SPOILERS: through the Soul Society arc

NOTES: Thank you for the lovely reviews! I'm happy some of you want more, but I only meant to answer the question "How did Hitsugaya end up with Matsumoto as his lieutenant?" Now that I have, all that's left to do is post this. I hope you like it, too. Unbetaed.

DISCLAIMERS: Bleach and all things associated with it belong to other people.


LIEUTENANT

Epilog

10th Division's welcome party for Matsumoto had been interesting. After cleaning up from their bouts, she had all but taken over the preparation. Given how he'd found her that morning, he'd initially been reluctant to her suggestion that he crack open a couple of casks of his annual captain's sake allotment, but with her uncanny ability to guess his thoughts, she had assured him it was not for her but for the men. After all, she had argued, her own portion wouldn't come through until the formal ceremonies a month later, and it wasn't as though her captain could drink his all by himself. Little did she know how true that was, for he had never been particularly fond of alcohol. Although he wouldn't admit to it, he'd always wondered what he was supposed to do with so much. Since it wasn't something he'd read about or been taught or had the chance to experience, it had never occurred to him that captains' sake might be meant for sharing with subordinates at such events.

She had kept to her word, barely drinking a sip, but by halfway through the evening, she had managed to get the other ranked officers foxed. In their inebriated state, they had been quite open about their thoughts on everything from the previous disappointing lack of such parties to the just equality of their captain's duty roster. Through their many toasts, he learned all of the qualities they admired about him. One of the Shinigami he'd helped to release his zanpakut├┤ had gone so far as to drunkenly weep with appreciation into the hem of his mended captain's robe. It had been alternately enlightening, amusing and embarrassing, and through it all he had wondered how he could ever have achieved such revealing honesty with the everyday formality of his captaincy.

There had also been many toasts to their new lieutenant. Only one had been of a physical nature, and though Matsumoto had made light of it, the offending Shinigami had been cuffed and chastised by his comrades. By the end of the evening, she had not only befriended all of the other officers but also learned the names of every rank-and-file member of her new division. He couldn't help but be impressed.

The next morning he found the meeting hall where the party had been held to be empty and spotless. The few officers he saw on his morning rounds looked rather green, with one reporting in sick; otherwise the party caused no disruption to the day's routine. Not only that, but there was some subtle quality, some indefinable air about the barracks that was different.

Upon entering the office, he was briefly taken aback by the changes to his workplace. His once spacious office was suddenly full of furniture.

"What's this?"

Matsumoto popped out from behind some shelves with an armload of files and office supplies. "Good morning, Captain!" She beamed at him as she transferred her load to her desk, which had been moved from a back corner to reside at a right angle to his. "I got here and found there was nowhere for guests to sit." Her voice was full of slightly dramatized thoughtful concern as she settled into her chair. "Standing in front of a captain can be quite intimidating. I thought a couple of sofas and a coffee table might make visitors more comfortable by giving them someplace to sit. I happened to notice these when I went to the division's storehouse to furnish my rooms, so I had some of the men help me bring them here."

He contemplated the situation for a moment but couldn't find any reason to object. Instead, he made his way to his desk and observed dourly, "You've already been to the storehouse?"

"All the basic necessities had been taken care of," she assured him, "but female Shinigami generally could use a few more things than their male counterparts." Flipping through the papers on her desk, she pulled out two and got up to set them on his. "Here are the forms for my things and the office furniture."

Once a lieutenant approved an acquisition, there was no need for a captain to do so, but she had yet to formally become his lieutenant. Even so, he suspected other motivations behind her officiousness. Perhaps she hoped to make the sudden changes to his command more palatable by diligently following protocol. In all honesty, he didn't particularly care whether furniture from the storeroom was put to use. After all, what other point was there in having it? Unwilling to share that perspective, he scanned the forms and found the acquisitions reasonable, so he stamped them with his seal and handed them back.

"If you won't be needing me just yet..."

He cut her off. "I've arranged for Takezoe to give you a tour of the division. By the time you get back, I should have a preliminary list of your duties." There was a knock at the door, and he failed in his attempt to not feel smug about having caught her off guard. "That should be him."

It was, and it seemed 10th Division's seventh ranked Shinigami had gotten over his tendency to blush under Matsumoto's attention. Or perhaps Matsumoto was holding back her ability to make most men blush. Either way, once they had left, he was grateful for the return of peace and quiet to his office.

In dividing up the responsibilities he had been handling solo for so long, the young captain gave his new lieutenant primarily tasks that had seemed to cause his subordinates discomfort when he had attended to them. If it bothered them to ask their captain for leave due to illness, family or some other reason, then perhaps they would feel more at ease submitting their requests to Matsumoto. She obviously had more skill in dealing with such personal issues, so it only made sense to have her take care of them. He also gave her a portion of their bureaucratic duties but kept the bulk of the investigative work for himself. The occasional puzzles and mysteries that he'd been tasked to solve had been one of the more stimulating aspects of his command. That such assignments often required him to work with 5th Division and their lieutenant was an added bonus.

He was most of the way though his morning paperwork when he heard Matsumoto thank Takezoe in the hall outside the office. "Captain, I'm back!" She slid the door aside and made her way to the small heater she'd added to the corner near her desk. "I'd never known how nice 10th Division's compound was," she gushed as she prepared a kettle, teapot and cups. "If I had, I might have asked to transfer here ages ago! Some of the buildings in 3rd Division are so old..."

It made him wonder why Ichimaru would let his facilities fall into disrepair, but his speculation was interrupted by a knock on the door. "Lieutenant Hinamori of 5th Division to see you, sir," came Orihara's voice through the door.

"Enter."

The door slid open and his favorite guest walked in with an expectant look in her eyes and a bundle of papers in her arms...only to be momentarily struck dumb by the additional furniture, then the door slid shut behind her. "Hitsugaya-kun, what's all this? And why did you visit Rangiku Matsumoto and ask for a squad from 4th Division and--"

"That's Captain Hitsugaya," he grumbled.

"I can see you two are old friends," interjected Matsumoto.

With a gasp, Hinamori whirled to gape at the other Shinigami then turned back to him with the faintest blush on her cheeks. "I-I didn't realize you already had a guest."

"She's no guest," insisted the young captain. "She's my lieutenant. Matsumoto, this is Momo Hinamori, Lieutenant of 5th Division. Hinamori, this is Rangiku Matsumoto."

"How nice to see you." Matsumoto's aura of friendliness was palpable, and he knew Hinamori well enough to appreciate she would instinctively return his lieutenant's polite overture.

"Nice to see you, too, Lieutenant Matsumoto!" She replied with a bow.

"We're both lieutenants--no need to be so formal." A third mug, a bowl of senbei and a tray had materialized from somewhere, and Matsumoto put it all on the coffee table. "We were about to have a tea break. Care to join us?"

"A t-tea break?" Glancing back, she gave him a wide-eyed look of surprise.

In his single-minded pursuit of captaincy, there'd been no room in his schedule for breaks and social civilities. But he was so entertained by Hinamori's response that he decided he would start making time. "Yeah. You stop liking tea?"

"O-of course not!"

"Gonna sit?" He plopped down on the sofa nearest his desk.

The young lieutenant was so flustered that it was difficult not to laugh.

"Hinamori, won't you have a seat?" Matsumoto passed Hinamori a mug then sat opposite her captain.

"S-sure." Putting aside her bundle, his favorite guest settled lightly on the sofa next to him and took a dainty sip of tea. "The office looks so nice, today." It was as forward a comment as he was likely to get from her while Matsumoto was there, but he found Hinamori's hedging amusing enough to make up for the lack of privacy.

"I guess."

"Do you think so?" burbled Matsumoto. "Sometimes things just need a woman's touch."

"A w-woman's touch." Hinamori's cheeks tinged pink again. "Of course. So...how did all this happen...Matsumoto-san becoming Lieutenant of 10th Division?"

He shrugged, uninterested in detailing his visit with Yamamoto. "She was recommended. After checking her records, I arranged to spar with her and found her suitable."

"It seems awfully sudden. So this has nothing to do with..." Hinamori's voice trailed off shyly.

Perhaps he could get her to elaborate with a little prompting; it had worked in the past. "With...?"

Blushing furiously, Hinamori all but whispered in embarrassment. "You know...her..."

"Her what?" It was difficult to keep a straight face, but he was having too much fun to let his expression slip.

"Assets."

He nodded. "Her martial skills are quite formidable."

"I think she's referring to my big boobs." Matsumoto's tone was matter-of fact, lacking any hint of modesty.

"Oh." The young captain looked from Hinamori to Matsumoto and back again, then he sipped his tea. "Hadn't noticed 'em."

"Hi-hitsugaya-kun!" Hinamori sputtered in disbelief.

"Is there some reason you dropped by, other than to make observations about my lieutenant's figure?"

Hinamori turned beet red and nearly dropped her mug as she placed it on the coffee table. Picking up the bundle beside her, she thrust it stiffly out at him. "These are the compiled reports from 2nd Division and Captain Aizen's analysis."

Setting his mug aside, he took the bundle. "Thank you for delivering these, and please pass my thanks along to Aizen."

"Of course."

After an awkward silence in which Hinamori began to fidget, Matsumoto apparently decided to take pity on her fellow lieutenant and offered her escape. "Well, it's been lovely visiting with you. If you're all done, why don't I see you out?"

"Sure." Hinamori stood and followed his lieutenant to the door then paused and turned back. "Thanks for the tea, Hitsugaya-kun."

"Captain Hitsugaya," he corrected.

She scrunched up her face in that frustrated way that he found adorable. "Captain Hitsugaya."

"You're welcome, Hinamori. See you later."

With a reluctant grin and a wave, his favorite guest left. Once the door slid closed, he let his smile break out and listened to the fading sound of the two lieutenants' voices for a moment before returning to his desk.

"I'm back, Captain!" called Matsumoto as she entered the office nearly half an hour later. "It was so nice of her to deliver those papers herself. She's sweet."

"Yes." He replied distractedly, not bothering to look up from the reports Hinamori had brought.

"She says you've known each other since before you entered the Academy."

"Yes."

His lieutenant settled behind her desk, and out of the corner of his eye he could see that she was watching him with a big grin on her face.

After a minute, he couldn't stand it anymore and sternly returned her gaze. "What?"

"So there are some things you enjoy." Matsumoto's expression was too satisfied for her own good.

"Get to work!" he growled.

"Yes, sir!"