Author's Note: So lately, I've been super busy, school is getting more and more demanding as you can probably tell by my utter lack of update since September aside from an occasional one-shot every now and then. I'm going to try to start up a fresh new fic, but I don't know if I'll ever have time to finish it. We'll just see what happens for now. Also, I'm really sorry. I'm very uncreative, so sorry if my plots get repetitive. I know this one is.
Being in a state of war, everyone in Soul Society was busy.
Even Matsumoto hadn't found the time to have her weekly drinking parties lately, because she was constantly occupied helping her captain take care of administrative business. Not even the workaholic young taichou could handle the work load that had been pouring into the tenth division office.
Records of casualties had to be made, mission reports had to be filled out, letters of apology had to be sent to the families of all the men and women who had been lost in what seemed like a never-ending war.
Tenth division seemed to be one of the worst off. Hitsugaya sometimes wondered to himself why he had so readily agreed to take on the fifth division's paperwork as well. This had doubled his already large burden, and the load was growing bigger and bigger as each day passed.
Yet, even in all this madness, Hitsugaya was often able to find solace in the brash young substitute shinigami, Kurosaki Ichigo. Despite their differences, the strawberry was always more than eager to visit the icy captain in times of stress and even help out with the paper work.
Although normally quiet, Hitsugaya felt perfectly at ease around Ichigo and was able to tell him anything and everything about what happened each day. And despite his loud and obnoxious personality, Ichigo made a good listener.
As the days passed, the young captain of the tenth division had secretly grown rather fond of the substitute shinigami. He didn't have the nerve, or the will, to tell him though. Ever since Kusaka had died, he finally felt like there was someone out there who understood him and cared enough to treat him like any other person, not like a prodigy or a captain. He was content to stay just friends though; he was grateful for that much. He didn't mind if they could never be anything more. As long as he could be by his side and watch him fight, watch his antics, listen to his warm, comfortable voice…he was satisfied.
Thoughts like these would often cross Hitsugaya's mind as he carried on with the mundane paperwork.
He flipped open another page, a soft sigh escaping his lips as his bored teal eyes moved languidly across the rows of kanji.
He was alone in his office at the moment. Matsumoto had been out on some errands.
At the sound of his name, Hitsugaya looked up from his paperwork and over his desk to see a messenger, who instantly dropped to one knee with a lowered gaze as was expected of one in the presence of a captain.
"Yes?" he answered, "What is it?"
"This is a message from the sotaichou," was the messenger's answer as he rose back to his feet, producing a sealed, folded sheet of paper. "It contains classified information," he continued in a low voice, "Please read it carefully."
"I understand," Hitsugaya answered quietly, taking the message.
"If you'll excuse me, sir."
The prodigy nodded briefly, and in a flash of movement, the messenger was gone.
Looking around to make sure no one was near, Hitsugaya slowly turned the sheet over in his hands, the slender, delicate fingers moving to unfold the paper to reveal the message contained within.
He scanned the message, blinking.
You have been chosen to be deployed to Hueco Mundo tomorrow morning alongside a few other selected subordinates of yours. We feel that your abilities will best suit the conditions of this mission. You will be debriefed on the requirements for this mission before you depart tomorrow morning.
However, please note that this mission is extremely dangerous and there is a 95% rate of failure with consequences. Should you return alive with the mission completed, your efforts will be of tremendous aid to Soul Society in this war. To be able to carry out this mission is a privilege and you should be honored to have been selected.
Declining this mission is not an option.
This mission is strictly top-secret and sharing information with any others not concerned will result in capital punishment.
We will be expecting you in the fourth division office no later than 5:00 sharp tomorrow morning.
He read the note again, stunned speechless.
A ninety-five percent failure rate.
That meant that the odds were against him. He only had a five-percent chance of making it out alive.
In other words, he was being drafted on a suicide mission.
Hitsugaya swallowed, his grip on the note tightening the slightest. He would not be afraid, he told himself. After all, this was a privilege. Such dangerous missions were only given to the strongest shinigami officers. Should he die in the process, he would die in honor.
He found his mind wandering back to Kurosaki Ichigo.
Would this mean that he wouldn't see him again?
A sudden, loud, sing-song voice interrupted his thoughts.
A moment later, the office doors burst open, and in sprang the very strawberry he had been thinking about at that exact moment, a triumphant, self-satisfied grin on his face.
"Kurosaki?" Hitsugaya blinked in surprise. Hastily, he shoved the message into his desk drawer.
"Still working?" Ichigo asked, crossing the room towards the young captain. "Isn't it about time for your break or something? C'mon, I want to talk to you."
"I'm sorry, Kurosaki, I don't have time to rest right now," Hitsugaya sighed, moving on to the next sheet of paperwork, picking up the brush again. "There's a lot of things I need to take care of. Matsumoto hasn't been able to help today. I've sent her out on some errands."
"Then I'll help," Ichigo offered.
"Don't trouble yourself. I'll take care of it."
"Are you sure you can't take a break?" the substitute shinigami persisted, "I need to talk to you."
"No, that's not what I mean," he answered, "I need to talk to you. One-on-one. Like…you know. A real talk. I've been thinking for a while, and I've thought of something that I think I need to tell you."
"Is it important?"
"Fine," Hitsugaya answered, setting the brush down, "But try and make it quick, will you?"
"I'll try," Ichigo replied.
There was a brief pause before the strawberry-blonde teen finally blurted out in a garbled string of words in rapid succession, "Uh-I've-been-thinking-for-a-while-Toshiro-and-it's-been-like-this-for-a-while-but-I-figured-I-might-as-well-tell-you-now-and-uh-I-think-you're-really-pretty-and-I-really-really-really-like-you-and-I-don't-mean-that-in-a-you-know-like-you-like-a-friend-way-but-kind-of-more-than-that-you-know?"
Hitsugaya blinked, his eyes narrowing.
"I can't understand a word you're saying, Kurosaki. What are you blathering about anyway? Say it again. And slower this time, please."
"Ah…" Ichigo mumbled, his face flushing a livid shade of beet red. "Well…uh, you know…Don't laugh at me, okay? But I…"
"I can't do this," the strawberry mumbled sullenly, "You're going to think I'm stupid."
"You've already started," Hitsugaya answered impatiently, "And you might as well finish. What is it that's so important that you need to say to me?"
"It's just that people are wrong about you," Ichigo answered, his face getting redder and redder, "You're really not a grumpy little party-pooper…I think you're tons of fun and you're really nice, and everyone already thinks you're super pretty, but…I really like you, Toshiro."
The silence that followed was so awkward that both of them wanted to die.
"And, uh," the strawberry mumbled, "I was kind of wondering if you'd, um…you know. Go out with me."
Hitsugaya's face remained expressionless, although on the inside was an entirely different story. He likes me, the prodigy thought to himself, He wants to go out with me…?
He would have accepted if the note he had received a few minutes ago had not crossed his mind.
This mission is extremely dangerous and there is a 95% rate of failure with consequences.
He bit his lip. Why did this have to happen now? There was no way he could bring himself to say "yes" like the strawberry hoped he would. What would the point be? He was probably going to die soon anyway. Why make Ichigo suffer as well?
He inhaled deeply before taking a poker face that quickly hid his frustration.
"I will not," he responded icily. "I'm afraid to say that I don't feel the same way about you. You're little more to me than a person to chat occasionally with. I have no desire to go anywhere beyond that."
Ichigo's face fell, his chocolate eyes casting downwards.
"Kurosaki, I…" Hitsugaya began, his voice wavering. He hated to turn the strawberry down and lie to him. But this was the only way to ensure that if he died, there would be no suffering or grieving on Ichigo's part. "I'm so sorry."
"No, it's fine," Ichigo mumbled without looking at Hitsugaya, "If that's how you feel, then I guess it's not my business to try to change your mind."
"You may leave now," the captain murmured, looking downwards so Ichigo would not have to see his face. He couldn't take it anymore. But he had to keep pretending.
"Why didn't you tell me in the first place?" Ichigo asked, rising to his feet. "If you really can't stand me…why didn't you tell me? You really didn't have to act like you cared."
"Th-That's not what I meant," Hitsugaya protested, looking back up, horrorstruck. "I like being with you, Kurosaki. I really do. It's just that…"
"Make up your damn mind already," Ichigo responded fiercely, the biting edge to his voice making the young prodigy's hear sink. "Don't lie to me because you feel bad."
"I'll see you around," he muttered, turning away and leaving the office in such a hurry that he was gone in a moment, leaving Hitsugaya opening and closing his mouth, staring wide-eyed at the empty space where he had been moments before.
Slowly, with trembling hands, he opened the drawer and took the note back out, folding it back up again and slipping it into the folds of his robes.
It didn't matter anymore. Nothing mattered. It wasn't like he was going to live to make any more impressions on the strawberry anyway.