Flashbacks of War
It was one of those strange nights in Soul Society. The sort where it was raining, while dark, and it was quiet. It was also one of those times where the rain seemed loud and cruel. Like it was torturing the heart on purpose. But then again, the night wasn't so strange. She had always felt like this. For quite a while now.
A single oil lamp lit the table top where she was working. The rest of the room was dark. The current captain found it comforting. Bright lights just didn't fit her mood anymore. The girl lay down her pen, finally finished with the signing. It had been unenthusiastically done, but again, she just couldn't muster up the energy to care. She never could these days. Not anymore. Not when nothing mattered.
Hinamori Momo lay back in her chair, sighing softly gazing out the window. Pellet after pellet of raindrops fell, and she could almost feel each of them on her skin. She wanted to. The numbing feeling would be welcomed. Her dull, brown eyes stared. She could hear the puddles beginning to gather. She didn't move. She wondered whether it was cold. It seemed like it was. That was good. She needed to reminisce the feeling. And sunlight couldn't do that.
It had been almost exactly ten years since Aizen's defeat. Yes, just Aizen. Not Captain Aizen. She only now realized he didn't deserve a title anywhere near that rank. The fifth division had gone through a few years without a Captain. By that time, everyone knew of Ikkaku's mastered Bankai, but he was allowed to remain 3rd seat of the eleventh division, just as he wished. It was the least they could do, after he served to be a great asset in the war. So she spent the next few years gaining her Bankai. And she had finally achieved it, two years ago. With the help of the tenth division.
Or rather, one Hitsugaya Toshiro.
Hinamori leaned forward onto the table, placing her chin on her palm, still gazing mindlessly out of the window. Right now, everything she thought about revolved around him. Everything she did was compared to him, or in respect for him, or to try and impress him. He was the closest person she'd ever had, and he'd helped her out so much she couldn't believe she'd missed it all back then. She was an idiot back then. Blind to everything and anyone that wasn't Aizen. She frowned.
Blind to the plain fact that he'd loved her.
"Here, Hinamori, take this. Captain Unohana said it would help."
"I don't need it."
"Yes you do."
"I don't need it."
"Yes, you do."
"No, I don't!" Hinamori swiped the glass out of his hands angrily and it shattered on the floor, its contents spilling out every which way. He didn't bat an eye. She shot a furious glare at him. He stared back. "I didn't need it."
"Yes you did. And you still do." He replied. Back then, she'd cursed him. She'd thought he was stubborn, annoying and too prying into her life. There was a pause where she angrily turned her head away from him. He only moved to fold his arms.
"What are you doing here?" she spat venomously.
"To see how you were doing."
"Well you saw." She said. "Now get lost."
Again, she was met with silence. She whirled around to face him. "Go away, Captain Hitsugaya!" she sneered, and she saw his features contort very slightly into hurt. But almost immediately, they returned to their indifferent stare.
"I was right, you know." He spoke up suddenly. "He really doesn't care about you."
She opened her mouth in a snarl and pick up the closest thing to throw at him; her pillow. He caught it with a single hand. "Shut up!" she screeched. "You don't know anything about him!"
"I know more about him than you ever did."
She stood up and faced him. "Of course not! Who was his lieutenant? Who was the one he first suggested to the kidou ranks? Who was the one he trusted with everything? That's right! Me!"
He looked at her with heated eyes, alight with rage. "And who's the one who tried to kill you? Who's the one that lied to you the whole time? Who's the one that played you like a fool?" he argued back. "That's right! Him!"
"But he didn't kill me! I'm still here, aren't I?"
"He tried killing many people, they're still alive, aren't they?"
"He said he loved me!"
"I love you!" he yelled, and Hinamori clamped her mouth shut. What did he just say? "He was just fooling around with you, lying to gain your trust, spewing nonsense like that to-"
"That was a low blow, Toshiro." She said in a low voice. She saw him visibly freeze. "Turning Captain Aizen's words into something you could use for your gain. You can't admit to yourself, he was better than you. That's really low."
"…what?" he asked incredulously. "Are you kidding me, Hinamori? I just told you I-"
"Get out." she hissed, not looking at him, her fists clenched and shaking in fury. Her mind was clogged with only Aizen. Using his words meant you were jealous of him. Using them against her meant you loathed the both of them. That was what she'd believed, all those years ago. She would have thought he had gone if he wasn't standing right in front of her. That's how quiet he was.
Then, without a word, he left.
They hadn't talked since then. He had left for the human world, she had stayed and wallowed in depression. He defeated an invasion force of arrancar in the human world, and she feared for Aizen. He came back, a hero, and she thought up a new suggestion of why Aizen had left the way he had. He, and the rest of Seretei, prepared for war, and she didn't even pick up her sword.
But then, he left for the war, along with only five other captains. And then something within her sparked. Anger, at everything. Suddenly, she felt like fighting, and with hardly any experience and preparations, she headed into the fight. They caused massive damage to Aizen's forces, not at all entirely thanks to her. They'd left only a few Espada, Gin and Aizen himself. Tousen had been annihilated and yet it seemed as if Aizen had hardly batted an eye. And after having taken part in the war, she had half of her insides crushed.
And that was how, after round one with Aizen, she found herself lying in the 4th division infirmary, barely able to move, and with Toshiro sitting by her room's window, looking anywhere but at her.
She shot him a few glances, studying him for a while. He had been one of the heaviest of onslaught forces, bringing about severe hail storms, blizzards and an all-out icy hell. In turn he'd wiped out two Espada, although not alone. But either way, Hinamori only just realized then how much raw power resided within his little body, and that he was nowhere near as incapable as she'd thought he was.
"T…Toshiro…" she managed out, despising how weak she sounded. He was by her side in a flash.
"Don't talk," he said softly, and she closed her mouth, looking weakly up at him. Framed by the ceiling lights and reflecting off his hair, he looked like some sort of angel, and she found herself in a daze. But she didn't understand why, back then. He managed a smile at her.
"I meant what I said…all those months ago."
She knew what he was talking about. That night, where they'd argued about Aizen. Where she'd said he disgusted her, by copying someone else. It was the night where he'd said he loved her. She stared up at him, doubt overflowing in her eyes. She cared for him, yes, but Aizen was still there, a shadow in her heart…
He seemed to notice her emotions in her eyes and he straightened up, suddenly cold and distant. "I just wanted you to know. That'll never change for me." He said, paused, then continued again. "Make sure you get better." And he started towards the door.
"Thank you…Shiro-chan…" she managed, tears flowing to her eyes for some inconceivable reason. He paused, then turned to her and shot her the smallest, saddest, most heartbreaking smile she'd ever seen him give.
"Don't let it bother you, bed-wetter." He said, then walked out, leaving Hinamori more confused than she'd ever been before.
She closed her eyes. But everything had changed. She had changed. And him…he had moved on. She crossed her arms and rested her head on them. Yes, because of her blind, foolish devotion to her former captain, she had lost the best thing that had ever happened to her. Because now, when he'd become her whole world, he wasn't where he'd always said he'd be. She buried her head into her arms as the tears started. She hated this part. It always came with the rain. Especially if it was cold.
Not long after winter, Uruhara got word that Aizen was planning a comeback. He needed the 100,000 spiritual entities he had to have to create the royal key. So this time, everyone pitched in, even the humans. A small group of them apparently had more reiatsu than normal and so had developed supernatural powers. Of course, they had been greatly affected by the arrancars that they had been exposed to before, and so were more hollow-like than anything else. They were dead now, that was for certain, but it was like they had by-passed all that somehow, and had already hollowified. Except they were still almost completely human, save for the abnormally high spiritual energies.
And among these humans was Karin Kurosaki.
At first Hinamori thought nothing of her. She was simply 'one of those humans' that needed training. She happened to be assigned to the tenth division. There were only six of these humans, most of them already adept to their abilities, so Hinamori was left without a time-passer like the other divisions had. All she had was her paperwork, which was even more after Matsumoto had 'asked' her to do it for them. Momo had agreed, thinking it would help lessen Toshiro's load, so now she was swamped with form after form.
But whenever she had the chance she would go visit him. And he was always with the Kurosaki girl. Every time she saw her, she was smiling, whirling with determination and energy. She seemed strong too. Exceptionally strong. She kept boasting that it was her Kurosaki blood, but it was clearly an influence of Toshiro as well. She knew he was a prodigy, so he should be able to train just as well. But the most frustrating part of the brunette Kurosaki was that whenever she was around, Toshiro was happy, and when she wasn't, he wasn't.
"Hey Hinamori!" A loud voice echoed through the room as Karin slammed open the fifth division office door. Her large, lively eyes spotted the pen in her ink-stained fingers. She marched over to the table and peered over at the paper. "Ah ha! The tenth division flower! I knew it, Matsumoto did give you our paperwork! She's just trying to help Toshiro skip out on his chores."
"That's Captain Hitsugaya, human." A familiar, smooth voice said, and Hinamori watched as the captain entered the room. It was the first she'd seen of him for over two weeks. "And paperwork isn't a chore; it's a duty. Which Matsumoto skips out on."
"Oh, shut up, fuzz-ball. It shouldn't be Rangiku's job in the first place to do paperwork, that's what the captains are for." Karin quipped lightly. Hinamori stiffened. How could this girl talk so lightly to Toshiro like that? He'd chop off her head any minute now.
"And it is a lieutenant's job to aid their captain. And if you call me 'fuzz-ball' again, I'll chop your head off!" Hinamori smirked. There you go.
"Oh yeah, you and what army, Toshiro?"
"Me and Hyourinmaru. You'll soon learn that'll be the last army you'll ever face off against if you make me mad."
"Oh I'm scared now! Have you forgotten? I train with you and that stuck up sword of yours every waking hour! And guess what, I'm dead already!"
"Don't be snarky with me, girl, I rank supreme over you!"
"Meh, look, you don't even have a witty comeback left so now you're just showing off!"
"Psh, you so are!"
Hinamori simply stared as they continued babbling. She had never seen Toshiro act so…childish. Her eyes drifted to the black-haired girl, who had started ruffling his hair. She blinked. Only she was allowed to touch his hair. He angrily slapped away her hand, and they started their argument again. But even though they were speaking with raised voices, he seemed happier than she'd seen him. In a long time.
"'You're losing focus!' Isn't that what you're doing now, 'sensei'?" Karin asked, sarcastically.
He blinked then turned to face Hinamori. "That's right. It's alright, Hinamori, we'll do our own paperwork. Thanks for doing this much." He shot her a smile and she felt her heartbeat speed up. He never smiled, not so easily.
"No problem… um, here, this pile's yours…" she said, suddenly nervous. She suddenly felt like she was a bumbling idiot.
"Alright, now to get this back to Matsumoto-"
"You're the biggest slave driver, Toshiro."
"I told you, it's her job!" They both started walking out the door. "And it's Captain-"
"I couldn't care less what you're ego says to call you."
"What? Care to repeat yourself, I don't think I quite heard you."
"I said you're short!"
Hinamori had never felt more left out.
"Hinamori…" he breathed, as she opened the door to him knocking. "I didn't know where else to go…"
She stared at him. He was soaked, hair matted down by the rain, clothes dripping. And he was shivering. The God of ice was actually quaking. His eyes were wide, large pools of confusion. He was standing so limply, it reminded her of someone dead.
"Toshiro…" she breathed. They stood there for a while, him shivering slightly outside her office, her holding the door open. Then he sniffed and she suddenly snapped out of her stupor, realizing she would catch a cold if the left like this (because he was unlikely to). She opened the door wider and ushered him inside. He barely took two steps before he stopped again.
"First Matsumoto… now…"
Hinamori's eyes widened at that faded statement. Something had happened to Karin. And he was falling apart, all over again, just like with Rangiku. Only this time was different.
Aizen had finally fallen. Both sides had taken a beating, and currently, Komamura, Kyoraku, Soi Fon and Yoruichi were undergoing treatment from Unohana. The rest had gone after the remaining Espada. The group had involved the likes of the Kurosaki two-some, Rukia, Uruhara and many more. So the only ones left to witness the great enemy fall were Hinamori, Matsumoto, Hitsugaya and an energy-depleted Yamamoto.
"You have him on the run! Finalize the blow!" Yamamoto ordered, yelling from his perch, waiting Unohana's treatment. However, just as they began closing in, Ichimaru Gin appeared, his tightened gaze locked on Matsumoto.
"Gin…" she hissed. Hitsugaya brandished Hyourinmaru as if to attack, but his lieutenant cut him across. "Captain, let me fight him."
"Let me fight him." She repeated angrily.
"Matsumoto, you know how-"
"Rangiku," Gin spoke up suddenly. "This is shocking. To think you were one of the few who actually got a blow on Aizen and is still standing."
"Let me fight him Captain," she stated, her voice bearing on commanding. It was the first time Hinamori had seen Rangiku so utterly overcome in rage. "You remember me telling you how when I went down fighting, it would be against him."
Hitsugaya did not immediately respond, instead watching Ichimaru count down from ten. He firmed his grip on his sword, then looked at her. "Fine." He said. "But you won't go down, not against him."
"Thank you." she said. And she charged. Pausing a moment to look at Matsumoto engage Gin, he then turned his gaze to Hinamori.
"Quick, Hinamori." He said, and shot down to where Aizen had fallen, Momo hot on his icy tail.
Aizen had had one trick left up his sleeve as they headed towards him. A scorching wave of energy pulsating from his body, an almost desperate attempt at fleeing. Hinamori had frozen, memories with this man resurfacing. She couldn't. She just couldn't. Traitor or not, he was the one who'd entered her into the shinigami world. She owed it to him that her skills were at the level they were at.
The sound of shattering ice made her jump, and she looked down to see Aizen with a broken jaw and severely deep chest would hold up against Hitsugaya with his last breath.
"Hinamori! Follow up! Ban kai, now!"
But she didn't, and she was disgusted with herself at how, for lack of better word, indecisive she was being. Moments ago, she had resolved to deliver the killing blow to her previous head and idol. But then, he'd locked his deep brown eyes with her, and she'd lost anything close to determination, reversing back into her shriveled uncertain state.
"Hina-" Hitsugaya had started again, but stopped as an enormous explosion, more severe than the waves Aizen was throwing off, rippled down to their level.
"Rangiku!" Hitsugaya yelled, forgetting about Aizen, who took the young captain's lapse in concentration to swing him broken sword at his neck. If Hitsugaya had not had the icy collar around his neck, his head would have come off. He swirled around, whipping his tail to slash at Aizen. The waves of energy started fading as Aizen fell.
"Momo! Ban kai!"
Hinamori's mind was in a jumbled, uncertain mess. Above her, Rangiku was engaged in a battle that was reaching a dangerous climax. A battle that Hitsugaya wanted to reach and end as soon as possible. And then, right in front of her, said captain was fighting against the strongest enemy the Seretei had ever faced. And that enemy was losing. But suddenly, the fluctuating reiatsu raining from the skies suddenly disappeared, as if whoever was fighting had been annihilated.
She watched as Hitsugaya stopped entirely, turning to look up, eyes widened in fear and worry, his mouth forming a silent 'No!'. Hinamori also couldn't stop the sudden strike of fear flitting across her chest. Then she watched in slow motion as Aizen suddenly reared up behind the captain of the tenth, bloody eyes widened in bloodlust, broken jaw hanging, letting out a yell unlike anything she had ever heard. And finally, she reacted.
They never did find the tenth division lieutenant's body. Or Gin's for that matter. No one knew for sure what had happened. Yamamoto had said Gin had thrown her onto one of the building tops, she had countered with a movement he hadn't recognized and suddenly, it was all over. Hitsugaya had told her, much, much later, that that had been a move he'd taught her, one so strong, it would rip her apart in the process. To be used in the most dire of situations, an attack so lethal, it would only be an emergency's last resort. An action to save humanity.
They had finally won the battle that had begun so many decades ago, and yet, to Hinamori, things had never seen more hopeless. Many of the greatest warriors were left crippled, comatose, or weak. To her, it was horrible, because Hitsugaya was almost not there. He was a walking shell of ice. He sat in his office, answering no one, talking only when absolutely necessary, and in the most curt way possible.
He did not smile. Ever. It was as if the word had been erased from his mind.
She had tried so many, many times. The only reaction she ever got from him was either a sigh, or a slight softening of his incredible eyes. And it was tearing her up more than she had ever thought possible.
And Karin had been made his new lieutenant.
Hinamori didn't know what to think of that decision. Karin was definitely powerful, proving herself magnificently against the Espada, wiping them out in great shows of tact and strength. But ever since she took her place at the tenth division, Hitsugaya hadn't looked at her. He didn't speak to her, didn't command her, didn't ask anything of her. Karin continued trying to be friendly, trying to gain some sort of reaction out of him. But all she ever got was the swish of a cloak as he turned a corner. Hinamori didn't know whether to feel happy or sympathetic.
But one day, Karin snapped. She grabbed him by the collar of his uniform and slammed him roughly into the wall, snarling at him as he looked back, with a surprising amount of anger and annoyance.
"Say something, you effing jerk!" She had yelled at his face. "Eight months. It's been eight flipping months since I've been assigned to your division, and not once have you said a word to me! What the hell is wrong with you?"
"You're spitting on me." He simply replied. Her eyes flashed.
"Shut up! I've been dealing with your sulky attitude, forgiving you every single time. You're going through a rough time here, probably the first time in a long time, since your grandmother," his eyes flashed dangerously at that statement. "But that gives you no right to act like this. It's pathetic! What would Rangiku say if she saw you like this?"
A hand shot up a trapped her wrist in a vice grip, but she didn't let her wince show on her face. He narrowed his eyes at her, a threatening glare, but Karin thought nothing of it. "What right do you have asking me that?" he snarled at her. "Who the hell are you to be telling me what she would have thought?"
"Oh grow up!" Karin snapped. "I cannot believe a captain is having these sort of problems! For the first month, alright fine, two months, maybe you two were really really close. But eight months? I thought you were more than that, stronger. Get with the present; she's gone and we all miss her, and will always miss her, but no amount of sniffing and depression will bring her back. It's the harsh face of life. Or death. I should think you know all about that. I'm your new lieutenant, and you had better deal with it, Toshiro."
Karin turned on heal after shooting him a glare stalked towards the door.
"…that's Captain Hitsugaya." She heard him mumble, and hiding a smirk, she called back over her shoulder.
The next day, Toshiro had given her a nod when he saw her. It wasn't ideal, but it was a definite improvement. He had kept his office door open from the day after that, and had started greeting his division members the next. One week later, Karin offered to help him with his paperwork. He had raised his line of sight to hers, clearly surprised, though something else was held in his gaze. Karin had a feeling she knew what it was.
"She never used to do her fair share." He said. He still wasn't comfortable using her name, but that was understandable. Karin's eyes softened.
"I know." There was a silence. Then she spoke up again. "So, do you have a pen? Maybe once we finish, we can visit Hinamori. She's been dying of worry for you."
He gave a soft smile. "She probably has. Here." He handed her a pen, and she grabbed a bunch of the papers.
"Cool." She said, and turned towards the couch, which was where Matsumoto used to drink while pretending to do paperwork.
"Karin?" She turned around, cocking an eyebrow. "Thank you." She just smiled.
To say Hinamori had been surprised when Hitsugaya, followed by Karin, had walked in through the door would have been an understatement. She had ran over to him, crushing him in a hug, just happy he was starting to turn back. She had caught Karin's eye, and she immediately felt a sinking feeling, knowing the black haired girl had done what she had deemed impossible. She had let go of him then, and that had been the last time she'd ever hugged him.
Karin had spent so much more time with him after that, and soon, Hitsugaya had returned, with even enough courage to start talking about Matsumoto again, using her name, now remembering the good times with his previous lieutenant instead of thinking of her death as a curse upon them.
And something else had sparked in between the head two of the tenth division. She didn't know what it was, but Momo suddenly felt like the connection she'd shared with Hitsugaya so many years ago had disappeared. Every time she saw him, Karin wasn't too far away. She often saw him giving Karin pointers on how to fight, or talk, advice she'd felt pride in knowing that she was the only person he'd told. She went back to hating – no, not hating. That word was reserved for Aizen. She'd gone back to disliking the Kurosaki girl. As the seretei started repairing itself, Hinamori found there was less and less time spend between her and her best and greatest childhood friend.
And one night, her suspicions were met.
She found the both of them on the roof one night, looking at the stars. She had always thought that was something that only him and her had ever done. And now Karin had suddenly taken her place. She suddenly remembered all that time ago, when he'd told her he loved her. Tears lined her eyes. That love had now disappeared from her, and had found a new form, one with black hair and blue eyes and an untamable spirit. And Hinamori realized then that she had missed her time with him. That now, she would take a back seat and see him only if he ever needed her.
And this seemed like that sort of time. She closed the door and looked at him concernedly.
"She…she…K-Karin…" he stuttered out.
"Did something … did something happen to her, Shiro?" she asked him, very quietly. Any louder, and she might break him.
"We were…. It was just a simple mission…neither of us thought anything of it… and then she said she wanted to fight alone…" he wasn't making much sense, and Hinamori suddenly felt scared. He had never, in the history of her knowing him, not made sense. He had never seen so lost, so broken, so indescribably scared. And his fear chilled her bones.
"It's alright, you don't have to-"
"She's dead." He spat out suddenly, as if he didn't hear her. "Karin is dead."
"She's gone. Forever." He was almost in a trance, staring unseeingly at her desk. "Gone, dead. All because I couldn't help her. Because I let her fight. It's my fault. She's dead."
"Stop it!" she cried, and he looked up at her with eyes so pleading she almost wailed in despair. It read a look that said 'I don't know what I'm living for anymore.' She wrapped her arms around him, pushing his head against her shoulder, holding him steady. The feeling was distant, like a picture she'd drawn from many years ago. He was still shaking, but he wasn't crying. She knew he loved her, Karin, and she wondered why he wasn't at least tearing up a little.
"Shiro, it's okay if you cr-"
"She told me I shouldn't." he mumbled into her shirt. "She told me that if anything were to happen to her that I should carry on like I always did." His voice faltered at the end. Hinamori felt herself grow worse. "She said she didn't want to be another Rangiku."
"…but she wasn't 'another Rangiku' was she?" she whispered to him. "They were both special, but both played very different roles in your life."
"I've lost everyone." He said, as if her were dead, devoid of tone. "Matsumoto, Karin… "
"You've still got me." She said quietly, pulling away from him so she could look into his sad eyes. 'So very, very sad.'
He met her gaze, then raised a cold, wet hand to her cheek.
"I always have." He leaned his forehead against hers and despite the situation, she felt her breath catch. "If I lost you…there would be nothing left to live for." There was a soft silence, broken by the pitter patter of the rain. They were so very close, and it was ripping her apart. Every time he spoke, moved his lips, lips that belonged to Karin, she could practically feel them on her own. She found that so incredibly, disgustingly wrong, to be thinking about him when he needed comfort so badly.
"Don't worry," she whispered, raising her hand to hold the one on her face. "I won't leave you alone. Never." That skin that was so flawlessly young, those eyes that were so hypnotically blue. He was driving her insane while falling apart.
"Karin said the same thing." He choked out, dropping his hand from her grip. "Don't make promises you can't keep."
He was so painfully close to her, and yet his thoughts were still on Karin. She looked at him, but he pulled away, turning to look out the window at the rain, his hands hanging limply at his sides. He was so fully and completely broken. The last part of his shattered self was just hanging by a fine thread. And it was her job to not only make sure it didn't break, but that she found the other pieces. This time there was no Karin to do it for her.
"An eternity without her." She heard him breath into the cold air of her office. She would fix him. She had to. She owed him that much, at least.
Because she loved him, but had missed her chance when he did too.