A/N: I wrote this fic several weeks ago and I'm still working on it. But I'm leaving for vacation tomorrow so I decided to go ahead and post it. A Bleach alternate pairing indeed!

Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach. Simple, really.

Real Time

By Nessie

Matsumoto Rangiku crept discreetly through Seireitei; at least, it would have been creeping if her legs didn't need quite so long a stride, and she would have been discreet if she was good at that kind of thing. She may have been a skilled warrior, but this was no battle.

She had never been able to fight Kuchiki Byakuya.

Her hair was still damp from the shower she'd taken before leaving her home. A training session with Hitsugaya had made her unfit company, but she was satisfied with her appearance now. It was a dark night; clouds covered most of the sky, obscuring the moon. It seemed that it would soon begin to rain. This might have been a hindrance to Matsumoto's progress, but she knew her path well. It was, after all, the fifth time she had come to the Kuchiki manor, in the dark of night no less. Each time she made her way here, some part of her was always so worried that she would be discovered. But no one that would know her was here; all that may have recognized her would also recognize Byakuya, and none of them liked to be around the quiet Captain of the 6th Division if they could help it. Besides, even if someone did see her, they would most likely tell themselves that they'd imagined her there.

Why the hell should Matsumoto Rangiku be anywhere near the Kuchiki manor in the first place?

That was a question she had asked herself hundreds of times now. Sometimes repetitively, a constant drumming of Why that echoed through her brain like merciless stabbings by a zanpakuto. It made no logical sense.

Matsumoto stopped outside the gate, a big structure of wrought iron that was at least three times her height. Beyond it stood the massive house of the Kuchiki family, now housing only one person since Rukia had gone to the living world. The place never failed to intimidate her. It was an imposing piece of architecture among the simpler (but still quite grand) homes of the area. There had to be at least fifty rooms in the place, although Matsumoto had never bothered to guess at the true number while actually inside. When you grew up in the lower part of Rukongai, thinking about such riches felt foolish.

Her perfect hands came up to grasp two of the metal bars, and her knuckled blanched with the effort of clenching them. She could feel her jaw begin to ache with the strain of tightening it so much.

She was fairly sure Hitsugaya knew. She teased the boy captain that she worked for, but despite her lack of work ethic, she had always managed to get at least half of her paperwork done each night. When even that number dwindled, Hitsugaya had begun to regard her oddly, as though he wanted to ask what was going on but felt hard pressed to actually do so. Matsumoto didn't blame him. She was a pretty unpredictable person. She herself didn't even know what she would do half the time.

And that was at least one reason why she was currently standing in front of this gate, the gate that said with quiet superiority, you don't belong here. Kami take her, it had been a completely unintentional night when she'd gotten drunk one late evening in the office. She must have gone through at least three bottles of sake on her own without realizing it. She remembered laughing. She had been alone, and she had been laughing to herself, laughing at something she must have heard in her mind. And when the laughing stopped it was only to give way to tears. She didn't know where the tears had come from. As far as life went for her, being vice captain of the 10th Division was the best thing she could have asked for. She'd had nothing to be dismayed about, nothing that would make her cry, but somehow…

And then she hadn't been alone anymore. Byakuya had entered the room, his face as stony and expressionless as ever, looking at her. He'd watched her as one might watch a person who had just fallen on their face. Matsumoto colored slightly at the memory. Those eyes…those cold, hard eyes…

"Do you need to be walked home, Matsumoto?"

He had asked her that like a disapproving father might ask an ill-behaved child whether they needed their hand held or not. She clenched the bars ever tighter. It was ironic; Matsumoto worked for a man who was little more than a child himself, yet she was always the one to act like the baby.

She'd been too drunk to remember her own address, and Byakuya didn't have access to Hitsugaya's files, so he had done the only thing he could do besides leaving her there to pass out in the office. He had taken her home.

Why? There went the question.

Matsumoto recalled that first view of the manor's interior with startling clarity, considering her condition at the time. Almost everything was old, antique, and it was either highly breakable or completely indestructible, depending on the object. She had seen everything from hand-woven rugs to rhinestone liquor bottles. Byakuya, one of the indestructible items, had seemed wholly well-placed, his noble appearance perfect there among such fineries. Matsumoto, with her sake-induced clumsiness and wear from the workday, had felt like a fool.

"Sorry," she mumbled from her place in the large armchair before the fireplace. A glass of water meant to clear her head was sitting idle on a small, glossy table of wood. The table was the only thing separating her from Byakuya, who sat in a twin armchair on the other side.

Byakuya didn't so much as glance at her, instead keeping his eyes on the blaze that threw dim lights and deep shadows across his face in no particular pattern. "It's nothing," he said tersely. There was no hint of annoyance in his voice, nor any generosity.

She felt the need to clasp her hands together in her lap, but that didn't keep them from shaking. Why was she quivering like a schoolgirl? "I really should stop drinking." That thought wasn't from her mind so much as they were just words so many had spoken to her.

He didn't reply, but he took a drink from his own glass. His was filled with some type of plum wine. Matsumoto thought he might have been teasing her, but she chalked that up her present state of intoxication. He sipped when he drank, nothing like the great gulps that Matsumoto had a habit of using. He was so refined.

She felt so constricted in this enormous house.

"Do you want to sleep?" The question was posed lightly, as though Byakuya couldn't care, either way she answered.

She felt horrified at the idea of sleeping here. With her luck, she'd pee the bed and stain satin sheets. "No," she said quickly. "I…I think I can go home now." She planted her feet on the floor and rose.

Too fast. She knew it before she'd even made it all the way up, but when she was straight, she automatically reached back a hand in attempt to steady herself on the chair. Right as her knees gave out, she felt herself held.

Byakuya had used his godlike speed and caught her. She was humiliated and blushed before she could stop herself. "Guess not," she muttered. "I'm ridiculous."

"Everyone drinks too much now and then."

She smiled wistfully as she looked at him. The expression didn't reach her eyes. She could hardly imagine Kuchiki Byakuya in any sort of stupor, let alone a drunken one. "I don't even know why I started."

Silence passed between them for a moment. Byakuya's eyes were fathomless to her, like a hole too deep and dark to see anything inside of it. Her eyes must have been nothing but witless to him.

Matsumoto realized suddenly that he was still holding her, and she hurriedly moved one foot back. She stood up straight now, but Byakuya didn't release her. He seemed skeptical of her being able to handle herself.

"I'm fine," she began. She touched her hands to his forearms with intent to gently pry them off of her, but when her skin made contact with his, his eyes turned down to her fingers.

"You're trembling," he noted seriously. He brought his gaze back up to hers. "You're not fine."

Matsumoto felt something inside of her malfunction, as though something had slipped out of place, causing the rest of her to shut down. Her hands curled into the sleeves of his robe, and she pressed her lips together.

Byakuya kept a hand on her waist and brought the other up to her shoulder. It was the smallest of actions, the most insignificant of touches.

And yet when they kissed, she had no idea if it was the doing of herself or Byakuya. However, when they moved toward the bedroom, they did it together.

Matsumoto felt rain on her cheek and pulled herself from the reverie as though coming out of hypnotism. At last she released the bars of the gate and began walking again.

Gin had once said that drinking was going to get Matsumoto in trouble. The blond-haired vice captain had never really thought that her friend's sing-song warning would actually be true.

As the rain continued to pelt her with slow, soft drops, she broke into a jog for the manor's back door. Byakuya had instructed her to come in through the back instead of jumping over the gate. It made sense; he didn't want neighbors thinking a burglar had come upon the esteemed house of Kuchiki.

Even so, Matsumoto couldn't get over feeling a bit like a secret mistress as she entered that way. And while seeming like a whore wasn't an idea she particularly liked, she couldn't deny the thrill that zinged through her at the thought of a little rendezvous. At least that hadn't changed yet.

The second she closed the door behind her, the rain broke loose into a torrent and soaked the world. She could hear it through the door, saying it was too late to turn back now.

Why?

She paused with one hand still on the door handle, thinking as she removed her shoes in the entryway. She couldn't really be a mistress. Byakuya had been married before, but she had never met the dark captain before Hisana's death.

Still, Matsumoto supposed that her being here at all was for Byakuya's sake concerning Hisana.

His hands passed over her feverishly, in a way that Matsumoto might have called desperate, and when he finally buried his face in her shoulder for the end, he said a name that no one spoke anymore.

"Hisana…"

She felt something inside of her tighten at the memory. She wasn't jealous. What reason had she to be jealous? She and Byakuya barely knew each other, and in the first place it was her fault this whole thing had started. And she had returned to the manor four times since that night (why), something she would not have done if she wasn't comfortable being with him. Kuchiki Byakuya may have had the rest of Seireitei running scared of him, but he did not frighten Matsumoto Rangiku.

He just made her nervous as hell.

The unfortunate part was that Byakuya could see that. She could keep her cool now, be as slick as she wanted, but in the end Byakuya saw through that façade and called her on it without ever saying a word. It was demeaning.

Shaking her head, Matsumoto told herself that it didn't matter. Who was she to hope to pull one over Byakuya anyway? No one could do that. And anyway, he did it for himself.

She went through the house with ease, familiar with the path to the parlor, where he was always waiting. Tonight he sat in his usual chair by the fireplace, but instead of staring into the flames as he usually did, he was reading a book. Matsumoto glanced at the cover before he closed it and set it down; she couldn't pronounce the words of the title, let alone know what they meant.

And she was thought so sophisticated.

Why?

"Matsumoto." His voice, powerful in its quiet, filled the gap between them and washed over her. She immediately felt her whole being go on reactive, feeling the same way she always did when she first came here because she knew what was about to happen.

Byakuya rose from his chair and walked to her in a way that only members of Nobility can walk. And of course, everything about Byakuya was noble, from the way his long hair fell down his strong back to the way his hands hung motionless at his sides.

Matsumoto grinned at him. "Are you surprised I beat the weather? I'm faster than I look, you know."

He nodded. "Are you thirsty?"

She pressed her lips together. He always offered her sake; she wasn't sure whether he did it out of courtesy or because he felt she might be more comfortable or even because he thought it might help her to loosen up. Byakuya had tested her, she knew, in inviting her back here so often.

Tonight, she was going to test him. And herself.

"Just water, please."

He glanced up at her at her words, his face betraying nothing, but Matsumoto could guess that he was caught just a little off-guard by her choice of beverage. Deftly, his hand left the stopper of the sake bottle and went to the squat pitcher of water he kept on the table.

"Thank you," she said when he handed it to her. She watched him over the glass as she drank half of it down. His eyes remained ever steadily on her, and everything inside her screamed for alcohol as that cool, unreadable stare threatened to unhinge her.

Before she could react to it though, Byakuya moved first. One of his calloused, sword-hardened hands moved to her wrist. The other hand came to the side of her neck. Both hands acted at once, the one at her wrist taking away her water glass, the other slowly pulling her pink scarf away from her shoulders.

She felt the cool of the glass and the warmth of the scarf leave her at the same time, and then Matsumoto couldn't tell if she was hot or cold because Byakuya was kissing her before she could figure it out.

Byakuya's kisses were nothing she could call gentle, but neither were they rough. More than anything, he was swift and moved in ways that made it seem like he was eager to for something, anything to happen.

Matsumoto felt the shaking come, as it always came, and her mind went wild. Whywhywhywhywhy?

I don't know! She wanted to scream back at her own rebellious mental self, but her thoughts were tangled and clouded by the feeling of Byakuya suddenly possessing her. He sealed his lips to her neck, and she moaned. Her hand came up to her face, lightly caressing his cheek as he pulled her tighter to him. His jaw was so hard, as though he were in pain.

"Hisana…" The name passed like the whisper of wind over her ear. She shuddered, but she couldn't tell if it was because of the physical effect he had on her or because she was suddenly fearful that this was wrong.

Maybe she shouldn't have stayed sober.

What did he see, looking at the woman who was guiding him upstairs? The question was only half-formed in Matsumoto's mind as she led him by the elbows toward his bedroom. Did her she become shorter in front of him? Did her blue eyes turn violet and her blond hair black right before his eyes? Did her voice rise in pitch above her normal husky tones when she whispered to him?

It hurt but not so much as it might have hurt other women. Matsumoto was used to pain in all of its forms. And when Byakuya lifted her up to carry her into the bedroom, she convinced herself that the heartache that came with the romance of the action wasn't nearly so great within her as it must be in him.

She thought, as she had the other times, that this room was not the one he had shared with his wife. There was no sign of any female touch beside Matsumoto herself, and it was sparsely furnished, with only a chest of drawers, a nightstand, and, of course, the bed.

The bed was grand and big, like everything else in the Kuchiki household, and Byakuya set her carefully upon it as he undressed her. Undressing her was the one action he did with gentleness, as though he was trying to keep from hurting her when she was being bared to him. It made sense. Hurt is the one thing people expect, thought Matsumoto, when they reveal themselves to others.

He himself stripped with no hesitation of shame. Hundreds of scars, unnoticeable and ghastly in range, decorated his body like stars stained the sky. Matsumoto was always moved by them. Her body, while flawless, was only that way because she received special wound treatment from Unohana so that she wouldn't have unsightly marks. It was just another one of the lies she lived with.

They came together like two people that had not seen another human for years, desperate and greedy. The difference was that they both were around hundreds of people every day.

But it was only to each other that they really showed themselves.

---

They lay together on the bed, but as always, Byakuya stayed apart. Their legs were intertwined, and he was circling a finger over her hip even as she ran her hand through the silken curtain of his ebony hair, but he avoided her eyes.

Feeling suddenly alone despite being able to feel him there, Matsumoto sat up and curled her legs to the side of her. She crossed her arms over her chest so that her hands touched the opposite shoulders. It was a defensive stance, one she needed. She was, after all, preparing herself.

Why…

It was the last why Matsumoto had, and she already knew the answer. Dropping her arms, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

Byakuya's warm hand came to rest on her back. "What is it?" he rumbled.

This time it was going to be different, Matsumoto promised herself. She answered him softly.

"I'm Rangiku."

This time, it was going to be real.

Fini

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