Author's Note: Oh my gosh, I FINALLY FINISHED THE CHAPTER. I was actually surprised by the results of this one. I didn't think I'd get so steamed about this one, but it was pretty productive! On another note, I'm going to be pretty slow at updating because I'm working on another story as well, but after one whole year of no updates, I'd be surprised if you guys just stopped reading after a month of nothing. xD Thanks to all my readers and reviewers, by the way. Appreciate the support!
I've replaced the author's note with the actual Chapter 11, just so you know. You should probably read that before this one if you haven't already!
Any constructive criticism and feedback is always appreciated. Enjoy.
Perfect Timing by HawkofNavarre
Chapter 12 – Advance
He was beginning to think that someone out there found his suffering amusing. It just never ended. He would've thought that after all the pain he'd been through, all the psychological torture he'd been through, and the hardships of things he'd had to face lately, Hyourinmaru would have a little more compassion. Fortunately, he knew better that his damned dragon was the sickest and most sadistic spirit that ever existed. Therefore, it really hadn't come as a surprise that the annoying lizard (yes, lizard, because Hitsugaya refused to believe that any dragon could stoop so low) had something else up his sleeve. It didn't make the captain like it any better though.
Hitsugaya was at his desk just thinking. You could never have enough time to sort through conflicting emotions. His chin sat in his palm, elbow against the table top as he glared at the wall. Bah, dealing with stuff was so troublesome. Sure, if it was some dispute within his squad, he could fix it no problem, but matters of the Hinamori variety gave him all sorts of difficulties. He was absolutely hopeless when it came to that girl—she was his only weakness, and that was scary.
"Taichoooo! I'm bored!"
His glare at the wall only worsened in his frustration with himself. People were always the weakness, and that was one thing Aizen had good. The deceiver cared for nobody but himself, and that was the root of his evil. Being apathetic, however, to everyone around you meant that you didn't get into situations like Hitsugaya's. He envied the asshole for it.
"Taicho, why are you glaring at the wall?"
That wasn't the only thing Aizen had that he envied. Like any other regular person, he wished that his feelings were reciprocated and it made him depressed to know that they were not. In any case, he wanted to at least be her trusted friend again. He wasn't sure if he was old enough to actually love someone so much that he didn't want live without her. Regardless, that was how he felt.
"Taicho had a secret love affair with Kurotsuchi-Taicho!"
Hitsugaya could've sworn that a vein popped up on his forehead. "Matsumoto," he growled shortly.
The big-breasted blonde smiled in accomplishment. "I finally got you to back to reality!"
"I wasn't out of it," the icy shinigami retorted in annoyance. "I was just ignoring you."
She huffed at him indignantly. "You know, for a kid, you sure are mean."
"What can I say? You bring out the best in me," he grunted, voice dripping with sarcasm.
"Mou, Taicho, you're extra mean today," Matsumoto whined dramatically.
"No, I just have no patience for your idiocy today," he explained with a sigh. There was so much thinking going on with how he was supposed to approach this problem regarding his Bankai. He had been restless during nights over this issue of which there had been quite many. The shinigami didn't know if it was better to continue torturing himself over such a thing or just to suck it up and get it over with.
Hitsugaya had contemplated the idea that his zanpakutou's spirit had lied to him, but the ice prince didn't believe the dragon would sink so low as to deceive him with something of such significance. Bankai was a big deal. Power was a big deal. He needed to help to end this war.
Why did it always have to be Hinamori though? Every time he found a comfortable niche for their relationship, something or someone would just destroy it instantly. He was so sick of being ruined. How many more times would he have to fix something he'd already patched? How many more times could he stand to fix it?
It wasn't like Matsumoto was very helpful. She was a great vice-captain, definitely, but she was just as meddlesome as Hyourinmaru and the captain didn't appreciate being pushed into situations with his childhood friend when they had been falsely created. He remembered the time Matsumoto had locked him in a closet with Hinamori a couple years ago. Of course, it was a rather weak ploy against two soul reapers and Hitsugaya had blasted open the door with a simple Kidou spell, but the whole thing still irritated him because he did not enjoy being manipulated.
…Not that it mattered. He was getting forced into things regardless of whether Matsumoto was being meddlesome or not.
However, if he was being forced into something, he figured he might as well get over such a situation as early as possible. At least Hyourinmaru actually had a good reward in exchange for his treachery. His busty Fukutaicho was only capable of placing him in dumb, shallow scenarios. Hitsugaya was sure that the woman had been reading too much shoujo manga from the Seireitei Love magazine.
The strawberry blonde's huff of indignation brought him back to the outside world. "You really are mean today."
Sighing, he rose from his seat irritably, glaring at the woman although he reasoned that doing so wasn't worth his energy. It never was anyway. He was about to strap Hyourinmaru on his back when he heard a startled gasp.
"What now?" he asked in exasperation, folding his arms.
"Your—your cloak… It doesn't fit!"
Raising an eyebrow, Hitsugaya looked lazily down at himself, seeing his haori falling higher on is legs than it usually did, and now that he thought of it, the fabric across his back felt much more confining than it had before. Had he really outgrown his cloak? His shihakushou allowed a lot of room for growth, so if he really were growing this quickly, he really wouldn't notice as it was easy to overlook the changes. He'd known he was growing vertically, but his build was increasing too? He…really was growing!
"Finally," he muttered mostly to himself.
"Oh, my little Taicho is growing up! I—I…I just don't know what to do!"
He snickered at her antics and began picking up his zanpakutou again when a hand gripped his wrist. The assailant was the only other person in the room, and though the woman was someone he was really close to, he didn't see why she had any right to dictate his actions.
"Taicho, you can't…" Matsumoto began seriously. "You can't go out with that tiny little haori on you! It's tacky!"
The silver-haired shinigami stared at her in absolute disbelief. "What?"
"Tacky!" she repeated as she pulled on the garment. "Take it off and give it to me. I'll go get you made a bigger one."
"You're joking, right?"
"Give it! Come on, Taicho, I wanna help you in your first step into adulthood!"
"Give it here!"
"You've got to be kidding."
"Fine! Just take it then!"
Hitsugaya disdainfully tore off his captain's haori and threw it at her in frustration. His lieutenant was exceptionally gifted in getting on his nerves. Strapping on Hyourinmaru, the boy turned to the door and escaped the room, no longer wanting to deal with the persistent lady.
Gah, where was he headed again? Right, to the Fifth Division's barracks where he was going to ask for Hinamori's assistance in mastering Bankai. It was like ripping off a band-aid.
The nervousness was sinking in like the claws of a cat. He really hadn't seen her since…that time… And since that time, he had admitted to himself that he was in love with her, but right now…after everything that had happened, to be with her was the last thing he could hope for.
"We cannot assign a new captain for your squad, and during this time, there are no likely candidates for the sport. As such, I am entrusting the responsibility of the Fifth Division to you, Hinamori-Fukutaicho, until we can find an appropriate captain to take the spot. You will be in direct coordination with the Tenth Division in regards to missions. Hitsugaya-Taicho will approve any missions you wish to give to your subordinates," Yamamoto told her.
"I will lead the squad to the best of my ability, Yamamoto-Soutaicho," Hinamori responded seriously, hiding the shock she was feeling inside. Certainly, she was the only shinigami left in Soul Society besides the First Division's captain who was a master in Kidou, but to be entrusted with the jobs a captain was meant to have was a rather large honour. After all the crappy things she'd done recently, it was astonishing that the most powerful soul reaper would trust her with such an important task.
"However," the old man started, planting a nervous feeling in the young female's chest, "before you are officially give charge of this, you must prove yourself as a true shinigami of the Gotei 13. You are to destroy Aizen Sousuke's room in its entirety. I want to see if you have truly let go, Hinamori-Fukutaicho."
"Of course, Soutaicho. I will prove my loyalty to the Gotei 13!" she spoke confidently, though she felt like vomiting at the job she was about to do. If there was ever a place Hinamori never wanted to return to, it was that wretched room—the room she'd been in the night before everything started and the morning where the world she'd believed in disintegrated in front of her.
The bearded man nodded at her. "Dismissed. Go, prove yourself."
Hinamori bowed politely and exited the large meeting room, a death butterfly fluttering into place next to her as soon as she passed the doors. Undoubtedly, the little reiatsu creature was there to monitor her and pass on any important information on to the Soutaicho, specifically if she did anything suspicious or couldn't carry out the job. The lieutenant hardly had such an intention. She would go to Aizen's old room and destroy everything as she was told.
Damn, now if it were only that easy.
The bun-haired shinigami saw no rush in getting to the room. It might be a good idea if she actually were void of all the emotions she used to have for her ex-captain, but still they lingered. Even though she understood that the man she had so admired was nothing more than an illusion, it was hard to forget about him and more than difficult to forget how he made her feel. The Aizen she knew was so kind and gentle, yet powerful and inspiring all at once. How was she just supposed to ignore the man she knew to be the real occupant of that room?
She had to be prepared. Still walking, Hinamori felt more determined than ever to be free of her Aizen-Taicho, but it was just so damn hard. The one she admired never truly existed, but despite this, he would always exist to her. She didn't know how to change that, even while she understood that Aizen Sousuke was an evil, traitorous bastard whose only concern was strictly for himself.
Those were the kind of thoughts she had to focus on, although the Kidou master continued to doubt her resolve. She wanted to do this so badly, but she wasn't strong enough. Only a few weeks ago she'd had an intense battle with herself. Hinamori was tired of inner conflicts.
Even while the door to Aizen's room appeared to be right in front of her, she wanted to collapse into tears because she couldn't do this. It was too scary and too reminiscent of the nightmarish past she was still trying to beat. How could she possibly face this? How?
This is as prepared as I'll ever be, Hinamori thought anxiously, sliding open the unsealed door. Her heart pounded rapidly as she stood facing the desk he had been writing on that night…the one he'd been writing the letter on—
—the letter that had turned her against her best friend.
If there were one initial emotion Hinamori hadn't expected to feel, she would have chosen anger. She had never been angry in that room before and it a room was certainly unlikely to evoke such an emotion this time around, but right now, she remembered who her captain really was, and anger just didn't quite cut it.
It was more like blind rage.
She clenched her fists as she stepped solidly into the captain's quarters, her nails digging dangerously into her skin. Her face was solemn as her legs moved forward once again. "You were such a good actor, Aizen-Taicho," the seething vice-captain whispered into the empty room. "You really had me back then. I was so sold on you."
Hinamori reached the desk, already stripped of all belongings, and placed her hands on the back of the wooden chair that went with it. "I was willing to do anything for you. Anything. But all you did was use me without a care," she hissed quietly, her voice now growing louder. "I left my friends for you. I dedicated my whole life to you, and you wanted me to so that I could be your pawn."
She clutched the chair harder, both hands on it now as her reiatsu rose rapidly. Her fingers pierced the chair as she grasped it with even more strength before the whole thing burst into a pile of splinters.
"YOU RUINED MY LIFE!" she screamed furiously, bringing her elbow down against the table and striking it in half. Hinamori grabbed onto one side, tossed it into the air and demolished it with a reiatsu-charged fist. The other side was ruthlessly smashed against a wall before the girl headed into his sleeping chambers. Aizen's futon lay neatly on the floor and she briefly wondered how many nights he had lay there scheming and if he ever once felt remorse for the way he manipulated the people around him.
No, there was no possible way for Aizen Sousuke to ever feel guilt. He had shown her that when he tried to kill her. All he was was an insane psychopath with selfish intentions who would do anything to get his way. The image of he who had inspired her was ridiculous, because now Hinamori could see that every word and every move was simply a calculation that was used to get to the answer, the one that was needed to figure out the question but would be scratched out once the problem was solved.
A white surge of hot fury coursed through her body. I matter. If I'm a pawn, then I'll become a queen.
Next time, she would be in control.
With a roar, Hinamori savagely tore through the sheets of the bed, ripping and tearing until only scraps of cloth remained. She shredded the futon with her nails, knocked a cleared dresser into planks, and shattered everything until it was rubble. As the Kidou master lay in the remains of the objects, she realized that her face felt wet and cold. What took a little longer to process was the fact that she was crying and that she didn't know where the tears were coming from.
The lieutenant panted as she stared at the ceiling, the droplets rolling down her cheeks. Absently, she rolled onto her side and curled into a fetal position, her body now wracked with sobs. She wept quietly as emotion swept over her. She'd lost friends, time, and, most importantly, herself trying to reach a goal that never could have been met. She'd lost her captain—the kindest, most soft-hearted man she thought she had. She'd lost her credibility, only ever listening to her immediate superior and his words instead of thinking for herself. She'd lost a fraction of her afterlife because he used her, all of which now felt utterly useless when she looked at herself. The worst thing was that she was the one who fell for it all, and maybe Aizen could be blamed for some of it, but she could really only blame herself for being so incredibly stupid.
It was hilarious. All of it.
Hinamori splayed her body out on the floor again, laughter bubbling at her throat. It was just so funny because everything that actually mattered to her was worse off than they had been when she started out to achieve that impossible goal. The only thing that didn't apply to this was her strength, though looking at what Aizen did to her, that too was a joke. She hadn't even noticed when he tried to murder her! It was freaking HILARIOUS! Her whole career had been a joke!
Sobering, Hinamori got to her feet and wiped the tears from her face with her sleeve. He wasn't going to win. She wasn't going to be his toy anymore, and she wasn't going to blindly grasp on to that image of the perfect captain for one more minute. She let go of that man in the weeks past in order to fix the pieces of Hitsugaya she had created long ago, but this time, it was going to be to save herself. This time, she wasn't letting go; she was going to destroy this man.
The dark-haired girl was long since past the point of using names and incantations. She raised an arm in from of her, hand up as her flat palm was directed at the wall. Never again would Aizen be her captain, comrade, or the person she admired—not even that image she had of him after that academy mission had gone wrong. It was just another part of her life that made her want to be stronger now, for her friends and for herself. Aizen-Taicho was dead to her.
So she blasted everything to oblivion.
Hitsugaya's brow creased in concern as he searched around for his childhood friend's reiatsu. What was worrying him was the fact that he couldn't detect it at all! What purpose did she have hiding it and where in Seireitei had she gone? He tensed, a lump in his throat as he considered the possibilities.
What is she'd left to go join Aizen?
The captain angrily shook his head at the thought, ashamed that his mind had even jumped directly to that. She was completely repentant for all the things she'd done on her former captain's behalf and Hitsugaya had faith that she was never going back. He could believe in her now. He could believe that what she was doing at that moment wasn't a betrayal to him or the Gotei 13 or her friends.
He was going to trust her.
Hitsugaya tried her room, but nobody answered. He wracked his brain for locations she frequented, coming up empty on those too. For once in his life, her being a Kidou master was probably the most annoying thing. He didn't find people any other way, and Hinamori's was either gone or completely hidden. No, not gone. He refused to entertain the possibility that she was dead. Of course not. He would know about it.
Suddenly, some barrelled into his side, cause him to nearly fall over. The captain stumbled in shock, regaining his footing after a moment, only to realize that the figure that had just tackled him was his childhood friend. She was hugging him tightly, her arms around his neck as he began to blush profusely.
"H-Hinamori, what are you doing?" Hitsugaya asked, still very much shaken from the shock she had just put him through. It wasn't often that he couldn't feel a signature coming at him, and he was now extremely uncomfortable and tense. Things like this didn't happen every day. The shinigami desperately hoped that she wasn't losing her mind again.
Hinamori released her hold on him and bowed apologetically. A smile adorned her face, a smile that looked so free and so real today. "Sorry, Hitsugaya-kun. I'm just very happy."
He cocked an eyebrow as he crossed his arms, wondering exactly what had come over her. There was something different about her today, he concluded, though he couldn't put his finger on exactly what. She seemed so light-hearted now, so content and so cheerful. The Fifth's lieutenant seemed like she had been released from all the burdens of their world.
And, oh, Soutaicho, she had never looked so beautiful.
The boy flushed darkly as he shifted his eyes elsewhere. It'd been so long since he had gotten this feeling from her, and it was so reminiscent of their best days together. There was nothing conflicting within her, no chaos, free of turmoil and guilt…
She was free of Aizen.
Hitsugaya had never thought, admittedly, that she would be able to do it, but the way she was now told him a completely different story. She let go of him before, but now it seemed that the bastard was just a part of her past that she learned from. She had finally done it. The chains that used to bind her were gone now.
"You… Are you…?" he spluttered in utter shock.
"Yeah," Hinamori replied gently before she grabbed his hand abruptly, giving him little time to process this revelation. Perhaps he was a genius, but this whole thing had shut off his brain temporarily. She broke out into a run, pulling him along without much though. "Ne, Shirou-chan, don't make me drag you all the way."
The silver-haired captain blinked as he gave little resistance to her actions and followed her willingly. With one last playful grin, Hinamori released his hand and shunpo-ed away. Quickly, he raced after her in wonder of where she was leading him. She obviously hadn't gone crazy, but this wasn't common for her either. He let a smirk creep onto his face as he kept a steady pace to keep up with her.
She was playing for the first time in decades. He wanted to play too.
The vice-captain was skilled in eluding him, changing her direction constantly, leading the ice-user around in circles. They'd left Seireitei several minutes ago and were playing cat and mouse all over Rukongai. He could feel her again, more prominently than usual, as if she was baiting him. He was taking it without much debate.
Everything was always so serious, forcing him to be mature and ethical, but this…was just a game, and man was it fun. Right now, he was allowed to abandon reason and just play with his best friend.
It was then that he'd found that Hinamori had stopped. Hitsugaya mimicked her as she grinned at him in her place in the air. A second later, she appeared next to him, still facing opposite from him with her shoulder brushing his. It was silent as they stood, frozen.
"Shirou-chan," she whispered, "thank you for everything."
The captain struggled to breathe as his heart palpitated wildly. "For what?" With much effort, he turned his neck to look at her, but she continued to gaze ahead, the corner of her mouth raised mysteriously. Hinamori stepped forward and placed herself behind him. His eyes widened when lips touched his cheek, though only for the briefest of moments before she was gone again.
It took three seconds for him to regain any coherency in his head and five seconds to launch after her. She was less evasive this time, letting him know that she obviously had a location in mind.
He found her at a stall in District 43, ordering something from the owner. The green-eyed shinigami approached the place casually, knowing she wouldn't run anymore. He sat down next to her on the stool, both keeping their heads directed forward. The friendly owner gave him a warm look as she placed a plate of watermelon slices in front of them with an "Enjoy!"
Hinamori immediately picked on up and took a bite out of it. "Eat some."
He obliged, glad to have watermelons back in his life. It had been years since his last slice. Hitsugaya bit into the fruit and savoured the taste gratefully. "It's good," he commented softly.
"Mmhm," she agreed, swallowing her food. He waited for her to say something more, which she clearly wanted to, and sat patiently, enjoying his fruit. Finally, she spoke again. "Thank you, Hitsugaya-kun. Because of you, I remember what it's like to be myself."
"Don't be stupid, Bed Wetter. You did that on your own," he replied in his honest opinion.
"No, it is because of you. Everything is because of you! I'm…happy again…because of you," she admitted quietly.
For the hundredth time that day, he blushed hotly at her proclamation. "…Fine. If that's what you think…"
It remained quiet between them as the world around them went on. It was a comfortable silence, one that could only be shared between two people who had lived together for years. Her eyes connected with his then, giving him a mischievous smile. "By the way, Shirou-kun, where's your haori? Did you get demoted or something?"
Hitsugaya groaned and placed a palm on his face, mentally cursing Matsumoto. He didn't answer and instead muttered, "It's Hitsugaya-Taicho, stupid."