Rating: PG-13 for implied sex, boykisses, and military themes.
Length: 1782 words
Summary: Chance encounters change lives, and bonds forged at the breaking point last forever.
Author's Notes: AU, set in a sci-fi universe just a teensy bit similar to the one in the movie Avatar, but instead of space travel, humans are jumping dimensions and the military are involved. Soldier!Uki and Shun. Hopefully this is okay--it's not up to my usual standards because I am in the middle of being horribly writer-blocked.
The Space Between
What went wrong?
That was what Shunsui had thought that morning, before the battle, in the time between brushing his teeth and buttoning up the uniform jacket over the white tank, when he had the time and the empty space to wonder.
Now, none of it was a concern, not even a blip on the radar.
All he could do was hold on.
He was so afraid that if he let go, Juushirou would die that he did not even stop to think about the fact that he was still crouched down on the battlefield with laser fire and bullets whizzing over their heads. He held on and kept his hand pressed to the bloody mess that was the other man’s left shoulder, holding Juushirou’s handkerchief to the wound in a vain attempt to stop the bleeding. His other hand traced through the other man’s white hair, coaxing him into consciousness, feeling his steady pulse in his neck and seeing/feeling the other man’s slow, sobbing breaths in his own body.
He stayed there until the bullets stopped, until the tide of other men engulfed them both and the screaming of dying and injured men meshed with the sharp orders of the medics.
Shunsui could remember with vivid clarity the day they had first met.
Juushirou Ukitake had been part of yet another group of men shipped to this island base in Dimension Arcturus, stumbling off of the Army issue helicopter with freshly scrubbed faces and impeccable uniforms. Shunsui hadn’t cared much-- he hadn’t cared much about anything, right then, and it had taken the young man seating himself beside Shunsui in the mess hall to get his presence through.
“This seat’s not taken, is it?”
Shunsui had looked up and immediately been captivated by those bright hazel eyes, the full smile on the young man’s lips, and the curiously pale hair that hung in short hanks around his face. It had taken him a full minute to answer. “No…”
“Then.. Can I sit here?”
Shunsui shrugged. “Sure. I don’t mind.”
“Oh. That’s good.” the young man sat down with a sigh. “I remember now why I didn’t go into the Air Force. I hate flying.” He stretched, popping his neck. “I’m Juushirou Ukitake, by the way. What’s your name?”
“It’s nice to meet you,” Juushirou Ukitake fairly beamed. The white-haired man had a smile as wide and innocent as a child’s; it made his hazel eyes spark and dance.
Something about that smile made Shunsui feel warmer than he had ever felt before, and slowly, he felt his apathy begin to disintegrate in the face of it, forcing him to sit up and take notice of something for the first time since he had arrived on this bloody island in this bloody boring dimension where apparently a group of human rebels had been hiding since time out of mind waiting to strike. No sooner had human beings developed the technology needed to jump dimensions than they were finding supposed terrorists within it, and once that happened, it was only a matter of time before troops were sent there, by dimension-jump and then by helicopter the rest of the way, to wherever the “terrorists” “were”.
Shunsui knew his own place as one of those troops.
Over dinner, he asked, “This your first time out here?”
Juushirou nodded. “First time I ever jumped dimensions.”
“Seriously? Where have you been for twenty years?”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. Up until a year ago I was on the ground in the Middle East, so there never was a reason for me to have too.”
Yes, of course. The Middle East was a disaster area, and everyone knew it. It was almost preferable to be out here. “I’ll be you’ll find this more to your liking. There’s nothing much out here but plants and some weird-ass animals, it seems.”
Juushirou shrugged. “I won’t judge yet, but this does seem like it’ll be better.” There was the vaguest hint of a shadow in his hazel eyes there, for a moment; Shunsui didn’t blame him. Being out there… he doesn’t look much older than a kid, but he’s probably seen the sort of things that could scar a man for life.
“Hey, I think you might actually like it here. I mean, it’s practically a vacation, hmm?”
“Well…” Juushirou hesitated, and then the smile was back on like a light . “Sort of,” he conceded.
Shunsui grinned in response. “See, you’ll do just fine. It’s boring as all hell out here, actually.”
“You look it.”
“Well, let’s just say freaky plants and wack-job animals aren’t really the most interesting things to me.”
“So what does interest you?”
You, Shunsui thought but did not say. “Ah, well, some of the nurses are pretty?”
“I like a drink at the end of the day, you know? Not that they provide that very much here.”
“That’s about it,” Shunsui said with a shrug. “What about you?”
Juushirou grinned. “I think it’s very… interesting.”
“Oh good. At least someone will be happy.”
“So what do you do to break your boredom then?”
Shunsui grinned. “You really wanna know?”
On an impulse, Shunsui stood up and offered Juushirou his hand. “Come find out,” he said, and the mocking edge in his words was dulled by the plea buried beneath them.
The white-haired young man stared at him a moment, hazel eyes meeting dark chocolate ones, and then his slender, pale hand was in Shunsui’s larger, tanner one, and even though it seemed fragile, he could feel the calluses where those slim fingers had known a cold metal trigger.
A moment passed between them, and in it, Shunsui knew that he was lost.
After that, things went head-whirlingly fast.
At first, they were content merely to call one another friends, but as time had gone on, it was clear that there was something else there, something beyond friendship and even brotherhood.
It became excruciatingly obvious the first time they kissed, tentatively at first, then more heatedly, Juushirou’s lips warm against his. Hands wandering, lips searching, searching for things that neither one of them could really formulate words for. Laughing, afterwards, just as they laughed about everything, and then once more seeking the comfort and thrill of one another’s lips.
They consummated their union two weeks after Juushirou arrived, creeping off into the night, away from the barracks where other men slept or didn’t, with no thought for danger or the fact that they were soldiers looking for men who probably had weapons, wanting too badly that touch, that fire that passed between them. As Shunsui’s hands slid over the buttons of Juushirou’s jacket, undoing them one by one, kissing each inch of skin as it was exposed, Juushirou’s little gasps and muffled moans sweet music to his ears, he knew that this was it.
“You know,” he said after, as they lay there naked and wrapped in a blanket, staring idly up at the stars, “I hope you have intentions of sticking around, because I think I just might love you.”
Juu laughed, softly. “Oh, really? You said that to Doctor Unohana the other day too.”
“Oh, well, I have to love her. Otherwise, she’d probably never treat my injuries again,” Shunsui grinned, kissing Juushirou’s cheek. “You, though…”
Juushirou’s arms clasped tight around his shoulders, and he kissed Shunsui hard, until they were both out of breath. “Please,” he murmured. “Let’s not say it. Not yet.”
Shunsui never thought to wonder why not.
Three days later, they found them.
It was a ragged band, ten men in ill-fitting clothes toting outdated guns without the laser tech of the newer brand, but that meant nothing in the scheme of things, because they opened fire with their outdated bullets and the soldiers had no choice but to return it.
It lasted about ten minutes, one for each man.
Afterwards, Shunsui found Juushirou just standing there, staring down into the now-sightless eyes of a boy no more than sixteen, his eyes wide and horrified.
The rain began to fall, and streaked wet through his hair, hiding the tears that streamed as well.
Shunsui went to his side, of course. How could he not?
“Don’t.” Juushirou’s voice was hard and harsh. “Please, don’t.”
“Come here. You cant stay out here all night.”
Juushirou whirled on him, his eyes burning. “You don’t understand what’s going on, all right? You’ve never been anywhere but here, have you? Have you?”
“Please.” Juushirou’s eyes were still streaming tears even as he glared. “Leave me alone, please.”
And stunned, Shunsui had done as he said.
He hadn’t known it would come to this.
“They shouldn’t have sent him here,” Unohana said, her voice flat.
Juushirou’s shuddering, choking breaths filled the silence between them as he lay on the cot in the meditent, his brow glistening with the fever that wracked him.
“He’s physically compromised,” she continued. “He contracted a lung disease on his last tour that left his lungs scarred badly enough that he was sent back to the States for medical treatment. Mentally, he’s no better. He’s suffered severe post traumatic stress disorder ever since he was sent home, and has been through treatment for anxiety and panic disorders as well. He just happened to be in the last batch of soldiers because we’re short on men.”
Her words, clipped and yet emotional, stayed with Shunsui in the long hours afterward, when he sat by Juushirou’s side, holding his limp hand tightly, willing him to live.
Waking was always painful.
As long as he was under, he could ignore the pain, push it away, and go on, but once he was awake, it had to be faced, and controlled, and sent away. The only thing that kept him from sleeping forever was that he had seen too much death to want to take that long road just yet.
But for once, this waking wasn’t as painful as it could have been.
He was waking slowly, stirring, enclosed in Shunsui’s warm embrace, hearing his heartbeat and feeling the heat of his body, and knowing that for once, this was safe.
He turned, slowly, into that embrace, and let his sobs wrack him.
Shunsui’s arms tightened around him, and his hand combed gently through his hair as he murmured soft things in his ear, gentle, soothing words, and yet there were none needed to understand what was between them.
Later, years later, when they were both long done with their days as soldiers, they would still have that bond.
Bonds forged at the breaking point are stronger than any others.