AN: Hey everyone!
Still on the Hitsuhina hype train and today I bring you another fluffy oneshot! This was inspired by rereading the BLEACH chapters in volumes 47 and 48 where Ichigo faced off against Tensa Zangetsu and it got me wondering if Hitsugaya achieved his matured state using similar methods. As such, the bulk of my research for this story was done using these volumes (particularly Isshin's explanations about the jinzen state) and the BLEACH wiki, so hopefully the content in this story is accurate enough.
For anyone who read my other oneshot I did recently, 'One Cold Night', you can think of this piece as a sequel for it. However, you don't have to read 'One Cold Night' to understand what's going on here and can just think of this as being a stand-alone story.
Anyhow, hope you enjoy this oneshot ! As always, I apologise in advance for any grammar/spelling mistakes I've missed and if I interchange too much between the first and last names of characters outside of dialogue.
Disclaimer: I own this laptop, this mug of tea, these textbooks, and the yellow paint on my walls. Tite Kubo own BLEACH.
Amongst the Darkness and Ice
The said lieutenant looked up from the papers she was filling in, her hand stilling mid brush stroke. "Taicho."
"What are you still doing here?" Shinji asked, frowning. He stepped into the room and slid the door closed as Momo resumed her work.
"I'm finishing up the last of the paperwork," she said. "I've made good progress today, so if I keep this up I should be done by tonight." She briefly looked at her captain again as he crossed the room to her desk. "How was your, uh…conversation with Sarugaki-san?"
He rolled his eyes and rubbed his ear. "The same as always. I swear one of these days she's going to make deaf she's so loud." Momo let out a nervous chuckle, and was about to comment but Shinji continued. "Anyhow, do you even know what time it is? I thought I told you to stop work before dinner."
Momo looked over to the stack of paperwork she had yet to fill out. "It's not that late, and there's still quite a bit to do. I can have it done in-"
"Seriously, you can stop now. You've done enough for today, probably more than enough." He bent over and picked up half of the paper stack. "I'll take over. Go, eat. You can't work properly unless you're keeping up with your meals, right? That's something Unohana would say."
Momo frowned, wanting to protest but knowing her captain was right. She'd been released from the fourth division almost three weeks ago, and it was only recently she had resumed her usual duties. She couldn't help but feel like she was falling behind, despite the hard work she put in. However, her efforts were always recognised by Shinji, and she did appreciate that her captain was slowly trying to ease her back into her duties so that it wouldn't take a toll on her.
"Wait, did you bring your dinner here?"
Momo looked from her captain to what his gaze was trained on. Her eyes widened and she dropped her brush as she remembered why there was a small, cloth-wrapped box at the corner of the table. "Ah, I still have to give that to Hitsugaya-k…I mean, Hitsugaya-taicho!"
She grabbed the box as she stood from her place and turned to Shinji. "It's from Obaa-san, I saw her briefly on my break this morning. She always makes amanatto for Hitsugaya-taicho and I. It's one of his favourite things to eat."
Shinji grinned. "Amanatto? Ha, why am I not surprised? The guy already acts like an old geezer."
"I'm joking, I'm joking." He waved his free hand towards the door as he sat down at her desk. "Now get going, go find somewhere fancy to eat or something. You've earned it this past week."
As Shinji started off from where she had left, Momo smiled and bowed her head. "Thank you and good night, Taicho."
He briefly glanced at her as she left. "G'night."
Momo quickly walked through her division, greeting the few officers finishing up whatever work they were doing. When she stepped out through the main doors, she looked to the horizon. The last rays of the sun peaked out behind the hills and mountains, casting golden rays over the Soul Society and dying the sky in dark reds, oranges and pinks that bled into one another. She didn't stop the smile from gracing her lips as a sense of nostalgia filled her, almost bringing her back to her days in Junrinan.
Though she rarely ever treated herself to anything fancy, she wouldn't mind going to one of the restaurants in the Junrinan. But she decided that she would first deliver the amanatto to Hitsugaya and walked off in the direction of the tenth division.
Winter was slowly giving way to spring and she could feel it in the crisp evening air. She knew this winter was Hitsugaya's favourite time of the year, but knowing him he was probably stuck in his division doing paperwork, too busy to appreciate the weather. Momo's smile grew as she wondered if she could convince him to leave the paperwork and join her for dinner in the Rukongai. She couldn't remember the last time they ate together, let alone at a restaurant.
She reached the tenth division and quickened her walk to get to the office. Within a few moments she was standing in front of the office door. She realised this would be the first time she has seen Hitsugaya since they reconciled a month ago, and until now she had only heard about him through Rangiku. She wasn't saddened by the revelation. If anything this was to be expected. She wanted to settle back into her duties and gain closure for everything she'd been through, and she knew he would have a lot of work to do as a captain besides paperwork.
Her thoughts were dispelled when she heard footsteps behind the door. Momo raised her hand and was about to knock when the door slid open. She quickly stumbled back before she could bump into Rangiku's ample chest "Rangiku-san!"
The blonde lieutenant gasped when she saw Hinamori. "Ah, Hina-chan! Sorry, I didn't see you there."
"It's all right," Hinamori said with a chuckle. "Were you just on your way out?"
Rangiku smiled. "I was, but what brings you here?"
Momo looked past the lieutenant and frowned when she saw Hitsugaya wasn't in usual place behind the desk. "Has Hitsugaya-kun already gone to his quarters?"
Rangiku cocked her head slightly to the side. "You came to see Taicho?"
Momo nodded and raised the box of amanatto for Rangiku to see. "It's nothing really urgent. Just the usual delivery from Obaa-san."
Rangiku laughed at the sight of the box. "Taicho does love his amanatto…but he's not in the barracks or his quarters. He's still out training."
Momo's eyebrows raised in surprise. "Training?"
Rangiku sighed and slumped against the doorway, her hand rubbing the back of her neck as she spoke. "He's in the caves at the outskirts of the Soul Society. It's become a regular thing for him to go there to train."
Momo's eyebrows rose up even further, and she was sure they were almost touching her hairline. "All the way out there?"
Rangiku nodded, a hint of concern flashing in her grey eyes. "Don't ask me why, but I assume it's because he doesn't want to be distracted or distract anyone nearby. You know what he's like sometimes - he gets so fixated on something and likes to have his full concentration on it but loses track of time. Recently though…he's been really fixated on his training. He gets up earlier these days just do paperwork and then goes off to the caves, so I've had to go and check up on him when he doesn't come back after sunset."
"I see." Momo frowned and looked away from Rangiku, several thoughts coming forth at the revelation. Hitsugaya was always a hark-worker, and he often trained alone. She knew he'd been training in the six months after Aizen's defeat - Rangiku said as much when they spoke after lieutenant meetings whenever Momo asked about him - but she didn't realise just how many hours he put in and was away from the Seireitei. What was he training so hard for in such a far off location?
Just as Momo opened her mouth to speak, Rangiku bet her to it, grinning as she said "I was actually about to leave to go check on him…but maybe it'd be better if you went this time."
Momo's eyes widened. "What?"
Rangiku pushed off from the doorway and stepped towards the younger lieutenant. "I think he'd like it if you came for him instead."
"Rangiku-san, I'm sure Hitsugaya-kun doesn't mind if it's you, regardless."
"Ha, I know that. But well…"
Momo frowned when Rangiku looked off to the side with a smirk, as if she knew something she didn't. "Rangiku-san?"
The woman batted a hand and chuckled. "Oh nothing! I was, uh… just remembering that Hisagi, Kira, and Kyoraku-taicho have asked me to come drinking tonight, and honestly, I was hoping to join them. Again, I think Taicho would appreciate you going to see him…Especially since you have amanatto to give to him and I know you'd want to give to him yourself."
Deciding to let her friend off the hook for whatever made her smirk, Momo looked to the box in her hand. If Rangiku had to go get him for past few nights because he was so focused on training, did that mean he had skipped out on his meals? Momo almost laughed at how perfect of an excuse it was for her to bring the amanatto to him now, but found she was more concerned than humoured.
"Which caves is he in?" she asked. "The ones in the south-west or the ones in the north-east?"
Mist and powdered snow streaked around his ankles as he skidded along the ice surface. When he came to a stop, he almost toppled over but corrected his posture by leaning back. He opened his eyes to the ice field that was as endless as the dark sky above it. Before he could fully register it, his opponent's blade sung in the air as it came towards him. He quickly lifted his own blade to block the attack, grunting as he felt himself being forced back again.
He clutched the hilt of his Zanpakuto tighter and pushed forward against the pressure of his opponent, who he now glared at. His opponent simply stared back blankly, his eyes steely and his expression passive. They were locked like this for only half a minute before he leapt back and Hitsugaya put his foot forward to steady himself.
Panting, the boy still glared at his Zanpakuto's spirit metres away from him. "Hyourinmaru…"
While in bankai state, Hyourinmaru had a few physical changes. The ice around his neck was not as jagged, looking more like a collar from a suit of armour. His hands and feet were more humanoid, his hands and arms were protected by guards that were shaped with longer, sharper talons. The ends of his hair glistened with ice and hovering above him were two massive wings that were now flared out behind him, the icy scales smooth and shining.
"As I said," Hyourinmaru spoke, his voice echoing around the inner world, "you are not ready for this yet."
Hitsugaya quietly cringed. "And why not?"
He could have sworn the steel in his eyes softened around the edges. "You are still too young to handle such powers, Master. It would take too great of a toll on you."
Hitsugaya looked away from Hyourinmaru to the blade he held. Small fragments of ice and snow were scattered along the edges of steel. "You've been holding because I'm too young?"
He felt a shudder run through him, but he didn't know whether it was due to the cold or the slight prang of betrayal. His eyes went back to his Zanpakuto's spirit. He knew a fragment the icy walls that guarded his mind and heart from those who looked into his eyes had slipped when he saw his opponent's eyes soften even more. "It's been months, Hyourinmaru, and I haven't made much progress in refining Daiguren in its current state. You know this, and I would thought you…"
He swallowed against the emotions building up in him. Six months since Aizen's defeat, he'd been in the caves, away from everyone, alone with only his conscience and his Zanpakuto to wield. He remembered the frustration that had built over the months. That led him to conclude going into a state of Jinzen might speed up the progress, only for the frustration to boil over when he came to his inner world and realised that his Zanpakuto might be holding something back from him.
"I would have thought," Hitsugaya said, his voice softer, "...that you would have told me-"
"Because of what it is you train so tirelessly for?" Hyourinmaru interrupted. "Have you forgotten, Master? It is true that what you fight for is what I shall fight for alongside you, but I alone have things I wish to protect."
"And what might they be?" Hitsugaya asked, raising his blade for another attack. He knew Hyourinmaru wouldn't answer, and he was proven right when he came charging at him again. The Zanpakuto spirit leapt into the air and Hitsugaya quickly followed to gain the upper hand. When their blades met in mid air, the shockwave carried the steel ring that echoed throughout the ice field.
If this had been any other time of the day, Momo would have walked at a slower pace to take in the forest, maybe even find something that would inspire her draw later. But now that the sun was gone, the moon was rising, and the sky was rapidly darkening into a deep indigo, she rushed along the path that led to the caves. As the large rock walls of the mountains came into her view, she walked up a steep slope. Her legs, still getting used to walk longer distances after being confined to bed for so long, ached under her. But as she reached the top, the aches subsided and she slowed her walk until she came to stop metres away from the entrance.
Her eyes widened when she saw flakes of snow and patches of ice stretching along the ground from the cave to where she stood. Beyond the entrance, she thought she could see faint trails of fog and mist emanating from deep within the passage. Her free hand went to her chest as she registered his reiatsu, cold and familiar, and…stronger.
Much stronger than before.
Her heart stammered. "Shiro…chan." How had he gotten this strong in such a short period of time? What was he doing in the caves to become this strong?
Coming out of these thoughts, she tucked the box of amanatto into the side of her obi and continued towards the cave. Her hand fell back to her side as she stepped through the cave entrance. Her steps disturbed the faint mist around her legs and her breath fogged in the chilly air. She frowned lightly as she felt as though she had crossed a threshold, a point of no return, but she didn't look back as trekked deeper into the darkness.
She noticed streaks of ice along the cave walls. The further she went in, the more ice there was and the colder it became. Every now and then, she head rocks and ice crumble and shatter. The cold now lightly pierced her skin and she rubbed her upper arms to sooth the slight shivers and goose-bumps.
Suddenly, Hitsugaya's reiatsu vibrated through the cave and flew out towards her. Yelping, she barely had enough time to dodge to the cave wall so as not fall from the force of the icy blast. She found purchase on the wall, holding onto a jut of ice that pierced cold needles into her palm.
Pressing her back against the rock wall, she watched the fragments of ice carried on the currents of mist and wave of reiatsu glitter in the faint light. Shiro-chan...what are you doing in here? What are you training so hard for?
When the reiatsu died down, she continued on, keeping closer to the cave wall in case her now trembling legs gave out underneath her. Her hand reached out and slid across the rough surface, sometimes over glassy ice. She looked above, and in the faint light saw icicles jutting out like daggers. Around her, some of the stalagmites had been blasted by ice.
By the time she came to a bend in the passage, she noticed there was far more ice along the walls and floor. Her shivers worsened, her eyes stung, and her walking pace became slower. She knew she was close now.
It was only a moment later when the bend straightened again. Her eyes registered before her mind what was in front of her. She came to a stop mid-step. All the breath in her lungs left her in a white puff.
At the end of the passage, he was in the centre of a large chamber that was almost entirely covered in ice and snow. Around him, the ice-covered walls, stalagmites and stalactites shone dully and ice fragments glittered as they fell from the roof. She dared to lift her gaze away from him to find the source of light was a small, thinly iced-over hole high above him. Her eyes fell back to him when another strong pulse of reiatsu flew off him and towards her. She grunted as she fell back against the cave wall again, her limbs shuddering under the weight of the wave. She felt a cold sweat build up on the back of her neck and arms. Did he know she was there? Was he so focused that he couldn't detect her reiatsu?
When his reiatsu died down again and she felt confident enough that she wouldn't fall over, she slowly walked forward. Her steps faintly echoed in the narrow passage, but he didn't turn or show any sign of noticing her. His back was turned to her and the wings of Daiguren Hyourinmaru were spread out to their full span. Above him, she saw he only had one ice flower left.
"H-Hitsugaya-kun?" she said.
Momo watched the white vapour billow before her as she waited for his response. She stopped just as she had entered the chamber and only noticed then that he was sitting. Frowning, she continued towards him.
"Hitsugaya-kun?" Her voice echoed around the cavity and she wasn't sure if it trembled because of the cold or the weight of reiatsu before. Above him, one of the ice petals shattered. Distracted by the shattered petal, Momo yelped as she almost slipped on the ice. She quickly regained her balance and looked to Hitsugaya, seeing if he had heard her.
He sat as still as before. The realisation dawned on her. He's in jinzen.
She moved more cautiously towards him, avoiding the ice when possible and sticking to the patches of solid dirt and rock. When Momo finally came to stand at his side, her suspicions her confirmed. His head was bowed and on top of his crossed legs his ice-covered hands lay half turned up and fingers loosely curled towards his palm. Stabbed in the ground in front of him was Hyourinmaru. Upon seeing the sword, her heart clenched and Momo couldn't help put bring her hand to her chest. She knew too well for her liking how cold the blade was.
Shaking her head to dismiss the thought, Momo focused back on her childhood friend. She bent over to look under the fringe that fell forward to cover the side of his face. Through the snow white strands she saw his eyes were closed, his frown had softened, and a small fogged breath trailed out from his nose.
She sighed and straightened back up, rubbing her arms to lessen the shivers. "It's no use. I'll have to wait until he decides to come out of this state…"
Momo looked back to the passage she came from. It would be far warmer outside, and while she knew she wouldn't freeze to death in here, she didn't like the fact her feet and the tips of her fingers were on the verge of numbing. Her elbow brushed the amanatto box at her side, and she considered just leaving it here with him. Who knew how much long he would be in jinzen and still had to go get dinner. She felt a small pang of guilt as the last option started to become the most appealing to her.
A speckle of red suddenly caught her attention. All her thoughts ceased when she saw what it was.
A cut was being etched into Hitsugaya's cheek. Momo watched in shock as a drop of blood seeped from the wound, sliding down his cheek and dripping stopping at the underside of his jaw. Momo was jolted out of her astonishment when the cut slowly continued dangerous close towards his eye.
As she came to his side, she exclaimed "Hitsugaya-kun!"
Her body trembled with renewed vigour, but this time it was out of worry as the cut continued to split his skin and there was nothing she could do to stop it. She almost sobbed in relief when it angled away and stopped.
She quickly moved to be in front of him, kneeling next to Hyourinmaru. More blood trickled from the wound, staining his cheek and the tips of his fringe. Without thinking Momo leaned forward and brushed the hair away, trying to tuck it behind his ear.
"Shiro-chan…" she whispered, voice thick with concern.
She pulled her hand away him, afraid she would somehow worsen his condition. His brows were still slightly frowning, his eyes didn't flutter, his lips remained closed and in a thin line. Another fogged breath came from his nose. It was if the cut never split his skin. It scared her that he didn't react at all to the wound, despite knowing that depth of the jinzen state disallowed for any distraction from the outside world, including the pain of wounds.
She knew now her childhood friend wasn't communicating with Hyourinmaru, he was battling him in his inner world. Whatever he was fighting for, she didn't want to somehow risk disrupting him in this state by healing his wound.
Momo shifted her legs to make herself more comfortable. She didn't want him to come back to the world alone in the cave, especially not after fighting his Zanpakuto spirit. The girl could always tell that Hitsugaya considered Hyourinmaru be more than just a weapon; he saw his Zanpakuto as a comrade, a partner on the battlefield fighting alongside him. She imagined fighting against him was painful for her childhood friend, even though this had been a way to gain new abilities for thousands of years and that Hitsugaya had done this several times before.
She looked down to his hands, still the same as before. Gingerly, she placed her hand over his forearm, tiny needles of ice pricking her fingers when she wrapped them around. Even though he would have no idea she was here with him, Momo hoped that somehow her presence here would help him through whatever was happening in his inner world.
That he would know he had someone his side, encouraging him and waiting for him to return.
She swallowed down her worry and let her determination and belief in him take its place in her voice.
"Come on, Shiro-chan," she whispered. "Whatever it is you're fighting for, I know you can win."
The cut in his cheek stung and the blood was warm against his chilled skin. His throat and nostrils were dry. His hands ached. His blood ran hot under his skin and above his chilled bones. His heart raced and his limbs quivered with adrenaline.
Regardless, he lunged at Hyourinmaru, managing to make him falter in his footing. He tried to go for an attack on his side, but was blocked and kneed in the stomach. Crying out, Hitsugaya was forced back and landed on the ground with a hard 'smack'.
The boy grunted as he raised his head and brought his arm out from underneath him. Along his forearm with tiny scraps, but none were deep enough to draw blood. As the boy struggled back to his feet, Hyourinmaru landed in front of him, looking down at him with a harsher steeliness in his eyes.
Hitsugaya stuck his blade in the ground and leaned against it. He glanced above him when he heard another petal burst. He was down to two.
Panting, he was on the verge of being light-headed and it took a lot of strength for him to raise his head.
"If I am too young," Hitsugaya yelled, "then what do I have to do in order to perfect Daiguren?!" He quickly leaned away, pulled his blade out from the ground and aimed it at his opponent's neck. "What do I have to do in order for you teach me?!"
For only a fraction of a second, Hitsugaya could have sworn some of Hyourinmaru's resolve waver when he looked at the blade aimed at him. But when his eyes returned to stare him down, he wondered if he'd seen it at all.
The more Hitsugaya looked into the grey eyes the clearer the stoic Zanpakuto spirit's emotions became to him. Behind the harshness, the boy saw something akin to familial concern. He knew the same emotion was flashing beneath the walls of his own eyes as well, and he felt silly for feeling betrayed before.
"You know why am I trying to fight for these abilities," he said. " And you know that I cannot wait until I am old enough to wield all your powers. I need them now…I do not know why you have kept them from me, or why you refuse to teach me…but I will not stop…until I have perfected Daiguren."
Hitsugaya lowered his blade. Before he could continue to speak, Hyourinmaru tilted his head over his shoulder, looking to the sky. Did he sense something? His frown softened and his eyes became hooded. "We shall leave it here for today, Master." He turned his attention back to Hitsugaya and gestured to the last ice petal. "I have no doubt you come to fight me again, but for now, you're at your limit."
The blade in Hyourinmaru's hand disintegrated into ice fragments and snow.
Hitsugaya quickly walked toward him. "Wait, I'm not-!"
"As it is, I shouldn't keep you away any longer."
At this the boy paused. "Away from what?"
"You will understand once you leave here." Mist emanated from Hyourinmaru when he started to transform back into his original form, and Hitsugaya could feel the threads of the outside world pulling him back to consciousness.
"My Master," he heard Hyourinmaru say from the mist, his voice becoming distorted. "I know why you fight and why it continues to be your motivation. I know deep in your heart what you long for, and why you long for it now. I already know that you won't give up, but do you really understand your…eart…nd….ori…"
His words faded away as the icefield swept out from under Hitsugaya's feet and the boy was gently dragged into the darkness.
Momo flinched when she saw Hitsugaya's fingers twitch. Her wide eyes shot to his face when she heard a gravelly groan emanate from his now parted lips. Her hand on his forearm tightened.
"Shiro-chan?" she said.
The first thing Hitsugaya registered was sound, followed by touch, smell, taste, and then vision. His hearing was muffled, but he thought someone was calling out to him. There a dull sting his cheek, arms, and hands that was slowly becoming sharper. He felt a pressure around his forearm. When smell came back to him, the scents of earth and ice rushed to greet, almost overwhelming him. But underneath those scents was a faint one, familiar and sweet.
Momo gasped when his wings came down and loosely curled around them. Distracted by the sudden movements of his wings, the girl drew her hand away from his arm and didn't see his eyelids flutter.
"Hitsugaya-kun…" Momo turned her attention back to his face. "What in the world is…".
She trailed off when she saw his eyes opening. At first, the turquoise in his hooded eyes was dreary and glazed, not really registering or understanding what was in front of him. She guessed his vision was blurry when he blinked several times and his frown deepened in concentration. The girl found herself captivated, watching him as he slowly regained consciousness and awareness of his surroundings.
Hitsugaya closed his eyes tightly as he rolled his shoulders back. He flexed his fingers and wrists. The strands of hair she had tucked behind his ear slipped from their place when stretched his neck from side to side, no doubt stiff from sitting in the same position for so long.
Momo couldn't help but voice her concern. "Are you all right, Hitsugaya-kun?"
He froze. His eyes opened again. Momo drew back slightly when he brought his head forward and his gaze met hers. His mouth opened, as if to speak, but only a strained gasp came from him.
Suddenly her position as a lieutenant, all the battles she had won and lost, her training at the Shinōreijutsuin, her dream to become a shinigami, and Tobiume disappeared with the white puff of vapour that escaped her parted lips. She was a young girl again, gazing at the boy for the first time in the Jurianan, fascinated by his white hair and wanting to prove she wasn't like the others who shunned him. Back to a time when they only saw Sereitei at a distance and it didn't matter as much to either of them. When neither had any intentions of becoming shinigami. When neither had to battle against Hollows and Arrancars and ex-captains.
Seeing him the way he was now, wide-eyed and bright with shock and confusion, it reminded Momo of the first time she had shown him an act of kindness. He looked so young, so vulnerable without his guard up. Warmth flushed through her, heating her cheeks and fingertips. A weightlessness, free of the burdens of her past and present, lifted her heart. She found herself speechless, confused by this sensation that had taken over her.
"Hin…Hinamori," he whispered, his voice course and breathless.
The nickname had an effect on him. It was the last piece he needed to become fully aware and conscious once again of the outside world. It was enough to push away the shock, leaving only the confusion in its place to shift his features. He cleared his throat before he spoke again, this time in a whisper. "It's 'Hitsugaya-taicho'."
Though the warmth remained in Momo's cheeks, the rest of the sensation vanished and she felt the weight of her past and rank come back to her, grounding her again. Relief now pulsed through her and tugged the corners of her lips upward. "Welcome back, Hitsugaya-kun."
She thought she saw a shadow of a smile, but it vanished when they both heard ice cracking from above. Her eyes widened as small ice shards rained over them. Only one petal remained. Sighing, Hitsugaya's eyes flicked to Hyourinmaru. His wings started to dissolve as he unfurled and drew them away. He stretched upwards to grab the Zanpakuto's hilt.
"What are you doing here?" he asked.
"I bumped into Rangiku-san," Momo explained. "She was on her way to check up on you, but since I wanted to see you, she thought it'd be best if I went. I didn't mean to intrude on your training or anything, it's just it was getting so late and we were both concerned."
As she spoke, Hitsugaya had dislodged Hyourinmaru from the ground and carefully brought the blade to rest across his lap. The ice around his neck, along his back, and around his limbs quickly disappeared, leaving only tiny speckles of snow drifting on faint mist clouds in their wake.
"I was going to leave," Momo continued "but then you..."
Her eyes flickered to the blood on his cheek. Hitsugaya was confused at first, but then brought his hand to touch the area she was gazing at. His eyebrow twitched when he pressed his fingers against the cut. Seeing the blood when he drew his hand back didn't faze him and he wiped the crimson away on his hakama. However, when her hand reached out and hovered just above the cut, his eyes widened a fraction. "Hinamori?"
"Hold still," she murmured, her eyes trained only on his cheek.
She murmured a chant under breath and seconds later a healing kido radiated from her palm. Hitsugaya tensed, the warmth of the kido harsh against his chilled skin, but was quick to relax when he felt the punctured flesh begin to slowly repair. Part of him, exhausted and lulled by the warmth, wanted to close the tiny gap between her hand and his cheek, to lean into her touch and rest there. His gaze fell to his lap, a brief flush of embarrassment flowing through him as he dismissed the thought. "How long have you been here for?"
Momo shrugged. "I'm not really sure. By the time I got here the sun had already set, so it's probably night time now…What about you? You must have been in here for a long while."
He resisted the urge to nod, not wanting to upset her work. "Since this midday." His attention came to her shoulders when he was them shudder. It was only then that he noticed she was shivering. He inwardly winced, mentally kicking himself for not noticing sooner. "Baka, why didn't you wait outside?"
Her features softened as her gaze met his. "I considered it, but then I saw this cut and I…I couldn't leave." Her smile was wobbly at the edges. "Besides, it's not that bad, Shiro-chan. It's much colder outside anyway."
His heart stuttered, aching with both gratitude and guilt. "It was just a cut…you should have left."
Before Momo could respond, Hitsugaya looped a finger through his scarf and pulled it away from his neck. The girl let out a confused squeak when he brought it around the back of her neck. The boy tilted forward ever so slightly so he could properly wrap it around her throat, looping the blue-green material just enough to keep the cold out. By the time he leaned by, he felt his other cheek begin to warm, but not from the kido.
"Keep that on," he instructed, channelling some of the authoritative tone he reserved for his division members to try to convince her.
She frowned, looking between him and his scarf, which she now tentatively held one end of in her other hand. "B-But it's your scarf, Hitsugaya-kun. And you must be cold too."
"I'm not the one shivering here, and you already know I have a higher tolerance to the cold."
Momo looked to the end she held, her fingers brushing along the fabric. The material was already warmed from being around his neck and she detected his earthy scent on the scarf. Once again, she realised, he was looking out for her, trying to take care of her before himself.
The girl's eyes glowed with tenderness when she lifted them up to meet the ones that showed a hint of concern under the icy guard. "Thank you," she whispered.
Hitsugaya felt his cheeks get hotter and his heart skipped a beat. This effect she had on him, with just her eyes alone, was something he never got use to. He sometimes worried that she would see it, that he had dropped his usual frowning expression and laid his true emotions to bear. Much to his relief – and disappointment – her gaze was brief and she quick to bring her focus back to his cheek.
In the short silence that fell between them, all that could be heard were the tiny echoes of ice and rock crunching and cracking. Before he decided to perform jinzen, he tried refining his bankai attacks, and as usual, there was difference between today and the weeks before. Hearing the cracking and crunching reminded him of what had happened just before and after he had entered his inner world. He let his frustration get the better of him and led him to go into jinzen. He remembered feeling a hint of reluctance from his Zanpakuto after he had stabbed it into the ground and took on the meditative position. A twinge of that prior frustration made its way into his heart and mind again, causing his eyes tighten and his jaw to clench. What did he have to do? What was Hyourinmaru keeping from him?
The boy blinked. "Hm?"
He shoved away the memories and brought his focus back to his childhood friend. His cheek suddenly felt cold again and he saw her hand now rested on her lap. He traced his fingers over the repaired skin. Completely smooth, no evidence that it had even been pierced in the first place. When he brought his hand back, he saw he'd smudged his fingers with blood again.
"Thank you, Hinamori," he said as he brought he wiped his cheek on his sleeve. "And it's 'Hitsugaya-taicho', bedwetter."
He expected an indigent retort, but all he got was a gasp and her gaze falling to his raised hand. His frown deepening, he pulled his sleeve away from his cheek slowly. "Hin-?"
"What happened to your hands?" Without warning she pulled both of his hands towards her by the wrists, causing Hyourinmaru to almost slip from Hitsugaya's lap as he was propelled forward. He almost knock his forehead against her.
Shocked by her actions, he looked down and saw what had caused her concern. Seeing the blisters, swelling, and small cuts in his palms and fingers reminded him of the stringing he felt in them before. He wondered how he numbed the pain out, but regardless it was coming back now.
Her hands, softer and warmer than his, slid out from underneath and came to rest on top of his palms, gently encapsulating them. Once again he was engulfed in warmth, and not just in his hands where she now had the kido.
She'd said the nickname to herself, but it caused him to look at her again. Her eyes, suffused in worry and tenderness, were focused on his hands. Her lips formed a thin, tight line. He felt his furrowed brows soften and the corners of his mouth get pulled down further.
"You worry too much, bedwetter," he said. "I was just holding Hyourimaru too tightly and for too long..."
His words conjured up a memory. He was briefly taken back to several months ago, when she had attacked him in her confusion over Aizen's 'death'. When she had gripped her sword so hard her hands bled. He wondered if she had been thinking back on the same moment before, if that had been the reason for her hasty actions. If so, he didn't know if hated the idea that she had a memory like that still in her mind or if he had been the one to remind her of it. But there was nothing he could do change that or the other bad memories she had. That was her own battle to fight.
All he could do was train to protect her from physical harm and from getting any more bad memories to add to collection.
He sighed, deciding to distract her. "How has been settling back into your duties?"
She seemed surprised by the question as it took her a while to answer it. "It's been good."
Finally, she smiled again, and her eyes took on a brighter quality as she remembered everything that had happened in her division recently. "My division members have been really supportive since I've returned," Momo continued. "They keep up the spirits and work hard to keep things going, even when I wasn't there with them. They've all taken a liking to Hirako-taicho, and I have too. He's a good man, though he can be a bit, uh…out-there sometimes." She giggled nervously.
Hitsugaya raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"
"Oh, nothing weird," she reassured. "He's just very casual and has some strange possessions from the world of the living. For example, he has this thing called a phonogram which plays music. I hear it sometimes while I'm doing paperwork – the music it plays is a bit weird sounding but it's growing on me. I think he called it 'jazz'...or was it 'rock'n'roll'? Uh, anyway, he's been working very hard to get the fifth division back in order.
"I like working for him, he's a good man and captain. He makes sure that I don't overexert myself, though I think I can do a bit more work then what he's setting me. Still, it's really good to be back on duty as a lieutenant, I wouldn't have it any other way."
She felt her shoulders deflate in relief when a small smile graced his lips and she could have sworn his own shoulders deflated a fraction after she finished. Had he been worried about her settling back in?
"I'm glad," he said after a pause. "It's as Matsumoto told me. She said you were doing well."
Momo chuckled. "She told me the same about you after the lieutenant meetings. She also told me about your training," – she briefly looked around them –"though she never told me you were conducting it here of all places …I don't know about today, but it must be going well."
The surprise must have shown on his face because the girl was quick to talk again in an unsure tone. "Ah, well, it's just-"
"Why do you say that?" he asked.
Now it was her turn to be surprised. "What…? You mean you don't…you don't know about your reiatsu?"
"What? Is it too high right now?"
Around her, she felt a subtle increase in the temperature, the hum of his reiatsu dying down just a little along with the cold. Momo would have found the boy's bewildered expression adorable if she weren't so stunned. She couldn't believe he didn't sense the changes in his reiatsu, the increased strength it now had; the coldness of it that nearly froze her to the bones when it spiked. Even sitting before him, she could feel its chill surrounding her, brushing just a bit more harshly against her skin then the months before. But it far from unbearable, it never hurt her in all the years she had been with him and she imagined that it never would in the years to come; especially since, she theorised, she had a fire-based Zanpakuto.
Momo thought about elaborating on what she had meant, but found a query escaping past her lips instead. "Why have you been training so hard, Hitsugaya-kun?"
The question knocked him out of his bewilderment. His eyes became stormy waves, darkening with an emotion Momo couldn't gauge as he tilted his head downward.
Hitsugaya's voice was low and gravelly as he spoke. "I need to become stronger. The war against the Arrancars made me realise I need to perfect my bankai. If I can do that…I can finally be strong enough to change things. But I haven't improved…there's barely been any progress…If I don't hurry, I don't what will happen to…"
His gaze flickered to her. Her heart clenched at the troubling emotions she saw through fracturing icy guard. Perhaps high expectations were stopping him from seeing just how far he had come. Another part of her wondered if this had something to do with what had happened during the fight against Aizen.
It can't be, she thought. Even though I forgave him and told him there was nothing to really forgive, even though he knows I don't blame him…It can't be.
But that thought faded as Momo found herself being reminded of a similar moment, of a time many years ago when there was rain and a coldness that rivalled the one here in the cave. She remembered what he had told her that day, the commitment he had made to himself and spoken aloud to only her. The words he had spoken back then…she was sure they were similar to ones he spoke just now.
Whatever had been motivating him back then was motivating him now, and she found the words she wanted to tell him.
Momo looked to his hands, seeing they had now fully healed. She stopped the kido, and once the light faded from her palms, she wrapped her hands around his, loosely interlocking her fingers with his.
"Do you remember when you told me you were going to become a captain?" she asked.
His eyes, vivid with astonishment and hints of confusion, looked from their joined hands to her eyes. She prayed that her sincerity was being conveyed through them while she spoke."I don't know what it is you want to change or become stronger for, and you don't have to tell me of wan to; but you…your training's really paying off. You've become stronger, Hitsugaya-kun. I can feel it in your reiatsu…and I can see it in who you are now. You're the same, but you're also different. You're as determined as ever, but you seemed more focused, more…steady."
She let a small smile slip through. "I don't really know how to describe it…I remember when you told me 'I'm going to become a captain'. And look what happened. So, just like back then, I believe if it's you, Hitsugaya-kun, then you can do it. I know you can do anything you set your mind to. Even though I truly think you're strong enough now, if your wish is to become stronger, then you have my support behind you. I'll help however I can."
Momo wouldn't have believed she heard the smallest of gasps come from him if she didn't see his lips part and a tiny puff of vapour trail from there. She felt a slight tremor run through his hands, and in the back of her mind she wondered if it was from the cold. But didn't focus on those. She only saw the turquoise, and the icy wall momentarily lift before her very eyes.
In that moment, Hitsugaya didn't care if she saw his true emotions. Something small in his heart shattered and reformed. His mind was blank and his body pulsed with a familiar warmth. He felt his eyes sting with the tears that threatened to rim around the edges and was quick to stub it out.
She'd done it again.
She'd told him the word's he needed to hear. The words to crush his doubts, strengthen his resolve, and be the reason he kept going.
Perhaps that's what Hyourinmaru had been trying to tell him before he left his inner world. Had his Zanpakuto seen the doubt that lay in his heart? The doubt that had been holding him back from reaching the next stage in his training…Had he known her words would help him to move forward?
Just like her, he could never truly repress the bad memories, or the worst memory of his life. Of her, limp and cold in his arms, eyes loosing the light in them and the small river of blood spilling from her lips as she asked him the question that had plunged him into rage, horror, agony, and, deep down, doubt. In his ability to protect her. In his ability to become stronger. And that doubt, combined with the lack of progress, caused the frustration that had boiled in his blood for the past few months.
Before he could stop himself, the boy tightened his hands around hers and whispered with a voice that trembled with gratitude. "Thank you, Momo."
Hitsugaya took in a few sharp, silent breaths, calming the intense emotions that threatened to take over him. She squeezed his hands back, beaming at his words. "It's all right, Hitsugaya-kun."
She shifted, looking as though she were about to stand and pull him up with her. "We should probably go. I was going to have dinner in the Rukongai and I thought maybe you'd like to join me…"
Momo trailed off and stopped midway through her actions when felt something softly stab into her side. Frowning she inclined her head to her obi. She went ridged as she realised what it was. "Gah! How did I forget about this?!"
She pulled her hands (reluctantly, she realised) from Hitsugaya's. "This was the whole reason I came to see you in the first place," she muttered as pulled the amanatto box from her side.
"What're you…?" Hitsugaya trailed off when she presented the cloth-wrapped box to him. It only took him a second to put two and two together and his eyes widened.
"Baa-chan…" he said breathlessly as he took the box from Momo.
"I saw her this morning," Momo said, her smile returning. After a pause, she continued "I-I know that...if she were here right now, she'd say she believes in you too, Hitsugaya-kun."
His heart stuttered but he kept his gaze on the box. He found himself smiling again. "Thank you, Baa-chan…" he whispered.
His sentimentality was disrupted when he heard a grumbling and realised it was coming from his stomach. Momo laughed, and he almost burst into laughter himself when her stomach grumbled as well. Her cheeks flushed bright red and she brought her arms to wrap around her mid-section.
"S-Sorry," she stuttered. "You should start eating the amanatto."
To her surprise, he tucked the box away into his shihakusho. "I'll save it for later."
She raised an eyebrow. "Eh?"
Once Hitsugaya sheathed Hyourinmaru across his back, he grabbed her forearms and pried them away from her torso. Without warning, he pulled her up with him as he got back on his feet. He was a bit unsteady on his legs, having sat down for so long and a hint of exhaustion had started to leak into his body.
He shook his head to get rid of the sensation. "You said there was somewhere you wanted to go eat."
Momo blinked and her eyebrows rose. "Um, yes…?"
He tucked his hands into his sleeves and walked away from Momo, his footsteps echoing around the chamber. "I need to change out of this kosode or else I might accidently smear blood on the table."
Momo blinked again, more rapidly this time. She frowned and looked behind to her childhood friend as he made his way to the narrow passage way. She cocked her head to one said, about to question him when it dawned on her. "Y-You're going to join me?"
"Come on, bedwetter," he said without turning to look back at her. "You'll either starve to death or freeze to death if you stay in here."
Hearing the teasing tone in his voice, she couldn't help but grin despite the indigence that rose up in her. She jogged towards him "I don't wet the bed anymore, Shiro-chan!"
She laughed, bright and merrily. They were still the girl and the boy from the Junrinan. They were still the Shinigami in different divisions. And now they were survivors of Aizen's betrayal and war.
She realised some things had changed.
The boy who walked next to her had become stronger, and he was only to get even more so if he kept his training up. She knew he would do it, and she would whatever she could to help him while working under a new captain she had come to accept and respect.
When they came out of the cave, the moonlight lit their way back to Soul Society. As they walked away, Momo looked back at the cave.
The said captain looked at her, raising an eyebrow at the fact she had actually used his title. "Yes?"
"Are you going to come these caves again tomorrow?"
"That's the plan."
"I see..." She looked away, pursing her lips. "Do you plan on staying back as late as tonight? Because if you are..."
He sighed. "I'll think about it."
She was sure she had imagined the hint of anticipation in his voice. Regardless, she grinned and nodded. "All right."
Deep in her heart, Momo also realised there were some things that had never changed. Amongst the darkness and ice, regardless of how dim or cold it was, she would be there by his side - just as he had been and always will be by hers.
Obaa-san/Baa-chan = Grandmother/Granny
Baka = Dummy/Idiot
This turned out a longer than I expected; hope you enjoyed it though!
When I went back and read chapter 671, it seems even Hitsugaya isn't too sure about his powers. He only assumes that the reason he had a 12 minute time limit with his powers was because his power lacked maturity, hence why he had to learn to age up. I sort assume that like Zangetsu, Hyourinmaru would be reluctant to teach Hitsugaya how to wield his power for whatever reason.
As always reviews and comments are appreciated every much. Speaking of which, I'd like to thank everyone for their reviews on my previous oneshots, reading them always made my day and has motivated me to continue writing :)
Anyhow, take care and keep writing!