A/N: Well, more flashback, less present stuff in this chapter. And it's not very funny. Anyhow, I'll try to make the next chapter better, with more action aaaand longer. Yeah. But I'm not one to trust, so make sure to review and urge me to do so, cuz my lazy ass is really... lazy. Yeah... And be nice. No flaming.
"Whose idea was to give Rangiku what she wanted?" Renji asked, throwing the empty pop corn bowl to the left just before Yumichika very unfortunately attempted to sit on that same spot. There was a small yelp, then a very well-aimed smack landed on the red-head's pate, someone cursed, several people laughed and the world-balance was restored.
"She asked for it to help the time pass quicker. What's the problem?" Ikkaku asked, stretching slowly and putting his hands behind his head casually, his eyes never leaving the screens. "At least they won't be avoiding each other all day long. And truth to be told, fulfilling her request wasn't all that hard."
"Captain Hitsugaya would never agree on this." Rukia pointed out plainly and a group groan followed her statement.
"I wouldn't count on it." Renji, who was the only one to remain silent, retorted. "Rangiku has her ways to deal with the blizzard. I suggest we start making bets on this before the show's begun."
A couple of blood vessels might've imploded in my head when I saw what she was holding. The temperature in the house dropped my several degrees just from the frustration bubbling inside my gut and threatening to erupt like a lethal volcano. As you can imagine, my first impulse was to start yelling (like I usually did when she invented another stupid idea) but this time I forced myself to breath in an out, in and out and keep my temper under control. This was so not the moment to lose it.
"Matsumoto." I began, patience wearing thin like ice crust. "What in the world gave you the twisted idea that I would agree on something this idiotic?"
Surely, I expected her to whine and pout and nag – that's what she always did when I denied her something she wanted – what I didn't expect though, was that she'd get angry with me.
"Isn't this a big surprise?" she scoffed dryly. "You haven't even tried, yet you're already judging."
"I'm not doing this, Matsumoto, period. After all this years, haven't you learned what sort of things I would not agree on. They are not all that many or all that unusual, so do tell me please, please how you manage to pick them exactly out of everything else when you speculate upon your 'fun' ideas?"
Ok, maybe I pushed a little bit too hard, I wondered for a second, but I didn't really have the time to muse over it for too long.
"What's your problem!" she exclaimed, her lips slightly pursed in the ends as she threw her hands in the air with frustration.
"What's my problem?" I choked out with disbelief. "What the hell, Matsumoto?"
"'What the hell'?" she repeated incredulously. "It's the same thing every time with you. 'This is stupid', 'This is idiotic', 'I'm not doing this.'… Certainly anything I suggest would be below the all famous boy genius' level."
The sarcasm, probably quite alien for anyone who didn't know her like I did, made my jaw clench. This sounded too much like the arguments we used to have when we dated. And oh, did we argue a lot back then!
I resisted the urge to let out a weary sigh and folded my arms in front of my chest defensively. Truth to be told, I knew for certain that I had always contributed greatly to the misunderstandings, disagreements and quarrels that we had had. Deep inside I was quite aware of the fact I had an obnoxious, spoiled character that at times overthrew even the most unyielding patience of steel the way it happened with Matsumoto.
Rumpling the hems of the shirt I had just put on, I exhaled between my teeth, the sound vaguely resembling a growl.
"Fine." I muttered and she blinked.
"What was that?"
"Fine. I said fine, dammit."
A relieved smile blossomed on her lips and my own features relaxed as I watched her. Something fluttered inside my stomach as I figured she probably resented getting angry with me just as much as I hated seeing her do it. Matsumoto kicked one of the two cardboard boxes towards me and pulled a large gun made of metal and plastic out of hers.
"So this is like real gun, only it shoots little capsules of paint rather than bullets." She began, her index finger running along the 'weapon' and explaining lightly what the different parts of it did. When she was done, she pulled out a pair of trousers, a long-sleeved top and a helmet, all in khaki color, and started pointing out the importance of wearing them. Considering the fact we were in a house, I found no reason of why the ugly baggy suit should be designed as fake army camouflage but I decided not to ask. I was pretty sure the whole game was not meant to be played in a building, let alone an inhabited one, but as far as I was concerned, the more destruction was caused in this odious place, the better.
Bending down to pick the clothes that I was supposed to put on, I couldn't help it but imagine how I'd look in them if I were still short. Not very threatening, that's for sure. I'd have to roll the sleeves back to be able to hold anything at all and from the looks of it half of the leg's length would've been dragging behind me. Yup. The world down there is pretty complicated.
"So what are the rules?" I asked as I slipped the top over my head and on my clothes indolently.
"Shoot the other one and stay alive."
Well, that wasn't so hard to fathom.
"And if I shoot you in the gun, you lose." She added and I rolled my eyes contemptuously.
"Ah, that makes some deep sense. If you kill my gun, I die."
"I don't make up the rules."
"Sure, sure." I rumbled as I reached for the second half of the costume, putting it over my attire as well. Matsumoto was doing pretty much the same with the only exception she didn't seem nearly as browned off as I did. I experienced some difficulties with the helmet but eventually got it over my face, approximately at the same time my lieutenant managed to do the same. We turned to look at ourselves in the mirror in the end of the living-room simultaneously and the only thought that came to my mind was: Oh, God, we look like a team for insect extermination.
The words 'This is stupid.' pushed against my lips vehemently but I managed to bite them back, bending shakily to take the stupid paint gun from the box.
"One game." I snorted, feeling my nostrils flare underneath the mask, the weird smell of rubber and whatnot filling them abundantly.
"Wanna make it even more intriguing?" she suggested and my brows shot up as I swung the gun over my shoulder. Intriguing? I would so not use this adjective to describe the fake adventure I was forcing myself in. Like fighting hollows, arrancar and god knows what else wasn't enough, but we had to simulate 'murdering' each other for fun. Oh, yes. So entertaining. All this excitement is just killing me.
"What do you have in mind?" I uttered warily as I kicked the now empty boxes in the corner of the room before turning to look at her. If I wasn't so irked and frustrated, I'd most probably laugh at the way she looked in her downright abhorrent paintball suit (the way she was currently giggling under her helmet at me, thinking I wouldn't notice) but right now I just couldn't bring myself to feel the right amount of amusement. Blame Hyourinmaru for that, he worked his icy ass off for the purpose of crushing every bit of innocence and childishness in me ever since we had "the talk".
The reason of my existence, Captain Stuckup!
I rolled my eyes with a sigh and nodded to Rangiku, urging her to explain herself while I was still game for the whole stupid, stupid, stupid, idiotic, pointless, cracky, stupid, stupid, STUPID idea!
If you don't stop, your brain is going to boil. Hyourinmaru warned and I clenched my teeth. He was right, of course, the temperature was dropping again and I didn't even know what the hell pissed me off so much! Deep inside I knew it wasn't about the STUPID paintball game, or the inane suits, or the lack of sense and purpose of pretending to kill one another. No game was just game when the two of us played it together and now more than ever, I felt that letting go and having genuine fun was a mission impossible.
I averted my eyes, taking a couple of deep breaths to calm myself. My temper was getting the best of these days. So much, that people had started to notice even outside my division. Hyourinmaru teased me of acting like a pregnant woman with hormones running wild and free every time he thought he could get away with it – and let me tell you, my boggled mortals, that his peculiar jokes sincerely did not help me control myself. At all.
"Nothing original." Matsumoto cut into my meandering train of thoughts. "The loser has to do something the winner asks for."
I puffed loudly. That so didn't make it more interesting. I wanted nothing from Rangiku, nothing. Because if I fucking dared to wish for anything, I'd glissade right down into La la land and don't even make me tell you what'd happen next.
Nothing, nothing good.
"Don't say 'no' before you've given it a serious thought." Matsumoto affixed, reaching to gather her hair in a pony tail with a wide rubber band just as I opened my mouth to voice my musings. I paused, clamping my lips shut as I weighted her words. Well, having someone owe you something was always a plus, that was true, and it didn't mean I had to necessary have her do something for me. I could just as well ask her not to do something.
Not to nag me about doing things with her. Not to agitate me with pointless conversation. Not to, not to, not to… It was quite curious how many Not-tos I could think of.
My lips curved into a rueful smirk as I thought about it.
"You're totally losing this match, Matsumoto." I warned her as I brought the gun in front of me and fumbled with it around a little to get used to the feeling of having it in my hands.
I reached with one heavy hand to rub my brows in some vain, sad attempt to ease the throbbing pain that had gathered there. I could hardly feel my fingers anymore. My body and my mind had switched on auto-pilot, the ink dampening the smooth surface of the paper as nonsensical letters filled in the blank spaces in the documents. I didn't know how much more there was left, but my eyes hurt, my lids weighted and my back and neck were painfully stiff from spending the whole day in the same immobile position.
It was snowing outside – snowing! – naturally my favorite time of the year, when it was all white and sparkling even when it was dark (which by the way it had been for many, many hours already). But right now I could barely feel anything other than exhaustion, lassitude and mind-benumbing apathy. I didn't even have the strength to be angry anymore – this had been one of the worst two months in my life and the way it seemed, it wasn't going to get any better any time soon.
I put down my brush and looked at my hands, a small snort rumbling in my throat as I rubbed my fingers together with my palm, feeling the skin there dry as the papers piled neatly next to my elbow. I redirected my tired eyes to the document on top of the unfinished stack and the letters slurred together, shaking and doubling as the whole desk seemed to tilt to the side. I shook my head hard and stood up abruptly. One quick glance at the clock on the opposite wall told me it was past 1 in the morning so I sighed and gather my stuff weakly. No more. I could not take this any longer, even if I wanted to - my brain was going to explode.
Getting out of the office, I felt the cool winter air engulf me and suddenly I could breathe freely. I hadn't even realized how much the office had been suffocating me before now and a small weary smile twisted my lips as I turned to lock the door. I headed back home, stumbling occasionally when my brain completely refused to cooperate. Shunpoing was out of the question – I felt too tired, too worn out to do anything other than drag my feet through the snow-drifts towards my destination
As I rounded the corner, the first thing that budged my mind and made the world around me swirl nastily was the blazing light that came from my own apartment. My head went blank and I just stared, unhinged beyond believe. This was without a doubt my abode, my own little cave with my own austere furnishing, vanilla colored curtains and fluffy matching carpets. Then who the hell would-…
It hit me so hard in the face, I nearly reeled backwards, my eyes going wide and mortified and my heart beginning to race dangerously fast in my chest as Rangiku's words rang clearly in my mind.
"You've been so busy the last couple of months, we barely saw each other… Good news though! It's your birthday in two days, so I'll come over and make something really nice for you. Come back from work early pretty please? Promise me."
Why? Why, dammit! I almost cried out aloud as I slapped my face with my hand angrily. Why did I forget, why didn't she come to find me, she knew where I was!
The answer was so obvious, it pained me as I walked unsteadily to the front door and shoved the keys in the keyhole. Because I had bloody promised.
I entered as quietly as possible and slid my wet shoes off, tiptoeing my way to the dining-room and pulling the scarf and the coat off of me in the process. She was there alright, sitting on a chair next to the table, sound asleep. The table itself was beautifully arranged with flowers, exquisitely folded napkins and cutlery I was certain I had never seen before. On the side note, I was pretty sure the meal was full of surprises (literally) despite her genuine effort to stick to the recipes and for some reason the thought summoned a bitter smile on my face. I approached her quietly and my heart clenched harder when I saw the small white cake in the middle with unevenly written "Happy Birthday, Toushiro!" in the middle.
"Rangiku…" I whispered, shaking her shoulder gently. "Wake up…"
A few moments later her eyes flutter open with a small moan and her pale blue orbs rolled upwards to meet mine sleepily.
"What time is it?" she uttered only half-articulately and I felt some of the blood leave my face as I swallowed with difficulty.
"Almost 2 in the morning." I replied warily and when she sat up, I stepped back, averting my eyes guiltily. Her own pale orbs traveled from me to the table she had prepared and the meals that had long ago run cold and her face fell.
"Where have you been? I waited for you-…"
"I had so much work to do, all the papers and everything I had to read, sign and-and… it all just kindda slipped from my mind." I found myself nearly stuttering as my eyes roving hopelessly over her face in search for support, understanding ,and yes, as audacious as it was, even forgiveness. No such luck, though. Instead, I felt a large lump stuck in my throat as I spotted a gleam of disappointment somewhere deep inside those pale blue oceans.
"Toushiro-…" her voice was soft but I flinched anyway from the accusation that was seeping abundantly from just this one word. She slumped back in her chair and rubbed her temples weary, a small sigh tearing from her chest. "You promised."
It wasn't like she was saying much or attacking me or anything, but I knew this wasn't just about this one mishap, this one little mistake. A sense of utter desperation overwhelmed me and my hear set off on a wild race as I tried to fix everything the best way that I could before it was too late.
"I know. I know. And I'm so sorry, I'll make it up to you. Whenever you want, whatever you want…" My voice was so pleading that in any other circumstances I'd lose every bit of respect I had for myself just for acting, sounding this way.
"I'm tired." She said suddenly as she pushed herself on her feet. My heart dropped in my stomach. Why did I have the feeling she wasn't just tired of today?
"Wait!" I called, grabbing her wrist when she attempted to walk pass me. "What's wrong? Please, talk to me."
"Toushiro, we're both exhausted, I don't think-…"
"Talk to me!" I pressed, this time slightly more aggressively and a hint of impatience sparkled in her eyes as she pursed her lips and shook her head.
"Where do I stand in your life?" she whispered and I gaped, taken aback by the question.
"What are you-…"
"Because, apparently, it's somewhere after your paperwork."
"What?" I pulled my hand back from hers as if her skin was on fire. "What the-… You know well enough I have duties, responsibilities as a captain, I can't just…"
"It was just one night, Toushiro!"
"I forgot, ok? I said I was sorry!"
"But you surely wouldn't have forgotten if it were about some additional stack of documents, would you?" a strange bitter laugh tore from her lips as she shook her head, burying her face in her hands for a moment. "And it's not like you're even saving anyone's life – because, trust me, if that were the case, I would've understood. You're just filling blank spaces and signing papers. This is what you do. And that's why you forgot one damn promise you made to me. "
The bitter retort was right there, on the tip of my tongue. Brilliant mind, brilliant ability to hurt people verbally. If I opened my mouth, I knew I was going to ruin even the tiniest crumbs of chance that this could end well. So I took a few deep breaths and calmed myself down, suppressing the urge.
"I am sorry." I uttered one last time, pouring all my heart and honesty into the three words and hoping it would do. We stood silent for a couple of seconds, looking at each other, then her features relaxed and she sighed, reaching to remove a snow-dampen string of hair from my cheekbone. I caught her wrist in the process and pressed my lips against her palm, screwing my eyes shut as I tried to imprint the moment into my memory.
At that trice, I knew we weren't going to last. That we were going to split very, very soon. What I didn't know, however, was that what was coming up was just going to be our… first… break up.
End of Flashback.