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Best I Am (10-38)

Author: Iced Blood


Host: FF

11 - DEVOTION
Sorry, for both the hiatus and for the subject matter of this one. I had to struggle to get this one
out, and I ended up going with a similar theme as #10. Not the most uplifting, I know. I guess
I've just been simmering on how much Hinamori has been disappointing me lately. She used to
be nice...what happened? Anyway...hopefully I won't have such a long break between updates
again.

He wondered if Aizen knew how damned lucky he was.


He wondered if Aizen understood just how rare the total adoration and devotion Hinamori had for
him was. He didn’t know anyone else who tried so hard to please her superior. Hinamori would,
without a thought, die for her captain. Anything he asked, anything at all, she would do.
If he asked her to draw her zanpakutou and slide it across her own throat, she would. And her
final thought before dying would be to wonder if her blood was red enough for him.
Hitsugaya shivered, wondering just where that particular thought had come from, but knowing
just the same that it was true. Hinamori was devoted mind, body, and soul to Aizen Sousuke. It
was a bit unnerving, honestly. A few of the other officers of the Gotei 13 thought it was adorable,
a few thought it was pathetic, some even considered it perfectly normal.
It wasn’t normal; it wasn’t adorable; it wasn’t pathetic.
Hitsugaya didn’t know what it was, but he did know what he felt whenever he was reminded of it.
Jealous.
He knew it was childish, and he never admitted it aloud, but he was fiercely jealous of the Fifth
Division captain. Hinamori had once gone to him whenever she had free time. She had once gone
to him when she needed to talk about something. She had once gone to him when she’d had a
nightmare and needed the reassurance of a friend.
...Now he’d been replaced.
He really didn’t blame Hinamori for loving her captain as much as she did. Aizen was everything
anyone expected in a captain. He was brilliant, kind, just, patient, and so strong that he almost
never needed to draw steel to deal with Hollows. He was, in a word, perfect.
How could he hope to stand against that?
Oh, sure, he’d made captain. He was called a prodigy, his division respected him, several of the
other captains admired him. Hitsugaya had quite the reputation himself...but he wasn’t perfect.
Hinamori had been proud, of course, when he’d first donned his captain’s cloak, but there was a
hint of condescension in her praise, as if she had been thinking, Aw, how cute. Shiro-chan’s trying
to be a captain. He’s nothing like my Aizen-taichou, though. He’s a real captain.
Hitsugaya had once, long ago, been the most important person in Hinamori Momo’s life.
And perhaps, if he had recognized and appreciated that, he might still be. But...he’d pushed her
away, and she had found someone else to take up her entire existence.
Hitsugaya really had no one to blame but himself.
But he still hoped Aizen realized how lucky he was.
The captain’s office of the Tenth Division was usually quiet, and this day was no exception...which
was a good thing because that meant no one suspected anything was amiss. No one caught the
fact that Hitsugaya was in a dark mood.
Well...one person did.
Matsumoto-fukutaichou looked up from her paperwork and caught sight of the expression on her
captain’s face. She instantly knew what he was thinking about, and she frowned.
I need to talk to Hinamori-chan. Maybe if she realizes how much she’s neglecting him she’ll start
finding time for him.
It was a long shot, of course. Who knew what assignment Aizen-taichou had for her this week?
She likely wouldn’t have time to come visit with old friends. But Matsumoto had to try.
Hinamori was the only one who could snap Hitsugaya out of this mood whenever he slipped into
it.
She sighed.
Matsumoto really didn’t think Hinamori deserved the affection Hitsugaya had for her. It just didn’t
make sense...at least not to her.
But she had to do it. She had to speak to Hinamori, as much as she really didn’t want to.
It was for her captain.
That was one of the only areas where Matsumoto agreed with Hinamori.
Anything for her captain.

12 – AN EMBARRASSING SITUATION

He tried to work his way into forgetting the...incident the previous night. Oh, sure, he'd hidden
everything that needed to be hidden immediately after she had opened the door, but let's face it.
People always knew you were "up to something" when you suddenly jumped up in your chair and
threw the folds of your robes around yourself, short of breath and looking around like you'd been
caught stealing something.
Never mind the stain on his cloak that would never come out now.
Probably the only person who wouldn't bother to do anything in a situation like that was
Ichimaru...and he hadn't. One time Hitsugaya had accidentally walked into the man's office to see
him...well, doing something that was obviously not work, something that you really shouldn't do
anywhere but your own home, and he'd just grinned that insufferable grin of his and said, "Hiya,
'Gaya."
Hitsugaya had been looking for his vice-captain, but he promptly forgot about that and slammed
the door closed, running off as quickly as he could to find Kyouraku, because she was probably
with him.
He even thought about joining them for a drink to get the image of Ichimaru Gin's frighteningly
pale legs out of his mind. Honestly, it had not been necessary for him to take off his pants!
The minute Hitsugaya had thought about that, he'd decided that he really didn't care about the
legal drinking age. He was a captain, damn it, and...well, this was a special circumstance.
He really should have learned his lesson after walking in on the Third Division captain, but he
hadn't.
Hitsugaya kept his mind on his paperwork, and he pointedly refused to look up at Matsumoto
when she walked into the room. He didn't see the knowing, cocky smirk on her face.
This was why Matsumoto loved dealing with her captain. It was so vastly entertaining.
The smirk stayed on her face the entire day.
She really didn't know what was so embarrassing about spilling ink on your shirt. Did he just not
want anyone to know he'd been drawing on his arm when the pen he'd brought back from the
living world had exploded? It was no big deal, really. It wasn't like she'd report him or something.
But still...seeing him so embarrassed was such fun.
...What did you think he'd been doing?
Tch. Perverts.

I have a weird sense of humor. Oh, well. It worked in my head. Why do I love torturing my
favorite characters so much? Poor Hitsugaya-taichou...eh. I'll get over it, I'm sure. I've done
worse to other characters, anyway. Hope you enjoyed this latest glimpse at my madness. Ja ne.

13 – CATHARSIS

The living world was a surprising place. Hitsugaya found that, actually, he rather liked it. Sure, it
was a bit...surreal, perhaps, to think that he had once lived here, that death had brought him to
Soul Society (unlike that lucky bastard, Ichigo, who had the best of both worlds), but he'd learned
quickly to deal with feelings like that.
Hitsugaya just ignored it. What did it matter now?
One of the things that intoxicated the boy captain about the living world was the technology that
seemed to spring up from every corner of the globe (not that globes had corners, of course).
Hitsugaya was close to two centuries old, but he had never even dreamed of something like the
videogames Ichigo had shown him (to get Hitsugaya away from him; he didn't see what was so
annoying about himself, but Ichigo was annoyed by everybody...honestly, he'd only meant to help
by pointing out the flaws in the young shinigami’s swordsmanship).
After only a day or two, he was addicted.
Seriously, what self-respecting young man could actually pass up a way to kill and maim and
shoot and kick and choke and blow up as many people as you wanted without getting arrested or
being bothered by stupid, troublesome emotions? It was like a dream!
Sure, Matsumoto called him immature, and Karin was starting to kick him on a regular basis
because he wouldn't give up the TV, but who cared?
They just didn't understand.
Videogames weren't a childish pastime.
They were a catharsis, a way to keep him from strangling Madarame Ikkaku.
And nobody wanted any Ikkaku-strangling going on.
He was doing them a service!
But oh, no, they just didn't get it. They berated him, telling him he was wasting his time, that
there were any number of things he should be doing like, oh, maybe...going after Hollows or
making those weekly reports Yamamoto-soutaichou had asked for or doing his laundry.
One day, he snapped, and they never made him turn off the PlayStation again.
It took a week for Ikkaku's face to thaw completely.
Not to mention the bruises on his neck.
Hey...he'd warned them.
For those of you hoping for some semblance of continuity in this series, I'm sorry. I just write
these as they come to me, so each chapter is meant to stand alone as its own little story. As to
this chapter itself...I have no clue how old Hitsu-taichou really is, but I assume he's a lot older
than he seems...after all, Ukitake-taichou and Kyouraku-taichou are at least two thousand, aren't
they? So...yeah. Two centuries sounded good. If I'm wrong...oops.
And by the way...in the last chapter, I have no clue what it was Gin was doing in his office...he
might have been drawing on his legs, but...who knows with him?

14 – THANK YOU

This was stupid.


Just about the only coherent thought he’d managed to have during the past two days was that
one: this was stupid. Completely and utterly incomprehensible. Should have never happened. Just
plain wrong.
Kurotsuchi and Unohana had both told him that he was wrong, and had explained in detail how it
had happened (it was the first time in Soul Society’s history that the Fourth Division captain and
the Twelfth Division captain had ever agreed on anything). But Unohana had sounded far too
much like a lecturing parent and he hadn’t listened, and Kurotsuchi...well, nobody listened to
Kurotsuchi. He was crazy.
Crazier than Ichimaru.
Well...uh...
“Ugh...” Hitsugaya groaned miserably. “Just what I need...”
Kurotsuchi and Ichimaru...and in his fever-heated mind, he saw them together, dancing wildly in a
field of corpses, singing off-key about the joys of murder.
Groaning again, straining to keep the laughter bubbling up in his throat down (he did not want to
laugh right now), Hitsugaya curled up in the fetal position with his fists pressed against his
stomach.
As creepy as they were, the image of Kurotsuchi Mayuri and Ichimaru Gin dancing and singing
was pretty damn funny.

Damn his traitorous imagination!


Taking in deep, steadying breaths, he strained to think of nice, calming things...kittens, baby
rabbits, a gentle breeze on a nice autumn day, the crisp, cool taste of watermelon, Matsumoto’s
smile--
Wait, whoa...hold on. Back up.
What!
His eyes snapped open, his breath catching in his throat.
“Oh! Taichou! Did I wake you?”
Turning his eyes upward, he saw his vice-captain standing by the bed, a wet washrag in her hand,
looking at him. He shook his head slowly.
Sitting down at his bedside, Matsumoto sighed. “Having trouble sleeping, Taichou?”
“Ngh...”
“Awww...poor Hitsugaya-taichou...c’mon, lay back. This will make you feel better.”
He did as she said, and she lay the folded, damp cloth on his forehead. It did feel good...he’d
been so hot lately...
Matsumoto frowned worriedly, and removed the thick blanket from his bed, leaving him covered in
a thin sheet. “Unohana-taichou said to keep you warm, but...I don’t think this is doing any good.
You’re not used to heat, after all...Hyourinmaru‘s kind of...conditioned you against it, huh?”
He didn’t say anything, but a slight moan of pleasure escaped his lips when the stifling heat left
his body. Even though his eyes were barely open, he saw the smile rise on Matsumoto’s face.
“T-Thank you...” he managed to whisper.
“Shhh...don’t talk, Hitsugaya-taichou. It’s okay.”
“Ugh...this is stupid...I’m a spirit...spirits shouldn’t get sick...”
“You wouldn’t think,” Matsumoto said, “but...Unohana-taichou told us what it was. Shame she
can’t do anything for you...you need to get over this yourself, she says.”
“Stupid...stupid...stupid...”
“Don’t worry, Taichou. You’ll be better soon...”
“Kurotsuchi told me...he could help me get better...by extracting my stomach...”
Matsumoto laughed. “Oh, I hope that was just a joke!”
“With...that psycho...? No."
“Hmmm...you might be right.”
The contemplative way she said this, for some reason, struck the young captain as extremely
funny. She was completely serious, as if just realizing that such a procedure wouldn’t be beyond
Kurotsuchi at all.
This time, he couldn’t hold back.
He laughed.
Bad idea.
Two seconds after he started, it was over.
He doubled over and vomited.
Unohana had warned him, of course, that it would be painful. Hitsugaya ate very, very little on a
given day, as dedicated as he was to work, and usually didn't drink much, either.
That meant, of course, that there was never much of anything in his stomach. He had been far
too sick to manage to eat anything recently, either, even for the purpose of alleviating...this.
Throwing up when there was nothing to throw up was the most miserable experience Hitsugaya
Toushirou had ever experienced. He thought dying would be preferable to this.
His stomach felt like it was on fire, twisting itself in knots as it strained to rid itself of whatever
irritant it thought was there. Lightning bolts assaulted his entire body as he shook, sweat falling
from his face. A million daggers shoved themselves into his gut, ripping him to shreds. Agonized
moans tore from his dry throat.
Matsumoto’s hand gently rubbed his back, reminding him to breathe. He might have told her that
he knew how to breathe, except for the fact that he couldn’t speak...and the fact that, honestly,
he was actually forgetting.
Puking took over your mind; no other thoughts ever came through.
When he finally was able to stop, when the last heave had passed, he collapsed in complete
exhaustion. Matsumoto, on instinct, held him to her, still rubbing his back to soothe him.
“Taichou...” she whispered.
“Ngh...M-Matsumoto...”
She laid him back onto his bed and turned around. She turned back with a bowl in her hands.
“Unohana-taichou thought I should bring this to you. Some soup will make the next time go
smoother. Are you feeling better now?”
He barely managed a nod, head leaning back against the headboard. She set the bowl on a tray
and positioned it over his lap. He picked up the spoon, but his hand shook. Glaring at the
offending appendage, he struggled to stop it.
When it became clear that he was too tired and too ill to manage it, Matsumoto took the spoon
from him and proceeded to feed him. He thought about telling her it wasn’t necessary, that if he
just went to sleep for a bit, he would be awake enough to feed himself; he wasn’t a child. He
could handle himself.
He was about to open his mouth to say these things, but another spoonful of soup stopped him
before he could. Matsumoto winked at him. “I know what you’re thinking, Taichou. And trust
me...I know you’re not a child. But you need to eat. Or...do you want to go through that again?”
He didn’t really need to answer that question.
When the soup was gone, Matsumoto smiled again and set the tray aside. “Ukitake-taichou gave
me some tea that should help settle your stomach, if you want some later.”
“That...w-would be...nice...”
“Okay. Sure thing.” She stood up to leave.
“Uh...Matsumoto...”
She turned and looked at him. “Hm? What is it?”
“A-About...my...my work...I...”
She smiled. “Oh, hush.”
“But...but...”
She leaned over him and kissed his forehead.
“Hush,” she said again. “You let me worry about that...”
Eyes wide, mouth agape, he could come up with no answer.
She left the room.
He lifted a shaking hand and touched his forehead.
She...she had...kissed him.
Kissed him!
“What...?”
At any other time, in any other situation, he would have been furious at such a blatant invasion.
Who said she could kiss him? He was her superior! That was not how a captain should be treated!
But this time...
Well...he’d let it slide.
He closed his eyes and tried to sleep.
“...Rangiku...thank you...”
Outside the room, Matsumoto stopped, turned her head, and smiled. “You’re
welcome...Toushirou.”

There's no time on earth when the people who care about you show it more than when you're
sick. It's a double-edged sword, I guess. You don't have to do anything; you just lay back and
other people do all your work for you. But...well, there's a price to pay, too. I'm sure just about
everyone can attest to the utter torture that is vomiting up nothing...I don't think there's anything
quite like that experience, and anyone who's never felt such pain can count themselves
exceedingly lucky.
I'm not so sure if shinigami can get such illnesses, but since Ukitake-taichou obviously has a
problem with his health (tuberculosis, if memory serves me right), I'd think Hitsugaya could get
something too. I'm not sure if I wrote this just for an excuse for Matsumoto to kiss him...but
regardless of any ulterior motive, I think it turned out pretty well.
Hope you agree.
...On a side note, I don't think I've ever been able to eat just after vomiting, but...Hitsugaya's a
captain. He could probably do it. And if it turned out that it didn't do him any good, well...lapse in
judgment. He brought it on himself, didn't he?

15 – IT HAD TO BE SAID

Since writing "Betrayal," I've been contemplating an actual confrontation between Matsumoto and
Hinamori about her behavior at the end of the SS arc. I also wondered how Hitsugaya would react
if he knew how Matsumoto felt about it (according to my view, of course, since there's no
indication in the manga of such a visceral reaction from Matsumoto as the one I gave her in
"Betrayal").
Maybe it goes without saying, but this, like "Betrayal," contains spoilers for the end of the SS arc.
It also contains some strong language, but nothing too offensive, I think.

She wanted to forgive.


She wanted to overlook it, to put it in the past and block it out of her memory like she had when
Gin had turned his back on her. She was slowly, slowly, getting over that...and she wished she
could get over this, too.
But she couldn’t.
She wasn’t as good a person as her captain.
The more she tried to remember the good, the more light shone on the bad...and it just wasn’t
going to work.
Hinamori Momo would never be the same in her eyes.
Ever.
She was going on about how wonderful the living world was, and Hitsugaya was smiling. He even
replied on occasion, and that was a surprise because the Tenth Division captain was anything but
a talkative person, and the things Hinamori was pointing out were pointless and stupid.
Matsumoto knew the anger coiling in her gut was dangerous, but she also didn’t really feel a need
to care. She reveled in it...because it felt better than the pain of knowing that her captain was in
love with a woman who hurt him.
Ikkaku and Yumichika, who were accompanying them, had caught onto the blonde shinigami’s
current mood, and were careful not to say anything that would upset her further or, worse, turn
her rage on them.
They were of the Eleventh Division, and they considered themselves stronger than most of their
peers, but...they knew.
Hell hath no fury like a woman with a sword.
Matsumoto liked those two. They were good people, honest and trustworthy, even if Yumichika’s
eyebrows did creep her out and Ikkaku’s luck-luck dance was the stupidest thing she had ever
seen (except perhaps a grown man running away from a girl with a soccer ball...but then again,
Kurosaki Karin was rather scary).
She liked them...yes. And she appreciated the fact that they were there. There was something
about their presence that made her feel slightly better.
But...it wasn’t much.
“...Cutest little thing, isn’t it, Shiro-chan?”
“Don’t call him that...” Matsumoto hissed under her breath, and the pair behind her didn’t miss
the venom in her voice. “You don’t deserve to call him that...”
“I thought I told you, it’s Hitsugaya-taichou!” said the white-haired boy, but there was no real
conviction in the admonition.
“Rangiku-san...” Yumichika murmured softly, “...you should calm down, you know, before you say
something you’ll regret...I know how you feel about your captain...you don’t want to hurt him any
more, do you?”
No...of course she didn’t. She had never wanted to hurt him. He was more than her captain, more
than a friend...something far more precious than that. She didn’t even know if there were words
to express how important he was to her.
It wasn’t jealousy that made her stomach cramp and her head throb whenever she saw Hinamori
these days...nothing of the sort. It was the knowledge that she didn’t deserve him.
The damn whore...
“Oh, Rangiku-san, aren’t those flowers lovely?”
“...I guess.”
Hitsugaya and Hinamori turned to look at her.
“Is something the matter, Rangiku-san?”
“That’s a stupid question,” Matsumoto snapped.
“Matsumoto, what are you...?”
“It doesn’t matter. Don’t mind me. I’m tired.”
...Tired of her.
Hinamori frowned and crossed her arms. “Rangiku-san, you’re not tired. Something’s bothering
you, and I’m not moving ‘til you tell me what it is.”
Matsumoto passed her by. “Stay there, then.”
Hitsugaya scowled. “Matsumoto, what’s your problem?”
She stopped. “...Nothing you should concern yourself with, Taichou.”
“I asked a question, Matsumoto, and that answer won’t fly.”
She turned and looked at him, at his cold, sparkling, hypnotizing eyes. They really were a lovely
color...a downright gorgeous green that numerous female shinigami (and the occasional male,
such as a certain Eleventh Division pretty boy who always felt the need to point out beautiful
things, regardless of what others thought about him because of it) had only just begun to notice
and admire.
And the only person those lovely green eyes ever seemed to soften for had eyes that reminded
Matsumoto of a cockroach’s back.
“Fine...you want to know?” Matsumoto asked, and the tone of her voice was frightening. “I didn’t
want to say this because I knew it would upset you, Taichou. But fine.”
She crossed her arms. “I’m bothered because this entire situation feels entirely too wrong to me.
I’m bothered because this entire situation isn’t fair. I’m bothered because she is acting like
nothing ever happened!”
Hitsugaya was silent for a moment. “...Matsumoto. If that’s how Hinamori wants to deal with
this...what right do you have to be angry about it? She idolized Aizen, you know that as much as
anyone else.”
“I’m not talking about that four-eyed overbearing fuck, I’m talking about her!” Matsumoto
snarled, her rage suddenly coming to a head. “She’s acting like she never did anything and
goddamn it, it pisses me off!”
Ikkaku ran a hand over his smooth head and groaned. “Oh, boy...this won’t be good.”
“What...what do...you m-mean...Rangiku-san?” Hinamori stuttered, which just made her angrier.
“Don’t play cute with me, Hinamori, you know precisely what I mean!”
She had spent so many months straining to keep up a friendly façade for her captain’s sake...but
now that it had crumbled, she didn’t really feel bad about it. As angry as she was, it made her feel
better to finally let her thoughts on the matter be shown in the open.
“What you’ve done makes you no better than Aizen, Gin, or Tousen! You think you’re a victim in
this? You want to say he used you, that he tricked you? Well, you know what? I don’t buy it. Trick
or no trick, the fact is you don’t even have the decency to feel ashamed at what you’ve done!”
Hitsugaya’s eyes narrowed, and his voice was tinged with ice. “Matsumoto...” he growled
dangerously, “...watch what you’re saying...”
“No! Punish me for this if you feel it necessary, but damn it, I’m going to let you know what I
think about this!” She turned her blazing gray eyes to the now-quivering vice-captain.
“Do you see...? Do you get what’s going on here...?” she asked in a deceptively soft voice as she
approached Hinamori. “After what you’ve done...to him...he still protects you. After you came at
him with the full intention of killing him, after your backstabbing maggot of a captain almost
carried that intention out and you didn’t even blink, he’s still putting himself in the line of fire for
you...he still loves you even after that...and do you even care one goddamned bit about that?”
Hitsugaya’s anger wavered into confusion.
Hinamori was shaking.
Ikkaku and Yumichika were looking at everything but the scene in front of them.
“I don’t understand it...” Matsumoto said. “Maybe you can enlighten me. I really don’t get what’s
so great about you that my captain would love you so much. You hung around his house when he
was younger and you gave him watermelon, and that’s it? Bonded for life? You gave him the name
‘Shiro-chan’ and he worships you? What is it, Hinamori? What’s your secret? Hm?”
The tension in the air was almost a living thing, coiled around them like a huge, malicious snake
poised to strike. The anger in Matsumoto Rangiku’s voice was unlike anything they had ever
heard.
And none of them dared say a word.
“Enlighten me, Hinamori Momo, as to why you get a second chance after spitting in his face,
trusting a man you barely knew over a friend you’ve had for years. Enlighten me as to why you
can get away with trying to kill him without any repercussions at all! Enlighten me as to why
you’re so ever-fucking perfect that you don’t have to care about the man who loves you!”
If looks could kill...how old was that saying? Who had first come up with it?
Whoever it had been...must have seen the expression currently twisting Matsumoto’s beautiful
features into a glare of such black hatred that even Zaraki Kenpachi would cower in terror.
Hinamori’s face was as white as the spirits she so often saved from hollows, and it did
Matsumoto’s heart good to see it.
“Tell me...Hinamori Momo...why? Why are you the only one he ever thinks about? Why are you
the one who can call him ‘Shiro-chan’ without him getting angry? Why are you the only one he’s
given his heart to?”
Tears began burning the backs of the blonde vice-captain’s eyes.
“...I’ve stood by him, helped him however I could, backed him up during fights with particularly
dangerous hollows, nursed him back to health when he’s sick or injured; I’d give my soul for
Hitsugaya Toushirou without a second thought...so why you? Why are you so special that you can
ignore his existence and still have his love? Why do you get that smile I’d give my life for when
you haven’t done a goddamned thing!”
She was crying now, but she couldn’t feel it.
She couldn’t feel anything.
She felt drained...dead. The anger had left her now...and all she felt was numb.
Without another word, she vanished.
Ikkaku sighed. “...Damn...”
Yumichika’s eyes were cold and razor sharp. “...I’m curious to know your answer, Hinamori-
fukutaichou...if you even have one.”
It took a lot for a man like Yumichika to get truly angry. He was annoyed by many things, but very
few things...could put that look in his eyes.
“I think you got some thinkin’ to do, Momo,” Ikkaku said, “’cuz don’t you go thinkin’ that anything
she just said was wrong. I ain’t all ‘at observant when it comes to anything outside of fighting, but
I’ve wondered myself why Hitsugaya-taichou dances on your strings when Matsumoto-fukutaichou
practically bends over backwards to get a single ‘thank you’ out of ‘im.”
Hinamori could think of nothing to say.
She turned her gaze to Hitsugaya, whose haunted green eyes were staring at the ground. “S-
Shiro-chan...”
“I think Shiro-chan died when you tried to kill him,” Ikkaku said.

It was midnight.
Matsumoto sat on the roof of Inoue Orihime’s home, staring at the full moon and marveling at just
how stupid she had been. She should have just kept her mouth shut and faced Hitsugaya’s
disapproval later than blow up at Hinamori and risk everything.
If there was one indisputable truth about her captain, it was that he didn’t stand for anyone
treating Hinamori Momo the way she had just treated her.
It had felt good, initially, but now...she regretted it.
Not for Hinamori’s sake. Matsumoto would likely never actually care about anything that happened
to the Fifth Division vice-captain ever again...but...
“Matsumoto.”
She stiffened, but didn’t turn to face him.
“...Taichou.”
She heard his uniform whispering about him as he approached her. She lowered her head and
waited, knowing what would happen now.
She’d be lucky if she managed to keep her position after this.
Her heart stopped when she felt his arms wrap gently around her neck, felt his head rest on her
shoulder.
“Matsumoto...I’m sorry...”
He kissed her cheek.
“I didn’t mean to hurt you so much...I didn’t realize...”
She couldn’t think.
She couldn’t breathe.
She felt shame wash over her at the guilt so evident in his voice.
And then...
“...I love you, too, Rangiku...more than you could ever know...”
...She felt nothing but his warm, comforting embrace.
She finally managed to turn around and face him.
She threw her arms around him and cried.
Hitsugaya held her close, staring at the full moon and marveling at just how stupid he had been.

I think this would qualify as my first serious attempt at a real romantic scene, and while I'm not
entirely sure how well I managed it, it works for me. I find myself hoping that, while this was
going on, Hinamori was watching from another roof.
Yes...I really, really don't like her anymore. It takes a lot for a character I like initially to make
me hate them, but Hinamori Momo is one of the only two to have done it, the other being Uchiha
Sasuke from Naruto. And actually, he's starting to get interesting again...so maybe Hinamori's the
only one now.

16 – DINNER WITH THE FAMILY

Wow...31 reviews for the last one. Guess you guys liked it, huh? Well, I'm glad that so many
people understand my sentiment regarding recent events. One of the reviews I received, though,
made me wonder. Evidently, HitsuMatsu is"definitely" a crack pairing. Now...maybe I haven't
been writing fanfiction long enough to fully understand what those are, but...I've always thought
crack pairings were those match-ups that were so far from canon as to be completely
nonsensical...i. e. HitsugayaxIkkaku, or KenpachixIshida (Great...now I'm going to have
nightmares; thanks, me). It would seem to me that, since Hitsugaya and Matsumoto already have
a relationship, and a bond, it wouldn't seem so out of the ordinary that they would end up
together. Is age difference the problem? Come now. I hardly think Soul Society puts much stock
in that, considering looks are most definitely deceiving in a place like that. Office romance? I've
never seen any evidence that Soul Society forbids such things. Hmmm...maybe I'm just thinking
too much into this.
Anyway, I doubt this one will live up to the last one, but I think it works. Enjoy.

In retrospect, he supposed he should have listened to Rukia’s warning.


She’d told him before he left that, “Once you get involved with the Kurosaki family, you can never
leave. Your life will never be the same.”
He’d thought that to be a highly confusing warning. After all, he was only patrolling, and if he and
Matsumoto happened to run into that Ichigo kid, how would that change his life?
He didn’t realize that it really wasn’t Ichigo who was responsible for the life-changing...it was the
rest of those psychos.
It was really just a chance happening. He’d been walking the streets of the city, waiting for
Hollows to show up, hoping to run into one soon so that he could release some of the tension that
had been building up throughout the day.
Matsumoto had pointed out the girl, saying, “I think that’s one of Kurosaki Ichigo’s sisters.”
Hitsugaya had been about to respond with, “Good for her,” because he wasn’t in the best of moods
and really didn’t want tosocialize, but then he’d looked over at her.
She was having some sort of trouble.
And he found he couldn’t turn away now.
He walked over.
“C’mon, sweetie, share!” a young teenage boy was saying with a smirk on his face, and Kurosaki’s
sister was obviously frightened. She was wearing a pink dress, and had light brown hair.
Hitsugaya thought her name was Yuzu.
“But...but it’s mine! You have your own lunch!”
Oh, for the love of...terrorizing a little girl for her food? It never failed to amaze the white-haired
captain how low some people sank...
He thought fleetingly that Kurotsuchi would like this idiot.
Hitsugaya didn’t.
“But...but...it’s mine!” the boy mocked, grabbing the boxed lunch Yuzu had placed in front of her.
“Didn’t your parents ever teach you manners?”
“Irony is lost on primitive primates...” Hitsugaya muttered, rolling his eyes, and the boy whirled
around.
“What was that, shrimp? Hey, mind your business!”
“...Or what?”
The cool, confident expression on Hitsugaya’s face was one he was known for. He knew this kid
was no problem. Sure, his power was vastly limited in this false body, but he was still well-trained.
He didn’t need Hyourinmaru to deal with this. The sword would have been insulted if he had.
“Back off! I’m talkin’ t’ cupcake, here! Don’t make me knock you flat, weirdo!”
“Somehow I doubt her name is cupcake. It’s rude to call someone you don’t know by anything
other than their name...didn’t your parents ever teach you manners?”
“Shut up, shrimp!”
Hitsugaya sighed. “They never get it...”
Matsumoto shook her head. “Nope.”
“All right,” Hitsugaya said, “let’s set things straight here, shall we? You put that lunch down and
walk away like a good little boy, and I won’t say or do anything. Otherwise...”
He left the threat unspoken.
“Looks like I gotta teach you respect!”
“...I don’t take lessons from boys who pick on girls...isn’t my style. Especially not thieves who pick
on girls...it’s unsightly, as an associate of mine might say.”
“Oh, yeah! I’ll show you, you little--”
He went down in three seconds.
Hitsugaya handed Yuzu’s lunch back to her. “Here. I believe this is yours.”
Yuzu was staring at the offered food. “You’re...Hitsugaya Toushirou, aren’t you?”
“Hm? How do you know my name?”
“Oniichan told me about you,” she said. “He said you were a little guy with white hair.”
Hitsugaya scowled. “Figures he’d say that...well, yes, that is my name. Yours is Yuzu, if I’m not
mistaken.”
She nodded. “Uh-huh.”
“Well, it was nice to meet you, Yuzu.”

How she had coerced him into eating dinner at her house, Hitsugaya would later marvel at. He
didn’t even really remember what had happened, just realized later on that night that he was
sitting at the Kurosakis’ dining table, with Isshin talking up a storm and Yuzu fluttering about the
kitchen setting up the meal, Ichigo and Karin saying nothing, identical expressions of boredom on
their faces.
As they sat down to eat, Yuzu told her family what had happened earlier in the day. And when she
gave him an extra large portion because “Hitsugaya-niichan was so brave,” he knew he was stuck.
When Isshin began patting him on the back and proclaiming at the top of his boisterous voice that
Hitsugaya was a “fine young man” and “welcome anytime,” and Ichigo nodded to him with a quiet,
“Thanks,” and Karin looked at him with silent approval, the smallest of smiles on her young face
that he somehow knew she didn’t give out to many people, he sighed heavily and began to eat.
Yes...he should have listened to Rukia.
Son of a bitch...

17 – UNDERSTOOD

Spoilers again...tread with caution.

It was no secret that Hitsugaya despised Aizen Sousuke and Kaname Tousen for what they had
done to Soul Society; he had made his opinion known countless times, whenever someone had
the audacity to bring it up.
It was a bit strange, however, that he barely ever mentioned Ichimaru Gin when vocalizing his
hatred...and whenever he did, it was with decidedly less venom than when he mentioned the
other two.
Most of the other shinigami hypothesized that it had something to do with the fact that his vice-
captain had been childhood friends with the Third Division captain. Everyone knew that Hitsugaya
cared about Matsumoto, even though he barely ever showed it, and so that was the most popular
theory.
And indeed, that was a part of it.
But it was a bit more complicated than that.
The reason Hitsugaya didn’t feel the same animosity toward Gin as he had toward his two
accomplices (although Aizen had obviously been the ringleader) was because of a singular
incident.
Ichimaru Gin, for all his faults, understood.
It had been a while back, but the boy captain remembered it clearly. He had been walking with
Matsumoto toward the First Division’s headquarters to deliver some paperwork when they had
chanced upon Ichimaru.
He and Matsumoto had conversed a bit, mostly about nothing, and that seemed to be the end of
it. Matsumoto continued on, but Hitsugaya stopped and turned back over his shoulder, catching an
odd expression on the man’s face.
Ichimaru turned as well, and for once that grin, that annoying grin, was gone. He was frowning,
and his eyes were actually visible. There was a somber look in those eyes, and it made Hitsugaya
frown in confusion.
“...Hey, ‘Gaya,” Ichimaru said, and for once the pet name didn’t rile the white-haired boy.
“What is it, Ichimaru?”
“I know me ‘n Rangiku-chan ain’t ‘zactly...close no more. So...if somethin’ ever happens...you
take care ‘o her, huh? She’s m’ best friend, ya know...’n if somethin’ ever happens t’ me...well, I
jus’ wanna know she’s safe. I wanna know she’ll have somebody...’f I ever end up gone.”
His usually ridiculous drawl was soft, contemplative, and sad. Hitsugaya hadn’t thought anything
of it at the time; he’d just thought that it was a friend feeling apprehensive because he was in a
line of work that constantly put him in danger.
But that wasn’t it.
He’d known. The plan had already been set in motion, and Ichimaru had been making sure that
Matsumoto would have a shoulder to support her when he ripped the rug out from under her feet.
And months later, when he was lying facedown on a floor made slick with ice and blood, both his
own, knowing for certain that he was going to die, he was going to die and there was nothing he
could do about it...the deceptively chipper captain became serious again.
“...Stay alive, Hitsugaya-taichou,” he said, and they were the clearest words Hitsugaya had ever
heard. “Stay alive, because she’s gonna need you...now more ‘n ever. She ain’t ever goan f’give
me this...but she’ll have you...so stay alive.”
And, against all odds, he had.
He’d survived, he’d persevered, he’d trained and fought and scrambled his way into top form,
making absolutely certain that he was as strong as he could possibly be.
So that he could stay alive.
He owed it to his vice-captain, because even though he never said it he loved her and she was
now his only true friend, the only one who really understood him.
And he owed it to Gin...because even though he had betrayed Soul Society, even though he was a
backstabbing bastard...
...He had the decency to feel bad about it.
And that was more than he could say about the other two backstabbing bastards.
So he never mentioned Ichimaru whenever the subject was brought up, because he didn’t deserve
to be lumped together with Aizen and Tousen. He was better than they.
Not by much...but better.
He had cared about his friend, even as he turned his back on her. He had regretted hurting her,
even as he did it. He had ensured that she would live, even as he prepared to kill her.
Ichimaru probably expected Hitsugaya to kill him, eventually, and Hitsugaya was prepared now to
do it.
And he would do it quickly, cleanly, without much pain.
Because Ichimaru Gin was better than his accomplices.
Ichimaru Gin understood.

I've always thought that Gin was...creepy, and maybe that was part of the reason I liked him
initially. His manner of speaking, which is usually casual to the point of silliness but sometimes
(when he uses Shinsou's shikai) is downright demonic...I love him. I always like interesting
villains, and Gin was most decidedly a villain from the very beginning. And that constant
smile...yeesh. Evil. Sadistic. Downright awesome.
I also have much more sympathy for him than for Aizen or Tousen, because he didn't fight
Matsumoto when she stood up to him. Something about that just...appealed to me. So,
inevitably, that sympathy turned into this. Somehow I doubt Hitsugaya would actually feel this
way about Ichimaru, but...I like it anyway. It's an interesting idea to me.

18 – SOUL BURIAL

No spoilers this time. Yay!

Matsumoto’s former captain had been much older than her current one, and had been the first
man she had served under. She had respected him, sure, as any vice-captain should, but not
nearly as much as she respected Hitsugaya.
Part of it had to do with his power, and his youth, but that wasn’t nearly all of it. She thought she
had realized just how much she respected her current captain one nondescript day about twelve
years before a fifteen-year-old human boy had shot through Soul Society and turned everything
upside down.
It had been a routine patrol that day, and she hadn’t expected anything to happen. Kill off a few
hollows, make the report, blah, blah, blah...same old, same old.
And it had started that way, certainly.
But then she and Hitsugaya had found a hollow that was chasing another spirit. A young girl of
about twelve or so, by the look of her.
The look on Hitsugaya’s face when he’d seen that child’s spirit was simultaneously hot and cold,
fierce and calculating. Like a bonfire trapped beneath a sheet of ice.
He had leapt over the girl and sliced the thing clean in half with one swift movement, drawing his
sword and sheathing it in a matter of a single second.
He turned, approached the girl, and began to speak to her. Matsumoto couldn’t remember now
just what he had said to her, but it had calmed her.
And when he’d performed the girl’s soul burial, stamping the hilt of his zanpakutou on her pale
forehead, she had seen the marked difference between her current captain and her previous
captain, between Hitsugaya and most other shinigami in general.
His eyes were glistening.
As he stood, slowly walking back to her, a single tear slid down his face. He wiped it away irritably,
but not before she had seen it.
Matsumoto realized that every time she had ever seen him perform the ancient ritual, he always
seemed to get choked up, especially when dealing with young people.
“What’s wrong, Taichou?” she asked innocently. “Did you know her or something?”
He shook his head. “Never heard of her. Name was Rachel. But...well...nothing. It’s nothing.”
“Taichou? C’mon, what is it?”
He sighed heavily, looked up at her, and evidently had seen something in her face that reassured
him, because he spoke again.
“It’s just...they died before their time. It’s why they continue to wander like they do, as if they’re
lost. It’s why they’re vulnerable to hollows.”
She knew that, of course. The majority of spirits she met in the line of duty often refused to
accept the idea that they had died, even though the proof was right in front of them. It was a bit
disconcerting, sure, but to get so emotional about it?
“...I died before my time...” Hitsugaya murmured softly, and Matsumoto jumped a little. She had
expected him to leave the explanation at that and prided herself on the fact that she had even
gotten that out of the usually quiet boy.
“T-Taichou?”
Hitsugaya’s eyes, at first so blazingly determined, then soft and empathetic, now were clouded
and far away.
“I don’t remember much...it was a long time ago and I was very young...but I died in a blizzard. I
don’t even remember what I was doing there in the first place, but...I was headed somewhere.”
Matsumoto realized as he spoke that she was probably the first person to ever hear this. If
anyone else at all had heard it, it would have been Hinamori.
She felt honored.
At the same time, though, she felt sad.
The expression on Hitsugaya’s young face was heartbreaking. “My...parents...they lost me. They
abandoned me. I don’t know how I know this...I couldn’t have been more than six...but I do. I
just do. They ditched me. Probably didn’t even bother trying to find me.”
“Taichou...”
Hitsugaya shook his head. “I don’t like to think about them. It’s in the past. But...but I hate
seeing spirits like me...lives that ended before they even had a chance to begin. It’s not fair.
It’s...part of the reason I became a shinigami in the first place.”
Not power, not glory, not to escape poverty...he had become a shinigami for reasons completely
unlike those of most.
Her previous captain had said he’d done it simply because he’d been bored.
Yes...she respected Hitsugaya far more than her previous captain. He was young, and still a bit
naïve when it came to certain things, but he remembered something that so many of her
colleagues had forgotten.
The spirits they sent to Soul Society were human beings, just like they were. The spirits they
saved from hollows had died, just like they had.
Hitsugaya hadn’t allowed himself to forget that. As hard as it was for him to deal with the
repercussions each time he performed a soul burial, he never allowed himself the relief of
forgetting. He refused to think of those spirits as lower beings, helpless sheep in need of
guidance.
He refused to let go of his own humanity.
It was just one of the many things Matsumoto loved about Hitsugaya Toushirou. One of those
things that only she, as his vice-captain, knew about him.
Shinigami don’t cry. Death Gods don’t cry.
But humans do.

I don't know what to say about this one. It was inspired by #6 and by something else I read that
I don't remember the name of now (sorry!), and I think it turned out decently well. One of my
attempts at philosophy, I think. I don't know. Whatever. Anyway, hope you enjoyed it. This took
me a while to get out, and I'm sorry for the wait.

19 – GRUDGING RESPECT

Winged Knight requested that I involve Zaraki in one of these, so after thinking it over for a while,
I came up with this. Hopefully this works.

In his line of work, Hitsugaya had learned one indisputable lesson over all others, one single
proverb that encompassed just about everything he had ever done and seen since becoming a
shinigami.
Expect the unexpected.
Regardless of this, however, there were certain things that, were he to see them, he would
disbelieve and discount as a hallucination.
An example might be a certain daydream he had had recently while sick with a relatively common
but still debilitating illness, a daydream involving two of the craziest men he had ever met
performing a dance routine on a floor covered in blood and bodies.
He still laughed about that, as creepy as the image was, especially when he saw Kurotsuchi at a
Captain’s meeting or happened across Kira in the mess hall.
He couldn’t help it.
Another such happening, however, had been real, and it was a story he told Matsumoto one day
while on patrol. He seemed to be doing a lot of remembering lately, and found that he was much
more comfortable relaying these memories to his vice-captain than he had been.
He supposed they were getting closer.
He’d been at he Fourth Division’s infirmary checking on some of his men, just before Kuchiki
Rukia’s failed execution and the revealing of Aizen Sousuke’s true nature.
It had been one of those things he was sure he would never see no matter how long he lived. He
had been acquainted with numerous members of other divisions, and since the Eleventh’s
headquarters were so close to his own, it was that band of bloodthirsty thugs that he was most
used to seeing.
And one thing he had just known he would never see was an Eleventh Division member crying.
Sure, Kusajishi Yachiru was a kid, younger even than he, and it shouldn’t have been such a shock
that such a small, petite girl could shed tears...given her babyish appearance, it should have been
completely natural.
But somehow...it just hadn’t been.
And as much as he wanted sometimes to deny it, Hitsugaya had a protective side...a very
pronounced protective side, especially when dealing with young people, and so he hadn’t been
able to leave her alone.
“Kusajishi,” he had said simply, standing near the bench on which she sat, sniffling and wiping at
her face with her sleeves.
She looked up at him, and her normally innocent, happy, dancing eyes were somber and deeply
troubled. “Oh...it’s Hitsu-chan,” she said.
He ignored that.
“What is it? What’s wrong?”
The pink-haired girl looked down at her lap and her eyes darted to the door beside her. “It...it’s
Ken-chan. Ken-chan died.”
“If he’s in there, he didn’t die.”
“But he did! He won’t wake up! I know, ‘cuz I checked!”
“Is Zaraki in that room?”
“Yes, but he’s dead! Ichi killed him!”
Ichi...Hitsugaya had had no idea who she had been referring to at the time. He simply crossed his
arms and raised an eyebrow.
“Unohana would have moved his body if he had died, Kusajishi. Zaraki isn’t dead. He’s probably
just sleeping.”
“No! He’s not! I checked! I kicked him, but he won’t wake up!”
Raising an eyebrow, Hitsugaya frowned. “You...kicked him.”
“Ken-chan says if you kick a guy between his legs and he doesn’t make a noise, then he’s
probably dead! I kicked, Hitsu-chan! A whole lot of times! But he won’t wake up!”
If not for the fact that Yachiru was in such a state, Hitsugaya would have laughed. He had to bite
the inside of his cheek to keep from letting a snicker out.
“...Probably. He said probably, didn’t he? Don’t worry, Kusijashi. Zaraki wouldn’t die so easily. Just
be patient.”
“But Ken-chan’s dead!”
“No, he’s not. Just be patient and I’m sure he’ll wake up soon.”
The girl’s eyes were so full of hope that it made Hitsugaya’s heart ache. She looked up at him as if
he were some sort of god come to her in order to answer her prayers.
“R-Really, Hitsu-chan? Honest?”
“Honest. If I know one thing about Zaraki, it’s that he doesn’t go down easily. He wouldn’t die like
this. If there was enough of him left to warrant taking him here, then there’s enough of him left to
survive.”
Evidently Yachiru had agreed with this idea, because she smiled and nodded. Then she had run
off, proclaiming that she had to tell “baldy-head” and “peacock-face” the good news.
But as weird as that was...the story hadn’t ended there.
Weeks later, long after Zaraki had made a full (and miraculous) recovery, he had run into
Hitsugaya...and hadn’t mocked the boy captain for being such a shrimp, which had brought
Hitsugaya up short (pun entirely intended).
“Oi.”
“...Zaraki?”
“Been meanin’ t’ ask ya somethin’.”
“Huh? What?”
“Back when I first woke up after ‘at Ichigo bastard knocked me flat, Yachiru kept sayin’ you was
right, ‘at you’d said I weren’t dead ‘n ‘at I’d be back.”
Hitsugaya had raised an eyebrow at this, nodding. “Yes...I spoke to her.”
“Why’d you do that? You ain’t the type just t’ make small talk wit’ people.”
“She was crying,” Hitsugaya said. “She’d thought you were dead. It had her in hysterics. I...had to
say something.”
The huge, hulking captain’s single visible eye appraised him with a thoughtfulness that didn’t
seem natural for him.
“...’Zat right. So...you cheered ‘er up when she was sad, huh?”
“Uh...yeah.”
Zaraki had looked at him for another long moment, then grunted something that might have been
approval but just as well could have been a curse, and had walked away.
Hitsugaya hadn’t made anything of it for a long while after that, until he realized one very
important thing.
Zaraki never called him a shrimp anymore.
“Huh...” Matsumoto said thoughtfully after Hitsugaya told her all of this. “...who’da thunk it?
Seems that blockhead has a soft side after all.”
Kusajishi Yachiru could cry, and Zaraki Kenpachi had a soft side.
...Expect the unexpected, indeed.

I think the next one will have to be one of those over-the-top silly ones...I'm getting too
sentimental for my own good. I think I'm turning into a complete sap. Anyway, 'til next time.
Oh...and if anyone has a request, feel free to ask. It might take me a while, but if I can work it,
I'll be sure to do it.
Ja ne.

20 – SLAUGHTER AND SUNDAES

Let me first apologize for this blatantly impossible idea...I don't generally write crossovers, but
this one I couldn't resist.

/
/
Gripping Hyourinmaru tightly in his right fist, he took a deep breath and narrowed his eyes. This
was going to be interesting...
He couldn’t remember ever seeing such a concentration of hollows before. They were practically
crawling over each other, as if the abandoned mansion were a huge, mutated beehive. He couldn’t
even count them all.
Thankfully, they were lowly creatures, about as difficult to defeat as cockroaches...still, he wasn’t
exactly looking forward to it. He wished Matsumoto were here, not because he needed backup but
because he wanted to get this over with quickly.
Sighing, Hitsugaya started forward.
“Hey, kid.”
Stopping again, the young captain scowled and turned his head over his shoulder. The man was
walking toward him with the casual yet cocky stride that reminded him rather forcefully of
Ichimaru...
...Although the sense of wrongness wasn’t there.
He even looked a bit like the former Third Division captain, with silver hair covering his forehead
and a smirk on his face. His eyes danced with amusement, but they were open and much easier
to read.
“You can...see me?”
The man raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, I can see ya. Other people can’t?”
“Not when I’m like this, no. You shouldn’t, either.”
“Guess I’m special.”
He looked past Hitsugaya at the hollow-infested building and the smirk left his face. He flipped a
pistol from the holster at his right hip into his hand with the ease and flourish of long practice.
“Tch...havin’ a regular party over there, and they didn’t even invite me.”
“I wouldn’t want to join one of their parties...”
“Yeah, guys like them‘re generally bad news...but any company’s good company with enough
alcohol.”
“If you say so...” Hitsugaya muttered, rolling his eyes.
“Sounds like ya don’t believe me. Never had a drink before, kiddo?”
“No. And don’t call me ‘kiddo.’”
“Fair enough. Well, I dunno what you’re doin’ here, but, uh...stand back, huh? I’m gonna crash
this party.”
“I don’t stand back. This is my responsibility.”
“How d’ya figure?”
“...It’s my job to deal with hollows.”
“Hollows? That what you call those? Hm. Your job, huh? You don’t look old enough to have a work
permit.”
“Ha. Very funny.”
“So you’re gonna take those guys down, huh?”
“Just watch me.”
Drawing his zanpakutou, the Tenth Division captain smirked at the Ichimaru look-alike and sprang
forward.
His blade flashed in the moonlight, leaving an endless trail of blood in its wake. Hyourinmaru’s cry
sent ice in every direction, shattering arms and legs, claws and masks.
He was a fool to want Matsumoto to help him...this was stupid.
After facing Aizen and his arrancar minions, normal hollows were a joke. They dropped like flies,
literally. He’d always thought that phrase to be ridiculously hyperbolic, but...it was the only way
he could describe it.
He really felt like a god.
The chaos ended in less than a minute.
He whirled on his heel and smirked at his audience. “Still look like a kiddo to you?”
The silver-haired man smirked...
...Then lifted his gun.
Hitsugaya froze.
The weapon crashed.
A bullet whizzed past his ear, and a hollow he hadn’t noticed was pitched backward, a neat,
smoldering hole in its mask, and drifted into the air like scattered ashes.
“...Yep. You do. Don’t look away ‘til they all stop twitchin’.”
The man’s smirk widened.
Hitsugaya scowled. “I’m not glass. I won’t shatter from one miserable little peon sneaking up on
me.”
“Don’t be an idiot. Get into the habit ‘n you’ll end up wit’ yer back turned when a real problem
shows up...then what? Yer fucked.”
The scowl vanished.
“...You’ve...got a point.”
“Still...you’re good. Finished my job for me ‘n I barely did anything. S’pose I should give ya a cut
for that.”
“Don’t bother. I don’t need money.”
“Huh? Everybody needs money, dude. You rich or something?”
“...Something like that.”
“Hm. Well...how ‘bout I at least getcha some food or something? You helped me out...I know a
place with killer sundaes. Best you’ll ever have.”
“...I’m not a kid, you know. I’m nearly two centuries old.”
“So? Never too old for a sundae. C’mon.”
The lopsided smile on the man’s face was strangely disarming...and Hitsugaya felt that, somehow,
he could trust this stranger who could see him.
Besides...if worse came to worst, he wasn’t a captain for nothing.
“...Fine. I guess. But...what’s your name? I don’t associate with strangers.”
“My name? Ain’t too polite to ask a name without givin’ yer own, is it?”
“Fair enough...I’m Hitsugaya Toushirou.”
The man smirked. “Nice t’ meetcha, Hitsu. Name’s Redgrave. Tony Redgrave.”
Hitsugaya shook the man’s gloved hand when it was offered. “Hello, Mister Redgrave.”
“Just Tony, man. Tony. Now c’mon. I’m cravin’ a fix. Need me some ice cream.”
“Uh...I should change.”
“Eh? Why? Robes’re cool.”
“I can’t eat in this form. I’m a spirit.”
Tony raised an eyebrow. “...Oh. I get it. So what? You got a body hangin’ around someplace?”
“Yes.”
He walked away. When he came back in his gigai, Tony frowned thoughtfully. “Hm. Don’t look like
ya changed nuttin’ but yer clothes, man. Well, whatever. C’mon.”
“Sure.”
After walking for a few minutes, Hitsugaya frowned. “Tony...what’s your job?”
“Mercenary.”
“...Oh.”
“What’s yers?”
“Death god.”
“...Oh.”
They looked at each other.
They kept walking.
/
/
For those of you who don't know who Tony is, he's Dante Sparda from Capcom's Devil May Cry
series. Tony Redgrave is his alias from the novel published by Tokyopop. I couldn't banish the
thought of these two interacting with each other...maybe because Hitsugaya looks quite similar to
Dante's twin brother, Vergil...I dunno. Anyway, I'll be looking into the various requests I received
last chapter and trying to write them. I just had to write this one...it wouldn't go away. I may
bring Tony back in later chapters...he's a fun character. I don't know yet. Hope you liked it.
I don't know why FF won't let me put in the page breaks...but it won't. Hence, the slashes. I don't
like how it looks, but...oh, well.

21 – THE WILDERNESS

He’d once entertained the idea that the stupidest thing he’d ever done was allow Hinamori Momo
to keep a series of debilitating photos from his youth, and while he still considered that pretty
damn stupid, it no longer hit the top of the list.
Sitting here, stuffed in between his vice-captain and a stack of suitcases and backpacks, listening
to Kurosaki Isshin sing along with the radio with no regard whatsoever to the fact that he was
completely off-key, Hitsugaya longed for sweet, merciful death.
He knew he should have stood by his decision to decline the invitation. The Annual Kurosaki
Camping Trip™ (complete with trademark, as proven by the pamphlet Isshin had given him, with
a completely straight face as if it were the most normal thing in the world) was not his idea of fun.
Stuck in the middle of nowhere for who knew how long, sweltering in front of a fire while swatting
away bugs and being coated in dirt was supposed to be entertaining?
Hitsugaya didn’t get it.
He supposed it was Yuzu’s fault for acting so excited about the whole thing. She’d invited him, and
her eyes had been so full of hope that his initial emphatic “no” had caught in his throat.
And when Matsumoto had caught the fever, grinning and nodding and saying that she never got
the chance to see the glory of nature and that this would be a lot fun, he’d slumped his shoulders
and finally nodded.
It was a sad fact of life that Matsumoto could get just about anything out of him...and with Yuzu
on her team, that was it. No contest.
“Oh, come on, Taichou!” Matsumoto said with a smile. “You don’t get out often enough, anyway.
This will be a chance for you to relax. Out with the trees, and the wild animals, sleeping under the
stars, a nice warm fire at night...it’ll be great!”
“Sorry, Matsumoto,” Hitsugaya said with a scowl, “but I’m with Ichigo. This is a bad idea and I’d
much rather be doing something else. Something more entertaining. Like peeling my skin off and
bathing in salt. This is the last time I let you talk me into anything.”
Yuzu, who had been talking animatedly with a mildly interested Karin (if only because her sister’s
chatter was at least less of a headache than Isshin’s cacophony), turned and looked at him. “Don’t
worry, Hitsugaya-niichan! It’ll be fun, you’ll see! There’s lots of stuff to do there. I’ll show you.”
Hitsugaya rolled his eyes. “...I’m not your ‘niichan,’ and it’s not fair to use that against me...” he
muttered under his breath.
And it wasn’t fair. She called him that with such sincerity that his conscience wouldn’t let him defy
her whenever she used it. She honestly considered Hitsugaya a part of her family, for some
reason or another, and that was a responsibility that he, as much as he’d have liked to, couldn’t
ignore.
When they finally reached the campsite two agonizing hours later, Hitsugaya immediately leapt
out of the car and walked off to find a bathroom. Not because he needed to use it, but because
Yuzu and Matsumoto couldn’t follow him in there.
...Well, okay. He had his doubts about his vice-captain. She had no sense of modesty.
When he came back, he assisted in setting up camp (albeit with about as much enthusiasm as a
dead crab). Ichigo gathered wood for the fire, Isshin picked out food from the ice chests for their
dinner, and Matsumoto talked with the girls.
Rukia should be here, Hitsugaya thought with a scowl. She’s a part of this psychological bear-trap
too. Where the hell is she, anyway?
He was thrown out of his thoughts when Isshin and Ichigo began arguing about who should chop
the wood. Ichigo maintained that he had gone out and found it; Isshin should do the chopping.
Isshin argued that Ichigo had done next to nothing to prepare for the trip, and needed to
contribute.
The argument soon came to blows, as it often did with those two, and Hitsugaya soon grew
annoyed with it. He got up out of the lawn chair he had claimed as his own, grabbed the axe, and
went over to the pile.
He lost himself in the task of chopping the logs into shape for the fire pit. He put all his pent-up
frustration into it. It felt good. The physical exertion took his mind off the fact that he was going
to hate the next few days. He supposed it wasn’t so much the camping itself that was the
problem...but the various activities listed out in the A.K.C.T. pamphlet that Isshin would no doubt
force him into and that he wouldn’t be able to back out of because The Evil Ones wouldn’t let him.
He soon began working up a sweat (Ichigo had gathered enough wood to last them the entire trip,
and it was tough to chop through), and decided to remove his coat and shirt so as not to get them
any dirtier than they already were.
He didn’t notice that Isshin and Ichigo had stopped arguing, or that Matsumoto was watching him
rather intently. He didn’t hear Karin comment on how muscular he was for his age, nor did he
hear his vice-captain’s decidedly pleased agreement on the point.
He just concentrated on his job.
To make it easier and more entertaining, he pretended that each log was Aizen’s head, and each
time the blade fell it made his sadistic side grin with pleasure. Sometimes he would change things
up and substitute Aizen for Tousen or one of the arrancar.
By the time he finished, all the wood was chopped, his body was covered in a layer of sweat and
dirt, and his hands ached. He groaned as he stretched, ran an arm over his forehead, and sat
back down.
“Uh...thanks?” Isshin said, a confused expression on his face.
“Yeah, Hitsugaya...uh...thanks,” Ichigo added. “You, uh...didn’t have to do that, ya know.”
Hitsugaya shrugged. “Figured I’d speed things along.”
It was then that he noticed the other three pairs of eyes on him.
“...What?”
“Do you...work out or something?” Karin wondered.
Hitsugaya raised an eyebrow. “Something,” he said. “Why?”
“I’ve never seen a kid with muscles like that,” Yuzu said.
“You look good like that, Taichou,” Matsumoto said with a wink. “Never realized you were
so...developed.”
Hitsugaya looked down at himself. “It’s not exactly impressive, you know,” he said. “It’s not like
I’m...buff or something.”
“Works for me,” Matsumoto said, grinning.
The boy captain’s eyes widened slightly. “What...did you just...?”
Matsumoto didn’t answer, but the grin stayed on her face.
“Ooooh...” Yuzu said, amusement sparkling in her eyes. “Uh-oh...”
Isshin, on the same wavelength as his daughter, chuckled and flashed Hitsugaya a thumbs-up.
Ichigo groaned and rolled his eyes. “You two just realized this?”
“Yeah,” Karin added with a nod. “Took you guys long enough. It’s pretty obvious.”
“Hey!” Hitsugaya snapped. “Enough of the commentary on my love life, thank you!”
“Your...what, Taichou?”
His face turned red. “Uh...I...I mean, uh...”
He stood up and walked (too quickly) out into the trees.
“Where are you going, Shiro-chan?” Matsumoto called out with a laugh. “I wanna hear more about
this love life of yours!”
“Shut up! I don’t have one! You heard me wrong!”
Matsumoto’s grin widened, and she glanced at the Kurosaki family. “...Thanks for inviting me, too,
you guys. I think this trip is going to be a lot of fun.”
The mischievous gleam in her gray eyes would have made Hitsugaya turn as white as a sheet.
/\
I just got back from a camping trip on the coast, and I think all of my various stories will have a
camping and/or nature theme for a while. It's fresh in my mind. Hence, I figured I'd do this. I'm
not sure what exactly the genre for this one would be, but I like it. Hope you do, too.

22 – ROMANTIC REALIZATION

Sorry about the wait. I've had a lot of stuff going on lately. Schoolwork's been piling up, I'm
trying to find a job, and my family's a little short on money and time right now, so I've been
helping out. I hope I may be forgiven.

“Oi! Hitsugaya, you in here?”


He should have figured they’d send somebody to find him at some point. One can’t simply
disappear into a public restroom without being found eventually.
Still, he’d hoped it wouldn’t be before he managed to properly berate himself for being an idiot.
“Do you mind?” he snarled. “I’m a little busy here!”
“Uh-huh,” Ichigo drawled, clearly annoyed and unconvinced. “Sure you are. Been busy for the past
forty-five minutes. Pop thought maybe you’d been eaten by something.”
“I’m not that stupid,” Hitsugaya snapped. “I can take care of myself, thank you very much.”
“Yup. Sure can. You mind telling me why you just ran off like that? Bathroom can’t be much of a
tourist attraction. What’s so important here?”
“Kurosaki, just leave me alone!”
“Touchy, huh? What? Can’t wipe yourself?”
“Shut up! I’m not a child!”
“Sure acting like one. What? Afraid of Matsumoto knowing you like her? I think she knows that
one already. It’s not a secret, Hitsugaya. Just about everyone I know who’s seen you two knows
it. They hound me for details, askin’ how a shrimp like you got a hold of such a babe. Like I’m
gonna take the time out of my day to find out crap like that.”
“You won’t take the time out of your day to find out about my affairs, but you’re taking time out of
your day to annoy me about them. Interesting.”
“Well, now they directly concern me. Because you just took off, I had to go out and find your ass.
Matsumoto said to leave you alone, but Pop ‘n Yuzu were so damn insistent it just got to be less of
a headache to do it. You gonna come back now?”
“I’d rather not. It’s quiet in here, which is less than I can say for back there. Your father has a
terrible habit of doing things he cannot do...like singing.”
“Don’t need to tell me that. Known it for years. Now c’mon, damn it.”
“I’m not going to argue with you.”
“You’re acting like a baby, Hitsugaya.”
“You can insult me all you want.”
“Fine, whatever. I’ll just tell Yuzu she was right. Hitsugaya-niichan hates her. That’s why he left.”
The door to the stall was kicked open.
Glaring hotly at Ichigo’s indifferent face, Hitsugaya scowled. “...I hate you, Kurosaki.”
“Good for you.”
“You know, it’s not right to use your sister against me. Bad enough that she does it.”
“Hey, it works. ‘Sides, it ain’t my fault you’re such a sap that you can’t do anything that’d make
Yuzu sad.”
“Dear Kettle,” Hitsugaya said sarcastically as he pushed past Ichigo and left the restroom, “it’s
me, the Pot. I don’t know how to tell you this, but there’s something about your current hue
that...well, bothers me.”
“Ha, ha,” Ichigo muttered. “Face it, man. You avoid my house ‘cuz you don‘t wanna see her. If you
do, she‘ll want you to join in on whatever game she‘s playing and you won‘t be able to say no.”
“It’s really becoming an issue, this color of yours,” Hitsugaya said. “It hurts my eyes.”
“And I don’t get your...thing with Matsumoto, either. I mean, hell, she is hot. And she was just
about drooling back there. Make a damn move, you idiot.”
“I do hope you aren’t upset, Kettle. It’s not that I don’t want to be friends, it’s just...”
“Okay, I get the Yuzu thing, but what the hell are you talking about now?”
“I don’t know,” Hitsugaya said. “Why don’t you ask Rukia? Or Inoue? They might know.”
“What the holy f--wait. What?”
“You just realized this? Took you long enough.”
Hitsugaya smirked as realization dawned on the young shinigami’s face.
Ichigo turned around.
“Where are you going?”
“...Bathroom.”

If Ichigo and Hitsugaya seem overly OOC...I apologize. It's been a while. Hope you enjoyed it,
anyway. Ja ne, all.

23 – OUT IN THE OPEN

Sorry about taking so long to update, but December was not an easy month for me. I had almost
no time on my hands to sit down and think about, much less write, this story. Or...collection, as it
were. School's starting this coming Tuesday, so I'm not sure when I'll be able to update again,
but hopefully it'll be soon. Maybe I should start writing short ones again. Well, enough of my
excuses. Enjoy.

“Matsu...er, I mean...Rangiku.”
A deceptively delicate eyebrow rose slowly over one gray eye. “Yes?”
Hitsugaya drew in a deep, calming breath. This was absolutely ridiculous. How hard could it be to
tell someone something they obviously already knew?
Judging by the knot in his stomach and the way his hands were beginning to shake, he thought it
must be pretty damned hard.
He wished some hotheaded, overzealous arrancar would leap out into the site and declare war on
them. He was suited to battle. Fighting was something Hitsugaya could understand, something he
could deal with.
This was not.
He hadn’t felt this nervous since his first day as a captain.
“...Do you...remember when we met, Rangiku?” he asked finally, completely unsure as to where
he was leading the conversation.
“How could I forget?” she replied, smiling. “You were the most pleasant surprise I’d ever had.”
“...Really?”
“Sure. I’d thought...no. I’d been sure that Kazuhiko-taichou had been replaced by some other hot-
blooded, empty-headed old man who’d wanted the position of captain for the real estate, or
maybe because they’d heard stories about my...talents.”
She said the word with particular distaste, and Hitsugaya’s face twitched. He scowled.
“Talents?” he repeated.
“Kazuhiko-taichou liked to...make up stories.”
“What kinds of ‘stories?’” he demanded.
Matsumoto seemed taken aback by the question, and by the particularly venomous tone with
which it had been asked. Her eyes widened slightly.
“W-Well, Taichou...it was the general consensus among the Gotei 13, at the time of my
instatement, that I was accepted for...less than honorable reasons.”
Eyes narrowing, Hitsugaya made a note to investigate the matter further when he made it back to
Soul Society. “I see...and where did that consensus come from?”
“Not from me, certainly!” Matsumoto said, somewhat defensively.
Realizing how the question must have sounded, Hitsugaya held up a hand. “I-I didn’t mean it that
way...I meant...who would make up such stupid rumors?”
“I don’t remember now, actually.”
Another matter to look into.
“Anyway, Kazuhiko-taichou decided to enlist me because of my looks and thought, because of the
stories that had been spread about me, he could...well, coerce me into his bed.”
The first question that rose in the boy captain’s mind was, “Did you?” but he’d already asked one
bad question. He didn’t intend to ask another.
“Even though I never did, I thought of it as a game more than anything and I was determined to
win, he liked to tell the other captains that I had. Actually, he liked to tell everybody he came
across that I had. I always felt sympathy for Nanao because of that. But I always thought, ‘At
least Kyouraku-taichou doesn’t lie about it.’
“When Kazuhiko-taichou died, and you took his place, I was positive that I’d end up with another
captain just like him. When I saw you, though...well, I think we both remember that.”
Hitsugaya chuckled slightly.
“As soon as I saw you, I...I just knew you weren’t the same. And it wasn’t because of your youth,
Taichou, I assure you that. I just...sensed that you had more honor in you than that.”
He blushed now. “...Thank you.”
”And I was right. You’ve never tried to take advantage of me. Ever. Aside from the occasional joke
regarding my ability to walk upright...”
He smirked. He remembered that.
“...You’ve never mentioned my...particular assets. You treated me like a person instead of a
trophy.”
“You are a person. One worthy of far more respect than my predecessor evidently thought.”
“He wasn’t all bad, you know.”
“Still doesn’t sound like I’d have...gotten along with him.”
“Oh, I doubt it.”
“A shame he’s dead...I’d have liked to...discuss some of these things with him.”
Matsumoto’s lips twitched upward in a playful, and slightly sadistic, smile. “...Feeling possessive,
Taichou?”
Hitsugaya’s eyes widened to saucers. “What?! No! I mean...I just...it’s beneath a captain to
spread such...such stupid stories! To lie about whether or not you...you...!”
The smile widened into a full-blown smirk. “I don’t think the fact that it’s ‘beneath a captain’ is
what’s bothering you.”
“I...I...uh...”
He fidgeted, eyes averting hers.
“...It shouldn’t be possible for a shinigami captain to look so damned cute,” Matsumoto mused.
He snapped his gaze back to his vice-captain.
“D-Don’t call me cute! I’m not—“
“Oh, yes, you are. It’s not an insult, Taichou. It’s a compliment. Why don’t you just admit it?
You’re cute.”
Hitsugaya crossed his arms. “Tch. I am not.”
“Oh, like you’d know. It’s a girl’s call on whether or not you’re cute, Taichou. And I call it. So get
over it.”
Matsumoto stood up and sauntered over to him, leaning down so that her face was mere inches
from his. “You know, Taichou, it really is a good thing when a girl calls you cute.”
In response, Hitsugaya scowled.
Still smirking, Matsumoto leaned in, closing the distance between them, and kissed him. It was
slight, just a peck on the corner of his mouth, but it was enough to cause his entire face to go
bright red.
“...It means she likes you.”
This time, he couldn’t even find enough of his voice to stutter. He simply stared.
He remembered the few occasions that they had been intimate...well, sort of, anyway. There was
the time he had been sick, the one other time that she had kissed him. There was the time she
had been upset about Hinamori, and he had comforted her. There were any number of times when
they had been...closer than what might have been proper.
But this...was different.
He touched the spot where her lips had been, as though unsure of whether or not it had actually
happened.
Matsumoto’s smirk softened.
“And I do...Toushirou.”
He finally found his voice.
“I...I do...too.”

Isshin and Yuzu could barely contain their giggling as they watched the scene unfolding in front of
them. Karin rolled her eyes at their immaturity and looked over her shoulder as Ichigo strolled up
to them, lost in thought.
“Oh, Ichi-nii, where have you been?” Karin muttered with a complete absence of enthusiasm. “You
missed the show...”
“Great. Just what I’d hoped.”
He pushed past his father and sister and walked into the campsite, earning him disappointed
groans (that sounded eerily similar) from the two of them.
Karin followed her brother’s example.
Isshin, sharing a conspiratorial grin with Yuzu, chuckled evilly as he revealed the camera he had
been hiding in his coat.
“How hard do you think it’ll be to get them to do that again?”
Kazuhiko, the name I picked for Hitsugaya's predecessor, is one that I just picked randomly out of
the air for another story. I decided to use it here, too. It has no special significance.

24 – OLD FRIENDS

Think I was done? Ha! Fat chance of that. Can't go ending it that soon. No fun that way, is it?
So...on with the show.

“...Why are you grinning at me like that?”


Isshin giggled boyishly. “Hmmm...? Oh, it’s nothing. Nothing at all.” He kept a straight face for an
admirable four seconds before ruining any sense of validity in his statement by letting out a loud
snicker.
Hitsugaya scowled.
Matsumoto had gone out to find the bathroom, and had been gone for a while, too long for it to
be completely legitimate, which led her captain to believe that she was elongating the torture
solely because she could.
Hitsugaya was alone with the Kurosakis.
The twitch of his left eyebrow, which was enough to send the seated members of his division off
on suddenly pressing business and to send the unseated members running for cover with no
pretense as to the reason at all, was all but a permanent feature on his face now.
Of course, the threat behind that twitch did nothing to halt Isshin’s idiotically immature antics. He
and Yuzu both kept making strange hand gestures and huddling together as they whispered,
giggled, and glanced at him every few seconds.
Hitsugaya sighed and let his head fall back against the chair. He should have figured on this...
He wondered if Matsumoto had known they were watching.
She probably had.
When we get back to Soul Society, I’m going to make sure you remember that I am your
commanding officer. If it teaches you something, so much the better. If it doesn’t...well, I’ll have
fun...
He chuckled.
Patience, he told himself. Just a few more days, and he would be in power again. A few more
days, and he would have control. A few more days...
“Hiiiiitsu-chaaaaan!”
...Of violently excitable pink-haired vice-captains clinging to his head?
Eyes opening in pure, unabashed disbelieve, he was greeted by the grinning, pink-cheeked, pink-
headed, cherubic face of the one and only Kusajishi Yachiru.
“Y-Y...Ya...?”
“Oi!” another, decidedly less enthusiastic, thundering voice echoed. “Yachiru! The hell are you?!”
“I found him, Ken-chan! Found them all! Lookie, lookie!”
Zaraki Kenpachi’s titanic form, barely fitting into the black slacks and white button-down shirt he
wore, came into the campsite like a beast, his hair actually out of its usual bell-tipped spikes,
hanging in clumps about his shoulders.
“Z-Zaraki! What are you two doing here?!” Hitsugaya demanded.
“You know these people, Hitsugaya-niichan?” Yuzu asked.
“Oh, crap,” Ichigo muttered. “Lemme guess, Kenpachi...you want another rematch.”
“Ichi!” Yachiru cried happily.
“Uh...yeah. Hi.”
“You too, Ichi-nii?” Karin wondered, clearly intimidated by the huge Eleventh Division captain.
“Ain’t here for a fight,” Zaraki said dismissively. “Least not wi’ you. Oi, Hitusgaya.”
“What is it?”
“Yer vice-captain. Where’s she at?”
“Uh...d’uh...Rangiku went to the bathroom. Why?”
Zaraki’s mouth twisted in an odd expression at Hitsugaya’s use of the name “Rangiku.” Then he
shrugged it off as unimportant.
Yachiru jumped down onto Hitsugaya’s lap and giggled excitedly. “Hide and seek! Hide and seek!”
She turned around. “Ken-chan, let’s go! We’re it! Got to go seeking! Let’s go find—“
“Yachiru.”
The tone of Zaraki’s voice instantly quieted the petite shinigami, and Hitsugaya couldn’t help but
be nervous. The look on the gargantuan captain’s face was dead cold serious, with none of its
usual hot-blooded sadism.
“Why?” Hitsugaya asked, almost demanded.
“Call from home,” Zaraki growled. “Yachiru wanted t’ help. I came t’ make sure she don’t get her
fool ass killed. Ain’t no fuckin’ game this time...”
“Killed...? What...what’s going...?”
Zaraki’s single visible eye narrowed. “Somebody else’s here...an’ he ain’t lookin’ t’ share yer
campfire...”

In truth, Matsumoto hadn’t stayed in the bathroom to purposefully extend her captain’s torment.
The white-haired boy’s admission earlier had put her in a very good mood, and thus she was
feeling particularly giving.
Couldn’t leave her new boyfriend all alone against the destructive forces of Isshin and Yuzu, could
she?
Of course, she knew it was a little early to be thinking along those lines...but hey, things were
heading in that direction now, weren’t they?
She laughed happily.
This trip was so much fun.
Little did she know...that was about to change.
The delighted grin that had been on her face for the past twenty minutes dropped almost
instantly. Her face went pale, her eyes going wide. She stumbled backward, struggling to find her
voice as she stuttered incoherently.
Unlike her captain, her tongue wasn’t tied by embarrassment.
“...Aw...nice seein’ you, too...”
She couldn’t breathe.
“Always did like nature, didn’tcha? Bet yer havin’ fun, huh...Rangiku-chan?”
25 – SNAKE IN THE GRASS

Once this "arc" is finished, I'm probably going to go back to the bits and pieces
strategy. I don't know. Anyway, here's the next installment of my little Camping story.

EDIT: I don't usually do this, but since the review was anonymous (surprise, surprise),
I'm going to respond here.
"hitsuGAYA iSNt sUPOseD tO Be With MatsumOTO, HES iS SUPOsEd tO bE wTIH
Hinamori!"
...Wow. Absolutely incredible. I'm thoroughly floored by this...
Now, if I'd seen this: "Hitsugaya isn't supposed to be with Matsumoto; he's supposed to
be with Hinamori!" I likely would have just ignored it and gone on my merry way.
Someone disagrees with me...so be it. But since it was put together so horrendously
(seriously; don't criticize me with that kind of typing. It just annoys me, and I definitely
won't pay any heed to it), I decided I'd respond.
No. He isn't. Flat-out period. I'm not open to argument, I will never be convinced
otherwise, and I certainly don't want it thrown in my face by a brainless Hinamori
fanboy (or fangirl) who doesn't take the time to learn how to spell. So pay attention to
the summary. "HitsuMatsu" isn't a typo, and it isn't an invitation to a flame-fest. It's a
warning. Don't like it? Don't bother.

He stepped out into the light of the moon and stopped, his stance easy, calm, as though his being
there were the most normal thing in the world. His head tilted, that quirky, gleeful, almost
demonic grin of his making Matsumoto feel as though she were facing a predator rather than the
man she had once called her best friend.
She had to remind herself that he was a predator now.
The former Third Division captain chuckled. “Nice night, eh? All ‘a stars’re out...’member when
we’d try’n find constellations in the stars at night, Rangiku-chan?” He laughed, and that laugh
sent a shiver down Matsumoto’s spine. “Dog wi’ a snake for ‘is tail. Teapot wi’ legs balancin’ on a
rope. Li’l kitten eatin’ a sandwich. Y’always came up wi’ int’ristin’ things, Rangiku-chan. Never
could see half of ‘em.”
Matsumoto struggled mightily to keep her face impassive, tried with all her strength to not break
into a run like a frightened rabbit.
Gin’s perpetually closed (or were they?) eyes cracked open a bit. “...D’you just make stuff up t’
make me look all serious f’ shapes ‘at weren’t there, Rangiku-chan?”
He waited as if expecting her to answer, and while she struggled to say something – what that
something was, she didn’t know – her mouth wouldn’t form the words. Her brain wouldn’t form
the words.
“S’okay, Rangiku-chan. I don’ bite, ya know. See somethin’ up there now?” He glanced up at the
sky. “Think I see me a dragon up there. A li’l one. An’ he’s angry...”
He stepped backward smoothly, and had Shinsou in hand and up immediately to block
Hyourinmaru’s initial strike. Hitsugaya leapt to the side, readying himself again.
“...Quite an imagination,” he said quietly, green eyes blazing.
Gin chuckled. “Hiya, ‘Gaya...”
“Didn’t think I’d see you again so soon...”
“Jus’ thought I’d check in. How ya been?”
“Can’t complain.”
The clash of steel was as sudden and shocking as a bolt of lightning, making Matsumoto stumble
backward a bit in her surprise.
Right into another person.
“...Watch yer step.”
“Z-Zaraki? What the...?”
The huge captain, hair down for once, looked down at her, then back up at Gin and Hitsugaya. He
said nothing for a long moment. Then,
finally...
“Kid’s got skill.”
Matsumoto turned her head back to look at the ensuing duel. Gin’s face showed no outward
change, although it was clear that he was far more focused than he had been when speaking to
her. Her captain’s face, however, was fixed in a grim scowl.
Hyourinmaru and Shinsou, extensions of their masters’ murderous intent, screamed as they met,
again and again, twin serpents dancing in the cool night air.
Hitsugaya fell to the side, rolling out of Shinsou’s reach and bouncing back up almost instantly,
sending Hyourinmaru in a wide arc that nearly caught the exiled captain on his left side.
Gin, still grinning, danced nimbly out of the way and his sword went flying.
Hitsugaya leapt upward, landing lightly in Shinsou’s stretched blade, launching himself forward as
the very air about him froze in blinding crystals of blistering cold.
Gin suddenly vanished, appearing again on the outskirts of the impromptu arena, his grin now
gone. Matsumoto blanched, the sight of her old friend’s face so alien and outright terrifying that
she almost turned and ran again.
“Is this the best you can do?!” Gin demanded, his voice a crack of thunder, just as alien as his
expression. “Is this all you’ve done to train?!”
Hitsugaya stood straight, fist tightening around Hyourinmaru’s hilt. He said nothing.
Gin stalked forward, anger falling off of him in almost tangible waves. “Huh?! Is this Hitsugaya
Toushirou’s strength?! Is this how you protect her?!”
Matsumoto flinched.
“...Do not deign to look down on me, Ichimaru...” Hitsugaya hissed. “Do not assume you’ve a right
to tell me how to protect Rangiku...you who has turned his back on her.”
“Aizen is her enemy, Hitsugaya-taichou...you had better strengthen yourself. If you can’t defeat
me, you don’t stand a chance in hell at touching him.”
Gin’s voice was now deadly serious, devoid of his usual drawl, cold and sharp. Hitsugaya’s eyes
narrowed dangerously.
“You’re gloating prematurely, Ichimaru. I have yet to lose.”
Gin took a step back, crouching. “...Then show me.”
The boy captain took a deep breath, darted his eyes toward Matsumoto’s for just a split second
(she saw it, but barely), and tightened his grip on Hyourinmaru.
“...Ban...kai.”
The world froze.
26 – QUITE NICE

Before I start this, I want to thank xtranew again for the amazing fan art.
I love it.
This one's for you; the latest installment of the "Camping with the Kurosakis" arc.

She sat on her bed, staring out the single window, about as coherent as she had been weeks
before, lying on that same bed in a coma.
For all intents and purposes, Hinamori Momo was dead to the world...both worlds.
She watched the moon, but didn’t see it. She heard the wind, but didn’t listen. She knew a
blanket covered her, but didn’t feel it.
She was numb.
Enlighten me, Hinamori Momo, as to why you get a second chance after spitting in his face,
trusting a man you barely knew over a friend you’ve had for years. Enlighten me as to why you
can get away with trying to kill him without any repercussions at all!
The words of her fellow vice-captain rang in Hinamori’s ears, echoing in her head no matter what
she did, no matter where she went. Since that day, that fateful day, she hadn’t been able to think
of anything else.
She hadn’t the strength to even think of talking to either of them about it.
She didn’t dare.
She looked up at the single shelf in the room, at the thing Matsumoto had given to her as a gift,
before she had even regained consciousness.
There had been a small note with it.
Taichou says this has no place in our headquarters, and that it distracts me too often from my
work. I figured you would like it.
Looking at that note now, she could feel the lack of feeling, the lack of compassion, in it.
Matsumoto hadn’t given it to her because of any desire to make her happy; it had likely been
because Hinamori’s room was the first place where she had been able to drop the thing off.
Still, Hinamori had been touched and delighted with the gift, this thing from the living world
apparently called a “CD player,” as she’d been told by Unohana, who was quite knowledgeable
about such things.
One learned a lot in a hospital.
Upon figuring out how to work the device, however, she had been assaulted by a cacophony of
screeching sounds that she couldn’t even begin to understand, that sounded to her like a hollow
ravaging an entire village, and she couldn’t for the life of her understand who could consider this
music.
Thinking back, she thought Matsumoto had picked that music either because she did or, more
likely, she had known Hinamori wouldn’t.
What hurt so much about that realization was that she now, finally, realized just how much she
deserved such treatment.
She shook her head, banishing such self-pitying thoughts.
She couldn’t think like that. It would just cause more animosity, and for no good reason.
She had taken to turning the music on lately, even though it was terrible, just for something to
take her mind off the silence, to try to take her mind away from what she had done, and what it
had taken to make her understand it.
After a while, she grew accustomed to the sounds, and even began picking out the words the man
in the recordings was singing.
What she heard now made her cringe.
“...I kinda like the misery you put me through.
Darlin’, you can trust me completely.
If you even try to look the other way,
I think that I could kill this time.
It doesn’t really seem I’m getting through to you,
Though I see you weeping so sweetly.
I think that you might have to take another taste,
A little bit of hell this time.
Lie to me!
Lie to me!
Is she not right? Is she insane?
Will she now run for her life,
From the battle that ends this day?
Is she not right? Is she insane?
Will she now run for her life now that she lied to me!
You’re always wanting people to remember you,
To leave your little mark on society.
Don’t you know your wish is coming true today?
Another victim dies tonight—“ (1)
She switched off the music in a hurry.
She wanted to cry.
...No.
She hardened her resolve, squinting her eyes, clenching her fists.
No more crying.
No more weakness.
She was a vice-captain! A vice-captain in a division with no captain! She couldn’t afford to do
this...not anymore.
Enough self-pity.
If I ever hope for Shiro-ch--Hitsugaya-taichou to look at me again, I can’t do this. All I’m doing is
hurting him. No more. I hurt him badly enough once...twice...I...stupid, stupid! Asking him to...!
She shot to her feet, shaking her head in frustration.
Idiot!
Everything she had been thinking, sulking over, everything she had been beating herself over the
head with, finally came to the surface of her mind, and she realized it...just how stupid she was.
Hitsugaya had once brooded on the fact that, due to his pushing her away, Hinamori had replaced
him with Aizen. He had once berated himself for letting her go, for letting someone else take his
place.
But it had been she, not he, to push away. She, Hinamori Momo, had actually thrown away a
friendship with the single greatest man ever to grace Soul Society...to become a slave to the
single worst.
She had to admit that. First...that the Aizen Sousuke she had known, loved, and worshipped...was
fake. Had used her.
Second...that she had committed an irrevocable betrayal to Hitsugaya by taking to that fake
rather than him.
She closed her eyes and breathed deeply.
She had to move on with this.
She had to do her duty.
She had to show Hitsugaya Toushirou that she wasn’t going to hurt him anymore.
She stood up, straightened her uniform, and stepped out into the hallway, bound and determined
to start over.
And nearly crashed into a panicked, hyperventilating Kira Izuru.
“Hinamori!” he cried. “Oh, thank the spirits you’re awake! Hurry!”
“W-Wha...Kira-kun, what’s going on? What is it?”
The look on the vice-captain’s face was enough to drain her newfound courage and conviction.
“Y-Y-You know that...Hitsugaya-taichou and Matsumoto-fukutaichou left for a vacation in the living
world, right?”
“Yes. I heard.”
“It’s...it’s...”
“What? What is it?” Hinamori asked, now nearly frightened out of her mind.
“I-It’s Ichimaru-taichou! He...he’s come back! And...and...!”
She understood.
Her heart nearly stopped.
“Oh, God...”
They both ran as quickly as possible.

“Aizen-sama.”
Raising an eyebrow, the former captain of the Fifth Division regarded his subordinate with a mildly
interested expression. “Have you something to report, Tousen?”
“Ichimaru has been found, Aizen-sama.”
“Is that right...? And what is he doing?”
“It seems that he is currently doing battle with Hitsugaya Toushirou.”
Aizen Sousuke rose slightly in his seat. “Is he, now?”
“Yes. Zaraki Kenpachi, Kusajishi Yachiru, Matsumoto Rangiku, and Kurosaki Ichigo are nearby as
well.”
“Nearby.”
“They are watching, Aizen-sama.”
Aizen frowned thoughtfully at this. “Hmmm...I wonder what it is that my adjutant is planning...”
“Aizen-sama!”
The two shinigami glanced at the arrancar that rushed into the room and hurriedly dropped to his
knees.
“Hm?”
“We have just received word that Kira Izuru and Hinamori Momo have entered the living world,
and are currently on a course for Ichimaru-sama!”
“...Quite the gathering,” Aizen noted.
“So it seems,” Tousen agreed.
He stood.
“Aizen-sama?” Tousen asked, clearly confused.
“I believe I’ll have a closer look at this.”
The blind shinigami seemed surprised at this.
“...It seems Hinamori-kun is well again. I should say hello.”
Tousen let out a humorless chuckle and shook his head.
Aizen smiled serenely.
“It will be nice to see her again, I think.”
Yes...quite nice.

(1) These lyrics are from the song, "The Game," by Disturbed, one of the greatest rock
bands on the face of the earth.
I'm not entirely sure why I decided to attempt to redeem Hinamori, but I did. Maybe it's
because I don't feel Kubo-sama is going to bother with it any time soon, so it's up to us.
I'm not entirely certain where this will lead, although I've a bit of an idea.
And rest assured, ye faithful readers, that regardless of what may or may not happen in
the future of this series regarding Hinamori, it will not change the developments
between Hitsugaya and Matsumoto in the slightest. I'm not about to jump ship, so to
speak.
Hope you enjoyed this despite the fact that I've ended on yet another cliffhanger.
I've a feeling this section of the story will end next chapter.
But that doesn't mean I'm done with this. No way. Far too much fun.
'Til next time, all.

27 – UNEXPECTED

This chapter goes out to the great people at FanLib, who invited me into their
community and allowed me to finally make money by writing. Sure, it was a contest,
but I still count it as a first paycheck.
It's open to the public now, so go take a look at www (dot) fanlib (dot) com. I have a
few of these up there, but there're also plenty of one-shots from other fandoms, too, as
well as some Bleach fics that wouldn't fit into this collection.
Okay, enough advertising. That's not what you've been waiting for, is it?
Here it is. The grand conclusion to the "Camping With the Kurosakis" arc.
Have fun.
One thought dominated his mind as the fight continued, as his muscles screamed and his blood
flooded through his veins with all the intensity of a crimson hurricane and he thought he might
explode.
Ichimaru was playing with him.
The thought made Hitsugaya want to scream, made him want to shove his fist right through the
man’s teeth, made him want to grip his former colleague by the throat and choke the life right out
of him, the cocky son of a bitch!
This was a game to him!!
And then, it dawned on him that it was a very, very good thing that he was, just at the time when
Matsumoto cried out to him.
“Taichou! Permission has been granted!”
And he realized not only why Ichimaru was playing with him, wasn’t going at him full-force, but
why he should fall to his knees and thank every god in existence that he was.
He couldn’t believe he’d forgotten!
Ichimaru Gin was no longer bound to Soul Society’s regulations.
Whereas he was.
He’d been going after one of the strongest men in Soul Society’s history with about as much
power as a damned gnat!
He was an idiot!
“...Lift the limit!!” he screamed.
The very world seemed to explode around him.
Ichimaru’s eyes were open, and they gleamed dangerously. The entirety of existence only
contained the two of them, and looking into those bloodstained, psychopathic eyes, Hitsugaya
thought he must be looking into the face of the devil.
“...Show me, Hitsugaya Toushirou...” he hissed hungrily, crazily. “Show me!!”
Frozen fists tightening around his sword to the point that they hurt, Hitsugaya prepared himself
for what, he knew, could very well be his death.
“Unare, Haineko!!”
Blocking his view of his opponent, Hitsugaya watched, mesmerized, as a wall of ash flowed like
gray water between himself and Ichimaru.
Matsumoto stood beside her captain, arms crossed, gray eyes blazing.
“...While I appreciate your misguided concern for me, Gin, I’m not in need of a knight in shining
armor to protect me. So I hope you don’t mind if I step in now. You are harassing my captain, you
know.”
Ash and ice coalesced in the thick, cold air, bent upon a single target.
Ichimaru watched, fascinated.
And disappeared.
Hitsugaya sprang forward, spinning tightly, as the silver-haired shinigami flew toward him.
“Have it your way!!” he snarled.
Shinsou reared its head, poised to strike.
“Omote o agero, Wabisuke!”
Ichimaru actually seemed confused when his blade met resistance. He turned to idly regard his
interrupter, all anger and malice dropping from his demeanor.
“Eh?” he asked.
Kira Izuru, lifting his square-hooked zanpakutou toward his former commander, scowled
murderously. “...I cannot allow this.”
“Big words, Izuru,” Ichimaru commented.
Hitsugaya and Matsumoto both stared at the blonde in shock.
“What the...?” Hitsugaya breathed.
“Hajike, Tobiume!”
Ichimaru stumbled back, barely missing the blazing pink orb of energy that suddenly shot toward
him.
Hitsugaya’s eyes widened to saucers. His face went pale.
Matsumoto blinked.
Hinamori Momo dropped from atop a tree and landed in front of Hitsugaya’s stunned, prone form.
She glanced back at him, but only for a moment.
“...Hinamori-chan, huh? S’prise seein’ you here...”
Hinamori didn’t answer.
“Oi. Ichimaru. Bit outmatched now, aren’t ya?”
Zaraki walked slowly forward.
“Don’t hurt Hitsu-chan!” Yachiru admonished.
“Not that I particularly like this place,” Ichigo added, “but this is a family outing you’re
interrupting.”
Ichimaru frowned thoughtfully, lowering Shinsou to his side. All the fight seemed to have gone out
of him as he looked at the seven shinigami all more than willing to kill him.
Four vice-captain class and three captain class...
The odds were certainly stacked against him now.
The grin returned.
“Well, well, well...Guess I oughtta be flattered, huh? All you t’ kill li’l ole me...wow.”
Hitsugaya scowled. “Tch.”
Zaraki crossed his arms. “Don’t flatter yerself, Ichimaru. Don’ need all of us to break you in half.”
“Ain’t you gettin’ a li’l cocky, there, Ken-chan?”
Zaraki scowled. “Ain’t you?”
“Sorry,” Kira said, “but Hitsugaya-taichou is too busy to be spending time in the infirmary. Soul
Society is rather short-staffed at the moment.”
Ichimaru either didn’t catch the sarcasm or, most likely, didn’t care. His face remained the same
as always.
“We won’t let you hurt Hitsu-chan!” Yachiru repeated.
“Yuzu’d never forgive me if I let ‘Hitsugaya-niichan’ get hurt,” Ichigo said.
“I’ve hurt him – both of them – enough,” Hinamori said harshly. “I refuse to let it happen again.”
“You always were a compassionate soul...”
Even Ichimaru took a sharp breath at the sound of that voice.
Aizen Sousuke strolled slowly, serenely, into the clearing.
“So, Gin...this is where you’ve been.”
“Thought I’d take a bit of a stroll,” Ichimaru said.
“Hmmm...”
“A-Aizen...-taichou...” Hinamori gasped.
“Aizen...” Hitsugaya hissed.
“Hmmm...that is my name, ironically enough,” Aizen said.
“Oh, crap,” Ichigo breathed.
“Don’t worry,” Aizen said with a smile. “I don’t intend to fight. I’m rather tired, you see. Up all
night. I simply wanted to see what Gin was doing with his time. When I discovered the
congregation taking place here, I simply had to stop in and say hello.”
Zaraki’s scowl deepened. “Oi. Cut the shit, Aizen.”
“Ah, Zaraki. Lovely to see you again. I see Yachiru is still doing well. How are you, little one?”
Yachiru glared at the man. She said nothing.
Aizen shrugged. “Very well. I can see that not everyone appreciates my choices as of late.”
He glanced at Matsumoto. “Dear Rangiku...how chivalric of you, defending your captain. I do
believe you have it a bit backwards, however.”
Matsumoto’s expression didn’t change. She did, however, step closer to Hitsugaya. “...My life
before his,” she said.
“How noble. I’m touched, honestly.”
“Fuck you.”
Aizen chuckled. “I see you still haven’t taught her proper protocol, Hitsugaya-kun. Tsk, tsk.”
“...Fuck you.”
He chuckled. “I see.”
“Aizen-taichou,” Ichimaru said. “Shouldn’tcha say hello?”
He gestured.
Aizen glanced over at Hinamori. “Hinamori-kun. How lovely to see you well. I was worried about
you, my dear.”
“A-A-Aizen...?”
“Still.”
The small girl was sweating, her face pale, and her mouth kept opening and closing as she
strained to find words, but couldn’t.
Aizen frowned thoughtfully. “...I have missed you, Hinamori-kun...it’s dreadfully lonely in Hueco
Mundo, if you could believe it. What would you say if I told you that I had a space open in my
ranks...? Would you be interested?”
Ichimaru raised an eyebrow.
Hinamori began to shake. “A-Aizen-taichou...”
“Come, Hinamori-kun. Join me, and I promise you that nothing, and no one, will ever hurt you
again. You’ll have everything you could ever ask for. You’ll be the queen of a new world, a fresh
world, birthed in the womb of change. Doesn’t that sound nice? I know you always hated people
who hurt those smaller than they...those who prey upon the weak...we could get rid of them, you
and I. Together.”
She looked about to cry.
She took a wary, wary step forward.

She would go to him.


She had to.
Matsumoto couldn’t fathom any possible reason why she wouldn’t. If there was one person Aizen
Sousuke had completely under his thumb, it was Hinamori Momo. If one person would be taken in
by his flowery, smooth-as-silk lies, it would be Hinamori Momo.
She stole a glance at Hitsugaya, who would have looked frozen, emotionless, to almost anyone.
But she saw it. The agony behind his icy green eyes, the way his fists clenched, the way the ice
coating his body trembled ever so slightly...
Damn it...
Why does he have to see this...?
What had he done? What had Hitsugaya ever done, in this life or any past life, to deserve this? To
have his heart broken twice? It wasn’t fair...
She recalled how he had died. He had told her once, and she still remembered. Every word. Why,
after going through that, had he been subjected to such...to such...?
Hinamori was walking slowly...so slowly...toward her former captain.
Aizen smiled serenely, looking every bit the doting father, and held out his arms as if to embrace
her.
She stopped.
“Aizen...Sousuke...”
He raised an eyebrow. “Hm?”
She sheathed her zanpakutou...
...And slapped Aizen across the face.
“I’ve hurt Hitsugaya Toushirou too much already. I will not betray him again. Kill me if you want; I
can’t stand up to you. But I will die by his side...not yours.”

Aizen’s expression didn’t change.


He simply chuckled again, idly rubbing his face where his former adjutant had struck him, and
glanced at Ichimaru. “...Let’s go, Gin, shall we?”
“Hm? Already, Aizen-taichou? Aww...things was jus’ startin’ t’ get int’restin’...”
“I’ve come for what I wanted to see...no need to waste our energy needlessly.”
Ichimaru shrugged. “Fair ‘nuff. Well, tha’s okay. It was fun, ‘Gaya. Did pretty good. Shame we
couldn’t go all out, huh? Interruptions all over the place.”
Hitsugaya said nothing.
“...Nice seein’ ya ‘gain, Izuru. Nice hit. Gettin’ better.”
The pair of rogue shinigami turned and walked away.

“Fuckin’ zoo...” Ichigo muttered as he walked back to the campsite. “Oi! Toushirou! Get yer ass
back to camp soon, huh? Yuzu’s worried!”
“Of course.”
Nodding, he left.
The threat ended, for now, Zaraki, Yachiru, and Kira had departed for Soul Society, counting their
lucky stars that Aizen had been in a peaceable (or, rather, playful) mood and hadn’t obliterated
them.
Hinamori stayed behind.
“...I’ll go back to camp,” Matsumoto said.
“No,” Hitsugaya said, and grabbed her arm. “Stay, Rangiku.”
She blinked.
She turned back around. “...Okay.”
He didn’t let go of her arm.
Hinamori sniffed, tapped the ground with her foot, and sighed heavily. “I...I don’t know what to
say...I don’t have anything I could possibly say or do that could make up for...for what I did. For
how stupid I’ve been...for how much I hurt you both...”
She looked up, and there were no tears there.
“I don’t expect forgiveness. I don’t deserve forgiveness. I don’t want forgiveness. I just want you
to know that I’ll never hurt you again.”
Hitsugaya’s face was blank.
“...Hinamori...”
She bowed. “Now that there’s no threat anymore, I’ll leave you to your vacation, Hitsugaya-
taichou. I apologize for the horrible reputation my division now has due to its captain’s actions. I
want you to know that I will do my best to correct it.”
Hitsugaya was silent for a long moment.
...Then he smiled. “I’m pleased to hear that, Hinamori-fukutaichou. We’ll be back in Soul Society
within the week. Do inform Yamamoto-soutaichou that the situation is now under control.”
“Of course, Hitsugaya-taichou.”
She bowed again.
Turned around and left.

“Fukutaichou.”
Matsumoto stiffened at the powerful, authoritative tone. She turned and frowned, confused. “...Y-
Yes, Taichou?”
Eyes blazing, with a dangerous scowl on his face, Hitsugaya gripped his vice-captain’s scarf and
pulled her down so that her face was level with his.
“This is an order. I expect no argument. Is that understood?”
“...Yes?”
“You...Matsumoto Rangiku...are never allowed out of my sight again.”
“I...I-I...Taichou...what are you—“
He kissed her.
Matsumoto’s eyes widened to saucers.
This was nothing like the few times they had kissed before. This was no peck on the cheek, or the
side of the mouth, or the forehead...this was...it was...
Her eyes closed, and she wrapped her arms around her captain’s shoulders.
His reached around her waist, and pulled her closer to him.
Any thoughts of the past few hours flew out of their heads.
Any thoughts at all flew out of their heads.
They cared only for the moment.
They cared only for each other.
And that was more than enough.

28 – SOMETIMES IT PAYS NOT TO FIGHT

I'm glad to see everyone liked my conclusion to the Camping arc. I did, too. It was fun.
This idea came to me suddenly, and the more I thought about it, the more I liked it.
Hitsugaya and Matsumoto don't take center stage in this one, although they do have a
part. I like how this turned out, and the possibilities set forth by this chapter are quite
vast, I think.
Enjoy.
Oh, yeah. There's quite a bit of swearing in this one, thanks to an intoxicated Ikkaku
and an irritated Zaraki.

“WHAAAAT!!!?!”
“Shut up!!” Zaraki snarled and threw his empty bottle of liquor at the bald shinigami. “Frickin’
retard!! I got a goddamn hangover an’ I don’t need you screamin’ bloody murder in my office!”
Ikkaku pitched himself to the side, barely missing the glass projectile, and threw himself back up
onto his feet. “B-B-But...Zaraki-taichou! I ain’t...I ain’t gonna...!!”
“Tch...” Zaraki growled with irritation. “Look, you bald fuckin’ idiot...Yumichika tol’ me ‘bout that
stupid-ass vow you made. The hell’s your problem? Huh? You think I give a shit ‘bout yer numb-
fuck ‘xpression a’ loyalty?”
“Don’t matter,” Ikkaku said. “Was a promise I made t’ myself, Taichou, an’ I ain’t gonna go
breakin’ it just ‘cuz—“
“Look, Ikkaku. Don’t think you get it. This place’s frickin’ useless right now. Everything’s all
screwed up ‘n if we wanna stay here, we gotta pull our weight ‘n make it right again. Now I dunno
‘bout your stupid ass, but I don’t intend t’ leave! Man up ‘n fuckin’ do your part, asshole! Ya got
yer fuckin’ bankai, f’ God’s sake!!”
Ikkaku’s eyes widened. “What the...how the f...!”
“Tch.” Zaraki rolled his eye and leaned back in his chair. “Don’t matter how I know, jackass. Point
is, I do. N’ Old Man Yamamoto knows too. Been pesterin’ me all frickin’ week t’ ‘let you go,’ like
I’m fightin’ t’ fuckin’ keep you. Face it. They’re fuckin’ dyin’ over there. Damn weak-ass punks
could use you two. More ‘n me. Gettin’ too damn annoying.”
“Z-Zaraki-taichou...this ain’t...ain’t like...I mean...I already told Renji that...”
“I look like I care a flyin’ fuck what you told Renji?! Ain’t frickin’ Renji what told me. Y’oughtta
take care who’s around if ya don’ wan’ people knowin’ somethin’. Gotta bone t’ pick wi’ somebody?
Talk t’ Matsumoto.”
“...Matsumoto...? S-She told...!”
“Quit whinin’, Ikkaku. Go talk t’ her if ya gotta. Don’t jus’ stand there lookin’ stupid.”
Ikkaku growled, eyebrow twitching, and whirled on his heel. He stalked out of the office.
Zaraki rolled his eye again. “...Fuckin’ drunk-ass moron.”

Matsumoto looked up, a blank expression on her face, when Ikkaku burst into the office.
“Ikkaku?” she asked, setting her pen down and leaning back in her chair. “Something you need?”
Ikkaku’s jaw cracked audibly as he flexed, spread in a grin that was one part manic and two parts
sadism. “Oi...Matsumoto-fukutaichou...” he hissed through clenched teeth.
Matsumoto blinked. “...Yes? What is it?”
There was an aura of murderous intent rolling off of the third-seat shinigami as he stepped, ever
so slowly, toward Matsumoto’s desk. One hand clenched his zanpakutou with such force that the
veins bulged and the knuckles were white.
“I hear...you told Zaraki-taichou...something...something that was not supposed to be told...to
anyone!!”
Matsumoto sighed. “Well, Ikkaku, excuse me for not reading your mind, but I thought you of all
people, prancing around proclaiming your strength and picking fights with everyone, would want
Soul Society knowing that you had achieved bankai. It would cause stronger opponents to come
challenging you...wouldn’t it?”
“Idiot!!” Ikkaku screamed. “Do you know what the fuck that means?! Everybody goddamn knows
that I got bankai, and now they’ll be pesterin’ me all over the goddamn place!! I ain’t leavin’, and
now you made it ten fuckin’ times harder!!”
Matsumoto shook her head. “...Foolish. Who wouldn’t want the opportunity to—“
“Would you?!” Ikkaku shouted.
“...Huh?”
“Would you leave, if somebody offered you a new position!!”
“Would I...? No. No, I wouldn’t.”
“See?! Then why the hell’d you tell every fuckin’ body that I—“
“Ikkaku, stop shouting.”
Mouth twisted in a scowl of incomprehensible rage, Ikkaku growled. “...’F you understand...why’d
you tell? Huh?”
“I highly doubt my reasons for not leaving this division are even close to similar to yours, Ikkaku.”
“An’ how the fuck would you kn—“
“Are you dating Zaraki, Ikkaku?”
“WHAT?! The hell kinda question is—fuck no!!”
“See? I told you.”
“Don’t go fuckin’ changin’ the goddamn subje...”
Ikkaku blinked.
“...Huh?”
Matsumoto rolled her eyes. “Just leave, would you? You’ll wake Toushirou. He’s been up these past
three days, and needs to rest.”
“...Toushirou?! Since fuck when did you start callin’ him ‘Toushirou’?!”
“In case you missed it, that is his name.”
“Not t’ us, it ain’t!! Frickin’ uptight Hitsugaya don’t let no one call ‘im by ‘at name!”
“No one...but me. Are you done screaming now? I do believe Yamamoto-soutaichou is looking for
you.”
“...You...fucking traitor!!’
Before Matsumoto even had time to react, Ikkaku had her by the collar. His free fist rose, and his
eyes seemed to glow with bloodlust.
Before the strike could connect, however, Ikkaku’s hand was swallowed by ice.
The temperature in the office dropped to near-freezing.
Ikkaku whirled around, facing a tired, irritated, disheveled Hitsugaya, who was leaning against the
door that led into his private chamber.
“...Madarame...you’ve been drinking on duty...”
“So the fuck what?!”
“Shut up, you idiot,” the boy captain snapped. “I don’t care what your reasons for coming here
are. I don’t care why you decided it was prudent to get yourself drunk while working. I don’t care
that you didn’t want anyone to know that your bankai has been accomplished, or that you don’t
want to leave your current position.”
The bald shinigami’s face slackened, as if finally realizing just what he had gotten himself into.
Hitsugaya’s eyes were dangerously bright, and his slight body trembled with barely-contained
fury. He reached back and grasped Hyourinmaru’s hilt.
“...No one...raises a hand against Rangiku...”
The third-seat was thrown against the wall by a sudden pulse of spiritual energy. As he struggled
to breathe, the thought crossed his mind that he had never seen Hitsugaya Toushirou this angry
before.
The white-haired captain walked slowly toward him, green eyes alight with angry fire. “...You are
a shinigami of the Gotei 13...Madarame Ikkaku. And if it is demanded that you leave your position
for another...then you will acquiesce...or leave. Those are the only options. We are struggling to
pick up the slack left by three traitorous captains, and you refuse to do your part because of some
foolish, inconsequential, ultimately selfish desire to remain an underling! And you have the
audacity to proclaim strength! What is it that you think strength is, Madarame?! Because your
current behavior is surely not!”
Ikkaku stared.
“...Get out of here. If I see you within my headquarters as you are, inebriated to the point that
you would attack a comrade and, more to the point, a superior officer, again...I will not hesitate to
kill you.”
Ikkaku flew through the wall and was pitched like a rag doll out into the open air.
He realized that some fights...he did not want.
“So, Ikkaku...I notice that you haven’t been partaking of alcohol lately.”
“Shut up, Yumi,” came the curt reply as Ikkaku walked stiffly down the path, shifting his shoulders
and adjusting the way his zanpakutou fit against his hip. “Damn frickin’ coat don’t fit right...”
Yumichika smirked. “I don’t see the problem, honestly. Sure, the Eleventh was nice, but a change
of scenery might be nice, too. Besides, most of the soldiers in Zaraki’s division were rather
ugly...and stupid, besides.”
“Tch. Whatever. Traitor.”
“My, my, Ikkaku, but aren’t you the loyal one? I wonder, then, why you wear this.” He picked at
the white collar of Ikkaku’s cloak, and chuckled when his hand was batted away.
“I said shut up! I’m yer damn boss, now, ingrate, so ya gotta listen t’ me...”
“Mm...I see. My deepest apologies, Ikkaku-dono.”
“...Tch.”
Looking the door of his destination up and down, Ikkaku still felt a fleeting urge to strangle
Matsumoto. She was the reason he was in this mess.
Why’d everyone have to belittle his wishes so damn much, anyway?!
Where was the justice?
With a snarl, he kicked the door open instead of bothering with the knob.
A slight figure stood there in front of him.
The figure bowed.
“Konichi wa, Taichou.”
“...Oi. Hinamori. Stand up, would ya? Ain’t hung up on no formalities. Get somebody t’ fix the
damn door, too. Too damn flimsy.”
“Hai, Taichou. At once.”
Hinamori smiled brightly.
As the vice-captain and newly appointed third seat officer of the Fifth Division followed their bald,
angry captain into their headquarters, Yumichika couldn’t help but think that this was going to be
very, very interesting.

29 – ENDURANCE TRAINING

Being as how I recently stumbled across a comic strip whose creator had the audacity
to call Hitsugaya "lame," I reserve the right to preface this chapter with a rant.
Hitsugaya Toushirou is the Pinnacle of Shinigami Greatness. I'd start a religion if I had
the charisma. No one, and I mean absolutely no one, who has donned such a moniker
can hold a candle to him. Be it Aizen, Ichimaru, Ichigo, Zaraki, even Ryukku from Death
Note; I don't care. Not good enough.
Hitsugaya has transcended his manga heritage, indeed has transcended humanity itself
in spite of his lack of conscious existence, and become an entity so immensely,
incomprehensibly awesome that he is indescribable by any human tongue.
So lower your heads and pay homage, ye lowly mortals.
Oh, and enjoy the chapter...if you have time left afterward.
Hitsugaya opened his eyes, wondering just what was so funny.
Succumbing to a fit of giggles, Matsumoto fell onto her side next to her captain and curled into
the fetal position.
“T-T-Toushirou...! I think I...just saw the...f-funniest thing...in the w-whole world!!”
“Hm? What is it, Rangiku? I was trying to get some sleep.”
“I...I know, Toushirou, and I’m sorry for disturbing you...but you...you have to see this!”
She stumbled to her feet and grabbed Hitsugaya’s hand.
Tired, with a headache induced by yet another captains’ meeting in which Kurotsuchi and Zaraki
had been at each others’ throats, but nonetheless curious, Hitsugaya followed his subordinate
without complaint.
“What’s this about?” he asked instead.
“J-Just follow me! I know why Ikkaku missed the captains’ meeting today!”
“...Oh?”
Matsumoto nodded, still giggling madly.

“M-M-Madarame-taichou! Too heavy!!”


Hitsugaya blinked.
He wasn’t sure what to make of the scene in front of him. Matsumoto was still laughing, but
Hitsugaya was literally stunned speechless.
It was too ridiculous.
There, in front of him, was Hinamori Momo, vice-captain of the Fifth Division...
...Walking on her hands.
And there, in front of him, was Madarame Ikkaku, captain of the Fifth Division...
...Perched atop Hinamori’s feet.
“Eh?!” Ikkaku snapped. “Can’t hear ya down there, Hinamori! Speak up!!”
“I-I can’t do this anymore!! You’re t-too heavy, Taichou!!”
“Tch,” Ikkaku scoffed, looking around. “We ain’t back to headquarters yet! You tellin’ me you can’t
handle this?! Kusajishi-fukutaichou used to do this for fun! An’ how much smaller’s she than you?!
Huh?! Let’s go, li’l lady! Chop-chop!”
Following the pair, who looked like a pair of circus performers, was the ringmaster. Ayasegawa
Yumichika looked decidedly pleased with himself as he watched the show.
Smiling brilliantly, Yumichika waved. “Endurance training, Hitsugaya-taichou!”
“I...I see,” Hitsugaya mumbled.
Arms shaking from holding up her captain’s weight as well as her own, Hinamori stared at
Hitsugaya with all the poignancy of an abused puppy.
“H-Hitsugaya-taichou! Save me! Please!! Madarame-taichou is crazy!”
“Uh...”
“Don’t you worry ‘bout Li’l Miss Fukutaichou,” Ikkaku muttered. “She’s jus’ whinin’.”
“...Right.”
“Hitsugaya-taichou! Please!! I’m begging you!”
“You’d be done quicker if ya kept movin’!” Ikkaku snarled.
“B-B-But Taichou!!”
“Got time to talk? Got time to train! No wonder yer division’s such a pansy ass daycare center!
You wanna be my vice-captain, yer gonna have to toughen up!”
“H-H-Hai...Taichou...” Hinamori moaned pitifully.
She started inching forward, whimpering with each movement.
Hitsugaya almost put a stop to it.
But then Matsumoto, between giggles, said something about the sweatiest stilts she’d ever seen,
and Hitsugaya couldn’t stop laughing for an hour.

Once this image (likely inspired by Maito Gai from Naruto) muscled its way into my
mind, I couldn't let go of it. And thus, the reign of Ikkaku-taichou begins.
I think it's going to be rather entertaining.

30 – ROFL

After writing a seven-chapter arc and a two-chapter intro to a second one, I decided I'd
try another short one. It's been a while since I did that. So, I just took this random little
idea and did what I could with it. Hopefully it's at least slightly amusing.

“So what did you do today?”


Hitsugaya shrugged. “Nothing much. I tried out a game Inoue showed me last time we were here.
It was extremely confusing.”
Matsumoto raised an eyebrow, dropping her shopping bags and sitting on the couch. “Confusing?
You, Toushirou, couldn’t figure out a game?”
“It wasn’t that,” he was quick to assert. “I understood how the game worked easily enough,
although it’s more complex than I thought...it’s the other people that confuse me.”
“Other people?”
“Yes. This game is different from the ones Kurosaki has. It’s played over that...internet thing. So
when you play, you’re in the game world with hundreds of other people, from all over.”
“Really? That’s interesting. So...what’s confusing about these other people?”
Hitsugaya scrunched up his face, clearly still trying to understand. “I...don’t know why, but
apparently I annoyed one of them. I asked what I thought was a simple question, but...the person
I asked just told me to...”
He frowned, grabbed a sheet of paper and wrote it down.
Matsumoto looked at the paper and frowned as well. “Wtf...L2P...n...are those zeroes?”
“Yes.”
“What are they supposed to mean?”
“Apparently, these cretins have no idea how to spell, because I think the word is supposed to be
‘newb.’ Which is apparently, itself, a made-up contraction for ‘newbie.’ I can't even hazard a guess
as to what the first part means.”
“Uh...huh. N00b. Right. So what did you say?”
“I asked if he knew that zeroes weren’t letters.”
“Logically.”
“He...lol-ed me.”
“He...what?”
“I have no idea.”
“Lol?”
“Yes.”
“O...kaaay...”
“Someone else rofl-ed at me.”
“Did...what?!”
Hitsugaya shrugged.
Matsumoto stared incredulously at her captain. “You’re right. That is confusing.”
Hitsugaya fully agreed.
And the next day, when he asked Ichigo – who was the shinigamis’ chief instructor on the ways of
the living world – what all of it meant, he just laughed.
Rukia, who was there as well, laughed with him.
She had no idea why.
Hitsugaya walked away more confused than ever, and decided the next time he played that game,
he’d just keep his mouth shut.
He didn’t want to chance being rofl-ed again.
Whatever the hell that meant.

Anybody reading this who partakes of online gaming will understand these references
easily enough...and probably the rest of you will, too.
This came to me earlier today while I was playing WoW (World of Warcraft, to those
who don't know), because yes, I'm one of the eight million some-odd addicts out there,
although I consider myself more a casual player. I've never particularly understood my
fellow players' fascination with the term "n00b," or with the ever-so popular proverb:
"L2P" or "L2play" or "L2-" anything.
For the record, I hate it. All of it. But, that's the price I pay for liking a popular online
game, I guess.
Speaking of which, to anyone who happens to play this game (considering how popular
it is, I'd think at least a couple of you do), my main characters are Sythius, a level 66
Night Elf Druid on the Bronzebeard server, and Neothain, a level 27 Blood Elf warlock on
the Antonidas server.
Y'know...just in case somebody cares.
Anyway, sorry for the delay. Finals, you understand. Summer's starting, though, so I'll
have more time. 'Til next time, all.
31 – OF CAPTAINS AND ASSASSINATIONS

This was originally written about two months ago for a contest at FanLib (dot) com.
Thus, it hasn't the continuity I've recently been making a habit of. In terms of
chronology, this would probably be best put right after the titular chapter, #5.
Once again, our old pal Gin makes an appearance. As does Kazuhiko, albeit once again
only in passing. I should write him into a chapter sometime. Figure out just what sort of
guy he was.
Well, enjoy. And go check out FanLib. This story here was 1/50th of the reason I now
own an iPod, and it was all because of that site. Rather generous of them, I'd say.

“I met yer new cap’n today, Rangiku-chan...”


Matsumoto turned, raising an eyebrow, as Ichimaru slipped out of the shadows and into the open,
that perpetual grin that was so undeniably him plastered on his thin face.
“Huh?” she said, frowning. “When did you meet Hitsugaya-taichou, Gin? He’s been working in his
office since he first went in it.”
The silver-haired man shrugged. “S’where I met ‘im. Figured I oughtta meet me the new head
honcho f’ my friend’s Division, ya know?”
Matsumoto crossed her arms. “Oh? And what do you think of him?”
Another shrug. “Think he’s got ‘is zanpakutou shoved up ‘is ass, honestly. Too serious, ‘at one.
Asked me ‘f I had an appointment. Didn’ answer none o’ my questions with anythin’ but a grunt.”
Matsumoto smiled.
That certainly sounded like her new captain. If there was one thing that she knew immediately
after meeting the golden child of Soul Society who called himself Hitsugaya Toushirou, it was that
he took his work very seriously.
“He is a strict one,” she acknowledged.
“Ya like ‘im?”
“Well...sure. Definitely an improvement over his predecessor. At least he doesn’t try to force me to
date him. It’s nice. Refreshing, you know?”
“Guess I see that. Y’oughtta work on gettin’ the kid t’ loosen up, though. Won’t make much of a
drinkin’ buddy if ya can’t get ‘im drunk.”
“Oh, I don’t think I’ll end up drinking with Hitsugaya-taichou anytime soon. He says he hates
alcohol.”
Gin’s fox-like face scrunched up incredulously. “The hell? ‘At’s just kinda weird, Rangiku-chan.
Y’sure he’s sane enough to be a captain if he don’t drink?”
“They let you become a captain, didn’t they?”
He thought that over. “...Fair ‘nuff.”
“Zaraki-taichou, Kurotsuchi-taichou...I don’t think sanity is a requirement for captaincy.”
Ichimaru nodded. “Yeah. Guess ‘at’s true. But I tell ya, Rangiku-chan...he’s got a problem.
Y’should work on that drinkin’ thing. Ain’t natural t’ hate alcohol.”
“You don’t drink much, either, Gin.”
“Yeah, but that don’t mean I hate to.”
Matsumoto smiled slightly. “I think I like that about him. Perpetually sober are two words I’d
never want to describe me, but I certainly find them appealing when they’re describing my male
superior officer.”
Ichimaru chuckled.
“Well...s’long ‘s you like ‘im, I guess. You tell me ‘f he does anythin’ funny, though, huh?”
“You said the same thing about Kazuhiko-taichou. I talked to you a lot about things that he did,
but you never did anything. Nothing happened.”
The Third Division captain’s expression didn’t change, and Matsumoto thought that was most
unsettling when he finally replied, after a contemplative silence that honestly made her wonder if
it was a joke or the cold truth.
“...He died...didn’ he?”
She laughed, but it sounded slightly forced. “You have a weird sense of humor, Gin.”
He said nothing.
“...Gotta go, Rangiku-chan. Izuru’s prob’ly lookin’ f’ me. S’posed to be workin’. Have fun wi’ sober-
boy.”
She watched him leave, the grin slipping from her face.
And she wondered.
And tried to remember just where Gin had been when her previous captain had died.

For clarification's sake, I'll interpret the various phrases I used in the last chapter.
WTF - This one is probably self-evident, as it's a very...popular one. "What the fuck?"
L2P - Typically L2play or some variant thereof. "Learn to play."
LOL - Another popular turn of phrase, and one I hate vehemently. "Laugh out loud."
ROFL - A variation of the above acronym. "Roll on the floor laughing."
And for the record, Siyaa, I completely agree. And might I add that Aizen would be a
Lock. 'Cuz he has demon minions to do his fighting while he sits back and watches, and
is vastly overpowered.
Nerf Aizen!
To those who didn't get that...ignore it. It doesn't mean anything.

32 – A BORN FATHER

This is a long one. The longest chapter so far, I think. And those of you hoping for a
laugh will probably be disappointed. This isn't a funny one. It's just personal fanservice.
Having read Ken Akamatsu's Mahou Sensei Negima, I know well the typical definition
for fanservice, and that isn't what I mean. What I mean is that most of these have been
written to be entertaining. I've kept in mind that I'm writing this for the readers. It's
practice, it's a catharsis, it's fun to write, but first and foremost I'm writing this for you
guys.
This one, though, I wrote solely for me. Like Sundaes, this is a crossover piece, but this
one doesn't necessarily need to be read as such. The characters that make a cameo
here remain unnamed, and only slightly described in a physical sense, and so could be
replaced with blank faces just as easily, although doing that makes it lose a lot of its
potency, I think.
It's blatantly obvious to me, and might be for those who have read my other works.
Those of you who do may even roll your eyes at me. Like I said, I wrote this for me. I
had to do it. I tried to make it entertaining for you, too, but it was mostly just to get it
out of my system. This time, first and foremost, it was a catharsis.
First to guess the cameos gets a cookie. (wink)

“The echoes of my voice,


Follow me down.
The shadows I cast,
Follow me down.
Deeper I'm falling,
Into the arms of sorrow.
Blindly descending,
Into the arms of sorrow.
The demons of my own design;
This horror must not remain.”
Killswitch Engage; “Arms of Sorrow”

Hitsugaya was a serious individual. A man who – by virtue of his relative youth – was required to
act far more mature than many of his elder counterparts, and consequently had conditioned
himself to take any situation, no matter the case, with a cold stoicism that – according to some –
bordered on the sociopathic.
This, however, was not the case.
It took a lot to get to him, but sometimes...sometimes he wasn’t able to keep up the shields.
And this was one of those times.
It was occasions like these that he only wished he were able to block out emotion completely and
treat his role as a shinigami simply as a job. A duty. Something to be done as mechanically as
dressing in the morning and sleeping at night.
Like Tousen Kaname.
Or Aizen Sousuke.
Hitsugaya strained to remain professional. But as he watched the scene unfolding before him, he
wasn’t sure he could.
“Hitsugaya-taichou.”
He didn’t look at Rukia. He kept his eyes forward. Locked forward. Unable to look away.
“Hitsugaya-taichou, you’re shaking.”
No response. He wasn’t listening. He couldn’t hear her.
All he could hear were the desperate, agonized, terrified sobs of the child in front of him.
The boy had held up admirably at the funeral, had spoken on the deceased’s behalf without a
hitch. Had even taken an insult directed at the deceased with nothing but a silent glare of
suddenly black hatred tinged with deep, cutting anguish.
The young woman who had delivered that insult had been silenced quickly by the others attending
the service, by glares of their own flavored with surprise, disappointment, and a promise to
retaliate, not gently, if she deigned to speak again.
The boy had lost what composure he’d had now, and was collapsed against the grave marker,
weeping openly. Face pressed against the cold, unfeeling stone, he cried hysterically, hiccupping
and fighting mightily to force oxygen into his small lungs only to let it out in another broken, grief-
stricken scream.
Nobody but Hitsugaya, Matsumoto, and Rukia saw the angular, silent, equally grief-stricken man
standing to the side, watching the boy with dry, emotionless, helpless eyes, clad in a dark navy
coat that whispered about his ethereal shins in a wind that none of them felt.
Hitsugaya forced himself to approach the spirit.
“...I failed.”
Of all the words he had expected to hear, those were the least from Hitsugaya’s mind, and he took
a long moment to reply.
“You...didn’t fail.”
The man turned, and looked down.
“...You see me.”
“I do.”
He looked at Hitsugaya silently for a long moment, then turned his attention back to the child.
“I...spent my life so secure...in the knowledge, the certainty...that there was nothing left
afterward. I told myself that my life was not a test...that I was not a pawn for the amusement of
some cosmic puppeteer too absorbed in his own sadism to know or appreciate the truth of what
he had wrought.”
Aizen came forcefully to mind.
“Most intelligent people do,” Hitsugaya offered, unsure of quite what to say.
A humorless chuckle. “If that was supposed to help my mood any, it didn’t work.”
The white-haired captain sighed heavily. “If there were any true justice...” he said softly, and was
reminded of Tousen, “you would not say you’ve failed. He’s alive, isn’t he? You saved him from
death.”
“And perhaps it is there that I have failed most miserably,” came the reply, “because surely if
there were any true justice, I would not be the one with leave to let go. If justice had any reality,
I would be suffering. Not he. But look. Look there, stranger, and tell me how it is that I haven’t
failed.”
There was something about this man’s voice that didn’t compute in the shinigami’s head. It was
mechanical. Too mechanical. Like this man, this man who wasn’t much more of a man than the
boy sobbing at the gravesite, was some sort of machine. A creature not built on human emotion.
Not a sociopath. Not someone without the capacity for emotion, like some thought of himself.
Someone without the very concept of the capacity for emotion.
Someone so far removed from humanity that it did not exist.
And again, Aizen came to mind.
Hitsugaya shuddered.
But even as he saw that, he saw another side to the man. A side so completely immersed in
emotion that it drowned. Because Hitsugaya saw in the man’s eyes, behind the steely sheen of
total indifference, a grief so profound that the boy may as well have been skipping through a field
of flowers and singing.
These two sides of the man were at war, and Hitsugaya wondered which would win out in the end,
if the end ever showed itself.
This man was a living (dying...dead...undead) paradox, a figure of balance so cruel in its
extremity. The empathetic side screeched and howled and thrashed at the sight before him...while
the pragmatic side acknowledged and pushed upon him the futility of it.
Hitsugaya felt cold, and it was not comforting.
Not this time.
“He doesn’t know. No one has told him the truth of what happened, because they’re all too afraid
to. And he doesn’t know.”
His mouth was suddenly dry, and the snow-crowned boy sighed again without responding.
“Instantaneous. No hospital...no attempts at rescue...no goodbye. I’ve failed him. Left him like
this.” Another humorless chuckle. “It just figures...I always figured out a way to hurt him...No
matter what I did to help him, I always managed to hurt him.”
He couldn’t stand looking at the man’s eyes anymore.
He turned. “Kuchiki,” he said, and his voice was choked with restrained emotion of his own.
She approached, Matsumoto beside her.
“Yes, Taichou?”
“Your glove.”
“...What...about it?”
“Do it. Now.”
“Do...what?”
Hitsugaya’s eyes flared. “...Give them a goodbye.”
Realization dawned on the small shinigami’s face. “T-Taichou...I don’t know if...I’ve never used it
on someone so young, I...what if...? I don’t even know if it will...”
“Do it.”
It was an order.
And Rukia had a feeling that disobeying it would be the last mistake she would ever make.
She donned the article in question, walked up to the boy, and instead of pushing his spirit out of
his body as was her M.O., she coaxed it out by gently placing her palm on the child’s head.
The boy’s spirit blinked, cries quieting as he tried to make sense of what had just happened. He
looked down at his body, at the chain connecting him to it, up at Rukia, and tried to speak.
Hitsugaya looked at the man. “...Go to him.”
The man stared at him.
“Tell him.”
Turning, the man drew in a shuddering breath and did as told. Took the small gesture, this last
gift, at face value without question.
The boy saw his approach, and opened his mouth in pure shock. Eyes like storm-clouds shot with
amethyst widened to saucers.
“N...N-N...”
The man knelt down.
Hitsugaya closed his eyes and lowered his head.
Somehow, watching felt like trespassing.
This moment belonged to them.
Matsumoto looked at him. “...You’re not supposed to do that, Toushirou. Death follows its own
course, and this kind of manipula—“
“Rangiku.”
She stopped.
“Don’t...reprimand me,” Hitsugaya said.
“I...I’m sorry. Forgive me, Taichou, I...”
“No. Don’t...don’t worry. It’s okay, I...I just...don’t really care about protocol right now...”
Matsumoto’s eyes softened. “I don’t blame you,” she said softly.
The child began to cry again, but this time it was different. There was desperation in those sobs
now, desperation and love and the heartbreaking timbre of a child who wants nothing more in all
the world than the safety and reassurance of a parent’s embrace.
And he realized his mistake.
There would always be that hope, now. That hope of seeing the man again. It happened once;
couldn’t it happen again? Please? Pretty please?
It was a huge mistake, the sort that could cause severe repercussions. Yamamoto-soutaichou
would more than likely have choice words for him, when and if word of this stunt got back to Soul
Society.
Hitsugaya decided he just didn’t care.
For once, he damned the rules and damned the consequences, tossed them aside. It just didn’t
matter.
He turned.
The man knelt on the ground, holding the child in a tight hug, whispering softly. There was
nothing of the machine in him now. No mechanical detachment.
And there was no despair in him now, Hitsugaya realized with a start. There was no semblance of
sadness on his face now. Nothing. Nothing but calm, soothing affection and unshakable strength.
“Why is he not crying?” Matsumoto wondered, slight condescension in her tone. “He...he should
be crying. This could be the last—“
“That’s why he isn’t,” Hitsugaya interjected, suddenly comprehending. “He knows this is his
chance at goodbye. And has chosen not to squander it with tears. To taint it with sadness.
He’s...leaving the boy with an image of strength, of confidence. A memory to draw comfort from.”
Admiration brought the slightest of smiles to the young captain’s face. Silently, he congratulated
the man.
And then, all too soon, he pushed the boy back, hands on his still-shaking shoulders, and smiled.
Kissed his brow. Ruffled his raven-colored hair.
“Go on, my little one. This part’s done. I’ll see you again.”
The boy wiped tears from his eyes. “...P-P-Promise...?” he whimpered in a heart-wrenching,
painfully young voice.
“I promise.”
A trace of that mechanical tone was there again, and Hitsugaya knew that the man had just told a
blatant, boldfaced lie.
He didn’t expect to ever see this boy again.
“O...Okay...I’ll see you then. ‘Kay?”
“Of course. Now go. Don’t worry about me.”
“I...won’t. I...I love you.”
“I love you, too. More than you’ll ever know.”
One last hug. Another kiss to the forehead.
The boy kissed the man’s cheek.
And that was goodbye.

“...No.”
It was like running face-first into a wall. Like leaning against something and realizing just too late
that it wasn’t there.
Hitsugaya stumbled, Hyourinmaru halfway out of its sheathe.
Matsumoto gaped. “...What?!”
“I said, no,” the man replied. “I will not.”
“D-Don’t be ridiculous!” Rukia cried. “You have to go to Soul Society! If you don’t you’ll—“
“I know. You’ve explained it to me twice already. Complete with diagrams. I have made my
choice. No.”
For the first time since the mission had begun, Hitsugaya felt a trace of anger. “Listen, I don’t
know what your deal is. I don’t know why you’d rather become a mindless drone hell-bent on
pointless destruction than be at peace, but that doesn’t matter. This is my job. Do you
understand?”
“I understand perfectly. I do not care.”
“Listen, you. I’m about fed up with this refusal. Don’t you understand? You’ll become a creature of
instinct. You’ll kill indiscriminately. And we cannot allow that.”
“Then you will kill me.”
“Yes. And then you will just end up in Soul Society anyway.”
“All the more proof that this discussion is pointless.”
“Apparently you hold little regard for your peers. Fair assessment. As a rule, I suppose I not only
sympathize but agree with such an assessment. But would you risk putting that boy in danger?
The first target a hollow hones in on is whoever was closest to its heart in life. What if we can’t
get to you in time, and you kill him?”
“I will not.”
“How can you say that?! You don’t know—“
“I do know.”
Hitsugaya wanted to scream at the man. He didn’t know, and it was just plain stupid bravado to
be so damned confident about something like this! He would do it, and there was nothing that
would stop him!
And yet...something about the set of the man’s eyes...the steel gleam of them. There was no
bravado there. Only complete, total, relentless control.
And Hitsugaya wondered...would he?
And then Matsumoto spoke.
“...You’re being selfish. God knows I’m not about to criticize you for the trait itself, or I’d be a
hypocrite. And you died saving a child’s life, so I’d be just about willing to indulge you anything
right now. But this sort of selfishness is inexcusable.
“If you choose to stay here, for whatever reason, and become a hollow, you may never see him
again. It may be centuries before you end up in Soul Society. And if you aren't there to see him
when he arrives, his heart will be broken. Again.You told him you would see him again. And I’m
not about to let you prove the lie to that.”
She slid Haineko out of its sheathe and stamped it onto the man’s forehead with an angry jerk so
sudden that he couldn’t dodge it, although that didn’t stop him from trying. “So stop bitching and
go to Soul Society to wait for him.”
The man, as he vanished, crossed his arms. “...Fine.”
And after it was done, Matsumoto frowned. “Fine?” she repeated. “Just like that? Hell, I didn’t
expect to win him over that quickly!”
“He never intended to become a hollow in the first place,” Hitsugaya muttered thoughtfully.
“Huh? Then why would...?”
“Purely for the sake of argument, maybe. I don’t know. But he wouldn’t have done it. He’d have
let us convince him.”
“How can you...?”
“Because he’s just that way. He’s not selfish. Far from it. He wouldn’t deny that child anything. He
wouldn't have taken any chance at it. It’s not in his nature.”
“How do you know that? How can you tell?”
Hitsugaya looked at the tombstone of the man his vice-captain had just sent to Soul closed his
eyes.
“You can’t deny your nature no matter how you might try.”
“And...what was that man’s nature, Hitsugaya-taichou?” Rukia asked. “What was he, since you
seem to know so well? Just what did you see when you looked at him?”
“...A father.”
The tears finally came, and Hitsugaya looked up at the sky as they streamed silently down his
face.
“I saw...a born father.”

So...do you know? I bet some of you do. And I bet your eyes rolled, too. Because this is
a habit of mine. A habit I don't think I'll ever break. But I hope you liked it, anyway.
There are plenty of lines in this chapter that I feel particularly proud of.
'Til next time.

33 – INTO THE FRAY

Before we get on with this chapter (which is a bit of an experiment; your endorsement
or rejection of it will determine whether I write other chapters of this ilk in the future),
I’ll clear up the confusion of the last, and apologize for just how long these author’s
notes are going to be.
I was a bit surprised (likely due to the blatant obviousness of it in my own mind) that
only two of you guessed correctly the cameos of “A Born Father.”
The man was Kaiba Seto (or Seto Kaiba) from Takahashi Kazuki’s Yu-Gi-Oh! The boy
was his younger brother, Mokuba. These two are my favorite manga/anime characters
from any series I’ve ever come to know (don’t ask me why; I couldn’t explain it if I
tried), are my foremost inspiration for fanfiction writing, and will never be unseated. I
accept no argument. There is no argument.
But anyway, vehement bias aside, I’ve an idea for another chapter rolling about in my
head, but since it’s a bit angsty I decided I should go with this idea first. #32 wasn’t
exactly a skip through a field of flowers (although one of you called it “cute” for some
strange reason I don’t think I’ll ever understand), so I thought something light and
funny would be best suited as a follow-up.
It will probably be a bit confusing to start with, and is yet another crossover, but in a
different manner than my previous ones. The idea popped into my head after writing
#30, and I decided I’d try my hand at it.
Enjoy.

“So...ye gonna tell us this business, or be we t’ guess?”


After this question, the speaker took a long pull from the skin in his thick left hand, the right idly
patting the head of the gigantic boar seated beside his chair. Frowning, he upended the skin and
shook it.
“Oi!” he called. “Dobbins! ‘Nother skin o’ stout, ‘f it does ya!”
The barkeep turned at the voice and nodded. “Aye, Master Thargor. At once.”
Nodding, the dwarf named Thargor turned back to the business at hand. The young, thin woman
standing before him, known to some as Black Thirteen (likely due to the silken black dress she
wore almost exclusively when in public; if there was any significance to the number, Thargor didn’t
know it), nodded distractedly as she scanned the room with her silver eyes.
“A mission,” she murmured. “From Stoutmantle, to the southwest. You know of him?”
“Know ‘im?” Thargor repeated. “Aye, but I know Ol’ Gryan Stoutmantle well enough. ‘F it’s for that
one ye come ‘ere, then ye’ve me ear, lass. Ye have it very well. Speak on, I beg.”
“...It concerns the Brotherhood...doesn’t it?”
The woman blinked. Turning toward the new voice, she nodded. “A-Aye...so it does. How did
you...?”
“Stoutmantle has been fretting over the Defias uprising ever since it began,” the voice, slightly
muffled, replied softly. A figure, swathed in black leather armor with red cloth covering the bottom
half of his face, stepped from the shadows and glanced fleetingly at Thargor.
The dwarf nodded and the man sat down at his table.
Leaning forward, the man looked up at Black Thirteen again. “I am one of the few to have left
VanCleef’s band without finding a ride in a pine box or a drop from the noose. If you intend to
enter his mines...you would do well to have one who knows them with you, night elf.”
The woman frowned. “...I see. But if you have been of his gang...how am I to trust your word?”
“Whether you trust me or not is your own course, and I’ll not attempt to force it one way or
another...I simply make an offer. I’ve personal...grievances with Edwin VanCleef that I intend
to...clear up.”
“Aye...” Thargor muttered. “But don’t we all ‘ave some grievances with ‘at one. Ye go by the name
o’ Entreri, don’t ye, lad? I seen ye ‘round the ‘Shire time an’ again...whispers o’ yer escape.”
The man leaned back, and when the bartender came to the table with Thargor’s drink, he ordered
a flask of Port for himself and slipped enough coin on the table for both.
Thargor nodded his thanks and saluted with his skin before taking a swig.
“However...” Entreri continued, “...it would perhaps be sound strategy to find others to assist
you...if you are to enter the mines, you would do well to be prepared.”
“The mission afforded to me was to bring the head of VanCleef himself to Master Stoutmantle.”
Entreri laughed sharply. “If that is your aim, you’d need a miracle! Do you think him such a
simpleton that such a task would be done with just a dwarf and his pet pig?”
“Pithlit be more ‘n a pig, Entreri,” Thargor muttered. “An’ don’t ye be doubtin’ ‘at if ye ‘adn’t
proved generous jus’ now I’d be teachin’ ye that...”
Entreri snorted dismissively.
“Pardon, good sir...”
Entreri looked over his shoulder. “...What?”
A sly smile rose on the face of the elven woman now standing behind Entreri, and she winked. Her
curvaceous figure leaned close, and she leaned one elbow on the table.
“I hear you’re in the market for a miracle...? I might be of assistance in that matter...”
“Bah!” Thargor spat. “Ye couldn’ serve up a miracle ‘f ye found one on a plate! Get ye back t’
dancin’ on mailboxes, Greenie!”
The elf sighed heavily. “The name afforded me by you fine people of Goldshire – for apparently my
real name cannot find purchase in your heads – is Twinkle. If you must call me by some irritating
nickname, at least use that one.”
The elf’s voice had taken on a hard edge, and even Entreri, a seasoned veteran of deception,
blinked at the change. He frowned beneath his crimson mask. “...Twinkle, you say. You wear the
vestments of one marked by Elune. A priestess?”
“I might be.”
“Priestess!” Thargor snarled and laughed heavily. “I’d set me watch ‘n warrant on ye bein’ no
more’n a Darnassian stuff-shirt’s fun night out, so I would!”
Twinkle’s eyes glinted with irritation.
“While I do visit Darnassus from time to time...I am no noble.”
Blinking, Twinkle stared behind her. “Hey!” she snapped indignantly. “I am not just your fun night
out, blue-boy!”
Black Thirteen sighed heavily at yet another interruption. “And...who are you, sir?”
The young man in blue robes shrugged his shoulders and ran a hand through his white hair. His
green eyes glowed with arcane power. “Some call me the ‘young old one.’ Others ‘Whitecrown.’
More knowledgeable folk know me as the Blue Bend...or—“
Suddenly, someone on the other side of the tavern shot up and shouted at the top of their lungs:
“CAN SUM1 GIV M3 G0LD PLZKTHXBAI!!1!”

Hitsugaya slapped his forehead. “Damn it!”


Matsumoto giggled from beside him. “Right in the middle of your grand introduction, too.”
From the speakers of his headset, Hitsugaya heard Renji laughing his head off. “Oh, shut it,
Abarai! It’s not that funny!”
“Sure it is! It’s fuckin’ hilarious!”
Rolling his eyes, Hitsugaya sighed. Even Ichigo was snickering.
“So, stranger...” Ichigo continued, lapsing into an amused version of his character’s rasp, “what is
it...that you call yourself?”
“...Icingdeath.”
Another snicker from the orange-headed shinigami.
“Oh, what’s funny now?” Hitsugaya demanded.
“Twinkle...and Icingdeath. That’s cute.”
“Oh, shut up, Entreri. Inoue suggested these, remember?”
“No, no...that’s great. I like it.”
He was still holding back laughter.
Hitsugaya ground his teeth. “Don’t forget that my ability to freeze people isn’t limited to this
game,” he snapped. “And I don’t have to duel you to do it, either.”
“Hey!” Rukia called. “Come on, now. We joined a role-playing server to play roles, didn’t we?
You’re not in-character!”
“I think you might be taking the whole ‘in-character’ thing a bit seriously, you know,” Matsumoto
said. “After all, didn’t you report Renji yesterday for asking Urahara for a bowl of rice? You do
realize that the people in charge of this game don’t listen to conversations over these headsets,
don’t you? They aren’t going to do anything.”
Rukia didn’t respond for a long moment. She was probably sulking. “So? I still want to do this
right. It’s important!”
“Not really...” Hitsugaya murmured under his breath. “I just wanted to get my character a new
weapon...”
Matsumoto nudged him. “Hush, Toushirou,” she said. “We know you’re not into the whole role-
playing thing. You told us already that you think it’s childish.”
“Which is stupid since you’re still playing the game,” Ichigo put in. “If role-playing’s childish, why
ain’t the game?”
Hitsugaya scowled. “Shut up, Kurosaki.”
“A’right, a’right! Blind me eyes ‘n carry the blessed home, but ye argue a lot!” Renji snapped in
the voice of his dwarf, and stifled a snicker of his own (he had far too much fun with that voice,
Hitsugaya thought). “Le’s just get out ‘n kill us a thief!”
“If we’re killing thieves, I vote for Entreri first,” Hitsugaya muttered.
“I’m a rogue, Icingdeath,” Ichigo corrected.
“You’re an idiot. Let’s go.”
Looking back at his screen, Hitsugaya saw a message there.
Entreri thinks you are a pint-sized little whiner.
Hitsugaya frowned. “Oh. Mature, Kurosaki. Very mature.”
However, not two seconds later, Ichigo saw a message on his own monitor:
Icingdeath sets you on fire.
Ichigo came back with:
Entreri stabs you in the eye.
To which Hitsugaya replied:
Icingdeath doesn’t need two eyes to kill you.
Ichigo responded with:
No, but he does need stilts.
Hitsugaya glared murderously. “I hope you choke.”
Ichigo laughed.
Renji laughed as well.
Rukia was giggling.
Even Matsumoto was straining to hold back laughter.
Hitsugaya slouched in his chair and vowed to murder each and every one of them.

This chapter is rife with symbolism, which I will now clear up in case you didn’t catch
all (or any) of them.
Firstly, a few of you should recognize the setting and storyline of the majority of this
chapter as being from World of Warcraft, an Alliance quest chain involving a sect of
criminals known as the Defias Brotherhood.
Second, the names of Hitsugaya’s and Matsumoto’s characters, Icingdeath and Twinkle,
are the names of the scimitars of R.A. Salvatore’s famed drow elf ranger, Drizzt
Do’Urden, who was born to Daermon N'a'shezbaernon (House Do’Urden), which in the
beginning of the story was, ironically, Tenth House of the Drow city of Menzoberrenzan.
It should also be noted that Twinkle is elven-forged (Matsumoto’s character is an elf),
and that Icingdeath was found in the treasure trove of a white dragon (the reference to
Hitsugaya should be obvious here).
Ichigo’s character name also comes from Salvatore’s work. Artemis Entreri is Drizzt’s
chief rival in the realms of swordplay and morality, and is an immensely skilled assassin
(and one of my favorite fictional villains in history, brief as my own history, two
decades, has been). Ichigo’s character is a rogue, befitting such a history.
Renji’s character, the dwarf hunter Thargor, and his pet, Pithlit, refer to Tad Williams’s
science fiction series Otherland. Thargor the barbarian is the name of the role-playing
character (in a game called Middle Country) of Orlando Gardiner, my personal favorite
character in the series (and #10 of all time). Pithlit is the thief character of Orlando’s
best friend, Sam Fredericks. The name is reported to be a mispronunciation of A.A.
Milne’s character Piglet, from the Winnie the Pooh books. Pithlit, thus, is a boar.
Lastly, a few references come from Stephen King’s Dark Tower, the greatest story
EVER. Some, perhaps many, of you may disagree with me...you’re wrong. Some of
Thargor’s dialogue (“if it does ya,” “watch and warrant,” “I beg”) comes from the
dialect of Calla Bryn Sturgis, the central setting of the fifth novel, and another of his
lines refers to the song “Carry the Blessed Home,” by Blind Guardian, which deals with
the series’ main character, Roland Deschain (The King, The Omega, The Almighty, #1
Favorite Character of All Time).
Lastly, Rukia’s character’s nickname, Black Thirteen, and one of Hitsugaya’s, the Blue
Bend, refers to a series of thirteen crystal balls, collectively called the “bends o’ the
rainbow,” magical objects of significant importance in the Dark Tower universe. I chose
“Blue Bend” specifically for Hitsugaya’s affinity for ice. “Black Thirteen” has a bit more
importance, as that crystal is tied directly to the Dark Tower itself, the nexus which ties
all worlds together. I used such as a nickname for Rukia’s character due to the Shrine
of Penitence, because of her central importance in Ichigo’s group, and because of her
being in the Thirteenth Division.
This chapter is being posted in honor of a momentous event in my gaming career (yes, I
call it a career). Very, very early this morning (read: midnight), my main Warcraft
character, who you may recall goes by the name of Sythius, reached the lofty height of
level 70. For those who don’t know...don’t worry about it. It doesn’t hold any
significance outside of the game. But those few of you who do play know that this is a
big moment for me. It took me several months (to get from 60 to 66, because I had no
idea where I was going or what I was doing), and 3 days (to get from 66 to 70, because
I did know what I was doing and where I was going), but I did it. And now the fun
really starts. I’ve my eye on an Onyx Nether Drake now...heh-heh.
Again, those who have no idea what any of that means...it holds no actual relevance.
I’m just proud of myself. Anyway, as oddball and experimental as this chapter was (and
as longwinded as the author’s notes were), I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into my
literary lunacy. Again, if enough of you like it, I’ll continue along this story later,
perhaps taking Icingdeath and his companions all the way through the Dark Portal into
Outland someday (in about seventeen years). If not...well, it was fun to me.
A final note, just in case anyone who plays wants to know. Icingdeath is a Frost Mage
(obviously), Twinkle is a Holy Priest, Entreri is a Combat Rogue (swords), Thargor is a
Beast Mastery Hunter, and Black Thirteen (she has another name; just not revealed) is
a Feral Druid (because that’s my specialty).
There are other characters I have planned to enter into the fray, if this chapter strikes
your interest. So let me know.
‘Til next time, everyone.

34 – A COINCIDENCE OR A DREAM

Well, since a couple of you suggested it, and it seems a good idea, I may just start up a
Bleach/WoW offshoot to detail the journeys of Icingdeath, Twinkle, Entreri and the
others, every once in a while giving a glimpse into the players and their various
hilarious arguments...I don't know when I'll start it, what I'll call it, or anything else
about it...but I might just do it.
Well, now my personal fanservice is at an end, and we're back to dealing with canon
characters and situations. No more crossovers. At least for a while. Obviously I might
do some more later on in this story's lifespan if the idea strikes my fancy, but for
now...let's just stick with the regular Bleach-verse, shall we?

“It’s...always a shame. Wouldn’t you say?”


“Eh?”
Frowning at his companion, Aizen Sousuke raised a thin eyebrow. “This. Aren’t you...affected by
it?”
“’At guy ain’t ‘ffected by nuttin’, Taichou,” came a voice from behind them. Aizen turned and
glanced at his adjutant as he sauntered forward.
“Do you think, Gin? That’s a rather harsh thing to say about a superior officer, wouldn’t you say?”
Ichimaru’s ever-present grin widened slightly. “I dunno ‘bout that, Taichou. Ya might say it’s a
compliment. Psychopath makes a good soldier, don’tcha think?”
A laugh, and the three men turned to regard their sole female companion.
Matsumoto Rangiku crossed her arms. “Come off it, Gin. My captain’s the furthest thing from a
psychopath as you can get.”
A laugh from said captain. “Now, I think that might be harsh, my dear little officer. I might think
that you are...insinuating something here.”
Matsumoto smirked. “I might think that you might be right.”
Kazuhiko Senichi chuckled. “Ever playful, aren’t you, Rangiku-chan?”
Matsumoto winked.
Aizen frowned thoughtfully. “Well...the hollow has moved on from this area...I suppose we should,
as well. But before we do...one of us should handle this.”
“He’s hysterical,” Kazuhiko muttered. “Look at ‘im, crying his head off. He’s not going to listen.
He’s too young to even understand what’s going on.”
“Then why bother talkin’ to ‘im at all?” Ichimaru asked. “Jus’ do it ‘n let ‘im figure it out on ‘is
own.”
“Gin, that’s cruel!” Matsumoto said with a slight chuckle, pushing him on the shoulder. “We can’t
do that to the little guy! Look at him! He can’t be more than five!”
“You don’ look more ‘n twenty, Rangiku-chan, ‘n how old’re you? Kid might be a couple hun’rd f’
all we know.”
“He’d have been taken by a hollow by that point,” Kazuhiko said.
“Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows?”
Aizen adjusted his glasses. “Judging by his current behavior, I would guess that he is newly
deceased. If so much time had gone by, he would have long since stopped crying for his mother.”
Ichimaru looked at the child in question. “Yeah...guess so. So whadda we do? Play janken for it?”
Aizen looked back at the pair of vice-captains. “Senichi and I will scout the area for traces of our
target. You two decide amongst yourselves who will handle the boy.”
“...Guess ‘at settles it, then. C’mon, Rangiku-chan. Le’s go say hi to the kid.”
Matsumoto shrugged and followed her friend toward the white-haired child crying hysterically in
the snow.

“Hey. Hey-hey...c’mon now. Hush up, kid.”


Blinking large, wet, shining green eyes, the boy stopped crying enough to stare up at the silver-
haired vice-captain currently staring at him through closed eyes.
Matsumoto knelt down and smiled. “Hello, there, little one. Why are you crying?”
She tried her best to speak in a calm, soothing voice, and kept her face open, friendly, and
benevolent. Ichimaru remained standing, face as impassive as it ever was.
He’d apparently decided to let Matsumoto do the rest of the work. Which was probably a good
thing, because she wasn’t sure if her friend was all that good at dealing with children, and couldn’t
really imagine it even when she tried.
Sniffling, the boy wiped his nose and blinked up at her. “...I...I can’t find...find my mommy...”
Matsumoto frowned sympathetically. “Awww...poor li’l guy...” She reached out and stroked a
strand of stray hair behind the boy’s left ear. “That’s too bad...”
“Tell ya a secret, kid,” Ichimaru put in, apparently having decided he wasn’t going to be silent
after all, “I think I might know where ya can find ‘er.”
The boy turned his face to the silver-haired man. “R-R-Really?”
“Yup.”
“Where?”
“’S a place we like t’ call ‘Soul Society.’”
“...Where’s that?”
Ichimaru popped a finger up toward the sky. “’S up there. See, ‘s kinda magical, this place. ‘N ya
can only get there ‘f we help ya.”
“Y-You think...my mommy is there?”
“Poss’bly. Y’oughtta go there ‘n look.”
“Tell you what, little guy,” Matsumoto said suddenly. “You think about that for a second. I’m going
to talk to my friend for a bit.”
Still sniffling, the boy nodded. “...’Kay.”

“What are you doing, Gin?! You have no idea where that kid’s mother is! She might not even be
dead!”
Ichimaru shrugged. “Look, Rangiku-chan, our job ain’t t’ be truthful. Our job’s t’ send souls up t’
Soul Society. Kid ain’t gonna know I’m lyin’. Hell, you dunno if she ain’t dead. What’f she’s there?
“But that ain’t the point. Point is, we gotta get that kid up there. ‘N like yer cap’n said, he ain’t
gonna listen to us ‘f we tell ‘im ‘e’s dead. Gonna think we’re crazy ‘n keep on cryin’ f’ Mama.”
“That doesn’t mean you should tell him such a blatant lie, Gin! He’s just a kid!”
“Wish I cared, Rangiku-chan. I’ll be honest witcha. I’d jus’ as soon let ‘im get eaten. Don’ make no
dif’rence t’ me. We’re wagin’ a war ‘gainst the hollows, here, ‘n I ain’t gonna let m’self get all hung
up on every li’l civilian ‘at gets caught ‘n between. ‘At’ll jus’ drive me crazy, ‘n I’d rather not do
that.”
Surprised, and yet not surprised, by her friend’s callousness, Matsumoto sighed and just waved a
hand in his direction. It was no use discussing morality with Ichimaru Gin, and she knew that
better than anyone.
“...Fine. Let’s just...get it over with.”
Ichimaru nodded.

“She’s pretty, huh?”


The boy blinked. “...Huh?”
“M’ friend here. S’okay. Ya can admit it. Like lookin’ at ‘er, huh?”
“Gin!” Matsumoto cried, smacking him playfully on the shoulder. “He’s too young for that! Don’t
talk to him like that!”
Ichimaru chuckled. “C’mon, now. Yer a boy. Ya can tell me. ‘N I’ll tell ya this: you go t’ Soul
Society, ya might even meet ‘er there. ‘N who knows? Get old ‘nuff, she might even date ya.
Rangiku-chan likes a good time, ya know.”
“Gin, shut up!” Matsumoto tried so say indignantly, but ended up laughing. “That’s embarrassing!
Aren’t you my friend? That’s not a nice thing to say!”
Ichimaru ignored his fellow vice-captain and leaned in close to the boy. “Letcha in on a secret,
kid,” he said softly. “Rangiku-chan’s a soldier, ‘n she’s got herself a commander. ‘At guy back ‘ere
with the beard. See ‘im? She don’t like ‘im. Maybe y’oughtta try gettin’ our job when ya get there.
Betcha Mommy’d be proud o’ ya, ‘n maybe you’ll take ‘at guy’s place. You’d be nice t’ Rangiku-
chan, wouldn’tcha? Yeah, I betcha would.”
The boy simply stared at him, not understanding one word in six. He clearly had absolutely no
clue what Ichimaru was talking about.
“Ah...” Ichimaru sighed and shrugged. “You’ll understand later.”
He slipped Shinsou out of its sheathe and slapped the boy’s forehead with the hilt. Falling
backward with a grunt, the white-haired child stared at the pair as he vanished, tears still welling
in his eyes.

“...Toushirou?”
Blinking, Hitsugaya looked up from the sheet of paper in his hand at his vice-captain. “...Huh?
What is it, Rangiku?”
“Meeting. C’mon. Let’s go.”
“O-Oh. Right. Sorry.”
Setting the sheet down, he adjusted his cloak and walked with Matsumoto out of the Tenth
Division’s headquarters and toward the First’s.
As they walked, Hitsugaya found himself watching his adjutant as she walked, wondering if the
memories that had suddenly jumped into his head upon seeing that old report were completely
accurate.
Had she been there?
Had it been Ichimaru who...?
It had all been so clear, but...was it true?
He wasn’t sure. It seemed so...so romance-novel cliché.
Perhaps it wasn’t a memory at all, but a dream.
He honestly couldn’t tell for sure which.
Sighing, Hitsugaya simply shook his head and put it out of his mind. It didn’t really matter,
honestly. It was either a dream or one hell of a coincidence.
As he walked beside Matsumoto, Hitsugaya frowned, eyes drawn to her hand. Had that hand tried
to comfort him, so many years ago, while Aizen and Kazuhiko searched for a hollow and Ichimaru
grinned his manic grin and thought his manic thoughts?
Acting on simple impulse, he reached out and took hold of that hand.
Matsumoto looked at him, surprised.
He simply shrugged.
She smiled, squeezed the hand holding hers, and turned her eyes forward again.
As they walked, Kyouraku – half-walking, half-dragged by his vice-captain – stumbled across
them. He grinned and nodded a greeting.
“Hello, Rangiku-chan, Hitsugaya-kun.”
“Good morning, Kyouraku-taichou.”
Nanao nodded a greeting but said nothing.
Hitsugaya followed her lead.
Kyouraku straightened, caught the fact that his fellow shinigamis’ hands were linked in a decidedly
non-professional manner, and grinned widely.
“Ho-ho...look at this...and you thought Hinamori-chan was lying,” he chuckled, nudging Nanao
with one elbow.
“Hand-holding hardly constitutes what you think is going on,” Nanao muttered.
“It might,” Matsumoto offered coyly, a mischievous twinkle in her eyes.
“It all depends on what Kyouraku thinks is going on,” Hitsugaya added, “and how much free time
we happen to have.”
Nanao stared, unblinking.
Kyouraku laughed loudly. “Ha! Wonderful! Just wonderful! Ah, I’m happy for you! This calls for a
celebration!”
“After the meeting,” Nanao said sharply, regaining her immaculate composure. Adjusting her
glasses slightly, she glared at her captain with a no-nonsense expression that bespoke no
argument.
Sighing, Kyouraku nodded miserably. “Of course...let’s go, then.”
The four shinigami continued walking.
Kyouraku glanced back at Hitsugaya and winked. “I told you, Hitsugaya-kun. That you’d
understand when you got a little older.”
“...I suppose you were right.”
The grin widened. “Of course, I did mislead you a bit back then. You see, if I recall, I told you
that...oh, what was it...?”
“That I had the most beautiful, ravishing vice-captain in the entire Gotei 13.”
Matsumoto blinked, a slight blush coming to her face. “Did you say that, Kyouraku-taichou?”
“I did,” he answered, but lowered his eyes. “And I’m most assuredly sorry to admit that that was a
bit of a lie. You see...not to be so narcissistic, you understand, but...I’m afraid I hold that
particular honor.”
Nanao grunted and rolled her eyes.
Hitsugaya smirked. “And I’m afraid that I will have to disagree with that, Kyouraku. To be entirely
narcissistic, you understand.”
Kyouraku responded with another laugh. “Good man! Bravo!”
Matsumoto’s blush deepened.
Nanao sighed again.
Hitsugaya’s smirk widened.
Get old ‘nuff, she might even date ya. Rangiku-chan likes a good time, ya know.
Extensively ironic coincidence?
A dream?
Hitsugaya decided it was both.

If the quality of this installment is less than usual...sorry. I'm a bit tired. I just wanted
to get this up for those of you unfamiliar with my crossovers, and just want to read
about the Tenth Division's leading officers. I can't blame you, and I'm sorry for
confusing you with these past couple chapters. I hope I may be forgiven.
'Til next time.

35 – GAME OF PERSUASION

I know I say this a lot, but I'm sorry for the delay.
I had some personal issues kind of...blocking my inspiration for a while, and I've just
now gotten around to this collection again. Part of the problem was coming up with an
idea that actually went somewhere in my head.
This was the first thing I was able to work with. Hopefully you'll enjoy it.

“Oh, come on!”


“No. Absolutely not. You hear me? No.”
Matsumoto pouted like a spoiled child, but Hitsugaya would not be dissuaded. Or persuaded.
Nope. Not this time. She could pout and whine and bribe and cry all she wanted.
Not gonna happen.
“But Tooooushirooooou...pleeeeeease?”
Hitsugaya ignored that. “I am your commanding officer, the ultimate authority of the Tenth
Division, and I do not appreciate your attempts to ignore that.”
Matsumoto pouted again, even more pitifully this time, and bowed her head with a jerk that
flopped her hair down to cover her lowered face.
“Fine. I apologize, my wonderful, gracious, glorious, generous, fair, handsome, elegant, regal,
lordly captain. I humbly request an audience with Your Esteemed Eminence.”
The white-haired captain flopped onto his chair with a huff and picked up a pen. “There’s work to
be done, here. I can’t be dealing with such trivial issues right now. You have work begging your
attention as well.”
Lifting her head again, Matsumoto scowled at her captain. “I’m not doing anything until you say
yes. I’m not moving until you say yes.”
Hitsugaya groaned and put his head in his hands. “Why do you have to be so difficult? Have you
checked the specifics of our ranks? If you look at mine, it says: ‘Captain.’ You know what that
means, right? It means I’m in charge. And your rank is ‘Vice-Captain.’ That means you’re second-
in-command. You’re the second authority in this division. As in, not first. Know who’s first? I’m
first. I’m above your station. I’m more powerful than you. My word is law.”
Huffing herself, Matsumoto turned her nose up and closed her eyes, clearly not paying attention
anymore. Her mind was made up, and there would be no more negotiation on the matter.
Ignoring the fact that there had never been any negotiating in the first place.
“Do I need to go to the First about this? I don’t think Yamamoto-soutaichou would appreciate this
kind of insubordination.”
Usually, the idea of his going to the Commander General with an issue was enough for Matsumoto
to grudgingly agree to his word, and so far he hadn’t actually needed to speak to Yamamoto about
any particular issues regarding Matsumoto’s behavior.
This time, however...
Hitsugaya most certainly didn’t enjoy the look on his adjutant’s face at the moment. In fact, it
made him decidedly uncomfortable. As if she were a spider, and he – the prey – had walked
cleanly into her web.
“Uh...” he muttered uncertainly, lowering his pen very, very slowly.
Matsumoto sauntered up to her captain’s desk, leaning down to look him in the eye, a deviant
smirk on her face.
“I wonder how much Yamamoto-soutaichou would appreciate you abusing me on duty...Mister My-
Word-is-Law. Shall we see...?”
“W-What? What are you talking about?!”
“You don’t remember, Toushirou? My, my, and here I thought you were so meticulous...why, it was
just after Gin and Aizen left the living world and went back to Hueco Mundo...you were clearly
upset, Toushirou, and you...oh, but it hurts just to remember...”
Here she began to cry, clearly forcing it.
“You...you t-took me...by the scarf and...and...forced me to kiss you! Kiss you! Such slovenly
behavior! But what could I do? I’m just a vice-captain, I have to do whatever my commander
wants! But...but it hurt me, Toushirou...I thought you were different!”
Hitsugaya’s face went as pale white as his hair. “But...b-but...that was...I...you...you didn’t...I
didn’t...you...but...”
Throwing herself back in a flourish, as if acting in a play to which Hitsugaya was the only audience
(he half-expected a spotlight to shine on her), Matsumoto continued to cry. “I’m afraid to tell!
Who knows what lecherous things you might do to me!”
Hitsugaya continued to stammer incoherently, unable to form a sentence in his near-panic. “Y-
You...you...you would...wouldn’t...you...”
The tears stopped, and Matsumoto’s smirk widened considerably, a sadistic, manic twinkle in her
eyes. “Oh, but wouldn’t I...?”
“Gah...I...but...ah...?”
“So...shall we head on over to the First Division headquarters...Taichou...?”
“I...but...you...and...fine!! Keep it! I...I don’t care anymore!”
Matsumoto let out an inhumanly high-pitched squeal of glee.
“Oh, Toushirou, you’re such a sweetheart!”
Leaning over his desk again, she smashed her lips against her captain’s - eliciting a squeak from
the younger shinigami that most certainly didn’t sound like "ultimate authority" - and practically
skipped out of the office.
“I’m gonna go find some food and water!” she declared from the hallway.
“I...I...get back here!”
“Thanks, Toushirou!” she called, barely audible. “I love you!”
About to get up and storm after his giggling subordinate, Hitsugaya fell back into his chair,
dumbfounded and nearly speechless.
“I...l-love...you...?”

“I hate you...”
“Oh, that’s not nice, Toushirou...come on. It’s cute!”
“That...thing is drinking my tea! My tea!”
Hitsugaya snatched the mug away, glaring hatefully. “My tea!” he snarled.
The tiny orange ball of fur sitting atop a sheaf of paper looked up at the flustered captain with a
blank expression.
“Don’t you look at me like that!” Hitsugaya snapped. “I told you it was mine, didn’t I? Didn’t I?!
And what do you do? You drink it anyway!”
Plucking at his cloak, he added, “Do you know what this is? This says I’m your master! I’m your
commander! I’m your god! You don’t drink your god’s tea, do you? DO YOU?!”
Matsumoto giggled. “You’re being silly, Toushirou. You know he can’t understand you.”
“Oh, I’ll make him understand me! I’ll make him leave offerings at my doorstep! I’ll make him knit
me a damned sweater if I want to!”
“Don’t you listen to Daddy, little one,” Matsumoto said soothingly. “He’s just frustrated.”
The tiny kitten mewed soundlessly and tumbled off the desk into Hitsugaya’s lap.
“I—Hey, hey-hey! Who said you could do that?!”
“Toushirou, he’s just a baby.”
“I wouldn’t let a baby just plop itself into my lap, either! I decide who occupies my lap, thank you
very much!”
“Oh, quit it. Drink your tea and get over yourself, Ultimate Authority.”
“Tch...”
Hitsugaya took a sip of tea – although it was far too jerky and harsh to really be called a sip – and
slammed the mug down, picking up his pen and digging it into the sheet of paper he’d been
writing on almost hard enough to go through into the sheets beneath it.
Things went relatively smoothly for about seventeen seconds.
Then, Hitsugaya jerked. “Hey!” he snapped, glaring down at the tiny animal currently kneading its
even tinier claws into his leg. “Stop that, you little vermin!”
“Awww...” Matsumoto cooed, leaning over to look. “He’s purring, Toushirou...he likes you.”
“Good for him. He should show it by doing what I tell him to and knock it off!”
Matsumoto frowned. “Toushirou, come on, now. Hush. You’re being childish.”
“I am not being childish! Who was the one who—“
Matsumoto pinched his lips shut. “Hush. Eyes on the goal, my dear little captain. You were the one
who said you wanted to work.”
Hitsugaya swatted Matsumoto’s hand away. “Don’t patronize me. You started all this.”
“Toushirou...”
“Oh...fine. Whatever. Just get working. Go!”
Matsumoto smirked and went back to her desk.
Hitsugaya acted flustered and annoyed for the rest of the day, but Matsumoto didn’t miss the fact
that after a while, the boy captain set a hand down into his lap, idly scratching behind the kitten’s
ear with his thumb.
As she worked (or pretended to work), Matsumoto wondered if it was a bad thing that she took so
much pleasure in irritating her commander.
That night, after Hitsugaya fell asleep at his desk, completely unaware of the sleeping little puff of
orange perched atop his head, Matsumoto decided that it wasn’t.
It was just fine.
...I don't know.
My uncle's girlfriend brought over a little kitten today, apparently for us to care for
through the weekend until a home is found for it, and...what can I say? I'm a sap.
Always been a sucker for kittens, I have. So...this little idea popped up. Poor Hitsugaya.
You'd think after all that's happened, Matsumoto would cut him some slack. But...well,
things just don't happen that way, I guess.
I don't know what to name the little guy. He'll probably show up in future
chapters...you know, anywhere that needs a kitten. Captain's meetings, refrigerators,
cake mix, Yachiru's pocket (wait...how'd he get in there?), wherever.
Anyway, until next time.
Take it easy, everyone.

36 – BABYSITTER

This was originally posted on FanLib for a contest I took part in recently, which is a
large part of the reason why this took so long to finally get posted. Sorry for the delay,
and I hope you enjoy this. School's starting again soon, so while I sincerely hope a
delay like this won't happen again, I can't make any guarantees.
That said, have fun.

“Oi.”
He wondered, but only for a moment, if there was any semblance of a possibility that Kurosaki
Ichigo could be taught proper respect for the leaders of his order.
Yes, he’d been thrust into the shinigamis’ world abruptly, and the most dangerous mission in Soul
Society’s history had been thrust upon him, but Hitsugaya had earned his rank, and found it
decidedly irritating that some fifteen-year-old upstart felt the right to treat him like this.
It felt all too familiar.
Matsumoto, oblivious to her leader’s thoughts (or at least actingoblivious; she was far more
perceptive of peoples’ moods than she let on), waved at the orange-headed boy and proceeded to
show him the “newest addition” to the Tenth Division “family.”
Ichigo chuckled, scratched behind the kitten’s ears, and nodded. “Cute.”
“Yeah, so you say,” Hitsugaya muttered under his breath. “That thing is a parasite.”
“I live with Kon. Don’t talk to me about parasites.”
Hitsugaya couldn’t refute that logic.
“Toushirou wanted to be off home,” Matsumoto said. “What did you need us for?”
Ichigo frowned. “I promised the girls I’d take ‘em to the movies today, but Shinji’s bein’ a fuckin’
asshole and I can’t get ‘im to leave me the hell alone. I gotta get training. They like you guys. I
thought you might be able to go.”
“If I refuse,” Hitsugaya muttered, “you’ll just use Yuzu to threaten me. Fine. But you owe me. I’m
not a babysitter.”
“...You aren’t?”
The implication was not lost on Matsumoto.
Hitsugaya’s scowl left his face as he watched her suddenly go into Predator Mode, and he chuckled
as Ichigo sped off away from her and the various items from the surrounding area that she began
launching at him.

“Come on, Toushirou! Cheer up! Have fun!”


“Oh, but I’m having fun...” Hitsugaya muttered. “I’m positively effervescent; can’t you tell?”
Matsumoto gathered up the snacks and drinks she’d procured (most of which was for her;
Hitsugaya wondered if she planned on giving any to Ichigo’s sisters), rolling her eyes at him.
“It’s no wonder you scowl so much, Toushirou. What’s life for if you don’t have fun with it? This is
a chance to relax.”
“Yes. Relax. That’s the word I forgot. You know, Rangiku, I’m not paying Urahara for repairs when
you pull a muscle trying to carry all that.”
“As if her back wasn’t straining enough as it is,” Karin muttered.
Hitsugaya suddenly had to bite his lip to keep from bursting out laughing. Holding his hand over
his mouth, he snickered madly, pointedly ignoring the sudden glare from his vice-captain.
“Watch your mouth, Missy,” Matsumoto snapped. “I have no problem with hurting small children.”
She turned her scathing eyes on her captain. “And you—“
“Am not a small child. Don’t even go there. Come on, now. If you want to get to the movie on
time, then get moving. You spent nearly a half-hour buying all that.”
“We got here forty-five minutes early.”
“And it’s a good thing we did.”
Hitsugaya started off down the hall, and Yuzu was quick to follow him. Matsumoto and Karin
walked slower, Matsumoto glaring daggers into the girl’s head, and Karin pointedly ignoring her
because she knew it would make her angrier.
Might as well get some entertainment out of this, Karin thought.

Yuzu was practically skipping as they left the theater, giggling like some demented clown
(something she’d picked up from her father, probably), and when she did stop and wait for them,
she bounced from foot to foot, unable to contain her excitement, as if the movie hadn’t even
started yet, even though it was over, and the suspense was killing her.
“Wasn’t that the best, Hitsugaya-niichan?” she asked, eyes glowing.
Hitsugaya raised an eyebrow, more than a little unnerved by the girl’s tone, finding a threatening
edge in it that just shouldn’t have been there.
“Uh...yes. It was surprising, Yuzu. I...I enjoyed it immensely.”
Yuzu giggled again, satisfied, and whirled around, pushing open the door and holding it open for
an elderly couple walking in.
Glancing at Karin, he muttered, “I haven’t found a bigger waste of time since trying to have a real
conversation with your father...”
Karin snickered.
“Now, now, be nice. Isshin-san is just excitable. Some adults just don’t like the idea of maturity.”
“You talk as though you’ve met someone like that before,” Hitsugaya said dryly, rolling his eyes.
“Are you insinuating something, Toushirou?”
“Not at all.”
Matsumoto scowled, then smirked.
Hitsugaya yelled as the as-of-yet-unnamed kitten latched onto his head. “Hey! Get...get that thing
off me! Where were you keeping i—Ow! Damn it!”
Matsumoto walked out of the theater with a smug look on her face. “When will you learn, Shiro-
chan? Being childish is so much more entertaining.”
When Ichigo found them a few minutes later to escort his sisters home, he stopped and stared at
Hitsugaya, face scratched and hair disheveled.
“Uh...I don’t think I want to ask how you managed to get yourself assaulted at a kid’s movie.”
“Would you like a slightly used vice-captain?” Hitsugaya grunted. “I accept cash or credit card. No
checks, please.”
He lifted the kitten by the scruff of the neck.
"Free cat with purchase."

37 – HOMECOMING

It's been a long time, and I know that I said on my profile that I'd be taking a break.
But that didn't stop me from trying, and today I finally managed to get into the mood
enough to write something. I've had this idea in my head for a long time, ever since
reading the first prequel chapter of the manga which just happened to star my favorite
couple. Must commemorate that, mustn't I? So, I put this together.
Sorry for the abysmally long wait. My brain hasn't been working too well lately.

Matsumoto was used to a quiet captain.


Hitsugaya was a generally brooding individual, who found it much more preferable to live within
his own head than deal with others. Matsumoto had met any number of people just like him, and
so she had long since grown to accept it.
“Oi! Toushirou! C’mon, talk to me!”
...Sometimes.
Hitsugaya, to his credit, was used to a loud adjutant. He knew that his second was almost never
content to let her thoughts go unannounced, and that she sometimes simply had to talk.
So, he generally ignored it.
He’d learned to ignore loud people a long, long time ago.
“Would you tell me where we’re going?”
He looked around at the old buildings, basking in the mist of nostalgia, and found it rather
amusing that he felt at peace here. Here, in this place that had been so stifling, so confining. This
place had been like a prison to him, and now...it felt like home.
He looked back at his new prison, at the walls that held him in so often, and marveled at the
irony. He turned his attention back to the dirt crunching beneath his feet and almost laughed.
The grass really was greener, even if it didn’t grow.
Eventually, Matsumoto gave up. Marvel of marvels, she gave up.
Contenting herself with stroking the tiny head of the still-nameless kitten that she had taken to
calling the two-and-a-half seat of the Tenth Division, she simply sighed and looked around,
alternating between smiling and glaring at the innumerable men who stopped to stare at her.
The braver ones, who took that smile much more literally than they should have, never got close
enough to “strike up conversation,” because the temperature had the strangest habit of dropping
to near-freezing whenever they tried.
Hitsugaya’s expression never changed, and his eyes never strayed from straight ahead.
She wondered what had him so preoccupied. Not like it was anything new, of course, but it wasn’t
like her captain was the sort to let his mind wander aimlessly.
Hitsugaya Toushirou’s mind never wandered.
She knew that it wasn’t an assignment that had him walking through the streets of Junrinan, else
he would have told her. And yet, he had taken her along.
“Am I going to have to guess why we’re here?”
She didn’t expect an answer, and he didn’t disappoint.
“What do you think, little one?” she asked the kitten. “Hm? Why’s Daddy all quiet-like? Do you
think he’s getting Mommy a birthday present?”
The cat was no more talkative than Hitsugaya was.

He stopped at a place that was no more remarkable than any other, but for some reason
Matsumoto found it familiar. She stared at the house for some time, wondering why.
Hitsugaya looked both nervous and elated. He stood still for a long while before finally drawing in
a deep breath and walking up and knocking on the door, quickly enough that he couldn’t convince
himself not to.
Matsumoto walked, more slowly, up to her captain’s side, and heard a soft, elderly voice call out
for them to come in.
Hitsugaya stiffened at the sound of the woman’s voice, and memories began swirling up into
Matsumoto’s head as she followed him inside.
The woman who lived in the house was, like most elderly folk in Soul Society, positively ancient. It
wouldn’t have surprised Matsumoto to hear that this woman was as old as the commander-
general.
Despite that, the sparkle in her eyes was vibrant, aware, and Matsumoto thought she would
remain that way for a good, long time. The wonders of the afterlife, she supposed. The second
half of the cycle went on so much longer than the first.
Hitsugaya sat before the woman, and Matsumoto followed suit.
The woman seemed not to be paying any attention to the two of them as she set about making
tea. Hitsugaya waited, silent and still nervous, and accepted the cup he was offered only after the
woman offered it a second time.
“It’s been a while,” she said finally.
Hitsugaya nodded, chagrined. “It...it has.”
“Don’t you worry,” the woman said with a laugh. “I know how you are. So busy. Busy enough to
forget that you don’t have to prove anything to anyone. I think you’ve made your point now, don’t
you think?”
“...Maybe.”
The woman laughed, and Matsumoto smiled slightly.
“And who is this lovely lady?” the woman asked, handing Matsumoto a cup of her own, which she
accepted gratefully – the first time.
When Hitsugaya didn’t answer immediately, the woman went on.
“I knew you’d come back, Toushirou,” she said, “when you finally had enough control over yourself
to be confident. But I always thought–” here she chuckled “-Bed-Wetter Momo would be with you.”
Hitsugaya flinched. “Y-Yes, well...”
“How is she?”
“She’s...she’s well enough,” he said. “A...new captain has been appointed to her division.
She’s...adapting.”
“Good for her. I heard what happened.”
Noting that neither of them seemed to be enjoying this line of conversation, the woman smiled
wryly.
“...Is that why she isn’t here?”
“Something like that,” Hitsugaya murmured softly, taking a slow drink and averting his eyes.
“We...we don’t talk much anymore.”
“You never did much talking in the first place,” the woman said, and at this Matsumoto actually
laughed.
Hitsugaya blushed faintly, and drew in a deep breath.
“...Granny...”
The word sounded foreign coming from him, and he seemed to realize this because he stopped as
soon as he’d said it, seemed about to amend himself, and then stopped again.
“Yes, Toushirou?” the woman asked softly.
He looked up and smiled, reaching over thoughtlessly and taking hold of one of Matsumoto’s
hands. Matsumoto smiled, sipping at her tea and winking at the old woman she had first met
years and years before.
“I...I want you to meet someone.”

38 – INSUBORDINATION

In an attempt to make up for how long you've all been waiting, I've decided to upload
this chapter, which I likely could have split up into several. This marks the longest
chapter I've written so far, and an attempt to get back into the swing of writing these
characters after quite a while away from them.
I hope that I've managed to keep things in character, but if I haven't, then I apologize.
I may need some practice.
Well, that's enough of that. Let's begin, shall we?

Read
Read. Sign. File.
Read. Sign. File. Read. Sign. File.
Read. File.
Sign. Read. File. Sign. File.
Read.
File.
Sleep.
Need sleep? Yes.
File.
Read. Sleep. File.
Read...
...File...
Sleep.

“...gaya-tai...”
He blinked.
Well, no. He didn’t blink. He...mentally blinked. His eyes were still closed, so he couldn’t blink. But
he thought he blinked. He...
He shook his head.
“...tsugaya-taichou!”
Ah, yes. Of course. The voice. The distant voice, the voice always heard as one woke up from
sleep. Like a train speeding toward the exit of the tunnel. Getting louder. Clearer.
More urgent.
“Hitsugaya-taichou!”
Damn it.
He opened his eyes.
Somebody was shaking him. Who the...what...?
It was a rank-and-file soldier, and Hitsugaya might have been able to remember his name if he’d
been even partially coherent. Groaning, he stumbled to his feet before saying a word.
“...What?” he growled.
He finally turned to face the man.
And went pale.
“What?” he asked again, breathlessly.
The man could only point.
Hitsugaya looked.
“...Oh, God.”

“Hinamori-fukutaichou! Tell him quickly! We need to get you to the...!”


Hinamori shoved her fellow shinigami off of her, pulling her arm away, brown eyes wide and wet
as she drew in horribly shaky breaths. “H-H-Hitsu...Hit...sugaya...taichou...”
Her voice was barely there. She was holding her neck, blood flowing over her thin, shaking fingers
as she stumbled into the office, barely keeping her feet. Her clothing was stained and tattered as
if it had been gnawed on by rabid wolves.
Hitsugaya leaped to his feet and practically flew over to her, holding her up just as she began to
fall. “Hinamori! What happened to you?!”
“I...it looks...worse than it...than it is...” Hinamori muttered in her haggard rasp.
“Ko...Kotetsu...fukutaichou says that...I’ll be fine...b-but...but...”
“But nothing!” Hitsugaya shouted. “You’re barely conscious! You! Why didn’t you take her straight
to the infirmary?!”
The target of Hitsugaya’s anger, a member of Hinamori’s own division, quailed beneath the boy
captain’s glare, but drew in a deep breath and forced himself to stand straight.
“It was...an order...sir. Directly from Madarame-taichou. He ordered that Hinamori-fukutaichou
report to you. Kotetsu-fukutaichou has given her a cursory inspection and...signed off on the
order. Hinamori-fukutaichou! Tell him, so that we can get you to—”
“Enough!” Hinamori snarled, surprisingly sharply. “I’m not the one that matters here! I’ll survive,
Sasaki!”
“Not if you continue to push yourself like this, Fukutaichou!”
Hinamori turned her eyes back to Hitsugaya, who was staring at her with a look that was half-fear,
half-fury. “Hinamori...what is it? What would your captain deem so important that he would order
you to...you could have sent for...what’s going on?!”
Hinamori flinched, lowered her eyes, and seemed as if she couldn’t bring herself to speak. But in a
visual battle with herself, she forced in a deep, shuddering breath, and looked at him.
“...It’s Matsumoto-fukutaichou.”
The way she said it cut straight into Hitsugaya like a white-hot knife. His face paled, slackened,
and his fingers twitched into half-fists.
“Rangiku...”
He vanished too quickly to see.
“Get her to the infirmary!!” came a yell from halfway down the hall, a fraction of a second later.

“The next time the second in my division is critically injured, I expect a damned report
immediately!!”
No member of any division would have envied Iemura Yasochika’s position at that moment. Fury
rolled off of Hitsugaya’s compact frame like the seething breath of the great serpent within his
sword, and it had taken such a furious hold on the white-haired shinigami that his breath puffed
out in clouds that were so cold they burned.
“H-H-H-Hitsugaya-s-s-s-s-sama...?”
“Get out of my way!”
Hitsugaya thundered through the infirmary like a hurricane.
“We were j-just about to...to...! S-Someone was already sent...! I...”
“Save it!!” came the snarled reply – that sounded like a roar. “I’m not interested!”
Yasochika rushed after the Tenth Division captain, looking like it was the last thing he wanted to
do, and when he saw that Hitsugaya had been stopped in a hallway by Unohana Retsu, he dared
to look relieved.
“Hitsugaya-taichou?” Unohana asked in her calm, maternal voice, but it seemed to have no effect
on him. “I think I know why you are here.”
“Oh, you think, do you...?” Hitsugaya hissed, eyes flaring. “Tell me where she is or get the hell out
of my way.”
“I think you might want to calm—”
Hitsugaya shouldered past her. “Fine.”
“H-Hey!” Yasochika started, holding up a feeble hand. “You can’t treat...!”
Unohana held up a hand of her own. “He’s distraught. I expected nothing less. Hinamori-
fukutaichou was just brought in, and she has worsened her condition substantially. Come with
me.”
“But...but...he can’t...he can’t just...I was...!”
“If love caused people to think rationally,” Unohana said softly, with a smile, “then it would not be
love. Come with me. We must see to Hinamori-fukutaichou.”
Yasochika lowered his hand.
He followed his captain.
And blinked suddenly, head snapping up.
“...Love?”

When Hitsugaya lay eyes on his vice-captain, his heart simultaneously raced and sank.
Matsumoto lay with her eyes closed, bandages covering almost every inch of her, looking like
nothing so much as a mummy. The only part of her that was completely untouched was her face,
but even it was contorted with pain.
“Rangiku...oh...no...no, no...”
He felt any sense of self-control slipping from him faster than his own heartbeat, and wondered if
he had ever felt so helpless before.
He didn’t think so.
He rushed to his lieutenant’s side and took hold of her left hand with both of his, pulling back the
urge to cry only because he knew the tears would freeze on his face.
“Rangiku...Rangiku, are you...?”
He stopped the question.
It was a stupid one.
Matsumoto’s striking gray eyes fluttered open, and she managed a smile. “You know...” her voice
cracked, “...I don’t think...that I’ll ever get tired...of hearing that name from you...”
Hitsugaya smiled despite himself. “Rangiku...you...oh, for the love of...Rangiku, what happened?!”
She reached out with her other hand, the ring finger of which was bent at a horridly wrong angle,
and pressed her index finger against his lips. “You...have a...have a lovely voice...
Toushirou...but...if you wouldn’t mind lowering it...just a bit?”
Hitsugaya bit his lip. “What...what...?”
“One of them...” Matsumoto said, some of her voice coming back to her in sudden bitterness.
“One of Aizen’s...got the jump on us...on patrol. Standard...procedure. No...reason to call for...for
backup...we thought. For some reason...he let...let us retreat. The bastard’s mocking us...I was
going to stay, but...but Hinamori insisted...he hit fast, hard, and I was...was injured long before
I’d even realized what the threat was. She...she forced me to come back, and...and I guess she
was right.”
Hitsugaya blinked at her. “What do you...?”
“If I’d stayed...” Matsumoto said, stroking her captain’s cheek with her free hand, “...I probably
wouldn’t have come back at all...and I’d never have had the chance to...see your face again. And
it’s...such a handsome face, too...”
Hitsugaya blushed. “Rangiku, don’t talk like that...please don’t talk like that.”
“I know...” Matsumoto’s smile widened. “No flirting on the clock...right? Sorry, Taichou.”
“No,” Hitsugaya said, shaking his head. “Don’t...don’t talk like you’re dying.”
She actually laughed.
“Silly boy...I can’t die yet. Some people still think it’s just a...just a rumor that you’ve kissed me.”
He laughed with her, but it was weak, and died almost instantly. “Rangiku, don’t...stress yourself.
Just rest. Okay? You need to rest.”
“Awww...” Matsumoto said. “Is Taichou-sama worried about me?”
“Taichou-sama is petrified.”
Gratitude twinkled in her eyes, and her own grip on her captain’s hand tightened.
“I...I love you, Rangiku.”
Don’t leave me.
“I love you...love you, too, Toushirou.”
I won’t.

“Well, lookie here. Ain’t you two cozy?”


Hitsugaya turned sharply at the sound of that voice, and watched as Ikkaku and Yumichika
followed a member of the fourth division as she rolled a stretcher – carrying an unconscious
Hinamori – into the room.
“Madarame.”
Ikkaku shrugged, for once without a grin plastered on his face. “That’d be my name, a’right.
Somethin’ wicked out there, ain’t it? Did a number on your second, too, I see.”
Hitsugaya didn’t miss the sudden flash of anger that rose on Ikkaku’s face as he looked at
Matsumoto.
“So many people...worried about little old me...” Matsumoto murmured.
“Got good reason to, crazy lady,” Ikkaku said. “Damn near got yourself killed. Soutaichou’s sayin’
we oughtta stay low on this one, play the defensive cards. Take this slow. One o’ Aizen’s big boys,
I guess, if it’s got the old man tuckin’ his tail between ‘is legs. Either that ‘r he’s just gettin’
paranoid.”
“No one’s on this?” Hitsugaya asked sharply. “Are you goddamn kidding me?!”
“Somebody’s pissed,” Ikkaku noted. “Don’t often hear words like that come outta Mister Tightwad-
Tenth. Yeah, that’s basically the rundown, ‘fraid to say.”
“So...is that why you’re here?” Hitsugaya asked sharply, dangerously. “To tell me that I should sit
on my hands and wait like a good little boy?”
Ikkaku smirked. “Who you think you’re talkin’ to? No, Hitsugaya, I’m here to cover for your ass.
Now go freeze that bastard’s face for me.”
He glanced at Matsumoto and Hinamori again.
“...For them.”
And Hitsugaya realized that was precisely what he wanted to do. At the thought of it, he felt his
blood sing with anticipation, and his right shoulder twitched, arm instinctively beginning to reach
for Hyourinmaru’s hilt.
Ikkaku crossed his arms.
“Zaraki’s goin’ out. Back you up. This guy’s mean, pullin’ shit like that on a vice-captain. Ya can’t
afford to think like a boyfriend if yer gonna take this prick down.”
“Think like a...”
“Don’t even try, lover boy. Ol’ receptionist, Yasochika, damn near wetting himself out there. You
tore off his damn head, and you know well as I do what you did that for. Now go. Show this son of
a bitch who we are.”
Hitsugaya hesitated.
“Go on,” Matsumoto said. “Stake your claim, Taichou.”
“That’s not what—”
“I know,” she cut him off. “You don’t think of it like that. I’m glad you don’t. But...I can’t handle
this one. Any more than I could...handle Gin. So...go. Please. End it.”
Hitsugaya scowled.
He took her hand in both of his again, brought it to his lips and kissed it. Matsumoto smiled, and
leaned her head back, closing her eyes and letting out a slightly relieved, but still painful, moan.
Hitsugaya let go, bit back a cry (damned if he was going to lose it in front of Madarame Ikkaku),
and stalked toward the door. And when he spoke next, he almost sounded like himself.
“I’m going for a walk.”

Did this one have a name?


Hitsugaya didn’t know it.
He didn’t care to know it.
The cocksure bastard hadn’t even bothered to try hiding himself. When Hitsugaya found him, he
seemed to have stumbled across a pair of patrollers. If forced to guess, he might have pegged
them as part of Hisagi’s ninth division.
“The Gotei 13!” the arrancar crowed. “Well, well! Such magnificence! I can see why Aizen-sama is
taking things so slowly! I don’t think I would dare to cross you!”
The two shinigami attempting to stave him off weren’t even trying to fight; they were scrambling
to defend. The arrancar’s weapons were...something like pincers. Or...or...scissors.
Yes. Scissors.
Two...pair, on the ends of each arm. They snipped and tore and pinched and plunged, and it was
clear to Hitsugaya that he—no, it was simply playing with them. This was no fight. This was no
battle. This was...hunting.
Hitsugaya fully intended to keep it that way.
As he stalked forward, Hyourinmaru took flight.
The great dragon crashed onto one of the arrancar’s arms, and it whirled to face its new prey.
“Save the speeches. No one cares to listen.”
“Well, well! New fish! Step right up, then, shinigami!”
Hitsugaya’s face twitched.
He shot forward, leaping into the air. “If we’re going to exchange inane non-pleasantries, then I
suppose it’s my turn: I am going to kill you. Deal with it.”
He gave in to the fever.
And the world erupted.

“I don’t think...I’ve ever seen him like that.”


Matsumoto couldn’t help but chuckle at the irony. Here she was, lying in a hospital room next to
Hinamori Momo, and she didn’t want to strangle her.
“You’d be surprised,” Matsumoto replied. “He...doesn’t let it show often. I’m not surprised he’d
have wanted to hide it from you. But...Toushirou is...well, don’t let him know I said this, but
he’s...vulnerable. He still feels insecure here...and he fights it. By ignoring it. But
sometimes...sometimes he loses his grip. And...and it’s just...”
“It’s wrong,” Hinamori said softly, almost awe-stricken. “It’s wrong that he should feel so sad...so
lonely...that he should think that he has to hold it all together by himself... I’ve been so stupid...”
Hinamori covered her face with one arm and winced at the pain that shot up her wounded
shoulder.
“So long as you know that,” Matsumoto said.
“I do...I know now. And...and I never did thank you for being honest with me. You’re the reason I
really understand it, and...and...well, I’m glad he’s with you.”
Matsumoto turned and quirked an eyebrow at her.
“I...I always had to be protected,” Hinamori said miserably. “I guess I still do. Madarame-taichou
is hard on me, but...but I know he wants to protect me, just like Hitsugaya-taichou did...like I
thought Aizen-tai...like I thought Aizen did. And...and...with you, well...you can protect him...and
he needs that. He needs...he needs someone to back him. Not someone to keep out of trouble.”
Matsumoto laughed.
“Ironic, you saying that now. Look at us. We’re both helpless. I can barely lift my arm.”
“You still...give him a reason to fight,” Hinamori said. “And he needs that, too. So...so maybe this
is okay, too...sometimes. You just...do it better than I did.”
“You may be doing it for the right reasons now,” Matsumoto replied, “but you’re still pitying
yourself too much. There’s more to you than mistakes, girl. There’d better be, ‘cuz I’ve made a
ton of mistakes in my own right.”
Hinamori smiled.
Matsumoto smiled back.
And both wondered if perhaps they could be friends...when this was over.

Zaraki looked about ready to explode.


Yumichika supposed he wasn’t really surprised at his own behavior. Yes, he was part of the Fifth
now, but somehow, standing beside Zaraki Kenpachi’s gargantuan frame still felt more than a little
like home.
The volatile, sadistically charged captain had a fierce, animalistic grip on his sword’s hilt, and
Yumichika had to wonder what it was that was keeping him from jumping in.
Hitsugaya was doing remarkably, of course, being a boy genius and all, but really...there was no
clear indicator that the captain of the Tenth would win.
He really didn’t want to go back to the Fourth Division infirmary and tell Matsumoto that her
darling captain was dead...he was never much a fan of bad news, really. It was ugly. Obscenely
ugly.
And really...he rather liked Hitsugaya Toushirou.
“Zaraki-taichou? Perhaps it would be prudent now to...lend a hand. We are here against orders.
Better to come back and face possible punishment with victory on our shoulders, rather than
defeat. Wouldn’t you say?”
Zaraki grunted.
“...Guess yer right,” he muttered in a guttural tone.
He seemed pleased to say it.
And as he strode forward, Yumichika saw something he wasn’t sure he thought he’d ever see.
Zaraki Kenpachi ripped off his eyepatch before the fight.
“‘S’ain’t no fight!” Zaraki snarled, laughter in his voice, and Yumichika blinked, wondering if his
former captain had just read his mind. “This is a goddamn execution!”
And Yumichika followed the Eleventh’s captain’s lead, wondering just what Hitsugaya had done to
invoke such loyalty in a man like Zaraki.

With the efforts of Zaraki combined with Hitsugaya’s, the arrancar that Aizen-sama had deemed
unfit to name (one of many, of course) hadn’t any semblance of a chance at victory.
The problem was, it didn’t know that.
And it kept up the fight, screaming and cursing and cutting and slashing, and yet the only one
bleeding seemed to be itself. Pain, such horrendous, ripping pain! And shame!
No! It would earn a name! It would win!
Yes...it would win!
But then the sky itself seemed to open its mouth, as if to laugh, but the nameless arrancar knew
what this meant. Yes, it knew what this meant, and it dared to grin.
Who was it? Who had come?
Was it...was it...?
Oh, God.
No.
No, no, no! Anybody else! God, let it be—
“Well, well, well...lookie there. Somebody’s maaaad! Look at that! And Zaraki Kenpachi...wow. You
done started up a party, here, din’tcha?”
Hitsugaya froze in mid-strike.
“...Ichimaru.”
“Hiya, ‘Gaya!” he chirped happily, and even Zaraki blinked incredulously at him.

Ichimaru Gin strolled forward on the air, almost looking like he was skipping, and leaned against
one arm of the nameless arrancar like it was a post.
“Lookit this...what a mess we got here. Why, look! Blood dripping off everywhere! Ain’t this a
shame...well! Who done started this party?”
The odd thing about it was, Ichimaru’s demeanor didn’t seem all that threatening. On the
contrary, it felt legitimately cheery, and it seemed like...like he really had just gone out for a walk.
The stifling, chilling aura about the man that Hitsugaya was used to just wasn’t there. And he
thought that this must have been the man that his vice-captain had once called her best friend.
“Don’t go actin’ like you dunno what happened!” Zaraki snarled, grinning his maniac’s grin. “We
were just playin’ with your little friend, here! Got a score to settle!”
“Score?” Ichimaru inquired innocently, and it sounded sincere. “Well, now...what’s this? Whatcha
been up to, there?”
He directed this at the arrancar, and the scissor-handed creature looked as if it were about to wet
itself, if something like that could actually happen.
And for some reason he couldn’t quite pinpoint, Hitsugaya felt compelled to tell him.
“Rangiku’s in critical condition,” he said icily. “She almost died because of this maggot.”
Ichimaru’s grin vanished, and if at all possible, the arrancar looked even more terrified.
“...What.”
Gin’s eyes actually opened widely enough for Hitsugaya to see their crimson gleam. And without
warning, Ichimaru gripped his subordinate by one of its white, grotesquely long arms and
launched it - screaming - into the portal from which he’d come.
Ichimaru watched Hitsugaya, Zaraki, and turned his gaze fleetingly to Yumichika before
disappearing through it himself.
Hyourinmaru lowered slowly, held in a limp hand.
Hitsugaya blinked.
“Did...that just happen?”
And the funny thing was, Zaraki looked like he wasn’t sure.

“I-I-I-I-Ichimaru-sama! W-W-Wait! What are you...! Why are you...! Give me a chance! I won’t fail
you, p-p-p-please!!”
Ichimaru Gin turned, and his face was somber.
“Won’ fail me?” he repeated, barely moving his lips. “That right...? You...won’t fail me. Huh.
Well...ain’t that sumthin’.”
“I-I-I’ll do...I’ll do anything!! Give me another chance to prove myself! I won’t...! I won’t...!”
“...Anythin’. Well, now...that’s jus’ a bit of a probl’m, I’d say...‘cuz, uh...”
Shinsou appeared in its master’s hand.
“What I want you t’ do...”
It gleamed.
“...is...”
It flashed.
“...die.”
It drank.
And when Ichimaru faced Aizen Sousuke again, his grin was back, and he reported the execution
of a nameless arrancar, for the crime of “botchin’ ‘is first kill.”
And when Aizen asked his former subordinate if that was all he had to report, Ichimaru looked
him straight in the eye and nodded.
“There is...no other reason...for this execution, Gin?”
Ichimaru shrugged. “Felt like it?”
Aizen smiled serenely. “I see. Well, then...I suppose that’s all.”
“S’pose so.”

Hitsugaya walked slowly back into the Fourth Division’s infirmary abjectly ignoring a summons to
the First Division’s headquarters. The messenger in charge of delivering this order attempted to
stop the boy captain, but didn’t quite find the courage to stand up to him...not with Zaraki
Kenpachi strolling behind him like a bodyguard.
And as he approached the room in which Hinamori and Matsumoto were recuperating, he thought
that every member of the Fifth, Tenth, and Eleventh divisions was standing vigil outside. And as
he passed by each of them, they nodded.
Hitsugaya entered the room, and Zaraki and Yumichika joined the others.
Hinamori was sleeping, but when he approached, Matsumoto opened her eyes and smiled.
Hitsugaya was tired, keeping his back rigid only by the greatest of willpower, but essentially
uninjured.
He answered her unspoken question with a curt nod.
Matsumoto smiled.
“You’re...beautiful. You know that, don’t you?”
Hitsugaya kissed her.
And although she stiffened as she tried to wrap her arms around his neck, she stubbornly did so
anyway, and the pain didn’t seem to matter so much anymore.

It would never be known whether Hitsugaya left the door to Matsumoto’s room open on purpose
or not, but as he stepped outside to allow his vice-captain to rest, he seemed not all that inclined
to hide the fact that his face was flushed or that his hair was more disheveled than it had been.
It was hard to tell which of the three divisions currently standing guard cheered the loudest, but
he found himself laughing right alongside them, adrenaline rushing through him like the heat of
the strongest alcohol, and he didn’t feel the slightest bit embarrassed.
Unohana ushered the crowd out of her headquarters with a smile on her face, but it seemed like
that smile was what drove most of them out.
As Hitsugaya left and made his way toward his own division’s base, his soldiers walking in front of
him, he spied Kyouraku Shunsui watching him from beneath a nearby tree, chuckling.
Hitsugaya smiled at his compatriot, nodded, and didn’t seem surprised in the slightest when he
was informed later that evening that the order to report to the Commander-General had been
withdrawn.