Ukitake stared at the trees, enjoying the view. The Shiba family had managed to get their hands on a special piece of land: many of the towns out west were settled on mostly dirt and rocks, so lush greenery was always a treat. He rested his head against the trunk of a tree, enjoying the cool breeze. It was such a peaceful scene that he felt… out of place. Inside his mind, inside his soul… nothing was peaceful right then. He shifted slightly and sighed. He wasn’t sure what he was feeling.
They’d rescued Rukia Kuchiki, and brought her safely to the Shibas, whom Ukitake trusted implicitly. They’d also gained a new comrade, and though Ukitake had been wary at first, he’d come to believe that Renji Abarai was trustworthy. He could be loud and rude, but he wasn’t a liar or a deceiver. Though they hadn’t gotten Aizen himself, they’d all escaped alive. And he was more than grateful for that.
Judging by the surface, Ukitake should be feeling pretty damn good.
But of course, everything was much more complicated.
Ukitake sighed and drew his knees up to his chest. He’d kissed Shunsui. If he’d thought the situation between them had been complicated before that, they were even more tangled up now. He knew he shouldn’t have done that. That had blown every hope of… moving on. For either of them.
And yet… he couldn’t find it within himself to truly regret the kiss. It could never happen again, he swore to himself, but it had been so good to kiss Shunsui again, to touch him again. Ukitake blinked, his eyes stinging slightly. And the look on Shunsui’s face after the kiss…
Stop being ridiculous, Jyuushirou. He told himself. Even if Shunsui is insane enough to still… have some feelings left for you, there’s no way he’d take you back, now. And you wouldn’t want him to, anyway.
Which was not entirely the truth. Ukitake wanted to be back with Shunsui more than anything; it was an ache, a longing that he’d never, ever felt before, even back before he and Shunsui had gotten together. Now he knew what it was like to be with Shunsui, how it felt to touch him, all the noises he made, the spots that gave him the most pleasure, every little private thing, that made the ache all the more deeper. They’d been together for years, and those images played over and over in his head constantly, whether Shunsui was nearby or not.
But he also knew all the reasons that getting back together with Shunsui was a bad, bad idea. These were the same reasons he’d left in the first place, and they were still more than valid. It was too dangerous for them to be together.
He wrapped his arms around his knees, trying to ground himself. He felt so off balance.
And he couldn’t stop thinking about that kiss. Or the feel of Shunsui warm under his arm, pressed up against his side, as they had made their way to the Shiba’s.
Ukitake’s head jerked up. Shunsui. He’d always had a habit of interrupting Ukitake when he was wallowing. Another thing that hadn’t changed.
Ukitake opened his mouth, but nothing came out. Shunsui took that as an invitation, and sat down next to Ukitake, propping himself up on the trunk of the tree as well. He was so close Ukitake could feel the heat radiating off his body.
He swallowed, and it was painful with his suddenly dry throat. “Shunsui,” he managed.
Shunsui hummed quietly. “Nice view, isn’t it?”
“…yes,” Ukitake agreed cautiously. Small talk? He bit his lip. “It’s a good time of the year to be here.”
His old friend nodded and stretched lazily, gazing out at the trees, and Ukitake‘s heart hurt as he stared at the bandages on his arm and thought of the bandages on his shoulder he knew were there, underneath Shunsui‘s clothes. “It’s too bad that we need to leave soon.”
Now Ukitake was on safer ground. “Aizen’s men knew we were coming. They knew who we are. We must be wanted men by now.”
“It’s been a while since that’s happened,” Shunsui commented wryly.
“And never to this scale. This isn’t just one town, one sheriff. Aizen has too much power.” Ukitake said, his face darkening, and Shunsui nodded in agreement. “There are people who oppose him, though. And we are not without friends.” Ukitake indicated the large house that belonged to the Shibas.
“But neither one of us are the type who are fine with living as fugitives. We need to kill Aizen.” Shunsui said bluntly. There was no way someone like Aizen would ever be sent to prison. That was the only option.
“Which we would have done anyway, whether he knew who we were or not.”
“Of course.” Shunsui tilted his hat forward in acknowledgement.
“Do you think we can do it?”
Shunsui frowned thoughtfully. “Well, Isshin seemed to think we could. And as you said, we have friends. And Ichigo and Abarai are determined to come.”
Ukitake’s eyebrows shot up. Ichigo was an extremely stubborn young man, and it was no surprise that he was set on revenge. “Abarai wishes to come too? I would have thought he’d want to avoid Aizen. Aizen isn’t likely to be even harsher on those who have betrayed him.”
Shunsui scratched his chin. “Part of it is probably the history between him and the Kuchiki girl. I think it’s mostly that he wants to keep challenging Ichigo, though.”
Ukitake laughed quietly. “You have a point. Those two have been… inseparable.” Ukitake didn’t understand where they got all there energy from. They were constantly shouting at each or physically fighting- often both at the same time. They were both so… young. He knew he’d been the same way at some point, but he’d been so… tired the last couple years that it seemed foreign to him.
“That’s one word for it.” Shunsui smiled, his eyes lighting up, and Ukitake’s heart jumped. He looked quickly back toward the scenery. So much for trying to ignore my attraction to him. After the kiss… there’s no hope, is there? When it comes to Shunsui… I don’t know how long I can keep this up. This is a bad idea.
But like when he’d made the decision to ask for Shunsui’s help again—just a few days ago, it felt like much longer—there was too much at stake. As much as he wanted to leave, he was now tangled up in this whole situation with Aizen, and it was one of those times that Ukitake knew they needed to take Aizen down, no matter how long it took, no matter the emotional problems it caused, for either of them. Some duties went beyond that.
And Aizen was so powerful, it might take a long time. That was so familiar it hurt. I’m going to be going on a mission with Shunsui again. The thought sent a mixture of fear and anticipation tingling throughout his body. I’m fucked, aren’t I?
Shunsui bumped him with his shoulder, drawing him out of his thoughts, and gods there was another thing that felt so familiar. He really had no idea how all this was going to end up, and he wished that he could stop thinking and worrying about all the possibilities.
Ukitake slowly licked his dry lips, and then gathered his courage and looked back at Shunsui. “How’s your shoulder?”
Shunsui looked startled, and guilt tugged at Ukitake’s heart, but then Shunsui smiled at him. “It’s healing,” he answered simply. “I’ll live.”
Ukitake smiled back in relief. After you’d seen someone shot, that kind of fear never really left you. That fear pushed past all the walls he’d ever put up. Their first kiss had also been after Ukitake had feared Shunsui’s death.
“We’ll be all right. We can manage Aizen. Things might be different now, but… we still…”
“Some of it is still there.” Ukitake finished quietly. “I feel it too.”
Shunsui relaxed. “I… good.”
We’ll be all right, he’d said. Ukitake didn’t know what all right meant for the two of them anymore, but he wanted to believe that with all that he was. He wanted to believe that somehow everything would work out.
Though he didn’t realize it, he shifted slightly over, leaning against Shunsui’s warmth.
End of Book One!