CHAPTER 3

Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach...

Onwards...

XOXOXO

Renji stared at the table and wondered what the fuck he'd just gotten himself into. Why had he just unloaded on a guy he didn't even know? A guy he thought was kind of creepy? It didn't make sense at all, but he would admit that it felt good. Really good. It was like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders, the knife pulled from his heart. He didn't have many people he could talk to these days – no one, if he was really honest with himself, so being able to just let it all go was similar to walking on a cloud. Now, he just had to worry about what the silver-haired waiter named Gin had up his sleeve. Did he think Renji was a criminal? He probably did. After hearing a story like that, Gin had to think Renji was some type of hooligan.

Well, it wasn't like that was new.

Renji glanced down at the watch on his left wrist and sighed. It was eight PM. He'd been sitting in his apartment, feeling restless and antsy, depressed and disgusted with himself. He hated not knowing what was going on with his family. He hated the fact that they weren't speaking to him anymore. And he hated that it made him feel so pathetic. So miserable and alone. Maybe things wouldn't be so bad if he had a girlfriend – someone he could come home to and spend time with. Someone who cared about him and what he was doing with himself. Someone who was just there. Instead, he had no one.

"Shit," he muttered as he glared at the tabletop. "Stop fuckin' sulkin'."

Throwing his own personal pity party would get him nowhere. In fact, it would only make the ache of solitude sharper and more pronounced. He didn't need that. He'd come out of his apartment to get his family off his mind for the time being, even if it had resulted in him finding his way to his favorite restaurant. Which brought him back to the silver-haired man sauntering in his direction from behind the bar, tall mug of dark beer in his left hand. The other hand was in the man's pocket. Gin gave off strange and mysterious vibes, but the way he'd listened and hadn't immediately judged Renji spoke of a warm characteristic that was more than welcome.

Gin slid into the seat opposite Renji after setting the Guinness down in front of him. He didn't jump into speech; no, he calmly made himself comfortable against the leather cushioned seats and watched Renji, expression completely unreadable.

Uncertain of where to go with their tentative get-to-know-you dance, Renji lifted the glass of beer and took a slow sip. He was proud that he was able to maintain eye contact with Gin, though. Finally, when it seemed like the silence would stretch on for eternity, Gin cleared his throat and leaned forward, folding his slender hands on the table.

"So, why didja tell me that?" he asked.

Renji almost spilled his beer down the front of his shirt. Of all the things he'd thought Gin would say, that hadn't been one of them.

"I, uh... I don't know."

"I know why."

Well, if he knew, why the hell did he even bother asking? Renji thought, disgruntled. It must've shown on his face because Gin smirked.

"You don' got many friends, do ya?" he asked. Renji frowned, but didn't even have a chance to respond. "I saw the way ya looked when Shuu called ya his friend. Not really an expression a guy might wear if he was expectin' a statement like that."

"Yeah, so? You goin' somewhere with this?"

"Why dontcha have friends?"

Gin's eyes had been slitted shut up until that moment, but when that last question left his mouth, they opened and focused on Renji's face. Renji stared back, entranced. When Gin wasn't being so creepy, he was actually a good-looking guy. Maybe he should open his eyes more often. As Gin continued to stare, Renji shook himself free of his strange thoughts and shrugged his shoulders.

"I dunno. You tell me. There's obviously somethin' 'bout me that people don't take well to," he rumbled before taking another long sip of his beer.

Gin sucked his teeth and reached into the breast pocket of his white, button-up shirt. When he pulled his hand free, he had a cigarette in it. He stuck the cigarette between his teeth and rolled it back and forth as his long fingers drummed along the table top. Renji watched with amusement. Gin had to know that there was no smoking in the restaurant.

"Ya know ya can't light that up in here, right?"

Ice-blue eyes gave Renji a deadpan stare. "Really? I had no idea."

For the first time in a while, Renji chuckled, feeling carefree. He didn't know what it was about the slender, silver-haired man that made him open up to the guy, but he was starting to like it.

Just a little.

Renji sipped his beer again before deciding that he wanted to know more about Gin. He wanted to figure out why the guy seemed so mysterious. That thought in mind, he set down his glass and looked at Gin, who was staring off into space.

"How long you been workin' here?"

Gin slowly pulled himself from his thoughts and returned Renji's curious gaze. "I don' really remember," he said after taking the cigarette out of his mouth. "I'm jus' here 'til I finish up school, anyway."

"You say that like ya don't like the job."

"Nah, it's nothin' like that. I guess I jus' never gave it much thought since this is my dad's and his partner's place."

Renji nodded and sipped his beer again. When Gin was serious, his voice didn't remind him of an eccentric villain in a comic book. In fact, it was actually normal.

"My turn," Gin said abruptly, that grin back in full force. It made Renji nervous, even though he nodded his assent. "You like coffee?"

What?

"Uh...yeah, I guess. I mean, I'm not opposed to it. Why?"

Gin grinned as he rose from the cushioned booth. "'Cuz, we're gonna go grab some in a sec. I know this nice lil spot not too far from here."

Again, Renji didn't get a chance to respond before Gin was hustling off behind the bar counter. He watched as the silver-haired man pulled Urahara to the side and spoke into the older blond man's ear. After a few moments, Urahara stepped back, wearing a slight frown of confusion even as he nodded. Gin breezed through the kitchen's double doors and was back within seconds, a long, black coat covering his thin frame. He patted Urahara's shoulder and held up his hand in the universal "call me" gesture towards the orange-haired woman Renji had been seated by. She'd told him her name was Rangiku, and she was still as pretty as the first time he'd seen her.

Gin made his way back to Renji and stopped beside him, head tilted to the side. "Well? Whatcha waitin' on? Christmas?"

Renji chuckled, carried away by Gin's tempo as he shrugged and slowly stood. "Maybe. Why? Ya got a present for me?"

Gin paused, those ice blue irises revealing themselves once more as he seemed to study Renji's face. Renji was getting used to the other man's strange little quirks, so the look no longer fazed him. He waited patiently as Gin looked him over.

"What do guys like you like as presents anyway?" he finally asked.

Renji was caught off guard. "I don't know. The usual stuff, I guess. You know I was just joking, right?"

"Mah."

With that, Gin walked away from the table, hands shoved into his coat pockets. Renji followed him, a grin stretching across his face. Gin was so different from the people he was used to running across, and not only was it refreshing, but it was intriguing as well. They left the restaurant together and once outside, Renji paused and looked around. Where was the coffee place Gin had mentioned? And how long would this little impromptu "man-date" last? He had a bottle of whiskey at home that was calling his name.

Gin pulled out a cigarette – probably the same one he'd been toying with inside the restaurant – and put it between his lips. This time he withdrew a lighter and lit up, inhaling deeply before sliding a sideways glance in Renji's direction.

"You smoke?"

"Sometimes. It's no good for you, though."

"Haha! Mah, ya think I don' know that?"

"So, why do you do it?"

Gin shrugged slim shoulders. "It feels good. Ya ever do somethin' jus' 'cuz it feels good, Renji?"

The way the silver-haired man had asked that question instantly made Renji think he was referring to sex, which in turn made him wonder after Gin's sexual orientation. That gleam in his eye made the man look like a sexual deviant.

"Yeah. Too many times to count, actually."

"So, ya know the feelin', then."

They stood in silence as Gin puffed on his cigarette, filling the frosty air with the acrid scent of its smoke. Renji plunged his hands into his pockets, unsure of what to say. He wasn't too good at holding conversations anymore since he was prone to thinking that people had an ulterior motive, or were just out to judge him. It was exhausting and frustrating, but he really couldn't help what he'd become.

After a few minutes, Gin tossed the spent cigarette and started off towards the curb. Renji took that as his cue to follow him. They crossed the street to a gray sedan, where Gin disarmed the alarm and unlocked the doors. Renji rounded the car and hopped into the passenger seat, eager for warmth. The few minutes they'd spent standing outside had managed to chill him to the bone. As he waited for Gin to start the car, he rubbed his hands together, blowing on his fingers as he did so. He was wondering what he was doing in the car with a virtual stranger – wondering why exactly he'd decided to spill his guts about his past. Had Gin been right? Was it because he didn't have any friends? None close enough that he would feel comfortable sharing what'd happened to him, anyway. He had to admit, the man's words held a sliver of truth. Why else would he have told his whole life to a man he'd once (and still did at times) thought was creepy? He glanced over at Gin, only to find the man staring at him, blue eyes once again open.

"What?" he asked defensively, barely resisting the urge to run a hand over his face, or fold his arms across his chest. "Did I do somethin' wrong?"

Gin cracked that signature grin of his, making his eyes disappear. "Nope. I jus' like makin' ya squirm. It's cute."

Renji indeed fidgeted after hearing that. What was Gin talking about? Cute? What? He turned to the window and focused on the few people meandering down the sidewalk. The snow on the ground was thick and a pretty white that left the street glowing. He didn't know what to make of his new companion. Gin was like a suspense novel with so many plot twists, it made Renji dizzy.

"I ain't cute," he grumbled as an afterthought.

Gin snorted and started the car, blasting the heat after shifting the car into drive. "If you say so, Red."

XxxxxX

The small cafe was about five minutes away from the restaurant, and it was nice and quiet – a place Renji could definitely see himself frequenting from time to time. The atmosphere was peaceful, the walls a robin's egg blue, while the floor was an off-white marble. The tables were black, as were the seats, and the music playing in the background was soft jazz. Renji sat back in his seat and sipped from the large mug that was filled with caramel latte. Gin had a mug too, but his was filled with espresso. Why? Renji had no idea, since Gin seemed to have enough natural energy. He didn't need the caffeine boost the drink provided.

"Tell me 'bout yourself," Renji grunted impulsively.

He'd meant what he said about getting to know more about Gin.

Gin had been in the middle of sipping his espresso as Renji had asked his question, so he paused, the mug still lifted to his lips. After a beat, he lowered it and licked them.

"Whattaya wanna know?"

"Anything. Better yet, why'd you bring me here?"

"Tha's easy," Gin instantly replied. "'Cuz ya needed to clear yer head. Had I left ya at the restaurant ta yer own devices, ya'd probably be stumblin' home drunk right now."

He was right.

Renji shrugged and set down his mug. "Maybe. What's it to you what I do, though?"

"Ain't none a'my business, but I couldn't jus' sit there an' do nothin', ya know?"

"Mm," Renji hummed. It still didn't make any sense, but he decided to let it go for the time being. Instead of pursuing the topic, he pressed forward with another one. "So, you datin' that girl back at the restaurant? What's her name? Rangiku?"

Gin arched a brow and sat back in his seat with a sly smirk. "Why? Ya interested in her?"

"She's beautiful, but not my type. Girls like her jus' like to fuck guys like me."

"Really? So, what is yer type?"

Renji paused and actually thought about it. If he had to describe the type of woman he liked, it would have nothing to do with looks and everything to do with personality. Seemed corny, but it was true. The beautiful ones always turned out to be the more shallow ones. He was looking for someone he could talk to, someone who would be there for him when he needed her, someone who was loyal.

"Physically?" he asked.

Gin didn't miss a beat. "Whatever. Don' matter ta me. It's yer type, remember?"

Renji cleared his throat, covering his mouth with the back of his hand as he thought of a way to explain what he wanted without looking like a total lame. When he came up with nothing, he shrugged and went with his gut.

"Honestly, I'm more concerned with the personality. Mainly, someone with a strong sense of loyalty. I've been burned enough."

Gin nodded as he lifted his mug again. They lapsed into an easy silence – one where Renji didn't feel pressured to fill it with mindless chatter. He could get used to this. If only Gin was a girl. At the thought, he chuckled.

"Care ta share the joke?" Gin asked quietly, blue eyes shining with amusement.

"It's, uh...I just...thought of something funny. Y-you wouldn't understand," he stammered, embarrassed at being caught.

The silver-haired man leaned forward and grinned. "Try me."

Renji was tempted, if only to see what Gin's reaction would be. However, he changed his mind at the last second. He was positive that no matter how eccentric Gin seemed, he wouldn't look too kindly at being wished a female. Renji shook his head.

"Maybe some other time."

They went silent again, but this time the air was riddled with curious tension, all of it emanating from his companion. There goes that word again, Renji thought. It was the second time he'd used it in his mind tonight, but there was nothing else he could think of to label Gin with. It made sense, as strange as that sounded.

The peace of the little shop was interrupted by the tinkling bell over the entrance. Renji looked up and froze, heart jack-hammering in his chest. His mouth was open as he stared at a face he hadn't seen in over three years – one he'd longed to see, but had no idea of how to go about doing it. Bright red hair peeked from beneath a black and gray snowball hat, and dark eyes were gleaming behind black, plastic frames. The boy had gotten taller, his hair a little longer, but he was still the same. He smiled at the pale-haired kid he was with before reaching over and grasping the boy's hand. Renji frowned, but was still too stunned to do much more than that.

"Hey, you OK?" Gin asked. His voice sounded like it was miles away inside a tin can. "Renji?"

Renji slowly climbed to his feet after placing his mug on the table. He was surprised he hadn't dropped it and spilled his latte all over his clothes. After another moment of debating within himself about whether he should approach the boy or not, he inwardly steeled himself and made his way over. The two teenagers were standing in front of the counter, quietly bickering over what to order, when Renji came to a stop behind them. The red-haired kid's voice was like stepping inside one's home during a raging storm: safe and familiar.

"Jinta?"

The red head turned with a confused scowl before recognition hit him and widened his dark eyes. He stared for a few beats before his voice came out as a low squeak.

"R-Renji?"

XOXOXO

Gin sat at the cafe table, utterly flabbergasted. He had mustered the courage to take Renji out on a small outing, deeply affected by the man's heart-felt words back at the restaurant, and now, his "date" had wandered off to talk to some teen, who hauntingly resembled Renji himself. He had the same fire engine red hair, the same straight nose and the same full lips. It was almost disconcerting. Gin looked on in confusion. He wanted to go over and find out what was going on – wanted to figure out why Renji had left the table after looking like he'd seen a plane fall out of the sky. But it wasn't his business, so he stayed put. Didn't keep him from watching the exchange, though.

Renji was staring at the younger boy, eyes wide and clearly shocked. Who the hell was that kid? And then, Gin recalled something Renji had told him at the restaurant that made his own eyes open up with surprise. Maybe that was... He stared a little harder and nodded to himself. It had to be. Renji had told him that he hadn't seen his family since he'd been locked up, and since the kid was obviously too young to be Renji's father, he had to be the kid brother Renji had mentioned.

"Holy shit," Gin breathed.

He continued to watch the two red heads interact, Renji's brows lowering from their shocked position into a deep scowl as he glared at the younger boy. Gin wished he could hear what was being said, but knew better than to approach his newly made friend. He didn't want to invade the man's privacy anymore than he already had. He reached into his pocket and retrieved a cigarette before sticking it between his lips and rolling it back and forth with his teeth. It was a habit he had when he was feeling flustered or anxious – something Rangiku teased him about all the time. He was close to lighting up, when Renji suddenly snarled at the red-haired teenager.

"You were supposed to be my fuckin' brother, Jinta!"

After that, Renji whirled on his heel and stormed back to the table, where he grabbed his hoodie, slipped into it and took off for the door. Gin was so stunned, he sat immobile for a few seconds, trying to figure out what had just happened, but then, he jumped to his feet and grabbed his own coat. He dropped a few bills on the table to cover his and Renji's tab and jogged from the cafe behind the irate red head. Once he was on the sidewalk, he looked left first, then right before he spotted the man stomping up the street.

"Hey, Red! Wait up!" he called.

Renji's long-legged stride didn't even pause. That kind of stung. Gin had begun thinking that they'd established some type of camaraderie, but he must've been wrong. He found himself running again as he caught up to Renji and grasped the slightly taller man's elbow.

"What the hell, Red? Wha's goin' on?"

Renji finally responded, but not the way Gin had been expecting. He pulled to an abrupt stop and snatched his arm out of Gin's grip.

"Look, Gin, I appreciate the gesture an' all that, but I ain't in the mood ta talk right now. Leave me the fuck alone."

Gin scowled, his hands falling to his sides. Well, there went all of his hard work. Renji had retreated into his shell again, and there seemed to be no drawing him out this time around. Resigned, he held up his hands in surrender before remembering the cigarette in his mouth and grabbing his lighter from his pocket. He lit up and shook his head.

"Fine," he mumbled, eyes hard and narrowed. "I'll do that. Have a nice life, Red."

He turned away from Renji and headed for his car, but not before he spotted the red head's obvious grimace of remorse. Gin was a few feet away when Renji called out to him, but Gin ignored him. Let the oaf have a taste of his own fucking medicine for a change.

XxxxxxxX

"Aww, Gin-bo. You look sad."

Gin rolled his eyes at his best friend as he set a wine glass onto his cherry wood coffee table. He was seated cross-legged on his plush, beige, soft leather couch, while Rangiku was seated on the floor in front of him. She had on a pair of white lounge shorts and a neon-pink, lace-trimmed cami. If Gin was attracted to females, he would be drooling at all of the exposed cleavage and creamy-looking skin – best friend or not.

His attire for the evening was a dark-blue wife beater and matching pajama pants, and a cigarette was stuck behind his left ear. They were having their usual weekend bonding time, which always included several bottles of wine and a plethora of chick flicks. Gin sat back against the cushions of the couch and sighed. He wasn't necessarily sad, but he was disappointed at losing his chance to get closer to one of the sexiest men he'd ever seen in his life. After a brief moment of silence, he sighed again.

"Oh, wow. You sound like you're in love or something. What's going on?" Rangiku continued, blue eyes totally amused.

"I was this close ta gettin' him ta open up ta me. This close!" he blurted as he held the index finger and thumb of his left hand a millimeter apart. "Then, he jus' shut down on me. I don' get that guy."

"What do you mean he just shut down on you?"

Gin snatched the cigarette from behind his ear. Just thinking of the scene between him and the red head caused a deep urge to ingest some nicotine. He lit up and after his first pull and exhale, he rolled his eyes in Rangiku's direction.

"He shut down. He basically told me ta fuck off."

"Ouch."

"Yeah, my point exactly."

They went quiet again as Gin enjoyed his cigarette. He couldn't stop thinking about Renji and how upset the man had been. It was now clear that the red-haired teenager in the cafe had been Renji's estranged brother. Gin wondered why – not for the first time – the youngster had distanced himself from Renji. Was it because of their parents? Was it because he'd judged Renji and found the man lacking? Or...was it because of the pale-haired kid that he'd been holding hands with at the time? Gin doubted Renji had any idea that his kid brother was gay, but it was obvious as a flood light to Gin. There was no mistaking the look the younger red head had had in his eyes when he'd looked at his companion.

Would Renji be disgusted? Was that what the younger red head was thinking? Gin sighed. Hell, anything was possible.

"I think tonight's a comedy night. You need to lighten up because you're being a drag, Gin-bo. I'm not used to this cloud of gloom you've got hanging around you."

He nodded slowly. His best friend was right. Normally, they were loud and boisterous at a time like this, but since he couldn't keep Renji from invading his thoughts, his behavior was affected.

"Sorry, babe. I'll do better, 'kay?"

"Good. So, which is it? Two Weeks' Notice, orrrrr...Bridget Jones's Diary?"

"I'll take door number two, thanks. Maybe if I watch somebody else's humiliation, it'll lessen my own."

"Oh, don't be such a drama queen," Rangiku scoffed as she crawled over to the TV, DVD in hand. "He was probably having a bad night. I guarantee he'll be back at the restaurant, looking to apologize or something."

Gin shrugged, but he didn't think so. Renji had seemed pissed after he'd shouted at his little brother and taken off in the opposite direction of the cafe. However, even though it seemed farfetched, anything was possible. He watched Rangiku slip the disc into the player and crawl back to her spot in front of him. She leaned against the cushion, her temple resting on his knee, and Gin smirked. Rangiku had about as much subtlety as a freight train barreling along railroad tracks. He reached forward and undid the tie keeping her hair up. Once the silken mass had fallen to her back, he ran his fingers through it, reveling in its texture and smell. He finger-combed the apricot-colored tresses for a bit before he finally gathered them into three sections and began a long braid. Rangiku hummed in pleasure as he repeated the process about five times. The movie had begun playing, and by the time the first ten minutes had gone by, Gin was in a deep trance, Bridget Jones and her diary miles away from his mind.

XxxxxxxX

"Why are Mondays so boring?" Rangiku whined as she leaned against the bar counter. "There's almost no one here!"

Gin glanced around the nearly empty restaurant before going back to filling a tall glass with Budweiser.

"It's almos' time ta close, anyway. Stop complainin'."

"Awww, you're no fun ever since that red head broke your heart."

Gin pursed his lips and tossed a wet rag at the woman's head. Rangiku giggled and danced out of the line of fire, but not before blowing Gin a saucy kiss.

"Shut up!" he snapped.

He was only upset because she was right. Renji hadn't broken his heart, but he had been a huge disappointment. A whole week and three days had gone by and Gin still hadn't seen hide nor hair of the man. Maybe he never would again. He shook his head and set the glass of beer on a medium-sized, round platter before carrying it to the big man sitting alone in the corner of the restaurant.

Eyes the color of steel glanced at him, amusement residing within their depths. "Who's been messin' witcha, Slick?"

Despite his funky mood, Gin found himself smirking at the huge man sitting before him as he set the beer down.

"What makes ya think someone's been messin' wit' me?"

The man ran a hand through long, dark hair as he grinned, the expression predatory. The scar slicing through his left eye didn't help things, either. If one didn't know the guy, one would think he was the Boogeyman, but Gin knew firsthand that Kenpachi Zaraki was nothing of the sort. He could be if he wanted to, but normally, he wasn't.

"'Cuz ya don' got that stupid smile on yer face taday."

"Yeah, I do."

"Nah, it ain't the same. Like I said, ya look like someone took that cookie jar with yer secret stash in it."

Gin threw his head back and cackled. No one aside from Rangiku and this man knew about the secret stash in his cookie jar.

"Long as ya keep it a secret from my Pop, Unc."

"Ha! Ya think my brother don' know ya smoke pot from time ta time?" Kenpachi retorted with an arched eyebrow.

That was news to Gin. If his father knew about that little pastime, then he kept it to himself. Well, I guess that's better in the long run, he thought.

"Mah, oh, well," he mumbled.

"Seriously, Slick. Who's been fuckin' witchu?"

"It's cool, Unc. No big deal."

"Ya sure?"

"Yep. Don' drink that too fast," Gin said before sauntering back to the bar.

Rangiku was there waiting for him as he rounded the edge of the counter. "You know, if your uncle didn't look so damned scary, I'd try to ask him out," she said wistfully.

Gin rolled his eyes and snorted. "As if I haven't heard that a million times. It ain't like ya don' know how he really is by now. Ya got no excuses."

He leaned against the liquor shelf and folded his arms over his chest, waiting for his best friend to chew him out because she was too afraid to speak up.

"I can't do that, Gin-bo! He's terrifying! Not to mention he's like twenty years older than me!"

"And that matters how? Hell, even Hugh Hefner had chicks."

Rangiku opened her mouth to retort, but abruptly stopped, her eyes focused on the mirror behind Gin. He frowned, wondering what the hell she was looking at, only to have his internal question immediately answered. The door to the restaurant entrance swung open, admitting a tall figure dressed in a dark-blue coverall, black construction boots and a black cable knit hat. His blood-red hair was pulled into a long braid that hung over his right shoulder, and his russet eyes were locked on Gin's face. Gin refused to acknowledge the butterflies waging war in his gut as Renji drew closer. The man's face was utterly unreadable, and it just made Gin even more nervous.

Not that he'd show it.

Renji came to a stop in front of the bar counter and placed both hands on top of it. He lowered his eyes to the wooden surface for a few, long seconds before raising them and taking a visible, deep breath.

"Can I talk to you for a minute?" he finally asked, deep voice just as sinful as Gin remembered.

Before he totally lost himself in those soulful eyes, Gin had to remind himself that Renji had been the one to brush him off. He fixed his face until it was totally blank before he tilted his head.

"...So, talk already."

Renji sighed and ran a hand over his face before fixing Gin with a hard stare. "Alone."

Gin's eyebrows flew to the ceiling at the same time that Rangiku lifted her hands and backed away from the bar.

"Aaaaaannnnnd that's my cue. Later, Gin-bo," she said with a small wave and a wink.

He shook his head, but returned his focus to the man in front of him. Renji wasn't smiling. In fact, he looked like he hadn't slept in years – forget days. Gin couldn't keep a frown from creasing his brows.

"Who died?" he asked.

Renji didn't say anything for a few moments; he just studied Gin's face, which, frankly, made the silver-haired man more than uncomfortable. Why was it that Renji's behavior was making Gin feel as though he was the guilty party?

"Let's go somewhere else and talk," the red-haired man finally stated. "Please."

Well, how the hell could he say no?