"It's just…sometimes I'm so scared of what life will be like without you, I can't even see or think. Sometimes it feels like I'm going to lose it again."
"Calm down, Shiro! Silly, you're not the one who's about to die."
"How can you say that so calmly?"
"I'm only bored of being sad all the time."
Disclaimer: If I owned Bleach, I would STOP WITH THE INCESSANT SHONEN BATTLES. *twitch* Sorry, didn't mean to take out my frustration on you all. Haha.
Spoilers for basically everything; I only write anymore this to satisfy my own, selfish, obsessive-compulsive needs. Next story, I'm using a less complex format -_-;;
A/N: It's been a while. Well, I don't know if you guys are still out there, but I've been quite busy. I know I said that the HAPPY ending would come first, but I like my intended ending better. So here you go. I hope you like it!
C H A P T E R | S E V E N: What We Keep Beyond Death
S U R P R I S E
"Come on," Hitsugaya urged Momo, tearing off the reiatsu cloak as they flew into her holding cell. Hinamori hastily masked the room in its regular kido. Quickly, she sat down upon her cot and looked intently at him, awaiting an explanation.
"Hinamori," he began, looking around, "you're going to have some visitors in a few minutes."
"What kind of visitors?" she asked cautiously. A knock on the door interrupted her. Toshiro opened it without asking who was there.
"Excuse me, Captain," said the man looming in the doorway. She caught sight of his badge—a First Division official.
Oh no, she thought, biting her lip, and her heart began to palpitate alarmingly for the first time since Toshiro had forgiven her. She looked to him frantically. They've caught us and now they're going to take him away and—
It's alright, Toshiro's gaze sternly reminded her.
"Allegedlytraitorous Hinamori Momo, I have come to present the following information," the guard began, clearing his throat. "Due to a certain degree of protest and classified evidence we have received concerning your approaching execution, policy states we must give you a trial with Central 46 to ultimately prove or disprove your innocence. Be warned that you will not be let off easy, and you must be ready to be escorted at nine AM exactly tomorrow morning."
The butterflies trying to break out of her rib cage settled down, replaced by a wave of relief so strong she had to hold on to the edge of the bed to keep from falling over. She vaguely remembered nodding.
Turning to Toshiro, the older one said, "Hitsugaya-taicho, since it appears you were about to explain this situation to her, feel free to answer any questions she has. Good evening, now."
The officials excused themselves and exited the cell.
"It looks like they gave away the rest of my birthday gift to you," he said quietly, but there was a smile behind his words.
"You idiot," she whispered. He was taken aback for a moment, but he couldn't help but grin inwardly: That's my line.
"You had me so worried that something had gone wrong! I thought you were going to be killed just as I am going to be, and instead, you've I find out you've managed to accomplish a miracle?" Her mouth was twisted into a frown, but her eyes were bright. "I'm such a worrier. I just assumed the worst...sorry. It seems like I'm not completely better yet, but…I'll do my best, 'kay?" She smiled.
He closed his eyes, relieved. The way she was acting was normal, something eerily akin to her former self. And her voice was so much lighter. He felt it, too—this past self creeping up on him, something much more levity and youth.
Finally, I've done something right. I know it.
"Get to sleep now, Hinamori. They're nothing short of hostile down in Central 46. There's not much of a chance that this will work if you aren't given the opportunity to explain yourself thoroughly. You'll need the rest."
She nodded, reaching out for his hand. "Goodnight, Toshiro."
"Sleep tight, Momo." And with that, he was gone.
B R E A T H E
She was wearing a simple white yukata and red collar. The guards had it around her neck like a leash. It was far from comfortable.
She didn't dare utter a word to them about it, though; this was her one chance. She had difficulty taking Histugaya's advice and spent most of the night planning her defenses, too jittery to sleep. The most important thing was to behave—absolutely no outbursts. No emotional instability whatsoever.
The light stung her eyes and cast a dramatic silhouette against the members of the elite group. Without warning, the first of several voices began to speak.
"Hinamori Momo, former Vice Captain of the Fifth Division: you are accused of drawing a sword against your superiors, opening portals to alternate dimensions without permission, conspiring against The Court of Pure Souls, and the highest level of treason."
Another voice boomed, "How do you plea?"
With all of her courage, she said, "Innocent."
"Besides yourself, do you have anyone else to act as witness to these claims?"
"Ah, yes! Renji Abarai is the first shinigami who agreed to testify for me."
"So be it. Abarai-fukutaicho, please present your case."
And so the battle began.
Q U E S T I O N S
"Now we will direct our questions at you, Hinamori Momo. If you fail to answer, or fail to answer honestly, you will assume automatic guilt. First: why did you break out of the Fourth Division and transport yourself to Hueco Mundo?"
"I had just awoken from a coma induced by my former captain, Aizen Sosuke. The first thing I heard upon waking was a conversation about him between Unohana-taicho and Isane-fukutaicho. At the time I couldn't understand the truth behind their words. I was sure his intentions were merely… misunderstood. I planned only on receiving an explanation and then returning to Seireitei. However, Aizen tricked me further into helping him using the claim that the rulers of Soul Society were corrupt." Good. Keep it up, she could hear Hitsugaya telling her in her head.
"And you accepted this explanation?"
"I was not fully aware of the situation until I was recaptured."
"So you worked willingly for Aizen Sosuke and his accomplices for the entirety of your…captivity?"
"I figured out that he had lied to me less than a year into my time at Las Noches."
"And why didn't you stop at that point?"
"If I had told anyone I knew what was really happening, then…I would have been killed or used as a hostage against the shinigami."
"And what kind of work did you do for Aizen?"
"I…well. It was research, mostly."
"And what kind of research?"
"Arrancar creation and some kido, as well. And how to lead an army."
"And did you use this knowledge for the benefit of the Arrancar?"
"No…I…did not. I couldn't lead an army if I tried—"
"But witnesses state that on the day of the Hueco Mundo infiltration, you led Arrancar face to face with the Gotei 13."
"I did not let them attack."
"Alright then. Before we deliver a final decree, do you deny committing any of these crimes stated previously?"
"No. I do not."
"Then how will you justify your actions?"
"I was suffering from poor mental health, especially what Unohana-taicho recently diagnosed as General Anxiety Disorder. I have the papers available if you need proof. Also, I agreed to stay under a false impression that included the belief that I would not have to harm any shinigami. When this impression was shattered, not taking the actions I did could have endangered myself or Soul Society."
"Is that all?"
"Then allow us two hours to reach our decision. Wait outside."
F R I E N D S
"Didn't know you could speak that way," Renji said over his shoulder when she came out. "You don't seem like the public-speaking type much."
"Thank you," she replied, looking down. "I practiced beforehand. And thank you for letting them interrogate you. If they actually free me, it's thanks to you three."
"No problem." Renji waved it off.
"I think I owed you one anyway," Kira mumbled, though she wasn't exactly sure what he was referring to.
"We all only did what was right," Hitsugaya finished.
She looked down, ringing her hands. She still didn't think she deserved it after all she had seen, heard, and done in Las Noches, but now was not the time to bring that up.
"I'm only going to ask one more favor."
"If I am found guilty…please do not contradict them. Just—just tell everyone I will miss them, even if they hate me now!"
Slowly, Renji shrugged yes. Kira and Toshiro exchanged glances before doing the same.
A moment of silence passed between the four.
"Izuru-fukutaicho, Renji-fukutaicho. Your presence is no longer needed at this trial," one of the guards announced. "Please find your way out."
"Then we're out," Renji said casually. "Later."
"Good luck," Kira told them.
She nodded, chewing on her lip.
"Hinamori," Hitsugaya said, putting a cautious hand on her shoulder, "let's go wait on the bench in the hallway. No point in going far."
They moved to the low-swung seat and sat quietly. Most of the time passed with only worried, exchanged glances, subtle acts of affection, and nervous hand squeezes.
Finally, she cleared her throat. "I was serious before, Hitsugaya-kun. If they find me guilty, don't go against them. I don't regret the time I've had with you, so let me go knowing that you're safe."
He stared at her sadly, almost taken aback. But he could not protest. "I really promise," he whispered, daring a kiss on her cheek and an arm around her waist.
She smiled through her tears. "Thanks," she mustered. He pulled away and smiled knowingly.
"Now hurry," he said. "They've opened up the doors again. It's time."
D E C I S I O N S
Trembling palms, trembling vision, trembling everything.
The whole world was quaking beneath their feet, and she was the only one who felt it. Her vision blurred, pulsing in time with her rapidly beating heart. Her mind regressed to a quiet, vapid state, only aware of her own pulse and she felt the sick sensation of blood screaming through her veins.
They were speaking, but she couldn't hear. She couldn't see. In fact, she realized unconsciously, she'd become completely desensitized. Low voices rumbled like distant thunder in her ears, too obscure to comprehend.
Then, with a rush that nearly caused her to scream, her hands clapped tightly over her mouth, everything came back to her with painful clarity.
"Hinamori Momo…after careful consideration, the members of Central 46 have come to the concurrence that you are..."
Please, she begged silently. I love him.
"What?" she whispered, at a loss for words. "What?"
"Because of the nature of this case—you having cooperated willingly at any time for the greatest disgrace to Soul Society in history—and no way to prove you suffered from an anxiety disorder or poor mental health during the time of your captivity—we cannot allow a change in punishment. However, you will be allowed the same honors a deceased Vice Captain would receive because of the time you served for us."
"I—I—" she stuttered, wanting to fade and shrink and cry like a child. She didn't get it. Was she supposed to thank them? Was she supposed to protest? Call out? Say nothing?
Finally, she settled on "I understand."
A P O L O G Y
"I'm sorry," she whispered to him in the dim light of her cell.
"Shh..it's okay," he replied, running a hand through her hair. He wouldn't look at her though, wouldn't let her see him broken.
T HE | E N D
When he woke up on the morning of her execution, sun was streaming through the windows. The first spring birds were singing.
He felt like gravity was pressing a cinderblock onto his chest and his mouth was full of sawdust.
Hitsugaya went through the motions of getting ready, but he was more focused on not collapsing or throwing up or having a seizure. So this is what it feels like, he thought morbidly, to have your heart ripped out in front of your eyes.
He and Matsumoto headed up Soukyoku Hill just before noon. She followed silently next to him, holding back tears. She wouldn't cry though—what kind of fukutaicho would she be if she cried and her captain didn't? Instead, the two stood solemnly among the other division officials.
It was beginning. He could feel the heat emanating downwards, the roar of the fire.
It took him a minute to register that something was not right. To understand what a pathetic end it would be if he didn't do something now.
And his eyes searched in a panic, a final, desperate wish for her, so high above everyone else. He couldn't see her; the sun screamed in his eyes where she was suspended in the air. Oh God, he couldn't see her, the girl who was everything, the girl who leave nothing for him in her wake, only a promise of time stretching out painfully far beyond his comprehension. He couldn't see her.
The time of day, where the sun hung in the sky, by chance, had taken away his last moments with Momo.
It wasn't supposed to be this way.
Is anything supposed to be the way it turned out?
Hyorinmaru, now, in his head. Speaking clearly. Booming.
Are you going to let her die the way she is now?
Are you going to let her die not knowing the truth?
The truth, the truth. Hinamori had never been privileged to truth, not in her time in the Fifth Division, not in her time in Hueco Mundo. She deserved truth, the girl who was honest and bare and so painfully Momo his heart ached for her. He couldn't deny her the truth. That would be cruelty beyond even Aizen's capacity.
So he opened his mouth. Wide.
The flaming phoenix roared brighter than the day.
"I LOVE YOU, HINAMORI MOMO!"
Again. What if he hadn't heard her? No, the panic among his peers was already clear; the damage was done, he had to say it again.
"I LOVE YOU, HINAMORI MOMO! I'VE ALWAYS, ALWAYS LOVED YOU! AND I'LL NEVER STOP! I LOVE YOU, HINAMORI MOMO!"
His words had to reach her ears. Had to. His vice captain tried to restrain him, but he absent-mindedly pushed her away. His thoughts were galaxies away.
"I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU, HINAMORI!"
There! The change in her reiatsu! She had heard him, she knew! She knew!
And even though the ringing in his ears was louder than ever, her voice came through.
"I LOVE YOU TOO, TOSHIRO! I LOVE YOU, TOO!"
The wind blowing in her face was scalding with the heat of a thousand zanpakuto.
"I LOVE YOU!" she cried.
"I LOVE YOU!" he screamed back, so relieved.
"I LOVE YOU!"
"I LOVE YOU!"
And it happened, in a flash so brilliant and quick he didn't even notice. Her final, radiant moment was over. Reality was going to come crashing back down, soon. When it did, things would never be the same.
But this time, he was going to handle it.
And this is what we keep beyond death…
In all of the universe, there is a singular thing which cannot be altered: our memories. What has happened, has happened irreversibly. Even though I've been robbed of my physical form by the time you read this letter, always cherish the time we spent. Memories are all that we can keep beyond death.
One would think something as intangible as a memory could easily be stolen away—so fragile, so precise, so delicate. But no one can make you forget. They can take away everything and you'll still remember someone's tinkling laughter or moonlight pooling on a bedroom floor or sunshine slipping through the leaves of a tree. So no matter what happens, I'm right here with you.
I love you, Shiro-chan. I've never regretted a moment spent with you.
A/N: I hope you didn't mind the ending! It was the first thing I wrote in this whole story, and the most fun to write. Well, I mean…not fun; killing my favorite character isn't anything akin to fun, but it was the easiest part for me. Anyway, enough rambling. I'm off to pray to the deities of fanfiction that I will be able to write anything but a tragedy next time around. Leave me your thoughts, please!