Commander in Brief

I grimaced as the words echoed through my mind again. "The Squad Ten captain is hereby relieved of his duties as temporary commander." Over and over again the words haunted me, but why did they trouble me so?

I had been put in charge of the capture and termination of the bounts, and I had been given full responsibility. I spread forces thin; blindly I led the Seireitei into chaos as the bounts infiltrated and decimated us. I left in the midst of all of this to find the intruders myself, which only turned out to be another wild goose chase. No one could find me or contact me, and by the time I returned to the Seireitei I was ordered to report to that meeting. The one in which Head Captain Yamamoto told me that my services were no longer required.

I had never felt so useless in my entire life.

And then there was damned Kurotsuchi who had to open his idiotic mouth, all the while Kyoraku felt the need to step in and defend me. I wish he wouldn't have. It was embarrassing enough to have my failure announced to all the other captains by the head captain, but then to have two of those same captains argue over my abilities…! I just couldn't stand it.

"Captain?" a tentative voice called from outside my office door.

"Come in," I responded, not really feeling up to the company.

"Hey," she greeted, strutting inside before plopping down on the couch. "What's on your mind?"

"Nothing, Rangiku. What do you need?" I replied irritably.

"Oh, I was just getting a little worried about you. It's not like you to sit around staring off into space," she mentioned casually, flipping through some reports and papers on the table that needed to be completed. Had I really been spacing out? Totally unaware of anyone watching me? No, impossible! I wasn't that easily distracted.

Damn it! I'm Captain Toshiro Hitsugaya of Squad Ten! I am no pushover! Furthermore I am not someone that a pitiful group of humans—even super humans—can make a mockery of by evading me and thereby forcibly removing me from my position as commander!

No, that's not right. I frowned to myself and glanced down at my hands folded on my desk. I was only temporary commander. It's not like I'm power hungry or anything. Losing the position of commander didn't bug me that much—or at least it shouldn't have. I ran a hand through my shaggy hair and let out a sigh. Why was this entire matter so irksome?

Perhaps because my ultimate goal as a soul reaper was to make it to the top, yet wasn't that every shinigami's dream—to someday challenge the head captain and possibly take charge of the Thirteen Court Guard Squads? I thought briefly of Captain Ukitake and Captain Kyoraku; they didn't seem like the type of soul reapers who would want to make it to the top. They seemed content simply being captains, nothing more, nothing less.

"Captain? Yoo-hoo!" Rangiku interrupted my thought process with her obnoxious noises.

"What—why are you here?" I questioned angrily, jumping up and slamming my hands on the table before me.

Rangiku look vaguely surprised by my outburst, her lips barely twitching down into a frown. "Captain, why are you so worked up today? Ever since that meeting you went to after we returned inside the Seireitei…"

"That's enough, Rangiku," I intervened quietly before she could continue her barrage, reclining back in my chair once more. "Do you realize that I was placed in charge of the squads for a short period of time? That I, in fact, was solely responsible for the capture of those bounts that invaded the Seireitei?"

I felt her eyes on me and continued, "It was entirely my fault that the bounts made it as far as they did. Without Ichigo and his friends here we would have suffered many more causalities; not to mention the bounts would still be on the loose." I finally looked up at my lieutenant who steadily gazed back at me. One of those rare moments where Rangiku remained quiet and actually stayed off my nerves was passing me by, yet here I say wallowing in my own failure.

"Captain, I just wish you could've seen yourself out there," she replied at last, a thoughtful tone to her voice. "You were really something else. Hah, you looked so brave and cute!" She grinned at me, but her smile quickly faded after only a moment. "You really were truly courageous, and I'm not just saying that. Ask anyone who came into contact with you during the bount's attack; they'd say the same thing I'm sure."

I shook my head, spinning around in my chair to look out the window behind me. "It isn't about how brave I was. Courage is expected from all soul reapers, regardless of rank!"

"Captain, you led with a cool head and sure hand. You'll make an excellent leader someday, but no one's born perfect. Not even you, Boy Genius," Rangiku retorted smartly.

"Yes, I know as much—," I started to reprimand, but she swiftly interrupted me.

"No, you don't know, Captain. With all due respect, you don't." I could feel her glare through the back of my chair, but ignored it. "So what if you blew your big chance? One thing I know for sure is that there'll be more chances for you. You're destined for something great, Captain, otherwise I wouldn't follow your lead. No one would."

Perhaps Rangiku was right. I missed this chance, sure. I royally messed up, but for the most part it wasn't a fatal mistake. Ichigo and his friends; truly the entire Seireitei, had backed me up and assured that we won against the bounts. Even if that meant learning the hard way that I wasn't ready to lead more than my own squad yet.

I heard a fluttering behind me and turned in time to see Rangiku extend her finger for the black butterfly to land on.

"What is it?" I asked tentatively as the butterfly fluttered out the open window.

"Hmm," she replied thoughtfully. "It would seem that Renji and Rukia are being sent to the world of the living."

"Yeah? So what does that have to do with us?" I questioned, not completely certain I would like the answer.

"It would seem," –she paused to smirk at me— "that they're gathering a small force to go to the world of the living to help protect everyone from the arrancar. Sounds like they're assembling a mini-squad of elite fighters. Oh! It sounds like so much fun! We just have to go with them, Captain!"

I grimaced at the thought of being stuck in an uncomfortable gigai with Rangiku and a bunch of other idiots. Not to mention we would probably run into that disrespectful Kurosaki character.

"Captain?" Rangiku asked uncertainly. "If I may say as much, Sir, I think this would be an excellent opportunity to hone those leadership skills of yours. We'll need someone to keep all of us numbskulls in order!" she exclaimed exasperatedly, throwing her hands up in the air.

I would never know how, but somehow Rangiku always knew how to cheer me up. At least during those times that counted. Although it wasn't much I smiled up at her, just a little. She straitened up, returned the smile, and left without another word.

Absently I wondered who else would be joining us on this journey. I could only hope the group wasn't too roughly sewn together. The last thing I needed to add to my therapy list right now was more idiots. Either way though Rangiku was right. I needed the experience of leading a strong group on specific missions. I could only learn so much from sitting in my office doing paperwork all day.

Someday I would lead the Seireitei. Someday I would be the head captain; I would reach the top.