Greetings! Here is the new story. This one is a little big longer, much darker, and a lot more violent. I hope it doesn't turn anyone away.
Disclaimer: the characters are not mine. They belong to someone much more talented than I… I'm just borrowing them for the moment.
Warnings: violence, swearing (assume this warning from now on).
I don't have a beta so all mistakes are mine. If you find a particularly atrocious one, please let me know. I'm always looking to improve my writing. Enjoy!
Chapter 1: Found
After six months of desperately searching every corner of Soul Society for her captain, Matsumoto Rangiku found him where she had first met him: at the candy shop in Junrinan he'd frequented as a child.
The proprietor wasn't insulting him this time. Hitsugaya wasn't even a paying customer. Instead, the young captain was huddled against some empty crates behind the shop; the orange-scented wood his only protection against the biting wind. He had curled in on himself with his head resting on his raised knees, his face turned away from Matsumoto. His hair, which six months ago had been as white as snow, was dirty, disheveled, and much longer than it had been. His uniform, usually pristine and spotless, was anything but. A dirty, ragged blanket had replaced the white haori that identified him as a captain and the black hakama, what she could see of it at least, was in shreds. He was barefoot, his feet dirty and bleeding in places.
"Hitsugaya-taichou?" she asked as she approached him.
Matsumoto had come to Junrinan to once again speak to the elderly woman that had raised her captain and Hinamori-fukutaichou. The woman hadn't provided any more information and, dejected, Matsumoto had quickly left. She'd intended to go straight back to Seireitei, but something had nagged at her to stop and take a look around when she'd walked by the old candy shop. She was glad that she had.
"Hitsugaya-taichou?" Matsumoto said again, "it's me, Matsumoto."
Hitsugaya didn't react. She couldn't feel his reiatsu and couldn't tell if he was breathing. The thought of the young man having passed on froze Matsumoto on the spot. She hadn't spent the last six months searching for him only to have it end in his death. As she got within touching distance, she could see that he was shivering. Relief flooded through her at the sight. Emboldened, she reached out to touch his shoulder. Before her hand made contact, however, he moved. His arm knocked hers to the side and he pushed her away as he rose to his feet. He swayed, and Matsumoto knew that she could easily overpower him if she so desired.
"I'm not going to hurt you," she said softly.
He looked at her, his eyes hazy and dull, and the thought that Hitsugaya may be under the influence of something crossed Matsumoto's mind. He saw her, but she wasn't sure that he knew who she was. He took a step backwards and bumped into the crates he'd been leaning against. She jumped at the sound of the top crate falling and shattering on the floor beside him. Hitsugaya looked around wildly as if expecting someone to come charging at them at any moment.
Matsumoto had never considered her captain a child. He'd never given her a reason to. He'd always been strong, decisive, and calm. Right now, however, he looked like any other homeless teenager she was likely to find in the seedier districts of Rukongai. Hitsugaya stood, swaying, his hand on the wall for support. His eyes darted to and from, the pupils dilated and the color dull like the sea in the middle of a heavy storm. His hair hung lifeless to his shoulders, and the hand that was clutching the brown cape was thin, the fingers long and bony. His face was bruised, a cut above his right eyebrow still bleeding. He looked so lost, and Matsumoto wondered what he'd been through since his disappearance to get him to this state.
"Hitsugaya-taichou, can you hear me?" Matsumoto tried again.
His eyes met hers, narrowing as he studied her. She could almost see the wheels turning in his head, sizing her up, trying to figure out whether she was friend or foe. She closed the space between them until she was crouching in front of him, her eyes level with his. He flinched but didn't move away. Slowly, painfully, he raised his hand to her face. As he did so, the blanket he'd been holding around his shoulders fell to the ground, revealing an equally shredded and bloodstained kosode. His hand touched her cheek and she gasped at how clammy it was. His eyes widened when his hand came into contact with her face, as if he'd expected her to be an illusion. He opened his mouth to speak, but no sound came out. She laid her hand over his and gave him as reassuring a smile as she could.
"I'm going to take you home," she said.
His head moved ever so slightly in what could have been a nod. His eyes closed and he collapsed, and only her hand holding his to her face kept him from hitting the ground. Matsumoto stood, picking him up as she did so. She was surprised at how light he was. His ribs were visible on his bruised chest and his shoulders dug into her arm where she held him. She had to get him to Unohana-taichou as soon as possible.
The trip to Soul Society seemed to take forever. Matsumoto couldn't shunpo fast enough; every time she looked down she feared that she wouldn't see Hitsugaya's chest moving anymore. He hadn't stirred since he collapsed, but she could feel his reiatsu now. It was weak and didn't feel like it normally did, but it was there.
She heard several people call her name, no doubt seeing her when she momentarily stepped out of shunpo in the middle of the city. She didn't dare stop until she'd reached the 4th division.
"Get Unohana-taichou!" Matsumoto yelled to the first squad members the saw. They looked at her as if she'd lost her mind, until they recognized the young man in her arms. They sprung into action immediately: one ushered her to one of the examination rooms while the other told her she'd get Unohana-taichou.
"Lay him down here, Matsumoto-fukutaichou," Hanataro told her as he rushed into the room. "Unohana-taichou has been summoned."
"She's not here?"
"No, but she's on her way," Hanataro said. "Please lay Hitsugaya-taichou down on the bed, Matsumoto-fukutaichou," he repeated.
Matsumoto laid Hitsugaya down on the bed, the many bruises and new scars on his body looking much worse in the light of the examination room.
"Please step outside, Matsumoto-fukutaichou," Hanataro said as he got to work with a healing kidou.
Matsumoto wanted to argue, but didn't want to get in the way. She glanced at her captain one more time and saw his eyes snap open. Fear washed over his features when he noticed Hanataro and, once he realized that he wasn't being restrained, Hitsugaya pushed the healer away. Hanataro tripped over his own feet and ended up on the floor. Hitsugaya was halfway out of the bed when Matsumoto snapped out of her shock. She moved to the bed and put her hands on his shoulders. Hitsugaya tried to push her away.
"Let go of me!" he yelled, his voice raspy and rough. "Get away!"
He pushed at Matsumoto and hit her arms, but was too weak to actually break away. His eyes were full of fear and desperation that she'd never seen in the normally stoic captain.
"We want to help," Matsumoto said and tried to push him back down.
The emotions behind the word caught Matsumoto off-guard and her grip faltered. Hitsugaya used that weakness to pull out of her grasp. He got to his feet and made a dash for the door, his injured feet leaving bloody footprints on the pristine tile of the examination room. He had just made it to the door when Unohana-taichou arrived. Hitsugaya paused when he saw her, and Hanataro used the opportunity to knock him out with a kidou. Hanataro and Unohana got Hitsugaya back on the bed and went to work on him again.
"Matsumoto-fukutaichou, we'll let you know when we're through. Please close the door on your way out."
Matsumoto, still shaken from the encounter with her captain, did as she was told. She stood in the hallway and stared at the closed door. Hitsugaya was one of the most calm and controlled individuals that she'd ever met. He rarely lost his composure and he never let others see his emotions. Seeing him so emotional had caught her completely off guard. He was frightened and didn't seem to recognize where he was. Why?
"You found him where?"
Matsumoto cringed at the tone of disbelief in Ukitake's voice. She turned towards him and would have given him a dirty look had she not remembered that right now he was her superior, not her friend.
"Junrinan," Matsumoto said. "Hitsugaya-taichou was practically outside our gate."
She'd been in Ukitake's office for the better part of three hours going over everything that had happened since she'd found Hitsugaya. As the captain in charge of the investigation on Hitsugaya's disappearance, Ukitake had been the first to get her report. As Matsumoto's friend, Ukitake knew exactly what the last six months had done to her and he knew, more than anyone, what finding her captain alive meant to her.
"I know this is hard, Rangiku," Ukitake said. "I'm sure you want to rush off to the 4th right now to pester Unohana for information, but we need some answers and you're the only one that seems to have some at the moment."
Matsumoto started pacing, deliberately avoiding Ukitake's kind eyes. She didn't know what to think, didn't know how she felt, and didn't want to stop and have to think about the fact that her captain had been very near death when she'd found him. She didn't want to think about what could have happened had she not found him or what could still very well happen.
"How did we miss him?" Ukitake's voice drew Matsumoto back from her jumbled thoughts. "Even without strong reiatsu, one of our patrols should have seen him."
"Not if he didn't want to be seen," Matsumoto said.
"Why hide from his fellow shinigami?" Ukitake asked.
Matsumoto didn't have an answer for that question either. In fact, she had many more questions. Why hadn't Hitsugaya gone to his grandmother's house? It was right around the corner from where she'd found him. Why hadn't he taken refuge with someone who he knew he'd be safe with?
"I don't know," Matsumoto finally said, her voice almost a whisper. "We won't know until he wakes up."
"Six months is a long time," Ukitake said. "A lot of things could have happened and we don't even know who had him."
"What is that supposed to mean?" Matsumoto asked, her voice rising. "You think he's some Trojan horse sent here by whoever kidnapped him because they knew we wouldn't turn him away?"
"You've been a soldier long enough to know it's a very real possibility," Ukitake said, his voice rising to match hers. "I care about him too, Rangiku, but we have to be careful. Someone took Hitsugaya from his very own division without anyone seeing or hearing anything. It wasn't a random act and, in six months, we're not any closer to figuring out what happened."
Guilt bubbled up to the surface when Matsumoto thought back to that night when Hitsugaya was taken. She'd felt his reiatsu flare in distress from her own quarters, but by the time she'd gotten to his quarters he'd been gone. His kidnapper had left behind Hitsugaya's bloodstained haori pinned to one wall, but other than Hitsugaya's blood amid the destroyed quarters, they'd found nothing.
She'd been so lost in thoughts of that night that she hadn't seen Ukitake get close to her. She jumped when she felt his hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry," he said.
This time Matsumoto did meet his eyes. She tried to smile reassuringly at him, but it came out as a grimace. "You're right," she finally said. "I just hate to think that…" she trailed off, unable to give words to her morose thoughts.
After a few moments of silence, Ukitake summoned his third seats, Kotetsu Kiyone and Kotsubaki Sentarou, and quickly gave them their orders.
"Form a patrol unit with soldiers from our division and the 11th. Have them go to where Matsumoto-fukutaichou found Hitsugaya-taichou and look around. See if you can find traces of where Hitsugaya-taichou may have come from and report immediately back to me."
"Yes sir!" both subordinates replied and took off to do what they'd been assigned to do.
"I need to go report this to Yamamoto-soutaichou," Ukitake said. "Rangiku, you go to the 4th and see how your captain is doing. I'll send two guards to stand outside Hitsugaya's room."
Ukitake put up a hand to stall the argument that was already forming in Matsumoto's mind.
"The guards are for both his safety and ours," he said. "I'll join you when I can."
Matsumoto nodded and, with a respectful nod at her superior, took off for the medical division. She didn't have to look very hard to find Unohana-taichou once she'd made it there. Unohana was nothing if not thorough, which in this case probably included having her staff be on the lookout for Matsumoto.
"How is he?" Matsumoto asked as soon as she spotted the healer.
Unohana met Matsumoto's eyes, and she could see weariness there. Unohana didn't respond right away. Instead, she led Matsumoto through the maze of her domain until they were standing in one of the more isolated corridors. Three doors down from where the women stood, two soldiers from the 13th division were already standing guard.
"Hitsugaya-taichou is very weak," Unohana said, her voice soft so that it wouldn't carry. "His reiatsu is badly depleted; he's severely dehydrated and malnourished. Whoever was holding him prisoner did not bother to provide enough food or water to properly sustain him. There is also evidence of broken bones and lacerations that have been healed, and there were traces of drugs in his system. I've taken some samples and will need some time to examine them."
"Torture…" Matsumoto whispered, "and drugs to keep him incapacitated?"
"It's possible," Unohana said. "It takes a lot to restrain a captain-class shinigami."
Matsumoto's hands clenched at the thought, and she could see a similar sentiment in her fellow shinigami's face.
"Is he going to be okay?" Matsumoto asked.
"With rest, some nutritional supplements, and some additional sessions with the healers, his body should be fine. I don't know about his reiatsu, however. He's always had such an incredible amount of it, but it's almost non-existent now. You didn't happen to find Hyourinmaru where you found Hitsugaya-taichou, did you?"
"Unfortunately, no," Matsumoto replied.
Her hand unconsciously went to her belt, on which the star-shaped pin that had held Hitsugaya's sash together was carefully incorporated into the bow. It had been the only thing left after that night and it had served to remind Matsumoto of what she had lost.
"Then we'll have to wait and see when he wakes up."
Matsumoto nodded, and then remembered the conversation he'd just had with Ukitake.
"Hitsugaya-taichou's feet were pretty cut up when I found him. Ukitake-taichou and I think that he may have been walking barefoot for a while. Are his injuries consistent with that theory?"
Unohana thought about it for a moment before she nodded. "Yes, I would say so. He had a lot of fresh wounds on his feet but also a lot of old, healed wounds. My guess is that he's been barefoot for almost the entire time he's been missing."
Matsumoto's jaw clenched. "Makes it harder to run, doesn't it?" she asked, not really expecting an answer. "I want to see him," Matsumoto said.
"I'm afraid not, Matsumoto-fukutaichou," Unohana said, her voice going from gentle to stern in a heartbeat. "My healers are still working on him. Besides," the captain added, her tone gentler, "I think you need some rest, too."
Matsumoto opened her mouth to argue, but the look on Unohana's face left no room for argument.
"I'll let you know as soon as he's awake."
Matsumoto nodded. "Please do," she said and quickly left the 4th division.
6 months earlier
Matsumoto had just emptied her last sake bottle and had settled into her couch for a sake-infused slumber when she felt her captain's reiatsu spike. The nice cloud of tipsiness she'd acquired was immediately wiped away as adrenaline rushed through her body. She got up, reached for Haineko, and left her own quarters. By the time she was halfway to Hitsugaya's quarters, his reiatsu vanished. She ran faster, squeezing every bit of speed she could out of her shunpo. When she reached the door of Hitsugaya's quarters, she didn't bother to knock. Instead, she used Haineko to force the door open. She'd apologize to Hitsugaya later if it meant that she could get to him in time.
What she found as she stepped inside froze her on the spot. The living area was unrecognizable. One wall was a charred mess that was barely standing. Pieces of the mirror that had once hung there were scattered on the floor, reflecting the damage like a demented funhouse. Paper littered the floor, and it took Matsumoto a bit to realize that the paper was what remained of Hitsugaya's books. Hitsugaya's haori had been pinned to one of the walls by a short sword, the bloody back left exposed for all to see.
Horror washed through Matsumoto at the sight. She made her way towards Hyourinmaru's stand, where most of the blood was concentrated. There was a lot of it, and it was still fresh. Matsumoto had seen plenty of blood in her time as a member of the 10th division, but this was different. This was her captain's blood staining his living room floor. Hyourinmaru wasn't there and neither was her captain.
Footsteps outside of the room drew Matsumoto's attention and she turned to see the division's third seat, Tanaka Ryota, and the fourth seat, Takahashi Eiji, looking every bit as disheveled and surprised as she felt.
"Matsumoto-fukutaichou, what happened?" Tanaka asked. "We felt the captain's reiatsu and then there was an explosion."
He fell silent as he took in the room around them. "Who could have done this?"
Excellent question, Matsumoto thought. Not just anyone kidnaps a captain from his own quarters.
"Tanaka, Takahashi, organize the rest of the division into search parties and search for Hitsugaya-taichou. Start within the division and then make your way out."
Matsumoto could feel her squad mates up and moving around their division, no doubt alerted by the very same thing that had alerted her. Hitsugaya-taichou was well liked and respected by his division, and she had no doubt that they would search until they found him.
"Takahashi, inform Ukitake-taichou of what's happened and have him come here. I want to stay here and see if I can find any clues."
"Yes, Ma'am," they said in unison as they disappeared from the room.
Matsumoto turned back to the remains of her captain's living area, her throat constricting at the sight of the bloody haori pinned to the wall. Hitsugaya had fought back, and she would not entertain the thought that his vanishing reiatsu meant that he was dead. Why take a dead man? It would be more demoralizing to those left behind if Hitsugaya's dead body had been left for all to see and wonder who'd killed one of their strongest captains. No, someone had come here specifically with the task of subduing Hitsugaya and then taking him somewhere else. They just had to find where that was and fast.
"I couldn't believe it when I heard," Ukitake's soft voice from behind Matsumoto pulled her from her spinning thoughts.
The 13th division captain walked into the room and took in the destruction. The crunch of glass was the only sound in the room as Ukitake made his way around the living area before coming to a stop beside Matsumoto.
"A shinigami captain taken by surprise in his quarters in the middle of the night and subdued before anyone can reach him. There aren't many people capable of doing that."
"I know," Matsumoto said. "I can think of only a handful of captains that could have surprised and subdued Hitsugaya-taichou as quickly as they did."
"I can think of a couple of former captains that could do the same."
Ukitake's words were like ice water down Matsumoto's body. An image of her old friend Ichimaru Gin passed through her mind and she couldn't immediately stop the thought that Ichimaru couldn't have done such a thing.
"Hitsugaya's quarters are at the back of the division's compound, where they can be protected and not easily found," Ukitake continued. "That's not the case in every division, as each layout is different. How many people outside of the Gotei 13 would know where to find the captains quarters?"
Matsumoto thought about it and the sick feeling in her stomach intensified as the truth of Ukitake's words sank in.
"Hitsugaya-kun is one of the most hyper aware shinigami that I've ever known," Ukitake continued. "He's always on alert and his reaction time is second to none. Whoever attacked him hid his reiatsu until he attacked, was able to subdue Hitsugaya quickly and completely, and was then able to leave the scene before any of you could show up. How many people do you think could pull that off, Rangiku?"
The thought of one individual in particular came to mind, but the name that was no doubt on both of their minds remained unspoken.
"We need to find Hitsugaya-taichou and we need to find him fast," Matsumoto said. "If we don't, the next time we see him he may very well be dead."
It was late by the time Matsumoto made it back to the 10th division; most of her division members should be either asleep or retired to their quarters by now. She had no doubt that news of their captain's return would spread like wildfire in the morning, but for now Matsumoto was glad that there was no one around to stop her and ask questions.
Once she got to her room she went immediately to her sake stash. She grabbed a bottle, her favorite cup, and settled in her living area for a long night of drinking. Once she'd poured the first cup, however, she found herself starting at the liquid rather than drinking it. After a while, she sighed in defeat and put the cup down, sake untouched. She'd been here, asleep on this very same couch, six months ago when Hitsugaya had been taken. She could still remember being woken up by the strong wave of his reiatsu that had flooded over her and everyone else in their division. She'd run to his quarters to find the place in shambles, but there had been no sign of her captain or his zanpakutou. She'd spent every day after that searching, hoping, and waiting. Failure hadn't been an option for her, even when others in the Gotei 13 had wanted her to give up.
Matsumoto left the comfort of the couch to kneel in front of her sword stand where Haineko waited for the next time she was needed. Beside the stand, Matsumoto picked up the white square of fabric and shook it out. Her eyes were drawn to her division's insignia, black on white cloth, the ripped fabric, and the dried blood that coated it. The haori looked small in her hands, but the stature of the person who had worn it by no means indicated that he was weak. The ruined cloth had served as a reminder that she would find her captain and bring him home.
Now that she had brought him home, Matsumoto knew that their problems weren't over. They were just beginning. She had faith that whatever was broken in Hitsugaya they could fix. The only important thing right now was that Hitsugaya Toushirou was finally home.
So, is it worth continuing?