If only I could find some peace in my heart, I could finally rest happily.
And if only I could stop your tears, I would burn down even this rotten world to do so.
You jerk up ever so slightly, pulling the fold of your Academy shihakusho up immediately in an effort to make yourself presentable. That voice is unfamiliar, and as wary as you are of the unknown, you straighten up and impulsively stand from the stone bench, ready to greet—or perhaps take down—whoever it is that would approach you so unguardedly.
Early morning is usually not a good time for you—not for socialization. After all, such serenity is unattainable elsewhere than when one arrives early in the day to sit in the midst of this garden. You refuse to be disturbed at this time of day, in this garden where a bench has been situated in a patch of trees on the outskirts of an old forest.
It is a place where you can find peace and calm and through all that some sort of undistinguished freedom in the organized chaos and tidy discomfort of the Seireitei. It is an unworldly escape from an orderly realm you can find little solace in. But apparently it’s not so unpenetrated as you think.
“Oh… Captain Aizen.” You lower your guard a bit. You know this man well enough to feel that he is able to be trusted—and that’s saying something when it comes to you. How is it that earlier you could not distinguish his voice? “It’s you.”
A soft chuckle that calms your nerves and the pounding of your heart. You recognize the sound, and it soothes you.
“Do I detect some disappointment, (Last name)-chan?” Your name is spoken with such calming gentleness that you find it easy to settle back into your seat and look away without fear.
It’s true. Whether you like or or not, with this man you find that you can rest without the usual burning of nervous adrenaline rushing through your blood. It’s upsetting to know that you are so easily tameable, but you’re not complaining. God knows you need this time around someone you can at least give some degree of trust to.
Captain Aizen is not a cruel man, that you know. Of all your time observing the captain of the Fifth Division, he has shown nothing but genteel behaviour and silent kindness. It’s not apparent, but you suspect that he is the type of man who loves nature and humankind, a man who enjoys the peacefulness of life and the comfort of books. You would get along well with a man like him.
The glasses perched on his nose and the warm smile on his face as he peers into the sky, the soft sun illuminating his sharp features, speaks of nothing else but fondness for the old forest that has been here ages.
“It’s very early to be out here, isn’t it? Classes at the Academy won’t start for a few hours.”
You are aware of Captain Aizen’s occasional visits to the Academy—once in a while he comes by to give the odd calligraphy lesson, and once a shikai demonstration. That is why you have been able to watch him from afar and judge.
“I like being out here early. There’s usually no one around at this time of day.”
Vaguely you register that your comment may be slightly offensive, but you brush it off. After all, it’s not like Captain Aizen will take it personally. He knows you’re much too cautious to directly offend a man of his status and is highly aware of your high regards for him.
You don’t know why he’s out so early and why he wants to speak with you, but you won’t question a man like Aizen.
After all, doesn’t everyone need their privacy?
“I see. I like early morning hours as well. The forest can be so very beautiful at these times, especially in this light. Do you mind if I make myself a spot here?”
He gestures with fluid motions at a spot of warm grass by your feet, his arm casting dark shadows across the glowing ground coming to life under the pouring of slowly brightening gold from the East.
Even a man of his status and caliber knows better than to ask to sit by you. Perhaps the troublesome records of your aloofness and independence in the Academy are more prominent among the public—or at least the quieter crowds of them—than you think.
Well, the best I can hope for now is a place in Kenpachi’s squad. Isn’t that where all the troublemakers and fighters ship off to? you grimace.
Personally you don’t find Eleventh Division too appealing, but you will make do if forced to.
Aizen smiles down upon you, his uncomforting height dwarfing your hunched form seated on the bench. You nod without hesitance as you silently look away up into the slowly blueing hue of the sky. The sun has not risen very high yet, and the forest has yet to fully awaken. But to your delight you notice dim gold dust speckling the forest floors in a splash of radiance. It feels warm, and you watch the light dance across your palms and fingers.
Captain Aizen must have noticed how the golden gleams enrapture you so, because he sits down and leans back still with closed eyes and calm composure, head tilted towards the canopies of leaves and sky above. He is silent awhile more, and you take in the lack of man-made noise with pleasure.
But eventually the peace is broken with Aizen’s soft words. Strangely, it doesn’t feel much different, nor does the peace feel particularly broken; perhaps it is even more colourful than before. “So, (Last name)-chan. Are you here for any purpose other than for peace and solemnity?”
He reads you like a book, that man. It’s to be expected with such intelligence; although Captain Aizen may not be as knowledgeable as Kurotsuchi, he is extremely competent in the art of the mind. You forgot, in the meantime that he sits by you, that he could not know your name. And then it strikes you with a sudden urgency.
Aizen-taichou knows my name.
“... Yes,” you reply to him with a stilling straightforwardness.
You don’t specify at first, waiting for him to question your lack of specification. But Captain Aizen won’t ask—not when you’ll tell him soon enough without any reluctance. So you carefully form your words, wondering however to phrase it with enough delicacy that he will pick up the hint.
Then, outright: “I’m... going to eat with Hinamori-chan.”
“How pleasant.” Even without looking you can hear him speak with a smile. “Tell her that I said hello, won’t you?”
“Hai. Aizen-taichou.” You barely hear his request, but at the mention of Hinamori your heart leaps. He does acknowledge your friend in some small way after all the hard work she’s done to capture his attention.
Ever since she caught sight of the gentle captain when she first started at the academy, Hinamori has been entranced by him. You don’t mind so much; after all, he is kind and good, someone she can look up to without you fearing her doing so.
“Ah… I need to get going in a few moments or so.”
You turn slightly, and Captain Aizen gives a sweet smile, putting his finger to his lips and tilting his head ever so slightly. It looks adorable—like a child at play in hide-and-go-seek. He looks younger in the sunlight, you note, and you realize what about the captain Hinamori might like so much. Right now, he is nothing more but gentle and caring, every one of his motions of a fluttering gracefulness.
“Don’t tell anyone this… but my lieutenant may be getting promoted. It may be in a long while, but nevertheless the possibility is fully present.”
… Ichimaru-fukutaichou… yes, that’s the one. He’s getting… wait, what?
“Ichimaru-fukutaichou is being promoted, sir?” you inquire with slightly widening eyes. This can’t be. But it is…
“Yes. I have an insider’s information that the captain of the Twelfth Division may be getting herself a promotion in the near future now. In half a decade or so, maybe. So we have hope that a prodigy like our beloved Gin can receive captainship.”
You’ve never particularly liked Gin, with his strange eyes and his drawling tone. You understand where he comes from (just as you have come from there as well), but the boy is an enigma you’d rather not toy with. You decide it would be better to keep that information to yourself and instead ask: “Is it even possible for a captain to receive further promotion, Aizen-taichou?”
“It appears so, (Name)-chan.”
The words fly immediately from your mouth without thought: “We’re not on first name terms, Captain.”
“Oh… I’m sorry. A slip of the tongue, is all.” He gives a small smile of apology. “But remember—don’t tell a soul.”
You look at Captain Aizen for a moment. Aizen with his finger raised playfully to his lips, one large, innocent eye behind those glistening glasses shut in a perfect wink, a seal of secrecy. You blink at how young he is in this golden glow of the forest and you remember the calm and kind melody of his voice.
“Don’t tell a soul about what?” He laughs, and you smile slightly at the older man.
A perfect role model for Hinamori-chan.
You can remember the day she met him, the day that you stood back for once and let shy, sweet little Momo go forth into the unknown by herself. That might have been the day that she finally grew up and stepped forward to claim her own goals and mindset, and it’s clear like a crystal in your mind.
Is it possible… if Ichimaru leaves the Fifth Division… that Hinamori-chan might…? If only I put a word in for her, if only… Should I? Can I?
You turn your eyes towards the sky and shut them, breathing in the sweet air as crisp as the memories before you.
“Aizen-taichou is wonderful,” Hinamori gushes happily, skipping behind you with cheer in every step. You smile slightly and continue leading the way down the twisted turns of Seireitei, arms tucked in the sleeves of your black uniform. “The way he sprung up suddenly and saved us—wasn’t that amazing, (Name)-chan?”
It’s good that she’s found something to do, after all, and perhaps now she’ll be more independent. The way she clings to you isn’t so much an obstacle to you as it is to her, and you feel delighted at the thought that Hinamori can perhaps go out now and do whatever she wishes without overly considering you. Is this how it feels when your children grow up?
“Really, he is!” You hear the pout in her voice immediately, and you let out a silent chuckle in your throat. You’ve known this girl for only ten months, and yet she’s already become such a dear sister—no, perhaps your own child. It’s as if the both of you have spent eternity side-by-side. “He’s good and he’s a wonderful captain… he saved us from those hollows! Me and you and Renji! And Kira,” she adds with an afterthought, recalling that the blonde boy was with them as well. “Kira Izuru was there.”
“Hai. I know, Hinamori-chan. You’ve told me.”
Countless times over and over until you can hardly bear it. There’s something nagging you about this love that has consumed Hinamori-chan. Something about it isn’t safe.
“(Name)-chan?” You pause in your step, gazing with furrowed brows back and forth at one wall to your side and then the opposite, then the one erected smugly before you. You lay a hand on the cold stone indignantly.
“What kind of city is this supposed to be? One wrong turn, and you’re facing a damned dead end.” You look up at the grey skies and let out a small noise of aggravation. “Let’s turn around, Hinamori-chan. I don’t want you to be late for your night out with your friends.”
In celebration of defeating the colossal Hollows that unexpectedly turned up in the Human World, Abarai and Kira were going out to the bar on the same night to have a short celebration. Naturally, in light of Hinamori’s new and yet-to-be-realized independence, she insisted on going along with them. It was pleasant to see her so eager to go off on her own at last.
I don’t want her to be tied to me on a leash forever. I never meant for it to happen in the first place.
“... (Name)-chan?” You look back at her for a moment before stepping around the shorter girl and heading outwards again.
“You should come with us!” You feel a slight tugging at your sleeve and almost halt in half stride, glancing down at her wide, begging eyes. They glint with unspoken pleas, and you only sigh before picking up your pace again, Hinamori still holding onto your arm and talking: “After all, you were with Abarai, Kira-kun, and me, too! You fought those massive Hollows with us, so you should come out tonight and at least toast to it! A mission in the Human World! Isn’t it fantastic, (Name)-chan?”
“Of course it was, Hinamori-chan. I enjoyed it very much.” You move your arm back to tousle her hair with a soft laugh that quickly fades as you walk on with her trailing behind uneasily. It seems as if she’s run out of things to say. Then the pair of footsteps in your wake fade, and you turn your head to see that Hinamori has stopped walking.
“(Name)-chan.” She isn’t smiling, and that disturbs you. You want her to be happy—so why has she suddenly gone so… unnaturally sullen? “Why won’t you go out with anyone? Do you really not trust them that much?”
“... I trust them enough for you to be with them. Abarai and Kira are not hostile people, Hinamori-chan. It’s safe with them.” You ignore the fact that you didn’t answer her other question, and you take another few paces forward. “So it’s alright. You’re old and wise enough to do what you wish, and you shouldn’t have to be held back by me, Hinamori-chan. I want you to be happy. That’s all.”
“(Name)-chan, why don’t you ever call me by my first name?”
“It feels right when Abarai-kun and Kira-kun, and when”—you heard it coming long before she speaks the name—“Aizen-taichou calls me that. But not you, (Name)-chan. Why won’t you…?” She trails off and doesn’t continue.
She’s young. This happens—after all, children throw tantrums when they don’t get what they want. With time, these easy tears will leave, and she will grow up and be tougher.
With reluctance, you turn slowly and head back towards where she has her head down, eyes towards her feet, and by the trembling of her shoulders you feel as if she might start crying on the spot. You place a hand on her head and smile lightly.
“Now, you’re a grown, strong, young woman. Don’t cry.” You place another hand on her shoulder and pull her towards you in an embrace. “Don’t cry, Hinamori-chan.”
What a stupid girl, you think to yourself. So stupid for caring for someone like me who has little trust to spare. So stupid for relying so much on me. Why can’t she let herself be free?
“(N)-(Name)... chan…” She’s sobbing gently now, and you can’t bear to see it. “(Name)-chan…”
What a stupid girl…
… I can’t bear to see her like this.
You swore to yourself on the spot that if there was anything that Hinamori wanted in the world, whether it be in Hueco Mundo or Seireitei or the Human World, or God forbid, even the Rukongai, you would get it for her. Anything within your mortal grasp.
If only to stop those tears and make her happy.
The sun’s warmth spills across your skin. The promise, made so long ago, is suddenly as fresh as the dew in the grass and on the leaves of the swaying oak above, and it weighs on your shoulders like heavy stone. You swore not to let Hinamori grow far too dependent on anyone again, even the Captain she dotes on to no ends... but this is what she wants, isn’t it?
… “Aizen-taichou...” The words leave your lips like a breath of wind, barely audible. But you know he hears it, even behind shut eyes and guardless defense. You lick parched lips and take in a breath to try to speak again. “Aizen-taichou. I...”
“... Now, let’s not be so formal, (Name)-chan.” Something in his voice makes you look down, and the look in his eyes startle you.
… Why does he seem closer than before?
It’s as if those eyes—those usually kind, unthreatening eyes—have turned hostile. Not even that; it’s a complete turn-around. There’s something about it, the way that expression flashes up at you with a furious glare, that throws you off, and you instinctively scoot back away from him on the stone bench, your hands grasping for purchase elsewhere.
Are those… eyes… Captain Aizen’s?
Then he does something unspeakable, something not Aizen at all. But before you know it, his feet have grasped at your ankle, pulling in such a vice grip that you feel your eyes widening with horror and your breath becoming instantly scarce. Pulling you towards him.
“Stop it!” The words are louder this time. They penetrate thick air and ears that were moments ago completely deaf to your pleas.
And then sanity is restored to that gaze as quickly as it fled, and the captain has sat back into his kneeling position on the grass, brushing off his sleeves with such a casual air that makes it seem as if nothing has ever happened between the two of you.
“Oh my… it’s getting quite late, (Last name)-chan.” Aizen’s voice has returned to what it was before, to the voice of the man that Hinamori loves and you respect. “When is it that you have your lunch with… Hinamori-chan, wasn’t it?”
“... In a half an hour or so,” you say quietly, eyes down at your waraji sandals. You don’t want to look at that man again—you don’t want to see that... something in his eyes you fear might be real. “I should be going.”
“As should I… I believe my lieutenant is expecting me for a visit.” He smiles again, and suddenly, even in this light, he appears more sinister than before. But that was the same smile he gave before—how can it change so drastically with just a moment’s touch? “He is probably expecting discussion about that promotion—we are hoping that if we send in word to the Soutaichou, Ichimaru-kun will receive his reward in perhaps in five years or so. These things take plannning.”
So specific. But so helpful. We will be finishing the academy in three years at most, with Hinamori’s and my progress. Will that leave her with two years of experience to be considered by Aizen-taichou?
Captain Aizen rises slowly, the sunlight slitting over the folds of his haori as he stands. He gives you one last glance and a smile before saying, softly: “I’ll see you around, (Name)-chan.”
Then he is gone.
And there is only the trill of the birds and the rustling of the forest beneath, around, above, and a startling silence in his place.