The hospital room was a flurry of activity. Doctors coming and going, nurses bustling in and out, taking temperature, checking vitals, and asking Ukitake questions that made Hitsugaya's head spin.
Ukitake answered them all calmly, leaning back into his pillows with a kind of tired resignation toward the endless bombardment of inquiries about his wellbeing. At times, he would give Hitsugaya, who was sitting next to him, a comforting smile; or he would chuckle softly at a joke Shunsui had cracked from where his stood next to Unohana on the other side of the bed. Ukitake looked much older than he was, but it was a combination of drugs, exhaustion, and the lingering effects of his attack.
As the doctors finished up their analysis and left, Ukitake turned to Shunsui and said, "I'm surprised that they didn't ask me the date along with all of those questions. Shun, what day is it?"
"Saturday," Shunsui responded immediately.
Ukitake nodded. "I see. Shun, would you mind doing something for me?"
Shunsui smiled a knowing smile and pulled out his key ring, twirling it on his finger. "Way ahead of you, Juu. Just tell me where you hide it."
"In plain sight, where else?" Ukitake asked. "Top of the refrigerator, in a manila envelope."
Shunsui nodded and saluted them as he left. "See you in a bit."
"What's he getting?" Hitsugaya asked, curiosity getting the better of him.
Ukitake smiled slightly at his charge's impatience. "You'll find out in time."
Hitsugaya sat down with an annoyed sigh, but he knew better than to press the issue. "Alright."
Kaien stood a few minutes later, stretching with a yawn. "Well, I need to get goin'," he drawled. "I need to pick Miya-chan up at the airport. We'll drop by to visit tomorrow." He gave them around then turned to Rukia. "See ya 'round, Rukia."
As the professional soccer player ambled out of the room, Byakuya stood as well. "Rukia and I must depart now," he said crisply, straightening his tie and brushing imaginary dust off his suit. "Give my regards to Shunsui-san, if you would, Ukitake. Unohana-san, a pleasure as always."
Unohana smiled gently and inclined her head at Byakuya. "Likewise, Byakuya-kun."
Ukitake grinned slighty. "Thank you for coming, Byakuya. You must have really cared to take time from your busy schedule to come and visit me."
The room was silent as Byakuya blinked, then regarded Ukitake with a cold stare. "Don't be a fool, Ukitake. I only attended so Rukia wouldn't embarrass herself or the Kuchiki family. Rukia, we are leaving now." He swept grandly from the room and Rukia bowed slightly to Ukitake.
"I apologize for my nii-sama's attitude, Ukitake-san. I hope your road to recovery is swift." She turned to Hitsugaya. "I suppose I will see you at school. Take care, Hitsugaya-san." She bowed once again and hurried after her brother.
For a few minutes, the room was silent after the departure of the visitors. Hitsugaya stood and mumbled, "Be back in a minute. Bathroom." He left the room and Ukitake sank back into his pillow with a tired sigh, eyes closed.
"Jushiro?" Unohana asked softly.
"I'm fine, Retsu," Ukitake murmured. "Just tired."
"After all that sleep?" Unohana asked in a light, teasing tone.
Ukitake turned his head and cracked a hazel eye open to give his girlfriend an amused look. "You know what I mean, Dai."
Unohana laughed softly. "Yes, I know, Jushiro."
Ukitake fell silent and resumed staring at the ceiling. "I scared you, didn't I?" he asked suddenly, not taking his eyes off the ceiling.
Retsu smiled gently. "A bit," she admitted. "But I guess the attacks are just one of the many hazards of loving you, Jushiro."
Ukitake turned his head and gave Unohana a look. "You've been around Shun too much the past couple of days. His humor wears off, apparently."
Unohana laughed. "I suppose so."
"Retsu," Ukitake said quietly, "how did Hitsugaya take it? The attack. I blacked out before the ambulance arrived."
Unohana sighed, sitting down in the chair next to the bed. "From what I saw, and from what Shunsui told me, he handled the initial attack fairly well. He was in shock for most of the first night though, and he slept most of the second day, which is understandable. The emotional toll it took on him was enormous. The only time I've ever seen him cry was today, when you woke up. I think that relief just caused all his emotions to overflow. He's been bottling it up this whole time."
After a lengthy pause, Ukitake muttered, "It must have been so hard for him, not being able to do anything."
"Actually," Unohana mused, "I believe the worst part for him was him not knowing when, or even if, you'd ever be conscious."
Ukitake sighed. "I'll ask him about it after the holidays."
Unohana's brow furrowed. "Why not now?"
The man stared down at the bone-white sheets. "He's got enough on his plate without me adding more than what I'm about to give."
"You mean what Shunsui went to fetch?"
Ukitake nodded. "Yes."
Retsu sighed, standing. "You're so noble, worrying about others when you should be worrying about yourself." She leaned down and gave him a gentle kiss on the lips.
"Going somewhere?" Ukitake asked once they had parted.
Unohana fingered her keys. "I'm going to get some coffee, and then I have things I have to do, unlike some. Besides, I need some sleep tonight."
Ukitake smiled softly. "I assume you're referring to Shunsui leaving the grading up to Ise-kun?" he asked playfully.
Unohana smiled sweetly. "Of course." She leaned down to kiss him again, and after a sweet moment between them, she straightened and said, "I'll be seeing you tomorrow, Jushiro."
"Be expecting you, Retsu."
Unohana shook her head, smiled, and turned to leave the room. She passed Hitsugaya, who was returning from the bathroom, and she patted his shoulder as she passed him.
"Where's Unohana-sensei going?" Hitsugaya asked, pushing the curtain that divided the room aside and plopping down in his chair next to Ukitake's bed.
"Home," Ukitake replied. "She's got work to do."
Hitsugaya nodded. "Alright."
Several minutes passed, the two not talking but simply enjoying each others' company. the sound of footsteps came from outside the room and Shunsui was soon shouldering his way past the curtain.
"Hey, there!" the flamboyant man exclaimed, grinning. "I've got what you wanted, Juu, and guess what else? It's snowing outside!"
Hitsugaya rushed to the window. "You're right!" he said excitedly. "It is snowing!"
Ukitake took the proffered envelope and smiled sadly. "How appropriate," he said softly. "Toshiro?"
Hitsugaya turned from his window-gazing. "Yeah?"
Ukitake smiled and help out the envelope. "Happy Birthday, 'Shiro-chan."
Hitsugaya stared at the envelope for a full minute before realizing with a jolt what the date was. December twentieth: his fifteenth birthday.
Hitsugaya accepted the envelope and carefully opened it. He took the contents out, read them, and then his jaw dropped. In big, bold letters across the top of the of the document it read:
Hitsugaya stared first at the documents, then at the smirking Shunsui and the hesitantly smiling Ukitake. "Is this what I thi—"
Ukitake nodded. "It is."
"But why?" Hitsugaya asked.
Ukitake sighed. "'Shiro-chan, I really care about you. So much so, that I've begun to see you as my own son. Because of this, I wanted to offer you a permanent place to live. Besides, from the shocked look on your face, I don't believe anybody ever told you who I really am."
"Who you really are?" Hitsugaya repeated, bemused.
"When you were born," Ukitake said tenderly, "your parents asked me to be your godfather. I immediately accepted. That day, it snowed, as it's doing now. If I'm correct, it hasn't snowed on your birthday since, correct?"
Hitsugaya shook his head. "No, it hasn't."
Ukitake nodded. "I didn't think so."
"But what does this have to do with anything?" Hitsugaya asked.
"I was called to look after you because I'm your godfather," Ukitake said softly. "You're grandparents are dead and neither your father nor your mother had any brothers or sisters. So I was the only person left."
Hitsugaya stared. "But why didn't you tell me?!" he asked, hurt evident in his voice. His hands were shaking as they clutched the papers.
Ukitake beckoned Hitsugaya over, and when he was nearer to him, Ukitake took the documents gently from his charge's hands. "To be honest, I believed, wrongly, that your parents had told you." Ukitake sighed. "Apparently not."
Ukitake lowered his eyes then looked to Hitsugaya again. "So, how about it? Want to live with me?"
"I'd become your son?" asked Hitsugaya carefully.
Ukitake nodded. "You can keep your last name Hitsugaya if you wish."
Toshiro looked for a moment at the papers, then leaned over and hugged Ukitake tightly. "There's no one I'd rather have for a father," he said softly.
Ukitake wrapped the arm that wasn't stuck with an IV around Hitsugaya. "And there's no one I'd rather have for a son."
Shunsui smiled from where he stood on the sidelines and shook his head.
Hitsugaya staying in Seireitei would make his fifth period glad interesting for sure.
-FIVE MONTHS LATER: LATE MAY-
Feet pounded against the hard packed grassy-earth of the soccer field as Hitsugaya ran up the side of the field, dribbling the checkered ball. He stopped and reversed sideways passed; the ball shot over to his red-haired teammate, Renji, who grinned devilishly and continued down the line.
Hitsugaya streaked ahead and waited at the goal. Renji passed, and Hitsugaya put all his power behind the kick that sent the soccer ball blasting through the air and into the net.
The whistle trilled shrilly and there was a great explosion of cheering and hollering. Hitsugaya was suddenly piled upon by members of his team, all pounding him on the back, shouting words of encouragement.
They had won the game.
The, the Seireitei Shinigami, had beaten the Arrancars at the finals.
They had won a clean sweep season of twenty wins, zero losses.
Spirits couldn't be much higher.
Once Hitsugaya was finally relieved from the crushing weight of his teammates, he and Renji walked towards the stands with a few other teammates. A brown-haired figure suddenly detached from the crowd and came hurtling at them, barreling full speed into Hitsugaya, who was almost knocked over.
"Oh my gosh, 'Shiro-chan, you were so amazing out there!" Hinamori gushed loudly, steadily squeezing out what little air remained in Hitsugaya's lungs after their inelastic collision.
"Hinamori!" the white-haired boy gasped loudly. "Can't. Breathe!"
"Oh, sorry!" Hinamori yelped, releasing Hitsugaya from his rib-crushing hug instantly. "But still, you were so amazing, 'Shiro-chan! You too Abarai-kun!"
Hitsugaya massaged his chest and muttered, "It wasn't that great," while Renji looked rather pleased with himself.
"But it was!" Momo squealed loudly, completely ignoring Renji and hugging Hitsugaya again before giving him a kiss on the cheek.
Hitsugaya flushed brighter than Renji's hair. Abarai smirked, taking great amusement in his teammate's complete and total embarrassment. Sure, he'd had his eyes on Momo for a while, but one look at Hitsugaya and Hinamori's chemistry and he knew he was doomed to even try. Besides, there were more fish in the sea. Like the cute girl who went to the karate dojo in neighboring Karakura, or Rukia, perhaps.
Hitsugaya brought his blush down to a dull pink and busied himself dusting off his soccer uniform. The white numeral '10' stood out brightly from where it was emblazoned on the back of his black jersey and the side of his black shorts.
The three met Ukitake where he was standing with Kaien, Rukia, Unohana, and Shunsui. Even Ise-sensei had turned out to watch the final game of the season, and she was currently fending off the flirtatious Kyoraku with a fan and a stern glare.
"Good job, 'Shiro-chan," Ukitake praised as Toshiro untied his cleats and tossed them in his bag.
"Thanks, Dad," Hitsugaya replied, smiling as he slid on his shoes.
"Yeah, nice job, Toshi," Kaien said, grinning his trademark lopsided smirk. "Not half bad. You might be worthy of my tutelage yet."
Hitsugaya scowled. "I'm too good for your tutelage. I'd run circles around you any day."
"Don't insult Kaien-dono!" Rukia yelped indignantly, rushing to Kaien's defense.
"I can insult whoever I want!" Hitsugaya growled.
"Kaien, Rukia, Toshiro, calm down please," Unohana said softly. "Kaien, as an adult, you should know better."
The three fell silent immediately, leaving Kaien to mumble an apology to Unohana under his breathe.
Ukitake laughed and asked, "Toshiro, would you like to go get some ice cream to celebrate?"
Hitsugaya's head shot up from where he was finishing putting away his stuff. "Can we?!"
Ukitake smiled. "Sure can. Finish packing your stuff and we can go."
Hitsugaya quickly finished packing his bag and exchanged hurried goodbyes with Renji and Momo along with Hanataro, Rin, Rikichi, and Kira, who had ambled over.
"See you guys Monday!" he called as he walked towards the parking lot with his father.
Ukitake was still smiling as the two walked up to his car. "So, ready?" he asked as he unlocked it.
Hitsugaya nodded. "Yeah."
Jushiro chuckled and ruffled his son's white hair. "Then let's go get some ice cream."
Hitsugaya climbed into the front passenger seat of Ukitake's car and his father started the engine and they drove away.
Somehow, Hitsugaya knew his life, at that very moment, was perfect. He wanted the ball of life to just stop rolling so he could savor the precious moment.
A/N: It's over, unfortunately.... This chapter marks the end of Life is a Ball. But never fear there is a new plot brewing!!
I'm writing a sequel and it is filled with even MORE of the same awesomeness that this was made of, plus a bit of romance, a touch of death, and a hole heaping helping of mystery, suspense, and darkness. (Blame my principal for all the mystery, suspense, and darkness. She REQUESTED it!!!!) What is it called? Well... I don't have a title yet. ((sweatdrop)) Sorry, guys. No title yet, but during the fic I'll be holding a contestfor titles (if I don't come up with one myself) and the three I like the best will be put in a poll and YOU the reader get to decide the name! How cool is that?!
The sequel will be up as soon as I get the prologue, Chapter 1, and Chapter 2 written and sent to my beta and she gets them back to me, so expect them around the beginning of May. :) Can't wait to see you there! in my mind,
Anyway, let me thank EVERYONE who reviewed the story. I will list them. Thank you gubgub434, DreamingAnime, hana no toshiro, CooCoo For Cocoa Puffs 13, Evilhumor Author, D R A G O N L I L I E S, SemperVenice, Lucanite, Crazy Hyper Lady, FullMetalBec , ravens rising , xxOathkeeper , frozen ice cream, and (of course) Desert(dot)Moon, my faithful beta, who, time and time again, beta'd my story. And thank you all for reading and constantly replying. :) You made my day time and time again with your wonderful reviews, and I really am gratefull! Arigato Gonzaimasu!!! ((bows))
Also, thanks to all the people who read, reviewed, favorited, and alerted. This is my most popular fanfiction, and I'm VERY glad you liked it!
And finally, I REALLY owe a big thank you to my principal. Without her support and eagerness to read the new chapters, I probably wouldn't have gotten past Chapter 3. So, Arigato Gonzaimasu, sensei! ((bows)) Even if you did call me 'blondie' . . . Sorry, but that nickname is reserved only for Isis-nee-sama (You know who you are, Gabs!).
As I said before, this story was beta'd by the epical Desert(dot)Moon. I'm eternally grateful for her help and I advise you all to head over to her account and check out her stories!!!
And, would you please, for the last time, review to support my addiction to the crack-like substance that are reviews? Thanks!
P.S. Also, would you kindly head over to my profile and answer the poll about Life is a Ball? If you have any suggestions about how I could improve my work, feel free to send me a PM. I don't bite! -Love, Toast