_debbiechan_ (_debbiechan_) wrote in bleachness,
_debbiechan_
_debbiechan_
bleachness

New Fic: Unohana and Ukitake. PG


I'm sorry, Cal. This isn't the story I believe you wanted, but it was the one that came to me and so I wrote it.
Warning: character death


Unohana’s Secret
by debbiechan




Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach; the characters in this story were created by Kubo Tite. You will be reading a fanfiction.

Description: PG Ukitake/Unohana. The dying Shinigami and the healing Shinigami.

Warning: character death


forcal_reflector

Death has always waited for Death. Before generations of humans who would fear the Black Plague or the mushroom cloud, before executions in the Seireitei were routine and before the Quincy were sentenced to annihilation, death gods expected to die.

The instinct for self-preservation would always exist in all sentient beings, the Living and the Dead. The first people knew fear and so did the first Shinigami who would harvest their souls. Suicides taught themselves how to deny fear. Warriors were taught to direct it elsewhere.  The living and the dead were born with the knowledge of death.

Ukitake had witnessed all kinds of deaths. In his academy days, he’d pulled Shunsui by the flowery scarf to save him from an oncoming Hollow. The Hollow went on to eat any Shinigami student who dared engage it. Watching these deaths, Ukitake learned that death gods bled red blood. He understood that pain was not a ghost. He heard that a crunched bone was a crunched bone. The snapping noises in the Hollow’s mouth were the bones of soul bodies.

“Let’s go, Shunsui.” Ukitake had taken his friend’s arm to hold him back a second time. “We’ll tell Sensei what we saw and he will defeat this creature. It’s not cowardice to escape an impossible battle.”

Word spread (largely thanks to Shunsui who was an incessant storyteller) that Ukitake Jushirou was a level-headed Shinigami and one you’d want as a commander. Much was made of the “impossible battle” remark, and thinkers argued exactly what was an “impossible battle”. Everyone agreed that if Ukitake made the decision in an urgent situation, it would be the right one.

Throughout his academy years, Ukitake was overheard to speak many encapsulated, tidy bits of mature understanding.

“He’s always been like that,” said Shunsui. “Spouting the wisdom of the ages in a way that doesn’t make you want to kill him for showing off.”

Most were not original sayings or unheard of common sense. Samurai had taught versions of them years ago. “The greatest soldier wins without a battle,”  “If you want peace, you’re going to have to fight for it,” “Tomorrow’s battle is won by today’s practice.” What made Ukitake famous for them is that he somehow managed to say these things at the exact time they were called for. To one discouraged soldier during practice but not to another. Not to the squad who would groan at the truism but to the squad who needed the truth.

Then one day Ukitake said, “I don’t understand the Living.” He didn’t say why or that the mirror of that statement was “The Living don’t understand Death.”

He had just returned from his first extensive solo tour as a Shinigami.

Old, old souls who had traveled the earth without soul burials tended to congregate in certain rural areas, sometimes a forgotten cemetery or abandoned building. Many of these sad souls became Hollow. These Hollow-thick regions were where students were most often taken for practice. The deaths of actual people were not witnessed and soul burials of the Hollow were done in a quick, military way.

But in the cities, the Living co-existed with souls. Old souls were scarce, and most souls flew up from recent deaths. Ukitake saw roaring beasts called cars collide into one another and bodies falling on the street. The Living killed one another with loud and ungraceful weapons. They died in hospitals where white-coated people would pull and pull at escaping souls and not let them go.

They came, the new souls, with wide eyes and no protest. They often seemed to not know that they were dead. They were not bitter souls for the most part, not Hollow-material. Ukitake felt odd about transferring them to Soul Society--they seem lost and unprepared for a spirit’s life. They would never become Shinigami--the reiatsu of each was a tiny light. They would live and die in the Rukongai. They seemed to belong somewhere else … not in the Living World, but somewhere else.

Ukitake didn’t spend too much time making ordinary Shinigami tours; he was quickly assigned a position in Yamamoto’s army. That’s where Ukitake saw the strangest deaths he’d ever seen.

Shinigami who didn’t die violently didn’t leave any parts of their soul-bodies behind. No one in black and carrying a zanpakutou came for their souls. The old men, Yamamoto’s sensei, dissolved into the air like tea into hot water. Their reiatsu was still strong a moments after the bodies were gone, and then their reiatsu, too, disappeared.

“It frightens you?” Ukitake had asked of Shunsui, who was hiding his face under his hat.

“Of course,” Shunsui had said. “The end of the reincarnation cycle, maybe the end of everything. These old guys--no more women and sake for them. Poor souls.”

-----

The sickness came all at once. One morning Ukitake was coughing up blood. He stayed ill for a while, got better, and then became ill again. Some of the Shinigami recognized tuberculosis.

A popular disease in the Realm of the Living, they said. They said it takes a man slowly, with night sweats and chills, and it draws blood from your body month by month, year by year. The disease had been seen among the Living since the beginning of time, but no one had ever seen it manifested in a Shinigami.

Why him, why now, what did it mean--these matters didn’t possess Ukitake, and so he didn’t worry about his sickness except when he was in the throes of some weakness that kept him from his men. Ukitake cared for people more than philosophy, and he had always worked hard not to disappoint his family and peers. In the Seireitei, there were even more souls depending on him.

“I know why you’re sick,” Shunsui would say and pour the wine that made the chest pains easier. “This is the only way you get time off. Otherwise you’d be running yourself into the ground trying to do good for everyone.”

Ukitake had made Captain despite his disabling coughing spells. His vice, a strong lively boy from the Shiba family, took over the job of training the Shinigami and leading them to battle. Ukitake strategized from his seat and rarely ventured into Hollow territory. When he did, though, his zanpakutou cut clean through the terror like light through darkness.

He was famous for his jocularity and good sense, and if anyone was wading through some political problem, Ukitake was the captain to see. He could make feuding parties smile, and he could make your issues seem infinitesimal if he so happened to start coughing. He had a rag handy to catch blood, but sometimes he couldn’t find it and the blood spit out of his mouth over his white captain’s robe. “Sorry,” he’d say. “I’m not a pleasant sight today,” and he would smile and continue dispensing fatherly advice and comfort.

His first visits to the fourth division building had been perfunctory check-ups required of all officers. Most men hated the routine, but Ukitake and the fourth division captain would laugh and talk as if they were at a festival.

When the illness came, Ukitake had reason to visit the medical quarters more often. The captain, a gentle-eyed woman with long black braids, took interest in the disease even if she had no revelations to report about its unusual presence in a Shinigami.

When Shiba Kaien, the young vice, would go on a Living World mission, Ukitake avoided the medical building because he didn’t want to abandon his men. Captain Unohana would send for him, though. She would say she had an idea or other about the disease, but everyone knew that the only thing to stop Ukitake from fretting over his commander-less squad was for him to lie on a mat doing nothing while a beautiful woman examined him. “Go,” Shunsui would say. “I’ll watch your ducklings. They can train with mine.”

Ukitake knew that Shunsui never trained his men very vigorously, if at all, but he would listen to his old friend anyway.

Then a very strange thing happened. Something stranger than the disease itself. Ukitake flash-stepped to the fourth division without urging and presented himself before Captain Unohana. He wanted to know if the end was near.

She looked puzzled. “I don’t think so. There’s nothing else that’s different about you.”

“Maybe,” Ukitake said, “the disease is accelerating my age. If so--” And here he laughed.
“I’m a very young looking old man, wouldn’t you say?”

Unohana wasn’t paying attention. “Overnight?” Her voice was disbelieving. “I’ve heard of this phenomenon but I thought it was just a human folktale.” She was lifting strands of Ukitake’s newly white hair and rubbing them with her fingers.

“It’s not paint.” Ukitake laughed again. “I’m not very fashionable.”

“Hmmm.” Unohana continued to run her hands through the long hair. “This may be some manifestation of your inner nature. Sometimes the full effects of achieving ban kai don’t happen until years later.”

“I don’t understand.”

“The state of ban kai produces clothes, wings, other manifestations of your inner self. Sometimes ban kai strength matures over the years. Maybe--and this is just a theory--your disease affected how your body would disclose your true nature.”

“True nature? That I’m an old man deep inside?”

“You don’t know?” Unohana’s smile was a gentle one. “White hair means a pure spirit. Goodness. Having lived a self-less life.”

Ukitake knew that he was a kind and helpful man, but his character wasn’t why his hair had changed. It was the disease.

“Ah, I see. White hair is like a halo to attract the needy. I should start wearing a shawl. It’s not so dramatic a change from my old light hair. Maybe people won’t notice and won’t come chasing me to demand good deeds.”

It was while she was bending over to examine the roots of his scalp that he pulled her down by the sleeve and kissed her. He never understood why he did it. Maybe some of Shunsui’s flagrant womanizing had rubbed off on him. Maybe. But for years, the one and only woman who had held his interest had been the poised, dark-haired captain of the fourth division.

He didn’t know if she would kiss him back, but she did. She kissed in the wholly loving and profound way that he’d always imagined she would.

There, on a hospital futon, after the first kiss, they became lovers. Her unbraided hair was longer than his mysterious white hair, and the tresses of both made a tangly mess as they kissed and kissed.

-----

Unohana was older than many Shinigami by the centuries. She saw the first death gods fall to pieces around her, and Yamamoto, then a young man, took her arm and said, “they died because they were inadequate in some way. You and I are not inadequate.”

Unohana believed that it was a mistake that she was spared. She was not a capable Hollow-slayer. She was shy and subdued and didn’t have leadership qualities. She continued to harvest souls in the Living World, and one day, a strange human soul, one with reiatsu strong enough to become a Shinigami, told her, “it’s because of your compassion that you were spared.”

Up to Soul Society went the strange human’s ghost, and Unohana was left staring at her hands. Compassion? Was it the same as love? She had called it love ever since she was a little girl. She had told herself that she loved the insects and rodents that everyone despised because she could feel how deeply these beings sought comfort in their families. She loved those Shinigami who lied and those who neglected duty, because she could sense their hurting hearts. What was the difference between love and compassion?

She got an answer as she watched her peers pair off. These lovers and spouses shared a bond different from friendship; what they felt for one another was a love greater than mere compassion. Unohana wondered when she would discover love.

But the day didn’t come.

She discovered that compassion could heal broken bones and repair torn flesh. She discovered that compassion was a busy gift, and her days and nights were absorbed in taking care of the wounded. When she wasn’t healing, she was teaching other Shinigami how to heal. Some had a talent for it. Others didn’t, but she taught them anyway.

Unohana found out that compassion would make more compassion. If she didn’t have love to give, then she could spread her compassion.

After Shiba Kaien, the handsome young vice of the thirteenth division, died with his wife and several squad members in the mouth of a Hollow that was never caught, Unohana could feel Ukitake’s sadness blown on the wind across the Seireitei.

Ukitake had always been such cheerful man. One of the finest people she knew. Someone who made her laugh even when she was engrossed in her work.

She brought him candies. Apples were better for a soul with an illness, but Ukitake loved candies and Unohana knew that he didn’t have long to live. Why shouldn’t a man enjoy unhealthy foods in his final days?

It was when she appeared at his office door that she realized that he was in love with her. For one moment, his face was transfixed with grief and the next moment, it was smiling like a boy’s. She knew. Just her presence lifted him. They shared the candies and talked about the Shiba Kaien they’d known, and when Unohana left, she felt a lessening in the sadness that wafted from the thirteenth division headquarters.

Even before he kissed her, she knew that he had never been with a woman. That he had never loved another women. And that he loved only her.

When he kissed her, she knew that her feelings for him were … not love. At least they were not like his feelings for her.  She didn’t know love, not the love between two partners. She kissed him with all her compassion, and that felt right. The men’s bodies she had seen over the centuries had lain passive, waiting to be cured by her. She felt a curiosity to know what a man’s body would be like if it acted against her own. Wanting to know felt right too.

He claimed illness often in order to come to see her. He would fake a bout of coughing outside her door and knock. “Captain, Captain. It’s urgent that you examine this new development in my rare and unforeseen illness!”

It was silly to sneak around. Unohana would’ve kissed him in front of all the thirteen squads, but Ukitake was shy. At last she told him that it was alright if other Shinigami knew that they were lovers. “Then maybe Isane will stop trying to match me with men,” she said.

“What do we do?” he asked. He seemed to want to make a formal announcement.

She knew that he wanted to marry her, but she knew that he was hesitant to bring up the subject. She didn’t encourage it. She made a mild commotion over how good they were like this, how she couldn’t imagine things any better, and how she didn’t want their relationship to change.

They ate candies on her porch or made love in the shallow garden pond, and Isane, who lived nearby, would sometimes peek through the foliage. Ukitake would feel obliged to protect his lover’s modesty by hiding her body with his long blonde hair, but she laughed. “This is as natural as eating or drinking or being alive and then dead.” She never said this is love.

Maybe he took the word as a given. She didn’t think so, but he surprised her when he said, “You’re in love with someone who is going to die.”

“Isn’t everyone?” she replied.

He laughed. A frog splashed into the pond. The rightness of things filled the small, immaculate garden.

Near the end, Ukitake began to fear. Not of losing his own life. He was a Shinigami--a brave and self-sacrificing being. What he feared was losing the consciousness that loved her.

“Will I still love you?” he asked.

The moment required a romantic response--something like my loving you will be enough to hold us together forever.  But Unohana knew what was better for his soul. She made him smile.

“Will you still love me? Will there be a you to love? Specks of white-haired light will follow me about my duties so that I won’t even need a lamp!”

The exact process of reincarnation was unknown to Shinigami. The Shinigami who died leaving soul-bodies were buried. Those who disintegrated into reishi were assumed to stay in Soul Society. It was believed the deaths of the earliest Shinigami had built the Seireitei brick by brick.

“Your honesty is more comforting than a thousand gentle condolences,” Ukitake said.

The words made her look down.

He took the gesture as one of humility. “Really,” he said. “Some treat me too gently and others deny the fact that I am growing weaker. But you tell me that I am dying. You don’t lie to me.”

Unohana, who had understood the reasons behind the sins of many Shinigami--the liars, the ones who slacked at their jobs, the ones who maneuvered for position and insulted things sacred--understood the reason for her own lie too well.

She’d never known a lover. He needed the compassion no one else in Soul Society could provide. She had hoped that, in the course of pressing her body next to his, as she spent more time talking and laughing with him, that she would grow to love him in the way she knew others loved.

But she did not love him.

She took leave of her job for his final days. Isane would routinely call with questions about procedure, but Unohana did not answer her.

Ukitake had no other nurse, and Unohana changed and washed his linens.

In a delirium once, he said, “I love you,” and looked like he expected an echo of the phrase. Unohana ran the back of her cool hand against his hot forehead.

Another time he asked outright. “You never say it. I know that’s the way you are. You don’t speak in abstractions. But … but … do you love me? Do you truly?”

And she smiled the smile that he claimed lessened physical pain. “Why do you think I’ve been here night and day? Why do you think I take out your bedpan? I’m after your fortune, Ukitake Jyuushiro. All the candies will be mine.”

She didn’t feel guilty, even though she knew that the deliberate with-holding of a truth was the same as a lie. Whether or not she spoke the words, she was lying to her best friend.

The words were not being saved for another. Unohana had already decided where her energies would be invested after Ukitake’s death. She would go back to work; she would spread compassion. She didn’t have the constitution or attitude required of a love partner, she thought. She never tired of love-making but she felt strained under the protocol of endearments and displays of affection. Her heart, if it existed, could not belong to one man; she would be lying in his embrace and wondering where there was someone else to help.

But she was glad that she’d lived this lie with Ukitake. After having seen so many die alone, without the comfort of love and without the satisfaction that they’d done everything they wanted to do, she wanted a good man to have a good death. A complete one.

The deaths Unohana had witnessed--every single one--had been less than complete. Soul Society missed something, and she didn’t know what it was. Humans, Hollow, Shinigami--they were all unfinished souls.

When Unohana held Ukitake’s hand and he slept and breathed with difficulty, she felt the compassion in his reiatsu. It wasn’t unlike hers, but it wasn’t infinite and it had almost depleted itself. To have allowed Ukitake to sink into sadness and self-blame after Kaien’s death would have been to deprive the Seireitei of its most beloved captain.

She knew that these thoughts were apologetics. They were thoughts that occurred to her years after he’d kissed her. They were justifications she made to herself while listening to him retch into a bowl. Had she even made the decision to give him so much of herself?  When he kissed her that day, would have there been any refusing him? Even if she had the coldest heart in all the Seireitei--or no heart at all--Ukitake’s goodness and beauty invited affection. Attention. Compassion. Deserved love.

She took care of the man who had taken care of so many.

Dry eyes and a hollow face turned to her. “You love me, right?”

She didn’t question his doubt, and she knew why it was there. Ukitake was a brilliant man; he had to have felt something missing in her kiss.

So she kissed him again. “It’s a good thing that this illness has proven not to be contagious or else all the thirteen squads would have fallen. Everyone, everyone has kissed your hand in thankfulness at some point. They would have displayed gratitude--” and here she smiled, expecting a smile in return. “And you would’ve killed them.”

He didn’t smile. He said, “I think I’ve done everything I wanted to do, but I still don’t know if I’m ready to go.”

And panicking, afraid that her compassion had all been for nothing, she said, “I’m not grateful for this time with you. I don’t feel gratitude. All I feel is … love.”

His eyes warmed.

“I love you, Jyuushiro.”

He looked happy and satisfied. “Was that so hard? I know, I know. Actions speak louder than words, and everything you’ve given me these years is worth a million I love you’s. Still, it’s nice to hear a trifle of romantic gibberish from you.” He winked. “Looks like you’ve exhausted your loving heart with these outpourings. Lie down for a moment. I feel very good right now and don’t need minding.”

When Ukitake died, Unohana gathered the candies that had been his only sustenance and put them in a jar to distribute to the ill at the fourth division. She unwrapped a chocolate and didn’t eat it. She was sure of it now. As wildly as she was grieving, she knew she had never loved him. Every kiss, every candy, every cool palm on his forehead had been an act of compassion.

It was not the perfect death she’d hoped for. Something had been missing. No soul ever went willingly. She’d never seen it. If she had truly loved him, would he have died with perfect satisfaction?

 I am incapable of loving
, she thought to herself as she wrote the report of Ukitake’s passing. His sparkling last particles of reiatsu had blown away hours ago. Should I grieve this too? My inability to love someone as wonderful as you were? My dear Jyuushiro, I don’t grieve. I don’t. And I’m not sorry.

No one ever learned of Captain Unohana’s act of great compassion. No one suspected. And all assumed, at the tribute for Ukitake, that the single tear that rolled down her face represented a restrained and elegant grief for a lover.

They never saw her cry again. There would be men who wanted to kiss her. They would blush on the examining mat and not dare say a flirtatious word because they assumed she carried the weight of an eternal love.

But Unohana did have a heart. And it was full of something eternal. She knew this only a year after Ukitake’s passing. The realization made her smile.

Before the first souls died on earth, it had been determined what was eternal and what was not. The constellations were not eternal. Love was. The death gods were not eternal.

But some secrets, like Unohana’s secret, were.


END

I'm sorry. I'm sorry. *hides face* I had to write this.

I'm going down my fic list--wasn't there an IchiRuki I promised someone. If so, please remind me. My memory isn't what it used to be. I need to keep track of what I'm working on and what's up next.
Tags: shunsui, ukitake, unohana, unohana's secret
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