Author's note: So here it goes. The last chapter of this story. Yes, dear readers, this is the end. It's been over a year since I started publishing this story and now it's complete. It's my first complete epic-length story, so I don't know whether to feel sad it's over or celebrate work well done.
I made two illustrations for this chapter, they are on my DA account, link on my author's profile page. (I'm getting really tired of writing this every chapter.)
That's all I wanted to say here. Read and enjoy and don't skip the end note.
Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach.
On the Frozen Plain – Together at last
"Why do you keep this chair and desk, taichou?" the busty blonde asked. It was the first day of Matsumoto's tenure as the Tenth Division lieutenant. She had come in five minutes late, squeezed Hitsugaya's face between her boobs instead of a greeting and started asking stupid questions instead of doing her share of paperwork. The young captain felt a sliver of doubt whether appointing her as his second-in-command had been a good idea. He shrugged. He had never put much hope into this arrangement. He had a fukutaichou finally and maybe Matsumoto would be able to find the source of the vicious rumors and he'd deal with them. So for now, he had to bear with her antics. Or maybe he didn't have to. He was her superior now. He could just order her to cease them.
"Stop asking ridiculous questions and get to work," he snapped. "That huge pile of documents on your table won't sign themselves."
"This isn't a ridiculous question, taichou," Matsumoto countered. "You're kneeling on the chair. That can't possibly be comfortable and you look ridiculous. Why don't you get a chair you could sit on?"
"Because..." Hitsugaya paused. What should he say now? A child's desk would look ridiculous in a captain's office? A high chair was utterly humiliating? "I have more pressing concerns to attend to."
"I think this one is pressing enough," Rangiku expressed her opinion. "You'd be able to work better if you were comfortable."
"I can work just fine," he replied.
"But you could work much better," Matsumoto insisted.
"I said I can work just fine," Hitsugaya repeated more forcefully. "But you aren't working at all. So get behind your desk and start filling the paperwork."
"Yes, taichou," the busty woman yielded. She wanted to make a good impression on her first day. She sat behind the desk and tackled the paperwork obediently.
As the afternoon dragged on, Matsumoto fell like pulling her hair out. The characters in front of her eyes were swimming. She couldn't tell what the form was about. It probably didn't matter. She couldn't understand what most of the reports were good for. She got why they needed to know how much supplies they had, but did they really need a daily report of Hell Butterfly breeding or new recruits training? And all the patrol reports saying 'nothing of note happened' in several thousand words when two would be enough? Was there any purpose to it besides making the division heads' lives miserable? It didn't seem so. And now she was stuck reading and approving it. She never had to do so much when she was the Third Seat. Iba Chikane had managed everything herself. Matsumoto felt a wave of admiration towards her. How was she able to deal with it for decades when she felt like screaming after less than a day? Why did she have to become a fukutaichou when it meant being stuck with this? Could she just quit? No, she wouldn't do that. She wanted to be a lieutenant too much. And giving up now would prove that Gin had been right when he hadn't promoted her and she wouldn't have it. She would remain a lieutenant. And if it meant she would have to do paperwork, well, she'll just have to find a way to get out of it. A plan began forming in her mind. She stood up and started walking towards the door.
"And where do you think you are going, Matsumoto-fukutaichou?" the stern voice of her captain stopped her in her tracks.
"Out," she replied simply.
"Your work isn't done yet," Hitsugaya pointed out.
"You mean the paperwork?" she questioned.
"What else would I mean?" he retorted, staring at the pile on her desk pointedly.
"You assigned me a more important task, remember?" she replied, completely undisturbed by the slight drop in the room's temperature. "If you want me to find the source of the rumors, you have to let me search for it."
"You can search for it when your paperwork's done," Hitsugaya grumbled, but he didn't sound as angry as he did a moment before. Matsumoto shook her head.
"By that time, I'd lose the best opportunity. Everybody would leave for the day. I have to go now, when the lower seated officers have finished with their paperwork, but didn't leave yet. Now is the time when they are in their offices gossiping, so now is the best opportunity to find out something."
Hitsugaya thought over her explanation for a while. "Whatever," he sighed in resignation. "Go."
"Thank you, taichou," she smiled brightly and bounced out of the office. Once outside, she allowed herself a huge grin. That had been easy. She wondered what she should do. Hit the bars? She didn't want to go alone. Maybe she should invite Hisagi. But the Ninth Division Lieutenant would be busy preparing the newest issue of Seireitei Communication for print. Or maybe she should do what she promised she would, her conscience reminded her. If she didn't do any work, Hitsugaya would kick her out. She sighed. She didn't feel like working, but then her face brightened again. What was better for dragging information out of people than sharing a drink or five? She'll go and invite some of her new subordinates for a drink. That way she'd be able to relax and fulfill Hitsugaya's order at the same time. She smiled brightly as she headed towards the office the Third and Fourth Seats shared. Life was good.
On the second day, Matsumoto arrived to the office an hour late and clearly hungover.
"Explain yourself," Hitsugaya demanded in an icy, too loud tone.
"Do you have to speak so loud?" the miserable looking woman groaned.
"I said explain yourself," Hitsugaya repeated, speaking even louder and sending new waves of pain through Matsumoto's head. "It's your second day of work and you're late again. And you're hung-over. So do you have a reason for being in this state?" The lieutenant winced. Her head was hurting big time. But she was experienced enough to function even in this state.
"I've been looking for the source of the rumors," she reported.
"In a bottle of sake?" he questioned.
"No, in this division," she answered. "People tell you much more over a drink. And I had to have lots of drinks with a lot of people yesterday."
"Did you find out anything?" Hitsugaya asked with a hint of hope in his voice.
"Well, I'm pretty sure it's nobody among the higher seats. I'll talk to some of the lower seats today. But it might be slow going if it's somebody unranked."
"Hm." It wasn't apparent whether Hitsugaya was satisfied with her report or not. "Is that all?"
"Well, I did something to quell the rumors, though the results will show later."
"What it is?" He sounded a bit wary.
"I explained how you did everything in your power to save poor Yokoyama. They were so moved when they heard that you tried to heal him so hard you fainted."
"Matsumoto," Hitsugaya said. Though this story might help change his subordinates' opinion of him, it was highly embarrassing. He'd prefer if they didn't hear the last part.
"Did I tell you that you have the cutest blush yet, taichou?" Matsumoto asked.
"Don't change the topic," Hitsugaya changed the topic. "Did your plan work?"
"I think so," she nodded. "When I talked to Fourth Seat Arai, he said that if it was true that you feed bad lieutenants to Hollows, I won't live long. So if you don't feed me to a Hollow anytime soon, people would see that you aren't in the habit of killing adjutants you don't like." Hitsugaya was taken aback. He certainly didn't expect that. He wasn't sure whether to be glad or angry. That would depend on whether Matsumoto's plan would actually work.
"Don't think I'll let you get away with slacking just because of this," he said. "And now get to work. You haven't even touched half of yesterday's paperwork yet."
"Don't be so cruel, taichou," she whined. "Do you have any idea how much my head hurts?"
"It's your fault for drinking so much yesterday," Hitsugaya replied without a hint of compassion in his voice.
"But I did it all for you," she pleaded. Sure he couldn't be so ungrateful...
"Get to work, Matsumoto," the young captain commanded. It looked like he could. With a sigh, Matsumoto settled behind her desk and picked up the first paper. She stared at it without really registering the words. Curse it, she thought. Why did she have to be stuck with a stick-in-the-mud for a captain? It would have been easier if she had stayed in the Third. Gin would never make her work like this. Was this the real reason he didn't make her his fukutaichou? If so, she wasn't really angry at him anymore. Maybe she could just return there and she wouldn't have to touch the brush ever again. That loser Kira kid would do everything. But that would also mean having to obey said loser kid. She was too proud to do that. She was too proud to admit defeat. She would preserve, no matter how much paperwork would the little icicle of a captain pile on her. She'd find a way to get out of it. It had worked yesterday, it would work again. And when it would stop working, she'd come up with a new excuse. And eventually the little slave-driver would learn that there was no point in trying to make her do paperwork. Despite her persistent headache, she smiled. She had a Plan.
The next day Matsumoto arrived to the office an hour late too, but this time she looked fresh and sober. She barely greeted her captain when she turned back and shouted at somebody.
"Yes, in here, guys. And don't crash into the doorframe!" Hitsugaya looked at her questioningly, but she wasn't paying him any attention. Soon two men appeared dragging a huge box between them. Behind them appeared a third one with a smaller one.
"A bit to the right!" Matsumoto commanded them. "And careful, you don't want to break it."
"Matsumoto, what's the meaning of this?" Hitsugaya asked sternly.
"Ah, captain!" she called cheerfully. "This is for you." The white-haired boy scowled.
"I didn't order anything."
"Of course you didn't. I ordered it," the woman replied. "But I bought it for you."
"What is it?" he asked warily.
"Your new desk," she answered. "You need it so don't argue." She sounded like a mother telling her child to eat all the spinach. Hitsugaya still felt wary. While it was true that the old desk was uncomfortable, he was anxious about what his lieutenant had bought him. Knowing Matsumoto, it was probably something cutesy and childish. He'd probably have to throw it away right away. But when Matsumoto's helpers unpacked it, he was pleasantly surprised. The desk was just a normal desk, a nice and stylish one. Even the chair looked good, the high back reminding him of a throne. His surprise must have shown on his face, because Matsumoto smiled.
"Don't look so surprised." She said. "What did you think? That I bought something cutesy and childish?" His face marked him as guilty as charged. Matsumoto smiled. "You're a captain now. You have to look respectable."
"You're welcome," Matsumoto smiled ruffling his hair. "I'm your vice-captain now. It's my duty to help you." Then another unseated shinigami walked into the room with a package so long he had trouble getting it through the door.
"What is it now?" Hitsugaya asked warily.
"The ladder," Matsumoto answered. "So you don't have to climb on chairs whenever you need something from the upper shelf. We can't have little captains falling from bookcases."
"Matsumoto," Hitsugaya growled, but he didn't feel really angry. His new lieutenant was being very thoughtful. The ladder was going to be useful.
"You don't have to thank me," the woman replied. "It's my pleasure to serve my captain."
They spent the rest of the day moving in the new desk and moving his things. Hitsugaya had to admit that his new desk was really more comfortable. Despite not doing any paperwork that day, he considered it successful. Maybe taking Matsumoto as his lieutenant was a good thing. And then she crushed him to her chest and bounced off to the nearest bar. He shook his head in disbelief. It looked like some things weren't going to change.
It was time for the division training. This time Matsumoto didn't make herself scarce before it begun, so he dragged her with him. And because it required no paperwork, she didn't protest. She had nothing against training, as long as it didn't interrupt her nap time. So today she stood before the assembled forces of the Tenth. She already knew some of them and some of them knew her, but there were still many faces that were unfamiliar. And a lot of them were looking at her with expressions that weren't too impressed or friendly.
"So this is our new lieutenant?" she heard somebody in the crowd mutter. "She looks too decorative to be actually of any use. Not like old Lieutenant Yokoyama."
"Of course she isn't like Yokoyama," Hitsugaya said, showing that he heard it too. "But she is your new vice-captain and you will treat her with all due respect."
"This one?" the speaker scoffed. Matsumoto could see her now. It was an unremarkable young woman with a sour expression on her face.
"Yes, this one," Hitsugaya said. "And you should be careful of what you say next, because you are skirting dangerously close to insubordination." He had to remind the officer of her place before she got in trouble needlessly. Though he couldn't recall her name at the moment, he remembered seeing her crying at Yokoyama's funeral. She was one of those who had liked their former lieutenant.
"Thank you, taichou," Matsumoto said, "but I can deal with such troublemakers myself."
"I'd believe it when I see it," the discontent woman uttered.
"If you want to see it, I'd be glad to show you," Rangiku said walking to her. "What's your name?"
"Kayabuki Hitomi," the complainer introduced herself, "Ninth Seat."
"Well, Ninth Seat Kayabuki," Matsumoto smiled an unpleasant smile, while reaching for the hilt of her zanpakutou, "do you have what it takes to back up your words?"
"Of course!" Hitomi grinned, drawing her own sword. "I can take on such beauty queen anytime!"
"I'm glad to hear it," the lieutenant smiled widely. Then she drew Haineko and flash-stepped towards Kayabuki in one fluid movement. The Ninth Seat saw her attack and tried to block it, but the strength behind Matsumoto's blow wrenched her sword from her hands.
"Well," Rangiku asked, "do you still think I'm not worthy?" Kayabuki, trying to wrap her mind around what had just happened, didn't answer. Matsumoto turned to the rest of the assembled shinigami, still smiling brightly. "Does anyone else have a problem with me being a lieutenant?" Nobody spoke up. "In that case, we can begin our training.
The training that day didn't go well. That was the norm in the Tenth, but that day it was even worse than usual. No matter what Hitsugaya and Matsumoto did, they couldn't restore order. The shinigami just kept forgetting their orders and making stupid mistakes.
"They're distracted," Fourth Seat Arai said after Hitsugaya had asked in exasperation why nobody seemed to be able to do anything right today. "It's hard not to be distracted while seeing Matsumoto's fukutaichou's... uhm... assets. Can you tell her to cover them?"
"I can't cover them up!" Matsumoto protested. "My girls need air! If I cover them up, I get too hot and I can't breathe!" Many shinigami in the crowd blushed.
"But if you don't cover them up, no-one else can do anything!" the Fourth Seat argued. "The guys are too busy staring and the girls are too busy being jealous! Please, cover them up. Captain, please, tell her to cover them up."
"Arai-yonseki," Hitsugaya spoke, "an officer has to be able to fight no matter the distraction. Otherwise they aren't worthy of being officers."
"I know, but this is just too much," Arai said. "No-one can be expected to resist it. And besides, how many Hollows have... uhm..."
"Imagine this situation," the captain interrupted him. "You see a beautiful girl being chased by a Hollow. What are you going to do? Purify the Hollow or stare at her assets until the Hollow eats you both?" Arai reddened. Somebody in the crowd giggled. "Consider it handicap training."
After that, the training resumed, but it wasn't any more successful than it used to be before. Hitsugaya suppressed the urge to sigh. This wasn't going well. He could only hope that his subordinates would be able to concentrate better once they'd get used to the sight of Matsumoto and her 'girls.' Then somebody (probably Kayabuki again, but they couldn't be sure) muttered that they'd like to see how well could their captain fight while distracted by Matsumoto. Someone else added that it would be nice to see how well could their leaders fight and many agreed. Seeing the sentiment of the division, Hitsugaya decided that a public spar between him and Matsumoto would be a good idea. It would serve to demonstrate their abilities to those who doubted them. And there was no time like now to begin.
He sent the division members to the sides of the training grounds and faced off with Matsumoto in the middle.
"Begin," he told her. She nodded and attacked. He blocked easily, but didn't retaliate. He wanted to allow her to show off her abilities. Defeating her quickly wouldn't raise her status in their subordinates' eyes.
He let her attack him for several minutes. Then he decided that it had been enough and went on the offensive. He thought he would beat her quickly, but Matsumoto proved better than he expected. She was able to dodge most of his strikes, though just barely, and block the rest. It was partly because he couldn't fight to kill. He could raise his reiatsu a bit and defeat her easily, but that would feel like cheating. No, he wanted to win on skills, not raw power.
He observed her movements carefully. It had been a long time since they used to serve in the Third together and he couldn't remember her fighting style. It didn't take him long to find a pattern in her movements. He suppressed a smile. He saw now what he needed to do to prevail. He feinted an attack at her side and then changed into a stab at her leg. She twisted away and retaliated by thrusting Haineko at Hitsugaya, not realizing that his last movement had been a feint too. The young captain evaded her blade and stepped inside her guard.
He had her now. She had overextended and now she was wide open. The blade of Hyourinmaru swished through the air, aiming for her midsection. Matsumoto's eyes widened. She tried to jump back, but she wasn't quick enough. The tip of Hitsugaya's sword cut through her shihakushou in the middle of her torso. She leaned back just enough for the sword to miss her skin, but her shirt was a goner. The black fabric, cut just below her bosom, flapped open, revealing her humongous breasts. Matsumoto took it without missing a beat.
"Why, captain," the woman smirked, "If you wanted to see them, you could have just said so."
Hitsugaya froze. Matsumoto towering over him, her huge boobs ready to smother him, was a sight that haunted many of his nightmares. Rangiku interpreted his shock the wrong way, but she capitalized on it in the correct one. She attacked. The sound of Haineko's blade cutting through the air snapped the young captain from his stupor and he quickly shunpoed away. The sound of a crash and something breaking accompanied by pain woke him completely. He looked around to see what did he crash into. It was a tree. It was the only tree in the whole training ground. And he just shunpoed into it in front of half of his division. And he did it after he was distracted by the sight of Matsumoto's boobs, right after he had preached to his men how they shouldn't let themselves be distracted by such sights. Talk about embarrassing.
A flicker of movement warned him of the approaching danger. He quickly lifted Hyourinmaru to block Matsumoto's mighty swipe. The woman didn't care that her goodies were showing and tried to finish him while he was down. He couldn't allow it to happen. Before she could strike again, he kicked her knee. She faltered and he used the moment of respite to jump to his feet. He did his best to ignore the two globes of flesh dangling in front of his face and attacked. Matsumoto blocked, but the power behind Hitsugaya's strike nearly wrought her zanpakutou from her grip. She winced. It looked like the boy was finished playing around and was now going for the kill. It wasn't the usual reaction men had to seeing her chest. She tried to muster a counterattack, but Hitsugaya didn't let her. It was now obvious that he was the superior fighter. She was hard-pressed to block everything.
Then she read one of his moves incorrectly and he ducked under her swipe, slammed the hilt of his sword into her elbow, making her release the grip on her weapon and knocked her down with a jumping kick. She landed on her back and he landed on her chest. The blade of Hyourinmaru hovered over her throat.
"I win," he said.
"Looks like it," she replied. "Though, taichou, if you wanted to touch my girls you didn't have to go through all this. You could have just asked." Hitsugaya looked down, for the first time realizing what he was kneeling on and what his left hand was leaning on. He had done too good job of ignoring Matsumoto's boobs, but now he couldn't anymore. His face turned bright red and he quickly jumped away, turning his head the other way.
"Get dressed," he said. Matsumoto wrapped the pieces of her shirt around her and crossed her arms in front of her, hiding her breasts. Despite her reputation, she did mind giving a show to half of her new subordinates. She had to avenge her honor.
"Taichou," she said flirtatiously, "If you won't mind my advice, this isn't a good way to get a look at a girl's boobs. Next time buy her, flowers, invite her for dinner or..."
"That was an accident, Matsumoto!" Hitsugaya interrupted her angrily. He was still blushing deep red. He had to somehow save face in front of his division. It didn't help that half of them looked like they were suppressing laughter and the other half weren't even trying.
"Sure, taichou, whatever you say," Matsumoto replied in a tone that suggested that she knew men and wasn't going to believe anything he said. Now all their subordinates were snickering openly. Hitsugaya tried to think of something suitable to say in this situation, but he came up empty.
"The training is over," he announced instead and shunpoed away. He was worried that if he stayed any longer, Matsumoto would find a way to embarrass him even further. Whatever had possessed him to accept her as his lieutenant? Oh yes, nobody else wanted that position. Sometimes his life just sucked.
It was a beautiful summer day when Hitsugaya strolled through the West Gate. It was one of his rare days off and he knew there was a lot of work to do instead of relaxing, but he felt like he'd snap if he didn't get away from it all. The Tenth wouldn't fall apart within a few hours, at least he hoped so.
Walking through the familiar streets of Junrin'an, he remembered how long it was since he had last visited here. Too long, he concluded. He had been too busy lately. And by 'lately' he meant the last four years. First he was training for Bankai, then he was training for the Captain's Exam and then he was trying to put a demoralized, discipline-less division into a semblance of order. And he was still trying. They were good excuses but excuses nevertheless. He should have found the time to visit more than once a year.
He walked slowly, noting the looks the residents were giving him. Most of them were fearful, some were disbelieving. Let them stare, Hitsugaya thought. What did they think about his new haori? Some appeared scared out of their mind, others probably thought he had stolen it somewhere. He couldn't begrudge it to them. Sometimes he had trouble believing that he was indeed a captain. He noticed the shopkeeper that used to throw him out of his store. The man took a look at him, his eyes widened in fear and he hid behind the counter, undoubtedly trembling. Hitsugaya allowed himself a small smirk. The shopkeeper was getting what he deserved.
But maybe he shouldn't be so harsh to him. It was thanks to him that he had met Matsumoto ten years ago. If he hadn't been nasty to him, would the busty blonde have noticed him? Maybe she'd have noticed his reiatsu, maybe not. There was no way to know.
The thought made him nostalgic. He couldn't believe how much his life had changed in just ten short years. Back then he used to be just a brat who loved amanattou and watermelon and spitting the seeds at Bed-wetter Momo and picking at her obsession with Aizen-taichou and had an unflattering opinion on shinigami. Especially of the crazy lady who had bumped into him and yelled at him. And now? Now he was a shinigami captain, one of the most respected people in Seireitei. Well, the respect was slow-going, but thanks to Matsumoto at least the rumors weren't so rampant anymore. She still wasn't sure who had started them, but at least she had managed to convince most people that they were nonsense. He was grateful for it. It was one of the many things to be grateful to Matsumoto for, despite her constantly driving him up the wall.
He was brought out of his musings by the side of a familiar house near the edge of a forest. He was finally home. But was this place still home? He hadn't lived here in so long and he barely visited anymore. He was almost a stranger here now. But where else would he call home? Certainly not any of the barracks he had lived in. He had never stayed long enough in any of them, two years max, and he hadn't particularly liked any of them. But maybe the Tenth would be different? He was the captain now, so he shouldn't be transferred anywhere. But he hadn't lived there long enough to form a connection with the place. He supposed that time would tell.
His train of thought was interrupted by a loud boyish yell. He looked around in surprise. What were children doing here? Were they harassing Granny?
The door of Granny's house opened suddenly and two boys ran out, the first carrying something Hitsugaya couldn't recognize in his hands, the second chasing him.
"Give it back!" the second, smaller boy shouted.
"No!" the first refused.
"It's mine!" the second demanded.
"I have it now!" the first laughed.
"Thief!" the second cried.
"Loser!" the first taunted. In his rush to get away he wasn't looking where he was going and nearly ran into Hitsugaya. The young captain grabbed his arm as he was rushing by him, stopping him in his tracks.
"Ow!" the captured boy screamed. "Watch what you're doing!"
"I do. But you don't seem to be taking your own advice," Hitsugaya replied evenly.
"Stuff it, brat!" the boy, a head taller than Hitsugaya threatened. "Or I'm going to beat you up!"
"You are new here, aren't you?" Hitsugaya asked.
"None of your business!" his captive snarled. "And let me go!"
"No." Hitsugaya replied quietly.
"You asked for it," the boy sneered and aimed a punch at Hitsugaya's face. The young shinigami blocked it with a finger. He usually didn't flaunt his ability this way, but he felt this time he could afford it. Plus the look on the bully's face was priceless.
"What?" he asked stupidly, studying his fist, where a bruise was forming.
"Just a little warning why you should cease your behavior," Hitsugaya enlightened him.
"What are you doing to my brother?" The younger boy reached them and tugged at Hitsugaya's sleeve. "Let him go!"
"So he's your brother?" Hitsugaya questioned.
"Yes," the younger boy confirmed. "And if you don't let him go, I'll call granny on you! She's scary!"
"Jirou! Akira! What did you do this time?" Granny's voice sounded from the house. Hitsugaya looked there. She stood in the doorway, looking the same as ever, surveying the scene with a critical glare.
"She's here now!" the younger boy grinned. "You're going to get it now!"
"Toushirou!" Granny called as she noticed him. "What a surprise! You haven't visited in how long?"
"A year, Granny," he answered.
"Too long," she sighed. "Could you please unhand Akira and come in?" Hitsugaya complied without even thinking about it. "And you, Akira, give Inu-chan back to Jirou." The older boy grimaced, but obeyed. Jirou grabbed Inu-chan, which turned out to be a stuffed toy remotely resembling some animal, maybe a dog, and cradled it to his chest happily.
"Who are you?" Akira asked Hitsugaya, his eyes narrowed in suspicion.
"Hitsugaya Toushirou," the young captain introduced himself. He wasn't sure why he didn't use his title, but doing so felt wrong in Granny's presence.
"What do you want here?"
"I came to visit," Toushirou answered, trying to ignore the other boy's tone.
"I don't like you," Akira informed him. "Get lost before I beat you."
"You already tried," Hitsugaya reminded him. "And I'm not going anywhere."
"A squirt like you won't talk to me like this," Akira scowled.
"What did you say?" Toushirou's eyes narrowed.
"Akira! Toushirou!" Granny called from the door, interrupting the argument before it could escalate. "Come in or the tea will get cold." Akira glared at Toushirou nastily, which the smaller boy ignored. They walked into the house in silence.
Granny was already kneeling at the table, pouring boiling water from a kettle.
"Sit down and have some tea," she told them. Both youths obeyed.
They drank in silence. Akira kept shooting Toushirou suspicious and dirty glares, which the white-haired boy kept theatrically ignoring. It was obvious that Akira wanted to say something, but didn't dare to do it in front of Granny.
"So tell me, Toushirou, how are you doing?" Granny asked after they finished the tea. Hitsugaya hesitated with the answer. There were many things he wanted to tell her but didn't want to say in front of some strange boys. Granny picked on his hesitation immediately. "You don't have to be shy in front of them. They are good boys."
"Really?" Hitsugaya asked dubiously. "It didn't look like that when I arrived."
"Hey!" Akira protested. "Watch your mouth, shrimp!" That was the wrong word to say. Toushirou was angered immediately.
"You're the one who should watch his mouth, boy," he retorted.
"Children, be nice to each other," Granny scolded them. Both youths backed down, but they still shot dirty glances at each other.
"Let's play!" Jirou suggested cheerfully. Toushirou and Akira didn't like it, but Granny smiled widely.
"That's a great idea, boys."
"I don't want to play with him," Akira complained.
"I'm not a child," Hitsugaya protested. Akira scoffed.
"You're smaller than me."
"So?" Hitsugaya now sounded like a brat without realizing it.
"Children, children," Granny shook her head. "Can't you just get along?"
"With this little snot?" Akira scoffed.
"Don't insult me," Hitsugaya told him icily. His patience was running thin. He came here to talk with Granny in private and instead he found this brat who was constantly picking at him. Was he so suicidal that he wasn't worried about insulting a shinigami captain? Or was he so new and stupid that he didn't realize what Toushirou's shihakushou and haori meant? Considering that he was new to Soul Society, it was plausible. But he should still recognize what a sword was. So maybe he was really dumb.
"And who do you think you are to order me around?" Akira snapped. So it was the second one. "I'm at home here so you better behave yourself in my house!"
"First," Hitsugaya said with narrowed eyes. "This isn't your house. It's Granny's. Second: I've lived here for longer than you did, so don't tell me I'm not at home here."
"I told you no arguing under my roof," Granny repeated sternly. "Either you behave or you don't have to be here."
"I'm not arguing, I'm putting him in his place," Akira claimed.
"Akira!" Granny's voice sounded like a whip. "Didn't you hear me earlier?"
"Hmph. It's not like I want to be here with him. I have better places to be," the big boy scoffer and stormed out of the house.
"Sorry about him," Granny smiled.
"I'm sorry," Toushirou said. "I shouldn't get so worked up over some brat."
"It is unbefitting of your rank," Granny agreed. "So why didn't you mention yet that you were a captain?"
"Uh..." Hitsugaya searched for the right words. Saying 'I forgot' to Granny usually wasn't a good idea. She would take it worse than Momo.
"I can understand you are busy, but why did I have to hear about your promotion from Momo?"
"You have no idea just what kind of mess I have to deal with at the Tenth. I have barely the time for anything. But I'm sorry I didn't write you." He hoped it was enough of an apology.
"I get that captains have much more important things to worry about than some old woman in Rukongai," Granny said. Hitsugaya felt a pang in his heart.
"I'm sorry," he said, looking down. "I'll try to visit more often."
"You don't have to force it. I'm not alone here anymore."
"Can we play now?" Jirou asked hopefully. The conversation went right over his head and he was getting bored.
"Of course," Granny answered, not waiting for Hitsugaya's response. "You boys go and play." Toushirou wanted to protest that he wasn't a child, but Granny's pointed look told him that he shouldn't. Jirou grabbed him and dragged him to the next room.
"So what do you like to play?" Jirou asked enthusiastically.
"Uhm..." Hitsugaya didn't know what to answer. It had been so long since he had last played. He could barely remember the names of the games, much less which one he used to like. And why was he even thinking about it? He wasn't a child. He didn't play. He was doing this only because Granny said so.
"Let's play knights!"
"What?" Toushirou asked. That name said him absolutely nothing.
"Knights!" Jirou repeated. "We'll be knights and go on a quest and fight dragons," Hitsugaya heard Hyourinmaru's angry roar in his mind, "and giants and monsters and rescue a princess!"
"What princess?" Hitsugaya asked. Expect for the princess, it sounded like a regular day at work to him, only with less paperwork.
"A princess!" Jirou answered like the answer was completely obvious. To him it probably was. Toushirou was lost. "Or we can be adventurers and journey through the jungle and search for lost treasures! That would be so much fun! I want to be an adventurer when I grow up. What do you want to be when you grow up?"
That made Hitsugaya pause. What did he want to be once he grew up? He already was a shinigami captain, which was as high as anyone could ever dream to get. What was there left to dream about and wish for? A well-functioning division? A lieutenant who actually did her paperwork? Subordinates who respected him and didn't make fun of his height and age?
"So what do you want to be?" Jirou prodded when Hitsugaya wasn't answering. When he still didn't say anything, Jirou frowned. "You're no fun," he complained.
The rest of the day was very awkward. Jirou tried to make Hitsugaya play games which he didn't know and took very little interest in. Eventually the younger boy got bored and ran off to play with Akira, deciding that even being bullied was more fun. Hitsugaya spent the rest of the day talking to Granny. But no matter how he tried to think that nothing had changed, he could feel that nothing was like it used to be anymore. Granny had new grandchildren now, a happy, childish bunch everybody liked, not a strange and creepy kid like him. He wished her the happiness, but he couldn't help but feel left behind. He tried to convince himself that there was nothing to be sad about. First Momo and then he had left Granny over ten years ago. It was only right that she found somebody else to fill her days with laughter. He shouldn't begrudge her moving on. He should move on himself.
After he bid goodbye to Granny, he headed back to Seireitei. He wondered just what did he move on to. Momo had firmly attached herself to Aizen and the bond grew even stronger since she became his lieutenant. They still saw each other occasionally, but he wasn't the most important person in her life anymore. So who did he have? Ikeda-sensei was dead. Even years after it had happened the thought still hurt, though the pain had dulled over time. Who else was there? Matsumoto? She was becoming closer to him, but she usually just drove him up the wall. He realized that he really didn't want to return to the barracks. Nothing nice awaited him there. But he couldn't afford to just turn and run, no mater how alluring it sounded.
He dragged himself to the Tenth's compound, half dreading what he would find there. It wasn't as bad as he feared. The barracks were still standing, the division didn't fall apart in his absence, just two unranked members got into a brawl and the Third Seat was now lecturing them. When he saw Hitsugaya, he passed the two misbehaving men to him and left the young captain to deal with them as he saw fit. Hitsugaya suppressed a sigh. It meant more paperwork for him. But he dealt with it swiftly.
When he was finished, Matsumoto sauntered into the office, looking slightly tipsy.
"Taichou! You're back!" she called cheerfully and then enveloped him in a suffocating hug. He struggled to get free and scowled at her.
"Matsumoto! What are you doing? And where were you the whole day?"
"Here," she replied with a shrug. "I just went out for a moment to conduct the investigation, you know which one."
"Yes," Hitsugaya sighed. "So did you find that perpetrator?"
"Not yet, but I'm getting close. I'll have him in no time," she promised sincerely. Hitsugaya believed her, despite her statement sounding like an excuse for doing nothing.
"I hope you will. And did you have to get drunk in the process?"
"People are more talkative after a cup of sake or two," she explained. "I already told you this."
"Whatever," he sighed. He couldn't stay angry at Matsumoto. No matter her numerous faults, she appeared to be the only person here who was genuinely happy to see him. That outweighed everything else she did, or more typically didn't do.
"I found him, taichou," announced Matsumoto with a smile when she sauntered into the office once early afternoon.
"Who?" Hitsugaya asked not lifting his head from his paperwork. He had a mountain of it to fill and he was in no mood for his fukutaichou's shenanigans.
"That no-good guy who's been spreading the nasty rumors about you, of course," she answered. That got Hitsugaya's attention.
"Really?" he asked not caring that he smudged the ink on an important report.
"Really," she nodded. "It was hard, he's a clever one, but he isn't smarter than me," she boasted.
"So who is he?" Hitsugaya wanted to know.
"Seventeenth Seat Ogidou." The name sounded vaguely familiar. Probably because he'd read it on the list of his subordinates.
"So where is he now?" the young captain asked.
"Training grounds," the fukutaichou answered. "His squad is training now, but they should finish soon."
"You didn't arrest him?" Hitsugaya questioned.
"I thought you'd like to do it yourself." She had a point. He'd really like to deal with the slanderer himself.
"Let's go," he decided.
"Right, taichou," Matsumoto grinned and lead the way towards where the slandered was training. They reached the training grounds shortly.
"There is he," the lieutenant pointed at a good-looking guy currently explaining something to a pair of unseated shinigami. Hitsugaya stopped for a while and observed him. So this guy was the source of his recent trouble? He didn't look that part. Though Hitsugaya had learned a long time ago that appearances couldn't be trusted, he still couldn't imagine this man, who acted so kind and was so good at training his underlings, could do anything vicious. For a moment he felt doubt. What if Matsumoto was wrong? What if she made a mistake? Could he accuse a good officer based just on her word?
Then Ogidou noticed him and walked over to him.
"Good day, captain," he greeted. "What can I do for you?" His words sounded polite and sincere, yet for a moment his face had contorted into a hateful grimace. It was gone almost as soon as it appeared, but at that moment Hitsugaya realized that this man really hated him enough to start a smear campaign against him. But why? That remained a mystery. The young captain couldn't recall meeting him before taking command of the Tenth.
"Good day," Hitsugaya replied. He was still reluctant to accuse this man outright. So far he had only Matsumoto's word and his hunch saying that he was guilty. "I just wanted to see how the squad training was progressing." It was a pathetic attempt at delaying an uncomfortable confrontation.
"Huh, taichou, didn't you want to talk about something else?" Matsumoto prompted. "Like the source of that malicious slander?"
"What are you talking about?" Ogidou made a decent impression of confused innocence. It wasn't good enough to fool his audience. Mainly because they both knew that there wasn't a single shinigami in the Tenth who hadn't heard about it yet.
"Oh, don't try to look innocent," Matsumoto said. "I know very well it's been you. I talked to everybody in this division and tracked the rumors back to you. So don't try to tell me it wasn't you."
"You think you're so smart, lady," the man scoffed, shooting Matsumoto a hateful glare. It was almost like a confession of guilt.
"Why?" Hitsugaya asked.
"Why?" Ogidou's face twisted in a condescending grimace. He didn't even try to deny the accusation. "You ask why? Oh, it looks like you really don't remember. But why would you? The great prodigy," he spat. "Why would you ever notice other people in your class? You weren't going to stay more than a couple of months anyway. So why would you care if one of them died?"
Hitsugaya suddenly realized where he had seen Ogidou before. He used to look younger, more boyish, wore his hair in a different fashion and didn't have the stubble on his chin back then. But the eyes were the same, including the hateful look he shot Hitsugaya. Takehiko. Ogidou Takehiko, once a classmate of Hitsugaya and boyfriend of Kamizuki Minako, the girl that had been killed during the fateful first field trip at the Academy. Takehiko had tried to exact revenge once before and almost managed to get Hitsugaya thrown out of the Academy. The young captain had a good reason to hate this man. Yet when he saw the raw pain in Takehiko's eyes, he felt bad for wanting to punish him. The man had suffered enough when he had lost his love. Hitsugaya could recall the incident vividly: the scorpion-Hollow standing above him, about to skewer him with its claw, then Minako appearing and cutting the claw off, saving him, smiling, then her expression turning into one of surprise and then agony as the scorpion's tail pierced her back. It was the first death of a shinigami in action Hitsugaya had seen and it had haunted his dreams for a long time. But after a couple of years he had pushed it into the back of his mind. But Takehiko didn't forget. He thought of it every day. It was just natural for him to seek revenge on everyone who looked the least bit guilty.
"Uh, captain, what's going on?" Matsumoto asked. Her voice brought Hitsugaya out of his musings.
"Would you tell her or should I?" Takehiko asked. "Or would you rather it remained forgotten?"
"No," Hitsugaya replied. Some things shouldn't be forgotten. "His girlfriend was killed by a Hollow during our Academy field trip. He thinks it was my fault."
Takehiko muttered something that sounded like "Damn right it was."
"Oh, come on," Matsumoto said. "How can you believe something so nasty about someone so sweet?" She ruffled Hitsugaya's hair to punctuate her words.
"Matsumoto," Hitsugaya glowered at her. Takehiko scoffed.
"Oh, he looks sweet alright, but he's a vicious little bastard who doesn't care about anyone but himself!" The ground whitened with frost as Hitsugaya was getting angrier and angrier. But it was Matsumoto who acted first. She clubbed Takehiko on the head.
"And what about you?" she scoffed. "Did you care about anyone but yourself when you spread the rumors? Do you have any idea what have you done to the morale in the division? You're a pathetic excuse of a shinigami!"
"Like you're one to talk," Takehiko retorted, shooting a pointed look at Matsumoto's revealing attire.
"Enough," Hitsugaya commanded. He couldn't stand the man in front of him anymore. Had he really felt a bit of sympathy towards him earlier? What was he thinking? Many shinigami had lost somebody dear, sometimes thanks to something another shinigami did, and they didn't start a malicious smear campaign. Takehiko's deeds couldn't be excused by his pain. "Don't compare Matsumoto's clothes with your slander. I want to demote you on the spot, but you have gone beyond mere insubordination, so this isn't really in my jurisdiction anymore. The Central 46 will have to decide."
Takehiko paled and then turned deep red with rage. "So this is what you're going to do? You little..." He reached for his sword, but Hitsugaya kicked his hand away and Matsumoto caught him in a headlock.
"Well, Seventeenth Seat Ogidou Takehiko, you're under arrest," the young captain said, relishing every word. "Matsumoto-fukutaichou, take him away. I'm going to file the charges against him." He watched as the blonde woman dragged the frothing man away before heading to his office. For once he didn't mind doing paperwork. The form he was currently filling meant that the source of trouble in his division was finally rooted out. Things could start improving now, even if it would take a long time before everything will be alright again.
"Honestly, taichou, are you listening to me?" Matsumoto asked in an annoying tone.
"What?" Hitsugaya snapped as he lifted his head from the paperwork he was supposed to be doing, but couldn't concentrate thanks to his fukutaichou's constant yapping.
"You weren't listening, were you?" she accused.
"I was doing paperwork," he retorted. "Which is what you should be doing to but aren't," he pointed at the pile sitting at her desk untouched. "So unless you have something really important to say, be quiet and work."
"This is important, taichou," she stated.
"What is it?" he asked with an exasperated sigh. He had the feeling that he shouldn't encourage her, but what if it really was important? Matsumoto might yet prove to be a competent lieutenant. Oh... who he was kidding. She probably wanted some childish nonsense again.
"You really should work on your dating techniques. If you want to see some boobies again..."
Hitsugaya sighed. Of course it would be this. It had been nearly a month since their fateful spar and she still didn't let up. He groaned. He'd probably never hear the end of this. And if he did, it would be only because Matsumoto found something even more embarrassing to tease him about.
"Matsumoto," he growled dangerously, "I believe I forbade you to mention it ever again."
"But captain, I'm doing it for your own good," she objected. "You're a fine and handsome young man, you shouldn't have to restore to tearing girls' clothes open to see their goodies."
"Matsumoto, for the last time, that was an accident. I have no desire to look at anyone's 'goodies' as you call it, so don't bring it up again." The vein in his forehead was pulsating now.
"You don't want to look at my goodies?" The busty woman looked taken aback.
"No," Hitsugaya confirmed.
"But, captain, if you don't want to look at them, does it mean you're gay?"
"What!" Now it was Hitsugaya's turn to be shocked. His shock was quickly replaced by anger. "Of course not! Stop this useless banter now and start working!"
"I think you protest too much, taichou," she replied.
"Matsumoto, stop talking and start working," he growled. His patience was just about spent. For about the hundredth time that day, he asked himself whatever had possessed him to accept the infuriating woman as his vice-captain.
"Really, captain, if you aren't interested in my girls, it means there's something wrong with you."
"I'm too young for it," he admitted with embarrassment. "And Matsumoto, get back to your work now, and this is the last warning."
"But if you are going to be interested in those," she displayed her cleavage proudly, "eventually, you have to learn how to get a look at them without resorting to violence. As a woman, it's my duty to ensure the safety of my fellow females."
"Matsumoto," Hitsugaya growled. The young captain struggled to keep his temper and his reiatsu under control. The room was chilling rapidly. "Stop making it sound worse than it actually was. Will you shut up on your own on do I have to shut you up with Kidou?"
"Shut me up with Kidou? Captain, you really need to get those violent urges under control. And how do you make somebody shut up with a Kidou anyway?"
"There's a Bakudou that sews your lips together. Do you really want me to demonstrate?"
"There is?" She looked surprised. "I've never heard of it."
"Then allow me to show you," he said, lifting his hands in preparation to cast the spell. Before he could utter the first word of the incantation, the door to his office ware flung open.
"Captain!" a breathless shinigami called. "There's an emergency!" Hitsugaya noted that the messenger was looking at him, which was a welcome change from the last time he had received an emergency report. Now if he could be sure that it was because his division was finally beginning to trust him and not because they trusted Matsumoto even less.
"What happened?" Hitsugaya and Matsumoto asked in unison. The man bringing the message struggled to catch his breath, before explaining.
"The Second Combat unit is in trouble!" Second Combat Unit. It took Hitsugaya a moment to remember who led it: Fourth Seat Arai. It should be some big trouble when a Fourth Seat couldn't deal with it. Though, Hitsugaya had to admit, the quality of the Tenth's officers left something to be desired. It was probably the reason why there were two emergencies in the short time he had been in command.
"What kind of trouble?" he demanded.
"Where are they?" Matsumoto added.
"Hollows," the man said. "Lots of them."
"What Hollows?" Hitsugaya asked. The man just shrugged. It looked like this was all he knew. Well, it would have been nice to know what they were up against, but it looked like he'd have to make without it. Well, he was a captain for a reason. At least he thought so. He made a mental note to train his subordinates to send better emergency messages. The first one had been incorrect and this one incomplete.
"Where did it happen?" Matsumoto asked again.
"West Rukongai," the man reported and for a moment Hitsugaya felt a stab of fear. "27th district." Hitsugaya felt relieved. That was far enough from Granny's house.
"Which part?" he barked. The man didn't know. Yes, he would definitely have to teach his subordinates to give more accurate reports. Rukongai districts were big and the higher the number, the bigger they got. He'd have to hope they'd be able to find the group in trouble by their reiatsu.
"Let's go, Matsumoto," he ordered, grabbing Hyourinmaru and putting it on his back.
"Hai, taichou," his lieutenant said. Haineko was already tugged in her belt.
They raced out of Seireitei. Reaching the 27th district didn't take them long. Captain- and lieutenant-level shunpo was really fast. They didn't have to worry about locating the unit in trouble either, their reiatsu was easy to sense.
When they arrived at the battlefield, Hitsugaya paused for a moment to evaluate the situation. There were no Menos there. That was good. After the last fiasco he had half-expected one. But there were several Giant Hollows. Considering how unusual it was for them to band together, he had been running into such gatherings quite often lately.
Then he assessed who needed his help the most at the moment. The decision was easy. One of the Hollows was holding the prone form of a woman, probably Ninth Seat Kayabuki, though Hitsugaya wasn't sure from this distance and angle, and was about to bite her in half. The young captain waited for nothing, drew his zanpakutou and shunpoed to help her. He appeared at the back of the Hollow's shoulder and cut through its head and mask. It began slowly dissolving, but it squeezed its captive harder in its death throes, threatening to crush her. Hitsugaya quickly jumped down and cut the hand off at the wrist. The fingers finally slackened as more and more of them became a cloud of black reishi. Hitsugaya caught the woman (who was indeed Kayabuki) and laid her on the ground. Then he looked around to see what he should do next.
He noticed that Matsumoto had also joined the battle. One of the Giant Hollows roared in pain as Haineko cleaved its mask in two. But the enemies were still numerous. One had just knocked down a shinigami whose name Hitsugaya couldn't recall. He quickly rushed to his aid.
The battle was one-sided. Though the Giant Hollows were too strong for the average shinigami, they couldn't compare in power to a captain and a lieutenant. Even a Fourth Seat should be able to take care of them, but unfortunately Arai had been wounded at the beginning of the battle when he had taken the blow for one of his subordinates. As a result, there was no-one really powerful in fighting condition and the unit struggled to survive until Hitsugaya and Matsumoto arrived. But once they did, the Hollows began dropping like flies.
Soon there was only one Hollow left. It was the smallest in the group, but still bigger than a house. Hitsugaya jumped high to cut off its head, not noticing Matsumoto doing the same from the other side. He swung his sword down, cutting cleanly through the Hollow's head. It started dissolving into reishi. Then Hitsugaya noticed something approaching him fast through the slowly-dissolving Hollow's corpse. He was midair and unable to dodge and his sword was in a wrong position for blocking. He tried it anyway, because there was nothing else he could do. He at least managed to redirect the attack, but it hit him in the foot. Something sliced through the sole of his sandal and went deep into the flesh, probably all the way through. In the next moment, something slammed into him and he came tumbling down from the air.
As he fell, he realized that he something that had slammed into him was Matsumoto and then the tip of her zanpakutou was red with his blood. Before he could draw a conclusion from it, something slammed into his back. It turned out to be the ground. And then Matsumoto landed on him. He lay on the ground, momentarily dazed, but he recovered quickly. The impact didn't hurt him much, but he had a hard time coming to terms with what happened. Matsumoto had cut him. After winning the battle without a scratch, Matsumoto had to go and cut him. His own lieutenant. What did she think she was doing?
He opened his mouth scold her, but he realized he couldn't speak. He couldn't even breathe. It was because Matsumoto was still lying on top of him and her humongous breasts were pressing into his face. He pushed her away. She rolled on the ground with a yelp.
"Ow! Taichou! What are you doing?"
"What are you doing?" Hitsugaya snarled back sitting up. "You cut me!"
"Huh?" She looked like innocence personified. It pissed Hitsugaya off. He pointed at his leg, where blood was seeping into his tabi.
"See this? This is your work."
"My work?" she was taken aback. "Taichou, I would never hurt you." She had some strange definition of the word 'hurt,' Hitsugaya thought.
"But you did," he stated. "What were you doing? Why did you attack the Hollow when you saw I was already attacking it?"
"I didn't see you," she replied.
"You should pay more attention," he suggested.
"So what about you, taichou?" she asked. "Why didn't you notice me?" Oh, she had a point there. But Hitsugaya had no intention to lose this argument.
"I didn't cut you," he pointed out. She pouted. Hitsugaya sighed. All around them, their subordinates were watching them wide-eyed. It wasn't good to let them see their captain and lieutenant arguing. Letting them see the lieutenant accidentally wounding the captain was bad enough. He had to gather whatever dignity he had left and salvage the situation somehow.
He took a closer look at his wound. The bleeding was slowing down. The wound didn't hurt much, mostly just stung. It looked like the blade didn't pierce all the way through after all. But at this moment, he couldn't be sure whether his tendons and bones were intact. He stood up, putting weight onto his wounded foot experimentally. It hurt a bit, but it didn't buckle under him. He tried to make a step. Good. It looked like he'd have no trouble walking. He could concentrate on helping his wounded subordinates without worrying about his wound.
"Let's go," he said. Matsumoto grabbed him and lifted him in her arms.
"What are you doing?" he asked with a sudden sense of panic. It was all he could do not to scream like a little girl at his lieutenant's unexpected action.
"Carrying you," she answered. "I can't let you strain your wounded leg. What if you made it worse?"
"I can walk just fine! Put me down!" Toushirou demanded.
"Why, captain?" she raised an eyebrow. "Are you scared of heights?" Wait when you see me fly, Hitsugaya thought.
"Of course not!" he snapped, now blushing with embarrassment. That infuriating woman always knew how to make him look like a complete baby. It was a no-win situation. Either he'd look like a baby if he let her carry him or he'd look like he was afraid of heights if he'd demand she put him down. Their subordinates were watching them with barely suppressed smirks.
"Then what are you so scared of?" she asked playfully. Before Hitsugaya could answer, Matsumoto tripped and they both fell into a muddy puddle. Hitsugaya bit back a scream as the wound in his foot was aggravated by Matsumoto's knee landing on it. It almost distracted him from her boobs landing in his face. Almost. How does she always do it? he mused idly.
"That's what I was afraid of," he replied once she got up from him and he was able to speak and breathe again. He looked ruefully at his haori. It was completely soaked through by the muddy brown water. And those things were ridiculously hard to wash.
"Sorry, captain," Matsumoto apologized hurriedly. "Let me help you." She grabbed him again and tried to lift him in her arms again, but slipped and in the process dropped him into the mud again, soiling even the previously clean part of his uniform. That broke even the last strands of Hitsugaya's patience.
It was now several months since he had become a captain. It was the time for Academy students to graduate and choose a division. He wanted a lot of them to join and boost the depleted ranks of the Tenth, but he knew it wasn't going to be easy. The problem was that before his promotion, the Tenth had been without a captain for nearly eighty years and without a competent lieutenant for twenty. The results were showing a lot. What had once been a proud division of the Gotei 13 was now in ruins and everybody knew it. Whoever could, transferred somewhere else and only the most devoted and those no other captain wanted in their unit remained. The news of the Tenth's abysmal condition spread even to the Academy, making the graduates do anything to get into some other division. For a couple of years now, no new recruits joined the Tenth. Hitsugaya wanted to change it, but he didn't know how. Though he had done his best to put the division into a semblance of order, the results weren't anything to be too happy about. There was only so much he could do with the subordinates he had been given. The state of the division was now merely bad. And though the Tenth wasn't captainless anymore, a child at its helm wasn't inspiring much trust either. And that wasn't speaking about the trash of Gotei 13 manning all the other positions.
"Something on your mind, taichou?" a happy, bubbly voice brought him out of his musings. Matsumoto Rangiku. His new lieutenant. A capable fighter, but unbelievably lazy and useless at almost everything else. Not his first choice of a second-in-command, but she had volunteered where all other candidates refused. He supposed she was better than nothing, though sometimes he doubted.
"I'm just worried about the recruitment," he answered. "We need to get as many recruits as we can, but I don't know what to offer them to convince them to come here. This division is still the worst among the thirteen."
"That all?" she asked in a tone that said she didn't consider it a problem. "Just leave it to me then. I'll lure here more recruits than you'll know what to do with."
"Lure?" he questioned her odd choice of words. "How?"
She smiled mysteriously. "That's a secret." He wasn't convinced. But in the end, he let her do it. It wasn't like she could make it any worse and he had too many other problems to deal with.
The day of accepting new recruits into the division came. Hitsugaya half dreaded it. He was convinced that letting Matsumoto deal with the recruitment had been a mistake. There would be no-one there. But as he walked into the hall where the newcomers were supposed to assemble, he was surprised to find thirty young men and a grinning Matsumoto waiting there. Wait, men? When he had attended the Academy, there had been a fair share of girls studying there. But there was no female in the room aside from Matsumoto. Wait, no, there was one woman among the recruits, but she didn't look very feminine, so he had initially missed her. What did it mean? He decided to postpone the question for later and gave the recruits a welcoming speech. He hoped it didn't sound as cheesy to them as it did to him. He then ordered some of the seated officers to show the recruits their rooms and pulled Matsumoto aside.
"How did you do it?" he asked.
"I told you, captain, it's a secret," she winked in a more seductive than conspiratorial manned and leaned over him, causing her boobs to come dangerously close to his face. Hitsugaya quickly backed away, but not before noticing that there was more visible of them than usual, a feat he had considered impossible. He also noticed that her pink scarf wasn't tied around her neck as was her habit, but hung loosely from her shoulders, framing her cleavage nicely. That caused a suspicion to arise in his mind. He knew very well the power Matsumoto's chest had in its usual half-covered state. If she exposed even more of it, well it would explain why all the new recruits were men. But surely even Matsumoto wouldn't be that shameless? Who was he kidding, it was Matsumoto. The concept of shame was lost on her. But surely all the recruits couldn't be that susceptible to her charms? But they were young men, so they probably were. For once, Hitsugaya was glad that Matsumoto's boobs had no effect on him. Well, other than scaring him with their bludgeoning and smothering ability.
"You dragged them here by your boobs, didn't you?" he asked.
"Captain," she pouted, "you put it so crudely."
"You did," he sighed.
"You make it sound like I did something wrong. Is it my fault that men just can't resist when I show them my ample bounty?" Hitsugaya sighed. He really, really didn't want to have this argument, but he didn't want to back off and let Matsumoto think that what she did was alright.
"It's shameless and immoral."
"What is?" she raised an eyebrow. "I merely obeyed taichou's order. You told me to get here some recruits so I did." It was an argument Hitsugaya couldn't dispute.
"You didn't have to do it this way. Now everyone would think you're a..." He didn't finish the sentence. Granny's upbringing reared its head and reminded him that if he used such language, he'd be faced with the wrath of the one person he considered scarier than Unohana.
"A what?" Matsumoto asked, seeing his embarrassment. "And what does it matter what they think as long as they already joined?"
"They can just transfer," he pointed out.
"No, they can't," she shook her head with conviction. "They wouldn't admit they joined just because of my girls. And if they think about leaving, I'd just bounce them around again and they'd forget all about it."
Hitsugaya sighed in resignation. "You really are shameless."
"Thank you, taichou," she smiled. She took it as a compliment. Really, really shameless. He didn't like being stuck with her, but at least she could get the work done. It she felt like it. He could have done worse. Probably.
"But I see a problem that you recruited only men. This way, we are going to gain the same reputation as the Eleventh. I don't want to change the Tenth into an all-male division."
"I brought girls too," Matsumoto pointed out.
"That one lesbian doesn't make a difference."
"There are three girls," Matsumoto corrected.
"Three?" Hitsugaya couldn't believe his ears. Two of the men were actually women? He decided not to dwell at it. "Whatever. But three is still too few."
"That's easy to change," Matsumoto smiled. "Next year, you do the recruitment and the girls would squeal. There's no way they'd be able to resist such cuteness. You'd have to bat the girls away with your zanpakutou."
"I am not cute!"
"Of course you are," Matsumoto disagreed and enveloped him in her bearhug.
End note: And that's all, folks. Hitsugaya is captain, Matsumoto his lieutenant, they're learning to work together and the state of the Tenth Division is improving. It will still take some time, but it will get there. I don't really have anything more to write about on this storyline.
I wrote an oneshot sequel that happens several years after this. It shows Hitsugaya, Matsumoto and their subordinates including the OCs from this story. It works as a stand-alone story, so I don't paste it here as chapter 21. I'll publish it sometimes next week as a part of my collection Tales of the Gotei 13. After that I'll start posting a new epic-length Bleach story, so you won't miss Hitsugaya and Matsumoto for long. You might also spot other familiar characters there.