Chapter 27 – Never Forgotten

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Qingtian
House of the Hinamori Family

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Home.

The front doors creaked and Momo smiled, just realising how much she missed this simple sound. Obviously, her grandmother still hasn't oiled it, as it has been for the last few years. The spacious front yard was empty and quiet – not a leaf stirred. With a soothing mutter to Jin, she led him to his stable. It was clean with a fresh supply of water and hay. He seemed to be glad to be back as well, for he promptly settled in his favourite spot.

Momo walked around to the gardens dressed in a springtime ruqun; one that was light and cool. Ducking her head to avoid the low hanging gingko branches, passing through that wide, circular opening, walking on top of the bridge railing – she took the time to savour home.

When passing by the state of the Great Stone Dragon she ran a hand on its smooth surface. It casted a perfect reflection on the still waters. One low step at a time, she ascended up into the family shrine, pressed her hands together and gave thanks to her ancestors and guardians. She walked away from the small shrine.

'It feels so good to be back home. Finally, home.'

An unexpected yet pleasant surprise came to her around the next corner. She gasped with delight, he mouth wide open. In front of her, even though it was barely spring, the peach tree was in full bloom. Every branch was obscured by soft pink flowers, swaying lightly in the morning breeze. And sitting underneath the tree…

He looked up, as if eh knew someone was watching him. For a moment they stared at each other, not quite read to believe their eyes. But then Momo broke, and she ran into his arms.

"Father, I'm back! I'm back at last!"

Long Fei pressed his daughter closer to him. "Welcome back, my Tao Hua. I've missed you terribly."

"And I you, father. Are you proud of me?"

"Tao Hua, I was always proud of you."

*****

"Hey," Rukia said boastingly, nudging the arm of Byakuya. "So who did a good job, eh? No, a great job! NO! A fantastically, wonderful, magnificent, LEGENDARY job!"

Byakuya sighed and rubbed his temple. "Yes, I am aware of that. And if you did not notice beforehand, the sard has already been encrusted on your statue."

"Oh yeah!" Rukia flew up to her pedestal and began to sob dramatically. "At long last I have my own guardian stone again! This calls for a celebration!"

At once the eleven other guardians appeared. Kaien – having heard all of the celebratory noise (or headache-inducing racket as Byakuya called it) – flew in to join the festivities.

"Hey, nice going, Rukia! What a way to get a guardian stone!" he congratulated, giving her a sound thump on the back.

"I know!"

"Hey, dragon boy." Kenpachi crossed his arms and glared at Kaien. "So where's my reward?"

"If you don't want that nice, black, glimmer onyx I placed on your statue," Kaien started, "then I'll just take it back."

"No way! It's mine!"

"And don't forget about Yachiru! She helped too!"

"But not as much as the great Rukia Kuchiki!"

"Aw, Yachiru did so! Byakushi, you believe Yachiru, right?!"

"…I have nothing to say."

"Well I do!" Rukia cleared her throat. "Thanks to the greatest guardian of all time named Rukia Kuchiki, the legend of Tao Hua Hinamori will live on forever!"

*****

2008 AD
Japan

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"Shiro-chan!"

Momo pushed away at the crowds having spotted her best friend's prominent hair bobbing along ahead. Clutched tightly to her chest was a faded book. She broke free and pushed him from behind, nearly sending him flying into the trash can.

He whipped around. "Hinamori! Stop calling me that!"

"It's a habit, okay?!" She grinned and pressed the book into his hands. "You should read this, Hitsugaya-kun. It's really good."

Toshiro passed his eyes over the plain black book and flipped it around to its front cover. In neat golden script was the title 'The Legend of Tao Hua Hinamori'. An eyebrow arched up and he looked back at Momo, asking whether or not it was a mere coincidence.

"I found it in the attic last week! It's pretty old. Oji-san says that he remembers it from his childhood. Apparently that's my ancestor from generations ago – over two thousand years! Cool, huh?"

"I've never heard of it."

"Well…" Momo crossed her arms, mulling over things. "I guess it's not that surprising. It originated in China. You should know it was during Oji-san's childhood that my family moved here. I asked him about it though. It's well known over there." She gave him another hard push. "But if you're the tensai that everyone says you are, then you should've known about it, Hitsugaya-kun!"

"It goes without saying that even without my knowledge of this particular legend, I still know more than you. A lot more."

"Don't be so mean, Hitsugaya-kun, or you're not coming over today!"

"Whatever," he replied nonchalantly, but secretly, he vowed to keep from pushing Momo too much because trips to the Hinamori house yielded watermelons sorbet for him. Not that he would ever admit to actually liking the sweet dessert.

The bell sounded above them, making them both wince at the loud, shrill noise. Students began to shuffle towards their next class. A girl with raven hair came up behind Momo and tackled her.

"Hey, the bell rang, so get a move on, Momo! I want to get my test results back!"

"Alright already, Rukia!"

Momo turned and started to walk back down the corridor with Rukia, but then stopped.

"Oh, you have a free period next, don't you, Hitsugaya-kun?" she asked, looking back. "If you're all done with today's homework, which I bet you are, you should read it. See you in physics!"

Toshiro nodded his head, a sign of confirmation and farewell. He took his time walking to the library, turning the book over in his hands. The door swung in smoothly and then the comforting silence washed over him, making him feel more at peace. Taking his usual, secluded table placed near the window where he could see into the English classroom – the class Momo was currently in – he opened the book and began to read the first time-worn page.

Owari


A/N: I want to give a hugh thank you to all those that supported this fanfiction! There've been a few bumps in the road, but in the end I managed to get the whole story out, and it's all thanks to you wonderful readers. I am finding more time to write nowadays, so I hope you look forward to some of my future works, including another fanfiction based on Mulan - it's a whole new plot! Hope to catch you around :)