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022: Feels Like Home
[Continuation From: Welcome To WILD'S]

... RYŪNOSUKE was visible winded as he bristly turned the corner into the intersection and continued his run along the pavement. He peered ahead and spotted his landmark, the Tamura residence, or as it had been colloquially dubbed by the neighborhood "the black box", about a kilometer away. Of course, to Ryūnosuke it was simply his house and, for the foreseeable future, the finish line for his morning runs. "I missed this.", the teenager noted mentally, and fondly recalled his routine morning runs back in Osaka. There were a lot of differences between life in Karakura and life in Osaka. For instance, he'd never been attacked and nearly killed by a Hollow in Osaka. Nor was he a rookie member of a secret team of super-powered teenagers. Small differences like those really set the two places apart. Still, some things were the same; like the mild discomfort of cold morning air stinging his fingertips and ears, that was more or less the same in both places. As was the delightful anticipation of an endorphin rush of accomplishment that would come once the run was over. The sudden thought of it made Ryūnosuke grin. He wondered why he ever gave up this incredible ritual in the first place, but then he remembered his last few months of morning runs in Osaka. Mornings that he didn't run alone. That was another difference between Osaka and Karakura; there was no Enokida Hina in Karakura. Ryūnosuke shook his head and picked up his pace as if to cast out the unpleasant thought. Leave it in his dust. That was the best part about waking up before sunrise and running a few miles, it helped clear his mind, helped him focus. Ryūnosuke needed that now, today was a big day after all. His first day as a part-timer at the Sato Gift Shop & Dango Store. Of course, that was just the front. Ryūnosuke grinned again as he exhaled. Today was really his first day as a member of WILD'S.

Although he had yet to fully grasp the scope of what being in WILD'S meant, he more or less had the basic outlines. Part-time job for a decent wage, training to master his Fullbring abilities, and a chance to save lives by killing Hollows and eventually offing that bastard Baron Quadhorn as well. Positively titillating stuff, especially the last thing. Prospects like those had kept the teenager up at night. Restless, just like the night before a big game --another familiar feeling, that. In fact, Ryūnosuke hardly got a wink of sleep the night before just ruminating over it all. Admittedly, that was part of what got him out of bed and running again but, more specifically, meeting a teenage girl in arguably the best physical shape he'd ever seen had both reignited something in his competitive spirit and also put him to shame. "Sugiyama Chizuru", her name and image lingered in Ryūnosuke's mind. Admittedly, he recalled that her face wasn't hard to look at at all either, but that wasn't as impressive as her incredible 3D delts. Sure, she was attractive, but even after she pulled back her white tiger mask her facial features hadn't pulled his eyes like her visible bicep veins did. He spent a dedicated portion of the night and morning wondered if her muscles were natural or if there was some medical or possibly even supernatural enhancements at work behind the scenes. Now that he thought about it, that could explain the general unease and temperament he'd sensed from her. Maybe it wasn't that she had anything against him. "A little roid rage?", he whispered pensively as he imagined Sugiyama rampaging through the WILD'S base in a fit of hormonal-imbalance-induced rage. "Eh, she might be an odd one.", he concluded internally.

Then there were the others. Sato Iwa, kappa mask, was the only other male on the team and so far he gave off "easy-going, cool big brother" vibes in Ryūnosuke's opinion. Sato was also kind of funny in his own way. What stood out about him the most, however, was just how excited he seemed to have Ryūnosuke on the team. Ryūnosuke didn't believe that kind of happiness and sincerity could be faked, which had the effect of easing his mind a bit at the time. It felt nice to feel welcomed. Right up there with Sato in excitement to meet his acquaintance was Kenzaki Juri, the girl with the beautiful phoenix mask and also the one who'd saved his life after the Baron Quadhorn attack. She was nothing but endearing, and after speaking with her for just a few minutes Ryūnosuke wished he could just take her home and have her for a little sister. Juri deserved all good, love and protection as far as he was concerned. Lastly, there was Kanako Ichihara, Ryūnosuke could tell she came from some wealth --one of those it took one to know one kind of deal. Besides that surface observation, he also picked up that Ichihara was the tech-savvy member of the team. She also seemed rather sassy and sarcastic and was apparently very close to Kenzaki. Ryūnosuke simply figured there might be a familial relation between them. Most importantly though, not unlike Sugiyama, Ichihara didn't seem much convinced or thrilled with Ryūnosuke's addition to the team. While Sugiyama appeared more indifferent to him, Ichihara seemed to visibly despise him for some reason. He'd need to get to the bottom of that, preferably sooner rather than later. Nevertheless, his first impressions aside, Ryūnosuke was certain of one thing; his journey to becoming a full-fledged member of WILD'S would be an interesting one, to say the least of it.

As he rapidly closed the distance to his house, Ryūnosuke's anticipation for the day only grew. He paced to a triumphant halt right up the stairs leading to the door, took a deep breath of the cold Karakura air, and held it in his lungs for a moment. Just as he'd hoped, even that sensation felt familiar. He raised his left forearm to wipe the sweat from his forehead and no sooner than his sleeve blocked his view did he here the front door open.

"Ryūnosuke?", called his mother, Tamura Mariko. Ryūnosuke lowered his arm to face her. They both seemed shocked to see the other as a silence briefly settled between them. "Y-you went for a morning run? You haven't done that in a while." Mariko added. Ryūnosuke watched his mother expression and tried to make a read of it, for a moment he saw alarm and a bit of confusion... but then it changed. Right before his eyes he saw his mothers expression soften in a smile --a very familiar smile. A smile he'd seen hundreds of times in Osaka on mornings just like this. Ryūnosuke nodded and smiled back in return.
"Yeah... Tamaida.", he replied. His saw a glow in his mother's eyes and looked down. Why did he feel embarrassed all of a sudden, he wondered as he scratched a sudden itch on his nose and sniffled. Oddly, he felt strangely empty-handed, like he'd forgotten something? He sucked his teeth when it finally dawned on him. "Crap. Sorry, mom. I didn't bring anything for breakfa-"

"Okaeri, Ryun!" Mariko exclaimed and sniffled herself, fighting against swelled up tears, joyous as they were she couldn't risk them being misunderstood and ruining this moment. Mariko straightened up and gasped, "Ah, Ryun, you're all sweaty!", she gestured her son towards the door while feinting mild disapproval. Run upstairs and shower!", she ordered. "Breakfast will be waiting when you're done."

For that Ryūnosuke had only one answer, "Yea, ma'am!", as he briskly slid through the door pass his mother, kicked off his sneakers and shuffled into his house slippers. As he dashed upstairs for the shower, Ryūnosuke thought, "this feels familiar". As she closed the door and finally let her tears flow, Mariko thought, "this feels familiar". As they each let the relief of that sensation sink in they both thought, "Finally... this feels like home."

To Be Continued...

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023: Learning The Ropes PRT 1
... RYŪNOSUKE still had a little time to kill before heading out for his first day of work. Although the gift shop wouldn't be open for a bit over an hour, Ms Sato had made it clear the day before that she expected Ryūnosuke to be there bright and early before opening so he could familiarize himself with daily operations. "Get a taste of the Sato Gifts Shop & Dango Store routine.", were her exact words for it; the teenager recalled as he finished washing the dishes. His mother, Mariko, had already gone off to work herself. Even though her commute was shorter than his, apparently, the bookstore opened even earlier. Fortunately, his mother didn't seem bothered by that at all. Rather, Ryūnosuke could tell she was just thrilled to be doing what she loved; exploring and sharing the magical word of books. Mariko had loved owning her own bookstore back in Osaka, but she'd sold it so they could move to Karakura. She'd built it from the ground up and worked there for years, but she gave it all up with zero hesitation the moment she felt she needed to for Ryūnosuke's sake. He still felt tremendous guilt every time he thought about that and all the other pain and grief he'd cause. At least now he was done with the self-pity and was now trying to make amends. Albeit, in his own, admittedly, bizarre way. "You were a bratty asshole, Ryūnosuke. You did some terrible shit that you can't take back. But, you've got superpowers now, so use them to fight Hollows and save people. Maybe that can make up for it.", that was his rationale. After packing his lunch and bat in his gym bag, all that was left for Ryūnosuke to do before setting out was to gave himself a final look in the mirror. No tracksuit today, as his mother had insisted during breakfast. So instead, he went with black casual drawstring pants and a white hoodie under a black contrast sleeve bomber jacket. Of course, the sleeves were his adored burnt-orange, as were his sneakers. "Yosh" Ryūnosuke cheered and nodded to his reflection as he slung his bag strap over his shoulder and headed out.

"Yo, good morning, Tamura-kun!", greeted Sato Iwa from the pavement as Ryūnosuke stepped outside.

Ryūnosuke, caught off-guard by Iwa's presence right outside his house, was momentarily stunned. "Good morning, Sato-senpai.", he replied after a slight delay. Reflecting on that brief interaction, he wondered why he hadn't sensed Sato Iwa's spiritual "presence" before. Actually-- he still couldn't sense it even while Iwa was clearly standing right in front of him. "Say, Sato-senpai, why can't I sense your Rei-" Ryūnosuke blanked on the term he was looking for --minor panic ensued-- but his brain did a chemical reaction, neurons fired and such, and within a second he had the solution. With a stroke of genius, he settled and spoke the three words: "energy presence stuff?" to finish his question as he approached Iwa.

Iwa raised a brow and chuckled, "Yes, my 'energy presence stuff', also known as Reiatsu.", Iwa explained as he started to walk down the pavement and beckoned Ryūnosuke along. "You couldn't sense it because we normally keep that suppressed, if not completely hidden... Actually-!", Iwa snapped his finger, "You know, it's a good thing you asked, because that's one of the first things we gotta teach you, man. Gotta get your Reiatsu in check."

Hearing that, a concerned Ryūnosuke caught up to Iwa and matched his pace. "Is it that bad?"

Upon hearing the question Iwa paused, suddenly hooked his right arm over Ryūnosuke's shoulders, and pulled the rookie into a half-huddle. "Is it that bad?", he muttered back, staring into Ryūnosuke's eyes. Ryūnosuke picked up on the frustration and envy in Iwa's voice. "Oi, Tamura-kun, must be nice, huh? Having all that Reiatsu just freely pouring out constantly without a care in the world. Lucky you. Asking if it's 'that bad', good and bad are kinda irrelevant here, man! It's just wasteful. You hear me? It's wasteful, Tamura-" Iwa eased up his grip and then paired a loud "KUN" honorific with a slap across Ryūnosuke's back.

"What the-" Ryūnosuke exclaimed as he stumbled a few step forwards.

"Ahahahah" Iwa cackled and carried on walking. "I'm just messing with you, man. Currently your not out-putting enough Reiatsu for it to be a problem, but we don't want to leave that to chance, right? Preventative measures." Iwa explained back in his regular tone.

Behind him, Ryūnosuke couldn't help but notice himself smiling. This kind of banter was something he related to rather well. He was reminded of his old Baseball team and being the senpai to a bunch of underclassmen and teammates. It had just been years since he was on this side of the dynamic. "Yeah." Ryūnosuke replied, agreeing with Iwa's logic. "Makes sense to me, Iwa-senpai.", he reaffirmed as he caught back up with Iwa. "So, when do I get a mask?" Ryūnosuke asked, only half-jokingly.

Iwa seemed to enjoy it as chuckled as he glanced sideways at the rookie. "Geez, the nerve on this punk! Listen here, rookie, it's a little too soon for you to be even thinking about masks, you're helluva ways off!"

Ryūnosuke smiled cheekily and paused. "Right, looking forwards to learning from you Sato-senpai," Ryūnosuke then offered a bow, "Yoroshiku onegai shimasu!"

Iwa looked back at Ryūnosuke and smiled, his pale vaguely European complexion turned a interesting shade of flushed red. "That's more like it, rookie!" Ryūnosuke rose to see Iwa's outstretched hand and shook it firmly without hesitation. "Don't worry, Tamura-kun. We're gonna whip you into shape in no time!" The two shared a grin of acknowledgement before they continued on their way. The spent the rest of the walk conversing casually about life in Karakura, their hobbies, and such. Ryūnosuke was able to carry on about Baseball for a bit and Iwa spent an equal amount of time expressing his passion for detective movies, crime dramas, and his enthusiasm for urban folklore and legends. Ryūnosuke joked that those obsessions explained the green trench coat. Iwa quickly fired back that Ryūnosuke's baseball obsession explained why he walked around with an alloy bat and that he'd feared the alternative being that he'd inadvertently invited a former biker gang delinquent into the WILD'S fold. At one point Iwa asked to exchange contact information and the two shared a laugh about Ryūnosuke breaking his phone and that somehow not occurring during the Baron Quadhorn battle as Iwa assumed. They went on for what was a twenty minute walk, although it seemed to pass like ten. By the time they reached the gift shop they could have been mistaken for best friends by any onlooking passerby. Sato Kiyoko, the shop owner and manager was just unlocking the gift shop door when the two approached. Ryūnosuke watched her turn to greet them unprovoked and guessed she had sensed his leaking Reiatsu. Although, just like with Iwa earlier, the rookie couldn't sense Ms Sato's either. "Ah, you two are just in time!"

"Mornin', Big Sis!", greeted Iwa.
"Good Morning, Ms. Sato", Ryūnosuke followed with a bow.
"Good morning, boys." Ms. Sato replied, she was wearing a beige single-breasted blazer with matching high waist wide plicated pants, a burgundy turtleneck, and white slip-on sneakers. "I hope you got a good night's rest, Tamura-kun.", she added and entered the shop, the bell jingled as the door swung inwards.

"Ready to go where you need me, boss.", replied Ryūnosuke as he entered the shop after Iwa.
"That's the spirit!" Ms Sato cheered and handed off two aprons to Iwa, one for each of the boys. "Iwa, you're running shop. I'm gonna be busy in the office most of the day. Show Tamura-kun the ropes and find out what he's best suited to."
"You got it, Big Sis." Iwa replied and handed off one of the aprons to Ryūnosuke.
Ms Sato, promptly strolled off to her office, "Fighting!", she cheered and gave a thumbs up as the door closed behind her.

"So, now what, Sato-senpai."
"Now, I hope you know your way around a mop and a bucket, rookie." Iwa snickered.

Surely enough, Ryūnosuke's first assignment as a member of WILD'S was mopping the entire gift shop. He didn't complain, though. He suspected as much would be the case. "Had to start somewhere.", he figured. Plus, it wasn't all bad, Iwa took the time to familiarize him with the shop facilities, daily tasks, and operations. After about thirty minutes, the rookie had a decent idea who did what around the shop already. Iwa mostly handled general maintenance and cleaning, but he also took deliveries and could man the cash register. Ichihara handled the tech and back-end operations like running the shop webpage, keeping inventory, restocking the shelves and answering phone calls. Kenzaki pretty much ran the dango store on her own, with everyone chipping in to assist her with whatever she needed. Sugiyama mostly handled deliveries and restocking and inventory keeping with Ichihara. Iwa explained that he and Chizuru handled deliveries because that served as a perfect cover for being out in the field as first responders to Hollow appearances. He assured Ryūnosuke that he would most definitely handle deliveries once he was trained. Kanako ran reconnaissance and Juri was only ever out in the field during emergency situations, like a Baron Quadhorn appearance.

After putting the mop away, Ryūnosuke wanted to ask Iwa more about everyone's unique abilities but, as if an ill-timed trick of fate, the moment he was about to open the topic an alarm blared from Iwa's phone. Recognizing the sound instantly, Iwa's demeanor shifted to something more serious. "Well, rookie, I gotta jet.", he said flatly. Ryūnosuke wasn't sure, but he could make a confident guess as to what the alarm had signaled.
"Hollow attack?" Ryūnosuke asked.
Iwa was already on the move, he'd already peeled out of the apron and was on his was out the door. "Yup."

Ryūnosuke followed behind him, "I should go with you!", he pleaded. He knew there was virtually no chance of Iwa allowing him to tag along, but he hoped that the time they'd spend together might've softened Iwa to the idea.
Unsurprisingly, Iwa's response was a prompt, "Nope. Not a chance, rookie." Hearing the words stung more than Ryūnosuke had expected and Iwa left no room for misinterpretation. "The others should be arriving soon, but in the meantime check if Big Sis needs you for anything." Iwa said as he donned his Kappa mask and vanished, a flicker of green light beneath where he just stood being the final marker of his departure.
"Whoa- what?" Ryūnosuke muttered as he blinked a few times to confirm Iwa had indeed disappeared into thin air. When the rookie walked back into the gift shop Ms Sato was already standing in her office doorway. "Kappa went.", she asked flatly.

"Kap-?" Ryūnosuke made the connection of the mask and code name. "Oh! Right, Kappa, the mask.", he gestured to his own face. "Yeah, he just left." Ryūnosuke tilted his head a bit and squinted. "Disappeared, actually... will I be able to do that?" Ryūnosuke asked, his voice oozed his excitement for a confirmation.

Ms Sato snickered, "One thing at a time, rookie. Honestly." She sighed as she looked pass the teenager and outside the storefront. There weren't any potential customers in sight. "Alright.", she offered finally. "Get your ass in here so we can get to the bottom of this Reiatsu leakage of yours." Ryūnosuke was practically at the office door before Kiyoku had even finished her sentence. "Take a seat." Ms Sato instructed.

"Yes, boss!" Ryūnosuke sat in the nearest chair he could find, right in front of Kiyoku's desk. He posture was upright with his arms tightly crossed. His gleaming eyes, wide open and highly alert, followed Ms Sato's every move and gesture.

...KIYOKU plopped down into her chair and cleared some space before she reached for the printer to the right side of her workspace and grabbed a few sheets of blank paper. "Alright-" She slapped them down on the desk with one hands as the other grabbed a few highlighters and markers from her stationary cup. "Tamura-kun. I get the impression you're the practical slash visual learner type." She paused there and watched the teenager simply nod, rather enthusiastically. She continued, "Well, you're in luck because you're getting the whole shebang, Sato Style!", she finished smoothly and grinned. It reminded Ryūnosuke of Iwa. "Pay attention." Kiyoku flicked the caps off of three highlights and a black marker. She turned the paper to the landscape orientation and drew two vertical lines, dividing the paper into three more or less equal sections. Then, in the rightmost section she drew the outline of  a human stick figure with the black marker. She looked up to make sure Ryūnosuke was still following. The teenager's eyes had yet to leave the paper. "That's you.", she declared  and pointed at the figure with the tip of the marker. Ryūnosuke's expression contorted a bit, disapprovingly, on account of the figure being a lot pudgier than he actually was. "Who is this?" Kiyoku quizzed pointedly.

"Yes, that's me, boss!' Ryūnosuke affirmed with full confidence, though his expression softened a bit the remnants his its rebellion lived on in his tightly pressed lips.
Kiyoku cackled to herself and moved on, roughly filling in the human outline with the orange highlighter. She looked up at the rookie and the sparkle in his eyes was evidence enough of his approval. "Concept number one! Reiryoku, spiritual power. You can think of Reiryoku as internal power. Potential even. Most people barely have any, some have a whole lot. At the most basic level having a decent amount allows you to see ghost. A bit more than that and you can start to develop other supernatural abilities. You'll be glad to know that all members of WILD'S, including you, fall into the 'whole lot' of Reiryoku category. Although, to varying degrees. Clear so far?"

Ryūnosuke nodded.

"Alright, moving on. This is the important part for you." Kiyoku proceeded to draw wiggly arrows that pointed outwards from the stick figure as she explained. "Reiatsu is the emission of Reiryoku from a person or being. You can think of it as a spiritual pressure that is emitted naturally. This is something most skilled people learn to control. They can either forcibly emit it or suppress it. When it's not being suppressed it can be sensed by others. On the flip side, emitting too much of it can have some nasty effects on others and your surroundings, even unintentionally. That's what we're worried about with you and why you need to learn to get your Reiastu under control. You still follow?"

"Everything's still crystal clear, so far." Ryūnosuke confirmed and allowed Kiyoku to continue.
"Glad to hear it. Now, enough beating around the bush. How do you actually control your Reiatsu?", as she spoke Kiyoku began to draw a valve sticking out the top of the stick figures head. "I've found it's best to explain this like opening and closing a valve. You gotta get a feel for your own Reiatsu and kinda," Kiyoku raised her hand and replicated turning an imaginary valve in midair. "turn that sucker on and off at will.", she explained.

Ryūnosuke nodded. "So, how do I get a better feel for my Reiatsu?", he asked.

"Well, that can vary from person to person. In some cases you could tell a person to try and take into the state of mind they were in when they first became aware of their Reiatsu, but that's not advisable given the unique circumstances of your case." Kiyoku tapped her chin for a moment as she thought and Ryūnosuke patiently waited for her to speak again. It didn't take long. "Hmm, you mentioned you could sense the Reiatsu of others yesterday, right?"

"Yeah, I don't think it's been intentional the few times it has happened, though." Ryūnosuke replied.

"Interesting, sounds like you might be subconsciously unaware of your own Reiatsu. It could be a bad habit you developed over the years. Think of it like your voice or B.O, even
, Kiyoku explained. She noted that there was probably a more pleasant way of putting that, but what mattered right now was whether Ryūnosuke understood.

"I see... So, is there a way to fix that?", the rookie asked.

It appeared that Ryūnosuke understood the analogy, Kiyoku took that as a testament to her expert teaching skills. "Reiatsu fluctuation exercises might do the trick. It sounds like you're unaware of your own Reiatsu as long as it's being emitted below a certain threshold. Probably around the intensity you're emitting passively at the moment. Most likely, you can pick up the Reiatsu of others because they aren't familiar and you were aware of your Reiatsu during you fight with Baron Quadhorn because-"

"I was emitting a lot more than I usually do.", Ryūnosuke finished her sentence. Kiyoku grinned and nodded, glad that the dots seemed to suddenly connect in the rookie's head. "So, if I can practice raising and lowering my Reiatsu I'll get a better feel of it naturally and suppressing it will be easier.", Ryūnosuke added. demonstrating to Kiyoku his understanding of the concepts she'd explained so far.

"Exactly. You got it. Now, there are a few more concepts for you to learn but the complicated stuff is out of the way." Kiyoku went on to explain the concepts of Reishi and Kishi on the second and third empty blocks of the paper. She then handed the paper to Ryūnosuke, who graciously accepted, folded it, and put it into his pocket. Kiyoku rose from her chair and walked around her desk towards the office door, "Well done, Tamura-kun. You've gotten through the theory part of today's lesson.", she commended. Ryūnosuke popped up from his seat and followed her out of the office. "Now, for the practical part you're gonna learn how to fluctuate your Reiatsu. But, I won't be the one teaching you that, they will." Kiyoku continued as she led Ryūnosuke back into the now fully-staffed gift shop. She expected he would be surprised to see that the others had all arrived, including Iwa, back from handling the Hollow presence they were alerted to earlier. "Morning, Juri, Kanako, Chizuru!", Kiyoku greeted. They all returned the gesture as they skillfully navigated through their morning routines. Ryūnosuke noted that the others did not appear surprised that he was there, no doubt his leaking Reiatsu was likely the cause of that. "Let's have another great day. Work really hard, everyone.", Kiyoku encouraged, "Also, I'm leaving Tamura-kun in your capable hands, work him to the bone!", she concluded with an ear-to-ear grin.

To Be Continued...

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