"I wanted to bring you here with me."
Rangiku stares at the fox-faced, silver haired man leaning in the doorway of her meticulously appointed cell. She cannot think of him as Gin. That name is too full of memories, and none of them are painful enough to make her hate him like he deserves.
"Then why didn't you?"
"Because you pulled away." It is only because she is watching him – because of how she learned, long ago, to watch him – that she sees the way his smile etches a little deeper into his mouth, the way the corners of his eyes pinch tighter. "Don't you remember? You had my wrist in your hand, and Haineko against my throat, but you jumped back. I told you – you could have held on a little longer."
She swallows before she answers. "You said you were sorry."
"I was sorry you let go."
"I don't believe you." His face doesn't change at all, and that tells her she is right. She wishes that being right didn't hurt so much – like her heart is damp silk being wrung dry.
"Ah, you're right," he says brightly, straightening up and tucking his hands in his sleeves. "That wasn't a very good story, was it? There should be a better one." He pauses to consider, then ducks his head a little; a silver fox executing a small play bow, inviting another to a game. "You remember poor Captain Ukitake, yes?"
The pang in her chest is not so great as she thought it might be, but her jaw still clenches. There are names that would have cut deeper, and she's oddly grateful he doesn't say them.
"Strange man," he considers, tilting his head so that his pale hair falls over one crimped eye. "Every autumn he would put out chrysanthemums – the yellow and copper ones with hundreds of petals, maybe a thousand – even though he knew they wouldn't survive the winter. One year, just when the flowers had bloomed, a storm blew in – no snow, but so cold it hurt to breathe, and with a dry, withering wind. Poor chrysanthemums – they froze on their stems. For a day or so, they looked as if nothing had happened, but when the sun came out, their petals shattered and fell. Do you remember that? How they blew across the courtyards and the walkways, skittering like small, dead leaves, all the colour sucked out of them by the wind? How they crunched beneath our feet for days?" He pauses in his story to sigh and shake his head. "It felt like walking on tiny bones. It made me sad."
Rangiku feels colder now, even though she is sure the temperature of the air has not changed. "Why do you tell me this?"
For a moment he doesn't answer her. He looks out the one tall window in her cell at the desolate sands beyond, and the moon curled like a white shell in the blackness.
"In Soul Society, if I had called Captain Ukitake a cruel man, do you think anyone would have believed me? And yet," he shrugs, "he took something beautiful – something he said he loved – and put it where it could not survive. How strange," he muses, "to find that I could not be as selfish as that man."
She almost wants to laugh, but she thinks that if she lets herself, she may never stop.
"You're saying—you were too ikind/i to bring me here? To take me with you?"
When he turns from the window and looks at her, there is a brief flash of red. She could count on one hand the number of times she has seen his eyes. Now it will take two.
"This is no place for living things."
"And yet, here I am."
"Yes," he agrees with another small sigh, another dip of his head. "Here you are."
Her heart tightens when he finally steps into her cell because he walks like he always has, as if his hips hold a clever secret that he might reveal if she is very good. He smiles as if he has a ripe persimmon in one sleeve, and scarlet silk cords in the other, and perhaps she will receive one of these gifts, but only if she chooses the other. When he stands before her, she thinks it is not so strange to see him in white; that if she squints, she can almost imagine that his pale kimono is a Captain's haori, that they are back in Seireitei, and that he has come to her rooms – uninvited, as always – to drink sake. She stares directly in front of her, refusing to look into his face, into the eyes that she fears will be open and looking back, until he says "Forgive me."
There is an alien note in his voice. It is something she has never heard before, and if she didn't know it was impossible, she could imagine it was regret. He stands there a moment longer, and just as her resolve wavers and she starts to lift her eyes, he sinks to his knees before her and lays his head upon her lap.
"Forgive me," he says again, his words soft against her thighs, "for being happy you are here."
She doesn't know how long it is before she moves. She sits, straight-backed as her chair, until she realizes that her fingers are clenched in her kimono, that she is about to start trembling and that when she does, he will feel it. When she opens her hands, it's as if water lifts them, as if the room is filling with an invisible flood, and her hands, like dead wood seeking a shore, hands drift naturally to his head. His hair is just as cool as she remembers, and just as fine – the gossamer of spider silk that draws her fingers like moths.
"I don't like sad songs," he tells her. His voice, muffled by the fabric of her robe, sounds strangely childlike. "Sing me one anyway."
But she doesn't sing. She doesn't seem to have a voice any longer. She only holds his head upon her lap and dips her fingers into the moonlight of his hair again and again. With each caress, it feels like another petal of her soul detaches and flutters to the floor, bleaching in the hollow air, turning to dust, to sand, to ashes. To tiny bones.