Free Talk- Well, after a long break I have begun a new story… a Bleach story! I only hope that this fanfiction will be a fraction as successful as my Naruto one. I'm kind of nervous, though, because I think this story will be more drama and less action than my previous fare. If anyone who is reading this now also read my Naruto story, don't be surprised if there are certain similar qualities… Such as lots of dialogue, no Japanese honorifics, and an excessive use of ellipses (the three little dots … ) That's just the lame way that I write. There may be thematic similarities as well. The heroine of the story is Hinamori Momo, by the way. Please comment and tell me what you think. Oh, and I know that the title is really cliché, but it was the best fit for this story.

Sympathy For the Devil
By Miss Angel Maxwell

first chapter


"Momo, it's time to wake up," a voice as thin as smoke whispered into Hinamori Momo's ear. Her long-closed eyelids twitched in response, but didn't open. It wasn't until she felt a delicate hand cupping her cheek and recognized the touch that her subconscious realized who had come to her side and finally decided to let her eyes open.

"Tobiume…" the shinigami breathed weakly as the elegant lines of a beautiful young woman's face came into focus in front of her. From the purple sheen of her dark hair to the amber fire of her eyes, the zanpakutou looked exactly as she did on the day Momo first met her.

The personified weapon smiled kindly at her wielder and extended a graceful hand. "I was starting to worry about you. Come walk with me, Momo. You and I need to speak about what has happened."

Before she could give a response, Momo was pulled to her feet. Hand in hand with her zanpakutou and enveloped in breathless darkness, she realized that she had not truly awoken, not into the world in which she used to dwell. This place was not Soul Society. Then, with a gasp of horror the event that precipitated her deep slumber came flooding back and she felt white-hot pain sear through her chest. "Captain…" her tiny voice croaked. "He…"

"That's right," Tobiume said calmly. "Captain betrayed us. He hurt you very badly. That's why you have been asleep for so long. He hurt you very badly, and in doing so, hurt me very badly. Aizen murdered the entire central government and hurt our friends. Then, after he pierced your body with his zanpakutou and left you for dead, he fled to Hueco Mundo with Captains Ichimaru and Tousen. They are creating an army of the deadliest hollows to…"

"I knew it," Momo growled, cutting off the other woman. "I knew Captain Ichimaru was no good. I knew all along that he was a villain. He's the real evil genius behind all this. He… he must have tricked Captain Aizen somehow!"

Tobiume shook her head sadly. "I'm afraid that is wishful thinking on your part," she said. "All three of the deserting captains willingly took part in this cruel deception, but their leader, the visionary of the group, has always been Aizen Sousuke. The truth hurts, I know." She paused and smiled wistfully. "But we cannot hide from the pain any longer, Momo. It's time to wake up and rebuild our life… a life without Captain Aizen. I am telling you this now to prepare you for returning to Soul Society."

Momo's large brown eyes closed in thought. She heard every word that her zanpakutou spoke, but their deeper meaning didn't seem to register. All she could think about was her Captain. His eyes remained kind and gentle in her memories; wise, brave eyes that made her feel safe. His soft, soothing words came back to her like the warm ocean that crawls up the sand after a wave has broken on the shore. She couldn't help a small shiver that coursed down her spine from the memory of his deep, comforting voice. Then the feeling turned into a subtle twinge of pain as salty tears formed in the corners of her eyes.

"It can't be true," she said in a choked voice. The weight of the emotions in her chest was practically suffocating her. "The Captain Aizen I know… He wouldn't … Not when… not when my feelings… so real… I…"

The reassuring arm of Tobiume wrapped around Momo as the poor girl broke into sobs. "It is understandable that you still have strong feelings for the Captain you served. It will take time, but eventually you will come to accept his deceit for what it was. Captain used your feelings for him to manipulate you and you were an innocent victim. The fact that you came to care about him so much is a testament to just how skillful his manipulation is and how sinister Kyouka Suigetsu is."

In an instant, Tobiume's touch became as cold as ice and Momo felt the sudden need to pull away from it. She was inexplicably furious at the blade for saying such things. "You think I'm out of my mind, don't you?" she growled. "You think I'm so gullible that I would love a monster? Or do you think that my feelings were just an illusion? Well, which is it? Tell me! You're supposed to be my partner!" She knew that she was overreacting, but she couldn't stop her voice from getting louder and squeakier. Being angry at Tobiume was easier than considering the situation rationally.

"Momo," the blade woman sighed, remaining calm and graceful as always. "I do not think that you are gullible, nor do I think that your feelings were not authentic."

"Are," Momo interrupted with a soft sniff. "Not 'were.' I… I still love my Captain."

Momo and Tobiume had been walking side by side through the darkness as they talked, but for some reason, after hearing these words, the zanpakutou stopped. So the shinigami paused in place, too, expecting Tobiume to say some calmly profound thing. She was completely unprepared when the blade seized both her forearms and shook her jarringly.

"Don't you dare talk like that!" Tobiume barked, flicking spittle onto Momo's face. "Don't you dare whimper over that man like some wounded animal! You're stronger than that! I know you are!"

Momo's eye's glowed with a sudden surge of passion, " I am strong," she responded. "But I have this feeling in my heart, an intuition that I can't even describe. And I know it wouldn't be there if Captain was truly evil. I won't let myself lose faith in my own heart. I know there is good in him, somewhere buried deep inside, and it isn't just an illusion. It's real, I know it. It… it's the part of Captain Aizen I pledged on my life to serve…"

"My dear, sweet Momo," Tobiume said softly, once again calm. "Always believing the best of people. So innocent and pure."

A small snort from the shinigami interrupted. "Everyone thinks I'm so much more innocent than the other shinigami," she said gravely. "But I don't think that's really the case. I think they've given up on Captain Aizen too easily. They don't have any desire to help him become good again. They just want to kill him, as cruelly and violently as possible. And you're no different from them."

"But he was never good," the blade reminded. "That is what every shinigami except you now firmly believes."

Momo paused thoughtfully then spoke in stiff, measured words. "If that's how it is, then I guess I will have to do it alone. I will save Captain Aizen all by myself."

A long silence followed. "I see you have made up your mind," Tobiume finally replied, closing her golden eyes. "But you will not be entirely alone. You know that you will always have my complete loyalty, Hinamori Momo, in everything you do. I am sorry that I lost my temper with you earlier. From now on, I will have more faith in you. If you believe that Captain Aizen can be saved, then I will believe it as well."

An unusually coy expression crossed Momo's delicate features. "Do you really believe it?" she asked suspiciously.

Tobiume gave a graceful half-sigh smile. "What I really believe is inconsequential. My loyalty is to you and you alone. Whatever you believe is what will dictate my actions." She held out her ivory hand once more to her master and Momo took it without hesitation, happy to make amends.

As Tobiume's arms wrapped around her small body, Momo felt herself being swallowed in warmth. The darkness suddenly changed over into bright yellow light, and with a gasp, Momo found herself laying in a bed in a fourth division hospital. Looking around, she saw dust particles floating in the stream of sunlight pouring in the window. All the other beds were unoccupied, but she wasn't alone.

"You're finally awake," a calm voice said. The speaker was a thin, nervous-looking shinigami with weak, watery eyes and pale yellow hair that fell limply across his face. Momo recognized him immediately.

"Izuru?" she asked curiously.

Momo's old friend smiled and scratched the back of his neck. "Yeah, everyone thought it would be nice for you to wake up to a familiar face, Momo. Captain Hitsugaya really wanted to be the one… but something came up… So you get me, instead. Hope that's okay."

"It's okay," she said instinctively as her mind was still processing the information. "Wait… Shiro isn't here? Where'd he go off to?"

"He's in the living world," Izuru answered. "He went with Vice Captain Matsumoto, Kuchiki Rukia, and two high-rank guys from 11th Division… Oh yeah, and Renji, too."

"Such a select group," Momo said softly. "I assume they went there to kill Captain Aizen…"

The blonde boy's eyes widened briefly in surprise at Momo's directness, then his expression turned grave and he looked down at his lap. "Yes," he said. "That is their ultimate goal. The group went to the living world to reunite with the humans who rescued Kuchiki Rukia from execution."

"I see," the girl said, avoiding eye contact with her old friend. She didn't want him to see the vague traces of hope that she knew where there in her gaze. "But… They haven't done it yet, have they? Killed Captain Aizen, I mean…"

"Not yet," Izuru answered cautiously. "But don't worry, they will. Soul Society will not let him get away with what he's done. They only let a select few go on the mission to the living world, but you wouldn't believe how many shinigami wanted to go, myself included. Everyone is so passionate about it."

Momo finally looked up and tilted her head to the side curiously. "You wanted to go?" she asked. He nodded in reply. "Why didn't they let you?" she went on. "You're a high-ranked officer, you should have been a shoe in."

She was surprised when Izuru's pale face suddenly turned pink. He was blushing. "Actually, I did get in," he said, sounding a bit awkward. "I just decided not to go. I mean… Captain Hitsugaya and Renji were both going, and you were still asleep… So if I went too, there'd be nobody here when you woke up…"

A warm feeling spread over Momo's face when she realized what the man at her bedside was trying to say. "You stayed behind so I wouldn't be alone," she said sweetly. "Thank you, Izuru."

The pink hue of his face deepened. "It was no trouble, really," he said. "But… uh, actually… The truth is, I wanted it too be me here when you got up. I… I want to… that is, I need to apologize to you, Momo. When I took Captain Ichimaru's side instead of yours… and I attacked you…"

"Stop," she interrupted. "Izuru, you don't need to apologize. He tricked you. You were just being loyal to your captain." She stopped and swallowed uncomfortably, unable to banish the lingering thought that she had been just as duped as him.

"Well, I still feel like I should apologize," he continued. "And if there is anything I can do for you, to help with your recovery or anything else, all you have to do is ask."

A strange feeling sparked in the back of Momo's mind. On the spot, she thought of a favor that Izuru could do for her, though she was a slightly afraid to ask. "Actually, there is one thing," she ventured. "I'll probably have to stay here for a while. Izuru, do you think you could go to the central library and do a little research for me?"

"The central library?" he replied, a bit surprised. "I dunno, it's highly restricted. What is it that you want to know about? Maybe I can find it in one of the division libraries."

"I don't think you'll be able to find it anywhere else," the female shinigami said calmly. Then she turned her face up and looked her friend in his eyes. "I want to know everything that's been written about Hueco Mundo."

"Hueco Mundo, eh?" he said. "Well, you're right… The only place you'd find that is the central library. But why do you want it? Are you going to try to help the cause through research? That's actually not a bad idea. But you know, only captains have access to that library. I don't know how I'll even get in."

She looked at him strangely. "Technically, Izuru, you are a captain," she said. "Now that Captain Ichimaru has deserted, you're captain of 3rd Division."

"Well, they haven't made any official announcement yet," he replied modestly. "Things have been pretty chaotic since it all went down. Hey, once you've recovered, you'll be captain of 5th. That's pretty exciting."

"I suppose it is," Momo said, forcing a smile onto her lips. It wasn't necessary at this point to tell her friend that she had no desire to be captain of 5th Division. In time he would figure it out on his own that the only shinigami she would ever regard as holding that title was Aizen Sousuke. She was going to bring him back to take his rightful place, then everyone would understand.

"You're still looking kind of pale," Izuru spoke up. "You should probably try to get more rest. I'll go tell Captain Unohana that you're awake. And I'll see what I can do about your research. Feel better, Momo." With a gentle expression on his face, he stood up and patted her on the head before silently drifting out of the room.

For a few minutes, she lay there alone, staring blankly at the ceiling. Izuru's hand on her head was comforting and sweet, but it was nothing like her captain's touch. Thankfully, Momo was fairly certain that she had successfully disguised her longing for Captain Aizen during the conversation with her friend. He even unwittingly agreed to help her, though he thought her intentions were aligned with those of Soul Society. Then it suddenly occurred to her that Izuru never asked her how she knew everything that had happened. He hadn't even seemed surprised. Did he know that Tobiume had spoken to her while she lay unconscious? Had Wabisuke ever spoken to him in a dream?

She would have continued to ponder the situation, but her thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of Unohana Retsu, the beautiful captain of 4th Division. Her dark, deep-set eyes, and elegant black hair, in a perfect plait across her chest, reflected her wise and patient soul. With the utmost grace and gentleness, she stepped over to Momo's bedside and touched her head. Her hand was maternal and loving, but nothing like Captain's.

"I'm glad to see you have awoken," she said. "Though I wish Mr. Kira had told me as soon as you opened your eyes. I suppose he just wanted a few moments to have you all to himself. He's been very worried about you. Everyone has been worried. You nearly died, Miss Hinamori."

"I'm sorry to have worried everyone," Momo said, unsure of how to respond. "I don't feel like I almost died. My chest hurts a little bit, but that's all."

Captain Unohana smiled vaguely. "You have been asleep for a long time, my dear. And I have been treating you everyday, healing your wounds little by little. Right now I need to change your bandages."

Momo watched with idle curiosity as the older woman opened her cotton robe and began to unwrap the layers of yellow-stained bandages around her chest. How many times had the 4th Division Captain done this while she was asleep? "Captain?" the young woman asked, as her new dressings were being applied. "I was wondering… Is there any way I can talk to Shiro… I mean, Captain Hitsugaya in the living world?"

Her caregiver considered the question for just a moment before replying. "I will see if I can arrange it." Then, having finished her delicate work, the captain tucked Momo snuggly back under her covers and kissed her forehead. "Even though you're out of the woods now, you still need plenty of rest. You'll have to stay in bed for a while yet. But I will bring you some food and drink and anything else you need, Miss Hinamori. Would you like me to bring you some books?"

"Th-that's okay," Momo answered nervously. "Izuru has already agreed to go get me some reading materials. I-I think I'll try and take a nap now. I feel a bit tired."

Without saying another word, just smiling and nodding, Captain Unohana left the room and Momo released a tiny sigh of relief. She didn't want anyone else to know what she was planning, even Izuru, whose help she had already enlisted. If she could get in touch with Shiro, perhaps he could help her cause, too. He would never even consider sparing Captain Aizen's life, but perhaps she could put enough doubt into his mind to buy her some time. That's what she need now, time.

She wasn't lying about being tired, however. Despite her desire to work out the details of her master plan, and despite the fact that she had just woken up less than an hour ago, Momo soon found herself drifting away once again. Her dreams were cloudy and garbled now.

When she woke up for a second time, it was dark outside but the full moon was sending a shaft of silver light through the window. Was it very late at night or very early in the morning? She couldn't tell. On the table next to her bed there was a tall stack of large, ancient looking books. Tucked into the topmost tome was a note from Izuru.

Just something to get you started. I think these books might have some information about Hueco Mundo in them. I will look for more tomorrow. The central library is a labyrinth.

p.s. When you're all better and get released, I would like to take you to lunch. Would that be okay?

As she read her friend's good-natured words, Momo felt a twinge of pain in her chest that had nothing to do with her healing wound. She was moved that he really seemed to care about her, but she also felt guilty. She knew that the lunch he offered would never happen. With any luck, she would figure out a way to Hueco Mundo before she was released from the 4th Division hospital. This was the path she had chosen as she walked with Tobiume, before she ever woke up. It was the dark and twisted path that would lead her back to Aizen Sousuke.

To be continued…