The Woods of Arcadia has been such an enjoyable story to write. I can't thank you enough for all the reviews, favorites and follows over the last 11 months.
Thank you for reading. Please enjoy.
Part XXXV: Explicit Permission
"Don't grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form."
Shunsui sifted through the melting gray slush, wiping his face against his blackened forearms. He had spent all night searching the ruins of the city, but he wouldn't give up. He sniffed loudly, his mucus thick and black from smoke inhalation. He frowned and continued digging in the snow. After another half hour he found what he was looking for and grinned, At last. "That makes five." Shunsui shouted, jumping slightly in surprise when he realized Jushiro was standing directly behind him.
"And you're sure you want to do this?" Jushiro crouched beside Shunsui, lifting his hand and brushing a stray curl from his companion's face.
"It won't be like last time." Shunsui muttered, casting his eyes down to the ground.
"And I'm assuming you know how to do it." Jushiro questioned, the corners of his mouth twitching ever so slightly.
"You're so mean…" Shunsui whined. Jushiro merely smiled and stood. He looked up into the sky and stretched, blessing the soft wind that caressed his skin. "You look beautiful, Jushiro. Ya know…"
"You don't regret it already, do you? Spending eternity with me?" Shunsui looked into Jushiro's surprised green eyes and melted as the other man grinned widely.
"I could never regret choosing you," Jushiro answered happily. He lowered his arms from his stretch and sighed. "It was a difficult decision… No matter what, no matter how many lives, I would always choose to be with you, but, there are people I don't want to ever forget…" Jushiro crossed his arms and held his jaw tightly. "I don't want to lose Coyote or Orihime. I don't want them erased from me."
Shunsui nodded wordlessly. He smacked his palms against his legs noisily and exhaled, climbing to his feet. "Well, shall we get started?" Shunsui took a step back and narrowed his eyes, tilting his head from side to side in examination. "This is gonna take a lot more work than I originally thought." Shunsui frowned and scratched at his temples. "Where do I start?"
"I'd start with an apology," Jushiro suggested with a shrug causing Shunsui to roll his eyes.
A chill settled into the air and when Shunsui snapped his fingers, one of the five in front of him burst into life. The form moved in a staccato pattern, it wasn't unseemly, but rather like a toy soldier being wound up. For several moments the first body moved involuntarily in every direction, the head and neck snapping at peculiar angles and then, with a great gasping breath, Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez began to breathe.
"Grimmjow…" Shunsui cooed softly. "My name is Shunsui Kyoraku," Shunsui placed his hand on the bewildered man's shoulder. "Do you remember me yet?" Another few seconds passed before Grimmjow's blue eyes returned to normal. He looked at Shunsui and then at Jushiro, but didn't grin.
"Where am I?" Grimmjow questioned. He turned to the side, seeing for the first time his four fallen comrades. "Why?" Grimmjow leaned over, brushing his thumb over Ichigo's cold, unyielding face. "How? He was so strong."
"You fell into Veritas." Shunsui explained slowly. "It was too powerful and you were wounded to begin with…"
"Kurosaki," Grimmjow growled. "Ichi… how could he go?" Grimmjow crouched over, as if he had a stomachache. "And that bastard, Red…"
"I understand this is a lot to process," Shunsui interrupted reluctantly. "But I need you to focus on my voice. The longer they have to wait, the harder they are to bring back…"
"Bring back?" Grimmjow shook his head in confusion, looking from Shunsui to Jushiro expectantly.
"You were dead." Shunsui stated matter-of-factly. "I brought you back to life."
Grimmjow didn't speak.
"The Masters, they're all dead, except for me… and now Jushiro…" Shunsui continued. "The world needs Masters. Not twisted, psychotic, greedy Masters like the ones before. The world needs Masters with compassion and… and… I need Masters that can coax…"
Grimmjow didn't speak.
"I chose the previous Masters," Shunsui admitted apologetically. "I didn't know them beforehand, they were children when they died and were discovered when I went from village to village absorbing dark matter…"
"You're asking if I want to become a Master?" Grimmjow questioned, his lower jaw dropping open and exposing two rows of pointed, white teeth.
"Yes, I am."
"You can make me a Master?"
"Yes, I can."
"And the others…" Grimmjow gestured to the corpses of the shifters beside him. "Ichi, Red-fuck-face, Donkey-face, and weird Science-guy?"
"I will ask them too."
"That bitch and the old fucker?" Grimmjow pressed, narrowing his eyes.
"Good!" Grimmjow spat, a wide grin splaying his lips. "Serves those bastards right!" Grimmjow chewed on a claw thoughtfully, bouncing his knee irritably. "What happened to the other Masters?"
"They're dead." Shunsui replied. "For good this time."
"Aizen's dead?" Grimmjow barked. His blue eyes widened maniacally and he let out a throaty laugh. "Best news I ever heard. Glad those fuckers are dead."
"Not all of the Masters were bad," Jushiro interjected.
"Yeah, suuure." Grimmjow drawled, arching his brow skeptically. "By the way, where's the wolf pup?" Grimmjow asked abruptly.
"He's dead." Jushiro whispered.
"Dead? But?" Grimmjow looked from Shunsui to Jushiro in shock. "Didn't you…? Couldn't you find him?"
"He made his decision." Shunsui groaned, a sharp agonizing tear ripping through his chest. Shunsui wasn't sure if he was about to sob or vomit. "He wanted to defeat Aizen and die as a human…" They air was empty and still for some time.
"Hey," Grimmjow spoke suddenly. "Why does the world even need Masters? Power tripping mother fuckers with no moral compass… are ya sure ya want to give me so much strength?"
"To answer your first question," Shunsui began. "Dark matter lives in every human. Some have a lot and some only a very little. I live off of that dark matter. I feed off of negative energy. I don't create it. I remove it… I never intended for shifters to be created. That was poor foresight on my part. A Master doesn't have to kill anyone… A Master is supposed to make things better… "
"And to answer your second question," Jushiro said. "You had very little reason to fight against the Masters to begin with. Your wolf strap was removed long ago so they wouldn't have come for you. It was an uphill battle, in which you bravely gave your life. You've proven yourself a true ally, time and time again…" Jushiro smiled at Grimmjow kindly before continuing. "And if you ever do go behind our backs and plot against us, I will immediately strip you of your immortality and plunge you so far into Hell you won't know which way is up."
"Eh?" Grimmjow tensed, looking to Shunsui for support.
"Don't look at me to save you, he's scary." Shunsui mumbled, crossing his arms over his chest. "So, what say you? Wanna help us save the world again?"
"You bastard," Grimmjow snarled. "Acting so cool… Yer still just a pup…" Grimmjow climbed to his feet, grinning widely. "If I remember correctly, yer the idiot who couldn't tell rope from his own foot. I gotta stick 'round. You bastards are fucked without me."
"I need your explicit permission." Shunsui said with a smile. "Do you accept?"
"Yeah, I accept."
"Okay," Shunsui exhaled slowly. "Please hold completely still. This will only hurt for a moment."
"Hey! Kid! Stop!"
The beam of the flashlight exposed the teen's position and he panicked, flinging the overflowing rubbish bins toward the police officer and scrambling further down the alley. He jumped up, his hand hooking on the bottom rung of the fire escape. The rusted iron slammed into the cement and the boy ascended the small ladder rapidly.
"Stop! Hands up! Come on, kid! Stop running!"
The boy looked down at the portly officer and smiled, his brilliantly white teeth sparkling. He lifted his hand, giving a small wave. "Ciao!" He climbed to the roof of the rundown apartment complex and closed one eye in concentration. The next building was only one good leap away.
"There he is!" A second officer began climbing the fire escape and the boy cursed loudly.
"Come on, kid," the officer spoke, trying to remain calm. "Shoplifting ain't worth getting splattered across the cement…"
"So, then why are you chasing me?" The teen arched his brow quizzically. The officer reached behind his back slowly, his fingers gripping at his taser. The boy took a step toward the officer and then turned, sprinting madly for the next building. He closed his eyes and leapt, scraping his stomach and knees on the coarse roof as he skidded to a halt.
"Eh-t-t-t-tch." The teen groaned, sitting on his butt and examining his bloodied knees. "You jerks owe me new jeans!" The boy ignored the shouts of the police officers and limped to the other side of the building. He dropped down the fire escape, his bones rattling as he hit the ground. He snuck through the next alley, crossed the street, ran a block and then climbed down the service ladder that lead to home sweet home.
The boy laid down in the overgrown grass beneath the bridge and sighed. That was close. You're only getting older, they won't just chase you forever. The thought of the revolver in the officer's holster made him queasy to his stomach. He pulled the stolen item from his jacket and inspected the tarnished silver pocket watch with interest. It was probably worthless, and it wasn't edible, but he had been so inexplicably drawn to the timepiece that he had broken his number one rule… Never take what you don't need.
The boy was startled upright. He bolted toward the opposite end of the culvert. A second man blocked his exit. He panicked, pulling his switchblade out of his boot. The boy brandished the pathetic weapon, waving it in front of his face. "Ya gonna give me a paper cut, kid?" The teen's whole body shook and he lowered the blade in surrender. He couldn't use a knife against someone else. It was impossible. "Tha'dda boy."
"The shop owner isn't pressing charges," the first man, a broad man with wavy brown hair, said. "He just wants his piece returned. It's very special to him."
"I'm sorry," The boy muttered, holding the silver pocket watch out in front of him. "I shouldn't have taken it." He looked down at his feet as the man approached, taking the watch into his hands. "You guys sure chased me far for a piece of junk…"
"It's a Nuremberg," the man replied calmly. "One of the finest spring driven clocks ever produced."
"I don't think the kid gives a shit." The other man suggested. "We got it, let's go back."
"Where did the cops go…? You aren't cops…" The teen questioned looking at the two men in realization. "How'd you find me?"
"No, we're not cops." The man answered, raising his hands peaceably. "Please, we mean you no harm." He reached out as if he wanted to touch the youth and then thought better of it. "My name is Shunsui Kyoraku."
"Pretty weird name." The boy remarked dryly.
"This is my associate, Renji Abarai." Shunsui stood calmly, patiently.
"Uh, my name is… Coyote." Shunsui and Renji exchanged a meaningful glance.
"That your real name?" Renji asked with a smirk.
"Those your real eyebrows?" Coyote retorted.
"Coyote," Shunsui continued as if uninterrupted. "You seem to be a clever kid, you're fast at the very least. I could use a kid like you in my line of work."
"I'm not going to blow you, Mister." Coyote said flatly.
"No, no." Shunsui shook his head and laughed awkwardly. "Let us start by getting you something to eat, maybe a bath, some clean clothes."
"Why?" Coyote questioned suspiciously. "Nothing is free."
"Look, I know you can't trust anyone in this day and age… but suffice it to say you remind me of someone." Shunsui said simply, shrugging. "Someone I couldn't help."
"I'm not a project." Coyote snapped.
"Fair enough, but I did convince the shop owner not to press charges… so…" Shunsui began.
"I'll take a cheeseburger, but I don't owe you anything else," Coyote compromised.
"I insist you order a milkshake as well." Shunsui said with a smile. He began to walk back toward the road, gesturing for Coyote to follow.
"So what kinda business are you in, anyway?" Coyote asked, eyeing Renji dubiously. "You mafia or something?"
"Cute," Renji muttered.
"Actually, my spouse and I own a curio shop in Chelsea." Shunsui said with a playful frown. "You might know it?"
"Oh, God." Coyote whined. "I'm going to get lectured all through dinner and I won't be able to digest."
"I'm not mad at you, Coyote." Shunsui promised. "I already told you, you remind me of someone…"
"Do you watch porno?" Coyote asked, looking Shunsui straight in the eye.
"What?" Shunsui shook his head in confusion, laughing.
"It was a joke." Coyote said simply, turning around and jogging backward. He smiled and sped up, suddenly feeling very comfortable with the large man.
"Hey, Coyote, be careful, the traffic…" Shunsui warned.
"I'm not a child," Coyote complained. "I'll be seventeen in January."
"Well, okay, but I am much older and wiser…" Shunsui said firmly. "It really freakin' hurts when you get hit by a car…"
"That's not from personal experience is it?" Coyote asked with a laugh. He laughed even harder, losing his breath as Shunsui simply shrugged in reply. "Damn, old man, be more careful…"
"Old man," Renji repeated under his breath, chuckling to himself.
Coyote gestured to the little diner on the corner and smiled hopefully. Shunsui nodded and Renji jogged ahead, holding the door open for the teen. Coyote slinked past the broad shop owner, inhaling his scent unconsciously. He smelled wonderful, like peppered coco. He smiled at Renji, twisting his body to the side to pass through the door. The muscled redhead had a heady scent and it made Coyote's head swim. It was heavy and strong, but not necessarily bad. Coyote didn't know why, but he'd always had an acute sense of smell.
The restaurant, a popular hangout for local teens, was busy. Coyote's face darkened, his body language shifting dramatically. He dropped his head forward, letting his dark curly hair cover his face. He lifted the hood of his hoodie and, unable to find a comfortable position to cross his arms, he pushed his hands into his pockets. "There's nowhere to sit…"
"Pshhh." Renji scoffed, walking confidently past the magnitudes of people waiting to be seated. He stopped in front of a booth, their plates empty and their check waiting to be paid. "Hey, would you mind, we'd like to sit here… the whole restaurant's full…"
"Yeah? Well fuck you, buddy! I ain't moving…" the man bristled, sliding out from the booth and standing up. He looked Renji up and down, a snarl across his lips. "You wanna fuck off?"
"Fuck me?" Renji's brown eyes narrowed into slits and he smiled threateningly. The man could almost swear he saw a forked tongue snake from the redhead's mouth. "This is a family restaurant…" Renji gestured to the other booths and tables, his muscles flexing with each motion. "Please watch your language." Renji turned, exchanging a look with Shunsui before turning back to the man. "And you're going to move your ass, please and thank you…"
A few minutes later Coyote was drowning his greasy food in ketchup. He swirled a French fry in his river of sauce and shoved it into his mouth greedily. "Oh, ya'll aren't hungry?" Coyote asked around a mouthful of food.
"Not anymore." Renji muttered, pushing his plate forward and reaching for his glass of water.
"So, umm, Coyote, was it?" Shunsui asked, licking his lips nervously. "That's an unusual name."
"Yeah?" Coyote replied absently, taking a bite of his cheeseburger hungrily.
"When's the last time you ate, kid?" Renji asked, his face knit together with worry.
"Yesterday, maybe… yeah, I had a bagel yesterday morning…" Coyote answered with a shrug. He used both hands to shovel the food into his mouth, pausing every so often to take a sip of his chocolate milkshake. "And the name is Peter."
"Peter is a nice name." said Shunsui. "How does Peter become Coyote?"
"A coyote is a wild dog. Well, it's not a dog and it's not a wolf. It's a coyote." Coyote said simply, as if the explanation was obvious. "I guess people thought I was a bit wild…"
"Would you rather I call you Peter?" Shunsui asked, watching the teen eat intently.
"Nah, I hate my name." Coyote shook his head vigorously in reply. "I'm a wild dog, roaming free… Coyote is better."
"Where are your parents?" Shunsui asked, watching with interest as Coyote dropped his food. The teen brushed his hands on his torn pants and visibly sank lower into the booth.
"My parents are probably in some shithole getting high." Coyote snapped, glaring at something behind Shunsui. "I wouldn't know, I haven't seen them since they tried selling me to an undercover cop…"
"Who is supposed to be taking care of you?" Shunsui asked, silently crushing his roll of silverware in his hand.
"The great state of New York." Coyote muttered, twirling a french fry in his milk shake absently. "Mr. and Mrs. Weinstein…" Coyote stuffed the fry into his mouth and chewed tersely. "Me. I don't know anymore…" Coyote leaned forward suddenly and placed his hand against Shunsui's. "Ya know, I appreciate you not pressing charges."
"Do you like history?" Shunsui asked randomly, folding his hands in front of himself.
"Yeah, it's okay I guess…" Coyote replied with a shrug. "I'm not really big on school."
"Oh, don't worry, no pop quizzes here." Shunsui said with a laugh. "I'm only asking because I own a rather prestigious curio shop, if you remember. I am always looking for people willing to put in some work."
"You look like you could use the money," Renji interjected, pursing his lips thoughtfully.
"What would I be doing?" Coyote asked hopefully.
"Sales, then inventory, and if you stick with me, acquisitions…" Shunsui replied with a crooked smile. "There is some traveling required. All expenses paid, of course."
"Whoa." Coyote mumbled. "This sounds like a big deal."
"It would be a life-changing opportunity." Shunsui continued, his eyes sparkling dangerously.
"How much is the pay?" Coyote asked, though it hardly mattered. He'd been uselessly applying for jobs for months, any job and any pay would do.
"Money is so transitional…" Shunsui replied, waving his hand in dismissal. "You name it, I'll pay it… It doesn't matter to me…"
"Eight…" Coyote answered quickly, a wide smile on his face.
"Eight?" Shunsui looked at Coyote in surprise and then laughed, shaking his head. "I tell you that you can name any price and you choose eight dollars an hour?"
"I thought it sounded fair." Coyote replied, his cheeks growing hot.
"I'm sorry for laughing… I accept the price. Do you accept the job?" Shunsui asked with an indulgent smile.
"Yeah, I'll take it." Coyote answered, smiling in relief.
"Then after you've finished, let's go take a look around the shop. You can meet the other guys and we can see about a shower."
Shunsui paid as the server boxed up Renji's and his leftovers. Coyote tried not to be nosy, but the enormous tip Shunsui left on the table made Coyote blush. For some reason, Coyote was very affected by the stranger's kindness. They left the restaurant and walked slowly down the street.
The pedestrian traffic slowed as people passed a rather odorous homeless man, his hands held out in desperation. Shunsui and Renji stopped, the redhead dropping down onto his knees. He smiled crookedly and handed the withered man the boxed leftovers. "Hey, you hungry? These weren't even touched. There are two, if you can think of someone to share with…"
"Thank you! Thank you! Oh God Bless!"
Coyote shoved his hands into his jean pockets and exhaled heavily. It was rather embarrassing. The two of them were rather attractive and well dressed and people kept staring. Coyote swallowed a lump in his throat, their kindness made him feel inadequate. "I'm gonna keep walking, catch up." Said Coyote, rushing toward the crosswalk.
"Wait!" Shunsui yelled, his head snapping in Coyote's direction.
Coyote turned his head to the side, his body tensing as he realized too late that the city bus was barreling toward him, running their red light. He closed his eyes, throwing out his hands uselessly. A strange sensation twisted around his body and he felt as if he were flipping upside down. He screamed. He was upside down, his face high above the concrete. He looked up toward his feet, screaming even louder as he processed the thick cord-like flesh wrapped around his mid-section, all the way to his boots. He thought he might faint, but he didn't.
He followed the winding tail upward with his eyes, his mouth dropping open in horror as he realized he was in the grip of a monstrous animal. The baboon-like creature, hanging from the power lines by its strong hairy arms, lifted a finger to its lips in a hushing gesture. Coyote nodded, unable to speak or even move.
"Coyote." Shunsui called from the ground. "Please be more careful with yourself." Shunsui gestured to the creature and it curled around Coyote protectively, lowering them to the ground unharmed. Coyote stood, glued to the spot, his legs shaking so much his teeth chattered. "I've finally found you. I would hate to have to start over."
Coyote had expected shrill screams of terror, but the entire city was frozen, as if on pause. Coyote looked around in amazement. The air was thick and cloudy and gray. Coyote opened his mouth to speak and then closed it again in defeat. No words could convey this feeling. The creature's body began to quiver as the snake-like monkey transformed back into the massive redhead. Renji grinned at Coyote self-assuredly. "Coyote, let's get you home. We've got a lot to talk about."
Until next time,