She was tall. Very tall, but then perhaps that was only from his perspective. She was thin, too. She had long, glossy blonde hair, big pale blue eyes, and almost ridiculously large breasts. Her uniform hung too loose about the top, and her hair was in her face. Not quite slobbish, but unprofessional to say the least. And yet, there was something so familiar about her, but he just couldn't put his finger on it. Surely they hadn't met before? She appeared very feminine, and yet gave off a hard sort of vibe. She wasn't delicate. She was...
"Matsumoto Rangiku!" She held out a hand to him.
His train of thought interrupted, Hitsugaya Toshiro shook her hand quickly and pulled his own away, while trying not to appear rude or jittery. When his power wasn't well controlled his skin could become cold enough to freeze water—and at the moment he was nervous enough for it to be fluctuating wildly. Of course, control was a relative matter. He'd been out of the Academy for a half dozen years and they'd graduated him with honors. It wasn't dangerous, just disconcerting to others.
"It's an honor to meet you, sir!" Lieutenant Matsumoto bowed low, and Toshiro wasn't sure if she was serious or mocking.
"Lieutenant Matsumoto has been with the division for forty years, and has managed the troops herself sans Captain for that entire time." the aged Commander informed him, handing over a folder of paperwork. "It's a shame it's taken us so long to find a new Captain. The Tenth Division has been without one for nearly sixty years."
"Then it seems that Lieutenant Matsumoto must be very good at her job." Toshiro said politely.
"Indeed, I think so. She's somewhat overworked at this point, but things should be more normal from now on. Well, I suppose you two will have a lot of work to do in getting started, so you're dismissed. Good luck, Captain Hitsugaya."
Captain Hitsugaya. It was weird to hear those words together, to know that that was how he was to be addressed from now on. His introduction to the other Captains had gone smoothly enough, although he was sure that they would doubt his ability. Not that it made a difference; the Commander didn't doubt his ability, and that was all that mattered. Still, it was irritating to know that they were all waiting for him to fail. As if the Academy was getting lax or something, as if they were just graduating anyone who could hold a sword. But no matter. Toshiro had spent years striving to be perfect at whatever task he took up, and he'd be damned if he wasn't going to be perfect at this, too.
They exited the Commander's office and stepped out into the bright morning sunshine. It was the middle of October, and the sky was that special shade of October-blue that can't happen during any other time of year. Autumn always was Toshiro's favorite time of year, when the oppressive heat of summer lifted and the cool winds came pouring in. They both stalled awkwardly at the bottom of the steps, as Toshiro realized with a guilty start that he didn't actually know where the Tenth Division was housed. He'd only been notified of his promotion the evening before. Lieutenant Matsumoto grinned at him, and took a deep breath of the balmy air.
"Isn't it a lovely day?" She tossed her hair back, and again Toshiro had the distinct impression that he knew her already. Where had he seen her before? "Why don't we go ahead and I'll show you to your office? I've arranged for the troops to assemble at oh-nine-hundred so you can introduce yourself and do an inspection."
"Very well, then." He wondered if he ought to try to sound more professional. How did the other Captains treat their Lieutenants? Probably it depended on the individuals involved, he guessed. He'd been promoted from a fifth seat position in the 2nd Division, and Captain Soi Fon wasn't exactly open about her relationships with the other officers. He would have to observe the others carefully from now on.
"Right now we're divided into three squads, one headed by the third seat, one by the fourth and one by the fifth. That's the way they were arranged when I came to the Tenth." She looked back over her shoulder and down at him as he followed her through the labyrinthine streets of Seireitei. "Of course, it's up to you if you'd like to rearrange us."
"Oh, no, that's probably not a good idea." Toshiro studied her outline as covertly as he could; she was thin, but muscular. Not a slacker in the training department, then. She wore a long cerulean scarf around her shoulders, and a thin golden chain glinted from her neck. She turned back to face forward as they turned left, and suddenly the low autumn sunlight was blinding. It didn't seem to bother her.
"Not a good idea?" she repeated.
"No, at least not for a few weeks." He shielded his eyes with one hand, making careful note of the path they were taking. "People are a creatures of habit, after all, and a change in management always causes some amount of unrest. Coming in and changing everything around immediately would do nothing but make me unpopular."
"Oooooh, very wise, sir." Her voice was high and girlish, but he was sure that she hadn't run a division on her own for forty years if her personality was high and girlish as well. The tone made him sure that she was assessing him, as much as he was assessing her. Of course she would doubt his abilities; he was half her height and probably a quarter her age. Toshiro gritted his teeth. He'd have to fake an air of confidence and be careful to make no mistakes for a good, long time. They arrived in the Tenth Division's housing and she led him up to the main barracks and office buildings.
"Your office is in here, sir." she slid the door open and waved him inside. It was a wide room with hard wood floors. The windows were open facing north. There were two heavy wooden desks, one centered in front of the windows and the other pushed up against the right-hand wall. The opposite wall was covered in shelves full of books and files. "Um." Matsumoto shut the door behind them. "My apologies. I moved my desk in here about a month after I came. I've been doing the Captain's share of the paperwork, and there are a lot of files in here that I need to reference. But regulations say that the files have to stay in the Captain's office, and I kind of got tired of walking back and forth to check them, you see..."
"Understandable." Toshiro surveyed the room. "If the division is used to you being in here, then you should keep your things here for a while at least."
"Really? I was going to have my desk packed up and moved before lunch, it's no problem."
"Really. You've effectively been the Captain for what, did the Commander say forty years? If your troops see you move and come to the conclusion that I've come in on my first day and just kicked you out, that's a recipe for disaster. Besides, it may help us get to know each others' habits." Toshiro eyed the bookshelves. "And if I'm to pick up my share of the paperwork, I'll need someone to teach me the filing system, of course."
"As you wish, Captain." She bowed again. Her hair parted straight down the middle and hung toward the floor in golden waves. Where have I met her? "We haven't got any current assignments, but there are some drills scheduled for this afternoon. Would you like me to reschedule them for a more convenient time?"
"No, no. Go ahead and carry out all your normal routines for this week, it's best to let the troops keep their regular routines for now. Have you got a schedule posted?"
"Um, no sir, there's no written schedule. I can write one for you, though!" She reached into her desk drawer and pulled out paper and ink.
"That would be helpful, I would like to know what everyone is up to during working hours." Toshiro had a look at his own new desk while she scribbled away. The top was clear, the drawers empty. It and the chair were also covered in a layer of dust. He'd have to clean it up this evening.
Actually, looking around, everything in the room was covered in a thin layer of grime. Perhaps he'd call the maintenance staff to take care of it. Toshiro had always been of a fastidious nature, and he didn't want to start out on the wrong foot here. Surely Lieutenant Matsumoto should have been able to find the time to wipe down the bookshelves—but then, she'd been doing two people's jobs, after all. Toshiro decided to make a judgement on that another day.
"Basically we do all-inclusive training on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays." Matsumoto handed him the handwritten schedule she'd drawn up. "Usually swordplay in the mornings and hand to hand plus kidou in the afternoons. Tuesday everyone is expected to participate in individual practice, and they log their time at the Division's dojo or at the training grounds. On Thursday mornings the seated officers take their squads out for team drills, and Thursday afternoons are free. Most people use the time to meditate or study on their own, but we've got a fair handful who take supplemental classes at the Academy."
"That sounds perfectly reasonable. I'll observe training this afternoon then, just carry on as you usually do until we find a reason to change anything."
"Yes, sir." Matsumoto slid the door back open as Toshiro laid the schedule down on the dusty desk. "The Third Seat should have the men assembled by now, if you're ready."
They were assembled, all right. Toshiro stood up as straight as possible as they walked out to the courtyards. He knew it didn't matter, that they'd see his tiny stature and insignificant frame and think that he wasn't capable. That he was just a little boy with too much spiritual pressure. Again, his resolve to be as perfect as possible was hardened. Lieutenant Matsumoto walked out in front of the neat rows of men lined up in crisp black uniform, and her demeanor was much more brusque than it had been back in the office.
"Atten-tion!" She stood tall before them, Toshiro at her elbow. He noted with some surprise that she had their complete and undivided attention, and somehow not a single one seemed to be staring at her ample cleavage. Perhaps her unprofessional appearance meant little. And really, he thought, who am I to be judging anyone by their appearance?
"Good news, gentlemen! This morning the Commander saw fit to appoint us a Captain!" They did not move. Matsumoto indicated Toshiro at her side and went on, "This is Captain Hitsugaya and he'll be taking over command of the Division starting today. Captain?"
Toshiro stepped forward, acutely aware that every single soldier was taller than him. What fun.
"Good morning," he said, in as flat a tone as possible. "I am Hitsugaya Toshiro, formerly of Division Two. I was only informed last night that I'd been placed as your new Captain, so I didn't have time to prepare a speech. I'd like you to know that it's an honor to be able to work with you all, and I hope to take a lot of the pressure off of Lieutenant Matsumoto here, so maybe she'll have a day off now and then. I've instructed her to keep your current schedule for the time being, so don't fear that we're about to disrupt your regular routines. So—I suppose for now you can all get back to what you'd normally be doing, and we'll all get to know each other soon enough."
Taking his cue, Matsumoto stepped forward again, her scarf blowing in the light breeze. "Back to your stations, dis-miss!"
The men broke ranks, and whispers broke out among pockets of them as they drifted away. Toshiro stood by Matsumoto and watched them go, noting that the Third, Fourth and Fifth Seat officers had not come to introduce themselves. He'd have to see to that later.
"Oh, Captain." Matsumoto started walking back toward the offices, speaking back over her shoulder as he followed. "I put in an order for some supplies for you, since your desk is probably empty. They should be delivered by lunchtime."
"That is good, thank you. I don't wish to fall behind on the paperwork." The barracks came into view and Toshiro soon spied a familiar figure dressed in black milling around by the doors. A mild sense of dread came over him as he realized that the figure was almost hopping with excitement. She at last broke into a run, sprinting towards them at breakneck speed. Toshiro prepared himself to be clobbered.
"SHIRO-CHAN!" Hinamori Momo threw her arms around him and danced on the spot, her brown eyes wide and round. "I can't believe it! I just heard, I'm so happy for you!"
Toshiro stood still until she had finished hopping, and saw Matsumoto still standing by, looking bewildered.
"My apologies, Lieutenant. This is my sister."
Hinamori proceeded to hug Matsumoto, too. "I'm so glad it was you, Rangiku! I know the two of you will get along just perfectly!"
"I hope so, Lieutenant Hinamori." Matsumoto disentangled herself from Hinamori's grasp, which only caused Hinamori to latch back on to Toshiro, who again stood as still as a statue.
"Hinamori, we have a lot of work to be getting on with." Toshiro said flatly. She let him go.
"Of course you do! So do I, I've got to get this report delivered to Captain Ukitake! I'll see you later, later!" She sped off, skipping every other step. Toshiro and Matsumoto continued on their way up the lane to the offices.
"So..." Matsumoto began as they started up the steps to the porch, "How is your grandmother?"
Even as Toshiro wondered how Matsumoto knew anything about his grandmother, an old memory surfaced and Toshiro's mind finally made the connection: a familiar face, with much shorter golden hair, a shocking pink scarf tied at her throat. Kneeling in his bedroom back at Granny's house, her fingertips at his throat, and her high girlish voice—"You hear a voice, don't you?"
How ironic, that she'd pushed him to become a Shinigami only to have him become her superior in a handful of years.
"I knew I had recognized you." Toshiro reached the office door and opened it. "She is better. Hinamori visited her last week."
Matsumoto grinned widely, revealing perfect white teeth. "I'm glad." She said. "I didn't expect to ever see you again after that day in the Rukongai, but here you are. Maybe it's Fate."
"More likely, just a coincidence." In a corner of the room Toshiro found a closet and opened it hopefully. Just as he expected, it contained shelves of cleaning supplies that looked as though they'd never been touched. Did maintenance just skip over this room? But then it hit him—of course they just skipped over this room. This was the Captain's office, and there hadn't been a Captain for forty years! Well, Toshiro said to himself as he picked out a spray bottle and a white dust rag, we'll have to put in some calls about that.
A/N: This will be my first attempt at a serious multi-chapter fic. Most of the long stuff I write devolves into crack, but I'm going to try hard with this one. I have thirteen chapters planned, but there may be delays between each one. Please be patient.