Arc: Twin Souls
Word Count: 4000
Summary: The Clan Lords and Yamamoto come to an agreement on how to protect Soul Society.
Beta: incandescens has been constant as my beta throughout this entire, enormous story. Thank you so much for all the work, effort, excellent ideas, and pointing out all the points where the story could be made better, the characters more themselves, and the language clearer.
Author's Note: I can't believe I wrote the whole thing. Finally. There's also a postlude that I've written, edited, and I'll probably post it Monday and everything took so long because I didn't want to post this part without that part already done and ready to go out the door. This is the actual *story* ending and hopefully provides a satisfying plot ending in the Shonen Way. *laughs* Thank you, so much, for sticking with me for six years. Wow.
First Chapter: Introductions
Previous Chapter: Politics and Bath Partners
The next morning dawned clear and bright. The air still held the crisp nip of winter, but the lingering sun chased it away. The thin snow that lay everywhere melted quickly under the warm golden rays. While walking toward the main Shiba hall, Shunsui noticed flowers opening on the mountain sides: the pale purples of wild iris, the white of crocus, lily, and narcissus, the bright yellows of daffodils all blooming before the snows were entirely gone. The lower hillsides were starting to blush green under the dead brown, and dozens of birds called in the trees.
"It's spring," Shunsui said in wonder.
"Hm?" Jyuushiro said, looking at him from wherever his mind had gone in thought. "It is?" Shunsui watched Jyuushiro peer around them. "Oh. It is. It's warm again."
"Did you ever think we'd get this far?" Shunsui asked.
"To spring?" Jyuushiro asked, surprised. "It always..."
"No, not that," Shunsui said. "This." He spread his arms, indicating all the people around them. All the clans, students, and soldiers who were living in the camps were moving in the same direction they were. The meeting was open to everyone that wished to attend, and the students were taking advantage of it rather than just sitting around the camp. They were amid a sea of people, many talking, laughing, wondering what it was that was going to be announced.
Jyuushiro looked around and smiled.
"See?" Shunsui asked.
Jyuushiro nodded. "Yes. I see. I didn't know, and I don't think I knew that this was what I was aiming for, but..."
"You really thought we could get here?" Shunsui asked, incredulous.
Jyuushiro looked around again. "Remember when my brother said that he'd join us at the Academy?"
Shunsui blinked and thought back to their trip to Jyuushiro's home. "That seems so long ago."
"But it really wasn't, just the beginning of the year," Jyuushiro said lightly. "When he said that, it seemed so natural that he would."
Shunsui thought again. Most of Jyuushiro's siblings were adopted dead souls, not born of the Ukitake family. "You've been planning this from then?" he asked.
Jyuushiro shook his head. "Not planned. I had no idea how it might work out, but it was always in the back of my head. That we'd have to make room for the commoners, for the souls that died into Soul Society, not just those born here."
"You do amaze me," Shunsui said.
"Hm? It wasn't me, though, was it?" Jyuushiro said with a frown. "It was everyone, the whole Academy, headed by Yamamoto-sama. The idea of including regular souls from the world of the living in the Academy wasn't my idea..."
"But you've been pushing it all along, and you got Shihouin-sama, last night, to agree with you."
"But he had Fong right in front of him," Jyuushiro said reasonably. "He couldn't just deny her abilities or her potential when he..."
"But you and I, we were the ones that..."
"You did that," Jyuushiro said with a small laugh. "You gave her your sword."
"Well, if I'd known that this would be the result..." Shunsui said, teasing. Jyuushiro looked at him warily. "I might have given her both of them to hold."
The enormous meeting room was filled to overflowing, and Jyuushiro marveled at how many people there were here. He'd always thought the Academy was packed, but this was far more crowded. The space set aside for the meeting was a natural amphitheater, a hollowed bowl in the depths of rock under the Shiba Estate. The slope of the sides was steep enough to make for natural tiers that allowed everyone to see the center over the heads of those below them. There was a hole in the center of the roof, which allowed sunlight to fall in a natural spotlight trained on the middle of the bowl.
The clans knelt in neat sections, each radiating out from behind their Lord or leader, who sat around the center stage. Yamamoto was sitting in a sedan chair, and Daisuke knelt just behind him as one of three representatives of the Academy. Jyuushiro recognized the other two as Urahara Kensuke, the Research Head for the Academy and Kisuke's father, and Ryuu Kurogane's first assistant for Combat Training at the Academy. Jyuushiro was surprised to find that the Academy had equal footing with all the Clan Lords. Ryuu Kurogane was placed at the head of the Ryuu contingent, instead of as an Academy instructor, but he and his people were next to the Academy people. Kaoru, Hiyato, and Kali all knelt in the student area, and Jyuushiro was pleased and surprised to see Kenshin in the student section as well, instead of behind his father, who also sat in a sedan chair at the head of the Shiba clan.
Kaoru's father, Kuchiki Isamu, had the Lady Kuchiki Akemi in his section. Shihouin-sama came with both Yoruichi and Fong, as well as the rest of his clan. Shiba-sama had the remains of his entourage behind him. The newly appointed Lord of the Hatsuzora was the plain-faced Takahashi Shirou they'd seen in the caves, but his clan was very sparse behind him. Jyuushiro was intimidated by all the power in the center group, when Daisuke-san motioned for him and Shunsui to join the rest of the Strategy and Tactics students seated behind Yamamoto-sama.
Jyuushiro could see the edges of Daisuke's bandages at the collar and cuffs of his robes, and Yamamoto's seat included a back for him to lean against. Neither of their teachers was back to full strength yet, but it was good to see Daisuke up and aware again. The memory of Daisuke lying on the camp hospital bed was still fresh in Jyuushiro's mind. When Daisuke glanced in the students' direction, he gave them all a smile and a slight bow of his head.
To Jyuushiro's surprise, it was not Shihouin-sama who stood to address the crowd. On second thoughts, however, he realized that the head of the secret organization would not take front stage in a public event. Instead Kaoru's father, Kuchiki Isamu, stood center stage. He put his hands up for silence, and it spread from the center like ripples from a pebble dropped into water.
"Good morning and welcome," he said in a perfectly normal speaking voice, and the acoustics of the bowl carried it clearly to the very edges. There were gasps of appreciation, and he waited for them to subside before he went on.
"We are gathered here to announce the decisions that all the Clan Heads have agreed upon as to several new organizations that we will be maintaining in Soul Society in the face of the threat of more organized Hollow activity."
Jyuushiro could hear a few mutters of, "All...?" throughout the bowl, which quickly subsided when people realized that Kuchiki-sama could hear them as well as they could hear him.
"Yes, all," he said, sounding amused. "We, the heads of the Five Clans, with a few handpicked subordinates have hammered out this agreement, with complete consensus on the structure and authorities. I shall do my best to explain what will be put into place to deal with organized Hollows."
"The first thing that will happen is that an inter-Clan military force will be created, and it will be directed and commanded by a body of elders known for their wisdom and discernment in times of trouble."
"Elders?" Jyuushiro murmured just for Shunsui’s ear, frowning. "Won't that get in the way of quick decision making?"
"The military body will have its own command chain for combat situations, but all of its orders and goals will be set by the central chamber of elders, and the military organization's laws will be set by the elders as well, for there must be boundaries on the actions of the military. The first and foremost rule being that the organization will not and cannot interfere with any of the clans and their members."
"Ah... a balancing act," Shunsui said lightly. "I kind of like that. Someone was thinking to forestall a coup by might."
"But that will put the Clans also in ultimate control of the actions of the military body," Jyuushiro said. "It will always have to act in the interests of the noble families."
"Only if..." Shunsui began.
"The body of elders shall include members of the High Families, but also well-respected judges, leaders within Rukongai, and, of course, certain members of the faculty of the Academy."
"Ah. So they will check each other, and they can't just act on noble interests with the others involved," Shunsui said. "Mother looks quite pleased with herself, too." Shunsui's mother was sitting demurely, fluttering her fan as if it were made of bamboo and paper rather than steel, and Jyuushiro couldn't help but see that she did, indeed, look cheerful.
"That's good for us, isn't it?" Hayato muttered.
"I think so."
"The Academy will be the main training arm for the military forces. We all will, of course, be contributing troops for the cause, but officers must past the tests of the Academy to take their positions. Presently the student body is only made up of children from the Clans; we intend to allow anyone to attend the Academy who passes certain entrance exams."
Jyuushiro nodded at that, as it was exactly as he'd expected. There was a low murmur across the bowl at that particular pronouncement.
"That's going to be interesting," Shunsui said dryly.
"Fair, I hope," Jyuushiro added. "I want to see that happen."
"Requirements for all positions of command will be clearly delineated. All Captains for the forces are required to have bankai, and their direct subordinates must have shikai. Presently, there are only seven people who wish to serve as Captain who qualify, but there shall likely be more with the graduating classes from the Academy. Those in the lower seats will still be expected to have officer training and to be able to direct the actions of their fellow solders. The head of the Academy shall be Yamamoto-Genryuusai Shigekuni, who shall also head the inter-Clan military forces, which we shall call the Gotei 13."
There were sounds of inquiry from the crowd and Kuchiki Isamu held up his hands. "They are one and the same because Yamamoto-Genryuusai Shigekuni has no clan loyalties, and he has proven that he can command forces that mix the children of many clans."
"That would be a first, honored uncle." A slender man with the dark hair, high cheekbones, and fair skin of the Kuchiki clan stepped forward. "That a man with no Clan loyalty would be considered in a favorable light is quite a new sentiment. Would that not imply that he has all the more reason to go his own way and take all our power with him?"
"Ren." Kaoru bit out the syllable with the same emphasis he might have used for speaking of offal.
Jyuushiro straightened. What in the world were they going to do about Ren? He felt Shunsui move to hide behind him, which puzzled him, until he realized that both Kuchiki men were staring at him. Jyuushiro suddenly realized that he was pouring reiatsu out in a wave in reaction. He tried to furl the power and wasn't too sure how well he succeeded, but Ren and Kaoru turned toward each other. Kuchiki Ren resembled Kaoru to a startling degree, in looks, but didn't wear the ceremonial hair piece. He didn't seem quite the monster Jyuushiro had expected of someone that would feed souls to Hollows; instead he appeared to be a beautiful, slender man, speaking in tones of concern and inquiry.
Isamu looked puzzled. "You were there for the discussions, nephew. Why bring that up now? We already determined..."
"In closed rooms with locked doors, uncle," Ren said reasonably. "I'd simply like things stated out in the light and air so that all might understand."
Jyuushiro choked on his indignation when Shunsui's furtive elbow met his ribs. He subsided with a grumble. It would be better if Ren had no idea who knew, he supposed, but it still rankled like a burr in clothing.
"May I speak to this matter?" Yamamoto's deep voice rang out clearly.
"Please do," Isamu stepped aside.
Yamamoto deliberately stood up from his chair, and when he walked to center stage, he moved with ease and assurance. He looked around the crowd, and any and all murmuring quieted to a perfect stillness.
"I am Yamamoto-Genryuusai Shigekuni, and I have a singular purpose in this world of the dead. It is very simple, very direct, and should coincide with all the desires of all the clans and even all the souls in Soul Society."
Ren frowned. "Would you care to tell us what that purpose is, so that we might judge for ourselves?"
"You, Ren-san, in particular, have no right to judge my principles."
Kaoru sucked air between his teeth at that statement, and Ren darted a look at his cousin with narrowed eyes.
"However," Yamamoto continued, "your cousin has had every right to judge me, and he is as capable of answering your question as I am."
"My cousin?" Ren looked surprised.
"Please," Yamamoto said, gesturing at Kaoru. "Would you, Kuchiki-kun?"
"Aye." Kaoru stood up and walked to the center of the impromptu stage. "Yamamoto-sama stated it very clearly on my very first day in his classroom."
Yamamoto merely nodded, clearly not prompting Kaoru in the least.
"Damn," Shunsui whispered. "He's good."
Jyuushiro had to agree. He decided Yamamoto was either acting now in order to show all the grace he could, or he'd been acting earlier about how damaged he was to be moving and speaking this well now.
"Your purpose is to guard every soul from being consumed by Hollows." Kaoru looked only at Yamamoto, not his cousin, not the crowd, speaking as clearly and calmly as if they were having this conversation alone. "The most efficient method for ridding us of the threat is to cleanse Hollows and send them on to be judged. You wish to start by safeguarding every soul here in Soul Society, but you intend to extend that protection to every soul in the living world as well. And you will never use the threat of Hollow attacks to cow the common people as some of the Lords have done."
There were gasps from every part of the crowd.
Kaoru looked Yamamoto in the eye. "And I believe you will follow that principle and disregard every scrap of influence, politics, and social convention in pursuit of it." Kaoru turned toward Ren. "I believe that answers your question?"
Ren nodded reluctantly. "So you're saying that he's above Clan politics?"
Kaoru shook his head. "No. I am saying that he will ignore such maneuvers as a mountain ignores the goat that runs about its flanks."
Jyuushiro winced at the phrasing. Could it be that Kaoru was trying to provoke Ren into a fight right here and now?
Ren didn't seem to be taking the bait, however. He just shook his head. "Well, I must say that Yamamoto-san's ideals are to be admired."
"It is good that you say that," Yamamoto said gravely. "For I would like you to be one of my handpicked trial-Captains. What say you?"
Ren's jaw dropped, as did the jaws of everyone in the Tactics and Strategy team. Other than Kaoru, who seemed to have already seen where this was going. Fong looked amused rather than outraged, and she had all the rights to the latter. Shihouin-sama looked like a cat who had a fish in his mouth, which made Jyuushiro think really, really hard.
"Yes. I would most grateful for your help, and your bankai would be very useful in light of our first objective."
"My bankai? Our first objective?" Ren still looked like he'd been hit in the head with a plank, and Jyuushiro started to put all the pieces together. He chuckled and Shunsui gave him the strangest look.
"Aye. It is good that you asked." Yamamoto gave Ren a nod of approval. "Our first objective is to find gathered groups of Hollows as we did here on the Shiba lands, and then your bankai will be most useful in cleaning great swathes of them as you did in the Pass."
"Ah," Ren said. "That... I can see how that might work."
"Good. And since you and Ryuu Hinata have fought side-by-side against the Hollows, I would be highly pleased to have the two of you on my starting staff. At least until students begin to graduate from my Academy, I shall have to bow to the necessity of most of my Captains being nobles who have already attained bankai, and have shown some ability to make the kind of compromise it takes to cooperate with individuals from different clans."
Ryuu Hinata looked like a deer who had heard the first bay of the hounds. She opened her mouth, closed it, and then just nodded in response.
"Mostly nobles?" Ren asked casually.
"My Gardener..." Yamamoto said, almost apologetically, "... he has somehow managed to acquire bankai. He shall be one of my Captains. And, of course, I am not of noble birth, I fought my way out of the slums. So you shall have to deal with two of us to start."
Ren blinked when Daisuke-san bowed to them both from where he sat seiza. Jyuushiro wanted to applaud. This was going to be a very interesting case of keeping trouble very close indeed, of knowing exactly where the enemy existed and what they were doing in excruciating detail.
"We'd be honored to join you," Kuchiki Ren said smoothly. He seemed to have regained his footing, and Jyuushiro was suitably impressed. "I take it none of the Heads..."
"At the moment, most of them have other duties. Many are spending their time and efforts teaching their children at the Academy, and they still have their own forces to maintain and command." Yamamoto bowed politely at Isamu, and then in turn to all the other Heads of the Clans. Kurogane's return bow was no more ironic than usual. "I would not object to their joining our ranks; however, I understand that tradition dictates that they head their own forces."
"Won't it be costly to maintain both?" Ren asked, curiously.
"Perhaps, but it would more costly for the Clans not to support their neighbors against the Hollows, now that we've seen that the Hollows can act in an organized manner. Separate, uncoordinated forces have worked up until now, but the two armies of Hollows, striking as they did at the same time from different directions, have shown that no single Clan can hold against them. We had to have all the forces from all of Soul Society to meet them with enough power to disperse them."
Ren chewed his lower lip, and Jyuushiro watched curiously. To go from trying to obliterate the Shiba Clan, cause the Hatsuzora to self-implode, and hopefully take Yamamoto with them in one decisive strike, all the way to being one of the examples of how the whole of Soul Society could unite under Yamamoto's lead must be a stretch for any man. Though, in all honesty, most of Ren's plan had worked. Shiba was going to take a long time to recover, if they ever did completely, and the Hatsuzora were mostly gone but for the little administrator who had inherited the clan, if not the name.
"I would be honored to join such an endeavor," Ren finally said.
He even sounded as if he meant every word.
Yamamoto bowed in acknowledgment. "Very good. I will look forward to fighting beside you. I trust that that satisfies your curiosity, Ren-san?"
Ren bowed his head. Kaoru gave very distinct bows to both Ren and Yamamoto, who bowed back, and came back to where the other students stood. Ren returned to his place, and he and Hinata had a short and intense conversation, but both looked as if they were pleased by their "honor".
"Well, that was very interesting," Jyuushiro said.
"But probably a wise decision," Kaoru murmured. "I am grateful that someone will be watching Cousin Ren a little more closely than my father has the time or desire to do. Besides, if this Gotei 13 is near the Academy, I may have more reasons to visit with my cousin than before." The faint smile on Kaoru's face would have been a shark's grin on anyone else.
Isamu's slight smile matched Kaoru's. Jyuushiro wondered how much Kaoru knew, but Isamu quickly brought himself and the whole murmuring crowd back to order. There were no more questions, and he dismissed the enormous meeting. Most of the clanspeople went to join their families to talk, while everyone else filed out slowly through the few exits.
Waiting for enough of the crowd to clear in order for them to exit the amphitheater, Shunsui chuckled. Jyuushiro cocked an eyebrow at him. "You do realize what this means, right?"
Jyuushiro waited with his usual patience for Shunsui to conclude.
"It means that we're going to have to get bankai in the next two years," Shunsui said gleefully.
Jyuushiro didn't hit him too hard.
Out on a high barren plain, gray clouds scudded across wide, pale skies. The air was thin and so cold that snow skittered and gusted with the unrelenting wind. A tree bare of leaves was the only shelter visible for miles, and a single white figure stood pale beneath its bleached and shining arms. Another, bent into the wind, trudged across brittle grasses, eyes half-slitted against snow crystals that swirled into the air in sudden snow devils.
The second person approached the first beneath the tree. The traveler peeled off the scarf that covered most of her face and revealed brown eyes and long curling brown hair. The left half of her face was covered with a bone-white mask, serene in its simplicity.
"How are you?" she asked.
The Hollow leaning against the tree snarled in answer, but he pushed away from the support. His bone mask was more like that of a helm, with nose guard, cheek guards, and a band around the brow. He wore leather armor in pure white and over it a fur vest and cloak, and his legs and feet were clad in roughly furred boots.
"Angry. What did you expect?" He spat. "My brothers and sisters all cleansed, my armies decimated, and all that was promised has turned empty. I wish to have nothing more to do with those traitorous souls and their damned wars and machinations."
"What if I told you that there was a land, empty of these stupid humans?" she asked. "A place still rich in reishi, but without the sweetness of broken hearts or rent soul flesh?"
"Then I would ask you how I might get there and bring any other Hollow that wishes to come," he said. "And I'd also ask how we could return to hunt our meat when we wish to sip something more than just the air."
"And if that involved ripping holes through the walls between the living world and Soul Society?" she asked.
He laughed. "All the better, Milady. When and where will you do this rending for me and mine?"
"Meet me here in a moon's cycle, with all the Hollows you can find, and we shall go about making our very own Hollow World, Baraggan Louisenbarn."
He sneered. "Not ours, mine. For I shall rule."
She bowed a graceful half bow to him. "King Baraggan. A very fine title, your majesty."
Either he didn't hear the mocking tone to her words, or the howl of the wind hid it from him, but he nodded proudly. "It will be," he said. "Be here, in a moon's cycle."
"I shall." She whisked away in a hiss of static.