~Shukumei no Shinnyuusei~
This story is a continuation from the prequel, bringing Ukitake and Kyouraku together at the Academy. It's a story of what might have happened, not what did happen. I've used the little clues Kubo-sensei has given us, but I've used them in the way I felt was best for the story.
This is a story about the era in which the boys grew up and studied, not just a fiction about Ukitake and Kyouraku. There are a lot of issues going on in this story and a lot of 'it could've been this way' themes will rear their heads.
It is not an all out bloodfest fighting fic. I don't write those. It's also not intended as a 'slash' fic - although I'm open to readers interpreting my rendition of the bond between Ukitake and Kyouraku in whatever way they want to. :) My focus is character driven and it always will be, so this is a story from that angle. (Though since I'm the one writing the story, it's almost a certainty that there will be an amount of blood, gore and death before it's finished.)
Basically, this is my view of Shunsui and Juu-kun at school. I thought long and hard about the way people might want/expect to see this story. But then a good friend said to me that if I didn't write it true to my own way of thinking, it'd fall apart and I'd lose interest. So in the end, that's what I've done.
This story is simply a labour of Ukitake & Kyouraku fan-love, and not intended by any means as a definitive account of their Academy days.
The canon characters belong to Kubo-sensei, as does the concept of the world I'm busy redecorating. All other characters are of my devising, though may be inspired and/or based around concepts used by Kubo-sensei in the existing Bleach storyline. Only Kubo-sensei's interpretation of any Bleach character or situation is canon - all others - mine included - are down to the affection of the fans and may be contradicted by future chapters of Manga not in print at the time of publishing.
"Tomorrow, we begin again."
From his position by the window, the bearded man pursed his lips, his wizened brow creasing as he contemplated the days ahead. "It seems almost no time at all, yet things are moving so quickly. Ten years is no time at all, considering. And even now, none of the Shinigami who've completed the program have been anywhere near the right level to take any kind of lead. However…"
"However, to form squads of any kind is an achievement in itself, Genryuusai-sama."
His companion, a young, fair-skinned woman cast him a gentle smile, setting down the book she had been reading to meet his troubled gaze with her sympathetic one. Though she appeared not much more than her middle twenties, there was something serene and composed in his companion's bearing, and despite his anxieties, Genryuusai found himself somewhat reassured by her simple calm.
"This time ten years ago, the Gotei were in severe difficulties." She continued now. "Without your drive and inspiration, none of this would have begun. Yet, because of your efforts, we have young ones training to be Shinigami in a way that has never happened before. The world is changing. And you are at the forefront of changing it. That's something to take pride in, surely."
"Yes, it is." Genryuusai admitted slowly. "And this year…this year is important in its own way. This year's intake are not just from the lower levels of the Great Houses. At least two or three of the new students are from lower levels of society – and it gives me hope that as time goes on, word will spread even across those levels to other families with gifted children. There are so many untapped resources in Seireitei. We need them now more than ever. Yet if even the Great Houses struggle to provide lesser children of Gotei rank…"
"Gotei rank meaning, I suppose, fit to wear the haori?" The woman asked gently, brushing her white cloak pensively as she did so. "If I may say so, I think I disagree. The haori is a noble symbol of power and leadership. In the world you've envisaged, it will be a flag of peace and a sign of security for many to flock to, I feel. A leader should wear a haori, Genryuusai-sama. But just because not all are at a level strong enough to wear it, it doesn't mean they have no gifts at all. On the contrary, there is a lot to be said for those students who have begun to form the new squads. We have much to look forward to from them, I think, as time goes on. And, perhaps, more to learn about ourselves."
"After all, great things cannot be accomplished overnight. It took several generations to establish a Gotei system in the beginning, after all. To get so many powerful Clans to work in tandem with one another was unimaginable at one point, was it not? I don't remember such a time, sure enough - but I realise that you do."
"I do." Genryuusai agreed pensively. "And it's that memory which has driven me to believe in doing this most of all."
He pursed his lips.
"Noble born Shinigami with their spiritual energy honed to perfection have a long life potential." He added. "I'm living proof of that fact - even now my strength far belies my years. Yet even now too many born gifted die prematurely in this violent society of ours - whether within their own Clans over family honour or in other places against enemies such as Hollows. Pride is not such a strict master in the lower levels of Seireitei society, yet I don't believe hard work is lacking in those sectors. Perhaps the squad method will, in the end, be a more satisfactory answer."
"Either way, something needed to be done." His companion said softly. "The Real World has become unstable. Hollows are able to rip easily through the divide that separates us from their dwelling places. More, they are not weak Hollows, and we are still learning so many things about the reiryoku we all have. When we were considering only eight active Shinigami armed with zanpakutou in rank at any one time, the possibility of learning new techniques and understanding new points of view was severely restricted. Your Academy is an answer to that problem. Already in the last fifty years regulations have been relaxed so that others beyond the Gotei representative can summon, release and train with zanpakutou if they have the requisite skill to do so. I have no doubt that as time moves on, the graduates of this Academy too will come to teach us as much as we are hoping to teach them."
She spread her hands.
"And there are none better for them to learn from, after all, than the first Shinigami to ever release his zanpakutou to Bankai level." She added lightly. "Even though you are not currently wearing a haori yourself, Genryuusai-sama, there is noone in Seireitei who doubts your pedigree to teach these young ones everything they need to know. You are, after all, Gotei in spirit, if not in current rank. After all, even before you began this school, those you taught as private students are starting to step into the role of Squad Leader. Even though they are very new concepts as yet – I have no doubt that, in time, there will be strong Captains of great value to rely on in the new Gotei system."
"Perhaps." Genryuusai acknowledged. "Admittedly, it has raised less consternation than I expected, suggesting the inauguration of these new Captains and bringing old students of mine into a position of authority. But there have been severe Hollow raids lately, in this world and the other. The Council too has started to realise the danger this imbalance poses to all of us, not just the unfortunates trapped in Rukongai and beyond. Eight Shinigami is no longer enough – seven, if you consider that no one has taken the Kyouraku haori since Matsuhara's unfortunate death. Even with the Urahara's recent breakthroughs and studies, more needs to be done. Squads Nine through Twelve may not be of the same vintage or influence yet as the Gotei traditions of One through Eight. But in time, I hope to change that."
"Yet even so, the new leaders of these new squads are still irrevocably tied into the Clan system." He murmured regretfully. "Squad Nine is Kuchiki-run. Squad Ten is currently being guided by Shiba Kyouki's second son, even though he's only just managed to muster Shikai this past month. Squad Eleven is taken by a kinsman of my own, and Twelve is currently in the hands of the Urahara. More, those who have been seconded into squads to support the existing Gotei are also, largely, comprised of a Clan's individual kinsmen and women. It is a solution, but not the solution. More must yet be done – the Clans alone can no longer handle this problem."
"Yes." His companion looked thoughtful. "So long as they are drawn from Clans, the Noble Council of Elders cannot and will not object. That is why they have so far left your Academy largely alone. But it's clear to me, Genryuusai-sama, that it may not continue that way. The last Council ballot is proof of that. Your majority was only by one, in the end."
"And I know full well that it's your vote I have to thank for it, too." Genryuusai smiled slightly. "Though I don't think I ever doubted it, I really didn't know how the Kuchiki and the Urahara might vote. Their abstention still concerns me – but for the time being, your continued support is invaluable, Retsu. That you and your Clan are not intimidated by the negativity of other Clans…I don't know what this place would be without it."
"Unofficially, I'm willing to help in any capacity I can." Retsu said simply, offering him another smile. "I cast the vote with my Clan's agreement, but it was also my own personal opinion that your plans should be allowed to continue forward. Officially, it's a little more difficult to become directly involved in the Academy. The growing pressures of my Gotei role and my Clan position means that I'm torn at times even between those things. But I believe in this Academy, without a doubt. I believe in your methods as both leader of the Gotei families and as a sensei of many years good standing. Indeed, as my sensei, not so long ago."
Amusement glittered in her beautiful eyes.
"I feel almost sad that I was not able to study in a place like this." She murmured. "Your students are fortunate in that they'll learn together, and build cameraderie from the first meeting. It is the way things should be done, after all, for the benefit of Seireitei's future. And I will always say as much to any who ask me."
"If I have even two students in fifty who possess half your ability, Retsu, I will be well-satisfied with my efforts." Genryuusai smiled despite himself. "You know full well how much the Gotei have come to rely on your knowledge and skill, even in the fifteen years since you accepted the haori. If I could have even a few of your calibre, I feel sure that we'll be able to turn the tide."
"You flatter me too much, as always." Retsu laughed. "But I do take my role seriously, and I will work hard with those you've assigned to my care, with the idea of forming a true healing squad based on the ideas and values instilled in every member of the Unohana clan almost from birth. If we can fight, and we can heal, then we can prevail. So I believe. To destroy something is a strength, but to fix it is a true gift from the Gods. And I feel blessed that that power lies in my hands."
"Thanks to your help, also, this year's intake number six girls among the eighteen new students." Genryuusai reflected. "So many families are reluctant to let their daughters go into danger, when so many females are born with equal power to their male kin. It's been a source of frustration for me many times over. But that a cousin of your own is enrolled here, and that you – a female representative of the Gotei – are so endorsing this place – I think, maybe, things are beginning to change."
"Shiba Kyouki-sama feels the same way, and that's why she's sending her daughter this time too." Retsu added, a faint, amused smile on her pretty features. "She visited District Four recently, and we had a long and detailed discussion on the subject."
"Kyouki-dono is very forward-minded in her mode of address." Genryuusai admitted. "But that's all to the good, having two strong female Gotei representatives and Clan leaders in Seireitei at the same time."
"Our Districts are conveniently placed, also, for covert feminine conspiracy." Retsu said lightly, and Genryuusai let out a low chuckle.
"I can well believe it." He admitted ruefully. "But if it's that way, I'm glad. We can't afford to sacrifice fifty percent of our potential based on outmoded conventions and backwards social ideas, after all."
"This world belongs to all of us. A woman's instinct to protect is just as strong as a man's, at the end of the day." Retsu said comfortably. "If, perhaps, it is sometimes expressed in a different way."
"Yes. Exactly." Genryuusai nodded.
"On another note, Genryuusai-sama, I remember you said there was a particular student that you thought you wanted my advice regarding?" Retsu changed the subject, tilting her head on one side and eying him quizzically. "Would it be better that I know now, before they arrive tomorrow?"
"Yes, it would." Genryuusai agreed. "It's the boy from the Ukitake family, Retsu. Juushirou, his name is. The one we spoke about before, when I first had contact from my old student Kamikura."
"Ukitake Juushirou." Retsu murmured the name. "I see. The Ukitake family have a long history of cursed medical health, do they not? I believe I have heard something of it in the past, when members of my family's healing order have been called upon to administer treatment in emergency situations."
"This one is an exceptional case." Genryuusai replied. "And I have great hopes for him in this new world we're working hard to create. But even so, the path towards that is far from simple. He was born sickly – and though he doesn't have an unpleasant countenance or a negative manner, his frailty is all too apparent the moment you see him. Still, he has the most amazing spiritual energy of any child I have met from a lower level family. I understand he has some distant Kuchiki blood, which may account for it – but his potential is immense. More, his intellect and general academic understanding is of a superior level, also. Of all the guidance tests submitted, his scores ranked him joint second out of the eighteen, even though I understood his poor health had meant at least eighteen months hiatus in his studies at one point during his development."
"So much potential, and yet…"
"Yet power of that level can damage as much as it can be honed to fight." Retsu said softly. "And as one of Seireitei's civilian classes, he won't have received adequate training in how to manage that, even at this point. I see. You wish for me to be on standby, perhaps, in case he pushes himself too far?"
"With a condition like this, I think you will probably be the best and only person to call on in such an emergency." Genryuusai agreed. "I believe he will go a long way, so long as I can train him to use his power in the right manner. But it may take time to get there, and he'll take a battering on the way."
He cast Retsu a quizzical glance.
"You can't tell me of any way to cure the boy's ailments?"
"There are limits to my Kidou." Retsu shook her head. "Even with the arts my clan have perfected over the generations...if its an inherited disease, I'm afraid it forms a core part of his being. It is with him till he dies. There is no cure for it."
She pursed her lips.
"Indeed, in the past, the numbers who have been saved from such a condition have been few and far between." She murmured. "For the most part, babies born with it do not survive infancy. That this young one has indicates his strength is of the level you say - if it was not, he would likely not have made it to this stage. But whilst I will do all I can to help if my help is needed, I will not be able to cure him."
"Well, even so, I'm grateful." Genryuusai admitted.
"And of the others? Six girls, so twelve boys? You said eighteen, after all."
"Yes." Genryuusai agreed. "Mostly from various levels of the Noble Families, but not all. They have all performed well on the guidance tests, and I feel sure they will form a good group once they've had a chance to understand the basics of Shinigami combat."
He paused, then,
"In fact, there is only one of the new intake who concerns me slightly."
"Yes." Genryuusai's eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "But I suppose we will see how things go. I will make no prior judgements of my students, Retsu, not without seeing them here first. After all, even first impressions can be misleading. I'll let them find their feet, and then we'll see. Maybe among this intake will be some true Shinigami of the future."
It's my strong belief that Unohana is older than Ukitake and Kyouraku. Kyouraku calls her 'Dai-senpai' which suggests that she was there before they were, and also, possibly, that she may have studied under Yamamoto. But we know Ukitake and Kyouraku are the first Captains to graduate from his Academy. So Unohana wasn't a student there.
I greatly suspect that Unohana was noble-born, even if her clan are no longer in prominence in the modern storyline. But that's speculation on my part.