A/N: Not exactly chronological, but we'll just pretend that Yama-ji's brain is a little mixed up. The guy's got thousands of years of history behind him, so I kept the early years purposefully vague, because there's probably a whole other story that could be written there. I really don't know what would make you think I own Bleach so read on and enjoy.
Contrary to popular belief, Genryuusai Yamamoto died young
When he slammed into the hell that would eventually rearrange itself into Soul Society, he hung onto something a lot of dead people tend to lose: he blinked a day away before he got up, watched the lines of shacks walled out of paradise, and decided things needed to change.
3. Paradise Lost
Now that he's inside those walls, Yamamoto knows that Seireitei is anything but.
4. Daylight Robbery
All the white towers and government buildings shadow curbed ideals and broken promises. So when Yoruichi and Urahara turn their backs on Soul Society, he lets them. He even puts it on the record as exile to make things easier. On lazy afternoons, he often fancies dropping by their shop in the human world to casually mention the steady stream of shinigami merchandise smuggled into their general vicinity.
5. Loose Ends
Consequently, he's extremely proud of how unexpectedly well Soi Fong has run her division in the wake of her former captain's sudden absence. He could say the same for Mayuri, but the occasional shrieks that tear through his sleep tell him otherwise.
Yamamoto has had many enemies, friends, and lovers throughout his current existence. He now regards them with a feeling somewhere between distant fondness and regret. His understanding of reincarnation tells him that he hasn't seen any of them again because they've been doomed to an endless loop of meaningless lives and premature demises. But sometimes, he likes to think their souls shattered into billions of pieces when they died. That way, he can explain why he glimpses each of them in every person that stumbles across his field of vision.
7. Ageless Beauty
Of course there was a girl. She's still standing along the horizon of his mind, all vivid and alive, thin as a wisp with a sword to match, and long gone in a second. As she slipped by his lifetime, he called her mad out of her mind while she stopped long enough to turn and deem him a coward. Looking back, he thinks she fell back into living the way she dreamt of dying: clenching her fist at a failed rebellion and grinning brightly at the moon. After all is said and done, he buries more than just her body.
8. Dorian Gray
A few thousand years pass and he builds a school. When people ask him why, he tells them that today's children brim promises and futures, spilling out tomorrow with a wave of their fingers. Why not teach them a thing or two from the past? In reality, he's just trying to convince himself that his mistakes had left him lessons worth learning.
9. Take Five
Shinsui and Ukitake are his favorite pupils because they remind him of two things he knows too well: wasted opportunities and stolen potential. For their part, the two treat him like they would any grandfather who could tell life stories and crush the air out of people in a single, unbroken movement.
10. Ending Start
Soon, he finds himself unrightfully saddled with the blame of his student's accomplishments and promoted up and up until he's gazing down from the highest place any denizen of Soul Society sans royal lineage can ever hope to reach. His revolutions take the form of subtle, glacial shifts. The Rukongai organizes into districts with varying forms of accountability, the framework of the future Gotei 13 lays itself out and grows, and Yamamoto builds up the nerve to hope again.
11. When the Plane Touched Down
He's still familiar enough with death to maintain a detached sort of friendliness with the slew of captains and vice-captains he goes through over the years. Most of them, anyway.
12. Hats of Magic
Why thirteen? Yamamoto shrugs and says he likes prime numbers. And if he possesses more than a passing awareness of the value behind superstitions and myths, he never lets on to it. Besides, the living numbered the steps between life and death long before the dead could even think to check. At least, so said a young pharaoh who died the way all old men do. For the moment, he nods at the figure thirteen and leaves others to search out its significance.
13. Mistakes We Knew We Were Making
The first time he sees Komamura Sajn, he stares; later on, this becomes one of the many reasons he is the first to admit the fact that he is painfully, hopelessly human. But he could think of nothing else when faced with a creature twice his height with the equivalent of a bucket on its head. The first few insights Yamamoto passes on to the man who he will eventually identify as his student seem like apologies—quiet and restrained. Then Komamura shows that he has raw talent seeping out from every pore in his body and everything else falls into place. Nowadays, when Komamura goes on tangents about the importance of second chances, Yamamoto shakes his head: even if he hadn't been there, he knows that Komamura would've shone on regardless.
14. Shoot the Moon
Kuchiki Byakuya is another story altogether. If the aristocrat has ever exchanged more than a few words with him on any occasion, Yamamoto surely must have missed them. Byakuya wraps himself in a fierce independence—one of the reasons the general of the Gotei 13 is the least surprised when the head of the Kuchiki household takes a commoner for a wife. Yamamoto sometimes entertains the idea that had his humor been drier and his upbringing more refined, he and Byakuya could have shared a striking resemblance. So when Kuchiki Hisana passes away, he sends the captain of the sixth division poppy flowers, knowing that the widower will grasp their meaning.
15. Celebration Guns
A part of him dies as he orders the Shinigami-Quincy Wars. The idea takes shape during a captain's meeting regarding the failure of repeated negotiations and compromises with a race that claims the divine as its only judge. There are immediate objections. Unohana Retsu points out that it would mean genocide for the Quincy, given Soul Society's laughably superior numbers, Ukitake comes his closest to angry when he half-yells that shinigami function first and foremost as protectors of the living, and Aizen Sousuke stretches his lips into another sad smile and muses that it would certainly cast the term "death god" in an entirely new light. Then Kaname Tosen quietly notes the consequences of an uneven distribution of souls between the two worlds. The room falls silent, and they send off the tentative plan to the Central 46 chambers because thousands of people simply don't measure up to justice. Yamamoto tries not to see the irony in the fact that Tosen is blind.
16. Deus ex Machina
Yamamoto wonders, sometimes, if things would have changed had he joined the minority of captains pushing for more time, chasing after the unsaid chance at an alternative. His rationality tells him the answer is no, but the corpse in the far corners of his mind likes to think it would have made all the difference.
17. Child's Play
On the day he ordains Toushirou Hitsugaya captain, he gives the boy a grin and tries to resurrect some ghost of shame at the fact that neither he nor anyone else in Soul Society feels the worse for another child soldier.
18. Write What You Know
He lines out odd parallels between his shinigami when he finds his eyelids sliding shut during the unending barrage of conferences, appointments, and paperwork cluttering his few hours of free time. On one late night, he observes that Matsumoto and Byakuya might exchange valuable advice should they ever pause long enough to notice their similar situations. In the same moment, he decides he would hardly recommend the same for Mayuri and Kenpachi, only because he feels Nemu and Yachiru are sufficiently messed up as is.
19. Elephant in the Corner
Yamamoto also counts himself as one of the few members of the Gotei 13 not creeped out by Ichimaru Gin's presence. This is purely because whenever the two stood in proximity to one another, Yamamoto was too preoccupied attempting to discern whether the captain of the third division squinted his eyes or simply walked around with them closed to bother with how profoundly strange the man was.
Though he would never admit it to either of them for fear of extreme torture (Nanao) and accusations of "Yama-ji's gone soft" (Shinsui), the appointment of Nanao to the eighth division vice captain was a deliberate choice on his part. Of course, the judgment had been made on pure intuition after a long time staring at a picture of Nanao, so he can't claim full credit for how brilliantly the two complement one another.
His own relationship with his vice-captain retains a professionalism weathered down by familiarity. The two often frequent bathhouses and pull of eerily convincing impersonations of grouchy old men as is necessary, but when pushed, Sasakibe Choutarou can only say about as much on Genryuusai Yamamoto as everyone else.
22. Life Effect
Of all the scars puncturing his body, only seven came from injuries that threatened to kill him, and only three of these have causes known by any other present shinigami. His vice-captain laughs when he relates that one involved a comment to Unohana on what the general considered sloppy stitch work on a gash lacing down the side of his skull. Yamamoto fingers the now cross-shaped scar and jokes that she hadn't really aimed to kill. Right?
23. Resurrection Man
When the order comes from the Central 46 Chambers to execute Kuchiki Rukia, Yamamoto does not question it at all, even when Ukitake privately mentions its bizarre reasoning. It's just another girl to sacrifice. He has enough blood on his hands not to care.
24. What I'm Trying to Say
Instead, he asks Ukitake about his illness and what he thinks about dying. The juxtaposition of the two questions is cruel, he knows (he can tell by the way Ukitake freezes, a winter white standstill, unreadable thoughts flittering behinds wide eyes), but Ukitake's no child and Yamamoto's feeling his age for once.
26. The Very Thing
So when Ukitake and Shinsui release their swords and start yelling beliefs he vaguely recognizes from another time, he knows he has everything to do with it. If he doesn't hold back, it's only because he can't deny the pale reflections of his former self looking him straight in the eye.
27. Soft Revolution
Then Aizen ascends up into oblivion like a god after the apocalypse. Yamamoto glances over the line of children below him whose eyes are anywhere but the sky and absorbs all that's changed. Abarai Renji slumps over with a smirk towards the Ryoka, Rukia takes Byakuya's hand in her own, and the harsh line of Soi Fong's lips melt into a smile as she and Yoruichi help move the wounded.
28. Inside and Out
He makes a mental note to personally apologize to the frowning Quincy boy darting between the medics, supplies in hand, nodding at their instructions.
29. Missed the Sun
In hindsight, he can pick apart all of Aizen's lies, every sleight of hand, all the water moons and mirrored flowers. But the fact remains that he, like everyone else, had piled all their dreams onto a system that could never come close to perfection from the start. It was the one truth Aizen used to his advantage.
30. This Charming Man
He has and always will assume that beautiful women have screwed up tastes. He uses it to explain the why Rangiku's eyes glaze over when Gin's name enters a conversation, why Hinamori still hasn't been put off medical leave, and why Unohana has failed to carry out a prolonged relationship with anyone, period.
31. Generation Gap
Does he hate Kurosaki Ichigo? No. The boy's got a maniac for a father, two lunatics for teachers, and friends who take eccentric to an entirely different dimension. Instead, Yamamoto silently thanks Ichigo for reminding him of the purpose behind romantics and rebels and marvels at how normal the kid behaves.
32. Look Up
As the world falls apart, he accepts that it all could have been so much better. But then, he claps himself on the back and allows that it could have been much worse. He lets himself wander into the Rukongai, drifting past some children playing in one of the many cemeteries edging the various districts like fences, and bows his head to the past. He inhales a whiff of sentimentality and supposes that the future is in good hands. Then he recalls that he's far from dead and sighs at the spires of work left to be done.
33. He Lied About Death
Yamamoto would like to believe that he died on a variation of a theme, the way any teenaged idiot dreams of meeting the afterlife—fighting for something he believed in, slitting the air with his sword, and cursing the sun. In light of this, he appreciates old age for two things: hazy memories and the shell of a man who doesn't give a damn either way.