Disclaimer: usual yada yada yada, BLEACH and its characters are not mine.
Hitsugaya Toushiro looked out over the town.
Thousands of souls, glimmering across the landscape. If he closed his eyes and let the silence wash over him, he could feel every single one of them.
They were not strong souls, barring a few brighter flickers here and there. They were just regular, meet-in-the-street Joes and Janes. Hitsugaya felt his anger flare against the man who, for his own selfish aims, wanted to snuff out the lives of so many individuals.
"You brood too much, taichou," said Matsumoto Rangiku as she bounced up to the roof. "Here. Orihime's specialty."
"It looks normal this time."
"Oh it is. Just curry rice." As her captain dived into his dinner, she added, "With lamb's eyeballs and seasoned with cocoa."
Unlucky passers-by wondered why they had rice grains stuck in their hair when they shampooed that night.
Clad in his shinigami outfit, Hitsugaya felt more comfortable.
Was human life meant to be like this? People milling about, talking and laughing about inconsequential trivialities; people going in and out of buildings and vehicles, looking for nothing in particular; people, so caught up in day-to-day life they didn't see the bigger picture of right and wrong, good and evil.
"Are you dead?"
"What?" Hitsugaya turned around and looked down. A dark-haired girl was studying him. He saw her before, someplace... why was his mind telling him that it had something to do with strawberries?
She folded her arms across her chest. "I asked you if you were dead. Living people don't dress in funny outfits and hang out on top of roofs." She paused and seemed to reconsider her words, then added, "Not usually anyway."
"Why are you asking?"
"You haven't answered my question, kid."
Hitsugaya gritted his teeth. She doesn't know better. Keep your cool. "Yes, I am dead. That why you can still see me walking and talking. Happy? And I'm not a kid."
"You don't have that funny... chain thing. On your chest."
"What chain thing?" So this girl knew about pluses and their characteristics.
"Don't pretend to be stupid. I can tell you're not," she snorted as she looked for a way up to the same roof.
Hitsugaya watched in amazement as she shimmied up to where he stood. When she settled beside him he found his tongue. "What do you think you're doing?"
"I'm sitting on a roof, watching people go on with their lives." She half-swiveled around. "And aren't you supposed to ask me for my name?"
"I think..." Hitsugaya sat down two and a half feet away and reconsidered. "I think I'd rather not know."
Matsumoto straightened. She pressed on both ears. Hmm. Shrugging, she went back to her sit-ups.
"Ninety one, ninety-two..." There it was again. Matsumoto dug her ears with her manicured fingers just to check.
The only other person in the room was her captain, and she wasn't the one making that funny sound.
"Hmm?" Hitsugaya didn't look up from the report he was writing.
"No I'm not."
"You were humming. You were actually humming!"
"No I wasn't. You're delusional."
"You. Were. Humming. I heard you." Matsumoto got off the floor and pointed at Hitsugaya. "You were humming to yourself. You were humming a tune!"
Hitsugaya placed the report in its proper folder. Then he got up and walked to the door. "You must have overexerted yourself when you were working out."
"I only just warmed up." Her white-haired captain exited the apartment. She followed to the door and called out after him, "And you were humming a cheerful tune!"
"You seem cheerful."
Hitsugaya halted in his steps. "Is that a crime?"
"Hey hey hey... I'm the one who advocates cheerful," said Urahara. He slapped his fan shut. "Whaddaya want, Hitsugaya-taichou?"
"New Soul Candy. I think there's something seriously wrong with the one Kusajishi distributed to us."
Urahara looked at him closely. "Whatever happened to cheerful boy?"
"He just turned into a murderous captain," growled Hitsugaya. "Soul Candy?"
By the time he was walking to Inoue's apartment he realized he was humming.
It was an ancient song he learned when he was still a soul wandering about in Rukongai. It kept the gnawing hunger from his mind, and he'd sang it to himself whenever he was tired or starving. He thought that, after he'd moved into Seireitei, he had forgotten the tune.
And now it was resurfacing.
He wasn't hungry, he was certain of that; although Inoue was terrible at cookery she did like to cook a lot of rice. And he wasn't tired either.
So what was he feeling?
"Ikkaku. What's up?"
"Yumi said I have to go to this dojo place. They got this new instructor that's supposedly really good."
"Oh." Hitsugaya tucked his hands into his jeans. "Have fun then."
Ikkaku scratched his chin. "You look very cheerful today, taichou. Something good happened?"
"You look glum."
"The only person to get it right today." Hitsugaya stopped walking. "You really should stop approaching me from behind."
"You prefer I should talk about you behind your back then?" The girl strolled up and they both continued down the road, matching paces. "So what's your story anyway?"
"Died. Went to a place called Soul Society. Became a shinigami. Then I came here to protect your town." Hitsugaya rehearsed the statements in his head and realized it was ridiculous. He smiled a little to himself and asked instead, "Are you curious about my life... unlife?"
"Not really." She slowed as they passed an embankment. They were by the river. "It's just... why are you dead and yet... alive?"
"Why do you want to know?"
She sucked in her cheeks, held her breath and blew it out. Her eyes fixed on a point opposite the river. "I just want to know if people can come back after they died. Like you."
"That's... not the whole truth, is it?"
"Why do you care?" She spun, suddenly angered. "You don't even know my name. You don't even know me. You know nothing about me."
Hitsugaya opened his mouth to argue, then realized he had nothing to say. He calmed his temper down. "Of course I don't know you," he managed at last. "I met you, what, two nights ago?"
The brunette exhaled shakily. "I'm, uh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap. It's just... it's been a bad week." She looked away, embarrassed by her display of raw emotion.
"It's all right." Hitsugaya could afford to be magnanimous. She was just a kid, after all.
They fell in step again, the dragonflies darting about their silence.
Matsumoto caught him humming again that night when they were returning from a hollow slaying.
"Taichou," asked Matsumoto, "anything new in your life recently?"
"Hmm?" Hitsugaya's attention came back to the present. He pursed his lips. "Nothing is new, Matsumoto."
"But you seem more cheerful the past two days."
"I just feel better, I suppose. You think you're the only one who can get mood swings?"
"Of course not, taichou, but you're usually the stoic one in our relationship." Matsumoto ducked away from the icy blue glare. Hitsugaya sighed his usual resignation. Matsumoto stretched and added, "You sure nothing is new in your life?"
"Matsumoto," he warned.
"Fine, fine..." Another freezing glare. Matsumoto smiled. "Fine, ta-i-cho-u."
Hitsugaya brooded on the roof. Again.
He let his senses relax. The sounds of traffic drifted up. In this overbright town he missed the stars; only the moon hung sickly yellow overhead.
Hitsugaya almost stumbled off the roof. "Jeez! Stop creeping up behind me."
It was the girl again. How in the world had she evaded his senses? He looked closer. Her reiatsu radiated off in waves, a bright mini-nova in a world of flickering candles.
She wrapped her arms about herself. "Why are you staring at me?"
"Huh? Oh, um... I was thinking."
"Well, so was I." She shifted from foot to foot. Her gaze was nailed to Hitsugaya's shoes. "Listen, um... I thought about this afternoon and I'm really sorry about losing my temper like that."
"It's all right. I'm not taking it to heart."
They sat down in companionable silence, two and a half feet apart. A long moment later, the girl spoke up.
"Quit being defensive. And it's a nice tune, by the way."
"I wasn't humming."
They met again that weekend.
It was intentional. She had asked to meet him in the park.
"So... what now?" he asked, hands in his pockets.
The girl's foot pushed on the grass. "I was wondering if I could spend today asking questions."
"Okay. You want to do it here?"
"Oh, no, I'll treat you to lunch and everything," she hastily corrected his assumption. "I just didn't want daddy and my brother to see me meeting up with a guy. They'll misinterpret."
She led the way to a little cafe. It was a cozy place, with simple, homely furniture that appealed to Hitsugaya's homely tastes and the fragrance of herbal tea wafting about the room.
"What would you two like?" The shopkeeper asked cheerily as they sat at a corner table. "The peppermint tea and chocolate cookies are very recommended."
"We'll try them out then," said the brunette. She fiddled with her fingers until Hitsugaya smiled. "What?"
"That would be my question," Hitsugaya answered. "What do you want to ask?"
"... I'm trying to organize my thoughts. It's just... now that you're here to answer my questions I don't know what to ask." She scratched her eyebrow.
Perhaps it was because this was the first time Hitsugaya saw her without her cap, but she had lovely eyes. Animated, large, liquid, emotive, dark... no one he knew had eyes like this.
The shopkeeper broke into his reverie. "Here's your tea and here are your cookies. Enjoy!"
The girl took one and nibbled.
He tried one out. It was not too bad, a tad too sweet for his palate.
She brushed her hair back behind her ears.
He sipped the tea.
"What are you, exactly?" she blurted out.
"Shinigami, captain of the tenth division in Seireitei."
"... should I ask what Seireitei is?"
"Just a place for shinigami." Hitsugaya sipped his tea again. "It's where I live and work."
"But you're here," she said, absentmindedly playing with a packet of sugar. "If you're a shinigami, how can you be alive as well?"
"It's a... what you and everyone else see now is my gigai. It's a faux body for my spirit to inhabit when I'm operating in the human world."
"Can all ghosts use this... gigai thingy?"
Hitsugaya paused reflectively. "I think there shouldn't be a problem."
"So... if I can find a gigai, I can put a soul into it and they'd be alive?"
Hitsugaya exhaled. "Are you trying to bring someone back from the grave?" She said nothing but looked at the sugar grains scattered on the table. "It's not wise to do so."
"I don't care about being wise. I care about not having my mum with me."
The admission seemed to have shocked the girl as much as it surprised Hitsugaya. She flushed to the tips of her dark hair, her fingers now laced so tightly the cup of her palms was practically watertight. He hesitated before pushing the cookies to her. She gave a short snort of laughter before nibbling at one again.
"Your mother... when did she pass away?"
"Long enough for me to start forgetting."
"That's not the entire truth, is it?"
"... just answer my question. Please." Dark eyes met blue ones. "So can ghosts become 'alive' in a gigai?"
"No. They'll still be dead people. Like me." Hitsugaya put down his cup. "Look, the thing is, people who are dead have to remain dead, or else the balance of the world would be... off. Unbalanced."
"Are all shinigami dead?"
"Yeah. You don't get to be a shinigami without being in Soul Society first, and to be in Soul Society is to be dead."
The girl's eyes unfocused. "... So he's dead too?"
"... I need to confirm something. I'm sorry, I have to go." She went to the cashier and paid up before running off. Hitsugaya finished his tea and followed.
The girl's reiatsu signature burned a neon-bright trace in the air. Hitsugaya cursed under his breath and followed. He managed to catch up and grab her, both panting from their hectic run.
"Wait, wait up. Why are you rushing off?"
"My brother is dead. I have to see him! He's dead and he didn't tell me! I'm gonna kill him!"
"Whoa. Whoa. If he was dead, how can he tell you? And how do you plan to kill a dead man?"
"Because he's alive. He's walking about and everything, and he dresses like you – without the white coat. So if all shinigami were ghosts, that means my brother is a ghost, and he's dead, and then I'd have to tell daddy and Yuzu and..." she started to babble her fears incoherently.
Hitsugaya's grip on her thin shoulders tightened. "Calm down. You're not making sense. Calm down!"
"I can't! I can't! My brother's dead. Don't tell me to calm down!"
Damn. Hitsugaya shook her but she was still insisting on her brother being dead because he was wearing a shinigami outfit – her brother is Kurosaki. Her brother is Kurosaki!
Seeing that she was working herself into hysteria, Hitsugaya hugged her. Tight. Then he bent his head and kissed her.
She stopped moving, frozen by the touch of his lips on hers. He pulled away, sort of embarrassed and sort of annoyed.
"Your brother is Kurosaki Ichigo?"
He exhaled, thinking about how much information to share. At last he continued, "He's not dead. He is a shinigami, but he's not a dead man."
"You sure?" This was not the confident, brash girl that had approached him on those other occasions. This was a young girl seeking reassurance.
Hitsugaya smiled. "Yes. I'm sure. I know him personally. Orange-haired idiot with a short temper and a shorter attention span, right?"
The girl laughed softly. It was a nice laugh, not too girly. "You know Ichigo. Then you must be telling the truth. You are... telling the truth, right?"
Then he realized he still held her by the shoulders. As if she were made of red-hot lava he dropped his hands. "I'm, uh, I'm gonna go back. Unless you have more questions."
"... I do, but that's not important anymore." She smiled. It was a shaky smile, but it was there. "Th-thank you."
They stood at the intersection, incredibly awkward.
"I, uh, will need to go. Home," she said, pointing at the lane behind Hitsugaya.
He scratched his temple. "Yeah. And I'll head that way." He indicated his right.
They stood for another two minutes before she stepped past him and he turned down his path. Quite suddenly he halted, and ran after the brunette. "I have a question."
"What's your name?"
A/N: ficlet for Hitsugaya. By now you should know who the girl is, and one major assumption is that the football episode didn't happen.