"Life is a very fragile thing, and frankly, Ukitake Jyuushiro knows that all too well. He cannot comprehend why people seek to end their lives. And he knows he will never comprehend it. He will never understand why they want it to end. Why? There is always a way out, there are always things to do, goals to achieve, paths to tread. He knows this. He knows that there is always something that one can do. There is always something.

He knows that one should never ever give up, because life is precious. Life is something that no one can give to another. True life, that is. He has seen imitations, but nothing comes even close to the real thing. And he has lived so long, he ought to know that well.

He treasures his life. He treasures the opportunities he is given. He treasures each and every second he has been given. He writes everything down, meticulously. He knows that are things he could have done with that time, and that the time spent writing things down could have been better used to have fun, or to do more things. But he feels reassured because by writing things down, it feels real. Everything feels real. And that is something that no one can take away from him.

But most of all, above his journals, above the short periods of good health, above everything else, he treasures the friends and comrades he has around him. He treasures the people. He is a people person, and he knows it. Without supportive friends, he would never have made it this far. He knows, because there are those days when he just wants it to end. When he just wants to the pain and the suffering, and everything to end.

But then, he has friends. He goes over to Eighth, and they drink themselves silly late into the night, he on tea and Shunsui on sake. Surprisingly, the one who talks more, the one who spills more secrets is not Shunsui but him. It's just something about his surroundings, about his friend, about the relaxed atmosphere, about the fact that nothing matters but their friendship that counts. They are close friends. Very close friends.

But even then, there are the times when it is just too much to bear, when he has to confront it once more, when he has to stare it in the eye, when he has to endure the pain, the suffering, the humiliation, until it goes away. These are the times he finds hardest, because he has to do it alone. He has to stand up to it, he has to glare it in the face, he has to force it down inside him, bury it beneath many many layers of power, hold it there, keep it constrained until one of them gives up. And he never gives up first. He never does.

He does not want to give up first, but really, sometimes, he is tired of life. He is tired. He is perpetually tired, really. He is tired of waking up in the morning to a mouthful of his own blood, tired of lapsing into coughs, tired of coughing up blood. Tired of fighting the same damn thing over and over again. Tired of everything. Just… tired.

It takes too much energy. It takes up too much time. It takes up too much of him, really. Every time he coughs into that handkerchief, every time he sees the dark red color. Every single damn time, he cannot help but worry. He is not afraid of death. He just doesn't want to leave everyone else behind just yet. Not yet. Kaien's death is still fresh on all of their minds. He does not want to burden them with yet another worry.

And he knows that they are not ready. Frankly, he knows that some of them will never be ready. He knows that for all Shunsui says, he isn't ready for his best friend to leave the world. He knows that when he leaves, Shunsui will never be the same again. They are that close. He knows Shunsui, and Shunsui knows him. That is how it works.

He knows that for all the attention and all the infighting between Kiyone and Sentarou, he knows that they are not ready to face the day when he is no longer there. They are not ready to face the day when they fight to barge down his door, and find that there is no one on the other side, or that it is someone else. They are not ready to no longer see the long white haired taicho who has taken them in and taken care of them for the many years past.

And it's not only them. He does not think that he is a very great person, but he knows that the death of a captain will have repercussions through Soul Society. There will be uproar. There will be unrest. There will be things that people will not expect. He is not naïve enough to believe that the Gotei will stop working when he dies. It will not. But it will be different. Hitsugaya-kun will no longer have to dodge and dance around him to avoid candies. Bya-kun will no longer have anyone to confide in. Komamura will no longer have an older brother of sorts to look up to. And he is not ready to go yet. He is not ready to go.

For him, he knows that when the day comes, it will come. Hopefully it will be a relief. Hopefully, it will be an end, so that when whatever happens next, it will be a new beginning. A fresh beginning. He does not mind waking up in the Eightieth District of Rukongai a helpless child, as long as he does not wake up coughing blood. He does not think that he will be able to cope with an eternity of coughing up blood. He has been coping for a long time already, but he knows, that there will come one day when he wakes up, and he cannot cope with it anymore. He might not even wake up. He might go in his sleep, choke on his own blood, smothered in liquid from the very organs that need the air most.

Maybe he will exist no longer, he doesn't know. But it doesn't really matter. He is ready. He thinks he is ready for it. Is he? Perhaps. But perhaps not. And perhaps it is not only because they are not ready for it. Perhaps it is because he is not completely ready.

He knows, he does not want to go. Yes, he wants to stay on in this world, to be as old as Genryuusai-sensei, to be older than that. He wants to see the children, the grandchildren of Shunsui and Nanao. (He knows that it is a very likely possibility that the two of them will end up together, and if he can help it, they will.) He wants to see little shinigamis running around, tugging on his hair, crawling up and down his back wanting to play tag, play catching with Uncle Jyuu. It doesn't really matter to him whose kids those are.

And he wants to have kids of his own. He wants be married, but he knows that will never happen. He knows that he will not allow it to happen. He will not allow any person experience the sensation of heartbreak when he dies. And so, he yearns for a family, a family of his own, yearns for children to play with, little grey-eyed shinigamis running all around the place and not going to bed on time. But he knows that as much as he wishes for it, he knows that it will never happen.

He knows that there is the very distinct possibility that it will never happen. That is in an even more distant future, a possibility that is more virtual than real. He knows that maybe, he will never see any of this. There is the very distinct possibility that he will collapse on his knees in the next battle, that he will fall there, not because of weakness, but because of something that he could not help, because of something that was completely out of his control. That he will fall to his knees, coughing up blood into his hand. Far away from help, he will be struck down like a fly bothering a predator.

He hates that notion. He hates it that there is that possibility that his life, his whole life, his life of fun and joy, of sadness and suffering, his whole life, colorful as it has been, will be swiped out by someone, who if he were completely healthy, would be a mere pest. He hates that there is the distinct possibility that he might die to some weakling, to something not even worth mentioning. And he really, really hates that. He knows that he is strong, and that on a good day, he can easily take down an Espada. He has the experience, the strength, and the power.

What he lacks is the stamina to keep up. He knows that if it takes too long, if he is suddenly jarred, that if something happens that he does not see, that he does not expect, then it's over. For him, battle has always been much more dangerous than for anyone else. He has not been wounded in battle before. Nothing more than a few scratches on his right arm back when he had been in the academy.

Nothing more. He has not been to Fourth for a reason other than his illness as far as he can remember. And while they look up to him as the captain with the most fantastic injury record, they fail to note that once he enters through those gates for a reason other than his illness, he will not be entering those gates alive.

And it is kind of ironic, because Captains only handle the big stuff. And yet, for him, it is the same big stuff that will kill him. And he hates it, because he knows that he is one of the stronger captains. He is. They all know it. But no one really counts him in, because he is weak. How ironic. He is stronger than them, and yet, he is weak. He is weak because he is not dependable. They cannot depend on him in battle.

And so he makes himself dependable outside of battle. He builds a reputation of being the shoulder to cry on, the person to lean on, the listening ear, the helping hand. It is what he can do. It is all he can do. He longs to prove himself in battle, really. But at what price? It is not that he is not as daring as Kenpachi. He knows that he cannot take the kind of hits that the man does. He knows that very well, which is why he is conservative in battle.

At the same time, he places others before himself regularly. After all, he knows that he will die some day. And they might not. Not for a much longer time, at any rate. Frankly, of the deaths he has seen, not a single one has been out of old age, if it was not from the noble houses. So he protects them, because he knows that one day, he will die, that one day, the illness will catch up with him.

He doesn't mind dying, if it means he saves someone else. That much he knows. He doesn't know if he'll mind dying in his sleep, but he doesn't think he'll like it. As far as he is concerned, he will not actively seek out death. He will not avoid it, but instead, he will let it run its course. And when the day comes, he will fight it. He will not run from it, but he knows that he will go down fighting the damn thing.

And he did. He went down fighting, and the world is a better place for it."

Kyouraku Shunsui flipped the last page, shutting the book, blinking back tears as he stood at the podium, the sun shining on his back, a gently breeze in his face. He gulped, attempting to compose himself.

"And perhaps, wherever he is right now, perhaps you're looking down at us from the stars up there, Jyuu. Maybe you're laughing at the bunch of us, laughing so hard because really, you did mean that much to us. And maybe, you're laughing because you get to. Because you can. Because you don't need those damn handkerchiefs anymore.

You didn't really want to go the way you did, I can tell. Your journal says enough. I'll tell you, I find it damn funny that the entire damn thing is written in the third person. And in present tense. Oh the irony, eh? The only time when anyone else would be reading the damn thing would be when you were dead. And then it would be read in the present tense. You always loved your jokes."

He smiled a small, sad smile as he stepped off the podium, heading towards where the pyre was about to be lit. Big hands took off the straw hat and the pink haori, laying it over his brother.

There was the roaring of the flames, and there was silence, broken only by a soft pained whisper, barely audible above the crackling remnants.

"Sleep well, Jyuu."