Standard disclaimers apply.
A/N: I had to write GinRan after chapter 416 of the manga. I just had to. I am trying to avoid the same ol' angst-ridden 'Why did you leave?' betrayal and death themes, but it seems so hard to do so when it comes to GinRan. But still, I've put the two of them in a completely different AU setting to make it a refreshing read for you guys, and I hope you enjoy this one!
This story will also revolve around supernatural and Northeast Asian mythical themes. The fox has always been regarded in Northeast Asian folklore as a creature with supernatural abilities, and have been known to be cunning and tricky especially when they assume human form. However, there are tales of foxes becoming faithful guardians, friends, guardians and even lovers.
The White Fox
The harsh winter winds were relentless, whipping her short strawberry blonde hair back while threatening to toss her tiny frame into the interminable expanse of blurry white.
Rangiku gritted her teeth and wrapped her woolen blanket tighter around herself, hastening her footsteps in a bid to get back into the comfort of her tiny hut. The hut was not much, but it was nonetheless good shelter from the unforgiving weather.
The snow was freezing against her feet; the flimsy straw sandals did nothing for her against the bitter cold. She would have to hurry if she wanted to survive this unexpected snowstorm, for her feet were almost numb and every breath of the wintry air left a burning trail from her nose, through her windpipe and to her lungs.
Then she saw it.
It was hard not to, for the splatter of crimson against a backdrop of pure, shimmering white was only too obvious.
Squinting to protect her eyes from the vicious winds, Rangiku could make out a white furry form lying in the snow, while a growing patch of red marred the pristine white fur. Trudging closer to the unmoving form, the little girl gasped inaudibly when she saw what creature it was.
A pointy snout, a pair of equally pointy ears, and a bushy tail…it was a fox.
Not just any fox, but a beautiful, wounded white fox.
Judging from its size, it was still far from being full-grown, which was why it must have underestimated the dangers of the hunter's trap in which it was caught. Sympathy and compassion flooded the little girl's tender heart at the sight of such a lovely creature suffering, and without a doubt, Rangiku dropped to her knees by the wounded fox's side.
Gingerly, she brushed the dusting of snow off its fur, hoping that the wounded creature would not snap at her in self-defense. The fox's eyes, colored a strange blood-red, opened weakly to look upon her, before closing again. Rangiku's eyes examined the bloodied leg locked in the hunter's trap observantly, before she realized that she had indeed, seen this particular sort of trap before. The grownups at her village often used this to catch wild animals, placing these traps in the deep mountains just so that the unsuspecting creatures could walk right into certain death.
She knew the way to undo the latch on the trap; she had seen it almost too many times.
Deftly, her chilled fingers worked the trap free, mindful to avoid placing extra pressure onto the fox's wounded appendage. It wasn't long before the jagged teeth of the trap sprang apart, and with a tiny whine of pain, the injured fox was free.
Expecting the creature to dash madly for the safety of its den somewhere within the snowy mountains, Rangiku was surprised when it simply turned around, dragging its injured leg piteously, to look at her. Crimson eyes locked onto her icy blue orbs as if speaking without words, and she slowly reached out to the fox with her hand.
"You're unable to move around with that bad leg, aren't you?" Her sweet, childish voice was almost drowned out by the haunting roar of the merciless winds. "Does it hurt very badly, little one?"
The tiny fox seemed to understand what she was saying, for it struggled to move forward against the direction of the wind to go to where the little girl's hand was. Dipping its head, the furry creature nuzzled Rangiku's palm, eliciting a giggle from her.
"Oh, your fur is so soft!" She exclaimed, before realizing that this little animal is surprisingly tame and helping it was now top priority. Its injured foreleg was obviously unable to take it too far, and should any hunters discover the trail of crimson, this adorable fox kit would be done for. That was an idea unfathomable to Rangiku; there was no way she could bring herself to leave the kit's side with the knowledge that it might spell its certain death.
Tearing a piece of her yukata sleeve out, Rangiku made quick work of tying the strip of fabric around the fox's bleeding wound, in hope of staunching the blood flow. With gentle hands, she lifted the furry creature to her chest level, smiling down encouragingly at it before brushing flecks of snow off its fur. Surprisingly, there was no resistance from the wounded creature, which struck her as somewhat odd. After all, she had been taught by some of the villagers that it was best not to approach an injured animal or touch it, for they might retaliate out of fear.
Yet this little fox kit was different. It didn't seem to be afraid of her in the least, and it appeared to be calmly receptive of her actions. If she wouldn't sound so crazy, Rangiku might even say it seemed to be smiling at her.
Pulling herself up, she continued trudging ahead in the snow, knowing that her hut at the outskirts of the village was not too far away.
"Are you cold?" She asked concernedly, cradling the little ball of fur closer to herself in a bid to dispel the chill it had to be feeling.
"Don't worry; we'll reach my home soon. I'll take care of you!"
So that was how the kind-hearted little orphan brought a new companion into her life. Little did she know that this chance encounter in the snowy forests beyond her village's boundaries would subsequently change her life forever.
Experienced from looking after herself, Rangiku had carefully nursed the tiny fox back to health. She had been an orphan for as long as she could remember, and had practically grown up on the kindness that the villagers had shown her. Without their care and concern, it would have been impossible for her to survive till this day. Now, the feeling of having saved another life made her very proud and pleased with herself.
It had taken a rather long time for the fox kit to reach a full recovery, but as winter bade Mother Nature goodbye and spring came by, the little creature was up on all four legs and running about. Thankfully, no permanent damage to the foreleg had been done by the hunter's trap, and the only reminder of the unfortunate incident was a scar on which silvery white fur now grew very sparsely.
The tiny fox kit was terribly adorable, and highly affectionate as well. It followed her everywhere around the tiny interior of her rather dilapidated hut, watching her go about doing simple chores like setting up a fire and preparing basic meals for herself. Even though it was wordless company, Rangiku was thankful enough for the presence of another living soul. She could talk to the little fox, sing to it, play with it and tell it stories about herself. While she knew very well that there was no way the fox could understand human speech, she nonetheless enjoyed talking to it.
It was sweet to have company, Rangiku concluded, after having grown up pretty much alone. It was one thing to have friends and playmates, but another to have a constant companion whom one spent day and night with. Gradually, she grew more and more attached to the little creature, unable to imagine living without it now that it had grown to be such an integral part of her life. She would go about her chores everyday after tending to her tiny companion, before going to the market in the morning to sell the vegetables she had grown outside her hut and the fish which she had carefully dried out in the sun.
But as much as she adored the idea of it, Rangiku never once brought her little fox out to the public areas. For the entire span of winter till late spring, the fox kit remained hidden in her home, for she'd never know if there were hunters out there who would forcibly take her fox away for its breathtakingly beautiful fur.
"Your coat is really pretty…I thought it was pure white like the snow, but it's actually silvery at the tips," Rangiku mused adorably as she petted the little fox curled up in her lap, smiling down at the creature. "Silver…I shall name you 'Gin' then! Do you like your name, Gin?"
The tiny fox simply nuzzled itself against her lap, stretching endearingly in an open-jawed yawn before closing its blood-red eyes in contentment.
"Oh Gin, you're a lazy one!" The little girl laughed merrily, lifting the kit off her lap to place it on her futon before lying down by its side. Stroking the silvery white fur softly along the length of Gin's back, down its tail such that the bristly tip slipped through her fingers, Rangiku smiled in contentment. "I'm so glad I found you."
The little girl's grateful whisper caught the fox kit's attention, and it straightened itself to regard her intently. Rangiku continued smiling at this display of rapt attention, before pulling herself up into a kneeling position on her thin futon. The crimson eyes did not tear themselves away from her face, and Rangiku nodded reassuringly, her messy strawberry blonde bob framing her childishly sweet face.
Picking the fox kit up, the little girl pressed a soft kiss to its head before cradling it snugly to her chest.
"What's wrong?" Rangiku whispered gently, watching the usual smile on the fox's face disappear to be replaced by what seemed to be a tiny hint of doubt.
"Don't look as if you doubt me, Gin." She laughed softly, kissing the furry creature again. "You will always be mine, as I am yours."
A joyful yip escaped her fox kit, and Rangiku's laughter grew merrier as little Gin wriggled out of her grasp to tackle her playfully. The two young ones rolled about the futon playing, until the little girl gradually fell asleep from exhaustion. Her fox kit stayed by her side, studying her peaceful features with its unwavering gaze. The spring night breeze was cooling, carrying the scents of a thousand blooms on it, bringing a sense of tranquility to the surroundings.
It wasn't long before Gin's furry frame stiffened at the sounds of long, beautiful howl-like cries coming from a distance in the darkness.
The hauntingly beautiful sounds continued, but Rangiku was deep in her slumber. She did not notice the cries, and neither did she notice the way her fox kit would slowly approach the door with every cry, only to run back to her side to hide its head underneath the sheets as if trying to block the sounds out.
But still, the inevitable happened.
One balmy night in early summer, the nightly cries resonated again. This time round, the little fox kit lost its battle to instincts.
When morning arrived and golden sun rays peeped through the gaps in the wooden ceiling, Rangiku stirred sleepily on her futon. Her hand reached out habitually for the warm fur ball which had spent so many nights sleeping by her side, intending to run her fingers through the soft fur.
But alas, she felt no fur underneath her fingertips. All she could feel was the chill of the cotton surface of her futon at where her beloved little fox was supposed to be. He must have woken up and gone exploring around the hut, she decided, fighting the traces of weariness in her to drag herself into an upright position.
Her childish voice, confident and slightly commanding, called out, "Gin! Come here!"
But there was no familiar pitter-patter of paws over the dirt floor, and neither did the blur of furry white hurtle into her arms.
Frowning, she tried again.
"Gin, where are you?"
Unknowingly, her voice had grown louder, more desperate. The earlier confidence was rapidly ebbing away. Hastily kicking her sheets off her, she half-clambered and half-sprinted to the door, only to realize that there was a small gap between the wooden door and the frame. It was not large enough for her to go through, but definitely more than enough for the little fox kit to do so.
"Gin!" The earlier questioning note in her voice faded to be replaced by urgency, and the little girl pushed the door open to run out into the sunshine. "Gin! Where are you? Come back!"
Still, there was no response. The only thing she could hear was the chirping of the birds which had risen early to catch worms. There were no random yips or frustrated little yelps as she was used to hearing from him as he played. She searched around the hut, checking every nook and cranny within sight, hoping to catch a glimpse of silver glinting in the sunlight.
It was no use; he was nowhere in sight. Her best friend was gone. She had treated the smiley fox kit like family...
"Gin!" Her childish voice screamed, unable to believe that her little companion had left without warning. What had she done wrong? Had she not been taking good care of him? Had he been unhappy in her presence?
A strange, overwhelming sense of loss washed over Rangiku; tears were rapidly welling up in her eyes and her knees gave in to the urge to buckle. She detested this feeling. She hated it when people came and left as if they didn't matter to her at all. Now, even the little kit was doing it to her. Hadn't she told him before that she would always be his, and he would always be hers?
"Why did you leave...? Gin...don't leave me alone..."
To be continued...