Characters: Starrk, Lilynette, Jyuushiro, Shunsui, Yachiru, Zaraki
Rating/Warnings: Uhm... G, I guess, even with respect to language... work and everything safe.
Word Count: 2600 +/-
Beta'ed by: mysocalledhell
Author's Note: For theablackthorn's birthday. Sorry it's so late, sweet. Her prompts were Juushiro/Shunsei/Stark and "Happy Birthday Stark". Yeah, I spell names funny, just staying consistent with my own rhyme and reasons.
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or its characters. I do not make any money off these writings.
Coyote Starrk stood in the middle of a crowd of people. Being able to simply stand there, feel people brush against him, hear their laughter and conversations, and see their faces, frightened him. He wondered how long they'd last.
He was surrounded by people. Ever since he'd been cleansed, sent back to Soul Society, he kept wondering when the people would start dying around him. The physical hole had filled, but his mind was still catching up to the heart that now beat within his chest. Lilynette ran up and hugged him about the waist, her chin not even as high as his heart. He gently wrapped his arm around her slender body, and she smiled.
"They're all still alive," she said with a grin.
"They are," he said, trying to tamp down how frightened he was for all those innocents about him.
"And they don't die even if I play with them!" This time she laughed, and he found himself smiling.
There was a shout and another string of firecrackers went off. The constant crack of small explosions sounded all around them. It was Rukongai's 17th District's New Years celebration. The various districts had different practices, but the higher numbered ones were safe and clean enough that some of the Captains that liked it a little rougher than the capitol's celebrations, left the White City's walls and came out for festivals as they were celebrated by everyone else.
Kids ran by, and when Lilynette caught a glimpse of Yachiru's pink hair, she skipped after with a laugh.
"I'll be back!" she called and ran after the pack of children with a shout of laughter.
Starrk shook his head, bemused. People hadn't died in the weeks they'd been there. That was the longest he'd been around anyone other than the Arrancar and those in power in Hueco Mundo, and that had been an entirely different atmosphere.
"She looks very happy." Ukitake Jyuushiro came up beside him.
Starrk just nodded, not sure he could put his feelings into words that would make sense to someone who had never been Hollow. "I think she is."
"Mm... enjoying the festivities?" Kyouraku Shunsui's low voice made Starrk smile, and he turned to give a small bow.
Shunsui had been the one that struck the final blow. The only one finally strong enough to defeat Starrk and take them both down, and Starrk had found himself oddly grateful for that fact. He had wondered if he should hold a grudge, but after going drinking, napping, and shopping with Shunsui, he'd found a kindred spirit. Someone like enough that they often found themselves saying the same things to Lilynette, Nanao, or Jyuushiro.
Shunsui was the one that gave Starrk the sympathetic look. "It is amazing, isn't it? With all the things and people lost, all the pain available in so many ways, all the loneliness in the world, and all the circumstances that could be so bad, they all seem so happy."
Starrk gave a rough laugh. "You understand."
Shunsui shrugged. "Perhaps I marvel. It seems as much a part of the human spirit to be able to be happy in the worst of circumstances as it is to be miserable in the best of them."
Jyuushiro watched the two of them as if watching a tennis match. He laughed at the last. "Well, you'd better not be miserable with what happens next, or Yachiru will be very disappointed in us all."
"Hm?" Starrk asked, a little startled at even the mild threat behind Jyuushiro's words.
"This way..." Jyuushiro walked into the crowd. Starrk was amused to feel the Captain unfurling his power before him, so that everyone stepped out of their way quickly.
Shunsui walked with Starrk, his head down so that the hat shaded his eyes.
"All right, what's up?" Starrk asked.
Shunsui chuckled. "It's supposed to be something of a surprise, but it's how we used to do things. The last few centuries have made this practice moot, but it's nice to have tradition to fall back to when we have nothing else."
Starrk frowned at the obscured hints in the bigger man's talk. "You're making no sense to me at all."
"Was I supposed to?" Shunsui asked gently, turning his head just enough for Starrk to catch a glimpse of dark brown eye.
Starrk laughed. "I suppose not."
They were headed to a garden on the edge of the public park that they'd all first met up in. The snow still shone in the shadows, and the only green things were the bamboo. They headed toward an alcove surrounded by the fluttering green. The first thing Starrk sensed was the immense reiatsu of Zaraki. Even with his eye patch on, the man's reiatsu had cleared that part of the park.
As they came around the edge of the plants, Stark could see that one end of the table was piled high with gifts, the other end was mostly covered with a giant white cake. Scrawled across the cake were the words, "Happy Birthday, Starrk and Lilynette!"
Starrk stopped in his tracks. "Birthday?"
"Lilynette didn't remember any date associated with when she came to be," Jyuushiro said quietly.
"So we thought we'd go with older tradition, where everyone celebrated the next year of their age at the New Year," Shunsui finished. "It's been updated."
Zaraki snorted. "Yachiru figured she knew what ta get. So we let her pick. Hope yer girl likes it, too."
"Birthday..." Starrk breathed, and huffed a soft laugh. "A birthday party, even. That's..."
Lilynette and Yachiru came barreling into the grove giggling like mad. Neither seemed at all affected by Zaraki's power. Lilynette noticed the table, noticed what was on the table, and her eyes grew big like saucers. She looked up at Starrk, and he saw tears in her eyes. He chuckled as she drew close to him, and he pulled her close to him and hugged her warmly.
"Happy Birthday!" Yachiru crowed, and Lilynette blushed happily hugging her hard.
Then the two of them started chanting, "Cake! Cake! Cake!"
Jyuushiro laughed, and pulled out a small box of candles. He put one blue candle and one pink one. "One for each of you, for this first new year you've seen with us since your cleansing."
He lit them, and everyone sang a song that Starrk didn't know. Lilynette and Starrk bent to blow the small flames out. Everyone clapped. They all settled to cake and ice cream, coffee and tea for the adults, fruit punch for the kids.
The cake was a lovely cream cake, with a nice yellow egg sponge for the cake itself, ripe strawberries nestled in pure whipped cream between the layers, all covered with a simple white whipped cream frosting. Not too sweet, it tasted wonderful with both tea and sips of Shunsui's cold, slightly sweet sake.
"Present time!" Yachiru announced when she determined that they were all done with their cake by the simple expedience of threatening to eat whatever she found.
"Skinny!" she addressed Starrk. "Sit here, by Lilynette so I don't have to go as far!"
He obediently got up and settled next to Lilynette, and was surprised to find that Yachiru deposited a brightly covered package in his lap at the same time she found one for the other part of his soul.
He watched Lilynette open hers to find a delicate spray of silk snowdrops set in a hair clasp. She squealed with delight, and to Starrk's surprise, it was Zaraki who came over to set the spray in her hair. His big scarred fingers working delicately at the clasp to perch them just above Lilynette's right ear.
At Starrk's look, Zaraki shrugged a massive shrug. "After the bells, this is a piece o' cake."
Lilynette smiled proudly when he was done, and moved her head very carefully to look at everyone smiling back at her.
Starrk picked at the paper around the gift in his lap, and suddenly realized that it wasn't fastened in any particular way. It had been folded about his gift, each flap interlocking with the next so that the whole held itself together. When he flipped the first bit open, the whole thing unfolded like a flower.
He glanced up, and saw Jyuushiro watching, fascinated, while Shunsui's eyes were still hidden behind his hat. He grinned, pulled out the case, and opened it thoughtfully.
"A gun cleaning kit?"
Shunsui's hat nodded, and then tipped up as brown eyes met his own. "Thought it might come in useful."
Starrk paused. "It may..."
It was Jyuushiro who sat by him, on the other side. "You have hesitations about that?"
Starrk found himself pausing again for thought, and chuckled. "Hai. As Arrancar, our powers combined in order for me to release my full powers, and I don't want to take Lilynette's independence away from her." He brushed a light touch over her hair as she looked up at the conversation.
"You won't do that!" she said with a grin.
"How do we know that?" he asked, seriously.
She shrugged. "I just know it. We're us now together, never alone with our friends. It's just different than it was! Besides, even when we did release together in Hueco Mundo, I was still myself! Remember when I whacked you in the head when you weren't paying attention?"
"But here..." Starrk frowned.
"Here you don't know if you fully express your power if your soul won't go back to being what it once was, do you?" Jyuushiro said quietly.
Starrk blinked at him and then nodded slowly. "I hadn't thought of it just like that, but, yeah, what if the two of us heal and become the same soul that split apart to make us? I'd lose her, I'd lose myself, and worse yet..."
It was Shunsui that frowned now. "You were built as the Arrancar of those who died from loneliness. To become someone that died because they were alone, that could be very painful indeed."
Starrk took a shaking breath and bowed his head. "You've struck the heart of it."
"We would be here," Jyuushiro said, uncertainly. "We would take care of whomever you became."
"But I don't like the thought of losing either of you," Shunsui said firmly.
Jyuushiro nodded at that.
Relief flooded through Starrk. He hadn't realized he was so worried until they'd said that. Being cleansed had been hard enough. He closed his eyes for a moment, and felt Lilynette leaning against him, her warmth and presence more familiar than his own heartbeat.
He took a deep, slow breath.
Lilynette piped up, "But if we stop like this, and never jump into doing what we can do for everyone... I mean, I want to fight like Yachiru!"
Yachiru laughed and hopped onto Zaraki's shoulder. "But I jus' watch Ken-chan fight! He has fun! And I like seeing him have fun!"
"Right. She don't do much blade work," Zaraki said laconically. "But she kin take care of herself..."
"And you too. I carry you away, sometimes," Yachiru said darkly.
Lilynette blinked as big Zaraki nodded placidly at that. "Yeah, you're smart about when to get away, too."
Yachiru beamed at the praise, and turned to her friend. "So you don’t have to whack 'em if they do. Got it?"
Lilynette cocked her head to the side and nodded. "I think so."
Starrk tried not to let another sigh of relief alert her to his happiness at her acquiescence, but he caught Shunsui grinning at him. He shrugged. "Is there something we could do to test it without actually doing it?"
Shunsui frowned a little. "Maybe you should see Unohana-senpai. She knows more about how souls heal than anyone, and she might have a better answer for you than someone like Kurotsuchi might."
"Kurotsuchi is brilliant, but sometimes he ends up with more pieces than he can figure out how to put back together," Jyuushiro said ruefully. "I think you'll have better luck with the Fourth."
Starrk nodded. It would be better to know, and understand what to avoid in the end. "She won't insist that we go back together if that's what she think is healed, would she?"
Shunsui shook his head. "No, she very much understands the basic premise of do no harm, first. A sweet physician she is, the dear doctor."
Jyuushiro and Starrk looked at each other at Shunsui's poetic moment, and both of them smiled. Then, as much to change the subject as anything, he said, "What about the rest of these presents?"
Both girls squealed in delight, and dove into the rest of the presents. Most of them were for Lilynette, beautiful small things, art supplies, a music player, and accessories she could keep easily in their guest rooms in the Eighth Division. A few were for him. They both got Academy uniforms and classroom basics. Jyuushiro looked smug when Lilynette crowed over the notebooks and pencils with Chappy all over them. Yachiru happily presented few pieces of pretty costume jewelry. Starrk got everyday things like tabi, underwear, and one or two formal kimono.
At the bottom of the stack was an envelope with his name on it: "Coyote Starrk".
He frowned a little, and undid the seal, opening it cautiously. All of the Captains were sitting back, talking with each other, and he wasn't sure if they were trying to look oblivious on purpose or what, but he pulled the piece of thick parchment out from the envelope very, very gently.
He studied the paper, reading and then rereading the characters on the sheet. "What? What does this mean?" he asked, bewildered, as he got to the end of it.
Jyuushiro chuckled. "It's a declaration of minor nobility."
"I see that! I just... what does that mean?" Starrk asked frowning. "Is it a joke?"
"No, no. It's in response to the fact that a soul gave birth to another soul. A new soul. Usually it's done with two people, here in Soul Society." The wink Shunsui dropped made even Starrk roll his eyes a little at the implication. "But you've somehow managed it on your own. So you get rank here in Soul Society, and permanent quarters in Seireitei."
"Does that... do we have to move out then?" Starrk tried to sound calm, but he hated the idea of having to leave the people he'd just gotten used to being around.
"Well, you wouldn't have to stay in the temporary quarters, at least. The Captain's quarters Shunsui and I each have are near the barracks of our Divisions, but we also share a fairly large house in the City. It's just by the Academy, and we'd be happy to share with the two of you, if you wished. It's where we spend most of our time when we're not on duty," Jyuushiro said quietly.
It was also where Starrk had spent some late nights when Lilynette had stayed with Yachiru. He'd enjoyed the two Captains' company, and the prospect of being with them day in and day out was one he favored.
"I would certainly enjoy that," he said quietly.
"Hoorah! You're staying!" Yachiru pirouetted about.
"Wow, now I'll have a home you can come visit me at as well!" Lilynette beamed.
Starrk grinned at that. "So you're all right with it?"
"Yeah!" The smile he got back was brilliant.
"I think that seals the deal then," Jyuushiro said with a smile.
Shunsui chuckled. "Indeed."
Starrk felt a weight fall from his heart. His heart. He laughed softly, and touched his throat with his hand, feeling his own heart beat again under the skin. "Good then. Happy Birthday, Lilynette!"
"Happy Birthday, Starrk!"
And it was.