Author's note: I do not own Bleach or its characters. This is AU and set in the same world as Swords in the Shadows.

Gently Falling Snow

The large window provided Jyuushiro with a good view of the snow that was falling. It was really only a light dusting, but it looked lovely. Especially contrasted with the warmth of the hot springs. Snow was rare in Matsuyama, but it was not unheard of this late in the year. Jyuushiro was spending the month of December recuperating at the Fourth Division Headquarters, and he had to admit that the bathhouse and health resort that the Fourth Division ran was really a lovely place to spend some free time. Especially when you had company as wonderful as Retsu's.

The dark haired woman smiled at him and handed him a glass of sake. This was her private hot spring, attached to her quarters, and it was unlikely that they would be disrupted here. It had been Retsu's suggestion to that they slip away from the celebration going on in the main hall in order to have a more private celebration of their own. It was his birthday after all, and he should be able to enjoy as he saw fit. Jyuu really had not been that averse to sneaking away from the party either.

A number of his own division members, including Kiyone and Sentaro, had arrived earlier today in order to help him celebrate his birthday. And while he appreciated the effort that been put into his party, Jyuu really would have preferred a much lower key celebration. So he had stayed at the party for a few hours, and then slipped out with Retsu when the opportunity presented itself. Jyuushiro was more than happy to spend the rest of the evening alone with his lady love.

"So, how does it feel to be yet another year older?" Retsu sipped at her own sake.

Jyuu grinned at her. "I don't know, love, after the first couple centuries, nothing much seems to change. Except maybe the company. Of course, I've had the pleasure of your company for most of the last few centuries, and I can't complain."

Retsu laughed at that. It was true though. The two of them had some how managed to spend both his birthday and hers together over the years no matter what else was going on. Which really was no small feat since no one other than Shunsui and the Commander-General knew that they were in a romantic relationship. Both Jyuu and Retsu were rather private people, and it suited them both to keep their relationship very quiet. The two of them of actually only been together about two centuries, but they had known one another far longer.

Jyuu could still remember the first time he met Retsu Unohana. He had been only nineteen at the time, though his hair had already been silver. That had been the effect of his illness. It had been at Itsukushima Shrine in the fall. The maple trees had been a riot of color, and amidst all that, a young woman in a blue kimono had caught his eye. She had been the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. And Jyuu had not been able to believe his luck when it turned out that she was the new doctor that Shunsui had found for him to see.

Two weeks later, she had been the one to bring him a sword and ask him if he could read any characters on the blade. Sogyo no Kotowari had changed his life as much as meeting Retsu had. Jyuu still could not help but wonder if Minazuki had suggested the match considering how well Retsu's sword got along with his own. Though if their swords had decided to set them up, they had taken their time about doing much. Shunsui still teased him about how long it had taken him and Retsu to actually get together in a romantic sense. But Jyuushiro had been rather in awe of Retsu for many years, and they both had been rather cautious about turning their relationship into anything beyond friendship.

"What did Shunsui have to say in that letter of his?" Retsu asked. "You couldn't stop laughing afterwards for nearly an hour."

Jyuu smiled. "Let's just say that things at the Eighth have been rather lively since Rangiku was assigned there. Shunsui's had a rather busy week."

Retsu shook her head. "I can't help but wonder if what Shunsui really needs is to meet a woman who he can't win over with just a wink and a smile."

Jyuushiro just shrugged. "He has to meet the right girl eventually. It's not like he doesn't have time."

"And it would give you a chance to tease him about his love life for a change," Retsu added archly. "Ah well. We'll just have to wait and see what happens."

"True enough." Jyuu smiled at her. "But it's not really Shunsui's love life I'm interested in at the moment."

Retsu just smiled and leaned in to kiss him. He kissed her back amidst the warmth of the hot springs and the gently falling snow. Jyuushiro was definitely enjoying his birthday this year.