A Woman Behind These Clothes

Summary: After concealing her true gender for years, Juushiro Ukitake thought she had the art of hiding mastered...but then Ichigo, in all his brash glory, happened to stumble across her secret. Is there a way to keep the loud orange-hair substitute soul-reaper quiet? Probably not...

Pairings: Ichigo/Ukitake, Renji/Byakuya. Friendship: Kyouraku and Ukitake, Rukia and Ukitake.

Disclaimer: Don't own any of the characters associated with the Anime of Bleach.

Warnings: Juushiro Ukitake is dictated as a female in gender in this story. Yes, I am well aware that he is male in both Manga and anime, but work with me here. Yaoi is featured in this story as well. Don't like? Then back out now...

AN: Yep, I'm still alive...if you can call it that. I would like to apologize for taking so long to update this fic...again. As you can see, I haven't forgotten it; it's just that Real Life is seriously kicking my ass at the moment. It's a long story and I won't bore you with it.

Thanks so very much to; Crazy Hyper Lady, GameDemonKing, RunicSiren, Aldo Montoya, Aeducan, Lady S. Fox, librarycat9, Orchamus, shadowgouf, Grinja, CleverPhoenix, killing u with umbrellas, Good Omens (Sabishii Kage Tenshi on her other account), Harteramo, Athina Dark-Angel of Death, bleachfan78, codyskater31, and Zetsuki for your reviews and being so patient with me. You guys are amazing ^^

Comments, suggest and reviews are all welcomed and encouraged. Please do let me know what you think.


Chapter 24:

Dinner went surprisingly well, despite the fact that Isshin and Ichigo were glaring each other down from across the table, their bodies tense and ready to rip at each other's throat should the other make one wrong move. The tension at that end of the dinner table was so thick; you could nearly see the bulky dark cloud of pressure and cut it with a knife.

But at the other end of the table, where Ukitake was sitting with Ichigo's sister, things were a bit more jovial and calm. Yuzu was such a cheerful child, asking many different questions while Karin seemed to be closer to Ichigo in personality; calm and serious. She also had this knowing glint in her eyes, often throwing a glance in Ichigo's direction, raising an eyebrow as him. Ichigo, of course, would answer her by completely ignoring her questioning gaze, prompting the young woman to roll her eyes.

Still, Ukitake enjoyed the meal, the welcoming atmosphere the two young girls presented to her and found it quite amusing that none of them were even remotely fazed by the ominous presences beside them.

After dinner, Isshin once again attempted to get a hug out of her, blubbering about something Ukitake didn't quite catch. All she heard was 'Ichigo' and 'a real man'. Well, whatever he said and whatever he meant, Ichigo didn't like it very much. After delivering a swift kick to his father's side, which sent him comically into a wall, Ichigo snared her by the wrist and practically carried her upstairs again, announcing loudly that he wasn't to be disturbed.

Ukitake must admit that she blushed a little when Yuzu giggled and Karin sent a smirk in her direction.

So, currently, she was sitting on Ichigo's bed, her arms folded on the window sill as she looked out the window at the now night sky. She couldn't believe it was night already, where had the day gone? It was almost depressing. Tomorrow she was to head back to the Soul Society, back to the responsibilities of a captain and back to seeing Ichigo on occasions where she was free for time.

"Hey," Ichigo said to gain her attention. "You alright?"

Pushing away from the window, Ukitake turned around to smile warmly at Ichigo who was sitting at his desk that was covered in books and papers, as though he had been busy with a project or something.

"I'm fine," she replied truthfully as she curled a loose strand of hair behind her ear.

"That's good," Ichigo said softly, a small smile of his own on his lips. However, his expression changed into that of mild guilt and rubbed the back of his neck. "Sorry about the old man. I swear, he's such a lunatic."

Ukitake laughed softly into her hand. "Your sisters are adorable, Ichigo."

"Thanks. They're good kids," Ichigo said with a rare but genuine carefree grin, his chest puffing out a little with pride. "And they seem fond of you."

"I'm glad," Ukitake said, genuinely happy by those words.

"Although," Ichigo carried on to say. "Karin did seem to be staring at me in wonder, as if questioning how I could get someone like you."

"Haha, I'm sure that's not the case," Ukitake replied quickly and somewhat embarrassed by what he was insinuating. She was lucky to have someone like him wanting to be with her, not the other way round.

"Anyway, I was hoping to meet your family," Ukitake said before she anxiously wrung her hands together tightly in her lap. "Especially after all the trouble mine was sure to have put you through."

Ukitake had to wince as possible scenarios ran through her head. After hearing Isshin as he threatened his own son about taking care of her, she didn't want to think what Shunsui had said to him. Shunsui was her best friend, her brother, her confidant...and he could be really protective when he felt he needed to be.

Honestly, back at the academy, Shunsui, along with Yoruichi, Kisuke and Isshin, were often tackling poor, defenceless students for supposedly looking at her the wrong way or after asking her a particularly odd question. She wasn't completely sure how they were looking at her, exactly, but did it really deserve a powerful Kidou to the face?

Everyone around her has always been a little bit protective and she still wasn't sure why.

Oh god... Ukitake thought to herself with a feeling of dread. What would happen if Yamamoto-sensei were to find out?

"I've been through worse," Ichigo snorted, pulling Ukitake out of her musings, which were starting to become terrifying. "As you can see with my old man..."

"Well, he hasn't changed a bit," Ukitake said through a somewhat shaky smile, trying her best to banish her previous thoughts as she needed to enjoy this free time with Ichigo while she could. "Speaking of which, he's at the door right now."

Although Isshin was very talented at keeping his Spiritual Pressure at bay and hidden, she didn't need to sense him to know he was there. Of course he would be there, crouching on the other side with his ear pressed up against the door in hopes of hearing something juicy.

A very noticeable twitch rippled through Ichigo's body. "Really?" he snarled as he snapped his attention to his door, his eyes narrow and filled with the promise of pain to anyone on the other side. "You better not be trying to listen in, old man!"

Ukitake had to laugh to herself when Ichigo threw open the door of his bedroom and practically chased his father down the hallway, threatening to quite literally pound him into the floor while yelling obscenities as he did so. And, of course, Isshin was matching his son's irritation with his far too cheerful and boisterous responses, yelling about how his son was becoming a man.

And about how he wanted to witness something so beautiful with his own eyes.

She shook her head. Isshin could be so indecent at times. It was of no surprise that he and Kisuke got on so well...and Shunsui during their younger years.

"Karin!" Ichigo suddenly bellowed. "Keep that jackass away from me!"

"Wah!" Isshin yelped, followed by a loud crash. "My children are so cruel!"

Laughing quietly to herself again, Ukitake took a moment to glance around Ichigo's bedroom as this was the first time she's been inside. And it was pretty much how Rukia had described in her reports; rather neat for a boy's room, only a couple of posters she had no idea what they consisted off, a guitar near the door and a few nick-nacky things scattered around.

His desk, however, seemed to be the main point in the room and she can't help but wonder whether she had interrupted Ichigo while he was researching something. By the amount of books on his desk, it must have been rather important.

"Bloody jackass," Ichigo seethed as he re-entered the room, slamming the door shut and locking it tightly behind him. He then walked over to his desk, pulling out the seat and plonking himself down wearily. "I swear, I can't wait to move out."

"That won't help you, I'm afraid," Ukitake said around her chuckles as she moved to sit on the edge of his bed, her feet touching the floor. "He'll find you."

"Yeah, you're probably right," Ichigo murmured, his eye giving a telltale twitch.

Probably best to change the topic, Ukitake thought to herself with a smile.

"Well, anyway, I couldn't help but notice you have quite a few books scattered about, Ichigo," she commented. "I'm not interrupting your school work, am I?"

"Hm? Oh, no, I was doing some research in my spare time," Ichigo answered as he cast a quick glance over the piles of books littering his desk. "It has nothing to do with school."

"Oh, what were you researching?" Ukitake questioned as she tilted her head to the side, her smile never wavering from her lips.

"Tuberculosis."

Ukitake felt her mouth drop open in surprise. "Huh?"

"Yeah, and I found something interesting," Ichigo said rather casually, yet there was this look of achievement on his face as he peered at her from one eye. "According to a few medical documents, if you take antibiotics like rifampicin and isoniazid, it can help ease the symptoms. Might even cure you altogether."

"R-really?"

"And it just so happens that my old man has these two specific antibiotics in his medical cabinet," Ichigo said as he opened a draw of his desk and pulled out two medicine bottles, one after the other and presented them on his desk.

"See?" He said to her, finally turning to look in her direction as he smiled that rare but beautiful warm smile of his. "This was actually one of the reasons why I was heading to the Soul Society."

C-cure? These small white bottles could hold the key to her being free of her debilitating illness? After over two thousand years of uncertainty and near-death could she really be on the brink of freedom?

It...it didn't seem possible.

"Ichigo...? I..."

Pushing himself up from his seat, Ichigo crossed the small distance between then to stand in front of her. He then placed the two bottles of medication in her hands, his hands cradling hers as he knelt down in front of her. She turned her gaze down to her lap, blinking in disbelief at the items she was now holding. Then slowly she curled her fingers around the bottles, her heart beating rapidly as a powerful realization struck her.

They were real.

The bottles of medication were real.

And so were Ichigo's hands as he tightened his grip around hers in a comforting manner, no doubt responding to the trembling that was now overtaking her.

"It will probably take time to cure you and there is a chance that it might not," Ichigo went on to say as he lifted his hand to brush aside the tresses of hair around her face, his fingers brushing against the skin of her cheek. "But they will give you more days to enjoy life and to help those around you."

Finally able to tear her eyes away from the bottles in her hands, Ukitake lifted her head to gaze into Ichigo's eyes. However, her vision quickly began to blur as tears welled up in her eyes. "...Thank you," she whispered. "This is the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me."

"There are a lot of people who are willing to do anything for you, if you let them," Ichigo immediately said as he cupped her cheek, staring into her eyes to show her that he was being serious and sincere, and what he was about to say next was the truth. "You are worth it, Juushiro. Let them care for you as much as you care for them."

"Ichigo..." Ukitake found herself whispering again. Then, she dropped the bottles of her new medication onto the bed haphazardly as she leaned forward to throw her arms around Ichigo's neck in a hug, burying her face into his shoulder.

"You need to take those tablets everyday for about six months," Ichigo said as he wrapped his arms around her tightly, bringing her down to the floor so she was practically sitting in his lap. "So let me know before you run out, ok?"

Ukitake could do nothing but nod her head in a sign that she understood what he said, her voice failing her as she was too overcome with emotions. All she could do was grasp onto the back Ichigo's shirt and hug him for all she was worth, mildly aware of the tears of relief and joy as they rolled down her cheeks.

This...was almost too good to be true. It was, however, real.

But...

"Why?" Ukitake murmured against his neck.

"Hm?" Ichigo uttered, confused by her question.

Pulling back ever so slightly, but with her arms still wrapped around his neck, Ukitake looked into Ichigo's eyes again. "Why are you doing this for me?"

Ichigo furrowed his brow rather cutely from confusion and gave her a look that said he didn't understand why she was questioning him. "It's fairly simple," he said firmly as he tightened his arms around her waist.

He then, however, looked rather embarrassed as a dusting of red ran across the bridge of his nose. "Well, I...love you."

Ukitake nearly stopped breathing, her eyes becoming wide. "You...?"

Then, without warning, she pushed forward and pressed her lips firmly against Ichigo's, startling the younger man significantly as they both fell onto the floor. Ichigo landed on his back, his hands steadfastly against her sides as she lay on top of him, their lips barely parting, only enough for quick intakes of air.

Their positions were scandalous, but neither could care less. Ukitake was lying between Ichigo's legs with his arms wrapped tightly around her waist as he pressed their bodies together. Her hands were on his chest as her hair cascaded over her shoulders, mixing readily with his short orange strands.

She didn't know what to say at that moment, so she poured her feelings into the long, slow and passionate kisses.

After a few more lingering caresses of her lips, Ukitake broke the kiss by placed her hands on either side of Ichigo's head and pushed back slightly leaned over him. "Ichigo, I love you too, I really do," she said to him. "It's just...I'm far older than you and my illness-"

"Age is literally just a number and I can help with your illness," Ichigo immediately cut her off, knowing full well where her words were going. "Juushiro, I don't care about the minor details, all I care about is you."

"Ichigo..." she whispered, his name passing her lips so easily. "There will be times where the woman behind these clothes will need the man in you. Are you really alright with that?"

Surprisingly, Ichigo snorted as he squeezed her waist. "I wouldn't be here, saying this right now if I wasn't."

...No, he wouldn't.

Suddenly, Ukitake gave a half chuckle as she leaned back, her hands covering her face as she sat on the floor. "...He was right. I have been using my illness as an excuse. I've been such a fool."

Ichigo abruptly pushed him into a sitting position, no doubt somewhat startled by her words. "Huh?"

"That's what Kyouraku said. He was right, wasn't he?" Ukitake said as she removed her hands from her face, smiling a weary smile as she berated herself for her own stubbornness and stupidity. "I've never been in a relationship with anyone, even after all these years because I was afraid that my illness would rip them away from me. But you..."

"Are too stubborn to let some disease get in the way," Ichigo said as he pulled her into his arms again, Ukitake falling against him willingly. "Was that what you were going to say?"

Ukitake chuckled quietly and said; "Something like that." She then titled her head back to look at him, only to close her eyes a moment later when their lips met in another passionate kiss.

From this moment on, she made a promise to herself that she was going to start living for the present. She'll stick to this promise for everyone who had put up with her for all these years. For Shunsui. For Ichigo.

And, most importantly, for herself.