A Hitsugaya and Matsumoto character piece, because I simply love them – not necessarily as a couple – and there needs to be more stories about them around. I tried to have both humor and drama because hey, just purely of one thing gets kind of dull after a while.
Also, the characters will be referred to by their last names in the narratives. Because, let's face it, Hitsugaya doesn't call anybody by their first name.
And, you'll notice, that there will be a lot of use of the word 'love.' I'd just like to remind you all that there is more than one type of love that exists - not just the romantic type - and decide carefully on what's going on.
Anything else... Hmm, no, not really.
I hope you guys enjoy reading this story. I can't wait to hear your thoughts!
Seven Steps to Trust
When Hitsugaya Toushirou stepped into the room that day, Matsumoto was dumbfounded.
It showed too, as her mouth dropped open.
Hitsugaya blushed slightly and glared. "What?"
"You're my new captain?" she asked slowly, walking over to him.
Hitsugaya crossed his arms defensively. "Yeah?"
Sure, she had heard of Hitsugaya. The ambitious young Shinigami who was flying up the ranks in the Gotei-13 and the wielder of the strongest ice and snow type zanpakutou, Hyourinmaru.
Overall, he was extremely strong and someone who any lieutenant would want as a captain.
"Are you sure?" Matsumoto asked doubtfully.
"Of course, I'm sure, dammit," replied Hitsugaya, his eyebrow twitching.
Matsumoto blinked down at him before bending down so she was face to face with him.
"Naw," she declared, shaking her head slightly with a flip of golden blond hair. "There's no way you're my captain."
Hitsugaya – who, at this point in time was trying very hard to not stare at the chest that was straight in his line of vision – sputtered indignantly. "And why not?" he demanded, feeling righteously angered.
A cheeky grin unfurled on Matsumoto's face, and she cheerfully said, "Because you're just too cute!"
And she reached towards his face and pinched one of those rounded cheeks, something that she had been dying to do the moment she saw him.
Hitsugaya's face reddened.
"Matsumoto!" he shouted angrily, embarrassed beyond belief.
Matsumoto giggled. "Yes, sweetie?"
If possible, Hitsugaya looked even more affronted. "You will treat me with the proper respect that you would give to your superior!"
Matsumoto nodded seriously, trying to stop her squeals from coming out.
Hitsugaya glared again. "Do you understand me?"
"Of course, Taichou."
Hitsugaya didn't now what it was – she did address him in a respectful manner after all – but there was just something in the tone in which she said it in...
It made him sound cute.
And if there was one thing that Hitsugaya was sure he was not, it was cute.
Matsumoto giggled again, and he felt a headache coming on.
And he wasn't even in the room for five minutes.
He didn't know how he was long he could survive being captain of the division.
Especially with such a...
He gave Matsumoto a look.
And that's putting it lightly, he thought darkly in his head.
"Good," he gritted out, walking towards his newly appointed desk and staring in dismay at the piles of papers that were already adorning it.
"Just one thing, Taichou."
Because she sounded dead serious, Hitsugaya, despite his gut feeling, turned around to face her. "Yes?"
Matsumoto grinned, and the next thing Hitsugaya knew, those long fingers were attacking the other cheek.
"Matsumoto-fukutaichou!" he said, annoyed, smacking her hand away from his face. "Do you suffer from some kind of disease related to memory loss?"
"Sorry, Taichou," said Matsumoto, though she didn't sound sorry at all. "I promise that it won't happen again."
Hitsugaya blew out a breath.
At least the last part sounded sincere.
Matsumoto's chuckles died down.
And the next thing Hitsugaya knew, Matsumoto had drawn herself up to her full height – which was rather impressive – before bowing deeply.
Hitsugaya gaped in astonishment.
"I look forward to working with you, Hitsugaya-taichou," she said warmly, a sincere smile on her face. Of course, it wasn't like her other smiles weren't genuine, but there was something about this one that just... "I'm sure it'll be a pleasure."
He stared at the outstretched limb towards him.
"Aa," he said finally, grasping the hand that was offered. His lips quirked just the slightest bit upwards.
He had the feeling that she was just full of these kinds of surprises.
"You too, Matsumoto."
The first time Hitsugaya felt worried about Matsumoto was when she failed to show up from her break on time.
It was odd. Sometimes she entered in fifteen minutes later with an apologetic smile and saying that she lost track of time, and he'd forgive her because she was one of the most competent shinigami he ever worked with.
So when she still didn't show up an hour after the assigned time, Hitsugaya started asking around the division.
"Has anyone seen Matsumoto?"
And he was met with a general answer of, "no."
This is, of course, until one extremely smart man – whom Hitsugaya was quite fond of now – said that he may want to pop by the 11th Division, because most of the bars in Seireitei were concentrated in that area and Matsumoto generally tended to go there during her breaks.
Hitsugaya decided to follow this lead.
Within his first ten minutes in the 11th Division, Hitsugaya learned that if ever got the chance to, he was going to kill every single one of them.
Around twenty drunken fellows had fallen upon him – two of whom had thought he was a girl for crying out loud – and more than fifteen men had challenged him to a fight, and started to rant about "not havin' the balls to fight like real men, ya punk" when he decided to be patient and just ignore them.
He had straight up knocked out the remaining people who talked to him.
Hitsugaya fervently hoped that Matsumoto appreciated all the efforts he was going through to find her – and that she had a damn good explanation for her tardiness.
Irritated and angry, he was about to break something when he spotted the bright red head of Abarai Renji by an alley.
And from what Hitsugaya remembered – from Matsumoto's chatter which he had now learned to tune out after a while – he was one of her 'drinking buddies.'
"Oi!" he called out, pushing to the front of the crowd, where Abarai was. "Abarai!"
Abarai turned around, one hand still gripping a jug of sake, and his face positively lit up once he saw Hitsugaya. "Oho! Look 'ere boys! 'S the man of the moment! Toushirou!"
"Hitsugaya-taichou," Hitsugaya automatically corrected, raising his eyebrows at Abarai's rather cryptic comment. "What's going on here?"
Abarai smirked. "You don't know?"
Around this time, Hitsugaya noticed that Iba from the 7th Division and Hisagi from the 9th were also there – and cheering something on rather loudly – and wondered if this was some kind of party for vice-captains.
Instead, Hitsugaya said, "No, I don't know what's going on. Move."
Abarai obliged, and Hitsugaya's mouth dropped open at the sight before him.
There was Matsumoto, holding some man's face against the wall with one hand, while with the other she accepted a cup of some kind of drink from the audience and drowned it in one gulp.
She then threw the empty glass to the ground – where it hit the head of one of three already unconscious men – and wiping her mouth with the back of her free palm, she glared at her captive.
"You wanna say that again, asshole?" she demanded, eyes narrow.
The man just made some odd choking noises because, really, no one expected him to be able to make a proper sentence with his head in that position.
She pushed his face further against the wall. "Can't hear you."
"C'mon, Ran!" cheered Iba, holding his own bottle out in toast. "Show that fucker what you're made of!"
And as Matsumoto made the move to punch the back that unfortunate soul's head, Hitsugaya decided it was high time to intervene.
"Matsumoto!" He looked at her aghast. "Just what do you think you're doing?"
Matsumoto's fist froze. "Taichou?"
Hitsugaya bristled. "Put that man down at once and put an end to such behavior!"
Matsumoto turned around to look at him, her lips forming into a pout. "But Taichou..."
Abarai put a hand on Hitsugaya's head. "You best listen to her, Shirou."
Hitsugaya ignored him.
"But Taichou," she whined, glaring at the shinigami who was struggling to get out of Matsumoto's hold. "They," she pointed at the three men at the ground accusingly, "called you a pipsqueak."
A hushed silence spread through the vicinity.
"I... see..." said Hitsugaya slowly, a cheek muscle jumping involuntarily.
That didn't stop the warm feeling washing over him when he realized just why Matsumoto was so pissed off.
His lips twitched a bit.
Matsumoto smiled winningly and as the crowd started cheering again, Hitsugaya decided he might as well stay and see how this turned out.
When Hitsugaya went to see Hinamori Momo for the first time since she entered her coma – something that scared him more than facing a thousand Menos Grandes – he was glad that leaning against the wall right outside the door was Matsumoto.
It gave him the strength to step inside the eerily blue room and sit down by her bed and watch her sleep.
And somehow, the moment he did sit down, all the fear he had felt about coming into the room had vanished, and instead he was filled with a strange empty feeling in a part of his heart which belonged to Hinamori.
"Hinamori," he began, looking at her still form. "I wish you were here right now. Everything is so screwed up right now. Bastards leaving Soul Society, the whole place is in chaos. They could really use you right around now."
I could really use you right around now.
But he didn't break down, because he was Hitsugaya dammit, and Hitsugaya simply did not do that.
No matter the enormous weight that he felt on his shoulders every time he looked at his best friend, whose face had lost the healthy roundness and was now sunken and pale.
"I'll kill him for you," he continued, so softly that even he had trouble hearing them. He was kneeling on the ground right beside her ear. "I know you love him. But he hurt you. And I swear to you that I'll hurt him."
Hinamori lay on the bed, eyes closed, breathing peaceful.
His heart cracked a bit at the sight.
Hitsugaya blinked rapidly as he tried to push back and ease away the moisture that had appeared.
Eyes lowered, he walked out of the room.
He saw Matsumoto bite her lip when she saw him.
He imagined he looked rather worn out right now.
But he simply did not care at the moment.
"Do you want to go and see her, Matsumoto?" he asked, avoiding her gaze.
Matsumoto nodded, looking rather hesitant, before making up her mind and sweeping into the room.
Her steps were more determined as she marched towards the bed. But her eyes melted at the sight before her, and her heart felt just the slightest bit softer.
Her steps halted as she reached the bed.
"Ne, Hinamori-chan," said Matsumoto, bending her knees so she was closer to the ground. "Can't stay here for too long. But I wanted to see you, to see how you were doing."
She leaned a little bit closer. "Taichou's not doing too well right now. He really loves you, you know. He'd be a lot better if you were here. He really misses you."
Matsumoto let out a sad little chuckle under her breath, looking at Hinamori's frail, unconscious form.
No wonder Hitsugaya seemed so tired with the world when he left the room.
She reached forward and clasped Hinamori's hand.
"I'll take care of him," she promised. "Even when you come back, I want you to know that I'll be there for him, no matter what. He's too young, too amazing to be burdened with all the weight in the world."
Matsumoto reached for Hinamori's hair and tucked a dark lock behind her ear. "He thinks he can do the impossible. And you know what? If anyone can, it'd be him. But the effect could be too much for him. Because no matter what, he's still so young and stubborn."
She grinned a bit. "You should know that very well, huh, Hinamori-chan?"
Matsumoto stood up, smoothing down her robes. She looked down at Hinamori fondly.
"Try to get back to us soon, Hinamori-chan. Some things only you can fill in his heart." She leaned down and placed a swift kiss on Hinamori's forehead. "But I hope your mind can have a bit more peace while fighting to come back, knowing that I'll be here, taking care of him."
Throwing one last look behind her, Matsumoto left the room.
Hitsugaya was there, sitting on the floor with his back against the wall.
He was staring at his lap.
Matsumoto's heart hurt a bit, seeing her captain like that.
Because it was in rare moments like these that she was reminded that at the end of the day, her powerful, unstoppable captain was still just a kid.
Someone who shouldn't be faced with all the cruelty that existed in the world.
Hitsugaya's head snapped right up at the sound of his lieutenant's voice.
Matsumoto crouched down on one knee so she was face to face with him.
Seeing that warm smile on Masumoto's face made his heart feel just the slightest bit lighter.
"Mm, what do you say we go and grab something to eat, Taichou?" she asked, tilting her head a bit so a stream of hair fell over one shoulder. "I'm starving."
An involuntary smile started to form on his face. "Aa."
Hitsugaya pushed himself up, and gave Matsumoto what he hoped was a look of appreciation.
And even if he completely failed at looking grateful, judging by the way her eyes eased softly, he knew that she knew him well enough to get the message.
Blinking, once he noticed that they were standing there for a while, Hitsugaya started forward. He looked back when he realized that he couldn't hear Matsumoto's steps behind him. "You coming?"
Matsumoto grinned. "I'm right behind you, Taichou."
And with that one simple sentence, Hitsugaya felt the weight that lay on his shoulders lessen ten folds.
Matsumoto was gorgeous there was no denying it.
Except tonight, her beauty wasn't that warm and zealous type that Hitsugaya had gotten used to. The kind of beauty that occasionally made him stare – something that no one could blame him for since every single male that ever came across Matsumoto stared – and just brightens up the entire place.
But tonight it was different.
There was an almost sad sort of elegance to her face, lips pulled downwards and eyes distant. Her hands were folded on her lap as she sat cross legged on his bed, and stared outside the window, figure draped in silver moonlight.
She looked defeated.
And that conclusion – that something of this effect could happen to the most confident and powerful woman he knew – scared Hitsugaya more than the recent events.
But in the depth of his being he knew that when it concerned Ichimaru Gin, Matsumoto was different. He just never thought it would be in such a negative way.
"Matsumoto," he called out, his voice soft, almost as if he was scared to break this picture of almost heartbreaking beauty.
He almost didn't expect her to hear.
But she did, and there were no stiffening of shoulders. Matsumoto simply tilted her head around so she was looking at him, her long hair falling around her shoulders.
She smiled at him. "Ne, Taichou. Why're you standing out there? Come on in, it's your room."
Hitsugaya took a careful step inside. "Aa."
Matsumoto turned her head back towards the window, and Hitsugaya stopped next to her – still standing – not knowing what to do.
Thankfully, Matsumoto took the trouble out of his hands.
"Did you know he said something to me, Taichou?" said Matsumoto quietly, as she stared down at her intertwined fingers. "He said something to me before he left."
Hitsugaya didn't answer.
A smile came across Matsumoto's face.
It wasn't bitter, like he was expecting it to be. But rather, it was a reflection of her posture – sad, broken, weak.
It was everything that Matsumoto wasn't.
Her hands clenched each other a bit firmer.
"He said he was sorry."
There was nothing Hitsugaya could say to that.
So he did the only thing he could. He sat down behind her and leaned his back against hers, and hoped that she would understand his quiet show of support.
"He said he was fucking sorry."
Her voice was choked. Hitsugaya could almost see the tears that should have been flowing down her face at this point, but he simply couldn't complete the picture.
Because she was Matsumoto, and Matsumoto was strong no matter what.
And knowing the fact kept him strong.
"He's really gone, and even though he did so much bullshit, it still hurts goddammit. But I'm not angry. I'm not. And that makes me feel dirty. Did you know that, Taichou?"
Her shoulders were shaking.
But Hitsugaya still could not imagine her crying.
"He makes me feel dirty because I love him."
Hitsugaya bit his lip and leaned back against her a bit more.
"He's really, really gone. He's gone, Taichou. He was the one person I thought I knew everything about..."
Finally, he had managed to whisper it out.
But it came out horribly cracked and laced with hesitancy.
There was a moment of strained silence.
Then Matsumoto started to speak, and her voice sounded extremely small.
"You know, the only reason I'm not crying right now is because of you, Taichou," she said softly, and Hitsugaya imagined her lips pull up into a faint smile. "Because I know you won't leave me."
Hitsugaya's heart started to beat a little bit faster at the tone that the last sentence was said in – filled with such decisiveness that she believed it to be pure fact – and found himself reaching forward and covering the hand that had ended up near his own – the smallest way of showing, I'm here for you.
"I'm glad," she said, the tiniest hint of pride in her voice. "That I made the right choice and decided to follow you."
And back to back they sat, each being the other's support.
Hitsugaya never knew the meaning of the word exasperation until today.
The entire room was in sheer chaos.
"Hmm, these alterations are so much more in style. Why can't we use these?"
"Don't fucking tell me that I'm not allowed to do that with my fucking sword, you goddamned son of a bitch–"
"Oi, Renji! Where the hell did you put my... ribbon thing?"
"Rukia, why would you possibly think that I'd have it?"
"Ne, Yumi-san, I think you're right. Do you think you can whip something up for my skirt?"
"Thank you, Ran-san. And sure. Hmm, I'm thinking maybe a slit over there..."
"Are they still giving Ikkaku trouble with his sword?"
"–What the fuck did I just say about the sword just now you brainless piece of fucktard–"
"...I think it'd be safe to say yes."
Hitsugaya rubbed his temples warily.
He had been honored when they asked him. Really, he had. It was such an important mission – the first squad being sent on the offensive in the fight against the Arrancar – and he had the honor – honor, dammit – of leading the team.
But the said team was just driving him up the goddamned wall.
"Oi, why's Hitsugaya-taichou looking so grumpy?" asked Abarai, bending down and leaning his face so close to Hitsugaya's so quickly that Hitsugaya didn't even have the time to blink.
"Mm, maybe he's also displeased with his uniform designs," said Ayasegawa, stroking his chin thoughtfully. "Ne, Hitsu-kun–"
"Hitsugaya-taichou," Hitsugaya corrected automatically, a scowl stealing across his features.
Madarame made an 'hmph'-ing sound. "Why couldn't Zaraki-taichou come with us?"
Matsumoto rolled her eyes.
"Because he'd probably go on a murdering rampage the moment someone makes a comment about the eye patch."
There was a moment of silence in which everyone contemplated the answer.
Ayasegawa shone a radiant smile at Matsumoto, and the sight of those two at the same time was enough shimmering beauty to make Hitsugaya blink a little.
"You are absolutely right, Rangiku-san! I always tried to convince Zaraki-taichou that accessory was an insult to every person who wasn't a fashion don't."
Matsumoto beamed back.
Hitsugaya knew trouble would arise when Matsumoto met someone whom she got along famously with.
"Now," said Matsumoto, glaring at the remaining members of the room – which were Madarame, Abarai, and Kuchiki. "If anyone makes one more comment about Taichou coming with us, they'll get a black eye to complete their ugly mugs."
Much blustering and red faces erupted.
Then she quickly added, "Except for you, Rukia-chan. You're far too cute for me to do anything to."
Abarai and Madarame sputtered indignantly, Kuchiki blinked, trying to see if there were any underhanded comments there, and Ayasegawa just chuckled in delight.
"Now, everyone," called out Hitsugaya, gathering everyone's attention. "Are you all ready?"
It was amazing, he thought, on how quickly their faces became one of seriousness.
Everyone's shoulders straightened and they looked at him straight in the eye.
Each one gave him a sharp nod.
The formidable doors leading out of Soul Society slowly opened, and Hitsugaya took in a deep, collected breath.
He felt a hand upon his shoulder.
"No matter what happens, Taichou," a voice whispered quietly in his ear. "I've got your back."
He felt is heart start to pound, yet at the same time, it felt much lighter.
A familiar warm feeling overcame his body.
"Aa, Matsumoto," he replied, voice equally as soft as hers. "You too."
The hand on Hitsugaya's shoulder gave a gentle squeeze.
This is for you.
Even though the rest of his team was right behind him, he only had one source of comfort when he stepped into the darkness.
It was knowing that Matsumoto would follow.
Hitsugaya was sitting on the roof again.
Matsumoto stepped onto the bare concrete, each foot falling gently in front of the other as she walked towards her captain, who was sitting on the edge, leaning back against his hands and staring up at the sky.
It had become a habit, she noted, that he'd come up here to just look at the stars when he felt too stressed, or too bored, or anything, really.
"Matsumoto," he greeted, still looking straight ahead.
Matsumoto smiled, and sat down beside him. "Taichou. Lovely night outside, isn't it?"
"Lovely," he murmured, and riveted his eyes so they were now looking down rather than up at the lovely view.
Matsumoto looked at him from the corner of eye, pursing her lips thoughtfully.
"You know," she said, swinging her legs a little bit. "Stars are really just people who care about us."
Hitsugaya quirked an eyebrow at the rather random statement that Matsumoto just sprouted, "I see."
"No, really," she insisted, turning her head so she was facing him directly. "I know that people always say things like this, but think about it! The stars are all the souls that ever cared for anyone. They're high above so they can always see us, and they'll guide us in the dark when we're lost and make sure we have light and–"
Hitsugaya chuckled at Matsumoto's rather elaborate hand gestures.
"And there are always lots of stars," finished Matsumoto. "It means that even when we can't see them, they're still there."
She smiled at him. "It means that we're never alone, and every minute of every day, there are thousands of stars out there looking out for us. So we should never feel we're alone."
Hitsugaya was quiet for a moment.
"Aa," he said finally. "I understand."
"Mm," Matsumoto made a contended sound at the back of her throat, and Hitsugaya got the feeling it was a tone of agreement.
A silent minute later, Hitsugaya started to speak.
"Do you know what happened?" he asked slowly, once again looking up at the sky.
A nice change, Matsumoto decided, since she always knew that he was meant to be amongst the stars one day, and it would be a shame if he looked the opposite direction of his destination.
To his question, she truthfully answered, "No."
Hitsugaya let out a soft, "Heh," at that, his lips pulling upwards, but not necessarily into a smile.
"Hinamori woke up," he said in an oddly subdued tone. "I talked to her."
It took Matsumoto a couple of seconds to register the words.
A large smile erupted on her face. "That's great!"
"It is," he agreed, voice low, and Matsumoto frowned as his thoughts finally fell upon her.
As much as she wanted to, she didn't ask, "So what's wrong?"
He stayed silent, and for his sake, so did she.
"We have to kill Aizen," he said quite suddenly, voice filled with solid determination. "It's our duty."
Matsumoto found herself nodding. "Of course."
Then she added, "But not because it's our duty."
Hitsugaya shook his head a little bit, a small smile coming to his face.
"No," he said finally, a wry kind of amusement lacing his voice. "I suppose not."
Matsumoto bit her lip.
She wanted to ask. She really did. But if he wanted to tell her, she wouldn't have to ask.
So she settled for a compromise. "Are you alright, Taichou?"
To her surprise, there was not a moment of hesitation when he said, "Yes, Matsumoto. Thank you."
But it was a pleasant surprise, so Matsumoto beamed at him, and said, "No problem."
Hitsugaya opened his mouth to say something, but closed it before any words came out, a slight blush on his cheeks.
She tilted her head questioningly. "Taichou?"
"What?" he asked gruffly.
Matsumoto giggled at the tone.
That was so her captain.
"Sorry, it's nothing," she said, a gentle smile on her face.
A moment and a deep breath later, Hitsugaya spoke.
"Matsumoto," he said, looking painfully awkward.
Matsumoto leaned forward curiously.
Hitsugaya looked away in embarrassment.
"...Your hair is really nice," he finally said.
Matsumoto's eyebrows rose in surprise. "...Thank you."
If possible, he looked even more mortified.
"It's a nice color," he said, determinedly avoiding her stare. "...It's the color of stars."
Matsumoto blinked as the full implication of that sentence hit her.
Her eyes softened.
And even though it really, really hurt him, Hitsugaya found that he simply could not pull away from the bone-crushing hug he found himself engulfed in.
They were standing side by side, amongst thousands of shinigami, listening to General Yamamoto give his speech.
"Ne, Taichou," whispered Matsumoto, a small, out of place smile on her face. "I guess this is it, huh?"
"Of course not, Matsumoto," replied Hitsugaya at once, staring straight ahead.
Matsumoto chuckled a bit. "Mm. So optimistic, Taichou. This is perhaps the most difficult fight we'll ever fight."
She paused, looking around at her many comrades, a dull, resigned look in her eyes. "Half of us won't make it out alive."
"Don't think in such a way, Matsumoto," said Hitsugaya. "That is not the mindset we head out to battle in."
"I'm just making sure there are no regrets, Taichou," said Matsumoto, her eyes faraway and bright. "This could be the last time we see each other."
Hitsugaya closed his eyes.
Matsumoto stood still and tall.
"No," he said, finally. "We will definitely come back to Soul Society. And both of us will be alive to celebrate our victory."
Matsumoto laughed a little under her breath.
"If you say so, Taichou."
Hitsugaya pinned her with a glare.
"No, Matsumoto. You'll see. We will stand at headquarters again, and you'll be drunk, and I'll tell you how stupid you are, and then you'll laugh, and you'll fall unconscious, and I'll drag your sorry ass to your room, complaining the whole time, and stay around just to see if you'll be ok."
He took a deep breath. "That's what our future holds, Matsumoto. And I know you'll be there to see it."
Matsumoto's eyes softened. "Taichou..."
She reached for his hand.
"That's the future I want as well, Taichou," she whispered, eyes bright. "That's what I look forward to everyday."
"And that's the future in store for us," said Hitsugaya stubbornly, a tone of finality in his voice.
Matsumoto giggled lightly, intertwining her fingers with his and giving a gentle squeeze.
"After this battle – this war – is over, Taichou," she said, looking straight ahead at Yamamoto. "I want to fight by your side again."
Hitsugaya returned the grip on his hand. "And so we will."
Then, "Do we promise?"
Hitsugaya looked up at Matsumoto in question.
Matsumoto smiled. "Do we promise that we will stand in this place again and say that we'll fight side by side with each once more?"
Hitsugaya spoke, his voice lacking all traces of its usual gruffness.
"Aa," he said, an involuntary smile flitting across his face as he felt his drive to win strengthen. "There's no one else I'd rather fight along side with."
Their hands were still joined together.
"Then I'll try to keep that promise, Taichou," said Matsumoto, eyes losing some brightness as the shinigami surrounding her started to shift at the end of Yamamoto's speech.
"As will I," replied Hitsugaya.
They separated their linked fingers at the same time.
"I'm ready," said Matsumoto quietly.
"Good," he answered. "I never thought you wouldn't be."
Matsumoto blinked back the tears that she would never let fall. "I'll be looking for you once everything is done and over with, Taichou."
"Aa, Matsumoto," he said, looking at her with such trust and determination that she felt her own rise. "You too."
Sharing what could be their last smile, they stepped forward, side by side.