Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or its characters.
You good for nothing trash!
His voice rang in her head the way living experiments screamed in agony at his hands.
Do you want me to cut you up again?
The dirt and grit beneath her poked and prodded her, inciting her to finally sit up. She must have been laying there for hours now — the blood on her body had dried. Dragging herself to the nearby tree, she rested under the shade against the tree trunk. Assessing her injuries, she realized her left leg was broken, in addition to the various cuts and gashes that covered her from head to toe. The worst damage was on her face, which Mayuri always found the most pleasure in distorting. Although she couldn't see herself, she could feel the cut on her lip, the slight swelling of her right eye, and the blood trickling out of her ear, most likely due to the blow she took to her head. It was a miracle she was conscious, and she knew who to thank for that. You shouldn't have intervened, Kurotsuchi-fukutaichō, Akon had said with a worried smile when he snuck out to bring Nemu a couple of strong painkillers, risking his own life in the process. She rarely acted against her father's orders, however when she did, she had a damn good reason to.
A gentle voice called out to her. Nemu looked up to find Ukitake Jūshirō, his face mirrored with worry and his hair in a ponytail, so unlike his usual appearance. His hands were shoved into the sleeves of his kimono, as if he was crossing his arms underneath. He leaned down slightly to get a better look at her battered form.
"Are you alright? You look...terrible."
His voice was strong and stern, yet delicate and warm. He did not panic at the sight of the battered woman; he had a general idea of what had happened. And while it certainly made him furious, he learned long ago that he had no control over Mayuri's personal preference for punishment, and that it was up to Nemu to change things. The problem was — and it was a considerable problem — Nemu had no shoulder to lean on, and generally their colleagues preferred to keep their distance from her, associating her with words like "strange" and "dangerous". Ukitake sighed; he hated the sight of a helpless woman, especially when she was so undeserving of all the pain and loneliness she was subjected to. How was it that she could still keep her head held high? How was it that she could still be so...beautiful...in spite of all the ugliness that surrounded her?
"I am fine, Ukitake-taichō. Thank you for your concern." Nemu began to push herself up, immediately landing back down from the pain of her broken leg.
"Let me take you to the 4th Division," he said, taking his hands out to help her stand.
"No," Nemu nearly yelled, "M-Mayuri-sama would not be happy with that..."
No, he certainly wouldn't. Anytime he punished Nemu, he expected her to ride out the pain. He wanted her to feel every discomfort — every burn, sting, ache — that ran through her body. He wanted to put her in her place; teach her not to even think about crossing him again. And if she even dared to seek solace from her pain, she'd know his wrath ten times worst.
"Ah, okay," Ukitake said, noticing the slight fear in her eyes, "Then let's go back to my barracks."
"Yes. Lets have some tea."
They sat on Ukitake's porch, overlooking his spacious backyard. His vast collection of bonsai graced most of the yard, while large stones protruded from various corners creating a zen-like atmosphere. It may have been the ambience of her surroundings, Nemu wasn't sure, but she felt a lot better. The only sensation that was bothering her now was the burning sensation that she felt on her skin where Ukitake touched as he helped her to his barracks — her hip, shoulder, hands — even if he didn't directly touch her skin. She was confused; she couldn't possibly be sick, unless Mayuri somehow poisoned her when she wasn't aware, and Ukitake hadn't deliberately burned her. Rather, his touch was so gentle, so careful...as if he were handling a newborn. She'd never been touched like that before — and she couldn't help but blush at the thought.
Nemu shifted on her zabuton as she picked up her yunomi. The tea that she had been served was a beautiful shade of green — vivid and rich. She blew on it two, three times before taking a sip. Immediately she tasted a very green, vegetable-like flavor. She'd never tasted a tea so bold.
"Interesting, isn't it?" Ukitake smiled, watching Nemu's reaction.
"I quite like it," Ukitake smiled, taking another sip. "So...are you feeling any better?"
"Yes, I am. Thank you very much."
"Would you like to tell me what happened?"
Nemu glanced at Ukitake wearily before looking down at her tea. They remained silent for what felt like hours, Nemu continuing to stare at her tea while Ukitake observed his bonsai collection.
"I don't know," Nemu finally spoke, "...if Mayuri-sama is a bad person. According to my research, everyone seems to think so. I have heard that the popular opinion among members of Seireitei is that his punishments are too brutal. I cannot agree with that idea as I have never been punished by anyone other than Mayuri-sama, so I cannot compare. But even if that was the case, I..."
Nemu grew quiet, stopping herself from babbling on, which was very unusual for her to do. Somehow she felt comfortable around Ukitake. It could be his quiet and peaceful barracks, the complete opposite of her own squad's, or the warm tea and soft zabuton. Or...it could be his sincere smile, those gentle eyes, his genuine concern...
Or poison...one that alters one's perception, she thought, trying to push away these thoughts that were unnatural to her. She knew she could trust him — he was, after all, the most morally correct person in all of Seireitei. He was liked by everyone, and generally he liked everyone in return. Perhaps that's why she felt these strange feelings towards him? And maybe that's why her mouth was beginning to move and let out all these words that she hadn't meant to spill?
"Mayuri-sama...he almost killed one of our lab technicians. He is new, so he was not aware of our protocols, and he nearly wiped out all of our important documents. Mayuri-sama was very upset, as one naturally would be, and began striking him. I...felt that perhaps Mayuri-sama was being too harsh, and stepped in. Was it wrong of me to do so? I know I am just a subordinate...Mayuri-sama tells me often that he does not expect much from me; that I am just a lowly subordinate with no value. In fact, my research indicated that most members of Seireitei place little value on me. Rather, it's been suggested that many are afraid of me. And perhaps that is the reason why I do not have what others call 'friends'. I have no one, Ukitake-taichō. Mayuri-sama is all I know."
Ukitake noticed a hint of sadness in her eyes; something he'd never seen in the usually impassive woman. She was, after all, a young woman who had much to learn and experience, and she was doing it all with no guidance or support. Surely she had a low self-esteem to deal with as well, what with all the abuse she received from Mayuri. He really felt for her.
Ukitake picked up his yunomi, inhaling its fragrance.
"Do you know what type of tea we are drinking, Kurotsuchi-fukutaichō?"
"Type of tea...?"
"Yes," Ukitake spoke softly, watching the tea dance in his yunomi. "This tea is called gyokuro-cha. It is the finest Japanese tea, and...I think it represents you well, fukutaichō."
"Pardon me, Ukitake-taichō, but how can one be represented by tea? We are nothing alike. Tea is made from leaves, while I am made from gigai and gikon technology."
Ukitake let out a soft chuckle. "I don't mean literally, Kurotsuchi-fukutaichō. Let me explain. You and this gyokuro-cha have a lot in common. Most tea leaves, like people, are raised under the sun and grow to be bright and strong. However, the leaves of the gyokuro-cha is grown under the quiet shade. And even though it is raised differently than others, it grows to be an exquisite tea. While not everyone will have the pleasure to enjoy it and even those that do may not be too fond of it — as it is an acquired taste — it stands out above the rest with its sweet, exotic aroma."
Nemu was never one for metaphors, always preferring straightforward explanations. But as she looked down at her tea and processed Ukitake's words, she understood exactly what he meant. And for the first time in her life, she felt truly, genuinely happy...or, at least, that was the solution she worked out after she narrowed down all other possible emotions. He smiled that warm smile of his, and took a long sip of his tea. Nemu let a small smile grace her lips as well.
This...is a nice feeling.
"...Thank you," she whispered.
A/N: I think this is my favorite story I've written so far! I tried to make this story longer, but I just really liked the way it ended here so I left it. I think what draws me to this pairing is the contrast between Mayuri and Ukitake: Mayuri is this evil, remorseless man while Ukitake is probably the most gentle and kindest person in the Gotei 13 — a complete opposite from Mayuri, and I think Nemu could really use a man like Ukitake in her life. Not to mention they'd make a beautiful couple :D
yunomi: a form of teacup used to drink tea.
zabuton: a cushion used for sitting, generally on the floor.
P.S. I changed my pen name! I was previously catcatcattt. So if I confused anyone, my apologies!