Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach, nor have I seen much of it.
Warning: This is not a happy, humorous fic.
She couldn't find him anywhere. He had gone on a walk last night and never returned. That by itself wasn't completely unusual, but he wasn't answering his phone.
Matsumoto could feel her heart racing with worry. He had to be hiding his reiatsu because no one could sense him anywhere. Matsumoto had organized the Shinigami in Karakura into search parties. If anyone spotted the missing captain they were to contact her immediately. Thus far there had been no word.
She could see Orihime up ahead of her in the woods looking carefully through the foliage. Taking a deep breath to help calm her own nerves, Matsumoto then proceeded to concentrate on locating Hitsugaya-taicho's reiatsu. Still nothing.
"I found him!" Orihime shouted with a smile. Matsumoto felt her body relax as she took in Orihime's positive statement, only to be dowsed as she continued, "He's sleeping with Hyorinmaru. They look so cute like that." That couldn't be right.
Matsumoto ran to where Orihime stood, and sure enough in the clearing ahead Hitsugaya was sleeping next to the released form of Hyorinmaru. The dragon was curled up on the ground with Hitsugaya sitting with his back against Hyorinmaru's head. The ice dragon opened one eye and watched the two women approach, but didn't appear to react beyond that.
"Taicho! What are you doing? Do you have any idea how worried I've been?" Matsumoto shouted as they neared the sleeping captain. When he didn't stir even slightly, Matsumoto broke into a run as her heart hammered away rapidly with fear.
Hyorinmaru growled slightly, but Hitsugaya Toshirou didn't even twitch.
Slowing down for fear of incurring Hyorinmaru's wrath, Matsumoto again shouted for her captain. Again he didn't respond.
She watched Hyorinmaru carefully as she walked up to the resting pair. Realizing as she did so that she could sense neither of them. Close enough to touch the young captain, Matsumoto reached out a hand and brushed it through his white hair. Finally, Hitsugaya opened his eyes.
However, Matsumoto's relief was very short lived. He glanced blearily at her before once again closing his eyes.
Panic mangled all thought and Matsumoto was only dimly aware of Orihime's arrival at the scene. This is impossible. What happened to Taicho? Why is Hyorinmaru released? Why can't I sense them? What happened last night? Did I do something wrong? Questions tumbled through her mind bringing nothing but more confusion to her already befuddled wits.
Then Orihime was shaking her, eyes wide with fear and shouting her name. Finally having gained Matsumoto's attention, Orihime delivered her troubling news, "I can't heal him. I don't know what's causing this. Maybe he's just really tired." The last bit was almost a whisper, like she was trying to convince herself that Hitsugaya-taicho wasn't in critical condition.
Like a switch had been turned on, Matsumoto no longer felt the fear or panic, at least not consciously. As though everything was moving in a slow, methodical motion, she dialed Urahara. Not registering a word he said as he received her call, she interrupted him with a simple, "There's something wrong with Hitsugaya-taicho, I'm bringing him to your place." Then she promptly hung up the phone.
"Orihime, I'm not sure how Hyorinmaru is going to respond, but I need to get Taicho to Urahara's as soon as possible. He will know what to do." The words more for her own sake than her friends.
She then carefully picked up Hitsugaya while ignoring her phone's ring-tone. Her eyes hardened in determination as she looked at Hyorinmaru. A growl of seeming understanding was her answer as the dragon stood.
"I'll see you at Urahara's, please let everyone else know." And then Matsumoto was shunpoing to Urahara's shop. Orihime was left behind in the clearing as Hyorinmaru took to the skies after Matsumoto.
The world flew by in a haze of colors. In what felt like an eternity in a moment, Matsumoto arrived. Urahara greeted her at the door and took the small taicho from her arms. He raced back into his shop and slammed the door shut right in Matsumoto's face. Once again, the world lost focus.
It was the frosty nip in the air and the thunderous earthquake that startled Matsumoto into reality. A short ways down the street Hyorinmaru had crashed into the ground. She watched as the dragon shakily pushed himself back into the air, she could feel her heart constricting in fear for her captain. He flew, yet his normal grace and speed were beyond the ice dragon's current strength.
He landed unsteadily a few yards in front of Matsumoto, and let out a whimpering growl. She walked forward and placed her palm gently on the dragon's muzzle. His dull eyes looked up at her, gleaming drops of ice falling down from their pain filled gaze. In that instant she felt the truth of the situation, Hitsugaya-taicho's time was quickly fading.
She could barely hear her own words as she offered condolences to the once mighty ice dragon. She then turned and entered Urahara's shop and sought out her dying captain.
The sight that met her eyes caused her to cringe internally. Hitsugaya was convulsing, the seizure getting worse with every passing moment. Urahara was attempting to keep him from hurting himself worse as his back and neck attempted to arch in impossible angles. She could tell by the look in the forming captain's eyes that there was nothing he could do for the young shinigami.
In a moment of desperation, Matsumoto found herself snatching the convulsing child and carrying him back outside to Hyorinmaru. As soon as the dragon saw his shinigami, he lept into the air and flew to Matsumoto. His muzzle gently nudged the seizing taicho, soaking in his presence.
To Matsumoto's amazement, Hitsugaya's convulsing lost strength, although he continued to twitch in her arms. Guilt filled Matsumoto at having separated Hitsugaya and Hyorinmaru in the first place as she carefully place Hitsugaya against his dragon. The convulsions lessened, until Hitsugaya was only moved by his shallow breaths.
Unknowingly, tears streamed down Matsumoto's cheeks as she stood watching. Then, to her dismay and horror, her captain moved no more. She watched as Hyorinmaru stirred to once again nuzzle his shinigami, lifeless though he may be. Watery tears poured from the majestic creatures eyes as the dragon attempted to curl himself around the deceased captain.
Moments later Hitsugaya Toshirou's body began disintegrating into what appeared to be diamond dust. Matsumoto found herself remembering Kusaka, the other weilder of Hyorinmaru and how he had vanished in a similar way when he had died. There was no doubt that Toshirou was the true wielder of Hyorinmaru, as the dragon mourned the passing of his shinigami.
Matsumoto legs gave out from under her as the impact of loosing her captain and friend sank in. She found herself confused on Hyorinmaru's continued presence. Yet, strangely comforted to see the familiar dragon.
Hyorinmaru moved slightly, placing his great head next to Matsumoto. She broke down in tears as she rested her head on the zanpakuto's muzzle. She was dimly aware of Urahara watching them, noted the presence of the other shinigamis' arrivals, yet she didn't care. It was HER Captain that had just passed away, HER Friend that was gone.
She found herself already missing his nagging at her to do her paperwork. His constant scowl and strict attitude. He always acted so mature, more than she herself, yet the truth of the matter was that he was still a child. Far to young to be gone, yet he would never return to the 10th division office, the Rukongai, or sit on the roof enjoying the night sky.
She cried. Ignoring the voices of the other shinigami. Ignored Orihime as she tried to hug her and comfort her. Ignored the passing of time. Ignored the cold and the snow that fell.
All that mattered was gone. Only Hyorinmaru remained, yet she knew in her heart that he too would be gone soon.
The next morning, Matsumoto woke up to the sun shining down upon her. She groaned and rolled over, dislodging the blanket that someone had thoughtfully placed upon her. When she opened her eyes, all she saw was ice.
Hyorinmaru was steadily breathing beside her as he lay upon the frosty earth. As she stood up he opened one eye, looked at her, and let out his last breath before shattering into millions of ice crystals. Matsumoto only looked on in horror. The last piece of her taicho was gone.
Hyorinmaru had stayed to keep her through the night, but now he'd gone to be with his other half. Matsumoto was grateful to have been given such a gift, which helped reduce the sorrow she felt.
Sometimes things happen that can't be explained. She would never know what had happened to her taicho the night he disappeared. The only thing she could really do at this point was either drown in her sorrow or treasure the time she had with her taicho and move on in honor of his memory.
With a heavy heart Matsumoto walked away from that spot in the road where her captain and his zanpakuto had died. It was time to get back to her responsibilities, the war would not be won by wallowing away in regret.