This is actually the first time ever a title has popped into my head and I've written a fic to go around it. I'm not usually incredibly brilliant with titles, so I generally leave them to last. But this title just affected me and I knew instantly what kind of story I would have to write for it.

I love that!

Anyway, names should be in Japanese style with the honorifics. I'm pretty sure I got them all right. I refer to captains and vice-captains as taichou and fukutaichou respectfully when the characters are speaking, but in their English forms elsewhere. This is simply because I dislike mixing languages, but I watch anime in Japanese with subtitles because it's more authentic that way, and therefore I'm used to referring to characters as 'Hitsugaya-taichou' etc.

.:This Is How I Say Good-Bye:.

Matsumoto Rangiku threw her head back and laughed, long, loud and hard.

Well, she was drunk. It was to be expected, wasn't it?

She could feel the look, eyes on her, worried and searching but she didn't care. Couldn't care, not when the only eyes she wanted to feel she had never felt, and would now never get the chance to feel anyway.

She drew in a deep breath and started laughing again, hysterical. Someone picked her up, gently, ever so gently and wasn't that just ridiculous because he had never been careful with her. He would swing her up into his arms like a rag-doll, laughing at her slurred protestations before throwing her over his shoulder.

"Matsumoto, you're drunk," a voice whispered softly, and was wrong too because the tone should have been lilting, teasing, poking fun at her drunken idiocy.

"I know, taichou, I know!" she sang. "I know, and isn't it wonderful?" She babbled on. "He's gone, you know? He left, betrayed us, and he even apologised for it. He never apologises!" She laughed again. It really was hilarious.

"And I'm sure he never will again, Matsumoto."

That sobered her up. Well, she was still piss-drunk, but she wasn't laughing anymore, that was for sure. Hitsugaya Toshirou had that affect on people.

"I don't understand," she pouted finally, flapping her arms huffily and nearly smacking her Captain in the face. "He can't kill me, I know he can't, but he can rip me to pieces like this? He can tear my heart out and slice it into itty-bitty pieces and then throw it back in my face?" And damn, there they were, the tears, except it wasn't the tension relieving, body-shuddering sobs she was desperate for, but the silent leaking of weakness. "Damn him," she whispered. "Damn him, damn him, damn him! I didn't even get to say good-bye! It's just, 'toss away, you're too soft-hearted to even make a good go of holding me, Rangiku and oh, I'm sorry!'" She felt her body being lowered down to something soft and enveloping. "Sorry? If he was so sorry, why in the hell did he do it in the first place? Bastard!"

And then same the sobbing, as she clung to her pillow and wished it was him while her Captain stood watching, embarrassed and confused.

"You're going to have a horrific hangover in the morning, Matsumoto," he said finally. "I'll do your paperwork."

A door shut, and she was alone with her tears and a drunken, rambling mind.

.:This Is How I Say Good-Bye:.

Rangiku wasn't the only one stumbling her way towards Fourth Division the next afternoon, having completely slept through morning. She met up with a bleary eyed Kira.

"You look like you've been spit back up by a Hollow," she said bluntly.

"Keeping you company," he rasped. "Who dragged you away from our pity-party?"

"Hitsugaya-taichou. Did Hisagi manage to pour you into bed?"

Kira laughed, short, sharp and ugly. "He joined us. Don't you remember?"

"I'm trying my utmost to forget, Kira," Rangiku sighed. "That's why I was drinking. What happened to Hisagi anyway? He's pretty co-ordinated when he's off his face, so he should have been able to drag your sorry ass to your bed."

"Nah, he stayed with me."

Rangiku dipped into the depths of her soul and dredged up the remaining traces of her sense of humour. "In bed?"

Kira flushed, and Rangiku was so out of it she couldn't tell whether it was anger or embarrassment. It was probably the latter, but she really couldn't be sure. Either way, it appeared Kira was not yet at the 'dredging up humour' stage.

Fair enough. He'd just been betrayed by his Captain, after all. Although, Rangiku had been betrayed by a friend, and wasn't that worse?

Who knew? Hitsugaya wasn't exactly about to go running after the three traitors just so she could compare the two feelings. And had Gin even been a friend? A childhood companion, sure, her saviour more than once. He hadn't been able to kill her. But that didn't make them friends.

Whatever. Whether or not Gin had been her friend, it still felt as if she'd been stabbed in the stomach with a poison-laced sword. Probably being eaten by a Hollow would have been more pleasant.

"No." Rangiku's head jerked up. She had been so lost in her own train of thought that she'd forgotten Kira was even there, let alone that she'd asked him a question. "He stayed and we toasted Kurosaki Ichigo. Then we toasted Kuchiki Rukia for bringing him here, and then we toasted Urahara Kisuke for sending him here, and then we cursed him for starting the whole mess and then it all sort of runs together…"

The vice-captain of the Tenth Division blinked, trying to remember what exactly the question was that Kira was answering. The feeble joke popped into her mind and she rolled her eyes.

That's what's left of my sense of humour? Pathetic.

"You didn't toast me? I'm hurt."

"I don't remember toasting you, but I'm pretty sure we toasted those." Rangiku jumped and gave a little shriek as Hisagi appeared beside them, gesturing at Rangiku's breasts.

She turned to glare at the other man, and was taken aback at just how awful he looked. "How much did you drink?"

"Enough to forget everything and wander around Seireitei looking for Tousen," Hisagi replied shortly.

Rangiku shrugged. "At least you didn't cry yourself to sleep hugging your pillow."

Both lieutenants stared at her.

"Oh, no. You did? For shame, boys. I'm a woman, I'm allowed to admit to that sort of thing, but you two are strong, upstanding shinigami men." She laughed at their faces, feeling the pieces of her protective farce slotting neatly back into place. Rangiku was the type of person who had to be forced to do things. Leave her alone to heal and she'd be as mad as Hinamori, but shove her straight back into the public eye and force her into a sense of normality and she'd be right as rain.

No, really.

.:This Is How I Say Good-Bye:.

"Shunsui-taichou."

The pink-clad Captain blinked up at Rangiku who had just interrupted his nap. He smiled delightedly. "Ran-chan! What can I do for you?"

"Let's get drunk."

Shunsui opened his mouth to reply, most likely in the affirmative, when he appeared to notice Rangiku's somewhat lack-lustre appearance. Although usually dolled up to the eights, if not the nines, she had always remained within the general realm of decency.

But now…now she was well aware that she'd surpassed Decency and headed straight into Slut with maybe one foot standing in Prostitute.

The tiny silk bathrobe she'd wrapped herself in slipped a little.

Okay, maybe a foot and a hand.

"I see you've gone for a clothing optional night," he noted. "You'll forgive me if I don't join you. It's a tad nippy out."

Well, damn, she knew that. Her nipples were like marbles.

"I am clothed!" she objected half-heartedly as a gust of wind blew by and the edges of the robe flapped around her thighs. "Albeit…not extraordinarily well."

"I hardly think a bath-robe can be considered clothing, Ran-chan. And no, I don't think drinking together while you're in this state is a good idea. We'll end up doing something you'll regret, and my Nanao-chan will chase me with her fan."

She flopped to the ground carelessly. "I'm the only one who'll regret it, taichou?"

The corner of his mouth twitched up in a smirk. "Well, you're not exactly looking very regrettable tonight, Ran-chan. You are delectable in black."

"I'm always in black," she pointed out. "And it's not exactly a colour that's hard to look good in. Looking good in pink though—" She winked at him. "—that's a neat trick."

The smirk shifted into a grin, but she could see the worry in his eyes. "Are you going to tell me what's brought all this on?"

She shrugged, taking a swig from the bottle of sake dangling loosely in her hand. "If I'm to be called a whore, Shunsui-taichou, I may as well act like it."

Gently, the sake bottle was removed from her fingers. "Ah. That."

"Yeah, that," Rangiku snorted. "'Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas' seems to be the general consensus. Damn it all, taichou, he was…well, something to me at any rate. He saved me, looked after me, gave me a birthday and they all just expect me to forget that? Hell, I haven't even changed that much from before, have I? I'm still Matsumoto Rangiku, aren't I?"

"Of course you are, Ran-chan—"

"Shunsui-taichou, you don't get it. Just when I managed to get away from all those rumours about how I fucked my way to fukutaichou, Gin leaves and I'm automatically his whore of a spy who'll screw anything that moves for information! I'm so sick of this, taichou! It's like, damn that girl has big breasts, she must be a whore of the first degree!" She paused for breath. "I can't breathe here, and it's not because I'm sleeping on my stomach either. These people are just so – so – stifled and conservative and bitchy and I can't take it anymore, Shunsui-taichou. I just can't. So—" She produced another bottle of sake. "—Let's get drunk."

The Captain of the Eighth Division gave her an assessing stare that had nothing to do with how she looked and all too much to do with how she felt. "I hear…" he said slowly. "…that Kuchiki Rukia and Abarai Renji have been ordered to Karakura town as part of an advanced scout party and are currently looking for several other able shinigami and a taichou with enough free time to accompany them." He scratched his chin. "As I recall, you recently mauled my Nanao-chan with your specialized bear hug because she'd helped you get all your paperwork up to date, and I would say Hitsugaya-taichou has been spending entirely too much time moping around Himamori-kun's bedside because he has nothing else to distract him…wouldn't you?"

Rangiku lurched to her feet and flash-stepped the hell out of there.

"Oh, Reeeeeeeeeen-jiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!"

.:This Is How I Say Good-Bye:.

I think this shopping thing is almost as good a therapy as sake, Rangiku mused as she scuffed along in the snow. Oh, look at that dress! It has moons and stars on the sleeves! And the hem!

She hurried towards the shop to try it on, kicking the snow (and one or two people) out of the way in her eagerness. She had almost reached the shop when a familiar presence hit her like a punch to the gut. It wasn't reiatsu, precisely, just a feeling.

But a feeling she would have known even if she had been blind, deaf and dumb.

Rangiku looked around wildly, casting her gaze desperately about but she could see nothing except ordinary Karakura inhabitants carrying out their ordinary lives. No sign of that grinning face anywhere.

"Bastard," she muttered under her breath. She looked back over to the shop, and the dress was no longer there.

.:This Is How I Say Good-Bye:.

"Taichou…" Rangiku started hesitantly.

"What is it, Matsumoto?" Hitsugaya asked shortly, glaring down at his cell phone. The rest of the advance squad were MIA, so he must have been waiting for their calls. Either that, or he was feeling antsy and wanted to kill something.

"Did you sense any…odd presence this afternoon?"

"No strange reiatsu, if that's what you mean."

"Well, no. Not reiatsu, just something out of place?"

Hitsugaya looked slowly up from his phone. "Why? Did you sense something?"

She laughed it off awkwardly. "No! No, just a weird feeling. I probably ate too much lunch, is all. Anyway, I was thinking that we should probably let Kurosaki Ichigo know we're here. After all, we need somewhere to stay and we did kind of come to lend him a hand, didn't we?"

"No. I came because you nagged me to volunteer. You came – actually, I've no idea why you came, Matsumoto."

She shrugged easily, shoving aside thoughts of Gin and spies and strutting around Seireitei in a black silk bathrobe. "Wanted to get to know the gang who risked their lives to save Rukia-chan."

Her Captain gave her a look that plainly said he knew she was hiding something, but she brushed it off, opting instead for the tried and true tactic of her specialized bear hug. Rangiku was the only person she knew who could give a bear hug without her arms.

"MATSUMOTO! Get off me!"

She giggled at his typical response, grabbing a hold of his hand. "Come on, taichou, the others are at the Urahara Store. He managed to…find…some uniforms for Karakura High School – yes, taichou, even one small enough for you!"

.:This Is How I Say Good-Bye:.

Rangiku reclined in the steaming hot bath, closing her eyes and listening to Orihime talk.

Kurosaki Ichigo…if you weren't so clueless, I'd feed you to a Hollow for what you're doing to this poor girl.

There was something about Inoue Orihime that reminded Rangiku about herself. Not just the similarities in their appearances and taste in food, but their situation. Rangiku had seen the way Kurosaki Junior looked at Rukia (and wasn't that a surprise, finding out that Kurosaki Senior was actually the Kurosaki-taichou, who had disappeared decades before) and could easily commiserate with the way the girl was feeling.

Oh, Orihime. We both care for men who will never understand.

Of course, it was painfully obvious that Orihime was in love with Kurosaki Ichigo, whereas Rangiku…well, Rangiku wasn't sure what in the hell she felt for Gin anymore. She'd never really been all that sure in the first place. But Orihime's heart ripped just a little bit more every time she thought about Kurosaki and Rukia, and Rangiku's heart ripped a little bit more every time she thought about Gin in Hueco Mundo. Every time she thought about that apology, the look on his face.

Every time she thought about him.

But she couldn't afford to drown in her problems now. Not with winter coming and a war hard on its heels, not with people counting on her and certainly not with Inoue Orihime sobbing softly in the room next door, a girl-child filled with desperate hopes and broken dreams.

.:This Is How I Say Good-Bye:.

"Orihime-chan?" Rangiku called shakily.

"Yes, Matsumoto-san?" Orihime sang back, running over to where the shinigami stood frozen.

"Ran-chan," she corrected out of habit. "Do you – you can see that dress there, yes?"

The girl's eyes widened comically in classic Orihime style. "Oh, Rangiku-san!" she exclaimed, obviously unable to bring herself to use the less formal nickname. "It's gorgeous! Are those stars and moons on the sleeves? Oh, and the hem!"

"So it's definitely there?" Rangiku felt like she was about to cry.

Orihime blinked. "Um…should it not be?"

The vice-captain laughed brightly, too brightly. Not that it mattered, subtlety was wasted on Orihime, darling girl that she was. "No, no, it's just so gorgeous I wanted to make sure everyone could see it!" She gingerly picked the garment up in her thumbs and forefingers and felt a rolling chuckle caress her body.

Gin…

"Oi, Matsumoto!"

Rangiku spun, still holding the dress, to face her Captain who had just entered the room.

"Taichou," she said faintly. "Tighten security. Everywhere. Ichimaru Gin is in Karakura Town."

.:This Is How I Say Good-Bye:.

"Ya know, after ev'rythin' I didn't really expec' ya to wear th' dress, Ran-chan."

Rangiku froze, heart in her mouth and hand on her zanpakutou. She drew, quickly—

"Growl, Haineku!"

And she watched as Gin negligently flipped a hand and her beloved Ash Cat dispersed. She called to Haineku desperately with her mind, trying to direct the zanpakutou to tear Gin to pieces, but there was no response.

Rangiku turned and started running, forgetting flash steps, forgetting to call for back up, forgetting the most basic rule of combat.

Never turn your back on an opponent.

She didn't get so much as a whisper of warning before a pair of arms encircled her, sliding down her shoulders and chest, hands clasped loosely in front of her cleavage.

"Now, now," he breathed into her hair. "Don't you be running away, Ran-chan. We got ourselves some catchin' up t'do, don't ya know?"

His touch had rendered her motor skills completely useless. She couldn't move a muscle, and in a moment of horrific clarity, she realised she wasn't sure if she wanted to.

All thoughts of vengeance, of pride, of gaining back a semblance of a reputation and some small sliver of self-respect…gone, scattered to the winds like her beloved Ash Cat.

"Ain't that the tiniest bit better, Ran-chan?" His mouth at her ear was obscene, sending a jolt of fear and pleasure and pure Gin through her body. "Now that ya all relaxed-like? An' don't be worrying abou' ya lovely Ash Cat, neither. I'll give her back…" A pause, and then his voice dropped seductively. "When I'm done."

It had always been like that with Gin, Rangiku's mind thought giddily as she sucked air into her lungs, trying to remember the proper procedure for breathing. Whether he'd be protective or aloof or a downright bastard had always been totally unknown.

He was like quicksilver, forever changing. Friendships, loyalties, ideals. But she'd thought he'd always remain true to her at least, life-long companions.

Yeah, and hadn't that turned out well.

Hell in a hand-basket, he barely touched me before and now he's all over me! Why is he here? What does he want from me, and…

And if he asks will I give it?

"I missed ya, Ran-chan," he murmured.

"I don't care," she said, finally finding her voice.

"Sure ya don't," the bastard agreed. He didn't even seem to notice that people were staring at them, stock still together in the middle of the foot path. "That's why yer wearin' my dress, innit Ran-chan?"

What could she do? How could she get out of this situation? She'd been stupid to put the dress on, stupid to come out unprepared when Ichimaru Gin was always prepared.

And she was even stupider now, for not fighting, for not trying. She knew he wouldn't kill her, couldn't kill her but she thought his betrayal had ripped the impulse to protect him out of her. She could have called for Hitsugaya how many times now, but instead there she was, almost leaning back into his grasp.

"An' don't that there feel even better, Ran-chan?" His voice was like silk, sliding over her like a butterfly's whisper. "Givin' in. Surrenderin'. Not somethin' ya've had a large amount of practice in, is it?"

She summoned the remnants of her resolve. "Ichimaru Gin. Unhand me. At once."

He chuckled and it was the same chuckle it had always been, despite the total newness of the situation. "Well, sure, Ran-chan. Only if ya want to be unhanded, o' course." His grip on her loosened.

And damn it all, but she couldn't move. She consoled herself with the thought that this could be prime intelligence gathering, seeing as he wasn't going to kill her and apparently intended to leave.

"Why are you here? How did you get past our surveillance?"

"I told ya Ran-chan. I missed ya. As for ya sur-veil-lance, ain't you all out lookin' for the shinigami Ichimaru Gin?"

"Y-you're not Gin?" Her surprise injected a stutter to her voice that she hated herself for.

"You tell me, Ran-chan."

Why, why did he have to say her name, her favourite nickname like that, constantly, in every sentence in a way that could only be described as Ichimaru Gin. There wasn't a soul alive or dead who could imitate that.

So. It was him. Well, then maybe he could answer the only question that she really wanted the answer to.

"Why?" Her voice was soft, near inaudible.

"Why what, Ran-chan?" he asked, even though he had to know what she was referring to.

"Why did you leave, Gin?" she cried, stamping her foot. The 'me' in that sentence went unsaid.

He was silent for a long while, arms tightening almost imperceptibly around her. "Why, it's yer fault, innit Ran-chan?"

Ping! The final screw holding the remnants of her life together popped out and rolled under a couch somewhere.

The traitor continued. "Well, o' course the infinite power deal didn't hurt neither, but really all I wanted was t' see if ya could hold on." A pause. "Ya couldn't."

Rangiku was shaking. She wasn't sure what emotion she was shaking with, but she was definitely shaking. "So – so it was all a test?"

"Yup."

"And I failed."

"Well, sure, but that's okay, Ran-chan. There's a resit."

"Wh-what?"

There was the sense of a familiar reiatsu nearby, dimmed though it was. Rangiku could have cried with relief. Captain!

"War's comin', Ran-chan." His arms slid from her and this time she did start crying as she dropped to her knees, unable to hold herself up any longer. "And so's ya lil tai-chou. I'll catch ya later, Ran-chan. Don't lose my dress." The slight emphasis on the word 'catch' made a shudder rip through Rangiku's body.

"Gin, please!" she cried out suddenly.

Gin…saviour, friend, companion, stranger, Captain, traitor.

Gone.

"Don't go," she whispered brokenly.

There had always been an unspoken deal between them. That he would go off without telling her where, but he would always return.

It was ridiculous, but Rangiku didn't want him coming back. The only way to ensure he didn't was to have him stay with her.

Too late.

.:This Is How I Say Good-bye:.

The war had been raging for over two months, but Rangiku could sense it was nearing it's end. Both sides had sustained heavy losses and now they were in the lull before the final storm.

"Rangiku."

She stiffened, but knew there was nothing she could do against the intruder. "What is it, Gin?" she asked quietly, not turning.

A large hand closed around her wrist and before she knew it a pair of soft, chapped lips were against her own, plundering her mouth and the only thing she could think of to do was to kiss back.

Why? Because, traitor or not, murderer or not, he was Ichimaru Gin.

"You're here?" she whispered against his lips when they brokw the kiss. "Now, of all times?"

"It ends tomorrow, Rangiku. I need…I came to say good-bye. And thank you and sorry and a thousand other things that I don't know how to say."

For the first time in their long, long relationship, Gin had dropped the accent. She'd always known it had been a farce, but to have it proven felt…wrong somehow.

"You can't be here. Gin, do you hear me? You can't be here. If they find you—"

"It ends tomorrow," he repeated raggedly. "Warn your short little taichou and your Kurosaki Ichigo later but let me say good-bye."

She stared up at him and wished for the thousandth time she could see his eyes. But he'd dropped the accent for her and maybe he needed that last protection.

"If I look at you, Rangiku, I won't be able to leave," he said, as if he'd read her mind. "And I really need to leave, eventually. Aizen—"

"Shh." She placed a finger against his lips and then replaced it with her own. "Gin. Just – shh. Stay here. For now and…and hold me. Please. Whatever lies beyond this moment is just a little later on, alright? We'll live or die again with the consequences of this tomorrow."

And he nodded, once, sharply and as his arms encircled her, Rangiku had the feeling that it was, in fact, her holding him.

"It's always been about you, Rangiku. Always."

And regardless of Gin's warning, at those words the future didn't scare her at all.

.:This Is How I Say Good-Bye:.

Aizen was dead.

It wasn't an illusion this time either. Kurosaki Ichigo had destroyed the power of Aizen's zanpakutou the moment he'd put his Hollow mask on.

Aizen was dead.

Fourth Division rushed around, tending to the wounded and easing the pain of those dying a second time.

Aizen was dead.

Ichigo's group, who had miraculously lost none, had piled together, each reassuring the others that they were still alive and real.

Aizen was dead.

But Gin was not.

Rangiku had been the last to see him. When he had killed the last Espada, the one who had been about to end her life for a second time.

She had searched the ruins of Karakura High School, the site of the Final Battle, and had found nothing.

"Matsumoto."

"Yes, taichou?"

"We'll find him."

She looked at her feet. "That's what I'm afraid of."

Hitsugaya stood with her for a few minutes, and then went off to once again check on Kurosaki Karin, who had powered up and joined the battle with Jinta and Ururu, against her older brother's wishes. Tough kid, that one.

"I'm going for a walk," she said to no one in particular.

And she did. She wasn't sure where she went and wasn't sure how long it had taken her to get there, but she went for a walk.

GinGinGinGinGinGinGinGinGinGinGinGinGinGinGinGinGinGinGinGinGinGinGinGin.

"Ran-gi-ku…"

"Gin!" she cried out, rushing to his side. He was face down in the dirt, blood leaking from his mouth and a horrific rip in his abdomen.

"Rangiku," he sighed again, almost happily. "Help…me…"

"Oh, Gin, my healing skills are crap, they always have been, but—"

"No!" he croaked violently. "Se—seppuku."

She stopped. She stared.

"Gin. No. I – I can't."

"Seppuku," he insisted. "T-to atone, Rangiku. For…my…sins – against you."

"Gin, you've already been gutted like a fish," she said helplessly. "I can't. It's not – Gin! Don't make me do this!"

"When c-could I ever – make – you – do – anything, Rangiku?" His eyes fluttered open. "Please."

If Rangiku thought she had been frozen before, she was utterly, utterly still now.

"Your eyes…"

He laughed, but this caused him to choke up more blood. "Not the r-red everyone always th-thought they were."

A stunning shade of blue-green, a few shades lighter then her Captain's.

"N-now, Rangiku. Through my h-heart, if you will. H-help me up."

Who was she to refuse him his choice of death? Maybe the Rangiku of mere months ago would have, but right now she just wanted it to end. Her oldest friend was dying. More than her friend, the man she loved – and wasn't that ridiculous, realising it far after too late – was dying.

There are only so many things a person can stand to see in two lifetimes. Rangiku didn't remember her first, but her second was full of more than enough horror for the both of them.

"Alright. Alright."

And she manoeuvred him into position, placing his zanpakutou in his in his hand and angling it over his heart.

"Out of the w-way, Rangiku."

"Right." And she surreptitiously arranged herself.

"Good-bye, Ran-chan." He sighed, head tipping forward in exhaustion. "I should have loved you better."

Silence.

"Shot to death, Shinsou."

The sound of Shinsou ripping out of Gin's back and plunging into Rangiku's chest filled her ears.

She slumped forward, knowing she only had a few seconds before it ended for both of them.

"R-ran-gi-ku?"

She smiled, and in their dying moment whispered into his ear.

"Reset."

.:This Is How I Say Good-Bye

I hope you got why she said reset at the end, and I really hope I did a good job of this. I kind of mixed both anime and manga, I think. I used Gin's eyes from the manga, not the anime because I think blood red is just too cheesy.

Anyway, please review!