Kurohyou Keikan

Confessing Secrets

Much like the day before when Ryūken had seen his princess curled so comfortably in someone else's-a stranger's!-arms, the Quincy felt the angry stab of jealousy. Kisuke only made it worse by making her purr after only a few minutes of scratching behind her ear.

"Don't worry," Kūkaku murmured, seeing the anxiousness in Ryūken's eyes and misunderstanding it. "Ukitake-jiji is a nice guy."

"A shinigami taichō," Kisuke gave a sigh and his reiatsu announced his discomfort.

Ryūken glanced up from his sad pondering of the black kitten to Kisuke's face, trying to deduce how sincere he was until he felt his reiatsu-that had proven itself to be like a sniffing curious puppy since its awakening-the heavy dread in it settled the real concern he had put on the back burner. Yoruichi was going up against the senses of a captain, not that his only friend seemed to have found someone more interesting.

He knew the boy's knowledge on shinigami was limited, living in Rukongai he was bound to know more of the fantastical legends the villagers cooked up about their heroes. Meeting the Quincy-probably one of the only inhabitants of Soul Society that had less than adoration for the Gotei-was no doubt a shock for Kisuke. It seemed to be influencing his opinion of them, even after meeting Isshin. Maybe he suspected the truth?

That Isshin was the exception, not the rule?

"We'd better go," Kūkaku suggested, putting a reassuring hand on Ryūken's shoulder.

At those words Maukawa, who had been perched on Yoruichi's tail, took off. Kisuke turned and quickly followed and Ryūken didn't bother to hide his grimace as Kūkaku rushed after.

Problem was he had already turned to trudge dejectedly into the shouten so missed the small black shape that darted through his legs. He stumbled to a halt as Yoruichi's familiar kitty reiatsu washed over his toes and up his legs to get his attention. "Yoru-chan?"

The small kitten moved closer and let her front paws climb up his leg until she was standing on the back set. Ryūken obeyed the prompt and picked her up into his arms where she leaned up to press her paws into his chest, her golden eyes serious when he looked down into them. "You and I will always be friends, even when we find others."

"We?"

"Kisuke isn't just my friend he's our friend...Actually I think he's more your friend than mine," Yoruichi flattened both of her ears down onto her head and growled. "And Kūkaku-chan too?"

"No! No Yoru-hime," Ryūken gasped and looked away.

"Ryū-kun!" She tried to let him know she was joking with him. "How else could you prove your friendship? You asked for help from the only person you really dislike-"

"Kūku-chan's not so bad."

"And the shinigami Ryū-kun?" Yoruichi gave a meow and was able to stretch up just enough to rub the fur of her cheek along the underside of his chin, purring loud enough that he could feel it.

"It's not like I pledged loyalty to Isshin-sama," Ryūken blushed and leaned down to place Yoruichi back on the ground. "You should hurry or Kūku-chan might come back looking for you."

"Fine, but we're not done discussing this," Yoruichi said in her most authoritative tone, and when she focused on such a thing it rang like a death bell.

"Hai, Yoruichi-sama!" Ryūken's body went ramrod straight and he bowed gently at the waist an unusual smile on his face, the worry she'd easily noticed from before gone.

Yoruichi nodded and with a shunpo or two she was within sight of Kūkaku and Kisuke following Maukawa.

As she hurried after them she was surprised to encounter the warm curious reiatsu of Kisuke set up around him like an early warning alarm. She would have given herself a few moments to examine the nuances of his spiritual pressure-she was still learning both Kisuke and Ryūken-but as soon as she came across it he spun to face her.

"Koneko-sama!" He leaned down, arms outstretched and she didn't hesitate to take a running leap into his arms. With a laugh he caught her to his chest and turned to catch up to Kūkaku and Maukawa. "Is Ryūken alright?" He murmured before Kūkaku came within hearing.

"I think so."

"What are you two going on about?" Kūkaku glanced over at them as they finally caught up.

"What do you think Ukitake-taichō wants?" Yoruichi asked instead, as Kisuke started scratching that damn spot.

Purr.

Kūkaku laughed as the question was punctuated with the loud rumble. "Hara-chan I can't believe you keep makin' her do that."

Blushing Kisuke's hand moved back to cradling her instead of petting. He couldn't help it. "Gomennasai maybe when I see you're really not a cat..."

"I don't recall complaining," Yoruichi growled and she felt Kisuke's reiatsu relax, as well as the muscles of his arms.

"Um, purring has always been a good sound," Kūkaku nodded. "I just meant you're good at it Hara-chan."

Yoruichi giggled softly and made sure to keep quiet as they entered the compound from another larger entrance into a courtyard large enough to run drills. The office of the captain was the only brightly lit window and Maukawa made a beeline-butterfly-line?-to a partially open shoji door.

Kisuke, still experimenting with the surprising amount of reiatsu he still had, grinned like a fiend as he snuck his new sense out and sensed Isshin-he was bright and fresh like the sting of arctic waters-and with him-"Kuso!" He gasped and his steps faltered.

"You all right Hara-chan?" Kūkaku put a steadying hand on his shoulder.

"I am," He nodded and with a deep calming breath he pushed the door open further so that he could step into the threshold with Kūkaku. Although anyone that spoke of him had given Kisuke the impression Ukitake was an older man, along with the position as taichō in the Gotei...But after feeling his reiatsu Kisuke was surprised when he caught sight of the slight captain stretched out on a small chase a white handkerchief pressed to his mouth.

Isshin was standing to intercept Maukawa who had flown through the smaller opening easily before them. "Kids, I'm glad Maukawa didn't get you lost," His eyes fluttered to Yoruichi as he moved to re-release the butterfly before closing the shoji door. "Ukitaki-taichō wants to speak with Kisuke-kun."

"But I'm-" Cough. "Not doing nearly as..." Wheeze. "Well off as I-thought." Ukitake attempted.

Kisuke only moved forward because Kūkaku moved him as she moved forward with a firm hand on his shoulder. He looked at the angry writhing-but contained-reiatsu of the white-haired man (he'd thought Ryūken's was the palest he could find). The room should have been filled with it...The pale captain smiled a moment as he met Kisuke's young curious eyes before hiding again behind his handkerchief to cough, that expression alone told the child he wasn't as old as he seemed.

"Domo arigatō gozaimasu," Kisuke murmured with a small bow of his head. "Koneko-sama is almost healed from her nightmare."

"Did..." Ukitake tried to wheeze but his eyes squeezed shut as he trailed off into silence. After a moment to try and collect himself he suddenly looked up with the most grateful expression at the shoji door only a moment before it slid open. "How did you-" Cough. "Know?"

"I can hear a Jū-chan cough no matter how far, no matter what realm..." The voice that drifted in through the door was lilting and poetic. The large scruffy man that stepped into view, peering out from under a sakkat much like the shinigami "guarding" the Seireitei gate, was a surprise in comparison.

Kisuke couldn't see the newcomer's reiatsu but he knew it was there, even under the embroidered pink kimono. From his shorter vantage point Kisuke could see the sharp and alert eyes meant to be shaded by his hat as they moved over the room's occupants, his posture becoming a bit more coiled-ready but with the appearance of lassitude.

"Erm, Ukitake-taichō," The brunette's voice lost the sing-song quality. "My I'm getting old; I didn't even realize you had guests." He moved to the chase and sat, his close proximity that of a close friend. The protective posture of the larger man intrigued Kisuke as he watched this new stranger.

As the curious boy absorbed each minute movement he took a smaller square of cloth from the sleeve of his shihakushō. His empty hand slipped around the captain to pull him closer and he pressed the folded handkerchief to Ukitake's mouth and nose.

"Is that kidō?" Kisuke blurted out before he thought about the consequences (like usual). He watched the soft glow emanating from the hand cupping the cloth to the sick man's face.

"'bout the only decent healing kidō I can manage," The brunette glanced over as Ukitake removed his sakkat and turned it over to swat him in the side of his head with it.

"So rude," Ukitake murmured softly as he snagged the cloth away just as his friend snatched his hat back.

"Ah! Gomennasai!" He replied with a small whine to his voice but a large grin on his face. "Kyōraku Shunsui, captain of the eight division."

Ukitake took a deep breath, relief clear on his face when he was able to do so clearly and smoothly. "My hero," He glanced over toward them as he continued Kyōraku's introduction with a small smile. "Who doesn't want me to put my foot through yet another sakkat just because you forgot your manners?"

"No Ukitake-taichō," Kyōraku said with a roll of his eyes as he placed his hat on the nearby table instead of back on his head.

Ukitake moved to place his feet on the floor, sitting next to Kyōraku as he returned his attention to the children. "Did Nakamura torture the poor creature?"

"No," Kisuke murmured truthfully. "He wasn't nice about carrying her by her tail though!"

"Oh!" Kyōraku shook his head reaching out to run a finger along the kitten's ear. "Poor Koneko-chan!"

"She's been healed," Kūkaku explained quickly. "My brother is good with animals."

"Ju-kun?" Ukitake said with a sure nod, his face much calmer-much younger-his spiritual pressure now contained like Kyōraku's.

"Taichō?" Isshin moved to the shoji door, pushing it open in time for Maukawa to flutter in and land in his raven hair.

"Arigatō, Isshin-kun," He stood and turned to Kūkaku. "Kūkaku-chan could you please tell Ju-kun hello for me?"

Kisuke saw the frustration and the anger in the girl's eyes as she gave a shallow bow of her head in response and left with her uncle. As they exited he caught sight of a familiar blond. "Ryūken-kun!" As he shouted a knot of worry suddenly developed in his stomach.

Ryūken closed the shoji door behind him and as he looked up to meet Yoruichi's gaze a smile flickered over his lips. Kisuke was sure he'd imagined it, it was so quick.

"You can only stay if you can keep a secret Shu-kun..." Ukitake murmured to Kyōraku, who was at that very moment staring at the Quincy as if he had two heads.

"Sure can...Is that..." He turned to Ukitake and then back to Ryūken. "So rude," He told himself with a bow of his head. "Kyōraku Shunsui."

"Ryūken."

"Ryūken-kun," Kyōraku nodded and the grin returned to his unshaven face. "Are you a Quincy?"

Kisuke and Yoruichi were already masters at the different types of calm that the Quincy showed. His posture was usually strict, but never trembling and tight.

Ukitake sighed at the terrified coil of reiatsu he could sense inside the boy. Both of the boys-even the kitten-had surprising control of their spiritual pressure. "Don't worry Ryūken-kun."

"I couldn't tell," Kyōraku laughed his hand a surprise as it tousled the Quincy's hair.

"I was paying attention and I sensed the reiatsu that spiked in the seated officer barracks...I know Nakamura is a weaver of kidōs as well, so I assume you needed to break one to rescue your koneko-chan," Ukitake stood and moved to the large desk near the windows. "I don't suppose you knew your father long enough to learn our incantations?" He made it a question.

Knew his father...? Ryūken took a deep breath, slow so as to not be obvious. It was scary-after nearly eleven years-to suddenly have his deepest secrets known. And for it to be a shinigami-while not exactly a mortal enemy-that knew such things was frightening.

Sōken had brought him up not only with tales of the Quincy and their artifacts but also the shinigami (who Ryūken couldn't help think Sōken really saw as kindred brothers) and what they were truly capable of. "Bakudō 26 and 81."

"Ah, yare yare..." Kyōraku chuckled again and clapped his hand appreciatively.

"And you absorbed Kisuke-kun's reiatsu to break the fifth seat's kidō, ne!" Ukitake nodded the bright smile on his face making him look more like his true age than anything Kisuke had seen so far.

"And you belong to the Onmitsukidō..." Kyōraku sighed in disappointment. "Too bad."

"I belong to Shihōin-hime," Ryūken corrected, fighting down the blush as he glanced over at Yoruichi, then remembered that the captains didn't know her true identity. Or did they? They seemed to know so much.

"Exactly," Kyōraku nodded as if he were agreeing with him. "Do you have family? You were born in Soul Society so...a clan with descent reiatsu." He aimed the question at the boy but looked over toward Ukitake who was at a bar behind the desk, making tea.

At the question the white-haired man looked over his shoulder and nodded to his friend. "Ah which clan Ryūken-kun?" He turned with a tray and moved back toward the chaise and the short-legged table.

Ryūken was still speechless, his eyes wide and owlish behind his glasses. "H-how do you know I was born here?"

"Yeah!" Kisuke jumped like he'd been bitten but it was only because he had suddenly recalled the curiosity for such a question earlier.

"Ah," Kyōraku winked at the boy. "It's a thing shinigami are taught."

"Could I become a shinigami?" Kisuke asked and a moment after his eyes skittered over to Ryūken anxiously, knowing of his distrust of the Gotei.

"It's difficult," Ukitake mused as if thinking of his academy days. "Having spiritual energy isn't all that's required."

At those words he wished to enquire about the other things needed but this time thought of Ryūken soon enough to bite his tongue. "How can you tell the difference?" Kisuke murmured and his eyes went wide as Kyōraku stretched out his long arm and touched a fingertip to the center of his chest, just over Yoruichi's small ears. He looked down as he felt a strange hooking sensation behind his sternum and noticed a small loop of chain welded to a flat round base, no more than two inches in diameter in the center of his chest.

"Any soul that's been through the cycle of life has one," Ukitake murmured as he forgot the teapot in his hand, looking on to Kisuke's reaction at seeing the base of his Saketsu. "It's what keeps you linked with your mortal body in the world of the living."

"Ah, Jū-chan," Kyōraku sat back, lowering his hand to his lap and easily seeing the disappointment on Kisuke face as the strange chain disappeared. "He only had one link left."

"What does that mean?" Kisuke gasped, his hand moving to the spot where the chain had been and now felt no different than his normal chest, glancing down to meet Yoruichi's yellow eyes as she tried to stop staring at the back of his hand.

"Would you like some tea children?" Ukitake murmured instead and Ryūken was touching his own chest, wondering if his father had one of those-he'd always been told he'd found his way here without dying-just how..? "Ryūken-kun?"

He glanced up to see that Kisuke was staring at him, his own expression probably very similar and he made himself move forward to sit on one of the pillows as he tried to school the shell shocked look. "I have been keeping these secrets for as long as I've been able to keep secrets," His gaze flickered to Kyōraku as he sat on the adjacent side of the table across from Kisuke and Yoruichi.

"I don't blame you," Ukitake nodded solemnly as he started pouring tea into delicate cups. "There are those in the Seireitei that wouldn't hesitate if you weren't so good at suppressing your reiatsu."

"And I usually keep to the palace. Honestly Kūkaku-chan is the closest I get to a shinigami, today was the first day I'd seen Isshin-sama," Ryūken looked over and noticed with irritation that Yoruichi had been forgotten when cups of tea were handed out. He tried to remember that she was in the shape of a cat, and not everyone knew she was fond of talking over tea.

As he glanced her way he found she was looking at him. He gave her a reassuring smile and didn't hesitate, "Koneko-chan would you like some of Ukitake-taichō's tea..."

"Aw," Ukitake gave a small dip of his head. "Gomennasai Koneko-chan."

"It's all right Ukitake-taichō she doesn't drink much," Ryūken gave a small startled jump when the kitten darted under the table and into his lap. He leaned back and she gave him a soft meow before climbing onto the table. "Koneko-chan," He muttered in a disapproving tone, mostly for getting up onto the table, cat shape or not.

"Don't worry Ryūken-kun. And please call me Jūshirō," Ukitake ordered softly as he watched Yoruichi lap up tea from Ryūken's cup.

"I call him Jū-chan," Kyōraku said sotto voce. "And you must call me Shunsui."

Ryūken only nodded in response, wondering if encouraging such a familiar relationship with such powerful shinigami was wise. He watched Kisuke take a tentative drink of tea (probably because he'd already burned his tongue and throat with his first curious gulp).

"This is good stuff," He enthused the moment he glanced up to see Ryūken watching him.

"First time drinking tea Kisuke-kun?" Ukitake asked, his face almost lighting up as he realized. "Does Shihōin-sama not allow you-?"

"I'm not-" Kisuke suddenly started to object, long before he thought over the repercussions. "I...I don't live in the Seireitei."

Everyone was quiet a moment before Ukitake-far from the frail man of earlier-practically jumped to his feet and nearly shunpoed to his desk. "Have you had chocolate?"

"Oh no, here we go..." Kyōraku laughed softly with a shake of his head. "Don't forget the sweet ginger!"

Simply grateful for his admission's casual dismissal Kisuke was easily overcome by his usual curiosity. "Sweet?"

Ryūken smothered a grin even as Yoruichi gave a plaintive meow and leapt off the low table to follow Ukitake. "Koneko-chan!"

"If you want some I'll cut some tiny pieces for you Koneko-chan," Ukitake said in a sing song voice.

"Shu-taichō," Kisuke paused to figure out how to word his question, now that he had succumbed yet again to curiosity. "That kidō you used on Shirō-taichō seem more powerful than you let on."

With a shake of his head a small frown tugged at the jovial captain, "That attack was a feeble one."

Startled by that idea Kisuke turned to stare as Ukitake brought a small plate back to the table. He didn't have to focus on his second sight, the freedom of his reiatsu made it effortless for him to call upon that ability but as soon as it clicked on he gasped and hid his face in his hands.

"Kisuke-kun?" Everyone at the table noticed the flare of reiatsu. "What's wrong?"

The white-haired taichō looked no different than anyone else to his strange second sight, except his lungs, which were a gory mess. A bad effect of his new spiritual pressure was his inability to see the movement of his life's blood in anything but real-and vivid-color. They were angry and hurt like the captain's reiatsu had been before Kyōraku had come with his medicine and healing kidō.

"You're really sick," Kisuke whispered through his fingers and tears escaped his tightly closed eyelids.

"Am I?" Ukitake murmured the curiosity obvious in those two words. "How do you know Kisuke-kun?"

"I can see it," Kisuke shrugged and ran a sleeve over his tears before opening his eyes. "I've always been able to see like that...When Ryūken-kun helped give me reiatsu it got easier."

"You see what?"

"I didn't give you reiatsu," Ryūken interrupted. "I woke yours up."

"Most definitely," Ukitake agreed, as if recalling the events themselves, and then he lifted the plate to bring it to the attention of the anxious boy. "Try this?" He met the teary eyes of the boy from under the mop of messy blond hair. "Oh come now! I already knew I was sick. I've been sick most of my life."

"You..." Kisuke looked at the chocolate and what he assumed must be the "sweet ginger" Kyōraku had mentioned. He was going to say more but he looked back up and saw the encouraging grin curving the taichō's mouth. He took a deep breath to slow his heart and grabbed the largest chunk. "Koneko-sama?"

The growl he got in response surprised all but Ryūken. He rolled his eyes as she darted her golden gaze to him, expecting the Quincy to explain for her. 'I will not! He should call you Koneko-sama!' Was easily and haughtily conveyed.

Without his help Yoruichi merely ignored Kisuke's confused and slightly hurt expression while she devoured the chocolate and all but a few pieces of the ginger. Kisuke hid the questions away for a time when she could answer them and managed to bite off a sizeable piece of chocolate to chew. He looked up to meet Ukitake's expectant gaze and could only make appreciative noises as he quickly took another bite.

"So Kisuke-kun you can see illness?" Kyōraku's eyes met Ukitake's meaningfully and although all the children were preoccupied with drink or food all of them noticed the exchange.

"No," Kisuke did a similar meaningful sweep of his eyes to catch Yoruichi's acknowledging golden flicker and Ryūken brown as they appeared like magic from behind the sometimes obscuring glare of his glasses to meet his.

Everyone was curious, about him this time. Kisuke knew that Ryūken had gotten his secrets stripped from him on more than one occasion throughout this day-wow it was just this morning I was throwing that flint stone like that would hurt its feelings... He reached into his borrowed pants' pocket where he'd transferred the small stones. He was sure the Quincy planned on telling his entire secret to Kisuke eventually-they had made a promise-and that meant telling a secret in return. The keen curiosity in both shinigami captains' eyes made the choice easy too.

"So far I've hypothesized that what I'm seeing is life's blood as it flows through the body...Tessai...my friend, he..." He muttered into silence as he thought of the boy that had been his friend for so long, the first one to accept him for his strangeness and not just to keep from being a hypocrite.

The others kept quiet waiting for the boy to continue.

"He was the first one that had a glow, I actually found that out after meeting him since he was the only person I knew existed for a few weeks before he took me into the city and I saw everyone else didn't glow," He saw the laugh in Ukitake's eyes, and he had to smile and wonder how Kūkaku had though him old. "I found out it was his reiatsu...and now I have it," Kisuke's face scrunched up, he had through he'd exercised the ability to its fullest-here he was learning new things still.

"And," Kisuke's enthusiasm made his face shine, he was vocalizing ideas he'd been playing with while only half-occupied. "It's different than sensing it," He looked down to meet Yoruichi's gaze and she knew he was remembering their conversation. "At first I could only see it with this...second sight when it's still under the skin...Sometimes just outside the skin, and where people with it touch while they're using it."

A string of curses was accompanied by a disbelieving chuckle and Kyōraku pressed his hands together and bowed his head to the boy across the table from him. "Kisuke-kun it just occurs to me that it's getting past the time when children should be sleeping. This only happened because I wish to introduce you to a dear friend of Jū-chan and I, making me realize that she is probably in bed now as well."

"True Shunsui," Ukitake nodded sagely and as he stood he glanced down to Kisuke. "Sweets for the road?"

Ryūken rolled his eyes when Kisuke gave a cheer and he actually took Ukitake's hand and did an odd uncoordinated dance to where the chocolate was kept. He would have shared his feelings with Yoruichi but was pretty sure the princess wondered if they would remember her when considering how many sweets to take. He couldn't help but wonder-as he had been ever since Maukawa had shown up with a message that the Quincy had been the true subject of Ukitake's curiosity-exactly what the motives were behind the shinigami taichō.

Yoruichi was trying to get his attention, and he was not about to ask for more chocolate for her. She gave a meow and swatted frustrated at the hand he held his teacup with.

"Are you all right Koneko-chan?" Kyōraku asked with a soft chuckle as the cat continued to growl and pounce on Ryūken's tea.

Ryūken looked down and Yoruichi gave a strange yowl, and he knew instantly that she really wanted to talk. Maybe she was curious herself, being a cat couldn't have helped. He noticed the cat's eyes move to something behind him and Ryūken looked up to see Kisuke standing behind him.

"Just ask," Kisuke was sure the leap from masculine-voiced kitten to princess wasn't just a leap of logic for him. "I'll ask if you wanna whisper it in my ear-if you're shy."

"Don't be surprised when I bite your ear baka," Yoruichi yowled without thinking. She heard Ryūken's groan exasperated and knew that the adults were surprised. It was obvious when their reiatsu came close to reevaluate the kitten. She was sure she only sensed them because they really still saw her as a cat (albeit a talking one).

Good.

"Ah, Koneko-sama my heart!" Kisuke clamped his hand to his chest over his heart as if in pain, staggering as if he would feint.

Yoruichi didn't hold back the laugh when both taichō did likewise. "Ukitake-"

"Jūshirō? Koneko-chan-or is it kun?"

"Chan," Ryūken answered for her and she gave him a thankful glance when she had nervously hesitated to answer.

"She said it was just how a feline voice box worked," Kisuke murmured helpfully.

"You had a question Koneko-chan? The last for tonight," Kyōraku prompted.

Ryūken watched, strangely awed at these two shinigami. He had though Isshin a rare case but these two-captains!-they weren't what Sōken had described.

"You spoke of clans," Yoruichi started, pulling the Quincy's attention back to her. "Speaking with Ryū-kun I was lead to believe shinigami were responsible for their removal from the cycle of life."

"Yes."

Kisuke gasped as Ukitake nodded the anger at such a dishonorable action clear in his warm brown eyes. "What?"

"Where they are able," Ukitake muttered with some measure of shame for his brethren.

Yoruichi hesitated and looked at Kisuke as his reiatsu jumped in anger before he dampened it. "Are there other Quincy?"

Ukitake looked agape a moment, maybe because of the impact of Ryūken's gaze as it flashed out from the cover of his glasses' glare. "Shinigami aren't that involved in the true cycle."

"What do shinigami do?" Kisuke blurted out... "Ne!" He growled with a shake of his head that dislodged some of his hair. "Forget I asked! Go on!"

The interruption seemed to have calmed the pale taichō, given him time to think a bit. He knew how important this was to the boy but there were some things he'd be duty bound to...not to...say. "Do you know Koneko-chan? You need to understand your question."

"Originally they were only created to protect the Seireitei and the nobles from hollow. That is really their first duty, to protect all of Soul Society. Up until then it was each clans' guard acting as militia only occasionally successful in defeating hollow, but Yamamoto-soutaichō decided to take the successful fighters and teach their methods," Ryūken explained for Kisuke since he knew that Yoruichi already knew.

More questions came to be at that small bit of information, and Kisuke pushed the urge to shout them down. Tessai had once mentioned being chased by a hollow but wouldn't go into detail, and the younger boy always wished to know what had terrified his friend so.

"Less hollows in Soul Society would seem like a good thing," Ryūken continued. "But that just meant more of them decided to go to the World of the Living."

"That's where they found that they could help stem the tide of hollow even more," Ukitake surprised the boy by interrupting. "Shinigami also help souls that die before the end of their mortal lifespan...Those are the souls in Rukongai."

"Most of the time," Kyōraku gave the Quincy a wry grin as he showed his well of knowledge. "The souls go on their way all by themselves, but some get delayed for whatever reason, they get lost, attached by some emotion, family, confusion..."

"Konsō," Ryūken murmured and Kisuke saw the smile on his new friend's face. It was the first one of those he'd seen in regards to something shinigami. "The new flood of hollow into the World of the Living made them realize they had to find these confused souls because if left on their own they become hollow. Since their patrols of the World of the Living were still hampered by numbers, some humans decide to take care of the hollow while the shinigami Konsōed them before their chains suffered the Last Erosion. That's what the Quincy were made to do. We were tired of you not getting the job done."

The room fell silent again and Ryūken cursed his own pale face as he blushed, "Sumimasen."

"No," Ukitake shook his head. "We have been making more of an effort to increase the Gotei ranks to rectify that," He explained. "Ah, but I'm getting off-topic."

"The cycle of life can only truly be altered by the Spirit King..." Ukitake started again. "If a soul's lifetime in the World of the Living isn't taken early there is no trip to Soul Society it's straight on to the next life, heaven, or hell a shinigami can't touch that."

"So there might be Quincy that slip through-" Kisuke explained as if he'd been waiting for a reason not to hate shinigami.

"Quite a lot actually," Ukitake corrected and his eyes met Ryūken's. "Even after a few centuries of feuding with the shinigami..." A soft sad chuckle left Ukitake and he still looked as vibrantly youthful but for his eyes. "Fighting over who got to do the protecting."

Ryūken knew Ukitake might have looked young but the true length of his existence showed in the wisdom of his eyes. "M-my..." He took a deep breath to calm himself. "My father always hoped shinigami would be able to effectively carry such a burden alone."

"I only know a few Quincy that share such a belief," Kyōraku's eyes were much brighter than expected, as if he knew something and was pleased with how he'd figured it out. "The majority have come to believe that it's now only their job to protect the humans, since they themselves are human, because we have failed at it."

"Those Quincy and the shinigami that feel they're interfering are still small enough in population that there is balance," Ukitake gave a sigh and poured himself more tea. "The Gotei is still fleshing out it's ranks...Mostly uneducated from Rukongai-who are just as good as Seireitei born but..."

"Most nobles aren't interested," Yoruichi mumbled.

"How could they not be?" Kisuke groaned as if chastising Yoruichi. "Don't they wanna protect their people?"

"It's a good thing that they're not interested," Yoruichi growled back.

"Nobles hate Quincy," Ryūken interrupted softly, looking up to see Kisuke open his mouth to argue. "Jūshirō-taichō?"

"That was what I was implying," Ukitake nodded with a sip of tea. "Kaien-kun is the first of the generation to have the power and inclination and I daresay Kūkaku-chan and Ganju-kun will follow in his footsteps."

"We're becoming their bedtime stories," Kyōraku said with impish glee. "Yama-jiji is even getting the curiosity of the Kuchiki."

Kisuke even knew who the Kuchiki clan was thanks to Tessai, and some of the more knowledgeable farmers that they had tricked out of food over the years. He had even gotten information with his incessant questions about some of the smaller clans (like Kyōraku). "I thought the only Kuchiki heir was a daughter."

Once again Kisuke found himself the center of the room's attention. "I try to learn everything I can from the people I meet," Kisuke said with a shrug.

"You certainly do Kisuke-kun," Ukitake seemed impressed by the inquisitive boy's knowledge. "And you are correct. Any more gossip?"

Blushing Kisuke tried, "The clan is still recovering from the dishonor of losing her husband."

Yoruichi gave a growl low in her throat that only Kisuke and Ryūken heard. Ryūken knew it had to do with the current comfort level between the Kuchiki and Shihōin houses.

They had been close before, her mother had grown up with Kuchiki-hime, fallen in love with the man she'd been betrothed to since birth (Yoruichi's father) and stole him. Things had gotten better when Kuchiki-hime found her own love and then only slightly worse since he'd lost his wife and sequestered Yoruichi from the world.

Now things were better-not Yoruichi's opinion-and the Kuchiki heir had been seeing her father...alone. From kitty eavesdropping Yoruichi knew they spoke about her mom a lot (that was why she fell asleep just listening to their memories).

Heart-warming jaunts down memory lane were nice, but she had decided young that there would be no loveless political marriages for her father. He knew only her mother and real love, the kind that hurt forever when it was gone.

"I believe it is Yama-jiji's old friend from the military days...Ginrei-dono, one of the nobles that helped him found the academy-even taught there!"

"Current Head of the clan," Kisuke proved his gift at questioning, surprising everyone yet again. "He should be a captain."

"I'm sure Yama-jiji would agree...And goodness we've not kept well to the one question rule," Ukitake sighed.

"Ah Jū-chan!" Kyōraku gave a small whine. "It's the conversation topic you know! Shinigami vs. Quincy is almost a hotter subject than clan scandal," He teased and lifted his tea to gulp it down. "We definitely must meet for tea again...Next time you can meet Retsu-chan... She'll love you Kisuke-kun."

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