Actions

Work Header

Contact

Chapter Text

It was a game.

I walked along the passage, my hakama billowing about my legs and my casual overcoat deep blue wings trailing behind me.

And then I turned the corner and slammed the shinigami against the wall by his throat. I looked closely at him, then realize I didn't know his name.

Hmm.

Sleek silver hair, pale, pale skin, and terror-anticipation-desire laced through his reiatsu; this was... interesting. He grinned. “You found me.”

“Hide and seek,” I replied, before sliding my hand down to his chest, all the while feeling his rapid pulse flutter against my palm. Cool skin, smooth. “Nervous?”

“Nervous. Agitated.” He gasped as my hand slid further down and began caressing his abdomen. “And now very, very turned on.”

I pulled away completely, amused by his reaction. Still, amusement was not the deciding factor here. I touched his cheek and slowly tilted his face up to look at me. “Who sent you?”

“No one. I just thought you were interestin', that's all.” His lips looked soft,kbut there was a hint of hard-edged cruelty to his gaze.

Better and better.

“Interesting enough to stalk? That's what gets you going?” I asked, a tease entering my voice. “You are twisted.”

“Nothin' compared to ya, Aizen-fukutaichou. Get a guy riled up and not lettin' him release? That's just mean, man.” He pretended to shiver.

Graciously I smiled and moved a step closer. A hand's breadth apart. “This better?” Another step. Thighs touch. “Or perhap3 this?”

“You're just being meaner,” he inhaled sharply when I finally pressed my body fully against his, and yet his hands lay flat against the wall, not daring to touch me without permission.

Smart boy.

I placed my hands over his and pushed up against him. He moaned softly.

“I'm twisted like that too,” I whispered, my breath now ghosting across his alabaster skin, and chuckled at the pale pink flush suffusing his cheeks. “And I'm starting to think that you like twisted.”

“Got it in one.”

Got to give the rookie props; he dared to face me at this moment. His lips brushed mine and I tingled.

Hmmm. Has potential.

%0

“Sorry, kid, I'm in a committed relationship right now.” I let go of his hand and traced my fingers up his arm, then down his face. He bent, just a little, into that tiny caress. My smile grew. “I'm in a steady, rewarding relationship.”

He opened his eyes, just a little. “I can seduce you if you want me to, sir.”

I lowered my mouth to his ear and flicked my tongue against the lobe, before whispering, “I have to want?”

He stiffened as I kissed him on his petal smooth cheek. Then I let go of him and continued walking to my place, a slow smile curving my lips. Then I caught sight of a silver strand of hair stuck on my chest. I twisted it up and placed it in my private pouch, mulling over the odd encounter.

He will look for me again.

Chapter Text

I met him again on another of my solo night walks.

“This is getting to be your death wish, isn't it?” I said, my voice steady and pleasant.

He lounged against a pillar. “I was here until you walked this way, sir. I didn't follow you.”

“Really.” He seemed a little too confident. I decided to take him down a notch. “They do say the best hunters wait while the lesser hunters chase.”

“... I'm not... hunting, sir.”

Smart boy. Didn't mention that I was testing him. He didn't collapse under my sudden surge in reiatsu, but I saw beads of perspiration forming and rolling down the contours of his skinny neck. I held back the pressure.

It was still a game. No need to be that cruel now.

“On such a night, shouldn't you be with your girl?” I advanced slowly, my eyes lingering on his lips, his collarbone, his crotch, back to his eyes. My lips parted, just a little for him to see my tongue at the edge of my teeth.

“She's no girl of mine, sir.” He straightened; perhaps he thought he knew what I wanted to do to him.

Instead I walked nonchalantly past him. “What is her name?”

“Matsumoto Rangiku, sir.”

“I see.” I kept walking, and smiled when he began trailing after me. “I will not do anything until you ask.”

“Will you really do whatever I asked, sir?”

I stopped moving and turned my face, letting him view part of my profile. “Is that your way of asking?”

He walked right up to my back, almost timidly in the last few steps. “How do you prefer to be asked then, sir?”

I kept the placid smile on my face.

He ignored the smile as he placed his hands on my broad shoulders, then ran both hands down my arms. My smile disappeared when he laced his long, slim fingers with mine.

To his credit he didn't flinch, but pressed closer. “Is this the way you liked to be asked, sir?”

I inhaled the light scent he wore, pleased by his daring. “Yes.”

He grinned. “Will you ask me for my name?”

Why not play along?

I pushed slightly backwards into him, and felt his warm breath on my neck. “What is your name, bold young man?”

“I am Ichimaru Gin.” He made to untangle his fingers from mine but I clenched my fists tightly. He cried out for the sudden pain.

I tugged him closer. I could feel his heart pounding against my back. “You forgot to be polite. You forgot your smile.”

Instantly he was smiling contritely. “I apologize, sir. My unworthy name is Ichimaru Gin.”

“It is not unworthy,” I said, releasing my grip but not releasing my touch. “It suits you very well. I shall call you by your name the next time we meet.”

“Thank you sir.”

“Good evening then.” I let go of his fingers and moved on, not looking back.

Chapter Text

The medics called it fading out. I called it being too weak to hold on to life.

My captain was dying, and there was nothing anyone could do about it, except watch him pass on. I played to the hilt the role of filial and devoted aide, as I should. I was waiting for my turn at the wheel; I had waited long enough ever since the gullible man brought me into the Fifth division. This was the prime division for building my network, since it dealt with cross-Society matters, and it had offered me opportunities to go to other Societies. It also offered to me the delectable Kai Mizuki, great-grandniece of Yamamoto and twelfth seat in the division, and through her I had a connection to the captain-general. She was biddable and sufficiently smart, if spoilt by Ukitake and Kyoraku, and it had been easy to get her to approach me. A few shy smiles and heated exchanged glances, and she had professed her love for me. Faking surprise was harder than I thought though, but I managed, and she was a generous bedmate.

Not a lover. Never a lover, not after being burned by the humiliation that was Urahara Kisuke. It still smarted that he had sought that bitch's company even when he had already had me, but I knew that, at the very least, I had turned the entire helping of disgrace onto him.

No more lovers, I had sworn to myself then.

xxxxx

When I attended the academy's open house I caught a glimpse of silver hair and pale skin. Smiling genially I pulled Mizuki closer to me, my arm slipping around her waist when she yielded to my gentle tug on her wrist. She was understandably exhilarated: from the beginning of our relationship she had learned not to expect public displays of affection. After all, I was supposed to be decorous and chivalrous, at least in the eye of the public. I had high hopes for her - her zanpakuto could absorb poison and toxins, she was skilled in kido, if shaky in hakudo, and she knew to listen than to chatter. She also thrilled easily that I was willing to test boundaries with her, often goading me to try new things. It was as though I was an innocent in the world.

"Your place or mine tonight, dearest?" I murmured close to her ear. She flushed rose pink, and her smile lit up her eyes. I chuckled low in my throat.

I could feel his reiatsu passing behind me, pulsing. I held my trophy closer, her body willingly pressing against mine. And then he was gone.

"Please, Aizen-fukutaichou, it is time for the zanjutsu and kido exhibitions in the main field." A student representative bowed respectfully and led the way to the field, where pennants snapped and fluttered in the stiff breeze. Other shinigami parted for us with a smile and a bow, and frequently I would exchange a remark or two on their personal lives. Little details that their own captains wouldn't have noticed.

It was easy to have eyes and ears in the Gotei. All of them talked, eager to share news and gossip, and I encouraged their confidences adroitly with well-placed advice. 

I kept Mizuki by my side as we moved into the viewing gallery. As a twelfth seat, she technically wasn't allowed in the place since it was meant for lieutenants and captains only, but they knew who she was and granted her the privilege.

"Watch for potentials, dearest. I want to strengthen the crop in the fifth. We need about eleven," I instructed, my eyes scanning the crowd.

"Which do you prefer, kido or zanjutsu types?" She remained standing beside me as I sat in the captain's chair. No one contested my claim; the captain was fading out, and already both he and Yamamoto had put me down as the next captain of the fifth already. 

I pretended to ponder even as I tried to locate that lovely head of silver hair. "Well-balanced between the two. Kido corps will surely have bookmarked their favorites, and the eleventh division would fight for the best zanjutsu-type shinigami elects."

She nodded, her long river of black hair shimmering under the sunlight. I caught a lock of her sweet-smelling tresses and twined them around my fingers, kissing the silky smooth locks. She blushed again. Such an innocent girl. Well, after two years with me she wasn't quite as innocent any more. She thought she was the one leading me to test the edges, when in actual fact I was the one directing her efforts. Her great-granduncle would be apoplectic if he knew what we had done in her ancestral hall, or in her bedroom recently. Yamamoto was a doting relative even if he pretended not to care.

Now that was an excellent example of a strong-willed shinigami. Almost two thousand years and still going strong.

Again my attention was distracted by a glimpse of silver. Beside him, I saw a girl with a lovely mass of strawberry blond hair tumbling past slim shoulders and a full bosom. I found my smile growing, covered as it was by my twelfth seat's hair.

She's no lady of mine, sir.

"Those two. What are their names, dearest?"

She looked where I was pointing and checked her notes. "Um... the girl is Matsumoto Rangiku, the boy is... Ichimaru Gin. They aren't in the graduating class though. They have one more year to go."

"Is that so." I rubbed my lips with her hair, inhaling honey-sweet fragrance.

He didn't lie to me.

Smart boy.

That night, as I thrust into her, feeling her warmth clamp tight around me, her bare legs wrapped about my waist, I imagined a head of silver hair and pale, apple-blossom skin tinged with pink, and wordless screaming from that beautiful mouth, no longer masked by a smile.

Was it still only a game? 

I decided to up the ante - I wanted to mark this strange boy who came to me.

Chapter Text

I decided to wait tonight.

Already I had left Mizuki's place; a large mansion for a single girl. Having an inheritance was sometimes a good thing, but I didn't want people commenting that I was using her to climb the ladder. Using her was something I could not deny, but not for my career alone. After getting to know her, I had become curious about her heritage, since all records of her parents and her lineage had been expunged. Only records pertaining to the captain-general remained, as though a protective ward against all who pried too closely.

Here be dragons.

But that had nothing to do with the reason why I was waiting. The reason was the silver hair, the soft white skin, the fake smile, the real fear in brilliant eyes.

The place was just outside the student dormitories. There was a path that led outside the dorms, a secret one – not so secret among graduates of the academy, but still students believe only they knew of it. 

The naivety of youth.

I leaned against the wall and waited. If I had estimated correctly, he would exit the dorms for a quiet space, a private one near the dorms that could allow him solitude and security. It would be a gamble, of course; there was a curfew on the students and patrols didn't pass too far from here. Yet my instinct told me that he would seek out a thinking space, and a crowded dormitory with too many reaitsu sources was not conducive to introspection.

xxxxx

He was alone.

That was good. Alone - and lonely. The boy was an unappreciated genius, an unpolished gem. He could be the jewel of my collection, become the weapon I needed in the dark.

"Aizen-fukutaichou," he said, startled when he noticed me. I wondered idly why he seldom opened his eyes more fully: such a brilliant, lovely sea-green, almost blue in the moonlight.

"Gin." I didn't move out of the shadows.

He swallowed, a little nervous, as he should be. His reiatsu wavered, just a hint, before it firmed up. Privately I lauded his fortitude and confidence. I gazed at the brilliance of the full moon, deciding which tack to take in order to get him into my bed. There was a mystery about him I yearned to unravel, a sweetness of... something that called out to the dark in me. I wanted to break him apart and explore his very mind and soul.

Without looking at him I said, "You are breaking the rules, you know that."

"I do."

I lowered my gaze and locked eyes with him. I knew I didn't imagine the shiver that passed through him at the eye contact. "You didn't say you were a student."

"I didn't mean for you to find out." He was whispering, the snake transfixed by the charmer.

"Liar." I straightened and waited for him to move forward. Perhaps it was time to push the buttons. I tilted my head and smiled gently. "She is someone special to you, isn't she?"

He didn't lie this time. Smart boy. "She is." 

There it was: the something that had intrigued me before. It was possessive and bright and destructive and positively overwhelming in its simple dedicated intensity. He was in love, the silly little thing, and that love meant that he was prepared to move mountains in order to protect it. I could feel myself responding to that passionate possessiveness with great anticipation; I wanted that spark to burst into flame for me and my purposes.

"Then why are you approaching me?" I asked.

He swallowed again and licked his lips. The smile faded completely. I waited, the silence dragging out. Finally he whispered, "You don't have something I wish I didn't have."

I said nothing.

His eyes opened a little wider, the expression almost hungry, almost fearful. "You have no fear. And I... I am very afraid."

He was startlingly honest. Perhaps the understanding in my eyes encouraged him to walk closer, to dare more. His hands, his elegant fingers reached up to my face, a shadow's width from my skin. "I wish to remain in your light, so that the darkness will not claim me." His tone was that of a child seeking reassurance, and I was moved to cup his fair cheek. He sighed softly with that contact, so I drew him closer and touched my lips to his brow. 

"I am not the light you seek, Gin," I murmured truthfully, "but I can cloak you in the shadows beyond the reach of anyone out there."

He tensed, and I breathed in the faint scent of his hair and his skin. He was all lightness and brilliance, and he was reaching for the dark. I knew I had to have him, there was no other option, but he had to think it was his own decision.

A fair warning then should suffice. "However, those whom I shelter I will claim as my own," I remarked silently against his ivory-smooth skin. Then I released him and turned away. "Choose, Gin"

He hesitated for five seconds, then fell in step behind me.

Chapter Text

With a sigh, I closed the pages of Ukitake's dissertation on the development of inter-Society collaboration and cooperation. The man was dreaming of an utopia. When each Society were governed by its own people, there was no possible way for them to give up their advantages just for the others, regardless of possible benefits. It was a design flaw in every living being, even us: we think of ourselves first. Selfishness was a biological advantage.

The late afternoon light slanted onto the tatami of my office. My new office, one in which I will have to redecorate to rid it of the presence of the previous incumbent. I smiled; I would shape this division in my image.

A silver-plated brush rest caught my eye, reminding me of the boy.

"Ichimaru Gin," I whispered, tasting his name on my tongue.

We hadn't kept in touch after that one night. The boy had been oddly chaste and demure when we finally got down to it. He was bold and abrasive in his words, but in bed... He had been untouched. An innocent. That had been a surprise. I should have been more gentle, I supposed. I wondered why he pledged allegiance to me. There was no obvious benefit to becoming one of my faithful – I knew it was a long shot, even though I was certain of my abilities.

"Ichimaru Gin..." I mulled quietly. Fate pushed him to stray into my path. What were his real intentions? His fear wasn't feigned, nor was his desire. But to pick a dark horse over the multiple white knights around...

He was a spy, perhaps. Or he was genuinely seeking shelter. He could also be working his own ends, to usurp my place.

My lips curved in a delighted smile. Something to keep me on my toes would be good.

"Senpai?" Kai Mizuki pushed the door partly open.

"Come in." I turned in my seat. The dark-haired girl glided in, her effortless grace captivating. I admired her form, despite it being swathed in the heavy uniform. My smile became lazily seductive. "You look wonderful. Here to look at my new office?"

"Here to welcome you to your new role, Aizen-gobantai-taichou."

She blushed when I left my seat abruptly and caught her in my embrace. Her skin was whiter than the boy's, and smooth, like jade. I lavished kisses along her collarbone, while her arms looped around my neck. With a grunt I laid her out on the table and tugged off her belt, parting her uniform and pushing the hakama down. She wrapped her thighs about my waist with a soft whine. I sucked kisses down her body, luxuriating in the rich, sweet swell of her breasts. Shifting her legs apart, I bent to lick her clitoris, while my fingers slipped into her wet heat. She came with a sharp, cut-off cry and I kissed back up her torso. 

"I suppose that counts as a warm welcome to my new office," I teased lightly, and used the inside of her uniform to wipe away her slick from my chin.

Mizuki laughed, shy and coy. "I thought I'm the one who should welcome you."

"You still can," I murmured. "Come on, to the edge of the desk."

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a flash of silver hair in the gap between the doors. He was peeping. I grinned at him and instead of withdrawing, he opened the door a little wider. 

Cheeky, I thought as I tugged Mizuki closer. I inhaled with pleasure as she licked my jawline, and parted my uniform, her slim fingers already working on my nipples.

His lips parted moistly, and a pink tongue ran across his lower lip.

She undid my belt and slipped her hand in to stroke me, firm and slow.

He slid an open palm from his neck to his breastbone, eyes flaring. His hands slid lower to his abdomen, and a nostalgic smile lit up his sharp features. Then he cupped himself, a lewd challenge.

I murmured assent when she sucked on my neck. She reached down and enveloped me with her warmth in one smooth motion.

There was a definite knife-edged sharpness to Gin's smirk. I ignored him now, clutching Mizuki tightly and thrusting into her in short, harsh motions. She came again, her manicured nails digging into my back, but I was silent as I climaxed. 

Gin had been stunned our first time together when I had murmured his name like a benediction after I had spilled into him. He had clung to me after with an excess of emotion, his eyes glimmering with some unspoken hurt. The way he burrowed into my embrace was almost childlike and yet profoundly sensual.

As we wound down from our passions, I slid out of her before cradling her tall, slim form against me.

"Sorry, my dear," I whispered and kissed her forehead tenderly, pushing away the tendrils of hair clinging to her sweaty face. Her eyes were wide yet misty, and she was breathing heavily. "I got carried away. Did I hurt you?"

"No," she kissed me on my lips, urgently repelling everything I had said. "No, no you didn't, senpai. I just... I was just overwhelmed... by you."

She had turned red again. I smiled and brushed her forehead with my lips tenderly. Her lashes fluttered as she drifted into sleep. Then I laid her out on the couch, tidying her into her uniform. She would be embarrassed later; our relationship was still fairly new, enough that she felt shy about confirming her ties to me.

I turned to the door as I tucked myself away. "Come on in."

"Won't she wake?" Gin asked, sidling in and shutting the door. The sly curve of his lips indicated that he didn't care if she did.

Oh I like this one.

"Kido spell, Gin. Useful stuff." I held out a hand. "Come here before I use force on you."

Chapter Text

I strolled home slowly, having accompanied Mizuki home earlier. The sheer length of my waking hours were beginning to weigh on me, yet I welcomed the extended hours. Life was good. I had begun trimming out the useless from the division, and they were shaping to my preferences. The Inter-Society work was progressing smoothly and I had just got the shinigami exchange proposal approved by Yamamoto-soutaichou.

Best of all, sometimes Gin would be there waiting for me at home. He'd found many secret ways in and out of the Academy, like a good street rat, and was more wily than a dozen foxes. And he was an intoxicating drug.

Too tantalizing to resist. I wonder what she'd say if she knew?

Tonight he was waiting in my bedroom, already undressed and reading a book. Sneaky little thing managed to figure out the one safe route into my home and bypassed all my traps and safety measures.

"I'll be in the human world on attachment, Aizen-sama." Gin had taken to calling me that in our private dealings. I liked him calling me that. "I wonder if anything's changed."

I shucked out of my clothes and joined him after washing up. "Nothing changes, Gin. Humans are always the same: weak, purposeless, drifting on the river of fate. The human life is but the starting point of true existence."

Gin nuzzled closer. We were both tired tonight. In an innocent tone he wondered aloud if he'd get to live in a human dwelling or just sleep out in the open.

"I've always wanted to stay at the North Pole when I was in the human world," I admitted softly. "I wanted to experience never-ending night, to see a moon wax and wane without ever dipping past the horizon. I would have loved to see the polar lights flexing across the landscape, rivers of colored flame."

"Do they really exist?" Gin asked artlessly, fingers trailing over my forearm wrapped around him.

I pressed my lips to the top of his silver head. "I've heard of them from my previous captain. He said they were beautiful... and I still wonder what glory could have made his eyes mist over with fond remembrance and incredible awe."

Gin said nothing, just rested his head beneath my chin. I savored his presence, my hand tracing up and down his bicep. His fine silver hair clung to my chin, and a few strands wandered across my jaw. I didn't mind. Silence was an under-appreciated gift.

Then he turned his face to nibble at my collarbone. "Aizen-sama," he mumbled into my skin, his breath tickling my neck. "When you go, would you take me with you?"

I shifted so I could look into his eyes. His expression was placid. He was seeking reassurance, I realized. He was always seeking reassurance in the quiet times we shared.

What had happened to this beautiful man when he was a human child?

He was amazingly childlike sometimes, and in those rare moments I seldom knew what to say. What could I say that wasn't trite, wasn't cliched, hadn't been said a million times and over again?

Gin's eyes were lidded with sleepiness now. I flicked his fringe from his face. "Are you still certain you wish to follow me?"

He nodded, his lazy gaze never leaving my eyes. "I followed you that evening. I will follow you till the end."

I kissed his brow and smiled, a real one. The boy was smart enough to know the difference. He smiled back, as genuine as I was in that moment.

Slowly, hesitantly, I traced the curve on his face. My index finger lingered on his mouth, gently sliding along the lower lip. He parted his pale pink lips and welcomed my finger, taking it into his mouth with his teeth, knuckle by knuckle. Then he closed his perfect mouth about my finger, and he closed his eyes to concentrate.

I closed mine as well, willing him to take the lead.

Soon he was running his tongue around my finger, pulling at it with his teeth, sucking rhythmically, sliding it in and out of his mouth. Then he pulled away and began kissing my relaxed palm, first with just his lips, then tracing the various lines with his tongue. Then he took my other fingers into his moist mouth, just as he did my index finger, and all but made love to my hand.

I hummed with pleasure. My left hand was pinned beneath his hip, and the fingers flexed and tightened their hold.

He wriggled against me, a mute protest at the intensity of my hold. I kept my eyes closed, but released my fingers clamped on his body. He continued exploring up my right arm, now lavishing his chaste and lusty kisses up to my right elbow, his body pressing delightfully against mine. I sighed when he took my left hand and placed it between his thighs, and he began moving his legs.

"Was I your first?" I muttered, half-opening my eyes. He stopped kissing my shoulder, one hand on my waist and the other on my inner thigh. Not close enough to where I wanted him to caress, unfortunately, but I could afford to be patient.

His glance was a little confused. "You are my first man."

"Then you're extremely talented," I whispered huskily and fell back against the pillows. He paused, unsure of what to do.

I half-opened one eye and grinned. He was so adorable, straddling my body, brows slightly furrowed, my little bite marks still red on his alabaster skin. I guessed that smart as he was, he still needed to be told.

"Do as you want, Gin. I don't want to have to ask..."

His mouth parted hungrily, and a pretty flush rose in his cheeks. I put my now-slick palm on the back of his neck and pulled him towards me insistently.

"But perhaps..." I murmured, pressing close to him, my eyes shut again, my lips brushing the corner of his lips. "... perhaps, Gin, you can make me beg."

Chapter Text

He had grown out his nails. I wondered aloud why, one early morning, while we were sharing breakfast. He would have to sneak back to the Academy soon.

"I have my reasons," he said. There was a smile, but it was the smile of a mask.

I combed through his fine silver hair. "I'll visit you in the human world, Gin."

He picked up a dumpling and fed me with his fingers. I took the chance to nip on his long digits, and he grinned. "I would like a proper schedule, Aizen-sama, of the timings and duration of your visits."

"Oh really," I said. I kissed the corner of his mouth before continuing, "And what else, hmmm?"

He pretended to consider. "And the itinerary."

"Oh really," I repeated. He now offered me a small morsel of his mackerel. I licked his fingers clean before adding, "Very detailed itinerary?"

"Mmm-hmmm." He sipped his tea, all demure innocence.

I placed a hand on his knee and moved it slowly up his thigh. "So... if I want to touch you like this, I'll have to indicate it clearly?"

"Yes." His hand covered mine and began stroking up my arm as well. "And you'll also have to write down the reception you expect for each item of the itinerary."

I pressed my thumb against a spot under his knee and rubbed gently. "You are very demanding, for an as-yet unseated officer."

He shifted his weight to lean away from me. "I learned that people liked to rise up to expectations."

"That's true." I picked up an apple and surveyed our eclectic breakfast dishes. Only the rice cakes were left – I hated rice cakes. Sickening things. Gin had brought these early this morning. "Why the variety?"

"You can't guess?" he grinned as he finished his tea.

I furrowed my brows. "You got Matsumoto to make us breakfast."

"She stayed over last night in my room," he elaborated. Then he caught sight of my disapproval and hastily added, "We didn't do anything."

"I know." I dabbed at the juices from the corner of my mouth. "The question is, why didn't you?"

Gin was thrown. "I thought you'd be unhappy if I-"

"I don't need you to be monogamous, Gin," I stated clearly. "I need you hidden in plain sight."

He pondered over my words as I continued munching on my apple. "You don't want me to devote myself to you only, Aizen-sama?"

"You're guessing what I want?" I said as I stood up. "Gin, you have so much to learn."

He got up too. He was growing taller, nearly looking eye-to-eye with me. Someday he might match my height. I wondered if he was growing in strength, as he wanted. We would know soon. "Will you teach me?"

"My fees are very high," I told him.

He moved closer. He was becoming more daring, this smart boy of mine. 

I loved it.

He moved his lips against the underside of my jaw, and murmured something too soft to be heard.

"What was that?" I asked, tilting his face up by the chin.

"I said I'll pay any price."

I chuckled throatily and snaked one arm about his waist. "No you wouldn't."

"I'll pay anything." He returned the embrace, fingers playing at the hair at the nape of my neck. I sucked in breath; those nails were really good for something.

"You wouldn't," I repeated. Curling a tendril of silver hair about my index finger, I breathed in his ear, "You wouldn't sacrifice your Ran-chan now, would you?"

He stiffened in my arms. "How did you-"

"I just know." The boy was so transparent about his best friend and his true love – transparent to me anyway. More than once he had muttered her name in his sleep; he had yet to learn how to protect himself. Darling boy - daring so much on so little preparation. I savored the desperation, sweet as perfume.

"Don't hurt her, Aizen-sama, please," he whispered, clinging to me now, pressing his sleek body against me, trying to beg with his body to add weight to his words.

"I wouldn't hurt her, Gin," I said at last, kissing his smooth forehead.

He relaxed a little, but was still nervous.

Rightfully so. My clever, darling boy.

"I won't hurt her, Gin." I kissed him again, my ardor rising with my plan. "You'll do it for me."

Chapter Text

Being a captain has its perks.

I walked through the gate, and braced myself for the blast of air fouled with humanity's taint. If I had my way I wouldn't need to visit the human world – living in it once was quite enough.

I had no doubt that it would become a whole lot worse in the future.

Idly I strolled down the streets. No one cast a glance at me, save for a few sensitive souls. I looked around and caught sight of a river of ink-black hair outside the temple complex.

She was heading back inside.

I walked over, radiating enough reiatsu so humans, however unknowingly, would make way for me. She suddenly straightened and swiveled around. “Senpai!” she said brightly. I laughed when she ran over and caught me up in a hug. She had been stuck in the filth of the human plane for three months and I had visited her only four times.

My hands grabbed a quick squeeze of her pert butt. She squealed and batted my hand away, then blushed when I reached down to squeeze her again.

“It's not like anyone's going to see,” I reasoned as I kissed her forehead and led her into the temple complex. “No one comes in here anyway.”

“Except the high priest, and he can see us.”

“He's been here already in the morning. For the rest of the day it's just you and me, baby.” I pulled her closer, and whispered something in her ear.

“Sempai!” She mock-slapped my shoulder, clearly scandalized. I laughed again.

One day she would do exactly what I had just suggested.

xxxxx

Gin pouted. “Matsumoto was prodding me about why I was with her yesterday, Aizen-sama, when I hadn't been with her for almost three months. It was rather irritating.”

“That makes only five times she's tried to probe, doesn't it?” I said. “Besides, it's clear she likes your company.”

He twisted his soft lips to the left, clearly trying to pretend annoyance. I doodled on the page with my brush.

“Another perfect circle,” Gin said when I had stopped. I leaned back, propping myself on my elbows, an inviting smile playing on my lips. He returned the amusement as he scrambled over my lap, his back to me, then traced a circle on my knee with his little finger. “Aren't you tired of perfection?”

“Are you?” I asked, nibbling at the cord between his neck and his shoulder, closing my arms about his waist. Three months of shinigami practicum was building him up. I couldn't say whether I liked him becoming more muscular, but his stamina had certainly improved by leaps and bounds. Yet he was unlikely to put on much mass – his body would always be lean and lithe.

His legs were bent now. I ran my hands up and down his thighs, savoring the sudden, soft intake of breath I heard. Then he shuffled himself to move against me, his arms looped about my knees. Then his hands slid down my clothed calves, to cup my bare feet.

I felt myself twitch at his subtle and blatant invite. “You have yet to make me beg, Gin.”

“I'll try again now, Aizen-sama,” he teased, his head rolling back to kiss the underside of my chin. It tickled.

He really loves that spot, I mused as he attacked it with his tongue, his lips, his teeth.

He rocked back on my thighs on a laugh when I dug my fingers into his sides. It was easy for him to turn around to face me, though his knee nearly collided with my jaw. He and I both knew the outcome would be the same as last night's, and the night before's, and would be the same tomorrow.

He dove into my mouth, offering the sweet musky taste that was uniquely Gin Ichimaru. I took everything that was given and more, demanding full submission with my tongue pressing and pushing into his mouth. He whined when I pulled away a little, and then sighed eagerly when I flipped him onto his back.

“I want to mark you today, Gin. You don't mind, do you?”

“Feel free, Aizen-sama.”

My free hand wandered over his chest; weaving into his fine silver hair; tracing the contours of his features. He looped his arms about my neck and tugged my head down, his lips devoting all his affection to my skin.

I let my weight rest partially on his body, parting his long legs with my own, rolling my hips into his heat. He moaned, fingers twisting into my longish hair.

Perhaps it's time for a haircut, I thought as I licked up his neck. He had the palest skin, cool to the touch – except when it was my touch, and then his skin would burn into white-hot flame.

He scratched down my back as I circled my hips onto his, purposely teasing and taunting him with our dressed state.

“Aizen-sama,” he pleaded and tugged on my haori.

“Call me taichou,” I commanded, a hiss of hot breath in his ear. My teeth pulled at his earlobe when he hesitated, and I followed through with a grinding of my erection against his member.

“Tai-taichou!” he groaned and gripped my shoulders.

I pulled away, and shed the captain's coat. Then I shrugged out of my uniform. He yanked at his own belt, but I stayed his fingers.

“Taichou...” There was a hint of a whimper in his voice.

I shifted my weight, now kissing and biting the soft flesh beneath his ear, his collarbone, the hollow of his neck, leaving a wet trail all the way to his flat and toned stomach. I could sense the heat radiating from him as I lowered myself to undo his belt, my eyes not leaving his face. Then I palmed his erection, and he bucked against me.

Slowly I stripped his hakama. I took my time, lingering over his groin, the fine dark hairs curled at the base of his member.

“Remember our second meeting, Gin?”

He nodded. Probably his throat was too dry right now. I blew lightly over his abdomen and he shuddered.

“What did I say at our second meeting, Gin?” I asked again, right hand splayed on the flat stomach before me, and my thumb pressed a little into the base.

His breath hitched. “You'll - you'll do anything I asked.”

“So why aren't you asking?”

He tried to smile, but now my thumb and index finger was circling his erection, moving slowly upwards to the head, then down again. He didn't break eye contact with me though, even as I tormented him with one hand. I lowered my head between his knees. His legs were tense; I could feel the tautness of the muscles as my left hand ran over his smooth skin. He inhaled sharply again when I nipped the skin on his inner thigh, but maintained eye contact.

Smart boy.

“Ai-aizen-sama-”

“What did I tell you to call me, Gin?” I brushed my lower lip against the tip of his member. His hips bucked, just a little, with the slight touch.

“Taichou, taichou, please take me... take...” His eyes were losing focus; my lips now parted to trail faint kisses up his hardness. My hands gripped his hips hard enough to leave bruises – had done so in the past.

I grinned. “Take you how?” My tongue flicked out, and ran one long, slow stroke from base to tip. “Like this?” Then light, feathery licks from tip to base. “Or like this?”

“Nnngh..no, no... take me, take all...all of me...” His breathing was becoming more labored, his eyes darkening with more than desire. “I want you to suck... suck me.”

I did as I was told, very amused. His smile was almost a snarl now, a delicious twisting of his sharp features. My tongue ran over the slit, laved over his member, and then I sucked gently on the head before sliding my mouth over his length.

His groans were not satisfying. My hands slid under him and my mouth pulled away to attend to his velvety sac. My fingers prodded at a spot I knew was intensely sensual and was immediately repaid by an upward thrust.

My right hand wrapped about him again, and began pumping him with increasing frequency. “What else do you want me to do, Gin?” My other hand volunteered an index finger to caress the slit, smearing precum down his erection. He had shut his eyes, and was flushed a pretty color all down his body.

“Aahh... I, Aizen-sa... I mean, taichou... oh gods...” he was rambling breathlessly as I bent to kiss him intimately again, then I took his entire length into my mouth as best as I could, relaxing my throat and humming deep within. He gasped and managed, “I want.. want you to... gods... taichou, taichou...I can't, I'm not making...oh my god...”

“That I am,” I murmured deep in my throat, sliding him in and out of my mouth. I was aching with need as well, but I was determined to prolong this delight.

I felt him pulse and thrust up into me, his fingers curling and scraping my scalp with his nails as he came, gasping and moaning her name. I sucked again, devouring him. “..Taichou, I'm gonna...I can't...please...”

Pulling away, I slid up his sweaty body, and hissed into his ear. “I'm not done.”

He tried to form words but had to swallow several times. I kissed him, forcing my tongue into his slack mouth.

“Turn over,” I ordered. I knew my voice was ragged with desire, but I needed to take him, now, to pound into him as he writhed, until he screamed.

He didn't protest as he revealed his smooth white back to me. I ran my hands up his shoulders then slid to his chest. “It will hurt,” I warned thickly as I positioned myself at his entrance, having slicked myself earlier.

He looked over his shoulder. “I can take pain.”

I gripped his hips and buried myself in him. One hand moved around his body and began pumping him again. Gin choked back the first cry but was soon lost in our pulsing rhythm.

I felt myself empty into him after he came whimpering into the pillow, his fists gripping the sheets, his back arching. I kept thrusting, unable to stop; he was exquisite. My hand burned with his ejaculate; I smeared it up his torso when I finally slid out of him.

After a prolonged beat, he threw his arm over his eyes and began to chuckle.

I licked what was left of his seed from my hand. “What amuses you so, Gin?”

“I can't win this game, can I?” he said. Then he turned to lie on his side, his smooth back facing me.

“It could happen,” I said, sliding an arm under his waist and the other over his chest. “But until you learn to fully school your reactions, you won't.”

He leaned back into my slack embrace. “I like how you collect your fees, taichou.”

“And the next lesson will be up soon,” I murmured into his silver-bright hair.

Chapter Text

It was going to be the holidays soon for Gin.

I pondered over the little dilemma. Should I assign him to an internship at the fifth over the break? That way, when he graduated, I could assign him directly into my division without anyone questioning my insistence.

However, I didn't want to be seen as being too close to the boy. Not yet.

“Mizuki-chan,” I told my lover – still clueless about my true nature, which was unbelievable, Gin knew the real me from that first glance - “Tell Kaname to arrange for an interview for me with Matsumoto Rangiku. See if she wants an internship position for the holidays.”

“Yes senpai.” Her rise from fifth-year student to twelfth seat was unusual but not unprecedented. However, once Gin graduated, she would need to be moved out of my division if she could not be re-educated. I regretted letting Unohana taking her under the Fourth's wing for that initial three months; if I had had her from the beginning, she might have been one of my best weapons.

If Gin hadn't turned up in the corridor, she would have been.

She went off to relay the information to my lieutenant. Tousen had been a find as well. But his riffs about justice and righteousness bored me; there was right and wrong in this world, but I was concerned only with power and weakness.

I knew who I was, and what I was, and frankly I didn't give a damn that I was, in most people's lexicon, evil.

There was the soft tread of feet in the corridor. I stacked the notes on my worktable neatly.

“Aizen-sama.” He was dressed in deep red, one of my favorite colors.

“Good evening. You're on time.” I got up. “Shall we go?”

Gin nodded and followed as I swept out of the room and we headed in different directions out of Seireitei.

Meeting up in Junrinan, we flash-stepped to the clearing where I used to teach Mizuki how to visualize her kido spells. The moon hung overhead, half-light, half-darkness. In between.

The most magical phase.

Gin set down the boxes he was carrying and laid out the few items. I helped him, unrolling the mat that I had put there earlier that afternoon.

“Why did you want this tonight, Aizen-sama?” He sat cross-legged, one hand propping up his chin as he ate an apple. He prodded at the blancmange, unsure if he wanted to try it. “And what on earth is this white mass?”

“It's blancmange from France. I learned it when I was stationed in Europe, four, five decades before this. It's really tasty. And I like picnics,” I answered. “It's relaxing, it's convivial, and I get to have my honey cakes under the moon. And now I have you. What's not to like?”

“Ants?” Gin grinned puckishly. I snorted and we shared the white pudding-like concoction.

He stretched and lay down, his head conveniently falling in my lap.

I looked down at his sharp features. “What do you think you're doing, hmm?”

“I'm hungry. Feed me.” He puckered his lips and then stuck out his tongue.

I smiled and sighed with mock resignation, before I took a slice of honey cake, breaking off a piece and putting it in his mouth. “You're getting spoiled, Gin.”

“You're one to talk, Aizen-sama. You're the one who spoils me the most.” I fed another morsel into his waiting mouth, and his teeth caught my fingers for a second before letting go. “There is something I need to ask you though.”

I finished the rest of the slice, then picked out a few cherry tomatoes. Having inter-society collaboration was pretty good, especially when they brought in delicious payoffs. Who else in this little island had access to the sweetly sour fruit?

“What about?” I asked after munching on one cherry tomato. They were addictive; I was eating my third before he answered.

“Fumio. And his two goons.”

I raised an eyebrow. “They still making trouble for you? I thought the three months in hospital taught them not to mess with Ichimaru Gin.”

He sniggered.

I had visited the trio after Gin and his cohort left for the human world, and I had been absurdly proud of Gin's handiwork. All three had been hooked up to so many machines, I could barely make out the shinigami forms within the tubes and wires and screens. Even Kurosawa, the chaos-loving, misogynistic tenth division captain, had whistled appreciatively at the damage dealt out.

“I think they're planning some sort of revenge scenario,” Gin said.

I popped a cherry tomato into his mouth. Tart juice squirted out of the fruit as he bit into it, and he screwed up his eyes when some of the juice landed on his face.

I laughed as I took a napkin and cleaned his face. “Revenge? They couldn't plot their way out of a one way street.”

He swallowed. “They are too annoying. And I really dislike annoying.”

“You need my help on this?” I returned to the honey cake. It was my one sweet vice.

“I need you to be my alibi.”

I looked intently into his eyes. There was no hint of a smile now. The boy was deadly serious.

Emphasis on deadly.

“How far are you going with this, Gin?” I said in a low tone.

The smile reappeared, but there was no amusement in his voice. “All the way, Aizen-sama. All the way.”

Brushing a fleck of dust from his lily-white skin, I nodded and returned the smile. “Good.”

He closed his eyes and relaxed into a nap even as I polished off the cake. I didn't disturb him while he snoozed softly, a strange smile lighting his features even in his sleep. Occasionally I brushed hair off his face as the breeze stirred up silver strands.

He needed the rest before the action.

 

Chapter Text

"Again."

The lash sang sweetly through the air and sliced across pale, blood-streaked skin. I was darkly impressed. I knew Kaname had no concept of mercy when it came to disciplining errant shinigami under our charge, but Gin had uttered not a single sound beyond forced exhalations from the impacts.

"Again."

Of course he might have fainted from the pain already, but I doubted it. My smart boy was made of sterner stuff than that.

On the other hand, Kaname prided himself on his strict adherence to disciplinary protocol...

"Kaname, stop." The lash was raised but lowered immediately. Tousen Kaname inclined his head and waited for further orders. I nodded and said, "You may leave, Kaname. I wish to speak with him in private, to imprint the lesson further. I think Komamura-san is still waiting out in the main lobby of the division building."

"As you wish, taichou." The blind lieutenant stepped out of the backyard and out of earshot. I got out of the chair and sauntered up to Gin.

His bare back, once paler than snow, was now crisscrossed with bloody streaks and welts. I traced each with my middle finger and tsked lightly. "Silly, silly boy... you do know better than this."

I bent to look into his beautiful face. It was still unmarked, but he had bitten through his lower lip. A thin line of deep red slid from his lips to his chin, along his neck and down his chest. His eyes were closed but his lashes fluttered.

I ran my finger up the trace of blood and licked it off. Then I reached up to undo the manacles and tossed him over my shoulder. There was a grunt, but little other sound from him.

Shaking my head, I flash-stepped us into his quarters and tossed him onto the bed. He stirred and tried to sit up, but I forced him back down.

"Ai-aizen-sama..." He struggled. "You... you haven't a-answered me. Why... why did you interview Ran?"

"And you haven't learned your lesson." I stripped him bare. He hissed whenever my actions tugged on his wounds, but I ignored them. Then I considered for a moment before removing my own clothes as well.

Blood was impossible to wash out completely.

Gin tried to turn on his side and was rewarded with a casual blow to his jaw. I had not used much force, but he got the message. He stayed still.

"I fear," I sat beside him on the bed, "you might have received the wrong impression from me, Gin."

He merely breathed as evenly as he could. I was proud of him, but there was a teaching point here for the silver-haired youth on the bed.

I steepled my fingers as I said, "I think you believe our relationship is something other than what it is. And to help you remember what our relationship really is about..."

I pulled a box from under the bed. I heard the sharp intake of breath and I knew he knew what was coming. I opened the box.

"Aizen-sama..." he whispered.

"Uh-uh-uh." I shook my finger admonishingly in the air. "I did not ask you to speak. Let's see... what do we have here? The four basic groups…"

With a sidelong glance I saw his face blanch further. I picked out an appetiser and then I reclined against his prone form, observing his expression.

"Describe our relationship, Gin. What sort of relationship do you think we have?"

He gulped before answering, "We... you are my leader and I am your follower."

"Good answer," I conceded, "but that's not what you're really thinking." With a simple flourish I pulled a matchstick out of the box, lit it and dropped it on his chest, then I held him down with my hands. The flame flickered and died on his pale skin, leaving a raw red mark, much like one of my kisses. I eyed it hungrily before returning to my question. "So, Gin, what sort of relationship do you think we have? Who am I to you?"

His breath hitched. "You're my t-teacher."

"Nice try." Another two match flared and died: one at the base of his throat, the other just above his belly button. I let him choke out a cry, but then leaned down to his ear. "That is the last scream you make, until I say otherwise. Or I will personally add thirty lashes per scream you make. Is that clear?"

Gin nodded.

" Now -" I was back to my original tone "- tell the truth, Gin. Who am I to you, really?"

"...my lover. We are - we are lovers."

"Smart boy." I took his limp hand and played with his fingers. Such slim, elegant fingers, much like the youth himself. "But that means..."

He had braced himself, so it wasn't entirely a surprise when I bent his ring finger all the way back until it snapped. But I noticed how his other hand gripped the linen, how he kicked out, how his eyes widened and rolled back in his head.

I broke his middle finger almost idly, just to see his reaction again.

This time he shrieked, and I regretted it. I hated lashing people. All that pain, wasted in seconds of fire.

My lesson wasn't over. I turned back to Gin. "If you think of me as your lover, that would mean we are equals. Which..." I traced my hand from his throat to his chest, relishing the shudder that ran through his frame, "...is patently wrong."

I called up a level twenty hado spell, skewering his wrists, ankles, elbows and knees to the bed with fiery red reiatsu spears. He almost retched with agony. Spittle tracked a path down the side of his face as he bravely tried to hold back his yelps. I swept his mussed hair from his face, then twisted my fingers into those fine locks and yanked him roughly into a semi-sitting position. The reiatsu spears tore into him, leaving more crimson spatters on the sheets.

I hissed into his face. "I am not your lover, Gin. I will raise you up, and you will be beyond anything you had ever imagined, but I will forever be above you. Always."

The bedsheet was stuck to his back from the blood that had caked his earlier wounds. I let go of Gin's hair and he fell back, arching when he collided with the mattress. I ripped the beams of reiatsu out of his body. He tried to inhale through the haze of pain but he could only choke in air.

My appetite had been whetted but it was not yet satisfied. I referred to the box again. "We did 'sharp' earlier, with the lash. I just finished 'hot', and I'm not a big fan of blunt... so that leaves us with cold."

"Please." He turned half-lidded eyes to me. "Please."

"And I haven't even started," I teased. Pulling on a leather glove I picked out a vial. Frost glittered on its glassy surface. It had been a little experiment back when Urahara and I were laboratory partners, and I had always meant to discard it.

Oh well. No time like the present.

"Pure cold, Urahara." I placed it carefully in its case. "Of course the efficacy will deteriorate over time but... hey. Top that."

"Pure cold, huh." He had merely given that secretive little smirk. "Oh, I will top that."

"What with?"

"Something that'll make all of us rethink our existence, Sousuke. It's gonna blow your mind."

He knew what it was. He had seen what it could do to bare skin - I still bore the faint imprint of one drop on my thigh, when he tried it on me last week. Gin tried to twist away but was restrained by my free arm. Then I noticed the panic in his lovely eyes. He fought like a wild animal, clawing, contorting, teeth bared in a silent shriek.

I took pity on him. "Tell you what, Gin. Gin. Look at me. At me, Gin. Gin, no more lashing. Go ahead and scream. I won't punish you any further."

Still writhing, still trying valiantly to free himself, Gin's pupils were wild pinpoints of fear. His mind was not with me. He was not here. It was somewhere else... no, wait. It was somewhen else. He was trapped in his memories; he was not here with me, at this time, in this place.

I resent that.

Helping him up to a sitting position, I gently peeled the sheets off his back before I kissed his cool, damp cheeks. His quivering lips brushed against mine and his arms were shaking when he looped them about my waist. I stroked his silver head, soothing him as he burrowed weakly into my embrace.

"I hope you've learned your lesson, Gin," I said softly.

He nodded, submissive, quiescent, docile. This was not the Gin who had first approached me, but the Gin that had snuggled against me the first night he came to my house.

I pressed my lips to his sweat-drenched forehead. His eyes fluttered shut, his mind finally coming back to me. He was shivering with aftershock and whispering sweet apologies.

My beautiful, beautiful boy. Which bastard had traumatized you so?

Almost lovingly I emptied the vial over his torn and ripped back, and firmly gripped his struggling form against me as he screamed while the smoke plumed and his skin sizzled. The raw, heartrending, bestial scream that emerged from that lovely throat stirred my heart.

I will make sure there is no one else but me, Gin. This is still my game.

 

Chapter Text

“Sempai?” The lovely voice of Kai Mizuki stirred me from my daydreaming. I swiveled around in my chair. Behind her tall, slim form was Matsumoto Rangiku. “You asked me to bring her here.”

“Oh, right. Come on in, both of you.” I pushed my glasses further up my nose.

The strawberry blond sidled in nervously after Mizuki, neither girl daring to sit. I didn't invite them to.

“Matsumoto,” I said slowly, “I believe you recommended a boy named – uh, what was his name again? - Ichimaru, right?”

“Yes, Aizen-taichou.”

Mizuki was standing behind Matsumoto, and I nodded at her to take a file from me. I spoke only to the intern, however. “He hasn't turned up?”

“... no, taichou.”

I chewed on my lower lip. “It doesn't reflect very well on him. Where is he?”

Matsumoto's face was downcast and she swallowed before she answered, “I-I don't know, taichou. He disappeared after he heard I was interviewed... and I haven't seen him since.”

“Hmm.” I folded my arms on the table. “I thought he was your friend.”

Her brown eyes remained fixed on a spot just before my desk. I heard the slight sniff before she said, “I thought so too.”

“Mizuki, send Matsumoto back to the outer office then come back here, will you?”

“Yes, sempai.”

When they left I massaged my neck. Mizuki didn't take long. I smiled tiredly when I saw her sliding the door closed behind her. “Come here, baby.”

“You look terrible, sempai.” She slipped onto my lap and kissed my lips. “Are you feeling alright?”

“Just a little stressed out. Kaname's promotion is... well, unexpected. I've just settled into the routine and now I need to train a new lieutenant.” I rested my head against her shoulder, enjoying the light lavender scent she wore.

She stroked my hair. “Maybe we could leave early and I can give you a good massage?”

“It's alright, Mizuki-chan,” I muttered against her smooth skin. “Just give me a kiss before I go home and rest. And help me settle things up in here, okay?”

“Mm-hmm.” She dutifully pressed her lips against mine, then gradually wove her fingers into my hair. I ran my tongue along her lower lip and gained access to the sweetness within. She pushed my head closer to her, her long nails scraping the sensitive scalp. I grinned and pushed my tongue deeper into her mouth. Her soft whimper as my hands tightened about her was music to my ears; I regretted that I could not be with her tonight.

My sweet, sweet girl.

Reluctantly I pulled away. Any longer and I would be buried in her sweetness for the rest of the night, and I had other, more pressing matters to see to.

“I'll be alright. Time to go home,” I said tenderly. She pressed her brow to mine and kissed me again before getting off my lap. We were about to kiss at the closed door when I felt Kaname's reiatsu outside. I gave her a peck on the forehead before admitting my lieutenant and sending my twelfth seat out.

“Kaname, come on in.”

He inclined his head at Mizuki, whom he knew to be a favorite of his friend Komamura. Kaname hadn't approved of my dating and sleeping with the commander-general's great-grandniece, but since I had groomed her to be one of the deadliest shinigami in the division he hadn't commented.

“Your reiatsu is unsteady, taichou,” he said as a way of greeting.

I merely shrugged. “Not at my optimum, I'm afraid. What brings you here?”

“The soutaichou asked that you sign the approval.”

I did so.

As the blind shinigami took the form, he hesitated. “Taichou, if I may ask...”

“Go ahead.”

“Why didn't you kill him?”

I leaned back in my chair. Briefly I considered my answer, then I asked, “When you first heard the sound of a river or the sea, how did you feel?”

“I felt... I guess I felt full of wonder.” Kaname folded his hands before him. “I remembered feeling like I would never plumb the depths of its magic, and that I could never hope to understand the music of the running water. I could only stand and listen.”

I smiled. “At first I thought of just using him for a short-term distraction. Use him and lose him. Then it became... it became a game. And now...” I closed my eyes and pictured his sharp features, his delicate hands and soft, cool skin, “I believe I'm fascinated.”

“By what, taichou? He is merely a boy.”

He is merely a boy? I scoffed at Kaname's obtuseness. Gin was everything Tousen Kaname lacked and more. My boy is smart, bold, innocent, gentle, arrogant, charming, lost, violent, daring, vulnerable... I could go on for days and I wouldn't finish describing Ichimaru Gin.

I pursed my lips before answering. “You won't understand, Kaname. How could you? You're different from us. And that's good – I doubt Soul Society can stand more than two of my kind.”

My lieutenant understood the conversation was at an end. He bowed to me before heading out the door.

I took a deep breath and turned off the lights of my office.

It was late. And I still had work to do.

xxxxx

He was still curled in the corner of the large room. There was no expression on his face, no recognition in his eyes.

“Gin,” I said gently, moving closer to him. “Gin, I'm back.”

He didn't acknowledge me. I sighed and took off my clothes, changing to a pale green cotton robe. He hadn't changed out of his clothes, his lower torso still wrapped in the dark red kimono I loved for him to wear.

His naked back was less scarred, the ridges and weals recovering nicely, his skin knitting itself together. But that was only the surface. Everything else beneath the skin was still a wrecked mess.

I concentrated, and an orange glow surrounded my right hand. Slowly I moved the healing reiatsu over his back, focusing on undoing the damage I had done to him in that one single fit of jealousy. It tore at me still, that there had been someone else earlier, that someone had broken my boy's mind and heart before I could.

I never liked coming in second.

He stirred; my heart leaped. “Gin?”

“Itchy.” His voice was soft, emotionless. I felt a pang of... a pang of guilt, perhaps. He turned away, face buried against the wall. “Itches. Hurts. Hurting.”

A little disappointed, I sighed again. The healing spells were doing their work, but not fast enough: that vial had killed quite a fair bit of the skin and muscles, permanently damaging the nerve endings, and I had to regenerate them cell by cell. The main damage had been to his mind – I hadn't counted on him reminiscing in the middle of our little session, and I hadn't brought him back long enough to refocus before pushing him over the edge.

That's what you get for acting on impulse, Sousuke. Let that be a lesson.

He stirred again, this time to press himself further into the corner. I stopped the spell; any further and I would be too drained tomorrow to focus.

Gin relaxed from his fetal pose. I reached for him again, and this time he let me touch him. Gingerly I shifted closer, drawing him into my arms.

Suddenly, Gin stiffened and I froze. When he jerked away I didn't grab him, but he didn't move far. I inhaled and breathed out, twice, then tried again. Inching ever closer, I found it in myself to pray he would trust me this time.

He then relaxed enough to let me cradle him against myself, and I closed my eyes against the unexpected lump in my throat.

“My beautiful, beautiful boy,” I murmured apologetically, desperately into his silver hair. “What have I done? What can I do now?”

Chapter Text

My hands slowed and then stopped.

It was finished – he was as perfect as he had been before my jealousy inflicted horrible wounds over his. The reiatsu burns in his wrists, elbows, knees, ankles and chest were fully healed, and the terrible frozen rawness of his back no longer evident.

Five days of intermittent healing and twenty-eight hours of continuous reiatsu control. I was amazed at myself even as I collapsed to unconsciousness beside his tranquil figure.

xxxxx

When I woke he wasn't where I left him. For a second I panicked: where had he gone?

Then I looked up. He was gazing at me, his expression inscrutable.

“Gin?” He just kept looking at me blankly. No smile, no recognition, nothing.

I attempted again. “Gin?”

Still nothing.

I heaved a sigh. His mind was still not here. At least he was healed physically. I rubbed my face with my hands as I faced the window, trying to stem the frustration that welled up in me.

I had never felt regret in my life and death, and here was a mere boy, driving me to desperation. Just when I was about to stand and get some food for us both I felt a tentative touch on my shoulder.

No. Please.

“Aizen-sama.”

I swallowed. I wanted to speak, but my throat felt constricted. I swallowed again, tried again. My eyes were shut. I feared a mirage or an illusion. Ironic, really. “What did you say?”

“Aizen-sama?”

I never thought his voice could be more beautiful than it was at that moment. Before I could restrain myself I had him in an embrace, inhaling his scent, feeling his too-thin frame within my arms. “You're back.”

It was beyond a game now.

He seemed rather disoriented. I couldn't keep my hands off him, trying to ensure that it was happening, that he recognized me, that he was back in the here and now. Had he always been this pale? This fragile?

I had to feed him something. The past few days he had eaten whatever I spooned into his mouth. Now that he was alert, I would cook something special.

“Don't move,” I ordered, “I'll prepare breakfast. Stay. Don't go anywhere.” I felt giddy, as if I were a lovesick teenager rather than a being who had lived for centuries and more.

Humming to myself – no one would recognize this particular Aizen Sousuke, too unlike himself – I started cooking. Then I heard water running inside the bathroom.

Sighing I placed a tray of bread on the sideboard. I peered into the bathroom, and he was there, sitting on the edge of the tub.

“Gin?” I felt my manhood swell when my gaze took in his pale, lithe, naked form. He saw me and gave a tired little smile.

How I have missed that smile.

“Don't you want to eat first?” I put my desire aside; he wasn't at his best yet, and there was no sense ruining a good session with lack of stamina. He took my hand.

“I want to bathe.” His lips and slight stubble on my fingertips ignited a flame in my lower regions. I calmed myself down by watching the tub fill. When I judged it to be full enough I carried Gin – he was only a little heavier than Mizuki – and placed him tenderly in the bath. My sleeves soaked up water and weighed down my arms.

Ah well. I had to change out of that robe anyway.

He looked too enticing, half submerged in the tub, the ripples of light playing across his perfectly clear skin. I said softly, “I'll wait outside. Take as long as you w-”

“I want you to stay here,” he interrupted.

I halted. It hadn't been an order but a statement of how things were going to be. I was impressed. “You are certain?”

“Stay.” He inhaled deeply and went on, “Take off your clothes and join me in the tub now.”

I followed his instructions and entered the tub, facing him. I wanted to drink the sight of him in, fully, but he ordered me to turn around and lean on him instead.

I hesitated. He was still weak...

“Do it.” There was no room for debate. I shook my head, trying to dispel the laughter from my face. It was so odd, the way he was giving orders. To me.

He wet my hair slowly, playing with the thick tresses, tangling his fingers into the dark locks. My head lolled back, and my lips brushed over his jawline.

He licked my face as well, and I tried to focus on his breath on my wet skin, instead of his feet rubbing up and down my shin, instead of his hands wandering over my chest and teasing my nipples. I was so engrossed in his breathing I moaned when his hand found my attentive erection. “Not now, Gin, you're not-”

“Shut up.” He bit down on my ear, hard; I could feel little lightning bolts of pain shoot into my head. He hissed, “You hurt me.”

I was elated. He remembered everything. I looked at him square in the eyes and admitted, “I did.”

“You drove me back into the hell I thought I had escaped from.” His revelation was startling; I wanted to know more, but now was not the time.

I nodded again. “I did.” The anger radiating off him was an elixir, an aphrodisiac. His eyes were flashing, the smile on his face threatening, and his cheeks suffused with blood.

He kissed me abruptly, his tongue and lips demanding, domineering; I gave in this one time. His nails clawed my shoulders, ripping my skin. It felt so good to have him dictating my every respond, and I gave a small, sharp gasp when his teeth tore into my lower lip. It stung.

He was panting when he glared at me again. “Get out of the tub. And help me out.”

I obeyed, noting the pink tinge of the water. As I reached for towels to dry us off he stopped me by shoving me against the stone sink. I braced myself, and then I looked in the mirror.

He looked like an avenging demon, wet silver hair dripping into his eyes. His mouth was parted, he was breathing heavily, and his long nails were tinted with bloody tips. He was still frail in build – especially after the ordeal – but there was a potency in his gaze that had never been there before.

I licked my torn lip, tasting blood-copper.

He pinned my left hand with his own, and placed his right hand on my hip. He was hard; had been since the tub. It sizzled where his erection was positioned against me.

“Bend over.”

I did so, and I caught the glimpse of surprise that flashed across his features. I spread my legs a little even as he lined himself against me. Both hands held my hips and he slid in, not bothering to lubricate himself.

I felt the burn, the stretch, and then the sensation of being completely filled to the hilt. My length throbbed; I wanted him to make me come.

How many years had it been since I let anyone top me?

“You're so hot, Aizen-sama,” he whispered sibilantly. “Hot and tight... gods, I can stay like this forever.”

I was impatient, although I didn't show it. “Do you want me to move or would you prefer to do it yourself?”

“Both.” With that he grabbed me by my hair and pulled, exposing my throat, thrusting hard into me. I pushed back, not too hard; I was aware he wasn't as steady on his feet as he'd wanted to seem.

He let himself rip loose, thrusting into me over and over, not heedful of his abandoned cries, his wild scratching of my lacerated back, his teeth sinking into my shoulder. When he pushed himself fully into me and hit my sweet spot the first time I bowed my head, unable to look at the flames that danced in my eyes. Perspiration and bathwater ran down my torso and legs.

He buried himself fully in me. With a growl he commanded me to look up, to look at him in the mirror. His eyes were heavy-lidded, his mouth slack and occasionally snarling. My eyes fluttered open-shut-open-shut, and he thrusted to the same rhythm into me.

“How does it feel, being... being fucked instead of being top?” he asked in a seductive growl.

I bared my teeth. “It's... it's good... because it's you - Gin, was this your - your fantasy?” I wanted to know. I needed to know.

“Yeah... I have ma-many others... fuck, you're so damn... damn fucking tight,” he swore softly. “So, so fucking good...”

As he pounded and came in a hot flood into me I let go of my control as well, my balls tightening, the climax echoing his sheer need. My left hand crept between my legs; I wanted to remain hard for later. Not too much later. But somewhere where I could pleasure him and myself better than at a sink.

Gin rested his face against my bloodied back. Slowly he slid out of me. “Take me to the bed now,” he said before he started folding onto the ground. I caught him just in time, and carried him to bed.

He was surprised I was still hard and ready. I grinned at his innocence.

“I have been around for some time, Gin. Now,” I rubbed his thigh with my aching erection, “how do you want this?”

I'm tired,” he said after some consideration. “So, pleasure me. As long as I don't have to make any effort...”

“Yes sir,” I mocked gently and kissed him chastely on his lips. But before I could move lower he caressed my face.

“Aizen-sama, am I still beneath you? Forever? Who am I to you now?” asked Gin, his eyes hooded but bright.

I hesitated.

If anything the past week has shown Gin to be more than just a game or a pastime. I looked directly into his eyes.

He wanted assurance, as usual. Only now he was demanding it.

I smiled and kissed him, hard, my tongue pressing against his, tasting every bit of his mouth, curling and pushing deep into him. When I finally pulled away I rested my forehead on his.

“Gin, I'm your lover.” I breathed in, then kissed his nose. “Can you live with that?”

“Hell yeah.” He parted his thighs and lifted his knees. I grinned wickedly.

It was going to be a beautiful day.

 

Chapter Text

The note was stuck under my pillow.

As I sat up, making sure not to wake Mizuki beside me. As I unfolded the note, I wondered how he managed to sneak in without waking her or me. Boy's improved in shunpo and reiatsu masking.

The message was short and simple: onight.

I smiled languidly and tore the note into shreds. Then I snuggled back down into bed, and she nuzzled up against my body, and moaned softly as my hands proceeded to wake her up in the most delightful manner possible.

She blinked and murmured something too soft for me to hear, but there was no mistaking her body arching towards me nor her legs curling about mine. I kissed her forehead, her soft cheeks, her fluttering eyelids, and finally captured her mouth in a hungry liplock.

“Mmmm...” She sighed and wrapped her arms about my shoulders, her fingers brushing feather-light along the skin of my neck.

He sometimes gave in to his passionate impulses: his wild gripping of my body, the unrestrained scratching of my skin, the drawing of blood into his mouth.

Mizuki licked and explored my ear as I turned my head to inhale the intense sweetness of her hair. Her dark tresses fell about us as I turned on my back, helping her to straddle me. Her eyes were still half-closed, heavy lidded, but I could see the sparkle in her dark eyes.

His eyes shone black in firelight, blue in the glow of dusk, and green in the day, and often they were lit with an inner, inexplicable flame.

As she writhed slowly, gradually awakening to the heat in her belly, to the fire in her veins, my head rolled back on the pillows. Her black river of hair curtained about our faces, casting before my eyes a gray shadow that threw her features into mysterious semi-light.

He had silver-bright hair, that caught the cold sheen of a full moon in winter within its locks, that brought out the beast in man and the humanity in monsters.

I groaned as she impaled herself on me, and drew a shuddering breath as she rolled her hips into mine, the way I loved her to do it.

He would try something new each and every time. Could be a small deviation from our usual foreplay, could be in the manner he received me, could be in the way he would express his climax. Something different yet familiar.

She thrust herself over me again, burying me in her as far as I could go. I crushed her lips with mine, savoring the sensation of her breasts pushed against my chest, her hardened nipples rubbing into me as we slid along each other.

He loved touching me. Not only for sex, but just skin to skin contact. Walking together took on new dimensions when he threaded his reiatsu about mine, his fingers brushing against my hands as we strolled along the garden paths of his Rukongai home, listening to crickets.

I heard her choked gasp and smothered cry. I heard my grunt as my hips bucked into hers.

He had different moods. He could be very vocal, or completely silent. One thing that never changed: he loved to look into my eyes, capture it with an intense look that went beyond words.

I didn't open my eyes until we fell back against the sheets, tangled and wet and sticky. Finally I breathed out, “We should bathe and get to work.”

“We should.” She sighed with satisfaction and slipped out of bed. I admired her curves, trailing my hand over her skin, but restrained myself.

We had to be punctual today.

xxxxx

I threw the stack of reports into the outer office. “Who wrote this?”

Matsumoto watched, transfixed, as Mizuki hurriedly picked up the scattered pieces. Then Gin stood up before Matsumoto could. “I did.”

“Redo everything,” I snapped. “You nearly caused a budget miscalculation of billions, as well as nearly eradicate tens of thousands of field operatives' incomes. Check your work before sending it in for approval!”

With one stern, impartial glance about the room, I strode back to the inner office, trying to hide my amusement, while Mizuki berated Gin for troubling her captain.

As I settled back at the desk to tackle the disciplinary reports, something caught my eye.

I'm sure I left that drawer shut last night...

I pulled it open. In it was a little cricket woven from long grass, dried to a pale gold. Grinning, I shook my head at the boy's romantic whimsy.

xxxxx

xxxxx

“You remember everything I did to you?” I asked as we sauntered to the table and chairs set in the shade of bamboos.

He shrugged. “Pretty much all. Including what happened after.”

“Oh.” I heaved a sigh. “Not my best moment, I'm afraid.”

We sat down, knees brushing. Gin's smile widened. “I'd say. I can't believe you actually-”

“Don't say anything.” I placed a finger on his curved lips. “If you say it aloud, I might have to kill you. And seeing I've spent so much reiatsu and time bring you back to physical peak, I'd say it's kind of a waste.”

He ducked away from the finger and kissed it. “You're afraid.”

“No, I'm embarrassed. There is a difference, my dear boy.” I rapped a knuckle on his head. “Now, where's lunch?”

He sat still, eyes suddenly wide, darting left to right, like a trapped animal.

I frowned. “The lunch, Gin. You said you'd get it ready for this afternoon.”

With a comical slap to his forehead, his smile turned sheepish. “I'm sorry. I, uh, left it in my dorm room.”

“Oh.” I narrowed my eyes and folded my arms. “So what do you plan for us to eat and drink now?”

He grinned. With an exasperated exhalation, I ruffled his hair and got up. “C'mon, we'll find a place to eat. Even in this forsaken wilderness, there has to be some souls hungry for sustenance.”

He stood and reached for my hand. Our fingers interlaced naturally, as if we hadn't known each other for mere months. We proceeded to explore the region of outer Rukongai, hoping to find a place that sold some sort of food. It didn't help that we were in Kusajishi and in its forests, but at least we were traveling along a riverbank. I wasn't really hungry, and neither was he, so we savored the tranquility that surrounded us.

Abruptly he halted, stopping me in my tracks.

“What is it?” I asked quietly, cautiously. Was someone from Seireitei watching us?

He put a finger to my lips. “Listen. Crickets.”

I paused and listened to the soft whirring about us that grew increasingly intense and more melodic. We stood until the evening light, dusk falling, our hands locked together, hearing the desperate song of little creatures.

xxxxx

xxxxx

I sniffed reminiscently and placed the cricket back into the drawer. I had work to finish, and he was going to need me tonight.

To put it more accurately, he needed my sword.

 

Chapter Text

When he slipped back into the office, I could smell blood on him.

I was curious, but regretfully I had an appointment. Someone was to leave tonight – forever.

Gin emerged from the bathroom, drying his hands.

“I thought you wore gloves,” I said softly as he leaned in for a quick kiss.

Gin chuckled. He whispered, “What did she manage to see?”

“You seated to the side of my table, working on the documents, while I read. And occasionally I'd look over your reports.”

“Hmm. Boring.”

“It's not meant to be entertainment, Gin. How did the spell work out?”

He stretched his arms. “Excellently. Charred and dusted. A bit of a strain on my reiatsu store though.”

I ran a hand down his back as he prepared to exit to the outer office. “That was why you chose me, wasn't it? To forcibly raise your own reiatsu levels? To become powerful enough to deal with all those pathetic schmucks?”

Slowly Gin turned around to face me. His face was set in his usual mask, but I could detect the shock beneath the smiling veneer. “You knew?”

“I found out.” I kissed him on the forehead again, a benediction and a forgiveness. “Go on. I have to leave for an appointment too.”

xxxxx

The next day Seireitei was in an uproar.

The captain of the second division had left as well. The Goddess of Flash, Shihouin Yoruichi, had voluntarily joined disgraced captain Urahara Kisuke in exile.

Only four persons did not exhibit surprise. Then again, we were the four that were at the send-off last night.

xxxxx

xxxxx

“Good evening, Sousuke.”

“Good evening, Kyoraku-san,” I said with a genial bow. The other captain smiled crookedly and settled to wait, his hand covering Ukitake's. I could sense the strain that both were trying to hide – Urahara became a close friend of theirs after he headed the Research Bureau's formation.

And only for Urahara's sake would I tolerate Kyoraku's presence. Even the nonsense-spouting Kurosawa was better company. I knew he knew I wasn't what I appeared to be, but the coward refused to even try challenging me. I had nothing to base my estimates of him on and the lack of data was irksome.

If he seemed content to merely observe, i might not feel such antipathy. But the eighth division captain kept interrupting my progress with Mizuki, kept on interfering with her education. Kept trying to inculcate values I wanted her to leave behind.

If I didn't know he and Ukitake had been screwing each other ever since Unohana developed a special annual preventative vaccine for Kyoraku, I'd swear he was trying to bed my girl.

If I didn't detest him so much, I might have let him.

Finally, out of the dark a blond man in white appeared. He was escorted by Kurosawa, the tenth division captain.

“Whoa.. That's quite a group to bid bon voyage!” remarked Urahara.

I managed a slight smile for his benefit. Ukitake did so too, although his was rather watery. Kyoraku didn't even bother.

“So, where is he going to be placed?” I asked Kurosawa.

“Someplace called Karakura. Isolated little hamlet, population 300.” Kurosawa shrugged. “But we all know that in a few decades it'll be a bustling little town.”

Ukitake scratched the back of his head. “Um, Kisuke, we both know I can't go to the human world until... so um...” He chewed on the inside on his cheek. “I'm gonna miss you.”

“I'll miss you too, Juushiro. Especially your appetite.” Kisuke's hands were shackled behind him, or else he would have patted the thirteenth division captain's shoulder. Ukitake compensated by throwing a hug around Urahara, and I was aware that Urahara was trembling with emotion. Only slightly, but it was there.

Living in the same room with someone for six years guaranteed a deep sensitivity.

Kyoraku tipped his hat forward, blocking his eyes. He handed a package to Kurosawa, but spoke to Urahara. “Those two things were meant for your birthday.”

Kurosawa ripped the package open without waiting for any invite. One was a dark green coat with large rhombuses along the bottom hemline. The other was a pair of wooden sandals.

“Just so you stop walking around your room naked and barefoot and scaring the ladies,” Ukitake tried to crack, but failed.

Urahara smirked. “That's not fear they're expressing, Juu.”

My turn. I walked up and patted his shoulder. “I've always meant to tell you this: you're a first-class moron.”

“Gee, thanks,” he said. We both knew what I meant by that statement, even if the other three were directing confused or annoyed glances at me. I pulled out a slim box and slipped it in his shirt.

“Ki,” I said, using the nickname I had for him since our fourth year in the Academy, “Take care.”

“What's in the box?” Kurosawa asked suspiciously.

Urahara looked at me to answer. I merely smiled. “It's a fan. You know how you get those creepy smirks on your face.”

“Yeah.” He swallowed.

I sighed heavily and hugged him awkwardly. Our relationship was complicated at best, but he did form part of my best memories as a shinigami and as a student.

As the two proceeded to the gate a black feline bounded through at top speed, even before the hell butterflies entered the brilliant gate. Ukitake and Kyoraku shared a look, while I pressed my lips together.

Bitch, I thought uncharacteristically. I would skin her someday.

xxxxx

xxxxx

Tousen was facing the council for the ninth division captaincy in any event, and now the captains and lieutenants decided to push for Soi Fon and Kurotsuchi Mayuri to captaincy as well. The former I agreed with, the latter was someone I admired detachedly for his psychosis and brilliance. Unfortunately his ego was far too large for me to win him to my side, but then again he could be a complication all on his own.

In all the furore, no one cared that the fourth division found a student who hung himself in a forest. He was just like all the others who couldn't take the pressure of academic rigor.

I noticed that it was the young lordling of the Kuchiki household who found the body. And I also noticed that he did not overreact nor dismissed the matter.

A man to watch. Gin might be interested in that task.

xxxxx

xxxxx

That evening I waited for Gin to turn up. My girl was with Kyoraku and Ukitake, both of whom were drowning their regrets.

He came late in the night, still damp from his shower.

“Good night thus far?” I put the book aside and took off my glasses.

“Yes.” He settled beside me on the bed, his legs curled under him. “What do you wanna hear first?”

“The staged suicide. I didn't know you were planning that.” I placed a pillow behind my lower back. “Did you kill him yourself?”

“I didn't touch him at all,” smirked Gin. “I only encouraged him to find release from his, uh... guilt.”

I rolled to my side, looking at the pale youth beside me. “What guilt?”

“He spilled all the secrets to me. Turned out that Fumio misunderstood him; the boy didn't want to get on top of me. In all senses of the phrase.”

I laughed. “How was he?”

“Virgin. Young. Incredibly tight. Really liked to be hurt. And an incredible screamer.” He flipped to his side as well to face me. We were not touching, but our gazes locked onto each other's eyes.

“Sounds fun. What next?”

Gin shuffled lower in the bed. “He was ashamed that he liked being hurt... and ashamed that he had to be hurt before, well, you know... so it was rather easy from then on.” He ran his tongue around his mouth. “I do have a silver tongue.”

“That you do.” I inhaled the scent that crept from him, slowly invading my space. His reiatsu, cold and sinuous and light, stole about me, and involuntarily my own levels rose to meet the challenge. He had never described how it felt when I forced my reiatsu to envelope him, to suffuse the air about us, to surge and overwhelm him when we made love.

Perhaps that was what he enjoyed. It was, after all, what he sought in the beginning.

The candles burned low, then guttered and sputtered out. We sat in darkness, and I listened to the rest of his spiel until sleep overtook both of us.

 

Chapter Text

I woke in the wee hours of the morning. There was to be no more rest for me; I seldom managed to fall back into slumber after waking up.

Sliding very carefully off my bed, I turned to the heavy curtains and drew them open, watching the darkness before dawn breathe heavy over the air of silent Seireitei. This was one of my favorite moments of the day, when nothing else stirred. Only a cold breeze, and then, later on, the pale glimmer of light slowly encroaching upon dark velvet.

As I swiveled back to face the bed I saw Gin curled in a fetal position, his hands pinned beneath the side of his face. His silver hair clung to his skin, splayed across the white pillow, his pale form clad in a white robe.

“Still so thin,” I murmured to myself, standing over him. Resisting the urge to reach for him, I turned away for my notebook and charcoal. Then I sat down in my armchair and began drawing.

First a third of the space of the paper, darkened to emphasize the white of the bed. So dark that nothing other than Gin would be the focus for the eye.

The basic shape, curves and angles, the slight outline. His shoulders were angular, but the lean muscles denoted hidden strength. He had demonstrated recently when he nearly broke my arm while we sparred. Of course he had been punished, but nonetheless I was proud of his growth as a shinigami. He would be a combatant on par with, or perhaps better than, Tousen Kaname in no time.

The sweep of his neck that ended abruptly at the collar of his robe; I reminisced about the spot where, if I kissed it, he would flush pink almost immediately. And then he would attack the location under my chin, that one place where all my nerves seemed to concentrate.

The drape of the sheet over his hip, the wrinkles bunched at his waist, his right foot peeking out at the end of the sheet. Delicate and long toes, the second one longer than the big toe. They loved to wriggle against my ankle when he felt particularly playful.

Shading to delineate the form. Very light, and increasingly darker, but not too dark. It was a white bedspread after all. He loved the contrast between the white of my sheets against the deep maroon of my room, and he loved that it was completely different from Japanese rooms in design. He called it opulent decadence. I supposed he referred to my collection of fine wines from around the world. He had a surprisingly strong capacity for drink, but I could still drink him under the table.

Of course, I usually joined him there once he was under it, but that would be a different story.

He shifted a fraction, but sighed and moved back. He wasn't a tossing-and-turning bedmate, unlike Mizuki, who loved to snuggle at first and then end up curled away from me. Gin would fall asleep facing me, perhaps on my arm, and we would wake in the same positions, and I would be sore the whole day from having his weight on my arm.

He wasn't heavy, not in mass, not in color. All bones and lithe muscles and fair skin. The skin was now extremely sensitive along his spine, but then, technically, that patch of skin and nerves were a lot younger than the rest of him. Once he mentioned that we were exactly like the room: he was the white and I was the deep red, contrasting and complementing.

I had said it was the oddest comparison applied to me that I had ever heard of. He had merely grinned.

I caressed the charcoal rod across the thick paper, adding more strokes to the walls, the shadows gathered in the corners of the room. More shading over the bed, leaving a wide strip devoid of gray; his hair was to gleam like polished silver, like it did before my eyes. I had to use the edge of the rod to carefully bring out the fineness of the strands, making sure not to smudge any lines. I would need to add fixative later today to maintain the drawing.

There was light appearing in the sky. I hastened my strokes, putting in the finishing touches before dawn broke. He always woke with the dawn, never a minute early, never a minute late. That was perhaps one of the few things constant about my quicksilver youth.

He turned and his right arm fell by the side of the bed. Then he blinked his eyes open before breaking into his trademark smile. “Morning, lover.”

I put the sketch away. Getting up from my seat, I kissed him on the forehead. “Good morning.”

 

Chapter Text

The sun sank in a blaze of oranges and pinks. I didn't expect today to pass so slowly, since I had a lot to complete before I left the office. But somehow the hours dragged out, spun themselves into a thick cocoon of ennui.

Perhaps it was the pale gold and deep red of the sunset that brought out my brooding facet; I felt pensive. Or perhaps it was because I had come to an unwelcome conclusion.

“Good evening, Aizen-sama,” Gin said as he approached the pavilion. We were heading for his house out in Rukongai's wilderness. There was a surprise I had prepared for him. But right now I just wanted to enjoy the passing glory of dusk.

He caught my mood. “What's the matter?”

“I'm thinking.”

“About?” He sat beside me, his head cocked to the side. “Or would you prefer to keep it a secret?”

“I was thinking about death.”

“Deep thoughts.” He looked at the setting sun. The golden light played over his features, brought out the gleam of his hair and added a ruddy glow to his cheeks.

I smiled and returned my attention to the sunset. “Deep. But not that profound. Just musing on the people I've killed thus far.”

Gin's brows furrowed. He laced his fingers and placed them beneath his chin. “Any memorable ones?”

“I can barely recall their names; unimportant vermin, most of them.” I chuckled throatily. Vermin. Born as street rats, died and buried in street rats. “I can only remember five in detail, two of whom I genuinely regret killing... and I may have to add a third soon.”

Wordlessly Gin covered my hand with his. I turned my palm up and grasped it firmly. Then, standing up, I pulled him to his feet. “Come on. There's something I want to show you at your place.”

xxxxx

“Good evening, Ichimaru-sama, Aizen-taichou.”

I was pleased. She remembered to greet Gin before me, as I had instructed. I nodded to her and told her to prepare dinner and a bath.

Gin waited until the slim girl was out of earshot. “Who is she?”

“Housekeeper. Name of Kei. We need someone to watch your place, keep it ticking over.” I watched as he observed the slight sway of her hips, the thick, shoulder-length dark hair with full, bouncy curls, the healthy well-sunned skin. And then I noticed the small smile on his face.

“What's she like?”

“Quiet, capable, not that bright. And most importantly, a very biddable girl.” I placed my hand on his lower back, and felt him press up against my touch.

“How do you know that?”

I smirked and breathed my answer against his hair. “All the rebellion's been beaten out of her a long time ago.”

He half-turned to ask, “You bought damaged goods?”

“Not that damaged... yet.” He smiled wider at my answer, his gaze fixed on the silhouette moving about along the corridors. Although she was not that smart, Kei had a lissome grace about her, and her deep brown eyes were a wonderful bonus. They matched mine exactly – which should appeal to Gin.

“You have great taste.” He ran his fingers over his mouth. “What's she here for, really?”

Smart boy. I replied softly, “She will also be our classroom.”

“Hmm.” Gin bit his index finger on the pad until he drew blood, then offered it to me. I took the offering and licked the ruby bead, the tip of my tongue circling the tip of his finger twice. He sighed gently before swiveling about to kiss me on the nose.

I slipped an arm about his waist, pulled him up against me. He moved his hips very subtly and I stifled the inevitable groan. My grip tightened in a reproach and I hissed, “Not tonight.”

“Why not?”

“You don't feel it?” I circled his waist with my other arm and my hands roamed up his back. “Your reiatsu has been screaming at me the entire day. I couldn't sit still at all.”

“Was that why you kept pacing your office while instructing the new officers?” he inquired politely. I inhaled the delicate scent of his hair as he turned his head. “What's that about my reiatsu?”

Very reluctantly I let go of my embrace and nodded to the left. “Let's go to the sword room.”

xxxxx

He followed two paces behind me, our footfalls beating in time. When had we synchronized? His footsteps used to act as counterpoint to mine.

“Care to share information about my reiatsu?” he asked again as I slid the door open. Kei had already lit the lamps.

“You should know better than I do,” I chided gently as we entered the room, our shoes at the doorway. His hands were clasped behind him, a picture of careless elegance. “Now remove your sword from your belt.”

“Not my clothes?” He teased but complied readily. “You have a sword and I don't... What are we doing?”

“I am going to attack you. I will hold back until I am sure you can handle it, and then...” I took a step back. “Let us begin. For now, I will not draw my sword.”

We began circling each other. I felt his reiatsu levels rise to meet my own, and he was steady. No shaking, no sweat. A calm smile, regular footsteps, even breathing. Just a few months ago he would have been perspiring and faltering, barely able to stand... and he was now able to challenge me.

Smart boy. I felt very proud of him. Now let's see what else you can do, Gin.

 

Chapter Text

I knew he would be terrified.

He was perhaps the third person to feel the weight of my entire spiritual pressure engulfing him, to bear the brunt of my killing intent.

He had not stepped back, but his pupils had dilated and constricted; perspiration dripped off him, then began soaking his clothes; I could see the tatami fraying away from my approach. Only one person had ever been able to stand against my full attack – and that person was now away forever.

Would Gin match up to him?

He slid one foot back, his hands still steady despite the obvious terror mounting in him. Then, to my mild surprise, he pulled the sword to his right side and held it only in one hand.

Are you giving up already, Gin? Are you afraid to kill?

If he was giving up, I would have to kill him for real.

Mizuki had stood her ground. For a moment only, and it was enough. Stand your ground, Gin. Face me.

He crouched a little, bending over his sword. I saw his left hand shaking almost imperceptibly.

Don't disappoint me now, Gin.

I was three paces from him when he shouted, thrust the sword out blindly – and the blade shot past my face into the wall and punched into the plaster. I felt the wet on my cheek and realized the blade had cut my skin.

I dampened the reiatsu output and looked at Gin, who was panting and still gazing, stunned at the blade. I knew there was a huge smile on my face.

“How do you feel?”

He sank to his knees, clearly overwhelmed. To my shock tears began rolling down his cheeks. I hurried to his side. “What's wrong?”

““I never... never thought it would be like this, not like...Everything... This zanpakuto is... it's me. It is me. All of me.” He was babbling. I knew releasing the zanpakuto for the first time was an experience that took people differently, and revealed different aspects to their personality. Judging from his reactions, Gin was more attuned to his sword than I was.

Nonetheless I could not nurture a possible over-dependence on his own sword. “Part of you.”

“No, all of me. Everything. It feels like... like the first time you took me, filled me to the hilt, or whenever I am buried in you, or whenever you claim me... whenever I am fully, totally yours...”

My heart swelled with... pride, perhaps. I soothed him until he calmed down and breathed more evenly. Then, in his quicksilver fashion he changed moods and smiled brightly at me. “Let's have a bath. I'm filthy.”

xxxxx

“That's enough, Kei. Clear the table.” That had been a good dinner. I had bathed alone. Gin had looked rebellious but obeyed my injunction.

Truth was, I wasn't sure I could hold out until after dinner if I didn't have some time, however short, to recuperate.

Kei bowed and reached for the leftovers on the table, but suddenly Gin grabbed hold of her wrist.

“I haven't said you can clear mine.”

“B-but Aizen-taichou said-” she stammered. I grimaced wryly. Bad answer, Kei.

“This is my house, Kei. You obey me.” Gin's smile became a touch more malicious. I smothered my amusement.

Too early to begin.

Gin, let go of Kei. She just didn't know.” He gripped harder instead. “Gin. Let go.”

Gin smiled thinly at the girl, who was clearly growing scared. “Say please.”

After looking at me for help – and not receiving any - Kei said nervously, “Please, Ichimaru-sama, will you please release my hand?”

Having had his fun, Gin let go. “Ichimaru-sama is quite a mouthful. Tell you what. You'll address me as Gin-sama.”

“Yes, Ichim... I mean, Gin-sama.”

Gin nodded at Kei and she cleared the table as quickly as she could. After Kei had retreated to the safety of the corridor, Gin leaned back and asked, “How did I do?”

I assessed his performance objectively. “You struck the right note. Well done.”

“How does she see you anyway?”

“I rescued her from her abusive aunt, and placed her with a lovely old lady. Then I asked for some help with this place and she volunteered.” There had been a number of other children with the old lady too, but there was a baby girl who caught my eye. Delicate little thing, with snow-white skin and a gurgling laugh.

“Hero worship, in other words.”

I smiled as I stood. He had hit the nail on the head. I said, “I love it when they are bathed in admiration. Blind with devotion, blind to everything.”

“I'm devoted,” protested Gin.

“You saw through me before you became devoted. It's different.” And somehow more interesting that way. “Shall we?”

“We shall.”

xxxxx

I must... be more exhausted... than I thought, I found myself thinking while our mouths and bodies locked together, panting and pushing and pillaging. I let myself float on the wave of sensation, my vision blurring as he hit my prostate again and again. When... did I become... so vocal?

One hand reached for the sheets as my mind swam into ecstasy. He was on a high from the fist release of his sword; I was lightheaded from continually balancing his reiatsu that entire workday.

I let go of my control; Gin could take care of the rest without any trouble. I knew I shouted out; I knew he did as well; I knew someone was out in the corridor listening to her hero being fucked senseless. And somehow... it made every sensation sharper, every pleasure deeper.

Fuck it. Stop thinking, Sousuke. Let your mind relax. Let me take care of things.

The voice in my head was unexpected and unwelcome, but I heeded the advice and stopped thinking.

Gin can take care of everything.

xxxxx

When I woke there was an warm space beside me. I stirred and got up. I could hear him outside, murmuring.

I rubbed my curved lips. He was building the correct foundation, I knew, but I had to make an appearance soon. Wrapping the sheet about my hips I went to the door.

“What's going on?”

“Go back to bed.” If I had been in Kei's place I would be terrified of that smile on his face. As it was, it sent little shudders down my spine.

“Are you hurting her?”

“Go back to bed, Sousuke.”

I narrowed my gaze. His turned a little apologetic and I relented. I would play the part.

“Kei came here because she trusts me. Don't hurt her, Gin.”

“Whatever gave you the idea? We trust each other, don't we, Kei-chan? Hmm?” he said cheerfully before letting her out of his confining interrogation. As he led me back into the room he gave her a saucy wink.

From the sounds I knew she had sprinted back to her room. I embraced him from behind, letting the sheet fall. “That was great.”

“The sex or the show, Aizen-sama?”

“Everything was great. Now...shall we head on to round three?”

He ran his hand along my left thigh and sniffed. “That would take place in the bathtub though.”

“Why?” I nipped his ear.

“I got you all inky.” He exhaled slowly as my tongue traced the back of his neck, then flicked at his earlobe. “And I can't lick ink off, I'll be poisoned.”

“Get a damp cloth then and clean me up,” I commanded and got back into bed. “Make sure it's a thin fabric you use. And leave the girl alone for tonight.”

“Yes, yes, and yes, taichou,” drawled Gin as he slid the door open again. I had counted only to fifteen when he returned with a basin and two pieces of cloth over his forearm. The candle near the bed was lit. He placed the basin on the small table nearby. “Would taichou like to come here please?”

I grinned and got to his side.

“Would taichou prefer for me to clean from the ankle up or from the chest down?” He squeezed water from the strip of fabric. It was cotton, I noted.

“Chest down.” Before he could touch me I added, “With your clothes off, if you don't mind.”

“Why would I?”

I could feel his palm and his fingers, separated by the fabric, running over my pectorals, down to my stomach, to my hips... Only my left side was inked, so as he worked on my chest he took time to suck on my lower lip, lick my jawline, run his tongue into my ear. The slight roughness of cotton stimulated my nerves, and the cool water chilled my skin, and his hot left hand wandered freely up and down my body. I felt myself harden and his length was brushed against me whenever he moved.

He was acting nonchalant, though I could see him swallow now and then, the lightning-quick licking of his lips, the rising flush in his face and the quickened pulse at the base of his lovely neck. The orange light played over his sharp features, and I wondered if he had done this before.

He exchanged the dirtied piece for another rag, this time kneeling before me to clean my left leg. I almost buckled to my knees as he worked his strong fingers into the muscles and his wet mouth engulfed my length without any announcement. As he licked and thrummed deep in his throat the cloth slid up and down my calf, ostensibly to remove all traces of ink, but I knew he couldn't see what he was supposed to be doing.

“Gin,” I slurred, “get on your back.”

“We have the bed,” he pulled away long enough to reply.

“I want you on your back on the tatami now.” I wasn't in the mood to negotiate.

He obeyed, putting the basin and cloths far from the both of us. I got to my knees, watching him spread his legs, aware that he was very beautiful. Like the legendary fox spirit. With a soft sigh I lowered my hips to his, our shafts touching and rubbing against each other. He appeared to welcome my weight as we embraced. We kissed without any more words, and slowly I reached for him... then paused. “Gin?”

“Hrmmm?” his quiet reply stirred me deep in my gut. “What is it, Aizen-sama?”

I move to his side and straddled him instead. “Do you want me to?”

He opened his eyes a slit, gazed into my eyes and nodded. When I leaned down and kissed his forehead, he grabbed around and kissed me hungrily on my lips. His cool hands – damp from the water – slid to my hips. “The oil is on the bed.”

“Take me raw then.”

He gulped and shivered. I lowered myself very slowly onto him. The burn was not as intense as he had feared – we had done this just earlier, after all, and he had oiled himself very thoroughly just now -but I welcomed the change in roles. It felt good to let others lead, now and then.

As he sat up to embrace me, I lost myself in the rhythm and the pleasure.

Fuck it.

I growled as he sank his teeth into my shoulder, and snarled with exhilaration and abandon.

Stop thinking, Sousuke.

I felt him release into me, the second time that night.

Let your mind relax.

There were little sparks on the edges of my vision, and I buried my face into silver hair and pale, sweaty skin.

Let me take care of things.

 

Chapter Text

We found a routine, Gin and I. We met up once every four to five days, spent a night or two together, and get on with our individual lives. Kei kept her knowledge of us very quiet, and I reined Gin in whenever his tendency to tease got too far. He was learning a lot, both from me and on his own.

Half a year passed without much incident, save that I managed to get Gin to graduate early. It wasn't difficult to do, once the principal saw that Gin had attained first release. Gin had kept his word too, and was taking care of the things I used to have Tousen or Mizuki handle. Watching him grow into his strength... It was beyond pride.

Tousen ran a tight ship at the Ninth, and our occasional collaboration ensured he was still loyal to me. As for Mizuki, she had been promoted to seventh seat in the Eighth Division. She hadn't been too eager, but Kyoraku had been very definite that she should come under his wing. I didn't fight the decision – it had been the soutaichou who put it to a few of us, but I had been the one to put it in his head.

xxxxx

xxxxx

“Does that mean I have to transfer?”

I held her hand and pulled her closer, tucked her against my side. “It's time you were promoted,” I said, “but the only opening we have is that of lieutenant and you, my dear girl, are not quite ready for that.”

She pouted and nuzzled closer. We were at our picnic spot, and I had just told her of the reorganization. She said, “Did Shunsui-san say why he wanted me in his division?”

“Well, he wasn't really forthcoming,” I drawled. Then I grinned. “I've a feeling it's because he wants someone to teach him how to woo a girl who very probably will be going into the Eighth Division next year.”

“Oooh, really?” Gossip perked a girl up like nobody's business. She looked around mock-dramatically. “Is it that Ise girl?”

I chuckled. “Is there anyone who doesn't know?”

“Nope.” Mizuki munched her apple contentedly.

Blind little girl. I knew she had never recognized – or perhaps she didn't want to recognize – that Kyoraku and Ukitake were sleeping together. But that was how I liked her: smart enough to learn, but not clever enough to put things together. Too bad she had to leave. I needed to make space for Gin to rise through the ranks in the Fifth, and Mizuki... her potential had limits. And she was close to meeting those limits.

There was one more cleanup job for her though. “Dearest, do you feel that?”

She sat up. I felt her expand her senses. Then her eyes flew open. “Hollow. Two miles north.”

“Shall we?”

“Let me.” She smiled brightly at me. “It's only a hollow after all.”

“All right.” I ruffled her long silky hair. “I'll be waiting.”

xxxxx

Kyoraku had flashed a puzzled glance at me at the end of the meeting. “You didn't protest at losing Mizuki to my division.”

“I'm not losing her, Kyoraku-san,” I said politely. “She should get the promotion, and I think she can learn a lot from you.”

He narrowed his gaze but then wandered off, a swish of pink and purple flowers and a hint of sake in the air. I sniffed critically, but was interrupted in my thoughts by a casual arm slung over my shoulder. I looked to my left. “Kurosawa-san, what can I do for you?”

“You sure ya want that pretty girl of yours in his place?”

I shrugged. “It'd be good for her. And what's it to you anyway?”

“Hey, I ain't complaining. If he hadn't insisted, I'd have had to take her in.”

“You're still sore about having women in the Gotei?”

“They're weak and easily scared. Cowards to the last o'them. Unlike the rest of you I'm not blinded by pretty faces.” He snorted as he continued, “Decorative though they might be.”

I shook my head with a sigh. “You grew up with Unohana-san and still you can say that?”

xxxxx

xxxxx

Odd. Gin was late. I completed my hakudo drill and drew my hands back. “Kei!” I called out.

“Aizen-taichou.”

“Once Gin is here inform him I'm in the sword room. Then you can go on your vacation.”

“Yes sir.”

“Do give my greetings to your grandmother.”

I headed in, tossing back a container of water. It was so cold these days. Winter was here, but the first snow had yet to arrive. I sat down and rifled through my stack of notes - I was intending for Gin to study them, but there were some I'd rather keep to myself. A handwritten scrap of parchment caught my eye.

Perhaps it is time to try that spell he left me.

I bit into both my index fingers and began scribing the inscriptions onto my forearms. Then, chanting under my breath, I placed two dashes across my cheeks.

“... I dream of your mountains and autumn pools...”

Three dots on each foot.

“...a lonely swan from the sea flies, to alight on puddles it does not deign...”

A stripe of crimson along the neck, then along the collarbones.

“...circumstance governs destiny. Cause and effect are an infinite cycle.”

I was ready.

Calming breaths – four, three, two, one.

The heat grew in a spiral just below my heart. Slowly it encompassed me, and gradually I felt myself falling into a deep reverie. A halo of energy circled out from my solar plexus.

It works.. I felt exultant – and dejected. You really are a genius, Ki.

The warmth settled onto my skin; I tingled all over. It was as if the Amaterasu herself had enveloped me in a gentle embrace.

Abruptly the warmth changed into searing heat, and shards of fire burrowed into my skin. Grimly I held on – I must have been distracted.

The shards grew into spears, into blades, into raging torrents of lava...

I can overcome this. I can fight this! It's just reiatsu - reiatsu levels rising -

I roared in agony as heat consumed me from within.

“AIZEN-SAMA!”

 

Chapter Text

When I caught the scent of cinnamon I thought I was dreaming.

“Sousuke, what happened to you?”

“Gin?” I wanted to feel his skin on me. I needed the contact – his cool skin soothed the heat within.

“I'm here.” Gin came to my side. “I've brought him.”

“Who?” I blinked slowly; every movement etched acid across my nerves. A name came to my mind. “Ki?”

“I'm here.” I felt his warm hand brush hair from my forehead, and for a second I suffered exquisitely from memory. “What happened?”

Kisuke's voice drew me back to the present. Reminiscence could wait. “You. Your spell.”

I ran out of breath, and tried to draw breaths in desperately.

“If what he says is true-” Gin snarled at Urahara. I leaned into his hands; it felt so good to have his coolness on my ripped skin.

“-I will save him.” Kisuke stated calmly. “Draw the bath. As much cold water as you can fill it with.”

I sighed and tried to swallow. Kisuke remained, but the absence of Gin's soothing presence irked me. “Why... why did you come?”

“Because he said it was for you.” Kisuke's fingers prodded the gaping cuts. “You tried to raise your reiatsu reserves.”

The strong, skillful fingers traced each cut; I focused on breathing. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Forget about the knife in your gut, forget about the arrows shooting up your limbs; inhale, exhale.

Gin returned. “I've filled the bath.”

“Lead us there.” Kisuke bent over to carry me, but I turned away.

“Gin,” I called hoarsely, “take me there.” Gin came and carried me – I knew he would find it a bit of a strain, but I didn't want Kisuke to touch me. Mutely I mouthed, “Thank you for this, Gin.”

Kisuke followed silently behind.

xxxxx

xxxxx

“So you're decided?”

“Yes.”

We sat opposite each other, the teapot and teacups insufficient barriers between the two of us. I bit the inside of my cheek and looked away with a heavy sigh. “How did we come to this?”

“Because we believe in different things.” He rubbed his forehead. “But I believe I will always lo-”

“Don't.” I cut him off. “It'll just make everything we've gone through sound trite and stupid.”

Kisuke drank deeply from the cup and poured another. We sat in further silence and tension. I gritted my teeth, my jaw tight. There was something I need to know.

“Why her?” I asked softly.

“... I honestly don't know,” he admitted. “A few years ago I'd have said no way in hell, y'know? And now... Sousuke, you and I – we don't... we don't bring out the best in each other.”

“No. No we don't,” I agreed. “But you know I hate losing.”

“It's not a loss, it's only a change-”

“It is, only you can't see it because you're the prize!” I shouted, my chest rising and falling with the force of my emotion. “Ki, don't even try. Seriously.”

He opened his mouth, about to speak, but I got to my feet. I brushed the dust from my knees and said, “We're done. Goodbye.”

xxxxx

There were times we couldn't avoid each other. Captains' meetings, committees, ceremonies...

I had to think of ways to avoid the knowing gaze, the slightly superior smirk. And occasionally I would force myself to appear entirely cordial with his new partner.

She had been his childhood friend, and now they were more than friends. My replacement, in essence.

I couldn't like her. I had tried, at first, when he introduced us, but something about her feline grace and dark skin got on my nerves.

xxxxx

xxxxx

They placed me on the side of the sunken bath.

Water was lapping over the sides, but Kisuke merely nodded approvingly. From his pocket he pulled out a packet, and then he unsheathed Benihime. My vision blurred; I couldn't hear what he muttered, but I knew when they carried me and began to lower me into the bath. Strange: the water level seemed to have dropped dramatically.

“Remember: we need full immersion.”

Hmm?

He chanted over me, then placed Benihime point first into the water. Gin wasn't looking at me but for Kisuke's signal; nonetheless I was oddly happy to note the vitriol in his gaze.

“Ready, Sousuke?” His question was purely rhetorical, I knew, because that was his style. And true to his style I was placed into the tampered bathwater.

I almost screamed when my skin touched the waters. It was beyond heat, it was liquid flame.

My last coherent thought before the waters closed over my face was, I'm going to kill you, Ki.

 

Chapter Text

I was emerging from a tar pit. Lethargy sucked at my consciousness, but I resisted. Vaguely I heard the murmur of voices, and I slowly opened my eyes.

I was resting against Gin's hip, enveloped in warm softness. I could sense Kisuke nearby. I shifted, and nearly cursed aloud for the pain that shot through my organs. “Gin, sit me up.”

God, my throat is sore.

He helped me to a sitting position, and gladly I drank the cup of water he provided. Although I wished only to rest, I had to speak to Urahara Kisuke in private. “Gin.”

“Do you want me to leave?”

My smart boy. “I want you to stay by the door, outside this room.”

He sighed a little, as if rejected in some way. Before he could go I grabbed his hand.

Look at me, Gin.

He regarded me hesitantly. “Smile for me, Gin, like you always do.”

He managed a shaky smile that steadied rapidly. I pulled on his hand, signaling him to sit and face me. He did, his right knee folding under him. I knew Kisuke was watching us, but I didn't care. Gin was more important right now. I cupped his petal-smooth cheek. “I will tell you everything later, I promise.”

“I know,” he replied raspily. “Later, taichou.”

Putting distance between us already? Not so fast, young man.

“Wait.” Although I couldn't really control my fine motor skills, I could move nearer to him of my own accord. He stilled, and I kissed him. I felt his warm exhalation on my skin, his soft lips open for me to enter his mouth. I licked his lower lip, and my tongue traced a pattern across the roof of his mouth. Wishing I could continue, I fell back. I was running out of energy. “We'll talk later,” I reassured Gin quietly.

“Yeah.” He swallowed and slipped off the bed. As he passed Kisuke, the blond stood up and walked slowly towards me. By the time Gin had slid the door shut Kisuke was at the foot of the bed.

“That's close enough,” I said coldly. He stopped in his tracks.

“What do you want me to say?” he asked. I couldn't see his eyes clearly; my vision was still blurred.

I sighed. “The spell was defective.”

“It wasn't tested-'

“You gave it to me, Ki.” I pinned him with my calm gaze. “I'm not so injured that I suffer amnesia. I asked you how you got to bankai capability, and you gave me that spell. You said it would raise reiatsu reserves.”

He fell silent. What could he say?

“Did you feel disappointed that I didn't test it out immediately?”

“Sousuke I didn't mean-”

“Would you have wept for me if I had fallen prey to your little prank?” I pressed on relentlessly. “Or did you relish the thought that you were so much smarter than I could ever be? Perhaps you would have laughed-”

“Dammit Sousuke!” Kisuke exploded. He was seldom angry, but I knew all the buttons to press to drive him furious. He swore softly as he fought for self-control. “I admit that there was a bug planted into the spell. I never wanted... Sousuke you have always been the more adept, the stronger shinigami and I just... it wasn't meant to kill.”

“But it almost did,” I stated matter-of-factly. “If Gin hadn't been here, I would have died. I'd be dead, because I trusted you.”

He turned away. I couldn't see him clearly, but I knew he would have that remorseful, puppy-dog expression on his face. That was Urahara Kisuke all over, of course: experiment first, regreat the aftermath at leisure. And never ask permission.

I breathed out slowly. “I'm surprised Tessai let you come. Wasn't he supposed to be guarding you?”

“We were impressed by – what did you call him? - Gin's insistence.” He rubbed his nose. “That young man will make a good captain someday. He actually had me cornered with his sword.”

“That's my Gin.” I slumped against the headboard. Kisuke took a step closer, as if to help me up, but I stopped him. “No, Ki. You've made your choice, now I'm making mine.”

“Sousuke,” he began, but I cut him off.

“Urahara-san, we are done. I am tired. I do not wish to see you again. Get out of our house.”

“Our- you mean, you and that boy -” he sputtered, for once at a loss for words. He tried to form a sentence and failed, only asked, “That much?”

“Yes, Urahara-san. That much. Get out. Now.” When he didn't move, I called out for Gin, who entered noiselessly. “Gin, send Urahara-san back to where he belongs. He has outstayed his welcome.”

As both of them proceeded to the bedroom door, I spoke again. “And, by the way, Urahara Kisuke, I won't forget tonight.”

He inclined his head. I added, very calmly, “You won't forget either.”

 

Chapter Text

When Gin returned to me it was nearing dawn.

“Come here, Gin.” I sighed luxuriously as he fitted himself into the crook of my shoulder and neck. I ignored the pain – although the cuts had closed, the lacerations went deeper than they suspected. I also knew there was internal bleeding, but I could handle that tomorrow by myself. He burrowed deliberately into the space. I turned to bury my mouth into his silky hair. “Thank you.”

“You're welcome,” he mumbled into my skin. He was cold and clammy beneath his robe. I pulled the quilt over us, every nerve in my hand protesting at my rough treatment.

For a long moment neither of us spoke. But he continued breathing heavily into my neck, and I knew my fingers quivered with the force of my grip on his shoulder. Then I broke our silence. “There is something I wasn't pleased with though.”

“What, Aizen-sama?”

“Why did you doubt me?” I asked, my tone low and accusing. Gin did not speak, merely wrapped his arm about my torso in contrition. I wasn't able to shake him off, but I cuffed him lightly about the head. “Have I ever given you a reason to doubt me, Gin?”

“... No.”

I took a deep breath and continued. “I will never - never – give you a reason to doubt, Gin. There isn't room for that between us.”

“I know.” His voice was stronger. “You said that you will open yourself fully to me.”

“And the time is come.” I inhaled deeply, feeling a slight twinge in my ribs. “Before tonight, I had – not doubts, but reservations – about carrying out my plans.”

“Because of Urahara-san?”

“Do not speak his name.” I cuffed him again, a little harder. “But yes.”

He propped himself on his elbows and looked at me. Dark circles did not become him – he looked best with a smile, not clouded with worry. Gin was chewing on his lower lip. “So he's still important.”

I struggled up, a feat that ripped pain up my thighs and flat stomach. “Ichimaru Gin, I just told you not to doubt me.”

“But he's clearly important-”

“Because he's the key to my plans.” I was panting. My stamina had been wiped out, I realized bitterly, even though my reiatsu levels were unchanged. “He is... the key. I still thought of him as a friend, if not an ally, and that was why I hesitated.”

Gin just stared at me, his mouth set in a thin line.

“Still so transparent about your feelings. Have you learned nothing, boy?” I gritted out. Trying to stifle the twinges and aches I twisted my fingers into his fine hair and pulled him close. “If I have to fuck you until you forget the name of that blond bastard, I will. Once I get my strength back, don't even think of leaving this bed until I know you've forgotten.”

“You just made sure I will remember his name forever,” he whispered, a wicked smile slowly lighting up his features.

Confused, I reconsidered my words. Then I grinned and finally began to laugh, until the pain overrode the chuckles. “Ah- Ouch. Ouf. Gods, that hurts.”

“Here,” he said as he bent over my prone form. “Let me practice my healing jutsus.”

I smiled. Then I looked out the window. “Gin, it's snowing.”

He followed my gaze, then turned back to me. “Then I guess we'll just have to stay in until you get strong again, hmm?”

xxxxx

It took me almost a week to recover my lost strength. But since Seireitei was experiencing the worst snowstorm since, well, since forever, no one was expected at work.

It was a rather coincidental stroke of luck, but neither Gin nor I complained. We had enough stored in the house, and by taking care of me he strengthened in his reiatsu control as well. A win-win situation, if I ever saw one.

“It's stopped snowing,” I announced one morning as I hobbled to the window. Gin came in and threw a robe over my shoulders. “We'll have to return to work soon.”

“Do we have to? I like the idea of you all weak and kitteny.” He nuzzled my ear as we admired the white-drenched yard. I half-turned and looked at him. His eyebrows raised and he said, “Kitten-ish?”

I looked at him for some time.

He then snorted and apologized with a kiss on my cheek. I ruffled his hair and, leaning on him, walked to the breakfast table. As we ate I asked, “Isn't Kei supposed to come back today?”

“Mm-hmm. In fact she came in this morning while you were still resting. She made breakfast.”

I liked watching him eat: quick, neat and unfussy. I rolled my shoulders, aware that I was stiff after so many days of not sparring. “Get her to draw a hot bath.”

“Alright. Scented?”

“That'd be nice.”

xxxxx

When I heard the odd sounds in the bathroom I wasn't entirely surprised. He had hinted at a surprise for me, and I suppose this was his way of celebrating my recovery. Unhurriedly I slid the door open, inwardly betting on the scene I would see.

Gin had pinned Kei to the floor, the girl wild-eyed and frantic, her robes ripped open. He was not yet naked, and her fighting added a windswept appeal to his appearance that made my length throb.

I win.

He looked up. “Sousuke. You're finally here.”

Finally here? Ah, I get it.

She tore free of his grasp and ran into me. I caught hold of her and held her tightly against me. “It's alight Kei, I'm here. I'm here. Gin, what were you doing?”

“What did it look like, Sousuke?” He sat on his haunches, his erection clearly evident despite the robe he wore. Flicking out his tongue he licked the curve of his smile. His long fingers curled and uncurled.

In my arms, Kei was trembling fiercely. I patted her curls and murmured, “It's alright, I'm here. I'm here, Kei.”

“I-I'm sorry, I can't... I can't,” she whispered shakily, her breath racked by sobs. Her face was tear-stained and innocent when she tilted her head to look at me. “Aizen-t-taichou, I can't - I can't stay here. Please, I can't-”

“It's alright, he didn't mean to scare you.” I peered into her face, knowing that she would not respond. “Gin didn't mean to scare you, did you Gin?”

He just smiled sardonically. “No, I didn't mean to scare her.”

I pulled her close to me, now stroking her on the back. She slowly relaxed, her sniffs becoming intermittent. Gin and I exchanged a quick, meaningful smile before he disrobed. Then, getting on all fours he began to prowl towards us, all the time with a predatory smile on his face. He halted behind her, a motionless statue.

Gods, he is beautiful.

I slowly detached myself from the girl, making sure she kept eye contact with me. “He didn't mean to scare you, Kei,” I said, very tenderly pushing the curly tendrils from her damp cheeks. “You understand that, right?”

She nodded. Her sobs hadn't stopped yet.

I tilted her chin up and kissed her on her brow. I added, very tenderly, “He meant to rape you. He meant to do it for me.”

With a shove I pushed her into the pale arms waiting behind her and she shrieked. Gin cradled her and licked hungrily up the side of her neck. She struggled, but now his grip was probably like a vise. I looked at her widening brown eyes, at her slim legs kicking out... Gin's hands had removed the rest of her clothes and were doing very naughty things to very naughty places. Kei whimpered and screamed, fighting for her life. Then he paused.

“Don't you want to, Aizen-sama?” he asked, one hand over Kei's mouth. She was still thrashing about.

The end of the show.

Dropping my clothes in a heap by the door, I entered the hot bath and angled myself to face them. The rose oil Gin had selected was incredibly sensual, but right now I smiled and relaxed against the side of the sunken bathtub. “Not yet. Don't worry about me, Gin; I just want to watch you go.”

 

Chapter Text

And so it begins...

My breath caught as he pinned her. Her eyes, wild and searching, fell on my face. “Aizen-taichou!”

I ducked under the water and straightened, the rivulets running past my eyes. I swept my hair back and grinned. “Aizen-taichou doesn't live in this place, Kei.”

She screamed as he took her roughly. I ached with longing but held myself steady. There would be time for me to participate.

xxxxx

We looped the thin chain about her neck, the other end secured to Gin's left wrist. When she woke she tried to hide from us, but the bed was only so large and there were only so many places to huddle into.

As I thrust into her I knew he was trying to restrain himself, judging from his heavy breathing and his twitching hands beside me.

She wept softly, hands pushing against me, not even daring to claw at my face. The thin chain rattled and clinked.

Bored, I moved out of her, still turgid, and instead pushed Gin onto his back. Rolling my hips into his, he welcomed me more readily and eagerly, parting his legs for my pleasure. As we bucked in perfect rhythm, she scurried into a corner, but was soon trapped by my fierce gaze.

And so it begins.

xxxxx

And so it ends.

Gin panted as he emptied into Kei. I followed soon after. Together we slid out of her, then Gin summoned the energy to crawl to my side.

She was, by now, a doll; pretty but almost lifeless. Almost negligently we pushed her to the left of the bed, while Gin rested his head on my shoulder. I kissed his forehead tenderly, my eyes almost closing.

“I think you've wiped out my stamina,” I drawled. “And tomorrow is a work day.”

“Mm-hmm.” He was already dozing. “S'ry.”

“It's alright.” I kissed his brow again, wanting to cradle him forever, feeling this pressure on my arm and his cool skin on mine. Before I could drift off to sleep I undid the chain on his left wrist.

Then Kei sneaked off the bed, trying not to make a sound. My eyes opened again. I asked, “Where are you going, Kei?”

“N-nowhere, Aizen-taichou.” She stopped. She was holding her right wrist; I wondered if I had dislocated them in our first – or second? - session. A dark bruise was spreading over her right thigh, the shape of Gin's grip, and one around her neck, where I had held her down. “I-I just...”

“Wherever you're headed, make sure you think of better techniques to entertain him.” I sighed again, and tried to work a kink out of my own neck. “I know Gin gets bored easily with old tricks.”

Her eyes widened with hurt and fear. “En...entertain?” she whispered. “I-I don't, don't understand. How can you- you're Aizen-taichou. You-you saved me. But-”

“Don't trouble your pretty head over this.” I went on with the same amiable smile I used to show her at her grandmother's place. “And, when you do leave, shut the door tightly. I don't want Gin to catch a cold, what with the winter chill.”

I kissed the sleeping Gin on his lips, and he turned towards me. Then I shut my eyes. I heard a pattering of uneven footsteps stumbling down the corridor, and I smiled to myself.

In my arms, Gin slumbered peacefully.

xxxxx

xxxxx

The day dawned cold and clear.

I sat in their living room. Three children, all too young to understand what happened, were running about outside, enjoying the snow and the sun. Kei's 'grandmama', as she had called the old lady, was dabbing at her eyes.

“She came back the day before, and she didn't act like anything was wrong,” she said, almost too softly for me to hear. For someone who had witnessed deaths for years, she still had difficulty with one simple suicide. “Then yesterday I woke up, and went to her room and-”

“I'm sorry for the loss,” I consoled her. “Did she leave any explanation?”

She shook her head, stoic with grief. “All she said was that she had to improve, and then she placed this necklace on the kitchen table.”

I took the thin chain and let it run over my hands. “Why did she say she needed to improve? She had been doing very well at her job. It really is a pity.”

“I wouldn't know.” The old lady wiped her eyes again. “Kei never was... she never could take setbacks all that well.”

I got to my feet. “If there is anything I can do...”

“Aizen-taichou, you have done more for us than anyone. Without you half this family would have died in the streets.” She bowed arthrithically. “We are all deeply in your debt.”

“You are too humble,” I said. “I can't use all the money they pay me, so I might as well use it for some good. By the way, where's the little girl child I asked about?”

“She's with one of the kids.”

“I've found someone who wants to adopt a daughter. A high-ranking shinigami, in fact. She will be well-provided for.”

“Really?” the old lady's eyes lit up. “Oh thank you, thank you. It is such a blessing for little Nemu!”

I wouldn't be too certain about that.

Then again, Gin and I both owe him. Gin's found the albino; I've yet to make my repayment. Nemu will do.

I nodded. “He'll make sure she becomes the best person she can possibly be.”

 

Chapter Text

It was tough working when half my division was out, either in the human world, or in the training grounds with my current lieutenant – a man with no foresight, no imagination and no flair, dear gods – or, in the case of Gin, out at the graduation ceremony.

“Aizen-taichou, do you want these filed according to date or location?” asked one of them.

I sighed inwardly but maintained a veneer of patience. “Haruno, there's a serial number in the top left corner for each of those reports. File according to the numbers.”

“Oh. Right. Sorry taichou.”

I sat back in my chair, feeling exasperated. Imbeciles and idiots. Where is the equivalent of my smart boy?

A knock on the door jarred me out of my musings. “Come in,” I called out.

It was Mizuki. “Hey, sempai. Brought you lunch.”

“I thought you'd be out with your squad,” I said with genuine gladness. “Come here, baby. I'd like some sugary treats.”

“Mmm.” She looped her arms about me. “Too bad I can't stay, I gotta go out to the human world.”

I raised my brows. “What for?”

“Kyoraku-taichou wants us to study the current administration in the human world.”

“Sounds fascinating,” I said. “he priming you all for leadership?”

“No, he said something about... we should learn to empathize with the people we help, and also to understand where hollows' hunger comes from. Oops, look at the time. Gotta go.”

I kissed her again. Then, after tossing the lunch into the trash receptacle, I began to rethink my initial generosity in letting Mizuki transfer to the Eighth Division.

I took decades wearing down her tendency to feel for the underdog, and he builds it up again in half a year. He really is something else.

Perhaps it was time I moved Mizuki away from his influence.

xxxxx

I looked up and smiled amiably. “Kyoraku-san, this is a pleasant surprise. What brings you here this morning?”

“It's time to assign new shinigami to the divisions, yes?” he said without preamble. At my gesture he sat down. His hat was angled against my desk. “I wish to ask a favor.”

“You know I don't usually give favors,” I said smoothly.

“Send me Ise Nanao.”

How should I play this? I steepled my fingers before me. “As a matter of fact I already did.”

He furrowed his brow. “Why?”

“A favor for a favor, Kyoraku-san.” I sat forward, meeting his deceptively relaxed gaze. “Mizuki transfers.”

“Back to you? I don't think so.” He reached for his hat to leave.

“She was never away from me, Kyoraku-san,” I said quietly. Kyoraku's hand paused mid-movement. I continued, “Mizuki transfers to the fourth, under Unohana-san's watchful eye.”

He regarded me steadily. Then he nodded curtly. “Done.”

“Good. Please talk to Unohana-san and make the necessary arrangements.”

xxxxx

I was drumming on the table, trying to decide where to place the last five graduates, when Gin came in later that night. He looked tired and was paler than usual, but I attributed it to Matsumoto. They must have spent a large part of the night together.

“You've talked to her?” I asked.

“I did. She's excited.” He took the place where Kyoraku had sat hours ago.

I gave him the once-over. He appeared to be all right, but there was a hint of sadness about him. Standing up and going around the desk I leaned on the table. “And you're not.”

He tilted his head to face me. “How can I?”

With a smile, I stroked his bright hair slowly, letting the fine filaments cling to my fingers. “I appreciate it. In the meantime,” I said briskly, getting back to business, “there is someone I need you to kill.”

He looked at the name and shrugged. “Done.”

“Get all the notebooks and journals he has and bring them to our place. I'll go over them in my own time.”

He nodded and threw a jaunty salute before he left. I returned to my work.

xxxxx

When I got to the mansion there was a light in the bedroom and one in the study. I considered my options and went to the study.

There was a box full of notes and papers, along with a neat stack of journals arranged according to size.

Thank you, Gin.

I rifled through the sheets, finally locating one full of formulas and coded instructions. Settling down in my armchair I began to read and to take notes in my own journal.

As I wrote I became more and more impressed by Urahara's ingenuity. This man is completely underrated. I grimaced at the soutaichou's decision to exile him, but then began to think deeper about it...

Wait a second... Yamamoto knows where the ouken is. If Urahara had confided in Yamamoto, and the old man decided that the King needs extra protection on the ground...

That means they suspect someone's going to try something. Did Kyoraku speak to them? Doesn't matter. I must prepare accordingly. I need a fall guy. Maybe a few possible fall guys.

I rubbed my eyes, trying to picture my few adherents and potential future acolytes in the role. Too few, too few, but I could not risk a large group – too many people meant too many mouths that could let slip information.

No. I was not ready. I had much to learn, much to accomplish before I could even begin thinking of the ouken.

I needed more people as buffers, more people to act as decoys and distractions. I needed enforcers and adherents who would die for my cause. I needed brains and brawn and even cunning in my chosen. I needed allies in the same status as I was.

In the past Mizuki would have taken on the heavy responsibility to eliminate my opposition, but I knew she was a lost cause. She would have made an excellent enforcer if I had educated her from the beginning. Yet her loyalties are fractured: to her uncle, to other captains, to Seireitei, to me. The fact she was still alive was for sentimental reasons.

I sniffed critically and cautioned myself against such sentimental nonsense.

When she outlives her usefulness, Aizen Sousuke, don't let your heart rule your head.

Same goes for all of them.

I hesitated as I turned out the lights. From the corridor I could see the bright rectangle of our bedroom against the dark of night, and my eyes narrowed. I chewed on the inside of my cheek, remembering how his hair felt like silk between my fingers, how his cool skin soothed me, how he faced down Urahara and even myself.

I made my decision, hard as it was.

Same goes for all of them.

 

Chapter Text

Gin managed to get tickets to the theater for my birthday. I was surprised when he said we had to leave for another country, but I didn't argue the point. Soul Society could link up to various countries, although it was courtesy to pay a visit to the locale's shinigami leaders. Since it was not an official visit, I skipped the formality.

I fidgeted in my crisp white shirt. The tie was getting on my nerves, but Gin insisted that I had to wear one. I fiddled with it, trying to figure out how that length of deep green silk should be tied. Add to that I wasn't wearing glasses... I felt seriously vulnerable.

My silver-haired newly-installed lieutenant had just put on his own attire, a simple black waistcoat over a deep red shirt with a matching black tie. To complete the look, Gin had even managed to locate a pair of wire-rimmed glasses. He looked like an artist. Which he was, of course, in certain – specialized – areas.
"Gin, I can't get this to look right." I glanced at the mirror. I looked good, I had to admit the fact, but the outfit felt restrictive. “I can't even figure this out.”

Gin walked up to me. "Let me."

With slim, elegant fingers he undid the knot I tried to put in the tie and began redoing it properly. I watched the flashing fingers and then Gin's focused expression. He wasn't smiling, but had a relaxed, open expression. His eyes were fixed on the tie, not aware of my scrutiny.

"There. All set." Gin patted the knot after sliding it secure. “Now you look like the distinguished gentleman you are.”

I didn't respond. Gin then looked up and his breath caught. My own breathing slowed, deepened.

I placed my right hand on Gin's cheek, and with the other removed the wire frames. Then, almost like an afterthought, I drew Gin's face closer.

"Aizen-sama?" Gin was transfixed.

"Shh. Don't move. Don't speak." I drew nearer, and then my lips touched his.

He leaned into me but I pulled away slightly. Gin furrowed his brows. Before he could speak I planted a kiss on his soft lips again, my right hand holding him still.

It wasn't the kind of fierce kisses that we usually shared, full of passion and heat and lust. I kept my mouth closed, just pressing our lips together. His were soft, warm and smooth. And he tasted faintly of the honey cake we shared earlier.

I could feel his cool breath on my skin, his lashes brushing mine once or twice. My eyes had closed. Tenderly I began to add a little more pressure to the kiss, then moved to his lower lip. I pulled on it lightly with my lips. Then I brushed the kiss lightly to the corners of his mouth before I stopped the contact.

Pulling away for an inch I saw that he had closed his eyes, and he was breathing rather deeply. As if awakened from some dream, he opened his lovely blue-green eyes. Under heavy lids we gazed at each other, studying every detail. My right hand still cupped his cheek. The tip of the middle finger was lying just behind his earlobe, and I pressed into that soft spot. His lovely lips curved slightly. My right thumb brushed his cheekbone and then, with a hint of regret, I drew my hand from his face.

We stood there motionless, neither willing to break the silence, both knowing it must be done. The words welled up in me, but ruthlessly I pushed them down, put them away. Instead I took a step back.

The spell ended. The magic fled.

"We have to go, we're late for the theater," I said quietly. I helped him put on his black jacket.

Helping me in turn with my coat, Gin then took his glasses from my hand and put them on. "Let's go," he said with his usual smile.
We didn't say another word to each other as we headed out of the hotel.

 

Chapter Text

That evening, after watching the play, we lazed about in our hotel room. I sucked languidly on the base of his neck, enjoying the taste of chocolate still lingering on his skin. He had been ecstatic at the first taste of the dark richness, and I had enjoyed seeing him devour the various fruits dipped in chocolate.

“Mmm...delicious.” He licked the chocolate off his fingers, “it's... strangely familiar though.”

“Really?” I kissed the dab off his cheek. “You've got it all over you.”

“It tastes like you.” He nodded definitively and then dipped another biscuit into the melted chocolate.

I was surprised.

He went on to detail his plans. A little worried, I brushed his hair from his eyes. “Are you sure about this, Gin?”

“I can't drag it out for too long, Aizen-sama, I'll lose my nerve.” He tried to lick a remnant off his nose.

I laughed at his cross-eyed intensity, then turned somber. “I'm concerned about the effectiveness.”

“I know you want me to be more ruthless, but I can't. Not now.”

I exhaled and shifted so we were face to face. “You've already exceeded my expectations, Gin. I'd thought I'd have to kill you; I thought you'd turn on me over this promise.”

“You were pushing me, to see how far I'd go for you,” he said. “I understand. But what changed your mind?”

I turned away, reaching for a glass of scotch. He pressed up behind me, asking, “Is it love?”

“No,” I stated clearly. “I don't love, Gin. Not even you can plant that human taint into me.”

He was quiescent. Then he sat up. “But I am useful?”

“Very,” I reassured him, turning over to look up into his face. “That's why you're still here, beside me.”

He played with my hair, a strange smile lighting his features. “Thank you. For not loving me.” He breathed steadily as he tracked his fingers over my face. “I can't handle love anymore.”

“Love hurts.”

“Very.” He ran his fingers over my face, into my hair, stroking and separating each lock. He then smiled and asked, “If Tousen Kaname is your left hand, can I be your right?”

“You are my right.” I slowly pulled him down over me. “You are my right, and your destiny by my side will be glorious.”

“And I will fight for you, hunt for you, kill for you,” he murmured, emphasizing each phrase with a hard roll of his hips and a fierce kiss, “I will die for you.”

I pressed my lips into his brow. “And we will set the world on fire.”

“All the pretty flames,” he hissed.

“All the pretty flames,” I echoed.

Our mouths crashed together, pressing, searching, dominating, submitting. Suddenly, as if on cue, we pulled apart and began laughing. Real belly-rocking laughter, the sort that seemed it will never end.

He rolled over onto his back onto my shoulder. “That was far too dramatic, Aizen-sama.”

“That's how evil masterminds are supposed to talk, no?” I teased as I sat up. “I still have a meeting with Tousen later. Then there's all the transfer requests to process, so I'll be staying late at the office. What about you?”

“Appointment with Ran at her new room, then to a good restaurant. Thank gods I'm on leave.” He shrugged out of his gigai. “Wait up for me?”

“I will,” I promised, and we shared a sweet kiss before he extended his blade and opened the door to Seireitei.

xxxxx

“Good afternoon, Aizen-taichou,” he said as he entered the office.

“There's a step stool on your right, be careful.” I warned as I approved a transfer of a field operative. I felt tired, as if my brain had yet to catch up. This whole travel across the world thing needed some tweaking. “Thanks for coming by so late.”

“It's not a problem. I hardly sleep anyway.” He paused as he found his way to the seat with minimum fuss. “Did you enjoy your birthday?”

“I did,” I said. “Watched a play. Really liked the main female character. Ambitious, power-hungry, smart. If only I could have a dozen Becky Sharps, we'd be in the clear.”

He furrowed his brow. I sighed; even now he couldn't tell when I was being facetious. I got down to business. “I need three separate passes.”

“We can't open the gates.”

“I'm not planning to do it by ourselves.” I folded the envelope in my hands. “We'll get a hollow to do it.”

He considered the matter over. “Three?” he asked finally.

“Yes. I'm bringing Gin along.”

H turned his face away. “Do you think it's wise to rely so much on a young shinigami like him? He appears to be focused on matters outside of your plans, Aizen-taichou.”

“Tousen, I value you as an ally. And I appreciate your speaking up. But there are things you bring up, and there are things you let lie. Whatever Gin and I share, you let it be.”

“But Aizen-taichou-”

“Leave it. If you trust me, then trust my judgment,” I said with an air of finality. “So finagle me three passes to the human world, and make sure the two of us are not saddled by limiters, alright?”

“Should I set it as fake identities then?”

I pondered. Then I nodded. “Yes. Three unimportant shinigami into the human world for some ridiculous reason. The cause has to be so stupid that it's plausible.”

He rose from his chair. “It'll be ready by the end of the week.”

“Good.” I showed him the door. “By the way, prepare three coats as well. I hear it's a really dusty place.”

 

xxxxx

xxxxx

The next morning all of the new shinigami turned up for the captain's briefing.

Five of them, all scrubbed and eager. Matsumoto was seated second from the right, laughing with some other kid when I swept into the room. My lieutenant Akagi bowed respectfully.

“At ease, all.” I motioned for them to sit. “Welcome to the fifth division. You may not want to be here, of course, but one thing you'll always know: who to blame for putting you here.” I smiled sincerely. “That's because the Fifth handles all personnel movement. From Gotei division transfers, to placement of new recruits, to delegation of shinigami in the human world – here is where everything begins. Division captains, of course, have the liberty of requesting or refusing assignments for their shinigami, but in general we function as the main forwarding center. Questions?”

“Are you attached?” asked a new boy with spiked yellow hair.

I grinned, a little embarrassedly. “Yes. Kai Mizuki, currently fourth seat in the Fourth Division. Very busy woman though, so I'm trying to finagle her out of there.”

A few scattered chuckles. They then asked more pertinent questions, until the second bell sounded.

“Oops, time to get back to work,” I said as I stood up. They hastily got to their feet. I turned around and saw Gin, who nodded awkwardly. My gaze narrowed, then I understood.

“Eighth seat Ichimaru here will show you all around the place. If you have more questions, don't be afraid to ask me.” I busied myself with leaving the room, but as I bumped into him in the doorway we locked gazes.

For a heartbeat neither of us moved.

He flushed and looked away. I cleared my throat and went down the hall to my office.

I risked a sideways glance as I entered my office. He was leading the delegation of new shinigami to the training grounds, but I saw Matsumoto staring after me in slight puzzlement.

Sliding the door closed, I leaned my forehead against the cool wall, before I broke out into silent laughter.

That was priceless.

 

Chapter Text

The five new shinigami settled in. Two of them, one of them Matsumoto, quickly made their way to fourteenth and eleventh seats within the first three months, and the other three were showing their potentials to lead small teams.

They were afraid of Gin's little enigmatic smile, disliked Akagi's stoicism, and completely at ease in my company. As they should.

I made sure to avoid Gin when he entered the room. We would barely exchange eye contact and skin contact, but when we did we would linger for a heartbeat too long. Then he would turn away and I would cough and exit.

Some of my smarter subordinates noticed the oddness, but they didn't extrapolate. They weren't trained to: all this while I had been the thinker for my division. Akagi, with his administrative capability but complete lack of imagination, was the quintessential fifth division officer.

Mizuki and I had our first argument about her “uncles” - Kyoraku again at work on my girl. And the coward didn't confront me directly; it was Ukitake who came to me instead.

xxxxx

xxxxx

“What is the rationale behind limiting Mizuki-chan's social circle, Aizen-taichou?”

I had to give the man his props; no dilly-dallying about the hard truths. “She's spending too much time with you. I think she can become a more well-rounded shinigami if I can tutor her in her kido and zanjutsu more frequently.”

“I sincerely hope you're telling the truth, Aizen-taichou.” The white-haired man's anger radiated like a nova; Kaien behind him was stony-jawed. That man was too rough for his own good, but Kaien did have a certain brash charm about him.

“Why would I lie?” I snapped angrily. “Besides, when she spends time with you two, her mind is poisoned against me. I can't have that now, can I?”

I got up from my seat, matching his height. “We can make a deal: inform Kyoraku Shunsui that, as of now, he stops trying to get Mizuki to break up with me, and in return she can meet whoever she wants.”

xxxxx

xxxxx

"You will be assigned patrol areas to live in for four months. We will minimize traveling and commuting, so you will need to send weekly reports to Ichimaru, who will then make a full report to Akagi once a month."

"Isn't that a lot of paperwork?" asked some girl in the row. She was tiny and bespectacled.

"It's how Soul Society works," I answered. "Paperwork tracks shinigami. It makes it clear who's responsible for what. And so that we can recall all shinigami in the shortest possible time, if necessary."

"Um, taichou?" Matsumoto raised her hand. Gin suddenly frowned. She said, "I may need a shorter time spent in the human world."

"And why is that?"

"Gin and I are getting married soon, and, um, we kind of need to plan for the wedding."

I paused. I looked at Gin, who was looking at Matsumoto.

You didn't tell me that last evening. Why didn't you tell me that last evening? I roared at him inside.

"That's great!" I smiled, aware that the smile didn't reach my eyes. "Why don't you work out the kinks in the schedule with Akagi, and Gi-uh, Ichimaru, I'd like to speak with you. "

xxxxx

We didn't look at each other as we found a quiet table in the building. The other shinigami had been dismissed. Matsumoto was talking with Akagi in another room.

And we were staring at the grain of the wooden table as if it held some universal truth.

xxxxx

xxxxx

We had pulled apart. There was fear in his eyes. I knew there was fear in my eyes.

This was becoming serious.

We were becoming serious.

This was all turning out wrong.

He was entertainment. He was my lover. He was merely someone I could use, a tool for my future. He was my right hand.

That was all he was.

He wasn't meant to be anything more than that.

I steadied my breathing, steadied my gaze. I observed how his smile returned to him, how the mask fell oh-so-carefully between us.

And I carefully shut away the tightness in the pit of my stomach as he walked out into the night.

xxxxx

xxxxx

"You're getting married in three months," I said in a flat voice after I heard what he had to say.

"Yes, taichou. I thought it was time." He twiddled his fingers.

“You don't have a ring,” I noted aloud.

He hid his hands. "I thought I'd put it on on the day itself."

"I see." Another pause. "So who is officiating?"

"Kyoraku-taichou."

My eyes widened. What? I mouthed, suddenly furious.

Sorry, he replied silently, and shrugged apologetically. Her idea.

I breathed in and out, calming myself. He inhaled and went on. “I was wondering if you'd like to be the witness instead.”

“It would be an honor.” I smiled.

“Thank you taichou!” He reached over and clasped my interlocked hands. Then his fingers began tracing over my knuckles, and his thumb rubbed over my wrist. I gulped and steeled myself and the caress grew deeper – almost absently he pried my hands apart to knead the fleshy pads on my palms, to press into the erratic pulse, to run his nails along the lines...

His panting breath, sweet and hot, as we kissed last night against the wall... his smothered cries as we fucked, standing up... the way his skin glowed while we moved against each other...

“It's settled, taichou,” Akagi announced at the door.

Gin and I jerked our hands apart. I got up as in as dignified a manner as I could. I nodded at all of them and said, “Good. Good. Perhaps Matsumoto might like to know a really good dressmaker that Mizuki frequents?”

“Thanks, taichou!” She beamed prettily at me, and I knew Gin had looked away from her. I smiled and nodded again. As the three of them left I sat down again, abruptly reminded of how much I had missed his touch over the past three months. There was that tightness again inside me, but I pushed it away.

“It's not love,” I told myself firmly. “You gave that up a long time ago, Aizen Sousuke. It will never be love.”

xxxxx

xxxxx

“Urahara Kisuke and Aizen Sousuke in room 316,” said the registrar.

I looked over and saw a blond boy wandering up. He had an air of careless nobility about his profile, and the small smirk on his lips irritated me immediately. “Hey. Kisuke here.”

“Aizen Sousuke. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”

“You look like a smart guy,” he said with a grin. “I wonder how long you can endure me as a roommate.” He sauntered off, humming a strange song.

I frowned, not sure if that was a challenge I heard. With a shrug I followed quietly.

xxxxx

xxxxx

I couldn't – wouldn't – love Ki.

I will not love Gin.

I will not endure that human infection in me.

 

Chapter Text

We were all quiet as we headed out the gate to the human world.

The air stank; some sort of miasma hung over the forest where we emerged. “Where is our guide, Tousen?”

“Here,” said Tousen. He pulled on a large chain and a small hollow emerged. I raised my brows.

“It's... a rabbit.” Gin was surprised too. “Our guide is a rabbit.”

Tousen shrugged. “It calls itself Chappy.”

“Doesn't look like he has dry lips.”

I ignored the comment. “Open the way to Hueco Mundo,” I told the hollow.

“You shinigami. Why should I obey?”

I pursed my lips for a beat. Why were all of them so incredibly stupid?

“Because we can always capture another one who does what he's told, and we can kill you. Whereas if you open the door and don't give us lip, perhaps I'd feel inclined to release you from our service once we get there.” I stood up. “So how is it going to be?”

The hollow twitched and sniffed. Then it extended a clawed hand and tore a gateway open.

xxxxx

It wasn't my first trip, but I understood the awe that overtook Gin when he first saw the endless white desert.

“So this is Hueco Mundo? Wow. It's really vast.” He turned about.

I focused his attention on Las Noches, gleaming in the distance. “That is where we're headed. It's quite far though, so I suggest shunpo.”

Tousen said, “It could be difficult with the sandy surface.”

“Not impossible.” I needed some time to organize my thoughts, so I headed off first. I knew Gin would take care of the hollow for me.

xxxxx

xxxxx

“A blood oath,” I repeated. “Latrodecta, do not forget your promise.”

She shuddered, her abdomen barely beginning to heal from the vicious attack another adjuchas had launched. “You have my promise, and my oath, Aizen-dono.”

“When I make vice-captain I will come back. By then you would have the capability to colonise Las Noches, and we will use one section as your base.”

“Understood.”

“Then, after I make captain and I've found my second, I will come back. By that time I expect Las Noches to be yours – and I will cede half of it to you.”

Latrodecta shuffled her feet. “You're not afraid I will stiff you?”

I smiled. “I have every confidence.”

xxxxx

xxxxx

I have every confidence that you will try to betray me, Latrodecta, but you didn't even take half of Las Noches!

Tousen caught up. “Aizen-taichou?”

“Later, if I draw my sword, shield Gin.” I pushed my glasses up the bridge of my nose. “I heard she found herself a mate.”

“Her mate found her,” replied Tousen. “My intelligence reported that he's the reason she hadn't budged since you made lieutenant.”

“Is that so.” I glared at the door while we waited for Gin. “She's going to learn. I keep my promises. I expect my subordinates to keep theirs.”

“When will you attack?”

“At the opportune moment. You will know.”

Gin arrived and I stopped talking. Tousen knocked on the door three times, and I heard the echo of the thumps in the hall.

Gin was quite out of breath. “They'll open for us?”

I seethed. They were deliberately delaying the inevitable confrontation. “They'll open for me.”

The doors pushed inward silently. The foul air of its recesses swept out, and I led the way in.

“I see you've come again, Aizen Sousuke,” said a familiar voice.

Aizen Sousuke? Slut. You owe all you have to me.

“Come on out, Latrodecta. You don't keep any guest waiting, you know that,” I called out.

It was darker than I remembered in the corridors. When I had the place, I would make sure the place was kept clean.

There was a sound of scurrying feet, and then a huge bulk slid out of the darkness. She was larger than I remembered from our last meeting. I drew myself to my full height, arms clasped behind me.

“Aizen Sousuke,” Latrodecta said. “I didn't believe you when you said you'd come back.”

“I believed you when you said you'd take over the entire complex, and I'll get half of it,” I retorted. “But here you are, bloated and trapped in a tiny corner near the gates.”

“I like my space intimate,” she said arrogantly. Her forelegs bore down on me, but dared not come closer than ten paces. “Besides, how was I to know you'd honor that agreement?”

“I was going to but you've disappointed me,” I said. I would have kept my promise. “I could've made you stronger than the vasto lordes, and you are satisfied with so little.”

“You are but a shinigami captain, Sousuke, don't you dare insult me!”

I was about to answer that insult when I heard an outburst from behind me.

“And you are but a hollow and you will keep a civil tongue.”

I turned around. Gin had his usual smile on, but now a veil of malevolence overlaid his features. It was very interesting.

Latrodecta pressed forward. Her eight pairs of eyes glinted redly. I stood my ground, erecting a barrier of reiatsu between the spider and the three of us.

“Who is this then?” she asked snidely.

Gin faced her confidently. “Ichimaru Gin, fifth division, eighth seat.”

There was an inward rushing of air. I held my breath: it stank. I knew I was about to meet her mate, and briefly I wondered what sort of creature he was.

Latrodecta shuddered, and there was another foul wind that passed us. What emerged from behind Latrodecta was a skinny man. His bony frame was covered by midnight-black skin. I knew him and loathed him, but did my best to remain civil. “Hesperus. How have you been?”

He didn't cast an eye on me. My hand moved to Kyoka Suigetsu as he pushed through my barrier with barely any effort, and headed for Gin.

Gin was still smiling.

Hesperus snarled. “What, never seen a man before?”

He circled my lover, and snaked an arm about his waist before sniffing him. “You smell like... bamboo, I think, or perhaps iris... very light...”

Gin hissed when Hesperus ran his tongue over the petal-smooth cheek. I felt my rage build.

Hesperus grinned at me, nonchalant. “I like this one, Sousuke. Very inscrutable. Let me guess...”

“You want to play games?” Tousen snapped.

“Hold it,” I told Tousen, my eyes fixed on Hesperus's hand. He brushed his hand over Gin's face.

“You're his new toy,” he whispered in Gin's ear. Then he let go and came towards me. “He's cute. He's young. Too young to eat.”

I restrained my temper. “He's not for your eating, Hesperus, nor yours, Latrodecta.”

“I know,” said Hesperus. He returned to circle Gin, his pale eyes examining every inch. Gin's smile was now as fixed as a painted mask. “So the great Aizen Sousuke's banging a frail little pretty boy like you. Do you like it? Does he make you bend over like the bitch you are?”

I knew I was ready to kill.

“I wonder... does it hurt when he rams it up in ya? Or maybe you like that it hurts? Does it make you scream? Maybe he does it cos you squeal like a little girl?” Hesperus got into Gin's face, his white mask almost touching my smart boy's forehead.

Any time now.

To my surprise, Gin began laughing. He wiped a tear from his eye as he ducked away from Hesperus. “You know, the way you're carrying on, I think you're the one with a fixation on Aizen-sama.”

“I belong with Latrodecta, the Lady of Las Noches, bitch.” Hesperus dared to spit in Gin's face. He then sauntered back to Latrodecta.

Extending a foreleg, Latrodecta pulled Hesperus closer to herself. She said coolly, “This one's got spunk. We'll enjoy eating him.”

“You'll eat him over your dead body, Latrodecta.” I said equally calmly. “Your mate was very, very rude to my lover.”

“You're on my turf, Sousuke,” she sneered. “I make the rules.”

Sousuke. You just signed your death warrant.

Tousen caught the first fluctuation. He led Gin behind a pillar, but Gin made sure he could see me. I inclined my head slightly in acknowledgment.

“You forget who set you up in here. And I do remember promises made,” I said, my sword balanced in my fist, “and ignored.”

 

Chapter Text

My sword waited as Latrodecta took a few paces back. “Now, Aizen-dono, you know he didn't mean anything by it-”

“I don't know. Let me tell you what I do know.” I stalked forward. “I know you owe me Las Noches. I know you allowed this man-whore to enslave you, blind you to my purpose, a purpose to which you had sworn yourself. I was going to make you great, Latrodecta, have you any idea what you threw away?”

She beat the air before her with her first four legs as I advanced, my fury cascading over the two of them. Hesperus stumbled, then recovered. He hissed and then fled in a burst of foul air.

“That,” I mocked, “that was your great lover, the one you abandoned me for!”

“Aizen Sousuke!”

I half-turned. Tousen had been swept into the wall, and cracks spiderwebbed from his point of impact against the thick surface.

“Back off, Aizen, or I'll tear out the smooth white throat of your little ass-bitch.” Hesperus held Gin in a choke grip, but Gin was calm. He still wore a smile.

I imitated the expression. “Go ahead, Hesperus. I can always find another lover.”

“Hesperus?” Latrodecta called out, terrified now as I advanced inexorably. She was quaking. “Hesperus, save me!”

Ikorose, Shinso.” The words were soft but I caught it. With a snarl of pain Hesperus returned to Latrodecta's side. I saw that his collarbone was pierced.

“Bad aim, Gin.”

“Sorry 'bout that. His hide's thicker than I thought.”

“Not a problem,” I said. I incanted again, and out of nowhere a web of red reishi lines, each thicker than my forearm, wrapped about the immense bulk of Latrodecta. She screamed, her voice drawn thin and piteous.

Hesperus tore at the web but cried out in pain as well. His hands smoked. “Let her go!”

“Let me think... no.” I said, more polite than ever. “Not until Las Noches is mine. You will clear the others out before you get her back.”

He hesitated. Clearly he knew there was no way Latrodecta would be freed in one piece; there was no way I would allow her to roam around in Las Noches once I received it. He wasn't stupid, and he certainly didn't love Latrodecta. I paused, waiting for his decision.

Then Hesperus opened his jaw impossibly wide and tore off Latrodecta's head. Ichor sprayed everywhere and I ducked behind a pillar.

I was impressed. “Very decisive.”

He crunched and swallowed, black blood dripping down his front. “At least now she'll always be a part of me.”

“And I can now trust you to claim all of Las Noches?” I asked.

“I will. But not for you,” he hissed. He was growing in size. I felt the sudden rise in his reiatsu levels. He growled deep in his throat. “Never for you.”

“We will see. For now, we will go.” I turned on my heel, leaving my back exposed to him. Tousen struggled weakly to his feet. Gin frowned a little, concerned that no one was guarding against the adjuchas. I waited for both of them to precede me out of the gate. At the door I turned around again. He was still beside Latodecta's corpse, and was tearing off chunks of his ex-lover.

I said, “Hesperus, I'll see you in a few months. You have work to do.”

"I'll be waiting for you," he replied.

I shut the gate.

xxxxx

“Why didn't we kill him?” Tousen asked immediately as we located a small hollow to open a gateway. “He will not be loyal to you.”

“No, he will not be loyal to me,” I agreed, “but Hesperus harbors delusions of grandeur. He thinks that with his rise in reiatsu he can take Las Noches from all the other adjuchas... and hold it from me.”

“He can't?”

“He can win it from the others. That's why he's still alive.” I rolled my shoulders, felt them creak from stiffness. “Since I can't wage the war myself, he can fight it for me, and then I'll just kill him.”

Gin remained quiet all through Tousen's questions. Finally he spoke. “He'll be even more powerful a few months later, Aizen-sama. I'd say he'll be near vasto lorde standard. It'll be very difficult to defeat him.”

“I know,” I said quietly. I was prepared the moment I saw him with Latrodecta. His reiatsu had grown more intense since the last time I met him, when he was still a very young adjuchas.

Gin paused as I placed the illusion over both of us again. “Why did you keep the spider around anyway? She was weak.”

“She was, but Latrodecta alone out of all the hollows in Hueco Mundo could reproduce. And each of her spawn was the spiritual equivalent of a normal human – and she spawned hundreds at a time.”

Slowly, Gin nodded. He understood.

Smart boy.

Tousen left us the moment we emerged in Seireitei. He was meeting Komamura. I often wondered what was beneath Komamura's helmet – what did he have to hide?

I patted Gin on the shoulder before we split up for our own homes. “It was good of you to speak up for me in there, Gin.”

“It was nothing, Aizen-sama” He flushed a little, but nonetheless flashed a grin at my praise.

I chuckled. “Now focus on your wedding, Ichimaru.”

“Yes taichou.”

Chapter Text

Three months passed. They passed quickly, in a geological sense.

For me, I had to crawl through every tar pit moment.

Finally the wedding day arrived. It was clouded above, gray and depressing. It was a fine day to get married.

I sighed. Las Noches was warring right now and I had to witness something I did not wish to see.

Blame no one else, Sousuke. You set this into motion, Kyouka Suigetsu murmured in my mind. I hushed my zanpakuto and sighed again.

xxxxx

“... and Ichimaru Gin, do you pledge to love, treasure and protect Matsumoto Rangiku, your wife and your other half, from now to forever?” Kyoraku asked.

The groom smiled tenderly. “I do.”

“Heard and witnessed,” I recited the traditional words.

I signed on the two pieces of parchment after the newlyweds initialed. Kyoraku rolled it up and bound it with a thin strip of gold fabric. He passed it to me and I locked it in the lacquered box prepared for the occasion.

“Alright now, Ichimaru, you may now kiss the bride.”

I smiled and cheered along with everyone else.

Matsumoto giggled and beamed at the guests, and Ichimaru kissed her again on her cheek. As they proceeded to mingle among the guests, I slipped out of the room quietly.

XxXxXxXxXxXxX

I was leaning on the balustrade, watching dark gray clouds drift across the sky. Heat, oppressive, stifling heat, was rising and I rubbed irritably at the stickiness on my brow.

“I didn't expect to see you here,” said a familiar voice.

I didn't look around. “Kyoraku-san. Where were you expecting to see me then?”

“Inside, flirting with the bride and charming all the guests.” He leaned on the railing beside me. I turned around so that both of us faced the hall inside. They were dancing, and many of the women were gathered about Matsumoto.

“I just wanted a place to think,” I said. “At times like this, I wonder if I really know what I'm doing.”

Kyoraku looked askance at me. “What are you doing?”

“Not marrying Mizuki.” I shook my head. The other captain snorted. I smiled exasperatedly. “I know you don't trust me, Kyoraku-san, but trust me when I say I care about her deeply.”

“I don't doubt that,” he said. Now he looked at me. “I just think you're not who you appear to be, and she's going to get hurt because of you. What are your intentions, Aizen-san?”

“I don't intend to marry her, if that's what you're worried about.”

He furrowed his brow, as if surprised. I went on. “I'm with her because I enjoy her company, and the sex is good. She loves me; I don't.”

Kyoraku drew himself up. “Then break up with her. Let her go.”

“No.”

“What? You just said you don't love her.”

“Because I'm lonely, Kyoraku-san,” I said firmly, a little forlornly. “I'm not as lucky as you. You've found your soul mate in Seireitei. I thought... ha. I thought I had that with Kisuke. But it turned out differently.”

“Mizuki's not for you, Aizen,” he said intently.

I stared into his dark eyes. “ I don't have someone I love, Kyoraku. I lost him. Mizuki is the only person in my life whom I can learn to love. Don't you even dare to try taking her from me.”

“You can't have her,” he insisted.

“You have Ukitake. And I know why you want Ise-san in your division.”

“Is that a threat?” he hissed.

“A statement. I think we understand each other.” I straightened and entered the anteroom.

Ichimaru and Matsumoto were just taking the center of the room for a dance.

xxxxx

I mulled over my chardonnay. I had brought it myself, knowing that the majority of Seireitei remained mired in the ancient days of sake.

“Oh. Hey.”

I didn't need to turn around, but I did anyway. “Ichimaru. Congratulations.”

“Uh, thanks. For being... for being here.” He was a little out of breath.

I smiled tightly. “You're welcome.”

He got himself a bottle of sake. The anteroom suddenly felt too crowded. His scent, light and airy, filled all available space. I reached over and brushed lint from his lapel; I felt oddly proud of him.

“Look at you. My fine protege,” I said, now stroking his left cheek, “all grown up and married.”

He pressed my hand to his face. “I'm sorry to put you through this.”

“You stole my line,” I whispered as he moved closer. My whispers grew more shallow with every phrase. “But you look wonderful. As does she, of course. Absolutely breathtaking.”

“Breathtaking,” he echoed, his face now inches from my own. He removed my glasses from my face.

I breathed shallowly. “Her wedding dress was beautiful.”

“Beautiful,” he repeated, now dusting his soft lips along my jaw.

“And... and she loves you.”

“Loves you.” He was almost kissing me, and I was frozen to the spot. My mind blanked.

He pressed against me, and my eyes closed. Very slowly he directed my left hand to his hip, and then my right hand to the back of his head. His fine hair clung to my skin. He pushed his tongue against my lips, and I welcomed it as it searched within. Pressing ever deeper, drinking him in, breathing him in, pressing ever closer, the heat building, his silky skin brushing against mine, soft lips and firm hand and long fingers, his lean thighs moving against me...

“Oh. Uh, sorry. We weren't, um.”

We separated as if scalded. I looked around frantically for my glasses, found them on the counter and then jammed them on. I rubbed my lips as discreetly as I could. When I regained some composure, I inclined my head at the two shinigami who caught us in the act.

Gin licked his lips, then gestured vaguely. “This is... this is um. This is Aizen-taichou. I'm under him – I, I mean, I'm in his division. And uh, taichou, this is Madarame Ikkaku and um, Ayasegawa Yumichika. They're from eleventh d-division.”

I tried to smile. “Hello.”

“Hi.” “Good afternoon.”

Gin retreated. “I have to go... uh, back to the rest of the guests.”

“Yes. Yes you do that.” I inhaled deeply and waited until he left. The two shinigami exchanged a glance and the bald one – Madarame? - followed after.

The stylish one just gazed at me. I chewed on my lower lip, then decided to go ahead and ask. “How much do I have to pay for you two to keep quiet?”

“Nothing.”

I raised my brows. “That's not possible.”

“It is,” he gave me a slow smile. “Because we understand, Ikkaku and I. When we first saw Gin with Rangiku, we kind of figured he was... trying to escape an aspect of himself. And now I understand why. He wants to protect you.”

I fell silent.

“I suppose he's concerned about your standing as a captain?” Ayasegawa shrugged and continued, “I've been – involved – with men for a long time. I sort of know who's attracted only to the opposite sex and who's more receptive to... well, you know.”

I smiled awkwardly. “We were not... we were never involved. I didn't want him put in a difficult situation. He got married so we wouldn't. Just now? It was a, a mistake.”

“Caught up in the moment?” He tilted his head and smiled lazily.

“Yes.” I nodded, embarrassed. This was an unusually perceptive man. But in the eleventh division... I couldn't use him.

I rubbed my nose and said, “So, um, please watch out for Gin? He deserves something better than hiding and skulking. That's what he'll get if he was with me.”

Ayasegawa pursed his lips. “I'll watch out for him,” he agreed, “but I think he has the right to decide for himself what he deserves.”

 

Chapter Text

The skies were pouring. It was the first of the pre-winter storms; it wasn’t cold enough to snow.

I made it to the house in Rukongai. The streets were silent; my feet were soaked, and I felt colder than I had in many, many decades.

xxxxx

xxxxx

Kisuke hissed with agony as I removed the shell fragments from his abdomen and arms. “Fucking hollow! It stings like a damn fucking mother of a whore!”

Such language,” I chided halfheartedly. The wounds were deep, even with healing spells cast over them. “You kiss your mother with that mouth?”

It's not my mother I kiss, Sousuke.”

I scoffed and wrapped white bandages about his torso. “The pain will remind you not to charge in blind, moron. You're supposed to be a scientist. Observe before acting, Ki. Impulsiveness is going to kill you one of these days.”

Sure, lecturer, just because you like to take your time...” he leered, then yelped as I prodded him in his wounded side. “Bloody hell! Did you have to do that?”

Nonchalantly I shrugged. “If it keeps your mouth shut, then yes, I did have to do that.”

He grabbed my upper arm and pulled me to him. “I know a better way to keep my mouth shut. And you know it too.”

Shut up,” I snarled. “That night was an accident.”

Accident?” Kisuke grinned mischievously. “You mean, you just happened to be naked when you fell on my lips?”

Irritated, I snorted again. “I was drunk. Now shut up and let go, moron.”

Not gonna happen. I'm the impulsive one, remember?”

xxxxx

xxxxx

I needed some space. Back in my own quarters I might be interrupted by anyone; here I was blessedly alone. Alone in an empty house, and with an almighty storm raging lightning and thunder down on the population.

Bleak. Depressing. Desolate. Nice way to end a wonderful day, Sousuke.

For hours I buried myself in work, trying not to think. It was difficult, but eventually I managed to ease the tight sourness around my heart. It was almost three in the morning by then, and the skies were still pouring.

xxxxx

xxxxx

I never wanted this for you.”

What did you want for me?”

A normal life. A normal relationship. Not this... this freak show.”

It's not a freak show! How can you call it that?”

It's unnatural! It's against all the laws and norms and-”

It's something neither of us can resist and since when were you concerned about laws? Huh? You're the one who set the dorm on fire with your experiments. You're the one who dug a tunnel from the main hall all the way to the offices. You're the one who-”

That was for fun, this is quite different!”

You can't be the only one to decide when it begins and when it's over, Ki!”

This is all wrong, Sousuke, and I will not continue in this vein. We are through.”

No we're not. I will not let this be through-”

I love her, Sou. I fell in love with her.”

... you swore... you swore you would never... Ki, how could you?”

We were out on a mission, and things developed from there-”

I don't want to hear the details.”

Sousuke I'm sor-”

If you say you're sorry I will tear out your guts and wear them as a garland.”

That's... you're overreacting.”

You swore it, Urahara Kisuke! You swore we would be partners. All the way. Blood oaths. Written promises. You – swore – never – to – leave – me.”

So I break one promise. So what?”

xxxxx

xxxxx

I hissed angrily. He kept popping up in my memories, and I was having a hard time exorcising my demons. If only... I pushed the thought away ruthlessly. He had other things to do.

I looked up from the paperwork when I heard insistent knocking on my door. “Who is it?”

“It's Ichimaru, taichou.”

What? Why? I furrowed my brow. Hastily, I got up and slid the door open. Gin was leaning against the jamb, his face pink.

“Ichimaru, what is it? Why are you here?” He started sliding down as I asked my questions but I caught him and helped him into my office. He was wet. There was an umbrella leaning on the wall outside, but given the storm's power I doubted the umbrella was of any use.

“Taichou...” he slurred as he placed his arm over my shoulders.

Trying to hold him up, I kept him steady as best as I could. “You smell of alcohol. How much did you drink?”

“A lot.” He beamed at me. His breath was sweet and he staggered from me to my desk.

“Why are you here now?” I asked. When he merely leaned against my table I went to him and cupped his cheeks to face me. “Why did you drink so much?”

“I needed courage.” Suddenly he threw his arms about my neck. “I needed courage to tell you something. Very important something.”

Very gently I disentangled him from me. “You're drunk. Tell me tomorrow. Let me tidy up and send you home to Matsumoto-”

“No!” He swept half the papers to the floor in petulant anger. My stationery crashed to the ground.

I gritted my teeth. “Ichimaru, go home and be with your wife.”

“No,” he repeated.

I swept his hair from his face. “Come on. You should be enjoying your wedding night. Return home and be with the person you love-”

“I am home and I am with the person I love.” He caught my hand and held it against his burning lips. “I want to be here, with you. On my wedding night.”

“You don't know what you're talking about,” I said sharply as I pulled away. I looked around the room, trying to find something to focus on. Before I could pull too far away, however, he grabbed my hands again and pulled me close.

“I know exactly what I'm talking about.” He pressed his lips to mine.

For a few seconds I froze, feeling his teeth rake over my lips, the warm, slightly intoxicating breath against my skin, his hands and fingers reaching up to my hair and tangling into my locks, pulling me closer...

“Wait. No. This is... you're drunk. What the hell are you doing?” I pushed his shoulders and he fell back. He leaned on his hands, now gloriously mussed and panting. I rubbed my lips with my palm, hissing out my words against my skin. “What the hell am I doing?”

Instead of answering he just yanked me close, grinding his hips against mine even as he forced another kiss on me. I groaned aloud, the hard masses of our manhoods hot and ready for more, his tongue demanding more fearlessly.

I tried to push him away again, but somehow my hands flattened on his drenched chest. His heartbeat thumped heavily against my palm. He pressed close, his breath dusting over my cheeks. “Ichimaru... don't. Stop, go, go back to your wife...”

“She's asleep.” His lips were brushing the corners of my mouth. “She doesn't matter.”

xxxxx

A step in the corridor, softer than a cat's. A hint of a shadow at the door.

xxxxx

Somehow my hands slipped to his hips and were pulling us closer to each other. Abruptly I let go and backed away until I encountered the wall. “No. No this is- this is madness. This is wrong.”

“Let me tell you what's madness,” he breathed heavily. “Knowing that I want you, that I'm begging you – with my body, no less – and rejecting me. Knowing that every time I see you in this office, I long to be pinned against this table, against the wall, and be thoroughly fucked by you, and rejecting me. Knowing that every morning, I yearn to kiss you on your lips as you say good morning to the squad, and yet rejecting me. That... that is madness. That is insanity.”

“No. No, stop it. Stop… Ichimaru, stop saying these things,” I said thickly. I scrubbed my face. “We can't. I'm your captain, I can't take advantage of my subordinate. Not you.”

“Why the fuck can't you?” he roared. “D'you know, that time when you told me to stay back, to correct the errors... I thought... I wished you were going to, I dunno, to kiss me. Even once. Or touch me, or do something! But all the time you just stood there, watching me, doing nothing but stare-“

“I wanted to!” I shouted in angry response. We both fell silent – him out of surprise, I out of shocked despair. “You think you're the only one suffering? The only in painful longing? Did you know how beautiful you were bent seriously to your task? If you had an idea, an inkling of an idea... Gin, I wish I could, but I can't! Because I am your captain, and you're married now, and it's wrong.”

He growled and got off my desk. “I don't care that it's wrong.” He moved towards me, all traces of inebriation gone.

My breathing slowed as he pressed himself against me. Turning my head away I muttered, “Ichimaru, stop. Please. Don't.”

“This part of your body isn't asking me to stop,” he said, grinding against me again. I groaned and let out a shaky breath. “Nor these...” he took my unresisting hands and placed them on his waist. “Nor this...” his tongue ran up my neck and dove into my mouth.

xxxxx

A whisper of a gasp. The beat of a palm over a mouth.

xxxxx

“Gods, Gin...” I murmured brokenly, “don't... please, stop. This is... insane. You've... you have your marriage, your wife, your future. Don't throw them away like this. If anyone sees... we almost… this afternoon…”

“I don't care,” he mumbled, against my mouth. “I don't care that I'm married, I don't care anymore. Everyone can see and then tell Seireitei for all I care.”

He had pressed his body on mine again, pinning me to the wall. I could have thrown him off, of course, but my eyes closed and I moaned into his mouth as his tongue searched around mine. When we broke apart for breath, I shuddered. “We are...This is insane.”

We stared blankly into each others’ eyes. Then we grabbed together, our lips crashing together desperately and kissing like we would never, ever break apart again.

xxxxx

There was a choked whisper at the door. Oh... oh my god. Oh my god.”

Then the sound of running feet, and then silence.

We both heard the exclamation, and then the hasty exit. He looked at the almost completely closed doors, then shrugged and turned back to me.

I relaxed. “She's gone. Do you still wish to continue?”

He smiled. It was one of his few genuine smiles, and surprisingly there was no trace of sorrow or hurt. I traced his lips with my finger. He rubbed my nose with his and said,“Yes. Stay in character, Aizen-taichou.”

Your wish is my command.” I smiled. “Now, where were we? Oh yes...” I pitched my voice low and intense.

xxxxx

“This is insane. You're going home. I'm going home.” I licked my lower lip. “We should be in our own homes.”

He stepped a couple of paces away. “Insane? Not insane. Insane would be... it'd be leaving you with no recourse.”

“What do you- oh no. Nonono, Ichimaru, Gin, don't – oh gods.” He stripped off his top in seconds, his fair skin gleaming in the lamplight. I shut my eyes, unsure of my continued control if I looked at him. Then I pushed away from the wall, determined to ignore him. He didn't take too kindly to that.

Instead he shoved me against my own desk. I felt his hands on my waist and he was tearing at my hakama, tugging it down. “Gin!”

“Taichou, I'm not gonna hurt you.” Kneeling, he took me into his mouth slowly, enveloping the head and then licking down the shaft. His hands were busy too, caressing the sac and steadying my hips. I shivered as he kissed along the pulsing vein and swallowed me entirely, his tongue circling and urging, rubbing insistently along the vein. My right hand hand gripped the edge of the table and then I twisted fingers into his hair, trying not to buck as he hummed and licked and kissed.

“Gin...” I breathed heavily as my climax approached, “don't- I’m coming.”

“Be quiet,” he commanded as he enveloped me again. With a choked cry I climaxed, and he drank me in, milking every thrust until I was slack-jawed and panting. He stood and kissed me, and I could taste myself deep in his mouth.

I stood as best as I could, my knees slightly shaky. With an expansive sweep of his arm, all my papers fell to the floor, and then he pushed me to sit on the table. I heard the crash of my ink stand, saw the scattering of white all over the ground, smelled our sweat and his wine-scented breath. He wrapped my legs about his waist, slowly grinding himself against me. My breath hitched; he explored my face with his lips. I slid off the table as I placed his arms around me.

With a growl I turned on him again. As I pinned him to the desk he grinned up at me. I bent close. He snapped at me, almost catching my lips with his teeth. I drew back, then lowered my face; he tried to bite me again.

“I thought you wanted this,” I growled as I rocked my pelvis against him. He shivered and his legs wrapped about me.

“I do. I want. I need.” He tightened about me as we kissed savagely. We stopped talking. I tasted blood; I felt him grip tight enough to leave bruises; I tore into his skin with my teeth, biting his shoulder; I heard his half-stifled moans. Everything blurred into white skin and silver hair and blackness and stars and blood and fire, pounding into my ears, surging under our skin, burrowing into tight flesh...

xxxxx

We woke from our post-coital haze, in a tangle of limbs and half-covered with papers. I pulled a few sheets off my thigh. The rain had stopped.

He sat up and winced. “I think you might have hurt my back.”

Not my fault we fell off the table.” I stretched gingerly. “There's a knot in my shoulder.”

He reached over and kneaded into the cord.

Mmm.” Turning on my side I sat up. “You'll need to finish the job, you know.”

Gin stretched. “I know. I'll be seeing you tomorrow morning.”

We shared a restrained kiss, and then he dressed and left.

I wondered how she would react. Covering myself with my haori, I drifted into sleep.

I did not dream.

 

Chapter Text

I looked up to see Matsumoto at the door of my office. I smiled courteously. "You look - you look good, Matsumoto."

It was such an obvious lie that she couldn't acknowledge my greeting. Her cheek was bruised, and her lip was torn; I could make out faint teeth marks on her shoulder near her neck. Her eyes were haunted, confused, furious, empty.

I approved. Gin really did a good job on Matsumoto.

"What is it? Come in and tell me," I prompted when she hesitated. I ushered her to a seat and shut the door after she entered.

She was eerily calm. "I wish to transfer."

"What? Why?"

"Because my captain is screwing my husband, and I don't think I can stay sane in this place." Her voice was flat and emotionless.

You've got some guts. No wonder Gin loves you.

“What are you saying?” I asked in low tones.

"I saw, Aizen-taichou. I saw you two kissing last night.”

I studied her impassive face, and studied the concealed hurt beneath the flinty exterior. Finally I spoke. “That was an accident.”

“An accident,” she repeated disbelievingly, “my husband of less than a day, coming on to his captain, my husband practically begging to be... On our wedding night, no less.”

“I admit I should have rejected him, but we...” I looked out the window, then back to her. “Matsumoto, I swear, we didn't do anything improper until last night.”

“I don't care what you did or didn't do.” She was holding back bitter tears, I could tell, and I was thrilled within. She inhaled and hissed, “You two fucked, didn't you?”

"No," I whispered in turn. “We didn't- I didn't. We kissed. That was all. And it will not happen again.”

Matsumoto shot to her feet. "Transfer me out of here. I will not work for a depraved, two-faced bastard."

"I told you not to insult my captain,” Gin said from outside the door. He slid it open and came in.

I stood up.

"Gin," I said, my voice lower than usual. Matsumoto glanced at me, eyes narrowed.

"Taichou." His gaze was caressing and gentle, his tone that of a lover and not of a subordinate. This was not lost on Matsumoto either. Gin turned to his wife. "I told you yesterday, Ran. This has nothing to do with Aizen-taichou."

"And everything to do with you?"

"Yes. I came to him. I seduced him."

Matsumoto was shaking. "Why are you protecting him, Gin? He's a hypocrite-"

He backhanded her across her jaw, almost too casually. "I told you: do not insult Aizen-taichou."

"Gin!” I darted around the table, interposing myself between Gin and Matsumoto, “What the hell are you doing? She's your wife!"

“I don't need you to protect me,” she snapped.

Unseen by Matsumoto I smiled at Gin. He was doing well. There was the faintest twitch of his lips: acknowledgment of my commendation. I grabbed his shoulder. "You are supposed to respect and treasure her, Ichimaru. That was your pledge."

"I will, in my own time." He looked past my shoulder. "Get home, Ran. I'll deal with you at home."

"And leave you here alone with him?" she snorted. "That's convenient."

With a scowl Gin moved forward, but I slapped a hand on his chest. "Stop. Stop it. This is a Gotei office, not your home. Be professional."

I turned to face Matsumoto. "Matsumoto, Ichimaru and I... what happened was a mistake. I was weak. I-I didn't..." I stopped, and started again. "I don't want you to leave this division, because you have been a good worker here. But I will respect whatever choice you make."

"I'll choose to transfer," she answered, "and I hope you'll process my application quickly."

"Matsumoto, you and Ichimaru have something special and I know-"

"No, we have you. Standing between us. Forgive my impudence, Aizen-taichou, but I have some people to meet."

Gin took her hand as she headed out. He hissed something in her ear but I didn't catch the words.

She flung his hand aside. "You think I want people to know my shame?"

After she stormed out the door I applauded quietly. "Good show, Gin. Very nicely executed."

“On the happiest day of her life, she discovers her husband's cheating on her – with her taichou.” Gin shook his silver head. “But Ran is strong. She will not fall to pieces over this.”

“Then,” I resumed my work at my desk, “you'll have to do something else.”

His smile faded for a second, then blossomed. “You really are an evil bastard, Aizen-sama.”

I grinned crookedly over the top of my glasses. “Oh really? I didn't know that.”

xxxxx

I woke with him pressed against my back. Very cautiously I pulled out of his embrace, aware that I had been overworking myself. Seldom did I sleep so soundly.

What did I miss?

I turned around and observed Gin's sleeping face. There was a strain between his brows, and I smoothed it away with my fingers.

He was awake in an instant, and he managed a tired smile for my benefit. I stroked his hair tenderly and he sat up and leaned on my shoulder. I craned my face to look at him.

He looked lost.

“I don't feel anything, Aizen-sama,” he murmured. There were no tear stains on his cheeks, but he looked like he wanted to weep. “Why don't I feel anything? What is wrong with me?”

I cradled him under my chin, smoothing his hair. He slipped his arms about me. I kissed the top of his head. He was shaking, and I stroked his back.

He buried his face into my neck. His face remained dry, his lips moving against my neck. His voice came out in a despairing rasp. “Why can't I feel anything, Aizen-sama? ”

“I don't know either,” I lied. “But I'm here. It'll be all right. It will be all right. Nothing is wrong, my dear boy. Nothing. Shh... it'll all be alright in the morning.”

“Promise?”

“I promise.”

I rocked him to sleep, all the while soothing him with soft words. And I watched the darkness lift from the white walls of his room until the morning sun streamed in.

Chapter Text

I knew the news of their split wouldn't be secret for long.

Before long the rumors had made their way all over Seireitei, and everyone cast curious or censorious glances at me, at Gin and presumably at Matsumoto whenever we were out. And then there were the whispers, the whispers that ended the moment we got into hearing range. 

And the outright contempt from many of the officers.

The rumors mutated and grew like a cancer, and it ate away what little pride Matsumoto had left after Gin moved out of their house into the division dormitories. I moved out of the division quarters into my own house not far from the offices.

Nonetheless there was talk, especially after I promoted him to fifth seat. Gin became somewhat of a recluse, only appearing at work. I avoided him in public, unless accompanied by other people. My own division began to defend my reputation, but the rumors only grew more vicious.

Matsumoto wasn't good enough to keep Gin, so she blamed her captain. Bitch.”

Actually, Rangiku was the one who slept with her captain, and Gin took on the blame.”

I hear she threatened to kill herself if Aizen-taichou refused to screw her husband.”

Gin must be devastated; she was banging the captain after the wedding.”

I heard Aizen-taichou tried to help them make up, but she became hysterical and started hurling abuse at him. He never retaliated or even disciplined her!”

Did you hear? Gin kissed Aizen-taichou because she wanted him to prove how far he'd go for her. She's nuts!”

It's kind of sad, don't you think? She's got a body women would kill for, but she can't keep her man.”

People talk, so all I had to do was start them talking about the right things.

xxxxx

We attended the opening of the new school year as usual. All the other Gotei captains gave me a wide berth, save for Kurosawa, Kurotsuchi and, oddly enough, Ukitake.

As we waited in the main room Kurosawa gave me a punch on the shoulder. “You really are some sort of work, huh. Actually able to get a guy to ditch the babe he married... you must be a warrior in the sack.”

“Look, Kurosawa,” I sighed, “We didn't do anything. They had a problem, it escalated and... I feel bad enough about this whole mess. Can we just drop it?”

He nudged me in the ribs. “I heard the girl tried to kill herself with her sword.”

I stared at him. “She's... she is alive, right?”

“Yeah,” he shrugged. “There's a silver lining; her sword refused – she achieved her shikai.”

I was quietly floored by the news. That was unexpected – she had talent, that was true, but to achieve shikai in such a manner...

Gin came up to us, standing respectfully three paces behind. “Kurosawa-taichou, Aizen-taichou, the soutaichou is about address the new cohort.”

I nodded curtly and he disappeared. Kurosawa smirked. “Got him well-trained too.”

I sighed again. “Drop it, Kurosawa.”

xxxxx

As Yamamoto spoke I scanned the assembled students.

Hmm. No one promising.

Unohana on my left bowed her head and whispered to me very softly, “Mizuki needs to see you soon, Aizen-taichou.”

I glanced at the fair woman beside me. “What about?”

“About you and Ichimaru-san,” she murmured under her breath. “Are the rumors true?”

“Which ones?”

She exhaled softly and we stopped conversing.

xxxxx

It took some placating, but Mizuki finally believed I was innocent of the entire Gin/Rangiku fiasco.

“How is Matsumoto, anyway?” I asked as we sat together in her room.

“She's in stable condition,” she replied. “Her first release didn't come fast enough and her abdomen was partially impaled.”

“Oh dear...” I sighed heavily. “I feel guilty.”

“But you're not the reason she tried to commit suicide, sempai.” She nuzzled closer under my arm. “I read her suicide note... she blamed everything on herself. Not being good enough, not being able to satisfy... I felt bad for her.”

“Me too.”

“And the gossip really is hurting her... and your reputation,” she went on. I twined a lock of her hair about my finger. “And I don't know how I can end it.”

I kissed her forehead. “You can't,” I told her firmly. “Just let things run their course, my dear. Eventually people will forget and move on.”

“You really believe that?”

“I've seen it happen,” I said with a small smile. “My innocence will be proved someday, dearest.”

She nibbled her lower lip. “I hope that will be soon.”

Stroking her hair, I asked, “Could you drop by Ichimaru's and inform him of Ran's progress? He will be concerned.”

xxxxx

Tousen sent a message to me one evening as I finished an article for the Shinigami Women's Weekly.

I looked at it and scrunched the note up. It was time to pay a visit to an old friend.

The officers on duty did not question the exit of a young shinigami. I sprinted through to the human world, then found a hollow at random before removing the illusion.

“Open the gate,” I said evenly. “Hesperus is waiting for me.”

“Lord Hesperus, you mean.”

“Open the way, now, as close to Las Noches as possible.”

“Las Noches? You're insane! Lord Hesperus will kill me if I let a shinigami in!”

“Right now I'll kill you if you don't. Open the gate now.”

He grudging tore a gateway open for me to access Hueco Mundo. I dragged the hollow in after me.

Las Noches was in ruins. I let the small hollow go and it scrambled away.

“Hesperus, Hesperus... what have you done to my future dwelling place?” I muttered under my breath. Then I put my sword away. I didn't want him purified or sent to hell; I wanted him alive.

The gates were wide open. There was no light, but I had excellent night vision. I stalked into the gloom, my ire rising with every torn-down wall, every smashed pillar, every wrecked room. His faithful came pouring out of the walls, like ants whose anthill was disturbed. They were boring – I had barely warmed up when I finally found Hesperus seated in a gilded throne on top of a flight of stairs.

“Hesperus. Glad to see you've conquered Las Noches.”

“Aizen. Glad to see you're here to die.” He got off the overlarge and overdecorated chair – so incredibly tacky, I thought to myself, although I knew the purpose was psychological intimidation. But size alone would serve the same purpose.

I smiled courteously. “You remembered the last time I was here?”

“Of course.” He stretched indolently. “Where's your pretty little bitch? Let me guess... he's too sore in the ass to come today?”

“We're not here to discuss him, Hesperus.” I wasted no more time on niceties. “The silken string falls, the lady winds and lengthens, spinning into lives and spinning into deaths; three are one and one is three, the ladies heed my call for vengeance; time stays them not-

Hesperus was in front of me in an instant. He was still ebony-skinned, but the features had become more human than before. Objectively I supposed he was considered handsome: broadened shoulders, full lips, dark eyes the color of ink, a strong jaw and straight nose, well-muscled body. His mask sat like the helmet of a knight.

He slammed a palm against the shield I had thrown up the moment I entered the room, and I withstood the jarring blow to my reiatsu.

“You think I can't break through the shield, Aizen? Let me show you how powerful I have become!” He leveled a cero at me, but I didn't flinch. The cero was deflected easily by my shield.

Time stays them not, swords slays them not, death takes them not. The gray wings unfurl, and the lady's eyes open; the poet laments his song but dream heeds it not.

“What are you muttering about!” Hesperus shrieked, now turning into his true form of a foul shade; he circled the room, crashing into my shield repeatedly, trying to find a way in. I chanted evenly, my concentration unbroken by his hurled abuse or screamed curses, despite the fact I had to endure the impacts like hammer blows to my chest.

Memory recalls, and inspiration suspects; in the shadow of the moon does the sun god reveals the truth. Grant to the strong and sacrifice the weak; give to the blessed and rob the unworthy.” I completed the chant and dropped the shield. Hesperus rushed in, cackling, but before he could express his glee I had him by the throat.

"Your insolence deserves death,” I said quietly, “but you caught me in a very bad mood. Hado Ninety-five: Captured Time.

I let go. Hesperus was caught in a bubble, unable to move or speak. I lowered the bubble so I could look at him eye to eye.

“In case you're wondering, this is a high-level binding spell. You can think, feel and observe, but you cannot budge an inch. So, now...” I pulled on gloves; I had no intention of being tainted by this creature's filth. “Now, you are going to learn a lesson.”

From my pocket I retrieved a small blade. It had a jagged edge. I held it before Hesperus's eyes. “The lesson objective: never insult my chosen.”

I reached in and started slicing into the soft flap of skin where the jaw met the ear. “And, by the way, you won't die, not while the spell lasts. And this is a spell that's self-sustaining, so you're going to live a very, very long time. Won't that be interesting?”

I had cut around his face, deep enough so blood was seeping out along the edges. Working my fingers under the cut, I looked into his eyes. Suddenly his gaze beneath his mask was panicked and terrified. I smiled earnestly. “Tell me if it hurts.”

And then I began to pull off his face as slowly as I could manage.

Chapter Text

I was scrubbing my hands clean of Hesperus's foulness when someone slid the bathroom door open. I looked into the mirror and saw a silver-haired shinigami.

“Gin,” I said disapprovingly, “you didn't knock.”

“I need to talk to you.” He appeared serious.

I dried my hands on the fluffy white towel by the side of the sink. “Here? Or in the anteroom?”

“Anteroom.”

He followed noiselessly behind me. The second we got into the confined space he sat down heavily. I sat opposite him. “What do you wish to speak to me about?”

“Why did you have me spread the rumors?” he asked. “We almost killed Ran because of them.”

I furrowed my brows. “You know I don't like questions about certain decisions.”

“You know I care for her,” he retorted. He was very serious. “You promised you'll be fully open to me.”

My lips curved. “I did.”

“I'm your lover, Aizen-sama, and I demand to know.”

With an apologetic smile I reached for his wrist and stroked his pulse. Then I yanked him forward, pushed him face down on the tatami and twisted his arm up between his shoulder blades. He cried out when I applied pressure on his spine with my knee.

“You demand? Of me?” I whispered in his ear. “You hurt one person that you love, you bring her to the very edge of despair and loss, and you think that makes you my equal?”

He didn't answer, only breathed heavily.

“You have a long way to go, Gin,” I said, still in the same intense tone. “You think you're ruthless now that you've driven her to suicide with a few well-placed words. But you still feel, you still care, and that is why I am still above you. Do not presume, Gin, that you are done learning from me. Now I'm going to let you up, and you will listen quietly, and you will learn. Understood?”

He nodded, face mashed against the tatami.

I twisted his arm further up. “Understood?”

“Yes!”

I exhaled and relaxed my hold. He scrambled into a sitting position, lowering his head. The casual confidence he had earlier was humbled.

“When you first approached me you intended to use me. I suppose you wanted me to become your sponsor and also to protect Ran, perhaps by blackmailing me after I slept with you.”

He didn't respond, but I saw his fingers grasp his uniform tightly. I continued, “I think it surprised you that I am not who I appeared to be... and that I happened to be more complex a person than you imagined. And, I think, sometime between our second and third meeting, you decided to cede your control.”

“No,” he interjected, “I decided on the spur of the moment.”

“I see.” I nodded and put a hand to my lips. “And through all our meetings and rendezvous, you allowed me to take charge every time. You never complained if my reiatsu overwhelmed you or threatened you, and I had to keep adjusting so that I wouldn't reduce you to a quivering wreck. I suppose you found out that close proximity to someone with high reiatsu density is an easy way to upgrade your own?”

“Yes.” He looked at his pale hands.

“And so you became stronger, and with that strength you eliminated threats to you and Matsumoto's happiness. Well thought-out plan,” I smirked. “But there's something you didn't consider, Gin.”

He looked up and was caught in my steel-hard gaze. I smiled warmly, but my tone was colder than ice. “Darkness infects. You can't expect to wallow in it and come away untainted and pure. And it is addictive – no conscience, no morals. Want. Take. Own. That's a liberating way to live. And I believe that was when you began to enjoy the darkness I provided.”

He shivered, but didn't break eye contact. My smile faded. “Matsumoto was your link to light, to life in Soul Society. With her around, you'll always feel obligated to take care of her, always feel obligated to doubt yourself and the darkness in you. You pledged to follow me to whatever end, Gin, and I can tell you right now that the path is bleak and dangerous. You will need that darkness to see you through. If she stays in your life... you'll die.”

He sat, motionless, and I got up to exit. As I slid the door open I paused on the threshold. “Think about it, Gin. I am not a light for your path, but I will stay your fears from you.”

He didn't look around.

“Or, if you prefer,” I said in a light tone, “you can always crawl back to her, begging her to take you back. I will then sever any link and void any promise – and I will kill you before you can tell anyone of my plans. And then you'll be reborn as a human. You get to live again. Lucky you.”

He shivered again, and shifted about to look at me. His voice was pleading. “Aizen-sama...”

“Did you really think that you can use me to gain so much power without paying a price, Gin?” I asked rhetorically. “You're a smart boy. Let me know what you decide.”

xxxxx

When he finally came to me again I was getting ready for bed. I put down the book I was reading and removed my glasses. “So, Gin, what is your decision?”

“I will stay by your side,” he said quietly. My stern face relaxed into a warm smile. He returned the smile, although it was tentative and frightened.

“Come here,” I commanded. “Don't be afraid.”

“I can't help it,” Gin whispered. He climbed into my lap, his pale skin almost the same color as my white sheets.

I kissed his cheek, feeling his long fingers in my hands. “Did I scare you?”

“Yes.” His admission was soft and insecure. I rubbed my hand up and down his back. He moved his mouth against my earlobe. “Why did you have to scare me, Aizen-sama?”

“Mainly because you look adorable when you're quaking,” I teased. “But partly because I think you have forgotten your part in my plans.” Gin slipped his hand under my robe and began rolling my nipples between his fingers. I chuckled low in my throat. “If you're able to do that you should be feeling better now, hmm?”

“I still need lots of reassurance, Aizen-sama,” he said, a glimmer in his eyes. He wasn't completely kidding, I knew, and my embrace tightened about his body. “I want to feel safe with you again.”

“What do you want me to do, Gin?” I asked sincerely. “What do you want?”

“I want... I want you to make love to me, like you really mean it. Like I'm someone so precious, you can't bear not touching me.”

“I already can't bear not touching you,” I said. “Not when you're so close, and so inviting...”

“Then make love to me like you love me.”

I smiled and acceded. He then clambered off my lap to lie in the center of the bed. I turned off the reading lamp. In the darkness his skin seared into my hands. We kissed, tentatively, as if it was we were both chary of further intimacy.

“Aizen-sama...” he murmured, but I put a finger to his lips. He quietened, and sighed as I slowly stripped off his uniform. He made a strange sound in the back of his throat as I kissed his Adam's apple, then licked up the arch of his neck. “Aizen-sama...”

“Mmm... call me Sousuke, hmm?” I said thickly, kissing and exploring the contours of his shoulders and neck. “More loverly.”

“Heh heh... ahh.” He moaned while I tasted his skin. “Sou-sousuke... Sousuke...”

While my mouth examined his chest, my tongue flicked out to trace the lines of his muscles. His hands pushed at my sleeping robe; I sat up, despite his protests, and shucked it off. I could vaguely make out his form spread beneath me, almost blending into the sheets.

“You're too far away,” he complained. His fingers glided back and forth on my hips where he gripped.

“Gin,” I whispered, feeling the tight pleasure building, “have I ever told you you're beautiful?”

“Am I?” he asked artlessly.

“Yes. You are.” His breath caught as I circled my hips into his, his mouth opening to reveal even, white teeth. I closed my mouth about his, teasing his tongue into venturing forth. “But so pale... you're not much darker than my sheets.”

“I don't tan,” he whispered against my mouth.

My hand reached blindly for the drawer on the side, knocking down my book and my glasses as I groped for the oil. He giggled as my stubbly jaw scraped his nose. “Itches,” he explained when I growled.

“You're not baby-smooth yourself right now, Gin,” I half-scolded.

He merely chuckled again, then whispered, “So soon?”

“Not yet,” I replied. “Turn over.”

He obeyed. Pouring an adequate amount into my hands, I stood the scented oil at a safe but accessible distance. Then I began rubbing the oil into his back.

“Ohhh.... mmm...” he began purring with pleasure as I kneaded into the cords and knots in his neck and shoulders. As my hands moved lower in circles his purring turned to low growls. When my hands reached his taut ass he practically snarled.

“Easy there, lover,” I chided, oiling him down. “Some things are worth the wait.”

His reply was muffled while I rubbed the oil into his long legs. He had lovely legs, lithe and muscled. Deliberately working from calf to thigh, I took my time, knowing he was feeling frustrated and impatient.

“Aizen Sousuke, if you don't-” his words were cut off mid-sentence when my oiled hands moved up his inner thighs. I snickered as I kissed the base of his spine. The oil had mixed into his body heat and he was now smelling of warm jasmine and sandalwood.

I delighted in his moans as I continued smoothing oil into his skin. “If I don't what, Gin?” I asked huskily.

“Please...” he rasped, eyes heavy-lidded as he turned to look at me. My hand slipped between his legs; he raised his hips and knelt so I had better access. I caressed him carefully, using my hands to memorize every inch of this lovely youth.

“Gin,” I said softly, “turn over again. I want to kiss you.”

“Say please,” he laughed, but obeyed. I anointed myself and ran my oily hands from his raised knees to his groin. He braced himself on his elbows – I watched the play of faint light and shadow over his stomach – and watched as I pushed into him. Then he gripped my head and kissed me deeply.

As we parted I exhaled, still savoring the taste of him in my mouth. He studied my face as we kissed and broke apart again.

“Gin... dear gods...” I murmured, only half-aware of my own words. Then he shifted his legs, sat up a little more, and I shuddered.

I pulled out of him until only the tip was enveloped, then thrust in again. He whimpered, then cried out when I repeated. With a shaky breath I began thrusting harder, deeper; his erection rubbed against my stomach. Gin's eyelashes fluttered and I locked lips with him, not willing to give voice to the words that were threatening to explode from me.

His moans and throaty mewls stirred me further. He met each of my thrusts, our rhythm blending together and rising. When he cried out, I felt the heat spread over my belly and then my own orgasm blinded me to my surrounds.

“Gin... gods...” I rumbled into his hair-roughened cheek. He was muttering something incomprehensible as he laved feathery kisses all over my face, and I grabbed his jaw roughly to explore his mouth again.

I panted as we parted. His lips looked bruised by my treatment, his hair mussed and tangled. My hands slipped in their hold; the oil made it difficult to grip onto him. Gin smiled drowsily up at me, his face lit by the faint light from the window.

I brushed hair from his eyes, then pressed my lips to his forehead. Unwillingly I slid out of him, then collapsed on his left. His arm curled about me and drew me close to him.

“Mrrmmmmmm...”

I frowned. “What was that?”

He mumbled sleepily. “Thass gibberish for... I'm r'lly satisfied'n sl'py. Night.”

Soon he was breathing evenly, his dark lashes fluttering quickly and erratically. My eyelids felt heavy too, since I had had a full day.

“Gin, love,” I mouthed into his hair. “My dear boy.”

He didn't know it, but he had won a significant victory. No one else had won that concession of affection from my lips.

I kissed his cheek and then I fell asleep, wrapped in the scent of jasmine and sandalwood.

 

Chapter Text

“Go! Leave!” I shouted, losing control of my emotions.

He left swiftly, without another backward glance.

It always, always happened. Always. First with Urahara, then now with Gin. I was not a slow learner, but I always made the same mistake.

Enough is enough. Never again.

I looked over at the ruined bed, and decided to visit Mizuki for the rest of the night. Perhaps I could remove the taste of...

No. I want to keep the taste. I want to feel him again beneath my hands, feel his legs tighten about mine...

I breathed in and held my breath. Slowly I counted to eight before exhaling. My mind was awash with furious confusion, and I knew I needed to center myself and calmed myself before I met with anyone.

xxxxx

Gin was not pleased with the assignment. Akagi was there with me when he received the letter of notification, so I couldn't turn him away.

“Why am I sent to Fegefeuer? To Germany?”

I focused on a spot three inches to the right of his ear. “There are signs that the continent will require more shinigami assistance than before.”

Akagi took over. “There will probably be a war in a few years' time. They will need your assistance.”

Gin wanted to ask more, but I called out another name and passed her her new assignment. He returned to his place, seething.

xxxxx

As I strode down the corridor from the office to the ninth, Gin appeared out of nowhere.

“I told you to never come near me again,” I warned.

He ignored it. “You're sending me away – for years? For what I said?”

“No,” I said intently. “I'm sending you to study the political developments in Europe. I want you to be my eyes and ears and mind, to gather information that may be useful to my cause. They have been building empires, Gin, and I want you to examine how and why.”

“Really.”

“And yes, I do want you away.” I ignored his snide interjection. I stood as straight as I could as I coldly added, “The way I feel now? I do not know when I will give in to the urge to kill you where you stand.”

His lip curled menacingly. “I bared my neck for you to cut last night. You want to kill me, kill me.”

“I have need of you yet.” I strode past him.

“Then do not send me from your side.” He stepped in front of me and blocked my way, daring my ire. I brushed off his reaching hand. He spoke urgently, quietly. “Don't let me endure long, lonely years away from home... away from you.”

I scoffed. “Get over it, Gin. There are more things than our affair to consider.”

“When?” His fingers twisted into the thick fabric of his hakama. “How many years, Aizen-sama?”

“Tomorrow night. Every shinigami on Foreign Society duty will leave tomorrow.” I breathed in and pushed past him. “Your term is for ten years.”

His silence bore on me like an accusing finger until I exited his gaze.

xxxxx

Propping my chin in my hand I read by the window of the office.

Perhaps 'read' is too strong a term; I flipped the pages randomly, occasionally taking in a word or phrase. I had no idea what I was doing, really; the end of the workday was upon me before I knew it.

“My my my... Aizen Sousuke all alone and lonely? That's unusual.”

My eyes found the doorway. A lean and fey youth leaned on the door, a sly smile angled at me. I rolled my eyes when he positively skipped in, but restrained myself. “What do you want, Hirako?”

Hirako Shinji looked hurt. “I come to offer you my gorgeous company, Sousuke,” he said with a straight face.

I then turned back to my book. He peered at the title. “Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality,” Hirako read, then frowned. “Heavy reading for a weekend evening. What's wrong?”

“Nothing your absence wouldn't make better,” I snapped. One good thing about Hirako – he rarely took offense. The bad thing was that he just as rarely took hints. “What do you want?”

“Your handsome self, at my place,” he said, wriggling his brows suggestively. Then he pouted when I ignored his comment and returned to my reading. Hirako snatched the book away. “Come on, Sousuke-kun... I know you wouldn't want to miss out on planning for Kisuke's birthday now, would you?”

I shot a quick glance at Hirako. He was a deep man, despite the apparent flightiness. I pulled the book back and said, “I'll think about it.”

“You're still obsessed with the boy, aren'tcha?”

“What boy?”

“Your silver-haired shadow. He's always somewhere around you,” he said lightly.

I shifted away from his scrutiny. “He's not here now. And I hope you won't be too.”

With a huff Hirako got up. Stretching out he talked as if to himself. “I thought I'd never seen two people so in love then. Sousuke and Kisuke, always fighting and making up, upstaging each other and then defending each other... but their lives were always entwined about their boyfriend's. Now, they don't even talk or give birthday presents. So sad, when I come to think of it.”

I exhaled heavily and swung out of my chair. Hirako was delighted. “Sousuke! You're coming over?”

“No,” I retorted. “I'm getting myself killed. Have a good time tonight, Hirako.”

xxxxx

Zaraki chortled as I sat opposite him in his office. “Fight? Us?”

“Yes. We fight, now.” I spoke evenly. Behind their captain, Madarame and Ayasegawa were watching my every move.

Zaraki glared at me, still amused. “You're not kidding.”

“Do I seem like I'm kidding?”

“I don't know anyone well enough to tell,” he snorted. “But it'll be fun to fight another captain. No one has faced me since the bugger died.”

Madarame merely scratched his chin as Zaraki dislodged his brilliantly-pink shadow of a lieutenant, but Ayasegawa came up to my side and whispered, “He will kill you, you know.”

“He will try,” I replied equally softly. “I can take care of myself.”

“Enough talking, Aizen. Or ya thinking of backin' out?” he asked in the hallway. I smiled and strode past his height, aware of the friction of our reiatsu as we passed. He chuckled again, clearly delighted by the imminent fight.

There was no one else in the open training square. No one was allowed to enter; even Madarame and Ayasegawa – no less fighters than Gin, I realized – waited behind the relative safety of sliding doors. I drew my sword and waited for him to draw his.

“I fight all the way, Aizen, so you sure ya wanna face me, eh?” he sniffed critically as he took his battered blade from its sheath. “Makes you the first suicidal cap'n I've ever met.”

“I'm not suicidal, Zaraki taichou. But I wish to know my measure against the best swordsman in Seireitei. Shall we begin?”

He grinned, his fearsome scar wrinkling. “We shall begin.”

xxxxx

Zaraki Kenpachi was every bit the legend I had heard whispered in the hallways.

The clash of our reiatsu had stirred every single soul awake in Eleventh Division. Although we were both cognizant of the fact that a hundred pairs of eyes were watching us battle from the safety of the buildings, we drowned and danced in the heat of battle.

In these moments of clarity, nothing else mattered.

I swung Kyoka Suigetsu down as I flash-stepped aside to dodge his nameless sword. It bit a line down his shoulder, and he laughed aloud with the wound. He was bleeding freely along his upper torso and across his abdomen.

I wasn't faring much better, having caught an uppercut and a thrust of the blade. I was aware his sword was valiantly trying to match up to its owner, but Zaraki took pride in always fighting alone. The wind whipped about us as we rushed at each other again, blades meeting, crashing, separating. Kyoka Suigetsu screamed to be released but I silenced my sword. There was a time and a place, and this was not it.

“Whatcha waiting for, Aizen? You're holding back!”

“You don't have a shikai, Zaraki. I don't plan to take advantage.”

“Advantage?” He threw his head back with laughter. “Ya gonna fucking die, Aizen, if you think you can fight me without full release.”

“I'm still standing,” I reminded him obliquely. I was panting, as was he; despite his greater reiatsu pressure, I was the more adept in zanjutsu.

We stared across the darkening space. His grin was near-maniacal, and I knew I wore a satisfied grin. It had been decades since I had a proper fight with a powerful opponent. Silently I counted to three.

In tandem we headed for each other, and our blades locked together again. With a roar he used his height to great advantage, pressing me down. I braced myself, then swept his feet out from under him and speared my zanpakuto through his left thigh. Before he could retaliate I pulled out the sword and a warm spray of blood hit my face, temporarily blinding me.

I roared with agony as I felt the jagged edge of Zaraki's sword tear across my abdomen. Blindly swinging Kyoka Suigetsu I suddenly discovered that my wrist was held by a firm but smooth hand. My left fist opened to summon a hado spell.

“Silence, Aizen-taichou,” said a feminine voice. “Zaraki-taichou, do stop trying to yank your sword from my grip.”

I blinked away the warm, stinking red that obscured my sight. Unohana had one hand locked on my wrist, and three fingers that locked on Zaraki's blade. She was not scowling, but there was a threatening aura that flowed like an ocean about us. It did not overwhelm, but it did overcome. I slowed my heartbeat, forced myself to calm down. From the ferocious scowl on Zaraki's face, he didn't appreciate being stopped so completely, but he reined in his fury and his challenge.

Then he shook off Unohana's hand. Ignoring her reproachful gaze, he smirked at me. “Good fight, Aizen. We've gotta try it again. Whenever ya have a death wish, look me up, eh?”

“I'll come by and finish it someday.”

Unohana glared at both of us again, but now I twisted out of her grasp and left the training ground. Even with the gloomy half-light I caught a glimpse of silver.

xxxxx

“That was kick-ass cool,” remarked Hirako from his perch. Hiyori sat with one leg up, and she was chewing on a piece of dried squid. She raised an eyebrow at me, acknowledgment of my elevated status but not willing to salute, having been lieutenant far earlier than I was.

I limped off.

“Oi, Aizen!” Hiyori hollered. “You drippin' blood, man.”

“I'll handle it. Good evening, Hiyori.”

“Your funeral,” she said and hopped off the perch she shared with Hirako.

Hiyori's impertinence was oddly comforting; from the first day of our acquaintance up till now she had never shown condescension or fawned on me. Hiyori was always just... Hiyori: hanging around her crush-for-decades Hirako Shinji, sprawled in an unladylike manner, drawling her conversations.

Hirako paused before following the slightly-built girl. “Your boy's drinking himself to death, last I heard. Bought out half the sake stock of The Hollow's Cero.”

From over the wall Hiyori yelled for “the bloody bastard-ass-face” to get a move on. Hirako sighed and disappeared.

I returned to my rooms and endured Unohana's treatment. She did not presume to tell me off, but there was a cool warning in her eyes.

“Kai-san is in field training,” the brunette captain informed me. “I do not wish for her to hear how and why her lover is injured.”

“There is no reason other than to test my capacity,” I said. “I will talk to her myself. She won't understand my impulse to fight Zaraki. She doesn't have the lust for battle.”

The disbelieving look she gave me was eloquent enough to convey her concern for Kai Mizuki.

 

Chapter Text

Hirako's words rung in my mind after Unohana left. I didn't want to go and check on him, but I didn't want him to leave with doubts and anger assailing his mind. I wasn't exactly sentimental, but if he was stewing he would be less efficient in carrying out his tasks.

I sighed. At least my wounds had been healed enough for whatever I had planned.

xxxxx

I pushed the sliding door open further, since it had been left ajar. A mess of bottles and discarded clothes greeted my entrance and I frowned in disapproval. Cleanliness might not be next to godliness in my book, but it was always good to be neat.

Picking my way through the disarray after locking the door, I found myself in his bedroom. Gin was sprawled over his bed, a bottle in his right fist. He had shed his kimono, but left his hakama and kosode on, as well as his sandals and socks.

Exhaling heavily I carried him and lay him out properly. Then I sat beside him and untied his footwear. He stirred, but I went on pulling off his socks as he struggled upright.

“Aizen-sama?”

I turned in his direction but not to look into his eyes. Pushing him down again, I removed his kosode and hakama. Then I piled all the garments in a corner, and picked up the scattered bottles around the room. He had drunk a lot.

He was half-sitting in bed, propped against his pillows. I went to his kitchen and prepared a basin of warm water and a towel, and briefly I leaned my forehead against the wall.

You make it so hard for me to do this the way I meant to.

When I returned to the bedroom he was curled in a fetal position. I pulled firmly on his shoulder and uncurled his arms and legs, straightening his limbs. He didn't fight my ministrations as I washed his face with the warm, wet towel, then cleaning his body with the same careful strokes.

When I was done I took the basin and put it on a table in the room. He watched intently as I sighed and prepared to leave, then blurted, “Don't leave. Please.”

I paused at the door.

He struggled out of bed. “Don't go. Please, stay. Even for one night, even if it's just a dream I'm having because of the liquor... and anguish... and, and – I don't know – the, the – the despair. Don't leave.”

I half-turned, not knowing what to decide.

“Say something, say anything,” he begged. My mouth remained closed; there was nothing I wished to say. There was nothing I could say. He grasped my coat and yanked me to face him. “Then... then say nothing. Just don't go.”

I closed my eyes, then gazed at his pale and frantic face. Gin was pleading with every glance, and I felt his shaking hands tighten on my kimono. With a slow smile I took his hand and kissed the knuckles, and then I began removing my glasses and haori.

He staggered backwards, colliding with his bed, sitting down heavily. I disrobed before him, feeling oddly vulnerable despite having done this many, many times before. As I moved towards him his hands shook. “This is a dream, this is a dream...” he muttered under his breath. “This is a dream.”

I tilted his face up by his chin and kissed him as I sank to my knees on the mattress. His arms draped over my shoulders, slid under my arms and abruptly, locked about my waist. There was a stale, sour aftertaste in his mouth, but it was still Gin; he responded hungrily as my tongue delved into each warm corner of his mouth, stroked his hard palate, twined with his tongue.

His fingers scraped over my back, along the line of my spine. I sucked on his earlobe as he gasped with my insistent caresses along his hips. My fingers locked about his wrist when I pushed away from him to better position myself. He whimpered; his hips bucked against me when I took the time to examine his body again; to remember how he glowed under moonlight, how the pink flush began near his heart and suffuse his skin; to memorize this moment, from the smell of spilled sake somewhere in the room, the glisten of sweat on his chest, the tantalizing contrast of his hardened nipples on his skin, the sound of his nonsensical utterances as I rocked against his member, the pressure of his heels on my lower back...

This is going to haunt me for a long, long time.

I pushed into him and he arched his back in a silent plea. I removed myself and reentered, this time harder and faster. He welcomed it, his arms trying to break free of the grip my hands had on his wrists.

I kissed him again, a hard kiss intended to still him, but instead provoked an almost-furious writhing. I had intended to be tender, but now I pounded savagely into him, my desire inflamed by his passion.

xxxxx

His weight was a welcome cover for my body, and I luxuriated in his fading heat. Very reluctantly he shifted to my right, but burrowed his face into my neck.

“This is a dream, right?” he asked. He sounded lost, bewildered. I picked some stray hairs from my mouth and smoothed down his mussed hair. “It has to be a dream because you hate me and are sending me away from you.”

I moved to face him. He gazed at me and reached for my eyes, touching my brows and my eyelids. I blinked lazily as his fingers traced my cheekbones and then to my mouth. I captured his finger between my teeth, then bit down. He gasped with the pain and instinctively pulled his finger from my mouth. His eyes were tearing.

I spoke for the first time that night. “So is this a dream?” I asked, my voice hoarse.

Gin stared uncomprehendingly. Then I was assaulted by lips and teeth and arms, and I fended him off with a short laugh. He buried himself against my chest and I embraced him, petting his silver hair.

His voice muffled, Gin asked, “You're not angry?”

“I was, but not for long,” I admitted. “You meant well, after all. I flared up because you brought up some bad associations.”

He knew who I was referring to, and wisely did not voice the name. Instead he asked, “Why are you suddenly sending me so far away for so long?”

I sighed and pressed my lips to his brow. “It's not sudden, Gin. I had planned this for five months. We send shinigami on foreign assignments, and they send theirs to us. It's a goodwill gesture. I had to juggle... never mind, all boring details.”

He demanded to know why he was not informed before today.

“Because you would then find all sorts of ways to persuade me otherwise,” I half-scolded. “I'm sending you not because I want to, Gin, but because I have to. Tousen can't leave, nor can I. It has to be you.”

He pouted. I tapped his nose. “You have many qualities I lack, love. You're far more attuned to people, and you can discern their true nature almost from first contact. I'm putting my trust and faith in you, Gin.”

“So you want me to figure out the reasons for expansion?”

“I need you to examine the leaders, find their strengths and weaknesses.” I brushed silver hair from his face. “I want you here with me.”

He snuggled closer. “Ten years,” he murmured. “That's too long.”

“Ten years,” I echoed. “But we are shinigami. We can make it, love. Your qualities will see you succeed where Tousen and I will fail.”

“There's that word again,” he noted.

“Qualities?” I said, frowning.

“Love. You called me 'love', twice. Thrice.” He nudged my chin and looked up at me. “Am I? Really?”

I exhaled with a smile, then kissed his waiting lips. “Don't get too used to it. I won't be saying it again, and definitely not in public.”

“As long as you have said it, that's enough.” He sighed contentedly. “And tomorrow I have to leave.”

“Tomorrow is here, Gin. It's been here for hours.”

“How long before we have to go?”

“Hours.”

“There's not enough time,” he protested weakly. He cuddled into my arms, trying to stave off the inevitable.

I shut my eyes and tucked his lithe form against my muscular one, dreading the moment of separation, knowing it had to be done.

xxxxx

We were there forty minutes before they had to sign in to depart. There were about fifteen who were assigned to foreign societies for offshore, and the lower seats of the twelfth division were trying to calibrate the locations accurately. Most shinigami were there to welcome those returning from long postings.

“Ono, Ichimaru, be careful out there,” I addressed the two who were posted to France and Germany respectively. “Ono, your reporting officer is uh, Capitaine Jean-Pierre Javert. He's fair, but strict. He'll be giving me a report of you every two months for the three years you are there, and if I get good reports your rank will raise accordingly.”

She grinned, her round glasses twinkling with the last rays of the evening light. I patted her shoulder as she hefted her bag and followed Akagi to finish the paperwork.

Gin stood three paces behind me. I could feel his reiatsu, reined in and subdued. I didn't turn around.

If I did, he would not be leaving.

“Ichimaru, your reporting officer is Kapitän Wolfric Hartmann. He's in charge of the penitentiary process in Fegefeuer.”I took a deep breath. “Ten years, Ichimaru. I expect you to keep your original task in mind, and to remember what I taught you.”

“Yes, taichou,” he said.

I led the way to the queue. Akagi had finished signing Ono in, and I nodded for Gin to go next. Nearby I felt two pairs of eyes fixed on my passage. As casually as I could I swiveled around and caught sight of strawberry blond hair and white hair.

Ukitake inclined his head in greeting. “Aizen-san.”

Matsumoto mumbled an excuse and faded into the milling crowd. She brushed by Gin instead.I saw the flash of hurt across Gin's face when she snubbed him.

Ten years should be long enough.

Ukitake waited patiently for my attention to return to him. “I see you're sending two, like Soi Fon is.”

“They can use the exposure.” I smiled. “Ono will be a very capable lieutenant in the future.”

“What about Ichimaru?” he asked bluntly. “What role is he going to play?”

I shrugged. “He's volatile. I'm hoping the regimented life in Fegefeuer will trim off his corners, shape him up.”

Gin was done with the paperwork. I bowed slightly to Ukitake – the man was older than me after all – and returned to my lieutenant and the two waiting shinigami.

“Alright, Ono, be careful out in France. Keep away from the wines.” She grinned again and I saw Akagi blush.

So you're his. Interesting.

“Ichimaru,” I said, looking at the tip of his left ear. “I think I've briefed you fully. Any questions?”

“No taichou.”

“Good.” With a chuckle at Akagi I motioned for Gin to follow me. “Let's give them a little privacy.”

Somewhere in the crowd he maneuvered to my side. Our fingers brushed against each other and my heart ached.

Gin was right. There was not enough time.

xxxxx

xxxxx

There's not enough time,” he said, almost desperately.

I pressed my mouth to his cheek. “Shhh.. Gin, there is always time. We will have the rest of all time.”

I don't want to go.” Gin tried to smile but was failing.

You know you have to,” I chided, but there was no rebuke in my voice. My arms tightened about his waist and held him closer.

He clung to me, the brilliance of his blue-green eyes dimmed. “There's not enough time,” he repeated, his voice merely a whisper like the sigh of a breeze.

I inhaled the fragrance of his hair, of his skin, then forced myself to let go of Gin. “There will be time. Come. We have to meet Akagi and Ono to sign in before you leave.”

Chapter Text

“There is no way to guarantee neutrality!” I flattened my hand on the table. “We are involved, whether you wish it or not. We must pull our foreign-duty shinigami back.”

Ukitake raised his finger. “We know all societies have sworn not to be influenced by the human world in their jurisdiction.”

“Nonetheless they will be,” Yamamoto reflected. “Human nature – or shinigami nature – tends to be closely tied to their notions of origin. We may not understand it as well as Aizen does; he is younger and thus still very attuned to nationality.”

I sat back in my chair, feeling vindicated. There were too many empty seats about the table. Hirako had stunned every soul in Soul Society when he led his gang of – Vizards? Was that the term? – to break out of the penitentiary. I had not seen them, but apparently they had on hollow masks when they 'blasted the jail compound into atoms'. They had been missing for close to three months – no one was close to tracking them. I knew where they were – had known the day they disappeared, but I didn't wish to meet them.

Not yet, not until it was the most fortuitous time. Let them run. That day would be arriving soon – I just had to find a way to throw off Kyoraku and Ukitake from their scent...

I'll need to discuss this with Tousen. How are we going to distract the other captains from following the trail?

For the past month we had been debating whether to withdraw all foreign-stationed shinigami in view of the war in Europe. There was a clash between Japan and other nations over Qingdao, and reprisals would occur regardless of whatever treaty signed between the heads of societies.

Suddenly I felt a small tingle in the base of my spine.

Odd. What was that about?

Before I could ponder further, Yamamoto said, “It's been a long day, all. Tomorrow the search teams will change over to the new groups – Zaraki, your two will be under Komamura's directions and be sure to warn them I will come down like two tons of flaming bricks should they disobey.”
“Yeah yeah.” Zaraki yawned hugely.

It occurred to me that the two men actually respected each other greatly, despite their abrasive conversations. I suspected Zaraki knew the combative power of Genryusai was a level higher than his own, even as mine was. Having fought the brute I was assured that I could face him down once I released bankai, which he was incapable of.

“Aizen, you will oversee the recall of shinigami? And for those posted here, if they wish to return then process their applications first.”

“Yes sir.” I jotted a note in my file. It would be a mountain of a task, but Akagi and Ono could handle most of the liaison aspects. The couple made a formidable team.

“Kyoraku and Ukitake, I need you to conduct a drill in case this island breaks into full-scale war.”

The two nodded in tandem.

Yamamoto gave the other captains their additional duties as well before ending the meeting. “Our priority remains the same, captains: to maintain the balance between worlds. We must hunt down Hirako and the other vizards before they disrupt the natural order. As for wars... well, they come and they go, and I'm speaking from experience. But I feel that this war would change the face of warfare as I know it, and in this I would gladly welcome insights from Kurotsuchi's longitudinal studies on imperialism and expansionism. Good night, captains.”

The old man got to his feet and swept out of the room. I left as soon as propriety allowed. As I stepped out I felt the impingement of my senses again. It bothered me, like an itch in the back of my brain, like a nagging reminder that there was something forgotten in the house. But for my life I could not recall what it was.

Walking on pure subconscious memory, I strode down the corridor, engrossed with the logistics of moving three hundred shinigami bck to Seireitei. Housing alone would bring enough problems, and the reassignment of patrol areas was also a pending headache. Add to that the new shinigami graduating this semester... but there were a number of empty slots in the kido corps; the twelfth and the fourth always needed new bodies... perhaps also outer Rukongai could use some law and order...

Wait a second.

I stopped in my tracks. Very, very slowly I turned about on my heels.

Lounging in the deep indigo shadows was a figure I had not seen for a decade. An incredulous smile grew on my face as I took in the silver hair and the sorely-missed smile. He lounged casually against the wall, the grin on his face inscrutable.

He pushed away from the wall and headed towards me. He looked older, I noted, and there was a new air of wolfish menace draped over him. His reiatsu was colder, lighter, and also far more penetrative than it had been when he left.

Fegefeuer has improved you greatly.

My smile grew as I went on my way. I knew he was following behind at three paces, and I chuckled to myself.

xxxxx

When I fell panting to the bed, he rolled me to my side. The sheets were tangled and I was certain there was a tear somewhere – I heard the linen rip sometime between the first and the... hmm. When did it rip? Never mind.

“You're too far from me,” Gin complained as I turned on my back. He pressed up behind me and his leg draped over mine. “Again?”

Sated, I sighed. “Right away again? I'm not a machine, much as I'd like you to think.”

“Not right away, but as soon as you're able...” He licked the back of my neck. “Or when I'm able...”

“Whenever you're ready then, I've done quite enough work tonight.” I found myself rumbling with pleasure as his hand wandered over my torso. “Mmm... how was it over there, Gin?”

“Nice,” he murmured into my skin. “Between the observations and Hartmann's training I learned a lot.”

“Remember to write to your lover tomorrow, Gin,” I said as his fingers scraped over my damp skin. “He'll miss you.”

H propped himself up and rested his chin on my shoulder. “How did you know?” he demanded.

“I know you. Remember I molded you before you left?”

“Aren't you afraid I've changed over these ten years?”

I twisted around and kissed his collarbone. “If you had changed, you wouldn't have hunted me out and waited in that corner.”

He grinned, his smile a sickle of white in the gloom of my bedroom. “I don't have a room now, do I?”

“The house is still yours," I pointed out.

“Too lazt to commute daily.” He turned me to lie face down. I slept on my folded arms and he rubbed hands over my naked back. I relaxed into his ministrations. “How about here?”

“Hmmm.” I considered the prospect. “Mizuki sleeps here occasionally though.”

He wasn't happy about it. “You're still with her?”

“I need a facade far more than you do, Gin,” I muttered as he slid his hands roughly over my waist and hips.

“Break it with her, Aizen-sama,” he urged, his diction clear even as his teeth nipped at the smooth skin on my shoulders. “I know you don't care if I'm monogamous or not, but I don't like sharing.”

I raised myself on my knees and he shifted behind me. I could feel him pressed against my thigh while he raked his fingernails along my sides. “That's quite a lot to ask the day you get back to Seireitei.”

“I know,” he whispered as he lined himself with the plane of my body. “But Karl taught me to ask for the impossible.”

“Karl?” I grunted as he pushed into me. “Ah. I think I know him. Tall, blocky, dark-haired? Karl Bauer?”

“Mm-hmm,” he replied and thrust again. I gasped. He repeated. “Sweet fellow. Usually gentle in bed.”

I growled as he slowed. “He likes it top or bottom?”

“Always top. He finds giving - better than receiving.” His grunts of effort sped my breathing. “But we were talking about Mizuki.”

“I'll think about it.” My words slurred into moaning. Panting I tried to get a grip, my fingers curling into the pillow.

His mouth moved over my skin even as his hands held me steady. “Pr'miss?”

I arched my back into his torso. “Yes.” When he slowed again I hissed, “You shouldn't ask at these times, Gin, you don't know if I'm – nngh – responding to your question - oh!”

“Or to my actions?” he breathed, and adjusted his angle of penetration. 

I chuckled and we stopped chatting, focusing instead on the pleasure of the moment.

 

Chapter Text

I left early that morning, before Gin had woken from his restful sleep. As I brushed my hair it occurred to me that Gin was stronger than Akagi, my current lieutenant.

And Akagi and Ono were starting to wonder why I occasionally disappeared for days from Seireitei. Perhaps they have been recruited by the second division; Soi Fon is unscrupulous enough to send spies into all other Gotei divisions.

Musing over the possibility I set out to the Academy. It was my last lecture for the term and I had to collect two hundred essays for grading. Teaching was enjoyable, but the grading.... I sighed heavily, wishing I could just pass all of them and be done with it.

xxxxx

By the time I headed to the Division it was late afternoon. Weighed down by the essays, I walked slowly and came across an odd sight. Kurosawa Shino and Gin talking?

Kurosawa was grinning as he walked away. I narrowed my eyes as Gin slipped back into the shade of the building. As the tenth division captain wandered my way I intercepted him.

“What was that about?” I asked.

He looked over his shoulder. “Just a chat, Aizen, no need to get your hackles up.”

“I find it highly suspicious since you never talked with him before,” I stated. “What did you want?”

“Just a chat, big boy,” he grinned. “I ain't poaching.”

xxxxx

“He tried to poach you from my division?” I was annoyed; Kurosawa actually had the nerve?

Gin was indifferent. “He offered lieutenant.”

I frowned and inquired, “And how did you reply?”

“I haven't,” he said with a small smile. “I'm thinking about it.”

He has to think about it? “Reject him outright.”

“I thought I'd consider his offer.” He twirled a pen around his fingers, the gold-and-silver instrument flashing in the light. I knew that had been a gift from Bauer. He got up and wanted to push past me.

I was not standing for that. “Reject his offer.”

“I'll think about it.” Still that little insolent smile.

I badly wanted to wipe it off but there was a few other shinigami that were watching the little tableau. “Reject. His. Offer.” I repeated under my breath. “You will not go to him.”

“I said, I'll think about it. Now let go.” He struggled out of my iron grip. “You are not the boss of me, Aizen-sama.”

“Fine. I will leave you then.” I brushed past him and headed to my office.

xxxxx

Well, Sousuke, that was just immensely immature. I rubbed my temples. The headache I had been nursing on and off the past few weeks was growing worse. Although, with last night, it had abated somewhat, now it brought back friends with huge hammers.

I exhaled heavily. The war in Hueco Mundo was growing uncontrolled; Ulquiorra and Halibel's reports were not pleasant reading. I would need to put in a personal appearance, and there was no telling how long I would need to be away.

But Kurosawa was trying to steal my protege. It was an insult that I had to address – or a problem I had to remedy. It was obvious Gin could take the place of any lieutenant in Gotei, only he had been too loyal to seek out advancement prospects.

Akagi and Ono were, on the other hand, becoming too close to my plans. And I knew for a fact that Akagi was too upright for me to bring into the fold.

And Gin wanted me to break it off with Mizuki... I fidgeted with a letter opener on my desk. Why am I keeping her around anyway? Besides the obvious.

I have Gin as my enforcer and adherent, Tousen is a good administrator. Mizuki... why do I need her?

The tapping on the desk hypnotized me. With a small shake I stopped playing with the silver letter opener and put it aside. The woven grasshopper toppled over and I righted it. My temples throbbed and I shut my eyes, trying to dissect my psyche and her value.

Kai Mizuki. Great-grandniece of the soutaichou. Only living heir to the Kai estate – I never found out who her parents were, other than their names. She was the only one in her family to enter the Gotei; apparently all the others headed straight into Squad Zero. Kyoraku, Ukitake, and Komamura treated her as a niece, and Unohana was taking her under her wing again. Out of the thirteen captains she had great relationships with five captains – six if including myself.

In addition she had a long-range zanpakuto that had the nifty bonus of clearing impurities out of the body system – no poison, no drugs, no infection could enter Mizuki's blood or anyone in contact Ameshizuto.

Doesn't explain why I insist on having her with me.

xxxxx

xxxxx

“The problem with you is you don't work with a safety net,” I commented as I tinkered with the connections. “And when it explodes like sixty-eight percent of your little creations, you have to start all over again.”

“Uh, actually the stat is sixty-six point seven percent.” Kisuke waved a screwdriver at me.

I batted the tool away. “Watch it with that thing, you could put an eye out.”

“And we just can't have that, not with the pretty eyes we have, hmm?” He dropped the screwdriver and tugged me close and took off my glasses.

I chuckled. “Shut up.”

“Make me.” He jerked me closer to his body. “Or maybe you're not up to it.”

“I love a challenge,” I smirked and kissed him. “And I am up for it. Very, very up for it.”

He hummed with delight. “You wanna work with a safety net, Sou?”

“Nah...” I rumbled into his warm mouth. He smelled of cinnamon. “When it comes to you, Ki, I'm always in free fall – and loving every second of it.”

xxxxx

xxxxx

I frowned. Why did that recollection come to me?

What is the association... I sat up abruptly. “Safety net. That's it. She's the safety net in case... Gods, Sousuke, you really are stupid.”

I grabbed my folder and headed out. There were a few things I had to set in place before I head out to Hueco Mundo to oversee the reconstruction of Las Noches.

Two birds with one stone, and a third as a bonus gift.

xxxxx

xxxxx

Mizuki was surprised when I appeared at the Fourth Division. She ushered me into the general lounge. “Senpai, what is it?”

“I have to go on an urgent mission to the human world, so I thought I'd drop in and pay you a visit before you go.” I kissed the back of her hand. Some of the nurses tittered but backed out of the room when Mizuki directed a fierce glare at all of them. “Actually I'm here to ask for your help.”

“My help? That's never happened before,” she said in a low voice. “What do you want me to do?”

“You know my fourth seat, Ichimaru Gin?”

I saw her pale slightly. “Yes.”

I held her hands. “He's thinking of jumping ship, and I have to say it rankles me because I've put a lot into grooming him.”

“What was he offered, senpai?”

“Lieutenant.” I stroked her hands, absorbed by the almost snow-white glare of her skin. So alike, and yet so unalike; if only they could be combined into one: Gin's seductive inventiveness and quicksilver nature, Mizuki's unquestioning devotion and unwavering faith. “I want him to stay in the fifth.”

Mizuki swallowed. “I'll try my best to persuade him.”

“That's my Mizuki-chan,” I smiled and hugged her. “I won't be back for a week and a half, at the very least. Don't worry about me.”

She kissed me very sweetly on my lips. “You know I still will. Be careful, senpai.”

“I will. One more for the road?”

xxxxx

When I stepped into Hueco Mundo, near Las Noches, I was greatly displeased by the lack of progress in the reconstruction of the great chambers.

“Ulquiorra!” I called as I strode along the hallway. “Is it ready?”

He materialized by my side, his thin hands directing me towards the corridors on the left. I followed up four flights of stairs and was met by a lounging Stark.

“Stark, good to see you. I may have two shinigami on my tail.”

He canted his head. “What would you have me do?”

“Set Specimen 125, 34 and 6342 on any that come after me. If they do not succeed, then specimens 110 through 146 should do it.” I paused and raised a finger. “Unless they are the three I talked about before.”

“Yes Aizen-sama.” He nodded politely and sauntered away.

We went on, finally coming to a last flight of stairs. It ended with a set of heavy wooden double doors. The doors were plain, dark ebony, a portal of night.

“Would you require me to-”

“No, Ulquiorra. From now on no one else enters except him and me.” I stretched out my hand. “Keys.”

Ulquiorra handed them to me and I waved him away. Placing both hands on the doors I pushed it open, and I smiled at the vista before me.

It was beyond splendor.

White gauze curtains hung from a central hoop and shrouded a large futon on a raised platform. The sheets were pure white, and there were a few soft white cushions on the bed. I pulled the gauze curtains apart and stroked the sheets, satisfied with the sensation. Above the bed there was a large skylight. I looked up and marveled at the sickle moon that hung right above us. Large French doors formed part of one wall, but they were hidden by deliciously dark curtains. I walked to them and felt the fabric.

“Deep crimson brocade,” I muttered, approvingly. I drew open one set, and the endless desert of Hueco Mundo stretched out before me. The French doors opened noiselessly and I stepped out into the cold wind. The rest of Las Noches was behind this wing; I turned around and studied the white towers, some still toppled and a few barely more than rubble.

With a slight frown I reentered the room. There was no doubt that Gin would love this place, although he might prefer a Western-style bed. Oh well... I can't please everyone.

Ulquiorra was hovering outside at the junction. “Is everything to your taste, Aizen-sama?”

“Yes. Now where are the adjuchas or gillian that are resisting my claim?”

“Out the east door, Aizen-sama,” he informed flatly. “They are the last few loyal to Hesperus, sir.”

I smiled mirthlessly. “Hesperus is still alive only because I wish it so. They are loyal to a walking corpse.”

“Nevertheless it may be wiser to-”

“Do not presume to advise me unless I ask it of you, Ulquiorra.” I ran down the stairs and moved towards the east gate.

“No sir.” He bowed again. “Should we follow? Stark and Halibel would want to-”

“No.” I rotated my shoulders. “It's been a long time since I exercised Kyoka Suigetsu.”

“As you wish, sir.”

I indicated the southeastern walkway. “Go there and ensure the wiring is set up properly. We cannot have a blackout on any part of the complex.”

He sped off.

xxxxx

'You're here?! Let me out of this! Let me die! End it! END IT!'

I smiled. “Good to see you too, Hesperus.”

The hollow glared at me from its mutilated face, no doubt wishing to strangle me until I dangled like a rag doll in its grasp. But its arms were fifteen feet from its torso, and its torso buried in the wall could not possibly receive information from the flayed head now set into the gate as an announcer.

He howled as I sprinted into the desert. I would enjoy the trip.

 

Chapter Text

The lion-maned adjuchas shrieked as I pulled out my sword. It had been the strongest thus far of the contenders, almost as powerful as Hesperus had been, but it was still a mere nothing.

I sheathed my bloodied sword. “Is there no one else?” I asked. There was not even a single stain on my haori. The hollows backed away a pace or two, clearly unwilling to take on what even their leader had been unable to defeat.

With a quick flash step I moved to the top of a broken column, so that all could see me: menos, gillian, adjuchas – the remnants and the rebellious. When I was certain all of their attention was focused on me I spoke. My voice rolled over them, reverberating through the crowd of hollows. “Some of you hate me. Most of you know me. All of you...” I looked around, aware of the sudden drop in temperature, “all of you fear me. With good reason.”

I swung Kyoka Suigetsu in its sheath and pointed at the distant white blur of Las Noches. “That! That is the center of Hueco Mundo now. Las Noches is mine. Hesperus is nothing more than a rabid guard dog for me. There are those among you who pledged fealty to that pathetic excuse of a hollow. I admire your loyalty, but you are fools. I do not wish to have you in my army, but I will give you a choice: stay and be killed, or live in the far reaches of Hueco Mundo.”

My gaze swept across the watching hollows. Some shrank back; a few slunk away silently. There was a band clustered around a cat-like adjuchas and I was pleased. That one had potential. I went on. “Those who have no allegiance to Hesperus, I welcome all of you. I have need of your powers.”

There were hushed whispers within the large assembly. Already I had purified three dozen powerful adjuchas without breaking a sweat – these others were nowhere near that level of power. Except perhaps the jaguar now prowling in figure-eights within the circle of his adherents.

I smiled. It would be the necessary rebel for the group; every organization needed them. Seeing that they were wavering I spoke again. “I will not lie. Most of you will be my pawns in the battle against the other shinigami.” The rustle grew angry but quelled when I raised my chin. “But there will be those among you who will become my chosen, who will become stronger than the vasto lordes. You will gorge on souls, and grind the world beneath your heel. There will be no more pain, there will be no more fear – you will ascend beyond what you can imagine! From you I will find my knights, my bishops, my lances, my rooks, my gold and silver generals.”

“And I suppose you are the king,” sneered the jaguar quietly.

In a flash I was by his side, my drawn blade at the base of its skull. The tip drew blood. I smiled pleasantly. “Of course. What were you expecting?”

It did not move a muscle and neither did its gang. I pulled Kyoka Suigetsu away. “You have a good team, adjuchas. I would be honored to include you in our ranks.”

“We are trying to ascend,” said one with a spiky tail. “How can you offer us that?”

“Simple.” I stepped back. Then I asked loudly, “Are there any more that pledge allegiance to me, Aizen Sousuke, shinigami captain?”

Silence draped the scene. Only the jaguar bowed and then its faithful aligned themselves behind them. Then I bowed to them. “Since there is no one else, let me treat you to dinner. Step away.”

The jaguar stalked a little way off, his golden-amber eyes fixed on me. The rest of the hollows shuffled, unsure if they were allowed to leave. I placed Kyoka Suigetsu's tip casually against the ground, and closed my eyes.

Bankai.”

xxxxx

When I made it back to Las Noches with Grimmjow Jaggerjaques in tow, Stark intercepted me discreetly.

“We have some guests,” he muttered as the adjuchas looked about them curiously. It was the first time they had ever come to Las Noches.

I kept my voice low. “They defeated the specimens?”

“No,” Stark shook his head. “The woman is grievously injured, but the man bore an insignia from your division. That's why we let them live.”

I frowned slightly. “So they were tracking me. I must say I'm disappointed.”

“I thought you were expecting it,” Stark commented, his hands folded behind him.

“Sometimes, Stark,” I smiled gently, “I wish to be wrong about people. Halibel, help them settle in. Stark, take care of our guests.”

“You don't wish to see them?”

“No,” I said. “But I intend to make use of them. How is Specimen 339 shaping up?”

Stark shrugged, which I interpreted as 'fine enough'.

I waited in the main hallway as Halibel led Grimmjow's posse away. Stark scratched at his mask idly.

“Stark,” I said firmly, “I will help all of you get rid of the masks someday. Trust me.”

“I do.” Stark's tone was not fawning or supercilious; just a straight statement of fact. “What do you intend, Aizen-san?”

He was the only one who called me that, but oddly it never rankled. I linked my hands behind my back. “I'm going to put up a show.”

xxxxx

xxxxx

It was raining heavily when Soi Fon caught up with me.

“Have you seen Akagi?” I yelled over the downpour. “He was supposed to meet me here yesterday!”

Soi Fon paused. “He's not with me, Aizen.”

“He said he'll bring backup,” I said loudly. The rain was drowning out my voice. “There's been increased hollow activity here – odd hollows, like they're mutated or something.”

Soi Fon looked discomforted. “Akagi never came to me. I was tracking them – him and his wife. They went missing! And why are you out anyway?!”

“The odd hollow,” I replied. “That creature has a really distinctive reiatsu signature a – it's here!!”

An enormous adjuchas crashed to the ground. We leaped away and gathered again on the same treetop. The hollow screeched at both of us, and Soi Fon instinctively placed a hand on her sword. I stopped her. “Not the time for the special forces yet!!”

“What?” She looked at the creature, then groaned in fury. In one hand it clutched Akagi, in another it grasped the limp form of Ono.

“It's got my lieutenant and his wife!” I shouted over the thunder that boomed overhead. “We must rescue them!”

“That is an adjuchas!” Soi Fon shouted in reply. “It must be put down! Just its reiatsu output can severely damage the souls living in this area!”

“Call in and freeze this section! But I will not slay the hollow until Akagi and Ono are safe!”

The hollow screamed again and then, before Soi Fon or I could react, he tore off Ono's torso. I roared my anger.

Soi Fon placed a thin hand on my arm. “Easy. Easy.” With the other the drew her blade and drove it into the ground.

Masked figures sprung up. Soi Fon snapped out her orders. “Take it down! Bring Akagi back alive if possible!”

“If possible? Bring him back at all costs!” I drew my own sword. Before the other captain could stop me I was leaping into the fray, my blade flashing. The special forces arrayed themselves in formation, and I crashed my blade into the mask. It snapped wildly at me; two second division members blocked the attack. I barked, “Get out of my way!”

“They are under my orders, Aizen!” Soi Fon yelled. “Take it down now!”

“No!!” I blocked them. “Save Akagi!”

The masked shinigami didn't bother listening to me. Soundlessly they circled the creature who, again abruptly, again unstoppably, crushed the body of Akagi in its fist.

The furious explosion of reiatsu from me stunned everyone except Soi Fon. I speared the adjuchas straight in its eye, despite the raking claws that tore into my midsection. Blood sprayed. I roared unintelligibly, and hacked again. Before it died it leveled a cero that I tried to block with my zanpakuto. The red glow rushed past my blade and burned into my shoulders and arms, before the scarlet light died suddenly. I fell to the ground, a kite cut from its string.

The other captain raced to my side and threw me over her shoulder. In spite of her small size she was immensely strong. “Call the fourth! Get the operation room ready – cero burn units!”

“I'm all right... get... get Akagi and Ono's bodies. Get their bodies... b-back home.”

“We will,” assured the diminutive Soi Fon. She nodded at her subordinates.

I prepared to black out, making sure to hide the satisfaction from my face. I really shouldn't have let down my shields for the cero, I thought groggily. Gin's going to be really mad about this.

Chapter Text

I blinked tiredly at Mizuki.

“So how bad is it?” My voice sounded hoarse and torn even to myself. It was difficult to talk with a breathing mask over my face, and I suppressed the gag reflex ruthlessly.

She smiled shakily. “It's-it's not that bad.”

“Mizuki-chan.” She looked up at the tone of my voice. “Tell the truth.”

She swallowed, then rattled off the list of my wounds. “You sustained third degree burns on your shins, feet; second-degree cero burns along the upper arms and shoulders. Unohana-taichou says that was because you had your zanpakuto blocking the worst of the - the attack. Your... You sustained almost fourth-degree burns on your forearms though because...”

“Because that was my main defense against the cero?” I breathed heavily through the mask. “It's alright, Mizuki-chan. I'll be fine. You're cultivating the new skin as we speak.”

“Y-yes.”

“And how did it go with Ichimaru?” I said, breathing slowly. My reiatsu was building below my diaphragm, the healing power crawling over my skin and nerves.

“He - he says there's no prospect of advancement in the fifth, that was why he was considering-”

“He must not leave.” My grip on her hand tightened. “Use whatever means. He must not leave.”

She returned the firm hold. “I will try my best, senpai. Just focus on getting better.”

I blinked and tried to smile under the mask. She smoothed my hair back, and I drifted into sleep.

xxxxx

I had been injured severely a few times in my life.

This latest was intentional: I needed to throw the dogs off my scent.

The previous was when I tried Urahara's spell. I honestly hadn't believed he would sabotage me, even though we had been undermining each other's efforts for decades.

Before that there had been bankai – that was easily the most life-threatening. Kyoka Suigetsu hadn't been an easy opponent to subdue.

The first time had coincidentally been a cero burn, all down my left side. It also led to one of Urahara's best inventions, although he had never given me the keys to the hot spring's source.

xxxxx

xxxxx

I levered myself away, horrified at what I just did.

He sat up, his face more inscrutable than usual.

I rubbed across the back of my mouth. I could smell the expensive sake we had been indulging in and had been knocked out by; I could hear our heavy breathing; I could feel his stunned gaze on me.

“I'm sorry,” I stammered. I somehow managed to stand, despite the alcohol still racing through my system, and staggered towards the bathroom we shared. “I'm... I'm sorry.”

When I reached the bathroom I threw up. After I washed the filth away and rinsed my mouth, I looked up into the mirror – and got the shock of my life. “Kisuke.”

“Sousuke,” he said, his eyes still unreadable. He remained motionless at the door and I didn't dare to turn around, instead choosing to look at him via the mirror reflection. His face gave no hint to his thoughts, but his demeanor was very unlike the swaggering, arrogant genius that held court daily in the academy.

I couldn't hold the eye contact for long. “I'm sorry.”

“You said that already.”

“I still am.”

I stiffened when I felt hands on my shoulders. Kisuke bent close. “Why did you do that?”

“I don't know,” I admitted quietly. In this darkened bathroom, with his sake-scented breath mingling with the odd cinnamon fragrance, pride didn't seem to matter as much. “It felt right.”

It was with a shudder that I realized he had shifted his hands to my waist. “We've never gotten along. I never understood why not, we're so very similar; it appears we're more similar than I had previously believed.”

“What?”

He pressed up close. I jerked my gaze back to the mirror. In its black surface I recognized the glimmer in his eyes, because that was something also present in my eyes.

Hunger.

Desire.

Something akin to admiration.

Perhaps love.

When he turned me around I was too stunned to resist. But I was not too stunned to reciprocate when his lips touched mine.

“I'm also sorry,” he murmured. “I should have done this years ago.”

“Years?” I replied, my arms now circling his waist. “You mean...”

“I'm not who I appear to be, Sou. I just wanted you to notice me.”

Our lips were brushing delightfully as we spoke. “So all that brash, cocky confidence was put on? For me?”

“You're a very confident person, Sou,” he breathed, “and I was scared. If only I knew how to approach you...”

His mouth opened to nip at my lower lip. I stopped thinking as we finally kissed properly, our bodies pressing together in the darkness, in a little dormitory bathroom, the night we graduated into the fifth year of our studies.

xxxxx

xxxxx

Gin never visited throughout the week I was in the hospital. Mizuki came daily, looking increasingly haggard. She never mentioned what Gin said other than he was still considering – I knew he would tell me his decision personally. He was playing his part well though.

He's really putting her through her paces, I thought privately. My bandages were coming off tomorrow; I was itching madly underneath them. At least I'll be free of them soon.

 

Chapter Text

A presence impinged on my senses. Turning around, I saw Gin in the deep maroon robe I adored. "Hello."

"Hello," he said. He did not enter the room.

"I didn't expect to see you," I said, returning to fold my laundry. I didn't want to look at him.

He cleared his throat. "Just wanted to check on things."

There was a patch of silence in which we went on with our tasks, he watching at the door, me folding pillowcases. His hair now hung past his eyes, obscuring his gaze. Finally I spoke. “Haven't seen you in a while.”

"You look good," he said, changing topics. He took a deep breath and went on. "Last night she said you wanted me to take the lieutenant post that's now available."

I busied myself with putting the sheets away. Then I halted at the cupboard, arms buried by voluminous fabric.

He came up to me, until he was four paces away. "I know that was your offering."

"Did you like it?" I asked. I closed the cupboard, but didn't face him. I ached to feel his silky hair.

"She's not that responsive to me." Then he cleared his throat again. "I...umm... I'm sorry for not visiting."

"You weren't obliged," I said with a wry smile.

“Thing is, we have some problems between us.” He hesitated. "We have issues and they need to be worked out. You can't expect things to always go fine, because the issues will always be there. People usually need time to talk things out, and space so they can consider the implications. And sometimes people need space to... to find themselves."

I felt my hands grow cold. "So what are you saying, Gin?"

Gin stepped up behind me. "I'm saying... screw all that crap. I miss you and I want to kiss you. Please."

He rested his cheek against the side of my head; I could detect a soft honey and lavender fragrance wrapped about him, remnants of his encounters with Mizuki. My eyes closed slowly, aware that my body literally throbbed with longing for contact. He laced his fingers with mine and folded my arms around my waist.

"I've missed you," I said quietly.

He emitted a soft laugh. "Like an arm?"

"Like a heartbeat."

We stood locked together for a long while, just absorbed in the moment.

“Do you remember this?” he murmured into my neck.

“Yes.”

He let go of my hands and removed my haori from my shoulders. Composedly he pulled my kimono and then my kosode down. There was a shuffle behind me. Gin then slid his hands up my back and I inhaled sharply at the skin-to-skin connection.

He ran his palms down my arms, to my hands and crossed them about my waist again. “I missed you too,” he admitted. He kissed the back of my neck, near the top of my spine. I turned my face and half-opened my eyes. He reached up and removed my glasses, before kissing me on my lips.

“Why do you hide your beautiful eyes, Aizen-sama?” he whispered.

“The same reason why you smile all the time,” I replied, twisting around in his arms to embrace him. Our lips met with the same fervor as our first encounter – breathless, mindless, primal.

We grappled at each other, heedless of the open door, heedless of the early evening light, heedless of whoever or whatever that might come across us. Too long denied the cool silk of his skin, too long excluded from the heat of his body, I desperately wanted to bury myself into him and forget my own name and my purpose. We folded to the floor, half-sitting, half crouching.

“Gin, love-” The words tumbled out involuntarily as he hid his face into my neck and silvery filaments found their way to my lips.

“What do you fear?” he asked suddenly. I looked at him curiously. He repeated the question, even as his hands busied themselves with the removal of my clothes.

I stayed his hands. “There is nothing I fear, Gin.”

He was cradled in my arms, but he smoothed his hands along them in assurance. “I am here. I will always be here.”

“I've heard that before,” I said and sat up, dislodging him. “I've heard it too many times to believe in it.”

“Then don't.” He took my fingers and nibbled the knuckles. “Wait for me to prove myself. I'm no Urahara. I will stay. I am staying.”

Pushing off from the floor, I shrugged into the sleeves of my uniform. “I'm not making the same mistake twice, Gin. I'll trust you as a lieutenant, but I won't enter the same trap again-”

“It is no trap,” he said, springing to his feet. He grabbed my hand and slammed it against his heart. “It is no trap, I swear it. Aizen-sama, have I let you down yet?”

I withdrew my hand. “One day you might.”

“Then kill me the day I do.”

The breath I didn't know I had been holding eased out. My stiff palm flattened on his skin, then tracked up to his face. “I will, you know,” I stated calmly.

“I fear many things, but I don't fear that.” He looked straight into my eyes. “I will not be killed by Kyoka Suigetsu.”

A smile tugged at the corner of my lips. Then I seized his head and yanked him to me. Our lips met again and this time I didn't break free of the wild passion surging through my body. Snatching him up into my arms we kissed all the way to my bed. He laughed as I tossed him onto the mattress.

“New bed, Aizen-sama?”

“Yes. It has been a decade, love.” I climbed on. He ducked away into a corner. I pretended to frown. “You're still dressed.”

“So are you.”

That problem was soon solved. He crooked a smile and came to me, kissing my flat stomach. I shifted and he murmured, “And what do you think you're doing, hmm?”

“What am I supposed to do?” I asked huskily. I could feel heat radiating from him, and our reiatsu wove into each other. The soft white sheets rumpled with every slight movement.

He pushed me on my back. Sliding languidly over me, he said, “Just try to relax. It's going to feel rather – peculiar – in a moment...”

“Peculiar, huh.” His breath on the fine curled hairs below my belly button tickled. I didn't resist when he parted my legs, nor did I fight the odd sensation of his fingers slowly entering me. His lips parted slowly, and with a wicked grin he slid his tongue along the underside of my length. My head rolled back, almost knocking into the wooden headboard.

“Do you want to know what I'm doing in there?” he asked quietly. I nodded, my breathing heavy. The fingers of his free hand pushed into my mouth and I welcomed it eagerly.

The wet kisses and slurps were almost obscene, but oddly my ardor rose despite the sounds – or because of them. As I relaxed into his patient exploration he muttered something about being insatiable. When he scissored his fingers – the ones in my mouth as those on his other hand – I almost cried out, and my vision glazed over when his fingers curled and pushed against something deep in me.

When he wanted to clean his hand on my sheets I protested.

“What do you recommend then?” he asked. I tore the towel I kept near the bed from its stand and stuffed it at him. With a mock grimace he used it and tossed it off the bed. There was oil by the bedside which he used liberally before sliding into me. “Hypochondriac.”

“If I were a hypochondriac,” I said, breathless, keeping my hands on his circling hips, “I wouldn't be - wouldn't be doing this with... nnnh, I've missed this.”

“So've I,” he grunted. We didn't speak for a while, letting our bodies recall the rhythm; the reintroduction slow but crescendoing into a frenzied climax. I didn't let him take the reins for a second time; he was soon spread below me as I realized a few fantasies since I left for Hueco Mundo. Every vocalization from his arched throat drove me deeper into his warmth.

xxxxx

He was finger-parting my hair while I summarized the situation.

“It still hinges too much on Urahara,” I surmised. “There's still too much I don't know about his... invention? Discovery?”

“Weird science?” Gin supplied. My left hand caressed his inner thigh as he kneaded into my neck.

“Thing is, if he has created it, where did he hide it?”

“Shihouin might know.”

“No,” I deliberated. “I know him. It will be somewhere unrelated to him.”

“Mmm.” His tongue distracted me for a second as he traced the rim of my ear. “But does he suspect you of anything?”

We kissed again before I turned back to my notes. “No,” I answered. “One flaw in his character is his persistent belief that he foresees all possible permutations. And he thinks he knows me.”

Gin's breathing quickened as my strokes turned to groping. “M-maybe we can trick the details out of him.”

I snorted while I pressed into the softness behind his knee. The whimper that escaped from Gin's lips was tantalizing, but I managed to refocus. “He's too smart. I think I should visit him.”

Gin suggested sleeping with him again. “Maybe he'll be more vocal in bed.”

“He was always the quiet one, actually,” I murmured as we curled into each other. I reached into my drawer and pulled out a short dagger, its razor-sharp edge completely failing to glint in the light. “And usually we don't talk in bed. We hardly talked, in fact; we fought a lot.”

There was an unusual look in Gin's eyes; I tilted his face up with the hilt of the dagger. “You hate it, don't you? You hate hearing about him and me.” He didn't respond. I smiled crookedly. “You hate it, but you put up with it. Why?”

“I don't hate his name,” he clarified. “I hate that he's so important to you.”

“You hate that he might be more important than you.”

“Yes.” He buried his head between my chin and shoulder.

I stroked his hair, then lifted his arm. Kissing the baby-smooth inside of his arm tenderly I murmured, “You're my parastathenes, Gin; I am your erastes.” Lightly sliding the dagger's edge across the white skin, we watched the slow line of crimson materialize and thicken. Then I licked the wound. “No one else, Gin. You must believe that.”

He lifted his head angled himself to see better.

Lightly sliding the dagger's edge across his skin, we watched the slow line of crimson materialize and thicken. A singular bead swelled at the very end of the cut, swelled and burst, a single line of vivid red over white skin. Then I licked the wound, tasting his blood. “No one else, Gin. You must believe that.”

He took the dagger from me and etched a shallow cut on his collarbone. I bent to lick it, and then repeated the same process over his body until he dropped the dagger over the side of the crimson-dotted sheets.

 

 

Chapter Text

It was a lovely morning, basking in the shade of a large tree in Mizuki's house.

“Breakfast was good, dearest,” I said. We kissed lazily and my hands pushed her kimono down as I slowly ran my hands along Mizuki's sides.Then I paused. “You have some bruises.”

She cringed from my touch – not afraid, but ashamed. “They... they will fade.”

“How did you get them?”

Her glance flickered from my hands to my face, then down to her feet. “I was clumsy. At sparring practice.”

“First time in five decades then,” I remarked. “Don't lie to me, Mizuki-chan. You know I hate that.”

She pulled her kimono on quickly. There was a barely hidden tremor in her voice, but it was there. “I... I went to Ichimaru. To talk. A-and he...we... I wanted to persuade him and... he was...”

I pulled her into my embrace. “Ichimaru did things to you?”

She bowed, hiding her face from me as she admitted it. Then she began to weep. I kissed the side of her neck and wrapped my arms around her ribs, rocking her gently.

“I'm sorry, I-I'm sorry I couldn't... I can't continue doing this, senpai, I can't,” she sobbed. “I feel defiled, like I'll never be clean, like I've bathed in filth. How can I touch- how can you... I'm sorry, I'm so sorry...”

“You don't have to be sorry, dearest.” I kissed her again. “Y'see, when I asked that you try your level best to persuade Ichimaru to stay, I expected him to do this. What I didn't expect is your refusal.”

She froze.

“If you loved me, truly loved me, you wouldn't say 'I can't',” I whispered. “It's not that you can't, it's that you won't. You won't do it because you don't love me enough.”

“I do, I swear, but–”

My arms tightened a little bit more. “If you loved me, you would do him again in a heartbeat.”

She whimpered. “Senpai – it hurts. Please, stop.”

“Shush. You don't get to beg until I let you.”

This time there was a crack. She screamed.

I hissed into her ear. “Shush. You know you don't get to scream until I let you. And I won't.”

She gasped a short shriek.

“You know you've been wanting this. You've wanted me to hurt you ever since you found out about me and him.” My lips raked over her ear. My arms squeezed closer together, and there was another crunch of bone. "You think I don't know that you've been watching us? Telling tales to your precious Kyoraku-san? But if you tell them a thing, I will kill him. And Ukitake. I will kill everyone you love and make you watch."

Her scream tore free of her throat.

“LET HER GO!!”

The garden wall behind us shattered into pieces as a large figure ripped Mizuki out of my grasp. Startled I grabbed my sword, then paused.

It was Komamura Saijin without his mask.

“So this is your real face,” I straightened. A jackal? A fox? What manner of existence is this?

“You touch any of Yamamoto-soutaichou's kin again, and I will kill you!”

I smiled courteously. “That's not much of a threat, is it?”

“I'LL CRUSH YOUR BONES BETWEEN MY TEETH!!” he roared, Mizuki's form a poor puppet in his arms.

“Now that is a fine threat,” I showed my teeth. “Now hand her over to me.”

“No.”

Komamura looked over at the gap in the wall. I pursed my lips. “This is getting to be a habit with you, Unohana-san. Turning up just when we're about to fight.”

She stepped in. “I came to inform Mizuki of some division matters. And now she will come with me.”

Komamura held on, growling low in his throat. Unohana's eyes narrowed with just a hint of command.

I chuckled. “Do as you wish.”

“The soutaichou will hear of this-”

“No,” gasped Mizuki. “No, don't... don't tell, d-don't. Let it go. Please. Please.” Her breathing shortened and then, in one clear instant, stopped completely. Komamura puts her on the floor, then timidly extends a hand – paw – to her chest; he was pulsing reiatsu to jump start her heart.

I smiled and waited, perfectly content to await their inevitable decision.

Eventually Unohana stepped aside. As I strode away she blocked me with an arm. “I will not forget this, Aizen-san.”

“I know. Good day, Unohana-san.”

xxxxx

“I'm glad you're back,” Gin said as I entered the division office.

I relaxed into my armchair. “Mizuki's warded now. Intensive care.”

So. You care. I ran my gaze over the next meeting's agenda, then flickered up to his face again. Now it was under control, with a secretive smile. You care, but at least you've learned to mask it. Good.

“I'm going to be quite busy, Gin,” I remarked. “Plenty of paperwork piled up in my absence. Go see to whatever work you have to see to.”

“Yes, taichou,” he said, now putting on his lieutenant voice, because that was who he was now.

As he left the building I decided that his punishment would be light: he would not get to see the gorgeous room in Las Noches until I was satisfied with his performance.

xxxxx

After I signed off the last purchase order, I left for Tousen's division.

He was in, talking to his lieutenant about the latest newsletter. When the lieutenant caught sight of me he hastily bowed and informed Tousen, who already knew I was there. I smiled as the other shinigami left.

“There's something I have to inform you about,” I said by way of hello. Tousen sat down and I did so too. “Mizuki is severely injured, and Komamura took her from my arms.”

Tousen's face remained impassive. “Was it your doing?”

I folded my hands across my abdomen. “Yes. But I saw what was under his helmet. Did you know what was under it?”

“I was curious when I first heard of it, but I didn't pry.”

I laced my fingers together. “Gave me a shock.”

Tousen's brow crinkled ever-so-slightly.

“I never thought he'd be... non-human. Non-human form, anyway.” I tapped my wrist reflectively. “I wonder how he can exist... a fox or wolf, but upright, with actual capacity for speech...”

“So he's a hybrid.” Tousen sat back in his chair, unknowingly mimicking my posture. “An animal and a human, blended.”

I waited for him to come to his conclusion.

He said quietly, “He is an aberration of the natural order. If such a thing is allowed to exist...”

“He is your friend,” I reminded Tousen.

“He is an abnormality that will be put down when the time arrives. It is not... right for such an aberration to continue to exist.”

I pushed myself off my seat. “Your call. I have to pay a visit to the hospital.”

xxxxx

And of course he was already there.

I waited outside the ward, listening in. There was nothing in his words that would cue in the casual eavesdropper, but I wasn't one.

So. You care. Now let's see if you care enough. I slid the door open and entered the ward, closing the door behind me.

“He knows,” I parroted Mizuki's words. Then I half-smiled, knowing that I looked every inch the sincere, honest, upright captain I was supposed to be. “And he is very, very unhappy.”

Gin stood up from his seat. “And why are you unhappy, taichou?”

“Because I will not stand being a pawn, Gin, Mizuki.” I leaned against the wall. “I refuse to be played.”

“No one here is playing you, taichou,” Gin stated softly. The smile never left his face. Mizuki couldn't move, but tried to edge away. Gin placed a warning hand on her shoulder. “We just came to an agreement.”

“An agreement that used me as the stakes.” I smiled more politely.

Now Gin recoiled slightly, his reciprocating smile deepening. “What would you have us do then, taichou? Damage each other until you can use neither of us? Because that? That I can do.”

He suddenly covered Mizuki's mouth and nose with his right hand. Her eyes widened, then closed with understanding. She was trying very hard not to struggle.

I watched the little play for a few seconds, then told him to let go.

“But it'll be over soon,” he said calmly.

“Let go, Gin. I'll see you back at the office.”

Chapter Text

Gently I kissed Mizuki goodnight. She had wept herself out after our heart-to-heart talk, and now I had an angry Gin to placate.

I sighed. Still like a child sometimes.

When I entered the house I saw him seated at the porch, drinking my best sake. I grimaced at how he was just sloshing some of the finest wine in Seireitei into a bowl, but decided that a bottle of sake was worth a lot less than a happy Gin.

When I sat beside him he turned away instead, abandoning the cup and drinking from the bottle. I sighed and pulled him into my arms. He resisted but I didn't relinquish my hold. In the end he settled for pouting. His rigid back against my chest spoke volumes of his anger.

I decided to tease him out of his snit. “I know I deserve the silent treatment, Gin, but don't you want to know whether I had killed Mizuki?”

“You didn't.” He pouted some more. “Let go of me.”

I nuzzled his ear instead. “Not on my life.”

When I hugged tighter he flapped at my arms. He was sloshed; the reddish flush across his cheeks added to his appeal. I wheedled, “Come on, Gin. You know I love to see you smile.”

“Then you can wait until I'm happy.”

“You're angry because I didn't kill her.” I sighed again. “She cannot be killed, Gin.”

He scoffed. “Of course she can. I almost did until you stopped me.”

“No, I meant if we kill her,” I murmured soothingly, “the soutaichou will get very involved. We'd be dead before sunrise.”

He was silent at the fact. Taking another swig from the bottle, he then said, “But you hurt her nonetheless.”

I laughed low in my throat. “Wasn't that what you wanted me to do? Break it off with her? Wasn't that in your agreement? You take the lieutenant job, she leaves me forever?”

He sat up and glared blearily at me. “And that's another thing. How the hell did you know?”

“You didn't visit me at the hospital. Mizuki did, every day.” I knew he was almost out of it, but I wanted him to understand on his own. His lovely brow wrinkled with the effort of cogitation.

“I hate hospitals, you know that,” he said.

I smiled again. “Yes, but I was so badly burnt, you would have torn the place apart to find me if you didn't have someone telling you my actual condition. Mizuki told you everything. That's why you didn't have to find out for yourself.”

He was dumbfounded. I used the intermission to play with his long fingers.

“You're a monster. How can you possibly analyze that far?” he asked exasperatedly. “How is it possible you can – ugh! Can I ever, ever surprise you?”

“Maybe. One of these days, perhaps.”

He pouted again and then turned around to lean on my shoulder. I began running my fingers through his fine hair and hummed a soft melody.

“You have a pleasant voice, Aizen-sama.”

The compliment came out of nowhere. I kissed his cheek and said, “Thanks. I take good care of it.”

“What do you want, Aizen-sama?”

I buried my face into his neck. “There are many things I want, Gin, but I've learned to identify my needs.”

He continued asking. “So what are they?”

I stopped my hands from caressing his stomach. “I need to know.”

“Know what?”

“Know everything.” That is true enough. “That is my gift and my curse, I suppose, because needing to know has led me to some truly... interesting conclusions about our existence.”

He giggled and muttered, “Okay. I've been having too much wine for your words to make sense. Don't you want some?” He motioned with the bottle.

“No. Go ahead and drink it all,” I said, now letting my hands stroke the firm waist under his gray yukata.

He chuckled again. “I'm already drunk. I'll get even drunker. I'll pass out.”

I returned the low laugh and murmured suggestively, “Go ahead. In fact, get extremely drunk and pass out so that I can have my way with you.”

“You don't need me drunk for that.” His smile was exceedingly tempting.

“No, I don't,” I conceded, “but it's more interesting for me. Go on, Gin. I promise I'll be very gentle.”

He dazzled me with his wicked smile before draining the entire bottle.

xxxxx

I smoothed silver hair from his forehead. Then I slipped out and went to the Kai mansion.

Kyoraku was there already, as was Ukitake, Unohana and Komamura.

“You are all earlier than I expected,” I said. “I got your message at the hospital.”

Kyoraku was the first to draw his sword. “You despicable bastard,” he growled. “Just because Mizuki said not to tell the old man don't mean we don't stand up for her. How dare you?”

“Because she failed me,” I said.

“Doesn't give you the right to hurt her, Aizen-san.” Unohana's reprove was genteel and polite, but I heard the edge. “She's still in my division and under my jurisdiction.”

I smiled. “What would you have me do then, captains? Fight each of you? Defend my own honor?”

“Yes,” growled Komamura. Ukitake was stone-faced, but I saw he had his swords readied.

“Fine then,” I said, and drew Kyoka Suigetsu. “Bankai.”

xxxxx

xxxxx

Everyone was already present at the meeting room when I slipped in, my hair still slightly mussed.

Sometimes I wish I can turn Gin down.

Kurosawa smiled and waggled his brows suggestively when I got to my seat. I glared at him across the table. Unohana leaned over slightly and murmured, “I hope you weren't too energetic, Aizen-san. The new skin needs to be fully rested so you won't have scars.”

Opposite my seat Komamura inclined his helmeted head. I smiled and asked, “What have I missed?”

“We were just beginning to discuss the issue of Academy lecture scheduling. This term, Soi Fon, you are taking two classes, and Aizen, the third and fourth year kido-manipulation mass lectures are yours.”

Yamamoto glanced at the agenda. “And Kyoraku, you're in charge of apprehending the bastard who dared to attack Mizuki.”

“But, Yama-ji, she went into Zaraki district by herself. How am I supposed to find one bastard out of hundreds of bastards?!”

“That's really up to you now, isn't it?” Yamamoto bared his teeth.

I raised a finger. “I'd like to help.”

“Please do, I've no idea where to start searching,” Kyoraku thanked me graciously. I smiled pleasantly. Ukitake patted his lover's hand and then beamed his thanks at me.

It's too early for you all to fight me. Far too early.

 

 

Chapter Text

I broke up in a more amicable manner with Mizuki later. She was given the privilege of retaining her true memories, but her protectors were completely ignorant. This had been her final wish before we ended our relationship, in return for her devotion the past half a century.

From the first day of my education I had believed that the mind was the most powerful weapon – and to violate the entirety of the mind was a power all on its own.

Gin grew into his leadership role, easing my burdens and doubling my pleasures. He would make a good captain one day, and now I began tutoring him towards bankai. Before Shinsou could be brought forth, we were disrupted.

The massive war everyone anticipated and dreaded arrived, providing me with raw material the likes of which I had never witnessed before. The new adjuchas and the old arrancar grew fat on the spoils of war, and my research spawned new and wondrous results.

Yet, even as I took pride in my experiments, I also felt a stinging frustration. What had Hirako and his crew come across that allowed them to cross the boundaries? What had guided them past that last step?

 

xxxxx

xxxxx

We listened to the news and then Yamamoto shut it off. He said without turning to me, “Is your lieutenant ready?”

“Let me send a message and he will be.”

“You must realize he will be there alone,” Yamamoto warned. “We will not send backup.”

I inclined my head as I dictated my message. The hell butterfly flew off. “He will not require backup. Wolfric has only compliments for Gin.”

We listened to another field report from Germany. Everything was going wrong; the major world leaders were falling like flies. I knew three shinigami were posted on Hitler watch, just so he would be purified the second his soul separated from his body, in case he became a hollow and created more trouble. But the shinigami – or death reapers as they called themselves – had disappeared from their radar. Completely vanished, and Fegefeuer was worried. Worried enough to call on one of their operatives' trusted friend and ally.

I asked a few more questions before acceding to Wolfric Hartmann's request. The other captain thanked me and I bowed to Yamamoto. “I have to leave now, sir.”

Yamamoto grunted and dismissed me from the room. Outside, Kurosawa lounged. The bearded, stock man fell in step with me. “You sure about sending the pretty boy over? It's far away.”

“I've sent him there for ten years before, Shino. Gin can take it. And right now, he's needed there more than he is needed here.” I was practically flash-stepping, I was moving so fast.

“That's generous of ya.”

“Practical. If I don't let him go he'll brood over it and I'll have a useless lieutenant on my hands.” I pushed past a gaggle of academy students rushing to their new practice grounds. “Besides, I know he'll come back soon.”

We walked together for another block when we heard an irritated voice call from an office. Kurosawa's grin faded a little. “Damn. Rangiku's still looking for me. Overdue bills and a three-foot-tall stack of reports. See ya.”

I waved him goodbye and then saw a bewildered Gin waiting at the gates. He was packed and prepared, and full of questions.

I almost had to shove him into the passageway. “Listen, Gin. This once, don't think about me. Don't rush home. Stay there – until he no longer needs you with him.”

“What? Who? The captain?”

I tightened my hands once on his shoulders. “Go.” When he still hesitated, I pushed him. “Now.”

He took one look at me -not last, definitely not last – and sprinted towards Fegefeuer.

You'd better still be alive. I hissed out a long breath. I'll kill you myself if you upset Gin.

 

Chapter Text

First I had to be certain Soi Fon and her agents were moving out. Then I made the call.

“I want to speak with Urahara Kisuke.”

No such person,” the other voice on the line said breezily.

“The second division is on their way.”

Who is this?

“We have grown distant indeed, Urahara, for you not to recognize my voice.” I hung up and left the eighth division's building.

xxxxx

The next day all the captains were confined in a meeting that had lasted five hours and counting.

Soi Fon was on her feet, belligerent. “I insist on accessing all call records immediately, now.”

“Can't be done in three months,” said Kurotsuchi. “We are talking close to two thousand lines for the past thirty-five hours. Have you any idea how many communication lines have been opened and shut since then?”

“I don't know and I don't care. Someone here tipped them off, dammit!” Soi Fon slapped her hands flat on the table.

Yamamoto's hands tightened on his staff. “I do not believe any of us who were here would betray Seireitei. Every captain here has demonstrated loyalty and discretion.”

Rinbayashi Reina of the third snorted. The elderly woman got to her feet, still proud and erect despite her obviously failing health. “Shigekuni, the nerve of this upstart aggravates me. I shall leave now. Old bones and aging flesh, as you should know.”

“Have a good rest, Reina.”

The old captain scoffed. “I might not even wake from it. After such a long meeting...” she grumbled as she pushed the doors open and swept out.

I wondered if she noticed all of us rising as she left. Her ailing health kept her bedridden for long periods, but like the captain-general, was a formidable opponent nonetheless. She was fading out; she knew that, all of us knew that, but she was clinging on with a persistence and temerity to shame the most obstinate limpet ever spawned.

“If there is no reason to suspect us,” Kurosawa remarked after we sat down again, “why the hell are we still in here? Those who are not under suspicion should leave.”

“Every single one of you is under suspect!” insisted Soi Fon. Her face ws set in a mask of anger.

I leaned back, my arms folded. Kyoraku mirrored my pose. Unohana said nothing, merely laced her fingers together on the table. All of us waited.

Yamamoto finally spoke. “Soi Fon, there is no point keeping all of us here until Kurotsuchi can compile the information. We have more pressing tasks-”

“We almost had the goddamn vizards in our hands, soutaichou!”

“And what would you do with them, Soi Fon? Lock them up? Disable them? Hirako has proven himself the equal or better of almost every shinigami you command, very possibly including yourself.” Yamamoto spoke softly but we all heard the rebuke. Soi Fon colored. The captain-general got up and left the meeting room.

“I guess we can all leave now,” I remarked, pushing away from the desk that I had become utterly sick of. One by one we filed out, but Soi Fon remained standing and seething at her place. I patted her on her shoulder. “We'll find the informant, Soi Fon. We'll get them.”

xxxxx

When it was my turn in the human world I took a detour by Karakura town.

“Tessai. It's been a long time.”

He frowned and made to block my way, but then a figure I had not seen for thirty years stepped out from the inner room. “It's alright, Tessai. I need to speak with him as well.”

“But boss-”

“We need some time alone. Please.”

The tall man paused and then nodded. “I'll give you tonight.” He then put on a coat and left.

“You have a generous jailer,” I remarked as Urahara invited me into the living quarters.

He merely shrugged. “I don't try to escape his custody, Sousuke. Now for the key question.”

I smiled and sat down on the offered cushion. “And what would that question be?”

He removed his hat and outer jacket, then grinned. “Here to fuck?”

 

Chapter Text

“Excuse me?” I froze, then raised my brows. 

“It's a simple question, Sou. Is that what you're here for?”

“Emphatically not.”

Urahara shrugged. I sniffed delicately, realizing that he was giving off sake fumes with every word. Urahara was never a strong drinker and he very seldom drank on his own; something was wrong.

Suddenly I realized I thought of him no longer as Ki or even as Kisuke. When had that changed?

Aloud I said, “Did the call come in time?”

“Yeah. They've left.” He got to his feet and poured me some tepid tea. “Sorry about that tea. Didn't know I would get a visitor this time of night.”

“Not an issue.”

They are. Aren't you supposed to be capturing them?” Urahara asked. “Why tip us off?”

I smiled tightly. “I owed it to you.”

“The reiatsu-delimiting spell? That was a bust, remember? I almost killed you, then healed you. That one's a draw.”

“From before that,” I said. “The scholarship exam.”

The blond man glanced away and snorted. For a beat neither of us spoke, then he commented, “This is how it's gonna be? You repaying every single thing I did to you or for you?”

“No. Some things have already been balanced out. I still owe you four other favors, Urahara.”

Now his gaze fixed on me. “And since when did you call me Urahara?”

I shrugged, an exact imitation of his. The silence descended again, a cloud wrapping us in its clammy embrace.

“Sometimes I wonder why we even bothered getting together.” He ran a hand through his thick blond hair. Once upon a time I would have killed anyone else who dared touch the pale golden locks. Now I just wondered why he didn't get a better haircut.

Thinking over his question I chuckled. “Living together in a small apartment. Both similar in character. Both extremely handsome. Both incredibly horny.”

“Sums it up, I guess,” he laughed. “Yoruichi said that about us too.”

I sipped the horrible tea, trying to remove the tension, but somehow our usual banter made me feel lonelier. And, with a sharp pang, I realized I wished Gin was by my side instead of him away trying to save another man.

“What are you thinking?”

My gaze flicked up. Urahara was looking at me with that knowing look, and I returned the smile. “I was thinking how unselfish I've become.”

“You were never selfish, Sou. Maybe too easily jealous, perhaps far too competitive, but never selfish.” He tilted his head back. “I remember when we broke up for the first time, you won the scholarship away from me.”

“You gave it to me, moron. I know you weren't giving your all in the kido duel.”

“I was nursing two hangovers.” He grinned mischievously, and added, “But it was worth the thrashing to have you returning to my side. And behind. And above. And under.”

I chuckled again. “Make-up sex is always good.”

“Make-up sex is always good,” he repeated. Then he got up and reached behind him. “Y'know, I thought you'd never want to see me again after the spell incident.”

He had dug out a bottle of sake, already half empty. I pointed at it. “Its twin was finished up in one evening.”

“You drank the entire thing by yourself?” he asked, his words slightly slurred.

“I didn't. Gin did.” I pressed my lips together, recalling how gentle I had to be with him after he passed out from the potent wine. Urahara might be older, but his tolerance for drink was much lower than Gin's.

He paused while retrieving another sake bowl. “You're still with the boy?”

“He's no longer a boy, Urahara. He spent ten years in Fegefeuer, shaped up well. I'm betting he can make captain in the next decade.”

He passed me a bowl of sake and I sipped it. It really was good sake. Urahara settled down opposite me. “Fegefeuer? You were there for three years yourself, weren't you?”

“Yes, then I went to spend time down in Sociedad del Alma. What's your point, Urahara?” I drank up immediately and he refilled my bowl. He then emptied his own bowl and poured another.

“No point. Just that you seem to be grooming the boy as your successor.”

“I am,” I admitted freely. “With a larger worldview, coupled with his dogged tenacity and sharp intuition, he will be one of the best captains Gotei has ever had. And, unlike you, I like to judge my successors based on character.”

“Kurotsuchi isn't evil.”

“No, but he's amoral.”

“He's an excellent researcher.”

“And a sociopath.”

Urahara downed the contents. “Can't expect a man to be without flaws, Sou. Not even someone like you. Not even a specimen like me.”

He's starting to lose it. I drained my bowl again. “Never claimed to be perfect, Urahara.”

“Stop calling me that, dammit.” His eyes were hooded; there was an angry tint to his reiatsu now. “Stop calling me as if we were nothing more than colleagues.”

“We were more than that, true. Now we're not.” I poured sake for myself.

“You're still Sou, to me.” He yanked the bottle back and now sloshed another bowlful of sake, which disappeared alarmingly fast.

“You're no longer Ki to me.”

Abruptly he had my neck in his grip. “You lie.”

I pushed the heel of my hand into his chest and shoved him away. “I don't lie, Urahara.”

“I'm sick of you calling me that.” He stood up and put his bowl on the floor. “What the hell are you here for, Sou?”

“I came by to see how you were. And now I know.” I pursed my lips, then smiled maliciously. “She's left, hasn't she?”

“You know very well she isn't here,” Urahara bit off.

“And now you're taking your loneliness out on me.” I stood up and stepped closer. “Why didn't you ask me to follow you instead, Urahara? If you'd only seen – but now I guess you can. Shihouin's a spirit freer than you can ever aspire to be, Urahara. And now you're stuck here, being a nobody, being here with nobody but your jailer and a broken down hut-”

“Be quiet,” he hissed. I was absurdly pleased to see the return of Benihime's fire in his glare, but he hadn't realized it. “I chose to come into exile.”

“You love Soul Society,” I countered. Urahara's reiatsu was roiling; I basked in the restrained fury. Always so transparent, Urahara. Even after so long, you haven't changed a bit. “You came into exile because you were too dumb to know when to stop experimenting and inventing useless or dangerous devices-”

“Just because I built an untraceable gigai and discovered the hougyoku doesn't mean I have to be exiled!” he roared at me, his words almost unintelligible in his anger. Then his eyes clouded. “I didn't know what would happen when I activated the hougyoku, Sou. I really didn't.”

He slowly sank to the floor, rambling on. “They didn't believe me when I told them it was an accident. I did try to destroy it, I really did, but I couldn't. I could only put it into hibernation, that was the best I could do, but they didn't believe me, they thought I kept it to upgrade my own... I couldn't destroy it, Sou. It's perfect. It is so perfect, it would be blasphemy to destroy it...”

“So you can destroy it?” I embraced him, more out of habit than out of charity. He was shaking violently.

“No I can't! Weren't you listening? It cannot be destroyed! It can be weakened, it can be sealed, but it can't be destroyed. I created something surpassing art, and science, and magic, Sou. And for that – that achievement - they tore me from the home I love, from the people I love.”

Urahara buried his face into my chest and his shoulders shook. I closed my eyes and kissed the top of his head, softly murmuring gentle encouragement. His lean arms wrapped about my waist and I endured the intimacy.

Finally. Finally.

Hougyoku, I will be very pleased to make your acquaintance.

 

Chapter Text

I opened the gates immediately, the instant Tousen informed me Gin was on his way back.

Urahara had tried to keep me with him, but I pulled his arms away from my waist. “I'm sorry you have no one with you now, Urahara, but that's how it is when you try to have the best of both worlds. You get neither.”

“You said you still owe me some favors,” he said, slumping over in his seat.

I paused at the gate, Kyoka Suigetsu returning to its sheath. “What do you want me to do, Urahara?”

“A kiss. A proper farewell kiss. And call me Ki, like you used to – in the tone you used to.” He smiled lazily up at me. “And if I asked you to stay?”

“I'll kiss you, I'll call you Ki, but I will not stay. Gin's coming home.”

There was a brief flare of resentment that he buried quickly behind an insolent smirk. “Turning into quite the henpecked lover, aren't you?”

“You still want that kiss?” I retorted. “Gate's going to close soon.”

He moved in rapidly and our lips met. He smelled and tasted of sake, and something sour in the back of his throat. I shut my eyes, willing myself to be swept back to our early days when each kiss was a lifetime and a heartbeat, when his touch was silk and fire, when his soft murmurs were commandments.

I failed.

In the dark behind my eyes I saw flashes of silver and white and red; I yearned for silky, fine strands instead of thick hair; I longed for cool lips instead of burning ones.

As he pulled away he sighed. “Goodbye, Sou. I hope he loves you more than I could.”

“He does. Goodbye, Ki.” I traced a finger down his face. “She does love you. She just loves freedom more.”

xxxxx

I had just changed into my yukata when I felt his reiatsu probe about the compound.

He returned silently, not even bothering to change out of his uniform. As he brooded at the porch I studied the weariness in his profile.

Then Gin proceeded to put on some music. If he knew I was standing at the bedroom door watching him he gave no sign. This time he leaned on the railing, and I ached to see the misery in his stance. I decided to make Karl Bauer's life a living hell – Gin was not the only one with ties to Fegefeuer. Wolfric owed me a few favors still, and I would call them in tomorrow.

But Gin was here now, and I didn't want him to be consumed with sorrow or regret. I padded up to him and embraced him, and was glad he let himself fall back against my body.

My lovely Gin.

When the music ended I kissed his cheek. He smiled wanly and took the record off the player. As his hands took the next one out of its sleeve, he asked me to dance.

“I don't know how to dance,” I confessed.

“Nothing to it. Here. I'll lead,” he motioned me to go to him and I did. “Relax and follow me.”

As he steered me slowly – me stepping on his foot twice – he drew closer to my body. With a quick kiss he put on the music, and strains of Moonlight Sonata filled our quarters.

He took my hands and led me into a slow dance, our bodies pressed together and swaying. I knew he was avoiding my scrutiny, but I let him have his private moment.

As we lost ourselves I stepped heavily on his foot. “I'm sorry,” I said.

“It's alright, Papa Bear.” Then he stopped moving.

I took his hands and slowly steered him back to our dance; there was perhaps a minute or two left of the sonata. “It's alright, Gin,” I murmured, “it's all right.”

“I'm sorry.”

“It's all right, love. I'm here. I'm still here.”

He buried his face into my neck. I tightened my arms about his slim waist.

He apologized again when the music ended.

“I'm still here. I'm always here,” I reassured.

I could feel the wet seep from my yukata to my skin, but when he looked at me again he wore a smile. A shaky and splotchy smile, true, but a smile nonetheless. I rubbed the tear stains away. “What can I do for you, Gin?”

“Why are you so good to me?” he asked instead.

Because you make me want to love you.

“What do you want me to do, Gin?” I asked again.

He considered briefly, then relaxed into my embrace. “Lie to me, Aizen-sama.”

I smiled ruefully. “All right then.” As I ran fingers through his silky hair I said, “I love you, Ichimaru Gin. I love you with all my heart, mind, soul and strength. I will do anything for you.”

“Liar.”

 

Chapter Text

After two days he was still moping, and I decided I would not coddle him further. There were only so many allowances I would make for him. I pushed away from my desk and headed out. “Meet me in the dojo. Five minutes.”

When he got there I had already dismissed the training members. They ringed the dojo's second level, most of them quietly waiting to see why I asked them to stay. Gin walked in, his reiatsu flat and listless.

“Come in,” I commanded. The watchers stirred. They had never seen me spar with anyone yet, and Gin was their idol in terms of his prowess in the dojo.

He was understandably confused. “What are we doing?”

“Spar. We haven't sparred since you came back from Fegefeuer.” I pointed at Kyoka Suigetsu in its bracket on the wall. He removed Shinsou from his waist and placed it next to my zanpakuto.“Let's see what you are still capable of.”

A small frown appeared between his brows. I was the brawnier and stronger, and he was no doubt calculating how to avoid my counterattacks. Then he removed his belt and top, leaving his arms free. I waited as he rolled his shoulders, his eyes studying me all the while.

“May I?” He stood with his feet shoulder-width apart, and one hand formed a fist. He was prepared.

I nodded. “You may.”

He dashed at me, palm edge cutting at my eyeline, and then his fist snapped out at my sternum. I dodged both and swept an arm across his face. He blocked the blow with a grunt, then stomped forward and then tried to jab me with an elbow. I caught it, extended his arm, and tossed him over my shoulder. He landed on his back, but flipped to his feet in seconds.

I circled away. “You can do better than this, Gin.”

“Warm-up,” he returned, moving away as he matched my pace. Then, abruptly, he launched into shunpo and roundhouse kicked at my face. I caught his right foot, but he used his momentum to spring into the air and followed the kick with his left foot. I tossed him away, and he landed catlike on his feet.

“Faster,” I snapped. “Too slow. I could've torn you apart if I were a hollow.”

My lieutenant breathed out slowly, then lowered himself into a semi-crouch. I angled my shoulders towards him. I wanted him to force me to the offensive, but all he was doing was for show.

The next second he had leaped again, using his lithe speed to combat my brute strength. I blocked all his attacks, but when I caught his elbow his arm snapped out to strike my face.

With a small smile I let go before the hit connected. “Good. Now, faster.”

The watching shinigami were silent. Gin was already very fast, and most of them hadn't caught the last exchange of blows. I paced again and remarked, “I'm not even winded. Are you ever going to attack me for real?”

“Now I am,” he said quietly and controlled his breathing. He shot forward. Fist at the solar plexus. Palm edge at the Adam's apple. Stamp-kick at the knee. Knee to spine. Heel to neck. Fist to diaphragm. Jab to the throat. Foot on the instep. Forearm slam to the shoulder.

I growled; nothing was connecting. He was broadcasting his moves, his footwork was shoddy, there was no strength behind his attacks.

“Hit me!” I roared. “What good is a lieutenant who can't even fight properly?”

He grunted and picked up his pace. As he continued to pretend to fight my anger mounted. When I tired of his charade I slammed an open palm into his chest. He flew backwards and smashed into the wall.

I was becoming disappointed. “What is wrong with you, Gin?”

“Nothing,” he snarled. Where there had been a startled gasp when I hit Gin in the chest, there was now anticipatory silence. Gin shuffled his feet. “Nothing's wrong.”

“Then hit me.” I straightened and squared my shoulders. “They are waiting for their vice-captain to show them why he's vice-captain.”

He breathed slowly; there were a few bruises already forming where I had grabbed him just now. He darted forward and attempted to swing at me before launching a spinning back kick. I ducked away, pushing his leg away, and his following punches kept missing. Infuriated now, I only blocked his blows, and waited for him to launch his true offensive.

The offensive never came. I caught his ankle and flung him aside, where he crashed into the wall again. Plaster cracked and showed brickwork: this was the new part of the division building. Standing up he spat out a mouthful of blood.

Some of the female shinigami shrieked. I strode over to him and yanked him up by his arm.

“Look at yourself,” I hissed silently. “One reaper? One miserable death reaper and you're reduced to this? Where is your killing intent? Where is your drive, your spirit, your fire?”

He inhaled heavily through his mouth. I swung him into the wall by my sword, where I knew no one would be able to see me speak.

“Where is my follower? Where is my lieutenant? Where is my parasathenes?” I asked, almost despairingly. He dared not meet my gaze. Disgusted, I let go. He collapsed in a heap, panting, heaving.

“Where,” I asked, a final plea, “is my Ichimaru Gin?”

He said nothing. He could not look at me, choosing to focus on the ground to his left.

I turned away, my eyes closing in frustration. If only I could beat some sense into that silver head...

Ikorose, Shinsou.

I swerved about and grabbed the blade in my right hand as it hammered me into the far wall. Then he withdrew the blade, slicing my palm open. Blood spattered the pristine dojo flooring. As he made to thrust again, several seated officers jumped from the second level to restrain Gin.

I stopped them but they pinned him to the flooring. “Let him up.”

“He attacked you while your back was turned, taichou! That's a disciplinary act!”

“Let him go.” I knew he saw the approving glint in my eyes.

“Taichou!” they protested in unison.

He didn't struggle to be let up. When the other seated officers let go he said, “I think I should be locked up, at least for one night, taichou.”

“Why is that, Gin?”

“It is a disciplinary issue, as tenth seat Yanaihara pointed out. I don't think we should set a precedent where you pardon an officer for attacking his captain.”

I paused, then sighed. “As you wish. Yanaihara, Mesuda, take him downstairs to the cells. Make sure he gets medical attention.”

 

Chapter Text

The shinigami on duty hesitated at the door when I asked for privacy, all of them aware of my relationship with Gin. I smiled. “I won't break him out. Trust me.”

They relaxed and left. I pulled a chair and sat down, facing the cell, three feet away from the kido-reinforced bars. Gin was lying down on the narrow bed, facing the wall. I leaned back against the hard wooden back of the chair, waiting patiently for him to stop pretending.

“I can go on all night, y'know,” he drawled lazily.

I chuckled. “I know.”

He shifted to look at the ceiling. “So why aren't you telling me to stop acting?”

“You'll stop when you know it's too much,” I answered. “Except on the few occasions where I need to shake you out of the character you play.”

I studied the curve of his smile. “S'ry it took so long this time.”

“You're back to being yourself. That's what matters.”

The smile curved wider. “He said he didn't know me, that I wasn't the sweet, compassionate Gin he knew.”

I said nothing. He turned his head to grin at me.

“So there are two possibilities here,” he said slowly. One knee bent, the white robe falling open to show a lean, smooth leg. “Either he knew an Ichimaru Gin that was entirely fake, or you, Aizen Sousuke, are a bad influence.”

“Me?” I raised my brows, totally innocent. “How can I possibly be a bad influence?”

His gaze remained fixed on me, as was the smile on his face. Very slowly he sat up, his silver hair beautifully disheveled. The robe opened a little wider to show more of his thigh and a hint of... then he drew the robe closed. “Shall we count the ways?”

“You'll be stuck at zero,” I said as I rubbed my wrists.

He scrunched up his shoulders and the loose robe slid down his arms. He shook out of the sleeves. “Humid night. Sweaty,” he explained aloud. “Hotter than usual. We really should get some proper ventilation working down here.”

“I agree. It's rather stifling, although I suppose having a strong wind blowing down the hallway isn't a great idea either.” My lower lip felt dry and I licked it. Then I folded my arms. “I came for business purposes though.”

“Mm?” He slipped off the bed on the far side and made his way to the window. His long fingers traced his path from the bed to the aperture, and then ran over the iron bars. “Get down to it then.”

Tnk. Tnk. Tnk. Tnk.

“Tomorrow you'll be released. You'll take over the running of the division while I handle the second search force for the vizards. The search teams will fan out while I wait for information.”

He hummed to himself as his fingers fluttered up and down the thick iron bars. “So they're all under me? And who else would you be doing?”

“I'll continue my visit to Urahara's which your return disrupted.”

“You were with him?” He half-turned, revealing white, even teeth. “Did you find out?” he asked quietly.

“Yes. It's no longer an educated guess, but a fact.” I unfolded my arms, and clasped my fingers instead. “Now to find out where and how.”

Gin turned around and leaned on the far wall. We faced each other. His hands stretched up to grasp the bars, and I admired the lithe muscles rippling over his torso. He bore a hungry look. “Are you gonna screw him into the ground?”

“Maybe,” I replied diffidently. “We may also end up killing each other. It happens; we rub each other the wrong way half the time.”

“Rubbing the wrong way, huh.” He flicked his tongue over his lips; I knew I mimicked the action. “I guess your shared history is both a help and a hindrance.”

I leaned back in the chair, my legs opening a little wider. His smile became a little secretive, and he angled his torso slightly so the sheen of sweat on his body caught the pale yellow light of the cells. His hands gripped the iron bars and then slid down the wall. He pushed off from the hard surface with a gentle arching of his body.

“Too warm?” I asked politely.

“Mm-hmm. I'm all sticky now.” Running his left hand through his hair and mussing it up further, he drew in a long breath through his mouth. I pushed my glasses up; a glint of light flashed across his chest. He sighed. “I do wish he doesn't exist.”

“Then what else can we do with our time, hmm?” I inquired.

His reply was to sit on the ground just before me, the thin bars separating us casting thin shadows over him. His robe was bunched at his waist; I sat forward, resting my elbows on my knees. He tilted forward, and now the robe fell open to show an indecent amount of inner thigh.

“We could examine how you can influence an otherwise innocent young man into committing horrible crimes,” he whispered with a smile. His left hand wandered up from his knee and into the folds of the robe in his lap.

I let my reiatsu reach out and envelop him. “We could. But since the innocent young man isn't here...”

“I'm sure we can search thoroughly for him.” His voice was huskier than before, and his thin, cold reiatsu wrapped about my legs. “I'll even take it off your hands.”

“I guess it can be in your capable hands,” I exhaled slowly. Not breaking eye contact, I moved my fingers over my lips as I considered. “Along every street, in every crevice... it'll take a very long time, Gin, if you're going with a hands-on approach.”

“That's alright,” he smirked. “Like I said earlier, I can go on all night.”

 

Chapter Text

The first night when all forty of us showed up on the empty lot before his house Urahara had been surprised.

He had been even more surprised to realize most of the selected shinigami had been his old friends, and the resulting reunion had made him glow with an almost beatific joy. I had been touched by it, and thankful that the mere sight of his friends generated such immense gratitude he had practically insisted I use his place as a base of operations.

He really was too easy to read. While he drank himself silly with the others, I called Gin and spent the evening talking to him about goldfish.

xxxxx

The next morning, after the four teams set off in the four compass points, Urahara had led me to his sub-sub-sub-basement.

“You still like digging holes, huh.” I examined the enclosed space around us. “This does bring me back.”

“Yeah,” he chuckled. “Anyway, you can track them from this screen, and if you need a headset it's here.”

I nodded, impressed. “You run this by yourself?”

“If I need to. Tessai is handy with communications if need arose.” He cleared his throat and lowered his hat. “Uh, Sou – I mean, Aizen, thanks. For bringing them.”

“You can still call me Sousuke if you like,” I said gently. “You're not the one who nurses a grudge.”

He leaned against a steel cabinet. Then he took off his hat, fiddling with the brim. “Why are you tracking them, Sou? You were the one who-”

“I did what I did because I didn't want you implicated. Soi Fon would have found a way to pin everything on you, and I don't think you need fresh grief.”

“Why, Sou, I didn't know you cared about my life.”

“I've always cared,” I retorted. “I'm just not sure whether I care for your life or for your death. Set me up.”

“Gladly.” He grinned again, the arrogant Academy genius of yesteryear replaced with a mocking genius in exile.

I smiled crookedly back, and the easy banter between us surfaced again. I wondered how much of this was an act on his part, because I knew the words I uttered were complete fabrications.

Still, appearances must be maintained.

xxxxx

That night was the second night. Tessai had laid out a second bedroom for me, with a very large and comfortable futon. I had raised an eyebrow.

“Single, please,” I had requested.

“But you and boss-”

“-are no longer in that kind of relationship. Single, please,” I had repeated firmly. With barely a shrug the tall man replaced the bedding.

The communicator chirped on the other end, and I waited for Gin to pick it up. He did on the second ring.

“What have you been doing?” I asked as I heard his breathless greeting.

He chuckled. “Ya called just as I got in the bath.”

“Hmm. Didn't slip, did you?”

Nah. Just that I had ta sprint from the division bathroom with a towel round my hips to th'office. How's things?”

“You're naked in the office right now?” With a rush of blood to my head – and other parts – I found myself wanting to be in Seireitei.

I'm joshin' ya. I'm in your quarters. Came in ta straighten up, got into the bath, then heard the comm. Are you disappointed?”

I groaned. “Don't tease, dammit. You have no idea how I hate living in the human world among humans. The stench of it...”

And without my company too.”

I snorted exasperatedly. “Insert knife and twist, Gin?”

That's not what I wanna insert and twist,” he laughed.

I sighed and lay back on the futon. At least I still had a towel with me, damp from my own bath. And I would have to wash it myself tomorrow too; it would be the ultimate in bad manners if Tessai had to scrub it clean for me. Gin laughed again, in a lower register, and inquired if I was feigning sleep.

“I am quite awake.”

You, or the lower half of you?”

“What do you think?” I sighed and shifted the pillows about, trying to find a good spot.

Might as well make myself comfortable if he was going to play.

xxxxx

The next night Tessai had to make a trip to get supplies. I had just finished listening to the day's search reports and sent the fourth team out to Sector E when I saw Urahara and Tessai talking agitatedly at the door. Apparently Tessai felt it was dereliction of his duty to leave Urahara untended, and the blond was gesturing to something below the ground.

I slipped behind the door into my temporary bedroom and called Gin. It would be the opportune moment soon.

Hey.”

I smiled as soon as I heard his voice. “Hello.”

How's it going?”

“Bad.” I lowered my volume. “The setup's ready, but I can't get into it.”

Hmm. Equipment failure?”

“The equipment is perfectly fine, thank you,” I mock-grumbled. “You checked it yourself, remember?”

I could hear his leer despite the gulf between us. “I do. What do you need?”

“Getting power to run through the circuits.” I was more than aware that Urahara had every line of communication bugged in his house. The sneaky bastard would definitely patch into my private line, and a cautious check the second morning confirmed my suspicions.

Tall order. What do you see?”

“An extended link between a constant and a variable.” I waited and listened; Tessai was still at the door.

Any way to remove the variable?”

“It should be gone in the next five to seven minutes.” I closed my eyes and redid some calculations. “I need everything to be up and running in that time.”

Wait for the constant to be isolated. I can't guarantee 'up and running', but perhaps I can get some juice over to ya.”

“Get to it then. Conditions won't be any more ideal than tonight.”

Gin chuckled. “Why are we speaking in code?”

“It's sexier,” I said with a half-smile. “What are you doing?”

I'm rubbing the jasmine and sandalwood scented oil you keep in your drawer over my cock. I'm already hard for you – why can't you be here to suck it? Only you know how to suck me off until my eyes roll back. Only you know how to make me come with a scream reachin' heaven and hell. Why aren't you here to suck my cock, Sousuke?”

“Hmm. Such language,” I chided. He laughed again; he knew I loved his vulgarity when there was a chance we would be overheard.

It's only language. And I'm hard for you, so it's time you're hard for me. Lick the index and middle fingers on your right hand. Then slide your wet fingers over your left nipple so I can lick it properly. Rub it. Pull it. Twist it. Get it hard for me. Then we'll work on other parts later.”

I obeyed, feeling the stir of need settling in my gut.

The other hand on your right nipple.” I followed, and he growled, “Don't stop either hand, because right now those are my hands.”

“I like that,” I murmured.

You would. Of course you would. You'd like your beautiful silver-haired whore to lick you up and down and all around, wouldn't you? But I'm not licking, not yet. Move my hands from your hard chest, over your firm abs, to your jutting hip bone where I love to suck and bite.” He sounded a little hoarse now, his breaths coming a little faster than before. Just a small semi-quaver faster, but I knew his breathing rhythm better than anyone. “Run my hands along your hips, before my fingers dip below your belt, stroking the dark curls at your groin. This is where you always smell so damn fucking good, where I almost always come when I'm kneeling before you, taking you into my mouth. But now only my fingers caress you.”

I swallowed. “Feels good.”

Feel my hot breath at your ear, blowing over your skin; I'm not kissing you, because I want you to wait for it at the end. But now I pull my right hand away-”

“No-”

-and I cup the hard bulge in your pants.” He snickered at my stifled moan. “And your magnificent cock is hard for me, so damn fucking hard, and you push impatiently at my palm; you want to push it into my hot, wet, perfect mouth, and then ram it up my tight, hot ass as hard and as deep as you can. But you won't, not yet. My left hand reaches into your hakama via the side slits and you jerk with the feel of my nails on your balls-”

I hissed, my eyes half-lidded.

A cold voice cuts across Gin's voice. “Excuse me.” Although Urahara's eyes were shaded by the brim of that ridiculous hat, I knew he was glaring daggers.

Hanging up now. Have fun. I know I will.”

Chapter Text

Hanging up now. Have fun. I know I will.”

“Go ahead,” I replied and the communicator clicked dead. I slowed my breathing and calmed my pulse as best as I could. Damn – Gin did have a silver tongue in his mouth. “That wasn't very nice, listening into my conversation.”

“Wasn't very nice? You were having phone sex in my damn house.” He removed his hat and slammed the door shut behind him. “What's this? Flaunting your unavailability? Last night wasn't enough?”

I narrowed my eyes. “You were listening in last night?”

“Yeah, I was,” he finally admitted after a long pause, then called up enough bravado to add, “If you wanna get it on with your pretty boy, get out of my house. I don't need reminders of what I no longer have – I've far too many of those little reminders in my daily life.”

“He's not a boy,” I corrected Urahara. “And besides, what you no longer have is no longer my concern.”

Out of the blue he pounced me, his arms pinning my shoulders to the wall. I scoffed. “Jumping my bones now? Never thought of you as the initiator.”

“Shut up,” he breathed heavily. “You have no idea how difficult it was. You always, always wanted me to choose when you knew damn well I couldn't.”

“Get off me,” I said quietly and shook him aside. “I need the bathroom.”

He sat up. “You don't care, do you? You don't understand why I did what I did back then.”

“All I understand is that I need some time to myself right now,” I gritted the words out. Damn. Gin, I just needed a little motivation and you send me straight to the edge. I'm going to have to teach you temperance.

Urahara stepped in front of me and reached down. I couldn't suppress the shudder and took a faltering step back. He smirked humorlessly. “That used to be mine alone.”

“You flatter yourself,” I snapped.

He stepped closer. “I knew you want revenge. And so you're doing this to me now, now that I can't have you, that I can't touch you the way I used to and get the response I used to elicit from your body. This is some sick revenge scenario you're playing out.”

“Ever figured out what I'm revenging myself on?” I breathed out, locking my gaze with his. “You thought I hated Yoruichi, and for a time I thought so too. But I was angrier with your indecisiveness.”

He was very close to me now, pressing his advantage. “Indecisiveness?”

“Just because you couldn't choose between pussy and cock, you played both of us against each other,” I sneered. Urahara jolted back when I hissed the words out of my mouth. I never enjoyed using coarse language, and very seldom did I enjoy hearing them. Save when it was dripping like unrefined honey from Gin's lips, when it was his entrancing voice, and his eyes flickering beneath long lashes...

“I didn't choose because I didn't want to hurt either of you.” Urahara looked hurt himself; lost, bewildered, all beneath the veneer of angered indignation.

I forced a chuckle. “Yoruichi was smart; she left you hanging. I was the stupid one, waiting for you, pining after you, always accepting you back in my bed. No more, Urahara. Don't force me to fight you, because you can't beat me.”

“No. No I can't.” He backed off. Then a smirk fluttered onto his lips. “But I know you'll still fuck me tonight.”

Shaking my head, I snorted and headed for the bathroom. The imagery of Gin cursing as we twined together ensured I was still in the mood. As I passed him he asked softly, “You keep your promises, Aizen?”

I stopped. “Yes. Unlike a certain blond former captain right here in this room.”

“Then I'm cashing in one of the two favors you owe me.” He glared right into my face as he pressed himself against my body, his hand daring between my legs. “You'll stay here and fuck me until I'm satisfied. And I'm very difficult to satisfy, as you well know.”

“Son of a bitch,” I swore and glared back at him, hiding my inner jubilation. Too easy to read, Urahara. “You're a damn manipulative bastard.”

“Or you can break your promise,” he licked along my jaw. I turned away. “And that, I know, is something so fundamentally against your nature that you'd rather die than break your word.”

“So you do still remember what I'm like.” I inhaled as he continues to grope and kiss, hunting out familiar sensitive spots. My body responded far easier than my brain, which was still preoccupied with the image of my silver-haired lieutenant with only a towel around his hips.

“I also remember what you like me to do,” he challenged, his warm breath ghosting over my skin. I closed my eyes, picturing pale silver hair glimmering in the light, cool skin becoming hotter with every passing second- He grabbed my jaw and dove into my mouth. “No. Me. Focus on me.”

“You wish,” I muttered. “I'm no longer the fifty-year-old student you twisted around your finger, Urahara. I'll damn well play your little 'get-your-rocks-off' game, but what goes on in my head is my own business.”

“I can read you like a book, Aizen,” he mocked. “'Oh, is Urahara gonna make me scream? Is it gonna hurt? I haven't let anyone top me since he left! How long before he's satisfied and I can get back to my pretty boy so he can be my bitch?'”

I grabbed his throat and squeezed, just a little too hard. “Don't. Ever. Insult. Gin. Because I just might get angry for real.” I let go. “If you wanna fuck, let's do it now while I'm still interested.”

A small muscle twitched beneath his left eye. I could feel his frustration. His devoted lover, now someone else's loyal defender; his mind games no longer working to quite the same effect; his apparent cool and malicious humor ripped to shreds by someone he used to distress.

How could he be Urahara Kisuke when he could not manipulate others, when his motives could be read, when every single word he uttered is thrown back in his face?

I shrugged out of my haori and yanked his face to mine, crushing his lips with a hard kiss. His arms came up to my shoulders again. I felt his fingers dig into the flesh and press into the bone, and then he was responding to the kiss with equal ferocity.

We broke apart, blood on our lips.

“Bastard,” he swore quietly. “You're a total bastard for doing this.”

“You invited me to use your place as a base of operations, so don't get all high-and-mighty on me.” I spat out the blood that pooled between my lower teeth and lip. “You've been planning to cash in this 'favor' since the night I dropped by to see you – and left the second I knew Gin was heading home.”

We breathed heavily. Then he shoved me into the wall and began attacking my mouth with tongue and teeth and lips. Rasping against my skin, he muttered, “If I can't have her, I'll have you.”

I pushed him off, not unkindly. “I'm not your standby bed-warmer. Have me because you want me, not because she's not here.”

Urahara stared at me as if I had grown a second head. Then a small smirk appeared at the corner of his mouth. “I'm right; you still want me.”

“I don't.”

“You do,” he slunk over and removed my askew glasses. “That's why you're jealous and flaunting your new lover before me.”

As his hands reached below the belt I stuttered my protest. “I am not jealous Urahara. Ki. Kisuke.”

“Please.” His hands paused in the process of pumping me. “You were never good at lying, Sou.”

My gaze bore down on his triumphant smile, before I tore at his shirt and we fell to the ground.

xxxxx

I woke up, nose pressed against a warm neck. “Mm... new fragrance?” I rumbled slowly. “I like.”

Gin's hands slid over my ribs and then pulled my arms closer. I inhaled again, relaxing my limbs as the caresses grew more intimate. Then he kissed my forehead and said, “I like that you like.”

That's not Gin's voice.

I blinked open one eye, got my bearings, and got off the futon we found our way to last night. Urahara sat up and watched me pull on my clothes.

“Not gonna cuddle?” he asked with a lazy smile. As I tied on my hakama he yanked me into his embrace again. “You were all snuggly just now.”

“I thought you were Gin,” I snapped and shook him off.

His eyes clouded over. “You can't say you didn't enjoy what we did last night. You responded beautifully.”

“I keep my promises and I keep them well, Urahara. Now you're down to one favor.” I found my glasses in one corner of the room, thankfully still in one piece. “Now I have work to do, if you'll excuse me.”

I heard a smothered curse when I entered the bathroom, but I didn't care. The teams should be getting a lock on the vizards' location by now.

xxxxx

The second team indicated the granary that caught their attention. I was pleased. “Good catch, Jiro.”

The shinigami team leader beamed. “How should we proceed, Aizen-taichou?”

“Are all the teams here?”

“Yes Aizen-taichou.”

I studied the reiatsu flow around the shielded building. The barrier was well-constructed, with triple-layer shield spells and double-cloaking. If not for a sparrow that flew around the construct the team wouldn't have caught it, Jiro had said sheepishly, but I waved it aside. If he hadn't paid attention to the surrounds he couldn't have seen a sparrow detouring around the building.

“Pattern G. Team leaders to arrange front, flank and back. I'll take down the shields.” Gingerly my hand hovered before the barrier's surface. It thrummed.

Urahara and Tessai materialized by my side as Jiro sprinted away. Urahara grabbed my wrist. “Don't do this, Sou.”

“Are you impeding me in my duties, Urahara-san?” I asked courteously. He knew the warning for what it was – many of our worst fights had begun with my words in that tone of voice.

He released his grip. “You can't defeat them alone.”

“I'm not alone. I have thirty-nine competent shinigami behind me ready to make the capture.”

“Each of them can wipe out a squad. I'm not kidding, Sousuke. You can't defeat them alone.”

Tessai merely waited like a statue while Urahara and I tried to outstare each other. Finally he took three steps back and drew out Benihime. I studied his calm expression. “Are you for them or for me?”

“Yes.”

Figuring that would be the only response he would give, I flattened both palms on the first layer. The cloaking was easily removed. The second one was a shield barrier, the one I was using on the house in Rukongai, allowing only Gin and myself to lead people into and out of the mansion. It was a self-sustaining spell if the reiatsu density of the atmosphere was high enough, and here clearly wasn't it. I smiled grimly as I punched through it, knowing that the barrier architect would feel the backlash in about ten seconds.

“Team leaders. Ten seconds to contact.”

Roger.”

I stepped back and released Kyoka Suigetsu. I knew I was a match for them; the fact that I could fight Zaraki Kenpachi without needing to release my zanpakuto was indication enough.

Five, four, three, two, one.

“My my my... when had you two reconciled, neh?”

I looked up and smiled at Hirako Shinji. “We haven't. I'm here for you.”

“Oh? To what do I owe the pleasure of your company, hmm? And you brought us a party too!” Hirako looked casual, but I felt the force of his reiatsu washing over me. I clamped down my own, not challenging his current dominance. “Thirty-nine comrades.”

“You know the drill, Hirako. Come back to Seireitei. You and yours have to face the 46.”

“Go back and be slaughtered?” His snigger had been replaced by a chilly tone. “Me and mine, as you so eloquently put it, are no longer shinigami. We're not subject to shinigami rules.”

“You call yourselves vizards now,” I said. “But your hands still hold a zanpakuto, and you were from Soul Society.”

He grinned, his very white teeth glinting. “How are you gonna bring me in, Sousuke-kun?”

“By force if necessary.”

He gave a signal and the shields fell. In a flash the other vizards were ranged in front of me.

Kensei was pissed, but he always looked pissed. “Aizen. Leave, please. I'm not the only one here who doesn't want to take you down.”

“Duty, Kensei. You remember that? You were the one who taught me the importance of duty.” I shifted my stance. “Hiyori. They need you back in Seireitei. Everyone is becoming stuffy and arrogant without you.”

“You can get Kenpachi or his pink brat to do my job,” she snarled. “We here ain't budging. Now we can do this the hard way, or the hard way.”

Hirako landed lightly before his gang. “Easy there, Hiyori,” he warned. Then he turned back to me. “Aizen. Please. We're all friends here.”

“Except me,” Lisa raised her hand, her glasses glinting in the afternoon light.

“Except Lisa,” conceded Hirako. “And I don't want your men to get hurt.”

I held my ground. “Then we do this the easy way. Come back to Seireitei, face the Central 46.”

“Hell no.” Hiyori sauntered up to me, her freckled face serious now. “We go back, all we're gonna get is locked away in the maggot hole or the fucking Soukyoku. It's certain death.”

“Then I have to use force, Hiyori,” I said regretfully.

“Step back, Hiyori. I will fight him.” Hirako drew his zanpakuto.

The area silenced. Urahara cleared his throat. “Um, do we have to do this?”

“He has his zanpakuto, I have mine, lessee who's the stronger, eh?” Hirako flashed a grin again. “I've been wanting to spar with ya since I witnessed your fight with Zaraki.”

I stood with my left foot leading. “I've already removed the limiter.”

“I won't hold back then.” With a quick glance at his ranks, Hirako pulled a hideous mask from his left hand over his face.

So I was right. I smiled humorlessly. Urahara is the cause of your mass rebellion then. No wonder you're all wearing untraceable gigai.

I learn more everyday.

 

Chapter Text

Once upon a time there were two students.

One was dark-haired, a serious, dedicated scholar. The other was fair-haired, an arrogant, careless genius.

They disliked each other on first sight, because they were both intelligent, and competitive, and demanding. And they recognized these traits in the other as much as they saw them in themselves.

But fate kept pushing them together, until they realized that the surface dislike was a mask for the deeper understanding and respect they had for the other's approach to knowledge and truth. From the understanding and respect grew a kind of admiration and a kind of love.

The respect and love they had never diluted the rivalry between them. Beneath the surface difference they were far too similar. They knew how to make each other happy and contented, and they also knew how to anger/distress the other in the most effective manner possible.

The fair-haired student loved another, so as to manipulate the jealous nature of his friend.

The dark-haired student fought by attaining every accolade the fair-haired genius youth should have received.

The fair-haired student broke rules and flouted norms, flaunted his eccentricity and broadcast his infidelity.

The dark-haired student upheld discipline, took over as valedictorian, became a paragon to his classmates, and became the long-suffering loyal mate.

And each time the stress grew too much to handle, the dark-haired student would break. And they fought: through actual fists, through words, through mind games, through achievements.

There would be a winner. There would be a loser.

And then they would realize it was stupid, that they needed the other, that they were being childish. Because they were brought together by fate. They should trust that they could complete the other. Until they finally, irrevocably, went their separate ways, neither learned a very important fact of life.

Fate is a bitch.

xxxxx

xxxxx

I held Kyoka Suigetsu firmly. Hirako was still in a casual stance, even though I recognized his reiatsu flowing into a tight shield about his skinny frame.

“You're not calling bankai, Aizen?” asked Hirako. The rest of the vizards fanned out behind, then sat down as if to watch a show.

My eyes followed his shoulders. That was where the first move would be broadcast, whether in hakudo or zanjutsu or kido. “Do I need to?”

“Ha. That's why I believed Kisuke and you are the perfect match. Such sheathed arrogance.”

I blocked the first thrust without much trouble. His speed was comparable to mine, although the first exchange had shown me to be physically stronger. His eyes were strangely lit beneath the mask he held over his face. Our blades clashed again, a grinding of metal that shrilled over the circle of watchers.

I thrust my elbow forward, throwing him off his stance, but his legs swept around in a high arc and I had to flash-step away to avoid connection. He followed, the impact of our reiatsu-laden blows thrumming.

Kyoka Suigetsu put on a show of light rays and drizzle, creating a series of after-images of me in different places. I thrust the sword forward as he tried to cut down another Aizen Sousuke and nicked his ear.

“Good shot” was all he said before his sword crashed into mine and I skidded to a stop on the ground. I called up a kido spell; it was deflected and crashed into the watching vizards, who swore imaginatively at the lanky ex-captain. He chortled. “Keep you guys awake!”

I was annoyed. He wasn't taking the fight seriously. With a silent incantation in my mind I called out a level seventy hado spell, and the golden spears rushed at Hirako. He avoided three, but hissed when a fourth and fifth struck his ribs and abdomen.

“Hirako!” “Shinji!”

The vizards got to their feet, but settled again when he stood up on the roof. Angling his blade at me I could feel his killing intent now, an icy blast that rushed and snapped like a tiger. I tempered my reiatsu but met his challenge.

“Playing for real now, Sousuke-kun?” he asked cockily.

I turned so my left shoulder was facing him, blade in my right hand. When he saw I had no answer he lifted his chin slightly. Then a red blast fired from the tip of his sword.

Cero. They actually did it.

I deflected the first and second, but wasn't quite fast enough to dodge the third that shot out from the cover of the first two.

“Shit,” I heard a muttered curse from Urahara, not two feet from where I stood. Benihime had shielded us both, not fast enough but just saving me from being burned by a cero again.

Hirako called out mockingly, “White knight rushing in?”

“Go away, Urahara,” I said at the same time. “It's Soul Society business, not yours.”

“It's your business, and so it's mine,” he retorted. From under the hat I caught sight of the battle-ready glint of my old comrade. My old friend. Benihime and Kyoka Suigetsu, reunited again. The princess and her magic mirror.

Someone should write a story about this.

“That's the sitch? You two against us?” Hirako called out again.

The shield falls away. I stood in front of Urahara, “Me against you.”

“Us against all of you,” Urahara amended. I felt our reiatsu meeting and blending; we were more than the sum of our individual selves. Back in the old days, when we were in Kensei's Ninth division as rookies, he needed only to send Kisuke and I out on hollow hunts and we would return victorious.

“No.”

He glared. “You're not serious.”

“Try me.” I ignored his harsh inhalation. “Me. Against you. I apologize for the intrusion.”

Hiyori suddenly stood up. “Shinji,” she yelled warningly. “Time.”

“Not an issue, Hiyori, I'll finish this.”

I leaped and attacked, him neatly ducking and weaving around my sword. The few hits that connected didn't hit his vitals, and those that did connect with me would merely leave bruises. Until I finally stabbed him from his right and slashed across his abdomen, neither of us had drawn blood. His reply was to slide his sword across my left hip, and I swore as blood flooded my hakama. He jumped away to another rooftop, panting now as I was.

When a circle of red light formed again a thirtieth-level hado hit Hirako. Red flames engulfed the thin form. He shouted and the fire scattered off him.

I blinked. That wasn't mine.

He suddenly clutched his sword arm and the glow faded. His mask crumpled. He followed, tumbling from the roof where he had parked himself.

“Shit,” I heard Hiyori swear as she dashed forward to catch his falling body. “Told him not to overwork that damn mask.”

Then we all felt it: another gateway was opening.

I swerved about to see Soi Fon leading her forces into the area. Kensei threw Hirako over his shoulder and then nodded at Lisa and Hachisen. Love drew his blade.

“You called in reinforcements?” I asked the team leaders.

No sir! They just came!”

I cursed in my head. Soi Fon was trying to secure some credit after that first debacle. I shouted for the other captain to stay out of the fight but she ignored me. The vizards narrowed their eyes.

Then, as one, they charged.

xxxxx

xxxxx

All?”

“All.” I screwed my eyes shut, a migraine beginning to form. “A personal request, sir. I heard that there has been extensive war damage over in Tokyo. While my men are resting up in gigai until their reiatsu levels recover, may I take part in soul burial?”

Of course, if your division is taken care of.”

“Ichimaru reports nightly to me, soutaichou. He is doing well, I believe.”

I agree. For a young shinigami he is performing beyond expectations. Good work there with him, Aizen. After today's confrontation I think we should leave off the vizards for now. The war is steadily escalating.” The old man sighed. “Humans. Human folly never changes, they just become bigger.”

As the screen blinked out I swiveled around and commanded Soi Fon to leave immediately.

“What gives you the right to command another captain, Aizen?” she sneered softly.

“The fact that you interrupted my search and capture exercise and the fact that your rash intervention caused fifteen percent of our troops to die needlessly.” My words grated over my tongue. “I had the situation under control and you just barge in with your special forces. No wonder they bolted!”

“Like you could've faced all of them-” she bit off her next remark when she caught sight of Urahara stepping into the dark cave. “Unless you enlisted the help of this pathetic bastard.”

“Leave, Soi Fon. She's not here. She's not with me.” Urahara's calm voice lowered the temperature significantly in the room.

The brunette scowled fiercely and stormed out of the room. Urahara chuckled weakly. “She's never going to forgive me for Yoruichi's leaving, is she?”

“No.” I sat down heavily and rubbed my temples. The migraine had settled in. Abruptly I stiffened when I felt fingers prodding along my neck, then Urahara was kneading into tense muscles and knots. I repeated my rejection again, but he merely rubbed the tension away from my shoulders neck the way he used to.

“How's the gash along your hip?”

“Healing.” There was some hollow taint in Hirako's sword, and I could feel the itch as the healing jutsu pushed the toxins out. If only I had Mizuki's Ameshizuto with me...

Urahara pulled me gently to my feet. “Come on. Hot spring below.”

“There's another level?” I asked as he tugged me along.

He chuckled. “Of course. I never do things partway. And... ta-daaaah!!”

I raised my brows. “Nice.”

“Only 'nice'?” He huffed in mock-indignation. Then he directed me to the hot spring that cascaded from a rock formation. I tested the water after biting my fingertip; it healed immediately. He folded his fan and scolded. “It's the same as the one I took you to. Get in.”

I half-smiled and undressed slowly, letting the stained haori fall to the ground and then my kimono and kosode following. Other than his eyes narrowing when they took in the long, blood-encrusted cut, there wasn't much response.

As I untied my hakama and let the thick, blood-soaked material fall to the ground, I heard a hissed inhalation. I turned partly to my right, where he stood, his hat pressed over his eyes. I smirked. “Urahara.”

“Hmm?”

“I don't have a clean uniform with me here.”

“Mm.”

“I also don't have a towel here.”

“Mm-hmm.” He breathed out shakily.

“I might have to dry out naturally, basking on the ground, if you don't provide me with either.”

He groaned. “Sou, shut up.”

I chuckled. “Still easy to work up, huh.”

“I've always been sensitive to such vibes,” he complained. Then he lifted the brim of that ridiculous hat a fraction. “May I?”

“It's your hot spring.” I shifted over.

He undressed and slid in as well. I was surprised when he settled beside me, turned my back to him and resumed kneading my shoulders. “How's the migraine?”

“How did you know- never mind. Of course you'd know.” My breathing was slowing, relaxing into the heat and his skillful fingers. Tension dissolved. The migraine faded to a faint throbbing at the back of my skull, and I hummed with comfort as he rubbed along the top of my spine. It felt really good, like the old days. When he was the best companion in the world, aware of when I felt tired, when I was down, when I was stressed out, and help me out of whatever negative mood I was stuck in.

Before I realized it I had leaned back on his shoulder, breathing into his neck. His right hand had slid from my shoulder to my neck, cupping my jaw, running feathery trails over my lips and cheeks. “Sousuke... Sou...”

“Ki,” I sighed luxuriously, turning my face to nip his earlobe. He felt familiar, comfortable. I moved closer to him. He wrapped his left arm about my waist, just holding me and pressing his lips into my brow. I sighed again, relaxed in the warmth of the pool, in the security of his arms. “Ki...”

His hands moved down to caress my stomach, tracing the sensitive path he had discovered years ago, brushing his thumb around my navel, then combing his fingers into the dark curls below. My soft exhalation probably encouraged him to begin stroking my length.

My hands shifted and rested on his forearms. He hesitated, but when I made no move to restrain him he grew bolder. His hands – skillful, inventive hands – wrapped around me and cupped my sac. I gasped as his ministrations became more intimate and more daring. My lower back arched for an instant as his fingers slid, one after the other, over the slit.

“Ki... too warm,” I protested muzzily. He halted and chuckled, before telling me to leave the pool. Before I could get my bearings after the heat of the healing spring he had me in his lap again, and now he had pressed his lips to my mouth. I parted my lips and his tongue rolled against mine before I pushed my tongue into his hot, familiar, welcoming mouth. He tasted of honey and coffee, an odd combination that did nothing to ease the ache between my legs. I must have moaned into his mouth because we were soon prone and he was grinding into me. The hard ground hurt but there was nothing else, nothing else interrupting the shots of pleasure darting through my body.

Steam curled above us when I opened my eyes. His face was shadowed but his gaze was intense; the stubble ticklish whenever he raked his jaw over my skin. As my nipples hardened under his rubbing palm I groaned. His thick blond hair felt like flax beneath my grasping fingers, and he obeyed my directions as I moved his head down my body.

When his breath came into contact with the seeping tip of my erection I shuddered. However he didn't tease as he usually did, but took it into his mouth while his hand wrapped about the shaft. He sucked slowly, drawing me in, and his lips pressed closer to the base. I was shivering with damp and pleasure, trying not to thrust. As he sucked I could feel the rumble of his humming and I clenched his hair when his tongue traced the pulsing vein all the way down before he swallowed me again. When he palmed my sac I groaned. He slipped his digit into me, slowly teasing and pushing, and then a second and third finger. I shouted when his fingers found their target, and the sensation of his mouth as well as the rhythmic caress of my prostrate drove my back off the ground to arc into him. He rode out the first few thrusts, having done this often enough to anticipate, and then he stopped me. With a wicked grin he lazily lapped up whatever he hadn't caught before kissing the curls at the base of my cock, while I panted with the sudden curtailment of my climax.

I shivered. His hands rubbed along the underside of my thighs, to my ankles, to play with my toes as he licked and kissed. When he pulled away I growled a complaint. His eyes were darkened with lust, and as he slithered over my torso I felt his length rubbing up my inner thigh to meet mine. He shook when I forced my left hand between us to touch him. He didn't resist when I rolled him over. As his hands moved from my chest to my hips I licked and sucked on his nipples. He grunted when my teeth nipped at the hardened nubs, then moaned as my tongue flattened over them, then licked from one to the other.

“Sou... don't stop. Please don't stop. God...” I had both of us in my grip, and was pumping both of us together. “Please... Sou, never stop...”

“Beg me,” I murmured as I kissed his rambling mouth, then his prickly chin, then the underside of his jaw. “What do you want to do, Ki?”

“I want you,” he panted, and he uttered a soft curse when I let go and lifted his leg. “Too damn long... please. Please.”

We were wet from the spring, and now wet with sweat, and sand stuck to our frames. His muscles flexed, relaxed as I pushed into him. And then, with the ease of practice, our hips met and bucked. I knew that I had entered at the correct angle, and he was soon grunting into my shoulder. I felt the sudden sharp jab of pain in my left hip but ignored it for the tight heat that I was enveloped in. It drew me in, deeper into him and he shouted as my thrusts hit his prostrate harder.

“Sou, I can't... I'm... fuck. Damn!” His milky ejaculate further lubricated our skin-to-skin contact, and I matched his uncontrolled convulsions with my own delayed climax.

When my head finally cleared from the shower and the unexpected intercourse, I was surprised to find Urahara's head resting on my right arm. Inhaling heavily he got to his elbows, then sat up. With a wry grin he looked us both over. “What's the point of bathing?” he asked.

I scrunched up my brows when I felt grit and sand all over my back and arms and legs. “Damn.”

“Hey, it's just dirt. We'll wash it off.”

“No. Gin is going to kill me.” My head flopped back on the ground. Urahara brushed the damp hair from my forehead. “Thank all the gods I'm leaving tomorrow for duty to Tokyo.”

He pouted and sat cross-legged. Jamming his hat over his eyes he said, “So what about the rest of your men?”

“They need to recover in their gigai. I'll return with them when they're better. A week or so should do it.” I tried not to smile. He looked so ridiculous, wearing only that hat and nothing else. I decided to change the topic. “I never knew that the vizards had access to untraceable gigai though.”

“Back to business?” He scratched his nose. “You know where they're from.”

A statement, not a question. I half-smiled. “They're yours, aren't they?”

“I told you about them?”

“That drunken night, you babbled a little. But you said it would sap the reiatsu of the user, so I guess I was pretty lucky then.”

“No,” Urahara shook his head. “They don't use it unless they have to. It's just a tool to hide things. That was Hirako's true strength.”

I sat up, trying to disregard the particles clinging to my skin. “That mask...” Out of the corner of my eye I saw the flash of guilt across his features. “I'm going to study that mask. How the hell did he come across hollow abilities? No wonder they fled Soul Society.”

He turned away, still too easily open about his thoughts and emotions to the practiced reader. “we should clean up.”

I stood up. “Yeah. At least the cut is healed.”

A tool to hide things? As we washed ourselves free of the grit I mused over his words in my head repeatedly. But he would be guarded about the rest of the information, and I needed time away from my teams to arrange my thoughts to come to any sort of conclusion.

 

Chapter Text

As I buried another two souls for the night I wondered how far Gin was prepared to go. Then I smothered a grin – he would go very far, if I let him. And I had every intention of giving him free rein. He would take a captaincy eventually and he needed to develop his own identity separate from that of my lieutenant.

When I got to my quarters in the city, burying three more souls on the way and purifying two hollows, I received a missive from Tousen.

Soi Fon restricted to barracks. Ichimaru sending me all your work. Your idea?”

I laughed. Gin was smart to know how to shirk to the one person who was able to take up the slack. But what else was occupying his time?

Resignedly, I sighed to myself, knowing the answer. Must've found a new plaything. Hope it's a good one.

xxxxx

Too many deaths.

It pained even me as I sent yet another one into Soul Society. The twelve shinigami on soul burial duty in Tokyo had been gratified to know a captain joined them in field duty willingly; most seated officers didn't bother with groundwork anymore, preferring to reside within the relative calm of Seireitei, away from humanity, away from life, away from death.

But we were shinigami; we were meant to work with death, every day. Not to cause it - that power belonged to the Divine - but to ease people from one form of existence to the next.

I judged myself to have the capacity to accept almost everything. There were very few things that fazed me now, since I had had a full range of experiences since becoming shinigami and, before that, being Urahara's housemate. But the sheer amount of death humans dealt to their fellow beings jarred me to the core. It was too... impersonal.

I had killed before, but I had always done so, for lack of a better word, intimately: I had known the people I slayed, their weaknesses and strengths, their likes and dislikes. We had worked, laughed, and (for one of them) loved together. Never did I kill without knowing who I was killing.

But now, every day and very night, planes flew overhead, dropping explosives like so much confetti, slaughtering tens, hundreds, thousands at a time.

These... these were human acts, committed by humans. The very beings we were sworn to protect didn't know how to protect each other.

War sickened all shinigami. Even one as heartless as I.

If I wage a war - when I wage my war - it would not involve too many people. Dozens, perhaps, or hundreds, but each known to me or mine. Taking a life is an intimate act, and I would not defile my sword to slay senselessly. Kyoka Suigetsu deserved more honor than that.

Ulquiorra collected the hollows I deemed worthy, leading them to Las Noches; some souls I let hollows devour, since they did nothing but wail for their prior existence. Those that showed a spark of spirit or a certain level of reiatsu, I sent to Soul Society, hoping against hope that they survive the first few brutal years and become useful in the end. The chances were slim, really. Lives shortened tended to breed bitter souls, and bitter souls seldom become shinigami.

xxxxx

When the communicator rang I was surprised. Then I realized it was the official one, not the one Gin and I were using. "Hello?"

"Hey." It was Urahara's voice. "Your team is recovering nicely. They should be ready to leave in three to four days."

"Thanks," I said distractedly. "That's good to hear. I'll see you when I see you."

"Wai-" His voice was cut off and I removed the power cell. My attention was fixated by the steady pulse of reiatsu emanating from the palace. Who is in there at this hour?

In the darkness I slipped in, walking breezily past all the guards that surrounded the compound. The reiatsu pressure was strong, very strong, even with the tight control I could tell surrounded it. Definitely not a shinigami, and definitely not a hollow, but with elements of both.

Vizard.

"And not just any vizard," I said as I entered the room where the reiatsu came from. "Hirako Shinji."

He raised a flat palm as greeting. "Yo."

"Are you sure luring me here is a good idea?"

"I'm sure," he said with a grin, "since you've already disabled your communicator. Let's finish it."

"Here?" I cocked a head in the direction of Emperor Hirohito's quarters. "You've told Hachisen to seal us in the instance I entered, didn't you?"

"Yep. So now let's go at it, you and me." He flashed a toothy grin. "Two men enter..."

I smiled slowly and slipped my haori off. "One man leaves."

xxxxx

As I exited the shield through a door I felt murderous intent in the eyes of all the other vizards. I tightened the grip of my left hand; Hirako Shinji might not look like much but he wasn't exactly light. I might look perfectly fine but already my reiatsu was at its lowest since I stepped out of Soul Society. Blood crusted along the edges of the few slashes Hirako managed to land, but they wounds were already closed.

"Let go, Sousuke," Kensei said. "Let Hirako go."

"No." I was still standing, I was still breathing. Therefore I would not give in. "He's under arrest."

"Fuck you," shrieked Hiyori. Rose held her back by her shoulder; his knuckles were white with effort. "Fuck you, Aizen! Let go of him!!"

I was still breathing, I reminded myself. "No. He wanted a fight, and a fight he got. He challenged, he lost. So he's coming back with me to Seireitei for 46's judgment."

Kensei blocked Lisa with an outstretched arm. "We didn't know about this. None of us knew. Therefore we cannot let him go. Leave him and leave town, Sousuke. I don't wish to fight you."

"I don't wish to fight you either," I said with as much sincerity as I could muster at that point. Vision blurry at the edges. "But Hachisen knew. He put up the barriers. He's the one who let me out."

"Hachisen doesn't speak for all of us."

"But Hirako does?" I was stalling. Hirako's successive cero attacks had been the devil to counter, and I had been forced to utilize level eighty hado too often. They recognized that I was stalling too - the steady thrum of their reiatsu was beating down my battered shields. And then my shield shattered. I could take down perhaps three more, but that would be it.

They win.

I hate losing.

Hiyori was the first to draw her sword and charge. I dropped Hirako but kept a foot on his sternum. It wasn't to prevent his escape but to prevent his rescue. Kyoka Suigetsu clashed with Hiyori's zanpakuto, grating together as she drove her advantage, but I managed to kick her aside before blocking a blow from Lisa.

"Stop it, you two!" shouted Kensei, but Hiyori's anger had been stirred up. Our blades crashed again, and I had to press down heavily to brace myself. Hirako coughed up blood as my foot pressed into him.

Hiyori withdrew almost instantaneously. "Hirako, you skinny-arsed cocksucker, wake up! Wake the fuck up!"

"Hiyori, such language."

I couldn't even summon an expression. "Why are you here?"

"Because I am the strange yet handsome Urahara Kisuke." His tone was jovial and relaxed, but I saw the iron grip he had on his princess. "And I think you need my assistance."

I hesitated. "The last time we talked, where were you?"

"About half a block away from where you were."

"So that was what you were going to tell me."

"If you hadn't been so stupid to be lured by Hirako, you wouldn't be in this mess."

"I wouldn't have been in this mess if you hadn't given them untraceable gigai so we couldn't track them!"

We broke off the verbal sparring when Rose's blade swept past my cheek. I ducked just in time, but a thin cut etched a line of crimson across my left cheekbone. Despite his calm demeanor Rose was very dangerous once provoked.

Urahara's sword darted out like a snake, the red princess defending her magic mirror. I swung Kyoka Suigetsu to parry the next thrust from Rose, but I knew the words were almost ready to form on his lips. Urahara saw him from the corner of his eye, and blasted a fire kido at his old friend even as Lisa and Hiyori double-teamed me.

I'm tired, Kyoka Suigetsu complained delicately as metal scraped on metal and, through sheer force of will, I shoved them away. Let the princess fight. She loves to fight.

No more, my dear, I rebuked gently, narrowly dodging the next swipe and then resume fighting over the prone form of Hirako Shinji. We now fight our own battles.

My sword hummed through the air, displeased with my decision but resigned to it. If only that spear-wielding god was around, we'd achieve what we need to in seconds.

Is he that strong? I wondered why the two vizards kept their swords unreleased. Then I understood that they didn't wish to put Hirako in harm's way. If they had fired successive ceros like he had, I'd have been defeated already.

Kyoka Suigetsu had no compunctions throwing out a few illusory waves and lights, disorienting Lisa and Hiyori for a period. I can draw on his power far easier than any other shinigami's weapon you've matched me with. Such a generous giver, that boy of yours. And vice versa - and he can be insatiable.

I laughed inwardly at my zanpakuto's words. Insatiable, indeed.

"Sousuke, duck!"

A thick cloud of smoke enveloped us and I pulled away from the reek, coughing violently. "Urahara?!"

"New invention, sorry 'bout that!" Somehow he located me amidst the coughing bodies within the growing gray cloud, then flash-stepped away while keeping a tight lock on my wrist. I shook it off the second we got to safer grounds.

"What in heaven's name are you doing in Tokyo?" I asked as my lungs cleared.

The man looked off at the Emperor's court, then at his feet, then finally at me. "Could you have taken them all?"

"With Hirako Shinji down? Yes, I could have," I answered. "They were afraid to harm him. I wouldn't fail to exploit that opening."

"Still no mercy after so many years, Sousuke?" He shook his head sadly. "You know there is so much more you can do with your strength."

"Mercy is nothing without justice," I said. Tousen had caught that catchphrase from me and adapted it into his personal creed. "And justice is nothing without strength. My strength is my mercy, Urahara."

He gazed at me, his eyes shadowed by that striped hat. "I never understood that logic of yours."

"And I never understood the reason why you hide that delicious bloodlust beneath a ludicrously shallow veneer." I sheathed Kyoka Suigetsu. "I heard your princess singing again, and I admit that I have missed her song."

"Benihime sings a lot less now, but her song is no less sweet." The curve of his lips were gentle and forbidding. "I came to ask that one last favor, Sousuke."

"Speak."

He paused, then knelt before me, whipping his hat off. "Aizen Sousuke, Gobantai-taichou," he said, exceedingly formal, his eyes glued to the patch of shadow before him, "I ask that you use your influence to call off the vizard hunt. It will not benefit Soul Society."

"They are traitors." I gritted my jaw. With the short rest my reiatsu levels were recovering.

He remained protrate before me. "They were forced to leave, by me. Sousuke, please. Call off the hunt."

"I can only do what I can, Urahara. No guarantees."

He looked up, the tired eyes glimmering with gratefulness. "I trust you."

With a sigh I looked away. "Perhaps you shouldn't, Urahara. I don't wish for you to get your hopes up and have it ripped away from you so easily."

"Thanks anyway," he said, getting to his feet. "If you are the same man you were, then definitely I can rest assured."

I didn't pay heed to him as he left the area. If I am the man I was, then you'd never need to ask anything of me, because I would already have given everything to you.

And so I will take everything back.

xxxxx

xxxxx

There was only the prize.

We knew we were lucky; if Shihouin Yoruichi hadn't been the head of household and thus the judge, neither of us would be competing for this.

“Alright, start when you're ready.”

Judging from her bored tone she was irritated her exalted position had once again excluded her from the hakudo and shunpo tournament.

I bowed formally and slid a foot back, balancing myself on the back foot. He walked around a bit, getting his rhythm. A quick glance exchanged, and we shot and crashed together with a shout.

xxxxx

We crashed together in the apartment's living room, hands gripping at each other's shoulders. He slid against the floor as I rolled my hips against his. I tried to form words between frantic kisses.

“Perhaps-we should- take off- our-” His mouth locked over mine unexpectedly.

xxxxx

The first back kick I had expected; he was better at me at legwork. I blocked and grabbed his calf, then used his momentum to throw him into the dust of the arena. He flipped to his feet with a feral grin before rushing my midsection. I prepared for a tackle but he swept his leg around to trip me on my back.

xxxxx

Somehow we fell onto the bed, my bare back landing on his deep green sheets first.

“Does that- mean I get to-”

“No,” I panted and tore at his shirt. “We- still decide- it- the same way.”

“Predictable.”

xxxxx

Perhaps my elbow in his gut was outside his prediction; I seldom played dirty. I tried to grab his elbow but his hand locked about my wrist and, when he pressed the advantage, I gripped his wrist instead.

xxxxx

“Not the tying,” he whined. “I get bruises on my wrists.”

I pressed my lips to his navel and flicked my tongue over his stomach. “We finally get an excuse and you wanna give it up?”

xxxxx

“Give!?” I shouted for the judge to hear.

He strained against the armlock. “Nnngh. No.”

“Give?!” I shouted again, twisting his arm further up. He stifled the scream and then, finally, uttered his surrender.

xxxxx

I pulsed between us, my surrender complete. There was nothing else in the world besides his heartbeat and his cinnamon/honey taste, his warmth and quirky wit. His fingers undid the knot for me, fumbling more than I had earlier.

“See?” I whispered hoarsely, my voice faint. “I'm still better.”

“You sulk when you lose,” he retorted shakily. “That's why I gave in and you won.”

“I don't sulk.”

“No, you pout. Very – sexily.”

“I don't pout. And I won fair and square.”

xxxxx

“WINNER: AIZEN SOUSUKE!”

The little medal gleamed golden. Kisuke grumbled in his throat but I knew it was for show. The rest of our cohort clapped and cheered.

“So, the tournament's over. Whatcha gonna do now, hmm?” Shihouin Yoruichi asked after we strolled out of the academy field.

Kisuke grinned. “You up for a drink?”

“I wish. Got another meeting with the old man. See ya tomorrow. Congrats Aizen.”

“Thanks.” After we watched her flash-step away, I tilted my head at my housemate. “So what are we going to do?”

His response was a lazy grin, and soon I had one to match his expression.

Chapter Text

We reached Soul Society at midnight, a few nights before the final day of the academy entrance examinations. It had been ten days since we left for the human realm, seven days since we located the vizards, and four days since my victory and subsequent retreat from the battle with Hirako.

By the time the Fourth Division had checked all of us over, it was almost mid-morning. I returned to my own quarters in Seireitei, exhausted. There was still the debriefing in the late afternoon, and a private meeting with the soutaichou after that.

But I felt him waiting before I slid the doors open. He was sitting in the middle of the floor, going through his paperwork. “Hey,” he chirped brightly as he looked up at me. “Glad to see ya.”

“Hey,” I squatted to kiss him on the cheek proffered. He smelt fresh, further emphasizing my fatigue to me. “Missed you.”

“Mmmm.” He put away the papers in a neat sheaf and pushed me to sit down. Then he climbed into my lap and began dusting butterfly kisses over my face. I breathed in deeply, re-imprinting his scent into my brain. Before I could possibly add on to my exhaustion, I tucked him into my arms, stood up and carried him to the bed. He was relaxed in my arms, his smile just a tad condescending.

“I'm not gonna cancel the session,” he stated baldly. “Just because I welcomed you back doesn't mean I ain't punishing ya.”

I kicked the uniform to one side, too drained to care. My yukata had been freshly laundered and it was comforting, knowing he had taken the extra effort. I grinned tiredly at his comment as I climbed into bed. “Not asking you to. Just let me have an afternoon nap with you here, hmm? Wake me at four.”

He smiled and leaned on the headboard. I placed my head against the curve of his waist and hugged his thighs. “You've firmed up,” I commented sleepily. He smelled so good and clean, like the air of a crisp spring morning, like the cool dusk of autumn.

“I'm eating more these days,” he replied, stroking my hair and running soothing fingers along my neck and shoulders. “You've grown thinner.”

“Stresses of the human world, Gin. Couldn't help it,” I rumbled into his hakama, and as he trailed his fingers along my neck I relaxed and fell asleep.

xxxxx

He woke me at three-forty, twenty minutes to shower and dress. Before he left, he had pulled me into a deep kiss. He said he was eager for my penitence, and I knew he was in a very good mood. The stray he picked up was good for him. When I flipped through the paperwork, everything was in perfect order.

“Hmm,” I tasted my lips lightly. “Smart, efficient and sexy. I have the best lieutenant ever.”

“'Course ya do,” he concurred absently. “I'll see you the day after tomorrow in the mansion? Seven o'clock in the morning. Try to get a day off, hmm?”

“I'll get a week off,” I said, rubbing my thumb along his jaw. He bent to kiss it, a gentle nip of his incisors, then he went off to process the rest of the paperwork. And, presumably, have fun with his toy.

Ah well. My turn soon.

xxxxx

Yamamoto had been reluctant to accede to Urahara's request, but the logic was infallible. The war had dragged on longer than expected, shinigami were wearing themselves to a thin shell, and the vizards were too strong for us to take on without significant losses. Then there was another conclusion I had come to while waiting in Tokyo.

“You're certain of your hypothesis?”

“It has been rash, attacking what has to be the one strong nation still neutral in the war. And I think the leaders desperately want this nightmare to end.”

He sighed, for an instant the extremely old man he appeared to be. “We'll be able to verify your hypothesis when the first shoe drops, Aizen. In the meantime, there is something on which I wish to ask your opinion.”

I waited, the silence drawing out on a thin cord.

“I know,” he leaned forward, fingers steepling, “that Rinbayashi Reina will not see through the next two decades, and that only because Reina is a stubborn old hag.” His brows twitched; they had been comrades-in-arms for two millenia. The bond was beyond what I could comprehend.

Sifting through his words, I frowned lightly. “Gin is not ready, sir. You will have to search for another.”

Yamamoto blinked. Then he crooked a half-smile. “You are astute. That is true, I am considering your lieutenant to take on the posting. The Kuchiki heir would have been a good choice as well, except the place of their family is in the Sixth.” He sighed heavily. “So few, so few... the Academy has taught many but so few shine.”

“The stars will come, soutaichou,” I reassured him.

“Get some proper rest for the next ten days, Aizen.” he dismissed me. I thanked him for considering Gin, and wondered if I should tell my lieutenant about Yamamoto's suggestion. Perhaps I would.

I returned to my echoingly empty quarters, seeing Gin in every corner. Then I smiled to myself and slept, preparing for whatever he was ready to give.

 

xxxxx

“You're punctual as usual,” he smiled as I pushed the door shut. He had a towel thrown over his shoulder, his hair still suffering the aftereffects of a rough night. I strode over and pulled him into a deep kiss, which he returned fully, his tongue probing and rubbing over the roof of my mouth.

We separated, a little breathless. “Good morning to you too,” I said huskily, trying to dissect the alien flavor that had inserted itself into his mouth and transferred to mine.

Hmm. Sweet, slightly bitter/clear... strengthens the taste of Gin. I like it.

“He tastes nice, doesn't he?” Gin asked rhetorically as we walked together towards the bathroom. “He's at the advanced written exam, then he has the interview, and then he'll know the results.”

“Intelligent?”

“Fast learner and great adaptability. Confident and obedient. Too strong a personal moral code, but we can use it to our benefit.” He shrugged off the sleeping robe and slid into the tub, ducking under the surface of the water to wet his fine hair. I settled beside the tub and shampooed his locks, firmly massaging his scalp. He rinsed and grinned. “When he graduates, he'll make a fine lieutenant.”

“For me?”

“No. The best lieutenant for you is me.” He rolled the kinks out of his shoulder. “But he can be Tousen's second. Man'll love that, the kid's responsible and loyal.”

“Lots of good qualities,” I commented, drying his hair with a deep maroon towel. “Maybe I'll get to see them later.”

He sighed into my ministrations, then kissed the back of my hands. “Maybe.” Then, in a quick segue, he asked me to help him out of the tub. I took the chance to wrap him up in his towel, pinning his arms to the side, before carrying him to the bedroom.

The bedlinen was still rumpled, the smell of him and his little stray still heavy in the air. I wrinkled my nose – I liked clean sheets. Hesitant, I paused at the doorway, trying to decide if I should take him in the hallway or back in the bathroom.

“The guest bedroom is laid out and unused,” he whispered in my ear, almost innocently. I kissed his brow, nudged the other door open, and swept in.

The feel of his taut muscles under my toweling hands was a welcome reminder of what I had been missing the past few days. Out of pure and unusual mischief I tickled him and he shrieked with laughter, twisting away from my hands. I grabbed him and pulled him back, all the while avoiding his flailing hands that pushed my fingers away. I dug into his sides mercilessly, until he was rolling on the floor within my arms and panting from lack of breath. Raising his head he gave access to the base of his throat, and I bent down to take full advantage. His palms swept up my back and then gripped my shoulders. My lips glided to his face again and he pushed me away for a moment.

“I've missed you rather badly,” he murmured, breathing heavily, his lidded gaze turning wistful. “So many thoughts to occupy my busy head...”

“I'd have thought your other head was busier,” I riposted, and he grinned wickedly, licking my nose. His fingers darted up my chest, to my face, then skittered down to rest at the dip of my navel. I pushed the offending towel out of the way and we began kissing properly, lips meeting and separating shyly. Then his tongue flicked over my upper lip, his teeth closing gently on my lower lip, before his arms slid around my neck to pull me down to him.

xxxxx

It was pleasant, just lying together, his head resting on my shoulder. It felt unreal – the simplicity of our relationship; the purity of his affection; the innocence of my feelings. As if we were really in love, as if we were a normal couple.

We knew he started out wanting to use me, and that I had used him for my own amusement. We knew that I had twisted his mind and his principles, turned him into someone he wouldn't have recognized. We knew I had corrupted him beyond repair. We also knew he had turned from a plaything into my biggest vulnerability. He had weakened me and created a chink in what used to be an impregnable shield.

But if anyone had asked if we wanted it any other way...

No. Not for the entire world, served on a silver platter.

“Hey,” he whispered, breaking into my thoughts.

I nuzzled him affectionately. “Hey.”

His long fingers danced over my robe, exploring the edge where fabric met skin. “Come on, let's get started, hmm?”

I let him set me to my feet. “Clothed or naked?” I asked, slinging an arm over his shoulder.

“Decisions, decisions...” he hummed as we strolled to the sword room. “Definitely naked.”

“I do like the way you think.”

“You're probably not gonna like the things I do.”

“You know words can't hurt me.”

“Then we'll just have to find out what does.”

xxxxx

With a too-brief kiss as a distraction he snapped a reiatsu-limiter collar around my throat, and the sudden loss of strength sent me to my knees. He didn't hold back his own reiatsu, and I found myself fighting to breathe. My vision swam and I choked down the nausea. In seconds he had both my arms tied behind me, the hemp rope a delicious friction on my skin, made more intimate with one of my stronger senses shut down.

“Open your mouth,” he commanded softly. A length of silk slid into my mouth and was tightened behind my skull. I blinked, getting used to the weight of reiatsu, and he knelt in front of me. I smiled at the look of cool observation on his face as he ran his thumb along the gag. “I know I can still hear ya, but that's the test, see? I don't want to hear a single sound from you, got that?”

I nodded slowly, never breaking eye contact. He pressed his mouth to my forehead, sweeping my hair back from my brow. His strong fingers kneaded my shoulders and then moved sinuously over my chest, before stopping to circle my nipples. One hand reached behind me for our box, rifling in it to dig for what he wanted. I closed my eyes, knowing what to expect.

The clamps fastened around my nipples and were tightened before the point of actual pain. Gin knew my body very well; he licked one sensitive bud slowly, one hand parked in my lap, checking my response. My body arched towards him involuntarily. This sort of punishment I don't mind earning more of.

“Don't even think about it,” he warned thickly, pulling me away by the collar. “I can read your mind by now.”

Hooking a finger through it, he pushed my shoulders to the floor, my head canted at an uncomfortable angle, my stomach pressed to my thighs. “Stay there.”

There was another rustle through boxes. Then I started with a snap of fire over my shoulders.

“I didn't say you could move,” he purred, his foot nudging my torso lower. I felt a thick cord snake over my bare back. He didn't warn before the next lash descended lower, cutting into my triceps and back. I bit the inside of my cheek. Without my usual reiatsu shield, the bites of the lashing seemed to cut straight to the bone. When I shivered with the sensation of the whip sliding up from the base of my spine to my neck, he drew it away. I braced myself for the next impact, but cried out as his teeth sank into my bound inner wrist. His tongue traced the burning lines on my skin, then I heard another rustle.

I had to choke down the next yell when many thin cords snapped over my rear, right, then left. Fingers followed the lines, and a groan shuddered out of my gagged mouth. He used the flail a few times, then snapped it over my upper arms and shoulder blades. I knew my skin tore and blood was seeping in tiny beads. He stepped behind me.

I couldn't see him, but I was not surprised when he raised my hips higher. “You liked that, didn't you?” he asked softly. His nails suddenly dug into my hips and raked downwards, raising more inflamed weals.

I concentrated on breathing evenly. His hands smoothed over the bottom of my thighs, groping the sensitive inner skin and making me squirm. His fingers caressed my sack faintly, his nails a mere suggestion of presence that was driving my libido out of control. Then his free hand slapped my ass on the still-stinging weals, before he stepped away and got me to my feet. I stumbled a little, my arousal now plain.

He laughed and passed a finger along the length. I inhaled sharply. “Ah ah ah... nothing until I give the say so. And believe me... You're gonna have a long wait.”

You're evil. My eyes were glaring daggers even as I followed obediently. He draped a deep green-and-gray-checked robe over me and sat me down cross-legged. I winced; it still hurt where I sat, and he knew it. He passed a thin cord from my collar to my wrists, smiling as if he approved. With another little grin he tied my ankles together before linking the ends to my collar. It wasn't tightened, but there was no further give. I could not stand up or alter my position.

“And just to keep your mind occupied...” He carried me bodily to a corner of the closet. Where I was placed I could see the wide expanse of the bed. “Best view.”

I tilted my head quizzically. The gag was becoming soaked but I didn't mind – he knew I loved watching. This isn't punishment, it's a treat. Except for the immobilization and the constant weight of reiatsu...

“It is a punishment, Aizen-sama,” Gin nuzzled into my neck as he tested the bindings. Before I could react he tied a thin, slightly damp length around my arousal. My eyes widened. He licked the corners of my mouth. “You're not gonna get to come tonight, Aizen-sama. What we did earlier was to make sure you won't suffer too much.” He licked the tip of my nose again, and then he grinned. “Don't worry, there is some assistance. See ya tomorrow, Aizen-sama.”

He dragged a blindfold over my eyes. Everything was dark. I heard a chuckle before he slid the door of the closet closed.

Reiatsu-locked. Immobilized. Blindfolded. Gagged. Denied of orgasm. And I knew Gin would be putting in extra effort outside on that bed for the rest of the night – and he would make sure I know it.

I sighed resignedly, a flutter of irritation and arousal in the pit of my stomach. Punishment, Gin, not torture.

 

Chapter Text

I heard the welcome he called out. Zahl? What has the boy got to do with numbers? Or perhaps a number – zahl, not zahlen – or maybe I was reading too much into the word.

“And from that look in your eyes, I'm guessing my dark-haired punk has passed.” That was Gin; silvery, low, melodious, faintly accented. And he knew I was listening: the description he was giving gave me vague sketch of the boy he was toying with. He would fill in the details later.

“Yes! Thanks to you, Yuki. I owe ya.” That would be the boy. A tenor, with a hint of roughness around the edges. I wondered if he could sing. “Y'know, I'd really like ta repay your kindness, cuz without you I'd have flunked again.”

Gin laughed. “There's nothing to repay. You came with nothing and I expect nothing.”

My very words. What have I created?

“No, really. I mean, ya don't seem ta want nothing, and I can't go off without doin' sumpin' for ya.”

Boy has integrity and honor. I see what Gin means. Tousen would like him, if the man ever likes anything.

“Shall I suggest what you can do for me?”

“Totally... mmrrrrmmmhhhh... Yuki, you're.... ah. Ahhh. Unngh. We're still in the yard. Y-yuki!”

“Oops. Sorry.” Gin didn't even sound apologetic. I felt bad for the boy; when Gin was in his playful mood – which came on every so often, and without warning – it took the recipient by surprise by how strongly the mood could take him over. “Hey, let's celebrate.”

“W-what with?” The boy's voice was shaky. What had Gin done to him?

“You know what you like.”

The boy's tone practically lit up the darkness behind my eyes. He was so enthusiastic, it made me smile. “Food? Sex?”

“Close.” Gin was leering; I could picture that little smile, crooked and suggestive, a bit of tongue showing between his teeth. “Lots of food, and lots of sex with me.”

“I am so glad I passed.”

“If you didn't,” drawled Gin, “I'd have kicked ya skinny ass out for disappointin' me.”

“You like my skinny ass, Yuki.”

“I'd still have kicked ya out. Now go get a quick wash-up while I set dinner up.”

I heard running footsteps to the bathroom and Gin's sauntering pace into the bedroom. Quietly, Gin opened the closet and loosened the tie around my length slightly. “I think I'd better give you a fighting chance,” he whispered. “I don't want to have to explain how I killed my captain without touching him.”

I grunted for his consideration, but the closet slid close again and he was off to the bathroom, wolf-whistling to show a certain appreciation of a naked body. Zahl retorted with something vaguely obscene and I frowned: I had taken pains to remove all races of street lingo from Gin, and here was a street rat re-introducing it to him.

Their banter faded slightly and then I heard the steady tread of feet to the bedroom. They were going to eat here; I forced myself to relax against the wash of reiatsu from them both. Gin was right – the boy was good. Warm and rough and wild, like the aura of an alpha wolf. But with Gin the wolf had been tamed before it realized the muzzle and leash were on him. The wolf was a dog now, and a suitably vicious one, if Gin and I had any say in how to train the boy.

“Mmm. Lots of rice and meat. This's fuckin' awesome, Yuki.”

“We'll need the energy. And for tonight...” I heard a vague whispering but I couldn't hear; the limited reiatsu really cut back my abilities. It bothered me; as if I was encased in iron, restricted in all my sensory perceptions when I had been used to feeling so much more.

And then the soft laughter dragged me to the present. That was Gin's laughter, the unique ripple that stirred my heart on a regular basis and struck fear into quite a number of our subordinates. “You are incorrigible, Zahl,” he purred. Gin was purring to his toy? I was definitely not happy. That was my sound. He was certainly asking for some violence when he released me. A lot of violence. That is MY sound. Mine. No one shares what's mine.

Zahl brushed the teasing off. “I just thought it'd be fun.”

“You got that right. Come on over.”

“Ya serious?”

“Totally. Come on. My lap.” The rustle of fabric on fabric; they were still dressed. “And open your mouth... uh. Uh uh. Lick it off.”

“Yuki...” The small whine reminded me of Gin in the early years of our affair. He had been so adorable then; eager to learn, eager for praise, eager to please. That subtle but insistent eagerness had been replaced by a mature self-assuredness that I admired and liked, but that desire and hunger in his early days had been one of his hooks in snaring my affections. “Yuki, not the honey, I really might just eat up the entire jar-”

“You're gonna lick it off, not eat it.”

“... lick it off what?”

“Me.”

I could hear the little happy whine in the boy's tone. Another purr and a sigh. I was increasingly annoyed. And then fabric rustling, replaced by the almost unheard sound of skin on skin. And then little moans, throaty moans, sighs and little whines... Most of those I recognized to be Gin's. I sighed silently; he was really getting me agitated, and I had to find my balance soon.

“D'you like this?” Gin asked almost detachedly.

“Nnngh. Yeah... Gods, Yuki, please...”

“Easy there, Zahl... turn over now.”

“So soon? But you – oh fuck!” The shriek of pleasure caught me by surprise, so the boy must have been stunned to the quick. “How – what – oh gods, oh my god – Yuki!”

Gin's wicked croon was a double-edged sword. “Tell me if you like that.”

“Yes. Oh gods yes...” His panting was becoming heavier and more ragged.

“And if I do this? Do you like it?” The answer was a strangled moan – what had Gin done? There were some slurping sounds that headed straight for my groin. I occupied myself with the darkness before my eyes, but the urgent groans that were coming from the bedroom were not assisting.

I bit down on my gag, hard. I should never have given Gin free rein on this – he was really pushing all the right buttons. If not for the fact that I knew how to drive him crazy as well...

“And when I lick up your thighs... I love how the back of your knees taste.”

“Yuki, how can you... how can you possibly do that thing with... your tongue? I mean, innit kinda gross?”

“You like it,” Gin supplied helpfully, his tone one of nonchalance.

Zahl moaned again; Gin must be trying to distract him. Not that it was of any use; the boy resumed questioning. “But to insert your tongue...”

“How can I do it? I can do it because I know you've bathed; I know it feels fuckin' awesome; and I wanted to make you feel good. 'Sides, a good rinse of sake cleans my mouth right up.”

“But you don't have to keep tryin' ta make me feel good, y'know?” The boy had no idea he was treading dangerous waters now; I smirked to myself. Gin liked to satisfy his lovers, he liked to make them experience as fully as possible a loving session with him. “I feel good no matter what you do... you're the only one who has bothered to really... really try.”

“That's why I have to keep on,” Gin's voice was muffled. I supposed he was buried against skin. The slight and delicious friction of lips on sensitized nipples or against an arched neck... I shook the recollection away from my head. “Besides, it is your last night with me.”

“I've to move in tomorrow in the morning.”

“You don't have much in the way of stuff, do you?”

“Nah. I traveled... oh, ahhh... here with nothing more than the clothes on my back.”

“I've already packed some luggage fer ya,” said Gin. “So let's just enjoy this night, hmm?”

“Yeah.” A rapturous sigh followed with a soft yip. “Yuki, what the fuck are you doin'?”

“You,” laughed Gin.

“Yuki!” the boy whined, apparently scandalized.

I grinned to myself. His wit had sharpened over the years, and now alternated between velvet-sheathed rapier and innocently lewd. It was fun trading barbs with him in our private moments – I relied on him to give me perspective far more than he realized.

Then the thump of bodies on the bed brought me back to the here-and-now. There were no more words – the slap of flesh on flesh, the quiet moans of kisses, the loud groans of pleasure and the slight grunts of pain – then a soft, inarticulate cry, then begging.

“Yuki, please, please... I need to, I need to...” A scream cut off abruptly, then panting, and insistent pleading to be released.

The heat tightened in my gut. I knew I was responding, and tried to steer my thoughts to other trivial matters.

“I'm gonna miss your lean body, Zahl... your long limbs draped so seductively over the sheets... the way your shaggy black hair falls over your brow... the delicious curve of your back...” A yelp shot out of the boy and some sucking noises – I winced at the words and the sounds. “Your skin almost as fair as mine... slim waist... the smooth curve of your ass that just begs to be-”

Another cry and now the boy was really begging; through the lust-induced haze I had a suspicion that Gin was inflicting the same sort of torment on his toy as the constriction around my erection.

“I want to suck your neck... the back of your knees... nibble your ears... lick your cock until you're an incoherent wreck...” I heard the shift of bedsheets and the whimpering mewls from the boy. Ruthlessly I turned my thoughts away from the scene being Yamamoto-soutaichou is the first captain. He's the captain... who wants to give Gin the place of the third... and Gin is out there.

Not working.

I inhaled as silently as I could, not that Gin's plaything could hear anything over his rising pleas. Gin was murmuring just loud enough for me to have to strain to catch his words. “... take your balls in my hand, like this... my thumb sliding over the tip... you're still making sense... touch me the way you want me to touch you... command me...”

“Fuck me, take me, do something, let me... gods, Yuki... I need you... I need you now...”

“Shh... I'll back off now, calm down...”

“NO!”

I heard a rough tackle and a heavy thump. Perspiration had already soaked the robe draped over me and the gag was saturated. Even the blindfold was becoming wet. And I desperately wanted to remove the tie about my arousal – even with the loosening it was still torture.

Breathe. Trees are green. Sky is blue. Night is black. Snow is... white, like his skin, like the gleam of his hair in the sun...

No.

Flossing is essential for healthy teeth and gums. It ensures good oral hygiene. Gin's the best I've ever had in oral sex – No. No, no, no.

Antibiotics should not be taken unless needed, and each course must be completed lest the illness becomes stronger.

Needed. Wanted. Desired. Completion – NO.

“Oh - oh fuck! Yuki, that feels – so damn good... oh gods... gods, you're evil, how could you- ah. Ahh. Yes. Yes, harder, harder.”

“That it? That all you can take, Zahl?”

“No, gimme. Give it to me. Harder. Fa-faster.”

The grunting picked up in pace, and I heard the sliding of flesh over flesh. I felt the rivulets of perspiration down my chest, over the already sensitized nipples; down my back, soaking into the hemp ropes and the bonds around my wrists.

A hoarse cry outside and my head was swimming. I shook my head, trying to focus, and wondered if I had raised a monster.

xxxxx

I managed to control my libido with multiplication tables interspersed with sessions of imagined retaliation. The boy, for all his energy, fell asleep first. Gin reached into the closet and removed the collar first, and I released myself with the surge in reiatsu. Hastily I untied the leather still restricting my erection, and the sudden light-headedness almost knocked me out.

“Aren't you gonna kill me?” Gin whispered teasingly as he helped me out, rubbing circulation back into my limbs.

I grimaced with the soreness. “Once I feel better I am going to. Hado?”

“Nah, just exhaustion.” He glanced at the sprawled figure on the bed. I examined the boy as well, liking what I saw. Lithe, lean and trim; I understood the appeal.

We stepped out into the corridor, Gin a little unsteadily. “Hey,” I asked, conciliatory. “You sure you're alright?”

“A little woozy from the stimulant the Fourth gave me,” he answered. I narrowed my eyes, now understanding why he could handle me in the morning and this energetic young buck at night. He grinned unapologetically. “I'll see ya in the office, 'kay? Nighty-night.”

I scowled blackly before I grabbed him in a bruising kiss. I could taste the youth in his mouth still. “You better be punctual, lieutenant, or else I'll put in a request for transfer.”

“Promises, promises,” he retorted smartly and slipped back to the bedroom after I smacked him on his bare bottom. Before he closed the bedroom door he smiled wickedly. “Don't you ever break them again, Aizen-sama. There are plenty where he came from.”

I glared at him before he shut the doors quietly. With a resigned sigh I let the aftermath of the evening wash once again over my body before heading to the captain's quarters in the fifth division.

 

Chapter Text

I kept my face impassive, knowing that the older shinigami would do just about anything to find someone else to blame other than his precious little heir. Ever since his wife died, Kuchiki had pinned all his hopes on his son and Byakuya did shape up well.

I had to admit I was pleasantly surprised by the young Kuchiki's daring: to go against his family's traditions and rules, all for a commoner. It had perked up what would have been a very boring day. On the other hand, to hear that my lieutenant had been involved, however indirectly, was not as pleasant. The Kuchiki noble house was far too influential to be trifled with.

But, influential or not, Gin was my lieutenant and thus I would discipline him. When Kuchiki balled his fists I decided to intercede. “He isn't responsible for your son falling in love with a girl, Kuchiki-san.” I stepped in front of Gin. “Your son is more than capable of making his own decisions for his own life.”

Kuchiki almost snarled, but the mask of propriety remained fixed in place. “Stop shielding your lieutenant, Aizen.”

“I will when you stop shielding yours,” I returned coolly. What was it with nobles and not reprimanding their children for serious infarctions? “This is Byakuya's own decision. He may have eloped, but all lieutenants' reiatsu signatures are tracked in the twelfth's. Ask them to help you locate him.”

From the look of the man I gathered he hadn't thought about that. Before he could berate Gin again I said, “I need my lieutenant now, so if you don't mind, we have to return to work.”

xxxxx

“What were you thinking?” I asked, brows raised.

Gin sat back in his chair, fingers linked and adjusting nervously. “Taichou, I really didn't know about this. I had been preoccupied with – other stuff.”

Other stuff. Meaning that Zahl boy. I laced my fingers together, mimicking Gin, but with a more relaxed posture. I didn't want to scold him, but he had to understand why I kept away from the Sixth. “Of all the families you tangle with one of the most high-born. Privilege law is still in effect, Gin. If he hadn't chosen to approach you himself – and if I hadn't been here, you would have been in serious trouble.”

He was stung by the injustice. “All I did was lunch with Byakuya-san. How was I to know he'd fall in love at first sight?”

Love at first sight? I didn't know that. That shed a new light on developments: perhaps there is a rebellious streak in Kuchiki Byakuya that could become useful. But Gin was becoming reckless in his little games. I scowled across the table. “You better pray that the Kuchiki family locate their heir.”

He hunched back against the implied criticism. I pushed the errant lock of hair away from my face. “If they don't, they might go straight to the soutaichou and then, not even I can help. Yamamoto-soutaichou values that noble house very highly.”

He refused to make eye contact with me, his lower lip pushed out in an irresistible pout. I tried to harden my heart against his ploy, but failed. Perhaps I had been a little too harsh – it was innocent fun, after all. “Alright. Come on, sit here.”

For a second I thought he would refuse, but eventually he stood and slumped over to my lap. Twisting his face to examine the hakama folds on his knees, he continued to sulk. I swiped his lower lip with my finger, and he shifted his face away.

Indulgence was not limited to the noble houses; I gave in.

“Come on, you have to know the potential dangers of that family,” I wheedled in a low tone. Gin pouted further, and now I detected the faint glimmer of amusement. Little fox – he could get me to do anything to stop him from sulking, and he knew it. “Gin, stop pouting. It doesn't become you.”

“It's not my fault,” he insisted, looking away from me.

“I know,” I said, pulling him closer. “But we have to be prepared. Come now, smile for me. Come on.”

The slight shaking in his shoulders gave his game away before he turned back to me, screwing up his nose and then, finally, a grudging smile. Spoiled brat, I thought to myself, even as I bent my head to capture his lips.

Before we could kiss an alarm rang through the office and we broke apart.

Damn coincidence, I thought irritatedly. We were just about to get into a cozy huddle – far too infrequent in our working hours, despite sharing the same office. Too much paperwork to be handled tended to put a damper on amorous feelings, and I wasn't one to shirk duty.

That had been the rarely used All Officers call; in fact, it was the first time I heard it actually utilized.

By the time the second clarion came Gin and I were sprinting to the main hall, not waiting for our officers. The third seat knew how to get them organized. I might play favorites, but I never promote incompetents.

xxxxx

We landed in north-northeast of the detonation site. Some of the newer members blanched and a few retched. Gin held his breath for a long moment, as did I. Then I snapped orders for the top ten officers to attend to six different sectors. Gin was in the furthest sector from me, since we were the two most capable of assisting our subordinates and we had to be accessible to them, and we each took charge of one. The rest grouped in twos and threes.

“Hey,” I held Gin back a second before we split up. “Be careful.”

He dazzled with a confident grin. “I will. Don't want you crying over me, taichou.”

“Like I ever will,” I said with a small smile. I tightened my grip on his fingers before releasing him.

I trusted him to be safe.

xxxxx

The squad moved with efficiency, shutting away their disgust and fear and compassion. These weren't bodies; these were remains. Souls screamed out for water, young and old, male and female. I shut them out, focusing my attention on scanning for hollows. I had time earlier to quickly send a small hollow to Hueco Mundo with orders to Stark and Ulquiorra to keep Grimmjow, Nnoitra and Cirruca in check. These three were most likely to make trouble, but there were too many shinigami here for them to come and gorge. It would be great if they could come, though; with such available resources, their power would increase at a greater rate. Then I wouldn't need to force their evolution.

“Incoming,” I warned over the comm unit. A rip was forming and a gillian was pushing its cumbersome way into the human world. Mindless soldiers – I checked to see if it had potential, but no; it was a dumb one. I swung at it, easily disposing of the hollow and the two that joined up behind it. A crackle over the intercom informed me that we could shift to the next quadrant of our sector, and we moved out.

Taichou,” Gin's voice came over the headset, “we have a problem. Adjuchas.”

“How many?” I asked, directing my squad to begin performing soul burials.

A whole crapload. I can't retreat, there's too many. Yanaihara and Itakura won't be able to handle them either. Shit!” the line crackled. I held my breath. “Another two dozen swarming out, along with gillian. Some help please?”

I exhaled. “Hold the line open, Gin. Yamamoto-soutaichou, you heard?”

Yes. Where is Ichimaru located?”

“Sector six of the nor-northeast segment. I'm in sector one. Who's closest?”

I am,” someone rumbled. “I'm already on my way – he's right, there is a lot.”

I relaxed. “Thanks, Kuchiki-san. Dinner's on me later this week.”

You're welcome.”

xxxxx

When the squads finally regrouped at the end of the first day many just collapsed together into piles. I commanded them to put up tents and set up a roster, and that I will take the first two watches. The officers mobilized the teams and Itakure, our seventh seat, came to me with the watch roster for tonight and the next night's. Gin came up to me silently and pressed close. Itakura, long used to his captain and vice-captain's closeness, merely waited for my signature.

“We will take the first two watches,” corrected Gin quietly.

I wanted to order him to rest, but there was something he wanted to tell me in private. Signing the roster, I breathed out slowly and nodded. “We'll take the first two watches.”

xxxxx

“What's bothering you?” I asked as we made our rounds to the edge of the Fifth Division's encampment. Everyone was so exhausted they were all asleep. Even though soul burial was a relatively easy task (the trick was to maintain the right amount of pressure, something a few never understood), the constant influx of hollows was very taxing on our strength. I had no worries people would overhear, because they were all worn down to nubs.

He slipped his hand into mine, something we seldom do in public. “Why do people hurt each other, Aizen-sama?”

I quirked a humorless smile. “Because they can.”

“When we,” he murmured, indicating the two of us, “when we inflict pain on each other, it's because we know we heal so much faster, and we like it. And I know you'll take care of me if I really am hurt.”

“I already have,” I pointed out. He snorted, remembering the bitter pain of a cold-scalded, whipped-raw back. I rubbed the back of his thumb with my own, and added, “We're not complete innocents, Gin. We know the addictive power in taking lives.”

“But we also know reincarnation occurs,” he argued quietly. “They don't. And yet they can – I was in a home, and there were children...”

“I understand, Gin.” I kissed the back of his hand when he broke off. “I was at a hospital. Babies.”

“I don't understand at all,” he muttered. “How can humans even do this to one another?”

I let go of his hand and instead hugged him. “Gin, humans barely understand the world they live in. They aren't much more than beasts of the wild or birds of the air.”

He nuzzled into me, his silver hair messing up in the mild breeze that stank of death. “Will you take me away from all these?”

“When the time comes, love, we'll be completely free of these. No more human garbage for you to endure, no more of this mindless slaughter.” I kissed his forehead and looked into his lovely eyes. “We'll be free of this, away from it all.”

He smiled at me. “I think I love you.”

“Think?” I teased. He laced his fingers with mine again, once more at peace with himself. I kissed him once more before we separated.

Then we continued on our patrol. We were still shinigami – for the moment.

 

Chapter Text

After we were called back to duty I resigned myself to the tedium of work. There were too many hollows flooding the two sites, and all captains did twenty-hour shifts daily. The lieutenants were spared, though – we had argued that there had to be some high-ranking officers to run Seireitei when we were done in the human world. Oddly enough it had been Kurosawa and Soi Fon who had stood by me when I raised the issue, but it didn't take long for the rest to fall in with the idea.

As I stood my watch I mulled over Gin's fatigue. It was worrying. Already he was able to manifest the Shinsou's spirit, and Gin had fought that warrior-god until he had ceded. Then bankai training had begun. Progress was slow but steady, and I had hopes he would attain complete control soon.

But the exhaustion was not a good sign. Was Shinsou fighting his manipulation or was Gin giving up? Was Gin fighting an aspect of his own nature?

Aizen-taichou, another large tear in the ninth sector.”

I put my thoughts on hold. I could dissect the issue to death later.

xxxxx

Kurosawa and I shared a meal when we stood down. He was unusually somber. I decided to share my lieutenant's problem with the man. Kurosawa might spout nonsense frequently, but he also had keen insight almost the equal of Kyoraku.

“The kid's drained and unable to handle his sword?” Kurosawa never referred to Gin by his name. I had heard that there had been some conflict between them earlier, while I was away, but Kyoraku had merely said it had been taken care of. The stocky captain rubbed the bridge of his nose, thinking. “Your boy pro'bly has some emotional kinks to work out. What, y'ain't never had problems with your zanpakuto?”

“Only during bankai training,” I said, absentmindedly. The fish they served was overcooked. “Kyoka Suigetsu was very determined not to be mastered.”

Kurosawa spat out the fish bones to the side of the fire where we were gathered. If it hadn't been for the corpses it would have been a picture of camaraderie. “That means you're equally reluctant to be lorded over, innit?”

“Like any of us likes it,” I scoffed. “None of the captains like being subordinate, except perhaps Kyoraku to Ukitake's command.”

“Too true,” he agreed with a chortle. Then his expressive face turned serious. “Your boy just needs to work something out in his head. After that, no problem.”

“I hope your diagnosis is correct, Shino.” I tossed the unpalatable meal away. Even Gin at his most adventurous and creative could cook better than this.

He grinned widely. “I used to be a healer when I was alive, Sousuke. Trust me on this.”

xxxxx

xxxxx

The clean-up had taken close to a week, and Unohana put her foot down. “Every captain is to rest for a fourteen days and nights. No arguments. Seireitei can function perfectly well for two weeks with just the lieutenants leading.”

“I fail to see how that would affect the Eleventh,” commented Kurotsuchi snarkily at the announcement.

Yamamoto-soutaichou silenced the squabble before it started. I sighed; even Zaraki was starting to gray with fatigue. Ukitake, already less resilient than others, was already in intensive care. Unohana continued, “I'm also under the restriction. But if there is any requirement I will of course resume my responsibilities.”

We were dismissed and I returned to the welcoming embrace of my bedroom. No one was there, and I dismissed the pang of disappointment. Gin had his duties to attend to, not wait about for me at every instant. Nonetheless I wished he was there even as I collapsed on top of the mattress, not even bothering to change out of uniform.

xxxxx

Sometime in the middle of the night (or the second night? I couldn't tell) I woke up for a drink, and Gin was puttering about in the kitchen. “Hey,” he murmured and kissed my cheek. “Go back to bed.”

“Nngh,” I grunted and rested against his lean frame. “Food?”

“Here.” He led me to a seat and I downed a bowl of something. Then I rinsed my mouth and stumbled back into bed. Whether he joined me that night I was entirely unaware, but I did remember having a lingering sense of guilt over taking him for granted.

Perhaps that was what he was worrying over.

xxxxx

After an enormous lunch – I had no doubt all the captains were devouring probably a quarter of Seireitei's food supply – I felt rested and refreshed. Fighting roused other, baser instincts beyond hunger, and Gin's scarlet-wrapped form was far too enticing to be let out of the house without some sampling of the contents.

“Aizen-sama, I have to go find Byakuya now,” he said, neatly tying his belt. I narrowed my gaze; that annoying piece of fabric was coming off. “I'll get dinner on my way home, a'right?”

“No.” I crooked a finger and motioned him to come closer. He smiled but reached for his socks instead of obeying. I scowled and threw him over my shoulder, carting him back into the bedroom.

He pounded on my back. “Aizen-sama! I have to go now before he relocates again!”

Tossing him onto the bed he scrambled to his knees, wrinkling up the lovely new scarlet robe. I was pleased, seeing as I was about to do more than wrinkle it. With a growl I tackled him but he managed to sit the both of us upright, my arms wrapped about his legs while his hands gripped my shoulders. I managed to nuzzle open the robe to kiss his smooth belly, and my hands were sliding up to pet his ass.

“Mmm...” the delicate sigh ended with a kiss on top of my head and he pushed me away. “Aizen-sama, I'll make it worth your while, a'right? Feather boa and all – I've been keeping it for your birthday.”

Irritated at being denied, I grumped. “Don't wanna wait. Want it now. Been without for too long.”

He seemed amused by my response. I usually took the role of senior partner, since I was in both age and experience, but it was always sweet to have him taking care of me now and then. Especially now, when the bright red brought out the snowy white of his skin and the tempting flush from his chest upwards... I nibbled his ribs and rubbed my nose into his skin.

“Now you're just trying to make me feel all sympathetic and nurturing,” he pointed out accurately. “Not working!”

I smirked. “Oh?”

He kept trying to shove me away but I wasn't about to relinquish my hold. Pushing him flat on his bag I loomed over him, relishing the sudden flash of panic in his face. I flipped quickly through the repertoire of tricks in my mind and settled on a recently rediscovered favorite; he was so sensitive to touch that we had quit doing this, until very, very recently. “Let's see if this works then!”

“What? Oh no, you're not gonna – hey!”

I tickled him mercilessly, short fingernails scraping into his waist, moving along his sides. He cried out with breathless laughter and tried to twist away, beating at my hands but ended up getting trapped by his own clothes. He had no idea how beautiful he really was, writhing and struggling beneath me, or perhaps he did when he batted blue-green brilliant eyes beneath long lashes, panting heavily. My grip tightened involuntarily and he hissed in breath. I relaxed my fingers immediately. Apologetically I slid my hands over the curve of his rear and pulled his legs up about me. Mm. Much better. His own thrashing had loosened the belt and his robe was falling open. I rolled leisurely against his hips, feeling his beginning arousal harden.

“Be quiet and let me play,” I warned and nipped at his earlobe. He whined, still reluctant, and I added the penalty, “Or I'll withhold sex.”

He stared, wide-eyed, a little crease between his brows, as if stunned by the severity of the threat. Even so, his legs tightened and he pressed closer. I smiled broadly. “Much better. Maybe I won't play as long as I intended to.”

Darting forward he caught my lower lip with his teeth and I followed. “You can't withhold sex from me. I won't let you,” he declared.

“I've lived far longer without your heat around me than you have without my cock in you, lover,” I replied. I moved, rubbing my erection along his inner thigh, my hands moving down to his hips and closer to his groin. He mewled, a sexy little sound at the back of his throat. Point proven, I whispered into his ear, “See? You can't survive without this. You like having me stick it in you every which way, and I will... if you cooperate.”

He growled, a ripple down his torso.

“Let go of me or I'll withhold sex too,” he tried, and I was beginning to resent his dedication to the task I set him. My right hand slipped between his legs and cupped his sack, kneading it gently. He valiantly attempted to continue the sentence. “I've to get Byakuya before he runs off toonnnngh...” When I raised my head after sucking and biting on his nipples he was gasping and very annoyed at my victorious grin. He exhaled shakily as I applied my tongue and teeth to his other nipple, his balls a warm weight in my hand and now my fingers quested for that singular spot just behind. His hips bucked and he whined, “No fair.”

I embraced him, pressing his pliant frame against mine. “You know you can't resist me.” I rocked my own hips, and he bucked again, his body a traitor to his cause. I rumbled into his skin, “You know there is no way you can withhold sex from me.”

He whimpered his complaint again as I took charge of his body. Tongues pressed and fought each other for dominance, but I won; little feathery licks along his ear had him twisting his face away, revealing the smooth sweep of his neck; that location just a little to the left of the jutting collarbones made him whine for more. Fingers kneaded and rolled nipples to hardened peaks; warm mouth and wet tongue made him bow his back for greater contact; darting tongue into his navel directed his fingers to tangle in my hair.

Now to bring him nearer the edge: hands groped down the smooth back, between his cheeks, pressing faintly into his sack from behind. He was gasping, his grip flying to the sheets. I pulled away to examine the beautiful man beneath me. He was ready, red and seeping. I wondered if I should play it out, and decided some payback was needed for that night in the closet. Barely closing my mouth over the engorged head, I swirled my tongue over the tip of his member. My left arm was pressed over his hips and he was cursing and begging for me to take him now. I flicked my tongue languidly, tasting precome, ignoring the infrequent collisions of his legs about my body. Fingers pushed in to press against the bump of nerves. When he screamed I had to hold myself back from taking him immediately. His nails dug into skin, inflaming my passions with the slight pain, and I was beginning to feel lightheaded with the throbbing pulse between my own legs. I massaged the spot firmly, drowning in the desperate cries that he was giving. The other hand closed about the base of his shaft before I took him into my mouth completely.

He thrust up, losing himself immediately, hot spurts that I swallowed as hastily as I could. I relaxed my throat, letting his body do the talking until he was reduced to shuddering. His ejaculate glistened on his lower abdomen and I licked them off, loving how he tasted. With a quick swipe of my palm, still sticky with his come and my own saliva I was ready for him. Gin was still breathing heavily from the exertion but I couldn't wait, dragging myself up his sweaty form, claiming his mouth and then thrusting in hard.

He screamed again, muffled by my lips, but his arched body remained willing and hot under my hands as he twisted and writhed. I drove into him repeatedly, not able to stop, his responses like liquid fire along my veins, until sensation rushed inward and suddenly my vision whited out at the edges.

I had missed him as much as he had obviously missed me.

xxxxx

xxxxx

He came home late that evening, and I had dinner prepared.

“I'm not hungry, but thanks,” he said. His mood was very different from when we had parted. I put aside all thought of the feather boa. He was brooding, and not doing a good job of hiding it to the experienced reader.

Listening politely I finished my dinner while he chattered about Byakuya's plan. I was a little surprised by the boy's initiative in seeking Zaraki's help, but he had his own reasons.

“I'm going to bed. G'night, Aizen-sama,” he kissed me on my nose before heading to the bathroom for his nightly ablutions. I washed and dried the dishes, aware of the heavy silence that weighed down the atmosphere of the house.

When I slid under the covers he rolled over, accustomed to burrowing in my embrace for the night. With a small start I realized he was almost as tall as I was. Where had the time flown? He still was the same youth daring to tease me in the corridor, but he was also so much more now. I pulled him closer and his legs wiggled between mine, skin and fabric fascinating contrasts in texture. Before I could ask him what was bothering him, he began kissing me. He was not upset, but there was a melancholy underlying the kisses he dusted along my skin.

“Gin,” I muttered, then ducked away to look at him. “Gin, what is it?”

“Nothing.” He pulled himself closer to resume pressing his mouth all over my face. “I just want to remember you by touch.”

“I like the notion of that, but not when you're not feeling yourself.” Gently and firmly I tucked him against my body. “Rest, love. It's going to be a long week ahead.”

There was only the sound of our slow breathing, never in tandem, but oddly calming in the darkness. He buried his face into my side, and I combed through fine silver hair.

 

 

Chapter Text

Since we had the week off I thought I'd work with him on his bankai, but neither Shinsou nor Gin were in the right frame of mind. Kyoka Suigetsu only revealed that something was bothering my lover, but couldn't wrangle the truth from Shinsou either.

I was concerned. Gin may appear the epitome of nonchalance, but he liked to worry over little issues. I didn't want him brooding – a melancholic Gin is as interesting as watching grass grow – but he kept insisting he was all right. I let the matter rest, since it had only been two days since he got back from Byakuya.

“Anyway, today we need to put in an appearance at Zaraki's. We have to speak up for Byakuya before his father,” said Gin as he dusted my haori clean of fuzz. I pulled him close and kissed him, trying to communicate my concern. He returned it nicely, but I could tell his heart was not in it as he continued, “I'll have to remain silent and invisible, so it's really up to you, Aizen-sama.”

“Why are you helping them, Gin?” I asked, cupping his fair cheek.

He had a pensive smile on his face. “Because they're in love.” Then he turned away to adjust his uniform and pull on his sandals.

There was more to his answer than he realized. My heart swelled with affection... and guilt, and just a smidgen of pride. I understood now.

Gin finally realized he had fallen in love with me. Gin had fallen in love with me so deeply he didn't know what to do or say. I knew he liked me, adored me, perhaps (just a little) hero-worshiped me. I had never asked for more than that; he never claimed to want to give more than that.

And now he discovered he loved me.

For someone as smart as he was, he could be quite slow on the uptake. Everything I had done, everything I did for him thus far was to secure his affection. Counting the sacrifices I made, the risks I took in revealing all of my secrets to him... it took him long enough indeed. As he waited for me at the door for me to walk ahead, I wondered how best to ease his apprehension of loving people. The last person he loved, Matsumoto Ran, he had lied to, cheated on, killed for and beaten up. Not exactly the template to a happily-ever-after of the sort most people believed in.

But I am not most people. Humming to myself we set off towards the north junction to head to the Eleventh Division. And neither is he.

He might not know how to handle love, but I would show him that love is not meant to be handled – but a beast to be tamed.

xxxxx

“For fuck's sake, either fuckin' kill me and Yachiru and take her over our dead bodies, or let them stay married,” growled Zaraki. “Just decide already, eh?”

I exchanged polite and pained smiles with Ukitake and Unohana. Kuchiki was staring at his son, oblivious to Zaraki's swearing and to the small woman seated next to Byakuya. Yachiru looked grave for once, tucked tightly against the woman's side, emanating reiatsu as if to show her possessive protectiveness over Byakuya's wife.

I coughed discreetly. “Kuchiki-san, what is your opinion?”

“She leaves and never comes back.” The man was implacable. The icy stare dropped a few more degrees and his son matched his intensity. Byakuya might have inherited his mother's looks, but he was very much his father's son. Although the senior Kuchiki tended to be amiable and relaxed, his fierce pride in his family name as well as his only son often revealed a far less friendly personality when threatened.

Ukitake and I shared a meaningful glance. He lost and spoke up. “Kuchiki-san, Byakuya-san is a responsible and determined individual – as you were. I am very certain that if you keep forcing the issue like this he will react and not return again.”

“If we can come to a compromise,” I continued without missing a beat, “you have a lovely daughter-in-law, we have a powerful shinigami, and he will have the love of his life. Surely you can see that.”

“She is low-born. Not even of the lower noble houses,” Kuchiki said coldly.

Byakuya bristled. “She is Hisana, and she is right here. We will be together, whether you like it or not.” He had her hand in his. “If I have to fight all of Soul Society-”

“-I'll fight on your side too!” chirruped Yachiru, but no one in the room missed the flare of reiatsu from the tiny pink-haired child. Zaraki grinned ferociously, like a demented and proud papa. “And I'm sure Ken-chan will help me. And Bookworm there, and Snowy, and Baldie, and Peacock, and Flower-Hat, and Braid-san will also help, and...”

“We... get your point, Yachiru-chan,” interrupted Ukitake with a soft smile. He had a tender spot for children, seeing as he couldn't have any. Briefly curiosity flashed through me: how did he and Kyoraku handle the more intimate aspects of their relationship? Unohana had a protective vaccine that needed to be reintroduced to the body every three weeks, I heard; perhaps that was how they managed. But three weeks regularly for so many years... Shaking myself mentally I caught the tail-end of the discussion.

The older Kuchiki had gotten to his feet. “So that is how this will play out?” he inquired dangerously. “My son rebels against his family's express wishes and enlists the aid of outsiders – some of whom are as low-born as that...woman... over there – just so he can go against the proud traditions of the Kuchiki name?”

“You are not seeing the logic here, are you?” I raised my brows. “The more you oppose their union the more likely Byakuya-san will turn his back on your family name. Most of us here have watched him grow up. Has he ever done anything to disappoint you?”

“No reason for him to start now.” The tall man was about to sweep out of the Eleventh Division, but someone was already waiting there.

Kuchiki Byakuya stood at the door, arm outstretched. “Father, listen to me please.”

“I have no son like you,” snapped Kuchiki. “Get out of my way, stripling, before I teach you proper etiquette.”

“Mother would have loved Hisana,” said Byakuya quietly. The captain's eyes frosted over with fury. Byakuya, still as softly as ever, went on. “Hisana is everything I have looked for in a wife: gentle, accommodating, passionate and determined.”

Kuchiki paled. “Do not use the words for your mother on your whore.”

Byakuya's jaw tightened and we all felt the sudden surge in killing intent, suppressed ruthlessly. “Watch your language, father. Hisana and I are married, but we will still like to have your blessings rather than curses. If you will not accept her into your household, then I will withdraw from it formally. I can always join the Eleventh – they like her and I can hone my zanjutsu alongside Zaraki-taichou.”

“A Kuchiki in a division of thugs?” The captain was aghast. I smiled inwardly: the boy knew his father very well. No wonder he had chosen Zaraki as his temporary shield – any other captain would have been preferable.

“What's wrong with us thugs, eh? We the best fighters in all o' Seireitei an' pro'bly the world. Ya gotta problem with that?” drawled Zaraki, his street accent more pronounced than ever. I did smile then: the powerful combatant had a brain to match his brawn.

Unohana covered her mouth and interrupted politely. “In light of your son's declaration I do think it will be mutually satisfactory if you accept Hisana-san into the family. She is quite refined, despite her humble beginnings.”

Byakuya now stood before his father, face raised to maintain eye contact, and there was now honest emotion on that alabaster face. “And I promise, father, I will never disobey the rules again. I swear this to you and to mother, I will uphold the pride and honor of shinigami, of the Gotei squads, of the Kuchiki family. Hisana and I are truly in love, father – do not deny me this. Please.”

Gin behind me shifted slightly. I signaled him to stay still; he had been ignored assiduously by Kuchiki, and it wouldn't do to get unwanted attention now.

The elder Kuchiki exhaled, a long breath. “I suppose I am outmaneuvered. Fine. But she will never take the family name unless she produces an heir.”

Byakuya smiled, the first time I had seen him do so. “Thank you father. You will not be disappointed.”

xxxxx

Gin followed me as we headed back to our rooms. Unohana had sent Ukitake home personally; the older shinigami was still very frail from the recent extended stretch of activity. My silver-haired lieutenant was quieter than usual.

“Penny for your thoughts,” I said as we pushed the door into the captain's quarters. He relieved me of my haori and hung it up by the stand.

Gin half-smiled. “I just thought it was sweet of Byakuya to want his father's blessings for his marriage.”

Marriage. That was something we could never have, of course: if not for Kyoraku and Ukitake's increasingly open relationship Yamamoto would never have accepted that homosexuals existed in the Gotei. But that was stupid: when he started the academy the prevailing romantic relationships in the human world was between men and youths. When he was alive that had probably been the case as well. Or perhaps he just refused to admit that males were capable of deep emotional bonds between themselves. Whatever the case, Gin had to live with the shadow of a failed marriage – one that I had maneuvered him into forming and breaking, and I didn't regret that – and the understanding that we would never be formally recognized as partners.

And now the poor boy – young man, I corrected myself – had had an epiphany: he loved me, but he didn't know how to love. It was certainly an issue for him to mull over for ages.

With a small sigh I pulled Gin into an embrace. He was startled, but returned the hug. I smoothed the back of his uniform, pressing him close. Still so thin; he was never going to put on enough weight. I turned my face to whisper in his ear, “Gin, do you want to go for a walk now? Or are you tired?”

He pulled away and furrowed his brow. “I'm feeling okay, but walk where? It's all night time now.”

I grinned and kissed his nose. Then I grabbed two traveling cloaks from my closet and wrapped one around each of us. He tugged at the thick material, somewhat confused.

“What's this for?” he asked.

I smiled enigmatically, raised a finger, and tapped nonchalantly. Rapidly a series of tears appeared, an entrance into a dark void. I held out an open palm. Gin frowned and then smiled, placing his bony hand in my large one, before I led him into Hueco Mundo.

I hoped he would like what I had done with the place.

 

Chapter Text

The look on his face was worth the long, tedious years to rebuild Las Noches. Twice it had been near completion; twice it was nearly demolished by some factions trying to usurp my rule. He was unabashedly impressed, his eyes widening to try to take in the view.

“How... how did it become so... big? It was already huge and this is...” He looked up and around him. The white walls of the nearly finished complex – there were still structural issues and also some reassignment of rooms to handle – stretched out on either side, until, at an impossible distance, the walls ended. “Is there a word beyond motherfucking unbelievably humongous?”

I laughed softly. He would like it as we get to know the place better – it was spacious enough for him to wander for days. And there were some features that had yet to be installed; I made a mental note to check on Szayel's progress with the system. He was too obsessed with his eventual form, something over which I had no control. His argument was that he and his brother Ilforte should be beautiful so that I would not tire of them. Since I planned to bed neither, I wondered why he bothered. When Gin was done gawking I took his arm.

“The east gate first, Gin. An old friend for you to meet.”

xxxxx

Perhaps some would describe me as a sadist. I was, but not in the way most believed a sadist to be. I believed that pain can clear the mind of whimsy and illusion. I didn't enjoy pain, nor did I enjoy the infliction of it – what I craved and had found was the clarity of thought that came after.

Gin was a sadist and a masochist of a different sort. He reveled in the sensations evoked by pain. Privately I considered his tastes to stem from his death trauma – from what I learned he died slowly and painfully, and now regarded his mastery and submission as a form of triumph. Yet he still adored my tenderness and my gentleness.

He was swiveling, taking in the sights and missing the one alcove I wanted him to view. “Gin, the friend I mentioned is here.”

He darted over to me. “Where?”

I pointed and nudged him forward. I knew he would recognize the creature. Szayel had secured his place in the palace as one of my chosen because of what he did here. Excellent work; even without the spell our captive was still alive.

Gin's gaze was turned from me, but I could sense the excitement in his reiatsu. Oh yes, my Gin was definitely a sadist at heart.

The forcibly unmasked Hesperus had no difficulty recognizing my lover – Gin hadn't altered much in the intervening years. “I know you. You're his puto, from that time...”

Despite the treatment he has received at my hands Hesperus still didn't know when to keep his mouth shut. Perhaps I should admire his integrity of character. Briefly I debated whether to sew his lips together, but I wanted to see how Gin would react to the insult.

“Gee, that must sting.” The light tone rang out cheerily along the hall. I knew Szayel would be watching; he knew I had arrived the second I stepped in here. Maybe the hollow had put up on the big screen what was occurring right now, and I savored the thrum of pride beating in my veins. Gin paced back and forth, studying how the adjuchas' skin hung in neat strips from the ruined muscles, and how the nerves remain attached to enhance the sensation of pain. Then my lieutenant glanced at me, a big smile on his face. “I guess it really wouldn't make much of a difference if I ask Aizen-sama to do the same to your elbows and knees, fingers and toes then, would it?”

“LET ME OUT!! LET ME DIE!!!” Hesperus wailed, as he had done for the past few years whenever i chose to walk past the east gate.

Gin looked coyly at the flayed-but-alive creature. “Hesperus, Hesperus, Hesperus. If I could undo a setup like this...” he dragged the beat out “...I still wouldn't do it. I remember what you said to me, Hespy. And I do know what puto means. You got one heck of a cushy setup. Enjoy it, baby.”

The hollow screamed, an empty threat now that he was powerless; had been for ages. “You seem perturbed,” observed my lieutenant, concerned. Then he turned to me. “Aizen-sama, I think you should install a water feature here to help him relax. Perhaps the sound of water dripping slowly on stone, hmm?”

Oh yes. My Gin was so very similar and so very different from me. And how I adored that wicked tongue, even as he strolled nonchalantly over to my side. “Of course,” I replied, charmed by his idea. “Szayel, I know you're monitoring us at the east gate. See that the suggestions are implemented by tomorrow. Wake Stark up, get him to gather everyone in the main hall.”

Szayel complied and Gin laughed. “Effective for scaring people,” referring to the hidden voice-address system.

I held out an outstretched palm. “To the main hall, shall we?”

He accepted graciously, head canted. “We shall.”

xxxxx

My selected eleven ranged around the cannon fodder standing in the center of the hall. Stark appeared bored, but his eyes were fixed intently on the man behind me. Nnoitra, still eagerly anticipating his turn for shinigamification, leered at Gin. He would need educating. Grimmjow sprawled over his place, growling softly whenever some hollow beneath caught his attention, and I wondered why Szayel was not part of his team while Ilforte was loyal to Grimmjow beyond doubt. Ulquiorra beside him was tense. He made no sign that his charges were anything but obedient, though, so perhaps it was just being in the same room as so many of his brethren. It was no secret to me that he hated them.

Cirucci perched prettily on her seat, her large eyes flashing at me. Perhaps she thought I'd take her in her chambers again, but in truth she wearied me with her abrasive personality. Halibel, her complete opposite, sat shrouded by a robe. She was waiting for the shinigamification process to be complete before she put on the outfit for my chosen. I hadn't decided what to name them yet, for them to identify their superiority over the teeming masses of blind followers. Neliel, her expression grave and controlled, was heedless of the infrequent glances Stark threw her way. I suppressed a smile: my first arrancar was head over heels in love with the verdant-maned Neliel, who was oblivious to anything else.

Szayel's place was empty; I frowned. He of all people should have been here on time. As I was thinking he sidled into place, an apologetic expression that I believed for a nanosecond. A soft growl came from my right and I looked at Soljan, latest addition to the ranks of the chosen. Strong reiatsu levels almost on par with Neliel, but with a fixation on me that I didn't welcome. Nonetheless I let him foster that affection, knowing that such emotion meant they could be steered in the direction I wished them to head.

“I know you're wondering why I've assembled you,” I began and they silenced. “Most of you have already noticed that we have someone else with us today, someone who is standing behind my seat.”

Cirruci and Soljan bristled visibly. I smiled impersonally at the gathered hollows. “Tousen Kaname you have met. For those who have just joined us, Tousen-san is my second-in-command. He oversees matters of discipline in my organization. As of now his role is filled by Ulquiorra and Halibel.”

“Then who is that, Aizen-sama?” inquired Nnoitra, tone bordering on rude. “Not even Tousen-san is allowed to take that place behind you.”

“You are right. He is someone I want everyone of you to know and remember, so now I'm introducing Ichimaru Gin.”

My lieutenant walked forward and I took his hand firmly, ignoring the deadly glares thrown our way by a few hollows. I also ignored the hushed babble that broke out in the ranks.

“Aizen-sama, y'mean he's like Tousen-san? We gotta listen ta him while he listens t'ya? Or is he third-in-command, below Tousen-san?” Soljan asked. No, he was definitely not happy about this.

I considered my words carefully. “A valid query,” I said at last. Gin shifted onto the armrest as I pulled him closer, and he was smiling brilliantly. I waited for silence to resurface before I said, ““Gin is not my second-in-command. He is also not my third-in-command.” With a quick glance at Gin, I added, “Gin is not under my command at all.”

I studied their reactions. Halibel, Nnoitra and Ulquiorra's could not be seen because their faces were obscured. Stark blinked lazily and stopped a smile from surfacing. Grimmjow's ears twitched; his eyes brightened. Perhaps he thought he had found the chink to my armor. Naïve little cat.

“So we don't gotta listen to him, ne?” asked Soljan again.

He was strong, so I gave him a chance. “Gin is not under anyone's command, Soljan Lyon, and the only other person not under anyone's command within the walls of Las Noches is me.”

Given my words he should have understood, but Soljan persisted in his stupidity. “But he's weak. His reiatsu is light and barely there. We listen t'ya cos ya strong. I don't hafta listen to one as weak as him just cos he's your favrit.”

“Oh?” Did the blond not understand? I remembered taking the time to introduce them to Hesperus and the reason why he was trapped the way he was. Gin squeezed my shoulder and smiled a little crookedly. I decided to leave the matter to him.

“You're right, you don't have to listen to me,” said Gin, smile firmly in place. “I'm no one special, see? I'm just a shinigami who has been with Aizen-sama for decades. Just someone devoted to his will, his ambition, his dreams. I'm just someone who understands and carries out my captain's every whim.” The hollows in the hall were fixated by his grace, the lilt of his voice, and the humility of his words. I warmed as he looked over his shoulder at me before turning to observe Soljan. “Why should someone reeking of reiatsu like you listen to one such as me?”

Soljan – the fool he was – grinned. “Ya makin' sense now, eh?”

Even I almost couldn't catch the speed of Gin's shunpo; he was here, and then he was there. Soljan barely managed a choked-out “how” before he felt the edge of Shinsou on his throat and Gin's hand in his hair.

My Gin. I felt absurdly proud.

“Yep, you don't have to listen to me,” repeated Gin, almost purring. Neliel and Barron turned their heads away. Stark closed his eyes. Gin's smooth voice held all enthralled. “And, vice versa, I don't have to listen to you.”

The tableau was almost sensual: Soljan's lean form taut and still, not daring to breathe too much for fear of Shinsou; Gin's smiling mouth brushing close to his ear, hand buried in blond hair. The words carried easily through the hall. “I definitely don't have to listen to your whines as my nails dig into your scalp and press against your skull. Neither do I need to pay any heed to your last urp.”

“What... what urp?”

I smiled and nodded fractionally at Gin, who had been looking at me for permission. He grinned broadly before the back of Soljan's head spattered, blood and gore spraying in a fine mist, the final sound forced out between his lips a punchline to Gin's little joke.

“That urp,” Gin informed the dead body. There were little drops of blood over his face and neck; dark blood from a hollow. He frowned at the mess in his hand before looking up at me and favoring me with a bright smile. I returned it.

“Let me reiterate the point,” I said to the assembled and awestruck hollows. “Anyone who feels Gin needn't be listened to can stay here. Otherwise you may leave.”

They scrambled out. I flash-stepped over to Gin and kissed the clean part of his brow. He scrunched up his nose and said, “He dirtied my hand.”

“So he did,” I noted as I kicked what was left of Soljan to the floor below. “Let's find you a place to clean up, hmm? Then we can continue with the tour.”

He complied readily. The small bathroom set behind the main hall was adjacent to a meeting room. I watched him clean up, the stinking richness of blood leaving his hands and his face. As he dried his hands I wondered what about him had snared my affections.

His looks, perhaps; but beauty was in the eye of the beholder. His skills in the bedroom? But most of what he knew he learned from me, added to his considerable natural talent in the area. His potential as a shinigami? He was a highly skilled swordsman and kido artist, that was true, and his shunpo as demonstrated earlier was impressive. But these qualities were evident in Mizuki, and in half a dozen other shinigami.

His gaze caught mine in the mirror before he resumed rinsing his face. I thought about his features: slitted eyes that hid that captivating tint of blue-green brilliance; pale skin, close to white; thin, pointed face and angular features. No, my Gin was not classically attractive like the Kuchiki heir was, but he was beautiful in his own unique way.

I wondered what he was thinking.

And then I suddenly understood why I kept him so close to me all these years, why I had revealed to him so readily what I grudged Tousen to know, why Urahara and all the other lovers that warmed my bed now and then could never hope to dislodge this young shinigami from his place in my heart.

Gin intrigued me.

Always, always surprising: his thoughts, his perspective, his actions. Some days I thought I knew him, and he would do something that overturned my previously-held views. He fascinated me moment to moment, the snake charming the charmer. I had no delusion of self-control when it came to him: if he chose to leave me, I would kill him, rather than let any other person taste the drug of Ichimaru Gin.

He was mine. He belonged with me. No matter what form we took, what incarnation we were in, Gin belonged with me.

I love you, Ichimaru Gin.

The unspoken submission of my heart to someone so very young startled me slightly. Love, I had learned a long time ago, meant you could get someone to commit acts they never thought they would do, and most importantly, they would commit these acts willingly. To be able to harness the power of such strong emotion of half a dozen people meant you had an army capable of tearing down dimensions. Not even hatred could generate such intensity of power.

He had me tethered and chained without my realizing it. I doubt he knew it himself.

I would never tell him.

“Aizen-sama,” he said quietly, our eyes still meeting in the mirror.

I smiled. “Hmm?”

“I love you,” he said simply.

The leash and chain ran both ways. We held each other captive.

Beasts to be tamed, indeed.

I stepped up to him and wrapped my arms about his waist. “Finally,” I muttered, brushing my nose along the nape of his neck. I still had difficulty identifying his scent, after all these years. Today he held a hint of olive, or perhaps of the sea. “Took you long enough. Decades, lover... You really are slow to realize it.”

He laughed softly. “You planned this out, didn't you? For how long?”

I saw no need to hide the truth. He was mine now, he had given me the key to his own prison. “From the moment you followed me back to my home and didn't leave. I wanted you to love me. But you were always so afraid to feel...”

Always so afraid, skittering back into play and pain, hiding behind that impregnable smile and guileless grin. Always afraid to give in to the baser instinct of love.

Even I have fallen prey to it.

I thought I had been freed of it, but you pulled me back into the stinking mire. No way are you getting out of this untouched.

He pressed into my arms. I went on. “You had been tortured physically before we met, but I think a betrayal from a loved one had scared you into hiding your emotions.”

Like I had been.

“So you wanted to help me feel again? So altruistic of ya.” His tone was sardonic even as he wriggled closer in my arms. That little action was always good for a kiss, and so I dropped one on his shoulder.

I had to be honest though. I didn't like to lie. “I was selfish, Gin. You were opening up to Matsumoto and I made you break that off.” Now the difficult part. “Your affections must belong to me only.”

He exhaled shakily as my fingers pressed into him. “A monopoly on Ichimaru Gin, hmm? Then why did you let me sample so many toys outside?”

He could have slept with all of Soul Society if he wanted. I would not deny him his fun, nor curtail his explorations. “Because you care nothing for them.” If he did care, I would kill them. And I knew he knew it.

“True enough.” He sighed again as my lips found the hollow behind his ear.

The curve of his ear was tantalizing, especially when it pinked with pleasure. Licking along the edge I asked, “Have your doubts left you, Gin? Do I have to reassure you further?”

“Yes.” He twisted around to face me, looking into my eyes. Reaching a hand up he took the glasses away almost unconsciously. “Tell me. Tell me you love me.”

“No, I won't.” I was being irrational here. Yet I could not frame the words, could not bear to have the words out in the open, out to be damaged or twisted. I wanted the words to be in him, forever, and when a shinigami used that word he meant it. I grabbed him closer and kissed him, my tongue curling hard and deep, drawing every sensation and flavor out of him. “I will never tell you that. You'll just have to see for yourself.”

He was becoming angry. The set of his shoulders tightened and his hands gripped harder. I was more attentive to the flush that was rising from below his collar and the small snarl on his lips. “Why can't you say it? I want to hear it. I want to hear it from you.”

I forced myself not to bite down on his mouth when we locked lips again. “No. You already know the truth. There is no such necessity.”

“Necessity be damned.” He pushed himself against my body, and moved himself sinuously. I was stirred into desire. “Necessity is only the basics. I already have the basics. I'm asking for more.” “Greedy. It's not enough to be my equal?” I had to taste him. I had to taste him now. As I slanted my mouth over his I let a canine tear into his lower lip. He cried out sharply. “It's not enough to know that you are finally my equal in my estimation?”

When we parted there was a confident and sultry smile. “No. I want more. I want more, now.”

I ran him into the wall nearby. He would be the death of someday, the way he could play with words and make them sound innuendo-laden with a mere turn of his head. “Then more you will not get. I've been far too accommodating.”

“You spoil me,” he pointed out with a laugh. “You always spoil me too much, and then you try to break me, and you can't. You know you can't and you do it.” I traced my tongue all over his neck, my hands pinning him to the wall. “What is the definition of insanity again, Aizen-sama?”

Attempting to achieve different results by repeating the same actions.

I growled low in my throat, glaring into his face. “And what's the name they would give to you, Gin? Taking the pleasure and the punishment I dole out, as if it's all one and the same.”

“They are the same.” He tugged my belt off and licked his mouth, his hand now moving sensually over the material. I restrained myself from thrusting into his hand. He murmured absently, “Without the pain, how would I know what is pleasure?”

“And so...” I breathed out into his crown, moving silky silver strands. “And so we repeat the cycle. You wish to learn... and I... wish to teach.”

He smirked before his hand slipped in over skin. I rested my face on his, breathing into his ear, loving how his fingers curled about me, moving slowly up and down my length. The throbbing of my pulse was heavy and my focus narrowed to the hand pleasuring me. Slowly I thrust forwards and back, wanting more friction yet not wishing to relinquish control.

Ah yes. Control. Why bother with attaining total power when finding the right lever could generate the same results?

And when leverage is combined with absolute power and absolute control... what else is there in the world to stop me?

Right now the lever to realigning power in this relationship...

My hand pushed its way to the hakama over his arousal, and deliberately I moved my palm over his hardness. He bucked forward with a small moan.

“Shall we begin the lesson?” I murmured by his ear. “Instructions will be given-” his quickened breath made me taste his ear and lick the rim “-and there will be a demonstration.”

He swallowed shakily, then moaned again when I slid my hand over skin after loosening his belt.

“Ready?” I inquired again, knowing the answer. He kissed my ear, nodding frantically. “Follow my instructions closely, lover.”

 

Chapter Text

The shower was invigorating. For a bunch of hollows, they certainly knew their plumbing. But what was more invigorating was the sight of a naked and coy Gin, draped invitingly by the deep red blankets off the bed. “There?”

“Here.” He was on the balcony, knowing full well that the walls of Las Noches were under constant watch. As I walked up to him I admired the sleek muscles and pale skin, brought out to perfection by the red of the blankets.

“Exhibitionist,” I commented as I hunkered down to him and kissed him.

He merely grinned up at me, fingers combing through my damp hair. “For an all-powerful shinigami captain, you really are shy.”

Perhaps I was. I smiled and diverted the conversation. My fingers rolled his nipples to hardness before I pushed him onto his back. “I'm curious what they'll be thinking. They'll be watching the most beautiful creature they've ever laid eyes on being ravished by their overlord.”

I wondered which of them would be watching. Szayel definitely would. Nnoitra as well as Cirrucci, for entirely different reasons. Perhaps Grimmjow and his gang, if Szayel didn't piss them off first. There was a tentacled one called Luppi. Probably he would be there too. Halibel and Stark were not interested in these doings, and Neliel was too serious to partake in such fun.

I lowered my head to lick and suck on a nipple, enjoying the hiss of pleasure from Gin. Then I nipped at it, and he squirmed. “I'm certain one of them would keep a record of this. Besides, the point of this is to gloat that I've snared the only man worth having on any plane of existence.”

“Showing off is not good, Gin. Humility is a virtue.” Not that he needed it.

“I'll keep that in mind.” He spread his legs and curled around me. I untied my belt and tossed it aside. Pushing his fringe away, I stroked his forehead. Gin stared up at me, lips parting. I slid my tongue in, not needing to coax his eager response. His eyelashes fluttered as he watched us kiss.

I loved kissing him. Always eager, despite occasional pretenses to the contrary. Although he liked the rough and hungry kisses most, I preferred his butterfly kisses in the morning and the quick stolen kisses in the office. They were the most Gin: light and playful and strangely intense. I felt odd on the few days we didn't get to meet up – everything appeared off-kilter.

His hands were running along my length, slicking it with a small jar of oil we pulled from the bedroom, and my attention came back to the man below me. The pale chest was flushed now, as was his face, and I peeked down to see that he was also very much ready. He leaned up and fastened his mouth on my neck, kissing hard, drawing bruises to the surface. Those would be almost visible – Gin's manner of claiming his territory. But the sounds coming from him, though enticing, were just a little too loud.

“No need to moan that loudly yet, love,” I remarked. He stopped. “Whatever happened to your excellent acting skills?”

“Sorry, Aizen-sama.”

I nuzzled into him as we sat up a little straighter. Since we were out on the balcony, we might as well put on a show. Besides, I'd like to watch it again some other day. I drew back, holding my lust at bay.

He noticed. “Don't,” he urged, pressing into me. “Forget restraint. Give it to me.”

“No.” I bit his shoulder and he inhaled sharply. It was painful, I knew. “Not yet. You have to cultivate patience.”

He wriggled and I had to forcibly hold myself back. “Don't want patience. Want you.”

“Not yet.”

The words were meant for me as much as for him. My fingers traced the pulsing vein, skated over his sac, pressing into the spot behind; he whimpered when my palm smeared precum over the head of his erection and now the moans were louder because he couldn't hold them back. I stopped and sat back on my heels. He arched his body up towards me, wanting to finish.

Oh gods, I shivered within. You are exquisite. His skin glimmered with perspiration, the soft red flush of his skin painting him rosy and inviting. Not receiving further contact from my hands he played with his peaked nipples, despite my pinning his shoulders to the ground. I doubted he realized what he was doing; his left hand skated down to his arousal to complete what I began.

I hauled him to his feet and spun him to face the vast deserts of Hueco Mundo. He gasped and whimpered when his erection brushed the wall. I couldn't hold back, pushing a finger into him hard and pulling it out. His hungry cries were tantalizing; I shoved three fingers in and stretched him roughly.

“Come on, lover,” I whispered hoarsely. “You chose the location; shouldn't you enjoy the view?”

I stepped back. Grabbing the towel I left on the floor I cleaned my hand. When I looked at him my mouth went dry. His fingers gripped the edge of the wall, his shoulders rigid, muscles tensed. A thin line of red was making its way down his leg. Without realizing it my desire mounted abruptly. He almost turned his head and I shocked myself with the force of my killing intent. I reined it in when he turned back to the view, his body trembling.

I adjusted his position, and, without further delay, slid into him with a single thrust. My hands gripped his wrists and fixed them to the wall. His breath hiccuped and I growled into his naked back. Gradually the whines of pain turned into whimpering mewls of pleasure – they weren't all that different with him. I murmured into the skin behind his ear, “You know you are beautiful, don't you?”

He bowed his back, trying to burrow closer. I muttered again, “And you know your little play has just earned you a number of starry-eyed adherents, don't you?”

“Yes.” He squirmed and I slid out of him entirely, wishing to watch his face as I take him. “Aizen-sama!” he protested, until I shoved him up against the wall.

“Yes? What do you need, Gin?”

“You.” I rolled my hips against his and he moaned. “I need you. Please.”

“What do you want?” I asked. I moved both his arms above his head and grabbed his wrists with my right hand. With my left I tunneled his arousal slowly, before quietly adding a cock ring on him. His cries took on a more urgent tone. I ignored them. “Tell me, Gin. I can't help you otherwise.”

“I want you, I want you, Aizen-sama,” he babbled throatily. “I want you, please!”

I bit again, marking his flawless skin. “Want me to do what? What do you want me for?” I loved to make him say it as much as he loved to hear me say the words.

“Fuck me,” he pleaded. His hair was sticking to the sweat on his brow and on my face. “Hard. Fuck me now.”

I waited over his mouth. “How?”

He glared blearily at me, breaths now so short and shallow he was panting. I blamed myself for grinding into him while he tried to formulate a response. In the end I decided to assist my lover. Releasing his wrist and tucking his left thigh about my waist, I positioned myself. “How, Gin? I can't help unless you tell me how. You mean like this?”

I pushed in. He yelled, hips bucking forcefully. His breathing accelerated further and then he was cursing steadily. I smirked; he hadn't even realized until now. His freed hands tried to slide between us to remove that hated toy but I bucked hard and he cried out again.

“I didn't say you could do that,” I scolded, pulling him tighter around myself.

“But Aizen-sama, I need...” he couldn't form the sentence as I thrust again, his whines now pathetic and pleading.

“You need me, that was all you said.” I braced him against the wall and continued thrusting until he was screaming at me, his hands grasping at my shoulders, raising red scratches.

He was rambling, tears almost ready to fall. He looked so vulnerable then – I wanted him to look like this more often. The litany dripped from his swollen lips. “Bastard, f-fucking bastard... asshole, I'm gonna fuckin' kill – Gods, please, please, dammit, goddammit, fuck... shit, I can't, I need to... I'm gonna kill you for... oh lord... screw you Sousuke, why the bitchin' hell... son of a... you fuckin' bastard...”

I licked his face, tasting his tears. He was so needy, I could not help but desire to have more of this. “Such language,” I chided as I slowed, wanting to draw out the moment. I was too close to the edge now and rational thought was akin to wading through a tar pit. I gave in. “Let's see... what you can come up with... when I do this.”

He cried out again, when I backed him into the wall and pounded into him. His muscles clenched tightly around me and I ejaculated, my vision blurring around the edges. He was begging now to come. My fingers fumbled over his arousal as I removed the restraint, and them I rubbed my palm roughly over the head and then grasped his length. The choked cry changed timbre and it became a ear-piercing shriek. Thick white strands flew between our bodies.

“Easy there, love,” I said. His gut was clenching; I wanted to hold him there forever, his arms tight about my neck, face buried into my skin.

He slowly uncurled when I lowered him to the bedding. “Bastard,” he muttered, tear-stained face absolutely adorable. “Evil bastard.”

I kissed him before I settled beside him. It was time to tell him about Yamamoto's plan.

xxxxx

Gin drifted off into sleep, not surprising given the intensity of his climax.

I had been surprised by his choice in location, but then again, he was always picking the oddest places. Occasionally I found myself wondering why I spent so much on bedding when we usually ended up somewhere else entirely.

As I watch him doze a warm feeling suffused my being. A trail of blood traced down his right leg, and I cleaned it off with my towel. He shifted in his sleep, entangling his limbs further in the blanket he had dragged from the bed. I kissed his bared shoulder, then picked him up carefully, still wrapped in the sheets.

“Cut the transmission, Szayel. No one is to bother us until tomorrow, and I definitely want the only recording of this in my possession,” I said aloud. Utter silence greeted my random statement. I knew my command would be obeyed.

Gin blinked sleepily as I placed him on the bed. “Nyaemmm hmmrmdem?”

“What?” I asked, amused by his odd vocalizations. My lover, the mumbler.

“Goin' home time?” he repeated, more clearly.

“Not yet. Rest, lover.” He blinked again and fell asleep. I smiled as he folded into a fetal curl, the blankets a cocoon about him.

I picked up the pillows from the balcony and tossed them down the laundry chute. They would send it back the next morning. When I got back to the bed Gin was still curled on his side, but even in his sleep he made space for me to move in beside him.

Although I was tired, I didn't feel like sleeping. The rest of the night I spent stroking his head, watching him dream, knowing that all too soon such nights would be luxuries for either of us.

xxxxx

“Aizen-sama.” Gin was bright-eyed when he woke. It was still early enough for us to laze in our room for a couple of hours more. “I've always wanted to know something.”

“What is it?”

“How old are you?”

I raised my brows. “I'm only about eight hundred, love. Why?”

“Curiosity.” He sat up and peered into my face. “You didn't sleep,” he accused. Then he pushed on my shoulders and made me rest my head on his thighs. “Why didn't you sleep?”

“I was watching you.” I closed my eyes, finding a position on his thin thighs that felt the most comfortable, finally settling on my side and holding his legs. I really should make sure he ate more, he was so thin. “And I was thinking.”

“You think too much.”

“Some would say that is a strength.”

“I think you think too much. Think less.” His strong fingers kneaded into the knots at the back of my head and down the neck. “Thinking too much would age you prematurely.”

I chuckled as he continued to work the knots out of my neck. “I can rest when we get back.”

“What, you miss your pillow?” teased Gin. “Betcha anything you'd sleep like a rock the second we set foot in your room.”

“Not taking the bet.” I sat up. I felt better after Gin's impromptu massage, although sleeping on my side wasn't comfortable at all. He kissed me as I brushed my hair in place. “But I wasn't thinking about anything serious.”

He tilted his head, and then a small smile grew. “There's something else I've been thinking about.”

“Curious again?”

“Mm-hmm. I know so little about you, and you know so much about me. Unfair, I call that. Truth-telling time, Aizen-sama.” He linked his arms about me and straddled my lap. “Truth, or I'll tie you up to a pole for tonight and go play with others. Okay?”

Both of us knew he couldn't if I didn't want to play, but he was beaming so engagingly I didn't have the heart to resist. Besides, if his playful mood carried on to the rest of the day, it would be very entertaining for me.

I rubbed noses with him, my smile probably inanely happy. “Alright. What do you want to know?”

“One question. How many lovers have you had?”

“The ones I was serious about, or do you want me to include the flings?”

“Serious ones only. And in ascending order of affection.”

I thought about it, trying to disregard his wandering hands over my stomach. “Five,” I said at last. “And that includes you.”

“Ascending order.” He nibbled on my shoulder. I wrapped my arms about his waist loosely. He was definitely starting to get in the mood, and I wondered if we'd be able to reach home before our absence was noted. He nicked my skin with his teeth to get my attention. “Truth,” he growled.

I smiled with fond recollection. “Well, there was a student. Maruyama Sanosuke. Keen lad, lanky, smart.”

“What happened to him?”

“Tried to blackmail me.” I smiled more widely. “Clumsy about it too. Sadly, he died in a mission.”

Gin's eyes glittered. “Blood on your hands, lover?”

“My hands are entirely free of his blood. I was giving a lecture in the academy at the time, as the new lieutenant of the fifth.”

My lieutenant laughed softly and licked up my neck. “And in fourth position?”

“Mizuki.”

He was surprised. “Her? I thought she'd be in the top three.”

“She would have been, if she didn't listen to all her 'uncles'. I hated having to repeat my lessons and I had to do it again and again with her, but she was obedient and pretty good in bed. And she, unlike a certain lieutenant I have, was a darn good cook.”

He harrumphed, mildly annoyed. I tweaked his nose and continued. “Third was a girl – Kaeda-chan – back in my academy days, before Urahara. Sweet girl. Too uptight though; never liked to play, or so I thought.”

“What do you mean?”

I grinned mirthlessly. “I caught her cheating on me. That had been almost... hurtful.”

He rocked his hips slowly and I hissed. His fingers were twisting my nipples, rubbing them, and I shuddered when he lowered his mouth to suck on each. He glanced up and urged, “Go on.”

“Number two you know.” I rolled my head back. “But it wasn't until our fifth year in the academy that we got together.”

“Before that?”

“Prior? Dear lords, he was such a pain in the neck.” I laughed to myself, remembering the young Urahara Kisuke. The insouciant swagger, that smirk in his seemingly humble posture... “He nearly took my leg off the first week of school.”

“What happened?”

“Apparently he was attempting to build a better mousetrap. Explosives were involved.”

Gin was taken aback. “That man is insane.”

“No,” I replied, “just too smart for his own good. I was given two weeks' detention for nearly beating him to a bloody pulp, and he was given three weeks' for nearly blowing up the dormitory building.”

Gin was quiet. Then he said, “I threatened to kill him if he hurts you again.”

“He will never hurt me again.” I kissed Gin. “I was over him by the time of my hundred-and-third birthday, when he tried to make up again.”

“How many times did you break up anyway?”

“A dozen, give or take.” I snorted self-deprecatingly. “I must have been really lonely then to keep on the drama with him.”

“Not gonna happen again,” Gin stated firmly. “What finally ended it, Aizen-sama?”

I grinned. That had been a day to remember.

xxxxx

xxxxx

I looked up from my notes. Kisuke stood at the door, his expression that of a kicked puppy. “Sou. Can I come in?”

“What for? I thought you were staying at her place?” I said quietly, returning to my reading.

He stepped in regardless of my cool demeanor. “I missed you, Sou. Thought I'd drop by and see what you were doing.”

“You've seen. Now you may go.”

Kisuke sidled up, his cheeky devil's grin firmly in place. “Sou... I know you're still angry about our last argument... but let's kiss and make up, hmm? You know that's always the best part.”

I put down my notes and looked at him. His blond hair framing his face gave him the air of an angel, and his gray-green eyes were sparkling in the lamplight. My lips twitched faintly. “Perhaps it is.”

He took it to be his victory and locked his mouth on mine. His tongue teased at the opening of my mouth, then slid in with practiced ease.

“See?” he murmured when I placed my hands on his biceps. “The best part of our fights is when we end them.”

“Really?” I whispered in return. “Bakudo one: Sai.”

Surprised, Kisuke swore as his arms locked behind his back. “What the fuck-” Then he calmed down when he saw me. “If you wanted to play, Sou, you should've said. I mean, all my toys can be moved back in, y'know?”

“Oh?” I smiled warmly and pushed his kimono open, kissing along his collarbone and licking down his chest. He sighed and his head lolled back, exposing his neck for me to savor. My fingers ran through his thick blond hair, trailed down the back of his neck while I sucked on his arched neck. And then I snapped on a reiatsu-limiting collar.

“Hells!” Kisuke's eyes shot open. “What are you doing, Sou?”

I smiled even more pleasantly. “Returning a lost pet.”

Kisuke's eyes widened when I attached a leash to the collar and dragged him out of my rooms. “Sou, there's no need for this-”

I ignored him and yanked harder on the leash. He staggered after me, trying to get me to acknowledge his words. Unfortunately for him, it was a crowded street I chose to parade him through until we reached the main compound of the Shihouin family. That was on the other end of Seireitei from where I was.

“You belong here, I believe,” I said at last, the past eighty minutes of silence ended.

“Sousuke, I'm sorry but I really did miss you and I'm truly sorry for accusing you of being a biased, sexist bastard against Yoruichi,” he blathered. “I didn't mean to imply she was more important than you are to me-”

“I'm also sorry, Ki,” I said, kissing him on the mouth. He shut up. “But I won't miss you.”

I wrapped the leash about him and tossed him over the wall before I flash-stepped home. It would be a long time in Soul Society before I would let him touch me again.

xxxxx

xxxxx

“I think this is one memory I'd like to keep to myself, dear Gin,” I said. He pouted adorably and I nipped his lower lip. “Right now I think you'd better ride me so I can lose myself in you, hmm? We'll need to get going soon.”

He crinkled his nose at me. His fingers disappeared between his thighs for a short moment as he commented, “I'll winkle it out of you one of these days.”

He aligned himself with my body. My hands slid down but he held them at his hips. “I'll dig the truth out of you eventually,” he repeated, a threat and a promise rolled into one.

“Hey, we have forever for you to try,” I said with a small rumble of laughter. And the laughter turned into a groan as the tip of my arousal was taken into his body. “Gin... I haven't prepared you... is it alright?”

There was a tightness about his eyes but his broad smile had returned. It glittered strangely and his fingers dug into my shoulders. He held the position, breathing steadily, before forcing himself down. The hoarse cry that erupted from his throat gave me a start. “Gin?”

“Hurt me, dammit,” he snarled, panting softly. He raised himself again and slammed down. I grunted, the tight heat and friction amazing, although I feared what he was doing to his body. Yet I couldn't resist thrusting up hard with each motion. There was a hint of blood in the air.

“What the hell are you doing?” I asked, trying to still his motions.

“Riding you.” His breaths were shallow now, eyes wider and glaring into me. Sweat beaded on his forehead and over his chest; his mouth was dry as he tried to swallow but gagged. Yet he kept on, the rhythm picking up. “Pleasing you. Fucking myself.”

I groaned, my desire spiking with each heavy slide of his hips. “But in this manner?”

“Hurt me, bastard. Fucking hurt me already,” he demanded tightly. The snarl was more pronounced now; he looked like a wild animal. “You always tell me – to hurt the one you love. To hurt – instead of kill. And you will therefore... hurt me the most. Hurt me now. I want you – to hurt me – now. Mark me – as yours. Only yours.”

“Gin,” I started. He forced his mouth on mine, his tongue pushing into my mouth, wildly curling and twining into me. My hands gripped tightly on his moving hips. His hands were braced against the bedframe beside my ribs. The manacles clinked with each frantic thrust of our bodies, and my eyelids fluttered close as the heat coiled to unbearable tension low in my gut. “Gin!”

That was his only warning. He gasped loudly as I emptied into him, and soon after he spilled his seed between us. We rode out our climaxes, panting heavily into each other's skin. I could feel him shaking. I pressed my nose into his cheek. “Gin, what the hell did you think you were doing?”

“I don't know,” he answered honestly. “It seemed like the right thing to do.” He pulled away, and our gaze locked. “And I know you loved that, so don't bother pretending you didn't.”

“I did love it, but I think by now you should know I would hurt you in far more efficient and satisfactory ways.” I kissed him roughly. “Come on. We have to get cleaned up and go back to Seireitei.”

“Not going home?”

I smiled pleasantly as he slid off me with a wince. “I'm already at home, Gin. You're here, aren't you?”

 

Chapter Text

Four months after we returned to Seireitei after Hueco Mundo all captains and lieutenants had to attend Speech Day for the academy. I already knew what the soutaichou would say: I had been going over it with Ukitake the past three weeks, modifying and editing endlessly. Now, although I gave the appearance of utter fascination, my eyes were scanning the crowd.

There he was.

Hisagi Shuuhei, highest scorer of the Academy exams. Voted Best Student in this year's yearbook – an amazing feat considering he had been there for a few months only. Also voted the Most Eligible Freshman of the year. I studied the boy carefully out of the corner of my gaze.

He was handsome, not classically so like Kuchiki Byakuya, but a haunting, fierce elegance in his features. His eyes, tilted and dark, were very different from mine. Briefly I felt a flare of interest. His skin, fair and gleaming, and that tantalizing tattoo... no wonder Gin showed more interest in this one than all his other one night stands.

Speaking of which, my lieutenant's energies were scattered. I muttered a soft rebuke and he snapped to attention.

xxxxx

He disappeared at the luncheon. I wandered around, chatting with some of the graduating students. A few were brashly confident, some bashful to be speaking with me, and a handful docile and sweet enough. Those will be finding themselves in the Fifth when they graduate.

“Where's yer boy, Aizen?”

“Kurosawa.” I nodded at my colleague. His lieutenant was behind him, and she bowed to me. I smiled tentatively, dissembling a meekness I didn't feel.

Poor little girl. For all your beauty you couldn't keep Gin by your side. And you will always mourn his loss from your life: I can see that in your eyes, in the way his little gift still wraps your throat, the way the pink scarf he asked me to select clings to your shoulders.

If only you know you're alive because he wishes it.

I hid the triumph within. Gloating was unbecoming. Kurosawa was grimacing as he nibbled on the maki provided. “Y'know, if not for the fact I made a bet with her-” thumb indicating Matsumoto “-I'd apply fer another lieutenant immediately.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, she bet she could keep up with the paperwork better than I do. The day she falls behind is the day I can fire her shapely ass.” The bearded captain scowled darkly. “She's still keeping up.”

“I'm right here, taichou,” said Matsumoto almost sharply.

“Y'see? Now I gotta pay attention to simpering female crap.”

I shook my head. “Kurosawa Shino, you know as well as I do that women are more than capable of holding their own. And bettering us sometimes.”

“Not on my watch,” said Kurosawa. He waved his hand irritably at his lieutenant. “Leave, woman. Get out of here. Go back to work, that's all yer good for anyway.”

“If I didn't know better, Kurosawa, I'd think you're in love with her,” I said smilingly after Matsumoto quit the scene.

He snorted. “Please. I just fornicate. Not for me a relationship, you know that. Not with that one though. She's still pining over your boy, by the way. Every time he walks past her eyes just stare at him until he's gone.”

“Really?” I pretended surprise. Of course she would miss him – if Gin had put in half as much effort in their relationship as he did in ours, she had good reason to. “In any event, Kurosawa, do try to be nice to her. She's a sweet girl, as far as I know.”

“Yer just guilty, Aizen. But all's fair in love and war, as they say,” said Kurosawa flippantly. “Speaking of, didja get Kyoka Suigetsu checked? Apparently there was something call nuclear fallout, not sure what that meant, but some zanpakuto have been acting oddly. Mayuri's going cuckoo-er over the issue.”

“Kyoka Suigetsu is fine,” I replied. “And yes, so is Gin's, before you ask. I've to find him now, we have a backlog of work to clear. Good talking to you, Kurosawa.”

xxxxx

He was not happy. I observed him over dinner and later, as he rested against my legs while I read. Pretended to read, anyway. Nietzche was hard to digest on a satisfied stomach. He stopped chewing on the apple and tossed it – bull's eye – into the waste receptacle.

Taking a deep breath, he launched into a rendition of his encounter with the young man.

“... and he actually had a damn collar on him. Hisagi Shuuhei, with a collar. If he had wanted to be treated like a dog I would have put that fucking collar on him!”

I sighed. “And you're annoyed because...?”

“Because I didn't get to put it on, and... and the little bastard was so damn obedient and took it off. For me! What the hell is he thinking? Aizen-sama, what the hell is going on?”

“You're ranting about a boy you said you were over months ago,” I summarized neatly, noting a passage in my reading. “And you're obviously not.”

“...Oh.” He fell silent.

I turned the page. “It's alright, Gin.”

Gin twisted about to stare frostily at me. I supposed he wanted me to show some jealousy, but frankly I couldn't care less. Brushing his fine hair I went on, “Some classmates of his thought he suited the 'look', so they pooled money together and got it for his birthday. I gather the boy is very popular in his class.”

“Really.” He went cold and quiet, the smile on his face vaguely foreboding.

“What did you do, Gin?”

“I lit a fire.”

I frowned. He was upset that the boy had let himself become less uncouth? Or was he jealous of the boy's friends?

No. Gin just didn't like the idea that Hisagi Shuuhei had been taught obedience by someone else. And with Gin in that sort of mood, I could pay for it with an uncooperative Gin in bed, or some random passerby could pay it for me.

I decided to send him out for a walk.

xxxxx

He came back to our Rukongai house with a satisfied smirk.

“Hey,” I said when he stepped into the main room. He had stopped off somewhere to wash off the blood stink, for which I was glad. The light in the room was provided by a single lamp in the background. “Feel better?”

“It's a head rush,” he chirped. “I feel much better. He didn't even fight.”

“Hmm. Spoilsport.”

“Can't blame him. Not even a seated officer, y'know. Didn't even register that I was behind him until the end.”

I laced my fingers with his and tugged him onto my lap. “What do you want for your birthday, Gin?”

“It's coming soon, eh?” He rested his head on my shoulder and I kissed him. “I want you.”

“I'm already yours. Pick something else.”

“Mmm...” He nuzzled closer. I ran light fingers along the underside of his forearm and he shuddered. He was always far too sensitive for idle touching. “I think you can plan the entire thing for me, Aizen-sama. I'm happy with whatever you give.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.” He sat up straight and wiggled his ass in my lap. I smiled crookedly; he was never all that subtle. My hands slipped into his uniform, brushing over firm abs and over his pert nipples. The soft sigh cued me to remove that belt. “But definitely sex has to be there, okay?”

I rubbed my thumb along his sharp cheekbones. Such soft skin, and such deceptively tender lips. “I thought you might say that. Since we probably would be busy on your birthday, I thought it'd be nice to celebrate early.”

“Thank God it's Friday?” he quipped as I set him to the other side of my lap.

“No, thank me,” I retorted with a grin. Reaching behind my chair I dug out the presents I bought, and in some cases, unearthed. He blinked as he took them. Kissing his cheek, I whispered, “I hope you like these.”

He held them a little longer, before smiling at me. “You know I always like whatever present you gave me. Last year it was that silver filigreed comb, the year before that red lacquer bowl. Your gifts are always so extravagant.”

“Can't help spoiling you, you know that.” I kissed him again, this time on his mouth. He sighed and licked my bottom lip, before sliding his tongue over mine. The kiss deepened easily as I pulled him closer, drinking him in; his fingers tangled in my hair and scratched at my scalp, leaving little tingles down my spine. Reluctantly I moved away for an inch. “Open your present.”

He did, ripping the paper apart easily with his slim digits. In the first was a black stone. “It's a Kyū inkstone from the Song Dynasty. Do you like it?”

He traced the rectangular block reverently, admiring the golden markings that, in one corner, swirled into a pattern similar to Shinsou's hilt. “I do. It's gorgeous. I'm not sure I'll use it though, it'll seem like a sacrilege.”

The next was a scroll. It had been dug out of a Chinese scholar's tomb; the scholar in question now a middle-ranked sishen in China. He had been dismayed that no one could take it with them, but then again he realized he could get the actual artist to paint it again. Gin unrolled it carefully. “What is it called, Aizen-sama?”

“Court Ladies Preparing Newly-Woven Silk,” I told him. “So, Gin, who is the artist?”

“Zhang Xuan of the Chinese Tang Dynasty,” he answered pertly. I smiled. His informal education in my hands had groomed my lieutenant into a cultured man, so unlike the Rukongai brat who dared approach me. Perhaps he had been wanting a similar chance in that Hisagi, and the boy had let him down.

Then again, Gin sometimes just played for the sake of playing.

“What's this?” he inquired, picking up the last of the gifts.

I held his hands, keeping him from opening it. “Gin, it's your eightieth birthday.”

“Yes.” We had managed to access soul distribution records from the dusty archives in the library.

“Is there anything that you would rather not have done, ever since you met me?” I warmed his cool hands with my own.

He considered slowly. “I think... yeah. There is something.”

My heart sank a little. He still had regrets?

“I regret not having come to you earlier, instead having waited until the fifth year of my studies.” He touched my mouth and I returned his gentle smile. “I regret fooling myself into thinking there were other people I loved. I have never loved them, because they never loved me. Not the way you do, without judging, without exclusion of any aspect of me.”

“They were fools,” I told him, nibbling on his fingers. He pecked me on my nose and looked at the small box in his hands. Once he saw the contents, he would understand.

I hoped.

What if he didn't like it?

I inhaled and pressed my mouth against his cheek. “Open it.”

xxxxx

We kissed as we stumbled from the bathroom towards the bedroom, refusing to relinquish our hold on each other. Finally, panting, we leaned on the wall outside the door. What restraint we had in the bathroom had now evaporated, leaving two lustful men grappling with each other.

“Hold on, there's still a birthday favor,” I breathed, trying to calm my feverish desire. He grabbed my face and resumed kissing me fervently. I returned it, loving how wonderful it was to have him in my life. I could pamper him forever and not be weary of doing so. “Wait, Gin. Easy now. Hold on.”

“Don't wanna-”

“Wait.”

He pouted but kept his hands on my shoulders. I slid the door open and nodded for him to enter. He did and inhaled sharply.

“For me?” he asked, surprised. “You shouldn't have.”

“Why shouldn't I? You deserve it, just for putting up with me.” I linked my arms about his waist, breathing in his clean scent. “Do you like this as well?”

“Yes,” he said. I could taste his eagerness in the atmosphere. “Oh yes.”

“There's more.” I licked the rim of his ear and he shivered. I let go and he followed me over the threshold. “His fraternal twin is in the other bedroom.”

“Why not here, Aizen-sama?” His gaze was fixed on the bound and gagged youth on the bed. The youth's ivory-colored hair had spread about his head like a halo. “I want her here too.”

“You sure you can handle both at the same time?” I teased, cupping his arousal briefly. He swatted at my hand and chuckled.

Pulling my fingers to his mouth, he nibbled on my knuckles. “I'm only handling the one. You're going to take her in front of me.”

“I thought I was the voyeur in this relationship,” I said.

He laughed and kissed me deeply. As we separated to draw breath, he murmured, “I'm a very good student, Aizen-sama. Bring her, then take her.”

I complied with his wish. The girl kicked and fought me as I threw her over my shoulder and tossed her unceremoniously on the bed. The twins drew together simultaneously, the look in their eyes identical.

“It's good we've switched back to a futon, isn't it?” I commented as Gin attacked my collarbone and neck while ripping my yukata off.

“Yeah. I can't-ow!” The top of Gin's head collided sharply with my chin. He winced and I rubbed my chin to ease the pain away. “Sorry about that.”

“It's alright,” I said. “You were saying?”

He patted the top of his head, still grimacing faintly. “I can't remember where I put the oils.”

“Why on earth would we need that?”

He paused. I tossed his yukata away to the corner. He then chuckled and I sucked on a spot below his ear. “You're right. Why on earth would we need that at all?”

The twins' eyes widened as we fell to our knees and I pinned him to the bedroll. They were still in thin white robes, the black cords straining to keep their struggling. Gin and I peered up, our arousals resting against each other's hip. As one, our reiatsu rose and swept over them, reducing them to tearful, trembling bodies.

“You said you wanted me to take the girl.”

“Yes. I want to watch you do this.” He pushed me off him and navigated his way up to the youth. With barely any effort he removed the restraints. I swept my hair back as he pulled the youth into his arms, slowly undressing him, lingering over firm chest and pale nipples, tracing over faint lines of his stomach and abdomen, before reaching down to stroke the boy intimately. The boy's strangled sob and gasp drew a smile on Gin's face, and I tugged the girl down to where I sprawled.

She was more rebellious than her brother. The instant the ropes broke she tried to fight back. Sharp nails scratched uselessly at my skin; I felt nothing, she was that weak. I grabbed her throat and my left hand groped over her soft breasts before I squeezed to the point of pain. Her eyes were wide and now – finally – the tears came.

The muffled protests were from her brother. His face was averted, eyes squeezed shut. Gin whispered something into his ear and he shook his head violently. The protests didn't die out but took on a new urgency as Gin started sampling his prey.

I nipped her on the neck, fingers rolling her nipples to hardness before flicking them. Then, skating my hand over her stomach, my fingers started exploring her womanhood, stroking and pressing, almost inserting, spreading the sticky wetness over her. Against her control, she moaned and whimpered, feet thrashing out. Her cries were met with stronger caresses, and her brother tried to break the hold Gin had on him. His fingers clawed at the deceptively thin arms.

“That's not playing nice,” chided my lieutenant. “Don't worry, we'll take very good care of her.”

Gin caught hold of her left foot. I caught hold of his ravenous gaze.

Very slowly he ran a thin finger over her sole. Her foot jerked. I squeezed her breast, releasing her throat to pin her arms down.

Gin played his thumb over her foot, the placement of his arm conveniently around the boy's neck. Then he licked up the same route, tongue darting between her toes.

She shrieked, voice muffled, and tried to pull her foot back. Gin merely grinned broadly. Hooking that foot under his arm he extended his right foot.

I took it and stroked it leisurely. “You want me to?”

He nodded. I sucked on each well-shaped toe, tongue curling and stroking. His foot trembled in my grip, but the heavy sighs were anything but reluctant. Then I lowered his foot, placing it between her legs. He wriggled his toes and she tried to scramble backwards, but my grip on her was far too firm. Her hands pushed at my thighs uselessly.

Gin was very dexterous, I knew from experience, and the girl whimpered to fight the pleasure from the horror. When Gin pulled his foot back she drew her knees up, trying to fold into herself.

“Give it up, girl,” I whispered into her ear. “Give it up and perhaps I can even help you enjoy this.”

She shook her head, her small sounds now taking on added urgency. I glanced at Gin and understood why.

Gin grinned at me from his position over the boy. “Which comes second, loses.”

“You're on,” I said, ripping the thin white robe off her. She had good skin, very fair, and a thumb-sized birthmark beside her navel. “What's the gambit?”

“Pitcher and catcher,” he winked. I bared my teeth at him before sinking my teeth into her shoulder. My hands needed at the soft swell of her breasts and she faltered in her struggling. My reiatsu wrapped about her. She was a fine one, showing quite a bit of spirit, but I was determined to break that spirit.

Forcing a leg between hers, I ground my hips into her firm thigh. She whined and tossed her head away, shivers shaking her entire frame.

Her terrified whimpers were now subdued sobs. Her brother wasn't faring much better, grunting and yelling under Gin's careful treatment. I knew both their bodies were responding without their consent, and somehow it was more satisfactory than having a willing body within our arms. I resumed ravishing her soft curves; though not as well-developed as Matsumoto, this girl was nonetheless very feminine in her build. Over her crying I could hear the wet contact of flesh on flesh, the sliding of Gin against her brother, the boy's choked gasps. Angling my head as I tasted her breasts, I watched my lover as he savored the youth, drinking in the fear and the thrill. His silver hair was dusting the boy's collarbones, and with his right hand he had grabbed that mane of ivory hair and pulled, hard. The arched neck exposed drew a growl from my throat; with a taunting glance at me, Gin licked up that pale column.

I pulled her against me, forcing her to arch her back. My lips found the hollow behind her ear and one hand skated to her lower abdomen. I kneaded her belly gently, pushing her into greater contact. She cried aloud, and I didn't miss the sudden glare from her brother on my left.

Gin didn't either.

We moved as one, hooking their legs up and bending their limbs to their chests. The abrupt change in position drew an immediate response from the twins. Gin and I pressed forward, our lust drowning in their screams and gasped cries. I tensed and relaxed into the heat around me, restraining myself as her muscles clenched in protest and in desire.

Gin didn't hold back, throwing his head back, silver hair clinging damply to his skin, hips snapping forward to ride out his climax. Knowing he was heedless to his surrounds I slid out of her and she whimpered, curling away to a corner, trying to close her eyes to the sight of her brother being someone else's plaything.

When Gin slowly drifted from his high and slid out of the youth, I tugged him over and spread his legs. He was still hot and incredibly sensitive to the touch, arching into the contact tiredly.

“More,” he moaned as I kissed up his chest. “More. Give me. Give me.”

“I will,” I murmured into his salty-sweet skin. “No lubrication. Is that alright?”

“Yes. Give... now.” Sighs of desire started picking up pace. Every kiss I lowered onto him was met with eager contact, his fingers weaving into my hair, directing my mouth to where he wanted it.

The girl crawled to her spent brother, cradling his head and weeping silently, not daring to leave. The youth was only breathing, barely able to move. I plundered Gin's mouth, his post-orgasm state of relaxed languor not limiting his tendency to fight my domination. As he roused from his lightheadedness, I sheathed myself in him slowly, relishing the tight, raw sensation. He whimpered a little, not having been prepared, but as I moved my hips his cries rose in both pitch and volume. His velvet skin was slick with sweat and the boy's semen, and the unfamiliar scent was pushing me further to the edge. Gin was pleading now, pleading for my hands to touch him, and I granted the request. As my hand pleasured him and he tightened about me, I felt the spike in our reiatsu, the heat coiling tighter in my lower gut, the snap of tension and the subsequent cascade of bliss.

xxxxx

I played with the ivory-colored hair. It was a fascinating shade of blond. The youth was giving a pretty good blowjob. Nowhere near Gin's Olympian standards, of course, but good enough. His sister, now in Gin's clutches, was forced to watch her brother please her tormentor. His tongue swirled over her ear, darting in and out, her long hair the exact shade of her brother's woven about his fingers.

She wasn't crying. She wasn't struggling. I knew she wasn't crying because there were no tears left in her, and she wasn't struggling because the fight had gone out of her.

Being raped repeatedly in front of family would probably do that to a person.

Gin was observing, his lips sliding over her skin in unconscious imitation of the youth's mouth over mine. My eyes were fixed on Gin's darkened gaze, aware of his left hand that was darting in and out of the girl. Her legs were still twitching, but Gin was becoming annoyed at the lack of reaction.

My fingers twisted into pale tresses as I forced him closer. He swallowed convulsively, trying not to gag, and I hissed at the rhythmic sensation. Finally I yanked him away and he worked his throat dryly, trying to suppress the nausea.

“She's ready,” Gin said with a small smile. “I have dibs on her front.”

“It's your birthday,” I replied, pecking him on his tender lips. “Do what you will.”

“No,” rasped someone behind me. He was panting, slender body trembling. “No. stop. Stop it. She's... Let her go.”

I shifted closer to her instead and Gin turned her into my embrace. Our eyes were fixed on him though; he had been so placid earlier, taking the punishment from Gin and me without much protest. His twin had shown more spirit – which was now almost quelled. But fire was rising in his eyes.

“Let her go,” he got to his knees, crawling to us across the large, rumpled futon. Let her go, you've done enough. Do me instead, take me. Take me instead. Please!”

Gin smiled and leaned in to kiss her on her left breast. It was bruised and sore already. She whimpered at the contact.

“Let me think it over,” Gin said. His hand slid from my knee to my shin, before sliding to her creamy thigh. It was also marked with dark bruises. Gin pressed lightly on each of them. “No.”

“Please!”

“No. It's my birthday, and I wants it.”

I smirked. He had enjoyed that book after all, despite his posturing that he didn't want to relearn English. Fegefeuer had been good for something.

“Bastard.”

“Damn right I am.”

“Touch her again over my dead body. I will kill you.”

Gin laughed and hauled the girl into his arms, diving into her mouth. When he pulled away her lip was bleeding. Gin licked the blood from her unprotesting mouth and laughed again. “I've done more than touch her. Kill me then.”

The youth was shaking, gulping. I wondered if it was terror that drove him or some other impulse, because he found the strength to leap at Gin, clawing for his eyes.

If it were someone lesser he might have gotten away with it, but this was Ichimaru Gin. My lieutenant ducked and in one swift stroke, had grabbed the young man by his throat. He towed him in slowly, relishing the madness. “You said I'll touch her again over your dead body, right? That can be arranged.”

The girl's eyes widened and she screamed, almost – but not quite – covering the sickening crack of bone. I tossed her over her brother, making sure she faced the right direction, into her twin's large gray eyes. “She's all yours, lover.”

“Don't you want to?”

“I want you.”

He hovered over her. She was shaking, yet unable to tear her gaze away from the face that so resembled her own. Gin didn't bother getting her attention, instead just burying himself into her in one hard thrust. I fingered his opening and he rocked back on my probing digits.

“Take me before I come in her,” he groaned. “I can't last long.”

I hovered over him, matching my breathing with his heavy pace. He was looking at me over his shoulder, she was staring wildly at her brother, and I was able to savor the scene fully. As I thrust into him and sank my teeth into his back, my eyes closed in ecstasy.

 

xxxxx

“Where did you find them anyway?” he asked as he passed me the pruning shears. “They were gorgeous.”

“Liked them that much, huh.” I clipped at the topiary. We really should get a new housekeeper and a gardener, now that we seldom stayed in the Rukongai home. “A small store near the tattoo parlor. The proprietor of that store specializes in such things.”

“And what were you doing at the tattoo parlor, hmm?” he teased as he raked up the leaves near the base of the trees. “Did you get something done that I haven't seen?”

“No, I haven't,” I answered. The pruning shears were rusty. “I was asking him to give me a quotation, actually.”

Gin continued raking. “Are you saying you want to get a tattoo? I like your skin the way it is, Aizen-sama.”

“I know. You've proved that many times, Gin,” I laughed, sweeping my hair from my brow. Gardening was hard work. Weeding had been a backbreaking chore just now. “I was just curious.”

“Right,” he drawled. I threw the pruned branches and twigs into the heavy sack. He called out, “As long as I don't find a mark I didn't put on you, that's fine!”

He had disappeared behind the shadow of the trees. I chuckled and retorted, “You're too possessive!”

“Like you're not?” He returned quickly, the rake over his shoulder. He kissed me on the mouth. “I'm gonna start the burning soon.”

“Mm. Remember to incinerate cleanly this time, Gin. I don't want to see remains at all, alright?”

“Slavedriver.”

“You love me that way,” I said as he took the bag of leaves and twigs from me. “I'll go prepare lunch.”

 

Chapter Text

Over the next eight to nine weeks we learned more about the rings and realized the range of communication was rather limited. I could feel him and sense the flow of his thoughts clearly within a quarter of a mile. Anything beyond that and all I could feel was a sensation of something missing. In addition, I found out that I could block off his presence if I concentrated hard. I only tried it once, because he abandoned his task to seek me out, terrified that something untoward had happened to me.

The apology that night had taken rather a long time.

xxxxx

“I think that's how we're going to find each other, Gin,” I confided in him one night as we stargazed on the roof of the captain's quarters. He turned to look at me. “We'll always feel that lack until we find each other, and then we're complete.”

“Then perhaps we already had such rings before this plane of existence, Aizen-sama,” he drowsed. I offered an arm and he rested his head on my bicep, curling into me. “That was how I felt when I first saw you.”

I laughed softly. “I suspect what you felt was, good, this one looks like he can be blackmailed, let's see if I'm right.”

“Well, that too.”

Our breathing fell into a regular, slow pattern, unconsciously relaxing the other. It was cold out here; I tugged the wool blanket higher over both of us. I missed stargazing; we had only got into the rudiments of astronomy and astrology when I sent him to Fegefeuer, and these few years I had been more preoccupied with Las Noches than the night sky above us.

He faced the heavens again. “They are pretty,” said Gin. “What are their names you were taught?”

“That's the Horn of the Hunter,” I said, pointing out the constellations, “and that's the Maiden. That's the Wolf.”

“That's the Grilled Fish,” said Gin indicating another, his fingers joining up the imaginary lines.

I glanced at the silver head. “I don't remember a Grilled Fish.”

“Rangiku and I used to be too hungry to sleep.” He snuggled closer, the link between us strengthened with the contact. “So there's the Grilled Fish, that's a Huge Bowl of Rice, the clump over there the Golden Platter of Anything We Want, and those four over there were the Chopsticks.”

I couldn't help but smile, kissing his silver hair. He peered at me through his long fringe. “It was a difficult time, but you're over it now,” I said. “It's all over now.”

“I know. So what can we name today?” Gin played with my right hand's fingers while my left sketched out a path through the sky. He stopped me when I identified two brilliant points hovering close. “Those two... what would you call them?”

“I would call them Captain and Lieutenant.”

“You're really not a romantic soul, Aizen Sousuke,” he accused, pushing himself onto his elbow. “You know what I want you to call them.”

“I was never a romantic soul, Gin,” I replied, still prone. He stared at me for a beat longer before flash-stepping off the roof. I sighed. Sometimes I wonder why I put up with his mood swings.

xxxxx

“I wonder why you put up with him, Aizen-san,” said Tousen sotto voce as we filed out of the monthly Captain's meeting. Rinbayashi had been absent again. This time we were discussing the issue of succession for the fading Kuchiki Takayuki. He had made it plain that his son Byakuya was to take the reins, but since the princeling had yet to achieve bankai, the issue was mooted for debate.

I liked the idea of Byakuya in charge. The boy was so obstinate, his reactions would be easy to predict. His father was fading away – I had rather liked the older Kuchiki too, despite his pompousness on occasion – and the young man was still not rushing his bankai training.

Word was that he was obsessed with the girl Gin introduced and Byakuya married against his father's and clan's express wishes. Gin visited them regularly; perhaps I could find out more from him.

“Why do I put up with Gin? Because he is someone dear to me.” I smiled at the other shinigami passing us by. “Despite his flaws, Gin is someone I can always trust and rely on.”

“He is unpredictable.” Tousen led the way to his office where I wanted to retrieve some archived newsletters. “His loyalty is based on emotions. He will probably turn on you.”

“I'd like to be surprised that way, but Gin isn't going to,” I answered. The office was meticulous; it had to be, or else Tousen would be tripping over somewhere every cubic feet. I made myself comfortable on the guest chair in the office. “Tousen, you'll have to trust my word on this. Gin will never turn on either of us.”

“All due respect, Aizen-san, I doubt your word on him.” Tousen 'read' the missives on his table, his fingers sliding over them. I rolled my eyes but maintained an even reiatsu pressure.

“Doubt all you want, Tousen, but remember that Gin is my chosen. More than you are.” I was always brutally honest with this man. “I don't think you are jealous, since you are probably the only one in my circle who does not indulge in emotional travails, but I think you resent the effort I put into grooming him.”

He merely 'read' on. The page turned and his fingers danced over the page again.

I found the article I wanted and got to my feet. “I groomed him to be my successor, Tousen. At the end, he will be there. If you wish to leave, do so. You know very well what I would do.”

Tousen stilled his motions. Then he swallowed and bowed his head. “I will not mention this again.”

“Good. I'll see you around.”

xxxxx

Inside the room Gin was brushing tangles from his hair. I walked up behind him and took the comb, gently disengaging his fingers from the sandalwood construct. Slowly I ran the comb through his hair, loving the soft silk on my fingers.

“What is it?” I asked softly. The fine threads of his hair clung to my skin. I gazed at his face in the mirror.

He put a hand to that image of himself. “She's dying.”

“Who?” I asked, unraveling another knot. “Not Rangiku, surely.”

“No. Hisana.” Gin was sad; his hand traced over my forearm, capturing my hand and bringing it down to him. “They say Kuchiki-taichou is fading out, and he's determined to take her with him.”

“They?”

“They.”

I paused as he pressed his cheek to my hand. “They are speaking nonsense,” I said at last. “It's because they are superstitious that they say such things. Kuchiki-taichou has been ill for some time. He had merely been waiting for Byakuya-kun to attain bankai before he goes to join his wife.”

“Then Hisana?”

“Sometimes, Gin,” I said, going on my knees and turning him around to face me. “Sometimes people just can't continue living here.”

He was still melancholic, but he smiled when he read the assurance in my words and in my heart. I kissed his hand, then slowly parted his robe to kiss up his inner thighs. His breath hitched as I brushed my lips over tender skin. My fingers pressed into the small of his back, where the tattoo now resided.

“Gin.”

“Hmm?”

“Did we pay him?”

“The inker? Yes.” His head rolled back when I licked up, closer to his growing erection. “At least, we did the day he finished.”

I smiled into his curls. He moaned softly, not resisting as I suddenly caught him up in my arms and tossed him on to the bed.

I want to do this every night.

'I want you to do this every night.'

So how was the cleanup?

'Quick and easy. A fire burns everything.'

He moaned again, more breathily, as I shifted over him.

'Was it necessary, Aizen-sama?'

I am the only one I allow to mark you. He was given a privilege and so he should die happy.

'There. Yes... there. Mmm.'

And here?

'Oh god yes. Harder. Harder.'

The soft cry as I probed inside drove me on, even as he encouraged my efforts telepathically. We didn't speak for the entire night, but the connection between Gin and me waxed with our lovemaking.

I really should have bought the rings the instant they were created.

xxxxx

When Gin told me the following month he'd be attending the Hisana woman's funeral I kept my peace. She had been one of his few friends, he had said, rather sadly. It pained me that he needed people still, since each connection made meant another vulnerability, another weak point for others to exploit. Still, I could not fault him. When I was his age, I had wanted friends too.

“She was probably the only person who would laugh with me and smile – really smile – at me. I'm not someone she wants to bed, or a creepy person, or an intimidating figure to her. She genuinely thought of me as a friend and so, I should be there.” He had said that in the morning of her funeral, and had buried his face into the pillow, away from me.

I didn't say anything, only held him as his quiet tears dampened the silk of the pillows. He had been very upset by that woman's visible fading, because, as he said, she was perhaps the only other person in Seireitei who liked Gin for much of who he was, wicked humor and intimidating smile and all.

If I had the gift of prophecy, I would have tagged along to pay my respects to my Gin's friend.

xxxxx

Much later in the afternoon, a runner from the Fourth came to me to inform me that my lieutenant was in the operating theater and also charged for attacking another lieutenant in full view of three captains. “Ichimaru-fukutaichou is being treated for injuries now. He has just entered the operating theater, Aizen-taichou.”

“What?” I got to my feet. “And you tell me only now?”

I was running, sprinting. Dammit, Gin, speak to me!

Silence. I repeated the command on a continuous loop as I neared the hospital, and then I caught the reply, fainter than a shadow's breath.

'I'm... I'm okay. Relax, Aizen-sama.'

Oh thank gods... I closed my eyes against the sudden excess of emotion. Now I knew how he felt when I suddenly closed off the link. What happened?

'She'll... she'll tell... you. Tired... Aneth, uh, anystatic? Something... sleepy.'

Rest, love. I'll keep you in mind.

“Aizen-taichou,” said Unohana as she walked out of the operating room. She looked grave, which suddenly terrified me again. She inclined her head towards her office. As I walked in I saw Kuchiki-taichou and Yamamoto-soutaichou.

“Aizen-taichou, Ichimaru-fukutaichou will be all right,” said Unohana as she sat. “But he will be court marshaled for attacking Kuchiki-fukutaichou.”

I clenched my fists. “Who witnessed his attack?”

“We did.” Unohana lowered her long lashes.

“Your lieutenant seemed to lack a regard of propriety, Aizen-san,” said Kuchiki coolly.

I half-turned to angle my full disregard for the man. Instead I directed my next statement at the soutaichou. “It is my duty to discipline my lieutenant, soutaichou. It is widespread knowledge that Eleventh Division officers frequently brawl with shinigami of other divisions, yet I don't remember a court martial extended to them.”

“They weren't lieutenants,” answered Yamamoto. “And they didn't attack without provocation.”

“How do you know Gin wasn't provoked?” I snapped.

Yamamoto's reiatsu blazed for a split second. I pretended to flinch, even as the scientist in me took note of the reiatsu strength. I can match that easily.

“You are blinded by your affection for your lieutenant! How dare you doubt the words of three captains?” Yamamoto was speaking evenly, bristling.

I exhaled slowly. “I do have a high regard for my lieutenant, but I don't consider myself blinded. However, Kuchiki-taichou should not be accounted a witness at all, since he has a vested interest.”

He stood up, haughty anger etched in every line. “If you mean to say that I may be biased-”

“I am saying that you will be biased,” I retorted, on my feet as well. He had the advantage of me in height but I knew I had the stronger reiatsu pressure.

There was a knock on the door.

“Come in please.” Unohana raised her eyes and the rest of us turned to see Kuchiki Byakuya hobble into the office. The young shinigami looked affronted and tired at the same time. Briefly I wondered what he had done to my Gin, and I suppressed the fury ruthlessly.

Kuchiki Byakuya froze upon seeing me seated there. Then he bowed jerkily to me first, before all the other captains. At least he was polite. “Aizen-taichou, how is Ichimaru-fukutaichou?”

“I don't know yet,” I managed to speak emotionlessly. “I was dragged into this room after I got here.”

“He was severely lacerated, and we had to anesthetize him to close all the wounds.” Unohana looked apologetic. “I should have informed you earlier.”

I breathed out slowly. “Who attacked whom again, Yamamoto Genryuusai soutaichou?”

“Ichimaru drew his sword at the funeral, attacked Kuchiki Byakuya and punctured his lung. Then...” Unohana glanced sidelong at the soutaichou for usurping his prerogative to speak, “then Kuchiki-taichou called on Sayurihime to defend his son.”

I was speechless for a few moments. Then I turned on my heel and stalked towards the older Kuchiki, who backed into the wall behind him.

“Kuchiki Takayuki – you dare use Sayurihime on Gin? You, a captain, used your released zanpakuto to hurt my Gin? How dare you?”

“Stand down, Aizen!” barked Yamamoto.

“Be quiet,” I said, not even looking at him. Kuchiki-taichou narrowed his gaze. I stared right into his great gray eyes. “You will pay, Takayuki. If Gin has even the slightest scar from Sayurihime, I will pay it back a thousand times over. And I don't exaggerate.”

“You are out of order, Aizen. He was in the right to defend-”

“You are in no position to place him under court martial, soutaichou. He has done nothing wrong, and even if he had, the fact that Kuchiki-san had released his sword on a lieutenant not of his division makes him the one liable for a charge.”

Leaving Yamamoto glaring and bristling and Unohana appeasing his temper, while the elder Kuchiki merely stood with his back to the wall, I swept out to head to the operating theater. As I passed by Kuchiki Byakuya followed a little distance behind. “Aizen-taichou.”

“Byakuya-kun.”

“I wasn't going to press any charges, but Kuchiki-taichou – father – can be-”

“I know. I understand.” I headed to where Gin was. He would be alright, of course. How could he be otherwise?

How dare you hurt my Gin with your sword?

Once we find a suitable candidate for Gin's lieutenant, I will kill Kuchiki Takayuki.

 

Chapter Text

He was out for almost three days before he finally woke up. Although the surface cuts were shallow, some of Kuchiki's blades had embedded themselves in Gin and Unohana had to prise them out one by one.

Every three and a half hours Gin would be immersed in a healing bath to speed up the process of recuperation. Usually the medics would use healing jutsu, but the extensive damage Gin suffered meant it would be too draining on any medic. The baths were slow, but they worked well.

Partway through the third day Gin woke up from his deep sleep. I was pleased; laving water over his chest with no reaction from him was far too uncomfortable, since we used to do this in our baths with very active participation on both sides.

I had already pushed aside the thought of killing Kuchiki Takayuki. He was already dying, so there really was no point. However, a little shared memory between Gin and me fueled the embers of vengeance again. I sat down beside Gin to think of how to eliminate that captain and install a younger, friendlier captain who was partial to my views. More on the former than the latter, since Kuchiki Takayuki had overstepped a very thick line.

Whatever happened, whatever he did, Gin was mine to deal with.

xxxxx

As the night wore on I dozed by Gin's bedside. I had refused to let any of the nurses touch him or undress him, and Unohana had seen my barely repressed possessiveness when she checked him over. She had smiled thinly, ignoring my steely gaze all the while, then told me that Kuchiki Takayuki had held back his power when Sayurihime swarmed through Gin.

“He was lucky to have survived,” I had said. “Kuchiki attacked without warning.”

“So did Ichimaru-fukutaichou,” Unohana had reminded me somewhat sharply.

I hadn't added any other comment. I knew Yamamoto would let the matter drop, if only because there was no way Kuchiki would get off scot-free in this incident.

I jolted awake when I heard an urgent noise. Kurosawa Shino was rapping smartly on the door and I stepped out of the ward, pausing briefly to cover Gin's toes with the blanket.

As soon as the door was closed Kurosawa leaned in. “I heard what the fucker did. How's your boy?”

“He's fine.” I glanced back at the closed door, then returned to Kurosawa. “Where have you been, anyway?”

“Out and about. Gotta tell ya, things becoming kinda tense out there, especially with the 46. They've been asking questions about you, me, Tousen and Urahara.”

“Really?” I tried my best to sound concerned, but I wasn't. The Central 46 were easy to manipulate and already more than half were in my pocket – although they each thought they were the only beneficiary. Then I frowned. “Why are you telling me? I've nothing to worry about.”

“Not you, me! I'm the one worried,” muttered Kurosawa. “They ever find out that I was the one who instigated the lower-officer strike last month and the challenge made by the Rukongai Bloods three months before, I'm in deep pause trouble.”

“You could've kept out of that particular conflict,” I pointed out unhelpfully.

He snorted. “Like I could. Those be the best kinda fights, man. When there's a cause t'fight for.”

“You need someone to love, man, you're using your passion in the wrong places.” I rolled my shoulders, the crackle reminding me exactly how tired I was.

“Like I'd waste it on a woman,” he scoffed, slightly too loud. I shushed him. He scoffed again. “Look atcha. The great Aizen Sousuke, reduced to a pampering nursemaid over one pathetic lieutenant.”

“Pampering, yes, nursemaid, hardly.” I sniffed and headed back into the ward. “Look, Kurosawa, I suggest you come clean if you're that worried. I don't even know why you were doing those things, it's not like you gain anything in the process.”

“I just like t'see them in the uppers shaken up a bit,” admitted Kurosawa with a grin. “A'right, got to go. Hope your boy gets better asap, yeah?”

“Yeah, thanks.” I waved him on. I wanted to get back to my lover. He was waking.

xxxxx

He was discharged within the week. There were no scars, thankfully. I would wait for Gin to be ready before I made my move.

Rinbayashi had been amenable to my suggestion of taking on Gin as a part-time assistant and training him for the captaincy in the meantime. Gin would, without a doubt, attain the seat within the next decade. Byakuya would undoubtedly be negatively affected by his wife's death, which meant his bankai training wouldn't be as smooth as it could have been. And I heard from Unohana direct that Kuchiki Takayuki's fading wouldn't accelerate until, at the earliest, six years from now.

That was good. I would have time to perfect my command of kido and zanjutsu, while preparing Gin for a leadership role.

Takayuki would pay for touching what was mine.

xxxxx

As we were walking to the office, Tousen joined us from a bend in the long corridor. He looked disturbed (for him anyway) and indicated he needed a new lieutenant.

Gin cut in with a beaming smile. “Oh hi Ichimaru! It's wonderful you're out and about! You should be resting though, I heard Kuchiki-taichou did a number on you!”

“Be nice.” I smiled, though I scolded Gin for being rude. Tousen had been a valuable ally all these while. “A new one? What happened?”

“He went through my files.”

I frowned lightly. “We don't leave paper trails, Tousen. I know the ninth is the main forwarding facility, but we don't leave paper trails.”

Gin's smile grew a little more malicious. 'He left a paper trail.'

I think you're right. I shook my head, stopping Gin from needling Tousen further, and raised an eyebrow.

Gin caught the hint and said, “Y'know, I think we should be paying the Academy students a visit. I hear they have a bright new star skipping levels at a go.” Feigning ignorance, he pondered aloud, “What was his name again?”

“I've heard of him,” I said, grinning at Gin's bad acting. “I think his name is Hisagi Shuuhei.”

'You remembered.'

How could I not? The boy had pleased you, after all, and you're not an easy man to please.

'Nope, I'm not. I learned that from you.'

“He's been earmarked to be an officer the instant he graduates. Perhaps I should check out his abilities; he might be an asset.”Tousen was nodding his head slowly.

In fact I had already approached the boy privately, to discuss his allocation after graduation. He had turned down, very respectfully, the offer for him to work in the fifth. I supposed he thought I didn't know of his prior involvement with Gin. He would be assigned to the ninth where he had wanted to go; Tousen's reputation was impeccable. He had to be, since he had hardly any vices worth speaking of. A valuable smokescreen, to be sure, but I would take sin any day over virtue. Neither were worth much, and sin was far more pleasurable.

Gin tugged on my sleeve. ““I have a better idea,” he said. “Arrange something that allows us to make contact with him without it seeming too obvious that we wanna check him out.”

You just want to see him in battle.

'Don't act as if you don't. I saw how you looked at him when he was naked in our bed.'

That was a long time ago, Gin.

'So what? You still want to try him out.'

“Sounds viable,” I spoke quickly before my inner amusement broke through. “Tousen, could you arrange such a meeting?”

He said he could before he left us. Gin snickered softly. My humor faded, however, knowing there was something more important at stake. He left a paper trail, didn't he?

'He's worried. He's afraid we'll fail. That's his backup plan.'

My brow creased again. You really think that Zahl of yours would put his mind at ease?

'Yes.' Gin's answer was definite. I pushed the door to the division building open, nodding at the orderly officer. 'Zahl has many good qualities, from what I know and am hearing these days. And if Tousen ever needs to get some relief for that tight blocked up ass of his, Zahl can assist him there too.'

Tousen Kaname is straight, love. I nodded at the barracks. It was almost time for kidou training for the members. Gin took the lead, commenting snidely on Tousen's frigidness.

You really don't like him at all, do you?

'Not one bit.' Gin was scowling adorably at the unseated runner that had blushed at me. She gulped and dashed off as fast as she could. 'He hates me too, so it balances out.'

I saw no need to lie. Tousen did dislike Gin and his apparently mercurial nature, and Gin saw no merit in a prudish and self-righteous character like Tousen. He has his uses.

'And the day he ceases to be useful, can I be the one? Can I?'

How could anyone resist Gin when he asked in that irrepressibly hopeful tone?

Of course. You'll enjoy it far more than I will.

xxxxx

I waited for Tousen to confirm the location with me.

“With first years as well?” I asked quietly. “That could be a problem.”

He shrugged. “They would learn that strength and power would guide their paths then.”

“Sometimes, Tousen Kaname, you are more cold-hearted than I am,” I commented.

“Justice isn't mercy, Aizen-san,” he answered obliquely.

I smiled. Of course he would remember that phrase.

xxxxx

Sometimes I wondered why we couldn't just be like any other couple. Holding hands, kissing – like now – and showing our affections openly.

'You're thinking again,' accused Gin as his tongue explored the back of my ear.

That's what my brain does, I admitted freely. I had to restrain myself from rumpling him too much, though; we would be putting in an appearance soon.

Gin pulled away and smoothed his hair. The stiff ocean breeze mussed it up appealingly. I smiled and kissed his cheek. 'You were saying something about appreciating the décor of a tearoom.'

Oh yes. I pulled him closer and nuzzled. See, the thing is, whatever the host has selected, it usually encompasses the season, or a message echoed in the scroll hung in the tokonoma.

He licked at my lower lip, demanding more kisses. 'So our job is to find the message?'

Not a job per se, I thought as our tongues slid over each other. But yes, as a guest that would show genuine appreciation for the host's thoughtfulness.

Most of the freshmen were getting the hang of soul burial, I noticed. There were a few who were quite competent, though there wasn't anyone outstanding. I scrutinized the group, trying to identify potentials.

Ulquiorra released the giant hollows at exactly the right time.

'Good work, Aizen-sama.' Gin was suitably impressed. 'I didn't even feel them.'

The reiatsu-masking process is fully in place now for all the arrancar. I remembered, then, about Ilforte's new look after shinigamification. By the way, you might want to follow me into Las Noches one of these days.

Gin was curious. I gave a few hints but left it hanging. Gin would find out when he wants to. We listened to the shrieks and screams of the students, my lover stirring at my side. Then it was down to Hisagi Shuuhei.

I watched the youth hold his ground, blood flowing freely down the side of his face. That had been a serendipitous result; the scarring would add much more to the appeal of the young man. And, knowing Gin as I did, Hisagi would prove to be too marked for his tastes.

'Oh yes. You are jealous.' Gin's smirk deepened into amusement.

Perhaps I am.

A brunette, petite and childlike, stopped, looked back at the huge hollow, then looked at her comrades again.

That girl just stopped and ran back, I indicated the girl in question. Her friends had joined her, including, I noted with something akin to satisfaction, the red-headed youth. They shielded Hisagi as best as they could, but there were others now emerging from Hueco Mundo.

Gin peered and gave a one-shouldered shrug. 'Did you ask Ulquiorra to send so many?'

Yes. I neatened Gin's collar absentmindedly. These were becoming arrogant. Ready?

'Ready.'

I told Kyoka Suigetsu to lift the veil. In a flash of light Shinsou had impaled and destroyed one of the huge hollows. The students stared at both of us as we proceeded.

Wonderful entrance you just crafted for us, Gin.

'Which of them are you interested in, Aizen-sama?'

Trust Gin to get to the crux of the matter. The one I touch.

As I patted the girl on her head I felt the sudden sour jealousy from Gin. He was observing all fourof them. I knew the girl was already smitten; she was of the type to believe in happily-ever-afters, they way she behaved. Hisagi was panting from his encounter, though he was upright unlike his two companions. The red-haired kid was holding his fear within, and I noted the calm and calculative glance he gave me and Gin. That was an ambitious boy; I told myself he could prove useful in other ways. And finally the blond who had cried out with fear earlier – he was watching Gin with a glimmering in his eyes.

Gin unleashed his sword again, neatly dispatching two hollows at a go. 'Can I pick?'

'Which, Gin? Hisagi or the redheaded kid?'

'Neither.' Gin swung Shinsou in an arc, decapitating another hollow. I stabbed with Kyoka Suigetsu, taking down one hollow nonchalantly. Gin went on. 'I want the blond youth. I want to hear him scream again.'

I glanced at the boy in question. He doesn't seem to be strong, Gin.

' Let me have him.'

Alright, if you can get him he's yours. I wondered why Gin had picked the unlikeliest candidate.

'Deal. Have fun with the girl.'

I could almost taste the jealousy in his words. I plan to mess up her mind, Gin, not sleep with her. Like I'd be interested in a puny, prepubescent build.

That was true. I had never seen the sex appeal of children, despite what some of the more deviant shinigami had mentioned.

'We'll see how it goes, hmm?' Gin grinned abruptly, his mouth a sickle of white against the darkness.

Yes, we will. If Gin was that interested, then the boy would be a very interesting specimen to examine. If you do make him scream again, I want to watch.

Gin's answer was jauntily confident. You're on.

 

Chapter Text

It wasn't without apprehension that I had decided to entrust Gin's further training to Rinbayashi. She was an astute woman, fiercely dedicated to Soul Society, and if she managed to discover the plans I had for Gin and myself we wouldn't survive.

But what was life without some risk?

When we entered the airy space I felt Gin tense up.

Relax, Gin. She's not going to eat you.

'There's something off about this space. It's too open.'

It only appears so. Rinbayashi knows how to throw off suspicion and how to unsettle people.

I rapped on the door to the innter office, situated well away from the rest of the division. Rinbayashi had always enjoyed being set apart. Only her lieutenant worked in the same room as her - which, considering her odd temperament, was much safer for the rest of her division.

A few pleasantries later and she was examining Gin with her rheumy eyes.

"Sousuke, you're finally entrusting your boy to my guidance." She smiled at me innocently. "You sure he'll be safe here?"

"I learned a lot from you, sensei, and I'm sure Gin can too," I said quietly. She had been a good teacher. "He needs a firmer hand than I'm willing to provide."

"Ah, young love. I miss those days – dear Jiro, how I miss him." Jiro had been her husband, I heard, dead before I was in Seireitei.

She struggled out of her place to study Gin better. Her stumbling gait was a sham, I knew; there was nothing frail about her reiatsu. Gin seemed intimidated. "And you, young man, how do you feel about this arrangement?"

He lifted his thin shoulders. "I don't think one way or the other about it."

I saw her move and quickly stepped beside Gin to catch him before he fell. He was startled; he apparently had been taken in by her dissembling.

"Don't lie, boy, I can see right through you. As I see right through him."

He stiffened in my arms. I quickly sent a thought to reassure him. She doesn't. But she has had a lot of experience reading people.

He stood on his own feet. 'Thanks for the late warning.'

I forgot. Go on, turn on that charm and win her over. She likes you already.

'I'd hate to be someone she dislikes.'

Gin bowed and replied, more confidently, "I don't like that Aizen-taichou has, once again, rearranged my life without consulting me. But like he said, I can learn a lot from you, so perhaps he has good reasons."

"Much better, boy."

Rinbayashi had circled back to her place and sat down. With a wave of her hand she dismissed me. Knowing that Gin was in good hands, I bowed and headed for the laboratories. See you later, Gin.

'Later, Aizen-sama.'

As I strode to my office I wondered what he would be learning from the old fake. Then I turned my mind to dealing with disciplinary problems in both Seireitei and Las Noches. Although it was backward and hidebound, Seireitei at least had a set of rules on how to handle disciplinary cases. In the end I decided to leave the judgment call to Tousen, Halibel and Ulquiorra. They could settle it. That was why I chose them.

Speaking of choosing, I still had a few gifts to pick out for Grimmjow and for Ilforte. Who would have guessed the bull-like adjuchas would turn into such a lovely youthful arrancar? If Gin was amenable, we'd be visiting Las Noches soon.

 

xxxxx

xxxxx

I often wondered why Yamamoto called these meetings, since whatever information he wished to disseminate can be done by any of the lower officers or even the unseated shinigami. In the end I concluded that he liked to hear himself speak and he wanted to check that we were all still on the job. Gin fidgeted with his hands. I could feel our boredom feeding into each other through our link.

'Kyoraku is already asleep.'

He gets away with it because of his headgear. I rubbed my wrists. And because Yamamoto knows he'll ask Ukitake for the necessary information anyway.

'You know, I think he's more drunk than usual. He's sliding off his chair- oops. Ise-san caught him.'

She's quite capable of punishing him herself, though I rather think that's what Kyoraku had in mind.

Gin smothered a chuckle with a soft cough. Yamamoto looked at us disapprovingly. Soifon beside him was rigid in her chair, emanating stern alertness.

'I wonder why she's always here before everyone else.'

If I'm not mistaken, she plants listening devices around the place.

'Really? Bugs? Wow, she really takes her job seriously.'

As should you.

'I would, but I have more pressing matters to be serious about.'

Into my mind came the unmistakable hunger for a loving session after the meeting, but I pushed his suggestion away.

His tone became fairly wistful. 'I'll waste away to skin and bones, the way you neglect me.'

I never neglect you.

'Yes you do. You deprive me of sex when I want it. That's neglect.'

That's you being greedy.

'Maybe that's what happened to Soifon. She didn't get enough sex and now she's all edgy.'

If she ever hears that aloud, she'll skin you alive. I had to look at Yamamoto intently, afraid I'd lose my composure.

Gin shifted slightly in his seat beside me. 'I'd worry she'll skin me dead.'

Rinbayashi's chair scraped the flooring as she stood, her lieutenant following her out of the hall. Yamamoto let them go without comment; it wasn't the first time the captain used her failing health to escape a boring meeting.

Kurotsuchi took the podium and began to detail his latest technological marvel. Already bored out of his mind, Gin began detailing with imagery what he planned to do to me that night when we got home. Once or twice I had to forcibly block him out so that the raunchier ideas wouldn't erode my poise.

'Someone's bashful,' Gin sang in our heads before Sasakibe stood.

Shush. You'll miss your cue.

'Here we go.'

Sasakibe nodded at Kurotsuchi and his lieutenant, Nemu. Then he turned to the rest of us. “Any other business?” No one spoke. “If not the meeting will be adjou-”

“There is one business,” Gin said, rising smoothly to his feet. I turned slightly in my seat. “There is one other business. I wish to ask why nothing has been done about Kuchiki-taichou's attack on me.”

“Sit down, Gin,” I said in a low but carrying voice. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Kyoraku jerk awake.

Gin turned an unsmiling face on me. “I was punished last month for stabbing Byakuya-kun. Why has nothing been done about Kuchiki-taichou?”

I stood up. “Sit. Down. He was in his right.”

“That wasn't what you said when you visited me in hospital,” he demanded heatedly. A few faces turned away: Unohana, Yamamoto, Kuchiki.

The guilty ones.

“That was before I knew you attacked Kuchiki-fukutaichou without provocation,” I said, a little louder than I intended.

“You-”

“Enough!” bellowed Yamamoto. The captain-general was standing and glaring at both of us. He probably considered the display to be too unbecoming of higher seated officers. “That is no longer a matter of concern, Ichimaru-fukutaichou. Dismissed.”

Gin bristled as Kuchiki Takayuki and Byakuya walked past, never making eye contact. I waited, making sure to hold the tableau until all the officers were out.

Let's go.

We knew where to head to: the corridor leading to the West Sacred Wall. It would be nearly deserted. Gin inhaled deeply. I let my reiatsu flare and fade, and then I nodded.

“You didn't even stand up for me!”

I noted the genuine hurt in his voice. He was really good. “You were in the wrong,” I said, keeping the tone level and strained.

“You're my lo-” he cut off the word and replaced it “my captain. Maybe for once you should show more favoritism!”

Good shot, Gin. “Gin, I know you're upset, but this is not how it works.”

Thanks. Escalation. “Yeah, who can believe that a captain can do something wrong, eh?” he sneered.

I brushed my hair back in frustration. “Gin... enough of this nonsense. You can't just accuse a captain of not being treated the way a lieutenant is.”

“Why can't I? It's not fair. It's not fair that I had to be placed under lock and key for three days and my salary deducted for eight months while he gets away with almost murdering me?!”

I shoved him into the wall. “Gin!”

'I want to you to fuck me right now.'

Can't. People watching.

'Fuck. I need.'

Later, love.

“I hate that you almost died because of him, but it was your own loss of control that landed you in those straits. You were responsible for what happened to you.”

He stared at me forlornly before pushing my hands from his shoulders. “Tell me... tell me that isn't what you really think.”

We gazed at each other, him drawing on the air of an injured lover, me the aura of a patient captain. Then he walked away, deliberately not noticing Kurosawa and Matsumoto around the corner. I swiveled on my heel and went off as well. I had a mass lecture to prepare and about a hundred shinigami-elects to put under Kyoka Suigetsu's spell.

xxxxx

As I rearranged my lecture notes Gin called on me. Are you getting this?

I closed my eyes and sensed the amusement my lover was feeling and the general adorableness of young Kira Izuru. I am. And he is. I'd like to congratulate you on your taste, Gin, but I have to focus on preparing the lecture. Tune me out for now?

' Alright. Do you need my help?'

Later, love. I'll send for you.

He laughed brightly as he studied Kira. I smiled to myself; he was really enjoying his little game. Thankfully he hadn't noticed my worries over the new construct to lock recalcitrant hollows in a limbo dimension; it would have spoiled his fun.

Despite the vaunted power of the rings, they had quite a lot of limitations. No wonder they didn't sell. Yet I could see why the restrictions were necessary: if I wasn't able to block out Gin and vice versa, we'd have gone insane in months. A moment of true sharing was all we needed everyday, when we gave in to our passions and affections. At all other times a light link was more than sufficient.

The students were filing in. I excused myself to the teaching assistant and headed to the back of the auditorium, where two hell butterflies were locked in a small cage.

Then I looked at the time, trying to determine if Gin was ready for my message.

Gin?

'Ready. He's so cute when he blushes! You have to see this later.'

I will. Message reaching in a few minutes.

I let the butterflies out and they hovered around my face, waiting for my message. I was glad for the perks of being captain: top-secret messages that were erased as soon as transmission ended. But I never could understand the logic of using butterflies. I knew they were strong, but shouldn't speed be of the essence?

xxxxx

I returned home to an eager, lustful Gin, who jumped me the second I took off my captain's robe.

“He's delicious,” Gin murmured as he fiddled with the ties on my hakama. “So innocent, so bold. I don't recall wanting someone else that badly.”

“As long as I'm still number one,” I warned as I caught him up in a rough kiss.

His tongue swept over mine, hot and demanding, and his hands were pushing at my robe. The breathy moans he was emitting and his skilled hands were directing my responses far more than I cared to admit, but privately I thought it was worth having a pet in the family if it meant more nights of this.

As we pressed against the wall I pulled my mouth away, ignoring the strand of wetness from his mouth to mine. “Show me.”

Gin smiled crookedly and rested his forehead on mine. 'I want him so bad. Do you mind?'

Go ahead, love. As long as you don't love him.

'Why would I? You're all I need. He's just a passing fancy. But what a delicate and sinful treat he'll make!'

 

Chapter Text

Gin missed another opening to secure his victory. I covered my mouth thoughtfully; was Gin playing or did he really not see the weaknesses of his sword? I thought the latter was more likely: Gin had become more driven ever since I informed him of his eligibility for captaincy.

A hell butterfly fluttered delicately to me.

Aizen-gobantai-taichou, please attend Sixth Division now. That was Sasakibe's voice. He was curt, often to the point of rude, but I understood his attitude: he had served with Yamamoto for close to five centuries. Rumor was that his zanpakuto was too strong to master and call forth bankai. I saw no evidence to that. Sasakibe was strong, no doubt, but he had reached his limits. It was simple as that.

As I slipped quietly from the training grounds – how I hoped Gin would have something special to tell me later! - I wondered what would happen when I reached my limits. As of now I was still struggling with level ninety spells, and could still use work in hakudo. But when I did reach the boundaries of my power, what was I to do?

When Gin reached his limits, what should we do?

There was an atmosphere of anticipation around the Sixth. I bowed and went in. Komamura was there, talking with Tousen; Yamamoto and Kuchiki Takayuki were seated already. Kuchiki Byakuya stood in the center of the courtyard, unmoving. His hakama flapped in the stiff breeze, but he remained still.

“Why are we here?” I asked.

“Byakuya has something to show,” said Takayuki. “If the captains would sit down please.”

Byakuya, upon seeing all the guests seated, drew his sword. It was an elegant blade, I noted, taking in the details of the hilt and the slight curve of the zanpakuto. “Shire, Senbonzakura.”

It must be a Kuchiki thing, I mused, when his sword split into multiple thin blades that danced about the lieutenant. All those petals in their yards...

Then Byakuya reformed his sword, before he dropped it. “Bankai.”

The glowing, oversized swords that grew out from behind him were truly impressive. When Byakuya released his millions of paper-thin blades to swarm about him, I knew Gin would not be happy about this.

'Where did you go?'

I shut my end of the link down. I needed time to think how to convey this new information to my lover. Perhaps he would be happy for Byakuya, though I doubted the case – he had been friendly with Byakuya's wife, not with Byakuya himself.

xxxxx

Gin stiffened in my embrace. “Fuck,” he swore under his breath.

I was right; he didn't like it at all. Rubbing his back, I said softly, “It's alright, Gin, he'll just get promoted first-”

“No it's not alright, dammit.” Gin removed himself from my arms and stormed to the window. “I don't want to lose to him. I've always lost to him in the academy. I'm sick and tired of losing to that well-bred, arrogant, fortunate princeling!”

“You became lieutenant before he did-”

Gin whirled on me. “He had the chance before I did, and he turned it down.”

I had known that, since Kuchiki – at that time – had still been on friendly terms with me. I had dissuaded him, since it would only reek of nepotism to the lower nobles and the commoners. Byakuya had to prove himself to the others first, and he had.

“Fucking Kuchiki lordlin',” Gin said with a frustrated hiss.

I tried to soothe the ruffled feathers. You needn't be this troubled. You're the equal and better of Byakuya in many respects-

“What would you know of it? Nothing!” He had turned so hard on his heel that his towel slipped off his hips. He wasn't aware of his nudity though, and I reached for his preferred robe. He ranted on. “I was the one who had to live with the knowledge that there's someone better, no matter how hard I try. I was the one who kept fighting upstream and whose efforts are never seen, simply because I am from Rukongai. I was the one who saw how they fawned over that prissy lordling, simply because he is a Kuchiki!”

I never knew my lover had so much buried antagonism towards Byakuya. It was intriguing. Nevertheless it was not a healthy obsession to brood over. I placed his indigo yukata over his thin shoulders. “I had lived with the shadow of others over me too. It's no big deal.”

“Not to you!” Gin was angry, more angry than I had seen him in years. “He has everything he should ever want, and he acts as if the world owes him. He has money, power without having to earn it. He has talent for everything. He has had love, real love, someone who loves him and has given everything for him.”

Now it was getting personal. I made one last bid at patience. “Gin, you have those too. You have me.”

You have me, Gin. Is that not enough?

He laughed bitterly. “I have you? I have you? I think you got that the other way around. You – have me. Like you have everything else. I'm just part of your collection, one of your playthings-”

That rankled. I couldn't believe he had that low an opinion of us, of the depth of my feelings. It was a wonder I still could give voice to my thoughts. “A plaything. That is how you see yourself in my life?”

No, no I don't. “I didn't mean it.”

“Yes you did. That was exactly how you felt.” I was experiencing a cold numbness through my body. I had demonstrated, again and again, that he was important to me. It all meant nothing. “After all I have said, all I have done, you still feel as if you mean nothing to me.”

“No, no, Aizen-sama, I'm sorry, I was just – I know how you feel about me.” He stepped closer, now fearful.

Deliberately I shut my mind and heart from his. Being so near, yet unable to link with our customary gladness and eagerness... It hurt for him as much as for me, judging by his expression. Good. I wanted us to feel the pain together.

His hand reached out for my arm. I let him draw near, let him attempt to warm the chill that was steadily growing.

“Yes you do. And you think so little of it that you insult my affections.” I studied his face, the paleness now a complete shock of white.

“Aizen-sama, I didn't mean – aah!”

My fingers traced along his arm before I took his wrist – and gripped. My right palm rested against his neck and my fingers closed over his pulse points. As I tugged him close, he gasped. I breathed the words against his brow. “You think you're a plaything? Then you will be a plaything. Then I will remind you what it means to be my plaything.”

He was starting to turn blue. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry...

'Sorry? Why should you be? I haven't played in a long while. Thanks for offering.'

Negligently I pushed him into the wall. What little breath he had left was forced out. I ripped off the robe I had just put on him, tossing it behind me, before gripping his neck again. My eyes roamed over his body. “Unmarked skin,” I remarked, then sank my my teeth as deep as I could into his shoulder, not holding back my fury, nor my disappointment, nor my regret.

I had given so much, and so much more, and Gin still did not believe.

I had failed.

I had failed so terribly.

Pulling away I shoved him to the ground. I swiveled about, only to see him scuttle backwards, terror paramount in his eyes. Terror, not the love and affection I had grown accustomed to the past few years.

If it was terror he wanted, then it would be terror he got. He kept backing away, as if I would hurt him. Annoyed, I stomped on his ankle and he cried out in pain.

The cry scratched across my already fraying temper.

“Shhh. You know I don't like screams from my toys. Not when they're as exquisite as you.” I touched his skin, cool, clammy with sweat now, following a line only I could see.

Gin was shaking violently as he choked back his anguished whines. The muscles along his calf twitched and I kissed up the leg, pausing only at his hip. Desire, fierce and harsh and hot, swept through me and I felt myself harden. Here was raw passion – the full weight of fear and guilt, the pure undisguised clarity of pain.

It had been so long since I fed that aspect of myself.

Turning him over to his hands and knees, I briefly considered preparing him. But no; I wanted the agony to spike through his reiatsu and blind him to everything else. He would know submission, physically, mentally, emotionally. I wanted, and I had not pandered to my wants for a long, long time.

Shoving his shoulders lower until the pose was almost impossible, I entered into his heat. He stifled a whimper as I pounded into him, feeling the tightness build low in my gut, grabbing a fistful of his hair so I could see more of the beautifully arched neck.

I changed my position a little to align better with his pleasure. Then I forced myself to stop, with some difficulty, but I had never been one to allow full freedom to myself.

Time for penance.

xxxxx

When he passed out, I finally slid out of him. Trailing my index finger over the bruises that marred the perfection of his skin, I held back a sigh.

I had gone too far. Never knowing when to hold back, that was my flaw. Torn skin was flashing red beads of blood at me before the wound coagulated; his body moved slightly every time I pressed into a bruise.

I decided to leave the marks. They were for me – I would not hurt him this badly again.

I loved him.

As if hearing my unspoken declaration, Gin settled on his uninjured side with a soft groan. He had curled up tightly. I felt the flutter in his reiatsu and I knew he was awake.

Carefully, I placed a hand on his uninjured shoulder. He relaxed immediately, then unfolded to rest his head on my chest. I stroked his hair, wishing he could just understand, comprehend at an instinctual level that he meant more than the world to me.

He was contrite. 'I'm sorry, Aizen-sama. I love you, I really do.'

You shouldn't have doubted me, I told him quietly. His breathing was even and calm, his thoughts uncluttered and at peace. Even the roiling anger and envy at Byakuya that had provoked my reaction was gone.

I know. I'm sorry. I love you.

No matter how often he said it, I still softened when the words come. It's alright now. We'll get you through bankai training. Byakuya still needs time to hone his skills. Rinbayashi still has things to teach you. Don't think too much about it, love.

Yes Aizen-sama.

I chanted under my breath to summon the strongest healing spell I knew. Bones were easy the earlier they were treated, and I had used up quite enough time. The brilliant glow surrounded his ankle and his breathing slowed. I looked at his face; it was restful and happy.

I was glad. Good. Now rest, Gin. We have a certain someone to see tomorrow.

xxxxx

At the academy I handed my report of the various classes' visit to my division. Gin had gone on ahead to the demonstration dojo.

According to the fourth seat Mitsui, there had been two students who had lingered as long as they dared after their class had moved on to the Sixth.

Hinamori Momo and Kira Izuru, the report had read.

I wasn't surprised. Kira, I knew, was already snared by Gin's peculiar charm. The boy had been so eager to get into Gin's good graces that I had been surprised Gin didn't take up the offer immediately. Gin only said he wanted Kira to set the pace.

All of Gin's toys remembered him very deeply, whether they were experienced whores or innocents. They knew, most of them, that they were walking into a trap; Gin practically emanated threats and danger. But still they walked in, blinded to everything but his smile and his nonchalance. It was as if they wanted to taste Death and hope to get away unscathed. It never worked.

Hinamori now... I had seen her at an inter-dormitory competition early in the year. She had been the kido representative of her team, her prowess even more vaunted than Kira Izuru, the top scholar. She had proven herself extremely competent, but there was one trait I found very useful: her inability to see clearly.

She didn't even realize her teammates were using her to take on the major challenges, while they breezed past the easy stages.

Gin wouldn't have stood for that one instant. Even as a lieutenant, he preferred not to have to slave over everything himself, delegating equally and with equanimity. He took on some tough assignments, to be sure, but he also ensured he had a team with him for each. Despite the disdain some of our older officers regarded him with, Gin had managed to identify and train a number of efficient and good men and women to take on leadership roles within the division.

I walked towards the main dojo. Gin was probably charming/terrifying the fourth year cohorts now, while Ise Nanao waited for her turn on the mat. It would surprise anyone that the eighth lieutenant was skilled in hakudo, since she was reputed to be the most skilled kidou user in the lieutenant ranks.

Someone collided into me as I turned the corridor. I reached out to catch the slender body in my arms before he or she toppled to the ground, but I was too late. Large blue eyes stared up at me, the pale golden hair a slipped halo about that fair face.

Kira Izuru.

“Easy there,” I said, reaching for his hand. “Be careful.”

The boy blushed, unable to speak. I grinned and hauled him upright. He stammered nervously, ““Ai-aizen t-t-taichou!”

“That's me,” I answered readily. “Are you alright?”

“Ye-y-y-yes, sir.” He was furiously pink about his neck and ears, and his eyes were fixed to the ground.

I could see why Gin was enthralled; the boy did have beautifully-maintained skin and lovely hair, but it was that bashfulness that was engaging. Patting him on the head, I said, “Don't run round corners anymore, alright? It's not safe.”

He bowed deeply and agreed.

I smiled once more. Gin had picked an interesting one. Even I was tempted to partake of the fruit. “Off you go now.”

He bowed again and dashed off. I chuckled to myself. Gin would have such an easy time with this young student.

 

Chapter Text

I walked down towards the dojo Gin was in, noting the few awestruck students who had registered my presence. Idly I surveyed their potential. Weak, weak, weaker, can't feel his reiatsu, average, better than average, weak...

And then a brilliant splash of color caught my eye. No, not a splash of color: red hair that called attention to its owner. Abarai Renji, one of the three freshmen who stood by Hisagi as he faced down the hollows, was talking to Hinamori, all the way at the opposite block. I slid to the shadows, wishing to remain hidden. He was animated, all gestures and wild waving of hands, and she giggled. I smiled to myself – they would certainly liven up fifth division after Gin took over the reins at the Third. As I turned the corner I thought I saw a ghost.

Hisana?

Walking quickly I checked the corridors again. No, not a sign of the girl anywhere. I shrugged it off, knowing that it had probably been some random brunette that triggered the thought. Although why I should be thinking of that Rukongi girl...

'You feel... different. What's up?'

Trust Gin to pick up my mood before I could conceal it. I smiled to myself and pushed my glasses up my nose. Nothing special. Are you alright? Any twinges?

'No. I'm alright.' He didn't remark on the change in topic though, for which I was glad. This mind-link could be a hindrance sometimes, and even though Gin was the only one I trusted with everything, I still wanted some thoughts locked to myself.

Oddly enough, I was better at locking him out of my thoughts than he was of rejecting my prying. Not the presence-sense: he was always capable of telling where I was and how I felt, but when it came to actual thought I was by far the better reader of his ruminations.

He was getting ready to exit.

I met your little worshiper just now. He's adorable.

'He is, isn't he?' Gin sounded amused and proud, like the owner of a brand-new toy no one knew how to operate yet.

Are you done? I'll wait outside and we'll go to the dean together.

'I thought you wanted to release Kyoka Suigetsu?'

I had, but we should deal with the more urgent matter first. Besides, they would all have a chance to see it at the New Year celebrations, when the captains graced the occasion with displays of their prowess. That can wait. Come on.

xxxxx

The old dean fiddled with the ring on his finger. By the look of him, I knew he had need of another little boy or girl. He was always jittery whenever the current one approached what stood for puberty on this side of existence; they would no longer stir his lust and he would leave them enough to continue with their lives. The only one who tried to blackmail him was dead by Gin's hands, two, three decades ago. Gin hadn't asked me about the girl and I had offered no explanations, but the payoff had been substantial enough to fund a few more luxuries for Gin.

Speaking of luxuries, I should be setting up an account with a stockbroker soon. The black market of Soul Society products was thriving, but it wouldn't last forever.

The dean invited us to seats opposite his desk. “How are you both?”

“I'm fine.” Gin picked up a letter opener, probably subconsciously, and started playing with it. I noticed the dean's eyes following the glint of silver in those pale hands, fascinated by the speed at which it moved.

“I'm fine. What is the matter that you wish to bring to my attention?”

“I received this letter last night,” said the dean.

I took the letter and read it.

Dear sir,

Although it pains me to pen these distasteful things on paper, I feel I have to bring to your attention that Ichimaru Gin, lieutenant of the fifth, is actively seeking to seduce and corrupt a new student. The student is, of course, impressed by Ichimaru-fukutaichou's capability and skill, and I am afraid falling deeper into Ichimaru-fukutaichou's trap. Forgive me for not naming him; he will not admit to it and will probably fall deeper and harder for Ichimaru-fukutaichou's maneuvering if cornered.

I hold no grudge against the lieutenant. Ichimaru-fukutaichou has been nothing but kindness to me, and this is the main reason why I feel I should write this letter. Prior to entering the academy, I spent a week in his company. I had no idea that he was a lieutenant, and he gave no clue to his true identity. I have found him to be dangerously charming, which, in itself, is no danger, but he is also unscrupulous and without a moral compass.

Although I am but a student, I have reflected long and hard upon my understanding of the man. He might be a competent and capable lieutenant when under the guidance and watchful eye of his captain, but if left to his own devices, Ichimaru-fukutaichou might lead too many astray. And one, sir, is far too many.

Your humble student, Hisagi Shuuhei.”

I felt ire rising. He was foolhardy, this little student. Gin took the letter from my hands and read it aloud. He sounded amused, almost; I supposed he felt he had a hand in raising this young upstart. I let the initial reaction die off – Hisagi Shuuhei undoubtedly had courage to spare in writing this letter.

“I would throw it away since it threatens the reputation of the Gotei, but there is the ring of sincerity to the words.” The dean folded his hands on his belly.

“Of course there is.” Gin tossed the letter back on the table, the smile on his face fox-like. “Hisagi Shuuhei. He's trying to protect his junior. Can't say as I blame him.”

“Then it must be Kira Izuru he's talking about,” the dean said with a slow exhalation. “Are you involved with the boy?”

“No. With Aizen-taichou watching, how dare I?”

“You've never let that stop you before,” the dean pointed out calmly. He knew a little about Gin's playthings and games. I hadn't bothered to hide it from those in my employ; if I didn't trust them to protect me, I didn't trust them at all.

“He's a brave one,” I commented, reading the letter again. “You will have to be seen to do something. I suppose you made sure he'll see me walking out sternly and furiously.”

The dean nodded once. Gin suggested leaving by another exit. “And the news of my punishment has to spread even to the academy.”

I leaned back in my chair. “When is your next session with the graduating class?”

“Three days from now. Morning, I think the first lesson.” Gin was twirling the letter opener with his left hand, the blade flashing.

I smiled placidly. “Good.”

“Ahem,” the dean uttered. “I take it that you need this letter no more?”

“No, I do not. Make sure no traces of it can be found after Hisagi has seen poor, battered Ichimaru,” I said as I got out of the chair. “Is there anything I can help you with?”

“The last one is almost worn out,” said the dean with a smile. “Anything new?”

I ran my list of suppliers through my mind. “I'll get back to you by the end of the week. Thank you for the letter.”

xxxxx

As we exited the dean's office I felt the stirrings of lust thread through Gin's reiatsu. Curious, I probed his thoughts. Then I narrowed my eyes.

Hey. Shouldn't that be about me?

'Sorry, Aizen-sama.' He didn't sound repentant though. 'Hisagi's words got me thinking.'

So should that scene be categorized under “seducing” or “corrupting”?

'Knowing me as you do, I think both.'

I glared at him, half-amused, half-annoyed. Checking that there were no other reiatsu around, I pulled Gin into a nearby supply closet. Urahara and I had made use of it extremely often in the old days, and I knew it was slightly more spacious than the others in the building.

You need a prompt lesson, fukutaichou.

Gin was playing coy, biting his lower lip and peering through his lashes. 'Why are we in here, taichou?'

I closed the door tightly, shutting out all light. Re-establishing the pecking order. Now, repeat after me: Kira Izuru is there to add spice and variety to our love life. He is not there to replace the main meal.

'Are you edible, taichou?'

I nuzzled the hollow behind his ear. You've tasted me before, haven't you?

'Yes, taichou.' He kissed my cheek almost shyly. 'My favorite food, in fact.'

Good. We moved together in the too-warm darkness, the smell of dust overlaid by the fascinatingly indescribable signature scent of Gin.

He asked about the payment the dean mentioned earlier and I told him about the children. I had yet to tell him, but I was glad he hadn't met me when he was still in a child's form, since he would probably become another payment, instead of becoming mine.

Fate worked in wondrous ways.

xxxxx

Scarcely had we begun our business lunch then did the messenger arrive. Kurosawa put down his chopsticks and I gestured for the man to tell us his business.

“Aizen-taichou, Kurosawa-taichou, Kuchiki Takayuki-taichou has fainted and has been sent to the hospital. Kuchiki-fukutaichou requests immediate assistance with his squad while he attends to his father at the hospital.”

I looked at my colleague across the table. He narrowed his eyes at the messenger. “What does the soutaichou say, eh?”

Yamamoto-soutaichou requests the presence of both Kurosawa-taichou and Aizen-taichou,” the messenger said quickly. Gin dismissed him. I pushed my glasses up the bridge of my nose and then got up for my haori. “We should go too, Shino. Gin, report at Rinbayashi's after lunch. They might need your assistance.”

“Yes, taichou,” said Gin quietly. I had no doubt he would follow my instructions.

Kurosawa struggled up too and pulled on his captain's coat, telling Matsumoto to take care of things at the tenth division and at the penitentiary. Before we left the room, Gin tugged across the shoulders of my haori, straightening it. He didn't like the cut of it, saying that it hid my body too much, but again he liked that only he got to see the full package nowadays.

I wondered how I would manage after he took command at the third, but I supposed I could always build myself a reputation for being steadfast. I already had that reputation anyway; the fact that I had stuck with Urahara for so long had already garnered me a name for being blindly, loyally devoted to my lovers. Mizuki had been the 'rebound', according to some of the more gossip-prone shinigami, and even that rebound had taken fifty years. Gin was the current obsession and most of them could tell that I supported him far more than a captain was supposed to champion his or her lieutenant. Kurosawa even joked that I was in Gin's thrall, that Gin was the leader in our relationship.

No way in any realm was Gin my leader, even if I did let him roam free.

“Hey,” Kurosawa said, cutting into my private musings. “Y'think the old one finally copped it?”

“I think he'll be alright, for now anyway, since the Fourth got to him so early.”

Kuchiki would not be dead, not yet.

I had made sure that the increased dosage from thirty milligrams to fifty milligrams had gone unnoticed, even by the cautious and conscientious Isane. It had been so easy to slip into the records room while Kyoka Suigetsu put up a front of me resting by Gin's bedside, waiting for my lover to rouse from his sleep. It had been far too easy to add that single stroke to the kanji marking the strength of medication for the fading captain, far too easy to move about the hospital. I had worried that there had been vigilant eyes that I could not see, but there had been none.

The slow overdosing had finally taken its toll. Patience was a virtue too few understood.

As we entered the spacious ward Kuchiki had to himself, Yamamoto turned to regard us both. Then the old man turned to Kuchiki. “Who would you prefer?”

“If I had my way, Ukitake-san would be the best,” said Kuchiki Takayuki. His alabaster skin was parchment-dry, stretched over bones and colored a pale yellow-beige.

My eyes softened, and there was a tightening about my mouth. I made sure to keep Gin from prying, though from what I could read he was still enjoying the last bits of his lunch. Kurosawa made a small noise at the back of his throat, and we both acknowledged the presence of Komamura and Kyoraku, already seated at the couch. Kurosawa glanced at the captain-general and jerked his head for me to sit as well.

“Ukitake is too frail these days to train Byakuya-kun in bankai,” Yamamoto said firmly. “What other captain do you think would be most appropriate?”

Kuchiki coughed and wheezed. The four of us at the couch winced faintly at the hacking sound, the last dregs of life slowly expelled from that body. He breathed heavily and slowly before speaking. “A-Aizen Sousuke should do, if he... if he doesn't hold a grudge.”

Yamamoto raised an eyebrow at me. I walked over to the bed. “Why do you think I would hold a grudge?” I asked, brows knitting together. “Gin deserved being punished. You've always been a good colleague; rest assured that I will take great pains with Byakuya's training.”

“Th-thank you,” he exhaled noisily. “Others are... good too, but not good enough. Not to be... like Zaraki, or... or Kurotsuchi, or Kyoraku. Vices. Vices. Soi Fon, too one-tracked. Unohana, too gentle... Komamura, too mysterious. Sorry, I know you can hear me... dying man's ramblings.”

Yamamoto's glare dared any of the present captains to take umbrage.

I smiled down at the Kuchiki. “I will teach him as best as I can, Kuchiki-san.”

“Good. Good. To bond with... subordinates, too risky. To honor, always... honor Seireitei's rules. To honor his house. These he knows.” His breathing was erratic and I told him to rest, to let his body relax and build up some stamina.

Unohana and Isane slid in quietly, and invited us out of the ward before we could further wear out the man.

xxxxx

Byakuya bowed and accepted the suggestion graciously. His fair skin was marred by the dark shadows under his eyes. Despite the coolness that had sprung between the two men after Hisana appeared in Byakuya's life, Byakuya did love and respect his father.

“We'll have daily training in the afternoons, at four,” I said. “That would give you time to visit your father before we meet.”

“Thank you Aizen-taichou, but I think he would prefer that I master Senbonzakura's bankai form as early as possible.”

Yamamoto was impassive. “Aizen-san has made the arrangements. Have the graciousness to accept and obey.”

“Yes, soutaichou.”

xxxxx

When I told Gin about the sixth captain in hospital he was unconcerned. He then informed me of the death of the ninth lieutenant. “He was caught alone out in Rukongai when two menos came across him.”

“Tousen-san must be rather upset,” I remarked.

“He was quieter than usual when Rinbayashi sent me and Jin over.” Gin finished his shower and wrapped his robe about him. “They're holding the funeral tomorrow evening.”

“We'll attend the funeral tomorrow evening, Gin,” I said. I rinsed and dried my face. “Full Gotei regalia. Oh, and I'll be training Byakuya for captaincy as well, so our bankai training will have to take place in the evenings.”

Gin was rather put out, but not irritated. After I had settled down with an old favorite – Sun-tze's Art of War – he snuggled up and began to ask a favor.

“No,” I cut him off. “He remains untainted.”

“I haven't even said-”

“I know you, Gin,” I said, lightly squeezing his shoulder as he curled closer. “You already have your little Kira to play with, so I'm disallowing any others. Particularly one who will have a lot of influence over Seireitei. I have to be friendly with him and he has to trust me, and that is impossible to do if you want to bed him just to show your dominance.”

He stuck his lower lip out a little, but rested his head on my shoulder anyway. “You want?”

“Not tonight, Gin. I want to wake up early tomorrow.” His hand rested on my abdomen and traced over the muscles. I held it there, enjoying his cool skin on my warm stomach. “I'll pay a visit to Kuchiki-taichou and see how he is handling hospitalization. Do see to the budget meetings with team six and nineteen before I return.”

“Duly noted, taichou.” He kissed my neck and I smiled down at him. He blinked through long lashes and added in a completely non-suggestive tone, “Alright, I'll wake ya up early then.”

I knew what he was going to do. No objections there, of course; it was one of the best ways to welcome the new day. Before I kissed him goodnight, I whispered, “Fox.”

“Liar.”

xxxxx

After he had fallen asleep, I turned off the bedside lamp and studied my lover in the half-light. He was breathing easily, his breaths brushing over my thigh. Easing my way down the bed I slowly drew his sleeping form against me.

Out of habit he nuzzled under my chin and my heart tightened. What I used to take for granted was becoming ever more precious. His bones still felt fragile under my hands, his skin cool and soothing. It was going to be difficult, letting him take on a new challenge, but it was necessary for him to become stronger, to move out from under my shadow.

It had been a stroke of serendipity that Gin found Kira Izuru. It would assist Gin to have someone relying on him as he had relied on me. I had no illusion that this Kira would become like us – discreet background checks had not shown Kira to possess the qualities Gin had. Kira's environment hadn't groomed him to develop it.

Gin stirred and mumbled something about takoyaki. I sighed affectionately. Very silently, I let my mind link with his subconscious. Then a small, happy noise escaped from Gin and I hugged him tighter.

I love you.

I would never tell him, not the way he wanted me to, but it didn't mean I couldn't admit to the fact.

 

Chapter Text

Waking up to Gin was an adventure sometimes.

Just a fortnight ago I had to put out a small kitchen fire – Gin was definitely not kitchen material, no matter how much he yearned to be. On the other hand, he was exceptionally brilliant at knives, and most days he seemed satisfied with the preparation part of the meal, leaving me with the actual cooking.

I hummed contentedly as his lips slid across to my left, even as his hand busied itself. Languidly I brushed his fringe from his face, and gazed down at his half-lidded expression. He smiled and kissed me on the lips before returning to suck my nipple. I shifted, my right fist pulling off his sleeping robe. He still slept clothed, even with my body heat beside him, but usually I just slipped my hand between the folds to reach his skin. The robe now caught his arms and he had to stop what he was doing. He protested softly but shrugged out of it anyway. With a last lick over my sternum he slid down, his smile growing.

I rolled my head back and exhaled deeply, allowing Gin to do as he pleased.

xxxxx

I bowed to Unohana as she led me into the inner sanctum of Kuchiki's ward. She left quickly, no doubt to begin her rounds in the hospital.

Byakuya was there, ashen-faced and pallid. I wondered if he had slept at all. The two Kuchiki men were not speaking, but there was an aura of reconciliation about them. Perhaps the older Kuchiki had finally told Byakuya what he had always bottled up. Byakuya stood and greeted me politely.

“Good morning to you too, Byakuya-kun,” I said. I was entitled to the affectionate tone; I had watched him grow into his powers and had been the first to give him a failing grade in the Academy. “Go back and rest for a while before you go to the division. You won't be able to focus without some sleep in you.”

“Yes Aizen-taichou. Good morning, father.”

The young heir left, his reiatsu shaky and dimmed. Once I was certain he had left, I took the seat beside the spacious bed.

“Good morning, Kuchiki-taichou,” I said. “How are you feeling today?”

“Much better,” he rasped. Slowly, achingly, he sat up. I hoped I never grew that weak. Kuchiki Takayuki blinked, an effort in itself. “Yamamoto-Genryuusai-soutaichou... has decided then.”

“Yes. He feels that it would be better for Byakuya-kun to take up his posting only after his control of bankai has stabilized. It would also be more credible for Byakuya-kun.”

“The sixth... cannot be leaderless.”

I smiled genially. “Yamamoto-soutaichou has decided that Rinbayashi-san and I will lead your division for now.”

“Rinbayashi-san? She's not much stronger than I am right now.” Kuchiki Takayuki wheezed, and drew in a shuddering gasp. “Utagawa Jin is... running the division... for her. How can he... he can't handle two divisions.”

“Not to worry,” I said gently, “Gin is training part-time under Rinbayashi, while my third and fourth seats cover for Gin's major duties. It will work out.”

“I hope... so. Byakuya is strong. Stronger than I can ever... ever hope to be.” He coughed and hacked. I waited, motionless. The time was approaching. “I had hoped to see... see him become captain. But it's too late, too late.” His breaths shortened to gasps.

“I'll get the healers,” I said, and rang the bell. Kotetsu Isane rushed in with her team and came to check on the captain while I drew back to the far wall. This was the first medic team – Unohana wasn't around, but they were the crème de la crème of the Fourth.

I studied the purposeful rush of the medics, wondering if I would be able to meet Gin for lunch later. I was hoping for a simple meal at the commissary's, since they had prepared curry, but Gin might be craving for something less savory and in a place more private.

Decisions, decisions.

xxxxx

“I've decided to involve Kurosawa,” I told Gin over curried rice. We came to a compromise: we had the curried rice, and we were eating in the division barracks. No one was there – since they were supposed to be out doing the work we set for them.

The skies were graying. I thought I could smell rain. Then I sighed inwardly; I still had the requisition forms to fill and the dozen or so claim forms to go over, before clearing my desk of reallocation of shinigami about the various divisions. Oh well – these were necessary evils of captaincy.

His chopsticks hovering over the grilled chicken, Gin paused. Then he tilted his head. “How long do I get?”

“From tonight till tomorrow evening. Enough time for the students to know.”

The next morning was Gin's zanjutsu tutorial day. I understood why Yamamoto wanted lieutenants and captains to be involved with the education of shinigami – these were going to be soldiers in the battle, and we had to know what we were getting. In addition, we were better at locating potentials than the teachers sometimes.

Then Gin's nose wrinkled in distaste. “The cells stink.”

“We'll get you cleaned up back home then,” I said with a small smile. My lieutenant quirked an eyebrow at me before smiling brightly at me. “I'm certain water from the well in the garden would do fine. Or perhaps I'll just toss you to the Fourth's laundry rooms. They have these huge tubs for bleaching robes, with long copper sticks for proper agitation. Cleans you up a treat.”

“What?” he half-snarled. “Not tender loving care in a proper bath?”

I grinned. “Now why would I provide that?”

While he was distracted with coming up with an answer, I stole a bit of grilled chicken from his plate. He growled, food being one of the things he didn't like sharing. “You have your own curried pork,” he stated slowly. “You didn't have to take mine.”

“I felt like eating yours,” I answered. “Besides, what's yours is mine. And what's mine is still mine. I'm sure you don't mind, do you?”

“What happened to Aizen Sousuke?” he asked, pushing aside his meal and taking a long sip of tea. “He's not this greedy.”

“Why don't you find out?” I drank my tea as well, rinsing away the salty richness of the curry. I saw him tense before he launched himself across the table. I caught him and we rolled over, laughing and fighting.

Lunch was promptly forgotten.

xxxxx

Byakuya turned up punctually.

I was stretching after a long afternoon at the desk. “Limber up before we begin, Kuchiki-fukutaichou.”

The youth obeyed silently, leaving his armband on a rock nearby. Gin was already at Rinbayashi's for the daily lessons.

“Call up your bankai, Byakuya. I wish to see it for myself.” I unsheathed Kyoka Suigetsu, feeling the hum of excitement in my zanpakuto. It wasn't necessary, but sometimes Kyoka Suigetsu noticed things I had missed.

Be patient. We're here to observe.

:So what form should I take, Sousuke?:

We are not fighting him.

:When am I going to show them what I am capable of, Sousuke?:

The time will come, my dear Kyoka Suigetsu. The world will be astounded then.

:Of course. I AM Kyoka Suigetsu.:

Too proud, too proud. Now, be ready.

The petals swarmed about me and I observed the flow as directed by Byakuya's hands. He was straining already – I could see the beads of perspiration rolling down the alabaster neck.

“Withdraw your bankai,” I commanded, and again he obeyed immediately. Silently I congratulated Kuchiki Takayuki for having such a fine son. Almost as admirable as my Gin, if not for that stubborn pride.

“You must make haste slowly, Kuchiki-fukutaichou.”

“Aizen-taichou, please address me as Byakuya.” The noble breathed evenly. “Here, I am just your student.”

I smiled and acceded to his request. “Byakuya, I would recommend that you master Senbonzakura's bankai form bit by bit. Right now I am seeing two major, possibly fatal, weaknesses.”

He frowned slightly.

“You direct the flow of blades with your hands,” I said, demonstrating with a sweep of my hands. “This is a clear indication to your opponent of the direction of attack.”

“Senbonzakura is fast-”

“If you have to go into bankai mode to battle, then your opponent is not someone who fears your speed.”

Byakuya's dark eyes narrowed as he digested my words. Then he nodded. “Understood. I will master the blades first through my thoughts before I inquire further about the second flaw.”

I smiled. Byakuya was a fine son for Kuchiki Takayuki, certainly. It almost made me regret what I was about to do to the old shinigami. Almost, but not quite: I could still remember the blinding panic that had gripped me when my sense of Gin blanked out, when he had been nearly killed by the deadly blades of Sayurihime.

But I would leave Byakuya alone for now. He had not hurt Gin, and so he would be safe.

xxxxx

Tousen was stony-faced that evening, as was I. I had just spoken to Kurosawa and he had told Matsumoto to escort Gin to the interrogation block after the funeral.

“Be firm with him, Shino,” I said softly, masked by the spatter of rain on mud. “He's tight-lipped about his activities when I'm away.”

“It's been such a long time,” Shino replied as the gravediggers covered up the coffin within. “If the boy had spoken up earlier we might have been able to check. But now?”

I sighed. “Hisagi-san did state that he enjoyed Gin's company. Now it's a – potential – misdeed that hasn't happened yet.”

The bell tolled. Three, two one: a shinigami has returned to the cycle of reincarnation. We dispersed in small groups, leaving Tousen and Komamura to talk quietly at the grave marker. At least this one was named. I had been to Tousen's friend's, and it had been rather touching how much he had loved and worshiped her. He demonstrated as much.

That had been my first and last visit. After all, I was only there to deliver the man who killed his wife to Tousen. That had been Tousen's first shinigami killing, though it was not the last. But that had been the only one he chose.

Kurosawa picked up the discussion again. “If the boy in question wants to be with your boy, why's that a matter? Unless you oppose, in which case it's a matter between lovers, not a matter for the tenth.”

“I don't like that he has played around, you know why. Kisuke did that, and frankly, it hurts that Gin has done it too. But I can't be seen to...” I broke off, sounding exasperated and dejected. “I don't want people to say that I punished Gin because he is my lover and he strayed. I need him to see that it's wrong because he is a lieutenant far more than because he is mine.”

“But I think you're justifiably jealous,” Kurosawa pointed out. “Here you are, handsome, studly, intelligent, and he goes and cheats on ya. Musta bite.”

“Be careful Shino, or I'll think you're interested in me,” I said with a faded smile. Then I sighed. “Am I too possessive? Do I restrict them too much? Why am I always the one being cheated on?”

Kurosawa coughed, which sounded suspiciously like “karma”. I glared at him but his smirk deflected it. “Doncha worry. We'll straighten him and this whole messy accusation thing out. We won't make him straight though – I know you like him just the way he is.”

I rolled my eyes but flashed a grateful smile. He waved me off to return to the division, while I returned to the Fifth to tidy up my workspace. As I passed the interrogation block I heard Gin.

'Ne, Aizen-sama, I was thinking about Shinsou.'

What about it? I slowed, looking up at the solitary lit window. A few tenth division shinigami saw me and nudged each other before they scuttled away.

'If I trained with Byakuya, would I attain bankai sooner?'

No, you'll get dead sooner. His control is very tenuous. Attain bankai first, then train with him.

'But we missed today's session,' Gin complained delicately. 'Matsumoto's playing good cop, by the way.'

I adjusted my spectacles and leaned against the wall, gaze still fixated on the bright square on the wall. You can multi-task now?

'I'm playing dumb, just smiling and not saying anything. Oops, Kurosawa's annoyed. He's quite convincing as bad cop. Back to Shinsou. How am I supposed to beat him?

Shinsou has speed greater than yours, so you'll have to use guile. Strangely, your zanpakuto is far more innocent than you are, so use that against him too. Trick him.

'Say, Aizen-sama, was that how you defeat Kyoka Suigetsu?'

You can ask it yourself, Gin. Play nice. I'll see you tomorrow evening.

'Goodnight. Sweet dreams. Hey, it's the letter – I thought it was supposed to be burned? Hmmph.'

It's evidence now, silly.

'I'm not silly.'

You're not silly. You're sexy. My error.

'Much better.'

Remember to ask for a thick blanket – I don't want you to come down with a cold. Goodnight, lover.

I inhaled and left. The few shinigami who had seen me were whispering again, probably about how much agony I must be in to know that another lover had cheated on me. And some of the older ones would talk about Matsumoto, and how I was being repaid in kind. I wondered if the wordings had changed since I started the gossip in the eighth and thirteenth division last evening.

xxxxx

The next morning I sent the third seat to the dojo in Gin's place.

I visited Kuchiki Takayuki before I started my working day. Unohana was checking his vitals before I came, and stayed to discuss Byakuya's progress with both of us. Kuchiki disagreed with the idea that Byakuya needed better control. Unohana firmly instructed him to trust in my coaching. I excused myself; it would be a long day, and Gin was coming home.

xxxxx

Gin came home, less grouchy than I had expected. “The cells really stink,” he complained.

“Bath's drawn,” I called out from the kitchen. He sauntered to the bathroom, lower lip jutting out at my lack of sympathy. I couldn't help laughing at his disgruntled expression.

Only after he emerged clean and refreshed from the bathroom did I proceed to touch him. He was much better, kissing me eagerly before I turned him around to seat him at the table for dinner.

“I think,” he said as he munched through stir-fried asparagus, “that Kurosawa should have learned from Rinbayashi before he took the seat at the tenth's. Clumsy questioning techniques.”

“What did you say to them?”

“Nothing pertinent,” he replied. “In the end they had to leave me alone. I hadn't done anything wrong anyway.”

“You haven't been caught doing anything wrong,” I corrected absently. He mock-scowled at me before diving into the pork ribs. I sipped the soup, satisfied that the new recipe worked out well. Even Zaraki's lieutenant and fifth seat who had dropped by looking for Gin had said it tasted good. I had sent them off with a pot for their division – how they could stand eating the same food every night from their commissary was beyond my understanding.

A soft chiming came from the windows. Someone was approaching. Not a powerful shinigami. About three minutes later, the messenger arrived. “Aizen-taichou, Ichimaru-fukutaichou, Yamamoto-Genryuusai-soutaichou requests lieutenants and captains to assemble in the meeting hall immediately.”

“What is the matter?” I asked. Gin put down his bowl and chopsticks, slowly rising from the table.

“Kuchiki-taichou has passed on.”

I let my zanpakuto grumble deep within. Soon, Kyoka Suigetsu. Soon. Be patient.

 

Chapter Text

I led the way into Kuchiki manor.

He was still alive, I noted with detachment, as I bowed gravely to young Byakuya. The kenseiken and the windblossom scarf were laid out before his knees, the weregild of his family.

How does it feel to wear the clothes of the dead?

Tousen jerked abruptly as he stepped into the main room. Then the perpetual frown deepened, and he made the proper greetings before he took his place. He maintained his composure, and I was pleased to note that he barely acknowledged the nightmarish noises from the anteroom.

Gin stirred briefly behind. His perceptiveness had become more acute, I realized, and as soon as he was settled I raised Kyoka Suigetsu's veil from him.

Gin stopped breathing for a long moment as he took in the truth of the situation. Finally, he asked telepathically, How?

You know how, I said offhandedly. The screams were still strong, and I gave him about twenty more minutes before he finally asphyxiated. I checked my binding spell surreptitiously; it had been a simple one to keep him still so as not to give away the illusion, and I hadn't much time to weave a complex one.

Unohana was serene and severe; she hated losing any patient, and one who was her colleague must be abhorrent. Sasakibe had told the assembled ranks about their decision to let Rinbayashi and I run the Sixth Division and Byakuya to be under my direct guidance for his bankai.

Desire to damage the boy permanently for Gin to gain the upper hand warred with the urge to develop the Kuchiki whelp's true potential, and I satisfied myself with a compromise. Byakuya would master his bankai, but he would never learn what Gin's bankai could do at its fullest release.

xxxxx

The next day I returned from the Sixth's morning briefing to find my lover missing from his desk.

Where the hell is he now? I thought irritatedly.

The officers of the sixth disputed Byakuya's suitability for captaincy, even though he had served as lieutenant for years. Privately I thought Kuchiki Takayuki hadn't made the effort to have his son bond with his subordinates, and Byakuya was a cold man when it came to interpersonal relationships.

Gin? I called with my mind, casting it about. Then there was a knocking on the door and I looked up, distracted. It was Tousen.

“Come in,” I said, sitting in my chair. The sound of my chair shifting signaled to him the general direction of the guest chairs. “What's the matter?”

If it hadn't been for Gin's tendency to rearrange furniture as and when he wished – I didn't mind, he always moved them to enhance efficiency of movement – Tousen would not find it difficult to visit the fifth. Privately I believed Gin to move the furniture precisely because he wanted to discourage the blind captain from visiting, but I left him to his little games. It made for a more manipulable Tousen, and it was all to the good.

Tousen tapped one finger on the desk. It was a signal – were we alone? Were there any listeners?

I smiled. “Speak freely, Kaname.” We are safe.

“I don't approve of what was done yesterday.” Trust him to come to the point immediately. “It was unnecessary and might have revealed too much.”

I lifted one brow, though, of course, he couldn't see it. “You have your belief, Kaname, and I have mine. My justice was carried out.”

“Risking everything you've worked for in the process.”

“If you feel that you have been sidelined, Kaname,” I enunciated carefully, “then you would be right. But my left and right are still essential, even if I am more of a right-hander. It was a calculated risk, and I am willing to risk it again if necessary.”

Tousen's nostrils flared. “You are letting yourself become engaged in human feelings.”

“I would dispute that, Tousen Kaname,” I spoke calmly. Nonetheless his dark skin paled and beads of perspiration rolled down his brow, and he inhaled sharply. I ran my index finger across my lips. “What I feel now is entirely too good for the lower beings. When I shut myself off on your advice, as I had done early this century, I had also allowed myself to become narrow-minded, parochial, bound to this small plane.”

He frowned, not understanding.

I walked around to the back of his chair and put my hands on his shoulders. He tensed up. I ignored his reaction. “Kaname, I now see far better with the taint of human feeling than when I was pure and untarnished. Then, I saw what is. Now, I see what could be done – through this foul, base emotion called love.”

Tousen breathed steadily against the roar of my reiatsu. I patted his shoulder and returned to my seat. As I settled into my usual pose, I added, “I swore, some time ago, that I wouldn't let the degrading human infection come into my heart. But I had been infected long before I met you, and have been both the host and the prey of it. It will guide my way, it will light my steps. Now you can walk away or stay, Kaname, but either way my path will lead still to my goal. Whether you will be taking the path as I do is up to you.”

He breathed in, and then breathed out heavily. “I will follow.”

“Good.” As he got up to leave, I stopped him. “Oh, by the way... thank you for your criticism of my actions. I need people with critical eyes cast over my work to keep me striving ever higher.”

He paused at the door, unsure if I meant that honestly. Finally he inclined his head and left.

xxxxx

The piles and piles of papers came in at an alarming rate. The field reports, the overseas-based shinigami reports, the peer evaluations, the officer evaluations, the Shinigami Monthly requests, the internship program, the drill timetables, the patrol schedules.... all were stacked on Gin's table and the little truant had yet to return.

As capable a multi-tasker I was, I wouldn't be able to deal with all these by today. Definitely I was not about to do his work for him. I tried to pinpoint his exact location, calling his name, and got him near the Thirteenth. The Thirteenth?!

Where the hell are – what are you doing over at the thirteenth's? Get back here and get to work!

My lieutenant was nonchalant and far too cheerful at not doing his allocated tasks. 'Ease up, Aizen-sama. I'll make it up to you tonight and tomorrow I'll finish everything. Gimme a break, ne?'

You come back here right now or I'll tan your hide, fukutaichou! I roared at him again, as yet another fifteen folders added to the precarious tower on his desk. Not even his promise of a good night was going to save him from an official reprimand. And unofficial too, of course.

He tutted, and added snidely, 'You're slipping into old-people-speak.'

Of all the nerve-! I bristled. You lil' silver-haired fox-faced shinigami slacker, we are the main forwarding facility and you jolly well come back to work right now.

He refused happily and faded out of range. I gritted my teeth and picked out the most pressing documents. The rest I left, little skyscrapers of paperwork hell.

He was really begging for some deep pain tonight, I grumbled as I imitated his elegant scrawl across the first document.

xxxxx

“Did we have fun?” he asked as he peeked into the bedroom where I sat finishing up an old favorite – HG Wells' The Time Machine. The man had been a visionary, truly.

“We?” I said, placing a thin length of fabric between the pages and putting it aside. “Why are you permitted to use that pronoun when I was in the office finishing your work?”

“Na, Aizen-sama,” he said as he sidled in, hands clasped behind him, all wheedling sweetness. Then he held out a bouquet of wildflowers. I looked at them, then looked at him. He wiggled them a little, shedding a few petals on our tatami. “I got them for you.”

I scoffed. “Not good enough.”

He grinned wickedly and dropped the bouquet. “So I've been a bad, bad boy... have I?”

“Glad you know there's a sense of repentance,” I said, crooking a finger. He knelt and tilted his head coyly. I bent my head forward next to his ear and murmured, “You have been a very naughty boy, and I will punish you.”

Not shifting from his position, he murmured, “Are you gonna make me cry?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Are you gonna make me scream?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Are you gonna make me beg to be a good boy?”

“Yes, I am.”

I pulled back, then reached for my glasses. “So. Are you, Ichimaru Gin, really, truly, sorry?”

He pressed his lips together lightly and smiled. “Maybe.”

 

xxxxx

Gin called me over to our wooded training grounds late one night, after I had been holed up discussing the placement of the final year students. The kido corps head had been adamant about getting an eighth of the possible graduands; Kurotsuchi insisted on a larger section drafted into his hideous slaughterhouse he called a research institute; Kurosawa balked at the large number of female students that were slated to join his division, though none were officer material anyway.

“Hello, Gin,” I kissed his cheek as he stood to greet me. It was secluded and dark, and most importantly, near the old quarry of sekiseki stone. “What is it?”

“I don't know, I just feel you should be nearby.” He touched the center of his chest. “Restless and tumultuous.”

“Really.” I took out Kyoka Suigetsu. “Show me.”

He blinked twice, thrice, then unsheathed Shinsou. “Ikorose, Shinsou.”

I deflected easily. We traded a few blows, more for my warm-up. Then he leaped clear and said, “He's here.”

I looked behind me. It was Shinsou, manifested. His long, ash-blond hair flowed like a river of milk in the weak light. “Good meeting, Aizen-taichou.”

“Good meeting, Shinsou.” The sword was always polite in my presence. I stepped back, my sword ever ready to break up potential problems. Shinsou padded forward cautiously, head cocking, left,, right, studying Gin.

Gin was still, a statue carved of marble and onyx. Shinsou circled closer, spear at the ready, point down, arms close to his torso. Gin remained unmoving. As Shinsou circled closer, curious and cautious, I wondered whether Gin knew instinctively that this was to be “the day”.

Gin struck, snake-fast, and Shinsou used the spear to defend his sternum and then danced about on one foot to evade the second blow. The spear jabbed, all just missing Gin, and I was proud to see how Gin was finally using the speed and guile he had been gifted with. Rinbayashi and Jin's training were doing him good.

Another flurry – kicks, stabs, punches and an uppercut – Shinsou's hair tie was ripped off, and I saw Gin lick off the blood on his forearm. Then Gin crouched lower, presenting a smaller target, before he flashstepped forward. Left, right, right, feint – Shinsou was as fast as Gin was – and they matched thrust and parry, stab and cut, blow for blow. Roundhouse kick, sweep, slash again and they jumped apart.

Before Shinsou caught his breath Gin had moved again, fingers extended into claws that darted at Shinsou's eyes. Startled, Shinsou tried to block with his forearms. Gin swept the spear up into his hands and twirled it, finally stabbing it into the earth and yelling, “Bankai!”

I felt the rumble deep within and jumped free. A forest of blades speared out, all at odd angles, each sprouting its own army of edges and steeled death. Gin then pulled his released sword out of the ground and the blades retracted. Before I sank to the earth again Gin had strode over to the bloodied Shinsou and pulled the pale figure against his chest.

“Look at me,” he demanded of his zanpakuto. Shinsou blinked tiredly and Gin grinned ferally. “I won. But I didn't win. You gave in, you gave the fucking hell in!”

He threw the spear into the ground beside Shinsou. “Fuck you, Shinsou. I don't want a bankai this weak.”

I waited. Gin waited.

Shinsou struggled up, and suddenly he was whole and unblemished again. “Good. You want a strong bankai, and not just a bankai. Now we fight. For the real one.”

Gin smiled. “Much better. Now I can kick some proper ass.”

I watched Gin slide into battle position, hands ready for hado and hakua, and I refrained from thinking at him. He would need all his focus now.

Don't let me down now, Gin. Be as strong as I need you to be.

Become the pillar of our own world.

 

Chapter Text

I found myself a seat on a large boulder, my sword across my lap. Silently I called up Kyoka Suigetsu and manifested it. The air beside me shimmered and it appeared. It had chosen the appearance of a young girl this time, one long black braid down her back and large brown eyes filled with innocence and curiousity. It was dressed like a European girl, in a very pretty green frock and button shoes.

“Aizen-sama, what is it?”

“You look pretty,” I told Kyoka Suigetsu before motioning for it to sit beside me. “Watch with me.”

It clambered up and sat on my lap. “You haven't called me out in some time,” it said, its little-girl-legs swinging. I held it around the waist and kissed the back of its head. It looked around at me and I smiled, proud papa that I was.

“I had no reason to,” I said, “but I thought you might like to view the proceedings. Else you might say that I've ignored you in favor of more interesting games, hmm?”

“Well you have.” It returned its attention to the two circling antagonists and cocked its head. “Shinsou is enjoying himself, I see.”

I rested my chin on the top of Kyoka Suigetsu's head. It didn't complain. For all its high-and-mighty airs, it liked physical affection. Whenever I asked it to manifest itself for battle it would take on the form of a warrior, large and imposing, but in times like this it often preferred a cuddly form. I had seen its true form only once – an amorphous shape, like a person-shaped cloud or fog. It had been very difficult fighting something that could change its form at any time, but the victory had been triply sweet for that.

I understood why Gin had been so agitated. If Shinsou had lost so easily, then his bankai was useless. I was pleased with Gin's maturity: he had wanted bankai not for its own sake, but to become stronger.

Gin made the first move, darting left, right, left, and behind Shinsou. The zanpakuto swung his spear in a tight arc, pushing Gin back.

Gin fired off a few rounds of Shakkahou – Kyoka Suigetsu clapped its hands happily at the fireballs exploding – and Shinsou returned with some very fancy spear work. The point sliced across Gin's left cheek and I forced myself not to react. My sword chuckled at my protectiveness and I swatted it on the head.

Gin took the blood from his cheek and smeared it across his palms, all the while dodging the stabbing point of Shinsou's weapon. The dark lines glowed red for a moment as he chanted quickly, then he let fly three long blue arcs.

“Clever boy,” remarked Kyoka Suigetsu coolly, now dropping the little girl act. “Can't match Shinsou in range, so he resorts to kido. You told him that?”

“I told him to play to his strengths.”

“Hmm. It worked anyway.”

The three blue arrows smashed into Shinsou simultaneously. Shinsou shook off the impact, as if none the worse for wear. But it was slower now; not obviously slower, but to skilled observers, it was a marked difference.

Gin mistook the extent of his skill and slid in front of Shinsou, trying for direct combat.

“I take it back, he's not a clever boy.” Kyoka Suigetsu shook its head. I ignored the comment as I followed Shinsou's spear-work. Gin was slowing down, I noticed. Complacency costs, Gin.

When the pole of the spear collided with Gin's side I fancied I could hear the crack of bone. Gin tumbled to the right and sprang to his feet. I could detect a hint of agony flashing across his face when he breathed – Shinsou had broken some ribs.

They resumed circling, Gin trying to identify the weakest point of Shinsou's defence. Each step became heavier than before, Gin obviously injured more grievously than I had first thought. Then he turned his face to the side and spat out some blood.

“Come on, lover,” I murmured under my breath. “Come on.”

Kyoka Suigetsu giggled softly and patted my knee. “Doncha worry, he'll manage.”

“Shush.” I applauded silently when Gin leaped into the air, leading Shinsou away from the security of the ground. Although the cover of trees were removed, there were also more openings for Gin to challenge. Also there wasn't the pressure of stepping on hard ground to jar Gin's injured body.

“Kyoka Suigetsu, get off my lap. I need to shield the place before someone sees them.”

It complied. The barriers rose and blocked out the space invisibly. My zanpakuto climbed back to its privileged seat. “Why are you so afraid of others seeing this anyway?”

“I want it to remain a secret until it's the opportune moment.”

This time Shinsou attacked first, rushing and thrusting the spear in his hand forward. Gin ducked to the side, not forgetting to fire off some hado spells. Another thrust from Shinsou clipped Gin's bicep and I could scent blood again.

Gin ignored it and shot off more Shakkahou spells. Their destructive capacity was lower since he didn't utter the full chant, but one connected and threw Shinsou off track.

“Is that the best you can do?” asked Shinsou. “Do you even comprehend who I am? What I am?”

“You're Shinsou,” answered Gin, gaze fixed on his opponent. “You are my sword.”

“I am a god!”

“You are,” said Gin, darting forward to engage in hand-to-hand beofre being kicked away, “as much of a god as I allow you to be!”

Shinsou roared, the sound an almost-visible wave that forced Gin back a few steps. The flaxen-haired warrior swung his weapon in another tight circle over his head, smashing towards Gin. Gin blocked with both forearms and was sent sprawling to the ground far below.

I jumped to my feet, dislodging Kyoka Suigetsu. Ignoring its irritated complaints, I sprinted forwards to check on my lover and protege.

Shinsou got there before me, standing before Gin, who was half-sitting in a pile of rubble. He was bleeding in a dozen places, and his smile was faltering.

“That's more like it,” rasped Gin, trying his best to sit up.

“Don't,” warned Shinsou, now standing over Gin. I held myself back. This was Gin's battle, and Shinsou would not kill him. The spearpoint tipped Gin's chin up. “You lost.”

“No I didn't,” said Gin. “This is just a temporary setback.”

“You lost.”

“You wish.”

Shinsou was getting angry, I could see. He drew his spear back. “You can't do anything. You can't use shunpo now. You've broken your forearms blocking me, so you can't use hado. You've lost.”

Gin coughed. “Something I learned from a maniac: you ain't lost till you're dead. I ain't dead, hence I haven't lost.”

Infuriated, Shinsou drew his weapon back further and speared towards Gin's face.

I didn't move.

I didn't need to.

With unusual speed and strength, Gin had grabbed the spear behind the head and twisted it sideways. Shinsou lurched off his balance, and Gin kicked up. I winced – I hadn't expected Gin to play dirty in bankai training.

The ash blond zanpakuto groaned and sank to his knees. Gin wrested the spear from his unresisting hands and used it as a prop to stand.

“Tip to the wise,” he said, smiling like a fox, “only one arm was broken. The other is just fine. And don't stand over your opponent unless you're certain his legs are broken too.”

“You – you dirty bastard...” breathed Shinsou, still clutching his middle.

Gin exhaled shakily. “I won fair and square, damn you. After how many years of calling you forth, I've finally won in a fair fight. So shut the hell up, and from now on, you bloody well will obey me.”

“Like hell I will,” spat Shinsou.

Gin stood straighter. Hefting the spear in his hands, he changed his grip and then smacked it into Shinsou's back like a thick rod. The zanpakuto shouted in surprise, then yelped when another blow floored him to the ground. Gin raised it again to pound Shinsou into a bloody smear.

“Intervention time,” I said, inserting myself between Shinsou and Gin's next attack. “No, Gin.”

Gin glared at me. “He doubts me victory. Bloody prick thinks hissel' better'n me.”

Not good. He's slipping back into slang.

“Easy now, lover, breathe. Shinsou, can you still fight?” I held Gin by one shoulder. He was shaking with rage, and I could barely restrain his reiatsu that burned all over us.

“Of course. I haven't lost, since I'm not dead.” The zanpakuto struggled to his feet.

“That can be arranged,” Gin snarled and, before I could stop him, lanced the spear in his hand straight into Shinsou's chest.

Blue blood sprayed. I blinked it away, then backed off. I had not been expecting this. I had never expected anyone to try to kill their own zanpakuto.

The ash blond stared, his gaze tracking along the pole of the spear, and up into Gin's furious face. “You did it,” he sighed and closed his eyes. “You've won.” He shimmered out of sight, and the spear clattered to the ground, unstained and clean.

Gin blinked in confusion, before picking up the spear. “Shinsou?”

':I am the spear and its wielder. You have unified the two – I will yield to your command now.:'

I heard the voice as well, shadow-thin, just on the edge of hearing. But that couldn't be – I cast my gaze about and saw Kyoka Suigetsu, who gave me a little wave. It had bounced the conversation between Gin and Shinsou to me. The swords had their own realm where they chatted and interacted; Kyoka Suigetsu said they sometimes gambled there, although with what I had no idea. It liked Shinsou a lot, so if it wasn't upset I supposed Shinsou was actually alright.

As if in response to my unasked question, Kyoka Suigetsu said, :He'll be fine. Just let him recuperate a day or two from your other's attack. It won't be a good idea to call out bankai until a week later, alright? Shinsou needs rest. I think you can provide it.:

Certainly. Shinsou has not taken lasting harm?

:No.:

Good. And Gin?

:Will be stronger than ever. You have found your other, Aizen. Not even the princess had made you feel as complete. My lake is always peaceful now.:

That's good to hear. Do keep me updated, Kyoka Suigetsu. Thank you.

:You're welcome. Now go and give him some tender loving care before he keels over from blood loss.:

That was true. My zanpakuto's spirit dissipated. Gin wavered on his feet, eyes refocusing after a conversation with his own sword. Then he looked at me and his smile was brilliantly lit. I grinned at him, then caught him as he toppled over. The spear was still tightly within his grasp, but it was also fading back into the form of a sword.

“Whoops,” he chuckled, and then promptly fell asleep.

xxxxx

I was putting the finishing touches on the fish stew I had been preparing when Gin stumbled blearily out of the bedroom.

“Aizen-sama?”

“Brush your teeth and we'll talk,” I said, pointing in the direction of the bathroom. He blinked a few times, slowly, as if he couldn't understand a syllable I had spoken, before making an about turn – almost colliding with the wall – and finding his way into the presumably the bathroom. Shaking my head, I laughed at the mental image of Gin walking into the bathroom door, which, if I hadn't misheard, had just happened.

About twenty minutes later Gin woke up enough to have lunch. He had slept a day and a half away after all, and he was ravenous. “What happened?” he asked as he polished off another large dish.

“Loss of blood, over-exertion of reiatsu, and emotional trauma at killing your zanpakuto,” I said, serving him another bowl of rice. I would have to purchase groceries the next day, given how we were eating up the week's worth of food in this one sitting.

“I killed-” Gin started up, grin faded.

“No, but you think you did. Eat up, Gin, you'll need the energy.” I had finished my portion already. “You have two day's worth of paperwork to go over.”

“What?”

I shrugged. “Did you think I was going to carry the weight of two officers' jobs on my back, hmm?”

“B-but I'm recuperating!” he pointed out, mouth half-full. I took a sip of tea and got up from the table. He whined again. “Aizen-sama?”

“I'll see those forms and letters ready on Monday when we return to work, fukutaichou.” I placed my dishes in the sink. “See you later, Gin. I have a dinner appointment with Rinbayashi-sensei.”

He pouted, and the pout was made all the more adorable with some rice grains stuck to the side of his mouth. I grinned and left.

Rinbayashi would be pleased to hear of his bankai. Then we would discuss what should be done next with him. Of course, there was always another little matter to be settled before he could take on the new responsibility of captaincy.

This part Gin had no idea of, not yet, but I knew he would fall in line with whatever I laid out. He would protest, but he would not refuse.

Not when it guaranteed him the devotion and complete loyalty of one Kira Izuru.

 

Chapter Text

He stretched carefully, rolling out the soreness from his shoulders and rubbing his back. I reached and massaged his back and he practically purred with comfort. We tidied up the office slowly, sorting stacks of papers and cleaning up the broken glass. Onizuka had been the hapless one 'volunteered' by his senior officers to return my presentation, while some of my more inquisitive officers had tailed behind. Neither Gin nor I were speaking; they had never witnessed us not in a loving mood outside of a few small squabbles, but to have the office in a wreck was something that they would never expect.

I straightened from trying to pick up the glass from the three picture frames we broke. “Onizuka. Would you do me a favor, run and get me the first aid kit from the store?”

“Yes, taichou,” he bowed and scampered out of the way.

“As for the rest of you, I believe you have tasks that are assigned to you,” I went on, ignoring the small squeaks of surprise.

“S-sorry, taichou. Are you two okay now? Because we're... we couldn't help hearing the-the noise.” One of them ewrung her hands together.

I sighed. “We'll be fine. There's no need to worry. Thanks, Onizuka. You – all of you – may leave early, let us clear this mess up.”

As they left, furtively glancing over their shoulders, Gin looked over. Then he stalked to the door and slammed it shut again. “Why do you let them do that?” he asked.

“Because they're my subordinate, like they are yours.”

“They keep prying into our personal life!”

“It's natural to be curious about people you care about, Gin,” I said, returning to open the door. “Besides I think it's nice that they are concerned.”

He scoffed and shut the door again. “They are nosy.”

“Gin,” I began again, opening the door and keeping my hand there. “We've been through this. Every time we go through the same, tired argument – you know it doesn't matter what they know. Why is it bothering you now?”

“Because now I am about to go to a different division, and every minute with you counts!” He slid the door shut again, hard. The wood of the door splintered with the force. “I don't want any of them asking and asking how I'm gonna handle being away. Like the knife in my gut isn't enough, they have to grab the damn fucking handle and twist?”

I ripped the door open. Now we both knew the rest of the division within hearing range of our office was listening. “Just because you want to maximize our time together doesn't mean you have to shut everyone else out of our lives!”

“Of course I don't have to, but I want to! I barely get to see you, you're so busy, and now with assisting Byakuya... I don't even know if I get to wake up next to you or an empty bed!”

“Gin, my workload has always been this heavy and so has yours. You're looking for excuses!”

He grabbed the damaged door and tore it off the hinges, his reiatsu assisting. “I think demanding some private time to spend with you actually constitutes a reason!”

I licked my lips; the displays of our temper fanning flames that had just been fed. His color was high, his firm raw and hurting. He really believed in his role, now. He was living it to the hilt. I walked into the corridor.

“I know you're all listening, but you're to get a half-day off today,” I announced, my voice carrying through the various rooms. “And please, keep what you heard to yourselves. Gin and I have some... trivialities to work out.”

“Trivialities?” Gin stated, disbelieving. “Trivialities?”

“Gin,” I said warningly, while the other shinigami packed out.

The division scurried away from the building, doing their best to ignore the flares of reiatsu that came from their captain and lieutenant. There was still risk of talk, despite the friendly bond I took cares to maintain with all of them. That was fine; the air of secrecy would ensure more people believed we were really in conflict.

“Well, now that they've gone...” Gin said and sauntered over, hands behind him. “How shall we occupy our time?”

I grinned. “We've had sex on my desk, I've already promised you can top tonight, we've wrecked one door, and scared half the division. What else do you want to do?”

“You,” he said with a smile. “Now.”

“We just did,” I reminded him.

“What, can't perform on demand?” He teased. Then he yelped when I grabbed him and pinned him to the wall. “Guess I hit a nerve.”

I growled, grinding my hips into him. “Keep going and lose the research grant tonight.”

“Tormentor,” he hissed and then inhaled as we slid together. “Not here.”

I sucked on the soft flesh under his ear. He leaned into the contact, and I bit him.“Where?”

“Roof, the roof.” He turned his face to kiss me. “I want us to fuck on the roof.”

“You have got to be kidding me,” I muttered, releasing him. “We are not going to make love on the roof.”

He panted and then whined. I could taste his excitement through our telepathic bond, and he reached for my hand to pull me to him, though he ended pulling himself to me. “Rooooof,” he growled.

I laughed quietly. “You sound like a neglected little puppy.”

He snarled a little and jumped on me, tackling me to the ground. “Bad owner. Angry puppy.”

I laughed and rolled him over, straddling him. “Where's your leash, puppy?”

He growled again, then snapped at me. “Roof. I. Want. Us. On the Roof. Now.”

I grabbed him by his waist and tossed him over my shoulders. “No roof. Down, boy.” He whined a complaint, then squeaked when I slapped his ass. I marched down the block with my writhing burden, him muttering imprecations all the way about not getting what he wanted. Then he yelped when I dropped him in the communal bath, clothes and all.

“Hey!” he yelled, shaking his head and sending little droplets everywhere. “Water's cold!”

“All the better to clear your lust, puppy boy,” I teased and hunkered down by the edge. He half-swam half-walked to me, blinking away water from his eyes. I had to smile at his annoyed expression; he had changed so much from the slender boy who approached me that night. It had been so long ago, but it felt like it was only yesterday.

He propped his chin on his forearms and gazed up at me. “Puppy-boy?”

“I ran out of verbal jabs for the day,” I remarked, idly flipping a lank lock out of his face. He took my hand and kissed it, his lips soft and then I hummed with the swirl of his tongue on my palm. “Easy now. It's too early in the day, and I'm hungry.”

“Spoilsport,” he pouted. I stroked more hair out of his face. “What are we having for lunch?”

I was thinking about it when he reached out, grabbed me by the knees and unbalanced me into the bath. “Gin!” I stood up, sputtering, my glasses somewhere underwater. Gin laughed and then shrieked when I tried to grab him, ducking out of my way easily. I waded over, pulling off my captain's haori since it impeded me with its added weight.

He kicked at me when I caught up to him in the large bath. I gripped his ankle and tugged him to me rapidly. Our playing was splashing water all over the floor the thirteenth squad had cleaned so diligently that morning. Gin gave as good as he got, pummeling and yanking, while I concentrated on keeping his legs away from kicking me in case he got in a good shot. By the time we had enough fun, he had his arms looped around my waist and mouth firmly on mine.

“How am I going to get by without this?” he asked when we finished drinking each other in.

I had wondered the same thing myself, but leaned my forehead on his. “You'll manage, Gin. You're more amazing than you think you are.”

He snuggled into my neck, our clothes soaked and clinging to our forms. I held him tenderly, feeling the slim bones and taut muscles under my hands. I breathed in his scent – what there was of it – and savored the thrum of our linked minds and hearts. He nuzzled into my neck and we kissed again, his tongue sliding across my lower lip and inviting me to taste him.

'I love you so much it hurts,' he thought softly. 'It's all your fault, you know?'

I know. I kissed him deeply again. I'm sorry. We'll enjoy what time we have together. Then one day, I hope you can hear someone else say that to you.

His lips worked on mine while leading me to the edge of the bath, then leaned backwards so I had to bend over him. 'I wish you would say it to me. Even once.'

I said it once.

'That was when I told you to lie to me.'

I sighed and skated my hand up his cheek. Would it help if I told you that I wasn't lying at the time? That, though I didn't intend to, I meant every word?

There was a long moment when he studied me. Moisture clung to his lashes, as if he had been crying, and his smile faltered. His slender fingers moved over the back of my hands and then reached for my lips.

'It would help,' he admitted grudgingly, 'but you're just saying it to make me feel better.'

Can't hide a thing from your incisive mind. I kissed the tip of his nose and pulled myself out of the bath, then helped him up. “Let's dry off and clean up, hmm?”

“Slave driver.”

xxxxx

We visited Rinbayashi together the next evening. The old woman was there, while her physician checked her vitals.

“Ah, boys, have a seat. I need to talk to you,” she said, then waved the physician out. I led the way to the low table where dinner had been set out. Then there was another knock on the door. To my surprise it was Tousen.

Gin frowned faintly. 'I didn't know she was gonna get all three of us down here.'

Let's see what she has planned and move on from there, hmm?

Tousen made his way to the table and took a seat too. “Good evening, Aizen-taichou, Ichimaru-fukutaichou.”

“Good evening,” said Gin and I made my courtesies. “How's things at the ninth?”

“We're managing with Matsuda,” he said. “But he is rather...”

“Incompetent?” provided Gin.

I interrupted, “Let's not talk of work, shall we? We've had a long day of it already. Tousen, the Festival is coming soon. Would your division be participating?”

“I'm not certain,” he said, “But definitely I'll encourage them to participate.”

Rinbayashi shuffled slowly into the dining room. “I see we are bonding.”

Gin's hand tightened on my knee and I sent soothing thoughts at him. “Sensei, how are you?”

“I am fine,” she said with a tiny smile. “So are my defenders – the third division's secret police. They are outside now, waiting for my signal to capture all three of you traitors.”

Tousen stayed relaxed; Gin smiled wider.

I smirked up at her. “Sensei, you do enjoy your little jokes.”

Rinbayashi straightened and rapped on the wood – three short taps, pause, three short taps. “I do enjoy my jokes, Sousuke-kun, but I'm not joking any more than you are who you appear to be.”

“What do you mean, Rinbayashi-sensei?” Gin said, carefully extricating himself from me. “I mean, Aizen-taichou's just Aizen-taichou.”

She studied him a beat longer than she studied me. “You're not fooling me one inch, my dear boys. And Tousen – you, I did not expect.”

“I have no idea what you're talking about,” said Tousen. “If I may excuse myself? This is a farce and I have no wish to participate in it.”

“Good actors all in all.” She rapped again. Then she scowled and rapped harder. I stood up, a full head taller than she was, while Gin sidled to a spot to the left and Tousen got up as well.

“Sensei,” I said quietly, “we're good actors but more importantly, we're competent shinigami.”

Rinbayashi frowned. “Which of you did it?”

“None of us, sensei,” answered Gin. He slid his hand along the shelf and then reached behind a row of books. “Utagawa Jin proved... amenable to our proposal.”

She stared. “Utagawa? I don't believe you. He's my lieutenant, not-”

“Believe it, taichou,” said Utagawa at the door. “Your message to the boys at the secret police ended with me. They never even heard your message.”

Gin whistled and tossed me my sword before reaching behind the books and taking Shinsou. Tousen took his sword from Utagawa.

Utagawa bowed humbly to me. “Aizen-taichou. It is a pleasure to finally speak with you openly.”

“Utagawa-fukutaichou, your assistance has been invaluable.”

“How dare you, Utagawa?” hissed Rinbayashi.

The gray-haired lieutenant stared hard at his captain. “Three hundred years I stayed by your side, working all hours of the day. My wife, my children... they lived and passed on and I couldn't even be with them. And you never tried to groom me, never tried to raise me above lieutenant level. Aizen-taichou has done more with Ichimaru-san in less than five decades than you have in three centuries.”

Rinbayashi blinked. Then she muttered and pointed at Utagawa. A white burst of light shot out, intercepted by Gin and Tousen. “Betrayer,” she gasped, that little exertion sending her into paroxysms. “How dare you... you vile traitor, you...”

“May I?” asked Utagawa, drawing his blade. I nodded and stepped aside. He angled his sword at her throat. Her eyes widened. Utagawa smiled, a stern one that did not diminish his glee. “I'm not going to kill you, pleasant as that may sound. Aizen-taichou has discouraged that particular urge.”

Rinbayashi sent another bolt of kido, this time at me. I waved it away carelessly; she at her best might fight me to a tie, and Rinbayashi now was no threat. “I shall assume that was your word of thanks,” I said dryly. “Utagawa, if you please.”

“Yes, Aizen-taichou.” Utagawa muttered a strong binding spell and the old woman was locked down stiffly. “Don't worry, Rinbayashi-san, I'll keep you updated as to the proceeding of your division until the most favorable day for Ichimaru-fukutaichou to take over.”

I smiled. “I'll keep Kyoka Suigetsu activated here until then.”

“Thank you, Aizen-taichou.”

Rinbayashi screeched and then slowly fell to her knees, panting. She was almost spent, her body giving up on her.

I hunkered over her shaking body. “You might want to relax, sensei. You're not getting any better, and frankly, you might want to enjoy these last few weeks. Once Gin's ready, then you'll have to be ready too.”

“They will know,” hissed Rinbayashi harshly.

I laughed and tucked Gin under my arm. “Bet you anything, sensei.”

'You certain?'

If she had been sensible enough to tell the soutaichou, then perhaps there is a risk. As it is she has shown herself to be too secretive for her own good – relying only on Utagawa?

'That's why you rely on me and Tousen?'

No. I walked out after Tousen, leaving Utagawa with his captain. I rely on you, Tousen, and a host of others. They might not realize it, of course.

Gin was quiet after that remark, but I left it alone. That night he topped again, with extra fervor and passion, but he refused to answer my queries as to why.

xxxxx

I visited the Academy in my lunch break with Gin. My lieutenant wandered off to the kido practice rooms again, while I chatted with the admissions office about the applications for Gotei internship.

“Response has been very encouraging,” said the plump girl, her thick glasses an echo of my old wire-rimmed ones. “Every day there is someone coming in to inquire about – speak of the devils. Good afternoon. How may I help?”

“A-a-a-a-” the girl who barged in skidded to a stop and stared at me. “A-a-a-a-”

The boy whom she was dragging stood at attention and bowed. “Aizen-taichou, good afternoon. Please forgive my friend; she just needs some air.”

“Good afternoon, Abarai-san, Hinamori-san,” I said with a genial grin. The brunette's eyes widened upon hearing me speaking her surname.

Abarai managed to respond more credibly. “Um, I, we, didn't expect you to remember our names, Aizen-taichou.”

“Of course I do. How is Kira-san and Hisagi-san?”

“They're fine, sir.” Abarai bowed again. I found myself scrutinizing his hair for the various shades of red it presented. Did it feel soft as silk? Or rough, like flax, as Urahara's had been?

The girl at the counter coughed politely. “Did you have something for me?”

“Actually, yes,” said Abarai. He nudged Hinamori who marched stiffly forward, her face completely red and, to my amusement, her hands shaking. “We came to submit our applications for the internship program.”

“Which division?” I asked courteously.

Abarai grinned abashedly. “Yours, actually, sir. Me and Hinamori-”

“-and Kira,” interjected Hinamori, finding her tongue abruptly.

I raised my brows. “Oh? I would have thought he would return home. He is from a noble family, is he not? But that would be nice, because then I can put all three of you into a team led by one of my officers.”

Abarai was staring at Hinamori as if she had grown a second head. The girl fidgeted with her fingers as she spoke. “That's what I thought too.”

“Excuse us a moment,” said Abarai. The redhead suddenly tugged on his friend's sleeve and they went off to a corner.

I resumed speaking with the counter staff as she dug out the three boxes of application forms that had poured in this year. My reiatsu, however, focused on my hearing. So I was an eavesdropper, but this was essential to my plan.

Izuru said he was gonna join the ninth with Hisagi!”

But Ichimaru-fukutaichou's in the fifth, Renji!”

So? Shuuhei wants Izuru with him. Izuru's not gonna be happy knowing you changed the division number on his form, Momo.”

But he likes Ichimaru-fukutaichou. And besides, I heard from Kinomoto that she heard from Takehiko that the ninth was not taking anyone in unless they had the Basic Information Management course in their transcript, and we haven't taken that yet.”

Shouldn't you have asked him whether he minds changing?”

Psssh, he won't mind, as long as he can look at Ichimaru-fukutaichou. Plus, if you think I'm gonna work in a team other than you two you're very much mistaken. It's not like I need more people knowing of my crush on you-know-who.”

Newsflash, Momo, everyone knows.”

Gin chose this moment to saunter in. “Not ready yet?” he asked. Then he turned around and saw the two students who looked like deer caught in headlights. “Hi kids. You're Kira's friends, aren'cha?”

Abarai bowed and dragged Hinamori to attention. “Yes Ichimaru-fukutaichou!”

“Eh, 'sir' will do. So many syllables, tch,” Gin said dismissively. “Tell Kira I said hi.”

“Yes, Ichim – I mean, sir!” Abarai bowed again.

I was charmed by his clumsy adherence to protocol. Once the signatures were in place, I stopped chatting with the staff, not really knowing or caring what I had said – parallel mental processing meant I could let my mouth work on autopilot. “Gin, take that box. We'll each take one back to the office first.”

“We have five.” He eyed the huge boxes with disdain; the internship program had gained a reputation for being the first step into a division of your choice.

“We'll come back for the others,” I said.

“Uh, sirs, let us help,” said Abarai and Hinamori in tandem. “We have a free period now anyway.”

Gin smiled. “That's sweet o' ya. Grab one each and we'll head over to the division offices.”

Just as we reached the door a blond walked in, almost knocking into Hinamori. “Hinamori, Abarai, you're here already? I thought we agreed on meeting up first-”

“Kira...” hissed Hinamori urgently and nodded to her right.

Kira frowned. “What?”

“Hello, Kira,” said Gin brightly. I chuckled inside when I saw Kira turn, blush, and stiffen to attention. Gin was amused too. “Care to help?”

“Su-sure! Um, here.” Kira grabbed the last box. I smiled at Gin's cheeky smirk and led the way out. The trio trooped behind, Abarai in the center.

Gin whistled a lilting tune. 'You persuaded them?'

Turns out they need no persuading. They'll be with us for ten weeks, lover. How long will you need?

'Gimme at least two months. I don't wanna rush him and scare him off.'

We entered the office and I directed them to Gin's corner of the room. They stacked the boxes up. I watched them look around, eyes wide at the furnishings I chose for my office. Certainly they would notice my calligraphy scrolls I had just framed and put up. Hinamori took in the delicate iris in a vase in the tokonoma; Abarai the two sword holders on the wall; and Kira every detail of Gin's table, including the smashed photo of him and me that lay flat on the table top.

“Hey,” remarked Abarai, “there is no door to the office.”

I shrugged. “I believe in an open-door policy. You have a problem or a difficulty, you can always look for me.”

Gin made a scoffing sound behind me, deceptively soft but audible. I sighed, also pretending to hide my response from them. “Thank you, Abarai-san, Hinamori-san, Kira-san. You have a good day.”

“You're welcome,” said Kira in his quiet voice. His eyes flicked to Gin behind me before he blushed fiercely. “Good afternoon, sirs. We take our leave.”

I think, I said slowly, fascinated by the ever-changing shades of red in Abarai's hair, I think that, with Kira, there is no such thing as too fast – the boy's completely infatuated with you.

'Are you saying I should take advantage of his adulation?' Gin put a hand to his heart, affecting dismay. 'I couldn't possibly do that! It'll besmirch his reputation!'

I traced a finger along his forearm. That's true... I guess I'll have to settle for you deflowering him.

'You're assuming he's still virgin.'

He gives off the vibe. But even if he wasn't... I shared a look with Gin and he smirked, his tongue darting out for a split second. Do remember to share your tales of conquest, Gin. Now, back to work.

Gin sighed and stretched, before linking his hands behind his head. “Nah, Aizen-taichou,” he said in a serious tone, “how about you do the work and I'll, uh, conduct some research from the vantage view of below your desk?”

“No.” I cuffed his shoulder lightly. He pouted and settled down in his chair, while I took out the first stack for him. Then I strolled lazily over to his side of the desk and prodded him to back away. He looked up, a little confused, before his grin widened with understanding.

Hmm. I tweaked a brow upwards. “What are you thinking about?”

His smile disappeared. “You're not-”

“My pencil rolled under your desk and I want to retrieve it, that's all,” I said, bending over and picking it up. Then I tapped his head with it before returning to my own desk. “Get to work, fukutaichou. The earlier you finish, the earlier we can go home.”

 

Chapter Text

I tilted my head up further and closed my eyes. Gin hummed a soft tune to himself as he prepared the lather. He flipped a large towel over me and I smiled. “You're in a good mood. What's that melody?”

“Chopin. Minute Waltz. You like?” The damp, hot towel covered my face and I hissed at the heat. The warm lather was quickly dabbed on. While we waited for the lather to soften my five o'clock shadow he sharpened the razor on the strop. “Today's the day, huh.”

“They come in today. I was considering placing them in the tenth squad to do the running this week.”

“Shush. Stop talking or I'll give you a brand new grin.” The ice-slick razor glided along my jaw easily, his skilled fingers pulling the skin taut and his right hand sliding the blade carefully. 'Running's good. Get them familiar with the layout of the place.'

I thought Yanaihara could prep them for their duties and you'll oversee their internship progress.

'Sounds good.' He was now preparing to shave my chin. There was a pause, a flicker of curiosity as he placed the blade below my chin. I peered through half-lidded eyes as he hesitated, the thread of his reiatsu thinning and becoming cold, dispassionate. Inquisitive.

I waited it out. Would he or wouldn't he?

Then he smiled and resumed shaving. 'I know you knew. Would you have stopped me?'

Probably not, I admitted. I think I have created my own Achilles' heel – anything you do is fine by me.

'Even killing you?'

I closed my eyes. If it's by your hand...

He finished and wiped off the remaining lather. “You are so damn sentimental, Aizen-sama.”

“That's a failing I haven't gotten around to correcting,” I quipped. “Thanks, Gin.”

He kissed me on my cheek. “Mm. Smooth. Any way, I think running for the first fortnight after their orientation talk – are you giving it or am I? - then patrol with the second and third for the next two weeks. Drills with the division daily, and the occasional Rukongai job with the higher seats.”

“As for example... with you?” I asked, putting on my glasses and searching for my uniform. He handed my a comb and I dragged it through my thick brown hair. “You'll see them quite often, since the captains are going on their annual weekly retreat.”

He smiled, the very picture of innocence. “I guess I'm responsible for them then.”

I smoothed down my haori and he straightened his belt, neatening the folds. I pulled out my traveling bag and Gin took it over his shoulder. I pressed my nose into his hair and sniffed. “I knew you smelled different. Almond?”

“You're a bloodhound, you know that?” he teased. “Besides, it keeps you interested. And I replaced your shampoo with mine, so you'll think of me all through the week.”

“Hmm. But I gotta let you know that Kurosawa always borrows shampoo off me, as does Soifon, so if I end up in certain... situations...” I leered at Gin.

He swatted me. “If you dare I'll mmmph!” He pounded on my shoulders a few times before giving into the kiss. “Be careful, okay? Keep a low profile, and avoid Kyoraku. I think he's been checking up on us.”

“I have nothing to hide,” I murmured. I hugged him once more before I opened the door. Drop by and visit Rinbayashi as often as possible. I'm not sure how many of the codes she gave you were authentic.

'Can I use all means?' He followed silently behind me, four steps from mine.

No. Rinbayashi-sensei is not a weakling. She would resist till the bitter end. I led the way to the office blocks; it was seven-thirty. The sun had just risen and pale gold and pink painted the sky into a tender tapestry. I suggest using guile. We still have time.

Gin was doubtful. I sent assurances through our link and he relaxed somewhat. 'I'll miss ya.'

Go out, have fun. In fact, go out with Matsumoto and the rest of the lieutenants. I'm sure you guys can use a break from us captains. But do remember: this is a chance for you to shine as a leader. I slid the door open and we entered the inner office.

Yanaihara was waiting. “Taichou, fukutaichou, good morning. The interns are here.”

Gin took my coat and hung it over the stand. “All of them?”

“Uh, no,” said Yanaihara. It was a pity he had reached his limit: with his reiatsu he would not have been able to move above his current fifth seat. He was competent and slow of imagination, both valued traits in my underlings. He checked his notepad – Gin installed the practice three months ago after a miscommunication incident. “The punctual arrivals are Abarai Renji, Hinamori Momo and Kira Izuru.”

“The others?” I asked. “Noda, Yano, Okada and... who's the last one? Chuman. They know they are supposed to be here at eight.”

“Um,” Yanaihara cleared his throat. “The other four are the ones who wrote in direct. You know, the forms with the family seals and such?”

Gin groaned. “Them?”

I sighed. “We can handle Noda and Yano easily, they are just minor nobility, but Okada is the one to watch.”

My officers looked at each other. Gin shrugged. “Why? He's not of nobility.”

“No,” I said, rifling through my papers and handing a sheaf to Gin. “But he is the son of the head steward in the Omaeda family, and their foster child. They think of him as their own.”

My lieutenant frowned. I smiled tiredly and picked up another folder for Yanaihara.

“Taichou, will you brief them before they join the division?”

“Gin will,” I said. “The captains are leaving in fifteen minutes, and I don't have time to wait for latecomers. As usual, you and Mesuda will cover lieutenant duties together, and Gin will be acting captain until my return.”

“Yes taichou.” Yanaihara bowed and left, sliding the new door closed. Gin had been thumbing through the sheets, and pulled one out.

“Okada, is it?” he said, studying the form carefully. “The Omaeda family even used their own seal on it. Guess they really do like their head steward.”

“Give them a good talking-to, but if you cross the line that will be your responsibility,” I told Gin sternly. Then I softened and kissed his cheek. “Do try not to step on too many toes, lover. Some of those toes belong to really big and heavy boots.”

“And they'll kick my ass?” he asked pertly. He cupped the side of my face which he had shaved only earlier. “Relax, taichou. I'll just send the latecomers packing, as they should be.”

I huffed and picked up my luggage for the week. “I won't be around to watch your back, Gin.”

He smiled confidently. “What makes you think you'll have to?”

xxxxx

The captains waited at the gate. Zaraki was late, as was Kurotsuchi. Kurosawa stifled a yawn while Byakuya stood motionless, uncertainty lacing through his reiatsu. I kneaded my temples.

“If I'd known we had to wait for all captains to gather, I'd have brought sake,” remarked Kyoraku, dropping into a seat beside me and Kurosawa.

I grinned with empathy. “Jyuushiro not joining us?”

“He said he'll come by tomorrow, when the attack eases off. Kaien is no more concerned than usual so I suppose it is pretty okay.” Kyoraku didn't have his hat with him, which was an odd occurrence. Kurosawa pointed it out and Kyoraku chuckled. “I left the hat at Jyuu's place. It keeps his third seats out; they think I'm inside with him when they see it there.”

“They know about the retreat, don't they?” I said.

“They're dense to everything else other than Jyuu's well-being. Besides, they don't know if I chose to stay with him or come along today, and Nanao-chan won't tell,” said the older captain with a lazy grin.

I nodded amiably. “It must be nice to have a lieutenant you trust that much.”

“You have one too,” Kurosawa commented. “And he makes a pretty good bedwarmer too, going by your attachment to the boy.”

“The 'boy' is up for a captaincy test when we return, Isshin,” I said, my smile fading slightly. Kyoraku was studying me, I knew, even though his reiatsu was placid and his eyes half-lidded and relaxed. I changed the topic. “When is Zaraki-san arriving?”

Kurosawa yawned. “This is going to be a long week.”

I agreed with a chagrined smile.

xxxxx

The location this time round was a hotel near a lake in the mountains. It was quiet enough, and apparently the auditors had been exceedingly generous in allowing us to book the place for a week.

By evening we had found ourselves quiet places to contemplate and to relax. Kurosawa had challenged Zaraki to a gamble down in the lounge, so most of the other captains made their way out of the place.

I was sitting by the placid lake, watching the sunset when Yamamoto himself approached me.

“Aizen,” the old man said, seating himself opposite me. There was nothing decrepit about his actions, unlike Rinbayashi-sensei. “Are you resolved?”

I knew he was referring to my relationship with Gin. “Is there no way around it, sir?”

“He can refuse the captaincy,” Yamamoto said.

I shook my head. “He has attained bankai and the third needs a captain. The good of the society demands that Gin take on the role.”

Yamamoto looked up into a bank of crimson clouds. “But if you'll miss him that much...”

“I'll manage, sir,” I said firmly. “Kyoraku-san and Ukitake-san manage too.”

Yamamoto snorted, his moustache and beard moving a little. “Kyoraku is and has always been a skirt-chaser. They were never as bonded as you and Ichimaru are.”

“Oh?” I was a little surprised; I had been under the impression that they were lovers. This was interesting information.

A movement behind us announced the arrival of someone else. I tilted my head back. It figured. “Kyoraku-san, please, join us.”

“Yama-ji, are you gossiping about me and Jyuu-chan again?” he asked, sitting between the old man and myself. “How like you to hide yourself here, Sousuke.”

“I hide because I fear your scrutiny,” I told him honestly and he laughed, a low, rumbling sound. Yamamoto was unusually relaxed too, chuckling along with us. Then he rose. “Old bones. I'm going to rest and wake up early. We do have an all-day meeting tomorrow to discuss next year's programs and events.”

“Yes soutaichou.” I bowed him off, standing together with him and seeing him off.

Kyoraku remained seated. “Good night, Yama-ji.”

The setting sun set fire to the clouds. It was a spectacular display, seldom seen in the flat regions of Seireitei. The sun drifted slowly, inexorably downwards into a bank of clouds, the last rays stabbing into the skies. I smiled with tender remembrance: was Gin watching the sunset now?

Kyoraku tipped his face up to face me. “Penny for your thoughts.”

As I reseated, I added, “I was thinking of how to be together with Gin after he becomes captain.”

Kyoraku smiled and handed me a bottle of sake he magically drew out of thin air. “You can quit your captaincy.”

I peered at him through the gloom of the night. The lights of the hotel behind us provided sufficient illumination for us to see each other, but not enough to read our expressions. Pity. “I could. Or we could just continue, and keep it secret from everyone.”

“We'd know,” pointed out Kyoraku. “After all, Soifon is an excellent investigator.”

“That's true,” I conceded, “but she is no match to Rinbayashi-sensei, nor does she have a group the equal of the team of Urahara Kisuke and Shihouin Yoruichi.”

“They are the exceptions, the one in ten thousands,” said Kyoraku. He half-turned to gaze in my direction. “As are you and Ichimaru.”

I laughed. “Gin and I are unique. No one in their right minds would link us together – we're too different. We'll always be too different.”

“So are Jyuu-chan and I,” he said. Then he began comparing. “He's sober, I'm inebriated; he's noble, I'm crass; he's the dream guy every girl wants and can't attain, I'm the flirt who goes around chasing every available skirt.”

I cut him off. “You are both insightful and loyal, and it's obvious you share a bond beyond that of love.”

“That's only because we can't have love,” he remarked coolly. I was surprised, but said nothing. One thing I learned from Rinbayashi's tutelage was to say nothing. Let them fill in the silence, she had taught me and Gin, and I remembered the adage. He lay down on the grassy ground and breathed out. “His love is for everyone. Mine is for selected individuals. And, no matter how hard we pray and what Unohana tries, there is no way around his illness.”

I waited it out. He was probably drunker than I thought. He rambled on. “Everyone thinks we're screwing. I wish we were. Two thousand years, Sousuke. Two thousand. I envy you and Ichimaru. I envied him with Matsumoto. I envied you with Kisuke, long ago. That's all I can do, envy, because the one I love and the one I really want to share myself with refuses to accept me. Refuses to accept that I want to share in his pain. Refuses me his burden.”

“Why are you telling me this, Shunsui?” I inquired softly. The use of his given name didn't surprise him. I knew he had probably drunk too much; had Jyuushiro rejected his concern and sent him here?

He tossed his head back and faced the half-moon that was low in the sky. “I don't know. I don't like you that much. I don't trust you that much either, come to that. You're too bleeding perfect, like Jyuu-chan says. But who can I share these problems with, really? Zaraki? Kurotsuchi?” he snorted. “You're the only one among all of us who knows what it is like to be in love. Real love – I've seen you with him.”

“And how am I with him?” I asked. The quiet sounds of the lake's waves on the shore followed the cool breeze that swept over the grass and our skin.

He pondered. “When you look at him, it's as if time stops, and there is nothing but him.”

I laughed softly. “You exaggerate.”

“Perhaps,” he agreed. “But you can't deny that there is a level of affection far beyond that of the bond you shared with Kisuke.”

“I can't deny that fact,” I said. There was an ant crawling up my socked foot. I brushed it off carefully. “But I can't say that I love him either.”

“I say it every time I meet Jyuu-chan, and it doesn't do me any good.”

“Is that why you say it to the other girls you meet?”

He chuckled. “I have a quota to fill, y'know.”

xxxxx

One thing I liked about our retreats: we were really left alone after the meetings of the first three days. Of course I had to dissuade the more gregarious captains from visiting, but I discovered that my vague expressions and half-hearted participation the past few years had built me a reputation. Now they just left me to brood in my rooms.

“Missing the boy again?” teased Kurosawa. He was winning his blackjack games with Zaraki. Yamamoto, Soifon and Unohana had been holed up preparing a new system of team arrangements on the battlefield. Komamura and Tousen took the opportunity to walk about, since both were usually less apt to wander around Seireitei. Kurotsuchi and Byakuya had taken to haunting the immense library the hotel had. Ukitake Jyuushiro had finally arrived at the hotel on the second day and no one had seen either the eighth captain or the thirteenth since the last meeting.

I drew out my key to Las Noches. Though I was still unable to really open a gargantua using my own power, I found the key Syazel crafted helped to open inter-dimensional gates easily. The bronze key flipped from finger to finger while I considered the options open to me. Should I visit Las Noches or stay here?

With a small smile I opted for the latter. There was no enjoyment or pleasure in going to Hueco Mundo alone, nor was it wise to risk discovery of my plans before time.

 

Chapter Text

I jotted quick notes as we talked. “Having to limit shinigami stay out of Seireitei would take far too much effort,” I argued, stabbing into the paper with the pencil. “The current system works fine. Why are we making them commute?”

“We all know Aizen-taichou loves to have his little sojourns in the human realm,” snickered Kurotsuchi. “What he does there is, of course, his own business, ne? Like everyone else in the fifth division-”

Kurosawa bristled. “Every division is autonomous, you lil' prickless maniac. I don't like the idea of keeping tabs on our moves either. What if someone hacks into the system, tracks us down to kill us?”

“My security systems are perfect,” hissed Kurotsuchi angrily. Kurosawa got to his feet as well, eyes narrowed in challenge. Soifon barked a command for them to sit down and was roundly ignored. I pulled on Kurosawa's sleeve as did Komamura on Kurotsuchi's.

Unohana was, as usual, imperturbable. Other than a slight dip in her reiatsu I couldn't sense anything from her. Tousen was calm. The tracking of shinigami out in the real world didn't affect him; out of all of us, he was one of the three who did not spend any time in the human realm as a shinigami. Zaraki was snoring at his seat. As he had won the captaincy off a dead man, he didn't have to put in human world duty, but no one let him out of Seireitei anyway. No one in his right mind would – the memory modification costs alone would be heinously large. Kurotsuchi spent all his time holed up in the laboratory he inherited from Urahara, so he did not have to rise through the ranks like we did.

Yamamoto commanded for silence. He got it. I wondered if the old man knew that a slight increase of his reiatsu should perform the same trick. I used it all the time in the fifth during meetings with new officers – senior officers knew better than to make unnecessary noise. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed Kyoraku's finger brushing the slender, fair hand beside him.

Not lovers. Right. And I was a powerless little earthworm writhing in the sun.

Komamura's deep voice boomed over us. “I object to being tagged like an animal,” he growled. “It is demeaning.”

Ever the peacemaker, Ukitake said, “I see the logic in the suggestion. But tracking individual reiatsu patterns would be too much of an intrusion into our private lives and would take up too many of your valuable assistants' time.”

I added, “Besides, all of us have little secrets we don't wish to share with others.”

“Such as?” Kyoraku inquired smoothly before Kurotsuchi could interrupt.

I shrugged. “Maybe I wish to take over Soul Society, or perhaps I'm plotting to overthrow the Forty-Six, or maybe I'm stealing sake from your cabinet.”

“Severe crimes, all,” said Kyoraku lightly. I could sense his mind dissecting my comment: is he serious? Is he joking? Is he what he seems?

Yamamoto mulled over the suggestion. Then he flattened his right hand on the table. “Kurotsuchi. How long will it take to prepare a passport for shinigami on duty in the human world?”

“Three days,” the scientist answered without pause.

“Then create one for all outgoing shinigami's communicators. They will not know that it is inside. We can thus tell if they stayed beyond the time given.”

“This isn't fair to the officers and unranked shinigami,” said Tousen.

Already impatient, Yamamoto waved the objection aside. “We need what is expedient.”

I let the matter rest. Already I had caught Ukitake and Kyoraku exchanging a few quick glances: the next few years would be an exercise in mind games.

Speaking of which, I wondered if Gin had played some yet on the pale little blond.

Byakuya adjusted his scarf. “I wonder who has been appointed to oversee Ichimaru captaincy test,” he remarked aloud. The lack of honorifics in Gin's name yet spoken without familiar terms annoyed me greatly. Although I had no love for Gin's bond with Byakuya's dead wife, Gin was still a friend of his family.

Unohana smiled. “I will.”

“As will I,” said Tousen. Komamura was the third and then the soutaichou indicated his presence. I shook my head, a small regretful smile on my face.

“I would be entirely biased,” I remarked. “I'll grant him the whole world if I could offer it.”

Kurosawa's raucous snort of laughter woke Zaraki. The tall captain yawned and scratched his neck. “We done?”

xxxxx

I rowed myself to the far side of the lake. Too seldom did I have the opportunity to exert purely physical force. My arms were beginning to feel the strain by the time the little boat banked on the shore. Letting my mind clear of all distractions and thoughts, I sank into peaceful meditation under the shade of a leafy tree.

Impingement.

I kept my eyes closed. The aura was familiar, and I let my lips curve up.

“You run a great risk, coming here,” I said softly. He chuckled, not really threatened. Then I opened my eyes. “It's nice to see you again, Kisuke.”

“I'm nice to see,” he quipped. Then he lay down, head beside my hip. “I've missed this place so much.”

“You have? I thought you'd abandon this spot entirely,” I said. “The things we said last year...”

“I had a whole year to regret it, believe me.” The blond sat up and leaned his back against my right side. The breeze stirred the leaves above, causing shadows to dance across the grass where we sat. Little flickers of light rippled across the lake surface. He lifted a hand to press that ridiculous hat down over his face, then dropped his left hand to my knee.

“Stop it,” I muttered. “I have to concentrate.”

He sighed and retrieved his hand. “Yes taichou.” Then he laughed, low in his throat. “You're more bossy every year.”

“Comes from leading a division,” I said, glancing at the teasing blond beside me. “I end up giving most of the orders... and these orders are followed.”

“Even your precious lieutenant, hmm?”

“Gin has no part in this discussion,” I snapped.

Urahara sat up straight and cupped my cheek with his hand. “Liar. You don't want him to leave. I know you, Sou. You never liked people you love to leave. That's why you're still angry with me after so long.”

I pushed his hand away and got to my feet. “You know nothing about me. He deserves to be captain; he's strong and capable and-”

“-and you love him,” Urahara finished for me. He got up too and stood next to me on the bank. “You love him so much you think your heart would break when he moves out into his own division and is no longer answerable to you. When he has complete autonomy from you. When you can no longer monopolize his attentions and thus focus his desire only on you.”

I glared at him. I had nothing to say that could rebut the sentences. Finally I looked out over the water. “He has the right to do whatever he wants.”

“Even if he becomes distant from you?”

“... it is his right; he is not my property.”

Urahara laughed again. “Listen to that sour tone, Sousuke. Don't lie to me.”

I huffed but said nothing. We watched a few water birds skim over the surface of the lake, and saw a snake slide into the water not far from where we were. Then I said, “This will be the last time we meet like this, Kisuke. It will not be possible next year.”

“He's definitely going to make it?” asked Urahara. I nodded. It was not just a wish. I knew that Gin would be impressive even with the weaker 'bankai' Shinsou had tried to bluff with. Rinbayashi's endorsement by training him had secured the deed. I let my thoughts wander to the old woman; how long had she known of our plan and how much did she share with others? To the latter question I suspected that she hadn't told anyone yet – she had never shared information until the perpetrator had been caught, by her or by her division. That was one of the many reasons why Utagawa Jin resented her – he was always an underling, never a partner. Even Yamamoto gave Sasakibe more opportunities than Rinbayashi Reina.

Neither did I believe she had known of our plans early in her tutelage of Gin. Yet... at which point had she discovered our less-than-benign intentions? What had triggered her to dig into my business? Who was the traitor?

The idea that it had been my chosen could not bear thinking.

“There is a time for everything under the sun,” said Urahara in a soft tone. I blinked. Looking at him I discovered he had a new, unfocused expression on his face. He gazed out as if he could see the horizon. “And my time with you is gone. You have had your time with Ichimaru – it's time to move on.”

“I can't,” I admitted, voice tight. “I have never liked to release what love and affection I managed to have grasped.”

The blond's eyelids slid shut. “But the tighter you hold, the more he will yearn to be free. He will not tell you that, I think, because he genuinely loves you. But you've made the decision once to let him go overseas to become independent of your influence; you now have to decide to break it off with him so he will be independent of your love.”

“I hate being the strong one,” I grumbled. But Urahara could hear that I was reluctant to release Gin.

“That's the burden of you gentle, accepting types,” said Urahara. He got up and brushed off his pants. “Good day to you, Shunsui, Jyuushiro. Do step off the tree before the branch cracks under your weight, voyeurs.”

“You're such a spoilsport,” laughed Jyuushiro. “You couldn't play dumb longer like Sousuke here?”

I made myself smile. “I just wanted to hoard Kisuke's company longer, Jyuushiro. Is that so wrong?”

“Not when it keeps us from enjoying the excellent sake he brings for Shunsui,” riposted Jyuushiro, his good humor evident. Kyoraku kept his silence, maintaining a pleasant smile. Urahara laughed and strolled back to the trees to dig out a pack, and to summon his jailer and friend Tessai.

I stood up, dusting off the blades of grass and sand that speckled my uniform. “I need to meditate. Allow me to excuse myself for a walk in the forest, Jyuushiro, Shunsui, Kisuke.”

“You're not joining us?” asked Kyoraku casually, removing his hat and placing it on one side.

I shook my head and entered the cool shelter of the trees. The four of them settled to chat and I retrieved Kyoka Suigetsu.

Old friend, I have need of your assistance.

:You never have anything good planned when you ask me in that polite tone. What is it?:

Four captain-level shinigami to beguile. It's a true test of your abilities, don't you think?

:I have already adjusted memories of four or five captains the other time, long ago, remember?:

You were in bankai, my friend. Now I will only release shikai. Can you do it?

:Who the hell do you take me for? I am Kyoka Suigetsu, the Mirror of all I see. There is nothing I cannot achieve as long as they are able to look into my eyes.:

Arrogance, arrogance. You have no eyes. I snickered inwardly at Kyoka Suigetsu's snarl of dissent. My presence within the forest... a steady, collected, withdrawn sense of reiatsu. Melancholic and uncertain.

:Do it yourself if you keep directing my efforts.:

I wish to go to Las Noches. Blind them – all of them – from the opening of a gate.

:There are sensors?:

No. we are on retreat, after all. I will be as fast as I can.

My sword looked exactly as it always did but I knew it had already begun its task. Carefully caressing the hand guard, I placed Kyoka Suigetsu in the hollow it had been hidden in. Then I took my key and sliced a horizontal line in front of me. The fabric of reality parted silently and I stepped into the whirling, rushing void.

The gate closed behind me.

xxxxx

Ulquiorra updated me on the developments thus far.

“No news of the vasto lordes?” I asked wearily. Barragan and his fraccion waited for their initial transformation. That man was far too arrogant; his presence grated across my pride. Barragan had ruled with an iron claw a section of Hueco Mundo far from Las Noches, and it was through many visits that I had brought him round to my cause. I had no doubt that he would usurp my place should he find the chance.

One reason I kept Grimmjow antagonistic towards me: his overt rebelliousness kept Barragan from planning in detail. The elderly hollow made it a point to teach the lesser hollows respect for him and his. Grimmjow demanded the same and it had been only Stark and Ulquiorra's constant intervention that kept the two from an all-out brawl. I had had to increase the number of my visits, risking discovery every minute, but I was not willing to let my hard work fall to two humongous egos.

It was time for some direct action.

Grimmjow was already dubious when I proposed the bargain – he was possessive when it came to his fraccion. It was a refreshing difference. Most of the chosen didn't give a damn about their fraccion, treating them like cattle. Grimmjow was exceedingly possessive and protective over his, bristling if even one was slighted by the hollows that populated the fortress. No matter. My business tonight was with both Barragan and Grimmjow.

“Stark, attend,” I said aloud, knowing that Syazel in his lab would divert my call to Stark's quarters. “Barragan, Grimmjow, come to the meeting room. We shall have tea.”

They came in five minutes. Tea was already prepared, piping hot. Ulquiorra had been an amazing and fortunate find: he was conscientious, careful, and near emotionless. After preparing the tea he had left. Grimmjow strode warily to my left, Barragan arrogantly to my right, and both sat down. Stark was the last to appear and he nodded a brief apology for his lateness.

“Grimmjow, Barragan, Stark, please have some tea,” I said, lifting my own cup unhurriedly. I would not show to disadvantage, not among predators.

“Why are we here?” growled Grimmjow. It was only when I lifted an inquiring brow that he added the honorifics. “Aizen-sama.”

“A few things.” I put down my cup. “First of all, to have tea. It's tea taken from my own stores and I missed the fragrance.”

Stark's eyes were half-lidded, but I knew the insightful hollow would hear every word spoken and infer the unspoken.

“Secondly to converse with you, Grimmjow.” I smiled at him. “Have you and your fraccion given thought to my proposal?”

“They think it's a good deal,” snapped the teal-haired hollow. “I don't know what games you're up to, Aizen...sama, but I still think it is a trap.”

“My intentions are completely transparent,” I said.

Barragan grunted. “Why am I here then, Aizen-sama?”

“Why,” I said with another happy smile, “to hear the momentous news! Ichimaru will be the new captain of the Third Division from next week on. Make sure all the residents of Las Noches congratulate him.”

“For this you roused the three of us?”

“No, for the fourth and final purpose,” I drawled, swilling the remains of tea in my cup. The smile on my face hardened minutely. Stark caught the edge of my reiatsu changing and he opened his eyes a little wider. I said, very slowly and carefully, “I have heard of your latest... altercation at the South Tower.”

The broadly-built, battle-scarred hollow snorted. “This upstart blocked my way-”

“The lard ball barged into my training-”

“Enough,” I stated firmly, softly. “I will have silence.”

They glared at each other across the table. So like young children, the both of them. I lay my palm flat on the table.

“I have decided on a name for my chosen. We will adopt what the previous incumbents have called their elite: the Espada. But this time there will be a difference: we will have rankings.” I glanced at the tall, lanky man drowsing in his chair. “Stark is Numero Uno, number one. The rest of you will wait for me to assess your abilities before I rank you accordingly.”

“Why does he get the first place?” demanded Barragan. “He never does work, only lounges around snoring like a pig!”

“Because his work is done only when I have need of his strength.” I nodded at Stark. “Teach them the meaning of control, Stark.”

The newly-ranked Espada unfolded his limbs and stood up. “Excuse me.”

I sat back and let the incredibly potent reiatsu build and wash over me. It was like a spring breeze, invigorating and refreshing. But that was for me: Grimmjow paled and gritted his teeth, his jaw grinding against the discomfort. Barragan muttered a swear word under his breath and tried to pretend he wasn't sweating with the effort to remain conscious.

“Thank you, Stark,” I said. The ease with which I handled his reiatsu drew startled and reluctantly admiring glances from Barragan and Grimmjow. “That is why he is Numero Uno. He is stronger than Ulquiorra and Halibel combined – almost as strong as Ichimaru himself. And now, Stark, you are vested with the authority to deal with disciplinary problems as you see fit.” He nodded and yawned. I chuckled before adding, “You can kill if you wish.”

The laidback demeanor fooled no one: the sudden spike in his reiatsu and the glitter in his hooded eyes showed that, at the core, Stark was as much a killer as any of them. More so, since he chose his prey carefully.

“Now that that's done, I have to return,” I said, pushing back from the table. Ignoring the hollows still seated at the meeting table I sliced an exit back to the lakeside forest. It was almost time to return home anyway.

 

Chapter Text

Most of us were still sleepy but glad to return to Seireitei. Yamamoto very courteously decided to turn up late, so Urahara could bid his friends goodbye. All of us knew the chances of seeing everyone else were high, since we were captains, but we were also soldiers in a never-ending war.

I covered my mouth as I yawned. I was not really a morning person, but years of living with Gin had adjusted my internal clock. Urahara's farewell to me was a brief hug.

“Be good, Sou,” he said with a faint smile.

I patted him on the back. “Back at you, Kisuke.”

He put on his hat and took his cane from the silent Tessai. They stepped out of sight and the soutaichou materialized. “Let's go home,” he announced.

The gate opened and we stepped through.

xxxxx

“I've been meaning to ask ya for a library book. The annals of Di Fu, 1500s to 1700s. You had it last, yeah?” said Kurosawa as we emerged into the pre-dawn chill of Seireitei.

“Actually I do have it,” I answered. “Why do you need it?”

He hoisted his bag over his shoulder. “We've been seeing a lot of huge hollows that can hide their reiatsu lately, out over the eastern borders. Think I remember seein' some entries 'bout huge hollows in that volume.”

Of course he had. I based some of my own research on the information within. “Those are shapeshifting hollows, not huge hollows.”

“But the shapeshifters could hide their reiatsu,” Kurosawa pointed out.

“True,” I admitted. “Just follow me then, we'll pick it up from my house.”

“Won't you wake your boy?”

I smiled. I had missed him this week. “He wakes with the dawn. It's not a problem.”

When we reached the door I was surprised to find it unlocked. Kurosawa was equally taken aback. Though we did not fear theft, we still guarded our privacy fiercely. I pushed the door aside, fearing the worst. Had Rinbayashi got out? Or had Utagawa reneged on his pledge?

Sandals, clothes, books, a chair, clothes... all over the floor. Understanding dawning, Kurosawa paused in the living room. “I'll wait here, Sousuke.”

“Yes, please,” I answered, not really hearing him. There was a thundering in my ears; I could hear voices behind the bedroom door.

“Rangiku, get up and get out of here!”

“Don't shout, Gin, my head hurts. What's the hurry, anyway?”

I slid it open, knowing and hating what I would see. Gin had put on his hakama and was tying the white belt on. Matsumoto's fingers halted in the process of detangling her strawberry-blond hair.

“The hurry is probably because I was due home any moment,” I heard myself say calmly. My luggage landed with a soft thump behind me. “Good morning, Gin, Matsumoto.”

Gin was stunned and contrite and ashamed. His cheeks flamed with guilt and I wanted to hold him, brush that redness from his face as tenderly as I could. I wanted to punch him. I wanted to kiss him and tell him it was alright.

Matsumoto appeared to wake from her hangover. “Ai-aizen-taichou, I, uh, we... I mean, I-”

I did not want to see her. I did not want to hear her voice scratch over my consciousness. “Just go home, Matsumoto-fukutaichou. You'll need to wash up before you attend to your duties at the Tenth.”

She scrambled out, head bowed. Then I heard her acknowledge her captain out in the living room, and Kurosawa was dismayed to discover his lieutenant in my house. He came over and murmured, “Sousuke, I'll be off. I'll come for the book another time.” Without waiting for my response he grabbed Matsumoto and left.

Gin could not maintain eye contact, twisting his face from my gaze. His hand gripped his left elbow, shielding his body somewhat. I took my bag and tugged it into the room, emptying the dirty laundry into the laundry basket. Somehow I could not react beyond the mundane. “I'm home.”

He tried to escape out of our bedroom – our own sanctum, where we were the most honest and open to each other – he tried to run. Without realizing it I had employed shunpo and was gripping his arm.

He refused to face me, shaking his silver fringe over his eyes. I could not let him go, not like this. “Look at me.” He shook his head and I grabbed harder, tried to force him to turn towards me. “Look. At me.”

Look at me, Gin. Please. Look at me, look at me. Please, Gin.

Inch by inch he turned his face towards me, his gaze sliding slowly to meet mine. He looked ready to cry, his mind a chaotic whirl and not responding to my desperate pleas.

“What happened?” I asked, my voice strange and distant even in my ears.

“I'm... I'm sorry. I didn't...” He wet his lips, tried again. “We got drunk. And we started reminiscing about... we talked about the days when we were together and – things got kinda blurry. We got - caught up in the moment, the-the memories...” he trailed off and blinked at me, confused and lost.

Just as he had looked at me when I had driven his mind back to the time of his human death.

“I see. I guess there really is karma,” I whispered.

“Aizen-sama, it wasn't that, I swear I didn't, we, I, gods... I don't know what I'm saying,” the words came out in a rush. “I just, it's been so bad between us recently, and when you went away it just became worst, and I, I just-”

“Bad?” I was perplexed. “Between us?”

He tore his arm from my slackened grip. “You've been very distant ever since... ever since Rinbayashi accepted me as an apprentice and you took Byakuya in as an apprentice.”

I felt defensive. I had not changed the way I treated him, I was certain of that. “I haven't been distant. I've been here, as usual. I've always been here, with you.”

“No you're not.” The accusation was sharp yet desperate. “Even when we make love you're not here. I don't what you're preoccupied with, but I've been trying. I really, really have. I didn't mean to-”

“-revenge yourself for my 'distraction'? Hurt me for not paying you the same attention as I had in our early days?” I could feel bitter anger rising. I shoved it down and away; Gin was in pain, it was obvious. He might not have been able to feel it or realize it, but the agony that ripped through him echoed and resounded through our telepathic link.

He was about to break. “It wasn't revenge. I needed – it was solace, Aizen-sama.” He sniffed and bit his lower lip. “I know who you meet at the retreat. I try not to mind, to block it from my consciousness, to not know that you are seeing him there, while you're away from me. I am trying, and it's hard, and it's painful, and incredibly lonely. If you knew how it hurts to know you're hiding something like this from me-”

The fury burst through my restraint. “I did nothing with Urahara. It was a meeting for him and all his friends, including me. That is all. There was no need to show me how it hurts; I've seen this before, remember? I've seen it with different actors but yes, it cuts the same. And don't you dare pin the blame on me, Gin. I didn't touch him. Ask any captain: I never touched him, not once.”

“I didn't mean to!” shrieked Gin, the tears streaking his soft cheeks. I regretted my anger instantly; it was as if a knife sliced through my soul. “I didn't, I swear I didn't, but it's empty inside, and cold, you have no idea how cold it is when you're not around. I have no one else, Aizen-sama, no one. No friends, not a single one whom I can confide in and talk to. Empty, inside, like a black hole that never fills up. I try not to mind, because when you are here, when you're with me it's okay, but you won't always be with me and you've been pushing me away and it's agony, and... I tried, I'm still trying, I'm sorry, I really am.”

Oh, Gin... I wanted to hold him to me, to cradle that silver head and comfort him, but he looked spent from his rant. I had not realized, I truly hadn't estimated how his isolation might have hurt him. I did not know what to say, for the first time in our lives together. There was an early bird singing outside the window and I watched as it warbled cheerfully.

“You know what?” I let my breathing slow. “Get yourself cleaned up and then... we just- let's just get to work.”

Numbed and wordless, I walked out of the bedroom.

xxxxx

Even the division members recognized that something was wrong. Gin ran drills as usual; his slender body in no way limiting the reach of his voice. After drills I briefed the squad leaders on the new communicators for human-world duty and the procedure for acquiring them.

When I returned to the office Gin was working diligently and silently. I sat at my desk and began to go through the papers that had accumulated over the period of the captains' retreat. The office was sterile and monotonous, both of us unable to give voice to the tension.

The day ended too early, and the senior officers dropped by to bid good night. I said the same, knowing that both Gin and I dreaded the ending of the day. The atmosphere was uncomfortable, and the officers did not loiter to chat. I took the keys and locked up the rest of the rooms, knowing that it was Gin's job, but I had had enough of the strain in our office.

By the time I returned to the shared office he was gone. I placed the keys where they were supposed to be, not knowing if I should return home or stay in the barracks tonight. Casting my mind about, I found that he was heading home, or at least moving in that direction.

I couldn't bring myself to stay with him tonight, and I certainly did not want to sleep in the bed the two had copulated in last night. I made my way to our old house in Rukongai, every footstep a reminder of the absent ones that were supposed to be behind me, shadowing me all the way home.

xxxxx

The next day proceed much like the day before. We wokred like automatons, never exchanging eye contact or sentence. He would come over and deposit files or papers into my in-tray, then retrieve those I had completed from my out-tray and send it to the runners.

By the end of the morning I knew we were both exhausted from our silence. A soft knock on the door provided much welcomed respite from our determined focus. “Hinamori, good afternoon.”

“Good afternoon, taichou, fukutaichou,” said the girl, balancing two lunch trays in her hands. I went over and took them from her, setting up lunch at the low table. Hinamori bobbed her head in thanks and inquired gently, “Is there anything I can do, taichou?”

“Uh, yes, actually there is,” I said. “Could you brew us a pot of tea, please? The tea set is in the pantry; ask any of the squad leaders where I put my personal stash of tea.”

“Yes taichou!” she chirped brightly. “Please enjoy your lunch, taichou and fukutaichou. I'll be back as soon as possible.”

I smiled in thanks. “There's no rush, Hinamori. Take your time.”

When she had exited the office and slid the door closed, I walked over to my lieutenant. “Gin, lunchtime.”

“I'm not hungry, taichou.” He kept his head bent over the paperwork. “I have to finish vetting these status reports before I go for my captaincy test tomorrow.”

“I can do that.” I took the pen from his hand and put it aside. He peered up. I stroked his fringe from his face and said, “You have to eat, you're so thin. Come along.”

He blinked and then abruptly buried his face into my abdomen, his writing hand holding mine tightly, his left reaching over to grasp my arm. I patted his head and held it close to me, feeling absolved and relieved. I threaded my fingers into his silk-fine hair as we held each other in silence.

The door opened again. “Taichou, your tea – I'm, I'm sorry, erm, I'll just... I'll leave once I... yes.” Hinamori was flustered at catching her captain and lieutenant in a tender moment, and bustled about putting the tea on our lunch table. She kept her face averted from us, but I knew she was blushing furiously from the red over her neck and what I could see of her cheeks. Despite the presence of a third party Gin didn't let go of me, face still nuzzled against my stomach, his left hand clutching my sleeve. I nodded my thanks to the petite girl, who blushed more and ran out of the room, then pattered back to close the door.

“I love you,” said my lieutenant against my uniform. “I'm really sorry for what I did. I love you.”

I patted his head again. “I know, Gin. I know you two have a special bond. I just... I didn't expect to see that. Now I know how she felt; call it a lesson in humility.”

He sniffed, an endearing sound that brought back memories from the time we began learning about each other. I trailed my fingers through his hair. Another reason his roll in the hay had hit me so hard was because of Urahara, but I didn't want to expound on that. Not now, when he had just relaxed and opened up. I wanted to embrace him and keep him safe forever.

“Gin, I missed you while I was away,” I told him. “I thought it was an act at first I was putting up, but I really did miss you. I couldn't sleep last night.”

“I couldn't either,” he said, his voice muffled. “I hated that you weren't there, but I knew I would've hated it more if you were there. It was confusing. And when morning came I realized that I hated myself for hurting you.”

“It wasn't your fault-” I began, but was cut off by a rumble. To my embarrassment my stomach had growled. Gin chuckled into the fabric and finally looked up, meeting my eyes. His lovely eyes were red-rimmed, though, and I brushed my thumbs over the lids, wiping away remnant tears.

“Lunch,” I reminded him and he stood up. Before I could release him he cupped my cheeks and pressed his mouth to mine. I let myself sink into the kiss, his lips soft and warm. Slowly he angled his face and I felt his tongue probe at my lips, and I granted him access. He was shy, darting in and touching, never forcibly claiming. I reached up to remove my glasses before deepening the kiss. His breaths were shallow, dusting over my skin as his fingers slid around to the back of my head and weaving into my hair. My arms went around him, pressing him to myself, wanting to express all my regret and contrition.

Then our stomachs grumbled in tandem, and we parted. The humor had returned to his face but the melancholy was still banked beneath. I caressed his cheeks with my knuckles. “I'm sorry, love, I didn't know you were so lonely.”

“Because I never told you,” he whispered. “I didn't want to admit it either; I wanted you to be everything to me.”

I kissed the tip of his nose. “I can't be that. I wish I could, but I can't.”

“That's the truth I've been trying to hide from,” he answered, making a face. “I didn't want to know.”

“Your mind is too sharp not to know,” I said. “And I'm sorry I didn't keep you informed about Urahara over at the retreats. I thought it would be better if you didn't hear about him.”

We made our way to the lunch Hinamori brought in for us, our fingers reluctant to part from each other's. In spite of the relief from the tension we had been wrapped in, a pall still hung over us. There were issues, I could tell, and a peek at Gin's mind indicated that the confused resentment still lingered.

We had become stagnant and complacent. When we had been learning about each other, early in our association, every single detail became important and every single word or glance or action was fascinating. Sometime in our relationship – I didn't know when, but it had been some time after he returned from Fegefeuer – we had relaxed into a routine. I had confused lovemaking and daily contact with intimacy. He had determinedly buried himself with an illusion.

We were both fooled by our own perceptions.

Gin removed the covers for both of us. “Look. Dango.”

“You can have mine,” I said, passing the dessert over. “I think it's time we had a good talk, Gin.”

He nodded slowly. “But after the captaincy test, alright?”

“All right,” I agreed. We finished our lunch in comfortable silence, though beneath the veneer tension lurked.

xxxxx

In the evening we sat together at our usual spot. He rested his head on my shoulder and I held his cool hands in mine. The clouds shifted from yellow-umber to golden-red-purple-pink, a display that only occurred in nature.

“Are you nervous about tomorrow?” I asked softly.

He did not answer immediately. After a long pause, he said, “A little, I suppose. Shinsou didn't mind showing only the initial bankai, but he does think I ought to reveal my full strength.”

I stroked his fingers slowly. “What did you decide to name it?”

“Harutakanna,” he replied. “Bamboo shoots in spring.”

“That's a lovely name.”

“It should be,” he said, burrowing closer. “Shinsou and I thought of it together.”

The sun finally set, and I bent to observe his face. He seemed pensive, but when he turned to face me he put on his daily smile. I grazed his lips with my fingertips, erasing the false grin and replacing it with a more introspective, smaller curve of his lips. That was my smile, the smile only I get to see and worship. I kissed him slowly, dusting his lower lip with mine, never pressing, moving from the side of his mouth to the other, then pulling away for a hair's breadth to slide back over. He parted his lips and I pressed down with mine, gently asking for entrance with my tongue and then a nip on his lower lip. He granted it and I tasted his mouth again, carefully, delicately, drawing tender sighs and moans as his fists clenched and his breathing quickened slightly. He tugged and I bent over him, cautiously lowering him to the tatami of our office. When I shifted away for a moment, his eyes were heavily lidded, lips swollen and pinked with our kiss, and there was a look of complete submission that melted my heart.

“I love you, Aizen-sama.” Gin touched my cheek, gossamer-soft, then reached behind my neck. “Please, love me.”

A nightingale sang, somewhere out over the training grounds, its clear voice dominating the serenity of the evening.

 

Chapter Text

The evening darkened into night. The nightingale's song lingered as we curled into each other, linking mind and body after the complete abstinence from each other after a week. I held him close, purely savoring the feel of his skin, tracing the contours of his face with my fingers and lips. When he reached for my belt I stayed his hands. “I just want to hold you, Gin. Nothing more.”

He blinked at me, and then he smiled and buried his face in my neck. He nibbled at my earlobe and then assaulted it with sharp teeth. I laughed and rolled us over, him partially resting on my chest. We nuzzled together on the tatami, trying to banish the unease that continued to gnaw at us.

“What are my chances of being found out, Aizen-sama?” asked Gin softly, referring to his bankai.

“Low,” I said. “It looks impressive enough, and certainly everyone expects an expansion of your zanpakuto's form.”

Gin shut his eyes. I stroked his back languidly, humming a tune as far as I could carry one, and he relaxed to breathe in time with me. The sky darkened and stars winked out from their hiding places.

“How was the retreat, Aizen-sama?” he asked softly, fingers carefully tracing my jaw.

I caught his hand and held it still. “It was alright. The weather was great, and all of us had a chance to rest.”

“And how was... how was Urahara?” Gin inquired. He tried to suppress the resentment and the old jealousy, but I caught the shadow of it in his mind.

“He was fine,” I said. “He's much the same as he was last year, except he looked more like a homeless man these days.”

“Oh.”

The silence drew out, heartbeat to heartbeat. I let my mind drift and ebb; the lack of sleep and the excess of thought the previous night was taking its toll.

“The kids are shaping up well,” said Gin suddenly.

“Hmm?” I lifted heavy eyelids. “Kids?”

“Abarai, Kira, that Hina something girl, Chuman and Okada. The interns,” he clarified. Then he raised himself on his elbows. “Are you that tired?”

“Sad to say I think I am, lover,” I murmured apologetically. He nudged me in my ribs and I stifled a groan of complaint. “Did anything happen while I was away?”

Gin sniffed. “I saw Kira naked. He saw me naked.”

“Already?” I raised my brows, although my eyes remained closed. He nudged me once more, a little harder. “Ow. I'm listening, Gin. What happened?”

Gin told me everything, including how he had checked to make sure the light would be caught by the silver chain even in water. I chuckled as he described Kira's expression on seeing my Gin nude and wet – an image that I loved to mull over in my own time – and laughed aloud when he described the way Kira had scurried from the bathhouse.

“You should have 'accidentally' brushed your fingers against his skin,” I said at the end. “It would have been too warm for him to sense where your hands were.”

“I like to leave room for imagination,” he countered. And, taking in my drowsiness, he relented. “Maybe we should adjourn to the bedroom?”

I considered briefly and shook my head. “Too far. We'll sleep in the office tonight. The couch is comfortable enough.”

“Too narrow for two,” my lieutenant pointed out.

I grinned. “If you think I'll let you out of my arms, you'd best think again. Couch, me, you, tonight. No arguing.”

He made a happy sound and I shifted, carrying his slender body over to our visitor's sofa. It was nearly time to change it, but it was well-padded and the cushions were clean. I fussed with the arrangements, finally settling down on my back and Gin tucked as best as he could between me and the back of the sofa. My calves and feet dangled over one arm though; I had forgotten that the couch was too short to encompass our heights. Gin squirmed a bit to find room for his legs, finally managing to hook them over mine in a complex way that I was too drained to be fascinated by.

“What time's your test?” I mumbled into his temple, right by my nose.

“Morning, around ten o'clock.” Gin nipped at my collar. “Sleep, love. You're tired.”

“That's the first time you've called me that,” I muttered as I drifted off. “Sounds nice.”

“I'll call you that whenever I can then,” he said. Then he began singing softly, some nonsense song about beans and rain and sunshine. I had the absurd thought that he was singing a lullaby, but it was pleasant to sleep with Gin's voice echoing faintly in my mind.

xxxxx

“Um.”

That was not the usual morning greeting I heard. I opened my eyes and winced as brilliant light flooded my vision. My spine ached and my legs felt like stone. Gin was still tightly pressed to me, his usual lack of movement in his sleep his saving grace. If I had shifted two inches to the left both of us would have crashed to the floor.

I inhaled deeply and smiled at the hapless kid sent in to wake us up. Abarai Renji scratched the back of his head, embarrassed and unsure of what to do. In his arms he carried a number of folders which I recognized to require captain-level clearance.

“Who sent you in?” I asked.

“Onizuka-san, taichou. I'm sorry for, um. For. Uh.” He was not an eloquent person. it was charming, in a clumsy way.

“It's alright, Abarai,” I grinned lopsidedly and shook Gin awake. “Gin, time to wake up.”

Gin snuggled closer. “Rmm?”

With a sort-of-embarrassed sigh I waved for Abarai to place the papers on my desk. “What time is it, incidentally?”

“Eight-forty-five, taichou.” The redhead bowed and left the room. I wondered what bet he had lost to warrant his having to wake his commanding officers from their very cozy huddle on the office sofa. On the other hand, Gin did have to get ready for his captaincy proficiency test.

I poked Gin's shoulder a little harder. “Wake up, Gin. You need to eat before the test.”

He sat up, and I grunted when his hip shoved hard against mine. “I have my toothbrush here?” he asked sleepily. “We haven't slept here for years.”

“We have some in the storage drawer,” I pointed out as I swung my legs from the uncomfortable perch. “You better get yourself some breakfast before you go.”

He hummed an agreement as he strolled to the private bathroom in the back. I yawned behind my hand, aware that there were some kinks all down my back that would need some serious stretching and kneading to work out.

At least we could have something to distract ourselves when we had our 'serious talk' tonight.

xxxxx

The test was quite straightforward but since I was his commanding officer I was to absent myself from the proceedings. On a whim I went to the Third to visit our hostage. Utagawa was at the test as well, since he was the healthiest ranking officer at the third.

Even Unohana had been taken in, and I congratulated Kyoka Suigetsu for crafting the illusion of a stroke-ridden Rinbayashi so well. Once we had the formality of the test over, and Yamamoto here to pay his regular visit to his old comrade-in-arms, she would be put to rest for real.

Utagawa's underling – I didn't bother to remember his name after I had thanked him warmly – showed me to my sensei's room. There was an empty vase. Filling it with water, I placed the flowers I brought into it, arranging it to my satisfaction.

“He's giving you your medications on time, sensei?” I inquired. She glared, the breathing tube obstructing her speaking ability. The wheeze of her inhalations and exhalations punctuated the air. I sat on the side of the bed and checked her vital signs. “Your blood pressure is a little high; if you keep being this angry you'll really get a stroke, and I won't need to use an illusion now, would I? I had your blood tested, but the results won't be back until next Wednesday. That's the bad thing about using non-shinigami agencies, I suppose.”

There were five, six knocks on the open door. I smiled at the welcome arrival of Utagawa. “How did it go?”

“Smooth as butter, Aizen-taichou.” He bowed. “It's time for her medication, and the soutaichou will be coming by in an hour or so after he has drafted the formal announcement.”

I nodded and stood up, smoothing the covers back. Utagawa saw the flowers and shifted them to the chest of drawers away from the bed. I raised an eyebrow questioningly.

“She's allergic to pollen,” he said with a shrug. “And I'm not really into cleaning mucus.”

“I see. I should be going.”

He smiled, a rare occurrence. “Maybe you should buy something for him. I'm sure he'll like that.”

xxxxx

The florist and her assistant tittered among themselves as I browsed through the flowers. After a while I picked out dark red roses, feeling that it was best for me to go with tradition since I had no idea what the other flowers meant. Besides, the color matched our bedsheets in Las Noches, and anything that got him thinking about beds in general and our bed in particular was very welcomed, in my opinion.

“Would you take the flowers as they are now or would you prefer a delivery?” the assistant asked.

I mulled over the choices. “Could you have a bouquet ready for next Friday? I want ninety-nine roses in one bouquet.”

“Certainly, sir,” said the girl and jotted down the date and time I was to pick up the flowers.

xxxxx

Dinner that night was oddly subdued. Neither of us looked forward to the talk we were supposed to have, but we both knew we needed the conversation. Even our mental chatter was filled with trivialities and idle comments, hiding our true thoughts from each other.

It was... stifling.

Was this what a real relationship felt like? I mused quietly to myself as I washed the dishes and he cleared out the refuse. To be hanging in limbo, knowing that you love the other person yet unsure of his intentions? Knowing that there were differences you cannot overcome yet understanding that you must attempt the journey?

Gin returned and washed his hands. I dried mine and then kissed him before he could duck away. He wrinkled his nose and was, for the moment, the same Gin before I came back from the retreat. Then he blew a puff of air on my nose and I laughed, the tension acknowledged and diffused with a simple act of affection.

“Where shall we talk?” he asked, arms resting over my shoulders.

I tilted my head. “I was thinking somewhere private and comfortable.”

“But the instant we get into bed you're probably gonna jump my bones,” he teased, fingers pulling at the hair on the nape of my neck.

“Probably,” I played along. “Can't help it, you're so damn sexy.”

He shifted his hips closer and his smile turned a little darker. “Only sexy?”

“What do you want me to say?” I leaned in and whispered in his ear. “That you are entirely ravishing? Captivating? Bewitching?” My tongue flicked out and his breathing picked up pace. “Arousing? Seductive? Fuckable?”

He hissed and grabbed me for a kiss, teeth and tongue fighting to dominate. When I pulled away with a chuckle he grinned widely. “I love it when you get all wordy on me.”

“Well, we do have some words to get out before I use more on you,” I said, reluctantly releasing him. To my surprise he refused to let go, clinging harder and tugging me to him. “Gin...”

“After. We'll talk after. It's been a whole week and some – I'm aching for you,” he said urgently.

I wasn't about to argue, not when he was so aggressive. He latched his teeth on my left ear, and led me to the kitchen table that we had just cleared. When the back of his legs collided with the wood he let go and began untying my belt, while I devoured his mouth and shoved his robe down his shoulders. For a brief moment we struggled but eventually the offending articles were discarded and he was on the smooth tabletop. His short fingernails scored weals along my arms, his feet locking behind me and I grabbed one knee and raised it higher. Our need was rising too high too fast for anything more than a perfunctory excuse of preparation, and I was certainly not going to let go of him to search for our usual oil.

“Hand,” he commanded breathlessly. I moved my free hand up and he gripped my wrist, licking across my palm and sucking hungrily on my fingers, his tongue rolling around my digits. His gaze blazed into mine and I groaned when he sucked harder. The instant he released my hand I reached down.

His head rolled back and hit the table, but as his legs tightened I couldn't care about the bump he received. It was always so much more intimate when we go without lubrication, although it was tough on his system. The pained cries was edging slowly but surely into pleasure, and I sank my teeth into the juncture between arched neck and raised shoulder.

So tight, so hot... I've missed you so much, Gin, love, I need you so much, I need you...

'Aizen-sama, don't stop, please, please... gods, please...'

He clenched around me and dragged me into his climax. I tasted blood on my tongue and scented blood and sex and Gin. When I carefully slid out of him, his legs flopped on the floor and he was sighing excessively.

“Ouch,” he complained as I helped him into a sitting position. I chuckled as he held out his arms. “Carry me.”

“You're getting too old for this, lover,” I said, although I still swung him up and carried him to the bathroom. “What would your new division say if they know you're a spoiled brat?”

He rested his head on my shoulder. “Like you would share something so personal?”

I had to rest him against the wall as I filled the tub. He grimaced as he stretched out the kinks and showered off the remnant stickiness. I joined him in the shower before he padded over and stepped in the tub, wincing as he lowered his body into the water.

I slid in behind him and massaged the soreness out of his back and shoulders. “I heard you passed without any problem.”

“Mm,” he exhaled and leaned back. “Byakuya was there though. I was supposed to face Sasakibe, but Byakuya turned up and challenged me instead.”

“That's a surprise,” I commented. “By the way, have you met his adopted sister?”

“Not yet. Does she really look like Hisana?”

“I haven't seen her either. Ukitake said she's the spitting image of Hisana but with some differences around the eyes.”

Gin rumbled curiously and tucked my hands around his belly. “What's the general mood regarding you and me in the Gotei?”

“Aren't you supposed to be the information-gathering division captain?” I said, tapping my fingers on his skin.

He smiled. “I'm not a captain yet, and I've to finish this season before I can officially take over in the third. Tell me, come on.”

“Generally I'm the wronged lover – again – and you are an unappreciative idiot.”

He slapped my hands that were inching downwards. “I bet the wording was cruder.”

“Mm, you're right,” I said. “I'm sorry you have to take on the onerous role.”

“I'm born to bear your burden,” he quipped.

We luxuriated in the heat of the bath. Gin's fingers traced idly over my arms and asked, “Why didn't you tell me about Urahara?”

I nuzzled his hair. “Partly because I thought you wouldn't like to hear his name, partly because I wanted something that belonged to me, and partly because there wasn't anything to say. There's nothing going on. We just sit and chat. Last year we argued and he left in a huff, but there's nothing to disclose.”

Turning his head, Gin kissed my jaw and muttered, “There shouldn't be anything to hide, is there?”

“I know. My fault,” I returned the kiss. “I'm more concerned about you though. Why don't you mix around with your peers?”

“And what would I say to them?” he inquired softly. Then he put on a bright, cheerful tone. “Hi, murdered anyone lately?”

“I haven't sent you out on an assassination in years,” I said.

“No, but I have nothing in common with them. Besides, most of them put up with me.”

I frowned and hugged him. “That's not true. I heard from Kaien that you had fun on that outing.”

We fell silent as he hid his face. I knew he remembered the 'fun' he ended up having and the strained tension the next couple of days.

“Water's getting cold,” he said, climbing out of the bathtub and not looking at me. I sighed and followed, wrapping a thick robe about myself. Sometimes it was like pulling teeth to get him to open up emotionally. Perhaps he would be more willing to share when we were in bed.

Gin took his customary side of the large futon, waiting for me to settle in before snuggling up. Now that I was being more attentive to him, I realized that he was still very much the same young student I had led home one dark night. Despite his mature appearance, Gin carried himself as my protege and behaved as such.

“Come here,” I ordered. He rested comfortably on my shoulder, his cool breath dusting over my neck. “I'm proud of what you've become, in case you've no idea.”

He levered himself up. “Really?”

“Really.”

Gin beamed and I tapped his nose. “I want to be proud of who you will become too.”

He balanced his chin on his forearms on my chest. His eyelashes fluttered. “I will become your eyes and ears all over Soul Society, you said before.”

“And you will make me proud of you,” I murmured, playing with silver tendrils wound about my fingers. “You will speak to everyone, from the lowest to the highest. You will get to know them, their darkest desires, their hidden thoughts, their innermost disquiet. Where I have to resort to secrecy and bribery, you will take over. Thus you will help me attain my goal.”

His smile changed from pleased satisfaction to malicious eagerness. I wondered if he understood my true purpose: I wanted him to interact beyond the fifth division and with the rest of the world. I wasn't everything to him but I knew he would not hear of it. He was a stubborn one, my lieutenant.

But when coached in terms of assisting me, Gin would do anything. That was how I had groomed him and that was how he lived. He understood, at an instinctual level, that he was a weapon I had come to love as a man. Perhaps Gin wouldn't be able to articulate such thoughts. I was not certain, and was not about to ascertain the fact.

His blue-green eyes glittered strangely at me. “I'll still be yours? Even after I go?”

“I am everywhere you are, Gin,” I said, touching the ring finger on his left hand. “Where can you go that I cannot follow?”

The answering smile was all I wanted from him. He pressed his lips against mine and rolled again to the side. I caressed his shoulder languidly.

“By the way,” I said before I blew out the bedside lamp, “I'm scheduling an emergency trip for the tenth squad with you in charge. Do what you can, hmm?”

“What's the emergency?” he asked, pressing into my side.

“I foresee... a disturbance out in the idyllic meadows of eastern Rukongai, around the twenty-eight district or so,” I said with mock concentration with fingers on my temples. “It's not severe enough to call out the elite but still important enough to warrant a search-and-destroy. It will be a large radius and you, being the senior officer, will take charge of the interns and protect them. For the entire weekend.”

 

Chapter Text

After I saw the mission team off, I returned to my office. Already Gin's personal effects that had made their homes in the office had been mostly packed into neat boxes. Tomorrow some unranked shinigami would help move them to his new office.

My lover believed I sent him away to give him opportunities with his current prey. Partly it was so, but I had a more insidious purpose. Now that he was away on official business, he was safe from all ramifications. As for me... the next evening should be perfect.

xxxxx

The sixth division was devoid of the genial chatter that characterized my own offices and division. The shinigami all looked rather harassed or wan; I assumed Kuchiki Byakuya had carried his own brand of disciplined coolness into his workplace. In my own way I was fond of the boy. He was so very constrained within his role as head of the Kuchiki household, but he was meant to be a free soul in the vein of the bitch Yoruichi. It was fascinating, seeing him struggling to balance his own inner desires in the face of his authoritarian father, the insurmountable responsibilities of the household and the dignity of his office. If he had his wife still with him, perhaps he would have had a measure of inner peace, but life denied him even of that pittance of serenity.

“Aizen-taichou,” greeted the officer at the desk.

I smiled. “Oono-san, isn't it? How's your wife? And the triplets?”

“The kids are growing so fast now,” beamed the proud papa. “And Yui-chan thanks you for the fruit basket you sent over when they were recovering from measles.” He rose to his feet and bowed. “I'll inform Kuchiki-taichou – oh, no, wait, he's at the Thirteenth for dinner with Ukitake-taichou.”

“I'm not here to see him, actually,” I hastened to say. “Is your fukutaichou about?”

“Kai-fukutaichou? She's in the back with the interns. Kido practice, since Kuchiki-taichou wants them to show to advantage when they return.” The man's indifferent shrug showed he didn't care one way or the other how the interns' actual performance reflected on the division they were attached to.

With another smile I took my leave and headed to the training grounds. Possibly I would hear my advice to her when she was struggling with kido parroted to the kids.

There were almost twelve interns ranged along one side of the field, the targets set up about thirty feet away. This was mid-range hado she was training them in then. I kept to the sheltered path, letting her run her drills.

It had been some time since I saw Kai Mizuki, and even in the meetings I had not had the chance to study her since she returned to take up lieutenant posting. She had trimmed her hair to shoulder length, and she had tanned slightly darker than the last time I saw her. Her reiatsu was more stable, though not as resilient as it used to be.

The interns were pathetic. Some were fifth-year students, even, but not a single one could even reach the target. I stopped myself from rolling my eyes. Even Abarai could do better: the boy was unskilled in reiatsu manipulation but very powerful. He would make lieutenant in a short time, if he was properly groomed.

Mizuki went down the row to adjust their poses and give advice. I leaned against the wall, arms folded. What about her had drawn my attention? Her status, definitely, since she was the great-grandniece of the soutaichou. Her aptitude, perhaps; she was a bright pupil. Much like Hinamori, but with slightly more insight and brain. In terms of looks, I had always preferred fair hair, but she had very white skin that I admired. If she had been a boy I might have treasured her more than I did – although I slept with lovers of either gender, I still preferred firm, taut muscles to soft, alluring curves. It was her smile that attracted me, though: an open, honest, admiring smile, different and yet similar to Urahara Kisuke's.

When the time for dismissal arrived and the signal sounded, the interns thanked their vice-captain and trooped off noisily. When the first pair walked to the shelter they were startled to see me. I gave them a little wave and put a finger to my lips as a signal. They tittered and trotted off. Mizuki trailed far behind after covering the targets with canvas.

When she noticed me she halted in her tracks. “Ai-aizen-sempai! I mean, Aizen-taichou!”

“Kai-fukutaichou,” I said gently and nodded. “Have you had dinner?”

“Um, no, not yet.” She could not meet my gaze. “I was... I was surprised when you came the other afternoon. I'm glad you took up my offer to have dinner, sempai.”

“Why wouldn't I dine with you?” I inclined my head and invited her to walk with me. She was tense, and I didn't blame her. After all, she was almost killed by my own hands, joining a privileged few. After we strolled out of the compound and headed to the restaurant district of Seireitei, she ventured to ask how Gin was doing.

“He's fine.” I smiled at her. “You're staring at me.”

She twirled a lock around her forefinger self-consciously. “I haven't... I haven't seen you for a long time. I didn't know when you'll meet me or, y'know, meet me at all.”

“You know his temper,” I said, alluding to my absent lieutenant's blatant jealousy when it came to my past lovers. “If he was around, I'd never get to meet you. He's on a mission now, and we're going to a public eating spot, so he's not likely to lose it.”

We proceeded to a small, cozy restaurant nestled in the corner of the area. The manager was a plump little widow and loved to serve huge amounts – Gin adored her cooking and if we were in the mood for normality, we would come and let Gin stuff himself silly on solid, home-cooked food.

“Two dinner sets, please,” I said and ushered Mizuki to a corner seat. It was not the usual spot where Gin and I parked ourselves, but close. “How have you been?”

“Busy,” she said. “Kuchiki-taichou is a very demanding captain.”

I chuckled. “He asks nothing he wouldn't do himself.”

“That's true,” she concurred absently, sipping the hot green tea that the proprietress had served. There was a faint pink flush over her cheeks. I smiled to myself – Byakuya had another admirer joining the already-massive throng.

I waited until our main course was served. “I asked you out to apologize.”

She was stunned, her chopsticks hovering above her bowl.

I met her bewildered gaze. “It was... unconscionable, what I did, what I allowed him to do to you. Mizuki, I don't... I don't expect you to understand, or to even pretend to forgive me.” I swallowed and flattened my hands on the table. “You should have told your uncle what we did.”

“How could I?” she whispered. “You would have been stripped of your captaincy, all your reiatsu removed, and thrown into the maggot heap. I could never do that, sempai. I... I loved you.”

“You were a fool,” I said tenderly. My gaze darted away and I bit my upper lip before looking at her again. “We abused you, Mizuki. I let him... I let him do – things – to a lady. I almost... I almost killed you because of his jealousy. Why were you so foolish to let us get away with it?”

She didn't hesitate in giving me an answer. “Because you love him,” she stated clearly. “You love him, and you were blinded by that love.” She put down her chopsticks and sighed. “Sempai, I lied to him myself.”

“What?”

“I told him you didn't know how to love. That you would never love anyone, not even yourself.” Her voice grew smaller with each syllable. “But I knew you were desperately in love with him, even more than when you were with Urahara-san. I knew I could never ignite that passion and... a-and I didn't want him to have you either. I thought...” she uttered a weak chuckle here “I thought he would give up. I thought – I thought he'd just leave. But he stayed, even when he thought you would never love him. I saw how he... for you. He did everything he did because of you. How could I report that? What grudge could I bear him for loving you so much?”

I shook my head slowly. She was in way deeper than I thought initially. “You could have. You should have. We hurt you far too much. I hurt you far too much.” I rubbed my jaw with my thumb. “It was my fault that things went as far as they did.”

She smiled wanly. “You forget. I was the one who approached him. I let him... I let him.” Mizuki glanced away. “It's over, sempai. It was a long time ago. Let it be.”

“I couldn't,” I told her earnestly. “I wanted to... to find you, but you were traveling so much and whenever you're home, Gin is always around.” I folded my hands together. “He's no longer a factor anymore, however.”

Mizuki's long lashes fluttered. “His captaincy?”

“And you know the policy about captains,” I said with a rueful grin. The grin faded, leaving silence and heaviness between us. We resumed eating soundlessly, the occasional clack of chopsticks the only breaks in the quiet. Thankfully the gentle bustle of the restaurant – the widow's cooking was well-liked by the poorer shinigami – masked our awkwardness.

When Mizuki's dessert arrived, she asked if I had tried to repeal that law. I retorted that she had obviously never tried talking to the blockheads that populate the 46.

“But that law's archaic,” she said. “Even Yama-jii said it was a stupid law.”

I leaned forward and whispered, “That's because he wanted Ukitake and Kyoraku to be together openly.”

“They're not together.” Mizuki waved the sentence off. “Jyuushiro-san didn't want Shunsui-san to get too close.”

“No? But they're always lovey-dovey.”

“Shunsui-san wants that to be true,” confided Mizuki quietly. “But actually he's just helping Jyuushiro-san set up a shield, in case other people wanna approach him.”

I furrowed my brows. “So,” I said, fingers weaving a complex network, “Shunsui likes Jyuushiro, who is fond of Shunsui as a friend and no more, but asks Shunsui to act as thought they were together. Shunsui in the meantime also crafts his own image as a womanizer by chasing all available skirts, but is still fiercely dedicated to Jyuushiro.”

“... sounds about right,” said Mizuki. “But don't spread it about. There's a reason to their madness.”

xxxxx

Jyuushiro is available. That thought made its home in the back of my brain even as I read the status report from Mesuda. They had located the hollow, and it wouldn't be long before they kill it. After all, it wasn't one of the powerful ones but a reject I had Syazel toss into Soul Society for the express purpose of letting it be target practice.

Mizuki's confidence in me was heartening. She was such a trusting little idiot – a simple apology that Gin wouldn't even entertain had bought her over, heart and mind. Where was the doubt? Where in the world is my intellectual match?

Sometimes, I sighed, folding the report back in its file, I missed Kyoraku's blatant suspicion and distrust. It kept me on my toes, dancing before him with the truth. Having an opponent was so much fun.

But the fact that he had admitted his and Ukitake Jyuushiro's non-relationship to me at the captain's retreat, separately verified by Mizuki... I pondered the ramifications of my future plans. I was becoming complacent, I decided abruptly. Fooling the simpleminded morons around me was easy – time to issue myself a new challenge.

Also, it would keep me from being bored – and Gin from becoming homicidal.

xxxxx

They returned early Monday morning. The younger shinigami and the interns were dead on their feet. The reject had certainly given them a chase.

“You have the next two days off in lieu of your burnt weekend,” I told the squad, “and an additional half-day for the successful mission. I'll see you all on Wednesday evening – you'll be on night shift. Deal?”

“Yes taichou!” they chorused raggedly and were dismissed. I didn't miss the lingering look Kira Izuru cast over his shoulder at my lieutenant, nor did I fail to observe Gin's resolute refusal to look at him.

My boy was certainly very clever.

xxxxx

When I emerged from my bath, refreshed and warm, Gin was in his chair, singing softly to himself about advice to a little child finding fairies in the woods.

“... don't trust their eyes, don't trust their hands, but most of all don't join in their dance,” he hummed, sharpening a narrow dagger. “They'll sing you the storm and they'll sing you the fire, they'll sing you the moon and the stars if you desire...”

“I gather from your expression matters proceeded according to plan,” I said as I passed behind his seat.

“Oh yes,” he breathed out, his smile broadening. “Better than expected.”

I stroked his hair and sauntered to the kitchen to dig out ingredients for dinner. A pot of water on the stove, some meat and vegetables... a simple dinner would be great. Rice was already cooking – it was the one thing I knew he wouldn't botch. My poor Gin: a genius at everything but a destructive dunce in the kitchen. Before long I felt his mind touch mine.

'Don't you wanna know?' he asked plaintively.

I concentrated on chopping carrots. The boy is entirely yours, lover. You don't have to share if you don't want to.

'Really?' He sounded doubtful. 'I really can keep him to me?'

Of course. You don't have to share, my dear.

He thrummed with gleeful excitement and gratified surprise. If I had wanted to know, all I had to do was ask. But he had seemed so taken with the young man that I wanted him to savor Kira fully, not take it as a task he had to report to me about.

'I love you.' The thought was so soft I half-believed it was only my fancy. But the caressing tone identified Gin as the sender. Then his mental 'voice' altered subtly. 'I'm hungry.'

I laughed to myself as I tipped the carrots into the boiling soup. Spoiled brat. Set the table, will you?

'Done.'

xxxxx

At the end of the meeting, Komamura was grave when he reported that Rinbayashi had passed away. “I was with her; she was too weak to speak.” The helmeted head shook, his voice stoic. “Utagawa-san tried his best to revive her, but I suppose it was her time to return to the cycle.”

“Indeed,” sighed Yamamoto. The old man's shoulders were hunched over. “The funeral will proceed as per her wishes.”

“What would that be, soutaichou?” I inquired quietly.

He pushed himself away from the desk. “Simple and unfussy. She stated very early on that there be no wake.”

We rose along with him, Gin already taking Rinbayashi's place at the desk though he had yet to put on the official vestments. Utagawa Jin was in the back with the other lieutenants, as poker-faced as only he could be. He was graying at the temples; the strain of keeping up the subterfuge having been too stressful for him.

I wondered if I should keep him in my circle. Making a mental note that I would discuss it with Gin later, I waited until he drew level with me before we moved off. He seemed rather detached from the news of Rinbayashi's death.

“I feel like burning down the bed,” he admitted sotto voce, as we passed the alley to the West Sacred Wall. “I don't want to imagine her having died in it.”

“We could just move a new one in,” I suggested. “Maybe the one from-”

“- I would recommend both of you to cease living together,” stated an even, unemotional voice. Gin and I turned at the same time to see Soi Fon behind us, her arms crossed. Her thin lips were pressed into a tight line. “Your continued intimacy of conversation and behavior does not indicate you being ready to call an end to your romantic relationship.”

I adjusted my glasses. “Soi Fon, it is none of your business what and how Gin and I behave. Leave us, please.”

“You were instructed to break off all potentially incriminating liaisons almost a year ago,” accused Soi Fon. “There is no sign that either of you intend to follow that injunction. Consider this a warning from Secret Forces, Aizen-san, Ichimaru-san. Especially for you, Ichimaru-san: we don't want you stripped of your hard-earned position now, do we?”

“We don't? Soi-taichou, you can take the Secret Forces and shove -” Gin bristled but I placed a hand on his shoulder. He settled for seething.

I let go of Gin and smiled pleasantly at Soi Fon. “Soi Fon, we will do the right thing. But as there are still some weeks, do let us enjoy what little time we have left. While I admire your dedication to duty, I see no need for you to raise this issue in such a delicate time, is there? Yamamoto-soutaichou would not be pleased with infighting over a trivial misunderstanding.”

The petite but powerful shinigami captain glared at us both for a beat longer before disappearing. He glowered at me after she had left.

“What?” I was truly baffled. “What? What did I do?”

“Why couldn't I just tell her to stuff it?” he asked. “It's obvious she needs something to. That total bitch has been doggin' my footsteps like it was the trail to her beloved Yoruichi-sama.” He folded his arms. “And you made nice with the likes of her?”

“Respect, Gin. She has been captain for a long time.”

“I've sat on my ass a long time too, do I have to show it respect too?”

I cuffed his arm lightly. “She is your senior. You know better than that. For heaven's sake, Gin, act like the captain you're going to be.”

He snorted. “So I have to alter who I basically am to become what they want me to be? Change myself to fit their expectations? Screw them.”

“Gin!”

“You know what? I need a walk,” he snapped. “Alone. Figure out if I really want this damn captaincy anyway.”

I sighed. “You are being ridiculous. Why are you so riled up over nothing?”

“Because it's everything to me!” he shouted at me. He whipped about and smashed a fist into the wall. “Why doesn't it bother you? Why doesn't it seem to matter to you that I have only a month left by your side? Why am I the only one caring and hurting?”

My eyes widened. “How can you say that? Just because I'm mature about it-”

“Oh? It's nice to know that's your opinion of me. Immature little Gin!”

“I never said you were immature.”

“No,” he bit off. “You just showed it with every single move and in every single glance. I am always being guided, being sheltered, being taught. Maybe I don't need you to protect me, Aizen-taichou, I know what the hell I am doing!”

My own anger flared. His thoughts reverberated in my mind, echoing his words but tinged with furious despair. “Really? Fine then. I'll stay out of your way while you make all the decisions you want, Gin. And maybe you'll get used to the foot that's going to live in your mouth.”

“Fine!”

“Fine.”

We stalked off in different directions.

'You're an idiot.'

Grow up, I snapped the thought back at him. And stop dragging me down to your infantile level. I have better things to do.

'Fine. Go do them.'

Fine, I will. I stormed off, the angry reiatsu trailing behind me an almost visible storm cloud. His fury and upset had filtered and blended with my own mood, affecting me as deeply as if I was the one throwing a childish tantrum. While I was adept at blocking and accessing his thoughts, he was by far the greater manipulator when it came to the heart. I hissed out a breath of futile rage and strode down the corridor, determined to get as far away from him as I could. When Gin was in such a mood, the best thing to do was to set some distance between us and let him work off the frustration. Hopefully he had the dagger with him – it would take him a much shorter time to get over it.

“Hey,” exclaimed someone when I collided with him. It was Jyuushiro exiting a room.

“Oh! I, uh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to knock into you. I was preoccupied with thought,” I said, helping him up from the floor. “I apologize.”

He grinned lopsidedly. There was a small crinkle under his left eye when he smiled, which was very attractive. “Thank goodness. If you had meant to knock into me I suppose I'd have flown out the other wall backwards.”

That was true, but he didn't have to know that. I assisted him up and dusted off the flecks that had landed on his coat. I almost brushed down his ass when I remembered where my hand was about to land and I straightened up immediately.

He smoothed down his snow-white hair. “What was bothering you?”

I smiled, but I knew there was no humor in the expression. “Nothing too serious.”

“No? But you were, quote, preoccupied, unquote,” said Jyuushiro. Then he shrugged, clearly showing that he was not about to pry. “Perhaps you would like to join me with some snacks? I'm hungry again,” he said with a brilliant smile, not in the least put out by his sickness's demands on his body.

I debated briefly with the wisdom of the idea, but tossed my doubts aside. Even though he was as perceptive as Kyoraku, Ukitake Jyuushiro had not an ounce of spite or malice in him. He would be refreshing change from my usual companions.

“Sure, I'd love to,” I said with a gentle smile. “No rice cakes though.”

He laughed and led the way. “Noted.”

 

Chapter Text

Ukitake Jyuushiro's private abode was a calming and soothing place. I envied him the privilege of having such a lovely view: the scenery from the fifth's captain's office could not hold a candle to the serene lake shimmering right outside his porch.

The white-haired captain sat facing me and prepared tea for me. I smiled lazily. “Not going to ask your fourth seats to serve you?” I teased, knowing how his two adoring officers practically fell over themselves to make sure he was fully taken care of.

Jyuushiro chuckled, shaking his head. “Kaien has them today on a training mission, with the new girl.”

“New girl?”

“Byakuya's newly adopted sister,” said Jyuushiro.

I tilted my head, recalling that some time ago I had seen a student who looked remarkably like Hisana. Petite, withdrawn, pale... she was not flourishing in the restrictive Kuchiki household either. A theory began to take shape, but before I could voice it aloud Jyuushiro caught my eye and nodded.

“Ah.” I sipped the hot tea.

“It's nothing like that though,” he added. “He truly thinks of her as a sister.”

I smiled. “It would be strange otherwise.”

He gazed out at the scenery, his mood placid. I let the peace and serenity wash over me, all too aware of how much strain I was under with the constant need to maintain a facade, to run a division and to keep Las Noches under firm control. Gin's recent aberrations of behavior only underscored how much I depended on him to relieve at least one of the pressures.

Jyuushiro's warm voice cut into my thoughts. “Are you all right?”

“Why wouldn't I be?” I inquired. The tea really was excellent.

The older captain smiled, but there was a small frown between dark eyebrows. “You appeared troubled earlier. Maybe you would like to confide – I like to believe I have good advice.”

“You do,” I said with a small bow. Then I heaved a sigh. “It's nothing important, really. It's just something Gin and I said to each other just now.”

“Ichimaru-san?” Jyuushiro appeared puzzled. I reminded myself that this man's intellect was far sharper than his genial aura belied.

I looked down at the teacup. A simple container, handcrafted and unique. If it was a real item in the human realm, the teacup could call for millions of dollars. Not because of its intrinsic qualities – it was a receptacle for tea, made of clay and fired and varnished and fired again – but because of its age and its uniqueness.

And the monk told the abbot, the teacup died. (1)

“Gin is not happy about the rule limiting personal relationships between captains,” I said softly. “I'm trying to distance and failing miserably. He's getting mixed signals and it's angering him even more.”

“I see.”

The two of us contemplated the view a moment longer before he began coughing. I sat up and patted him on the back, while he dug about for his handkerchief. When the spasms faded he blinked wanly up at me in thanks. “I have something to confess, Aizen-san.”

“Oh?” I was intrigued.

The older man studied me for a long time. “Do you love Ichimaru-san, Aizen-san?”

I saw no reason to lie. “Yes.”

“If you could change that law, would you?”

“Yes.” Again without hesitation; I noted the shadow that passed over Jyuushiro's eyes. “But I can't. I know I would place the good of Soul Society at high priority, but I cannot speak for others. Should there be a pair of captains who decide, for whatever reason, that their relationship is worth more than thousands of souls or the balance of worlds, who knows what would happen?”

The white-haired captain fidgeted with his hands before sighing a long exhalation. “Aizen-san, I drafted that law.”

“... come again?”

“I was the one,” repeated Ukitake Jyuushiro, “who drafted that law. I proposed the idea to Yamamoto-sensei, who put it up to the Central 46 at my behest. I wrote it and pushed for it to be enacted as a law.”

I blinked. “Oh.” Then I frowned. “Why?”

“Because of Shunsui,” answered Jyuushiro simply. He lowered his gaze. “I will tell you more about it another time, but suffice it to say that I feel guilty for being selfish. This selfishness for the past thousand and eight-hundred years has caused you and Ichimaru-san considerable distress, and I apologize for that.”

“You shouldn't,” I protested. “I'm sure you had your reasons. Gin and I will sort it out, don't worry. Ukitake-san, thank you for your concern – Gin and I will manage.”

We chatted about trivial things after that, nothing too taxing, until the sun was well on its way down the horizon. Ukitake put a hand to his mouth. “Oh, my. We've talked for so long – I've kept you from your official tasks!”

“Can't say I missed them,” I quipped. Then I got to my feet. “I do have to return though; the division will need dismissing.”

“I'm sorry I monopolized you today, Aizen-san,” he said, standing to see me off. “If you need help to clear the backlog, I can always send some of my officers over-”

“Please, don't.”

“Darn. I was hoping to unload them elsewhere,” he pouted, the twinkle in his eye indicating the joke. “I shouldn't keep you from home any longer; Ichimaru-san will be annoyed.”

I waved his apology aside. “It's all right. I enjoy conversing with you, Ukitake-san; we should do this more often. Or perhaps while I do my work?”

“Of course!” The white-haired captain beamed amiably. “You are always welcome.”

xxxxx

I was debating if I should present Gin with the gift I had prepared earlier. The kimono had been made by the master weaver and tailor of that generation – I had to send Ulquiorra to kill him a year and a half ago to make sure the man got to Seireitei in time for me to track him down and for him to complete the garment.

It was a thing of beauty, I had to admit when I first saw it. The gradated shades of deep blue to brilliant green would bring out Gin's coloring to excellent effect, while small, bright yellow marigolds dotted from right hip to left shoulder, and also on the sleeves. The belt was a burnished gold and added to the extravagance of this present.

Gin might see it as yet another example of my shoving him towards captaincy.

I sighed as I leaned back against the wall. Out of all the choices I had made, the relationship with Gin was the least thought-out. If I had not met him, my plans would undoubtedly proceed with greater precision and efficiency. But if I had not met him and chosen him, I would probably have given up on the strange and heretical ambition a long time ago.

And I would be so very, terrifyingly alone.

There was a knocking on the door, somewhat urgent. I got up and opened it to admit Kira. There was a stink of blood on the blond and suddenly I felt my pulse race into overdrive. “What is it, Kira?”

“Ichimaru-fukutaichou has been hospitalized.” The young man was breathing heavily, his perspiration dripping to the floor. He had run here, I thought abstractedly, while my mind cast about trying to locate my silver fox.

'I'm fine. An adjuchas speared me through my leg, that's all. Relax.'

I will.

Kira was waiting for my response. I tighten my jaw: the Espada were getting slack in their control.

“Is that so?” I said finally. “I suppose... never mind. He needs rest. I'll see him tomorrow.” The boy was stunned by my comment. No matter; I had no need to explain myself to him. “Kira, please inform him that I'll see him tomorrow when he's discharged.”

He bowed and shuffled his feet. My glance to the side took in the delicately-wrapped box, still waiting for its master to claim it. I grabbed it and passed it to Kira, knowing that it would come back to me in its pristine condition but hoping the boy would dare to obey.

“In fact, pass this to him and – if it's not too much trouble for you, Kira, I'd appreciate it if you could stay there tonight to watch over him,” I added.

He bowed again and ran off. I shut the door quietly, and connected to Las Noches via a hidden communicator set up for that very purpose.

“Ulquiorra, talk to me.”

xxxxx

Stark was, as usual, asleep. Syazel was buried within a new experiment – literally – and was clawing his way out of a hideous gray blob. Halibel and Neliel were sparring. Nnoitra had excused himself, saying he wanted to hunt in the outlands, and Grimmjow had taken off with his band to do the same. Dordonii was running about with Cirrucci chasing him: as far as I could understand, he had peeked up her skirt. Hearing Ulquiorra's monotonous report, I shook my head.

Apparently immaturity was catching.

“And before I go back,” I said, steepling my fingers, “who was the adjuchas that breached Soul Society? Was he from Las Noches?”

“Yes Aizen-sama,” answered Ulquiorra. “It was Aldondo, but I have yet to make certain who was the one who released him from the testing grounds.”

“Hmm.” I stood up and reached for the dial. “You have my permission to disembowel the persons involved.”

“Yes Aizen-sama.”

xxxxx

Gin was understandably annoyed. 'Bastard. You can't even come by to see how I am?'

You were acting like a child earlier, I reminded him as I brushed my teeth. I don't want a bedpan tossed in my face in case you were still stuck at that immature stage. He growled an imprecation and I laughed as I rinsed. You sent the boy home? I wanted him to stay with you.

'I need time alone with my thoughts'

This is better, actually. I began washing my face. The tepid water was not to my liking; I must have the heater checked tomorrow. I want to talk to you, and lord knows we never talk properly for long when we see each other.

I could hear the smirk in his voice. 'That's because you jump my bones.'

Me, jumping your bones? I seem to recall a lot of nights when some Gin who shall remain unnamed climbed in my lap and demanded to be fucked through the nearest available surface. Table, wall, futon, office sofa, shower tile, grass out in the yard... the list grew as I ticked them off in my brain.

'What do you want to talk about?' he asked, the humor back in his tone. I was glad; no matter how silly his tantrums appeared to be, I knew it for the sign of trust and love he offered in revealing his true self.

You. And your behavior lately.

'I've been behaving in what way lately?'

He knew exactly what I meant. Dabbing my face dry, I strode into the study and settled in my favorite chair. Like a petulant child told to leave his favorite stuff behind. You've been riled up over the smallest things. Why is that?

It bothered me that there was something about him that I could not understand. He took some time before asking, 'Were you ever forced to give things up, Aizen-sama?'

I thought over my response. Perhaps Urahara? No, I gave him up on my own accord. Threw him away, practically. Can't say I have.

'Then you wouldn't understand,' he said wistfully. I turned off the lamp and closed my eyes, focusing on my lieutenant recuperating in the hospital. 'I ama child, forced to leave behind all the things I know and love. I'm pushed into a role I know I'm ready for, but I don't wish to take yet. I don't want to leave, even while knowing why I had to leave.'

I could hear the young, lost child lurking within his words. Having been abandoned before, having to debase himself, having to give up someone he truly cared for – not that I regretted forcing him into it, it was necessary to lock him to me – having to meet my expectations... Gin had always been forced. Sounds complicated, I remarked, not really seeing his point of view.

'It's simple, really.'

Enlighten me then, pray.

'I act this way because I love you,' Gin said. I relaxed fractionally. He had that effect on me when he said those words, though I wasn't certain if he knew of it. He went on, 'And the haste with which you are preparing me for my new role feels like you want me out of your life.'

You know that's not true. Besides, we won't be out of each other's lives just because you are moving to a different division.

'And we'll have meals together everyday? Meet nightly? Make love regularly?'

The points hammered home. It did matter to him a lot more than it did to me, but I was aware that I would miss him terribly. Well... I mulled over the possibilities. That can be arranged, I suppose, though it would be highly suspicious.

'That was enthusiastic,' he scoffed.

I chuckled. I'll think of something. I always do.

'You'd better.'

In fact the glimmerings of a plan was already taking shape. I couldn't believe how long it took for me to catch on, but there was no time like the present. I told Gin I would drop by later. First I had to complete some calculations.

xxxxx

My lover was already asleep when I got to the hospital. The light caught his skin unkindly, making him look gaunt instead of slender. Once again Gin had kicked the blankets off. For someone who loved to cuddle to a source of body heat, he had the odd habit of stripping his sheets. Maybe I was a good influence, making sure the blankets are twined about him in bed so he could not catch a cold.

As I dropped from the sill to the bed I heard a soft thump. I stilled myself: the boy Kira was in the chair opposite, curled into sleep. Hopefully Gin would retain the interest in him until he was strong enough to take lieutenant posting: I refused to consider other options for Gin to play with.

He sensed my presence and stretched. I took hold of his wrists and lowered his hands to where I want them. Gin cracked open one sleepy eye and smiled languidly at where he guessed I was.

'Kira's here too, you know.'

I licked his ear and he trembled. I guess you'll just have to be very, very quiet then, won't you?

He relaxed and I ran my hands over his thin body, from slim hips to chest. Even with that appetite he still barely put on weight. My fingers dusted over his nipples and they perked to life. I plucked at them before running a short thumbnail over the tips lightly. He swallowed a gasp. I ran my hand over the bandaged wound on his thigh, not able to use my healing kido since the telltale golden glow would be too obvious.

I kissed his eyes, feeling his warm breath puffing out. 'This is weird, not seeing you and yet feeling you.'

He liked it though; already he was stiff and wanting. I caressed him tenderly, avoiding areas where I knew were extremely sensitive. Kira stirred, a minute action that did not escape my attention. Slowly rolling Gin to face the blond, I wrapped my right hand over his which was holding onto his arousal.

Gin knew as well. 'Someone is watching,' he said in a singsong voice. The flush over his skin spread and I nibbled on his shoulder, then trailing my mouth to his ear. I should have done this years ago; he was more responsive than ever, trying to anticipate my next action while reacting with surprise to every move. The blankets folded onto the floor. Not that either of us cared; his breathing was rapid and I pressed the flat of my tongue to his neck. He rolled his head back, our hands moving faster now, slick with precome.

I want to hear your voice, I urged, slightly twisting my hold.

“Taichou.” He shuddered and gasped with the new sensation. “Taichou...”

It was incredible, having him under my thrall again. I nudged the back of his legs with mine and he obligingly spread his, angling his hips. I buried my nose and mouth in silver hair, noting the unnaturally relaxed pose Kira presented. His breathing was erratic and I wondered if I could get him to climax while Gin came in my hands.

He's so very infatuated with you, I thought and nuzzled into the back of his head.

My other fingers penetrated Gin's body and he had to bite back his cry, tensing as I massaged his prostrate. He was close, very close; Kira had tightened his fists and probably shut his eyes more forcefully. My lieutenant was too far gone to notice his blond pet's reaction, but I smiled. It was going to be very delicious when Gin finally took him.

Though he was probably buried within the haze of pleasure, Gin murmured, 'I know how we can get the rest to believe our act.'

I was pleased. Gin managed to last a little longer before he climaxed, his body jerking slightly as I hugged him close. He was so darling, his soft, nearly noiseless whimpers of my name and sweat-tangled hair falling into his eyes. I pressed a kiss on his brow and slid my fingers out, cleaning them on his hospital robe.

I have to go, Gin. He'll be coming over to you in a while. I carefully exited via the window. Before I dropped I saw Gin's reproachful gaze searching for me. Come home soon.

xxxxx

The boy was deferential but insistent. “This is not something for me to present to him, taichou,” said Kira Izuru, hands clasped in front of him, head bowed. The box was on my desk. “I apologize for peeping into it, but I sincerely believe this is not something that I am qualified to give to Ichimaru-fukutaichou.”

“The box wasn't sealed, so I don't blame you for taking a look,” I said slowly, then covering the box up. “This was a direct request and your turning it down doesn't reflect too well on you, Kira.”

“I understand,” he answered, bowing lower.

I sighed and tapped my fingers on the lid. “Kira, close the doors and then take a seat.”

The blond obeyed hastily. He was more obstinate than I had expected, and had a firm set of principles. Gin might find him more of a handful than we had initially predicted; my lover would have fun with this one.

I leaned forward and spoke confidingly, “Kira, I thank you for your consideration. It was good of you. Now I need to ask something of you which... may, at first glance, seem rather... odd. Um... Kira, I need you to take care of Gin for the next few days while he recuperates at home.”

His big blue eyes were like teacups. “Eh?”

“Please, Kira,” I said gently. Then I looked to the side and rubbed the tip of my nose. “Gin and I, uh, we had a bit of a disagreement. Nothing major, but I think it's best we avoid each other for a day or two. So I'd like you to watch over him, see what he needs. That sort of thing.” I took the discharge form I coerced out of the fourth division's lieutenant and handed it over. “Go with Abarai if you need help sending Gin back.”

Kira nodded and appeared startled that I had confided in him, and at my smile he scurried out of the office. I sighed and contacted Gin.

Lover?

'Good morning,' he chirped brightly. 'Guess what I found?'

Give me a clue at least.

'A stash of bandages and a closet of doctor coats! Can I steal them?'

I grinned with resignation. You know full well our toys are sitting at home gathering dust. No bandages.

'Coats then?' He sounded hopeful.

I gave in. One coat. My size.

'Two, one in each size,' he countered.

I could imagine his bright smile and fox-like cheer. He wheedled again and I caved. Two. One in each size, and pack them properly now because Kira is on his way to see you home. Maybe Abarai too; I'm not certain.

Gin complied readily. I tidied up my desk, and righted the cricket which had been toppled by the new stacks of paperwork that had just came in. It was browning in patches and soon Gin would have to weave a new one. A sudden pang struck my heart: would he even know when to weave one after he moved to the Third? I swallowed and put the cricket where it belonged, right before the photograph we took that one summer afternoon, during the division picnic. I could feel a tender ache as my fingers brushed over his beatific smile. The smile that caught my attention so long ago, and had never released it. Probably it would keep me enthralled for the rest of eternity.

My clever boy. How far you have come.

I might appear to be the stoic one, but Gin understood exactly how much I missed him already.

 

Chapter Text

When Kira came by the next morning, I knew he was about to reject my proposition of him taking care of Gin for the day again, and I put my foot down. He was to assist Gin after he was discharged.

The look in his eyes was one of guilt and anticipation, though I doubted he was aware of that. When I mentioned that he was to take his redheaded friend Abarai along, the guilt lessened.

I liked his eyes. He had honest eyes.

On the other hand, Hinamori Momo was an overeager puppy. I bore with her beaming smile and helpfulness as best as I could, and the second I felt it expedient I thanked her and sent her away. I would have to temper that tail-wagging brightness with some sternness soon before I was worn away to a nervous nub of a captain.

Re-reading the notes I needed to use for the conference, I wondered how Gin and Kira were getting along. Abarai had to follow along, of course, to deflect curiosity, but my clever boy – clever lover! I have to stop thinking of him as a boy now – would be able to conjure a method of flirting with his chosen blond without arousing much suspicion.

xxxxx

That next morning I told Kira to visit Gin on my behalf again. The boy did not protest; a discreet query led Gin to laugh merrily and he told me to leave it until the next day.

Something I ought to wait for?

'Oh yes, Aizen-sama. Patience is a virtue.'

Don't parrot my lessons back at me, young man, I warned. Do drink more water. The dryness is getting to me, and probably to you too.

'Nag nag nag.' The tone was teasingly affectionate and I had to smile at the image of him lounging about with bottles of water all over the house. 'How was the conference?'

I sighed and shut the folder on my desk. Without him in the office the air seemed stale. Boring. And I had to appear alert all through. I hate speaking in public.

'Riiiiiight,' he drawled. 'I remember your lectures and explanations when I audited your course for my fourth year. Dear lord you just go on and on and on.'

Like you didn't enjoy hearing my voice.

'Like you didn't use the lull of your melodious voice to create a chance to release Kyoka Suigetsu?'

Smiling now I signed off on the next incident report. I have to find chances where I can, love. Now rest. The toxins are still in your bloodstream.

'Have you found out who was behind the release of an unauthorized arrancar?' he inquired almost detachedly, though bloodlust hummed beneath the veneer of indifference. 'I haven't crossed over for some time.'

Ulquiorra will discipline, love. You stay put and recuperate.

He was not too happy about that, but since he had a Kira to look forward to he let the matter rest.

 

xxxxx

When we met in the morning, Kira muttered some niceties and hurried past me, a mouse in the presence of a lion.

I knocked and entered the room immediately; the suspense was too much. “Did you?”

“Did I what?” asked Gin too innocently, a coy smile betraying his intention. I chuckled and strode over to the bed, casually pulling him into an embrace. It had been a few days and I missed him sorely. He rubbed his nose into my neck and I shivered. “This is nice.”

“Don't change the topic,” I chided, discarding my captain's coat and undoing his belt swiftly. “Did you?”

He licked his lower lip and nodded, a smile crinkling up his eyes in the most adorable manner possible. With a short laugh I kissed him, and his response was eager and ardent. The top half of my uniform followed my coat, though I kept the hakama on. I just wanted to feel his cool skin on mine.

“How is he?” I asked, nibbling on his shoulder.

He lowered his lashes and sighed extravagantly. “You're digging for gossip,” he scolded, “and that's not very appealing.”

“So what would be appealing?” I asked, hands roaming over his back. His robe was pushed down to his waist now and the sleeves gathered at his elbows. He arched into my hold and crooned with contentment as my fingers kneaded into tight muscles and along his vertebrae. Tilting his head and letting his long fringe brush over my face, he whispered, “Begging can be such a turn-on.”

I nipped at his lower lip. “You're proposing to do so?”

“Fine,” he said. He knew I would not beg him. “I have the coats and we do have some stuff gathering dust. And since you're here... visiting... me, I doubt anyone would take it amiss that you're not at the office punctually.”

“The coats would require too much time, lover,” I said. “But you're all stiff. Let me ease up those muscles and bones, hmm?”

He stretched, showing off his abdominal muscles in the morning light. “Mmmmm. That would be heavenly.”

“You're trying to tempt me.”

He smirked and pushed me down, supple thighs spread open and hips grinding down. His tongue flattened over one nipple and then flicked over it, before he tried his teeth on the hardened peak. I hissed and he repeated on the left. Slowly he slithered until his mouth was on the hollow of my throat. “I have to try?” Gin murmured huskily.

I grinned and rolled him over. The office could wait.

xxxxx

I groaned when I entered the office. “Mesuda, I have no desk.”

“Yes you do, taichou, it's right over there.” He indicated my seat by the window.

“If I have a desk, shouldn't I be able to see the top of it?” I asked, gesturing at the spread of papers over the surface. And there were folders on my seat too; I really should have come in on time.

Mesuda shrugged. He and Yanaihara were filling in for Gin while my lieutenant cooled his heels at home. Gin told me he thought Yanaihara a better replacement as lieutenant, but I was going to promote Mesuda instead. Yanaihara was about to receive a letter from the Kidou Corps, inviting him to take up a higher posting in the organization there. I had no doubt that he would take it – the shinigami was ambitious, and he intended to marry his girl soon. With a higher post he could afford a better residence.

By late afternoon I had somehow managed to clear my desk. A hell butterfly came to me. It was from Ukitake.

Would you care to join me for tea?

I looked at my schedule and decided. “Mesuda, prepare next month's patrol schedule, and remember to forward the updates for shinigami postings tomorrow. I will be at the Thirteenth Division if you need to locate me.”

“Yes taichou.”

The walk was pleasant, and now and then I nodded to shinigami that I knew. As I started on the path that would lead me to Ukitake's lakeside retreat, a flowered haori swept ahead of me.

“Kyouraku-taichou,” I greeted formally.

“Aizen-taichou.” He nodded, a hand on his hat. I hid a smirk. He had effectively declared hostilities with the use of formal titles. Then again, I began it. “I understand Jyuu-chan asked you for tea today.”

“Are you headed that way yourself, Kyouraku-taichou?” I smiled.

He returned the smile, and his dark eyes met mine. I had to hand it to him: the smile was in his eyes as well. “Alas, I have to attend to the library for some research matters. Jyuu-chan was not too pleased that I had to turn down the invite.”

“I suppose I will have to try harder as a substitute,” I replied. “Was there something you wanted, Kyouraku-taichou?”

He dipped his hat a fraction lower. “Jyuu-chan isn't feeling too well these days. Don't tire him out.”

“I'm sure the captain is aware of how much he can handle,” I said blandly. “And I'm sure he is able to endure my dates with him.”

“As long as you don't push him beyond his limits,” responded Kyouraku. His reiatsu now held a sharper tone. “I do hate to see him bedridden.”

I ambled forward. “I doubt I can push him more than he allows me to, Kyouraku-taichou. Even if he has a splendid view from his bed, I would not want him tied to it.”

We bowed as equals and I went on my way, aware of his sharp gaze trailing me as long as it could. I liked him: he kept me honed and ready for confrontation. And it was evident that he knew little about me.

Now that he had warned me off Ukitake Jyuushiro, I would have to find out what exactly they shared.

xxxxx

The white-haired captain was wrapped in a lavender-colored kimono that had soft white snowflakes printed on it. “Hello, Aizen-san. Have a seat.”

“Good afternoon,” I said. “How are things?”

“Fine. Kaien is a great help, taking over all the duties so I can recuperate. I've been sleeping for the past three days and a half,” said Ukitake. He breathed out slowly. “I do wish I don't have to rely on him so heavily, but my sickness is getting worse.”

“If I'm not being rude,” I spoke slowly, not wishing to antagonize him, “what kind of sickness is it?”

“Tuberculosis.” He stared out into the shimmering blue of the lake, which was tinted orange as the sun began to set. “Its progress is arrested, so it will not worsen, but it can never get better. At least I'm not contagious; that would mean I have to live under quarantine for the rest of my life.”

I tilted my head as I sipped from a dark blue-and-cream cup. “I'm sure Kyouraku-san would still scale the walls and brave all dangers to get to you.”

“He means well,” Ukitake said with a gentle tone, “but sometimes... sometimes, I just wish that man could be a little more selfish.”

“That's an odd thing to wish for,” I said. “He can deny his own kind nature no more than you can deny your innate generosity of spirit.”

Ukitake laughed, a warm embracing sound. I liked it. No wonder he was loved and respected throughout the Gotei. “In life or death we come and go, like puppets dangling from the rod. A string is cut and we fall to pieces.”

“Zeami Motokiyo,” I stated. Then I smiled over my cup of tea. “But I do not like to believe we are only puppets. That would imply that there is a puppeteer.”

 

Chapter Text

When I invited Ukitake over to my place for dinner, Kyoraku Shunsui tagged along. His dark eyes shone with repressed dislike and suspicion, but he managed a credible smile when I greeted them warmly.

“You don't mind, do you?” he asked as he lounged on the threshold of my residence.

I chuckled and waved them in. “Of course not. Come on in. Dinner is almost ready; I have only the vegetables to prepare.” I showed them to the room for dinner, carefully laid out for four places. “In fact, I figured you would come.”

“And there is one more,” Ukitake said, settling himself down. “Ichimaru-fukutaichou, I believe?”

“You can call me Gin, Ukitake-taichou,” my lover announced as he stepped into the room, carrying the pot of rice. Then he half-turned to me and said, “I didn't touch anything else, so if the food burns, it's not my fault.”

“I never once said it was your fault,” I retorted good-naturedly as I got up.

Gin mock-whispered to our guests, “He doesn't say it. He just nags.”

“Ingrate.” I rapped his head before I returned to the kitchen to complete the last dish. As I prepared the seasonal vegetables, I searched for Gin's mind.

How are things out there?

'Good. Kyoraku is regaling us with the latest escapade he engineered and Ise foiled. He's being charming.'

And are you charmed? I ladled soup into four bowls.

He chuckled, both at Kyoraku's little tale and at my query. 'And if I am?'

I'll get jealous.

'I'm VERY charmed by him,' replied Gin immediately in a too-innocent tone.

The greens had been stir-fried and I portioned them accordingly, leaving a large part to Ukitake. I have needles, lover. And I'm quite sure we bought too many candles.

'Are you trying to give me a hard-on right here at the table?'

Mmm... Imagine the possibilities.

'I saw that. And that. Stop thinking that. And that, and that... Aizen-sama! Stop!'

I laughed quietly as I arranged the servings on trays. Gin could be fun to tease, though I was certainly going to do all I had pictured earlier and more. Having the plates placed to my preference, I carried dinner out.

They were laughing in a convivial manner. Ukitake was the one who got up and helped me unload the dishes.

“These look delicious, Aizen-san!” he gushed.

Gin served the rice. “They are delicious. I wonder why I'm still so slim though.”

“You have a great metabolism,” I said. Then, to Ukitake, I added, “I have triple servings, should you want some for takeaways.”

“Please, take them,” Gin begged, a wicked twinkle in his eye and I ruffled his hair with affectionate annoyance for the jest.

Kyoraku Shunsui clapped his hands together once. “Let's eat.”

xxxxx

“So how do you find them?” I asked Gin while we lounged in bed. His skin was almost gleaming with sweat and I licked up his right forearm, enjoying the tint of salt.

He semi-shrugged. “You know I've always liked Ukitake-taichou.”

“The other one?”

“I like him.” Gin smiled, but the humor was not in his eyes. “I want to break that smiling mask of his.”

I kissed his brow. “You speak my mind.”

He leaned into kiss, almost as sinuous as a cat, but then the cuffs restrained him from moving and the slight change in position had shifted the placement of needles through his nipples. The hiss and gasp of agonized pleasure made me smile.

“Do you want me to go on?” I asked in a soft voice by his ear.

A pink tongue darted out and tasted the corners of his mouth. “Yes.”

Gently caressing that same spot, I murmured, “I want your tongue now.”

xxxxx

I blinked my eyes open and grunted when my shoulders creaked. Age was catching up slowly, it seemed. Shinigami or not, souls grew older.

“Morning, sleepy,” Gin chirruped, already half-dressed and looking none the worse for wear. “You're really lagging today.”

“You wore me out,” I accused him.

He turned to me and crossed his arms. “Just because you're getting old-”

“Watch your language, boy,” I threatened as I stretched. “I may be older than you but I certainly am not becoming decrepit.”

“Never said you were.” He turned away to brush down his uniform before slipping his arms into his sleeves, adding under his breath, “Fossil.”

I shook my finger at my sharp-tan. “Don't let me spank you, Ichimaru Gin.”

He beamed at me via the reflection in the mirror. “Oh, that scares me so much, taichou.” Then the smile quirked a little to the left. “Dinosaur.”

“Gin-”

“Decrepit old creature.” Now his tongue sneaked out and he made a face.

“Gin.”

“Impot-”

Before he could finish the word I had bound and gagged him with bokudo. Then I dragged him over with another kido spell. He struggled – pretended to, actually; these kido were not high level spells and he knew the counter-kido – and then shrieked when I pulled him into in my lap. I did not spank him though; my hands roamed over his body and checked him for the wounds I inflicted last night. He relaxed and snuggled subtly closer.

I undid the kido spells and stroked his hair. “You did the healing?”

“Yes,” he said. “A little hastily though.”

I parted his robes further. There were puncture scars around his nipples where the needles were. Running my fingertips over them, I sighed and asked, “Can I leave these?”

Gin sat up and nuzzled under my jaw. “I want them.”

I stroked his hair. You know me well, my love.

'As do you.' He kissed me on the cheek. We sat a little longer in silence. I basked in his indefinable fragrance. 'Time to get up, taichou.'

He had the good sense not to step into the kitchen to prepare breakfast. I warmed up some leftovers from last night – Ukitake had taken ill midway through the meal and Kyoraku had accompanied him back to his spacious quarters. Gin set out the table. Idly flipping through the reports of the Third, he settled and waited for me to serve him. I smiled to myself, knowing that my lover was used to being pampered after a night of... well, call it mutually-satisfying abuse.

“I wish I'd taught you how to cook,” I said as we broke fast.

He peered at me over the training schedules for the Third and the Fifth. “Who said I didn't learn on my own?”

I stared and then narrowed my eyes. “Wait a minute...”

Gleefully smirking, Gin snagged my pickles and finished his breakfast. “Finish yours so I can wash up.”

“You little trickster,” I growled and prodded him under the table with my foot. “You kept that secret from me all the while?”

“I'm good, aren't I?”

I scowled at him fiercely. “Yes you are.” Then I grinned. “Good for you. Come kiss me.”

xxxxx

I found myself observing Abarai Renji and Hinamori Momo when Gin took off to the third to set things in his preferred order. Kira I ignored; Gin would be the one shaping him and I trusted him. The girl would be more biddable, I concluded with a touch of reluctance.

Redheaded hot-tempered Abarai, on the one hand insistent on improving himself, had too much of a rebellious and aggressive streak in him that would be hard to root out. He would be tamed under the care of Zaraki, I privately thought, though I wished I could taste that young man's breaking myself. He did share that same aura of having clawed his way up from the mud as my silver-haired lover, and that obsession/resentment they both carried for the Kuchiki child made him almost an ideal substitute for Gin.

But when I saw the way he gazed at the Kuchiki boy and the girl trailing five steps behind him, and I understood that Abarai would not break for me. Sad, but I knew better than to try fighting a pointless battle.

'Aizen-sama?'

Gin? What is it?

'Could you get Tousen to pull Hisagi Shuuhei back to Seireitei? He's out of town, so there's no point seducing Kira since he's away.'

You are a cruel, cruel man, Ichimaru Gin.

'You know you love me like that.'

I'll go one better. When?

'Around noon when I pick out plants for my office from the Academy greenhouse. Tomorrow if possible, the day after if necessary. Kira is going back for some extra credit duties, I hear.'

I'll get back to you on this.

I called up a hell butterfly and relayed a coded message to Tousen. He would drop in later in the afternoon, he replied shortly after.

There was a shy knock on the door. “Taichou?”

“Ah, Hinamori-san. Come in.” I gestured to the empty chair in front of my desk. “What is it?”

She sat down and fidgeted with her fingers. “Um. Taichou, I... was wondering if, uh, if I have done well thus far.”

“With regards to work, your attitude and assignments have been impeccable.” I linked my fingers and smiled. She folded her hands in her lap, her gaze focusing on them. “In fact, I was going to ask you at your debrief if you would consider returning to the Fifth in future internships and afterwards as a fully-fledged shinigami.”

The blush that flooded her face should have created a pink cloud about her head, the way the faint red shot through her cheeks and her brow.

I leaned forward slightly, my reiatsu expanding a little so she knew – if subconsciously – that I was closer. “Do consider it. I would love to have you in my division.”

“I'd be honored to return, taichou,” she burst out. The pink darkened. She swallowed and mumbled, “I just... I don't know if I'm good enough though.”

“In the Fifth I look for all-rounders,” I said. “Some of the leaders in the Gotei came from the Fifth because of the emphasis on being well-rounded in all the shinigami arts. Myself, I came to the Fifth lacking in zanjutsu; the former captain trained me until I was up to par. Tousen-taichou of the ninth was my lieutenant for a fairly short while, but we did learn together and he is as adept a kido master as a swordsman. Then, of course, Gin. He was a prodigy of sorts, but he built his shunpo and hakudo skills here in our dojo.”

Hinamori blinked her big doe eyes, taking it all in.

I cocked my head to the right and studied her. “Now, I would say you need work on your zanjutsu, much as I did, and according to Gin's reports you also require work on hand-to-hand. Thus I will consider your grades for practical classes relating to these two aspects. In addition, as we are the main forwarding facility, I require at least two foreign languages under your belt – at minimum a Merit – also a Merit for Intermediate Inter-Society Law, and a distinction for the Ethics course.”

“Erm, taichou, aren't you the captain teaching Ethics the coming semester?”

“Yes.” I raised both brows. “And thus far, there have been forty-seven students attaining Pass, thirteen students with Merit and eight with Distinction grades.” You might be luckier if you attend the Ethics course taught by Kyoraku-taichou. He likes pretty girls and you could try to charm him.”

She blushed again and dimpled prettily. “That would not be ethical, taichou.”

I chuckled and rose from my seat, signaling an end to this interview. “You learn fast. Good. If you have more queries, feel free to speak with me.”

She bowed and thanked me before leaving. I unlocked my fingers and played with the newly-woven grass cricket, thinking all the while. If I promoted Mesuda, he should hold out for a decade or so before she could be considered for lieutenant position. She ought to be good enough.

Having made the decision, I turned my mind to other matters.

I needed a plaything, but I did not want her with her bright eyes and too-trusting demeanor. I could never find another Gin – only he had the capacity to surprise me and belong to me fully – but I wanted someone whom I could battle wits with without fearing his betrayal.

At least I've decided on the gender, I thought wryly. Years of being with Gin only had weaned my appetite for the female form, though I could still appreciate the soft curves and gentle graces. My mind considered and discarded the various young men that I knew would be amenable to warming my bed. Some had been bold enough to approach me with the intentions, but since I had Gin I did not accommodate them. I never mentioned them to my lover, yet I knew he was the one behind the disappearances that would occur soon after their propositions.

He had some daring souls go up to him too, but generally I let things be. Gin might try one out now and then, but he never kept them for long, and they knew better than to try fighting with me for his love.

The silver fox he bought as a gift for my birthday caught my eye. Running my index finger over it, I turned my mind's eye to other possibilities. Then I sighed, knowing that I had an uphill battle ahead, fraught with traps and mazes – and I knew I would love every minute of it.

xxxxx

“How are you doing?” I asked quietly as I sat down beside Ukitake's bed.

He breathed out slowly. “As best as is possible. The illness does make things hard on me and on Shunsui, since he's watching over my division as well as his whenever I fall sick.”

“I thought Kaien does the day-to-day running.”

“But Shunsui is the commanding officer he goes to when needed.” the sickly man lay back, his white hair in a loose braid down the side. “I just wish he wouldn't take everything on himself.”

“He is a responsible man.”

“I'd say too responsible, but you and I know he leaves much of the Eighth in Ise-san's capable hands.”

I chuckled and nodded my agreement. “Actually, I came not only to visit.”

“No?”

“I came to offer my assistance also.”

He sat up with some struggle. With my arm around his shoulders he managed to make himself comfortable against the wall. “That – Aizen-san, I couldn't possibly ask for your help. You have so much-”

“I wasn't done,” I cut in gently. “I need you to guide Gin along in his role as a captain. I cannot do it without... without feeling personally invested, and I can't help but think of him as the young man who came into my division and eventually caught my heart.” I frowned faintly. “And that law of yours is in the way too.”

The older man sighed. “I know.”

“So I would like that you guide him along – you and Kyoraku-taichou both, if possible – and in return, I can ease the load from Kyoraku's shoulders and watch your division for you also.”

Ukitake appeared to mull over the deal. Then he smiled, a beautiful expression that almost made my heart skip a beat. “I would like to add one more condition.”

“What would that be?”

“Come by often to have tea and play chess with me.” He held out a the little finger on his right hand. “I saw some children doing this the other day. Promise?”

I hooked my finger with his, laughing. “I promise. Promise?”

“I promise.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Gin was worried when I headed home in a pensive mood, but he didn't question it. He knew better than to do so: I always needed time to reflect before I shared my problems.

But when i told him I had decided to have a real friend in Ukitake, he was relieved. I knew he liked the white-haired, gentle captain – I didn't want to hurt Gin's feelings by hurting Ukitake. Gin would never know this, I resolved to myself. Let Gin believe I cared for Ukitake.

His delighted response that night had been affirmation enough for my decision.

xxxxx

I never thought of stopping Gin from playing around. After all, besides that woman Matsumoto, there was no possibility of his liking someone else, and there was no harm in letting him sample the offerings.

This one was slightly different, though. I knew Gin was fonder of Kira than of his other discards even before the boy had been reeled in. I could not really see the appeal – Kira's eyes were too mournful and his demeanor too humble – but I also knew Gin had different tastes from decade to decade, though generally

Tousen was prompt in carrying out the instructions in my missive. The blind captain never asked why I told him to call Hisagi back to Seireitei: the man learned his lessons well.

Hisagi was sent to me not long after he touched base with Tousen. The excuse given was that I required a teaching assistant in one course he did exceptionally well in, and I would like to give him an interview to test his suitability.

“Aizen-taichou?” The three knocks on the door were assured yet unassuming. I liked that. I like the look of the youth, too. Lean and muscled, like a leopard stalking the forests. “I heard from Tousen-taichou that you were looking for me.”

“Uh... you are Hisagi-san, yes?” I said, clearing some files off the other chair where I had dumped past years' records.

“Yes sir.”

I smiled at him. “I have a need for a teaching assistant. As you know, I take the Ethics class for the final year shinigami-elects. I've been through the recent years' records, and you are one of those with High Distinctions, so I thought perhaps I could borrow you from Tousen-san.”

“Taichou,” he began, evidently pleasantly surprised, “I, uh... I thought you usually taught the class on your own?”

“Usually yes,” I agreed, “but this time I shall be lacking one lieutenant taking care of my division in my absence. Gin is leaving very soon.”

At the mention of my lover's name Hisagi's face darkened slightly. He remembered what he wrote not too long ago, and how I had apparently responded.

I sighed. “Hisagi-san, do not let past issues between you and... people close to me cloud the chance to advance your career,” I said carefully. “I think, as grown men and as shinigami, we can keep things professional.”

The young dark-haired shinigami stood and bowed respectfully. “Thank you for the opportunity, taichou. I will be honored to assist.”

“Don't thank me too early.” I smiled at him. “I have to go to the academy to pick up the relevant papers and the recommendations from a few of the teachers.” Off his look, I grinned. “What, you think I'd interview you before I searched for character references?”

xxxxx

“Aizen-taichou, Tanaka-sensei is at the Apothecary.” The clerk bowed and retreated to the sanctity of the office.

I sighed. “Guess we'll have to take a walk. He has the key to the papers you'll need.”

“Not a problem,” smiled Hisagi. He had warmed to me after the short walk we took: the boy was dedicated and focused and easy to understand. I added a few modifiers. It wasn't healthy for someone to be totally obsessed with work.

We're going to the Apothecary for the items he needs, I told Gin as we strolled down the hallway.

My lover was flustered, since he was not in place yet. 'Wait wait wait, slow down!'

We'll stroll. I slowed down, pointing out the change in lecture venue to Hisagi and greeting a teacher or two that I knew. Go on. I'm waiting for the signal.

Gin scurried off, muttering imprecations in his mind.

We ambled down the walkway. Hisagi warmed up gradually to my questions about his experience at the Ninth under Tousen.

“... taichou is rather reserved, but he does share his thoughts about the duties of a shinigami and the roles we play in Seirietei,” he said, then thoughtfully added, “I think he doesn't feel comfortable around large groups of people though.”

'Hey,' interrupted Gin. 'I'm an optimistic guy.'

I wondered where that comment had come from. Could have told you that. The Apothecary is about three minutes' away.

Gin acknowledged the information. 'Almost. He's shredding leaves...' Then my lover burst out laughing in his mind. 'The gods are totally on my side.'

My curiosity was piqued. 'Why do you say that?'

'He chose to shred the leaves of Eros' Wrath.'

Ah, the aphrodisiac. I knew that one – it had been a collaboration between the fourth and the twelfth division, and had caused a huge ruckus when its properties had been fully studied. I had not approved of it: packing that sort of potency into a mere herb was too dangerous, but its mind-clouding qualities was something I thought useful. Extracting the properties I wanted was too troublesome, however, and so I had left it alone. Guess we can speed up a little.

The exchange had taken seconds. To keep myself on task instead of joining in Gin's amusement, I shrugged with one shoulder as if in response to Hisagi. “Kaname has always been like that, even when he was working with me in the Fifth. A crowd is unpredictable, and it makes it hard for him to move about freely.”

Hisagi grinned. “The other day, some of the fresh recruits wanted to play a trick on the captain.”

“What happened?”

“They came in really early to the division building and sneaked into taichou's room,” he began, then chuckled, “and rearranged all the furniture... not knowing that taichou was already at the office and was observing from the lieutenant's office next door.”

'I'm gonna be a gentleman,' Gin announced sedately. Kira was already becoming flustered, from the brief image Gin transmitted.

Have fun, lover. Break a leg. I shook my head, laughing quietly. “All the new ones try the same trick. How were they punished?”

Hisagi proceeded to enumerate the several odious tasks the offenders had been sent on, Tousen never telling them he had known right from the start they had tried trick on him. By then we were at the Apothecary's.

The man I was looking for, Tanaka, was preoccupied and asked if we could assist him in completing the prescription he was trying to settle. Apparently someone had burned the entire stock of the plant he needed. At least, that was what he said and what I verified with Gin.

Such an unnatural actor, I thought irritatedly, as the man smirked a little too obviously and tried to converse with me for slightly too long. I'll cut him off from the contacts. After we took the list of herbs Tanaka would need, Hisagi followed me to the greenhouse.

“Strange... the door is unlocked.” Pocketing the key, I pushed the unsecured entryway wider. “Must be some careless student who forgot to lock up after an errand; the healers know the value of these plants.”

“Or perhaps there is someone inside already?” suggested Hisagi as we picked up the traces of reiatsu. Agitated reiatsu, in fact; I could tell Hisagi had recognized the disturbed pattern in one of the reiatsu signatures.

Gin?

The traces led to the work shed in the greenhouse. This time I let Hisagi lead the way, trailing after him silently. There was a hand-width wide gap at the door as well as a grimy window two hand spans from it.

'I think we have the makings of a masochist here, Aizen-sama,' he replied vaguely. The pleasantly tantalizing arousal echoed through my soul and I wished I could rest somewhere comfortable to link more completely with my lover as he ravished Kira.

I know. We're watching.

I settled for watching from the door. Hisagi was already shell-shocked, staring blankly through the window. Kira's pale blond head was bobbing over my lover's lap, the lewd moans soft and needy. Gin's slender fingers had twined into Kira's hair. From their angle they would not be able to see Hisagi or myself: they would need to turn around. I gently shielded our presence. Gin threw his head back and I knew he was sounding the adorable half-growl beginning in his diaphragm. He yanked Kira up to kiss him forcefully, his free hand exposing Kira.

When he pulled away, my lover bared his teeth and asked, “How do you want it, Kira? How do you want to be touched?”

“Hard,” gasped the blond. “Like you own every inch of me.”

'I like the sound of that,' Gin considered.

I concurred. He sounded like Gin, in fact, though I doubt Gin would be aware. Turn a little to your right, lover. The angle would suit me much better. That's right.

From the corner of my eye I notice Hisagi swallow and step back.

Now grasp both of you together, one of your hands, one of his. Lace your fingers together – that's right. And move.

Now Gin jerked his hips as he pumped them together. Their breathing picked up pace and the younger man was whimpering as Gin proceeded to pleasure them together. The scent of sex was growing and I had to hide the smile that tugged on my lips. Hisagi was transfixed with hurt and horror, not two steps from me; Kira was blind with passion and subjected to Gin's handling; my lover had linked with my mind and his excitement vibrated through the mental and emotional bond we shared.

No, I halted him when I saw Gin's hands slide down Kira's back. Don't take him yet. Not today, not in a shed.

'No fun.' Gin made Kira suck on his thin fingers in a way that reminded me of a Gin not that long ago, seducing me with his tongue wrapping and sliding along my digits.

Hisagi took a shaky breath and walked out, almost marching like a soldier. I took in the view of Kira nuzzling into Gin's neck. He's left. I shall follow him. Don't, I repeat, don't take him. Do let him get off already – you've held him at the brink long enough.

Gin grabbed Kira's head again and pressed another open-mouthed kiss on the young man. 'Do tell Hisagi I said hi.'

I had a cruel lover. I will.

xxxxx

I left Gin to his pet and followed after Hisagi, schooling my expression to one of careful blankness. The boy was seated behind the science building, arms over his knees, face hidden. I settled beside him and let the quiet drape over us.

“Why do you let him continue with this?” he asked, voice slightly muffled, after almost ten minutes.

I shrugged. “If you mean Kira Izuru, Gin will set him free once he's had his fun.”

“No,” Hisagi elaborated, “I mean, why do you let Ichimaru play around again and again and again? Don't you... I mean, he's yours.” He turned his head and faced me. His eyes were puffy but clear. “He's yours, isn't he?” he pleaded.

I shook my head slowly. There was so much to be taught this young man... if he was willing to be educated. “He belongs to himself,” I answered. “And so there is no answer as to why I let him.”

“But all his... he just betrays you again and again, Aizen-taichou. How can he possibly love you if he keeps doing that?” Hisagi flushed. He had been one of the side attractions that Gin had played with before.

I bowed my head and sighed. “I know he loves me, because he returns to me.” I closed my eyes. “No matter how often he distracts himself with others, he always comes back to me.”

Hisagi leaped to his feet. “He's hurting everyone with his promiscuity,” he accused. “And your attitude... how can you allow him to keep doing this?”

“Because I love him,” I snapped. I gazed up at him, my expression one of contained sorrow. “I love him, Hisagi-san. I will not risk losing what I have with him. I already will be losing his presence once summer ends.” There was a hitch in my voice, a thickness that coarsened the tone. “I love him, too much. And he knows it.”

“He's making use of you,” said Hisagi as he dropped to one knee. “Can't you see that?”

Restless young man.

I bowed my head and laced my fingers together. “I am not blind, Hisagi-san.”

“I just... it's not fair,” said Hisagi. “It isn't. Not to you, not to me, not to Izuru.”

“No. But it is Gin.” I looked at him again, knowing that there would be a hint of desperate longing in my eyes. “It's Gin, my lover. Fair doesn't come into this.”

Hisagi suddenly grabbed my face with both hands and pressed his mouth to mine. He had dry lips, soft without being feminine, and an intriguing scent of pine and musky wildness. He released his hold as abruptly as he had started it.

I straightened my glasses and wiped my mouth before standing up. “I will not mention this to your captain or to Kira-san.” Then I dusted down my captain's robe. “i will meet with you to discuss the exact duties for the lecture. Good day, Hisagi Shuuhei.”

He knelt there, silent and unmoving, as I strode away from the science block. As I turned the corner, I heard the unmistakable sound of a hoarse cry from an anguished soul.

I have a cruel, cruel lover.

 

Chapter Text

Gin was drying his hands fastidiously when I walked into his new quarters through the back door without even a knock .

“That's bad manners,” he chided half-heartedly before pulling me in for a soft kiss. “Come to see how I've done up the place?”

“Of course. You forbade me until it was ready, and now that it's a week to your official promotion, I suppose it is ready.”

Gin shrugged. “It ain't much,” he confessed, “since I couldn't quite decide what to have up on display and what to keep in storage for another season.”

I followed him to the main living area. It was tastefully furnished: the rosewood table that had been Rinbayashi-sensei's, a deep indigo curtain over the entryway with white geometrical print, the vase in the little enclave in the wall bearing a singular spray of wildflowers – sky blue, a hint of summer in the room – and a scroll I had presented him one day. I sighed theatrically as I recited the poem: Gin had been by my side on that day, patiently preparing the ink, rice paper and brushes, learning how to read the Chinese characters as I wrote each of them in clear xingshu, the semi-cursive script. I much preferred the cursive caoshu script, but it would be impossible for me to educate Gin fully in that script, given the lack of formal education he suffered.

“I remember when you barely knew how to hold a brush,” I reminisced fondly, stroking through silver-fine hair.

He leaned into the touch. “Have I ever thanked you for teaching me how to read and write?”

“Not that I can recall.”

“Then,” said Gin calmly, turning me to face him before he dropped to one knee, “thank you, Aizen-taichou. You showed me a world beyond my ken and reach with every word you taught.”

Surprised by the action, I placed a hand on his head, feeling his gratitude thrumming across the bond we shared. “You are most welcome.”

“I am your humble servant for the education you gave me,” he continued, face still obscured from my sight. “I owe you too much.”

Smiling, I lift him to his feet. “You are more than a servant. You are more than a student, a lieutenant, a friend. You are my lover.”

“Soon I will no longer have that claim,” said Gin and he smiled sadly. “Let me draw the line now, Aizen-taichou, before my courage and determination fails me.”

I ran a finger down his cheek and closed my eyes. “So be it.” I removed my hand. “Ichimaru-fukutaichou, you have been... have been the best lieutenant a captain can wish for, and a most adept pupil. In a week, you will become my peer.”

“I will never be equal to you,” he whispered with the same sad smile. “As always, I remain your student. If there can be no other bond, let us have that.”

“We have that,” I agreed. “My door is always open for consultation, Ichimaru-taichou.”

“Thank you.”

xxxxx

That evening I took a long stroll around the division buildings after I left Gin's. Though what we said were mostly for the benefit of Soifon's spies, I could feel a tender heartache blossoming within. At the moment I wasn't sure which I was: Gin's lover, who hated the impending separation; his teacher, proud to witness the achievement; his master, the dagger now sharpened to my satisfaction.

There was a shadow slumped against a pillar on the left. I walked closer. It was Hisagi, sitting forlornly with a bottle in his hand. My shadow fell over him.

He glanced up and then returned to swigging from the bottle. “G'way.”

I hunkered down and took the bottle away from him. “You should not be drinking here. If anyone reported you to your captain you will be disciplined.”

“G'way. S' all yer fault.” He tried to swat at me but I dodged the careless swing easily. Instead of balancing himself, he toppled over slowly. I caught him and threw one of his arms over my shoulder. Hisagi pushed at me and slurred, “S'all yer fault. Don... don't touch me. Leeemee 'lone. Lee 'zuru 'lone. All yer fault.”

I ignored his ramblings. Should I send him to his barracks or to my own quarters? As I debated the wisdom of either choice, Hisagi's feet gave out beneath him and he sagged. I lifted him again and braced him against me. His body was a line of warmth where it pressed against mine, and I studied what I could see of his face. Breathing out slowly, I headed for home.

xxxxx

By the time I laid him out on the couch, he was already snoring gently. I brushed his spiky hair from his face. The tattoo was intriguing, of course, though it reminded me a little too much of Kensei. The young man's long eyelashes fluttered on his pinked cheeks and he mumbled incoherently.

Smiling, I shook my head and prepared a warm towel and a pot of tea. If I estimated rightly, he would be awake within the next ten minutes. The warm towel eased the frown between his brows, and I carefully wiped away the dried tears that streaked his cheeks.

He was awake in five.

“Wh... where am I?” he demanded as soon as he opened his eyes. Then he turned his head and saw that I was seated by him, perusing a new book I had purchased. “Aizen-taichou?”

“You're in my house,” I answered his query. Then I handed him a cup of tea – warm, not scalding. Hisagi stared blearily at me, about to ask more questions, but I pressed the cup into his hands and he obediently sipped. Only after he had downed the entire cup did I allow him to speak.

Hisagi ran a hand through his hair. “Uh, what happened?”

“I found you drunk along the corridors.” Then I smiled softly. “Something happened to drive you to drink?”

His expression darkened and he looked away.

I coughed. “I shan't ask, then.” Rising to my feet, I cleared the towel. “There is more tea should you wish-”

“-It's your fault.”

I stood still. “I... don't understand.”

“Izuru and I broke up,” he said, not meeting my eyes. “He broke up with me.”

When I sat beside him, he lifted his fiercely glittering eyes. “Because of Ichimaru Gin. Ichimaru Gin, whom you allowed to run around freely, hurting whomever he chose. Because you let him do it!”

“Don't speak of Gin like that,” I warned. “You know nothing about him. And young man, you have no right to judge me. You don't understand the situation.”

“And you do?” he retorted angrily. “Izuru is under his spell. He told me... that he knew Gin is in love with you, that, that even so, Izuru has chosen – chosen... he said... Izuru told me he had t-to be honest, he had to...” The dark-haired young man tore his gaze away, but already I had seen the tears that rolled down pale cheeks. “He said- Izuru said... he said. He said we will always be friends. Friends.” Hisagi chuckled bitterly. “Friends? I don't WANT to be friends!” He smashed the cup against the wall opposite. “Izuru chose him, your lover. He chose Ichimaru Gin. Over me. He chose, he chose Yuki... and he apologized for d-doing so. Izuru, apologized for everything – he said sorry. Why Yuki? Of all the others, why Yuki? Was I not... Am I not good enough? Why Yuki?”

Hisagi buried his facce in his hands and his shoulders shook as he wept afresh. I waited until he was calmer.

“That is something only Kira-san knows,” I said quietly. I felt his rejection of the statement and cautiously patted his shoulder. “Hisagi-san, you are tired after a very long day. I've set up the guest futon: come and rest.”

Hisagi sniffed once and rubbed furiously at his cheeks, but followed me nonetheless. The guest room was seldom used – Gin did not like visitors – but it was well-aired, and the futon was a high-grade one. The young shinigami shucked out of his clothes and carefully draped them over the chair available.

I handed him a yukata. “Here. And the belt is over the stand.”

“Thank you, Aizen-taichou,” he said, voice hoarse in the aftermath of emotional outburst. “Just now... I was-”

“-I understand,” I cut him off. “Rest as well as you can, Hisagi-san. Should you feel poorly tomorrow, I shall send an excuse to your captain on your behalf.”

“Why did you choose him, Aizen-taichou?” he asked in a small, defeated voice. “What's so special about him?”

I paused at the door for a long beat. Then I gazed at Hisagi. He was seated on the futon, the yukata clutched in his hand, his face wan and tight. When he finally met my eyes, I half-smiled. “You were with him before as well, Zahl,” I said at last. His eyes darkened with surprise at the nickname. I tilted my head. “I think you and I both know that it is better to have him sink his fangs in deeper, than to lose this enigma forever.”

“Is it really?” he murmured. “I never had a chance to... let him sink his fangs in.”

“You offered many chances,” I pointed out in a kind tone, “but he pulled away in search of new prey. Let him go, Hisagi-san. It's late. Go to sleep.”

xxxxx

The next morning Hisagi was still fast asleep, so I sent a butterfly over to Tousen's. The blind man asked if Hisagi was my new pet, but I ignored the query.

When Hisagi emerged sleepily from the guest room, I was still in the house, putting some more items into boxes for carting away. “Good morning.”

“Good morning, Aizen-taichou.” He blinked. “I should go.”

“You're in no shape to leave,” I said bluntly. “You look ridiculously unshaven. The bathroom is to your left, just follow the corridor to the end. Clean yourself, have a shave – there is a new razor inside – and then eat the breakfast I have prepared. Then we'll talk.”

Hisagi nodded, his taxed brain trying to absorb all I had rattled off. When his appearance returned to something approaching well-groomed, I sat him down at the table and placed breakfast before him.

“Eat,” I ordered before he could speak.

Looking bemused, Hisagi cleared the plate and then proceeded to wash up before I could take over. Eventually we sat at the couch and Hisagi bowed apologetically.

“I... don't remember everything that transpired last night,” he began, “but I do know I owe you an apology. I did not mean to – I was upset, and I took it out on you, Aizen-taichou. Please deal with me as you deem fit.”

I smiled and touched his right hand. “You were upset,” I said, meeting his gaze. “Whatever you said can be forgiven. And they are forgiven.”

“Taichou, I-”

“Forgiven,” I repeated firmly. Before I could withdraw my hand he had turned his hand so that he gripped my palm. “Hisagi-san?”

“Aizen-taichou,” he said, haltingly, “may I talk to you more often? Or... come over, just so I am not alone?”

“Certainly.” I looked at our hands. “I understand.”

“Thank you,” he said with an embarrassed grin, and released my hand before we diverted the topic of discussion to safer grounds of the course details.

xxxxx

I did not get to meet with Gin other than a hurried lunch that day. Gin was busy with last-minute arrangements regarding his new division and with sudden news that Utagawa had fallen ill. I shared one long, lingering touch of our fingers over our meal before he hastened to meet with his third and fourth seats.

That evening, Hisagi knocked on my door again, this time with a change of clothes.

xxxxx

Gin.

'Aizen-sama?' The mental tone was of restful alertness. 'I won't be returning tonight.'

Surprise guest by name of Kira Izuru?

'How did you know?'

His former lover is with me. I stroked the silver fox perched on my desk, its blue-green eyes twinkling at me like a wink of light. Hisagi was bathing. He's rather upset.

Gin sighed. 'He's cute when he's vulnerable, isn't he?'

I grinned and let my head fall back. Thank you for the farewell gift then, lover.

'You took such a long time choosing, I thought I might as well send one over.' His tone was affectionate. 'He likes it rough, the boy does, and that tattoo is one of his favorites.'

I figured. Thank you, Gin. I will treasure the gift.

There was a pause. Gin chuckled mentally. 'Kira is so conflicted and lost now.'

Take your time to savor it, lover. I am.

'You're not going to try out the present?'

The joy is in the anticipation. I felt the progress of the young man towards the guest futon. And I can be patient.

'I'm sure the final outcome will be worth your wait.'

I'm sure of that too. Enjoy yourself, Gin.

'You too, Aizen-sama.'

 

Chapter Text

I studied the young man seated in front of me. He was calmly drinking from the cup, though his reiatsu was still uneven.

“Tell me why you are here, Hisagi-san,” I said quietly, my fingers linking over my abdomen.

He raised his dark canted eyes. Then he resumed drinking. I had to force back a smile; that little motion reminded me of Urahara. That irrepressible blond had that little flicker up-and-down that indicated his desire to ignore all queries.

“Tell me why you are here, Hisagi-san,” I repeated. That had been my tactic in dealing with Urahara back then. It ought to be useful here too.

Hisagi put down the cup. “I'll think, Aizen-taichou, that you don't welcome guests.”

“Not when they come over to my place, ask to stay the night, stride into the bathroom and wash up even before I had the time to answer.” I smiled now. Thought they were very different in appearance, Hisagi did remind me of my first man in certain mannerisms. “And your reiatsu isn't exactly pleasant to read right now.”

“I came by because I knew you'd be alone,” he answered. There was a slight hint of defiance in his voice.

I lowered my head. “And since you're here, I have to assume that Gin has the company of somebody else.”

“Somebody by the name of Kira Izuru.” His grin was humorless. “I figured, you're alone, I'm alone. Why not come keep you company?”

Shaking my head, I chuckled. “Unlike you, Hisagi-san, I have long learned to deal with infidelity. Gin isn't tied to me nor Kira-san to you; they have the right to do as they will.”

“Yes, and you have the right to demand monogamy,” he corrected harshly. “Unlike me, who had no claim on Kira, you have been Ichimaru-san's lover for a long time.”

I gazed at him evenly. “I suppose your purpose here tonight is to rub salt into a wound?”

“I wouldn't dare, Aizen-taichou.”

“I never said it was my wound you're rubbing salt into,” I stated calmly. “Hisagi-san, let it go. It's a fact that Gin will have whoever he wishes to have. He will always be a thorn in your side, much as he will always be my lieutenant in my eyes.”

Hisagi's nostrils flared lightly. I went on ruthlessly.

“I, on the other hand, would prefer to build an amicable relationship with you, especially since Tousen-san had indicated that he thinks you have lieutenant potential.”

Hisagi blinked, thrown by the comment. “L-lieutenant?”

“Yes, lieutenant.”

His brow creased. “Yours?” he asked cautiously.

I laughed again. “Perhaps. Perhaps not. There are a number of places opening up, I think; definitely the Third's, as once Utagawa has shown Gin the ropes he would retire to a teaching post in the Academy. I know you won't even consider that. But the ninth, the second, my own... We'll be needing new lieutenants soon.”

“But the incumbents-”

“I admit I have yet to find a replacement for Gin.” I sat back. “The current crop of officers would do admirably, but their personal wish is to head out into the world, into the different Societies, or go into the Kido Corps. Much as the Gotei is respected, it isn't the end of the career ladder.”

He tilted his head. Then he asked, “Why aren't you throwing me out of here, Aizen-taichou?”

“Because I am lonely,” I replied, half-facetiously. Then I smiled. “And I am truly appreciative of your company, Hisagi-san.”

He appeared doubtful, but I stood up and stretched out a hand. He took it and I hauled him to his feet.

“The guest room is laid out again,” I said, still holding his hand. Then I firmed up the handshake. “I have accepted his promiscuity, but I am not immune to the hurt, Hisagi-san. I thank you for coming tonight – even if you had intended to wound me further.”

xxxxx

“Checkmate,” Ukitake announced triumphantly.

I frowned at the board. “Darn it.” Then I glared at the beaming white-haired captain. “You cheated.”

“No I didn't,” he protested, the wide smile still on his face. “Don't be a sore loser.”

“You never said you were a champion chess player,” I said. “And you led me to think you seldom played.”

He tilted his head. “And you went easy on me.”

“That's right, I did,” I said. Then I laughed. “Fine. Dinner's on me.”

We packed the set up. Ukitake had been well enough to wander about Seireitei today, and somehow we ended up playing chess in my office. It had been a convivial hour, and I was pleased to discover that he was a tactical genius.

Hinamori knocked on the door jamb. “Aizen-taichou, Ukitake-taichou, Kyoraku-taichou is at the d