Author: Nebiru (ex-Kizune)

Pairing: ShunUki – and, yes, this is yaoi, so beware.

Genre/Rating: AU, Romance, PG-13

Disclaimer: I own nothing, except the arrangement of words.

Author's comments: Actually, this piece was inspired a long time ago by a picture of an aged Shunsui. Since then the images were plaguing my head, until I managed to shape them into this little story. Also, I doubt there should be an epilogue, but I couldn't help myself.

Gods, but he is beautiful.

Snow-white strands fall down his shoulders. The paleness of his skin, the charming smile, his lips - quite kissable, I would dare say, but only in the loneliness of my mind - all of that is drawing me to him like a moth towards a fire. Yet, Lord Jyuushirou Ukitake is not a fire - he is the calmness of the deepest sea and the wisdom of an ancient forest. Sure, he can be fiery in battle - that I saw with my own eyes - and the words he can deliver to your face, should you be so unfortunate as to deserve them, can wander on the verge of a flaming tornado, although he would never raise his voice.

He'd never shout. Even though that one time I wanted him to. I expected him to. Still, what I'd got - was a simple slap across my face. My lip still burns with the memory of it.

It was the day I finally allowed myself to kiss him, feeling that he wouldn't deny me - no, not on that day, when the war officially ended, and each and everyone was going out of their ways to celebrate. Holding unsurprised Jyuushirou close, I suddenly found myself in a state of complete and utter bliss. For a moment I forgot about everything. Where I was and who I was and why the hell I was doing what I was doing.

He was leaning into me - that much I remember. My kiss was not unanswered. At last I could throw off the mask and claim my foolish victory, yet I stood there - arms slowly sliding down his back and on his hips - and lost myself in the closeness of his body and his warm breathing and lips, which tasted of a long forgotten desire to be united with someone.

And then it was gone. All of that was gone.

The high doors of the empty ballroom flew open, and there was a crowd - of my friends and rivals as old as I am - that kind of the hardened bastards, who are not truly evil, but ultimately bitter and definitely harsh. And it didn't matter that at some point life had dictated all of us to become such - at least not to Jyuushirou, whose morals and principles were completely different. Lighter and kinder and, for all I know, stronger and fairer than anyone else's.

Laughter filled the empty space. Jyuushirou carefully made a step back, but it wasn't the mob of idiots behind him, that in a couple of seconds made his face go deathly pale, and then made his eyes fill with the icy cold of northern seas.

It was the words.

- You did it, Kyouraku!

- Fucking hell, you old asshole, see you've still got some fire in you!

- Guys, remind me what was the bet about?

- All right, I've lost. Was it fifty gold coins or more?

- Should've pounded him into the mattress, Shunsui, before coming out, but okay, you win.

Oh, yes. It was supposed to be the greatest victory of all times. It should've felt terribly amusing and victorious, considering the whole gathering of people in front of me now had to pay me quite a few sums of money.

Alas, it did not.

Jyuushirou was looking at me, waiting for me to say something, perhaps, to defend myself, but I couldn't, and wouldn't lie to him anymore. So - yes - I stared back silently - it all began as a game. No romance, no falling in love, and all that foolish running after him and sappy wards and courting - for a long-long time it all had been a complete and terrible lie.

It was at that point that he slapped me. People laughed and laughed and laughed, while I was covering the bruised lip. They clapped me on the shoulders, congratulated me, told me I was the most skillful ever debaucher in the world - because even the so-called Knight of the Light Lord Jyuushirou Ukitake had succumbed to the darkness, you see - they joked, and I felt my throat go dry.

Watching his back, his deliberately slow retreat, I couldn't breathe. I knew it - at that last moment before he left the ballroom, when he turned to throw one last, severe glance at me - I knew it was not even the matter of pride, which was violated. It was his feelings. There would be no forgiveness.

"It is not you, who has fallen," - I thought back then - "Once again - it is me".

Since that day I can not find peace. I wallow in grief; barely leave my castle, and Jyuushirou's eyes are haunting me, the memory of his lips on mine is haunting me - the misery is eating me alive. Why had I started this silly game in the first place? Why had I agreed to that bet? Why did I have to be such a moron?

True, I'm old - older than Jyuushirou, for a couple of decades at least. Partly my hair has already turned grey. I've lived a long life, done many things as one of the Lords of the Seireitei Kingdom. A faithful servant of His Royal Highness Genryuusai Shigekuni Yamamoto, a warrior, a ladies' man, a merciless assassin - they always used to give me names behind my back, but I didn't really care. I fought, I lived, I killed, I fucked, and for the most part of my life it was enough.

Yet as I got older, the press of loneliness seemed to become harder to bear. There was one time when I almost made the mistake of marrying a woman. It was a good thing I reconsidered. I doubt I would've made the girl happy - I never tasted love, I never let my heart be touched. I could be a gentleman, I could seduce almost anyone, but I wouldn't have been a good spouse - back then it was all about freedom and sex and rivaling my close friends in what we called a "bed contest". True, even when I was going to marry, my bed was never empty.

Five years ago I saw Jyuushirou for the first time. I'm sure - no one could've missed him when his tall, clad in white, figure entered the royal ballroom. His father, previous Lord Ukitake, decided it was time to retire, and thus the title of one of the King's advisors was left to his older son. Even at his first ball, Jyuushirou was smart and polite and elegant - to the envy of the bitter eldest and inexperienced peers. He knew how to speak, he knew how to dance and, in a rather careful way, he let others understand, that he would always follow his own views and principles and that there was no sense in wasting time to try and lead him astray.

He was like a sudden ball of light, of fresh air, and the pompous darkness was thrown into chaos. The Court was simultaneously charmed and disgusted. I remember myself being somewhere in between. Yet in the next two years I haven't paid close attention to Lord Jyuushirou - I saw him during the balls and meetings with the King, and from what I could gather, he had found his place quite quickly. He now had his own friends and his own enemies and a whole bunch of ladies, who'd be oh so happy to visit his bed.

It was the gossips that finally piqued my interest towards the man.

Rumors said that Lord Jyuushirou was turning down girl after girl - not even one lady managed to taste a bit of his manliness, as people were whispering. Well, it was not a highly common thing among the Court for someone to share his bed with his own gender, but I've seen wars and still remember, that on the battlefield, when your own life and the lives of your friends and close partners are in danger, the gender barely matters. And after all - a personal life is exactly like it is called - personal.

Still, sometime later the word got out that Lord Jyuushirou was turning down even boys, who had eventually found strength to approach the man with shameful offers. He was kind in ways of saying "no", but the Court, as well as I, soon became agitated to a great extent. The man wasn't married, wasn't betrothed, and didn't even want sex? Was he asexual or what?

For a month or so there was an outbreak of jokes about Lord Ukitake and his horse, but then, unexpectedly, the war with the rivaling kingdom broke out, and there was no more time for joking.

On the battlefield Jyuushirou, only twenty eight years old, was magnificent. I, having met my own fifty-second birthday right in the heat of fighting, trying to ignore the deep ache and tiredness in my bones, could not be anything but envious. I remembered myself at that age - all that energy and daring, and, Gods, but the man had talent! I didn't stop to think - just moved with lightening speed and suddenly - I was right there, right behind his back, and through the war, as if a silent agreement was established between us, we fought together.

We never truly spoke to each other, no one had much strength left after any battle, even for simple talking. There were short questions like "Hurt?", "Dead?", "Retreat?" and more of agreeable or negative shaking of heads instead of the answers.

For a year or so, after every battle, whether the rain was pouring down, whether the victory was ours or no, whether he was covered in blood or wounded, Jyuushirou would always weep for the dead, be it friend or enemy. Sitting there among the fresh corpses, sending silent prayers to unmerciful Gods under the despising looks of his own kin.

- What would you know of death? - he'd ask harshly if someone's arrogance stirred the respectable silence, - What would you tell these men when you'd meet them in the world beyond ours, where all the differences and foolish politics doesn't matter? You survived today. Is it not enough to be grateful, for these ones, poor souls, lying in the mud, took your place?

I was too tired to admire Jyuushirou back then. It was a hard year, while war raged furiously on the outskirts of the kingdom, and until it subsided to a small unrest on the northern border I couldn't spare time for any conscious thought. Finally we returned to the capital, though at that time the peace treaty was only a ghostly consideration. The memories of slaughter, of blood, of pain were too hard to bear - most of us were going out of our ways to find an outlet for all the emotions burning inside.

During those days, Jyuushirou was the only one, who stood proud. No one has seen him drinking, no one has seen him raging, and none could say that he tried to lose himself in sex, like I did, like others did, like the whole Court did. But no - not Lord Ukitake - too bright for his own good. It was infuriating, really.

So, having nothing to do, prepared to go back to the battlefield at any given minute if the commander said so, one late evening we made a bet. We were sitting there, half-drunk, an unimaginable company of old idiots, and suddenly someone remembered that there hadn't been a lady, who'd ever deny me. And, oh, wouldn't it be such a great fun to prove, that Lord Jyuushirou was only human, despite his iron principles. I remember myself laughing until my throat ran dry and I couldn't breathe, for the tears were choking me.

The simple idea of seducing Jyuushirou was hilarious to the extent, so I didn't stop to think.

I had lots of free time, I had all that blood on my hands I desperately wanted to forget, I had the devious mind of a youngster so I started my campaign. I was careful - a true master among the masters.

I began with simple smiles and staring at Jyuushirou across the ballroom. He ignored me at first, but I was patient, and soon the ignorance faded into curious attention. I could easily understand his thoughts - Lord Shunsui Kyouraku, an old dog, a lady-killer - what would Lord Shunsui want from a young man like Jyuushirou? I took my time, just walking by him, saying hello and throwing at him playful looks whenever possible, leaving him a bit agitated as if he couldn't quite believe, that someone would dare try to get under his skin.

I do remember that day I swept him up in a dance for the first time. I was quick to move - he was too relaxed, standing at one side of the ballroom within the group of his friends, so with the practiced skill of an unpredictable hunter I caught his hand and pulled him into the dancing crowd. He never had the time to utter a word of protest - I couldn't let him fence me off, and as the time progressed the stakes were already rising.

- Lord Kyouraku, what do you think you are doing? - Jyuushirou asked, bewildered at my wild escapade, but it was too late to run. I held him too close, and he would've definitely made a scene if he started tearing himself from my embrace.

- Dancing, of course, - I smiled, and almost laughed in triumph, when the pale cheeks flushed. There was yet a long road ahead, but at that moment I felt like celebrating a little victory, so I let myself be lost in the dance. I don't know what made Jyuushirou follow my lead, but he did. We whirled across the ballroom, united by graceful steps and changing music, and even when music ended, for some strange reason, I didn't want to let go of his hand.

Jyuushirou was wary of me afterwards, as if suspecting something. He was definitely avoiding me, but I was older, smarter and more experienced and I had allies, so, if I wanted to find him and pester him with my presence, in the end I always did. I sat with him during the royal counsels, always engaging him into such provocative discussions which he couldn't simply ignore, I whirled him into the sea of dances, and soon he even stopped struggling to get away if suddenly I'd appear too close when the Court went horse riding.

I don't know the exact treacherous moment when something changed in me. I don't know when the need to win the bet turned into the need to see Jyuushirou, to see his smile or hear a capitulating sigh. Perhaps it was the day when his horse injured its leg a bit - I deliberately strayed far from the group of people, once again involving Jyuushirou in an argument. There was a pit in the ground, obscured by the bushes, and his horse fell.

Really, it was just a scratch, but Jyuushirou loved his horse and didn't want to put strain on its leg. Yet the road back to the castle was long, and Jyuushirou almost scowled, seeing how my lips shaped into a devious smile. Oh, yes, surely to get something you always have to give something up. It was almost as if the fate was playing on my side.

- I could give you a ride… - I suggested, adding an obvious undertone to my voice.

- Indeed, how kind of you, Lord Kyouraku, - Jyuushirou rolled his eyes, - In that case I'm sorry to inform you that I have to decline. Wouldn't want to hurt that stud of yours, would we?

I threw my head back and for the first time in ages I laughed with complete sincerity - it seemed as if even Jyuushirou was taken aback for a second. I shook my head, leaned a bit forward and, smiling in such a kind way I hadn't since, perhaps, my childhood, held out my hand.

- Come on, Jyuushirou, the castle is far away, you'll fall dead tired before you even reach the premises.

When the pale fingers covered my hand, something inside me trembled. Jyuushirou carefully sat behind my back, and when his hands wound around me, it was as if I was suddenly wrapped in infinite warmth. I never wanted that moment to end.

The horses slowly trotted forward. Jyuushirou was holding onto me, and we were silent, though quite soon I felt him leaning his head on my shoulder. Was he feeling tired? White strands of hair happily danced on the wind. The sky above was darkening in a promise of a rainstorm.

- You're impossible, - Jyuushirou whispered, so quiet, like he was afraid of his own words. He never said anything else, and I didn't push him - a pang of guilt slowly rose from somewhere and painfully spread its claws through my chest, but I ignored it. I was knees deep in what was happening. Thought, might as well see the end.

When we reached the castle, the first cold drops had already begun falling on earth. I left Jyuushirou to tend to his horse and hid myself in the guest chambers - all advisors had their own set of rooms at the Royal Castle. The silence was almost deafening. I stood there, watching my own reflection in the mirror, and suddenly felt too old. Stubby cheeks, greyish hair, deep lines on my face that bespoke of years past - I was as old as Jyuushirou's father, for Gods' sake.

Ever since that day something felt broken inside me. I tried to stop the charade, I tried to stop seeing him, I tried to forget and start anew, but eventually I couldn't. The whole situation slipped up from my control. Though I didn't care about the bet anymore, when I came to tell the guys to sod off they just didn't believe me. Oh, yes, they sure remembered how persistent I could be, and why the hell should I change my attitude so suddenly? On top of it all Jyuushirou started to seek me out on his own will, and torn as I was between the desire to see him and to never see him again, the first had won out.

I barely noticed that the whole two years had passed, and then the war was finally and officially over, and all of a sudden Jyuushirou was standing so close and there was no one around, so I was free to do what I wanted, what I needed for so long… so goddamn long… I had no strength to resist the attraction. And while knowing I was doomed, I still let myself fall.

It was actually a simple accident that all those idiots chose right that bloody wonderful moment to enter the ballroom and to murder everything with their laughter and much unneeded comments. Perhaps I should've followed Jyuushirou back then and told him, that not everything had been a lie, but in that, now faraway, moment of utter failure I quickly decided, that it was for the best.

I was old, I was bitter, I was tired, there was no way I could make him happy, and what was more important - I didn't deserve such a good man as Ukitake Jyuushirou.

Yet the decision alone can't overrule the desire, so day after day the grief is eating me alive. I tell myself I am weak, I tell myself that this is my punishment for all the bad things I've done, but even though the whole three months have passed, my heart and mind can not find peace. I see him in dreams, I watch him from afar during the Royal Council, and at the balls, which I have no right to miss, I clench my teeth, biting down rage and jealousy, when he dances with someone else.

I wish for all of it to stop. This turmoil of feelings, this abyss with no end, these memories of his vibrant smile, which burn scars inside my mind. I wish for it so hard, watching from the window as the first snow covers the high towers of the royal castle, that I seem to miss the loud whispers of gossiping, suddenly flying from the corners of the costly decorated ballroom. I do catch on, however, as the cold evening slowly descends upon the ground.

- Poor thing, that young boy!

- Oh, hush, he has only himself to blame. Leaving the domain whilst that awful illness is consuming the villages one after the other! What was he thinking?

- I believe he wanted to help people.

- Help, huh? Well, I wonder now if Gods show mercy upon his poor soul. It's not plague, at least, is it?

- No-no, not the plague, more like a harsh cold, but with many lethal outcomes.

- I heard about it. The doctors can only guess who survives or dies. Serves him right, that Ukitake. Too bright for his own good.

It's like in less than a second the world collapses on itself. All the sounds disappear, so that I can hear my own rapid breathing. No. No. There are no other thoughts other that "no". I feel myself running across the ballroom, shoving people aside, as the horrible dread slowly eats me alive. No, not Jyuushirou. Anyone but him. Why? Why?

My hands are shaking while I'm saddling the horse. I have to see him. Even if he'll be disgusted, I have to see him.

Truly, it is a cold night. Winter is almost here. My stud is grunting, not entirely pleased of the furious temp I demand of him, but there is no hesitation neither in my body, nor in my soul. The terrible sense of the lost time and the time I've yet to lose is pushing me forward despite the biting cold. I've got only a black cloak barely fastened over my shoulders, protecting me from the weather. I do not care.

It is a long ride, but finally I reach Jyuushirou's estate. The night is old. For a moment the guards are frightened of me - who in their right mind would travel at this time of the day? - but quite soon they acknowledge me. Still, I can't relax. Of my wish to see Lord Jyuushirou right here, right now there is only one understanding person. And that would be me, of course.

But, for the love of God, I cannot accept their sensible offers that I stay in the guest rooms till morning and wait for Lord Jyuushirou's decision whether he wishes to see me or not. Even though they tell me he is unwell and sleeping right now, I cannot wait. I am too afraid that in the morning it will be too late. What's more - Jyuushirou will not want to see me, he'll just send me away.

The guards and servants are agitated when I am forced to break inside the castle almost with force. I pull out my swords and tell them to sod off and scare one of the young maids enough so that she could show me, where Jyuushirou is resting. They are following me, but do not dare to stop me anymore. I am Lord Shunsui Kyouraku, after all. I am a skillful assassin if need be.

The spacious room is silent. Little flames dance in the fireplace - the air is warm and makes me tremble. Only now I am beginning to realize just how cold it was outside. Jyuushirou is lying motionless on the bed, covered with heavy blankets. I feel my heart skipping a beat. Contrary to what his people were saying, Jyuushirou is not asleep.

- What are you doing here? - he coughs, frowning. There are lines of fatigue on his face, shadows under his always so beautiful, but now completely dull eyes, his white hair are in disarray over the pillows, and I can't help myself. I can't stop myself. I wouldn't, even if I wanted to.

Three steps forward and I fall beside his bed on my knees - a wreck of an old man, I am. I find his pale hand on the bed and shamelessly start to kiss the fragile fingers. I can't see his body because of all the sheets and blankets, but I am sure he is so thin right now - and it makes me go crazy with worry.

Despite the illness, his face flares the moment my lips touch the skin of his hand. He tries to steal it from me, but I do not let him. He is weak, he can't fight me, and even though it is a mean fight, I shall not move. He seems to understand it.

- Leave us! - he wheezes. Quite soon I hear the door closing.

I am content to stay just like this. Listen to his hard breathing, slowly kiss the quivering fingers and rejoice in the simple fact that Jyuushirou is alive. This way I feel I can die a happy man.

- Why have you come? - he whispers. I do not answer, there are no words to describe my feelings and how sorry I am for what happened and, really, how much I have come to love this wonderful man. I am an idiot and I am bitter. If I open my mouth, I'll just ruin everything more. I silently press his palm to my cheek, and let my head fall on the blanket. So warm. Just like this.

- It is a simple cold, Lord Kyouraku. Not a pleasant one, I assure you, but it won't be enough to lead me to grave. I suppose the rumors are flying high right now… exaggerated, like always, - Jyuushirou manages to say, a little bit uncertainly, as if he is not entirely sure that that is the reason for my appearance.

I believe him, because he would never lie. Not even to me. The fear recedes. I stay till morning. Though my knees and back are crying out loud with pain from not moving for several hours, it is worth it. All the pain is worth it. Jyuushirou is worth it and so much more.

He falls asleep sometime throughout the night with no more words between us. I do not wake him, when I leave.

Winter turns out to be cold, blizzards are raging. But I find myself appreciating the fresh air and deep piles of snow. It is harder to get up from bed in the mornings with all the drafts, whisking about the castle, but my reason for attending social events is the same as before. I do not risk visiting Jyuushirou anymore, I do not want to be a nuisance, so I listen to the rumors. And hearing every day that he is alive and kicking is almost enough.

These days I am sad and I am lonely. Because of the cold, my body and scars from the old wounds ache, making me sleepless and tired. I glance at myself in the mirror, noticing how my hair got even more grey streaks. Gods, even my stubble is greying. Soon I'll have to find myself a cane, I laugh, fastening the winter cape around shoulders, preparing myself for another meaningless horse-riding event. Servants are keeping the snow cover around the royal castle from being too deep, allowing the horses to walk freely.

Boredom encloses me. Today I would've preferred to stay in bed, but His Highness demanded that the Court should all be there. Just for the sake of keeping him safe and entertained. I bristled with pride of being one of the royal knights and advisors when I was younger, but nowadays the tedious title is only making me drowsy.

One moment I am sleepy, however, the next one I find myself awake. No, it can't be…can it?

Jyuushirou is here. On his white horse, in his white cape. Underneath the white sky. Completely white, like the snow.

The sight of him steals my breath.

- You look like you've seen a ghost, Lord Kyouraku, - he smiles, getting closer to me.

- More like an angel, - I answer honestly, feeling my traitorous gaze shifting down to his lips. Gods, but he is perfect, and I want him. Never in my life have I wanted anything like I want him now. I realize that I have no chances, but there won't be anybody but him anymore. Only him. Forever.

Jyuushirou flares in indignation and trots away. I do not follow him, knowing it is not my place. But I suppose I can live with that. As long as he is okay.

Now that Jyuushirou is well enough to attend all the court gatherings, days seem to drag by. Watching him almost everyday is a pure torture. I feel myself grow tired. Empty somewhere deep inside my heart, which once was filled with millions of Jyuushirou's smiles. And somehow this gravity takes toll on my body. It gets harder to walk and stand - perhaps the fact that I am not sleeping and eating well adds to that - but there is nothing I can do. Nowadays food just makes me sick, and nights bring uneasy sleep.

Quite soon my head stops working properly because of the constant dizziness - with a twisted laugh I order myself a cane. It is really easier to walk with something supporting my dead weight. Though no more dancing during the balls, I think.

People are watching me, whispering behind my back, sometimes they don't even recognize me anymore. From time to time I wonder is Jyuushirou watching me too? Am I imagining his serious frown, when he catches this pitiful sight of me? Is he worried at least a little bit? I can only guess, but finally… I make these hopeless thoughts go away. They'll do me no good.

Once more it is a cold night. The royal ball is nearing its end. I hide myself in the corner with a glass of vine to try and drive away the chill, running through my body. Jyuushirou is somewhere there too, but I find I have no strength left to get up and catch a glimpse of his kind face, so that I could burn it into my mind one more time. Today I feel as if the road back to my chambers will be a long one. Slowly I make myself stand.

The semi-darkness of hallways swallows me. My hands are shaking from the strain - so, even cane is not enough anymore? I lean my shoulder against the nearest wall to catch my breath. Gods, can a man fall lower? Why do I still get up in the mornings? To feel this empty shell I have become?

- Lord Kyouraku.

Jyuushirou. Did he follow me? Bitter laughing dies on my lips. I do not want to see him. I want to be free. Has he come to torment me more?

- What is it? - I ask, hiding my hurting eyes. When did my voice become so hoarse? When was the last time I used it? Even servants' routine is an old thing, they do not need to speak with me unless I call.

- You look exhausted. Are you all right?

This time I can't help myself. I laugh, though it pains my chest and leaves me with no strength at all.

- Do me a favor, please, Jyuushirou. Save your concern for someone else.

- But… - he is nothing but persistent when he wants to be.

- I said go away! - I roar, and suddenly the heavy burden of the black cloak over my shoulders makes my knees go weak.

I do not fall however. Jyuushirou doesn't let me. Next thing I know he is supporting me with his arms.

- I can't believe it! - he rages, his face is so close, his dark eyes are boring into mine. - You…

- Please, go away, - I beg him, yearning for a completely different thing. There is nothing I can do but beg. Even under all layers of clothing his hands are so warm. I know he wants to help, but it won't be enough. Not now, when I have already drowned.

Jyuushirou opens his mouth to say something, but then reconsiders, turns his head slightly, and thus… our story begin.

I do not answer his kiss. Not because I don't want to, but because I am stunned speechless, and all of a sudden my dead heart is soaring. Leaning into his embrace I can not stop looking at his flushed face. I am silent for so long that the foolish fear, that he'll leave me, manages to crawl into my skin, forcing my shaking hands to bury themselves into snow-white hair.

- Why? - I am afraid to know the answer. What if I am misunderstanding something?

- Shunsui, - his voice is straight and strong and determined, he won't lie, - Have I not made myself clear when I approached you after my illness subsided? I thought you knew me better than that. I wouldn't have come to talk to you if I weren't ready to put that idiotic bet of yours behind us. Yet you continued to wallow in silence, so I have come to the realization that you must have changed your mind, so…

I don't know what I want more. To laugh or to cry.

- I am an idiot, aren't I? - I whisper, and Jyuushirou smiles.

Somehow we make it back to my chambers. The mere presence of Jyuushirou gives me powers to reach the bed. I am unfastening my cape, when he lands close to me and starts unbuttoning my shirt. I selfishly let him. Though happy, I am so tired I doubt I can stay awake for much longer.

- You got thin, - Jyuushirou states, while his hands travel down my chest and arms. I feel the cold driven away under his tender touch.

- Let's not forget I am more than twenty years your senior… - I mumble, finally relaxing over the pillows.

- Now, where's that bit come from? - Jyuushirou laughs, unclothing himself, - If I cared that you were old and bitter, I wouldn't have put up with your foolish antics from the very start.

It is truly a wonder how one can feel at ease with another person. I have never ever felt anything like this. Though Jyuushirou is here with me for the first time, it's like I've known him forever. There are no doubts, no worrying, and he just sighs contentedly, when I hide my face in his hair and fold him in my shaking arms.

- Stay with me, - I ask.

- I already do.


How would ten years of happiness change a person? Would they?

- Shunsui! Shunsui! Get up! The royal council is in twenty minutes! - Jyuushirou's voice is agitated and frantic. He's always like this when we oversleep important events. I find myself I do not care that much, so every time Jyuushirou lays the blame on me, but I can only laugh, because during the nights I am not the only one insatiable. Usually it's him, writhing in my arms and begging for more. You won't find a more perfect lover.

- They can all sod off, - I answer lazily, and when I try to stretch myself, my back cracks and my leg screams with pain, - I am in my sixties, you know. It takes time for a person to get up.

- You tell that to His Highness, - Jyuushirou rolls his eyes, then pauses for a second to look at me, - Does it hurt?

I wince.

- I'll bear.

Two years ago there was a small revolt in the faraway villages, and, whilst we were dealing with it, my horse turned out to be an unlucky one to catch an arrow. I fell and hurt my leg quite badly. Because of that I am really forced to use a cane now. I was bitter about the fact for some time, but Jyuushirou softened the blow, saying that he'd love me, even if I had no legs at all.

Suddenly white strands of hair hide the outside world from me. Jyuushirou is above me, lips so close, and I can't resist the urge to kiss him. For a while we lose ourselves in each other, but when I try to pull Jyuushirou closer - so that I can touch that wonderful pale skin of his hips and travel even lower - he stops me.

- How about you get up already and we go straight to the council and I'll make it up to you later? - some days now this hint of a promise in his beautiful voice is the only thing that can make me leave the bed.

Jyuushirou is no fool. He knows that I'll leave him much, much sooner than his own time comes. So just like ten years ago he is determined to make the best of us, while he can, and I admire him for that. No matter how strange our union is, together we are complete.

- Let's make a bet, - I suggest playfully, - If I can sit through five hours of torture this council of yours is like a good boy, then…

- Oh, no. Don't you start now. Get your sorry ass from the bed, you old man, - Jyuushirou commands, and disappears from the room in a swirl of gloriously white clothing.

I smile, watching his strategic retreat, and slowly get up, trying to ignore the pain. Just like Jyuushirou knows me, I know that he'll be waiting behind the door of our chambers until he hears how my cane begins to stubbornly assault the floor. He'll leave then, and we'll meet each other wherever the Council gathers.

Even surrounded by the crowd of talking advisors, Jyuushirou doesn't forget to secure me a place. Many years ago I remember how Court watched us sitting peacefully together in astonishment and disbelief, but nowadays people are so used up to the idea that it's more like "Kyouraku without Ukitake? Can't be!"

I'm not sure who knows about our relationship or who doesn't, but we are not exactly hiding it. There is no way I can sit through the council without holding Jyuushirou's hand, for example. Though he scolds me afterwards, he still lets me.

Because he knows and understands that even during work time, this simple sign of affection is a little, precious piece of us, and it is not to be wasted.

So, would ten years of happiness change a person? Sure, they would.

Let them say that Lord Kyouraku has succumbed to Light.

Actually I won't have it any other way.

w/n: 08.02.13 - 22.05.13