Author note: well…it's been a while. Hi? Haha…yeah, sorry about the wait…and yeah…enjoy the chapter?

Disclaimer: this is fan-fiction, and as much as I would like to say I own something, I don't. So yeah, I own nothing. Nothing!

CAUSE 3: Blame

"Speaking/thinking inside flashback"
Thinking/small flashback
""hollow speaking""

It wasn't his fault.

"Would you disobey an order for something you wanted to do, if you thought it was more important?"

Slowly making her way up to the roof of the school, Matsumoto blinked. Today has been a bit…weird. Alright, but weird. She can't fully say why she thinks that, but she knows that reiatsu she felt only minutes ago, (one she's sure she sensed before, yesterday to be precise) has something to do with it.

The reiatsu is strange, fleeting. It's there for a second before gone again, disappearing into nothing like it's never been there in the first place when she knows for a fact that it was there, that someone—or something was nearby. And it's a bit off-putting, being able to sense the reiatsu for a moment before it vanishes, especially because she's sure her captain is somehow involved with the reiatsu.

She doesn't know how exactly, or even if it's true beyond her own suspicions, but it still leaves her worried.

Which is why she's on her way to the roof now. Since they've been coming to this school, Toushirou always meets her and the others 10 minute before the bell rings to inform them if there's any news from soul society…but that was 7 minutes ago.

The bell is now going to ring in 3 minutes, and he has yet to come down and meet them. So instead, she's going up there to meet him to one; tell him that the bell is going to ring soon, and if they don't want to be late for 'class' they better start heading back now (she doesn't care so much for this undercover-student thing like the others, but it honestly doesn't hurt to play along while they are here right?)

At least coming here gives them something to do besides just hollow-hunting and awaiting orders.

As for her second reason, it's to check up on him. He's been acting strange lately, and for him to not come down when he should and has the same time for days is just adding to it, since she has yet to think of an event where Toushirou's late for something relating to his duties.

Meaning that something is up—besides the strange, vanishing reiatsu—and it's up to her to make that her taichou is fine, whether or not that said reiatsu is involved.

The only problem is on how she can do it. It'll be hard…considering who Taichou is… thought the ginger-haired woman, taking a right and heading up the stairs that lead to the roof of the building and Toushirou's new place of residence outside of class. It doesn't help that he's been a lot quieter.

For someone like Toushirou, who's quiet most of the time anyway, it'll make getting him to talk that much harder, if not impossible now. He's not known to just say whatever it is he's thinking.

Taichou's difficult like that. Always keeping things to himself. Matsumoto pursed her lips a small bit in a frown, all I have to go on is his actions…which, while can be helpful, don't actually explain the situation to me. the fukutaichou sighed and placed her hand on the railing of the stairs she was climbing, turning left up the stairs as they curved. He's moodier, been preoccupied…like he's looking for something…

He's also been going off on his own a lot too, hiding his reiatsu without saying where he's going. Matsumoto paused some at that thought, blinking her eyes. There was that comment about the souls too, but I don't know how that ties with everything else…

It's honestly strange. Hitsugaya has never acted this way before. He's had his times when he's been moodier and stricter, but he's always been focused. Even with all that's happened with the Aizen problem and Momo, he's been on top of things—she thinks he's even been more alert, wanting to catch Aizen for all he's done.

But that was up to at least a week ago.

Now Hitsugaya's just…off. Preoccupied even. He still does what he needs to—kill hollows and sends in his reports, but it's not with that cold determination he had before, that focus. It's blurred now. He does his reports, but instead of blowing through them without breaks, he'll pause for moments on end, just thinking or look out the window or whatever to just look.

Something has definitely changed. But what? What happened a week ago to change things? did he find some news on Aizen? No. Matsumoto shook her head quickly at that thought. If he did, we would have been informed and he would have reported to soul society.

Blue-grey narrowed a small bit. There was the arrancar attack…but he wasn't like this until a few days after the attack. If it was that, he would have been this way the entire time. So that's off the list…

Then what happened in the span of those couple of days and now? All Toushirou did was kill hollows and go to this school. There was that one time she and the others ignored a hollow and made Toushirou get it, but there's no way he'd be messed up by that. He's used to them not doing anything, her especially (because after all, who like work? Paperwork is far from her definition of fun).

"Well, maybe it's the work then?" mused the female out-loud. There's no need to worry about what she says if there's no humans around. "Captain has been killing a lot of hollows lately…I swear he jumps from one place to another…but he's always been a workaholic, I think taichou enjoys the paperwork he does. He does do enough of it."

(She of course, forgot to mention that it's because of her that he has so much work as he needs to do)

Rangiku sighed, running a hand through her hair. She's coming up with nothing when really, it can't be that hard. The signs are all there—she just needs to find out what they all mean. Running through Hitsugaya's actions again in her head, Matsumoto listed them off on her hand. "Has been easily distracted, moodier, quieter, leaving at random times without telling anyone and being all secret…"

When she came up with another blank, she huffed, lightly blowing a stray bang from her face in exasperation. "Ah~! It's almost like he's meeting someone—!"

Pausing at that thought, Matsumoto blinked, then gaped and paused at the corner step leading up to the roof. That's exactly how things seem! She can't believe she didn't think of this much earlier! The leaving at random times is definitely what someone does when they need to something, or more importantly, meet someone they don't want other to know about! And the being moodier and quieter part is because he doesn't want anyone to find out, so he's all careful about it.

As for him being distracted—he's probably thinking about that said person, or wondering where they are at the time! A shocked gasp escaped her lips and Matsumoto's eye widened, realizing what this could all mean.

Did Hitsugaya meet someone? Or more specifically a girl and has been meeting her in secret because he doesn't want people to know he has a crush on someone? Or maybe she's human and since human/shinigami relationships aren't approved, he's trying to keep her out of the spotlight to protect her?

Slowly, a grin appeared on her face and Matsumoto practically skipped the remaining way up to the door. All the signs lead up to it! Toushirou may be more of a closed-in person, cold, and has never shown any interest in relationships of that sort—but he can't be completely immune to things like that!

Especially because he's still a growing male, that despite being short for his age—is still a teenager! Things like this are sure to happen! It's probably even a good thing that it's happening now (it's definitely been long enough), so as unlikely as it seems, the possibility of Toushirou liking someone is high.

Matsumoto's grin grew and she clapped her hands together happily. "Oh, it's so cute! My Taichou's growing up!" she gushed, quickening her pace so she could congratulate Toushirou on his first crush and give him pointers on how to win over the girl's heart.

Maybe he'll even tell her who it is and she can meet the girl. It'd be interesting to see who it is that's captured Toushirou's heart and make sure that she deserves it. As his fukutaichou, it's her job to protect her captain, and that includes his heart! And if she passes, to celebrate, she can take this mystery girl out for shopping and general girl time! A win-win situation!

Before she could think any farther on the topic though, Matsumoto was left pausing at the door, her hand on the handle, finally remembering who exactly Hitsugaya was and that, even if he did have a crush—which she believes is completely and utterly true—he wouldn't say anything.

He'd keep it to himself until he either gets over it, or will never, ever say anything. Not even to the girl he likes. She deflated at that. That can't happen though. I know human/shinigami relationships are forbidden…and we might not be here for long, but it's Taichou's first love and he deserves all the happiness he can get! He's cold, but a good person and as his lieutenant, it's my job to make sure he's okay—love included!

Which means if she wants this to work out for him, she's going to have to follow him. Every time he leaves, or looks distracted, she has to follow to see who it is and find out what she can so she can help. Once she knows who the girl is, what she's like where and when they meet, she can give Toushirou some advice and pointers!

And if things come to it, she's sure she can get the others to help her!

Happy again and confident in her secret-mission, Matsumoto quickly opened the door to the roof and quickly headed towards her captain once she saw him in sight. "~Taichou! It's time to leave, the bell's going to ring~!"

Right before she rammed into him to give him the usual hug she always gives when greeting him though, Matsumoto noticed something was wrong and stopped a few feet behind where Toushirou stood.

His back was to her, and to anyone else he looked normal—but to her, who is well aware of most of Hitsugaya's moods, could tell that he wasn't himself. For one, he wasn't sitting down like he usually was while up here and secondly, his stance was tense and his hands were fisted so tight, his knuckled were almost as white as his hair.

His soul-phone, which he is so fond of using to report to and get regular updates from Soul Society wasn't even out; instead it sat inside of his back pocket, unused.

The biggest thing though, was that he didn't even notice her come up. He usually looks up at her when she first comes, but then goes right back to ignoring her.

Worry formed and took over the happiness she felt a moment ago, causing her eyes to look around the area in case something was amiss, but the roof was the same as it ever was. Empty, old, and plain. They were alone. "C-Captain? Is something wrong?"

Her hand slowly crept towards the pocket of her skirt in case something was wrong and she'd need her soul-candy, waiting for Toushirou to answer her—but he didn't. He was as silent and tense as she first saw him.

Something is seriously wrong. Hitsugaya wouldn't be like this unless there was. Taking a few steps closer, Matsumoto moved to his side so she could see his face and maybe even get him to notice her at the same time—and looked over to the shorter shinigami.

His face was almost blank, expression closed up, but his eyebrows were furrowed more than normal, and his mouth was a thin line, making him look…angry? Guilty? Confused? It was really hard to tell because he gave no sound or movement to prove any of these thoughts. His eyes though…

It was his eyes that had the most feeling in them. Those turquoise eyes were intent, deeply focused on something ahead of them—as if he was watching something down on the ground in front of the school, but when she turned to look at what he was watching, she found nothing.

There was nothing in front of the school. It was completely empty.

So then what was he looking at? Was he even looking at anything, or just thinking?

Toushirou suddenly moved and she quickly turned her attention back to the shinigami, hoping he finally snapped out of it—but he only reached for something in his own pocket and took it out, making her blink when she noticed it was his soul-candy. What's he doing? The only reason he'd need that…is if…

…is if he was planning on leaving. But why would he need to suddenly leave like this, and where? "Hitsugaya-taichou?" as she spoke she reached out to grab his shoulder to shake him awake—because now things are bad and she's worrying because he won't even answer her, let alone notice she's here, and it needs to stop

—but before her hand could even touch his shoulder Toushirou's hand shot out and grabbed her's on the wrist, stopping the movement as he looked at her. "Don't—."

He suddenly stopped, surprised when he looked up to see her. He blinked, and as quick as it came, the shock vanished and his normal cool disposition returned. "Matsumoto," he commented instead, dropping her wrist and acting like right now he just didn't seem himself. Turning away, he reached for his soul-phone, flipping it open to check over something. "When did you get here?"

It was a normal statement, but she could have sworn she heard something else in it, something off, something wrong…like disappointment. "I…" she opened her mouth, to ask him why his voice sounded like that, to figure out what is going on, but before she could, Toushirou raised an eyebrow at her, all cool and calm-demeanor again, leaving her blinking and shaking her head, going into the reporting mode she's gotten accustomed to by being a fukutaichou. "…just now, I wanted to tell you that the bell is going to ring—"

A loud bell sounded, proving her point. "—to ring, sir. You didn't come down at the time you usually did…so I came to check up on you."

Hitsugaya's eyes went back to the phone, scanning the screen for a moment or two for something she couldn't see, and that intent, focused look returned—before it was gone again and Toushirou closed the phone with his fingers and placed it back in its back-pocket. Then, placing his hands in the front pockets of his pants, Hitsugaya spared one last look towards the front of the school, but apparently finding nothing, turned, walking towards the door that lead back into school. "Right, let's go."

Matsumoto turned to watch as Toushirou walked, expression confused and worried because even though he seemed his normal self again, something was still very wrong about the way he was acting.

He's still…off. Still preoccupied. She's sure he still would be staring off into air if she didn't try to touch him and then, it took that and her being near him for Toushirou to notice her presence.

And…even then, before he knew she was there, he was going to say something—something he cut himself off in mid-sentence for when he saw it was her and not…whatever else it was he seemed to be expecting. She's not sure if he's aware that he did that, or noticed it, but it sounded like he was just about to tell her to not call him 'Hitsugaya-taichou.'

That has never happened, ever, in the past. Toushirou is serious about his position as a captain and hates it when people don't refer to him as one. Not once has he ever told someone not to call him by his title.

It's always the opposite. He's always the one telling people to refer him as such and now this? she doesn't know if it's just her being paranoid and she misheard him…but something—Toushirou—isn't right.

"Matsumoto, are you coming?" came Hitsugaya's irritated voice from by the door, and realizing she's just been standing there, in thought, quickly shook her head and nodded towards her captain, walking over to catch up to Toushirou though her mind was only halfway listening.

"Right, I'm…coming Taichou…"

Rangiku spared only one last look around the rood for anything abnormal before following her captain down the steps, worried and wishing so much she could figure what all transpired while she was down below with the others.

. . .

He never thought the sound of a bell would make him feel so relieved.

Walking out the doors of Karakura High School with his hands in his pockets, Matsumoto behind him and surrounded by humans, Toushirou couldn't get out of that place any faster—not wishing to deal with all the chatting and noise and general talking.

All day, he couldn't focus. All day, he was subjected to Matsumoto's poor, failed attempts at 'cheering him up' because as she said, he needs to, 'lighten up and enjoy the day' when that is impossible.

Because all day, he couldn't get what happened on the roof out of his head. No matter what he did, everything kept leading back to it, making him more and more annoyed as time continued on. He just can't stop thinking about it, and he doesn't understand why.

He's trying, and it should be easy to do so—because it wasn't his fault for what happened. It was her's for not listening to him, so she's to blame. All he was trying to do was keep her from being found and end up hurt. He gave those rules for those exact reasons, and she disobeyed them, all too just—

"The only reason why I stayed was because I sensed your reiatsu."

—Toushirou grit his teeth at the memory. That doesn't make up for it. She came here with 5 shinigami around when he precisely told her to stay away from other shinigami. It's her fault. Not his. He was doing what he was supposed to, while she, she just did whatever she wanted—she didn't listen to him…

…and now she's gone.

Toushirou quickly cursed and narrowed his eyes, grabbing his soul-phone and opening it all in one motion to stare at the screen he programed to keep an eye on the reiatsu he placed on her wrist. After a few seconds, there was a small, almost undistinguishable blue dot, far off from where he was, almost on the other side of town, before it completely vanished again, just like it has been all day and he could no longer find her, and probably won't for another good hour or so.

It appears that the reiatsu he placed on her wrist is finally starting to vanish. He knew it would happen sooner or later since the reiatsu was such a small amount and they're in human world, but he wished he knew how long it would last here so he could have added more, and that way, could know where the girl is now.

Pretty soon, if it continues like this—he won't be able to find her at all.

His hand went towards his pocket holding his soul-candy, just itching to take it out—but when he realized what he was trying to do, and not for the first time either—he quickly cursed again and pulled his hand away, fisting it tightly. With narrowed eyes, he looked down, not willing to give into the stupid urge to look for the girl. It wasn't my fault.

. . .

As Toushirou continued to walk ahead of her, silent and brooding, Matsumoto couldn't help the concerned look on her face. Since she went up to the roof to get him at lunch, he's been like that, deep in thought, annoyed, and it's only gotten worse as time goes on.

Every few minutes he'll grab his phone and look for something she can't find—even when she's checked her own soul-phone multiple times in hopes she'll understand what it is he keeps looking for. They aren't hollows, (which have been surprisingly absent today) so she doesn't know what he's looking for.

It's gotten so bad that even the others have noticed his foul mood. Ikkaku and Yumichika haven't been so scarce around her in a while, and if even they have noticed his mood and choose to stay away—Ikkaku especially—she knows that something is definitely up with the small taichou.

And she needs to figure out what, and why. This has gone on long enough and it's starting to really make her concerned. "Um…taichou?"

The soul-phone in his hand slammed shut with a harsh 'click', making her flinch, and even though that wasn't enough to make her falter in her next question, his voice was. "What Matsumoto?" flat with a somehow furious undertone that clearly said, if not with clear words than flashing letters 'leave me alone' left even her tensing in apprehension, not wanting to set the dragon into a rampage.

And that's how he seemed right now, like a dragon pacing around in its cave, tense and just waiting to strike. But…its taichou… and she can't let some anger stop her from helping out her captain. So, not giving up, Matsumoto stared at the white-haired shinigami with a worried-eye. "Are…you okay, taichou? I mean…you seem tense…lately, like something is bothering you…"

Toushirou stopped walking so quickly she feared she would have run into him if she didn't stop as soon as he did, and fell completely silent. He didn't move, didn't speak, and Matsumoto found herself wanting to shake the tiny captain if it would make him blow up at her—because at least then he's doing something—but this? Just suddenly standing there? It's not like Toushirou at all.

She opened her mouth to speak up again, hoping maybe a joke or teasing on her part would make him talk—even angry and dragon-ish talking is better than complete silence—but Toushirou beat her to it, "Matsumoto…"

"Um…yes taichou?" she asked, concerned. The tone of his voice…there's something about the tone she doesn't like. It's nothing bad per say, but just the way it is, how it sounds leaves her just not liking it.

Toushirou was silent for a moment longer, before he resumed speaking in that strange tone of his. "Would you disobey an order for something you wanted to do, if you thought it was more important?"

Matsumoto blinked at the strange question. "…sir…?"

As if her question knocked him from his thoughts, Toushirou suddenly seemed to snap to attention and shook his head, placing his hands back in his pants pockets. "It's nothing Matsumoto."

With that said, Toushirou continued walking and she blinked again, watching his back more worried than before. Then without really thinking, she spoke up—wanting to help Toushirou as much as she can.

"Captain…I think I would."

Toushirou stopped walking and turned to look at her, and she smiled back at him, "if it was something I really wanted or needed to do, something I thought was really important…as long as it didn't interfere with my orders, I think I probably would." Grinning now, she winked at the male, lifting up a finger to her lips in the shushing manner. "But you didn't hear that from me, 'kay, taichou?"

After her admittance Toushirou stared at her for a moment, before looking down and giving a small, single nod. Then, without another word or look back, turned and continued walking away.

And she was left staring after him, a small frown on her face and even bigger question in her mind.

Taichou…just what happened to you?

Author note: please, please ignore my horrible Matsumoto. I feel like I didn't do her character justice, but I hope I also didn't completely butcher her. it was…interesting, trying to portray Matsumoto's take on how Toushirou was acting and what she thinks, even though I don't think I got it completely down. Well, practice makes perfect right?

Anyway, here's the long awaited chapter. I hope you guys liked it.

Reviews are loved, flames stared at, and advice appreciated! Until next chapter!