Appreciation

A/N: Haa…I'm writing for Bleach. Crazy. Never thought I'd get around doing this one-shot (…It's a half-assed job but meh. I was distracted when I wrote this.). But hey. More love for Hitsugaya and Ukitake!

This takes place pre-series.

Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach. So no accusations, 'kay?

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"December 23rd."

Hitsugaya Toushirou leaned back on his office chair, his eyes straying towards the pile of paperwork - the pile of done paperwork - and allowed the sides of his lips to twitch upwards, forming a small, lopsided smirk.

Today while he was away from the tenth division complex, Matsumoto Rangiku, his vice captain, managed to surprise him by finishing most of the paperwork sitting on his desk. Of course, logically, Hitsugaya had suspected that Matsumoto only did this work as an apology out of guilt due to the embarrassing predicament she placed him in three days ago…

Hearing the mumbled words of 'pie, icing, jelly, and tickle' coming from the couch, Hitsugaya let out an uncharacteristic shudder and left the room; Matsumoto slept on as the door snapped close.

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Snow…

The Tenth Division Captain relaxed against the cold railing, welcoming the nipping wind and blooming ice; he could feel the weight of his sword's presence and hear the beautifully-rough song he was singing - a tone promising death and grace. Hyourinmaru was content.

Expression neutral, the white-haired shinigami deftly caught a snowflake, letting his cold fingers twirl the delicate pattern before blowing it off and away, allowing the condensed flake to drift back to its kin. When he had arrived outside, there was no surprise when he found the courtyard below quiet and abandoned; the frigid winds forced his subordinates to retreat indoors. It had been snowing without pause for the past week, a rare occurrence in Seireitei, and the environment was much too cold for anyone's liking, perhaps except for the wielders of ice-based zanpakutou. The cold was nothing to them but a warm familiarity of their life partner in battle, and the lazy lull brought them a sense of peace and security…But even then, not all peace lasts forever in a blizzard.

Hitsugaya stiffened his shoulders when he caught the sounds of a faint argument coming closer. "Great." With his peace shattered to infinitesimal pieces, he glared at the approaching figures…

"Stop pushing me you ape!" stressed a feminine voice around the corner of the hallway.

"WELL WHO TOLD YOU TO COME ALONG?" roared the male that was with her.

Hitsugaya heard a loud scoff. "Captain Ukitake obviously asked me to be the messenger. You're the tag-along!"

"LIES! He asked me to deliver the message first." The male's voice held pride. "Captain Ukitake knows he can trust me!"

"AND WHO SAYS HE DOESN'T TRUST ME WITH THIS MESSAGE?" screamed the female shinigami.

"Maybe it's because you're a GIRL."

"That's MEAN, Kotsubaki!" yelled the girl.

Kotsubaki Sentarou rounded the corner and retorted, "Is not! You're just a booger girl."

"Is too! You're MEAN and CHEAP," cried out one Kotetsu Kiyone frantically.

But Kotsubaki wasn't listening anymore when he saw Hitsugaya standing in front of the pair with a tell-tale frown etched on his face. He bowed and spoke rapidly, "Kotsubaki Sentarou, Third Seat of the Thirteenth Division, sir! Captain Ukitake has asked-"

Kotetsu interrupted him by stepping in front of her 'rival'. She bowed as well and continued, "Captain Hitsugaya, Captain Ukitake has asked you to come-"

Not to be outdone, Kotsubaki pulled her back and spoke, "-He requested your appear-"

"Hey stop interrupting me!" pouted Kotetsu as she elbowed him away.

"Well you're the one that interrupted me first!" yelled out Kotsubaki as he pushed her away.

"So! It's my duty to tell Captain Hitsugaya, not you."

"Captain Ukitake didn't ask you, booger girl, so that means it's my duty to inform Captain Hitsugaya, not you!"

A particularly cold gust of wind blew past the pair and they shivered. "What do you want? - and one at a time," came the frigid, commanding voice that ended their quarrelling - briefly, that is.

"Of course, Captain Hitsugaya!" agreed Kotsubaki and Kotetsu in unison before they glared at each other. They started together, "Captain Ukitake-" Glare. "-has requested you-" Glare. "-to come by today to-" Another glare and Hitsugaya's hand twitched in annoyance. "-discuss about important matters."

There was a pause before Hitsugaya asked, "Is that all?" The air around the two shinigami seemed to solidify; the wisps of breath coming from their mouths were easily seen.

"Yes," answered Kotetsu, teeth chattering lightly.

"Captain Ukitake didn't say anything more."

"I see." He frowned and began walking in the direction of the thirteenth division complex.

"W-Wait. Are you going to see Captain Ukitake right now, sir?" hailed the humbled voice of Kotsubaki.

Hitsugaya spared him a glare and answered with an annoyed 'yes' before stalking off. "How can Ukitake stand these two…?"

Just as the white-haired captain turned the corner - still well within hearing range -, Kotsubaki exclaimed, "Look what happened. Captain Hitsugaya is angry and it's all your fault!"

Affronted, she questioned hotly, "Shut up! What do you mean it's MY fault?"

"Of COURSE it is-"

"Hey, hey!" The door snapped open and a sleepy Matsumoto frowned at the duo, "I don't understand why you had to argue in front of him...Especially so loud!"

She yawned in emphasis.

"Ahh...Ma-Matsumoto-san..." Kotsubaki stared; Kotetsu slapped him on the head.

The Vice Captain winked, "Now I'll have to deal with a grumpy captain when he comes back!"

Just as she finished her sentence, there was a sudden blast of cold air that swirled around the vice captain and the duo; even though it wasn't summoned by Hitsugaya, it was ominous enough for Matsumoto. Without hesitation, she laughed and quickly closed the sliding door shut on Kotsubaki and Kotetsu.

There was silence…but that was before Kotsubaki shook out of his stupor and yelled out, "I'm going back to Captain Ukitake and reporting to him."

"No. Not if I report to him first!" With that she ran off in the general direction to the thirteenth division complex.

He was hot on her heels as he ran after her, a fist waving in the air. "Stop copying me-!"

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Hitsugaya glanced hesitantly at the door to Ukitake's private chambers and was about to knock when inside a voice laced with mirth spoke up, "You can come in."

The Tenth Division Captain slid the door open, slips of frigid air flowing past his small form against the doorframe. Sitting at the end of the room farthest from the entrance, Ukitake smiled and waved; whether he was consciously hiding his weariness or not, Hitsugaya could see the tired movements.

He nodded in greeting, "Captain Ukitake." Sharp, aqua eyes analyzed the Thirteenth Division Captain; he wasn't someone that clung onto rumours that surface between his subordinates, but there are some rumours he cannot ignore. According to his sources - mainly from Matsumoto - Ukitake had been bed-ridden for the past week and a half and there were tell-tale signs - shadows that flit around his eyes, the sallow cheeks - that point the rumour to be true.

"Ahh…Captain Hitsugaya. Please, close the door behind you and sit down," spoke the older man kindly.

With the door opened, Hitsugaya had allowed the cold to penetrate into the room and though the invitation was veiled with a polite gesture, the young captain couldn't help but pinpoint the ulterior motive. Usually not one for trivial apologies, Hitsugaya said nothing, closed the door, and sat down on one of the seats pointed to him.

There was an uncomfortable silence before he decided to speak up, "So what is this important matter that you wish to speak to me about?"

The door closed; he moved the hand resting lightly on his exposed throat onto his lap. Ukitake chuckled, "Is that what they said?"

A dark glower.

The older captain rubbed his chin thoughtfully, perhaps realizing just how vexing his subordinates can be towards the other captain. "I apologize for their behavior. Sometimes they're just…over-excited."

Hitsugaya straightened his posture, schooling his irritated expression, "I see."

"Well, in any case," Ukitake paused and coughed lightly before continuing. "I think we should discuss the 'important matter'."

"Which is…?"

Ukitake grinned, eyes sparkling, "Happy belated Birthday, Shirou-chan!"

"…" Hitsugaya gazed at him incredulously. "Sh-Shirou-chan?"

"Well…Isn't it true?" The older captain gave him an innocent smile and then slapped his own chest. "Us 'Shirou-chan' should stick together, neh?"

Hitsugaya felt like using shunpo to get out of this room right then and there; he gazed at the other captain weakly, praying that Matsumoto doesn't hear about this encounter. Word would spread about his nickname if she develops the taste in calling him Shirou-chan - not that he'd allow her in the first place.

Noting the silent apprehension, Ukitake laughed quietly, suppressing the cough that threatened to blossom from his throat. "Before I forget…"

Curious eyes wandered when Ukitake turned around and grabbed a pile of boxes from behind the shelf. He strode calmly towards the table and placed them in front of Hitsugaya. "There. Can't forget about the presents!"

Warily, clear eyes examined the colourful paper and he looked up, noting the excited expression on Ukitake's face. The older captain waved his hand and encouraged, "Open them now."

He obliged his host, trying not to show signs of apprehension, but the young captain couldn't help but grimace lightly at the sight of the unwrapped present. "Candy…?"

"Ah! Isn't that great, Shirou-chan? The boxes beneath are different types of sweets," beamed the elder. "I was thinking about it for a very long time, and then I realized…well…" He trailed off and Hitsugaya knew that the words he was trying to form into a sentence had varying degrees of offence.

"That's…great," winced Hitsugaya. White lies to match the white hair.

"Really? I'm glad you like it!" Oblivious to Hitsugaya's discomfort, he suggested, "If you want, you can always drop by in the future for more sweets."

There was a quick response. "I'm going to have to decline, Captain Ukitake."

"I'm suspecting it's your duties that stop you from taking up my offer but really, Captain Hitsugaya," Ukitake grinned and continued, "Taking a break between workloads would reduce the stress."

"I'm fine," spoke Hitsugaya sharply, silently glad he stopped the Shirou-chan nonsense. "Thank you for your concern."

Ukitake looked as if he was about to say something more before he started to cough violently and amid the coughing, his nose flared to intake the needed air. Noticing the younger captain's alarm as this was the first time he witnessed his illness, Ukitake rested his freehand on Hitsugaya's shoulder to placate him.

The coughing soon subsided and Hitsugaya glanced at him uncertainly, "…Captain Ukitake?"

Upon being addressed, the man smiled, tasting blood, and rasped out, "I suppose you would like to go back to your work then?"

His lips thinned to a line; he knew when he was dismissed. Hitsugaya got up from his seat - cursing inwardly that even weakened, Ukitake didn't forget to force the presents on him - and with the gifts balanced in his arms, he nodded a farewell but was stalled.

"Ehh…Captain Hitsugaya." The sickly man waited and said softly, "Thank you."

This time, he couldn't help but scoff lightly; even though the ice master fully knew why, he questioned, "For what?"

Ukitake was silent. Hitsugaya, not expecting the answer, slid the door open and was careful to stop the cold air from seeping into the room. He stepped out of the threshold, the smallest of smiles hidden behind his eyes, and called out to one of the thirteenth division members.

Surprised, the male shinigami pointed to himself and Hitsugaya nodded, telling him to 'Get Kotetsu and Kotsubaki.'

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"Captain Ukitake!"

"Captain Ukitake!"

The pair of voices drifted past the door and Ukitake smiled with mild amusement. It has been two days since Hitsugaya visited him and for these last two days, he has been recuperating his strength.

"Come in."

Kotetsu was the first to enter the room babbling about Kotsubaki and his mean personality and how much more she wanted 'Captain Ukitake' to get better than he did. Kotsubaki followed shortly afterwards, scolding her for telling lies and how much more he wanted 'Captain Ukitake' to get better than she did.

"Now now…" He raised an eyebrow. "I'm sure you didn't just come in here to complain about each other."

"Of course, Captain Ukitake!" piped up Kotsubaki. "I found a package addressed to you on the front steps of the thirteenth division training building."

"Oh? And where is this package now?"

"It's right here, sir," presented Kotetsu.

Kotsubaki teased her, "Yeah. She nearly tripped over it."

The female shinigami shot him a glare as Ukitake took the package in her hands. He examined the small package and sure enough, labelled visibly on the brown paper was his name.

The two feuding death gods, knowing it was time to leave, bowed and exited the room.

Curious, Ukitake unwrapped the package; inside was a white scarf with its ends decorated in black swirls. Sitting on top of the accessory was a note written in precise, careful handwriting.

'Shirou-chan',

'We should stick together' - Wasn't that what you told me?

Hitsugaya Toushirou

The older captain smiled in amusement. "Did Hitsugaya crack a joke? Maybe - doing it in his dry, sarcastic way." However, whether it was a joke or not, he was glad for his consideration.

He wound the scarf around his neck and for the first time in weeks, he felt warm. And it wasn't because of the scarf - although it did do a good job protecting his neck - but rather the knowledge of the kindness the little captain showed him made him feel…

Appreciated.

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End

Spyrit