Arc: Twin Souls
Characters: Academy Kyouraku and Ukitake
Rating: PG for violence and language
Word Count: 4563
Summary: Shunsui tried to head off an Horde of Hollows and finds a very different army coming at him.
Beta: incandescens without whom this story would not be told.
Author's Notes: Things are happily in motion, and it's oddly like falling down a scree slope to keep up with them. *laughs* Plot happens.
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach nor its characters. I do not make any money from these writings.
The First Chapter
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Awakening happened far too soon for Shunsui; however, it was to the scent of food. There were two bowls near Shunsui's head that held something that smelled so good his stomach growled. He got up, devoured what he found, and then went to get a quick, cold wash of his face and hands.
Jyuushiro lay asleep near Shunsui's bedroll, his face to a wall. Fong handed Shunsui his short sword, sleepily curled up in her blankets, and soon settled in the dark. Shunsui turned the shoto in his hands, feeling the scabbard and weight of it as he hadn't before. It was odd feeling the girl's intent, much less her hands, on his sword. The moment when she'd cleansed the Hollow with it, Shunsui had felt a pang of something like joy.
Shunsui also knew that the woman had cleansed two Hollows from the shadows of the trees. She'd helped the peasants without letting them know what she had done, and he wondered why she'd done it that way. His zanpakutou's spirit had enthused happily about her technique and stealth compared to his clumsy bulk.
Is she hiding something? Shunsui asked, wondering if his sword would even know.
The agile, flexible spirit of the smaller blade laughed with a sound in Shunsui's head like steel skittering down glass. Of course she is! She doesn't want them to know that she's armed! They think of her as a friend, and she wants to keep it like that.
Shunsui blinked, not having equated friendliness with being unarmed before.
Yes, you have, brother. The smaller spirit chuckled. Like when you get stinkin' drunk or feign foppishness or any of a dozen possible tricks to let people think you're helpless. It's like us using the shadows!
The deeper sardonic voice he was used to, murmured, Brother, 'tis best to be underestimated. Whomever her lord is, we should spend time talking with him.
That was plenty of fodder to keep Shunsui awake as he watched the entrance. Only a very few villagers voluntarily left the safety of the caves. Night soil and garbage had to be hauled out. Water came in through a natural spring in the back of the caves, so at least that didn't have to be hauled in. Saito had gone out on his own to scout out what had happened in the village's wake.
A few hours into Shunsui's watch, Saito staggered back gasping for air. "Some.... something's coming!"
Shunsui frowned. "How big?"
"There's dust as high as the mountain!"
Shunsui shook Jyuushiro gently. Green eyes opened, focused.
"Something is coming. We'd best face it together."
A nod. "Right." Finding it painful to watch Jyuushiro rise, Shunsui turned away and saw dark eyes watching him from the shadow.
"You stay here," he said firmly.
"Why?" Fong asked, a tilt to her head.
Shunsui handed her back his smaller blade and didn't react when her slender fingers closed over the hilt. Fong sighed, shoulders sagging, and the little sword spirit murmured comfort.
"Yes. That's why," Shunsui said with a quirked grin. "If we fall, someone has to hold this narrow point as long as they can. It's not really to spare you, Fong"
"What good will it do?" Fong asked pensively.
"We called for help from Shiba, the city, and the mountains. Someone has to be coming. You are making it so that they'll have something to do when they get here."
Her eyes widened in comprehension.
The little sword spirit boasted, We'll protect them, boss. Just don't be lazy and let 'em get by you in the first place!
Shunsui shook his head even as Fong looked shocked. "You can hear her?"
"When I'm holding her, yes."
"And here I thought they were all just in my head. All right." Jyuushiro stood by them, watching curiously. "Let's go."
Saito hadn't been exaggerating. Shunsui's forlorn hope died on seeing the plume of smoke, dust, and ash shadow the sun over the trees at the entrance to the caves. The booming echoes of kidou and reiatsu use at a vast scale came from the direction of the village itself.
"Do you think that might be Shiba's work?" Jyuushiro asked, eyes narrowing.
"It might. If so, then they're driving the Hollows straight at us."
Saito looked at the two of them. "You're crazy. That's way too big for Shiba's forces. There aren't enough troops to make a plume that big."
"Can you feel the reiatsu? The spiritual power being put into play out there?" Jyuushiro asked, curiously.
"What?" Saito asked, blinking in alarm. "Uhm. No. Not at all, I'm talking about the dust...unless...oh kami of stone, rock, and flood...unless all that's from the Hollows comin' at us."
"How can we tell?" Shunsui asked.
"You're probably going to have to go and find out what you feel with respect to reiatsu and powers, Shunsui," Jyuushiro said with a sigh. "You're the better sensitive, and I'm not going to be able to make it that far and get back quickly enough. I'll stay with Fong, and hold here, if needed."
Shunsui sighed. "I hate this," he said quietly. "I'd feel better if you went with me, but you're right, you know?"
"Yes," Jyuushiro said, and when Shunsui thought he was done, he quirked a grin and added, "Besides, I'd hate it if we both died because you had to come back for me."
"There is that."
Saito jittered. "You two...do you want me to go with you... uhm... sir?"
"No. You'll just get eaten," Shunsui said with a frankness that made Jyuushiro frown at him, but brought a deep sigh of relief from Saito. "Stay here with everyone else. Help defend the opening."
"All right." Saito didn't need to be told twice, and he sprinted for the caves.
"We should have told him to not panic everyone else," Jyuushiro said with another sigh. "It's going to be chaos in there, now. I'll have to go in and manage that."
"Well, there's one advantage to him bolting," Shunsui said with a grin.
"What is that?"
Shunsui leaned forward and kissed Jyuushiro gently on the lips. Jyuushiro's eyes widened in surprise, but he gave a soundless huff of laughter that Shunsui could feel and then kissed back, slow and sweet. The slow caress made Shunsui feel better, calmed him over the thought of leaving Jyuushiro here.
When they broke the kiss, Jyuushiro looked at Shunsui gravely. "Good fighting."
Shunsui rolled his eyes. "Thanks, I think." When Jyuushiro laughed, Shunsui shook his head, grinned, and ran towards the giant plume of dust and power.
Taking the path along the back of the ridge, as he had when he and Jyuushiro had skirted the other gathering of Hollows, Shunsui found, only a mile away from the caves, Hollows covering the valley floor. They were mostly going in the same direction, like a herd of sheep, but to Shunsui's dismay, many of them stopped to eat each other. He'd heard of such behavior from his father and brother when they'd gone out on Hollow hunts; but he'd never seen it for himself. The predators grew visibly each time they ate a fellow soul, and some started sprouting spurs, longer claws, or sharper teeth.
A few Hollows scattered up along the slopes, perhaps those more independent-minded than their brethren or just more afraid. His reiatsu should have drawn them to him like ants to sugar, but he kept the ridge between him and them. The stone helped as shield and cover. One Hollow surprised him, though, as it came over the ridge.
It reared back and then charged him, claws first. He had to block them once and then again before he got a clear swing at the mask. Luckily for him, it was silent when it fought. Shunsui, however, cursed the fact he was missing his short sword, when he could have used it for a quick finishing stroke. Instead, he had to push the claws far enough away from his body to get a good crack at the mask, and the extra effort opened him to a swipe of the other hand's worth of claws. His edge struck first, and the Hollow whispered away into dust.
Shunsui frowned and studied the steady stream of Hollows in the valley.
Last night there hadn't been that much thought about the simplicity of the route; they'd been too relieved when they moved all those people into shelter. Now the Hollows were following the same path. It made Shunsui's decision difficult. He could go further, scouting out exactly what had happened at the village and who was there to rescue everyone, but that would mean leaving the Hollow horde alone. Without some effort on his part, the Hollows would reach the caves before Shunsui could get back from scouting.
"You need some help with that?"
Shunsui blinked, glanced over and saw Ryuu Hayato perched, cross-legged, on top of a boulder nearly twice Shunsui's height. At the foot of the boulder stood Daisuke-san. Both had packs on their backs, zanpakutou at their belts, and dust all over them. The really odd thing was that instead of being in the usual Academy whites, both men were wearing black.
"You and what army?" Shunsui asked sardonically.
"That one," Hayato pointed out over the valley, sounding entirely too smug. He stood on the narrow top of the rock. "Come on up here. You can see them."
"I might land on you," Shunsui warned, and then took a shunpo step up to the top of the rock. When he landed wrong, he nearly took both of them off the top of the rock. Swearing, Hayato shoved back and then tugged and got them both steady. When he was sure he wasn't just going to plummet off, Shunsui turned to look.
A river of white Hollows filled the entire valley, growing steadily denser the further they went back, until it was so white it nearly gleamed. Then, at the far end, in deep contrast to the white, was a pool of black, people. Lots of people, coming out and pushing back the whiteness.
"Oh, that's why you're wearing black," Shunsui said as he finally put two and two together.
"Yes, indeed. It is far easier to distinguish friend from foe when all the Hollow bone is dead white, and all the shinigami wear black," Daisuke said.
"Shinigami?" Shunsui tasted the word and chuckled. "Death gods that are all already dead, hm? That's intriguing."
"Well, Yamamoto suggested it as a title for anyone that decided to take the same uniform and fight in the same cause when we found out that Shiba was in trouble." Hiyato said thoughtfully. "Did you know that that idiot Shiba went after his villagers in the dark hours just before dawn? He didn't wait for us, even though Yamamoto-sama sent a butterfly to him to wait, that forces were coming that could help. If he had we would have been several hundred stronger, and he had good, trained troops that he basically threw away into that."
Shunshi felt a hot flash of rage at Shiba for the troops who were led into that deathtrap for the sake of one Shiba lord's pride, and hot on its heels was contempt at Hayato for treating them as nothing more than game pieces on his board of a war. It took him two breaths to steady himself, another one before he could come up with an appropriate question instead of some cry of frustration. He managed, "Who has joined Yamamoto?"
"Ryuu, Shihouin, and Kuchiki, though they all say that it's for Shiba's sake, not Yamamoto's, and the damned Hatsuzora decided to send their own independent forces along for the ride. Problem is that they don't follow any orders we give them until it's relayed through some pompous ass of a high-born cousin on their Clan leader's mother's side or something ridiculous like that." Hayato's scorn was clear.
Daisuke-san chuckled. "Well, so long as they hold the flank they're given, I don't care if they make their troop calls through a painted geisha girl."
That made Shunsui chuckle, but then he sighed. "The village you guys went through?"
"Yes?" Daisuke-san seemed to brace himself. "It was empty when we went through."
"I should hope so. Jyuushiro and I got them out, and ushered them up into some caves at the end of this passage." Shunsui saw the old man relax. "Problem is that it's a straight shot, and these Hollows are taking it."
"Any ideas on how to stop them?" Hayato said. "The troops are digging in for the fight, so it's going to be slow going for them, and these Hollows are just running away from the action."
Shunsui studied the slope under their feet. It was another scree slope, like the one above the village. Remembering his descent off that damned piece of rock, Shunsui got an idea. "Huh...how about if we block the valley below with rock? Maybe pick a place where there's a passage or break along that slope, as that direction heads away from the caves."
"Huh. That might actually work," Hayato said. "These mountains are pretty young, yet, lots of loose stuff might slide all together. What if we toss this rock down?" He patted their perch.
"Kenshin could move it easily, but he had to stay at the Shiba estate, because Shiba-sama got hurt pretty badly in their attempt," Daisuke said thoughtfully. "Their family has always specialized in earth-moving kidou. We might have to improvise, or find rocks that are a bit more finely balanced than this one."
They searched the ridge, and found a set of big rocks that were unstable, across from a passage in the far wall. Together, they used the very first kidou taught at the Academy, Number One: Shou. Unleashing the pushing kido with all their spiritual strength, they got the rocks to roll down the slope, picking up rubble, rocks, dust, and all kinds of other debris as they went. It was a near avalanche by the time it hit bottom.
The Hollows scattered when the rocks started coming down, trampling each other in their rush. There were at least a hundred that got past the impromptu break in the valley, but the rest, when the dust began to settle, worked their way to the passage through the other side, and disappeared in that direction.
"When Yamamoto's forces make it this far, they can follow up. In the meantime, we'd best take care of the ones that have gone through." Daisuke-san leaned forward, and was startled when Shunsui put an arm across his chest before he could take a step.
"I had a really bad experience going down a scree field, yesterday. Can we please go down on the stone right over there?" Shunsui asked, pointing out a craggy and ragged looking rock face wall that had nice, solid looking landing points on it.
Hayato snickered, which made Shunsui wonder when Hayato had learned about loose rocks on a slope. The look he gave the Ryuu student made Hayato snicker again.
"Oh!" Daisuke-san said, "Certainly. We do not need another rock fall."
They used shunpo down the step-like rocks, and their combined reiatsu made every maw left in this end of the valley turn toward them. The ones that were still worrying the Hollows trapped under the fallen debris ignored them. It made Shunsui retch twice when he saw one Hollow ripping pieces off another, so he tried hard to ignore them by concentrating on the fights that were coming to him.
Daisuke-san whirled his sword and murmured, "Takekaze, grow."
The zanpakutou grew in segments, becoming a green-ribboned naginata with a blade shaped like a bamboo leaf. The reiatsu pressure from Daisuke-san quintupled, so that Shunsui found it harder to breathe. Shunsui found that he could take five steps away from Daisuke-san's back. Hayato mirrored the movement at the other side of Daisuke-san's back, and they both faced the open end of the valley, while Daisuke-san faced the rock slide.
The seethe of energy from Daisuke-san seemed to drive the near Hollows into a slavering frenzy, and they charged.
Daisuke-san spoke firmly, "Takekaze, Wind Strike!"
When he swung the blade of the naginata down, a brilliant ten-foot long green streak of power followed the blow. The Hollow before him was split right in two, as were two of the four that were following it too closely behind. Limbs fell, Hollows screamed in rage, and then the fight got too crazy for Shunsui to follow logically.
Swinging his zanpakutou two-handed, Shunsui tried to ignore the swearing and poetry that spilled into his mind. The rhythm of the poetry, however, matched the strike and step of his motions, and he found himself slicing through Hollow masks; breaking bare dry bones; and trying to protect both Hayato and Daisuke-san's backs. The bamboo leaf blades sprayed out in the corner of Shunsui's eye, and half the field of bones went down into dust, and Shunsui found himself desperately wishing he could release his blade as well.
So, you want power, brother? To defend your friends? Yourself? Those lovely little peasants who haven't even been taught to hold a blade? The inner voice wasn't mocking, and Shunsui could tell twenty tones of mocking from all his experience with his true eldest brother's oft-used tones.
Yes. Shunsui thought.
Enough to hear my name? The seriousness of the tone made Shunsui pause right as a claw swiped at him. I am... He turned, losing the sound of the spirit's voice, and took the strike on the hip instead of in the gut. Shunsui cursed at the pain and brought the blade around to go right through the bone mask.
Damnit, spirit. Don't distract me in the middle of a fight like that. Shunsui growled, and heard the sword spirit's rueful laughter.
Shunsui moved forward to take another Hollow down like swatting a fly, and he saw Hayato spinning and leaping, limbs whirling. The more slender Ryuu youth had to make up in speed what Shunsui had in strength, but they kept up with each other easily, cutting through the crowd of Hollows that came at them. They didn't dare leave Daisuke-san's back. Even when the rest of the Hollows turned tail to run.
Daisuke-san's reiatsu roared, and with his own enemies taken care of, Shunsui turned to see the last of Daisuke-san's opponents go down. There was scrabbling at the top of the pile of debris, and white claws started to come over.
"Our reiatsu is drawing them on," Hayato said in a tone of horror.
Hollow reiatsu spilled onto them like a waterfall. Cold and hungry, a gaping maw of energy that made Shunsui and Hayato go down on one knee. A slender figure in white bounded onto the top of the wall with ridiculous ease. Cocking its bone-beaked head, it stabbed down at the Hollows below it with long claws. To Shunsui's ears, the screams started sounding like the sea birds by Jyuushiro's home, and the slender figure above them chuckled in a sound that seemed far too much like real humor. It grabbed a Hollow, and ripped it apart to feed upon it, tossing scraps to other Hollows below.
"Oh, kami," murmured Shunsui in horror. "We're supposed to be death gods, compared to that thing?"
"Well, at least it's distracting them for a while, buying us some time to get the ones that have kept going, and for Yamamoto-sama to catch up," Daisuke-san said grimly. "I don't want to face it, but it seems content with its snack. Let's go."
He grabbed both boys' arms and hauled them the ten feet away from the wall they needed before they could stand up on their own two feet.
Then they ran.
They went down into the valley as quickly as they could. Shunsui found that he just couldn't bring himself to strike the Hollows from behind. Instead he popped up in front and hit them as hard as he could. Hayato did the same. Watching Daisuke-san take them down from behind as quickly and efficiently as he might have cut wheat disturbed Shunsui; but he couldn't fault the man when he came through it all unmarked. Shunsui got several cuts and a claw rip along his left shoulder. Hayato sported a slash on his right cheek, a gash on his left flank, and teeth marks on one side to show for his honorable approach as well.
They were breathing hard by the time they got within sight of the caves, and to Shunsui's horror, he saw four Hollows slip into the darkness ahead of them.
Then he felt a small hand take up the other half of his soul. He sighed in relief, "Good, they know."
Both Daisuke-san and Hayato turned to him with a frown and asked, "How do you know that?"
Masuyo started crying, a wail that wouldn't be hushed by food or a cuddle, and her clean dry diaper made Jyuushiro purse his lips.
"Hollows?" Fong asked with a tremble of her voice that Jyuushiro didn't miss.
"Probably," Jyuushiro answered, and he turned to the farmer. "Hiroshi, take her back into the caves. We just needed the warning. I think we can hold here, but tell the men with hoes and sickles to take the second narrow point, please?"
Hiroshi, looking troubled, took the baby back into the deeper caves. Masuyo's wails faded and died away, and the two of them were left at the narrow pass alone.
Jyuushiro said, "Stay behind me by at least six steps and get them if they get past me. All right?"
Fong nodded a fierce, small nod, and took up Shunsui's small blade. She suddenly blinked and said to Jyuushiro, "The blade says there's four of them coming, and Shunsui is almost here."
Jyuushiro's stance spread another half an inch, and he felt suddenly grounded by knowing. He cocked his zanpakutou over his head. "Thank you."
When the four Hollows came charging in, it surprised Jyuushiro that he only felt the heightened awareness that fights now brought him. There was very little fear. Everything seemed to slow, and he could tell that one was far enough out in front of the others, that it would be first. The two behind it were staggered, right then left, and the last was lagging and having a hard time keeping up with the others.
His zanpakutou's tip flashed, his body, his will, and each step he took all generating the power and speed for each strike. Center, right, left, and then a shot that followed the stagger of the last, bulky Hollow right through the mask. They didn't even have a chance to lay a claw on him or the woman behind him, and Jyuushiro sighed as he felt the soft patter of black dust against his white robes, streaking the pale cloth to gray.
"Oh, Kings and Judges," Fong said, staggering back a step only now that he had finished. "You're fast."
Jyuushiro shrugged and wiped his blade with his sleeve, leaving a black streak along it. "It's how the Academy trained us." He narrowed his eyes. "You should come and learn with us."
The look of horror in Fong's eyes was followed by a glance down the tunnel to the other caves. "Don't let them hear you say that."
"Why not? You really should. You can handle a zanpakutou. You can cleanse Hollows. You can do the work, and the training would only help you protect those that need it? Why is that so hard for you to accept?" Jyuushiro asked, frustrated.
"My place is elsewhere." Fong's lips pressed narrow, she crossed her arms and took two steps back.
"Well, it should be fighting as best you're able," Jyuushiro said, stubbornly.
That was when the grass-green reiatsu of Daisuke-san came to them from the entrance. Fong's eyes went wide, and she shoved the hilt of Shunsui's sword into Jyuushiro's hands. Jyuushiro nearly dropped the blade, but managed to wrap his hand about the hilt.
"What are you so worried about?" he asked. "It's just Shunsui and some of my classmates."
"Your classmates have reiatsu like that?" Fong asked, surprised.
"Oh, no," Jyuushiro said, as Daisuke-san, Shunsui, and Hayato came into sight. "That's my..."
Fong disappeared in a bang of flash step.
"I can't go in." Hayato's lips whitened, as did his knuckles on the grip of his zanpakutou. They were standing in the vaulted entry cave, before the mouth of the smaller caves where the villagers camped. "Closed in spaces..." He shuddered. "Can't do it."
"You and fuckin' Kenshin," Shunsui growled. "What is it with you guys?"
"I can... I'll just stand on top of the mountain and yell when they're coming. How about that?" Hayato pleaded. "Not... I can't stay in there."
"The peak is indefensible, Hayato," Shunsui sighed.
"No..." Daisuke-san murmured and all the Academy students looked at him. He chuckled. "It's actually quite defensible. You can see what's coming at you for miles. A big force can only come in all together. He'll be able to see that large a gathering, give us warning, and then go into hiding, easily."
"That would be useful," Jyuushiro put in, and Hayato gave Jyuushiro a grateful look.
Jyuushiro was still wondering what had happened to the Fong woman, and why she'd disappeared the way she had. That reminded him of what he was carrying, and he handed the sword over to Shunsui.
Shunsui took it without a word. Daisuke-san pursed his lips.
"You let Jyuushiro handle your zanpakutou?" Hayato's shock and dismay pulled him out of his misery.
"Of course," Shunsui said with a frown. "Why wouldn't I?"
"You two are very close, aren't you?" Daisuke-san murmured quietly.
For the first time ever, Jyuushiro saw Shunsui tongue-tied. The surprise, shock, and sudden confusion in those dark eyes made Jyuushiro say, quietly, "He actually lent it to a woman here, who has enough reiatsu to wield a zanpakutou and cleanse Hollows."
"Won't that contaminate your soul?" Hayato demanded. "Who is she that you'd let her do that?"
Shunsui pulled himself together to Jyuushiro's relief, and smirked at Hayato. "She's a beautiful petite thing, slender as a flower, hair as dark as night, and with eyes..."
Jyuushiro had a moment to be very grateful for Shunsui's reputation, and Hayato made a disgusted sound, but Daisuke-san's eyes widened.
"What is it, Daisuke-san?" Jyuushiro asked.
"Nothing, probably nothing. The woman I'm thinking of wouldn't be out in the countryside. She's strictly a creature of the city," Daisuke-san said, but he frowned as he said it.
Then Shunsui and Daisuke-san started at the same instant as a baby began to wail again in the depths of the caves. Jyuushiro closed his eyes and in the darkness behind his lids, he reached out and sensed them. Hundreds of them, empty and hungry. All headed in their direction, through an underground passage, and fluttering, falling, ragged, and torn, a living reiatsu ran before them.
Jyuushiro opened his eyes and met Shunsui's look. "Kaoru."
"Then where the hell is Kali?" Shunsui asked.
"I can't go in any further into the caves," Hayato wavered. "I'll stay here and...do what I can if they get past you."
"Right." Everyone nodded at Daisuke-san's confirmation. "Let's go."
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