Notes: Huge thanks to Xglimpsex, who managed to beat this into something readable. I was really unsure about this piece, and I needed to borrow her confidence to post it ^^. Her editing was educational as well as awesome, and any mistakes are most definitely mine.
On Honest Winds.
Shuuhei is angry, hurt, and hanging on to his sanity by a thread. Naturally, Kensei is to blame. Takes place after the battle in Fake Karakura Town
Shuuhei waited until Unohana-taicho's long shift had come to an end before quietly slipping out of his bed and back into his clothes. After four days in the soft, crisp hospital gown, his hakama felt stiff and uncomfortable against his skin. Yet, even though the material tugged painfully on the bandages wrapped protectively around his chest and caught on the new scars that stretched down across his shoulders, it held a familiarity and normality that Shuuhei hadn't been able to find elsewhere in the clinically stark hospital room.
He had been a model patient for four days; surely that was more than enough. He had work to do.
Shuuhei nodded politely in greeting as he passed several of the 4th division's lower seats in the corridor, dryly noting how easily their concern melted into relief. He didn't doubt for one moment that they cared passionately for each patient under their care, but their resources had been stretched too far this time. One less patient to care for meant that the ones who remained could receive the full attention they required.
He made it all the way out the front door and onto the front porch of the main infirmary building before the first wave of dizziness grabbed him. Slowly, he worked his way around to the less exposed side of the building, ignoring the way the veranda seemed to sway suggestively as he walked. Only a few more steps …
Out of sight of any potentially prying eyes, he dropped down onto the steps that lead down off the porch with an agitated thump. This was not going exactly to plan. His division was not all that far away from the 4th even when traveling by foot (Shunpo was most definitely not an option), but right now it felt as though there was a mountain range separating him from his next step.
He just needed a couple of minutes to catch his breath, that was all. Against his better judgment, he rested his head against the banister and allowed his tired eyes to drift closed -
The red-hot pain slashed across his chest, humming so deeply that it drove Shuuhei to his knees. Somehow, he was aware of Komamura-taicho charging desperately towards him, and a flash of silver that momentarily shocked the pain away before it returned in an even richer vein. But it was the cold triumph in his former captain's eyes that hypnotized Shuuhei, staying with him even as he folded slowly in half and slid to the ground …
- only for them to flicker almost immediately back open. He needed to get back to work. Now. Right now.
Shuuhei staggered inelegantly back to his feet, his fingers tensing rebelliously against the banister as he stepped away. The ground seemed firmer beneath his feet than before, rolling only slightly instead of jagging off in unpredictable directions with each step.
"You're going the wrong way."
Shuuhei turned sharply on his heels, paused for a moment for the vertigo to settle back around his ears instead of storming across his eyes, and kept going. His gaze remained directed in front of him when heavy footsteps fell into step beside him. The strong, undiluted reiryoku was instantly recognizable, and so deeply familiar that it was almost embarrassing.
Walking beside Kensei felt ridiculously like some kind of homecoming. A twisted, volatile home coming laced with betrayal and the bitter tang of shame, but a homecoming nevertheless.
A long time had passed. Neither of them were the people they had once been. Shuuhei wasn't even sure that he was the person he had been four days ago.
"I'm sorry, was there something you wanted?" Shuuhei finally asked once the silence took on an edge of anticipation that he did not have the patience or the energy to effectively navigate.
Courteous. Calm. Politely inquisitive without conveying any particular interest. Shuuhei doubted any of his friends would have realised that this was the first time he'd spoken to the man at his side in 100 years. Those closest to him may have noticed that he was being particularly courteous, calm, and politely inquisitive, but then, maybe not. It was amazing the leeway people gave you when you'd just been –
He would have to find those files Kuchiki-taichou wanted before he started on his paperwork- his thoughts amended The 5th division captain had requested them over a week ago.
"Me? Nah." Kensei replied. A tiny, dry smile threatened at the corner of Shuuhei's mouth. There was still something about Kensei's voice that made the small boy inside him leap. "I thought you might have a couple of questions for me, though."
A sudden, foreign anger rippled through Shuuhei. With anyone else, at any other time, Shuuhei would have somehow managed to maintain a cordial conversation and mean it. But this … this was too soon, too much like the world was collapsing in on him and mockingly crushing away the last of his precious self control as though it was nothing. What sort of conversation was Shuuhei meant to have with Kensei after all that the vizard had revealed? What more could Kensei possibly want that he hadn't already ripped so belligerently away?
Not even Unohana-taicho's frighteningly gentle order could keep Shuuhei away. There were too many wounded to hold the impromptu meeting anywhere else but in the 4th division, and so – with Kira's assistance – it was fairly easy to steal a seat towards the back of the office-come-meeting room. The room was thick with bruised reiryoku that fluctuated from one moment to the next, battering Shuuhei's own, already ragged energy. He listened quietly as first Yamamoto and then a tall, blond man whose name Shuuhei didn't catch began to slowly drag the past back to its rightful place in the present. As their words weaved their way through Shuuhei's admittedly loose grip on consciousness, he found himself gaining only a vague idea of what had happened all those years ago.
It did not help that his attention was focused elsewhere.
Shuuhei bit down on his bottom lip when Kensei stood, spun in silver and so damn tall and commanding that the next wave of dizziness that hit Shuuhei had nothing to do with his injuries. Then Kensei began to talk, and Shuuhei's light headedness was replaced by a dull horror that seemed to slowly consume his chest and rob him of each breath. That night. The slaughter of Kensei's division. Hollowification.
Tousen. Kind, peaceful, murderous Tousen.
Kensei had been there. He'd seen Shuuhei make a fool out of himself in front of Tousen-taicho, and then, when it had all been over, and Tousen and Aizen and Gin had been gone -
The leaves that littered the pathway crunched beneath their feet as they walked, and Shuuhei found himself blankly reflecting on how easily they crumbled into inconsequential dust at the slightest touch. Any questions, huh?
"Just one," Shuuhei replied politely, even as something snapped inside him. "Tell me this, Muguruma-san. I knew you for an instant. In that instant you changed my life ever," He didn't shield or downplay the honesty of words, and for a moment even his gaze lost some of its hardness, "I'd never been exposed to anyone good before. Life in Rukongai was all about somehow getting from one day to the next without ending up dead along the way."
The Rukongai districts proliferated souls as though they were going out of fashion, and devoured them with equal ferocity. The apathetic streets had swallowed Shuuhei's childhood whole, leaving behind a shell that had been trained in the mechanisms of living but none of the purpose that should have accompanied it. Then Kensei had entered his life, flooding his senses and drowning him in courage and intent and a rather violent sort of caring. Kensei's raw fury had blazed through Shuuhei, tearing to shreds everything that he'd ever known and replaced it with confusion and awe.
In that moment – that tiny, incredibly brief moment – Shuuhei had somehow found himself in the other man's strength. He had breathed in everything Kensei had to offer, and exhaled something unique and terrifying. Himself.
It was a debt Shuuhei would never be able to repay.
"You made me realize that there was much more to life, Muguruma-san. I will never forget that."
His gaze slid briefly over to Kensei, noting that the older man was vaguely uncomfortable with Shuuhei's admission. Good. It was only fair that Kensei felt at least some of the disequilibrium that was coursing through Shuuhei's own veins.
"But Tousen-taicho-" to his horror, Shuuhei choked on his former captain's name. "Tousen-taicho was everything to me."
The words sounded remote and calm, almost as though they belonged to someone else.
At every turn, Tousen-taicho had been there, guiding, shaping, conditioning. Shuuhei's breath faltered in his chest for a moment, and he thrust a hand out against the closest tree. With a quiet growl, he pushed away and walked on.
"He helped get me out of the slums when I was kid, and made sure I was placed in a good home. He was there when Aog-" he cut off abruptly, the familiar spark of pain lashing through his soul.
Shuuhei desperately tried to snatch back some of his usual distance and calm, but found nothing on offer except a dark, desperate sense of freefall.
This wasn't like him. This wasn't him. And yet, there wasn't a part of his body that wasn't shaking. His fingers trembled at his side, and his voice shook slightly as he spoke. The bandages that were holding his chest together slid with each uneven breath.
"Tell me then, why is that I'm willing to throw away everything Tousen-taicho did for me, to see him suddenly as this monster, just because that's how you described him? How is that fair? How is that right?"
Desperation was steeped so deeply into his words that Shuuhei didn't know how he'd ever be able to drag himself back out.
"Tell me," Shuuhei demanded, as he stopped and turned to Kensei, his eyes cold and hard and distraught, "why is it that YOU mean that much to me?"
How could this man he had known for only one moment possibly still reduce him to this mess of childish emotions? How could everything Tousen-sama had taught him so easily now mean nothing?
"Sit down kid, and let me tell you a story."
The wry command threw Shuuhei even further off balance, and disbelieving, angry eyes sought out frustratingly cocky ones.
"You look like you're going to pass out any second," Kensei added darkly. "And I don't like having to tell the same story twice."
"I'm fine," Shuuhei replied icily, purposefully setting off once more.
The last few remaining shreds of Shuuhei's pride refused to acknowledge the sharp ache that flared across his chest and sunk rhythmically into his bones with each painful step.
Kensei doubtfully gave Shuuhei a quick once over.
It was only after a few tense minutes of silent walking that Kensei reluctantly began.
"Look. After what Tousen and Aizen did to us, it wasn't easy, ok? We had no fucking idea who we were, what side up the world was, or if we were ever going to be anything other than the monsters we felt we were. In times like that you find strength from whatever place you can. It's the only way any of us could get through those first months without offing ourselves."
Against his better judgment, Shuuhei found himself becoming caught up in the rhythmic prosody of Kensei's voice.
"Shinji found his strength in revenge. Right from the first day he was plotting out ways to slice Aizen into a thousand pieces." Kensei's dry gaze slid over to Shuuhei, "Me? I found it in some cry-baby kid who thought he could take on a hollow with a stick."
Shuuhei stumbled briefly before righting himself.
"Don't patronize me," he said blankly, fists clenched helplessly at his sides. Shuuhei could deal with indifference; he could even deal with contempt. But this, this false sense of importance carved hollowly through his sanity.
"Shut up and listen," Kensei cut in gruffly, "I lost half my division that night along with everything else. But you know what would have been worse? If we hadn't had a reason to be there in the first place." Kensei smirked, "You had a lot of nerve back then, Shuuhei, but not much of a backswing-" It was the first time that Kensei had spoken his name, and for some reason it sounded twisted and foreign. Shuuhei couldn't connect with it, finding it just as distant and wrong as the man walking beside him, "-it didn't take me long to realize that as shitty as the whole situation was, the one good thing that had come out of it far exceeded all the bad crap."
"Seems like a pretty poor trade off to me," Shuuhei replied hoarsely, his gaze distant.
"Really?" Kensei asked, eyebrow cocked. "Tell me, kid. If you had to choose between sacrificing yourself and your team to save someone you were responsible for, what would you have done?"
Even after all these years, the wounds were simply too deep. Everything shut down, and it was all Shuuhei could to do keep on walking. Memories of blood and death and Aoga and Kanisawa briefly threatened his consciousness, but he smothered them violently away. He ignored the curious look Kensei shot him, and focused instead on recapturing his erratic, fleeting breath from the past it was so infuriatingly entwined with.
"I can't tell you why I'm important to you, Shuuhei. Just like I can't tell you why you got that tattoo." Kensei's no-nonsense tone slowly dragged Shuuhei back, gradually grounding him back in each of senses.
The distinct timber of Kensei's voice was followed quickly by the deep stretch of pain across his chest and the mild scent of the man at his side.
"What I can say is thank you," the comment drew a coarse, quiet laugh from Shuuhei. "That and we're here."
A deep sense of relief swept through Shuuhei as the pathway opened up into the courtyard of the 9th division. This was home. Feet that had been so unsure before suddenly regained all their confidence, easily carrying Shuuhei across familiar lawns, up one-two-three steps and into his office. The smell of ink and parchment still stained the air, and the pile of paperwork that threatened to spill off his desk welcomed him back with the dreary reminder of hours of mindless work. Bliss. He paused after entering, turning to face Kensei.
"Thank you for everything you have done, Muguruma-san-" It was so easy to regain his polite professionalism and distance here. He could tune out all thoughts of Tousen and Kensei, see them only as distant concepts that he might eventually decide to deal with once his workload was more manageable. "-but was there anything else you wanted?"
Kensei smirked, and then waited. Shuuhei wearyingly tried to gage exactly what for. If Kensei was expecting something more--
Suddenly his legs folded beneath him, a ragged gasp escaping through his lips as the deep wound across his chest sparked painfully. There was a searing pain, a flash of horror, a strong arm and a quiet chuckle – and then nothing but black.
"Oh, for crying out loud," Shinji said with a roll of his eyes when he found Kensei half an hour later, his feet propped up on Shuuhei's desk and a magazine in his hands. "Tell me that isn't what I think it is."
"It's pretty good," Kensei stated, reluctantly putting the periodical to the side. "The quality of some of the articles is a little off, but the type setting and page design is professional and clean."
Shinji squinted as he studied Kensei. "You aren't the least bit embarrassed that you started that piece of shit, are you?"
Kensei scowled, before relaxing back into his seat. "Still bitter that your section was universally reviled?"
The ease in which they could slip back into their old roles disturbed Kensei. How long had it been since either of them had even thought about the Seireitei Communication?
"I was expecting him to be smaller." Shinji added, nodding over to the small sofa that Shuuhei was currently passed out on.
"It's been a hundred years, you idiot." Kensei spared the kid a brief glance before idly turning his attention to the paperwork on the desk. "Looks like he keeps himself busy."
So easy. So easy to flick through the screeds of paperwork and see if Shuuhei had missed anything important, or to hunt down new leads. But it was no longer his responsibility and Shuuhei seemed to be handling things fine, or so Ukitake said. With an irritable grunt he dropped his feet down to the floor, ignoring Shinji's piercing gaze with well practiced ease.
"You know, I'm surprised he even made it this far." Shinji drawled lazily.
"Don't push me, Shinji." Kensei snapped. "Not on this."
Shinji had his way of dealing with the shitty hand they'd been dealt, and Kensei had his own. The small boy from his memories had grounded him in a way that no-one else had been able to, reminding him that beneath the mask remained a man who possessed reasons for fighting instead of merely the will. The adult that kid had grown into …
"Just don't get too attached. This is just a short term truce, remember that." Shinji stated, his eyes narrowed and reminding Kensei that while the blond may act like a fool, he certainly wasn't without sense.
"You think I've forgotten?"
The bitterness never faded. Tousen's betrayal had been bad enough, but it had been the way the Soul Society had so willingly swept them aside as though they were nothing but dirt that still stung deeply after all these years. After they had dealt to Aizen, Tousen and Gin, Kensei was done with the Soul Society for good.
But there were some old debts that needed to be repaid first.
Inevitably, he found his gaze drawn back to the kid. Shuuhei's mouth was twisted into a tight grimace, and even sleep hadn't loosened the tension laced through his frame. A dark, humorless smirk curled Kensei's lips into something that was almost a scowl. The tension was something Kensei recognized only too well.
We no longer had any idea who we were, what side up the world was, and who the monsters truly were.
Tousen would pay.