AN: I have more of this story. Hope you all enjoy.
Disclaimer: Not mine. Only a few of the characters and the plot.
This is a Zanpakuto
This is an inner voice, speak with the Zanpakuto, or thoughts
The room was silent for a moment in surprise at the bluntness of his request, but the head priest chuckled lightly and whatever tension there had been drained from the room, though the air around them was still serious. Shiranui curled his bandaged tail in his lap and settled back to wait until his question was answered, sipping his tea patiently.
"We came to ask you to return to Soul Society." Shiranui snorted. "You want me back?" He queried, setting his tea cup down and leaning forward, paw-like hands braced on his knees. "And why on earth would you want me back? Or even think that I'd agree to this in the first place?" He asked, sneering. Ukitake looked a little stunned but quickly recovered.
"There's an army, gathering in Hueco Mundo. They're very strong. We're lifting Exiles and bringing people back from retirement because we need all the help we can get." Shiranui blinked. "So let me get this straight. The only reason you're here, disturbing the most peaceful time in my life, trying to get me back into the Soul Society, is because you guys are about to get your butts kicked?" He asked incredulously. Both men were momentarily shocked into silence as Shiranui rose to his feet. Before their very eyes his form shrunk in a ripple of light and sound until, draped in the blue robes of the temple was the cat from earlier.
"Hotaru-jii, with all respect, I think I'll leave now." The old man nodded, nonplussed by the talking cat and Shiranui bounded out of the room through the open door onto the porch and into the long grasses that surrounded this building. Kyoraku turned sideways to look at Ukitake. "That could have gone a little better." He deadpanned, grinning lazily as the other man rolled his eyes heavenward.
Shiranui had just found himself a comfortable spot perched in a tree when there was a nudging presence in the back of his mind
"I want to go back. Like, I REALLY want to go back there."
"Of course you want to go back. You want to fight." He snorted, rolling his eyes and curling his tail over his paws as he gazed down at the temple around him.
"Come on, Master. When was the last time we got any real action around this place? You've gotten soft."
"I have not. And its a good thing we haven't had any "real action". Means there's no trouble hidden around the corner. I'll start worrying when Menos Grande start knocking on my door."
"Ohhhh, snarky. Good one Master. I was beginning to think your fighting skills weren't the only thing suffering in your early retirement."
Shiranui couldn't help the snicker that escaped him at that one as he settled further onto his stomach on the tree branch.
"Come on. Think. Even you, deep down in your little panther kitten heart know you're getting restless here. It doesn't have to be permanent. Maybe a temporary foray as a Shinigami will help us both get the violence out and we can come back here and get old and fat."
This gave Shiranui pause. It didn't have to be permanent. He could go in, help out and return home within the span of a few years and call it done with. Why didn't he think of that earlier? He'd heard the conversation right before he'd entered the room. Hotaru-jii would take him back if he wanted to return home. And Shiranui was fairly certain he would.
"Is that a good idea though? I mean. We did just vanish into thin air with only a note not sixty years ago. There's gonna be some rocky places with the older generation if we decide to go back and you know you generally don't get a long well with the older Zanpakuto. There's no guarantee you'll get along well with the newer ones."
"Me, you don't have to worry about. They wanna rumble with me, I'll make 'em think twice after I bite them once or seven times. I'm more worried about you and the fact that you're not a human. You had a hard enough time settling the first time around."
"Aw, you do care. I knew you were a big old softie. As for me settling in, news has it that one of the Taichous is like me. Except bigger. And Canine. The Shinigami guard that I ran into last year spoke very highly of him. Maybe it'll be a bit easier this time."
"First of all, Master, with all due respect, shut up. Second of all. I can't make the decision for you. You have to decide. I just get drug along for the ride. Personally though? I say let's go, have one last good old fashioned session of kicking bad guy tail and then retire."
"Alright alright. I'll think on it for a while. You go away now and leave my thoughts to me. You'll know as soon as I decide, anyway."
There was one last nudge at the back of his mind before he was alone again. Perched in his tree, overlooking the vast majority of the temple's grounds, he thought back. His last fifty-nine years here had been some of the best and most relaxing of his life. Hotaru and the other temple inhabitants liked and cared for him and those who knew what he really was accepted him with nary a question.
But, as much as it pained him to admit it, he was growing restless. And rusty. Very few hollows ventured this far out and only when Shiranui accidentally let his Reiatsu control slip by him, which wasn't very often. He needed that fire, that passion again. He needed that rush of adrenaline that accompanied the final blow that took out his opponent, the exhilaration that suffused him when he succeeded at a challenge. He felt the urge to take his Zanpakuto in hand and rend flesh and bone, bring his enemy to his knees.
He needed to fight.
He knew he wasn't going to get that feeling here, as a pampered and spoiled temple cat and, as much as he would like to stay away from the Soul Society after the fiasco from sixty years ago, he knew they could offer him what he needed. And if he saved some innocent lives while he was at, then so much the better. He liked that part. The saving innocent people.
He would also freely admit that, being the social creature he was, he needed to get out of the temple, post-haste, and meet someone new. But, his reservations still stood.
What happened sixty years ago had torn his self-confidence to shreds. Very rarely did he let people past his shields and into his heart now. He couldn't. Last time he'd screwed up, horribly. He'd hurt himself and those around him. He'd left himself with scars, physical and emotional. Could he really go back to where it all started? Where he'd been found, rescued, raised, trained and the shamed into self-exile? Could his pride handle being back in front of those staring eyes, who mistrusted him simply for the fact that he had fur, rather than skin?
Shiranui knocked tentatively at the door, back in his normal form and dressed this time in his Shinigami outfit, his Zanpakuto on his back, held by white ribbon that matched the belled necklace still around his throat. "Hotaru-jii, may I come in?" He requested from where he knelt. "You may, Shiranui-kun." Shiranui slid the door open and then rose, pacing inside and shutting the door behind him.
Hotaru looked up at him and smiled wryly. "You've decided to leave?" He asked. Shiranui walked to the cushion in front of the older man and knelt down, bowing his head. "I came to speak to you about that. I'm going to go and help them but...I wish to return here when I have finished my business there. That life has nothing to offer me anymore and the only reason I'm even going temporarily is in the hopes of preventing unnecessary deaths." Hotaru still didn't speak, leveling Shiranui with a gentle stare as Shiranui continued.
"You've all been so nice to me, Hotaru-jii and I really have no intentions of leaving retirement permanently. I would be honored if you would allow me to return to my position of temple cat on my return, but if you wish it, when I am finished there, I will go elsewhere." The last sentence was tight, upset, and Hotaru gentled his gaze further. "May I see Skalenvenier?" He asked.
Shiranui unhesitatingly reached behind him and pulled the katana from his sheath, resting the blade on his palms before passing it over reverently. Hotaru gave the blade a good look. The blade was sharp and shining, cared for meticulously even after all these years of sparing use. The guard was square and black, the hilt an array of black and red overlayed diamonds. Hotaru reached down beside him and grabbed something before he slipped it onto the hilt below the guard, where he knotted it securely before handing it back to its rightful owner.
Shiranui's eyes widened. "B-But Hotaru-jii, this is-" He stumbled over his words before coming to a dumb-founded stop. "Yes. It's the Slate Amulet. I expect you to return that to me personally when you return. May it provide you luck and protect you as it has the this temple for hundreds of years." Shiranui's green eyes were flooding with tears, giving them a glassy appearance, even as he smiled gratefully at the older man.
Wrapped around the base of the guard was a single, black leather thong, wound tightly so that the amulet was snug and wound not fly around. The stone was the most beautiful though. It was mix of colors; ice white, water blue and slate gray, mixed in an array of colors that stole his breath away. "You take care of yourself, young man. For your sake, and for mine. Try not to get hurt." Shiranui resheathed Skalenvenier and, before Hotaru knew what hit him, he had his arms full of panther, "thank you, thank you, thank you" whispered over and over again like a mantra.
Over the past forty years, Hotaru and Shiranui had grown close. First like friends, then brothers, and then father and son. Hotaru always made sure Shiranui was well-taken care of while Shiranui provided comic relief and companionship to the older. It wasn't a far stretch to say both men were going to miss each other very much.
Finally Shiranui pulled back and wiped a hand over his face, slicking the fur with tears as he sniffled. "I'll be home as soon as I can. And I'll visit, even if I have to sneak out to come here. But you gotta promise me to take care of yourself too." Hotaru nodded. "I already do." Shiranui nodded and rose to his feet, confidence suffusing his entire body and Hotaru felt his heart swell with pride. Shiranui walked out the door, bell jingling around his neck.
Earlier he'd contacted Ukitake and Kyoraku after deciding to return to the Soul Society and agreed to meet them at midnight in Karakura Town, a place not terribly far from the temple. Shiranui set off at a run and, in thirty minutes he changed tactics, going from running in the streets to hoping up on a building and continuing on his way like that.
A few minutes later he was at the meeting spot. Like clockwork, Ukitake and Kyoraku appeared from the shadows and stood on either side of him. Shiranui nodded once and in his head he could feel the comforting warmth of his Zanpakuto, Skalenvenier, ready to face this uncertainty by his side. "Are you ready to go back?" Ukitake asked, his usual gentility in place. Shiranui took a deep breath and nodded again.
"Let's do this."