For a moment – just a moment – Isshin could have grabbed Loki by the scruff of the neck and tossed him headlong into the street. Masaki was dead. His heart didn’t want to go on beating. How dare this lost alien demand he set his grief aside and walk back into the world?
Be fair, Isshin told himself. He didn’t ask you for anything.
Anger blew out like a spent match, gray bleakness threatening to crush him in its place. He hurt. Like someone had torn off his legs. Or torn out his heart.
Masaki is dead. Masaki is dead, and I couldn’t help her….
And Ichigo almost died today. Again.
He leaned over his son’s cot, extending frail senses to feel the quiet pulse of Ichigo’s power. Young; still so young, like the green shoots of a cedar. But rooted deep. Nine years old, and Ichigo had pushed enough power into Loki to glue a spine back together and restart a stopped heart. He’d known trained shinigami who couldn’t manifest that much force.
“He’s going to have bankai,” Isshin said softly. “Not for a while. Maybe not ‘til after he dies. But he’s got the power.”
Just a whisper, but Isshin froze. Fourteen years. Gods, fourteen heart-breaking years…. :Engetsu!:
:You don’t need to shout, partner.:
His sword. His partner. The core of his soul. :Where – how – I thought you were gone….:
:While your resolve lives, I live.: Engetsu’s whisper was weary, but moon-silvered with joy. :It is so good to breathe with you again.:
Something neither of them had expected to do, after he’d used Engetsu’s final technique against Aizen. And failed – but failed so spectacularly, all Soul Society was sure he was dead. Which was the only good thing to come out of that mess.
:No,: Engetsu contradicted him. :Masaki was, as well. I could not wake, but I felt you, and I loved her….: A breath, like night wind. :And our children.:
Our children. Isshin brushed a stray hair away from Ichigo’s mouth before he could swallow it in his sleep. :Engetsu. I know he has power, but-:
:The blade already sleeps within him,: Engetsu affirmed. :It is wounded, as he is – but I feel it reaching outward. Calling him. Waiting for the moment he decides.:
Nine, and a zanpakutou already raring to go. Well, damn. Isshin chuckled. “Human-born, with a captain’s power. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Gramps.” Oh, if he could just see the look on Yama-jii’s face….
I want to see that look.
I want to see my son – our son – come into his power.
I want to see our children live.
There were tears trickling down his face. Isshin let them. Because Masaki was gone, and it was always going to hurt….
But she hadn’t just died. She wasn’t a victim.
She died like a shinigami. Protecting the innocent. Isshin took a breath, and wiped his face. So live up to what you are.