Rainy November

Shay Sheridan

Fandom: Bleach, Alternate Universe
Author's note: There's something about Shunsui Kyoraku that put a B-movie plot in my head. Hope you enjoy him as a down-at-the-heels P.I. wooing the gorgeous damsel client-in-distress who sashays through his door. Shunsui/Ukitake; guest appearances from the Bleach cast.
No warnings for anything but hard-boiled slang.


"Duck, damn you!"

Bullets were flying overhead and tugging at my clothes, but I didn't care. I flung myself at Jushiro, bringing him down behind a pile of two by fours. "Don't be stupid!" I bellowed, "With that hair you're a goddamn target."

"Shut up and get off me." He growled and pushed me so my entire weight wasn't squashing him. I backed off, but not too far, because the twin swords were behind me and I sure as hell didn't want to roll onto them. We'd kicked up sawdust and dirt with our little maneuver and Jushiro coughed, trying to muffle the sound. "How much do you weigh, anyway?"

"Are you maligning my girlish figure?" A bullet tore a piece out of some wood inches from my head and I flinched as dust flew. "Shit, he's serious."

There was a look of frustration on Jushiro's handsome face. "Why did you stand up like that? I was trying to draw him away from you."

"And that was a dumb plan, my friend." Another bullet, another flinch. "I still don't know why you had to come after me. I thought I told you to go to the cops."

He narrowed his eyes. "You think I was going to let you face him alone? You must be joking. Now move, Shun – seriously, I can't breathe."

This time, though, I only shifted a little. It felt good lying here in the shadows, my body in such close contact with his. "I could get used to this."

Jushiro's expression said I was nuts. "Get used to what? Getting shot at by a maniac in a condemned sawmill?"

"Nah," I said. "Lying next to you. Maybe even doing this."

I leaned down and kissed him, and after a moment's surprise, he kissed me back.

When we broke apart, he exhaled softly. "You do that to all your clients?"

"Yeah, every damn one. It's all part of the service."

He chuckled, low and dirty. "No wonder you were recommended. You're very good at what you do."

"You say that now," I smirked.

"No," he replied. "I knew from the moment we met."

"Yeah?" I felt warm all over. "I thought it was just me who felt that way."

"No," he said. "I knew right away we'd end up like this."

"In a sawmill?"

"Shut up. You know what I mean." His eyes were full of promises.

"Sweet talker. We should–" I started to move and caught a glimpse of red staining his white shirt. "Shit, shit."

"What now?"

"Are you hit?" Frantically I grabbed at the bloody stain. "Dammit, Jushiro! Where are you hit?"

"I'm not! Calm down." Puzzled, he lifted his shirt, showing nothing but pale, unmarked skin. "I'm okay, see?" And then his mouth opened in alarm. "Shun!"

I put a hand down to my own side and it came away bloody. "Well, hell," I muttered. "I've been shot."


On that rainy November afternoon he walked into my office, falling in love was the last thing on my mind.

I was still nursing a grudge toward Cupid. To tell the truth I was pretty annoyed with that damn cherub because he'd just shot me full of holes – again – and my heart was still sore. You'd think after Ran I'd've known better, but all I'd learned from that gorgeous redhead was that just because a woman's stacked doesn't mean she's smart; the dumb broad had thrown me over for a biker covered in tattoos. After her I'd soothed my soul with slinky, secretive Soi Fon, and I really thought she was the one, until she left me…for another dame. And as for Retsu – well, she was brilliant, all right, but never date a doctor, that's all I'll say about her. I had no intention of being Retsu's, or Cupid's, pincushion ever again.

So that day I was alone in my office, smoking the last cigarette in the pack, a bottle of Old Genryusai at my elbow, as cold November rain splattered against the window. I was trying to convince myself that I was just fine being independent again, and doing a lousy job of it.

Beep

"Boss–"

I thumbed the intercom. "Yes, Nanao, my little buttercup of delight?"

"Shove it, Shun." I could imagine my Gal Friday's eyes rolling behind the cute glasses she wore perched on her pert nose. "There's someone here to see you."

I poured another two fingers into my glass. "Tell 'em I'm busy."

"Shunsui!" Now her perfect mouth would be pursed, and there'd be a little crease between her big grey eyes. "Knock it off." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "I think he could be a client."

"Like I said, my adorable one, I'm bus–"

"You are not busy, you lazy bum! You better work, because I need to get paid!" I smiled to myself as I pictured her shouting into the intercom, quivering with annoyance. Nanao's cutest when she's pissed at me, even though she has a tendency to hit. "Pull yourself together, you dope. I'm sending him in."

"Whatever." I swung my feet off the desk but didn't put down my glass or stub out my smoke. Whoever this person was, I'd get rid of him quick. Turned out my mood was worse than I'd thought, and I wasn't up for a new a case, no matter what the state of my bank account happened to be.

The door swung open.

I never used to believe in love at first sight, and maybe I still don't. But I do believe in the kind of attraction that walks up to you and smacks you between the eyes and knocks you down, the kind you keep getting up for, just so you can be knocked down again. That's what happened right then, when he stepped through the door, closed it behind him, and took a step toward my desk.

He had the kind of looks that would make a samurai cut open his own chest, just so he could hand this guy his heart on a platter. His hair was long – longer even than mine, and I'd been ducking my barber for months – but his was beautiful, and silky, and though his eyebrows were as dark as mine, his hair was white as snow is before it lands in the gutter.

I may have stared a few seconds, maybe more. After a while he began to look uneasy. "Mr. Kyoraku?" His voice was pitched low and husky.

"Yeah?" I felt high, like I'd had a bottle of the best, or a funny cigarette or two.

His perfect forehead wrinkled, and he coughed softly. "Er, your cigarette, it's about to–"

"Yeah, sorry, I'll put it – ow!" The cigarette had burned down to my fingers, and I dropped it and then had to stomp out the stub. The hot ashes burned a spot on the crappy carpet. "Dammit."

There was a muffled sound and I looked up. He was laughing at me, but trying not to be rude about it. His deep brown eyes crinkled up at the corners.

What can I say? I was smitten.

"Sorry." I brushed the ashes off my trousers onto the floor. What the hell – I need a new rug anyway. "Won't you sit down, Mr. ah…?"

"Ukitake, Jushiro Ukitake." the husky voice answered. He pulled out the chair across from me and settled his lanky frame. "I hope you can help me, Mr. Kyoraku."

"Call me Shunsui," I offered. "Or Shun. Whatever you like." I confess I just wanted to hear him say my name.

"Thank you, Shunsui, that's very–" His words choked off into another cough, and he pulled out a monogrammed handkerchief. Clearly this guy had good taste. Probably money, too, based on his suit and his manners. But one cough became two, and then it was if he were coughing up a lung.

"Let me get you some water." I jumped up, alarmed, and grabbed the empty glass from the cabinet where I'd filed it under "G." "I'll go tell Nanao–"

He took the glass, but his eyes went to the bottle of booze. "If you don't mind," he rasped, "I'd rather have–"

"Sure, sure." I patted him on the shoulder and poured. "You're my kind of guy," I said, and immediately felt like a dope. But he didn't seem to notice. A few seconds later he was back under control, though his face was flushed. Color in his cheeks looked good on him. "Sorry," he said, and gulped down the last of the whiskey.

"No, no, I’m sorry," I apologized. "Shouldn't smoke inside. Trying to quit, you know?"

He shook his head. "It's not that. I have a…condition." At my look of concern he made a wry face. "Nothing to worry about. It's chronic. Had it for years."

I settled back in the chair and looked him over again, which was no hardship. Perfectly creased trousers. White-white shirt, red pocket square that matched his tie. Neat but not showy manicure. On top of being the best looking thing on two legs to walk through that door in ages, Ukitake was a class act. Too bad I’m just a private dick with no breeding whatsoever. "So, Mr. Ukitake–"

"Please, Shunsui. Call me Jushiro." He smiled. Nice smile. Perfect teeth. "I'd like to hire you. I understand you find lost objects."

"I do my best."

"And your best is very good, from what I've heard."

"Yeah?"

He inclined his head and his hair fell over one shoulder. I had to restrain myself from reaching over to touch it. "I understand you were instrumental in helping the authorities find Sosuke Aizen."

"'Dr. Illusion?' Yeah," I said, feeling a flush of pride. "Turned out he was hiding in the Hueco Mundo district, and I had better contacts than the cops, and…well, the rest is history."

"So it is."

"So, what're you trying to find?"

He leaned toward me. "I'm afraid I've lost a very valuable pair of swords. A matched set, unique in the world." He took a paper out of his breast pocket and passed it to me. "They're a family heirloom. They're called the Truth of Pisces."

I took a look at the picture and whistled. Two slender swords, attached at the hilt by a red rope from which square metal charms were suspended. "They're amazing. Never seen anything like this – the length of the blade, the shape–! And with the reverse blades attached – that's so you can attack and defend at once, right? Look dangerous as hell."

"They are, if you don't know how to handle them."

"Do you?"

He flushed again, and looked embarrassed. "I do."

"Are those charms silver?"

"Platinum. And the rope is silk over steel." He quirked an eyebrow. "Know anything about swords?"

"Some." I didn't mention that back in the service I was a weapons expert, or that once I'd taken down an infiltrator with a ceremonial saber. I don't like to think about the war: too many friends lost. "I know a little bit."

"That's great. Wonderful, in fact!" He beamed a thousand-kilowatt smile in my direction.

I willed the blood back up to my brain. "Tell me – where did you last see them?"

"They were at my estate. I was about to lend them to the Seireitei Galleries for an exhibit." His face darkened. "But they were stolen before they could be delivered."

There was something funny in his face. "Any idea who took them?" He looked up at me. And he was – I dunno, embarrassed or something, so I continued. "You know who it is, or you think you know."

"I know." He coughed again, but I could tell it was just to give himself a moment. "My partner has them. His name is Jake. Jake Espada."


"Is it bad?"

"I don't know yet," Jushiro said. His mouth was grim as he rolled us over and started to open my shirt.

Frankly, I didn't really care, because I was too busy watching him as he worked on me. His fingers were long, pale like his face, pale like his hair. They skittered over my chest and my side like white ghosts. I could barely feel where I'd been shot, but wherever his fingers touched, my skin turned to fire. Blame the wound, or the crazy situation, but I felt great. In fact, I started to turn mushy. "I want to make love to you," I said, and giggled. Giggled. Man, what a sap.

"This," Jushiro said, his brown eyes flashing at me, "is hardly the time."

"Name the time, then."

"Fine," he said. "If we get out of this place alive, and if you're up to it, I will make love to you."

"Long, passionate love," I rambled. "On a bed of rose petals."

"Rose petals? Shunsui–"

"I want rose petals. Give me rose–"

"Sshh!" He covered my mouth with one cool hand. "Be quiet."

"Okay." I pulled his hand away and kissed his palm. "But you have to give me rose petals."

"Sure, sure," Jushiro whispered into my ear. "We'll have your damn petals, I promise."

"It's a date," I said, and then I passed out.


"Your partner."

"Well, former, but yes. He was my partner."

My heart was beating in a weird way. "Is that 'partner' as in 'business partner,' or…?"

He narrowed his eyes at me. "No. Just…partner."

"Ah."

"I hope that isn't a problem."

I shrugged. "Why should it be?"

"It is for some people." He considered his hands. "My family. My business associates. Even this damn conservative government."

"Not a problem for me," I said firmly. He smiled in relief. "So, Jushiro. The swords. Tell me everything."

So he spilled it all, and it wasn't a pretty story. He'd met this guy, Espada, at a cocktail party about a year before. Espada called himself an adventurer, and told stories about his exploits all over the word, but to my admittedly jaded ears, he sounded like a hustler, though a pretty slick one. It seemed to be a mutual passion from the first. Jake was the first person who didn't treat him as a semi-invalid; apparently Jushiro's family had been pretty over-protective of him, fussing when he decided to study martial arts, when he wanted to travel, or play sports, for fear he'd hurt himself. What is it the shrinks say? Over-protection is rejection? I read that somewhere. On top of everything, when he came out to them they threw all the homophobic crap you can imagine at him. And when he got together with Jake he got cut off from them once and for all. But he didn't care; he had his own money, he had Jake, and despite a near-total lack of information on the guy's past, Jushiro welcomed him into his house and his life.

For a while things were good; he thought he'd found his soul-mate, so he ignored the occasional coarse behavior and the anger issues and the strange people who sometimes showed up at their house. But like a scorpion, Jake couldn't change his nature. Their relationship turned volatile, with huge fights and some violence, and finally Jushiro had enough, and threw the guy out. It was only after Jake was gone and the Seireitei was ready to mount the exhibit that Jushiro noticed the loss of the twin swords.

That's why he hadn't gone to the police – he felt like a sap, and didn't want to give his family the satisfaction of saying "We told you so." Whatever his reason, he made me happy by walking into my office on a cold, wet, rainy day that suddenly felt a whole lot sunnier.

"If you take the case," he said, giving me a worried look, "you have to be careful. I did some searching after I discovered the loss, and found one of Jake's old associates, who warned me about him. This morning I learned that man was found dead in the river." He leaned in. "I think Jake's capable of anything. I can't believe I ever thought he and I, that we–"

"Look," I said. "We all make mistakes when we're in love. Or think we are. Believe me, I've made my share." Yeah, we were a couple of losers in love, kindred spirits, you might say.

So of course I took the case. Was there ever any question?


I came to with the sense that I'd stopped breathing. "I feel like a trussed turkey."

"You're too hairy to be a turkey," Jushiro muttered, his eyes on the dark corners of the mill. "You're more like a bear."

"You don't like my manly chest? Huh. See if I show it to you again."

"Stop babbling. Jake'll hear us."

"Okay, okay." I struggled to sit up and though he frowned at me, Jushiro helped until I was leaning against a stack of wood. He'd torn strips off his shirt to patch me up, and wrapped as I was I could hardly move. "You made these too tight. I can't breathe."

"If they aren't tight, you'll bleed out. Try breathing then."

"Has anyone ever told you you're a nag?"

"No," Jushiro said, and flashed me a wide grin. "But they do say I'm dangerous when crossed, so don't fuck with me."

"Ooh, it makes me hot when you talk tough," I purred, and bleeding or not I would've gone in for another clinch, but that's when Jake Espada stepped out of the shadows and pointed his gun at Jushiro's head.


Being a P. I. is mostly grunt work, and I won't bore you with the details of my hunt over the next couple of days. My job is usually more of a yawn than a cop's; most cases it's less exciting than being a security guard. It's not often you end up in a dilapidated sawmill with guys shooting at you. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

As for the cops, they have their place in this story, especially the ones who don't ask questions you won't want to answer. After reaching some dead ends I dropped in on Ken Zaraki, down at the 1-1. As usual he was in the middle of screaming at his subordinates, all except his lieutenant, a baby-faced chick who keeps them all under control. But when the Captain saw me he stopped bullying the troops, clapped me on the back and dragged me into his office.

"How's it hangin,' Ken?"

My former war buddy growled at me and squinted his non-glass eye in my direction. "What the fuck do you want, Shun?"

Good old Zaraki. Cuts right to the chase. "Nice to see you too, Ken. So. What do you know about a guy named Espada – Jake Espada?"

To my amazement he didn't give me the third degree, just called in a couple of detectives from the bullpen area. "Tell him about Jake Espada," Zaraki grunted, and the bald one folded his arms and started to talk, with interruptions from his partner, a pretty boy with a bad attitude.

"He used to be an enforcer for the Vasto Lords," the bald one said. "You know, that gang from down in the Hueco district. We cleaned 'em out some time ago. They were into guns, all kinds of weapons – black market, you know."

"Yeah," added the other cop, "though at the time Espada was shacked up with some society guy – what was his name?"

Baldy shrugged. "Who cares? Some patsy."

I held my temper. "Any idea where he is now?"

"Down in Rukongai, maybe." Pretty Boy again. "That's where the Lords used to hang out, that condemned sawmill out by the river. We were looking at him for a homicide, you know, Captain, the last holdout of the Aizen group, Gin Ichimaru."

"Yeah," agreed Zaraki. "But everybody who could've been a witness to the Ichimaru killing is dead."

"Or disappeared," added Pretty Boy. "Espada left the gang just before we busted it. I guess that's when he moved uptown." He shook his head. "It's like he knew ahead of time we were coming."

"You don't just leave the Vasto Lords," said Baldy. "Somebody's trying to consolidate power again, and it's Espada, if you ask me."

"Yeah, well who asked you?" Zaraki groused, looking sour. "Look, Shun. Whoever it is has got eyes everywhere. We can't make a move without him knowing, and it's driving me up the fucking wall! If it is Espada, he's still a bit player, but not for long. We'll get him sooner or later."

"He's slippery, Captain."

Zaraki ignored him. "We're working with the 7th Precinct on this. Hey – you know the lieutenant there, Shunsui. Name of Iba. Remember him?"

I made a face. "Sure. Iba the blowhard."

Zaraki threw back his head and laughed. "Yeah, that's Iba. The riverfront's his territory, and he's been watching the sawmill for criminal activity. But like 'Chica says, if it's Espada, he's slippery."

I gave the three of them my thanks. The last thing Zaraki said as I exited the building was "watch your back."


After that, things happened pretty quick. I called my client to tell him what I'd learned, and he unloaded an earful of grief on me.

"Jesus, Shun! Don't you carry a cellphone?"

"Not since they disconnected my service. What's up? You sound funny."

"Jake called me. He tried to warn me off."

"What the fuck – does this guy use satellites to track you?" I slammed my hand against the phone booth. "Jushiro. Lay low for a while, okay? Get yourself some protection. Go to the 11th Precinct and ask for Ken–"

"No." Jushiro's voice was firm. "He mentioned you by name, Shunsui. He knows I hired you, so you're in danger, too."

Damn. Damn! Zaraki was right – this guy had eyes everywhere. "Okay, okay," I said, checking my gun. "I got a tip he's down at the river, at that condemned sawmill, so I'm heading over."

"Don't! For God's sake, Shun–"

"Hey," I said. "You hired me to do a job, and I'm doing it. I'll call you later."

Jushiro said "watch your back," and I hung up the phone.

So now I had two of them telling me to watch my back. Too bad I was never any good at following advice.

Like I said, the rest is history.


Now that I could see Espada clearly, I had to admit he didn't exactly fade into the wallpaper. Tall, muscled, with pale, cold eyes and spiked hair, he commanded the eye. Just looking at him pissed me off.

Espada grinned, and flexed his muscles, which were visible under the tight cut of his white tee shirt. I remained unimpressed. Guys with muscles are a dime a dozen in this burg. I noticed his gun was one of those flashy models with a finish that glimmered silver blue in the low light – the kind your typical egomaniac likes to carry. He looked like what he was: a hustler. I'd be damned if I'd ever let him near Jushiro again.

Big talk. Right now the odds were all in Espada's favor; he had the drop on us and I'd lost my gun somewhere. "So, boys," he drawled, "I see you've got my swords."

"They're mine, Jake." Jushiro's voice was level, but close as we were, I could feel the tension in his back. "You're not getting them."

Espada laughed. It was more like a cackle. "Big talk. I can shoot you both and take them, or you can hand them over nice and easy. Makes no difference to me."

"Listen, asshole," I sneered, "the cops are on the way, so if I were you I'd just back away and run. You know – like the rat you are."

The smile wavered. "Hey, big mouth. Maybe I'll just shoot you for fun."

"Jake." Before I could stop him, Jushiro stood up, hands wide. "This needs to stop. Now."

"Oh?" Espada's eyes glittered with ice. "Do tell."

"Look. Shunsui's telling the truth. We called the police and they're coming. You can walk out of here right now and maybe get away. They're not going to chase you too hard for trying to steal a family heirloom. But if you kill us, they won't stop until they find you."

Espada shrugged. "Let them try." He gripped the silver gun tighter, and the barrel shifted until it was centered on Jushiro's chest. "You seem to think I have feelings for you. Poor Ju. Did I break your heart?"

"Hardly."

"Really? Oh! I see! Is this old guy your new boyfriend? Huh. Not exactly an improvement."

"You flatter yourself," Jushiro said.

"Was this guy really your type?" I asked, incredulous. "I mean, what an asshole."

Espada barked a nasty laugh. "Whatever. Hand over the swords or I'll kill you, Jushiro. No more talk."

"No."

"Give him the swords," I grunted. "They're just antiques."

To my surprise, he whirled on me. "They're symbols of my family's honor," he said angrily. "I'd rather destroy them myself than give them to an honorless creature like him. "

That was a pretty impressive speech. Also a pretty stupid one. "Fine," said Espada, sounding impatient. "Then I'll start with him." The gun crawled in my direction. "Unless you've changed your mind."

"Not even then," said Jushiro.

I nudged him. "Gee. Thanks a lot."

"Oh fer Chrissakes." Espada made a disgusted sound. "Whatever." His finger began to tighten on the trigger.

All hell broke loose.

Jushiro dropped and rolled, coming up with the swords in his hand. He moved so fast that, groggy as I was, he was no more than a black and white blur whipping around in the semi-darkness.

Espada took a step back, surprised by the movement, then regrouped and shouted "Fuck you!" and brought the gun up again. But Jushiro was faster, and two streaks of silver whirled around, cutting through a shaft of light and the dusty air as he went in for the attack, knocking the gun barrel up with one blade and then away with the other. The gun clattered away. For a moment I gaped, slack-jawed, and then my brains kicked in and I pushed myself away from the stack of wood I was leaning against, forcing myself to stand. I felt woozy, but I couldn't let Jushiro have all the fun.

Espada staggered back, holding his bleeding gun hand. Those icy eyes were wide open, and they were pissed as hell. He moved fast, very fast, and a long, slender knife appeared in his left hand. Without a moment's hesitation he threw it at Jushiro, catching him in the thigh. Jushiro grunted and staggered back, and one of the swords fell to the floor, raising a cloud of dust.

I didn't wait. I launched myself across the dust-filled room, bringing Espada down with my heavier weight, though he didn't go easy. He really was nothing but muscle, and he fought me every inch of the way. It was like wrestling a big cat – a panther or a tiger. But I brought him down at last, banging his head none-too-gently in the process, and then a couple of solid punches to his glass jaw laid him out cold in a cloud of sawdust. I waited, fists clenched, but it looked like he was down for the count.

Jushiro had slid down to the floor, and was ripping off yet another piece of his shirt to tie around his leg. "Here," I offered, though I could barely move myself. "Let me."

"Thanks."

"You rip any more off and you'll be naked." I grinned at him. "Not that I'd complain."

"I'm beginning to think you don't get laid enough," he said, grimacing as I tied the knot.

"That is sad but true."

I finished up my field dressing, my hands too tired to do more than fall at my sides. With a huge sigh I leaned back against the pile of wood and by chance found my missing gun wedged between two rotting boards. I dropped it in my lap as exhaustion crept up my body one bone at a time. Jushiro didn't look much better, and he was coughing a lot, taking heaving breaths in between. There were sounds in the distance: sirens, then doors slamming, and then a loud-speaker bellowing, "This is the police. Lay down your weapons and come out with your hands up!"

"Iba," I said. "He loves to hear himself talk." I jolted upright. "Hey, wait! I was bluffing about the police coming! How the hell did the cops get here?"

"I called them," Jushiro said, rubbing his leg below the bandage. "One of us had to be prudent, and clearly it wasn't going to be you."

"Brains and beauty," I said admiringly. With effort I pitched my voice louder. "Hey, Lieutenant! In here – we already got the bad guy!" I knew he'd be muttering to his squad, "it's that jerk Kyoraku," but right then I didn't care. I turned back to Jushiro. "How you feeling?"

"How are you feeling?"

I shrugged, which was a bad idea because it tugged on the wound in my side. "I feel like crap. You?"

"The same." He looked tired, and he coughed again, but when he looked up his eyes glittered with heat. "I'm still holding you to our agreement."

"Agreement?"

"You," he said roughly, "are going to make love to me. With rose petals."

I squinted at him. "Rose petals?"

"You're getting the damn rose petals, Shun. Do we have a deal?"

"Absolutely," I agreed, "even if we have to do it on a gurney."

The door at the far end of the mill burst open, and the cops started swarming in, but a sudden sound behind us made us turn our heads. Jake Espada was teetering there, his face contorted with fury, and in his hand was that damn silver gun. He made a sound somewhere between a growl and a bark. "Die, you motherfuckers!"

Without conscious thought I reached for my gun, and felt Jushiro's hand close around mine. Together we lifted and fired as a blue-white flash exploded in our direction.

When Iba's men got to us, they found a chunk the size of a baseball gouged out of the wood between Jushiro and me, where Espada had just missed us, and a hole clear through Espada's body where his heart should've been.


The best thing about hospitals is getting out of them.

Turned out I'd lost more skin than blood in a gouge along my ribs – no permanent damage, just another scar to add to my collection. I was more worried about Jushiro, but the knife wound in his leg had been wide enough to cause lots of bleeding but not deep enough to do serious harm. Still, I hated leaving him there when I hobbled forth from the hospital to the chauffeur-driven limo he'd arranged for me.

There was paperwork in my office, and a visit to the 7th Precinct, where Lt. Iba attempted to tear me a new one, but in the end I made him so angry he started sputtering, so I count that as a win. The Truth of Pisces (and where do they come up with these names?) were delivered to the Seireitei with appropriate dignity, and best of all, a bunch of Espada's underlings, the ones that had been his network of lookouts, stool pigeons and goons, were taken off the streets permanently. It looked like the Vasto Lords finally were history.

I let the cops take most of the credit for that…though I managed to toot my own horn enough to get a bunch of new clients out of the affair, including the Seireitei, which was largely due to Jushiro's influence.

Ten days after the shootout – ten days of champing at the bit while he rested up – I found myself at the door to his house…mansion…estate. Standing under the portals in the fading evening light I suddenly felt underdressed, though I was wearing my best (and only respectable) suit and a pink floral tie that I'd chosen specially for the occasion. I'd even had Nanao check me out before I left, and I could've sworn she'd looked all misty-eyed as she straightened my lapel and whispered "Go get 'im." Love that girl, really I do.

The door swung open. A guy in a monkey suit stared at me, nodded slightly and stepped back. "Good evening, sir," he said. "Please enter." I obeyed. He put out a hand and I gave him my hat. "Very good, sir. You are expected. Please follow me." He passed my hat to a maid, who also bowed, and then led me down marble corridors lined with art toward the rear of the house. With every step I felt more and more nervous. I started second-guessing the situation. I hadn't heard from Jushiro, and while usually not much gets to me, this time I knew I was out of my element. Any one of these paintings must've cost more than my year's income; even the butler had better manners than me. What was I thinking, believing I could be part of Jushiro's world, or that he'd want to be part of mine?

"Right this way, sir," said the butler. He gestured to a door, bowed, and melted away down the hall.

I took a deep breath. My heart was racing, my brain rehearsing how to react when Jushiro told me it'd never work between us.

And then the door opened, and there he was. He was dressed in a simple white shirt over black jeans, and he was barefoot. The golden light from the setting sun came through French doors behind him, and his hair looked like it was on fire.

I couldn't form words. I couldn't even think of any. I, Shunsui Kyoraku, the Demon Lover, the Man of a Thousand Conquests, the Smooth Talker, for once was tongue-tied, without a thought in my head but oh, how I want you, Jushiro Ukitake. So I did the only thing my body would let me do: I thrust out my right hand, the one holding a dozen red roses, and stammered, "Here."

Jushiro took the flowers from my unsteady hand. And then he smiled, and stepped back, and behind him was a bed covered in white satin sheets and a mound of pillows.

And a thousand rose petals.


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