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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.

This is Part 2 of this story, go here for Part 1.

The third time Jūshirō woke up in bed with Retsu Unohana was the night after their time in the mountains. It was a cold, pre-dawn hour, and she was putting on her clothes quietly. "Will you stay, Retsu-san? I'll make you breakfast. I have some pomegranates and some sweet melon—"

"No, thank you." She finished dressing and returned to the bed, kissing him fleetingly. "I would prefer to keep our relationship private."

"Of course, I understand. Perhaps another time."

She nodded and went to the door. "I'll see you tonight, if you'd like. I can come here again."

"Yes, please, Retsu-san. I'd like that very much."

She came to him often at his home, declining to have him in her quarters. But that was understandable; her quarters were on her division grounds, and maintaining a professional appearance was important to her. It was enough that she came to him at night, many times eating with him before bathing with him, making love with him and sleeping with him.

But she always left before dawn.

He could understand that, she wanted to keep up appearances. She didn't want everyone to know that they were lovers. He was sure she'd soften over time and that she'd relax into their relationship. He encouraged her to leave things at his home, clothes and toiletries, which she declined politely. He bought her a toothbrush for his bathroom, and she did accept that one tiny thing. She used his toothpaste and his soap. She cooked his food and brought liquor and wine as if he was her host and not her lover.

He was certain she would change eventually.

Jūshirō invited her for lunch, for dinner, but she refused every invitation that would have had them together in public as a couple. When he was hospitalized, as he was often, she was courteous and professional, giving him all of the respect his position warranted and none of the love he wanted.

A hundred days passed, then a year, and a hundred years. He was lucky, so lucky to have Retsu at all, to have the attention and affection of such an exquisite woman.

But she never said she loved him.

The years passed in the same pattern for centuries more. He wasn't unhappy, precisely, because he had Retsu; but he was discontent that he could not have more with her.

Jūshirō sat on his porch, staring at the fish swimming in his pond. They were fatter now than they'd been last year. He wondered if the food or the weather was the cause.

Kyōraku flashed into view, whistling, a jug of sake clutched in his hand. "Good afternoon, Ukitake! Are you feeling better today?"

"Yes," he said without feeling.

Kyōraku sat down, pulling out two sake cups. "Do you want some?"

"No, thank you." Jūshirō studied his friend with interest. Kyōraku was nearly vibrating with excitement. "What's with you today?"

"Today is Tuesday. But it's not an ordinary Tuesday, because Nanao-chan has put something special in the schedule for me today." Kyōraku grinned.

"What's that?" Ukitake asked, a bit dubious that he wanted the answer. Kyōraku's relationship with his Vice Captain had become quite intimate of late.

"Costumes. But not just any costume, that cute little nurse's uniform I had made based on the pattern at the Fourth." Kyōraku leaned back against a post, looking dreamy. "Nanao-chan in a nurse's uniform—"

"She put that in your schedule?" Ukitake considered that. "Doesn't that ruin the spontaneity for you? Isn't love supposed to be in the moment, according to your definition?"

Kyōraku waved that off. "Nanao-chan is a woman that likes to plan for things. And I can work with that, because if I say something like, 'Nanao-chan, I got you this nurse's outfit, will you wear it for me?' she will think about it and put it in the schedule if she's willing to do it. That doesn't mean there isn't any spontaneity—of course there is, because I'm still me—but relationships are about compromise, so we schedule special things."

"Relationships are about compromise," Ukitake echoed. He'd compromised, accepted the conditions of never having Retsu stay the night, never being out with her in public, never presenting themselves openly as a couple.

"Are you sure you're all right, Ukitake?" Kyōraku asked.

"Can I ask you something personal about your relationship with Ise-san?"

Kyōraku nodded. "Of course, just between us."

"Does she stay over? When she comes to your house to be with you, does she stay the whole night?" Jūshirō looked away, embarrassed that he'd asked, but he wanted to know. Nanao Ise was a woman well-known for being orderly, disciplined, and upstanding. Surely she was more rigid about these things that Retsu.

"Sure, she stays over. It took a little persuasion, but I made a space for her in my closet, and then I bought extras of her favorite soaps and things, and now she stays over unless she has an early meeting. On the weekends we have breakfast in bed, and sometimes lunch and dinner." Kyōraku poured himself a drink.

"She spends days at your house?" Jūshirō asked, incredulous.

"Well, it makes more sense than us spending them in her quarters. They're really too small for us, she gets very aggravated with me when we're there." Kyōraku shrugged.

"Ise-san leaves clothes and things at your house?"

"Yes, a few changes of uniform, a few yukatas, some books and things. But Nanao-chan isn't the kind of woman you can move into your house slowly. At some point I'll just have to ask her to come and live there," Kyōraku said.

"You think she'll move into your house?" Jūshirō couldn't believe that the respectable Nanao Ise would move in with Kyōraku.

"Maybe. Maybe she'll have some expectations that she needs met first. We'll negotiate." Kyōraku tipped his hat back. "What's this about, anyway, Ukitake? You're not usually this interested in my relationships."

"I'm happy for you, that things are going so well for you with Ise-san. I confess I didn't really think that she would be so willing to have a relationship with you." Jūshirō smiled faintly.

"It only took decades of persuasion and courtship." Kyōraku grinned.

That was a short time by Jūshirō's measure. "The thing is, for all these years, with Retsu-san, she won't stay over, won't eat with me at a restaurant, and won't leave things at my house. I love her, but things never change. I thought they would, and hearing about you and Ise-san, I feel a little jealous." He scratched his head, embarrassed.

"Have you told her that you feel this way?" Kyōraku asked, suddenly serious.

"A thousand times I've told her that I'd like more, or asked her to stay, or invited her out with me. She always declines. She does it gently, but she always declines. I don't know what to do anymore. I love her. I've always loved her, but I want more." He slouched on his cushion.

"Ukitake, you've been in a relationship with Retsu-san for nearly your entire adult life. At this point, if you have needs that aren't being met, you have to consider the possibility that this relationship may never meet those needs for you." Kyōraku sighed.

Jūshirō felt like his heart would stop. "No, I can't leave her."

"I didn't tell you to do that."

"But that's where it leads. I give her an ultimatum, she refuses to meet it, and our relationship ends. No, that's not something I can accept, even if I never have more from her."

"Then you'll continue to compromise what you need forever, to stay with Retsu-san. That's fine if it's what you want." Kyōraku drank from his cup.

"I don't know." Jūshirō watched the fish sparkling in the sunlight.

"All right. We can talk more about this later, if you want. I have to go now. I'm meeting Nanao-chan at the noodle shop." Kyōraku rose.

A wince ran across Jūshirō's face. "Have a good time."

"It's just dinner, Ukitake." Kyōraku's tone was gentle.

"It's what it means. You're both willing to be seen together, as a couple, in public."

"If Nanao-chan and I didn't eat dinner together at the noodle shop, people would still know we're a couple. You can't imagine that you and Retsu-san have been hiding your relationship for all these years? Everybody knows. You're the only ones that don't acknowledge your relationship openly." Kyōraku studied him with consternation and concern in his eyes.

"That only makes it worse, thanks."

Kyōraku sighed. "How about this thought, then? It took me all this time to find a woman like Nanao-chan. You've had Retsu-san for all these years, and that is something. It takes dedication to continue a relationship for that long, even one as limited and restricted as yours. There's a lot of feeling there."

"Yes. That is something." He could hold onto that. Jūshirō would just need to try harder to show Retsu that times had changed, and a relationship like theirs was nothing out of the ordinary.

It wasn't easy. Retsu resisted his efforts with a gentleness that made her rejections sting more, somehow. Jūshirō spent five years trying to persuade Retsu to eat dinner with him at the noodle shop.

She finally agreed to lunch on a workday, staring at him while they ate.

"Why does this mean so much to you?" she asked, taking a bite of udon. Her expression was serene, but he could read the exasperation in her voice, underneath her calm. He knew her so well now.

"This is something normal that people do together. Friends, colleagues, and lovers, too. I think that you and I should be able to do things like this. There's no reason for us to avoid being seen together in public."

"I would prefer to keep our relationship private." The faintest crease appeared between her brows.

"But it's not private. Everyone in Seireitei knows that we're lovers. Whether we eat ramen together or not doesn't change that. So I would like us to do these things, these normal things." Jūshirō swallowed, worried.

"I can't do these things," she said finally. "I like our relationship as it is. I told you a very long time ago that I couldn't give you everything, and you agreed to that."

"A thousand years ago. I imagined something might have changed in that time. Isn't it natural, to want more time with the person you love? I'm not asking for big steps. Just, can we eat together once a week at a real restaurant? Can I make you breakfast on a weekend sometime? We can make a schedule if that would make you more comfortable," he added in desperation.

She sighed. "I don't think you know how much you're asking. The time we spend together is already so many hours."

"Does it take something from you, spending time with me? I find my time with you restores my strength and happiness." Jūshirō frowned.

"That's because you're so open, so honest. It's different—difficult—for me, with you." She would not meet his eyes.

"If you feel there are things you have to keep from me, please don't. Whatever it is, it won't change how I feel about you." He reached for her hand on the table and she snatched hers back.

"You say that very easily, but you don't know that it's true. You're so good, so clean. I don't want the way you look at me to change. That is selfish, perhaps. But isn't it also selfish for you to demand more and more of me? You say it's just a meal, just sleeping over, but will your desire really stop there? You already have more of me than anyone else has ever had or will ever have. Can't that be enough?" Her voice was measured and forceful.

He closed his eyes, rubbing his temples. "Retsu, it's not my intention to take more from you. I want to give you more of myself. I love you. I don't mind if everyone knows that. I'm sorry if I've upset you with my requests. I'm so lucky to have you. It's almost beyond my imagination." He smiled, a little self-depreciating.

She looked away, staring at a poster hanging on the wall. "I will try," she said, quietly but with great effort, as if she'd moved a mountain to find those small words.

He smiled, relieved. "Thank you, Retsu. I'm so glad."

She smiled at him, but her smile didn't reflect his relief or happiness.

Nothing changed. Years went by as they had always done, with Jūshirō seeking more time with Retsu and Retsu carefully maintaining the set boundaries of their relationship.

On a warm spring day he watched his friend Kyōraku marry Nanao Ise, the slender woman blushing prettily as they posed for pictures. There were rules about these kinds of things, but in the end, what did rules matter to Kyōraku? He'd exempted himself from those rules with an easy side-step and no one had tried to stop him.

Jūshirō's envy was a bitter and jagged stone in his throat. He was happy for Kyōraku, genuinely, deeply happy, but never in his life had he imagined that his laid-back, skirt-chasing friend would be married before him.

Jūshirō was steady, solid, the kind of man women were supposed to marry. Kyōraku was those things, underneath, but on the surface he was changeable, whimsical, and overly romantic. That the dependable and reasonable Nanao Ise would choose to marry Kyōraku was baffling to much of Seireitei, if Jūshirō judged by the conversations at the reception party, but nobody would turn down an opportunity for free drinks and dancing.

No one was more conscious of his good fortune than Kyōraku. His friend danced with his bride, fed her choice bites of the food, and made the rounds of the tables with his hand possessively at her back.

"Congratulations," Jūshirō said, clapping Kyōraku on the back.

Kyōraku grinned, as widely and honestly as Jūshirō had ever seen. His eyes were on Nanao as she chatted with a few matrons of the Kyōraku family. "Thanks, Ukitake."

"I can't believe you managed it."

"Me neither." He leaned in, as if to tell a secret. "She told me that it was a mistake, the first time we were together. But I'm going to be the best mistake Nanao-chan has ever made." He laughed merrily.

"I'm happy for you." Jūshirō smiled.

Kyōraku turned him with a hand on his shoulder, so that he could see the table where Retsu sat with some of the members from the Shinigami Women's Association. "You know, weddings make women sentimental."

"Is that so?" Retsu was beautiful with her hair caught up in an elaborate bun, her kimono pale blue and patterned with delicate landscapes.

"Especially unmarried women. It's the romance of the moment and probably the easy flow of alcohol." Kyōraku chuckled. "You can try, Ukitake."

He nodded. "I can try." Jūshirō strode to the table. "Good evening, ladies."

Hinamori and Kiyone giggled, having evidently sampled some of the free alcohol.

"Good evening, Captain Ukitake," Retsu said, showing none of the easy cheer of alcohol.

"I was wondering if I might tempt one of you to dance," he said, smiling at Retsu.

"Do you have candy?" Yachiru asked, her pink hair falling out of the style someone had tried to put it in.

"A few mints—" he said, and she walked with him to the dance floor, to his consternation. Yachiru had not yet developed any restraint on her sweet tooth, but she was still a child, really.

He danced with Yachiru, and then returned to the table, hoping to dance with Retsu, but found himself directed by her into dancing with every member of the SWA, including a rather surprised Nanao.

"You seem to be enjoying yourself, Captain Ukitake," Nanao said, polite curiosity in her voice.

Her curiosity was appropriate, given that he'd danced with at least five women. He smiled ruefully. "I was really just hoping to enjoy one dance in particular, although I am very lucky to have the opportunity to dance with so many lovely women of the SWA."

Nanao tilted her head slightly. "I see. I can manage that for you."

His brows went up. "What?"

She smiled. "Leave it to me," she said, and left him alone on the dance floor.

He blinked, confused, but Nanao returned in a few moments with Retsu by her side.

"Thank you so much, Retsu-san," Nanao said, nodding to Jūshirō and hurrying away to a door.

"What? Where is she going?" he asked.

"We're dancing," Retsu said, her lips turned up. "Nanao-san had some urgent personal matters to attend to, but didn't want to leave you without a partner."

He took her hand, leading her smoothly into the dance. "If you'd rather not, I understand, but I would very much like to dance with you."

"I know. You danced with all of the SWA members already. And Nanao-san is the bride, so her opinion should matter on her wedding day. We'll dance." She smiled, understated and beautiful.

His envy melted under the rush of love he felt for her. It was wonderful to be here, at his oldest friend's wedding, dancing with Retsu. It didn't matter that several preliminary dances had been involved. All that mattered was that he was with her now. "You look wonderful, Retsu."

"Thank you."

"Have you ever imagined something like this for yourself?" he asked. It might not be a subject that she'd like to explore, but it was at least relevant to the situation.

She raised an eyebrow. "A wedding and a party? No."

Her answer was so decisive he came up short. "No? I thought that this was something all little girls think about."

She smiled without warmth. Something like sadness cooled her eyes. "I think that very much depends on where the little girls come from. I'm certain your sisters have thought about their weddings often. I never thought about mine."

"I'm sorry for that. Children should be free to dream about whatever future they can imagine. What kind of place did you come from, Retsu?" She wouldn't answer; he knew that before he asked.

"I'd rather speak of happier things now."

"Of course. Have you ever thought about your wedding as an adult?" he asked.

"No." She squeezed his hand, as if to soften that response. "I am still not from a place where I can think about things like that."

"I've thought about it," he said, and knew his eyes were naked with his longing.

"Let's just enjoy this moment together. I'll meet you at your house later, after I manage to get out of this kimono."

He swallowed his disappointment. "I'm looking forward to it."

Her lips curved up. "You really should," she said, her voice dripping with dark promise.

She delivered on her innuendo later in a way that left Jūshirō breathless on his back in bed. He was still recovering when she rose to find her clothes. "Please stay a little longer, Retsu. It's still early."

"I anticipate that we'll have a lot of alcohol-related cases seeking treatment tomorrow. I should be available at the division in case there's anything serious tonight." She dipped down to the bed, brushing his hair away from his face and kissing him.

"You have your phone. You could safely stay for a few hours more. I'm sure that your officers would call if anything important came up." He stroked the curve of her shoulder and arm.

"I would prefer to be there." She patted his hand and removed it from her skin. But she hesitated, looking at the moon out of the window.

He sat up, pressing kisses to the curve of her neck. Her skin was salty from their lovemaking and smelled faintly of the roses of her soap. "I love you," he murmured against her skin.

She never responded to his declarations openly, and she didn't now. Her hand knotted in his hair, pulling him closer. "A little while," she whispered.

His happiness flowed through his veins, his heart, his whole body. He held her close when they made love, when her heart beat fast against his and she breathed sweet cries into his ear, when she collapsed on him, spent and sighing, and when he curled himself around her body as they lay on their sides. "You're everything, everything. Marry me," he whispered against her hair, thoughtless, floating on his happiness.

She froze beside him, her body stiffening, withdrawing from him. "Don't."

"No, wait—I'm sorry, I was just—I was happy. Come back, please, Retsu—" He reached for her as she fled the bed, dressing quickly.

"Good night," she said, leaving abruptly.

He fell back against the pillows, running his hand over his face. "Idiot."

Retsu didn't return for days. After a week he sent flowers to the hospital, addressed to the Fourth Division—a thank you for their excellent care. She'd know his meaning.

She didn't come.

He sent her a letter, full of sincere and raw apology and emotion. It was a risk, sending it to her quarters by private courier. She might be displeased by the means, but surely the sentiment would reach her.

She didn't come.

Jūshirō wasn't sure what to do, how to apologize for something he hadn't meant to say, but had genuinely meant. He went to Kyōraku's house after dinner one night when two full weeks had passed without her. Nanao opened the door, and he felt foolish—what was he doing, barging in on newlyweds? "I'm sorry, Ise-san, ah, Kyōraku-san, I didn't mean to intrude. Please excuse me."

"Come in, Captain Ukitake. You may call me Nanao. It would be less confusing for you. Shunsui is inside." She opened the door for him to enter.

"Thank you, Nanao-san, but I should really go—"

"Ukitake, come in already, will you?" Kyōraku called from inside.

Jūshirō hurried in, following Nanao to the main room of the house, where many cushions were scattered around and Kyōraku lounged with a sake cup in his hand, music playing low in the background. "Do you want a drink, Ukitake?"

"Would you like tea, Captain Ukitake?" Nanao asked at nearly the same moment.

"Please don't go to any trouble, Nanao-san, I'm fine." He scratched his head.

"I'll make tea." She left the room.

Jūshirō sat on one of the fat cushions. "I'm sorry, I should have called first."

"Why? It's fine for you to come over, Ukitake. Nanao-chan knew we spent a lot of time together when she married me, it's not like it's a surprise to see you here." Kyōraku grinned.

"Thanks," he said, relieved.

"What is it? You look so sad." Kyōraku sat up.

"I asked Retsu-san to marry me."

"What happened?" It was too obvious it hadn't gone well.

"She left me, and she hasn't returned. I sent flowers, to the whole division, of course, and a letter to her, apologizing, but she hasn't come back." Jūshirō slumped on his cushion, miserable.

"And you can't simply go to see her?"

"You know that I can't. She would be very displeased if I did that."

Kyōraku shrugged. "She's already very displeased with you, isn't she? Could it really get worse?"

"I don't know. I was just happy, from the wedding and from her and I wanted that with her. I should have been more careful. Retsu-san has always been very clear about her boundaries. What if she doesn't come back to me?"

Nanao entered with a tray, setting it carefully on the low table between Kyōraku and Jūshirō. "There's hot tea and pork buns for you." She hesitated.

Kyōraku laid a hand on her calf. "What is it?"

"It's not really my place, but—" she stopped.

"Tell him, whatever it is, if you think he should know." Kyōraku rubbed a soothing pattern on her leg through the fabric of her robe. It was a pale pink with violet and blue flowers—obviously something Kyōraku had picked out for her.

"Captain Ukitake, Retsu-san always speaks of you with the utmost respect and affection. That's not changed in recent weeks," Nanao said.

"'Utmost respect and affection' is Nanao-chan's code for love, Ukitake." Kyōraku smiled up at her. "That's what you say about me to your friends, isn't it, Nanao-chan?"

"The pork buns are fresh," she said, picking up a book off the table and stepping out of the room.

Kyōraku picked up a pork bun. "Fresh pork buns. That's Nanao-chan's code for love, too." He took a large bite.

"Nanao-san thinks Retsu-san loves me?" Jūshirō asked, frowning.

"Yes, it would appear so. To be fair, many people believe that about Retsu-san." Kyōraku gave him a sharp look.

"I can see how it might look like that from the outside, but her actions don't support that theory."

"No?" Kyōraku sighed. "Let me ask you something, Ukitake."

"Go ahead."

"Do you know why I married Nanao-chan?" Kyōraku sipped from his sake cup.

"I assumed it was because you love her."

"No." When Jūshirō opened his mouth, Kyōraku waved him off. "I do love her, of course. I've loved before without reaching this level of commitment."

"Then was it because she loves you?" Jūshirō frowned.

"No, though it is very satisfying to love and be loved." He smiled, lifting the pork bun to his mouth.

"Why, then?"

"She asked me once what my inner world was like, where my zanpakutō resides. I told her a little about it. She leaned closer and said, 'Tell me everything.' No one had ever heard me speak of my inner world without flinching. Even you flinched, although we were still boys then, really."

"I'm sorry for that—but at that time, that was the only reaction I could have."

"I understand. And I don't blame you for that. Sometimes I horrify myself. I've tried, from time to time, to tell the people I've loved who I am all the way through, but they were repulsed. Nanao-chan wasn't. She came closer. She wanted to know me, even the darkest parts, and when she did, she still came closer." Kyōraku smiled. "That's why I married her."

"Because she put aside your darkness?" Jūshirō drank the tea.

"No. She accepted it, along with every other part of me. I wanted to have that, always. I knew that she honored her promises, so I asked her to marry me. I wanted her bound to me."

"Do you think I've held something back from Retsu-san?" Jūshirō asked. He didn't believe he had; he'd told her and shown her his feelings in as many ways as a man could while respecting her request for secrecy.

"I don't. You're an open kind of man with your friends and with your loved ones. But ask yourself, what do you know about Retsu-san's inner world? What do you know about her bankai? Have you ever seen her on the battlefield and shivered, just a little?"

"I—you're saying I don't know her as well as I think I do."

"I'm saying that Retsu-san has a deep darkness in her, and she has withheld it from you all this time. Maybe she thought that if you were any closer, she wouldn't be able to hide it. I can understand her actions," Kyōraku said.

"I love her."

"You don't know all of her." Kyōraku poured more sake into his cup.

"It doesn't matter what dark places there are in her soul. It won't change my feelings for her."

"Neither of you will know if that's true until you actually find out who she is all the way through. You're a bright and honorable kind of man, Ukitake, and it can be hard to imagine you embracing twilight and cold things, even when they're a part of people that you love." Kyōraku shrugged.

"I flinched when I was a boy. I wouldn't flinch now." His eyes narrowed.

Kyōraku only smiled. "I think you're right. But the only thing to do now is to find out."

Jūshirō went to Retsu in the mountains.

It was nearly like the first time, with him panting over his knees and Retsu scolding him. "Jūshirō ? Are you all right?" Retsu asked, leading him to a spot in the sun. She had him rest in a meadow much like the one where he'd confessed his love all those years ago.

"Retsu," he said, too breathless to say anything else. He lay on his back, gathering his strength for several minutes.

"Why did you come out here? You know this could be dangerous for your health. You can't be reckless with yourself, Jūshirō." She sat on her heels on the blanket, clearly annoyed.

"I missed you," he said, extending his hand to touch her cheek.

She sighed. "My absence was not intended to drive you to these lengths."

"I know. But I didn't want to leave things as they were." He pushed himself up on his elbows, trying to rise.

"Stop. Rest there for a little while." She pressed him back down, leaning over him. He reached up for her, pulling her down on him. "Jūshirō—" Her voice was full of longing and resistance.

"I love you, Retsu," he murmured, kissing her ear, her cheek, her jaw.

She turned her face until he could kiss her lips.

"Retsu." Time slipped away, the sun overhead the only witness to their lovemaking.

She came down from the mountains with him, bringing him back to his house. He was tired from hiking the mountains and relieved to be with her again. "You should sleep," she said, leading him into his bedroom.

"Stay for a little while, please."

She nodded once and he smiled. Maybe things would be better this time, different this time.

Jūshirō eased into dozing with his arm around Retsu's waist.

She slipped out of his arms when he was nearly asleep. "Retsu."

She paused at the edge of the bed. "Go back to sleep, Jūshirō. I'll come by tomorrow, if you'd like."

"Yes, I would like that, but I wanted to talk to you now." He sat up, wrapping his arms around her from behind. "I want to ask you something."

"What is it?" she asked, tensing.

"I know that there are things that you don't tell me. I accept that, because a person should be allowed their privacy and their secrets. I respect that. But for a long time I've felt that you've been keeping us apart because of those secrets that you don't want to tell me. Retsu, whatever those things are, however dark your secrets may be, I want you to know that you can trust me with them."

Her hands closed on his wrists around her waist. "It would change us, it would change you. Jūshirō, I don't think you understand how much I want you to always look at me with the same clear eyes, filled with warmth. You would never look at me that way again if I told you. I can't. I'm sorry."

"I love you. Nothing will change the way that I feel about you, the way that I look at you. I won't flinch, Retsu."

Her hands tugged his arms away from her body, slowly, gently. "You're very kind, very good. I am not. I am something else entirely. The young woman at the hospital that you fell in love with—she exists, but she's not the whole truth." She pulled away from him, standing, shaking her head. He was stunned to see her eyes glimmering with tears.


"I cannot, will not go to that place again. I will never bring you there. This is an unbreakable line for me, Jūshirō. We won't speak of this again."

"Retsu, please, this is important." Jūshirō stood.

"Yes, it is. Promise me that you won't bring this up again." There was a hard edge in her voice.

"I feel that this is holding us back from being completely happy. So I do want to talk about it. What would it take for you to tell me your secrets? I'll give you whatever you need." He hugged her gently, stroking her back.

She took a shuddering breath and stepped back from him. "There is nothing you can do that would make me tell you those things, or that would compel me to bring you to those dark places. Forget about it, and forget that we ever had this conversation. Good night." Her face was composed when she looked up at him, her serene mask eerie with her burning eyes.

"Retsu, please stay. There's nothing that we can't work out together. I know it."

She flinched back from him and fled from his house without another word.

He sank to the floor, the weight of his failure pushing him down. "Retsu," he said to the empty room, and silence was the only response.

Retsu didn't return to him for weeks, but this time he sent no flowers, wrote no earnest letters. What had broken between them was not something he could repair with apologies or words of love. Retsu was the only one that could rebuild their connection, and she did not try.

He mistook his illness for sadness at first, because he was listless and miserable. Kyōraku and Nanao had him over in the evenings several days in a row, trying to lighten his mood with books and food and conversation. They didn't succeed, but he did appreciate that they cared enough to try.

One night after he'd returned from Kyōraku's he took a long bath and then went into his bedroom, preparing for sleep.

Suddenly everything stopped for one frozen moment.

His heart did not beat; his lungs would not pull air in. Then the world spun again, his lungs and heart squeezed by an excruciating pain, as if they were ripping out of his chest, torn to shreds. He fell to the floor, crawling for his phone.

He failed and fell into unconsciousness before he could call for help.

The fourth time Jūshirō Ukitake woke up in bed with Retsu Unohana he was in the hospital. He could hear the familiar sounds of the machines monitoring his condition, the erratic beeps telling him his heart was not well. His eyelids were heavy and he opened his eyes slowly. The light was low, but he could see Retsu's outline as she sat on the bed, her hand over his, her beautiful eyes staring blankly at the window.

He opened his mouth, trying to speak, but couldn't. She turned to him immediately. "Jūshirō? You're awake." She lifted a cup to his mouth, carefully fitting the straw to his lips.

He was stunned to see her eyes were red-rimmed and tired, as if she'd been crying. She never cried at work, and he could count on one hand the number of times he'd seen her tears in his life. "Retsu?"

"I wasn't expecting you to wake up yet. It's good that you have." She smiled, but there was a shine of desperation in it.

He thought that she'd never expected him to wake up again. "It feels different this time. When I fell—it was different—my heart stopped."

She shook her head. "It's not different. You'll be fine, this was just a more severe attack than you've had before. You'll be fine," she said again, as if to reassure herself as much as him.

He could feel the lie in his chest as well as he could hear it in her voice. "It's all right, Retsu. I'm sure you've done everything that anyone could do for me. Thank you. I'm happy to be here with you now."

"It's not over. You have to believe that you'll recover. As long as you have a will to live, there's hope." Her eyes closed and her breathing was even and careful.

He squeezed her hand, surprised by how much effort it took. "I'm sorry that we quarreled, and that I pushed you before. I love you, Retsu. I want you to remember that."

Tears did leak from her closed eyes now. When she spoke it was with great effort. "You never change, do you? Always so generous with your forgiveness, with your love. It's unbearable."

"I'm sorry, Retsu—"

"Stop," she hissed. Her eyes opened, a sharp and burning blue that speared his heart. "I'll tell you what you wanted to know, if you'll promise to stay. Promise me, and I'll tell you anything." She bent over his face, her tears falling hot on his cool skin. She was still careful, keeping her weight off of him.

He ached to comfort her. But he couldn't lie to her; he'd never been able to lie to her. "If it's within my power to stay with you, I'll never leave you. I promise, Retsu." It wasn't what she'd asked for but it was all he could offer.

She leaned down to kiss his dry lips, her tears salty and stinging in his eyes. He welcomed the sting, welcomed the heat of her kiss. He was alive and he was with Retsu. That was more than he could have ever hoped for.

Retsu pulled back from him, sitting up and brushing her tears away with ruthless efficiency. "I wish I could say that there is some avenue of treatment I haven't explored, some forbidden kidō left untried, but there's nothing like that left. Kyōraku-san gave me permission to look into all of the secret records years ago for you, but there was nothing there. I've done everything. That your life should be beyond my power to save—it's bitter." She shook her head, pressing her lips together.

"You've done everything. I'm so grateful to you, and to Kyōraku—I've had such a good life. I've been so lucky." He smiled.

She bowed her head. "Please stay a little longer, Jūshirō. I'll give you more. We can have dinner at the noodle shop. I'll stay over and bring my soaps. I'll tell you who I was before I was that young woman at the hospital. Please."

His heart would have broken for her if it wasn't already shredded and barely beating. "Retsu."

She clasped his hand in her lap, stroking his palm gently. "I'll tell you, from the beginning. My name wasn't always Retsu."

Jūshirō listened to her story, at times feeling the same horror he had when Kyōraku had told him of his inner world, but he was not a boy now, and he didn't flinch. He was a man, and he loved Retsu. No dark history or spilled blood would change that. His love for Retsu was the central pillar of his life.

He felt himself fading at times, and forced his focus to stay on her. When she'd finished he smiled. "Thank you for telling me."

She glanced up at him, hesitant. Whatever she saw in his gaze made her eyes widen, her lips parting. "You really meant what you said before, didn't you?"

"I love you, Retsu. Nothing will change that." His breath caught, his vision wobbling. He was glad he'd gotten to tell her that again, glad that she believed him now. He fell into the black, Retsu calling his name.

Dying was a strange sensation, a cool and easy fall, like sinking into the ocean. Jūshirō drifted in that dark ocean for an eternity. He could feel his swords with him, his zanpakutō's spirits shifting around him in slow circles. It was painless and slow, dying.

But he'd promised Retsu he'd stay.

The whisper of his swords drew his eye to a speck of land, a tiny island in the distance. He wanted to go there and forced his numb limbs to swim for the island. The ocean's waves rose, choppy, as if disturbed by his effort. Pain shot through his chest, as if rebuking his resistance. The ocean sang to him. He could just sink down and be embraced by the black, and all of the pain would end.

But he'd left Retsu alone.

He swam doggedly for the island, each breath a burst of pain. The ocean grew agitated, the water rising, strange enormous figures darkening the water beneath him. They would pull him down if he would not sink willingly. Fear dragged at him.

But Retsu and Kyōraku had done everything for him.

He didn't stop. He had people who loved him, needed him, and he wanted to be there. If he could only reach the island, he knew he could return to his life. An icy tentacle brushed his leg, but the island was looming close now, and he could see that it was actually the lush island where his zanpakutō's spirits lived.

He pressed on.

His swords helped him over that last distance, when the island was almost within reach. The pain rose to a brutal crescendo, the resistance of the ocean so high that each movement of his arms and legs was like swimming through daggers. His zanpakutō's spirits whispered soothing words, pushing him forward.

The sand was gritty in his mouth.

He laughed, a gasping and torn sound. He'd made it to the island. The ocean roared once before falling back into stillness. He lay on his back, spent and triumphant. Blackness danced around him again, but he was unafraid; this was the blackness of ordinary unconsciousness, which he'd felt many times.

The fifth time Jūshirō Ukitake woke up in bed with Retsu Unohana was at Ugendō, many years after the hospital and the ocean. The dawn was just breaking through the window. He'd had the dream again, the dream of death defeated. It didn't bother him, remembering that dark battle. Instead he felt a little taste of that triumph again and it made him smile.

He rolled to his side. Retsu lay on her side facing him, sleeping. A fat pillow was tucked under her belly, supporting the weight of her pregnancy. She was older now, her hair streaked lightly with gray, the lines around her eyes deeper. But she was beautiful, her skin still luminescent, her eyes still that stunning blue of a summer ocean.

You can plan for the future, she'd told him once, and he'd taken her advice seriously. His fingers traced lightly over the roundness of her body. It was a wonder to him, this baby she carried, a surprise to both of them, and a wonder that she slept beside him in their house, with the bond of marriage between them.

What she could accept from him had changed after he'd accepted the full truth of her life with his love for her unchanged.

Her eyes fluttered open.

"Did I wake you?" he murmured.

She shook her head. "I'm lucky to have slept this long without waking. Pregnancy is challenging." She shifted awkwardly. "I'm thirsty."

"Do you want water? I'll get you some." He rose from bed.

"Melon juice, please."

He nodded and went to get her melon juice. She'd been drinking barrels of it lately. He was seriously concerned Seireitei might run out of the juice before the baby was born. He'd have to import it from the Living World at a fiendish markup then.

She'd moved to the porch, sitting heavily on a cushion and watching the sunrise. He sat behind her, handing her the juice. She drank it greedily and set the empty glass down with a sigh. He pulled her back against him, his hands cradling her belly.

Her hands covered his. "I don't want to go to work this early," she said.

"Stay a little while, Retsu." He kissed her temple.

"I'll stay."

The End


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 29th, 2012 05:50 am (UTC)
This is a very under-rated pairing. I love this story, especially the ending to it.
Dec. 30th, 2012 07:38 pm (UTC)
Thanks, I'm glad you liked this story! It's my first time with this pairing, so I was hoping I'd done okay with it.
Dec. 29th, 2012 08:58 pm (UTC)
Oh my godness... I actually cried reading this. D-damn you and your awesome fics... ;a;
This... This was just perfect. So very freaking perfect I can't hold all of these feels... LITERALLY.
I'm a little speechless/incoherent right now who am I kidding. Very incoheret and ALL THESE FEELS
I felt like I was suffering with Juushiro. And nearing the end.... I really thought you were going to kill him off! ;n;
Ending was so heartwarming and just perfect I couldn't.....
Thank you so much for writing it. It is SO VERY worth the wait....
I'm really glad I participated everyday XD

This fic = perfect piece
Dec. 30th, 2012 10:23 pm (UTC)
I'm so happy that you loved it! I wasn't sure if I was writing the characters in a way you'd like, since I haven't written this pairing before. It's a big relief that you liked it, even if it made you cry.

I couldn't kill Juushiro off in a gift fic, that would be mean, wouldn't it? XD I thought about doing the structure as 5 things + 1 more, so that it would really look like he'd died in the 5 things section, but decided against it, since I wanted to put it up as a one-shot anyway.

Thanks for participating every day in the Week of Love this year! I'm so glad you enjoyed this fic! ;)
Jan. 3rd, 2013 07:33 pm (UTC)
That you made me cty isn not necesarily a bad thing.... you certainly struck a chord, y'know? ;3 I REALLY LOVE IT SRSLY. Reread it twice now... haha >D

THAT WOULD BE VERY MEAN. ....You would be as cruel as to do something like that?! O^O
Meanie. >3>

Yay! No problem at all!! that an understatement of the centure 'enjoyed' doesn't really convey it XD

//also sorry this reply is late, but lj was derpy and didn't want me to enter....
Jan. 4th, 2013 03:19 am (UTC)
I thought about doing that mean thing for a few minutes, but I'm not really inclined to cliffhangers. ;p

Yes, LJ has been terrible lately, posting and commenting is very difficult!
Jan. 4th, 2013 12:27 pm (UTC)
>w> crueeel. THANK THANK

Yeah... I think it was down for like three days?
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )