Fifteen Years Ago
Shunsui usually prided himself on his detective abilities. Being born into a privileged family didn't make it any less dangerous to play outside as a child, and Shunsui believed having keen observation skills could get you out of risky situations a lot better than a gun could.
Therefore, being blindsided by a new patron in his own saloon was quite embarrassing. Shunsui sprang to his feet and put the bottle he'd held back on the bar, tilting his straw hat up to better inspect the newcomer.
And oh, he liked what he saw. She was facing away from him, looking out the large window by the doors. Nice, slender figure, and the most intriguing and striking hair he'd ever seen—completely white. Shunsui only regretted not spotting the woman when she'd come in and catching a glimpse of her face. Not that her hair and back weren't pretty to look at.
Then there was the most fetching detail of all—he'd never seen her before. There were few things in life Shunsui loved more than out-of-town ladies—clueless and impressionable. While he liked relying on his personal charm more than anything, it didn’t hurt when they needed a friend.
I better introduce myself, no?
Shunsui popped open the top button of his shirt and stepped around the bar. It was late enough for him not to notice pretty ladies when they came in, which meant the saloon was mostly empty and the bar could work itself.
He stood behind her and gently tapped her shoulder. "Hello there, sweetheart—"
And she turned around. And she was man. A very pretty man, but a man nonetheless.
Shunsui's heart dropped, and he retreated faster than a bullet. You know you had too much to drink when you can't tell genders apart.
Shunsui was leaning against the bar and hoped he didn't look as awkward as he felt, because the man's eyes were on him, bewildered and annoyed at the same time. Just that look was enough to wipe away any thoughts of womanly hair; the man's eyes were full of fierce challenge. Shunsui wondered how many times the man had to prove people wrong.
The fact he'd never met the man remained, so Shunsui allowed himself to take the newcomer in. He didn't make any less of an impression as a male, only made Shunsui feel stupider. A pair of manly boots, leather vest over cotton shirt, blue jeans to enable running and horseback riding. Shunsui's eyes immediately darted over to—a holster. Two of them.
While he should have immediately been taken aback (upsetting an armed man was far lower on his agenda than screwing a fancy-haired out-of-towner), Shunsui didn't feel really threatened by the man. He could tell the man was different than his ragtag clientele.
It wasn't that Shunsui resented his job; it was just that after so many years, it got a bit dull to run one of the most successful saloons in Seireitei County and meet the same types of people every damn day. The type that liked to draw their guns; the crooks and the malicious. The hard part was living with them and staying himself: believing in harmony and love and not using his gun even though he was good at it.
And the new man looked different, yet there was a pistol in each of his holsters. Like me. They hadn't even spoken a word after Shunsui's little screw-up, but he felt like they had a thing or two in common. Then again, maybe he was imagining things.
The man's eyes narrowed at him, and Shunsui nearly cursed out loud when he realized he hadn't apologized yet. "Please excuse me," he said quickly, charm and smoothness gone from his voice. He hated being put on the spot like that; it got in the way of being laid-back. "I wasn't paying enough attention."
He noticed with relief that some of the exasperation dissipated from the man's brown eyes, but Shunsui kept the pleading in his own. The last thing he wanted was to drive the man away from his saloon.
The man nodded, and Shunsui figured it was all he was going to get and smiled. To his amazement, the man smiled back. It didn't reach his eyes, but it was warm and kind, and way more than Shunsui had expected as an acceptance of his apology. The man must have been much nicer than Shunsui was.
Shunsui was selfish and lazy, and when he pissed people off, if they weren't that close to his heart, he just let it go or waited until they came to him. He could spend hours begging sweet Nanao for forgiveness, though.
His personality might fit well with the stranger's. He better stay. Desperate times call for desperate measures. "Would you like a drink on the house, for the faux pas?"
The man seemed hesitant, stuffing his hands in his pockets and biting his lower lip. And boy, he really wasn't from around here if he let himself be read that easily. Shunsui almost worried for him.
The man seemed to have come to a decision, and nodded. "All right," he said, and Shunsui found himself more pleased than he should have been. Pleased by his acceptance, of course, but also by the new details he could add to his observation. An old voice, wise and deep. Much more serious and stubborn than the cheery drawl Shunsui usually used. He liked it.
He didn't dare turning his back on the man lest he'd lose him, so he simply reached behind the bar for a couple of glasses instead of walking all the way around. "Name your poison."
The man seemed flustered again, out of place, but it didn't make Shunsui feel pity or mocking; just more curious. "You're not from around here, are you?" Shunsui finally asked.
The man let out a chuckle, tilting his hat forward to avoid Shunsui's eyes. "No, I'm not. My family's made of old-fashioned cowboys. We didn't drink in saloons."
Shunsui's curiosity was piqued. He had to know what had brought this strange man to his doorstep. Interacting with people had become almost like a pastime of his, and new, interesting ones were quite rare. Seireitei's a long way away from the downhill farms.
It felt like he spent enough time analyzing the man to make some assumptions. "But you didn't come here to escape the inglorious fate of being a middle-aged cowboy." No, this man was responsible and righteous, he wouldn't leave his family behind for nothing.
The man shook his head, white wisps of hair slipping past his shoulders. "I've come to look for work."
Shunsui could guess why. He'd heard the rumors; something about cattle being stolen or poisoned, shit like that. Being a cowboy couldn't have been the most profitable of professions, which meant he'd come here to support his family. Isn't that honorable.
"I respect that."
The man smiled again, and Shunsui felt almost smug when he looked behind the counter to pull out the bottle he sought. "Here, some good wine." He didn't mention how much the 'good wine' cost. Making an impression on the man was important to Shunsui, after the impression the man had made on him.
"Thank you," the man said, looking up so Shunsui was able to see his eyes again. This time he was smiling for real. "Faux pas forgiven."
Thank you. Shunsui poured them both a small amount and gave his new friend his wine. He raised his hand so they could clink their glasses, but before they did he finally said, "May I ask for your name?"
"Oh, of course." The man looked embarrassed, which made Shunsui mad at himself. He wasn't fit to call anyone on their manners. "I'm Jyuushirou Ukitake."
It didn't really matter what his name was, Shunsui was just glad to receive another piece of the puzzle.
The man—Ukitake—looked expectant, and Shunsui hated himself for forgetting everything he had learned about human interaction. Now is your turn, moron. "I'm Shunsui Kyouraku, the man in charge of this fine establishment."
Ukitake nodded, more silky white hair appearing. Shunsui cleared his throat and gestured towards his glass, until Ukitake raised his own for a toast. "To…" he started, thinking. "To making new acquaintances."
Ukitake clinked their glasses together. Small triumph. Shunsui took a sip, and hoped Ukitake was savoring the scent and taste like he did.
He was a bit surprised when Ukitake started the conversation next. "So you've been running this place for a long time?"
Shunsui nodded, patting the bar behind him lovingly. "Since I was sixteen."
Ukitake's eyebrows shot up, and they were black, rather than white. He didn't seem like the type to dye his hair. Shunsui wanted to know, but wouldn't bring it up.
"Really?" Ukitake asked. "Family business?"
Shunsui chuckled. "My father wanted me to get a respectable job at the sheriff's office to make a man out of me. I think he still believes I work there." Daddy ain't all there since the war, his brother had said once, but Shunsui wouldn't dream of using such language in front of Ukitake.
"Oh." Ukitake took another long sip. Shunsui didn't wonder why it felt like a personal compliment. Ukitake gave a secretive little smile. "I wasn't really supposed to come here, either."
Oh really? The words were on the tip of his tongue, but Shunsui refrained from asking. It would be impolite, as Ukitake never asked him. Had he been a fool by even talking on his own volition? Blabbering, that's what you did.
He was either definitely drunk or Ukitake definitely confused him. A gunslinger who looked like a woman at first sight, and a bright-eyed farmer who spoke proper English. Shunsui did pride himself on his detective abilities, yet Jyuushirou Ukitake was a white-haired mystery.
Time for the big guns. "I admire people who disobey their parents. Firstly, it shows they have a personality of their own and weren't molded by their environment, which obviously intrigues me when people today either commit crimes because it is expected of them, or they lead honest lives just to make their mother proud. But it's more than that; it's almost like tempting fate. If all you're meant to amount to is the spitting image of your father, isn't it lovely to stray from the path and make up a destiny of your own?"
Ukitake's eyes were nearly shining at Shunsui's improvisation. Definitely a thing or two in common. Ukitake busied himself with drinking more, probably thinking, before replying. "I should think not. I agree that your background shouldn't dictate whether you amount to anything, but you mustn't deny your family's value, or the power it has over you. They're there for better and for worse." He leaned forward, as though about to reveal a secret. "There isn't anything charming about straying from the path. You may have found another route, and this is quite a fine establishment, but others find confusion and despair and pine for home."
Shunsui sincerely hoped Ukitake and he would be friends for a long, long time. He let out a laugh. "You must think me a romantic fool, don't you?"
Ukitake shook his head again, chuckling. "Not in the least, but I must admit I'm more a realistic person myself."
"That's good," Shunsui assured him. "Two of me would hardly be interesting. Though I imagine it would look good."
Ukitake snorted. Shunsui was delighted. Don't get too excited. He was probably grasping at straws; it had been far too long without any intellectual folks around, let alone real friends. Though, that would be rude to Ukitake again, wouldn't it?
He wasn't grasping at straws; he was rightfully delighted in the company of a good person. Frankly, he wanted more.
"How about I make you a deal, Ukitake. I'll let you stay in the spare room here, and in return, you'll work part-time for me."
Ukitake's eyes were almost shining again, and Shunsui knew he had him.
Old habits die hard, was the only thing Shunsui could think of as they rode through the mostly empty streets of Rukongai Town and he couldn't keep his eyes off of Ukitake.
Usually during this time of year, the townspeople stayed in their homes—it was too dry for travel and too hot for mayhem. Shunsui was grateful. His—their—old friends were still lurking about, getting a drink here or gambling there, and Shunsui didn't want any questions asked about the fact it was the first time he'd ridden a horse in months, let alone about the reappearance of his best friend. His previous partner.
Ukitake was still a looker, wasn't he? Shunsui knew it was affecting him just like it had always affected him: he felt off-balance, he was drawn to him. Yet, he also felt oddly at ease. He was sharp enough to know that ease hadn't been summoned just because of his familiarity with his horse, as the riding itself made him feel heavy, disoriented—he only managed to focus when he had a target and felt in control. It was being on the road again with Ukitake.
He had to keep looking at Ukitake; his long, thin white hair braided and clinging to his vest in the heat, his legs clenched around the saddle, his gloved hands holding the reigns as steadily as they had five years ago. His neck was stretched forward, slightly flushed, like he was riding with his horse rather than on it. His expression was so focused; he almost looked as fierce and wild as his steed. Ever the graceful one.
Ukitake had never shared Shunsui's problem with getting serious, whether it was a fight or a quest. When Shunsui's thoughts had drifted back to home and booze, Ukitake had remained right on track. At one time Shunsui had wondered aloud if he was holding his friend back, and received a punch, so he started believing they were equal partners.
He thought their renewed journey should have made him feel whole again, like he'd come back home or some other poetic sentiment, but it didn't—it just felt like placing a bandage on a wound that was still bleeding. He alternated between looking at the road and at the beautiful man beside him because that was what he had always done. Getting used to Ukitake not always being in the corner of his eye—to lose that presence in his life—had been too hard to bear.
And when the raging emotions stopped burning within him, questions came in their stead. Why Ukitake had really come to him, how were they to figure this out when they couldn’t even speak to one another, were they as good as they used to be…
Why did you even leave only to find me again, Jyuushirou?
He nearly sighed in relief when he noticed they were approaching the Sheriff Station of Seireitei. No problem getting serious when the job's right in front of you.
He led the horse in an easy trot to the stables near the station, and heard Ukitake direct Ichigo after them. They didn't exchange a word until they were inside the station.
"Is he in the same old room?" Ukitake asked him.
Shunsui nodded as he removed his gloves, but took his time looking around the place before moving. Wooden floor paneling that alerted the officers when people came in, boots laying on small desks as workers lazed about, files and badges and a general air of authority. Shunsui remembered why he hated going in there even with Ukitake, remembered why he had run as far away as he could when his arm had been twisted into working there. It wasn't a place for justice; it was a place for keeping troubles quiet and asking all the wrong questions.
His father probably still thought the sheriff was running a clean business, but his father hadn't been lucid since before Sheriff Aizen came to town, full of promises that compelled old and bitter veterans. Shunsui guessed there was no reason to call the man sheriff now; he had jurisdiction over the entire Soul Society district and each county sheriff was assigned by him from his own men.
This county sheriff was a man Shunsui called brother.
He got his reward for stopping to examine the place—he noticed it seemed fishier than usual. More men, less alcohol. More observant eyes directed at him. Ukitake walked by him and gave him a covert nudge, indicating he'd noticed that as well.
"Why the hell did'ya stop?" Ichigo asked, loudly.
Shunsui nearly kicked the kid.
Instead, he put on his best smile and said, "No reason at all! Let's go see the sheriff."
As he had suspected would happen, a goon stepped toward them from behind his desk, bodily blocking their way to the end of the hall. Shunsui didn't know that one. He had a braid and bright, cat-like eyes. More importantly, he spoke almost as loudly as Ichigo. "What business do you have with the sheriff?"
Shunsui tilted his hat back to look at the man's eyes, and straightened up so he towered over him. "Can't a man pay a visit to his brother?"
The officer shrank, but didn't budge. "I take it you're all his brothers?"
"Vega, let 'em through," a voice came from the farthest office. Shunsui barely managed not to grin.
Mr. Vega very nearly bared his teeth at them, but said, "Yes sir," and went back to his desk.
"Sorry for the trouble," Ukitake quickly said, making Shunsui chuckle.
They all walked together to the sheriff's office, and Ukitake closed the door behind them. Shunsui immediately sat at the chair in front of the sheriff, and gave him a once-over.
Starrk was leaning back on only two chair legs, with his own legs resting atop the desk so his pointy boots were almost knocking papers and cups to the floor. He seemed exceptionally bored or tired, his one visible eye shut and his hands behind his head.
"Fancy seein' you here," Starrk drawled, his voice lazy and deep.
"You know I hate this place," Shunsui replied, glancing at the cups to check if any of them were full. They weren't.
"Wasn't talkin' to you, Shunsui."
Shunsui gritted his teeth when Ukitake cleared his throat, nervous. Damn Starrk. "It has been a while, Sheriff," Ukitake replied.
Starrk cracked his eye open but avoided Ukitake and looked at Shunsui instead, focused and piercing blue. "So did you really come just to chat with your little brother?"
"Yes," Shunsui replied carefully, not breaking eye contact. Even Ichigo seemed to sense the tension and kept his mouth shut. "About a funny thing that happened 'round a week ago."
Starrk tilted his head back and yawned, but Shunsui could tell he was faking his boredom. "I wouldn't know anything about that," Starrk replied, but there was an edge to his voice Shunsui didn't miss.
"Let me tell you about it, then. You know the Kurosaki farm up by the lake at Karakura Town? The new Kuchiki girl was working there when all of a sudden an armed man stormed the place and took her. Shot this guy." He pointed behind him at Ichigo. "I think the man was a big redhead, carrying a rifle?"
At that Starrk's eye snapped open and he leaned forward so the chair crashed with all four legs on the floor. If that wasn't recognition, Shunsui didn't know what was.
"Funny, isn't it?" Shunsui asked more quietly. Now that that was out of the way, Shunsui could only hope Starrk would share the information he had. Usually he did—at heart he'd always been a good southern boy who was in way over his head seeking sympathy or whatever the hell Sheriff Aizen had offered him. Despite resenting their parents, Shunsui would always have a soft spot for his brother. He hoped Starrk shared the sentiment.
They waited in silence for a few moments while Starrk apparently collected his thoughts. "Well," he began quietly, and kept his head low, his eye only on Shunsui. "I wouldn't know about any redheads kickin' his ass"—he pointed in Ichigo's general direction, and Shunsui heard the boy hiss—"but I suddenly remember something 'bout the Kuchiki girl. Yeah, I think she got herself arrested 'round a week ago."
'Arrested' by an armed madman who took her forcibly? Fucking hell. The message came through loud and clear—little Rukia Kuchiki was kidnapped by the sheriff. Not Starrk, though, or he would have told Shunsui who did the arresting, which left…
He had to make sure. "My, must have been one big mess she's gotten tangled up in. I wonder which jailhouse she's at."
Starrk took his time to answer, which pretty much verified what he said next; "A big mess. What if she won't be at a jailhouse at all? Imagine if she's locked up in that great big house in Hueco County, eh?"
Aizen. That explained the posse waiting for him outside of the office—the big boss would want to keep this whole thing as quiet as possible. Why would he do such a thing? More importantly, how the hell were they going to retrieve her?
Shunsui was jolted when he heard footsteps right outside the door. Starrk glanced pointedly at the door, and a barely-there tilt of his head had Shunsui on his feet.
"Well, I'm sorry to hear you don't have time for me," he said loudly, exchanging looks with Ukitake to make sure they were on the same page. "Next time I'll bring some booze from the saloon and we could really have a party."
He opened the door and let Ukitake and Ichigo leave the office, the former apologizing to Vega again. Shunsui remained there for a moment longer and nodded to Starrk, tilting his hat in recognition and gratitude. Knowing who was behind this—who Shunsui's target was—made it very clear that this could be the last time they saw each other.
Good thing Shunsui's sentimentality began where his family ended. Starrk yawned and leaned back again, and Shunsui closed the door behind him.
Ukitake leaned against the side of the bar and studied his new friend. He couldn't imagine Shunsui looking tense, per se, but there was definitely an unusual tightness around his eyes and mouth.
"Something wrong?" he murmured, stepping up beside him. The fact that he was welcome to be behind the bar with Shunsui and Nanao created strange warmth in his chest. It was amazing how... comfortable he felt there. He’d held all kinds of jobs in his life; he’d lived in many different cities. Yet none had felt like home so quickly or so strongly.
Shunsui's eyes flickered towards him, surprise in his gaze. "Now why would you think that?"
He shrugged. "You looked a bit… tense."
His friend's eyes crinkled in a smile. "I, my friend, am never tense."
"Of course not." Ukitake touched the rim of his hat and nodded, and then rested his elbows on the bar and propped his chin up on his hands. "Whatever was I thinking?"
The saloon owner took a swig out of the bottle he held, and grinned at him. Ukitake looked away and glanced around the bar. It seemed quieter than usual.
"You're not the only one," he commented quietly.
"Mmm?" Shunsui peered at him thoughtfully.
"You're not the only one who seems tense," he elaborated, flicking his eyes toward the patrons.
Shunsui nodded. "Yes... I don't like it. There've been some new folk makin' some trouble around town the past couple of days."
Ukitake pursed his lips. "I'd heard some talk," he agreed. "You think they're going to try something?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. I just don't like the mood."
Ukitake nodded, and Shunsui shifted, almost restlessly, and then moved past Ukitake to round the edge of the bar, and he perched himself on a bar stool. Not a bad idea, Ukitake thought, and followed suit.
After a moment, they started up another unrelated conversation, but both of them kept an intent eye on the rest of the Rose-Colored Path.
Their conversation was interrupted by an angry shout, and they both tensed up, sliding off the stools, their hands on their guns. The men at a table nearby had all leapt to their feet and were glaring at each other.
"Is there a problem, men?" Shunsui asked, almost pleasantly, but the steel underlying his tone sent a thrill up Ukitake's spine. Ukitake had always suspected- no, known, somehow- that there was more to the handsome saloon owner than a carefree drunk, but it was surprisingly exhilarating to see this change for himself. He shifted slightly closer to Shunsui, keeping a steady gaze on the restless table.
The man on the left sputtered angrily, “He…” but he didn’t bother to finish his sentence, instead going for his gun. Shunsui crossed the few steps in an instant, grabbing the man’s arm and shoving him back against the table, the gun falling from his hand and landing with a loud clatter on the floor. Ukitake saw a man at the back of the table—evidently a friend of the person Shunsui had just stopped—draw his own gun, aiming at Shunsui, and Ukitake had raised his own pistol and shot the man in the shoulder before it even registered.
Loud yelling immediately erupted in the room, many more people drawing their guns. Shunsui ducked low and moved away from the table, as Ukitake watched the bar dissolve into chaos. He’d seen this before. Tempers were hot, tensions were high, judgment was gone. There was nothing they could do. Shunsui glanced at him, and that knowledge was in his eyes too—and something else, a question, a pull. Before he realized what he was doing, they were both moving towards each other, protecting the other’s back, as shots started to ring out.
It was over soon, the ringleaders being some of the first to go down, and the saloon owner’s glare (combined with his and Ukitake’s guns) simmered them down. Still, it was long enough.
With a dark gaze, Shunsui watched the last stragglers stagger out of the saloon, carrying wounded or dead comrades.
He shook his head. "I hate it when that happens," he muttered. Ukitake nodded in agreement, resting against a table. With a sigh, the saloon owner started righting some of the chairs and cleaning up. Ukitake wiped sweat off his forehead, took a deep breath, and joined him.
After a moment, he stopped, feeling eyes on him. He looked up to find that Shunsui had turned thoughtful dark eyes on him. There was something new in his gaze, something that hadn't been there before. There'd always been interest and appreciation in them—something that had flattered and pleased Ukitake, though he tried not to think too deeply into that. But now there was... something like respect and admiration. He flushed, and Shunsui grinned at him, one of those rare, true smiles of his. "I must admit that I'm surprised, Jyuushirou."
"That the pretty boy can actually shoot?" he asked wryly. He got that all the time, and while it sometimes rankled, enemies underestimating his abilities had saved his ass too many times for it to truly bother him.
But his friend shook his head slowly. "No, I believed you could take care of yourself. I'm just surprised at how well we worked together."
Ukitake remembered the comforting feel of Shunsui's steady presence at his back. He'd fallen into pure instinct, trusting in Shunsui's gun even though they'd never fought together before. Yes, he knew what Shunsui was saying. "Yeah," he agreed, a bright smile lighting up his face. "We did work well together, didn't we?"
Shunsui blinked, and his smile grew to match Ukitake's. He reached out and clapped Ukitake on the shoulder, and Ukitake laughed. "Looks like my instincts were right. You're interesting, Jyuushirou Ukitake. I'm glad you came into my saloon."
Ukitake blushed harder, and his chest twisted, but not unpleasantly. "I'm glad I did too."
Flashback: Later in the past
Shunsui wasn't feeling sorry for himself. You could get that impression—he was huddled on the floor behind the bar and had stuffed his pink overcoat behind his back so the liquor bottles wouldn't jab him too hard—but he was mostly sure he wasn't feeling sorry for himself.
At least, he wasn't until he heard Ukitake's voice call out to him. By then he was drunk enough not to care about his upstanding friend finding him in such a compromising position, and just be grateful for the pleasant company.
Which was a bit dangerous for their friendship, but how could he not answer?
"Come quickly to my base!" he called.
He heard heavy steps on the wooden floors (how people could walk in those boots was beyond him), approaching the bar. Shunsui looked up and saw Ukitake peeking at him from behind a few bottles of tequila.
"Looks more like a stronghold to me," his friend said, making his way to where Shunsui sat.
"Yet you found me. Ain't it a bit late for you to be down in the bar?" he asked, not really noticing he'd slipped back to his speech pattern from back home in front of Ukitake, of all people. He didn't think they'd known each other for long enough to be that comfortable around him. The thought they apparently were assured him that what he'd said wouldn't make Ukitake uncomfortable.
The other man peered at him, eyebrows arched in challenge. Shunsui shut his mouth. "Your charming barmaid told me you're on a hunger strike."
"She's taken all my scotch!" It was a natural response, really. Yeah, so he drank a little more than usual that night. Nanao still shouldn't have turned to such drastic measures.
He noticed Ukitake slide down the bar and settle next to Shunsui—perfect posture, perfect everything, despite the fact he was crouching on the sticky floor of a saloon next to a drunken friend.
"Why do you drink so much?" Ukitake asked him. At first Shunsui thought he was being judgmental, but then he noted actual curiosity. He decided to simply answer.
"It makes me happy. You know what it does to your head." He pointed at himself for emphasis. "Liberation, eh?"
Ukitake snorted. "It can't be that simple. You're always happy, Shunsui. If you don't mind me speaking frankly, I must say I don't understand why you still carry a gun if it pains you."
Oh, that question. For some reason, it bothered him less to give Ukitake an answer than to most people. Probably because he had a feeling Ukitake would get it better than them. "I carry a gun because I need to. Dangerous times, you know?"
No, that felt wrong. It felt wrong to lie to him. Shunsui lowered his gaze. "That isn't true. My dad took me target practicing when I was eleven. He was always a little paranoid, told me to be prepared if they come back. Me and my brother got our own pistols when we were sixteen, and I never lost sight of mine."
Ukitake took his time to process it, and eventually just nodded. What, no pity? The only thing Ukitake did say was, "Now I see why you resent your parents."
Shunsui shrugged. "It's okay. As I said, it's necessary nowadays. All these bored free living cowboys running rampant 'round town, no offence. I like most of them, those crazy boys; Hiraku and Urahara, they're a blast to hang around, but there are also these posses of wretched men who make me… well, unhappy." He patted his holster, wondering if he'd said too much.
He was surprised when instead of a scolding he got a flask shoved into his palm. "Scotch?" he asked, amazed.
"For emergencies," Ukitake muttered an answer.
Shunsui's eyes widened and he turned his head to Ukitake, smiling broadly. "I think I'm gonna keep you, friend."
Ukitake blinked a few times at him, stunned, and then looked away and chuckled. "I know all about hard days. If you need a little help falling asleep, why not?"
Shunsui opened the flask, sniffing the alcohol appreciatively. "You better watch out for Nanao," he said, grinning.
Ukitake laughed again, deep and free. "I'd never dream of enraging her."
Shunsui felt a lot better, which seemed to happen quite often lately. He finally raised the flask to his lips, then thought better of it. "Wanna share?" he asked, gracious.
Ukitake shook his head, and gave him a sideways glance, something deeper, almost troubled in his eyes. "I sleep just fine."
One day I'll hear your story, Jyuushirou Ukitake.
"Cheers, friend." It sounded good, and then the scotch shot through him and nothing felt bad anymore. Definitely not sorry for myself s'long as you're around.