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An AU of Bleach anime season 14: Arrancar: Downfall Arc, rated for sexuality and canon-style language/violence. (pairing: Starrk/Ukitake)

~~

The sky cracking open above them led to a pause in hostilities, as Ukitake, Kyoraku and Starrk stared up at the incoming action. Not that they’d been fighting all that hard, really, given that it was Starrk, and he’d much rather nap than fight. Still, Wonderweiss leading Hooleer in was a distraction, and Starrk was more than happy to take it.

Kyoraku had just muttered something about mysterious characters when the little blond idiot suddenly appeared behind Ukitake and stuck his hand through the Shinigami’s chest. Lilynette squealed, and Starrk winced – man, she had a shrill voice. Apparently the white-haired captain had caught her interest, even as he was teasing her about being a child. His attention mainly on the falling body, Starrk still saw how Kyoraku was caught between finishing their fight, catching his friend before he hit the ground, and following Wonderweiss, currently off hunting the Sou-taicho.

Starrk hadn’t liked Aizen’s utter indifference to Barragan’s death, and he had a sneaking suspicion he and Hallibel were next. He’d always known the renegade Shinigami considered all hollows, even his own Espada core, as disposable weapons. After all, to Shinigami, hollows were animals. The Arrancar were simply more intelligent, dangerous animals, and the Espada the most dangerous of all. He knew, in his gut, that if he continued to play the pawn in the Shinigamis’ civil war, he would die. Probably last. No doubt alone.

These thoughts raced through his mind and he made a snap decision. To hell with fighting. To hell with Aizen, and his grudge match against the Gotei 13. The only reason he’d been fighting to begin with was because Lilynette nagged him, and she was more concerned about the guy falling to the ground than she was the battle… so he would be, too. He’d done enough for Aizen that he hadn’t agreed with, and it stopped now.

Besides, the Sou-taicho was fighting back, the heat was rising, and Starrk decided he’d rather go home than stay here and get cooked. Or skewered.

Pink-kimono looked really pissed off.

Thought gave rise to action, and he sonido’d quicker than the eye could follow. Wrapping an arm around Ukitake’s body, drawing it up against his own, he lifted his other hand and pricked a descorrer in the sky. Black folded out around them, and in an instant, Starrk, with Lilynette still in the form of his guns and carrying his unconscious burden, disappeared into the bleak night of Hueco Mundo.

~~

Shunsui stared in disbelief at the empty air that had, a moment ago, held his best friend and his latest foe.

“Son of a bitch,” he muttered, eyes wide. There was no way in hell for him to follow them. He couldn’t open a garganta. He was too far away and much too slow to slip in behind them – the pitch-black opening had already folded down into a square the size of his palm, before disappearing completely.

Instincts honed over nearly a thousand years kicked in, and his mind prioritized his next actions. He couldn’t do anything to help Jūshirō right now. He had a battle to win. Yama-jii was fighting both that bastard Aizen and that little blond snot that stabbed Jūshirō in the back. His way was clear.

Turn the blond brat into a smear on the ground, lop Aizen’s head off, back up Yama-jii, then when the smoke cleared, find a way to get to fucking Hueco Mundo and get his best friend back. Maybe turn Starrk into dog food, along the way.

Of course, no plan survives contact with the enemy. Aizen once again pulled some mysterious metamorphosis out of his ass. Yama-jii sacrificed nearly everything to snuff the little blond bastard before he burnt down the entire world. And Shunsui got his butt kicked. Hard.

He wasn’t sure what happened, actually. He saw Aizen kill off the blonde Espada, and Tousen, not that he cried for that traitorous bastard. Tousen had turned on his own squad, killing most of the seated officers and handing his taicho and fukutaicho over to Aizen to hollowify with no qualms at all… before heading back to Seireitei and pretending for a hundred years that he was an upstanding Shinigami. As far as Shunsui could see, it was way past time for him to be purified, given his actions, not to mention what he’d done to himself. The weird fly-hollow he’d turned into when he fought Komamura was hideous.

Still, the fight was as even as it could be when he suddenly got caught between Aizen and Yamamoto. There was a clash of swords, another rip in the sky that Ichigo Kurosaki fell out of, then a fucking huge explosion, and next thing Shunsui knew, everything turned white.

It would be several hours before he woke to more white, staring at the ceiling of a recovery room in the Fourth. By that time, it would all be over.

~~

The aftermath of every battle is heart-breaking. Even when it’s fought over a fake town, with no civilian casualties, and without the mass deaths among the rank and file Shinigami that usually followed such exchanges of crushing spiritual pressure. This was no different.

So many lost… the Sou-taicho fell to the uncontrolled flames of his own Zanpakutō, Soi-fon taicho to the creeping disruption of her cells spreading from her amputated arm before anyone even noticed, Hitsugaya taicho to a blow from the traitor Aizen that cleaved him in half. More were injured, some nearly to the point of death… Kyoraku taicho and Komamura taicho were in comas, barely holding on to life, while others, like Rangiku and Momo might never regain enough strength to return to active duty. Then there were the saddest casualties of all… those who had disappeared, either dissolved into the ether after death or buried under tons of rubble in the ruins of fake Karakura.

It was for these last the Kira searched, shifting broken concrete and recovering what bodies he could find. Iba, Omaeda, even the traitor Tousen and Ichimaru taicho, whatever he had been. At least Ichimaru had still been breathing, bringing a glimmer of hope to the rescue crews. Ukitake taicho still hadn’t been found, and until he had been… Kira would search.

~~

Hueco Mundo felt oddly still, so quiet after the crashing noise of battle. Starrk fought off the immediate urge to find the nearest soft surface and sleep. His feet settled on the sand without a whisper, and he sighed.

So much effort. Better be worth it.

He stared down at the face of the Shinigami in his arms. It was a pretty face, elegant dark brows contrasting nicely with porcelain skin barely marred with spatters of blood, and wild white hair tangled around his shoulders. The rest of him wasn’t bad, either. Long, lean limbs, a lightly muscled torso. Even unconscious, something about him screamed elegance. Starrk wanted to get him dirty. Well, dirtier.

Beside him, Lilynette shifted impatiently.

“He’s old,” she blurted out.

Starrk pulled his eyes away from his captive… enemy… whatever, and glanced at her. She was also staring at the Shinigami. She looked a little sad, and very determined.

“He’s old, and he’d survive being with us. He’s strong, and he tried to protect me. I didn’t need it!” For a moment, her stare turned to a glare, before it mellowed back down. “But still, he tried. You like him, and he’s pretty.”

Yes, there was that.

“Besides,” she continued thoughtfully, “if you save him we won’t be alone again. Please?”

She turned pleading eyes to him, and even if he hadn’t already agreed with every word she said, he’d have done whatever she wanted.

“If we’re going to do this,” he ignored her disbelieving snort, “then let’s get somewhere more comfortable. I’m sure he’ll appreciate not waking up to sand in his underwear.”

She was still giggling when they arrived back at his room in Las Noches.

Once there, he ignored her hanging off his shoulder, and gently laid the Shinigami down on the cushions. It took a little effort to peel the blood-sodden clothing away without re-opening wounds, but soon there was nothing in front of Starrk but what looked like miles of skin.

And much more blood than could ever be considered healthy.

Centering himself, regulating his reiatsu carefully so that it would seep through the torn flesh and ruptured organs without overwhelming and vaporizing them, Starrk began to feed energy into the limp form. He closed his eyes and focused all his concentration on the task.

The worst wound was to the Shinigami’s right lung. Wonderweiss’ fist had torn a hole clear through his body, and destroyed over half the lung, turned the encasing ribs to powder and rupturing everything in its path. As the lung rebuilt from the inside out, matching the newly grown organ to the existing left lung, Starrk noticed an anomaly.

Decay, of some sort, spread throughout the remains of the right lung and the entirety of the left. His reiatsu attacked it voraciously, destroying it aggressively, and Starrk was just relieved there was enough damage that his overpowered spiritual strength would be satisfied before it started eating the healthy tissue.

As he worked, he felt the Shinigami’s own vast well of reiryoku begin to swirl around him. To his surprise, it didn’t fight his own spiritual pressure. Instead, it began to mesh with his, creating a new pattern between them. He’d never heard of such a thing, because healing usually occurred by a stronger hollow forcing its will on the flesh of a weaker hollow – one reason regeneration was such a highly prized talent. Forced healing all too often led to the disintegration of the weaker hollow. This combined pressure helped the healing process immensely. He had the suspicion if the Shinigami’s spiritual pressure had fought his own, the man would have died very quickly.

Watching the flickering green and blue light surround his hands and seep through the Shinigami’s body, Starrk couldn’t help licking his lips. The other man’s reiatsu tasted like salt water. Made his skin shiver like an oncoming thunderstorm. And sounded like children laughing.

Or maybe, crying.

~~

When he opened his eyes, the first thing Jūshirō did was regulate his breathing. He’d learned early on in life that the only way to survive his illness was to ensure calm, regulated responses to absolutely everything that happened to him.

Admittedly, that was a little tough to do when he woke up to find Sōgyo no Kotowari standing over him, one to each side, catching and throwing dark blue reiatsu between them. The power sparked as it flowed over and through him, tiny slashes of his own white lightning dancing in it. It felt weirdly comforting, like being wrapped in a warm blanket on a cold winter morning. In the distance, he could hear the echo of wolves howling. Oddly, he didn’t find the sound at all threatening.

Feeling reassured, Jūshirō allowed the heavy weight of his eyelids to fall. In the back of his mind, he heard his beloved twins crying, and he wanted so badly to reassure them that everything would be all right.

He was unconscious before he could speak a word.

~~

He was dying.

Their daddy was dying.

Oh, they were trying. The fierce strength of the power jolting through them was keeping their Jyu-chan from disappearing from them completely, but they were fighting a losing battle.

It was too sad. Their daddy had fought so hard for so long. To die like this? It was such a waste. Such a shame.

Still they tried. They caught the foreign energy, wove it with their own, layered it through the sweet soul they’d been part of for so many centuries, and they fought as hard as he ever had.

It wasn’t enough.

The initial wound was bad. Mortal. The abrupt journey between worlds hadn’t helped. Standing in the cold wind while the blood drained out to stain the sands was the clincher. Too long. Too much blood lost. Too much damage done. Not enough time to fix it all.

Where was his fighting spirit? They couldn’t do everything. No matter how hard they tried.

Or how much they cried.

All around them the stormy grey waves began to die down, swells flattening as the energy drained from them. Thunder still rolled, but it was muted, far away. Flashes of lightning grew dim, as the beach they stood upon began to shatter.

Before it could dissolve completely, a gunmetal grey began to seep into the inner world, stabilizing the pebbles under their feet, propping up the falling trees. Sounds became clearer, vision grew bright once again. The twins met the grey mist, and supported it, as they continued to support the blue energy flowing into them from the hollow working so hard to save them. Identical pairs of green eyes under silver fringes stared at one another, confused. Hopeful.

Then the body beneath their small hands began to tremble. They refused to back away, shaking themselves as a second Jūshirō formed behind the original, supporting their daddy’s body against his chest.

This new doppelganger had a few significant differences from their Jyu-chan. For one thing, his body was intact, without the slowly-closing wounds that littered the body he held. His eyes weren’t the emerald green they all shared, rather, they were electric blue, flashing like the sizzle of lightning as it hit the waves.

As they watched, delicate lashings of white began to form, first along the man’s chest and back, outlining the lungs, forming a sort of body armor. Tendrils extended up the sides of his throat, running up in front of his ears, circling the temples to frame those usually bright eyes, then meeting along the top of his brow, near the hair line.

The twins continued to watch, entranced, as a new hollow was born. It looked feral and fierce, but oddly gentle, much like its originator. As Jūshirō’s coma-like state lightened into a healing slumber, the hollow in his soul embraced the sleeping body and closed its eyes. The twins wrapped their arms around their new big brother, and the four settled into a pile to sleep off the pain and stress of the day.

~~

Starrk woke up unusually slowly. Lilynette hadn’t jumped on his groin, or stuck her hand down his throat, or screamed like a foghorn in his ear. His heart jumped.

Was she dead?

He tried to rise and found he couldn’t. Squinting up through his eyelashes, he saw mint green hair hanging over his shoulder, and felt the blunt edge of her helmet digging into the back of his shoulder blade.

That was strange. She didn’t usually sleep on top of him. And if she was on top of him, who was lying beside him?

Shifting bleary eyes downward, he saw white… white hair, a bit grimy with patches of dried blood, dust and small bits of debris. White skin, glowing slightly in the dim light of the room. White bone, delicate like lace, not heavy like every hollow mask fragment he’d ever seen before.

The Shinigami looked good in bone.

It had freaked him out a little at the time. Memories of the previous day surfaced in his slowly-awakening brain. Starrk had been sure they were going to lose him. Too much trauma, too much blood loss, too long a delay before they started treating him… even with the unexpected blessing of their reiatsu blending the way it did, he didn’t hold out much hope for the other man’s survival.

Then the energy changed. It didn’t get dark, as spirit energy usually did when a soul hollowified. But it did get noticeably heavier. The wounds began to heal at an even more accelerated rate, and the chest beneath his hands rose higher as healed lungs easily drew in air. Then the obvious change began.

The mask fragment began to form directly beneath his hands, spreading quickly to lightly cover the skin. It was extremely thin, nearly invisible against the white skin, and highly porous, looking more like finely wrought iron flourishes than bone. It traced every rib, scrolling up the sternum and shooting along the lines of his throat, to curl into a perfect frame for that pretty face. It came to a curved point just below his hair at the top and center of his forehead, and if Starrk had been one for poetic turns of phrase, he’d have called it a diadem. But he wasn’t Marosa di Giorgio, he was just a lonely hollow, so he shrugged and muttered, “hermoso,” and left it at that.

A sharp jolt at the back of his mind brought him out of his musings. Reiatsu, high levels, coming toward Las Noches. It tasted like Espada, but it was too far out yet to decipher which ones.

He didn’t dare wait.

He couldn’t take the chance on it being Nnoitra or Yammy, or any of the crueler fracciones. They had to get out of there, had to go someplace safe. Sure, he could kill them, but crushing reiatsu wouldn’t do his patient any good. He hadn’t saved the man just to kill him in the course of protecting him.

Running on instinct, he shook Lilynette awake. Ignoring her grumbling, he barked, “Incoming! Hostiles!” and gathered the sleeping Shinigami in his arms.

Kicked into action, Lilynette grabbed a couple furs, some clothes, and the getaway bag Starrk always kept hidden behind his nest of cushions. They hadn’t survived as long as they had without backup plans, and neither had ever trusted Aizen, a distrust borne out by the traitor Shinigami’s own actions. They kept basic food supplies, water bottles, and blankets, ready to escape at a moment’s notice.

Which they now did.

By the time the incoming Espada arrived, Starrk, Lilynette, and Jūshirō Ukitake were halfway across the desert, heading for the mountains, and far out of reach.

The den they eventually arrived at was one they’d used centuries before. They’d had to leave it when the piles of corpses grew high enough to block out the light of the moon. They’d stayed out on the open sands after that, to give oncoming hollows a place to die without crowding the two of them out of their living quarters.

The winds had long since broken down the bodies and swept them away, leaving a clear opening to the cavern. It was deep, cold but secure, and with the blankets they would be fine. The Shinigami was more fragile, but they could lend him their body heat.

Starrk found he liked that idea more than he expected to. Maybe Lilynette wouldn’t mind going out hunting while he… took a nap… with the Shinigami.

“What’s that perverted grin for, Starrk?”

He cleared his throat and tried not to blush as he lowered the Shinigami, perhaps now an Arrancar, down to the furs Lilynette had spread on the floor of the cave.

“Seriously?” she demanded. “You’re thinking about mating now? Isn’t that, like, necrophilia or something?”

Starrk gave her a pained look. “You do know we’re already dead, right? Hollows having sex is always necrophilia.”

She wrinkled her nose at him. “Almost makes me glad I’m not big enough to care about that.” She stared down at the Shinigami, one hand reaching down to pat his hair. “Almost.”

Starrk shook his head at her, then settled down next to the Shinigami and put his hands back on that warm skin. “Let me concentrate, Lilynette,” he said quietly, then returned to his healing.

The energy flowed, and wove together, and the skin under his hands grew warmer. The dim light lit the walls of the cave in blue, green, and white, a comforting glow. Lilynette cuddled up against his side, the Shinigami slept under his hands, and Starrk felt more at peace than he could ever remember.

~~

Jūshirō woke slowly, only this time, he was no longer in his inner world. He sent a pulse of reassurance to his Zanpakutō and the twins hummed happily back at him.

Good. They shouldn’t cry. It was unnatural.

His nose was cold, and his muscles felt stiff. He thought at first that Retsu-chan had him in restraints, not unusual during some of the fevered fits that would come with his illness. But his wrists and ankles were free… the restraint was around his torso. Warmth spread all along his back, and there was a rhythmic puff against his neck.

Someone breathing on his skin.

Someone holding him in an embrace.

Shun-kun?

No, the scent was wrong. This wasn’t sunshine and sake. It was cold wind and… dogs? Not smelly dogs. The homey scent of a happy, sleepy puppy. Jūshirō smiled involuntarily.

He’d always wanted a puppy. The closest he’d ever gotten was Sajin-kun, and it really wasn’t the same.

Knowing he was safe without quite understanding why, he gave in to his exhaustion and fell into a deep meditation. His body would rest, but he had to find out what was going on. Who better to ask than Sōgyo no Kotowari?

To his immense surprise, when he arrived in his inner world, the twins were not alone.

“Hello, brother,” the stranger who looked like him greeted him.

Jūshirō didn’t know whether to embrace him or attack him. His instincts were at war, telling him to do both, at once.

Light weights landed on his chest and shoulders, and he looked down into his twins’ bright eyes.

“He saved you, Daddy!”

“We’re keeping him!”

“He’s fun, when he’s not sleeping!”

“And he’s got pretty armor!”

Well, he could see where they got that impression. The hollow version of himself, for that is the only thing the stranger could be, was stripped to the waist. He was wearing what looked like a flexible bone breast plate. One dark brow rose on the mirrored face, and Jūshirō wondered if he looked so haughty when he did that. If so, he would have to be careful who he used it on. Nanao-chan might slap him. Rangiku-chan might jump him. Both options were to be avoided.

Interrupting his musings, his new hollow grinned, and Jūshirō found himself grinning back. Raising his hands, his double slowly pivoted, giving Jūshirō a flirty glance over his shoulder as he turned in a full circle.

Very interesting. There was a matching bone plate on his back. It looked like his ribcage had imprinted on his skin somehow. Thin lines of bone grew from the top of the plates like straps over the tendons where his shoulders met his neck, then upward in a very thin outline around his face. Jūshirō stepped closer as the hollow stopped, once again facing him.

Apparently he had some internal delusions of grandeur, because the bone around the top of his forehead looked like a blunted crown of thorns, an ornamental headband that wouldn’t be out of place on a prince’s head. He snorted with laughter.

Rather than being offended, his hollow laughed with him.

At least it had his sense of humor.

“Oh, I have much more than that, Brother.”

His voice was harder than Jūshirō’s, more tenor than baritone, with a flute-like quality that he found appealing. One of them moved, or perhaps both had, but the twins had slid down to stand beside them, watching avidly as they joined hands.

Jūshirō bent double at the rush of emotions that filled him from his hollow half, and the hollow caught him as his knees gave out.

So much rage.

Bitterness, despair.

All the emotions he had so desperately, firmly tamped down for centuries.

Despair at his circumstances, unable to ever breathe freely, his strength failing him when he needed it the most, unable to protect and care for others as he so badly wanted to, unable even to play with his little brothers and sisters without constantly having to monitor every movement so that he didn’t scare them by coughing up blood all over them. Blessed, or cursed, to live for centuries, with no hope of anything approaching a normal life, forever on alert for all the times, always inconvenient and sometimes life-threatening, when his health failed him.

Bitterness that he would never be a father, no matter his Zanpakutō. Even if he could find a woman willing to make arrangements, he would not, for fear of contaminating any children he might have with his disease. Bitterness at the fact that he could never hold on to a romantic relationship because the one person who accepted him as he was simply wasn’t interested in men in that way, and the few men he’d approached over the centuries wanted him for his body or his connections, but never for anything that mattered. Bitterness over the sure knowledge that he would never be held in true respect in a warrior’s society because he preferred peace.

And finally, rage. At so many things in his life. At no one listening when he spoke, no matter how passionately. He had fought on behalf of so many… the Bount, the modified souls, the Quincies, the Vizored, even those poor humans infected with hollow powers, the Fullbringers. Lately, he’d argued for hours in private with Yama-jii over the fate of the hybrid humans, the ryoka who had first invaded and then supported Soul Society. And he knew, oh, he knew, just like with the others, when their usefulness was over, his Sou-taicho would declare them disposable, and order their deaths or exile. So many times he fought, so hard he had fought… and he had lost, every single time. Because no matter how much Yama-jii might love him, he never respected him, and never gave his words weight. No one did. No matter what he did, it was never enough. And that enraged him, to the depths of his soul.

All these emotions, embodied in a being who refused to let him die.

Jūshirō saw that, as well. Saw the extraction of his baser emotions into someone who could hold them for him, who would hold him when he needed the support no one else could give him. Saw the bone armor as exactly what it was, one more line of defense, and came to a startling conclusion.

He was the hollow.

He raised a shaking hand to his face, and traced a line of bone beside his temple. Dropped his hand to his chest, and felt the latticework of bone on his chest rise and fall with every breath.

Every clear breath.

His head snapped up, and he stared at his other self.

“You give up one thing, you get another. Only fair, yeah?” the hollow asked.

He lost his disease.

When he lost his life.

Taking a deep breath, the first he could remember that didn’t bring stabbing pain in its wake, he held his hands out toward his brother. His translucent hands.

Across from him, his brother did the same.

When their hands touched, Jūshirō felt a moment’s disorientation, then he steadied himself, one hand on the shoulder of each twin.

He felt whole.

His doppelganger was gone.

He also felt… vaguely horny?

What exactly was going on outside?

The twins giggled.

“Time to go, Daddy!”

“You don’t want to miss this!”

The sound of their laughter chased him out of his inner world. Little perverts.

~~

Lilynette gave him a sidelong look and announced, “I’m off to explore the cave! Do everything I wouldn’t do!” before skipping off.

Little pervert. Starrk shook his head with a wry grin. Of course she knew exactly what he wanted. She was part of his soul… or vice versa… he never had been sure. Didn’t care, anyway. The time for existential discussions about the meaning of life and where it came from could wait for the endless cold night of Hueco Mundo when they were too bored to do anything else.

Right now, he had better things to do.

The better thing was lying right in front of him. Starrk’s grin widened. Even with all the sweat and blood and dirt, the Shinigami smelled good. Edible, but not literally. Starrk rummaged through their pack and took out a box. With the lack of water, baths were a luxury, but Szayel had come up with an ingenious invention called ‘cleaning wipes’. They worked to clean and disinfect, so they were useful for treating wounds, but they also left skin soft and hydrated, so in a pinch, they were a good replacement for bathing. As long as one was willing to take the time to wipe over an entire body. Starrk stared down at the Shinigami’s body.

Yeah. Willing and able, here.

It took some time. The Shinigami was almost as tall as he was, and for all his thinness, was packed with muscle, with broad shoulders and long limbs. By the time Starrk had finished cleaning from his heels up to his hips, he had to take a break. Not because of the physical effort, but because he was so hard he could barely breathe.

Damn, the Shinigami was sexy. Even unconscious. Maybe especially unconscious, all that strength and reiryoku bound up in an utterly vulnerable and delicious package. Starrk licked his lips, thought hard about Yammy in a thong until his cock softened in self-defense, and got back to work.

Such enjoyable work.

He swiped the cleaning wipes along the bone workings on the Shinigami’s back, taking his time to get every last speck of dirt and blood. When he got to the slender, shapely ass, his movements slowed to caresses. He was going to claim this. He had to claim this. Softly swelled buttocks rested against his palms until he forced himself to continue, running the cleaning wipe gently between them, swallowing harshly as he fought the urge to follow the path of the wipe with his tongue.

Still, he made himself finish one job before he got to another… work before play, after all, even if he’d never been big on work. When the man’s back was clean from his feet to his nape, Starrk took a break from the wipes and took out his comb. Taking his time, working from the ends of the thick white hair to the scalp, he carefully combed the strands, picking out debris and dried blood until it was falling smoothly once more. He played there awhile, petting it, curling it around his hand and gently tugging at it. His imagination ran a little wild, as he wondered what it would feel like to clench it in his fists as he took the Shinigami’s mouth, or how it would feel falling against his skin as the Shinigami knelt over him.

It took some time picturing Yammy back in that damned thong, along with Zommari in a miniskirt and Barragan in a bikini, before his arousal subsided this time.

Eventually he could move without hurting himself. Starrk gave himself a stern reminder that he had exceptional self-control. His ‘self’ reminded him that he had an even better habit of meticulous attention to detail, and that might kill him before he got the Shinigami clean. Not to mention the fact that as the dirt and blood disappeared, the man’s own sweet scent came through ever more strongly, and it was enough to make Starrk pant.

Growling gently under his breath, Starrk got ready for the next hard part. Cleaning the Shinigami’s front. The legs were easy, sort of, long lean muscle under pale skin that he could not stop imagining wrapping around his waist, or stretched out over his shoulders. He skipped the quiescent cock for the moment, until his internal heat could die down a little, and focused on the intricate bone work covering the man’s chest. Pale skin, defined muscle, small pink nipples, peaking in the cool night air. His self-control only went so far, and he spent a little time licking at those nipples, unimaginably soft next to the ridge of bone fragment. Only when the chest beneath his mouth began to move unevenly, soft moans coming from the unconscious man’s throat, did he lift his head and return to his task.

More attention than was strictly necessary was taken to ensure that he completely cleaned the skin and bone of the Shinigami’s chest and shoulders, down the strong, leanly-muscled arms and taking time with each long-fingered hand. He ran the wipes along the line of flesh and bone, following it up and over the top of the shoulders again to clean the soft throat, before he could return to the center and finish the job there.

A thin trail of black hair, sharply contrasting with the pale skin, ran from the Shinigami’s navel to the thick thatch of hair in which his cock nested. Starrk caught himself drooling and shook his head to clear it, as he gently bathed the relaxed cock before stroking back to clean the balls lying against the lean thighs. Back further, he moved to the hot skin of his perineum, and it was a long blurry moment before Starrk realized he’d dropped the wipe a while ago and was simply stroking the skin. The Shinigami gave a deeper moan, and Starrk froze.

Cleaning. Yeah. That’s what he was doing. Almost done, now. Just a little more. Just his face. Yeah, he could do this. Suck later. Clean now.

With a supreme effort of will, Starrk pulled his hand out from between the Shinigami’s thighs and took a deep breath. Plucking up another wipe, he focused like a laser on the pretty face that was still slightly dirty.

And oh, from one honey trap to another. He slowly drew the wipe along the angled jaw, the squared off chin, the high cheekbones. He detailed the tiny curlicues in the bone framing the face, across the wide brow, down the straight nose. Over the closed eyelids with the ridiculously long, dark lashes, and Starrk paused to watch the eyes move under the lids. The Shinigami was coming around. Time to stop playing, or maybe, time to start another game.

The last skin Starrk cleaned was around the thin lips, wiping over and over until they were a little swollen. They were very soft, he discovered, as he covered them with his own.

Even unconscious, the Shinigami kissed him back.

~~

Jūshirō awoke to a kiss, and he couldn’t remember the last time that had happened. It felt like his mouth was on fire, his skin was overly sensitized, tingling all over his body. His hands were shaking slightly, clenched at his sides, and his toes were curled. His nipples felt tender and hard, and his cock was rising as well. All this from a kiss? Perhaps it really had been too long.

Or perhaps the one kissing him was simply that talented. He was completely distracted by the tongue in his mouth, mapping him out thoroughly, and for once, he wasn’t having any trouble breathing. He never knew how different it was to be able to take such a ravishing kiss without having to worry about his lungs cramping or his lover being disgusted by the tint of blood his mouth always seemed to carry.

If anything, this one seemed to thoroughly enjoy the taste.

His hands had risen without him realizing it, and buried themselves in curly brown hair. Not thick like Shun-kun’s, but slick and silky, passing through his fingers like water. He moaned as the kiss grew hungrier, more demanding, as hard hands slid down his sides to clamp around his hips, holding him close. His mystery lover was fully dressed, fur and close-cut cloth rubbing erotically across his own bare skin, and Jūshirō was convinced he’d never felt anything so arousing in his life.

Then the kiss was broken, for once so the other man could breathe, and Jūshirō promptly lost what breath he had at the sight of the man lying atop him.

It was the Primera Espada.

Had they lost?

Was he some sort of hostage or war prize?

How had he survived?

And sweet merciful gods, where had the Arrancar learned to touch a man like that? It was as if his hands were trailing fire over Jūshirō’s skin. He couldn’t think. Could barely feel concern over his comrades, his friends, his commander, his… oh, he had no idea bone could feel such sensation. The Primera, Starrk? Yes, Starrk. He was running his tongue along the bone running along the bottom rim of Jūshirō’s ribcage, heading unerringly toward his erection, and right now the entirety of Seireitei could be in ruins and Jūshirō couldn’t bring himself to care. As long as Starrk didn’t stop.

“Please,” he managed, sounding rather pathetic, but it worked. Bright silver-blue eyes flashed up to his, a wicked grin lit that narrow face, and then that scruffy patch of fur on his chin scraped over the top of Jūshirō’s cock.

It wasn’t loud, but he definitely screamed. Without running out of air! Amazing. Almost as amazing as what the Primera was doing with his tongue in Jūshirō’s slit, tugging under the foreskin and causing him to spill words he barely heard and would never use in polite company. Starrk pushed his mouth down over the top of his now straining erection, and the cursing intensified as Jūshirō fought not to come. Starrk laughed around his mouthful and that, combined with the sneaky fingers that were prodding his hole, ended any hope he had of control.

Starrk pulled back, prompting a sad little whimper from Jūshirō, but he was hushed gently. He watched through blurry eyes as Starrk used his come to coat his own erection, then shifted Jūshirō’s thighs apart. He wanted to protest, to ask him to take it slowly, that it had been a long time, to be gentle. He didn’t realize he was speaking aloud until Starrk kissed his mouth and murmured, “Tendré cuidado, mi dulce.”

He didn’t know what that meant, but the soft timbre of Starrk’s voice sounded promising. Then strong fingers were lifting his ass, spreading him, and the thin skin of his inner thighs were abraded by cloth and tickled by fur. Jūshirō gave an involuntary laugh at the sensation, and at the fact that the man hadn’t even stripped before fucking him, just opened up his pants and went at it. Starrk grinned down at him, apparently delighted at the sound, before he thrust in.

Oh. Another scream, this one a little louder. It wasn’t the pain. Jūshirō had been a warrior for nearly a millennium and had been fighting a very painful disease his entire life; pain wasn’t much of a problem, even in such an intimate setting. No, it was the pressure, the heat, the fullness to the point he thought he might fly apart. He had barely been stretched, and while his come was plentiful, it wasn’t the slickest of lubes, so there was pulling, skin to skin, and the feeling of being bored open. It was incredibly intense.

He hadn’t even realized he was hard again, and he was close to coming.

Starrk was muttering in his ear, “querido,” and “encantado” and “perra”, was he calling Jūshirō a dog? “Embeleso”, “amante” and “barragana”, oh, the last one sounded dirty. Nothing he could make sense of, but it all sounded affectionate. A little desperate, and wholly affectionate. Each word was punctuated by a thrust, each thrust a little deeper, a little harder, driving Jūshirō closer and closer to insane. The bastard was good, so good, and knew just what angle to take to hit him dead on, setting off fireworks inside him. There was no way he could last, and he didn’t.

Not that Starrk stopped. Oh, god, no, he kept going, fucking Jūshirō right through his orgasm, keeping him going, making him spasm. He had never had someone drive him to these heights, to keep him coming even after his balls were empty, until he saw white and tasted heaven. His fingers were tearing furrows in Starrk’s back, heirro be damned, and he wondered dimly if that was his own hollow nature now, to be as strong, as animalistic, as free of constraint as his lover.

His lover who finally, finally came, slamming against him, so deep Jūshirō felt it all the way up to his heart, and froze there, convulsing twice, a third time, filling him to the core. He collapsed against Jūshirō, who started to tense up, conditioned by a lifetime of fear of suffocation, only to relax as his newly-attained bone armor held Starrk’s weight easily.

They lie there, panting, Starrk nuzzling his hair as he rubbed his cheek against that fuzzy chin, until the cock inside him softened and slid out, followed by a dribble of come. It didn’t feel as uncomfortable as he expected. If anything, it was oddly sexy.

“You’ve turned me into a sex fiend,” he accused with no heat.

Starrk gave a startled laugh. “Any time you want, hermoso mio.”

That earned him another kiss, less torrid than those exchanged while they fucked but somehow even deeper. When they broke apart, Starrk looked down at him quizzically.

“Yes?” Jūshirō prompted, then found himself smiling as Starrk unaccountably blushed.

“Eh, well…” Starrk swallowed, then gave him an abashed look. “I forgot your name, and I can’t just keep calling you Whitey.”

It was some time before Jūshirō stopped laughing long enough to introduce himself to the Espada still lying on top of him.

~~

Several hours passed, in conversation, in cuddling, in more fucking, until Starrk was satisfied he’d completely claimed his Shinigami who wasn’t just a Shinigami anymore. They’d gone at it three more times before he even got all his clothes off… he was pretty sure Jūshirō was a sex fiend long before Starrk met him, or else it had been a long dry spell and he was really needy. Either way, Starrk certainly appreciated the results.

When the heat finally died down a little, they talked. Starrk reassured his amante that, when they’d left, the Shinigamis had still had a fighting chance, what with the bastard Aizen killing off his own allies faster than he was killing off his supposed enemies. Pink kimono, now identified as Shun-kun, was still going strong, last he saw. Then they’d moved on to other things, like trying to figure out if Jūshirō was an Arrancar or a Vizored, since his ‘mask’ showed all the time, but he still had an actual Zanpakutō. His twin spirits were alive and well, and he still had shikai and bankai, or so they assured him, while he didn’t have a resurreccion. Right about the time they had to eat or risk Jūshirō passing out from hunger, Lilynette bounced into the cave.

“Yikes! It stinks in here!”

Jūshirō tried to scramble for a blanket but Starrk kept him pinned. He was too comfortable to move.

“Oh good, while you’re here, would you get us some food? Jūshirō is hungry.”

The look on his amante’s face was hilarious, like he didn’t know which way to jump. Embarrassed at being naked with his lover in front of what he thought was a child, or distracted by the way Starrk was rubbing against him, or interested in the idea of food, going by the gurgle his stomach gave. Either way, his tongue was tied up as well as his body was held down.

“Starrk! She – we – child – pants – oh, for heaven’s sake – Starrk!”

Starrk kissed him. Had to, really, he was too adorable to leave un-kissed a moment longer. Lilynette made a noise beside them that might have been disgust or envy, it was hard to tell.

“I’d tell you not to get your underwear in a bunch, but you aren’t wearing any.”

Another splutter from Jūshirō, even through the kiss, and Lilynette heaved an over-the-top sigh.

“All right, fine, I’ll leave. But you better get dressed, because I’m coming back, and we’re having dinner and you’re going to tell me all about it.”

Jūshirō got his mouth free long enough to state, “We will not!” before Starrk stuck his tongue in it again. Lilynette laughed all the way out of the cave.

After kissing his amante until he was properly dazed, Starrk sat back and regarded him in satisfaction. “Si, now we can get up.”

Jūshirō’s stomach ground out a louder protest than before.

“And feed you before you starve to death, yes?”

By the time Lilynette came back, dinner was served, they were properly covered by blankets, at least, since the Shinigami robes were stiff with dried blood and ripped to shreds. The rest of the night was the most pleasant Starrk could ever remember, as his Jūshirō settled into his new form, as Lilynette got to know their new mate, and as the three of them began to form bonds that would last as long as they lived.

~~

When Shunsui finally opened his eyes, the world had shifted on its axis. His Lisa was sitting at his side, Nanao-chan at hers, as they talked about some book he’d never heard of. It didn’t matter. His Lisa was home. He looked around.

Where was Jyu-chan?

“Kyoraku Taicho! You’re awake!”

For once, Nanao-chan didn’t have her ever-present binder to whack him with… there were some advantages to lying in a sickbed.

“Are you with us now? You surfaced a few times before, but you didn’t quite wake up.”

Ah, Lisa, her normal tone try enough to leach the water from the ocean. How he had missed her.

“But where is Jyu-chan?” This time he made the effort to speak out loud.

He didn’t like the closed look that came over Lisa’s face, or Nanao’s downcast eyes. He didn’t believe it. His Jyu-chan could not be dead.

“He’s gone. I’m sorry.” Nanao-chan sounded like she was being strangled.

Waking up was never so painful.

“How long was I out?”

“About 36 hours,” Lisa told him.

Too long.

Too late.

If Jūshirō hadn’t found his way back by this time, something was keeping him.

Or he was dead.

Either way, the only thing he could do was regain his strength, and head to Hueco Mundo the first chance he got. He’d either bring his friend back, or bring back the carcass of the bastard who took him.

Retsu-chan wanted to keep him for a day or so, and he wasn’t about to argue with that woman. She was scary. His Lisa and Nanao-chan hovered around him like mother hens, only much sexier, of course, but for once, he barely noticed. His best friend was gone, and he was too late to save him.

His recovery time was spent in briefings. The state of affairs in Seireitei could only be considered a complete mess. They’d won the battle, and with it, the war. Aizen fell to a combined attack from Ichigo Kurosaki, Kensei Muguruma and Gin Ichimaru, and wasn’t that a hell of a note? The Sou-taicho was dead, and it looked like he was next in line for command, whether he wanted it or not. Half the Rukongai was in turmoil, the aftermath of hosting a city from the World of the Living right in the middle of Soul Society. Nothing had been done to re-seat the Central 46, so martial law was still in effect.

He had so much work ahead of him. Too bad he couldn’t bring himself to care.

Two nights after he woke up in the Fourth, he found himself sitting next to the koi pond at Ugendō. He’d snuck out after Nanao-chan fell asleep, and when his Lisa saw him, she simply nodded at him and let him go. There, in the dark, staring down at the fish in the still water, he could pretend for a moment that things were normal, that his best friend was sitting beside him.

“Why are you watching the koi at three in the morning, Shun-kun? Shouldn’t you be sleeping?”

Great. Auditory hallucinations.

A weight settled next to him. A hand brushed his wrist.

A hand he knew.

His head snapped up so quickly he nearly hurt his neck.

It was Jūshirō… and yet, it wasn’t. It was his best friend, warm emerald eyes and wild white hair and sweet smile and all. But he had something around his face, something along the lines of his neck, and where Shunsui could see through the open collar of the clothing he wore, white clothing he didn’t recognize, he could see something more.

Bone fragments.

Pretty enough, really. In fact, quite flattering. They framed Jyu-chan’s face and sat on his brow like a coronet.

It looked like his friend had, indeed, died. And come back. As an Arrancar.

Shunsui didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, hug his Jyu or kill him. What was he supposed to do now?

The decision was taken from him when he was drawn into strong arms and cuddled like a little kid. Only Jyu-chan gave hugs that wonderful.

Dead or not, hollow or soul, Shunsui found he didn’t give a damn. His friend was back, and he was keeping him.

Jūshirō held his best friend and patted his back, trying to comfort him. Starrk settled nearby, Lilynette wandering off, not too far, still within sight, but bored already with all the grown-up drama.

When the initial shock wore off, the explanations began. As soon as his eyes fell on Starrk, Shunsui would have attacked with the intent to kill, if Jūshirō hadn’t still been holding on to him. Hurried explanations, minus the lurid details, finally convinced Shunsui that Starrk, far from killing Jūshirō, had actually saved him.

And had sex with him. A lot of sex, judging by how deeply Jyu-chan blushed, but still. Mating.

Well, he guessed it was about time his friend had some luck in that area. Shunsui been telling him for years that he needed to get laid.

“Yes, yes, enough about my sex life,” Jūshirō groaned. “The question is, what do we do now?” He gestured vaguely at his face and chest. “It’s not like I can simply take my duties back up, as I am now.”

Shunsui felt the weight of Starrk’s eyes on him, pushing him to fix this, and he shrugged, irritated. It wasn’t like he had a magic wand and could just…

Well. Maybe.

“I know that look, Shun-kun. What has your devious mind come up with?”

“Hold your horses, bright eyes. I don’t know… but this might work.”

“What?” Starrk settled down next to them, now that it looked like Shunsui wouldn’t cut his head off the first chance he got.

“Jyu-chan… Yama-jii is dead.” He couldn’t sugarcoat it.

Jūshirō swallowed heavily. His eyes teared up, but he held in his grief. Shunsui wrapped one hand around Jūshirō’s, holding him tightly. As if he were afraid his best friend would disappear if he let go. Starrk moved a little closer, cuddling into Jūshirō’s other side. After a moment, Shunsui continued with his plan, spinning it out as he spoke.

“Central 46 is still out of commission, so the Gotei 13 is in charge of Soul Society until everything has settled down. The captains have spoken, and I’m elected as the new Sou-taicho, effective tomorrow.”

“I don’t know whether to say congratulations or I’m sorry,” Jūshirō admitted.

“Be glad,” Shunsui told him, “because that means I’m effectively leading the Seireitei through the end of martial law. And as Sou-taicho, I have final say in the disposition of the Shinigami forces.”

“What does this mean for us?” Starrk put in.

Shunsui’s grin had teeth in it. Sharp teeth. “Due to their heroic efforts in the war, the Vizored have had their exile revoked, and are welcome back in Soul Society.”

Jūshirō couldn’t contain a happy noise. He’d fought for nearly a century for just that result. Shunsui’s hand squeezed his lightly.

“Not only that. Ichigo Kurosaki has been named a Hero of the Winter War. He’s a hybrid, a little of everything, really, and he brought along a few friends. Besides the Quincy and the Fullbringer, and whatever Inoue-chan is, he also brought in four Arrancar, including one Espada… the sixth.”

“Grimmjow is here?” Starrk was surprised.

“Yeah, and getting along great in the Eleventh. But that’s the thing… Rose, Shinji, Lisa, Hachi and Kensei have all returned to active duty in the thirteen court guards. The Eleventh has an active duty Espada.”

“If we’re ever going to make amends for our mistakes in the past,” Jūshirō said quietly, “now is the time to do it.”

“And who better to do it with?” Starrk asked, seeing exactly where Shunsui was going with this.

“Precisely.”

Shunsui sounded both devious and triumphant. Jūshirō grinned at him, and he matched it with a sharkish one of his own. Starrk chuckled, a dark sound, and raised Jūshirō’s hand to his mouth, giving it a courtly kiss. Shunsui lifted a brow in his direction. Maybe, if he treated his Jyu-chan like the treasure he was, he wouldn’t have to kill him. Anyway, back to business.

“So, Ukitake taicho, I think it’s past time for you to choose a new lieutenant. Welcome to the Gotei 13, Starrk fukutaicho.”

~~

The next week passed in confusion, relief, and restructuring. Sitting on the wooden walkway outside his office, Jūshirō snuck a kiss from his willing fukutaicho, and sipped his tea. His division had always been the most accepting, the most tolerant, and the most diplomatic among the 13 Court Guard squads. They followed his lead, and while there were some who were standoffish, they were all happy to see him happy. They were willing to accept a lot if it meant their taicho was cured of his illness, enjoying his life, and there for them when they needed him.

There was a long road ahead, for all of Soul Society, but it was the beginning of a new age. And Jūshirō Ukitake was ever the optimist.

~~ el fin.