Shinji's promotion to captain hadn't been an extraordinary thing. At least, not to him. His former superior had gone out with a bang, for sure, so perhaps anything happening in the aftermath would have seemed kind of boring. Definitely a simple ceremony and a round of 'congratulations' didn't compare to seeing one's captain disarmed and arrested by the Special Forces.

The man had always been a little off, Shinji thought, but his values always seemed in the right place. His skills had been average for a captain-class Shinigami and he never seemed very arrogant, but nonetheless, he had challenged the Captain Commander. Everyone knew that was a foolish thing to do, and Shinji had thought his captain knew the same. It was probably sparked, he mused, by the death of his wife, who had been sent out on a simple mission and made a simple mistake that inevitably caused a drastic chain reaction. The most severe of which happened to be Shinji's captain losing the last shreds of his sanity.

But everyone knew that accusing the Captain Commander of throwing his Shinigami's lives away and having terrible foresight were not things to do. And having been around his captain during the older man's last days, Shinji had seen a decline in orderliness, rationalization, and dedication to his job. He had expected something was going to happen, soon.

Still, it was a little hard to watch and act as if he didn't care at all.

And only a day later, he was forced into testing and personality studies, to determine if he was an acceptable replacement, since the Court Guard Squads could not exist with only twelve captains. He was sure Yamamoto had a back-up, but Shinji was apparently good enough and though his bankai wasn't controlled very well, it was still there. They had complimented him on a number of things, but he hadn't really been listening well. He'd only thanked them and excused himself to return to his office.

Now, sitting in the empty room, Shinji let out a soft sigh and reached a hand up to tug his hair from its ponytail. The ceremony had been early in the morning, so there was still a full day ahead of him to get through before he could relax, but he determined that now that he was a captain, he wouldn't really need to work hard enough to keep his hair up. Even if he didn't have a lieutenant himself. That could wait until tomorrow.

He started just a little when a knock sounded on his door and he frowned a bit. He had been on pretty good terms with his division members before this and they had gotten pretty comfortable around him, even if he was a lieutenant. Would they start acting weird and fake now that he was their captain? He really hated when people did that sort of thing.

"S'open," he called out, not bothering to stand up as another captain stepped through his door. He'd rarely done so, even as a lower-ranking soldier. "Oh, Shunsui." Especially with this one.

The older captain let a smile flirt across his lips as he took in the sight. He'd always thought Shinji would make a good captain, and it seemed he was already comfortable in the position. "Shinji~" he greeted, "are you settling in well?"

How could he do anything but? He let a grin pull up the corners of his lips and waved the other in. "Of course. I was made for this kinda thing. Though, it's too bad how it happened."

Kyouraku raised an eyebrow at the indifferent tone. "You don't miss him?"

Shinji watched as the other entered the room and pulled up the vacant lieutenant's chair to take a seat on the other side of his desk. Finally, he gave a shrug. "Ain't really s'pposed to, am I? Duty before emotion, an' all that jazz."

"Mm," the other man conceded lightly. "That is the old man's policy," he shot the younger Shinigami a look, "but you've never been one to follow the rules, have you?"

"What're ya talkin' about?" Shinji asked with an indignant tone. "I always do what I should." Well, maybe not always...

"I'm only saying that you should miss him, if you want to. You worked for him for a long while, didn't you?"

"You're the last person that should be askin' me that," the new captain said. "You're old as dirt, ain't ya? I ain't even been a Shinigami long enough for ya t' consider it 'a long time'."

"I'm not that old," Kyouraku objected lightly, shifting his glance over to the empty desk off to the side, "and you've always been a bit smarter than your age. Smart enough, anyway, that I'm sure you realize you'll need a lieutenant to fill your old spot."

"I know that," Shinji grumbled, practically dreading the task. "Can't I take a day t' relax, first?"

"If you want, I'll come with you," Kyouraku offered, turning his attention back to the other man. "It can be tricky, sometimes."

Shinji considered the offer for a moment before closing his eyes. "Nah," he decided, "it's probably somethin' I should do on my own. I'm gonna have t' be the one t' deal with the guy every day."

"You've already decided against a woman?" That was craziness, in his opinion. He'd picked a male subordinate once and hated every minute of it.

"Are ya kiddin'?" Shinji asked, opening one eye to survey the other man. "With my good looks, I'd distract a girl way too much t' ever get anything done."

A problem Kyouraku convinced himself he was all too familiar with and gave a small chuckle. "Do you have anyone in mind, yet? It can be someone from another division, too, you know. I have a few good ones in my own~"

Shinji's eyes slowly slipped open to study the ceiling above. "I've been thinkin' 'bout it. There's a guy here that looks pretty promisin'. He's a little young, but 'e's helped me out a bunch when I had too much work t' do."

"Oh?" Curiosity was dripping from the older's voice. "What's his name?"

The blonde thought for a moment, then waved a hand. "Ryou somethin'-or-other. He's not a big talker."

"You don't sound very close."

Shinji's gaze snapped to the other man. "I know better than t' pick someone I'm friends with. I might not know a whole lot, but gettin' close t' your subordinates just sounds like a bad thing t' do."

Kyouraku couldn't agree more. It was a fatal flaw of his that he always picked people he connected so well with. Some insisted that closeness was necessary to be a team, but the only thing it ever did for him was get him hurt, in the end. He chuckled lightly. "See? Wise beyond your years."

"Ya'd have t' be an idiot not t' realize somethin' like that," Shinji countered with a light frown. "I guess I'll sleep on it. If I wait too long, whoever it is'll have too much work t' catch up on an' I'll have t' help out."

"God forbid," Kyouraku agreed with a solemn nod, though his smile was teasing. "Don't count out an Academy student, either. There's a class graduating soon and even if they aren't ready, yet, it's good to get your hands on the promising ones."

Shinji wouldn't admit that he'd forgotten about the ones still preparing to become full-fledged Shinigami and batted a hand. "I don't want some newbie crampin' my style, but I guess it can't hurt t' plan for the future a little."

"Let me know when you decide to go," Kyouraku said, standing from his seat, "and I'll join you. It's been a while since I've seen any new ladies around."

"See ya," Shinji called with a wave, slumping back in his seat as the other left. The more he thought about picking a new lieutenant, the less he wanted to. What if he made a bad decision? He had been accused more than once of being a picky person, so what would he do if he just couldn't find someone good enough for him? Or he did find someone, and they refused the offer? Well, he just wouldn't give them that option.

Two days passed and Shinji finally found himself looking over kido practices at the Academy with Shunsui in tow. As expected, most students were average, a few were completely retarded, and one or two seemed to excel at the given subject. He was average at best himself in kido, so Shinji was a bit more easily impressed with the students' feats. Hopefully, they were just as good at everything else.

And then a quiet figure off to the side caught his eye. He didn't seem to be a teacher, though he was most definitely not participating in the practices. Dark brown hair, intelligent eyes, and absolutely nerdy with his nose stuck in a book; something about him set Shinji on edge.

Wandering over to the isolated student, Shinji peered down at him, waiting for his presence to be known. It didn't take long, and he derived a small bit of satisfaction at the stranger's startled realization that someone important was observing him.

"My apologies," the younger man said in a smooth voice, quickly rising to his feet. He bent into a bow and, upon straightening again, placed an eager smile on his lips. "You are... Lieutenant Hirako, correct?" The blonde had been by the Academy on a few previous occasions with his captain, mostly for scouting purposes.

Shinji huffed lightly. Maybe this guy wasn't so smart, after all. He lightly plucked the white material of his jacket and held it up in an obvious indication. "S'Captain Hirako, now."

Behind thick-framed glasses, the student blinked and seemed to try and humble himself even more, now that he realized whom he was in the presence of. "I didn't realize. Please, forgive the blunder, Captain."

Shinji's eyes narrowed slightly at the subtle change in attitude and the guy's overall demeanor. Maybe he just looked smart; no one truly intelligent lowered themselves to acting like the rest of the sheep that the Academy spit out. He jerked his head toward the kido practices.

"Why ain't ya joinin' everyone else? There's only so much readin' can teach ya."

"Ah," the brunette sent a glance toward his fellow classmates- there was the condescension Shinji had been searching for- and returned with a smile, "I finished earlier. Our instructor only requires us to practice until the skill has been refined."

"So, you're cocky, after all," Shinji muttered, tilting his head to take in the students he had been eyeing up earlier as potentials. Even if they were good, they were still at it. They weren't as good as this guy."What's your name, kid?" he asked, looking back to the quiet boy.

The smile that preceded his response said that the boy already knew captains didn't ask Academy students their names unless they were interested. "Aizen Sousuke, Captain."

"Sousuke, huh?" Shinji repeated, crossing his arms lazily. Smart, talented, polite, and annoying articulate. Shinji wondered if he were quick-witted, too. "Well, it ain't no wonder you're ahead of your class. Ya look like a geek."

Aizen blinked once at the sudden insult, but retained his smile. "I imagine it would be difficult to appear as anything more while in a presence as intimidating as yours, Captain."

Shinji added 'kiss ass' to his list. This guy seemed to give off the very impression of perfection, which made Shinji all the more suspicious. He was definitely hiding something.

Shinji turned his back to the student and waved a hand. "Ya got an offer for a division once you're outta here, yet?"

Despite the other man no longer being able to see him, Aizen retained every bit of his poise. "You're the first to show an interest."

"I didn't say I was interested'," Shinji informed him, shooting a look over his shoulder.

"Are you not?" Of course he was. And if Aizen was as much of a show off as the other students, he likely would have had plenty of offers, by now. But he didn't want just anyone as a captain. He wanted someone sharp; someone that noticed the little, subtle things. He was beginning to think that, just maybe, he wanted Hirako Shinji.

"Not really," Shinji finally decided with a light scoff, "so don't get so cocky, just 'cause ya beat out a couple of kids."

There were no words of farewell and Shinji missed the pleased smile aimed at his back as he went to join Kyouraku once more. If anyone fit the description of his ideal lieutenant- talented, respectful, hard-working, and utterly unable to click with him- it would be that guy.

Ryou something-or-other would do, until Aizen was available.

I've always figured, for some reason, that Shinji had a lieutenant before Aizen. I also never thought Shinji and his captain would be very close. He's not an easy guy to crack~ I hope you enjoyed it!