Oh Captain! My Captain!

BY : BlueDragon
Category: Bleach > Het - Male/Female
Dragon prints: 25408
Disclaimer: I do not own nor make any profit off of Bleach and its characters. That all goes to Tite Kubo and affiliates.

A/N:

- I intend to take liberties as an author and make shit up in Bleach Lah-Lah Land. And here's how...

I adore this pairing, but so many times Toshiro ends up being a passive/submissive, pansy ass in some of these fics. His zanpakuto is a freakin' dragon of legend and he is a freakin' prodigy. This should indicate Badassedness or him being a BAMF. I also can't really see a healthy, warm-blooded woman who appears to be in her twenties being attracted to someone who looks like he should be in middle school. Even if he is her beloved Captain. Please don't stone me to death yet; I'm on your side! However, this is all about realism, right? Right (-_-).

So I offer to you my story as an alternative solution:

Set in the normal Bleach universe years after the fall of Aizen, Toshiro Hitsugaya has finally grown up. I like to think of him growing up to be physically similar to the OH-so-Tasty Grimmjow. Think about it... It's not hard to imagine, really *sighs dreamily*. Your welcome, ladies.

- I come from a family who use movie one-liners a lot. So at the beginning of every chapter, I will have a list of movies that I pulled from and mark them within the text with an asterisk. It's nothing critical or worth scrolling back up to the top for, just citing my sources. So...

Movies quoted or manipulated*: 300, NCIS (Gibbs Rules),The Last Samurai

 

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Chapter One

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The Head Captain's monotonous drone was making Toshiro's non-caffeinated brain lull. Although, he wasn't one to use profanity often, the phrase, “same shit, different day,” came to mind. He blinked hard a few times and tried to discreetly shake his head a bit to wake up. Cautiously glancing towards Old Man Yamamoto, he breathed a small sigh of relief that he hadn't noticed. Blinking hard a few more times, his eyes collided with those of Byakuya Kuchiki, who raised a stoic eyebrow, and Shunsui Kyoraku, who's eyes danced with laughter and lips fought not to smirk.

Damn. He'd been caught.

Prudently taking a deep breath, he froze in horror when a familiar zing burned through his nose and sinuses. Tactfully bringing his hand up to pinch his nostrils shut, praying that would subside what was coming, his eyes widened with dismay when a precursor tremor shot up his spine. His hand flew into his Captain's robe to snatch the handkerchief out of the breast pocket and jerked it to cover his face, barely catching the vicious sneeze. Most of the other captains jumped as it ripped through his body and shoved him a step back out of the lineup. By the time that not only the second but also third thunderous sneeze erupted from his body, he was bent over, with one hand on his knee and the other still covering his nose and mouth with the kerchief, staring at the floor blinking watery eyes. Once his head stopped buzzing enough to let him hear adequately, he heard a few soft chuckles. He didn't know if it was in sympathy or amusement, or even both, and he didn't care. If his soul could have left him because of a sneeze, it totally just did. Straightening back up and, with as much dignity as he could muster, he careful wiped his eyes and nose.

Turning back around toward the others and breathing deeply, his voice came out sounding like gravel when he croaked, “Sorry.”

He was a bit startled when, to his direct right, Zaraki's rough laughter rang in his ear. Clapping him roughly on the back a few times as if he were a choke victim, Zaraki growled, “Aww, does the kiddo have the sniffles?”

Others in the meeting tried to muffle their good-natured mirth and Toshiro glared at Squad Eleven's Captain with both disdain and sarcasm, “Maybe I'm just allergic to your... odor.”

Kenpachi Zaraki's surprised bark of laughter bounced off the walls loudly, “What are you talkin' about? This is the smell of a man, boy!”

Toshiro appeared unconvinced, “Right.”

Acknowledging the old man with a nod, “My apologies, Head Captain.”

The Head Captain's eyes were open and sparkling a bit, “Nonsense, Toshiro Hitsugaya. If you had been capable of keeping that in, your brain may have exploded.”

Almost everyone started laughing in one form or another; even the way-too-serious Soi Fon cracked a smile. It wasn't every day Head Captain Yamamoto cracked a joke.

Toshiro smirked. Raising his eyes to the ceiling and shaking his head lightly, “You mean it didn't?”

The Head Captain waited a moment for everyone to quiet down a bit and continued, “Now that Captain Hitsugaya isn't nodding off where he stands...” The old man paused when Kyoraku burst out laughing.

Toshiro had the grace to blush. Damn that old man! He didn't miss a thing!

As he glared at Shunsui, he noticed Kuchiki's eyes were closed. Toshiro's eyes narrowed upon further inspection. His brows appeared to be slightly frowning, but the corners of his mouth were twitching ever so slightly; the bastard had finally cracked a small smile.

Yes, yes. Let's all laugh at Toshiro today.

Toshiro donned an expression of extreme martyrdom and sighed deeply as everyone attempted to settle down after a minute or so.

The Head Captain lightly cleared his throat, “I believe that's as good a time as any to allow your proposal to be heard, Captain Hitsugaya. You have the floor.”

Making eye contact, Toshiro nodded appreciatively, “Thank you, Sir.” He confidently glanced around the room, “Due to the Seireitei no longer actively being in war time status or even on high alert for some time now, I propose we reestablish the War Games to keep our squad members sharp and to also promote team building and collaboration between our divisions.”

He paused momentarily; encouraged by a few of the surprised but positive glances the others were giving each other. “I think we all know how devoted our squad members are to their own divisions. However, we're also very aware of how they don't always get along when required to work with those outside of their own divisions. I realize the War Games haven't been utilized in over a hundred years, but this would be a great opportunity to make everyone work together. And who knows? They might even have fun in the process.”

Toshiro glanced at Old Man and nodded. The Head Captain nodded and called out clearly, “All those in favor of reestablishing the War Games, say aye.”

The room was quiet for a moment and just as Toshiro started to get worried, the captains started calling out their votes. Some of them he'd expected to not like the idea and remain silent, but he was surprised to see the room evenly divided. If it was a split vote, the Head Captain would choose, but before he could say anything, a last vote was cast. The owner of the growled out affirmation made most of the other captains blink in surprise.

Kenpachi Zaraki stared back at everyone, “What? Hey, I'm tired of everyone harping on me and my guys. Maybe this'll help get everyone off my damn back and leave me the hell alone.”

Almost in tandem, everyone's heads turned back to the Head Captain. He raised a dry eyebrow, “The ayes have it.” Pausing as a low murmur between the captains erupted, the eldest Captain allowed them a moment before he interrupted, “Discussion of the details will begin at next week's meeting.”

As the typical end-of-meeting topics were covered, Toshiro allowed himself a small, satisfied smile. He'd wanted this for a while. One lesson he'd learned was that team work and trust was a powerful weapon. If he hadn't figured that out from being a captain, he'd definitely done so when he and his Lieutenant were teamed up with Ichigo Kurosaki and the many others that had helped them along the way. They had been so much more effective against the enemy when they worked together and trusted each other to do their jobs separately. So often they were required to work with other divisions or with people like Ichigo and it was absolutely ridiculous how often squad pride got in the way or hindered a mission. He was all for being dedicated to your division, but when devotion interferes with getting the job done --the Hollow dealt with-- then it was needlessly dangerous. The bottom line was, if the captains and lieutenants could work together –well, for the most part-- then so could the rest of the Thirteen Court Guard Squad officers.

Toshiro glanced around the meeting hall. How he'd hated being short and so childlike. He knew back then that they had still respected him, but now it felt like he'd truly found his place amongst them. He'd come a long way since the days of Aizen and he wouldn't have gotten anywhere without his busty Lieutenant. Rangiku was sociable, easy to approach, and inspired his squad members like the most effective cheerleader you've ever seen. On occasion, some of his more conservative colleagues would fuss over how a captain and lieutenant shouldn't be so unorthodox and informal, but no one argued the strength of the Tenth Division. Its famed Captain had become a man that not only inspired its officers and members but also turned Squad Ten into a cohesive and impenetrable unit*; one that was every bit as formidable as Squad Six or Squad Eleven.

In fact, Eleven was no longer the only division to be honored with the subtitle of Combat Squad. Although he didn't allow his squad members to act like Zaraki's wild and bloodthirsty bunch, his division was just as deadly and, in his opinion, more effective. Squad Ten had been reclassified as a Combat Squad because they were known to be well-rounded and to excel in not just sword fighting but also hand-to-hand combat and kido. He didn't allow just anyone who managed to graduate from the Soul Reaper Academy to join his squad. No, he wanted his division to consist of intelligent, creative thinkers that could be thrown a curve ball and handle it in a variety of ways.

Other captains, like Kuchiki, had been approached with the same offer, but Toshiro had been the only one to accept. No one wanted to be associated with the likes of Zaraki. He'd looked at it as an opportunity. To kill two birds with one stone, as it were. It was the perfect chance to promote team building in his squad with other divisions and it also gave them a chance to show off their strengths.

However, much of this progress would not have been possible if he hadn't gone through the mother of all growth spurts.

Not long after Aizen's demise, Toshiro had gone into a phase. An eat-everything-in-sight phase. Constantly hungry, his stomach was a bottomless pit and he could never seem to fill it. This had been, of course, a great source of entertainment for his curvaceous Lieutenant. Catching him sneaking off in search of a snack had been one of her favorite things to do. She was like a damn ninja who loved procuring snacks and meals from seemingly nowhere just to feed him.

Seeing the results of his change in diet had been slow at first. In fact, Rangiku had been convinced that he'd had a tapeworm. She couldn't fathom how one person could eat the volume of food he was consuming and not gain weight.

Randomly enough, he'd even taken to drinking milk. Something he'd never craved before but, for a while there, he'd been going through about two gallons a week and driving Rangiku crazy with having to go get it. However, after many weeks of eating enough food to feed a small army, his damn clothes started shrinking practically before everyone's eyes. He'd been a bit self-conscious at first, but the tailor altering his uniforms and robes had said that he'd grown three inches in about nine weeks.

Within the first year of what his Lieutenant referred to as “Operation: Miracle Grow,” he'd had to go see his tailor weekly for alterations and gained over a foot in height and almost doubled in weight. At the beginning of the second year of O.M.G. --Yes, his annoying Lieutenant coined the term-- he'd started out kind of gangly, but at the end he'd jumped up another five inches and gained another 50 pounds. Only this time, he'd been filling in and a lifetime of hard work had given him an athletic and muscular build. Over the course of the next three years, he'd slowed down considerably but still managed to gain some weight and top off at a couple inches over six feet.

His frosty hair made him appear taller, but he was finally on relatively equal grounds with the other male captains. He'd gained a lot of confidence simply by being able to look everyone directly in the eyes; at eye level. Sometimes it surprised him but he guessed it made sense. For once he was the one looking down at someone instead of always looking up. Having the appearance of a kid had been his ultimate pet peeve and now it wasn't an issue anymore.

He was also quite a bit taller than his pain-in-the-rear Lieutenant; surpassing her at around year three. Finally. He got so much satisfaction from glaring down at her, it was sick.

The strange thing about all this was that he had already gone through puberty and was considered a sexually mature male before the growth spurt. He'd already gone through that hormonal and emotional hell a long time ago. Maybe it had been childish fears, but he hadn't changed physically for over ten years and had just assumed he was doomed to never look older than a middle schooler. He'd been flabbergasted that his body had decided to drop into second gear and shoot him through a secondary physical puberty. In the course of the last five years, he'd turbo-charged through a transformation that took him from what looked like a pre-teen to a man in his late-twenties.

Unohana had said that he was merely a late bloomer, but Rangiku suspected that whatever had been stunting his growth had been replaced by Miracle Grow and rocket fuel.

It had been a maddening time in his life and she'd gotten into the habit of inventing new euphemisms to affectionately call him. Due to his miraculous growth and the actual product Miracle Grow, she thought it was hilarious to call him her “little weed”; “little butterfly”, because of his metamorphosis; and “dragonfly” when he was being testy.

Another interesting characteristic that he'd gained had progressed in a much more subtle fashion. Similar to how Renji Abarai's zanpakuto had marked his body, Hyorinmaru had begun modifying him in ways beyond his snowy hair. It wasn't as flagrant as tattoos but his zanpakuto chuckled in craftiness, nonetheless. Once he'd reached about six feet, his pupils had started to vertically elongate. In normal or dark light, you honestly couldn't really tell the difference. However, it wasn't just in brightly lit areas that you could see them either. He was at his most “dragonish”, as Rangiku liked to say, whenever he was experiencing some sort of high or tumultuous emotion; his pupils got very, very narrow and sometimes appeared to disappear altogether.

His daytime vision was about the same; just sharper. His nighttime vision, however, was similar to that of a cat's. He used to bumble around in the dark just like everyone else until his eyes acclimated, but not anymore. His vision was so damn good at night that the dark wasn't even an issue. Sometimes he felt he could even see better in the dark than he could in the day.

Actually, all five of his senses had sharpened. Like that of a predator. With those heightened senses and dragon-based instincts came primal urges that he was still fighting to control. Some of them were simple enough, like scenting the air. He also had this really random attraction to gold and jewels, which he thought was odd. However, some of these urges were not so simple. The need to protect was a big one. It ranged from needing to cause bodily harm to anyone who hurt those close to him to even violently solving paperwork or squad issues that upset his Right Hand Girl. He'd become much more aggressive in his fighting techniques because of this, as well. He still wasn't one to usually lose his temper and still thought twelve steps ahead, but he was more likely now to viciously and savagely tear an enemy apart, literally, then he was five years ago.

Another big one was sex. He was definitely familiar with the female form and sexual gratification. In fact, if he started to get grouchy, it was usually due to one of three things: hunger, lack of sleep, or he needed to get laid.

Three years ago a nasty little Hollow had popped out of nowhere on the nicer side of the Northern Pleasure District. He'd been the first one on the scene, taking it out before the bastard could destroy much more than a few buildings. He'd been just about to leave when a smoky voice called out to him. The first thing he'd noticed about the owner of the voice was striking honey colored skin and long legs boldly exposed with a multicolored red-violet skirt that she'd wrapped around her hips like a sarong. The skirt was tied at her side and bared a generous amount of thigh all the way up to one hip. She'd had a loose fitting, cool cotton blouse on that exposed her lovely shoulders and a hint of cleavage and had a gold, gypsy-like chain tied around her waist. He'd had to force his eyes away from all that golden skin to notice the mass of long, dark auburn waves, a beautiful, mature face, and bright silver eyes. The sun had already fallen below the horizon, but the remaining light had lit her eyes up like illuminated mercury. She was the first woman to ever grab his undivided, aroused attention since he'd started changing.

He remembered taking stock of where he was and noticing the ritzy unnamed building behind her. It was a classy tea house known by locals only as Maria's and only those who were invited were allowed inside. The tea house was in the Pleasure District and he knew exactly what went on behind those walls, but Maria's was famous for being worth the hefty sum of cash also needed to enter. The owner of the establishment demanded her girls be respected by the clients with a zero-tolerance policy and, as a result, the ladies were confident, happy, and very good at their jobs. The tea house was first and foremost a tea house, not a whore house, and did not offer happy endings for just any customer. However, if they consistently minded their manners and were willing to dig deep into their pockets to pay the hedonistic fee, they were rewarded eventually with pleasurable company guaranteed to be disease-free.

The striking woman that had stood in front of him had introduced herself as Maria. Yes, that Maria. Her place had been next on the Hollow's destructive path and he'd saved her livelihood. By the path her sparkling eyes had taken of their own, she had been as impressed with him and his own exotic looks as he'd been with hers. Her lilting, sensual voice instantly made him think of spiced rum drinks and warm, tropical seas and by the look in her alluring eyes, she had been offering him a whole lot more than her best cup of tea on the house. He'd never really been interested in sex until that moment. One slow glance down to her fantastic thighs and back up to the warm smile and stunning eyes, so full of promise and pleasurable secrets, and he'd made his decision.

She was a fierce businesswoman and a no nonsense kind of gal and that translated into the bedroom. Somehow she'd known before even inviting him inside that he'd had zero experience, but she'd been a warm, patient, and demanding teacher. At first, he'd gone to see her once a weekend for several months. Besides educating him in ways that made every girl tremble with desire, Maria's big “life lesson” that she'd wanted to pass on to him had been simple. She'd taught him that you couldn't analyze or be uptight about sex. Sometimes embarrassing or funny things happened and you had to relax and sometimes laugh at yourself. There was enough pressure to perform and you couldn't let the little things bother you. Being a prodigy made him an extremely fast learner and it wasn't long after she had showed him the ropes that he'd figured out his groove. He was a demanding lover himself and once his dragon instincts started kicking in, he'd been naturally dominant and self-assured.

Their affair had lasted about a year. She never made him pay, to do so would have been an insult, but it had never been about money. They weren't exclusive to each other but neither had taken other partners. It was a few months in to their “mutual understanding” before he'd been told by one of her girls that Maria never took clients. In point of fact, he was the only one she'd taken as a lover in over twenty years. It was due to that little bit of ego-boosting information, that most of Maria's girls either outrageously flirted with him or flat out offered their services free of charge. Just to see why the boss kept the handsome, younger man all to herself and looked so satisfied all the time.

Maria had teasingly told him, about two years after they'd met, that she'd taken one look at him in his Captain's soul reaper uniform, watched as he'd taken out the Hollow with such force and verve*, and had decided then and there to take one for the team. There was no way she could allow someone of “his caliber” to go to waste and she had wanted to personally see to him becoming a fabulous lover; for the greater good of woman kind. He had definitely appreciated her efforts.

They'd both been brutally honest from the start. She would never fall in love with him, nor he with her. It had only been about physical gratification and sating each others' primal needs. And when the time came to end whatever it was they had, they did. He still went out there to see her several times a year, but they hadn't been intimate since then. Now his visits were about pleasant company and catching up over a cup of Maria's finest.

With his sharpened senses and dragon urges, sexual release, by means other than what his hand could provide, became a necessary requirement. He was no man whore, but he'd been with quite a few women since he'd stopped having sex with Maria. The longest he'd gone without was the six months after things ended with her and he'd soon realized one of the consequences of being sexually active. He physically needed the release that only a warm, feminine body could provide and if he didn't get it, he brought a whole new meaning to foul-tempered. It wasn't like he wanted to be impossible to be around or work with, so he tried to get his female fix about every three to four months. It was the only way he'd found to relieve the frustrated tension inside him besides getting involved in a very physical altercation.

So he'd set a few ground rules. He was known for them in his squad and, in general, had numerous. Toshiro had fifty-one so far. Rule #12 was to never date a coworker. He refused to get involved with anyone in the Thirteen Court Guard Squads; preferably no one in the Seireitei. There were just too many complications and possibly bad repercussions to even try. One policy he'd appreciated from Maria's establishment was that of discretion. He definitely recognized the value in that and it lead to the caveat of Rule #12 of never ever bringing anyone home with him. If he needed some relief, he generally stuck to reputable tea houses and brothels in the different Pleasure Districts. Those women were professionals and not only kept their mouths shut regarding who their customers were but also didn't get emotionally involved. The last thing he needed was to have some woman mooning over him and becoming a problem.

Toshiro blinked when he heard the War Games mentioned again by the Head Captain. He'd zoned out for quite some time. Focusing on the others, he was pretty certain the old man had only made a comment regarding next week's discussion over the various positions of the Committee in charge of the Games. He hoped that wouldn't take long. Next Friday was going to be a busy one.

With the weekly meeting adjourned, he methodically turned to leave the main hall in the First Division Headquarters. As he filed out slowly with the others, a few of the captains offered him congratulations for the proposal; some patted him on the back in sympathy and appreciation, he assumed, for providing this morning's entertainment. As he assured Unohana that he'd drop by some time to pick up her “Happy Time Antihistamine Cocktail,” his eyes made contact with that of Squad Thirteen's Captain and a small, genuine smile graced his features, temporarily erasing his ever-present furrowed brow.

“Jushiro,” he nodded in greeting.

“Toshiro,” he smiled engagingly.

Walking out into the open hallway, they stepped to the side allowing the others plenty of room to go their separate ways. The older white-haired Captain remarked with a dimple in his cheek, “Well, that was quite some meeting! I don't remember the last time we had one that was quite so lighthearted!”

Joining them, Captain Kyoraku chuckled, “Me neither.”

Toshiro glared pensively, “Yeah, thanks for nothing.”

Kyoraku laughed, “Aww, don't be like that!”

Ukitake chuckled and decided to give the younger Captain a break, “Have any plans for the rest of your day?”

Pausing thoughtfully, he gave a dry look in the direction of the Lieutenant's Conference Room, “Not really. Minimal paperwork to finish up, so I had a mind to hide from my Lieutenant in order to read a book.”

Ukitake chuckled, “Very good.”

Kyoraku smiled, “If you're hiding from her, she must be finally rubbing off on you.”

Toshiro glared at the door, “She's up to something...”

Taking note of how the younger Captain suspiciously frowned at the closed door, they both chuckled in amusement. With the exception that Toshiro could now look eye to eye with many of their peers, nothing had apparently changed over the years between the decidedly disciplined Captain of Squad Ten and its saucy Lieutenant.

Kyoraku grinned, “Perhaps it's due to her upcoming birthday?”

Putting on an annoyed front, Toshiro grumped, “Maybe. I went to the World of the Living a few weeks ago and she knows it. I've had to go through rather extraordinary lengths to ensure she doesn't find her present this time around. Hiding it anywhere within my own quarters is apparently child's play now.” He sighed, “Such a pain.”

Ukitake laughed, “Find all of your hiding places, has she?”

Toshiro's expression soured, “This last Christmas, I hid her present under the floor with multiple concealment incantations! I came home to a wooden plank missing, a scorch mark, and a note from Lieutenant Hinamori stating, 'She made me do it!' ”

Kyoraku laughed and sighed mirthfully, “Well, she certainly keeps you on your toes. Think of this as 'promoting creativity', in that you'll never be able to use a hiding spot twice.”

Toshiro sighed, “Yeah well, if she finds this one, I'll promote her to toilet duty.”

Jushiro and Shunsui laughed, something they'd been doing more and more often as the young Captain loosened up over the last few years, and Toshiro smirked thinking about what Rangiku's reaction to toilet punishment would be like.

Ukitake asked amiably, “Will you let us know when the party will be?”

“Of course.” Frowning comically, he joked dryly, “I suppose I should get on that. Seeing as it's next week.”

Kyoraku's smile broadened, “Well, I'm looking forward to it. She always finds the best sake.”

Toshiro's smirk disappeared and his face went blank, “Which she hides in my personal work space.”

The pleasant breeze carried their chuckles down the quiet, open hallway and the captains soon said their genial farewells and parted ways with Captains Ukitake and Kyoraku going one way and Hitsugaya the other.

Toshiro exited the Squad One building and flashstepped across the rooftops to his own division. He landed with a grunt and paused at the wide open doors of the Squad Ten Main Office building.

Usually September was fall's last ditch effort to give him a heat stroke, but last night's front had blown through to surprise him this morning with cooler temperatures. Not by much, only dropping down with the promise of being in the upper 70's, but cooler was cooler. He expected it to rain at least one more time before Rangiku's birthday party and he hoped they wouldn't have to move it inside due to the weather.

A favorable breeze happily meandered through the building and he realized his Fifth Seat must have read his mind. The day was going to be far too nice to allow the building to be closed up. Glancing skyward for a moment to watch the variously sized, puffy cumulus clouds drift by, a small smile graced his features before he stepped forward.

Lingering over the threshold, he looked down the wide, empty hallway that branched off perpendicularly to the right. The door at the end was open, too. That particular door preceded the covered breezeway and lead out into the large courtyard and also to the Squad Ten Barracks. Not turning right, his feet carried him past the bright hall and, as he strode unhurriedly past the deserted Officer's Lounge, the frosty headed Captain noted that most of the windows were open, as well. Judging by the shouts he could discern from far out in the courtyard, it appeared his squad members were still training. They sounded fairly enthusiastic today.

It was Friday, after all, and everyone anticipated getting off early. Toshiro hated Fridays just like anyone else, but he reserved the right to adjust the work week any way he pleased. As long as the amount of hours worked was the same, no one cared what the captains did in that regard. So, he took off two hours on Fridays and, hating Mondays too, tacked it on to Tuesdays and Thursdays. Everyone not on rotation for night duty, “clocked out” at a nice 3 pm - 7 pm - 5 pm - 7 pm - 3pm, every Monday through Friday. They were still on call on weekends and all after-hours --After all, they were soul reapers-- but his squad and Lieutenant loved him for the schedule. Funny what simply manipulating and tweaking work hours would do for squad morale.

He was sure the cool breeze ebbing and flowing through the Squad Ten grounds had something to do with their raised spirits, as well. He knew he sure appreciated the welcome reprieve, which is what his Fifth Seat was probably counting on. Right now she would be with the rest of the squad, so he made a mental note to thank her before she left for the day.

Arriving at his closed office door, he fleetingly looked down the rest of the hall that lead to the open back door. The door lead out into his private “Training Facility” but, really, it was just a back yard. Sliding the door to his office open, Toshiro walked in and headed towards the large, closed window behind his desk.

No one was allowed in his office when he and Rangiku were out and he liked it that way. He might have lightened up in recent years, but he still liked his privacy. “Or some semblance of it,” he grumbled.

Pulling the vertically split windows open, he sighed when the fragrance of flowers wafted over his face. Rangiku's sudden inspiration to “beautify the facility” this spring was an ambitious one and her efforts stopped with his back yard once she realized she had to get dirty. She didn't let potting soil stop her, though. She merely flashed her famous pout, batted seductive lashes, and shamelessly flaunted her ample bosom to turn most of his men and even some of the women into a herd of slack-jawed idiots willing to do whatever ridiculous task she'd set out to do. He had to give her credit, though. Her mob of blushing zombies had made the covered deck and yard an explosion of beautiful colors and smells that was something to behold. She'd even gotten a few of her “landscapers” to maintain everything so she wouldn't have to; didn't even water the damn things.

He rolled his eyes, “Heaven forbid she gets any dirt under her nails.”

Then early summer, she up and had them rip everything out for things that could handle the heat of late summer. Right now it was a cacophony of magenta-pink Yarrow, practically neon-lavender Purple Coneflower, bright yellow Gloriosa Daisies and Goldenrod, startlingly cobalt Blue Asters, and deep violet Salvias. And he loved it. He'd gained a great deal of contentment hearing the lazy drone of bees buzz by, heavily laden with pollen; or the deep hum of vibrantly colored hummingbirds either squaring off to fight or dancing around over bright, nectar yielding flowers. This summer he'd often been caught daydreaming, practically hypnotized by the bombardment of colors and sounds. Much to his chagrin and much to his Lieutenant's lackadaisical delight, being found passed out in his chair with his feet propped up on his desk was also a common occurrence; apparently, one of her goals in life was to see him mellow out.

He sighed. So here he was, staring at flowers again. He always lost all track of time because of the damn things and this was no exception. Stupid flowers.

Feeling the prickle of her distinct reiatsu moments before hearing the thunder of her running footsteps, she slid into the open doorway with a giant grin and jazz hands.

Laughing as she slid to a stop, she exclaimed, “Ah! You beat me!”

Watching as she settled her hands on her rounded hips and tossed him a pretty pout, his white eyebrows raised as his expression morphed from surprise into sarcasm, “Were we racing?”

“Well, not exactly. I just wanted to get here first.”

Schooling his features, he deadpanned, “Why?”

Warily she sauntered toward the kitchenette attached to the office, “Because I wanted to have tea ready for you...”

Same features, “Why?”

Her light, crystal blue eyes widened and she lowered them almost bashfully, “Because I--”

“--Because you want something,” he finished for her with an exasperated growl, not believing her feigned innocence.

“Well, I was going to say 'because I'm a nice person', but--”

“--What do you want?”

Her eyes flashed and she huffed at his tone. Tossing her long, blonde locks over her shoulder, “Okay, I do want something.”

“Ha.” He knew it. With a smug expression, he folded his muscular arms across his broad chest and leaned against the wall.

Her eyes narrowed and her chin lifted stubbornly, “But first, I'd like to make tea!

His dark teal eyes glared down into her pale, sky blue orbs as she challenged him silently to a non-blinking battle of wills. After about 30 seconds, he sighed forlornly in defeat, and growled out, “Fine.”

Her features immediately softened with a genuine smile and she walked past him to slide the door open to the kitchenette. Before she walked through, she turned back towards him, “Oh! How'd the meeting go?”

He knew she was referring to the proposal and smirked, “It was accepted.” At her happy squeal, he smiled, “It looks like we'll decide who to put on the Committee next week. It'll take months to put together and I can't see the Games beginning until at least next spring or summer, but--”

“But it was approved!” She smiled largely and walked through the door calling over her shoulder, “Oh, it's going to be so much fun! Do you know if the lieutenants will be able to participate?”

He sighed agreeably and made his way towards one of the office's pale yellow sofas, “I have no idea. At this point, you know as much as I know. We probably won't get into the thick of details for a couple of weeks.”

It had actually been Rangiku who had inspired him to make the proposal. She had burst into the office one day, bubbling with excitement. Apparently she'd come across a book in the library --a scary thought in itself-- that had a section talking about how the Thirteen Court Guard Squads used to have tournaments and festivals to encourage pleasant feelings among the divisions in times of non-war.

Toshiro settled onto the sofa and sighed. He could hear her rummaging around in drawers and cabinets. She hadn't said anything in a few minutes. Obviously focusing on her task at hand, Toshiro quirked an eyebrow in curiosity when her reiatsu fluctuated.

Opening a high cabinet and pushing some of its contents aside, Rangiku reached in and grabbed a pretty green six inch square container hand painted with bamboo and set it on a serving tray. Bending over to open a large cabinet next to the sink, she crouched down and pulled out a stack of pots and set them on the floor. Reaching further into the cabinet, she lifted off a pot top to reveal a pink 4x10 inch oval bento with delicate little white blossoms painted on the lid and took it out of the pot and placed it onto the tray. Stuffing everything back in the cabinet, she stood and nervously rechecked the tray's contents while she waited for the water to heat. She hadn't done this, at least not formally, in a long time and mentally went over the steps again. The charming, white matcha bowls on the tray already contained a liberal, yet specific, amount of sifted matcha green tea powder and all that was left was the tea kettle. She didn't know why she was getting anxious. This was Toshiro; her Captain. They may banter back and forth and pull pranks on each other, but he was the one person she trusted above all else.

It wasn't that she feared his reaction to the request she had in mind. She already had an idea of how he was going to respond. The tea ceremony, or partial tea ceremony, was something she'd never performed for him before, or anyone else for that matter, and the rituals were deeply personal to her. She wasn't going all out by any means, formality was clearly not in her nature, but the simple gesture and sentiments behind it revealed a part of her soul that she wasn't comfortable sharing with just anyone. She had no idea how he'd react and she hoped that he would allow her to do this.

Drumming her nails restlessly on the counter top, she heard Toshiro call out stubbornly, “I'm not going to tell you where your birthday present is!”

All the tension that had been building instantly melted away and she smirked. So he did get her something on that last trip.

“So, if that's what this is all about...”

Popping her head in the doorway, she saw him lounging on the sofa with an arm draped casually over the back and laughed lightly, “Not even a tiny peek? Just to see what shape box?”

Yanking his gaze away from the window, his eyes collided with her amused ones and he half-yelled, “No!”

She playfully pouted at his frown and whined, “But, Captain!”

He growled in warning, “Rangiku...”

“Hold that thought.” Hearing the kettle water start to boil, she quickly pulled it off the burner and set it on the tray. With everything situated just so, she grasped the tray handles and took a fortifying breath before carefully walking back out in to the office.

Toshiro crossed his arms over his chest and sulked at her abrupt departure. Hearing the rattle of the serving tray, he looked up. Watching as his notoriously extroverted Lieutenant gave him a shy smile, his snowy eyebrows rose towards his hairline in surprise when she self-consciously kneeled at the foot of the coffee table near his legs. As she set the tray down and sat on her heels, he eyed its contents and placed his hands on his bent knees. Astonished, “Matcha?”

Setting the containers on the table, she hummed in affirmation and slid his pre-warmed matcha bowl in front of her.

As she reached for the tea pot, Toshiro caught her left hand. Gently enclosing her soft fingers within his larger right hand, he leaned towards her and muttered gruffly, “I am capable of serving myself...”

Her eyes widened and she whispered, “I know.” His warm hands were soft and yet the texture of his skin was rougher than she had expected. He was staring deeply into her eyes, as if trying to figure something out, and she couldn't stop the faint blush from fanning across her cheeks.

Frowning as he watched the myriad of emotions cross her beautiful face, his voice deepened, “In this office, we're equals. You're not some... tea house serving girl to me...”

Her pale, ice blue eyes softened, “I want to.” His eyes widened and she continued with a small, knowing smile, “Won't you let me be a girl for you? Just once?”

His grip on her hand tightened slightly and as his eyes softened in amusement. He slowly moved his thumb across her palm in soft, subtle strokes, making her skin tingle. She doubted that he was even aware he was doing it, but the nerve endings in her hand sure were.

For the first time in all the time she'd known him, a very male smirk lifted the corner of his lips exposing white teeth. Dragony pupils almost nonexistent, his eyes glittered like dark blue tourmalines and it felt like a physical caress when he scanned them down the column of her neck and straight down to her cleavage. Her heart hammered in her chest and her lashes fluttered when she got the distinct impression that he liked what he saw when his face softened in male appreciation as they traveled over the exposed, flushing skin.

Dragging his eyes back up to hers, he murmured, “Rangiku... How could I stop you from being a girl, when you are one to your very core?”

Rangiku found herself close enough to breathe in his scent. He smelled wonderful, like autumn and warm skin, and she found herself getting kind of hot and dizzy. Awareness weighed down her eyelids and, as she lost herself in the burning teal of his eyes, she whispered in a smoky voice that grabbed his full attention, “Captain...” She paused, swallowing, “Please, let me serve you.”

The innuendo wasn't lost by either of them and as Toshiro gazed at her, submissively sitting near his feet and pleading with eyes the color of lavender mist, something savage deep inside of him growled in approval. Heavy lids lowered to half-mast and, focusing on her delicate throat, time slowed down as he felt, more than saw, the pulse of her rapidly beating heart; drugging him. His eyes became unfocused and her small intake of breath brought his attention back up to her parted lips. The urge to nip the small beauty mark near the corner of her pouty lower lip overwhelmed him and he watched her mouth draw closer, not realizing he was leaning forward to taste her.

A nearby explosion shook the Squad Ten office walls, causing both of them to jump in fright. Jerking his head toward the window, Toshiro heard an easily recognizable manic laugh. He gritted his teeth and growled lowly, “Madarame...” Judging by the reiatsu and overconfident shouting, the lunatic was sparing with Lieutenant Iba over who would buy the next bottle of sake. If they came any closer to his grounds he was going to personally go out there and kick their asses.

Growling low in his throat, he turned back around and realized resting upon his knee were Rangiku's soft, feminine fingers still protectively gripped in his own. Her flustered eyes moved from the window and back to look up at his face.

They both realized what almost happened and his cheeks were on fire as a result; he knew he resembled a tomato. Even after all this time and being a sexually aware adult, she still made him feel like a bashful teenager. However, instead of releasing her as if she'd burned him, he slowly let her trembling fingers slip through his own; making sure to drag the pads of his fingertips across the tops of her smooth digits.

Rangiku felt her cheeks getting hotter. With the warmth of his callused hand not seeping into her skin and wreaking havoc on her senses, her mind was able to focus again. What the hell was wrong with her? She was no blushing innocent! She was Rangiku Matsumoto! Femme fatale and buxom blonde, Lieutenant extraordinaire!

Clearing his throat lightly as she collected herself, he glanced over to the forgotten tea set and his eyes softened, “Do as you wish...” He paused, eyes dragonish and glittering with both amusement and awareness, “I won't stop you...”

Snorting lightly and grinning, “Well, it's about time,” she muttered.

Placing her well-manicured hands upon the tea kettle, Rangiku lifted and elegantly poured a generous and specific amount of steaming water into his matcha bowl. Setting the kettle down, she daintily grabbed the bamboo whisk off the tray and delicately began rolling her wrist, gently whisking the tea. Once the tea had a frothy layer of velvety smooth light jade green bubbles on top, she set the whisk aside and used both hands to gently lift and set the bowl in front of him.

Having become mesmerized by her graceful movements, he blinked a few times before leaning forward. Casually lifting the bowl by its lip with his right hand before using both to cup it, he looked at the vivid, grass green tea within the confines of the warm, stark white matcha bowl. Breathing deeply of its aroma, he took a sip. Rolling it around in his mouth, he sighed with pleasure: complex, delicate, with a velvety, sweet finish. “That's not half bad,” he smiled, teasing her.

She had watched him the entire time; paid attention as he rolled it around with his tongue, washing the tea over his palette; savoring it. Observing him relish the taste had made the fluttering in her chest settle down into her belly. She felt a longing for something she knew she shouldn't have. Watching him genuinely smile at her before taking another careful sip, she smiled back, “I'm glad you like it.”

Holding the bowl in one hand, he gestured to the tray with the other, “So what's this all about? Besides the fact that you want something from me.”

Her eyes widened like she'd been caught, and he smirked, “You didn't think I'd forgotten about that, did you?”

Pouting, her eyes sparkled with amusement, “I'd never ever dream of it.” She glanced at the tray, “Speaking of that!” Reaching over, she lifted the lid off of the pink, oval bento, revealing a container stuffed with his favorite sweet, “Amanatto and...” Lifting the top off the green box, four 2-3 inch circular and pillowy confections --two light turquoise and two light pink-- greeted his amused eyes, “Daifuku!”

He sighed. It used to embarrass him to be bribed with sweets, but back then it had been because he didn't want to appear childish for enjoying them. He didn't look like a snot-nosed brat anymore and, well... He was a grown man, damn it; if he wanted to indulge himself with a sugary treat, he damn well would!

Snatching a turquoise daifuku mochi, he teased her snarkily, “Want me to kill someone, this time?”

She burst out laughing, “No! Actually, it has something to do with next week. I was wondering if, since my birthday is on Friday, if I could get off early?”

When a small furrow creased his brow, she smiled pleadingly and pouted softly, “Pleeease?”

He knew better then to immediately give in to the simple request. She'd be a useless pain in the butt all week long if he did that. And she certainly didn't need more time on her hands to tear his personal quarters apart looking for her present. He looked at her thoughtfully, “I tell you what... If you keep up with your paperwork and get Friday's done beforehand, I'll think about letting you go after the meetings.”

“Sah-weet!”

He smiled, “But no slacking!” Looking at the squishy treat in his hand, he sunk his teeth into it, sighing when he tasted the sweet red bean paste.

She exclaimed excitedly, “I won't!” While he chewed, she held out a small plate for him to put the remaining sweet on.

Watching her set the plate on the coffee table in front of him, he swallowed and took another sip of his tea. “Now that hits the spot,” he sighed.

Realizing she still hadn't made her own tea, he urged her to do so. While she went about the visually attractive ritual again, he casually commented, “Isn't this all a bit overkill just to get off early? The sweets I get, but the tea ceremony?”

She smiled and countered, “Can't I make tea for you without some ulterior motive?”

Toshiro's lips quirked, “You always have an ulterior motive.” Taking a sip from his bowl he paused in thought, his eyes losing their teasing edge, “You've never done the ceremony before. I can't shake the feeling that this is a lot bigger deal then what you're letting on.” Plucking a piece of amanatto from the box, “And when you were in the kitchen, your reiatsu was all over the place...” He gazed at her searchingly, “Like you were nervous.”

She sighed. He knew her too well. “Actually, I was inspired to make matcha from a dream I had this morning. It was a flashback to when I was a little girl. I've never told anyone this, but... before Gin found me in the 64th district of North Rukongai... I was raised by an old man in the 34th district.”

His teal eyes widened in surprise and, as she whorled the bamboo whisk in her tea, a faraway look crossed her face.

A soft smile lifted the corners of her mouth, “I don't even remember his first name. I just called him 'Tanaka-san' or 'Ojii-san'. He owned a tea house; one of the nicer ones in the district. In tea, flower arrangement, and philosophy, he was a master of his craft...”

Toshiro's features relaxed. Not much was known about Rangiku's life before Ichimaru found her. Her file only stated that she was found in the 64th. Most people at some point reveal something about their pasts, but never his Lieutenant. Whenever anyone inquired, for whatever reason, Rangiku would disingenuously claim she didn't remember. He knew it was a lie but, to her credit, she had never tried to mislead him. Whenever he'd breach the topic, she would either change subjects or simply not answer. It had hurt like hell. He'd thought that they were friends and, as he saw it, she hadn't trusted him. It had been a sore spot between the two until she had finally relented and told him that she didn't like talking about her past. It was too painful; she respected him too much and refused to insult him by lying to his face. So, he'd let it go; figured she'd tell him when she was ready. That was probably over 20 years ago. He never would have guessed that tea would lead to this conversation.

Noticing how she kept using the past tense when talking about the old man, he asked somberly, “So, what happened to him?”

Her small smile faded, “A Hollow had found its way into the district. I know now that it was just an ambitious Adjuchas. His cero wiped out the whole block... The only reason I survived was because the tea house was just far enough away and Tanaka-san shielded me from the blast.” She swallowed thickly, “He had wrapped himself around me; there was so much blood... I still remember the smell of his burned body...”

She hesitated with haunted, hollow eyes, “With his last breath, he told me to run and I was so scared, I did. I was so blinded by tears and this horrible fear that the monster was following me, that I ran until my shoes ripped and tore off. From there I walked until I collapsed from hunger. I don't know how long I laid there; it could have been days, but that's where Gin found me...”

Toshiro frowned, “I'm sorry.” What a horrible experience for a young girl. He paused and wondered aloud, “Why didn't you tell me about this sooner?”

Setting the whisk down, she used both hands to cup her matcha bowl and looked down into her tea, “I don't know, really. I can't say, at the time, that I felt I couldn't relate to a kid because if anyone would've understood being torn away from their grandparent, it would have been you. I guess my mindset back then was that everything had already been taken away from me, but no one could take my fondest memories. They were mine and, although getting involved with the Thirteen Court Guard Squads had essentially saved my life, I wasn't going to share them. Even just to put on my file.”

Breathing in the smell of the tea, she took a sip and her eyes brightened, “It's not as good as Tanaka-san's, but it's not too shabby.” She chuckled as a flashback washed over her, “He used to say that you had to enjoy the simple things in life: the perfect cup of tea, a beautiful sunset, a field of flowers to lie in just to watch the clouds roll by. He told me I had that part down pat, but that when it came to the ceremonies and flower arranging, that I should probably devote my time to something else.”

Toshiro smiled when she laughed softly, “Lazy slacker even back then, huh?”

She smirked, “Not really lazy. I was full of energy, but wasn't nearly demure enough for the ceremonies. And I talked way too much.”

His eyes narrowed sarcastically, “Imagine that.”

She chuckled, “Tanaka-san told me once that it was a real shame because I looked really cute in a kimono. Apparently that's a requirement.”

He smirked and asked, “So what was your dream about?”

She smiled warmly in response, “I was sitting on the kitchen counter watching him prepare different sweets. He was quizzing me on the different types of tea and flowers for each season; I was getting a treat for each right answer.”

Astute as ever, his eyebrow rose, “And a wrong one?”

Her eyes narrowed, “A chore.”

He laughed softly to himself. He could just imagine little Rangiku Matsumoto, maybe around six or seven years old, in a little pink, floral kimono with grass stuck in her hair and grumbling because she had to take out the garbage or do the dishes. He bet she was a cute kid.

She paused, thinking back to those simple times, “I loved watching him work. He was always so calm and peaceful. Every movement of his hands was elegant and smooth; the result of a lifetime of dedication. In fact, everything he did seemed to be part of a sacred ritual. He incorporated dexterity and a graceful artistry into each day*, whether he was cleaning the tatami mats or making breakfast.”

Taking a deep breath and exhaling, she took a generous sip of her tea before continuing, “It wasn't until I was found by Gin and in the Soul Reaper Academy that I realized it was unusual for those outside the Seireitei to eat. Tanaka-san hosted ceremonies for those that did; we did; it was completely normal. I never even noticed if the other kids in the area didn't.”

Toshiro nodded, “He must have had at least some spiritual powers to need food. If he catered to soul reapers, he'd need a little to handle their reiatsu.”

Popping the forgotten piece of amanatto into his mouth, he chewed the sugary candy for a moment before taking a sip from his own bowl, “How come you haven't made matcha before now? You could have easily done so without having to explain yourself, you know.”

Stealing a piece of his amanatto, she chewed thoughtfully for a bit before answering, “At first, because it reminded me of him. Now? I guess I put it out of my mind for so long that I just didn't think about it anymore; you were already used to the regular green tea. So, out of sight, out of mind? When I woke up this morning, it was like my brain just exploded with memories. I'm still stunned that I had forgotten at all... and then it suddenly hit me. If I could make matcha for you then maybe a little bit of Tanaka-san's legacy could live on. Even if I'm not very good at it.”

She stared into her bowl and a small frown creased her brow, “I owe him so much. I wonder if I let him down...”

Toshiro's face softened, “I bet he'd be very proud of you; of whom you've become. Have you forgotten what a high honor it is to escape the Rukongai and to become one of us? And you're not just a soul reaper, but a lieutenant. To be able to not only provide for yourself but also be able to protect others from the Hollows that initially took so much from you. What more could a guardian ask for, for his child?”

Her cheeks warmed and her smile made his heart start beating faster inside his chest. Avoiding her gaze and trying to hide his responding blush by turning his head to the side, he reached for the abandoned daifuku and took another bite. While he munched on the pillowy goodness, he thought about what Tanaka had tried to teach a bright, little girl. “No, you didn't become some Zen Buddhist Tea Master, but you understood the heart and soul of what he was trying to show you even if you didn’t comprehend it at the time.

“Besides being a lazy thorn in my side...” he paused for emphasis and noticed she was staring into her cup.

He hoped what he was about to say wasn’t lame, but he had the strangest feeling that she needed to hear it. “To see that you've become a charismatic woman who lives to laugh; enjoys lazy days and naps or the perfect cup of tea; or how you indulge your inner little girl with pretty things. I think you got the gist of it and turned it into something of your own, and that's probably what he wanted to happen. He probably knew even back then that you weren't meant for a tea house. I think he'd be happy with the way you turned out.”

Rangiku stared at him speechless. She knew he knew her well, better than anyone else, but his impromptu, personal evaluation stunned her. She always thought he only thought of her as a lazy brat, which he did, but it went so far beyond that. He truly both respected and accepted her. All of her. And, despite all her negative qualities, he clearly thought highly of her. The realization made her heart flutter inside her chest. When she woke up this morning, all she'd wanted to do was show him this piece of her and she hadn't known why; she'd just known that she had to. In fact, she'd been so desperate, that she'd rolled out of bed pre-dawn this morning practically at a run.

Blushing and obviously uncomfortable, he cleared his throat and tried to change subjects, “So, where'd you get the powder?”

She looked to the side sheepishly, “I broke into Shunsui's this morning through the window and stole it from his kitchen...”

He choked on his tea and she laughed at his startled expression. With the previously serious moment murdered, Toshiro exclaimed incredulously, “Have you no shame?”

“Well, no... Not really... But, normally it wouldn't have been that big of a deal! He usually just tells me that I owe him a bottle of sake. In fact, I had brought one with me to leave behind in thanks...” A sudden wicked grin lit her features and she chuckled, “But when I realized he wasn't alone and that I had apparently interrupted something, I snatched the matcha and high-tailed it outta there.”

Running a hand over his face in aggravation, he looked at her in horrified wonder, “And just think, you did this all before breakfast without a drop of coffee or sake in your system.”

An impish smirk lit her eyes up like sparkling aquamarines and she nodded agreeably, “M-hmm. And had I not tumbled through the window in a rather spectacular moment of grace,” She paused when he snorted, and Rangiku pouted like she'd been left out, “They probably wouldn't have even noticed me.”

Toshiro snagged another piece of amanatto and narrowed his eyes, “That's nice.”

She sipped her tea and contemplated, “You know... I've always heard he was good in the sack...”

Toshiro glared warningly, “Oi,” he growled.

Rangiku snickered, “He must know what he's doing cause Nanao was really carrying on.” She ignored how his eye twitched and nodded in a matter-of-fact fashion, “I mean, like, porn star style.”

“Rangiku!”

Her expression changed to one that said she felt guilty but not enough to stop her from chuckling heartily, “I really do feel bad about probably scaring the crap out of them, though. By the sound of the crash in the bedroom, I think someone fell out of the bed... And they sounded like they were really going at it.”

Finishing off his tea in one last swig, Toshiro glared thunderously, “I don't need to know who Kyoraku's involved with; much less the details!”

She puckered her lips and frowned. Teasing him, she whined, “What's wrong, Captain? Have I burned off your virgin ears?”

When his face deadpanned, she laughed loudly. He watched her try to settle down, sigh and wipe a tear from her eye, but start chuckling again. His previously growing annoyance eased somewhat by her inability to control her silly giggles. Still slightly peeved, he muttered, “That's his business and none of ours.”

She smiled, “Well, it's not like I'm going to tell anybody but you. I would never dream of gossiping about something like this. If they were forced apart because of something I said, I'd never forgive myself!”

His frown eased, “Well, technically... It isn't exactly forbidden. Captains getting involved with their lieutenants is more looked down upon, then anything else.”

At her surprised look, he replied dryly, “Yeah, if you read a rule book every now and then, you'd have known that.”

Rangiku puckered her lips and flared her nostrils in an annoyed pout and he smirked in response.

She'd only read that thing once a really long time ago. Well, read wasn't exactly the best term. Skim was probably a better one. A really rapid skim. One that consisted of reading the first paragraph of the first chapter, deciding it was about as exciting as a tax law book, and somehow losing it in her quarters. Seriously. She didn't know where it was...

Deciding to change subjects to one that might not land her a rule book homework assignment, her features morphed into amusement, “Did you know that there's a Tea Ceremony Club?”

Distracted, he frowned, “I vaguely remember there being one.”

Rangiku smiled, secretly patting herself on the back, “Yeah, I considered joining, but the roster said that the Head Captain and Captain Kuchiki were in charge; yeah... No. Too stuffy and serious for my tastes. Although, I wouldn't mind watching one of their ceremonies. I bet they're really nice.”

He snorted. She could ramble on like a pro. She just thought she'd pulled the wool over his eyes, but he knew what she was up to. Still hadn't read the rule book, had she? He stored that information away for the next time she'd do something rotten. Realistically, with her birthday so close, that could only be a short matter of time. He'd give her the chance to be a good girl, but he seriously doubted that she could maintain good behavior between now and next weekend.

Going with the flow, “Well, any time you want to make matcha, you go right on ahead. You make a great cup.”

Despite being sneaky with directing the conversation, she smiled. Deeply touched, “Thanks. I'd like that. Although, if it's okay with you, I'd like to keep it between just you and me.”

He smiled warmly down at her, “Okay.”

A light pink spread over her cheeks as she looked up at him.

Damn him for being so handsome. It wasn't fair how well he'd turned out. It had always been so fun smashing his face or the back of his head in between her boobs. His reactions had always been so amusing. He'd either deadpan and bark at her to knock it off or turn bright red, start sputtering, and stomp off somewhere. After Sousuke Aizen and Gin's deaths and things started to settle down in the Seireitei, it had become clear that her Captain was not only going to surpass her in height but also lose his childlike features; his face wasn't as round and his eyes not quite so large. He'd also done a lot of stretching out and filling in over the years and she'd stopped harassing him with her girls because of it. There was a certain amount of security in having a childlike captain. One major benefit being that you didn't want to jump his bones or throw yourself at him. However, a lifetime's dedication to sword fighting and having to maintain his body to stay at a peak in physical fitness had made him a prodigiously prime male specimen. Every day she was forced to endure wide, muscular shoulders; a strong chest and stomach; an ass that made most women do a double take; and long, powerful legs. Add to that his exotic, snowy white hair; beautiful, teal dragon eyes; and very male, extremely attractive features and you had Captain Heartthrob.

So when he leaned toward her, as he shifted his weight to lean on an elbow at his knee, she couldn't stop her eyes from swiftly traveling across his muscular, exposed forearm on up the clothed length of strong arm and shoulder to his amused eyes.

Completely unaware of her appreciative perusal, Toshiro smirked, “I don't want to share, anyways.”

He was like a hot fudge sundae; something she shouldn't have, but craved. The more and more she thought about how good it looked, how good he looked, the more she caught herself wanting a taste.

She jumped when his thumb and index finger caught her chin, raising her face up a bit.

A small furrow creased his brow as he searched her face. In a low tone, he asked, “What are you thinking?”

Rangiku's eyes widened and, for the second time that day, she found herself desperately wishing he'd kiss her. She swallowed and just as she was about to dazedly tell her Captain exactly that, the loud chatter of some of their squad members entering from the breezeway sucked the words right out of her mouth. Her head jerked from his gentle fingers towards the door.

Blinking rapidly to clear her head, she avoided his eyes to glance at the coffee table and set her cool tea down. “I better get this cleaned up. It's probably almost time for lunch.”

Standing quickly, she stumbled forward and gasped at the sudden, lightning bolt of pain that shot through her legs.

In the blink of an eye, Toshiro stood and caught her. He managed to keep her standing with one arm wrapped around her like a steel band, hand splayed out on her back, and the other warm hand gently secured around her opposite upper arm; holding her firmly against him.

Rangiku hissed as the blood started to recirculate through her shaky lower limbs and only belatedly realized that her breasts were smashed up against the hard plains of his upper abdomen. Responding to the friction and pressure, her nipples tightened against her will and her eyes flew up to his to see if he'd noticed.

A knock from the open office door startled them and they both jerked their heads toward it.

Toshiro almost groaned as he saw his surprised Fifth Seat standing in the doorway. He knew what they must look like. For all intensive purposes, the Captain of Squad Ten, so well known for his self-discipline and willpower, appeared to be embracing his famously flirtatious Lieutenant.

Deciding to play it cool, he relaxed his features and acted like having his arms wrapped around his trembling and blushing Lieutenant was an everyday occurrence. Calmly lifting his head in acknowledgment, he asked, “What can I do for you, Yuri?”

Blinking her wide, toffee brown eyes, Fifth Seat Yuri Sonoda averted them demurely, “I'm so sorry. The door was open... I didn't mean to intrude.”

Thinking quickly, Toshiro glanced down at Rangiku. Her wide eyes indicated that she didn't quite know how to proceed. He squeezed her arm and helped her over to the sofa, “That's quite alright. Lieutenant Matsumoto was just finishing up serving me tea.”

As she plopped down onto the cushion and stretched her legs out, Toshiro straightened and smirked mischievously, “Perhaps, you shouldn't sit on your big butt for so long, Babaa-chan.”

Rangiku knew he was only trying to smooth this over, but she couldn't keep her eye from twitching in annoyance. Babaa-chan!? Big butt!? “Why you! Don't you know talking about the size of a lady's behind is one of the items on the list of 'Things a Guy Should Never Bring Up'!? See if I ever make you tea again!”

Toshiro snickered. Glancing towards the door again, he noticed that Yuri had relaxed at the display of their very normal bantering.

She smiled at him, “And really, Captain, Lieutenant Matsumoto isn't old at all.”

Rangiku huffed, “Thank you, Sonoda-san.”

Yuri continued, “Granted she's quite a few years older than you, but she's by no means a babaa...”

At Rangiku's frowning deadpan, Toshiro chuckled loudly all the way to his desk. Fifth Seat Sonoda had a way with words that always got under his Lieutenant's skin. Rangiku was known for her extroverted behavior and enthusiasm, but there was something about Yuri that really annoyed her. She was one of the few people that Rangiku usually addressed by last name. She was never rude to the girl, but Rangiku always seemed politely stiff around her.

He supposed it was his fault. When Yuri had first joined Squad Ten and was doing everything she could to work her way up the ranks, including a bit of brown-nosing, he had allowed her that one time to organize Rangiku's disaster-zone of a desk. He'd been frustrated and trying to find one stupid form in the piles of disorganized papers while his sneaky Lieutenant had been “out” and she had offered her assistance. Being at the point of storming off to ring Rangiku's neck, he'd accepted her offer.

Hours later, he'd been sitting at his own desk working on the never-ending paperwork and Yuri was sitting at her desk, in her chair, and had just finished perfecting a stack of papers when Rangiku had sauntered in. Jerking to a stop, Rangiku had gaped as Yuri shyly jumped up and beckoned her Lieutenant to sit down. Subsequently, she proceeded to peacefully explain how she'd color-coded this and stacked that. Despite Rangiku's twitching eye, she showed her how she'd also updated and perfected her filing cabinet and reorganized the contents of her desk drawers.

He'd had a hard time pretending to ignore them while he worked and it took every ounce of control to keep from snorting or smirking at Rangiku's attempts to not blow a gasket. He could feel the daggers she stared into him as she graciously praised Yuri's office skills. She had been falling behind, just like Yuri had so quaintly suggested, but now that it was so well done she'd never have to use her services again. Ever.

The incident had had the strangest effect on his disorderly Lieutenant. He didn't know if it was only because she never wanted Yuri to touch her things again, but the woman had started keeping up with her paperwork, kept her desk pretty neat, and had generally stopped hiding sake bottles in his personal space. She even had gotten an office organizer kit that had various little things like pink post-it notes and paperclips; a girly “To Do” list stationary pad; obnoxious, sparkly light-up pens; and the ugliest incoming/outgoing-type bins he'd ever seen. The damn things were neon pink, of course, had their titles written in bright, gold glitter, and were edged with none other than fluffy, pink faux fur.

Catching himself staring at them in horror, he blinked and gave his Fifth Seat his attention. “So, what brings you by, Yuri?”

“Ah! I almost forgot.” Stepping into the office, she produced a manilla folder that she'd had tucked under her arm.

As she went in to describing the contents to Toshiro, Rangiku tried her hardest not to glare at the girl. She should know by now that almost everything went through her first and then to the Captain. Well, of course she knew, but the little flirt couldn't stop herself from batting her lashes at him whenever she had the chance. She supposed she couldn't blame her.

She really did try to be professional and work well with the lower ranked officer. It wasn't like she was looking for drama in the workplace. She believed in Toshiro's vision of what Squad Ten could be and busted her behind alongside him to see it happen; she wasn't going to screw that up by treating the girl any differently then she would anyone else. For the most part, they got along pretty well. When it was just her and Toshiro, however, Sonoda would say things that would seem innocent enough, but would rub her the wrong way. She didn't honestly know if she was being overly sensitive and reading too far into things or if Yuri was some kind of silver-tongued witch who was hell bent in replacing her as Lieutenant.

Toshiro took the folder from the girl and smiled at her with warm, ocean hued eyes and Rangiku grit her teeth. Looking at the tea set in front of her, she reached over and put everything back on the tray as Toshiro thanked her for opening up the building. Rangiku rolled her eyes when she heard Sonoda gush about how she'd done it just for him. With the tingling pain still slightly lingering, she grabbed the handles and lifted the tray as she stood. Ignoring the two love birds, she stiffly, albeit confidently, walked back into the kitchen and cleaned up the dishes; putting the sweets containers on the counter.

Leaning her hip against the stove, Rangiku huffed. What was it about Fifth Seat Yuri Sonoda? With rich, dark chocolate brown hair that she wore unbound down her back, eyes that so closely resembled warm caramel, and a petite and feminine frame, she was quite the looker. She was always prim, proper, and punctual. Always so perfect. She was everything Rangiku was not.

Was that what was bothering her? Rangiku had no qualms about who she was. She could do practically anything she set her mind to if she felt up to it. And if things became difficult? Well, she'd figured out a long time ago that a little feminine charm and a little va-va-voom of her ample mammaries could go a long way regarding those of the opposite sex. She was no classic Japanese beauty, like Sonoda, but she was definitely attractive. She took pride in her body and it gave her her own brand of confidence. Hey, she was famous for a reason!

“Hey, you didn't throw away that last bite of daifuku, did y--”

He startled her but, before he could finish his sentence, she grabbed the small plate and held it out for him.

He paused mid-step and snatched that last bit off the plate, “Thanks.”

Twisting around, she placed the plate in the sink and went about quickly cleaning it. As she did so, he took in her facial expression and posture; before tossing the sweet into his mouth, he asked thoughtfully, “So, why are you in here sulking?”

A small furrow marred her brow, “I never sulk. I was frowning and contemplating. There's a difference.”

A snowy, white and sarcastic eyebrow rose, “Uh huh. So, what were you frowning about and contemplating?”

An exasperated sigh whooshed from Rangiku's lungs, “Can't I think to myself without getting the third degree?”

His eyes were laughing at her and his expression told of how he wasn't about to let this go. So, she switched tactics, “Alright, fine. I was just wondering what kind of heavy duty drugs Captain Unohana might have in her secret stash for cramps.”

There. That ought to shut him up.

Toshiro stared hard at her for a few moments and it was all she could do to keep from squirming.

“Liar.”

Or not. Damn. Rangiku avoided his gaze for a second and sighed tiredly.

“She really gets under your skin, doesn't she?”

It was more of a statement then a question and it made her eyes fly back up to meet his, “What?”

He looked concerned, “Listen. I don't know what's up with you two and maybe it's my fault for letting her mess with your desk that one time, but I don't want you leaving the room every time she drops by. You're my lieutenant and this is your office, too.”

She frowned a bit, “I don't leave every time.”

His brow furrowed, “Maybe not, but there is tension between you two and you need to resolve it before things either get out of hand or it effects the dynamics of the squad.”

She sighed, “I know. I honestly don't know what's really going on either.”

His frown eased, “If you need me to handle it or talk to her--”

“No.” She stood firm, “You're right. This is something I need to handle. Maybe it's just a case of starting off on the wrong foot and all a big misunderstanding. Perhaps a bout of girly chitchat will fix it.”

Toshiro's teal eyes softened, “Well, if all doesn't go well, then you come and see me about it.” He took a step closer to her, gazing at her searchingly, “She's an ambitious girl, but if you feel that your position in the squad is threatened by her...”

As he trailed off, she watched with fascination as his eyes sparkled with resolve, “Well... Until you decide to leave the Tenth, you'll always be this division's lieutenant.”

His dark turquoise eyes softened and his low growl sent a shiver up her spine, “My lieutenant.”

Rangiku couldn't stop her lashes from fluttering at the possessive look in his beautiful eyes. A warm smile lit her features and she took a few steps closer to him and placed her left hand softly on his arm. His eyes widened in surprise when she leaned up and placed a warm, lingering kiss on his cheek.

“You know...” Pausing as she lowered, “Despite you normally being rude and surly, with a generally prickly exterior...” She couldn't help but chuckle softly at his dry expression and made sure she brushed her breasts against his arm as she scooted by him in the doorway, “Sometimes... You can be kinda sweet.”

Getting past him, she walked a few steps and had to peek to see how he reacted. His embarrassed blush made her giggle. “Kinda. Sorta. A little bitty, teeny, tiny bit.” She laughed lightly when he glared at her, still blushing, “But don't worry. Your secret's safe with me. We can't have your reputation ruined.”

Toshiro growled, “Rangiku...”

She just laughed again and sashayed towards her desk. As she moved away, Rangiku never would have guessed that her Captain's reptilian eyes dragged over her swaying hips and behind in very un-captainlike appreciation.

 

**~*~****~*~**

A/N: Thanks for reading! Please Rate & Review!

- So far, I don't have a beta. I'm pretty good about catching mistakes, but once you re-read your stuff as much as I have, you stop seeing them after a while. I've gotten tired of waiting for the betas on the forum to respond to my inquiries. Last time I published something on AFF, it took me over 6 months to find one and I don't feel like waiting that long! If you're interested in helping me out on this story, let me know in a review or send me an email on the forum. My user name is Evility. I'm looking for someone to help with finding unintentional plot holes, sentence structure, flow, and catching any grammar/punctuation mistakes I may have missed.

I know I'm longwinded and fearlessly use semicolons but please, before you attack me on my use of them, do some semicolon research/homework. I don't say that sarcastically or mean it in a rude and surly fashion; I'm just pretty certain I'm using them correctly.

- I've put in some sub-plots into this story that I'm not sure I'll have the patience to carry out. So, I'm warning you now not to be surprised if I suddenly tell you to re-read everything b/c I cut some stuff out. This is my first multi-chapter story and I'm not sure which way I'll take it. Sorry for being wishy-washy!  Also, I don’t have regular internet access right now, so bear with me on the updates.

XOXO!

 



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