i. come, king death

"Mama? Mama?"

She cried, she would remember dimly, vaguely, like some half remembered dream of someone else. There was blood, wet and lukewarm thanks to the winter rain. There were men there, too, men with ugly sneers and cold steel.

Her mother, face blurred by years, was a distant memory. All she remembered were blood and tears and rain.

Crying, weeping, bleeding, she fled beneath the Ume tree, whose flowers had fallen like dying souls. She crushed them in a desperate, fervent struggle to stay alive, but as she laid there, she wondered why her life meant so much to her.

She lay dying beneath the Ume tree, who watched over her death like a silent mourner.

One last time, she opened her eyes, and the smiling face of a man.

"Who-" she choked on her own blood before she could finish her words, but it seemed the man understood her. He placed the hilt of his sword against her forehead, and spoke softly, like a lover's last kiss.

"My name is Aizen Sousuke."

ii. when you were young

Chiyo had been no one special in life; wife to the third son of a small merchant family whose business had been mundane and uninteresting, mother to six children, three of whom survived to have children of their own.

She died in the winter of her life, peacefully, easily, in her sleep, and was led by a kind young man in black to the Rukongai.

Even in death, she had a normal life, content with her station, her neighbors, and became accustomed to this new way of living.

Then she found a girl, sprawled and gasping and crying in the dirt. She spoke not at all, and Chiyo, moved with a mother's pity, took her in.

When the girl's senses returned, she spoke only a name that was not her own.

"Aizen Sousuke," she murmured, a prayer to her heart's god.

iii. the white knight

Unlike some people, Hitsuguya remembered every moment of his death.

Mostly because it was so damn foolish he swore never to speak of it.

What chance did a boy, weak and sickly with hair as white as snow, have against armed bandits, deserters from one of those many foolish wars that were being fought at the time?

He remembered the cold feel of a blade exiting his stomach, the feeling of absolute failure. There were no words, no adjectives he had for his death.

Only what happened.

As he sprawled out, bleeding out and breathing in the dirt, he pretended not to hear his mother's tortured final scream as she watched her only son murdered.

Weak, bitter, and hurt, Hitsuguya Toushiro found himself in Soul Society, alone and isolated, and strangely hungry. No one, however, had either the time or the patience to deal with an impudent, caustic brat.

Almost no one, anyway.

"Oooh... you have weird hair."

Hitsuguya looked up, and for a moment, thought he saw his mother's eyes.

"My name's Momo. What's yours?"

iv. those whom you would hold dear

Sometimes, Kira wonders what Renji is thinking, when he catches a glimpse of that girl, that girl who lingers at the back of his thoughts, who is first, ahead of Hinamori and himself. The girl who Renji is in the Academy for, in a way that neither of them can understand.

Does he feel sorrow at the distance? Does he long for the days of his youth with her?

Does he hold her in his heart, deep inside, and swears never to let go even as he does?

Or is that he already knows who they are and where they stand, and lets it be?

Sometimes, Hinamori will suddenly vanish from their presence and come to those who had come before him.

And sometimes, Kira doesn't have to wonder.

v. the heart picked king

Aizen had always smiled.

He had no idea why, or when the smile started, to he simply assumed it had been there all his life and continued into his death.

It only slipped once, a day of helpless rage and utterly useless efforts.

Aizen did not die with a smile.

They took him into the Shinigami Academy, they made him one of their own, but he never made them his own. He learned, he grew, and felt nothing all the while.

But he remembered being helpless upon a moonless night. He was just a little late (but a little is a lot sometimes) in performing the konso, and witnessed the transformation of an innocent child into a monster.

No God would let you feel so utterly defenseless, he reasoned apathetically, slicing the Hollow's head off.

And in the moonless night, Aizen decided that should change.

He smiled, and decided to be God, and felt nothing for it.

The next day, a slip of a girl dogged his step, her two reluctant friends following at a distance. They were the next generation- the next officers. The girl babbled on about how she'd love to serve under him, and the ignorance of complete devotion shone in her eyes.

Aizen smiled, and decided she might be useful.

vi. those elysium days

"It's going to be different when we're part of the Gotei Thirteen, isn't it?" Kira asked once, his voice quieter than normal.

"Of course it is, idiot." Renji replied brashly. "We'll be fighting Hollows for real then, and performing konso without supervision from those snotty upperclassmen."

"That's not what I meant." Kira said softly, looking away, and Renji glanced at him questioningly. He didn't answer, and only stared into the distance.

Renji followed his gaze, and frowned. She dogged Aizen's steps a little to eagerly and a little too often sometimes. "Don't think on it too much." He grumbled, and looked away.

By the time Hinamori ran to them, smiling and waving and chattering happily, Renji had forgotten.

Kira wished he could do the same.

vii. and you are first amongst all

The sun flew high and proud, roaring bright defiance. Eyes, some teary, some hardened in the drive of youth, some wavering, waited with anticipation.

Hitsuguya, being the latest prodigy and the youngest amongst them to graduate from the Academy, was called first. As he took his shihakusho, his eyes scanned the crowd, meeting Hinamori's for just a brief moment.

Though most would swear it was the sun, some thought they saw the frigidly formal Shinigami smile.

Renji and Kira could affirm that Hinamori did the same.

They were called soon after, of course, all of them having already achieved Shikai and therefore were allowed as seated officers, assigned to Aizen's division.

Hinamori felt as though she were stepping toward the gates of paradise, her step light, her eyes bright and eager and ready to serve. When she stood up on the platform, accepting her shihakusho with a deep, formal bow, and turned, she looked towards the captain's box.

She smiled brighter than the sun. Aizen smiled too, but he always did that.

viii. the knight crowned prince

"Simply astonishing," Ukitake complimented, smiling widely. He looked healthy today, to the relief of many. "That we would have such a prodigy in our midst."

"Thank you, Ukitake-taichou." Hitsuguya replied politely, shifting uncomfortably. The cloth of his captain's haori felt too new, too heavy for his shoulders just yet.

"We had to tailor this one down a little," Ukitake jested, grinning. "To fit our youngest captain."

He frowned at that. The label seemed to separate him from the other captains, put him at a level below theirs as a junior. Their lesser, not their equal.

"Ah well, I must be off." Ukitake waved, and Hitsuguya bade him a polite, if rather distant, farewell.

"Hitsuguya-kun!"

Suddenly, the captain's haori felt as though it were absent, and the shihakusho had become a ragged gray kimono. "Oi, don't call me that." He grumbled, scowling. "I do outrank you now."

"Sorry, Hitsuguya-kun." Hinamori apologized, before realizing her mistake. "I mean, Hitsuguya-taichou." Her voice perked up again. "This is amazing, Hitsuguya-kun! You're a captain now, just like Aizen-taichou!" her eyes brightened as she finished, and she smiled a smile that was not for him.

Hitsuguya frowned at her slip, her unintended lie.

No, no he wasn't.

And he never would be.

ix .your king checkmated

He's still smiling, she noted absently, screaming her voice raw and ragged, as though tearing it apart in grief.

He always looked so very gentle, so calm and composed- even as Death or in death.

So beautiful.

Hinamori screamed, and all the while, she still admired him with all the devotion in her heart.

x. sundered from all

The walls are closing in. Her shadows stretch like the grasping claws of evil creatures, threatening to take her. Just like those men, that day.

And this time, he couldn't save her.

A choked sob, and suddenly Hinamori is remembering his smiling face dotted with his own blood, his chest absolutely destroyed. She dry heaved once, twice, and curled herself into a ball.

Her voice almost, almost called for him. Then for Hitsuguya. Neither came.

The shadows loomed like grinning demons.

She sobbed desperately.

"Kira-kun?" if he could hear her, he said nothing. Only hours before, Tobiume had screamed hatred and Wabisuke had valiantly attempted to stop her. Their friendship, if it still existed, would not save her tonight.

Tobiume had been her only defense, the one thing she clung to as she screamed desperate defiance at Aizen's death.

But they had taken Tobiume away.

Just like they had taken Him away.

She sobbed into the night, which either didn't hear her or didn't care.

xi. and upon the prince's head a fool's crown

The tea is lukewarm, how he likes it. It's a curiosity to some, to others, however, it makes perfect sense.

Hitsuguya Toushiro has never liked the heat, after all.

It is a calming ritual for him, sipping tea post battle. A retreat back to his room (his office, these days), a pot of green tea that's already cooling. He makes it beforehand, and Matsumoto is nearly always aware when her captain is preparing for battle, because he's making tea.

Hyourinmaru, for once, is not at his side, but in the corner.

He cannot stand to look at it, but a captain cannot be out of sight of his zanpakuto in a crisis (legally, he's not even allowed to take it off right now).

Hyourinmaru is his partner, a reflection of his soul, and he wonders if it understands.

Probably. But Hitsuguya doesn't care to find out.

He's never been all that curious anyway.

The tea isn't cooling as quickly, and the traces of warmth are like fiery hatred-Why, why Hitsuguya-kun, those eyes begged- searing his mouth.

"Did she wish... that I had died, instead of him?" he murmured softly, his breath rippling across the surface of the emerald liquid.

He shouldn't be surprised.

He is.

"Idiot." He mutters, and he knows that he's speaking to the only person in the room.

xii. the king stands alone

There's no rain today, she thinks absently. No.. Today's weather is just about perfect.

It is bright and sunny and she is dying.

There are hundreds of questions and no breath in her to ask them. She's not unconscious, not yet- the pain isn't real, isn't solid just quite yet (it would be, she was certain).

She doesn't believe its real, after all.

Aizen-taicho is walking away, the tails of his haori whispering like taunting devils. They give no answers and no comfort, only a resounding goodbye.

Was... that day... even real...

He saved her, that day, she remembered. Placed his zanpakuto against her head and took her away from the pain.

This is not real.

Aizen-taicho isn't walking away, didn't stab her in his arms and is not leaving her.

This is not real.

It's not.

It is.

xiii. standing still as the waves erode the world

"How is she?" Unohana smiles gently at his question, and Kira is reminded of his mother, long since passed.

"She's lost much of who she was, I believe." Unohana's serene face dimmed just a little. "She spends much of her time staring out the window, as though she's waiting for something."

Nothing good ever returns from Hueco Mundo, Kira responds silently. He thanks her for the update, and opens the door with slowly, a tremor of hesitation in his fingers.

It's too late for that now, though, and he's standing in the doorway.

Her head turns quickly, filled with a desperate hope that Kira finds sad in a way. The light in those eyes dims even as she smiles. "Hi, Kira-kun."

"Hey." His smile is forced and only he can see it.

Maybe she had always been blind to it.

Kira's eyes are open now, and he watches her face, so pale and lined and not-Hinamori. In her hands, almost absently, she clutches a broken pair of glasses. His stomach curls and he looks away.

"Have... have you heard anything? About Hitsuguya-kun?" the desperate hope traces itself in her stuttering, hesitant voice. "About Aizen-taichou?"

"Nothing just yet." He replies softly. "But I'll be sure to let you know, okay?"

Hinamori smiles, and Kira understands that false hope is sometimes worse than none at all.

He makes an excuse (a lie) about urgent business, excusing himself. But, as though possessed by some thought, he looked just one more time.

Would she wait there, until the End,he wondered.

Out of the corner of his eyes, he sees her fingers dance across the rim of the glasses.

It was a silly thought.

He already knew the answer.

xiv. how to save a life

Hitsguya is dying, and Hinamori doesn't know if she's screaming or if she's crying or both or doing nothing at all.

Kyoka Suigetsu is colder than Hyourinmaru ever felt, Hitsuguya thinks absently, staring at the shining silver of Aizen's zanpakuto.

Hinamori's hands are on his shoulders, even as his wings shatter, as Hyourinmaru's strength fades away. He wishes he could hear her, but the roaring of the blood rushing away from his body is far too loud.

Is she asking why he is dying for her?

Behind him, Aizen's smirks-not smiles-, and Kyoka Suigetsu is ripped from his chest.

Hitsuguya is falling, and Time marches on to the beat of Hinamori's screams.

I didn't fail this time, he thinks, somewhat proud. Aizen's right arm is a mess of blood and ice and tattered flesh, and Hyourinmaru's tail has left its scars on him.

It's too bad he forgot his own rule about taking your eyes off the enemy. But Hinamori had always come first.

Always.

Kurosaki has burst in on them now, his roaring defiance frozen as he sees this moment.

His eyes meet hers.

There's so much he wants to say right now, so many words he needs to say, but there's blood choking his throat and he understands that there was never enough time, would never be enough time to say them all.

Hinamori is safe, and that's what should matter, what does matter.

Hitsuguya is dead, but he is smiling.

xv. forgiving but not forgetting

Hitsuguya's death weighs in on her shoulders, marking her in the eyes of others. Matsumoto is never in the same room as her, and any chance meeting is swift and uncomfortable, with neither meeting the others eyes. Shinigami watch her warily, and the whispers of "she was with that traitor, Aizen" dog her step like hungry wolves.

She can't blame them, even when she does.

Her hands brush the crushed and broken and blood splattered glasses with the fervor of the faithless dying to believe.

In a way, being demoted and assigned to the care of the Hell Butterflies is a relief. It is a lonely, isolated job with little honor. Perfect for the ex-vice captain of the disgraced Fifth Division.

Kira, with Renji in tow whenever possible, come visit her, on the excuse that they're requisitioning more butterflies for an excursion to the human world. But their smiles are forced and their cheer as false as their excuses to visit her.

They (Kira) want to save her. She thanks them for trying, but hopes they won't succeed.

Saving her is the worst thing anyone can do for her, after all.

xvi. once upon a time

There was a girl who was dying, and a man who took her into the arms of the afterlife. There the girl loved the man, met a boy who wanted to save her, met another boy who couldn't, and loved them all but didn't -couldn't- really.

The man killed the boy who saved the girl. The girl cried a thousand tears that meant nothing at all, and the other boy still couldn't save her.

This is not the end.

xvii. give me one more time around

It's odd, Hinamori thought. He had been so mighty, bursting with reiatsu that thrummed with frigid force. Now he was a boy, his hair a light shade of brown instead of it's unusual white. Straight, not spiked. He dislikes the heat but isn't too fond of ice. His name has nothing to do with winter.

She hated it.

The reiatsu lingers, however, wispy mists of Hyourinmaru's strength sleep deeply in the depths of his human soul. She takes the mission to watch over him and the surrounding area over protests and suspicion, and is assigned to patrol the area for two years.

He's a normal boy, she comes to realize over time. His friends are fewer than most and he scowls most of the time, but he makes up for it with a protective streak and an intelligence that is almost frightening.

And on a hot, lazy day, he shows his unusual fondness for watermelons.

The next day, Hinamori returns to Soul Society and files a request to extend the mission.

xviii. would you have carried me to the end

"You're not coming back." Kira's voice is solemn and his eyes don't quite meet hers. He looks left.

"Why do you say that, Kira-kun?" her voice is cheery and she has no reason to be. She is glad he can't meet her eyes, because she cannot either. She looks right.

Kira looks left. "We never really had a chance to help you, did we? You were always too far ahead, looking away from us." Kira is quiet and raging inwardly and wondering why he came.

"I'm sorry," she murmurs, her voice sincere, and Kira thinks that should mean something and wonders why it doesn't.

"We could have saved you. I would have tried, if you had let me." Kira's voice is a quiet sort of plea, not desperate but fading. But he did try, and the words standing in the air are nothing but the wishes of the past, one last choice, one last break in the road.

Hinamori is on her way out now, and does not look back. Her fingers dance across the tips of the glasses one more time.

"Thank you." For failing.

xix. bury the dead king

There was no grave site. No onedared voice what to do with the body, so the Gotei Thirteen silently, unanimously, chose to just let him rot in Hueco Mundo.

After all, no one thought Aizen Sousuke deserved a decent burial.

Secretly, she built one for him. She couldn't have his body- Hueco Mundo was off limits to a disgraced ex-officer. The earth was bare and brown, warmed by the sun in some little plot in the Rukongai. A single, nameless tablet stood firm in the ground, placed there by her own hands.

She did not mourn Aizen Sousuke, leader of the Arrancar and traitor to the Gotei Thirteen.

She mourned Aizen and that rainy day they met, so long ago.

Before the stone she stood, head bowed, fiddling the glasses in her hands. The tenseness in her fingers causes them to straighten and stiffen, brushing with hard, almost violent strokes against the spectacles.

Too hard, and suddenly it snapped, and the glasses fell to the earth, crashing down upon the stone.

Her fingers, instinctively reached for it, groping through the air with loyal blindness. As they were a whisper away from the material, they stopped.

They're just glasses.

She straightened, and pulled away.

This is just a stone.

As she leaves, she notices that her step is a little lighter, freer.

She never returned to that place again.

xx. sincerely yours/my pure heart for you

Akira ducked the corner, his breath harsh, his light brown hair matted with sweat. There was a monster after him, something that existed just outside of reality. He could see the shimmer of its eyes, the glimmer of its claws, hear it's whispering hunger at the back of his neck.

Akira trusted his instincts, an attribute that he'd had since birth- maybe even before that.

It roared, a screeching, unholy rending that tore deep into his heart, filling it with a fear that he had never known.

He is very glad that he ditched his friends three blocks back, claiming he had somewhere to be. If they had gotten involved, he would never have forgiven himself.

Something nagged at the back of his senses and he ducked low, and for a moment, he swore he saw a wicked, jagged claw.

Panic rose, but his calm intellect managed to keep control, and he sprinted forward, keeping his head low and his ears open.

But his legs were getting tired now. He was small for his age, he knew, his legs skinnier and underdeveloped. He cursed it now, and felt the cold brush of -death- the monster rushing forward to consume him.

"Hajike!"

A girl?

"Duck Hitsuguya-kun!"

Who is she- Akira gave it no more thought as he saw a bright pink (pink?) light burn brightly. He threw himself down to the ground on instinct, just as the light tore through the air, smashing into the monster.

An unholy, tortured scream lit up the area, and suddenly the cold feeling pressing against his soul disappeared.

He looked up.

The girl was slender and pale, her eyes glimmering with some feeling Akira could not name. She held an elongated, multi-pronged blade that seemed to glow with light red force.

"Are you alright?" she asked quickly, staring into his eyes, a spark of familiarity shivering through his soul.

She... do I know her...

"Um... yeah." Akira replied slowly, gazing at her cautiously. Her clothes were archaic to say the least- a black hakama and kimono, with a white undershirt. "Who were you talking to just now?"

For a moment, something like resentment flickered behind her eyes, and Akira took a step back. She shook her head then. "It was nothing. My mistake."

"Well... thanks, I guess, for saving me." Akira inclined his head in gratitude, before looking away. "Just who are you, anyway?"

The girl paused for a moment, as if contemplating something. Finally, she outstretched her hand, and smiled for him in the fading light of dusk.

"My name's Momo. What's yours?"