Disclaimer: Bleach is the property of Kubo Tite, etc. I am merely borrowing his characters for writing exercises, so that one day, I would have the means to take over the world despite having the charisma of a dead fish.

Note: This short fic was written in response to the Valentines' Day Challenge in the LJ community kurosakiclinic. Very Belated Happy Valentines. : )

Finger Burns, etc.
by Melpomene Melancholica

There was a dragon, not the typical snake-like kind that prances around during festivals, with their moving baby-doll eyes and shimmering paper scales. It was the foreign lizard-like kind, with the tough bulbous hide and oversized derriere. The creature's face was fixed in that hideous affect that preceded a fiery spitball, but then its nostrils began to twitch strangely and its severe maw began to loll in an unnatural grin. Vermillion eyes, possibly carrying the same fires the beast did in its belly, watched intently, predatorily, serpentine in spite of itself. (Which made sense, considering serpents and lizards were related.)

It was a hungry dragon, a hungry grinning dragon that had its eyes set on her. And what do you know? That grumbling noise that sounded like a distant earthquake? That was his stomach calling for lunch.

At that point, she thought she was pretty much screwed. Soul-cutters didn't cut through the various dragon gods of Japan. They probably didn't cut through the hell-spawned European kinds, either. Of course, despite her laid-back appearance, she wasn't one who gave up easily.

Now that growling stomach noise was starting to annoy her. Fine. So she'll be fighting this behemoth moron with all her strength and still end up as belly fodder, but did it have to rub in the fact repeatedly?

Annoyed, she shook her head, stretched her arms above her head, yawned generously, and realized it was her own stomach that was making the noises.

"Finally," a wry voice came.

She pulled her self to a sitting position, blinked sleep from her eyes, and leaned against the back of the sofa she had been napping on.

"Taichou, good afternoon," she greeted her superior like it was the most natural thing in the world. (And it was. The couch in the 10th division office was much too soft and comfy to give up, and inevitably, she always managed to curl up there after lunch, even if she didn't eat any that day.)

"Afternoon?" returned the silver-haired genius. "Sure is. Good? Maybe. If only my desk isn't so cluttered and I can get the paperwork rolling before the evening rounds."

"Eh?" Matsumoto flicked sun-tinted strands of hair from her eyes and looked at the direction Hitsugaya was boredly looking at.

"What is that?"

"It's a pile of objects covered with shiny paper?" It was more like a mountain actually. And not all of the paper was shiny. Some were velvety, while others were more roughly textured. A few were suggestive of things her taichou did not look old enough to even look at.

"I can see that," answered Hitsugaya in the same disinterested tone. "What is it doing in my office?"

"I don't know, taichou. Maybe it's for you." She wasn't being snippy, or anything. Maybe it was for her captain. It was no secret that Hitsugaya Toushirou was popular among the ladies, especially the younger students of the academy who made up contests on who could dare flirt with the insouciant boy genius- in theory, that is. He was also notoriously intimidating to those girls, for nobody ever did approach him, and rare clandestine gifts came singly.

So what made today special?

"Uh... Sorry, I forgot. Happy birthday, Hitsugaya-taichou."

Hitsugaya snorted.

"Okay. So it's not that." Matsumoto rose from her sprawl and yawned out the remaining knots on her back. "It can't be boobie-trapped, so there's no harm in looking through them."

"Already did," drawled the captain. He had his arms tucked together across his chest, stubbornly standing a ways from the groaning desk. "What are those doing in my office?"

Matsumoto raised an eyebrow at him and sauntered to the table. She picked up one of the offending things and read the loopy handwriting made out in sparkly fuchsia ink. "To the handsome Toushirou-sama of the 10th Division," she read aloud. "Even if you're captain now, I'll never forgive you if you've forgotten about me. I was the girl who sat behind you in the Demon Arts 275 class and I'll be graduating soon. Wait for me, and I'll drown in your sweet arctic gaze once again. Loves abound, Amelia-chan. P.S. I've dreamed of you each and every night, ever since that day you rescue me from that cyclops creature. Shirou-sama, tell me your dreams, too!"

Hitsugaya yawned. "You haven't answered my question, Matsumoto."

Why was he being difficult? She wondered idly. "Because," she answered, equaling his deceptively bantering tone. "Amelia-chan of this year's graduating class of the Shinigami Academy wants to tell you she dreams of throwing herself into the arctic ocean of your eyes?"

"And how would Amelia-chan have gotten within a hundred feet of my office?"

"It's Valentines Day." Matsumoto suddenly realized the fact herself. "I didn't notice."

"So what? Would that have kept you awake?"

"Sorry, taichou," she finally said, sighing. "Maybe our people delivered it here. You know, made an exemption since it's Valentines. It's part of the employee-friendly thing the Ergonomics department are trying to... proliferate."

"..."

"I'll get rid of them."

"Aa."

"You can use my desk, if you want. I'm done with my paperwork for the day."

"Thanks," came the dry reply.

"Anytime, taichou."

And so, Hitsugaya took - gingerly, she thought in amusement - a sheaf of documents from underneath the collection of gifts and was soon writing away at the desk of his curvaceous assistant. Meanwhile, the said assistant began the tedious process of disposing of the said gifts.

She sat at the edge of the table, warily sparing a glance to see if the burdened furniture would hold her added weight. Taking the gorgeous package of a certain Takako, Matsumoto regretfully began to tear the metallic teal wrapper. Inside were handmade chocolates, personalized by little kanji swirls of caramel or white chocolate bearing the name of the 10th division captain. Guilt lingered in the air for a few profound moments, and then the vice-captain shrugged and began her extremely late lunch.

"That's your idea of getting rid of those?"

"It's disappearing pretty fast," quipped the blonde, holding up the now empty box, courtesy of Takako. She was now eyeing a ribboned little pentagonal box from some girl named Sahyo. Or maybe that rhinestone studded number from an Ami. Hmmm...

"…disappearing and trickling to your ass-"

Matsumoto stopped munching abruptly.

"-since your rack's already overcrowded."

"I am honored to receive such compliments from taichou," she intoned. "Considering taichou is a little too old to be interested in milk."

Hitsugaya's smirk was unmistakable.

And so, Matsumoto finished one last piece of confection from a joint project of a Yoko and a Yodo, and began dropping the presents into one large trash bag.

Some minutes later, she had almost cleared seventy-five percent of the desk. Taking advantage of her long limbs, she stretched across the table (probably presenting a delectably photogenic view from the other side) and reached for a purple ribbon hanging free. The crimson package seemed lodged between two others and she gave one sharp tug to nudge it free. It started a mini landslide, however, and several gifts came tumbling down the hill of handmade love offerings. A round tin one actually bounced of the edge of the table, rolled several feet away on the polished floor, before falling and clattering to a stop.

Matsumoto eyed it consideringly, before idly turning to the rest of her chore. Relaxed, she finished stuffing all the other packages on the giant trash bag. Finally, she sauntered over to the fallen burnished tin and laboriously leaned over to pick it up. A sandaled foot beat her to it. The metal container flipped up and landed in the grip of the 10th division captain.

"I'm keeping this one," said Hitsugaya, tucking the palm-sized can into his robes.

Matsumoto cocked an eyebrow inquiringly.

"Souvenir. For this year."

"Oh?" She rubbed the back of her neck, and then chose her words carefully. "Taichou, I won't tease you, just because you choose to keep a gift from a childhood friend."

The boy shrugged. "And I can put paper clips in it."

"Oh, that's cold! Hinamori must have stayed up last night making chocolates, burning her fingers and all that."

"Yeah," Hitsugaya answered shortly. "For her captain."

True. The tin can of chocolates were a little too expensive for a vice-captain's salary, but they weren't personally made by the 5th division 2nd seater, not for the little boy who used to call her "Bedwetter Momo." Matsumoto remembered the difference implied by the choice of chocolate a girl gave a boy. For some reason, she wasn't really sure Hitsugaya did so or even cared. He was now on his desk, frowning over a report and shaking his head at mistakes he was picking up.

"Made it, bought it," the captain suddenly spoke up. "At least Hinamori gave her captain something. Unlike some people I know."

"Which is a good thing, actually," Matsumoto said thoughtfully. "Saved me money and burnt fingers."

Hitsugaya spared a moment to grin up at her impishly. "I'd have kept your box of candies, Matsumoto."

"How very nice of you, taichou. I can run out and buy you a little something if it pleases you. Forgive me?"

"No harm done," said the boy airily. "In fact, as a token of my good will, you can take that sack of chocolates to your quarters with you and continue your magic trick of vanishing them and making them reappear behind you."

"Very sweet of you, taichou, but-"

"Or you can recycle something to give to the 3rd division captain."

Oh, her captain was good at this game. Very good.

"It's the thought that counts," added the evil boy genius. "Right, Matsumoto?"

"That's an excellent suggestion," she answered, matching his casualness. "I'd beg you to give me the tin can you kept for yourself, since I love the color, but Ichimaru-taichou might discover he has the same tin of chocolate that Kira, his vice captain, got from Hinamori. Awkward situation, eh?"

"Pick something else." Hitsugaya shrugged. "Told you I wanna put paper clips in this one."

"…It works as a paper weight, too," she finally said and allowed the discussion to rest.

They were both too good at this game, it seemed.


She was right, of course.

The evening rounds went briefly and smoothly. The jurisdiction of the tenth division was peaceful and uneventful, patrol groups brought no remarkable news, and the captain had no reason to go out into the cold night. Hitsugaya dismissed her early, perhaps, going off to eat supper alone or whatever it was he did at the end of easy days. After spending some time in her quarters getting bored, Matsumoto went out and strolled under the overcast skies, then somehow found herself in the office of the 3rd division.

The 3rd division fukutaichou was sitting at his desk, very preoccupied by something he held at his right hand. There was an odd kind of reverence in the way he gazed at a heart-shaped can of a very familiar burnished sienna. And that was what Matsumoto was right about: Hinamori did give him the candy tin, as she probably did with Abarai Renji of the 6th division.

Oh, it was obvious the way Kira Izuru reacted when she spoke. He had guiltily pocketed the tin can, as if he had been caught stealing food back in his days in streets of the Floating Spirits. His face also burned to match the little trinket he had been playing with. It amused her, his reaction, his slightly defensive expression against her steady look.

"So, Matsumoto," said her fellow vice captain. "What brings you here?"

"My captain said something about referrals. Ichimaru-taichou apparently wanted to set-up meetings between our divisions regarding some protocol in the works. Hitsugaya-taichou asked me to go here tomorrow, but I had some free time today."

"I see." Kira stood up, walked to the closed doorway behind him, and peeked in. "I don't think Ichimaru-taichou's in, right now... Tell you what, I have to bring this to one of the officers." He waved a map at her. "Maybe I'd run into taichou somewhere in the vicinity. Wait here?"

"Well..." Matsumoto ran a hand through her long luxurious hair as she thought about it. "Okay. If it's been a while and you haven't seen him, or if he's busy, don't bother telling him about this. I'll be back tomorrow or something. Nothing pressing, really."

"Okay, then. I'll be back." And the thin young man was gone.

Matsumoto was left in the 3rd division office alone. Her eyes were naturally drawn to exploring the room, alighting idly on the neat desk of the vice captain, the darkened cubicle of the captain, the fortune plants at the corners of the room, the decorative mirrors hanging on the walls. She sauntered to the nearest one and stared at herself, arms akimbo.

She looked well enough. Uniforms were boring, but she wore hers in such a way it accentuated her best features. Her obi she tied certainly not to hide her tiny waist. And of course, the dipping neckline and the necklace that trickled down the space between emphasized her ample breasts. She pouted thoughtfully as she examined herself. Perhaps, if she started pulling her hair up, her nape would be...

"Don't worry. It's resplendent."

"Still brilliant with words, Gin," she remarked without turning around.

"My, aren't we overly casual today?" came the amused admonishment.

"My apologies, Ichimaru-taichou," she answered shortly, taking her time in facing him. "When we started discussing my cleavage, I thought we could do away with the cumbersome titles."

His face remained unchanged, still fixed in that knowing grin. "I was just kidding," he said good-naturedly. "I'm not one of those stuck-ups who won't answer to their first name just because. And I was talking about your hair."

"Like I said, brilliant with words," Matsumoto answered the white-haired man. "Saying what you mean, conveying something else."

The knowing grin lolled to something a little naughtier. "Well, 'resplendent' is also applicable to your... frontal view."

"...Thanks. I guess." She resisted the urge to cross her arms across her chest. "I told Kira not to bother you, if you were busy."

"I'm at the moment. Izuru's very exacting when it comes to orders."

"Oh, I see."

"What was this protocol Izuru was telling me about?"

"The 7854FxG protocol. My captain said you wanted to revise a few points and that you wanted a meeting scheduled."

"Ah yes, yes." Ichimaru drew his hands before him and joined the tips of his long fingers to form a tent-like figure. "Next Tuesday, I think. Lunch in my office. How does that sound?"

"I'll confirm with my captain. I'm pretty sure he'll agree."

"Excellent. That done, how are you, Rangiku?"

"I'm fine." She took a deep breath, eyes slipping close naturally, and paused a while before speaking again. "It's been a while, eh Gin?"

"Yes, it has."

His voice was already drifting away, and she couldn't really bring herself to say more. When she opened an eye, she could no longer even read the "three" on his retreating back..

"For what it's worth," she muttered and left it at that. She then took a small package from her voluminous sleeve and laid it on the table of the 3rd division vice captain.

"Matsumoto?"

Kira was back, peering around the room curiously.

"Did you talk with Ichimaru-taichou?"

"Yeah, I did. Business complete. Thanks."

"Anytime."

He went back to his desk, and she started her leisurely pace out the 3rd division office.

Then suddenly, she paused in mid-stride and, with an arm resting on a shapely hip, turned back slightly to the pale young man.

"By the way, Kira, I left something for you at the table."

"Oh?" Kira looked surprise, but his eyes automatically roamed his desk. He picked the simply wrapped package from one corner and untied the ribbon to look inside. "Handmade chocolate. This is for me, Matsumoto? Gee, thanks."

She waved him away. "Hitsugaya-taichou wanted to get rid of it. He has a bagful of them."

"Popular guy, isn't he?" Kira chuckled. "Thanks all the same."

"Anytime," she echoed him.

Matsumoto then made her way back to the 10th division office, thoughtfully nibbling on the three fingers she had burned earlier that evening. Most likely, her captain was also doing work for tomorrow, instead of resting up or relaxing.

They were both very good at this, after all.

end

February 16, 2005 (10:59pm)

Comments, complaints, constructive criticism... all very welcome.

Oh, and I'm sorry about the dashes, if they cause confusion. Apparently, FFnet doesn't differentiate between dashes and hyphens. x . x