Let me apologize profusely for how late this is, and allow me to thank each and every person who reviewed, added this to their alerts or favorites list, or even added me to either list. As everyone knows, real life can be a harsh thing, and in the months I've taken as a sort of hiatus, real life was especially nasty. However, I have to thank you all again for your support, and an extra special thank you to those who even messaged me personally to ask if everything was okay. I can never thank you enough! :)

Luckily, I've been able to get relatively back on track with my writing. Unfortunately, this chapter is hardly as long as I wanted, but I think it became more of this huge urge for me to finally get this out there! I already began the sixth chapter yesterday, starting with what would have been the fourth section of this. I should never plan out what the next chapter entails. I jinx myself that way. xD

That being said, I do have a warning for this chapter for some gruesome descriptions of necrotizing fasciitis, or 'the flesh-eating virus'. But hey, who ever said hospital work was all broken bones and concussions?

Anyway, I thank you all again for your patience with me and I can at least promise that I'm definitely sticking with this and while I can't say the next chapter is going to come out soon, it will come out eventually. XD


Deus ex Caduceus

05 - Meeting with the Virus


Renji's apartment was certainly not what Shuuhei would call an interior decorating dream. Between the hampers of unwashed clothing and the plethora of food leftovers that were happily fermenting on several surfaces of the house, Shuuhei wasn't quite sure what to call it. He silently wondered if it was indeed possible to come out of the shower dirtier than when one goes in, because Renji's shower seemed to have that quality. While Renji called it a 'bachelor pad', Shuuhei called it a 'cesspool'.

Even so, he was used to coming over for any number of reasons, be it playing video games until unholy hours, watching a movie, or participating in a strange breakfast-dinner combo, which was why Shuuhei was there at the moment. Scratching at the grains in the wood of the dining room table, the black-haired man peered around the corner to see Renji leaning in front of his toaster, eyes trained on it as though the waffles warming inside would heat faster if optical power was applied.

"Abarai-kun, those waffles aren't going to warm up on demand. It's why toasters were invented."

"Shush, I'm training my laser vision."

Shuuhei rolled his eyes and smiled, resuming his diligent wood scratching. "So," he said absent-mindedly. "How goes life in the ER?"

"Eh, okay," Renji called back. "Hey, you want ravioli or mashed potatoes with your waffles?"

"I had ravioli with my omelette last time. I'll go with the potatoes today."

"A'ight. Anyways, it's all doing good. It's bloody as always."

"Yeah, that's why I work in radiology."

"You're missing out on all the fun, Shuu. Well, except for last night anyways."

Shuuhei raised an eyebrow. "Oh? What happened last night?"

The toaster shoved up two golden-brown waffles, which Renji made a desperate grab for, hissing through his teeth as he threw them down on the plate. He grabbed a bottle of syrup from beside the toaster and took it into the dining room. Placing it in front of Shuuhei, he sighed and rubbed his forehead. "You remember those car crash people a few nights ago, yeah?"

"Yup," Shuuhei said, popping the cap open on the syrup and pouring an outrageous amount onto his plate. "Okay, Mount Waffle is a success. Bring me material to make the rest of the city."

"Right on it," Renji saluted. He walked back into the kitchen and examined the contents of the oven. "Eh, a few more minutes. So yeah, patient services finally got hold of the two foreigners' families. You wouldn't believe what they said."

"Hmm?"

"Well Grimmjow, the one with blue hair—his family is in America. They couldn't afford to come out so they're saving up money now. That's the good news. The bad news is Ulquiorra's family. They're in Germany and they said they didn't care what happened."

Shuuhei's eyes widened and he peered around the corner again. "How could they not care that their kid is in a coma?"

"I don't know," Renji said, shrugging. He opened a cupboard and grabbed a paper plate from a small pile. "They said the hospital could do whatever we wanted with him because they didn't want him back."

"That's terrible."

"You're telling me. So Grimmjow is going to the ICU in two days or so. I have no idea what they're doing for Ulquiorra because Zaraki didn't tell me yet. Ikkaku said they're probably sending him up to ICU but after he's out of intensive care, they don't know what they're going to do. Patient abandonment isn't common around here."

"I would think so."

Renji opened the oven, took out three tinfoil-wrapped potatoes and tossed them on the plate, hissing as he burnt his fingers. He brought the plate in and sat down at the table, placing them next to a bag of pretzels. "There ya go. Have at it."

"With pleasure," Shuuhei responded, picking up a potato by the ends of the foil and putting it on his plate. He opened the foil and let the potato roll out. Tossing the foil to the side, he picked up his plate and began mashing the potato to bits. Meanwhile, Renji was happily creating what appeared to be a mashed potato whirlpool.

"Soooo… Guess who I saw yesterday?" Renji asked, swirling the contents with his fork.

"Hmm?"

"Dr. Kuchiki, in his office."

Shuuhei stopped his food-related architecture project for a moment to look up at his friend in surprise. "Woah, how'd you manage that? That's like going to meet Buddha or something, except much less…nice."

"Dr. Zaraki sent me to pick up a report from a surgery they did up in that department. I just wasn't expecting to get it directly from him."

"Well, yeah. He's like a celebrity among neurosurgeons. I kind of thought he was constantly busy," Shuuhei said, making a series of hills from his potatoes. He flipped the fork over and used the end to make a good-sized hole in the tallest hill.

"I thought he was too but yeah, I talked to him," Renji replied. He looked up at Shuuhei with a face that just screamed that he had even more news, if not gossip. "Oh, and guess who I saw walking with Dr. Foxface before I left?"

"Ahhh, Matsumoto," Shuuhei guessed.

Renji grinned while pouring syrup into the whirlpool. "Nope, Kira."

"Like, Kira Izuru?"

"That's the Kira I'm talking about."

If Renji hadn't been looking, he wouldn't have caught the momentary flush on Shuuhei's face as he filled the cavity in the potatoes with ketchup. "Oh," he said quietly. "Well, he is a nurse in the pediatrics."

"Yeah, but they were coming out of the cafeteria. Find that odd at all?"

"No, it could just be he went in the same time Dr. Ichimaru did."

"Shuu, you know that Kira doesn't like public eating spots. He takes all his food to his break room. I think something was going on."

A snide laugh came out of Shuuhei and he shook his head. "You would think something was going on."

"Yeah, and you wouldn't. You're jealous, yeah?"

The ketchup bottle quit pouring as Shuuhei suddenly held very still, flushing again. "No," he said in a very serious voice. "Kira can go with whoever he wants. I don't own him or anything. He's just my…my best friend."

"Your best friend who you just so happen to have a crush on."

Shuuhei looked down and away, his gaze suddenly glued to the tatami flooring beside him. He appeared unusually morose, almost sickened. "It's impossible, okay Renji? I learned that already and I don't feel like going through it all over again. Kira-ku—san isn't interested in me."

"Maa, Shuu, lighten up! You're about to devour the greatest known sculpture of food and you're moping about some blondie who has a preference in creepers. Isn't this—," he gestured to the food, "—more important?"

Grinning slightly, Shuuhei nodded. "I guess so, even though you brought it up. Besides, he hasn't gone for me in all the years I've liked him. Years. I stress the word."

"And stress more you shall if you keep moping. Now how about you destroy Mount Waffle while it's still hot?"

"Hah, yeah, good plan," the gray-eyed man replied, spearing the waffle with a fork and biting off it.

"Awesome. Besides, I'm much better than that little blondie is anyways, yeah?"

"Sure Renji, sure."

"Aw, c'mon. I've got the looks, the brains, the awesomeness…"

"You just lack the house and the piles of money."

"And Kira's got that?"

"His house is clean, Renji. And he doesn't spend his paycheck on…questionable material."

"I do?"

"Yes, you do."

"I don't believe you."

"Let us reflect on our college years, my dear Abarai. If the police had found what you had, you would still be in jail now."

"That was then, Shuu."

"Now it's shifted from questionable paraphernalia to erotic paraphernalia. Renji, I worry about your sex drive sometimes, or if you get any at all."

Renji began coughing, potato debris flying out of his mouth and spraying across the table. Shuuhei took his plate and inched away before going at the food again. The redhead wiped his mouth and shook his head. "Of course I get some! Do I look like the kind of guy that wouldn't?"

Shuuhei looked over his best friend once before nodding. "You have the look of a man deprived."

"I do not!"

"Alright, when was the last time you had sex?"

"U-um…" Renji stuttered, looking up at the ceiling as though the answer was written there, which it clearly was not. "W-well, it was so mind-blowing, I can't remember."

"Okay, then who was it with if it was so 'mind-blowing'?"

"No one that you would now!" Renji bit back defensively.

"Ooo, getting a tad defensive, yeah?"

"Alright, when was your last time?"

"A couple years ago," Shuuhei said matter-of-factly.

"How come you aren't losing your mind?"

"Because I'm not as primal as you, Abarai. Unlike you, I don't need any magazines, half-assed videos, or even a dirty thought in my head. I'm content with everything I have."

"Remind me to nominate you for sainthood when I get a chance."

Shuuhei just shrugged, grabbing some pretzels and crushing, creating a fine bread-and-salt dust over his potatoes. "Sex isn't everything, you know."

"Well, it's vital, isn't it?"

"Not completely. I bet there are people who have never had sex before and are completely happy with themselves."

"Yeah, they're all under the age of sixteen," Renji responded, stuffing more potato into his mouth.

"Just saying, it's not such a big deal. I'm happy the way I am at the moment. Sure, being single sucks sometimes, but having a relationship isn't really…too important at the moment."

There was a moment of silence before Renji looked at him with confusion. "Then how come you still get worked up about Kira?"

"I'm not saying a relationship doesn't have any importance. I can still like people."

Renji paused for a moment as though considering his food in earnest. "'S just weird, that's all. I always kinda took you for someone who really got around."

"Oh? Why's that?"

The redhead grinned and pointed to his own cheek. "The tattoo kinda made me think that was the case."

Shuuhei touched the 69 on his face and grinned. "Not entirely. I thought I told you what it was for?"

"Never said a word to me."

"I got it in honor of someone. It has no other connotation. However, it's pretty good when holding a conversation with someone attractive. They always think I'm kinky or something."

"No, really? You got tattoos on your face and you wear a leather choker."

"You have tattoos on your face too."

"Head, not face. People just think I'm in a gang. People think you're a sexual deviant. You should hear what people in the ER think of you when they see you, especially Ayasegawa."

"They talk about me?"

Renji rolled his eyes. "Duh, of course they do. Any place you go in the hospital, people talk about you. Face it, Shuu. You're hot and people notice." Shuuhei almost physically jumped with those words and made an attempt to distract himself by tearing into a waffle, though the waffle did nothing to make the blush on his face disappear. It seemed almost comical, to see a man with such a hard exterior appearance blush over something so trivially obvious, or just blush for that matter. Renji snorted and swirled the potatoes around more. "I'm kinda surprised Ayasegawa hasn't written 'Yumi loves Shuu' on a bathroom stall yet."

"I thought…Yumi and Ikkaku…"

"Ikkaku's in denial and Yumi is a flirt. They're never gonna get together."

"That's too bad. Yumi might as well worship the ground Ikkaku walks on, from the way I've seen it."

Dunking a forkful of waffle into mashed potatoes, Renji eyed it before speaking. "Not exactly the best ground to worship. Did ya know about Ikkaku's rep sheet? They almost didn't hire him. I mean, ya know how we all get background checks, right?"

"Yeah, they were iffy on hiring me, too," Shuuhei replied.

"Well, Ikkaku came into this place with fresh tattoos and a fouler mouth than Dr. Zaraki. He was an ass, plain and simple. But hell, he's smart. They took the consideration all the way to the board, and Ikkaku was freaking out 'cause he thought they'd reject him. Like, he's one of those alleyway kids and I guess he had to work his ass off to get here. So right when they thought it was totally hopeless? Zaraki himself went up there and made a case for 'im. It was pretty spectacular. Yumi just about batted his fake eyelashes right off." Renji paused and shoved the entire potato-covered-waffle-chunk in his mouth, swallowing hard. "Though it ain't like Ikkaku became a living saint after that."

"Oh?"

"He originally worked in the trauma clinic for about a week before they sent him back because of his 'bad attitude'," Renji stated, using his fingers as quotations. "Then Zaraki called up and said somethin' like he would take Ikkaku and make him fit to work here. An' everyone on our floor knew Ikkaku was screwed. So the bald bastard flaunts his way down to our floor with Yumi followin' him like a lost puppy."

Shuuhei put up a fork to pause Renji for a moment. "So was he hired alongside Yumichika?"

"Sure as hell was. Same graduating year and everything. They hired Yumi on the spot but he wasn't going anywhere without Ikkaku. I shoulda said so earlier. Anyway, Ikkaku decides to play as a badass and even stick his nose up around Zaraki. Then one day, he gets on Zaraki's last nerve and the big guy slammed him on a stretcher and told him if he didn't get his act together, he was gonna be the one in intensive care."

"Oh, I heard something about that. Didn't Dr. Zaraki almost get fired?"

"Yeah, but then Ikkaku stood up for him and said it was necessary. It was like a moment from a movie, the way it went. Now he's like the star performer of the ER or somethin' like that. Load 'a shit, if ya ask me."

A smirk formed on Shuuhei's face and he leaned over the table. "You sound kind of jealous, Abarai."

Renji leaned as far back as Shuuhei was leaning forward and made a disgusted expression. "What the hell do I have to be jealous of? I work with a guy so bald that it's blinding and a transsexual-in-the-making. There's a reason I wanna quit, ya know. It ain't even about the money."

This made Shuuhei raise an eyebrow. He pushed his now empty plate away and rested his hand on his propped up hand. "You want to quit?"

"Just the ER. It's not what I wanna do, I guess," Renji replied, swirling around his mashed potatoes with his fork with half-interest. "I mean, d'ya ever get tired of working in radiology?"

"Not really. I like my job. I spend more time there than I do at home."

There was a prolonged pause and Renji sighed, setting his fork down and pushing his plate forward for Shuuhei to collect along with his own. As Shuuhei discarded of the trash, Renji kept talking. "See, I wish I liked mine enough to want to spend more time there than here. But as it is right now, all I wanna do is sit around my apartment and not even get close to the parking lot. I'm kinda done with adrenaline rushes. They're only cool when you're like…twenty."

Shuuhei peeked around the corner as he began washing the forks off in the sink. The smirk had returned to his face. "Are you saying you're getting old?"

"No! Hell, I'm in my prime, Shuu! I just don't wanna wear myself out this early in the game, you know?"

"Not really," Shuuhei said, ducking back into the kitchen.

"Well, you're weird and just x-ray all day. All that radiation probably killed off your brain cells."

"Better than burning them off with adrenaline rushes. Anyway, where would you want to work?"

Renji sat and thought about this for a long moment, listening to the faint hissing of the faucet and clinking of utensils being washed. Briefly, he could hear Byakuya's voice in his head, saying, 'Do you like working there?' His breath caught in his throat and he physically winced. He had said yes to that question before, more unsure than positive. Or perhaps he just wanted to prove to Byakuya that he was capable of sticking with something instead of giving up and looking like the loser he believed Byakuya thought of him as. Slowly, he came to his conclusion. "I would work in neurosurgery, if I had a choice."


The meeting room seemed colder than usual, Sousuke Aizen noticed. The whitewashed, decoration-less walls didn't help the matter, and somewhere that he couldn't see, a radiator was desperately clicking to life. He pulled his wool cardigan tightly around him and adjusted his glasses, shuffling towards the seat labeled by a bronze plaque reading 'S. Aizen'.

On one side of his seat was a tired looking man with the most unusual tousled blue hair. His eyes were an equally odd shade of golden-brown, almost yellow in the fluorescent lighting. His labcoat was stained with splotches of questionable colors and the frayed blue embroidered name on the coat read 'M. Kurotsuchi, PhD.'

"Mayuri-san," Aizen greeted in a friendly tone, pulling his chair back and sitting down.

"Aizen," Mayuri replied stiffly, beginning to click a pen that sat beside a stack of papers on the table before him.

Aizen folded his hands on the table and glanced around the room. At the head of the table was an old man with a beard that almost went onto the table. His eyes could not be seen among the numerous wrinkles on his face, though he looked pleasant enough. The old man nodded to Aizen as he greeted him. "Glad you could join us, Sousuke. We are just waiting on Dr. Ukitake to join us and we may begin."

"I'm here, Yamamoto-sama!" called a voice from the doorway. Juushiro Ukitake loped into the room, a jovial smile on his face as he took a seat next to Toshiro Hitsugaya, who gave him a greeting that was about as friendly as the one Mayuri had given Sousuke.

"Very well," Yamamoto murmured in his rough, wheezing voice. "Thank you for attending this meeting, everyone. Dr. Sasakibe has provided you all with packets concerning the hospital's finances, programs, units, staff statistics, and topics that several of you brought up in meetings past. To start off, Dr. Kurotsuchi has asked that we discuss the finances for the research and development department, which is detailed in section five of the packet. Dr. Kurotsuchi, would you care to enlighten us?"

Mayuri cleared his throat and stood up, focusing his weight on one foot and giving him an awkward appearance, like one who was put together unevenly. "Yes, my assistant and I went over the projects we want to pursue, with our new theories and obviously, new medical developments. She gave me a total for how much this new research should cost the hospital. I'm willing to provide for the more menial costs, but I'd like the board to go over this."

"Very well," Yamamoto responded, looking down at his own sheet. "Your assistant provided very detailed information. Unless there is any immediate response to this subject, I think it would be best to give members of the board time to look over the information, and then give their answers next meeting. Is there anyone who would like to say anything?"

"Yeah," grumbled Zaraki, who stood up slowly and put his hands on the table. "Why the hell are we spending so much on this science shi—crap when my department doesn't have all the beds or equipment it needs? And Ichimaru, didn't you say somethin' the other day about outdated oxygen tanks?"

Gin, sitting on the other side of Hitsugaya, nodded slowly, as though considering something. His usual smile was tainted with a slight frown and he turned to Mayuri, propping his head up on his hand. "Dr. Kurotsuchi, does yer idea for this involve us bringin' any money into this hospital?"

The scientist nodded, though his glare was set on Zaraki who had since sat down and was responding with a heated glare of his own. Mayuri adjusted his labcoat as though it would make him any more presentable and nodded again. "In retrospect, yes it would. Other respectable scientific institutions would pay us for the results of our findings. Just as well, some of the discoveries we may make could benefit the medical world as a whole, which can turn out to be cost-effective, if you want to think that way."

"You say it may," Hitsugaya replied, casting a sidelong glance at Mayuri. "Are you not totally certain as to your scientific efficiency and ideas?"

"I'm positive, Dr. Hitsugaya. My life has been dedicated to the pursuit of science in all of its forms. I make no mistakes."

A white-haired man sitting on the side of Yamamoto adjusted his glasses and frowned. "That sort of thinking gets people in trouble, Dr. Kurotsuchi. This hospital is respected for the quality of its work, but we don't boast."

"Dr. Ishida," Mayuri said slowly, putting stress on every syllable. It was obvious the scientist was losing his patience. "I'm not boasting. I'm stating facts. There has not been a flaw in my work. Not one detail has escaped my eyes. Every experiment and finding is carefully documented by my team and I only pick the best, the brightest, and the most detail-savvy people to work under me. In my position, mistakes are not tolerated. I'm sure of my work and I am sure of this plan. I have made my assistant go over the math in the plan and even went as far to go over it myself, just to be sure. There isn't one yen that will be unaccounted for. Of this, I'm sure."

There was a prevailing silence over the board before Yamamoto spoke. "Dr. Kurotsuchi has stated his side, and as I have said before, we shall all go over this and discuss the matter in the next meeting. I am aware that we have other financial demands and needs from each department, and if I am correct, they are all in this packet. Now, is there anything else anyone would like to discuss?"

Aizen shifted in his seat, as though to hesitate, before raising his hand. Yamamoto looked to him and nodded in his direction, "Yes, Sousuke?"

As Kurotsuchi settled in his seat, Aizen stood up, his voice lowered in an attempt to shift the atmosphere of the room from something tense to something far more calming. "I understand it's frowned upon to bring matters of my patients in front of my co-workers, but as several of you are already aware, we have a most unusual situation regarding a comatose patient."

"I was about to say something about that," Retsu Unohana said softly.

Aizen nodded to her, "As I thought it best to do, Unohana-san." He turned back to face Yamamoto, eyes downcast for a moment. "Unohana-san, Ukitake-san, Zaraki-san, and I have all had a hand in taking care of two of the patients. One of them has a very high chance of recovery, as well as his family has already been notified and will be here in several weeks to retrieve him and take him back to an American hospital. It is the other one I am concerned about. Ah, Ukitake-san, you told me just the other day that you had information regarding his status?"

Ukitake glanced up to Aizen with a solemn expression before standing up, his voice coming out in a soft rasp. "As head of the Intensive Care Unit, in joint care with the Emergency Room, several of our nurses have run tests on the patient, one named Ulquiorra Schiffer. Unfortunately, as with all comatose patients, he is not responding to any outside stimuli, and we have evidence that has led us to believe that even if he should recover, the damage to certain parts of his brain are irreversible. Detailed reports have shown that his memory retention would be affected, as well as motor skills, vision, emotional capability, and perhaps vocal ability."

"Pretty straight up, the kid would probably rather be dead," Zaraki interrupted, leaning back in his chair. "We sent him through a CAT scan and an MRI, an' each time, the scans kept saying he's got about a much of a chance at survivin' as a mouse in a trap."

"This is true," Ukitake said lamentably. "I'm already aware we have had fatalities with head trauma, but that is not my current concern. My biggest concern is that since he is foreign-born, we contacted his family, and they want nothing to do with him. I do not believe this hospital has ever had a situation where a foreign-born patient was completely cut off from the family. The question then becomes…what are we going to do with him?"

There was a long, contemplative silence before Byakuya Kuchiki spoke, to the surprise of everyone in the meeting. "I would like to have a look at him," he said quietly. "Dr. Kyoraku and I are specialists when it comes to a situation like this. As to his situation, we cannot turn him away. It is hospital policy that no person in need of immediate and dire medical treatment be turned away for lack of funds or for situation of background. If he is to make a recovery, then we shall worry about this further."

"I agree," Shunsui Kyoraku quipped, a telltale smile on his face. "If the kid needs our help, then who's gonna say we can't help him?"

All eyes turned to Yamamoto, who kept his eyes trained on the edge of the table before nodding slowly, one hand wrenched firmly around his cane. "Indeed, the policy states this, and we shall continue his treatment until his state changes. Is this understood?"

There was a unanimous mumble of agreement around the table, which led both Ukitake and Aizen to take their seats, confident that the predicament was solved. The rest of the meeting persisted on slowly, as usual, but the entire duration of it, Aizen just listened to the idle clicking of the radiator.


Ikkaku had gone through a persistently difficult day. As soon as he had arrived at work, he had been assaulted with a packet flung at his face from a tech who was racing by, half-screaming that he had someone with grand mal seizures in one of the rooms and the person had been choking on their own vomit last the tech had seen. That situation had gone by about as smoothly as an unpaved road, with Ikkaku having to change his scrubs twice and having to nurse a large bruise on his hand from holding the convulsing man down as another seizure attacked him.

After that, he had encountered a screaming woman holding a tired-looking four-year-old girl, claiming that she believed her daughter had ingested antifreeze. In truth, the girl had found a bottle of blue flavored-water and was just ready for a nap. The woman's defense was along the lines of: "B-but I saw on the TV! The boy…he drank some antifreeze a-and they took him to…to the hospital!"

"Ma'am," Ikkaku said, rubbing his temples desperately. "If your daughter had really ingested antifreeze in the amount you say, she would be screaming bloody murder or be dead by now." The woman, somewhat in a frustrated shock, left the hospital with her daughter happily snoozing in her arms.

Shortly after that, he had a sort of gauntlet of high-degree fevers, broken legs, asthma attacks, and a displaced hip. However, nothing prepared him for what a pale-faced, horrified-looking Yumichika had to report to him.

"Necrotizing fasciitis," Yumichika said quietly, as through trying to contain panic.

"…What?"

"Bee sting. Necrotizing fasciitis," Yumichika said a little louder, holding out a clipboard to Ikkaku. There was the evidence, staring up at him with shaky handwriting claiming anaphylactic shock and persisting necrosis in the right shoulder and neck. Obtaining necrotizing fasciitis was about as rare as finding a needle in a haystack, and what was rarer was the chance at survival. In his memory, Ikkaku had only dealt with anything necrosis-related during his first year, where a patient came in with a persisting case of it on his leg, which was promptly amputated, thus saving the man's life. This situation, however, would not prove to be so easy.

"Is the necrosis nearing any arteries?" he asked, praying for a decent answer.

Yumichika looked down at the tiles and made a vague gesture to his neck. "Near the carotid arteries and the jugular veins."

Like a regular animal of prey, the bacteria was aiming for the neck, and from how it sounded, the prey had already been seized. There was a lot to think about in a short amount of time, and there was the ultimate decision for Ikkaku to make. Either he could attempt to slow the bacteria's progress, which ran an extremely high risk of complete failure, or he could administer a numbing anesthetic so the patient could pass away, relatively free of pain. Both options had negative consequences, no matter how Ikkaku approached it. There was death snarling at one end, and an extremely painful existence on the other. It came down to seeing the patient, in the end.

Ikkaku donned the familiar surgeon's mask, securing a pair of rubber gloves on his hands and walking in to the semi-quarantined room where a group of buzzing techs and nurses tried their best to do something for the man on the bed. Ikkaku could smell him before he saw him, even with the mask covering his nose. It was the sickly-sweet stench of rotting flesh, which was forming a myriad of colors on the man's exposed shoulder and neck. The man couldn't have been in his thirties yet, his eyes wide and rolling back in his head, be it from pain or shock. The necrosis made a long, thick trail of purplish skin, flanked by green and yellow ridges and finally going down into dark red pits of flesh already rotted away, revealing muscle and tendon. The wounds were already deep, and the towels that had been tucked underneath him were already completely stained with blood.

"Madarame-san!" one of the nurses shouted over the tumult, running over to him with panic written all across her face.

Ikkaku at first was unsure how to respond. The scene looked surreal. He had seen people come in looking like the only thing keeping them attached to life was the very fleshy thread of a tendon, or by the tiny capillaries running underneath their skin. This man had nothing except some sort of wild will to live. However, will could only last so long before there was nothing left except an infected body with nothing inside. The decision was all too clear.

"Get a sample of the tissue for the lab," he said quickly before shaking his head. "And then start up an intravenous anesthetic drip. I don't care what you give him as long as it's strong."

The nurse looked horrified for a second, her hands gripping her scrub pants so tightly that her knuckles were turning white. "He's going to…?"

"Yeah, the man's practically dead already. The least we can do is make it a little less painful for him."

She looked torn and hesitant, turning her head to look at the patient but deciding against it for the obvious horrors that took place behind her. "Yes," she finally replied in a soft voice, dashing out of the room.

Beyond that was a blur, of sample-taking and bags of a clear barbiturate that served as an IV. There were the quieting moans of the dying man, the wild chatter of the nurses and technicians, the erratic chirping of the heart monitor, then…a flat green line. It didn't waver or taper, but showed its ugly face at Ikkaku, like a sneer from Death itself. He said nothing for a long while, only shaking his head when a nurse went to fetch a defibrillator. "There's no use," he said. "No use."

That's how he felt as he walked into the narrow, shuddering waiting room, where the pale, frightened faces of an older woman, a younger one, and a young boy waited, eyes gleaming with hope or perhaps foreboding. "I'm very sorry," Ikkaku said quietly, feeling so horribly scripted. "There was nothing more we could do for him." Then came the mourning and the voiceless cries that he never wanted to hear again.

It seemed like weeks when he finally slumped into a chair in the break room, when it had only been an hour. His head hit his folded arms on the table and he closed his eyes, trying to fight back the persisting feeling that he hadn't done enough. He felt angry and enraged, perhaps even betrayed somehow. What would Zaraki have done? Or even Renji, as stupid as he seemed sometimes? Why weren't they behind him the whole time? He knew he shouldn't blame them, as in all honesty, no one was at fault except the bacteria of nature's evil devices. However, it never stopped the free flow of guilt that came with every lost life he witnessed. He could stick his finger in the dam, but the water would flow out of another hole. There was so little he could do, in the end. As Zaraki had said once, 'It's almost useless trying to save their lives. Everyone's gonna die eventually.'

There was a shuffling behind him and a feminine scent of jasmine and something a little headier descended on him. "Yumi," he muttered against one arm.

A chair squeaked beside him as Yumichika sat down, propping his head up on one elbow and tapping his manicured fingernails idly against the Formica tabletop. "So, where's the Lucky-Lucky Dance?"

"The guy died," Ikkaku responded, not moving.

"Mhmm, I know. So where's the Dance?"

Ikkaku looked up at him, nonplussed. "Th'hell are you goin' on about?"

A knowing smile appeared on Yumichika's face and he ceased his table tapping, instead examining his nails. "I have a theory, Ikkaku-kun. Care to hear it?"

"Why not? Not like you'd stop if I said no."

"Good boy. Now, I know I didn't feel any better about that man than you did, and when I saw him, I knew what was going to happen. However," he paused, holding up one finger in Ikkaku's face. "I believe that the man was very lucky to have someone like you take care of him."

"He died," Ikkaku repeated, the skin of his forehead furrowing to make up for his lack of eyebrows.

"Yes, I know. Now let me finish. He was lucky because you didn't waste time with what even he knew was the end. Had anyone else done it, they probably would have tried to quarantine the spread, and you can only guess how futile that would have been. He was lucky for being treated by someone who got rid of his pain in his final moments. Wouldn't you feel lucky, too?"

Ikkaku remained silent, his head tilting very slightly, either in confusion or for Yumichika to continue, which he happily did.

"And you, my darling bald friend, were lucky because that man couldn't have passed away more peacefully in anyone's care. You're so lucky he didn't die a screaming mess."

"That's…kinda harsh, Yumi," Ikkaku said, but the faintest hint of a smile was in his voice.

"Mmm, harsh, but all too true, don't you think?"

The bald man remained quiet again before weakly putting his hands above his head, curling his fingers into fists, and shaking them back and forth with a slight wiggle. Then he put his arms back on the table, his grin askew on his face. "Better?"

"Hm, it could have a bit more gratitude in it."

Ikkaku resumed the position and couldn't hold back a quiet snort. "Lucky, lucky."