Epilogue: Towards The Spring
(Two Months Later)
Spring really did come early in Eighth District.
Juushirou picked his way carefully through the newly budding plants and trees, pausing from time to time to examine a blossom he did not know or to make out the fluttering of a bird whose merry call echoed through the branches over his head. All around the bases of the trees were the tiny white heads of the snowdrop – the flower of hope that Shunsui had dubbed his what seemed like so many months before – although in fact it was less than ten weeks since the wedding and that day beneath the winter forests. The snowdrops were not alone, either – other flowers had begun to push through the thawing earth and though Juushirou did not know their names, he was sure that some of them were the same as the bulbs that greened and flowered in his homeland towards the beginning of summer.
He leant up against the trunk of one of the trees, closing his eyes as he allowed the gentle breeze to blow through the ragged ends of his lank white hair. At the edge of his awareness, although he knew he was miles from the coast, he could hear the faint swish-swish of waves and he smiled, a look of contentment crossing his features as he understood what the sounds meant.
Even though he had not heard In'you speak to him since that fateful day when he had almost lost his life, little by little over the course of the last week he had begun to be aware of them once more. At first the sensation had been faint and almost like a fleeting moment of imagination, but gradually they had been there more and more, and deep down he knew that at last his body was beginning to reach out to them once again. Before she had left his side to return to her other duties, Retsu had told him that his sword had sealed itself from him to allow his body to heal – now he was seeing the truth in that fact, for the seal was gradually melting away as with each passing day his health grew stronger and more stable.
He had not coughed blood in more than a fortnight, and he was no longer confined to the tedium of reading in his quarters, for fear of his delicate chest taking a chill. At the end of the week, he would be visited by Retsu again – and then, with her permission, he would be allowed to restart his studies in preparation for the theory exams that made up half of his final year grade. He would lose his second place ranking, and would probably finish bottom of the second year. But he was resigned to that, now – that he could continue his training and keep moving forward from this point was something that had come to matter to him more.
A voice startled him from his reverie and he opened his eyes, standing more upright as he turned to look for the speaker. A flash of yellow fabric through the trees told him she was not far away, and as she reached him, he smiled, holding out his hands to catch her as she tripped on a stray tree root and almost fell headlong onto the damp grass.
"Careful, Chi-chan. You should watch where you're stepping – else I might be the one nursing you."
"Well, if you will run off without leaving a message, this is what happens." Chihiro righted herself, sending him an indignant look as she smoothed down her gown. "Just because you are allowed to go outside doesn't mean you should do so without telling anyone. I've been running all over the place looking for you!"
Juushirou grinned, sending his sister an affectionate, unrepentant look.
"You should just be glad I'm in a position to be chased after." He said sensibly. "Since it shows I'm getting better, and that's presumably what everyone wants."
"Silly, of course it is." Chihiro snorted, but there was a twinkle of amusement in her hazel eyes. "Why else would I have stayed here as long as this? Okaasama entrusted you to my watchful eye, as she put it – she'll be cross with me if I don't deliver on that fact."
Juushirou eyed her thoughtfully for a moment, digesting her words. His family had been waiting for him when he had first been well enough to travel over the border to the Kyouraku manor in District Eight, and despite his weariness from the trip, it had meant a lot to him to have them there. That Tokutarou had moved behind the scenes to send carriages to bring them to his side had not escaped his notice, and he remembered again how the Kyouraku Lord had called his people Juushirou's unofficial Clan family in times of need.
Certainly that's how it seems. I'm not part of this world here, but I've not been treated badly by anyone since I've been staying here. My worries about being so far from home were offset immediately by the fact everyone was here – and then even when they had to return, Chi stayed so that I wouldn't be on my own. She's always been that way – always the one who looks after me and makes sure I'm all right. I guess it was too difficult for her to leave me in foreign hands when I was in such a state as I was – but even though it's selfish, I can't pretend I'm not glad to have her. And then, of course, it's been to her benefit, too.
Out loud he said,
"You mean that she might find out you've been shirking your nursing duties to run off to clandestine meetings with random men of the Kyouraku guard?"
At this, Chihiro's cheeks flushed a deep red, and Juushirou chuckled, reaching over to pat her on the head.
"I can't not tease you, but I really don't mind." He assured her. "That you've made some…er…friends of your own whilst you've been here…has been a good thing, in the end. It would have been very boring, otherwise."
"Mm." Chihiro's cheeks were still pink, but she smiled, nodding her head. "Nobody's treated me badly, even though I'm not Clan – but I find it easier to talk to people like Kyouko-chan and Takeshi-kun than I do to stand on ceremony with Rae-hime or Yoshiko-sama. They've been kind and I like them – but Kyouko-chan is more like someone I might have grown up with in Sixth, and well, Takeshi-kun is…"
"Quite a handsome young man, so I've heard." Juushirou said teasingly. "Though when I'm going to meet your soldier friend, I'm still waiting to find out. If he's serious enough about you that he's letting you call him by his first name – I probably should be chaperoning you, else Okaasama will be scandalised."
"No, she wouldn't." Chihiro shook her head decidedly. "And I don't know…yet…if either of us are serious. I'm only just coming up to seventeen, he's nineteen – and this is a long way from home. I know how it feels now, Juu-nii – to be parted from the family for a long time and to be thrust into a strange world. Even though I'm being looked after by Clansfolk, I prefer to spend time talking to you – to Kyouko-chan – to Takeshi-kun. I don't mind helping Kyouko-chan with her chores…In fact I enjoy it far more than I do spending time sitting and chatting to Clan people. I guess that what you're used to sometimes is the best thing – for me at least. I can't imagine sitting around and not doing those things – so to do them makes me feel a little less uprooted from home. Takeshi-kun's family are farming folk with a little land not far from here – and so he and I, we have things in common. And even though he's trained with a sword, it isn't like what you're doing in District One. I suppose I understand now that you are different from us – but even so, I'm glad you don't think that means you're separate from us."
"Mmm." Juushirou's gaze became serious. "I know what you mean. I'm not Clan either, and though my closest friends are, this world isn't my world either. But I'm learning about it – and how to negotiate it – and that deep down many of the people are the same. Little by little I think things will change…perhaps in the future we'll be a lot more the same than we are now. But it's small steps."
"Steps you're taking to lead the march." Chihiro slipped her arm into his. "But for now, you're coming with me. I didn't just come to talk about Clans and common folk, Nii-sama. I was instructed to find you and I said that I would – so now I have, I'm taking you back to the house."
"Back to the house?" Juushirou looked blank, and Chihiro nodded.
"You've visitors." She said lightly. "Though whether you can call them really visitors or not is…well…I'm not sure."
"What kind of visitors?" Juushirou was surprised. "Coming to see me, and not Tokutarou-sama?"
"Well, they're kind of…special visitors, I think." Chihiro agreed. "Which reminds me, as we walk, I have a question to ask you, too."
"Mm?" Juushirou glanced at her quizzically, and Chihiro dimpled.
"You tease me so much about Takeshi-kun, and before you would never have noticed something like that." She said airily, brushing her fingers against the branches of nearby shrubs as she did so. "You were very slow at noticing Hiro-kun's affection for Kira Hikari, even though Okaasama and I had been talking about it for a long time before he admitted that he was fond of her. Yet even though I've only talked about Takeshi-kun as a friend, you've seen past it to something else. I wonder why. There must be a reason."
"Maybe some of Shunsui's reiatsu is still infecting me after all." Juushirou said ruefully, touching his fingers absently to his chest as he considered her words. "You're right – I wouldn't have noticed, not before."
"Or maybe it's something else." Chihiro said teasingly. "Perhaps Juu-nii has someone he's fond of too – and because he does, he can see how I feel about things, too."
Now it was Juushirou's turn to redden, and Chihiro laughed.
"Ah-hah!" She exclaimed triumphantly. "I knew it! Then all those long letters you've been writing when stuck in your chamber haven't just been to Shunsui-kun and your other male friends back at school, after all! I was sure I saw one letter in your incoming mail written in an unfamiliar girl's hand – but I wasn't certain. Still, I'm right, aren't I? Juu-nii has someone special too – don't you?"
"Mm…" Juushirou sighed, shaking his head. "It's not like that. I mean…I have written letters. I've written a lot of letters, because I've had not much else to occupy my time since I became convalescent. To Okaa-sama, of course. To Shunsui and Ryuu-kun and the rest at the Academy – and to Hirata in District Seven, because he's as isolated as me at the moment, and under much more stress than I am too. And I have friends at school who are girls as well as just boys – so you shouldn't find it odd if I'm writing to them."
"But?" Chihiro pressed, and Juushirou sent her a wry smile.
"You are persistent." He scolded. "It's none of your business, seeing as you don't know any of my Academy friends except Shunsui."
"Well, that's where you're wrong." Chihiro said cryptically. "And…it's as much my business as Takeshi-kun is yours."
"Not really. I mean, I'm just acting as a concerned big brother."
"And I'm acting as your nursemaid and a concerned little sister." Chihiro retorted. "You might as well tell me. Otherwise I will ask Shunsui-kun – and I'm sure if you won't tell me, he will. He strikes me as the kind of person who'd know that kind of thing."
"Don't you dare!" Juushirou's eyes widened, and Chihiro chuckled.
"Then you tell me." She wheedled. "It's just such a novelty to think of, because you've always said how you never intended to marry or fall in love or any of those things. But I'm not wrong, am I? There is someone…isn't there?"
"There is." Juushirou admitted cautiously. "In as much as…there's someone I…I care about a lot. But she's Clan, Chi-chan. And I'm not. And that barrier isn't going to be easily broken down. She…she doesn't care about status and nor do I – I mean, it's not…an unreturned affection. But…she's a Kuchiki. And…our homeland is District Six. The fallout if we were to cross the line…could have a wider ranging impact than either of us want."
"I see." Chihiro's eyes softened. "I'm sorry, Nii-sama. I've been teasing you, but really it's painful for you to think of, isn't it?"
"Not painful." Juushirou smiled. "I mean, we're still friends – close friends – and if that's all we ever are, then it won't be a failure. Just it's what you said before. Some things are set deeper in stone than they might seem. Even if I become a shinigami – that isn't going to change."
Chihiro was silent for a moment, considering this.
"Will you tell me her name, at least?" She asked softly. "I promise not to tell Okaa-sama or anyone else – not even Hiro if you don't want me to. Not now I understand why you're so shy about it. But…I'd like to know. Since you know about Takeshi-kun – I'd like to know what the name is of your first…well…the first person you…"
She faltered, an embarrassed expression on her face, and Juushirou grinned.
"Mitsuki." He said evenly. "Her name is Mitsuki. So now you know. And now we can change the subject, since it's unlikely the two of you will ever meet."
"I don't know about that." As they rounded the corner towards the main estate, Chihiro shot him a guilty glance. "I…I actually think we already have."
"Already…?" Juushirou stared, and Chihiro nodded, letting out a sigh.
"You see, Nii-sama, when I said that you had guests…" She said slowly, "I suppose they're not really guests at all. I mean, some of them are, but…the person who sent me to find you was Shunsui-kun. And…and the people with him were…"
Before Chihiro could finish, there was a loud yell, followed by a whirlwind of aqua and green and Juushirou staggered back as someone flung her arms around him, hugging him tightly and casting him a warm grin. "You're in one piece, even though Shunsui did his best to kebab you!"
"He won't be if you do that to him, Sora-chan." That was Shunsui, and as Juushirou's reeling wits struggled to take in what was going on, his friend strode forward, grabbing Sora firmly by the shoulder of her hakamashita and yanking her forcibly away from her victim with a sigh. "I'm sorry, Juu. This one's hyperactively excited about seeing you – if you hadn't have guessed – but perhaps I should have locked her in until I'd seen how steady you were on your feet."
"He does not seem any the worse for it, however." Ryuu's voice prevented Juushirou from making any response, and he turned, seeing the Kuchiki leaning very uncharacteristically against the beams of the house, his dark hair unusually loose and scattered over his shoulders as he inclined his head slowly in acknowledgement. He was not alone, however, for at his side stood another familiar figure, robed in the gentle green and cream of her Clan's colours and with her dark hair tied back from her face with a loose emerald ribbon.
Despite himself his heart caught in his throat, and he swallowed hard.
"Mitsuki?" He whispered. "Ryuu-kun. Shunsui…Sora…and Enishi too!" As he registered the tall gangly figure of his Yamamoto classmate lounging over the wooden rail that separated them from the rest of the inner estate. At the sound of his name, Enishi grinned, raising his pawlike hand in a wave of acknowledgement, and Juushirou was quick to return it with one of his own.
"There were a few people who wanted to see you." Shunsui explained, coming to rest his hands on Juushirou's shoulders as he eyed him carefully. "Me especially, but I offered an open invite to anyone else who wanted to come gawk. There were a lot of nosy gawkers, so everything's a little bit chaotic inside. Chihiro was taking her time – so we were about to begin a search party of our own to find the both of you."
"He didn't tell me where he was going, and he'd walked a fair way." Chihiro shot Juushirou a dark look, and Juushirou shrugged, shaking his head.
"I'm allowed to walk. It's good for me to get fresh air and natural light." He said slowly. "But…what are you all doing here? Just to see me? But…"
"This is midterm break." Sora explained cheerfully. "Since we've five days to ourselves, Shunsui suggested we all descended on District Eight to see how you were doing. Of course, Hirata's not with us – he's still locked away in Seven and we couldn't persuade anyone to let him out even for a few days. But everyone else from Class Three came. Even Naoko-chan."
"Shikibu-san, too?" Juushirou questioned, and Sora nodded.
"Which is why we oughtn't spend too long out here." She explained. "Naoko didn't want to come out into the cold and Shihouin was passing a message from his sister on to Tokutarou-nii but…it probably isn't a good idea if he comes back and they're left alone together. The whole estate might explode."
"No kidding." Shunsui looked rueful, and Juushirou grinned, nodding his head.
"I understand." He said softly. "Then we ought to go back inside. I'm sorry to have kept you all waiting – but if you wanted to surprise me, probably you should take waiting into account."
"How are you really, Juushirou?" Mitsuki's grey eyes were concerned as they began to walk towards the house, the young Kuchiki falling into step with him and his sister as they did so. "You seem…all right…but when Kyouraku-kun said…"
"It was a bit of a horror story, no matter how I explained it." Shunsui said regretfully. "But he is in one piece, Mitsuki-chan. You shouldn't look like that – even without healer senses I can tell that he's much more his usual self."
"He seems adequately mended, if he can fend off one of Sora's mad bear hugs and lose himself in the forests without anyone knowing where to look." Ryuu said dryly. "I would be reassured, Mitsuki. He will return to school with us come the start of next term – and everything will be as before."
"This is your sister, isn't it?" Sora asked, casting Chihiro a glance, and Chihiro nodded, her cheeks pinkening at the sudden attention.
"This is Chihiro." Juushirou agreed. "She's the next one down from me, though she and Hiroyuki are twins. She's well used to keeping unruly brothers in line – which is why she's been staying here to keep an eye on me and make sure nothing untoward happens."
"That sounds quite sensible in my opinion." Ryuu observed. He eyed Chihiro for a moment, then, "I do not see much likeness, I confess – except in the eyes, which are undoubtedly the same. She clearly has no Kuchiki blood about her, and you can see as much just from one look."
"Ryuu-kun! She'll get offended if you say it like that." Mitsuki scolded, grabbing her cousin by the arm. "Chihiro-san, you're very pretty – don't let what he said make you think that you're not!"
"Meaning that Juushirou, by default, is ugly as a pig." Shunsui chuckled. "Since Ryuu-kun is right – they're really nothing alike to look at."
"Shunsui…" Juushirou glowered at him, and Shunsui shrugged unrepentantly.
"I'm just stating logical conclusions." He said airily. "Besides, beauty is in the eye of the beholder – isn't it, Mitsuki-chan?"
"Shut up." Mitsuki's matter of fact response caused even Shunsui to start, staring at her in surprise. "Don't say such mean things, Kyouraku-kun – of course Juushirou isn't ugly, and don't be so stupid."
"That told you." Sora giggled, and Juushirou hid a smile at the look on Shunsui's face. "You should know better than to tease Mi-chan about Juushirou these days, Shunsui. She's got a lot tougher and she's resilient to you now – so you ought not to underestimate her."
"Guess not." Shunsui agreed good-naturedly. "My apologies, then, to all I may have offended."
"I too meant nothing offensive." Ryuu was discomfited, and despite herself Chihiro laughed.
"I took no offence." She assured him with a smile. "It's all right. And it's true. We don't look alike – people often comment on it. But Juu-nii looks like his mother – and I look like our father."
"Of course…Chihiro is your half-sister, isn't she?" Sora realised, as they stepped into the salon proper and Juushirou saw Naoko sitting primly as far from the cold air as she could, while Kai, who looked out-of-breath was leaning up against the lacquered wall panels, a faint look of irritation in his golden eyes. "Because your real Ma and Pa are both dead…that's right, isn't it?"
"You still haven't any tact, Sora." Kai interjected as he heard her words. "You're talking about Ukitake's blood kin, not some random people in the dim and distant past."
"It's all right." Juushirou assured him. "It's true, after all. They are both dead – and I never knew my real mother."
"But you are somehow connected to the Kuchiki-ke, right?" Enishi dropped his heavy bulk down in a corner with a thump, drawing a disapproving look from Naoko's direction as he scrabbled to get himself comfortable. "That's why you're able to blast holes in stuff so easily – because there's some Clan in you somewhere?"
"Something like that, probably." Juushirou looked thoughtful. "Although – I wonder if it is her power or if it is mine, in the end."
"Bit of both, probably." Shunsui reflected.
"But there is truth in what you say." Chihiro said evenly. "Because Juu-nii has always been a little different from the rest of us. We're none of us at all powerful – not like he is. And Father wasn't either, although he had a little spirit power and he tried to use it sometimes. I don't like thinking that Juu-nii isn't exactly the same as the rest of us – but more and more it's obvious that he isn't. Whatever kind of person his mother was – that's the thing that made him stand out."
"Ryuu and I have found out a little bit…about who she was." Mitsuki admitted, and Juushirou looked startled.
"Mm. It's one reason why we so eagerly accepted the invitation to come back here so soon after your disappearance in the gardens over the winter." Ryuu recovered himself, nodding his head as he remembered. "Even though there are Kyouraku kinsfolk probably waiting to ambush me from the shadows – I thought that the risk was still a good enough one to take."
"Nami isn't here any more, but I'll be sure to tell her you came by." Shunsui had not been suppressed for long, and he sent Ryuu a mischievous grin. "She'll be most gratified to know that you're so fond of calling on District Eight."
Ryuu sent Shunsui a dark look, but did not deign to respond, instead slipping his hand into the folds of his cream obi and pulling out a folded sheet of parchment.
"This is all." He said apologetically, directing his words towards Juushirou and ignoring his Kyouraku classmate very pointedly as he spoke. "I do not think…that I really have the right to convey this or any information at all as regards Raiko-dono. Guren-sama treats it as a subject not to be spoken of – though I learnt from Shirogane-senpai that Guren-sama himself had asked questions about you and that in your trial before the Council he had known the name of your father. So I assumed that meant you had some direct connection to the Clan in some way. Shirogane-senpai also was curious to know why you had so much power and Kuchiki interest – so he assisted me in accessing some of the records that a mere student like myself would not be able to. When we returned from the wedding melee to District Six, we were able to find one or two references to a child called Raiko, who was once a member of Guren-sama's household."
"A member of…Guren-sama's?" Juushirou took the paper carefully, his heart pounding in his chest as he unfolded it. Mitsuki nodded.
"We were surprised, too." She admitted. "But that's clearly what the documents said. Then she disappeared…and nothing else was said. A lot of the files from that time have been locked away or destroyed – it's only because Shirogane-senpai wanted to help us that we managed to look at them."
"Seems Nagoya was fond of you after all." Enishi observed. "Who'd have thought?"
"Shirogane-senpai doesn't like to tell people if he likes them or not." Mitsuki looked thoughtful. "He much prefers telling them if he doesn't like them. But…I think Houjou-kun is right. Whether he says it clearly or not, I think he believes Juushirou has a lot of shinigami potential. And he doesn't like to think that that comes from the Districts – so if there is a Clan link, he wanted to find it out."
Juushirou glanced down at the piece of paper, his eyes becoming thoughtful as he read the words written there in Ryuu's neat, precise columns of characters. There was his mother's name, alongside the dates of the records they had discovered, and then, at the bottom, an unfamiliar name.
"Kuchiki Kinnya." He murmured, frowning. "Who's that?"
"An Uncle of Guren-sama's. He's still alive, but lives in seclusion and is thought to have taken some kind of religious vow since nobody ever sees him at family events any more." Mitsuki said softly. "He never married, but it seems that Raiko-dono was…his daughter."
"She was illegitimate." Juushirou pursed his lips. "That's what you mean, isn't it? Mother was born Kuchiki, but she was born out of wedlock and so shamed the family. So they got rid of her…and she grew up far from the manor, where nobody need ever know. Then she met Father, and they were happy, so she probably didn't mind. But…that her roots were so high up – I wonder if even she knew."
"She would have known, but I expect she was told never to speak of it." Ryuu said astutely. "As a Kuchiki, such things would not be spoken of, but from the records we found, her mother – a serving maid - died when she was small and Kinnya-sama tried very hard to acknowledge her with the rest of the Clan. She was the only child he ever had, and I think he probably felt some affection for her – but although he tried, nobody else ever really accepted her. So she was sent away, most probably, to live with some paid off servant and that was that. It has happened in all Clans – but in particular the Kuchiki-ke who do not tolerate slurs on their honour. In truth...had Kinnya-sama not been interested in her welfare, it is possible that...worse may have befallen her than exile from the Clan."
"You mean they would have killed her?" Sora's eyes became big, and Ryuu nodded.
"The Kuchiki-ke are rather ruthless about such things." Now Naoko deigned to enter the conversation, uttering a heavy sigh. "You are probably better off not claiming a connection to them too strongly, Ukitake-kun."
"Damaging a perfect veneer is a bad thing in some circles." Kai said dryly. "The Kuchiki take that more seriously than most - though knowing Ryuu here should give you enough indication of that."
"Well, either way it doesn't matter." Juushirou spoke before Ryuu could react to the jibe, folding the sheet of paper and slipping it into the folds of his own robes. "I'm grateful to you both and to Nagoya-senpai for helping to find this out. She was – she is – a ghost in my memories, but now at least I know who she was a little more. It doesn't matter to me that she was born illegitimate or not. She was my mother…and now I know."
"If Guren-sama remembered your Father's name, even if your Father met Raiko-dono after she was thrown out of the main Clan, surely that means he tried to find her?" Shunsui suggested. "You don't know that information if you have no interest in it, surely? It suggests that Guren-sama wanted to know what happened to Raiko-dono…and went to pains to discover it."
"Guren-sama was only a child when all of this happened." Ryuu shrugged. "Read into it what you will. All I know is that he does not speak of it, and even Shirogane-senpai doesn't know what the truth of it is. That little information is all we managed to glean. The rest is our assumption – all I know for sure is that Kinnya-sama was her father, and that she was illegitimate. Nothing more."
"Then Nii-sama really is Kuchiki, albeit of broken blood." Chihiro frowned. "Somehow…I don't like thinking of it. I prefer to think that…that he's Ukitake-ke."
"That's how I see myself, don't worry." Juushirou grinned. "That's why my zanpakutou sheath has our family name written on it. The Ukitake-ke is the only family I belong to – now or ever. It doesn't change anything. It just helps me to understand a bit more where I came from."
He shrugged his shoulders.
"Unohana-sensei said once that probably the reason I'm the only one with haibyou is that Hahaue and Father both carried it." He added. "But Okaa-sama probably doesn't, so none of my siblings have it. If Hahaue was Clan, I didn't know how that was possible – but if she was illegitimate, then she must have carried the gene through her mother. And that…explains something I didn't know before."
"Haibyou is quite a high price to pay for discovering something like that." Shunsui said gravely, and Juushirou nodded.
"But it strikes me that if she died when my mother was young, perhaps there was a reason why. Perhaps that was the reason why." He said quietly. "And perhaps that's why mother was really thrown out of the Clan. Maybe that's why she wasn't accepted, even though Kinnya-sama wanted her to be. Because she had tainted blood - diseased blood - and they didn't want to risk their family being contaminated with a disease they'd already eradicated from the Clan. Mother wouldn't have known that - Father either - that it wasn't just him who brought the curse into the Ukitake line. He always felt it was his fault that I had it - but in the end, it wasn't just about him. And there's no way of changing it but...even if I can't prove for sure it's that way...it's nice for a few pieces to start to fit together. To make sense of all of it - my illness, my strength, the things that make me able to fight and the things that hold me back."
"It looks like Kuchiki and Edogawa did good, then." Enishi remarked. "Though it doesn't matter to us either, Ukitake. It didn't before and it doesn't now."
"School is odd without you or Hirata." Shunsui agreed pensively. "You'd think that Hirata's absence would be easier to overlook, but oddly, it isn't. It will be much better when we have a full class again. I guess he's written more to you than to any of us - do you know what he's planning to do?"
"Come back at the start of Third Year, like me, I think." Juushirou considered. "But we haven't really written about that. More about everything in District Seven and how I'm doing here in Six. He's been practicing with Kibana in swordsmanship and that stuff, but he said he missed training with you, Kai-kun, and he's looking forward to being able to do that again."
"I'm a hard taskmaster." Kai let out a low whistle. "But I guess that means this Kibana guy is worse."
"He's a mercenary and an elite of Kyouraku training, so probably." Shunsui nodded. "Whatever that means."
"Will Endou-kun really be all right?" Naoko looked doubtful. "After all...he's not...he's not exactly someone you'd expect to take the lead. And..."
"Hirata will be fine." Juushirou said frankly. "He's stronger than people realise. Maybe more than even we did, to be honest. A lot has happened...but even so, he's still looking forward."
"Probably Misashi-sama is right and he will be the one who really changes the Endou-ke." Shunsui reflected. "I'm quite sure that the last time I saw him, he was starting to show signs of manifesting a zanpakutou spirit. And really, the only thing that has ever kept him back in terms of class rank has been his physical inability. If Kibana's training him, and if Kai-kun does, too - that will change. He's not lacking in the ruthlessness an Endou needs as a survival skill."
"But he's not going to be someone who kills for fun, because he doesn't like it." Juushirou agreed. "I think Shunsui's right. Hirata will be the one to fix things, though it will take a long time."
"Hirata's zanpakutou, huh?" Enishi looked surprised. "Are you sure?"
"Probably it's not at a point he can train it yet." Shunsui shrugged. "But yes. Something changed in his aura...and because I've been more aware of mine lately, I noticed it. I think the Third Year is going to be quite eventful, given the fact that Juu's aura feels more swordy too than it did before."
"Mine are coming back." Juushirou agreed. "And your arm is healed, so...I guess that means..."
"I have talked to Yama-jii." Shunsui looked sheepish. "It was quite a long talk, all in all, and bits of it made me do a lot of thinking. I'm going to officially begin training for my zanpakutou come the start of the next term, since though my arm is all right, it's not up to full strength yet and I've been focusing on getting back the muscle and coordination that I lost while it was injured. I only started being abused roundly in Minabe's classes again these last couple of weeks...so you won't miss anything. You can help me train, in fact, when you come back."
"That's a senpai's job." Juushirou shook his head, and Shunsui grinned.
"It is, and it will be." He acknowledged. "Some poor soul who I'm already pitying will have to take me on. But I meant informally. In terms of zanpakutou, you're senpai to all of us - so you should help out."
"It would be something for the Academy if our Class were all racing ahead, wouldn't it?" Kai looked thoughtful. "I guess that means the rest of us need to pitch in and see what we can do, too. If even Hirata, who's the youngest, might be on the verge of calling his sword...Kuchiki, Houjou, we can't be left behind."
"What about us?" Sora objected. "Just because we're girls doesn't mean we should be ignored!"
"Then I guess it's decided." Shunsui's eyes twinkled. "Next year, our Class are going to take the Academy by storm. We're going to set the shinigami standard - and just see whether anyone can keep up with us!"
"This meeting is adjourned."
As the members of the Endou council filed out of the administrative chamber, Hirata let out a sigh of relief, adjusting his spectacles on his nose as he hurried to slip away with the masses. His father was busy this time with some of the other representatives, and he took his chance to escape before someone stopped him to ask his opinion, slipping through the long, narrow hallways to the little cluster of studies that belonged to the heads of the family's power. As he reached the door he paused for a moment, resting his hand against the wood as he took in the engraved family crest that decorated the lacquered surface.
This had been Seimaru's office, once. And before that, Mibune's. Now it was his - and though to him it was more of a classroom than a political place of negotiation, he still had not fully become used to the change in his status.
Heir to the Clan.
He sighed, pushing back the door and stepping inside, closing it with a soft click behind him as he made his way across to the desk. Sinking down behind it, he reached for the pile of dusty old textbooks, pulling the uppermost one towards him and opening the cover.
Shackles I can't see, but shackles I can't escape. I never thought I could be so homesick for a place that wasn't home - but I miss the Academy. I miss being able to laugh and joke and be teased by everyone. Even though I can see the Clan improving, I still feel oppressed in this place. Eiraki and I...everything has changed between us since the night she tried to take my life, and even though I know it wasn't her fault, I don't think it's ever settled down. We've both changed and grown apart - will I ever get used to that, I wonder? That now the ones I trust the most are no longer my kinsfolk, but those I've come to live and study with over the last couple of years?
He turned over the pages of the kidou theory book, glancing at the neatly printed columns of kanji without really taking them in.
And if I don't keep up with the rest, I'll be kept down a year. Even though it's not my fault Father kept me back here...I still can't let up. I know now that I want to be back at the Academy, but I want to be back with Juushirou-kun and Shunsui-kun and Kai-kun. I don't want to be held behind them. This Clan has done enough damage to me and my family...I won't let it ruin the rest of my training.
His eyes narrowed and he sighed, pushing the book aside.
It's so hard to focus on anything, but at least I know that...if I have a few years to continue training...I intend to enjoy them. If that's the only freedom I ever have, I'll take it with both hands and make the most of it. No matter what weight the future might bring for this Clan. Seimaru's actions have had far reaching consequences for everyone - but especially for Father, for me, for Eiraki, for Mother. I have to be ready and willing to take that on, even if I hate the idea of it now.
His gaze flitted to the window, as for the briefest of moments he thought he saw the silhouette of a bird hovering in the pale dusky sky. It was nothing more than an illusion, he knew that, yet even so his heart skipped a beat, and he took a deep breath into his lungs as he felt the cool evening wind swirl through the chamber.
When I get back to school, I'll be able to talk about that, as well. When I can stop thinking of the Endou and start thinking of other things. I can talk to Sensei. Talk to Juushirou-kun. And get their advice. Because Shunsui-kun was right. There is...something else inside of me.
He put his hand to his chest, feeling the pulsing rhythm of his heart.
Something unfamiliar - something that changed in me when Seimaru died. And I know there's no going back on that, either. So wherever it leads, I need to find out.
A voice from the door made him glance up, and he sighed, taking in the familiar form of his Father's chief retainer.
"Kibana-dono." He murmured, and Kibana smiled.
"We have a little time, Hirata-sama." He said quietly. "If you wish to spend a while practicing with swords."
Hirata hesitated for a moment, noticing that the sensation of the wheeling bird's presence had gone on the soldier's arrival. Then he let out another sigh.
"I suppose so." He agreed reluctantly. "Please, give me just a few minutes...I'll join you on the training ground momentarily."
Kibana bowed his head, withdrawing from the study, and Hirata got to his feet.
At least if I learn to wield a sword right, maybe then I'll be worthy of knowing more about you, bird of prey. And whether or not you and I can work together to try and put all these messy things to rights in the way that Father hopes we will. I haven't even spoken to him of it yet - but even so, that's all I can hope for now. That you'll let me trust you, and that you'll consider me worthy to know your name.
There was no response, yet the breeze blew sharply around Hirata's body once more, teasing at his long dark hair, and the young Endou knew that somehow the ghostly bird had heard and understood.
To business then.
He managed a wry smile.
To the training ground. To do my best to earn your respect and prove that even I can be an Endou the Clan can be proud of.
The night was heavy and dark, with a bitter winter wind that blew unrelentingly through the halls of the Endou manor even despite the thaw in the season. In the grounds beyond, the birds that had sung frantically all day long in the hope of securing a mate had quietened, and only the hunting night owl could occasionally be heard flitting across the darkened sky.
The household was quiet, guarded from the outside by silent, focused retainers whose fingers hovered over the hilts of their swords ready to launch an attack at the first sign of trouble. Within, the noble family were settling down for the night – safe in the knowledge that another day had passed in District Seven without violent incident.
In the shadows of the swaying willow trees, a hooded, caped figure gazed out across the dew-tipped grass thoughtfully. Though it was drawing close to midnight, he could see the light of kidou lamps in the annexe building and his gaze darted from one side of the surrounding landscape to the other, his quick brain picking up one by one where the military officials were stationed.
One. Two. Three. Four. No, five of them stood between him and his target destination, and his eyes narrowed as he calculated the possibility of slipping past all of them unseen. They were all just men, in the end – not gifted in any way with spiritual wits or prowess, and even though their fighting skill was undoubtedly of a high level, it was unlikely that they would detect the quick shifting form of an unknown shadow as he darted from crevasse to cranny and made his way towards the aging stone building.
"Bakudou no Nijuu Roku. Kyakkou." He murmured, his voice soft enough that even the sweep of the wind obscured the sound from those in the surrounding vicinity. As the kidou cloaked itself around him in a protective shield, he dropped his reiatsu to its lowest possible level, slipping into shunpo as he zig-zagged from tree to tree towards the balcony that led into the apartments beyond.
As he set down on the smooth polished wood of the veranda, he heard a movement from the rooms within and he smiled, feeling gratified that his judgement had indeed been correct. She was awake, then, despite the late hour. Yet somehow he had known that she would be – that deep down inside she was still his, and more, she would be waiting for him.
Even if such a wait is hopeless, or lasts a lifetime – she'll wait.
Amusement glittered in the man's muddy pale eyes.
Love is a greater snare than even Chudokuga's shikai, when it comes to the heart of a lost young girl. The tendrils of spirit power were easier to break than the threads of emotion binding her to me. And she is still useful to me. Therefore I haven't given up on her – or this – just yet.
He listened for a moment at the door of the chamber, making out the different sounds as he judged whether or not the young hime was alone. Finally he decided that she was, and carefully and soundlessly he slid back the dividing door, stepping into the chamber proper.
Eiraki was curled up in one corner, a book on the floor in front of her but it was clear from the faraway look in her azure eyes that she had not been paying much attention to the contents. At the unexpected movement of the door, however, she glanced up, and as her lips parted in an exclamation of surprise, the figure released his spiritual cloak, revealing himself to her for the first time. Eiraki was on her feet in an instant, as if ready to call for help but he darted forwards, grasping her fingers loosely with one hand and throwing back the hood of his cloak with the other.
At the sight of him, her eyes became huge.
"Shh." Keitarou put his finger to her lips, and Eiraki stared at him with a mixture of disbelief and confusion. Then she let out a stifled sob, throwing himself on the hooded visitor and burying her head in the folds of his heavy cloak as she clung to him.
"Kei-sama." She murmured, her voice shaking with emotion and relief as she raised those vivid azure eyes to meet his clouded pale ones. "You're alive! You're alive after all! When they said…the Council…but you're alive. You're here and…and I knew it. I knew you couldn't be dead."
Gently Keitarou disentangled himself from her embrace, dropping down onto the ground before her and bowing his head low before her.
"I did not expect such warmth of greeting." He said soberly, keeping his head bowed as he spoke. "Considering the level of pain and betrayal I have put you through – surely I thought you would summon your guards at the very sight of me and have me taken in chains."
"Yet you still came here, even thinking that?" Eiraki whispered, and Keitarou raised his gaze, slowly nodding his head.
"I wanted to see you even so." He said soberly. "Because I wanted you of all people to understand…everything that happened."
He sighed, schooling his features into a look of guilt.
"I even hurt you and drew you into the deception." He added sadly. "Even though you trusted me…in the end even I betrayed that trust. But I didn't want to, Hime. I didn't…"
"Shh." This time it was Eiraki who reached out her hand, putting a thin, delicate finger against Keitarou's lips, and he gazed at her in surprise.
"Nii-sama believes you wanted to hurt him, and that you were working for Seimaru and all kinds of other things." She said quietly, her eyes unusually serious as she stared down at him. "The Council are looking for you, because they say you were working on something terrible and illegal and that it needed to be stopped. They say you put a spell on me – and one on Nii-sama's friend Ukitake-san, too. There's so many bad stories, Kei-sama, that I feel like they're surrounding me from every angle. And I didn't even know if you were still alive…or if people were saying all these things without you ever being able to give your story."
Keitarou eyed her for a moment, gauging the tension that rippled through the young girl's body and the anxiety in her blue eyes. She was waiting for his reasons, he realised…she was waiting for him to tell her why he had acted and what he had done – and a faint smile touched his lips, for he knew that despite his crimes, she still desperately wanted to believe in him.
He inclined his head.
"I will tell you the truth." He murmured. "You and you alone, since you're the only one who will give me a fair hearing. Since the Council came I have been hiding outside of Seireitei, and I mean to go back to that place once our conversation is ended – until such a time when the furore has died down and I can try to live my life more safely. As a wanted Urahara, the odds are already against me. There's no point me giving my testimony to the Council for that reason – I'd be convicted before I even spoke."
"Then tell me." Eiraki knelt down before him, her eyes softening. "Please. I want to understand. You were always helping me – never unkind to me. And I can't believe…that you would…"
"I was working for Seimaru-sama." Keitarou admitted slowly, and horror flashed into Eiraki's eyes. Keitarou nodded, letting out a heavy sigh.
"I had no choice." He murmured, his tones rich with regret and hesitation as he carefully absorbed each and every change in her expression. "He told me he would kill people if I did not. He discovered that I'd helped you to escape his clutches…but Hime, instead of punishing me, he said he would punish you. He told me that if…if I travelled to District Eight and I made you attack your brother, he would let you live. He would leave you and your mother alone, if I did that. I did not want to…I did not. But…I had no choice. He wanted to kill you – and I…I wanted to protect you just as I promised I would. Hirata-sama was a stranger to me – you on the other hand were not."
"I see." Eiraki's eyes narrowed and Keitarou saw the flicker of righteous, indignant anger flare in the vivid blue depths. In that moment, he could feel the Endou spirit radiating from her, and once more he was reminded of the warrior Yayoi and her ruthless, unforgiving nature. He lowered his head once more.
"I'm sorry." He whispered, adding just enough of a tremor to his voice to enhance the emotion of his words. "It's unforgivable even so. To make you hurt Hirata-sama…but I was frightened, Hime. He had so much power and I thought we would not ever meet again, and…"
"Kei-sama." Eiraki cut across him, reaching across to cup his chin in her hand and slowly she raised his head once more to meet her gaze. "My cousin was an evil, evil man. And he told me that he wanted me dead. For him to use you in that scheme too…I'm sorry. He hurt your family and then he hurt you by using the connection you had to me. Probably he intended that all the time – to make you his puppet and to make you and I allies so that if I was threatened…"
Keitarou closed his eyes, allowing tears to trickle down his cheeks.
"Even so." He repeated quietly. "What I did was unforgivable. So I will leave here. You won't hear from me again. I just wanted you to…"
"Take me with you."
Eiraki's words came out of the blue, and even Keitarou was startled by their firmness, staring at her in confusion.
"Take me with you." Eiraki shook her head. "I don't have any reason to stay here…I don't have any purpose within the Clan and even my family don't understand why I feel the way I do. I'm trapped here as much as I was when Seimaru was lord – only now it's the brother I grew up with and the parents that I wanted to protect who feel so far away from me. Nobody quite trusts me any more – they say that the annexe is to be my home because of my status as the Clan leader's daughter, but I know it's because they want to keep Hirata-nii and I apart. They think deep down that I might try and hurt him – that somehow I'd do that, even though he's my brother."
"That is my fault, though." Keitarou pointed out, reaching up to wipe his tears away. "Because of what I did to you…"
"But you did it because Seimaru made you. Because you wanted to save me, not because you wanted to hurt Hirata." Eiraki said slowly. "Isn't that right? You've always told me truth, Kei-sama – about yourself, your real name…so now you'll tell me truth too, won't you? I'm right, aren't I? Those were your reasons?"
"Yes, Hime." Keitarou nodded his head. "They are as you say."
"And if it comes to it, I also betrayed you." Eiraki bit her lip, looking distressed. "Because they lied to me – they told me you wouldn't be hurt. But someone tried to kill you and now they want to hunt you down. Father has begun even in the last week or two fresh searches across the District, offering rewards for information about where you might be hidden. Worse, there have been Shihouin soldiers here too doing the same errand. They will find you if you remain here, but I…"
She swallowed hard.
"I don't want you to disappear from my view." She whispered, tears glittering on her own lashes now. "I'm quite alone, even now I've come home. There's nobody who believes in me or sees any worth for me. They're kind to me but it's no more than that – I feel on the outside. And the longer it goes on, the more likely Father will find me a political fiancé from that assassin Clan and force me into playing a part that I just can't bear. I don't want to marry anyone else...I don't want it at all."
"I am fifteen, now." Eiraki raised her head, determination in her bright eyes. "In one more year I will be of age to wed and then I will probably be sent away to marry so that I am not in a place where I could cause Hirata-nii harm. Even though I never would – there is that barrier between us now. I am sure it means I will be sent far from here – and if I am to do that, then…"
"But coming with me would put you against the Council and the law. It would put you in danger of your life and I may not be able to always protect you." Keitarou pointed out. Eiraki nodded.
"I know." She said simply. "But my mind is quite firm. I hoped you were alive, Kei-sama. I hoped and prayed and wished for it and wouldn't believe anyone who said you might be dead. I hoped you would come to me – and even despite the danger you did, so that you could tell me in your own words the truth of what happened. We both did bad things and we both were used by Seimaru. Therefore we're both tainted people. And because of it, I want to come with you. Even if it's dangerous…I no longer feel I belong here."
Keitarou was silent for a moment, then a slight smile touched his lips. He got to his feet, reaching out his hand to take her fingers in his.
"Your faith in me is more than anyone else has ever had." He said solemnly. "And I value it, Hime. I value it more than you know. My heart drew me here, and deep down I don't want to be parted from you, either. But right now things are dangerous. People are looking for me and if you vanished, they would look for you too. The place I will go is unknown to you – and there will be no richness or finesse – no servants to wait on you, fine clothes or fancy titles. Even given that, are you still sure? That you wish to be by my side, no matter what? Once the decision is made, there will be no going back."
"Hirata-nii's said since he came back here that there were things he had to fight for and had to do." She said quietly. "And that he'd made up his mind to do them because that was his destiny. He killed Seimaru. He rescued Father. He did all the things that he had to do to save this Clan. But he also showed me that this Clan really isn't worth saving. And that the crimes committed by it – against your family and against its people – are far greater than I ever knew before. I don't want to be an Endou any more, because of that. I don't want their blood on my hands. If I come with you, I can leave that behind."
Keitarou's smile widened, and he inclined his head in acknowledgement of her words.
"One day we will come back here." He said softly. "And we will make sure that all the wrongs are fully righted. But for now, Hime, we should not linger in this place. The guards may alert themselves to me at any moment, and if I am caught here now, my sentence is death. I can't fight the way that others can – if I'm captured, then…"
"I know." Eiraki reached to her throat, loosening the Clan pendant and setting it down on the table. She reached for the book she had been reading, flicking through the pages to find a blank sheet and tearing it forcibly from the volume in one clean rip.
"Hime?" Keitarou stared at her, and Eiraki offered him a faint smile.
"I will tell them that I have gone by my own will." She said simply, grasping the brush from the inkstone and sweeping the characters deftly and determinedly across the page. "That way they should not believe me abducted, not if the words are written freely in my own hand."
Keitarou moved to stand beside her, reading the columns of daintily written kanji as he did so.
" The Endou-ke does not need a hime, and I do not need this Clan. I have opened the cage and I will fly free. Do not look for me, for I will not be there to be found. Eiraki."
Softly he read the words out loud.
"My Clan's warrior spirits are hunting birds, but girls are not encouraged or allowed to possess them." Eiraki set the brush down. "And so all Endou hime are caged birds instead, Kei-sama. But Grandmother – she flew free and did what she believed in. And I'll do the same thing, too. I'm fed up of being unable to do anything – and of being used and manipulated by political factions because of my bloodline. If I come with you, I'll abandon all of that. If I come with you, I can start again. We can start again. And one day…one day show my family and the Council that the Clans aren't always right."
"Even if that means facing your brother?"
Eiraki hesitated for a moment, then she nodded her head.
"Hirata-nii should have understood, but in the end, he didn't." She said with a sigh. "What happened to you and your people…in the end he didn't understand at all. He did as I asked him and took Seimaru's life – but nothing has really changed. Peace has come, but people are still as they were before. And I'm still as I was before…only now I don't want it and now I want to change."
I see. So some of my rebel spirit still lingers inside of her.
Keitarou's eyes narrowed slightly as he digested this.
Is it the effect of my company, or the lingering result of having had Chudokuga within her heart for so long? The child has changed…grown older and yet more bitter with each passing day. All that has been inflicted upon her has begun to warp her character – and that dark, Endou spirit I felt from her before has started to awaken with force. Yayoi-sama was a woman who could forsake her blood if they disagreed with her will. Eiraki-hime has her Grandmother's eyes…perhaps she truly does also have the old woman's harsh will as well. I had thought it would be harder to convince her to come – more, that I might have to take her by force. But…as it stands…
The future Lord of the Endou will not want to raise his arms against those associated with his sister. He is not the ruthless soul she is – he probably has no idea that Eiraki-hime is more an Endou than he ever will be. Yet I can use that to my advantage. She may be spiritually weak – and as yet too young to be of real use to me. But she will do well, I think, as a soldier in my fight. It isn't over – it has only stalled. Yet with Eiraki, I can begin all over again – and more, birth a new generation in whom to instil the memory of the exiled Urahara.
It will take time, but I can spare time. Nagesu-nii, you were foolish not to kill me. Whether you were right or wrong in the end is unimportant. I've lived my whole life this way now – there is no other path for me to take. If they imagine that a few setbacks will slow me down…they are fools indeed. I may have lost Shikiki, and perhaps, for now, the Ukitake boy is also beyond my reach. But he is alive. Shikiki's talents have developed as I anticipated, and because of it, Ukitake Juushirou still lives. There are many, many options still for the future. I am far from being defeated – this is only the start.
He took his cloak from off his shoulders, wrapping it around Eiraki's as he took her by the hand.
"We should go, then, if that is your choice." He said softly. "So long as I live, Hime, I promise to protect you and keep you as safe as I am able. What the future holds yet is unknown, but even so, if we face it together, the possibilities are endless. Seimaru is gone so there is no longer anyone to control or manipulate us. What we do from now on is up to us – and together we'll make sure that things change. You'll never be useless to me, nor kept in a confined chamber away from what's important."
He bent to kiss her hand, then,
"Our engagement has never been broken, in my heart or in my mind." He added solemnly. "In a year, we can make it official – and then nobody will ever be able to tear it apart!"
Yep, that's the end of the Third Chronicle.
I want to thank everyone who's supported and kept faith with this tale, even despite how long it's been and how much twisting and turning I think I've done with people's emotions. If anyone is still speaking to me, then yay O.O.
Right now I don't know what I'm writing next, or if I will write about Juu and Shun again. Surely people are sick of these two by now?
I have other ideas for things buzzing in my head, but at the moment I'm not sure what will follow this, if anything at all. We'll see. Obviously some of those ideas connect to that last scene...and also in some respects to the Mirror, Flower, Water, Moon prequel story I wrote about Aizen Sousuke.
I said before while writing this one that this story would be the last, and my real life has gotten kinda chaotic so even though those other ideas are buzzing, I'm not sure I will get to put them down into text before they fade and disappear. For that reason, I intend on posting the final epilogue oneshot that I wrote ages ago to chart the final fates of all of the OCs. Except Naoko. I don't know what happened to her.
The only other thing I will mention here - in case I don't get a chance to share it in any other way - is Hirata's zanpakutou that a few people have asked about.
The sword's name is Tsumi no Fuuhi (Sparrowhawk's Wind of Sorrow) and it has a very specific meaning with relevance to this story, hence why I'm explaining.
A 'tsumi' in Japanese can mean sparrowhawk, but with different kanji it can also mean "sin". Thus the first time Hirata's sword spirit awoke inside him was when he killed Seimaru - a "sin" which he can't erase from his conscience despite everything else. In fact, you might say that killing Seimaru was a necessary step in his reaching out to raise his zanpakutou. Unless he accepted his Clan duty and the fact his path was touched by the same ruthlessness as his fellow Clansfolk, Tsumi would remain unsummoned. Like Shunsui, it was a matter of forging resolve. Therefore it was the shadow of his bird of prey, not his father's that he saw in the snow - and it was also his hawk's spirit, not reidoku, that helped him follow the missing nobles to Hokujou. Some folk will probably have figured that much out - but there it is.
Tsumi also bears the power of 'wind' or air currents, which some people have probably guessed from Hirata's last few scenes. There is old mythology (albeit admittedly not Japanese) which associates the sparrowhawk with the element of wind. Therefore Hirata's spirit power is wind-based.
Oddly enough, despite the fact it has not appeared fully and has only been hinted at late on, Hirata's was the first bird of prey spirit I designated to the Endou-ke. All of the others simply followed, since Hirata was always going to be the 'hawk' of the Clan.
The Endou-ke are entirely fictional, but they do have canon Bleach descendants, as I've said before. I'm not going to reveal who those are though...if people stop and think it through, they might be surprised to work it out.
I'm sure people want to know about Ryuu and Kai etc's swords, but though I developed zanpakutou ideas and spirits for all of my OCs, Hirata's is the only one I'm going to detail here since it's been referenced in the story. For anything else about the OCs, see the forthcoming epilogue chapter, although admittedly zanpakutou will not be revealed there, either.
I won't pretend everyone will like that oneshot, but I am satisfied with the paths of each of them and so that's that.
I also have one more thing to add here. I am very grateful - and actually, humbled - by the epicness of the fans who've read and reviewed Meifu since it first kicked off in December 2009. More than 500 reviews for just this fic alone is insane and I still don't quite believe it. I hope people will continue to enjoy the stories and that if I do write more Bleach fic, some of you guys will come and support me all over again.
Daisuki, minna xD Daisuki xD