It wasn't their usual style to "seek a target out". It was too much like looking for trouble. Shunsui preferred not fighting at all, really, but someone had to get the job done, once and for all. They had to do it.
It had been three months since Shunsui and Ukitake had decided to eradicate the gang that threatened the safety of Rukongai Town. He thought they'd been doing a pretty good job so far, too; they had gotten most of the gang members in the county jail, and some of the remaining, more slippery members they were forced to shoot to kill.
It seemed only the higher-ups remained. That would end tonight, Shunsui hoped. It had only been a few hours ago that they'd gotten a tip about a raid the gang had planned for the night. Ukitake had been already out the door by the time Shunsui caught up. They had both mounted their horses quickly and rushed over to the place, not even needing to exchange a word.
It was a dingy little barn that the gang had apparently been meeting at to plan. Which meant they would have to fight at close quarters, and that they had no way to check what was going on inside before bursting through the doors.
After securing their horses to the wooden bar outside the place, Shunsui's right hand immediately went to the grip of his trusty Colt pistol, and after some thought, he took out his second gun, too, just in case.
"Better safe than sorry? Here's something I never thought I'd see you do, Shunsui," Ukitake commented, whispering.
Shunsui let out a small chuckle. "Big damn showdown. We might as well look fancy while doing it."
He glanced at his friend. Ukitake's pistols were also drawn, and under the moonlight Shunsui could perfectly see the serious expression on Ukitake's face, the conflict playing in his eyes whenever he knew he would probably have to take a life. Shunsui never asked him if he was ready, because neither of them had ever been ready for that kind of task.
Their pasts were filled with death—it came with the territory, with the gun—and he knew what they were capable of, but it didn't make him feel any better about it. He swallowed those emotions. This was hardly the time to contemplate his wrongdoings. No, he did that after the deed was done and he was tossing down another bottle of scotch.
He was a bit startled when Ukitake's eyes turned to him. Shunsui already learned to interpret that look as wanting to say something, yet stumbling over the words in his own head. Shunsui walked up to Ukitake and spared him the trouble of saying anything by nudging his shoulder and staying close for a bit too long and a bit too pleasantly.
Only when he heard Ukitake sigh in relief did he back away. They were facing the barn doors, then, and couldn't speak even if they wanted to. Alright then. Showtime. Shunsui gestured toward the door and counted to three, cocking his pistols.
Together, they kicked the door in and immediately ran to different directions. Honestly, Shunsui had never been happier to see haystacks. He ducked behind them and took his second of assessing before aiming.
Thank god, he thought when he saw that their current targets were indeed the gang members they were after—four scraggly men spitting tobacco on the ground, a nice Winchester Rifle sitting between them and shock on their faces, which meant they were still unable to move, which meant this was his chance.
The second was over and, as though they were right by each other and agreed when to shoot, Shunsui and Ukitake fired at the same time. He stood up and aimed for the chest of the man closest to him, pulling the trigger twice and holding his breath. Ukitake did just that, going by the second set of gunshots Shunsui heard.
Screams filled the barn, along with the nasty scent of gunpowder and death, and Shunsui ducked behind the stacks again. He hazarded a look a second later. So much for immobility, he thought. One man—Shunsui's target—was squirming on the ground and clutching a neckerchief to an ugly wound on his chest. He was bleeding profusely, even spitting blood out. Ukitake's target was yelling too, a hand on his arm, but his gun was still held firmly and currently aimed at Ukitake; the man was obviously more resilient than Ukitake had thought when he'd shot him. Won't be resilient for long, standing in the middle of the barn, unprotected, while Ukitake had cover.
The other two men already had their guns raised and jumped behind some straw themselves, firing from over the stack. Shunsui counted the shots, backing away from the haystack so he wouldn't get hit in case a projectile got through. One, two, three, four, five, six, and… The gunshots stopped, which meant their pistols were indeed six-shots and now needed loading. Shunsui would now know when to fire.
A scream pierced through the air, and Shunsui's wide eyes turned to the source—the man Ukitake had injured was now on the ground as well with a shot to the heart. Two down. Nice job.
Gun blasts nearly deafened him again—damn, he lost his chance in the surprise. Good thing their enemies were fans of firing unreasonably. Twelve more shots and they had to take another break, but this time Shunsui was ready.
He straightened up just before the last shot, which was luckily aimed at the other haystack, and fired his own gun at the man right in front of him. But that second wasn't enough; the man ducked quicker than Shunsui would have liked, and by what he had managed to see, he only hit the man's shoulder.
There were no silent breaks from that moment on.
More yelling, more shots, even words. It felt like the noise was as good of a cover as the haystack he was squatting behind, but it meant he wasn't able to anticipate the loading intervals anymore, and had to go by guessing. Even with that handicap, with Ukitake by his side and two foes already down, Shunsui felt like they would win swiftly.
That was his mistake. He saw the top of the enemy's head and didn't waste time before firing his remaining shots at him, but he missed and had to drop his pistol and opt for the second one, saving the time he would have to spend on loading his paper cartridges. With his then free hand he immediately went for his pocket knife. He had good aim; he thought he'd be able to make an opening in the straw stacks their enemies were crouching behind.
When he straightened up, though, he was welcomed by a deafening sound, a bullet to his left pectoral muscle and blinding pain. Of course, he forgot about the rifle.
Shunsui stumbled back ungracefully, barely registering anything except the searing pain that spiked with every breath, that painted everything red. He tried his damn hardest to focus, to keep a steady grip on his pistol, to stay on his feet. He tried to focus on the noise, and noticed a change in it—more screaming. He hoped he wasn't the one behind it.
He looked up through blurry eyes and noticed a bloodied hand on the ground across from him, stretched behind the straw stack of the gang members. He knew he certainly didn't get a chance to fire back, which meant Ukitake must have…
Right then Shunsui would have done anything to let Ukitake know that he was alive, so he wouldn't worry so much because it might—Shunsui felt a sharp pain in his lower back, and realized he'd fallen to the ground. He decided to immediately let go of his gun and knife so he wouldn't hurt himself by mistake, only to find they were already on the floor next to him. He wondered how much time he had left to let Ukitake know he wasn't dead. Because his vision hadn't turned red, it was his body, and it was getting harder and harder to breathe.
Swell job not getting yourself killed, Shunsui. Starrk would have laughed if he'd known Shunsui was taken down by a gang.
Next went his eyesight, and the red blur became just black. He could still think, could still feel the pain, which meant he was still conscious and goddamn, he was going to stay that way. He couldn't die on Ukitake like that, shouldn't die at all.
It didn't matter how long it had been since he was hit or the slim chances he had; he'd gotten shot before and made it through. He tried conjuring up a picture, like his brain was attempting to entertain him so he would stay awake, and all he could see was Ukitake—his brilliant smile, his caring hands, his hair in the sunlight after a hard day of work, the way his cheeks turned bright red when Shunsui told a dirty joke. The way he would look if Shunsui died right then.
Shunsui forced his eyes to open, and for a second thought maybe he already had died, because there Ukitake was—hovering above him, his hair matted with blood and his eyes so focused on Shunsui it felt like he was being hollowed out. Knew you'd worry.
But he wasn't dead, because the pain was real, which meant so was Ukitake. Didn't mean to hurt you.
Shunsui used every ounce of willpower he had left and opened his mouth. The rush of air was almost too much on his lungs, but the look on Ukitake's face when Shunsui croaked out, "Gotcha", was worth it.
There was so much relief there, so much… Shunsui couldn't even give it a name. He felt like crying. Maybe he was crying. He would be certain to blame it on the pain later.
He felt a relief in the pain, actually, and figured Ukitake was applying pressure to the wound like any good cowboy would. The fact it had surely been a minute or two and he was still breathing meant his lungs hadn't collapsed. Meant he would get his chest patched up and bandaged and he would be good as new. Meant he would still get a chance to make Ukitake blush so sweetly.
Maybe it was all that hope that made the rest of Shunsui's senses kick in, because suddenly he could hear Ukitake muttering, "Thought you were dead, you bastard."
Shunsui opened his mouth again, trying to think of something that would reassure Ukitake. Managing both actions was too taxing, so he went with the first thing that came to his mind. "I wouldn't wanna… go down swingin'. I'd wanna die an old man, preferably before you."
The hand on his chest pressed down harder, making his cough and embarrassingly enough, thrash about under Ukitake's stare. It hurt less than speaking. He wondered what he had said that made Ukitake react like that. It wasn't like he'd listened to himself; he was too focused on remaining conscious and hacking coughs and keeping eye contact with Ukitake.
The hurt in Ukitake's eyes was too much to be ignored. He wondered if that was how he looked whenever Ukitake got injured. How the hell am I supposed to take that? He had to say something. "Cheer up, friend; we finally got the last of the gang."
Maybe it was supposed to sound more joyful, but his throat felt like sandpaper.
Ukitake shook his head, and his eyes became stern all of a sudden. "Yeah, you're the hero of the fucking hour. Now settle down or you'll bleed… you'll bleed to death faster."
Settle down? Shunsui didn't even notice moving, just as he wasn't in control of his words anymore. "I'm sorry."
Ukitake raised an eyebrow, and Shunsui thought he saw his lip tremble. "Don't say things you'll regret when you don't die."
That's pretty much hopeless, isn't it?
Ukitake averted his eyes and inspected the wound further. He then grabbed a bandage Shunsui hadn't noticed was there and ripped it with his teeth. He placed it on Shunsui's chest and when he was done, raised his hand to wipe sweat off his brow, painting it with blood instead. Shunsui wondered why his own breathing seemed to have gotten even more irregular.
"Let's get outta here," Ukitake said, lowering his other hand to help Shunsui up.