Stray Words

Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach. That honor belongs to Tite Kubo.

Warnings: Speculation, Spoilers for recent chapters

"Are sins ever forgiven?"

The sun is just a distant dream on the horizon, but the night air is still pleasant and warm. A breeze tugs at his haori, and an empty jug of sake sits to his left. Beyond it, Shunsui is sprawled in the grass, hat tipped back as he admires the emerging stars.

It's a calm scene. A familiar one. It could be any day for them really. Any time in the last few thousands of years that they've been friends.

But it isn't, and that's the problem.

It isn't just any day. It's a day that's everything and nothing. It means little for Soul Society. Just the death-day of yet another enemy they've somehow acquired. It means more for Ichigo. The day he regained his powers and his position as well.

It means a lot for Jyuushiro. More than he could ever say.

"Can they be?"

His voice is softer now. Not that it wasn't before. Jyuushiro would almost think that Shunsui hadn't heard him the first time or even the second, but he knows this man better than he knows himself. Shunsui is merely considering, merely giving the question the time it deserves. His hat his pulled low now, and Shunsui can't see the stars, but Jyuushiro catches the flicker of his gaze before his eyes close.

The crickets chirp around them, and the only other sound is the wind through the grass. Jyuushiro is too old to fidget as he sits there, as he waits for Shunsui's opinion on the matter. But he does anyway.

He doesn't have the original badge anymore. It wasn't even his to begin with, and it's undoubtedly lost to the ages now. But Jyuushiro's fingers still twitch and bend at his side as if they feel the weight of it in his palm. Feel the reiatsu of the man who'd once carried it without realizing what it really was until it was too late.

Ginjou died a traitor, but was it really betrayal if they had struck the first blow? Could they really blame him for all he'd done when they done the same and worse? To him? To others? To another lost boy who'd found his way to their cause?

Jyuushiro fists his hands to keep his fingers still, but in the end, it's not enough.

It never is.

"Would we deserve it?"

Shunsui is still quiet beside him, but it truly hasn't been that long. It only feels like forever as they sit in silence and look out at nothing.

He wonders where Ichigo will bury Ginjou. Somewhere far from here to be sure. Somewhere the Shinigami will never find him. Will never be able to dig him up or desecrate his grave as Jyuushiro knows they would.

Perhaps that's the worst part of all. That Jyuushiro will never be able to go there. That he can never leave flowers or rest his hand on the marker. That he'll always wonder if Ginjou regretted anything in the end. If he wished he could go back and do things differently. Or exactly the same.

If he was ever sorry for any of it.

"Are sins ever forgiven?" Jyuushiro repeats a final time, and now, his head is tipped back, gazing at the stars.

Shunsui sighs then but doesn't look at him.

"Do you want them to be?"

Ever Hopeful,