The children laughed as they threw the ball back and forth between themselves.
"Catch this one, Ryuzaki!"
One boy attempted to show off, throwing the ball as hard as he could. It bounced out of his friend's hands and rolled into the nearby bushes.
"You dropped it, you got it!"
The child known as Ryuzaki stepped into the bushes, looking for the ball. He found it under a small foot. The foot kicked the ball up, where it was caught by a hand.
"Here." the white haired boy said, handing the ball back to Ryuzaki, who took it with a worried expression. Under the impassive gaze of the newcomer's aqua green eyes he slowly backed away while turning around.
Once he was facing the opposite direction he broke into a run.
"Hey, guys," he said when he had rejoined his group, "why don't we go play somewhere else?"
His friends looked at the bushes and caught sight of the white hair. "Yeah. Somewhere else." "Good idea." "I know where. Follow me."
None of them looked back as they left.
"Why didn't you ask them if you could play too, Whitey?" a voice asked behind the boy in the bushes.
He did not turn around. "I keep telling you to stop calling me that."
The girl behind him chuckled. "You didn't answer my question."
"I didn't want to play."
"Then why did you come out here?"
"Because…because you wet the bed!"
He knew he was being cruel, that she had not done so since he was a baby, but he still repeated the teasing she received from other children. He could normally draw at least a small pout from her with that insult, but that day even that small satisfaction was denied him. She did not react at all.
For a second he wondered if she was maturing beyond petty name calling. She was about twice his age, after all.
"Why are you here?" he asked.
"Your grandmother said you'd be here, and I came to say good bye."
He spun around. "Good bye!"
Her smile was so sad it sickened him. "Yes. I'm leaving this afternoon. I'm going to enter the academy in the Seretei. I'm going to be a Soul Reaper."
He stared at her. There was a gust of northerly wind that caused the girl to shiver.
"Brrr. It's so cold, you'd never know it was still summer."
"You just up and decided to become a Soul Reaper like that?"
"Well, I was in the market when one of them passed by. He told me he sensed a lot of potential in me and that I should put it to good use in the Court Guard Squads. And with the academy entrance exams for this year so close I kind of had to make a decision quickly."
"I'll say. You decided to spend your whole career risking your life for strangers on a whim."
"It is not a whim!" she protested. "I've actually been thinking about it for a while now. Soul Reapers do very important things. I just didn't think I had the ability."
The smile disappeared from her face entirely. "Will you and your grandmother be all right without me?"
He crossed his arms over his chest. "Of course."
"I'll miss you, Toshiro. But at least I'll be able to come back and visit once a year."
"Don't bother. It's not like I'll be missing you."
He said such a seemingly hurtful thing because he knew it would bring the smile back to her face.
"All right. I'll see if I can make it twice a year." She looked at her watch. "Right now I've got to go finish packing." She turned to leave.
She was staring at him so expectantly that he had to look at his toes. "Whatever happens… don't stop being Momo."
She looked as if he had just made her week.
Granny Hitsugaya watched sadly as her grandson rummaged through the library books on Soul Reapers he had taken out. Most children his age were still illiterate, and it was heavy reading even for an adult. With the way the others kids in their area never let him play with them he had had a lot of time to learn, and to develop his mind.
It was not surprising that he would try to learn everything there was to know about the organization his only friend had left for. The question was what would he do with that information.
For such an isolated and intelligent boy life in a simple village like their part of Rungunkai was too restricting. Granny had always known it, but she had never consciously considered that little Toshiro would go to the Seretei until now.
It would be only natural for him to want to follow Hinamori, even if it would not even be an option until many years off. 'Momo,' as both Hitsugayas called her, was only just old enough to be allowed into the academy./
Toshiro closed another book and rubbed his eyes.
"My, my." Granny said. "That's the third book on Soul Reapers you've finished today. Are you thinking about becoming one yourself?"
He answered with a seriousness beyond his years.
"No. I don't understand why anyone would ever want to be a Soul Reaper."
There were many things Toshiro did not understand about Hinamori, for instance how she could try to be his friend all the time when even all of the adults around besides for Granny were too frightened to speak with him. But this truly gnawed at him.
Soul Reapers were hardened warriors. Nothing more. Nothing less.
"I just don't get it. Why would anyone want to be like…like…"