A/N: First fic ever, of my favorite pairing. Please enjoy and review!


I.

This winter is colder than it should be. The snow falls silent from the midnight expanse of starless sky and it had been days since Rangiku ate and days since she had slept properly, huddled against the side of their hut for warmth, yet all she could count was how many nights he had been gone and how many dreamless sleeps she would thrash through until he came back.

(She tries not to think about the fact that her reiatsu was wavering from lack of nourishment, and how that was probably what was making her shudder at night more than the freezing air ever was, but-)

And then just like that, he sweeps back into her life, grin in place and silver air floating carefree in the bitter wind as if nothing changed between them. And when she sees his face she wants to scream and cry and laugh again, and was that a shinigami's robe he had on?!

"Gin," She says, voice wavering more than she likes. "Where have you been? Where'd you get that uniform?"

He pauses and regards her for a moment through slitted eyes, then vanishes from the entrance of their hut faster than she can blink.

"Gin!"

He is not getting away from me again, she thinks desperately, and pushes into the snow, following the light footprints that are almost immediately covered by the next wave of white, crystalline flakes.

Don't leave, don't leave don'tleave don'tleavedon'tleave-

She catches him a little ways from their shelter, screaming out his name again, loud enough so that he pauses.

"Gin," She starts, and means to end with please come back with me. Back to the only place we can call home now, because I don't want to lose you and I'm scared and you're the only family I have, the only one who cares, and aren't you happy, staying with me?

Instead she says, "Are those Shinigami robes?"

He turns, and her breath catches upon seeing the dark splash of blood on his cheek.

"I've decided," Gin says. She cannot mistake that lilting tone for anyone else. "I'm going to become a Shinigami, and change things-"

But by then Rangiku wasn't listening anymore. Her mind was reeling with the possibility- a Shinigami? But they were just two Rukongai street brats- with the whys and hows and what ifs and every legend she'd heard about the famous reapers was surfacing to her mind, snatches of past conversations and overheard whispers that whip her up into such a state that she misses his last words.

"-So that things will end without you having to cry."


II.

It's morning, and the sunlight is just starting to push through to the barracks of Squad ten, forcing itself between the cracks of walls and piercing Rangiku awake. She opens her eyes blearily, scans the room for people before realizing that it's daybreak- last night's party ended a few hours ago. Groaning, she sits up. Remind me never to keep spares bottles of sake in the drawers ever again- swearing as she throws a cursory glance out the window, Rangiku throws on her uniform before barging out the door, wiping the sleep from her eyes and the fatigue from her voice.

The roads are already bustling with Shinigami tending to the business of the Sereitei, the chatter of crowds comforting to her ears. Speeding towards the Tenth Squad offices, Rangiku disappears around a corner with a toss of strawberry-golden hair, before pushing open a door open to reveal her captain, feet up on the desk with stacks of paperwork flying about his person.

Isshin turns towards her, a broad smile breaking upon his face. "Rangiku!" He gestures to the mounds of papers still on his desks. "I could have used some help earlier."

She pouts. "Sorry, taichou," she sweeps into the room, pausing by the futon to drop down into a recumbent position. "I was up a little late last night. You'll forgive me, won't you?"

He knows exactly what she was up to. "You'll drink yourself to death before long. Remind me to never challenge you to a sake contest, ever. Now come on and get these reports done before sun sets. There's a couple of newbie Shinigami from our squad who were sent out on a dispatch mission, found strong traces of repeated hollow activity on the outskirts of the first district…."

She grins, shifting on the couch for maximum comfortability. This is how her mornings start: her arriving late, Isshin not caring. Isshin making a snarky comment about her legendary tolerance for alcohol, and then moving on to serious matters. Her not listening. It was a soothing routine, and soon her eyelids droop and the couch was feeling so soft ,so comfy and –

"What?!" The sharp sound of Isshin's voice jerks her up, so suddenly she's sure something at the base of her neck has snapped apart. Rubbing at the pain, she quickly amends for her laziness. "Sorry, sorry, I'll get to it immediately, taichou, you don't have to yell-"

But a quick shushing brings her attention to the tall captain, now at the door and conversing with another Shinigami. Rangiku sits up fully, frowns. Waits for the exchange to be finished before watching with catlike sharpness her captain close the door. Waits for him to return to his desk. Waits for him to speak.

When he doesn't, she prompts, "Well?"

He looks up, feigning ignorance. She stares at him.

He shrugs. "Nothing to be concerned about," he says, voice a tad too light. She raises an eyebrow.

He sighs. Gives in. "With the third squad in need of a new captain, someone's stepped up to the duty. They passed the test last night."

"Oh." Interest piques. "I didn't know there were any candidates who've achieved bankai for the job."

He grunts something noncommittal.

"So," She continues, interest fading. "Who is it?"

"...Ichimaru Gin," Isshin says, and Rangiku doesn't even notice the pause in his speech or the forced casualness of his tone. Her mind is reeling from just hearing that name again, let alone attached to the words of captain, the implication of superior and power.

A beat.

"I see."

Isshin looks up at her, too quickly. Isshin knows that she knows Gin. She knows that he knows. Knows about the distance between them, the tenuous link and unspoken words, even if she never voiced her troubles explicitly. For someone so seemingly brash and ridiculous, Isshin was surprisingly perceptive.

She hates him for it.

"Excuse me," She chokes out, and Isshin nods, stares at the desk as she rushes out of the office, movements suddenly clumsy and unfocused. Outside, the Shinigami's chats sound warbled and unclear, and black-robed bodies pass by her in a blur. All she can think of is a silver-haired, wickedly smirking face, of the captain's haori, the marigold insignia of Squad Three. All she can think of is reaching him.

I just want to congratulate him, she thinks frantically, even as another part of her mind sneers and calls bullshit on the excuse. I just want to wish him well- isn't that what a lieutenant's supposed to do? It's all formalities-just formalities.

"Where ya off in a hurry to, Ran-chan?"

She freezes, realizes that she's already in Squad Three's territory. That would explain the all too familiar-unfamiliar voice behind her, the scent of him, of persimmons and pine and something clinical.

She can feel soft puffs of his breath at the nape of her neck, and whirls around, shivering. But Gin is standing a few strides away, fox-like grin plastered on his face. He's waiting.

I came to see you, she thinks.

"Just passing by."

"O' really?"

I came to see if you would even talk to me again. Before I didn't need a reason to- but now- now this seems more natural. What happened between us? What happened while I was still at the Academy and you were working as third seat of Squad Five in all your prodigy-genius-deadly glory?

"Convenient meeting you here. I had something to ask you."

"Ask 'way, Ran-chan."

You still call me that like nothing's changed.

"I didn't know you achieved bankai." Her tone falls barely short of icy. She hopes he knows she's not just talking about his captaincy.

He probably doesn't.

"That ain't a question."

IS THAT ALL YOU CAN SAY?

Rangiku takes a deep breath. Tries to force words to come out, words that have been swirling around in her mouth for the past two years now, asking why have you changed and why do you keep that unsettling façade even with me and what am I to you now? How did you become so powerful that you've reached captaincy? Why can't I look at you without my gut tightening and you turning away and I miss you. I miss you so much it fucking hurts and I hate myself for it.

Instead the sounds hitch at the base of her throat, half-formed. She settles for a phrase so diluted and trite she's not sure if she can grasp the meaning in it herself.

"It's news, taichou. Congratulations."

This rank is just one more thing that separates us.

His smile is razor sharp when he turns away. "You coulda told me that at the official Captain Induction ceremony, Ran-chan. I heard it's next week."

And he disappears so quickly Rangiku wonders if he was ever there in the first place.


III.

The next time she sees him, her vision is focusing in and out and her limbs feel weak and heavy. Blame the sake. A party celebrating someone's promotion- to fifth seat or third seat or maybe even to lieutenant level, she couldn't remember now- and besides, wasn't it important they all had fun?

So she stumbles, loudly proclaiming apologies and laughter and sloshing alcohol around until the lights and people blur together in a haze of ambient glows. It was getting late- maybe she should find Shuuhei or Izuru or something and have them help her back and God, what if her new Captain saw this? He was so uptight he'd probably keep the office temperature below zero to spite her for weeks.

The thought of the tiny boy puffing up in indignation has her cackling again, feeling past walls and tripping over her own feet. She lands somewhere in an alleyway, giggling to herself and fumbling for the sake jar that's tucked away somewhere in her sleeve.

"My, my. What have ya gotten yerself into?"

It takes her a moment to register the words, lilting and accented as they were. She sees the shihakusho robes but misses the flutter of the haori and drags herself up, chuckling. "-I'm perfectly fine, thanks for your concern-" and she means to poke the inquirer in the chest coyly and go about her way, but she catches a flash of silver and her movements still centimeters away from the other's uniform, fingers grazing the black fabric.

Shit.

"Ya sure yer okay, Ran-chan?"

It's been years since he's called her that. It's been years since he spoke to her. Rangiku wants to shake it off as a dream but suddenly her hand is fisted in his clothing, solid as can be, and she drags Ichimaru close, close. Her mind has shrunk to pinpoints on the smiling face in front of her.

"I'm not," She breathes into his ear, two pathetically faltering syllables before she crashes her lips against his.

Blame the sake. Blame it all on the drunkenness, because otherwise she would've never had the courage to face him down like this, to taste the flavor of dried persimmons in his mouth, to feel his heartbeat against her frantically fluttering one. It's wrong, all wrong, and her mind can feel his palms pushing away before her body does.

"Rangiku," he whispers, his voice chiding. It's sickening.

It's sickening, and Rangiku can't let go of him, droops her head down and locks it there, the taste of him still tingling on her lips.

"Rangiku."

She can't let go.

His skeletal fingers pry the last bits of hope away as he disentangles himself from her grip.

"Yer drunk. Get home before ya make a fool outta-"

You were-still are- home to me.

She cuts him off. She doesn't want to hear anything anymore.

"Gin."

Silence.

And then Rangiku is alone in the alleyway, and she is sliding down, down, feeling her eyes burn but no moisture come, and her teeth clench so hard that a pounding starts in her head. Something bubbles out of her throat, something sharp and short like laughter stripped of its essence. Her vision tilts until sky is at her feet, until the world is swimming with muted color.

She likes it better this way.

Her fingers reach for the sake bottle and she downs the entire thing to rid the taste of him.


IV.

The next time she touches him is the last time before they meet in war, and there is infinitely more intimacy in the motion.

Her mind should be frantic, keeping up with the unfolding of centuries' worth of carefully crafted plans, of the ryoka's involvement in the scene in front of her, of the traitors, casting off facades so believable she hardly knows who is on whose side anymore- but there is one person she cannot mistake as an ally, and that is Gin.

Her body moves before she does, and Haineko is at his pale, pale throat, the sword crowing for violence. She's sure he can feel the bloodlust in the blade. Her arms slide around his collarbone, his shoulders, locking him in place, and there is only a tiny twinge in her heart at the contact.

"Don't move," She intones, voice as flat and sharp as her sword. "Or else I'll kill you."

She's almost sure she means it.

And now, she's certain he knows that as well.

His smile drops.

And resurfaces.

"Well, looks like I've been caught, Captain Aizen," he sings out, nonchalant. Rangiku presses Haineko a little deeper, biting skin at the base of his throat. Her mind is blank, so blank that she cannot focus on anything else but duty. It's much better this way, anyhow.

Something distant in her mourns for her childhood companion, but that was so long ago that she lends no meaning to memory. Not at this moment.

Aizen's smile is colder than Gin's has ever been, and Rangiku takes a moment to feel regret for Momo-

Before light blasts down from the heavens, pushing her away from the silver-haired traitor. Her robes billow about her form and she grits her teeth, pushing up a forearm against the wind.

Amidst the pandemonium she sees the outline of Gin's face, bathed in a golden light that should never shine on him.

There is a sad little smile on his lips, so real that the sincerity shocks her into stillness.

"I'm sorry, Rangiku. I wish you could've held onto me a little longer."

Despite the burning waves of reiatsu from all directions, a chill runs over her.

So he understands.

There is no time for anyone to react when the betrayers rise up into the sky in their terrible glory, but Rangiku stays long after the display has been played out.

A part of her wants to laugh, to giggle maniacally at the irony that it took a weapon to his neck to make him comprehend something of her thoughts. They were friends in the past, maybe the ghost of something more, but it's over and gone and he's made his choices. She loves him, will love him forever, but that doesn't matter anymore. He knows; there was longing in those last words. They cannot go back.

She's glad he realizes that.

Perhaps she's given her own form of betrayal, then.

I'm sorry too, Gin.

The next time they meet they will waste their blood in fighting to the death.