The next day had arrived, and Ukitake was still not well enough to move around by himself, the wound in his chest causing great discomfort. He didn't want to be approached by the Arrancar, still unable to get over his best friend's death. He would yell at Starrk whenever the brunet approached him, telling him to keep his distance, and whenever the Espada disregarded this and came to his side anyway, the Captain would struggle and lash out in his pain-hazed mind.
Starrk couldn't blame the Shinigami; he, too, knew what it was like to lose someone. That was why he never took the elder's attacks personally, knowing that the white-haired male was grieving.
Currently, the two were sitting at the same campsite Starrk had created, waiting for the Arrancar to finish preparing the soup he was trying to cook. As usual, Ukitake was laying a distance away, staring blankly out into the distance, his expression unreadable. Starrk was sure he had locked himself away in memories of the man he had lost to war.
Starrk himself understood; having lost Lilynette was like losing his very soul – and, in a way, he probably had. He didn't know the circumstances surrounding Ukitake's own relationship, but he didn't need to to be able to see how much the sickly male was suffering.
When at last the Primero Espada knew that the soup was ready, he carefully poured it into a bowl he had stolen on his previous trip into town before he brought it over to Shinigami he was trying to take care of.
"I have soup," Starrk said, his tone bored as he sat down beside the – for once – unresisting Captain. "Are you going to eat it?"
Ukitake shook his head, his gaze never leaving the lake visible in the distance. His eyes glinted with tears, reflecting just like the water on the surface of said lake, giving insight to what he was thinking about – the ones who had died.
"Just leave me alone..." The pale Death God's voice was weak, and he sounded so defeated. "...I just... want to die..."
Starrk sighed. He reached out and carefully manoeuvred the older male into a sitting position, resting the frail Captain against the tree. He was surprised that the frail male didn't even so much as raise his voice but, then again, he was suffering.
Without another word, Starrk dipped a spoon into the soup before he raised it to pale lips. As expected, the Thirteenth Captain was stubborn, pursing his lips and turning his head away, but Starrk was persistent – possibly for the first time in his life that didn't involve a fight. Maybe he was just being selfish and binding someone to a life they didn't want, but he was afraid of the loneliness. He didn't care how the other person felt – he just needed someone by his side to rid his life of the silence.
"I need you to eat," Starrk said, moving the spoon back to the other's chapped lips. "Please. At least just this one spoonful."
Ukitake wanted to yell and scream and shout about how much he didn't want to eat, but he knew, at the same time, that if his best friend were here, he would scold him about how silly he was being. He knew that Shunsui would never have let him go down this path, would have kept him alive – just like this Espada was doing.
Closing his eyes, Ukitake opened his mouth, too tired to fight over this. He was exhausted, both physically and mentally; there would be no gain from resisting further.
Starrk was emotionless as he slowly fed the injured Shinigami, trying to be as patient as he could; he couldn't say he was used to doing this, but for whatever reason, it made him feel calm – as if there were hope for a less miserable existence.
Ukitake, however, only felt as if he were pathetic, needing to be handfed - a cruel blow to his prideful nature. A single tear slipped down his cheek as he grit his teeth, trying to understand why he had to suffer so much in his long life. Wasn't it enough that he was as sick as he was? Why was it always him...?
Starrk didn't speak, nor did he do anything, when Ukitake started to cry. He just sat there, staring into the soup as he listened to the heartbreaking wails, the calls for Kyōraku to come back. He just wished that there was something he could do for the other.
~~One Week Later~~
While Ukitake still wasn't back to his full strength, he was now able to move around by himself without the danger of worsening his injury. It had been hard on Starrk as the white-haired Shinigami had attempted to leave several times during the night, only to be stopped by the Arrancar.
The brunet was sure that the Captain had finally given up on that idea because it hadn't happened for a few nights now. He was relieved, worried that something might happen to Ukitake if he were to go off on his own.
While Ukitake was sitting quietly by the fire, Starrk sat beside him, wanting to talk to him about his thoughts.
"I was thinking that we should leave here and try to survive in Karakura Town," the Espada suggested. "It is not sustainable for us to stay here."
Ukitake just shrugged, his voice as quiet as ever. "...I don't care anymore..."
"You have an ally who lives there, do you not?" Starrk scratched his chin lazily, reminiscent of Kyōraku. Ukitake closed his eyes in order to block out the pain as he nodded. "Urahara Kisuke."
Starrk knew that there was always the chance Urahara may not have survived the war – if he had shown up sometime after both he and Ukitake had fallen unconscious, but it was a start to finding safety.
"Let's go, then." Starrk held his hand out in an attempt to help the other to his feet, and he couldn't help but feel hurt when Ukitake just slapped it away with a scowl, as if his gesture of kindness was mocking.
Ukitake got to his feet by himself, unsteady at first, but refused all help Starrk had offered, as if it was an insult to accept it from the brunet.
Ukitake followed silently behind the Primero Espada, trying to think of what he had left to live for – he had no home, no family, no Shunsui... He might as well just be dead...