Falling is Like This

He wasn't sure exactly when he became taller than her. Just like you couldn't see the forest for trees, it was difficult to assess his own growth and…well, honestly?

He'd been so used to being short that he'd ended up becoming resigned to it.

When it turned out that, like ice creeping over the land in winter's early grip, height could be an insidious, sneaky thing. It took him by the surprise the first time he'd turned around, a curt question hanging on his lips, and found himself having to look down to glare at her.

He still asked her just why she hadn't finished her paperwork because a minor shock like that wasn't going to distract him from his work, but he had to admit that he didn't pay her rambling, convoluted excuse as much attention as he usually did.

Because what Hitsugaya Toushirou had discovered was that, while his vice-captain's assets had been dangerous when his face was on a level with them, they were positively deadly when viewed from above.

Whereas he'd previously regarded them as a sort of health hazard and a warm, bouncy something he'd often walked into with tiresome results (usually with him on the floor since they had phenomenal recoil power) he was suddenly discovering planes and curves and shadows that he hadn't been aware of before. When he had been younger and shorter, he hadn't had much choice about noticing them; now he had to do his best to avoid making them all he noticed.

"Taichou?"

Startled out of his musings (starings) he was relieved to find that his vice-captain's expression was only bemused and not accusatory. Having not absorbed whatever words had flowed around him like water, he settled for a stock answer (and besides, once you'd heard one story about her and those thugs from the Eleventh Division going out drinking and falling asleep without having finished the day's paperwork, you'd heard them all.) "Che. Just don't let it happen again, Matsumoto."

"Hai, Taichou," she replied with a cocky little smile flickering around her mouth because they both knew that it would.

Probably next week. Or tomorrow if she was on a roll.

oOo

But one crack was all it took for the dam to start bursting at the seams and it was as if, all this time, he'd been walking around blind. Because wherever he looked, there she was, just as she'd always been, but different. Or maybe he was different and Hitsugaya wondered with an awkward, churning feeling in the pit of his stomach like the one he got after he'd eaten too much watermelon whether the change in him was too fundamental to make go away.

As much as he wanted to return the upgrade to its producer, he didn't have much choice in the matter (Mother Nature was a stubborn old bitch sometimes) and so he was left being all too aware of the way Matsumoto's hair shone like golden flame sometimes or the way her lips curved up into that perfect bow or…dammit.

Previously, he'd always been so scornful of the guys who hung on every word his vice-captain had to offer (and boy was that a lot, particularly if she'd had a few to drink) since it wasted both his time and hers. If they couldn't keep their tongues in their mouths, then they obviously lacked the self-control that any self-respecting shinigami possessed.

Now he felt like a horrible hypocrite and the feeling left him short and snippy with everyone, including her.

Because, he supposed, he hadn't wanted to become just another one of her fanboys. He hadn't wanted to look at her and classify her on the basis of a pretty ('beautiful') face and a plunging neckline.

He didn't want to be relegated to the ranks of everyone else since, while she smiled and flirted and teased her admirers, she never went any further, never gave them anything of herself.

The fourth time he missed the gist of her report because he was too entranced by the curve of the place where her neck met her shoulder, he knew he was in trouble.

oOo

It didn't help that she insisted on treating him the same as she always had, as if he were still small enough for her to pick up and swing around while extolling the virtues of her cute little captain. She still made a point of laying out a plate of cookies for when he worked at his desk ('just in case you get hungry, Taichou – you're still a growing boy!') and she still teased him about how lucky he was to have a pretty little friend like Hinamori-fukutaichou. And she still took every opportunity to use his shoulder as a convenient place to rest her sizeable bosom whenever she leant over him, though his extra height now meant that she could only do this when he was sitting down.

It was still torture.

"Matsumoto…" he forced out through gritted teeth, clutching his pen a bit harder than necessary.

"Yes, Taichou?"

"Your help isn't necessary, really…"

She laughed, a rich, warm sound in the shell of his ear. "It's no trouble, Taichou. Look, here's our problem. The Eleventh Division's filling in the supply forms incorrectly. I thought requesting three hundred new uniforms was a little odd – thirty makes much more sense."

While she tutted over the Eleventh Division's somewhat questionably scribing skills, Hitsugaya felt warmth at his back and was resigned to it.

There was no arguing with her sometimes.

oOo

"Ne, Hinamori…"

Momo looked up at him over her bowl of noodles, all bright-eyed and attentive. "Hmm?"

Hitsugaya hesitated, unsure of how to proceed, but he'd committed by now and he forged onwards resolutely. "You're a girl, right?"

Momo blinked bemusedly, but nodded all the same, adding in a teasing manner that she was the last time she'd checked at least.

He rolled his eyes at her silliness. A few more moments of hesitation and then he took the plunge. "So you can tell me. Once you've…once you've started looking at somebody…ah…differently, can you ever go back?"

Momo's liquid eyes widened marginally. "Shirou-chan—" He gave her the obligatory scowl at the cursed nickname she still insisted on using. "Does this mean…?"

A pale complexion betrayed him as a pale wash of pink rolled upwards from his neck. His ears in particular stood out against his hair. "Shuddup," he growled from out of the corner of his mouth.

"There's a girl?"

"Shuddup!"

Momo was positively giving off sparks of excitement now, waves of excitation that seemed to roll out from her petite form and spread through the small noodle bar they were sitting in. "Shirou-chan! And a girl!" Hitsugaya hunkered down in his seat, embarrassed at her inadvertent volume, and half expecting the surrounding patrons to flock around in awe of the idea that cute little Hitsugaya-taichou had hormones after all! "Who is it? Is she pretty? No, don't tell me, let me guess! What are you going to do for your first date?"

Hitsugaya fled.

oOo

He tried Ukitake next because the white-haired man was known for being sensible and level-headed, even if he had a tendency to treat Hitsugaya like a child sometimes.

Mostly because Ukitake was so old, he reckoned.

Unfortunately, Ukitake was with Kyouraku at the time and while the former was tactful, the latter was not.

"Awww, cute little Toushirou-taichou has become a man," the captain of the eighth division said with a certain fond reminiscence that made the vein in Hitsugaya's temple twitch a little. The older man took a sip from his ever-present sake cup with a thoughtfulness that went at odds with his lack of soberness. "Discovering the warmth of a woman and all the wonders contained within…ah, therein lies the joys of masculine--"

"Ah, Hitsugaya, I'm sure you are busy with the monthly inspections. Don't let me delay you any longer. Perhaps we can reschedule for a more…opportune time."

Hitsugaya briefly had the urge to kiss the sympathetic Ukitake.

Then he decided that that would probably just make his problems even more complicated than they already were.

oOo

Hitsugaya looked at the doors to the Eleventh Division headquarters.

Narrowed his eyes.

And walked away quickly.

oOo

Years later, he will look back at this time and laugh, wondering just why he fought so hard to have someone else categorise the situation instead of doing it himself.

Then he'll remember that all firsts come with a sense of being scared shitless.

oOo

He returned to the Tenth Division Headquarters weary, irritated and having made no real headway with this little (big) problem of his.

Unless you counted ''making headway' as having Renji toss a string of condom packets in his direction. Apparently the redheaded oaf had heard something from Momo (Hitsugaya made a mental note never to tell her anything, ever again) and had decided to try and be funny.

'Try' being the operative word there.

He gave the entrance to his office a dubious look. Did he really want to go in there?

The thought occupied him for all of three seconds before his inner child (the one that actually was the age he looked) gagged and mimed vomiting. He chastised himself for being foolish, for actually considering not entering somewhere that Matsumoto might be, and pushed the door open.

For all his resolve, the captain of the Tenth Division was glad when he found the room dimly lit and seemingly empty. Some negligible amount of tension went out of the muscles in his shoulders and he may even have let out a quiet little sigh of relief.

Then, on the way to his desk, he rounded a corner and there she was.

Hitsugaya regarded the woman sprawled out on the couch (his couch) with tight lips and an eye that refused to stop twitching. When she was asleep and unable to ruin the effect by opening her admittedly large mouth, Matsumoto managed to look almost…gentle. Soft. And definitely more docile than she was awake.

It took him a moment to recognise the muffled thumping noise in the previously quiet room as the beating of his own heart. 'Stop that,' he told it irritably, but to little avail when his gaze snagged on her mouth. It took all of five seconds of staring for his resolve to shatter completely and he sighed, rubbing his fists into the hollows of his eyes.

Matsumoto really was more trouble than she was worth. And Hitsugaya was not known for his patience. So, logically, there must have been something about her that outweighed all of her irritating flaws that stopped him from trying to foist her off on another division. Not that there was anything at all logical about the confusing twist of something in his general stomach area that happened every time he looked at her.

Hitsugaya was a genius: he'd read the literature and could very easily guess at what his symptoms indicated.

He just didn't want to, damn it! He hadn't become the youngest captain in Seireitei's history by letting his hormones lead him where they would and he wouldn't maintain his renowned reputation by weakening now. It must be a phase, a period he was going through, something that he'd get over…

Matsumoto stirred in her sleep and turned onto her side. Those full lips parted a little and her chest rose and fell with a sigh.

Hitsugaya stared. And stared. And then, very quietly, buried his face in his hands.

This was so not happening. He was meant to be stronger than this.

'Or maybe you've finally grown up. Maybe you're finally strong enough to deal with this and all it entails.' A part of him pointed this out.

'Or maybe you're just scared to admit it.' That was the part that knew him better, the part that knew how he'd respond to a challenge.

Hitsugaya started to scowl, but the expression melted into something more pensive, and a little scared. After a perfunctory and completely unnecessary check to make sure that they were alone, the young man took a moment to look at her. Really look at her. And, however unwillingly, his eyes softened a minute amount.

She was his vice-captain, his right-hand officer, the one he counted upon to be there without him having to check. Tenth division followed him for his strength, but they followed her for her heart, and maybe that was why they were one of the best-functioning divisions in the Gotei Thirteen. She was the energy to his reserve, the emotion to his professionalism, the languid summer to his winter.

She was Matsumoto. And, like it or not, she was important to him. Maybe the most important of all he knew.

….he felt a little pathetic admitting that.

It wasn't so much of an enlightenment as a resigned acceptance of something that, in theory, he'd known for a long while now, but had refused to acknowledge. It was troublesome and annoying, as well as proof that he'd failed in remaining above the rest of those idiots who got led around by the nose by their emotions. But this was Matsumoto. In the end, he hadn't really had a choice.

The quiet wonder of the moment was suddenly torn by the woman in question smacking her lips together and mumbling something about how she needed more beer before she flopped back onto her back and began to snore with gusto.

Hitsugaya's left eyelid twitched a little. Then, astonishingly, he smiled.

Matsumoto really wasn't like other women. And that was probably why he loved her.

Not that he'd ever tell her – she'd never let him hear the end of it if she did.

…Well. Maybe some day. When he'd caught up in experience as well as height.

When he was ready for her.

oOo

Lell Says…

My Rangiku obsession continues, though Histugaya kind of took over here. And it seems a little…generic to me, but I suppose I'm still finding my feet in this fandom. There's a familiarity with writing the characters that I don't have yet, not in the same way as I would with, say, Naruto, or YuGiOh.

Practice makes perfect, I guess.

Title shamelessly ganked from Ani DiFranco's 'Falling is Like This'.

'Like you're trying to fight gravity

On a planet that insists

That love is like falling

And falling is like this.'