"Nature's first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf's a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay."

Robert Frost


Golden


A small child, small even among the ranks of other children, sat dazedly in the overgrowth near a river. He wasn't exactly sure what he was doing there, nor could he remember how he had gotten there in the first place. But it wasn't a bad place, and so he was content with simply sitting there and watching the water's currents course by.

There was just one, little problem.

He was very, very hungry.

Finally, his nagging stomach motivated him to stand up on shaky legs and start a search for something to eat. His bare feet squelched against the soggy grass not entirely uncomfortably as he began his journey across the vast green field before him. He could hear some interesting noises off to his left and decided to start his search in that direction, keeping an eye on his path so that he would be able to find his way back. Much quicker than the boy had expected the grass beneath his feet gave way to dirt, and the silent field became a bustling urban market.

He stared in wonder at all of the people of all different heights and widths and colors. They were all so much bigger than him, and they all seemed to have some sort of important purpose as they strode along the roads. A few looked down at him curiously, some smiled, but none seemed willing to say much to him. Still slightly uncertain when it came to his legs, he walked unsteadily behind a young couple, eyeing the various shops on either side and wondering what they were hiding within.

It was as he was tottering along that he saw her. A small girl, not quite as tall as the others but still taller than him, who was humming happily to herself as she walked. In all honesty, it wasn't really her he was interested in. It was the basket she was carrying, out the side of which poked a delicious looking loaf of bread. Smirking triumphantly, he waited until they passed each other and snagged it right out of her basket.

Unfortunately, it appeared he wasn't as good of a thief as he had thought.

"Wha…? Hey!" he heard the girlish voice cry out from behind him and turned to see her pointing at him. "Give that ba-!" Before she could finish, he gripped the bread tightly to his chest and, completely forgetting any prior trouble he had had with his uncooperative legs, took off into the crowd. The kiddish voice continued to call out to him, now breathing hard as the girl gave chase. "Give that back! It's mine! Please! Hey!"

Ignoring her, he turned off from the road, heading back to the river. He really didn't know where else he could go. Just as he thought he had finally outmaneuvered her, something hit him right in the back of his head. Hard. With a startled cry, he fell down to the ground, allowing the huffing, puffing girl to catch up to him.

"Etetetetetet…" he groaned, clasping the growing bump on his head indignantly.

"I told you … to give it … back!" she scolded between breaths as she picked up the basket she had thrown at him. Several of its former contents were now strewn across the grass. "Oh no! Now look what you made me do!"

What?! He hadn't made her do anything!

The boy sat up slowly, still rubbing the back of his head as he watched her scuffle frantically about, picking up the lost items. She looked pretty clumsy as she ran around like that, kind of like a ditz. But man … could she aim. He absolutely could not underestimate her, he decided as he glared her down.

She finished with the scattered food and turned to face him, noticing his glare for the first time. She frowned, crossing her arms over her nonexistent chest and looking down at him expectantly. "Can I please have my bread back?"

"No," he grunted, lifting the loaf to his mouth and taking a large bite to make his point. It was the first time he had said anything since he had arrived here, and he rather enjoyed the luxury of it being defiant.

The girl, on the other hand, did not. "H-How mean!" she stuttered, violent outer shell cracking as the very beginnings of tears began to form in her big, brown eyes. "Why would you do something like that? It's the first time Oba-san's ever let me go shopping by myself, but you have to go and ruin it! Everything's all dirty, and now I don't have any bread! She's never going to let me go shopping again!"

"I'm hungry," the small boy grumbled through another mouthful of bread.

"What?"

"You asked why I'd do something like that. 'Cause I'm hungry."

She blinked back at him, letting the waterworks subside to make way for curiosity. "Where're you from?"

He frowned a moment before answering. "Here."

"You mean this field?"

He nodded resolutely, just now deciding that this was indeed where he was from. Then he took another bite. She didn't seem to mind about the food so much anymore.

"Then you're new?" she asked, now looking more excited than anything else. He nodded again; it sounded accurate enough for his current situation. "Why didn't you tell me?! If you'd told me I would've just given you the bread!"

He stared disbelievingly at her. How was he supposed to know that?!

"That's pretty amazing! For you to be able to run like that when you're brand new!" she praised. "Well then, come on!" The bemused boy suddenly found himself being dragged by the wrist by the crazy girl, clutching the loaf of bread as if his life depended on it. It was the only thing that seemed to make sense to him anymore.

"Don't worry! You'll love Oba-san! And I'm sure she'll love you as well! She's really nice, taking care of all of us like she does. And she almost never gets mad! Oh! And you'll get to meet Suzume-chan and Hinata-chan and Daichi-kun too! This is so exciting! I've never found anyone new before! Daichi did once; he found Suzume-chan! Suzume-chan's a bit smaller than you, but you're a lot cuter! ("Oi!") Just don't tell Suzume-chan I said that!"

The crazy girl finally paused in her verbal tirade, turning to face him quizzically. "Ne, what's your name anyway?" The boy shrugged, uncaring as he continued to try to pry his wrist out of her grip without letting go of the bread loaf. It wasn't working very well. "You don't know? Well, don't worry about that either!" she assured him, hurrying her pace once again. "Oba-san can name you! She named all of us too!"

It was at that moment that she decided to trip, on what he didn't know. Her arms flayed every which direction in a futile attempt to keep balanced before she tumbled forward, closing her eyes in anticipation of the inevitable face plant.

It never came.

She opened her eyes slowly, uncertainly, to meet the boy, holding her to his chest so that she wouldn't fall. She was so stunned she didn't even bother to try to get back up. "Wow! That was amazing! Thank you so much! You're like a knight in shining armor or something!"

The boy didn't know what he had been thinking. Not to be underestimated? What a joke! She was nothing but an insane, clumsy, loud-mouthed idiot who couldn't even balance on her own two feet! "Baka! If I hadn't been here, you'd have a bloody nose by now!"

"I know! Thank you!" she smiled as she finally stood up again and hugged him tight.

"Oi, oi! Let go of me," he grunted half-heartedly, partially resigned to his fate by now.

Still smiling brightly, she grabbed his wrist once more and they took off again. "Now let's go! We're getting close now!"

She was right. The market was subsiding into residential areas, the crowds thinning. Finally, she dragged him off the main road and on to a side one leading up to a quaint, countryside sort of cottage. Three young children, two girls and one boy, were playing around in the large acreage surrounding the home. An old woman sat on the porch, completing the clichéd scene with the knitting she was doing on her lap. The boy frowned as he was pulled past the now thoroughly curious children and right up to the grinning woman.

"Oba-san! Oba-san! Isn't he so cute?! ("Oi!") I found him by the river! He's new!"

The old lady smiled tenderly and nodded. "Yes, he is, isn't he?" ("Oi!")

"Can he stay here with us?! Please, Oba-san! Pretty please!"

The other three children were beginning to crowd around, peeking out from behind the crazy girl. The one boy appeared to be crossing his fingers. The woman laughed. "Why not? That's what I'm here for, after all."

And so the boy was invited into a family of complete strangers without anyone bothering to even ask him if that was what he wanted. He "hmph"ed grumpily before devouring another mouthful of bread. The smallest child, supposedly "Suzume-chan," hesitantly reached out for the loaf. He stared her down a moment, then sighed, defeated. Much to the small girl's delight, he broke the bread loaf in half and handed her a piece.

He immediately regretted it however, when, as soon as the food was firmly in Suzume-chan's hand, he was tackled affectionately by the crazy girl who had dragged him here. "See, see! You'll love it here! I told you would!" she shouted blissfully. "Now all you need is a name! Ne, Oba-san? What do you think?"

The boy felt himself once again pushed up to the old woman who was setting down her knitting, a booming laugh threatening to break through her resolve any minute. She leaned in to scrutinize him, then grinned, threading a hand through his unique locks. "Well, with an appetite like that, I suppose we can expect some interesting things from you, ne? So … how about … Toushirou. Hitsugaya Toushirou."

"Sounds kinda arrogant…" the boy, Daichi, mumbled after having gained the courage to step out from behind the crazy girl.

"I think it's perfect!" she exalted in reply, clapping her hands together before she too ruffled them through his messy, white hair. "Ne, Shirou-chan?"

Cheeks tinged pink and teal eyes wide, the boy shoved her arms away. "You don't use -chan for boys!" he huffed angrily. "And it's not 'Shirou!' It's Toushirou! Say it right, baka!"

The old woman's smiled widened at his rather blunt acceptance of his new name. "Ne, Momo, did you get what I asked?"

"Ah! Well … er … kind of…"

"What's Momo?"

"What?" the girl asked, startled. She turned back to the boy who now looked sincerely interested.

"What's Momo?"

"Oh! That's my name!" she beamed. "Hinamori Momo!"

Toushirou did not say anything for a while, but when he did, he said it with such conviction and determination that the old woman nearly toppled over in amusement. "Bed Wetter Momo."

"Yup! That's m-! Hey!" the girl cried out in realization, arms wailing about in a mixture of confusion and frustration. "How mean, Shirou-chan! I-I haven't done that for a long time! Why're you always so-?!"

"So then," the boy interrupted with a smirk, "you have done it."

"Bu-But that was a long time ago! And I-I had a nightmare! It was scary! It wasn't my fault!"

"How long ago?"

"Three months ago!" she replied unfalteringly, throwing three fingers in Toushirou's face. The boy could only cackle wickedly. "Shirou-chan! Hey! Stop laughing, Shirou-chan!" she cried, bonking him on his head with her fist.

"Don't do that!" he barked. "And don't call me Shirou-chan!"

"Then don't call me Bed Wetter Momo!" she yelled back indignantly.

"I called you that because you called me Shirou-chan!"

"But Shirou-chan-!"

"Bed Wetter Momo!"

The other children soon chimed in, poking fun at both struggling parties. The old woman watched, no longer even trying to hold back her hearty laughing.

Things would definitely be livelier from now on.


A young woman, robed in a shihakushou and flaunting a pair of Narcissus flower earrings, paced herself through Fourth Division's halls. She stopped before a closed door flanked by two bored looking shinigami.

"Eighth seat, Tenth Division, Aiyuu Suzume. I'm here to relay a message."

One of the shinigami nodded and the other slid open the door. She stepped inside and allowed them to shut it once more.

The sight that greeted her was not a pleasant one. Hinamori Momo lay still in bed, machines – uncommon in Soul Society, a fact which only served to make them more imposing – surrounding her as their wires and tubes and needles embedded themselves into her limp and helpless body. Next to the bed, his torso leaning over her blanketed legs, was Hitsugaya Toushirou. He was asleep.

"Hitsugaya-taichou," she mumbled softly as she approached him. He stirred. "Hitsugaya-taichou, are you alright?"

Icy eyes still glazed over with sleep, the white crowned captain raised his head to face her. "Ah, Suzume-chan."

"Taichou?" Suzume questioned, surprised. He hadn't called her 'Suzume-chan' for years. Not since she had surpassed him in height while they had still all been together with Oba-san.

Hitsugaya shook his head, hastily standing up. "I apologize, Aiyuu-san. I…" her captain hesitated a moment before continuing, "…was still dreaming."

"Of course, Taichou," she nodded knowingly. She had been dreaming a lot lately as well.

"I suppose Matsumoto wants me to do something or other that she should be doing but can't be bothered to."

"Y-Yes, Taichou," Suzume chanced a small grin. "Matsumoto-fukutaichou requests that you take her shift in overseeing squad eleven's training exercises this afternoon. She has, unfortunately, made prior arrangements."

"Have Abarai, Kira, and Hisagi all made similar arrangements?"

"Yes, Hitsugaya-taichou."

"I see." A moment of silence followed as Hitsugaya quietly fumed and Aiyuu watched in mild amusement. "Very well," he finally acquiesced with a sigh. "I will be with you shortly."

"Of course, Taichou," Suzume nodded.

She watched as he turned to Hinamori once more, and all prior amusement seemed to dissipate instantly. She hated this. She hated seeing her captain like this, hated seeing one of her oldest friends so dead to the world, hated seeing them at all if all it ever bothered to do for her was make her want to cry.

A small, bittersweet smile found its way to her lips. "You know, Taichou, even I don't mind being Suzume-chan … every once in a while."

Hitsugaya Toushirou did not turn around. "Yeah," he sighed so quietly she almost didn't hear him.

"Yeah."