Summary: Twenty six points in time to shape the lifeline of Matsumoto Rangiku, Vice-Captain of the 10th Division.
Pairing: Matsumoto Rangiku/Ichimaru Gin, Matsumoto Rangiku/Hitsugaya Toushirou
Disclaimer: Belongs to Kubo Tite and TV Tokyo, not me.
Original story: Two minutes without you, an eternity by your side by aviss
Notes: Many thanks to himawari, who said this version was better; to hecatehatesthat for the quick comments; and to raynos, the cutest little whip wielding beta ever.
Warning: Spoilers for the Soul Society and Arrancar arcs of Bleach.
Part 1 Part 2
I. The Notes of Matsumoto Rangiku
I hate my Captain.
It was bad enough that the entire Gotei 13 thought I only got to be Vice-Captain by sleeping with a superior officer. That rumor is still going around, though the name of the officer has changed over the years--last I heard, I had worked my "influence" on that nice Captain Aizen of the 5th Division. Which is only a little better than when I'd slept with both Gin and Aizen to get the position.
It's bad enough that they thought I only stayed the 10th's Vice-Captain because I slept with Captain Futaba. As if I'd touch that man with a ten foot pole. That rumor seems to have died down now, at least. They've seen how much work he piles on me. This doesn't keep them from cracking jokes about how I must be able to handle it; "given your rack, Matsumoto-san, you must have a strong back!"
How lucky they are that I am a conscientious officer, else I would turn Haineko loose on all of them.
He still refuses to let me show my skills to my own Division. "A woman only keeps her looks so long," he chuckles. "You don't want to ruin what you have left!"
Gin says that just shows how foolish he is. He says that Captain Aizen says that "Captain Futaba is a remnant of a dead and dying paradigm." I say to him, look around! How many female Captains are there in Soul Society? Unohana of the Fourth and Soi Fon of the Second. A Healer and a Spymaster.
He says, those are the jobs women are born to do: take care of the sick, and get men in trouble.
At least he knows me well enough to duck after he says that. And then he'll say something like, "Ran-chan, I know you're worth ten of your idiot Captain. When you reach bankai, everyone else will know it, too."
He can say those things now. He has faith in the system, does Captain-elect Ichimaru Gin.
Privately, though, I wonder. More women have reached vice-captain in the last fifteen years than ever before. Is it just bankai that holds us back? Or is it something else?
...ha ha ha, listen to me, sounding all serious! I can't help it on nights like these, when the sake is the color of the moon.
I have served that bastard for sixty-five years.
I have reached for my bankai for the last five of those years.
I know I have the power for it. Sometimes I get a tiny glimpse of that possibility in the fading heat of the ashes, the brush of Haineko's mind against mine.
But something is holding me back.
I think this WORLD is holding me back.
And I can't help but wonder if the other women feel the same way, too.
II. Captain Futaba's Notebook
Weather continues fine today.
Barely saw my vice-captain under all that paperwork. Ha! A woman belongs behind a desk, and she should know it. Missed her fine boobs, though. Thankfully, continued pleas to Soul Society tailors have been answered, and no one has produced a uniform that will close properly for her. Ha ha! Is good to be a Captain.
Had the most damnably weird chat with Sousuke yesterday. Was drinking in the 4th District bar and watching the girls dance when he came in. Said, Old man! Thought I'd never see you in places like this!
Said, in that polite tone of his, I sometimes strive to break the expected view of me. Do you have a moment, Shunsui-kun?
Told him I always had a moment for him. Went outside. Said, Shunsui-kun, you have always had a knack for swords. Could you take a look at mine?
Said, ya damn fool, why don't you take it over to the smithing division?
Said, I would prefer to have your expert eyes look at it before I bother them. They always receive the most minor complaints.
Pulled out his sword. Looked fine to me, an' I told him so.
Said, Thank you, Shunsui-kun. You may return to your drink now.
And off he went!
Always thought that man had curdled his brain. Too much thinking, just like his senior, Kisuke. Look what it did to him, ha ha!
Nicest man in Soul Society, though. No one can doubt that!
Am being sent on Hollow investigation tomorrow. Cracks in the dangai, yada yada, same stupid shit. Look forward to telling vice-captain she won't be going. She thinks she hides it, but she always get that look in her eye, like she wants to rip out my throat.
Like my old Captain in the 11th used to say, "Shunsui, that look'll lead to screwing on a desk one day. Never doubt it."
Just hope it doesn't take another sixty-five years.
III. The Experiment Book of Aizen Sousuke
Subject Fisher, second field test.
Exemplary performance. Managed to best third level Captain class opponent. Will continue with same batch of formula.
Weather remains cool and sunny.
The Plot Thickens
IV. The Notes of Matsumoto Rangiku
Captain Futaba is dead.
The old bastard is dead!
When they sent the courier to tell me, I had to restrain myself from jumping up and down and whooping. I convened the parts of the Division that were available and had the courier repeat the news to them.
"Who's in charge, then?" called out Fourth Seat Ikeda.
The poor courier looked really confused for a second. "Vice-Captain Matsumoto is in charge of your Division until further notice," he stammered out.
"Thank you," I murmured, and stepped in front of them all. "You have heard the orders. I am in charge of the Division until a new Captain is decided upon." I touched my sword. "And anyone who disagrees with Yamamoto's order can take it up with me at the practice fields, two hours before sunset. Now. You are dismissed!"
Would you believe that a couple of them actually showed up? I took great pride in grinding them into the dirt in front of their friends. That'll teach them what a pretty face and a nice rack can do.
Gin took me for a drink later to celebrate. "And just think," he murmured in my ear, "there's no one of ready Captain class talent in Soul Society right now. They'll either have to wait or..." he shifted a little closer, "they'll have to give it to you. And if you can reach bankai..."
"...it'll be my Division," I said. His breath was very warm on my ear.
"Exactly," he murmured, not moving. "Exactly."
He stayed that way for almost too long, then moved to get some fresh saké.
I spent the rest of the evening trying not to think about it. Gin, Gin, we've danced this dance for so many years...what are you waiting for? Or are you waiting for anything? Are you doing this simply because having the infamous Vice-Captain Matsumoto on your arm is some sort of privilege...or are you really waiting?
Maybe he's waiting for me to achieve bankai.
He's heard me rant for so many years about power imbalances that he's waiting until we're perceived equals before he courts me. We've always known he would attain Captain class one day--he's just too strong not to--but...
All this time, he's been waiting on me.
Well, that does it: I will achieve bankai. I will do it for my fellow female vice-captains, who suffer from the idea that they don't have enough power. I will do it for old dead stupid Captain Futaba, the final touch of grave dirt. I will do it for my 10th Division, that it may have a competent Captain for once.
And I'll do it for Gin. Gin, my oldest friend...
...soon we'll dance a different sort of dance.
V. The Personal Notebook of Yamamoto Genryusei
It happened a few nights ago, just after the cherry blossoms had fallen, that I awoke from my sleep with a desire to see the moon. Arising, I put on a surcoat of fine linen over my nightwear of slashed silk and took my leave of my dwelling.
It has long been said that the hill of the Soukyoku is the best place for viewing the moon within the Seireitei, as there is nothing to obstruct the view. But the hill of the Soukyoku is a dry, barren place, long deadened by the enormity of the power that sits, captured, upon it. Instead, I took myself out to where the 13th Division lies, just inside the wild hills that border our fair city to the East. There, though the moon's light would not fall unfettered, I could see it in a natural setting made pleasant under its soft glow.
As I stepped onto the outer corridor that would take me in that direction, I chanced to hear voices in a side corridor near me. I stepped to that place, interested to see who would be up and about at that late hour. As I rounded the corner, I heard only a few clear words.
"...and I find myself concerned with your..."
Then the speaker noticed me, and stopped. It was Sousuke, speaking to his former Vice-Captain, Gin. Although I have never found the latter to be of interest, Sousuke has always been a favorite of mine after the first captains, and for his sake I greeted the both cordially.
Sousuke replied politely in kind, though Gin said nothing. We exchanged pleasantries for a few minutes, the usual polite speech. The topic wound its way to the beauty of the night, and I asked if they, too, had risen to go moon watching.
Sousuke gave me his gentle smile. "Nothing quite so calming, Commander-General Yamamoto," he said. "Ichimaru has occasionally sought me out to ask for advice on his new Captaincy, and as such, will come to the Fifth Division offices to escort me back to my rooms once I finish my work."
"Ah, Sousuke, working so late?" I asked.
"It is nothing, Commander-General," he said. "It is just the usual duties of the Fifth Division Captain."
"You should take care not to overexert yourself, Sousuke," I admonished gently. "Else you won't live to see my age!"
For a moment the moon caught his glasses, obscuring his eyes. When it cleared, he said, "Such good advice, Commander-General. I shall try my best to heed it. And perhaps..." He looked slightly towards Gin, then back to me. "Perhaps you can offer some more advice."
"What has been troubling you?" I said in my most sage tones.
"The lack of Captain for the Tenth Division," he said. "Given the lack of true Captains to take his place, I fear that the Investigation Division will soon find itself in chaos. While its Vice-Captain is quite capable and experienced, I fear the amount of administrative work that flows through that Division would soon be detrimental to her ability to cope with it."
"Then what would you suggest to remedy the situation? There is no present Captain available to take that position."
He gave a slight bow of the head, a polite nod of agreement. "It is what Gin and I were just discussing, General. While we both believe that another Division captain should be appointed the 'temporary' Captain, there is a disagreement over who to appoint. He," and his voice took on an almost rough tone, "believes that he would be most suited for the position. I disagree. It is what we were discussing when you overheard us."
"I see," I said, and pondered this for a moment. There had been precedent for the idea of a temporary Captain, that was true. The situation had even worked out relatively well. That did not seem to present a problem, and I said so. "But--and no offense meant, Captain Ichimaru--the idea of a Captain with such little experience taking on a second set of duties does not sit well with me. It seems like it could be taken as favoritism, and that has the possibility of disturbing the tranquility of the Gotei 13. No, I fear I cannot agree with that. Sousuke, do you perhaps have a suggestion?"
"I do, General," he said. "Tousen Kaname. He served under me as a subordinate when I was the Vice-Captain of the Fifth Division, and has been a capable Captain for many years now."
"Hmm, Tousen. Of the Ninth Division, yes?"
Again, the polite nod.
"Hmm. I will consider your suggestions, Sousuke. But now--" I gestured to the moon, "if I am to see her before she sets, I must be on my way."
He gave a short bow, and Gin copied him, though not with the grace as his superior. I shook my head to myself; such a pity his former Captain's elegance had not rubbed off on him!
"If I may, General, one last suggestions?"
"One last suggestion," I said sternly.
"Have you read my reports on Hitsugaya Toushirou?"
The name, it seemed, was familiar, but I could not picture him. "I confess I must have not," I said. "Why do you ask?"
"He shows much promise," Aizen said. "Indeed, his teachers at the Academy proclaimed him a genius. If you are seeking candidates for the Upper Divisions..." He trailed off carefully, and from his eloquent silence I took the meaning.
"I shall look into it," I said, after a long pause to let things sink in. Then, "Good evening, Captain Aizen, Captain Ichimaru. May you find your way soon to your beds."
They both bowed formally. I inclined my head to them, and with that gesture, continued on my trip to view the moon.
VI. Gin's Notething
How Aizen-sama can wrap that man so easily 'round his finger, I'll never understand. One look at that face o' his and I just wanna punch him. Just to see what he does.
But he fell for it, and that's the important thing. Now I jus' hope Ran-chan won' kill me for "tryin'" to take her Division.
Aizen-sama keeps remindin' me that the plan is just between the three of us. "And that is truly one too many," he says, "but it cannot be helped. We cannot extend that circle beyond its limits, especially for old friends."
He's probably right. Ran-chan, she's got too good a heart to go where we're goin'.
Now if you excuse me, I got a semi-Hollow to torture. I dunno why Aizen-sama makes me keep this damn thing anyways. Honestly, I think it's for when he gets bored on the pot.
Gin. It is nothing of the sort.
VII. The Notes of Matsumoto Rangiku
Two years. I've been running this division for TWO YEARS. It's been me doing the paperwork, me running the men, me handling assignments, me up late every night in this office trying to sort everything out, me! Captain Tousen has occasionally had to oversee things, but otherwise, it's ME who has worked my ass off.
And now they're giving me a Captain.
As if those two years were worth absolutely nothing. As if everything I put into this Division was absolutely routine.
"Anger" does not begin to cover this emotion.
And now they want me to go meet the bastard.
Oh, I'll meet him. And if he's anything like Captain Futaba, the first thing he'll see on his desk is a transfer request.
VIII. Private Log of Hitsugaya Toushirou
When the news first came to me that I was to be promoted to Captain of the Tenth Division, I immediately sought out Captain Aizen. And though I have the utmost respect for that man, I was furious.
I slapped the scroll on his desk and said, "This is your doing."
He picked it up, read it, and smiled in that gentle, proud way he has. "Congratulations, Captain Hitsugaya."
My fist clenched. "Do not congratulate me," I spat. "This position is not meant for me."
"Oh? Then for whom?"
"Anyone but me, sir."
"And why do you think that, Toushirou-kun?" His voice was gentle and soothing.
"I am too young. I am too inexperienced. I have barely served as a seated officer. Just because I am a so-called 'genius' does not mean I should not serve like everyone else." I could feel my nails in my palm, but kept my voice level. "This promotion is a breach of Soul Society protocol."
His face softened, and he rose from behind his desk. Yet it was not to reprimand me, but to place a gentle hand upon my shoulder.
"Poor Toushirou-kun," he said, in that very quiet voice of his, the one he uses to calm the new Academy students. "The label of 'genius' lays heavily on your shoulders, doesn't it?"
I wanted to slap his hand from me. I wanted to yell that I did not need his pity. But I did neither, just forced myself to meet his eyes.
"It does. I have seen it," he continued. "You have been very brave, to move with such a label. Upon others, it has lain like a paralyzing hand, pushing their ability to act from them. Every move scares them. You have worn it very well, though, and that is why you are angry. Because you are afraid."
I could not continue to look at him; of their own accord, my eyes slanted away from his.
"It is understandable, this fear," he said. "You are afraid that you will make a mistake while you are still seen with the label 'genius.' You are afraid people will see that and name you fraud. You are afraid that before their eyes see you as Toushirou-kun, they will forever know you as that." He squeezed my shoulder lightly. "And that fear is, yes, understandable. But like the other fears you have swallowed, the fears the other geniuses could not, you must swallow this one. You must hold your head up high and walk with pride. You are a true genius, Toushirou-kun, and as such, it is your duty. Your duty not just to me, or yourself, but to the whole of Soul Society."
He took his hand off my shoulder and turned away. I was able to look at him then, even as I tried to absorb what he had just said.
"Do you remember," he asked, "your oath to the Gotei 13?"
"My oath?" I frowned, but then it was there in my mind, clear as the day I'd taken it. "Yes."
" 'I swear to uphold the laws and creeds of Soul Society'," he recited. " 'I swear to obey the orders of my commanding officer...'"
" '...and in turn, consider the orders I give to others'," I said with him. " 'Above all...'"
" 'I swear to protect the balance'." He turned slightly so I could see him in profile. "Such a simple, elegant oath. Obey the rules. Obey your commander. And always remember what your job is. Do this, and the world will remain stable. Do not do this, and things fall into disarray. And as you know, Toushirou-kun, the fight of order against chaos..."
"...never ends," I finished.
A slight smile. "Yes. And in that fight, there will always be leaders and followers." He turned away fully. "You were born to be one of those leaders, Toushirou-kun."
I do not think I successfully kept the shock off my face. I'd suspected such things, but to have Captain Aizen say it!
Then he turned back to me with a sheaf of paper in his hands. "You may refuse the offer of promotion to Captainhood," he said. "But in doing so, you would be denying your natural birthright in favor of fear." He touched my chin, raised it with the tip of his finger. "It would be a bleak day if you did such, Toushirou-kun."
He pulled his hand back and pushed the sheets of paper towards me. "But if you do not refuse, take these. The fear in you will never truly leave you, but there are ways to deal with it. I have often found the brush and ink a natural remedy to my own concerns." He moved around to sit at his desk. "You have ink and ink stone, I trust?"
"Yes sir," I said, in a voice that did not sound entirely like my own.
"Good," he said. "And now, Hinamori-kun will be here soon. Do you wish to tell her?"
I thought about it for a moment, then slowly shook my head.
He smiled gracefully. "Yes, yes. The side screen provides a second way out; you may use that to avoid her."
I reached out and picked up the scroll off his desk. After a moment, I also picked up the sheaf of paper.
The look of pride came back into his eyes. "Good day, Captain Hitsugaya," he said.
"Good day, Captain Aizen," I said, and left.
And so I consign this event to these sheets, in hopes of allaying my fears.
For as he so often is, Captain Aizen was right: I am afraid. I am afraid in a way that ties my stomach in knots and makes me restless at night. I am afraid in a way I don't think I have ever been.
But I will swallow my fear and take this position. I do it not for my oath, though. I will do other things in honor of that.
I do this for Captain Aizen, who has been kind.
I do this for Captain Ukitake, who believes in my potential.
I do this for Vice-Captain Hinamori, who always has a smile for me.
I believe in my power. I believe in my bankai. I believe in the acuity of my mind.
I do not believe in my ability to lead. I know how they see me. I know that they will see me this way for a long time to come.
But if these people believe in me...I can do it for them. I can be more than just a label. I can be a Captain.
I meet with my Vice-Captain tomorrow. I have heard mixed things of this Matsumoto Rangiku, but she has run the 10th Division by herself for a period of years. If anything, she has the experience I need.
I hope, in the end, she will come to have faith in me as well.
IX. The Experiment Book of Aizen
The weather has cooled. I fear our plum blossoms will be scant this year.
The "Fisher" continues to be our only success to survive. Gin had such hopes for Metastacia, but he, too, has been removed.
I worry not, though, and counsel the both of them to be patient. Time moves slowly in Soul Society, and we want them to continue thinking that way right up until we dissolve the ground beneath their feet.
Slowly, slowly, the pieces are moved into position.
Slowly, slowly, the game board is brought to its starting point.
Do you know of my plans, Urahara?
And if you did...
...what would your move be?
A Second Complication
X. The Notes of Matsumoto Rangiku
It's a kid.
A white haired, short, "genius"...boy.
He barely comes up to my breasts.
He scowls at everything.
And he has the coldest eyes.
XI. Private Log of Hitsugaya Toushirou
...that probably could've gone better.
I had never met Matsumoto Rangiku before today, only heard varying things of her. Some said she was a credible officer; some said she was a prop, though usually not in such nice terms.
I do now.
How am I supposed to deal with a Vice-Captain when I cannot look her in the eye?
Because my eyes are drawn to her gaping kimono?
Because that's how TALL am I in comparison to her!
The gods only know what I did to deserve this.
Aside from the height issue, I found her to be most professional. She seemed to accept my taking over the Captaincy with grace and poise.
I am not the most sociable person. Such things have never been an interest for me. But even I could tell that her manner was not her usual one.
And her eyes were so cold.
XII. Gin Notething
There're reasons Aizen-sama will be the only man I'll ever truly serve.
He understands my nature, respects it. He relies on my talents. He likes my cookin' and always does the washin' up.
And he does things like arrange for me to see Ran-chan meet her new Captain.
I knew it. I knew that little runt wouldn't be able to see a damn thing. He missed it all, didn't he Ran-chan? He missed how much you hated every word he said and every move he made.
Aizen-sama was right. This match'll cripple the 10th Division.
An' within fifty years, Soul Society will fall.
Things Continue Complicated
XIII. The Notes of Matsumoto Rangiku
This new Captain is either much braver than I thought, or much dumber than he realizes.
He knows he's tiny. You can see it in how he holds himself; with every move, he attempts to project something bigger.
As some say in the Gotei 13, "What you can't do with size, you can do with power."
He called the Division together. He just stood in front of them and didn't say a word. He let them look for as long as they wanted.
Then he pulled his sword--a movement so fast I could barely see it--and released it.
I confess, I did no research on the boy beforehand. I was too angry, too sure that he'd be another Futaba, to even take the chance of looking at his record. So I had no clue what was going to happen next.
I didn't expect the sky to darken.
I didn't expect the chill in the air.
And I certainly didn't expect a dragon that big.
It curled into the sky as if to touch the gathering clouds, then paused. It held at his command.
"If any of you have anything to say against my choice as Captain," he said, voice calm over the roar of the wind, "then speak now." His voice dropped, an impressive growl for his age. "Or speak never."
No one said a word.
He held the dragon in the sky for another moment, then pulled him back down. "You are dismissed!" he barked.
I've never seen the people in our Division move that fast.
When they'd all left, he turned to me and let out a slow breath. "Think that got their attention?" he said.
"Yes sir," I said.
His face lost a hint of its perpetual scowl. "Good," he said.
And I couldn't help but think, This new Captain may be worth watching after all.
Even if the Division should be mine by all rights.
XVI. Private Log of Hitsugaya Toushirou
If I had known that I'd spend my first three months as Captain doing paperwork, I don't think I would have ever accepted the position.
I don't think it's entirely Matsumoto's fault. If there's anything I've come to understand about my Vice-Captain--and that list seems shorter every day--it's that she has something to prove. To whom, I don't know. But she's been around a lot longer than I have, and her list is probably that much longer than mine. And if the paperwork I've been going through is any indication of what's actually been happening, then she has a better reason for the chip on her shoulder than I do.
I never knew Captain Futaba, but I sometimes find myself glad that he is dead. If he had retired into the Central 46, I would've feared for the whole of Soul Society.
Hinamori has come by a few times to check up on me. The last time, she stood watching me for a couple of minutes while I finished off a bit of paperwork, then started laughing.
"What?" I asked her testily. Or what she's always told me is testy. Hinamori has always been good at explaining my emotions to me.
"You look like a cat, Hitsugaya-kun," she said, giggling behind her hand. "A cat in its territory, making sure that everything is just so." She smiled at me, eyes brimming with light. There is nothing in this world like the light in Hinamori's eyes.
"I see you have taken to the job," she said, a little quieter. I don't think it was my imagination that Matsumoto suddenly seemed to be watching us. "Good. We were worried, the Captain and I."
I looked back down at my papers, all edges neat on the desk. It had taken over a month to get it down to this one small stack of papers. It may take another month before this Division functions as it should.
I shook my head. "You two have better things to concern yourself with," I said roughly. A pause, and I added, "But I thank you both for your concern."
She smiled in that glowing way of hers. "He said you'd say that," she said. "And I suppose I should let you get back to work, then?"
I made some reply that I don't remember, and she let me do just that.
I glanced over at Matsumoto to make sure she was still working and found her looking at me. "What?" I barked.
She gave me one of those "I know something you don't" looks. "Nothing, Captain," she said, sounding much lighter than before. I have learned when she gets that tone of voice that she is about to be annoying about something.
"Hmph." I did a little more work, then said, "Matsumoto."
"Yes, Captain?" And now she was trilling, another annoying habit of hers. Why the hell does she do that?
"Tomorrow, we are going to go down to the Division practice grounds," I said. "You have seen my release, but I have not seen yours. I wish to know how they will work together."
She said nothing. For a long time, she said nothing.
When I looked at her, she was staring at me, eyes wide. She, like Hinamori, seems to have a lot of light in her eyes. "What?" I asked.
Her eyes dropped. "...nothing, Captain," she said, voice suddenly without its annoying accents. "I will come prepared."
"Good," I said, and went back to my paperwork.
That can be hard to do when someone keeps staring at your head. Finally, I said, "Matsumoto..."
"Yes?" Impudent to leave off the Captain so soon, but her voice was weird too, so I let it slide.
"If you have no more work for this evening, you're dismissed."
"Ah. Uh. All right, Captain. Thank you."
The sound of her packing up has never been sweeter. It meant I could concentrate.
Just as she walked out the door, I remembered something else to tell her. "Matsumoto."
"I know that you usually drink tonight with Captain Ichimaru. But if you are to be at your full capacity tomorrow, I would advise against it." I didn't look at her as I said it. I didn't need to. I think my views were made clear when Captain Ichimaru came to offer me my congratulations.
She stopped, and I could feel her look at me again.
A prickle of embarrassment skittered over my skin. What kind of right did I have to tell her not to go drinking with her old friend? Even if her old friend had a fox face and a talent for causing trouble? I was her Captain, not the manager of her social calendar! Stupid, stupid...what did Hinamori always say about these situations? "If you feel you have made someone uncomfortable, apologize and try to explain your actions! Sometimes you just need to clear the air."
I cleared my throat and shuffled my papers. "Not that I meant that you should not see him at all. Just not drinking would be fine. Or perhaps not too much..." I trailed off, wondering what exactly too much would be?
"I understand, Captain," she said then, saving me from making an even bigger idiot out of myself.
"Oh, uh. All right." I lined the edges of the papers up for a second time just to make sure they were correct. "See you tomorrow."
" 'Til tomorrow."
Then she was gone.
I looked at the papers for another five minutes before I realized I wasn't reading any of them. My mind was too busy other places.
It's commonly agreed in the Gotei 13 that I haven't hit puberty, that I'm not a "true man" yet.
If this was anything of what it was like to be a "true man," I don't think I ever want to get there.
XV. Gin's Notething
Bad mood today. Aizen-sama's plan is too damn slow. I gotta look and act somethin' like a Captain for at least another twenty years. Twenty more damn years of responsibility and paperwork! I can't foist everything off on Izuru; bright boy, but is from some idiot school of writing that requires you to take a minute to make every character perfect. It's paperwork! Like Yama-idiot reads the damn stuff anyways.
And Ran-chan barely drank anythin' tonight. She nursed a saucer of saké for most of the evenin', but when I offered more, she refused. It took me twenty minutes to get out of her that she was gonna train with her Captain the next day and so had to be "at her best."
I don't think I've EVER seen Ran-chan refuse another drink. Not even when we were in the Academy and she had an exam the next day. "I do my best work hungover!" she would laugh, and pour another saucer.
But she refused it from me.
I ain't happy, and I'll have to tell Aizen-sama about it. I don't think he'll like what it does to our plans.
I don't particularly care for what it does to our plans neither.
XVI. The Notes of Matsumoto Rangiku
Gin told me today that he didn't like Captain Hitsugaya. Or as he referred to him, "That cold kid."
I opened my mouth to say, "That'd make two of us," and realized...it would be a lie.
I couldn't believe it. That man has my job. That man has the position I have worked years of my life to achieve. And yet...I like him.
So I told him, "He doesn't like you either."
"Huh! 'Course he doesn't. He's a block of ice. A short, pompous block of ice. How could he like someone of my warmth and charm?"
I smacked him lightly in the shoulder. "Your charm scares half the Gotei 13."
He was suddenly closer to me, the gap between us gone in the space of a breath. "But not Ran-chan?" he asked, running a finger along my cheek.
I swallowed at the line of heat he'd left on my skin. "No," I said, my voice gone wobbly. "Your charm never has."
He stroked my cheek again and murmured, "Good." Then he was away from me again, saying, "Wouldn't want to lose the faith of...Ran-chan."
I didn't realize until I was in bed that night that Gin had put in that little pause.
Once upon a time, that little pause would've put me on edge. I would've stayed up for half the night wondering what it meant.
To be honest, I would've done the same thing last week.
But I missed it then, too busy thinking about how I could like my new Captain.
How it was even possible for me to like my new Captain.
A workaholic AND a perfectionist.
He looks at you and you know he's judging you.
He's a demanding runt, too. "Matsumoto, do your paperwork!" "Matsumoto, stop sneaking off with the other Vice-Captains!" "Matsumoto, pull your own weight!" "Matsumoto, live up to my standard!"
"Matsumoto, don't betray my trust!"
...okay, he doesn't say that.
But I can hear him thinking it.
And that, of all reasons, is why I like him.
Because despite our differences, despite our completely different attitudes towards work...he trusts me. Implictly. Naturally.
It seems hard for him, sometimes. Like he's doing it because it's what he was taught. It IS what he was taught: your Vice-Captain is your right hand, they say in the Academy. He's not the first Captain I've met to be follow that.
But he's the first I've served under.
Damnit. Damnit. Damn it all.
XVII. Private Log of Hitsugaya Toushirou
Captain Aizen once told me that the thing to do when you were upset with a subordinate was to go away and make a list of how they upset you. After that, you make a list of their good qualities. Then, you reflect on those lists before you call them into be punished, in order to separate their misconduct from how you perceive them overall.
I feel foolish even trying to do it. But I have found Captain Aizen's advice to make sense above all others, so...
THINGS THAT BOTHER ME ABOUT MATSUMOTO RANGIKU
She is lazy. I know she ran this Division for two years, and I spend one minute out of every five wondering how this office still had a visible floor when I took it. She has all of these ways of getting out of actually DOING things. "Oh Captain, don't you know there's a vice-captain meeting today?" "Oh Captain, I have to go to the Shinigami Women's Association meeting! You know how Yachiru gets!" "Oh Captain, I stubbed my toe out running errands today, I should go to Fourth and get it looked at!" And then, gone! Aren't I supposed to okay these extraneous diversions?
She is stubborn and, for lack of a better word, ruthless about getting her way. She has this whole complement of looks she'll give me in order to get out of doing things. I'd ennumerate them, except I never have any time to count because I'm doing HER work!
She is vain. "Captain, does this kimono fit me right?" "Captain, is my hair fine today?" "Captain, I have dark circles under my eyes! I must be working too much!"
She drinks too much. Especially with that creep Gin.
She forgets things. Important things. Like that there's a Captain's meeting I have to go to in ten minutes and "oh, you shouldn't be late for those!"
She is emotionally manipulative. I have seen her "charm" the Third and Fourth seats into doing duties that are rightfully hers. I would countermand her, but I can't--a division cannot be shown between Vice-Captain and Captain. I gather it was that way before, and I will not tear down what I have already rebuilt.
She giggles inappropriately, often when Hinamori is present.
She eats all the office food, then looks confused when I mention it.
She always is trying to sneak saké in. As if I could not SMELL it when she tries to spike my water!
She naps on the couch! We are supposed to use that couch to entertain visiting Captains and their adjutants, and she sleeps on it!
THINGS I LIKE ABOUT MATSUMOTO RANGIKU
She listens to the important orders.
She knows things. She knows exactly how to reach every one of the Captains and their adjutants at any time of day. She seems to know Yamamoto's moods by the shift in the wind and the color of the clouds. She knows where to have clothes made, she knows who the best replacement sandal maker is, she knows where everyone gets their special accessories. She knows how much they all cost. She also seems to know every piece of irrelevant gossip in the Gotei 13, but even that has its uses.
She is fastidious about the hell butterflies. I have never seen anyone outside the Academy so concerned about a few damn insects. But it seems to mean she gets all the good news first.
She is an excellent fighter. Her kidou-spells are, perhaps, not as elegant as they could be, but they are powerful. She knows her basic sword forms better than I do. And I have never seen anyone take on that sort of glow when they fight. It is not like the 11th, an enjoyment of battle. It is the need to win, and win decisively, in her eyes.
When she is not getting them to do her work, she has the right touch with subordinates: commanding but gentle, as a Vice-Captain should be. And she seems to know all of their names, down to the unseated. If she does not, she learns it quickly.
She knows when to be quiet. For someone who can chatter on like she does, she has an uncanny knack for shutting up right when I need her to.
She is empathetic and open in ways I cannot be and for reasons I cannot fathom.
If she is out of the office (and when, it seems, isn't she?), she can hear me from any part of Soul Society. I do not know how she does that.
When she does her work, it is of an acceptable quality. Her handwriting is not perfect and not quick, but it has its own grace.
She is the most infuriating ball of contradictions I have ever met. She is the most interesting tangle of threads I have ever known. I never know what the next day will bring. This bothers me. It is also, annoyingly enough, a delight. Without her presence in the office, I fear this job would begin to bore me.
I do not know how any of this is possible. Yet I am grateful for it.
...Mmm. Perhaps this is why Captain Aizen does this exercise.
XVIII. The Experiment Book of Aizen
Lomas - deceased
Fantásma - deceased
Squamous - deceased
Wantabo - deceased
Mantila - deceased
Fisher - still operating
Cibola - deceased
Naifu - deceased
Barbed G - deceased
Only the Fisher continues to operate with some success. Gin finds it interesting that one our earlier designs seems to be the most workable, but I suspect it is the stock, not our enhancement, that makes the difference. Yet the Hollow traps only bring us so many workable specimens.
As he reminds me, though, we have the time. Our overtures to the already existing population of the maskless have met with success. They call themselves the Arrancar, and though their numbers are small--perhaps as many as the Adjuca, perhaps a few less--they make able servants. I have met with Tousen and approved his plan for our stronghold there, and he will leave next week to see it carried out.
Information has been brought to me on the whereabouts of Urahara. He has settled in a town called "Karakura" and opened a black market shop. His instincts, as always, are flawless.
The weather has been clear and quite warm for the season. I have laid a bet with Shunsui on the ripe crop of flowers in the Spring: he claims it will end with crocuses, but I know it will lead to a profusion of cherry blossoms. Two bottles of good Rukongai wine are at stake.
Part 1 Part 2