"Yo Kid." Toshiro sat up in his bed. He'd been awake for about an hour now and Kenpachi was the first person he'd seen other than Captain Unohana.
"So you got your memories back did you?"
"Was it worth it?"
He considered for a moment. The pain in his heart was great but Momo's words of forgiveness made it bearable.
Kenpachi shifted uneasily. His torso was still heavily bandaged and Toshiro guessed he wasn't supposed to be moving around yet.
"You haven't picked up you zampakuto yet?"
"You wanted to see how I handled it." It wasn't a question, Toshiro knew him well.
The big man grunted but said nothing. Toshiro looked up at him, seeing both the squad eleven captain and his old friend all rolled into one.
"You're exactly the same. You have nothing to worry about, nothing will change– except, you'll remember her."
Kenpachi was quite. "Who is she?"
"You'll find out. You are going to pick up your sword aren't you?"
"Well, it seems to have done the trick for you."
"Yeah. Does it bother you?"
"Why should it?"
"Because it was just the two of us for so long, and now there are all these other people to be concerned with."
"And, what is it like?"
"Its like waking up."
"So the past ten years, you don't think they were real?"
Toshiro straightened himself, wincing as pain shot through his shoulder. "Don't get me wrong, they were real, and that person is still alive in me, but that aching is gone. That feeling that there was something more..."
"It always bothered you the most."
"Until we met Yachiru, then you knew too, didn't you."
"Are you mad that I took my memories back?"
"Well I'm glad you didn't let us all burn to death."
"You know what I mean."
The man sighed. "No. And I'm tired of everyone else thinking they know me better than I know myself."
"Then you've decided. When will you do it?"
"No point in waiting."
"Want me to come?"
"Nah, you stay put, doesn't look like you could handle it."
"See you on the other side, I guess."
Kenpachi left and Toshiro knew that the next time he saw him everything would be different. It already was for him, he didn't know how Zaraki would see him once he got his memories back. He sunk back into his bed, his eyes already drooping with fatigue. He hung on just long enough to feel the shift in spiritual power and he knew it was done.
Kenpachi walked down the hall to the squad eleven office. Yachiru was alone, waiting for him. She looked up as him very seriously and held out the sword. He was ready. He had no memories of the girl but his heart knew her, and that alone made him want to have his memories restored.
Slowly he stretched out his hand. The girl bit her lip, the sword trembled in her hands. She was nervous, excited. She'd waited ten years, after all. No more hesitation. He gripped the handle and felt the rush of memories– more than a century's worth– and almost all of those years spent with her. Her face, small and round, her eyes bright and shining, even when she touched the blood on the end of his blade. He remembered her laugh, her anger, her commanding tone and her overconfidence in her sense of direction. The nameless blade seemed to sigh in relief and that constant nagging at the back of his mind was finally gone.
"Yachiru...you've changed." he said at last. The girl was trembling from head to toe, her face a mixture of emotions and finally she shot into the air and had her arms around his neck.
"Oh Kenny!" she cried. "You're back! You're back and now we can be together forever!"
"Thank-you, Yachiru, for waiting."
He wrapped his massive arms around her and that smile that once never left her face returned.
One month later
"Yo Ken, you ready for this?"
The newly reassigned captains ran side by side toward the gate to the world of the living.
"You kidding me? I live for this shit."
They dove through the black tunnel.
"So Ikkaku didn't care about you taking the squad back?"
"Are you kidding? That guy only cares about finding a decent fight."
"I can respect that."
"He said he never really wanted the job anyway. I think he still has some unfinished business with Kuchki."
They both laughed. The black tunnel began to fade to light; they emerged into the bright sunlight on the other side.
"Its Ichigo's spiritual pressure." Toshiro announced at once.
"Does he know yet?"
"I don't think so. I heard he's been out of touch for a while, something about trying to finally finish a university degree."
"He's in for quite a surprise then." The giant chuckled.
"Yeah, should be good."
They ran through the city searching out the dark spiritual power. They found it quickly, another rogue arrancar from Hueco Mundo, lost without its leader and wreaking havoc on the world of the living.
He was massive, already in his final form. And before him was a young man, his orange hair still short and spiking out in all directions. Not much had changed: his shoulders were a little broader, his body a little stockier, but he was the same Ichigo they'd know as a boy. He fought with determination but the arrancar had badly wounded one leg and he was off balance.
"Need a hand, kid?" Zaraki thundered. Even with the hideous monster before him, the young man turned, his body stiff with shock. He saw the pair, standing side by side, their zampakuto's drawn and ready for battle.
"Z-Zaraki? Toshiro? No way!" The monster attacked, Toshiro leapt forward and blocked a would-be fatal blow to Kurosaki. When he'd pushed the monster back, he looked casually over his shoulder.
"Its not Toshiro, its Captain Hitsugaya." The man only stammered, while Toshiro absorbed another blow. He felt a thud behind him and glanced back. A second arrancar had landed also in its final form.
"Not another one." Ichigo sputtered.
"No problem." Zaraki said, jumping at the beast. His blade hewed off half its bone cheek and it reeled back, striking him with a clawed hand. At the same moment, Toshiro was hurled back by a blow from his opponent and the two crashed together in the middle, right in front of Ichigo.
"Time to get serious." Zaraki rumbled.
"You better get down, Ichigo."
The young man felt the spiritual pressure of the two captain increase exponentially and he hardly had a choice but to crouch low next to the two. On one side, the enemy was paralyzed by the sheer weight of spiritual pressure. On the other side, ice began to congeal around the arrancar's body, literally freezing it in place.
From their position back to back, the two captains leapt at their opponents. Ichigo watched them swing down in perfect unison, each beast splitting in half and shattering into a million spiritual particles. The two warriors sheathed their blade with satisfaction.
"Damn, I thought that was going to be entertaining." Zarakai said, spitting on the ground as he sauntered over to Ichigo who staggered to his feet on his injured leg.
"Yeah, tell me about it. I figured our first trip to the world of the living in ten years would be a bit more exciting." Toshiro wordlessly put his hands on the young man's thigh and began a kido spell. Ichigo stared down at him in utter shock.
"Yo Ichigo, how ya been?" Zaraki clapped him on the shoulder and the man staggered.
"I thought you were both dead." He stammered finally.
"Yeah, so we've heard." Toshiro said straightening up, Ichigo's leg healed.
"I'm sure Rukia will fill you in some time. Any more arrancars around?" Kenpachi asked, gazing at the sky hopefully.
"No. What's with them? They've been going crazy the last month."
"Seriously, no one told you?" Toshiro said, remembering how deeply entrenched in soul reaper affairs the boy used to be.
He awkwardly rubbed the back of his neck.
"Well, I asked them to lay off on me for a while so I could finish my undergrad. I guess they took it pretty serious. So what happened?"
"Aizen's dead." Toshiro said cooly.
"Momo finished him."
"After we helped, of course." Kenpachi interjected.
"I helped too!" came an indignant and high pitched voice. Yachiru came bouncing toward them, eventually landing on Zaraki's shoulder and followed by Rangiku.
"Captain, why didn't you wait for me?"
"You were slow." he said, trying to sound casual.
"Well I guess you didn't need our help anyway." She said, looking at the still disintegrating particles. "Still, you didn't have to rush off quite so fast."
"I haven't been to the world of the living in a long time."
"Ooo, so you were excited!"
"Shut up." but she only laughed at him. He scowled but made no further argument.
"Rangiku, what happened? They won't tell me."
"Oh, Rukia still hasn't told you?"
"She promised not to trouble me with this stuff."
"Well in that case..."
"Rangiku, please tell me!"
"You'll just have to wait, we have to get back to the Soul Society. I'll tell Rukia to come visit, that is, if you aren't to busy for soul reaper business."
"Hey wait, I didn't mean–" But Rangiku just winked and then she dashed away, followed Zaraki and his small lieutenant. Toshiro only lingered for a second.
"Its good to see you again, Ichigo."
And he was gone as well.
Ichigo sighed deep, staring after them and sheathing Zangetsu. "Soul Reapers..."
"I heard your mission went well."
Toshiro looked up from his desk. Momo stood at the door to the office. She looked at Rangiku on the couch. "Is she sleeping?"
"Yeah. I've given up on trying to keep her awake."
"She really missed you."
"I did too." Toshiro felt that familiar pang of guilt. He'd talked with Momo several times but it was hard to breach the subject. Now, riding on the success of his mission, he decided to try again.
"Momo, how can you forgive me?"
"Toshiro..." he didn't correct her– he could never correct her again. "I know for you its all still fresh, but its been ten years. I forgave you almost immediately. I know what happened, I know you didn't mean it, it's ancient history."
"Except it isn't." he said, nearly choking on the words. She came to his side, put and hand on his shoulder and he looked up at her. She was not the same girl he'd left behind. She was stronger, resilient and determined. He would have been proud had he not known what had forced her to become that way.
"You remember how I attacked you that night, when I thought you killed Aizen?" He nodded. "You remember how you forgave me? That's how I forgave you."
"But its not the same."
"It is. Aizen tricked us both. Don't let him win now by hanging on to you guilt."
Suddenly he stood and threw his arms around her. "I will always protect you."
He withdrew and re-composed himself. He was the captain again.
"I hear congratulations are in order."
"Yes. The Head Captain wanted to recognize my part in taking down Aizen."
"Acclamations from the Head Captain are rare, I'm very proud of you."
"Thank you, captain Hitsugaya." she paused, her smile faded a little. "Captain Hitsugaya, you never said what you did those ten years. I know its not my place, but maybe sometime, could you–"
"Momo." she stopped talking and watched him carefully, his expression unreadable. "I wouldn't mind taking a walk in our old district, where we used to live together. Maybe tomorrow we could–
A familiar understanding passed between the two. Momo bowed slightly and left. The moment the door shut Rangiku sat up.
"Can I come? I want to know too."
"I already told you all there is to know."
"I guess...you just want to be alone with Momo, don't you?"
"Shut up! You know how I feel about her!"
Rangiku almost made a joke but stopped herself. She knew what he meant, the two were practically siblings and he was working hard to rebuild the relationship he once had with lieutenant Hinamori. She seemed older now, wiser, and though he wanted to be her protector, she was more like the older sibling than he. A stroll down memory lane would be good for them both.
"Fine, I won't bother you."
"You need to get caught up on paper work anyway. Between you and Abarai in the last ten years, there's been a lot of slack reports."
"What, how do you know?"
"How do I know, what do you think I've been doing this last month?"
"What, you've been reading all the reports from the last ten years?"
"Are you kidding? They're like a page each, it doesn't take very long. No, for the past month I've been trying to fill in the blanks you two left."
"Oh." she said airily.
The pencil in his grip snapped and he had to fight to swallow his frustration.
"Captain Hitsugaya." He broke from his trance of rage and looked to the doorway.
"Captain Ukitake." he abandoned his paperwork immediately.
"Could I have a moment?'
"Of course." Toshiro followed after the other and Ragiku watched them leave from the couch. Her captain had changed. In many ways he was the same but those ten years had changed him. When he returned to the soul society, he had been a child, and Ukitake had taken on that parental role. It didn't matter how much Toshiro fought to be seen as an adult, he couldn't escape that relationship that had been forged in the weeks he'd spent with Captain Ukitiake.
"Its been a busy few weeks, and I haven't gotten the chance to talk to you." Ukitke began.
"I know. I heard you were in the healing house when I was. Are you alright?"
"Nothing much, just a few cuts. And you? I heard Aizen stabbed you in the shoulder."
Toshiro rotated the joint. It didn't pain him but got stiff sometimes, like the last little reminder of all the damage Aizen had caused.
"I'm fine. I just got back from the world of the living."
"Yes I heard you and Captain Zaraki had great success."
"Yes, it was no problem."
They had walked to the end of the squad ten grounds and stared in at squad eleven. There was a skirmish in the yard, as usual. Zaraki watched on as Ikkaku took on the new recruits.
"We never got a chance to discuss things." Ukitake sighed.
"Yes, I've been meaning to thank you for all you did for me."
"You're welcome but its not that. I just wanted to know, how do you feel, now that everything is returned to normal?"
"You mean how have the last ten years affected me? Its strange. Those years are still clear but at the same time my memories from being a soul reaper just before Aizen took me are razor sharp, like they just happened. In a way, its good, I don't think I'd fit in very well otherwise."
"But you've changed."
"Those years with Zaraki...I was happy, life was simple. I can never forget that time. It will always influence me."
"When I first met you again, after all that had happened, I thought you were very different. You admired him, didn't you? Looked up to him like a mentor?"
Toshiro only nodded, still staring at Kenpachi, the small lieutenant omnipresent on his shoulder.
"You were so blood thirsty, just like him. You are you're old self again, but some of Captain Zaraki's influence has stuck with you." Toshiro didn't say anything but he knew it to be true. "Well, I must get back to the squad. I hope you will come join me for supper at the manor some time."
"I will." Ukitake left him. Ikkaku finished with the last recruits and they limped away in the direction of squad four.
The yard was empty, except for Kenpachi and his lieutenant. Toshiro met his eyes across the field. For a long moment, they gazed at one another. A quiet understanding passed between them. They would never be the same soul reapers they had been ten years ago; they would never be those two lone warriors who had crossed the world together– they were something different, something better, something stronger.
Toshiro broke his gaze, and turned back to his squad.
This is where he belonged. There was a lot of work to do.
Sorry for those of you who don't like long conclusions but I really enjoyed the relationship between Zaraki and Hitsugaya and their relationships with everyone else while they didn't have their memories so I wanted to do justice to everyone and give some closure on all their different relationships. I also felt I had to include Ichigo, even if for so brief a passage– he's so integral to the original Aizen battle (in the anime/manga) that he deserved some mention. Anyway, this was a blast to write, endings are the hardest and I'd love to hear what you think. Thanks for reading!