His Sister's Smile
Juushirou Ukitake walked briskly along the streets of the nobles' quarters of the seireitei, heading in the direction of his family's estate. One of the servant girls had tracked him down to the bar where he and Shunsui were out drinking, and breathlessly informed him that his mother had gone into labor with his sixth sibling better than a month early. The entire pregnancy had been full of complications, and twice his parents had feared they lost the child. Ever since the last scare, his mother had been on bed rest and had been growing weaker with each passing day. She still smiled at him every time he checked on her, though, and insisted to her eldest son that she felt fine – even though he could see very well she was not fine, in the least.
He heard the anguished cry of his father emanating from within the house, despite still being several hundred yards away. His fast-paced walk turned into an outright run, and a moment later he threw the door to the front room open and made his way to his parents' rooms as fast as he could - then stopped dead in his tracks when he got there.
His father, usually a quiet and stoic man, was collapsed in a heap on the floor, wailing and sobbing in his sister's arms. Juushirou couldn't make out much of what he was saying, but the words 'please, no' made their way to his ears and he felt his heart constrict when he realized what must have happened. The baby was too early. There had been too many complications. Apparently, it hadn't made it.
"Juushirou," came the voice of Retsu Unohana, one of his fellow captains and the woman who had been responsible not only for his mother's care during this troubled pregnancy, but for his own throughout most of his life. He turned to see her beckoning him away from his father and the others, her usually serene face tired and sullen. The young captain followed her to one of the empty rooms off the main sitting room, moving in a daze from the scene he had just witnessed.
"Your mother did not survive the birthing," she informed him, and he had to sit down to keep himself from falling down. Of course he should have known that was the case. His parents had lost a child before – a little boy who was stillborn before his third brother's birth – and his father hadn't acted as he was now. The reason he was crying so hysterically was that his wife of four centuries, the mother of his six children, was gone.
"And the baby?" he managed to ask, his voice strained with suppressed grief. He would not allow the rest of his family to see him cry. He was the eldest child, the one who would likely be left to make arrangements for their mother's funeral, given the state their father was in. He needed to remain strong, for them.
Juushirou looked up at her in surprise, not expecting her to have said that. He'd figured the child had died with his mother, for sure. Unohana simply gave him a small smile and left the room, returning a few moments later holding a tiny baby wrapped securely in a blanket.
"Would you like to hold her?" she offered as she came to stand in front of Juushirou. "Your father is so grief-stricken that he cannot bear to even look at her. I fear the responsibility of her upbringing may fall to you, should he never overcome this loss."
Juushirou said nothing. He simply held out his hands and she transferred the baby to him, then offered to leave him alone for a while. For a long time, he merely held his newborn sister, not able to look at her himself. Then, after a deep breath to calm his emotions, he looked down at the child in his arms. She was fast asleep, her hands curled into tiny fists as they clutched the blanket, innocent and completely unaware that her own father would likely never be able to give her the love he had given the rest of his children.
He leaned down and placed a gentle kiss upon the crown of soft black hair on her head. That was the moment his own grief took him over. His mother had been so looking forward to seeing this baby. She loved all of her children so much, and would have done anything for any of them. He only wished the price she'd had to pay for this one hadn't been so steep. He felt the tears beginning to roll down his cheeks, and in no time he was crying almost as hard as his father hand been, carefully cradling the baby to his chest.
"I promise, Mother, I will watch over her for you," he said through his sobs, his voice shuddering. "I will love her as you loved all of us, even if Father cannot."
He felt something touch his face and gave a start. Looking down, he found the baby was awake – his crying had probably disturbed her slumber. Her tiny hand was pressed to his cheek, her brown eyes – nearly identical to his own – locked onto his, and she smiled at him. Juushirou smiled back, even as more tears spilled from his eyes. He knew that smile. It was the same smile his mother had been giving him every day for the past several weeks, the same one she gave him his entire life whenever she told him everything would be alright.
In that moment, he knew. His baby sister was silently telling him everything would be alright, reassuring him with her smile, and he knew she was right. Everything was going to be just fine.