Hitsugaya closed his eyes wearily - they were bleary from looking through the huge stack of paperwork that had somehow made it to his table, most of which needed authorization by either himself or Matsumoto.
Who, unfortunately, was nowhere to be seen.
In fact, his fukutaichou had been missing since lunch, which was a rare occurrence even for her. Normally, she would drag herself back to the Tenth Division headquarters and either doodle on the paperwork or sleep on the couch, depending on how hungover she was.
Pressing the heels of his hands against his eyes in a futile effort to revive them, Hitsugaya wondered, briefly, where Matsumoto had gone. She hadn't gone drinking, he knew, since he had just seen Kira, whom Matsumoto wouldn't drink without, pass outside the windows of his office.
So where has she gone to?
Hitsugaya winced as his fukutaichou's loud voice reached his ears. Speak of the devil. His head was beginning to pound.
Looks like my question is about to be answered about… now.
And just on cue, the current object of Hitsugaya's annoyance bounded into the room, taking in his posture.
"Ooh, taichou, have you been sleeping? You –"
He turned to glare at her. The glare, which would have sent some to the Fourth Division immediately, had barely any effect on Matsumoto, although it did help to quieten her, something Hitsugaya was extremely grateful for.
"I have been doing paperwork, Matsumoto." The taichou hardly bothered to keep the sarcasm out of his voice, ignoring Matsumoto's – obviously faked – puppy eyes. "You do know what that is, don't you? If you don't, let me enlighten you. Paperwork is something that both you and I are supposed to do, not something that you dump on me before going out somewhere and subsequently disappearing for half a day!"
By the end of his sentence, Hitsugaya had, in his usual way of multitasking, finished skimming another report from his third seat and was about to sign it when a piece of paper landed in front of him.
His eyes immediately caught the bold black words written across the top of the paper. The nature of it suddenly became clear to him, as clear as the throbbing pain from the now full-blown headache.
Barely a split of a second later, Matsumoto found herself, yet again, the victim of her taichou's icy glare, although this one was far more potent, and seemed to carry the promise of retribution if the owner of that glare was not satisfied.
Which he wasn't, not at all.
"Matsumoto." His voice was as icy as his glare. "What, precisely, is the meaning of this?"
"Don't be like that, taichou," she whined. "I spent three days trying to get this approved. I even had to go look for Yamamoto-soutaichou himself!"
Hitsugaya's glare did not diminish in the slightest bit. If anything, it intensified.
"That does not explain why I need this." He pointed at the piece of paper that lay innocently on his desk.
Matsumoto sighed. She wondered how she was going to explain to her taichou why she had applied for two weeks' leave from work for him.
Much less the paper that she now hid behind her own back for her own leave from work.
[One Week Later...]
Matsumoto shivered slightly as she stepped out of the small chalet. The snow was coming down rather thickly for this time of the year, as the resort manager had informed her when she had rented the chalet.
She couldn't help but agree with him.
Although Matsumoto was certain that there was at least one person who didn't quite think so.
"Taichou?" she called out, voice slightly muffled by the scarf around her neck.
No answer. She guessed that he was hiding up some tree, brooding, which would be easy given his small frame, even though both of them were in gigai.
Well, at least it's better than last week.
Matsumoto snickered at the recollection of her taichou's reaction when she had told him where she planned to bring him during this holiday. Or, as he had – quite accurately, she supposed – put it, abduct him to after forcing him to miss two whole weeks of work.
Although I wouldn't call it "forcing him to miss work". She pondered the phrasing for a moment. More like "allowing him to take a break from his job". Sounds much better.
In her honest opinion, her taichou's expression of utter horror had been worth all the trouble she had gone to.
And it was all because Matsumoto had told him that they were going to the beach.
Hitsugaya shook his head in disgust. There were always times when he didn't know what his fukutaichou was thinking, but he had been seriously doubted her sanity when she told him that they were headed for the beach.
Matsumoto, of all people, should have known how much he detested going to beaches. Or anywhere warm, for that matter.
The only reason that she had gotten out of the taichou's office in one piece, unharmed, was because of her set of backup tickets – evidently suggested by Ukitake – to a resort in the Swiss Alps.
Which was where they were now.
He made a mental note to thank the Thirteenth Division taichou once he returned to Soul Society. That, and berate him for not telling Hitsugaya about Matsumoto's plans. Although, now that he thought about it... as much as Hitsugaya hated to admit it, he was actually enjoying himself here.
Sort of, at least.
To some extent, that was to be expected, since he was always more agreeable when surrounded with ice and snow, both of which were present in abundance at the resort.
Then there had been the skiing lessons that Matsumoto had signed both of them up for – he had absolutely no idea when she had gotten the time to arrange that. His familiarity with the element allowed him to excel at it, even being called a 'natural' by the coach. Matsumoto, however, had not been so lucky; she ended up stuck at the beginner's slope while he moved on.
That had brightened up his day considerably, much to the amusement of his zanpakutou.
Of course, Hyourinmaru had been even more delighted when Hitsugaya had finally consented to release him on the icy slopes. Both shinigami and zanpakutou reasoned that it wouldn't matter either way.
After all, this was the Swiss Alps. No one was really going to notice if the amount of ice covering the ground increased overnight.
In other words, this was the perfect place, both for training and having fun.
Not that Hitsugaya was about to tell Matsumoto that. He was honest and all that, but his dignity came first.
Especially when it came to his fukutaichou.
A black-cloaked figure left the chalet quietly, heading towards the offices of the ski resort. It broke into a jog as it neared the office.
The resort manager, who had been locking the doors, looked up at the newcomer. He smiled as he recognised her.
"Good evening, ma'am. How can I help you?"
She checked for eavesdroppers before replying.
"I need to ask you for a favour."
The manager listened as she carefully detailed her plans for a certain guest at the resort.
Matsumoto ran towards her taichou, frantically waving the leaflet she held in her hands.
"Taichou! Look at this!"
Reluctantly, and with a distinct sense of dread, Hitsugaya accepted the paper, reading it quickly.
According to several eyewitnesses, his strangled yell could be heard a kilometre away.
The signboard was pink.
Remind me... why I am here again? Hitsugaya asked himself.
He knew the answer, of course. It was because Matsumoto had, after much bargaining, agreed to do three months' worth of paperwork all by herself if he did one thing.
Win this competition.
"And it had to be an ice sculpturing competition," he muttered to himself.
Somehow, Hitsugaya suspected that his fukutaichou had something to do with organizing the competition. It was too much of a coincidence that it was only announced the day before, especially considering that this was the first time the resort was holding such a competition.
Unfortunately for Matsumoto, Hitsugaya did not believe in coincidences.