Edited last 02/12/08
She was screaming. She knew she was though it was over laid by the sound of her heart pounding in her ears and the voices in her head. They were screaming to, reminding her of how stupid she had been… of her inability to save the one person she had held onto with both of her small fists.
She knew she was still screaming because her throat was raw. Hinamori hoped that her voice wouldn't hold out much longer, she wasn't sure how much more she could take of the sound of her own voice.
She screamed until her voice was nothing more than a soft croak and she could no longer produce any tangible sounds, much less the ones that she wanted. The ones she needed no matter how she hated them. Instead she moved to hitting things. Pounding at the floor for all she was worth, her tiny hands slamming again and again into the soft padding of the futon over and over she abused them until they were too sore and bruised to curl into a fist. Until blood was seeping from the cracks she made in her skin.
When she could no longer do that she finally cried. Tears that did nothing levitate the pain, nothing to ease the hurt. He was dead.
She burrowed her face into his captain's cloak, the only thing that had been recovered from the site. There had been no body, no sword, just a bloody cloak that Matsumoto had cleaned and given to her at her request.
She was alone now.
She fought against it; denied it, even as the harsh grating sound of her breathing filled the room. Here… here it was too real. She didn't know why she had come here; her feet had led her of their will until she has collapsed into his futon. She curled into his pillow and panted while desperately trying to swallow her tears. Even it held the lingering scent of whatever soap it was that he used on his hair.
She closed her eyes and turned her face into the pillow.
Hitsugaya had died. She had not thought that it was possible. That he would not be strong enough. He was a captain, he held Bankai, and he was supposed to be invincible. Instead, in the end she had lost him. The last person that she relied on to hold her and give her the assurance that she needed to keep fighting – to believe that they might win. She wasn't sure she would ever forgive herself for asking him to save Aizen… for crying on his shoulder at night while he held her in her attempt to exorcise the pain that that loss had brought her. This…. this was so much worse.
She knew the truth of it. That it had been her soft questions and unwavering belief in him that had sent him to his death.
And now she was alone.
She didn't see the helpless looks that were sent her way as people walked by his rooms, didn't see the understanding in another's eyes, the pity that she did not want.
He was gone.
Her fingers tightened on the cloak she held so close to her. Her reiatsu flickered and wavered around her, threatened to reach out and consume her and still she couldn't find it in her to care.
Aizen would pay. If she had to kill him with her own two hands.
It had taken her two weeks to find the proper outlet for her hatred. Two weeks of hard planning as she worked hard to fill the void that Hitsugaya's death had left in their ranks. She would never have the captain's strength or the eerie intelligence that had made him so good at his job, but she was determined.
The first battle had gone smoothly, too smoothly. They had won neatly, with a precision that had frightened her and brought hope rising to the fore again, but even that had not lasted long. Instead it was eroded slowly by the vague unease that haunted all of Soul Societies officers. It was the weariness in all the captains' eyes and the sense of anticipation that was slowly creeping over the ranks. Whatever it was that Aizen had been planning… whatever his goals were – it was getting closer. Training increased and new troops were pushed to the bring in their attempt to prepare them for the worst.
The next battle had not brought them victory, all it had brought was blood. It had not been until after her own wounds had been bandaged by a tired member of the fourth division that she was given the news. They had lost Captain Kyouraku and Vice Captain Ise.
There was no official cause of death. Whatever had happened out there, to them, remained a horrible mystery. The only comfort that she found was that Nanao had not been forced to return without her captain, she would not have wished that on any one of them. Even then it wasn't until they lost Yachiru to a freak accident that she began to put together the pieces of the enemy, but by then it had been too late.
Zarakai went on a rampage. He had taken out huge swathes of the enemy, even one of the Espada who had gotten to close to the rage that he had unleashed on one of the enemy. She had known when he went to battle he had not intended to come back… Yachiru had been his family and all the members of the eleventh division that had followed him into battle had worn death masks.
None of them had returned.
Without the elevenths battle ready mindset, without their huge Captain… moral started dropping and dropping fast. There was nothing that anyone could do to replace such a huge blow to their forces, the eleventh had always been the heart of the battle ready divisions. Without out them they stumbled.
And still they didn't know what had finally taken them out. There was nothing but silence.
She stared at reports for days the answer eluding her. Even as she and Ukitate whispered quietly in the dark, read report after report, and tried to discover the answers to their questions - neither could find them.
Their ranks were growing thin and with them their chances for survival dwindled. Their hope and strength was thinning slowly and not even the sight of the captains on the field of battle could rally the troops anymore. They were loosing heart and they were loosing it fast.
She had never felt so helpless.
It was soon after the death of Zaraki that Yamamoto decided to schedule a full assault on the Arrancar to show what was left of the almighty Shinigami. They had all protested but the old man had won out, his dreams of a grander… she wasn't sure what was left of them. They certainly left a bitter taste n her mouth. The Shinigami were going to war… to give them a show of power that they had never before seen. It made her sick.
But that was what they were doing here, on this god awful playing field. Little chess pieces that she was deathly afraid were going to be checked.
The battle so far was not going in their direction. Blood and the scent of death was everywhere and she knew, knew, that they had been overconfident in their own abilities. She wasn't sure if this was going to be the mistake that killed them all, but it was going to be close. If this didn't destroy the Shinigami… it would be something of a miracle and she was not certain they had any of those left.
She whirled, bringing Tobiume around to slide through the hand that had been reaching for her. Not many were going to survive this. Not this time. They were outnumbered five to one and she had already seen Shuuhei go down. He hadn't gotten up and tears blurred her vision even as anger rose up to boost her waning strength. She could not think, she could only react, i someone /i had to survive this massacre to take the news of their loss and the enemy's strength back to Soul Society.
She wouldn't let this be all for naught.
She turned to meet the Arrancar in front of her, her eyes narrowed, reiatsu flaring high and wide in frustration. They had already lost so many. To few of them were still fighting. They were weakening where the Arrancar only seemed to grow stronger. Where they struggled, they fought with a strength that was not natural.
Blood was running down her face, numerous little cuts that she couldn't remember receiving. A thousand cuts for a thousand years of arrogance that was failing them. They were losing.
She was watching the battle in front of her in a disjointed fashion, brain wheeling to discover how this could have happened. Perhaps once the human boy, Ichigo might have saved them. He might have been able to lend them his strength. Most likely would have for the Kuchiki's sake. But had been the first to fall and Rukia had died soon after and had been followed by her brother. The first real loss of a captain that they had been suffered and each loss since then had just brought them closer to defeat.
She wondered if anyone had the strength to rise above the tide of despair that was overcoming them all. She turned to the next Arrancar, her eyes narrowing. She was tired of fighting, tired of the anger, tired of the constant worry.
She was tired of it all. Maybe she would fall here to and then she wouldn't have to worry after this battle, wouldn't have to count the losses, wouldn't have to see the despair in their eyes.
"Snap." She brought Tobiume around hard, the sword unsealing at her command, the sides shooting out to form branches; instantly a red glow surrounded her. "Flying plum," fire balls shooting out and incinerating the weak Arrancar in front of her. She brought her sword around, and stopping the hand of the hollow that was doing its best to sneak around her, to bring her to her knees before him. Never had her battle senses been so on edge, so high strung. She was staring to grow desperate.
There were too many. She was back to back with Matsumoto who had yet to unseal her sword. She sent the woman a confused glance, sparing a precious second. Why had she not unsealed her sword? Her abilities would grant her a large range of motion that would do a lot more good than her random fireballs.
The second delay cost her.
A long hand slid through the air and hit her hard, slicing through her shoulder. She screamed, momentarily blinded by the pain before bringing Tobiume up and slicing through the hollows arm. Fireballs again arched away from her sword, swinging upwards to incinerate the offending hollow. Even with her determination to pay the hollow back blow by blow the she was starting to wear down.
She wondered if perhaps, this time, it would be too much and she would be the one to fall, the officer that the remaining members of their corps mourned bitterly. And then suddenly they stopped attacking. She whirled, Tobiume held firm in her hands, and froze. She almost dropped her soul slayer, her fingers suddenly numb with surprise and horror.
It was… but it couldn't be.
He was taller. His shoulders were broader, and he was dressed all in some strange white outfit that she recognized almost instantly. It was the outfit worn by Aizen's generals. Even then if it had not been for the spiky blond hair and the same green eyes that had once looked at her in complete trust… she would not have known him.
She barely recognized that she was shaking. Her hands were trembling so hard that she almost dropped Tobiume and she tightened her hold on her as a cold chill swept through the air. It was freezing, cold enough to burn the air in her lungs and stick her sweat covered fingers to her sword. She felt Tobiume respond by sending a wave of heat to counter the bitter cold. There wasn't much she could do for those around her, but she could handle this cold on her own.
"Good afternoon, Hinamori." His voice was cold, yet pleasant, as if this had been suspected all along.
She swallowed. "Hits… Hit…" She took a deep breath, swallowing the fear and confusion before forcing her fingers to tighten further along the hilt of Tobiume. "Hitsugaya." She wished fervently that she had something else to call him, some formal name that she had never attached a nick name to… but there was nothing. She swallowed her pain and lifted her chin just a hair.
He smiled; it was cold as the air that she was locked in a battle to keep from freezing her to the core. His lips quirked upwards just a little more into the smirk that should have comforted her, would have once brought the peace she needed to make it through the next day. Now it brought the much needed anger, it swept through her veins and body as things finally clicked into place. She finally understood.
They were outnumbered. Their back-up had not arrived. The easy deaths. She turned to Matsumoto with comprehension; the woman flicked a piece of hair behind her shoulder, her expression calm. The easy deaths, she turned to Matsumoto with comprehension, the woman flicked a piece of hair behind her shoulder her expression calm. There was no shock, no hurt, and no expression of betrayal. It punched her hard in the stomach.
"You," she whispered, "you did this." She turned back to Hitsugaya. Her eyes were wide with surprise, shock, fear, anger… she couldn't name all the emotions that were sliding through her.
She knew that one well.
The blatant challenge in his gaze became mocking. "Hinamori." His eyes glittered in the dark light of the evening, but she dared not pretend to understand, she could only tighten her grip on her sword and return the gaze. "Captain Hitsugaya," she flinched at the familiar response before freezing.
Words… words had always had power between them. Their names especially had been something that had changed and developed as they grew older. This… she bit ruthlessly down on the side of her mouth.
She did not understand. Did not want to understand.
"You…" she whispered, "you betrayed us."
His expression shifted a hair and she recognized the look there, amusement. "Yes," he agreed.
"Why?" Her voice cracked and broke. He had lied… they had all lied. She had mourned… that man, that person was gone and replaced by this. There would be no victory here, she realized, feeling hollow and eaten from the inside.
He had done this, her shirou-chan. She couldn't believe it.
"Perhaps." His words were calm, assured, so much like the boy she had once clung to, and… so alien. She wondered if perhaps she had ever truly known him. "Perhaps when you are ready we will have that discussion."
She took a step backward, ignoring the ice and snow that was sliding through the air now the heat of her anger and her soul slayer warming her, shielding her as it always had from his snow laden abilities. "This… you killed Ichigo."
Again the curl of his lip. "You are starting to understand," he agreed.
He turned to the woman standing quietly behind her. "Matsumoto."
She walked forward confidently, her fingers trailing along Hinamori's good shoulder, the touch of a friend, a companion." "You can still join us you know," she offered, her lips turning up into a warm smile. She had always been the opposite of Hitsugaya; she realized then, the perfect balance to her captain. The lightness to his coldness, the one decoy that no one would have suspected, would have thought to look past.
She swallowed; bringing Tobiume up once more, letting the fire flit through her and offering her comfort against the chill of the air and the sudden realization that things were now much worse than they had been before.
"No." Her fingers tightened further on the sword. It was pitiful response but it was all she could manage.
Matsumoto laughed. "You do not disappoint me Hinamori." She smiled again. "Until we meet again." She turned and walked towards her captain. Hinamori swallowed her cry of pain. Matsumoto… her dearest friend and constant companion in the last few weeks… that to had been a lie.
Another lie, another betrayal.
He bowed his head once more this time mockingly, "Momo." She flinched at the use of her first name.
He wrapped an arm
around her waist and Matsumoto winked. "See you soon, dear."
And just as suddenly as they had arrived, they were gone – stepping through the blank space and into Hueco Mundo once more.
She sank to her knees, oblivious the carnage, the cold or the pain in her shoulder. No longer facing them she could no longer hold herself up. She did not hear the cries of those seeking aid or those looking for survivors. She did not notice the blood on her hands, the cuts on her cheeks.
The ice and snow were melting as quickly as it had come.
Tears ran freely down her cheeks, hidden beneath her bangs as she stared listlessly at Tobiume, she opened her mouth and closed it, vainly tried to understand, tried to see where everything had gone wrong. She looked up at the sky in time to see the last of the hollows disappear. Their commander had come, he had conquered, and now they were leaving.
Her fingers tightened further on the hilt of her sword.
She bent down and closed her eyes, forehead to the hilt of her sword as something rose up in her throat, and she opened her mouth once more.
Later on they would tell her that she had been found wither her bloodied hands curled along the hilt of her blade, her eyes open and sightless, amidst the carnage of the battle field.
Later she would look back on that moment as the start to the end; the final chess piece that had been moved into place and check-mate had been called. She would wonder if she had done something else, chosen a different path, spoke a different word, if perhaps she could have kept him on their side.
If she might have been able to save him. If it would have made a difference.
If perhaps, Ichigo had survived, had learned to harness the power that they needed so desperately, if perhaps, the captains had known what to expect when they stepped out on the battle field, they might have had a chance.
Because once the full might of Hyourinmaru and its wielder joined Aizen, once the battle plans that he had been privy to, once the spy had revealed… they lost what hope they had once held so tenuously.
The captains tumbled after that unable to sustain themselves against the enemy. They became too tired to quickly until there was nothing left of them but a shell. They expended too much energy, fought to protect those that were weaker. It was their own compassion that brought them to their knees. What destroyed them in the end.
They had fought battle after battle until even Ukitate fell. Yamagoto had been destroyed in a raid on the city itself. Some said Aizen appeared and destroyed him himself. She didn't know, she had been caught in a web of lies and betrayal, fighting the Arrancar… fighting Matsumoto. The woman had kept her away until there had been nothing she could do. She had always heard that she was a strong fighter and she would admit that the rumors for once were true. Nothing she had tried had worked or brought her around the woman, no amount of Kidou or Fire had allowed her to push past her. Instead Matsumoto had left her exhausted and weak with frustration.
"It will be over soon," she assured her, gently patting her on the cheek once she was too tired to hold Tobiume in her weakened fingers, "your time is drawing near." One gentler caress to her cheek and the woman was simply gone. Leaving her to go and help pick up the pieces, her shaking muscles and weakened body almost done for.
She rather thought that dying then might have been better what they had become. That finding a way to trick the woman into killing her would have been preferable. Anything was easier than watching the few who had survived go out and fight each day with fewer numbers coming home at night.
They were being hunted – like animals. And soon they would be destroyed. She held no illusions. She was the last of the vice-captains and soon now, the opponent before her would bring her to her knees. And then she would go on to join those who had already died.
She welcomed it.
They had not expected the attack this night, their resources were spread to thin and their people were sick and dying - the decay and the rot of war getting to them all physically and mentally. Unohana had been one of the first to go after Hitsugaya's appearance – a solid tactic she had to admit. Without the gentle captain of the fourth division there were none to heal them, not physically, not emotionally, and without their leader even the fourth had fallen to despair.
They were loosing now.
They had a year left, though she figured it would be more like six months before their world was brought down completely. There were none left to fight; only those who struggled to survive. They were failing at even that now.
Even so she had not expected him to come and issue her a challenge she could not refuse.
She brought Tobiume down with all her might, her hands tingling with the power behind her blow, her eyes wide and full of anger, full of tears. Blue met red as his sword rose up to block hers, sparks flew and the ground trembled beneath them. Her hands did hurt then, the force of the blow sending painful shockwaves through her fingers and shoulders. She almost dropped her soul slayer, no longer able to feel the hilt gripped so tightly in her fingers.
She wanted to cry, to curl up into herself and never return to the living world. Instead she screamed. It was not a cry of pain but of anguish.
She shifted, sweeping Tobiume up and over before bringing her down, again.
Again he blocked and again fire and ice meet between them, neither able to dominate the other. His eyes were flint as he watched her, void of any emotion.
She couldn't read him. And for the first time in her life she didn't want to. Didn't want to know the man before her, didn't want to understand what had caused him to turn his back on his people, on his division, and his love of what was good and right in the world, even on his beloved Granny. She just couldn't find it in herself to care.
She was ready to die, to leave this place. She found the irony in the fact that he would be the one to end her life – she almost smiled. Kidou and fire blazed in the night air as she threw every weapon, every means that she held against him. Her cry of despair echoing with each glide of her soul slayer, with each shouted chant, with each clang of metal against metal.
She understood what it meant to hate now.
Aizen had been correct when he had said that he was the one who had killed him. Had told her truthfully about the plans and schemes he had crafted to destroy Soul Society. When she had attacked Hitsugaya she had attacked he correct person. She knew that now – only now it was too late.
Oh she had had plenty of time to think, to understand. She didn't doubt herself not or wonder if she had been mistaken. They had played their game well, Matsumoto and Hitsugaya were truly a matched pair. Even now she wasn't quite sure were reality and the game met – the lines were just too blurred.
Oh Aizen had stabbed her. He had almost taken her life, had almost taken his.
But they had known.
Oh how they had known, how each player would react, how the chess board would move before the first piece had been shuffled. Had known Unohana would be there, had gambled that she would save them both. He had gone off to fight the Arrancar, had lead so many to their deaths. Had become angry, had kept any suspicion from himself. Yamagoto had given him their plans and in return he had given Aizen the key to the royal city.
Destroying Ichigo had been the easy part.
Bringing soul society down upon its knees had been child's play once they had the information that they needed. The power that would give them everything they dreamed of. Tears were streaming down her face and she ignored them. Instead she lashed out, the fire of her soul threatening to consume her as she faced him down.
She had avoided this for so long. This battle between them. She was one of the last, the few who had survived the endless attacks and hatred that had plagued their city. She had figured out that it was nothing to do with her own abilities; she had never once fought something past her own meager strengths. Someone had been keeping her alive and it had left her trembling in the dark more than one night.
"You don't have to do this you know," his voice trailed across the frozen landscape that was their battle field, his voice almost gentle, "there has always been a place for you in our world."
She laughed a hoarse sound that rang harshly. "Give the little pawn life?" she questioned. "A reward for her unwilling assistance?"
He laughed. "You have figured so much out." He lashed out, his sword driving her back as she worked hard to counter his movements. "But you do not understand yet."
It had taken her weeks to realize what had happened – to understand. Aizen had betrayed her but it had been Hitsugaya who had nearly destroyed her. She still lived and breathed but there was nothing left for her to claim as her own.
Matsumoto had been the bearer of their final plan, their last desperate strike. It had all made sense once she had thought about it, they never really stood a chance against that sort of betrayal. It had been the seemingly betrayed blond vice-captain who had finally brought the city to their knees.
She had wondered, briefly, if it had been Matsumoto who had called Hitsugaya into this game, into this ploy, before dismissing it. She had been in the middle of this conspiracy all along and she had known nothing. She had seen nothing. Had fallen for Aizen but had never really been his, just as he had never been hers.
Just as the boy she had known had died long ago.
"But I think," he said as she again brought her sword to meet his, their eyes holding, brown clashing with green, "that we will have plenty of time to teach you."
Fire erupted from the base of her sword to be quenched by the ice of his. Hot steam rolled between them. She could only hope it was a quick death.
She could not win this fight. She did not care. She had seen so many of her comrade's die, had watched their life's slip from her grasp as they stared up at her helplessly. Each death had whittled away at her, had destroyed her hope until she was hollowed out from the inside.
She wondered, even now, how he had grown so in such a short time. He was taller, stronger, colder, and she wondered if perhaps it had not been an illusion all along, the little bit of childhood innocence that had clung to him. Aizen was capable, and would not hesitate to do so if he had thought it would accomplish their goal.
He had fooled them once, why not twice?
She fell, her hands slipping. Her energy had finally waned, the fury of her hatred no longer able to sustain her. Her eyes were full of surprise as Tobiume slid from her hands and she went down face first. She tried to push up, but his foot was in her back giving her no chance of retaliation or escape. All she could do was lay there, trembling against the cold, against the fear that slipped through her.
She jerked when she heard the sound of his sword being sheathed. Tried to jerk out from under him, but he increased the pressure and she was left gasping, face down against the cold ice. Something slid around her neck and she reached up, gasping in shock and surprise as the feel of Tobiume, the power that she had associated with herself for so long – disappeared. She screamed and pushed up with all her might, trying to twist, to turn – anything to break free.
It was to no avail and she collapsed in defeat, despair squelching the other emotions that were flashing through her. Even as she reached for Tobiume her sword slipped away, beyond her reach. She did not hear the words the fell from his mouth, did not see the gleam in his eyes, she could only hear her frantic heart beat against the sound of the wind.
Some crueler, colder fate awaited her now. She knew. And so when he stood, her battered and broken body in his arms, she did not fight him. She had lost this battle long ago. The girl who had come to the seriate, innocent, full of joy, and at peace with the world was long dead. All that remained was the shell. And even that shell no longer belonged to her.
She had lost the battle.