching them curiously. When Shonetsu got more involved with the class he was teaching, several of the students started drifting up to them, and one shyly asked to see the bloodied string that marked the 'edge' of Shunsui's shoto. Soon they had a small crowd of admirers around them.
Jyuushiro quirked a grin at Shunsui. "Shunsui, remember when you said that I'd be a surprise for your brother?"
"Well, maybe we both turned out to be something of a surprise."
Shunsui laughed and shook his head. "Maybe you're right, Jyuushiro, maybe you're right."
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