A/N: i do not own the characters of this story. and make no profit from it.
characters may be OOC, and all mistakes are mine alone.
WARNING: M/M relationship don't like don't read.
Life and breath
It was like watching an accident happen: you knew what was taking place, you knew what the outcome would be, yet you just could not look away from the horrifying beauty of it.
That's what Shunsui Kyoraku was feeling at just that moment.
The war, for the most part, was over, countless lives had been were lost on all fronts. His heart ached to see the widespread carnage.
"Shunsui," Captain-Commander Yamamato's voice rasped out, "I know you're here somewhere," his scared head turning sightlessly back and forth.
"Here, Yama-jii." His own voice was not in much better shape: Shunsui could not believe how old he sounded.
"It's time my boy," the old man said slowly, "I need you to promise to care for everyone."
"What are you talking about?" Shunsui edged closer to his former teacher.
"It's all up to you now," the tired old voice was fading, extinguishing like an unattended campfire with nothing left to burn. "It was decided long ago: you are the one best-suited, I entrust it all to you now."
Looking around in disbelief, Shunsui began to shake at the implications of the words. "You can't possibly mean...no, NO WAY! I don't want it, let someone else take it," he said desperately.
"There is no one else, Shunsui." The old man's voice was weak but still commanding.
"But what about Byakuya ?"
"Then how about Yuroichi?"
"Why the hell not, they're both from noble families?"
"No, it must be you." The old man was trying to push up onto his elbows. "YOU are the only one who can do this - there is no one else."
"You must lead the Gotei 13," he continued calmly, "You, Shunsui Kyoraku, are the only one who can do it. Jyuushiro is a very capable man, there is no doubt in my mind of that, but he would never be completely accepted due to his health." The tired voice was failing at an alarming rate. "Unohana simply has her hands too full with the work of Squad Four despite her wisdom and age., and frankly there isn't anyone else who is trustworthy to do it, so it must be you."
Shunsui felt his heart sink. He had never really wanted to be in charge of anything. It was hard enough just being a Captain, and that was made the slightest bit more bearable only because he knew he had a competent Second-in-Command. He knew the fact was he would be a helpless mess if not for her. Not that it was an actual fact: he just liked telling himself that it was - it gave him a reasonable excuse to not do the things he just did not feel like doing. Shunsui was also glad he was not the first-born in his family for that same reason, although there were other resentments that stemmed from that situation.
"Promise me, NOW, Shunsui. There isn't much time left."
Shunsui bowed his head in defeat. "Fine! But I still don't like it."
Yamamato reached out his hand and patted Shunsui's knee. "I knew I could count on you. There's a letter for you in my office when the time comes." His voice trailed off and the old man drifted into unconsciousness.
Shunsui felt Retsu Unohana's calm presence slowly working its way towards him. "Captain Kyoraku, I have a message from your Lieutenant." She handed him a folded slip of paper. "I see the Captain-Commander is no longer conscious?"
"You'd know that better than anyone." He was far too tired to match Unohana's overly- polite demeanor at the moment. "And Nanao-chan? Is she alright?"
"She's resting right now, but she will survive to see another day, unlike..."
Shunsui interrupted her sharply, "Don't say it Retsu-san. I know all too well how things are, just keep him alive." He pointed at the still form of his former teacher, "And Jyuushiro? How's he?"
"Alive for now. At the moment he's resting as comfortably as possible." Her face grew sad. "I'll do what I can for our Captain-Commander, Shunsui-san, but even I cannot stop what will happen, there is just too much damage." She placed a comforting hand over his heart. "You'll do fine, old friend. We will all support you in this."
Shunsui shook his head slowly. "Thanks, but honestly that's not very comforting right now. It's not something I want, and I dread the implications of it all." He unfolded the note to finally read the contents. "SHIT!" he roared, "I've gotta go." the slip of paper floated to the floor in his wake as he shunpo'd out the door.
Retsu Unohana picked up the note and gave it a quick glance, heaving a deep sigh as she crumpled it in her hand. "Oh dear, I do hope this isn't more bad news for you, dear friend." But she knew that an emergency message from his family could only mean even more stress for the usually laid-back captain.