children's games

Jyuushirou slid open the door to his shared Academy room to find Shunsui sitting in the middle of the floor with his back to the door, staring at something on the floor in front of him.

This wasn't entirely usual. Normally when Shunsui was on the floor, he managed to sprawl across it, and if he had been studying then he'd have been at his desk. Or possibly on the roof. Or in the library. Or visiting a female friend. Or - well, the point was that it was unusual to find Kyouraku Shunsui doing anything as straightforward as simply sitting on the floor.

"Don't interrupt this," Shunsui said, not looking up from whatever he was doing. "Kini both kini, kini drop kini . . ." There was a clattering noise. "Oh damn," he finished.

Jyuushirou wandered across to peer down over Shunsui's shoulder. Three small plain blue cotton beanbags lay on the ground, one larger than the other two. "You're playing otedama?" he asked, rather confused.

Shunsui glared at the beanbags. His attempted half-grown beard quivered as he set his jaw manfully.

"My little sisters play with them," Jyuushirou said. He walked round and sat down opposite Shunsui. "It's one of those things they're always doing. Usually," he added reminiscently, "under everyone else's feet."

Shunsui gave a deep sigh and propped his head in his hands. "It's my zanpakutou," he said tiredly.

Ukitake frowned. While they'd vaguely alluded to each other about how they were beginning to perceive their zanpakutou, even speak to them or hear their voices, this was the first time Shunsui had been anywhere this explicit about having trouble with his. "If you need some way to relax then we could always go and have a drink with some of the others. You don't have to try to play children's games to stop thinking about it."

Shunsui was already shaking his head. "No. It's not that. She wants to play." He invested the term with a vast horror and suspicion. "She wants to play this. And I can't get it right!"

For a long moment Jyuushirou had to bite the inside of his cheek in order not to say something inappropriate. "Oh," he finally managed. "How very annoying for you."

Shunsui's eyes narrowed. "You recognised it as otedama," he said thoughtfully. "You said your sisters played it. You can show me how it's done."

"Wait a moment," Jyuushirou said, holding up his hands in protest. "Even if I had some idea how to do it -"

"Just to help me," Shunsui said, and gave Jyuushirou his most sincere, deep-eyed, heavy-lidded sensuous gaze of I will be so very grateful that you won't be getting out of bed for a fortnight. "I just need to see how it's done properly. I never had any little sisters," he finished, on an obvious but still effective plea for sympathy.

Something that Shunsui had said earlier finally penetrated. "Wait a moment. She?"

Shunsui practically preened. "I can't see her yet," he said. "But I can hear her voice and smell the flowers on the wind. She. Absolutely she."

"Well," Jyuushirou said, uncertain quite how to respond to that. It wasn't how he perceived his zanpakutou at all, vision or otherwise. "Um. Anyhow. Otedama. You've got the beanbags, that's good. Where did you get them?"

Shunsui shrugged. "I bought them off the daughter of the man who runs that tavern down by the east gate where they sell that Rose Mountain Dew. I made her father promise to let her keep the money, as well. She showed me how to start off, but I can't do it as fast as she did."

Jyuushirou nodded as soberly as he could manage. "Right. Well, this is the kini beanbag." He tapped the large one. "The other two are smaller. Now, first pattern . . ." He frowned, bringing it to mind. "Throw the kini up, pick up one beanbag, catch the kini in the same hand. Throw it again, drop the beanbag, catch the kini again. Throw the kini, pick up the second beanbag, catch the kini, throw the kini, drop the second beanbag, catch the kini. Throw the kini, pick up both beanbags - no, you have to use the same hand - catch the kini, throw the kini, drop the beanbags, catch the kini. Now you do it."

"Do it again," Shunsui said, watching tensely.

Jyuushirou demonstrated the pattern again. He'd been much younger when he'd played it before, keeping younger sisters or cousins happy while his older, fitter relatives went out to do a hard day's work. His hands were larger now, which made it easier in some ways, but more difficult in others, as it confused his reflexes. He found himself humming as he did it, remembering the songs the little girls had sung.

"All right," Shunsui said as he finished. "That looks doable. Let me try."

It took him several goes, but eventually he managed to finish the routine, with Jyuushirou humming along to help him keep the beat.

"That wasn't so hard," Shunsui finally said, looking satisfied.

"Second round," Jyuushirou said cheerfully. "Put your left hand out in front of you, flat, facing sideways."

"Why the left hand?" Shunsui asked.

"Well . . . it's usually the left hand because most people are right-handed," Jyuushirou admitted. "But for someone like you who's ambidextrous, you should probably practice doing it both ways."

Shunsui sighed and drooped. "More work," he muttered.

"Right," Jyuushirou said, ignoring Shunsui's complaints with the ease of practice. "Now watch this." He held out his left hand as he'd told Shunsui to do. "Throw the kini -" he tossed it in the air, picked up one of the beanbags, tapped it against his left palm and dropped it, "and catch the kini. Then again with the second beanbag -" he demonstrated, "and then both together."

"I don't believe little girls do this," Shunsui muttered, managing to miss the kini-catch the first time round.

"I've just had a wonderful teaching idea," Jyuushirou said brightly.

"Hm?" Shunsui asked, managing to miss his hand with the beanbag (but at least he caught the kini that time).

"I'll go and get some of my nieces," Jyuushirou said. "They're still young enough to play it. And they can sit here and watch you and giggle."

"Oh dear gods no," Shunsui swore. "Any giggling coming from this room is strictly from girls who are of age."

"Girls?" Jyuushirou said.

"Or my roommate," Shunsui answered, giving him that heavy-lidded look again, and focusing on it so much that he managed to execute a perfect run-through of the routine without even thinking about it.

Jyuushirou grinned. "Very good. You're almost up to five-year-old level."

"No reward?" Shunsui said hopefully.

"Ask your zanpakutou," Jyuushirou said, and quickly went on. "Now the third round is easy. Watch. You pick up the kini with your thumb and your first finger like this," he demonstrated, "and swing it and toss it over the back of your hand, like this. Then you do it with the first beanbag. Then with the second beanbag."

"What's the catch?" Shunsui asked.

"Well, not a catch as such." Jyuushirou shrugged. "You just need to be careful not to throw them halfway across the room. Or try bouncing them off the walls and back into your hand."

Shunsui sighed. "There has to be room for artistic licence somewhere in this game."

"Toss, up, over. Toss, up, over. Come on, you try it." Briefly, Jyuushirou leaned across and brushed a kiss against Shunsui's fluffy cheek. "There's your reward."

"Oh no," Shunsui said, and grabbed Jyuushirou round the shoulders, pulling him into a much fuller kiss than Jyuushirou had planned. When his lips were finally free again, he said, "That's my reward."

Jyuushirou had to pause to catch his breath. He rearranged the folds of his kimono neatly. "May I remind the student that this is a lesson," he said mock-seriously.

"Then the teacher had better hurry up with the next bit," Shunsui said, "or we will proceed directly to the after-class discussion. Did anyone ever tell you that you're incredibly desirable when you're demonstrating something and looking fascinatingly focused?"

"Do I?" Jyuushirou asked, then hastily followed up with, "That's hardly the point."

"Yes it is," Shunsui said, leaning forward dangerously.

Jyuushirou picked up the kini and whacked Shunsui's nose with it. "Pay attention. Fourth round." He ignored Shunsui's moans of pain. "Throw the kini up, pick up a beanbag, catch the kini in the same hand. Throw the kini up again, throw the beanbag down, catch the kini. Then repeat with the second beanbag. Then throw the kini up, pick both the beanbags up, catch the kini, throw the kini, throw both the beanbags down, catch the kini." He demonstrated.

Shunsui sighed. "This is getting boring," he said, as he worked through the pattern. It was coming more easily to him now as his hands got used to the movements. "Perhaps you should teach me some of the songs the little girls sing. Or maybe we should make up some of our own. Cherry flower, cherry flower, cherry flower gay, come to my arms this lonely day. Cherry flower, cherry flower, cherry flower white, come to my arms this lonely night . . ." He batted his eyelashes hopefully at Jyuushirou.

"Focus on the game," Jyuushirou said sternly. "Now for the fifth round - Shunsui, why are you moving round to sit next to me like that?"

"To watch your hand movements," Shunsui said innocently, sliding his arm round Jyuushirou's waist. "Do that thing with the kini again."

Jyuushirou focused sternly. "Place your left hand out in front of you like this - that means getting it out of my kimono, Shunsui - and hold it like you did in the second round. Now throw the kini, pick up the beanbag and tap it twice -"

He paused.

"That isn't the beanbag you're tapping."

"No, it isn't," Shunsui agreed. "It's much firmer and more interesting."

"Shunsui, are you focusing on the game here?"

"No," Shunsui said. "I'm focusing on you. Give me a hundred kisses, give me a thousand kisses in between kini tosses, give me ten thousand and let me -"

Jyuushirou dropped the kini. "I'm trying to help you master your zanpakutou," he said in a last feeble protest.

"I'll play with her later," Shunsui said. "You have such deep eyes, Jyuushirou, such a sweet mouth - give me a hundred kisses, a thousand nights, ten thousand years, then toss the kini and let's have another round."

"That's very childish," Jyuushirou whispered against his lips.

"Sometimes children have the best ideas," Shunsui answered.