In the spirit of the Fourth of July, I wrote this little fic. I hope y'all enjoy!

"I still don't see why I had to come along, Matsumoto," Hitsugaya said, the tone of his voice bordering on severe annoyance. The patch of grass on which he sat was damp—it had rained a bit earlier—and if anything could get his goat, it was soggy pants. He shifted his right arm to better support his weight as he leaned back, sighing. The left arm was in a sling. That annoyed him, too.

Hitsugaya Toushirou was a captain. He should've been able to defeat that tentacled arrankar freak without breaking a sweat, but it defeated him first, and then moved on to the others. Not exactly positive reinforcement for the ego, particularly when it'd already taken one hell of a beating.

Good thing the size of one's ego doesn't correspond with one's stature, or Hitsugaya would be in serious trouble.

His lieutenant quirked a brow at him. "Because it's not the same if you aren't around, taichou," she replied gravely, and then her expression became mischievous. Motioning to her attire, she said, "Besides, I went out of my way to look extra nice tonight, you know. This yukata makes my boobs much perkier than normal, don't you think?"

Hitsugaya lit up like a Christmas tree in a dark room.

Leave it to Matsumoto Rangiku to make propriety seem taboo.

"I don't care about…about…" He couldn't bring himself to say "boobs." He just couldn't.

Matsumoto actually managed to appear crestfallen. "You don't like my boobs, taichou?"

The captain almost choked on his own spit. "What?"

"They're too big, aren't they," Matsumoto pressed, ignoring him. "You want them smaller."

His mouth opened and closed. Of all places to be having this conversation, it had to be here, where their friends could eavesdrop. The last thing Hitsugaya needed was to be mistaken for a lecher among these idiots…

Oh, sure, he'd looked at her breasts before. It was impossible not to, when her haori was so low-cut. Add that to the fact that she always found excuses to bend over in front of him, and you get a seasoned veteran. Of course, he had believed himself immune to her…charms…but he was male, and he did appreciate the female body. He just wasn't as open about that appreciation as, say, Ikkaku, who was oogling Orihime at present while Ichigo and Rukia glared daggers at him.

But at the same time…

Matusmoto had exceptional cleavage. No use denying that. And it wasn't as though he'd balk at the chance to—

Get your head out of the gutter, Toushirou, you dumbass.

Thoughts like those had been cropping up more frequently than his comfort zone allowed. He never thought of Momo that way, which was equally distressing, because it proved that he didn't want them smaller.

Vexing. Very vexing.

"They're…they're fine," he said, voice strained, and averted his gaze.

Rangiku's laugh was low and self-congratulatory. "I knew you looked," she murmured.

"Hey, they're starting!" Renji pointed up at the night sky that suddenly exploded with bursts of brilliant color.

"Nothing is as beautiful as I am," Yumichika declared vociferously, "however these are passable—"

Ikkaku snorted. "Shut up and watch 'em, ya damned fairy peacock."

"Excuse me?"

"Get a room," Ichigo growled. "You guys are blocking my view!"

Despite all the background noise—"Are you implying something, Kurosaki?" "I would never defile my person with that cueball!" "SHUT UP, FOR GOD'S SAKE!"—the fireworks held Hitsugaya spellbound, so much so that he didn't recoil when Matsumoto leaned her head against his shoulder.

"Aren't they gorgeous?"

His lips quirked in a tiny smile. "Mm-hm."

They watched in silence for a moment, and then she said, "Glad I forced you to come?"

There was a loud crack, and a series of fireworks in the shape of lotus flowers in bloom split the sky.

He could be out here, enjoying this brief reprieve from fear, from doubt, from shame and guilt, or he could be cooped up inside, wallowing in his insecurities—acting like a spoiled child.

Hitsugaya Toushirou wasn't a child anymore. He couldn't afford to be a child.

"…Yeah," he said. "Thank you."

Maybe he'd find the courage to accept the differences he saw when he looked at her. Because he didn't just see a vice-captain now. He saw a woman. A woman he was inescapably attracted to.

And she had her head on his shoulder.

"You're welcome," she said cheerfully. "I really love this yukata. We'll have to go to the festival next week so I can wear it again."

"Stop it, Matsumoto," Hitsugaya warned.

"What? I was just saying—"

"Don't play coy with me. I refuse to look down your top."

She humphed. "But taichouuuu…I'm giving you the opportunity—"

"No, Matsumoto," he said flatly.

"Oh fine. Grouch."

A ghost of a grin flitted across his face.

Perhaps he couldn't tell her how he felt yet, but for now, this was good enough. Hell, he didn't even know what he felt, or how he felt, or why he felt it.

But one thing he did know with certainty.

She'd be there, beside him, when there was nothing between life and death but a sword.

Without considering the consequences, he rested his own head atop hers.

"Aw, look at ickle Shiro-chan and Rangiku."

"Ooooohhh, shorty's got a babe!"

"Oy, Shiro, I'll bet you could fit your whole body in that valley, eh?"

People do stupid things in the company of friends. Like poke fun at straight-laced captains with ferocious tempers.

Broken arm or no, Hitsugaya Toushirou, a manic gleam in his eyes, sallied forth to defend his honor, and his prey scattered like a pack of squawking geese.

"So much for the fireworks," Rangiku grumbled.