A/N: Written a while ago, when I needed a quick break from high school emo angst. Romance novel practice? I don't know. I wanted to try for more sophisticated language without getting tangled in a forest of purple prose, although I'm not sure how well I succeeded. In any case, I enjoyed writing it. Kind of disjointed & abstract & flowery, but fun. Unohana fascinates me. I think I'm a little bit accidentally in love. The woman caught & slaughtered Ganju's pet for her lunch, for crying out loud. She's hardcore. Also I'm a little bit really needing to write a mini-series, or at least a one-shot, chronicling Unohana-senpai's teaching kendo to Zaraki-kouhai (his having to learn it to maintain his position as captain & her "special skill" with swordcraft both given mention in the same official bootleg? Irresistible). . .

& a technical note: the number four in Japanese, when pronounced "shi," is homonymous with death, and apparently many hospitals in Japan superstitiously lack fourth and ninth floors (nine, "ku," being associated with pain) because of this; therefore I found it interesting that the medical division of the Gotei 13 would be the fourth, even if it is addressed with the less ominous "yu" form of the number.

Any & all feedback on this one would be appreciated, as I'm out of practice writing things of this sort. Thank you for reading.


Within the infant rind of this weak flower, poison hath residence, and medicine power. -- William Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet

It is strength that excites him, and to her, this knowledge makes a weapon of love. She must thank Sasakibe Choujirou for his expositions on Western mythos, for illustrating the overlap of Eros and arrows that sheds a different angle of light upon her mind's connection between blows to the heart and their only known remedy.

Unohana Retsu is, first and foremost, a healer. She is a great one, as is to be expected after a millennium of practice. She is the best. But it takes neither centuries nor any profound ability to recognize that one's usefulness is dictated by necessity. For her to be necessary, there must be injury, and therein lies their common ground: to thrive, they must have blood. Spilt, offered, sacrificed. Freely given or taken by force. For both, there must be blood. There must be life, and in some instances, it must be lost.

That is, she thinks, why she loves him so; what she thinks she will tell others if they are ever rude enough to ask. Fear has thus far stayed what tongues respect or apathy fail to bite, but she can sense Isane's gnawing curiosity, Komamura-taichou's distaste. They do not understand. She will never have to see him die. She will never be made to watch him waste, and the blood that is his on her hands will never be the last drop that does him in. She has no illusions about the invincibility of Zaraki Kenpachi -- one day, he will cease to be. His water ox heart will stop, and the savage strength for which he is legend will recede like the tide from the shores of his great muscles. His will be an impressive corpse, but a corpse nonetheless, a clammy husk that once housed one of the universe's most remarkable souls.

And she finds comfort in the certainty that she will not be there to witness it. She finds comfort in the certainty that, when he passes on from this life to the next, he will leave behind nothing even remotely salvageable for her to attempt -- and fail -- to save. She expects to find him bloody, but no longer bleeding. She expects to find him with a smile on his face, as his grimaces, she has come to learn, are reserved for an altogether different sort of pleasure.

Yes, someday he will die, and when he does, whether to honor her is his intention or not, he will do so by being well beyond the reaches of her care. She has expected as much since the moment she first laid eyes on him, shortly after he'd won his position as taichou of the Eleventh Division, when she and a number of her squad arrived to collect the body of the previous Kenpachi (who, owing to the newcomer with the half-shredded haori draped over his broad shoulders, was also unsalvageable). Her gratitude had been soured by lamentation at the time; it wasn't until Yamamoto-soutaichou had designated she was to be the one to school the undeniably skilled but unrefined barbarian in proper swordsmanship that that lament morphed into a keen of another color.

Over two thousand years old, and still with the lingering sensibilities of a girl. Still virginal, if not actually a virgin, in the way of one of Sasakibe-fukutaichou's grape-drinking goddesses of the hearth and the hunt, those queer women-children who safeguarded childbirth yet had none of their own. Powerful women. Armed women. Women who serve to remind her that just because her zanpakutou works backwards, taking people into its belly instead of plunging into their own, does not make it any less a sword; that there has been blood not only upon its blade, but inside of it. Minazuki is a glutton for pain, and sometimes, on restless nights, in blacker moods she takes care to conceal from her subordinates, she wonders if its convalescent capabilities are mere happenstance, fortunate but unintentional byproducts of its bloodlust. Flesh-drinker, its grip is red shark skin. It is, perhaps, a devil ray.

If such is true, then it does not feel particularly out of place that she would find herself drawn to a man some call a demon. If such is true, then it does not feel particularly out of place that he was subdued, and not seduced, into her bed.

It is strength that excites him, and he tremors in the onslaught of her reiatsu, gasps for breath between the crushing crests of its waves. Gooseflesh rises on his skin despite the pressure that drives him to his knees when she answers a hoarse demand of More -- his or hers, she is not sure, so rarely is she given occasion to unleash the crimson flare of her own formidability, the intrinsic power that others sense and toe the edge of, never daring to look down.

But Kenpachi no Zaraki looks. With both eyes open, he stares with carnal hunger into that abyss. It is the nature of demons to devour darkness, and she aches with the notion that he could sup the very emptiness within her that makes she, of all people, so damnably untouchable.

Art may imitate more than life alone. Few remember that ikebana was born from a ritual meant to honor the dead. She of unwithered grace and toxicant salve. She who inspires compassion and never passion. She who is bidden to kiss better the hurts of others and remain unkissed herself. She, widowed by her own sweetness without ever having wed; she, maternal, and mother of nothing. She is void. Shibantai-taichou, she is death -- and he is unafraid. Her name means "violent," and he speaks it smitten, prostrate and awed.

She kneels before him now, one hand fluttering just above the cicatrized skin of his face, pushing back the strange horns of his hair. He winds her braid like a rope around his wrist and tugs her close, not for a kiss -- only she will initiate such displays of pure affection -- but for a taste of her heart just the same, a broad sweep of his tongue against the pulse point of her throat. Sharp teeth worry delicate flesh, and she is glad she had the foresight to ask that Yamada-kun bring her back a few concealing cosmetics from the Living World, as she doubts her fukutaichou's poor nerves could withstand yet another request for assistance in mending the most obvious of the bruises -- and there are always many. Zaraki Kenpachi is as brutal in his lovemaking as he is in all other areas of his life. It is not unkindness that leads him to be so, nor is it a lack of grace -- there is simply too much of him, too much in him to contain. He is too unrelenting in his grip, too loud in his vocalizations, and far, far too attentive for her to crave that he be anything less that what and who he is.

He holds her resolutely as he lays her back, blanketing her body with his own in retaliation for her reiatsu's previous trespasses. She gets under his skin. She can feel it, can feel him -- every throb in his veins, every blood rush and electrical firestorm in his brain that crackles arousal along each nerve ending, relaying messages of Touch and More, Scratch, Again and Don't stop, don't fuckin' stop don't--

He shudders, hard in her grasp, his teeth in her shoulder damming a growl as the small, callused fingertips of her free hand dig new pathways between abdominal ridges. His skin is battle-worn and textured waxy in places with scars. It scrapes along her own answering smoothness, pinkening the pale expanse of slender thighs hooked snugly around his hips as he rocks against her. His taste is bitter, all salt sweat and lingering grit from the day's activities, and tonight's. She does not mind; strong flavors have always been her favorites.

"What's so funny?" he rasps at her smile, tearing through a tangle in long hair now loosed, its tensile strength unyielding as spider silk.

She plucks the last bell from his disheveled jester's spikes and murmurs some scrap of wisdom about the correlativity between passion and foolishness.

He frowns in disapproval, says she thinks too fucking much, silences her busy head with the parting of slick folds and one rough finger's summoning crook. She arches up with a little cry, and he grins (smug, serrated), wraps a sinewy arm beneath her and dips his head to lap along the curve of one full breast. He takes the bud of her nipple between his teeth and sucks, indurating the tender flesh into blushing sensitivity. Her hands travel the planes of his back, bunching firm muscles, spurring him on in the wordless language of action, his mother tongue, even as his name is a beseeching sigh on her lips.

His fingers, damp with her essence, fit perfectly in the shallow wells between her ribs. He fits perfectly, obeying her implied request, and for a moment he is fixed within her, unable to move but to shiver. His reiatsu flares, shaking the ceiling beams of their private retreat: a small mountain cabin she has occasion to use when her schedule gives her leave enough to go herb-gathering for more than one afternoon at a time. To love as freely as they wish to would be an impossibility in Seireitei -- the power of it alone would invoke needless alarm amongst the white city's inhabitants. Escapes here are frustratingly infrequent, but their urgency is sweet, built up over weeks in between times with slight brushes as they pass one another in the street, or when leaving captains' meetings; in bolder motions behind the closed doors of an office, a hospital room, a spartan and empty hall (anywhere, really, where their chances of being discovered are heightened, as places more suitably private -- a bath house, a bedchamber -- have proven, in the past, much too tempting).

Here there are no prying eyes save his (gone gold in the flame of his power) and her own (violet, a blood-sullied blue). Here there are no gasps save those sucked in to measure pleasure spikes. It is not duplicitous concealment -- they take no great pains to keep the nature of their relationship secret from others -- but for the sake of privacy alone. Here they hide only so that they may hide nothing. They lie without lying, a common ground they share, and one of many. It seems incongruous that their divisions should be so divided, when they are the only two that can truly appreciate what it means to persist when assailed on all sides by pain. It still disappoints her how forgetful of and blind others can be to the fact that opposites may simply be two halves of a single whole, or that two attracting poles may reside at either end of the same magnet, when along this curve of life's cycle should people be at their most open to and accepting of the concept of soul-mates.

But here she is, thinking too much again. He will not have it, and places his large palms against her temples as if to tunnel her vision to see only him. He is beautiful in his way, sharply chiseled in features and form, looking himself something akin to a blade. This man was not born; he was forged, be it by the fires of hell or those of a past life's funeral pyre.

She kisses him, and a hot thrill unfurls low in her belly, tickling against her heart as she drinks in his responding purr. She rolls her hips and closes her eyes against the shudder that stems from their joining to coil like ivy up the length of her spine, again, again, again. He catches her cadence quickly, fever-hot and entreating further heat; he catches her breath between his teeth, her sweat on his fingertips, her hair in a trembling fist. Lost, he feels, Lost, and in this the notion speaks nothing of his poor sense of direction. In this, she believes as he suddenly shifts, bowing the small of his back like a bridge, in this his movements may well be charted by the stars he kindles behind her eyes. A startled whimper escapes her, and she arches to fill the space between their bodies as the fullness of him inside of her gives way to an ardent intensity of friction at precisely the needed angle, grazing there, oh, gods, there and she could not think now even if she were mad enough to try. . .

She opens her eyes to meet his. His face is flushed, his brow creased in concentration. He pants harshly through gritted teeth, and shakes his head. Soon. It's been too long since the last time, too long, and -- Soon.

She adores this, his tension -- adores knowing that she is both its cause and its cure. Comfort in hurt, and hurt in comfort. It is the closest thing to agony she may guiltlessly inflict of her own accord. It is, he has admitted, the closest thing to true pain that he knows how to feel.

He buries his face in the crook of her neck, inhaling deeply her scent as impatient fingers press bruises into her right hip (Hurry, hurry). His other hand clenches rhythmically against the skin of her back, his well-trimmed nails still edged enough to sting (Hurry -- close).

She knows. She is with him, muscles jumping, taut, heart beating rabbit-fast.

"Retsu. . ." A warning, gruffly hissed. Greedily she licks it from his tongue, and he gathers her up in his arms. Motions seamless, together they quickly rise until she sits astride his lap, slim arms braced upon broad shoulders as she climbs higher, sinks deeper, tightening, inciting. He is shaking with restraint (Now -- now), and she adores him (Now -- fuck, now--). "Fuck--"

He crushes her close, his breath shuddering hot against her jawline as he spills himself within her. It is almost enough, it is almost--



His hand descends between their bodies, and by the gentle stroking of a coarse thumb she is undone, trembling, mewling, mindless. She rides the aftershocks of his coming and draws from his throat one final, guttural groan.

Time slows in the settling calm. Every few moments, a lingering pulse of spent pleasure passes between them in shared shiverings. She rests her cheek against his shoulder, combs her fingers as best she can through the snarls in his hair gone well-nigh sleek with the sweat of their exertions. She thinks, Mine, and his chuckling response to the possessiveness she allows to lace her reiatsu rumbles earthily in her ear.

She smiles.

Later, much later, she sleeps.

Zaraki Kenpachi watches. A thin sliver of crescented moonlight cuts across the futon, halving their bodies in twin strips of shadow. The night is warm enough that both remain nude in their recumbence, and he studies for a while the familiar contrast of their skin, bone-pale overlapping sun-dusked.

Yes. . .

It is only a whisper against her mind, a mere ghost of a thought rippling the surface of a dream. Even so, it elicits a sigh, sated and warm against his midsection, where her slumbering head is pillowed. Yes, he thinks, and Lost, he feels, Lost, both that he is, and that he has -- for he, too, has been subjected to Sasakibe's onsen lectures; and he, too, knows well what supposedly becomes of those who chase the favors of chaste warrioresses.

Sasakibe, he decides, ought not venture beyond the realm of haircare in his offerings of advice, and even that much he should dispense only if requested.

Zaraki Kenpachi chased no one, and Unohana Retsu is no one chaste -- to which the welts that pepper his shoulder blades can attest, as can the bruises that bracket his waist and hips, and the suck mark marring his left inner thigh, so teasingly given. . .

He takes in a breath and releases it at length, suppressing the desire to wake her again.

Sasakibe, he decides, is dead wrong.

Orion was hanged in the stars before the scorpion could pierce his heart.

Zaraki Kenpachi's has already been run through.

And so Yes, he thinks, brushing a stray few strands of dark hair away from his lover's face, Yes. . .