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To say that Kisuke Urahara was surprised to find both a Shinigami and an Espada on his doorstep was an understatement. His first instinct was to unseal his Zapakuto, ready for the fight that would no doubt break out. However, when Ukitake stepped in between them with a stressed look on his face, he quickly backed off.
"Ukitake-san...?" Urahara found himself speechless; why was his fellow Shinigami trying to protect the enemy? Especially after what had happened... But... Why was Ukitake hurt so badly if... It must have been that Espada. "Ukitake-san, what has the Espada done to you?"
"He's done nothing..." Ukitake whispered, lowering his head as he closed his eyes. "...I... He's taken care of me..."
Urahara couldn't believe the Captain admitted such a thing about an Arrancar, but with the older male's condition and the fact that he was the only surviving Captain... He must be telling the truth. However, it was best to make sure he knew absolutely everything before he decided what to do.
"Why are you here, Ukitake-san?" Urahara's sharp eyes were fixed on the brunet, shaded by his hat.
"...We have nowhere to go..." Ukitake was so quiet, the blond man almost couldn't believe who he was talking to. "...Can we... Can we please stay here...?"
Urahara was tempted to deny the Espada entrance, but if what was said was true, he had been taking care of the frail Shinigami this whole time. He was very distrustful of the Primero Espada, but... Perhaps it would also be a good opportunity to keep an eye on him and make sure nothing else happens – Aizen had done enough, after all...
"I'll expect you both to work for your keep." The fan-wielding man didn't miss a beat as he smirked his trademark smirk. "I'd like to put the Espada to work straight away. You may rest for a while, Ukitake-san."
"Starrk." The white-haired male said, his green eyes glinting.
Urahara tilted his head. "Excuse me?"
"His name is Starrk."
Two sets of eyes looked at the old Captain with confusion; why would the delicate male seem... almost protective of his enemy? Had Starrk truly been looking after him, or was there something deeper to Ukitake's actions?
Without replying to this, the ex-Captain stepped back and allowed the two entrance to his store. He may just have been imagining it as Ukitake and Starrk pressed against each other in order to get past him, but for a second there, it was almost like seeing Kyōraku and Ukitake together again – and it hurt to admit that Ukitake would probably never truly get over the loss of his long-time lover.
~~A few hours later~~
At first Urahara had just thought that Starrk looked a lot like Kyōraku, but when attempting to get the Espada to work, it quickly became apparent that they shared traits; men who would much rather laze around and sleep than lift a finger and do anything that involved effort.
The blond man couldn't find it in his heart to be frustrated; it was almost endearing in a way, as if Kyōraku had not left them. He wondered if that was the reason Ukitake seemed to want to be with the brunet, as if he was trying to fill the gaping wound in his heart with a makeshift Kyōraku. If he was, it broke Urahara's heart.
The white-haired man was sleeping in one of the spare bedrooms, laid down on one of the futons comfortably. Starrk had stayed by his side, his back leaning against the wall as he slept, not wanting to part from the older male.
The clogs-wearing man knew that he would never truly understand what was going on with the two of them, but at least his senior wasn't going to be alone anymore; he knew that if Ukitake was alone, the grief of losing his best friend would have consumed him.
Maybe Starrk wasn't so bad after all. He may have been an Espada, a creation of Aizen's, but surely there was no regulation that said all Espada had to be bloodthirsty like the ones he had encountered, right? Surely some could spare to be different, just like Kenpachi and Ukitake were polar opposites.
Maybe Starrk was one of the ones who was different, especially if he were really as much alike to Kyōraku as Urahara had originally thought. The Eighth Captain had been lazy almost to a fault, but he was so kind and gentle and tried to look after everyone around him in his own ways. Maybe... Starrk could be like that, too.
With that thought in mind, Urahara slid the door to Ukitake's room closed silently before he padded down the hallway to return to his activities.
Ukitake had woken at the sound of the door sliding shut. He looked around him with clouded eyes, finding nothing but Starrk leaning against the wall beside him.
With a soft sight, the Captain pulled himself over to Starrk's side, resting his head on the man's lap. Closing his eyes once more, he thought to himself.
I miss Shunsui so much… But I have Starrk now… and he, too, lost someone dear to him… It wouldn't be fair for me to abandon him, after everything he's done for me…
We're both so alone… All we have is each other… I think he understands that better than I do… He must hurt more than me, too.
Shunsui… Would you ever forgive me if I moved on…? For my own happiness…? What if it were with an Espada – an enemy…?
I don't even know what to think anymore…
Starrk, as if sensing the other's dilemma in his sleep, lifted a hand to run through white tresses.
"Shunsui…" Ukitake mumbled before he slipped back into sleep, soothed by the calloused hand that unconsciously drew patterns on his scalp.
Would Kyoraku never forgive Ukitake for what he wanted? Or would he have been understanding? Ukitake knew he'd never know the answer, and he couldn't stop the tears that leaked past long eyelashes as he dreamt.