Stupid, stupid, stupid cat!

"Be still and roll your eyes up. I think you're concussed."

Having little choice but to surrender under the circumstances, they'd been disarmed and marched to an unlit room deep within the hideout. It had a single barred window, and Toshiro had lost his sense of direction going through the corridors. He didn't know which side of the house they were on or which direction they may be facing. Matsumoto used a little kido as light to examine his head. He'd taken a heavy blow to the back of his skull, and it pounded painfully.

"The whites of your eyes are turning black," she said after a moment of squinting at him, "so don't fall asleep."

"Right." Toshiro looked around the dim room. It was a lot warmer in here than it was outside, which he recognized would be a relief to a normal person. Toshiro disliked heat. But the room was tiny; he could almost touch both walls with his arms reaching out to each side, and he was sure that Matsumoto could have. The floor was dusty and filthy. He picked up a white pebble from a corner. "I wonder if the others are in a nearby room." he said.

"They're in here somewhere, there's no doubt about that." Matsumoto said. "But I think the evacuation is continuing and they intend to leave us here."

"Yeah, that's my understanding." Toshiro sat down. "I think we had best wait for them to make themselves scarce, and then break the door or the bars and escape. This room isn't exactly heavily secured."

"Yes, we had best be visible when backup arrives. I don't think Yosho will make the decision to enter without cause, and an apparently abandoned building isn't cause."

"That's sensible, if inconvenient." Toshiro examined the bars. "I have to wonder why they're so careless about keeping us contained, except that they don't plan on sticking around. They could just as easily kill us or take us with them."

"I suppose they think the Commander will come down on them harder if we don't return, so they're just detaining us for a little while so they can make their getaway." Toshiro nodded agreeably at her assessment. "What shall we do in the meantime?" she asked.

"Wait, I suppose."

"Well," she said, sitting down on the dusty floor, "we may as well use the time to get to know each other. We'll be working together for a good long time, after all."

"Will we?" Toshiro sighed. "I've screwed this up royally. Stupid cat!"

"Of course we will." She didn't sound a bit doubtful. "The Commander wants you, and there's no other positions open, are there? And I've been with the Tenth for too long for me to just abandon it to some new guy, right?"

"Okay then." Toshiro sat against the wall as well, flicked the pebble across to her, and she caught it without looking. This wasn't the sort of thing he was comfortable with, talking about himself, but she had a good point. The better they knew each other, the better the division would run. "Favorite color." he said.

"Purple. Yours?"

"Green." He caught the pebble without looking, just as she had, and she said, "Favorite food."

"Watermelon."

"Sake."

"That's not a food."

"No, it's a food group."

"Fine." Toshiro suppressed a chuckle in spite of himself. He should not approve. "Worst fear."

"Oh, that's a tough one." She pursed her lips, tilted her head. At great length she said, "Probably betrayal."

"I guess we're in agreement there. Betrayal."

"Interesting. Um... do you speak any foreign languages?"

"A little Russian, but not well."

"Oooh, neat. I speak a little French."

"What's the worst thing you've ever done to another person?"

"The worst thing... legally?" He couldn't see her well, but he could imagine her eyebrow lifting slightly.

"No, I mean the worst thing... morally. A thing that makes you feel like a terrible person."

"Well... back when I was a kid in the Rukongai, I was a pretty good pickpocket. Usually we'd steal things indiscriminately, because if it's not money you can always sell it or trade it. One day I stole an old man's wedding ring. I wanted to give it back to him, but by the time I'd realized what it was, I couldn't find him again. I kept it, in case I run into him someday, but so far no luck."

The Rukongai was a rough place, and rougher for children than for anyone. Even the First District wasn't exactly a cakewalk. Toshiro couldn't bring himself to fault her for what she'd had to do to survive.

"I lied to my Granny once," Toshiro admitted. "years ago. Hinamori and I had gone out to buy some sweets for her from the market, and we ran across a beggar. We decided to give her the money, and told Granny we'd lost it."

"Well, that's not so terrible."

"No, it's not. But, you don't know Granny. She's a saint, if ever there was one. It's not the money, she wouldn't care about the money. It's that we lied to her. I've thought about telling her. Maybe she won't remember at all, or maybe she'll never forgive us. We decided we wouldn't tell her, to keep from upsetting her."

"You should tell her." Matsumoto put the pebble in his hand.

"What good would it do now?"

"You'd be doing the honest thing, if you did. And you wouldn't upset her—she's old, sure, but she's a grown-ass adult too. I'm sure she's had worse things happen to her than kindhearted grandchildren. Your least favorite color."

"Orange."

"Gold."

"Gold?" Toshiro eyed her. The sun was peeking through the bars now, and there was enough to shine faintly off the chain at her throat. "Then why are you wearing a gold necklace?"

"It was a gift from Gin, on the day I was accepted into the Academy. I've worn it every day since."

"Fair enough. How old are you?"

"Three hundred and forty nine. You?"

"A hundred and four." Toshiro skipped the pebble across the floor at her.

"Who's the first girl you had a crush on?"

"Um. A girl in our neighborhood in the First District, a long time ago."

"Did she like you back?"

"No, she was afraid of me, just like everyone else."

"Aw, poor thing. I had a crush on Gin, way back. But I got over it; he can be a dick."

Not to mention creepy, Toshiro added silently. He said, "What's the name of your sword?"

"Haineko. Yours?"

"Hyorinmaru."

"Hmmmmmm..." she tossed the pebble at Toshiro and he caught it deftly, pressing it between cold fingers. "Tell me... something you've never told anyone else."

"Something I've never told anyone else." he repeated. That wasn't a tough one. There were lots of things he'd never told anyone. "I don't really like jelly beans."

"Pfft, no." she giggled. "Something real, Captain."

"Something real." Real was a matter opinion here, really. "Okay, something real. Um."

They sat in silence for a long moment while he deliberated with himself. At last he said:

"I can remember how I died."

In the expanding dawn leaking in through the window, he could see that her eyebrows were practically crawling up into her hairline. Normally souls were cleansed of memories and personality before they arrived in the Soul Society, so it was a rare thing—nearly unheard-of—for someone to actually have memories of their lives.

"I was probably about two." he elaborated, to fill the shocked silence. "And I had weird white hair and weird turquoise eyes, the villagers thought I was a demon. One day I was out with my father and someone snatched me away from him. They took me into the woods that night during a blizzard and left me."

She still hadn't said anything. Toshiro guessed that there probably wasn't anything proper to be said at an admission like this, but he was compelled to continue.

"This was out in the middle of nowhere, so there was no way anyone was going to find me. I laid there in the snow for a long time and froze and froze, but then finally I was warm and I fell asleep. When I woke up, I could see myself, and somehow I understood that I was dead. I just wandered around in the woods there until the Shinigami came for me."

"Is that... I mean, is it a real memory, or do you just know that's what happened?"

"It's real. It was January. I wasn't wearing any shoes. The Shinigami who came for me was a woman. For whatever reason, instead of performing a Soul Burial she walked me through the Precipice World and into Soul Society. That's why I can remember, because I was never cleansed." he tossed the pebble back at her and she caught it. Her outline was rigid in the shadows. "I used to wish I'd run into the Shinigami who came for me. But I was short, and I didn't get a good look at her. It was a long time ago, anyway. Your turn."

"My turn." she whispered. She tossed the pebble in the air and caught it, was silent for a long moment. "A long time ago I committed a serious breach of protocol. One for which I could have been executed. Years and years ago."

"Should I be surprised?"

"Oh, hush. I was a new recruit in the Eleventh Division, and you know how they are about fighting. They'd give the rookies the boring assignments, and that included ones in the Real World. So of course I got sent out early and often. I was out in the field one night, in the middle of winter, in a snowstorm. Like I said, years and years ago." There was another long pause, and finally she threw the pebble off into the shadows, almost bitterly. "And I met the soul of a little boy, lost in the woods."

Toshiro had been fidgeting with his sandal, but at her words his hands stalled in mid-fidget.

"He had these big turquoise eyes, and he looked so scared. I didn't want him to be by himself, so I... instead of performing the Soul Burial, I opened the gates and walked him through the Precipice World and into the First District. I left him off my report. One soul unaccounted for."

She didn't say anything else, but let her head loll back against the stone wall and shut her eyes. There was a silence that might have lasted two minutes or might have lasted an hour. The room grew steadily colder as Toshiro struggled to keep his spirit pressure dampened, but she didn't shiver. Golden sunlight found her hair and seemed to warm them both with its vibrance. Eventually his fingers found the fabric of her sleeve and gripped a handful of it.

"It seems," he whispered, "that fate must have chained our souls together long ago."

"It seems so." she agreed, and her warm hand covered his and didn't let go.


A/N: Okay, this one was dull but it's done. They're waiting for the rebel guys to clear out so they can escape, find their missing troops and go meet the reinforcements when they arrive. At least, that's their plan. Not my plan. I'm getting started on the next chapter, but don't hold your breath because it's action-packed and I am a slow writer of action. To those of you who question Matsumoto's weird attention to her job, my theory is that back when she was running the division on her own, she had to be pretty professional about it. I mean, who else was going to be, if not her? But after seeing that Toshiro is going to hold up his end of the work, she starts to slack off. Also yes, that's Yoruichi. She's plott'n on 'em, too.