A/N This is the epilogue for this fic. I MAY write a sequel to it (a HAPPY sequel), but I'd rather hear your thoughts on how this one went and what you'd want to see happen in a sequel.
When Tōshirō's eyes opened for the first time since he had fainted, he was rather surprised to find his entire school group and even people he had never met before crowded around his hospital bed. He sat up slowly, blinking at everyone.
"You're awake!" Matsumoto squealed as she bounded forward and hugged Tōshirō tight, pressing him against her large breasts. "You've been out for a few days! We're all so happy you're back with us, Tōshirō-kun!"
"Yeah, Tōshirō; you really had us all worried!" Ichigo laughed as he moved to stand beside Matsumoto. "Never do that to us again, okay?"
Tōshirō found himself laughing despite the situation. "Okay. Ichigo, who are these people?"
"They all came to help rescue you." Orihime approached next. "There were so many people who wanted to come along – they all cared about you and Ukitake-san, even though they had never met you."
Tōshirō blinked in confusion. If they didn't know him… Then why on Earth would his safety matter to them...?
"Did they know Jūshirō?" Tōshirō asked, trying to understand things better.
One of the men standing by the back of the hospital room chuckled. Tōshirō didn't know how to explain him other than weird going by the strange feather-like things he had that reminded the boy of a peacock.
"I think most of us knew your brother," peacock-man spoke, "but even the ones who didn't know him personally were pretty close with Shunsui or Byakuya. Well, at least as close as you can actually get to the Kuchiki."
Tōshirō smiled. He looked around for Rukia, wanting to ask her if her brother was okay, but she was nowhere in sight.
"Where's Rukia?" Tōshirō asked Ichigo.
"She's in Byakuya's room," Ichigo explained, reaching out to pet Tōshirō on the head as if he were a dog. He grinned at the frown that plastered itself to the younger's face. "Byakuya's totally fine but the doctors want to keep him here for a bit longer just to be sure."
"What about my brother?" Tōshirō questioned. "And Shunsui?"
"Kyōraku-san milked his injury for all it was worth at first," Orihime started, "but that was until the nurses got sick of him and kicked him out of the hospital bed. He's with Ukitake-san now. Ukitake-san… isn't doing well physically, but the doctors are saying that the mental damage is relatively minor considering everything that had happened. They're saying that it could have been so much worse, but Ukitake-san is fighting strongly."
"He'll… be okay, right?" Tōshirō found himself whispering.
"The nurse thinks so." Ishida, Chad and Renji stepped forward from the crowd. "They say that as long as he continues to see his psychologist, he'll make a remarkable recovery. He's been pining for you, so wait until he hears that you're awake. He'll be so happy."
Tōshirō grinned. He was ecstatic that Jūshirō would be okay. However, one thing he had neglected to realise until he thought about how badly off his brother should be was that considering everything that had happened to him in his short life, he should have been traumatised just like he had been all those years ago – not sitting here, grinning and joking around as if he were the happiest person in the world.
Maybe – just maybe – his true strength had finally been brought out due to finally being the protector instead of the protectee.
Jūshirō sipped at his water slowly before he tried to go back to eating the soup that had been prepared for him. His throat had suffered a lot of damage during those weeks back, and it was hard for him to swallow, but with Shunsui beside him and gently encouraging him to eat, he knew that he had to if he wanted to recover.
"Doing great, Ju-chan." Shunsui smiled as he patted his friend's shoulder gently. He understood when the body beneath his hand quivered, but he also understood that despite his body's reactions, physical touch was something Jūshirō needed in order to recover. He knew the younger well enough to know this. "Just eat a bit more and then you can have a rest."
Jūshirō nodded and slowly raised the spoon to his lips again as best as he could with healing fingers. It was a struggle swallowing the tiny amount of soup he had in his mouth, but he finally won.
"Can I eat the rest later…?" Jūshirō rasped. "…I'm… tired…"
Shunsui gave a sad smile as he nodded. He reached over and took the bowl from the younger. "Sure."
Jūshirō smiled back and carefully lay down on the soft mattress. He fussed with his pillow, trying to find a position that wouldn't hurt his already-aching neck before he closed his eyes and fell asleep.
The nightmares were expected and, of course, tormented Jūshirō in his sleep, but he found that once he had awoken in a cold sweat, barely stifling a scream before realising that a small warm body was nestled against him, he had been able to sleep peacefully without vivid dreams playing through his mind.
Once Jūshirō had steadied his breathing and pulled his brother closer to him, he smiled. He wasn't sure when or why Tōshirō was here, but with his presence and Shunsui sleeping in the chair by the bed, the Ukitake had the best sleep he could have possibly had during a time of trauma.
Byakuya's eyes travelled over the page he was reading slowly as he listened to Rukia chat away about random things. He smiled inwardly, grateful for the girl's presence. There was something he had wanted to say for a while now, and while Rukia and he were alone for the time being, there was no better time to say it.
"Rukia." Byakuya put the book down in his lap and glanced at his sister.
"Yes, Byakuya-nii-sama?" Rukia quickly stopped talking at her brother's voice. It wasn't every day Byakuya sounded as if he were about to burst with joy.
"I have wanted to say this for a while now, but there have been too many people in and out of the room for me to say it. But… First of all, I just want to tell you how happy I am to be called nii-sama by you, and second of all… I'm just glad you're okay. I was honestly scared for you back then, but I couldn't let anything happen to you. I… I love you… Rukia…"
Rukia's eyes shined with unshed tears as she left her seat and wrapped her arms around her brother. Her smile widened as she felt weak arms encase her in return. She couldn't help but climb onto the hospital bed and crawl into her brother's lap as their embrace became deeper and more meaningful.
"…Having said that, I'm glad to hear that Tōshirō and Ukitake are going to make full recoveries, too." Byakuya whispered, not wanting to ruin the moment as he rested his chin on black hair. "I think – in a way – this was good for Tōshirō. He's learnt how to stand up for himself now. I think… that despite what has happened… This will only prove to be a new beginning for them both…"