Warning: since this fic will go up to the end of the Deicide Arc, there will be plenty of spoilers. And I will be including facts and information learned in the Fullbringer Arc and the Thousand Year Blood War Arc as well, if relevant to the plot. This is your final spoiler warning.
Foreword: Ichimaru Gin is my overall favorite "Bleach" character, for his trickster personality and his undying devotion to Rangiku. Like all the other Gin fans, I wished he had survived his encounter with Aizen in the Deicide Arc, if not succeed in his assassination attempt. There are plenty of fanfics out there in which Gin does survive, and even a few where he is victorious over Aizen, but I've only come across one or two stories where Gin never joins Aizen in the first place. So today on September 10, Gin's birthday, I publish the first chapter in in a saga of What Could Have Been, had our favorite silver fox not taken the path of vengeance, or needed to. And so, without further ado, we proceed into an alternate timeline.
Another absolutely adorable sneeze escaped from young Rangiku, despite her best efforts to hold it in.
When the girl had woken up that morning sniffling and sneezing, Gin had ordered her to stay put and rest. Out of contrariness and stubbornness, she had rejected his diagnosis and the bed rest order. In her opinion, the shack that the two children had taken up residence in was good only for sleeping in and providing shelter during snow and rain. On a sunny if a bit chilly day like this, Rangiku wanted to go outside and enjoy the weather.
But Gin was quite insistent that she take it easy.
"I told ya," her best friend (a title Rangiku was seriously reconsidering at the moment) chided her. "Yer sick, an' ya need to stay here an' rest."
"I am not sick," the girl stubbornly retorted. She was immediately invalidated by a "Ka-chew!"
"Either yer sick, or someone's talkin' 'bout ya a lot."
"You're talking to about me right now!"
"No, I'm talkin' to ya; there's a difference."
"What's the- the- KA-chew!" Sniff. "Difference?"
"Ya need to stay here an' rest," Gin ignored her question and repeated his prior instruction. "If ya don't do what I say, I'm gonna have to punish ya."
"You aren't my mother, so- KA-chew!" Sniff. "So you can't tell me- dang it, Gin!"
In that one moment she closed her eyes to sneeze, he had slipped out on her. Again. And he neglected to tell her where he was going. Again.
Rangiku sighed and lay back down. She immediately noticed how her body welcomed the action, and grudgingly admitted to herself that maybe Gin was right, and maybe she did need some rest. While it would have been nice to go outside and enjoy the late autumn weather before snow came, there really was nothing that she absolutely must do today. That was her final thought as her body systems slowed down, and she sank into a catnap.
As Gin explored the nearby forest in search of his favorite persimmon tree, while also being sure to keep an eye out for firewood, the boy heard a commotion and slid into a nearby bush for cover. He peeked out between the branches and saw a group of men walking not too far away. Thankfully, they had not noticed him. Rather than take this opportunity to flee, however, Gin instead chose to follow them, and to learn what threat they might represent.
He knew who they were: shinigami. He had seen all types of shinigami pass through these forests. There were the good ones that slew Hollows and were kind to the residents of the Rukongai, but those were few and far between especially this far out into the districts. The usual shinigami were decent at best; they did their job and little more, keeping justice but otherwise paying little attention to the poorer classes of Soul Society.
And then there were guys like the group Gin saw now. They were men who were nothing more than thugs, and bullied the weaker souls just because they felt like it.
The three men he saw now were only a little different in that they did not torment the residents of the Rukongai for mere pleasure. They were on a mission of some sorts, attacking people seemingly at random and stealing parts of their souls. For what reason, Gin did not know or care. What did concern him was that the victims of these particular shinigami often ended up dead, the very essence of their spirit stolen from them.
With these thugs roaming so close to their neck of the woods, Gin was very glad that Rangiku was staying home today.
He gave idle thought to seeing if he could find a way to kill one or more of the hunters. Gin doubted that anyone would miss them, and it would mean that less nasty people to worry about in the future.
He dismissed the idea after a moment's thought. He didn't want to leave Rangiku alone any longer than he had to, since she was sick right now.
However, the idea that Gin could kill one of those shinigami gave rise to another brainstorm. If he, a random peasant of the Rukongai, could kill them, fully trained shinigami, then why did Gin and Rangiku have to hide every time those men and others like them showed up? Out here in the Rukongai, it was survival of the fittest. What made him fit enough to survive was his intelligence, and Gin knew that both he and his sole friend had enough spiritual power to require food to survive. Didn't that mean that they had enough power not to be afraid of thugs like the ones roaming the forests of the Rukongai? The only problem was that they lacked the knowledge as to how to make use of that power. And everyone knew that the only place you could learn stuff about spiritual power was the Seireitei.
Tucking that thought to the side for now, Gin resumed his search for food, and finally located the grove. After he had gathered an armful of persimmons and a decent amount of kindling, he decided to return to the shack. Since the persimmons were fresh off the tree, he would not be able to dry them to his liking, but they were better than nothing.
Gin arrived at the shelter, and left the sticks in the small pile he had collected next to the small structure. Then he ducked into the entrance and checked how Rangiku was doing.
His smile turned smug when he saw the golden-haired girl gently napping on the floor. Quietly, he put down the persimmons in a pile by one of the walls, and ducked outside once more for another errand.
Since Rangiku was sick, she needed fluids to drink in addition to rest and food. The river was not that far away, but it would be rather inconvenient for her to walk there as often as she needed. So Gin decided he would take the liberty of acquiring some bowls or a pitcher or some other water container.
After he had procured the needed materials and filled them with water, he returned to the shack. This time, Rangiku was awake, and she greeted him with, "KA-chew!"
"I see yer still 'not sick,'" Gin noted smugly as he entered the small shelter with a pitcher of water and a couple of bowls in hand.
"Where'd you go?" Rangiku sniffed, choosing to ignore his smart-aleck remark.
"I jus' went out to get some food an' water."
"You never tell me where you go."
He busied himself with their lunch arrangements, resolutely not looking at her. "Does it matter?"
"Yes! What if something happens to you and- and- KA-chew!"
"Don't worry, Rangiku. I can take care o' myself," Gin assured her as he poured water into the two bowls, and set one next to her. "By the way, some nasty folk have been wanderin' a bit close to here, so we'll need to lay low."
"You've already made me stay in while I'm sick," she protested. "If you want me to lay any lower, you'll have to get a shovel and bury me underground!"
"If ya keep complainin' like that, I jus' might take ya up on that."
"But I hate staying in here! It's so boring and dull!"
"Better borin' than dead."
"I hate you."
"No, ya don't."
"Ya always know what to say, don't ya, Rangiku?"
Gin only gave her an impish smile in return as he handed her a persimmon to eat. Somewhat mollified by the offering, Rangiku threw him a half-hearted glare before she took a bite out of her meal. A comfortable silence settled between them as the two friends ate their lunch.
"Rangiku, I was thinkin' earlier," Gin started a conversation after he had finished his first piece.
"Why do we gotta run an' hide every time someone nasty comes along? I betcha we both got more reiatsu than most people 'round here."
"But we don't know how to use it."
"So we learn."
"Easy; we become shinigami."
Rangiku paused as she thought over his words, and asked, "Why?"
"Why not? They got a good place to live, so at least we don't have to worry 'bout starvin'."
"Isn't it dangerous?"
"Wouldn't be fun unless there was a lil' risk."
She cocked an eyebrow at him. "Didn't you just say that it was 'better borin' than dead?'"
"That's different. If we become shinigami, then we'll be strong 'nough that the actual chance o' us dyin' will be lower than if we stay where we are."
The golden-haired child pondered the thought for a minute longer.
"Sure, let's give it a- KA-chew!" Sniff. "…give it a try," she finished.
"After yer not sick anymore."
"Congratulations, Ichimaru Gin," the headmaster intoned as he handed over a scroll bound in a black string. "You have completed the entire Academy course in one year, the fastest graduation in history. Because of your accomplishment, you have been given the privilege of choosing which division to join. While your exact rank is up to the captain, a seated officer position is guaranteed. So, which division is most suited to your abilities and interests?"
The young prodigy knew his answer immediately. He had researched the captains and their divisions after he realized that he could complete his education in an unprecedented single year. With a record like that, Gin suspected they would have accepted him into the legendary and very exclusive First Division if he had asked for it. He had no interest in doing so, of course, for the simple fact that they were all a bunch of stiffs, in his opinion.
The Second Division appealed to him, because sneaking around was something he was good at. There was even the bonus of having a captain with a reputation for being laid-back and fun. But in the end, he concluded the Second was not for him; if he wanted to spend the rest of his life leaping from the shadows and stabbing people in the back, he would have stayed in the Rukongai. And then there was the fact that he wanted to stay with Rangiku. While it would be another few years until she graduated, he was determined to be in a division they would both like. One full of assassins was not the place for his best friend, so the Second was discounted from his options.
Aside from making sure Rangiku would be nearby, the primary factor in Gin's decision was the personality of the captain. For starters, he wanted the person to be fun. He had no desire to suffer under a dry stickler for rules who wouldn't know a good joke if it danced in front of them and recited the history of Soul Society. That's why the First, Sixth, and Ninth Divisions were off his list.
The second factor in his choice that was equally important as the first was education. Gin wanted to actually learn how to fight, and more importantly, how to win. Life in the Rukongai had taught him that there was no honor in battle. It was a fight for survival, and nothing else mattered other than getting out alive. The Eleventh would be a good place to make sure one got training on how to be strong, but Gin did not like to rely on brute strength. He knew that even if he became a captain one day, there would always be someone stronger.
So the solution was to find a division where he could learn how to use strength, speed, and intelligence to win. Again, the Second Division came to mind, but there were other options, such as the Fifth or Thirteenth. He gave some thought to the Twelfth Division, but elected not to on the grounds that their captain was too new. While it would be interesting to witness firsthand how this new captain would handle his position, Gin thought it a better idea to settle on a captain with a more solidified reputation. The Seventh was like the Eleventh in that it emphasized strength, but it was also more balanced, and the captain had a decent reputation.
However, the place that appealed to him the most was…
"The Eighth Division, under Kyōraku-taichō."
"So, you wish me to teach you the art of war?"
Gin nodded at Kyōraku's solemn request for confirmation.
"Why?" the captain asked.
"We're shinigami, ain't we?" the young Fifth Seat replied. "So we should do the best we can to get stronger an' better."
The colorfully clad captain stroked his stubble. "True, but not many come to me to ask for lessons. After all, I'm not the best fighter in the Gotei 13."
"Quite true," Lisa agreed bluntly. "It goes without saying that both Yamamoto-sōtaichō and Unohana-taichō could wipe the floor with you."
"What about the other captains?" Gin asked knowingly.
"None of them would win a fight against Kyōraku-taichō," the lieutenant answered with the exact same inflection as before.
"Oh, c'mon Lisa-chan," Kyōraku chuckled. "Do you really think that poorly of your superiors?"
"I am simply stating the facts," Lisa said. "The real reason you're reluctant to give Gin lessons is because you'd rather chase women, drink sake, or sleep."
"Now, wait a minute…" the captain protested.
"You will receive your first lessons from Kyōraku-taichō tomorrow an hour after lunch," Lisa informed the younger shinigami.
"Uh, shouldn't I say 'yes' to Gin's request first?"
"He is a prodigy who graduated from the Academy in a single year, and he is asking you for lessons," the lieutenant said. "You do not want him to squander his talents."
"I suppose not," Kyōraku admitted with a wry smile. He heaved a despondent sigh and clambered upright. "Between the two of you, if I'm not careful, you might actually turn me into a respectable captain."
"I shudder at the thought," Gin smiled.
Gin found her in the mess hall of the Eighth Division. He knew it was her first day here, and that the reserved young girl would probably be eating by herself.
The Fourth Seat had not seen as much of Rangiku as he had wanted during the past five years, between his duties in the Eighth and her studies at the Academy. They still met regularly, although weekly get-togethers became biweekly, and then monthly, and so on. He had at least managed to witness the graduation ceremony, but had not been able to talk with her face-to-face until now.
But as he skimmed the room for a certain strawberry-blonde head, he could not seem to find her. That puzzled him; he knew this was the right place to look for her, and it was lunch hour, but he could not pick out Rangiku among the people who seemed to be sitting alone.
"Please let me fetch your food, milady!"
"Don't! He's a greedy pig who'd eat it before it got here! I'll get it for you!"
Gin took note of a crowd of young men at one table, and decided to meander over to investigate the commotion.
"I have here an excellent batch of sake! Please have some!"
"I've tasted that swill of yours! Here, this brand is much better!"
"Calm down, boys!" a feminine voice sang, so familiar it also made Gin's eyebrows shoot up in surprise. "I'm very grateful for all of your help!"
No doubt about it. And she had seemingly found new ways to have fun. A brief feeling he would eventually identify as "jealousy" churned his insides. Then he dialed his smile to its Mischievous setting and then cleared his throat very audibly.
The men gave a glance over their shoulder at the noise, and then turned back to the object of their adoration. A second later, belatedly realizing who it was behind them, they all simultaneously stood at attention and faced their superior officer.
"Good morning, Fourth Seat Ichimaru!" they all chorused.
The only person who did not get up was the one the men had all been fawning over. She was sitting at the table, and was now looking curiously at what had ripped her fan club away from her. Upon recognizing the person, Rangiku's face lit up with a sunny smile.
"Gin!" she cried happily, and instantly jumped up to hug him.
The silver-haired teen was not normally the touchy-feely type, but he could make an exception for Rangiku. As he returned his childhood friend's embrace, Gin could see the crestfallen looks on the other men at the sight before them.
"Good to see ya, too," he said as gently released her from his arms. "Mind if I join ya fer breakfast?"
"Of course not!" Rangiku replied brightly.
"You two," Gin pointed at the pair of food bearers he had first heard. "Get us some breakfast."
"Yes, sir," they acknowledged despondently.
"An' you two," he gestured to the two drink volunteers. "Get us some water."
"Yes, sir," they answered in the exact same tone as the other two men.
The highly ranked officer then flopped down in a seat and turned his back on them. "The rest o' ya, enjoy yer breakfast."
"Thank you, sir," the other men bowed sadly and dispersed.
"Water?" Rangiku grimaced. "What about the sake?"
"Later," Gin said. "This is yer first day at the Eighth; it wouldn't be a good idea fer ya to show up drunk."
"But the captain does!"
"This ain't his first day, though," he countered. "Once you've been captain fer a few centuries, I'll let ya drink sake in the morning."
"Hmph," Rangiku pouted.
Their conscripted waiters brought them breakfast, and Gin dismissed them with an offhand wave.
"So, how ya likin' the Eighth so far?" he asked after his first bite.
"Great!" she chirped happily.
"Yer welcome," Gin smiled at her.
"Huh?" she looked at him questioningly.
"Who do ya think made sure ya got assigned here?"
Rangiku blinked and regarded him with a blank expression on her face.
"Well, I am the Fourth Seat o' this division," Gin pointed out. "An' the captain's pretty easy-goin', so with his help, I was able to pull a few strings to get ya here."
She looked at him for a moment more before she finally smiled and said, "Thank you, Gin."
"She needs someone to comfort her," Rangiku argued as they both walked down the corridors of the Eighth Division. "And Captain can't do it right now because with Lisa gone, he's actually doing the paperwork!"
"Well, I ain't stoppin' ya," Gin replied.
"But right now you're the second-highest officer in the Eighth," she continued, "so it's part of your duty to check up on her."
"Yer better at comfortin' people than I am," he protested.
"Which is why I'm coming with you," Rangiku said. "Listen, Gin, at the rate you're climbing the ranks, I wouldn't be surprised if you end up captain someday…"
"Aw, thanks, Rangiku…"
"Shut up and let me finish. As I was saying, if you end up captain, you need to learn how to relate to people in ways other than playing pranks on them."
Gin sighed as they arrived at the door where the youngest member of their division resided. He knew that Rangiku was deliberately leading them here, but he had decided to let her; he felt that this was one of those times where she was not going to give up.
His determined friend knocked on the door and called out, "Nanao-chan, are you in?"
There was a pause before a girl's voice timidly asked, "Who's there?"
"It's Rangiku and Gin," she answered. "Can we come in?"
Another short pause before the resident answered, "Okay."
Rangiku slid the door open and entered the room, Gin close behind her. The latter shut the frame behind him, and they looked at the room's small inhabitant. She was sitting on her futon, hugging a large book to her chest.
"How are you feeling?" the elder girl asked gently as she sat down next to her much smaller teammate. Gin leaned back against the wall as he crossed his arms, and watched the show with a puzzled feeling.
"I'm fine," Nanao answered.
"Are you sure?" Rangiku pressed softly for confirmation. "You know that if you want to talk, Gin and I are here to help."
The bookish girl looked at her visitors cautiously, before she said softly, "I just miss Lisa."
"We all do," Rangiku replied. "She was special to you, wasn't she?"
"She was like a big sister," Nanao confirmed. "Every month she would come and read to me. The night she left was when we were supposed to read."
"Oh," the blonde girl said sympathetically.
Then Rangiku noticed out of the corner of her eye that Gin had not changed his facial expression since they entered the room. Because of how long she had known him, she could tell that his smile was sadder than normal, but Nanao did not have that same benefit.
"Gin!" she hissed at him.
"Show some sensitivity and stop smiling!"
"It's all right!" Nanao rushed to say.
"It's not all right," Rangiku disagreed as she glared at her friend.
"It really is!" the younger girl insisted. "It's worse when he doesn't smile!"
Gin and Rangiku both looked at Nanao in interest and surprise, respectively.
"Why do ya say that?" the boy asked in a tone that indicated he was honestly curious at the answer.
"When you're smiling, it's like everything's normal for you, like you can take care of it," the girl explained. "When you've stopped smiling, it means something really bad has happened."
"Like what happened to Lisa?" Rangiku said.
"Yeah," Nanao nodded. "People shouldn't be smiling because of what happened to all those people, not just Lisa, but if it's Ichimaru-san, I'm okay with it. As long as he's smiling, I know everything's going to be all right."
Since her head was bowed as she said this, Nanao did not see Gin and Rangiku sharing surprised looks.
Before either of them could respond, there was a knock on the door.
"Come in, Kyōraku-taichō," Gin said.
"You know it's kind of creepy how you can always tell I'm coming," the captain chuckled lightly as he entered the room, and then turned to the girls. "Hey there, Rangiku-chan, Nanao-chan."
"Hey," Rangiku gave back a brief smile of greeting.
Nanao had jumped to attention when she saw who had entered the room. "I'm honored by your presence, Kyōraku-taichō!"
"How 'come ya didn't stand at attention fer me?" Gin asked.
Their young hostess paled when she realized that she had forgotten to show respect for her Third Seat, and stuttered, "I-I'm sorry, Ichimaru-san! I-!"
"Calm down," the trickster smiled in amusement. "I was jus' teasin' ya."
The little girl seemed to relax slightly at the fox's words, but she still seemed uneasy.
"You don't need to be so formal," Kyōraku chuckled, and then turned a little more serious. "How are you holding up?"
"Fine," Nanao answered as she cautiously sat back down. "Ichimaru-san and Matsumoto-san were visiting."
"That's nice of them," the older man smiled. "Do you mind if I borrow Gin for a moment? There's something I want to talk to him about."
"If Kyōraku-taichō needs him, you don't need to ask me!" Nanao rushed to say.
"It's polite to ask," the captain replied, and nodded to Gin to follow him.
After the two men had left, Rangiku turned to her female companion with a knowing smirk that sent tremors down Nanao's spine.
"You," the grinning girl announced mischievously, "have a crush on Gin."
"What?!" Nanao exclaimed with a red face. "No, I don't!"
"'Oh, Ichimaru-san!'" Rangiku sang in a falsetto. "'I know everything's going to be all right as long as you're smiling!'"
Nanao's glasses appeared to have fogged up, and she hastily pulled them off. "That's not what I meant! I mean, that's not what I said!"
"Just admit it, kid, you like him."
"No, I don't, I swear!" Stubbornly Nanao began polishing the lenses with her trailing black sleeve.
"I don't, please believe me!"
"I promise he's all yours!"
"Admi- wait what?"
Rangiku suddenly had a feeling that the conversation had turned the tables on her, and she did not like it. It was made all the worse by the fact that she had both initiated and pursued the topic.
"He's yours," Nanao repeated innocently, and then she finally looked up from cleaning her glasses with slight confusion, she continued, "Isn't that why you were asking?"
"Of course not!" Rangiku protested (and she was not blushing).
"Then why are you always with him?" the girl questioned.
"He's my best friend! That's all!"
Nanao placed her glasses back on her face, and then put a finger to her chin thoughtfully. "I think you're in denial," she finally decided.
"DE-nial?!" Rangiku shrilled in a whisper; she was trying to restrain herself from waking the neighbors, but it was hard when Nanao was spouting pure nonsense.
"'A refusal to grant the truth of a statement,'" the bookworm defined helpfully.
"I know what it means! And I'm not in denial!"
"Don't worry, I'm sure Ichimaru-san likes you back. But if you want, I could ask him how he feels about you…"
"Don't. You. Dare." Pause. "That's an order!"
"Gin, are you sure this is a good idea?"
"Hey, Kyōraku-taichō said he was countin' on me to make sure he got work done."
"I don't think this was what he had in mind…"
"All the more reason! Now, on 'three.'"
A sigh of resignation was followed by, "Fine."
"One. Two. Three!"
Two buckets filled with icy water were splashed onto the dozing pink-clad captain, and that was the cue for Gin and Rangiku to take off running towards the Eighth Division's main office.
"You'd think a lieutenant on his first day would be nicer to the man who gave him that rank!" Rangiku hollered as they sped through the corridors.
"He didn't give me this badge to be nice!"
The pair ran into the captain's office, and then stopped dead in their tracks. Standing in front of them and dripping cold water onto the floor was Kyōraku. He had his arms crossed over his chest, and he was looking down at them with an amused smile and a raised eyebrow.
"And here I was thinking you would come up with something more original than a bucket of water," the captain chided.
"It was quick an' easy, an' did the job right," Gin justified. "If ya want creative, I'll do that next time, 'kay?"
"I do," Kyōraku nodded. "If I'm interrupted from my beauty rest and forced to do paperwork, then I'd prefer it be done in an inventive manner."
"I'll keep that in mind," the new lieutenant saluted playfully.
"Bye-bye, Yama-jii," Gin called as he and his captain left the office.
The old general merely grunted at the impetuous young man; far less of a reaction than the trickster had been hoping for.
After they were in the hallway, Gin turned to his captain and asked, "Why wasn't he upset when I called him 'Yama-jii?'"
"Because he long ago stopped caring how people refer to him as long as they obey his orders," Kyōraku smiled. "Most people think that since he's the leader of the shinigami, he would prefer to be called by his rank. That's probably true, so I wouldn't advise spreading that bit of information around; it'd be better if his soldiers call him more familiar names of their own initiative."
Nanao walked through the halls of the Eighth Division, her destination firmly in her mind. While she was the youngest member of the division, complete with the apparent age of an adolescent, she sought to validate her position by performing her duties to the best of her abilities. And right now, those duties meant she needed to deliver a message to her lieutenant.
She stopped in front of the door to the vice-captain's office and went to her knees in the proper position for showing respect for the Second Seat. Nanao knocked once and placed her fists on the ground, keeping her eyes down.
"Ichimaru-fukutaichō!" she announced. "I have a message for you!"
When silence was her only reply, she repeated her statement. Once again, air empty of words greeted her.
Was he not present? No, a quick look with her spiritual senses told her that the lieutenant was definitely inside, as was the Fifth Seat.
She risked sliding the door open. Nanao knew it was not the most proper course of action, but she had learned that in the Eighth Division, people followed the example of their captain and were fairly laid back concerning the more formal aspects of regulations. She saw no reason to act differently, and considering she was on good terms with both the people she detected inside, she took the bold action of opening the lieutenant's door.
Nanao almost fainted from shock at the sight that greeted her.
Fifth Seat Matsumoto was lying on her back on Lieutenant Ichimaru's desk, and on top of her, giving her a very passionate kiss, was the owner of the aforementioned desk himself.
While she had known that the two had (finally) become an official couple recently, it was one thing to be informed of something, and quite another to see its vivid proof.
The romantically inexperienced brunette could only stare in stunned fascination as the couple, oblivious to everything except each other, continued to lock lips.
Nanao's brain restarted when she noticed that their hands were starting to wander to inappropriate places.
Rather than interrupt her superiors' private moment, she shut the door as quietly as she could. Even though they should not be kissing while on duty, Nanao was too embarrassed to announce her presence (it wasn't fair how they were the ones caught kissing on duty, and she was the embarrassed one). Red faced and flustered, she decided that the message was not that important, and could wait to be delivered until later. She also declaratively decided that there was a reason rules and regulations were in place, and she intended to follow them to the letter from then on. It would lead to less mental scarring for her in the future.
"Of all the places to go on vacation, and you suggest here?"
Rangiku threw up her hands in exasperation, encompassing the locale in the same gesture. "We're in the wilder regions of the Rukongai! This isn't usually what a girl imagines for a romantic evening."
Gin simply smiled and sauntered past her. "Well, ya could've said 'no.'"
"I'm still trying to remember how you convinced me in the first place."
"I think it's good fer us." He paused beside a tall tree and patted its trunk, bending in as if to examine the bark. "It'll show us how far we've come."
With a defeated sigh, she followed. Gin and Rangiku hiked through the Sixty-Fourth District of the Rukongai, and kept an eye out for familiar landmarks they had not seen in over fifty years.
"And to celebrate our accomplishments, we make love in our old shack?"
"Well, if ya insist…"
Rangiku snorted, and then her expression turned pensive.
"It's weird, thinking about how much has passed since we were last out here," she admitted. "We've become shinigami, you're a lieutenant and just got Bankai, so you'll make captain soon, I'm a Third Seat…"
"…Who will be my lieutenant when I'm captain," Gin interjected.
"…And then… there's… us," she finished, self-consciously twirling her shoulder-length hair. Rangiku inhaled through her nose, and exhaled through her mouth to calm her jittery nerves. "It's all so new, so big, I can't believe we're…"
"I mean, how many shinigami actually do marry, aside from the nobles?" she asked.
"We're the first I've heard of," Gin said, then putting his hand on her shoulder, he pointed off to the right. "There it is."
Sure enough, the old shack where the newly married couple had once spent their childhood still stood, miraculously intact. It was smaller than Rangiku remembered, and years of neglect left it in even worse shape than it was in when she and Gin lived in it. It was a wonder as to how it remained standing.
As they contemplated how both the people and the scenery had changed over the past few decades, Gin moved his hand down from her shoulder to twine with hers. A light smile appeared on Rangiku's face, and she curled her fingers around her husband's hand.
"All right," she sighed. "Let's go make love in our old shack."
"If ya insist."
The new, light weight of the haori was resting quite comfortably on Gin's shoulders as the doors to the captain's meeting room opened before the newly promoted silver shinigami.
"Ichimaru-taichō," the old general on the other side of the room said as Gin entered the room. "Take your place with your fellow captains."
The new captain of the Third Division sauntered to the end of the row, and stood next to Aizen, who gave him a friendly smile as he passed. The captain-commander tapped his cane once to announce the commencement of the meeting.
"First order of business: the welcoming ceremony for our newest member," he began. "As you know, the captain's position for the Third Division has been vacant for some time. Yesterday, I in addition to three other captains held the Captain Qualification Exam to determine if he was worthy of this position. We deemed his personality and abilities acceptable. As such, the lieutenant of the Eighth Division, Ichimaru Gin, is now the commanding officer of the Third Division."
The ceremony continued as planned, and its conclusion, Gin formally announced his choice of lieutenant. The recipient surprised no one. Ichimaru Rangiku came forward, hardly able to suppress her smile, and accepted the arm badge from First Lieutenant Sasakibe Chōjirō. The vibrant brightness of her expression prompted the elder man to smile in return, and he murmured a quiet but warm, "Congratulations" to her as she set the insignia of her rank in place.
After the meeting had concluded, Yamamoto called, "Ichimaru-taichō and Ichimaru-fukutaichō, you will stay."
Mildly confused, the two obeyed, and after the last of the other captains and lieutenants left, the captain-commander began. "I do not need to remind you that your new positions will require more responsibility from you."
The recently promoted pair did not speak, as they knew their commander still had more to say.
"And I have no issues with a captain being married to his lieutenant," the general continued. "However."
"Knew there was a 'however' comin'," Gin muttered to his wife. While Rangiku wanted to warn him to keep quiet, it still made her smile
Yamamoto glared from his nearly closed eyes, and the other captain looked back innocently through his similarly nigh-shut lids.
"However," the captain-commander growled as soon as he was sure the fox would not interject again, "I fully expect that you do not let each other become a distraction from your duties."
"Of course not," Rangiku assured him.
"Therefore, I fully expect to receive paperwork from the Third Division, on time and completed."
Both Ichimarus grimaced at the prospect of the increased workload their new rank would incur.
"Am I clear?" Yamamoto demanded.
"Sure thing, Yama-jii."
"Good. You are dismissed."
Rangiku stood to the left of her husband as they faced the seated officers of the Third Division. She knew that with the absence of both a captain and a lieutenant had severely hampered the Third's performance, and she could tell by the hopeful looks on their subordinates' faces that they were quite glad to see them. However, more than a few were sporting more cautious looks, doubtless because of who the pick for their captain was; Gin's reputation preceded him, after all.
"Which one o' ya is Third Seat Kira Izuru?" Gin began.
"I am, sir," a blond man in the front row stepped forward in response.
"Get up here an' stand next to me," the captain ordered.
With a face full of mild confusion, Kira moved to Gin's right side.
"While Rangiku is my lieutenant," the captain explained, "yer the guy who's been with these people all these years, so yer the guy who's gonna tell me all the secrets of the Third Division."
Rangiku smiled at her husband's shrewd maneuver. Captains were the sole and absolute authority in their divisions, and they chose one person as their personal assistant, or as they were known by their official title, lieutenant. Since the top two ranks were so tightly knit together, the gap between them in terms of authority was far narrower than the gap between lieutenant and Third Seat. By declaring Kira as a person who would stand by his side, as a figure with only marginally less authority than a lieutenant, Gin had demonstrated to his new division that he intended to lead them sincerely and with the best of his abilities.
Her husband may still be somewhat lacking when it came to empathy, but he definitely knew how to lead.
"So who's this?"
Rukia was brought out of her musings by the man she had just been studying. She saw that he was now openly looking at her, and she felt as if she were a rabbit sighted by a fox. Rukia could not truly put her finger on it, but there was something… off about this silver-haired captain.
"This is my sister, Kuchiki Rukia," her adoptive brother introduced formally. "Rukia, this is Ichimaru Gin, the captain of the Third Division."
She bowed to the waist in respect of the other superior officer.
"It is an honor to meet you," she said, and hoped that her manners were acceptable to her noble lord brother. She had yet to learn all the intricacies of social etiquette, but so far it seemed like she had managed to live up to whatever standards he held her to.
"Pleased to meet ya," the fox grinned. "I see bein' stiff is a family trait, though."
"I apologize if I offended you, Ichimaru-taichō," Rukia said quickly.
"Don't worry 'bout it," Ichimaru chuckled lightly. "I was just teasin' ya. Both ya an' yer brother got the same humorless genes after all."
"She is not a blood relative," Byakuya corrected. "We recently adopted her into the Kuchiki clan."
"Oh? Ya wouldn't be able to tell by lookin' at her, standin' an' speakin' all proper-like," the serpentine captain said. "So, Rukia-chan, where d'ya come from?"
"The Rukongai, sir," she answered, and hoped that she did not offend Byakuya by mentioning her lowly origins.
"No kiddin'!" Ichimaru said enthusiastically. "Same here! Nice to run into a fellow survivor."
How was she to respond to that? Fortunately, Ichimaru continued on without waiting for her to reply.
"So ya see, I'm livin' proof that anyone can make it here in the Gotei 13. I came from the Sixty-Fourth District, an' look at me now: captain of a respected division, an' married to a beautiful woman!"
Rukia mentally gave her condolences to that unfortunate female.
"An' already, yer doin' well fer yerself, gettin' adopted into a great noble house! Who knows, maybe one day ya could have a division of yer own," Ichimaru continued.
"I very much doubt that, Ichimaru-taichō," Rukia said.
"An' modest, too. Kuchiki-taichō, ya sure know how to pick 'em."
"Do you have any serious business with us, Ichimaru-taichō?" Byakuya asked coldly.
Gin put a finger to his chin as if giving the matter serious consideration, then answered, "Nope."
"Then, if you will excuse us, we will take our leave now."
Rukia followed in her brother's wake after they gave their bows and departed. She could not bring herself to look back at that man, nor could she shake the horrible suspicion that if she did, it would be to find he was still watching her with those seemingly closed eyes and unnerving smile.
It was well that she did not. Because he was.
"Who's this, Rangiku?"
Shūhei went stiff at the sound of the unfortunately familiar voice of Captain Ichimaru.
"Ah, Gin! This is Hisagi Shūhei! He's the new lieutenant for the Ninth Division!" Rangiku introduced cheerfully. "Hisagi-san, have you met Gin yet?"
"We have not been formally introduced before, but it's an honor to do so now," Shūhei bowed to the superior officer, doing his best to keep the nervousness out of his voice. He had not been attempting anything inappropriate with Rangiku, but it was common knowledge that Captain Ichimaru was not the most mentally stable person in existence. Who knew what the man would consider "inappropriate" regarding his wife?
Or was he overthinking this? After all, he was hardly the only person who had eyes for beautiful woman, but Shūhei would never consider propositioning her, considering her status as married. There were nasty rumors about what happened to those who had, though.
"Rangiku, mind headin' on? Hisagi an' I need to have some man-talk."
"Okay, but please don't break his mind."
Shūhei's head snapped around to regard her in disbelief, even as the captain responded, "I'll do my best."
Rangiku pecked her husband on the lips and walked on, thus leaving Shūhei alone with Ichimaru Gin.
"I know that ya think my wife is beautiful," the silver-haired captain began, and the scarred lieutenant gulped. "An' I know that ya think that I'm here to threaten ya an' make sure ya don't do anythin' naughty with her."
Shūhei tried to stammer out his denial that he would do anything inappropriate to such a respected and off-limits beauty, but being stared down by this menacing figure was making it difficult to talk.
"But don't worry, I've never killed a guy fer lookin' at her wrong," Ichimaru told Shūhei, and it certainly sounded to the younger man like he was trying to be reassuring.
Then the captain leaned in close, that smile growing ever wider, and said, "I jus' help Rangiku bury the bodies."
Shūhei's jaw dropped. The captain took that as his cue to exit stage left, and clapped him on the shoulder as he passed. The shivering lieutenant wondered if he would ever find out if Ichimaru was joking or not.
For the crime of bestowing shinigami powers to a living human, Kuchiki Rukia has been sentenced to execution via the Sōkyoku twenty-five days hence. This is the final decision by the Central Forty-Six.
In their office in the Third Division, Gin and Rangiku looked at each other after hearing the message from the hell butterfly.
"Poor Rukia-chan," the former vagabond shook his head in dismay, and his smile was tainted by sadness.
"It was surprising to hear that the Central Forty-Six had ordered her execution," Rangiku agreed as she paused in filling out a form. "I wonder why they thought she deserved the death penalty."
"'Cause they're jerks."
"Well, that's a given, but I'm surprised they would have the guts to kill off someone from the Kuchiki clan without a second thought."
"Kuchiki-taichō didn't look like he cared much," Gin told her. "Though he never looks like he cares 'bout anythin'."
"You ran into him?"
"Kenpachi an' I did, right after he told Rukia-chan they were gonna execute her."
Rangiku stopped working and snapped her head at her husband. "You left Zaraki and Kuchiki in the same room together?"
"Don't be silly," Gin corrected her without looking up from his paperwork. "We were standin' on a walkway."
"Oh, of course. And that will make sure those two would behave," she said sarcastically.
"Don't worry, I pulled Kenpachi away when things got a lil' heated," Gin assured her.
"…You pulled Zaraki Kenpachi away from a fight?"
"I thought only Unohana or Yamamoto could do that. Or Yachiru, if she wanted candy badly enough."
"It wasn't that hard. I just tied him up."
There was silence in their shared office for a time. Then, "…You tied him up."
"He wasn't happy 'bout it."
Rangiku stared at her husband for a few moments longer, looking for any sign that he was pulling her chain. After not detecting anything, she said, "Gin, every time I'm starting to think you've finished doing the impossible, you do something to top it."
"Anythin' to keep life excitin' fer my Rangiku."
She smiled, but they both sobered when they remembered the original topic.
"I'm gonna miss Rukia-chan," Gin said mournfully with that same sad smile.
"I wish there was something we could do to at least make sure she lived," Rangiku agreed. "But if the Central Forty-Six ordered an execution for a noble from one of the Four Great Houses, they're definitely not going to lessen her sentence because of anything we might say."
"We could kill 'em," he suggested.
"Don't even joke about that."
Gin turned his head to her, and his eyes came open fully. "Ya think I'm kiddin'?"
"Yes." Her reply was less an answer to his question, and more an order for him to behave.
Author's Note: This will be a Gin-centric fic, but I will be exploring other scenes and perspectives that have been changed in this timeline.
This is not meant to be a fix-fic (except for a couple of spots where I think Common Sense is sorely needed), where Gin's presence is a Cure-All for the Gotei 13's problems. While there are a lot of benefits of having Ichimaru Gin remain loyal to Soul Society, there will also be downsides. Some of these consequences will be because of changed choices on account of this alternate timeline, while other occurrences will simply result from the Butterfly Effect, and could have easily happened in canon, but did not.
FYI: I have already written the entire story out, so you don't have to worry about this fanfic ending up dead. I will be releasing a new chapter every week or so.
Also note this: any canon scenes that do not appear in this story are unchanged.
Last but not least, I would like to give my thanks to Tomas the Betrayer for being the Beta to this story.
Omake: Arrancar Encyclopedia
Gin faced his audience with his lips in their usual position. He was not clothed in a shinigami uniform, but instead in the standard attire of those who inhabited Las Noches. He held a pointer in one hand, which he tapped twice in his palm as he started speaking.
"Hello, and welcome to the first episode of 'Arrancar Encyclopedia!'" he greeted cheerfully. "Today, we'll be talkin' 'bout alternate timelines."
He stepped to the side and readied his pointer for when the slideshow would begin, but blinked in confusion as nothing appeared on the screen.
"No, no, no, NO!"
Gin's confusion compounded when he heard the irked tone in Rangiku's voice as she stormed onto the set.
"What is it, Ran-chan?"
"There will be NO Arrancar Encyclopedia in this fanfic!"
"Eh? Why not?"
"Because when you did these segments, you were a traitor to Soul Society! And more importantly, away from me! And since Gin will NOT be leaving the Gotei 13 this time, he will NOT be doing these silly Arrancar Encyclopedia bits!"
"Oh c'mon, it's just fer fun!"
"I mean it, Gin! This omake series is OVER!"
With that declaration, Rangiku reached to the top of the screen and pulled down a blackdrop with "THE END" printed in white.
Gin popped up from the bottom of the screen and said, "Don't worry, we'll still be doin' an omake at the end o' each chapter. 'Til next time!"