Arc: Winter War -- a co-written AU with incandescens and sophiap.
Characters: Nanao, Ukitake
Rating: PG-13, warning of character death and some bad language.
Summery: Ukitake wakes up to hard consequences to the Winter War.
Disclaimer: I do not own nor make money off of Bleach.
Author Notes: This is set in an alternate universe, a rather dark one where the War was lost, that has been co-plotted by incandescens, sophiap, and myself. "Nothing is sacred and no one is safe".
Here's a link to the first part, as written by incandescens.
Jyuushiro slowly came to consciousness. His chest ached, his throat burned, his head hurt, his diaphragm was so sore each breath was an effort, and he couldn't think. Whether it was lack of oxygen or drug dosages gone wrong was impossible for him to guess.
Automatically, he sent out his reiatsu, looking for that relaxed, solid presence, that person who was always with him. He was supposed to die first, the other was supposed to be somewhere. But he found nothing.
The painkillers made it easy to pull oblivion back over his head.
When he woke, he sought the other out again, and when he felt nothing, he went back to sleep, for there was no reason to wake up ever again, if that one had gone.
He lost track of how many times he bobbed on the surface of living again. When he sent out the pulse, there were smaller beings, none as bright as the one he looked for, around him, muttering, but they were not the one... his mind shied away from the specifics. But as he drifted back into sleep he heard the other people's voices.
"Why is he doing that?"
"I... I have no idea."
"He's going to bring Gin right down on top of us, with flashes of power like that. We don't have many other places to move him."
"Fuck if I know."
"Can we block him? Or drug him so he doesn't come up and do that when we know they're searching?"
"He's... he's too far... far gone. I'm afraid... if we do any more... he'll..."
"And we need him," said Ise-kun, crisp and as hard as frost.
Sensible... just what Shunsui needed... after Lisa, thought Jyuushiro, even muzzed with sleep and drugs. Oh. Ise-kun... where she walks so goes...
Jyuushiro tried to take a breath, tried to fight the drugs this time. He took a slow breath and heard some mechanism breathe with him. A tube was down his throat, and when he tried to lift a hand, it was restrained, tied down.
A silver form rose in the depths of his mind. Jyuushiro?
Sōgyo no Kotowari. Where is Katen Kyōkotsu?
There was a pause. I do not know. The anguish behind those words was so deep, Jyuushiro started to pull the blackness back over himself again.
No. Come back. Please. The unaccustomed note of pleading in the sound of his zanpakutou's thoughts made Jyuushiro pause, and suddenly he felt the cool touch of the fingers of his zanpakutou's spirit against his cheek. Surprised that the spirit had manifested without his will behind it, Jyuushiro turned his cheek into the touch.
The voices that had been speaking of him suddenly rose in surprise, consternation, and Jyuushiro realized that they could see the spirit of his blade. Muzzily he wondered if that had ever happened before...
Sōgyo no Kotowari's deep voice said clearly, "He's trying to find Kyouraku-taichou. When he does not find him, the drugs are making it too easy for him to turn his face to the wall."
There was the deep sting of a big needle pulled from his arm, and more protests, but Jyuushiro felt firm fingers press deeply against his vein. It amused him that his zanpakutou, built for killing, knew so much about hospital procedure, and he felt a trickle of that amusement feedback through their connection.
"No more drugging him. If you want him to fight, he must have all his mind."
"But... he... he shouldn't be fighting... he can't... can't even breathe. You can't be... serious about... risking him when he's... he's the only one left... and so frail..."
"He will die if he has no one to protect, no one to fight for."
There was more soft protest, a half a sob, and then voices muttered together.
Then crisp and clear, Ise-kun's voice said, "Ukitake-taichou, I am reporting for duty, sir. I need my orders. I need to report." Then the cold ice of her voice cracked. "I need a Captain, sir."
Jyuushiro struggled to open his eyes. The tears that now flowed helped unglue his lashes, and he blinked sandy, encrusted eyes gradually open. He fought now to focus and when he did, he met Ise-kun's tear-stained gaze directly. Her slender fingers touched his, and he tried his best to close his grip on her hand. The corner of her lip trembled and then drew up and firmed.
He sighed around the intrusion of the tubes, heard the equipment sigh with him.
"Good," said Sōgyo no Kotowari, and then disappeared amid the babbling of those in the room.
There were times when Jyuushiro desperately wished Sōgyo no Kotowari would manifest again; but the Captain was not nearly strong enough to make his zanpakutou manifest against its will. In Jyuushiro's inner world, his spirit only said that it was no longer his place to speak for Jyuushiro; and Jyuushiro, thinking through all that the spirit might say, got to work on figuring out ways to communicate for himself.
When the drugs wore off, his body was so weak he could just barely lift his hand and arm. After doing it himself enough times to make Isane mad at him, she finally gave him physical therapy, to strengthen his arm and hand enough that he could take a pen in hand and write some of his thoughts and questions for others to read.
The first thing he scrawled was: "Ise-kun, report."
There were advantages to not being able to speak while subordinates reported, Jyuushiro found: they often told far more into silence then they would to a directed line of questioning.
It wasn't good. Nearly none of it was good.
Shunsui was, indeed, gone. No body had been found, and since Ise-kun had not been on the battlefield to see him fall, they grieved together over not even having the closure of being able to bury the big man. She, instead, had had to deal with the attack in Soul Society when the model Karakura had fallen.
I was supposed to die before him. I wanted to die on the line, not like this... Jyuushiro wrote in a spat of self-pity.
Ise-kun shook her head and looked into Jyuushiro's eyes. "That's selfish, Ukitake-taichou. Then, either I'd be left without your expertise and mourning both of you, or you would have just left him hurting as much as you are now?"
But he knew...
"That wouldn't have made it hurt any less."
Silenced by that truth, Jyuushiro simply bowed his head. They moved on and brought in Isane and others that had fought in the faked Karakura.
Jyuushiro remembered the flaring fall of Genryuusai-soutaichou, while in the midst of his own desperate fight with Mayuri. The lung agent Mayuri had used on him had, according to Isane, dissolved a good deal of his lung tissue. Luckily, or unluckily, a good deal of the dissolved tissue was already dead from his tuberculosis; but the remaining damage had reduced his lung capacity well below what was considered 'functional' levels.
Isane had managed to stop the bleeding in his lungs, but they still regularly filled with fluid. So they had installed one-way shunts in each lung, and had propped him up to allow the fluid to drain between breaths. They had him on nearly pure oxygen as well as more anti-inflammatory drugs than he could track.
He remembered the desperation of holding the line with his Division when that gas had hit. He'd struck with all his strength, water to clear the air, lightning strikes falling on the giant thing Mayuri had made of his zanpakutou. In the end he'd gone hand to hand, and seen Mayuri dissolve into green goo before he'd fallen as well.
The whole line had fallen. Not when he had, the Thirds had kept some order until Sentarou had been struck down. Kiyone hadn't been found, but they'd been so much stronger together than apart, each urging the other onto greater capabilities, that Jyuushiro didn't hope for much. After all this, it was probably better to be dead than captured. They'd passed command down properly, but when the squad leaders had fallen as well, there was little coordination left.
Others had fallen as well. Jyuushiro and Soi Fong were the only Captains left of the Gotei 13. Soi Fong, now freed of the whole of the command structure, had decided to join Yoruichi and Urahara in the living world. The two renegades had had more resources and goals that fitted the ex-Special Forces captain far better than the running remains of the Gotei 13 left in Soul Society. He couldn't blame her.
No one from the Hueco Mundo excursion had returned. No one was quite sure what had happened to them.
The Vice Captains that were left filled in as they could, and some were badly injured, others were simply missing.
One desertion in particular struck Jyuushiro deeply and hard. Hisagi Shuuhei was last seen free, among Aizen and his people. The only conclusion anyone could come up with was that the young fukutaichou had turned traitor as well, following his former Captain with all the news and plans they had made.
Sasakibe Choujirou slipped into place, directing much of the remaining forces' daily activities. Quiet and solid, he simply did what was necessary to keep order and allow some measure of stability to form amid those left. Ise-kun did her level best to work directly as Jyuushiro's Vice Captain, working out orders with the others and doing the more active duties of surveillance and gathering data about their enemies.
Jyuushiro spent several days listening.
After each session, Sōgyo no Kotowari would meet with Jyuushiro in his inner world, where he was free to walk and speak easily with his zanpakutou spirit, and they would discuss the longer-term strategic uses for what they'd heard.
From that Jyuushiro had been able to give Ise-kun some advice on how to deal with their concealment, how to keep what was left of the Gotei 13 intact, and how to coordinate missions to learn what their enemies were doing.
They'd had to move twice, due to indications that Aizen's people had found their base.
After the second move, Jyuushiro asked Isane to give him physical therapy to help him regain at least enough muscle strength to go use the toilet himself. While Jyuushiro could endure the indignities of hospital life, the moves taught him that if he was entirely immobile, the amount of manpower needed to bring along everything he depended was horrific. And along those same lines, he insisted that they at least attempt to remove the feeding and drinking tubes and go to an oxygen apparatus that was more portable.
That had hurt.
For days after, Jyuushiro awoke feeling like he was drowning, only to realize that, somehow the oxygen clip had slipped from his nose, or one nostril had stuffed up, or he simply wasn't getting enough air. He grew into the habit of just taking three, long, slow, breaths, as deeply as he was able, to calm his heart as much as to get as much air as he could. The panic attacks were worse than the lack of oxygen itself, and on top of that was the cold, hard realization that Shunsui would never hold him, never comfort him through his attacks again.
After enough of those nights, Jyuushiro asked for drugs just for those eight hours, and Isane gave them to him without question.
Jyuushiro's throat had been damaged by the gasses, as well as irritated by the long insertion of the tubes themselves, and even with them out he wasn't able to do much more than croak. But actually being able to taste that first bowl of rice gruel with a little green tea powder sprinkled on top was well worth how much it hurt to swallow.
He took to practicing making noises with his throat and mouth when he was by himself, not wanting to distress or discomfort those about him. He hummed to himself sometimes, when he was busy working on the orders for the day or writing reports for Soi Fong. He started being able to make encouraging noises when people were talking to him.
Then came the day when the details of Soi Fong's reports, scouts reporting more enemy attempts to find their headquarters, and one of the Vizards' reports on an increase in activity, energy use, and dispatches to and from Hueco Mundo, all arrived at once. Everyone gathered in Jyuushiro's room, to discuss what was happening.
Jyuushiro listened for the whole two hours, simply letting the conversation flow around him, washing about him like a sea of information. Then, as in all conversations, there came an ebb in the flow, a moment of utter silence as everyone thought a moment about what to do next, to say next.
Jyuushiro took that moment, and in a voice now scarred to permanent harshness, he said, "We must know what Aizen is doing. He cannot be allowed to finish."
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