By Bedraggled Atelier

Fantasy / Romance

Chapter 3

Shunsui visited every month like he had promised, and Ukitake welcomed his arrival with tea from the offerings. With the other man's help, Ukitake had his fill from the food offerings. Life had been getting much, much better for Ukitake until he started getting ill, only minor coughs and chest pains, but although it may be common and trivial for humans to get colds, it was abnormal for a kamisama. Jun, the lion dog, was growing concerned for his master but said nothing in the presence of Shunsui, who had noticed it but assumed it was simply another oddity that surrounded Ukitake and nothing serious. The kamisama had started to wonder if he was supposed to indulge that often in food and asked that Shunsui visit less often. Luckily for him, Shunsui refused because Ukitake had started to feel hunger pains more often.

On this day, Shunsui found it funny to treat feeding Ukitake like fishing. He had wiggled a slice of peach in front of the white-haired man and quickly moved it away when Ukitake tried to snatch it. "That's not fair," Ukitake complained. "You're making it difficult."

"I never said I'll make it easy," Shunsui said, keeping it beyond Ukitake's reach.

"Fine," said Ukitake one day. "I feel stuffed anyway." Shunsui replied that he still looked very thin and could use another pastry or two.

A good number of days were spent joking and sometimes sitting quietly, sipping tea and admiring the scenery in each other's presence. Shunsui found that he liked Ukitake's companionship. The other man's hair was white, long, and neat. Everything about him was neat. And his eyes were a beautiful emerald color encased by, and Shunsui laughed suddenly, with mismatching black eyebrows and eyelashes. Ukitake raised his eyebrows, but Shunsui shook his head. "It's nothing." Ukitake was beautiful like a human, Shunsui noted but shook the thought from his head. Ukitake, ultimately, was not human, and their relationship might as well have been that of a human and a dog with Shunsui as the later. It was rude to think otherwise. No, it farther from that. At least, Jun was a spiritual being, not one made of flesh and blood like the mortal Shunsui.

Ukitake told Shunsui his life as disease ridden human, locked up in a shed, helpless to fate and desperately dependent on his caretakers of whom had no blood ties with him. He was a burden to the villagers, and even now as a kamisama, he could not return their favor as all had left the land. He felt guilty.

"You're not that person," said Shunsui, locking eyes with Ukitake with an expression that made the kamisama feel as if Shunsui knew his pain, felt it. "You don't have to be."

"How do you know?" Ukitake said.

"I know," said Shunsui. "I've been there."

Ukitake believed it. He didn't know why it felt so true said from those lips. Often times, he found it easy to tell his tales to strangers with a sort of detachment, as if he was re-telling someone else's story. With Shunsui, it felt personal, and those simple words hit home in a way that it never did with another. Ukitake felt like he could be his authentic self with this man.

"What happened?" Ukitake asked quietly.

"There are things I wish I had done... And if I could go back..." Shunsui broke off the sentence. "It doesn't matter."

"You don't have to be that person, either," said Ukitake.

That felt like a profound moment where Ukitake became aware of the similarities between Shunsui and him. They were men of different temperaments and background, but somehow Ukitake felt, 'He's like me.'

"You're hair is short," observed Ukitake. "Were you banished?"

"Yes," said Shunsui, trailing off.

Ukitake detected that the noble didn't want to continue so stop his questions. Instead, he said, "I think it's time for something new. Maybe a haircut is necessarily. I couldn't cut it when I was alive."

"You're alive now," said Shunsui, eyeing Ukitake's hair with an unreadable expression.

"If you consider this living."

"Do you need help cutting it?" said Shunsui.

"It's alright. I'm not ill anymore," said Ukitake as if reminiscing. "I can cut it."

"I'll leave you alone to do so then. It's about time I head back," said Shunsui.

"Thank you for the meal," Ukitake said.

Shunsui nodded. "No, thanks needed. you like beef? I have some cutlets I can bring."

"Sounds expensive."

"It is," Shunsui boasted. "Some of the best tasting meat you'll find around."

"And what will the wish be?" All wishes were the same price. As long as someone gave some kind of offering, Ukitake could fulfill the request. But he did tend to choose to request the better offerings first so he guessed they should be considered a bribe.

"For you to eat it and enjoy."

"It's short," said Shunsui the next day. Ukitake had cut his white hair just below his chin. "It looks good on you."

The noble had brought a large platter of cut beef and had intended to build a small fire to roast or cook it in boiled water. It had to be the later as the shrine had no pots, but every time they attempted to set a fire, it went out so they were unable to eat the meat. Ukitake recommended that Shunsui travel down the mountain to enjoy the meat as it wouldn't last that long outdoors in the summer heat. He didn't want Shunsui to lose out on such good pieces of beef. Shunsui refused and had decided to feed Jun the pieces instead.

"Jun!" Ukitake said, delighted, when a idea dawned on him. "You can roast it for us, can't you?"

Jun barked happily, snatching another piece from Shunsui and then puffin out his cheeks.

"What's he doing?" Shunsui asked.

"Jun!" Ukitake scolded. "No!"

The lion dog shut his mouth and whimpered, flattening his ears. "He was about to burn you with the meat," Ukitake explained.

"I'm human, though," Shunsui explained. "Can a servant of yours do that?"

Ukitake paused. "No, I suppose he can't. I'm sorry. I had forgotten." That I wasn't human.

The remainder of the beef were roasted, and all three ate until they were full. They downed the contents with a little sake from the offerings closet and watched the clouds moved lazily past the mountains.

Ukitake suddenly felt ill.

"What's wrong?" asked Shunsui. Ukitake covered his mouth and shook his head. He felt similar to being ill as a human, like there was a mucous in his lungs and he couldn't breathe. He heaved and coughed, spattering his hands with blood. Shunsui rubbed his back, and he flinched, fearful that Shunsui would catch whatever he had.

"Shunsui... I' Go home," Ukitake mustered.



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