Liralen Li (liralen) wrote,
Liralen Li

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Twin Souls: Chapter 31: The Caves

Title: Chapter 31: The Caves
Arc: Twin Souls
Characters: Academy Jyuushiro and Shunsui
Rating: PG for bad language. *laughs*
Word Count: ~5570
Summary: Jyuushiro and Shunsui do their best to get the villages out from the threat of a huge crowd of Hollows.
Beta: incandescens, without whom this story would not exist.
Author's Notes: I know, it's been a while, but I had to do this, and after the novel went off to the publishers, demented_dee was really nice about encouraging me to write my own stuff, and get this done.
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach nor the characters of Bleach, and I do not make money off these writings.

The First Chapter
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Jyuushiro heard crying from his spot in the middle of the stream of villagers.

When Shunsui found out that Shiba outlawed weapons or weapons training for the villagers, the names he'd called Shiba-sama had half the villagers running away from him in fear of retaliation. Saito had looked sympathetic, even as he showed Shunsui the collection of hoes, rakes, and other sharp farming implements that they did have.

There were no zanpakutou, of course. They were reserved for nobles.

Which mean that of the hundreds running for the caves, only the two of them could cleanse Hollows. So Shunsui took the rearguard, and Jyuushiro stayed with the center. The folks in front had whatever weapons they could get their hands on.

"And don't attack them if you see them, send for us," Shunsui ordered them.

Everyone nodded, looking frightened, but the villagers understood running away. They used push carts for their children, elderly, and whatever household items they needed in the caves. They brought along the domestic animals that pulled carts or simply followed them. Torches burned all along the long line of people, carts, and animals, and while Jyuushiro knew that it marked them more clearly for the Hollows, there was no way they were going to be able to do this without light.

Saito asked, "Should I have them bring you some food, too? If you're the only ones that can fight the things..."

Jyuushiro nodded. "Polished rice is easiest: it never spoils, and we'll be able to cook it anywhere. Dried fruit or meat would work as well."

"I'll have them bring what they can find."

"Thank you."

Saito grimaced. "It's the least we can do."

Jyyushiro was thinking all that over when he heard the crying by the side of the road. In the darkness of the underbrush, he found the small bundle nestled in a clump of soft mosses, not touching any of the clumps of snow that still lay under the shadows of the tree. He picked up the warm weight of the baby and felt reiatsu, weak and fluttering. Common people abandoned reiatsu-gifted children because they were too expensive to feed.

Swearing softly, vehemently, Jyuushiro cradled the baby in his left arm as he made his way back into the light. His pack was in one of the carts, as he had thought it was best to leave everything with the others but his water and his weapons. Jyuushiro sought out the cart he knew his stuff was in, and ignored all the eyes watching him. Instead of trying to hand the child off to anyone, he dug into his pack, pulled out one of the carrying cloths, and with a practiced motion, slung it about himself and the baby and started the harder task of tying the knot on top of his right shoulder.

Slender, cool hands intercepted his own. "Let me," said a woman's voice.

He let go of the knot, sliding his hand under the baby's body. The tiny thing curled in closer to his warmth, and the hands at his shoulder tied the sling good and tight.


"Thank you." Jyuushiro expected the person to disappear before he could turn around to thank her, but she was still there, looking at him with her head cocked a little to the side. She was slender and short, with deep black hair chopped flat just above dark eyes. Braids fell down her back, tightly wrapped in cloth. She had on the same farmer's clothing the others had, but she felt...

"You've done this before, warrior-sama," she said softly.

"I'm Ukitake Jyuushiro, you don't have to use that honorific for me." Jyuushiro couldn't get why she felt odd. There was something about her that seemed familiar, but he would have sworn he'd never seen her before.

She bowed low. "Oh, but I do, for you carry a blade, lord. You may call me Fong Jing Wei if you wish."

Jyuushiro felt his eyebrow rise. "You're from the western lands over the sea?"

She gave a smile and bowed again. "My family was from there, yes."

"Good to meet you, Fong Jing Wei-san."

She giggled, a silver sound in the night that turned other heads toward them for a moment. "No! No! That is too lofty for me. You have made me dizzy. If you must call me something, call me Fong, it will do."

Jyuushiro chuckled and nodded. "All right. I'll do that, then. And, yes, I'm accustomed to carrying my younger brothers and sisters." He automatically curled his left arm about the back of the baby and started walking down the path again.

"Should you try your sword, to see if she impedes you?"

"My sword?" Jyuushiro was startled. "I hadn't..." He drew the zanpakutou, let the baby's weight settle into the sling, and made two, three experimental swipes using both hands. He frowned at the swing of the baby's weight adding to the motions of this arm, and switched to having the blade in just his right hand. That worked better.

The woman stood back, watching him quietly. Then she moved forward. "What if you try this?" She moved the weight of the girl to Jyuushiro's back.

Jyuushiro had enough experience to know that it would stay there, even when pulling nets, so he put both hands on his sword. He swung for the head, side, and hand and nodded to himself. "That will do, but if they come at me from behind, she'll die."

"If you left her in the woods, her death would be even more sure."

The tiny bundle on his back's breath slowed and relaxed. She was now asleep. Jyuushiro sighed and nodded in acknowledgement. "You are correct, Fong. I am grateful for your help."

Fong smiled and bowed. "You're welcome, Ukitake-sama."

Jyuushiro watched her disappear back into the dark amid the slow stream of people, and was amazed to find that he couldn't find her if he tried. She looked to be of different stock than the rest of the people about him, with different features, and her stances and movement were different as well. He puzzled over her quietly as he walked, and it occupied him happily until he heard screaming.

Jyuushiro took two flash steps to the forefront of the long column of people.

At the rear of the column, Shunsui found himself surrounded by ardent admirers, the infirm eldest, and most of the herd animals. It was a bewildering mix, but the slowest of the slow always ended up at the back of the column, and they kept just getting slower.

It wasn't until a young boy came running that he realized just how far back he and the rear of the column had gotten. The boy bowed over, gasping for air for a precious half a minute before he was able to straighten up enough to tell Shunsui, "H-- Hollows...up front, sir! Ukitake-sama...Ukitake-sama's hurt bad! Help?"

Shunsui flash-stepped to the fore and swore as he startled a goat and two women. Screams rang in his ears as he took a step to the side so as to not get butted by the damned goat, before he could take another flash step forward. A tree root tried to trip him, but he got over that, and then he was at the fore. Screaming filled his ears again.

The white flash of light against bone drew Shunsui's attention, and he attacked, both swords free from scabbards before he even realized what it was. His arms moved in a sweep of motion that took the Hollow to dust before it even saw him. A villager was moaning on the ground, blood from wounds in shoulder and arm flowing, his torch guttering on the cold earth; but another flash caught the corner of Shunsui's eye, and there was an explosion of reiatsu.


Despite reports to the contrary, Jyuushiro was up, grimly wiping blood from one eye, and fighting surrounded by half a dozen Hollows. They shone white in the darkness, making them easy to see, even when the crowd of torch-bearing villagers huddled as far away as they could get. There was something tied around Jyuushiro's upper body, and at first Shunsui was afraid that it was some kind of bandage, but then he heard an angry wail and realized that, of all things, it was a baby strapped to Jyuushiro's back.

Shunsui growled and swept into the Hollows from behind.

He got three of them before they even knew he was there, and Jyuushiro finished a fourth that was too eager to kill him. The last two whirled to face Jyuushiro and Shunsui together before both Hollows broke and ran. Without a word, both students whirled and took them down from behind. When they blew to dust, Jyuushiro staggered.

Jyuushiro righted himself when the baby wailed again, and Shunsui felt the signatures of another group of Hollows appear on the path before the whole group, as well as the tiny but whole signature from the baby on Jyuushiro's back.

Startled, he traded a glance with Jyuushiro, who simply shrugged back at him, panting. "She's better than I am at figuring out where they are."

Shunsui shook his head and laughed. "Is that why you picked her up?"

Snorting, Jyuushiro shook his head, "You know why I picked her up."

"Yes. Yes, I do," Shunsui said more seriously. "Is she impeding your fighting ability at all?"

"Not that I can tell," Jyuushiro said, "But I'm sure that she is, I'm just so aware of her all the time."

"Well, here they come."


The group of Hollows had no chance against them, especially once curious villagers with torches came nearer to light the scene. The students' training stood them in excellent stead against hungry, angry spirits who only had aggression and sharp talons. Counter-attacks made quick work of them, and Shunsui consciously avoided the extra work of blocking clumsy or over-eager strikes. Jyuushiro's presence at his side was reassuring, and they knew each other's positioning and motions by both intent and reiatsu. They slipped by the lurching Hollows, whirled around striking claws and gnashing teeth, and cleansed them.

Jyuushiro's single blade whirled through the mass of white and only dust followed. Shunsui counted eight of his own before the path was clear again, and suspected that Jyuushiro was as thorough.

That was when five big Hollows jumped them from the night-dark trees.

These were different. They probably had eaten a few of their brethren, not so many as to evolve, but enough to satiate their unthinking hunger. Not just ravening maws, these had planned the attack and stood back to see what Jyuushiro and Shunsui would do.

Shunsui frowned, remembering Jyuushiro's stagger and wondering just how badly the other man was wounded. It was oddly reassuring to have the baby between them, at both their backs, and Shunsui suddenly realized his fighting style was changed by her presence as well.

The Hollows circled, and automatically Shunsui and Jyuushiro started moving in the opposite direction, to keep them all within sight as much as possible.

Shunsui cursed when three of them came in at the same time, the move far too coordinated to be accidental. He managed to block one with his big blade and slipped his smaller blade into the mask of the Hollow on his left. Jyuushiro took two steps away from Shunsui, taking the one in front of him with a direct attack. Shunsui twisted to avoid the claws of the one that came from his right. He whirled and realized, suddenly, that his back was to one of the two that had held outside the immediate circle of violence.

Jyuushiro finished with a two-handed overhead swing, cleaving right through the mask of the Hollow before him. At that moment, the two remaining Hollows moved into join battle. This time, however, both students had their backs to the incoming attacks. Rather than focus on the one attacking him, Shunsui focused on the one attacking Jyuushiro, and felt Jyuushiro's intent change as well. Both kiai'ed at the same instant. Shunsui went for a two-sword swing, left to right, across the side of the Hollow before him. Its claws swung in the way, knocking aside the smaller blade, but the bigger one, with a screech of screaming metal, sliced right through the claw and embedded itself in the cheek of the Hollow's mask.

Behind him and to his side, Shunsui heard the distinctive thunk of a zanpakutou going into a mask, but then there was another meaty sound and a gasp from Jyuushiro. Shunsui growled, knowing it was the Hollow that had escaped Shunsui's right blade. The baby's wailing cut off abruptly and then turned into high-pitched, angry screams.

With a maddened fist, Shunsui pounded on the hilt of the stuck sword. It went a full inch deeper, and the bone freed Shunsui's blade as it turned to dust. He swung around and saw Jyuushiro hanging from meat-hook claws before Shunsui's smaller blade snapped into the Hollow's right eye socket. It dropped Jyuushiro when it turned to dust.

The baby wriggled frantically in the cloth on Jyuushiro's back.

Shunsui was shaking too hard to pick her up. A black-haired woman suddenly appeared, undid the knot on Jyuushiro's shoulder, and scooped up the baby with one hand to set her aside, while flipping Jyuushiro over with a move that looked far too smooth to have been done for the first time. The blackness of blood wept from holes in cloth and skin.

Shunsui dropped to his knees beside his friend's limp body, his hands opening, dropping his blades to hover over Jyuushiro. Frantically he searched his mind for healing kidou, and suddenly, right next to him bloomed a cold sharp source of reiatsu, hard and powerful under the thin wailing thread of the baby's.

It was the woman.

"Who the hell are you?" Shunsui rasped. "And can you do healing kidou?"

She cocked an eyebrow at him, and then sighed as screaming started in the line of villagers behind him. "I was here to see if you two would do the right thing. Now that you have, I am free to do as I wish."

The green of healing kidou glowed about her hands. Shunsui only had the time to think that she hadn't even had to say any words, when Jyuushiro's eyes opened, and the growling roar of more Hollows was loud enough to hear.

"Do you have a zanpakutou?" Shunsui asked the woman.

"I'm a commoner!" she shot back and then yelped when Shunsui slapped his smaller wakazashi into her hand.

"Take this, then, and keep them moving," he snarled. She took it, blinking at him, as he shunpo'ed away.

Jyuushiro bit his lip hard when he sat up: the pain along his side and gut wasn't quite as terrible as when the Hollow had grabbed him, but it burned when he moved. An earlier hit to the head made the world fuzzy and gave it a tendency to whirl when he moved too fast; however, the very first thing he did was to change Fong's grip on Shunsui's sword, so that she had her hand properly wrapped about the hilt rather than dangling it like some dead fish.

She blinked at her hand, at him, and then in something approaching alarm. "It's... no... she's talking to me!"

"She?" Jyuushiro coughed, but managed to stop the next one. Each cough made the pain worse, and he didn't think that if he got started he'd be able to stop.

"Yes. Oh... goodness." Fong's eyes went wide. "She's not particularly polite, either, is she?"

Jyuushiro shook his head. "I would not know, Fong Jing Wei. Shunsui's zanpakutou hasn't ever spoken to me. How well have you knit my wounds?"

Fong looked up, dark eyes wide. "Uhm... just enough to hold them together for now. You can't do anything too strenuous."

"I shall be careful then," Jyuushiro said, slowly sitting up again, and breathing more easily as the injury relented. The baby was quiet, watching both of them with dark eyes. As was common with the infant dead, this one seemed to know far more than she could say. The ruckus at the back of the line had died down, and Jyuushiro could only assume that Shunsui had dealt with whatever happened back there.

"All right, let's keep everyone moving," Jyuushiro said softly, as he realized that most of the villagers were still cowering under the trees. He tried to lift the baby in her sling, and stopped when felt like a red hot wire suddenly stabbed him through the gut. "Oh, lord. This isn't going to work, is it?"

"No," Fong's answer was clipped. "But I have an answer. Come here, girl," she cooed, and lifted the baby in her sling. The baby cooed back and gurgled. "Good girl. You want to help us, sweetie?"

A little fist waved in the air. Fong giggled and looked all of fourteen for a moment to Jyuushiro's eyes. Then she straightened.

"All right, you farmers, which one of you wants something that can warn you, early, if the Hollows are coming?"

Three of the villagers in the trees suddenly moved toward Fong. "Good then, here... take her."

Dryly, Jyuushiro added, "If she starts crying, draw back and have someone get one of us, and we'll take care of what she finds before you run into it. Right?"

Two farmers now hung back. A big strapping man with a gap tooth chuckled, "Well, Dad named me Hiroshi, sir, so I'll take her. Seemed a damned shame anyway." He turned so that Fong could help him put the sling on. The baby murmured softly and settled in as he strode back to his group and started shooing them out of the trees.

Relieved, Jyuushiro cast about for the other farmers, Fong a quiet shadow at his back. When there were some folk too far up a hill for him, he simply gestured in that direction, and she disappeared. When she returned with them in tow, he nodded.

"Thank you. I would be more comfortable if you stayed near me until we see if you can take on a Hollow with that blade, Fong-san," Jyuushiro said absentmindedly. "I may not be at full battle capacity, but I can help you out."

Fong shivered once, an all over body motion, and grimaced. "I'm not going to be able to get used to this."

"To what?"

"You youngsters giving me what you should not."

"You're capable, are you not? You have reiatsu and even kidou, you should be able to carry a zanpakutou."

"Able and allowed to are very different things," she said, tone acerbic.

Jyuushiro shrugged. "If we didn't give you the allowance, we'd be more likely to die tonight. Giving you an edge, you may well be able to take care of what we cannot, with so many to protect."

Both their heads came up as a single thread of Hollow wrongness came to them from the left, in the trees. It wasn't particularly strong, but it was definitely there. From the farmer's back the baby chirped an inquiring note.

"Shall we?" Jyuushiro said politely.

Fong laughed. "You sound as if we're going to dance."

Jyuushiro grinned. "Perhaps we will. Just hit the mask, it's the easiest way to cleanse them."

"Yes, sir," she said, and Jyuushiro frowned at how oddly good that felt.

Together, they flash-stepped toward the threat. Jyuushiro was surprised and pleased to find that, if anything, Fong could go further than he could and faster. They arrived in just two jumps, and the Hollow started when they arrived.

She hesitated, and then the Hollow started to run. Jyuushiro took a quick flash step, ending up in front of the fleeing creature. He drew his sword, and Jyuushiro felt the spirit of his zanpakutou leap up in eagerness. The Hollow took one look, whimpered, and fled back toward Fong.

Wondering if he'd done the right thing, Jyuushiro watched in growing horror as the Hollow got closer and closer to the slender woman. Yoruichi and Kisuke had proven that a gifted child with someone else's zanpakutou could cleanse a Hollow, but Jyuushiro didn't know if this woman had the wherewithal to make the cut without getting killed. Just as he was about to try and leap forward to bring the rushing Hollow down from behind, he saw the glint of Shunsui's small sword, and at the very last instant Fong put the point forward, right at the forehead of the in-rushing Hollow.

The blade cracked the mask. It blew to dust before Fong fell to her knees. Jyuushiro sprinted over to her, but had to stop at the pain in his side. "Oh, we are... a pair," he gasped. "You are all right?"

"Y...y...yes," she stammered, and from closer, Jyuushiro could see she was shaking. "I'm... it was... I tried to strike at the last instant, to let it... but... terrified now. Which seems entirely wrong... I should have been terrified... before, right?'

"Well, I'm glad you chose to do it the other way around. Much more useful," Jyuushiro said with a chuckle as he finally started to catch his breath.

She started laughing, and it turned into tears. Jyuushiro managed the rest of the distance to her, and held her gently as she cried the last of her terror out. She wiped her eyes against Jyuushiro's stained robes and sighed. "Well, it worked."

"Indeed," Jyuushiro said quietly, thinking about the limitations of this particular capacity, and strategically trying to figure out what might be best. All he could come up with was to just keep everyone moving toward the caves. "It's enough. You now know you can if you have to cleanse one."

"Yes," Fong said shakily.

"Is that enough for you to keep the head of this line moving toward the caves?"

She thought for a long moment before answering. Then Fong nodded, bangs covering her eyes. "Yes. I think so, sir. It's only another half a mile, and we'll be there."

"Good. I'll go back along the line to see how Shunsui is doing, but you need to keep them going."

"All right, sir, I'll do my best."

"That's all anyone can ask," Jyuushiro said softly. "Go on."

Seeing her go off into the shadow of the trees, Jyuushiro had a moment of déjà vu. The feeling made him shiver, and he had no idea why or how he could remember such a thing or such a feeling, but there it was.

Leaving the woman to her choices and her powers, Jyuushiro went to find his friend and companion.

There were only two other fights before Shunsui and Jyuushiro saw the end of the long line of peasants disappearing into the mouth of the caves. Both were just small clumps of Hollows, with one or two of the higher-powered ones leading them. In both cases, Shunsui and Jyuushiro had managed to cleanse everything, so that none of the Hollows could go back to the main gathering.

They ended up bringing in the rear of the column. Jyuushiro was now limping as well as favoring his injured side, and he had to stop now and then just to let the dizziness subside. Shunsui sported a cut down his left arm that had only just stopped bleeding. Jyuushiro sighed at the push carts filled with the dozen injured and three dead villagers they hadn't been in time to save.

Saito walked with them. He looked at Jyuushiro with a tilt of his head.

"I'm sorry..." Jyuushiro started, and then trailed off, not quite knowing what to say.

The villager shrugged. "If you hadn't been here, we would have all died. Sticks and hoes weren't doing shit against 'em."

Shunsui grunted. "Maybe this will be cause for Shiba to give some of you guys zanpakutou."

Saito laughed, "No, he'll just be mad at us for moving before he got to the village to protect us."

"But the village is already overrun, isn't it?"

"Aye. Kato's boy said the village is already flooded with 'em."

"So how does that make any sense?"

Bluntly, Saito said, "Because if Shiba-sama says it's so, then it is."

Both of the students just blinked at Saito, and he burst out laughing. "You're not used to Lords and Ladies, are you?"

"Well, I am," Shunsui murmured. "But I'm used to them not making an entirely different kind of sense. This is just..."

"...horrifying," Jyuushiro finished, his lips pressed thin in anger.

Saito shook his head at the two of them. "No, it's just what peasants are for. Feeding a few Hollows isn't a terrible thing, if we hold 'em up long enough for the Lords to get there and be heroes."

"No one should have to be sacrificed," Jyuushiro said hotly.

Saito drew back and shrugged, "As you like, but you got hurt doin' it. Not everyone's so self-sacrificing, you know?"

Shunsui just sighed, and Jyuushiro wondered what he was thinking. Then the mouth of the cave loomed up, and they passed under and into the damp darkness. The stars were cut off and the air grew still. Then Jyuushiro sniffed hard, as he caught the scent of something with meat and onions. Shunsui's stomach growled, loud enough for Jyuushiro to hear.

That was when Jyuushiro saw Fong again, curled up in a shadow at the side of the tunnel. She was perfectly hidden in the darkness, and but for the shine of Shunsui's blade, Jyuushiro wouldn't have spotted her at all.

"Fong," he said softly, and bowed to her. "You are here safely."

She smiled and uncurled from her watch position. "Aye. We're making food, too."

Shunsui sighed, looked at the woman and Jyuushiro. "Is this the only way in to where everyone else is staying?"

Fong nodded. "Aye, sir."

"Then I'll take the first watch here," Shunsui said, sinking to sit by the wall. Jyuushiro blinked at the bigger man. "What?"

Jyuushiro held back a demand to be allowed the first watch when he realized he just wouldn't be of any use. "I'll bring food, someone to dress that arm of yours, and if I get my side looked at, you'll let me have the next one?"

With another rumble of his stomach, Shunsui gave Jyuushiro a wry smile. "Yes."

"What about me?" Fong asked with a tilt of her head.

"You have," Jyuushiro said softly. "But you know the villagers, and know whom I can ask for more healing help and how to get food for all of us, knowledge that I do not possess, as of yet. So you're more valuable coming with me rather than holding up that rock wall."

Shunsui snorted softly but when the woman looked at him he nodded as well. "Go on. I'll stay here."

They went.

Hiroshi stirred a big pot over the fire, as the baby fussed in a low, aggravated tone at his chest, cloth wiggling. Further in the cave Jyuushiro heard voices, though a few dozen people huddled near the warmth of the fire. Looking up, Jyuushiro saw the smoke disappear into the darkness of the roof of the cave, which was so far up he couldn't see any detail.

Jyuushiro and Fong moved to the fire as well, and got a big gap-toothed grin. "Just 'bout done. Thought'cha might need somethin' after all that fightin'. Everyone else is settin' up camp in the deeper caves. Find yer gear."

"Aye," Jyuushiro said, and the two of them went back into the chaos of dozens and dozens of families spreading out and finding a space for themselves in all the nooks, crannies, and hidden spaces of the caves. Oil lanterns had come out, as the torches were too smoky, so the enclosed space smelled of burnt fish oil, but it all looked like some mid-winter night fair. Children ran about playing, dogs chased them, and mothers scolded. Jyuushiro grinned and shook his head. "People..." he muttered.

Fong just chuckled. She led him right to where his and Shunsui's packs were, and he fished out their eating gear. Then she brought him to an elderly man, who looked up at Jyuushiro with peaceful eyes. White-haired, spry, and smoking a pipe, he tilted his head at Fong's approach, and Jyuushiro could detect a faint hint of reiatsu coming from him.

"Itsuke-san," she murmured, eyes down and bowing. "Would you be so kind as to see to this man's wounds and the wounds of his companion?"

"Of course, of course," Itsuke popped up, darted over to a pile of things, and came out with bandages, some pots, and baskets filled with things. He came back over to Jyuushiro and then bowed to him. "Yamada Itsuke at your service. May I look, warrior-sama?"

"Uhm... actually, I'd like you to see to my friend, first, as he has to keep watch for the early part of the night."

The little doctor nodded, and put his things in a carrying cloth.

"If you want dinner, there's food, too."

"Oh! Very nice," Yamada said and got a bowl as well.

They went back to the front cave, and both filled bowls of mixed vegetables, fish, and rice. Hiroshi was feeding the baby, bits of gruel on his big fingertips going into her eager mouth. "Only way I know it's cool enough," he said apologetically, but grinning when the girl gurgled and grabbed as he gave her more.

Shunsui sprawled across the stone at the entrance, but sat up when he saw them coming, nose up in the air to sniff. "Ah... glad you made it."

"This is my patient?" Yamada asked, blinking at Shunsui. "Big, aren't you?"

Shunsui just nodded gravely. "Can I eat while you work?"


"Thank the Lords of Darkness and Fire," Shunsui said reverently and took the bowl Jyuushiro offered him.

Fong and Jyuushiro sat near-by, and while there was a winces, whines, and flinches from Shunsui, they were all quiet while they inhaled the food. The little doctor dressed Shunsui's arm and then came to Jyuushiro, who lay back and let him poke, prod, and mutter spells over him. The little man bandaged Jyuushiro's head, and tied a thick compress on top of the claw marks that still distorted Jyuushiro's skin. Checking Jyuushiro's ankle, he muttered a quick spell over it, and the pain that had been nagging him went away.

"I think that should do it," Yamada said and gave them all a small bow.

Bowing back over their food, the three chorused, "Thank you very much." The little doctor disappeared back into the darkness of the caves.

Jyuushiro spread his sleeping gear right there, and was about to lie down when he heard the baby start to wail. Shunsui, Fong, and he all exchanged a look, and Shunsui grimly got up to face out in the passage. Jyuushiro went back towards the baby, as there was something about the crying that was strangely familiar.

When he arrived, big Hiroshi was holding the tiny baby like she might explode. As Jyuushiro got closer, he laughed. She had... in a way. "Oh, right... she ate," he said, and shook his head. "Do you know how to change diapers?"

Giving Jyuushiro a horrified look, Hiroshi shook his head. "I never thought about that..."

"Right. Here... let me show you. I've done plenty of those," Jyuushiro said, finding himself tired, but without a real threat, oddly content. A small boy was running by, and Jyuushiro neatly snagged him with a quick hand to the back of his collar. "Wait. I need help. Can you tell the two people at the entrance cave that there's no need for alarm? She just needs a diaper change."

"Sure!" The child scampered away in generally the right direction.

Then Jyuushiro helped Hiroshi clean and change the fussy baby, hoping the other two would sleep.

As they worked, Jyuushiro said quietly, "You know, Yamamoto-sama's new Academy would be a perfect place for her when she's grown."

"I'd heard that there was going to be such a place, but Shiba-sama thought it was only for his children. Now that I've seen you guys in action, though, I am glad, especially now that she's mine to keep for a while." Hiroshi added, almost shyly, "I hope you don't mind, but I've figured out a name for her."

"Certainly I don't mind," Jyuushiro said. The baby watched them both, though her eyes drooped with tiredness.

"I was thinking Masuyo," Hiroshi said. "Since she's helping as best she can."

Jyuushiro smiled, and the baby cooed quietly in his arms, quiet and clean. "I like that. All right, Masuyo, you can go to sleep, girl. We're watching."

The baby drifted off, and Jyuushiro put her in a small blanket nest by Hiroshi's bedroll. "Keep her safe," he said softly.

"I will. Just as you keep us," Hiroshi said.

Jyuushiro nodded in acknowledgment, and then went back by where Shunsui kept a quiet watch. Wordlessly, he crawled into his blankets and curled up in them. The touch of a big hand along his back settled him.

"Thank you, Shunsui," he murmured.

"You're entirely welcome, Jyuushiro. I'm just glad we're both alive."

Jyuushiro made a grunt of assent, and the slow, soothing strokes of Shunsui's hand sent Jyuushiro quickly and quietly to sleep.

Next Chapter >>
Tags: bleach, fanfic, kyouraku, ukitake, writing

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