A/N: I know its taken me way too long to update and I offer my humblest apologizes. The usual excuses fall into play... RL and the evil writer's block *shudders*. Well enough about that... on with the story. Enjoy =)
The screeching sound of metal chains rubbing against each other is gone. There is no force to continue the swing's momentum. The playground is empty...abandon. Its sole occupant has gone in search for refuge somewhere else. Along the way a mask falls from her listless fingers; making no sound as it hits the grassy ground. But she doesn't stop to pick it up. It's easily forgotten and too insignificant that it won't be missed.
Perhaps that is what Matsumoto has become in his eyes. What more could she expect with the way she broke his heart.
Could it be that easy for him? To have effortlessly moved on (with Yoruichi of all people) while she remains trapped on this emotional plateau. It wasn't fair. Not when she finally knew what she wanted. Her dream had made it clear; dissipating the hazy fog that had clouded her vision. Helped her settle unresolved issues of her past. Giving her the chance to finally say goodbye to Gin. To close that chapter of her life. In her dream she had chosen.
Hitsugaya Toushirou may not have been a part of her past, but he's certainly been there for her in the present and she knew deep into the depths of her soul that he was her future.
A future that was sadly slipping away.
Could she really blame him for this pain? His broken visage flashes within in her mind. Shaking her head, 'I have no one but myself to blame. I broke his heart. I compared him to Gin. Ran away like a coward. Made him doubt that he had no place in my heart. Pushing him away, pushing him into the arms of another woman. I have no right to feel angry or jealous. It just hurts so much.' Her inner ramblings were making her head hurt.
"Damn it Rangiku what did you get yourself into?"
Matsumoto came to a stop realizing that she had wondered into some wooded area of the park. Luckily for her there was a bench located near a large tree. The heavy foliage gave the area a nice little barrier from the chilly winds and the tops of the trees blocked out most of the moonlight. It looked so inviting. She was exhausted both physically and emotionally. All she wanted to do was sleep. To sleep away the fatigue, the memory, the heartache.
She tossed her shoes aside not caring where they landed. Climbed onto the cold and hard wooded bench and tried to get comfortable. It was no comfy couch, unlike the one in her office, or the warm futon at Orihime's place but it would do. Because really there was no other place where she wanted to be right now. Going back to the club was definitely out of the question and she didn't want to be bombarded with questions from her friends who would no doubt be waiting for her at Orihime's apartment. For now she just wanted to be alone.
Alone with her thoughts and dreams of Hitsugaya Toushirou.
Hitsugaya was moving so fast that the city around him blurred into strings of light. "Damn it woman where did you go," he growled while stopping in mid-air. Her reiatsu had been so strong when he first left the club; making it easy to track her. Now it was barely faint. He was growing anxious and he didn't like this feeling. He knew from past experience that if Matsumoto Rangiku did not want to be found she could easily disappear for hours, days, even weeks if she really wanted to.
'No,' he thought. He was a fool to have let her slip away the first time but he'd be damned if he let her go again."Not this time, Rangiku." he declared aloud. Hitsugaya was not going to let anything come in their way. Not her fears, his stupidity, nor the memories of Gin.
Closing his eyes Hitsugaya focuses his energy on finding her. Although her reiatsu was faint it was there lingering in the air. It was taunting his senses, daring him to come find her.
'Breathe,' he tells himself, 'Focus.'
As he exhales Hitsugaya opens his eyes. The bustling existence of the city below hushed to a muted stillness and the surrounding world grew colorless. If he couldn't feel her reiatsu than he'll just have to search for her reiraku, her spiritual aura, instead. He flew through the skies while his eyes scan every possible corner. Just when he thought he was getting nowhere his silent wish is granted as he spots something red in the distance. The moment his feet touches down Hitsugaya quickly reaches out to grab onto the red spirit ribbon that no doubt belongs to a shinigami but was it hers? He handles the ribbon with a delicate caress. His heart begins to flutter uncontrollably. It was definitely her spiritual energy flowing evenly through the red ribbon.
Without letting go he follows the crimson path laid out by the ribbon. Hitsugaya exhales a sigh of relief as he finds her asleep on the bench. His vision returns to normal and the rest of the world continues on with life. A ray of moonlight peeks through the trees, casting upon her it's radiant glow. Matsumoto Rangiku was a goddess in every sense of the word.
Seeing her again only reaffirms just how much he's fallen in love with this woman.. Thoughts of losing her made his chest constrict. Shaking his head Hitsugaya was determined to salvage their professional relationship. To repair their friendship. But most importantly he was going to do what ever it took to win over her love. A smile played across his lips. Like he said to Jyuushirou and Shunsui 'I'll kiss some sense into her.'
Hitsugaya was brought back from his musing when her heard Matsumoto whimper in her sleep. Quickly he rushes to kneel down besides her. Reaching out to brush aside a stray lock from her face.
Ironic how they found themselves in almost the exact same scenario as before. Hitsugaya steels his emotions against any possible outcome. He wasn't going to run this time. Gently he runs the back of his fingers against her cheek.
A small sob escapes her lips in response to his touch.
"What are you dreaming about this time?"
"Why?" Matsumoto cries out. Her heart pounding against her chest as a shadowed figure materializes behind him. She can't see the person's face but it doesn't take much to figure out it was a woman holding onto Hitsugaya.
"You can't blame me, Rangiku. You didn't want me, remember?" He mocks her with a sly smile. Turning his back to her Hitsugaya embraces this mysterious figure. This faceless woman who was receiving his kisses, his gentle touches, his whispered declaration of love. This woman who was taking her place in Hitsugaya's heart. It ached to watch him like this knowing that it was supposed to be her. She couldn't take it any more. Closing her eyes Matsumoto turns her head away.
"What did you expect, Matsumoto? Did you honestly think that he would wait forever for… you?"
The woman's voice is daunting ."You don't deserve a man like Toushirou. He needs a woman who knows what she wants. Not some coward who runs in fear and clings to the past."
Her body trembles with suppressed anger. Her hands curling into fists as they lay against her sides. Matsumoto could feel this woman hovering around her. Her taunting voice filling the air. "You will never have him as long as I'm around, Matsumoto Rangiku. I am the woman who you are too afraid to become. I am the woman he will give his mind, his body, and his soul to."
Opening her eyes Matsumoto turns to see Hitsugaya being led away by this shadowed specter. "No," she whispers before rushing towards him. She grabs his arm, yanking him back towards her.
"Toushirou don't go," she pleas, eyes brimming with tears.
"I was already yours but you let me go, Rangiku. Its too late."
It broke her heart hearing those words coming from his lips.
"I don't love you anymore, Rangiku." She stares at him as if he had just struck her across the face.
"No," shaking her head in denial, "I don't believe you."
Hitsugaya turns to leave again but Matsumoto refuses to let him go. He tries to pry her fingers from his arm but her hold is unyielding. A defeated sigh escapes his lips, "Just let me go, Matsumoto."
"No," she states adamantly, "I won't."
He groans in frustration as he grabs into her shoulders. His intense stare belies the frailty of his voice as he asks, "Why?"
Her hand is trembling as she reaches up to caress his cheek. A shaky smile stretches across her lips.
" - I love you, Toushirou."
Something was different. Not that the bed she was laying on wasn't enough of a clue. How did she get here? Where the hell is here? Upon opening her eyes Matsumoto was greeted with darkness. She couldn't make much of the room since it was so dark. As she sat up in bed she was happily relived that she was still dressed. Because really waking up in a strange room was bad enough but to find yourself naked in a strange room with no recollection of how you got there in the first place was down right horrifying.
"Okay Rangiku think. What's the last thing you remember?"
Her overwrought mind decides to flash her an image of Hitsugaya kissing Yoruichi. "No, we are not going there." She tells herself. "First let's figure what's going on. Then we'll throw a pity party for myself later."
As she sits in bed her mind begins to recall the events after leaving the club. The very last thing she remembers was falling asleep on a bench in the park. "Did I sleepwalk all the way..." she looks around but since it was dark she couldn't really make anything of it besides the lavish size of the room, "...here?"
Having only stayed at Orihime's place while visiting the real world and never remembering staying in a place like this Matsumoto quickly dismisses the idea.
"Had I been that exhausted that some stranger managed to carry me off from the park to this place?" That was a possibility. Recalling the numerous of times she has gotten into a drunken stupor and found herself in the most unusual of places. "Well the perv had another thing coming if he actually thought that he'd get lucky tonight."
Though she loathed to leave the comforts of the bed and its warm surroundings she really needed to figure things out. Throwing the covers from her body Matsumoto swings her legs over the edge of the bed and nearly purrs when her bare feet sinks into the plush carpet. After another minute of indulging in the comforts of the room Matsumoto gets up from the bed. She nearly trips as she stumbles over something at the foot of the bed. Reaching down she is stunned to find that it was her shoes she had careless thrown aside at the park. Matsumoto was confused at the gesture. 'She barely remembers where she had toss them. What pervert kidnaps an unconscious person from the park then takes the time to search for their shoes?'
Her shoes wasn't the only think that had caught her eye. Atop the chaise lounge, which was situated at the foot of the bed, were clothes. Normally it wouldn't have been such a big deal but she drops her shoes and reaches out to grab the clothes. "It can't be," she mutters to herself. Even in the darkness she could still make out the silly patterns of chibi cats and dragons curled around each other in slumber.
Matsumoto wasn't sure if she wanted to laugh or cry that her taicho had actually kept the gag gift she had gotten for him so long ago.
She had been on one of many shopping sprees here in the living world. While walking around the store Matsumoto had the sudden urge to check out the sleepwear department. She still didn't know what pulled her there but she began to look around. It had been so obscure at first. A piece of it barely sticking out, surrounded by other pajamas that had been haphazardly thrown onto the clothes rack. Matsumoto dug through until she was finally able to pull it out.
"Perfect," Matsumoto giggled while admiring the design on the pajamas.
She was disappointed that the size was way too big for her lil taicho and worst it was obviously the last one. But that didn't stop her from buying it for Hitsugaya.
She still remembers the expression on his face when she gave it to him...
Hitsugaya was rapidly turning red from both extreme anger and embarrassment. The damnable woman had forced the top half of the pajama over Hitsugaya's head and at the same time explaining,"Sorry taicho but you're just too small to wear the pajama bottoms just yet. Don't worry I'm sure in a few years my cute lil taicho will grow enough to wear the big boy pants." By that point he was beyond livid. Unfortunately his arms were trapped within the pajama top to reach out and choke her neck. He looked like a five year old playing dress up in his father's clothes.
"Aww taicho you look sooo cute!" She cooed.
"MATSUMOTOOOO!" He yelled as he struggled to get out while his pesky fukutaicho ran away. The the sound of her laughter lingering in the air.
She had been sure that Hitsugaya would have thrown it away or at the very least burn it. She hugs the material to her chest cherishing the idea that he had kept it after all this time. After slipping the shirt on Matsumoto suppresses the urge to laugh aloud. The pajama top was still too big even on her. The sleeves were too long and the bottom of the shirt stopped just below her knees.
Matsumoto doesn't bother to button the shirt nor roll the sleeves up. Instead she clutches the opening of the shirt with one hand while the other reaches up for the collar. Matsumoto closes her eyes as she buries her nose into his shirt, inhaling his scent. A single tear trails down along her cheek until its absorbed into the fabric. She pulls the shirt closer; her body snuggling into the soft material. For a brief moment she lets her mind imagine. The shirt disappears in its wake is something far better. Her taicho is there holding her. His arms are strong, steely and for that brief moment Matsumoto cherishes how safe she feels within his embrace.
Matsumoto opens her eyes and is quickly brought back to reality. She's alone in a strange room wrapped around Hitsugaya's pajama top. "Damn it," she curses, "What the hell is the matter with you?" Matsumoto mutters as she paces the room. "Since when have you become that... that," she was trying to find the right words. "THAT woman!" Unfortunately it was all she could come up with.
Matsumoto yanks the shirt from her body. Holding the shirt up as if she has Hitsugaya himselft standing before her, fists gripping tightly at the collar. "I am not some meek, wimpering, docile woman who cries over a man!" With each word she pulls at the shirt, imagining that it was Hitsguaya she was violently shaking. "I am not MOMO!" Which Matsumoto quickly apologizes under her breath to the former fifth division fukutaicho. It wasn't as if she had anything against Momo. On the contrary she had much respect for the woman...at least nowadays. The post-Aizen days that is.
At first Matsumoto never quite understood Momo's obsession with her taicho. But as she stands there alone in an empty room arguing with a piece of clothing she finally understands. Like Momo, Matsumoto had fallen into an endless abyss that was surrounded by their taicho. Making them uncharacteristically insane. Yet, unlike Momo this desire, this passionate obession isn't unrequited. Matsumoto knew what her taicho wanted.
Where do I stand in your life, Rangiku?
She recalls the way his voice wavered with nervousness. The way his body stood tense with apprehension. But the way his eyes pleaded with hers to give him the answer he'd been seeking for so long is what she remembers the most. It was like watching the sea raging against the onslaught of a storm. Matsumoto would never forget the painful look he gave her when she rejected him. She had been a coward then. Too scared, too afraid to face her fears. She ran, ran as fast and as far as she could.
"No," she spoke aloud. What is wrong with her? She was done running. Done with being a coward. This...this behaviour was unbecoming of her. Matsumoto Rangiku was no quitter. Never had she backed down from anything. Gin may have found her that day but it was her will to survive that kept her alive, that kept her going. She'd be damned if she let herself fall into some dismal purgartory because she was afraid of letting the past go and having her heart broken again. Hitsugaya Toushirou meant more to her than Gin every did.
A radiant tenacity shines within Matsumoto's eyes as a feral smile appears upon her face. The shirt slips from her fingers, pooling at her feet. It was about time she took what she wanted and give her taicho a permenant place in her heart. Stepping over the material she heads for the door.
And it was about damn time too...
The soft chords of music coming from the radio inside the living room wafted through the sliding door. Hitsugaya was out on the balcony; a bottle of sake swinging absently between his fingers. Its raining again yet he fails to notice. Its been two hours now since his return to the hotel. Two hours since leaving Matsumoto asleep in his room. Two exasperating hours and the wait was driving him mad. Within that time Hitsugaya has been struggling with himself. A part of him wants to march back into that room and wake her up. To finally claim a place in her heart and convince her to give them a chance. The other part, which has him standing outside in the cold, refuses to cave into his irrational side.
It was fifteen minutes past the hour as the grandfather clock inside chimes loudly in the empty room. Hitsugaya has spent the last hour methodically conjuring up possible scenarios of his imminent talk with Matsumoto; none of which ended pleasantly. After taking a healthy swig of sake Hitsugaya looks out into the city. Its view is unclear due to the darkness of the night and rain. Much like his ambiguous relationship with his fukutaicho.
"Forget about going mad, Toushirou," he mutters to himself. This kaleidoscope of emotions was surely going to turn him insane. Its time to go back in. He takes another long sip from the bottle before turning away from the obscured landscape.
That's when, from the corner of his eyes, he caught sight of something red. His body stood rigid with shock. She was finally awake. "I never thought I'd see the day Hitsugaya taicho drinking sake." Matsumoto Rangiku, the woman of his dreams and the bearer of his heart, was standing before him. He had been pining away the very seconds for this moment and now that it was here he was unsure of what to do. Well that wasn't totally true. It took all of his collective control not to close the remaining gap between them and pin her to the wall.
They stand at a respectable distance as the awkwardness of the situation befalls between them. Breaking the tension Hitsugaya offers the bottle of sake to Matsumoto in a wordless gesture. She shakes her head. A white brow lifts in wonder, "Never thought I'd see the day my fukutaicho declines sake." She shrugs with a tiny quirk of a smile for a reply.
It was fascinating watching Hitsugaya down the remaining sake without so much as a grim expression towards the unique taste. Her comment my have been in jest but now standing there watching him she realizes something. He places the empty bottle near a table; stuffing his hands into his pockets as he turns to find Matsumoto starting at him. There was a seriousness in her eyes that Hitsugaya has only seen displayed while on the battlefield.
"Something on your mind?" His deep voice pulls her from her little stupor.
"I have a lot of things on my mind," she whispers, "Taicho." Her heart begins to flutter within her chest as she watches him move. There's confidence in his stride; no hesitancy within his movements. She's seen this side of him many times before while fighting but never like this. Never this...intimate. He was closer now. Warmth radiating from his body and the sweet smell of sake on his breath was making Matsumoto faint. The proximity of his body and the intensity of his gaze was like being caught under a snake charmer's trance. It was truly unfair that he had this affect on her.
Hitsugaya wasn't fairing any better than Matsumoto. Nerves were wrecking havoc on his body. His heart, which he swears can be heard, was thumping wildly against his chest. Even with the chilly night air and the fact that he, weilder of the most powerful ice based zanpakuto, was feeling hot. Which wasn't the effect caused by the alcohol he's been consuming. No it was a safe bet that it was because of this woman standing before him. 'Its unfair the affect she has on me.'
A gust of wind blew across the balcony making Matsumoto shiver against the cold. "We should go inside." Hitsugaya begins to say but Matsumoto simply shakes her head, "No its okay." Her vain attempts to ward of the cold and the little quakes coursing through her body doesn't go unnoticed by Hitsugaya. "Its too cold out here Matsumoto." Again she refuses. She couldn't very well explain that being in an enclosed room with him was a bit disarming. No she needed the open air; her nerves were more at ease out here regardless at how cold it was getting. Hitsugaya sighed, "Fine. I'll be right back."
"Stubborn woman," he mutters under his breath as he walks back into the room. Matsumoto couldn't help the tiny smile forming on her lips. Clearly she had heard him. The moment he disappears inside Matsumoto lets out a sigh of relief. Grateful for the small respite Matsumoto walks over to the railing and takes a deep, cleansing breath.
The soft melodic tunes coming from inside and the enchanting tapping of rain lulled Matsumoto into a light daze. "Here," Hitsugaya's voice pulled her back from her slight reverie. Looking over her shoulder she notices the familiar pajama top she had left on his bedroom floor. After helping her put it on Hitsugaya moves to stand besides her; leaning his arms against the railing. "I can't believe you kept it all this time, taicho." She said while busying herself with buttoning the shirt.
Without looking at her Hitsugaya responds "You it bought for me, Matsumoto. Of course I'd keep it. I've kept everything you ever given me."
Matsumoto's head shoot up. "Really?"
His tone is a cross between amusement and disbelief that she would ask such a question. "Because you gave them to me." 'Silly woman,' but he kept that to himself.
Matsumoto doesn't look at him, "After everything I've done...The way I've treated you...hurt you." Swallowing the the lump in her throat, "I'd figured you'd get rid of anything that would remind you of...me."
Hitsugaya moves closer but keeps a level amount of space between them uncertain if the proximity was wanted. "As inane as some of the stuff were." That warranted a small giggle to escape from her lips, "I couldn't bear to throw them away."
"Why?" Her voice is small and unsure.
"Because," this time grabbing onto your shoulders and forcing her to face him. Her head still remains lowered. Hitsugaya reaches down beneath her chin; slowly he lifts her face until finally her eyes is locked with his. "Because with every gift," He wipes away a tear, "You thought of me."
At that moment the solidity of love she has for this man has been cemented permanently into her heart. And as much as Matsumoto wanted to throw her arms around his neck and kiss the life out of him. She was still riddled with doubts.
"I don't love you anymore, Rangiku."
Words from her nightmare came back to mock her.
"I am the woman who you are too afraid to become. I am the woman he will give his mind, his body, and his soul to."
A face began to form on the shadowed figure that had claimed her taicho in that damnable nightmare.
"You will never have him as long as I'm around, Matsumoto Rangiku."
Matsumoto looked sadly into his eyes, "What about Yoruichi?"
"Yoruichi?" Hitsugaya frowns then it eases as he understands her meaning. But instead of explaining that it was nothing he said a name that held more significance in their somewhat complex relationship.
Letting her go Hitsugaya takes a step back and said, "What about Gin?"