Disclaimer: Bleach and all affiliated characters belong to Kubo Tite and any company holding license to its title. Used without permission for no profit.

This was written for and entered into MediaMiner's Summer Quarter mini-contest. I wrote it partially out of spite (personal reasons), and partially because I'd had a second, far more serious entry in the works (but it never got finished, sadly) that I had wanted to enter alongside this. I hesitated posting this at this site for several reasons: One, it's by far not one of my better works; I'm way out of practice writing crack, and I'm not nearly good enough at it to have an excuse to post it. Two, one of the usual judges has me on author alert at this site, and it makes me nervous when I post anything that I've written for a contest there. Three… I guess three is more of a personal reason.

But I decided to post it anyway (no harm in doing that, right?), so here it is. Bleach!crack. I'm sorry if I make your eyes bleed or your brain break while you read this. Feedback is merely for amusement's sake at this point.

Contest requirements: one-shot (1000-7500 words) set in the summer, must have a sunset reflected on the water, somebody stumbling/tripping, the words "seashell" and "candle," and must be centered around a wish.

Sour Plums and Underage Drinking
by BakaBokken

The human world was really a miserable place, Hitsugaya Toushirou decided as he sat in front of the personal electric fan, taking a short break from paperwork. This seasonal thing was getting obnoxious; last month, it was cool and pleasant. This month – rain. And it was hot, in a sticky, muggy, let's-drive-Hitsugaya-insane sort of way. Not a pleasant combination. He really should make Matsumoto take care of some of the work, especially during the present final exam week at the high school he had been attending as a cover in the mortal realm, but he knew that his vice-captain was flaky at best when it came to doing administrative work. Sure, she was reliable on the battlefield, but she hated filling out forms and would shirk her duty at every available opportunity. Especially since it was hot, and even more so now that she'd finished her own round of exams.

He frowned. Where was Matsumoto, anyway? He hadn't seen her at all that day, and he had a rather difficult test to study for by morning. Granted, it was his last exam for the week, but it just didn't feel right to leave the work-related paperwork untouched while he studied for an exam that he really didn't care about. Schoolwork was only supposed to be a guise, after all.

How does Kurosaki manage doing homework between patrols? he wondered briefly as he skimmed through a small-claims agreement from Soul Society. And why do they send me all of this stuff, when they have other captain who don't have homework to deal with?

Then he frowned, realizing that he couldn't remember a damn thing he'd just read. With a scowl, he started over and re-read the document, and when words started blurring together, he groaned in frustration.

"Having trouble, Captain?"

Without turning, he stated evenly, "I wouldn't be if you were actually doing what I told you to do, Matsumoto."

"Well, aren't we in a fine mood this evening?" she replied insolently, finally appearing in front of him and placing a mug of steaming hot tea firmly on the desk. "Don't burn your tongue."

He resisted the urge to glare back up at her, but he did want the tea. With a sigh, he went back to reading the document. At least, for a minute, until his nose started to itch. Matsumoto was watching him, and he pointedly tried to ignore her… but with all trouble he'd had focusing that evening, he was quickly failing. He relented and glared at her. She shot him an innocent look, and he grumbled incoherently, slamming a hand down on the table as he brusquely stood and turned towards the door.

"Where are you going?" Matsumoto called after him.

"Out," he replied, and slid the door shut behind him.

He heard her muffled, annoyed voice grousing from behind the thin paper door, but let it fade to the background as he stormed towards the door to the earth-bound apartment and flung it open. Finally, it had stopped raining, he noticed with some measure of relief. Grabbing an umbrella – just in case – he slid on his shoes and plodded outside. It was just barely starting to get a little dark, so if he had time he might be able to make it to his favorite spot before it got too dark outside for someone his size to be walking around. If anything, he had learned that human cities weren't safe places, and though he could handle himself, the risk was just too troublesome.

Matsumoto watched her captain leave with a pouting frown. He didn't have to be such a grump, but she could relate; her own finals had been a pain to study for. Which was why she hadn't entirely bothered, but hey, she couldn't help it if she was naturally smart. Even if she was buxom and blonde, that alone didn't make her stupid. Then again, that's what she hoped. These high school teachers were sneaky beasts.

But back to the issue at hand, Captain Hitsugaya was being a little too snappish for her liking. It lent the office a rather tense atmosphere, which made her even less inclined to do the necessary paperwork just to spite him. Sure, she knew he had exams, but he wasn't making her any more willing to help him out when he acted like that. With a sigh, she eyed the stack of papers on his desk. If helping out with paperwork would put him in a slightly better mood, maybe she would tackle a few projects while he was out. But she wouldn't tell him about it.

Plodding over to the desk, Matsumoto looked at the door warily to make sure nobody was watching before she sat down in Hitsugaya's high-backed chair. Why he'd had it brought from Soul Society, she'd never know… because in this place, it looked absolutely ridiculous. On the other hand, if she ever said anything about it, or did something to it, there would be hell to pay from the captain. Even if he was small and child-like in appearance, he could be meaner than a crotchety old man when anyone dared mess with his territory. Desk equaled his.

She sighed again, realizing that she was doing that a lot lately, even though she technically was on her summer vacation. Something seemed wrong about that. It was Hitsugaya's fault, she decided. If only he wasn't so damned grouchy, she would be much more relaxed and would enjoy the summer break, even if they did have to keep an eye out for the seemingly random Arrancar invasions coming from Aizen's direction.

Hitsugaya was far more pleasant when he wasn't stressed, so this time she would take pity on him and help him with his paperwork. And when his summer vacation rolled around the following afternoon, she wished fervently that he would just lighten up a little. With that thought, however, came an idea so brilliant that she didn't wonder why she hadn't thought of it earlier. The perfect way to force Hitsugaya to chill out, and a rather fun means of entertainment for herself. Tomorrow night, she determined with a smirk as she stared back down at the ignored paperwork. She'd have to get Ikakku's and Renji's help, but it'd be well worth it. Tomorrow night, she would force him to forget why he was such a grump.

Hitsugaya had finally been able to clear his mind some, just staring out over the busy city from his favorite vantage point from a high tree branch in an elevated park. He watched, eyes glassy from meditation, as the sun sank lower over the city skyline. The air finally smelled a little less polluted with the recent rain, and as he looked down into the puddles below the tree, he watched, transfixed, as the bright colors from the sky shone back at him in a million different pools below. Sunset was such a pretty time here on earth, he decided.

But when he suddenly sneezed so violently that it nearly cost him his precarious balance on the tree branch, he glared back down at the horizon, back in the direction of the apartment complex. Something – a hunch, perhaps – told him that Matsumoto was the one talking about him. He had a bad feeling about leaving Matsumoto alone there… she had to be planning something, and it irritated him. But he didn't want to think about it now, since he had far too other more important issues to be dealing with. Like the English exam in the morning. Why did anyone have to learn the stupid language anyway? Such a pointless waste of time. God.

And now that he was angry, he couldn't focus at all anymore. It was Matsumoto's fault that his concentration had been broken, even if she hadn't even been there. Heaving a heavy sigh of resignation, he realized that he wasn't going to get any further benefit from trying to meditate, and decided to head home. Hopefully Matsumoto would've gotten off her lazy ass and done something useful by then. Might even put him in a better mood, and he might even forgive her for talking about him behind his back.

"I'm home," Hitsugaya called unenthusiastically as he entered the apartment, dragging his book bag along with him as he shook out his umbrella, and then slipped out of his shoes and into the pair of slippers that waited for him at the entrance. The small typhoon that had hit that morning was a rather large source of annoyance, but when nobody answered him, he frowned, peering into the apartment, finding something more to bother him. "Anyone home?"

"In here!" Matsumoto's voice floated all-too-cheerfully from around the corner.

Hitsugaya groaned. She wasn't going to let him rest after he'd just beaten his brains out over the English examination, even if he did know he passed it. That's all that mattered, after all. Trudging towards the corner, he stopped short when he heard the sounds of low-voiced talking and Matsumoto's hushed giggling. Oh, no. They weren't going to, were they? He'd have to go in and stop them, now.

"Captain Hitsugaya! Come join the party!" Yumichika greeted brightly as he finally rounded the corner to the living room. Bottles, cups, snacks, and streamers littered the dark room that four of his earth-bound subordinates now occupied. At least, as far as he could see and feel from the spirit signatures, that's what was in the room.

"What the hell are you guys doing? And why are the lights out?" he demanded with a frown.

"Why, we're throwing the first party of summer vacation, of course!" Matsumoto replied cheerily.

"Then why don't you turn on the lights?" he asked again, frustrated.

"It's for atmosphere! Don't you think it's fun? No?" When Hitsugaya remained unimpressed, she sighed. "To tell the truth, the recent storms have been messing with the power lines. We've got an outage, but the electrician went door-to-door and said it should be fixed soon. But you should come join us, Captain. You're missing out on all the fun!"

"I'll pass," Hitsugaya replied, turning up his nose and heading towards the office instead. It might be quieter in there, and he thought he remembered having a flashlight somewhere.

A hand closed around the back of his collared school uniform shirt, and he was tugged backwards by a strong arm. "Not so fast, Captain. You look like you could use a break," Ikakku's voice invited from behind him. Hitsugaya scowled at the smell of alcohol on the man's breath as it wafted past his nose.

"I don't drink," Hitsugaya said, waving a hand in front of his face in disgust. "I don't party in the dark, either."

"Then let's light it up in here a bit!" Yumichika suggested, pulling out a lighter and a few candles. Quickly lighting them, he bustled about the room and placed the lit candles around the table and on the counter nearest the kitchen. Dim light spread across the room, casting a golden glow on all five people in the room, showing pleased smiles on all faces save for Hitsugaya's scowl.

God, even Yumichika's feathers on his eyebrow were glowing happily, Hitsugaya noted morosely, reaching behind him to extract Ikakku's hand from his collar. But before he could do so, the bald man picked him up effortlessly much like a mother cat with its kitten's scruff, and carried him across the room to deposit him at the table.

"Don't worry, we've got wussy drinks, too," Renji said lightly as he proffered a large bottle of Japanese green tea. "For the kiddos, of course."

Hitsugaya glared at him from across the table, and Renji shrugged, but said nothing more. When Matsumoto flung an arm across his shoulders, he tensed, turning his glare to her this time.

"Lighten up, Taichou," she said, waving a glass in front of his face. "It's only tea. Besides, I thought you liked Japanese tea."

"Not the cheap, bottled stuff," Hitsugaya corrected her.

"Oh, but this stuff is good," she insisted, putting the rim of the glass closer to his face. "Just give it a little try, would you? One sip, and I'll leave you alone."

Hitsugaya visibly perked up at the prospect. "You promise you will let me leave if I take a sip?" he asked again.

"Pinky-swear," she replied with a straight face.

With a sigh, he pushed his vice-captain away and snagged the paper cup, glaring at her, and then at everyone else in the room… who had suddenly stopped to watch him try the tea. Raising his hackles at the sudden attention, he hesitantly raised the glass to his lips, swallowed heavily, and took a slow sip. It tasted a little funny, but he had to admit that it was rather refreshing after the day's awful exam. He licked the remaining tea off his lips briefly before shooting a death glare at the room, and then tilted the cup and emptied the contents in a single, swift gulp. Ikakku's jaw dropped, and Renji looked rather surprised. He couldn't see Matsumoto's or Yumichika's reactions – they were out of his line of vision – but he felt their eyes on him as well.

Staring blankly at the people in the room, he blinked a few times before he uncertainly asked, "What?"

They blinked back, and suddenly seemed to snap back into party-mode, cheering and passing each other more drinks. Confused, but suddenly calmly intrigued, Hitsugaya decided he'd stick around for a few minutes. Just to make sure they didn't get into too much trouble, he told himself.

Three glasses of Matsumoto's tea later, he was roaring right along with them, a fourth in his hand, nearly sloshing out of the cup as he raised it above his head.

"Here's to summer vacation!" Ikakku shouted, raising his own drink high as well.

"And to the end of shitty exams," Renji added.

"And to fashion!" Yumichika chimed in.

"What the hell does fashion have to do with summer?" asked Matsumoto, frowning.

"Summer fashion, of course!" Yumichika replied, as if he made perfect sense. "We all have to keep up an appearance, even in this unbearable heat."

"You're the only one who cares about that shit," Ikakku snorted. "Getting all fancied up and all that. Who the hell cares? It's summer!"

"Ah, but—"

"Shut up, Yumichika," Renji interrupted. "Kanpai!"

"Kanpai!" they all repeated, tapping the edges of their paper cups together.

Matsumoto eyed Hitsugaya as he downed his fourth cup of the tea she'd poured him with a smirk on her face. "Captaiiin, you've been awfully quiet over there," she noted suggestively before she took a sip from her own drink. "So what about you? Have anything you're grateful about for summer?"

"Getting away from old Sour-Plum-Face," Hitsugaya blurted, but when everyone cast him an odd look, he frowned. "Yoshida-sensei. The English teacher. He looks like he's about choked on a sour plum pit when he speaks English."

Matsumoto nearly sprayed her drink across the table at him and tried hard not to choke on it while she held back a laugh; that wasn't an analogy she'd ever expect Hitsugaya to use in description of anyone, much less a teacher at school. Yumichika was giggling, and Renji looked like he was going to explode if he didn't laugh soon. For a moment, Matsumoto was worried that their laughter would make the young captain angry and embarrassed, and would ruin the moment. But no, it only seemed to encourage him.

"You know, he looks like this –" Hitsugaya puckered his lips at this point, "– when he says 'choose' or 'shoes.' Sour plums, I say!"

"Poor fashion," Yumichika muttered. "His pants are hiked up so high that he can't possibly be comfortable, so he makes those faces."

"No, it's the sour plums," Hitsugaya argued. "I'll bet you it is."

"How much?"

Hitsugaya paused, thinking. "Ten reports, checked, signed, and filed."

This time, Yumichika paused. "Damn, high stakes here… not worth the time."

With a smug look, Hitsugaya challenged, "You scared I'm right?"

"No, I just think you'll end up doing the reports yourself anyway," Yumichika replied defensively. "I don't want to be the one responsible for your false hope that someone would do your work for you."

"Matsumoto should be doing much of it, technically," Hitsugaya replied with a pointed stare at the vice-captain, who looked away and pretended she wasn't listening. He downed his fifth glass of Matsumoto's tea.

A wicked smile spread across Ikakku's face this time. "I've got a better wager, boys. If Matsumoto can get a day's worth of work done in three hours, Captain Hitsugaya can dress up like that red-headed fish-girl we saw in that movie the other night."

"That movie we borrowed from Orihime-chan the other night? The Little Mermaid?" Renji asked. "You mean, Hitsugaya has to dress up like… what's-her-face…"

"Ariel?" Matsumoto supplied, suddenly interested in the conversation. Snorting and covering her mouth suddenly, she tried hard not to laugh, but her body shook against the effort, and several giggles exploded anyway as she exclaimed, "Oh my god, I'm in!"

"Wait, who is this 'Ariel' you speak of?" Hitsugaya asked, suddenly suspicious. "I'm not dressing up as a girl."

"Oh, but she's no normal girl," Ikakku insisted, leaning forward. "She's a mer… mer…malade-something-or-other."

"Mermaid," Matsumoto corrected with another snicker.

"Yeah! One of those," Ikakku exclaimed, pointing at Matsumoto. "Mermaid. You know, the half-fish, half-human people with seashellbras and such."

"Oh hell no," Hitsugaya growled and slammed his paper cup down on the table. Renji quickly refilled it. "I am not running around half-naked wearing seashells."

"But Captaiiin," Matsumoto whined. "It'd be so much fun!"

"Don't be a spoil-sport," Ikakku jibed, nudging the young captain with his elbow. "I promise we'll keep the pictures away from the other captains."


"Fine, be a party pooper," Matsumoto replied as she stuck out her lower lip in a pout.

Hitsugaya grunted and reached for the now-filled sixth cup of 'tea,' but after a few sips, he suddenly looked a little confused.

"You alright, Captain?" asked Renji, frowning as he regarded Hitsugaya with a worried expression. "Looking a little unsteady there."

"Feeling a little dizzy," he muttered, pressing a hand to his forehead as he tried to stand. "What the… Matsumoto, is this really tea?" He cast an angry glare over at his vice-captain, who suddenly looked quite nervous.

"Well, what do you think?" she returned defensively.

Hitsugaya frowned as he wobbled precariously on his feet and tried to walk to the door. However, he never made it to his destination as his foot caught on Matsumoto's, and he lost his balance, toppling over onto the vice-captain's lap. She blinked owlishly at him for a moment before she burst out laughing.

"Well, Hitsugaya, I didn't know you felt that way," she purred, patting his cheek.

He sputtered, but before he could push himself away angrily, the lights suddenly flickered on and a shocked gasp came from the entrance to the room.

"What the…" Kurosaki Ichigo's irritated voice floated across the room. His gaze fell on Hitsugaya and Matsumoto, tangled in a heap on the ground in what Ichigo would consider a rather… compromising position, and his cheeks turned bright red. "Wh-wh-what the hell are you guys doing partying in a dark room at Inoue's?" he sputtered. "Aren't you a little young to be drinking that, Captain Hitsugaya? And dare I even ask why you jumped your vice-captain?"

Hitsugaya's unfocused gaze landed on the bottle out of which Matsumoto had been pouring him drinks, and he shoved himself away from his vice-captain with an angry glare and a red face.

"What the hell?" he said, stealing Ichigo's phrase. "Matsumoto!"

She howled, laughing harder as she put a hand to her lips and batted her eyelashes at him. He snarled at her, clearly pissed at this point beyond belief. Ichigo reached down and snagged the bottle, reading the label to himself before his eyes widened in shock.

"And how many of these did you have?"

Hitsugaya stood indignantly, brushing off his collared shirt with some measure of annoyance as he glared down Ichigo. "It's not my fault I drank that," he blurted defensively. "I'm an impressionable youth, and she –" he jabbed a finger accusingly in Matsumoto's cackling direction, "– is a cradle-robber!"

"Oh, come on, Captain," she snickered. "You know you were enjoying it!"

Renji and Ikakku laughed uproariously with her, but suddenly Yumichika looked nervous as he watched Hitsugaya's anger slowly build up. He almost expected the captain to pull out his sheathed zanpakutou and beat them all with it, but when the captain simply took a deep breath, hiccupped, shot them all a chilling glare, and then stumbled out of the room without saying another word, he was more worried.

"What the hell was that all about?" Ichigo asked, face torn between expressions – horror, amusement, utter confusion.

Yumichika answered for them all. "We were just trying to get the captain to relax a little."

"Looks like it backfired," Ichigo noted.

"We'll probably all die in the morning," Ikakku said, still chuckling, "but it was well worth it."

"Soo worth it," Matsumoto repeated, giggling.

"You're the one who wanted him to lighten up," Renji pointed out. "Looks like you'll be the one to take the fallout for this later, right?"

"Oh hell no," Matsumoto replied. "You guys helped out without hesitation."

"But it was your idea," Yumichika said.

They continued firing accusations back and forth, laughing all the while as they did so. Ichigo shook his head and turned away from the room.

"You guys are hopeless," he muttered. "Don't burn down the room; this isn't your apartment, you know."

His warning fell on deaf ears, but as he left the apartment, he couldn't hide the smile that spread across his own face. Hitsugaya's drunken state was worth the trouble they put him through, he decided. Maybe it would lighten the young boy up a little, even if not right away.

(thank God.)