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Title: Long Enough
Rating: PG
Warnings: Spoilers for the Pendulum Arc
Prompt: 11 - Bleach, Ukitake/Shunsui/Shinji: reunion- Even though everything should have changed, some things have not.
Word count: 2,048
Summary: Adjusting to new life and old friends after the Winter War proves to be difficult for some captains.

Newly appointed Captain Hirako Shinji of the 5th division looked around in his old room, searching for his old trusty gramophone. Visible dust flew when he blew the top of the boxes, the century old documents and untouched files. Turning his predecessor’s private quarters into the storage room was something he should have predicted being on top of Sosuke’s to do list.


Mashiro had been against of the idea of bringing his Ipod to Soul Society. (‘Where on earth are you gonna charge the battery, Shinji? Plug it into your vice captain’s nostrils?’) Later on, he decided he would pester Mayuri to invent something that could generate electricity at his disposal. Heck, probably badger the blue haired freak long enough until he’s ready to fling Shinji a thunder based kidou powerful enough to last the Ipod a month.

His shihakusho’s low collar were choking him, and the captain haori felt almost alien on his shoulders—he has commissioned new ones to be made—the sleeves were covering his fingers when he straightened up, the division’s emblem with the five kanji was unsettling his nerves as his hair was too short to cover it from judging eyes. Briefly, Shinji entertained the idea of being the first man in history to wear a Lupin-esque designer suit to the captains’ meeting. Especially when Rose could pull of laces and pirate shirt, and Yamamoto’s eyebrow didn’t even budge.

When the novelty wore off, he just resettled into Sosuke’s private chamber – 2nd division’s investigation squad has confiscated enough of the traitor’s items that the only ones that remained were mere knick-knacks and garbage. He still clearly remembered Sosuke’s penchant for calligraphy and his habit of practicing on every scrap paper.

Shinji wasn’t surprised the scroll hanging on his old bedroom’s wall read as ‘Heaven’- he reminded himself to burn that thing on the lawn tomorrow for some roasted sweet potatoes.

*

“How’s your new vice captain?”

“She’s really cute,” Shinji didn’t actually sigh, just answered in a very dramatically disappointed tone. “but she’s refusing my advances.”

“Careful with how you treat her,” there was a chuckle from the other line, “you never know what some people are capable of.”

“Ya also told me that about Sosuke,” he took a deep breath and released it, “and boy, how I was so wrong. Anyway Shunsui, how come we aren’t meeting for a drink instead?”

“Because my dear sweet Nanao-chan is standing behind me with a castration threat should I even think of ditching work—I’m just kidding, Nanao-chan, please put down your zanpakutou—”

There was this image of younger Risa in his mind whenever he thought of Kyouraku’s vice captain: a bespectacled, long haired young woman with her trusty tome in hand, smacking Shunsui’s face without even blinking. Often, Shinji wondered why he didn’t grow out his hair again so he could twirl them around his fingers when talking over the phone. Oh right. Hiyori and Risa had almost burned his long, perfect blonde mane when they had argued whether he looked better in French-braids or pigtails. But anyway. “Is she Risa’s replacement?”

“Just the position,” Kyouraku answered, nearly too hasty, and Shinji wondered how clichéd it sounded, almost like a textbook response, almost unlike Kyouraku at all.

He tapped the contraption’s spine before muttering to the cellphone, “I’ll come over, when I have time.”

*

“Shunsui has grown more attached,” Shinji started, inhaling the warm fumes of freshly brewed tea from Ukitake’s teacup. A bit chipped at the bottom from tear and wear over the decades, but it was well taken care of. Shinji suspected it was the same cup used by the late Shiba Kaien whenever he’s invited over for a game of go and a job offer.

“It’s part of the process of attaining more wisdom through the years,” Ukitake confided, and Shinji didn’t miss the pause. “he’s been through a lot.”

“That Nanao-chan…” Shinji placed his cup down after rotating it in his finger. “in a way, she’s a lot like Risa.”

Ukitake looked sideways before replying. “Nanao used to be tutored by Risa.”

He threw the longhaired captain a look, trying to find the answers in Ukitake’s frazzled and tired façade, “By the way, I heard about Shiba. Sorry to hear what happened.”

The clock inside the office ticked, snapping and loud.

“It’s been decades, Shinji,” Ukitake leisurely raised a hand to knead his temple, scrutinizing the go ban. “Recently Kuchiki told me what happened to her in Hueco Mundo with the Noveno Espada. Sometimes I wished--”

He didn’t choose to fight for his honor.

“Not all of us are chasing a shadow down the road,” Shinji finished for him, placing a white bead down on the board.

Ukitake paused long enough to inspect his opponent’s handiwork, and managed not to groan. “You win.”

Shinji didn’t stay long enough for Ukitake to divulge more on styles of bonsai shaping and brewing the perfect tea and how many moku Shinji won on go; he was growing less relaxed and more agitated, feeling anything but alive.

He could have told Ukitake that opposite from Shunsui, Jyuushiro’s actually grown less attached, but didn’t.

*

Momo-chan didn’t really ask him any questions, just polite nods and small talks about the weather sometimes when they’re at the office. She has potentials—Shinji made a mental note of it, unlike when he discovered about Sosuke and Kaname and Gin at the academy—so very bright, so eager to serve, and not so full of hidden agendas. Hinamori was sweet, subservient, hard working and a talented kidou master. She didn’t look like anyone who would bake glasses shaped cookies for an event at SWA for them to be crushed by someone proclaiming about standing in the heavens. If not for the angry red scar that Shinji knew still existed on her stomach, he would have suspected her as another one of Sosuke’s apparition.

Perhaps he shouldn’t envy Kensei’s current situation that much, especially when working on a deadline for Seireitei monthly with Tousen’s former vice captain (who was a real live Muguruma Kensei fanboy that had his admiration and devotion inked permanently on his face). The last thing Shinji needed was awe, and Momo knew this better than anyone.

But Momo serves him tea (not-poisoned, he already sent multiple samples to Unohana) over long work hours and stacks of forms and endless paper work, not really believing or confiding or actually pulling away, and Shinji knew something has to be done.

After resisting the idea of turning Sosuke’s old man habits into joking material, Shinji surrendered. Ever so subtly, one day he changed their subject about whether or not it’s going to rain into Sosuke’s favorite music. Hinamori’s lips quirked in distaste before she tactfully digressed, her voice curt and steady, mentioning about more paperwork needed to be done and went back to finish the balance sheet quietly.

The silence that hung after wasn’t exactly awkward, just deafening enough for Shinji to slam headfirst to his desk.

Though she admitted that she preferred Shinji’s collection of Sade’s greatest hits before leaving the office that night.

*

The gramophone was found lodged beneath piles of old futon the next month. The needle left trails of white scratches on his prized vinyl recordings when he turned it on, caked with dust, brown from rust. The produced sound resembled of nails scraping on chalkboard. As obsolete as me, Shinji was thinking—wondering wildly when he felt a flare of familiar reiatsu behind him.

“Wanna go for a drink?”

Pink robe fluttering in the night wind, Shunsui stood at the door of Aizen’s former bedroom, Jyuushiro in tow. Squinting his eyes to make sure they weren’t apparitions of some sort, Shinji found himself bereft of any reason to decline the offer, especially when Ukitake’s feeling well enough to go out.

After telling Momo to go home for the night, they visited the Kamome bar at South Rukongai’s 2nd district.

“Shochu for the pink guy, and amazuke for the white hair,” Shinji told the bartender, and spun around to inspect his fellow captains. “Did I get that right?”

“It’s just like you to still remember all that,” Kyouraku tipped his hat down.

Unless Ukitake’s holding down a cough, Shinji could see him actually grinning, so he bared his teeth in retort. “Not much to do after hollowfication process in the real world--aside from reading Risa’s collection and annoying the hell out of Kensei.”

When their orders arrived, Shunsui took one of the sake jugs and tipped the contents to Shinji’s cup. The latter took it without questioning, and the liquid vanished into his throat in eight seconds flat.

“My old gramophone’s busted,” Shinji mumbled to his cup, long after the alcohol has heated his cheeks and ears, and Shunsui-who hasn’t been wasted- perked up in interest. All the humor has drained from Shinji’s voice, making him sound more like a weary old man than Gotei 13’s revered high ranked office. “I’m gonna have to throw it out…but what about my recordings?”

“Send it to Kurotsuchi for repair,” Ukitake suggested. “But Shinji, it’s a miracle that the thing’s still intact and, well, working after a hundred years.”

“Why don’t you give it a well deserved rest for doing a job well done? After all, you have an eep-ot now.”

“If I throw it out, then means I have to accept the change--”

Liquor’s been known to loosen someone’s mouth, and Shinji’s no exception. His only difference from most people was he soberly knew what he was blabbering out. Shunsui looked almost apologetic when Shinji inspected him over his shoulder, head balanced on one hand and a jug in the other.

“I was thinking of giving Kuchiki a promotion,” Ukitake started to break the tension, shifting in his stool. Under the bar’s black light, his hair almost shone an eerie blue. “She deserved it, after doing grunt work for decades, an unfair death sentence and defeating an Espada.”

Shinji leaned down to the counter, eyes focusing on the numerous glasses hanging on top of him. “You’re talking about the little sister, right? Not that stuck up ass in hair curlers?”

“Yes—Rukia, she’s in my division,” Jyuushiro chuckled, but for all the world, it only sounded like half a cough and a sigh in Shinji’s ears. “It’s time to fill the vacancy. It’s something that should have been done years ago, and we need the change—to move on and finally put the past behind us.”

“By doing so, it’ll honor their memory.” Shunsui’s swift movement to fill his cup reminded Shinji of Yoruichi, and the older man raised his jug for a toast. “Tonight we celebrate for our reunion.”

“Kuchiki’s promotion,” Ukitake added, raising his cup.

Shinji followed suit, clicking his cup against theirs. For a moment, their grins were familiarly edged between compassion and humor. A lopsided, teethy grin evicted itself from his face. “And knowing when to change.”

*

His gramophone was laid neatly on his bedroom’s corner when he got up the next morning, and played his old favorites smoothly. The recording was scratch free. Surprisingly, it felt like nostalgia. In his newfound bliss, Shinji could actually recite a haiku of jazzy splendor or even endure Sosuke’s godforsaken poetry. Aside from the stamp of Urahara Shoten’s on the side, everything on the gramophone looked the same.

Momo-chan’s bowed head greeted him inside the division’s office that morning, with a steaming cup of tea on his desk.

When he told Hinamori about the miracle of the gramophone over their morning city patrol, she could hear her smile in the reply. She admitted that Kisuke had been reluctant at first, what’s with all the obsolete components and really rare parts nowadays. Then she gave him the kicked puppy look and miraculously, the gramophone was up and running in half an hour.

They’ve reached the 3rd district of South Rukongai when Hinamori finally conjured enough courage to ask him the question. “What’s Aizen-san like when he’s your subordinate, Captain Hirako?”

Deciding he would let go of the honorific omission this time, Shinji whirled around in his sandals and gave Momo-chan his trademark grin, one that Hacchi had dubbed harmless and harmful, “Why don’t you tell me about yourself first."

Comments

flo_nelja
Nov. 10th, 2009 06:36 pm (UTC)
I'm always in awe reading your Bleach fics... The balance of happy ending and a sort of sadness, and all the interpersonal relationships...
lurk_stiltzkin
Nov. 12th, 2009 04:34 pm (UTC)
Thank you as always for the wonderful comment, Nelja. I somehow feared it would be too farfetched to be true, because of Shinji's current despise for shinigamis, it won't be happening in the near future. *LOL*

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