It had been three whole days since he had started to feel better again, good enough to try and catch up on some paperwork. Three whole days since he walked into his office and sat down to work. And not a single interruption (not counting the usual squabbling between the two third-seats).

Ukitake Juushirou frowned slightly as he read through yet another paper, for the fourth time that morning wondering if Kyouraku Shunsui had managed to get ill in some way and therefore couldn't come sweeping into the office as usual in order to avoid doing any sort of work and also in order to bug his best friend until said friend finally gave up and left his desk.

"I wonder where he's gone off to", Juushirou murmured to himself, picking up the cup of tea he had brought with him into the office. Taking a small sip, he looked at the door again, as if expecting it to burst open and reveal an almost painful flash of bright pink accompanied by a booming voice happily calling out "Good morning, Juushirou-kun" before the owner of said booming voice started lounging by the desk as usual. Although not always a man of habit, the captain of the Thirteenth Division could normally count the very seconds until Shunsui burst into the room. The flamboyant Eighth Division captain was never late to prod at "his dear Juushirou-kun" in order to get him to go outside instead of sitting in there. But now, he was three whole days late. Although Shunsui had visited his friend at the Ugendou (the Ukitake family estate), that had already been about six days ago. And the other captain had left rather suddenly. It wasn't completely normal for Shunsui to be so late. The other captain would somehow always be the first to find out if his dear friend was ill, and when he had recovered.

Blinking, Juushirou realised that he was staring at the paper he held. For at least the seventh time that day. With a slight frown, he put it down. Was he really that bothered by that Shunsui hadn't arrived yet? Slowly, he stood up and walked out through the door, hoping to relax a little bit. Kotetsu and Kotsubaki just watched him as he walked out, not speaking a single word. There was something odd in their captain's eyes, and they felt that it was best to leave him be...

As he wandered through the streets of Seireitei, Juushirou found himself heading towards the Eighth Division's headquarters; it was a familiar way for him to walk, and he was curious about what Shunsui was up to. A vague smile playing on his lips, he headed to Shunsui's office. He could hear a very familiar voice singing about "his lovely, lovely Nanao-chan". And about sake, of course. He got the distinct impression that Kyouraku Shunsui, captain of the Eighth Division, was attempting to compare his affection for the vice-captain Ise Nanao to his love for sake in some form of poetry. Again. With a well practiced sigh that was half amusement and half "you're drunk again, aren't you, Shunsui", he slid back the door and stepped into the office. Nanao was standing by a couch placed along the wall, her indeed-very-heavy book raised and ready to smack the person who had just compared her to an alcoholic beverage, namely her captain, Kyouraku. Shunsui, in question, was lounging on the couch with a jug of sake on the floor next to him, and at the moment trying to protect himself against the waiting book-blow with his straw hat. For a moment, the room was all silent; both Nanao and Shunsui seemed almost frozen in their movements, until suddenly, the captain flew up in a pink blur, a wide smile on his face, and held out his arms to Juushirou.

"And lo, here appears the hero", he called out, his grin never once wavering. "Come to save me from the vicious papers and numbers, Ukitake?"

The white-haired captain smiled and shook his head, gazing at Nanao.

"Is he done, Ise-kun", he asked calmly. "I only wanted to talk to him, but if he's supposed to be working for once, then I can wait."

Nanao lowered her weapon of choice and coughed politely.

"He already finished, Ukitake-taichou", she replied in that calm tone she always used. "Yesterday's work, that is. But he can take a small break, I suppose."

Before she even managed to finish the word "break", Shunsui had grabbed Juushirou's arm and dragged him out of there.

Together, they walked in silence towards the small garden (the one that Shunsui had made sure to arrange as soon as he became captain all those centuries ago). Juushirou closed his eyes with a content smile as he felt the scent of sakura blossoms. He heard Shunsui breathe a sigh of relief as he sat down under one of the trees, and then settled himself next to the other captain. Mere moments later, a cup of sake was held out to him, and he declined with a smile. Shunsui shrugged and grinned, downing the sake in one sweep.

"It's rare to see you wander about in Seireitei, old friend", he said, stretching out on the grass and pulling down his hat over his eyes. "What made you come here, eh, Ukitake?"

With a sigh, the white-haired captain laid down on his back, gazing at the beautiful blue sky through the branches and the blossoms of the sakura tree. Without even glancing at his friend, Juushirou knew that Shunsui was watching him beneath the brim of his hat.

"It's been six days now, Shunsui", he said quietly, closing his own eyes. "Six days since you visited me at the Ugendou." He frowned, opening his eyes and watching a bird in the tree. "Why has it been six days? It's rare for even one day to pass by without having you interrupting me at the office, Shunsui..."

From the corner of his eye, he saw the straw hat being lifted and how a brown eye peered at him. There was something wary in the other man's eye, something one could only see if one had known Kyouraku Shunsui for a long time. Slowly, Juushirou turned his head, eyeing his old friend pensively.

"Normally, you'd come swooping into my office", he continued. "Not caring about Sentarou's and Kiyone's attempts to tell you that I was busy with work. Always carrying a jug of sake. And you'd just lie down on the floor; say that you'd wait for me to finish. You'd be quiet for a while, and then start to compose poetry about things you saw, or thought of. Always ending up trying to make poems about me, about how strict I looked when I tried to work. And after that, you'd start to sigh and look out through the window, and if that wouldn't work, you'd get nostalgic and talk about our time together at the Academy." Here, he was rewarded with a slightly growing smile. "You'd talk about all the fun we had together with our classmates, dragging them into all sorts of trouble. And you'd say that I was always the one talking us out of things. You'd remind me of that prank we pulled on Genryuusai-sensei that one time, when you said that it was absolutely worth having to clean up the yard afterwards." Juushirou sighed deeply and looked away again, hearing how Shunsui slowly pulled himself up to a sitting position. "You'd talk about all that, until you'd suddenly get up, sit down on my desk and start to recite the poems you wrote at the Academy, those you knew I always read even though I didn't reply. And in the end, you'd always smile as I gave up."

Shunsui laughed, that deep and rich laugh that was, to Juushirou, like a trademark. He could remember hearing it for the first time during one of the first lessons they had together at the Academy, when one of the other students had said something rather amusing. But there was something odd with the way he was laughing now, almost like he was bothered by something... Brown eyes glinted, and a strong hand reached out to poke at Juushirou's shoulder.

"It's always the poems that make you give up", Shunsui grinned. "You always loved that sort of subjects; simple things, like the gentleness of the first snow, or the beauty of the first flowers in spring..."

He stopped himself as his dear old friend's hazel eyes locked with his; there was doubt in those eyes.

"You haven't been there, Shunsui", Juushirou murmured quietly. "In these six days, I've actually waited... I counted the minutes, and you never showed up."

Shunsui hesitated, but would not look away. He thought back six days, to his visit at the Ugendou.

"You look horrible, Juushirou. Have you eaten anything at all? Or had anything to drink?"

A cough, then another one, closely followed by a long series of coughs.

"I'm... alright... Promise..."

A sigh.

"So you haven't eaten. If Juu-kun doesn't eat, then it's not Juu-kun in front of me."

A quiet, slightly wheezing, chuckle.

"I said... not to call me... that... It's em... embarrassing..."

A deep, silent laugh.

"Ah, but you smile every time I say it, Juushirou. And I was being honest. If you don't eat when I can actually tell you're feeling better, then you're bothered by something. So what's tearing at you, eh? You know you can tell me."

Silence.

Then...

"You... baby me... too much... I'm not a... child anymore... I don't need anyone to... look after me..."

Yet a moment of silence.

"But, Juu-kun, that's not true. I like to take care of you, you know that. You've never complained about it before."

"It's not about... if I like it or not... I take much time... from you. You should... stop coming here... when I'm ill. And... You shouldn't be visiting... in my office when... you should work..."

A deep sigh.

"We both know that I've always done that. Why do you complain now? You've never said anything about it before, so I assumed you were alright with it."

A sudden flare of anger in Juushirou's voice. No sign of any coughing or wheezing.

"I'm not alright with it! I don't want to be the cause of you being lazy, Kyouraku Shunsui! When you're supposed to work, then you should work instead of piling it all on poor Ise-kun! Do you even think about how much you increase her workload every time you wander off like that?!"

"Juushirou..."
"No, let me finish! I've had enough of it, Kyouraku! I won't be your excuse for not working anymore, do you understand?! I don't need you to look after me! I hate having you constantly looming over my shoulder as if I'm about to fall down and die! If it wasn't for this stupid ailment, we would probably never even have befriended each other! And it would have been for the better!"

A shocked stare.

"Juu-kun, what..."
"Don't call me that, you lazy, perverted drunkard! I don't see why I wanted you as my friend in the first place, you swine!"

Silence.

Then the rustle of clothes as he stood up and left, without another word.

Juushirou frowned slightly, taking in his friend's troubled gaze. What could have happened...?

"Shunsui", he said softly as he sat up. "Did something happen...?"

For a moment, he felt like he had been punched in the stomach as he saw how Shunsui's eyes clouded, first with anger, then with sadness.

"Is that all you can say, Ukitake", the flamboyant man said, and Juushirou blinked, suddenly realizing that he hadn't been called by his first name a single time this morning. "'Did something happen?' You actually don't remember blaming yourself at first for taking up my time when I came to visit you? You don't remember getting angry for no apparent reason and yelling at me for looking after you? You honestly can't recall saying that it would've been for the better if we had never befriended each other, or calling me a lazy perverted drunkard and a swine?"

Juushirou stared at him. Had he really been yelling? Had he called Shunsui, his very best friend, something like that? And now, Shunsui was... Those eyes, the look on his face... He was angry?

"Shunsui", he whispered, "Shunsui, I... I can't..."

"You asked me to go away", Shunsui continued calmly. "So I did. I honoured your request, since we're friends. And now, you come looking for me and say that you can't remember?"

The flamboyant captain got to his feet, barely even regarding Juushirou with a glance as he held out one hand to him.

"Come on, you should get up", he said, his warm voice filled with something unreadable. "Didn't you have a lot of work to do? And so do I. Break-time's over now, Ukitake. I won't bother you at the office anymore. And you probably shouldn't come here either. I have a lot of things I need to catch up on."

Taking that large hand, Juushirou was easily dragged to his feet. For a moment, they just stood there and looked at each other; Shunsui looked uncharacteristically calm and grave. After that moment had passed, Juushirou forced a smile to appear on his face, hoping that the touch of sadness he knew was in his eyes wouldn't show.

"I'm sorry for troubling you... Kyouraku-san..." He had to force himself to be a bit formal; he wasn't used to being like this with Shunsui... "Good luck with your work."

With that, he quickly left, not even looking over his shoulder. In case Shunsui looked after him, he didn't want him to see the both hurt and sorrowful look on his face.

Nanao frowned as her captain came inside; alone now. She did wonder what they had talked about, and why Kyouraku-taichou looked so troubled when he sat down by his desk. She tilted her head slightly, but continued with her work. Not even the usual improprieties he always tried... Something was wrong; Nanao was sure of it. But she couldn't do anything, as usual. After all, Kyouraku-taichou's business was his own. But still...

"Ukitake-taichou left rather abruptly, didn't he, sir", she said cautiously. "Wouldn't he normally come in and talk with you a little more?"

Kyouraku-taichou's hand stopped just as he was about to pick up the brush and start to write again. But he looked up, a slight smile on his face as he looked at his vice-captain.

"Ukitake-san still had much work to catch up on after being ill", he said slowly, each syllable pronounced more clearly than usual. "He couldn't stay, unfortunately."

Nanao blinked. He didn't speak with that usual drawl he used when he spoke to her. And he didn't sound like he always would when he said that Ukitake-taichou couldn't stay for a while. He didn't even pout. And more, he had actually said "Ukitake-san"... Yes, something was wrong. So wrong that it made her shiver.

Two whole months had passed. And everyone in Seireitei could see that something had happened; and it had them shivering with pure fear, wondering if the apocalypse was due. Ukitake-taichou and Kyouraku-taichou were so formal with each other whenever they met, and it scared people. It wasn't usually like this. Soifon was glad that she didn't have to come close to them other than during the captains' meetings. Unohana frowned a little bit every time she saw how they acted towards each other. Byakuya tried not to seem bothered, but everyone could tell that he was since even he glanced at them every now and then. Komamura pretended he hadn't noticed. Hitsugaya glanced nervously at them, as if expecting them to fall down and die on the spot. Kenpachi kept scowling at them and keeping his hand on his sword, as if he was worried that they'd attack him. Kurotsuchi kept quiet and tried not to bother anyone at all (which was extremely disturbing). Even the vice-captains tried to be as inconspicuous as possible.

In the end, a still rather nervous Hitsugaya Toushirou along with a surprisingly calm Matsumoto Rangiku and the very much annoyed Ise Nanao paid a visit to the Thirteenth Division's captain at his estate. When they arrived there, Ukitake was sitting out on the wooden passageway with a book in his lap. He looked almost sad as he slowly flipped through the pages, seemingly looking for something.

"Ukitake-taichou!" Matsumoto's voice carried easily across, and they saw how the white-haired captain blinked in surprise and looked up, giving them a sheepish grin and a cheery wave before he closed the book.

"I didn't expect any visitors", he said, still smiling as they walked up to him. "What might bring you all here?"

The three glanced at each other. Nanao was, surprisingly enough, the first one to sit down and speak up.

"You can stop the act now, Ukitake-taichou", she said, a slightly annoyed tone sneaking into her voice. "It's clear to everyone that something is wrong, and yet you keep acting like everything is completely alright."

The others sat down as well, taking in the surprised look on Ukitake's face. The look, however, did not quite reach his eyes. They were calm and collected; hollow, almost. Not even a hint of the usual cheerful glint that used to hide in them.

"I don't quite understand what you mean", he started, but was quickly interrupted by Matsumoto.

"You don't seem happy", she said abruptly. "You don't seem content at all. Not like you usually do. You don't look at people in the same way, and you don't talk the same way either."

For a moment, they took in the confused look that bloomed on his face; then, he turned his face away with a faint smile and sighed.

"Is that so", he said quietly. "You have a lively imagination, Matsumoto-san. I'm perfectly alright, as you can see. There's no reason for you to seem worried."

Hitsugaya stared. The older captain looked calm and serene, almost as he always did. But at the same time, there was something odd about him. Just as Matsumoto said, he didn't have that content air around him anymore, as if he had lost the source of that content. He frowned. It really wasn't the Ukitake he had known...

"I remember." The words suddenly slipped from his lips, and he felt how the other three looked at him in surprise; even Ukitake. "I remember meeting you for the first time, Ukitake", he continued boldly. "You always seemed to be smiling inwardly. You could look completely serious, but there was always something cheerful in your eyes that seemed to calm people. Even me. It was as if you couldn't really control that about yourself, as if you knew that you should be serious, but at the same time you were laughing on the inside... As if you knew that there were far too many things to enjoy in the world, so you couldn't make yourself frown all the time. You always had a smile ready. No matter how people acted, you were never disliked by anyone. Even Byakuya seemed to look up to you." He took a deep breath. "I know that I did, and that I do. And if you stop giving off that feeling of being happy and completely content, if you're not smiling on the inside anymore... Then I know that something has happened."

Hazel eyes watched the younger captain carefully before slowly looking away again, taking in the sight of the sun glinting on the surface of the water. He didn't reply. Instead, Matsumoto spoke up.

"That's right", she said slowly. "I remember that too. Although, the first time I met you, Ukitake-taichou, was once when I was drinking with Kyouraku-taichou..." At the mentioning of that name, the older captain's eyes narrowed slightly, a pained look in them. "You just sat there with a cup of tea, listening to how we were talking and joking around. Occasionally you'd comment on what we said, and Kyouraku-taichou would make a strange joke. You pinched him a few times on his right arm to make him stop, but at the same time your eyes just looked like you were laughing inwardly at the joke..."

Still no reply, but the three visitors noticed that Ukitake looked tense. He clutched hard around the book he had been reading for a moment before slowly leaning back a little bit. Carefully, Nanao lifted the book, holding still for a moment to see if he'd react. He merely glanced at her, and so she placed the book in her lap.

"What were you reading, Ukitake-taichou", she asked quietly, bringing herself odd glances from Hitsugaya and Matsumoto. "Is it any good?"

A faint smile.

"Memories", Ukitake replied with a deep sigh. "Memories. Old and new. Things I wouldn't want to forget about. That's all that's in it. Memories from the Academy. From when I first joined the Gotei. From different times after I became a captain."

Nanao frowned and looked down, slowly opening the book. On the first page, a handwriting she recognised as Ukitake's read: "As we were, and as we are; change comes quickly for all, and the sand of time will continue." And then, just beneath it, in a very familiar writing: "Time will change us all, and memories will remain. Time can bring down kings, and overthrow empires. May time never cause this bond between us to wither; may time not be so cruel as to let us be separated, my friend. Be strong, white moon. The earth shall miss your presence if you wither away. Be strong, Fourteenth Son. Be strong, Juushirou."

She looked up, noticing that Ukitake was smiling again; but it was a sad smile... She glanced at Matsumoto, who eagerly nodded for her to continue. Even Hitsugaya looked curious. Slowly, she turned the page, seeing Ukitake's writing on the next. In fact, it was more a scribble than the usual neat writing he used, but it was readable.

"Why Kyouraku..." She blinked as she read the text out loud. "... Why Kyouraku considers it worth learning to use shunpo." She stopped again, frowning a bit at what came next. "'Now I'll finally be able to chase after those beautiful women properly. Hah, they'll never escape me now!'" Slowly, she looked up at Ukitake again, almost fearing what answer she'd get to the next question. "Ukitake-taichou... Was he like that already back then...?"

A quiet chuckle, and for a moment she saw that cheerful glint through the sadness in his eyes.

"He was always like that", he replied calmly. "He loved to chase the girls through the corridors. Every time, it was a real stampede. Everyone there had to move if that happened. They weren't running that fast, though..."

Matsumoto giggled and leaned closer to Nanao, trying to get a better look of the book. On the bottom of the page, something else had been scribbled with a completely different writing.

"'That's so cruel, Juu, you said you wouldn't include that'", she read loudly and then started to laugh. Even Hitsugaya smirked a little at the comment. Ukitake just smiled.

"It was the first time he said something that made me pinch him", he explained. "He had shown me a bruise on his arm a while earlier, so I used that a bit."

Still rather curious, Nanao started to flip through the pages; there were notations of what Kyouraku had said, or what other people had said. There were even small "warnings" for some reason...

"'Trying to wake Kyouraku in the morning by way of pushing and/or pinching him", she read out loud, "is a bad idea. Note for future: Never again. Ever.'"

Ukitake's face suddenly turned a very interesting shade of pink, and he looked away while obviously trying to hide the fact that he was blushing. Matsumoto slowly leaned closer, smirking ominously.

"Ne, Ukitake-taichou", she smirked. "What was that about? Why would you need to remember that?"

As instinct was for anyone who suddenly had a smirking Matsumoto leaning over him or her, the blushing captain inched away a little bit from the threatening cleavage.

"It's... rather embarrassing", he muttered, looking down on his hands. "During one semester, we had to switch rooms in the dorms... Something had happened, and I ended up with him... And well, the first morning, I tried to wake him up, by doing that..." The interesting blush grew and the colour deepened. "He grabbed me, pulled me down and hugged me while mumbling about someone he called Saku-chan. When I finally managed to wake him up, he claimed that I had the same physique as Saku-chan, except for... uhm... certain parts... which he was sort of... groping after when he slept..."

For a short moment, the visitors stared at him, and a very uncomfortable Ukitake began to twist and turn where he sat. Then, Matsumoto started to laugh. Loudly. Nanao just raised an eyebrow, and Hitsugaya held back a smirk.

"Who was this Saku-chan, then", Hitsugaya asked while trying to make Matsumoto stop laughing by way of poking her hard between her ribs. "A friend of his?" Ukitake gave him a long look. "... Oh. I understand. 'Friend'."

Nanao shrugged slightly and flipped through some pages again. When they had gotten there, she had seen that Ukitake had been at least halfway through the book, or maybe more. The pages were all filled with his writing, and here and there Kyouraku had sneaked in a small comment. She stopped for a moment and watched one quote with the shade of a smile on her lips.

"When did he say this, Ukitake-taichou", she asked, interrupting Matsumoto's laughter and Hitsugaya's reprimands. "'When we're captains, Juushirou, you won't have to worry about being alone in an infirmary when you're ill. As soon as you're not feeling well, I'll be there by your side. I'll sit there with you and talk to you, and I'll make sure that you'll feel better as soon as possible. That's a promise, Juushirou. Don't forget it.'"

Silence followed after she finished reading. Matsumoto and Hitsugaya eyed the words on the page carefully before peering at Ukitake, who was now staring down at his hands again. He looked like he was fighting to keep his calm expression, while his eyes were filled with sadness. The words seemed to have touched him deeply.

"He said that one time when I was in the infirmary because of my... condition..." He spoke slowly, almost as if he had to force every word to sound calm. "He always worried when that happened... So he came there, even stayed there during the night some times... He ate his meals there with me; he'd study there with me... He didn't like to think that I might feel lonely..."

The last words were choked out, and he ended the sentence with a series of coughs. Nanao quickly got up.

"Should I fetch you some tea, sir", she asked, almost automatically. "It might be for the best..."

Ukitake quickly shook his head.

"No, it's alright... It's not... serious... I'm alright... Ise-kun."

The dark-haired vice-captain sank down again, looking hesitant. But she didn't get up again. Instead, she watched him carefully, and then blinked as Matsumoto took the book. Flipping through the pages, the strawberry-blonde vice-captain stopped short at something; the pages were now filled with pieces of paper that had been fastened carefully. On these pieces, words were written in a very neat writing.

"Haiku", she said, surprised. "I didn't know you'd keep that sort of stuff here..."

Ukitake's hand flew out, trying to grab the book. Matsumoto smirked slightly and moved back.

"Give that back." The older captain's voice was sharp, but not with anger; rather, it was pain. "You don't need to read that."

Matsumoto just raised an eyebrow, then looked at the page and started to read out loud, unknowingly bringing back memories to Ukitake's mind.

The lesson had gone exceptionally well, not counting the fact that Shunsui had somehow managed to get distracted and therefore given his opponent an opening; a well-aimed strike, and he was suddenly falling unconscious. Juushirou had cried out as he saw his friend stagger and he had thrown himself out of the line at the same moment as the opponent had been cleared as the winner. Catching the larger and heavier young man, he had called Shunsui's name. The other students, as well as the instructor, had first now realised that something was wrong.

"Kyouraku-kun", he called. "Shunsui!"

As he used his friend's first name, Shunsui stirred a little bit, but didn't wake up. But it had seemed like he could hear at least.

Later that day, one of the other students in their class had knocked on the door to Juushirou's and Shunsui's dorm room.

"Kyouraku-kun is awake now", the student had said as he handed him a small note. "I was visiting someone there, and he asked me to give you this."

When he read the note a little later, he couldn't help but smile. It seemed Shunsui had heard him after all.

"The white winter moon
Calls a name from a dark sky;
The Earth-son can rest.
"

Juushirou bit his lip as he heard Matsumoto read the words. He hadn't meant for anyone to see those poems.

"Kyouraku-taichou wrote this", Matsumoto said slowly and peered at the captain. "White winter moon... I suppose that refers to you, Ukitake-taichou? And he's the earth-son?"

Slowly, Juushirou leaned back. He felt pained to hear that again... Why were these people even here? Just to pester him until he agreed to go back to how it was? Shunsui didn't want to see him; how could he go back to the way it was without having Shunsui there? Slowly, he gazed at them again, not even moving as he saw how Hitsugaya took the book from Matsumoto and flipped through a few more pages.

"The white moon is red,
Invisible wounds bleeding.
The Earth can but weep...
"

The boy read slowly, turquoise eyes fixing the older man with a surprisingly mild look.

"This is about your condition, is it not", he asked quietly, getting a slow nod as a reply.

"He wrote that a while after he found out how bad it was", Juushirou said with a sigh. "I had just gotten back from the infirmary, and he slipped it to me during the first class..."

For a while, they kept reading some of the poems they found. Only Hitsugaya sat back and told Matsumoto to stop it; he saw how Juushirou got more and more tense, his body slowly starting to shake.

"The white moon dreams
Of a world that is at peace.
Don't lose hope. One day
."

"Matsumoto, that's enough", Hitsugaya scowled. "Stop it now."

Matsumoto ignored him, and kept reading, suddenly reaching the one that finally made the breaking point.

"Heavy drops of rain.
Clouds shield the precious white moon.
Please, do not cry...
"

Her voice faltered as she noticed how Hitsugaya and Nanao started. Juushirou leaned heavily against the wall, his legs pulled up, arms on his knees and his forehead resting against his arms. His entire body shook, and although they couldn't see his face, they only needed to hear the weak sounds coming from him to know what he was doing.

I'm crying, Juushirou thought. I shouldn't be crying... I don't want them to worry... He... he asked me not to cry... That time... It was my fault that he got hurt, but he asked me, no, begged me not to cry... I shouldn't...

A gentle hand touched his shoulder.

"Ukitake-san..." Toushirou. Yes, that was little Hitsugaya's voice. "Ukitake-san, are you..."

"That poem", Juushirou interrupted; he had to say it, he just wanted it out... "He wrote that after our first mission as shinigami in the Gotei... I... We weren't alone, but... I managed to turn the hollow we were supposed to kill against us... He... he took the blow for me... I was crying when I... when I apologised to him... He kept telling me not to cry... He said he didn't want to see me cry... because it was like being alone on a small island during rain... He said that if I was crying, then he felt like crying too..." He shivered violently. "I... I said that... that if it made him sad... then I wouldn't cry anymore... I promised him that... that from that moment, I'd only smile... or frown... But never cry..."

He felt almost like a small child again. He remembered staying by Shunsui's side all the time back then after what had happened, even though the healers had said that he shouldn't have to see. He remembered how Shunsui had given him that gentle, lazy smile and asked him why he was crying at all.

"You shouldn't be crying, Juushirou", he had said. "Please. Don't cry like that. You'll make me cry too. I'll be alright, it's not that bad. Don't cry, Juushirou. Please, don't cry. Smile instead, with your entire soul, the way you always do; the way that makes even your eyes shine. Smile at me, because I'm alright. Dry away those tears and smile at me."

Warm arms wrapped themselves around him, and a gentle hand stroked his hair.

"It's alright, Ukitake-san. It's alright." Matsumoto's voice was low and gentle. "Just let it out..."

Inside him, Juushirou felt a scream rise. At first, he didn't know if he could suppress it at all, but it slowly rose through his body, fighting its way up through his throat and then out in the open air. He screamed as loud as he could, not caring about if he'd start to cough up blood or not. And along with the scream, his reiatsu started to flare, causing Matsumoto to start and widen her eyes.

Hitsugaya and Nanao shivered slightly, both of them. None of them had seen this man cry before, and never before had they heard someone scream like that; but it was the flaring reiatsu that startled them most.

"Ise..." Hitsugaya spoke slowly and silently. "I think you should go and find your captain... Although this might be because of how they've been acting, it might be for the best if he knows what's happened."

Nanao nodded quickly and turned to leave, but stopped short in her steps as a familiar colourful blur speeded past her...

Yamamoto frowned as he entered the Eighth Division's office; the scent of sake hung heavily in the air, and he could hear a low groan from the couch. Sure enough, there was Kyouraku, drunk out of his mind as it seemed.

"Shameful", Yamamoto snorted as he walked over, whacking the half-sleeping captain with his staff. "This state of yours is shameful, Kyouraku-taichou."

Another groan, and then his old student slowly sat up and rubbed the back of his neck.

"You didn't have to hit so hard, Yama-jii", he sighed. "I was awake; I was just resting my eyes a little while waiting for my Nanao-chan to return. She went off somewhere with Ran- I mean, with Matsumoto-fukutaichou..."

Another whack.

"Up with you, boy", the old man growled, making Kyouraku scurry to his feet. "This is not about where your vice-captain has wandered off to; this is about what's been going on for the past two months. And don't try to wriggle yourself out of this." Fixing the brown-haired man with a glare Yamamoto leaned against his staff again, speaking with a suddenly mild voice. "What happened, Shunsui? Why have you and Juushirou been acting like you're both overly spoiled noble brats meeting for the first time?"

"I'm sorry for troubling you... Kyouraku-san..."

Shunsui bit his lip, the words still clear in his head. He knew very well that people had been worried, but for even Yama-jii to react this way...

"We had a fight", he said slowly. "Maybe not such a big fight, and maybe not for such a big reason... But he said things when he was ill that he's never said before... And it made me react in a rather hostile way to him..." He clenched his fists. "He wouldn't let me look after him anymore, Yama-jii. He told me to leave, and he insulted me to make me go. And... And he said that... if we had never befriended each other... it would've been for the better..."

It was surprisingly hard to say those last words, but it was clear that Yama-jii wanted to know. Shunsui was very well aware of that many in Soul Society worried about Juushirou's condition, and Yama-jii was one of those, so any indication to that the ailed captain might act in a strange way would probably be good to know. Now, he just stood there and stared down on his feet, feeling like a small child getting scolded by his father again; it had been ages since he last felt that way.

"You reacted that badly to words said by someone you care so much for?" Yamamoto's voice was quiet and soft. "You do know how Juushirou gets when he's feverish; he won't allow someone else's duties to suffer because of his ailment. He has insulted you before while being in a bad state, if I remember right. You've never reacted."

Slowly, Shunsui looked up again and met Yamamoto's steady gaze. The old man was right, of course. But having Juushirou getting angry because of something so trivial... No. Of course Yamamoto would be right there too. Already at the academy, Juushirou had explained to Shunsui that he could get hostile when he was feverish; it didn't happen often, but it could happen. And when he got hostile, he had a tendency to push away those who mattered to him. Had it been that long since it last happened? Long enough for Shunsui to forget about it? No, it hadn't been that long... Because although Juushirou had asked Unohana to leave him be for a little bit, since he didn't consider it that bad and because she had much to do, he had never before told Shunsui to leave. It had always been Shunsui who had been allowed to stay by his side, duties or not. He had always said that he wanted his old friend there in case it would take a turn for the worse. Because he was so certain that dear old "Shun-kun" would be able to handle it. And not a single time had Shunsui let him down. He was scared of doing that. Letting Juushirou down was almost like a nightmare to him, and he would absolutely never allow that to happen.

"He didn't want me there..." The words were quiet, and Shunsui slowly sat down on the couch again with a heavy sigh. "He asked me to leave, Yama-jii. He tells others to leave, but never me. Juushirou has never told me to leave before. He said that he hated it when I looked after him..."

Shunsui stopped speaking immediately as his voice cracked; tears burned in his eyes, but he wouldn't allow them to flow. If there was one thing he had managed to avoid during all these years, then it was to let Yama-jii see him cry. In fact, the only person in Seireitei who had actually seen him like that was Juushirou, and he had always done his best to cheer his friend up again.

Yamamoto eyed him keenly, suddenly smiling a little bit.

"You won't let yourself cry, Shunsui", he said slowly. "I know that. And I won't ask you to relax when it comes to that. However, I must ask you to at least try to talk with him. Any fool can see that neither of you are comfortable with what's going on. You've been friends ever since the Academy; it would pain me as well to see you go separate ways after something like this. Please, Shunsui. Go and talk to him. It would calm my old heart so much to see you two as friends again."

Shunsui blinked and stared at the old man in surprise. Yama-jii was not a sentimental man, and yet here he stood and talked like that. For a moment, he wondered if he had truly heard right, but then he noticed the smile and the gentle gaze, and remembered what the old man had said once, not long after Aizen's rebellion.

"I was proud of you, as if you were my own sons."

For a moment, Shunsui thought of his own family, of his mother and father, of his older brother. He had, for reasons unknown even to himself, disliked life with them, even though it did allow him to be a bit lazy. Yamamoto had actually been the first person to tell him that he had potential, that he was a person who was wise for his age and very good at seeing the truth. In fact, when Shunsui thought a little bit about it, old Yama-jii had always felt more like a father than a teacher; more of a father than Shunsui's own. After all, Shunsui's own father had not been there to congratulate him when he succeeded with something during the lessons Yamamoto held. Although the Eighth Division's captain was well aware of the fact that he could be very rude at times, he had always respected Yamamoto a great deal, and looked up to him in the way that was usually reserved for a father. It wasn't Shunsui's family who had been proud of him when he graduated from the Academy. It wasn't his family who had been there to congratulate him when he became a captain. The ones who had been there had always been the same three persons: Yama-jii, Unohana... and Juushirou. It stung his heart as he thought of how he and Juushirou had celebrated that first evening as captains; sake had been flowing, old stories had been shared. And at the end of the celebration, Juushirou had somehow managed to stay at least sober enough to support the drunken new Captain of the Eighth Division when he decided that it was time to go home and sleep. But even Yama-jii had just smiled a little when they showed up to their first captains' meeting the very next morning, both fairly hungover and tired.

My family, Shunsui thought to himself as he closed his eyes, allowing the tears to fall. They're not the ones I left when I entered the Academy... I didn't meet them until I was there. Yama-jii... Retsu... Juushirou... They're my family. I have them all right here. He bit his lip hard and covered his face with one hand. But Juu... He's family in a different way... I... I don't want to see him hurt. Seeing him in pain is worse than anything else... He opened his eyes again and looked up. I have to see Juu-kun. I don't care if he'll yell at me; I have to see him now.

"Yama-jii", he said quietly, fighting a little bit to keep his voice calm. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry, but I have to leave now." He got up, taking in the way Yama-jii raised an eyebrow. "I have to go and see him."

And with those words, he hurried out. Yamamoto slowly went out as well and looked after his old student who now used flash-steps to move towards the Thirteenth. A smile spread on the old man's lips.

"You're a layabout", he said softly. "But a trustworthy layabout, and a very loyal friend. And you're so very easy to read when it comes to Juushirou, you fool..."

Shunsui moved as quickly as he could; but the two divisions were, admittedly, fairly far from each other. On the way out of his own division, he had managed to make people blink and stare after him. He wasn't the type who hurried off somewhere. But right now, he felt that he desperately needed to see Juushirou. And he had a strong feeling in his gut that something was wrong.

"What are you doing, you fool", he murmured to himself as he jumped up on a roof with surprising ease. "What are you doing, Juu..."

He was so engrossed in his own thoughts that he didn't notice Byakuya until he almost made the other man slam down on his back by flash-stepping pretty much on him. The Sixth Division's captain didn't even twitch, but he gave Shunsui a cold glare.

"I was under the impression that people normally watch where they're going, Kyouraku-taichou", he said curtly. "It is common sense, don't you think?" The words not that you have any sort of common sense weren't said, but they hung in the air.

Shunsui sighed. He didn't have time to bend words with the little bocchan right now. So instead of putting on his usual lazy smile, he answered the cold glare with one of his own.

"Drop the noble talk, boy", he said plainly. "Don't talk about common sense with one who is several centuries older. I don't have time for this."

Byakuya looked surprised. Not mildly, as in raising his eyebrow a little bit, but truly surprised. First of all, Shunsui had called him "boy". Secondly, Shunsui had actually lectured him (although in a mild way that didn't quite fit with the glare). Thirdly... Had the laziest captain in the Gotei 13 actually said that he didn't have time for something?

"Are you just going to stand there and gape at me like a fish on land, or are you going to listen to what I'm saying? I'm well aware of what you're implying and what you didn't say. Are you going to apologise and move, or will I have to remind you of that particular incident when you were younger...?"

The "particular incident" had involved a young Byakuya back when his grandfather Ginrei was captain, and a first time meeting Juushirou and Shunsui who visited at the manor. And a joke, which had resulted in the little bocchan saying very rude things and earning himself a long lecture on how to treat his elders. Not his brightest shining moment. And one he didn't like to remember.

Byakuya blinked, and for a moment he felt like he was of the same mind as back then. An ill-tempered reply was on his tongue before he caught himself and forced himself to stop glaring.

"Why in such a hurry, Kyouraku-san", the younger captain said, suddenly abandoning the "taichou". "Is something the matter?"

Shunsui still glared.

"Yes, something is the matter", he snapped. "Now move or I'll move you myself! I have to get to Juu-chan!"

A blink.

"Juu... chan..?"

"Juushirou! Ukitake Juushirou, if you remember him, you damn proud little..."

Byakuya frowned a bit at the different rude words that Shunsui yelled at him; words, he noted, that had most likely been picked up at not so very fine establishments somewhere.

"What's wrong with him", he asked quietly.

"I've been an idiot", Shunsui groaned. "And I have a feeling that something's not as it should be with him. Please move now, Byakuya-kun!"

Slowly, the Sixth Division's captain stepped out of the way. And the very moment he did that, a pink blur flew past him. He looked after the older captain, feeling a little bit confused. Something wrong with Ukitake-senpai...? It took him merely a moment to make a decision, and then he quickly followed the flamboyant older man. He was a proud man, and although he would not normally go and visit Ukitake-senpai like this, he knew too well that the old captain was very well liked. It was best to see what was wrong...

Shunsui cursed as he flash-stepped past some young shinigami who looked fairly shocked at seeing him there (true, they saw him for only a few seconds, but they saw him). He had no problem whatsoever in locating the two third seats, who were at the moment actually working in silence.

"Kotetsu", he called as he burst into the room. "Kotsubaki! Where's your captain?"

They stared at him for a moment, and Kotsubaki was the first to speak up, with an unusually quiet voice.

"He's in his residence", he said slowly. "He wasn't feeling well, so he remained there today..."

Just as Shunsui was about to answer, a loud scream cut through the air. His eyes widened little as he took in the sound. It wasn't a usual scream; this was a wild howl, filled with pain and sorrow. And along with the scream came a wild flare of a reiatsu he could recognise and point out among a thousand others.

"Juushirou", he whispered hoarsely, and then disappeared, leaving two scared third seats behind him.

He didn't use shunpo this time; now, he just ran, as fast as he could. The flaring reiatsu wouldn't stop, and many shinigami in the division looked terrified. He ran, following that all too familiar way to the small lake where the Ugendou was. He saw the wooden pathway. He caught sight of Nanao, and Hitsugaya. They looked very distraught. And there was Rangiku as well, even she looking worried and a bit scared. And by her side was the cause of their distress, Ukitake Juushirou, screaming at the top of his lungs with his reiatsu flaring and tears streaming down his cheeks. Shunsui cursed, loudly, and ran along the pathway, passing Nanao like a pink blur as she turned around.

"Juushirou", he called out, both anger and worry evident in his voice as he without even thinking pushed Matsumoto away and grabbed his old friend. "Juushirou, get a hold of yourself!"

The vice-captain of the Tenth Division inched away and moved back to the other two shinigami, who both looked very surprised at the flamboyant captain's sudden appearance. Shunsui ignored them pointedly and gave his full attention to the white-haired man in front of him, who now, despite still screaming, had managed to cough up blood.

"You idiot..."

Growling, Shunsui flared his own reiatsu, wrapping it around his friend's almost like an arm to drag it down again as he held the other man. Slowly, he felt how it died away, and he could hear the weak sobs that came from the broken Juushirou.

"You're a big idiot, Juushirou", he scolded. "Screaming and flaring your reiatsu like that! Haven't I told you a thousand times that it's not good for you?! Haven't I?! You've scared everyone in your division, and most likely, Sentarou and Kiyone are on their way here right now! Do you understand how much you worry them by doing this, Juu-kun?!"

The nickname gave the reaction Shunsui both wished for and expected; a pale hand flew up and slapped him with considerate force, and tear-filled hazel eyes glared angrily at him.

"I've told you not to call me that! You're the idiot, Shunsui! You don't need to scold me, and you know it! But I'm not some sort of emotionless machine! I can't keep everything bottled up inside me forever! Just how the hell do you expect me to be able to take anything without letting it out every now and then?!"

Juushirou panted slightly as he stopped yelling, and then blinked as he noticed the sudden smile that appeared on his old friend's face.

"Now, that's better", Shunsui said gently as he took his old friend's hand. "At least you reacted without just smiling politely at me and claiming you were fine. Although I could've done without having you hit me..." He rubbed his cheek. "Ow... You're worse than Nanao-chan..."

Juushirou stared at him in confusion, tears still streaming. He couldn't really stop them, but after a moment, he felt how Shunsui gently dried them away with his thumb.

"Didn't I tell you not to cry", said that deep voice softly. "Didn't I ask that of you all those years ago...? You'll make me cry too, Juushirou... Won't you smile at me again, ne? I've missed seeing you smile... Ne, Juu-chan... Please. Smile at me..."

Juushirou shivered. Then he flung himself at Shunsui, wrapping his arms around him and leaning his head against his dearest friend's chest while letting the tears stream. The sobs were louder now, but luckily not as pained as before. Carefully, Shunsui held Juushirou close and patted his hair, all the time whispering gently to him that it was alright.

Behind them, Hitsugaya, Nanao and Matsumoto stared. Nanao was making frantic notes in her head. For the first time, she had heard Kyouraku Shunsui seriously scold his best friend. And for the first time, she had seen Ukitake Juushirou get mad at Shunsui. And for absolutely the first time, she saw her own captain hold and comfort the crying captain of the Thirteenth Division. A faint smile came to her face as she thought about it, but it disappeared quickly as she felt the faint flicker of Kuchiki Byakuya's reiatsu.

"Kuchiki-taichou", she said quietly, earning herself a nod from the captain.

"I was right then", he murmured as he watched the scene that played out in front of them. "Ukitake-senpai really did need him..."

Hitsugaya turned his head, and then commenced with staring. Kuchiki Byakuya, the official Iceman of the Gotei 13, was smiling. And not a polite smile one would give in everyday conversations; no, this smile was genuine, warm and gentle.

"I believe it would be best if we left them alone", Byakuya continued quietly, making also the two women turn their eyes to him. "It would be rude of us to intrude when we are clearly not needed here... And when they finally decide to make this two months lasting chasm between them close again."

For a moment, the other three looked like they were about to protest, but as Byakuya did something that was definitely not something he usually did (which was to smile at them and motion for them to follow him away from there), they caved in. Hitsugaya, however, could not resist looking back again; and he saw how Shunsui gently trailed his hand over Juushirou's cheek, smiling gently as he did so. It seemed that Byakuya was right after all; they did need each other right now, and no one else. Leaving them alone would be best.

"I still hate you for calling me Juu-kun like that. People don't need to know what you like to call me."

Juushirou, whose voice was still thick because of all the crying, sounded almost like a little child, which would have made Shunsui laugh at any other day. But not right now. Instead, he just smiled and patted the younger captain.

"Yes, yes", he said. "I know you hate me for it. But whether you like it or not, I think I'm going to change the nickname to Juu-chan." He smirked at the way Juushirou sighed, that usual sigh that was half amusement and half annoyance. "What? It's perfect!"

He lifted Juushirou up and carried him inside, putting him down on the already rolled out futon.

"You make me sound like a girl", Juushirou shot back. "Like I'm a little girl with bows in my hair. And you really shouldn't talk, Shun-kun."

He stopped himself as he felt how Shunsui's lips got pressed against his cheek. For a moment he just sat there, staring out into nothing; then he blushed, his face gaining a colour that was usually reserved for tomatoes. But as he opened his mouth to ask why, he found himself effectively silenced by way of a deep and gentle kiss, and the blush got even worse. Shunsui chuckled affectionately.

"Now, Juu-chan", he said, lowering his deep voice to a murmur. "Are you going to let me explain why I'm so extremely insistent on looking after you and being by your side for as long as we both shall live? Or are you going to make me silence you again?"

The blushing Juushirou looked down on his almost instinctively folded hands, allowing Shunsui to speak.

"Good", Shunsui said and firmly took his hands and squeezed them. "Then I'll say it. I've been looking after you since the very first moment we met. You didn't look healthy back then, you know. Always so pale, always so skinny. I was sure something was wrong. And I was right. So I looked after you. And I made you a promise one time; I told you I'd be by your side and make sure you'd feel better. I always wanted to keep that promise. Still do. And there's not a thing you can do to stop me from keeping a promise to you, Juu-chan. I don't want to see you in pain. I want to wipe away whatever tears that might fall from your eyes, and I want to make your smile eternal, for everyone's sake. It lights up your entire soul, Juushirou. And I love to see that. I love your smile. I love the way your eyes always shine. I love the way you look, and the way you act. I even love your disease a little bit, because without that, I don't think I would have noticed you that much at the Academy." He smiled warmly and made Juushirou look up at him. "I love all women, as I always have", he whispered. "But, Juushirou... I'll only ever admit to loving one man. And he's sitting here with me right now, after having cried his heart out while leaning his head against my chest, and after moving the hearts of those who saw him cry for the first time in many years..."

A shiver ran through Juushirou's body as Shunsui leaned closer, still with that warm smile. Those brown eyes locked with his, and a tanned hand cupped his cheek. For a moment, Juushirou kept completely still. Then, as the words his dearest friend had just spoken were plainly written in his heart, he started to smile, warmly and truly, and leaned closer. Their lips met in a gentle kiss, and when they pulled back just a little bit, just so that the tips of their noses were touching, Juushirou's eyes were sparkling with the same warmth and mirth as before their argument.

"Ne, Juushirou", Shunsui whispered softly, making yet another small blush appear on the younger man's cheeks. "Smile at me. In the way that makes your eyes shine like stars... Smile at me."

The other captains have been dreading the meeting that was held once every week. The only ones who seemed to relax about it this time were Byakuya and Hitsugaya. In fact, they seemed to be looking forward to it. But as almost all captains, except for Kyouraku, Ukitake and Yamamoto, have shown up, they start to wonder a little. Soon, the old captain-commander steps into the room, calm as always. Still no sign of the two remaining ones.

"Yamamoto-soutaichou", Unohana says carefully. "Should we still wait for them? They are rather late..."

Yamamoto just gives her a long glance, a smile surprisingly enough slowly appearing on his face.

"I believe they are on their way", he replies, just as the sound of fast footsteps are heard outside the door. Two voices; one sounding like he's relaxed and not worried about being late, and the other sounding exasperated.

"Look, I don't think they have started without us", Kyouraku's voice says. "... Oh, don't give me that look, you know it wounds me!"

"Well, you know why I give you that look", Ukitake replies in a pleasant tone. "It's your fault that we're late, Shunsui, so I can give you that look as much as I'd like. You don't exactly have any right to say no to that."

"Well, how can I help that you've got a comfortable bed?"

The captains inside blink at the comment.

"Shunsui!"

"What? It's true! My dear Juu-chan has the most comfortable bed in Soul Society!"

"Shunsui, shut it. You're the only one who thinks that,"

"But it is true! I love your bed!"

A moments silence, and the captains inside glance at each other. Soifon frowns. Unohana starts to smile. Kuchiki closes his eyes, his lips twitching into a small smile. Komamura's ears twitch. Hitsugaya smirks a little bit. Kenpachi tilts his head, obviously a little bit curious. Kurotsuchi peers at the door pensively, mouthing the word "Juu-chan". And Yamamoto smiles. On the other side of the door, the two keep talking.

"Besides, Juu-chan, I was awake long before you were", Kyouraku claims. "I even brushed your hair, and you're being cruel to me..."

"I didn't ask you to brush my hair", Ukitake replies quickly. "But I know it's no use to try and stop you, you oaf."

"Ne, Juu-chan, that's mean!" Kyouraku sounds almost like a child when he says those words.

"It's still your fault I slept so long." Ukitake almost sounds a little bit smug. "Keeping me up for so long, it's absolutely your fault."

"Well, you did look so amazingly..."

"Not a word about it now, alright?"

Yamamoto smiles still as he allows the door to open, and there they stand. His two old students, rather close to each other; Shunsui practically hangs on Juushirou's shoulder, and the latter looks like he's not sure about whether he should be laughing or looking mortified as he sees the door open. And what's more, Juushirou actually looks a little bit healthier, and he has his hair in a ponytail the way he had it 110 years ago. Shunsui is grinning lazily at them all.

"Are we that late", he asks, sounding like he's about to laugh.

Yamamoto shakes his head calmly.

"Inside", he says, using the same voice he used at the Academy whenever one of them acted like they weren't expected to arrive sooner. "We're about to begin."

The two walk inside, but before they join the formation on their usual places, Shunsui gently squeezes Juushirou's shoulder, earning him a warm smile that makes most captains stare. They haven't seen the pale captain smile properly for two months, and now, seemingly out of the blue, he's suddenly acting friendly with Shunsui again. For a short moment, Kenpachi looks confused; then he glances around the room, and sees that even Byakuya is smiling, because even though it's just a small smile, it's warm and it's genuine.

"You have worked it out, then", Unohana states calmly.

Both Juushirou and Shunsui look at her, smiling happily.

"Yes, senpai", they reply, almost as one person.

"But it took that I got upset to make him come over there, apparently", Juushirou finishes quickly.

Yamamoto holds back a chuckle and glances at both Kuchiki and Hitsugaya; although he knows that they had both seen it, they had said nothing about it to anyone, assuming that the two older captains wanted it that way. And it's clear that even though Shunsui is very well aware of that it took a gentle push from Yamamoto, the flamboyant man has not said a single word about it.

"I assume we can begin now", he says, bringing everyone to attention.

The meeting goes well, just as expected.

But all captains can see that Juushirou and Shunsui keeps gazing at each other, longing obvious in their eyes. Every now and then, Shunsui smirks and raises an eyebrow. And almost as if this is some sort of a signal, Juushirou starts to smile, laughter dancing in his eyes. Although no one in the room can properly read or understand the unspoken words that fly between them, they know that the two men will keep smiling at each other in just that way.

As the meeting ends and everyone starts to leave, four captains remain behind. The rest of the captains glance over their shoulders with slight smiles, seeing how Yamamoto relaxes and leans back while Retsu faithfully steps up to her senpai's side and Juushirou and Shunsui walks up to them hand in hand, looking like they were several centuries younger and back at the Academy.

And the last words everyone can hear come from Shunsui:

"Ne, Juushirou... Smile at me, okay?"