Bleach is owned by Tite Kubo, meaning it does not belong to me. I am in no way, shape, and/or form claiming to be the owner/creator of these concepts, though I do claim any characters not apart of the original Bleach storyline (such as Anzu) mine. As such, I would appreciate fellow authors and readers to give credit where credit is due and not steal any of my characters and/or concepts. Thank you, and have a pleasant day.

This fic is an answer to a request from KaiH, who I would like to apologize to for this being so late. ^.^' Sowwy... Hope you like it~!


Grins aren't supposed to naturally be that big.

They just ain't.

That's what I kept telling myself over and over as I watched the blonde man in the freshly pressed dress shirt/tie/flashy dress pants combo leaf around in the freezer, digging out eight instant meal packets.

It was the same thought I'd been having over and over, ever since I first started working at my dad's store five years ago…

Five years…

And this guy's goddamned grin never faltered.

Damn it, grins aren't supposed to be that big!

He must be faking it… They must be falsies from that joke shop down the street.

But they couldn't be… Not even high-end joke shops sold veneers of that quality, and the shop down the street definitely wasn't high-end.

Did he buy them from a dentist? But… what dentist would sell obscenely large teeth…?

"You guys got a microwave here?" The man asked with his usual supposed-to-be-'endearing'-holy-fuck-he's-got-a-freaky-smile grin.

I smiled back, forcing the courtesy my father had spent the first six weeks of my training pounding into me and I had long since honed, "You know we do, Mr. Hirako. Right in the back." I pointed to the public-use microwave.

Not that he had a bad smile… Even if it was forced (and, trust me, after working in an convenience store for five years, I know forced politeness when I see it) he still managed to muster a bit of sincerity, kind of like a 'my life sucks but it's not this persons fault so I'll let them off the hook' thing.

"Well, thanks Miss…" His grin changed to a smirk as he looked down at my nametag, clearly taking advantage of the location of the slip of plastic-on-a-safety pin to get a good look at my chest, "Kimura."

I twitched, unable to keep my smile from sharpening and my eyes from narrowing slightly, "You don't remember my name after five years, Mr. Hirako? I'm hurt." No way in hell could he have forgotten it. 'Kimura', my surname, was also the name of the convenience store. Pervert.

He caught what I was saying, which was "tear your eyes away from my boobs". I could tell he did. His smirk widened and he met my eyes with his, which were just radiating amusement.

"Oh, I'm sorry Miss Kimura, it looks like I've offended ya…" He stepped back, rubbing the back of his head sheepishly, "Sorry, sorry, it's just you've grown so much…" Lecher.

I twitched, no longer hiding the fact that he was pissing me off, "And you haven't changed a bit." What happened next made me balk.

He pinned me with a flat, unreadable stare, though if you looked carefully you could see the gears turning in the back of his head. Something I had said or done was making him think…

And the change had come so abruptly; that was what had thrown me off.

For as long as Hirako had been shopping here, he'd always had the carefree and smiling look on his face, and even if it was forced I'd rarely seen it change.

And never had it changed in my direction.

But now it had.

Fuck.

Had to recover.

"Will that be all, Mr. Hirako?" I said with yet another forced smile, though this one was me trying to hide my own wince at the fact that I'd fucked up with a customer and stepped over the line with a fellow human.

Goddamn me and my hair-trigger anger…

"…Nope." Hirako put on his usual grin ("Fuck! That just is not a normal grin!!") and pointed to something behind me, "Drinks? Just some juices if ya don't mind; doesn't matter what kind. Same number as always."

I nodded, turning and opening the glass-front fridge behind me and grabbed eight bottles of juice, making sure to make one larger than the others for the big guy… Hachi, I think his name was.

"It's Kuna's turn next, right?" I asked offhandedly as I started to ring up the drinks. When I didn't get an answer, I looked up. And, once again, I balked.

Hirako was now frowning at me. Unless he was talking to a pissed-off Hiyori (who, fortunately, I knew the name of only because he frequently screamed it when she threw her shoes at him. she'd never come in, and if she had I would have had to force my father to take out another insurance policy on the store), Hirako almost never frowned.

Damn, I am just on a roll today for making this guy pissed/uncomfortable…

"Kuna?" He turned away from the running microwave, facing me and tilting his head, "What makes ya say that?"

I shrugged, "You all are creatures of habit. Starting with you, it's usually you and Hiyori, though sometimes, like today, she doesn't come, then it's Kuna and Hachi, then Mr. Otoribashi and Love, though usually they come separately and in that order, and the—"

"Jeez, Miss Kimura, if I didn't know any better, I'd say ya stalked us…"

"As if." I scoffed, rolling my eyes, "You all have been coming here for quite a while, remember? And because you all tend to come so obscenely late at night sometimes, I can't help but notice."

"Hm… So, you're just observant." Hirako smirked.

I sighed, "When people come in as often as you all do, it can't be helped." I paused, then stared at him flatly when the microwave went off, "Can you actually pay for that this time, or am I going to have to wait for Muguruma to come around to pick up the 'tab'?"

Shinji grinned, spinning on his heel and switching out meals, "Tab, please!"

I sighed, glancing at the clock. Almost closing time… "You know we don't do tabs… Eventually you're gonna come in a night my dad is manning the register and you'll actually have to pay."

"When it comes to that…" He glanced back, waving a wallet in front of his grinning face, "Then I'll pay."

Twitching, I stared at the wallet. That son of a… "If you can pay, then why do you keep putting it on a 'tab'?! You know this store doesn't offer credit!"

"Ah-ah-ah, don't usually offer credit." Shinji corrected, finishing with the microwave and gathering all of the meals, sauntering over to the counter with a large measure of cockiness in his grin and gait. "But ya always have with us, Miss Kimura. Or… should I say…" He leaned forward on the counter, coming uncomfortably close to my face, "Always have with me."

I twitched again, leaning back and glaring down at him, "What, did you ask the others if I've been allowing them tabs or not? Heh, and you said I was stalking…"

"Not stalkin'." He snorted, a smirk playing on his lips, "Just… can't help but notice."

"…Hirako, just take your shit and go…"

He stared up at me for a moment longer, face taking on that calculating look again, then shrugged and laughed shortly, drawing back and standing straight. "Alright, alright, Miss Kimura, no need to get yer panties in a bunch."

Rolling my eyes, I bagged his 'purchases' and handed them over, grabbing the keys as he picked the bag up and following him to the door.

He was just about to walk off into the night and out of the store's arc of light when a thought struck me.

"Hey… Mr. Hirako…"

He paused, glancing back with a blank face.

I stared at him for a moment, frowning, before asking, "Just why is it you haven't aged in five years?" Seriously, he looked to be in his late teens… he always had.

Why…

He immediately grinned, "But I have, Miss Kimura! I'm just lucky to have such'a youthful genetic makeup."

This called for a flat glare. "That's a load of shit."

"…Maybe." His grin changed slightly, charged with an unidentifiable emotion, then he faced forward and walked off, waving back, "See you in about a week or so, Miss Kimura!"

"…" I sighed, "Later…"

Grins aren't supposed to be that big…


"Shinjiiiiiiii…"

He winced before the sandal even made contact with his face, going limp slightly to minimize the damage as the shoe met his cheek and sent him flying just after the bags of food were plucked from his hands.

"You're late, you shithead!" Hiyori screeched, brandishing her sandal in one hand and the bags of food in the other, glaring at Shinji as he pulled himself out of the rubble. "What the fuck took ya?!"

"Kimura's gettin' suspicious."

Hiyori froze, as did several other bodies in the room.

"…That old man?" Hiyori scoffed after a moment, rolling her eyes, "Like hel—"

"The girl."

Again, Hiyori froze.

"…What did she say?" Kensei asked, looking up from taping his hands and frowning.

Shinji paused, then shrugged, rubbing the back of his head, "Nothin' much. She just knows our shopping routines and who usually goes with whom…"

Hiyori rolled her eyes, turning and walking further into the room. "Feh. Who the fuck cares if she knows that small shi—"

"She's also noticed that I haven't aged."

Silence.

"…These gigais…" Shinji looked down at his hand, flexing, "He designed them well, but… they don't age. And someone's noticed." He paused, then looked up, "We may have to do a bit of… erasing."

"Really?" Love frowned, barely glancing up from his newest release of Jump, "But she's a nice girl… Kinda brash, but nice enough."

"Yeah…" Shinji sighed, "But she's a risk we can't afford."


After locking the front door and turning off the overhead lights, I sighed and locked the register, heading for the door behind the counter.

"Hey, Dad, I'm home." I called, shutting the door behind me and locking it.

"Dinner's in the oven, hon!" He called back, muting the TV, "How was business?"

"…No worse than usual!"

In my room I sat down at my desk and set the TV dinner aside, sighing and looking down at my homework.

"…Screw it." Who did the homework teachers assigned over break, anyway?

I shoved the books and papers into my messenger bag, grabbing the TV dinner and flopping down onto my bed.

Overhead, the ceiling fan spun slowly, lazily.

The meatloaf, as always, tasted like shit, and the corn was still partly frozen… I mixed the mashed potatoes in with the meat, chopped it all up, and started downing it.

Hirako and the others… there were eight of them. Every now and then I would catch glimpses of them around town, always mingling with only themselves, always dressed in almost the same clothes, never acknowledging anyone else around them if they could help it…

To anyone who observed them with passing interest, a group of close-knit friends.

To me?

…Nothing. Just a subject of mystery that I didn't really care to dwell on; I didn't like things I couldn't understand.

Unfortunately, it was the fact that I couldn't understand them that kept drawing me back.

Hirako… Five years ago when I'd first met him, he'd seemed so… amazing.

Tall.

Grown up, but funny.

Mom had told me not to stare, but he hadn't cared. He'd been… nice.

Now… Now he and I almost looked to be the same age. I'd grown up, but he'd stayed the same. Just what in the hell was up with that…?

He may be able to brush it off with 'youthful genetics', but what about Kuna? Or even Hiyori? She and I had appeared to be roughly the same age back then, but now I undoubtedly looked older than her.

Stunted growth? Maybe.

But stunted growth among all eight of them? Highly unlikely.

When I ran out of meatloaf/mashed potato hash to eat, I frowned, setting the tray aside and standing to go about my normal nightly routine; shower, teeth, bed.

Monotony… And those eight had become part of it. And enigmatic addition to the monotony, but an addition nonetheless.

Part of my monotony. Part of my treasured monotony.

A part I didn't understand… And I didn't like things I didn't understand. So, with it being part of my monotony, I suppose I had to find out the truth…

"…Feh." Screw that. After five years and the tab Shinji still had, the bastard owed me an explanation.

And I was going to get one out of him…

The next time he comes to the store.

I turned the light off, then laid down and rolled over, closing my eyes. I really need to stop being deep before I go to bed… It makes me tired.

And no the good tired, either. No, that damned 'I'm so tired I can't sleep' tired.

Goddamn it…

And go figure that just as I was about to go to sleep that I would be jerked back awake by a loud, monstrous screech from outside.