Title: Cold December
Characters: Hitsugaya's nameless grandmother, mentions of Hitsugaya and Hinamori
Disclaimer: Written for pure entertainment. I own nothing.
A loud, audible thud prevails in the cold December air as the heavy doors of the White Way Gate shut tightly, allowing a horse drawn carriage to exit Seririte- the home of nobles and shinigami.
The few occupants in the carriage are quiet and solemn as the horses traveled on the snow cover route, heading to Junrinan, First District of Roukongai. The driver says nothing as the cold numbs his fingers, but he cannot but his hands into his pockets, otherwise the horses might go astray, so he sits slightly bitter, looking at the road ahead. A young teenager sits by the driver, his head too absorb in some books—kidous spells from the look of it. He must be a student, which greatly explained the anxious expression on his face, as he struggles with the difficult material from the academy. Towards the rear of the carriage sits an elderly woman, her face tired and grief-stricken, clutching the tiny hand of her granddaughter—the last of her family.
She continued her gaze as the large, heavy doors shut before looking at the blank scenery in front of her.
'Winter is quite sad,' she thinks, watching snowflakes drifting from the white heavens towards the cold earth. Atsuko had never realized it before, but now she sees that winter is quite sad. Unlike spring or summer, winter symbolizes despair and melancholy as flowers and trees wilt away, animals hide, and in general the world sleeps, sleeps underneath a blanket of snow. There is nothing to do but wait for a green spring.
The pallid environment reflects the bleakness and sadness that she feels. Briefly, she puts her hand in her pocket, feeling something that is colder and heavier than this white snow: a metal. The metal that she now carries home, is completely unwanted—she would much rather have her son, then this ugly, cold metal—and she occasionally wonders why she doesn't simply toss it away.
That's right—this cold metal it the last remainder of her beloved son that she would never see again.
He was a shinigami—not a seated shinigami, but generally well-known and well liked by everyone, including the captain— and he died a brave and heroic end as he attempted to buy enough time for his injured comrades, while he fought three hollows. The captain had offered personal condolences, awarding honors and ranks to her dead son, constantly remarking what a good soldier he was and he would be sorely missed.
"Granny, look, snow's beginning to fall!"
Perhaps what saddens her is this six-year-old girl, left alone without a mother or a father. Eventually the time would come too when she would have to join her family and leave her granddaughter alone. What would happen to this poor child—left to fend for herself and deal with the heart wrenching loneliness?
"What's wrong Granny?" the child asks, her brown eyes widening slightly in concern. Her granddaughter resembles her son, but she is as kind and polite as her daughter-in-law.
Atsuko smiles to try to hide her sadness. "Nothing is wrong my dear. It's just a little too cold."
"Here Granny," she responds, pulling out her scarf and wrapping it around her grandmother's neck. "That should keep you warm." She is only six-year-old, but already she has come to care and worry about others.
"Seireitei is such a lively city, don't you agree Granny?" the little girl says eager, her smile warm that for a moment Atsuko forgets her sadness and the loss of her son.
"It is isn't it?"
She did not have too many memories of her father, so she was not particularly stricken with grief as Atsuko was. She was simply excited to have gone to Seireitei, though it was for a funeral. "Nothing compared to our quiet home and the shinigami—"
But then her smiles wavers, and she looks into the distance somewhat curiously. "Granny, did you hear that?"
Atsuko turns her head, seeing nothing but dead trees and the faint lines and hoof marks on the snow from where the carriage moved; occasionally, the wind howls like a wild lynx. "It's probably the wind, child." She bent down to fix the girl's cap. "We'll be arriving shortly and then we'll have to hurry home before the snow becomes heavier!"
The child nods, still looking into the distance as though she does hear something and it's causing her great distress. More than once she asks whether she hears something, but Atsuko merely reassure hers that it is nothing more than the wind or some wandering animal.
Snow continues to fall rather heavily, deterring the horses from their path and leading the carriage astray. The trip was only supposed to be three hours, but already it's been more than five and night has already fallen. The darkness brings much cooler temperatures and nimbostratus clouds. Within a matter of minutes, a blizzard settles over them and the driver became completely loss.
"We'll have to stop!" the driver yells out against the screaming winds. It fells as though the winds were attempting to knock over the carriage, constantly rapping upon the old wood and splattering snow. Temperatures began to suck on the warmth, leaving nothing but numbness and listlessness. Atsuko wraps her shawl tighter over her granddaughter. Both of them are huddled together over the freezing cold.
"Granny do you hear that?" her granddaughter asks. It's that question again. Since they had left Seireitei, she had been constantly asking that question.
"You're probably just imagining—" Her voice became muffled by the screaming winds. She clutches her granddaughter's tiny hand, noticing the bewilder look on her face and attributes it to the cold. "Don't be scared, we'll be home soon."
She replies something but Atsuko cannot hear what she says, the wind is too deafening. Suddenly, the child stands up and automatically the wind knocks her over. "Sit down," Atsuko orders. "You'll slip and hurt yourself."
"Do you not hear… it…?"
"You must be getting tired," Atsuko reasons, still unable to understand what she said. An inner struggle plays out over her face, but before she can reassure her granddaughter that all would be well and that the storm would surely pass, the child suddenly leaps, jumping out of the carriage.
She yells out her granddaughter's name, but the wind answers in her stead. Immediately, Atsuko forgets the cold and the white storm, she can only see her granddaughter disappearing in the snow.
"Don't!" the driver yells, pulling on her arm to prevent her from leaving the carriage. He saw the child's peculiar reaction but he did not attempt to go after her. "You'll get loss."
Atsuko struggles from his grip, unafraid of the freezing cold but of losing her granddaughter, the last of her family. She simply could not bear losing both her son and granddaughter in one day. So she leaves the carriage, running into the blinding blizzard. No sooner does she leave the carriage that she is met by mighty winds that howls and tries to blow her off her feet. There is white everywhere, and soon she loses sight of the carriage and any of her surrounds—the world has dissolved into pure white. Again Atsuko yells out her granddaughter's name hoping to hear some response, but meets none instead.
Panic strikes her as she realized that there are no linger footprints whatsoever. The blizzard is covering footprints and tracks to create confusion, so she cannot hope to follow her granddaughter nor go back to the carriage. The driver was right when he mentioned that she would get lost—everything seems so uniformly the same that it wouldn't surprise her if she wandered about it in circles.
Again Atsuko yells her granddaughter's name, the wind carrying her voice away, far away to never be heard. But still Atsuko continues through the heavy snow, struggling along a slope—unsure whether it is a hill or a pile of snow. Her fragile body protests against the cold and the exhausting exercise, but the thought of losing her granddaughter fuels her to keep running.
Arid trees poke out of the white landscape, its black naked branches opening against the white sky—and she realizes that these are woods. Instead of a solitary white, her vision is becoming replace by tall and sharp pointing trees. Maybe her granddaughter wandered here? She scans the woods, hoping to see her or perhaps some footprints but she sees nothing, nothing but the cold white snow.
What had happened to her sweet-tempered granddaughter that she would dart like that, disappearing into this blizzard?
Repeatedly, she yells her name but hears nothing. What had happened? Had she gone deeper into the woods, maybe she had hurt herself and could not response? Atsuko clutches her chest, her heart pounding with so much force that it feels even more crippling than this freezing cold.
And then, softly but surely, she hears it—her tiny voice traveling through the woods. In a dash Atsuko runs with all her might, ignoring her protesting legs. She would not let this old body deter her from her granddaughter— she would not lose another family member.
"Granny!" the little girl says happily, not realizing the distress she has caused her dear grandmother. For the moment Atsuko is too relieved to find her granddaughter alive and well that she cannot bring herself to scowl the child. She wraps her arms around her tightly, holding her close.
"What has gotten into you, child?" she questions. "You know better than to run into a storm like that!"
"I know Granny," she says guilty. "But Granny I heard something!"
"How could you with this incessant wind?"
"Do you not hear it Grandmother? Do you not hear a baby crying?"
She was about to reply that there is nothing here—that it is her imagination at work— but then she hears it, far away in the distance.
"Oh my goodness!" she realizes, picking up her granddaughter in one arm and running toward the sound, somewhat startled that she had not heard the sound before. Now she can hear it, the mysterious sound that had caused her granddaughter to act so strange.
She travels deeper into the woods and finds that the blizzard is settling down. Before it had been nothing but a blinding white, but now she can see. She can see the long trail of black trees and the graceful fluttering of many snowflakes. The winds are beginning to die down now, until finally they become distant. The snow is not as heavy here, and the temperature is not as freezing. It is almost as though they are walking into the eye of the storm.
Loud cries are continuously reverting, louder and louder, against the bare trees and the white terrain, encouraging them to continue forward.
It is a baby. It is the loud, pierce crying of a poor baby desperate crying out for help.
How could she not have heard it before?
She follows the sound towards the very center of the forest, where the trees gradually part to reveal a pond, a gray pond cover in bits of ice. "Look!" her granddaughter points at a gray figure, floating on the water.
"Stay here," Atsuko warns, setting her at a safe distance from the ice. The little girl stays put watching as her grandmother carefully approaches the pond, cautiously moving about to prevent herself from slipping on the ice. The figure—whatever it is—floats toward the other side of the pond, and repeatedly bumping towards some brittle ice.
Finding a shallow edge, Atsuko removes her shawls—gritting her teeth against the sudden cold—before gathering her skirts. She took a sharp breath, mentally preparing herself before divulging into the icy waters. It took less than a minute for her body to cry out in pain, as the cold cut through every one of cells, quickly immobilizing her.
Her breathing became difficult and though there were no currents, Atsuko could not contain her balance. The icy waters were simply too numbing, but she forced her tired legs to move forward toward the sound of the baby's wails.
It took forever to reach the floating figure, and when she saw what it was, she nearly fell down in fright. It was a young woman—probably beautiful if the cold had not turned her face ghostly and pale—with locks of white-blonde hair that blend in with the water. There is a golden locket around her neck that possible contains a name, but Atsuko does not stop to read it. She merely checks for a pulse, and when she finds none under her cold, blue skin- Atsuko offers a small prayer.
She moves then towards a small bundled, wrapped tightly on the woman's breast, and finds a boy—a baby boy barely three-months-old shivering against the cold. His cries are loud, earsplitting loud as he cries for his dead mother.
"P-poor baby," Atsuko whispers, pulling him away. His face is red and slightly swollen from the loud cries and a faint blue covered his body—from the shivering cold. He continues to cry though not as loud but hiccups slightly, as Atsuko reached the shore and wraps him in her discarded shawl.
"Are you alright Granny?" her granddaughter asks fearfully. "Is the baby okay?"
"I-I do not k-know," she whispers, tucking the baby underneath her shirt, his body skinny and cold against her warm flesh. The baby whimpers softly, its eyes closing.
"R-run to the road and see i-if you can get some h-help."
She nods her head, quickly disappearing in the woods. The baby hiccups—cold and hungry—but does not cry as he feels overwhelming warmth. For hours, he had been stuck in that pond with his poor dead mother, and he suddenly feels something different than the ice and cold.
"I-It's going to be a-alright," Atsuko mumbles, rocking the baby back and forth—the light motion preventing her fingers from numbing. She could feel the wind, blowing even colder now that she was soaked wet, but for some reason she cannot register that. She doesn't even realize the two men from the carriage were approaching her and rushing to Junrinan. She barely registers as the doctors look over her, throwing more blankets on her and offering her remedies.
For some reason she doesn't even realize that she could have slipped on the ice and bumped her head or perhaps frozen to death, all she can do is think.
"Are you worry about the baby, Granny?"
She looks at her granddaughter and suddenly feels a bang of guilt. She had acted rather reckless and if something had indeed happen to her, her granddaughter would have been left alone. But now is not the time to think of the pass, instead she will think of the future. "The doctors will take good care of him," she responds, giving her a smile.
"I hope he'll be alright," she answers.
"I think he will be," Atsuko replies, somehow knowing that she's be correct. The doctors have not come back with news, but already she knows that the baby will be fine. "He will be part of our family now."
Her face brightens up. "Really?"
'And his birthday will be December 20. Just as I have buried my son, I have found another… and when I die, Momo wouldn't be left alone.'
"Ah wait Granny! What will the baby's name be?"
"His name will be Toshiro," Atsuko smiles.
Some concluding notes: Momo was actually sensing Toshiro's spiritual energy, not exactly hearing him crying (that would actually be amazing). The dead woman's surname was Hitsugaya, so Atsuko decided to give it to Toshiro to honor her memory.