A Gin/Rangiku ficlet
Disclaimer: Bleach isn't mine...neither the anime nor the manga nor the one sitting beside my laundry machine.
"That's no good, Rangiku...concentrate a little harder until you can see it!"
The young girl furrowed her eyebrows in deep concentration and tried to gather her ki to a fixed point in the heart of her palm. She stared at it, willing the coloured ki to grow more distinct. A mist of ki soon grew visible, only to dissipate the next second.
She gave up.
"It's no good, Gin..." she muttered unhappily. "Why're you trying to teach me this anyway?"
"Because it's important," the young boy insisted as he sat back on his heels, wondering to himself why Rangiku was having such difficulty in controlling her ki. They had been practicing for the last half hour in their dingy shack. Gin had shown her the technique at least ten times by now, but Rangiku still could not stabilise her ki.
Gin frowned. She was getting better... but not good enough. Maybe it was because she hadn't eaten breakfast... he wasn't around when dawn had come, so he wasn't sure if she had eaten. Grabbing some leftover yam, he offered it to her. "Eat up, Rangiku. We'll have to try again."
Grumbling, she took the piece of yam. "I don't see why it's important..."
"So that you can be safe, Rangiku," Gin answered, as though it were an obvious thing. The girl's soft violet eyes widened. "People with a weak ki presence cannot bear the pressure from those who have a stronger one. They will faint if it's concentrated enough."
He smiled at her, offering a little more yam, just in case she was hungry. "Rangiku needs to be safe, right?"
"But Gin..." She was worried now. What was he meaning to say? "What about you?"
"Me?" He pointed at himself questioningly.
"...Where...where are you going?"
He placed the chunk of yam in her hand, smiling reassuringly. "Not going anywhere, Rangiku."
She stared at the food in the palm of her hand.
"Eat, Rangiku." He pushed her hand toward her mouth until the yam touched her lip. "We need to practise more."
Rangiku looked at him for a long while, thinking about what he had said, before she bit into the hard yam once more. Gin was still smiling as he waited patiently for her to finish eating. Once she was done, he moved forward again and showed her exactly how to do it, explaining what he understood of it and encouraging her to try again. They spent the entire evening trying until she had succeeded a few times, and by then, they were too tired to carry on. In their exhaustion, they fell asleep on the wooden floorboards.
When morning came, Gin was no longer there.
Evening had come and a light fog floated in the air of Seireitei.
Enjoying the cool breeze in the early Autumn night air, Kira Izuru let his pace slow just a bit as he followed his captain on their evening watch. It was the third division's turn to guard the Seireitei grounds, and it was rare for him to be partnered with his captain on such a watch. While his heart swelled at the thought that he was now the vice-captain of the third division, he was trembling, just a little, inside. Even as a captain, Ichimaru Gin had that inscrutable expression on his face that unsettled Kira. One could never tell what he was thinking.
He let his mind wander off a little. Hinamori would be doing the customary evening rounds too, he thought. It was a pity that she was two divisions away...if only she had been in the fourth division, then he might have a chance to see her since the fifth and third divisions took turns to take the fourth division's watch. Kira's only consolation was that Abarai Renji was in the eleventh division, much farther away from her than he was.
Kira looked up to see a guard approach his captain. Just as he thought, the captain had not slowed his pace to match his own. Kira quickened his pace, making sure to catch what the guard was about to say.
"Good thing you're here, taichou." The guard paused, catching Kira at the corner of her eye. "Kira-fukutaichou."
"Hm? What is it?"
"Matsumoto-fukutaichou exited Seireitei earlier this afternoon and she hasn't returned," the guard explained. "I checked with the other gatekeepers, but none of them have seen her...and it's so late already. Matsumoto-fukutaichou was supposed to return before the evening rounds. May we have permission to send out a search squad?"
Kira looked at the girl, unsure of what to make of her report. Wasn't Matsumoto Rangiku the vice-captain of the tenth division?
"Don't worry about it." Of course, the captain was right; a vice-captain would be able to look after herself.
Kira stared at Ichimaru's retreating back.
"Come with me, Izuru."
He followed Ichimaru as they stepped out into Rukongai, remembering for once how long it had been since he last came out of seireitei. Despite his promise to visit his parents' graves every year, he had grown out of the practice soon after graduating from the academy.
Even though it was fast approaching nighttime, the bustling activity of Rukongai carried on at its quick pace. While most people preferred to stay out of the way of the two shinigami, some stepped forward ingratiously, offering their goods. Kira declined apologetically, while Ichimaru merely walked on, that unreadable expression still plastered on his face. Kira followed the man through the alleyways, surprised at the way he walked with such sureness, arms tucked leisurely into the folds of his uniform, as though he knew where Matsumoto was already.
"Anou...Ichimaru-taichou?" He had to ask. Rukongai was so huge; she could be anywhere from the first to the eightieth sector. Even as they walked, she could be on her way back to Seireitei already.
"Matsumoto-fukutaichou...she could be any-"
A sharp blast of ki reverberated suddenly through the air, cutting his sentence short. Kira turned quickly in its direction. With such ki...it could only be a seeded shinigami, most probably a vice-captain. "Taichou!" he called out, signaling to Ichimaru that Matsumoto was probably in that direction.
But Kira was merely ignored; Ichimaru was still sauntering down the streets of Rukongai, about to disappear into another lane.
She was near...he could sense it. The familiarity of her ki was something that he could never miss. Not after having known her for more than half a millenium. Gin drew to a halt, pausing momentarily to pick up Rangiku's ki again. The recent burst of ki had done nothing but disrupt his concentration. He heard hurried footsteps coming his way, and turned to see Kira.
"Ara? Didn't I tell you to follow me?"
"Yes, taichou," Kira gasped in between breaths, pointing to the direction from which he had come. "But, she's that way, tai-"
"This way, Izuru." Gin had barely even given the vice-captain a chance to finish his sentence before he started off again, walking a little brisker than before.
"Tai-" Kira started, frustrated at the completely unruffled demeanor.
"Haven't you noticed, Izuru?" Finally, his captain was coming to a halt in a deserted alley far from the main street. Kira clamped his mouth shut, feeling a different aura about the place. It was...ki. A very controlled ki, harbouring quietly in the alley. Its equanimity was easily disrupted, Kira discovered, when he saw several bodies strewn nearby and reacted none-too-discreetly.
"Wh-what is this?" Kira could feel the heightened concentration of ki - no wonder the villagers had fainted. He strained his eyes to see where the source was, and found the very person they had been searching for slouched against a wall. "Taichou!"
Ichimaru was smiling, again, as he strode to where Rangiku was. Kira followed despite the overwhelming ki pressure. The nearer they approached, the heavier the ki. Kira realised at this point that the bodies he had seen earlier were outside a defensible perimeter of ki that Matsumoto had created, and even in her unconsciousness, her ki was still alive.
Amazing, he thought. This was the level of a vice-captain...a level that he, now labelled as one, had yet to achieve .
Gin, on the other hand, was marvelling more at how much she still remembered this lesson that he had taught her centuries ago, when they still lived in that abandoned house. Rangiku had always been a good learner, a persistent one at that too. This technique of ki-control was something she took a year to master. And despite all her grumblings about how useless it was, he suspected she had grown to exercise this ability once she fell asleep - and when he was leaving at dawn. It served his purpose well; he had wanted her to perfect this ability.
Still, he was surprised that she hadn't forgotten it.
Gin released a small measure of his ki and felt her ki relax. It lingered for a moment before retreating.
He bent over a little to survey her form and trace the cause of her unconsciousness. She wasn't bruised and her face belied any suggestion of her being drunk. There was, however, a slight whiff of saké. Gin made a thoughtful sound.
"Ah-ah...this doesn't look good at all," he said, half-muttering to himself. "Pick her up, Izuru."
It was considerably darker by now, he observed as he walked back to where the fallen villagers were. Raising a hand over them, Gin modified their memories. As he did so, he wondered for a moment if any of these had ill-intentions toward Rangiku, and how long it had been since he had last released Shinsou. Rangiku was, after all, rather beautiful. Not to mention somewhat indecently clad.
Shinigami uniforms were just too unaccommodating.
"Hm?" Izuru was taking a little longer than he should have. Gin turned to inspect the cause of Kira's delay - the boy was still standing by Rangiku, one arm clutching the other and his face turned away from her. Gin raised his brows, questioningly.
"Izuru," he called out as he approached the vice-captain. But Kira didn't respond; he was muttering to himself.
"No..no...I can't...Baka! How dare you think of such! What about Hina..." Gin peered at Kira curiously, wondering what was wrong. But as soon as he took a glance at Rangiku, it dawned upon Gin why Kira was taking so long to pick the lady up.
Izuru was an awfully shy boy and a firm believer in decency. Rangiku's ample cleavage was just too much for him.
"What to do, what to do?" he said, rubbing the back his neck as he crouched down beside the unconscious woman. Kira, whose thoughts had been rudely - and thankfully - interrupted when his captain spoke, was surprised to find Ichimaru Gin pulling out a pink scarf from his uniform and proceeding to tuck it around Rangiku's neck, successfully covering all that needed to be covered.
"Ichimaru-taichou?" he queried, wondering much about the scarf and why Ichimaru had it in the first place.
"Hm?" Gin wasn't paying much attention to his vice-captain as he tucked the scarf securely in place. Rangiku's ki was warm, and as his fingers brushed against it, the ki leapt up to his fingers, dancing against his skin in flowing waves of comforting warmth. How very like her, he thought as he resisted the temptation to tuck an errant lock of hair away from her face. Her ki was honest as she, spreading warmly over his hand, tugging at memories of a childhood long past.
He could not help it. He had to hold her.
"Iya it's so late already. We ought to hurry, Izuru," he said, abruptly ending the short period of silence that had descended upon the scene. Slipping one arm beneath the crook of Rangiku's knees and another behind her back, Ichimaru Gin gently lifted her and stood up.
The walk back to Seireitei was mostly in silence. Kira made some observations about the situation, speculating on the cause of Rangiku's state from time to time, all to which Gin made little or no response. Kira assumed the man was tired from a late night and all the commotion. After all, he himself was still feeling a little drained from having to endure such a high concentration of ki.
To Kira's surprise, Captain Aizen was waiting for them at the gates of Seireitei. There was a courteous, almost friendly, exchange between the two captains. Kira remained respecfully silent throughout the conversation, feeling it was not his place to speak. Stifling the urge to yawn, he looked past the two captains and spotted Hinamori along the corridor of the fifth division.
"Come on, Izuru. We wouldn't want Hitsugaya-kun to worry about his vice-captain now." Gin shifted the weight in his arms a little. Rangiku was a little heavy. Not that he minded, but his lean arms were aching from having carried her for such a distance.
As he was accustomed to, Gin walked off ahead of Kira, expecting the boy to follow sooner or later. Aizen was returning to his division, a far distance away from the tenth division - something that Gin was grateful for. Knowing the real nature of this seemingly amiable man kept him at his best discretion.
Even though his cheery expression never left his features, Gin was still wary of Aizen. When the man had offered to take Rangiku back instead, he knew he could not allow it. Passing it off as a moment of indulgence - "it's not everyday that you get to carry a pretty lady such as her, you know" - Gin had convinced the man that Rangiku had no special importance to him. Or, at least, Aizen trusted that Gin would know better than to step out of line.
Two could play at this game. Gin just needed to best him at it.
He slowed his pace as they approached the threshold of the tenth division. Gin could discern the spikey white hair of the young captain as he stood by the entrance to the quarters, a grim expression commuting his displeasure. As he drew to a halt in front of the boy captain, Gin offered a friendly smile. "Tadaima."
"Ah, Ichimaru, Kira," the young captain greeted in turn. He paused momentarily to behold the sight of his unconscious vice-captain. If he had noticed the faint trace of saké on her, Hitsugaya Toushirou made no mention of it. "Thanks for bringing her back; I was just about to run a search."
"Nothing to it." Once again, Gin found that he had to shift her weight, this time in preparation to hand her over, much as he was loathed to. "Here you go, Jyuuban-taichou."
Hitsugaya, however, merely ignored this gesture. "Last one down this corridor. Can't miss it," he said, jerking his thumb in the direction before turning to leave.
Puzzled, Ichimaru persisted. "You won't take your vice-captain?"
"No way," the short captain replied, waving his hand in emphasis. "She's too heavy."
With that, the boy genius turned into the next corridor, leaving Gin with the Rangiku still in his arms. The fact that his arms were growing more than a little sore from having carried her for so long tempted him to throw her over his shoulder for the remaining distance. It was an ungracious thing to do, but Gin feared with prolonged strain, his muscles would eventually give way, dropping Rangiku like a sack of potatoes onto the concrete floor. And as much as that appealed to him as a very effective, if most unceremonious way of shocking her into consciousness, Gin would hardly treat his childhood friend in such a manner, amusing as it did seem.
Noticing his captain's discomfort, Kira was quick to offer his assistance. "I can carry her the rest of the way, Ichimaru-taichou."
"Would you carry her all the way into her room, Izuru?" Gin asked, readjusting his hold once again as the unconscious woman shifted in her sleep.
Kira averted his eyes. "Not into a lady's room, Ichimaru-taichou."
"Iya, then you would dare leave her in the corridor?"
"Wel-" Kira's answer was yet again cut off as the other man began in the direction of Matsumoto's room. He would have liked to explain himself on that point - Hinamori had reprimanded him very severely once before on this issue - but it seemed that his captain was more interested in bringing the vice-captain back.
As soon as they had reached the aforesaid room, Gin put Rangiku down, propping her up against the wall. Removing the sandals as was customary to entering sleeping quarters, Gin recalled the one time he had taught Rangiku the trick to lacing these troublesome footwear. The knot of her sandal came easily undone, just as his did - after all, it was his method.
Rangiku remembered a lot of things, he concluded as he picked her up once again. Even such a trivial thing as this.
Gin wasted no time in laying her on the futon that had been neatly spread out - something he presumed one of the division must have done under orders. Rangiku hardly stirred as he draped the heavy brocade covers over her sleeping form. Reminding himself that Kira was at the door, he turned to leave quickly, looking back only once when he thought he had heard her say his name.
But Rangiku was still sound asleep.
The first thing Matsumoto Rangiku tried to do the next morning was to recall how exactly she had returned to her room. She had no recollection of having entered her sleeping quarters, and no clue as to who could have possibly done her the favour. It may well have been her captain, seeing how he had done it many times before. But this conclusion was put to question upon the second thing she noticed.
A pink scarf, like nothing Hitsugaya Toushirou would ever pick up from even the most remote shop, was wrapped securely about her neck. She tugged it off, twisting it about this way and that, searching for some sort of indication as to whom the giver might be. There was no tag or note, just the silken feel of the scarf.
Rangiku was just about to get up to ask her captain if he knew anything of it when she heard a soft thud against her shoji, followed by the unmistakable voice of her young captain. "Are you awake, Matsumoto?"
"Why yes, taichou," she replied as she got up from her bed and started toward the door.
"Good," she heard him say. "Because we have about twenty minutes to change, breakfast and report at the academy."
Three minutes later, Rangiku was strolling down the familiar route to the breakfast hall, keeping just a little step behind her captain. After having investigated the pink scarf for a little longer, she had decided that it was fashionable to sling it about her shoulders, giving her uniform a personal touch, though not quite as outstanding as Kyoraku Shunsui's psychedelic floral-patterned cape.
She had not yet asked if Hitsugaya had been aware of her homecoming last night, and if he was aware of the scarf's original owner, he made no show of it. In fact, he had yet to reprimand her, which surprised her. Rangiku thought Hitsugaya would spare her the lecture just this once, when he spoke.
"The saké you drank last night," he explained.
"Too strong too, apparently, to waste a veteran drinker like you like that."
She smiled. So he had been aware after all; perhaps the scarf was a rare whim of his. "I tried to hold it as well as I could."
At this, Hitsugaya Toushiro made a contemptuous sound. "I don't have to tell you to look after yourself, Matsumoto. At the rate you drink, I wouldn't be surprised if even this shinigami body can't take it."
"I'm sorry, taichou."
"Just make sure it doesn't happen again," he said as he reached down to pull off his sandals; they had reached the breakfast hall. "Thanks to you, I now owe the third division a favour."
Surprised by his words, Matsumoto Rangiku stood a moment in stupor as the short, spiked head of her captain disappeared into the crowded breakfast hall. Understanding - or was she reading too deep? - what he meant, she glanced at the scarf, wishing to examine it another time.
"I'd appreciate it if you would kindly move out of the way, Matsumoto-fukutaichou," a deep, sonorous voice startled her. Looking up, she saw that Kuchiki Byakuya was exiting the breakfast hall.
"Kuchiki-taichou," she greeted automatically, moving aside so that he could pass.
"A new scarf," he noted as he passed by her.
Rangiku fingered the pink hue of the material. "I'm not too sure if it's new altogether...Do you think Rukia-chan would look good in it?"
Byakuya merely looked at her from the corner of his eyes. "It looks better on you," he said, taking his leave.
"Arigatou," she replied, smiling, and proceeded into the breakfast hall.
Once inside, she looked out for the familiar head of light-coloured hair. Gin was leaning past a table, talking to Captain Aizen. He didn't seem to notice her even as she made her way through the throng of people who greeted her enthusiastically.
"That's a nice scarf, Rangiku-san," Hinamori commented once she had sat down at the table. "Was it from some secret admirer?"
"I don't know," Rangiku said as she saw Gin and Aizen head toward the exit. "Perhaps."
This is actually a companion fic to Sansele's 'Going Home'. We agreed that Byakuya will compliment Rangiku in mine, and Rangiku will compliment Byakuya in hers. It's all about the scarves!
Beta-read by Sansele.
30 August 2005
©Copyrighted by JadOo Enterprises 2005