An Act of Desperation

By Iamakunoichi

" You are Matsumoto Rangiku, wielder of Haineko. You are as beautiful as the sunset and as brilliant as the daybreak. You love like there is no tomorrow. You are my fukutaicho, and I will settle for no less than all of you." – Hitsugaya to Matsumoto, MatsuMama's Fire and Ice

A/N: A tribute to the awesomeness that is the HitsuMatsu pairing. Matsumoto is my favorite character, and Hitsugaya ranks fairly high as well. I think these two are near-perfect for each other. Inspired by MatsuMama's Fire and Ice, as well as numerous other fics/AMVs with this pairing. No real spoilers.

Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or any of its characters, assorted rights, or anything else lawyers can bill me for.

Hitsugaya Toushirou, Captain of the Tenth division of the Gotei 13 and wielder of Hyourinmaru, often had cause to wonder why exactly he put up with his fukutaicho.

The said fukutaicho in question, Matsumoto Rangiku, was undoubtedly one of the last people one would ever be consider to be a high-ranking official within the elite protectors of Seireitei. The busty, bubbly strawberry blond was slacker of the highest degree, with a near-total aversion to completing any kind of paperwork, frequently opting to take a nap instead. Her lecherous nature, while in good fun, had provoked a towering reputation of her real or assumed sexual exploits to the point of near-prostitution. The fact that she was currently the only woman within the Gotei 13 with the ability to out-drink the legendary Kyouraku Shunsui did not help matters either, and her habit for swinging drastically from one mood to the next made it very hard to take her seriously.

Hitsugaya was frequently angry with his fukutaicho – it was not an uncommon occurrence in the least to hear his voice ringing across all of Seireitei.

" MATSUMOTO! Get back here and do the damn paperwork before I drag you back and make you do it!"

" But taicho, it's a beautiful day! Won't you sit and have a drink with me instead of spending all day with that boring, stuffy paperwork?"

" Matsumoto. Office. Paperwork. Now."

" But taichooo…."

" NOW!!"

Scenes like this were frequent between the tenth division captain and his subordinate. If he wasn't yelling at her for not doing paperwork, he was yelling at her for being drunk on duty, for sleeping in the office, or for failing to show him 'proper respect'. Rangiku's faults were numerous and varied, and the vast majority of the Seireitei wondered why he kept her around.

Hitsugaya himself wondered why he kept her around, sometimes.

Now was not one of those times.

Hitsugaya's vision swirled, blackness creeping in at the edges. He panted, a mixture of sweat and blood trickling down his face. His hair was matted with it, and his legs shook with the effort of staying upright as he stared down yet another Hollow.

'Dammit, they just keep coming!'

Hitsugaya was looking rather the worse for wear. His zanpakutou had returned to its sealed state, his reiatsu drained so much that he could not even sustain his shi-kai. Multiple cuts and bruises decorated his body, including a large gash over his left eye that bled sluggishly. His once pristine captain's haori was ripped and splattered with blood, and he was fairly certain he had a broken rib as well.

It had been a routine patrol mission – he and Matsumoto were to take some of the new division recruits and patrol the area for Hollows. These missions were standard and usually yielded no more than a lone Hollow or two, easily picked off by a single blast of kidou. They provided a safe, easy way for the new recruits to gain field experience.

Indeed, for the first hour or so, the patrol group had been rather bored, the bland landscape lacking even a single Hollow. He remembered Matsumoto jokingly suggesting that he had scared them all away.

It was in the second hour of their patrol that all hell broke loose.

Hitsugaya was not sure what had happened – it seemed like he blinked and all of a sudden all he could see were Hollows. Caught by surprise, three of the recruits were down before they could even draw their zanpakutous. Hitsugaya swiftly drew Hyourinmaru, consequently freezing ten Hollows. Matsumoto fired a kidou blast that picked off at least four, and the two recruits left managed to draw their swords fast enough to keep themselves alive at least.

Yet the Hollows still kept coming. Wave after wave of them swamped the battling foursome, cutting Hitsugaya off from both the recruits and Matsumoto. He didn't have time to think – as swiftly as he cut down one Hollow, another would replace it. The pained screams of Hollows and the scraping of metal on bone filled the clearing. He dodged and struck, parried and ducked. He could only spare his subordinates a fleeting thought and pray that they were safe.

Time wore on – Hitsugaya had lost track of the blood-filled minutes as they ticked by. He had released his ban-kai a long time ago, yet still the Hollows kept coming. What was so infuriating was that he could have easily disposed of any one of these Hollows with a single slash of his blade – there were just so damn many of them!

Finally, at the corner of his eye, Hitsugaya caught a swirl of strawberry blond hair. 'Matsumoto!' She was standing over the last two recruits – one was down, the other desperately trying to shake him awake. Miraculously, she appeared uninjured save for a few minor cuts and bruises. He redoubled his efforts to reach her.

" Sit upon the frozen heavens, Hyourinmaru!" He managed to blast a clear path to Matsumoto.

Once he reached her, it became clear how she had managed to stave off the Hollows for so long – a ring of circling ash hovered around her, ripping apart any Hollow that dared to come too close. When she saw him, the ash parted briefly before swiftly closing the gap again behind him.

Upon closer inspection, Hitsugaya realized the toll keeping the lurking Hollows at bay had exacted upon his fukutaicho. Her face was white and drawn, her ice blue eyes hardened like crystal agates as she fought to sustain her position. She was trembling, and her breath came in short pants – nevertheless, she gave a strained smile and feebly joked, " Wow, the Hollows must really love you, taicho."

" Shut up Matsumoto." Hitsugaya growled, but there was no real malice in it. He could clearly see her exhausted state, and it worried him. She couldn't possibly keep this up for much longer – but knowing her stubborn nature, she would die trying. They couldn't hold off the Hollows forever, and when their reiatsu gave out, she would inevitably fall. The moment her strength failed her, Rangiku would die.

Toushirou made a decision.

" Matsumoto, listen to me. I have a plan."

Rangiku giggled. " Of course you have a plan, taicho always has a plan." She was gasping under the strain of sustaining Haineko now, but she was determined not to let the terrified recruit see it.

" Matsumoto, shut up for once and listen to me." Hitsugaya was rather proud of himself – his voice was serious and commanding, betraying nothing of the anxiety he felt for his lazy fukutaicho and sometime-friend.

He continued, staring her down, " Take the recruits and get out of here. None of you can last much longer. I'll open a path for you, then you shunpo the hell out of here."

" But taicho, what about you?" her voice was worried.

His reply was deliberately light and confident. " I'll be fine."

Her mouth firmed, the little furrow that he knew meant she was ready to dig in her heels appearing between her brows. " I'm not leaving you here."

" Yes you will." Rangiku opened her mouth to protest, but he snapped at her coldly, " That was an order, Matsumoto-fukutaicho."

Matsumoto closed her mouth, her eyes stormy with a mixture of rebellion, sullen acquiescence, and worry. There wasn't much she could do against a direct order, though.

" Fine. Don't die on me."

Toushirou chuckled, but didn't respond.

Matsumoto's eyes narrowed; she scooped up the fallen recruit under one arm, hoisting the final, near-unconscious recruit's arm over her shoulder with the other. As she turned to leave, he was suddenly struck by how beautiful she was – the sunlight sank into her beautiful, disarrayed hair, turning it a fiery orange color. Her eyes were crystalline blue, hardened with determination. Bloodstained and weary, Matsumoto Rangiku was beautiful.

And so Toushirou allowed himself to succumb to impulse for the first time since he received his captaincy – he grabbed Rangiku by the shoulder, spinning her around to face him. Ignoring her shocked expression, he pressed his lips to hers.

The kiss only lasted for a few seconds but to Toushirou it felt like it lasted an eternity. He pulled her hungrily closer to him, desperate. He took advantage of her shocked gasp, slipping his tongue inside her lips and exploring every corner of her mouth. She was sweeter than anything he could ever have imagined. He was captivated by her, addicted to her. Her lips were soft under his, and once she got over the initial shock she melted into his kiss quite willingly. The kiss was a flash of heated passion in the otherwise cool and self-contained captain, and he willingly poured all of that passion into the exchange. He kissed her as if she were his last link to sanity. He was dying of thirst and she was his wine, and their first, desperate kiss reflected all the love, the friendship, the passion for her he had pent up for so long.

The kiss ended all too soon – in her shock, Matsumoto had lost the link between her and Haineko. The ash barrier dropped. Hitsugaya reacted to the renewed danger immediately, unwillingly but hastily breaking the kiss and settling into his battle stance.

He pushed Rangiku behind him, his eyes betraying only a brief flash of the desperation he felt.

" Go." He murmured to her.

She hesitated, wavering, her eyes flicking from him to the Hollows and the recruits in her arms.

" Go!" The cry was pained. With one final glance, Matsumoto turned tail and fled, fully aware that she was abandoning her captain and hating it. Tears floated in the wake of her shunpo as Hitsugaya turned on the Hollows, crying, " Daiguren Hyourinmaru!"

Which brings us back to Hitsugaya's current predicament. The flood of Hollows had finally ceased, leaving him surrounded by about a dozen or so. The problem was, he was so exhausted they he doubted he could handle even one more Hollow, much less a dozen. It didn't help matters that these Hollows were stronger than their predecessors. While nowhere near Menos Grande level, they were definitely a cut above Hitsugaya's original attackers.

Hitsugaya knew what would happen. He could no longer even hold his zanpakutou upright. As the leering Hollow prowled closer, he closed his eyes, accepting his fate. The Hollow pounced, and Hitsugaya waited for death to take him. The Hollow never made contact, and he felt a spatter of warm liquid across his cheek. Shocked, his eyes flew open – only to be greeted by a horrific sight.


Matsumoto's head was spinning with worry and confusion as she sped towards the Fourth Division, hauling the recruits along.

Why did Toushirou – no, her captain - kiss her? Why had all those Hollows suddenly appeared? Why had no one responded to the massive spike of reiatsu coming from the battlefield?

And most importantly – Would her captain be alive when she got back? Matsumoto had a sinking feeling that the answer to that question would not be one she liked.

" You better be alive." She murmured. Unshed tears stood in her eyes – and if one or two leaked from the corners, well, it didn't really matter.

Matsumoto did not have time to dwell on her taicho for long –it took all her energy just to keep moving. Shunpo, stop, pant. Hoist the recruits a little more securely over her shoulders. Shunpo, stop, pant.

She barely noticed when she finally made it within the white walls of the Fourth, but the healers certainly did. Isane rushed out, gently taking the recruits from her and urging the others to get out here, quick. She only roused when the gentle hands tried to push her into the sick bay to be examined. Violently, she threw off the healer clinging to her arm, sending the poor man tumbling with a clatter.

Isane froze, open-mouthed. Rangiku barely recognized the low growl as her own. " I am fine."

She turned to walk out of the room, only to find her way barred by the graceful figure of Unohana Retsu. Deep blue eyes stared up at her as Rangiku attempted to walk past the woman in her way. Retsu's slim black brows furrowed as she softly asked, " Is there a problem?"

'Hell yes there is a problem! Toushirou may be dying while I stand here, dammit!' Rangiku screamed inside her head.

" If a problem constitutes me abandoning my taicho in the midst of a veritable army of Hollows with no way of knowing how much longer he can hold on, then yes, we have a problem Unohana-taicho." Rangiku spoke as evenly as she could, ignoring Isane's shocked gasp.

Unohana's brows knit. She turned on her heel, gesturing at Rangiku. " Follow me."

Rangiku resisted the urge to bolt as soon as she was free of the door. She knew she wouldn't be much use to her captain in her current state, and what he needed was reinforcements more than anything. She followed Unohana into the Captain's meeting room, where either by ESP or because Unohana had been able to send a message the captains of the Gotei 13 were now gathered.

Yamamoto-dono gestured at her. " Report, Matsumoto-fukutaicho."

Matsumoto resisted the urge to simply scream at the old man – didn't he understand they had to move quickly? Instead she rattled off her report as quickly as she could.

" Hitsugaya-taicho and myself took five of the new division recruits on our designated Hollow patrol in the 79th district of the Rukongai. We proceeded without any incident for the first hour. Approximately two hours after the start of our patrol, we were swarmed by a rush attack of at least several hundred Hollows, perhaps thousands. We did not sense them – they were upon us immediately. Three recruits were killed instantly. Taicho, myself and the two remaining engaged. We were separated in the commotion – one recruit was knocked unconscious, another sustained a severe head injury. Haineko managed to hold them off for a while, but –" Rangiku gulped, " The Hollows kept coming. We regrouped with Hitsugaya-taicho – he then ordered me to seek assistance at Seireitei, blasting a path clear for me."

She deliberately left out the kiss. If Toushirou was alive, she was sure he would appreciate that. If he wasn't – well, it wouldn't matter.

Rangiku looked up at Yamamoto-dono, eyes pleading. She ignored the murmuring of the shocked captains around her. " I left him there, sir. I don't know – I don't know how much longer he can hold out."

Yamamoto thumped his cane for order, coming to a decision. " Kyouraku, Ukitake, Byakuya, Zaraki, Unohana. You will reinforce Hitsugaya. Go!"

The captains named shunpoed out of the room, Matsumoto a half a step behind.

Matsumoto found her path once again blocked by Unohana-taicho.

" You are in no shape for this, Rangiku-san. Go home." The healer said firmly. Rangiku met her with eyes just as determined. " It's my fault he's out there Unohana-taicho. I've got to go back."

Retsu studied her for an endless moment, before finally sighing and nodding in acquiescence. As one, the two women turned to catch up with the rest of the rescue party.

Matsumoto flew ahead of the others, shunpoing harder than ever. Her reiatsu was flagging, but she didn't care. She had to get to her captain. Finally she spotted Toushirou, standing within a small circle of Hollows. He looked the worst she had ever seen him, and her heart ached for it.

Her captain was bloodied and bruised, and even from her lofty position she could tell he was exhausted. Each new gash that she discovered on his body felt like it was tearing at her own heart. A more detached part of her wondered when she had come to care so much. At the same time, she was happy – deliriously, wondrously happy – that he was still alive. Or at least she was right up until the Hollow struck.

She saw it all as if in slow motion. She saw the Hollow pounce, she saw Hitsugaya hopelessly close his eyes as he accepted his imminent death. Then suddenly she was there, and a bright fire of white-hot agony was currently residing in her gut. She looked down. A Hollow's claw stuck out of her stomach, stained bright red with her blood. When did that get there? She suppressed the urge to laugh hysterically - the surprised expression on the Hollow's face was too much for her overloaded senses to take. Instead, she uttered a hoarse cry past the blood frothing between her lips.

" Growl, Haineko!"

The smirking Hollow in front of her exploded, bits of it flying everywhere as the ash of her zanpakutou invaded its every pore before exploding forcefully outward. With the claw no longer supporting her weight, Matsumoto Rangiku fell.

Rangiku fell on her back, staring at the sky overhead. Dimly she registered the sounds of the other captains fighting, but she paid it no heed. Even the pain in her stomach had faded into the background, unimportant. The sky today was so blue…

Then Matsumoto heard another sound, one her mind dimly registered as important. Someone was calling her name – someone she was supposed to listen to. ' Go away. M'tired.' But the voice continued, begging her to stay with him, pleading with her to stay alive.

' Silly voice…of course I'm not going to die, just sleep for a bit…' But the voice continued, persistently nagging her, keeping her awake.

'I'll just sleep for a tiny bit…' Rangiku was all set to peacefully drift off for a nap. The voice was yelling at her now. As if in a dream, the words floated through her mind. " Matsumoto-fukutaicho, I forbid you to die!" Who was that again…? An image of jade green eyes floated before her mind's eye. She sighed mentally. ' Same old Toushirou…forever disturbing my naps.'

Hitsugaya saw his fukutaicho take the hit meant for him. He saw the Hollow explode into an infinite number of pieces of blood and gore. And he saw the woman he had come to love fall onto the ground in a bloody heap.

His turquoise eyes widened in shock. Instantly he was by her side, ignoring the battle around him. He cringed away from the bloody hole where her stomach used to be – made even worse by the fact that she received it while protecting him. Her blank blue eyes, usually so vibrant and mischievous, were almost as bad. Her chest rose and fell minutely, barely breathing.

His shaking hand stroked an errant curl away from her face. " Matsumoto."

No response. He tried again. " Matsumoto."

Still nothing. Desperate, he tried shaking her. " Matsumoto! Matsumoto, dammit, answer me!"

Matsumoto lay limply.

" Matsumoto, this isn't funny! Wake up, dammit! MATSUMOTO!!"

She made no response, her eyes staring blankly at nothing.

He started to shake, frozen droplets rolling down his cheeks. Hitsugaya was crying. " Matsumoto, please don't leave me. Stay with me." His whisper was anguished – he could feel his heart breaking, each shallow breath she took tearing the rend a little deeper. He rocked back and forth, chanting in a harsh whisper, struggling to choke back sobs. " Don't die. Don't die. Don't die."

He cradled her head in his lap, stroking her hair, her face, anything to keep her from slipping away. He could feel her fading away and it terrified him. Hysterically, his voice rose, panicking. " Matsumoto-fukutaicho, I forbid you to die!" She always followed his orders, even when she didn't like them. Always.

" I forbid you to die." He whispered brokenly.

She made no response. Hitsugaya clutched the body of his fukutaicho, friend, and love to him, unmindful and uncaring of the solemn circle of captains that were standing around him, heads bowed. Frozen ice began to creep along the ground as the air temperature suddenly dropped, Hyourinmaru reflecting his master's distress.

Kyouraku and Ukitake stared at the ground. Ukitake was shaking, and for once the goofy smile had faded off of Kyouraku's face. They had both lost another dear friend today. It seemed they were determined to outlive everyone, even those who should have lived long after they came to pass. The rest of the captains bent their heads in respect for the loss of one of their own.

After awhile Hitsugaya registered their presence. He looked up at Kyouraku, and it was all the man could do to keep from shivering. Within the short captain's eyes lay a world of despair, and he looked lost, as if unable to comprehend a world without Rangiku in it.

With that glance, Kyouraku realized just how much his old friend had meant to the young taicho, and his pity for the young man in front of him doubled. Hesitantly, he took a step forward, placing his hand on Hitsugaya's shoulder.

A shudder wracked Hitsugaya's frame. With uncomprehending eyes, he looked up at Kyouraku. In a childish, unbelieving voice he asked, " Why?"

Kyouraku sighed. It hurt to see the young prodigy like this. As gently as he could, he replied, " It was the way Ran-chan wanted to go. She thought the world of you, Hitsugaya-kun." Softly he added, " It was the death she chose."

Hitsugaya turned to regard the woman in his arms once more. " Matsumoto."

There was a period of silence, before a loud, racking cough was heard. " What's this… about me being dead?" A melodic, breathless voice asked. Miraculously Rangiku blinked, and blinked again. She grinned weakly up at her stupefied taicho, his expression one of disbelief and a dawning hope. The other captains snapped their heads up, delight breaking out across many faces. Kyouraku whooped, as did Ukitake. Zaraki walked off. Byakuya and Unohana merely smiled tiny smiles. With an effort, Matsumoto raised her arm and traced a bloodied thumb over Toushirou's cheek.

" I think…we've progressed past formalities…ne, Toushirou?" She winked up at him. Hitsugaya's face split into a wide grin.

" Rangiku."

It was a throaty murmur. He buried his face in her hair, hugging her to him as he sobbed with a mixture of happiness and relief. " Don't ever scare me like that again." He whispered into her hair.

She smiled, a brilliant light in her eyes. ' Gomen nasai." Even bloodied and broken, she was so beautiful it took his breath away.

At that point Toushirou did what anyone in his shoes would do – disregarding his status, audience, and the sniggers behind him, Toushirou bent his head and kissed the woman to whom he had unknowingly given his heart and soul. And thus began a new period in their lives for both of them – but that's another story.

Yes, Toushirou decided. Sometimes having Rangiku for a lieutenant wasn't bad at all.

A/N: So yeah. Hope you liked it. Read and review!