Passage of You

He wondered at himself when he realized he'd been the one to move out of the way. Ukitake Jyuushiro had been walking down the hall when he noticed Kuchiki Byakuya coming the opposite way. If both were to continue on their way, one was going to have to step aside, and without realizing it, Ukitake made room for the other to pass.

He wondered why he had been the one to go out of his way. They were both captains; of the same rank and status and strength. Neither was any better than the other. So in the end, Ukitake concluded it was simply a matter of being more inclined to politeness.

But when he moved to go on, a cough overtook his body, and he doubled over from the force of it. Sweat broke out heavily on his brow, and he felt a dreaded spattering of blood into the hand covering his mouth. His chest burned deep inside.

And then he felt gentle hands upon him, holding back his hair and idly rubbing his back. When the coughing subsided, cool fingers pressed to his forehead. He knew from the spirit and the scent that it was Byakuya, but it surprised him that the other captain would have gone back for him. Yet when he turned and looked up, his gaze met those cold grey eyes.

"Are you alright?"

"Yes, I'm fine," Ukitake answered. "Thank you."

"You have a fever."

"I'm ok."

They stared at each other silently for a moment, until suddenly Ukitake found himself swept up into Byakuya's arms. He protested, trying to break free, but was unable to. "Put me down!"

"You need to be in bed."

"I said I'm fine, so please-!"

His words were cut off by the cold glare of the other captain, who said evenly "I am familiar with the care of sick people." There was another moment of silence as they regarded each other, then he added in a softer tone "I'll move quickly, so nobody will see." Then started the series of flash steps that would deliver Ukitake to his quarters.

And he found himself wondering again, at how this time it was Byakuya going out of his way for him. How the other could drop what he was doing, and care for someone overcome with illness. And that perhaps, deep down inside, Kuchiki Byakuya was more kind than he was given credit for.

Somewhere, deep inside Ukitake Jyuushiro's chest, a warmth kindled. Not a fever of his illness, but something else. And he knew this moment would be the start of something very painful, and very beautiful.