Chapter 1 -- Introductions
It was over a thousand years ago...
And the Shinio Reijutsa Academy's second year student Ukitake Jyuushiro was homesick. After a full summer of being at home, with his mother, father, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, and all kinds of family, being back at the academy felt like being kicked back into a dark, hard hole.
There wasn't the romance of the first year, of being starry eyed at being accepted at all. The wonder of getting a sword at all. The wealth of learning he could do about anything. He'd made some good friends last year, but he hadn't had the time to see many of them, yet, he'd been too busy trying just to get everything organized to start the year.
It didn't help having a womanizing, randomizing, lazy, good for nothing, drinking roommate either.
Right on cue, a herd of thundering feet ran towards their shared room. Kyouraku-kun threw open the sliding door to their room and whirled in, gracefully shutting said door in the faces of three... hmm... no four young women. There were cries of disappointment, laughter, some jests that made Jyuushiro put his face in his hands, and then chattering, light footsteps away.
Jyuushiro tried to ignore the whole thing and continue with his kido homework set.
His roommate laughed softly to himself and fell over onto his bed. "Did you see those cherry lips? Those heaving bosoms? Those slender arms and legs?"
"Hmph." Jyuushiro felt himself flushing even deeper at being so petty, but he was angry.
"Hmph? How can you say hmph?" said that low, laughing voice. "The delight of womanly company all flocking about you and all you can say is 'hmph'. What kind of man are you?"
Jyuushiro's fist tightened on him brush until it creaked. "An honorable one," he said, low-voiced.
"Hmph." Kyouraku-kun loomed up behind Jyuushiro's seat, "You need to loosen up that spine of yours, Shiro-chan."
The far too familiar address was just too much. Jyuushiro took the swing, letting it pull him out of his chair, knowing he was going to regret it. But it felt too good to just do it, to let everything flow into the blow. He didn't hold it back. Sometimes it was good knowing Kyouraku-kun's ranking from first year, he'd deserve it if Jyuushiro could hit him.
There was a yelp of surprise, but Kyouraku's arm blurred into a block, training set in, and his fist came at Jyuushiro's jaw.
Jyuushiro moved into the bigger man and to the side just enough for him to feel Kyouraku's fist graze his cheek and shoulder, and he unleashed a set of punches for Kyouraku's gut. Jyuushiro was inside the bigger man's reach, and he might as well do what he could while he was there. He felt a primal satisfaction as he heard Kyouraku grunt with the blows.
But he didn't quite realize the extent of Kyouraku's experience with bar room brawls. A knee came up, quite unexpectedly, and Jyuushiro's fine, fighting world exploded into pain. He would have screamed if he had enough air, but he didn't... and for a while he rolled around in his own world of hurt.
Then he started coughing. It racked him top to toe and he fought the now familiar fight for his own breath, his own body with the ragged endurance he'd found was the only way. He felt the blood splatter his knees, his hands, and knew he'd have quite a job cleaning up later. Slowed breath by slowed breath, finally his breathing evened out, his heart slowed. There was a warm, solid body next to him, trying to keep his head up so that it wouldn't hit the floor and for a moment, he leaned into the support, glad of it as he'd had too many bruises from how hard the coughs racked him.
Then he realized who it was, and his whole body flinched away.
"Hey... no... Ukitake-kun... I..." the deep voice sounded pained.
Jyuushiro's body shook, his eyes weren't quite clear yet from the violence of the coughing. Staring at the floor he just shook his head slowly at the voice. He whispered, "Just... just let me be... I'll... I'll be okay..."
"Like hell you will... I'll get a medic..." Jyuushiro heard the door slide open.
"No!" Jyuushiro gasped that out and said, more quietly, "No... please, don't. They can't make this any better. I don't want to be treated like some invalid. I... I can clean up... I'll be okay."
The door hesitated, and then slowly slid closed. Kyouraku's heavy tread moved away.
Jyuushiro relaxed as he felt he was left alone, and suddenly found himself curled up on himself, crying. He had to work very hard at not letting any sound out; the paper walls were thin. He didn't hear the heavy tread coming back.
But he did hear when the door slid open, without a knock, without anything. Jyuushiro was completely defenseless when he looked up and saw Kyouraku duck back into the room with a bucket of water and clothes hanging on his arm. Kyouraku didn't look at him, but simply knelt on the floor by the splatters of blood and started to mop up. Jyuushiro watched for a moment, getting himself back under his own control. The shock of the entry had composed him in a way nothing else could have. Then, he sighed, wiped his eyes, shrugged out of his kimono and undershirt, and knelt by the bucket, using one of the other clothes to clean himself up.
"Domo arigato gozaimas," he said, formally.
Kyouraku looked up at that, his brow furrowing. "No need to thank me... especially with that formal language stuff. I was the one that antagonized you."
Jyuushiro shrugged, "Politeness is the glue of civilized living."
Kyouraku raised an eyebrow, "And here I thought politeness was just half lying and half kissing ass."
Jyuushiro sat back on his heels. His anger had burned out between the fight and the crying, and in the calm after that, his thoughts were his own again. "No wonder you don't use it."
There was just a grunt from the young man opposite him. Jyuushiro bent to help with the floor cleaning and said, amused, "Spine bent enough for you?"
Kyouraku snorted and looked at Jyuushiro. "Just about. Hmmm... missed a bit..." and a damp cloth rubbed at a spot just under Jyuushiro's chin, along his throat. The touch made him close his eyes.
"Domo," Jyuushiro cut it off to keep it informal. He kept up the slow, steady work of cleaning up his own blood, and felt the brown eyes watching him. "What?"
A shrug. "I guess I'm wondering why you're here. With... that..."
"Consumption," he said, quite precisely. "I'm not here because of that."
A snort, "I know that... but... with it..."
"With it my endurance is for shit. But Yamamoto-sama said that I might be strong enough not to need too much endurance." He felt the eyes on his back, "Plus, I'm the first son, and... I see what the Hollows are doing to my family, to everyone. I gotta help."
"Duty, huh," said as if it were a dirty word.
He wasn't sure what Kyouraku-kun's deal was, but, "Yeah. Duty. Though... perhaps more love than just duty. I can do something the littles can't, yet, and my parents, grands and the like are too old for this, now. Someone has to help keep them safe."
There was only silence for a while, as they both finished the floor and Jyuushiro started dipping and rubbing the blood out of his kimono. It was useful that the kimonos were black.
"You've done that before," said Kyouraku.
"Sure. With eight kids in the family, one learns how to do laundry." He laughed, "I can mend, redo seams, and change a diaper, too." He sighed. "I don't miss diapers. I do miss..." He just shook his head and wrung the last of the blood out of the cloth. "There."
Kyouraku quirked an eyebrow, "Strong, huh?"
Jyuushiro shrugged, "If you ever made it to zanpakuto class, I'd be happy to show you."
"You'll show me yours if I show you mine?"
Jyuushiro frowned. That was a voice mocking something other than him. "Why are you here?"
"Ah... the polite one becomes less polite." Kyouraku sat back and slouched against the frame of his futon and looked up at the ceiling. "I got kicked out at home, and they told me that they paid for a room, classes, food and anything else I cared for while I'm here, instead. Chichi told me since I was a useless number two son, I might as well be cannon fodder."
"Your otousan said..." Jyuushiro blinked and shook his head.
"Formal, formal..." chided Kyouraku and then shrugged. "Anyway... I'm here to get drunk, kill a few Hollows, and enjoy the delicate flowers of femininity that fall upon my sword."
"You certainly are getting a good start on that track of study," Jyuushiro said dryly.
"One does what one can," Kyouraku laughed. "Wanna go for a drink?"
Jyuushiro pushed the hair out of his face, torn a little between homework and finally being human with his roommate. It was the middle of the week, and there was an early class...
The hesitation made Kyouraku's face close, "Okay, then... have a good study." He swung out the door with just a wave.
Jyuushiro was left feeling... well... left.
He humphed to himself, softly, and shook his head. There was no helping the drunk, rich bastard anyway. He might as well study and then get to sleep while he could, he'd probably get woken when his roommate came to bed, drunk, in the early dark of the morning.