On the 8th of May, six years ago, I published the first chapter of this story. I had no reservations about what that meant, what it would mean, or where I would go with it. It was just a funny little idea I had, and the first step toward an ambition to write the story I'd been searching for ever since I started reading Bleach fanfiction.

When I published the 50th chapter of this story, more than five years later, I was fully prepared to write another 50. I had it in my head that this project of mine could, and possibly would, last forever. Sadly, I've come to realize that this is not the case.

I've told the story that I set out to tell. I've presented my vision of Hitsugaya Toushirou and Matsumoto Rangiku from every angle I can. Am I finished with Bleach fanfiction? I won't say that. It's recently come to my attention that the anime has ended, as of 366 episodes. It is an intention of mine to watch the entire series over again, and see how it's evolved from the first episode to the last. I might come up with something new as I do.

But if that is, indeed, the case, then it will come to you in the form of another project.

This story, about two people that I've come to love like family, has reached its end. I am immensely proud of the way that it's turned out, and it hurts to realize that I won't be working on it anymore. But sometimes, the story dictates how long it needs to be, regardless of the author's wishes.

Please enjoy this final installment, and know that your support has been invaluable to me over the past 6 years. I would never have made it without you. So take a bow; you're just as much a part of this story as I am.

Thank you so much.

He would wait until she left to go to bed, then stand sentinel over her to make sure her sleep was peaceful.

If Matsumoto had a nightmare, or her rest was otherwise compromised, Hitsugaya would kneel down in front of her cot like an acolyte in prayer, and whisper to her. Often, there were no words to his messages, no articulated missives, save one:

"I'm here."

Her soft mutterings would quiet, her restless shuffling would still, and he would smile. He was under no magnificent delusion that she actually heard him, or that she was comforted by his presence even in sleep, but all the same it always felt like that was the case.

He would watch the shadows dance across the room, the moonlight flitting through the window, and feel at peace. He would watch her sleep, and his fatigue would vanish.

Hitsugaya Toushirou worked harder than many of his peers; he trained more often, and more intensely, than his fellow captains; he was more hands-on with his division than his fellow captains. He personally oversaw the drills in which his soldiers partook. He gave personal feedback; he sparred; he spoke to them, one-on-one, whether they were a centuries-long veteran or a fresh recruit straight out of the academy.

Much of the work that Hitsugaya took on was left to seated officers in other divisions. Some attributed this to his youth; spirits aged, and decayed, just like living people; though their lifespan (so to speak) was much, much longer—Yamamoto-soutaichou was the foremost testament to this; no one really knew how old he was—it was still the ultimate destiny of every denizen of Soul Society to die, and to reintegrate into the cosmic song and dance that was existence. Hitsugaya was centuries upon centuries away from that fate. Surely, some said, this was the secret to his endurance.

Others, like Kyouraku, knew it wasn't nearly as simple as that; but even he didn't understand the truth.

The secret to Hitsugaya's endurance was…this.

Not Matsumoto; he wasn't that much of a cliché—or, it wasn't just Matsumoto.

It was this escape. The safety and security of knowing, if he ever had to, he could sit here. He could let the rest of the world disappear, and ensconce himself in…calm. The room was sparse, utterly without decoration. All there was, was that window; that cot; that woman. Some nights, when he sat here and watched her, she would sprawl out in a fundamentally unladylike fashion, bedsheet tangled around her midriff, head hanging halfway to the floor and her hair tumbling like a strawberry-blonde waterfall. He preferred these nights.

He didn't like the nights when he had to comfort her. It meant she was hurting.

But comfort he would; often he spoke nonsense, but sometimes he told stories. Sometimes, when a strange mood struck him, he would even sing.

Hitsugaya wondered if his incessant one-sided conversations were more for himself than for her; Matsumoto Rangiku was nothing if not talkative, and over the years she seemed to have conditioned him to need that—even if (when) it dissolved into white noise.

On nights that she was comfortable, he was able to relax; but on nights when she hurt, he was reminded of his mission. No matter which way it went, he came back to his position the next day with renewed vigor.

One night, she woke up. Her eyes slid open slowly, and she didn't look surprised to see him in the room with her. She lifted herself up onto one elbow and watched him. "Hello, stranger," she said. Then she got a suspicious look in her eyes and added, "You keep watching me sleep. Are you trying to seduce me?"

He didn't answer, except with the ghost of a smirk.

"You should be sleeping," she said after a while, and concern flashed across her face. "You're exhausted. I can see it in your eyes. What do you think you're doing, anyway, pushing yourself so hard all the time? And then you come in here and…what, stand guard?"

The smirk widened into a lopsided little grin, and he shrugged.

Matsumoto Rangiku pouted, but eventually decided not to press the issue further. Instead she sighed, picked herself up off of her cot, and settled down onto the floor beside her captain. She lay her head against his shoulder, and went back to sleep.

Hitsugaya Toushirou watched the moonlight dance listlessly through the window.