vanity

By now, Momo had realised that many of the cases she was being sent on were intended to teach her a lesson. Not obvious, heavens, no – whichever senior Captain had arranged it was too intelligent to make it obvious – but it was hard to ignore certain common factors that kept on coming up. How she somehow kept being sent on soul burial cases that involved trust.

Trust and betrayal.

When she found the girl's spirit, wandering the corridors of the sunken ship, it was an effort for Momo not to be sharp with the ghost, not to insist that she come along right now and stop wasting everyone's time. There were, after all, things to do. Hollows to cleanse. People to talk to. There was a war on. There was hardly time to stand around and talk gently to one lost ghost.

Momo was guiltily aware that she would have to answer for this later, to make excuses, and to see the disappointment in other people's eyes, people like Toushirou-kun or Unohana-taichou. Oh dear, she decided to be sentimental and sit around chatting with the ghost, rather than just sending her on like a sensible shinigami, rather than doing the right thing for the ghost herself ...

"Thank you," the ghost said, wandering along next to her. Her long skirt swayed in a memory of its living fabric, as though caught in the tugging tides, and her eyes were wide and young, hurt and not sure how to apologise for it. "Thank you for waiting. But please, I have to ask you to wait just a little longer. There's someone I need to speak to –"

"Who is it?" Momo asked, already bracing herself to deny the request.

"Muraki-sensei." The girl clutched her hands against her chest, as if trying to hold back a heart that beat too fast. "There must have been some mistake, you see. It couldn't have been his fault, not really. I just need to talk to him. If you could arrange that for me, for us – please, if you could just give me that – I need to tell him that I understand, that I'm sure he had a good reason –"

Momo had seen the dossier on this soul before she was sent to cleanse her. For a moment, the burning rage which fuelled her zanpakutou made the ship's corridors tremble in her vision. And they send me down here to take care of this girl, this poor trusting girl, because they think I need to learn something? I hate them. I hate them all. Who made them my judges? Who gives them the right to try and rub my nose in it like this?

The girl had fallen silent. Momo realised guiltily that she should say something to reassure her. "I can't take you to him," she said as gently as she could. "The living and the dead aren't allowed to meet. All I can do is send you on."

"Please!" She turned and seized Momo's hands, her soft little fingers digging in with the strength of desperation. "Please, I'll do anything."

The anger that stirred in Momo took on a different focus. Why should the girl be left to suffer like this? "I understand," she said. "I hear you. I understand, Tsubaki-san. Listen. There is something that I can do."

The ghost looked at her, face struggling with hope.

"I'll go to your tomb," Momo promised. "I'll leave a message there. Someone living will find it, and they'll take it to this doctor of yours. He will have your message. I swear that to you. You can go in peace."

Slowly the ghost released her hands, hair swaying around her face. "If you'll do that – then I can go, yes. Then it will be all right."

"I'll send the message," Momo said. "My word on it. A message from you to say that you understand, that you're sure he had a reason." The words burned in her mouth, but she knew that she would do it, now that she had sworn it. Even if this doctor never cared to read it, or had never cared for the girl in the first place. She drew her sword, reversing it to press the hilt against the ghost's forehead. "Close your eyes a moment. This won't hurt –"

And the ghost was gone. And so was Momo, a moment later.

That evening Momo managed to speak to Unohana-taichou. It was hard to know how to phrase her complaint. Should she say that she did understand why they were worried about her, but really it wasn't necessary to keep on giving her 'learning experiences' or throwing it in her face? Should she argue? Should she perhaps even swear?

She settled for a dignified tone of regret. "I couldn't help noticing there were some similarities in this girl Tsubaki's history to my own situation, Unohana-taichou. We were both betrayed by people we trusted."

"I know," Unohana-taichou said. "That was why you were given the mission."

Momo blinked, confused at how easily the admission had been made. "I'm sorry, Unohana-taichou. If I already have my own situation under control, I don't understand –"

"It wasn't for your good. It was for hers. She needed someone who would understand her." Unohana-taichou reached out to touch Momo's shoulder for a moment. "Very few other shinigami would actually have understood her pain and tried to help her. Don't make the mistake of thinking everything's about you, dear."

"Oh," Momo said, and didn't say anything else for the rest of the evening.