A/N: This is a short fic set after Hitsugaya Toushirou has been fatally injured by Aizen Sousuke. It is done in Rangiku's POV as she sits by her unconscious captain's bedside, contemplating the choice Hinamori Momo had made and the choice she herself has made. As usual, the extremely intriguing characters of Bleach do not belong to me but to their esteemed creator. ENJOY!
Taichou – the Japanese term for 'captain'
Soutaichou – the Japanese term for 'commander of the captains'
Reiatsu – the Japanese term for 'aura' or 'power'. It is used in reference to the Spirit Force of the Shinigami.
Zanpakutou – the sword that a Shinigami carries with him or her.
-chan – the suffix attached to someone's name as a term of endearment or a nickname, ie: Shiro-chan
A loud din led by a series of harsh breaths broke through the silence of the room like a hot knife through butter. As Rangiku stepped in, her hesitant steps brushing over the floorboards in light whispers, the door behind her slid shut, cutting of the familiar bustling of the Fourth Division members as they hurried efficiently in healing and cajoling their patients from eternal slumber. Her breaths quickened, hitching in her chest, bursting from her in short puffs, the silence oppressive and stifling her, like the cold, despairing and empty silence of a tomb. But, the morbid analogy was banished from her mind as soon as it flitted by. She didn't want to think of how closely that figurative description fit, certainly not when her eyes were trained on the limp and lifeless figure on a bed in the far corner. Her movements were jerky, her fingers quick and fluttering, as she drew up a chair, lacking the usual grace that she prided herself on, though whether it came from critical physical pain or fatal emotional anguish, even she couldn't tell. Her shields crumbled, shattering within her even as her knees buckled, her entire being crumbling. She reached for his hand, so small and delicate within her grasp, flinching slightly at the iciness that pierced her skin, though unrivalled by the iciness of fear that pierced her heart at how cold his usually warm skin felt. She took a deep breath, mustering her courage but even that couldn't stop the tears that pricked her eyes as her despairing gaze landed on his still features.
For Hitsugaya Toushirou, normally so active, so alert, so alive, now lay silent, limp and lost to the world. Her elegant hand brushed away a stubborn lock of pure-white that curled over his closed eyes. Her fingers danced over his eyelids where she could see the shadows of his emerald orbs, faltering and slow in their movements. She could only imagine how dull they were, filmed over and murky, their usual brilliant shimmer banished into nothingness, just as they had been when she had numbly cradled his head in her lap, choking on her tears. His face, usually fair with a healthy tinge, was pale, so ghostly pale that even the bandages embracing his slender figure seemed dirtied and tainted in comparison, stained as they were with his striking life's blood. The bed seemed huge around him. While she had always teased her captain about being short, she had never seen him as small, fragile and delicate. She had never seen him as vulnerable and childlike. Yet, those were the sentiments that flittered through her mind now as she watched him, swathed in bandages and heavy blankets that seemingly drowned him, as if he would simply vanish from their protective hold the moment they loosened their embrace, a child who would run and hide at the slightest murmur of a demon, into the comforting arms of Death that would surely shield him from his physical hurts and emotional anguish, destroying his fear and preserving his innocence. Rangiku allowed a hand to settle gently on his chest, wanting to simply feel the heartbeat that pulsed underneath her hypersensitive palm, no matter how slow, no matter how faint, simply to convince her heart and mind that he was still here, that he had not left her.
At least, not yet.
For even that small sign of life could not snuff out the despair she felt gradually growing within her, burning like a deadly flame of darkness, threatening to burn her, destroy her from within. He hadn't woken up, not after all the technology they had had been tested on him, not after all the medication they had pumped into his small body, not even after Unohana-taichou had nearly fainted from using too much of her reiatsu in healing him. He was lying on the brink of eternal parting no matter dead or alive. For Rangiku feared that his spirit would give out before his body did and he would be lost to her, the world of the night claiming him, in a sleep from which he would never wake. He had faced betrayal, the knife coated with poison so deadly that it zapped his spirit from within, even as he had drawn on his strength to protect those who depended on him. Rangiku could only pray now that his generosity would not be the final shove that would break his spirit, shattering it. She could only hope that his stubborn will would hold out against the weight of his burdens, that he would feel the presence of those who waited for him in the world of the light. She could only hope.
And, hope she would. For, she had chosen him. She had chosen to believe in him when she had been faced with the excruciating decision of pointing her zanpakutou at her childhood friend, one she had loved to the very core of her being, Ichimaru Gin. She had chosen to believe in her captain even as she saw beyond her friend's mask of cold nonchalance to the plea of companionship lurking within his enchanting crimson depths, as sinfully red as the blood of her captain, the floor the canvas of his broken body when she had first discovered him. She had chosen to believe in her captain, in his words that described her childhood friend as a traitor, plotting to betray Soul Society, to betray her. And, even as she had chosen to believe in Hitsugaya Toushirou then, she would choose to believe in him now, in his stubborn fire that refused to die even in the harshest of storms and strongest of winds, in his unshakable will that remained his strongest foundation, her strongest foundation.
She had chosen her captain…
…just as Gin had chosen his.
Rangiku would never know why Gin had chosen Aizen Sousuke over her. But, some part of her, the small darkness in herself that was the soul mate to Gin's own darkness, the same part that had instinctively led her to trust him, insisted that Gin had not chosen Aizen over her, that her own situation was wholly different from his. Gin was not a follower, he never would be. He was too independent, too self-sufficient, too distant and too paranoid to ever be fully bound to anyone other than his own soul. Rangiku knew this all too well. She had once tried to bind him to her only to find herself bound to him. She needed him like he would never need anyone, not even her. He only needed freedom, freedom to do as he pleased, freedom to simply be. To bind himself would be as deadly as suicide for his free spirit would only die a slow and painful death in bondage, no matter of love or of loyalty.
Yet, Aizen had managed to entrance him, to pull him along in his tide of time, in his scheme of things. That single thought would forever reign in her mind, a small doubt whispering, insinuating. But, in her heart-of-hearts, Rangiku knew that ultimately, Gin had not chosen between her and Aizen, he had merely chosen between her and himself. The fact remained that he even though he had followed Aizen, it had been in his own sense of self-preservation, perverse fascination and on his own calling, in his own answer to his own question. That didn't ease Rangiku's anguish the slightest. It certainly didn't hurt any less that after all this time, she still could not convince him that she would never bind him, not now when she knew better. She had not managed to make him see that he would be free with her, free in their friendship and free in her love. She had not managed to make him see that she desired his freedom just as much as he did. His choice didn't comfort her much but it provided her with a guilty relief that even though Gin had left her, he had left her for himself and not for Aizen, that although Aizen had her best friend, he could never own him, never claim him.
Not as he had claimed Hinamori Momo.
The mere thought of the younger vice-captain sent Rangiku into a tumultuous ferocity, a blinding rage so potent, so fiery that it dried up her well of despair. Where she had once been fond of Momo, thinking of her in affection as a sister she never had, Rangiku could not muster any such positive emotions to her presence now. It was because of the younger girl that her captain now lay in this bed, physically dying from a blow she had inadvertently dealt through Aizen's zanpakutou, emotionally dying from a blow she had deliberately dealt in her betrayal of him, in her ignorance of his affection, in her shattering of the bond between them over the empty promises of her traitor of a captain, Aizen Sousuke. Momo had believed the words written on a flimsy piece of paper that Rangiku had delivered at Toushirou's request over the words written in the love and sincerity of Toushirou himself. It was a complete irony that in trying to comfort Momo, her captain had delivered Momo's deadliest weapon in her confrontation against him – Aizen's last words and his final act of ownership over Momo's soul. So complete was his claim over her that Momo had lost herself in her need for his approval even in death, in her desire for revenge against the one who supposedly took his life from him, someone who had supposedly taken him away from her. She had broken out of prison, a puppet made strong by her master's strength, and drawn her zanpakutou against her childhood friend. Her new bond with Aizen had leeched at her, a parasitic monster that ate at all her other bonds, seeking to destroy every one of them, especially the bond between her and Toushirou, her strongest link to freedom.
And, he had very nearly succeeded. That moment Momo had turned her weapon against Toushirou, that moment she had chosen to believe in Aizen over her Shiro-chan, she had effectively severed the bond between them, at least on her part. Now, only a single fragile strand of red thread bound them, where once it had been a chain of love forged by destiny, strengthened by time, tempered by the flames of fate. Momo had not fully succeeded, Aizen had not fully succeeded in shattering their bond simply because Toushirou had refused to allow it to break, holding on with stubborn might and love. He had refused to let her fade into a living doll, determinedly holding on despite the injuries dealt to his body. He had refused to let her lose herself in a shell of false emotions and empty promises, resolutely and unwaveringly protecting the piece of her soul that he held in his grasp, clutching tightly on to it even as he watched its shards slip through his fingers like sand, even as its razor sharp jagged edges dealt incredible anguish to his heart and soul. It was only because of Toushirou that Hinamori Momo still had that flickering flame of her own personality and spirit in her. It was only because of her Shiro-chan that some part of her still remained as Bed-Wetter Momo.
But, contrary to popular belief, Rangiku did not hate Momo for that. Sure, she was infuriatingly mad and insanely livid, broiling in anger that seethed in the very depths of her being, at the actions of Momo which had hurt her captain and reduced him from the self-assured captain to the vulnerable child that so often was hidden behind his mask. But, she did not hate the younger girl for it. After all, how could she hate Momo for choosing Aizen over Toushirou when she herself had chosen Toushirou over Gin? Just as Gin's choice was wholly different from hers, Momo's own decision was frighteningly similar. Momo had chosen her captain. Rangiku had chosen hers. To hate the girl would have been the highest form of hypocrisy. They had both made the same choice, choosing a superior officer over a childhood confidante. Yet, Rangiku cringed that the taught that she was like Momo, fearing and completely terrified that she had been claimed the way Momo had.
Most Shinigami would reassure her, telling her that Momo and her were not the same, that they were not even remotely alike even though their situations had been so similar. Aizen had been a traitor. Toushirou was not. But, that would bring up the question: would Rangiku still have chosen to follow Toushirou if he had been the traitor? Would she have betrayed Soul Society along with him, still choosing him over Gin? Would she? In dawning horrific realization, Rangiku didn't know. Even more horrendous was the cold feeling that coiled ever so much tighter at the pit of her stomach when with every new ponder she gave the question, her answer was wavering towards 'yes'. Yes, she would betray Soul Society. Yes, she would turn against Gin. Yes, she would once again fight for her captain, by her captain's side, if it meant that she wouldn't have to turn her zanpakutou against Toushirou. Yes, she would still choose her captain.
How did that make her any different from Hinamori Momo?
If only Toushirou could hear her thoughts now, he would've scoffed at her. Rangiku, the same as Momo? Never. Her lips curled up into a small smile. He would've protested against it, probably even more horrified than she had been at the thought. Momo was a hardworking and dedicated vice-captain, renowned for her demure nature, devotion and absolute admiration for her captain from the very second she had donned the title of vice-captain. Rangiku on the other hand, was lazy and annoyingly smart at dodging her paperwork, renowned for her flambouyant and flirtatious nature, her love for fun and drinks, and her attempt in killing her own captain. Yes, though it was an event long forgotten, erased from the hearts and minds of Shinigami, it was written in the recesses of time, embedded in her heart. For before Hitsugaya-taichou, there had been Ritsuishi-taichou. Ritsuishi-taichou had been a captain well-loved in the Tenth Division, especially by his vice-captain Rangiku Matsumoto. He had been the epitome of a good captain, compassionate towards the pains and needs of his division members, and protective of his vice-captain. He was dedicated, hard-working yet still fun-loving, respected by all, including his fellow captains. He had been one of the most skilled and in Rangiku's eyes, the best captain that any vice-captain could ask for.
Then, he died, killed in battle, his life an honourable and noble sacrifice in the defense of his beloved Soul Society, his beloved division. Rangiku had grieved then, pained at his death, an emptiness filling her where his warmth had previously resided in her. In those dark times of war, Shinigami were falling like leaves in autumn and death was no longer dreaded, it was expected. So, the Tenth Division was left without a captain, with Rangiku at its head, helped by the Third Seat, until Yamamoto-soutaichou had unceremoniously dumped a certain white-haired prodigy into their midst as their captain, a certain ice zanpakutou wielder known as Hitsugaya Toushirou. With their ranks thinning and being stretched to its limits, they had had no choice but to accept their new captain. They needed his strength even if they didn't want it. They needed him even if they didn't trust him to handle them in battle. And, above all, Rangiku didn't trust him to handle the division in battle, which was why she had nearly killed him. Most people would say that it wasn't her fault, that she was only acting in the best intentions, protecting her subordinates. Most people would say that she should just let it go, that she couldn't have known what would have happened. But, Rangiku knew that it wasn't as simple as that. Hitsugaya-taichou had given her an order, commanded her to remain hidden even as he attempted to kill a Hollow that had its grips on a division member's soul. Rangiku had not obeyed, blinded and completely under the influence of the rumours whispered of Hitsugaya-taichou's callous nature, his willingness to sacrifice a subordinate in order to fulfill a mission. She had deliberately rebelled against him, recklessly charged out into a situation that she could not control. She had endangered herself, her subordinate and more importantly, her captain, all simply because she had not trusted him. And, he had paid for her fatal mistake. The Hollow had turned on her, too strong for her, seeing her as a willing prey within its grasp. She would've been killed, destroyed, her life snatched from her if Hitsugaya-taichou had not stepped up between her and her predator, using his own body as a shield to protect her. Their mission was a success that day and their only fatality rate: their own captain, critically injured.
The memory wasn't a pleasant one but their little argument and subsequent truce was a memory she treasured. And, he had been better than she had ever hoped. For behind that icy nature laid a fiery passion, a protectiveness for his division that remained unrivalled even by Ritsuishi-taichou. His compassion and kindness, though many thought nonexistent, was something only Rangiku was privy to in the confines of their office. His endless patience with her as she dealt with her grief, his persistence in keeping her grounded as he dragged her back night after night from her sleeping partners of empty wine bottles was something that she loved and treasured in him. He was probably the only captain who would tolerate her current idiosyncrasies, even completing her paperwork no matter how much he complained about her laziness, supporting her and protecting her even as he lectured her on respecting her superiors. Because what Toushirou wanted wasn't a vice-captain who would blindly follow his every order, who would bow to his every will. He wanted a vice-captain who was her own person, someone who would make her own decisions, who could correct him if he went wrong. He wanted a vice-captain who was not only reliable in the office but on the battlefield. And, that was all he asked of her. Toushirou would do all the paperwork in the world, tolerate all the teasing that anyone could throw at him about his height if only he could have a vice-captain whom he could trust to watch his division, to watch his back as he charged recklessly into battle as a captain would often have to. And, Rangiku could give him that. Toushirou didn't want to claim her, he merely wanted to have her by his side. He wanted to have her because he trusted her and now she realized that she wanted to be with him because she trusted him, trusted in his judgement. Yes, she would betray Soul Society for him because she trusted in his choice, believed in his sense of justice, knowing that he would only betray Soul Society if Soul Society had first betrayed him. Yes, she would still choose him over Gin, simply because she would not have to turn her zanpakutou against him, because where she trusted Gin with her heart, she trusted Toushirou with every fibre of her being, with every breath she took, with everything she had. But, not because he owned her soul. And, most definitely never because he had claimed her.
But, to compare her captain to Aizen would do him incredible injustice. After all, Aizen hadn't cared for his vice-captain, using Momo and killing her when she reached the limits of her usefulness. Toushirou cared, more than he would ever admit, for his vice-captain, always supporting her and had even once turned the blade on himself to save her. Momo had loved a facade, a mask that had now been shattered. Rangiku loved a young boy, genuine and real in his emotions, who was now a young man, mature and still amazing her everyday with his strength born of determination and an unfaltering personality.
Eyes fluttering closed, Rangiku laid her head on the bed, her hands lightly cradling her captain's, not caring that she would probably get a crick in her neck when she woke up, not caring that her back would probably ache when she straightened out. She allowed the seductive Mistress of Slumber to entice her, embracing her in soothing darkness, not caring that her usually shiny and luscious hair was tangled, clumped in the her captain's blood, not caring about her unkempt appearance. She allowed dreams to seize her consciousness, not caring about her reputation of strength, not caring about her responsibilities to her division, to Soul Society. For once, she would be selfish. She would care only for herself, fulfilling her own desires. She would care for him. And, she would not leave his side.
Maybe she wasn't all that different from Hinamori Momo. Like her, Rangiku herself had chosen her captain over her childhood friend, chosen her superior officer over her confidante through time.
Momo had chosen her captain out of blind devotion, completely denying his weaknesses, deliberately blinding herself to his shortcomings, only latching herself on to his supposed perfection. She had chosen Aizen because he had claimed her.
But, Rangiku had chosen her captain out of loyalty born from friendship, devotion born from her acceptance of his weaknesses. She had chosen her captain in spite of his shortcomings, loving him for his imperfection. She had chosen Toushirou because she wanted to, following him of her own free will.
And that made all the difference.