There is no earthly reason to not be happy.
Ironically, it was staring Shinji in the face.
After everything they've gone through, Soul Society tried to make amends. The word - tried - is one that he stressed over. Hiyori had accused him before of being nit-picky, among others of laziness, worthlessness and just plain a pain-in-the-behind.
He agreed with all the above.
Except, she forgot to mention, perhaps the most damaging quality or lack thereof - he wasn't sure anymore, of untrusting. He trusts Hinamori, he does. Shinji can't deny it isn't hard not to laugh when she asked quietly - who he was - before the re-induction ceremony.
No one - he thought.
But, grinned too widely and clapped his new Fukutaichou on the back, a slight scowl flickering in his light brown eyes at the slender willow-twig she was, like a hollowed out shell, and kept the snideness from his voice.
"I'm the Taichou of Fifth, Hinamori-san."
He doesn't add - new, 'cause that seemed gauche.
Of course not all endings are happy.
There would always be something - somewhere left behind - the others don't ask, they were all too busy settling into routines they had left over a hundred years ago. Shinji wished he could, settle that is - for second best. It feels like it's second best.
He told himself it wasn't.
Hinamori's quiet, soft-voiced and picks up the slack when he drifts into his musings. She doesn't question when he brings in an ancient Gramophone - to Hell with digital music, only the old have style. It's a quip he thinks of when the first velvety vocal-less strains flood the Fifth Division office.
She asks what it was when it was over.
He answered, tossing the name off with old familiarity, its one he's heard a thousand times.
Hinamori cracks a shy smile, hiding behind more paperwork. "Oh. It's lovely, sir."
He thinks - 'cause she wouldn't understand it if he spoke it aloud; you're supposed to say you don't understand it. That ghost hangs between them. Shinji twirls a calligrapher's brush between long thin fingers. He wonders if the living can be ghosts...
The sentence pleased everyone - Shinji acted like it did. Part of him hated the man with every fiber of his being, for twisting every kind deed to something malevolent, hideous. But that was all Aizen Sosuke ever was.
Shinji breathed in the clean-smelling air of righteous Soul Society, and let the words sink in.
No less than 20,000 years - the deepest Prison - Avici.
Avici, the worst of the Dharmic Hells.
It's a fitting name for a traitor's confinement.
...110 years ago...
Hiyori often yells at him to cut his hair - one time even called him a skank-lookalike for it. Shinji ignores her like usual and dodges her quick kicks and punches, tossing her to Love to handle. When the yelling gets to be too much, he leaves the squabbling pair, tosses off a few greetings to Shinigami he knows and picks a spot away from the main focus of the flowering trees.
He's content there - as ever, until cold drips splotch his forehead.
His eyes shot open, a yell flying to his lips, "damn you, Hiyor-" but a bemused looking brown-haired man peered at him from under the tree's overhanging branches.
"Oh." He's no less tense. But hides it. One forever has to hide things from Aizen Sosuke. "It's you, Sosuke." A brief glower, accompanying the suspicion of the drink proffered him. "Thought you were gonna stay behind- get some work done..."
That bemused look fades to a vaguer smile. "No, everything's done, Taichou." And without even asking if the space is reserved, folds every inch of a muscular body down - the robes hide it, beside Shinji. He can't help it- he tenses for another reason. He just tells himself it's cautionary reaction.
"You'd better not be skivvin' out on me, Sosuke."
"I wouldn't dream of it, Hirako-Taichou." The man replies placidly as always.
Though it's still boring as Hell, Shinji somehow finds watching the pink blossoms more appealing with the quiet company.
There's never fault with the work Sosuke does. Shinji finds it irritating, wanting to find flaw, fault in the spotless man. Something other than his image staring back him - reflected in too obscure brown eyes.
"Redo it." He orders snidely, brow creased. Sosuke stood not too close, not too far, hands behind his back, an almost eager-to-please expression on his handsome face.
The papers slam down to the polished surface, rustle then flutter away like large paper birds from Shinji's thin fingers, he glowered at the man. "Redo it." In a dangerous hiss. For once he was glad to see Sosuke's expression change - flicker - like a mirror distorts clarity, then it was gone back to impassive blankness.
"As you wish." Calm compliance.
Absurdly, Shinji wants him to complain; whine like all the rest do when faced with irrational-seeming commands, but nothing. Just the trace of veiled amusement as Sosuke passed close- closer behind Shinji.
He feels as though he's been burnt with the fleeting pressure.
Though he doesn't know - exactly - when the change took place, he has his suspicions.
The last time Aizen Sosuke truly stood beside him, was on a walk to correct trainees - of all things - on the Company policy not to be releasing level 3 Hado spells in the corridors. The smoke could be seen for miles around Seireitei. Shinji had a headache at the time from a drinking bout with Kensei the night before - and - did not look forward to the teasing from the rest of the Gotei once word spread.
Those were his thoughts with each step, each swish of his long flowing blond locks.
They ended abruptly like with the tossing of a breeze, the swish halted - paused, Shinji's blood itself seemed to freeze for a second of unalterable eternity.
There was always a distance between them.
But, Sosuke had closed it.
There were fingers curled around a lock of his hair, clasping the strands carefully, gently, like they were made of glass.
In the action of setting one sandal over the other, he felt his breath shorten.
He wasn't stupid.
"What're you going to do, Sosuke?" He returned a heartbeat later when the fingers remained lightly meshed in the ends of his hair. They both had paused beneath the portico, shielded- sheltered from the judging eyes of the world. Shinji leered to the rest of the empty, echoing passageway. "Stab me in the back?"
It's a sentiment eerily reminiscent of the future - he never forgets it.
Nor does he forget, Sosuke's tone. "Why no, Hirako-taichou."
For the briefest of seconds, he tenses more than before like every nerve ending is set aflame with the sound of the cool male voice of his Fukutaichou. And Shinji wishes - damned wished - Sosuke would curl both hands in his locks, be the one to initiate more contact.
But of course it's a foolish wish.
A light sigh lifts the breast of the other.
Shinji chose to break the proverbial ice. "Let's carry on then."
Just for another heart-stopping second, interminable stretch, he did pause - wait for the man to issue that contact. Shinji's nit-picky like Hiyori says. He's reversed - from his sword - to his emotions. Sosuke's always been such a great discerner for learning everything when he really shouldn't - Shinji believes the man understands this much.
But despite it all, the fingers let go.
The breeze lifts the warmed ends of Shinji's mane, warm from a touch that had lingered far too long for platonic notion.
"It is...belief you are lacking, Hirako-Taichou." Sosuke lightly chastises and for a moment, he reads disappointment in the perfect reflection of himself in those too clear brown eyes.
Later on when the lines blur.
When the scent of ink and tea unique to the man, fades at last from Shinji's memory.
When the man sneers at him - them - the world, for being fools caught up in illusion -
He finds himself hating Aizen.
Not the obvious enemy, but the mirage...he wanted to believe in.
Years later, the feeling was still there.
"Hirako-Taichou?" The small girl prods tentatively.
It takes him forever to drag his gaze to the solemn girl with hollow dark circles more like bruises beneath her doe-like eyes. If Shinji slitted his narrow eyes enough, he could see a lens over the scene - a tall, broad shouldered man with an easy smile and comment about tea of all things.
The ghost faded.
"Yeah?" he drawls, 'cause really the girl was too timid.
"Your record ended." Hinamori states, fidgeting her small hands. "Do you want me to replay it?"
He tilts an eyebrow at her. "Y-yeah." Less certain. "Just the first one."
Hinamori shuffles off silent as a fleeting ghost and Shinji still can't shake the evanescent scent of tea and ink that accompanies the first strains of the song.
"...I don't mean to pry, but what was that music that was playing just now?"
"Pretty sweet, huh? They call it Jazz, it's the new big thing in the world of the living."
"I..don't understand it."
"That's 'cause you're not meant to, idiot!"
It's almost like...happiness.
But not quite.
Disclaimer: don't own Bleach.
AN: The title translated: Who knows Happiness- I think. My brain is sleepy right now D:
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