Oh My God. How long did this take? I am so sorry, I never intended for it to go this long without an update. This one was just such a bugger to write. Thankfully the next chapter's already in progress, and I have the holidays in which to write it. I can't let it sit for a whole month. That's just unforgiveable. Sorry, sorry, sorry.

Generic Gen- nice to know you'll give him a chance despite your dislike.

Hana Ryuuzaki- Thank you very much. It's not all doom and gloom for them though, I promise.

YuanxKratos- Yes, I am rather mean to him aren't I?

Crazy Authoress CAT and AMS- good to know you're still on board, and thank you ever so much for the favourite. The comment you made about me being fast is kinda obsolete now but thank you anyway. Good to know someone understands the time constraints. 6 A-levels is hard work.

Terminally Mental- I'm glad the last chapter was in time for your birthday and I'm sorry you ahd to wait so long for this one. I hope to not leave it so long in future, though that may be hard to keep to with exams on their way, but I will do my best. Thanks for the tip about the semi-colons. I had a feeling I was using too many. I don't think I've done so this time round, but you be the judge. I am out of the sling now, in case you wondered.

Lady Saru- Glad you like it. I'll try not to take so long next time.

kelso-teh-freak- Someone like me! Yay! I've been waiting for a story like this, so I finally decided to write one instead of wait. I feel kinda bad for making you cry though...

Xx Trinity xX- Thank you. I will try to update faster.

AriKitten- You make a good point about a plot hole I haven't fixed yet. I'll need to sort that out. No, they won't be going to Orihime to fix it though.

L. M. Fraser- Yes sir! or ma'am! umm...

Ferrith- Don't worry! Last time I checked Yumi was still alive. It'd be hard to write without a protagonist, right?

useless-knight- well, here's the next update. I'll get the next one done double time.

I think that's everyone. Thank you all so much for your reviews, and favourites. I love you all. But enough of that; onto the chapter!

Well, Matsumoto's over enthusiasm made a lot more sense now. Ikkaku's suspicions were confirmed: what had supposedly been a quick lunch had blossomed into a party. He had a horrible feeling that this was about to become a hell of a lot more complicated than lunch had any right to be.

Renji's appearance wasn't a huge shock. Ikkaku had expected him to turn up at some point over the next few days to see Yumichika. He was a friend, and there was certainly enough history there for him to almost be required to attend at some stage. Unohana- taichou had also joined them, but he'd half expected that too. He knew she was still keeping an eye on him, since he hadn't returned to his room after first seeing Yumichika, as he'd promised. She'd add her thoughts whenever she felt it necessary.

Ikkaku could even explain away Ichigo's presence. The substitute shinigami had been stuck in Soul Society after their farce of an encounter with the Espada, hauled through with the rest of them by the retrieval squad from Fourth that had had to be summoned to rescue their sorry asses. He'd been rather bitter about it, and he wasn't the only one either, but his loud sullenness had quieted now that he'd been assured by both Yoruichi and Urahara that they'd keep an eye on Karakura in his absence. With nothing to do until he could go back, he'd been tagging along behind Renji and bugging the hell out of him.

Rukia's presence baffled Ikkaku. He barely knew her, only having met her in passing a few times, including the time they'd spent as teammates of a sort when in Karakura. She was Renji's friend, not his. And then there was Hitsugaya- taichou. He just made Ikkaku nervous, but the taichou made the somewhat random pattern of party attendees fall into place. Matsumoto had chosen to invite the Karakura team. The only question was why, a question he wanted answered immediately.

"Ok, what the hell is going on?" Ikkaku cast a suspicious eye over all of them, watching them all squirm under the scrutiny, apart from Hitsugaya- taichou who just looked bored.

"Well, you see..." Renji started finally, after they'd sat in awkward silence for a few minutes.

"We figured we needed to help." Ichigo finished for him, irritated by the fukutaichou's stumbling. "Well, actually, Rangiku-san figured that she needed to help and roped the rest of us into it."

Ikkaku certainly wasn't surprised to hear that. Matsumoto tended to prefer getting other people to help, rather than just do things for herself, one example being paperwork, which she routinely asked for help on, that or just refused to do it.

"So why did you decide to help, Matsumoto?" The guilty party, who'd done a good job of being anonymous up to this point, was pulled back to the forefront again. She'd pulled them all into this, now she could explain why. Whatever patience Ikkaku had started with had quickly evaporated, and now he was teetering on the edge of pissed off; and hungry.

For the first time in two days, Matsumoto was lost for words. It was a revelation for Ikkaku. "Unohana- taichou suggested it." She said finally, and that overenthusiastic, overoptimistic, whiny voice that had been irritating Ikkaku for the past two days was gone. This was the same lost voice that he'd heard from her after Ichimaru had disappeared. To be frank, he hated it; it just wasn't her. "She said that Yumichika would need all the help he could get with this, and since I'm part responsible for landing him here in the first place, I figured it was my job to find as much help as I could."

Well, that wasn't what he'd expected. He could understand Unohana's suggestion of more help, even if it seemed to imply that he couldn't do the job (which he worried about himself, not that he'd admit it). Matsumoto didn't need to feel responsible for Yumichika's condition though. That was his prerogative, being the stronger of the two of them. When Hitsugaya- taichou had gone down, the task of keeping their group intact should have fallen to him. He'd done a pretty abysmal job. He had no idea how to address the issue though, knowing that if he tried to tell her it wasn't her fault the words would come out wrong, or she'd twist them so they sounded wrong. He just wasn't good at this stuff.

"So what exactly did you have in mind?" He asked instead, not just to Matsumoto, but the entire group. From the blank looks he was getting, they didn't seem to have thought that far.

"The first thing must surely be to reassure Ayasegawa- san when he awakes." And there it was, Unohana- taichou's pearl of wisdom. "He will be most distressed by what has happened, and it will take a lot of work to convince him otherwise. That is why he needs you to be here." They all shared a look and a nod.

Rukia remained quiet throughout this. Seemed Matsumoto had dragged her along without considering whether she had any business being there. Maybe in the fukutaichou's mind she did, having been a member the team while they'd been in Karakura, but clearly Rukia didn't feel the same. Hitsugaya- taichou didn't contribute either, but he was entitled to a sulk. This would be the second time his fukutaichou had dragged him into this team, despite his other obligations (namely paperwork, something that Matsumoto liked to deny the existence of) and if Ikkaku had been in his position, he would have been more than a little ticked off too. A good sulk was not to be wasted.

"You just need to be there for him. Be sure that he realises this injury has not destroyed him, for that is surely what he will think." Unohana was far too good at reading people, and Yumichika was no exception. "Stay with him. Help him regain what he has lost. It is what you, as friends and comrades-" Unohana's eyes were on Rukia for that last minute addition, "can do better than any healer."

A scuffle in the corridor behind them interrupted the group before they could agree. Unohana excused herself as two of her healers appeared, carrying a third between them.


"What happened?" She knelt to examine the unconscious shinigami they carried as they came up alongside her. Gentle fingers ran over his face and head, checking for signs of injury.

"Ayasegawa- san woke up and knocked him out."

"What!" Ikkaku easily drowned out whatever Unohana had to say about it. He flew down the corridor towards Yumichika's room, towards the source of a commotion he'd been completely oblivious to, despite his promise to keep an eye and an ear out. A panic had settled in his chest that shouldn't be there; Ikkaku wasn't the type to panic.

He arrived at the door to be met by a gaggle of healers, some of whom were fighting with what appeared to be the remains of the heart monitor, judging by the shrill scream still emanating from it, while others were just there to watch the spectacle.

Yumichika had pinned himself in the corner, lashing out at the few healers in the room whenever they tried to get close. They were so afraid of hurting him further that his weak efforts were enough to keep them at bay. It was all a horrible mess.

"You're making it worse, you idiots!" Ikkaku stormed through the group at the door and grabbed the nearest well meaning healer by the front of his uniform and hauled him out of the way. "What logic made you figure that crowding him into a corner would calm him down?"

"We need to put him back on oxygen. He's not strong enough to cope without it." The Fourth Division shinigami explained.

"And, obviously hyperventilation is a good state to be in when you can't get enough oxygen normally." Ikkaku looked at the healer incredulously. "What's wrong with you? How could making him practically suffocate himself possibly make sense to you?" He'd already stopped listening when the smaller shinigami began to babble excuses, shoving the healer away from him towards the door.

"The rest of you!" he roared. "Get your asses out of here now!" As was the norm by now, they faltered as a whole, stuck between tending a patient and fleeing a terror, before scuttling from the room hard on the heels of the first shinigami. Ikkaku slammed the door behind them to keep out the morbidly curious who were still lurking in the doorway.

Yumichika looked awful; he was only still standing because the walls at his back held him there. The lack of oxygen getting to his lungs had already turned his lips blue and was slowly dyeing his skin the same colour.

"Yumi..." he faltered as the injured shinigami's head snapped up to look at him. The one eye was wide, staring at him... fearfully. The expression didn't change, even when Ikkaku saw recognition dawn. Yumichika was afraid of him.

Ikkaku wasn't an emotional person; he didn't know what to do in this sort of situation. His straightforward, aggressive method of dealing with his problems had fallen woefully short for the first time in his afterlife. He'd spent two days sitting in this room wondering how he'd deal with the consequences of Yumichika's loss when the peacock finally woke up, half formulating plans, scrapping others. Now he was faced with it, the ideas were slipping through his fingers like so much sand.

Yumichika was afraid of him.

'OK, think.' He told himself. 'He's freaked out by the nurse mob. He certainly put up one hell of a fight. It's got to be that. He's not afraid of you. He can't be. Just sort him out before he chokes himself.'

"Yumi, you gotta calm down." He reached to his friend, but withdrew when Yumichika trapped himself further into his corner in an effort to get away. "Hey, calm down, I'm not gonna try to jump you like those nurses, but you have to let me help. You can't breathe, but if you put the mask back on it'll help."

Yumichika's stare never faltered but he mumbled something too low for Ikkaku to hear. He stepped closer, carefully so as not to startle the edgy shinigami. It was like dealing with a wild animal. Unfortunately, in Ikkaku's experience with wild animals, he tended to get bitten. "Say again, Yumi." He kept his voice low, but it came out as more of a growl than a whisper, not how he'd intended it at all. He just wasn't very good at this.



"Can't... if I..." he gasped himself into silence; the small exertion of speaking overwhelmed him. He panted for a minute until he'd gathered enough air to make a second attempt.

"If I... put... the mask on... I'll get... better." He spat the last word out like it left a bad taste in his mouth.

Ikkaku was baffled. "But..." he trailed off, still uncomprehending. "That's the point. The point is to get you fixed so you don't have to sit in with Fourth for any longer than necessary."

Yumichika's stare had taken on a different tone, now it was disbelieving. "How... could this p-possibly... be fixed?" He asked incredulously. "Look at me!"

He couldn't. Ikkaku knew he had a strong stomach, so why was it so difficult to look at Yumichika now? Ikkaku hadn't even realised til now how he'd kept his eyes averted from the injuries. He cursed himself for cowardice, but, try as he might, he could not look at the arm that ended without a hand, the bandages that hid a blank eye. It turned his stomach in a way that it had no right to.

Ikkaku grimaced and turned away, taking a moment to collect himself. This was ridiculous! He'd seen worse, he knew he had. It wasn't even on display! It was wrapped in bandages, hidden from view, and he still couldn't look!

"You can't... even look!" Yumichika pushed himself away from his corner, aiming to slip past Ikkaku and get away. Without the support of the walls though, his legs wouldn't hold him and he fell, crashing into Ikkaku and taking the other shinigami with him.

It certainly snapped Ikkaku out of his musing. He caught hold of Yumichika, but, being in the wrong position to haul him back up, fell with him and had to twist to the side to avoid crushing him. Yumichika didn't make another attempt to escape, but lay where he was, wheezing heavily and clutching fitfully at his chest. Spots of blood dotted the bandages around his torso.

"Oh, hell." Ikkaku gathered his fallen friend up, despite Yumichika's flinching and weak attempts to push him away, and carried him back to the bed, mindful of the debris that hadn't been completely cleared from earlier. The second oxygen machine, hauled in after the destruction of the first, was close enough here that Ikkaku could fasten the mask in place over Yumichika's nose and mouth, sighing in relief when that awful wheeze began to quiet.

"You've got to be more careful, Yumi. You need to heal." Horribly hypocritical of him, seeing as the few times he'd been incarcerated with the Fourth Division he'd flipped the bird to healing, in favour of picking fights with other inmates.

Yumichika didn't answer but turned to face the wall, his one hand still held tight over his heart, tangled in the loose folds of his yukata. The scars that Ikkaku couldn't bear to look at were hidden by his position, which relieved Ikkaku, and left him disgusted at himself for feeling relieved. Now he was the one making it worse.

"I... I'm sorry Yumi. I shouldn't have reacted like that."

Apologies were awkward enough as it was, but getting no answer just made it uncomfortable. Ikkaku allowed the quiet to extend to a minute, the whistling of the oxygen mask the only sound in the room, before his slim patience gave up.

"Come on, Yumi. You can't just ignore me."

Apparently he could. After another minute of awkward silence Ikkaku sighed in defeat and sat down on the edge of the bed, resting a hand on Yumichika's shoulder in a clumsy attempt at comfort.

"Fine, you don't have to talk to me. I am sorry, you know." He said, his free hand fiddling with the hilt of Houzukimaru as he sought the appropriate words. "Look, I know you're upset, and I know this has freaked the hell out of you, but..." he struggled for the words. What were you meant to say? Surely there was some pearl of wisdom he could dredge up.

"It's like Zaraki- taichou said." He said finally, grateful for the last minute answer. "You ain't lost the fight if you're still alive. You just patch yourself up and fight again. Ain't over til you're dead, or you've won. You're still here, Yumi, so it ain't over yet."

Silence again. The shoulder his hand rested on shifted out from under his touch. "Go away, Ikkaku." Yumichika whispered, muffled by the mask. "You've made your point... so just go away." He curled away from Ikkaku, still facing the wall, and hid his head behind the shield of his one, whole arm.

"Just go away."

Okay, you know the drill. Criticism is fine, especially considering how I left you hanging, but I'd prefer it if you didn't flame. I'll only use them to roast Mary Sues. Don't put your well written flames to waste.