Gin/Kira. On the difficulties of categorization.
Part of the unspoken lore of vice-captains was that the individuality of each leader could best be identified not through his dress, nor through his speech, nor even through the way he took his tea, but through those gaps of time when duty had been dispatched and separation was not yet an option, and captain and vice-captain faced each other with no buffer of distraction in between.
Captain Aizen, for instance, filled those moments with small talk and kind words of wisdom. Captain Kuchiki's way was to turn his face towards the window, leaving Renji with the stark white outline of his back and the long shadow thrown across Renji's shoes and a silence that stretched until Renji coughed or sneezed, whereupon he would throw one disapproving glance over his shoulder, to indicate that any awkwardness in the air was solely Renji's fault.
His captain was not much given to either gentleness or an idle tongue; instead, he regaled Izuru with tales collected in his forays through life and through libraries - short anecdotes, like that of the street vendor who mistook Captain Hitsugaya for thieving streetrat and came perilously close to losing a hand to frostbite, or long epics, told over the course of months, in which gods and men fought convoluted battles that ended in tears and betrayal and the death of dreams.
Once he told Izuru of a prince of a planet containing one rose and three volcanoes, who on Earth befriended a pilot and a fox before returning to his rose.
"But really he dies," said Captain Ichimaru, glancing at Izuru through sly red eyes. "Snakes rarely have the best interests of others at heart."
"You don't say 'never'," Izuru noted. It was the kind of thing one grew sensitive to as Captain Ichimaru's errand-boy; the captain spoke in nuances, and after a while it was catching, if only as a survival mechanism.
"I wouldn't be much of a snake, would I, if I didn't leave a sliver of hope as lure for my prey?"
"My captain is not a snake," said Izuru, face heating as he realized the impetus that had prompted Captain Ichimaru to choose this one story today out of a vast repertoire. "People don't know what they're talking about."
Captain Ichimaru stretched and leaned back, sinuous as liquid, so that his head was pillowed on Izuru's thigh and the curve of his thin lips was directed towards Izuru's nose. "Am I a fox, then, in your reckoning? Will you tame me with your rituals, little prince with hair of wheat?"
"I am not a prince," said Izuru in the same tone, as his temperature rose a further notch.
"Neither is the Little Prince a prince. He's just a naive little boy who abandons security for the promise of adventure and pays for it. And aren't you that, Izuru?"
Izuru observed Captain Ichimaru in his lap, sleek and relaxed, a whisker away from rumbling in contentment, and thought of himself, not so long ago, that lowly cadet whose name Captain Ichimaru wouldn't even have been interested in knowing. He thought of himself now, high in Seireitei hierarchy, spending the hours of the day looking after his captain and arranging his schedule and ensuring that he was suitably amused, collecting the lion's share of his captain's smiles. "I haven't paid for anything yet."
"Yet, Izuru," said Captain Ichimaru, and the way he breathed out the words was almost a sigh. "The word that begs examination in that statement is 'yet'."
The sixty-third day after the incident, Izuru threw a tantrum that would in the past have clapped him in chains but, in these present enlightened days, merely brought him a turn of latrine duty. There were whispers as he passed through the hall - ha ha, lookit, a lieutenant who'd misplaced his immediate superior. It wasn't even the first time. ("But, General Yamamoto, I'm sure Captain Ichimaru will turn up eventually; he always does!")
Renj came to visit in the evening, bearing a tray of lopsided mini-muffins and nudging the door shut with his foot.
"Rukia's been experimenting again," he muttered after laying them out on the dresser, rubbing the back of his neck apologetically, but Izuru was touched.
"You don't have to mother hen me," he said nevertheless, peering down at his toes. "I'm fine. I overstepped my bounds. They were right to punish me."
Renji snorted in his familiar Renji way, all 'rage against the establishment'; if Izuru tried, he could see Renji spraypainting government buildings in another life. "Please. The old men are just trying to find scapegoats to come down on so that they can hide how badly they bungled up the /incident/. The only ones who deserve to be punished here are them and your snake of a cap- "
"Don't call him that!" Out of such instances did latrine duty start.
But it wasn't some random trainee across from him; it was Renji, steady as the mountains when it counted. "You're right," he said evenly, "he's not your captain anymore."
/He is. He is/. "Go away," he said, too tired for this. "Thanks for the muffins. They look - edible."
"You give them a lot of credit." Renji didn't move towards the door. He stood there and shuffled his feet, and then he said, "Look, have you talked to Hinamori yet?"
"Because I think you two might do each other some good. You were both played, you know? And she doesn't seem to see it, but - "
If he decked Renji now, he would be cleaning out the toilets until Ichigo and the rest of his mortal friends passed through the border to stay for good, so he just said, "Sure, I'll see if I can make some time. And now I really want to get some sleep, so - "
"Okay, yeah, I'll be going now. Uh, enjoy the muffins; I kind of helped with them," and there was Renji making his goodbyes, and the door shutting behind him.
Izuru dropped down on the bed and covered his eyes with one arm to block out the light.
Hinamori's captain had hurt her, deceived her, and now she was blaming Izuru's captain for it. It made conversations...awkward. Izuru didn't bother with blame; he knew deep down to the bone that Captain Ichimaru was perfectly equipped to commit treason on his own initiative.
He was nothing like Hinamori: he knew his captain. Captain Ichimaru slept with his limbs spread out and woke late, drank his coffee black but his tea with cream, crinkled his eyes in advance of a laugh, and enjoyed teasing Captain Hitsugaya more than Captain Kuchiki, though both were treats. He would read poetry and then take it apart without mercy. He loved situation comedies. He whispered in people's ears to make them shudder or blush, to get any reaction at all, and his hands dressing a wound could be as gentle as a kiss. He forgot his meetings half the time and went out with mismatched socks and unbuttoned shirts if unattended, he missed meals, hoarded junk food, and never gained a pound, and he might be happy now wherever he was, without Izuru, but he wouldn't be healthy.
And maybe sometimes, Izuru thought, Captain Ichimaru would miss him, because Captain Ichimaru really did like him, really did enjoy his company, really - he was almost sure of it.
He was nothing like Hinamori.
Capture, he thought afterwards, shouldn't have come as a great surprise. The higher-ups were probably expecting it. They certainly hadn't placed him on the attack force with any useful information.
Cap- Aizen conducted the first interrogation himself, which lasted almost half an hour before Captain Ichimaru, yawning in the shadows of one of the castle buttresses, said, "Give it up, Lord Aizen, he doesn't know anything. If he did, he'd have coughed it up by now."
"I bow to your expertise," said Aizen with an indulgent smile, and for a moment it was almost like old times, mild-mannered Captain Aizen giving way to Captain Ichimaru in an effort to avoid meaningless conflict. Then he added, "I suppose there's no compelling reason to keep him alive, then," bringing Izuru rather hastily back into the present.
"He's mine," said Captain Ichimaru, stepping away from the buttress to draw close to Aizen, one step behind and to the right, a familiar sight that sent a chill now down Izuru's spine and caused his eyes to sting. "You haven't given me much to play with lately."
"And yet you find your amusements nevertheless."
"I want this one," and that was Captain Ichimaru, cajoling, prodding, the way he used to convince Izuru that it was absolutely imperative to have that peach right now, yes, the one on the altar to divine Amaterasu, She won't miss it anyway, dire things will happen if my trusty underling doesn't hurry back with it soon, Izuru. "You can have the rest of them back."
Aizen looked different now, with his hair slicked back and his eyes naked in cool amusement - looked, for the first time, like somebody who had led Captain Ichimaru, molded him, given him direction, somebody who would deny him with ease and without favor.
But what Aizen said was "Very well," as if nothing Captain Ichimaru could do was likely to incite his concern. He set one hand against the nape of Captain Ichimaru's neck and squeezed, causing Captain Ichimaru's eyes to slit and his smirk to stretch, and then he was heading out of the room, robes billowing around him, struggling to catch up.
Unlike the Hollow guards in the room, Captain Ichimaru didn't turn to look after him. Captain Ichimaru walked up to Izuru, stopping a centimeter away from poking his nose through the bars of the jail cell, and said, "Welcome back, little prince."
"Will you bite me now?" he said, not allowing himself to blink or retreat. Captain Ichimaru hadn't changed much, except in dress; he now wore an outfit open halfway down his chest, and he looked thinner and more unfettered than ever.
"Hand," said Captain Ichimaru, holding out his own, and it was as natural as breathing to reach through the bars and give himself up to his captain's grasp, to watch as the captain's head bent low, to press his lips together and close his eyes when pain pierced the tip of his ring finger. Captain Ichimaru looked up, eyes glimmering, and smiled at him. "Sit."
He sat, and so did Captain Ichimaru, leaning against the bars of the cell so that his back was to Izuru and the colorless feathery strands of his hair crossed through, close enough to touch.
None of the guards said a word. As Captain Ichimaru removed them from his notice they seemed in Izuru's consciousness to fade away, as if disappearing into the stomach of a boa constrictor to be gently digested.
"Storytime, Izuru," his captain said.
He didn't remember much of the battle beyond explosions and crashes and laughter and a few screams, Shuuhei rushing past the entrance of his cell before he could cry out, darkness as the torches flickered out and, very long afterwards, silence. What he could recall clearly came even later, when the door to his cell clicked open and his wrist was grabbed and Captain Ichimaru's cool reptilian lips mouthed against his ear, Hush.
He might have struggled, but when he reached out he felt dampness seeping through the cloth of Captain Ichimaru's new outfit, smelled the familiar tang of blood in the air. He followed quietly.
"What happened?" he asked, after they were miles and miles away from the castle, and the only living creatures nearby seemed to be of the arthropod phylum.
"Your friends crashed the party, and brought quite a lot of fireworks with them." Captain Ichimaru didn't appear put out by the development as he roasted a dead scorpion over the fire on a spit. They had made bandages out of the robes of a Hollow corpse denuded on the way out. "The throne will go empty again for a stretch, it seems."
Izuru hadn't even had the opportunity to view that throne; it had been straight from the desert to the dungeon. He wondered if any article of furniture in that castle still stood. "Is everyone okay?"
"I didn't see anyone die," was Captain Ichimaru's response, characteristic in that it didn't answer the question at all - he could have heard them die, he could have seen them dead, he could have set Shinsou to do its work and looked away before the last moment - but it meant Renji and Hinamori were fine, at least. Captain Ichimaru wouldn't want to miss his reaction upon learning otherwise.
"And C- Aizen? Tousen?"
"Tousen betrayed us after some heartstring-tugging from Komamura," said Captain Ichimaru, pulling the scorpion-kebab up close to examine it with a critical eye before flipping it over and continuing the roast. "Pity he didn't break away sooner - I bet Aizen a secret that torturing the girl would be what did it. Aizen made it out, I'm sure." There was a flash of white in the firelight as he grinned. "He'll find me again if he needs me."
His own kebab was close to burning; he retrieved it hastily and waved it to cool it faster, watching the smoke wreathe around in circles. "And when he does, you'll follow."
"Oh, probably. He won't seek me out until he can make it worth my while."
"You're such an awful person, Captain," Izuru said quietly, while whispers of errant breeze fed the flames of their tiny campfire.
What he wanted to say was: And me? What happens when I can no longer make it worth your while? When will you decide on arbitrary whim that that moment has arrived?
"You're free to go at any time, naturally." Captain Ichimaru waved a hand out into the darkness, one bony wrist peeking out as the gesture threw back the voluminous sleeve. "I really don't have the resources to look after a reluctant prisoner at this point. Only, you know, I would advise you to wait till daytime - rapacious monstrosities roam the desert by night."
"Besides yourself?" Izuru murmured, and Captain Ichimaru laughed.
"Let me tell you the story of the Nue who terrorized the emperor Konoe," he said. As he spoke, describing the appearance of the monster and its sins, his thin white fingers weaving through the air to illustrate a particularly gory scene, Izuru knew that when daytime came he would remain, and when the following night came he would remain, and when Aizen came he would remain, if Captain Ichimaru would allow it.
But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except the two or three that we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or ever sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is //my rose.
~ /The Little Prince/, Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Rosa Rugosa is the binomial nomenclature of the Japanese Rose and is as alike to the Little Prince's rose as Gin is, by which I mean it resembles the popular idea of a rose so little that it is also called the Beach Tomato or the Sea Tomato.