Hueco Mundo was chaos.
Shinigami and Arrancar and Hollow and Vastro Lordes zigzagged in and out of her line of sight, blurs of color and black and white, clashing steel against bone and cero against hakkudo.
The War was underway.
The atmosphere of spiritual pressure was so dense, lighting crashed over their heads. Furious tornadoes had sprung from the dead deserts of the land of Hollows, whiplash from the released bankai's. Further in the distance, she could feel the crackling heat of the initial release from General Commander Yamamoto dominated only by the nearby presence of her taicho.
Everything around her was spinning out of control.
The stark black of Kurosaki Ichigo in his bankai fighting alongside a glittering Kuchiki Byakyuya and a crimson Urahara Kisuke against five Espada was a phenomenal sight. Tousen Kaname held the defense against Komamoru-taicho despite the immense figure of the fox-captain's bankai.
The fury in her captain's voice made her turn. The great ice wings of Daiguren Hyorinmaru were already spreading across his back as he sped towards the thin figure fixated at the top of the Hueco Mundo towers.
"Wait for me, kid!" Zaraki shouted, bounding off after him, spraying Hollow blood from his knicked sword and torn coat. Of course, leave it so that the bloodthirsty captain of the 11th Division would take umbridge to being left out of what was guaranteed to be a fierce fight.
That left Matsumoto Rangiku to her own devices, which was just how she wanted it.
With the majority of the battle taking place outside the main compound, there was no one to guard the vast entrance of the Hueco Mundo castle. All she had to do was step inside.Granted, in any other situation, she would have followed on the heels of her captain, determined to have his back. But against Aizen, against the one who had hurt Hinamori in such a debilitating way it was doubtful she would ever recover, her captain would want to spread his zanpakuto to full power without worrying about anyone getting caught in the crossfire. That was why it was okay for Zaraki to go, but not herself.
Besides, there was something she needed to take care of...
It was odd; once inside, the pandemonium of battle ceased. She wondered distantly what exactly these walls could be made out of.
She closed her eyes for a brief moment, taking comfort in her solitude as she gently probed the walls of the great hall. It took a moment, but there it was, the gentle brush of another familiar reiatsu against her own.
He knew she was coming. He was waiting.
Seeing him in a long white coat was almost a mockery of the years he had spent as Captain of the 3rd Division. Had that been the plan when the coast was initially designed?
His arms were at his sides, stance wide, half turned away from her, half towards. He was smiling as always.
Matsumoto didn't reply.
"Ya coulda held on, coulda come with me. Then we wouldn't be like this, ne?"
"I think it was inevitable, Gin."
"Mah mah, that's no good," he said with a laugh that left a chalky taste in her mouth. "No way for old friends ta catch up."
The fox is a demon, Haineko growled to her, whiskers tickling her cheek. A trickster...
For a brief moment, she wasn't there. She was standing underneath a cherry blossom tree with droplets of water in her hair, smiling at the little boy she had grown up with. She lifted her hand and placed it on the hilt of her zanpakuto. "Did you know, Gin? That when it rains while the sun is still shining, there is a wedding ceremony for a fox?"
His blood red eyes cracked slightly open.
"You told me that to witness a fox wedding, I would be cursed. They would think of the worst thing in the world for me, and they would see to it that it came true." With a soft hiss, she drew Haineko and pointed the tip of her blade at him. "But Gin, there's one thing. Talking about the fox wedding, you never told me what would happen; what would happen if instead of witnessing the wedding...I were a part of it."
He stood there, regarding her.
Did you know, Gin? Have you known all along?
In the distant halls, it seemed the battle had raged inward. Echoes of battle cries and calls for help radiated along the corridors.
"You'd be cursed, bound to tha fox," he told her, his voice an unwavering whisper. "Bound t'each other, but just as cursed as if you'd witnessed tha ceremony."
"Cursed with the worst thing in the world?"
Having to watch you disappear from my sight over and over again and know you're never coming back?
"I never asked you, Gin; what's the worst thing for you?"
He didn't reply. Then he touched the collar of his jacket, lifted it slightly. Inside, attached at the rim, were the dried, pressed remains of what had once been a spectacular cherry blossom.
Matsumoto wanted to weep at the sight of it.
His expression led her to believe he felt the same way.
"Gin...how do we break free?"
His bright red eyes were solemn. She fought to urge to wipe the white bangs from his brow.
"T'ain't no other way.".
You've known this all along...
There had to be, she wanted to cry. She wanted to stamp her foot in irritation, break her sword, shout at him until he bent to her will.
Haineko dug her claws into Matsumoto's shoulder, hissing, reminding her: she was a Lieutenant of the Gotei 13, right hand of Hitsugaya Toushiro of the 10th Division, and she proudly wore the rank of shinigami. She was a soldier, a fighter. She had been bathed in blood and killed for honor. And he-
Haineko wrapped her long tail around Matsumoto's throat, a mantle of comfort and warmth.
-he was a traitor, tormenting her friends, aligning himself with the devil incarnate, plotting behind the backs of so-called comrades the destruction of their world while he led others, including herself, on a leash of lies and false promises. It broke her heart, but she had come to accept that she probably wasn't going to survive this war a long time ago. And if there was no other way...
She brought Haineko close to her chest. She could see the scabbard of Shinsou as he let his coat fall open.
To be forgiven, you must go to the home of the fox, Haineko had told her once. Offer your most humblest of apologies and ask for the trickster's forgiveness.
There was no room for apologies, no time for forgiveness as the tail of the grey cat tightened around her.
Only then can you be free. Only then can you break the curse.
Haineko purred in her hands.