Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach, nor do I make any money from this. Bleach belongs solely to Tite Kubo and Viz Media.

The Moonlessnight: This is just my take on how Isshin might have met Masaki. That said, there are major spoilers concerning Isshin. Take it as you will, but this is how I see it. This is also my first venture into the world of Bleach fan fiction. Be kind, please.

To Lay Aside the Sword

I had reached that age. After several long centuries of life, fighting Hollows lost its savor and became a bitter, oppressive weight. My soul slayer – that fatal weapon and saving grace - grew heavier by the day. Whether my hands rejected the blade or it rejected me I am still not sure, but I no longer longed for the life of a Shinigami.

Blood covered my dreams in a red torrent. Death rang with the voice of a blade in ever increasing pitch. I flash-stepped my way from one assignment to the next and soon, I began dodging Hollow and Shinigami alike. The sword had grown too heavy, the burden too great.

Increasingly, I found myself wandering the streets of the human realm instead of the familiar streets of Soul Society. Walking the night in robes of black, unseen and unheard, I watched the world slowly change with the passing of the seasons. Sometimes a person shuddered as I passed, a mere shadow of death with my sword sheathed and bonded. Those occasions served as a reminder of the death god I remained, manifested in every faint tremor.

My lieutenant found me once, hunched over the form of a dying boy and his mother. Victims of a car accident, neither was long for this world and I did not intend them to wander the streets as so many other souls did. I would not let them become victims of a Hollow or, worse, become Hollows themselves. So, I kneeled above the boy as he lay rattling out the last of his breaths, my sword bared and raised in preparation for the soul burial.

"The boy will live," a voice spoke behind me.

I gasped and nearly dropped my weapon, trapped momentarily between fear and rapture, "H-he will?" The lieutenant nodded and my shoulders sagged, my zanpakuto falling unheeded from numb fingers. "How do you know this?" I stuttered.

He fobbed a quick shrug of his shoulders, running a finger under his nose in a lazy fashion before pointing over my shoulder, "Call it a hunch."

My body turned, neck craning back to peer at the miracle my lieutenant saw so plainly written . . . and there she stood. The hospital I.D. badge clipped to her belt proclaimed her name as Masaki. My heart declared her an angel. I'll never forget the look on her face when her blue eyes briefly locked onto mine and then gazed straight though me, intent on her patient and yet somehow aware of my presence. "This hand isn't dealt yet, Death," she whispered to herself as she knelt beside the boy, "You've got me to contend with and I say this child isn't going anywhere. Not if I can help it."

Skilled hands quickly treated the boy's many hurts, binding and soothing before turning to his mother. Soon she too met with Masaki's tender aid, her breaths evening out just as the boy's had. Not until the ambulance disappeared down the street and Masaki sighed did I realize her eyes had once again found mine. "I cheated you again, didn't I?" She laughed, the sound like water running in the spring, "Or were you just hanging around to enjoy the show?"

I gapped, my mouth dropping open while my breath caught in my throat. "Y-you can see-?" She remained silent and the lieutenant laughed.

"She's a special one, Isshin," he laughed in my ear, "but she's not that special. Masaki here can sense us. Sometimes I think she can almost see us, but her skills aren't 

developed enough to hear us." He raised his eyes to find her staring at him intently and visibly shuddered, "She has eyes like ice, Isshin. Whether she can see us or not they just freeze you to the core, you know?"

Still numb from the ordeal, I nodded even as my mind chided the lieutenant for his mislaid comment. Her eyes held me firmly rooted to my spot, but not with a chill. No, her eyes held everything but ice. She stood to leave, tossing a quick farewell over her shoulder and I followed.

My zanpakuto lay where I dropped it, lost in the dark streets of Tokyo.