Disclaimer: Tite Kubo's work is great and definitely not mine to own but to enjoy.

(Usual note: First portion refers to the past…second portion refers to current events. Thank you.)

Whispers Ride the Wind
-:- Chapter 5 -:-

"Obaa-chan, are you certain that this remedy will work this time? He's not getting any better…"

"Be calm, Momo. Worrying will not help him."

"But he's so frail…"

"He's young…very young. His fever will go down when its time. And not a moment sooner."

"I hope it's soon. People are saying…such awful things."

"Don't listen to such nonsense. Now, why don't you go visit with your friends…you've not visited with them for over a week now."

"Oh please let me stay! He may wake up again and need water or maybe you'll need me to fetch some more medicine from the district magistrate's office—"

"Momo, such worry will only make YOU ill…"

"Please, Obaa-chan…he needs his family. We're his family now, right? You had talked about having another orphan around the house for a while! I…I've never had a sibling before…not ever. I want to be here…for him."

"My, such devotion for a little boy you hardly know. But then, he does inspire that need in us to protect him, ne?"

"Obaa-chan, you were the first to want to do it! You always stayed up late at night just to see if he'd come to drink out of our water barrel…"

"Hn, so I did. Now, be a good big sister and fetch some vegetables from the corner grocer two streets over. He should have fresh stock by now. Hurry before our young patient awakens. I want to be sure to feed him some broth by then."

"Hai, right away!"

It hurt to breathe, his throat throbbed, his mouth was dry, his bones ached…and his head…it hurt to even think. His eyes were much too resistant so they remained closed. His ears however served their purpose well despite the debilitated condition he was in. Really, of all the times to be sick…

He knew the dark consequences that followed should a lone soul in the districts of Rukongai fall ill. He had seen the few that have…only to never see them again. It was said that it was due to the soul's inability to integrate into Soul Society, and so, it was 'expunged' from the realm. Whether that held a grain of truth or not, he was not keen on falling ill or disappearing into oblivion.

He threw the covers off his trembling body, wishing for something cool to touch his clammy skin. He felt himself rolling off the futon he laid on, only to land on the cool floor. Sudden pain shot up his right foot, but he ignored it in favor of the cool surface he felt on his face. Vaguely he realized that he was somewhat crawling around the floor, but really, he just felt the need to keep feeling something cool beneath him. Another shot of pain up his leg caused him to groan audibly, alerting the other occupant in the home.

"What is…oh my, little boy! Now that's no place to be. How did you manage to get all the way over there?"

He finally pried open one lid to see out of. And there she was, the old lady kneeling down and reaching out for him worriedly. He scooted further back, preferring the cool surface of anything versus the warmth she no doubt held in those arms.

"Your fever is reaching its pinnacle, that's all it is. You need to let it run its course so that it breaks. Without fail, it will…trust me."

He wasn't willing to go back to the suffocating bedding, but he had very little choice in the matter as he was quite easily carried off by the elderly woman's arms. Feebly struggling, he tried to pry himself away from her to no avail and was very soon encased snugly in those hot, thick blankets. He must have had an expression on his face showing his great displeasure for her to comment on it.

"Please don't be so upset. Here…take a sip of this. It will make you more comfortable. It'll all be over before you know it."

His eye had reluctantly drifted shut, but he felt his head lifted and the cool liquid upon his lips, so he was quick to swallow it. It was slightly bitter, but he didn't much care. And then when he felt a cold compress on his forehead, he finally relaxed somewhat. Prying his one good eye open (apparently the other was damaged by his fall since he sensed it swollen), he saw not the fuzzy image he expected but rather images swimming round and round and…

The drug was kicking in…a sedative mixed in perhaps. He heard her speak words, but they were meaningless, making no sense to his hazy mind. His raspy breathing did make it to his ears and the blurry images in his eye disappeared behind a closed lid.

His eye suddenly snapped open, his body jerking upright with the covers falling off him. It was dark outside now, when only moments before it was just morning. Was a storm brewing outside?

"Obaa-chan! He's finally up! Obaa-chan!"

He looked to his left where apparently a young girl older than him had stood up to shout rather loudly. The young girl swiftly ran out the front door, leaving him perplexed and awfully sorry that he had jerked his taxed body into a sitting position. He very soon fell back against the cool sheets when the elderly lady and young girl returned.

"My goodness! You do sleep like the dead! Hehe, forgive such an awful joke. Now let's see you up close here."

The old woman kneeled down to sit to his right, the girl to his left. He couldn't help but feel surrounded. The old woman must have strong senses…

"Momo, why don't you go get me the vegetable broth that's warming by the pit, hm?"

"Hai, Obaa-chan."

Turning to him, the elder woman swiftly removed the blankets from his weakened body. Strangely, the blankets were dry as was his sleeping yukata. He distinctly remembered them being as clammy and wet as he was when he had awakened earlier with this fever…

"You are one strong soul, little boy. You battled the worst of the fever for two days, day and night! Hardly possible, but then, here you are…all nice and healthy. It's been four days since I last saw that one beautiful eye of yours. Between you and me, I was starting to worry."

Four days. Had he really been oblivious to the world for four days…and nights?! It would explain his dry mouth and the void in his stomach. He felt his head still woozy and so reached up to soothe it. He then felt a patch over his damaged eye, and briefly he wondered how badly hurt it was.

"Ah, I just cleaned out the padding over your eye the other day. It'll be ready to come off in another week, I'm certain. I also took the liberty of cleaning you and your bedding up last night when your fever finally broke. I hope you feel refreshed enough to eat some broth I've made earlier in the afternoon. It may be a little late, but it should be fine for you to ingest now. Once done, you'll be ready for another soothing rest."

Rest…another bout with oblivion. He really hadn't wanted to go back to sleep, but his body won over his mental protests as it seemed to seek the elusive rest at that very moment. The old granny apparently sensed the growing fatigue winning over her patient as she quickly called out to her helper.

"Momo, please hurry. He needs to start regaining his strength…"

"Hai, Obaa-chan. Here you go! I heated some bread as well…maybe he'd like something more solid."

"We'll see, but first let's have him drink this broth. It will be easier for his stomach to ingest after so long without food."

"Of course, Obaa-chan."

The elder woman had then lifted his head and back and had him reclining against her. The young girl looked to him with wide hopeful eyes as she held the bowl out for the elder woman to dip her spoon into. Bringing the broth to his lips, he barely managed to pry open his mouth to feel the lukewarm liquid in mouth. Swallowing, though, was proving difficult as his sore throat was protesting, causing him to cough violently.

"Easy, now, easy! It's been a while since you've last eaten, young boy. Give your body time to adjust."

After the hacking ceased, he was cleaned up and once again the spoon with broth was brought to his mouth. He very slowly lapped at the broth, tasting it more than swallowing it whole. It was tiring to do such a small act, but he tried his best to feel something substantial go down his throat and eventually he did once his mouth remembered to swallow properly.

"He's eating, Obaa-chan! He really is! So adorable!"

"Now Momo, you're making him feel self-conscious."

"But…he's really eating. I…I was so worried that he would…(sniffle)…I'm just glad. So very glad. His soul is beautiful, ne, Obaa-chan?"

"Hn, that he is. You do realize, little boy, that Momo here has a gift with her strong spirit energy. My spirit energy is enough to sense those with such a gift and raise them properly for the benefit of our world."

"His spirit energy is strong, ne? Beating his illness is proof of that!"

"We'll know in time, Momo. For now, he's just simply…eh? I just realized we don't know his name! How foolish of me…"

He had stopped swallowing some time ago as he let the words of the young girl filter to his mind. No one had ever expressed such relief to know his existence continued. That his existence…mattered.

"Obaa-chan, what'll we call him then?"

"We'll wait until he's ready to tell us his name, Momo. He's obviously too tuckered out to do anything more now. Now get ready for bedtime…you have the local tutor coming to the neighborhood tomorrow to teach you the wonders of mathematics."

"Argh…hai, Obaa-chan. Oyasumi."

"Good night to you as well, Momo."

The young girl was about to dash off but then spun on her heel and kneeled close to him once again. She leaned in close enough to stare at him closely, only to quickly brush her lips on his forehead. She fondly smiled at him, softly speaking to him.

"Oyasumi, Shiro-chan. Until I hear your name, that'll be my name to you. Pleasant dreams."

He hadn't known what to think much less feel when she had said that, but his fatigue prevailed in his fight for consciousness. Yawning softly, he looked dazedly to the woman who still held him in her arms. She was looking down on him, her crinkled smile wide for him to see with his one eye.

"You will be one fine soul to this realm…I can sense that. And your name will be just as pure and innocent as your soul is. You are simply…you."

He drifted off with those words staying with him far into his dreams…

- x -

Counting the number of floorboards below her feet did little to distract her. Counting the number of times she breathed in the stale air didn't do much either. Stifling a yawn, she looked down to her pink scarf, noting that it was in need of a good cleaning.

'Damn...I'm so BORED. Can't she leave already?' Now she began to rhythmically tap her recently manicured nails against her folded arms, not bothering to hide her annoyance, even if her guest was… 'Argh…be the host, be the GOOD host…the well-behaved host…'

"Ano, Matsumoto-fukutaichou…er, Matsumoto-san, if you need to be somewhere, I'll be fine waiting here by myself for Hitsugaya-kun. I hadn't meant to impose."

"Not at all! I'm happy to be of service in Taichou's stead," brightly remarked Matsumoto with a tight grin, her right foot now tapping to the rhythm of her fingers. "Are you thirsty, perhaps hungry, Hinamori-chan? I keep a sizeable stock of tea for Taichou."

The Fifth Division's lieutenant, Hinamori Momo, shook her head, her posture stiff and unyielding while seated on the couch. Her hands were still tightly clasped over the paperwork on her lap, her grim visage set on the table before her. It was enough to drive Matsumoto to that proverbial corner where she will most likely say the most honest thing on her mind, which wasn't always the most tactful thing to say.

'Hell, so be it. I'm not getting my drink anytime soon…' Abruptly stopping her melodious tapping, Matsumoto pulled away from the wall she was leaning against and kneeled on the other side of the table. "Listen, Hinamori-chan. Taichou may be gone for some time. It's better to just leave your division's paperwork here and go get some rest. I'll make sure he gets it first thing tomorrow morning. Okay?"

In response, Hinamori clutched her paperwork close to her chest as if to keep it from being taken away. She softly remarked, "Please…I wish to stay. I need to…discuss a few matters…private matters…with Hitsugaya-kun."

Upon hearing her suspicions behind Hinamori's visit confirmed, Matsumoto, too, grimly looked to the table. The young lady had obviously recovered enough to be allowed back to her post with light duty, but Matsumoto seriously had doubts to the overall mental and emotional health of the girl. Who didn't? Yet, there she was, sitting nervously in the tenth division's office, obviously trying to play catch-up on her division's own paperwork. It was unseemly that another division's staff, no less the captain of that division, to process the necessary paperwork for General Yamamoto to review.

'Lucky girl to have Taichou help her…' Matsumoto wouldn't say that she disapproved of her captain's actions to aid the distraught lieutenant…the Fifth Division was in great need of stability after the fallout with Aizen. She would, however, express concern over Hinamori's insistence about her former captain's innocence. As frail as Hinamori portrayed herself, she was unusually stubborn when coming to the defense of the reprobate.

As that was the case, Matsumoto was bound and determined to oust the girl from her division's office. There was no telling for how long she would be able to hold her tongue on the whole affair involving Aizen and Ichimaru. And mind you, she wasn't about to mince words, especially about Aizen.

'Right now, I could honestly care less how 'sensitive' they say she is…that didn't stop her from upsetting Taichou! And I'm not in a damn forgiving mood!' She massaged her aching temples again, feeling her stress levels shoot up. The buxom woman recalled vividly the distress in her captain's aura ever since General Yamamoto's field call to them in the world of the living. She hadn't needed to be told of her captain's private conversation with his older sister…she had her own methods of finding out those little facts. Although she respected her captain's privacy on matters related to his family, it did more than just pain her to see him so out of sorts, enough so that he'd been brooding in some form or another ever since they got back.

'And damned if I hadn't tried to lighten his mood by all possible means! He's just wound too tight for his own good. It's no wonder Taichou overreacted to my conversation with the boys at the bar…this after all I've done for him these past couple of days.' Matsumoto lifted her sullen gaze to the girl before her, feeling the sudden urge to just shake some damn sense into the delusional girl…a few knocks ought to do it. "Pathetic."

Hinamori's head jerked up when she heard the disgusted tone in Matsumoto's voice when she spoke. "Matsumoto-san…what do you mean?"

"Eh, Matsumoto-san, Hinamori-chan! I was finally able to locate something with a little more kick than…orange juice…" Kira Izuru's voice trailed off upon sensing the annoyance coming off in waves from his drinking buddy, practically overwhelming Hinamori's apprehensive curiosity. He had a fairly good guess as to why…it was a good thing he returned quickly enough to stave off any ruptures from Matsumoto's mind. "Say, Matsumoto-san, do you have any glasses anywhere? This mineral water will taste better once we add a shot of lime and raspberry juice to it."

Ichimaru's former lieutenant certainly knew Matsumoto's soft spots for mixed drinks, no matter how strange. 'A drink is a drink is a drink. I'll take what I can get.' She quickly spun around and brightly smiled, tugging him inside to sit comfortably on the couch. "Well, make yourself at home. I'll get the cups."

Seeing the woman hustle around her desk and distractedly pull out stacks of old paperwork never having seen the light of day since they were hidden in her drawers, Kira turned to Hinamori, hoping to find her reasonable. He had tried earlier to dissuade her from seeking out the Tenth Division captain, having been with Matsumoto at the bar when the 'incident' occurred. He was sure that his very heart had frozen over from the mere glare the angry captain leveled on them…it certainly felt like his beating organ had stopped.

He cleared his throat and softly whispered, "Hinamori-chan, how long do you plan to wait for Hitsugaya-Taichou? You'll need to rest up for tomorrow's assessment of the division's battalion—"

"I'm not leaving until Hitsugaya-kun comes back," stated Hinamori firmly. Looking to her old friend, she continued in a gentler tone, "I just…I just want to see him. I want to see Shiro-chan. Do you understand?"

He did understand which was why he really thought it best to keep their talk to a minimum. With Matsumoto ready to raid the most remote parts of Soul Society for any possible sightings of alcohol, they literally were on thin ice. Honestly…no pun intended.

Lazy author finally posts! (06-28-08):

Come one, come all…heck, I'm glad anyone's come to fic period! It's been an age but work has a way of sucking out the juices of such an overtaxed mind as mine is! Glad I'm able to put these pages together!

Certainly we're coming along nicely as this chapter picks up from the last one. The storyline will now introduce more of Momo and Granny as well as run off in the direction of how life was for Toushiro in this part of the Rukon districts. It'll hopefully compliment canon manga…that is if the manga doesn't contradict it in some form or another in later releases. It happens!

Now, one thing I did want to make note… Since I'm sticking with canon manga, I analyzed the relationships put forth through the storyline by the mangaka (story author). There isn't much romance implied, and given it's labeled as a boy's comic, that's not surprising. Toushiro's and Momo's relationship is what I believe it to be…siblings caught in a mess, each standing by their own beliefs. I have siblings and it would hurt me terribly if our unity was sabotaged like theirs was. How tearfully sad! So if anyone was expecting some romance between them, so sorry…I'm not on that particular ship. But I hope you'll still stick with me…the story will continue to enthrall, guaranteed!

Thanks to all for having my fic and me in your alert/fave list plus many thanks for all your wonderful reviews. I've not left work unfinished, and I'm not about to start now…your patience is appreciated! Many cyberhugs from me to you! Please continue to support me as I know only you can...see ya next time!