Arc: Twin Souls
Rating: PG-13 for violence
Summary: Shunsui and Jyuushiro go up against the adjucha and find themselves overmatched and in need of help.
Author's Notes: It's been a really long ride, and I'm grateful for everyone who has kept with this and supported this story. In many ways, this chapter is for all those people that reread the rest of the story while waiting for the next chapter to come. I hope that I've fulfilled many of the promises I made. Many thanks to incandescens's unceasing support, betaing skills, editing chops, and knowledge of the Bleach Universe.
Standard Disclaimers: I do not own Bleach or its characters, nor do I make any money from these writings.
The first chapter.
<< The Previous Chapter: Ch. 35 -- Fight to Protect
Shunsui charged forward. He ignored the clench of his gut, the conviction that they were both going to die, and the loudest voice in his head that said he was being stupid. It sounded an awful lot like the voice of his older brother Shonetsu. A wash of shame was followed by roaring rage, and Shunsui shoved the smaller of the two blades back into his belt to swing his long sword into a two-handed grip despite a shrill protest from the smaller blade.
They drew closer to the slender figure, and Shunsui could see it was nothing more than a boy, a teenager. He was beautiful, Shunsui thought wonderingly, fair and tall, with dark eyes and dead white skin. A bone helm covered one eye, curved in a caress over ivory hair, so pale as to almost be colorless. In sudden shock, Shunsui realized that the adjucha looked like Jyuushiro. The same high cheekbones, the wry smile, and long articulate hands wrapped about the hilt of a bone-white blade.
Feeling the hesitation within his heart, Shunsui cried out in protest and sprang forward, leaving Jyuushiro half a step behind. In all the books Yamamoto had given them, Shunsui had seen a few stories of higher-powered Hollows who did their best to deceive those who fought them.
This was an enemy. One that was trying to take a shape that it thought Shunsui wouldn't hit, because Shunsui always hesitated. So gathering all his strength, Shunsui powered through a two-handed head shot with as much subtlety as trying to split a length of log with an axe. To Shunsui's horror, the boy didn't even raise his weapon.
Instead, the boy Hollow raised a left hand that was missing two fingers and said, "Tezcatlipoca, reflejas!"
In a conflict of emotion, Shunsui struck, but knew that he pulled the blow to the right. He felt his blade hit and sink into a shoulder, but before his bewildered eyes, nothing happened to the Hollow. Something warm and wet landed on the back of Shunsui's neck, and Jyuushiro made a startled grunt and Shunsui heard the sound of flesh falling to stone.
"No!" Shunsui cried out, whirling to look back. "What in hell's name?"
Blood flowed impossibly fast from the wound splitting open Jyuushiro's shoulder, the same shoulder Shunsui had hit on the Hollow. In the dream Shunsui had had in the cabin in the woods, on the way back to the Academy from home, he'd seen Jyuushiro dead, exactly like this, with exactly this horror of knowing that he was the one to deal the blow.
Out of the corner of his eye, Shunsui saw steel flash behind him. The adjucha laughed, and Shunsui felt the terrible violation of his own body by the cold edge of a sword. Shunsui screamed, jerked when the adjucha pulled the blade through his side, and fell into his inner world.
Shunsui was on fire. Again.
Arms and legs bound in funeral clothes, the coffin closed over his head, and the flames licking at his skin. The smoke and burning smell of his clothing and hair, the wet moist scent of heavy earth, and the odor of roasting all swirled around him, a maelstrom of pain.
Shunsui writhed and fought, tensing muscles against what should have been flimsy cloth, and despite an inner conviction that he would never break free, the cloth tore. A floating, burning thread wafted past his eyes, and Shunsui's wrist struck the inside of the wooden coffin. The fire ate at him, and he could feel the hissing and popping of his own flesh.
He screamed in agony, furious, terrified, and worst of all was the guilt and rage at himself. He'd killed Jyuushiro. There would be no rescue, no slender hand in his, no field of flowers. He struggled, crudely beating out the flames by throwing himself against the unyielding walls. When all the light was gone, Shunsui collapsed and sobbed in the darkness of his own despair.
The cut knocked all the wind out of Jyuushiro. It was as startling and forceful as jumping from a cliff and striking the surface of the sea. He fell, and his right side was utterly unresponsive to all his frantic commands to grasp, to balance, to damned well get up.
He saw the stone floor, close up, and heard Shunsui scream.
Jyuushiro tried to call out Shunsui's name, but only heard his own bubbling exhalation. Not just mismatched, but entirely outclassed, Jyuushiro thought wryly. The numbness of his hit side was starting to lift, and the promise of a world of pain flamed to life. The pain reminded Jyuushiro of the whipping, and when it rolled over him Jyuushiro dropped into a storm at sea.
The splash surprised him. It was real. It was wet. A rolling wave closed over his startled head. He was in his robes with his sandals on. The wood of the geta tugged his feet up. The wave tumbled him end to end, and he struggled to find his way up to the pockmarked surface of a sea under rain. But he could move. Unlike that body on the stone floor of the cavern, this one moved to his command, did what he needed, and he righted himself, struck for air, found it, and took a deep breath.
He rode the top of the next swell so that he could look around. There was no shore. He felt that it was his inner sea, but in utter chaos. Lightning struck nearby, and he could see the bright arms and legs of the charge spreading through the water in arc-bright tendrils.
Forty-foot tall rollers rose and fell, enormous hills of waters, obscuring his sight in all directions The sky was black with clouds and the wind whipped more water into his eyes.
Then arms closed around Jyuushiro's legs. He fought and gulped air before he was pulled down.
Looking for who or what held him, Jyuushiro saw a ragged mermaid with no face at all, just a pale, blank oval of flesh rubbing against his knees. She was pulling them both down into the swirling darkness. Jyuushiro writhed and tried to yank himself out of her grip, but her arms only tightened. Reaching for his sash, Jyuushiro realized that his sword was not there. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the flash of two fish coming toward him. Confused, Jyuushiro wondered if the fish were his sword or if his sword had become the fish.
Both, said the voice in his head. Hear my name.
Jyuushiro tried to kick the mermaid, but she held on too tightly for him to lift his leg. He tried to hit her on the head, but she ducked the blow.
What the hell can you do? Jyuushiro thought at the fish. You can't breathe for me, you can't fight this, can you?
He was starting to run low on air. He could feel his lungs burning with the urge to take a breath, any breath, even if it was all sea water. He fought it with the patient will he'd used for a thousand dives for oysters or sea urchins, but never before had the sea urchins hung onto him and dragged him further down before. He knew that it was panic burning at his control, using his air, killing him.
The tactile memory of Shunsui's arms closing about him in the infirmary wrapped Jyuushiro close. That was true safety. Shunsui could fight this thing; together they could figure out a way. The panic faded, and Jyuushiro relaxed.
"Shunsui," Jyuushiro murmured, on a string of bubbles.
Shunsui blinked in the dark at the familiar sound of Jyuushiro's voice.
"What? Jyuushiro?" Shunsui called out, his hands reaching out automatically, but he barked his knuckles on splintered wood.
"Yes! Yes, I'm here! Where the fuck are you?" Shunsui slammed a fist into the lid and heard it crack. Dirt trickled in, a few pebbles here, a stream of dust there.
"Here. I think I need help, Shunsui." Jyuushiro's cool even tones made Shunsui frantic.
With a roar of rage and frustration, Shunsui slammed the lid again and again and again. He'd never fought the dream confinement before, never had a reason to for himself, but knowing that Jyuushiro was alive but in peril fueled him as nothing else could. The board above him cracked, split, and he pulled at the jagged end with his hands, ignoring the splinters and the deep cuts in his hands. The earth above him crumbled, buckled, and started to fall on him. Shunsui shoved and kicked the falling dirt into the box that confined him.
"He's never going to make it." The low, mocking voice of his zanpakutou was muffled by earth and distance.
Since Shunsui himself believed exactly the same thing, he didn't say a word, only snarled and fought harder.
"Hey! Dummy! Hear our names! Just.... just listen! Please?" It was the high, clear, childish voice of his zanpakutou. She was pleading with him. Shunsui grabbed handfuls of soft earth and shoved them deep into his coffin, using his feet to pack it further into the bottom, clearing enough room for him to sit up in his box, shove his head through the opening he'd made. The earth was heavy, wet. "It's all falling apart out here, if you don't figure this out..."
He encountered a root with one groping hand, and he pulled on it and felt it snap. The earth shifted and gave.
Mud and rocks started to pour onto his head and body, filling the coffin in an instant, burying his lower body. On reflex, Shunsui brought his arms up not just to protect his head, but to keep an opening in front of his mouth and nose, so that there might be some room for him to breathe.
The fall slowed, settled around him, encasing him from the waist down. The smell of wet dirt pervaded everything, and he wiped the loose dirt from his face.
"Help me!" Shunsui yelled, loudly enough to dislodge another small shower, and he had to cough to get it out of his mouth.
"Did I hear a please?" The contralto sounded amused, but Shunsui was so relieved that they'd heard him at all it didn't matter.
"Please!" he yelled. "Help us!"
"Asshole!" the girl said, but it sounded like an aside, not aimed at him, and Shunsui heard a blade bite into soil.
"Pipsqueak." Earth scraped elsewhere as it moved, over his head. "Rules are rules. It's not the right game without rules."
They were arguing, but they were coming for him. Shunsui concentrated on keeping his head down so that the earth wouldn't cover his face, his hands up so he could use them to fend things from his head. He wiggled to try and loosen the earth around his legs and waist. He finally got enough leverage to shove some of the dirt back into the box. Using the bottom of the box and the growing mound of dirt for leverage for his legs, he inched up through the hole.
Battering his knees against the coffin lid, the wood cracked further and opened, so that Shunsui could get his legs under him. He was crouched in a fetal position in the small portion of space he could find. Reaching over his head, Shunsui tried to pull down more dirt. He opened it enough so that he could at least straighten his neck and back, but then it started to fall in on him too fast. He managed to get his hands and arms up again, but now everything from his chest down was buried.
The sounds above him started to move faster. It was a good thing too, because Shunsui felt like he was being squeezed to death by the weight all around him. He shouted to give the fear somewhere to go.
"Shunsui, are you in trouble?"
It seemed that Jyuushiro could hear him, too.
"Yes." It was hard to speak. Shunsui had to take a deeper breath to make more room for his chest and lungs, and he felt things shift and slide again. "Oh, no," he groaned and more dirt fell in on him.
"Hang on." The resolution in Jyuushiro's tone made tears spring to Shunsui's eyes. Shunsui wanted to say that he could do whatever it would take, that it was all going to be all right, but he didn't know that. The image of Jyuushiro lying broken and bleeding made Shunsui pound his forehead into the dirt.
"Oh... you're here..." Jyuushiro whispered.
And Shunsui couldn't help but wonder who it was who had joined Jyuushiro.
"Oh... you're here..."
They'd arrived. One dark. One light. Flying through the water in effortless grace. Realizing what they might be able to do, Jyuushiro marveled at their existence. Shunsui's voice still lingered in his ears.
"Please, help us," Jyuushiro pleaded.
"Us?" The doubled voice sounded surprised.
"Yes. Us." Jyuushiro's vision was going black around the edges, the pressure from the water made his ears ache, his nose burn, and his eyes feel too big for their sockets. "Please."
They flashed, one light, one dark, and the impact of their bodies against the grasping mermaid sent them all spinning through the depths. She screamed shrilly. The arms around his legs loosened their grip. Jyuushiro tumbled helplessly, unable to tell which way was up. He cried out, air leaving his collapsing lungs in a vast cloud of bubbles. Water pressed in on him, massive and implacable. Slick skin slipped under Jyuushiro's hands, razor-sharp fins cut into his palms.
The surge of mighty muscles made the darkness lighten. Then Jyuushiro realized that they were headed toward a mirrored surface, the wrinkled, rippling wall of air that bounded the sea. They broke through, and Jyuushiro took a whooping lungful of air and rain and then another and another.
"Jyuushiro!" There was a frantic edge to Shunsui's voice
"Shunsui... I'm... all right," Jyuushiro said between panting breaths. "How... do I... get... to you?"
Both of the fish were under Jyuushiro's arms, and he saw one dark eye roll. The two fish carried him perfectly level on the rolling surface of the sea. He laughed softly and coughed. When he stopped he drew a slow, deep breath. "My friend, what is your name?"
Shunsui went lax, reassured by Jyuushiro's voice and the familiar sounds of a shovel coming at him from above. He kept his hands over his head, and was grateful for the precaution when metal hit his forearm.
"Yeah! Gotcha, boss!"
Quick hands brushed the dirt away from his arms. A cool hand, soft as petals, grasped Shunsui's. More dirt came down, and Shunsui cried out. His experience in the grave of the Shihouin warrior haunted Shunsui. He knew that the grave was only as deep as he could stand, or should have been. It just felt so much deeper. He gathered his legs under him and turned his head to the side. A claw dug into his cheek, but it was pulling away at the dirt that surrounded him.
"S'all right." Shunsui spat grit and his own fear. He tried to stand, but his leg muscles gave out. "Let me..."
She pulled on his forearms and wrists while he tried to stand from his crouched position and from under the weight of the wet earth. His muscles trembled, and he pushed harder. Shunsui wiggled, squirmed, and growled when he felt the stuff that was packed around him shift and move. He felt something cold and wet pressed against the back of his neck, and something or someone grasped the back of his collar and pulled.
"Damnit, help yourself." The contralto voice sounded like the woman had a mouthful of something.
Shunsui shouted and shoved with all his might. Reluctantly the earth gave him up, let him free, and Shunsui collapsed on the grassy hillock under the young sakura that stood on its peak. The air was wet with storm, the sky roiled with cloud, and the near branches of the tree were singed black. He gasped for air and, uncannily, could hear Jyuushiro gulping for air as well.
"Wh-- who the hell are you?" Shunsui finally got out.
That elicited a peal of laughter. Now that he was above ground, Shunsui could see the two creatures who stood over his grave. One was a bone-colored wolf, pink tongue lolling. Its left eye was golden, and the right had been put out, a scar crossing the silver lid. The other creature was a girl-child made of flowers, all kinds of flowers in all colors, eyes of periwinkle, skin of magnolia, and hands of lilies. She laughed, and it was that bright, sharp laughter that Shunsui had always heard in his head.
"We're your zanpakutou," the wolf said, using the brusque voice that had spoken to him on mountain tops and in battle. It was the same voice that had spoken with a mouthful of his robes. "Do you wish to exchange names?"
Shunsui chuckled and bowed low. "Yes." Remembering the earlier demand, Shunsui added, "Please." The wolf's upper lip curled to show white teeth. "I am Shunsui Souzosa Kyouraku no Jirou. I am pleased to meet you."
"So polite," she murmured.
"A friend of mine taught me that it is sometimes better to be polite," Shunsui said mildly, and it did his heart good to hear Jyuushiro laugh.
"We are Katen Kyokotsu." The two creatures bowed low to Shunsui.
"Katen Kyokotsu." Shunsui blinked and heard Jyuushiro's low voice say: Sogyo no Kotowari. He pointed at the wolf, "I take it you're the Crazy Bone and she's the Flower Angel?"
The pink tongue lolled through a wolfish snicker. "You might say so, brother. You need a way to call us."
"I can tell you!" The little flower girl said excitedly. "You asked, so I can tell you!"
Shunsui went down on one knee, to get to her level, and she came up to him and cupped a fragrant hand about his ear. "Hana kaze midarete, kashin naki, tenpū midarete, tenma warau."
The poetry rolled over Shunsui's tongue, and he smiled as he heard Jyuushiro voice a similar couplet. "Thank you," Shunsui murmured.
"You're welcome, little brother," Kyokotsu said with another grin. "But I'm afraid it's time to go back. You're dying, and your world is coming apart. You need to fix it, now, but now we can help you."
Shunsui eyed his blistered hands and the tattered bandages that barely covered him. "Not like this, I hope."
"No. It's probably worse..."
Jyuushiro came back to himself, pressed against cold rock. He was as dry as the stones against his cheek. He couldn't feel the wound he knew had been there, the sticky puddle of his own blood lay under him, just as it had when he'd dropped away. But nothing hurt.
We healed you, Sogyo no Kotowari said. When you released us, it's just this once...
And the twins were a part of Jyuushiro's consciousness, filling every crack and crevice of his being. The sheer enormity in the glassy swell of the rising inevitability of a wave and the crackle and power of a strike of lightning was all his, at his beck and call like the heft and swing of his blade.
He groaned and heard a gasp from behind him. Turning with difficulty, Jyuushiro met Shunsui's stricken gaze.
A dire spike of intent made Jyuushiro fling himself to the side. His own blood flew into the air from his robes, and he heard the clash of steel against stone. The adjucha snarled, whirled, and struck again. This time Jyuushiro reflexively reached for his sash and pulled on the handles he found there. Two of them, and he laughed when he found himself holding two blades that looked like they'd been crossed with the hooks used to pull the fish in from the nets. An unaccustomed weight of a red spirit rope strung with square silver charms connected the two, it looked long enough to not restrict Jyuushiro's swing.
"At least I know how to use these," he said to himself, catching the adjuncha's blade in the curve of the hook.
"Reflejas," the youth murmured. Jyuushiro twisted.
Shunsui screamed. Jyuushiro let up on reflex and heard Shunsui's gasp of relief. Glancing at Shunsui, Jyuushiro blinked at seeing two giant scimitars in Shunsui's hands.
"What the hell?" Shunsui asked, frustration and pain plain in his voice. "It's like whenever we hit it..."
"... we end up hitting our partner," Jyuushiro finished grimly. "No wonder the Ito brothers went down so quickly."
The adjucha cackled and then surprised the hell out of Jyuushiro by saying in a clear tenor, "That is exactly what it is. Idiots, it's what you get for interfering in someone else's fight."
The slender youth with the bone mask stepped back from the two of them. "I am Espejo Par," he said, and bowed with a flourish. "And I am here to kill you both and open the way for my brethren, so that we may fulfill the bargain we've made. I thought I was done when I finished off those two, but now you're in my way."
"Bargain? Who did you bargain with?"
Espejo smiled a very thin smile. "Fight me, beat me, and we shall see what I might tell you. You've suddenly grown stronger, the two of you, and I am hungry." Espejo chuckled, twirled his sword and charged Jyuushiro. Trained reflexes kicked in and Jyuushiro blocked, but knowing what he knew, he forced a stop after the parry, holding back the automatic riposte so that he wouldn't hit his opponent.
What the hell were they going to do? How could they fight him? What....
"Hit him, overhead!" Shunsui cried out.
On reflex, Jyuushiro did so, swinging one of his blades for the adjucha's head.
"Reflejas!" the kid cried.
Shunsui raised a huge scimitar to block. Jyuushiro felt the jolt of the hit through his hands, wrists, and shoulders, but the clang of metal on metal came from Shunsui. The adjucha smiled when matching notches appeared on both their blades. To Jyuushiro's horror, the slender Hollow swung his sword at Shunsui's exposed torso, but another of those ridiculously big scimitars blocked the hit.
Shunsui's teeth flashed white. "Two are better than one, and I can block it if I know it's coming."
"That's part of the problem solved," Jyuushiro said grimly.
"Now. How the hell do we hit him?"
"You don't," Espejo said, his blade flashing forward as quickly as a snake. "I hit you."