A GinRangiku ficlet
Disclaimer: Bleach and its crew belong to Kubo Tite.
It was a slow, but progressive smirk that spread itself across Hitsugaya Toushirou's face as he picked up the wooden tile and moved it across the board.
"Checkmate," he finally announced.
"A-cha!" Kira and Hinamori cried out at the same time.
"Maa," Hitsugaya shrugged as he reset the board. "That's what you get for listening to Hinamori's advice."
"Looks like you're good at this Hitsugaya-taicho," Kira said as he rubbed the back of his neck, ducking his a head a little to the side to stay clear of Hinamori's flailing arms.
"You're pretty good at it yourself." Hitsugaya, too, was ignoring Hinamori's protest. "Want to give it another go?"
"Iie," Kira said as he got up to leave. "I'd best be returning to the third division."
"Che, I thought you would at least want to play against Hinamori. It'll only take five minutes."
Kira laughed. "I can't stay, but thanks…I guess."
Contrary to his earlier statement, it took the young captain longer than five minutes to beat Hinamori. If asked, he would have said that it was only due to courtesy, but in truth, Hinamori had become much more adept at shogi than when she'd first started. In fact, she had come awfully close to a checkmate once. It was then, as she was about to make her move, when her thought process was rudely interrupted by the sliding open of the shoji.
"Oh, 'scuse me."
It struck them as odd that Ichimaru Gin should be at the door. Nevertheless, Hitsugaya gave a curt nod, gesturing that Ichimaru could come in. Or rather, it would have served as a gesture of acknowledgement if the grinning captain wasn't already in his office.
"I was wondering if you knew where my vice-captain is," Ichimaru explained as he approached the two of them.
Hitsugaya turned his attention back to the game. "He just left a while ago." He picked up one of Hinamori's wooden tile and replaced it with his own, a thought occurring to him as he did so. "Couldn't you sense his spiritual energy?"
"Spiritual energy is difficult to pick up when not released, Tenth Captain, and also when there are other spiritual energies greater than or equal to it," Ichimaru smoothly replied, referring to himself and Hinamori and later, he realised, to a sleeping Matsumoto on the couch.
"Hm." Hitsugaya took another of Hinamori's tiles and added it to the pile.
"Shogi, is it?" Ichimaru was peering over Hinamori's shoulder. "You two seem very relaxed, Tenth Captain, Fifth Vice-captain."
Hinamori, uncomfortable at the way Ichimaru was leaning past her shoulder, shifted out of the way. "Anou...Kira-kun said that he was returning to the third division, Captain."
"Oh," Ichimaru said, straightening as he did so, much to Hinamori's relief. "Just as well then. I have something for you, Tenth Captain."
For the first time since the Third Captain had entered the room, Hitsugaya moved out of his usual chin-on-hand position to look at Ichimaru. The Third Captain, on the other hand, had pulled out a letter neatly bound with a coloured string.
"From the First," Ichimaru went on to say. "He'd like a reply as soon as possible."
"Doesn't he always," Hitsugaya said, pushing the game-board a little to the side, so he had some writing space. As he picked up the letter, he realised that Ichimaru was still standing a little behind Hinamori. "Uh, Ichimaru, I'll be sure to send it to the First right after this."
"Oh." It was strange to see the Third Captain so unguarded. "I'll wait. I'll be heading towards the First Division later."
Even though Ichimaru was hardly the kind, his response seemed to Hitsugaya to be mere excuses. The young captain decided to humour him anyway.
"It must be awfully relaxed here," he heard the Third Captain speak as he picked up his brush, "for your vice-captain to be able to sleep in the office…you sure it's okay?"
"So she prefers a nap to a game of shogi. It's not like the other divisions are any different." To prove his point, Hitsugaya pointed a finger at Hinamori, who turned beet red and began to splutter. "Matsumoto completes her assignments on time. She's not a bad vice-captain."
"So soundly, too…"
"She was at the academy earlier today. Must be tired from fending off those rookies," Hitsugaya snorted as he folded his reply and passed it to the Third Captain. Despite all her complaints about the unwanted attention she got whenever occasion called for her to be at the academy, he was sure Rangiku enjoyed the extra attention. Why, she tossed her hair so often and was always seen hand on hip, posing in the doorways. Worst of all, the attention she drew from the masses led to them to notice the young captain as well. And to say that Hitsugaya took well to the ingratiating behaviour of the female students would be a grave mistake.
"Hm," was Ichimaru's only response as he tucked the letter in the fold of his uniform. He bowed his head a little for courtesy's sake, then turned to leave.
"I can wake her up for you, you know."
"No need, Tenth Captain." She was already stirring.
All Matsumoto Rangiku caught, when she finally opened her eyes, was the closing door of the shoji. Yawning, she sat up.
"About time," Hitsugaya muttered as he moved another of his tiles. "Lazy bum."
"Ara? Taichou," she said, ignoring his comment, "did someone come in?"
"It was the Third Captain," Hinamori piped in helpfully.
"With some pretty lame excuses too." The smirk on her captain's face was unmistakable. "Difficult to pick up Kira's spiritual energy, my foot. I think he was gawking at you, Matsumoto."
She laughed lightly. "I think he was more amazed with how long you've been letting your game with Hinamori-san run, taichou." Returning Hitsugaya's smirk with a grin of her own, she stretched languorously before rising from her cosy spot. "Maa, I'll go get the guards ready for the evening rounds, if you would excuse me, taichou."
When she had sauntered past the shoji, she paused for a moment in the open hallway of the tenth division, trying to sense his presence. But, as she had expected, Ichimaru was no longer in the vicinity.
The first thing that had interested him about her was that she had spiritual energy. This was the foremost reason why he took to her immediately when they first met. The second thing that caught his interest was her blatant honesty. Rangiku always said what was exactly on her mind…well, more so back then than now.
As he explored the streets of Rukongai and met more and more people with even the slightest traces of spiritual energy, Gin began to understand that he could increase the amount of spiritual power he had. As the days went by, he was out of their home more often than not, challenging people with spiritual energy and somehow always emerging victor. That made Rangiku worry, especially when he returned with blood - whether his or not - on his clothes.
He continued to do so anyway, desiring to grow stronger and stronger. He could have left altogether in search of more stepping stones, but when a wanderer tried to take advantage of Rangiku, it became necessary to return.
The desire to grow stronger had been coupled with the desire to protect.
In the dead of the night, when he finally returned from his wanderings, he always returned to find a sleeping Rangiku. When she slept, Rangiku had the most peaceful expression, and it stilled him, granting him the reprieve he never knew he needed from his constant battling. So he would spend some nights sitting up, just watching the gentle rise-and-fall of her form. And if her expression ever creased in a nightmare, he would reach out his hand and stroke her hair to calm her.
That was how he remembered her best. Asleep and completely oblivious to the outside world.
Sometimes he wondered, just a little, about what she dreamt. Of times past, perhaps? Gin had never really acquainted himself with her past in Rukongai, neither had she queried about his own. Of the future maybe? She might have even dreamt of him, he mused. He wished.
Seeing her sleep in such peace again was surely worth his time, Gin thought as he watched the Tenth Vice-captain make her way down to the guard house. He had picked up Izuru's spiritual energy a while ago. Although the man had said he would return to the third division, it seemed he had headed toward the sixth division.
Casting one last, wistful look at the girl he had grown up with, Ichimaru Gin left his perch.
Perhaps, if they had lived in a less complicated society, he could watch her a little longer. Alas, this was only a small luxury he could allow himself to indulge in.
It's something like 1.30 a.m. so I can't make very intelligent comments on this. But whether flame or review, I'm open to criticism.
I owe a big thank you to sansele, who graciously beta-ed this. If you need a good beta-reader, grab her.
Thanks for reading. Night!Story completed: 22 June 2005
©Copyrighted by JadOo Enterprises 2005