Life and Breath

Pt. 5

The sound of thundering, running feet was the wake-up call the next morning for Shunsui. He slid his door open slowly.

It dawned on him that he was neither drunk enough nor sober enough to deal with the sight that was heading his direction, so he slid the door closed and dove under the covers.

Every female member of the clan was stampeding directly toward his room. The young, the old, the married, and the single were all making a beeline to the new master, and just this once, Shunsui was scared. It was too much, too soon.

The excited giggles and whispers came to an abrupt halt when a stern voice called for quiet and ordered the quick dismissal of the crowd. Never in his whole life had Shunsui been so happy to hear his mother's authoritative voice ring out. It also meant that she was feeling back to her usual self. That thought made him groan.

Even though he was expecting it, the firm knock on the door frame sent a shiver down his spine, and he bolted upward with a start.

"Shunsui, dearest? I'm coming in, you'd best be decent."

"I'm never decent," he joked.

She slid the door open. "I realize that, I simply meant you'd best be covered and alone."

"For once, Mom, I'm both." He pulled the blanket up to his chest. "So, I see you're feeling better."

"Yes, I am." She fiddled with the sleeve of her kimono. "About that..." she lapsed into silence.

"Mom, it must have all been a horrible shock. There's no need to go into it."

"Your father requested to be brought back to our room last night."

"Good! He finally got his head out of his ass long enough to realize how stupid he was being."

His mother smacked his bare shoulder. "Don't talk about your father like that,"

"Even though it's true?"

"He's still your father and deserves your respect." She twisted the material on her sleeve a little more, "but yes, even though it's true."

"So what happens now?"

"You take over as head of the clan."

"Why me? You could do this on your own."

"I only married into the clan: it would never be allowed." Her voice had an angry edge: one Shunsui had learned to fear years ago.

"Stupid miserable hide-bound antiquated excuses for..." His mother gently patted his shoulder and ended his rant for the moment. "Mom, you're worth more than all the fools in this family put together."

"But I was not born a Kyoraku. That's an automatic disqualification."

"...fucking stupid rule," he mumbled.

"I know, dear," she soothed.

There was a knock on the door. She rose to answer it, and moved to the side as the servant brought in a tray laden with food.

"I figured you'd be hungry this morning, as am I. Since I was coming here to chat with you, I thought I'd order breakfast brought here for both of us."

"Very efficient, as always, Mom, and very clever." He grabbed at a piece of fruit. "I never turn down food served to me in bed by a lovely young lady...OW!" Shunsui rubbed at his arm where his mother had pinched him firmly. "I meant you," he pouted playfully.

"You are simply incorrigible - hopeless."

"I hear that a lot."

"What a surprise," she deadpanned, her chopsticks flying as she picked apart the grilled fish in front of her.

"Mom," he studied her intently, "just how long has it been since you've eaten anything?"

"I'm not sure," she shrugged. "I kind of lost track of time."

"Mother!" he admonished firmly.

"Don't you take that tone with me! I'm still your mother." She jabbed his hand with a chopstick.

Rubbing his wounded hand, Shunsui simply shook his head. " You should know better: you'd never let me get away with something like that ..."

"I don't need a lecture from you, young man." she said pointedly.

"Better me than Dad...or worse, Gran." They both shuddered at the thought of being lectured by Shunsui's formidable grandmother.

"That little harpy would screech my ears off for a week."

"Or more," Shunsui added. They both sighed and went back to eating.

They spent an hour chatting and eating, after which his mother excused herself to check on how her husband was faring. Shunsui kissed her cheek and saw her out, after which he stretched out on his bed again, thinking about what his next move should be.

Once it was established that he was taking charge of the clan, he was sure that the elders would be content to leave the day-to-day management in the capable hands of his mother and the trusted old family retainer, Ryu.

"...and that's it." Shunsui was gently stroking Jyuushiro's arm as they lay together on his futon after Shunsui's return. "Once I had that conversation with Mom, my mind was a lot clearer. I decided to just give in to the inevitable."

"My poor friend," Ukitake murmured. "So you're also the head of your clan now, as well as, leading the Gotei 13. It's not something I envy."

"Gee, thanks," Shunsui declared sarcastically, "Right now, I'm just happy to have you in my arms - so no picking on me."

"What next?" Jyuushiro blinked owlishly.

" I'm too tired to think of what's next, only that I just want to sleep and hold you; knowing that you're safe and sound." Shunsui threaded his fingers through the pale silver hair. "Tomorrow's soon enough to figure out what's next."

Both sighed with contentment as they fell asleep.