Oh, and chalk up any formatting glitches to FFN.
It was winter. The snow is falling lightly and a chill nipped at his ankles as he made his way up the hill. Like every other day, he walked home from school. The hill is really his nickname for a sharply curved road running up the side of a mountain, and at this time of year, it usually has a bit of ice on it.
As with every other day, he stops half-way up the hill and looks out over the town. In spite of the fact that the town is so far below him, his teachers say that the mountain he and other students live on is actually quite small compared to some in other parts of the country and abroad. Even so, they always warn him to be on the look-out for incoming traffic, especially during winter.
He rarely listens. He rarely walks home with anyone and to an extent, he prefers it that way.
Other children consider him strange. His teachers say he's "eccentric." Academically, he's so far advanced that he'll actually be graduating high school either this year or the next. He rarely gets a massive amount of praise though. People are scared of him.
He can see dead people.
Every day on his way home, he stops half-way up the hill, looks out over the town and pulls out an empty water bottle. During the summer, he fills it with water and puts three fresh flowers in it. He leaves it here and replaces it daily. During the winter, he steals some of his father's sake and puts in plastic flowers, as real ones would wither and his mother says that sake warms the soul.
Like every other day, he steps across the street towards the safety rail and comes to another stop. Then he sets the new bottle down and takes away the old one, its flowers crumpled and the sake missing.
The ghost attached to this area is strangely absent today, and he doesn't know why but he misses her. She's a young woman with crisp golden hair in a black kimono, and though she isn't chained to the area like so many of the ghosts he makes contact with, she has an air of sadness to her that he can only vaguely sense. Something unrequited, and he's never thought to ask what it is.
Like any other day, he pauses and bows his head. Whether she's here or not, he prays to her.
Perhaps that's why he never hears the car screaming in behind him.
At the age of seven, Yamada Tarou dies in a car accident on his way home from school. The impact is blindingly fast. As he utters prayers to the dead, a car swings in and blindsides him against the railing.
His legs are completely broken to the extent that they turn black. The bottle is hurled under the rails and his own body, suddenly rendered limp from the waist down, isn't far behind. He never even manages to scream.
Instead, as the car crashes off the side of the mountain a little further down the road, Tarou is left to topple silently over the bent railing. His arms flail out to try and grapple onto something, but they only end up finding snow in the air.
The fall down the mountain breaks most of the major bones in his body in ways that make the medical examiner wince.
Even so, the last thing he sees is a blonde woman towering over him in the snow. She's crying for him. The next thing he knows, he's awake in the middle of a forest. His school uniform is gone, his body is a strange mixture of hot and cold, numb and sensory overload. In place of his uniform is a white haori, tied shut with a black belt. His feet are bare, and in the midst of it all, he realizes that he's wearing no underwear. The thought is enough to make him issue a loud, nerve-wracking cackle that doesn't stop for half an hour.
When he finally stands up, he's hungry and thirsty and finally realizing that he's dead.
The shock of it is such that when he looks into a river a few minutes later, he finds that his hair has turned white.
A few seconds after finding this out, he lets out a slow and deliberate smile.
Being dead isn't so bad after all. Not long afterward, he impulsively plunges a hand into the water and, as if by force of will alone, tries to pull something out of it.
When someone creeps up on him from behind, the first thing he does is to whip around and fling a ball of ice at them.
It hits a girl, right in the forehead. The blow is enough to knock her over and render her completely unconscious, and at that, he pauses. He doesn't scream, nor does her rush to her aid in sorrow and regret. For the first time, he just stands there and looks at her in utter puzzlement.
The girl is a little taller than he is. She's skinny, wearing a patchwork yukata that looks like it was assembled from a collection of ripped up bedsheets. Her hair is long, pigtailed and currently stuck out to either side. Her eyes are rolled back and a bit of drool is leaking out of her mouth.
Even though she's utterly unconscious, he decides that he should stick around for her to wake up. Instinct tells him that she could be useful, but his normally lacking morals tell him that he should at least apologize.
Those same morals abruptly vanish when she wets herself while unconscious. For what feels like three hours, she lays there, muttering things about a guy named Izuru. After the smell dissipates, he finds it a little easier to be nearby, though his nose is still pinched and his brows still furrowed when she finally jolts up.
The first thing she does is screech out fifty or sixty apologies(he loses count after number thirty-three) and flail around as if gravity has no control over her whatsoever.
The first thing he does is to stare at her.
When she stops, he has to fight back a snicker before speaking.
"Sorry about that, bedwetter," he says, giving the same kind of insulting apology to her that he gives... Gave to everyone else when he was alive.
She stares at him a few seconds, looks down and promptly starts fighting back tears. Then she bows and jumps into the very water he had seen his reflection in not too long ago, cursing in at least one language that he doesn't recognize. One of his brows arches into his forehead, and something tells him that it should get used to staying there when in this girl's presence.
He actually doesn't mind it. After a few minutes, she finally climbs out of the water and does what amounts to a curtsy at him.
"Hinamori Momo," she introduces herself, nervous and blushing to the roots of her hair. Not that it's terribly visible on her forehead, which is more than a little bruised from the ice-ball.
He doesn't respond to her. Not at first, anyway. Instead, he stares into space and thinks to himself, just like he always does... Always did back when he was alive and in an awkward situation. He considers the ice-ball, and wonders whether or not everyone in this place has powers. He considers the rock he's sitting on and how he wishes it was snowing. He considers her, and thinks that she looks as if she weighs only seventy pounds soaking wet.
Finally, she prepares to leave, obviously believing that he doesn't care to speak to her. She's partially correct, but something tells him that she's too valuable to just let walk away.
So he engages in an activity he's not quite used to: Conversation with someone who seems to be his own age.
"That's a cute name," he mumbles out, leaning forward and hiding his mouth behind clasped hands. His elbows are braced against his knees.
"Th-thank you," she replies almost automatically while grinding to a halt.
She's underconfident, he decides. Probably a list of other things too. He can relate.
Tarou could relate, at least. "Um... I'm sorry for sneaking up on you," she says, bowing far lower than she should have.
"You don't need to do that," he points out. "I overreacted."
At this, she perks up. A bit. She almost looks like she's going to smile, but stops short and instead scratches her cheek in an entirely too girlish manner.
"What's your name?"
For a moment, he considers this.
Yamada Tarou was no-one. He died in a car accident. He was a waste of potential. Then he smiles. He doesn't bother hiding it, and for the first time in a long while, it shows a bit of his ego.
"Hitsugaya Toushiro," he says. Its a name with meaning. It suits him more than Yamada Tarou ever did.
The girl, Momo, latches onto it and smiles. She should do so more often.
His smile cracks. Sometime later, after much one-sided chatter and a lengthy walk, the two arrive at what looks like a village that should've existed two hundred or more years ago. Most of its inhabitants are men or boys, but there are a few women. All of them greet and accept him into their fold like he's belonged there since the day he was born, and when he exhibits hunger, some of them are openly proud. He doesn't find out why until a few weeks into his time there.
He's a psychic.
He always has been. Somewhere between this not-so-shocking revelation and a day that burns itself into his memory, he meets Izuru.
Kira Izuru, to be specific. He's a younger man, looking to be in his late teens at the most. His hair is light, he wears pants and he looks so horribly insecure and worrisome that it's a wonder he hasn't gone completely insane from stress yet. Even with Momo to help calm him down, he still looks a bit nutty and paranoid, and Toushiro comes to the conclusion that the fellow could be manipulated entirely too easily. He's naive, loyal and trusting. All the things Toushiro isn't, plus a few that he is.
Dealing with Izuru hardens him. It's because Izuru and Momo are both too vulnerable. They're both too easily manipulated, and as he grows fond of both of them(Momo more so than Izuru), he finds that their vulnerability worries him. As a result, one night when the moon is missing from the skies, he decides that he will be their protector. The promise applies to Momo far more than it will ever apply to Izuru, but it's still there and that's really all that matters.
A few days after that promise, Toushirou meets a giant named Jidanbou. Not long after that, it happens.
They come for him. There are two of them. One is a man, the other a woman. Both arrive together on the same day, with the woman clad in all-black and the man wearing a similar outfit, though he also wears a white haori down to his legs as well. Together, they're striking. Both wear armbands and both are armed with swords. One for the woman, two for the man. They wear them like samurai, and when he firsts sees this, something in his gut twists.
He should have a sword too. The man introduces himself as Ukitate Juushirou. The woman introduces herself as Matsumoto Rangiku. Talking to them leaves him passively irritated, but somewhere down the line...
He recognizes the woman.
She cried for him. And though he doesn't say it, he thanks her for her consideration. Privately, without words and only in his thoughts, he thanks her.
Not far into the conversation, the man reveals that he is a captain in the Gotei 13. A Shinigami, a warrior and the leader of the Thirteenth Division. He then reveals that Izuru has applied to take the tests required to become a Shinigami, but that they didn't come for him. They came because Jidanbou reported that Izuru's friends, Hinamori and Hitsugaya himself as well, exhibited spiritual power.
They recruit all three of them in one fell swoop. Momo requires some encouragement, Izuru is frightened and Toushirou...
Toushirou just smirks. He says he'll pass every exam on the first try.
He does just that. Izuru and Momo fail their first attempts, but Toushirou passes with flying colors and is given the title of an unseated Shinigami in the Thirteenth Division. His first task is simple: Acquire his Soul Cutter by any means necessary.
At first, he tries to steal the Soul Cutter of another unseated Shinigami. It results in a savage brawl that leaves him bloody but standing. After this, he goes to Juushirou, kicks open the man's door and demands to know everything about how Soul Cutters work and what one has to do to get one. Where Vice-Captain Matsumoto almost spasms and comes within a step or two of drawing her sword, Captain Ukitate simply smiles at him and explains things.
A few days later, Toushirou is back at the river near where he first woke up. He's clad in the garb of a Shinigami now, with only an irate Matsumoto standing near by, complaining about having to look after a spoiled brat.
Instinct guides him from there. While Matsumoto sits on his rock, Toushirou steps into the water for the first time in what was apparently a year. The current is strong, and his bare feet scrape and start to bleed against the rocks on the river bed, but he persists. Without a word, he makes it further and further into the river, noticing that its torrent is increasing with every step he takes. He almost gets washed away twice, but refuses to brace himself on a rock or anything else of that nature.
"Zanpakutou are as unique to the individual as a thumb print. If you aren't given one, yet still feel as if you should have one... You have to find it in a place that calls to your spirit," Juushirou had told him.
Hitsugaya doesn't doubt the man. He was honest. Probably the most likable of all the Captains that he had met so far -- including that Aizen fellow who Momo was starting to fancy.
Finally, Toushirou makes it all the way to waist depth and stops. Matsumoto abruptly silences and looks at him, but he says nothing.
Instead, he turns to face the current and narrows his eyes.
He could feel it. The water was starting to grow colder.
It was calling to him. He does not tremble.
Whispering... He does not wither.
Cold. He endures.
"Found you," he says, though he never quite remembers why.
Without bothering to take a breath, Hitsugaya lunges into a coming wave and vanishes beneath the surface. He never hears Matsumoto shouting at him, nor does he see her rushing to the water's edge to try and find him. Ultimately, the only thing he hears is the sound of cold water rushing by his ears.
And the only thing he felt was his hand grappling onto an icy claw. Immediately after that, Toushirou landed feet-first onto puffy-white nothing. He should have been shocked, but he wasn't. When he looked around, he came to the realization that he was standing upside down on a cloud.
Miles below -- or maybe above? -- he can see his old home town. Empty and abandoned, lying in the shadow of the mountain that killed him.
It's cold here. He finds the urge to pull his kimono tighter to be a comfort. In hindsight, the cold has always been with him, and he likes that. The snow, the clouds and the ice are not judgemental. They don't regard him as an eccentric no-one with talent to be wasted on a mortal coil with no true meaning.
They are harsh. They are unforgiving. They don't care about what he was in life, or even in death. To him, they care only about what he can do.
When he realizes this, he sees it for the first time. A dragon. Wingless and antlered, made entirely of the clearest blue ice he had ever seen. When it moves, it crackles, the ice rearranging at the most minute level to give it motion. Wherever it goes, the air tints with a short-lived fog, and although it should not be able to, it speaks with an all too human voice.
"What is my name?" It asks him, voice booming even though it sounds as if it's nothing more than a hushed whisper.
He tries to speak to it, but his vocal cords may as well be frozen.
It approaches, and he stands his ground. He doesn't fear it like he should. He has never truly feared the cold, and if this dragon is cold, it can't be all that bad.
"What is my name?" It says again, suddenly so close that it coils around him.
He tries to speak again, but his voice is still gone.
It starts to close around him, constricting like a serpent.
"What is my name?" It asks once more.
"I don't know!" He finally shouts, more forcefully than intended. A lump forms in the back of his throat, but his voice returns and he tries to jump. Even though he doesn't fear the dragon, he acknowledges that it can strike him down in an instant, and he can't succeed if he's killed a second time.
"What is my name!" It finally demands of him. His feet are anchored though, and he can't escape.
In truth though, a part of him doesn't really want to. Finally, he touches it. Its like trying to run your hand across freezing sandpaper, but he does it anyway and when it bleeds, he expects it.
He pushes. It closes in further.
"WHAT IS MY NAME!" It constricts so tightly that he can no longer move. One arm crushes against his body, the other flails out, trying to pull himself free. Then the dragon stops flying and starts dropping.
It's all so fast that he doesn't even realize it until he looks down at the sky to see that the clouds have moved on. The stars are all out in full, but the moon is gone.
"I DON'T KNOW!" He finally screams out, looking down to see the ground coming up far too quickly.
It isn't right. Dragons don't fall. With that realization, something curls in his stomach. He can't tell if it's another internal organ being compressed into it or just a near-death flight of fancy, but when the dragon speaks again, he answers.
"WHAT AM I TO DO!" "SOAR IN THE FROZEN SKY!" He screams out, suddenly clasping his hand shut around the hilt of a sword that simply wasn't there anymore.
He stops falling. "HYOURINMARU!"
The next thing he knows, he's exploding out of the river at the exact spot he fell. It's night now, and although the Soul Society and its surrounding areas are experiencing summer, the river freezes. It shines a luminous blue, and then tears free of its bed.
It never flows again. A few moments later, the dragon is coiling around him in mid-air, roaring with something he registers only as sheer joy.
The sword in his hand is long. A katana with a four-point star-shaped handguard, its black chain spiraling about in much the same way as Hyourinmaru himself. A crescent-shaped blade swings from its tip, and when Toushirou finally lands, the chain drapes itself across his newfound blade, coating it with a thin sheen of ice. He staggers three steps forward, collapses to one knee and abruptly hurls himself back to his feet so quickly that he almost loses balance and falls over completely.
Hyourinmaru simply spirals up into the sky, roars again and explodes.
A few seconds later, snow begins to fall, and Hitsugaya laughs.
He laughs so hard it hurts. When Matsumoto finally returns from searching downstream, she's left staring at his back in shock. She isn't the only witness to the awakening of Toushirou's Shikai.
Hinamori is there too, hiding behind a tree. She watches and she listens.
A few moments later, she hears the sound of snow falling, and she smiles. She passes the exams the next day. When Toushirou sees her again, she's replaced Ichimaru Gin as Vice-Captain of the Fifth Division, going from being completely unseated to being in a position of power in less time than it takes him to blink. He smiles at her, but doesn't really say anything about it. His pride takes the hit, but he bears it and makes a mental note to skewer anyone who teases him about being surpassed, even temporarily, by a bedwetting weakling like Momo.
But he's still happy for her. A few days later, Toushirou answers a call from the Captain-Commander, Genryuusai, to all upper-tier Shinigami. A tournament is held for the captaincy of the Tenth Division, its original captain having vanished and the Division having failed to elect a replacement for him. All of the Vice-Captains but Hinamori and Kira enter. Momo stays back because Aizen fears for her safety, or so she tells him. Kira stays back because he doesn't have the guts to be out of Gin's shadow.
Toushirou takes their place by a mixture of luck of the draw and the near-impalement of the guy who was supposed to get the slot. Coincidentally, the man, whose name he finally knows to be Abarai Renji, was the same fellow who beat the tar out of him for trying to steal his Soul Cutter. Not long after that, he transfers to the Sixth and replaces its Vice-Captain.
Toushirou, on the other hand, meets with a bit of criticism from the old man. For a while, they argue and debate, but in the end...
Yamamato smiles at him and wishes him luck. The next day, Hitsugaya enters the tournament.
He takes his first head at the age of ten. When it's all said and done with, he finds himself standing alone in the center of an empty fenced in area, elevated several hundred feet above the rest of the city. One day, a man named Zaraki Kenpachi will duel two Captains to a bloody standstill here. Today, Hitsugaya Toushirou will have a memory forever etched into his mind.
It starts when his opponent, the Vice-Captain of the Eleventh, manages to ground him through the use of Demon Arts. Blast spells tear at him, and within minutes, Toushirou's blood soaks between the cracks of the floor.
His sword is held loosely in-hand. Hyourinmaru has done his best for this battle, but Toushirou isn't really able to draw anything more from him. The dragon is spent, lying in a pool of red icewater a few dozen yards away. The sword's chain has been shattered, its blade broken into a hundred pieces. Experience has won out over genius, and at this point, all Toushirou can do is look up and watch the man jumping into the air.
His name will be lost to history. He draws his own, undamaged Soul Cutter back into its sheathe, flames starting to arc around both.
He will be no-one. He screams, and Toushirou lets out a sigh.
Just like Tarou... "This is the end," Hitsugaya says to himself, happy that there isn't anyone actually watching this battle. His opponent can't hear him over the howling of his own sword.
The man becomes engulfed in a giant flaming wolf's head, and the spiritual pressure emitted by it is enough to make Toushirou's knees want to tremble.
He does not tremble though. He listens.
And he hears it again. The water starts to evaporate.
It calls to him, and he smiles. The tips of his hair start to singe.
He looks up again... His opponent starts to close in. The wolf's head opens its jaws in preparation for the end...
And calls out to the only thing he has left. "HYOURINMARU!"
It ends in a flash. Blue clashes against fiery red, and when his opponent hits the ground, he does so as a thousand different bloody pieces of ice. Even his flames are frozen.
When Hitsugaya lands, he does so on both feet with a skid across fresh ice, his suddenly enlarged sword scraping across the ground and acting like a set of breaks on a car. He looks down a few seconds later to see that his entire arm has become the dragon, its jaws clenched shut around the hilt of the sword. Its tail lashes out behind him, and a pair of colossal wings stretch from his back for the very first time, anchored at his shoulder. The chill is so intense that he can feel his eyes frosting over as ice clings to his other arm.
In the span of only three years, without even realizing it, he has achieved Bankai. The memory etches itself into his mind and never leaves. When the other Captains, lead by Yamamato and Unohana, finally arrive in the arena, the dragon is gone again. Only cold water marks that it was ever there in the first place. Retsu heals him, Genryuusai congratulates him on a job well done and Aizen, third on the scene, gives him a scarf on behalf of Momo.
While he still doesn't hold much like for the Fifth's Captain, he finally starts to understand why Hinamori is so infatuated with him. It makes him jealous.
The next day, he reaffirms his vow to protect her. Not long after that, he again barges into Juushirou's office by kicking the door down. Again, Ukitate regards his entrance with a one-sided fondness that makes the newly dubbed Captain Hitsugaya think the man is trying to become his father figure. After a short meal and some tea, Toushirou cuts right down to business.
"I want Matsumoto as my Vice-Captain," he says, almost timing it so that she enters the room just in time to hear him.
Juushirou stares at him for a few moments. Though his back is to her, Toushirou can sense that Rangiku probably wants to strangle him right about now.
It makes the whole trip worth while. Apparently, Juushirou agrees.
"Consider it done," he replies, to which Matsumoto finally objects.
"I'm not gonna take orders from a ki-"
He cuts her off.
"I'll give you sake again."
At this moment, Hitsugaya can feel it when she finally recognizes him as the boy she cried for just a few years ago. Juushirou seems to completely miss the meaning of the offer, but knows its seriousness well enough to avoid speaking about it.
Rangiku becomes his Vice-Captain that very night. Not long after that, Hitsugaya puts up the scarf. A few years later, after recovering from Aizen's treachery, he burns it out by the river bed where he first acquired Hyourinmaru. It's a private affair, without observers and without ceremony.
When the ashes have finished burning, he brushes them into the river bed with his foot and makes his way back into the city. His first destination is Momo's hospital room. Before he can get there though, something happens that takes him by surprise.
It starts to snow. For the first time in years, Hitsugaya Toushirou looks up and watches it snow in the Seireitei. It's summer, and although he has nothing to do with it, it's snowing.
So he stands there...
And listens to the sound of snow falling.
Yamada Tarou is, I think, the Japanese equivelent of a John Doe. A no-one.
I tried to make everything fit in with the timeline as best I could, but took a few major liberties here and there. Most notably with Hitsugaya's Bankai and how long he's been in Soul Society. I don't know his exact age, so I was taking shots in the dark for most of it.
I didn't really know where I was going at the end of it, but I do hope it proved to be an enjoyable read. First time I've done a Bleachfic o.o