The finale! The moment of truth! The murderer revealed, the villain vanquished! Extra long because final acts should bring it all home. And because I couldn't find a place to cut this into two chapters that didn't kill the pace.
This work of fan fiction was made for the fun of writing and joy of reviews! It is not a challenge to the Bleach copyright holders.
Unohana was shivering and quaking as she tried to wrap furs around Yachiru. Her hands shook so hard she could barely keep her grip. She took great shaking breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Kenpachi looked at Yachiru. "Shit." She seemed to be asleep, barely breathing through blue lips. Her skin was blotched, seeming almost bruised.
Unohana spoke like her throat was sore. "Sh-she looks worse th-than she is, but I need'd'd to treat her right away." Her breaths were shallow.
"I have water." Kenpachi fetched the jug he had prepared.
"She can't s-swallow it right now."
"But you need it." Kenpachi got to his knees and held the jug to Unohana. The woman sat crosslegged and pulled the child onto her lap. Then she accepted the jug but almost dropped it as her hands continued to shake. Kenpachi helped her hold it and she drank deeply until she coughed.
Frantic for a way to help, Kenpachi sat behind Unohana and put a leg on either side of her. He ran his hands up and down her arms quickly. Unohana's voice was all business. "I'll have to hold her as I heal her. You may help by rubbing her hands and her feet to encourage circulation."
"Sure." Kenpachi reached into the furs to feel around for a hand or a foot.
Unohana twisted her neck to look backwards at Kenpachi. "Captain –Kenpachi. Your hands will be inside the area of my healing. I use all of the reiatsu in that area and mine as well to heal, hence you may feel your reiatsu tugged into service. I honestly couldn't say what it feels like to have it pulled away like that, but please prepare yourself."
"I'm good. Do it."
"Right." Unohana pulled Yachiru into her arms and the yellow glow came back.
Kenpachi had both of Yachiru's hands in his and rubbed at her fingers. He had a sensation of cool water running inside him and down toward his hands. It didn't hurt but it was a little...weird. He kept at it. After a few minutes he realized just how close he was to Unohana when he nudged aside her hair from his face with his own chin. It was damp and sticking to her neck and his face. He forced himself to put aside the thought of the sweet skin on her neck.
He kept working at Yachiru's hands and after several minutes her skin deepened in color, to an angry, blister red. He stopped moving and sat back, horrified. "It's alright," insisted Unohana. "That's part of the healing."
Color was coming to Yachiru's face, her lips were likewise red, though not blistering. She started gulping the air and her eyes blinked open. "Get to work on her feet," instructed Unohana, "and don't let go until I tell you."
Yachiru wiggled in their arms and shook her head from side to side. Presently she started to cry out. "Ow! Owiee! That hurts! Stop iiitt!" Kenpachi had her feet in hand and nearly let them go but for a look from Unohana. "Let go, Ken-chan that really hurts me! Owww! Owiee! You're stabbing my feet, quit it!"
Kenpachi pressed his lips together and began rubbing Yachiru's toes. Her struggling increased as did the volume of her crying. She begged for them to stop as tears rolled down the sides of her face and Kenpachi found he had to look away. Every time she screamed his chest felt like it constricted. Unohana kept a firm grip on the girl. "Kenpachi, the water please."
He unwrapped himself and brought the jug to Unohana's side. He put it to Yachiru's lips but she pressed them shut and shook her head. "Oi, brat. I bet your insides hurt too. You need some water to make the hurting stop faster."
Yachiru's nose was red and running and she looked up at Kenpachi completely lost. "Come on, now. Don't be a pain." She opened her mouth and he slowly tipped the jug for her to sip. Like Unohana, she began to take deep swallows until she gave a choking cough. Kenpachi put the jug down and stared at the girl with a frown.
"Ken-chan?" A little hand sought his out. Kenpachi caught Unohana's eye. Her kindness and compassion had returned full force.
"Let's try this a little differently, shall we?" Unohana gave Kenpachi a shaky smile. She hoisted up Yachiru and got to her knees. Then she passed him the child, all the while maintaining the yellow glow. Kenpachi held Yachiru to his chest. She wrapped her little fists in his kimono. Leave it to her to finish destroying them, thought Kenpachi.
Yachiru trembled against him. Kenpachi knew from experience that she was trying not to cry. "Hey kid. It's ok." He put a hand to the back of her head and held her in place.
"Bu-but, Ken-chan, I tried! I tried so hard to find you. I wa-wanted to say good night. I knew you were awake an' I wanted to m-make sure you were ok and I couldn't fi-find you! I tried to burn the snow like you did but I-I couldn't keep going and had to change direction and it was so cold and I could ba-barely walk and I climbed into a tree and I stayed there and I wanted to be b-brave but I just got scared and it hurt s-so bad..." by that point Yachiru was crying full force. Kenpachi could feel the tears and snot bleeding through.
"Yeah, I know." Kenpachi found it was difficult to talk so he settled for lowering his nose to her pink head and rocking her gently.
"I'M SOOORRRRYYY!" she wailed. Kenpachi couldn't help but chuckle and continue to rock the girl as she carried on weeping. In front of him Unohana sat back on her heels and let the yellow light dissipate. She took another swig from the water. Then she hugged herself, hands going into her sleeves, and watched Kenpachi with a sweet smile.
In a few minutes Yachiru's crying became calmer and soon after ended altogether. She sniffled from time to time but was otherwise quiet. Kenpachi caught sight of her hands – the blistering red had receded to ordinary, mild burn marks.
Unohana spoke softly, still the doctor. "For now it's best for her to rest. The danger has past and the worst, the nerves waking up, is over. In the morning I'll administer more treatment to help her skin." She looked up at him. "She is very tough. I estimate she was out in the frost for at least twenty minutes. An ordinary person would be looking at losing fingers."
A corner of Kenpachi's mouth tugged back. Of course the brat was tough, he taught her, hadn't he? Her hands dropped out of his kimono and her head rolled against his arm. He could hear her long, even breaths. With one hand around her, he moved the pile of furs into a crib for Yachiru. Then he lay her down. Unconsciously, she rolled to one side and snuggled in. Unohana arranged several pelts over the girl like a handful of too-small blankets.
Presently the hut was as calm and peaceful as could be, a cheery fire in its place and a man and a woman looking down at a girl in slumber. To his side Kenpachi noticed Unohana put a hand to her mouth. He supposed she may have rested while he was unconscious but it probably wasn't the same as sleep.
"Sleep is probably a good idea." Kenpachi got to his feet and went to pick up his haori which he had earlier let unceremoniously fall to the floor. He bundled it up. He was about to take a seat in the same spot when a noise from Unohana stopped him.
"You should certainly rest. In Your Bed." Unohana made a tiny gesture to the platform that made her intention clear.
"Nah, I got enough sleep. You can use the blanket, you were out in the shit last."
Unohana's eyes were closed but her determination was steely as ever. "Do not play the gentleman now, Captain Zaraki. You are still healing. If you wish to return to your barracks under your own power you will have to rest as much as you can tonight."
"Che. You were fine with not letting me rest earlier."
Kenpachi couldn't say for certain but it was almost like the fire leaped and sparked fiercely as Unohana opened her eyes. "Captain Zaraki, you will-"
"Ken-chan?" From the midst of the animal pelts a tuft of pink hair moved. Eyes a red so dark they were nearly black blinked slowly. "Are you mad, Ken-chan?"
Kenpachi bent to her. "No, it's nothing. Go back to sleep."
"Ken-chan, you should do what no-more-braid-lady said. Cause you said she knows what to do when you get hurt."
"Hmm. First you gotta go back to sleep."
"Ok." Yachiru snuggled back in her fur pile and shut her eyes.
When Kenpachi was satisfied Yachiru was drifting off he stepped past Unohana, sitting to one side of the girl and rubbing her hands, without looking at her. "Whatever makes this damned day end sooner," he muttered.
The effect on Unohana as she stiffened was unmistakable. It was a dick move, thought Kenpachi, but he forced himself to imagine she deserved it. The kid might make him follow her instructions but no way was she going to think he was happy with how everything was going. He was being unfair but choked at the thought of setting things right.
At the platform Kenpachi nearly threw down his haori. He snatched up the blanket and unfurled it, wanting to snap it but mindful of waking Yachiru. With a grumble deep in his throat he settled himself in, manhandling his haori into a makeshift pillow. His thoughts were dark and he felt cold inside. He wasn't at all tired. In fact, he was restless as hell, just wishing for something to cut or punch.
He leaned on an elbow, blanket up to his waist and stared into the fire, Unohana in sight out of the corner of his eye. Methodically she pulled off her tabi and, using small movements, rubbed her feet. He imagined they had been freezing wet the entire time. Unohana took his whole attention when she stood. She was graceful but impassive, like a moving statue. Her voice was low, "for tying you up, I am very sorry. I regret I could think of nothing better in that moment. There is no excuse for it." She turned toward Kenpachi and slowly bowed low until she was bent double, long loose hair almost reaching her toes. "I can only beg for your forgiveness."
Kenpachi frowned. He wasn't used to, well, anyone behaving this way. Occasionally new recruits would screw up and try to apologize but he'd just order them to train harder.
Unohana slowly stood but kept her eyes trained on the floor. She backed away toward the wall opposite him. Kenpachi realized she'd spend the night there if he didn't say something. "Hey, don't be stupid. Come over here." Coarse, bordering on rude. Well, actually it was rude. But she stopped anyway. Kenpachi sat back up. He kept his voice low. "If I keep talking like this I'll wake the kid again, so come over here." She didn't move. "Please. Come over here."
Eyes cast down, Unohana breathed in and out once, long and slow. Then she stepped toward Kenpachi, gliding so as to make any noblewoman eat her heart out. She sat at the edge of the platform, hands in her lap, gaze vaguely trained on the wall behind him.
Kenpachi felt the urge to swallow. "I'm sorry." He had lowered his volume to just above a whisper but it still cracked with tension. "I said some shitty things. So. Yeah, I shouldn't have and I'm sorry." His jaw was stiff from gritting his teeth. He felt like he was tensing for a blow he couldn't defend against.
Unohana was still for so long Kenpachi started to wonder if she was even paying attention. He was about to add to his apology when she shifted. She turned away. Kenpachi's heart dropped. He almost reached out to her when she stood but he then saw her haori slip from her shoulders. She turned back around and rolled it into her own pillow. Once it was set she lay down, whipping her hair to one side so it draped over the "pillow." Her eyes were open and her hands were folded over her stomach.
Unohana's voice remained soft but took on a dry tone. "Your Third and Fifth Seats found me very quickly once I arrived at Yachiru's location. I'm afraid Madarame-san will require a little extra attention due to the extended exposure his scalp has suffered. I offered him one of the pelts I was carrying for the return trip but he refused it. I believe Ayasegawa-san's laughter was a factor in that decision."
Kenpachi snickered at the image of Ikkaku with a dead animal on his head. He looked back at Unohana who seemed to be studying the thatch roof overhead. Her face was pale. He lay down and pulled the blanket over them. At her side he whispered, "you know, I don't entirely get you, but you saved my ass twice today while all I did was put Yachiru in danger. I get it about the chains. It's annoying, but I get it." Kenpachi lay on his back and looked at the thatch. He drew in a long breath and let it out again. "Today wasn't all bad."
"I was so very worried when you broke the sabaku that you would come out to try to find us. You've no idea what a relief it was to feel your reiatsu guiding us back here."
Kenpachi's stomach clenched. "Glad I could show you I do have a responsible streak."
A smile came into Unohana's voice. "Oh that I've known all along." She shifted and her hands slipped from her stomach to her sides. Kenpachi felt a finger brush the back of his hand. "The fiercest man of the Thirteen Court Guard Squads also carries one of the greatest responsibilities – raising a little girl." The finger – a pinky – traced a circle over the back of his hand and then hooked over his pinky. "It was difficult not to notice that immediately when you joined us and furthermore difficult not to admire you for it."
Kenpachi felt funny – warm. He'd had flattery and compliments, almost exclusively about his fighting, but nothing quite like this. He twisted his hand around to clasp Unohana's hand so their fingers laced together. "All I did was keep one more brat from goin' the way most kids in Kusajishi go." He'd nearly failed in that today.
"You protected her and provided for her. That is the epitome of responsibility for another person. Not to mention the compassion required in giving such care to a foundling. Also rather attractive, I might point out."
Kenpachi grinned in the dim light of the ever-smaller fire; it wasn't his usual maniacal smile that came on him in the middle of a good fight.
Unohana yawned under her free hand. "Mmh, I'm sorry for that. I assure you it isn't the company."
"Don't sweat it. We've had you on your feet all day long. You should get some sleep."
"Not at all, my rounds at the hospital often make for very long days." She squeezed Kenpachi's hand. "Especially when the 11th Squad has found some worthy enemies."
"You keep us patched up. What can I say? We'd all be out in the cold without you."
Unohana gave a small amused sound. Then another yawn came upon her. "I'm sorry again."
"Don't be, just go to sleep."
Unohana rolled onto her side so she was facing away from Kenpachi, but she didn't let go of his hand, instead pulling his arm around her. Kenpachi chuckled to himself and moved to his side so he could form her back against his chest, hips to his pelvis. She was a perfect fit. Her hair fell away exposing a bit of the back of her neck. Kenpachi kissed it. "Gotta say I like this – you keepin' me warm."
Unohana snuggled against him. "Happily, so long as you light my way." Kenpachi embraced her and settled in to sleep.