A/N: A Gin/Ran fic written for the prompt, "snow." Angst. Spoilers for the Winter War and current chapters of the manga/anime. Mentions of character death.
Bleach and its characters belong to Kubo - I just take them out for writing funtimes.
This is, technically, a ficlet – I wrote it in between working on a few longer pieces as a little post-Christmas fic, though it turned out sadder than I intended.
Hope you enjoy!
"I want this one."
Matsumoto Rangiku thoughtfully placed a sky-blue scarf on the shop counter, then pursed full lips and reconsidered. "And this one, too." She carelessly tossed down an accompanying indigo silk. "And this one, and this one…" She added more scarves to the pile: tangerine, lapis lazuli, fuschia.
The cashier did his level best to keep his gaze fixed on her face. "Anything else, miss?"
She frowned. "No..." Wait. I didn't get anything for Hitsugaya-taichou. "Yes," she amended, and directed her attention to the rack of ties hanging gracefully nearby. Humming under her breath, she idly perused the selections and stopped to consider an ice-blue tie patterned with white snowflakes.
The cashier cleared his throat. "Miss, we're getting ready to close."
With a moue of discontent, she abandoned the ties. He doesn't really need one anyway. Taichou isn't very fashionable.
A smile, a flirtatious wink, and a deliberate show of cleavage lured the cashier from his post-Christmas apathy; he allowed her the benefit of his employee discount and openly ogled her curves as she paid for the purchases. With a giggle and a coy wink, she scooped up her bags from the counter and departed into the winter evening.
Outside, snow fell.
For a moment, she paused to take it all in, the wintry grandeur of the Living World: the warm glowing lights of shops and buildings, the soft white flakes that fell from the dark sky, the crowds of nameless people that passed by to jostle her on either side. Straps from the many shopping bags she carried bit deeply into the skin of her arms; she sighed with deep satisfaction.
It's been a good day.
And deserved, she thought. After the Winter War she'd needed a little break, a self-indulgent treat. Hitsugaya-taichou hadn't even bothered to try to stop her; he spent all his time training now, his brow drawn down in fierce concentration and sweat dampening his pale hair. He'd given permission for her to leave almost before she'd finished asking.
Besides, she thought, and glanced down to the heavy-laden bags she carried, it wasn't just for me this time. She'd gotten gifts for Shuuhei, and Renji, and Kira too: frivolous small things. She knew they wouldn't expect anything more of her than a small trinket, a little meaningless something and perhaps not even that, but maybe the gesture would be enough to make the smallest bit of difference.
They couldn't pretend that everything was the same, but they could cherish what remained.
The snow fell thicker and faster; a merciless cold breeze swept over the exposed curves of her breasts, over the smoothness of thighs revealed by her short skirt. Melted snow glistened in the tumble of her thick hair as she turned away with a sigh and began the long walk back to the senkaimon. I don't want to go home, she thought wistfully. All around her, humans lived their human lives: the sound of laughter and voices filled the frigid air. A pair of lovers walked by, mitten-clad hands clasped and their noses touching as they giggled and whispered; Rangiku sighed and, as her gaze followed them past, saw that her own footprints on the snowy sidewalk had already disappeared beneath a new coating of glittery white .
The sight made her pause.
She never thought of him when she expected that she might: during long sake binges or conversations with Kira or sleepless nights alone in her room. And she didn't think of him—much—when she saw persimmon trees, or when she felt, as she did now, the cold metal of the pendant tucked between her breasts.
Instead, the bittersweet ache and the memories of him crept up in the quiet spaces between breathing, appeared in moments like these, in faded footsteps and the fading of dusk into dark, in moments of quiet transience and perpetual vanishing.
She knew he would have preferred it that way.
A sudden warmth filled her eyes and blurred the sparkling lights of the shops and cafes; she blinked it away and her hands tightened defiantly on the bags. I purchased so many scarves. But that's okay; the SWA can sell them for a fundraiser.
She would not look for glimpses of silver hair.
We could probably mark them up and make a good profit. Maybe we could work on some more of our projects then.
She would not judge all smiles by the sly curve of lip she knew had rarely been genuine.
Maybe Kuchiki-taichou will let us sell a replica of his scarf. I bet that would make a lot of money. Everyone wants to look like Kuchiki-taichou.
A strap on the heaviest bag snapped and interrupted her internal debate; Rangiku started as several of the scarves fluttered, bright and beautiful, to the snow-covered ground. With a sigh she knelt, gathering up the fabric darkened here and there with dampness.
"Miss? Are you alright?"
She glanced up, startled, at an extended hand—not graceful and long-fingered, not his—and then at the man to whom it belonged: an older fellow, distinguished, with kind eyes and a gentle smile. He introduced himself, but she barely heard the name or noted it. This man could not offer the promise of relief from hunger, could not produce a birthday from the emptiness of her life, could not smile in a way that made her want to scream and apologize in a way that made her want to weep.
Only one man had ever been able to do all of those things.
Ichimaru, she wanted to say to the stranger as she took his hand and allowed him to help her up. His name was Ichimaru Gin.
It seemed important that someone else should remember him: the man whose role in the Winter War had banished his name from books of anything but the most notorious history, from the proud place he might have held in the stories of Seireitei's finest.
I want someone else to know who he was.
Oblivious to her thoughts and her distress, the kind man—charmed by her wink and her blue-eyed glance—gave her another smile and walked away once he was satisfied that she'd gained her feet; Rangiku stood alone on the sidewalk, arms weighed down with bags and full of sodden scarves.
The weight of her contrived frivolity felt almost crushing.
Swallowing hard, she turned with a fading smile and resumed her walk back to the senkaimon. If you called for me now, would I remember the sound of your voice?
She'd thought nothing could be more painful than the sight of Gin on the ground, the feel of that too-slim boyish body in her arms, the soft and serious set of his mouth. But the threat of forgetting, of losing him twice, hurt even more than that.
Already her recollections of him had dissolved into fragments, moments: a long-fingered hand reaching out, the curve of his smile, the mouth and fingertips that traced her skin. He'd left her with so little to remember him by, left her with nothing but their shared experiences and all his veiled ambiguities.
Rangiku closed her eyes.
Tomorrow, she thought determinedly, as the thick falling snow veiled her from the lively bustle of the Living World and reminded her that she didn't belong here, anyway. Tomorrow I'll hand out my gifts. Then, maybe later, she'd go drinking in the evening, coax Renji and Shuuhei into paying for her drinks, tease Ikkaku into a fury with comments about his bald head. She would draw admirers and friends.
I will not forget.
She would keep moving, because Gin had arranged things so that she would keep moving, and because fulfilling that wish was the last and best gift she could offer him.
I will not forget.
She would go on, if only so that someone would remember the Ichimaru Gin she had known.
I will not forget, Gin. I promise.
Ahead, through the snow, the senkaimon waited. Matsumoto Rangiku put on a smile. Genuine, false, it didn't matter, as long as it was a smile: a smile to cover loneliness, a smile to cover pain, a smile that meant everything and nothing all at once.
I learned it from watching you.
Her fingers tightened on the scarves. "Time to go home," she said aloud, to reassure herself, but the words sounded oddly jarring. No. No, not home. Never home.
Home had died in Karakura Town.
But she would go on, anyway. To remember. She stepped forward, arms laden with bags and scarves and packages, into the familiar darkness that would deliver her back to Seireitei.