“Are you okay, Kaiya?”
It was hard to hide your grimace as you reached up and grasped the pale hand that was held in front of your face. “Yeah. Thanks, Juushiro.”
The white-haired man smiled as he hoisted you up. “No problem.”
“You’ve been falling down a lot lately,” Kyouraku noted, meaning the words much more seriously than he made them sound. There was no doubt that the emotion that flickered in his dark eyes was concern. “Are you sick?”
“You’re wasting your time.”
You cringed when another pounding headache attacked you for the briefest moment before, like all the others, disappearing, almost as if it’d never happened. Fortunately, Kyouraku was able to catch you as you tripped over your own feet and began stumbling. “Thanks…”
“Maybe you should get a check up,” Ukitake suggested, equally worried. “Just to make sure.”
“I’m okay, guys!” you reassured, forcing yourself to smile. “I think I’m just overworking myself these days. You know how stressful paperwork can be.”
Well, in actuality, the two captains that were currently walking with probably had no clue how grueling office work could be. After all, Kyouraku was far too lazy and left his lieutenant to do all the work, while Ukitake was too sick. He, too, often required his lieutenant to do take care of things in his stead.
Kyouraku sighed as he made a move to ruffle your hair. “Well, you should-”
His hand froze mere inches above your head. You blinked, confused as to why they both stopped walking, and looked back. Kyouraku’s lips were parted, but not a single sound passed his lips. Ukitake, too, seemed to be frozen in place. One foot was stopped mid-step, and you could see the slight parting of his lips as he prepared to say something.
“Hey,” you called, reaching forward to touch Ukitake’s haori. “What’s-”
Once your fingers brushed the white cloth, everything disappeared. Kyouraku, Ukitake, the trees, the sky… there was nothing left but darkness. Instinctively, you reached for your zanpakutou. Were you under attack? But who’d be crazy enough to attack three captains? Could this possibly be an illusion?
You looked down, eyes widening upon realizing that your hand was grasping thin air. This had to be an illusion; it just had to be! What other explanation was there?
But if it was an illusion, why couldn’t you sense the enemy before he or she casted it? What was going on?
“Reveal yourself!” you demanded, crying out in surprise when you felt something latch onto your wrists and ankles, restricting all your movements. “Let go!”
“How long do you plan on keeping this up?”
“What are you talking about?” you growled, seething with frustration when you failed to sense any reiatsu nearby. The voice seemed to be coming from everywhere, and you found it impossible to pinpoint her — if it was indeed the headache-causing woman who was doing all this to you — exact location. “Who are you?”
“It’s been a while, hasn’t it, Kaiya? You’ve even forgotten me.”
“Stop being a coward and reveal yourself!”
“You’ve kept me… no, us… waiting for a very long time.”
A speck of light began to shine in the distance. From what you could tell, it looked like an open door.
“Let’s go back.”
You began to struggle against your bonds as the light began to dim. “Let me go, you bastard!”
“Say my name, Kaiya; I can help you.”
“I don’t know your name!” you cried, growing increasingly desperate. That light… you had to reach it. You had to! “Help me!”
“Don’t be foolish! You know my name!”
The light was flickering now, threatening to disappear altogether if you didn’t reach it soon. “I don’t remember!”
You haphazardly began sifting through your memories, but eventually came up with nothing. You didn’t remember her! Who was she? Why couldn’t you remember her?
“Before all that.”
Before? What did she mean by ‘before all that’? Before you attained your rank? Before you met Ukitake and Kyouraku? Before… yes! That was it!
“Help me, Setsuyu!”
As soon as your zanpakutou’s name left your mouth, the flickering light exploded, bathing your body in light. Whatever had held you captive released you from its grip, allowing an unseen force you push you backwards and cause you to fall. You barely registered being able to move again as you blindly began to grope for something to hold on to, and cursed when you weren’t able to find anything.
When your back touched what felt like the surface of a thin sheet of ice, the sound of shattering glass reached your ears. You then felt yourself sinking, almost as if you were underwater, as the woman — your zanpakutou — spoke one last time.
And then, when the light began to fade, once again obscuring your vision, you felt yourself land on something soft.
“…waking up so soon…”
“…long has it been…”
Your eyes fluttered open, only to close immediately once they were accosted by a bright light. When you opened them again, the light was being covered by a shadowed figure. He or she was saying something, but you weren’t sure what; the words sounded muffled and far away, and a sharp headache assaulted you when you tried to distinguish what was being said.
When you closed your eyes once more time, you felt soft fingers part your lips and pour liquid into your mouth. You grimaced as the bitter mixture ran down your throat and moistened the parched esophagus. Once a weak groan crawled past your lips, you found more of the strange liquid sliding down your throat, softening all the tight muscles it passed on its way down. After the last drop, you forced your eyes to open once more. This time, your vision was clear, allowing you see the woman that hovered above you.
“Retsu?” you mumbled, surprised at how weak you sounded.
Unohana Retsu smiled gently as she nodded. “How are you feeling, Kaiya?”
“I…” you paused to clear your throat before continuing, “Horrible. I feel stiff all over, as if I’ve been sleeping for a week straight.”
“120 years, to be exact,” she said, still retaining her smile when you stared at her with wide eyes.
“W-What? 120 years? Are you joking?” you spluttered, hardly able to believe your ears.
“You and your lieutenant were sent to the living world on a particularly dangerous Hollow extermination mission. We received your call for help a few hours after you were sent…”
“No! I’m not going to abandon you, Captain!”
“Are you going against my orders?”
“Yes, I am!”
“Are you stupid? You won’t be of any help here! Go back and find a way to contact… look out!”
“You’re such a troublesome little brat…”
“Don’t defy me again. Run.”
“Where is he?” you asked, feeling slightly afraid of what her answer might be as she helped you sit up. “Did he listen to me?”
Unohana’s smile never faltered. “You were shielding him with your body when we found you. It’s a miracle that you didn’t die from all those wounds.”
“Wow…” you breathed, closing your eyes as you struggled to reorganize your mind. “That brat always did tend to get me in trouble…”
Well, good thing Setsuyu woke… Setsuyu!
You began looking around, trying to locate your zanpakutou when you realized that it wasn’t in its original place by your hip. “Where is it?”
Unohana bent down and reached for something underneath the bed. When she came back up, she had within her grasp the weapon you’d been looking for. She held it out to you and said, “Here.”
“Thanks, Retsu,” you said, breaking into a relieved smile. “So… 120 years, huh? Do you think I’ll get a chance to get my position back?”
It definitely wasn’t the kind captain of the 4th Division that responded. “Once you can move without hindrance, you are free to reclaim your original rank.”
You looked over your shoulder to see who had spoken. “Captain Yamamoto!”
The old man gave you a nod of acknowledgement. “Are you able to stand?”
With Unohana’s help, you were able to slide off the bed you were previously lying on without crumpling to the floor. You gave her an apologetic glance as you leaned on her and struggled to find the strength to support your weakened body.
“Don’t push yourself,” she warned, shifting her weight to better accommodate you. “Although it’s impossible for your muscles to atrophy, you should still-”
“I’m fine,” you interrupted, slowly uncurling your fingers from around her slender arms and standing without any extra support. With a poorly hidden wince, you began to stretch, forcing your muscles to adjust to your movements. “See? All I have to do is exercise a little, and I’ll be in top shape before you know it.”
After watching you take a few tentative steps, Yamamoto spoke up once more. “I will hold a meeting in three hours. You’ll be re-inducted into the Gotei 13.”
“Not that I was ever out in the first place,” you muttered under your breath, waiting until he left before turning to Unohana. “Well, I guess we should get going.”