It had been the first day that he had been allowed up since Aizen's betrayal. It would still be several days before he could be released from the hospital and he felt frustrated by his own inability to do anything. In spite of Unohana's reassurances and insistence that he was lucky to be alive, he did not feel that way. Instead, all he felt was that his body had betrayed him as he had made his way around the Fourth division courtyard, having to stop and catch his breath from such a short walk.
The walk had left him exhausted, drained, and he had slept for nearly an hour before Unohana had come to check on him, taking care to keep the two twigs he had plucked tucked gently underneath where his folded captain's haori lay.
"You are recovering unexpectedly quickly."
The doctor's smile seemed sincere, and she certainly did not sound patronizing, but his expression must have given away how he felt.
"I am aware that the progress may not feel like a lot, especially with Hitsugaya-teicho already beginning to resume some basic duties after his own similar attack. But, Kuchiki-teicho, may I remind you that you received a direct blow with a shikai attack to mere millimeters of your heart and both chakra points rather than merely a blow from the zanpakuto itself to the nearby region. That in itself would do damage. In addition, Hitsugaya-teicho was in bankai form while you were not, which decreases the protective level of your own reiatsu. It is only natural that you are recovering at this pace."
"As you pointed out, Unohana-teicho, the injuries are healings rather faster than you expected. How much longer should I expect to be here?"
The doctor bit her lip and turned her blue eyes down for a moment before meeting his gaze directly again. "Honestly, I do not know. Anyone else may very well not have survived this to be able to recover. Now, if there is nothing else, I will need to see other patients yet. You may wish to try to take another short walk if you feel you are able to."
He nodded in agreement hearing the doctor's sigh and murmured comment to herself.
"So many people hurt for what?"
His own thoughts lately had mirrored that. How many people had Aizen hurt in his attempt? And for what? No one had told him yet. He was still too injured for them to expect him to take such responsibility back, sending only the bare minimum of paperwork necessary for him to complete. The others were being sent to his vice-captain, who while also injured had not suffered a critical enough blow to keep him hospitalized nearly as long. Although that miracle had not been for lack of trying on Aizen's part.
Or his own. Even in the quiet of his own head, Byakuya was loathe to admit his own part in the events that had happened. It didn't change the fact that he had though. It was his own stubbornness and pride, his own refusal to see or do anything differently from how he had felt that they should be that had allowed this. Oh yes, there were his vows, but there had still been things he could have done without breaking his word. Arguing more on Rukia's behalf. Insisting on speaking with other captains, in particular Ukitake-teicho about the severity of the punishment. Kept Gin from tormenting Rukia while the guards were transporting her. Offered assistance, condolences, or even just the use of an extra holding cell when Hinamori-fuiteicho had found what they had all believed was Aizen's body.
What had happened to the vice-captain of the Fifth Division bothered him more than he wanted to admit. The girl was roughly Rukia's age, a bit younger when he thought about it in fact. She had entered the Academy only five years of Hitsugaya, who while had entered only a few years after he had adopted Rukia, was most likely her contemporary in age as well. And a close friend of that entire group: Hitsugaya, of course from growing up together, but also Hisagi, Renji, Kira, and Rukia. That in itself he should have realized, should have taken into account when he had decided how to deal with everything that had happened since they had received the orders to retrieve Rukia and bring her back to Soul Society.
And with none of what he had done had he taken into account just what he had promised in his vows, what they meant in spirit, or even what he believed himself.
In short, he had acted nothing like a captain, at least by his own view of his actions. And that had been something that the traitors were only too ready to take advantage of.
It was not a far walk to the vice-captain's hospital room, not even as weak as he was. Carefully, he kept the twigs tucked carefully in the sleeve pocket of his robe, not wanting to loosen the blossoms from the fragile stems he had found them on. He knocked before entering and noticed that the room was empty, except for a doctor at the girl's bedside. With relief he noticed that it was not the poor doctor who he had had arrested for helping the ryoka and his vice-captain to rescue his sister. Instead it was Kotetsu Isane, the division's vice-captain. She greeted him quickly, looking slightly worried at seeing him, even out of uniform as he was, nothing to mark him as a noble or a captain.
"Finish what you are doing. I had only come to see how she was recovering."
The doctor nodded, not seeming anymore reassured by his comment. "Hai, Kuchiki-teicho. It's fine. I'm almost done anyhow. There is not much we can do right now. It already looks like it will be a good few months before she recovers. If she recovers. I should be going. Gomen ne."
She walked past him bowing politely, and he came in, quietly taking a seat next to the hospital bed. In a way, she was the easiest out of any of the people injured in the fighting for him to see.
She was the only one who had tried to delude herself as to what she had been doing as much as he had.
And even then she had had help to get herself to the point the had fallen.
"I brought you a present," he told the woman hesitantly, unsure of how to speak to her with the monitors and respirator hooked up to help her stay alive. "Honestly, if you were awake, I do not know if I would have come this way. But I owe you an apology, at least for my own part in this. Hopefully, you will wake up long enough to see them before they fade."
He put the tiny sprig of early plum blossom and an equally tiny branch of cherry blossoms into a vase near the side of the bed. He had bent over to the side of the chair long enough to grab a pen to write anyone who came to visit a note to explain the flowers when a familiar voice stopped him.
"Don't write anything."
He looked up to see Hitsugaya-teicho leaning against the doorway. The young captain didn't look angry with him. In fact, the only emotion he could see on the other man's face was a bone weary tiredness.
He straightened and stood, bowing politely to greet the other captain.
"My apologies. I should go."
"I do not mind you being here to visit her. I don't know why you came, but if I minded, I would not have simply stood and watched."
Byakuya knew that was true, knowing as most of Soul Society did by now of the fight that had occurred between the younger captain and Gin, a fight in which he had been forced to keep his best friend from attacking him. And of course there was the fight with Aizen as well that had nearly killed both him and Hinamori. No, if he had not minded him being in the room, he would have done quite a bit more than said so. The man's words were true.
"She heard you, you know. She cannot respond, but that doesn't mean that she doesn't hear. I just- Aizen left her that letter before he left, and I don't want her to think that he-."
"I will let her know about the flowers. She'd be happy to know that you remembered the name of her zanpakuto was an early plum tree."
Byakuya nodded and left. He was sure that the other captain had picked up on the other flower in the vase and why he had left that as well.
A plain sprig of cherry blossoms, this one from the white blossomed cherry right outside the gate.
The signature of his own zanpakuto, Senbonzakura.
His own way of apologizing for his pride. He only hoped it would not fade before she could see it.