When the snow cloud finally settled, Hinamori stared at the hole in her kimono where the sword had entered. Hitsugaya unfurled his tattered wings and groaned while Kira clawed his way out of the slush-covered pool. Snow continued to fall for a few more seconds as Hanatarou opened his eyes very, very slowly.

He still held Hisagomaru in front of him, having been thoroughly trained by Hinamori to valiantly maintain a defensive position in the face of an uncertain battle. Barely six inches long now, the spirit of the zanpakutou-turned-scalpel gave a nervous giggle in the back of Hanatarou's mind.

Toshiro Hitsugaya sheathed his sword and spoke to Matsumoto as she emerged from the tunnel. "Well, I guess we can leave now. I've got what I came for, and it looks like none of them are in any condition to fight anyway," he said. His lieutenant crossed her arms over her ample chest and went over to Hinamori. Matsumoto peered at the front of the shorter lady's kimono and then at the back, noting the elliptical tear in the fabric on both sides as well as the unbroken flesh in between. Hinamori's jaw opened slightly in confusion; the first indication that she was in fact alive and not a shinigami-shaped popsicle.

"What's the matter, girl? Yoruichi got your tongue?" Matsumoto couldn't help but feel sympathetic towards her plight and tried to make light of the situation. Hinamori's gaze didn't waver, but deep 'uh……' sounds could be heard emanating from the back of her throat. Satisfied, Matsumoto turned to Hitsugaya and gave him the thumbs up. Operation Lovebirds had experienced unforeseen complications, but still emerged a resounding success. They began to leave, with Matsumoto pausing to affectionately break off the icicle hanging from the tip of Kira's nose along the way. Hitsugaya tilted his head over his shoulder to address the couple.

"You know Hanatarou, you really only had to refuse me three times. I would have been satisfied with that, but it turns out that you also have friends who will fight and die to protect you, and a woman who has brought out the best in you and is proud. You are not as weak or as useless as you think. For putting you through all that trouble, I want to say I'm sorry, and…congratulations." The captain and his lieutenant then walked away. As they did so, Matsumoto nudged Hitsugaya and bent to ask him something, and he nodded. She shouted behind her, "by the way, Isane is back at the fourth. Don't forget her zanpakutou!"

Hanatarou finally sheathed his weapon. Abruptly, he realised the real nature of the situation. So it was just a test, he thought. Great…But then, he still couldn't help feeling proud, of Isane, Kira and Hinamori; and just for once, himself. Speaking of Hinamori…oh shit

Hanatarou spun around to face her.

He was just in time to watch Hinamori come back to life. She prodded the hole in her clothes with an unreadable expression on her face. In her mind flashed scenes of Aizen, and Hanatarou, and Aizen's sword, and Hanatarou's sword, and…aargh…he wasn't there so how could Hana-chan have possibly known exactly what happened? But dammit, no-one sticks a sword through me and gets off without retribution…!

"Hanatarou…you… IDIOT..."

"I really sorry Hinamori-kun, I'll sew up the holes when we get back, I promise … no…ugh…waaaaah…!!!"

As she wrestled the innocent, squirming Hanatarou to the ground and started tickling, Kira shook the last of the icicles from his hair and clothes, walked across the chamber and picked up Isane's sword.

"Do you think they will forgive us?" Matsumoto asked, "You risked losing your friendship with her by pushing Hanatarou so far." The 10th Division leaders had reached their headquarters. Hitsugaya walked in silence the whole while, deep in thought. He had to agree that using his bankai on Hanatarou was definitely excessive. But then he hadn't expected interference from the other three; especially considering that Hinamori and Kira had experienced his fighting prowess firsthand and would instantly know when he was holding back. And the healer had also earned his complete respect. He pondered the situation gravely, before coming to a decision.

"She will be angry with me for a long time, but I think she will forgive me," Hitsugaya replied; subconsciously reaching deep into his pockets, "after all, I'm paying for the wedding..."

Matsumoto glowed with excitement. She would organise it. She'd get that sweet Quincy to sew the wedding gown, and make sure all the ryoka were invited. It would be held at the 5th Division, and all of Hanatarou's squad could come too, along with Unohana and Isane. They could have Urahara's gang, the Shiba eccentrics (and their fireworks); Rukia and her captain; the terrible foursome of Renji, Kira, Shuuhei and Iba, and any other friends the couple wanted to invite…and there would be food, glorious food prepared by herself and Orihime whether the others liked it or not; with a five-tiered creamy fruitcake made by Yumichika; and a humongous two-hundred foot dragon-shaped ice sculpture that she could surely charm her captain into making…and there would be games, oh yes… drinking games, with lots of sake and tequila and brandy and whisky and vodka and wine and cider and beer and…

Hitsugaya interrupted her rambling and glowered. "Go easy on the alcohol," he grumbled, "One, I doubt Hinamori and Hanatarou are the binge drinking type, and it is their party. Two, we don't want to attract 11th Division gatecrashers. Three, I am paying. Four…I am paying…"


Several months later…

"Wake up…hey, wake up!"


"Please get up, the ceremony is today!"


"I am a medic. I can tell when you're pretending…"

"zzz…" A bleary eye opened. "…Psst…"

"Get. Up. This. Inst-……what is it?"

"(yawn) Shhh…or they'll hear you…"

"Huh…? Who?"


As Isane hissed malevolently and rained dozens of blows on him with her pillow, Kira smirked into the sheets and decided that he could forgive Hanatarou for almost giving him a case of severe hypothermia, courtesy of Toshiro-taichou; that night in the sewers months ago. Aside from the fact that Isane now slept like a log, he was also enjoying the most restful sleep he'd had in decades and waking up each day to the simple joys of life and love. With a sigh, Hanatarou's best man pushed himself off the bed and joined the bridesmaid in readying their respective charges for the day's celebration. They needed the experience in preparation for their own to come.

So our story ends happily; with Hanatarou and Hinamori exchanging their vows at a grand celebration; on the head of a magnificent ice dragon that was long enough to completely encircle the hall. Kisuke Urahara would later remark that it not only bore a striking resemblance to Hyourinmaru; it wore a slightly pained expression as well. He decided that the presence of one orange-haired shinigami leading six Gotei 13 lieutenants and several other guests in a drunken conga line over its entire length might have had something to do with it. Some members of the 11th division got involved anyway; but under the tyrannical supervision of their fifth seat who put them to task assisting in the creation of a perfectly beautiful cake that was larger than their captain. It was probably for the best considering that most of the guests were unsure of how to politely deal with generous servings of fried apple slices and chocolate-coated sushi. Jushiro Ukitake had surprised everyone by being not only well enough to attend, but also acting as the official celebrant; and Hanatarou only tripped twice when walking down the aisle towards him in unfamiliar dress shoes.

Later that night, Hinamori undressed, hung her hand-embroidered silk wedding gown in her cabinet and turned to face Hanatarou. He sat bare-chested with his arms around his knees on her bed; with a ruddy glow on his cheeks that indicated a mixture of acute shyness mixed with adoration. She sat by his side and held him until he was relaxed enough to lie back. Then Hinamori reached forward to extinguish the bedside lamp before allowing her hands to travel further.

She wondered if Hanatarou considered himself a better man than her former captain. The differences were many, but one stood out in particular. Only one man; a sincere, humble shinigami called Yamada Hanatarou; could hold her hand and actually provide the gentle push needed to bring the true Momo Hinamori out of her shell.

Sosuke Aizen could push up daisies instead.

A/N: Well, that's the end of my first multi-chaptered fic. Writing this ending has been both enjoyable and a huge challenge; plus this is also my first real love story. I was afraid of making Hitsugaya or Matsumoto too OOC as I don't understand their characters very well, but I tried…I'm attracted to unusual themes in fiction and unusual pairings in romance and would probably attempt more uncommon stuff in the future. Think of it as 'filling in the gaps' between the popular stuff. I did consider writing a Isane/Kira fic before but could not find the inspiration…then Hanatarou and Hinamori gave me the perfect excuse to let the pairing exist somewhere, even if it wasn't a fic by itself. Thank you for all the reviews; some of them have provided me with inspiration for writing later chapters!

Other: Yumichika, Hanatarou and cakes feature rather strongly in one filler episode. Matsumoto is the only person thus far who likes Orihime's bizarre cooking. The dragon of Hyourinmaru is an extension of Hitsugaya's reiatsu, so I thought it wasn't a big stretch to also have it reflect his current sentiments as well.:P