Author's Note 1: This chapter is best read while listening to "The Frightening Reality" by Moneen during the fight scene, "The Song I Swore To Never Sing" (also by Moneen) during the flashbacks, and "Colourblind" by Counting Crows at the end. (All songs should be available at songza. com).

--

It was the kind of night one would describe as haunting; foggy, damp, too quiet to feel safe. The cool air was the type that clung to your clothes and seeped right down the bone, chilling from the inside out. The moon hid, no more than a glimmer behind clouds that blotted out the stars. It was the kind of night where people stayed indoors, tucked in their beds, protected from the world. The kind of night when things happen, people change and souls are laid bare.

Amidst the fog ghosts hid their gleaming white faces; lurking in the shadows, searching for prey. They howled at the moon, demanding the souls of the innocent. A retinue of soul reapers ran down the street dressed in black, swords drawn, ready to face down the evil that awaited them. They showed no fear, suffered no hesitation. They'd been trained for this moment and every single one of them wanted their moment to shine like a beacon in the night and prove their worth to the world.

The hollows fell beneath their righteous blades, faces cleaved, bodies pierced, and one after the other they were vanquished. One dark soldier, eyes the colour of the night sky, watched the comings and goings below her with mild disinterest. Her mind was preoccupied, restless; she fidgeted and shifted her feet. Something was going to happen on this night, every part of her felt it – even her skin tingled with the rush of anticipation. She had a feeling she knew what it was but refused to admit it to herself and pushed the unsettling thought from her mind.

Her foot turned and she pushed off the tiled roof; a flash step and she pushed off the next. Her darkly-robed body moved in a blur, invisible to the human eye. She became one with the night, her spirit rising and falling like the changing of the tides. She came to rest on a street corner some miles away from the action.

The fog was thickest here; a dense cloud had settled lazily overtop the street. She could feel it waiting for her inside, hidden by the impermeable white mist. She drew her zanpakto. The blade clicked. She closed her eyes, whispered the command that would bring it to life and waited. A moment later the beast howled; outraged, frightened, completely unsuspecting of its fate.

The street was silent once more.

A street lamp flickered in the distance but her closed eyes did not see it.

Where are you? Why haven't you come?

She asked this silently before opening her eyes to stare into the blank field of nothingness ahead of her. Every time she came to this place, to this world of human souls, she did so with the hope that he would appear. A cold concrete wind whipped down the street and slammed into her, bringing tears to her eyes.

No one had seen him or heard of Gin since that day. She loathed that day. Just thinking of it made her want to scream, cry, tear her hair out from its roots. She hated him. She hated him so much it made her heart bleed but she couldn't forget him. And every time, every single time, she came here she thought of him. A sigh escaped her lips. She sheathed her sword at her side with resignation.

"It's been a while Ran-chan."

Her breath froze and her heart stopped dead within the walls of her chest. A spine tingling sensation of eerie recognition left her body paralyzed as she glanced his way. With that familiar mop of silver hair and squinted eyes he smiled easily at her. Her heart clenched and kami how she hated him for it. She'd missed him. Missed him so much it hurt. She hadn't even realized how much until that moment.

She wanted to run into the arms that rested easily at his sides and press her face into the comforting expanse of his chest. She wanted to let him back into her heart. For a moment she faltered; her expression wavered, revealing her doubt.

What should I do?

She'd wondered many times over these past months about what would happen when they met again. On the long nights she'd lain awake thinking about him, she'd devised many scenarios, each with a different outcome, but nothing could've prepared her for the reality. He was there; real, tangible and standing just a few yards ahead of her. All she had to do was run...

Caught between the powerful emotions controlling her heart and the logical voice of reason screaming at her that this was wrong, she felt powerless. Her breath stuck in her throat and her heart pounded loudly in her ears, yet her body refused to move forward. She blinked slowly and when she opened her eyes, those deep turbulent pools of indigo, he was still there, waiting for her to decide. He hadn't drawn his blade and yet she knew he was not her friend. ENEMY! ENEMY! Her mind screamed, so loud she had to listen.

She blinked again. His squinty-eyed fox smile was aimed at her now. Bastard. He moved only slightly, just the smallest flick of his hand, but it was enough to cause the numb shock to recede. The blood rushed back into her limbs and she took a confident step forward, her mind feeling somewhat reassured. I can do this. I can do this. The silent mantra repeated over and over again, each time the words took on more meaning.

Her progress forward was abruptly halted when a figure clad in white suddenly dropped down in front of her. The white coat and silver hair were familiar, but for the moment her mind could only grasp that he'd come between her and Gin. How dare he interfere? It took a moment of staring at the gracefully stencilled lines on the back of his robe for recognition to click into place.

Taicho...

"Matsumoto are you okay?"

He was always so over-protective. Just a boy in form but inside he was a warrior, a protector, with a soul much older than he appeared. He was so young but already his eyes held a certain sadness that said he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders. They looked up at her now creased with concern, a pair of endless lonely seas, and she felt her head shake.

"I'm fine."

He scowled at her sheathed zanpakto and she flinched. Right…this was part of her duty, her obligation to the others. He was the enemy. She had no choice. Her hand wrapped around her body and gripped the leather handle. The sound of metal scraping against enamel rang loudly into the night. The pounding of her heart thrummed loudly in her ears and her anxious breaths puffed into small white clouds in the cool air.

"Go help the others. I'll take care of this traitor."

His voice was hard, and she understood how angry he was inside. He'd seen her every day since that fateful one at Sōkyoku Hill. He'd directed sympathetic glances her way when he'd noticed her mind wandering to dark places it didn't want to linger. He thought he understood because he'd lost his Momo to Aizen. No doubt he blamed Gin, at least in part, for what'd happened to Momo, but this wasn't his fight. No doubt he thought he was helping, thought he was saving her from having to do something so honourless. What he didn't realize was how different they were inside. He could never understand…it had to be her.

"No Taicho. Please, let me handle this."

His back stiffened. He didn't like to have his authority questioned. He glanced at her over his shoulder, his eyes dark and unreadable. She felt her head shake and her eyes closed. She was begging without saying a word and he seemed to understand her reasons. He stepped back and lowered his arm slightly.

"Matsumoto…are you sure? You know what will happen if-,"

Her hand lifted, abruptly clipping his words short. He nodded once, if hesitantly, before standing down. A moment later he was gone as if he'd never been there at all. A breeze swept down the street between them splashing the water logged air against her face. He hadn't moved. Their eyes locked from several hundred yards away. She wasn't sure if she had the strength….

"I'm supposed to kill you." Her voice sounded colder than she could ever remember it being. It betrayed none of the feelings tossing around in her heart, battered and beaten on a tumultuous sea. Her hand tightened around the hilt of her blade to stop it from shaking.

"If I'da known this would be a special occasion I'da dressed up a 'lil more," he cracked.

"Shut up."

A flash of pain shot through her hand. Her grip on the hilt of her zanpakto was so tight it cut into the flesh of her palm. She watched with disinterest as tiny rivulets of blood snaked down her wrist - crimson against snow.

Drip.

The first drop landed silently atop the pavement. With a whispered breath she straightened her shoulders and pointed the tip of her blade at him.

He had the audacity to look affronted. Somewhere inside of her something revelled in the look of surprise and betrayal that washed across his features. That ridiculous grin faded and his eyes opened to gaze at her. There was no more hiding, no more secrets between them now. The wind tossed her hair back from her face, caressing her skin with its cool touch. She closed her eyes for the space of a heart beat – just long enough to imagine that it was his feather-light touch brushing against her skin.

When her eyes opened he was standing in the same spot, his sword still sheathed at his hip. Didn't he realize by now that he couldn't play her anymore? She'd let herself be the fool for far too long, but not now and never again.

"Where did you go?" Where did you go when you left me?

That was what she wanted to ask but her throat closed up before those last vile words could force their way out. She cringed at the pained tone in her voice, the one that betrayed just how hurt she was that he'd chosen them over her, but her blade remained steady and her eyes hard.

He sighed and gazed up at the shadow of the moon hiding behind the clouds. For a fleeting glance a grimacing smile turned the corners of his mouth.

"Did ya know the moon don't set in Hueco Mundo Ran-chan?"

She shook her head and was surprised to see sadness in his eyes when they locked with hers. Even at this distance she could feel his pain…his loneliness. Had she been wrong? Was it possible he was hurting too? She shook her head again, this time to clear her thoughts. No...not this time. She'd made a promise to herself that day, one she intended to keep – no man would ever betray her the way he had, not even him.

He let out a weighted sigh before slipping his hands into his pockets. He stood casually on the street corner, his body illuminated by the hazy glow of the street lamp, and studied her in silence. He was waiting, she realized, waiting for her to make the next move. For a moment her stance faltered. Her arms lowered slightly of their own volition and she narrowed her eyes at him. What did he want? Why had he come after all this time? What exactly was he trying to prove?

"Why are you here Gin?"

"I was overdue for a visit don'tcha think? It gets so borin' in that place." He paused, then added a little quieter, "I missed ya Ran-chan."

He offered her a sheepish smile and a half shrug of his shoulders. The sharp tang of bitterness slickened her throat as she swallowed his words and felt her heart harden instantly. The anger swelled up inside her so suddenly that for a second she almost succumbed to it and allowed herself to be dragged beneath its undertow.

"I'm not your Ran-chan!" she lashed out, watching the way his eyebrows rose in surprise. "Take note Ichimaru Gin! I am Rangiku Matsumoto, tenth squad vice captain. Now draw your zanpakto traitor, or I'll cut you down unarmed. It makes no difference to me."

Her last words were dark, promising vengeance, yet her voice barely rose above a whisper. She meant them too – she would kill him where he stood because she couldn't bear another minute of looking at him. The thought of all the years she'd wasted defending him made her want to be sick. Despite her angry words his eyes didn't leave hers.

Those eyes had captivated her the day they first met, they'd warmed her on the coldest of nights and kept her company during lonely hours in Seireitei. Those eyes understood a part of her that no one else could – they saw right into her soul – and yet they looked at her now with such a painful expression she couldn't bear it any longer. They said to her 'it's you who've betrayed me.'

If she didn't kill him now she'd never find the strength to again and then she'd be a traitor too – no better than him. There were too many people counting on her to allow herself the luxury of being weak. This was her duty. This was her mission. As the tenth squad vice captain she no longer had a choice and so the voice inside of her, the one that whispered that she could still save him, was silenced.

"My, my, somethin's put ya in a rotten mood," he responded lightly, as if her harsh words hadn't touched him at all.

His too-casual response steeled her resolve, yet from where she stood she missed the hesitation in his touch when his hand grabbed the hilt of his blade. She missed the tiny frown lines that carved into the smooth skin of his cheeks and the heavy, leaden weight that suddenly constricted his chest and made it difficult for him to breath.

He'd never imagined the day would come when he'd raise his weapon to her as an enemy. His sword clicked as he unlocked it from its sheath. He'd never thought she would look at him with such hatred in her eyes, those eyes that'd always laughed for him. The sound of his sword was over-loud in the night air as it scraped against its wooden casing.

Rangiku…

The zanpakto sang as it was released and brought down to rest lightly at his side. The air around them pulsed and shifted ever so slightly. From the depths of the shadows a new figure loomed, his white face ghostly pale in the dim moonlight. Ulquiorra's expressionless gaze took in the scene before him with apparent disinterest before coming to a rest on Gin.

"Aizen-sama wishes you to know that he's watching."

"Ah, how kind of him to cheer me on! Give Aizen-sama my thanks."

The tear-streaked face of the boy nodded once before it vanished just as quickly as it'd appeared. The night fell silent in his absence; even the wind had died down around them.

"Are you ready?" she asked quietly, her expression dark. She could feel the spiritual pressure growing within until it was pouring out of her, flowing around her body like a great flame – brilliant, red and passionate. She waited until he solemnly nodded his head before she spoke the word that left him breathless and silent in its wake.

"BANKAI!"

The raging inferno enveloped her in an instant, stealing her breath away and hiding her from the world. The steady flame that'd once licked at her skin now burned her to the touch. She felt herself becoming one with the power, the beast, borrowing its strength and speed. Reiatsu exploded out from where she stood in powerful waves that slammed down the street in every direction, a tsunami in its purest form.

From amidst the fire her beast emerged, its angry howl screaming into the night. It settled behind her, its yellow eyes blazing with a thirst for blood. She felt them fix on Gin and sensed its desire to consume him. Not yet, she soothed it, soon but not yet. Her beast was as impatient as it was lazy; it would not wait long.

Gin was quick to hide the pitiful look that crossed his face as the flames of her reiatsu shifted and swirled into her blade. He wasn't sure what he'd expected to happen coming here. He'd just wanted to see her again, hear her voice, breathe air that wasn't stagnant with death and misery. He'd gotten what he wanted, but this had never been part of the plan.

Knowing that she hated him enough to kill him, enough to use her bankai to bring him down, made his heart ache. His Rangiku was gone and in her stead was someone he didn't recognize, a wolf in sheep's clothing. She appeared to be the same, but there seemed to be nothing left of the light-hearted, carefree girl he'd once known. He'd done this to her, made her hate him, planted the seed that allowed the darkness within her to grow, and the guilt was a bitter pill to swallow.

Facing her like this, as enemies, had never been part of his design, but perhaps it'd been Aizen's all along. He wouldn't put it past him – the twisted, vindictive, bastard – to arrange things this way, to ensure they destroyed each other. Well, if that was his aim, it appeared to have played out perfectly. The one factor Aizen hadn't considered, Gin noticed, was the only one he couldn't control and it held the power to untangle the careful web he'd woven.

"My, my Ran-chan! You've gone an' gotten a bankai an' all! Ya really wanna kill me that badly?"

--

"Hey Gin?"

"Hmm?" He glanced up at her, a piece of fruit suspended half-way to his mouth. She giggled at the strange expression on his face and hugged her knees into her chest.

"Do you think we're a family?" Her soft eyes, framed by shoulder length curls, peered curiously at him across the cold fire.

He seemed to consider her question, his silver head tilting to the side. With a shrug he popped what was left of the fruit in his mouth and swallowed it down quickly.

"I dunno. I s'pose ya could lookit it that way. We only got each other. That makes us a family don' it?"

She smiled and nodded her head readily, relieved that he felt the same. Excited at the prospect of finally having a family, she leapt forward and wrapped her arms around him, squeezing tight.

He started at her embrace and shied away, casting an odd look over his shoulder at her.

"What was that for?"

She shrugged. "Just because."

"Yer a strange one Ran-chan," he mused with a shake of his head and shuffled out of arm's reach.

"But we're family now so you're stuck with me!"

She stuck out her tongue playfully and laughed. He smiled too, taking the rare opportunity to join in her mirth.

"Yeah, yeah, I s'pose that's true. Jus' don' make me regret it!"

--

"Yes." She didn't hesitate before answering.

I don't want to kill you Gin, but I do want to hurt you. I want you to feel the kind of pain that cuts so deep you feel like you're rotting from the inside out. I want you to feel betrayed when I use this sword against you, feel the emptiness inside your chest where your heart used to be. I may not be able to kill you just yet, but I can still make you feel.

Gin tsked and shook his head, as if chiding a disobedient child. He glanced down at his own zanpakto thoughtfully, lifting it slowly in front of him. The street light gleamed off its razor sharp edges, reflecting the light back into his eyes. Could he really do it? Could he use his blade against her? He glanced up at her questioningly, searching her face for the answer. His heart said no, but her lips said yes.

"Release it."

Her impatience and frustration were clear on her features. Her eyes were so cold when they looked at him now. The fire in them that he'd always appreciated was gone. It was strange that even though the words coming from her were bitter, hard, and filled with nothing but ire, he found himself wishing that this meeting could extend into an eternity.

It was impossible to explain the all-consuming loneliness that descends into a place like Hueco Mundo. Even if he tried he didn't think she'd understand exactly what life had been like for him. True, he'd abandoned her and left her alone in Soul Society but she had friends there, allies, people to look out for her, like her Captain and the others. She may have spent these past months learning to hate him but she'd never been alone.

His loneliness was a hollow sensation that spread outward from his centre, like the hole in a hollow's chest. It consumed him, a little more each day until he felt like there was nothing left for it to devour. She had no idea what it felt like to exist in such a place, knowing you couldn't trust anyone around you, knowing how much they all despised you. He didn't have friends anymore, only enemies, but then he'd only really ever had one friend anyway.

He stared wearily down at his blade and turned his wrist with resignation before looking up at her. He flinched inwardly at the raw emotion flowing through her reiatsu. He could feel it all – every unshed tear, every angry curse, every hurt directed his way. He felt them and yet he could do nothing to stop the torrent of emotions pouring out of her. Nothing except perhaps…

"My my Ran-chan! That's some impressive release! You been practisin'?"

He didn't wait for her answer, but began to pace casually, a few steps back and forth. He didn't let her get a word out before he spoke up next.

"But of course you been a practisin'! I bet ya wanna show me what you can do wit' that thing. That's fine. It may be big but you an I both know it ain't enough to bring me down. Ah well…guess I'll just hafta fight ya both with my second release. Can't have the fight endin' too quickly after all the practisin' you been doin.' That just wouldn' be nice."

Rangiku grit her teeth, her body practically trembling as she seethed in anger. The hand at her side was clenched in a fist so tight her nails dug into her palm and her joints ached. She tossed her hair angrily over her shoulder and glared at him.

"Don't mock me! I don't have time for your games anymore. Release your bankai. I want to get this over with."

The false smile slipped from his lips as easily as it'd appeared and his eyes slowly opened. Green like the turbulent sea they stared at her for a long time before he glanced away and took a step backwards. Pointing his swords towards the sky he obliged with resignation. After all, who was he to deny her anything?

--

She'd waited up for him again. He came to a halt a few feet away, reluctant to wake her. She sat a few feet from the mouth of the cave they shared, the one they called home. Her back rested against the stone rock face, and she'd hugged her knees into her chest to keep warm. Her face rested atop them now like a makeshift pillow and from the steady rise and fall of her shoulders he knew she was sound asleep.

Every night he told her not to wait up for him yet she did it anyway. Foolish girl. She was going to get sick if she kept it up. He never once scolded her for it though. It meant too much to him, to know that someone cared enough to wait.

He took a step forward and she stirred at the sound of his sandals on the gravely sand. Her head of golden curls lifted and looked around slowly, her dark eyes heavy with sleep. Catching sight of him she smiled warmly, the whites of her teeth shining bright in the moonlight.

"You came back," she whispered softly.

Stepping forward he took hold of her hands and helped her to her feet. She wavered unsteadily, her mind still half asleep and her body uncoordinated. Without a word he wrapped her arms around his neck and hoisted her onto his back to carry her inside.

Her cheek snuggled into his shoulder blade and he could feel her slow, rhythmic breaths against the back of his neck. Lazy girl had already fallen back to sleep. He smiled inwardly at that and eased her gently down onto her bed. With a quiet groan she turned away from him to face the wall and pulled the blankets up closer to her chin.

"You came back." Her words echoed in his mind and he stared thoughtfully at her sleeping form. After a long while he turned towards his own bed with a shake of his head. An impatient sigh escaped his lips.

"Idiot. I'll always come back for ya."

--

The energy flowed into him slowly, creeping through his veins like a poison to infuse him with a power he no longer felt he deserved. When the dust settled around him he turned towards her, a sinking sensation roiling in the pit of his stomach. This was it. Neither of them could turn back now, not with so many spectators watching. He may not have been able to see Aizen or his little lap dogs but he felt them all the same, their dark eyes watching his every move with calculated indifference.

His blade dropped to his side and waited for her to make the first move. She scowled at him down the laneway, her resolve no lessened after having seen his bankai release. She pointed her own blade at him now and the beast behind her howled towards the hidden moon.

"This is the end Gin," she promised, her words as foreboding as her tone. This is our end.

Wearing a troubled frown he reluctantly raised his zanpakto and pointed it towards the endless night sky. His eyes lifted and stared at the tip, shining brilliant and sharp in the artificial light. From somewhere far away he heard her call out, commanding her beast to attack. He felt the burning wind, the rush of her reiatsu as it careened towards him, and closed his eyes. Even at this distance she had the ability to warm him with her touch.

"Rain down Shinsō."

--

He stopped in front of her and tilted his head to the side inquisitively. She looked hungry. He reached into the inner folds of his kimono to retrieve a bread roll and held it out to her.

"Hungry?" he asked, his voice dry and tight.

She nodded her head, her eyes wide and snatched the offering from his hands, quickly devouring it. When she was finished she beamed up at him, a warm and grateful smile, and he returned it.

"My name's Gin," he offered. "What's yours?"

"Rangiku."

Her smile grew wider until it took up nearly half of her petite face. Her eyes were large deep pools of indigo blue that expressed what she was thinking just as clearly as if she'd spoken it aloud. One glance told him that she trusted him implicitly. He extended his hand and helped her to her feet, allowing her to lean against him for support.

Rangiku glanced over at him, this strange boy who'd saved her. She didn't think it at all odd that she placed so much trust in him. Something in his eyes told her it was okay, perhaps an inner strength she gravitated to. She would've followed him anywhere he led her after that day. All he had to do was ask.

--

Rangiku felt the rush of the wind as it whipped against her cheeks. Her eyes stared up in awe at the rainstorm of blades hurtling towards her.

There isn't enough time.

It was all she could think before her eyes squeezed shut and she cringed, waiting expectantly to be pierced and cut into a thousand pieces.

The first blade sank deep into the concrete to her right. It twanged loudly, angry at having missed its flesh and blood target. The rest followed in rapid succession, the sounds of cloth tearing and metal singing became nearly deafening. If both her hands weren't otherwise occupied with her zanpakto she would've stopped her ears against the noise but the blades continued to rain down, harder, faster and louder until everything just stopped.

The world suddenly went very quiet. Not a sound could be heard down the street. Not the breath of the wind, or the symphony of midnight insects. Time froze, the earth shuddered to a halt beneath her feet and Rangiku opened her eyes slowly. All around her was a vast, impenetrable forest of glinting metal blades. Some of them came so close as to pin her robes to the ground but not a single one of the razor sharp edges had made a blemish against her fair skin.

She stared through the forest of metal towards the spot where he stood and felt the anger begin to brew inside her heart. Stupid, foolish man, she spat, her eyes growing hard. He looked so calm standing there with that stupid frown on his face. Bastard.

She stood rapt, watching his every move, waiting for him to say or do something but he did nothing. He stared at her with a secret smile on his lips, as though everything had turned out exactly how he'd wanted it to. Rangiku opened her mouth to shout some vile taunt in his direction, to curse at him and call him a coward, but the words evaporated in her throat.

Indigo eyes, the colour of the pre-night sky, widened at the shower of blood surrounding him, a crimson halo in the dark, to stain his pristine, white uniform a deep, blood red. His movements were surprisingly graceful as he fell, drifting slowly to the pavement like one of autumn's last vibrant leaves. There he remained, motionless against the pavement.

Just as suddenly, Rangiku's world slammed back into motion. The blood rushed in her ears and her heart careened frantically in her chest. Her eyes stared, unable to look away, at the slowly reddening heap of white robes in front of her. Her stomach made a sickening lurch but she couldn't force herself to turn away. She couldn't accept what her eyes had shown her.

"GIN!"

From somewhere far off she heard someone screaming his name in a tear laden voice, but he didn't stir and after a while she realized it was her own voice she'd heard. Tears streamed in hot torrents down her cheeks and a sob tore out of her from the very depths of her soul. Her legs wanted to run to him but she was trapped, imprisoned by his metal forest.

As if sensing her desperation the blades suddenly cracked and shattered all around her like glass. They fell harmlessly to the pavement, ready to be swept away with the next blustering gust of wind. Her legs moved of their own volition, her mind still reeling somewhere far behind, desperately trying to catch up.

She collapsed to her knees and pulled him towards her, shocked to see that he was still alive. He greeted her with a genuine smile, his eyes bearing her no ill will or resentment. A painful cough ripped through him and out of desperation she lifted his head onto her knees. Tears slipped down her cheeks to land atop his face and mingle with the spots of blood settled there. His smile slipped away and his expression grew serious.

"Ran-chan," he chided softly. "Ya know I don' like sad stories…"

In spite of herself she laughed at the ridiculousness of his comment. Catching sight of the blood spreading out around them on the pavement her face screwed up and the laugh quickly turned into a heartfelt sob.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, not knowing what else to say. She felt him shrug as if telling her not to worry about it, as though everything had already been forgiven. She looked down into his face and realized he wasn't looking at her anymore but past her, towards the night sky. His gaze appeared thoughtful and after a moment he spoke.

"Ran-chan?"

"What?" her voice warbled and she cleared it, swallowing down the choking sensation that wanted to suffocate her.

"I can feel the rain."

She looked up at the stars scattered brightly overhead, not sure what he was talking about. There'd been clouds before but they'd long since drifted off. The nearly full moon shone brightly now, illuminating their deserted street. She shook her head slowly, her forehead wrinkled with confusion. She began to ask but quickly stopped herself. Something inside of her broke then shattered completely. When she looked down it evaporated away leaving an emptiness inside of her. Her mind grasped blindly for his reiatsu but its absence solemnly confirmed what she already knew. He was gone.

She wasn't sure how long she sat there with his head held in her lap. The minutes or hours didn't matter though. It could've been an eternity for all she cared. The only thing she knew now was that she couldn't bear to move. If she moved, if she stopped touching him, then this nightmare of hers would become real and she didn't think she was strong enough to handle it.

She couldn't feel the tears spilling out of her eyes anymore but they continued to roll silently down her cheeks and drip off her chin. Ever so slowly they removed all traces of blood from his face. His peaceful expression hinted that he was merely sleeping but the crimson puddle surrounding them told her the truth and it was the truth that was slowly killing her.

"Matsumoto."

A stern voice from somewhere in the present drew her thoughts out of that dark place. She lifted her head dazedly and glanced over her shoulder at the small figure of her Captain. His gaze was hard and uncompromising. He looked disinterestedly at the body lying sprawled across the pavement but flinched when he caught sight of the tears streaming down her cheeks.

"He's dead," she whispered into the night, barely able to push the words past her lips. He regarded her with a sympathetic expression and took a step towards her. His tone was firm and authoritative when he spoke.

"It's time for us to go. Our mission here is over."

"I can't. I can't go back without him," she confessed, whispering shakily into the night.

"You must. You know what the penalty is for traitors! He can never go back."

His tone was harsh and she flinched to hear it directed at her. It was no secret that there was no love lost between her captain and Gin. It was Gin's fault for what happened to his Momo, she knew that, but she couldn't do as he asked. He was right to despise him, justified even in taking joy in his demise, but he couldn't even begin to understand what she was going though.

When she didn't respond she felt him crouch at her side and gently grasp her arm. "Matsumoto…let it go. It isn't your fault things turned out this way. You must come with me now, back to Soul Society. You have a duty to uphold. The tenth squad needs its vice captain."

She was silent for a long while, to allow her mind absorb his words. He was right of course. The logical part of her realized that Gin was no longer there, but that didn't stop her heart from wanting to stay in that spot forever. She never wanted to move from that moment, but she no longer had a choice.

With jerky movements she nodded her head and pulled at the elegant pink scarf wound round her shoulders. Her fingers lovingly grazed the fine silk as she folded it into a small bundle and set it on the ground. With a weary sigh she took one last, lingering look at Gin's face before placing his tousled silver head atop the pink satin pillow.

The warmth of his body faded quickly from her skin and clothes and it was then that she felt his lost most acutely. As if sensing her hesitancy, Hitsugaya suddenly pulled her to her feet. With a firm hand he guided her towards the portal at the end of the street. Its brilliant, gleaming door was spread wide, waiting to accept them back into the land of the dead.

As the light slowly enveloped her, Gin's final words stuck in her mind.

I can feel the rain

What did he mean? What was he trying to tell her? She eventually resigned herself to the disappointing realization that she'd probably never know. There were a lot of things she'd never know about him. Why he'd left, why he'd joined Aizen to begin with, why he didn't defend himself against her attack… There were so many unanswered questions, so many unspoken words.

What Rangiku didn't realize was that, in truth, Gin's prediction had been right all along. Later that night, long after the others had returned to Soul Society, the moon hid for shame behind darkened clouds and the rain fell in heavy, weeping droplets to the world weary earth to wash away all traces of her tears.

--

I'm still afraid to be alone...

Kill yourself, surprise your friends. Raise a toast to everything we once had...

"The Song I Swore To Never Sing" by Moneen

--

Author's Note 2: I hadn't originally planned on this story taking me a year to write. This is sort of how the conversation went:

Muse: So you DO realize it's been almost a year since you first posted this right?

Me: No way! It definitely hasn't been that long.

Muse: See for yourself.

Me: What? No….really?

Muse: (gives me that frustrated glare he gives me when I'm being slow)

Me: Damn… Guess I better update then eh?

Muse: Ya think?

So it started as a one-shot, sort of a random idea playing in my head, and then expanded on its own into something more substantial. It's the shortest complete story I've ever written but I'm pretty happy with how it turned out.

I know some of you were looking for a happy ending but it just wasn't possible. Gin and Rangiku…they're tragic characters. Tragic characters don't get happy endings. Even in the series, there's just too much water under the bridge at this point. The only recourse they really have left is to see it through to the end. I'm interested to see where Kubo takes these two characters. If their story ends anything like how I've written it…well…I think my head will really, truly explode. haha

Thank you to those of you who submitted reviews, favoured this fic, or recommended it to a friend. It's impossible to please everyone when you write but I'm glad I impressed a few of you. This may be the end of Gin and Rangiku's story but it's not the end for me. I'll be back soon :)

Langus