Hitsugaya did not like to brood. Brooding was best left to people who did not realize that the act left their senses dull and whatever internal discord they were nurturing not much better than its original state. He preferred to climb outside the box and look at things from a distant point of view, instead of swimming in a muddle of emotions that could effectively drown him.

This - this feeling, however - whenever Momo was involved - felt like he was swimming in quicksand, in which trying to break the surface ultimately trapped him and dragged him down more.

For the second time that evening, Hitsugaya was walking on the same path, towards the same destination, resigned to the same fate. He had just come from a near-reprimand, having answered too late a high-priority memo regarding some trifling (at least, to him) policy suggested by the Second Division Captain. With the exception of the Commander, all the captains were technically of the same rank. His astute mind, however, had realized an unwritten fact as soon as he was appointed: One's age and duration of service held considerable weight over matters, especially political ones.

And so, the youngest captain resorted to alternative means to soothe matters over. At first he was unconvinced of its existence, but Momo did always say he possessed "boyish charm". Astonishingly, Soi Fong appeared to be susceptible to it. She didn't smile at him, of course - that would be too much of a miracle - but she nodded, accepting his apologies without rebuke.

But when he gathered the nerve and asked her why she wasn't going to the party, she gave him a frosty look. He thought it was about time that he checked up on the event.

Nonetheless, as soon he was outside, he began no more than a slow trek.

A slight breeze swept his hair, returning it into its uncombed state, but he was grateful for its freshening effect. All this moving around was certainly bound to leave him sticky with perspiration. He grasped the front of his uniform and pulled it away from his body, breathing deeply as the air flowed and cooled his skin. Behind him, Hyourinmaru shifted while he fanned himself relentlessly.

And they call you a genius. You're a real idiot, you know. You could be holding her hand right now! Didn't you want that, a while ago?

Please, just go away.

Oh, what happened to all that spirit? Congratulations, by the way - leaving her with Abarai was the best idea you've come up with since who-knows-when.

Abarai's not the one I'm worried about.

Hm…you never know.

And the voice disappeared.

Standing there in the middle of the road, his body was in a state of contentment. His mind, on the other hand, was a complete wreck. Oh, how his feet wanted to rush the distance separating him from the location of the party. But there was no point in doing so, was there? Abarai had probably seen to it that Momo had arrived at the party safely. And she was probably more comfortable with his companionship, rather than with an immature, insensitive kid who, in their first few minutes together, successfully made her feel even more miserable.

He shook his head. The sting of truth could be very painful.

Straight ahead, the Eighth Division office came into view. Just inches before the front of the building, a feeling of dread doused him. Hitsugaya froze into a crouching position; eyes flashing, he seized the hilt of his sword. Something was amiss.

Where is everyone?

The building was dark and silent. Not the recommended setting for a gathering, unless it was someone's funeral, and he was pretty sure the invitation stated "birthday party". Hadn't the party started yet? He did some quick calculations in his head and estimated that he was already an hour late. He circled the terrace, straining his ears for any sound, and kept his footsteps light, so not to alert anyone of his presence.

Could this possibly be a trap? His grip on Hyourinmaru tightened, as he battled the rising fear inside him. Was the Eighth Division captain - that carefree, agreeable old man whom Hitsugaya actually respected - involved in a conspiracy that he had no previous knowledge of?

And what of Hinamori? What happened to her?

His fear transformed into an startling rage. Unable to control it, he wrenched the door open and prepared for the worst.

Whatever the worst was, this was certainly not it.

If he had been blind and deaf before, he was suddenly given a new pair of eyes and ears. Loud, raucous laughter blasted from the room. The brilliant lights inside glared at him, and spots were beginning to form in his eyes. Dizzy, he squeezed them shut.

"Ho! It's Hitsugaya-kun! Come in, come in. Everyone, greet the juubantaichou," a deep voice boomed from the back of the room.

He forced his eyes to open. By squinting, he reduced the effect of the intense lighting, and was able to make out a circle of people.

"Good evening, Hitsugaya-taichou!" they chorused, and promptly burst into merry laughter.

What the hell is this! A madhouse!

There was movement behind him, causing him to turn around. Too stunned by the events, Hitsugaya could only watch as Hisagi Shuuhei carelessly shut the door. He was not able to tear his eyes away either when Hisagi caught him staring, and frowned.

"Whatcha lookin' at, squirt?" The taller young man thrusted his chin upwards.

It took Hitsugaya a full ten seconds to recover. Never did he imagine that such a show of insolence would come from the Ninth Division Vice-Captain. "SQUIRT?"

"Ya forgot to shut the door. Can't make noise now, ya hear?"

He wasn't sure if he was seeing and hearing things right. But he could smell the faint odor of alcohol emanating from Hisagi, and he turned around swiftly. The impact of the lighting was not that strong now, and he could perfectly see that this was not just any party.

It was a sake party.

"Sit down, Hitsugaya-kun! Hisagi-kun's right, can't let Old Man Yama lose any of his beauty sleep, eh?" The booming voice he heard earlier was coming from none other than the host himself, Kyouraku Shunsui.

Ignoring everything else, even the drunk Hisagi who had started mouthing off threats, the Tenth Division captain marched with fists clenched, towards the front end where the sakkat-wearing captain lounged.

He did not reach his destination, as his arm was suddenly jerked down and he found himself sitting on his bottom.



Hinamori's face loomed towards him. If eyes could pop out, his would.


Her face pink and her hair undone, she was looking utterly…intoxicated. A languid smile formed on her face, and she leaned forward. He realized in horror that her arms had effectively trapped him on the mat, and the space between them was growing smaller. This was certainly a new experience, but one he wasn't ready for!

"Oh, it is you, Shirou-chan…" Her voice was a bit slurred. "You took so long, I thought you were never coming!" That said, she collapsed into a fit of helpless giggling.

Saved from an embarrassing yet attractive situation, Hitsugaya sighed and took the opportunity to push her away. Across them, he caught Abarai guffawing as the redhead chatted with Kira Izuru.

"Oi, Abarai! ABARAI!" He yelled out angrily, and pointed at the giggling figure on the mat. "What happened here? Why did you let her drink?"

The Sixth Division Vice-Captain blinked, and slowly turned his unfocused eyes on Hitsugaya. Recognition shone on his tattooed face. "Oh, it's you, Hitsugaya hic! taichou…" He waved the bottle in his hand.

At that point Hitsugaya knew it was meaningless to pursue the argument further, but he really needed someone to take the brunt of his irritation.

"I told you to take care of her!"

Abarai shrugged. "So sorry, cap'n…we were hic! surprised too, but then they just dragged us in and…oh yeah, this is some good stuff…" He raised his bottle and drank straight from it.

Hitsugaya looked away, disgusted. Beside the redhead, the Third Division Vice-Captain sat with his palms on his lap and his eyes cast downwards.

"At least Kira looks normal…" Hitsugaya muttered. "Oi, Kira!" he barked.

The blonde's eyes started shifting, and he fidgeted. Now what?

"Kira! Oi"

"They're here!" Kira suddenly exclaimed, leaping to his feet. Except for Hitsugaya, everyone acted like the blonde's behavior was normal. "They're here!" he screeched.

"Who?" Hitsugaya asked. "Who - or what's here?"

"THEY'RE HERE! The barracudas are here!"

Hitsugaya's jaw dropped. "THE WHAT?"

Hinamori giggled, and Abarai scrambled to follow his companion, brandishing his bottle dangerously. "Kneel, I say! Kneel to the BABOON KING!" he hollered, his voice only a few decibels lower than Kira's shrill warnings.

This was certainly not the evening he was envisioning. He turned back to his charge, and to his dismay she had not yet ceased her mirth. He always thought the sound of her laughter very pretty (which he never told to her face, of course.) But this…this was just plain scary.

"Drink, Hitsugaya-kun!" Kyouraku held out his own glass for a mock toast. "Drink, and forget about all your troubles. You look like you've got one too many." He winked.

The tenth division captain frowned even more deeply. "Where's Ise-san? Isn't this her birthday party?" he demanded.

A sheepish look replaced Kyouraku's cheery expression. "Oh…she don't want no part in this. My lovely, lovely Nanao-chan! And I arranged all of this for her!" He feigned sobbing in his sleeve, before taking a long drink. "She really doesn't know what she's missing. Don't you think so, Hitsugaya-kun?"

"Yeah, well, you know what I think? You don't look too drunk. Unlike everyone else here," noted the younger captain, his eyebrows raised.

Kyouraku looked at him straight in the eye, then smiled gently. "What are you talking about? I'm always drunk."

Hitsugaya opened his mouth to answer coolly, when loud, sharp rapping pierced through the noise of celebration. His head swerved towards the direction of the door. It was already past nine, and he didn't think anyone else would be coming. Unless…

Guess he came after all. A feeling of disappointment gnawed at his heart, and he hated the fact that he thought he had her all to himself tonight.

Besides the tenth division captain, the host of the party had also heard the disturbance. Slowly, he raised his sakkat, revealing guarded eyes. They narrowed as he scrutinized the spiritual aura emanating from behind the door.

"Come in," he called out calmly.

Credits for inspiration:

Melpomene Melancholica - forever co-ShirouMomo fan. Let's move away from teen angst to adult ShirouMomo! XD
Seiyo - the baboon king lives!
Crimson Parsley - for the barracuda lines