Author's Note: Hello there! This is the next chapter of my fanfictions! I'm actually very happy with how this one turned out, even though I may have temporarily written myself into a corner (I'm pretty sure I didn't though.) Anyway, lets focus on neat things, shall we? I have a tendency to do a lot of research for things I write, and so for this story I've been reading up on everything from persimmons to Bleach canon (so I don't forget about any more ripped off arms or anything), and as I was reading the Bleach Wiki, I discovered that Ukitake and I apparently have the same birthday (and I have been dying to tell this to someone). Cool! If anyone has any desire to find out when my birthday is, you now know where to look. :D

Disclaimer: Bleach is not mine.

Warnings: There's some drinking... that's probably it in terms of objectionable topics. Just a thing: I'm really sorry in advance if I miss anything that is important to be warned for, and if you see anything that you know I should, please feel free to tell me. :)


CHAPTER III


During the night, Gin's window ledge became almost unbearably cold. Though he had been hoping someone would bring him a blanket since his third or fourth night in the Senzaikyu, he was certain he would never receive one. He knew that few people cared about his wellbeing and he was almost afraid to ask. Lying on the cold stone, Gin shivered and curled into himself, warming his arms with the heat from his core. He twisted lamely when his jutting bones grew sore against the hard surface. He shoved his fists into his abdomen when the feeling of having nothing inside grew too uncomfortable. He didn't sleep much.

Through the glass, Gin could see the silver moon hanging huge and fat over Seireitei, peeking through the clouds in the darkened sky. In the glow, he could barely make out a young woman with a Squad Four backpack picking her way across the rooftops. Other than this movement, though, the city seemed stiller and more silent than it had in weeks. Gin focused on her until she had left his field of vision. It struck him as strange that the city would feel so empty at night, as he knew from experience that nearly no one slept regular hours, committed to at least one of the three P's (patrolling, paperwork, and partying) until the wee hours most evenings of the week. From his window in the Senzaikyu, though, Gin saw a ghost town.

Well—he never didn't see a ghost town, but at this time of the night, it truly felt like there was no one there.


In his considerably vast experience, Ukitake had discovered there were only a few adjectives with which he could describe the various drinking establishments scattered about the Soul Society. Words like 'smoky' and 'cozy' and 'bright' and 'warm' applied to some in different combinations, but after that, there were far fewer 'creative' descriptions and the rest fell into 'big' or 'small', 'loud' or 'quiet'.

Oddly, the bars and izakaya in the World of the Living had far greater variation, but one could not simply pop over to them for a drink, and those—like Captains Ukitake and Kyoraku—who did not often find themselves on the other side of the veil simply had to make do with what was directly available. Of course, being directly available and undeniably similar to about half of the other establishments in the Soul Society did not automatically prevent someplace from being 'damn good' as well.

Such was the case of the Red Lantern (cozy, quiet), a tiny sake shop located about a hundred paces from the Eighth Squad barracks and a favorite of one Shunsui Kyoraku.

The night before his second interview with Gin Ichimaru, Ukitake found himself inside the Red Lantern for the second time in as many weeks, sipping from a small box the Captain Kyoraku's new favorite sake—also the second in as many weeks.

"You like it, right? It's good…" Kyoraku dragged out the vowels in the word 'good' for a far longer time than the goodness of the sake warranted.

"It's alright."

"Just alright?"

"I liked last week's favorite more."

"Last week's favorite was only my favorite because I didn't know about this!"

Ukitake grinned and set down the box.

"So what? You're not even going to drink it now?"

"I have a bit of a headache."

"Are you alright?"

"Yes." Ukitake massaged his right temple with his index and middle fingers. Anyone else would have kept up that line of questioning, but Kyoraku always seemed to be able to tell when it wasn't his illness that was bothering him. He nodded and went back to his own sake as Ukitake focused for a moment on his cuticles. To his dismay, they appeared to be rising slightly from the rest of his nail…

"Captain Ukitake!"

Ukitake nearly jumped out of his skin, while Kyoraku, who had seen whoever it was coming, barely looked up from his drink.

"Y-yes?"

Slowly, Ukitake turned. Lieutenant Izuru Kira stood directly behind him, his shoulders rounded, his hair hanging in his bleary eyes.

"Hello, Kira." Ukitake said with a deep breath and an attempt at a gentle smile. The Third Squad lieutenant's face was flushed and he appeared uneasy on his feet. "What can I do for you?"

"Umm…" He looked down at his feet and gently pushed away his bangs. It was a long time before Kira spoke again. "Is it true they're letting you see Captain Ichimaru?"

Ukitake held his breath. He glanced back to Kyoraku, who was showing clear interest in the conversation.

He looked Lieutenant Kira over again before responding. Though the youth had always seemed shy and melancholy in personality, these qualities certainly hit a low point in the weeks after his captain's defection—months later, however, he appeared to be on the mend. That, though, was before Gin Ichimaru had been brought back to the Soul Society. Since then, the young man had appeared anxious and drawn, apparently drinking far more and sleeping far less than he used to. While Ukitake was not well acquainted with Lieutenant Kira, it was clear even to the untrained eye that something in the boy was slightly off-kilter.

"Yes."

Kira nodded and looked up into the rafters.

"I see."

"Are you alright, Kira? Is there someone here with you?"

"There you are!" As if on cue, tall, buxom Rangiku Matsumoto appeared from nowhere and wrapped her left arm around Kira's waist. The reddish color in his cheeks deepened as Rangiku pulled him close to her. "Hi Captain, Captain."

She nodded to Ukitake and Kyoraku, each of whom nodded back. Rangiku was all smiles that evening, though Ukitake guessed that she was significantly less drunk than Izuru—a theory that was confirmed as she continued to speak. She was clearly sober enough to create the façade of being quite intoxicated, though not sober enough to keep it up.

"I should probably get him home." She tugged Kira's body into her own, rubbing his side as he grabbed at her right sleeve with wiggly, noodly fingers.

"Rangiku, Rangiku…" his voice was soft; he clearly thought he was whispering. She held her right arm almost above her head and regarded him as a babysitter would her charge.

"Mmm?"

"Rangiku… he said he was allowed to visit Captain Ichimaru."

Matsumoto nearly froze in place, her smile faltering for just a moment—long enough for her to glare at both Izuru and Ukitake.

"I know." Her voice was quiet and completely serious as she locked in eye contact with the Captain. Ukitake suddenly became very aware of his own body, every movement seemed to be amplified tenfold under her gaze. Though he was not entirely sure what he should have said—if it was appropriate to say anything at that moment—what felt like an apology was working its way up his throat.

An apology?

"Woah!" Kira said slowly as he suddenly stumbled from where he stood, knocking Matsumoto about two feet back. Choking the words back down, Ukitake watched as the two of them put their all into regaining their balance. Together, however, Matsumoto and Kira moved like a drunken amoeba and it took ages for them to finally right themselves.

"We're going to leave now." Matsumoto said as plainly as possible once they both stood on two feet. She gave Kira a yank at the waist and he stumbled again. Ukitake looked back to Kyoraku, who was grinning like an idiot watching the pair move laboriously to the exit, Matsumoto now nearly dragging Lieutenant Kira behind her. In his goofy-inebriated state, Kira seemed to be giving her an uncharacteristically hard time, but least she was smiling again. Ukitake was sure, however, that she knew a thing or two about faking it.

It was only once the two were certainly gone did either Ukitake or Kyoraku speak again.

"Well…" Ukitake began.

"Well…" Kyoraku echoed. He set his sake cup down and chuckled lightly. Ukitake sighed and hung his head.

"What am I going to do?"

Kyoraku rested his elbows on the table.

"About your interview?"

"Yeah."

Leaning back, Kyoraku spend a second looking up into the rafters before he turned back to face his friend.

"Going badly?"

"It's on the verge of it."

"Ahh." A pause. "'Badly' how? He throws things at you 'badly'? He won't talk 'badly'? He acts like an ass? You act like an ass? He-"

"The—the second one…" Ukitake waved his hand slightly, as if trying to visually indicate what he was talking about. Kyoraku raised an eyebrow.

"Really?"

"Really really. He said he would talk in our first interview the other day…"

"But…"

"But I somehow doubt that. I made the mistake of telling him that they wouldn't execute him until he finished with everything they wanted him to say—which, according to Yamamoto was initially the truth, but no one seems to want to tell me anything—and now I have no idea what he's planning…"

"So you think he wants to drag out his imprisonment."

"Yes. No. I have no idea." Kyoraku smirked. Ukitake pushed his hair out of his face before continuing. "See… he looked absolutely horrible in there. Like a really, really miserable cadaver. I swear he almost started crying at a few points…"

"Well, you remember his test, right?"

"No."

"No?"

"I didn't sit in on it. It was you, Soifon, and Aizen."

Frowning, Kyoraku picked up his empty sake box and began to absentmindedly fiddle with it.

"No, no. You were there. Aizen observed Byakuya Kuchiki's test that same day… and I'm sure it wasn't a mind trick or anything like that."

Ukitake tried to think back to the day that Gin Ichimaru received his position as Captain of the Third Squad. In his mind, he could picture the slim form of the silver-haired man nearly contorting as he demonstrated his bankai in the most dramatic fashion humanly possible, but he knew the image he had was fabricated—like a ragdoll stitched together from pieces of memory.

"How do you…?"

"You were pretty sick that day, but you insisted on still doing it. I remember practically carrying you back to the Fourth Squad after the thing was done."

"And you're sure it wasn't Aizen?"

"Yes… well, I guess we can never be really sure about anything, but I think. You don't remember any of this?" he paused, "We decided to go outside because Old Man Yama didn't want him to tear up the building… you're sure you don't remember?"

"No."

"That's really odd… Anyway, I just remember you said, as we were waiting for him to show up, something about…" Kyoraku placed the cup back on the table with a faint 'clap' and sighed. "It sounds so strange now that I'm going to say it. It doesn't sound a thing like you…"

Ukitake sent his friend a skeptical look.

"You're sure?"

"For the last time, yes. I think of all people, I could pick out someone impersonating you… I may be remembering it wrong, then, but I'm pretty sure you said something about how sociopaths were excellent at imitating genuine emotion."

The last few words of the sentence sounded as if they had all some out in the same loud breath. Ukitake narrowed his eyes.

"Why did I say that? I mean, I guess I understand why I said it, but… it just doesn't…"

"Soifon casually called him a sociopath, and between coughs, you said that. Preceded by a thoughtful 'well…', followed by a shrug, maybe. "

Kyoraku reached out and grabbed a light green mochi from the little plate on the center of the table that had sat forgotten for most of the evening. Ukitake watched his friend curiously as he slowly broke the candy into quarters and lined them up at the edge of the table.

"Why don't I remember this?" Ukitake thought for a moment, but he realized that he had also lost track of the conversation. "Why are you bringing this up?"

"You alright there?"

"Yes. But…"

"I brought it up because you said he was crying. How do you know he wasn't faking it for your sympathy? I hate to say it, but it wouldn't be that hard to get from a stand-up guy like you." Kyoraku's expression of confusion was quickly masked by one of amusement.

"Very funny, but I can't really say either way. I mean, what does he have to hide now? Also, there's that… you know they say he tried to kill Aizen"

"I heard that too, Jushiro." Kyoraku said softly. There was a long silence from the Captains' table, though the few other patrons of the Red Lantern could still be heard, buzzing in their own quiet conversations. Finally, Kyoraku spoke again. "So, whether or not your interviewee is some sort of triple psychopath agent thing—actually, especially if he's one of those—I think the best way to get him to talk would be to dangle some reward in front of his nose."

"I don't think I would be allowed to do that, and even if I was, I have no idea what would motivate him other than… either of those two clowns."

Ukitake cracked a slight, worried smile as he gestured towards the door through which Matsumoto and Kira had disappeared earlier. As he did this, Kyoraku emptied the contents of the sake-bottle into Ukitake's half-full cup that had earlier been left sitting in the middle of the table. Extending his long arm, Kyoraku gave the little wooden box a push toward his friend.

"You're smart. You'll come up with something. Please drink it. It's really quite good. Clears your head, you know?"


In the dark, Gin found himself wishing it wasn't too cloudy to see the stars. The day had been a beautiful one, again, but by the time the sun began to dip below the horizon, the clouds had also started to move in. He was nearly certain it would rain the next day. The stone walls of the prison prevented him from smelling the damp, natural, pre-rain air the same way they prevented him from feeling anyone's reiatsu, but, like the respective reiatsus of the thousands of shinigami around him, he was sure the smell was there.

"Ohh…" Gin whispered as his stomach nearly convulsed. He was so hungry that his chest hurt, his eyes hurt. He was sure he had gone longer without food before, but alone and in the cold of the Senzaikyu, Gin had little else to do but feel sorry for himself, so that was what he did as the night churned away and the moon drifted silently across the sky.

Even as the night faded, however, the darkness stayed, trapped under the blanket of clouds that pressed down on the air above the city. Eventually, the rain started, and Gin remained completely still as he watched it fall. The rhythmic tapping of the drops as they hit was just barely audible from inside the prison, but the sound was pleasant, it took him back.

There was no rain in Hueco Mundo.