Title: Visiting Hours
Pairing: None intended. But it does smell like Shinji/Momo in some areas. I didn't intend that though, so -... shit.
Rating: T - language
Summary: Visitors come and go, and Hinamori learns how to deal with the aftermath. Visitors Shinji, Ichigo, Matsumoto, Renji and Rukia, Izuru, and Hitsugaya.
Post Fake Karakura Town Arc. Think of this as somewhere post Fake Karakura Town arc and pre Thousand Year Blood Arc - so after Aizen is captures and before the whole war with the Quincies starts.
Hinamori has always been a very perceptive young woman.
She realized very early in her academy days that she lacked the raw strength of Renji, or the sheer spiritual power Toshiro had. She knew that she wasn't particularly gifted in any of those areas of physical strength or spiritual power - so she trained her mind. If her body would not follow, she would force her intellect to make up for the deficiencies. She practiced kido every night until her hands trembled, and read strategies for battle, memorizing every book in the library. It was evident to her that some people were just born gifted - so she would have to work her very best to make up for her weaknesses.
And because of that, she was proud when she became the lieutenant of the fifth division. She felt that she had accomplished something spectacular - and she saw the way her subordinates looked up to her, depended on her for guidance. To them, she was proof that one could rise up in the ranks through hard work and training, even without a monstrous amount of natural power. That in Soul Society - where often the strong ate the weak - sometimes brains and perseverance shined as well.
But here she sits in the fourth division intensive care unit. Across from her sits Shinji Hirako, his hair a peculiar shade of blond that seems to remind Hinamori of the spring sunshine as it bounces off the windowsill. There is silence as he tries to think of something to say, leaning a little bit as he places his elbows on his knees.
"Sorry," Shinji apologizes solemnly, his eyes rising up to the ceiling perhaps to avoid her own eyes, "Sorry you had to go through all this."
She sees the way he looks up to the blank ceiling of the fourth division as his hand scratches the back of his head nervously. She sees the anxiety, the sorrow - and perhaps the guilt embedded in every corner of his actions. Which begs the question - why couldn't she see all these little emotions when she was under Aizen? Why didn't she see the betrayal, the treachery behind his paper thin gentleness? It was all just a lie, just an act, wasn't it?
If she could see all the sincerity in a man she has met only a handful of times, how did she not see the darkness at the core of her own captain? How could she have been so blind?
"Please, stop apologizing," pleads Hinamori as she grips her bed sheets, crunching them hard in her painful grip, "You're always apologizing when you visit me. There's nothing you have to apologize for... Captain."
It still sounds strange to her, the word that was once so familiar now rolling off her lips in an odd fashion. Captain - her new Captain. It's been a week since they announced that Shinji will become the new Captain of the 5th division - a sudden announcement, but with a missing captain seat and a recovering lieutenant, perhaps the quick arrangement was necessary. And it was his seat to begin with - a seat that Aizen had wrongfully take away from him. After the news, he visits his lieutenant every day.
"Just Shinji is fine. Formalities are a piece of shit anyway," he harshly responds, and Hinamori almost chuckles. Almost.
"Oh, no. I insist, Captain... It's important to serve an example to your subordinates. I was taught that by - " she stops almost immediately, as if her tongue has been cut off by a sharp blade.
A cold pause follows her words.
There is no name calling, no pointing fingers - but he is still here in the room. His presence lingers hauntingly, like a eerie breeze on a dark night. The silence seeps into the room like an icy frost on the windowpane, filling the two up with an almost unanimous sense of horror
She freezes, holding back a shudder, her eyes whelming up with horrifying dread as she realizes the implications of her own actions, that she so naturally resorted to his name again, so naturally almost called him her captain. It's infuriating, the fact that she still feels the need to refer to such an evil man as her superior -
Hinamori expects Shinji to leave. To give up on her. For what good is a lieutenant that refers to a traitor as her captain even after all those months? After all those scars and wounds?
But Shinji doesn't frown with worry like Matsumoto does when Hinamori accidentally mentions Aizen, nor does he sigh or scold her like she half expects him to. He does not smile, he does not laugh - he just sits there, placing his hands causally in his pockets, head lifted up to meet her panicking eyes daringly. He does not wear his captain haori just yet, and perhaps he is waiting for his lieutenant to be discharged before he takes official command. She can't help but notice how the clothes of the living look so natural on him, as if he is not really a soul reaper, but in fact, human.
"I - I'm sorry," her voice trembles, filled with worry and disgust at herself. She can almost feel the bitter spit gathering underneath her tongue as she tries to find the words to excuse herself when Shinji stops her, his eyes piercing through her.
"Hinamori - " he begins softly, like a quiet hum of music, "Or Momo... Yeah, Momo sounds better, ya agree?"
She just blinks blankly in response, unable to form a coherent sentence.
"Well, Momo, I ain't sure what others say at times like these... but I want you to know that I'm your captain."
"And I've done some pretty shitty things... I let a rotten bastard on the loose when I could've caught him for good. I let him harm people, harm entire worlds - " he pauses, his gaze lingering on her arms and hands, wrapped in bandages, her wheelchair next to the bed, and everything about her that's physically broken - everything about her that was broken by him, the evil man he allowed to roam free. If he had been stronger, had been faster, maybe... maybe this would have never happened. Maybe people would've never gotten hurt like this.
"I let him harm good people like you, Momo."
She tries to say something, but there's something in her chest that rises up, constricts her throat and dries up. It's a strange emotion, something that she's never had to experience before, that overwhelming sense of fear, yet a sense of unconscious liberation -
"So don't apologize. Don't let that son of a bitch have to make you feel such sorrow... Don't give that lowlife that power."
This man is her captain. Not Aizen - because Aizen is not her captain.
She ends up bursting into tears - not because she's sad - but because for the first time, she feels herself escaping the deathly grip of that evil man.
Shinji panics as she suddenly sobs, cursing at himself, "Fuck, what did I say?"
Hinamori laughs, and in between her quiet sobs and hiccups, she whispers, "No... you didn't do anything wrong, Captain... Nothing wrong, Captain."
Whenever Matsumoto visits, it's with a basket full of goods. Usually books since Hinamori loves to read - and occasionally snacks and clothing articles for her. She promises to bring paints and brushes when Captain Unohana deems it alright for her to start using her hands again - Momo loves art, and wishes that she could hold a brush in her hands once again.
She asks about Hitsugaya for the first time that day.
"How's Shiro-chan? Is the tenth division running alright?"
Matsumoto pauses, stopping her chatter. She looks at the basket full of goods she brought, the basket full of goods she bought at the market with her captain. She looks at the books he chose out for her, the snacks he knew she liked best - and everything he wished he could have passed over himself.
Hinamori's voice drops to a low whisper, "I wish he'd visit."
He does, Hinamori. He does, Matsumoto would like to plead and tell her. He does visit. She sees the way her captain looks out the window on colder days, perhaps wondering if his friend is warm enough in her room in the fourth division. He knows all of Hinamori's favorite books and her favorite treats -
And he visits, but only when she is asleep during the dead of night, nights so dark that they can hide his shame and guilt. He can't face her because of the shame that overwhelms him like a flood, and the pain that pierces him like a sharp sword - very much like the one he pierced her with.
"Would you please tell him that I wish he'd visit me?" she asks Matsumoto, grabbing the older woman's hands tightly, more tightly than she has ever held a person before. The bandages press into Rangiku's hands and she can almost feel the cuts and bruises herself - and she winces. Hinamori doesn't deserve any of this. She doesn't. Rangiku is about to reply, but the young one interrupts her, "Please tell him that I'd like to see him face to face... Not while I'm sleeping."
"You..." Matsumoto almost gasps, "You knew?"
"Captain Unohana told me that I had a certain visitor now and then at night."
The blond woman sighs, her hands resting on her lap nervously as she looks out the window, "He'll come around sooner or later. Just... he needs a bit of time."
There's that soft smile that graces Momo's rosy lips, "I know."
"...He misses you, Hinamori," is all Matsumoto is able to tell her. She wonders if she is able to convey even a piece of what Hitsugaya feels, the pain and the guilt that haunts him every time he remembers her, "He really does."
She looks out the window and sees the flowers blooming vibrantly in the early spring sun, that transition from the winter nights.
"I miss him too."
She misses those days when they used to roam around the dirt roads of the marketplace carefree, and make dinner together with grandma. She misses coming back from the academy during breaks, only to see Shiro's pouting face, obviously irritated that he's left alone while she goes off to meet new people, and learn new things. She misses those nights under the vast stars of the night sky, how they would watch the clouds drift by infinitely like the rolling waves of the ocean, and -
She misses everything - everything about her life.
"Thank you for visiting, Matsumoto-san," she whispers carefully, "You really don't have to, yet..."
"Oh, shush, Hinamori!" the older woman gasps as she gently clasps Hinamori's hand - those hands that used to be so graceful and delicate, "You're a friend. And I'm not going to let you alone, okay?"
Hinamori misses everything. But she perhaps the only thing she can do now is move forward.
Kurosaki Ichigo visits her.
It's unexpectedly, of course. She's never actually talked to him before, not like this, in person. It feels almost surreal, meeting this man with so many titles. Intruder, human, substitute soul reaper, arrancar, and - now what? Savior? The one who saved the world of the living, the world of the dead? The one who brought Aizen his punishment? What is she supposed to call him?
Certainly not Kurosaki Ichigo - she doesn't deserve to call him that; she can't call such an important man so casually, can she?
"Hey," he greets her calmly as he sits in the chair next to her bed. He doesn't know how to respond as she stares at him in silence, perhaps in deep shock. He coughs nervously, "Yeah, I guess you didn't expect me."
"No," is all she can pipe out, her hands clasped timidly together, "I... I believe we haven't truly met."
"Yeah," the man mumbles as he fidgets with his hands. The man who brought down one of the most fearsome criminals in Soul Society history fidgeting is a thought that humors Hinamori, to the point that she can't help but give out a small grin, "I'm Kurosaki Ichigo."
She softly laughs, her bright voice echoing in the silent halls of the fourth division, "Everybody here knows that."
"Oh," mouths Ichigo, feeling quite foolish, "Yeah. Right... Got it."
"I'm..." she pauses, almost overwhelmed at the idea that she's introducing herself to this man, the one who saved all of Soul Society, "...Hinamori Momo."
"Are you feeling alright?" he then stops, shame evident on his handsome face, "Wait, sorry. That was a stupid question, damn it."
"No, I'm quite alright. I've been getting better," the gentle smile seems to ease him a bit. She's sweet, he tells himself. A different kind of sweet than the other girls he know. Somewhere between Inoue and Rukia. Inoue is bright and chirpy, and endearingly gentle. Rukia is mature and calm, collected and in control. Hinamori is somewhere between the two - but with a bit more somberness, a bit more sadness in her eyes -
"That's... good to hear," he sincerely means that.
"Captain Unohana said that I should be able to get out of the room in a few weeks time. Of course, I'll need a wheelchair for a while, but... it's an improvement, I suppose."
"That's great," he lights up so brightly that Hinamori is reminded of children playing in the fields, the fields similar to the one she used to roam around with her friends and Toshiro when they were still young and little.
She smiles as she remembers those days.
Ichigo has never been good with girls, but he could tell this one was a kind one. A strong one too. Before visiting her, Ichigo had talked to Shinji - whether it'd be okay to come and talk to her. It is a bit frightening - because maybe if he was stronger, a bit smarter, maybe he could have saved Hinamori from being attacked by her own comrades, her own childhood friend - maybe he could have stopped that. No, he should have stopped that. He was the only one who could, right?
But Shinji told him, 'she's a good gal, and she ain't gonna blame ya for anything,' and then his voice crawled to a deep whisper, 'so you have to stop blaming yourself.'
He could say the same for Shinji though, because even Ichigo - who hasn't been the most acute mind in battle - can tell the lingering sense of guilt that wafts around Shinji when he talks about his own lieutenant.
"Kurosa - "
"Just Ichigo's fine."
And this time, she doesn't protest, but instead, smiles faintly.
"Please, don't think that any of this is your fault," is her quiet response as she holds her hands softly, her bandaged hands, all cut and battered, bruised and bloodied, "If it was anybody's fault, it was mine."
"No, but - "
"Please, let me continue," she defiantly interrupts as she gives a small pout. Her eyes lowers onto her hands - her hands that used to be clean of cuts, of bruises and blood - and they still hurt. Perhaps she won't be able to fight like she used to - but at least she will have her kido. Perhaps that's all that matters to her now, "Rukia-san visits every now and then with Renji. I've always wondered what kind of person you were - saving all of Soul Society and that, so she talks about you rather often to sate my curiosities."
"She told me that you were a fool for trying too hard to save everybody in the world."
He laughs light-heartily, because that's exactly what Rukia would say.
"I think that's very brave of you, but Rukia-san told me that it causes you to force yourself too hard in battle, that it causes you too much pain outside of battles as well."
The memories are too much, memories of that battle. Confusion, and hurt - a blade through her chest before she knew it.
"It's not your fault, Ichigo-san," she tells him as her hazel eyes meet his golden-brown ones, "If it's anyone's fault, it's - "
- and she pauses.
It really is. She knows this, and believes this. And for the first time, she feels alright saying that it was his fault, and the grin that dances on Kurosaki Ichigo's face comforts her heart even more.
"Please visit more often, Ichigo-san. I would love to hear about the world of the living... I haven't been able to visit very much."
The orange-haired man smiles, his hair gaining an almost ethereal glow as it flashed in the sunlight red.
It seems that she has made a friend.
Whenever Renji and Rukia visit, it's always a commotion, but a commotion she welcomes with open arms. They're always so joyous, so full of life. Separately, Renji is mischievous and Rukia is mature, but together they are like little children who have been friends since the day they have been born.
"So this idiot here," Rukia laughs as she takes a sip of tea, "...Tried to bribe Captain Unohana to see if the fourth division could discharge you before the summer festival."
"Bribe Captain Unohana?" Hinamori's eyes open widely in disbelief. She stares at Renji, who only tries to avoid her gaze while shutting Rukia's loud laughs up, "Have you lost your mind, Renji?"
"Shut up! You always told me and Kira about how you missed the fireworks of the summer festival, so I was so nicely planning to take you there!"
Hinamori laughs as well, louder than she has laughed in a long time. She did love the fireworks, the colors, the warmth of them - she would go watch with Toshiro and Grandma when they still lived together in Rukongai. She remembers watching them from afar with Renji and Kira one summer night as they studied at the academy. She probably missed the last summer festival, sleeping through the whole thing, she supposes.
It would be nice to see those fireworks once again.
"Captain Unohana did say that she'll try her best to get you discharged as soon as possible though," Rukia interrupted, pushing Renji's irritated face aside, "And she never makes any promises she can't keep."
"Yes," Hinamori smiles. Rukia smiles too. Renji just pouts, his arms crossed, "That would be nice... Seeing fireworks..."
Just like the old days, the words almost slip out of Renji's mouth but he catches them before they can leave his lips. No, no more talking about the old days. Because he believes that there will be better future days for them all.
Kira always bring flowers. Beautiful, radiant lilies of the valley, marigolds, and white poppies, all in their peak condition.
"Before I forget, here's what you asked for last time."
Kira pulls out a thick book, and places it gently on Hinamori's lap. She grins widely, looking at the book of haiku poems.
"Thank you! You always have great taste in poetry, so I know I can trust your recommendations... Anything new happening?" she asks curiously.
"Well, Hisagi-san helped me choose the flowers out this time... He surprisingly has a very good eye for this, did you know?"
She laughs, the thought of Hisagi being skilled with flowers taking her by surprise, "They do look very beautiful... Perhaps he could teach me it when I'm discharged."
"He has been working well with Captain Muguruma thus far... Different than the other captains, I suppose, but Hisagi-san obviously holds a lot of respect towards him," Kira murmurs quietly. He's always been a quiet boy - you always had to be careful, closely leaning in to hear what he had to say. Perhaps Kira purposefully made you lean into him, "My new Captain insists that we call him Captain Rose. He's a very interesting individual, but I don't know how to feel about that name..." his voice fades away.
"It seems like you both are doing very well... That's great to hear."
But Izuru wishes she could be with all of them. He would say that he misses her company, but that would be an understatement. They've known each other for far too long - ever since they were just mere students, still young and ambitious, still a little inexperienced - that seeing Hinamori like this hurts far too much. Bed-ridden, all bandaged up and frail - he knew she was stronger than this at her best. She was smart, always helping him out with his kido, such a bright, energetic young woman...
And perhaps Izuru knew best what she felt - the numbing sensation of betrayal. For he trusted his own captain as well. Perhaps he didn't trust him as much as Hinamori did, for she loved Aizen like he was a life-long mentor, the father she never had - but he still admired Ichimaru Gin as well and was hurt deeply at first.
The blonde man looks down at her hands - still frail, still weak - and smiles, "I really miss you, Hinamori."
She looks a bit flustered, a peachy, rosy tint coloring her cheeks, because Izuru was never the type of person to be so forward and blunt when it came to affection. But she understands that Izuru - despite his quiet voice and lack of comments - is a sincerely kind man who wishes that his friends would all remain beside him. It's a simple wish - but a wish that has been so difficult to accomplish as of lately.
"I really miss you too. I miss everyone."
Shinji pushes her out of the fourth division on her wheelchair, the first time she's been out of this place in months - with thankfully a week to spare before the summer festival. Renji claims that it was his efforts that brought her early discharge, but Rukia argues that he's just being dumb.
She smiles at the thought of seeing old faces once again, showing everybody that Hinamori Momo has survived -
Her first outing in months is an odd sensation, far less dramatic than she envisioned it to be. But nevertheless, her lips twitch up to a smile, her eyes curve into beautiful half-moons at the feeling of the fresh air, the rare summer breeze.
"How ya feeling?" her captain asks - her captain, Captain Shinji Hirako, she must repeat again. Because this man is her captain in his gorgeous white haori, and she is back as his lieutenant - not Aizen's - in her night black robes, her hands bandaged no more.
"Wonderful," there's no doubt in her voice, only full happiness and sincerity.
"Anywhere in particular ya wanna drop by?"
He knocks on the wooden pane, "Visitor."
Shinji doesn't wait for an answer as he slides the door open for her and gently pushes her wheelchair in. He pushes her next to the captain's desk, and asks, "Anything in particular ya need?"
"No... Thank you, captain."
"I'll be back in... say, twenty minutes? That sound alright?"
"Yes, sounds perfect," and with her gentle smile and words, Shinji leaves the tenth division captain's office. Hinamori sits there in her wheelchair next to the empty captain's desk. Hitsugaya isn't here yet, but he'll be back in his office soon. She knows that he's usually back at his office around this time -
When she hears the sound of the door opening, she looks over at the man that entered, and grins, "Hello, Shiro."
He looks shocked - but perhaps that is simplifying it a little too much. He is more than merely shocked. He is also frightened, not by Hinamori, but with the fact that he has to encounter her right now. He's not prepared yet, he hasn't thought of what to say. He doesn't know whether he should apologize casually or beg for forgiveness - should he get down on his knees? What does one do in a time like this?
In a fit of panic, he ends up muttering, "It's Captain Hitsugaya."
She laughs, her airy laughter filling up not just the room, but his heart with a warmth that hasn't been around for quite a while.
"Yes, it is... I hope you've been well."
"I...have," he says as he walks up to her wheelchair, his eyes still heading down at his feet. She knows it will take time - a broken heart takes far longer than broken bones to heal. And both of their hearts have been broken - she knows that quite well. But she's willing to try - like all the others who have visited her in an attempt to heal her heart, heal her internal wounds. She knows that this will work out eventually, it just needs a little bit of effort on both sides. It wasn't her fault, it wasn't Shiro's fault - Shiro would never have hurt her intentionally, and she knows that with all her heart. So she forgives him. And she'll help him forgive himself for his mistakes.
So this time, she'll be the one to try first.
Hinamori grabs his hand, and gently holds it in hers - her hands that are now free of bandages, clean of most of the cuts and bruises she suffered from. With time, wounds will heal - and she knows friendships as strong as theirs will heal as well.
"My captain won't be back for another twenty minutes," she smiles, "So perhaps we could go get something to eat in the meantime."
He pauses, almost unsure of what to say. But after a moment of sincere contemplation - he realizes that Hinamori is here next to him, and their relationship has never been about contemplation. They never had to think about the right answer, the correct response - they have always understood each other better than they understand themselves. So without further thought, he responds instinctively, "Sure."
"Rukia and Renji will be taking me out to the summer festival next week. Kurosaki-san should be coming as well. You should come too, Shiro."
"Yeah," replies Hitsugaya, overwhelmed by everything that he lets the detested nickname pass by.
"And perhaps you can help me train once I get out of the wheelchair. I haven't touched Tobiume in months."
"I'll visit everyday, okay?"
"Yeah," and he adds as an afterthought, "I'll buy watermelons."
"And we can eat them..."
"That sounds good."
It truly does.
And they walk out to the hallways with the summer breeze passing by softly, their minds at ease once again.
Visiting hours have now passed, but Hinamoi doesn't need them anymore to move forward.
I feel like this story ended up having strong feels of Shinji/Momo and Hitsugaya/Momo... Well, I kinda love both of those shippings, but I didn't intend that to happen so... shit. Oh well...
I really love Hinamori. I always thought she was one of the biggest victims in Aizen's diabolical schemes - a lot of people really suffer because of him, but Hinamori really receives the short end of things. After Shinji becomes captain and she seems to be doing better I really began to wonder what the aftermath of Aizen would be like for her, that period of moving forward - accepting that Aizen was a shitty bastard and realizing that she has all these people that are rooting for her. I really wanted to focus on Momo and her interactions with the people around her watching her heal.
Shinji just had to open the story after I read their little portion in the official side novel. It's so great how they have this mutual past of being used by Aizen - and I think it shows a lot of potential for the new fifth division... Definitely becoming one of my favorite divisions now. Shiro had to end the story because I believe that Hinamori and Toshiro would have the hardest time mending their relationship - but I think it was essential to show that Momo and Shiro can be friends again despite all that's happened - because none of that was their fault and they accept that.