Author's Note: This story is set between Chapters 11 and 12 of "First Contact" as well as the corresponding chapters of "Touched". Featuring Aizen Sousuke and Ichimaru Gin, with cameos from a personal favorite.

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Damage

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Aizen held Gin down as the younger man fought and struggled. The dark-haired man ignored the droplets of intense cold that scattered from the man's naked back, ignored the pearls that bit into his skin, leaving little frost-white marks etched into Aizen's skin.

His eyes never left Gin's back. The kido-based formula had lost much of its potency, but Gin was screaming as the solution seared its freezing way into his muscles, his nerves, his bones. Already raw from an earlier lashing, Gin now experienced the equivalent of a vat of concentrated acid on his exposed wounds. White smoke plumed and wafted with every desperate flail.

His shrieks weakened, then faded to sobbing, then to nothing but shallow breaths.

In. Out. In. Out.

Throughout it all Aizen held him down, his eyes strangely lit with an inner inferno of fury, jealousy, fierce sorrow and pleasure. The open wounds now resembled icing sugar dusted over strawberry jam.

When finally the air cleared, Aizen let go. His breathing was labored. "You've learned your lesson, I hope."

There was no reply. A flicker of doubt flashed across his handsome features. He assisted Gin to a sitting position. The youth was still breathing, the livid red scar over his heart moving ever so slightly.

"Gin?" Aizen shook the young man. Gin merely gazed blankly, his mouth slack, the tears damp on his cheeks.

Aizen was suddenly still. With his left hand steadying Gin, his right hand reached for Gin's cheek.

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He didn't even bother to wash the sheets. He tore them off his bed, and tossed them into the backyard.

With a short utterance Aizen set the bloodied sheets ablaze.

Then he headed back in so he could begin laving warm water over Gin's mutilated back.

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Aizen had dark circles under his eyes the next day. He camouflaged them with a glamor, but Mizuki and Tousen detected his low energy levels. He shrugged it off, attributing it to a restless night. relying on his lieutenant and his other seated officers, Aizen dozed sporadically in his office.

Come to think of it, it was Matsumoto's first day as an intern.

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Gin was unconscious. Aizen was glad for that small mercy; there was no way he could work on him otherwise.

Perhaps a good word to describe the state his bare back was in would be "flayed".

Looking over his handiwork, Aizen realized he was experiencing an odd sensation. It was not pleasure in work done well; it was not satisfaction at having broken the boundaries; it was not happiness in seeing the power of his kido-reishi solution discovery.

Aizen realized he felt self-loathing, for the first time in his very long existence.

He had healed the reiatsu burns first, and was now maintaining a healing seal over Gin's back. It was slow going: the intense cold of his solution had killed the cells. He now had to regenerate them.

One reason why Aizen never underestimated Unohana was the understanding that the woman was exceedingly capable of reiatsu control. Anyone who could wield healing spells daily the way she did and not be drained at the end of the day was a formidable foe.

Out of the blue, Gin stirred. Aizen's heart leaped. But Gin breathing hitched and he began choking, and it was all Aizen could do to keep Gin from suffocating.

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Mizuki noted how pallid Aizen was the next day, but when she recommended calling for the Fourth Division she was gently rebuffed.

Tousen Kaname was away, being prepared for captaincy. He had to familiarize himself with his new surrounds at the ninth division offices.

Matsumoto had been thin-lipped and worried-looking as well.

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The silver-haired youth was quiescent as Aizen slowly tipped his head back. Gently he dabbed the youth's chin and cheeks with lather, then proceeded to shave the stubble from Gin's face.

Up, rinse. Up, rinse. Up, rinse. The ice-slick razor glided along the apple-blossom pale skin, and soon Aizen was cleaning away the few dabs of lather with a damp towel.

Then he stood and carried Gin to the chaise lounge. A bowl of soup was already cooling on the small table nearby. With a soft sigh the captain tucked a blanket around the young shinigami, and began to feed him. At least Gin accepted everything put in his mouth, swallowed everything down without fuss. Aizen wiped a small drop on Gin's lower lip, wishing that Gin would nip his fingers and dazzle with that wicked smile.

But his lovely grin was absent, and there was no sparkle in his hidden gaze.

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He opened his private file of notes. Some were related to hollow abilities and his own research on vasto lordes. One notebook detailed his experiments back as a student in the Academy. There was a small notepad for his observations regarding his twelfth seat Kai Mizuki, with a section dedicated to her growing prowess with her zanpakuto. And then there was a single folded envelope, with a strand of silver hair.

Aizen selected his notebook, trying to locate any formula or kido spell that accelerated healing. He found something that might work, and began writing in his precise, tiny handwriting.

His hands shook.

With an abrupt roar of frustration Aizen hurled his pen at the wall. He slammed his palms onto the table, trying to restrain his temper.

In the corner Gin jolted awake and whimpered. The dark-haired captain was by his side in an instant, cradling him. "It's okay, Gin. Hush...shh, shhh... it's alright, nothing's wrong. I didn't mean to wake you, I didn't mean to scare you... shhh... hush, Gin...it's alright, it's alright..." The words tumbled out in a soothing torrent.

Gin tried to draw away initially, but soon relaxed into the calming litany and the low voice. His back was still raw, although the skin was knitting itself together. Soon his head was in Aizen's lap, his silky hair falling over his face.

As his fingers stroked the fine silver strands from Gin's face Aizen felt a sharp tightening just below his heart. Nonetheless he continued to murmur softly until Gin fell asleep again, and the healing orange glow enveloped his torso once more.

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That afternoon, just before he left the office he summoned Matsumoto for a meeting. The girl did not have a clue where Gin was. Aizen told his girl to keep Matsumoto company when she wrote a note asking if she should send dinner to him.

Tousen had the temerity to doubt Aizen's decision.

One day Aizen would kill him.

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As he cradled Gin's limp form, Aizen discovered where the strain of healing lay. His wrists ached.

He considered himself barely on par with Unohana, and Aizen was not someone prone to false modesty, but now he was rethinking his assessment.

He also thought fleetingly of his girl, who trained under the formidable Fourth Division captain before coming to him. Perhaps if he had had Mizuki first, there wouldn't have been room for Gin.

But she had, and he hadn't, and Gin was now irreplaceable.

Aizen redirected his reiatsu to the tears and fractures along Gin's limbs.

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The fourth day no work was done anywhere in Seireitei.

Twelfth Division captain Urahara Kisuke was arrested.

Alleged crime: treason.

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Gin smiled once, very briefly, when Aizen was bathing him.

It had been an innocent smile, full of light and joy. It lasted for two point three seconds.

Aizen spent the night watching over Gin, as the young man slept on his stomach on the thick mattress, while cold moonlight bathed them both in silver and the healing spell washed the scene with a warm golden glow.

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The fifth day Aizen was the third person to visit Urahara in his holding cell.

"You look terrible, Sousuke. You've been up all night praying for me?" Even bound into a cramped cell Urahara was irrepressible.

"You wish." Aizen flashed a small smile, which faded almost immediately. "What have you done, Kisuke?"

"Oh, this and that, you know how it is." Though his tone was flippant, there was a weary guardedness underlying his words. Urahara played everything close to the chest.

The two ex-roommates gave each other the once-over. Aizen broke eye contact with a bitter smile. "I hate you," he said.

"Why?" the blond captain – ex-captain – asked.

Aizen sat down, leaning against the bars. "You're the only one I come in second to in the academy. It annoys me you won't be here to witness when I finally beat you."

"I'm a genius only in strange inventions, Sousuke. I'm still lagging behind you in the other areas."

They sat in contemplative silence. Then Aizen spoke again. "She's going with you?"

"Yeah," chuckled Urahara. "Tried dissuading her, got a punch to my gut and a knee in my balls."

The Fifth Division captain got out of his seat. "You take care, now."

"You too."

"You'll be allowed back. I guarantee it."

"How? You'll marry Mizuki and her great-granduncle cedes the soutaichou place to you?"

Aizen raised a brow. "That's one possibility."

They exchanged one last, lingering look, before Aizen Sousuke shut the door on his old friend and ex-lover.

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Gin's back was almost smooth now, the scars faded. But his muscles and nerves were still a tangled mess beneath the surface.

Aizen knew the best way to deal with the damage was an extended period of non-stop healing. Since the next two days were holidays, Aizen had the supplies he needed prepared nearby.

In the middle of the binding square Gin was floating. Orange and blue reiatsu flickered in a box surrounding his lean frame.

Aizen took a deep breath, held, and exhaled. He repeated the process twice before seating himself at the side of the binding square.

He would bring Gin back, regardless of the cost. And he would never, ever let him go again.

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