I've been writing RenIchi non-stop for the past two weeks, so I decided that I need to take a break from that pairing so that I don't fall into a pattern. I don't want to churn out stories that are too similar, you know? I love love love the boys, though. :)

For this story, I decided to explore a new pairing. It's quite a popular pairing, I think. I've written Ukitake before (see "Remembering the Innocence" if you're interested), but not Kyoraku, so this is new (and completely unrelated to "Remembering the Innocence"!). So, please please please forgive me if I made Kyoraku OOC. If you've read my stories before, you know that I try very hard to keep the characters in, well, character.

It wasn't until he woke up on the third morning that Juushiro finally believed that he had misunderstood the man. Keeping his breathing even and pretending that he was still asleep, Juushiro reflected on his thoughts about the man, and how the past three days had completely changed his world.

Kyoraku Shunsui had always been something of an enigma to Juushiro. Women followed Shunsui everywhere, but while the man seemed to enjoy their company, there never was any particular woman who stayed by his side. Juushiro wondered what was it that drew the women to Shunsui; was it his charming, easygoing smile, or was it his wavy, oh-so-touchable brown hair? Or perhaps it was the man's neatly trimmed goatee that accentuated his aristocratic features?

Even though Juushiro did not know Shunsui personally, he had heard a lot about him, and had crossed paths with him briefly during social occasions. The community of upper-class families in Soul Society was not large, and stories had the tendency to travel. The brown-haired young man was the second son of the high-ranking Kyoraku family, but ironically, despite his distinguished lineage, Shunsui avoided studying like the plague, which was somewhat of an embarrassment to his family. From what Juushiro heard, Shunshui's father was so frustrated with his son that he had enrolled Shunsui into the Shino Reijutsu Academy against the boy's will. Personally, Juushiro thought it was amusing, because he could not imagine anyone less suitable for the responsibilities of a shinigami than Kyoraku Shunsui.

Juushiro himself came from a lower class noble family. Being the eldest son with seven younger siblings, Juushiro did not have the luxury to shirk his duties. He, too, would be attending the Shino Reijutsu Academy the following year, except, unlike Shunsui, he was looking forward to it, and saw it as a first step of a prestigious career.

By the end of the first week at the academy, Juushiro was friends with almost everyone in his class. Lanky and friendly, Juushiro had always been popular, so he had blended in smoothly with his classmates. One of his classmates was Kyoraku Shunsui.

In person, the man was even more flamboyant than Juushiro had imagined. He was very generous with his smiles, and Juushiro noticed with a hint of amusement how their female classmates immediately flocked to him, seemingly worshipping the very ground he walked on. Shunsui appeared to revel in their attention, flirting and joking with all of them, neither rejecting nor favoring any.

What surprised Juushiro was, while Shunsui frequently missed theory-ladden classes, he always showed up for the zanjutsu and kido sessions, and he excelled in them. It was then that Juushiro realized that Shunsui was not lazy, he was simply...picky.

Seeing how different they were, Juushiro and Shunsui never really interacted one-on-one until that one day—the first time Juushiro had an attack at the academy.

The day began just like any other; students filed into their own classes, crowding hallways and filling rooms with eager chatter and laughter. But by lunchtime, Juushiro began to feel the familiar and dreaded discomfort of a possible coughing fit, the unfortunate symptom of his illness. He had been born a little sickly compared to his siblings, but with his powerful level of reiatsu, he was able to go about his day-to-day activities just fine most of the time. Sometimes, however, such as that day, he would be temporarily overcome by his illness.

He considered retiring for the day to rest in his dormitory room, but, not wanting to miss classes, he stayed. It was bearable, and just as he thought he would be able to scrape by without an actual attack, it happened.

It was during the zanjutsu session. Juushiro stood on the training mat facing his sparring partner, chin-length black hair tucked neatly behind his ears and holding a bokken, posed and ready in a fighting stance. The first few times he crossed swords with his partner was alright, then by the fifth or sixth blow, he began to have difficulty breathing. It felt as if the air suddenly became heavier, and his lungs could not get enough of it. The more he struggled to breathe, the harder it seemed, and soon the room was spinning around him, and he felt his throat tighten.

As his sparring partner watched on in horror, Juushiro collapsed onto his knees and began to cough. It started softly at first, then, as his throat seized up, it turned into a full-on coughing fit. The sounds came up from the depths of his throat, dry and raspy at first, then, as his shoulders shook, the coughs began to sound alarmingly wet.

He was vaguely aware of warm bodies surrounding him, hands holding his shoulders, patting his chest, but it made it even worse for him. He felt oppressed by the crowd, and even though he knew their attention was well-meaning, he wished they would just go away and leave him alone. Just as he was about to wave his arms to push them away, a deep, commanding voice said, "Stay away, give him space, for god's sake!"

There was shuffling of feet and murmured voices as people began to back away, then Juushiro felt a reassuring arm across his back.

He heard, dimly, a soothing voice telling him that he would be okay. Whomever that was, he—it was obvious a man judging from his voice—gave him just enough support to keep him upright, but gave him space and freedom of movement to ride out the rest of the fit.

As the last coughs left his throat, Juushiro felt the familiar warmth of blood flooding his mouth, and he could only lean helplessly against his savior as the crimson liquid trickled down his chin. He heard gasps of alarm amongst the crowd and looked up weakly. It's okay, this is normal, he wanted to say, but he was so tired, so sleepy, and his throat hurt...

"Shhh..." the deep voice said next to his ear. Juushiro felt a piece of damp cloth on his face and mouth, then, he passed out.

When Juushiro opened his eyes, he found himself back in his room. It was dark, the curtains were drawn, so he had no idea what time of day it was. In fact, he didn't know what day it was.

"Ah, you're finally awake," a sweet female voice said as Juushiro sat up. He looked towards the source of the voice. It was one of the many healers who tended to the students at the academy.

Before he could speak, the healer gave him a quick check-up, her manner brisk and professional. Finally, she pulled away and gave him a motherly smile. "Looks like you're going to live," she said.

Juushiro smiled weakly. Of course, this was just a minor fit, he had had much worse. He was not all that concerned about his own health at the moment, since he knew it was just a relatively mild attack. Instead, he was more interested to know who was the one who had helped him in class.

When he asked her, the healer gave him an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry," she said. "You were alone in this room when I arrived."

Disappointed, Juushiro gave her a grateful nod and lay back down to rest.

It wasn't until the fourth day that he was allowed to attend classes again. Ah, there, surrounded by concerned friends, he had no problem finding out who his savior was. To his surprise, he learned that it was Shunsui.

Kyoraku Shunsui? It was certainly unexpected. All the same, Juushiro went up to the man to thank him.

"Ah...it's nothing, really," Shunsui grinned up at him. As usual, it wasn't difficult to locate the man, one just needed to follow the sounds of girlish giggles. "Here, you can give me a kiss as a token of gratitude!"

Juushiro's face reddened in humiliation as the girls burst into laughter around him.

Shunsui caught his classmate's expression. "I'm just joking, don't be so serious!" he said light-heartedly, and the girls began to laugh again.

Nodding stiffly, Juushiro gave Shunsui a quick bow and left. What a rude, tasteless man, he thought. He felt oddly disappointed that his savior turned out to be someone like Shunsui. In the haziness during the attack, the man had seemed more mature and confident. Well, Kyoraku Shunsui was confident alright, just not quite the kind that Juushiro respected.

I considered stopping the chapter where Juushiro passed out, but I thought, naaaah, I don't want to leave a cliffy. ;) Nice of me, yes?

There's nothing racy in this story just yet, so I'm leaving the rating as T for now.