A/N: I've had this oneshot kicking around for a while now - it was just missing an ending, and I finally stopped being lazy and gave it one. First time writing Unohana, Ukitake, or, as is the case here, the two of them together, so concrit would be appreciated.
Spoilers: Up to manga chapter 389 (Winged Eagles 2)
Disclaimer: Bleach belongs to Kubo, I'm just playing with his stuff.
The first thing a combat medic learns at the Academy is how to work triage.
Any shinigami worth their salt possesses the ability to sense reiatsu and judge its strength. Medics train this ability until they can feel reiatsu and judge its pain. Using this, they can tell the severity of a wound and categorize it – minor, major, life-threatening – all the pain placed on a scale of one to ten and treated accordingly.
Retsu does this better than anyone. She is the best, and has been for a long time, and she has worked triage countless times before.
The moment she steps through the Gargantua into the fake Karakura town, she feels. And because she is the best, it takes her a mere moment to cycle through and rank the many wounded souls surrounding her.
An ache in her chest, as if there's a hole where there shouldn't be, and she gives Jyuushiro (Jyuushiro – ) a nine out of ten. A dull pain across her hips, a strange sense of detachment from her lower half, awards Sarugaki full marks and a victory in a contest no one wants to win. Retsu begins to shunpo towards the fallen Vaizard.
She knows her duty, and she will not forsake it for anything. Not even him. Jyuushiro needs her, but Sarugaki needs her most and so to Sarugaki she will go. There is no hesitation in her steps, and before long she spots red and white and blonde, surrounded by the soft orange glow of kidou barriers, and she focuses, readies herself.
But she still feels the ache of a hole in her chest, and it belongs to no one but her.
A shock of white hair, a nervous smile, the white and red uniform of an Academy student. "Er, yes, that's me." His voice is kind, with an underlying strength to it that she can't help but be surprised by, considering his medical record. She smiles, and unlike with some patients, she does not have to force it.
"My name is Unohana Retsu. I am the 12th seat of the Medical Corps. If you would please follow me."
She assesses Sarugaki's situation quickly.
"Ushoda-san, you may remove your barriers now. Please bring her lower half here."
The gentle, pink-haired giant immediately does as she asks, and as his barrier fades the blood starts seeping out from Sarugaki's torso. Shock has constricted the smaller blood vessels, but the larger veins and arteries are pumping out alarming amounts of Sarugaki's life. Ushoda returns, gently placing Sarugaki's severed lower body in its proper place, and Retsu's kneels down, ignoring the blood that soaks into her haori, her hands erupting into a haze of green fire as she gauges the damage. Ushoda's barriers have preserved the original state of the tissue, blood vessels, and nerve endings - since it was a clean cut, she could, if she had the time, make Sarugaki good as new.
But that kind of healing would take hours, and
there's a hole in his chest
she doesn't have hours. She is working triage, and that means her job is not to make sure that Sarugaki will walk again but only to ensure that she won't bleed to death waiting for this battle to end.
Ushoda hovers nervously, his one arm swinging back and forth in an obvious show of unease. She considers telling him to leave – fear is bad for the patient – but she will require his skills again soon and perhaps the presence of a familiar face will do Sarugaki some good.
Not that Sarugaki is conscious enough to appreciate it. Her eyes are barely open, hooded with pain as she pants for breath, and she stares at nothing.
"Can you hear me, Sarugaki-san?" Retsu asks, and there is no response.
The room is crowded, hot, and reeks of blood and sweat. Healers rush back and forth, yells fill the air – some are shouted orders, others shouts of pain. She can hear Kazuya-taicho bellowing for more bandages, Hiratobi-san yelling at one of the rank and file to hold some poor soul's guts in. She ignores all this, filtering it out automatically and focusing on her own patient.
Ukitake is unconscious, his eyes closed and his breathing laboured. His white hair falls several inches below his shoulders, and strands of it are painted red with his own blood, courtesy of the wound that stretches from his right shoulder to his groin. His chest is bathed in green, her hands running along the wound as the flesh painstakingly knits back together. Beside her Kyouraku is kneeling, clutching Ukitake's zanpakuto in a death grip as he watches, silent, ignoring the wound on his forehead that is steadily dripping blood on to the mat below.
Ukitake groans, and Kyouraku starts, his eyes wide.
"Can you hear me, Ukitake-san?" she asks, not pausing in her healing even as she turns her eyes to his face, watching for signs of consciousness.
Ukitake's eyes flutter open slowly, and he looks at her.
"Has anyone ever told you you sound like an angel?" he rasps, and beside her Kyoraku lets out a strangled laugh. The relief she feels is immediate and absolute – for a moment, she feels dizzy with it, and it's only then that she realizes how scared she had been. She can't stop herself from returning Ukitake's faint grin with a smile of her own.
"Perhaps that's because we seem to spend so much time conversing when you're half-dead," she replies.
"Sorry," he says, looking sheepish. "...I got the bastard, though," he can't help but add, his eyes gleaming with pride.
"Show-off," mutters Kyouraku, and in a room full of dying death gods Retsu laughs.
It does not take her long to stop most of the bleeding and heal the bone structure, though the job is cruder than she would have liked. Throughout it all Sarugaki's eyes remained glazed with shock and pain, unresponsive to any of Retsu's questions.
"Recreate your barriers," she instructs Ushoda, who immediately complies. "It should preserve the nerve and muscle endings long enough so that I can complete her healing later. And talk to her," she adds, softly. Ushoda nods, and he kneels next to the top half of Sarugaki, clutching one of her petite hands in his.
It is a struggle to keep her voice smooth and unhurried as she speaks. Her mind is already settled on Jyuushiro, the ache in her chest growing more and more acute. She responds to Ushoda's whispered thank you with nothing more than a nod before she is shunpoing away again.
It's not the first time she's had someone die on her.
In the time it's taken her to reach the rank of fukutaicho, she's seen plenty of death. Sometimes the wounds were simply too severe. Sometimes the wounded shinigami could not be reached in time, stuck in hostile territory. She knows this, always has. The logic is sound. The death today was not because she had not been strong enough or trained enough, but because there was absolutely nothing she could do.
But for some reason her hands are shaking and she can't make them stop.
Shit. She forgot it was his monthly check-up today.
"Ukitake-kun," she greets as she turns to face him. Her smile feels tight on her face, and she shoves her hands into the sleeves of her shitagi, hoping the wide fabric would cover the tremor. "Please, have a seat."
His eyes narrow, brow creasing slightly with concern, and she mentally curses his observant nature. Thankfully he says nothing, simply sitting on the examination table with a natural grace that shows how routine the action has become.
It is only when she has approached him that she realizes her dilemma. She can't very well examine him with her hands shoved up her sleeves – hands, she notes with no small amount of irritation, that have yet to stop shaking.
She hesitates, and this time Ukitake frowns. He glances down to where her hands and forearms disappear into the folds of her uniform, then looks up at her pointedly. For a moment she resists, before she remembers this is Ukitake she is dealing with and that his perceptiveness is matched only by his stubbornness. She sighs, and looks away, and he takes this as his permission to gently grasp her arms, tugging them out from under the black fabric.
His hands grip hers gently, turning them so that they face palm up. His fingers are cool and callused, rough against the smooth skin of her hands. She still can't bring herself to look at him – this is a weakness that in inexcusable in a healer, and for her to let it show in front of a patient, no less –
"I've never thought of you as a shinigami."
That has her looking at him, like a slap in the face. He meets her gaze with a small smile and his eyes are so full of – something, something warm, that the hurt his words caused is immediately soothed away.
"You give life, not death," he explains, and he shifts his hands so that his fingers lace through hers. "Where we are struck down, you raise us back up." He looks thoughtfully at their hands. "Or perhaps, that makes you more a god of death than any of us."
His words make something tighten in her chest, but she frowns. "All the more reason, then, why this weakness is ridiculous."
He looks surprised. "Weak?" He actually has the audacity to laugh. "You are many things, Retsu-san, but weak is not one of them."
She wished she could say this was the first time she'd found him lying in a nondescript heap of rubble with a hole in his chest and far more red on him than is strictly healthy. But no, Jyuushiro had been in this position plenty of times before, and she'd been there for all of them.
There was that first live training mission in the Academy, back in the days when the only real tactic to deal with Hollows had been hit it in the head and hope it dies before it hits back. Another student hadn't hit hard enough, and Jyuushiro, being Jyuushiro, leapt into the path of the claw that would otherwise have decapitated the hapless shinigami. There was that time he and Shunsui had been training with their newfound shikais – Jyuushiro had been pushing himself too hard and for too long, and with the worst possible timing his lungs gave out and he collapsed into a bloody coughing fit, leaning right into the blade that a horrified Shunsui had been unable to stop.
She can think of a dozen other incidents, spanning more than a millennium of combat and foolish training regimens, and she's seen every single one.
It doesn't make seeing it again any easier.
She kneels down, her face tightening in concern as she studies the wound – ragged, torn, unclean, definitely not caused by a blade. The hole is a mess of torn muscle, broken ribs, and leaking arteries. One of his lungs has deflated. The other heaves for breath. A lesser soul would have died, and not for the first time Retsu thanks whatever god blessed this man with such a high amount of reiatsu.
She lays her hands on his chest, and sings softly as she heals.
She starts, the melody dying on her lips. She can feel herself beginning to blush, but she squashes it down.
"Sorry," Jyuushiro says hurriedly. "I didn't mean to startle you. I've just never heard you sing before."
She shakes her head at his apology. "Just an old habit."
"You have a lovely voice."
She manages a slight smile. "Thank you. To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?"
He grins wide, and pulls something out from behind his back. A white haori rests in his hands, '13' clearly emblazoned upon it.
Retsu is momentarily speechless, and then she laughs in delight. "Jyuushiro-san! You did it!"
"Me and Shunsui both," Jyuushiro replies, his grin growing even wider. "He's captain of the Eighth now."
"Why didn't you tell me you two were taking the exam?" she asks, slightly accusingly.
Jyuushiro rubs at the back of his head sheepishly. "We wanted to surprise you," he explains. Retsu arches an eyebrow, but it's impossible to feel annoyed, and she laughs again.
"Congratulations, Jyuushiro-san," she says warmly, and Jyuushiro gives her a lopsided smile that makes her stomach do funny things.
"We were hoping that our senpai would come celebrate with us."
"Of course, Jyuushiro-san – Ukitake-taicho," she corrects, bowing graciously towards him. Jyuushiro laughs.
"That's gonna take some getting used to," he admits, and the grin on his face fades slightly. "Never thought I'd hear it, to be honest. What, with this." He gestures towards his chest.
Retsu studies him for a moment, sees the uncertainty in his frame, and walks forward until she is standing in front of him. She takes the haori from his hands, shaking it out and then in one swift movement she drapes it over his shoulders.
"If anyone deserves to wear this, it's you, Jyuushiro-san," she murmurs, smoothing the white fabric down with her hands. He catches her hands in his own, and she looks up to see brown eyes so intense she forgets to breathe.
"Retsu," he whispers, and has her name always sounded like poetry?, and he's close, so very close –
Then he kisses her, and she forgets everything else, too. She forgets everything except him, and the feeling of his lips moving on hers and the heat of his body against her and the taste of him, all green tea and sweets.
Though it lasts only seconds, when he pulls away she takes a shuddering breath as if she hasn't tasted oxygen in years. Jyuushiro stares down at her, and a grin is slowly spreading across his face.
"You have no idea how beautiful you look right now," he says, and this time she can't stop the blush from forming.
"Don't we have a party to go to?" she asks pointedly, and he laughs, and kisses her again for good measure.
She is halfway through healing him when he finally regains consciousness.
"Retsu?" he asks, and his voice is a horribly weak, wet rasp. She feels an odd sort of terrified relief, and she resists the sudden urge to laugh hysterically.
"Shh," she murmurs. "Don't speak. I've restored your reiatsu, but the damage to your chest is still extensive."
"Heard you singing," he grates out, not only ignoring her request but managing a faint, pained grin. "An angel, Retsu, I mean it – " He coughs, an ugly, hacking noise, and blood leaks from both his mouth and his chest.
"Stop, Jyuushiro, please," and he must have heard the desperation in her voice because he nods slightly and doesn't try to speak again.
"Lend me your reiatsu," she says, and he does. She smells the sea and the sharp tang of ozone, tastes lightning and rain – the glow around her hands brightens noticeably.
She focuses on his chest, and together they make him whole again.
It is nearly midnight when he staggers into her personal quarters.
"Jyuushiro?" she asks, and then she registers the bloody mess that is his shoulder, the stains on his lips. The book she was reading falls from her hands as she snaps into action, standing just in time to catch him as he sinks towards the floor. He is soaked to the bone, his hair clinging to his face, beads of water rolling off his face to drip on her floor.
"What happened?" she asks him as she eases him down into a sitting position. She kneels down next to him. "Jyuushiro – "
"Kaien," Jyuushiro whispers. His reiatsu is fluctuating, a barely repressed storm, and her skin prickles. "Kaien's dead."
Retsu's eyes widen in shock. "How?"
"Hollow. It had some…possession ability, took over his body – and Kuchiki, gods, Kuchiki – "
"Is she hurt?"
Jyuushiro shakes his head. "She killed it – he was possessed, no chance of splitting him and the Hollow apart – and she – she's broken inside, you could see it on her face – "
Retsu reaches forward, wanting to heal his shoulder – heal him, but he leans away, shaking his head.
"My fault," he whispers. "Kuchiki – I had an attack, and she had to step in and kill it." His eyes meet hers, and the pain she can see there breaks Retsu's heart.
"I hate this," he says, and his voice starts to rise. "I hate this illness, I hate how weak I am, and I hate that I can't do anything about it, I hate it – what kind of captain can't even keep his squad members from being forced to kill their own lieutenant – "
"Jyuushiro," Retsu murmurs, and she reaches for him again, and this time he does not back away. He trembles, and tears start to fall, and he leans forward and buries his face into her chest as heaving sobs tear their way out of his soul. She circles her arms around him, presses light kisses into his hair, and holds the broken pieces of him in place until he can find the strength to put himself back together again.
She fixes his lung, his ribs, and most of the bleeders before casting a quick disinfectant kidou and knitting the soft tissues back together, making sure that the skin is completely healed to prevent any further chance of infection. Only then does she lower her hands, the muscles of her arms aching from the sustained kidou use.
Jyuushiro tenderly sits up, wincing.
"Try moving your arms," Retsu instructs, and Jyuushiro complies, reaching forward and tugging her towards him. He kisses her hard, his mouth rough and desperate and tasting of blood and it's over as quickly as it began. He rises to his feet, his face set with determination as he bends down and picks up his zanpakuto.
He looks at her, then, and there is a fire in his eyes that takes her breath away. His mouth twitches, forms a lopsided grin, and then he is gone, shunpoing back towards the fight.
And Retsu stretches out her senses and feels, once again, performs her triage and feels the echoing ache of a hundred different wounds.
But there is an ache in her chest that belongs to no one but him.