tapping the vein

It was easy enough to find the right words as she came trailing in behind him, her zanpakutou still naked in her hand.

"Don't worry, Hinamori-kun," he said reassuringly. "You'll do better next time."

She mumbled something and bit her lip, cheeks scarlet with shame.

"I blame myself, really." He kept the tone light, but allowed just a fraction of doubt to creep into his eyes. "It was very soon to take you out on a mission like that against such dangerous Hollows. I have the utmost confidence in you, of course . . ."

"I'm so sorry, Aizen-taichou," she murmured, eyes on the ground. "So very sorry."

"Don't worry," he said again, and let his hand fall on her shoulder, giving her a comforting pat. "It's not as if we can all be as brilliant as Shiba Kaien, after all. You're doing very well for someone who's just out of the Academy."

He saw the words just out of the Academy sink in, and her head drooped further.

"I won't disappoint you again," she whispered.

"Of course you won't," he said reassuringly. "Let me make you some tea, Hinamori-kun. We'll go over the encounter together, step by step, and we'll discuss what you should have done at each step. It'll help you work through it logically and you'll have a better idea how to handle things if -- ah, when you next have a mission like this."

If he had been able to see her eyes, he was sure the misery in them would have been utter and boundless.

"I believe in you, Hinamori-kun," he added. "You won't fail again, will you?"

Her head came up at that. "Of course not, Aizen-taichou!" She was struggling to hold back tears of self-disgust. "I'm so sorry --"

He smiled at her. "It's not your fault, Hinamori-kun."

And he knew that she heard it: your fault, your fault, your fault.