She awoke slowly, languorously, savoring the feeling of her dream still curling around her conscious awareness, though she could barely remember what she’d been dreaming about at all. She was in no hurry. By something unexplainable – perhaps the sunlight, or the wind, or the tangible relaxed atmosphere in the room – she knew that there was nothing to worry about for the moment, duty-wise.
Her yawning and sitting up had attracted someone’s attention.
“Oi, Matsumoto, finally awake?”
She turned to the familiar voice. “Did I fall asleep in here again?” she asked her chibi taichou with another yawn. “Sorry…I was just thinking about something, and obviously the weather was so nice for sleeping…”
“You fall asleep in here so often it’s more of your room than your actual one,” Hitsugaya grumbled lightly without looking at her. His head rested on his left hand while the right riffled through official documents and the like, not very interesting, but too important to be ignored. He was too cute with that serious expression on his face. “Anyway, Hinamori,” he said without looking up, “tell Aizen that I’ll be there in a bit. I have to find where Byakuya’s gone off to.”
Matsumoto turned at the mention of the name. Sure enough, Hinamori was standing just behind the couch, all girlish prim. “Good afternoon, Rangiku-san,” she said as she bowed politely to the older girl, though they were equals and such a respectful gesture was needless.
“Ah, Hinamori? Why are you here?”
“Oh, I just had to come to tell Hitsugaya-kun that Aizen-taichou asked him to meet with him, and to bring Kuchiki-taichou with him too.”
“Kuchiki-taichou? Of the 6th division? Why him?”
“His younger sister, Kuchiki Rukia, has gone and given her powers to some human, we don’t know who or why, but since no one’s been able to find her we need to make sure she’s apprehended. It’s not good, allowing a criminal too much free rein. I’d say a team’s going to be sent out, but Aizen and I need to talk it over to decide who’d be most…persuasive.” His inclined eyebrow in her direction indicated that the word “persuasive” was not necessarily a good thing. Hinamori, who had watched the entire time, was too naïve to understand the exchange.
“…well, anyway, I still have other messages to deliver, so I should be going,” Hinamori said.
“Yeah, I should find Byakuya, too,” Hitsugaya added with a sigh, getting up and walking to the front of his desk. “Matsumoto, you can stay here and watch the office; if I get any papers, stack them in chronological order and tell whoever that I’ll be back in a few hours.”
She nodded. “Got it, taichou.”
Walking briskly to the door, Hitsugaya waited until Hinamori had caught up with him under the doorframe before they left, without another word, in opposite directions. She watched them leave before flopping back onto the couch.
She sat for a while, letting her mind relax, as she started drifting off to sleep again. Matsumoto sighed. She was about to close her eyes when, all of a sudden, she noticed the black butterfly that fluttered through the open window.
She didn’t have to wait long for its message. “Kuchiki Byakuya has been located and informed of the request of Aizen Sousuke for their meeting. Please disregard all previous inquiries as to Kuchiki Byakuya’s current location. Therefore, Hitsugaya Toushirou’s presence is requested at once.”
“Just my luck…” Matsumoto muttered as she butterfly flew away. She shifted her legs to fall over the side of the couch and sighed. “I can’t let Hitsugaya-taichou be late for his meeting with Aizen-taichou…and wouldn’t you know it, the announcement would come not even five minutes after his leaving…”
She got up and headed off in the direction she’d seen him leave, praying that he wasn’t too far away. However, as she spread out her senses, Matsumoto found that she could find him quite easily and quite close.
She caught up to him as he turned a corner, about to call out to him and relay the message, before she stopped short.
He was no longer alone. In fact, he was walking with Hinamori. They’d left in different directions but obviously had met up somewhere along the way.
And he was smiling.
That was what really shocked her. Hitsugaya-taichou was smiling.
Matsumoto supposed that everyone had to smile at least once in their life, and she shouldn’t be so surprised that Hitsugaya could, after all. It was just that he’d sometimes seemed so unreachable, cold and aloof, a perfect captain if nevermind his youthful appearance. This was only the second time Matsumoto had ever seen his smiling face, and both times the recipient of it had been Hinamori.
The first time Hinamori had made him smile, Matsumoto had felt like an intruder walking in on a private moment, a private connection, that only those two shared. So why should she be surprised that Hitsugaya was choosing to smile only at Hinamori, again?
Matsumoto found herself deliberately following them as they walked around the vast halls, chatting together absently, but mostly just walking and enjoying the comfortable silence. Or rather, Hinamori would enjoy the passing scenery and Hitsugaya would enjoy the profile of her face, with a rather gentle expression on his own.
Why am I following them like some kind of sneak? Matsumoto suddenly asked herself, surprised at her own question, as she stopped in her step. If she was trying to remain unnoticed that proved to be a mistake, for as soon as the steady beat of her walks stopped, it was almost as if a melody had stopped playing – Hitsugaya came to his senses at once, stepping in front of Hinamori, hand almost (but not quite) at the hilt of his sword. Even with no danger a captain’s instinct was too strong.
And his smile had disappeared.
His knees had bent in a sliver of a defensive posture before they straightened, she having walked around the corner. “Ah, Matsumoto! What are you doing here? I thought I told you to stay in the office.”
“Oh…oh, yeah…” For a minute she had forgotten the reason why she’d followed him in the first place. “I got a message from a jigoku-cho, saying that Kuchiki-taichou already knows about Aizen-taichou’s meeting, so you don’t have to look for him.” She looked down at her feet. “That’s all.”
Taichou likes Hinamori. I can’t believe I didn’t notice it before.
“Oh…they already found Byakuya, huh.”
“Well, eh, Hitsugaya-kun,” Hinamori was saying, “since you really need to get to Aizen-taichou’s meeting, you can leave me here. It’s okay; I don’t mind. Thanks for walking me this far. I’ll see you later, okay, Hitsugaya-kun, Rangiku-san!” And she turned and took a separate path, though not before flashing the two of them a smile and cheerful wave.
The sound of Hinamori’s steps had nearly faded before Matsumoto tried smiling too, and looked up at her captain with a small, sly grin. “You’d make a cute couple,” she remarked, deliberately looking Hitsugaya in the eye.
“What? I’m only saying what’s true.”
“Don’t even think what you’re thinking, because…” he looked away, almost blushing, “it’s not true! We met up coincidentally while I was on my way East.”
Her smile might crack. “Sure, taichou…but if you have time to talk to me, don’t you think you’d better get over to Aizen-taichou’s office? You know how Kuchiki-taichou gets when he has to wait for something.”
“Point taken.” Hitsugaya scratched his chin. “Anyway, thanks for the message, but my prior instructions still stand. Hopefully I’ll be back soon, so until then the office is in your capable hands. Bye, Matsumoto.” He gave her an offhand wave before starting down the corridor directly perpendicular to the one Hinamori had taken, and in her opposite direction. She turned back to get back to the office.
Hitsugaya-taichou…she wondered what he thought. What he was really thinking when she teased him. Matsumoto saw a jigoku-cho go flying past, buffeted by the slight wind, before she suddenly laughed softly at herself and the direction her usually business-oriented mind had taken.
Hitsugaya-taichou is Hitsugaya-taichou, she thought, and in any case, I’m glad someone can make him feel like how he should – not the exalted captain everyone usually sees, but just a young kid in love for the first time. She smiled.
But was she really smiling?