Meifu's Gate

This is not so much one story as a series of scenes featuring Ukitake and Kyouraku at various stages during their childhood. Obviously, since we know little about their childhood, this is just a fan interpretation of how things might've been for them back then, and what they might have faced on their journey to Genryuusai's Academy. Each boy has eight scenes in chronology. They're just meant to be a set of key scenes - a prologue of flashback oneshots pulled together into one prequel story. Ukitake's are linked to one another and Kyouraku's to one another. They do not overlap in any way (not at this prologue point!)

We're starting with Juushirou, and they'll alternate from here.

I had planned to write about them at the Academy too - and possibly still will, with any luck - so this is the prequel to that - the backdrop if you like. But I've had arm nerve issues lately in my right (main) arm, so my writing has been slowed down somewhat (and I've only just got to the point of finishing this).

Of course, Bleach and the terrible twosome belong to Kubo Tito and not to me. I just play around with them randomly in my spare time :)

December 21st is Ukitake's birthday according to the manga, by the way, so 誕生日おめでとう、十君!

Unlucky Fourteen

The sky was thick with winter cloud on the day that the baby was born.

As the mother lay back, exhausted from her efforts, all who had attended the birth surrounded the child, peering down at his tiny face and remarking on his perfectly formed features. He was a small baby, true enough, and it had been a long and difficult delivery. But even as the light began to fade in the big back chamber of the rambling, dilapidated manor house, the mood was one of celebration. He was handsome, after all. Flawless, as though made of perfect porcelain, with his eyes already the distinctive hue of the ancient clansfolk before him. He would be his father's son, there was no doubt about it. He would be everything the family hoped for. He would be their hope for the future.

He would be their heir.

There were storms that night.

From sunset to sunrise, lightning split the heavens above the mountain shelf, rain roaring down against the wooden structures, and even from that distance the angry swirl of waves lapping against the cliff-side was enough to keep maidservants flurrying from this place to that, many trying to hide their terror in their work as they struggled to maintain order within the estate.

It was an old building, and every gust of wind whistled through the cracks and splits in the wood beams, piercing through to even the most inner of chambers.

No one slept that night.

None except the child.

That morning, the family elders met in the parlour of the estate to decide on a name for the infant who had slept so soundly even through such a violent, tempestuous storm. His uncles boasted that the child must be possessed of great courage and forbearance, to have withstood such an event on his first night of life without even raising a scream. His aunts claimed that he was simply safe and secure in the comforting surroundings of a close-knit family, and, as all heirs of their family should, had no fear of the burden which would one day fall on his head.

Only the Lord kept his silence, a troubled look in his dark eyes.

The afternoon wore on, as more and more relatives of more and more distance stepped forward to state why the child should be named for their particular favourite ancestor. Why should they not, after all, have hopes of a son who would raise their family's condition from the perimeter of noble society, and lead them forward to the heights many felt a clan of their vintage and dignity should reach? Was it not true, after all, that the current Lord of the Manor had been educated with those claiming connections to the Great Nobility? Was it not the case that, despite the gulf in social status, that Lord had succeeded in securing a wife whose pedigree was fortuitous and beyond doubt? It had undoubtedly been the honour and fairness of their own Lord who had overcome this gap in status and achieved such an unbelievable feat of negotiation. Was it not only right, therefore, that the child born of that union should be a blessed one, charged with taking the Ukitake-ke from the edge to the centre of Seireitei society?

For the first time in several centuries, there was a buzz and excitement surrounding the family that night. Their land was more profitable than it had ever been, allowing them to rent out farming space, employ staff and own their own aging, dilapidated manor house. Over the course of their Lord's fifty years in charge of the family, they had been transformed from one of the most struggling families on the cusp of Seireitei's awareness to people that their nearest neighbours had come to rely on for help and arbitration in times of need. Had they not, after all, now outranked the adjacent Kira-ke in annual income and wealth?

And now, in the midst of all this fortune, their Lord and Lady had been blessed with the birth of a son.

Surely the omens were shining on the Ukitake family that night, brighter even than the frosted Winter moon that cast it brave glow amid the lightning that split the sky.

As the discussions intensified, various names of honour and bravery continued to be tossed about as they struggled to decide on one. As the volume in the chamber rose and rose, a maidservant came to the hall in a great hurry, anxiety in her dark eyes as she dropped breathlessly down before the manor Lord.

The baby had stopped breathing.

In an instance there was chaos, as the aunts wailed and cursed the gloomy omen of the storm and the bleakness it had cast upon their house. The uncles raged and swore that such a young life should be so afflicted within the safe haven of his own home.

The manor Lord said nothing, merely meeting the maidservant's gaze with resigned, troubled eyes.

In the nursery, the child's mother, still exhausted and bruised from her exertions the day before, held the infant close to her chest. Closing her eyes, she prayed fervently with all her spirit and strength to whatever God looked over them, to spare her baby's life even if it cost her her own.

In the still, solemn darkness of the baby's bedchamber, her lips moved soundlessly, reciting prayer after prayer and spell after spell as she clung to the child, not wanting to set him down even though his tiny form did not flinch or cry at her touch.

And then, as though the whole house had been hit by the crash of a tornado, the world trembled and shook right through to the earth's core. In the midst of the aftershock, the baby stirred, opening his hazel-green eyes as he drew ragged, faint breaths into his tiny, struggling lungs. Miniature fingers stretched out and clasped themselves loosely around his mother's thick, sweat-drenched hair, as though looking for some comfort or an anchor in a wild world of light and colour he could not yet understand. Despite his ghost's pallor, faint flushing rose in his cheeks, as though through some divine force the life had been pushed back into him, and whatever dark energy had threatened to rent his body apart had settled and stilled, allowing him to put together the most basic signs for life.

For the first time since his birth, he began to cry.

At the sound of the infant's voice, rejoicing was heard throughout the manor, for the child had been spared by God and returned to them even despite the omen of the storm.

The Lord alone did not give thanks to God. Instead he took the baby from his wife's tired arms, holding him and gazing at him with a look of deep pain in his face.

The child did not stop crying, and as his cries grew more fervent, faint specks of blood began to bubble at the edges of his lip, staining the collar of his snow-white wrapping. As the infant squirmed in his father's grip, the brave spirit of the mother who had held him faded and buckled before them, and she fell to the floor, eyes fluttering shut as she let go of her grasp on her consciousness.

The Lord simply held the child, his grasp tightening as he reached up to wipe the blood flecks away from his tiny mouth.

That night, the baby's mother died, her breath stilling in her sleep as the last of her spiritual aura dissipated and flew to the heavens above. Through the wailing and moaning of her passing, the child slept soundly, seemingly growing in strength with every passing moment.

Yet even though it was never said, the family knew all too well what this child was.

The child bore the curse - the curse of the clan which had condemned so many children to death within their first hours of life.

The baby lived, but even so, the taint of death still lingered in his aura. His life had been spared, but at the cost of the mother who had already given so much effort to bring him into the world. With her spirit power, she had brought him back from the brink of oblivion, yet she had paid the ultimate price for the instinctive, maternal love towards her tiny, infant son.

And so, on the day they laid his mother's remains to rest in the family mausoleum, the Lord named the baby "Juushirou".

Author's note.

Fourteen is apparently unlucky and has connotations of impending death in Asian culture, specifically Chinese and also Japanese. I figured with Juu-kun's birth going back so far as it does, it doesn't really matter too much which culture the omen is drawn from in this case. Juushirou is written in Japanese with the kanji for fourteen plus the kanji 'rou' which can be read roughly in name terms as 'boy' or 'person'. I've always thought there's a reason for it - and now I'm wondering if this is it...after all, Kubo-sensei does love giving his characters names with hidden meanings!!

Certainly the kanji for 'four' is associated with death in Japanese culture because it has the same reading - shi - as the kanji for death! People put a lot of focus on the 'Shirou-chan' connections of his name with Toushirou, but I can't help but think it really means something more sinister...

As for the social status of the Ukitake, all we know is that they're from the lower level of Seireitei's society and though 'nobility', they're nowhere near the levels of the Kuchiki etc. Yet I didn't want to make them out to be completely impoverished, either. I figure families have strong and weak moments in their history, and that this is perhaps the peak of the Ukitake family's position in society, thanks to the hard word of his father to get them there.

Whether 'Seireitei' is an appropriate name for that side of Soul Society or not during this era is a matter of preference - but I've kept it and Rukongai because it's simply easier that way :P