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Chapter Seven:

~ The Last Words ~

It was tiring work, getting stronger, but it was fun and enjoyable because I had Ju right beside me. Our team work improved greatly thanks to the extra lessons we had with Yama~jii, but boy did we get hit around while training with that guy. It took a long time for us to get anywhere near strong enough to provide any real competition, but he was patient and continued to train us to better use our strengths and to conceal our weaknesses; sometimes our lessons were about how to manage captaincy, how to control a large task force like the one that would be our Division when we graduated.

They were hard lessons to learn, they weren't fun or easy, but they were instructive and educational. And without a doubt, his teachings of moral; ethical and personal goodness made us both the people we are today. People who uphold the law and always do the right thing, regardless of what anyone else thinks of it; in the long run, it was that particular lesson which had made me stop worrying what people think of me, and that lets me be myself.

~ The Last Words ~

The next four weeks yielded more work their either of them had ever experienced before in their lives. After the battle with Katsuki, as Yamamoto had promised, they had a week off to recover but after that week was over their noses were well and truly pressed to the grind stone.

They had updated time tables and new higher classes which tutored them on improving their connection to their Zanpakto and access to their inner worlds. On top of their new back breaking lessons, they had their private tutoring sessions with Yamamoto five days a week for four hours a night.

But neither of them had ever been more content, their friendship was almost fully repaired, trust restored and strengthened. Neither mentioned the kiss which had been shared in Division Four, it had reawakened their friendship and helped heal what had been broken, but that was as far as it went, for the moment at least.

Shunsui had, apparently, ceased dating and sleeping with random women in favour of studying harder and proving to himself; his sensei and his friend that he wasn't the layabout that Katsuki had suggested. He was more determined than ever to actually succeed because he knew he could do it, and then he slipped up or made a mistake Jushiro was there to help him back up.

Likewise, Jushiro was working as hard as ever; enjoying the fresh challenges which were presented to him. He continued to flourish under the tutorage of his lecturers; becoming increasingly popular with his fellow students as he slowly gained a large circle of friends, of which, Shunsui was still the closest.

Collapsing on their beds after another strenuous day, the two young men grumbled about the many aches and pains they had gained while doing some extra sword training with Yamamoto.

Each had a variety of fresh bruises after that particularly fun event; after a few moments of recovery, they got up and lumbered into the bathroom together to tend to each other's injuries.

Jushiro went first, stripping off and brushing his ever lengthening snow white hair over his shoulder out of the way before he knelt down in front of Shunsui who had taken a perch on the toilet lid.

He hissed at the slight stinging which ensued following his bruised and, in some places, grazed skin and closed his eyes as he felt the soft pads of his friend's fingers scraping his skin every now and again.

Sighing and relaxing slightly as he finished, Jushiro pulled his blue hakama back up and tied it before turning to face his friend, "Your turn."

Shunsui pouted, "Do I have to?"

"Yes you do, you big baby." He smiled and began wiping the wounds and sticking plasters over some of the deeper cuts.

"Yama~jii sure doesn't hold back does he?" the brunette asked as he watched his friend work.

"No, he's very strong - stronger than I thought he was." Jushiro murmured, "But I suppose we should be honoured that we get to work with such a powerful man and learn directly from him; many would surely die for such a chance."

"I agree."

A few minutes later, wounds tended to and bodies showered, they returned to their bedroom and sat on their beds, yawning in unison before checking the time.

"Ugh God... Is it really that late already?" Shunsui complained, running a hand through his hair, "I was hoping for a bit of free time before bed... Looks like there'll be no such luck."

The white haired male scoffed at him and picked up a textbook from his bedside table, flicking to the last page he had been reading; he looked at him coyly, "Free time to do what? Our time is taken up with studying, practicing, eating, sleeping, and training."

He whined loudly in response to his words and curled up under the bedcovers, "Blugh I know, I know, but I can't help but be hopeful!"

Jushiro rolled his eyes at his friend's complaints but ignored him and finished the chapter he was on, he then set it aside and got undressed a final time; slipping under the covers as he stretched out and yawned, "Night Shu."

"Night Ju."

~ The Last Words ~

Jushiro panted heavily and watched as Shunsui was slowly cornered by their Sensei; he took the moment to recover his breath and try to find an effective strategy against him.

Ryujin Jakka was a formidable Zanpakto and the man had years of experience to use against their pitiful couple of years as students. There was no way there were ever going to be able to overcome him. He was far too strong.

Watching Shunsui get knocked aside, he knew it was his turn to get pummelled; Jushiro prepared himself for the attack and decided to take a proactive stance; using flash-step to move forwards quickly and without faltering as he lifted his dual weapons and attacked his sensei mercilessly, as they had to if they wanted to improve.

Metal clashed with metal as the older of the two reacted with ease; th white haired younger man gritted his teeth and twisted, planting his heel in his elder's side before he backed off and re-evaluated the situation accordingly.

About to attack again he hesitated when Yamamoto raised a hand, "That will do for tonight, I'm afraid I have to report to Central 46 in fifteen minutes on your progress."

Shunsui staggered to his feet, nursing a broken finger and a gash on his forehead, "What will you tell them?" he asked curiously.

"The truth, of course, that you are progressing quickly in all areas."

"We are? We both feel like we've hit a bit of a wall with training... Neither of us can even touch you." Jushiro murmured.

"Indeed, I am much more experienced and stronger than you both at the moment, but, this training is to teach you more than how to hit an old man with a sword. It teaches you endurance, it gives you experience, improves team work and increases stamina." The bearded man rumbled as he sealed his Zanpakto back inside of his walking stick, "Take tomorrow off, I have to discuss preparations for the Divisions with my fellows."

"Thanks Yama~jii." Shunsui grinned at the prospect of a day off.

"Thank you Sensei." Jushiro added.

Heading back to their room, they nursed far fewer injuries than they had several nights ago and their spirits were high.

"What are you going to do with the rest of your evening?" Jushiro asked his friend as they ascended the stairs of the Student Accommodation.

"Ahh, well I was gonna go and get totally hammered in Rukongai but I think I'll give it a miss this time, I kinda fancy staying in and chilling with you. Why? Do you have plans?"

They didn't speak for a few moments; they both knew they had struck a sensitive subject. Jushiro hadn't 'made plans' since the night he had gone out for his meal with Katsuki and nearly been eaten himself; Shunsui hadn't pressed him to find out what he was feeling as he believed his friend would tell him when he was ready. But he knew something still bothered him about the whole thing; he couldn't blame him really - if he had fallen head over heels in love with someone and they had turned out to be a Hollow after his reiatsu he would be pretty torn up too.

"I was thinking about going to the student party actually." Jushiro said suddenly, his grin sheepish.

"What? You?! You going to a party?!" the brunette exclaimed, holding his friend's shoulders and shaking him, "Who are you and what have you done with Ukitake Jushiro?!"

He laughed and flushed slightly, "I just want to relax and chill out for a change, and I wasn't going to go if Sensei kept us late but," he shrugged, "It might be fun. You wanna come with me?"

"I'm not one to turn down a good party!"

"Let's get ready and go then, it's in half an hour!"

"Wha? I'll never get ready in time!"

Jushiro smirked slightly as he stood up and stripped out of his uniform and started pulling on some casual clothes, "No one's gonna notice Prince Charming."

"Ah, you wound me, Sleeping Beauty."

They looked at each other for a moment before they both started laughing and finished getting dressed: Shunsui was wearing a pair of loose black kimono and sandals; he had a thinning kimono slung across his shoulders which caused some funny looks from his roommate who had chosen to wear a pastel blue kimono and had pinned his growing hair in a ponytail at the base of his neck.

"Ready?" Shunsui asked after a moment of secretly appraising his friend.

"Yep! You sure you're gonna wear that pink thing? Makes you look ever so queer Shu." Jushiro smirked slightly as he looked back at his friend, one of his hands on his hip as he looked him over.

The brunette chuckled and walked over, slinging an arm around his shoulders and brushing his ear with his lips, "Maybe I don't care when I'm with you."

The white haired male's eyes widened slightly and he watched his cackling best friend leaving the room ahead of him, had that been an admission? Realising he was being left behind, he hurried after him eagerly.

The loud thrumming of music reached their ears as they reached the recreation hall on the ground floor, their eyes - as the doors opened for them - were blasted by fast spinning disco balls and flashing lights; their lungs filled with the musty smell of dry ice which was gushing out of the open entrance.

The room was already full to the brim with dancing students; along one wall was a long table with buffet food and drink and in the far corner was a music stereo and dozens of speakers, amplifying the music tenfold.

"Oh man how did I not know about was happening?!" Shunsui yelled over the music as they entered the room.

"Because you've had your head stuck in text books for weeks!" the white haired one yelled back, "I thought you might have missed the memo!"

"Ah, I get you! That's likely!" he agreed.

"You wanna dance?!" Jushiro asked.

Shunsui glanced at him before he shrugged and took his hand, trusting that the combination of darkness and smoke would hide it from their peers as he dragged his friend into the crowd and twirled him around before they started a lively dance in pace to the lively music.

As the song tracks changed and time ticked passed, the smell of dance weary bodies mingled with the smoke ridden air and clogged up their lungs; the side doors were opened to allow some fresh air in and people came and went from the dance floor to get food and refreshments and several left in pairs for a different kind of entertainment.

Taking a break from the rush of the party, the two sat by the drinks table, and both kept helping themselves to a mix of fizzy pop, and sake.

"Do you think Yama~jii meant what he said about us getting better?!" Shunsui called suddenly.

Jushiro looked up from his cup, his cheeks smudged with pink from the alcohol, "Course! He wouldn't lie to us. Why do you ask?!"

"No reason really! Just curious."

"You seem very attuned to him, you pay attention and listen to him more than other sensei!" the white haired teen pointed out.

Shunsui sighed guiltily and down his drink, "Have you not noticed how he treats us differently?! He... I dunno he almost seems to treat us like his own kids."

"Huh... I guess I did notice that..." he agreed, "So, do you... Think of him like a parent?"

"... Well I listen to him more than I do my own parents so maybe I do." Shunsui shrugged slightly, "He has a... Parental streak about him too otherwise he wouldn't be so obsessed about making us ready for our graduation."

"Heh, I think that's nice." Jushiro told him, "At least someone can keep you on the straight and narrow."

"Bah, don't be ridiculous!" the brunette grinned and downed a bowl of sake, "I'll never be on the straight and narrow! It's too boring!"

Shaking his head, Jushiro sipped his own sake and stretched in his chair, yawning softly before he looked towards the doors as they opened and revealed a white-grey haired man with a lengthy beard - though it wasn't as long as Yamamoto's - and stern grey eyes. He strode into the hall and seemed to separate the crowd with his mere presence; he wore a black uniform and over the top a white coat with a black diamond shaped marking on the back. He spoke quietly to the student in charge of the music which was abruptly stopped and quiet descended over the hall.

"Who do you think that is?" Jushiro whispered to his friend as they got to their feet.

"No idea but he looks kinda pissed off." The other replied in a murmur.

The new comer picked up the microphone from beside the stereo and gave everyone an icy glare, "It has long gone past your curfew time, I suggest you go to your rooms immediately unless you want to be placed in a three week detention."

General consensus between the partygoers was to do as he said, and before long Jushiro and Shunsui were stuck behind a long line of students leaving the hall. They both tensed as they sensed the older man's presence behind them and they turned around to look at his stern expression.

"Ukitake Jushiro and Kyoraku Shunsui, am I right?"

"Yes, sir." They replied in unison.

"You should both be busy studying and resting up for your lessons should you not? Genryusai-dono speaks highly of you both, it would be bad manners to let him down, wouldn't it?" he said, his low voice rumbling.

"Yama~jii gave us tomorrow off for working so hard actually," Shunsui replied, folding his arms, "You have us at a disadvantage, you know our names but we don't know yours; I've never seen you in the Academy before either."

The older man remained silent for a moment before speaking, "I am Kuchiki Ginrei, and the Kuchiki's are one of the five noble clans which have come to Soul Society to assist Yamamoto Genryusai in completing the Soul King's task. Once the Divisions have been properly set up, the Kuchiki family will lead the sixth. We will be comrades as soon as you graduate."

They stared for a moment before Jushiro spoke up, "It would be a great pleasure to be your comrade, perhaps, if it is not too much to ask you would sometime share your wisdom with us. We are eager to be the best we can be, and I believe that would come from listening to both our peers and our superiors."

Ginrei's steel eyes moved to the white haired young man and for a moment there was a youthful glint in his eyes, "Jushiro, your family are low-ranking aristocrats aren't they?"

He paused and looked away uncomfortably, "Yes, sir."

"I see..." their elder remained silent for another long moment before speaking, "Very well, if you desire some outside assistance you may come to the Kuchiki Mansion in your free period tomorrow; while the Mansion is still under construction at the moment my office has been set up and we will be able to talk there without too much interruption. I will be waiting for you."

"Thank you, sir." They said together and watched the man disappear in a flash of Shunpo.

The two stared at the place he had been stood in before lookin at each other and sighing, "Well... That wasn't at all uncomfortable or weird." Shunsui grumbled.

"I agree... I dislike it when people remind me of my family's heritage." He muttered.

"Why? It's nothing to be ashamed of." The brunette asked as they finally exited the hall and headed back upstairs towards their room.

"It's not that I'm ashamed of it, it's just I like to be treated like any other person is."

"Mm, well, I won't treat you differently. My Lord." He smirked as Jushiro pouted and gave him a slap before they disappeared into their room and shut the door for the night.

They got changed into their bedclothes and clambered under the covers for a slightly intoxicated sleep.

"Shunsui?" Jushiro asked as he turned the light out.

"Yeah?"

"How come you didn't try pulling any girls at the party?"

The brunette rolled onto his side and yawned loudly, "I don't fancy any of the girls at the moment, and they aren't to my tastes."

"Oh... Well I enjoyed it."

"Me too."

Jushiro smiled slightly and curled up, hugging his body pillow and closing his eyes. Things were looking up for a change, he decided as he coughed into his pillow - stupid pesky cough, he'd had it since Katsuki's attack and it wouldn't leave him alone. He'd get some cough medicine for it in the morning before his Kidou enhancement course.

It'd be fine.

~ The Last Words ~

That night at the party was the first time either of us had seen a noble, but it was after that night that we began to see more of them. The Shihouen Clan came the very next day; they seemed well acquainted already with the Kuchiki Clan. The Shiba Clan came after them and provided a somewhat... Outspoken spin on the normal nobility.

Naivety. Naivety was something which I had never really associated with Jushiro, but in the coming months, he was either exceedingly naive or just plain ignorant. That cough, was very nearly his downfall. I'd fought so hard to get him back, to nearly have him stolen from me again by a supposedly harmless cough which would plague him for the rest of his life.