A/N I forgot to mention last chapter that the whole point in these last two chapters have been to develop background information on Ukitake. I probably won't be doing any more school scenes as it will take too much time out of plot.
When Ichigo arrived back at Jyuushiro's classroom in order to get him for recess, he was happy to see the white-haired Shinigami walking towards him with three girls clearly flirting with him. If Ukitake could tell what they were doing, he wasn't letting on.
"Your hair is so beautiful," one of the girls cooed as she grabbed a lock Jyuushiro's hair and twirled it around her finger. "It's so soft. Is it natural?"
Ichigo could tell that the girl didn't care at all about what the frail man had to say and only wanted what he could give her but, Jyuushiro being the kind of man that he was, didn't understand that he was being used.
"No; it changed colour when I was very young," Jyuushiro said, pointing to his eyebrows. "It used to be black, but my illness turned it white over a three-day period."
The three girls' eyes widened in surprise at these words. One of them questioned, in a horror-struck tone, "You're sick?!"
Jyuushiro flinched at these words but continued to smile, answering the question in a calm tone. "I was born with Tuberculosis."
Without another word, all three girls removed themselves from the gentle man's presence, a look of disgust on their faces. Ichigo glared at them before he turned back to Jyuushiro, saddened to see the look of rejection on his face.
"They're sluts, anyway, Ukitake-san..." Ichigo said as he patted the Captain on the arm. "They weren't interested in you; just what you could have given them..."
Jyuushiro shook his head as he followed Ichigo down the corridor, his eyes full of hurt. "It's not that... It's just..."
Ichigo cocked his head, willing to listen to everything the older male had to say.
"...Ever since my Academy days, everyone has treated me like a disease..." Jyuushiro shook his head at his own thoughts. "...They would... They'd try and be friends with me but, as soon as I had an attack or someone told them, they left me... It was so hard for me to make friends because everyone thought I was the plague..."
"You're not," Ichigo comforted. "I promise."
Ukitake sighed sadly. "I never really got to go out much, but Shunsui was always at the parties. I remember he tried to bring me along to one but I got kicked out before I could even step in... Shunsui turned and left with me, but he never tried to take me to the parties again. Even in the Gotei Thirteen, Shunsui and Yamamoto-sensei are really the only ones, besides Kuchiki-taicho who I mentored, who will even enter a five foot radius around me..."
Ichigo opened his mouth to reply, but Jyuushiro continued talking in a tone that just didn't suit him at all; he deserved to be happy and surrounded by friends, not being shunned because he was born with an illness that, under normal circumstances, is contagious.
"I was hoping it would be different here, where no one knew me..." Jyuushiro mumbled. "...I guess not..."
"Ukitake-san, you have me and my friends." Ichigo offered a comforting smile as he lead the older male up to the roof where he usually sat with his group. "People who can't see past your illness don't deserve to know how kind and caring a friend they are missing out on."
Jyuushiro smiled sadly. "Thank you, Ichigo-kun. I am sorry for burdening you with my problems; Shunsui is not around for me to talk to."
"It's okay." Ichigo turned back to look at where he was going. "Everyone needs someone to talk to."
Jyuushiro nodded. "Thank you for listening and for your nice words, Ichigo-kun."
Things were quiet between them once again until they stepped onto the roof and moved over to the small group of people already present. Ichigo eyed the Captain out of the corner of his eye, a bit saddened to see the way the elder's fist clenched in uneasiness and to hear the sharp intake of breath, but he was confident that these people would accept Jyuushiro.
"Hey, guys," Ichigo said as he sat down with the group. He sighed as Jyuushiro hovered behind him and reached out, gripping the man by the sleeve and pulling him to sit down next to him. "Everyone who doesn't know, this is Ukitake-san."
The brunet and raven boys Jyuushiro had seen earlier that morning where there along with a raven-haired female. They looked at the Shinigami curiously.
"Where'd you find him, Ichigo?" Keigo asked, turning to the orange haired male when Jyuushiro's face grew read and looked down at his lap.
"I didn't 'find' him anywhere." Ichigo scowled. "Introduce yourselves to him; he wants to make friends."
"I'm Mizuiro," the raven-haired boy said, looking down at the cell-phone that Jyuushiro had seen in his hand earlier.
"Tatsuki." The female smiled. "Nice to meet you."
"And I'm Keigo~" the brunet introduced, raising his thumb to point at himself. He reached out and zealously shook the white-haired male's hand. "It's good to have someone else in the group! Maybe you will stop everyone from being so cruel to me!"
Jyuushiro's lips curled into a shy smile. He had decided to let the incident earlier go and instead focus on these people; if they were friends of Ichigo's, surely they'd be nice. "I'm Jyuushiro. I am glad to meet you."
Ichigo passed a juice box over to the Captain, having been the one to bring everything they both needed. Jyuushiro took it with a grin, glad to be getting some liquids into him. His smile dropped, however, as he fiddled with the box, not understanding how he was supposed to drink from it.
"Ichigo-kun, I don't understand," Jyuushiro said, a dismayed expression on his face. "How am I supposed to drink it if I cannot open it?"
"You're just like Rukia," Ichigo said as he raised his own juice box, showing Jyuushiro how to put the straw in. "She struggled with them at first, too."
"Oh, you know Rukia?" Keigo grinned at the ill male. "She's a babe. Too bad we haven't seen her in like forever."
Jyuushiro tilted his head. "Ichigo-kun, what is a babe?"
Ichigo sighed. "It's alright, Ukitake-san. It's nothing to worry about."
Ukitake nodded and returned his attention on Keigo. "Yes. I have known Rukia for a very long time. She is very close to me."
"Where is she?" Tatsuki asked. Mizuiro seemed indifferent as he continued to push buttons on his phone. "Is she okay?"
"Oh, yes, quite fine." Jyuushiro's happy smile was back on his face. Ichigo was just happy to know that he was settling in with his friends and had seemingly forgotten about what had just happened. "She was quite adamant in her decision that I should spend time with Ichigo-kun, which is why I am here."
The other three Ryoka that Ukitake knew had been quietly sitting at the back, knowing that Jyuushiro would want to make friends with the other three. They didn't talk much, letting the Captain get to know the others and, when the bell rang, left him alone with Ichigo.
"What did you think of them?" Ichigo asked as they walked back down the corridors to his locker where he would pass Jyuushiro his things for the next lesson.
"Oh, they're just lovely," Jyuushiro said. "Tatsuki-san seems to be very nice; Mizuiro-san is a bit distant but polite, and Keigo-kun is very... outgoing, for lack of a better word."
Ichigo rolled his eyes. "Don't let it fool ya; he's a complete idiot."
Jyuushiro playfully pushed Ichigo, laughing a little. "Keigo-kun is nice. I like him."
Ichigo was glad that Jyuushiro was happy and focused only on him because those three girls that had been talking to the man must have spread rumours again, seeing as many eyes were focused solely on Jyuushiro.
"Let's hurry, okay?" Ichigo said, grabbing Ukitake's hand and pulling him along. Jyuushiro seemed confused but he didn't question Ichigo's actions.
When they arrived at Kurosaki's locker just minutes later, Jyuushiro stood by his side, looking around. He smiled politely at his fellow peers, a lot of the time receiving funny looks but on the odd occasion his smile was returned, an aura of childish glee radiated from him.
"Let's go," Ichigo said once he had closed his locker. "I'll take you to your next class."
Jyuushiro nodded. His first experience hadn't been a pleasant one, but he didn't want to let it get the best of him; he wanted to give it another go because he knew that not everyone would be like the first three girls. He knew that, even if it took some time, he would eventually meet some more nice people like Ichigo's friends. He just had to be confident and not let a few bad experiences rule his life.
Ichigo was slightly nervous by the time the home bell rang and he was going to get Jyuushiro. The man had, once again, had another bad experience with the other students where one male had tried to take advantage of Jyuushiro's seemingly fragile appearance and bully him about his illness – but he had quickly given up when Ukitake just ignored him and focused on the text book laid out before him. As a Captain, Jyuushiro wasn't easily bothered by such petty attitudes; he had to deal with similar ones from the disrespectful members of his Division who didn't want to be led by someone so ill.
This time, however, Jyuushiro was practically bouncing his way over to Ichigo, the largest smile Kurosaki had ever seen etched onto his face.
"Ichigo-kun!" Jyuushiro cried, his eyes lit with excitement. "Ichigo-kun, I made a friend!"
Ichigo smiled for Jyuushiro's benefit, but he couldn't help but fear it was another slut out to take advantage of Ukitake's kindness. Upon hearing who it was, however, his fears died down. The girl in question had a reputation for being kind to everyone, especially those who were shunned by others.
"I'm happy for you, Ukitake-san," Ichigo said sincerely, though he couldn't help but feel a tad jealous; he didn't know why, but after spending so much time with the man, he wanted Jyuushiro to himself.
Jyuushiro smiled, happier than he had been in a while; he hadn't had an attack all day and he had made a new friend. Shunsui was the only person in his life who knew how much it meant for him to find someone who accepted him for him; illness and all.
Looks like Ukitake would have to thank Rukia for doing this for him after all.