A One-Armed Kūku
Kisuke's frown-he was sure-had to be permanently etched on his face by mid-morning the next day. The fire he'd spent considerable time and effort (he was still sore!) to make last night had gone out.
His dreams had been an odd and occupying affair consisting of searching a few rooms of the richly appointed palace (with no one to live in them) and getting frustrated by locked doors; he managed to exhaust every twist and turn available before he woke up. Without Tessai the Responsible to remember to wake up and keep it lit the fire had died in the night while he tried to get past the doors into the inner rooms of the jungle palace of his dreams.
Also Tessai had recently taught himself to use his- reiryoku... (hhmm, it sounded neat, rolled off the tongue) -to light the kindling on fire. Needless to say, Kisuke was out of practice making fires, so waking up to see even the embers cold and dead had contributed to most of the frown.
Plus he didn't like being alone.
Of any knowledge Kisuke secretly craved, it was that of people and their behavior that burned the most passionately inside. It was only so fun to explore oneself, he looked like any other boy...and a little different than a girl. He knew his mind, how he reacted.
He had, however, observed that all minds were different. He had learned more about himself when comparing things he'd observed in the older boy to himself.
After the way his friend had treated Kisuke yesterday the need to see the older boy had lessened almost to nonexistence. Of course in the face of his curiosity over Koneko-sama Tessai's presence-or rather lack there of-wasn't really much of a problem.
"You really should have shown up by now," Kisuke muttered to the absent talking cat, his eyes trailing to the dead fire pit bitterly as he crossed the campsite to retrieve the flint he'd just hurled in frustration.
"Can't trust humans or cats apparently...great place this Soul Society...Crummy..." He found the small stone after a few moments and trudged back to his make-shift bed. He couldn't quite get how Tessai arranged the damned fern fronds to make them so comfortable, Kisuke was amazed he'd slept through the night.
"There you are."
Kisuke froze as the strange pale-haired boy caught his attention on the edge of the clearing. "You must be Ryū-kun."
"Ryūken. Where is..." Ryūken's gaze skimmed over the ground and Kisuke moved closer.
"Koneko-sama?" Kisuke offered. "He hasn't shown up yet." Kisuke watched something like a twitch flutter at the corner of Ryūken's lips. Perhaps it was what passed for a smile on this stiff human friend of a talking cat?
"Ahem," Ryūken coughed and fixed the other boy with a withering glare that merely rolled right off the aura of curiosity Kisuke normally used to get around things like social niceties (in this instance being polite to strangers). "He should have been here over an hour ago."
Kisuke's eyes went wide and he felt his curiosity over the boy's odd stress on "he" spill out of his ear as worry swelled to replace it. "How do you know?"
"I followed-herm-" Another cough. "-his trail here; I waited an hour before I followed," Ryūken watched the boy warily, Yoruichi was right, he didn't seem to have any spiritual energy but there was something about him. Unless it's well hidden? It might even still be hidden from the boy himself.
"So you have reiryoku too then," Kisuke guessed hopefully. He kept his eyes on he strange boy's face trying to figure out his expressions, no matter how minute-like Koneko-sama-Kisuke was proud of his ability to catch them all.
I see what you mean Yoru-chan, Ryūken thought to himself. "You can sense it?"
"I can see it, but not if you hide it," Kisuke shrugged. "Koneko-sama must have skipped his way here if you could track him so easily."
"Skipped?" One of Ryūken's almost invisible eyebrows tilted upward, as he tried to ignore the implications of the words "track him so easily." "Do you mean hirenkyaku?" Ryūken almost laughed as he actually saw the sharp curiosity light the boy up from the inside at the foreign word. "I mean shunpo?"
"Flash step what you call 'skipping' I suppose," Ryūken murmured and only just remembered not to go on to mention Yoruichi's mother and her unofficial title of, "Queen of Flash." "I don't have time to explain. Now, if you don't know where Shihōin-sama has gone, I am done here."
"I left camp about an hour ago, but it was only for a few minutes. Nothing was disturbed when I returned," Kisuke informed him. "Have you walked around the clearing to pick up his trail again?" He asked as he began to focus on his ability to see spiritual energy.
"Of course," Ryūken sighed and did so for the third time, only slower. "That friend of yours doesn't know how to keep it to himself, he's everywhere."
"His is actually pretty faded by now," Kisuke switched on his ability and eyed the mess the campsite had become. A mix of Koneko-sama and the barest traces of Tessai... "That isn't Tessai-san! That's a fifth seat shinigami I met the other day."
Delightfully surprised Kisuke watched the furious snarling scowl that curled over the boy's arrogant aloof face for a moment. "Teme... Shinigami..." Hissed from the boy's pale lips before they smoothed into a displeased frown. Well it was the same aloof expression only Kisuke saw the slight differences he'd already observed and filed away. "Excuse me."
"Whoa! Wait!" Kisuke hollered out startled as the boy turned and left the clearing. He hurried after him, glad he had nothing to leave behind but the flint rocks in his pockets. "If Koneko-sama has been harmed because of a kindness to me know Ryūken-sama I will help find him."
"Not me you don't," Ryūken said bluntly when he saw the determination in Kisuke's eyes. They slowly moved together through the woods, although it was more Ryūken walking with his nose in the air and Kisuke examining the trail the fifth seat had left behind. They moved steadily toward the Seireitei following the shinigami's spiritual energy until it seemed to disappear.
Kisuke watched the boy as he continued to examine the ground as they walked. He wanted to applaud how causal Ryūken made his path seem when he had been tracking just as hard as his tagalong had been.
Knowing if he didn't bite his tongue his questions might lose his only safe way to get into the Seireitei-maybe even the palace-Kisuke only just managed to stick to a query that centered on their mutual mission. "What happens when his trail becomes so faint you can no longer sense it?"
It seemed like he was going to ignore the question but then Kisuke realized he was trying to figure out the answer himself. "I might try Kūku-chan..." He let his gaze flicker over toward the slightly shorter boy, who seemed to be trying to glare the trail of spiritual energy into a visual his eyes could detect. As the Quincy had expected the quietly muttered words had caught his attention, and Ryūken bit back a grin as he saw Kisuke open his mouth to talk and then almost as quickly shut it to silence himself.
Kūkaku Shiba was the closest thing to a family friend that Yoruichi had. She was one of the handful of noble children born into this generation and-had she a safer hobby-she might have become Yoruichi's best friend instead of Ryūken.
According to Geboku, Yoruichi would have been betrothed to the eldest Shiba if Shihōin-sama hadn't put his foot down shortly after Lady Shihōin's death. Surprisingly the family's penchant for things that explode had alerted his already on edge protective senses. Especially when it got around the noble houses that Kūkaku had blown her arm off.
Ryūken's first reaction to accepting help from Kisuke-who he couldn't help but see as an adversary-had been scorn. He realized it was a lot like the kneejerk reaction the nobles had to him and he stopped glowering at the kid. Yoruichi had told him they would probably get along, and Ryūken knew that if the princess had given this urchin a chance he should. Yoruichi and this Kisuke undoubtedly had a common streak of curiosity through their souls.
How to get such an obvious Rukongai citizen into Seireitei was the plan bubbling in Ryūken's brain as he lazily tracked the fifth seat's spiritual energy. The shinigami had tried to hide his spiritual signature but he wasn't quite good enough to snuff it all out. Ryūken forcibly redirected his thoughts from the idea of the shinigami and back to the boy beside him and getting him past the guards. The Gatekeeper here was a lazy shinigami that took anyone that went in at face value, the clothes on their backs, etc.
It was taken out of their hands because as they approached the now-invisible boundary between the Seireitei and Rukongai a large caravan from the outlying low district farms had just started past the Gatekeeper, who was laying in the grass Rukongai-side his shihakushō in lazy disarray, face hidden underneath what looked like an elaborately-woven green silk mandarin hat.
"Hurry," Ryūken reached over and took a firm grip on the scrawny boy's arm, surprised at how easy it was to feel bone. He was worried a moment when the boy tripped on the uneven dirt, but as Ryūken hissed and gave his arm a jerk Kisuke got back to his feet and practically flew. The Quincy gave a grunt of surprise and quickly swung his eyes over toward the snoozing shinigami before his view was obscured by one of the large wagons.
As soon as they were blocked from view they slowed to keep with the wagon until they could slip into a small alleyway. Kisuke kept his gaze on Ryūken as he released him and moved down the short alley to see if there was anyone nearby. "Since the Gatekeeper didn't see you we should be safe from the Onmitsukidō, but just in case, keep an eye out from anyone dressed in all black," He put his fingers over his eyes and peered out between them like a mask. "With cowls over their faces."
Kisuke's heart was beating so hard, he pressed the palm of his hand to his chest to feel it thrum against his hand. He was here, inside without anyone the wiser! While Ryūken looked around at the mouth of the alley Kisuke moved toward the other end and peered out, eyes devouring everything he could see from his vantage point.
"All right we should-Hey! Urahara!" Ryūken barked and had to smother a smile as the grimy boy jumped a foot, spun around and immediately ran back to his side.
"Sorry!" He whispered his voice still breathless and excited, eyes bright.
"Just..." Ryūken tried not to be affected by the boy's enthusiasm. He shook his head softly in disbelief at his own childishness his fine pale hair getting caught in his glasses, shielding his eyes until he combed his fingers through it. "Stay close all right?" Ryūken chastised as he moved out of the alley and in the direction of the Shiba shōten, the only way to get in touch with Kūkaku since her eccentric parents moved their home all over, never in the same part of Seireitei twice.
"Do you mind if I ask where we're going? I can't see the shinigami's trail anymore, are we still following it?" Kisuke kept his eyes on the boy between wide sweeps of his surroundings. Yes they were new and shiny, but above everything, Kisuke liked to figure out how people ticked. He didn't get to be around very many people for longer than a few words, and obviously Tessai had reached the maximum amount of time being pestered by the younger boy.
They were walking along the inside bank of a canal, large solid built structures on both sides. "We're going to meet Kūkaku Shiba, some of her family are shinigami," Ryūken explained concisely as he glanced over his shoulder yet again to catch the boy gawking. Kisuke had already turned to avoid his gaze a few times; still the Quincy had felt his eyes boring holes into the back of his head.
"You don't like shinigami do you?" Kisuke murmured when he didn't seem irritated about the other questions. It wasn't the hottest burning question, but the freshest.
There was the irritation, but Kisuke suspected it was for the topic, not the inquisitive Kisuke (how could that be?!) so... "Is Koneko-sama yours?"
Although Ryūken was aware that Kisuke didn't know Yoruichi was a girl, or a princess, the question still threw him for a loop. "N-no!" He suddenly wished that he hadn't fallen back a few steps to walk even with the astute boy. For some reason the question had struck him as totally inappropriate and...
"Heh," Kisuke grinned as he saw the blush heat the Quincy's face. "Watcha blushin' like that for?"
"Shut. Up." Ryūken hissed and tried to keep his eyes out for the shōten but Kisuke was on a roll, the first question had only started a snowball downhill. He didn't give verbal answers but he'd dealt sufficiently with Kisuke's curiosity...egged it on even.
"He lives in the palace right?"
"Stop asking questions, Shihōin-sama told me he intended to sit for..." His eyebrows crinkled as he recalled the words she'd repeated during their late night strategizing. "'Countless questions.'"
Oh, so no questions about Koneko-sama, shinigami, or how easily it was to notice a blush... "You should get more sun."
Ryūken met Kisuke's eyes with a perplexed eyebrow doing its best to shape a question mark. Technically it hadn't been a question. Smart ass. "Be quiet or we'll miss the-"
"Right there," Kisuke pointed to the modest storefront. Normally nobles liked property value which meant no garish colors or eclectic decorative structures like the ones the Shiba clan was fond of. They compromised in-that there weren't hundreds of the large gaudy banners that plastered the front. "'Shiba Fireworks.'"
"Who taught you to read?" Ryūken muttered surprised and sort of impressed.
"Now who's got questions?" Kisuke grinned before increasing his pace.
With legs just as long Ryūken had no problem keeping up, even when it seemed Kisuke wasn't only walking fast but purposefully running. With a barely contained smile Ryūken only ran faster, his sudden gain making Kisuke laugh at the challenge and he surprised the Quincy by passing him.
"Hey! Urahara-oof!" Ryūken tried another sprint to the door, tempted to hirenkyaku but somehow Kisuke found the threshold first and blocked it bodily.
Triumphantly Kisuke listened to the chortle of laughter gasping from the pale boy. He moved through the door backwards and Ryūken followed. "Next time I'm using hirenkyaku-" He whispered quietly the faint smile still on his face.
"How may I help you?" Came out dulcet and sugary sweet, delicate like the petals of a flower until the voice's owner saw Ryūken. "Yūk-kun!" This time there was a hard edge-hardly the same voice-not to mention the drastic change in the level of ferocity.
"Kūkaku-chan," Ryūken gave a bow to the black-haired girl who was currently leaning dangerously close to what looked like a small personal cannon. Although she had only one arm, the wiry girl looked very capable of manning the weapon.
Kisuke shuffled a few feet over and out of the very front of the firearm. He didn't really know what to make of her, she was only a little younger than they were, maybe seven. Her sharp blue eyes were practically crackling with animosity and while they bore holes in the boy they were very clearly imagining ghastly violence.
With a soft sigh Kisuke felt curiosity bloom at the girl's venom to Ryūken. "Shiba-sama?"
The harsh hot emotions peeled away at the formal title as she glanced Kisuke's way her curiosity matching.
Then Ryūken murmured, "I'm glad you're here so I don't have to search for you too."
"Yūk-kun I had no idea you felt that way about me!" She stuck her tongue out at him, middle finger coming up to pull at her lower eyelid and Ryūken rolled his eyes. "You with this baka?" She asked Kisuke.
"I'm a friend of-"
"Urahara Kisuke," Ryūken interrupted and as Kūkaku turned and moved away he caught Kisuke's gaze.
Amused grin plastered to his face Kisuke got the silent murderous message, "Stop talking! Especially about that!" Well, then what to talk about? "Ryūken tells me you have family that are shinigami."
"Did he?" Kūkaku leveled her eyes back on Ryūken when she realized they were following her when she very much wanted to escaped.
"Kūkaku-chan I don't want to fight," Ryūken looked around the shop only populated with a few other Shibas and none that were paying the children's affairs any attention. "We think Yoru's been kidnapped by a fifth seat."
Eyes widening Kūkaku considered a moment how Ryūken was handling this. "Go tell Shihōin-jiji."
"Kūkaku I need to find Yoru..." Ryūken growled under his breath moving into the girl's face, fingers suddenly tight around her upper arm. He tried not to yell, tried to calm himself as the girl looked up angrily to meet his eyes. Ryūken made his gaze move very pointedly toward Kisuke in warning while he wasn't paying attention to them.
Which was impossible, but Kisuke averted his gaze to give them the impression nonetheless.
"Strange to be whispering about it," Kūkaku backed out of Ryūken's grip but indicated that they should follow her as she disappeared into a back room.
She took them into a smaller room, closing the door before kicking off her slippers and collapsing into a pile of pillows. "Talk then."
"Kisuke, could you...?" Ryūken turned to meet the eyes amongst the messy sandy blond hair.
"Teme! Ryūken-kun I have a few questions too-"
"Of course you do...I have a private matter to discuss with Kūkaku-chan," Ryūken moved to the door to push it back open. "Recall...Koneko-sama has promised you answers...not me." Trying to keep his expression stern Ryūken tried his best not to laugh at the childish pout Kisuke adopted as he excited the room.
"I'd heard Furui-jiji was lowering the submission requirements for the guard but that one's kinda scrawny," Kūkaku teased as Ryūken's body went ramrod straight, his fingers curling into a fist on the frame of the door.
He and Kūkaku hated each other on a good day. Their animosity somehow grew from her pride for her shinigami family, even if the girl-like Kisuke-had no clue why he disliked them so. "We have to do something fast. I know she trusts you so I..." He found himself wishing he knew one other person attached to the shinigami, just this once, the girl was incapable of sympathizing with him. Even if I were to tell her why I hate them...
"What?" Kūkaku straightened amongst the pillows. "If it is a secret of Yoru-chan's you have my word."
"I wouldn't tell you mine!" Ryūken scoffed before pausing to think. "Urahara-kun doesn't know either...She's learned how to change into a cat."
Raucous laughter echoed off the walls as Kūkaku rolled helplessly in her nest of pillows. "Baka! What kind of fool do you take me for?"
"I don't!" Ryūken hissed; he'd been afraid of this. "What would I have to gain-?"
"My reputation-Shiba reputation-"
"I don't want anyone to know of this! Only Yoru-chan, you and me know about her ability," Ryūken moved across to her, lowering to his knees a few feet in front of her his hands fisted tight on top of his thighs. "I need to speak with Kaien-sama," He whispered lowering his head in a bow.
Kūkaku's fingers bit into his chin and forced his head up so her sharp eyes could see the pretense in the Quincy's expression. "She's in trouble?"
"Yes!" Ryūken whimpered and he squeezed his eyes shut as he felt tears threatening mostly for the fear for his princess but Kūkaku's fingers were painful! "All you have to do is let me talk to him!"
"It'd be Isshin then, Kaien just started at the academy," The sudden sharp fear in her blue eyes had the opposite effect on Ryūken, knowing that she believed him filled him with relief. "What does this Urahara brat know?"
"He thinks she's only a talking cat," Ryūken held his breath when he actually saw a vein pulse on her forehead at his words. "And male," He added hesitantly and quickly scrambled across the floor to the door set on getting some support, before Mount Kūkaku erupted. The second it slid open thundering footsteps resounded across the floor and Kisuke almost sent himself through the doors in his haste to get through the small gap. He barely caught the frame in time and shoved the door open enough to accommodate his entrance. "Let's go Urahara-kun she doesn't want to help-" Ryuken began knowing Kisuke would want to try and do his own convincing, and that it might just be enough that Kūkaku would believe their story.
Kisuke gave a yelp, his eyes opening to show too much white as his head swiveled toward the reclining girl. "Shiba-sama!" He entreated with only her name. He moved to prostrate himself in front of the startled Kūkaku. "Please! Koneko-sama is only in this situation because he decided to help me when the shinigami responsible for taking him, attacked me the other day."
Kūkaku's eyes sought out Ryūken's and he was already waiting for her to seek confirmation from him. He easily contained the smug smile as she was quickly overwhelmed by the disheveled boy's exuberant pleading. Kisuke was almost lying on his stomach, he still had his knees tucked up underneath him but his forehead was pressed to the floor.
Walking forward Ryūken caught sight of the glittering trails cutting through the dirt on Kisuke's face when he lifted his gaze at the sound of his footfalls. "We suspect he is a fifth seat."
"Eh?" Kisuke gave a large sniff to catch the dribbles from his nose and Kūkaku gave him a disgusted look.
"Get him clean, if ojisan sees him he'll think we're all trying to get him kicked out, there's a pump around back," Kūkaku rolled to her feet and moved to a large white roll of rice paper the Shiba clan symbol done in an elaborate shodo. "Koganehiko! Shiroganehiko!" She bellowed.
Kisuke looked confused as he drug his forearm over one eye smearing the dirt and clean of his face, especially when Ryūken took a hold of his arm and lead him back out into the shōten proper. "Ryūken-kun-"
"Quiet! She's helping us!" Ryūken muttered as Kisuke got his feet back underneath him and started following.
"What did she mean by a pump Ryūken-kun?"
Knowing it would rile him more if he didn't answer Ryūken merely lead him out and between the buildings to the water pump where he placed the filthy boy before moving to the handle. "Close your eyes."
"Wait Ryūken-" A started gasping yelp ripped out of Kisuke as the ice cold water cascaded down over his head, the force of the water flattening his hair over his eyes as he slammed them shut.
He found a washing cloth hung over the spigot and threw it at Kisuke as he sputtered and pushed his hair out of his eyes, making sure that the wet cloth slapped over his face. Ryūken couldn't smother the laugh and Kisuke scrubbed at the dirt with the cloth before yanking it off his face and tilting his face up for another gush of water that the Quincy gladly gave him.
Ryūken looked up toward the voice to see Kūkaku's head hanging out of one of the small windows high up on the wall. "Yes?"
"Ojisan is shunpoing this way as we speak," Kūkaku explained as she gave a grunt and shoved a bundle of cloth through the small space between the sill and her head. "I'm sending Shiroganehiko with some gunpowder to burn those clothes Urahara-kun!"
Kisuke lifted his hands up as he stepped away from the water and she dropped the bundle into his waiting arms. "You're too kind Shiba-sama!"
"Stop it!" Kūkaku cackled as she disappeared and slammed the cover over the window.
"Lemme hold those," Ryūken held his hands out as he saw the clothes become saturated with the water running down Kisuke in rivulets. He tried his best not to blush, but Kisuke showed no shame as he started to strip off the rags he called clothes.
"I think one more go with the water Ryūken-kun!" Kisuke decided as he looked up and caught Ryūken examining the wall, his face painted red with a blush. "Heh," He moved to the spigot as the Quincy complied and he was shivering as the water showered down over him.
"Here," Ryūken muttered, finding Kūkaku had wrapped the clothes in a large absorbent cloth for Kisuke to dry off with. As he did so Ryūken caught a few handfuls of water to wash his face and neck, slicking back his pale hair with his fingers. He only had to occupy himself a few moments, Kisuke dressed fast before he started rubbing the damp towel over his dripping hair.
Both boys looked up as a tall form filled the mouth of the narrow alley. Kisuke was close enough to feel each and every muscle in Ryūken's body coil at the sight of a raven-headed youth. "Shiba-sama, thank you so much for speaking with me."
"Is this your friend?"
Ryūken nudged Kisuke forward and the courageous blond bowed low at the waist, "Urahara Kisuke."
"Shiba Isshin, nice to meet you."