The thing about having a cell without a window is that even with the knowledge that day will turn to night and night to day it still feels like time has stopped for you. You could even imagine that everything outside is exactly how you remember it. Even better, exactly how you want it to be. But I know better. I know the world is still moving. Still moving on with or without me. Moving on with or without any of us.
It's sad really. All that time, we thought the world needed the Shinigami, needed someone like me. And maybe, back when we were still in action, it actually did. After all, who else was going to protect the lost souls of the living realm? Who else could save them from the hollows? That was our purpose. Our reason for life after death.
Who am I kidding? I wasn't really a Shinigami anyway, not after I got my powers back. Of course, neither were any of my friends. And they fought just the same. Just like I did. Maybe because I did. Uraharah did say something to that affect didn't he? That they gained their powers from being near me. Seemed kind of outrageous at the time, and I still don't know everything about how that worked. I mean I never really understood soul science, or whatever the technical term was for it.
Regardless, they couldn't stand still if I didn't. They cared too much, and somehow I didn't see it. Couldn't see it. Couldn't see that they wouldn't stop if I asked. Couldn't see that leaving space under the world that you take on your shoulders, makes those that care about you most, that much more likely to try and take a place at your side...
"Answer me, ryoka!"
He felt his body sink forward as another sword stabbed into his back with a wet squelch, the breath exploding from his lungs in a pained, drawn out wheeze. Still, his eyes refused to look up, his mouth refused to answer the questions given to him.
He just chuckled, spitting out a paritcularly large bloody gob, then laughed aloud. "Wha, has the Onmitskido gotten soft or somethin'? The way I remember, Soi-fon was alot nastier than you pansies-nrgh!"
The fist crumpling into his face silenced him.
He chuckled darkly, unnerving the man.
"You call that a punch? Compared to Ulquiorra, you're a damn pussy."
"Guards!" The man bellowed. "Bring in the interrogators!
Interrogation? Shit, these fuckers haven't done anything but beat me up for the past hour. You figure they'd at least—
His train of thought was interrupted when his vision was filled with stars as a fist plowed across his face. Hell, that one didn't make stars, he thought, as his head hung, blood dripping out of his mouth and nose. Those were whole planets.
He had walked for a while with the bag over his head before arriving in this small, dark room. He couldn't see anything, but he could overhear people snickering and talking as he was lead to his destination. Not very discreet, are they? he had thought as a rock was thrown at him.
Then he was thrown into a chair and chained to it before his black hood was ripped off. His eyes hadn't even been allowed time to adjust to the bright light focused on him before the first punch was thrown. When his head finally stopped spinning, he saw that he was surrounded by four large shinigami, dressed in black from head to toe, even wearing black masks to hide their faces.
"That's funny," He said as the first bit of blood began to trickle out of his mouth. "The guys that brought me in here were wearing all white. I liked their masks better, too. I couldn't see any of their faces." He looked at the shinigami closest to him. "I can see your little fuckin' pig-eyes through yours."
Okay, He thought as another punch hit him in the side of the head, bringing him back to the present. Maybe I've been provoking them. A little. But why stop now? Lord knows they haven't for these years and they aren't aren't gonna.
He was about to let loose another string of insults when the door to the room opened and a figure entered. At this person's entrance, his four assaulters ceased the beatings they were doling out and stood respectfully still as the figure walked closer to the light.
He'd been locked up here for a hundred years, following the traumatic events of the winter war. Aizen, seemingly defeated, had withdrawn back to Hueco Muendo with his espada, and hadn't been heard from since.
The vizards...well, he hadn't heard hide nor hair from them since. Not surprising really, considering the casualties they'd suffered during the winter war, but still, he'd expected at least a thank you, not a one way ticket to jail without a fair hearing at trial.
Speaking of hearing, he hadn't heard Zangetsu's voice for awhile now either.
They fed him enough to keep him alive, that was all he knew. Every five months, he'd get a meal. He'd be lethargic and half asleep, but it was just enough to keep him alive, to keep him breathing.
Apparently, they still had some use for him. What that use was, he had little to no idea, but for one reason or another, they wanted to keep him alive. Half dead, yes, but alive nonetheless.
So you could imagine his surprise now, when he abruptly received a visitor on the eve of December first. He could tell it was Decemeber, by the way the snow fell outside his window, but that wasn't very important right now.
The identity and gender of his visitor were, as it were, interesting. She took one look at the guards, adjusted her spectacles, and all five of them collapsed into mumbling, gibbering heaps, twitching as if they'd each had an epileptic seizure.
"Thanks." The man mumbled, as she readjusted her glasses and wafted back towards him. "But I coulda taken 'em myself."
There was the faintest rustle, and abruptly, his shackles fell away.
"In your current condition, that is highly unlikely, Kurosaki Ichigo."
She was a young, bespectacled woman that strangely resembled Lisa Yadomaru in looks and appearance, though her glasses were a bit more round and her eyes a bit more stern, but still, he couldn't place her name. It came as no surprise that he didn't remember the identity of this shinigami, after all, he really hadn't been very sociable with any shinigami excluding Renji and Rukia.
The woman crossed her arms after a moment. "Kurosaki Ichigo, I am Ise Nanao, captain of squad eight. You're going to be taking a little walk with me." She flicked a thumb towards the door. "To say hello to our friend the sun."
Ichigo stopped eating, giving the newcomer a hard look. Oh, so that's who she was, Shunsui Kyoraku's former lieutenant. Yes, now that he remembered, the goofy bastard had kicked the bucket during the winter war.
But captain or no captain, he saw no reason to trust one of his captors. Not when he'd been beaten, given shitty food, and overall had a very unpleasant stay here, every day for the last few years.
"No." He answered resolutely. "Go away."
The woman chuckled. "Does it rile you that much? The possibility that things have changed in the last century?"
"You know why I'm not going back out there." Ichigo replied, "It's not the sun or this change of yours that I care about."
Her tone suddenly became darkly serious. "But the people. You care about them right?"
Ichigo scowled. "What do you want?"
"It's the hollows." She answered in a dark tone. "They could be returning."
Ichigo stood at the word "hollows" "So? What's that gotta do with me? I'm sure you and the almighty Gotei Thirteen can handle them all by yourselves."
Nanao shook her head. "It's not leftovers that we're dealing with here. Technically, I'm not even sure if we can even classify these beings as hollows anymore."
Ichigo's brow furrowed at that statement. "Arrancar then, huh? So what do you need me for? You guys did a pretty damn good job of takin' them out yourselves without my help."
"We need you...to help us make sure we never have to call the rest of them arrancar." Nanao replied tersely, extending her hand. "So how about that walk then? You could always elect to return here, if you so choose."
He blanched a bit at that. Another century in this hell house, where all he had to look forward to was a meal every five months, beatings and abuse on a regular basis, all without any sense of parole?
"Ya mind undoing these shackles then-oh."
Another rustle of her sleeve, and the locks fell away, allowing him to fully rise for the first time in a century. His joints ached and groaned from the strain, and after a moment, he noticed her hand, still extended to him.
"Do we have an accord then, Kurosaki?"
He stared at her for a moment, weighing his newly acquired options. What was the poin in staying here anyways? Now that the shackles were off, he could feel his powere returning. Even now, it would be a trivial matter to knock her out and dissapear.
"I could always run, you know." He warned her. "What would you do then?"
"Oh?" Nanao Ise quirked an eyebrow at this retort. "Perhaps, but you won't do that. Captain Kyoraku always painted you as someone who wouldn't run away from a challenge. I doubt a century of imprisonment has changed your ways."
Rattled by her astute observation, the vizard could only scowl in a weak gesture of defiance. She was right, and he knew it. Bailing on someone, even a former ally, it just wasn't his style.
"Trusting a criminal, that's a dangerous idea."
"Then I'm a dangerous girl." She countered coldly, meeting his darkened scowl with a tense, unyielding one all her own. He held her gaze for a moment longer, before his lips quirked into a grimace.
'Yikes. She's still scary.'
Finally, he easily clasped her hand in his own.
"Fine, I'll take a look around. But you better get me some pretty damn good grub first."
"Agreed." She nodded, releasing his hand and heading, leading him towards the door as he flinched under the sunlight. "Anything else?"
"Yeah, now that you mention it," He stretched again, producing a satisfying pop in his neck. As he stepped into the thin evening light, she was pleased to see that his years of imprisonment hadn't dulled his physique. His spiritual pressure was rough as ever, and had she been her former self, then this raw reiatsu would have felled her in an instant.
"Sake. Sake, would be nice."
Thankfully though, Nanao Ise was not the same feeble lieutenant as she had been a century ago, not the girl that had been left behind in Soul Society whilst her captain fought and died in the Winter war. And if there was one thing Shunsui had taught her, it was to enjoy what you had in life, before it was gone. He'd done that, right up to his death, without letting her know anything about it, just like always.
She could at least do the same, at least try to enjoy life before she too, perished.
A small laugh escaped her lips, even more so when he started at it.
"Sake it is, then, Kurosaki."