Title: After the Fact
Author: dementedchris
Rating: PG-13 (look closely and it turns into R)
Genre: Shounen-ai, fluffy angst (is there such a thing?)
Spoilers: Soul Society Arc, around Chapter 182, if I'm not mistaken – I usually am
Summary: Some nights blur the boundaries of friendship. Or strengthen them.
Disclaimer: Bleach belongs to Kubo Taito. KT belongs to me. (Seriously, I should learn to draw the line between reality and delusion.)

After the Fact

When the news arrives on butterfly wings, Shunsui feels the sharpness in the air, as if each breath he releases is being cleaved from him by a merciless sword. Strange that he thinks this now, as he makes his way to the 13th Division, when he remembers that it had been mercy that dealt the boy the last blow; mercy, and perhaps, love. Still, the truth: the loss is cruel, and mercy is only a drop of water after the fact of flood.

He finds his friend leaning heavily against his own soul cutter, silver hair covering his delicate features. Jyuushiro's breaths are sliced by the same cruel sword, only this time, they don't even reach release. They die in his throat, tight, quick sobs, and as he raises his head, Shunsui realizes that the only emotion that finds its way to the surface of Jyuushiro's façade is the guilt in his eyes.

Jyuushiro straightens with a long, slow breath and returns his zanpaktou to its hilt. Eyes on the horizon, Shunsui stands beside him.

They keep vigil like this for a long time.

---

Shunsui's hand on his arm is gentle yet insistent. "You should get some rest, Ukitake," he advises.

At the contact, Jyuushiro starts, and Shunsui lets the touch fall away. "I have to tell Kaien's family," Jyuushiro protests. "They have to know what happened." He takes a step away, as if to leave, but falters momentarily. Shunsui thinks the weight of the world is too much for even him.

His arm is quick to steady him. "I'll take you there."

Jyuushiro opens his mouth to decline, thinks against it, and clamps it shut. When he speaks, his voice is raw resignation and helplessness. "Only until the house. I have to talk to his sister myself."

"Of course," Shunsui answers smoothly, in the best way he knows how. "I'm not stupid enough to want your job."

His hand is still on Jyuushiro's elbow. His friend clasps it firmly, and Shunsui supposes the look that passes between them is gratitude.

---

The conversation between Jyuushiro and Shiba Kuukaku is surprisingly brief and unemotional. The girl does not tremble at the news; her voice steels as if she has known all along. There are only a few questions: Did he suffer? Did you kill him? Where is Kuchiki Rukia?

Jyuushiro's voice is too low for Shunsui to hear. He assumes that Jyuushiro says all the right things -- he has a knack for doing that -- because the Shiba girl nods solemnly then turns away.

Shunsui stands to one side, waiting. Some days he prides himself on being the stronger of the two, but tonight, he sees Jyuushiro's quiet strength, and allows him to take control. A night too late, maybe, but he isn't about to say it.

"Let's go, Kyouraku." And Shunsui follows, a shadow of the moon.

---

He delivers his friend back to his Division. As they linger at their goodbyes, the moment stretches from poignancy to awkwardness, until Shunsui latches onto the first phrase that flits by him. "So, will you be all right?"

Why he bothers with stupid questions, he doesn't know. He blames the moment, but Jyuushiro's reply is just as textbook. "Of course, Kyouraku."

"Then I should go." Shunsui's arms bolster him in an awkward embrace. He thinks that Jyuushiro is grateful for whatever small measure of comfort he finds there, because the gesture is returned. Tighter. Needier. An embrace is only a ghost of an emotion after the fact of love.

Shunsui doesn't leave when he says he should.

--

When morning comes, Shunsui regrets his words. "I have to go or my fukutaichou will have my head for this." A pause. "Are you sure you'll you be all right?"

Really, he should stop with questions he already knows how to answer.

Jyuushiro surprises him, though, rising from his bed. "What do you think, idiot?" he replies in a tone uncustomary for him, but one that Shunsui sees as the closest thing to an admission than he'll ever dare, and for now, it is enough.

Shunsui puts on his straw hat and walks away. Outside, the air is still surprisingly sharp. He takes a deep breath and drinks in the morning.

end