Chapter 40

Toshiro's eyes shot open. "What?"

Yoda chuckled. "Heard me, you did."

Toshiro gaped at Yoda. He couldn't believe what the gnome was asking him to do. How the heck was he supposed to ask Momo that without sounding awkward – or worse, desperate?

"Trust her opinion of you, do you?"

Toshiro turned away. "Well, I guess, but… How is asking her that supposed to help? It's still someone else's opinion of me, not my own."

Yoda nodded. "True, that is. But if trust another person's opinion of you, you do, easier it will be for you to believe that opinion, whether positive or negative it is." He uncrossed his legs, letting them dangle over the edge of the wall. "Surprised you will be, I think, at what to say, she has." He slid off the wall and landed on the floor. "Find me when finished, you are." And away he hobbled.

Toshiro stared at the old Jedi Master as he walked away, still in shock at what he was being asked to do. He pulled his cell phone out of his haori.

There was no way he could do this without sounding pathetic.

He turned the phone over in his hands. What would Hinamori say about him? Now that Yoda had brought the question up, the young captain couldn't help but wonder.

He sighed. Best get this over with, he thought.

.***.

Momo was sitting in her room after dinner when her phone rang. She saw it was Toshiro and, trying not to think about the horrible "vision" he'd had, answered. "Hello?"

"Hinamori…" He was quiet for a while.

"What is it, Hitsugaya-kun?" The fact that he wasn't picking on her right off the bat told her that something was wrong. Was he still worried about the "vision"?

Again he was quiet. Finally, he spoke, his voice softer than usual, but stoic. "What do you like about me?"

Momo was caught completely off guard. Asking such a question… That wasn't like him at all! "Hitsugaya-kun, are you okay?" What on earth was going on? Why was he so-

"Just answer the question, please." He sounded… tired.

She paused. "Hitsugaya-kun, you're acting strange."

"Would you just answer the question?" Now he was annoyed.

"Not until you tell me what's going on!"

"Just, don't worry about it!"

"Quit telling me not to worry about it!" The words were out of her mouth before she realized what she was saying. "You're acting really strange like you're really upset about something and you're not telling me what it is and I'm your friend and you're not telling me what's bothering you!"

.***.

He didn't know what to say.

He couldn't recall a time when her rants actually bothered him. But this one, the things she said and the way she just exploded without him deliberately provoking her, really hit him hard. He could tell she was really, really upset that he wasn't telling her everything.

But how could he tell her?

"Hitsugaya-kun, how come you're not telling me what's bothering you?"

He paused. "Because I don't want you to worry about me all the time. I am a captain you know, I can take care of myself."

"But Hitsugaya-kun is still my friend!"

That was true, but Toshiro had never been in the habit of telling those he was close to everything that bothered him. He even kept things from his granny (although she could usually figure out what was bugging him anyway).

"And…" Momo hesitated. "And even though you're a captain you're still a kid! You still get scared about things even though you don't show it and you still have a lot of growing up to do and there's still a lot of things you don't know about because you're not old enough yet and I wish you'd just-" She stopped.

No wonder she'd hesitated; she knew how much he hated being called a kid, yet she still went off on a rant about it. Toshiro fought his knee-jerk reaction to be angry; instead, he decided to try what he'd been doing with Yoda: actually listening to and thinking about what she said.

"…and I wish you'd just-"

"Just what?" he asked. What did she want him to do? Was it something she'd just kept locked away because… well, because?

Momo was sniffling. "You never act like a little boy anymore. Before you became a Shinigami, you… you were always complaining about how boring it would be to be a Shinigami, and you were always acting like a complete brat and… I always had so much fun with you. You did whatever you wanted and you didn't care about what other people thought of you. Well, except your Granny, but you were always so nice to her and you were so sweet and then you'd turn around and be a complete brat to me." She giggled through the sniffles. "I… I really miss that, Shiro-chan. I miss that part of you and I don't what happened to it…"

Toshiro couldn't believe his ears. She actually wanted him to… to act like a little kid? But… but that made no sense! He was a captain! Wasn't that what she wanted, a strong captain she could gush over all day? Hadn't she been the one to get on his case about "being disrespectful" when he didn't address Aizen as "Captain Aizen" (and right after calling him "Hitsugaya-kun", no less)?

He replayed her words in his mind. "You're wrong," he said quietly. "I did care what people thought of me. It's just that I knew what they all thought about me and I didn't know how to change it, so after a while I just stopped trying."

Momo was quiet for a while. "I don't understand… How could you know what everyone thought of you? Junrian is a big place, and you were really little-"

"Everyone ran away from me." It surprised him that she didn't know. "No one would come near me except you and Granny. And I overheard a lot of people talking about how I was 'just like ice'." He paused. "There was one time where a group of kids ran away from me even though I was trying to give them their ball back. So no, I'm not just making this up."

"I'm so sorry, Hitsugaya-kun, I… I had no idea that you were being treated like that. Why didn't you tell me?"

"I thought you knew. I figured your other friends probably talked to you about me behind my back."

"No, they didn't. But… now that I think about it, they never really seemed to want to talk about you at all. I remember I would say something about you or something we did together, and they would always try to change the subject. I never understood why they did that, but if what you're saying is true, then…"

He paused. "Hinamori, there's something I've wanted to ask you for a long time."

"What is it?"

"Why weren't you afraid of me? And why did you keep spending time with me when all I ever did was pick on you and tell you to never come back?"

She hesitated. "I thought you were joking when you told me to never come back?"

"Well… Yes and no." He paused, thinking. "I did want you to come back, but I didn't want you to know that I wanted you to come back. I thought…" He sighed. "I thought that you were going to stop hanging out with me anyways, just like everyone else. And when you didn't, when you kept hanging out with me no matter what I said or did to you, I… guess I just didn't know what to make of it."

Momo was quiet for a moment. "So, all that time, everything you said to me… You were just testing me? To see if I would still be nice to you?"

"More like… I was trying to protect myself from something I was certain would happen."

Her voice softened. "So… you were scared. All that time, you… were afraid that I'd start treating you the same way everyone else did."

"Exactly."

.***.

"Hitsugaya-kun!"

His arm was shaking. Burnt and tired from firing off kido after kido. Tears fell from his eyes, relentless and stubborn.

"Ah! Here you are!" She looked around. "Where's Kusaka-kun?"

"Kusaka's dead." He lowered his arm.

A gasp. "Wha…? What happened?"

"I don't want to talk about it." What was Momo doing here?

"Hitsugaya-kun…"

"Leave me."

"But-!"

"I… I need some time alone… Hinamori." Not "Momo" anymore. Too casual, too familiar. Too close to his shattered remnant of a heart.

A sigh. "Okay. But you be sure and come to me if you need anything, okay?"

He gave her a stiff nod.

She left.

He turned around. Momo. His friend.

His only friend.

The one person he knew would never turn on him, try to kill him the way Kusaka had. The one person who still ran towards him when everyone else ran away.

The one person he longed to protect.

He picked up Hyourinmaru off the ground. His hands shook as he held the sheathed blade in front of him.

Not her.

He made a vow, right then and there: Momo would never die. Not on his watch. No one would ever hurt her and get away with it. He would protect her. She would be safe. Always and forever.

Because his broken heart couldn't handle losing the only friend he had left.

.***.

"You know, Hitsugaya-kun… I never understood why you didn't have any other friends in Junrian. And I don't understand why anyone would be afraid of you, especially when you were just a little boy."

That flashback came out of nowhere. Toshiro tried to push it out of his mind and focus on what Momo was saying, but it was difficult. It was like everything he'd ever felt was suddenly bubbling up to the surface.

"Hitsugaya-kun?"

"Sorry." He paused, struggling to remember why he even called her in the first place.

"Please tell me what's going on, Hitsugaya-kun."

He thought for a minute. Telling her everything would take too long, but he had to tell her something. "Emotions in this dimension are powerful," he said, "and some are dangerous. The people here – most of the ones with high spirit power are called Jedi – are helping me adjust to this place. That includes helping me work through and 'let go' of the negative emotions I have."

Momo was quiet for a moment. "Is that why you asked me what I like about you?"

He felt himself blush. "Yeah." It was weird, being so open and… vulnerable, with her. He'd always wanted her to see him as being strong. But… was that the wrong thing to do? Was it better for him to be this open with her, even if it made him look like a weak, helpless crybaby?

"I… don't know if I can put that into words, Hitsugaya-kun. I really care about you a lot, and having you as a friend really means a lot to me."

Friend. The word stood out to him, so he made a mental note of it.

"I like how you can always make me smile, even when I'm really upset and crying."

Make her smile.

"And I like how sweet you are to your Granny."

Nice to Granny.

"And… there's more to it than that, but I can't think of anything else right now. Like I said, it's really hard for me to put into words what I like about you. I guess… you've always had a warm heart, and I know you keep it hidden from people, but it's still there and… I guess, that's what I like about you, Shiro-chan. I'm sorry, I know it wasn't a very long list, but, does that help?"

Tears.

Freaking, blasted tears.

He wiped his eyes, struggling to keep his voice steady. "Yeah. That helps a lot, thank you." A warm heart? He'd never been described like that before! He had no idea how to respond to that, or even what to make of it. Him? Warm heart? It just… it was so strange!

And yet, somewhere deep inside his soul, he knew it was the truth.

"Oh good," Hinamori said. "I'm glad I could help, Hitsugaya-kun. Is there anything else you need to talk about?"

"No."

"Okay. I, guess I'll let you go, then. I'm really happy we got to talk like this, Hitsugaya-kun. "

"Yeah. Me too." As awkward as it felt, being open with her like this was… surprisingly refreshing.

"Goodnight, Hitsugaya-kun."

"Goodnight." He waited for her to hang up, then slowly closed his phone.