"Close the circle and open a door"
"Ai-Aizen-taichou?" A faint voice in the darkness, hopeful, pleading. "Aizen-taichou, is that really you?"
Strong arms wrapped around her small body, holding her up as she trembled. "Yes, Hinamori. Everything is alright now…" The voice was soothing, calm. Tears streamed down the curve of her cheek. The last week never happened.
"Aizen-taichou, thank goodness…" The man smiled paternally.
A moment later, crimson exploded from the girl's back, a gleaming steel sword piercing straight through her.
The girl fell, shock and horror in her eyes, as she gazed upon the satisfied smirk of her beloved captain. He turned around to leave her alone in the darkness. Absently, she felt her back hit the floor with a dull 'thump', her eyes losing focus and her breath becoming shallow gasps in the silence. Soon, she couldn't manage to breathe at all.
Hinamori Momo was dead.
Nine months later…
The white room was filled with struggled panting. A woman, Claire, had just given birth. Her husband, Jean, was beside her, holding her sweat-drenched hand, looking very nervous. Suddenly a child's wail burst through the labour room.
"Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Prunier, it's a girl," the doctor proclaimed in flawless Parisian French through his white face mask. Professionally, the dark-skinned man cut the umbilical cord, and then handed the baby to the nurse beside him to perform the regular tests. A minute later, just in time for the mother to calm down, the newborn was handed to her in a bundle.
"Thank you," she breathed, her accent revealing her to be French-Canadian. Looking down at the crying child in her arms, the new mother was struck by the baby's beauty. She fell in love with everything about her child, and very suddenly the world revolved around the crying bundle in her arms. Claire tried to soothe the girl, but while she was able to keep the child from wailing, tears continued to slip from her eyes.
Sensing her confusion and worry, Jean assured her that the girl must just be sad about leaving her warm, comfortable womb. Claire rolled her eyes, but smiled.
Eventually, the tears stopped, and the baby lied asleep in her mother's arms, her father at the bedside.
"Pêche," the new mother whispered.
"Pêche. This baby's name is Pêche," Claire asserted while examining the child.
The husband paused. "…You mean, pêche as in fish?" His wife shot him a half-hearted glare, although she couldn't completely keep a smile from her lips.
"No! I mean pêche as in the fruit!" The mother emphasized her point by saying the name in English. "Pêche as in peach."
Pêche grew into a happy toddler. She was the light of her parent's lives, the joy of her grandparents and aunts and uncles. Even before she could speak, it was apparent that Pêche was a friendly girl, always minding her manners, always caring.
The little girl was thoroughly adorable, with her big brown doe eyes and her sussette lodged firmly between her teeth. The little baby never let go of the pacifier, inciting her older cousins to tease her by dragging her around by the ring of it. Unfazed, Pêche would wobble forward, pulled by the piece of tan plastic, until finally the other children got bored and simply yanked it from her.
It was greatly entertaining for the witnessing parents to watch little Pêche's round face grow quickly offended, and her plump little fist to come down unexpectedly upon the older children. Sebastian, eager to prove to his older brother that he was worthy of hanging out with the older kids, caught the little girl's fists easily with one hand. What he failed to catch, was her little leg coming up to kick him straight in the shin.
His elder brother, Frederic, and elder sister, Marie, laughed as the boy's eyes began to water. Very soon, as he realized that the older kids were making fun of him, Sebastian began to bawl, and in the end retreated back to his mother's lap. As for Pêche, she found a very pretty pinkish-gray rock to examine, her pacifier once again lodged firmly in her mouth. Later, she chased around a very pretty black swallowtail butterfly.
At the age of two years old, Pêche Prunier was perfectly verbose. She was quite a capable speaker, always eager to learn new words, both French and English.
The girl's parents taught her English. It was rather scandalous, actually. In the small town they lived in, the English language was greatly frowned upon. To speak English was to spit upon one's culture and the traditions of the French-Canadian people. In small, rural towns such as these, it just wasn't done.
Pêche's home town was located on the outskirts of the island of Montreal, in the revered province of Quebec. The Prunier family had lived on their (relatively) small plot of land for generations, her grandparents say since the times of Jean Talon.
As the story went, Jacques Prunier had been a priest, and had come to Nouvelle France as a missionary. However, when he had arrived at the monastery after the long sea rout, he had met one Françoise Langelier, a nun who had come to the French colony to work as a nurse at the newly-built hospital. Long story short, they had both fallen head over heels for each other, pulled themselves from the Church's fold, and started a family in a farming community in the region of Ville-Marie.
The village that Pêche was growing up in was a staunchly-conservative town. The vast majority of the population was Roman Catholic and French-Canadian, and ridiculously protective of their culture. It was the kind of place where you were considered a trouble-maker if you listened to American music. If you went around enough, you would even meet grandmothers and grandfathers who would complain about how much better things were under Duplessis.
It was a place where you had to go to Church at six am every Sunday morning, and you had to listen to French-Canadian music, and you had to routinely suffer through long-winded discussions about how utterly fantastic the Block Québécois was. That was the mindset of Pêche's grandparents.
As for her parents, they were more liberal, if only slightly. They didn't see American pop culture as an invading evil, and they didn't feel all too threatened by the English language, either. In fact, they were modern people, her mother having been the first in her family to go to university, studying medicine at the world-renowned McGill University. Her father had studied literature in the Acadian province of New Brunswick. The only thing that they were truly conservative about was religion.
One fateful day, the happy young family was on their way to church. It was a cool summer morning, and Pêche was dressed up in her white and pink Sunday dress. Heading out of the church parking lot, her parents were walking at either side of her, holding her hands. As they approached the entrance, Claire found her sister, Jacqueline, in a small crowd of family and friends.
"Oh, Claire," Jacqueline piped, her nerves clearly high-strung. Her eyes darted to Pêche, who was gazing rather intently on the flower bed to her right, and then back to her sister. "Have you heard what happened to Robert's father?" The fellow mother kept her voice hushed, so that the toddlers at her feet wouldn't hear.
"Robert Lavoisier's father," Claire asked, shifting her weight as her eyebrows furrowed in concern. "What happened to him? Was it his colon again?"
Jacqueline shook her head sadly, stray hairs escaping from her meticulously crafted up-do. "His heart. It happened last night." Claire froze, eyes wide. Her question hung at the tip of her tongue.
"He is with God now," Jacqueline stated regrettably, raising her eyes to the church steeple before them. "I feel terrible for Robert. You know that he hasn't been on good terms with his father since he has remarried."
"I should go offer my condolences," Claire murmured, grief on her brow. She turned to her husband, and offered a meaningful glance. Jean nodded solemnly and took hold of Pêche's little hand, protectively holding her close to him. The mother made a path through the church-goes, following her sister to where Robert was kneeling before God, heart and soul full of remorse.
Clearly uninterested in the distant affairs of the grown-ups, Pêche's eyes wandered all around her. She peered through the columns of legs, seeking something stimulating to watch, when she noticed something rather out of the ordinary.
There was a rather fat man in pyjamas standing at the gate of the church property, staring up despondently. From the center of his chest protruded a thick metal chain. Frightened yet puzzled, Pêche gripped the pant leg of her father's suit, but continued to stare at the man. She saw the glistening of tears rolling down his cheeks.
Suddenly, the man took hold of the chain with both his hands. Although his face was turned towards the bright morning sky, Pêche could see his lips moving. The little girl suddenly wanted to get closer to the man. She let go of her father's pants and walked out past the crowd. Her father followed closely behind her.
Pêche watched as the man start pulling upon the chain at his chest. His muscles flexed as he tried with all his might to rip the ghastly metal from his being. The man screamed. He dug his nails into where metal met flesh. He snarled as tears rolled down his eyes.
His eyes focused intently, belligerently at the church steeple before him, the man cried, "Why have you forsaken me?! Why must you take my life from me, and yet refuse to fulfill your promise to me? Have I not served you loyally all my life, my Lord?!" The man howled in pain as his nails dug deeper into his flesh.
Petrified, Pêche could only watch as the man clawed the chain away. She couldn't raise her voice, she couldn't look away, she couldn't understand what she was seeing. Why was no one stopping that man?
Finally, the man managed to tear the chain from his heart. Amid shrieks and cries of pain, the man's eyes somehow managed to glow with hope. He had suffered for the Lord, he would surely be admitted into heaven. The man, his every nerve alive with pain, dissolved into nothingness. Pêche felt silent tears of fear roll down her eyes. She was happy her father didn't notice.
A moment of frozen time later, a bloodcurdling cry shook the air, the voice even more tormented and frightening than the man's. Pêche's plump tiny fists clenched her father's pant leg more tightly as pure terror shot through to her core. Petrified, the child looked around, searching out the source of the cry with eyes large with fear.
"What's the matter, sweetheart," the father soothed, catching sight of the tears in the little girl's eyes. He crouched down on one knee, trying to coax his daughter to meet his gaze. "Everything's alright, sweetheart. Everything's okay." Pêche, eyes drowning in horror, looked over her father's shoulder at a vision of her worst nightmares.
A humongous creature, arms long and lanky, face covered in a bone-white mask, hovered menacingly over Jean's shoulder. The toddler opened her mouth to cry out, but she couldn't find her voice. She could only watch in horror as the monster's head turned from side to side, its red eyes finally setting dead on her. The creature slowly raised its hand.
The fight or flight instinct took over. "Papa," Pêche cried, tiny hand grasping her father's. She ran as far as her short legs could carry her, her confused father simply walking behind her. The towering monster's hand reached towards her father in slow motion.
Something in the child told her that her father's life was in her hands. She made a sharp turn away from the church. The monster, seemingly a little confused, hesitated for a moment before once again approaching the toddler.
"Pêche," the father shouted. He sighed as he watched his daughter run across the church yard. "It's almost time for Church!" The child was prone to chasing after things, squirrels, butterflies, and sometimes things that couldn't even be seen from the patio, so Jean wasn't too worried about that. The tears, however, were confusing. The man ran his hand through his hair, gazing over his shoulder to the church. When's Claire coming out…
Meanwhile, little Pêche was running for her life. She couldn't move fast enough; her legs were too short, her shoes weren't made for running, and her dress got in the way. The child stumbled over her feet and fell to the ground. The light of the morning was eclipsed by the monster's hand hovering over her. Her scream caught in her throat. She felt large calloused fingers wrap around her tiny body.
Before Pêche knew what was happening, she felt warm liquid splatter all over her face. The next second, she was in someone's arms, and a man's firm hand held her face against his chest. The child was surrounded by blackness.
Pêche felt a gentle thump as the man landed gracefully on the ground. For the first time, she could look up into the face of her saviour. Mouth open in awe, the girl saw a man with very blond hair, a long face, and sad eyes. The man set her gently on her feet, and then got onto one knee in front of her.
"Are you okay," the man in black robes asked, as he extracted a handkerchief from within an interior pocket of his clothes. The girl could only nod, eyes wide, as the stranger carefully wiped the blood off of her face. "You were able to see that monster, weren't you?" Again, the child nodded mutely.
"What is you're name," the man questioned professionally, as he pocketed the bloodied cloth, and looked the girl in the eyes.
Pêche looked around, and caught sight of her father and mother, crouching on the floor, surrounded by lots of people. Between the group and her, there was a long metal chain. "I'm not allowed to talk to strangers," the girl murmured distractedly. With her eyes, Pêche followed the trail of the chain and found that the origin was her own chest. It looked too surreal; she was sure she must have fallen asleep in Church again.
The man in black robes followed her gaze to the crowd behind them. "I suppose I should get you back to your body," he turned his tired gaze to the girl. "Don't worry about that monster. I will make sure that someone will be able to help you if you're ever in trouble again." Pêche nodded, unsure what to do or say. She wanted her Mama and Papa.
Silently, the man gathered the toddler carefully in his arms, and quickly ghosted over to where her family was in a frantic shock over her collapse. The man in black robes returned the girl's spirit to her body, and immediately the eyes of the girl's body opened.
Wrapped in the relieved embrace of her father and mother, Pêche watched from over their shoulders as the man in black robes walked away. There was a bright white light, and then, as quickly as he had come, the man was gone.
"You're late, Kira," the teenager stated as he met up with his counterpart in the halls.
"As are you, Captain Hitsugaya," Izuru returned. There was no reason for either to pretend they liked each other anymore. Not since she had passed.
"Trouble with the Menos," the young Captain intoned dispassionately.
"A child with impressive reiatsu was targeted by a Hollow," Izuru contradicted, equally unemotional. "You've slept another day away?"
"It's better than going off on drinking splurges with my Fukutaichou," Hitsugaya countered, eyes dull.
The two arrived at the door. Another long, tense Captain's meeting with the usual angry belligerent idiots.
Toushiro wished he could go back to sleep.