Ukitake and Umeboshi by debbiechan
Disclaimer: Kubo Tite invented the Bleach universe and all profits from it go to him, Shueisha Inc, Weekly Shounen Jump, Viz Media, Perriot Studios, and others not me.
Description: G. Double-drabble thing, sort of. What it says on the label: Ukitake and umeboshi. A friend asked me to write about her favorite character and a weird little pickled fruit popular in Japan. It was only after I’d written the drabble about Ukitake avoiding the thing in his rice that she told me that Ukitake’s official profile said he was fond of umeboshi. So I said, oh yes, I can fix that. The first drabble will be a PREQUEL to our captain’s canon love for umeboshi and uh … a metaphor for the avoidance of Death and the second will be all about when Ukitake learned to embrace Shinigami frailty. “Works for me,” Charlie said, so here’s the story.
For what it’s worth, I love umeboshi. Popped one plain in my mouth for the first time a couple years ago and it was delish!
1. Avoidance of the Thing
(The original drabble, revised, for Charlie)
Juushirou ate his way around the umeboshi on his plate. His interviewer, some fresh-faced non-seated fellow recently added to Hisagi’s magazine staff, asked serious questions about officer responsibilities, but Juushirou skirted boring topics like he did sour plum.
Fresh Face began, “Collateral damage from the recent encounter with the enemy--”
“Collateral damage--you mean the felled buildings or the felled Shinigami?”
“Both. Isn’t the term a military one that includes even dead--”
“My koi look gigantic today,” Juushirou interrupted. “How is it that my koi grow so fat and big in such short periods? Maybe you should launch an investigative article about that.”
Fresh Face cocked his head and attempted a joke. “Are you feeding them your congee and umeboshi?”
“Ah ha ha, no.” Juushirou smiled. There was nothing more he would like to do than to toss into the koi pond every plate of get-well porridge brought to him by well-meaning guests. “Thank for this.” He nodded over his portion of pink moosh. “This delicious congee is all mine.”
Kyouraku had always kidded that if once, just once, Juushirou would actually eat the red heart center of the congee, then maybe that annoying cough would be cured once and for all.
Everyone brought him congee and umeboshi. EVERYONE. What were they thinking? Ah, here, Captain, I over-boiled some rice last night and it turned to slime so here, I thought of you and stuck an awful-tasting pickle in the middle of it. Get better, Captain. Be well, Captain. Enjoy your disgusting moosh and pickle, Captain Ukitake! Everyone, especially those folks from the fourth division, knew that the folk remedy was hopeless against tuberculosis, but everyone, especially Captain Unohana, insisted on bringing by the dish whenever stopping by for a visit. Perhaps the dish was comfort food for some; maybe most people with annoying coughs actually liked the feel of gelatinous, sour, cold umeboshi down their throats, but didn’t people know Ukitake Juushirou better?
The captain preferred candy.
Candy took less effort to buy and bring for a gift than get-well porridge took to prepare, so Juushirou knew he should be grateful. Still, some sparkly kompeito like Captain Byakuya always had on his desk would be so tasty about now.
The interviewer from the Gotei 13 Monthly asked a long, severe question about officer’s compensation and sick leave, and Juushirou sighed, navigating his chopsticks around the bright pickle and picking up tuffs of pink rice. The deconstructed rice saturated with the umeboshi juice wasn’t so bad, but the actual red plum itself--who would want to eat such a thing?
If Juushirou didn’t do the dishes promptly after such a meal, the umeboshi would often corrode past the lovely laminated illustrations on his china! It would literally burn the space on the dish where it sat.
“I think that demonstrates its healing properties right there,” Kyouraku had once said upon examining a ruined china plate. Fresh Face was some upstart journalist with a penchant for flowery, excessive language who had been annoying (or was that interviewing?) captains all month. Juushirou wanted to like him, but really, he talked so much. He asked Juushirou how officers distracted themselves from the grim realities of war, and the question itself took as long for the interviewer to ask as it took for Juushirou to chew two mouthfuls of congee.
“A distraction from war?” Juushirou didn’t have to think too hard about that one. “I like candy!”
But no one but Kyouraku, for all his lecturing about the mysterious healing properties of pickled plums, ever brought Juushirou candy.
“Put this in your article,” Juushirou said. “We are all dying men. All dying men could use a little candy.”
2. Submission to the Thing
Juushirou started buying his own candy.
Jelly beans with licorice, menthol and peppermint inside were his favorites. After that, licorice chews and pineapple gummies. Anything sweet that also packed a little punch of an after-taste. The Seireitei Candy Shoppe was right next to the Seireitei Sunglasses Stand, and Juushirou would make the long trek to it at the far gate (it would not behoove a captain to shunpou to a candy store) at least once a week.
When he began running out of candy before the week’s end, he began to order in bulk. He always had candy to spare and attempted to give it away to all who came to visit. People for some reason seemed reluctant to take the captain’s offerings, so Juushirou would hunt them down. He’d once seen the little captain of the tenth eat two whole boxes of caramel chocolate drops during a particularly tedious officer’s meeting, so Hitsugaya Toushirou became Ukitake Juushirou’s number one target.
“We are both Shirou!” Juushirou would proclaim, as if that was reason enough to gift the tenth division captain with armfuls of candy.
Now, Hitsugaya liked caramel chocolate drops so why did he always shunpou away when he saw Juushirou coming?
“It’s not seemly for captains to show off their speed like that,” Juushirou complained to Kyouraku. “Pocky?”
Kyouraku opened a box and popped one stick of chocolate Pocky into his mouth. “These shipments from the modern world are very classy. I can chew chocolate instead of a twig and look cool. Shall we shunpou back to your quarters? I’m too weary to walk.”
Kyouraku demonstration of mind-boggling swiftness wasn’t arrogant like Hitsugaya--Kyouraku didn’t do it too often because he didn’t like startling the ladies--but his good friend’s general attitude toward the passing of time nonetheless bothered Juushirou.
“Later,” Kyouraku would always say of anything important. “Later I’ll take care of it.”
The two old friends materialized in Juushirou’s room.
“Think of all the luxurious conversation we could’ve have had walking here,” Juushirou said.
“We’ll have it now.” But Kyouraku lay on the floor and closed his eyes. He didn’t seem amenable to conversation.
“Look,” Juushirou said in an awed voice. “Captain Unohana was here and the plate is still warm.” He picked up the dish and uncovered it, steam washing his face with the bittersweet smell. “We just missed her! Captains use shunpou too often! I wonder why she didn’t wait for me. I wonder why she assumed I’d be back in time to eat--do you want the plum?”
“People don’t bring it for me; they bring it for your damn cough.” Kyouraku didn’t open his eyes. “Just eat it for once. You might actually like the taste.”
That hadn’t occurred to Juushirou before. Not only did the umeboshi have a glossy look like a big red candy, it dribbled succulence; it smelled good.
“Kaien,” said Kyouraku. The name came out of nowhere and further disoriented Juushirou’s perspective. “Kaien never bothered you to eat umeboshi, did he?”
“No,” said Juushirou, remembering. “He--haha, he would always eat so fast.” Was it Kaien or someone else who always took a mouthful of rice, chewed, and spit out the umeboshi? Yes, it was Kaien. He hated the thing.
Avoidance of umeboshi hadn’t saved Kaien’s life, now had it?
Ukitake smiled and picked up his chopsticks. Yes, a towel was handy in case he needed to spit. His chopsticks pinched the umeboshi and brought it to his mouth.
“If my stomach disintegrates like the lacquer on my china plates, then you’ll inform the proper authorities that it was Captain Unohana, Great Healer of the Fourth Division, who killed me, won’t you?”
“Of course.” Kyouraku opened one eye. “You’re really going to eat it?”
Juushirou popped it whole into his mouth and crunched down. Delicious.
It would not cure him, but the umeboshi would add so much pleasure to his failing life. The only problem was—was there anyplace he could purchase it in bulk like candy? Now? He needed another one.
After a good spell of laughing followed by a spell of coughing that only brought on more laughter, Juushirou told Kyouraku that they needed to go shopping for pickled things, for crates of the stuff, because Juushirou wanted to eat the plums like candy.
Kyouraku was already settled back on the floor and half-asleep. “Later,” he said. “You’re not going to die before you can taste it again.”
escarboucle who not only writes pr0n for her friends when they ask for it, she also made a lovely IshiHime background banner for my new MSN9 and colored an Ishida manga chapter cover--just look, he's yum.
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