THIS MARRIED LIFE
CHAPTER 13: Unexpected Meetings
Author's Notes: Thanks to everyone who reviewed. Sorry about the slow update, again.
DISCLAIMER: I do not own any part of Bleach, anime or manga. I also do not own any of the other anime mentioned in here: Prince of Tennis and Naruto.
The sun was at its peak and a drowsy sound of everyday life lay over the large, similar buildings of Seireitai. Excited chatter mixed with unenthusiastic comments and heated complaints echoed throughout the vast halls as shinigamis moved from place to place, carrying out whatever task they were assigned to for the day. Somewhere along their paths, the death gods with low seats would exercise their somewhat meagre power to make sure that other non-seated shinigami around them do not step out of line. In reverse, respectful greetings and bows were presented by all when top level death gods passed through the halls. Then there is the occasional pushing and dodging of shinigami traffic when one or a group of death gods rush down the halls in their hurry to accomplish whatever they had been assigned to.
Such was a normal day in the Court of Pure Souls.
Today was not a normal day for Hitsugaya Momo, nor was it a normal day for Matsumoto Rangiku, Kotetsu Isane and Kuchiki Rukia. It's ironic is it not, that a person is never truly conscious of familiar surroundings until they have to leave?
Momo let out a sigh of reluctance as she scanned the place one more time. Momo, get a grip on yourself, she scolded inwardly, it's not like you're not coming back. She lowered her eyes and let her sight fall from the tall towers of Seireitai to the people standing in front of her. She looked to her right and quickly observed the expressions of seriousness on the faces of Ichigo and Byakuya as her eyes moved to the left before catching Hitsugaya's. Unhidden reluctance and worry shone through his barrier of turquoise ice and she found that she could not look at them so she lowered her eyes further.
A call was sounded out. It was time to leave.
She blinked away her guilt of making him worry and her reluctance to leave him as she looked up once again to meet his gaze. The eye contact broke when Ichigo's voice broke through the heavy silence.
"Be careful," he said firmly to Rukia, his gaze moved to all four of them. "All of you." A smile appeared on his wife's lips.
"Don't worry, we'll never screw up bad enough for any of you to worry about us," Rukia assured smugly in an attempt to lighten the seriousness in the atmosphere. Her attempt was in vain. Ichigo's scowl deepened. "I'm serious."
The surrounding mood plummeted back down in uncomfortable silence. In an attempt to lighten the mood, Momo took a step towards Ichigo and Rukia to say something. Unfortunately, due to her nervousness, she tripped, embarrassingly, over nothing and she shut her eyes to brace the impact with the hard floor. Her hands automatically flew open to catch the nearest thing next to her for support. When the fall didn't happen, Momo slowly opened one eye to peek around. Both eyes shot open when she saw the black shinigami uniform and captain's cloak in front of her.
"Hitsugaya-kun," she blurted out when she looked up to see him looking down at her. He responded with a snort and she could tell that her little embarrassing display reminded him of her clumsiness; she saw his worry and unrest at her going to the living world deepen and a surge of determination ran through her. She was a vice-captain for goodness sake, she can handle this!
"Be more careful, Momo," he told her. A light pink blush coloured Momo's cheeks and Hitsugaya blinked in amusement. She opened her mouth to say something but the caller announced it was time again. Momo, suddenly realizing that she was still holding onto Hitsugaya's arm, reluctantly released her grip and walked towards the Senkai-mon.
Hitsugaya watched with his arms crossed, seemingly unmoved, as his wife and the others faded into the darkness. The large doors of the gateway closed with a soft thud and disappeared until all Hitsugaya and Ichigo were staring at was other buildings of Seireitai. They turned and headed back to their respective divisions.
The tenth division seemed somewhat quieter without the bustling vice-captain. Instead, in her place on the couch where she often took her naps or read her comic books, was Hirayama Sei. Hitsugaya paused at the unfamiliarity of her being there before walking with indifference to his desk. She stood up and greeted him as he walked past; a small nod was delivered her way to tell her that she has been acknowledged.
"Is there anything you would like me to do, sir?" She enquired. Her eyes travelled down to the large pile of paper set neatly on his desk. Hitsugaya glanced at the papers and felt a small tug on the corner of his lips. If he assigned a portion of the paperwork to Hirayama, she would have to work in his office due to her position as a third seater; she was neither allowed to sign off papers nor would she know enough information to complete the reports. Consequently, she would have to call upon his assistance all the time. This, he imagined, would not make Momo very happy. There was not a thing in the world that was scarier than when his wife was mad at him. Therefore, deciding that it was much safer to not assign any paperwork to her, he shook his head in response. "No, just carry on with your normal duties," he told her. Besides, he preferred doing the work himself anyway.
Momo sprung up and tilted Tobiume down to deliver the final blow to the hollow.
"This place is infested," Matsumoto panted as Momo landed.
"Rangiku, behind you!" yelled Rukia. Matsumoto was already a step ahead of her. She spun around and drove Haineko through the white mask.
"There's no more," Momo announced. Her companions nodded in confirmation and she looked up at the sky. What's going on? Hollows don't normally gather like this. She let out a deep breath and sheathed her sword. "There's no sign of the ajuukaru either." Just what is going on here?
"I think we can declare this zone as ajuukaru-free," announced Isane. The sun had set a long while ago and the sky was now a deep blue. They had searched Karakura district all day but had not come across the hollow they had been sent to kill.
Matsumoto stretched her long arms and yawned. The day had been quite tiring after all. Oh well, nothing that can't be fixed after a long night of good sleep. She ran a hand through her long, wavy hair and turned to Rukia. "So, where does Urahara-san live?"
Momo blinked at Matsumoto's question. "Urahara-san's house?" she repeated.
"Yeah," she answered. "We need a place to stay, don't we?" Momo's lips curved down into a frown as she thought about this. "It's a bit impolite, Rangiku-san. Urahara-san isn't expecting us."
Matsumoto made a noise of sulky protest and turned to face Rukia and Isane. "What do you think, you two?" Rukia thought about it for a moment before answering with finality. "We should go to Urahara-san's house." Her companions turned to look at her.
"Since we aren't getting any information from Soul Society about the location of the ajuukaru, it is most probable that the ajuukaru isn't on Soul Society's radar. If we go to Urahara-san's house, we may be able to get more information on the ajuukaru." Rukia explained. A cheerful smile spread across Matsumoto's face as she jumped to agree with Kuchiki. Perhaps she could even have a long, hot bath tonight! Isane smiled at Matsumoto's expression. "That's true. Also, we need to be in our top state if we are going to fight an ajuukaru."
Momo agreed. The points that Rukia and Isane-san made were logical, and the best thing to do right now would be to go to Urahara-san's house. "Okay, it's decided then. Let's go to Urahara-san's house." Hopefully Urahara-san wouldn't mind too much.
The group casually strolled down the concrete paths towards the Urahara Shop and chattered lightly the entire way. Momo couldn't help but notice how different the surroundings were to Soul Society. A smile graced her lips when Rangiku seemingly read her mind and commented on how unsuitable their shinigami uniform was to the modern day surroundings.
They finally reached their destination and Rukia stepped forward to knock on the door. It was gently slid open by a massive, muscular fellow with slim rectangular glasses, finely braided cornrows, and a well-groomed mustache.
"Oh, hello, Tessai-san," Rukia greeted warmly.
"Ah, Kuchiki-san," Tessai greeted, "Urahara-san has been expecting you four. Please come in." Rukia's eyes went wide but it was Momo who voiced her surprise. "He's been expecting us?" she asked.
"Hai," he confirmed. He stepped aside to let them in and the four shinigamis thanked him and walked in the store in confusion and surprise.
There, on his usual spot, sat Urahara Kisuke with a straw hat that made him look like a panda with the shadow it cast over his face. To his side stood Ururu and Jinta, the two had grown a little over the many years though not at the same rate as humans as they were not that. In fact, no one in the Urahara shop could be considered fully 'human'.
It was obvious by the way they were sitting and standing that they had indeed been waiting for them. "Gah! Finally here," exclaimed Urahara, "I was wondering when you guys were going to show up."
Apparently a shinigami had been sent to Urahara to inform him of the situation when it was clear that Momo's group would be required to stay there until the ajuukaru made an appearance or until they were positive that it had returned to Hueco Mundo.
They followed Urahara to the room prepared for them.
"Has there been anything out of the common since the ajuukaru attacked?" Rangiku asked as they followed Urahara down the dim lit hall.
"Nope," he replied casually. "That's strange," Matsumoto said thoughtfully. She thought back to the hollows they had fought throughout the day. Did the amount of hollows in the area increase just because we came? But that's absurd; they were attacked almost as soon as they arrived. It was as if the hollows knew they were coming, or were they drawn to their spiritual energy? Hmm…Even if the hollows had gathered because they were drawn to their spiritual energy, there would have to have been a lot of hollows in the area to start off with. However, according to Urahara, the area had been normal until they arrived, which means that their arrival had been anticipated.
Her thoughts were interrupted when they arrived at their prepared room.
"Tessai," Urahara called. The large man walked in with four bundles of varying size, all were wrapped in cloth. "The shinigami who came here today dropped these off. You'll find your names on one of these bags." With that and a "good night", he left the room to the four death gods.
Momo looked at her own bundle. "Hmm, what's this?" she asked out loud before tugging the cloth bag open. The material gave way to reveal a white fluffy plush rabbit that Momo instantly recognised as the plush toy that Hitsugaya had given her a long, long time ago. She was glad that she had regained enough of her lost memory to remember that event. She had been suffering from nightmares and he had given it to her as a gift with the hopes that it'll provide her with some comfort during those sleepless nights.
A rush of excitement surged through Momo and she squealed in delight as her arms flung around the rabbit she named 'Shiro-chan'.
Matsumoto threw Momo an amused look. It had definitely made life easier when Momo regained most of her memory. The memory she had with Hitsugaya returned first, and then the memory of her time spent with Matsumoto and Rukia. Now she remembered everything except two events: her friendship with Takahashi-taichou and the night she was attacked. Matsumoto turned to look at Rukia and her eyes widened to see her holding Chappy. Sighing, she rummaged through the items her captain had decided to send her and her eyebrows twitched at the lack of two very important items. How could Taichou forget the sake and Naruto mangas? With a less than happy sigh and a pout firmly placed on her lips, she flicked her hair back and continued searching through the rest of the items.
The next day, the group set out on their search once more. By noon, having encountered neither weak hollows nor ajuukarus, Momo and Isane reluctantly agreed to accompany Rukia and Matsumoto to the nearest manga store. During their visit there, Matsumoto and Rukia broke the condition of 'just looking' and picked up a comic book out of excitement. Unfortunately, a human around them noticed and ran out of the store screaming something about a "haunted bookstore".
Momo skimmed through many comic titles on the shelf at the 'vintage' section. A particular title caught her eye. "Hmm, Prince of Tennis? What's that?" Checking that no one was around, she slid the book off the shelf and flicked through it. She pushed down the guilt of not doing her duty and allowed herself to try and enjoy it. Besides, she could not sense any ajuukarus or hollows near her anyway. On top of that, she liked this Echizen Ryoma character, and also this Fuji Syuusuke; or perhaps she just has a soft spot for prodigies and geniuses.
A cold feeling took over Momo's small body and she turned to look out the window instinctively. The ajuukaru was near; she felt its power before she sensed it. Pushing the book back on the shelf, she called to the other three and they ran out of the door. Feet barely touched roofs as they leapt from one building to another until they arrived at a hill top. Rukia recognised the area as the place where Ichigo had once defeated a Menos and she was relieved by the fact that it was located away from the people.
Her breath stopped when she realised that this was the only relief they will receive. The hollow wasn't an ajuukaru, it was an arrancar, and there were two.
"I made lunch for you, sir," Hirayama announced as she entered Hitsugaya's office. "I hope it's to your taste."
Hitsugaya put a piece of sushi in his mouth and chewed slowly as he looked through his report again. His hand reached for the chopsticks to pick another piece up when he realised that Sei was still looking expectantly at him.
"Thanks. It's pretty good," he commented before saying, "You may carry on with your work now." Sei's eyes brightened at the rare compliment. "Is there anything you would like me to do in particular?" she asked happily.
Hitsugaya gestured to a pile of paper on the left side of his desk. "Deliver those papers," he directed. Sei smiled in content. "Yes, sir," she obliged heartily. A slimmer of hope slithered through her as she gathered up the pile of paper and headed towards the door. Just as she did so, a death butterfly flew in through the window and she held out a finger for it to land on.
"There's an emergency captain meeting, sir," she told him. Surprise crossed his face for a split second before his usual indifferent demeanour returned to its usual place.
"I have just been regrettably informed -" began Yamamoto-Soutaichou. Ichigo and Hitsugaya's eyes widened, regrettably!
"– that the group sent to the human world have failed their mission. It appears that Fifth Division Vice-Captain Hitsugaya Momo, Tenth Division Vice-Captain Matsumoto Rangiku, Fourth Division Vice-Captain Kotetsu Isane and Thirteenth Division Kuchiki Rukia were unexpectedly attacked by two Arrancars."
Ukitake, Hitsugaya and Ichigo stepped forward, alarmed. "When did this happen?" Ukitake asked anxiously.
"One day ago. They cannot be traced by Soul Society's radar which, as you all know, means two things: one, their spiritual energy was completely consumed in the fight hence making it impossible for the radars to pick them up."
"The second reason-" Hesitation caused him to pause in his speech, but such was the harsh reality of being commander of the thirteen squads. Hesitation was a luxury he couldn't afford to have.
"-is that they were eliminated by the two Arrancars. However, judging on the information we have gathered so far, it is not yet possible to identify which of these two possibilities is the actual event that occurred."
Thick silence lay over the meeting room out of shock, and out of respect for those who were abruptly forced to face the possibility of loosing someone close to them. Those who were not in shock watched Hitsugaya and Ichigo out of the corner of their eyes, and to a smaller extent, Byakuya and Renji.
Something in Hitsugaya snapped when Yamamoto broke the news out to him. He didn't know what snapped, but the feeling inside him burned him alive. It was worse then that time he had found Momo after she had been stabbed by Aizen. At least that time he was sure that she was still alive, critically hurt, but at least still alive. At least that time he was by her side.
He stood there in dark silence and stared at the floor without actually seeing it. Nails drew blood from his palms due to the sheer force used to contain his inner turmoil.
Yamamoto could watch no further. He cleared his throat to catch the captain's attention. "We can no longer leave this situation to lower rank shinigami. Captain Hitsugaya and Captain Kurosaki, you are hereby assigned to eliminate the two Arrancars. The appearance of Arrancars presents a high threat to the balance of the three worlds. You are to leave as soon as possible."
End of Chapter 13
Author's Notes This hasn't been proof read and my excuse is because it's 1:27 am. Hopefully there aren't too many mistakes.
New Note 16/04/06 Not to be updated for a long time.