notes: Heavily inspired by Vienna Teng's Antebellum, though sadly it does not do the song any level of justice. This also remains the most edited fanfiction I have to date, just because I keep shuffling around and I still can't get it to work quite the way I want it to.
the light of our armistice day
The air is charged with reiatsu so thick that she cannot breathe.
But Shinshou is thirsty, Hinamori's life is a thin thread that Hitsugaya cannot save, and she only has a second to react.
It feels like she has been robbed of the ground underneath her feet, like her heart has been violently ripped out of her chest, like there is no air.
She can't think, so she doesn't think.
It hurts to feel, so she doesn't feel.
Instead, she does what is most logical, what is natural: follow him and protect what matters to him from him.
In less than a second she unsheathes Haineko and springs into a defensive stance. "You're going to have to fight me next," she tells him, the cruel man who holds her heart captive, the jerk whose sword is impaling hers, the bastard whom she's been crying to sleep for in the last few years.
His wicked grin is the saddest thing she has ever seen, and as he withdraws his sword—you've lost me now, Rangiku, you've really lost me now—she wonders if it's going to be etched in his memory forever.
Hitsugaya has never been good at waiting, but he always has a good reason behind it.
He's impatient today because there is something he wants to tell Hinamori when she wakes up: Aizen is a traitor. Aizen is a bastard. Aizen deserves to be killed. Aizen will be killed. Aizen, Aizen, Aizen.
He doesn't want Hinamori to hurt, but she will and it is only fitting that it is he who inflicts the pain. He can't forgive himself, but that is just as well; he has no need to because he doesn't deserve forgiveness anyway. He will watch her crumble before his very eyes, and he will do so bravely, unblinkingly, unwaveringly. It'll be his punishment for letting her blood spill, for not being able to protect her as promised, for relying on someone else to shield her.
Hurry, he thinks, clutching Hinamori's pale, thin fingers as if they are his lifeline, wake up. Wake up.
In the weeks following Aizen's betrayal, Matsumoto drinks herself to a stupor.
Gin is a jerk.
Gin is a bastard.
Gin is a fucking fuckhead of a traitor, who dares to leave her when all she needs, when all she wants—
(She's really no better.)
"Matsumoto," Hitsugaya calls her one day, unable to stay silent for any longer. His voice is soft and quiet but so close that she literally jumps, so immersed in her own guilt she hasn't noticed him sitting down next to her on the couch. Staring at her is the boy—the man, sometimes—she has promised every inch of herself to, mind and body, heart and soul, and she cannot not listen to what he has to say.
"You deserve better," he tells her, and for a second, though his voice is strained, she believes him.
When Hitsugaya Toushirou is only two inches shorter than her, Haineko materializes in the form of a gray cat on her lap to throw a hissy fit, nowhere near impressed.
Just watch, the ash cat hisses, he'll be hitting on you before the week ends.
Rangiku absently strokes the back of its ears. "What makes you say that?"
The cat growls disapprovingly, have you seen the look he's been throwing you all day?
"No," she replies, "And I doubt he's been throwing me any look besides the occasional fury, Haineko-chan. He thinks I've been slacking off."
As you actually have.
"Well, he seems to enjoy doing paperwork!" she defends herself, "Besides, we make a good team. In the office and out of it."
Haineko sniffs unhappily. I think he likes you.
"And this makes you angry because?" Rangiku fails to see any sense of this; really she does. "You've always liked him. And Hyourinmaru. Well, more Hyourinmaru than him, but…" realization dawns. "Is it because Hyourinmaru doesn't like you that you—"
The ash cat snarls, sharp claws dangerously close to the shinigami's throat. Don't you dare.
Rangiku laughs, and when Haineko returns to its zanpakutou form to sulk in her inner world, wonders if this is a chance she should take—if she can finally, finally begin to forgive (and forget) Ichimaru Gin.
When it finally happens, neither of them are surprised. One night she lies in his arms, in his bed, legs intertwined with his, and asks:
"Do you love me?"
"No," he answers without missing a beat, and it is abrupt and it is honest and above all, it hurts. "And you know—"
"And I know why you're here," she cuts him, knowing where he's going before he knows it himself, "Because this is easy. Because you want to forget Hinamori, and I want to forget… the bastard. Because it hurts less when we do this," she pauses, and then, more quietly, finishes: "Because you don't love me, and I don't love you, either."
His lips curve into a strange smile, and for a moment, just for that single centimeter of time, as he pulls her down for a kiss so quick that their breaths mingle, there is a little voice in the back of her head that tells her otherwise.
(It's her heart.)
"This will be the last time."
Rangiku looks at him, surprised, hurt. His voice is rough and hoarse and there is remorse in his unblinking eyes, shadowed behind the calm, cold composure, and every inch of her that feels like strangling him less than a second ago dissolves into a heartbreaking silence.
"Hinamori," she guesses softly, "She needs you."
Quietly he rises from her bed, not bothering to cover himself. Their unspoken understanding lingers between them, stretching out the silence.
As his name passes her lips, he turns back abruptly. His hand snakes behind her head as he kisses her with a gentleness she wasn't aware he possesses. It's when her fingers curl at his back, nails digging into his skin, that he shoves her away so suddenly, something indecipherable in his teal eyes.
Her lips curve. "No."
He's well aware that she's stubborn.
"You need me, Toushirou," she whispers, reaching out to touch him, fingers smooth and cool against his skin. There is something here, something unexpectedly electric, something like passion, as he stares at her with eyes that say too much and want too much.
His smirk is triumphant but sad, and ice slides down her spine as he speaks: "You need me, too."
"The flowers are beautiful," she pesters him yet again, in another attempt to get away from work. "Let's go look at them."
"Fine," he snaps at her, rising abruptly from his seat. "It's impossible to work with you around, anyway."
Her eyes widen. "You'll go?"
Suppressing the urge to roll his eyes at her, he nods. "I'll go."
So they head outside to sit on the rooftop along with a pot of hot chrysanthemum tea and look at the flowers, a comfortable silence settling between them.
She spends the rest of the evening pretending that she doesn't feel that tingle on the back of her neck whenever his fingers brush over hers.
He pretends he doesn't do it on purpose.
"I'm going to get fired for this," Toushirou mutters grumpily for the nth time that day, as he is reluctantly dragged by a cheerful Rangiku into the festival grounds.
The vice-captain grins wickedly, feeling his arm circling her waist, and turns around to give him a quick peck on the cheek. He looks away, blushing furiously at her outward affection, but he doesn't let go and for now this is all she asks for.
As it is, he thinks, he might as well get used to it. Every time he gets used to something, though, she surprises him with something else, and she seems to enjoy that a lot, even if it's the most unbecoming thing he allows of himself. Perhaps he's getting used to that, at least.
"Don't worry," she whispers suddenly, hot breath tickling his ear, "I'm not going to file for sexual harassment."
"I am not sexually harassing you!"
"Then why are you worried about getting fired?"
"I'm openly—openly—" he groans at his inability to speak coherently, more frustrated than embarrassed.
"Openly spooning your subordinate?" she fills in unhelpfully, raising a suggestive brow, "Hmm, funny. She doesn't seem to care about that."
Her finger touches his lips, silencing him. "You promised to call me my name in public."
He glares at her, but her open laughter melts his determination to stay mad at her. He hasn't seen her this happy in a long, long time—they haven't been this happy for a long time—and he thinks, perhaps, just perhaps…
"Oh, Toushirou! You're smiling!"
Perhaps he can let it slide.
"The order has been issued."
Rangiku looks up from her book. Toushirou is standing by the door rigidly, his back a perfect line under the sky and his face as blank as paper.
"I heard," she replies, voice betraying nothing as she fixes him with a level stare. "Are you going to do it?"
Toushirou's fingers are set on Hyourinmaru's hilt, his stance tense but not wary, and she knows: he's ready to do this. He's ready to kill Gin. There is something strange in his eyes that she doesn't understand as he says, "I don't have a choice, do I? It's an order."
Her lips sliding into a frown, she averts her gaze, choosing instead to look at the vase on the table between them. The purple-black peony dangles lifelessly on the mouth, its leaves a darkened hue of disgusting green. She picks it up and rearranges it tentatively, stalling.
"I'm coming with you," she says, finally looking up right into his eyes, ash-gray to icy-blue.
His face darkens. "No."
"I can help," she whispers. (This shouldn't be his burden to carry. This should be hers.)
"I'm not letting you."
"I'm strong enough," she rises from her seat, knocking over the vase. It rolls over the table and drops to the floor and shatters into a thousand porcelain pieces. "I can do this. Toushirou."
"No," he repeats, and when she opens her mouth again, ready to counter, adds: "Matsumoto-fukutaichou."
Gray eyes widen and dull, and she turns away. She hates it when he pulls rank. It is then that he steps forward, taking her hand into his, and she flinches at the cold contact, trying to understand what he cannot convey with words.
"I'm not taking my chances," he says, and as he laces their fingers together, she hears him loud and clear: I can't lose you. Leaning forward, he seals his lips to hers in a soft kiss and she clings to him, fingers curling at the back of his shirt to keep him from running away. When he draws away, her face is flushed red and she misses the warmth immediately. He tugs at his collar and smiles casually at her, "Don't wait up."
How long has it been? he wonders. Two days? Three?
Time is an abstract when you are in a coma, and Hyourinmaru's constant, gentle whirring inside him—it's time, wake up, Toushirou—is the only thing that assures him he's still alive.
When he opens his eyes, she's sitting on a chair in the most undignified manner, one hand clutching his tightly (so maybe that's why he can't feel his hand), the other on the book on her lap. Her hair sticks out all over the place, her clothes untucked. Her lips are dry and cracked as she mouths the words she is reading and there are dark circles underneath her eyes.
He clears his throat. "Rangiku."
She snaps up, alert at once. "You're awake!"
"How… how long have I been unconscious?"
Three weeks after Ichimaru Gin's death. Three weeks after he ended up victorious but half-dead. Three weeks she had been completely and utterly alone.
"Do you hate me now?"
His question sends a confused frown settling over her pretty face, but she notices the worry in his eyes and laughs. "Silly," she whispers, "Is that really what you're worried about?"
"Do you?" he demands.
"Toushirou, you idiot," she says. "I have no reason to hate you."
His frown mirrors hers. "I killed Gin."
She looks right back, unfazed, and the corners of her lips turn upwards. "I'm not Hinamori," she reminds him gently, rising to her feet to sit by his side. Leaning forward to brush the hair that's covering his face away, she takes his hand. As she outlines the kanji for 'ten' on his palm, she smiles brightly. "I trust you… Hitsugaya-taichou."
Then she kisses him, slowly and then more passionately, and Toushirou—
Toushirou understands. And then he surrenders.
notes: Seriously, maybe one day I'll look back and find a way to convey what I really want to say in so many words. Reviews are most welcomed! :D