Partnership

AN: Please note that this story was written before Bleach manga Chapter 304.01, the Hitsugaya retrospective. As such, is does not reflect the history between Matsumoto and Hitsugaya prior to Hitsugaya's entrance into the academy. As this descrepancy constitutes a large portion of this story, I have decided not to alter it to fit the canon. Please suspend your knowledge of the canon for the sake of this story.

by Michaela Will


Hitsugaya Toushiro lounged against the rooftop, listening to Inoue Orihime and his exuberant Lieutenant Matsumoto having girl-time in Inoue's apartment. He sighed.

"Oi! Captain! Why don't you come in! We're having fun!" Matsumoto's voice roared from the apartment. Toushiro shrugged away the invitation. Eventually Matsumoto would prevail over him, Toushiro knew her well enough at this point to know she would get what she wanted from him, but he planned to take a little more time to brood first. He had plenty to brood about.

They made an interesting pair, he noted: The buxom lieutenant and her child superior.


"Are you sure, Hitsugaya? You have no preference in a lieutenant? You can make a request and we'll try to work it out." He shook his head to Captain Ukitake as he skimmed over another part of the agreement he had to sign for his promotion.

In truth, since he had reached the rank of captain before she had, he would love nothing more than to work with his childhood friend. But that was not possible. Therefore, "It doesn't matter to me. Just," He hesitated. Captain Ukitake clasped his hands on the table and watched the new captain attentively. "Since it's someone I will have to work with closely, I would prefer a lieutenant smart and capable. Though I would imagine you'll consider all the Lieutenants capable…" Toushiro thought of Lieutenant Kusajishi Yachiru with her pink hair and ditzy attitude. Had anyone ever seen her fight or use demon arts? He could hardly imagine any member of the Eleventh Division doing the necessary paperwork to running the division, but more than anyone he found he doubted Yachiru did it.

Captain Ukitake nodded with a smile, "I think I know what you mean. I also think I may know just the person who will suit you as a lieutenant. Though I warn you, you may not agree with me." Toushiro brought his icy gaze to Captain Ukitake, a thoughtful scowl marring his face.

"I suppose I trust your judgment. I don't have any ideas myself anyhow." The other captain smiled and tapped a line on the requisite forms.

"Matsumoto Rangiku."

Tall, busty, and blonde. Had he ever seen her fight? He could remember seeing her drunk one night at some function.

Toushiro blinked. Captain Ukitake walked out. In a stunned daze he wrote the name on the line.


Toushiro walked around his new apartments: his office by the complex entrance, kitchen and private rooms off to the side. The weight of his new Captain's white robe on top of shinigami black felt good. It had been a little embarrassing for him to be measured for his robes with Captain Unohana's supervision. But the woman had the touch, he had to admit. Her words to the seamstress had comforted him a lot.

"Now I would suggest you check back in with Captain Hitsugaya in a month's time to make sure the length suits him once he's gotten used to the extra weight and the way the fabric inhibits his sword. We are counting on you to make sure he looks proper at all times."

No he's-a-growing-boy or other child-reminder remarks, just delegation of responsibility to make sure his uniform continued to fit him properly as he changed. He liked that it was handed so neatly. A knock at the complex door interrupted him.

"Captain Hitsugaya?" It was a voice he didn't recognize.

"Come."

A tall, impressively stunning woman walked inside. Toushiro roughly cleared from his head the instinct to gawk at her cleavage. He reminded himself that he took people seriously and he couldn't do that staring at a shinigami's chest, particularly his lieutenant's chest. He met her eyes and refused to allow his gaze to wander. She grinned at him and flopped comfortably on a couch with a bottle of sake in hand.

"Thanks Captain. Care to get some cups?" She shook the bottle.

Toushiro blinked. He had a feeling this lieutenant would have him doing that a lot. He stalked into the kitchen and started hunting through for his sake cups. He'd barely had a chance to unpack, so he found the set at the bottom of a packing box.

"Ah, thanks Captain," She held up one of the cups towards him, admiring it, "Fitting, icy turquoise to match your eyes, or your chilly disposition?" He glared at her.

"They were a gift." She shivered playfully.

"Ohh! Chilly!" Matsumoto smiled genuinely, "To match your eyes, then." She tossed the cup to him and he fumbled to catch it for a moment, eyes wide as he juggled the cup into his grip. In the end, he managed to hold it with the tips of his fingers inside the rim. She turned the cup in his hand and poured. She lifted her cup.

"Konpai!"

Matsumoto tipped her head back and emptied the cup. Toushiro muttered his cheers and drained his cup also. Matsumoto motioned for his cup, obviously ready for them to drain the bottle and it was only mid-afternoon. Toushiro was suddenly annoyed. Her first act with him as his lieutenant was to get drunk? He knew she'd been helping to run the division since the previous captain had left because she was in the tenth already. He had figured he could trust everything he wasn't aware of would get done. Now Toushiro was trying to guess what responsibilities Matsumoto might have forgotten over the last week or so that he would need to check up on. He held out his cup reluctantly.

This was not the sort of laziness he wanted in a lieutenant when he left the choice to Captain Ukitake. He'd worked hard and used all of his talent to get here on his own so fast. Now he wanted a little help some of the time.

"What exactly are we drinking to?" She swallowed a rather large sip of sake and smiled conspiratorially.

"To all you transfer work, and mine, being completed. Not to mention getting all the previous captain's work off the books. I just finished the last of it and took it all to Yama-jii. It's official and now we can get to the fun!" She crowed. She giggled at Toushiro's dumbfounded expression then gently tapped her cup to his as her eyes became serious meeting his bright blues, "Teaching the tenth to respect us."


"Captain Kyouraku said that he would never wear a mask like Captain Komamura's because it would make all of his fans at the Shinigami Academy sad. Oh!" Matsumoto took a big sip of sake, giggled, and continued, "So then Nanao-chan said that if he wore a mask like that she would finally get a chance to sleep at night. You know how she can be. But the precious part is Captain Kyouraku said," Matsumoto pushed her hair off her face and shaded her eyes with her hand like she was wearing a hat, "Does that mean if I borrow the Captain's mask I can sleep in your room tonight, Nanao-chan?"

Matsumoto collapsed into giggles on the couch and Toushiro did too, imagining the red blush on Ise Nanao's face that would crawl back to her ears and neck and down her arms. He took another sip of his sake and shook the cup at Matsumoto, who obliged and refilled.

"Bet she beat Captain Kyouraku to a bloody pulp!"

"Just about. But she also 'accidentally' let Yachiru-chan get at Captain Kyouraku's hat and haori. They were slobbered over and chewed so badly that it took the seamstress a week to fix them up properly and Captain Kyouraku had to dress normally."

Toushiro found himself sniggering at the thought of Captain Kyouraku's long pouty face as he was forced to wear only his shinigami white and black. Normally, he probably wouldn't find it this hysterical, but right now it was seriously the funniest thing he'd heard in weeks.

They sat giggling and calming down for a few minutes longer.

"So tell me a secret." Matsumoto rested her chin on her laced fingers, the sake cup momentarily set aside. Toushiro blinked at her.

"What?"

"Well we have to work together closely, so we ought to know something about each other." Matsumoto looked thoughtful, "Unless you want me to try bringing you a different kind of sandwich everyday for lunch until I figure out what you like. Things like that." Toushiro stared at her blandly.

"I like tuna."

Matsumoto sighed in a small puff of breath. Toushiro ran his fingers around the rim of his cup. They were silent for a few moments and he hunched over his hands, feeling awkward and young. He deliberately began to let ice slide over his features and brought solemnity back to his eyes, trying to banish the effects of the sake.

"What's your sword's name?"

Toushiro sat upright, "Hyourinmaru."

Matsumoto caressed the sword beside her, "This is Haineko." She looked at the sword and a loving expression stretched over her features. She tipped upright onto her feet, the sword in hand, "What do you say we introduce Hyourinmaru and Haineko to each other?" She grinned, "See what you two have going for you." Toushiro remained seated, looking up at his new lieutenant.

"You're drunk."

"So are you. Keeps the playing field even." Toushiro knew a challenge when he heard one. He stood slowly and slid Hyourinmaru into place.

"Fine."


They were out in the training yard before he blinked. Or perhaps the alcohol was striking him more than he thought. Dark had fallen as they drank and talked, leaving the yard empty. His time sense was off, he was certain and his coordination slowed. They would both have to be careful; there was no reason to piss off the Fourth on their first night as the Tenth's commanding officers.

Matsumoto paced away from him and languidly drew Haineko from its sheath. Toushiro listened to the skating sound of Hyourinmaru's draw. He raised his voice.

"No shikais, swords only," His eyes slid around the yard, "Stay in the yard. What about winning conditions?"

Toushiro, eyes wide, brought up Hyourinmaru automatically. Matsumoto had closed and had tried to bring Haineko through to his chest before his reflexes kicked in. She didn't use her height, but did press into the blade before giving him a satisfied smirk.

"It's an introduction, so do we really need rules and win conditions?"

She broke away and moved like a cat on a fence tip toeing around him. She kept a playful smile on her face as she watched him; a pacing, stalking instinct in her footsteps. Hitsugaya sunk deeper into his stance, watching her movements as the ice dragon coiled in his stomach and chilled his blood. He could feel Hyourinmaru palpable presence around him.

She stopped pacing and stared at him, her light eyes beginning to bore into him intensely. Hitsugaya had never seen her look so serious. He also realized though he had always known who Matsumoto Rangiku was he had never seen her fight before. He could feel Haineko in her space, her sword's eyes through her own boring into him. He could almost see the tail twitching in the subtle signs of the stretch and coil before the pounce.

Their swords met and rang through the air. Metal on metal sung in each series of engagements. They broke after a time and Matsumoto stalked around him, looking for a place to strike. The dragon gathered himself in preparation. Haineko closed, coming in at the side and Hyourinmaru parried. They exchanged and Hitsugaya used a traditional sequence of strikes that Matsumoto countered by falling into a patterned footwork sequence. He broke the pattern with a pass aimed at her lead hip, forcing her to break from the trained response. Matsumoto broke away with laughter.

"You are really good. No one's done that to me in a long time."

She closed swiftly, deadly seriousness in her eyes. In a series of quick attacks, Hitsugaya found himself forced to back out a bit. He retreated and moved sideways, coiling quickly so as to break up from under her guard. He came in tight and low, and found she had sunk deep into her stance. She struck his sword wide and rolled the other way, slinking back to her feet Matsumoto brought the blunt edge of Haineko to his ankles and pulled his foot out from under him.

Hitsugaya moved towards the ground, but caught the motion to rolled back and jump to his feet. Matsumoto was still crouched low when he left the ground and jumped into her. Matsumoto parried his airborne attack and flung her hand out. She grabbed his shoulder and directed him over her back. He tumbled down and across the ground, coiled himself after rolling over his head awkwardly. Matsumoto stumbled to her feet and turned to him, guard up in expectation of another flying close.

They glared at each other.

Then Matsumoto threw back her head and laughed, "You really are good, you know that, right?" She sighed and sheathed Haineko, then began dusting off her robes, "Well, I think that's enough of an introduction for now. We can really rough each other up later." She smiled. Silently he sheathed his sword too. He thought for a moment as she grinned, obviously replaying their introduction in her head.

"You're skillful too. I don't usually get forced into retreating unless people use their height against me. You didn't."

Her smile grew wider, "You're tactics are astounding. Exactly what I'd expect from someone so gifted, if I hadn't been careful, you would have closed so tight your face would have ended up in my boobs." She started to walk back to the lodge.

"Che," Hitsugaya matched her pace easily and chose not the respond to the barb. "You get to start the training session tomorrow while I watch." He wanted to see her with the division. If they were all in as good shape as she was, he'd have no trouble keeping the division in practice. Teaching, in contrast, he found he didn't have the right sort of patience for most of the time.

"Okay, but now I think we need to drink some more." She looked theatrically thoughtful for a moment as they walked inside, "And then when I have you a little more drunk I'm going to ask about Hinamori-chan. She was sooo cute and excited over your promotion."

Toushiro blinked. Matsumoto eyed him and then grinned, "Or I suppose if I want to gab like that I should just ask Hinamori-chan about my captain." Matsumoto slipped away on cat-light feet towards the sake.

"O-Oi!" Toushiro hurried inside, "Wait a minute!"


Toushiro smiled at the memories. They had both gotten very drunk that night. They also had a chance to get to know each other better in one night because of it than Toushiro had expected possible. It meant they had gone to meet their new division the next morning as a unified team, and although their rise had given the division reason to respect them both individually already, finding that Lieutenant Matsumoto and Captain Hitsugaya worked as a team from day one gave them reason to respect the Tenth as a division.

She was as smart as he'd hoped and she was as capable as he'd hoped. Ukitake had been right to recommend her. She suited him as Lieutenant the way Ise-san suited Kyouraku-san: they balanced each other. Not quite as the extreme as the Eighth Division's superiors, but a balance nonetheless. Personally and professionally as much as he hated to admit it.


"Oi! Wake up, Captain." A hand shook his shoulder and he flew to life. He grabbed the collar of his offender's hakama, reaching over with his other hand to draw Hyourinmaru swiftly to Matsumoto's lowered neck. He glared at her for half a moment, then dropped Hyourinmaru's point and let go.

Matsumoto straightened her collar while Toushiro pointedly glanced away. "You're healed enough to be playful I see. But sleeping here another night isn't going to do you any good." He started to look around as she spoke, also noting he was in the Fourth's currently crowded facilities. He'd fallen asleep in a chair, waiting.

"Che," he muttered.

They were both silent for a moment, taking in the light buzz of conversation that filled the Fourth Division quarters.

"I'm going to the mortal realm as part of the surveillance team." She was looking out the window when Toushiro turned his serious gaze to her. "So far, it's Kuchiki Rukia, Lieutenant Abarai, and a few from the Eleventh. I think someone a little more responsible should go too." Toushiro glared openly at her with that comment. His lazy lieutenant thought Kuchiki Rukia needed someone more responsible around? She had Byakuya breathing down her neck for God's sake! Okay, maybe with her latest little stunt nearly getting her killed she could use a watchful eye, but Matsumoto's?

Then he thought about the others Matsumoto had listed. He groaned under his breath. Only Captain Zaraki thrown in the mix could make them a more unsubtle group. And they were reconnaissance?

"So? I can go, right? I'm not going to listen if you say no, but I would rather you agree than for me to disobey orders."

"Fine, but I'm going too." Toushiro groused. Matsumoto nodded with the slightest hint of satisfaction on her face.

"We leave first light tomorrow; Kuchiki-san's calling the shots on this one. It was her zone we're going to. They were hoping for a captain on the team, so I'll tell Yama-jii you agreed, but you better go tell Hinamori-chan you're leaving." With that Matsumoto walked calmly out of the Fourth's quarters.

Toushiro burned slowly. That little…that…BOOB had tricked him. She deliberately had preyed on his sense of duty and tricked him into agreeing to go. He sighed and looked at the door to the room that had become Hinamori's. He hung his head and pushed the door open.

She lay there as she had for days. He pulled the stool by her bed, his stool, close and dropped down into it. He rested his head on Hyourinmaru's hilt and sighed. She still hadn't woken up. Captain Unohana had said it was up to Hinamori's will whether or not she would awake.

The burden of Hinamori's life rested heavily on his young heart. He sat there for a few hours every day he could bring himself to bear it, trying to think of the right thing to say that would bring a spark of life to Hinamori. She still lay there day in and day out. He'd called her every name he could think of and reminisced aloud until he was sick of his voice. He'd tried recalling her sense of honor and duty to the Fifth. He tried reminding her of her friends and of her sword Tobiume sitting, moping in all honesty, in the corner. He had even struggled to tell her silent features what he thought of her, really.

And still the silent body breathed no more than a bare thread of what was required to be considered life.

"Hinamori," the wisp of his voice was raw in this room. His throat worked. Matsumoto was right and he hated her for it. His eyes melted.

"I have to go, Momo. I have to take care of the Tenth," he paused, "And Matsumoto. I told her I'd go with her on a surveillance trip to the mortal world. Soul Society needs her active Captains in the field." It sounded hollow. He felt hollow. It frightened him.

He also had run out of things he knew he could say. Silence rung in his ears and Toushiro found he was lulled into a trancelike state, breathing in her faint, calming presence. The pressure soaked his shoulders tight, so when he sheathed Hyourinmaru his chest and arms hurt. He stood with one last sigh and held one of her hands, touching her for the first time.

"Please be awake and greet me when I come back. I miss you."

It was the last and most honest thing that he had left to say. He released her hand and silently left.


Matsumoto knew him too well. He'd been reluctant to leave, but moping around the Fourth division didn't do him any good, not when Soul Society really did need her Captains active. In truth, Toushiro was only somewhat surprised that Captain Zaraki didn't come with Madarame and Yumichika. But then, he always liked to have an idea of what he was facing, size it up, before rushing in despite all evidence to the contrary.

Point in fact, his exuberant division always beat him into the field, but gave him an excellent idea of what was coming. Then he'd tear through whatever they couldn't manage. The Eleventh division's weeding system always left Captain Zaraki with the best opponents of any attack and none of the work of picking them out. It worked for them, just like his fairly even teamwork with Matsumoto worked for the Tenth.


The hell moth's arrival provided a distraction from Toushiro's pain. The announcement that Kuchiki Rukia's sentence was moved up again spurned both Captain and Lieutenant into action. They had seamlessly zeroed in on Center 46. They suddenly stood before its doors, looking at each other.

"This is the only place to get answers. There has to be a reason why Kuchiki Rukia's sentence is pushed forward and why the penalty is so high. If Center 46 chose this path, they can explain it."

Neither of them mentioned the other possibility. That Ichimaru Gin had actually found a way to manipulate the whole of Center 46 to serve his purpose was inconceivable to Toushiro.

He knocked loudly and announced himself, "Captain Hitsugaya to speak with Center 46 immediately."

They waited and Matsumoto watched him carefully. She must have thought her captain was starting to crack.

"Captain Hitsugaya to speak with Center 46 IMMEDIATELY. This is an EMERGENCY!"

But no one would respond to them and the doors wouldn't open. Center 46 was supposed to be locked in, but usually someone would at least answer the summons and tell them off. Matsumoto blew a lock of hair out of her eyes. Toushiro glared at the door.

"FINE!" He roared. Matsumoto gawked at him outright, "We're breaking in." he told her. She looked at him, but did not argue as he slipped Hyourinmaru's point between the doors. He closed his eyes and shoved his spiritual pressure into the tumblers of the lock on the other side. He didn't bother with finesse, just pure power.

The door relented and opened. The seal popped with a hiss and they rolled back the doors forcefully. Hitsugaya stalked towards the next door.

"Captain," Matsumoto put a hand on his shoulder. He glowered up at her. She ignored his behavior and tip toed ahead on cat-light feet, taking Haineko from the sheath. Hitsugaya watched her raise her pressure at an incredible rate, throwing it into the door. As she shifted back one of the doors, Hitsugaya silently stalked past her Hyourinmaru already wielding his spiritual pressure and licking its chops for a taste of the third lock.

The Tenth alternated their way through the bolts sealing in Center 46. It took time, each lock becoming a little more difficult than the last. After opening three doors on her own Matsumoto had to slow down and start using finesse to trick the locks open. Hitsugaya met his raw match on his fifth door. The last door had two bolts on it and both of them had to match spiritual pressure to force it.

The carnage they were met with was only half of the answers they sought.


Spiritual pressure snapped like an icy breath over him. He looked over the rooftops, determining the direction of the source. Inside, Matsumoto's chattering ceased and he assumed she was as aware of the pressure too. Toushiro allowed cold water to run through him and revitalize him. Action! The pill flung him forcefully out of the gigai and he was more than happy to be free of it. Hyourinmaru clawed against his senses. Action was something both he and Hyourinmaru needed to wash away the tension.

"Matsumoto!" He yelled. Black and pink twisted through the air and Matsumoto landed neatly coiled beside him. She straightened and leaned over the roof edge.

"Orihime-chan! Just stay put and we'll take care of this, okay?" There was even a smile as she said it. Toushiro let his eyes slide to her.

"Your gigai better make sure she stays clear. The pressure is strong."

"It will."

Action; after days of paperwork and political wrangling about the next move, both of them were relieved by the opportunity to act. Toushiro was positive it was the reason Matsumoto had made sure they both would go with the surveillance team. She knew Captain Hitsugaya would coil into the irate dragonish behavior Hyourinmaru was known for if she didn't get him away from the stupid bureaucratic bickering.

The two Arrankar arrived. Matsumoto and Hitsugaya surveyed the pair and shared a look. Matsumoto's eyes narrowed as she shifted her stance and focused her attention to the chubby one. Hitsugaya didn't shift at all as he blandly watched the gangly one, his usual scowl in place. Icy Hyourinmaru stormed around the edges of his senses, hissing to be released. Hitsugaya held him back with cold iron for the moment.

They would be fighting with this one for a while according to the spirit pressure. There was no need to rush things. Besides, he had Matsumoto and Haineko at his back and their loyalty was unshakable.


He watched, unable to parry back fast enough, as the blade headed for Hinamori. The ring of metal singing on metal cut towards Toushiro's heart, slicing wide and missing. Matsumoto stood between Ichimaru's blade and the fallen Hinamori, her own blade braced and her stance steady.

She was not often so serious, and in Toushiro's eyes, rarely so beautiful as in that moment.

The air changed palpably in that moment. Relief washed over Toushiro as the control of the situation shifted. Then they were alone, he and a worn, unconscious Hinamori. As his blue eyes took in the wooden slat flooring and caught up to reality, he realized even Matsumoto, who had arrived only seconds before, was also gone. She had whisked in, added her strength to his own only as long as necessary and retreated to allow him to deal with the Fifth Division Lieutenant alone.

Toushiro glared across the skyline, hunting for any remaining trace of Ichimaru, Izuru, or Matsumoto's spiritual pressure. He found none, so he turned to Hinamori. He knelt at her side and pulled Tobiume loose to examine her hands.

Gently, Toushiro ran his fingers across her self-inflicted bruises and cuts. His fingertips picked up traces of her blood. Gravely, he folded her arms out of the way and picked her up. He was smaller than her, true, but wielding Hyourinmaru was not possible for an unfit slouch.

He froze himself and dove into his duty, carrying her to his lodge. He would keep watch on her, but she would at least be comfortable, free of a cell and damn the consequences. He blinded himself to pain as again and again he kept to his role as a Captain. He finished seeing to her cuts and put up the barrier.

And only when he was done did he realize that Matsumoto stood behind him. Her arms crossed over her chest, she leaned casually against the doorframe as if she had been waiting there for a time.

"If you hadn't turned around Hinamori would have died."

Still unusually solemn, Matsumoto quietly responded. Toushiro barely heard the words. He couldn't even recall them a moment later. While overwhelmed by the manipulation of Hinamori and the potential disaster with Ichimaru looming, Matsumoto's strength and reliability shone. She had never failed him, despite her relaxed nature most of the time. Hitsugaya was sure in that moment she never would, no matter the odds.

Ukitake deserved a special thanks sometime soon. He wouldn't trade Matsumoto for any Lieutenant, not even for Hinamori. He was so very grateful for her presence.

"Thanks… Matsumoto."