Disclaimer: Bleach and all affiliated characters and settings are the creative property of Kubo Tite, and of the companies that hold the license to the title and distribution rights (including Shueisha, Jump Comics, Studio Pierrot, TV Tokyo, Viz, etc.). Used without permission for a non-profit creative purpose.
Warnings: language, violence, unrepentant Hitsu-whumping.
Again, Kellen's fault. Somewhat. I can also blame Imogen Heap, and probably Tokyo Majin Gakuen for giving me the idea for the scenario (and me shamelessly ganking elements of it).
Planet-side assignments generally included some sort of action, and so when Hitsugaya had been assigned a small detail of planet-side patrol, he'd already assumed that as a captain – or at least, any shinigami with a decent amount of reiatsu – he would probably attract trouble. That's how these missions always went.
Matsumoto had been sent with him, along with a handful of other shinigami from his own division. He didn't particularly like the fact that his office back at Seireitei was being manned by seated officers, but orders were orders. And he would obey them until he found a damn good reason not to.
What he hadn't expected when he went planet-side, however, was to find himself locked into battle with his own vice-captain, and to realize that he was facing an enemy that he couldn't see. This wasn't supposed to be such a difficult mission, though now he understood why it was that Yamamoto had wanted a captain to head up the detail. Matsumoto was being controlled like a puppet – her current movements contained no sign of the usual grace with which she wielded Haineko, eyes emotionless and eerily blank. The sight chilled him, even as he parried her every blow with Hyourinmaru's faithful blade. Two of the other shinigami in his detail had already been wounded. He didn't have much time.
The dilemma came when he realized that he might somehow have to put Matsumoto out of commission long enough for him to get whatever it was possessing her to leave her be so he could find whatever it was that was causing this mess. That thought did not sit well with him at all – the casualties in his division were already troubling, and made him feel like a piss-poor excuse for a leader.
As it was, he couldn't turn his back on her without the fear of her striking at him from behind. She was relentless, but he wondered if she was already fighting possession; she seemed to pause every so often in her attacks against him. Another one of the shinigami took a bad hit when he tried to interfere in the fight, and Hitsugaya winced.
This was a dangerous game.
Haineko crossed Hyourinmaru in a furious clash, sparks flying from the point of collision, Matsumoto's expressionless face mere inches away from Hitsugaya. It was a hard hit, with unnatural strength behind it; Hitsugaya had to bring up his left hand to brace his arm in order to meet the blow.
"Get a hold of yourself, Matsumoto!" he said in a harsh whisper, but it was as if she didn't hear him. "Fight it!" He saw something flicker across her eyes – a spark of emotion, of her – and realized that it was very likely she could indeed hear him. "Matsumoto, you're better than this!"
It was then that he heard the whisper, though he knew it wasn't coming from Matsumoto's mouth. "Bend to my will, Matsumoto – you cannot fight it."
With a wry smirk, Hitsugaya said, "You obviously don't know my vice-captain very well." He hoped that whoever it was controlling her could hear that.
Bracing against the ground, Hitsugaya shoved Matsumoto away with a sharp push, managed a quick, strong blow that knocked Haineko from her hands, and then followed through with a kidou. It wasn't much of one – just something flashy with a lot of force, one that would hopefully knock her to the ground for a brief moment. He flinched when he heard the force of her body crashing against a wall, and after a muttered apology, he began stretching his senses out, looking for an unusual reiraku, or anything that would give him a clue as to where this thing was hiding.
There. The red thread was directly in front of him, and following it with his eyes quickly, his heart dropped as he saw that it led directly to his own vice-captain. Whatever it was that was controlling her, it was hiding inside of her. God, what a mess. Matsumoto stood up, seemingly unaffected by the blow other than the fact that it had knocked her back.
Putting her out of commission was probably not an option, then. Part of him was curiously relieved to realize this, since it meant one less person he'd feel guilty about hurting. He still felt guilty that he hadn't been on his guard enough to protect her from it.
This time, the whisper was louder, clear enough that Hitsugaya could hear it from where he stood several meters away, Hyourinmaru ready. A blade seemed to materialize out of the air in front of her, and her hands shook as they took it. The sight sent a shudder down Hitsugaya's spine, but he saw Matsumoto hesitating.
And then he knew exactly what to do.
Matsumoto charged. Time seemed to come to a halt, and all that was left in Hitsugaya's line of vision was Matsumoto's blank face move towards him as he waited. There – he caught a small sparkle of forming tears on her eyes. This would be enough.
He closed his eyes, dropped Hyourinmaru with a wry smirk – as close to a smile as he'd ever allow himself to show – and welcomed Matsumoto with open arms.
While Matsumoto couldn't quite see what was going on, she had a damned good idea. Being stuck in her own body without having any control was not something she'd rank as a fun experience. She knew Hitsugaya was nearby – she could hear his voice, and recognize his reiatsu. While his voice was muffled at first, the more she fought to concentrate, the more clear words came through the haze.
"Get a hold of yourself, Matsumoto! Fight it!"
She fought – it was the captain's order, after all – but a sinister, grating voice in her mind cackled as she struggled. It taunted her, telling her that she couldn't win, that she would bend to its will.
Hitsugaya's voice called to her louder, telling her to keep fighting. She was trying, but couldn't quite seem to get a good grip over the creature that had somehow managed to invade her mind. At least she was able to see a blurred outline of the world – it was an improvement. And then she saw the small, white-haired figure of the captain she'd sworn loyalty to, standing several yards away, sword held up in a defensive stance.
"Kill him," the beast said.
No! She resisted, but there was a blade in her hands now.
She fought, clawing at anything and everything she could get her hands on – even if it was just air – but it wouldn't be enough, wasn't enough, she was moving towards him all too fast and he'd dropped his blade and ohmygodIamgoingto–
Hitsugaya was smiling.
Get the fuck out of my head!
With a painful burst of light, the world spun and she found the damned beast. It was a Hollow, trademark porcelain mask and wide hole in its midsection very telling of that fact. A very sneaky one, if it was able to hide itself from a vice-captain. With a fierce yell, she grabbed it by its wrinkled, disgusting neck until its eyes bulged out of the porcelain. It shrieked angrily as it clawed back at her, but now she had the upper hand.
Disappear, you piece of shit!
And disappear it did, bursting into a shrieking cloud of black dust, the noise ringing in her ears. Senses tingling as control was restored, she opened her eyes. Her vision had cleared; she was now on the ground, leaning over Hitsugaya, her own cheeks wet with tears, blonde hair spilling over her shoulders and onto his chest, his bright blue-green eyes searching hers imploringly. His hand – cold – was pressed against her cheek, lips moving as he spoke, and as her hearing finally returned she heard his tired-sounding, pain-laced voice murmuring for her to fight, and to come back to him. A line of blood ran from the corner of his mouth and down the side of his cheek, pulled by gravity.
Her gaze met his directly now; his eyes widened with surprise, and then sparkled with relief. "Thank the gods," he whispered, eyes closing briefly.
She realized then that the other members of their detail were down, that her hands were tightly gripping the handle of a long-bladed knife, and that it was buried hilt-deep in Hitsugaya's chest. Horror spiked through her mind as the pieces of the very confusing puzzle fell together in her mind, stifling her breath and making it increasingly difficult to breathe; she snatched her hands back from the knife's handle as if it had burned her. He gasped as the movement shifted the blade ever so slightly, back arching. Blood welled from the wound around the blade, and it was then that Matsumoto saw it staining the white fabric of his captain's cloak, and that it was practically coating her hands.
"Taichou!" she exclaimed, unable to think of anything else to say. She had just attacked members of her division and stabbed her own captain, and he was in pain and bleeding everywhere, and... and –
"Matsumoto," he said sternly (way too calmly). Hitsugaya's hand was still on her cheek, and with it he forced her to look at him. "It's not your fault."
"Damn it," he hissed, frowning as he brought her forehead closer to his. "I-I'm no less at fault than you are, so stop it."
No, it wasn't his fault, but she didn't get a chance to correct him before he cried out suddenly, eyes squeezing shut and back arching again. She looked down at the wound, and nearly cried when she saw that the fabric of his haori was twisted around the blade. Gods, had she twisted it? The bleeding wasn't showing any signs of stopping, either. This was bad, so bad – sweat beaded on Hitsugaya's forehead, and he was breathing heavily through gritted teeth. She considered removing the blade herself, but was afraid that she'd do more damage in the process.
"Taichou!" she cried again, choking on tears, feeling utterly helpless.
"Call–" Hitsugaya's voice hitched, bringing her focus back to his face, his eyelids open to mere slits, revealing a pain-dulled, glassy expression. "Call Unohana-taichou." And his expression relaxed as he passed into unconsciousness, hand dropping from her face.
"N-No," she breathed. "Hitsugaya-taichou!"
"Help is on the way," a sudden, tired voice said from behind her.
Matsumoto jumped; she hadn't realized that any of the other members of their team had been left alive. She turned to find the young, grim face of one of the lower-seated officers – Morinaga, she recalled – nodding when he saw that she'd recognized him. She nodded back hesitantly, worried for a moment that Morinaga, or any of the other members for that matter, would regard her with fear. Morinaga was clutching a bleeding injury to his left arm, and looked incredibly spent, but showed no sign of trepidation as he sat down next to her, trying to get a better look at the Taichou's wound.
"And I hope they hurry," he added after a moment, tearing a strip from the bottom edge of his hakama. "Here, keep pressure on the wound and try to stem the bleeding. I'm going to call them back and tell them to pick up the pace."
Matsumoto nodded, wiping tears from her face with her forearm as she tried to get a hold of herself. This was no time to be breaking down – Hitsugaya was in bad condition, and needed her to be rational right now. Taking the proffered cloth, she wadded it and pressed it by the knife's hilt, apologizing quietly as Hitsugaya moaned. Numbly, she began whispering encouragements to just hold on into the captain's ear, hoping that help would arrive sooner rather than later.
Hitsugaya woke slowly to sunlight warming his face, soft breeze, the smell of wildflowers, and a dull, throbbing ache in his chest. Utterly confused, he carefully opened his eyes to blurry vision, which cleared away with a few blinks to reveal a wooden ceiling. Frowning, he looked to the side and realized that he was laying on his back on a futon, covers pulled up to his collarbone, a tray with various bandages and instruments folded neatly on top of it. Fourth Division, he quickly recognized.
Then he remembered why he was there.
Eyes widening, he almost forgot about his own injury and nearly sat up, but a twinge in his chest reminded him just before he made the grave mistake. Where was Matsumoto? Was she all right? And the other members of the team...?
"They're all fine, Hitsugaya-kun," Unohana's voice suddenly explained, as if reading his mind. Looking in the direction of the sound, Hitsugaya saw her standing in the doorway, a soft smile on her face. "Really, though, you had them quite worried."
"Where's Matsumoto?" he asked, cursing inwardly at how weak and scratchy his voice sounded. He sincerely hoped she wasn't mad at him.
"I had her take a rest; she hasn't had much sleep since you were brought back. It's been three days, after all."
Hitsugaya winced at that; next time he decided to go and let himself be stabbed, he'd make sure it wasn't in such a painful and dangerous spot. Chest throbbing in a painful reminder, he closed his eyes briefly before he looked back at Unohana.
"When she wakes up, please tell her that I'd like to have a word with her."
Unohana nodded, coming into the room and kneeling down next to him. "I'm sure she would appreciate that." Her hands glowed with a kidou, and Hitsugaya closed his eyes as she inspected the injury. "Your wound is healing nicely, though you still will need to rest for at least the next couple of days. I've already filed the off-duty request, so you won't be allowed to go back on duty for another two weeks."
Hitsugaya grunted; he'd expected as much, considering how long he had been unconscious, and was surprised that there hadn't also been some sort of rebuke from the higher-ups for such a nasty slip-up. He wondered what else had transpired since the fight, but his tired mind refused to think about the mess for the time being. For now, rest sounded quite nice. He'd take care of the paperwork and the fallout and the trust issues later.
And he was more than happy to comply.
It was actually two days later that Hitsugaya finally had a chance to speak with Matsumoto, when he finally had felt well enough (and had Unohana's approval) to sit up. Part of that was his own fault; he couldn't seem to keep himself from falling asleep, which Unohana said was mostly a side-effect of the blood loss. He still didn't like it, though.
"Hitsugaya-taichou," Matsumoto greeted from the doorway. He nodded, an invitation to enter.
Matsumoto looked exhausted, and she seemed incredibly nervous as she knelt down beside his futon with hands folded in her lap. She was clearly upset. This behavior wouldn't do; he knew she was stronger than that.
He cut her off. "If you're going to apologize, I suggest you save it for when you actually do something wrong." She looked surprised, but said nothing. He sighed. "This wasn't your fault, Matsumoto. If anything, it was mine; as the leader of the team, I should have been paying more attention. You can't blame yourself for something you couldn't control."
"I should have fought harder," she replied, hands clenching, bunching the cloth of her hakama at her thighs. "You wouldn't be... injured, if I had."
Hitsugaya smirked mirthlessly. "This was my choice."
"But if I had been stronger, you wouldn't have needed to make that choice."
Hitsugaya knew she didn't mean to, but it felt like she was cheapening what he'd done. Did she not understand that he didn't want her to be hurt? That he cared? That it was his own means of punishment for carelessness? Perhaps she didn't understand.
"Matsumoto, this will heal. I'm not so reckless to let something like this kill me. But I need you to realize that as the captain of the group, I am held responsible for what happens, good or bad. That's part of my role, and you need to respect that. I do not want you to let this situation upset you this much – everyone survived, and we completed our mission successfully. That is all you should care about. As my second, I need you to be thinking clearly and rationally."
Matsumoto was silent, and by the slow change in her expression – once stricken, and now determined – he could tell she was absorbing what he'd said. Good.
"Hitsugaya-taichou," she said finally, "While I understand that have to take responsibility for what happens, I don't think you should blame yourself for this mission." Hitsugaya frowned. "You were only given a limited amount of information on what we were up against – I know, because I heard it, too – and so you can't really think that Yamamoto-soutaichou will entirely blame you for what happened. It wasn't because of any shortcomings on your part."
Well, that wasn't what he'd expected to hear from her at all. It was a sign of a quick recovery from her own self-loathing and guilt over what had happened, and while it was a relief to hear, he still couldn't help but feel inadequate at his position. So he was a hypocrite. At the very least, though, he found once again that was incredibly grateful that Matsumoto – strong-willed, competent, reliable (as long as paperwork wasn't involved) – was his second-in-command.
But he wasn't going to tell her that outright, so instead, he nodded, a show of an agreement, even if that stubborn part of him still disagreed in part.
"Then we're clear?" he asked. Matsumoto nodded. "Good. Then I'll need to get working on the paperwork." He saw her tense and scowl, but he continued anyway. "I don't know about you, but I'm not letting it pile up for the next week and a half, bed rest orders or no."
"You've got to be kidding me," she muttered.
He raised an eyebrow. "What, do you mean you're actually offering to take it off my hands for me?" Hah.
Matsumoto grumbled something that sounded suspiciously like "workaholic" and "manipulative little twit" as she got up to leave. But before she left in a huff, Hitsugaya cleared her throat and stopped her; he still had one more thing that needed to be said. She turned to look at him, and he looked down at his hands.
"Thank you," he said quietly, and then looked back up at her. "I mean that. And for god's sake, get some more sleep – you make me feel tired just looking at you."
With a smile, she nodded. "Yes, sir." And she was gone.
Later, when Unohana asked him how he was faring, he was glad to be able to answer with an honest response of much, much better.
feedback is greatly appreciated, even if I know this is probably one
of the crappiest things I've posted. Not beta read and barely
double-checked; hastily wrote it in one sitting to kill the plot
bunny upon arrival (for once). It was originally supposed to be a ficlet, and I had absolutely no intentions of posting it anywhere beyond my LiveJournal. But lookit, here it is anyway! 8D This was also supposed
to be a gen-fic, but I guess I'll leave that up to interpretation,
for all you HitsuMatsu lovers out there. :P Looks like a lot of things didn't go as planned with this story, haha.
And silly old FFnet's alert system is broken again, so hopefully people will read this? Haha.