Disclaimer: Don't own, never will, and thus I write fanfiction.
A/N: This has been gathering dust for way too long. It was actually one of the first things I wrote after entering the Bleach fandom. Hence, while I tried to fix it up to match the current manga, there might be a few parts that don't quite mesh. I'm not sure why I never posted it before, but I figure I should probably do so now before some flashback completely ruins my chances of getting away with this forever.
But anyways, like I said, this has been written for ages, well over a year. It's a bit short, but rereading it didn't make me twitch at the horror of how badly written it is, so I decided to post it after fixing it up a bit. Probably because I like the style that I used even now, and actually wrote (and posetd) another oneshot in a similar style (albeit in a different fandom), but now I'm just getting off topic, aren't I? XD
Just so that you all know, this takes place almost immediately after chapter 238. Enjoy!
The meeting has been brief. They're only fifteen minutes in, and Yamamoto-soutaichou's already winding down to an end. Matsumoto Rangiku isn't really surprised, seeing as they all already know what they're being told.
In fact, the entire seireitei has probably heard by now. But they still have to sit here uselessly while… she clenches her fist, hidden behind her back, and looks around at the others in an attempt to not jump to her feet and scream at them all about how idiotic this all is.
She's not the only one upset by the latest turn of events. Kiyone and Sentaro are silent for once, sneaking quick glances at their paler-than-usual captain and every so often each other, not in jealousy but in a need for reassurance. Renji constantly fidgets, his mouth opening every so often in half-formed protests at some of the soutaichou's harsher words. She cannot see his face, but the rigid stiffness of her captain's shoulders and the steadily dropping temperature tell her everything she needs to know.
None of them say a word.
The Thirteenth Division, having played host to Ori… to the human girl, is biased and therefore suspect. Renji's still new to his position, and his opinions hold little value to those who don't know him well. And because of where they stayed during their time in the living world, she and Hitsugaya are in the same boat as the Thirteenth.
The only ones who can speak up and be heard are the ones who have no personal stake in this, no close ties to the subject. The ones who don't know enough to care.
Finally, there is silence. Their leader of two thousand years waits for someone to speak, to argue. Silence is stretched all the longer by uncomfortable fidgeting, until…
Hisagi opens his mouth, and Matsumoto feels a surge of hope. The fukutaichou is his division's captain in all but name, and she knows that all he needs to do is achieve Bankai to remedy that little detail. He can say how unfair this is, how wrong!
Her heart falls as doubt flickers in his eyes, and he hesitates for a moment before settling back into the shadows without a single word. Only she and Komamura notice the almost-halfway-I can't objection. With every second that ticks by, the hope dissolves into an ever-greater pool of despair. She feels as if she is drowning in the impossibility of it all, of the irony—the one of them who would never, never have harmed even the smallest cricket, to have her name thrown away and her memories smeared? It's not fair, it shouldn't be happening!
But nothing is permanent, a fact that she has never been more grateful for than she is when a giggle finally shatters the quiet. "You guys are being silly, ne Ken-chan?"
Zaraki grunts. It must have been an affirmative, for his pink-haired vice-captain's smile widens. "Yeah, Big Booby's too smart to do something like that!"
She catches sight of several dropped jaws and even a few bodies around the room. Well, it does fit…
"I see." Yamamoto recovers first. "Unfortunately, any objections must be more…specific in order to be taken into account."
He gazes around at them. The way that he holds himself, leaning heavily on his cane-like zanpaku-to, he looks old, even more so than he already is, as old and as tired as the universe itself, if not more so.
He knows, she suddenly realizes, she can see it as clearly as the spiky white head a few feet in front of and below her eyes. He knows that everything he's saying about her is a lie; that she didn't, that she wouldn't, that she couldn't.
Right then, Matsumoto wants to do nothing so much as run forward and grab the most powerful man in all three worlds by his overgrown beard and shake him and scream at him for doing something like this, for letting someone like her—
But he looks so tired, a traitorous voice whispers to her, stilling her fists and weighing down her feet. So very tired.
He waits for a moment longer, grows another eon older, and then sighs. "If there is nothing else to be said, then we'll reconvene tomorrow to discuss what our response will be. Dismissed!"
The sunlight is warm against her skin, especially after the frigidity in the hall. But any warmth that might have reached where she truly needed it dissipates at the sight of Rukia, standing a few feet in front of the door. She hurriedly bows and steps to the side, where Yumichika and Ikkaku have been lounging since the meeting began.
Her head is bowed respectfully as the Gotei-Thirteen and their subordinates walk past, but her gaze flickers wildly from face to face. Renji cannot meet her eyes when they settle on him. It's a clear answer to her unspoken question, but not the one that she was hoping for.
Matsumoto breaks off from the group, approaching the younger girl with soft steps. Rukia's gaze remains locked onto the well-swept floor, and she shakes her head when the vice-captain extends an invitation to drink. She doesn't press the issue, but holds the unseated shinigami back for a moment longer when she tries to follow after Ukitake.
"We'll save her." Her voice is soft, but strong. "We'll bring her back."
For several long seconds, there is silence. Rukia's shoulders begin to shake, and the vice-captain takes a step forward in concern. But three words stop the vice-captain in her tracks.
"Yes," the younger shinigami murmurs. "We will."
Matsumoto catches a glimpse of dark, dark eyes as the girl turns to walk away, and in an instant, she has realized what Rukia—no, not only Rukia, but Renji as well—plans. She stands there, watching until the girl has vanished around a corner… and smiles.
"We will." She echoes.
She can't join the two quite yet, though, and they both know it. Not then. Not now.
But she can wait.
She can wait for Rukia and Renji to leave. She can wait for them to join Ichigo and the other ryoka, for she knows that they've probably left already. She can wait for her genius captain to come up with a reason for Yamamoto to not declare them traitors, like he did her.
She can wait for him to be proven wrong. Especially if she waits with a bottle or three of sake.
"I watched them train."
The confession comes out of nowhere. Well, technically it comes out of Hisagi's mouth, but that isn't what she means. They are talking about the one time that someone gave Yachiru coffee when he blurts it out.
"I watched them train." He repeats, albeit less loudly. The scarred man has been quiet for most of the evening, and has spent his time staring into his drink as though he could see the meaning of life in its depths. "Yesterday, before it happened. I was looking for Ukitake-taichou and he was watching them, so I watched them too."
Nobody needs to ask what he's talking about. He doesn't look at them as he continues. "I'm sorry."
"For what?" It's Ikkaku who asks, rough, almost indifferent, but he is as silent as the others after, as patient.
"I didn't—I couldn't—"
"You could have." Matsumoto tells him, her usually gentle voice as lethal as her ash-cat's claws. "You could have, but you didn't."
He bows his head in shame bracing himself to see his hopes and heart dashed, but her next words nearly make him fall over. For an entirely different reason "What's done is done, though, so stop beating yourself up over it already."
"She would have forgiven you." She informs him. "In fact, she would have apologized for worrying you."
"Hai." Yumichika agrees with an approving nod. "The way that she never gets angry, that she cares so much about everyone… it's beautiful."
"She cares so much…" Matsumoto sighs, taking a sip of sake. Then, her eyes widen. "Too much."
The battle—no, it wasn't even that. It hadn't been that, it had never been that. The way that the enemy aimed for a capture first, rather than a kill. They played with them, and just when the fighting was heating up they withdrew with only slight reluctance. Almost as though—
She's on her feet in an instant, mind whirling with possibilities and probabilities and they did, they had to, oh kami-sama, and she is gone in the next. A few seconds later she returns, only to grab one of the few half-full bottles on the table before vanishing again. They blink for several long moments, until…
"Hey!" A drunken Kira hiccups. "That was my sake!"
Rukia is gone.
Renji is gone.
And Matsumoto paces back and forth, back and forth, stalking the room like Haineko does the twists and turns and countless hidden paths of her inner world. The door opens, and she turns from her ever-present cup of sake just in time to see it being slid shut again.
"He agreed." Hitsugaya's voice is soft, but his eyes—so bright! "As soon as Urahara finishes the Gargantua, he's sending in Kurotsuchi, Kuchiki, Unohana, Zaraki, and their subordinates. You did it."
"Don't I always?" She asks with a smirk. But she is relieved… until she realizes what else he said. "Wait, Kurotsuchi?"
A/N: For those that don't get it, Matsumoto figured out the basics of how Aizen tricked Orihime into coming to Hueco Mundo. And the soutaichou was forced to admit she was probably right when there was no way that he was going to be able to keep half of his captains from stampeding in after her rescuers went, since trying to keep all of his forces together was pretty much a lose-lose situation by then. I actually like Yamamoto, to be honest... and he was right, it was a trap all along. Assuming Aizen didn't just make that up to convince us all that he was smarter than he actually is, of course, I wouldn't put that past him. ;3
Reviews are to me as sake is to Matsumoto! Delicious, and inspiring to boot!