Flesh Wound

"Ahh…seriously, why are you here?"

Gin walked forward towards her. Inside, she had some reservations about allowing him to come closer than she ever allowed an enemy to venture, but this was Gin. Wasn't he the one who saved her all those years ago in the wild? How could he spare her then just to do away with her now?

When he reached forward and fingered her necklace, touching her as he had before he left the soul society with Aizen, relief flooded through her. She let her defenses drop. His palm grazed her breast and she sighed, realizing just how much she'd missed him since he'd left. There was nothing she could do to stop him, he was her weakness, and she let herself be vulnerable, preferring to feel that what was between them wasn't lost than to pull back.

"C'mon, Rangiku…" he said, pulling back to grasp his zanpakuto, "You're in the way."

Gin lifted his zanpakuto to her face and Rangiku started, realizing that he'd betrayed her. She reached for her zanpakuto but was not quick enough. He pierced her with his and slapped hers out of her hands effortlessly. Still shaky from her ordeal, her legs gave out on her and as he removed the blade from her, she began to fall.

Before she hit the ground, she felt Gin's arms wrap around her and he hugged her against him, lowering them both to the ground slowly. He was kneeling on the roof, holding her, and then leaned in to whisper in her ear. "Let go of your reiatsu, Ran-chan. Captian Aizen will detect you if you don't. I need you to leave here as soon as you've regained your strength. I won't be able to defeat him if I'm worried that he's going to hurt you."

Startled, but too weak to show it, Rangiku simply gave him a questioning look and grasped his shirt with her hands, desperate to grasp what was happening.

He seemed to understand the conflicting thoughts running through her mind. After all the years they'd been together, no one knew her as completely as he did.

"You're the one person who nearly kept me from saying no to this mission to go undercover with Aizen-to find a means to stop him-but I knew if I didn't go, he could hurt you as easily as he intended to hurt everyone else and that I'd have no means to try to save you. At least now I know I made the right decision, no matter what it cost me," he said, gently settling Rangiku on the ground. Still, she wouldn't release her hold on him.

"Gin, I-" she coughed and struggled to breath.

"I'm sorry I had to administer that little flesh wound," he whispered, his usual smile still on his face, but this time it looked strained and fake. "Aizen could be watching us now from a distance. I had to make it look like I've killed you. Let me go, Rangiku. Close your eyes and stay still for awhile as your body rests. Try to let your reiatsu fade until you have the strength to teleport back. Once your gone, your reiatsu will disappear entirely and Aizen will think I've killed you. That's what has to happen."

Tears began to stream down Rangiku's face. How could he ask her to let go now-now that she finally understood what has been going on and that he hadn't betrayed them-her, after all?

"C'mon, let go. It's time."

Gin clasped his hands around hers, squeezed them gently, and then pushed them away. Rangiku let them fall to the ground and watched him carefully as he stood up and backed away, as if he was taking one last look at her. He wasn't sure that he could win, she realized. She closed her eyes and knew that he'd disappeared in the next instant.

After a short stretch of time, she got up and moved back to where she'd arrived and left. Were it not for the fact that he'd pleaded with her to go, she would never think of leaving him. Then again, the wound he'd administered proved to her how little strength she had left. There was nothing she could do to stop Aizen. That hadn't even been her plan when she followed them. It was Gin that she was trying to save but he had saved her instead.

The moment she arrived through the gate, she collapsed and her thoughts drifted away from her into blackness.

Rangiku inhaled deeply and smelled the fragrance of the blossoms subtly mixed into the air. That was her first conscious thought as she began to come to. She knew that she must be in the Soul Society, for it smelled like home.

When she opened her eyes, all she could see was blackness. It was nighttime and her eyes began to slowly adjust as the sound of people in the distance trickled into her awareness. She must be in the fourth division, for she felt sore and stiff, and was bandaged here and there in soft wrappings. Lying on a mat and covered with blankets, she shifted and looked around the room.

As items began to take shape, she noticed the silhouette of a person on a mat not far from her. Somehow she knew, with certainty, that it was Gin. Even before she could identify his reiatsu, weak as it was, or actually see his squinting eyes turned her direction, she just knew in her heart that it was him.

"I was wondering how long it would take…before you woke up," he said, his voice strained. Clearly, he was feeling far worse than she was at the moment.

"What happened with Aizen?"

"I couldn't defeat him. I thought I knew how…" he said, sighing and looking away from her, "but as it turned out, the hougyoku had merged with him into one being at that point and even with my zanpakuto, I could not defeat him. In the end, it was Ichigo that defeated him. At least someone managed to."

"You saved me," she reminded him.

Gin turned back to her and smiled, his eyes watching her through narrow slits. "Yeah, but you never would have followed us in your condition if it hadn't been for me in the first place. Ya said so yourself."

Rangiku couldn't deny that, he'd just see through her lie anyway.

"I'm just glad to know the truth now. My feelings just couldn't allow me to believe that you were really my enemy. Even with all the proof to the contrary, I couldn't convince myself that you had betrayed me," she confessed.

"You don't know how angry I was when you asked me why I had betrayed Izuru instead of yourself. I was jealous…jealous of the time he'd been able to spend with you while I was away and angry that you would mention him to cover up your own feelings of betrayal. I thought it proof that you no longer cared for me as you once did," he said softly, his features difficult to read in the dark. "Perhaps you don't anymore and it wasn't just my imagination."

Rangiku, tired of straining her ears to hear him and craving his arms around her for the first time in far too long, slid out of her bed and crawled over to where Gin was lying. Watching her carefully, he'd held his blankets open for her as she slipped into his bed and snuggled up against him.

"My feelings for you only became more pronounced in the time you were away, as much as I tried to tell myself that I should try to let go of what I felt for you. That's why I had to follow you," she told him, letting her forehead rest against his chest as he brought his hand up and dug his fingers into her tangled hair, holding her securely against him.

"I never want to part from you again," he told her.

"Neither do I," she admitted, sighing in relief. Her muscles relaxed as she wrapped her arms around him, careful not to put much pressure on his thick bandages.

How long had they been together like this? It was years now. Back when they lived in the shack, she loved him but never felt that he would remain by her side indefinitely. How often had he left her without saying a word? Yet, he always returned.

Once they'd joined the Soul Academy, she had some hope of them at least seeing each other on a regular basis and she knew that if they both belonged there, she could never lose him entirely. At some point, after she'd become soul reaper and he a lieutenant, she began to question just how much she could count on their shared lifestyle bringing them into contact, for she'd seen so little of him for many years, when he appeared at a bar she was at with her fellow division members one night. She was drinking sake as they shared stories and laughs with one another. Gin was there alone and watched her from across the bar. At first, she ignored him, angry that he'd gone so long without stopping by to see her. But, as she drank and glanced over at him, it was apparent to her that something was wrong. To everyone else, Gin's expressions always looked the same. He still had that same menacing smile upon his face and squinted at everyone around the room as he sat there, idly sipping his drink in silence, but she could detect the difference. That smile of his did not extend to his eyes. The gleam that was usually in them had been extinguished.

Rangiku crossed the room and, in her flirtatious nature, sat down on his lap and wrapped her arms around his neck. No one really thought a thing of it-she did it all the time while she was drunk-only she wasn't more than a little tipsy at the moment and she knew that Gin knew that.

"Why the long face, Gin?"

"I had a rough day," he simply said, never being the type to go on and on about something. To her surprise, he brought his freehand up to play with her hair, as if playing along with her little act.

"Anything you want to talk about?" she questioned, nuzzling her nose against his neck.

"'Fraid not."

"Is there anything I can do to make you feel better?" she asked with her seductive voice.

"Yes, there is," he said, waving a hand at the waiter and handing him a wad of money to cover all of their expenses. "C'mon…lets go back to my place."

Even as he wrapped his arm around her and steered her back to his room, she'd no clue that he meant to do anything more than catch up with her. Instead, he made love to her, slowly and attentively, until she yearned for him more than she'd ever allowed herself to before. From then on, she knew that he would never leave her without eventually returning. From that day onward, he might not tell her how he felt about her, but she knew in her heart that he loved her.

"I missed you," she said.

"So did I," he said, lightly touching her chin and tilting her head up to look at him. "I'm sorry I left so long without telling you what was going on."

"I understand…you couldn't tell me," she said, looking into his eyes as his smile faded and his eyes opened wide to look her over. For a long moment, they just stared into each other's eyes. Then he leaned forward, letting his eyes shut as he brought his lips to hers.

Rangiku sighed against his mouth, relieved that their long ordeal was finally over and that they could go back to the life they'd shared together before Ichigo and the others had come to the Soul Society and Aizen had betrayed them. If there was any positive thing to be thankful for, it was that she now felt even closer to him than she'd ever felt before, and felt more certain of his devotion.

He drew back from her a moment, squinting at her and smiling playfully as he had once been accustomed to doing. "Ya know, I'm in love with you."

"I know," she grinned, kissing him repeatedly as she spoke, "I've known…all along…and I…I love you too."