The Land of the Living was ever-changing as always as I looked down at it from the largest building in Karakura Town. I much preferred it to the Soul Society now, especially since no one knew who I was and couldn't give me pitying looks. Being a Soul Reaper meant that they couldn't see me anyway. I heard the beeping noise of my soul pager but ignored it as I watched the cars pass by below me. I knew who was trying to reach me so incessantly. Old man Yamamoto was trying to get me back to the Soul Society. I felt a weak soul pressure behind me and saw a member of Squad 4 standing behind me to give me news.
"The member from Squad 11 took down two Hollows," he said, looking slightly nervous. "Also… Captain Yamamoto from Squad 1 requests for you to return. He has something important to tell you."
"Thank you, Four," I said quietly, pulling my hood down over my eyes just enough to keep my face in the shadows. I saw him leave quickly out of the corner of my eye and I sighed. He never seemed to like how we kept anonymity by referring to each of them by the number of their squad. He wasn't as fearless as the rest of our little group that was dispatched out here to keep an eye on the Human World. My kimono seemed to scare him more than he wanted to admit.
I was known at one point in time as the Legendary Dragon Soul Reaper because of the shape my Zanpakuto took while in Bankai. It was a large dragon made from bright white flames. But ever since the day I lost my Zanpakuto's spirit, Bankai was too much of a long shot. My Zanpakuto was dead and I took to dressing like a dragon. My kimono was all black, seeming like the normal ones except for a few things. The hem of the hood had sharp fangs ringing it, the top of the hood had blue eyes painted on and even had horns sticking out from the top. The sleeves were long and cut like the wings of a dragon, the spikes sharp at the tips of the ridges. The last difference was a long piece of fabric that was fashioned into a tail.
Another reason he could have been scared was because of the shape of my Zanpakuto. It is locked in Shikai and can't even return back into its sealed form. It looked like a long falchion, straight and wide like a long sword and a wickedly sharp curve towards the end. My Zanpakuto is Tatsuya, but its true name is Hikari Tatsuya. I deeply miss being able to commune with my blade, but nothing seemed to work.
More spiritual pressures appeared behind me and without looking I knew it was our entire group. Aside from me, one of each squad was in our party so we would be well-rounded. I didn't know how old man Yamamoto pulled it off without their respective Captains knowing, but I appreciated the effort put into it.
"Lady Imayru," they all said simultaneously, bowing respectfully to me. Eleven took a step forward, bowing once more before she said, "It is time for us to head back to the Soul Society. Would you do us the honor of creating the doorway back?"
"Of course. I have to go with you this time anyway," I told them, finally paying attention enough to see that it was night and indeed time for them to go back to get some rest. I pointed my Zanpakuto to the right edge of the roof and concentrated my spiritual pressure on one single point. "Come on, Tatsuya. I need your assistance now."
Still no response from Tatsuya and I just pushed my spirit through the blade and into a pocket of space that created the doorway back to the Soul Society. The doors opened up to reveal a bright light, the pathway back. I slid my Zanpakuto back in a makeshift sheath I created, one that held my blade on my back from a sapphire and silver chain with a loop near my right shoulder to keep Tatsuya in place. I beckoned them all to go through and watched them run on before stepping through myself. The way there was dark once going inside but not so bad that I couldn't see the backs of my group as they ran on. I wasn't in so much of a hurry as them since I no longer had a place to call home and slept wherever I pleased. Before long we all saw the light at the end of the tunnel and leapt through it.
The Soul Society had definitely changed since the last time I'd allowed myself there, especially since everything was smashed and broken. When I looked at my group curiously, they explained that a bunch of outsiders had come from the Human World to save a prisoner and that this was the aftermath. Not only that, but there were three Captains who betrayed the Soul Society altogether, one of which was Captain Aizen.
We all walked to the Seireitei, which is the central part of the Soul Society when I caught a glimpse of someone approaching. The rest of my group scattered like the Zanpakuto of Captain Kuchiki, disappearing faster than a frightened deer. The further I walked into the Seireitei was when I finally saw who it was. I froze, not quite believing what I was seeing but waiting for him to approach. I hadn't seen him in forever.
"It's been a long time, Toshiro," I said, tilting my head to the side as I looked at him. "Did you get taller since the last time I saw you or did your white hair just get bigger?"
"I see that your manners are still as awful as they were when we grew up. I can see where your sister gets it from," he said, not giving me any reaction of anger that I remembered but saw a spark in his turquoise eyes. "And it's Captain Hitsugaya now."
"Whatever you say, Shiro. Now how about you tell me why you're here? It's either that or you tell me why it is you look so unhappy to see me."
That was when I got the anger I was waiting for. I saw his eyes blaze in fury and he gritted his teeth, somehow managing to calm down a little before growling out, "Because you left us. You left so fast and didn't even say goodbye. Now your sister is in critical condition at 4th Division Headquarters and you weren't here to be with her!"
"Momo?" I asked quietly, not quite believing what I heard him say. "Will she live?" That was when I saw bandages wrapped around the skin that showed under his kimono. "Are you ok?"
"It was Aizen," Toshiro said simply. "He had this all planned out, even the Ryoka arriving to try and save Rukia Kuchiki from her execution. He was working alongside Ichimaru and Tousen this whole time." When I was about to say something, he stopped me. "Don't. I don't want to know what your thoughts on the matter are. You weren't here when we needed you. Captain-Commander Yamamoto tried to contact you so that you'd be here to stop the Ryoka with us, but you refused to answer like a coward. The brave Imayru Hinamori I remember and cared about died with her Zanpakuto in the Hueco Mundo with the Menos Grande! However, I can't just abandon you here like you did to us. Captain-Commander Yamamoto gave me strict instructions to lead you to his office in the 1st Division Headquarters, even though I'm sure you still remember your way about the Seireitei."
I didn't say a word in response, just hung my head slightly and retreated back into the shadows that my hood allowed me. I kept my hands hanging at my sides and made it seem like the wings I had were drooping in shame. Toshiro watched all this and sighed, turning around and walking off in the direction of the 1st Division Headquarters. The blue eyes on my hood were thin enough that I could see through them and I looked around at my surroundings. I saw a lot of heads turn in my direction as Soul Reapers caught sight of me, hearing the gossip about me spread like wildfire until Toshiro snapped at them to get back to work. I'd never seen him like this before, not even when Momo and I picked on him. I didn't understand what was going on with him, but I didn't know him as well as I did back in the day.
"He feels betrayed since he has feelings for you," I heard a voice whisper in my ear and had to stop myself from jumping in surprise. I turned my head slightly to see that it was Rangiku Matsumoto, Toshiro's Lieutenant. She was a friend of mine back before the fateful day. She gave me a conspiratorial look before she moved close again to whisper something else. "He just doesn't want to admit it to himself, so he'll be as grumpy as a bear with a thorn in its paw. That and the fact that Momo is seriously hurt doesn't help the situation much either."
"Rangiku, I don't remember once telling you that I needed help escorting Imayru to Yamamoto," Toshiro said, any hint that he was still angry now gone.
"But you never said I couldn't!" Rangiku chirped, smiling at him even though his back was facing her. With a flip of her red hair, she looked at both of us before saying, "Besides, the two of you are so unsociable you can't even talk about the little things until you got to 1st Division HQ. That sounds exhaustingly boring, so I came to be of some assistance in that department."
"So you came to gossip about me?" he asked flatly.
"More like catch up with an old friend! Unlike you! You act like an old man sometimes!"
With an undignified grunt, Toshiro picked up the pace and Rangiku laughed, looping her arm through mine and making me skip with her to catch up with him. I hadn't been around these kinds of antics in a very long time, but deep down I knew it was a nice change to the humdrum of the Land of the Living. It didn't take long after that to reach Captain Yamamoto's office, especially since Toshiro wanted to get away from me as fast as he could. He led me inside and announced our presence before we got called inside. We took a step forward and bowed, the Captain of Squad 1 told us to stand. He then told Toshiro and Rangiku to go wait outside in the courtyard where they couldn't eavesdrop. Toshiro left the quickest, practically bolting out the door just to get away from me. Rangiku took off after him and yelled that he was being rude. I walked over to Yamamoto and sat down opposite of him.
He looked at me for the longest time before he spoke. "Well, well. It has been a long time since I've seen you walk these halls. You never come to visit and you always find an excuse to stay in the Human World."
"It was my assignment to watch over the humans. I didn't want to abandon my post."
"Take off your hood, Imayru. I want to look you in your eyes while we have this conversation," Yamamoto said sternly.
I sighed but complied with what he told me to do. I saw a slight smile on his face as he got a good look at me since he hadn't seen me in a while. I had dark brown eyes that were almost black, pale skin, and blue black hair that was in a braid that curled down past my collarbones. I had six horns on the top of my head that were braided in place, the top two were longest and the other four were smaller in size. I pulled my hands out from under my long sleeves and set my hands on the table, claws made from silver tipping each finger in case I was ever in trouble.
"I'm giving you a new assignment," he said, giving me a small smile again. "I need you to assume the position of Captain for either 3rd, 5th, or 9th Divisions."
"Do I have a choice in the matter?" I asked, tapping my claws rhythmically on the table.
"Momo is in Squad 5, so if I had to pick then that will be my choice. I just want to ask her for her approval in being her Captain."
"Then here is your captain's haori that you must wear over that… thing you insist on wearing on the time. It's sleeveless so I figure your won't complain much about it. Tell Toshiro to lead you over to Squad 4's Coordinated Relief Station. Momo is being held there."
I put on the haori, feeling a sense of melancholy as I began to remember my time as Captain before I could stop it. By the time I did, I shook my head and walked out. As I was bowing my respects from the doorway, Yamamoto told me that he better not catch me with my hood up while in the Seireitei or he'd cut it off with his Zanpakuto. I nodded briefly and walked away before he could see my smile. It was immediately wiped from my face when I walked outside the main doors to see Toshiro pacing back and forth anxiously and Rangiku sitting on the concrete porch, watching him pace with a bored expression. When I shut the door a little louder than I'd intended, they all turned to face me and gape in surprise.
"Wow, pretty lady!" Rangiku exclaimed excitedly. "They made you a Captain again?"
"For Squad 5, yes."
"Are you sure that's a good idea?" Toshiro asked, grumbling. "Momo might not like it."
"It's none of your business whether or not it's a good idea," I snapped, glaring at him and making him take a step back. "I'm sick of your attitude toward me. I'm sorry I'm not the girl you care for anymore but if you had been with me that day, you'd be a changed person as well. Now stop treating me like dirt and take me to see Momo!"
I heard Rangiku snicker as she stood up, even as I had a stare off with her Captain. "You are a changed person," Toshiro finally said after turning his back to me. "I'm sorry that I didn't see the brave you hidden behind that hood. I just m—"
He was interrupted by a high-pitched giggle as a large shape jumped down from the building behind us. I saw after the dust settled that it was Captain Kenpachi Zaraki with his Lieutenant Yachiru hanging over his shoulder to look at us. Kenpachi gave me a wide grin and stood to his full height suddenly, nearly making Yachiru fall backwards to the ground.
"Imayru, you little brat, it's good to see you again!" Kenpachi yelled, the two Lieutenants trying to hide their laughter. "You never visit me anymore and it's been so long! I see you're a Captain now, so that means we can fight each other again!"
"Not right now, Kenpachi," I told him, trying to keep a straight face. "I need to get to my sister and new Lieutenant."
"Kenny can take you there! Right, Kenny?" Yachiru screamed, bouncing up and down on Kenpachi's shoulder.
"I can get you there in record time!" he yelled at us both, grabbing me and throwing me over his shoulder before I could protest. I gasped in shock as the breath temporarily left my body and we were off. I looked behind them to see Toshiro with a ragged expression, looking as if he didn't know what to do.
I learned early on not to bother with offering directions to either one of them because they didn't listen. Kenpachi had no idea where to go and Yachiru gave horrible directions. I sat back and looked around as we ran past buildings I somewhat remembered. It was almost dawn by the time we made it to the courtyard outside of Squad 4. Kenpachi and Yachiru bid their farewells before disappearing off in the shadows.
I turned around to head where I thought Momo would be when I saw a young man I recognized. The poor thing looked nervous but he gave me a smile anyway. "Hello, Captain Hinamori! My name is Hanataro and I was sent by Captain Unohana to escort you to her! She's with your sister right now!" he told me, looking quite pleased with himself.
"Please, there's no need to be so formal," I told him pleasantly. "You should know by now to just call me Imayru."
"Ok, Lady Imayru," he said, giving me a cheeky smile. "But now we really must be on our way. We weren't expecting you so late." He started off to a path just past the barracks.
"I wasn't expecting to be so late either, but Kenpachi insisted on carrying me here."
"Ah, yes," Hanataro laughed. "Captain Zaraki and his Lieutenant are notorious for their bad directional compass. I'm surprised you allowed him to take you here."
"I didn't allow him to! He threw me over his shoulder and took off running!" I laughed with him.
I saw a bustling building ahead when Hanataro stopped in his tracks. I gave him a quizzical look when he turned around. He seemed as if he had something to ask, but knew it was a sensitive issue. I waited until he got up the courage, giving him the time he needed to formulate his question. Finally, I saw him flush a reddish color, open his mouth once or twice before shutting it, and looked panicked when he finally rushed through the words he wanted to say.
"HowisCaptainHitsugayanowthatyou'rebackintheSeireitei?" he said fast and breathlessly.
"I'm sorry, you're going to have to repeat that and do so much slower," I told him. "Just calm down, Hanataro, I don't mind questions."
He took a deep breath and then said, "How is Captain Hitsugaya now that you're back in the Seireitei?"
"Just as unpleasant and bratty as I remembered him to be before I had to leave," I said, giving him a smile.
"You know he wasn't always like that. He was just really upset that you disappeared one day without a trace."
Hanataro, who was flushed again at what he said, turned around quickly and took off towards the building. I followed him without a word, completely lost in my thoughts. Not that I resented these people, but everyone seemed to be on Toshiro's side except for a select few who didn't care about this sort of thing. I knew when I left that it was wrong of me not to say goodbye, to just up and leave without a trace like Hanataro said, but I couldn't tell them about my assignment and I especially couldn't face Toshiro when I told him I was going away. I shook my head then, attempting to lose that train of thought and concentrate on what lay ahead.
Once inside the building, it was an almost mazelike corridor that I was led down before we finally reached a large room that seemed isolated from everyone else. We opened the door to find Toshiro sitting in a chair beside the bed that Momo was lying on and Captain Unohana standing opposite of Toshiro.
"It took you long enough," Toshiro said, not once looking at me but instead looking at Momo.
"Captain Hitsugaya, it is unnecessary to act this way when we all know the truth," Retsu Unohana chimed in, making Toshiro look up at her for a second before returning his stare back to Momo. Retsu sighed before giving me a warm smile and beckoning for me to enter the room. Hanataro shut the door behind me and I heard him walk back down the hall. I walked over to stand beside Toshiro without a second thought and while he still refused to look at me he took my hand for comfort when Retsu wasn't looking, sliding his fingers between mine like he always used to. Retsu walked to the door and then said to me, "Momo is just recovering now. She is resting in a bit of a coma but she'll pull through. I'm sure she'll be fine soon." She opened the door and left as quietly as possible.
"Oh, Momo, I'm sorry," I whispered, moving closer to the bed but still keeping hold of Toshiro's hand. "I'm so, so sorry, my sister, that I couldn't be there for you."
"I tried to protect her, but Aizen tricked her into thinking that I killed him," Toshiro told me quietly. "I had to keep fighting her off until I hit her too hard one night. Then while I kept her in a protected room to keep Ichimaru out, she escaped and that's when Aizen stabbed her through. I never wanted for this to happen."
"Don't blame yourself, Toshiro. If you're going to blame anyone for this, then blame me. I wasn't here when I needed to be."
"I only blamed you in the beginning because I was angry and hurt," he said, standing up beside me and holding my hand a little tighter. "I really missed you. So did she."
"I missed the both of you as well. I just… didn't know what else to do because I didn't want to have to say goodbye."
We both stood silently for a few minutes, watching Momo sleep peacefully before Toshiro spoke up again. "Do you remember back before Momo decided to become a Soul Reaper?"
"How could I forget?" I said, laughing slightly even though I felt sad. "The two of you argued all the time and I always had to break it up." He laughed with me and then I decided to embarrass him a little just to tease him like I always did. "I also remember that you used to follow me around like a puppy because you were infatuated with me."
He blushed profusely, which made his hair look even brighter, and I laughed even more. "I did not follow you around like a puppy!"
"Ah, but you haven't denied to being infatuated with me."
"To say I didn't would be a lie. Do you remember after Momo left? It was just you and me for a while."
"I remember that right before we both decided to go become Soul Reapers ourselves that you were determined to marry me one day, so much so that you wandered around calling me Imayru Hitsugaya."
"Remember the tattoos we got?"
"Toshiro, just because I was gone for a long time doesn't mean that I managed to forget everything that happened."
"How about when we first arrived here and I introduced you as my wife so they kept calling you Imayru Hitsugaya no matter how many times you protested or corrected them?" he asked, laughing again and I saw his eyes light up with his mirth.
"I think I'd much rather discuss the tattoo story than relive that terrible point in my life again," I grumbled, making him laugh even more.
"That tattoo meant that you'd marry me one day once we were both older."
"I'm not changing my last name yet, so you can forget it for now."
I gave him a small smile until I remembered our reason for being there again. The smile dropped from my face and I felt numb as I clasped Momo's hands with my free hand. I thought back to when I'd first met her back in the 1st District of West Rukon. I had been wandering, the lost soul of a little girl just trying to find peace and quiet away from people. I would hide in the forest outside of the district, chasing off anyone who would tread in my territory and shatter that small amount of peace I had managed to set for myself. Soon, the rumor of the Lost Girl of the 1st District was created. After a while, no one believed the story to be true until the day of the spring festival.
I was an older soul by then, but still angry, lost, and hostile. However, I still had the curiosity of a young girl and watched on the outskirts of the forest at all the festivities being held. I saw in particular a girl a year younger than me who seemed kind and thoughtful being followed around by a boy with white hair who had to have been a year or two younger. He was quite short for his age and took after the bigger kids with a stick if they teased him. For the first time in a while, I smiled at their antics and watched with a greater interest until they disappeared into a crowd towards the center of the district. There was no point for me to watch anymore with them gone so I went back further into the forest.
It was a few hours after nightfall when the fireworks started. I screamed in fear and agony as the blasts hurt my ears and the bright colorful lights in the sky confused me. It was no wonder I was startled to see the two of them when I happened to turn around. I stood up to my full height, looking like a wild woman as I gave them my most scathing look before taking off into the woods as fast as I could. I found the cave I had been staying in and snapped my fingers to create a fire. When I turned back around again, they were behind me once more and the girl was trying to look as non-threatening as she possibly could.
"You must be the Lost Girl we've heard all about!" the little boy said with a sense of awe. He didn't seem frightened of me at all. In fact, he looked as if he'd just received the best present in the world.
"Lil Shiro, that's rude!" the older girl exclaimed before giving me a smile, the boy sticking his tongue out at her and muttering something under his breath about the girl being a bed wetter. "Hello there! My name is Momo and this little brat is Toshiro. It's a pleasure to meet you! What is your name?"
I hadn't spoken in the longest time, so it took me a minute before I could form the word. "I… Im… Imayru," I finally sputtered out as quiet as a church mouse. I hadn't heard my own voice in such a long time that it sounded hoarse and raspy. Momo gave me the biggest smile I had ever seen and Toshiro just stared at me with his turquoise eyes bright and wide.
Momo and Toshiro took me back to Granny's place, who immediately told me that I could stay there with them for as long as I wanted. I smiled at her and started to cry, never having felt so happy in my entire existence up to that point. Toshiro came over to me after dinner later and laid his head on my lap to sleep for the night. I didn't move once until the morning when he woke, even when he stayed still on purpose to make me think he was still asleep. After a month of me living there, Momo discovered that I didn't remember my last name and therefore adopted me as her sister to give me the name of Hinamori.
I was dragged back into the present when I felt Toshiro gently rubbing my back. "Momo, I just came here to tell you that, if you're ok with it, I'm going to be your new Captain. If you don't want me to be your Captain when you wake up, then I'll choose a different Squad. I'll understand."
I knew that I wasn't going to get a response from her now, so I let go of her hand and turned to face Toshiro. I heard a choked noise and felt a hand grab mine tightly, turning around to see Momo with her eyes open. She looked at me with such intensity, her eyes boring holes into me and blazing like a contained fire. We both stared at each other for the longest time before she nodded and fell unconscious again.
"What did that mean?" Toshiro asked quietly, looking at Momo before moving his gaze back to me.
"It means that she accepts me as her captain," I told him, smiling a little.
He led me outside, on the way Retsu stopped me to tell me that she had to speak to me tomorrow morning. Toshiro even kindly showed me my way to Squad 5 Headquarters, regardless of my protests that I knew my way around. He led me to the barracks and told me that the captain's room was on the second floor there. We stood there awkwardly for a while until I did something to surprise him. I moved in front of him faster than he could stop me and hugged him tightly. I felt his wiry body flinch slightly before he hugged me back, which he never did as a child. He would always fight me and escape my grip. I felt him shaking almost imperceptibly and so I hugged him a little tighter, kissed his cheek, and pulled away to take a few steps back. He blushed bright red and practically ran off, yelling something about how he'd meet up with me after I got some rest. I smiled as I hurried inside before the sun could touch the skin that wasn't covered. Once inside my new room, I created a nest of blankets and pillows before curling up inside it to sleep.