What's In A Name?
Minami, 30th District of Rukongai.
It was as far out as Rōjūrō was allowed to go and he didn't complain, he knew just how far that would get him with his father.
Luck made him the youngest of fraternal triplets, putting him last in line for the Head of the clan, even if he was the only son of the three. Ōtoribashi wasn't one of the four highest clans but head of any noble family meant responsibility. Rōjūrō wasn't against such things, just knew that he definitely did not want as much as his father shouldered.
Especially if it meant being holed up in the palace all of his life. He had been the first out of the Seireitei gate when fourteen had been deemed old enough to leave the grounds (with an armed escort of course). Over the years he'd managed to push his boundaries until his father threatened him with confinement.
He'd gotten all the way to the 38th district, unbeknownst to father.
"Hot day," Rōjūrō murmured casually to his personal bodyguard Ito, a somber middle-aged man with a cast iron liver.
"That it is, Rōjūrō-sama," He agree with a smile and a squint up toward the sun. "Wouldn't mind some chilled sake."
"You might have to go home to find that Ito-san," Rōjūrō teased as they walked through the Southern Alley, toward the outer edge of the 30th district. Ito had hardly let him get far enough to see the edge, but Rōjūrō had been quick to find his newest guard's weakness. "But I'm sure Riki-chan wouldn't mind a visit," He murmured a small bag of coins swinging on it's drawstrings from his nimble musician's fingers.
Knowing how far to push both his father and his guard, Rōjūrō had never taken serious advantage of Ito's penchant for the rotgut Riki served at her bar with the name sake on it. Ito waited in his bar for his charge to return to him, knowing well the noble had been trained to defend himself, and by his personal bodyguard himself, not to mention capable of flash step. The set-up had been working well for almost three years now.
Ito threw, "Stay outta trouble," over his shoulder as he accepted Rōjūrō's money and disappeared down a cramped side alley.
Town was nothing but problems.
Then again he was going north on the Southern Path, no money, no name, no food...Not that he cared for any of those things at the moment. He'd had no problem foraging while avoiding populated areas, and was sure even this far into Rukongai there were places to do so if he started to get weak.
He'd started this particular trek months ago, but he'd always been walking. Wandering. It couldn't have been more than a couple of years but only just recently had he set a permanent direction to his feet. He still couldn't remember how he'd gotten from...wherever he'd been...to the wooden mountain cave of this land he now called home. Soul Society.
He knew there were things/memories before the phosphorous walls of the cavern that had greeted his warm brown eyes upon opening. What? He couldn't recall, but as he moved out into the sunlight he had started feeling echoes of slivers of memories and they only continued as he remembered how to walk, squinted into the sunlight, for all manner of simple actions and things in his surroundings that should have been new yet weren't. He was sure that a man wasn't born conjured in caves, or nearly full grown.
What could have been a few months passed before he found out he was dead.
It seemed unfair, he was sure he was no older than fifteen when he showed up in this place. He felt as if he'd been interrupted in the middle of a great fight...Obviously a fight for his life that he had lost.
He felt pretty cheated.
Wished he could remember his name. He didn't appreciate the ones that the few people he'd run across had shouted at him. Kurojin was the nicest, and adding that to the fact that he didn't have money most of the time - nor wanted it - he was pretty satisfied foraging in the outlaying forests as he trudged ever northward.
Even avoiding most people he spoke to enough travelers like himself that he noticed a trend in the other meager spirits wandering through Soul Society. He had only started to notice it around the 50th district which he found was named not a few yards into the area (Urouro). A gang of three men thought he looked like he had money (the one that got away ignored the other two cursing his name as they found the only thing he had in his possession were two big meaty fists). The traumatized spirit wasn't the only one named after the district he lived in, nor did they stick to the districts that became their namesakes, carrying around the names like a badge of pride.
So he'd decided to take the extra time to find out the names of the districts he was walking through, which meant...town.
Only slightly paranoid, his eyes scanned the first of the buildings at the edge of the forest. Although most of them were still very ramshackle and decrepit he could tell there were people inside. How he felt something like that he had no idea, even if the sense felt familiar, similar too - but not exactly - like walking, or eating a certain berry, it had been unexpected. Irregardless he had known what to do with it much like he hadn't thought twice about what to eat in the forest, or how to swim and bathe, when he met with his first large wild animal it hadn't just been his bare hands that had killed it.
The shout grabbed his attention as he moved through a narrow alley toward the more populated part of town. There was that same sensation, that on either side of him, behind the walls there were people. Brown eyes darted to a curtained doorway a little ways ahead as someone barreled through it and into the opposite building's wall, only a foot or two across the alley. As soon as contact was made the half-naked blond slid into a boneless heap on the ground.
"Whoa," He froze in place, mostly because of the violence of the collision he'd just witnessed, but just as noticeable was the prickly oppressive turn to the air around him. He tried to shake it off but as he tried to move forward in concern the feeling only intensified. "You al'right?"
As he neared, the blond got to her feet and in looking back at the door caught sight of her-his-would-be hero's approach. And there was no mistaking the long-haired blond for a woman now that he could see him from the front, being naked as the day he was born.
"Domo Love, I'm just fine," His blond hair had escaped the loose cord at the back of his neck and as he gave a flirty wink he blew at the pale strands, then ducked back through the curtained doorway.
"Wha..." Left in the alley he could only scratch at his thick hair and listen to the sounds of commotion inside.
As soon as the sounds registered he noticed a difference in the...sensation that told him of the souls on the other side of the wall. There was chaos on the other side, although the air was easier to breathe now away from the blond, there was no mistaking the mayhem the fair-haired man had dashed into unthinkingly. As he threw aside both caution and the curtain and slipped inside he saw that the people he'd sensed inside were an awful lot of half-naked men.
The pleasant-looking men were dodging flying objects that might once have been decorations along with the weapons and fists of large men that looked more like the souls he'd seen on his journey (large, dirty and angry).
The blond of before was currently rearranging two of the troublemakers' faces with moves that defied logic. There was no way someone so wiry was kicking ass like that.
As he watched, the two men fell and the blond giggled-giggled. Another large man suddenly came sneaking up on the victorious fighter, and before he could think about it he had grabbed a large mirrored shield and broke it over the assailant's head. The blond man spun and nearly unleashed his moves on his rescuer before he looked down at the thug and then at the crumbling pieces of shield his hero clutched.
"What's goin' on?"
"Bunch of bigots trying to ruin my good time," The blond replied dryly and since he was still obliviously nude, there was no real mistaking what he meant by "good time."
"Not just yours," Was his reply as one of the thugs appeared and he watched the blond's slender arm shoot out and with one blow sent the guy to the ground.
"Tell me about it! Where's the rest of security?"
Wide purple eyes did a once-over of the other man's body before returning to his face. "Do you work here?" He asked, voice going up a few octaves in surprise.
"Do you make it a habit of sticking your nose into other's business?"
He didn't know what about his actions had made the blond's casual friendliness evaporate, slurs on his skin color weren't the only reason he preferred to be alone. People were dumb. "Sounded like a good fight."
"You do have a name don't you Love?"
"Hn," He glanced away, digging a pinky into his ear to scratch. "What district is this?"
"The 38th," The blond replied exasperated.
"It gotta name?"
He nodded and gave the blond a small upward tilt at one corner of his lips. "Sounds good."
"You're..." Blond eyebrows shot up and the forehead above them wrinkled in confusion. "Aikawa?"
"Would you watch my back while I retrieve my clothes?"
Aikawa shrugged and nodded at the same time, "Sure."
They didn't run into any trouble until another older angry man jumped out from around a corner. Aikawa was surprised when the blond gasped and stepped back right into his new bodyguard. He didn't hesitate; one hand tugged the smaller blond behind him as he stepped forward and decked the approaching guy. Like the man Blondie had taken out earlier, it only took one punch.
"What!" Aikawa spun around at the shout, thinking someone was ambushing them from behind.
"That was the owner," The blond laughed softly and shook his fair head. "Oh well, I already paid and I'm leaving empty-handed..." He disappeared inside a room.
With a curious frown Aikawa noticed the odd pressure in the air lessened again as the man disappeared inside and intensified when he returned pulling on a rich kimono. "Paid?"
"You really did just walk into a fight," He smiled and Aikawa had to look away.
Somehow when he smiled he looked the opposite, those lavender eyes shouting his misery. And it made him beautiful. "Y'didn't tell me yer name."
"Gomennasai I'm such a lout-Shit! Don't-"
Before Aikawa could turn to look at whatever made those lavender eyes too wide, something hard smashed into the back of his head and he was out.
For some reason "Aikawa" fit. It stuck, even if it was a place he probably wouldn't return to thanks to it being the Place He'd Woken Up Wishing He Didn't Have A Head. If he was honest…He liked the name and it was obviously a good thing to be reminded that helping others was beyond stupid.
It took at least another week for him to reach the first district and he got his first look at the Seireitei. It might have taken less time if it wasn't one hundred percent true that town always meant trouble (i.e. people) and – stupid or no – Aikawa always helped others whenever his fists could. Talking things out was not his forte.
In Junrinan he met his first shinigami. The soul reaper was asleep, his face under an elaborate green silk mandarin hat. It didn't occur to Aikawa that the sleeper might be a gatekeeper, set there to stop those trying to go into the Seireitei.
It was no problem to walk right past the snoozing black-clad man but it was only a split second later Aikawa found his way blocked by the surprisingly alert man, his hat perched perfectly on his balding head. "Where you off to?"
"Sorry," Aikawa stepped back as he met the shinigami's gaze. "Just, that…way…" He pointed to the beautiful buildings; he'd only heard rumors of.
"Any number of things this way. If'n yer just on your way north, I'd appreciate you going around," He didn't seem pleased when Aikawa lifted his gaze from the ground to meet his.
"I…What is in there?"
"Gotei 13, their academy, nobles…" He tucked his thumbs into his obi. "If you kept going down this road you'll find the school we train at to become shinigami."
"Sounds good. Do I get a shiny sword and the clothes?"
"You may have some spiritual pressure but…It's mostly nobles and the smaller clans with enough gold to pay tuition."
Aikawa looked away before he made a face at the thought of gold, not wanting the shinigami to think it was aimed at him disrespectfully. "Spiritual pressure," He asked the shinigami instead, his mind immediately remembering the strange sensation around that blond— Goddamn it, stop thinking about him!
"Yup, that's what woke me up. Most people I let go."
"Yeah?" Aikawa frowned, expecting the worst.
"It's a new school year. Sometimes if they got enough paying students they let a few of us Rukongai brats try."
Although he bristled at "brat" Aikawa admitted it was a tame moniker in comparison to most he'd had in the past. "Off the street?"
"If you show up today or tomorrow and show them your reiatsu, your spiritual pressure, they might pay for a semester."
"How would I do that?"
"You feel it?" There came suddenly, like a wall the oppressive feel to the air he remembered but slightly different from…the blond, damn it. "That?" He waited for Aikawa to nod. "Prove you got it. Can you control it at all?"
"I don't know."
"Well. They aren't looking for people that need no education," He grinned and gave a small bow of his head. "Suwa Ryota South Gatekeeper."
"Special Assignment, since I was born in Junrinan anyway," He shrugged.
"Uh…name's Aikawa," He nodded a few times instead of bowing. "You think I could…?"
"I can't just let every random Kurojin through the gate, the nobles get all snooty when Rukongai shows up on their lawns," He looked apologetic.
"I'm a student at the…" Here he had to trail off, lifting his eyebrows quizzically at Ryota.
"At the ShinōAcademy," He grinned and Ryota laughed.
"Only if you graduate and become my apprentice so I can finally take a vacation," He winked and moved to Aikawa's side. "Seventh Division."
Figuring the Academy would explain what Ryota meant Aikawa nodded to him and continued forward.
No wonder his feet had picked this direction.
Drawback to all the sparkling prettiness that was Seireitei…It was all residential, all town, no forest. He had not had to really worry about this weakness of being surrounded by buildings. He didn't think the walk to the Academy would be long but he hadn't taken into account how little he'd eaten this morning.
Now it was firmly past lunch and Aikawa nervously looked around the Academy hallway he now found himself waiting in. It was grand with several staircases and another large hall that bisected this part of the building the adjacent direction and plenty of doors. There were some chairs and other horizontal surfaces to loiter on and the some odd thirty hopeful applicants didn't mind the floor or standing.
From some of them Aikawa felt that strange opposing pressure the shinigami had called reiatsu some only muddy and chaotic but others like Ryota and…someone else…there were a few that had a contained shield of spiritual pressure that licked around their forms like flames. He was out of range of most of them and he noticed from where he half-sat/half-leaned on the wall, that those applicants with harsh, heavy reiatsu sat away from others. "Huh," Aikawa didn't think about his own motives for sitting off by himself.