Bleach does not belong to Dwellin.

Updated: 9-20-12

Momo Hinamori: Cat Burglar? Action Hero?

Chapter One

When the Soul Awakens

"'Aizen didn't mean it', she says", huffed the shinigami captain as sweat rolled down his naked back and torso despite the chill in the air. Muscles bunched and snapped under taut skin as he lifted and swung the living blade. It whistled through the air leaving a glacial breeze in its wake.

Dirt clods and stone chips went flying as the pressure from his sword cut through rock and earth with the ease of a hot knife through butter.

"'He's being controlled by Ichimaru!' she says!" came out in curt, harsh pants, as reiatsu flared with his anger.

SMASH! CRACK! RUMBLE! The sound of earth and stone shattering ripped through the air. Unnoticed crevices and stress fractures formed under the feet of the sweating and disheveled shinigami, spreading out in all directions into the surrounding countryside. Once the rumbling quieted, the only sound that could be heard in the aftermath was the heavy panting of the person responsible for the upheaval.

Impatiently the male shinigami waited to regain his breath. Stopping to rest meant that the scene from the morning's visit with Hinamori replayed over and over again in his mind's eye. It wasn't as if he wanted to remember, but for once, having a photographic memory was a curse.

He heard again, the words as if they were burned into his brain, which was why he was here, to purge all the excess of emotions threatening to overflow him. Rage, despair, and frustration, were feelings he was unaccustomed to dealing with, and adding insult to injury was the fact that Hinamori was so naively blind that she couldn't see the truth about Aizen! It was a tie as to which was worse, the grief strangling him or the jealousy; no maybe it was the unreasoning hatred he felt for the captain of the Fifth! Aizen the perfect, Aizen the kind… Aizen, everyone's favorite! It just about made his stomach heave. Then, on top of all that… No he mustn't allow those thoughts through. That's why he came out here, on the edges of nowhere to work out all that was threatening to possess him and drown him from within.

Wiping the rivulets of sweat from dripping forehead with the back of an equally wet forearm, Toshiro glanced about him without thought to the immediate surroundings. The sharp, toned muscles of his back glistened under the rays of the sun and the top layers of his uniform were tied around the waist by the sleeves so they wouldn't become entangled his legs and trip him up. Sweat drops ran down as quickly as they were wiped away while the drooping silver spikes hanging in his eyes were also damp with sweat. The clothes and sash around his waist were soaked and he was near exhaustion, but still, that wasn't good enough. No lingering thoughts, no recall could be allowed, it all must be banished. The captain of the Tenth had only one intention when he arrived and that was to master all these churning emotions. Unfortunately, they were just as painful, and as sharp as when he had arrived.

Now though, the silver-haired captain was beginning to think that he may have to settle for blissful numbness. Still, he couldn't give up, wouldn't give up, not yet. First he would try it this way; he would let all the emotions out being suppressed for decades. If this didn't work, he would be forced to do the unthinkable; follow Matsumoto's way of dealing with pain and drink himself stupid. It shouldn't be too difficult, as his lieutenant did it on a regular basis and she was always touting the benefits of a good drunk.

He stabbed Hyourinmaru into the earth, letting the tip sink a couple of inches so it could stand on its own. Letting go of the hilt, the winded man bent over to place his hands on his knees. He was more winded than expected. It was taking longer and longer to catch his breath after each exercise repetition.

Just as the whip thin taicho straightened and reached for Hyourinmaru, her words reverberated once more in his mind as clear as if Hinamori was standing right there, "Please Shiro-chan, please save him! You are the only one I trust with his safety. He has always been there for me when I needed him. If you have any feelings of friendship for me, please promise me you will save him."

That pleading look, those huge tear-filled eyes, and then, that last barely heard whisper, "If you value me at all, please promise. He is all that I have!"

That was the last straw. Aizen! Aizen was ALL that she had? Aizen was all that she could count on in her life!? Aizen was there for her!? Oh yeah, he was there all right; he was there to run his zanpakutou through her heart. The four-eyed traitor was there to string along the whole Soul Society with his mask of "I'm such a nice guy", and he was there to step on the trust and affection of everyone who ever held him in high esteem! What a laugh! AIZEN had been there for her! Not bloody likely. She was just another broken marionette left in a heap at the foot of the altar of his ambition. Her captain never gave her a backward glance. The worst of it was; and Toshiro would never relay this to Hinamori, was Aizen's smile. It stretched across his face with such evil, perverse joy and blank eyes as he related to Hitsugaya that he had killed her and what a fool she was in her admiration of the captain she had followed with unswerving devotion.

Hitsugaya uttered a low growl at the thought. Bleeding her life's blood out and the traitor captain was mocking her, disdaining her regard, awe, loyalty and, yes damnit, even her love for him. How she could overlook the fact that he betrayed everyone, lie to her face and all of Soul Society, flawlessly day after day, and then run his blade through her was… was… Well, he didn't have words for it.

The Tenth Captain's teal eyes, narrowed. Before this, he never would have thought he could hate anyone with every fiber of his being and with such an implacable loathing. From the moment he had found Hinamori's body in a pool of her own blood, Aizen was now and forever, his enemy and his dragon's enemy. Blade, tooth, claw and frozen sky would someday catch up with Aizen, and this time Aizen would not be able to hide behind a false mirror.

Fresh waves of anger rushed through the silver-haired youth and without thinking, he yelled and leaped up into the air, sword swept up and hilt clutched tightly in both hands and dropped into a tight spin leaving a wide swath of fierce reiatsu to sweep in circular wake and flow outward. Silver-blue ice clumps formed and dotted the ground around him. Toshiro threw himself up, leaping higher this time, and just as he was about to sweep a gleaming blade over the area again from the position high overhead, all of a sudden the fire and power of his reiatsu cut out leaving him blank and empty. With determined will, the youngest captain forced it back up, only to have it flicker briefly but it was steadily going out. With resigned disgust, Toshio felt himself beginning the fall and there was nothing left in him to slow the descent. As the ground rushed up the frost-haired captain twisted mid-air and positioned himself just in time to land on his feet, although not lightly or gracefully.

Upon landing, Hitsugaya staggered to the side and fell to his hands and knees. Hyourinmaru flew from his grip landing a couple of feet away. Then he was flat on his face, nearly sucking in the frozen dirt with each lungful of air. Vitriolic curses would have been spewing from his mouth about now but all he could manage was the pathetic panting again but worse, all his limbs were trembling and starting to spasm beyond his control. This is all Aizen's fault! Hitsugaya thought petulantly as he drew in one shuddering gulp of air after another. Just then he heard the crunch of a foot on the rough soil nearby. Oh swell.

"Captain Hitsugaya, I must insist that you bring this exercise in futility to an end."

All Hitsugay could do in answer was to make a distinct sound of gasping for breath. But despite the fact that Toshiro could barely move his head, he didn't have to look up to know who was speaking.

"The fact that I was able to come this close to you without your knowledge tells me that you are at your limits, maybe even beyond." There was a long silence. She was nothing if not patient thought the silver-haired youth.

"Captain Unohana," he was finally able to manage even if it was in a bare, rough, rasp of a voice, barely above a whisper "I thank you," a pause to take in a couple of breathes, "for your concern. But it is unnecessary." The shinigami captain panted out, "I am fine. You may go now." He tried to reach for Hyourinmaru and noticed his hand was still trembling. A grimace crossed his features as he grunted and practically threw his hand in the direction of Hyourinmaru. It was only luck that one wobbly hand landed on the hilt. Out of reflex, thin pale fingers closed around the familiar weight even if only loosely.

Silver spikes hung down in his eyes, but ignoring the irritation for the moment Hitsugaya tried to gather himself to stand upright and prove to the Fourth's captain that there was nothing wrong with him. However, once making it to one knee, he found a foot standing on the blade of his ghost cutter.

"I beg to differ Captain Hitsugaya. I am entrusted with the sacred duty of being the healer to the Soul Society. In this area, my word carries more weight than that of a regular captain. I am telling you that your reiatsu, what little of it you have left, is still draining out of you even if you cannot feel it. You have put enormous strain on all your organs as well as letting yourself become seriously dehydrated. That is a mistake I would have expected from an academy student but not someone of your rank. You are in a precarious state at the moment. Now come along nicely as I do not want to get ugly about this."

Acting in a manner unlike himself, with a sullen expression he tried to jerk Hyourinmaru out from under her foot. It didn't budge not that he expected it to, but couldn't seem to help himself. Sullenly, he replied, "I don't need help getting back to my company. Your trip here was wasted." He stared at her sandaled foot. "And get off my zanpakutou." Oh, but it stung his pride to say that.

Unohana did not reply, but instead turned to look over her shoulder and said, "Isane, you can signal the squad, and tell them to bring that stretcher…"

"STRETCHER!" Despite the continued tremors of overwrought muscles, depleted reistu, and a fatigued system, Toshiro struggled to free Hyourinmaru, "I certainly don't need…" tug, tug, "a blasted…" tug, tug, "stretcher!" Winded, he stopped yanking and stared at Unohana's foot feeling his cheeks flush from the humiliation of his weakened condition.

Retsu Unohana turned her gaze on the one captain in the Seireitei who at one point in time used to be shorter than her, that is until the latest growth spurt he had recently gone through. Soon, she would be the shortest captain again. She sighed. It had been pleasant to not be the shortest all these years.

Toshiro noticed her brief absence from the moment and tried again to jerk his sword free.

"Please desist Captain Hitsugaya; I am sure you will agree with me in that you do not want to cause yourself any further injuries."

A chill ran down his spine at the rise of her spirit pressure. It pressed him down flat to the ground, pinned like a small, recalcitrant child. Her tone of voice was calm and kind and the words sounded simple but he wasn't convinced that she meant injuries that were of his own making. This was Fourth Division's Captain at her scariest. It wasn't fun.

"Just get off my zanpakutou." He tried to sound commanding. Normally it was easy to pull it off, just ask Matsumoto, but today, despite his best efforts, it came out more sulky than intimidating.

Not letting even a glimmer of relief show on his face when she stepped off Hyourinmaru, he tried to lift his blade. At that moment it was brought home to him just then how weak he was. He couldn't even lift his zanpakutou!

"Do me the favor of allowing me to assist you Tenth Captain." Upon saying that, Unohana reached down to his hand and easily slipped Hyourinmaru from him. He started to protest until he twisted to look up and caught sight of her eyes; Hyourinmaru would be safe. Still, he watched attentively as she smoothly and with respect slid the katana home into its sheath.

Hearing the approach of running feet, Toshiro barely managed to turn his head to watch a squad of her people come racing over the dune with a stretcher. He let his cheek flop down on the ground with a snort of disgust. The frozen dirt which was now melting, immediately stuck to his still sweaty skin like glue up and down his chest and arms, the grit coating him was becoming more and more irritating and uncomfortable. This had to be his most humiliating moment in all of his shinigami life, bar none.s

They placed the stretcher on the ground next to him. He tried once more to get to his feet but his limbs were like water and refused to obey him.

"Do I really have to be transported this way?" He asked, the corners of his lips pulled down in disgust.

"Of course not."

He craned his neck to look up at the unruffled healer in relief. She smiled at him. "I sweep you up into my arms and carry you bridal style. Which do you prefer?"

Hitsugaya had never seen or even heard of the Fourth's taicho ever carrying anyone, but looking up into her tranquil yet set face he didn't doubt for one second that she could and would if he gave her any reason to do so.

"Right." He made to move over to the stretcher on his own power but found he couldn't. His whole body felt weighted down and now was nearly unable to move a finger. The Fourth squad members were instantly at his side and gently lifted him and placed him on the stretcher. He closed his eyes in self-disgust. No doubt about it, he would never live this down.

The Truth Will Find You Out

Every once in a while even a shinigami needed to stop and smell the cherry blossoms, and today was Momo Hinamori's day. Currently the assistant captain for Fifth Company was on an official/unofficial leave since coming out of her coma and also while a pending investigation into the backgrounds of each one of the traitorous captains was still ongoing. She wasn't sure exactly what that meant and when questioning others, they didn't seem to know either. It was all very 'hush-hush'. There was some talk that this nebulous investigation was concocted in order to cover up for the three lieutenants: Hinamori, Izuru, and Hisagi, for this specific circumstance by orders of the Captain-General.

It was lucky for her that she wasn't suspected of committing any crimes against the Soul Society. However, in her opinion, it was much worse than that. A few questioned her state of mind, which granted had been better, but then who wouldn't be if they had gone through what she had experienced? Still, it was the quiet murmurs that would start up after she passed by small groups of shinigami and strained smiles they gave upon seeing her that hurt more than anything else.

Momo sighed and reached over to pluck at some of the young grass strands, lifting and then letting them fall from her fingers and watching as they floated back down. She couldn't blame them though. Many were dubious of her mental stability after her fervent assertions when she first woke up that Aizen was not and could not be a traitor. Her strident protests over his innocence had not gone down well with her fellow shinigami. At best she was considered to be a duped fool and pitied for it, and at the worst, that she should be drummed out of the Gotei Thirteen for standing up for the miserable turncoat. No longer did she hold to the belief that her beloved captain was innocent, but she still couldn't quite let herself believe that he was the mastermind behind the betrayal.

However, she wouldn't hold onto such gloomy thoughts, not today.

For the first time in ages, Momo smiled, a real smile and not one put on for the benefit of those around her who were worried about her. No, this one was full of delight and jubilation. She stretched up her arms and inhaled the crisp air. It was cool, but not overly so. It was a good day for someone such as her to be outdoors and she was bound and determined to enjoy every blessed moment.

Letting out a deeply held breath, small shinigami bent forward, away from the tree trunk she had been leaning against, to wrap thin arms around her knees. The Fifth's lieutenant was waiting for Kira and Renji to show up to take her out to lunch to celebrate her first day of being allowed out of the Fourth's complex. Kira's treat, Renji said.

First the coma, then awakening to physical pain along with a case of heartsickness that no medic could heal. Long days alternating between careful, physical therapy and bed rest had made her impatient and snappish. Unohana taicho was being, in Momo's humble and non-medical opinion, overly cautious. However, unmoved by Momo's protestations, the Fourth Company's captain became unexpectedly stern. The woman sporting the strange front-braid reminded her patient that the Fifth's assistant-captain was one lucky shinigami to have come so close to death without dying. It was a testament to the hard work, efficiency, and tireless care of her staff that Momo was even able to sit up in bed at this point in time, rather than the girl's own recuperative abilities. Momo could only lower her eyes and twist her fingers together. Couldn't the healer see she was feeling just fine? However, Unohana taicho could be the Soul Society's scariest captain when pushed and Hinamori was not one to push a captain, well, not much anyway.

Once Unohana was satisfied that Hinamori understood the rules, she graced the younger woman with a slight smile, and with a twinkle in her eye, gestured for the assistant captain to leave. Momo fairly skipped from the room, hair bun ribbons bouncing merrily behind her.

Momo reached down and plucked a few more strands of grass. Holding it to her nose, she closed her eyes and inhaled. Pure bliss! Then letting the grass loose from open fingers, she watched as a rising breeze carried it to land a few feet away. Lifting her eyes from that, Momo looked down the dirt road in one direction and the other. Where were those guys?

Upon reaching the designated meeting place, Momo looked around for a moment to realize that she had arrived first. She made a small sound of disapproval. They shouldn't be wasting their break time like this. Kira needed this outing as much as she did. He had only recently been reinstated from a leave of absence, much like hers. She knew that Renji was feeling jubilant because Rukia was free and also been reinstated back in her old company, and, in some weird sense that Momo didn't quite understand but assumed it to be a 'boy thing', he was on better terms with his own captain.

There was a bench next to the tree, but when she arrived, instead of sitting down on it, she had gone around to the other side and lowered herself to the ground. Reclining against the tree, she took in the nature around her; the shadow dappled grass near her, with its sharp, clean scent, the cloudless sky, and the slight breeze that stirred the bangs of her hair. All was good.

Well. Almost. She grimaced. No matter what, she couldn't keep from thinking of Aizen, even on this, on her so-called 'day off'.

There had been quite a few changes since she woke from her coma, one of which she hadn't noticed right away, but Shiro-chan didn't insist that she call him 'taicho' anymore. However, he did insist that Aizen was a traitor of the worst kind.

For a moment, Momo's face darkened as she recalled the numerous arguments with her fellow shinigami. However, the quarrels with Shiro-chan made her feel the worst. For instance, this morning, he calmly, and in that icy tone of his, presented one piece of damning evidence after another of Aizen's guilt, of insisting that Aizen was the mastermind. Shiro-chan was as relentless as a lawyer in court, cutting her belief into ribbons with his logic and words. Stupid, that's how she felt when arguing with him, and on the defensive.

For the first time ever, this morning's fight had been the worst of them all and all reasoning had flown out the window to the point she had ended up screaming at him to leave and that she never wanted to see him again. Her harsh, horrible words followed him out the door and down the hall as she had clutched the material of her hospital gown in the center of her chest, trying to comfort her breaking heart.

Her head drooped as she recalled the words she had hurled at him. How could she have done that? Shiro-chan's actions consistently showed that he cared about her, even if it was to the point of being an overprotective friend. He didn't deserve her harsh words, even if he was being mean.

At the time, she had been expecting him to yell right back at her and had been shocked when he merely stared at her with an emotion in his eyes she couldn't decipher. It wasn't anger but something that was hot, fierce, and intense for just a brief moment, before masked over by that icy calm of his.

In a chilly voice devoid of expression, he said, "I will leave you for now then. But do not think this is over Hinamori. There are matters which need settling."

For some reason, the lack of emotion in his tone, in sharp contrast to the burning ice behind his gaze caused shivers to run up and down her spine. What was that hidden fire all about? Why was she reacting like this? But most of all, what matters was he talking about? And what needed settling?

Momo frowned; she needed to stop thinking about a certain captain if she wanted to stay in a good mood on her special day. She leaned forward, searching for sight of two figures approaching. An empty path was all that met her sight and caused a slight frown to appear.

"Darn those boys! Where could they be?"

She turned to her left and right again to peer down the road as if that action would immediately cause them to materialize on the scene. No such luck.

"Humph! It would serve them right if I used kido and then popped out and scared the 'zan' out of their 'pakuto'!" An impish grin twitched the corners of her lips. She would do it! Just once she would be a prankster.

Closing her eyes in concentration, she muttered the spell quietly to herself and the female shinigami became invisible, a barrier shielding her presence from being detected. Unohana taicho never mentioned abstaining from kido on her list. Probably because she thought it was common sense that I would know not to do anything like this. I hope they don't take too long. I don't know how long I can keep this up.

On the heels of that thought she heard the rapid sound of feet approaching. On the other side of the tree she heard the two voices of her shinigami comrades and friends.

"Good, we made it before her," Renji said with a slight pant in his voice.

Kira, panting harder, "You don't think" (pant, pant), "her wounds opened again trying to walk here?"(huff, huff) "I knew we should of…"

Momo had no problems envisioning the panic in Kira's face, having observed the expression many times over the long years.

"….Stopped at the Fourth and picked her up…"

"What, you think we should have carried her?"

Momo smiled at Renji's sarcasm. He always acted so tough and uncaring when his heart was anything but.

"Yes, Renji, we could have! But at least, we should have escorted her."

"Idiot, the Captain of the Fourth wouldn't have let her take a step out of the place if there was even a doubt of anything bad happening! "

"Then why'd youhurry then?"

"YOU were the one trying to use shunpo the whole way! I was merely keeping up with you. And, I didn't want her to wait long."

"Oh look at you Mr. Well-bred! YOU were the one who just had to stop and chat up Rukia… and for what, she can't go out with you anyway, she's going on a mission. AND, she likes Ichigo, so give it up."

"Shaddup. No one asked for your opinion."

Momo placed a hand over her mouth to keep from giggling. It looked like Renji still had feelings for Rukia. Then she rolled her eyes over Rukia's being totally clueless about the fact that Renji's devotion, over-protectiveness, and acerbic remarks practically screamed his love for her. Momo shook her head; who could be that dense not to notice when someone was in love with you, even if it was an old friend since the days of childhood? Really, that was no reason to be so achingly blind to another's feelings. Someone needed to take Rukia aside and clue her in on what was going on.

She softly snorted, for Rukia's stubborn nature was well known.

"Hey, did you hear that?"

"Hear what?"

"That noise."

"What noise?"

"The noise I just heard."

"How would I know what noise you just heard if I didn't hear it?"

"You make me crazy, you know that?"

Momo could feel Kira's shrug from around the tree.

There was a pause and then Renji said, "I guess it was nothing. I must be hearing things."

"Don't worry Renji, I'm,… I'm sure she is okay."

"Great, now I am being reassured by the twitchiest shinigami in the Court."

"Oh come on, it's not like she would hide herself behind a kido barrier."

There was a moment of silence as each man thought about it before bursting out in laughter. The idea of Hinamori playing a joke, not only was it improbable never likely to happen!

Momo should have been indignant with them; she did too know how to tell jokes and play pranks! She just liked to think that she was above such childish things… Yet, here she was, doing that very thing. I guess some things have changed since Capt… er Aizen had left.

However, she couldn't be too offended. The sound of Kira's chuckling was a good sign and she was grateful to hear it. Ichimaru had manipulated his lieutenant's strings like a skilled puppet master. With the puppet master gone, Kira was starting to think on his own again, learning how to move, act, fight, and smile. Yes, thought Momo darkly, another excellent reason to hate Ichimaru and smack him over the head with Tobiume. Let him try to smile his creepy fox grin then!

"Yeah, you're right, I'm being a big worrywart."

"See! That's the spirit! The first step is to admit you have a problem."

"Very funny Renji, but not."

"Whatever. What the hell is keeping that woman! Take it from me, women would be late to their own funerals."

"Uh huh."

"Shaddup," said Renji gruffly, then added, "You have stupid hair."

"Like yours is any better. You know, your insults might be more effective if you didn't issue them about things of which you are clueless." There was a pause and then, "And what's wrong with my hair?"

Momo rolled her eyes. She decided to move around so she could see them. Rising from her seated position, she moved quietly, taking slow, cautious steps with great care so as not to step on anything that might make a noise and give her presence away.

"Forget about hair, Izuru, I don't even know why you brought it up. But yeah, think about it, I am certain that in her state she probably isn't leaping around like a kid."

The two male shinigami were in her line of vision now. Renji was standing with his arms crossed, hunched and leaning back against the tree. Kira was sitting on the bench, back straight as he craned his neck to look back the way they had come for any sight of Momo.

Glancing back to Renji he commented, "Well, you know she had it worse that any of us," before resuming his search.

HUH! Momo's eyes went wide. What could they mean? What was Kira implying? He was the one who had it the worst! It was his captain that had been the ultimate backstabber.

"Well duh, blond-boy. Her captain was the worst of the worst, which goes without saying. And here everyone thought he was one of the 'good' ones."

Of course, thought Momo, he was like Ukitake taicho, one of the best, the strongest, kindest… she swallowed back a rising sob. Not now. She couldn't cry for him now.

"Besides that, no one liked Ichimaru except for you and Matsumoto, and I not even sure about you."

"HEY!"

"It's true isn't it?"

"Well, yeah," Kira muttered and lowered his head to hide the light blush of shame, "but you didn't have to say it like that. He just made it hard to like him and now I think he liked it that way." He lowered his voice before continuing, "And maybe he did that so it would be easy for him to leave… for us to deal with his defection."

"Yeah, I can see that. Aizen was evil and brilliant but hid it to the point that no one suspected him. However, everyone mistrusted ole creepy cheeks. Face it; Ichimaru always looked suspicious even when he was just sitting there. Him and his 'I'm-up-to-no-good' smirk on his face."

Suddenly, Renji slammed a fist against the tree trunk startling Kira, and Momo. "I hate him. I hate all of them!" He turned to stare at Kira, "Don't you?"

"Yes," Kira agreed softly, and paused before saying, "But I hate Aizen the most. He hurt Hinamori to the point I don't think she will ever be able to recover from it."

"Yeah, I know what you mean."

I don't! Huffed an irritated Momo.

Renji said with a tight voice, "I would say, 'May he rot in hell,' but from all reports, not only is he already there but also took over as upper management." He snorted in aggravation, "Figures."

"Poor Hinamori, she can't see…"

"Won't see is more like it," broke in Renji, frustration evident in his tone.

"Aizen wounded her twice over. First, he did it physically, which she is recovering from. But worst was the wounding that went on for years because she trusted him and looked up to him. The jerk was playing her, us all from the very beginning. Poor Momo with her sweet, vulnerable, and trusting heart and so ironic he would wound her there."

Renji stared at Kira. "Ya've got to stop talking like that. People already think you're gay."

"WHAT!"

Momo held a hand over her mouth to keep from laughing despite her annoyance.

"I'm not!" Kira replied heatedly. "I asked Kiyone out on a date this weekend." Realizing he had shared something personal that he would rather have kept private, Kira's cheeks turned a pink hue.

Renji's eyes popped open wide. "Really?"

Kira nodded.

"Wow, great for you man."

"Uh, don't tell anyone okay?" Kira rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly.

"No problem pal. Sooooo, I thought you liked Hinamori?"

Momo took a step back in shock. What? She shook her head to clear her thoughts. Kira was her friend, as was Renji.

"I did, and to a certain extent, I still do, but only as a friend now. She is taken. Very. Taken. Know what I mean?"

"Don't I ever. One time I was asking her if she wanted to go do some training with me, but he came along and must have thought I had been asking her out on a date or something. As soon as she left, he took, as in yanked me, aside to have a little chat and believe me, I found someone else to train with pronto! I don't ever want to be at the pokey end of his zanpakutou again! It was a very unpleasant experience."

"The same thing happened to me too! He sure is possessive. When she left, the next thing I knew I was on the ground, being crushed by his reiatsu."

Who! WHO! Thought Momo in a feverish panic. Who could it be? It surely wasn't Aizen. That would have been her first guess but considering the recent past, it obviously wasn't.

"Sad isn't it, but she will always be looking for Aizen and therefore totally clueless about that guy who holds her first in his heart."

Renji made a face, "There you go again."

"Hey! Girls like sensitive guys! We are the true romantics who pay attention to them…"

"Sorry I said anything! Get to the point."

"Well, like you, I was warned in no uncertain terms that I was not to have any romantic interest in Hinamori outside of being one of her nakama."

"But he hasn't told her he likes her yet, has he?" The tattooed shinigami rubbed his jaw thoughtfully.

"LIKE? There was no like involved here Renji! The result of being 'in like' does not squash a possible rival to the ground! I know 'like' when I see it and that wasn't it! This is someone who is hopelessly, desperately, deeply, and irrevocably in love."

Kira stood up and stretched his arms up while arching his back to work out the kinds before relaxing. "And he doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell."

Renji looked down the road for a moment and then suggested, "Maybe we should check the restaurant. She might have gone on ahead and could be waiting for us to show up. I have to admit that I could be a little concerned. Hey I know, let's race, I don't want to be any later than we already are."

"Yeah, Renji, we'd be late for our own funerals if we could."

The tattooed shinigami threw his friend a look, "You're a pain, ya know that?"

Hinamori Momo, assistant captain of Fifth Company already was fleeing from the scene, mostly running but every now and then using a flash step here even in her weakened condition. She had to get far enough away from them so they wouldn't see her when she dropped the barrier.

"There you are!" Exclaimed Kira as he hurried to the table where Hinamori sat, sipping a cup of green tea. "I knew we must have misunderstood where we were supposed to meet!"

Renji approached more slowly. He was making an effort to be more dignified lately, trying it on like one would try on a new kimono. However, it didn't look the same as it did on Kuchiki taicho. In fact, the red-haired shinigami looked more like a little boy trying on his father's clothes which were far too big so the effect was much more cute than daunting; but Momo didn't have the heart to tell him that.

Renji spotted what Kira hadn't noticed. The bun-sporting lieutenant was flushed with perspiration on her upper lip and along her hairline. Strands of hair had escaped from the bun and she was breathing rather heavily for someone who had just been sitting there waiting for a while. He eyed her with concern; he really hoped she wasn't going to have a relapse.

Instead, he was surprised when Hinamori leapt up from her seat and threw her arms around Kira, wrapping him up in a big hug.

Renji was not a touchy-feely kind of a guy, but he didn't have a choice in the matter for right after Kira he was on the receiving end of a warm hug. Amazing himself, he returned her hug with a few awkward pats on the back, disconcerted to find that there was hardly anything to her. It felt like embracing a mere puff of air.

"Eh, Hinamori, you need to pack on some weight."

"Good thing we're having lunch!" Kira exclaimed and with that, the blond shinigami pulled out a chair, sat down, and grabbed a menu.

Slower to follow suit, Renji sat down next to Kira, eyeing Momo for a moment more until Kira shoved his menu under his friend's nose to point out a selection. Soon both were wrangling over the one menu, tugging it back and forth between them.

Momo smiled and acknowledged what could not be denied. The truth of the matter was that cherished friends could line up in front of a certain individual and tell her the honest stark-naked truth, and she would stubbornly deny it. But when friends were being spied on that which was overheard carried the most weight. She didn't know why it was so, but there it was. Unknown to them Renji and Kira's words had broken an evil spell she had placed upon herself and now she was free.

Things were going to change for one Hinamori Momo. Of that, she would make certain.

Owari.