A/N: This is one in a series of short (700-1000 word) fics I've recently completed. Thought I'd take a crack at Shuuhei with someone besides Kaien! Spoilers for current events in the anime and manga, and warnings for angst and violence.

- Rii


After Hachi finishes healing him, after all the gashes and cuts and broken bones have been carefully mended by this gigantic man with gentle hands and a soothing voice, Shuuhei comes to his feet and looks around.

The scarred landscape of the false Karakura echoes the pain in his heart: buildings broken and snapped in on themselves, streets buckled and cracked to reveal the ground beneath. Puddles of water soak Shuuhei's feet as he walks, as he skirts jagged spikes of ice driven into the earth by Hitsugaya-taichou's rage.

I should help everyone.

He can move now, after all, and others are in need: the ground is scattered with the wounded and nearly-dead. He can hear moans, sometimes cries, and the Fourth Division's officers are everywhere, dispensing bandages and healing where it will matter, anesthesia where it will not. Kira, still bending over some of the fallen, works with shaking hands; near him, Hitsugaya-taichou stares at Hinamori's prone figure with a guilty horror that twists Shuuhei's stomach. It wasn't your fault, he wants to say. You didn't know. But he knows the words won't matter. Any comfort in this hell seems false, and he has so little to give, anyway.

Still, he lingers.

He lingers, and he watches Shinji—Shinji of the permanently irreverent smile, Shinji of the jokes and unbreakable confidence-cradle Hiyori in his arms with his flippant tongue stilled. The Vizard does not flinch away from the gore, does not let his gaze slip to her midsection, to the wound that healers have clustered around. He simply holds her, in the same stoic silence with which Hitsugaya remains at Matsumoto's side. And though this entire scene is a nightmare, though Shuuhei recoils from the tableau of visceral agony—though Yamamoto-soutaichou lies broken on the ground, his commanding voice silenced—he cannot help the selfish longing in his heart, the desperate desire to know what it must be like to have someone there nearby, someone to hold you when your wounds are bleeding, to let you know that you are not alone.

His captain is gone, forever. His friends are wounded, some fatally, and he does not know the fate of those who have gone to fight elsewhere. Komamura-taichou—noble, silent, strong Komamura-taichou—is wounded, his matted fur stained with blood. Even the soutaichou is dying. Soul Society is coming apart at the seams.

But these wounds that threaten to shatter Shuuhei's sanity are not written on his body, not written in blood, and no one will ever see them.

"Hey, you."

The rough voice draws him from his thoughts, and he glances up to see that Kensei has parted himself from the other Vizard, stands almost close enough to touch. Shuuhei's eyes widen for a moment in surprise, and something like relief warms him. I thought you had fallen, too.

And perhaps the former Ninth Division captain had fallen, because there is blood soaking his skin and his shirt, and his hawklike eyes are narrowed, pinched with something that might be pain or discomfort—but Shuuhei knows with a touch of surety, of childlike adulation, that it will take much more than an army of Espada and Aizen Sosuke to bring this man to his knees for long.

"You okay?"

Shuuhei blinks, glances down at his body. "Yeah." The answer is a lie, but not really; he's not sure how to answer the question any more. He has no significant wounds; surely that means something?

Sharp fierce eyes scrutinize him, up and down. There is a furrow in Kensei's brow. And Shuuhei remembers, suddenly, the tattoo on his cheek to match the tattoo on the firm strong body before him: naked evidence of his adulation, embarrassing honesty. He turns his head away, feeling suddenly small and somehow childish. Exposed.

A strong, hard-muscled arm curls around his shoulders , and though the embrace is certainly not gentle it isn't harsh, either, a firm tug that brings Shuuhei flush against the comforting warmth of the Vizard's body. He stills. "Come here, damn it," Kensei commands with his familiar easiness, the tone that demands quick and instant obedience. He knows, Shuuhei realizes. Somehow, he knows…

that I am falling apart.

And then his eyes flutter closed and he's just there, breathing in the faint scent of blood and sweat and earth. Tears cling to his lashes like diamonds and Kazeshini feels, suddenly, unbearably heavy.

"You're alive," Kensei says firmly, and the words serve somehow to bind invisible wounds; Shuuhei is reminded of that day in his childhood—precious above all days, the day he was rescued by this very man. "You're alive, be happy! Smile!"

They both know that smiling is too much to ask right now, and happiness nothing more than a dream, but… I'm alive. And for maybe the first time in this field of wounded and dying, not alone.

The arm around Shuuhei tightens, and maybe it would hurt if it didn't feel so damn good. He keeps his eyes closed while tears leak out from beneath the lashes, and he breathes.

I'm alive.