Springtime of Life
Theme/Topic: Under a sakura tree
Rating: PG (ah we've got some shounen-ai here 3)
Spoilers: Uh possible minor spoilers for like, chapter 155 or something.
Word Count: 4,754
Time: A coupla hours, lost track, really. ;;
Summary: Snippets of the past- Kyouraku remembers why he loves sakura season.
Dedication: For yaoichallenge: request by rasinah.
A/N: Obviously, I suck because I'm just not capable of writing an NC-17 fic, and thus I end up with something slightly less because yes, I am a big fat chicken. ;; Sorry rasinah! But hopefully this was okay in the end, even if I didn't get to the fun pron! ;; And yeah, this is a little bit OOC and kind of…sticky sweet in a dumb sort of way. --;; though I hope not bad enough to give anyone diabetes.
Disclaimer: Not mine, though I wish constantly.
Distribution: Just lemme know.
Nanao doesn't understand his fascination with sakura blossoms, because really, for beings that are for the most part, immortal to the greater ravages of time, shinigami aren't quite on the same page as humans when it comes to their ability to appreciate the ephemeral beauty captured by the short-lived little flowers, and isn't that their main appeal in the first place?
His little Nanao thinks that shinigami should be shinigami and keep from emulating the chaotic emotions and aesthetics of the human world as much as possible.
She is very by the book, his little vice-captain, and still very young, when he thinks about it. She is too young, and sometimes forgets that the souls between Soul Society and the human realm are shared, that their existences are cyclical. When one dies there, they return to this place. When one is killed here… they return there. And that makes them all, normal spirits and shinigami-class spirits both, the same in the end, doesn't it?
But his Nanao is young, and she should believe in their immortality while she is young, because really, Kyouraku-taichou thinks that it is in the time of youth that everyone must believe in their own immortality.
He remembers, after all, being young.
Ah, his youth and the easy-going arrogance that came with it! He remembers thinking he ruled all of Soul Society, academy brat that he was, skipping out on stamina training to loiter around the school's grounds on one particular spring day what feels like hundreds of years ago.
Really, that was when his fascination with the sakura blossoms first began, and while he appreciates the metaphor of quickly fading splendor and short, but brilliant life, it's really the immortality of beauty that gets him best, because even if the little pink flowers fade quickly, they return year after year without fail.
And that's really the point after all, isn't it? Rather than wear out their welcome, the blossoms come once a year in the spring to remind everyone that there are beautiful things to look forward to, and before they wear out their welcome, they are gone again, disappearing before anyone can get bored with their elegance or so acclimated to their presence so that they become commonplace. They are there when needed most and fade away when they aren't, and in the end, Shunsui thinks that's what's best about the cherry blossoms, the reason why he loves them so.
His sweet little Nanao doesn't quite understand him, but he thinks that that's okay, because she's young, and you're not supposed to understand everything when you're young anyway. You're supposed to live and learn and discover your own beautiful things to love in the springtime of life, not try to figure out the musings of older men who have already been down that path once on their own already.
He was young once also, after all. He remembers well, his own living and learning and the discovery of something beautiful that he quickly learned to love.
Many, many years ago, Shunsui remembers being a bit of a scallywag, a young man well liked at the academy but notorious for slacking (among other things). He was a self-proclaimed, widely recognized daydreamer, smart-aleck, and womanizer.
Those are the kinds of titles one tends to be proud of in the springtime of life in any case, and he'd laughed as the teachers had shaken their heads at him for those accomplishments, telling him sternly that he had a lot of potential, but that he would never be a respectable shinigami if he didn't work hard and put his head to the books once in a while.
Of course, he'd done the only possible thing he could have off of the tail-end of one of those strict rebuttals.
The next day, he'd skipped class.
It had been purely physical exercises he was missing out on anyway, shows and tests of strength and speed, footraces between shinigami wannabes or sparing matches with zanpakutou that were too fresh and new to even know their own names or even if they had them at all.
He'd considered it useless, really, in that early flush of young manhood, and without a backwards glance, left his peers and teachers to their own boring devices.
Looking back, he now knows the importance of those strength and endurance exercises, but as a young shinigami boiling with restless energy, he'd written it off as something useless.
And while he knows better now, thinking back to that day, he believes that even for all the strength and endurance in the world, he wouldn't have stayed, knowing what had waited for him that afternoon, sitting under the branches of the sakura trees in full blossom.
He had been whistling to himself, a pleasant tune to compliment his pleasant afternoon of self-imposed freedom, strolling through the walkways of the academy and admiring the flurry of white-pink flowers, wondering to himself, exactly how he was going to while away the hours all alone.
But then he'd heard a quiet cough from somewhere nearby, a delicate, whisper-soft noise that made his ears perk in curiosity.
He'd wondered if someone else was skipping class alongside him. Wracking his brain, he'd been unable to conjure up with the image of any one of those stuck-up, stick-in-the-mud academy brats who would dare incur the wrath of their shinigami teachers by ditching the equivalent of…gym.
Intrigued, he'd followed the sound, stepping lightly, and hoping that it was maybe a very pretty girl he could spend some time with (and also hoping that that cough wasn't anything contagious or anything, of course).
When Shunsui reminisces now, he thinks that if it had indeed been the girl he'd been hoping for, life today wouldn't be half as interesting as it has come to be.
In any case, it wasn't that elusive dream girl alone under the shade of the spring-time cherry trees after all. Instead, he found a young Ukitake Jyuushirou, reading his kidoh textbook with a fervent intensity that almost made him seem cute in a girlish sort of way, hair occasionally blowing in his face as petals fell, resting atop his head or landing on his shoulders.
At first glance, Shunsui hadn't been sure if the person he'd come across was the girl he had been hoping for despite the blue uniform, unable to give immediete precedence to the telltale color over Ukitake's stunningly lovely face.
Boy or girl, that afternoon young Kyouraku Shunsui unknowingly became victim to his first, youthful love.
Surprised at the sound of another voice, Ukitake had jumped slightly, disturbing his book and unwittingly backing up into the trunk of the tree he was resting under, sending a fresh flurry of petals raining down on top of him.
This only served to broaden Kyouraku's amused smile, and looking down at the flustered Ukitake, he remembers thinking that boy or girl, the person in front of him was very, very cute.
"Um…oh, hello. You surprised me."
Kyouraku had almost been disappointed, hearing the distinctly male response to his greeting, except Ukitake had smiled up at him right about then and it had been beautiful and luminescent and so completely sincere that all he'd been able to be was stunned really, until a delicate petal had fallen right onto the other boy's face.
Shunsui brushed it off before he knew what he was doing.
Ukitake blinked back up at him, surprised.
Kyouraku was just as surprised as the other boy.
Then that pretty, youthful face turned slightly pink at the apples of the cheeks, and Shunsui completely forgot about being surprised. "No problem. Name's Kyouraku Shunsui. Current top of the A class standings, if you didn't already know."
"Ah…Ukitake Jyuushirou…pleased to meet you."
Taking that as pretty much an invitation, Shunsui had plopped down beside the other boy companionably. "Back atcha. So Jyuushirou… you skipping class this fine day?"
Forgetting his shyness for a moment, Kyouraku remembers how incredulous Ukitake had looked when he asked the question. Incredulous enough not to object to the overly-familiar use of his given name so soon after their introduction,even. "Skipping? Class? Of course not… I would never…"
Laughing, Shunsui had waved off the other boy's flustered indignance. "Woah, cool it there, Jyuu-chan… I was just thinking that if you're not in gym class then you've gotta be skipping, is all."
"Oh, well. No. I'm not," the white-haired boy admitted, calming down slightly, and managing to look a little ashamed for his outburst. "I…I'm a little too weak for that kind of physical activity, so I have permission from Yamamoto-sama to use the period for self-study," he explained, looking down shyly at his books.
Pretty as any girl young Kyouraku had ever seen. "Too weak?" he repeated, curious.
Jyuushirou looked up again, sheepish. "My health…has never been that good," he explained quietly, looking thoughtful, though far from bitter at his predicament.
Feeling the inexplicable urge to grin, Shunsui did exactly that. "Must be someone pretty special though, for the old-man to let you pass on something the rest of the professors keep tellin' us is so important."
"I'm sure it's not anything like that…" Ukitake had paused then, looking puzzled. "Wait… aren't you skipping class?"
Shunsui burst out laughing at the slightly slow realization. "Caught me."
The smaller boy looked at the other shinigami disapprovingly. "You shouldn't cut class."
Unrepentant, Kyouraku had grinned down at the other student challengingly. "Yeah? So what're ya gonna do about it then, Jyuu-chan?"
Unexpectedly, Jyuushirou had simply smiled back, eyes laughing at the challenge the hot-headed Shunsui had unthinkingly issued, strangely already at ease with this friendly newcomer. "What am I going to do?"
"You heard me."
Imagine Kyouraku's surprise when the kidoh textbook was shoved under his nose.
"If you're going to skip physical training, you'd best study with me to make up for it."
On any normal day, Shunsui would have resented being told by anyone, let alone a smaller boy his own age, what to do. Especially study.
But there under the gently falling sakura petals, drunk with the unknown feeling that would later be classified as first love, young Kyouraku smiled obligingly and took the proffered book from Ukitake so he could read alongside him.
The next day, Kyouraku remembers finding Ukitake there at that very same spot at the very same time, reading his very same book, still looking very, very pretty sitting under a waterfall of fluttering pink petals.
Ukitake had smiled upon seeing him approach, and Shunsui remembers feeling an accompanying warm thrill deep in his chest at the sight of that, was certain at that moment that it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship though at the time, he had been unable to gauge its true depth.
But then the smile faded, and coy little thing that Jyuushirou was, he crossed his arms and looked disapprovingly at the other boy, remembering what his being here again meant.
"You skipped class again."
Shunsui smiled disarmingly, aura projecting every charm he'd ever learned how to utilize his many years as a connoisseur of the fairer sex. "Ah, you've captured me again, Jyuu-chan, but after the wonderful time you showed me yesterday, how could I possibly have stayed away?"
Then those pretty eyes had danced, despite their owner's determination to stay stern, and with one more silly little smile, Kyouraku won the prize of his companion's delicate laughter, wonderful accompaniment to the beauty that surrounded them both there in their private glade of cherry trees.
"Well, if you thought kidoh studies were wonderful yesterday, then I can promise you that you'll be just as thrilled today, Kyouraku-san." Ukitake announced imperiously, coughing gently into his hand to clear his throat. "Because you see, today we are going to memorize the chants for chapter thirteen's advanced binding spells."
Shunsui groaned painfully, stretching out lengthwise beside the other boy and looking up at him imploringly. "First of all, haven't I told you to be less formal with me? We're friends now after all, aren't we, Jyuu-chan?" he pleaded, completely ignoring the fact that while they were indeed friends, it had only been a day.
But Jyuushirou was inexplicably, almost unconscious of the short time span of their acquaintance already, feeling as if he and Shunsui had known each other far longer, though he knew not why or how. "Of course we're friends Kyo…er, Shunsui."
"Ahh, that's better. Anyway, what was I saying? Oh yeah…secondly, we're both not in class, and it's a lovely day, and aren't there a million better things for hot-blooded young men our age to be doing at a time like this instead?"
Jyuushirou looked thoughtful. "Well, I suppose yes…"
Shunsui remembers feeling a tremendous hope well within him at those words.
"…we could actually practice the kidoh spells we learned yesterday…"
Shunsui also remembers what it's like to have newly born hope sent plummeting down, deep into the very bowels of the earth.
And then Ukitake had smiled again, those honest-looking eyes that probably had every academy teacher eating out of the white-haired boy's palm lighting up with mischievous glee. The cat thus out of the bag, Jyuushirou cupped his mouth, laughing heartily into his hands at Shunsui's hanged-dog expression.
"You little imp," Shunsui growled, reaching forward and seizing the giggling boy by the wrist, tugging him down right beside him. "You shouldn't play with my hopes like that, Jyuu-chan, that's terribly cruel of you," he murmured, sounding wounded.
Still laughing, Ukitake found himself lying down beside Kyouraku, turning so he could look up at the canopy of sakura above them as he struggled to find his breath again. "Sorry, but your…expression…" he murmured, grinning helplessly. "You looked so surprised."
Shunsui couldn't help but chuckle back at the other boy, because Ukitake's charming way of looking self-satisfied after his little prank also happened to make the victimized party completely forget his earlier victimization. The taller boy folded his arms behind his head and leaned backwards more, so he could look up at the cherry blossoms and still see Ukitake's face out of the corner of his eye. "Well in any case, this is better," he'd murmured lazily.
"If this keeps up, we'll waste away the whole rest of the day and get nothing done," Ukitake lectured, though half-heartedly.
"Is this really a waste of time?"
Ukitake turned his head to look at Shunsui's happily relaxed features. "Well, I guess not," he allowed after a moment. "It's nice," he admitted, a little shyly.
"Tomorrow…we'll have to work doubly hard."
Shunsui grinned. "So you don't mind if I come for a visit again tomorrow?"
"…not…if you're willing to work hard, I suppose."
"For you? Anything."
And so went the days, one by one passing by in spring, until the last sakura petal was almost fallen, the trees shedding their young coat of blossoms in preparation for maturation, a graceful, yearly aging.
Kyouraku remembers every single day spent there with Jyuushirou, every moment and every gentle word and every chime of that sweet laughter, because it was way back then, in the time of his youth, that he learned to find love for beautiful things.
And there was beautiful Jyuushirou to show him, he who in the short time they'd known each other, had smiled his way deep into Shunsui's heart, somehow out-charming the infamous charmer himself with that guileless kindness of his.
"Shunsui? What are you looking at?"
"You of course, Jyuu-chan."
"You weren't listening to a word I was saying just now, were you?"
"Would you be terribly angry if I said I wasn't?"
"This is an important chapter, you know. You should pay attention to these things."
Shunsui had frowned, leaning over so his head was right near Jyuushirou's chest, making a show of studying the textbook his friend was holding in his lap. "The nature of zanpakutou?" he read aloud.
"Aa. It's very interesting. Did you know… our swords…they all have their own personalities…their own forms and souls, born from us?"
"Do they, now?"
"It says so right there, doesn't it? I wonder what the true nature of my sword is…will I ever be strong enough to discover it?"
Shunsui had smiled and looked up at those excited features reassuringly. "If it's you, Jyuu-chan, it will happen."
He was rewarded with a pretty blush. "Aa…well…what about you? Do you wonder?"
"About the true form of my zanpakutou?"
"Why… I already know mine."
Kyouraku winked, feeling oddly romantic. "Why…my zanpakutou's got two parts to it. One that isn't complete without it's other half. And no matter how far apart they are, in the end, they'll always be connected by one soul," he explained lazily, letting his imagination wax poetic on its own for a moment and hoping to earn some charisma points from his delightful companion while he was at it.
Ukitake looked back at him skeptically instead. "You're just making this up, aren't you?"
Kyouraku remembers smiling back enigmatically. "Would you be very angry with me if I was?"
He had been rewarded with another one of those cutely thoughtful expressions before Jyuushirou shook his head decidedly. "No, I wouldn't. Because I think that in the end, it's our own souls that go into our swords, isn't it? So if that's how you think your zanpakutou is, then you're probably right."
"Aa, Jyuu-chan, I am transfixed with every word you utter," Shunsui had sighed, dreamily. "Then what about yours? What would you want yours to be?"
"Like yours. Two parts of one whole. I think I like that idea. If it's my zanpakutou, I wouldn't want it to feel like it was ever fighting alone. So if I had two… it would be like… if one sword wasn't strong enough to stand on its own, it wouldn't have to worry, because it would have its other half there to help it out, always. It would never be lonely, and it would always have another one there to be the other half of its strength. I think…everyone wants someone else like that in their lives sometimes. Don't you?"
Shunsui had looked up at his companion then, touched by the other boy's sentiments. "Ne, Jyuu-chan?"
"Can I be it?"
"The other half of your strength?"
Ukitake laughed. "Is that really possible, you think?"
"Aa. I think, if it's you, it can happen."
Ukitake had been momentarily puzzled by Shunsui's quietly serious answer; the eighth division captain remembers the white-haired boy's responding expression of fond confusion, before he'd shook his head and agreed to Kyouraku's crazy proposition.
"Then… just like that, Shunsui will be the other half of my power from now on?"
"Aa." And Kyouraku had smiled gently, letting the, "… you'll be my strength too," remain unvoiced in his head, because it didn't need to be said out loud when he was certain their souls could hear each other anyway.
He hoped their blades could as well.
"You weren't here yesterday."
"I'm sorry…I tried to, but the nurse said it was best for me to stay inside and rest…"
"Ah, no apologies, Jyuu-chan, I just wanted you to know that you were missed, is all. How do you feel today?"
"Better. I think I was just tired, yesterday, because of the reiastu control tests we had in the morning."
"But you did so well. I heard all the rumors about how you wowed all of your examiners."
"Thanks. I heard you did well too, I was surprised."
"Oi, what's that supposed to mean, huh?"
"Nothing… it's just, Shunsui doesn't seem like the studious type. Natural talent huh?"
"Shared strength. I must have borrowed some of yours. Sorry for the strain, Jyuu-chan."
Laughter then, and Shunsui had struck the target he was aiming for, knocking away the wistfully sad expression from his companion's face with his easy-going self-mockery.
"Then yesterday was your fault!" Jyuushirou chuckled, momentarily forgetting his sorrow at not being able to see Shunsui during the physical exercise period.
"Aa. Terribly sorry, Jyuu-chan."
"Are you? Then, how will you make it up to me?"
His whole life and even to this day, Kyouraku Shunsui thinks he's never again gotten an opportunity quite as promising as that one had been.
Without another word between them, there under the sakura, Kyouraku Shunsui stole Ukitake Jyuushirou's first kiss.
Whenever he thinks back on his first love, he is filled with a strangely pleasant nostalgia, both warm and a little bit painful.
It is a love that took only the lifespan of the cherry blossoms to create and just like that, he has been under its influence for what feels like a hundred years.
But then again, Ukitake has always been the type who is well liked by everyone, who makes friends as easily as breathing. And Shunsui himself was easy to befriend back then as well, when one got past his devilish exterior. So when he thinks about it now, it was not surprising that they became as close they did as quickly as they did. It was as if, within the span of mere days, both felt like they had already known one another through many lifetimes before.
Sometimes, when Shunsui thinks about it now, he believes that they really did.
He'd never been much of a dreamer before, certainly not enough to believe those sorts of things, especially when he was young. But he thinks that the hopelessly romantic streak he now finds within himself when he reflects on such things is mostly Ukitake's fault, a result from that time of their youth long ago. It must have been then, with those kind, ever-reaching, always dreamy eyes that taught him how to believe in such silly, wonderful things as one other soul to share a multitude of lifetimes with, one to be the other half of your strength.
In the time of youth and dreams, it was Ukitake Jyuushirou who first taught Kyouraku Shunsui how to believe in those kinds of beautiful things.
Unquestionably, he is far removed from that time now. He is older. He knows, watching all the young shinigami that surround him nowadays, that he is older than he was. Less hot-blooded, less invincible, less perfect. He doesn't have all the burning fervor of youth that he used to have, but even still, he likes to think that he's developed an easy wisdom that in its own way, continues to make him appealing, even as he approaches old age or something like it.
He knows he's grown since that time of stolen moments under the falling sakura, has moved through life and made something of himself, contrary to what numerous professors once told him. He's grown up.
They've both grown up, he thinks. He and Ukitake both.
But, as he takes a quiet, solitary springtime walk, even with everything that's changed, he knows that there are some things that are constant year in and year out, just like the sakura he enjoys watching so very much.
The sound of a voice far different from that first boyish one that called his name many years ago stirs him from his thoughts, and turning, he finds the familiar face that he first spied under the cherry trees one fateful day what might have been a hundred years ago. That face is still as beautiful as the first time he beheld it, though startlingly different. It has filled out some, angles and age and distinction have grown into it since then, as have all the things that evidence a full life-- sorrow and joy, hardship and laughter.
He smiles back at the greeting, feels grizzled in a dashing sort of way as he goes to meet his stunningly beautiful friend, his first love. Removing his hat, he joins Ukitake-taichou there under the falling blossoms, the mirror image of a time past that might have been a hundred or a thousand years ago.
Jyuushirou's eyes hold the same clarity they did the day they first kissed, and without the shyness that comes with being young, the other captain warmly clasps one of Shunsui's large hands in his own before softly murmuring, "The flowers are beautiful this year. I'm glad you came to share them with me."
And Shunsui laughs deep and rich, because the sweet Jyuushirou of their youths still finds a way to shine through even after all this time, and how he is reminded of what it is he loves about this man! He brings their clasped hands up and brushes a kiss onto the slim white knuckles, the eyes he looks at his companion with old and sly now, but still as lively as they had been in days of yore. "Of course. This is our special tradition, isn't it?"
And yes, even through the years, Jyuushirou still finds a way to blush a little bit at Kyouraku's antics, pink petals blooming on his cheeks that absolutely put the cherry blossoms to shame. And Shunsui thinks that the venerable Ukitake-taichou, the only other wielder of Soul Society's other pair of twin zanpakutou, is just as beautiful as the young Jyuu-chan he remembers from so long ago—perhaps even more so. "Ah, well… in any case, I'm still glad you came, Kyouraku-taichou," he states, smiling up at his friend.
Feeling warm and happy, Kyouraku pauses to shrug off his floral-print kimono and captain's coat before reclaiming Ukitake's hand with his own. Grunting in self-satisfaction, he lets himself let go of the Kyouraku-taichou he has become for a moment so that he can fall back into the simple pleasure of being just Shunsui. "Naa…Jyuu-chan?"
"I've looked forward to this all year."
Jyuushirou beams back at him. "Me too, Shunsui."
A comfortable silence descends between the two of them, and they simply watch the flowers fall for a while, hands clasped together.
They can't see each other so often anymore, not with their hectic schedules. As a result, their lives have grown apart and their interests and experiences have branched away from one another, taking them to different places and into the lives of different people.
But like the flowers, they return once every year for a fleeting moment, to remind each other of the beauty that can be offered in the times that it is needed most. Like the sakura, Ukitake and Kyouraku are here in one another's eyes for just a little while, to give each other this season of joy and with it, a happy reminder of their shared youths before they must part again, before they overstay their welcome. To each captain, this is a wonderful revival of memory, a memento of a precious, ephemerally eternal moment that they can look forward to again and again, year after year.
It is a brief reminder that no matter what, the two of them will always have someone else, forever there with them. And that no matter how far apart they may be, in the end, they'll always be two parts connected to each other.
Together under the fluttering pink flowers, they remember their shared youths, and basking in the comfort of one another's familiar presence, rejuvenate their shared strength.
When Kyouraku returns to the eighth division headquarters late into the evening, his sweet little Nanao is right there to scold him for disappearing on her for an entire day, citing the numerous meetings and reports and deadlines he has missed as a result of his delinquency.
He smiles at her and thanks her for her vigilance, patting her head endearingly. Feeling refreshed, he lets her know that he went to watch the sakura, and that they are once again, beautiful this year.
She frowns at him and tells him that they will be the same year in and year out, and why waste time he could better spend working to go and see something that never changes?
He tells her that he goes it's because it's exactly what he needs.
She is puzzled by his teasingly enigmatic answer, and shakes her head, adjusting those cute, bookish glasses of hers before telling him that he has much to do in the morning.
He thanks her again, and tells her that she should go watch the sakura at least once, while she's still young. He offers to take her tomorrow.
She throws her book at him and he laughs, dodging into his quarters with a wily little smile.
For one brief, fleeting moment, he remembers how it feels to be young again.