There was a move, and Urahara responded on instinct.
He flung himself backwards, eyes wide as he nearly got caught by the edge of a zanpakuto, eyes darting to the source. It was Shinji, who was panting as he stared blankly at Urahara.
A glance around told the former captain of the twelfth that he had stumbled over the older man while the other had been sleeping. There was a blanket shoved off to one side, and Shinji had been tucked up against a pile of fabric.
“Shinji-san,” he said, tone soothing as the other looked at him with blank eyes.
Urahara knew those eyes. Shinji was not with him at the moment, caught up in some memory of the past.
It probably wasn’t even that far into the past. Urahara gave a bitter smile. He had nightmares himself. Mostly between those two frantic nights he did his to help them. The failure of the Hogyoku to cure them, and of having to make the modified gigai and pulling eight unconscious bodies out of the Seireitei when they were being hunted.
The others had been quiet about what being hollowfied was like, but Urahara knew that it had to be horrific. Being betrayed by your people, sentenced to being executed for something completely outside your control….
Urahara could understand nightmares. He had only told them about the execution order so they’d stop arguing with him about going back. That had been the first big fight. One of several, even if they were uncertain and foggy when they had first really woken up. Which was longer than they probably realized.
Tessai had kept them unconscious until Urahara had finally been able to stabilize them. Which he had flung himself into, because their souls were...failing. Soul suicide had been a distinct possibility.
It was only through luck he had found what he needed to in order to stabilize the others.
“You are in the living world,” Urahara said, tone calm as he watched the edge of that blade. It was oh so easy for the other to hurt him without realizing it. Mostly because he really didn’t want to hurt Shinji, and that would put him at a handicap.
So the best thing was to keep talking and make him focus on the here and now, other than where he was now.
“You are in the building we purchased, behind wards that Tessai-san has set up so that nobody can find us. We are safe.”
For a given value of safety.
Slowly, as Urahara kept speaking, he saw awareness coming back into the brown eyes. Something in him relaxed, but he waited until Shinji finally seemed to really settle into the here and now.
“Shinji-san?” he tried again as the tip of Sakanade dipped, Shinji blinking rapidly for a moment.
There was a breath of relief, and Urahara let himself relax a bit. “Ah, yes. I came to check on you.”
There was a rough laugh from the other. “You look like shit.”
Urahara snorted. “Thank you,” he said, aware he probably looked a little rough. Even though he had them stabilized, Urahara was still working on trying to repair the damage that being hollowfied did to them. A great deal of power ran through them now, so much that he worried his gigai weren’t going to be enough to shield them. For the first few months, he had been forced to keep them together under wards. At least until they had control over their own power levels
It let them interact more. While there were several captains, it was odd how little they had to do with each other at times. But now the group was forced into close quarters, with Tessai watching over them. Urahara was busy trying to set things up for them on top of working on trying to reverse the infection. Yoruichi was…somewhere. Probably investigating things in Soul Society. Which was good. She’d be able to bring information to him.
Though he was pleased to see the others bonding. Well, mostly. His observations were that hollows, once they reached a certain level of power and intelligence, formed packs. Not surprising, they could be just as social as any other humanoid creature.
While the others were still shinigami, he noticed they had picked up some other tendencies.
He still remembered Hiyori trying to bite him. The snap of teeth that almost took a chunk out of his cheek. Urahara could only be thankful he still kept his reflexes from being in the second. He still wasn’t sure if they were still able to spread the contamination that caused the soul to hollowfy. Their reiatsu was still unsettled in some way, even if they were stabilized now. He had no desire to find it out through accident, and especially not on himself.
Urahara made a note to compile some notes in case the unthinkable happened. No need to leave the others in the dark if he got bitten and it was still contagious.
That snap of bone teeth in a white mask snapping shut a few inches from his eyes was another thing that was going to haunt his nightmares.
He gave himself a mental shake. Urahara needed not to let himself wander too far mentally. That was still dangerous. Urahara trusted Shinji. To a point, at least until he was sure they had full control of themselves.
“So, what has you out here?” he asked, sitting down next to the other blond now that it seemed Shinji was fully with him.
There was a grimace. Shinji sighed and leaned against the bedding piled behind him. “The others are sleeping in the other room.” He fell quiet for a moment. “That’s fine. It’s...comforting to sleep with someone sometimes. But they…”
The other shifted. Urahara watched him quietly. He could quess, could ask. But that was not what was needed here. Knowing people, reading them, was a skill Urahara had practiced for decades. He needed to let Shinji move at his own speed.
Instead, he shifted to lean against the material as well. For a moment, neither of them spoke. Then Shinji shifted over some so his shoulder pressed against Urahara’s. Silent support.
“Just reminded of an old mission. Being smushed by a fat ass hollow is not a great feeling. When Hachigen-san decides he needs to roll over on ya….” He wrinkled his nose, one hand absently curling a long lock of hair around a finger. The other hand pressed against his ribs.
That must have been before Urahara’s time as a captain. But given how Shinji hunched in on himself, he assumed that cracked ribs were the least of that.
So, waking up with something large pressing down on him, with the feel of Hollow mixed with it…. Urahara could understand why Shinji had some sort of flashback.
Then waking up and realizing you can’t get away from the hollow, it follows you wherever you went, that could only make things worse.
“Thought ya was Aizen for a minute.” The words were quiet, and Urahara winced slightly. Not a phrase he wanted to hear.
Shinji waved him off. “It was only for a few minutes. I was so caught up in remembering being crushed, and then being warped into,” another trail off as he waved at himself. Then he snorted. “Fuck,” the man said, running a hand over his face.
“I’ll fix it,” Urahara said, his voice certain. He ignored the niggles of doubt he already had about his chances with that goal. This was something he should be able to fix. But his main method of even being able to do something like this was the Hogyoku. And it was designed to break the barriers between hollow and shinigami. Not to repair them.
“Don’t bullshit me,” Shinji said, voice tired. He always sounded tired lately. Urahara knew he did as well. They were all tired. “You can’t fix this, can ya?”
Urahara wanted to say he could. He rarely failed in things he put his mind to, but this might be beyond him. Not when he had no idea how Aizen had started the process.
“Can ya figure out how to give us control? So we don’t have to worry about suddenly going mad again?”
That was an ongoing problem, and another reason they stayed under wards.
Closing his eyes, Urahara took a deep breath. He removed himself from this, from what promises he had made, even if just to himself. Then he looked at it again.
“I… believe so.” He opened his eyes again, looking at Shinji. “It’s something you’ll have to do yourself, but I am sure it can be done.”
Grey eyes met brown, and the two former captains looked at each other for a long moment.
Shinji was the first one to really step in and help Urahara find his footing as a captain.
If this was the only way he could help, Urahara would do it. He nodded at Shinji, silently confirming his words.
“Well, then fuck the shinigami. We’re something different now. Them and Aizen, they’ll figure out how bad they messed up eventually.” That had a tinge of promise as well, and Urahara found himself nodding.
“I will help, any way I can,” he said. It was poor comfort, but it was all he could offer.
It seemed to be enough. Shinji sighed, shifting to lean against Urahara a bit more, eyes closing. Sleep was something they all desperately needed, and so Urahara shifted a tiny bit to get comfortable as Shinji’s head dropped to rest against him.
There was no way Urahara himself would sleep at the moment. Not until Shinji had iron control. But he was able to offer this little bit of comfort.
Maybe take a little bit himself. He missed home, and Urahara missed the company of others like himself. Humans were so flat, it was hard to remember they were there at times.
It would get better, as he adjusted. But until then, Shinji and the others, even if they felt of hollow, were soothing in a way.
He was already outside this group, but he could take comfort where he could.
Even if he didn’t sleep, Urahara relaxed a bit and settled in for the night.