Minutes to Midnight

Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach. That honor belongs to Tite Kubo. All characters are depicted as legal age.

Warnings: Definitely AU at this point, Spoilers for the Soul Society Arc and Beyond

This is final part of the 30 Kisses challenge on LiveJournal, #24: Goodnight.

Title is a shout out to an awesome Gin/Ichigo fic by my partner in crime, Dracoqueen22.

"The haori suits you."

Gin made a face in the mirror, but Retsu-chan simply smiled behind him. The haori was brand new, and Gin suspected that they'd destroyed all his old ones. The fit was good, as expected, but the lining wasn't quite the right shade. It was too green, almost a turquoise, and no matter how much he nagged them, they kept insisting it was fine.

"It's a good color," Retsu-chan added as if reading his mind, and quite possibly, she had.

Gin just shrugged, ignoring the pull in his chest and shoulder. Aizen had barely been dead a fortnight, and a week of that, Gin himself had been completely out of it. They were only just now letting him leave. And with a haori that wasn't right to boot.

"Remind me why I agreed ta this again," Gin commented as he finally turned to face her.

Retsu-chan gave a laugh. "You enjoy being a captain and make a wonderful one."

"Not ta mention that yer already down a few," he inserted, but it was pleasantly enough and held no bitterness. "That's the same reason they let Toushirou back even though he went AWOL fer months."

"Perhaps," she allowed. "Or perhaps it wasn't so much allowing as begging to have the pair of you back. You're both heroes after all. Brave Hitsugaya-taichou who killed Aizen and even braver Ichimaru-taichou who played the spy against him for so long."

Gin snorted with disbelief. "That's a complete an' utter bold-faced lie."

"But they don't know that, my dear." Retsu-chan inclined her head and smiled wider. "There is no one alive left to contradict us, and it is true after a fashion. Really, what harm will it do?" She looked at him with something that'd be smugness on anyone else. "Besides, I'm captain-commander now, and if I say so, it must certainly be true."

"Not ta mention there's no Chamber 46 ta countermand ya," he put in with a raised brow.

That earned him a glowing look that was a tad too pleased. "And there won't be for some time. A very long, long time."

Which basically meant never if she had her way. There'd never be another Chamber 46 to lead them into evil and ruin. Despite the innocent cast to her face, Gin knew that she was already scheming. Already dreaming up better ways for Seireitei and Soul Society. A world in which most of the population didn't live in abject poverty and misery. Where blood and death were the exception and not the rule. Where there was no room for someone like Aizen to form again, much less rise to power.

"But such is the way of life," Retsu-chan murmured, moving to stand beside him with all the warmth in the world. "I'm glad to have you back, my dear boy."

The kiss pressed to his temple was unexpected but not unwanted. He just leaned into the touch before she stepped away.

"And now, I have a rather pressing engagement," Retsu-chan said with a final squeeze to his shoulder. "I dare say I've left him waiting long enough."

She turned with far too much bounce in her step. Gin couldn't help but grin.

"Send Stark-kun my love," he called after her, but all he earned was an extra sway in her hips as she departed.

Gin looked after her a minute before moving to make his own exit. Izuru was outside waiting for him in the early morning air and greeted him brightly. Retsu-chan would kill him for going in to work today, but Gin really didn't want to have to sit and stare at the inside of his house all day, and he could only imagine the horrible state it'd be in since he'd not only been gone over a year but had left as a traitor in the process. It was better to turn towards the third division, a far too knowing gleam in Izuru's gaze.

The streets were full of both Shinigami and whispers as they went. Nobody around them pointed, but they didn't need to, and it didn't take a genius to figure out why. He might've left as a traitor, but he'd returned as a hero, and suddenly, Gin was everyone's favorite topic of conversation and attention both.

Just about the only ones not gossiping or simpering like some schoolgirl with a crush were the Kuchiki siblings they passed on the main thoroughfare out of the fourth. Kuchiki the elder was aloof as always, above the din of the onlookers and standing apart from everyone but his sister. But he did deign to give Gin a nod as their eyes met, while Kuchiki the younger gave a near bow, and Gin tried very hard not to remember the exceedingly awkward meeting they'd had the day after he'd woke up for good. Yeah, he'd saved her life, but that was an experience he'd rather blot from his mind forever thanks very much and please don't mention it again. Like ever.

Besides, she was Ichigo's nakama, and he'd have been seven sorts of upset if Gin had let her die. That and Kuchiki the elder was scarier than Aizen had ever thought of being, and it was nice to be on his good side for once. He'd even gotten Gin a get-well gift and everything, though he probably should've thought the better of including wine when Rangiku was around.

Somehow, Gin managed to make it to his office and his desk without any incident, a miracle in and of itself considering his life in general. But he wasn't in his seat five seconds when the first knock came at his door. It was his fifth-seat, eager to check in on him and even more eager to bring him breakfast without asking. She was followed by the third-seat and then his two sixths. Next a dozen more of his officers and several handfuls of his unseated members. A whirlwind visit by Kyouraku-taichou, who left seconds before his dear Nanao-chan showed up, and then Izuru's little friends Hisagi and Abarai-kun. They were followed by even more of Gin's subordinates until the entire division and nearly half of the others seemed to find the excuse to come by. Some to ask after his health. Others to bring him gifts. Even more just to say hello. All to welcome him back.

Rangiku stopped in for lunch and stayed until it was far past time to go home, but she was knocked out on the sofa in the corner by then. Sleeping with her head on one arm and the other dangling off the side to brush the floor. Gin adjusted her to a more comfortable position, and Izuru found a blanket to tuck around her legs. She was still fast asleep by the time Gin locked up, and he didn't doubt that he'd find her there when he came by next morning. She'd spent far too much time by his bedside the last few weeks and even more trying to keep her division afloat without its captain.

Izuru offered to let Gin stay at his house for the night, but that was interrupted midway with a yawn, and Gin quickly remembered that Rangiku wasn't the only one who'd been under so much stress lately. He waved off his lieutenant and left on his own. The walk back was quiet, but he still earned far too many stares and almost star-struck looks for his comfort. His house wasn't exactly as he'd left it over a year earlier, but it was close enough. By far, most of his possessions were there and intact, and someone had been by recently to clean much to his surprise. There was even food in the cupboards and a fresh watermelon on the counter just waiting to be cut and shared.

The door to the back porch was open halfway when Gin walked by on the way to his bedroom, and he hesitated a second before going to peek out. Toushirou sat along the edge, bare feet tickling against the grass, sandals and socks in a pile to his left. He was still in his haori, and Gin caught a glimpse of the lining when he stepped outside and Toushirou turned to look at him. It was a pale blue, the same shade that Gin saw every time he looked in a mirror. Just as the inside of his own haori was an all too familiar blue-green.

Suddenly, Gin sensed a set-up, and he had a feeling he knew exactly who to blame. Sometimes, Retsu really was too meddling for her own good. Either her or Jyuu-san. Or even Yoruichi-san. Maybe all three.

He just shook his head, and Toushirou gave him a puzzled look as Gin sat down next to him.

"I'll tell ya later," he said, already moving to take off his own socks and sandals.

It was nice out here, unseasonably warm but not too hot since the sun had set hours before. Shinsou was a pleasant weight in his hand as he slid her from his sash, and she gave a flare of greeting as he placed her next to Hyourinmaru off to the side. Both blades hummed with contentment as they lay next to each other, and Toushirou glanced at them with something like amusement.

"How was yer first day back?" Gin questioned then.

Toushirou gave a lazy shrug. "About the same as yours probably. It felt like everyone and their brother stopped by, but somehow, I lost my lieutenant around lunch time when Ukitake showed up."

Gin chuckled. "And how is Jyuu-san? Haven't seen him since he escaped the fourth the other day."

"The same as always," Toushirou replied, and there was affection in his voice though he'd deny it until his dying day. "Relieved that we won. Sad that the old man died. Happy that Unohana has lifted so many exiles and invited the two of us back. Apparently, there's already talk about throwing some sort of huge festival. If Hirako's to be believed, Urahara and the Shiba clan are supposed to be putting together something spectacular."

"Well, they do have a good reason ta celebrate," Gin pointed out, toes threading through the silken grass. "The Vizard and co even more than the rest of ys."

His companion gave a tilt of his head in acknowledgment, but he remained quiet for a moment. Almost contemplative. Tired as his foot brushed Gin's before digging into the ground. He was still too pale from his own stay in the fourth, and the dark circles under his eyes lingered. Gin didn't have to guess why. Despite the end of the war, despite their warm welcome in Seireitei, all was not well.

"How's Hinamori-chan?" Gin asked quietly, almost tentative.

Toushirou grimaced, and that was answer enough.

His childhood friend hadn't dealt with Aizen's betrayal well at all and his death even less so. She was still so lost, so twisted inside. So certain that the lies she'd seen were nothing but the truth.

"She's… dealing." Toushirou rolled his shoulders, brushing against Gin's arm. "They won't let her out of the fourth for a while, and Kotetsu and Yamada will be watching her closely even longer. She didn't realize I was in the same room earlier; she didn't even see me." He bit his lip and shook his head.

"I'm sorry," Gin said, and he meant it.

He knew his own role in things, his own guilt. This was just as much his fault as Aizen's, and he'd done little to stop it.

Toushirou sighed. "I know. I don't blame you." He glanced at Gin, eyes dark but lacking accusation. "This is just the way things are now. It was Aizen's doing, and she'll just have to accept that he wasn't the saint she thought."

Gin opened his mouth and then promptly closed it. There wasn't really anything he could say to that, and they sat in silence until Gin had just about decided enough time had passed. But then, he heard Toushirou's stomach growl and fought a subsequent grin.

"Ya want some watermelon?" he inquired instead and made a move to rise, but a hand on his arm stopped him short.

"Later," Toushirou responded, grip slacking but not going away entirely. "I want to stay for a while longer. It's nice out here."

He slid this toes into the grass once more to emphasize his point, even as a breeze tugged at both of them. Despite their Shinigami robes and the change of venue, Gin was suddenly reminded of the garden behind Urahara-san's shouten. How often they'd gone out during the scorching summer to sit in the cooler evenings. How good it'd felt to be side by side and together so openly. How easy it'd been to watch the plants sway in the wind and let the world pass them by.

He'd miss that shop, Gin realized. He'd miss it even though he was home now. He'd miss his time there, miss the people.

But maybe not as much if they came to Soul Society like Yoruichi-san had said they would. Maybe even less so if Shinji and Ichigo and all the others visited often and eventually decided to stay. One day. Someday. All of them together like they should be. Friends and family and more.

He'd still miss it. Missed it already. But he'd missed Seireitei, too. Missed his house. Missed his division and his subordinates. Izuru and Rangiku and his friends. Retsu-chan. Jyuu-san. Even Kuchiki the younger and her brother.


But he had them all back now and more besides. Yeah, it'd been hard. Yeah, it'd hurt. But he was back now, and things would only get better still. And even Hinamori-chan would eventually come around.

"It's good ta be home," Gin abruptly decided aloud, and it was.

He missed the shop already, but he'd be glad to sleep in his own bed in his own house tonight. He was glad to be here. Gladder even that Toushirou was here, too.

Toushirou actually gave something of a smile then, and his eyes lightened considerably.

"It is," he agreed, lifting his head up until their gazes met. Searching. Finding.

They looked at each other for a second before Gin found himself leaning forward unconsciously, only to be met halfway. Toushirou's mouth was warm on his, and a hand titled Gin's chin down further after the second kiss, lingering on his face during the third.

Afterwards, their breaths still mingled with the scents of mint and apples. They ate watermelon and watched the moon drift across the sky side by side and without regret.

Ever Hopeful,