Hearts, candy, balloons, stuffed animals and chocolate. They were all a pretty basic summary of the famous fourteenth day of the second month of every year.
And generally, it was a holiday for women all over the world who reveled in the romantic atmosphere and the doting attention of their significant others; with guaranteed permission for very explicit PDAs with no one to call them out on it. Not to mention the gifts...Especially the gifts.
As for men, despite the dismay of an emptier wallet and a hazardous atmosphere to their masculinity, it still presented a great chance to use the romantic mood of their girlfriends and the desperate misery of lonely single women to exercise those organs which they cared for most.
In the end, most people would agree that February 14th was a very good day.
Not for two particular souls, however.
Away from Earth, beyond the doors to the nether world in the arcaic lands of Soul Society, two women resided away from the celebrations and the jolly atmosphere overtaking the streets.
A slight cool breeze blew over the plains of Sokyoku hill and ruffled the dark raven tresses of the petite shinigami casually sitting at the edge of the hill, with the ruins of the once proud stand where victims had been frequently executed behind her.
The steps of a second arrival were light, inaudible to the raven-head who had been too lost in her thoughts to listen for her approach.
"I didn't expect to find you here." the voice that spoke was as feminine as ever, but beneath the light playfulness that normally colored the sound, there was something less jovial reaching to the surface.
Turning her head slightly to look over her shoulder, the raven-head saw the unmistakable blonde locks and clear blue eyes that accompanied that voice.
"Vice Captain Matsumoto." Rukia's voice came with what she had hoped was formality, but truly just sounded soft and casual. Not the voice of a subordinate; perhaps because she sensed, with that keen intuition those of the female race seemed to possess, that in that moment, the two women were equal.
The blonde vice captain must have sensed this as well, judging by her next words. "No need to be so formal, Kuchiki." The busty woman attempted a carefree smile, but succeeded only in a sad imitation of one. "We're comrades, aren't we?"
Rukia felt with more reassurance that the woman was not referring to being comrades on arms, as they once were. At the moment, their companionship was brought up by different circumstances. She answered with a simple, wordless nod.
"Mind if I join you?" Rangiku Matsumoto asked after a moment of silence. The other woman nodded once more, and Rangiku went to sit by her side, allowing her legs to hang off the edge of the rocky hill.
The two women sat in silence, neither speaking for nothing they said would help lighten their heavy hearts.
Another gust of wind blew across the plain and ruffled their robes and hairs. With the breeze, the old memories came.
The sight, which lay in symbolic ruins now, represented a barrage of moments to each woman that would never be erased from their hearts.
For one, it was where she had found unexpected happiness.
For the other, it was where she had felt her heart being broken.
"It's strange." Rangiku spoke almost quietly, in contrast to her usual boisterous voice, as her pale eyes watched without focus the view ahead.
Rukia turned her head only a fraction towards the older woman, to show her attention.
"This was the last place I saw him. Before…" she trailed off, her eyes falling momentarily before she let out a dry chuckle. "The place looks exactly the same as then. Yet everything's changed." Her tone and voice resounded with the profound emotion of someone who had lived through many years, and was perhaps getting weary.
Rukia, although many years younger, could understand the feeling. Only too well.
"Rangiku." she corrected.
"Rangiku," Rukia amended, and continued. "Do you ever wish you could stop time at one moment, and just…stay there?" she let her mouth speak the words that were tormenting her heart.
The other woman was silent for a long moment before finally speaking with a somberness that rarely suited her. "Everyday I wish I could go back to that moment and bring him back."
Rukia sat startled for a moment at her honest confession.
Rangiku however, barely registered the words leaving her. She had thought them so often that saying them out loud was no different than breathing air to her. Only, breathing seemed to have become much more difficult as of late.
"I've got a surprise for Ran-chan!"
An old, familiar voice rang in her head, and soon was followed by her own, from what seemed like centuries ago. Perhaps it was.
"Where are you taking me, Gin? Gin!"
"You can open your eyes now, Ran-chan."
Young blue eyes had opened, and stared in undisguised wonder. Her young, still slightly pudgy and dirtied hand reached out in front of her towards the object in the boy's arms. The silver-haired boy grinned and stood patiently.
"Wha…What is it?" she finally questioned, her eyes going up to his perpetually smiling face.
"It's a scarf, dummy." the boy replied, his tone playful. "It'll protect you from the cold, when I'm not there." he explained, and just like that he stopped waiting and stepped forward to wrap the soft pink fabric around her neck.
Rangiku felt the softness caress her tender skin and immediately gripped the scarf and pulled it tighter around herself, feeling wonder at the sudden warmth it provided. She would have smiled, but she was so surprised, she couldn't bring herself to do anything but stare in awe.
"Gin…But why did-" she began to ask, her brow furrowing at the thought of him buying her something that must have cost enough for him to get himself some decent food, despite having told her to eat the one piece of bread he'd brought, claiming he wasn't hungry.
But she had known he was lying. They were always hungry, he and she.
"Happy Valentine's Day." he answered her unfinished question, his perennial smile softening at the corners as he faced her. "It's my gift for you." he finished explaining.
Rangiku's eyes widened at his words and her mouth fell ever so slightly open.
The silver-haired boy, noticing her response, suddenly sported one of his rare frowns. "You don't like it?" he began, about to say something else when he was cut off by a pair of arms wrapping themselves around his neck and another body throwing itself at his.
"Thank you, Gin." the golden-haired girl whispered with her eyes shut as she hugged him. Gin's arms remained awkwardly raised around her but never touched her, in apparent shock at the contact. And before he could say anything else, a pair of soft lips pressed themselves into his cheek in a short kiss before the girl pulled back.
The blonde girl stood with her hands admiringly on her scarf while the silver-haired boy stood with his mouth open and a hand on his warm cheek. They stayed like that for a few moments before…
"What is…Valentine's Day?"
Rangiku caught herself from the ancient memory and found that she had unconsciously begun to stroke the pink fabric around her shoulders.
That heavy feeling that accompanied every day now was joined by a painful pang on her chest. Then by a sickening feeling as two more words echoed in her ears with a freshness that seemed unnatural.
Rukia discreetly watched from the corner of her eye as the woman sitting beside her allowed her eyes to become unfocused, and she wondered if she had noticed the glistening on the crystal orbs. She remained silent however, neither commenting nor offering words of comfort. She knew that wasn't what the blonde had come from.
She turned her gaze back on to the horizon, allowing her own self to drift back into her own thoughts.
Why had she come to Sokyoku hill in the first place? Surely no one in their right minds at Seretei would have wanted to spend the day on the deserted hilltop…Yet here she was. She was unsure if it was nostalgia or masochism that had brought her to that particular site, if she was honest with herself.
Regardless of reason, Rukia had woken that day to find her feet carrying her on the path that led her to where she sat. The moment she had seen the broken stand, with the backdrop of a perfect blue sky, her mind had conjured up memories of warm amber orbs and a confident smile, brilliant in the warm orange glow of fire, giving the entire scene a surreal feel.
But it had been completely real, and forever etched into her memory with a clarity that might have amazed even the strongest of mind.
How could she forget?
The day that boy had saved her life.
Well, se reflected inwardly, He's done so much more.
It was useless thinking about it now, wasn't it? Rukia exhaled deeply and suddenly she wasn't seeing the clear blue skies or the green line of trees below.
She was looking out of a closet, kneeling on the thin make-believe bed and her vision was suddenly filled with bright orange.
And then he turned, caught her eyes looking towards him, and met her gaze with those amber orbs that reminded her of the warmth of a sunset and the promise of a sunrise.
They were beautiful eyes.
That had been what she had thought, in a moment of what she had considered weak-mindedness on that one of the many afternoons spent with him.
"What are you looking at?" he asked in his usual disgruntled manner. Rukia could find no real malice in his voice or his eyes though; she never could.
"Just thinking about something." Rukia swiftly replied, the corner of her mouth twitching upwards as he raised an eyebrow waiting for her to expand. "The girls may have been right…You do have a funny face."
"Why you…" Ichigo had growled, a vein ticking on his cheek.
And seeing his expression, the way his eye twitched and his face did indeed fit the accusation, Rukia couldn't help it. She laughed. A real, carefree laugh escaped her before she could catch herself.
The sound was almost foreign to her; when was the last time she had truly laughed like that?
She quickly put a hand over her mouth and stopped the unexpected sound, but she could not erase the way her lips remained curled upwards in a visible smile that she felt lit her eyes. It was then that she noticed the change in Ichigo.
It was slight, and had she not been living with him -in his closet, as he would insist she specify- for over a month now she wouldn't have noticed. But she did. His face relaxed ever so slightly, brows coming a little apart and his shoulders easing. The whole thing was subtle, but it was there. His eyes flickered to hers and caught her gaze only for a moment before he rapidly averted his gaze.
That reaction…It had puzzled Rukia. Why had his entire demeanor shifted like that all of a sudden? All she had done was laugh, right…? Then she had remembered, if that was the first time she heard herself laugh in years, then it was the very first time the orange-haired boy witnessed it.
Back then, it still made her confused, and slightly uneasy, the reason why her laugh had affected him.
Later on, she would learn through him how much a smile could really affect a person. She saw it in his eyes and felt it in herself.
And she remembered the last time she saw him smile…
She had tried to give him one last smile as well, but at the last second, she failed and could only look at him with her bare emotions. And just like that, she felt, rather than saw, him disappear. She had known that she had vanished completely for him by then.
She had started to turn then, to leave. Suddenly in a hurry to open the gates and leave to Soul Society contraire to how she had furiously and hopelessly wanted to stay just minutes before…
But just as she began stepping through the gates, about to truly disappear…She heard him.
That was all he had said. It had made her turn her face over her shoulder and just like that, her lips pulled up in what had been impossible a second ago.
One last smile for him…Even though he would never see it.
The raven-head snapped out of her thoughts and turned to the blonde-haired woman beside her. She was looking at her with unfathomable blue eyes that could have pierced a soul, and were currently exposing nakedly a raw sorrow that only someone who felt the same could understand.
Rukia thought she did.
And then those blue eyes turned almost pleading. "Is it worse? Knowing he's still there…Just out of your reach…Is it worse?"
The petite ivory-skinned shinigami had to stop to listen to the question, caught by the pair of pleading sorrowful eyes. Her hands tightened into fists and her mind flashed to all the times she had longingly stared at the doors of a senkaimon only to turn back and run away from them…
"Sometimes it's worse than death." she was surprised to hear the words leave her, and knew at once that she was telling the truth. "But I would rather have it this way." she almost whispered the last part.
For a brief moment, she expected to see resentment in those blue eyes, but instead was surprised to see understanding.
Rangiku finally let go of her gaze and allowed the tiredness to overcome her features. "I had already lost him, you know." she spoke softly, her eyes fixed on her open palm, as if waiting for something that wasn't there. "Long before he was gone."
Rukia didn't say a word and neither did Rangiku after that. The two simply sat in a heavy-hearted yet understanding silence, that only two women connected through pain could share. They stayed there for an amount of time that seemed uncountable, until they could follow the sun sinking in the sky.
It was only after the fiery orb had sink behind the horizon, leaving only the last reminders of light for a handful of minutes before darkness took over, that one of them spoke again.
It was perhaps out of a morbid love for irony that the words were spoken, or simply a bitter heart looking for an outlet. Either way, the words rang through the dusk like a lingering gust of wind.
"Happy Valentine's Day."
A/N: Thumbs up if that was the most depressing Valentine's Day oneshot you've read xD Sorry about that, I had originally planned for happy, but between recent developments in the manga and this idea burying itself in my head...I had no choice. I'll do something cheery next year XD
And well, my heart goes out to Rukia and Rangiku, as well as Ichigo and Gin this Valentine's Day T^T