Shinji jerked himself awake, his eyes meeting the blank wall across from him which, oddly, came as a relief to him. He let out a heavy sigh and lifted his hands to his face, rubbing it gently as he tried to brush off the dream he’d had. Shinji slowly brought his hand up to comb through his hair, blinking when it wasn’t as long as he’d expected. His eyes slipped closed as he sighed again. His dream couldn’t have felt that real… He kicked his feet over the side of his mattress and stood up, the bones in his knees cracking under the weight of starting a new day. He slipped on a pair of sweatpants and headed out of his room in the building Kisuke had set up for them, the days of being a captain in the Gotei 13 heavy on his heart. Shinji had to admit, days in the World of the Living were much quieter than they’d been in the Seireitei, but he couldn’t lie. He missed how things used to be.
Life in the World of the Living was easier, but easier meant the days started to melt together. Shinji woke up at the same time almost every day and felt himself falling into a steady pattern. He’d eat breakfast, there would be conversation, but it rarely seemed to be any different to him. Hiyori would insult him, Rose and Love would argue about something in a manga that Shinji couldn’t care less about, Lisa would be reading something inappropriate and making comments on the side, Mashiro would be complaining to Kensei who would just start yelling, and Hachi would just be trying to calm everyone down. Shinji couldn’t think of a better label for it than simply noise and he was starting to grow sick of its repetitive nature.
He stepped into the room they used as a makeshift kitchen and dining area and sat down at the table where Hachi and Lisa were already seated. His eyes immediately fixated on the table, not bothering to follow his normal routine of making himself coffee. He didn’t see the point in doing so anymore. Hachi watched him closely and decided something was bothering him, but he didn’t want to pry. He stood up and made his way over to the coffee maker, getting out the mug he knew was Shinji’s favorite, despite them all looking the same, and setting it up so he could give his friend a small form of comfort. Hachi returned to the table and picked up a newspaper he’d retrieved that morning, paging through it and humming gently. Shinji glanced over at him, his teeth showing with a normal, bored expression on his face.
Hachi gave a knowing smile without so much as a word or a glance towards Shinji. Shinji sighed and Lisa finally looked up from her magazine, eyes only peeking over the top of it at the two boys across from her. Something was different about today and she could feel it. Shinji hadn’t even said anything obnoxious yet. She raised an eyebrow when Shinji’s eyes just returned to the table. Lisa sat up straight in her chair and set the magazine down on the table, open for the rest of the world to see, so she could cross her arms and wait for him to look at her.
Hiyori stormed in a few moments later, plopping herself down in a chair. Lisa shifted in her chair when she noticed Shinji didn’t even look up. She muttered something under her breath and Hiyori looked around with a glare. “What’s wrong with you today? You look more pathetic than normal, Baldy,” she said loudly, looking at Shinji who still hadn’t lifted his head.
Shinji sighed and closed his eyes. “I have a headache, Hiyori, can ya be quiet?”
Hiyori scoffed and crossed her arms, turning her head away from him. “Whatever,” she snapped. They sat in silence for several minutes before Hachi stood up from his chair, walking over to the coffee maker knowing it was probably warm enough by now. He poured a mug for Shinji and added the perfect amount of milk and sugar to satisfy the blond. After setting the mug on the table, he returned to his seat and picked his newspaper back up. As different as this morning felt, Hachi couldn’t deny that a quiet morning was nice for once.
That thought, however, didn’t last much longer as Kensei joined them, Mashiro close behind and already whining. “Keeenseeiiii, I’m hungry!” she practically yelled, earning an actual yell from the man she was bothering.
“Then get yourself some damn food. I don’t know why this is always my problem,” he replied, trying to brush her off as he sat down at the table, making absolutely no effort to help with her hunger.
Shinji sighed and stood up from his chair. He gave Hachi’s shoulder a gentle touch, which Hachi took as a thank you, and left with his coffee. He headed outside, wanting to be alone for a little while to process his thoughts. He stood with his back against the building, taking a few sips of his coffee as he watched a few birds fly overhead. He wanted to dismiss his dream as simply a longing for how his life used to be, but there was one glaring factor that set things apart from his normal dreams of the past. While Aizen frequented his dreams, being an important part of his old life, it had never been quite like that.
While Shinji never felt close to his Lieutenant, his dream certainly made him stop to ponder the nature of their relationship. He knew now that Aizen had followed him around malicious intentions, but could that have been the only reason he decided to stalk him so frequently? There wasn’t much that changed between nights and he couldn’t possibly imagine what kind of information Aizen could be getting from him just walking around, but that’s what most nights were. Shinji could recall just standing there, seemingly alone with his thoughts, knowing Aizen was right there watching, waiting for his captain to do something. Sometimes he’d still mutter to himself, it almost feeling like he had someone there to listen to him when it was getting increasingly harder to deal with everything on his own.
Shinji took a small sip of his coffee as a car rolled past. He watched the tires spin until they were out of sight. His gaze shifted to a couple walking on the other side of the street, hand in hand as their child trailed behind them happily. They were having a quiet conversation, smiling at one another on occasion. The remained unaware of Shinji as he continued to drink his coffee, watching them walk past as he finally decided to face his dream.
Shinji had been seated in his office; paperwork sprawled out in front of him as Aizen gently knocked. He didn’t look up, simply telling the boy to come in, his tone as bored as it usually was. Aizen stepped inside and walked over, taking a seat in front of his captain, a rare smile playing over his lips as he watched.
“It’s late, Captain Hirako. You should turn in soon,” he said in a quiet tone. Shinji finally glanced up at him and raised his eyebrow as the boy continued to speak. “We wouldn’t want you to be too tired tomorrow, would we?”
Shinji sighed and waved him off. Aizen had a point. He started to gather the paperwork, knowing he could just finish in the morning. He raised his eyebrow again as a second pair of hands infiltrated his desk to assist with gathering the papers. He looked at Aizen who was smiling at him in a way that almost put him on edge. He said nothing, knowing if he made a comment, they’d be there for longer than required and he just wanted to get out of there at that point. Once he finished sorting the papers, with the help of Aizen, he stood up from his desk and gave a pointed look to the boy still smiling up at him.
“Is there something ya needed, Sōsuke?” Shinji asked, realizing he never addressed the fact that Aizen had some in so late.
Aizen blinked and shook his head, chuckling softly. “Oh, no. I wanted to make sure you weren’t overworking yourself, Captain Hirako,” he said, quietly. His tone was softer than normal, almost pleasant. Shinji narrowed his eyes at him and stood there for a few seconds, taking in the smile and tone Aizen was giving him. Something was off and it was bothering him. He waved him off again and headed for the door.
“Well, I’m turning in. I’ll see ya tomorrow,” Shinji said, going to slide the door open. He paused when a hand wrapped around his other wrist. He glanced over his shoulder, his eyes meeting Aizen’s, who was now in very close proximity to him, a smile still present on his face.
“Please, Captain Hirako, allow me to walk you to your quarters.” Shinji stared at him for a few moments, the tension he’d been feeling between them only seeming to grow as Aizen continued to hold his wrist. He pulled it away, Aizen letting it easily slip from his fingers, and headed outside. While no answer was given, Aizen followed directly behind. The air between them remained thick as neither of them dared to cut into it. Shinji didn’t want to waste his time questioning Aizen’s motives, knowing he’d never get an honest answer no matter how far he dug. Aizen knew how to lie and Shinji was well aware of the fact.
Shinji’s eyes glanced sideways, fixating on the image of Aizen, still smiling. He was plotting something. It was easy enough to be suspicious of Aizen; the tricky part was trying to piece together what could be going on in his head. It was difficult to determine when one needed to be cautious around this boy and Shinji was definitely hearing alarm bells going off in his head at that moment. He was brought back to the reality of the moment when Aizen finally opened his mouth to speak. “I’m not sure if you’re aware, Captain Hirako, but you have a habit of showing your teeth the majority of the time. It happens often enough that I’m sometimes alarmed when I can’t see them,” he said softly, not looking at his captain, but speaking to him nonetheless. “It makes me wonder what’s on your mind, what could be so serious to take away such a noticeable quality.”
Shinji hummed and didn’t turn to look at him. Aizen was digging and that could be dangerous. “Perhaps you forcing yourself on my nightly walk was off putting and I’m wondering exactly what your goal for tonight is, Sōsuke.”
Aizen chuckled and nodded. “I apologize for concerning you, Captain Hirako. I just wanted to make sure you returned safely,” he replied, finally looking at his captain-studying his movements.
Shinji gave him a side glance, but turned his gaze forward after they locked eyes. “Tell me, Sōsuke, what’s changed about tonight that you’re suddenly concerned I might not make it back?”
Aizen looked toward the ground, a soft chuckle echoing through his throat. “Forgive me, Captain, but is it a crime to care about your wellbeing? You’ve been working harder than normal,” he noted, turning his head back to meet Shinji’s side eye. “You haven’t been as, let’s say, cheerful in the past few weeks. I thought it might be appropriate to remind you that you have people around you that care and would like to assist you.”
Shinji hummed again, turning his eyes forward as he contemplated the meaning of Aizen’s words. He knew they couldn’t be truthful. This did, however, give Shinji the perfect opportunity to let Aizen believe he had emotional control over him; that he fully understood how his captain was feeling. He walked up to his door, careful not to respond to Aizen’s claim to care beyond his initial hum. He turned to face his lieutenant, leaving on hand on his door, but not making an effort to open it quite yet. He kept steady eye contact with Aizen for a moment, waiting for his smile to fade.
Slowly, Shinji slide his door open and stood to the side. “Why don’t ya join me for some tea?” he suggested, watching Aizen closely to pick up on his body language rather than just his verbal response.
Aizen raised his eyebrows and let out a soft chuckle before stepping inside Shinji’s doorway. He glanced back at him on the way in, an almost playful look in his eyes. “I don’t believe you’ve invited me for tea before… Perhaps something has changed.”
Shinji scoffed and stepped in after him, sliding the door shut and heading over to put some tea on. “I wouldn’t think too much of it, Sōsuke. You’re my subordinate after all.”
Aizen chuckled at the word, watching as Shinji’s eyes darted to him as it left his throat. “You certainly treat us well, Captain,” he replied, smiling as Shinji looked back at his kettle. He looked around Shinji’s living space, taking in how little was actually present. There were papers scattered on the table and a few picture frames hung on the walls, but not much beyond the furniture occupied the space. Aizen looked at the couch the table was placed in front of and smiled at his captain once more. “May I sit?”
Aizen sat on the very edge of the couch after Shinji nodded in approval. Shinji joined him soon after, setting a cup of tea in front of Aizen on the table and then seating himself on the exact opposite side of the couch. Aizen picked up his tea and chuckled. He glanced over at Shinji while taking a sip. “Afraid I’ll bite, Captain Hirako?”
Shinji looked over at him as he sipped his own tea. “That all depends. Am I something you’d want to bite into?” he asked, trying to keep an air of danger about him, but realizing that sentence could be interpreted incorrectly fairly easily. He watched as Aizen’s eyebrows raised in mild shock at what his captain had uttered.
Aizen turned his body so he was facing Shinji, a small smirk beginning to take shape on his face. “Is that to say you bite back, Shinji?”
Shinji lightly choked on the tea that was currently traveling down his throat, looking over at his lieutenant with widened eyes. Not only was there an inappropriate playfulness in the tone of his words, but Aizen had just addressed him by his first name without hesitation. It was fine in the reverse, considering Shinji had hierarchy albeit it was still a little rude. He decided to tone the situation down, by ignoring the comment and taking another sip of tea. He kept his eyes closed as he heard his couch squeak, knowing Aizen was closing the space between them for some godforsaken reason. Shinji glanced at Aizen as he took his new place several inches away from him on the couch. The air felt thick again, the tension in the room starting to outweigh how it felt on their walk.
Shinji cleared his throat and motioned to Aizen’s cup of tea, adjusting his own position on the couch to be right up against the arm. “Ya like it? I decided to try a new flavor this time around.”
Aizen looked at him and chuckled. He looked at his cup and picked it back up, taking another sip. “It’s delicious, Captain,” he almost whispered, drawing his words far longer than Shinji felt was necessary. “You’ll have to invite me by more often. I have a few blends that might interest you.”
Shinji nodded slowly, clearing his throat again. “Perhaps we can have a small tea tasting with Captain Kyōraku and Captain Ukitake. They might enjoy a quiet day together,” he replied, trying to remove the thought of alone time between them becoming something common.
Aizen chuckled and nodded, sipping his tea once more and setting down the cup. “That sounds lovely, Captain Hirako. I’ll try and set something up in the morning.”
Shinji nodded and let out a quiet sigh. As strange as the night felt, it was almost refreshing to have someone to talk to after a long day of paperwork. Him and Aizen very rarely just sat and talked, which he knew the reason for, but He was starting to feel like he wasn’t giving this boy the benefit of the doubt lately. There was definitely a malicious aura that shrouded Aizen’s persona, but there wasn’t anything he’d done that was particularly heinous, at least to Shinji’s knowledge. Perhaps he was just being overly cautious and Aizen was the type that liked to really understand his colleagues before fully trusting them. That could account for all the sneaking around which Aizen was still unaware that Shinji knew about. Shinji couldn’t shake the feeling Aizen gave him, however, and the fact that he rarely seemed to be truthful. Not much could be excused for lying to someone in charge of you.
Aizen leaned a bit closer, chuckling quietly to himself. “Is everything alright, captain? You seem a bit too lost in thought.”
Shinji blinked, snapping back to the present situation again. He looked at Aizen and nodded. “Yes, fine. It’s late, Sōsuke. I think ya should turn in.” He set his cup down and started to stand, but Aizen’s hand was on his shoulder, holding him in place on the couch. Shinji turned his head to look at Aizen again, about to ask him what his problem was when there seemed to be no space between them anymore. Shinji’s eyes widened as Aizen’s lips slipped between his own, his other hand reaching over to hold Shinji’s hip down so he was pushed fully into the couch. He took a few moments to soak in exactly what was happening before he made a noise of protest, moving to push Aizen away from him.
Aizen, however, took advantage of this and grabbed Shinji’s wrist, pushing him back into the couch with more force. Shinji’s eyes widened even further, but he started to falter. He suddenly lost his desire to fight back and he knew it wasn’t because Aizen had intimidated him or anything of that nature. His chest felt tight and he couldn’t commit to a desire for this to end. There was something about the way Aizen held him against the couch that almost felt intoxicating. He felt himself starting to slip, his eyes falling closed as his body relaxed under his lieutenant. That was when he woke up.
Shinji sighed as a cold breeze danced through his hair, his lips being warmed by his coffee as he drank. He listened to another car roll past, trying to decipher all of the thoughts and feelings rushing through his head. He was truly baffled by the thought that he could’ve been suppressing feelings for his former lieutenant for all this time, but it was the only explanation he could come up with. It bothered him how vivid the dream was, genuinely feeling more like a memory. He could almost taste the tea left on Aizen’s lips. He took another drink from his coffee, trying to drown the taste. This was something he needed to work through as quickly and as quietly as he could. Aizen caused them countless problems, tearing their entire lives from them without a second thought all for the sake of an experiment. He thought nothing of them and Shinji was well aware of that. He felt dirty recalling the flutter in his stomach Aizen had given him while he slept. There was nothing Aizen could do to redeem himself and no excuse Shinji could give for deciding his feelings were justified.
He looked down the street, setting his now empty coffee mug on the ground near the door and walking away from the place he now called home thanks to Aizen. He knew if anyone could help him, it would be Kisuke. It may not be help he was after anyway, but Kisuke would certainly listen. Shinji headed to the little shop, still clad in his pajamas. He slipped his hands into the pockets of his sweatpants, turning his head to look at a little girl playing with her dog on the other side of the street. They were rolling around in a yard, the girl laughing loudly as the dog jumped all over her. Shinji shook his head, turning his eyes back to the ground as he walked. Aizen wanted to ruin things like that. He wanted to make people suffer for his own personal enjoyment and gain. Shinji would never understand people’s desire to use their power for anything short of helping others who don’t have the same strengths.
Shinji pushed open the door to Urahara’s Shop, peeking around inside. It seemed empty, but he knew someone had to be there. He walked inside, shuffling his feet on the ground as he headed to the back. He stuck his head around the corner to look when he was greeted by Tessai about to smack him square in the face with a broom. Shinji’s eyes widened and he quickly jumped back, ultimately falling on his butt. Tessai blinked at the man on the ground, setting the brook down. “Oh, Hirako. I apologize, I thought you were an intruder.” Shinji groaned and rubbed his lower back. “Sheesh... Give out a warning next time, would ya? Just knowing someone else is here is sometimes enough to make intruders run away, yeah?” Tessai nodded and helped Shinji up. “Yes... I apologize again, Hirako. My plan was not to startle you.” Shinji sighed and waved him off, giving his own butt a little rub. “Is Kisuke here?” he asked quietly, looking up at Tessai with an almost heavy expression. Tessai stared at him for a few moments before he gave a small nod. He headed to the door that lead beneath the shop and opened it for Shinji. The blond quietly thanked him and headed down the stairs, glancing back when he heard the door close. He was thankful that Tessei understood he wanted this to be private.
Shinji looked over at Kisuke who was muttering to himself as he paced his hidden training grounds. He chuckled softly as he headed down the stairs, speaking a bit louder than usual to make sure he got Kisuke’s attention. “Seems like we’re both troubled, eh Kisuke?” The shop owner looked up at him, chuckling when their eyes met. “Ah, Hirako. Good morning.” Shinji tipped his head at Kisuke with a light smile. He joined him down on the ground and glanced over everything Kisuke had left scattered about. “Something I can help you with?” he offered, knowing Kisuke still blamed himself for everything that happened and this was probably another attempt to fix it. Kisuke shook his head and chuckled. “Just working through a few things... What brings you here this morning? You look tired. Shall I make coffee?” Shinji pulled his hands out of his pockets and held them up, shaking his head. “Oh, no thanks. Already had some. I was just wondering if we could talk.”
Kisuke gave him a warm smile and nodded, going to find something the two of them could sit on. “I take it you’re having trouble sleeping? I may have something you might find useful for that upstairs,” he stated, glancing over at him. “I can give you a discount.”
Shinji chuckled and shook his head. “Nah, it wouldn’t help,” he said as he watched Kisuke pull out some chairs from who knows where. “You’re prepared for everything, ain’t ya, Kisuke?”
Kisuke chuckled and shook his head. “Things like this are easy. There are many things I’ve faced that I was completely unprepared for.” He looked over his shoulder at Shinji before turning and motioning for him to come sit. “I think you know that more than most, Hirako.”
Shinji looked at him for a few moments before walking over and plopping down in the chair. He shook his head. “I don’t blame ya, Kisuke, I never have.” He looked over at Kisuke and said, “How many times do I gotta tell you, you can call me Shinji,” hoping it might lighten the feeling in Kisuke’s heart. He wanted him to know that he considered them friends and that he was truthful when saying he didn’t hold it against him.
Kisuke nodded and sat next to him. It’d been awhile since they just sat and talked, so he knew he shouldn’t dwell on that subject for too long. “So, Shinji, what is it you wanted to discuss? Is there something troubling you?”
Shinji nodded. “Honestly think troublin’ is an understatement. There’s something wrong with me.”
Kisuke leaned back. “I could’ve told you that years ago, Shinji,” he teased, hoping he could lighten the situation at least a little bit. It was uncharacteristic of Shinji to seem so worked up about something and it was throwing him off. He smiled when Shinji gave him a look of fake amusement, but it faded as Shinji’s eyes turned back to the ground. The former captain of squad 5 sat quietly for a few moments, trying to formulate the best way to discuss what was bothering him. Shinji could hear Aizen’s words ringing through his mind as he noticed he was sitting with his teeth visible. He slowly slipped his mouth closed, feeling a bit pathetic that even something that small was getting to him.
Kisuke adjusted his position in the chair as he watched Shinji closely. “You dreamt of Aizen,” he stated, almost whispering. Shinji’s eyes widened slightly as he immediately shifted his gaze to Kisuke. It couldn’t have been that obvious. Kisuke shook his head and leaned forward in his chair, noting Shinji’s alarmed expression. “You get a certain way when you think about him… It’s very hard to pick up on, but it’s in the little things he would have picked up on.” He gently set his hand on the other’s arm, offering him a soft smile. “It’s okay to think about him, Shinji… What he did to you, to all of you, was traumatic and you have the right to think about him for the rest of your life.”
Shinji sighed, shaking his head as his eyes returned to the ground. “It was before any of that. There was nothin’ particularly negative between us yet and it felt so real… It felt like it did before, like he was still my lieutenant.” He could feel a small flutter in his chest as he debated telling Kisuke about the nature of his feelings towards his subordinate in the dream. That was the whole reason he came there, but he was having doubts now. There was definitely something inherently wrong with feeling that way towards someone who caused so much grief.
Kisuke gave him a sad smile. “Shinji, he was someone you cared for. You were his captain. It’s only natural to feel guilty abo—”
Shinji clenched his fist and turned to look at him, interrupting. “Sōsuke kissed me. He kissed me and I was thrown off guard like it wasn’t my own fuckin’ dream.”
The pair fell quiet, Kisuke slowly sliding back into his chair as he watched the other. He was wondering if he really heard him correctly. Watching them interact during their time in the Gotei 13 gave him vibes of the exact opposite sort. Shinji seemed to put up with his lieutenant, but there had never been any signs that the two enjoyed one another’s company. At times Shinji even seemed to distrust Aizen, though never really giving a concrete explanation why. The air felt thick to Shinji again making him almost wish he’d never opened his mouth. They sat in silence for a few more moments, Kisuke mulling over all the different ways he could treat the situation. He wanted to be as delicate as possible, knowing that this was particularly troubling, especially considering Shinji was having a very difficult time processing what he dreamt.
Not wanting to rule out any possibilities, Kisuke finally spoke. “Is there any chance Aizen could’ve gone unnoticed in your presence recently? You don’t seem very confident in these feelings, so perhaps he had some sort of influence,” he suggested. It was highly unlikely Aizen was slipping around without Shinji noticing. He had a knack for being one of the only people to see right through him, no matter the situation.
Shinji sighed and shrugged his shoulders. “I guess it could be possible, but…” His eyes switched between the ground and the other man a few times before he decided to continue his sentence. “I still get that fluttery feelin’ in my stomach when I think about it. I almost want to dream again,” he said. He was looking directly at Kisuke now, a subtle look of longing in his eyes.
Kisuke held that eye contact with him for a few moments and then sighed, giving him a gentle nod. He opened his mouth, but didn’t speak right away. He knew something like this couldn’t be helped. “I’m not sure what to say… Shinji, you can’t control who you fall for. It’s unfortunate, I know, but it’s okay to have these feelings.” He gave a little nod and reached over to set his hand on Shinji’s arm again. “I can’t even begin to imagine the pain you’re feeling right now…”
Their eyes finally parted, Shinji turning his own towards the ground again. He slipped them closed as he spoke. “It’s not gonna change anythin’, got it? We’re still gonna take that smug bastard down,” he said, almost harsher than needed. Kisuke knew he wasn’t the only one he needed to convince. He gave Shinji a nod.
“He won’t get away with what he’s done.”