She's never been deemed important enough to register on his radar. He never took any interest in her. The only reason he was aware of her existence and knew his fair share about her, was because he always saw it prudent to learn as much as he could about those around him. Just in case he needed the knowledge later on.
That being said, he was almost certain, on an unconscious level, that he will never need the information he has on her. She will never become someone worthy of his attention or interest.
This wasn't surprising, really, she was loud, boisterous, disrespectful and the farthest thing from professional. To him, this was enough for her to never merit his respect. He often found himself avoiding the places where her Reiatsu could be felt. Just to spare himself the vision of a high ranking officer behaving disrespectfully.
Not that she was rude to him or anything. She was always polite; she always curtsied and attached the proper honorary to his name. But he could tell that her manners were only for show. Not unlike his lieutenant, she used etiquette to try to blend in. He knew that she didn't really respect or revere anyone. And that he found loathsome.
To him, reverence and respect for one's superiors, for the rules, and for that which was commonplace; were essential, and has been long since engrained into the very fabric of his personality.
And this is why people like her could never really register on his radar, and he would always keep his interactions with them to a bare minimum.
"Good morning Kuchiki Taicho." She greeted, escorted into his office by his lieutenant.
He didn't look up from his paperwork, "Matsumoto-Fukutaicho." He acknowledged, distantly remarking that it has been a longtime since she's been in his office. She also hadn't been to any meetings since the war. It has been months, and she was only resuming her duties now. This is peculiar. But as it stands, Byakuya wasn't inclined to pursue this line of thought any further. He couldn't care less, about where she was or what she has been doing. For all he knows, abandoning her duties and putting additional strain on her captain were nothing new to this woman.
"My captain needs this papers signed, something about the 6th and the 10th overseeing the Rukongai festival preparations together." Rangiku stated.
Just like her to refer to an important task in such an indifferent manner. Byakuya wouldn't be surprised if she didn't even know that the 6th and the 10th divisions have been tasked with securing the coming festival. After all, she didn't attend any of the meetings.
Byakuya held a hand out, eyes still on the papers in front of him, as he pursued another line. Matsumoto handed him the papers and silence reigned as the two lieutenants waited until the captain finished reading the papers.
Silently, Byakuya signed his name.
"I will need exact estimates by the end of this working day." He intoned.
"Estimates?" She parroted, obviously having no idea what he was talking about.
Byakuya finally saw it fit to look up, fixing her with a cold look should get her attention. He certainly didn't need a slacker on board.
"Estimates of how many men your captain is willing to dispatch to the festival grounds per rotation, as well as the exact locations they will be covering as per the security plan we have drawn." The Kuchiki clan's head elaborated an empty and almost castigating tenor.
"Oh." Rangiku answered, eyes leaving the papers in his hands and meeting his.
Byakuya was about to say something, something potentially scolding, however, for some reason he stopped.
The office fell silent for a long moment, as Byakuya just observed the woman in front of him, while she looked back at him. She didn't balk as most people normally did when they met the powerful man's eyes. He didn't expect her to; she never really shied away whenever he looked at her. That was one of the things that assured him of her lack of respect. However, something about her has changed, of that he was sure.
"I will bring the estimates as soon as possible, Kuchiki-Taicho." She said with a head bob, too quick and rushed to be considered a real courtesy.
Automatically, Byakuya nodded, and she was out of the door.
Renji gave his captain a bow, before following her out and closing the door, leaving Byakuya to ponder what just happened.
He was baffled by the fact that this woman actually managed to draw his attention. Something about her demeanor was giving him pause.
But what was it?
She was always bold, borderline disrespectful and unprofessional. This hasn't changed, so why was his mind so adamant on telling him that something about her is different?
It was her eyes, of that he was sure. Her eyes were what drew him, something about them was so…..
Byakuya's eyes snapped to the door in realization; something about her gaze was so familiar that he couldn't help but care.
He knew that look and every feeling that came with it. It was a look of utter desperation, the look that someone gets when they have resigned themselves to a tragedy, and finally acknowledged the fact that they can do nothing to change what happened, nothing except to remain silent and succumb to hopelessness and desperation. Nothing mattered anymore, nothing would provide her will joy anymore, and the sad part was, she didn't want to be happy again. She didn't want to be sad either; she just didn't care about what is to become of her. She was just there… an empty shell, a shallow reminder of what she once was.
The pen in Byakuya's hand was finally laid down on the desk.
She didn't smile at him this time. She always smiled at him; he knew it, even though he never looked up. He could hear the proudly genuine smile in her voice, even as he was coldly berating her. But today, her smile was gone. And Byakuya knew from experience that her smile will never come back again.
"Yes, Taicho?" Renji stated as he came into his superior's office.
"Abarai," Byakuya acknowledged. He wasn't sure why he was doing this, but he had to know. "I noticed that Matsumoto-Fukutaicho has been gone for a while…" He stated, if he knew his Vice-captain, this would be all it takes for the redhead to spill all he knew.
Renji blinked confusedly for a second, before his eyes lit up. This was a subject that he knew more about than his captain and he was happy to demonstrate said knowledge.
"Hai, she's been away for 6 months now." The Vice-captain stated a hint of sadness behind his voice. "It has been very hard on her. And her captain has been very understanding. She says she's OK, now though."
"Hard on her." Byakuya repeated.
"Oh, yah, you know what with Ichimaru-Taicho getting murdered and all. He might not have been as bad as everyone thought after all. But even if he was bad, I am sure she would have been sad too. She might have been trying to hide it but she had hope that he would come back one day. That was why she was fighting so hard in the war. But now she knows he will never return. Not only that, but Hisagi says that she believes that he was trying to protect her." Renji elaborated. "She's been very upset. She even stopped drinking, we try to drag her out to the bars but she just sits there." At this point, Renji sighed. "I wish there was something I could do. But she's back now, which means she's gonna get better." He finished on this positive note, a hopeful and sincere smile making its way to his lips.
"I see." Byakuya said.
Renji beamed at his captain. "Didn't think you'll notice that she was gone, Taicho." He remarked.
"You may leave." Came Byakuya's response, to which Renji responded with a little bow, before he turned to leave.
He's wrong. Byakuya pondered. She isn't back because she is better. The only reason she is back is because she is completely numb, and no longer cares whether she spends her time at work or at any other place. It no longer matters to her.
Byakuya's conclusion left him rather sullen. He wasn't in the habit of empathizing, but he couldn't help but feel for her. And a voice in his mind was screaming for him to take action.
It does not concern me. He reasoned. It is her fight, one that I have fought when Hisana died.
But I lost the fight. The voice in his mind reminded. I never recovered from the loss. I never defeated the feeling of utter numbness. And neither would she. She will lose herself soon, and she will never return to who she was again.
But he shouldn't care. He didn't even like the rowdy disrespectful person she was. Why should he bother if she becomes a mere specter? Just like me. What if she never smiles archly at him again? Would that be such a bad thing?
"I see." The youngest captain in Seireitei remarked. "If he needs them by the end of the day, then we need to compile a list of our fighters who are qualified for the job, before informing them of their duties and reporting back to him." Toshiro stated.
"I will get right on it." Her voice echoed.
Hitsugaya gave her a concerned look.
"You will?" He questioned. "I didn't even have to ask you."
She nodded. "Do you not want me to?"
"Well, I do, but….."
"I should get started then." Rangiku stated, before turning around and leaving the office.
Toshiro's eyes followed her. He couldn't help the feeling of helplessness that washed over him. For years he had pressured her into working harder, but right now, he would do anything to get the slacker that she once were back. He could only wish that time would remedy what was broken.
Two weeks had gone by, and all Byakuya did was watch her. He tried to stop, many times. But he just couldn't. It might be that he was seeing himself in her, the same patterns of unraveling that he once went through. It was a rather peculiar thing to witness, and a rather odd place to be; knowing exactly what another person is going through, and what will become of them.
During the monthly meeting that the captains and lieutenants were both required to attend, she had stood silently behind her captain.
Normally, she used to shift around from foot to foot, which he found utterly disrespectful. She also used to make eye contact with other lieutenants and smile whenever some particularly funny exchange took place between the captains. But this time, she was mute, and so utterly stiff. Byakuya caught Kira looking at her, but the woman remained completely unmoved.
It was at this point that the Kuchiki heir realized that the Sotaicho had been talking to him, and had to clear his throat and claim that he didn't hear him clearly, just to get him to repeat what he said. This has never happened to him before; he has never been this preoccupied before.
Well, he was, once, but that time it was different, that time it was Hisana and he was happy to be preoccupied with her at every waking second.
He couldn't look away though; he seemed to be constantly watching her. He even started walking to where he detected her presence. She would greet him, formally, and the smile would be missing. He knew that because he looked at her now. He looked very closely, at least, as close as he could during the split seconds that they share as they pass each other down a hall.
He even went to lunch in a place where she was.
He finally agreed to accompany Ukitake and Kyoraku, knowing that she would be there too, with her friends.
But unlike the boisterous display she put before, she was now silent, completely silent.
This does not concern me. He maintained.
Yet the voice in his mind was getting louder, and he knew that it was gaining more control over him. It was that voice that was making him follow her around and observe her from the shadows. And oddly enough, it wasn't a foreign voice to him, it was his own voice, a voice that he thought died with his beloved.
Following her presence again, Byakuya found himself at the far ends of Seireitei, a place he had never been before.
He walked cautiously between giant trees that obstructed all traces of the moon light.
It seemed like he walked for hours. It was rather easy to lose track of time when all you're doing is wander aimlessly amidst a branching forest with nothing but faint traces of Reiatsu guiding you towards the unknown.
Eventually, Byakuya saw the moon. It was a full moon today, and it was reflected almost entirely in the clear waters of the lake.
Emerging from the forest, Byakuya's eyes scanned the area and found her sitting beneath a giant Sakura tree. The faint breeze was blowing her strawberry colored hair around alongside the falling petals. Her eyes, however, were almost unseeing, as she cast them over the lake and let them linger there, as her entire body slumped against the sturdy trunk.
Without thinking he walked, as if mesmerized by her presence. And without hesitating he sat down next to her.
Her head turned towards him quickly, eyes widening slightly in shock.
"Kuchiki-Taicho." She stated, but it sounded more like a question.
"Matsumoto." He said, alarming her even more at the lack of a formal moniker.
She blinked, eyes fixed on him, obviously trying to ask him why he was there, and why on earth was he sitting next to her under a tree.
His eyes however, were now fixed on the horizon, and Matsumoto followed them over to the lake, before looking back at him again. She couldn't bring herself to ask, lately it seemed like she really didn't have the energy to interact with others. But for what it was worth, and as strangely as it seemed, she was glad to have someone there by her side. And so she cast her eyes back forwards, and collapsed back against the tree.
Hours passed in silence. None of them looked at the other, and no one attempted to move. She was just relived to be sitting peacefully, with someone who wasn't attempting to talk to her.
It was almost dawn when Byakuya moved. She didn't look around, having figured that it was about time for him to go home. And she didn't really expect him to say goodbye.
She was rather surprised, however, when she heard slight shuffling, followed by the feeling of a soft piece of material being draped across her shoulders.
Matsumoto's eyes widened, as she looked at the man sitting next to her, now lacking his signature captain's haori.
"What….." She started, but his eyes were cast forwards again, and his posture was more relaxed than she has ever seen it. She sighed, eyeing the lake and relaxing back into position.
"Aren't you going to sleep?" She questioned.
"I barely sleep." Came his honest intonation.
"Me neither." She found herself saying, finally realizing why she felt glad that he was there. She wrapped his robe around her and reveled in the warmth. She didn't even know she was cold up until the moment he draped it across her shoulders.
A few moments later, the sun started to rise, and Rangiku found her eyes closing. It was the first time in a long time that sleep actually came to her, so she gladly succumbed.
By her side, Byakuya's eyes have long since abandoned the horizon, now firmly fixed on her sleeping form.
He couldn't help but bring a hand up to softly caress her cheek. She shuffled, and emitted a soft sound of protest, causing his normally steel like grays to soften, as he lay back against the tree.
A few minutes later, when she leaned into him in pursuit of warmth, he allowed her to rest her head on his chest, and placed a hand on her waist to keep her balanced.
Byakuya drew in a deep breath. Maybe there is no need to remain numb anymore. He pondered. He was feeling something and he really didn't mind feeling this way.
And as he rested his cheek against her hair, he figured that he really can't allow her to follow the same path that he once did.
As annoying as it was, Byakuya would do everything he could to see that disrespectful smile of hers again. And maybe with it, he could show her his.
I have always been fond of Byakuya and Yoruichi as a couple, but lately the Byakuya and Ran pairing has been growing on me. And I just needed to write this piece in particular.
Hope you liked it.
I don't really know if I should pursue this story any further.
But I know that I would love to hear what you think of this.