Summary: In the wake of Kaien's death, Jyuushirou has to find a way to cope, but it isn't easy…
A/N: Right then. It has suddenly become clear… the mists are fading and my crystal ball is showing me the path of true enlightenment…
ER…NOT. It just seems to me that the following ficlets 'sadness and sorrow' 'I watched him die' and 'coping mechanisms' should or could be read in that order, as it seems to make sense like that. Not, mind you, that it was planned…
FOR GUNGRIR, WHO ASKED FOR MORE – HOPE THIS IS WHAT YOU MEANT…
FOR ESSY, WHO CRIED…
FOR SLEEVE OF WHITE SNOW AND ANIME SIREN, BOTH OF WHOM READ AND LEAVE SUCH WONDERFUL REVIEWS…
FOR kaRisa WHOSE REVIEWS ALWAYS MAKE ME SMILE…
Jyuushirou sat at the table, staring into the distance, the piles of reports teetering dangerously.
It had been three days since the funeral, three long days in which he had to endure the accusing stares of some of the members of his division, in which he had to cope with Kiyone's sobs, Sentarou's glares, Rukia's barely concealed anguish, his own loss and pain…
Restless, Jyuushirou got to his feet and wandered into the garden outside his office. There were so many memories of Kaien here…
The two of them in the garden, talking.
Sharing warm sake in celebration of his engagement to Miyako.
Sparring together, practicing kidou, honing each other's skills…
Pain washed over him, sharp enough that he could barely breathe through it. Clutching the collar of his robes, Jyuushirou doubled over, falling to his knees. It wasn't fair, it wasn't fair that his subordinate who had such a zest for life should be dead when he, the one who had let him down was still alive…
Jyuushirou didn't know where the idea came from.
Numb, he staggered to his feet and wandered into his office. His zanpakutou was lying on the corner of the table, blade shining in the sunlight. Before he realized it, he was holding it in his hands, the blade reversed, tip resting against his stomach.
Just one movement and it could all be over…
'Ukitake Jyuushirou, don't you dare!'
Startled at the unexpected voice, the zanpakutou fell from his hands as his head shot up to see Shunsui standing in the doorway. His expression was horrified, almost panicked, and at the sight, Jyuushirou felt a measure of his own sanity return.
'I… I don't know what I was thinking…' it seemed like such an inadequate excuse that Jyuushirou actually winced.
Shunsui crossed the room in two strides, cupping Jyuushirou's cheeks in his hands. 'Don't you dare dishonour yourself like that,' he said intensely. 'I'll kill you myself, do you hear? Kaien… Kaien would not want you to take your own life, Jyuu. He'd kill you for even thinking about it if he were here'
Jyuushirou closed his eyes. 'I'm so tired,' he whispered defeatedly. 'It should have been me, Shun, not Kaien when he had so much to live for…'
'That's enough,' Shunsui said firmly. 'Bed, Jyuu. I mean it'
Despite his grief, Jyuushirou managed a smile. 'You sound like my mother used to'
'You need mothering.'
Between the two of them, Jyuushirou found himself in bed, the curtains drawn, bedcovers up to his chin, and one Kyouraku Shunsui sitting on the edge of his bed.
'Sleep, Shirou.' It was not so much as a request as a command, and one Jyuushirou could not ignore. Reaching out to touch Shunsui's hand, Jyuushirou closed his eyes and was soon asleep.
'Asleep, Rukia-chan. It's been a long morning.'
Jyuushirou blinked sleepily at the sound of the whispered voices. 'Shun? Kuchiki'
Twenty seconds later, Rukia peered round the door frame, her eyes on her captain. 'I'm sorry to bother you, Ukitake-taichou but'
From somewhere, Jyuushirou found a smile. 'It's alright, Kuchiki. Come in'
Rukia tiptoed over to the bed, kneeling down on the floor.
'I just – I just wanted – I mean I '
Jyuushirou suddenly knew what she was going to say. 'I loved him too, Rukia. I know you miss him, child, I know'
Tears spilt down Rukia's cheeks. 'I'm sorry,' she sobbed. 'I blamed you but it was all my fault'
Wordlessly, Jyuushirou held out his arms, and the small, slight figure flew into them, clutching at his robes as she sobbed her heart out.
Jyuushirou stroked her hair, sending Shunsui a helpless glance.
Shunsui just nodded gently and withdrew, sliding the door shut behind him.
Jyuushirou buried his grief, focusing his attention on Rukia, rocking her gently in his arms. She was just as exhausted as he was, perhaps even more so. He shifted his position very carefully as Rukia rubbed her cheek against his shoulder, slowly relaxing against him.
Here, where the lines between subordinate and captain were blurred, Rukia fell asleep in his arms. Jyuushirou sighed deeply and lifted her fully into the bed beside him, drawing the blankets over them both as he pulled her into his arms. Resting his cheek against her hair, the unfamiliar fragrance washing over him, Jyuushirou lay still.
It was going to be all right. Even if he couldn't bring himself to say it, he knew it to be true.
The load of grief was often lightened when there were people to share it with, and the last thing Jyuushirou saw as sleep truly claimed him was Shunsui quietly arranging himself on the floor beside the bed, sake bottle in hand.
He lifted his head. 'I love you,' he mouthed.
Shunsui's dark eyes were tender. 'Go to sleep, idiot,' he mouthed back.