There are so many firsts with you.

I remember the first time we met. The first time you fed me. The first time I saw your smile.

So many firsts...

First sunset. First dawn. First kiss.

The way your hair gleamed in the moonlight.

The first time I saw your eyes. I'm probably the only one who's seen them who was wasn't surprised by their color. Somehow, I'd always known what your eyes looked like.

I remember the first time you left me. And the first time you came back.

That is the one thing I never learned to live without; that knowledge that one day, no matter what, you would come back. No matter how far you strayed or how long you vanished, my heart was always looking for you, waiting for you. And never in vain; sooner or later you always came back.

And now, after hundreds of years, another first.

At this moment I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you won't ever be coming back again. Not after this.

This time, for both of us, there is no going back.

Though a battle rages around us and the fate of heaven and earth hangs in the balance, I sit quietly looking at you, with so much to say and no time to say any of it.

Heineko prowls around us, her growl keeping the outside world at bay. Not even Aizen could force his way through her right now; hell hath no fury like a Hellcat fully awoken, and while she has some choice opinions about you and what you have done, and been, to me over the years, she will protect me with all her incomprehensible power for her own reasons.

The ash and smoke swirl around us, separating us from the battlefield as we share our last quiet moments together.

And here, at the end, I find myself going back to the beginning...

"Gin...weird name..."

You just laughed and held out your hand to me as I gobbled greedily at the food you had given me.

"Come on, fatty. Let's go somewhere fun."

I followed you. Always, I followed you.

When you took me into 67th district and found us that wretched little lean-to, I thought it was a castle. You even managed to procure some kind of bedding and I thought you were a magician for sure. Even then I was good at not seeing what was truly there; my eyes simply skipped over the blood under your fingernails, the specks on the blankets. What good did it do either of us to acknowledge how you had gotten them? It was warm, and it was softer than the dry and cracked riverbed in which you'd found me, and that was all that mattered.

Better yet, it was something I didn't have to endure alone. Even then, in our youth and innocence, we slept tangled together like puppies, sharing warmth and closeness if not intimacy. I would drool on your shoulder, and you would wrap thin but strong arms around my shoulders as we slept, offering protection that ultimately you would never deliver. To this day I dream of those nights, can still clearly see the outline of your profile, softened in repose, naked to my midnight scrutiny. Those dark hours were the only times I saw you unsmiling, the only times your mask slid and the man-child, full of doubt and fear and impossible desires, would emerge.

But the sun would always rise, and the mask slip effortlessly back into place. And as always, I would play along, happy at the very least that I was not alone. In my naivete, I thought that was enough.

Small, silent parts of us both knew that we weren't fooling each other. But you were fun, and I was lonely, and the vaudeville between us suited us both.

The first time you left me I thought my heart would stop beating. I screamed, I sobbed, I stared blankly for hours at the doorway, waiting to see your silhouette. I held my breath until my face turned blue, swearing I would not draw air until you reappeared; and then lay gasping, tears running down my face and nearly obscuring my view of the empty doorway. For days I refused to leave the lean-to, certain that if I wasn't there every single minute you would slip in while I was away and I would miss you. Even as a child, a barely-developed soul, I knew pain and awareness to a depth far beyond my years, and your betrayal was unbearable. For a week I feared you'd been killed. But my heart knew otherwise, and against my will I was drawn to roam, to search, to find you. I knew you were out there somewhere, that if at all possible you would return, and in my childish naivete I thought I could rescue you and bring you home.

For weeks I roamed Rukongai looking for you. Returning always to our pathetic hovel, alone. It was no longer a castle; without you its dusty, barren interior was a dungeon, and misery my only companion. I would shiver throughout the night, trying to wrap my own skinny arms around myself, trying to pretend it was you. If I concentrated hard enough, I could almost convince myself that you were sitting in the shadows, watching me with your silly smile and letting me suffer. Maybe you were; I'll never know.

It wouldn't have been beyond you; I know that much.

No matter how far I roamed, whenever I returned it was with a quickness in my step. Reaching out with whatever energy remained to me, I'd find myself scanning for the slightest scent or hint of you. I would curse myself for leaving, convince myself that you had come and gone in my absence, and would fall asleep for a few miserable hours amidst agonized self-recrimination. And always the sun would rise, boring through the gaps in the walls to wake me, and despite my self-hatred I would venture out again.

I don't remember how long that went on, but I do know that at some point my misery helped me to forget my hunger. It was easy to stop eating; you were the one who found us food most of the time anyway. Before I met you, my smile and my dimples would occasionally secure a morsel here and there. With you gone, the smile was dimmer, the dimples wouldn't come, and food simply stopped materializing.

The day came when my strength failed me and I lay despondent on the floor unable, for once, to go looking for you.

It was then, in my black despair, when I was finally ready to give up on you, that you came back.

I thought, when this moment came, that I would cry.

That all the years of loneliness and fear and the pain of being left behind would all rush back and overwhelm me. That looking in your eyes, all I would see is laughter at a young girl, alone and afraid, the same look as that first time you returned to me.

But for once your gaze does not mock, and the look in your eyes is one that, a long time ago, I would have given my life to see.

Only now I've grown too old, too strong, and your unspoken admittance is centuries too late.

So here I sit, dry-eyed, in the ash and blood, quietly thinking of all the things I cannot say to you.

I want it to last forever, this moment of peace between us. But he's coming, as I knew he would, his approach announced by the cool breeze that fans across my face. He's the only one, since you, that knows me well enough to come to me in my darkest hour. And now, with you leaving me forever, I must let him draw near.

I have no choice, my love, my eyes plead with you.

Your garnet eyes meet mine, and even to the end you cannot release me willingly.

I sit, in the mud and the ash and the spreading pool of your blood, and wait for my taicho.