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Title: Five Times Jūshirō Ukitake Woke Up In Bed With Retsu Unohana
Pairings: Jūshirō Ukitake/Retsu Unohana, background Shunsui/Nanao
Genre: Romance/Drama
Rating: T
Status: One-shot
Contains: Spoilers for the Soul Society Arc, mild adult content, descriptions of illness.
Summary: Jūshirō's most vivid memories of Retsu happened in bed.
Notes: This is a gift fic for akai_miko for participating every day in the Week of Love giveaway at shunsui_nanao this summer. Thanks for your contribution! I'm sorry this took me so long! This story was written before chapter 520, and is not completely in line with the revelation about Unohana in that chapter.

The first time Jūshirō Ukitake woke up in bed with Retsu Unohana was in his third year at the Shinigami Academy.

The curriculum was four years long in those days. Despite some pressure from other shinigami working in the field, Yamamoto-sensei had refused absolutely to pass Jūshirō and Kyōraku out of the Academy early. "Everything that I'm teaching you is important. None of it should be skipped recklessly." Yamamoto-sensei scowled as he spoke.

"I'm sure you're right, Yama-jii," Kyōraku said, shrugging. "More time to chase the girls," he added when he and Jūshirō walked away from Yamamoto's narrowed eyes.

Jūshirō did not chase girls; he listened intently to his lessons, studying diligently. Kyōraku did not study much at all, but their grades remained similarly high—Jūshirō's poor health and Kyōraku's nearly preternatural sharpness in battle exercises evened things out.

It was one of those battle exercises that sent Jūshirō into bed that first time—in one moment, he was standing on a practice field across from a worried second year student, and the next he was spitting blood, black lightning striking across his vision. He wavered on his feet, determined not to drop his swords.

On a lush island in his soul, surrounded by rollicking oceans and buffeted by a cheerfully fierce storm, he'd met his zanpakutō's spirits for the first time and promised to use his swords honorably. Dropping his zanpakutō in the dirt would not violate his promise, but it would sully his swords, and he refused to do that.

The pull of unconsciousness was too strong, a black riptide dragging him under. He fell but never hit the ground. Yamamoto-sensei had grabbed him roughly, shouting for a healer as Jūshirō passed out.

He woke to find a huge creature with one eye staring him down, and fell back into the black, certain he was dreaming.

When he woke again his vision was clear, the terrible tightness of his lungs eased. There was still some pain and discomfort but there nearly always was that. He'd learned to tolerate the limits of his body, even as he tried to stretch them.

The ceiling was unfamiliar, but the firmness of the bed and the smell of unscented soap mixed with tangy blood he recognized. The hospital. He sighed, closing his eyes. This was the third time he'd been here in the last two months and everything was just as he'd remembered, except for the heavy dampness of his clothes and the feeling of hands unfastening his hakama.

He sat up abruptly, leaning on his elbows. A young woman with dark hair and tied-up sleeves was straddling his knees, struggling to unfasten the wet stays of his Academy uniform. "Hello?" he asked, and she looked up at him.

"You're awake. That's good. How do you feel?" She smiled, her delicate features lighting up. Her hands stilled on his waist as she waited for his response.

"I'm fine. I just had a bad moment at the practice field, Unohana-sempai." Retsu Unohana—she'd become a shinigami before the Academy was founded by Yamamoto-sensei. She'd come to teach the first year students the basics of healing kidō when Jūshirō entered the Academy, and she'd figured heavily into his dreams since then. "Do you remember me?" he asked, and could have kicked himself for it.

"I remember you, Ukitake-kun." Her hands resumed their work on his uniform ties. Her face slipped back into serenity.

Of course she remembered him—he was in and out of the hospital almost on a weekly basis. He'd never been personally attended by her before, but she must have heard of his illness and weakness. He repressed the urge to squirm, miserable and wet.

"You were very good in the kidō sessions I taught. You asked excellent questions, Ukitake-kun." She smiled at him, her eyes lifting to meet his, and he smiled back, bright and wide.

Retsu Unohana remembered him, and not for spitting up blood. She knew who he was, and she'd smiled at him. Her small hands had unfastened the ties on his hakama. Retsu Unohana was undressing him. Wait, what?

"Can you lift your hips for me, Ukitake-kun?"

He obliged, lifting his hips as she tugged his pants down his body, shimmying back on the narrow bed until she stepped off the bed with his sopping pants, dropping them on the floor. "Unohana-sempai?"

"Yes?" She removed his tabi, letting them fall to the floor with a plop.

"Why am I wet?" He wanted to know why she was undressing him, but since the answer was almost certainly related to the wetness of his clothes and probably not related to an overwhelming desire on her part to ravish him in his hospital bed, he stuck to the wet question.

Retsu Unohana ravishing him in a hospital bed. He closed his eyes tightly, trying to banish the image before he developed a humiliating erection. The cold dampness of his fundoshi worked in his favor, but his mind wouldn't stop dreaming. Retsu Unohana in a nurse's uniform, short and tight, straddling him in bed. No, no—Yamamoto-sensei in a nurse's uniform. He made an audible gulp of horror, his brow furrowed.

"Ukitake-kun? Are you in pain?" She climbed back onto the narrow, high bed, balancing over him. The position was awkward, but the bed was too high to undress him from a standing position without turning him on his sides and stomach, something that he knew from experience was uncomfortable or painful, depending on the severity of his latest attack.

He could feel the warmth of her thighs on his bare legs through the thin layer of her hakama. "No, I'm fine." He smiled, hoping he didn't look bizarre.

She nodded, one eyebrow raised. "My apologies for the wetness—it's a side effect of being transported in Minazuki. I have to get you out of these clothes; it's not good for your health."

"Minazuki?" He remembered the monster with one eye. "Minazuki is that creature?"

Her lips pressed together, her hands pausing on his sash before continuing to untie it. "Minazuki is my zanpakutō," she said stiffly. "Her saliva has healing properties."

He wondered what kind of inner world would produce a creature like that, but thought it better not to know. Once he'd confided in Kyōraku about the lush island in his soul, and Kyōraku had returned his confidence, telling Jūshirō about his own inner world. Jūshirō had recoiled from him, disturbed by the demented circus inside Kyōraku's soul. He'd tried to hide his reaction, but it was too late; Kyōraku had seen the horror in his eyes.

If it bothered Kyōraku, he didn't show it beyond one flash of resignation in his face. Instead he turned the subject easily to the girls in their kidō class. But Jūshirō still regretted the incident—it was obvious to him now that everyone's inner world was different and deeply personal. He'd never asked anyone about the inside of their soul again. Whatever sort of place Minazuki resided in, he wouldn't ask Unohana and risk offending her.

"I'm sorry. I just didn't remember what happened clearly. She's your zanpakutō? I am feeling much better now than I did at the practice field, you have an impressive zanpakutō ability."

Her head tipped up; she looked mollified by his apology. "I am working on some techniques to harness the healing power without so many side effects." She opened his tops, working his arms out of the sleeves. "Can you sit up a bit more?"

He sat up, his face close to hers. Her eyelashes were dark and thick, her skin bright with health. Jūshirō wondered what she saw when she looked at him. He hoped there wasn't dried blood on his chin.

Her arms wrapped around him as she removed his clothes. She smelled like soap and rosewater. He breathed in deeply. If he closed his eyes, he could imagine that this intimate undressing was happening in another place lit with candles, that plush bedding was beneath them instead of a plastic-coated sheet, that she was close to him because she wanted to be, not because it was her job.

"Unohana-sempai," he murmured when she dropped his soaked clothes off the bed.

She turned back to him. "Yes?" Her cheeks pinked faintly when she met his gaze before her eyelids swooped down to hide her eyes. He felt a moment of wonderment—Retsu Unohana felt something when they were close, too. He was shallow enough to hope it was attraction and romantic enough to hope that it was more, unlikely though it might be.

She shifted off him, moving across the room to bring a towel over from a shelf. "If you wouldn't mind, Ukitake-kun?" she asked, her voice briskly professional.

He stared at the towel for a moment before accepting it. She turned her back to him as he removed the wet fundoshi and set it with the rest of his clothes. He wrapped the towel around his waist and perched on the edge of the bed, where it was dry.

She turned around when he stilled. "If I help you, can you stand so that the bed can be changed?"

"Yes, I can do that."

She nodded and opened the door of the room, calling someone in. A nurse came in with fresh linens in her hands. Unohana helped Jūshirō stand, slowly and carefully, acting as a support. "This will only take a moment," she said. Her body was warm and surprisingly strong; he tried not to put much weight on her, but she shifted until he was leaning against her more fully.

He let his hands rest on her back softly. Her hair stirred slightly with his breathing; lustrous and short, it barely reached her ears. A practical style for a shinigami, but he thought she would be even lovelier if she wore her hair long.

The bed changed quickly, the nurse took away the pile of wet clothes. Unohana picked up a clean robe that the nurse had left on the bed. She dressed him, his attempts to help lengthening the awkward effort. "Here, Ukitake-kun, let me—shift your elbow—I'll tie it in front."

She helped him back into bed, accepting the damp towel from him and setting it on the floor. "Thank you," he said.

Unohana nodded. Her hands lit with diagnostic kidō; he recognized it from his many trips to the hospital. "I'll bring you some medicinal tea. You should rest."

"Unohana-sempai?" He wanted to stop her from leaving and spoke without thinking.

"Yes, Ukitake-kun?"

"How long are you going to be on medical duty rotation?" All shinigami rotated through the various duty rosters regularly. After she left medical duty, he'd probably not see her for years, perhaps. His best chance at spending time with the woman of his dreams was to be hospitalized. Kyōraku would laugh at that, and then he would try to help send Jūshirō to the emergency room.

"I'm not going to rotate off of medical duty. Yamamoto-dono believes that constant rotation reduces the effectiveness of our troops, more than it relieves them from challenging duties. He wanted a few volunteers to test his theory that specializing is more valuable, and I have volunteered."

"Interesting. Do you like medical duty? You have an obvious aptitude."

She sat down on the edge of the bed. "I'm good at it, and I feel that what I'm doing here really matters. Healing is at the heart of shinigami success on the frontlines. Returning people to their optimal health as soon as possible keeps our forces strong. More than that—"

"Please go on, Unohana-sempai." She fascinated him. Her eyes were alive with passion for her subject, her face and voice animated.

"I want to heal people. As many people as I can." She looked down at her hands.

"That's admirable," he said, and meant it.

"No, it's foolish. Triage is a critical part of battlefield medicine. Admitting that people can't always be saved is important and necessary. Wanting to heal everyone—" She shook her head.

He covered her hands with one of his hands. Bold, given the way she looked up in surprise, but he wanted her to listen to him, to feel his sincerity. "It's not foolish to want to do everything that you can. Having that as your guiding light is powerful. And if you fall short of that ideal sometimes, that doesn't make it worthless. Sometimes our bodies fall us, our resources don't stretch enough, and our abilities can't overcome obstacles. But doing as much as you can and striving to do more—that's beautiful. That's powerful."

Her eyes widened, softened. Her hand curled around his. "I understand why they wanted to pull you out of the Academy early. You're naturally inspiring, Ukitake-kun. You'll be an excellent leader of shinigami."

He blinked rapidly at her praise, trying not to blush. "Oh, that's—but I really believe what I said before."

Her lips turned up. "I know. That's why it's inspiring. Many have called me a fool lately, although not to my face, for staying on medical duty and not seeking the glory of the battlefield. I'm superior in battle, but that's not who I want to be."

"Support is important. We can only be as strong as our supports allow us to be." He sat up and leaned closer to her.

The serenity that she seemed to strive for was not present on her face—instead she was luminous with warmth and intensity. She was more beautiful than before like this, and Jūshirō's chest ached for reasons that had nothing to do with his illness.

The moment stretched, both of them still. Her eyes were full of mysteries and depths that he wanted to explore. Her full lips parted slightly. He shifted closer, only a few breaths separating her mouth from his. He wanted to kiss her more than he'd wanted anything before.

He didn't dare.

"Thank you," she said finally, in the barest whisper, and then she pulled away from him, floating to the door. "I'll bring your medicinal tea." She disappeared, the door clicking shut behind her.

Jūshirō leaned back against the pillows, shaky. What had happened? There was something—a connection—that he'd never felt before. It was wonderful and more than a little scary. He brushed his hand over his face, stunned.

It was more than an hour before she returned. Her serene expression was firmly in place, and never wavered as she gave him medicine, ran a healing kidō over his chest, and wrote notes in his chart. It was as if that magical moment had never happened.

He didn't say anything about it to her, because what could he say? Nothing had happened. Yet he couldn't stop thinking about it, and about her. Retsu Unohana was seriously distracting.

In the park after he was out of the hospital, Jūshirō told Kyōraku what had happened with Unohana. Kyōraku considered the matter for all of ten seconds. "You're attracted to each other."

"Yes, but I don't think that's all it was."

Kyōraku scratched his chin, considering. "You want to sleep with her?"

Jūshirō sighed. "Obviously, but more than that—I want to know her. I want to be close to her."

"Hmm." He studied Jūshirō, his eyes narrowed. "You're in love with her," he proclaimed, falling back onto the grass for a nap.

Jūshirō sputtered. "That's preposterous, I hardly know her."

"You're in love with her."

"Don't just say outrageous things like that and go to sleep."

Kyōraku opened one eye. "Ukitake, it's obvious. You're in love with her. Accept it now or don't, either way is fine. But I think you should buy me a drink when you realize that I'm right."

"You're not right. And weren't we going to study now?" He tapped his kidō book, annoyed.

"Start without me, I'll catch up later." Kyōraku draped an arm over his eyes. "It's so bright."

"Then get a hat, if you're going to nap in the middle of the day. I'm going to the library." Full of righteous energy, he stood and strode away.

"You're in love with her," Kyōraku called after him.

"I am not," he said firmly to no one in particular.

He held to that belief for several years. He graduated from the Academy, becoming a shinigami of some regard. Whenever he met Retsu Unohana, she was serene and he was polite, and they never spoke on anything deeper than his health and the weather.

And then there was war. A brilliant strategist rose in Hueco Mundo and armies of Hollows marched against Soul Society. Yamamoto-sensei said these events happened in cycles, foreseeable but unpreventable.

The battles raged for weeks and Jūshirō fought to his limits and beyond. He stood back to back with Kyōraku, proud of his friend's strength, even as strong distaste and pale horror for Kyōraku's methods and powers niggled at his mind. They pushed back the enemy, but it would only be temporary. Jūshirō's body struggled and finally failed as the enemy fell away, regrouping.

The second time Jūshirō woke up in bed with Retsu Unohana was during this slight reprieve from war.

His eyes opened to a jagged and holey straw roof; it was a building in the Rukongai, where the main front of the war was staged. From the quiet he judged it to be removed from the front lines. He listened to his own ragged breathing for a moment, wincing slightly—he sounded bad, but it was just exhaustion exacerbating his condition—it was painful, but not enough to take him out of the war.

Below his own gasping breaths he heard even, smooth breathing. He propped himself up on his elbows to look around. A woman was next to him on the floor, her head resting against his thigh, as if she'd been on her knees beside him and collapsed from exhaustion. He couldn't see her face clearly—it was partially covered by her hair—but he would have recognized her under any circumstances. Retsu Unohana. Had she come to heal him and fallen ill herself?

"Unohana-san?" He touched her shoulder gently.

She shot up, coming awake immediately. She brushed her hair out of her face, tying it back quickly. "Ukitake-san. How do you feel? You collapsed on the battlefield."

"I'll be fine. I just need rest. But how are you, Unohana-san? It looks like you fell asleep where you were sitting."

She shook her head, pressing him back lightly onto the thin pallet. "I apologize for that, Ukitake-san. I hope I didn't make you uncomfortable. Please, let me heal you now."

"I wasn't uncomfortable, I was worried about you."

Her hands lit with diagnostic kidō. When she brought them to his chest he could see her trembling.

"You're shaking. How long have you been on the front? When did you last rest?" He touched one of her hands and the kidō extinguished immediately.

"I'm fine. I will heal you, take another energy pill, and return to do triage on the front." She folded her hands into her lap. He could see deep, heavy shadows under her eyes, and her face was pale and drawn.

"Unohana-san, when did you last rest?" The battle had begun on this front four days ago.

"I will rest when the battle is done." She met his eyes, holding his gaze easily. Her steely determination shown through the serene expression she wore most of the time.

"The enemy has retreated. There's downtime now, so please take some rest. You obviously need it." He sat up.

She pressed his shoulder, attempting to get him to lie down again. "There is no downtime for the support units. This time when new wounded soldiers aren't being brought in is critical. We must heal as many of our powerful fighters as we can, so that we can overwhelm the enemy when they strike again."

He resisted her push. "I understand that. But there are many other healers working now, aren't there? Ones that have been brought in because of the enemy retreat, ones that are fresh. You can rest for a little while and go back out when you're revived."

"Those other healers are not me," she said simply. There was no arrogance in her words or manner—it was an acknowledgement of fact. There were no healers in Soul Society right now as skilled and strong as Retsu Unohana.

He nodded once. "But if you are here, that means that there is no one that they need able to return to the battle more than me." He hoped his voice lacked arrogance the same way hers had. It was the truth—if Kyōraku had been injured, she would be working on him; if Yamamoto-sensei had been injured, she would be working on him. But she was here, and that meant that Jūshirō was the highest priority among the injured.

She nodded once. "Yamamoto-dono instructed me to secure your return to the field."

"So you can rest, and then heal me, and we will return to the front together, both in better shape than we are now," he said, and smiled.

Her eyes flashed. "There are many patients for me to tend, many new healers for me to direct—"

"They will still be there in a few hours, and you will be better able to do those things after you've rested." He gestured to the empty pallet beside him. "Please, Unohana-san."

She narrowed her eyes at him, and when she spoke it was with a deliberate coldness. "Do you imagine that you know my abilities and my job better than I do, Ukitake-san?"

"No. I don't imagine anything like that. I don't know you nearly as well as I'd like. But what I do know is what it is to be frustrated by the limitations of my body. You're at your limit, Unohana-san. I know what it looks like, because I've seen it so many times in myself."

Her brows drew together and then her expression cleared, her serenity slipping over her face, slightly ragged. "When Yamamoto-dono completes his reorganization of the shinigami, there will be thirteen Captains."

"Yes, I know." He tilted his head a little. Did she want one of the positions? It was very likely she would get one.

"There are several candidates for each position. Do you know how many female candidates there are?" she asked, one brow raised.

"No." He assumed there were a fair number, though—there were many competent and powerful women in the shinigami ranks.

"One. I am the only woman being considered for a position." She folded her hands into her lap.

He blinked. "I didn't realize, I just assumed—"

"You assumed there would be equivalence among the candidates. You are wrong about that. Even though you are a candidate for one of the Captain positions, you didn't research your competition?" Her expression was difficult to read in the faint light.

"If I deserve a position, I'll receive one. I don't consider it a competition. I'm sure Yamamoto-sensei will choose the best people for the jobs."

She smiled faintly. "You don't consider it a competition. Unfortunately, you are very wrong. This is very much a competition. All of the candidates are competing at this moment, in this war. Your position as Yamamoto-dono's favorite may insulate you from this situation, but that is the reality. You and Kyōraku-san may be assured of your positions in the new Gotei 13, but I am not. The other candidates are not. We must show our worth here. I must show my worth as a healer, instead of as a warrior."

He bowed his head. He had been arrogant without realizing it. He'd seen the rivalries and the machinations among his peers, but hadn't connected it with the Captain positions in the new Gotei 13. Jūshirō had assumed he would gain whatever position he was suited for without any deliberate action. He still believed that, but perhaps it wasn't the same for everyone. "I'm sorry. I should have seen that."

Her eyes softened, some of that cold dignity leaving her face. "No. You were focused on what was important. You focused on battle, and trusted that Yamamoto-dono would make the right choices. I have been working to my limits, it's true, not only for the sake my patients, but for the position as Captain of the new healing division."

"You'll get the leadership of the healing division, Unohana-san. There's no one else as qualified as you, and regardless of what you think of Yamamoto-sensei, I promise you that he will not be swayed by any temporary show put on by other candidates. You are the best healer that we have, and you are an excellent leader of troops. There's no one else that deserves the position more." He put his hand over hers, as bold as he'd been that first day in the hospital, when she'd knocked his heart over with her beautiful eyes.

She glanced down at his hand on hers. He felt very self-conscious, but didn't remove it. "Somehow you make me feel ashamed. My training says victory at any price, but I don't believe that is the most ethical choice. I've tried to leave that training behind," she said.

He startled. "What? Why would you say that you feel ashamed?"

"I have been thinking of my patients, but not only my current ones. I've been thinking of how much more I could do with command of my own division, how I could train my subordinates, how important it was that I be given one of the Captain positions. But you have simply trusted that the outcome of the selection process would be fair, and that you would receive whatever you deserve. If you didn't receive a position, I doubt you would have raised a fuss about it."

He swallowed. "Unohana-san—"

"Your motivations are pure. You are—cleaner than the rest of us, who considered our own advancement even in this time of war." She shook her head. "Please forgive me for speaking this way, I'm very tired."

"You don't have anything to be ashamed of, Unohana-san. You've done your best for your patients in this war. Wanting to have a position that allows you to do more in the future isn't wrong. Kyōraku's thought about it, too. If I haven't, it's not necessarily that my motivations are purer. It's that I have limited resources to spend on things. I have to focus on what's in front of me now, because my health doesn't allow for much else. How can I plan for a future when I don't know if I'll have one?"

Her hand turned up on her lap, clasping his hand firmly. "You can plan for the future, Ukitake-san. You must, especially if you aren't sure that you'll have one. That's when it matters the most. But you will have a future. Your condition can be managed, and we will manage it." Steel ribbon ran through her voice.

She was beautiful in her determination, and that he was the subject of her intensity was aweing to him. "When you say it like that, it makes me want to plan for the future."

Her lips parted. They were paler pink than usual, but still full and lush. She had a sensual mouth, one that he'd imagined kissing more times than he'd admit to, even to himself. Unohana didn't speak, just watched him with her dark eyes brilliant in the dim light.

If she knew what he'd thought, what he felt, it didn't show. "Will you rest?" he asked. Her health was important, not only to him, but to her patients, to all of the shinigami.

She inclined her head slightly, releasing his hand and moving to the pallet beside him. "Briefly. In an hour I'll get up and heal you, and then we'll return to the front together."

"Two hours, please. To be honest, I need the sleep," he said, self-deprecation in his voice.

"Very well." She waited until he'd settled onto his back on the pallet, watching his breathing. "Your condition will hold for a few hours. You are suffering from exhaustion, as you'd suspected."

He smiled wryly. "I know my limits. I don't always stay inside them, but I know what they are."

"I understand that well myself." She lay down on the small pallet next to him on her side. They were very close—he could feel the warmth of her body next to him. "Ukitake-san?"

He turned his head to her. "Yes?"

She hesitated. "Do you remember that day in the hospital, the first time I tended to you?"

"Vividly." He smiled.

"When I told you that you'd be an excellent leader, I meant it. It's still the truth now. That's why I've never doubted that you'd obtain a Captain position, even with the state of your health." Her face was half in shadow. The air between them felt heavy with possibility, the way that it had in the hospital. He felt a leap in his heart that had nothing to do with his condition.

"I've never forgotten that. It was amazing that Unohana-sempai would say something like that to me."

"Sempai," she murmured, weighing the word.

"If you'd like me to use another honorific, I will." He nearly didn't speak, but he wasn't a boy now, he was a man. "If you'd like me to use your name, I will."

Her eyes gleamed in the light, and he felt as if he'd leaped from a high mountain and survived. "When we are alone, you may use my name. Retsu," she said carefully.

"Thank you. Of course you can use my name any time that you want, Retsu-san. Jūshirō," he said with his smile wide on his face.

"When we are alone, I will call you Jūshirō-san." His name had a delicate musicality in her voice. He loved the sound and wanted to hear it every day.

His hand lifted to her face, stroking the fine skin of her cheek. He started to shift, to reach for her, and she stopped him with a hand on his chest.

"You might aggravate your condition," she said gently.

He was disappointed to miss the chance to kiss her again, but nodded. "Thank you for thinking of me, Retsu-san."

She rose to her knees and bent over him, her hands on the pallet on either side of his head. "It's best for you to stay where you are," she whispered. She leaned down, keeping her weight off him.

"Retsu-san." He raised his hands to touch her back, her shoulders, her neck. That this woman, so elegant and beautiful, would allow him to touch her—it was incredible to him.

She kissed him, her lips soft and wet on his lips. He wrapped his arms around her, trying to bring her down against him, but she resisted. She did part her lips for him, allowing him to taste her, and that was more than enough. Retsu's flavor was tea, the bittersweet chocolate of the energy pills, and summer. That was the only name he could give it—she was sunlight and warmth and everything summer—his favorite season. When she broke the kiss he nearly expected to see fireflies flitting around them.

"You need to rest." She pulled away from him, gently breaking his embrace. "Stay on your back."

"Yes, Retsu-san." He let her go easily, confident that he'd be kissing her again soon. She'd felt the same spark when they'd kissed that he had, he was certain. It showed in the unexpected tenderness of her eyes and the lingering look she gave his lips. "We'll rest together." He reached for her hand.

She accepted his hold, allowing her hand to be swallowed up in his much larger one. "Only when we're alone," she said.

But they weren't alone for a long time after that. The war dragged on. Even when the forces of Hueco Mundo were obviously outnumbered, they still managed to find new techniques to take on shinigami armies with forces three times their number.

Finally the war did end, and life was slowly restored to normal. Yamamoto made his appointments to the new Gotei 13, and as Jūshirō had expected, Unohana earned her place as the head of the healing division. Kyōraku also earned a Captain's position, as did Jūshirō.

They were waiting just inside the open door of the First Division for the official ceremony that would induct the new Gotei 13 leaders when Jūshirō turned to Kyōraku.

"I don't like this white robe, it's so plain. It looks too serious," Kyōraku said.

"It is serious. It's a representation of your position as a Captain." Jūshirō paced the hallway.

"What's with you? You're so jittery." Kyōraku was sitting against the wall, not even bothering to stand while they waited.

It'd been months since Jūshirō had seen Retsu in a situation that wasn't directly related to the war. She appeared in the courtyard, her walk so smooth she seemed to float across the cobblestones towards him. His heart throbbed painfully in his chest. "I'm in love with her," he blurted out.

"Eh?" Kyōraku roused himself enough to glance out the door at Retsu. "With sempai? I knew that already."

"I didn't," he snapped.

"Stop pacing like that. You don't want to look too eager or nervous, do you?"

Jūshirō stopped and stood up straight, smiling genially as Retsu entered.

"Good afternoon, Captain Ukitake, Captain Kyōraku," she said, sweeping past them into the meeting room.

His heart dropped.

Kyōraku stood. "Don't look like that, or everyone will think you're having an attack of your condition when we go in."

"Why? She didn't even look at me, why?" Jūshirō stared at the door of the meeting room.

Kyōraku sighed. "You had an intimate moment together during wartime. You're in love with her. But she may not be in love with you."

Jūshirō swallowed heavily.

Kyōraku dropped his hand on his shoulder, squeezing encouragingly. "Yet. She's not in love with you yet."

Jūshirō stood up straight. "You're right. I can get a woman to fall in love with me. Can't I?"

"Lots of women think themselves in love with you. You're charming and handsome and a bit sickly, so you'd need them. Women like to be needed." Kyōraku shrugged.

Jūshirō shot him an annoyed look. "I want to be her lover, not her patient."

"Then you need to show yourself to her in other contexts, so that she'll see you as someone that she wants to be her lover, and not as a frequent guest at the third floor of the hospital," Kyōraku said.

"I can do that." His brows drew together, a strong determination rising in his heart.

Jūshirō brought her flowers at the Fourth Division. Retsu met him in the hallway, casting a cool eye over the flowers. She took them from him, cutting off his greeting by turning to a nurse. "Captain Ukitake was kind enough to gift flowers to our Division. Please give them a place of prominence on the front desk," Retsu said.

She turned on her heel and went into an examination room, Jūshirō following behind. "The flowers were for you, Retsu-san."

Annoyance flashed over her face and she suppressed it immediately. "This is my workplace. Gestures like that are inappropriate. Please don't do it again."

"If I brought flowers to you at your home, would that be all right?"

"Please don't, Captain Ukitake." She placed a careful emphasis on his title.

"Why? I thought there was a connection between us. Didn't you feel something like that when we were in the war, when we kissed?" He reached for her hand.

"Yes." She permitted his hold, studying their hands. "You were lucky to be taught by Yamamoto-dono."

"What?" He was surprised by the jump in topic.

"He was not my teacher. I did not come to this position via the Academy, and I have had to do some—difficult things to get here. I will not jeopardize what I've achieved." She removed her hand from his, very gently.

"I have been lucky. And I'm sorry if you've had hard experiences on the path to your Captain's chair. But I don't understand why you and I can't be together if we both want it. Yamamoto-sensei would make an exception to the fraternization regulations for us."

"I do not want him to make any exceptions to the rules for me. I will accept and follow the rules as they are, even when it's difficult." Her face was resolute and serene.

"One exception to the rules wouldn't undermine your authority or jeopardize your position—"

"Stop," she interrupted. "You cannot fathom what it took for me to become who I am now. You don't really know me."

"Then tell me and I'll try to understand. I want to know you, Retsu-san." Jūshirō stepped toward her, as resolute as she was.

She hesitated before shaking her head. "No. Thank you for your interest in me, Captain Ukitake, but I must decline any sort of personal relationship between us. I have to be alone. What happened in the war was a mistake. Please accept my apologies for my behavior then."

He swallowed, his disappointment metallic in his mouth. "Please don't apologize for that. Your kiss was one of the best moments of my life." He smiled even though it was painful. "I apologize if I've made you uncomfortable, Captain Unohana. Please forgive me for that. I respect your wishes, and I'll go now."

He turned to the door.

"Thank you," she said. He glanced back and the resigned sadness of her eyes almost pulled him back to her. But he respected her wishes, and so he left, nodding to her.

But it was difficult to let it go completely. He thought of her often, and one afternoon a week later he was thinking of her while drinking tea at his home with Kyōraku.

"You're so gloomy," Kyōraku said.

Jūshirō shot a look of annoyance at Kyōraku, not that his friend saw it. Kyōraku was sprawled out on the wood of Ugendō's porch, a hat over his face. "I can be gloomy in my own house."

"If you'd give her up so easily, you deserve to be gloomy." Kyōraku felt for his sake cup, slipping it under his hat to drink.

"Who do you think I am? I'm not going to pursue a woman who told me in very clear terms that she's not interested."

Kyōraku lifted his hat to look at Ukitake. "You went to her workplace. That wasn't the best choice, given that she's probably quite conscious of being the only woman at the Captain rank."

"Maybe, but she was very clear about not wanting to see me at all." Jūshirō was miserably certain of that.

"You need to talk to her away from the division."

"Her quarters are on the Fourth Division grounds," Jūshirō said.

"Yes." Kyōraku propped himself up on one elbow. "But I have it on good authority that she goes climbing in the mountains frequently on her days off to gather medicinal herbs. She always goes alone."

"Alone?" Jūshirō considered that. "Who is your good authority?"

"The redheaded Fourteenth Seat of the Fourth. I bought her a drink last night." Kyōraku grinned.

"Chasing women of a lower rank could be seen as a misuse of the power of your position."

Kyōraku endeavored to look wounded. "It was all for your sake, Ukitake. I spent hours hearing far more about unpleasant medical procedures than I ever wanted to know. I like to listen to women's voices, but my ears were ringing and I felt a little sick when I finally got that information about Unohana-sempai and could leave gracefully."

"So it was like all your experiences with women, then."

Kyōraku flopped back down on the porch, covering his face with his hat. "I'm so unappreciated."

"Especially by women."

Kyōraku sighed, bringing his sake cup under his hat again.

Jūshirō watched the fish swimming lazily in the water around his home. "Do you really think I should go to the mountains to meet Unohana-san again? I don't want to make her feel like I'm following her or harassing her."

"That woman can handle herself, Ukitake. If you're making a pest of yourself, she will let you know it." He tipped the hat up to pin Jūshirō with a sharp gaze. "You're in love with her. That's the kind of thing women want to hear directly from a man's lips, the kind of thing that changes their opinions of a person sometimes."

"So I'll go to the mountains," Jūshirō said, his brows drawn together.

"Go to the mountains and shout of your love from the highest peak." Kyōraku's voice had a dreamy quality.

"The air's too thin up there. I doubt I could manage a shout. I think I'll go and tell her in the ordinary way instead."

"Nobody appreciates grand gestures anymore. It's very sad," Kyōraku murmured.

Jūshirō ignored his friend. "I'll need to find out her schedule."



"She's off tomorrow. Did you think I wouldn't get all the relevant information, Ukitake? I also know the next duty rotation for all the seated officers of the Fourth. The redhead was quite a talker."

"Tomorrow? That's so soon."

"Are you backing out already? After all that I endured for your sake." Kyōraku pouted.

"Drinking too much and making regrettable decisions about women can hardly be blamed on me, since it's your weekend routine." Jūshirō pressed his lips together. "Tomorrow. What do I need to go into the mountains?"

"Some sweet plum wine and a blanket to make love on," Kyōraku said.

"Your optimism is greater than mine." Jūshirō found it more likely that Retsu would reject him again, more firmly and coldly than before.

"A man has to be optimistic about love." That dreamy tone was back in Kyōraku's voice.

"I'll try. Optimism might make it easier to make a complete fool of myself in front of her, again."

"Doubtful," Kyōraku said, yawning loudly.

"Thanks so much." Jūshirō contemplated kicking Kyōraku into the water for half a second, but his friend had tried to help him. "Thank you," he said again, meaning it this time.

"Sure, Ukitake, any time."

The trek to the mountains the next day wasn't as bad as Jūshirō had feared, but he still found himself short of breath when he found Retsu. He raised his hand in greeting and started to call out, but his throat failed and he leaned his hands on his knees, gasping.

"Captain Ukitake? What are you doing out here?" She hurried over to him, her forehead wrinkled.

"I wanted—to see you," he said, his breathing interrupting him.

She led him into a sunlit meadow. "The mountains are a poor place for you, given your condition. At least you brought a blanket. Are you chilled now?" She wrapped him in the blanket and pressed him down into sitting.

"I'm fine," he said, unwilling to admit he'd brought the blanket on Kyōraku's advice and not for his health.

She studied him critically for long minutes. "Your pulse is fine and your breathing has recovered. I think you overexerted yourself on the hike up here."

"Yes, you're right, Unohana-san." He took the blanket off his shoulders.

She sat on her heels in the meadow with her hair tied up, her face serene. She wore no special clothing in concession to the mountain. Her cheeks were rosy and her skin warmed by the sun. She was utterly beautiful, and his heart sank lower.

Why had he imagined a woman like her would want a sickly man as her lover? He could not join her on her hikes; he'd only slow her down.

"I'm sorry, Unohana-san, I don't want to disrupt your leisure time." He smiled genially, pushing on the ground to rise.

She grasped his hand as he stood. "Why?" she asked.

He swallowed. "What?"

"Why did you come here?"

"I wanted to see you. I thought if we were really alone, you might—things might be like they were before." He stared at the wildflowers in the field. Blue and small, Kyōraku would know what they were.

Her hand tightened on his, and he looked down at her in surprise. Conflicted emotions ran through her eyes. "We can talk." She rose, releasing his hand to spread the blanket out and sit on it neatly.

He sat across from her. "I have some food and wine, if you'd like." He'd come to declare his love, but how should he do that? Kyōraku would have said it in a flamboyant, excessive gesture, perhaps with hundreds of flowers and a banner. But Jūshirō was not that kind of man.

"All right."

They made small talk about work and ordinary things while eating and drinking, Jūshirō relaxing slowly.

"Did you come out here to picnic with me?" Retsu asked, tipping her head to the side slightly.

"No—that is—yes, but not really—it's just—" he stopped, drawing a deep breath of the thin air. "I'm in love with you."

She set down her wine cup with care. "Can you really say something like that? Do you know me well enough to mean it?"

"It's true that I don't know you as much as I would like. I'm sure there are hundreds of things about you that I don't know. But I love you, not for any individual thing that I know about you, but for who you are as the sum of all of those things. I don't think there's anything I could discover that would change the way I feel." Jūshirō met her eyes steadily, his heartbeat uneven under his skin.

She looked down at her hands in her lap. "You should understand that I can't give you everything that you'll want."

"Retsu-san." He reached his hand out, tentatively taking one of hers. "If there's a chance that you have any warm feelings for me, and that you would want to spend any of your time with me, that's much more than I could have ever hoped for already."

She lifted her eyes to his, her brows furrowed. "If that's the truth, then I can offer you some things. Jūshirō-san," she murmured, shifting closer to him. Her lips touched his in a gentle kiss.

He brought his hands up, embracing her. This was more than he'd ever expected, more than he'd thought he could have. She fell back with him onto the blanket softly, and his senses were flooded with her, his thoughts and emotions filled with Retsu.

Continued in Part 2 here:  Part 2 (because of Livejournal character limit)