13

Recovery

Teal eyes opened to a white room. Hitsugaya sat up, a slight pain in his abdomen. He looked down, seeing bandages. Captain Unohana entered the room. A soft smile was on her face.

"I'm glad to see you are awake."

He looked around dazedly. "What happened?"

"Lieutenant Matsumoto told us everything about your adventure to Hueco Mundo. Aizen is dead."

Hitsugaya looked at her in disbelief. "What? Who killed him?"

"Your accomplice," she said, half-jokingly. "Ulquiorra Schiffer. Unfortunately, it also cost him. He is not very well, but in stable condition."

"What about Matsumoto?" the boy continued.

"She is perfectly fine and is currently in Gin Ichimaru's room. Ichigo and Rukia are also well, but have been placed in recovery. The other Arrancar, Nel Tu, is also being treated."

"You're helping the Arrancar?" he wondered. "I thought…"

"They took part in defeating Aizen, even if it hurt them. We are willing to give them a second chance. Also, I would like to inform you that Captain Ukitake is here to see you."

Hitsugaya nodded. Unohana left, Ukitake taking her place a minute later. He shared the same soft smile that she did.

"How are you, Captain Hitsugaya?"

"Better," Hitsugaya answered.

"I expect you want to hear the full story of what happened?" the man assumed.

"Yes."

"After you were rendered unconscious," Ukitake started, "Ulquiorra attacked Aizen, using a second release form that was previously unknown to anyone other than Ichigo, Orihime, Uryu, and Nel. According to everyone, he was definitely a force to be reckoned with." Ukitake laughed a little here. "He killed Aizen and then collapsed, apparently having overexerted himself. Grimmjow stopped fighting with Ichigo and left Las Noches, unseen after that. Kaeliel Aratashi chose the same fate. Apparently, two Espada by the names of, I believe, Ira and Ari Tenta, came by afterward and offered to help. They said something about having wondered if Aizen was really as powerful as he was said to be and that it was now proven false. They opened Gargantua and helped carry all of you back to the Urahara shop before disappearing as well. Fourth division was sent to cart you all back here to be healed. As for Gin and Tousen; Tousen is being held in a cell and Gin will be joining him as soon as he's healed."

"And everything was told to Soul Society?"

"Yes."

Hitsugaya looked downcast. "I take it I won't be a captain for much longer, then."

"On the contrary," Ukitake said. "The Head Captain is willing to overlook the fact that you harbored Ulquiorra or that you ran an unauthorized mission. Instead, he will be giving an award to everyone who participated and giving the general public an edited version of what went on. Only the captains will ever be told what really occurred."

"What is he planning on doing with the Arrancar?"

"He's thinking of exiling them to the human world, with strictly authorized and escorted visits to Soul Society if need be."

Hitsugaya leaned back on the bed, taking everything in. It seemed to be the best way the situation could have possibly turned out.

"Captain Unohana said that you were free to go as soon as you were awake, but to take it easy seeing as you're still healing," Ukitake informed. "Would you like to see the others?"

Orihime leaned on Ulquiorra's bed. He was still unconscious. Strangely enough, his helmet and Hollow hole vanished again. They'd done so the moment he was out of Hueco Mundo. Around his neck hung the charm Urahara had given him to help control his Hollow side.

Hitsugaya came through the door accompanied by Ukitake, temporarily startling her. At first, she was afraid he would tell her something horrible about Ulquiorra, but he instead just stood beside her, gazing at the limp form.

"Orihime," Ukitake addressed, "maybe you should go visit Ichigo and Rukia."

Taking the subtle hint, she left them alone.

Hitsugaya studied the man in front of him; all the familiar facial features, the slight build, everything. Ukitake, after having watched the small boy gaze at his older brother, decided to speak up. It was time to get this out of the way.

"I think I have something that you might want to see." Ukitake pulled a folder from his robe and handed it to Hitsugaya.

"It's a file," Hitsugaya noted, flipping through the pages. A picture fell out. Hitsugaya moved to grab it and froze. Shock fully registered itself on his face. The photo was old and most likely taken by special Shinigami methods. In it were two boys. The older had shaggy dark hair and teal eyes. Next to him was a younger boy, maybe six or seven, with the same teal eyes, but spikier dark hair. The older boy's smile was gentle as he ruffled the hair of the younger.

It was a picture of him and Katashi.

Hitsugaya glanced at Ukitake, who nodded at him. "Keep reading."

Hitsugaya learned that they'd been spiritually gifted. Ukitake had been sent to watch over them. Their father had been killed by a Hollow. Katashi took on a role of responsibility and was seen trying to protect Toshiro from spirits. Then, Katashi died and became a Hollow. About a month later, Toshiro died as well, but was sent to Soul Society. He came to the last page. It was dated today. It said, "Toshiro Hitsugaya became a child prodigy and the youngest captain in history: 10th division. Katashi Hitsugaya was transformed into an Arrancar by Sousuke Aizen and given the name of Ulquiorra Schiffer: Cuatra Espada. He later killed Aizen and was no longer recognized as an enemy by Soul Society."

Hitsugaya looked between the file, Ukitake, and Ulqui-Katashi. He didn't know what to feel. Ulquiorra really was his brother.

"Katashi already knew," Ukitake assured. "Given what Matsumoto told me, I figured you had suspicions as well."

Guiltily, Hitsugaya nodded. He turned back to Katashi, putting a gentle hand on his bare arm. The man stirred. His teal eyes fluttered open.

"Katashi?" Hitsugaya asked.

Ulquiorra allowed a small smile to light his face. "Hello again, Toshiro."

It took one day for Ichigo and Rukia to be allowed out, two for Nel. Unohana kept Ulquiorra for longer. According to her, his reiatsu kept rising and dropping at drastic levels and he needed plenty of rest until it evened out. Ulquiorra personally thought it was because they were trying to figure out the complexity of how he'd not only come back from the dead, but regained his Arrancar powers and was able to beat Aizen. To them, it seemed impossible.

Ulquiorra already knew how he'd come back. Ukitake told him that bizarre things could happen because of promises. Ulquiorra had promised Toshiro, "I'll never leave you, little brother. I promise on my heart." When Ulquiorra became a Hollow and advanced into an Arrancar, he lost that heart. But when he stood there, becoming nothing but ashes, reaching out to Orihime, he found it again. Those two people, he realized, were the reason he came back and was the way he was. Yet, he couldn't regret any of it. Only that it hadn't happened sooner.

"You look bored," Toshiro commented, entering the room.

"How long has it been?" Ulquiorra asked.

"Four days."

He tried to act like he didn't care, keeping an emotionless mask, which was a habit he'd retained from being an Espada. It was harder to do around Toshiro. It melted away at the sight of his little brother, alive and safe.

"Interesting," Ulquiorra ended up muttering.

"Unohana is thinking that maybe tomorrow you'll be allowed up, but she doesn't want you roaming fourth division yet. At least not without an escort."

"If I sit still any longer I'm likely to blow something up just out of sheer boredom."

Toshiro stifled a snicker. "I'll talk to her about that. Although, the real reason I was here was to say goodnight. I have to head back to tenth division. I'll be back tomorrow."

"Goodnight, Toshiro," Ulquiorra bid.

"Goodnight, Katashi."

True to her word, Unohana allowed Ulquiorra to get out of bed the next day, but forced him to keep the white hospital robe. If he wanted to leave the room, someone trustworthy had to be with him.

Ulquiorra started getting "visitors" around 10 am. Nel was his first. Despite the fact that she knew he did not like to be touched, she burst into the room and hugged the life out of him. His first plan was to wait it out, but after over a minute passed, he muttered, "Could you stop?"

She backed off and had the decency to look embarrassed. "Sorry, I guess I got a little excited. I heard you killed Aizen."

"Everyone helped kill Aizen," Ulquiorra corrected.

"But you were the one who gave the final blow," she said. "Usually, I'm opposed to fighting, but I agree that we definitely had a reason this time. Now we're all free."

"Partially," Ulquiorra added.

Only half hearing him, she kept rambling on. "They said I could live in the human world and I could bring Pesche and Dondochakka with me and we could get jobs and an apartment and we wouldn't have to live in Hueco Mundo anymore. It'd be like we were human."

"It seems you've planned everything out," Ulquiorra noted.

"I have," she confirmed. "I've wanted to do that for years. I'm thinking that we could go back to school and make some friends. Maybe even hang out with Ichigo." A happy tear slipped down her face, but she quickly brushed it away. "Anyway, what are you going to do?"

"I've made no plans."

"You're boring," she teased.

The door opened, Orihime standing in it. Nel smiled.

"I think I can leave now," the female Arrancar decided, grinning at the red-head as she left.

"Hi, Ulquiorra," Orihime greeted shyly.

"Woman," he answered.

She came forward slowly. "It looks like you're all better now, huh?"

"I believe so."

"I'm glad…you came back," she admitted.

He examined her face intently. "Is there something you wish to ask?"

She blushed, averting her eyes. "I couldn't help but hear your conversation with Nel. So, you don't know what you're going to do after you get out of here?"

"I've been told that I will most likely be exiled to the human world, if that's what you were wondering."

"Where?"

"How should I know?"

Silence filled the room. Orihime refused to look at him for some reason or another. Ulquiorra sighed.

"I cannot read your mind, woman."

She blushed deeper. "Oh, it's nothing. Um, I'm glad you're okay now. Maybe I'll see you later."

Before she left, Ulquiorra decided he needed to say one last thing. "Thank you…Orihime."

A wide smile split her face and she tried to stop herself from crying. "For what?"

"More than you know."

"Then, you're welcome."

She exited, almost crashing into Toshiro while she ran down the hall, still smiling. The small captain raised an eyebrow as he walked in.

"Should I ask?"

"It was nothing," Ulquiorra assured.

"No matter how much I remember, I don't think I'll ever understand you, Katashi."

"Siblings aren't meant to be understood."

"Speaking of which," Toshiro continued, "I think we should probably keep that between us and Captain Ukitake."

"I agree," Ulquiorra said. "I cannot imagine the reactions we would get if we announced we were related, much less brothers."

"Holy crap," a new voice said. "No way."

As it turned out, several people were coming to visit Ulquiorra at that particular moment. In the front was Shunsui Kyouraku, Ukitake accompanying him. Then there was Byakuya Kuchiki, Rukia by his side. Ichigo stood behind them, having been strictly warned. Renji came because everyone else was coming. Unohana was also with them to personally make sure they did nothing disgraceful or overstress Ulquiorra. She hadn't wanted them all to come at the same time, but the group just grew as they walked down the halls. However, she had given a big "no" to Kenpachi Zaraki and Mayuri Kurotshuchi. Those two were not getting within one hundred feet of the building. She'd thought this meeting would at least test how far Ulquiorra had recovered. Now, she was starting to regret her choice.

The one who had spoken was Ichigo. In reaction, both of the brothers whipped their heads to see the large group. The two greeted them with blank faces, the guilt in their eyes clear. Neither could think of a single reply. In the end, they just averted their gazes to the floor.

"Actually," Shunsui said, the first to speak up, "I can kind of see it. You both have the same eyes and, no offense, but you're both kind of small. Plus, neither of you know how to smile from what I've heard."

Ukitake chuckled. "I take it you were planning to keep it a secret."

"Yes," they muttered, still not looking anyone in the eye.

Ulquiorra decided to get it out of the way and bowed to the little group. "I am Ulquiorra Schiffer, previously known as Katashi Hitsugaya."

Shunsui, easily the best at taking all of this in, said, "So I guess now you're more like Katashi-Ulquiorra Hitsugaya-Schiffer."

Ulquiorra looked at the man in semi-amusement. "That is one way of looking at it, I suppose."

Hitsugaya interrupted. "But I believe that is not the reason all of you are here?"

"Nah," Renji said. "We just wanted to see the guy who defeated Aizen."

"This was just a bonus, Shunsui added.

Ulquiorra looked a little guilty for a moment and tried to hide it. The air in the room started to grow colder.

Laughing, Ukitake suggested, "Why don't we come back later?"

Visiting hours were officially over and it was starting to get dark outside. Ulquiorra sat on the edge of the bed, not wanting to go to sleep yet. A knock sounded on the window. Looking over, Ulquiorra saw Ichigo Kurosaki hanging on the ledge. Ulquiorra got up and went over to him.

"Give me one reason I should not push you off," Ulquiorra deadpanned.

"Relax, I'm not here to annoy you," Ichigo replied.

Ulquiorra thought that Ichigo was already failing at that, but nonetheless backed away so that the Shinigami could enter. He hopped off the ledge and leaned against the wall. For a second, he just looked at Ulquiorra, but then he asked, "So you guys are actually related?"

"I believe we've stated that multiple times already," Ulquiorra answered.

"Was that why you freaked out when he got hurt?"

"I did not 'freak out'," the pale man denied.

"You went total Hollow on Aizen."

"Is there a point to this interrogation?" Ulquiorra demanded.

Ichigo shrugged. "I guess I just wanted to say that I sort of understood the feeling."

"How so?"

Ichigo smiled lightly. "I have two little sisters. Yuzu and Karin. They're about Toshiro's age. If they were the ones being hurt like that, I probably would've gone full-Hollow, too."

"Why are you telling me this?"

"Because of the look on your face when Renji commented about wanting to see who defeated Aizen."

"…Kurosaki, you are intolerable."

"I get that a lot," Ichigo admitted before jumping back out the window. "See ya."

Still, Ulquiorra felt a little more at peace after that.

Ichigo landed on the ground. Rukia stood by, smirking with arms folded and that all-knowing look on her face.

"I thought you absolutely despised Ulquiorra," she taunted.

"Yeah, well, I guess we have one thing in common."

Her smirk pulled wider. "You know, out of everything your big mouth has run out, there was always one thing I remembered. 'Do you know why big brothers are born first? It's so they can protect the little brothers and sisters that come after them.' I guess that still applies, huh?"

Ichigo shrugged and walked away. "Whatever."

Rukia looked between the orange-haired boy and Ulquiorra's window. Smiling, she dashed after Ichigo.

Toshiro and Katashi/Ulquiorra both stood in front of the Urahara shop clad in gigai. Toshiro had just come to "escort" Ulquiorra back to the human world and make sure everything was taken care of. Now that everything was set, Toshiro was getting ready to leave.

"I'll be sent back in about a month," Toshiro informed.

"Hopefully I will survive that long," Ulquiorra quipped. "It might be difficult with Kurosaki here."

"Just be glad they're not locking you in a permanent gigai anymore."

"It's not as if I will need to do much that would require using any power."

"Then I'll be leaving," Toshiro said.

Urahara fanned himself and rolled his eyes. "Decades of being separated and all you say is; 'Then I'll be leaving.'"

Hitsugaya scowled at the man, but stopped when he felt arms around him. Hesitantly, he returned Katashi's hug.

"Don't go and get yourself killed again," Katashi muttered.

"I think that applies more to you," Toshiro retorted, but smirked. "Goodbye, Katashi."

"Goodbye, Toshiro."

A camera flashed, capturing the moment forever.

Just a quick note.

Venganza means "revenge" in Spanish. Venganza is Kaeliel's zanpaktō.

Iluminai is based off of the word "illuminate"; "iluminar" in Spanish. This is Ira's zanpaktō.

Oscuro is Spanish for "dark." This is Ari's zanpaktō.

Well, I hope you enjoyed the story. Thanks to all of you for reading!

Update: the sequel is up. It is called "Remembering the Heart."