Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach. So there.

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Numbly, Hitsugaya slowly laid Matsumoto back down; although he knew it was useless, he gently pressed his hand to her throat, checking for a pulse.

Nothing.

Gin stood silently behind him, his robes blowing loosely in the wind; his face was still blank, but the hand that gripped Shinsou trembled slightly as he gazed at Matsumoto's still form.

"Ichimaru."

Hitsugaya's voice was soft as he slowly stood, his eyes focused on the bloody Matsumoto, the still unconscious Hinamori; Gin looked at him quietly.

"I told you…" The young Captain swallowed hard. "… That if you made Hinamori bleed, I'd kill you. But…" His fingers tightened around Hyourinmaru. "You made Matsumoto bleed, too. In this case…" His voice cracked. "… Killing you is the kindest thing I could ever do to you."

Gin said nothing. There was nothing he could say. Hitsugaya glanced over his shoulder at him, and his eyes were a mixture of grief and hatred.

"Bankai."

The world froze.

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The deaths of Rangiku Matsumoto and Gin Ichimaru were just the prologue to the series of revelations and losses that Soul Society would endure in the years to come. Even with the loss of Gin, Aizen carried out his plan; he'd only been killed three years ago, finally bringing much deserved peace to the Soul Society.

In the sixteen years that had passed, Hitsugaya had refused to take another Assistant Captain after Matsumoto's death; she would always be his Assistant Captain in his mind, and no one else could ever take her place—or live up to the expectations she'd left behind. This meant double paperwork for him, but he was used to it.

In fact, paperwork was what he was doing when Yamamoto summoned him to do a scouting mission on Earth.

"Why? A Hollow?"

"No… actually, there is a young girl—here, this is her address—that has unusual spirit energy. Here, we have a picture of her…"

Hitsugaya leaned forward as Yamamoto slid the photo across the desk; ever since the appearance of Ichigo Kurosaki sixteen years ago, the Soul Reapers had taken it upon themselves to keep an eye on any child with unusually high spirit energy; as he gazed down at the picture, his eyes widened; a choked gasp escaped him.

"Captain? Something wrong?"

"Huh? Oh, n-no." Hitsugaya slid the picture back to Yamamoto, deeply shaken. "What's her name?"

For a moment, Yamamoto studied Hitsugaya; then he spoke.

"Hana. Hana Rangiku."

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"Hana! Did you take out the trash yet?"

"I'm going, I'm going! Jeez…"

Hitsugaya crouched on a telephone pole, smiling at the irritated voice of the teenage girl. He watched her shadow by the window, his eyes narrow.

He definitely sensed it; unusually high spiritual pressure. That answered the question of whether or not she was anything like Ichigo. Hitsugaya knew he could go back to the Soul Society, but he stalled; he needed to see something.

The door opened with a soft click, and out stepped Hana; a tingle shot down Hitsugaya's spine, and despite the photo he'd seen earlier, his jaw still dropped slightly as joy and relief exploded in his chest.

Her hair was short, and red instead of blonde; but there was no mistaking those ice blue eyes, the shape of her face and lips; her voice, though it sounded much younger, still had the same lilt…

"Matsumoto," he whispered.

And he smiled.

The End

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Random fun fact: Hana is Japanese for flower.

I realize this chapter ends on a slightly more hopeful note than the last one, but I felt like Matsumoto and Hitsugaya both deserved it. I have an idea for a companion piece to this, but that depends on what you guys think...

Read and review, please!