"What happened here?" Ichigo yelled over the roar of flames. It was as Renji remembered, a terrible blaze had engulfed many of the barracks and the healing house.
"Unohana..." he remembered her sacrifice. "Ichigo, see if any enemies are left, and..."
Ichigo cut him off. "I'll find Rukia, don't worry." He shot off in an instant. Renji leapt down the hill to the healing house. He was there in a matter of seconds. The building was in splinters. Unohana lay prostrate on the floor but there didn't seem to be a scratch on her.
"Renji...can you handle things here?" Came Toushiro's voice in his ear.
"Are you sure you're okay?"
"I can handle it. Rangiku's in trouble, I can feel it." Renji didn't argue any further. He let the little captain slide gently off his back and the instant his feet hit the floor her was gone.
"Renji..." Unohana had woken. She sat up and in her hand he saw the hilt of her sword. So that was what had happened. It made sense, he supposed, in escaping, Gin and Aizen had broken her bankai, and her zampakuto. She regarded it sadly for a moment, then looked to Renji who knelt at her side. "You...have been gone for quite some time." She smiled solemnly, wisely. "Its okay. Go help everyone else." He nodded, and flash stepped away.
When the arrancar had arrived, everyone reacted. They engaged them immediately, but Rangiku had felt it. She knew Gin was back, and Aizen with him, and she knew where they were going. She shot toward the healing house, but it was no good. Half the building exploded from an unseen attack and she fell back. Then someone was ontop of her. An arrancar, maybe even an espada. It didn't matter, who ever it was slid their blade into her side before she could even see them and left her sputtering blood, ringed by fire. In the next few moments she could feel Aizen and Gin's spiritual pressure engulfed by Unahana's, but only for a second. They burst free, and then nothing, they had left this world and one by one the arrancars faded back to Heuco Mundo as well. Undoubtably, he had achieved his goal. Her captain was gone. The blaze grew more intense. Blood and soot filled her mouth, it wouldn't be long now.
"Rangiku!" The flames turned silver-blue and solidified before her. A cool wind blew the soot and smoke away. The sky burst into rain and all around on the distant hills, the flames withered and died. And before her landed her captain. "Rangiku." he whispered, taking her into his arms and starting the kidou spell immediately to heal her side. She was utterly bewildered but just let herself rest in his arms, while his small hands worked to stop her bleeding. The fighting was done, the fire extinguished as Hitsugaya's spiritual power reached further and further, his rain purifying all of the sereitei. And those who could, made their way to him.
"Lil shiro!" Momo cried, landing beside him, Izuru next to her. She wanted to throw her arms around him but he cried for their help at once.
"Please help me heal her." he said. His face was covered in sweat from trying to heal her and put out the flames.
"Let us take over." Toushiro did not let go of his lieutenant but he let his hands drop from her side and Izuru took over. Momo raised a purifying barrier over them. The rain stopped and Toushiro struggled not to fade into unconsciousness. His cheek rested on the top of Rangiku's head, and her arms were wrapped around his. Both their eyes closed and they stayed that way, supporting each other even in their sleep.
Renji and Ichigo arrived in the same moment. Rukia was on Ichigo's back.
"Rukia! Are you alright?"
"Fine," she piped up. "I just banged up my leg a bit." then her smile faded. "Renji, how are you..."
"Trust me, it's a long story. Let's just make sure everyone is okay first." His eyes fell to Rangiku and Toushiro. "Momo. Look after him will you." She turned to him questioningly. "Aizen stabbed him in the shoulder. Tessai just stopped the bleeding..."
"Right!" She was already entering her barrier and while Izuru worked on Rangiku she lay her tender hands on Toushiro's back and filled his wound with a soothing spiritual energy. Some squad four members arrived. Confusion crossed their faces when they saw Renji on his feet and Toushiro in full captain's garb but they went to Izuru and Momo's aid immediately.
"Rukia, rest here." Ichigo ordered, setting her gently on the ground. "Renji and I will check on everyone else." The two shot off together. They landed in the pile of rubble that was once the squad 11 barracks. Kenpachi was just digging himself out and Ichigo found Ikaku's ankle and drug him out of the dirt. As they worked he turned to Renji and asked,
"Now are you going to finally tell me what the hell is going on?"
A week later the Seireitei was on the mend. The barracks were mostly rebuilt, and the healing house was emptying out. Renji had explained his part of the story and today Hitsugaya was released from the squad four barracks to complete the tale.
"I want to go too, Captain." Rangiku said, sitting up and suppressing a wince. She looked weak but her face was determined.
"You need rest, Rangiku. You're wound was nearly fatal."
"But Captain!" she swung her legs out from the bed and stood up, clutching her white hospital robe close to her.
"Matsumoto sit back down! You look like you might faint!"
"Please..." the tone of her voice caught him off guard. There was no whine, she was just quiet and grave. "I want to know everything that happened to you." He remembered her face back in Heuco Mundo when he didn't know her. She had not given up on him, she had come so far to help him. He remembered Gin's fist around her neck and how she had clutched him close to her, promising she would never let him go. He remember her tears, and his, as he stared after her past Aizen's robes.
"Okay. But be careful."
They made their way into the great hall. Renji was already there and dashed to Rangiku's side to help her ease into a seat. Before anyone could address them, Hitsugaya spoke up.
"Please let her say. I want her to know what happened." Yamamoto simply nodded, and Hitsugaya began, from the moment he'd been taken to Heuco Mundo. He covered every detail, ignoring whatever embarrassment or discomfort it brought to relive. It took a long time, and when he was done there was silence.
Finally the Head Captain stood. "Thank you Toushiro Hitsugaya. I can speak for all captains when I say that we are grateful to have you back and indebted to you for all you have done for us. And you Renji Abarai, have shown true and great strength, and your Captain should be proud. Now, Captain Hitsugaya, Lieutenant Abarai, please take Lieutenant Matsumoto back to the squad four barracks. It looks like she could use some rest." It was a thinly veiled tactic to get them to leave, but Rangiku was pale and her eye lids heavy. The three made their exit.
"Sir, do you believe Aizen is really dead?" Captain Ukitaka asked.
"I believe Captain Hitsugaya was wise to assume that Ichimaru and Aizen's other subordinates will attempt to use the Hogyoku to revive him. I do not know its true power, but in any case, we still face a real threat from Heuco Mundo."
"But this new power of Hitsugaya;s..." Kurotsuchi muttered.
"You will not be able to replicate it." Unohana chimed in. "I believe it is unique to him and his Hyorinmaru."
Yamamoto sighed. "It is indeed a mystery, and with the boy's powers still immature we cannot know if this is the beginning of something more or not. Whatever the case, he has indeed given us hope of winning this war." Though the words were ones of hope, they fell heavy on the those listening.
"Thank you, Renji." Toushiro said softly as Renji helped Rangiku into bed. He smiled at the little Captain, understanding his meaning.
"Good night." he said heading for the exit.
"Abarai." Renji stopped at mid stride and turned back. "I mean...for everything."
"Y-Yes, Captain." Renji was not very good at these things, but he appreciated Toushiro's words. He left the captain and his lieutenant in peace.
"And thank you Captain, for letting me go with you." Rangiku said softly. She lay on her good side, very pale. The excursion had taken a lot out of her.
"Rangiku." But he stopped there. She waited while he found his words. "Thank you for...holding on to me." She understood what he meant. She smiled faintly and closed her eyes.
"Any time, Captain." she murmured falling asleep. He stood motionless, watching her breath until he was sure she was deep asleep. He silently walked to the door. The moonlight poured in, illuminating his snowy hair and showing that silver glint that never left his eyes while he had Hyorinmaru on his back. He raised a hand to the hilt over his shoulder, and glancing once more at his sleeping lieutenant, whispered low to his Zanpakuto,
"Thank you, old friend."