Title: Inner Conflict
Pairing(s): IchiRuki, HitsuHina
Summary: ―All In Your Head Sequel― With a new war comes new problems. Two very different people struggle against the feelings that threaten to overwhelm them, while the ones they love try desperately to save them ―IchiRuki, HitsuHina―
Inner Conflict ― I
"Beautiful, isn't it?"
Hinamori Momo jumped a mile and twisted her upper body around, her eyes wide. She looked up into the smiling face of her orange-haired captain.
"C-Captain Kurosaki, I―"
"Please." Ichigo rolled his eyes. "I hate that formal stuff. Just…call me Ichigo, all right?"
The Fifth Squad obviously had bad luck with captains. It was the only explanation as to why they'd lost their last captain, Aizen's successor, in a scouting mission just a month earlier. Momo could only hope that same bad luck wouldn't fall on their newest captain, Kurosaki Ichigo. Well, if anything they had a good captain. For now.
"So how are you?" Ichigo flopped down next to Momo. She had been sitting on a hill just outside the fifth division, watching the sun set. She smiled as Ichigo sat next to her.
"Not too bad. How 'bout you?"
"A'right. Breathe easier when Rukia's back from that scouting mission." Momo smirked despite herself. Why couldn't Ichigo say stuff like that when Rukia was actually around? When the two were around each other, they turned into automatic insult machines.
"I'm sure you will." Momo grinned. Ichigo scowled, realizing the implications of his vice-captain's sentence.
"I hate you."
"Thanks." Momo laughed as the sun faded from the sky at last, plunging the pair into darkness. Momo stood up at last, dusting off her Shinigami robes. "Well, I'd better get going."
"Here, I'll walk with you." Ichigo stood up as well, stretching and yawning. "You live down the south end, don't you? That's where I'm heading."
"Uh huh." Momo nodded, then, just because she felt devious, she added in a sly voice, "Rukia lives down there too."
Even in the pale moonlight, it was easy to see Ichigo's face go red. "Yeah…so what?"
Momo just laughed. "Come on, let's go."
They started down the street together. The silence they walked in was comfortable, but Momo felt the need to break it anyway. "Hey Ichigo, can I ask you a question?"
"What is it about Rukia-san that makes you feel so inclined to protect her? And don't say she gives up the damsel in distress vibe." Ichigo laughed.
"No, she doesn't, and if I ever suggested it to her she'd use my head for soccer." He thought for a minute. "I…don't really know what it is. You're right, damsel in distress isn't her style, not in the least. And you'll never hear me say it is. But really…Rukia's a magnet for trouble. I suppose that's the best way to put it." Momo had to admit, she agreed with that. "And while she doesn't give off the helpless signal, I have to admit, I do want to protect her. I really don't know what it is. I just don't like it when she's out my sight, makes me feel weird. Because I can't protect her when I can't see her. And when she's in my sight, I want to…as stupid as this may sound ― and I assure you, it will sound stupid ― I want to just hold her and keep her safe. Especially the last few months. With the stories you and Renji have been telling me, and what I've seen myself…I just want to protect her. That's all there is to it."
Momo didn't think it sounded stupid. At all. It just sounded like he was in love. She smiled. Ichigo misinterpreted the smile the wrong way. "Oh come on…I told you it sounded stupid."
"No, it doesn't. Not to me." Ichigo smiled weakly. "Anyways, don't worry ― scouting missions only last about a week, usually, unless they run into real trouble, they should be back by tomorrow the latest."
"I fairly certain I just established the fact that Rukia is a magnet for trouble."
"Maybe, but Renji's with her, Shirou-chan and Rangiku-san too, I'm sure it'll be fine."
"Oh that's reassuring." Ichigo rolled his eyes. Momo laughed. His concern for the raven-haired vice-captain of the thirteenth division was almost hysterical. "So what about you, anyway?"
"What about me?"
"Toushirou is out too, isn't he? How are you doing?" Momo made a face, hoping it was too dark for Ichigo to see the slight blush that would have betrayed her feelings.
"I, uh…" She looked around, hoping for an escape. Her eyes landed one not too far away. "Hey, Rukia-san!"
The violet-eyed Shinigami had just turned off from a side-street that led from the first division. She'd obviously just gotten back. Other than looking weary and exhausted, she looked okay. The tension in Ichigo's body drained visibly the second he laid eyes on her.
"Hey midget. Made it back in one piece, did you? That must be a new record."
She waited until they were close enough to slap Ichigo. "Good to see you again too, Strawberry."
The strawberry in question rubbed his head, annoyed. "How do you manage to reach so high without a pole?" He grumbled, running a hand through his ever unruly spiky orange hair.
"Oh bite me." Rukia snapped, equally annoyed. "I've had to put up with his royal captain-ness the last seven days ― I'm not in the mood to deal with you right now."
"You're never in the mood to deal with me."
Momo was beginning to feel like an intruder on some private moment. She backed uneasily away from Ichigo's side so she could go around Rukia and continue down the street. The motion caught Rukia's eyes.
"Oh, Momo-san. How's it going?"
"Not too bad. Usual I guess."
"With Ichigo as your captain, I wouldn't expect you to be great."
"Oh shut up Rukia."
"What are you, two?"
"No, I think I'm just a little older than that."
"I'm…gonna go home. See you later―"
Momo doubted they noticed her leave. The insult fest was in full swing now, her presence made no difference one way or another. Their voices echoed down the street towards her until she disappeared around the corner.
Rukia-san and Ichigo…those two are so perfect for each other, I wonder if they realize it ― probably not, Momo smiled at her thoughts, they're a funny couple.
She laughed a little. Those two could never be classified as a couple. And yet so many had…
She had just turned up the walkway to her small house. There were two people in front of her door, one sitting on her steps, slumped over in a bored way, the other leaning against the door, arms folded. The spiky white hair was easily recognized, even in the dark.
"Shirou-chan!" Momo smiled. She hadn't even thought about it. Rukia was back, so of course, Toushirou would be as well. Momo had to admit, she was glad the thought hadn't crossed her mind ― surprises were always nice.
"There, she's okay." Matsumoto sighed wearily. "Can I go home now, please? I'm tired, I want to sleep. Nothing against you Momo-san, I'm glad you're all right, but―"
"Wait, wait, wait, why wouldn't I be okay?" Momo was confused. What in the world was Matsumoto going on about? "Shirou-chan, what's she talking about?"
Toushirou sighed. "Nothing much. Just checking in. I don't know what she's babbling about, really, it's not like I made her come―"
Matsumoto sighed as she stood up, shaking her head. "Well, I'm catching a drink and going to bed, night all."
She waved over her shoulder and started down the walkway. Toushirou waited until she was out of sight to look back to Momo. Their eyes met at the same time. "What's wrong, Shirou-chan? You look…upset about something."
Toushirou shook his head and pushed himself off the door, starting down the walkway as well. "Nothing, Hinamori. Don't worry about it."
"Toushirou." He stopped, his back to her. "You're acting really weird, will you please tell me what's going on?"
"Nothing." Toushirou said after a minute. "Just…do me a favor, all right?"
"For the time being…just stay close to home. Okay?"
"That depends. Why?"
"I'll just breathe easier if I know you're not out on some suicide mission. Good enough?"
His words stirred something in Momo's mind. She ignored it. "Toushirou, you're not making much sense, you know that right? What's wrong?"
"Nothing much. Right now, though, I just think you're better off in Soul Society." He walked away. Momo just stared after him, confused. What in the world was that all about?
"Those pretty little Shinigami Aizen-sama is after aren't going to go willingly. He's gonna have a rough time with them."
"I don't even know why he wants them."
Toushirou and Rangiku tried to make themselves scarce behind the pillar they had been about to walk past. Three Arrancar foot soldiers were walking past. Their spiritual pressure was dim, almost non-existent. They would have been nothing to worry about, had the Shinigami wanted to fight them. But they were eager to not be caught.
"He was impressed by them when they were here saving that orange-haired freak." The last Arrancar spoke up. "It's going to be a bitch trying to catch them though. I'm not sure I want to see what he'll do to get to them though."
"I heard Ichimaru talkin' ― apparently one of them is Aizen-sama's old vice-captain. Hero worshipped him, the stupid girl. She'll be easy to get to" Toushirou stiffened, angry at the slight towards Momo. How dare they―?
"And the other one?"
"We'll just see, won't we?"
Kuchiki Rukia. She was, Rangiku had decided, the other Shinigami the Arrancar had been talking about. Momo and Rukia. Both had been there to save Ichigo when he had been taken by Aizen. And both had ― rather stupidly ― displayed a brief but powerful show of their Kido skills.
It was no secret that Hinamori Momo and Kuchiki Rukia were two of the most skilled Shinigami when it came to Kido, outside of the Kido Squad, of course. What Aizen had seen had only been a small example of what both could do. But it had been enough.
Rukia just couldn't be allowed to go on scouting missions anymore. This had been her first one, and it would be her last. Momo hadn't been on one yet. And if Toushirou had his way, she wouldn't be allowed on one ever.
Ah, but how to keep them from finding out? This would be a matter to bring up at a Captains' meeting, and there was more than one loudmouth captain to worry about spilling the secret. Not that Toushirou was worried about Rukia. He'd learned, in the brief time she had been on his team while in the world of the living, that she was strong, willful, and not easily ruffled. That attitude had returned full force with Ichigo's recovery. No, what Toushirou was worried about was…Momo.
It had been years, but the white-haired captain knew that Momo had never truly recovered from Aizen's betrayal. She acted as normal has possible, of course, and for the most part she had managed to forget. But after the almost doomed rescue attempt of Kurosaki, when she had come face-to-face with Aizen for the first time since he'd left Soul Society (was it really almost sixteen years since then?), she'd been…not worse off exactly, but certainly not as good as she had been. She'd gone catatonic for awhile after they'd returned to Soul Society, but she'd snapped out of it fairly quickly. A lot better than before, at any rate. Toushirou still worried about her though. He wouldn't let anything happen to her. If Aizen so much as touched her, he'd regret the day he so much as laid a finger on a Zanpakatou. The silent promise was something Toushirou knew he would have no problem fulfilling. He owed Aizen Sousuke a world of hurt.
Author's Note: Allow for the fact that introductry chapters aren't always the best (or hardly ever). Anyways...yeah. Review and let me know if it's worth it to keep going -- Sam