Hey. Sorry for the wait. This chapter was doozy and I rewrote it several times before I got this. Good news though. I can officially say that I have had a story posted for over a year now! It was a while ago, but happy birthday GG! Quite a bit of cameos: 4 if I'm correct. The fourth is slightly hidden though. A cookie to whoever guesses who it is. Now watch, its going to be so obvious. -_- Thus is my life. Alright enough complaining. As usual, be kind and tell me what you think even if its that this is horrible.

I do not own Bleach or any of the characters except the random OC. "In Too Deep" is by Genisis.

In Too Deep

It was mocking her.

Narrowing her eyes, Matsumoto ignored the hellcat's chiding remarks. Yes, she knew it was an inanimate object, but she was convinced that some demon had possessed it and was ridiculing her. There was no other way a regularly harmless piece of paper could look so smug.

The sun had begun to set long ago. The room was dark, the lights left unlit as night fell. The sun only left a tiny sliver of light across the sky as it sunk behind the marble buildings of Seireitei. No one had come to visit the office, the deadly aura turning away any who neared the room. Even the dutiful third seat had been unwilling to enter. Matsumoto sat at her desk, pen sitting idly in her hand, work going unfinished. She didn't care. She was too busy having an intense staring match with the transfer notice, and the note was winning. They both knew that there was nothing she could do about it.

Admitting defeat and telling Haineko to shut up, the blond returned to work, hoping the paperwork would distract her long enough for her anger to cool. "That childish, stupid, short, annoying, know-it-all, holier-than -thou, brat!" Her mental rant continued as the moon began to climb in the sky. The hellcat in her mind sniffed at the equally childish name calling, but didn't move to stop its wielder. Experience had taught it that interfering with one of the blond's rants only got you in trouble.

"Why can't he get off his pedestal for one second to tell me that he was transferring? Did it ever occur to him that I might want to know about it? That idiot! Does he even care?" The blond snorted in disbelief."When he gets back here, I'm going to...." Her pen stabbed viciously at the innocent form before her. With another frustrated huff, Matsumoto flung the destroyed paper into the trash, where it settled with the others she had desecrated.

"What are you doing?" The calm, slightly amused voice broke her out of her violent thoughts. The lieutenant looked up to find the object of her anger step into the room. She silently cursed the legendary stealth that the captains seemed to possess. The boy-genius quirked a delicate white eyebrow at the violent show. The blond found herself automatically examining her charge. His arm was still being supported in a sling, but there were no other signs of the battle he had fought less than a week ago. Unohana really was amazing when it came to healing. Squashing down any joy she felt at seeing the boy in better shape, she let her anger become the prominent emotion.

Obviously feeling the hostility aimed toward him, Hitsugaya didn't wait for a response. His barely audible footsteps were the only noise in the room as he walked over to the switch and turned the lights on. The blond blinked as her eyes readjusted to the brightness. Returning to his desk, heavy silence fell over the pair, only broken by the soft scratching of the captain's diligent pen. The air in the room was tense and Matsumoto thought she might choke if it wasn't broken soon. She refused to lose though. She wasn't going to be the first one to break, no matter how hard it was for her.

The tension dragged on for another hour. The woman changed her glare from the notice to the boy, happy to finally have a living thing under her smoldering gaze, while he continued to ignore her. Feeling a headache starting to form, the second-in-command frowned. There was no way someone could stay silent for so long. It was unnatural! Though, a lot about the boy genius was unnatural.

Matsumoto was completely surprised when the loud clack of wood on wood snapped her out her thoughts. Hitsugaya was watching her, teal eyes unblinking and cold. The blond flinched under the unforgiving stare, but steeled herself. She wasn't going to give him the satisfaction of seeing her squirm. Plastering a large grin on her face, she tilted her head to the side playfully. "Something wrong, Taichou?" She almost smirked as she saw his eye twitch.

"No. Why? Is there anything I should know about, Fukutaichou?" The grin brightened and her lips strained to hold it.

"Nope. Everything's fine, Taichou." Her face was in danger of cracking. The white-haired boy didn't remove his gaze, waiting for her to falter. Well, it wasn't going to happen. The clock on the wall ticked as silence engulfed the room. The woman turned back to her work, trying to ignore the stare boring into her. Matsumoto wanted to cry for joy when the door slid open. She didn't know if she could handle much more of this.

"Shiro-chan! How's your arm?" Hinamori entered the room, either ignoring the tense atmosphere or completely oblivious to it. The boy mumbled something about it being fine and how the sling was more of a hindrance than anything. The younger girl just smiled and wisely chose not to comment. She glanced around the messy desk. "Do you need any help packing?" Hitsugaya shook his head and glanced toward his lieutenant.

"Hitsugaya-taichou?" Hinamori had obviously proven that it was safe enough to enter and Shichiro stuck his head in through the crack between the doors. "The general wants to speak with you. The hell butterfly just left." The boy-genius nodded and thanked the third seat. He apologized to Hinamori for leaving so suddenly. Before he left he glanced back at Matsumoto and she pouted. Now he knew she knew and she wasn't going to let him get away without answering a few questions. From the look on his face, he knew his fate and was already making plans to have some business elsewhere. The strawberry-blond scowled. He may be a brat, but he was a smart and sly brat.

The door snapped shut and silence filled the room once again. Matsumoto had to stop from screaming. The quiet was going to drive her insane! At least the tension had dissipated with the captain's exit. Rubbing her temples, the woman didn't realize the younger girl was still in the room until she felt the stare. Glancing up, she frowned. "Is something wrong, Matsumoto-san?"

"Call me Rangiku, and no, nothing is wrong." The girl was obviously not convinced if the frown on her face meant anything. Matsumoto decided it didn't and went back to scribbling on the latest report.

"You're mad at Shiro-chan because he was transferred?" It sounded more like a statement than a question so the blond chose not to respond. She wasn't in the mood for this. All she wanted was a nice bottle of sake and to teach the little brat a very painful lesson. "You shouldn't be, you know. It's not his fault."

"That still doesn't explain why I have to find out while going through his stuff. He doesn't even have the decency to tell me after all I've done for him." The fifth-division member looked intimidated by the sudden outburst, but didn't say anything until the woman was done.

"You know it's not like that, Rangiku. Shiro-chan's never been good at saying what he feels. That's why he usually insults people." A loving smile pulled at her lips and she chuckled. "He probably tried to tell you but didn't know how to." Matsumoto paused as the night of the attack on their mission came, seriously uninvited, to mind. He had tried to tell her something, but had never gotten to it. Guilt slowly trickled into her stomach. Hinamori must have picked up that she was right and nodded. "I've known him for most of my life. We grew up together. He would always try to avoid saying anything that would hurt me or Granny." Matsumoto quirked an eyebrow at that and the girl blushed. "We learned early on that the insults didn't really mean anything. But, he probably told me and not you because it doesn't affect me so much. If the situation was reversed, I would be the one who didn't know anything."

The teenager frowned. "I don't like it though." At the questioning glance from the older woman, Hinamori shook her head. "He's being transferred to keep someone else from becoming the captain of the twelfth division. The Central 46 doesn't want him taking control of it so they chose Shiro-chan to take charge."

"And what's keeping him from becoming captain of another division?"

"Supposedly, he only wants to be the captain of the twelfth division. He wants to completely combine the twelfth division and the Research and Development Institute, like it was a few decades ago. He's been gaining rank and can take the test soon. Central 46 doesn't want that madman having that much power."

Matsumoto didn't need to ask who the person was. After all, Kurotsuchi Mayuri's insanity was known throughout Seireirei.

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Swords clashed continuously in the background as Matsumoto watched over the latest training exercise. A wry smile pulled at her lips as she settled back on the roof and let the rising sun warm her. She usually tried as hard as she could to avoid overseeing training sessions, even going as far as to push the job on some unsuspecting underling. Now, the vast expanse of dirt seemed like an oasis in a dangerously dry desert. The atmosphere in the office hadn't lightened and the blond was on the verge of losing what was left of her sanity.

Renji and Kira had tried everything to improve her mood. The hangover she had had yesterday from one their attempts had only succeeded in getting her away from the office for a few hours. Hitsugaya had been grateful to have an excuse to send her away it seemed. He had never been this nice when she had had a hangover before. It seemed the rest of Seireitei noticed the strained relationship between them too if the sudden decrease in visitors said anything.

Haineko's presence gently rubbed against her mind, a wave of compassion floated through their link. Matsumoto smiled. Even the hellcat had become attached to the boy.

"Sleepin' again, Ran-chan?" The smooth voice pulled her out of her musings. Sitting up, she blinked as Gin's figure was silhouetted in the morning light. Unexpectedly, the hair on the back of her neck stood up and her muscles tensed. Frowning at her sudden fear of her childhood friend, the blond shook her head and smiled up at the silver-haired man.

"Gin. Why are you here?"

"Captains' business. I'm not 'llowed ta tell ya, Ran-chan." The grin on his face took on a slyer look. "Where's the boy-genius? Ya seem ta be attached at the hip lately." The mention of the white-haired boy brought back her dark musings and a shadow fell over her features. Gin noticed and smirked. "I guess ya found out 'bout the transfer, huh? My my! Anything I can do ta help? I'd hate ta see ya two separated after ya became such good friends." Matsumoto tried to ignore the touch of sarcasm in the man's voice and shook her head.

"Not unless you can make Central 46 change their decision. Though, Kurotsuchi probably isn't the best thing for Seireitei."

"Ya'd be surprised how easily Central 46 can be persuaded." The grin on his face was predatory as he looked over the rooftops toward the large building housing the lawmaking body of Soul Society. Matsumoto glanced up at him, frown covering her features.

"What do you mean?" Gin's eyes narrowed into slits as he stared at her.

"Ya'll see." He pulled at letter from his robes and handed it to her. "Give this ta the Mini Captain at the end of the week would ya? Bye bye, Ran-chan!" Without any warning, the man was gone, leaving the woman to stare at the folded paper in her hand.

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She had no idea what she was doing. She had gone insane -- completely and unexplainably insane! That was the only reason she would have even thought about this, let alone be standing here.

Taking a deep breath, Matsumoto looked up at the giant building housing the Research and Development Institute. It was a fairly new building compared to the others surrounding it. The Institute had only been created a little more than a century ago and looked out of place compared the millennia old structures around it.

She shivered. This was one the primary places in Seireitei that people avoided. As soon as she had gotten into the district that housed the building, she had automatically noticed the lack of people. Even standing right next to the giant lab, she couldn't sense any of the hundreds of shinigami that had the misfortune to work there.

This was probably in the top ten of the most stupid things she had done.

Shoving her fear deep down inside, she raised her hand to knock on the door. It took all her self-control to not scream in fear as it opened before she could even touch it. A very thin, scholarly man opened the door, his eyes roving over her frame. "I didn't know we were expecting anyone today."

"I'm not expected. I need to speak to Kurotsuchi- fukutaichou. I was told he would be here." The man's expression would have been comical in any other situation. He was clearly wondering why anyone not ordered to be here would willingly come to the lab and even worse, want to speak to the head of the Institution. He must think she was off her rocker, something she was beginning to think herself.

"Alright. Follow me." Fighting off a shiver, Matsumoto stepped into the cold darkness of the lab. Her eyes took a moment to adjust to the soft blue glow of the room. Computers lined the walls of the first room, giving off the blue glow that was the only light in the dark building. As she entered, the shinigami working at the machines looked up in surprise. "This way please." They quickly exited the room and into a long hallway. At the end, a metal staircase that looked as if it spiraled all the way to the top was the only defining feature.

The thin man led her up several stories and through several more computer lined rooms. The farther they went, the less people there were. The darkness stretched one forever and the security heightened. Soon, every door was locked and only a retina scan would allow them to pass. Each room started to look more like something out of a horror movie and Matsumoto had to swallow bile after passing through a room with warped animals floating in tubes.

It was both with a sigh of relief and gut-wrenching worry that they came to the final room. Her guide knocked on the door and was ordered to enter by a hissing voice. Telling herself that both she and Kurotsuchi were lieutenants and equals didn't help dissipate her worry. The man was insane. She just hoped he was in a good mood and didn't decide to use her for his latest experiment. "Kurotsuchi-fukutaichou, Matsumoto-fukutaichou is here to see you." The blond wondered how the man had known her name, when the reason for her visit to this place ducked out from a walled-off section of the room.

"Oh? And for what do I owe this unexpected visit?" A cruel smile pulled at the man's lips and with a flick of his wrist, he dismissed the other shinigami. Matsumoto felt like screaming as the door and her only exit closed, leaving her alone with Seireitei's resident nutcase. Gathering what was left of her courage, she squared her shoulders and glared at the scientist. This only seemed to increase whatever enjoyment he was getting out of this meeting. A wicked gleam appeared in his eyes.

"Kurotsuchi- fukutaichou I..."

"Straight to business? That's not very good manners, especially since you stopped me in the middle of very important work. You might as well at least try and make small talk. No? Alright then. How about I show you what I was working on before you so rudely interrupted me." He held out a white, skeletal hand and the woman couldn't keep herself from shying away from it. There was no way in hell she was going near any of his experiments. Kurotsuchi frowned and withdrew his hand.

"Very well. Have it your way. What do you want?" The playful attitude had been replaced by an impatient one.

"I need you to withdraw your application for the captain's exam." The scientist quirked an eyebrow.

"And why would I do that, my dear? If I'm not mistaken, it's every shinigami's dream to become a captain. Why should I be denied the right to at least try?" The tone in his voice betrayed his confidence. He knew he would be made captain if he took the test. From the rumors Matsumoto had heard, there was no question about his skill, only his sanity. "Matsumoto-fukutaichou of the tenth division, I believe. Rumor has it that your little captain has been transferred to the twelfth." Anger flashed across the man's beady eyes and all signs of humor vanished. "Very odd, don't you think? Captains aren't usually subject to reassignments. What could Central 46 be thinking? Hmm?

"I hope you realize that, even if I did refuse to take the exam, your precious captain will still leave. Those bastards in the council don't want to give me chance to accomplish my dream! They're scared what will happen if I combine the twelfth and the institute like by dear friend Urahara did. They're scared of gaining power! Think of all the wondrous things I could accomplish once all these petty restrictions placed on me are gone. The only way to do that is by being a captain and I will not settle for anything but the twelfth division!" Kurotsuchi had begun pacing, hands moving wildly to accent his point. Matsumoto stepped back in fear, scared the man had finally lost it. But, as soon as it had started, the tantrum was over and she had those beady eyes on her again, scanning her as if she was one of his new projects.

"There is one way I know to make us both happy." The grin was back again, more devious than ever. "If you're willing, I can make sure we both get what we want and the simpletons in Central will have no choice but to keep the little brat in the tenth." Matsumoto felt a muscle in her face twitch at the disrespect for her captain, but wisely choose not to call the man out on the insubordination. "It's very easy, in fact. It will take almost no effort from you. The 'higher-ups' are obsessed with perfection. If something is not to their liking or not how it's supposed to be, they will do everything they can to stop it. We will use this flaw to our advantage. Do we have an agreement?" Every instinct in her body told her to get out of this hell NOW and not stop running until she was safe back in the tenth division's boundaries. She squashed the urge to listen to her body and nodded. This might be her only chance. "Very well, I'll..."

The man stopped as knocking resounded through the room and the scholarly shinigami from earlier opened the door. "Sir, Abarai Renji is here. He says he needs to talk to Matsumoto-fukutaichou immediately." The scientist frowned deeply and nodded.

"Fine." Turning back to the blond, Kurotsuchi smiled. "It seems other matters need your attention. I'll contact you tomorrow about our... arrangement." Without another word, the man pivoted on his heel and entered the walled off area but not before Matsumoto had seen what was behind it. The trip back was much faster, the lieutenant having to restrain herself from sprinting away from the room. The man was insane!

She finally returned to the first room and spotted Renji. The redhead was trying as hard as he could to not look anxious, but his stance only relaxed once they left the building. The man spun on her and grabbed her shoulders roughly. "What the hell did you think you were doing? Have you lost it?" Frowning at the insult, Matsumoto pulled his arms from her and shook her head.

"I needed to talk to him. He's the reason Hitsugaya-taichou is leaving. I thought I could convince him to give up on captaincy." Renji sighed in frustration and rubbed his eyes wearily.

"You have lost it." The small smile on the man's face took away from the bite of his words. "That man only cares about himself. Why would he want to help you.?" The blond woman shrugged. The less Renji knew about their transaction, the better. Whatever Kurotsuchi had in mind, it probably was something that many wouldn't consider legal. "Fine. C'mon. I'm sure you need a nice bottle of sake after being in that place. I know I do." Without waiting for a reply, the redhead grabbed hold of her wrist and began to drag her toward their favorite bar.

Before they turned the corner, Matsumoto spared one last look at the lab. She felt herself pale and shivered. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. It was too late to back out now, though. She let Renji order her drinks, hoping the alcohol would wash away the image of the young girl's body on the examination table, ready for whatever sick experiment Kurotsuchi was planning.