It was always the smell of him that shattered the illusions. Gin should have never been able to smell his scent, not while he used Kyouka Suigetsu, but he'd spent too many years with Aizen Sousuke to get it out of his nose. There was no doubting the hallucinatory power of Aizen's zanpakutou, so Gin figured it was mostly his imagination. That is, if it could be considered his "imagination" when the illusions belonged to Aizen.

Gin didn't care to differentiate between the two. Whether a trick of a mind wrought with habit or reality slipping through Aizen's deception, the end result was the same. In the beginning he smelled of things like watercress and waterlily; of comfortably cool nights by running rivers. The subtle sweetness of it - the subtle chill - had reminded Gin of someone else; so strongly of that someone else that it'd given him pause. Had intrigued him, had made him squint harder than he already did, had given more heat to a trail that he was already stalking. But when he finally got close enough for a good huff, he soon realized that the sweet scent of clear streams had lead him to the stagnant, fetid waters of a bottomless lake. There, the smell was muggy. That deceivingly cool, refreshing vapor was heavy with humidity. The sweetness that had tempted Gin was ripened as to be rotting.

The cloying wetness had been enough to suffocate him, but he wouldn't have had it any other way. If anything he had been relieved, because he'd rather the truth of it, however asphyxiating, than the falsely stimulating aroma that was far too reminiscent of his someone else.

As the years went on and their encounters multiplied, the potency dulled. Like too much water rusting metal, Aizen's scent rusted Gin's nose. Had gone so far as to rust his eyes, even, if their saccharine hue was any indication. And if not for keeping them shut for as long as he could remember, he would have thought that was Aizen's doing as well. That he made them crust over and sealed them shut, as neglected as oxidized door hinges.

In the beginning, Aizen's scent had bloomed sweetly as to mirror a sakura tree. But when those first damp winds carried with them the stench of decay, Gin clearly perceived something that he hadn't before. All along Aizen's reflective charms had been working backwards. He was an autumn air that followed winter's, and the flower in the mirror before shattered cherry blossoms.

Scatter; Shatter. Those razor-sharp petals raining all around him, broken blades and mirrors.

Later, at the final battle of the Winter War, Gin would wonder if Aizen hadn't known more about Hirako Shinji's zanpakutou than he let on.

He would wonder if that's where Aizen had learned how to move things in reverse.

Both then and after, Aizen always used what he knew of Gin to his advantage. It left Gin speculating as to the legitimacy of the older man's scent. Was that external fragrance Aizen's, or had he known about Kuchiki Byakuya's and tried emulating it to lure in Gin? Though Gin speculated, he didn't care either way. He had already established that it wasn't Byakuya's, not even close, and if it wasn't close then it didn't matter.

Or maybe it did, especially on those nights when Aizen decided he wanted to play. When he'd use Kyouka Suigetsu to weave haunting fantasies, all ripe for the plucking. As ripe as the smell that leaked in between each specter, whether Aizen was aware of it or not. In between Rangiku - Gin leant back on his elbows as he drawled, "Che, Aizen-sama. I ain't in the mood for that one t'night. Can'chya cut to the chase? You know I ain't a patient boy, and I'd be willin' to let ya punish me. . ." He pursed his lips playfully, and avoided looking at the naked, heaving breasts that mocked one of his most precious memories.

In between Kira - Gin grinned wide at the sight of a pale, shivering, frightened Izuru kneeling at his feet. He hummed his appreciation happily, but didn't sit up as he cooed in a teasing lilt: "I think you're gettin' our subordinates mixed up, Aizen-sama. 'cause I don't recall Izuru-kun shakin' like the little leaf poor Momo-chan was."

Always, Aizen chuckled leisurely, his voice dense as honey. Gin couldn't see him but he didn't have to to know those sharp eyes were on his every move. Didn't have to to hear that voice and smell that smell. It was the smell that kept him so removed that he didn't kick Izuru's impostor away, even when its thin hand pressed tentatively to the inside of his thigh and stroked up. He kept his narrowed gaze on the thing kneeling between his legs and his grin frozen in place, all the while reminding himself that it wasn't real.

Couldn't be, because Izuru had never looked anything but pleased to be on his knees for his captain.

Later, at the final battle of the Winter War, he would feel the angry swell of his Izuru's reiatsu. He would smile and say aloud: "I'm happy that he's doin' so well."

Not for his sake alone, but mostly for Aizen's.

It was always the apparition Aizen saved for last that made Gin most thankful for the older man's smell. Whenever that pale skin and dark hair appeared he felt a sinking in the pit of his stomach. His grin never wavered and his eyes never opened, but had he had warm blood in his veins to begin with, it would have run cold. Heavy-lidded, slate-gray eyes would hold him mercilessly, and in those moments he wouldn't resist. He could have if he wanted to, but he never saw reason to deny himself. After all, he had never claimed to be anything but a snake who swallowed its favorites whole.

It sounded like Byakuya's voice panting in his ear, hushed and husky from throaty groans. It felt like Byakuya's skin against his own, smooth and lightly slicked with sweat. It tasted like Byakuya on his tongue, flesh salty to the touch and his mouth willing to Gin's hungry lips. It felt like Byakuya's powerful thighs around his waist and Byakuya's strong fingers raking his back, even though he never bothered to take the real Byakuya when the noble had been so good at reducing him to a writhing mess.

But even when all those things were so close as to be indistinguishable from the original they impersonated, Gin held onto the smell that was never quite right. Even as he moaned and clung to Aizen's creation, desperate for just a moment of a past he could relive, he made sure not to lose himself completely. He'd bury his face in the crook on an alabaster neck, inhale deeply with the memory of cherry blossoms in mind, but always with the reality of decomposing flowers on its tail to maintain his sobriety.


Gin was glad that it was never anything more than just almost.

But sometimes, when Aizen was feeling particularly humorous, he'd summon a version of Gin's abandoned ghost that even Gin hadn't anticipated. The first time he saw it even he had been surprised. A dangerously young Kuchiki noble, his fierce attention focused on Gin. His expressive, fiery eyes before life came along to snuff them out. All the impulsiveness, all the anger, the heat of it setting color deep in his cheeks which then turned to embarrassed arousal.

It was just the game, Gin knew. It had little to do with perversity and everything to do with Aizen wanting to know how far he could go; how hard he could push. And he had yet to hit the wall, not that there was one as far as Gin knew. A little startling at first, he would admit, much like the time he had aimed Shinsou for Rukia and pierced Byakuya instead. But it never took him long to adjust accordingly and make his move. He chose to oblige every time, with the same resilience he had used to get him as far as he'd gotten. The young boy would stare at him with angry eyes, and sometimes Gin's paranoia made him think that it was the ghost of Byakuya's past, and it was there to silently berate him for all the things he'd done.

But whenever he beckoned with playful smiles and bony fingers, it caved too quickly. It reminded him that it wasn't anything but Aizen's cruel imagination come to life, but for some reason that never stopped him from cuddling the thing close. Cooing in its ear to make it squirm, tripping his fingers down that slender spine to make it shiver. He'd start out teasing the boy's jaw with his mouth, and that would, eventually, lead to him stroking the young Byakuya to gasping completion.

Its voice was higher and needier than the Byakuya Gin had readily fucked in the past. Its skin was darker with a feverish flush, and its shudders and moans uncontrollable.

Gin made sure to grin the whole way through, and it was worth it to see Aizen's inquisitive brow and amused smirk.

After so many years of staring at that impenetrable smirk and feeling the strain of his own, Gin started to wonder what it said for the both of them. What it meant that Aizen's eyes were always so heavy lidded, and his so narrow as to be permanently shut. Aizen's appeared relaxed and sultry, but Gin knew they were acutely aware of everything going on around them. They were sharp, like the squinty-eyed stare he himself liked to aim.

Those hard eyes and those mocking smiles were things they had in common. Gin would watch Aizen silently, see a subtler version of his expression mirrored there, and he'd think back to the other people he had shared himself with. Images of Byakuya and Izuru, of their grim mouths and their sober eyes. So stern, so honestly cold, so different from himself and from Aizen.

Was that part of what attracted him? Why he chased after them when people might suspect that he'd rather keep company with someone more like himself? When he sat beside Aizen and watched the curl of the other man's mouth, the pointed glint of his deceptively warm eyes, he wished he could be back with the cheerless faces of Byakuya or Izuru. He never liked sad stories or their sad mien, but he'd come to find them strangely comforting after observing Aizen's fallaciousness for so long.

At least with them he could always hope to coax a genuine smile, however small, with his teasing mouth. Men like Byakuya and Izuru wanted the outside world to believe them indifferent, but Gin knew better. He knew there were fires lying dormant, and on a few occasions he had provoked them into burning him. He'd had the pleasure of feeling their hidden heat warming his coldblooded body, like a reptile bathing in the sun after spending a night in the cold.

What could he ever tease out of Aizen, when Aizen always made sure that he was the one doing the teasing? Underneath it he was just as coldblooded as Gin, going after others and tempting their anger and hatred for a taste of heat. Gin suspected that Aizen had his own fire in waiting, deep down in a place that no one had ever seen. He suspected it was there, but that it'd been smothered and forgotten by all the dank muck it gathered over the years. He might have tried enticing it, because maybe then they wouldn't have to prey on the warmth of others. But he never cared long enough to take the risk. He was a snake, after all, and spending too much time in that infinite void could kill him for good.

There were nights when Gin's zanpakutou asked him why he spent all his time with such "lonely folks." He'd say it with a curious grin and slitted eyes to mimic Gin's, but the air around him was thoughtfully static. He'd ponder Senbonzakura's noble seclusion with keen eyes and a predacious smile; would sigh loudly and wistfully over Wabisuke's grisly isolation, his haunted stare and his deep, remorseful voice.

And then his eyes would open slightly, and the dust that floated all around him would stir when he mentioned Kyouka Suigetsu's loneliness.

Gin never cared to know about that. He didn't want to know anything more about Aizen Sousuke than he already did. He knew what he needed to to carry him through to the very end, and nothing else mattered.

So he'd ignore Shinsou, and would curl against him while resting his head in the spirit's lap. He'd ask Shinsou to tell him stories until he fell asleep, and would feel the man's thin fingers combing through his hair before resting over his eyes, holding them shut as was his habit ever since Gin was just a boy.

It was during one of those nights when Aizen left Gin alone that he witnessed something riveting. Of all the Arrancar the three of them had collected, it was always Coyote Starrk who unsettled Gin the most. At the time he couldn't put his finger on why, exactly, but the feeling was there all the same. He remembered looking into those unblinking, stark gray eyes as they stared at Aizen over one shoulder, and thinking that something about them was unusually familiar.

It wouldn't be until weeks later that he learned about the Espada's release, and would then spot Aizen cornering the lupine hollow in a dark hallway. In that moment Gin saw them not as men, but as two lone and ravenous wolves - an alpha and his omega. He recalled what Shinsou had said about Kyouka Suigetsu, the look in Coyote Starrk's eyes when they'd first found him, and the realization of their combined loneliness was stifling. He watched them secretly from his hidden place and he had to wonder what it was Starrk was feeling when he accepted Aizen's advance. Was it true attraction, or just the gratitude of a lost soul thinking himself rescued?

Gin never wanted to find out, but at the final battle of the Winter War he watched as Starrk gazed at Aizen in his final moments.

He also noticed that Aizen spared him the condescending look and personal betrayal that Baraggan and Tia Halibel hadn't been lucky enough to escape.

After that, he started thinking about things he never would have before, like the roof Aizen had built around Los Noches. The counterfeit sky he used to blot out Hueco Mundo's, with its domineering moon that never set. Could it be that Aizen wanted to escape it? Gin knew that Aizen could never willingly submit to anything, and the moon would be no exception. He also knew that Kyouka Suigetsu was the moon in the water, and he started to suspect that the reason for that was Aizen's inability to look at it directly. He could only acknowledge something that was beneath him rather than above; something he could easily disrupt with a swipe of his hand if he so wished it.

He would always Shatter, would always twist reality into the illusions that he preferred.

And Gin would always remember the glowing white memory of Byakuya, and how that moon had always kept Aizen at bay.

At the final battle of the Winter War, Gin would find himself butchered and dying. He'd hear Aizen's enraged screams in the distance, even with the sound of Rangiku's sobbing and his own labored breathing loud in his ear. He'd smell his own blood and the scent of her kneeling above him, but also the scent of Aizen. That heavy, wet and putrid smell, rotting away like a dead carcass. From the stream to the lake, which now seemed more like a decaying swamp than anything else.

It wasn't Byakuya's moon after all, but instead Kurosaki Ichigo's that finally put Aizen to rest. Gin had wanted to do it himself - had wanted his revenge - but in the end, with Rangiku's tears falling hot against his face and her despairing wails, couldn't bring himself to care. In those painful moments all he could think about was her, whether or not Izuru was still alive, and why he hadn't seen Byakuya even once.

All he could think was that he'd put a part of himself inside Aizen (amid the countless others), and that now he needed something to fill the hole it left in Shinsou - the hole it left in his very soul.

If Byakuya could come, could only murmur "Scatter" one more time. . .

Maybe then one of those shards would fit in that empty space and make Gin whole again.