This was meant for Valentine's Day. But I got the idea (from a picture that I drew) and started writing on it the day before.

As always, I have my two very dear friends who help me tremendously in all my writing: Aine of Knockaine and Millythompson.

All Bleach characters are owned and operated by Tite Kubo and not by me. Such a shame. The only thing I own are many Hitsugaya figures and posters.

(Update: This is reposted. I couldn't stand the mistakes any longer)


Lost and Found

"I can't believe this!"

Hitsugaya looked over at his childhood friend from under hooded eyes. With legs outstretched, he had been leaning his head against the wall where he sat with eyes closed, in a totally relaxed state of mind. That is, until her frustrated cry interrupted him. Now, peering out at her from under his long lashes, he found Momo frowning down at the floor.

The two were seated in the balcony section above the practice floor after engaging in a long sparring session. As usual after vigorous exercise, a sense of well-being had enveloped him. He was doing the atypical for him, enjoying a respite from being a captain, if only for this short time. They were both still sweaty, but early on he had taken off the top half of his shihakusho and thrown it over the railing. At first, Momo had grumped that it wasn't fair as she fanned her face while lifting her hair off her damp neck, trying in vain to cool down. At his invitation that she could do the same, delivered with a faint smirk on his lips, shut her up right quick.

"This can't be happening! Not again!"

Hitsugaya automatically pushed away the stubborn forelock of hair that habitually hung down over the left side of his face. Only now, it was drooping even lower and obscuring the vision in that eye. Running a bony hand through his hair, he was vaguely aware that all his silvery-white spikes were drooping after the intense session, but at least he wasn't having as hard a time with his hair as Momo was with hers.

Hinamori looked up at him and frowned with a slight shake of her head. "You shouldn't be sitting half-naked like that; you'll catch a chill for sure and end up in a bed at the Fourth." He would have grunted in response that he didn't care so why should she, when his response was muffled by his captain's cloak landing in his face.

"At least put that on!" she huffed at him.

Toshiro sat forward and slipped the cloak on, not that he needed it; he never got sick when it was cold out. Already the days were getting shorter and cooler and the tingle of sharp air only caused him to inhale deeply. Winter would soon be upon them, and it was no secret that it was his favorite time of year.

Leaning back against the wall, Toshiro watched Momo twist this way and that as she searched the floor around her, patting the floor as if her missing cloth had turned invisible. He suppressed a smirk. The Fifth's lieutenant could hunt for it all she wanted but he knew she wouldn't be able to find it, but decided to play along anyway.

"What are you looking for?"

Momo didn't answer; she was far too preoccupied with her search.

Toshiro took that moment to study her face, which was still flushed from their workout with her hair hanging messily about her face and shoulders. One hand kept swiping at the wayward strands of dark chocolate back, but it was a futile effort. Every time one strand was swept away, another swung back around to stick to the sweat on her face. Finally, with a frustrated growl, Momo grabbed a hunk of it in her fist keeping all focus on shifting their things around in her continued search.

Quickly Toshiro smothered the rising chuckle. It wouldn't do to let her know how amusing he found all of this, especially when her escalating annoyance indicated that the universe was playing a perverse prank upon her by hiding the cloth that helped hold her bun in place. Besides, it was at rare times like this that he could watch without her being aware of his close scrutiny. He continued to watch and then decided that what she needed from him was some kind of expression of support and concern.

"What are you looking for this time, maybe I can help?"

Now Momo turned to look at him with honey-brown eyes the color of newly turned earth and ripening grain fields, settled her gaze on him; her much irritated gaze that is.

A wild thumping began in his chest, stomach flipping, and abdomen muscles tightening, and along with sweat erupting on his palms, making them damp and cold all at once. It was something that happened all the time these days, all the time when he was around her. Hitsugaya resisted the urge to wipe them on his hakama. If he wasn't absolutely certain that it was just this particular fukutaicho's presence that caused his body to react so wildly, he would have checked himself into the medical division long before this. However, it didn't take a genius to figure out that it was Hinamori and only Hinamori that was having this kind of an effect on him.

He forced his body to relax as he smiled at her; smiled like a sympathetic friend. Toshiro had an image to maintain even now, despite the fact Momo never let that cultivated exterior influence her one way or the other. In fact, most of the time she acted like she didn't notice it. He almost snorted at the thought, she probably didn't. His childhood friend had always been able to see through the deflecting layers of ice to the true heart of Hitsugaya underneath. Yet, paradoxically, she was blind to what was obvious to others. His silver brows pulled down in a slight frown. No doubt she still saw him as a child, albeit a highly gifted and talented 'captain' child, but there was the crux of the matter: In her eyes he hadn't changed although it was obvious to everyone else that he had over the last year. When standing and facing each other he could look her straight in the eye and the growth spurt didn't look close to stopping yet. Did she notice at all? Not hardly.

He came back to himself with a start; she was saying something to him, obviously repeating herself because now there was a small pucker between her dark brows showing her concern for him.

"Uh? I'm sorry Momo, but I was sidetracked."

"I said, 'I am looking for the same thing I am always looking for. I can't believe I lost it again! This is like, what, Hitsugaya-kun the fifth time?" As if reminding herself, her eyes dropped back down to the balcony floor they were sitting on, before looking over her shoulder to the practice floor. Obviously it wasn't there as it would have been easy to pick out on that barren floor. Swiveling back to Hitsugaya, she made a huffing sound of disgust.

"I can't believe I lost it here, though. It doesn't make any sense!" A reflective look crossed her face as her eyes lifted in thought. "This is the first time we have practiced indoors since the weather turned cold. I can see losing my haircloth outside, but not when we are using an indoor practice arena. I should be able to find it! There's no wind to carry it away like those other times."

Except that I was "the wind" all those other times too, thought Hitsugaya with an inner grin.

Momo cast another frustrated glance around her.

"It's just so irritating Hitsugaya-kun! And now I'm on a first name basis with all the ladies at the fabric shop! They see me coming and get out the fabric I need. I've also taken to buying it by the yards now!" With and annoyed look, Momo reached for her sandals, slipping them on and tied them without looking. After gathering her towel and water bottle, she rose to her feet and walked over to the wall where Tobiume and Hyourinmaru were left leaning against the wall after the bout was finished. Without glancing at it, Momo deftly slid her zanpakutou into her sash.

As she prepared to leave, the tight look smoothed from her face but reappeared again when she jerked her head to swing the hair out of her face. It did, but only for a second before it fell back around her chin and cheeks. "Stupid hair! I should just cut it short like Isane's!"

"Don't!" The word burst from Hitsugaya's lips before he knew it, earning him a surprised look from Momo. Hastily, he said, "I like it… it looks… nice." He could have smacked himself. Nice? Quick, he could fix this, "It looks cute that way." Instantly he could feel his face heating up.

"Oh Hitsugaya-kun!" grinned Hinamori, "I didn't know you noticed things like girl's hair." Then she giggled softly, a light blush staining her own cheeks. Smiling, she continued, "Thanks anyway, but right now it looks a fright." She reached up and jerked at a particularly offensive strand.

"No it doesn't! It's prett…." Oh damn, he had done it again. His mouth was not connected to his brain anymore that was for sure.

Momo stood stock still, nearly gaping at him.

Momo couldn't decide where this new Hitsugaya was coming from. He was giving her compliments about her physical features when in the past he only used to insult them, and her. This wasn't making sense. Maybe he wasn't feeling well. Or it was something he ate. Or it could be…. She almost chuckled aloud. No, it certainly wasn't that! There was no way that Shiro-chan thought of her that way! How ridiculous!

Without thinking she tossed her head to get the hair back and this time when it fell back into her face, she stomped her foot, forgetting all prior shocking thoughts about whether her Little Snowy liked her in a different way or not. "Oh I give up! Stupid hair, wait until I get you home! It's headband time for you, then you'll be sorry!"

Turning to leave, Momo started to walk away when she looked back over her shoulder to Hitsugaya. "If you see it, would you hold onto it until I see you next time?"

The silver-haired genius (not feeling much like a genius at the moment) of the Tenth waved a hand to indicate he would, not trusting himself to say another word to her.

"Well, it's time for me to get back now." She gave him a quick bow saying, "Thank you for your time Hitsugaya-taicho, I appreciate it!" With that, she turned and walked away.

As he watched her move down the stairs, he wondered if he could ever get her to call him "Shiro-chan" to his face again… that is, without coming right out and asking her to. No, she called him what the others usually called him nowadays either, "Hitsugaya-taicho by his subordinates, or Hitsugaya-kun by his peers". Most of the time these days, she remembered to refer to him by his correct title, "Hitsugaya-taicho". Somehow, it didn't give Toshiro the pleasure he thought it would. Strangely, the respect he had once insisted on didn't seem quite so important, not like it once did. Over time a new emotion and a new desire had come to replace it.

Repressing a sigh, he watched her slender form. Momo was once again in vice-captain-in-training-to-be-a-captain mode. You could hear it in her voice as she moved from one role to the next. He regretted that part, because as she was being groomed to be a captain she was becoming more formal around him, not less. He wondered if when she was promoted to captain rank if she would unbend and once again call him by a more familiar name. Some captains were more stiff and formal, while others more relaxed and laid back, and of course, there some who were just plain crazy. Momo seemed to be falling into group that went by the formal mode of address, at least with him.

On the other hand, their training together for a few hours every week gave him a chance to be around her without having to cobble together some lame excuse, (each one he had come up with had sounded clumsy and graceless even to his ears) to drop by her unit.

As it was now, each captain was required to work with her on a different area of their choosing and talent to train her. What would normally take years was being crammed into a period of months. It was Hitsugaya's duty to help her work on perfecting her bankai, which was deplorable.

Unohana's job was to encourage and train any healing tendencies, Kurotsuchi with anything related to the sciences, Kuchiki to help with her kido, and Zaraki with helping her build her spiritual power. Each captain had a hand in her training and they were working her hard, upon the unexpected announcement from the Captain-General that several of the vice-captains were to be given training by the captains to get them ready. Soul Society needed all the captain spots filled by winter. And winter, he grimaced, was getting closer. If the Soul Society weren't in desperate need of captains, then this stepped-up training wouldn't be in place. Izuru, Hisagi, and Abarai were among Hinamori's classmates that were also being thrown into this training.

Everything was going well as it could, especially after he paid a visit to Zaraki and Kurotsuchi to very bluntly and a good deal of hostility, warn them that if they so much as caused Momo to stub her toe, he would come back looking for them and the outcome wouldn't be pretty. Kurotsuchi merely stared back at him before harrumphing indignantly and storming off. Hitsugaya took that to mean that the Twelfth's Captain would comply. Zaraki had grinned a wolfish smile and demanded they battle, right then and right there. It had ended in a draw, with both captains exhausted and panting. Zaraki had never stopped smiling insanely the whole time, but when they broke apart at the end, he merely said, "I see she is someone precious to you. If it causes you to fight like this, then I can respect that. Let's do this again sometime Tenth Captain!"

Upon that remark, Zaraki had turned and swaggered back to his division. As Hitsugaya watched the company number on his back receding into the distance, he heartily hoped that it wouldn't be anytime soon. There wasn't a muscle that wasn't sore and aching, but considering he was doing it to protect Hinamori, it was well worth it and would do it over a hundred times more for her sake. He just hoped she never found out. She never appreciated stuff like this.

All these thoughts and more went through Hitsugaya's head while never taking his eyes off Hinamori's retreating back. He kept watch until she slipped through the massive double doors leading outside. Once she was safely gone Hitsugaya looked down at his hand and was surprised to find it clenched so hard his nails were digging divots into his palm. He relaxed his fingers to study the fabric he held. It was Momo's light green cloth used to keep her dark brown hair from coming loose from the hair bun she customarily wore.

Hinamori had never lost it like she assumed she had. Hitsugaya had used his superior talent and abilities to shunpo behind her and tweak at the strings holding the cloth in place, until it came loose and was subsequently stolen in the midst of an aggressive and hard-hitting attack. It kept her from realizing what he was doing. And yes, he was that good.

Although, the first time wasn't his fault, not really. The cloth had come loose by itself and Toshiro had snatched it midair when passing by her in a shunpo too fast for her to catch. After that, it had turned into a game.

The smirk Toshiro had been suppressing the whole time Momo had been with him, slowly spread across his lips. She was wrong, it wasn't the fifth one gone missing, it was the sixth. Hinamori never connected the fact that it was only when they sparred together that the cloth would come undone and disappear. It was probably because she was kept so busy these past hectic weeks that she didn't have time to put two and two together. Whatever it was, it worked in his favor.

The smirk slowly transformed into a tender smile that reached up and warmed his usually cool blue-green eyes, causing them to brighten as he studied the fabric in his hand. With a chuckle Hitsugaya tucked it into the top of his hakama. Upon returning to the office he would place it with the others. What started out as a new way to tease Hinamori was turning into quite the little trophy collection. He could only shake his head and hope he wasn't turning into a pervert.

Hitsugaya tied his sandals on and with one smooth movement rose to his feet. After swinging Hyourinmaru over one shoulder and the top half of his shihakusho flung over the other, he left the training hall and stepped outside. Normally, anyone else would shudder when the brisk fall air hit their sweat-soaked clothes and bare chest. Hitsugaya merely breathed in deeply and then let it out with a contented sigh of satisfaction. Definitely his kind of weather.

Still, he wasn't impervious to the weather and took off in a shunpo that would land him outside the door to the Tenth Captain's quarters. Before getting back to the office, he needed to wash the day's exertions off and get into a clean uniform. Hitsugaya liked to present the image of a well-groomed and capable captain. Especially when he had to deal with a certain lazy, comfort-loving lieutenant.


Momo hobbled through the door of the Fifth Division. That morning she and Captain Unohana had met for their scheduled training session. It included sparring, although she was mainly there to learn healing kido since Momo was already a master of kido used in battle. One would think training with Kurotsuchi and Zaraki would be the ones to bring terror into any sane shinigami's heart.

So wrong.

She was beginning to replace that belief with her own hard-learned experience. The gentle-mannered healer of the Fourth was not considered to strike fear into the hearts of others.

While the mad man of the Research Division and the beast of the Eleventh were indeed scary and terrifying in their own rights, Momo had learned that Unohana was, by far, the scariest of them all! It was just no one ever saw her that way because she rarely showed others what she was capable of. Deep in her thoughts, reflexively Momo gave her head a shake of incredulity. People thought captains Kuchiki and Hitsugaya were the epitome of control. Little do they know!

Momo rubbed the sore spot on her arm where Unohana taicho had smacked her a good one, easily sliding past a defensive block. It was still achy even after a warm soak and a hefty dose of pain reliever cream rubbed in. She also rubbed the cream on the leg muscle that still ached in protest every time she moved to get up and walk. Darn that Shiro-chan! Momo wasn't sure if she was more indignant by the fact that he had slapped her thigh with the flat of his zanpakutou (getting by her guard way too easily!) or of her own inability to stop him. After all this time, she had been hoping that her skills were improving. At times like this, it seemed not.

Glancing around to make sure no one was nearby and then listening for any telltale sounds signaling someone was approaching down the hall, Momo allowed herself a small pout, despite the fact that Captains did not pout. Trying to picture Captains Yamato, Kuchiki, Zaraki, Unohana, and even Ukitake pouting made her smile. She could, however, picture Captain Kyoraku pouting. He had the lips for it.

With a quiet groan Hinamori hobbled to her desk feeling ancient and crickity. At this rate she was going to be using a cane before everything was said and done. And how wonderful that would look! With her luck, she would have to use crutches or a walker to get to her own promotion ceremony, and with all the captains in attendance to watch every step of it! The image caused her to flinch. There were no two ways about it; not only did she have to improve before the war started but definitely before the ceremony! Maybe the captains were too disciplined to snicker, but she wouldn't put it past certain vice-captains she knew!

Maneuvering herself in front of her chair, she reached back to grip both arms before lowering herself into it with a heartfelt groan. After wiggling around to get comfortable, the chair being too big for her because it was Aizen's; she made a mental note to self, get a new chair from the Supply Department, before reaching for a huge pile of paperwork on the desk.

Swinging her feet back and forth, because the chair was also too high for her as well as deep and wide, she flipped through the stack of papers trying her best to give each one the attention it deserved. It was hard though, the pressure to get through them made her want to just scrawl her name and speed through the stack.

Rubbing the small ache developing between her eyes, Hinamori wondered, how did Aizen find the time to do all the work expected of a captain and also time to set in motion his complex and lengthy plot to betray the Soul Society? As usual, thoughts of Aizen caused her heart to squeeze in pain; even after all this time. Interrupting the thoughts that were threatening to spiral down, her stomach took that moment to rumble, a blatant reminder that it wanted to be fed, and it wanted to be fed now, thoughts about a traitorous captain be-damned. Momo rubbed her stomach while reaching for her pen and began signing papers with a furious speed, barely taking the time to read them determined to reduce the pile by just a few papers before leaving for a meal. Her stomach didn't think much of her work ethic and let her know it in no uncertain terms.

Finally, when stomach walls threatened to collapse in on themselves from hunger pains, Momo stood up from her desk and stretched out the kinks. Then staring down at the pile, she was tempted to leave it for later, or even tomorrow, but she knew they were already late in being delivered. Rapidly thinking over her next day's schedule, Momo's shoulders sagged. It was slowly dawning on her that a captain never got caught up, not really. There was always a bucket load of forms on her desk every morning. All she could do was try and stay abreast of it. And in her case, not only was she doing half of a fukutaicho's expected work but also she was busy training the third seat to take over her old position. Then there were the daily sessions lasting two to three hours each. It seemed she was continually running from here to there, arriving wherever it was she was supposed to be, panting and flustered.

All of this meant that Momo rarely had a moment during the day for herself and she was always teetering on the verge of exhaustion. Closing her eyes, the Fifth's lieutenant pinched the bridge of her nose to give her eyesight a few seconds of rest. It was getting to the point she wished they would find some fault that would keep her from being promoted.

She heaved a sigh and stared down at the accusing pile of papers. One more thing before she could call it a day and go get dinner. How had Aizen done it? He had gotten all his paperwork processed in a timely manner and still found time to plan a betrayal over years and to such a depth. Again, she was thinking about Aizen. It seemed to happen whenever she got this tired or hungry. Well, she had to stop it, people were counting on her and she didn't want to let them down.

Also, hating to admit it, she still felt responsible for what had happened. A fukutaicho's job was to be the constant presence, a step behind the captain in order to protect his back. No one was supposed to know and understand the captain more than the vice-captain. He had fooled everyone, but even the person who practically lived in his back pocket? In her own estimation, Momo had failed miserably. She would not forgive him, nor would she forgive herself.

Momo winced. Well, she wasn't able to even think about forgiving herself until she told Unohana taicho about her theory. That had not ended well.

"What? Does Hinamori fukutaicho think herself beyond the rank of captains? Are you saying that YOU above all others should have been able to penetrate a captain's bankai? If I was not able to do so, nor the Head Captain, nor any captain here, what makes you think you should have been able to pierce Aizen's mass hallucinatory power?"

Then with that little smile gracing the corner of her lips, Unohana had lifted Minazuki until the end was pointed right in her face. "If you are fool enough to take on sins you have not committed then do so, but it will only burden you down. But my advice to you is that you not take on that which is not yours to carry. That is pride and arrogance. Be warned, if you continue in self-pity it will lead you into that trap."

Then, in a few seconds flat, with a imperceptible twist of her wrist Unohana and a push of reiatsu, had disarmed Momo and then sent her flying to the floor while Tobiume went soaring to land with a metallic clang in a corner. No two ways about it, Momo knew when she was thoroughly whipped, with zankpakutou and words.

"Consider my advice Hinamori fukutaicho. This is not about just you anymore. This is about all of us and all the intended victims of Aizen's aim of ascending the mount of godhood."

With that, Unohana sheathed Minazuki, turned and walked away.

Momo grimaced at the memory and let out a sigh. Aizen would pay for his crimes, but she needed to take Unohana's warning and not drown in her own feelings of guilt. No more whining, no more feeling sorry for herself. From now on she was going to set her sights on becoming stronger. Of course there was no certainty that a certain former Fifth lieutenant would meet Aizen on the battlefield, but if that happened, she wanted to be ready for it.

Just then her stomach rumbled again, and this time Momo snatched up the papers and hurried for the door, determined to finish her last chore of the day so she could placate her growling stomach.

"What brings you here Hinamori?"

Momo covered a yawn with her hand before placing the last few papers leftover after delivery to the other divisions, on Matsumoto's desk. Rangiku's job as vice was to sort them out and put the ones that were addressed to the captain in his In-box, then deal with the ones in her field. Momo doubted that would happen.

Matsumoto picked up the new stack that meant more work for her, and gave it an indifferent glance before walking over to Hitsugaya's desk. With a lift of her elegant nose, the vice captain of the Tenth dropped her work and her captain's on his desk.

"Rangiku!"

Tossing her thick mane of hair the color of the rising sun over her shoulder, Matsumoto looked back at Hinamori and asked, "What?"

Momo looked down at the papers she had just delivered, and let's face it, slaved over prior to this and then gave her friend an exasperated look.

"You have to go through those, not just toss them on Hitsugaya-kun's desk! It's your job!"

Matsumoto shrugged, an action that would have distracted any healthy male within range from the subject at hand. Momo just fumed, although Rangiku's impressive chest was like a mammary train wreck, it was hard to look away when she was using the 'girls' as a diversion, no matter which gender one happened to belong be. Momo snapped her gaze up to find Matsumoto smiling knowingly at her. Darn her! How did she get to be promoted to a lieutenant anyway!

"No, Momo, I don't. Taicho will do it. He likes doing paperwork. He lives for it. It gives his life meaning. Besides, he thinks it makes him look more adult."

"He does not!"

"He does not, what? He doesn't think it makes him look adult, or doesn't like working?"

"You are shameful! Really Rangiku! He only does it because he knows you won't."

Matsumoto raised a slender, elegant hand up to flip a strand of hair back over her shoulder and gave Momo a wicked grin. "Exactly."

Momo rolled her eyes and dropped the subject. This was an old and futile argument.

A leisurely, cat's grin spread across Rangiku's face. "You have to know how to pace yourself Momo."

Now Hinamori looked at Matsumoto curiously. "What?"

"And you have to know when to stop and take a nap. When was the last time you had a good night's sleep?"

"Er, I, uh…." The dark-haired girl shrugged indifferently. Her nights were short but that was just the way it had to be for now, although lately she had switched her morning tea to coffee to get her started for the day.

"Well, I can see we need to plan a girl's night out. That's all there is to it!"

Momo cringed. Girl's night out. Oh her golden-orange haired friend made it sound like fun, as all of Rangiku's ideas seemed at first, but as all knew, the buxom vice-captain was impervious to alcohol poisoning. (Momo had a sneaking suspicion that Rangiku's breasts worked in much the same way as a camel's hump. It kept her from getting drunk. It was also a conjecture that she would never think of sharing with massively endowed friend.) If Matsumoto ever suffered from a hangover, it was the Seireitei's best-kept secret.

"Um, well, maybe some other time Rangiku. I'm busy that night."

The Tenth's fukutaicho narrowed her eyes, which were turning a steely gray. "I didn't name a time or night yet."

Momo's eyes went wide, pleading for her friend to understand. "You know I am not a drinker, besides I am so buried in work right now that I don't think…."

Matsumoto broke in, "That's the problem Momo, you are buried in work and they are going to bury you for real if you don't break away and have some fun. You are working more than Taicho and that is saying something!"

Rangiku placed her fists on her hips and stared fiercely at the younger woman. She disguised the very real worry and concern she felt for Momo. The well-meaning captains were doing an excellent job of training her but were also wearing her down to a little wisp that would blow away in the slightest of breezes.

Reaching out to Hitsugaya's desk, Rangiku snatched up a sheet of paper and shook it at Momo. "You are going to be as thin and white as this paper if you don't get out…." She stopped short, something catching her eye. Where Momo was supposed to sign her name as officially acting-captain-in-training-pants (or some title equally absurd) it only had the first two letters of her name scrawled in before coming to an abrupt halt. Momo must have been interrupted in the middle of signing her name.

Matsumoto started to chuckle and then realized that if she didn't take advantage of Momo being present here and now, then Taicho would personally make her run it over to the Fifth's headquarters to be signed. Her fine brows came together in a frown. Knowing him as she did, Hitsugaya would most likely make her go when it was naptime.

This time Matsumoto shook the paper at Momo, with an entirely different intent. "You need to sign this! I am not going to come trotting over to your office right during the time me and the girls need our beauty snooze."

Momo knew what that meant, Matsumoto's legendary and infamous naptime.

"Sign this!" Rangiku stepped forward to wave the sheet in the Fifth's lieutenant's face. For her part, Momo moved quickly to the desk looking for a pen. An irritated Matsumoto was not to be trifled with, not in any cycle of reincarnation!

Noticing Hinamori was unable to find a pen, Rangiku pointed to the drawers and said, "Just grab one out of Taicho's desk, he keeps them in that drawer. He won't mind at all. It's for a worthy cause and all that." She waved a hand vaguely in the air.

Momo doubted that, but reached for the drawer anyway. Although she wasn't sure if it was the right one because Rangiku's finger wasn't pointing at anything specifically but rather, was waving in an ambiguous circle that encompassed the desk, wall, window and even Momo herself.

Hesitating for a fraction of a second as this felt like a violation of Hitsugaya's privacy, Momo reminded herself that a pen was needed and that was all she was going to do was get a pen and then sign the paper. As Rangiku said, it was for a worthy cause, who could get angry with that?

Just as her fingers reached in and touched something soft, which felt like fabric and definitely not a pen, the door was yanked open suddenly and a bitter cold blast of frost blew in the room. Convulsively, her fingers clutched at the cloth even as she jerked her hand out and spun, face flushing with guilt to face the reason for the marked drop in temperature.

Stepping into the room was a scowling and thoroughly annoyed white-haired captain. Along with his physical presence, the room filled with the heavy pressure of his reiatsu.

"We weren't!" squeaked Momo, not even caring what she said, only some form of denial was called for at the moment.

Hitsugaya took everything in with a flick of his blue-green eyes before his glare settled back on the women in front of him.

Rangiku pointed a finger at Momo and said, "She made me!"

Hitsugaya was not fooled and narrowed his eyes at his fukutaicho. "I'll deal with you later."

Matsumoto was already gone, an empty space with the light scent of her perfume the only lingering evidence of her having been there.

Hitsugaya then turned his attention to Hinamori, taking note of how huge her golden brown eyes were, her hands clasped to her collarbone, (a nervous old habit that was a dead giveaway of her agitation and anxiety) and her starting to gnaw on her bottom lip.

The captain of the Tenth knew Hinamori assumed he was upset. He was, but not at her. No, it was with his fukutaicho, knowing her as well as he did, Hitsugaya had the desk rigged so he would know if she should ever take it into her head to go through it. He did keep the keys to all the supply cabinets and closets in there, which was also where the unit stored what little alcohol they had on the premises. Upon being alerted, Hitsugaya assumed he knew what was going on. Finding a guilty-looking Hinamori before him, and obviously a little fearful about his reaction, caused the silvery haired captain study her a little more closely.

Then, it was all Hitsugaya could do to keep his eyes from bugging out of his head. Freezing from shock, wide blue-green eyes stared at the cause for his sudden alarm. For there; clenched tightly in Hinamori's hands was one of her haircloths - namely, one he had taken the day before. Thin snow-white brows came down so hard they caused deep furrows to form between his eyes. Taking a few seconds to compose himself, Hitsugaya studied Momo carefully, wondering why she wasn't more upset with him, why she wasn't spouting accusations at him.

Then it dawned on him. Momo wasn't aware of what she had in her hand and if he could get it away from her without her looking at it, she would still be in the dark and he would be in clear.

Momo finally got her voice back and stammered out, "I'm... sorry… Hitsugaya-kun. I was looking for a pen…." She unclasped one of her hands to point at what had been at one time, a neat pile of papers but were now scattered all over the desk and floor. "Yes, that's right, a pen. You know, a pen to sign with. I forgot to sign my name, but I needed a pen. See!"

Momo held up the hand that was supposed to be holding a pen and then stared blankly as her mouth dropped open in surprise. In her outstretched hand was one of her haircloths. She gaped at it as shock gave way to incomprehension before lifting wide light-brown eyes to look at Hitsugaya questioningly. When… Where…

The room suddenly erupted in ice. It raced up the walls and engulfed the light fixtures, plunging the room into gloom. The rays of the setting sun glanced off and made ice particles glitter and sparkle. Momo watched the office transform into a winter landscape, even as the ice spread across the windows plunging the room into cold gloom.

The weight and flavor of Hitsugaya's reiatsu spiked and raged about the office and Momo took a few steps back. As another wave of cold whipped by her, tearing at her hair and stinging her cheeks, Momo gave a small cry and threw the cloth (which should have been a pen) away from her and bolted for the door.

The very next instant, Momo was inside her living quarters, panting and shaking, while wondering what had just happened. And that pen she had thrown up in the air looked suspiciously like one of her haircloths. Her nose scrunched up as she frowned trying to remember. Yes, now that she thought about it, she was sure that it was. But if it was, what was Toshiro doing with it?

Just then her stomach rumbled and remember her stomach was still waiting for dinenr. Tiredly she headed for the little kitchenette, deciding to eat in rather than go to the Fifth's dining hall. First thing though, she would put water on to boil to have tea with her dinner, her nerves were jittery and her mind full of confusion. Firmly, the petite fukutaicho put the questions roiling in her brain off to the side until she felt more settled and calm to deal with them.

"TAICHO!"

For the first time ever, Matsumoto caught Hitsugaya off guard, but it was only because his thoughts were filled with Momo and what had just happened. He had never felt this horrible before, not even the time when they were children and he had snuck up behind Momo and scared her, trying to imitate being a 'normal' child. It didn't work. He had to apologize the rest of the day plus a scolding from Granny. It was indelibly etched in his memory, Momo's tears, and Granny's disappointed look. Those were far worse than any tongue-lashing he deserved and should have received.

This was the second time he had frightened Momo and Toshiro could easily imagine Granny looking at him in disappointment again. The two people he never, ever, wanted to hurt because they were the only two people in his whole childhood that never showed any signs of fear of him. Silver hair and blue-green eyes were not only unusual in the Soul Society, but they also stood out like a beacon declaring how odd he was compared to those around him.

"Taicho!"

Hitsugaya came back to himself with a start; again Matsumoto had caught him off guard! He snapped his head up to find her waving a hand only inches from his face.

Once Hitsugaya's vice had his attention, she backed up, silently acknowledging the invisible bubble around him. Taicho definitely did not like his personal space invaded.

"What?!" Hitsugaya retorted brusquely.

For once Matsumoto was staring at him with the serious expression she usually reserved for a dangerous mission.

"You need to go after her." She said, enunciating each syllable slowly.

Snowy brows lowered in a frown. "Why?"

Rangiku let out a frustrated breath. Why was it that the smarter they were the dumber they were about love.

"She thinks you are furious with her. You scared her!" And me too, but she wasn't about to admit that out loud. "And knowing her as I do, she will be kicking herself all evening while trying to think of a way to make amends for something that isn't her fault."

Now he lowered his eyes to the ground, guilt gripping him.

"If I did go over there, what would I say?" He softly asked.

Rangiku smiled with her teeth clenched tightly. This was a simple thing really, but some captains were so clueless! She reached up and rubbed her forehead. Okay, start with something simpler than simple, since he wasn't getting it.

"First, you go in and apologize for frightening her." She had Taicho's complete attention now. His large blue-green eyes were fixed on her as if she was spouting forth the wisdom of the ages. Well, maybe for him it was.

"Next, you are not going to leave until you have a little sit down and chat with her."

Hitsugaya looked at his vice-captain suspiciously. "Why?"

"Because this has got to stop."

"What?"

"This headgear-snatching fetish of yours." Oh and was his face turning an Abarai red or what? She smiled at him with just a touch of old memory showing in her eyes. "Please tell her how you feel about her. Don't let it go until it is too late. If you do, you will only have bitter regrets to mourn over. Don't make that mistake."

Hitsugaya stared into Matsumoto's gray-blue eyes hearing what she hadn't said out loud. His mind whispered it to himself, "Like the mistake I made." The shadows in her eyes convinced him more than any words spoken and he moved toward the door. Before closing it behind him, he said without turning to look back, "Thank you Matsumoto."

"You are welcome," came the whispery answer as the door slid shut, and then she yelled after him, "AND SPEAK FROM YOUR HEART NOT YOUR HEAD!"


Momo washed the last of the dishes, placed them in the rack to dry, and wiped her hands on the towel with a nod of approval. Now she could relax for a bit before getting ready for bed. She moved into the living area when her head came up with a snap.

Hitsugaya-kun was approaching and obviously he wanted her to know beforehand since he was doing nothing to hide his reiatsu.

Momo looked around her in a panic. What could she use to make it look like she was too busy to entertain company? Her nails needed to be done? Her hair needed washing? A zanpakutou needed polishing? Or maybe she needed to wax her lamps, buff her plastic flowers? No, panic was making her silly, her place was spotless and there was nothing that needed doing right then, dammit.

Frantically brown eyes darted back and forth for something, anything to use as an excuse, but nothing presented itself as a handy pretext to send Toshiro home. Paperwork was done for the day, or else she would still be in the Fifth Company's office. Now she panicked and spun in a circle. Should she say she was getting ready for a date? Momo slapped her forehead. No, Toshiro would know it for what it was, a blatant lie. Think! Think! Think! Momo pounded her fists on the sides of her head. It didn't help, all she was getting was a headache.

A knock sounded at her door and she stared at it. Should she disguise her voice like the cleaning lady? "Miss Momo not here. You go away!" Yes, that would work except for one little detail. She didn't have a cleaning lady! Maybe she should check into getting one.

When the knock came again, a little more forcefully, Momo jerked in place before taking a hesitant step toward the door.

Act normal, act normal, act normal… Momo chanted to herself as she moved toward the door. Once there, after taking a deep breath, she straightened her shoulders, and then jumped as yet another impatient rap sounded on the wood, startling her.

Conjuring up a wide smile, she pasted it on and slid the door open. Standing there, as she knew he would be, was Toshiro, glaring at her.

Before she thought to say she was too tired could he come back some other time, she had already stepped aside and gestured for him to enter.

Hitsugaya glanced at the artificial expression Momo was deluded into thinking was the perfect social smile for awkward situations.

"What's wrong with you, you have an idiotic look on your face."

"What!" Momo snorted, previous expression completely evaporated, "I do not!"

Hitsugaya smirked. That was one way to get her acting more like normal.

Arching one snowy brow, he said, "It's a dopey look and you know it. You should try to look more ladylike. Maybe take lessons from Matsumoto."

Practically steaming, Momo clenched her fists, "I don't need lessons! You're the one who's a dope! And since when does Rangiku act like a lady?"

Hitsugaya gave himself a mental high-five. In just a few words, Momo had gone from stiff and fake to genuine and feisty.

"Good."

"Eh?"

"I like you better when you aren't pretending."

"I wasn't pretending."

"Right, and Matsumoto wears a training bra."

"I wasn't! Oooh darn you Tos.. er Hitsugaya-kun, you are so infuriating!"

Hitsugaya ignored her and looked around the place before turning back to her. "Aren't you going to invite me to sit and offer some kind of refreshments?" One eyebrow arched up again, "After all, that is how refined people treat their guests."

The withering glare she gave him made him want to laugh, but he held it in not wanting to make her any angrier.

"Sit!" she practically snarled pointing to the couch before stomping over to the kitchen area to prepare some tea. "I am making plum tea."

"I don't like plum tea."

"Tough! You're drinking it tonight!"

"Some hostess you are." Hitsugaya paused a beat, able to tell she was listening by the stiff set of her shoulders. "You seem pretty tense."

Hitsugaya thought to himself, if she were any more rigid she'd snap in two.

"Well I'm not! I'm as untense as they come!"

"That's not a word."

"It is tonight you snowy little elf!" Momo practically spat the words out. How he could go from frightening her to making her spitting mad in the course of one evening was... well, indecent!

"Tall as you now Momo!" Hitsugaya replied before permitting himself a quiet chuckle as he moved to the couch to sit down. She was a nervous wreck for her to snap so quickly.

There was a pause before her voice came back in soft reply, "Er, I apologize, Hitsugaya-taicho."

"It's quite alright Momo, but it's just us old friends here so you can drop the act."

"I am not acting!" She shook a teaspoon but then noticed the smirk lifting a corner of his mouth. Without even a hint of annoyance (she simply refused to give him the satisfaction), she flipped back around to finish making the tea.

He gave a huff of irritation and then said, "At least call me by my name while I'm here." She turned to stare at him somewhat glassy-eyed so he clarified, "You don't have to call me Hitsugaya-taicho tonight. Okay?" She hesitated and then nodded.

He watched her for a moment and then unconsciously wiped his palms on the thighs of his hakama. Despite needling her, Hitsugaya was inexplicably and uncharacteristically nervous. He didn't get nervous, but now not only were his palms sweaty, but his stomach was queasy too.

When Momo returned carrying a small tray filled with tea cups and a teapot, Hitsugaya realized he had been hoping for some kind of miracle to happen, the clouds to open and reveal the exact and perfect thing to say to not only break the tension, but also how to start apologizing. He had to admit, it wasn't something he was excelled at.

Momo placed the tea set on the coffee table between them and sat in the loveseat opposite him. Only then when she was across from him with the weight of his eyes pressed on her did she remember about earlier. Uneasily, she shifted on the cushion wondering what to say. Maybe she should smile.

"Don't make that dopey face again."

"I wasn't!" Momo protested guiltily. How well he knew her.

The silence stretched out again as Momo cast her eyes about the room trying to think of something to talk about, while for his part Hitsugaya couldn't take his eyes off of her. Now that he was here, all the things he had thought to say on the way over had fled his brain.

"Well, I see by the schedule I got today, I have practice with you tomorrow." It was weak, but at least it filled the strange tension that was starting to fill the room.

Hitsugaya could have kicked himself as he watched her shift about nervously on the loveseat. At least she was trying. What had he done to contribute to the conversation, nothing but a few insults.

He cleared his throat, "Ah Momo, the reason I am here is because…."

"Cookies!"

"What?"

He watched as Momo jumped up and raced over to a jar on the counter. Taking the lid off, she reached in and pulled out some cookies, and then hurried back. Before she sat back down she thrust a couple in his hand.

"Can't have tea without something sweet to munch on," Momo supplied brightly.

A little too brightly it seemed to Hitsugaya and he studied her with suspicion. Then he looked down at the cookies; they were dry and crumbly and must have been forgotten in the jar for months. "Um, thanks, I'll eat them later." He put them down on the tray.

Rubbing his palms on his hakama again, Hitsugaya told himself to be a man, be a captain, and definitely be someone who knows what to say! Just then a piece of Rangiku's advice came back to him, "speak from the heart" she had said. He really didn't know what that meant, but suddenly found himself opening his mouth and speaking, anyway.

"Momo, you and I have known each other a long time," he paused because Momo was vigorously nodding her head. "What are you doing?"

"I'm just agreeing with you Hitsugaya-kun."

This was going to be harder than expected. "Well, stop it, you look like some weird kind of bouncy puppet-head doing that! And please, just Toshiro, if you don't mind," he said ended wearily. This, indeed, was getting to be the hardest thing he had ever done.

"Right. Toshiro." Strangely, that didn't sound right either but he let it go.

"Momo, I came over to…"

"Lemon wedges!" Momo leaped to her feet and started for the kitchen. However, she found herself stopped midstride by a thoroughly irritated Hitsugaya blocking her path.

Closing the distance between them, Toshiro grabbed her hand and glared into her eyes. Momo leaned back and tried to take a step away but instead was pulled forward.

"You are really making this difficult! I am here because I want to apologize for yelling at you earlier and also for the unnecessary display of spiritual pressure."

"Oh."

"That's all you have to say?" He dropped her hand and took a step back, he must be allergic to the cookies, his heart was racing and his breath was raspy even in his own ears. Still, he refused to quit now, he still had to man-up and confess one more thing.

"You haven't been losing your haircloth thingies." He turned his face to the side, but couldn't help but glancing at her from out of the corner of his eye, wondering how she was going to take this next part.

"Since the first, I have been… taking them."

Momo's chin dropped. "Toshiro, why would you want them?" Then her eyes narrowed and she looked at him askance. "You don't…. wear them, do you?"

"God no! I just steal them!"

"Shiro-chan," she giggled, "I haven't seen your face turn this bright of a red in ages!" Then it occurred to her, he could see it on her face and dreaded the next question.

"But why?"

His jaw wouldn't work. His throat was tight, and his mouth was suddenly dry. It was all Toshiro could do to just stare at Momo as she waited for his reply. Oh, he was definitely allergic to something, he just knew it. Sweat was prickling in his pits, his palms were wet yet again, and his heart was slamming away like a drum in his chest. If this wasn't some kind of illness then he didn't know what was.

"I…. I…. I…."

Momo took a step closer and peered into his eyes. The closer she got the more his heart raced. Seriously, if this kept up, he would pass out soon.

"Toshiro, what are you trying to tell me? Just spit it out. I'm not mad about my haircloths, really I'm not."

Much to Hitsugaya's surprise she leaned in closer and he almost forgot to breathe. Then she patted him on the arm, saying, "You're forgiven so you don't have to feel bad anymore, okay?"

"I feel much more than that!" The words burst out of his mouth, much to his surprise and hers as his eyes sought hers, instantly locking onto them. In that moment he knew what he what to say to her!

"You are looking a little…" Momo didn't have a chance to finish her sentence for Toshiro had swooped in and caught her mouth with his. Not waiting for a reaction, which wasn't forthcoming because she was frozen with shock, he slipped an arm around her slender waist and pulled her to him. It was pure ecstasy to have her pressed against him, sending tingles throughout his body and ending with a feeling of lightheadedness.

Finally lifting his head from hers, Toshiro gazed at Momo's shocked face, enjoying the sight of a rosy blush rising in her cheeks. A strange emotion of manly satisfaction rushed through him and he couldn't keep the smile from lighting his face.

"Wha… what did you do that for?"

Surprised, he loosened his hold and stepped back. He thought it was pretty obvious. Wasn't it obvious?

"It's pretty obvious isn't it?!"

"Do you like me Toshiro?" Her voice and expression told him of her clear uncertainly in the matter.

"Like you! I love you, you idiot!"

Momo's eyes wrinkled up in laughter. "This is a joke right?" But when her eyes opened to look back at him, he was closer again and reached to grab a hold of her upper arms with both hands. Pulling her to him, he whispered softly, breath fanning her cheeks, "I have always loved you. I just didn't realize it for a long time." Upon saying that he leaned in and ghosted his lips across hers in a gentle kiss. Now was the moment he knew would either kill him or give him new life.

"Momo, I know this is all so sudden, but I have to know. No, I need to know!" He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and rested his forehead against hers, choking out in a ragged whisper, "What do you feel for me?"

Toshiro felt her take a deep breath but he cut her off, "If you don't feel anything but friendship, I promise never to bother you with this again." Were hearts supposed to beat this loud and hard? Would, could his survive this teetering on the edge of the abyss of despair and the uncertainty that would dictate the state of his soul after these next few seconds?

"Shiro-chan," she whispered, and he felt the light touch of Momo's silky lips coasting across his cheeks, chin, nose, before finally coming to rest on his mouth. Lights exploded behind his eyes and a dizzying tingle rushed through his veins. As soon as her lips lifted from his Toshiro ached for a reunion of the two. That is, until a feather soft whisper told him, "I love you too, Shiro-chan."

With a whoop of joy he never ever thought he was capable of, he wrapped her up and spun around before coming to a stop. Gently he set down a flustered Momo and embraced her until their bodies were flush against each other. A smug smirk formed as he replied, "Good. That makes it easier."

"What easier?" Momo tilted her head questioningly at him, still somewhat breathless from being so recently airborne.

"To tell you that I like your hair down better!"

While Momo's brown eyes stared at him blankly, Toshiro grinned and darted in once again to catch her lips with his, letting all the pent up joy and passion pour into and through every part of him touching her. Toshiro only broke away to plant a line of light kisses from her lips, to her neck and up again. He stopped only when she tapped him on the shoulder.

"Hn?" He made the questioning sound as he nuzzled a spot behind her ear.

"You still owe me for the ones you stole" Momo breathed out in a throaty whisper that sent a shiver down his spine.

"I'll make it up to you right now," and with that fell back onto the couch pulling a laughing Momo with him. Within seconds her current haircloth floated to the floor while dark hair tumbled down around her shoulders and tickled his face.

As Toshiro speared his fingers into the silky tresses, he murmured into the soft skin of her throat, "Oh yes, this is much better."

______________________________________

Comments and reviews would make the author (that's me) very happy.