This sword is his only companion. This sword is his identity, for he does not have an identity of his own. He is a boy, nameless and forgotten.

His bare feet are rough. His strong hands are calloused. His young heart is hardened. This place sharpens his soul like a blade. He survives. In this darkened pocket of existence, he survives.

The townspeople ignore him when he passes by, rickety thin and battered. They fear him. They fear his survival. He will not die. Starved and beaten, he will not die. Is he a monster? A demon?

He is a walking skeleton. A ghost. Such a child should be dead. A rotting corpse in the dirt. But this corpse stands. Talks. Fights. This corpse is horribly alive, and will not die.

He kills instead. Kills to survive. He dislikes killing those who are too weak to fight back. But there is no choice. The boy tells himself that he must. In order to eat, to survive, he must end others. Those he ends die quickly, without a fight. It is cold and quick. He dislikes it.

He likes when they fight back. When they try to end him. It makes a fight worthwhile, and the spoils of victory much sweeter.

Then there are the fights he loves. He loves when there is nothing at stake but his own existence. The spoil of victory is victory itself. These fights keep him alive. These fights rekindle the fire that powers his soul. These fights give him an identity. His sword, his companion, becomes one with him, and he is a blade. Sharp. Ferocious. Unforgiving.

He protects no one but himself. When he hears shrieking white monsters, he fights them for himself. One or a dozen, he slaughters them with joy. He cares not for the people around him. Killed by him, or killed by the monsters, it makes no difference. They make no difference.

It is only he and his sword.

He does not fear the monsters. He does not fear their power. He does not fear the sharp weapon being thrust into his gut. He does not fear the pain. And he does not fear falling, defeated and bloody, to the dirty ground.

Somehow, the white monsters vanish. Their shrieking stops and they are gone. Another creature has replaced them. A smaller creature in white, shrouded by creatures in black. He fears them, for they are unknown.

The black creatures approach him, completely silent. He tries to crawl away from their silence. Their faces are clean. He does not understand.

The small white creature speaks, and the black creatures are held back by the words. The boy does not understand the words. But the voice… The voice is different from other white monsters he's faced. It reminds him of water. Calm and soothing as it washes over him.

He does not try to crawl away when the small white creature approaches. The creature becomes clearer. It is a person, like him. But it is a woman. Her hair is the night sky. Her face is the moon. Her eyes are shimmering blue pools.

The woman kneels down in the dirt, beside the boy. The boy is not afraid. He is happy. No one has ever been in the dirt with him. It feels good to share it.

"My name is Unohana Retsu, Captain of the Gotei 13's Fourth Division."

A white arm, not like those of the other white monsters, reaches for him. He welcomes it. Warm fingers feel his wrist. He's never felt something so soft. The boy wishes to feel it for himself.

His own dirty fingers claw at the woman's hand. His fingertips brush the silky skin. Yes, she is soft. And she does not pull away. He is very thankful.

The woman smiles. "I am here to help."


"Yamamoto-dono? You wished to speak with me?"

The Captain Commander sat languidly at his wooden table. He opened a single eye when she entered his office. A sense of pride overwhelmed him at her thunderously silent presence. Unohana Retsu had always been his favorite student.

"Ah yes," he said. "There's something I'd like you to look into."

A single dark eyebrow crept up Retsu's alabaster forehead.

"We've been receiving some interesting reports regarding the high reiatsu lurking within the 80th district of Northern Rukongai."

"The volatile and dense population has always drawn Hollows to that region."

"Yes, that is true. They prey on the unfortunate groups of souls dwelling furthest away from Seireitei. It's always been a popular hunting ground for them. But the number of Hollows plaguing the Zaraki District has been steadily decreasing over the past few years."

"Then the reiatsu there should not be as high," Retsu reasoned.

"It shouldn't," Yamamoto agreed. "But it is."

"How is that possible?"

"That is what I want you to look into."

"I see. Have any theories been presented that could account for the inconsistency?"

"Only one." Yamamoto opened both of his eyes. "A single soul harboring a spiritual energy that more than makes up for the reiatsu of the Hollows that it has eliminated."

"You think a single person is responsible for this?"

The old man nodded. "This person could be a tremendous asset to our ranks. I'd like for you to bring the individual to Seireitei so that he or she may join the Shinou Academy and become a proper Shinigami."

Retsu was silent for a moment. "You are sending me on a recruiting trip?" she asked, a malicious smile spreading across her lips.

It made Yamamoto tense for a split second before he laughed it off. "You never did miss a thing."

The smile didn't dissipate. "I don't think that part of me will be going away anytime soon, Yamamoto-dono."

The old man laughed again. "In any case, you are the only one I feel comfortable leaving this mission to. You are the best at reasoning with unreasonable people, and this individual may be very dangerous and even hostile to you. Take four or five officers of your choice to accompany you. You shall depart at daybreak."

"And if I am unable to persuade this person to return to Seireitei with me?"

"Has your persuasion ever failed before?"

Retsu gave her superior a stone cold gaze. "No. It hasn't."

"Then you shouldn't come across any complications."


Unohana Retsu and four of her swiftest subordinates leave Seireitei at the crack of dawn, Shunpo-ing through the districts of Rukongai. They travel along the outskirts of each district to avoid the larger towns and villages. When the sun is at its peak, they reach the edge of the Forest of Kusajishi and start through the thick brush.

The rough lands of Zaraki enter their sight as the sun begins to set.

Retsu can feel the prickling of the massive spiritual pressure before she even enters the Kusajishi Forest. Yamamoto-dono had been right. It originates from a single source. A single soul.

And as they make their way through the turbulent filth and grime and dirt of Rukongai's harshest district, Retsu attempts to pinpoint the location of this soul. The power oozes out in every direction. She's never felt anything like it. A pure, raw destructive force lurking in every spirit particle emitted.

Her subordinates seem more winded as they trudge behind her. She is much older than them, and much more attuned to withstanding the crushing pressure of such a thick, dense reiatsu.

"We are close," she informs them gently.

She tenses when she feels the reaitsu of a Hollow suddenly bombard the air around her. Many more seem to join the first, and before she hears their shrieking cries, she realizes. Whoever this individual is, their immense power is delicious bait to the Hollows, who chase it like a fresh piece of meat.

Find the Hollows, find this mysterious person.

When their shrieking finally reverberates around them, she feels the uncomfortable flinching of her subordinates. The captain places a hand on the hilt of Minazuki.

"Follow me," she says, Shunpo-ing in the direction of the warring reiatsus.

When they arrive, it seems they are already too late. Seven Hollows are in the process of being slaughtered. By a child. A boy. Swinging a long, jagged blade like a seasoned master swordsman.

A yellow aura emanates from his body, trickling up into the sky like golden fire. Her subordinates fall panting to the ground around her, unable to withstand his stifling power. Even Retsu finds it disturbingly heavy, as if gravity itself is being bent and doubled.

This is the person she's been searching for. This boy, who is nothing more than skin and bones, but who fights with the strength of an entire army. He is magnificent. A true warrior. Unafraid.

He does not scream or cry out when one of the Hollows thrusts its weapon through his stomach. The boy crashes to the ground, bleeding, like a tragic hero from an old tale. His sword is still tightly gripped in his hand.

Retsu takes her own and precisely slashes the Hollows to bits, perhaps a little more brutally than is really necessary. Minazuki is sheathed as she and her subordinates, who stumble back onto their feet, approach the boy.

When he starts to crawl away, fear blazing in his dusty brown eyes, she comes to a halt. "Stop," she orders her subordinates. "He's frightened. Remain where you are."

Retsu approaches him alone, and his fear all but melts away. The boy doesn't try to escape. Instead, she discovers, he looks relaxed. He stares at her as he bleeds. Does he not know that he is bleeding? Does he not feel the pain?

A true warrior.

She kneels down beside him. Her robes become covered in dirt, but she doesn't care. "My name is Unohana Retsu, Captain of the Gotei 13's Fourth Division," she says softly.

The dusty eyes blink, as if perplexed. She takes his wrist and finds his pulse. It is definitely there, dauntingly strong and steady. And then his fingers start to move, start to grab at her hand desperately.

She smiles. "I am here to help."

The boy smiles back, showing his razor sharp teeth as he drifts into a calm unconsciousness. He does not struggle to stay alive. Retsu can feel his vitality even as the dark red blood pours out of his wound.

There is something special about this boy, aside from his power. She can feel it, see it, even. But she cannot place it.

This boy looks no older than eleven or twelve. His frail body is scarred. Even his bony face has not escaped the hardships of the 80th district. A fresh scar lines the left side of his face, forehead to jaw. The blood has already dried. His dark hair is dirty, grimy, and falls choppily down around his jaw. The harsh sun has darkened his skin. Ragged clothes hang pathetically on his body. A scabbard, as tall as the boy himself, rests at his hip. The jagged sword is still gripped tightly between his fingers.

His other hand clings to her fingers. Retsu has a feeling he's never felt another's hand before. She is more than happy to lend hers.

One of her subordinates approaches her. "Captain, is he…"

"Just unconscious," she informs her. "I will tend to him. The rest of you, please make sure the townspeople are unharmed."

"Yes, Captain."

Retsu is left alone with the boy now. The setting sun casts a shadowy glow onto his face. He looks older in the copper light, more mature. She will remember the image forever.

It is getting dark, and she must find a quiet place to heal him. A nearby shack, obviously deserted, looks suitable enough. Retsu gently slides her hands underneath the boy's back and lifts him up. She carries him the short distance to the shack and places him upon the floor. Flames of Kidou are summoned to provide light, and she begins the healing process.

It is proper procedure to revitalize a patient's reiatsu before healing their physical wounds, but Retsu does not find this necessary. The boy's reiatsu is unwavering. It will make the healing go much quicker, since his own spirit power will work with hers to repair the injuries.

No more than twenty minutes later, after the wound in his stomach is closed, she wraps it with bandages. He no longer bleeds.

When the boy awakens, he is in an unfamiliar room. Strange blue light illuminates the space around him. A dull pain jars his memory, and his eyes are drawn down to his stomach. White bandages hide the wound that was once there.

"You're awake," a soft voice says from beside him.

The woman is sitting next to where he is lying on the floor. She smiles kindly.

"How do you feel?"

"Wh-Where am I?" he asks.

Retsu smiles, happy to hear his voice for the first time. It is rough and strong. "I brought you here so I could heal your wounds."

"You…healed me?"

She nods. As he struggles to sit up, she places a hand on his shoulder. "Please try not to move. You need your rest."

His dusty brown eyes pierce her blue ones with ferocity. "I can move if I want to, woman," he growls. "I ain't a baby."

As much as she is opposed to the notion of his moving around, she can't help but appreciate his attitude. Though his grammar could use some work. "What is your name?"

The boy turns his head away from her and grumbles, "Don't got one."

"Ah," Retsu says softly. "That must be difficult for you."

He doesn't respond right away, only grinds his teeth. "Tch, I don't care," he growls. "S'not like there's anyone in this dump who'd wanna talk to me anyway."

"You don't think that will be true forever, do you?" she asks him hopefully.

He defiantly folds his arms in front of him, a scowl fixed on his face. "Once I got a reason to have a name, I'll name myself. No point in havin' one now. I don't got friends or family. All I got is this swo…" He abruptly turns back toward her. "Where's my sword?" he asks urgently.

Retsu turns her eyes down to the small expanse of floor between them, where his long sword lies parallel to his body. Her own lies next to his.

"Oh." He wraps his fingers around his, but makes no move to lift it up. "You got one too?"

Their eyes meet again. "Yes. It is my Zanpakutou."

The boy blinks. "Zanpak… The hell's that?"

"It is the weapon of a Shinigami. A Shinigami's Zanpakutou is an extension of their soul, and it is forged by their spiritual energy."

"Shinigami, huh? I heard of 'em," he mutters bitterly.

"Do you dislike Shinigami?" she questions him.

The boy shrugs. "Never really met any. They don't come here that much, even though people are dyin' all the time."

"You have the power to become a Shinigami, you know," Retsu says. He looks at her skeptically. "You have an incredible amount of spiritual energy. And you have a Zanpakutou."

The boy looks down at his sword. "This? A Zanpakutou?"

"Of course. Tell me, do you remember when you first got that sword?"

His fingers grip tighter around the sheath. He thinks her question over for a few moments, then grumbles, "No. I just know that I've always been usin' it ta fight."

Retsu nods in understanding. "Living in such a harsh environment gave you the need for a weapon so you could defend yourself," she explains. "Your soul complied."

"My soul made this?" the boy asks.

"Yes. It is your Zanpakutou. And each Zanpakutou has a name."

"A name," he repeats sourly. "That's stupid. Swords don't have names."

"Zanpakutou do. Mine is called Minazuki."

He looks at her like she is positively insane. "Why'd ya name yer sword that?"

"I didn't," she explains serenely.

"Then how d'ya know what its name is?"

"It told me itself."

He blinks. Blinks some more. His mouth twists in utter confusion. "Y'know swords can't talk, right?" he says finally.

Retsu grins, chuckles lightly. "I realize it sounds a bit farfetched, but Zanpakutou are a part of a Shinigami's soul. And because of that connection, a Shinigami can communicate internally with the spirit of their Zanpakutou."

"So it's like talkin' to yerself," the boy reasons.

"In a way, yes," Retsu says. "But a Zanpakutou spirit has its own personality, its own essence."

"What's yers like?"

A dangerous grin creeps across the healer's face. "Minazuki is quite merciless. She will incinerate you, swallow you whole and never let you escape, if she feels that is what you deserve."

The boy's eyes widen. He looks fearful of her for a single second. But then he grins wildly, shark-like. "That's cool."

Retsu smiles, not at all surprised by his reaction. "Most people would consider it a monstrous power, not suited for someone like me."

"Tch, whoever thinks that is stupid as shit," the boy growls. "Judgin' stuff by how it looks is just plain dumb."

A silent moment passes between them as Retsu studies his angry face. "Do people judge you that way? By your appearance?"

"Tch." He glares at the ground. "What do you think?"

"I think there is much more to you than meets the eye," she tells him softly.

Suspicious eyes glance over at her. "Ya do?"

Retsu slowly reaches her hand out and places her fingertips lightly against his scrawny chest. She knows now what makes this boy so special. "You have a fierce heart. It beats with more determination than that of a thousand men. That is where your strength originates."

Retsu pulls her hand away and places it back in her lap.

The boy watches as her fingers leave his chest. He misses them. They made him feel like he was truly alive. "Ya can't know all that just by lookin' at me," he challenges half-heartedly, not meeting her eyes.

"Why not?"

He makes no reply, just continues staring at his hands.

"I saw you fighting those Hollows," Retsu explains. She can tell he is confused by the word. "Hollows are the white monsters who prey on souls here. They are so named because in place of a heart, they have a hole."

He finally looks up at her, listening intently to what she is saying.

"They are empty beings, heartless. For that reason, you will always be stronger than them."

"Really?" he asks.

Retsu nods. "It takes a very brave person to face monsters who are driven solely by their need to feed on souls."

The boy's cheeks redden ever so slightly and he looks down at his hands again. "I just don't like 'em. They're noisy and ugly. Killin' 'em gives me somethin' fun to do."

"You could very well run away," Retsu points out. "But you don't. You choose to stay and fight, like a true warrior."

He wrings his fingers. "I ain't a warrior," he mutters. "I just gotta fight for my food."

"That is exactly what a warrior is," the healer explains in earnest. "One who fights for their own purpose, whether that purpose is to stay alive or just to have fun. It is when you fight for someone else's purpose rather than your own that you are no longer a true warrior. Do you understand?"

A slow nod is given. "Why d'you fight?" the boy asks her.

"I fight to protect those who are dear to me. That is also why I heal."

"Ya healed me. Ya didn't even know me."

"All life is precious," she explains. "So I cannot stand by and watch as one of those lives embarks on death."

"But ya can't save everyone, can ya?" he asks, a genuine curiosity sparkling in his eyes.

Retsu is the one to look down at her hands this time. "No. Not always." Without knowing it, she gives a long sigh before looking back up. "Lives are lost every day."

The boy matches her sad look. "When ya die here, people forget about ya real quick. It's like ya weren't even alive ta begin with."

"Does that frighten you?" Retsu asks softly. When he tears his eyes away, the healer knows he is trying not to show weakness. "Admitting your fears does not make you weak."

After a few silent seconds, the boy's sad eyes meet hers again. "It's scary ta know that if I die here, no one'll remember me. They won't even know I'm dead. What's the point a' livin' if no one knows yer alive?"

The boy's question stabs deeply at Retsu's heart. "You must find your own reason to live, just like you must find your own reason to fight. No one can do that for you," she says gently.

He stares at her, then reaches for his sword. "I wanna leave this place. Find a better place. Is that a good enough reason ta fight?" he asks. "Ta live?"

Retsu can't help but smile. "Of course it is."

"I wanna go where you're from. Where the Shinigamis are." He grips his sword tightly and looks up. "D'ya think I can do that?"

For some reason she cannot pinpoint, hot tears build behind her eyes. Maybe it's the expression he wears on his scarred face. Maybe it's the way he holds his sword so resolutely. "I think you can do anything," she says, her voice the slightest bit uneven, "If you always believe in the strength of your heart."

Then she suddenly realizes, it isn't the expression he wears or the way he holds his sword. The tears threaten her eyes because deep inside her own heart, she knows that taking this child back to Seireitei with her, as the Captain-Commander had ordered, would only be a detriment to him. This boy with such a fierce heart would gain nothing from a free ticket into a better life.

She cannot take him back to Seireitei.

He will have to find his own way there.

And the knowledge of that deeply pains her.

"I think," she continues, forcing her tears back, "that if you find your way to Seireitei, where the Shinigami are, you can become a captain."

"A captain?" he repeats in wonderment. "Like you?"

Retsu nods, and motions to the captain's haori draped around her. "And once you become a captain, you can wear a white haori with the number of the division you command on the back. That way, everyone will know who you are and that you are a great leader."

His dusty brown eyes widen further. "H-How do I become a captain?"

"There are three ways that one can become a captain in the Gotei 13," she tells him. "The first and most common is to take the Captain Proficiency Exam, which requires the ability to perform Bankai."

"What's a Bankai?"

"Bankai is the second power release of your Zanpakutou, but before that you must first learn to do the first release, which is called Shikai. Before you can learn either of these releases, however, you must communicate with your Zanpakutou and learn its name."

This explanation seems to dishearten the boy. Retsu expects him to say something about learning Shikai or Bankai, but all he says is, "Tests can go to hell."

Retsu tries not to laugh. Moving on, then. "The second way one can become a captain is to gain personal recommendations from at least six of the thirteen captains, and approval from at least three of the remaining seven. This method also requires that you know Bankai."

Again, she expects the boy to object to this Bankai business she keeps going on about, but all he says this time is, "People wouldn't recommend me for shit."

And again, Retsu is forcing herself not to laugh. "Then there is always the third option, and also the most rare. In essence, it is nothing more than a trial by combat."

The healer is not surprised when his eyes glow fervently at her words.

"You must defeat a current captain in a one-on-one battle that is witnessed by at least two hundred members of that captain's division. Only a few have ever managed to gain the captaincy this way. It is very dangerous fighting a captain, and many have died trying."

"Then that's what I gotta do," he says firmly. "I'll get stronger n' stronger so when I get ta Seireitei and fight a captain, I'll win."

She smiles because she believes him. "Yes. Yes, you will."

"How am I gonna know which captain ta fight, though?" he asks, incredibly concerned over this matter.

Retsu is not a cruel person, but she feels no guilt whatsoever at condemning one of her fellow captains to death so that this boy can take their place. Just minutes ago she'd said that all life was precious. But in reality, some lives are more precious than others.

And her name does not mean 'violent' for nothing.

"There is one division within the Gotei 13 that is known for its incredible ability in swordsmanship and direct combat. The captain of that division always takes the name Kenpachi, the name given to the Shinigami who is the strongest and greatest swordsman in every generation. That division is the Eleventh."

The boy sits up a little straighter, grips his sword a little tighter. "Captain a' the Eleventh Division," he breathes.

"And as a captain, you may choose a vice-captain," she says.

"Vice-captain? What's that?" he asks curiously.

"A vice-captain is your second in command. Your closest ally. Someone strong who you can depend on and trust with your life. A friend."

"I don't got any friends ta choose from," he grumbles, looking away.

"One good friend is all you need."

"You got one? A vice-captain?"

"I do. Her name is Kotetsu Harune."

"She's yer friend?"

"Yes. She is like a sister to me."

"Don't got yer own sisters?"

"No," she says quietly. "The only family I ever had was an elder brother."

"Where's he?"

After a pause, Retsu says, "He was killed many centuries ago."

"Oh," the boy says guiltily, averting his gaze. "Sorry."

"It's all right," she tells him. "I was very young, and I did not have the skills that I do now. I was unable to save him. He died at my fingertips."

"S'that why ya learned ta heal people? So their brothers didn't havta die?"

She smiles appreciatively at his insight. "Yes."

"That's a good reason," he says, nodding to himself.

Retsu senses something in his blank expression that reminds her of guilt hidden away. "There cannot be healing without the shedding of blood first, you know. The more lives that are put in mortal peril by those who shed blood, the more lives that can be saved by those who heal. That is just the way things work. It gives us a certain appreciation for life."

The boy is staring at his hands again.

"Do not feel guilty for shedding blood," she tells him tenderly.

And once again, he looks at her with wide, surprised eyes. "H-How do ya know I feel guilty?"

She looks deeply into his eyes. "I can see it in your face. You don't like killing those who are helpless, do you?"

"There's no point in killin' em if they can't fight back," he grinds out. "B-But…"

"You must eat to survive," she finishes for him.

He gives a small nod and drops his head down further. A single tear falls onto his lap, followed by another, and another.

"S'not fair," he mumbles. "The weak ones are always…scared a' me. I try ta kill 'em fast so…so they don't feel anything. If they just…put up a fight and tried ta kill me too, it wouldn't be so bad!"

He sniffs and frantically wipes at his eyes.

"These things are inescapable," the healer replies, placing a gentle hand on his quivering shoulder. "You enjoy fighting, don't you? Against strong opponents?"

The boy nods. "It's fun."

She figured as much. "If you become a captain in the Gotei 13, you can fight against strong opponents whenever you want. And you won't have to kill for your food."

He looks up, his cheeks wet with tears. "That sounds real good."

A cautious smile graces her lips as she prepares to say, "But please, do not enter Seireitei until you feel you are strong enough."

He blinks a few times, then nods in pure determination. "I'll get as strong as I can so I can be a captain. With you," he adds cheerily. "Will ya wait for me?"

"Of course," she says. "First, you must promise me that you won't give up. No matter how hard it gets, never lose sight of your reason for fighting." She stops for a moment, taking in a shaky breath. "Promise me, whether it be in fifty or five hundred years, promise me that we will meet again."

The boy stares at her for several long moments and smirks. "I promise," he says firmly. "I'll come and find ya once I'm a captain, Unohana Retsu. That's a promise too."

"I would like that," she says, bowing her head. "I would like that very much."

"Thanks fer healin' me," he tells her, placing a hand over his abdomen. "That was real nice 'a ya, but I don't got anything ta give ya in return."

"The only thing I need in return is for you to take care of yourself, because I will not be here to heal you."

He nods. "But once I get ta Seireitei, you'll heal me, right?"

"If you are injured, I will always heal you."

His smirk creeps a little further up his cheeks. "Maybe I'll just get myself hurt so I can come see ya all the time."

Retsu chuckles. "You don't need to be injured to come and see me. And if I find out that you are purposely getting into vicious fights just so you have an excuse to be healed by me, I will not be very happy at all."

The boy, for the very first time, experiences one of the legendary 'I-am-Unohana-Retsu-and-you-will-obey-me' smiles that rids the world of any and all warmth and comfort. He shrinks back like a scolded puppy for a few seconds, then realizes what he is doing, throws his head back and laughs. "Yer scary. I like that."

She laughs too. "Then we will get along very well in the future. But for the time being, I must return to Seireitei. There are many people who need to be healed."

As she gets to her feet, the boy hobbles to his too. At first his legs are wobbly, but he quickly adapts and stands up straight. Retsu and the boy are the same height.

"Do not push yourself too hard for the next few days, or you will open up your wound," she says softly.

"I'll try," he replies, scratching his head innocently.

Retsu smiles. "You better." Then she turns to leave, taking one last look at the boy's face, committing it completely to memory.

And just as she reaches to open the door, she hears his bare feet shuffle toward her.

"W-Wait!" he calls.

She turns around and finds his expression to be a mixture of sadness and concern. When she opens her mouth to ask what is wrong, he is suddenly in her arms, hugging her with all his strength.

It takes her a few microseconds to process the situation, but she is soon hugging him back.

"This is not goodbye," she whispers to him. "Just a goodbye for now."

His fingers cling to the back of her haori for an eternity, his face buried against her neck. When he pulls back, tears are bubbling in his dusty brown eyes. He gives her a lopsided smirk. "I'll definitely see ya again."

Retsu smiles back for the last time. "Be strong, my friend," she says gently, angling his chin up with her finger and looking into his dusty eyes once more before walking out of the shack. Yes, she will definitely see him again too.

The healer can feel Minazuki stir with ardent enthusiasm.

My dear Retsu, I think you've just created a monster, the spirit chides proudly.

She smiles. 'Monster is in the eye of the beholder.'

The giant all-seeing eye of Minazuki blinks slowly. In our eyes, he is a true warrior. That is his soul.

Retsu nods in agreement as she makes her way from the shack. Her subordinates are gathered several meters away waiting for her.

"Captain, was that the person we were searching for?" one of them asks.


"Is he not coming back with us? To Seireitei?" another questions.

"No." A single heavy tear escapes Retsu's eye. "He is not."


"You did not retrieve the individual."

Retsu stood before the Captain-Commander, who sat at his desk with his hands folded in front of him.

"Were you unable to locate this person?"

"I would not be back here so soon if that were the case," Retsu told him calmly.

The old man cracked open an eye to study her expression. "I do not understand."

Retsu's face was void of emotion. "It is quite simple, sir. I found him. I spoke to him. I did not bring him back."

"Were you unable to persuade him?"

"I was perfectly able, Yamamoto-dono. But I was unwilling."

"Unwilling? Are you saying that you directly disobeyed my orders?"

"Yes, sir."

A long and heavy stretch of silence passed between the two senior captains as they stared at one another.

"I cannot imagine you don't have a good reason for such a thing," Yamamoto finally said.

"There is a reason, though I'm not sure it is what you would consider good," she replied coldly.

"If you inform me of your reason, I can inform you as to whether or not it is good."

"I will not tell you my reason, sir. All I will say is that one day, you will know it."

"And when will this day come?"

"I am not sure. But when it does, you will understand."

"I hope you're right, Retsu."

"As do I."