Author's Note: This is one of my random after shots which isn't my best introduction to Bleach writing, but chapter 364 left me very depressed. There are major spoilers for the latest chapter. I do not own Bleach, and everything in this is simply speculation. Please read, enjoy, and review. Constructive criticism is always welcome.

Falling

He did not notice the pain until he heard the startled intake of breath from Kyoraku. His eyes had caught sight of the bloodied hand near his chest, but there was just something so wrong about it being there that his brain hadn't accepted what he was seeing. The pressure from the new monstrosity that had distracted him was lessening as the boy behind him laughed slightly. Ukitake could guess that the hole in his chest would amuse the one that put it there, and with his senses on full alert now that the pain was burning its way across his body he could see the corner of Kyoraku's sleeve flutter somewhere beside him.

'No, Shunsui, focus on the others.' The shock of the shot to his already battered lungs was slowing his body. 'Do not make my mistake.' But his neck refused to turn and his mouth refused to move as he sensed the beginning of Stark's cero. He could only hear the shot. 'Shunsui, forgive me.' The feeling of his constant companion falling with him to the earth strengthened his still beating heart, but his body refused to obey his commands. Staring at the blur of greens and greys that would welcome his body soon, Ukitake braced his body for impact and finally managed to tilt his head toward Kyoraku's falling form. The other captain's eyes were closed and his shoulder decimated by the close range cero. The bloodied captained tried to turn more to the right towards his friend. Ah, he was used to constant pain in his chest, but this was new. It was almost refreshing.

"Jyuushiro, Shunsui!!"

It was the scream of the commander-general that stopped his brain with guilt. The first day of combat when Kyoraku had laughed at the old man's offer of dueling and Ukitake had shushed him with a smile and a wave of a hand was the day they had learned their greatest lesson. Each had received a sharp rap on the head with the base of the staff as they smiled at each other jokingly.

"You must not allow anything to distract you from your enemy. Your opponent must be the only thought in your mind, and if you are fighting on a battlefield of hundreds then you must sense where you are in relation to those around you. You must react in a second." Ukitake's eyes widened as the staff fell on their shoulders' again. "And you must not allow yourselves to be distracted if a comrade falls." The two had just glanced at each other as the older man had turned his back. The art of silently communicating had been their own personal talent since the first month of classes.

'That won't be a problem if we never fall.'

'Fighting back to back will never leave us open.'

Yamamoto had not denied their request for space to practice on off days, and he had welcomed their request to fight together in classes when they proved their worth as separate combatants. He had just not expected that they would beat their other classmates singlehandedly in two weeks. The first week they had spent by only fight each other. Yamamoto had only smiled in class that day and beckoned them forward to fight him together. It was this new sense of partnership among the future leaders that would change and strengthen Soul Society. But neither of that had known that then.

Ukitake chastised himself again for this daydream distraction as he fell and glanced at Kyoraku hoping for some sign of life. The ground could only be ten seconds away. One eye barely open, Kyoraku managed to tilt the left side of his mouth upwards into a half smile. Ukitake's eyes widened.

'This is gonna hurt'

'I am sorry, Shunsui.'

'When we hit the ground let's call it even.'

'Will you live?'

'If I do you'll be the second to know.'

'I will try to remain awake to help you.'

'You just worry about that hole in your chest. It looks pretty serious.'

'Mm, a necessary evil to win over the attention of the lovely Unohana.'

'Bastard.'

'Heal up and we'll be back to back after this.'

'I knew we forgot something, Jyuushiro.'

Ukitake gripped his sword as he hit the ground. What an awful mistake, but they had paid the price. He coughed against the shattered stone and shuddered. The energy left in his body, as exhausted as it was from the wound, focused on his chest to staunch the bleeding and ease his breathing. He had learned many tricks from his days bedridden in the healing bay. They would only save him for so long though. He coughed again.

They could only fall so far, but they would fall and rise together.

-END-