Arc: Twin Souls
Beta: incandescens, without whom this would be impossible
Characters: Kyouraku, Ukitake
Rating: PG-13 for language
Word Count: 5235 words
Summary: The boys go to Shunsui's home, Kyouraku Castle, for part of Winter Break, and get to meet his family.
Disclaimer: I do not own nor make money off of Bleach.
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Before dinner, the two of them washed up and changed into the clothing laid out for them, and then Shunsui fulfilled the other part of his mother's requirements and took Jyuushiro around the castle. The layout was a little confusing, as there were actually five floors within the externally visible three, their bedroom being on the warmest top floor. There were various bedrooms, guest rooms, the house shrine, the bath house, the bustling kitchen, various gardens about the building, and finally a library and gallery that was the pride and joy of the Kyouraku clan.
Shunsui had forgotten just how much he'd always loved his father's gallery. The paintings with poetry hung with care. Scrolls and bamboo tube carvings carefully stacked on shelves. He'd forgotten about all the paintings his father had chosen from generations' worth of artists as well as work from Yori himself, Miyako, and Shonetsu and his artistic friends. Much of the artwork and calligraphy were examples of bunbu ryodo, how the mind and brush worked in tandem with the sword. The same confidence one took into sword work was necessary for the exacting medium of ink painting.
He remembered many of the paintings: the koi, birds and flowers, the mountains with waterfalls or lost in mist, the trees, the cranes, and several groves of bamboo, some under moonlight. But he was surprised at the painting that caught Jyuushiro's attention.
Shunsui went up to stand behind Jyuushiro as he studied the single fisherman sitting in a small sampan in the middle of a vast lake, with only hints of a far shore, and the snaking curves of the near shore with a scraggly, beaten-down pine tree in the corner.
"They... they put it up..." Shunsui said, half in horror and half in disbelief.
"Why not? It's lovely," Jyuushiro answered, studying the tiny boat. "It seems so lonely."
"Because it's something I painted, just before I left." Shunsui traced one of the broken lines for one of the pine branches with a fingertip. "I never thought... I was always so far behind Shonetsu..."
"Obviously someone liked it enough to put it up, now."
"Not just someone. My father," Shunsui breathed. This act wasn't something he could argue with or disregard. His father actually liked something he'd done, well enough to display it.
"Why did you pick this to paint?" Jyuushiro asked.
"I always thought how peaceful it would be to be on that little boat with nothing to do but wait for a fish to bite."
"What are you thinking?"
"The spaces, the rooms in this castle are immense, and so... empty, compared to my home. I wonder if you'll feel claustrophobic when we get to my home."
Shunsui chuckled. "Follow me."
Jyuushiro frowned but followed, as Shunsui swept around a bookshelf corner, and startled two maids who giggled behind their sleeves and cleaning cloths. He made shooing motions as if chasing off chickens. "Go on."
"Oh, young master, do we really have to go?" complained Yua-chan.
"We're supposed to be dusting this place," said Aina-chan, with a look at Jyuushiro that made him blush. "Awww... and he's blushing! So cute! Can't we..." And Aina-chan moved in close to Shunsui, sliding up against him with a motion that made Shunsui's mouth go dry. She'd always been willing when he'd been home, and he'd always enjoyed her attentions; but under Jyuushiro's steady gaze he sighed even as he hugged her.
"Ah, sweet Aina-chan. I do love the things you do, but I'm supposed to show Jyuushiro around."
"When have you started doing what you were supposed to do, Shunsui-pon?" Aina-chan's smile was a little wicked.
Shunsui was tempted to say that he had no idea why he was being stupid now, but then Jyuushiro chuckled, and said quietly, "I think ever since he found me crumpled with a broken leg, two kids, and two Hollows trying to eat us all."
"A broken leg! You poor thing!" The maids crowded around Jyuushiro, and Shunsui was left feeling very strange about the whole thing, not quite sure if he was glad or unhappy at the sudden turn of attentions. The girls giggled and hugged both Jyuushiro and him, then turned and left.
"Hm. I think I now see why you liked that little boat," Jyuushiro said slowly.
Shunsui just shook his head. "It's like that all the time, too. Attention all the time, and I'm never quite sure how much of it's actually for me, and how much of it is just because I'm the young master, the one this all falls on if something happens to Shonetsu."
Jyuushiro pursed his lips. "Damn, that sounds lonely, too."
Shunsui laughed and shook his head. "It's not that bad."
"You keep saying that."
"And I mean it, too. Compared to going hungry all the time, compared to all those lives that are lived in fear or in the squalor of Rukongai, compared to being a Hollow or on patrol all the time, with my life on the line... it was easy."
"Easy doesn't always equate with good, Shunsui." Jyuushiro's reiatsu was wrapped in an odd ache that Shunsui couldn't figure out. It wasn't the acid of pity, but it was sad, tinged with humor and with an odd kind of pride. "How do you really feel about having been on patrol, about what we did?"
The flood of satisfaction at having stepped in, of having done what Kaoru said they couldn't, of having made a difference in that desperate fight was unexpected. He saw Jyuushiro's lips quirk up in a grin.
"Remember that, Shunsui."
Shunsui nodded, and hoped he would.
Dinner started out quietly enough. Remarks about the weather, how the travel conditions had been on the road, the state of the road, the upkeep of the farms along the way, and the state of Seireitei were easy, quiet conversation. Since Yori-dono had been to Seireitei just in the past days, he did most of the answering. The dinner was delicious, with dozens of dishes in several courses. Jyuushiro was bemused as Miyako-dono began to put delicacies on both his and Shunsui's plates.
The whole family got into a political discussion over the latter parts of the meal. Jyuushiro simply kept his head down and listened as they talked over the states of all the major families.
"What are the stances of the clans in Seireitei now, Yori, dear?" Miyako-dono asked.
Yori-dono took a moment to think and then answered, "Shihouin is the only clan that has thrown itself solidly behind Yamamoto-sama, his school, and his way of approaching the growing Hollow problems. The Kuchiki clan has voiced serious doubts about Yamamoto's use of the various Rukongai District's common souls, but hasn't quite withdrawn its support."
"I'd heard their heir has something to do with their buying in," Shonetsu said, nose wrinkling. He turned towards Shunsui. "He's at your school, isn't he?"
"Yes. He's one of our classmates," Shunsui answered easily.
"Given what Shunsui seems to have picked up, I can see why he might feel that way," Shonetsu said, and Jyuushiro saw Miyako-dono's eyebrows go up. "What about the Hatsuzora? They were pretty vocal about it all being a stupid idea."
Yori-dono chuckled. "Yes. Indeed. They made it very clear. Their representative only showed up long enough to scold us all for even accepting Yamamoto-sama's invitation as it was an obvious ploy to strip us all of our powers, and then left in a huff."
"The Ryuu and Shiba are straddling the fence," he went on, "accepting the training, but still resistant to the idea of pooling their forces for an overall strike in the spring."
"We're not throwing in with them, are we?" Shonetsu asked. "How would it benefit us to go fight everyone else's Hollows?"
Jyuushiro couldn't help it: he sighed at that, and immediately got Shonetsu's attention turned on him.
Shunsui came to his rescue. "Well, think about what you just said."
It was Miyako-dono that said, "If everyone else's Hollows were gone, they'd be free to fight ours as well; and then they would all be gone, or, perhaps, elsewhere."
Shonetsu digested that. "It's hard to stomach the thought that my people might die for others' lands, when there's no guarantee that they would do the same for us."
Yori-dono sighed. "That is the rub. How will we know that they will follow through even for us and the smaller clansmen for whom we are responsible?"
"Perhaps because everyone's children will be involved," Jyuushiro interjected.
"So we're fighting for everyone's futures?" Miyako-dono asked.
"Idealistic." Yori-dono didn't sound displeased by that, and Jyuushiro relaxed.
"We're still giving up autonomy in order to do this," Shonetsu said mulishly. "Maybe the Hatsuzora are right, and all Yamamoto really wants in the end is all the military and ruling power in his own hands? We shouldn't turn everyone over to him: he might use the military to take over all the lands."
"So you think I would actually lead our forces against our homes?" Yori-dono shook his head. "I don't think any of these forces would lose sight of the fact that we're only together to cleanse Hollows."
"By taking forces from all the clans, it would be hard for him to use them to seize power" Miyako-dono agreed. "I hadn't thought it all the way through that way."
Jyuushiro saw Shunsui suddenly frown; but as Shonetsu simply nodded at what his mother said, he let the conversation drop as well.
Later, the two of them took a jug of heated sake out to the garden, to watch the moon on the snow and watch the water drip off the icicles in the stream over the pond. They brought quilts, lit the stone lamp by the bridge, and built a nest out of the quilts on the stone bench that was placed in the perfect viewing spot under gnarled pines. They leaned against each other, wrapping the quilts about both of them, sharing their warmth, and Shunsui poured.
Jyuushiro cupped his sake bowl in his hands, and a slow sip burned its way down his throat.
"Mmmm..." sighed Shunsui. "Uncle Isamu sure knows his stuff."
For a long moment they simply watched the light on the roofs, the glint off the snow, the sound of the water running, and sipped their sake together. Then it started to snow. Small drifting flakes gleamed white against the darkness, lit by the lamplight.
"They're like lazy stars, dancing down to earth rather than falling with a tail of fire," Shunsui murmured in wonder.
Jyuushiro simply leaned in closer and pulled Shunsui's arm about him. Shunsui sighed into his hair, and then settled against him.
"What were you frowning about at dinner?" Jyuushiro asked.
"The smelt. It was just terribly greasy," Shunsui said seriously, and took another sip before pouring more into both their cups.
Jyuushiro shook his head. "No, I meant after your father said he would never lead his forces against his people. You frowned after that, and it made me think."
"No, really. I mean, the logical next step..."
Shunsui hugged Jyuushiro tight, interrupting him, and then abruptly moved away from him; that was when Jyuushiro felt the sun-warmth of Shonetsu's reiatsu approaching them. The sturdy figure loomed out of the falling snow. He was wearing a hat along with several layers of quilted kimono, and he didn't pause when he saw them, probably having sensed them as soon as they'd sensed him.
"Good evening, onii-sama," Shunsui said quietly.
"Oh, drop the damned -sama, Shunsui," Shonetsu said irritably. "You're being formal enough that I wonder what you're hiding all the time. You too, Ukitake."
Jyuushiro didn't know how to respond to that, so he nodded.
Shonetsu dropped onto the bench and looked around. "It is beautiful here. I so rarely stop any more to see..." He sighed, and then looked at Jyuushiro. "You are beautiful, and I was stupid enough to think that that meant you weren't smart. I heard what you said..."
Jyuushiro's mind homed in on the question, not the remark about his looks. "So you think..."
Shunsui interrupted Jyuushiro with a groan. "We don't know anything."
"But it's too good a setup." Shonetsu leaned back and studied the sky. "If one of the other clan leaders gets rid of Yamamoto-sama, steps into his place, they'd get all the troops. If there are no Hatsuzora amid the troops, who's gonna stop that army from taking over Hatsuzora lands?"
"Just anyone with a decent bone in their body," Jyuushiro said quietly. "Don't underestimate that."
"Unless Hatsuzora starts it," Shunsui said, and then groaned. "Crap."
Shonetsu laughed and touched his nose. "You have definitely gotten better, brother. That next step is a big one. Keep taking them, and we may actually be ready when it happens."
Jyuushiro sighed, and took a bigger gulp of the sake than he was quite ready for. It burned its way down his throat, and he coughed. Shunsui put a hand, hidden by the quilts, against Jyuushiro's back, and Jyuushiro relaxed against the touch, as Shonetsu looked at them. Shunsui's hand did not withdraw; instead, the bigger man drew closer to Jyuushiro. Jyuushiro closed his eyes: feeling like he was jumping into a deep pool, he leaned quietly against Shunsui.
Shonetsu sighed. "I always thought you were the lucky one, brother. Now I know."
Shunsui snorted. "You have everything, Shonetsu."
"And have to take care of it all." Shonetsu leaned forward a little, hands clasped together under his chin. "Do you know how many livestock disputes there are? The amount of water we have to store and restore each month so that we can withstand a siege? The taxes that have to be collected from shopkeepers more worried about their bottom line than the safety of the streets that go in front of their shops?"
"I have some idea. It's why I ran away as fast as I could."
"And left all the work to me." Shonetsu sighed again. "You have another cup there?"
"Here..." Shunsui said quietly, "we can share." He filled the delicate cup and placed it in his brother's big hand.
Shonetsu drank it all down, and held it out for Shunsui to refill it, and then took another long, slow sip before handing it back to Shunsui, who took another drink himself.
"Is this... will this be your way of sharing, Shunsui?"
Shonetsu growled quietly. "You know what I mean."
Shunsui sighed and refilled the cup, handing it back again. "Probably. I'll fight against the Hollows to protect us and everyone else."
"Will you watch out for our interests?"
"When they coincide with the interests of all of Soul Society, yes."
"And when they don't?"
Jyuushiro closed his eyes and felt Shunsui's arm tighten around him.
"Then Soul Society's needs will win," Shunsui said slowly.
Shonetsu's big hands tightened around the cup until the knuckles showed white: remarkably, the cup held. Shonetsu sighed and took another sip. "Well, it's better than having you run away from everything, and having you be the one to take the big view..." He chuckled. "Mom's pretty pleased, you know?"
"She would be." Shunsui sounded sulky to Jyuushiro's ears.
Shonetsu chuckled, and his grip eased as he drank. "Why in the world do you want to disappoint us?"
"It's not that..." Shunsui sighed. "I'm not sure now, what it is. But the weight of all your expectations..."
"Brother, you've taught us all the folly of expecting anything from you." Shonetsu's tone was very dry indeed.
Jyuushiro sniffed. "Maybe your requests have just been too small. Have you asked him to save your life, kill a Hollow you've never seen before, or..."
"... go skinny-dipping on a lake frequented by artful ladies?" Shunsui laughed, and deftly took the cup from his brother's hands. "No, Jyuushiro, he's right. I've ducked everything they ever thought I might do, which is why I got tossed out on my ear."
Jyuushiro turned to look up at Shunsui, who calmly refilled and drank from the cup and handed it back to Shonetsu before looking at Jyuushiro.
"You must have developed a fine sense of what you should do by doing only what you should not," Jyuushiro said, and heard Shonetsu snort and then cough inhaled sake.
Shunsui's eyes gleamed as he whacked his brother between the shoulder blades. "I think you've hit the nail on the head, Jyuushiro."
The next few days were a blur of activities, as Shunsui wanted to show Jyuushiro everything that made up his childhood, and, in the process, got caught up on a lot of things he hadn't seen in years. The fire watch in the forest, Uncle Isamu's brewery in the midst of the rice fields, the market in the town square where they were handed all kinds of free food, the local bars where all the wintered farmers had gathered, and even watching as his parents held court. They took a special trip to Shunsui's favorite clothing maker, where he bought Jyuushiro a new uniform, since he still had trouble looking at the one that had been mended all across the side.
His usual feeling of obligation, of somehow owing everyone around him more than he could pay, still existed. What surprised him was finding that he had an easier time being gracious about it. His memories of digging the graves and the efforts he'd made on the mountain and while on patrol made him feel as if he had done something no one else could do; and Jyuushiro was quick to jog those memories when he found himself floundering.
They also practiced every day in the dojo. They got politely interrupted by students, by Shonetsu, and then by each of his parents to have practice matches with plain shinai, instead of edges and reiatsu. Jyuushiro had fought as well as he could, but stuck with just a single shinai. He asked about the Kyouraku kendo kata, and managed to absorb several of the routines in the time they were there.
Shunsui had stepped into some of the kata lessons, won a few practice bouts against the other students, and managed to lose every practice bout against his family; however, it had been a near thing with his mother. She was so fast, he couldn't plan or think through his strategy; he could only work off his reflexes, which were now quick enough that he ended up with a few really strong hits.
Her speculative look after that bout had driven him to the liquor stores.
Aina-chan had tried to take advantage of him when he was in the midst of his binge, but one of the court messenger boys came running to find the maid for a special cleaning job. Jyuushiro had trailed behind, sent by Miyako to find him.
"She just said to tell you that Aina-chan is now betrothed, and she didn't want Aina-chan's fiancé to get into more trouble than he can deal with," Jyuushiro said with some bemusement.
Shunsui grumbled softly under his breath and reached for the bottle. Jyuushiro kept him company, and drank tea as Shunsui got thoroughly hammered. He was also there to hold Shunsui's hair back as he suffered through the violent consequences, give him a cup of clear water, and then silently attend to the results. Now he read a scroll by the light of the one unshuttered window, while Shunsui lay on their futon. They had pushed their futons together, but had been so tired or so drunk the last several evenings that all they'd done was sleep next to each other.
"Why don't you say anything?" Shunsui asked blearily as he propped himself up to drink from a cup by the bed.
Jyuushiro looked at him. "What should I say?"
"I don't know. 'Why are you being so stupid?' is customary in these circumstances, or 'Why are you wasting yourself like this?', or maybe even the lovely, 'You idiot, drowning your sorrows is no way to go. Why don't you get up and fix it?'"
Jyuushiro raised a black eyebrow. "Fix what?"
Shunsui fell back, grunting as the jolt jarred his aching head. "Hell if I know."
Jyuushiro chuckled. "Well, there you go. I think you've already fixed what you've wanted to, and are just adjusting to the change."
Shunsui groaned. "I wish it would adjust more easily."
"Well, you're certainly applying plenty of lubricant." Jyuushiro said teasingly.
Jyuushiro just chuckled and went back to reading, his calm sea reiatsu a soothing coolness against Shunsui's agitation. He wasn't sure why he was so upset, why he'd done his best to hide his abilities from his family after Shonetsu's test; or why it upset him so much to have his mother see more of what he could do. Shunsui lay back, closed his eyes, and let Jyuushiro's familiar depth of power wash over him. He savored the stability of it, the unassuming peace that the other man always carried with him, and that odd gut-knowledge that Jyuushiro would be there, no matter what Shunsui could or couldn't do.
Maybe it was that Jyuushiro had started thinking he was completely useless, expecting nothing, and then he'd gone through that hell of a beating anyway; then he had accepted Shunsui's help, and given his help with the kids with no questions, no evaluations. They'd nearly died on patrol together, and Jyuushiro had never spoken to him about what he should have done. He'd waited for the other shoe to drop and it never had, just as Kaoru had been utterly silent about how they'd failed, other than to blame himself and his lack of leadership.
He liked it.
He liked living up to what Jyuushiro thought of him, the smile on Jyuushiro's face when Shunsui thanked the other students for their fights instead of running away from the admiration on their faces. He'd liked sharing his enthusiasm and respect for Uncle Isamu's venture into sake brewing with Jyuushiro: it was a business that the other family members had disdained, but Jyuushiro had been as fascinated with the mechanisms of polishing rice and fermentation as Shunsui had.
The problem was that he liked Jyuushiro's respect so much that he now wondered what it would be like to have those kinds of reactions, feelings, from his family. He moved restlessly under the covers. He'd always assumed that would be impossible. What if he were wrong?
What if she'd been right?
He'd been so resentful and angry when they'd thrown him out.
Shunsui sighed, turned, put his arm over his eyes, and felt Jyuushiro come to his side, and the cool touch of his fingertips along Shunsui's heated skin.
"We're supposed to go on to my family tomorrow, Shunsui, but we can stay another day if you need to."
Shunsui moved his arm to look up into Jyuushiro's eyes, and managed a grin. "What? And have your family come after me for not getting you home in time for your birthday? No thank you."
Jyuushiro laughed. "I've had plenty of other birthdays: missing just one won't kill me."
Shunsui shook his head, and felt good about the fact that it didn't fall off. "No. I'll make it."
Jyuushiro stroked his hair back gently. "This place makes you so tense. I'm so used to you being the one that takes everything easy, the one who makes me stop and enjoy what we're doing, where we are; but here you seem to drink more, watch every corner, and it's really odd to see you worry."
"Worry. I seem worried?"
Jyuushiro frowned. "Maybe not to anyone else..." His hands stroked along Shunsui's shoulder, up the back of his neck, and closed there, pressing against tight muscles and tendons so that Shunsui groaned. ".... hmmm... Yes, I'd say you're worried. Roll over."
"Cheater," Shunsui murmured, but did as he was told.
Jyuushiro's strong hands stroked down Shunsui's back. "A warrior gets whatever information is available, first."
Shunsui paused at that, because he hadn't been fair to Jyuushiro, he hadn't given him all the information there was. "When I got sent to the Academy, I was angry. I didn't see why I should leave my comfortable life here, all the people and things that gave me whatever I wanted. It seemed so stupid then, and I called them all kinds of things, said that they must really hate me, and got into a fight with Shonetsu when he said it was just what I deserved for being such a lazy git."
Jyuushiro listened, and kept rubbing Shunsui's shoulders.
"When I made my farewells then, Mom said that she hoped that by being free of this place that I'd be able to grow into my strength. She said..." He had to stop for a moment to control his voice. "She said that they were crippling me, and that she hoped she'd see my power the next time she saw me."
Shunsui sighed into the crook of his elbow. "Yeah. I hate it when they're right."
Jyuushiro chuckled at that, and laid a kiss like a blessing between Shunsui's shoulder blades. "No one likes 'I told you so.'"
The next morning they packed, had breakfast with everyone, and then got ready to go. Breakfast had turned into a quick planning session for the next three months, as Yori and Shonetsu started a running stream of admonishments for what Shunsui should look out for and report.
Shunsui sat there, eating his grilled fish with rice and egg, munching a little seaweed, and mostly watched Jyuushiro inhale another two servings of rice and tea with a few pickled ume. He didn't really acknowledge what they were saying, but once they got started they didn't seem to need anything from him. He did, however, catch his mother's smile.
Then she fired off, "How many man can fit through the front gate at a time?"
"Four if they've drawn, six, otherwise," Shunsui replied without even thinking about it.
"And the second?"
"Weeks worth of water in the first moat around the castle proper?"
Shunsui squinted as he thought. "Six with the farmers. The second moat will give you another two months even if the supply from the river was cut off."
"In winter, the coal stockpiled for the brewers, smiths, and dyers would probably heat everything in the inner ring of walls for a month, at most."
"Where's our weak spot?"
Shunsui hesitated as he realized everyone's eyes were on him. He closed his eyes and envisioned the whole layout of the hill. "The Hatsuzora are known for their water skills, and all of our defenses depend on water. Our walls are right up against water for the most part, so anyone with a water zanpakutou could just crush new entrances, and they'd come in much faster than we'd be able to handle. If they did that on the Northern side of the outside wall, they'd have a straight shot towards the inner wall rather than the twist of the front gate.
"The Shihouin's shunpo abilities make the open top walls too easy to scale, and the cleared areas are just big enough we'd probably only see them land once before they hit the walls. So Hollows with shunpo will find that just as easy, and you'd have a hard time spotting them. The Shiba could just dig under the walls and collapse them. The Kuchiki are pretty good at shunpo as well, you might get two chances at them, but their kido skills would have fire raining down on our defenders: they'd need some kind of cover. The Ryuu..."
"They'd just fly in," said Jyuushiro thoughtfully, "though you'd be able to see them coming."
"Our weak point is our belief in the walls; they make us feel too secure in their strength, and they won't hold against enemies that are as gifted as we are."
There was nothing but silence for a long moment. Shunsui opened his eyes, and did his best not to cringe under the combined stares of all his family. His father was frowning, as he usually did when Shunsui held forth on anything, and Shunsui braced himself.
"Well done," Yori said, still frowning.
Shunsui felt his jaw drop, and he shook himself and hastily closed his mouth again. "I... uhm... I don't have any idea how to fix it, though."
"But it's better to know, than to be blind by habit," Yori said heavily. "But it is going to be a hard one to figure out."
Shunsui nodded, still bemused by his father's reaction; and then his mother reached out to touch his hand.
That was all, but that made all the difference.
When Jyuushiro and he went to collect all their things, he discussed the surprise he wanted to give his family.
The two of them met everyone else out at the main gate. The pummeling, kisses on the cheek, and hugs were the same, but they felt different now. When Shunsui faced just his family, he bowed low to his father, brother, and mother; and then, together with Jyuushiro, they flared their reiatsu to their full extent.
The crowd gasped and pressed back.
Shonetsu flared reflexively as well. His parents looked at each other, and the resultant blaze of power cleared the entire front courtyard of everyone but Jyuushiro and his family.
"Wanted a private farewell, did you?" Shonetsu asked, his tone light.
Shunsui nodded. "Yes. I couldn't have everyone know that I actually kind of like you now, brother."
They both grinned, and then came together in a rib-creaking hug, even as Shonetsu's sun-hot reiatsu wound about Shunsui.
"Take care, oh responsible one," Shunsui murmured.
"You too, you vagrant," Shonetsu said with a laugh, and there was no trace of bitterness.
Shunsui came away from the hug to give his father a respectful bow: he returned it nearly as deeply.
Miyako approached him, and as the cold edge of her power pressed against him, the howling in the back of his head awakened. Shunsui watched her approach, and no longer felt that odd dread he'd always felt before when she was actually focused on him.
She gently reached up to lay a cool hand against his cheek. "You've found your strength."
He nodded, and had to clear his throat before he could say, "You were right, mother. I would have been crippled if I'd stayed."
"I'm glad you know that, now." Miyako quirked a grin, and then moved in close to Shunsui and gave him a tight hug. He wrapped her up in a slow, strong hug in response. "Safe travels, my son."
"May you be well while I'm gone," he said quietly.
She hugged him tighter for just a second. "I miss you, but I'm glad for you."
Shunsui tightened his hug as well. "I miss you too."
They both sighed at that, and then stepped back.
"It is good to see you in your power," she said with a grin.
"And good to walk with it," Shunsui returned.
Then they all bowed and brought their reiatsu back down. Retainers crept back in, sneaking glances at Shunsui and Jyuushiro as they worked to open the huge wooden gates.
Then the two Academy students were out in the cool winter sunshine, back out on the road. They turned and headed toward the sea.
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