If you ask one of the waiters at the pizza place in Perdidos Mentes, California, about the Kurosaki couple, who eat dinner there every Saturday night, this is what he'll tell you.

"Those two? You know, you wouldn't know they were Japanese if you didn't know their names. They don't look it--for some reason they both dye their hair red. And they've got great English, better than most. But they've only been here--I think not even eleven years yet? Man. Anyway, they come in here every Saturday, him scowling and grumping but you can tell he's happy to be here with her. I think the looks he gives people are just habit. She always orders a different combination of toppings every week--heh, in the kitchens it's become a bit of a running joke to try to guess what she's going to order. They're always the craziest damn things, you wouldn't think anyone would want a pizza like that, but she practically inhales 'em, and she compliments the chefs every time. She's pretty cool, and not just to look at either. Not that I mind those--uh, anyway, they're cool, I guess. I'm pretty sure they're not rich--she's just a teacher and I don't know what he does--but they tip well. Sometimes I catch her staring off into the distance...she says she's just spacing out, but, well, every once in a while she has the saddest look on her face."

If you ask one of her students about her teacher, this is what she'll say.

"Mrs. Kurosaki is a really neat teacher. She spaces out even more than I do! But it's okay, because when she snaps out of it, she has the coolest stories to tell us. She can make the stupidest, most boring things seem fun. Once, she caught me staring out the window when I was supposed to be listening to her talk, and instead of sending me to the principal's office, she had me help her make up a story about the secret adventures the tree I was staring at goes on when we're not looking. Sometimes she's going through our papers and suddenly she'll bite her lip and look really confused. I want to ask her what's wrong, but I don't think I'm supposed to."

Ichigo drifts from job to job and from acquaintance to acquaintance. There aren't many people who'd venture to offer an opinion on him, other than that he frowns too much.


The man who has been the captain of the 5th Division for the past fourteen years stands at the edge of the promontory and looks down at the expanse of Seireitei before him. Red hair whips around his face like a windblown flame or a spray of blood.

His vice-captain advances on him from behind, her head held high and her steps sure and deft. She is tiny and he is tall, but when she raises her gaze to him, she regards him as an equal.

She speaks to him as an equal as well. More or less. "Put your hair up, you fool," she says. "Can you even see like that?"

There is an unasked question in her voice as well. He looks down, and for now, he doesn't even answer the question she did ask. Instead he says, "Didn't you say last night that you liked it down? Make up your mind, woman."

"There is a time and there is a place," she says. "This is neither." But there's something curiously hopeful about the way she slants her gaze up at him.

He sinks to a crouch, then to a sitting position. "This time," he says, "the word came all the way from the top. It's still a no." He hisses between his teeth. "Bastards."

She strides to the edge of the cliff, anger making her shoulders tremble slightly. Then she leans over and, very precisely, spits down at Seireitei below them. "Cowards. What are they so afraid of? Soul Society doesn't need these mindless fortifications and the endless fretting of the patrols. It needs him--and we are the ones who can find him."

She does not say I need him, but after a moment she folds slowly to her knees, and Renji understands what she doesn't say.

"There's got to be another way," he tells her, and they know it's a promise.


He kneels with his head bowed in (his mind) a cave drenched in red light. He wears his old captain's robe, and it clings to his sweat-soaked body.

"Just a little longer," she says. "You're almost there." Her hair does not flutter around her face; it flows. Her dress does not cling to her body; it sticks. There is only one comparison that can be made to describe either of them: they are red and wet as blood.

Endless characters dance on the stone ground before him, as wet and red as the woman at his shoulder. They're starting to blur before his eyes. He licks his lips. "Water--water, my princess."

She holds cupped hands before him, and he drinks. In this momentary break from his work, he cannot help but wonder: what does it all mean? What does his thirst signify, what does the water represent? He's doing things few shinigami ever get to experience, and the scientist that he is right down to his bones can't leave this strange inner world without analyzing it.

But there's not enough time. He reaches up to touch her, and his hand comes away sticky with blood. He traces another character on the ground, then another, and then one more. "...is that it?"

They glow before him. After a moment, he feels her smile more than he sees it. "It's done," she says. "At least for now. You can come back later, develop it more...it could be a whole new form of demon arts. What will you call it?"

He considers. He is exhausted and soaked with sweat and drained from the heat. "Blood arts," he finally says, and he summons a wicked smile. "And every new trick it produces is a scarlet spell. Do you approve, my princess?"

She does not answer him in words; instead, she leans down and presses wet, sticky lips to his. Around him, a blast of cool air blows the sweltering cave away from him.

He opens his eyes, and that's when the full extent of his exhaustion hits him. With a groan, he stumbles forward into dark arms outstretched to catch him.

"What we need now," he mutters, "is the little sister. Find her," and then he blacks out, away from the red.