Chapter 1: Kira Izuru
She doesn't know how long she's been asleep.
She thinks it's morning the first time she hears someone enter her room. She doesn't know who it is, but she knows who it isn't. So she stays where she is comfortable, in this place where no one can hurt her and tell her what she doesn't want to hear.
She is briefly intrigued by the familiarity of the voice, but it isn't until she hears the steadily approaching footsteps that she becomes certain of her visitor's identity. He shuffles towards her motionless figure with a sound she recalls all too well from her academy days, and she almost wants to laugh.
But everything eventually reminds her of Aizen and there is no laughter there, not when she is so close to the world that wants to hurt her and tell her what she doesn't want to hear.
She is not ready. She drifts away again.
It used to drive her and Renji crazy, Kira dragging his feet around the room while they were trying to study.
"Oi!" Renji would yell when he finally lost what little patience he had. "Either sit the hell down, or lift your damn feet!"
"Sorry, sorry," the blonde boy would say affably. "Habit, you know."
Renji would scoff, Kira would shrug helplessly and she would placate them both with a motherly air honed through years of friendship with the two boys. They were an interesting group, a hodgepodge of personalities that meshed surprisingly well both on and off the battlefield. Renji was all strength, with a loud mouth and a big heart. Kira was all finesse, with impeccable manners and solid principles. She was subtlety personified, the darling of the group and the glue that held them together.
They had once understood each other so well. But she never understood why Kira followed Gin to the 3rd Division.
One year was all it took to drive a wedge between the previously inseparable trio, and soon she saw nothing of Kira and Renji outside of routine meetings and chance encounters. Still, she was naive enough to think that fundamentally, nothing would change.
She was Momo, and Aizen-taichou would not try to change that.
Renji was Renji, and not even Zaraki-taichou could change that.
Kira changed his hair style, he grew more aloof, his eyes hardened and his speech became coldly civil.
One year brought about irreversible changes in her friend. One year is all it took to lose Kira.
It was not in her nature to dislike anyone, but try as she might she could not bring herself to like Kira's new captain.
Even when he was the 5th division vice-captain, something about Ichimaru's very essence troubled her normally placid soul. She was unaccustomed to such dark thoughts and sharply reprimanded herself for her instinctive feelings of distrust, for when all was said and done the man was still a captain of the Gotei 13. As such, both for Kira's sake and her own, she tried her best to overcome her negative feelings. As time passed she came very close to accomplishing her goal.
Then came the day when Ichimaru-taichou proved himself to be exactly the snake she thought he was.
She had recently been promoted to vice-captain under Aizen's watchful and encouraging gaze, and her world was every bit beautiful and full of promise. On this particular day she felt inclined to stop by to see Kira after work. She strode into the 3rd division barracks, smiling at whoever she passed. Half the people returned her gesture, answering to her reputation for having a sweet disposition. The other half nodded respectfully, in response to her reputation as a master of the demon arts. She preferred the former, but most definitely had no objections about the latter. She took great pride in her skills and in the fact that her promotion had trailed Kira's by only a few weeks. They hadn't yet had time to celebrate properly, and she hoped to remedy that situation with the small flask of sake by her side.
She bounded through the doorway of Kira's office in an effort to surprise her friend, but was instead taken off guard by the sight of Ichimaru sitting at his vice-captain's desk, absent-mindedly playing with a pen.
"Hinamori-fukutaichou," he drawled, his amusement lingering clearly in the air. "How lovely to see you." He gestured to the sake in her hands. "Is that for me?"
She bowed, flushing deeply from embarrassment and discomfort. "Ichimaru-taichou," she said, trying and failing to keep the surprise out of her voice. "Sorry, I was looking for Kira-fukutaichou. I'll be leaving now."
She set the bottle down on a nearby bookshelf and turned to exit the room when a sudden flash of white crossed her line of vision. She looked up to see Ichimaru blocking her way, smiling enigmatically and scratching his head in bemusement. "No need for the hurry, eh?" he said deliberately, taking a step towards her.
His spiritual pressure rose to an uncomfortable level, and it didn't occur to her that she was backing away until she felt her back up against the side wall. As she murmured a hasty apology and tried to move past him, Ichimaru grabbed her wrists and held them at her side, illiciting an involuntary gasp of pain. He smiled as she struggled and implored him with tears in her eyes to stop. He leaned forward, and she felt like she was about to pass out when a sudden movement at the door caught her attention.
Never before had she been so glad to see Kira.
"What do you want, Izuru?" asked Ichimaru calmly without releasing her.
Her eyes pleaded withKira as he surveyed the scene before him and placed a hand on the hilt of his zanpaktou.
Ichimaru spoke again, his tone playful but a clearly audible threat hidden in the simple words. "Izuru? Is there a problem?"
Conflict was clearly written on Kira's expression, and she watched in muted horror as he finally dropped his hands to his side, averted his eyes and turned away. "Sorry, Ichimaru-taichou," he said, his voice hollow and emotionless. "I didn't know you were here."
Never before had she been so disappointed by anyone.
Ichimaru straightened up in response to his vice-captain's captiulation, his facial expressions completely unchanged. "No matter," he said nonchalantly. She watched, helpless and frozen to the spot, as the 3rd division captain brushed a stray hair off of her face in a lingering gesture. "Good night, Hinamori-chan," he whispered into her ear before backing away slowly and exiting into the hallway. As Kira followed his captain out of the room without a backward glance, she felt something in her heart constrict.
It was the first time she realized how much it hurt to be betrayed.
To this day she remains uncertain as to how she made her way back to the 5th division. What she does remember is stumbling into her quarters, making sure no one was around, then falling to the ground while crying uncontrollably. She was a vice-captain and carried herself in manner befitting her high rank while in public - but in private, she was the same Hinamori Momo who cared too much, felt too deeply, and woke in a cold sweat almost every night.
She cried until her collar was soaked with her tears, until her throat was raw from the ragged breaths she drew, until her eyes were puffy and her shoulders hurt from the awkward position in which she lay. She cried for being unable to defend herself, for being unable to forsee and avoid the situation. She cried for Kira and the person that she thought he was, for the person that he used to be.
The sound of a throat clearing caused her to sit up suddenly, and it was the first and only time that she was not glad to see her captain's silhouette outside her door.
"Hinamori-kun," came Aizen's voice through the darkness. "May I enter?"
She quickly wiped the tears off of her face and tried to compose herself as best she could, responding with an "Ah!" of acknowledgement and opening the door with all the calm she could muster. She took several steps backwards and knelt respectfully, directing her gaze to the floor and praying that he would not notice that she had been crying.
He stepped inside her room, closed the door behind him, and knelt in front of her. She looked up out of habit, realized her mistake and promptly looked again. The avoidance proved to be ineffective, and she heard Aizen sigh in response to her behavior.
"Hinamori-kun," he said calmly. "I have come to remind you or your duties as a vice-captain."
She blinked. "What do you mean, Aizen-taichou?" she asked quietly.
He smiled soothingly. "Your first and most important duty is to trust me."
When she did not respond, he sighed again and explained gently, "I saw you when you were on your way back to the 5th division."
Her figure tensed noticeably at his words, and when she adamantly maintained her silence he decided to push onwards. "Hinamori..." he said firmly. "What were you running from? What's bothering you? Why won't you tell me?"
She was a mess of conflicting emotions, but the same instinct that warned her about Ichimaru was now telling her that Aizen could be trusted completely. A floodgate opened in her mind as she remembered everything that had just happened, and in that split second she cared nothing about what anyone thought of her.
"I don't like Ichimaru-taichou!" she blurted out, immediately clamping a hand over her mouth afterwards. She looked away, fearful of her captain's reaction.
A strange sound came from in front of her, and it took several seconds for her to realize that Aizen was laughing.
His shoulders shook with silent mirth, and in that moment he had never looked more handsome. She thought about how much she admired her captain, and was immediately reminded of Kira and his own captain. Tears flowed freely down her face, and she was too consumed with grief and anger to care that her captain was sitting only a few meters in front of her.
He seemed to realize that there was more to the story and immediately ceased his laughter, instead placing a comforting hand on her head and murmuring something understanding.
She never saw his reaction as she found herself telling him everything, her voice full of shame and regret. In doing so she found herself willing to accept the consequences of her self-described stupidity and weakness, her trust in her captain absolute even to the point of accepting what she considered to be her inevitable dismissal.
She had barely finished her story when she felt him pull her forward and into his arms. He held her as she sobbed, and stayed with her until she fell into a fitful slumber. When she woke up in the morning, she found his cloak draped protectively over her shoulders and a glass of water by her bedside.
It was the first time she realized how it felt to be in love.
She eventually forgave Kira and as such, took special care in ensuring that neither Renji nor Hitsugaya heard about the incident. Her encounter with Ichimaru haunted her dreams and led her to wander the grounds of Seiretei two days afterwards, in an attempt to make something of her sleepless night. She shielded her reiatsu so as to ensure her privacy, and was passing by an out of the way alley between the 3rd and 4th division when she caught the tail end of a conversation between Aizen and Ichimaru.
"...mine. Do not think to touch her again," she heard Aizen say, his voice unusually cold.
Seconds later Ichimaru came striding out into the walkway, and as he passed she caught a glimpse of his red eyes glaring into hers. She gulped and was secretly relieved when the 3rd division captain used shunpo and disappeared swiftly from her sight. As Aizen approached her from behind and escorted her back to her room, pretending that nothing had happened, she was filled with a warmth that she had never previously known.
She chooses to leave the epilogue and subsequent analysis out of her recollection. She cares not that Aizen watched her closely in the days following, concerned about how much of the conversation she had overhead. That his concern was alleviated only after a prettily wrapped box of his favorite tea leaves materialized on his desk with a handwritten thank you note tucked neatly underneath the ribbon. That he laughed to himself as he sipped the tea and thought about how one silly event had allowed them to simultaneously test Kira's loyalty and secure her own.
Again she is brought close to the surface as the voice known as Kira begs her to remember how they were in their academy days, implores her to awake, tells her that he cares about her, begs her to take his word that he never wanted to hurt her. His fine words are useless. She will not leave her captain's side for the word of a known traitor.
So she stays in this place where no one can hurt her and tell her what she doesn't want to hear, and as Kira walks away she ignores the apology latent in the sound of his shuffling feet.