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If only he’d noticed

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Ichimaru Gin, newly installed Twelfth Seat of the Fifth Division, was feeling particularly proud of himself as he stepped out into the sun on his first full day in service to the Gotei. A year of hard work, filled with praise and wonder from teachers and special tutors who had been constantly stunned by his progress, had paid off. He had a zanpakuto, a position in Aizen's division, and an already deadly shikai. His plan was going perfectly.

For once the enormous grin that spread from one ear to the other was real. He was full of confidence. It would not take too many years. He would catch up with Aizen, and then he would pay him back for every single one of Rangiku’s tears. Everything was finally going right.

“Well, you're one creepy-looking kid, ain't you?”

Gin nearly jumped out of his skin as he spun to face his captain.

Hirako Shinji was frowning down at him from his perch, squatting on a nearby wall, his arms resting casually on his knees, and Gin realized, as he forced his smile to stay in place, he had not had the slightest sense of the captain’s presence until he’d spoken.

“Good morning, Captain,” he said with all the enthusiasm he could muster and bowed respectfully. He did not need the captain’s attention—not unless it turned out the captain was in league with Aizen.

As far as Gin was concerned all shinigami were suspect. They all presented themselves as heroes and protectors. The Academy training had been very focused on the virtues of shinigami, but that could be a cover. After all, he’d heard only praise for Lieutenant Aizen. The shinigami were either so stupid they hadn't notice he was a monster or they were all like him. Either way Gin did not need them.

Shinji’s frown became a smile. “Ah, a fellow Kansai native. There ain't many of us around. We outta stick together, don’t you think?”

Gin flinched at that. He didn't think he sounded like that. And the captain's speech was full of slang that exaggerated his accent, making himself sound rough and course in a way that Gin consciously avoided. He hated the idea that his accent might label him ‘low class’ or ‘country’. But one didn't tell one's brand new captain that. “If you say so, sir.”

Shinji’s expression twisted thoughtfully. “So you're supposed to be some sorta genius, are you?”

“I do my best,” he told the captain, while he wondered exactly how to extricate himself from this conversation. He wasn't sure if it had been natural talent or pure determination that had gotten him through the Academy in a single year, but he didn’t want to talk to the captain about it either way. Maybe he should have been pleased by the captain’s attention and proud of his accomplishments, but it was all for only one purpose, and beyond that none of it mattered. He didn’t even care what the captain thought of him as long as he was able to keep working towards his goal.

“Huh,” Shinji said, shortly, and continued to stare.

“Is there something you need, Captain?” Gin asked in desperation. The way the captain was looking at him was disturbing. That toothy fake grin was mocking and the narrowed gaze was piercing. It felt like the longer the captain stared at him the more he would see, and if he didn’t get out from under the captain’s gaze soon, he was going to see something Gin couldn’t afford for anyone to see.

“I wanna know why you hate my lieutenant, but you’re not wanting to share are you?”

Gin’s eyes widened for a fraction of a second before he got himself back under control. “Why would I hate Lieutenant Aizen, sir? I‘ve only met him once.”

“You flinched, kiddo. You can't do that if you wanna sell a lie. And yesterday, I saw the way you looked at Aizen—don’t think he coulda missed it either. That was a bloodlust that coulda made a hollow proud. You want him dead. I wanna know why.”

Gin forced his smile even bigger, even as his mind raced. What was the captain talking about, ‘bloodlust’? Had he really given himself away? Did Aizen already know Gin wanted to kill him? “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Captain. I don’t want to kill anyone.”

Shinji hopped down. “The bastard ain’t here, if that’s what you’re worried about. I sent him all the way to the World of the Living on a mission, figured that’d keep him from eavesdropping for a bit.”

“I don’t understand,” Gin said, slowly. He felt like he should stop smiling, but he felt naked without it. And he already felt like the captain was staring straight through him.

Shinji rolled his eyes. “Damn Rukongai brat, don’t trust nobody do you? C’mon, we’ll talk in my office, and like it or not, you’re gonna tell me what you know about Aizen.”

Gin followed in absolute silence. He didn’t have a plan for this. He had no ideas, could think of nothing to do but continue in denial. The captain was right about one thing, he couldn’t trust anyone. They wouldn’t believe him. They wouldn’t help him. He was trapped. And Aizen knew he wanted to kill him. He was going to die. Aizen was going to kill him before he ever got strong enough to fight him.

Fear was growing deep in his chest, threatening to choke him. He was going to die and there was no way out. There was nothing he could do.

And what would happen to Rangiku if he did? Would Aizen hurt her again? Would being a shinigami make her safe? Or would she be an even easier target here in the Gotei, so close he could reach out and hurt her any time he wanted?

Gin choked down his fears and scrambled to organize his thoughts into some sort of plan as the captain led him into his office. He watched him go to a strange box with a flat black disk on top and press a button, and suddenly the room was filled with a strange tune.

For a moment Shinji’s attention seemed to leave Gin as he lounged beside the box listening to the music, but before Gin could relax, the captain’s gaze returned to him. “That’s jazz, straight from the World of the Living—nice, ain’t it?”

“Yes, sir,” Gin agreed, not caring in the slightest. He knew absolutely nothing about music and now wasn’t really the time to spark an interest. He did wonder about the odd box it was coming from though. He’d never seen anything like it before. There were so many things in Seireitei he’d never seen before, and he didn’t like not knowing so much. “How does it make sounds?”

“Eh,” Shinji shrugged. “Human tech of some sort. They’re pretty clever sometimes—kinda like you. You’ve figured out Aizen, enough to hate him, and you figured it out on your own, didn’t you?”

Gin shook his head. “I don’t know anything about Lieutenant Aizen. How could I? I never met him till yesterday. I’m from Rukongai. I barely even saw a shinigami before I went to the Academy.”

Shinji rubbed his forehead and shook his head. “Enough with the lies, you creepy little brat,” he said, sounding more annoyed than angry. “I haven’t got all day, and I don’t wanna hear the bullshit story I can see you workin on right now. I want the truth.”

Gin’s smile was strained and he knew it, but he didn’t have anything else. A part of him wondered if the captain really could see inside him and tell that he was lying. Maybe captains could do that, but the truth—how could he tell the truth? And what good would it do? There was no way he would be believed—and even if he did—what if he didn’t think there was anything wrong with what the shinigami had done, what Aizen had ordered them to do? “I am telling—”

Shinji cut him off. “Just listen for a minute, ok, kid? I get it. You’re a creepy little kid. You’re the kinda creepy little kid they like to beat up in Rukongai just ‘cause you’re creepy and they’re bored, but that ain’t gonna happen no more. You’re a shinigami, an officer in my division, and there ain’t nobody gonna pick on you anymore. That’s ‘cause you’re mine now. You follow the rules and you do what I tell ya, and in exchange I keep you safe and see that you’re trained so if any trouble does come your way you’ll stay safe. That’s how it works here. I’ll keep you safe, kiddo. I won’t let nobody hurt you, and that includes Lieutenant Aizen.

“But in return you gotta do what I say, and I say you’re gonna tell me what you know about Aizen.”

“I don’—”

“Goddammit, I just told you I ain’t got all day, didn’t I? I get that you’re scared, and you don’t trust me. You don’t know me so why should you? But think about this for a minute, kiddo,” Shinji leaned forward, and his expression became deadly serious. “Whatever it is you know, Aizen knows you know. And after all the years he’s put in on his model lieutenant act, do you think he’s gonna let you live, knowing you could fuck it all up for him at any moment?”

Gin’s eyes widened. The fear he’d been fighting down screamed through him. He was dead. There was no escape. Aizen would kill him. There was nothing he could do.

“Tell me what you know and I’ll keep you safe. I’m your only shot, kiddo. You’re out of options. Tell me or that bastard’s gonna kill you.”

Gin raised his head, staring at the captain with round blue eyes. He felt no hope, only fear. Maybe the captain meant it. Maybe he would protect him, but in the end he really wasn’t who was important.

“Will you protect Ran-chan?” His voice was little more than a whisper. If anyone was going to be protected it had to be her.

“That a friend of yours?”

A slow nod. “Matsumoto Rangiku. She’s a student. I brought her—to the Academy. I thought—I thought she would be safe.”

“She will be. I promise.”

“I couldn't protect her before,” Gin confessed, and soon the rest of the story followed, in a flood of grief and guilt and hate and rage. The child, broken by fear, held nothing back.

Hirako Shinji finally learned the extent of his lieutenant’s crimes, the pieces finally came together, and he saw that the lieutenant he’d already distrusted was far more dangerous than he’d imagined. The boy was everything he needed. He was a witness to Aizen’s crimes and his conspiracy. Shinji no longer had only his suspicions, he had evidence.

By order of Central 46, Captain Shihoin Yoruichi and her stealth squad joined Captain Hirako Shinji to apprehend Lieutenant Aizen Sosuke as he returned to Soul Society. Many of his followers were also arrested after being identified by an anonymous witness from Rukongai, and gave testimony against Aizen in exchange for lighter sentences. Aizen was locked away for ten centuries for conspiring against Soul Society and experimenting on the citizens of Rukongai, although he never confessed or explained what he had been plotting or why.

Shinji could only imagine where Aizen’s plans might have led, and what would have happened if he hadn’t bothered to pay attention to the new recruit who’d been added to his division that day. If he hadn’t seen that instant of hatred and bloodlust from Gin, would he ever have uncovered Aizen’s crimes?

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

The sound of girlish laughter should not be wafting from his office window, Shinji was fairly sure of that. He scowled as he approached the open window.

“We shouldn’t be here,” the girl’s voice added. “Your captain won’t like it.”

That’s right, Shinji agreed silently. His damned lieutenant thought he could get away with anything, but bringing a date to the captain’s office was a bit much, even for him.

“Hirako won’t mind,” the lieutenant’s voice answered, and Hirako could practically hear that obnoxious grin. “I’m just going to show you something.”

He wondered what punishment he’d have to come up with this time. The problem was his lieutenant never seemed to care what he came up with. He took every punishment, whether it was agonizingly boring and monotonous, insanely dangerous and difficult, or even flat-out humiliating, with that same grin. And he always did exactly what he felt like regardless of the consequences.

Music started playing as Shinji stepped up to the window, slow jazz of the sort he’d been sure bored said lieutenant silly. Annoyance that the little bastard would mess with his phonograph mingled with curiosity. What the hell was he up to this time?

“Oh, I never heard anything like it,” the girl’s voice was awed.

“I thought you would like it. Care to dance?”

Using his music to impress a girl! Of all the--but Shinji paused when he looked in the window.

A wave of strawberry blond curls identified the girl in Gin’s arms, Matsumoto Rangiku, the girl he’d dedicated his life to avenging not so many years ago. Her arms were around his neck as they swayed to the music, and he held her close with his head resting against hers.

But it was his expression that made Shinji pause. He looked--content. His eyes were closed and a gentle smile turned up the corners of his lips.

Shinji turned away with a shake of his head. He supposed the kid deserved a little happiness with his girl. After all, he’d been willing to sacrifice it all to destroy the one who had hurt her. He was a stupid kid, but all in all not a bad one.