Ain't No Mercy

He had never liked his Captain.

It would have been just plain rude to say so, of course; rude, stupid, ill-mannered, whatever. So he didn't say so. He ignored the little hints that Aizen left dangling at the ends of his sentences, the consciousness of his presence, the glint of his spectacles, the warmth of his smile.

Snakes were fine. Ichimaru Gin had no problem with snakes. Sensible beings. You step on them, they bite you back. It was people he didn't trust.

When he became a Captain himself, he left Aizen behind with polite expressions of friendship and the feeling that he'd just walked out of a long shadow.

He of all people knew how much smiles were worth.

That day, in retrospect, was a day of small mistakes that built on each other like grains of sand. Dealing with the gatekeeper; well, perhaps a touch excessive, but one had to set an example in these matters. Where would Soul Society be if the gatekeepers started letting in everyone who beat them in single combat? It was simple pragmatism. And shutting the ryoka out -- very well, he had to admit that he'd erred in the other direction there. See how moments of charity come back to bite you? They were innocent stupid children. He'd thought that slamming the door on them would be enough to drive them away.

Quite accurate, that quotation he'd picked up somewhere; no good deed goes unpunished.

And then the Captains' Meeting, and old man Yama giving him the half-closed eye. He'd apologised. Simple as that. He never could understand why that went down so badly with some of the other Captains. Better than trying to justify it like some people, or grabbing at a swordhilt like others.

But when he looked at Aizen afterwards, when their gazes met and Aizen had dropped significant hints, well, he'd known his old Captain was up to something, and so he'd dropped a few hints back and hoped that'd keep him out of his way.

People who thought those were threats really had no imagination.

And little Hitsugaya standing to one side and listening, with his cold, cold blade and his cold, cold eyes. Who'd have thought it?

Morning had broken, the birds were singing, and his old Captain was impaled on the tower wall in an overly dramatic way that he would have mildly disapproved of when he was still alive, while privately working out who gained by the exhibition and what he could do with it.

Gin remembered the calm, reflective blankness of Aizen's gaze very well. Beneath it he had grown protective scales and learned to smile in response.

Little Hinamori would be useless if she spent all day crying at her Captain's feet. He smirked at her, giving her a target, and perhaps he hadn't expected her to go for the kill, but Kira was so well trained. He knew what to do.

And there was Hitsugaya again, as brisk as snow, as steady as ice, putting himself between the two. Taking care of things. Taking charge.

Gin strolled away. It was strange, but the sight of his old Captain hanging there -- well, it depressed him. Far too sentimental.

Really, this was getting beyond a joke. Hitsugaya's accusations were getting positively boring. Feelings for the man quite aside, why would he have wanted to kill Aizen?

On the other hand -- Ichimaru Gin had always been a great believer in the school of teaching by example. Not like Zaraki Kenpachi with all his shouting and chest-beating, but simply and effectively. Get in my way and I'll hurt you. Attack me and I'll kill you. Attack me again and I'll kill someone you value.

Most people seemed to be quicker to take the hint than Hitsugaya. Why, if this went on, it was going to leave him looking like some sort of bully or villain, when he simply wanted -- oh well, enough was enough, and it was even a kind of mercy to the heartbroken girl . . .

Rangiku blocked his thrust. That was unexpected.

He'd grown distant from her since they had entered the Academy. He admitted it. They'd been friendly still, but their ways had simply led them apart. Vice-Captains weren't encouraged to spend too much time fraternising elsewhere. Aizen had made that clear. And Rangiku herself, well -- she'd never been quite the same since she took up with Hitsugaya. He couldn't blame her. Life was like that. One took warmth where one could, then moved on.

But, well -- this was a day for being sentimental, to go with all its other stupidities. He withdrew his blade and walked away.

Gin had always liked Izuru Kira. Such a nice warm malleable boy. Aizen had had his eye on him as well; he'd seen that. He could have pretended that there had been some sort of kindness involved in keeping him out of Aizen's influence, but then again, someone was going to take the boy in charge, and it might as well be him as anyone else. He wound himself around Kira and accustomed him to his presence.

And when matters came down to the line, a high-tempered Vice-Captain who threw himself between his Captain and an oncoming sword was just what he liked.

They just needed to work on the whole conscience thing. Once Kira really understood that the three most important points in his life were his Captain's welfare, his own welfare, and Soul Society's welfare, he'd be so much happier.

Not that Gin didn't have a few other interests, but one had to be sane about this sort of thing.

He quietly pulled a few strings and got Kira released, pointing out that at least his Vice-Captain hadn't gone breaking out of jail like some people, custody of own Captain, a word in private about this sort of behaviour, etcetera.

"I thought he was going to kill me," Kira said later.

Gin stroked Kira's soft hair. "Hitsugaya-kun? Course not."

"You didn't see his face," Kira said, and shuddered, and Gin had to soothe him again.

The next morning was a beautiful day for an execution. Just the sort of thing an aristocrat ought to want, mm? Nice and sunny for farewell speeches and elegant goodbyes. Personally, if it had been him sent to bring Kuchiki Rukia back and he'd known what was waiting for her, there would have been a tragic accident in arresting her and none of this mess in the first place. She'd probably have thanked him for it.

Well, barring the not being alive to thank him.

He stopped by to deliver a few parting words before the execution block. She still had that adorable twitch whenever he spoke to her. He knew it was self-indulgent, but he couldn't stop himself from provoking it one last time. Those lovely big eyes . . . such a shame they were losing her.

But then he saw Hitsugaya sneaking off together with Rangiku, and Hinamori following them, and, well, curiosity always had been one of his worst problems.

In retrospect --

-- no, make that in hindsight --

-- just make that while lying there face down in his own blood. He should have known Aizen wouldn't die that easily. He should have guessed that Aizen never had told the full truth about his shikai and bankai. And he should have watched his own back more carefully.

Of course Hitsugaya had been working with Aizen. The kid was a good learner. Aizen was a good teacher.

He kinda felt they deserved each other.

He could see Hinamori's face from where he was lying. Now that was just plain wasteful.

Probably if Unohana was working on her first, then she figured that Gin was going to live.

If he had anything to say in the matter, Aizen wasn't.

He'd made it to the Dual Terminus just in time to see the big ascension. Everyone had turned up. This was way more popular than executing Kuchiki Rukia.

Aizen -- for just a moment, he thought my captain and then wiped it from his mind for good, in a flash of venom and a slither of bitterness -- floated in the growing light, looking down on them. Tousen and Hitsugaya were beside him. He would have said something witty, but for once his mind was empty of everything except anger, and all he could do was smile.

And then . . .

As Aizen took his glasses off, Hitsugaya drew his sword and rammed it through Aizen's back in one smooth movement, bringing it up to twist it inside his chest, holding it there while Aizen coughed blood, astonished, disbelieving, and slowly sank forward into the air, hanging there like a broken puppet, his blood falling in slow drops of rain.

Gin's smile grew. Amid the shouting, the screaming, the shock, his grin grew wider and wider, as the two living and the one dead rose into darkness.

Only room for one person to stand above the sky, huh?

You oughta be more careful what you teach people, Captain Aizen. Sometimes they learn more than you think.