Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach nor its characters.

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Epilogue

Zaraki Kenpachi was fuming. Whatever idiots had fed him false information were going to hear from him! He had relied on their report, and that was the result: nine of his men dead, and twice as many in the 4th! An entire squad beaten to a pulp! Damn!

It was supposed to have been a simple, straightforward mission. A group of Hollows had appeared in Rukongai and the 11th had been asked to dispatch a squad there to take care of them. There had not been any indication of potential complications, so Zaraki had decided to test his brand new Fifth Seat's leadership skills and to entrust him with the task. The young man had already proven on many occasions that he was a good fighter and if he had picked up any hint from Ikkaku as to how to lead men, then he should have been more than up to the task. It should all have gone rather smoothly.

The first time Ikkaku had come to Zaraki to tell him that he thought something was wrong, Zaraki had dismissed the warning as a case of anxiety. The Third Seat was worried for his boyfriend; he was imagining things. Zaraki had had half a mind of telling the bald man that such a behaviour was an insult to Yumichika - it basically amounted to distrust in the pretty-boy's abilities. When Ikkaku had come again and insisted they send a unit to check on the squad's whereabouts, Zaraki had figured that it might be an even better idea to let Yumichika himself beat the lights out of his lover for doubting him - that was why he had agreed to Ikkaku leading another squad into Rukongai.

When the fastest runner from that squad had come back not long after, requesting emergency back-up and a large-scale medical intervention between two gasps of breath, Zaraki had not been happy with himself, to say the least, and it was with an angry heart that he and Yachiru had led a whole host of instant volunteers to the site of the battle. The sight that awaited them there had not done anything to better their mood: there were bodies everywhere, and far more Hollows than there should have been, surrounding a handful of shinigami still up and kicking. Ikkaku's shiny head could be seen zooming around, but Yumichika was missing. As one man, Zaraki and his troops had immediately rushed forward, roaring and brandishing their zanpakutou in bloodlust and frustration.

As soon as the carnage was over, the healers from the 4th, who had arrived on Zaraki's heels, had started their work, but it was already too late for eight men, and another one would die later on. None of the members of Yumichika's squad had escaped without serious injuries, and the pretty-boy himself had been found lying in a large pool of his own blood, which was pouring freely from an impressive gash in his chest. He had managed to give his report to his Captain, in broken and disjointed sentences, before losing consciousness and being whisked away to the 4th.

It had turned out that the information they had been given had been faulty - several times over -, and Yumichika had found himself faced with not only a lot more enemies than he had counted on, but also stronger Hollows than he had been warned about. He had adapted his plans and redeployed his men, but those measures had still proven insufficient, and soon the hunters had become the hunted. Without backup and without means of contacting the Gotei 13, the squad's perspectives had suddenly become very grim, and it was only the unexpected arrival of Ikkaku's reinforcements that had prevented its total eradication.

An operation which should have been standard procedure had turned into a disaster, and Zaraki was going to make sure that someone would be held responsible for it. There would be Hell to pay in the morning.

For now though, it was the middle of the night, and he was listening to some medical shinigami giving him the latest update on the condition of his men. All in all, it was not as bad as it could have been: only his 5th Seat, one each of his 13th and 17th Seats and two unranked soldiers were still categorised as being in serious or critical conditions, though the healer assured Zaraki that there was a very good chance they would all make a full recovery - eventually. The only man who had been in desperate condition upon arriving at the 4th had already died, and the healers had done their best to ensure that he would be the only one. As much as Zaraki despised them for their weakness in battle, he had to admit that the medical shinigami could do miracles when it came to mending people - they were not completely useless.

Before going back to the 11th to grab a few hours of sleep, he decided to personally check on Yumichika. It bothered him that the young man's first solo leadership mission should have ended in such a catastrophic way through no fault of his own - and if he was truly honest with himself, Zaraki also felt just a little bit guilty for not having listened to Ikkaku earlier. Had he done so, most of this disaster might have been avoided, so in a way, Zaraki himself was just as responsible as those idiots who had given him a faulty report.

Like all the other severely injured members of his squad, Yumichika had been given a private room; apparently, the healers had deemed that the raucous and undisciplined atmosphere that always prevailed wherever two or more members of the 11th were gathered would not help with their recovery. Zaraki was not so sure about that, but he figured it would be up to his men to complain if they wanted to - once they woke up, of course. He did not bother knocking on the door and entered straight away. There were no lamps on in the room, but the silvery light of the full moon was flooding through the large windows, and Zaraki could see quite clearly around him.

He was not in the least surprised to find Ikkaku sitting fast asleep next to Yumichika's bed, with his head resting on the sheets. He was, however, a bit shocked to see the bald man's hand tightly curled around his lover's wrist - Zaraki could not remember ever seeing such an open sign of affection between those two. But then again, one glance towards the occupant of the bed reminded Zaraki that Yumichika had never looked that bad either. Obviously, no matter what the healers had said, Ikkaku was still deeply worried about his loverboy - and that thought did not help lighten Zaraki's guilt.

He really should have known better than to distrust his Third Seat's intuition - or whatever it had been. How could he have thought that Ikkaku only wanted to protect Yumichika, when he had seen the bald man drive the pretty-boy harder, demand more from him, day after day, than from anybody else in the entire Division? For the Third Seat to come and tell his Captain that he thought something was wrong... That alone should have been an alarm signal for Zaraki. Che... He had meant to test Yumichika's leadership skills, but in the end it was his own that had been measured - and found missing.

He was about to turn around and leave the room when Yumichika, maybe bothered by Zaraki's huge reiatsu, shuddered and started muttering under his breath. His eyes never opened, but his eyebrows furrowed, his nose scrunched up, and he began to shake his head while his hands clenched the sheets. Half-waking up almost instantly, Ikkaku brought his free hand up to the pretty-boy's face and threaded his fingers through the messed-up hair, before running a thumb along a prominent cheekbone and a sweaty eyebrow. Each motion seemed to calm Yumichika a bit more, and soon his face and body relaxed and stopped twitching, while the only voice that could still be heard was Ikkaku's, whispering softly.

Zaraki stood rigid as a statue the whole time, staring. This was awkward; he really, really did not want to be here watching his thug of a Third Seat get all lovey-dovey with his boyfriend, but on the other hand, he could not just run away like a coward either, could he? So he just stayed there, scowling and waiting for his officer to notice him. It took a while, but finally, after Yumichika had completely calmed down, Ikkaku reluctantly glanced at his Captain and acknowledged his presence.

"Taichou."

"Madarame."

Ikkaku turned his gaze back to Yumichika. There was silence for a moment, until the bald man cleared his throat and asked:

"... So, er, what's the news?"

Zaraki shrugged. "Nine men dead. Others should make it. Hollows all dealt with."

"Ah."

Silence again. Ikkaku was still determinedly not looking at Zaraki, who figured it was his turn to make a move - and make amends.

"Good call today. Might have lost all of them if you hadn't insisted."

"... Yeah."

There was no apparent emotion in the Third Seat's answer. He did not seem to care one way or the other, and Zaraki was a bit bothered that his - admittedly lame - attempt at an excuse should be so casually received. Gruffly, he added:

"I'll need your report before Captains' meeting."

Ikkaku vaguely nodded. "I'm working on it."

Zaraki threw a quick circular look around him. He saw no sign of ink or paper anywhere. This angered him; he might have made a mistake, but he was still Ikkaku's Captain. He snapped:

"Yo, Madarame! Boy-toy will be fine, okay? So you get your ass back to the Division and you write me that report. Now."

The look his Third Seat threw him surprised him. It was dark, and fierce. Was the bald man... challenging him? Sure enough, Ikkaku replied, in a clipped tone:

"I said I'm working on it, all right? You'll have it on your desk first thing in the morning... Taichou."

"Madara-"

"And for the record, he's not my boy-toy!"

Surprised by the angry and unexpected outburst, Zaraki forgot all about the dressing-down he had been planning to issue. This was not the first time Ikkaku and Yumichika denied being lovers, but this time Zaraki had the strangest feeling that his Third Seat was actually telling the truth. This intrigued him.

"Oh? You two sure act as if he is."

Ikkaku threw him another dirty look. "Example?"

Zaraki opened his mouth - and closed it as no example came to his mind. That was strange...

There was clearly a sarcastic edge in Ikkaku's voice when the man asked:

"Ever seen us make out?"

Zaraki thought hard. "No."

"Hold hands?"

"No."

"Grab each other? Have sex? Hell, has anyone seen us touch each other!"

The bald man was getting angry, and Zaraki was growing more confused with each question. Grasping at straws, he countered roughly:

"Well, you were touching him right now."

That only seemed to increase Ikkaku's wrath, who all but yelled when he replied:

"Because he's sick! He's gone through Hell today! He's sick, he's lost and he's hurt. I don't look at you all weird when you help the Lieutenant, do I?"

Zaraki was at a complete loss. Comparing Yachiru to Yumichika, that was simply not right, as he tried to explain:

"Hey, I've known Yachiru since she was a baby, okay? I took care of her, I fed her, I clothed her and all that shit, all right? So it ain't the same."

Strangely, this seemed to instantly calm Ikkaku, who just looked at his Captain for a while, before asking in a surprisingly low voice:

"Oh really?"

Zaraki's brain jammed as his Third Seat turned around, picked up a towel sitting carefully folded on a low table next to the bed, dipped it in the bowl of clear water standing right by it, and undertook to wash away the sheen of perspiration covering the non-bandaged parts of Yumichika's face and chest. The Fifth Seat whimpered and his eyes flew half-open; at first he just stared straight ahead of him, but then his gaze started to roam the room, as though he was looking for something. It finally stopped when it found Ikkaku, and a small, painful smile appeared on his cracked lips. His voice was raspy when he tried to speak:

"Ik... kaku..."

The Third Seat scowled. "Don't talk."

Yumichika slightly shook his head, and winced. "Sorry... Lost. Fight."

"Che. Wasn't your fault. Got a bad report."

The Fifth Seat refused to be convinced. "Was. Weak... Should have..."

Ikkaku growled. "Will you shut up already? I told ya, it wasn't your fault."

Yumichika opened his mouth again, but Ikkaku covered it with his hand, before threading his fingers in the matted hair once more.

"Look kid, I know you did your best, okay? You just didn't have the right info. And not enough men either. So you stop this nonsense and you go back to sleep and you get your ass out of this place as soon as possible. I won't be picking up your work, so the longer you stay here, the more you'll have to catch up when you go back to the Division. Get that?"

Yumichika nodded, smiled again and closed his eyes. Ikkaku finished washing and drying him up, before turning his gaze back to his Captain. They stared at each other for a while, as Zaraki was trying to digest what he had just seen and heard.

" 'Kid', huh? So you mean, you and him, you're not...?"

"No. Never were, never will be."

Heh. It made sense, now that Zaraki looked at it that way. He of all people should have seen it before. Still though...

"Why not just tell the truth?"

Ikkaku shrugged and looked away. "Because it's complicated, and it's nobody's business."

"... Fair enough."

Zaraki turned to leave. As he was passing through the doorway, he stopped and said over his shoulder:

"About that report..."

"Yeah?"

"Just... Forget about it. I don't need it that badly."

"... Thanks, Taichou."

"Whatever. Night."

"Night."

It was partially Zaraki's fault if Yumichika was in that state; the least he could do was let Ikkaku take care of him - of his 'kid'.

Though really, man, who would have thought!

xxx

It was only when Zaraki was finally in his bed and about to fall asleep that the full implications of the night's discovery hit him. His Division, his Division, the Eleventh Division, the fearsome Zaraki Squads, were turning into a family affair. First he and Yachiru, and now Baldie and Pretty-boy... Next thing he knew, Unohana and Ukitake were going to count him as "one of them", one of those pansy Captains who thought of their Division as one big happy family.

Crap.

Frankly, he liked it better when he thought his two Seats were screwing each other... Though come to think of it, nobody else knew, right? So all he had to do was keep his mouth shut, and hope they did not decide to spill the beans themselves, and nobody would be none the wiser - especially not Unohana and Ukitake.

Yeah, that could work.

Still, he was really going to have to kick someone's butt in the morning, just to get all that frustration out.

...

A family Division... Honestly... Over his dead body!

xxx The End xxx