DISCLAIMER: No, I don't own Bleach or any of its characters. All rights belong solely to Tite Kubo.

A / N:

Wow, it's been a long time, hasn't it, everyone? Usually after such a long time, I spend paragraphs and paragraphs saying thank you and apologizing. Rather than doing that, I'm just going to say it simply, right here, right now. Thank you, thank you, thank you for waiting for and having faith in me, as well as this story. I'm sorry that you've had to wait so long, but here I am, and I hope this doesn't disappoint.

To be honest, and I hope I'm not making them uncomfortable here by doing this, I recently got a review by a lovely person called scars from the sun that simply told me they were still waiting for an update. It reminded me that, despite how many years have gone by, there are real people out there still hoping that this story reaches completion, and it really touched me. It inspired me. I actually spent the last few days of 2020 cranking out chapters for all three of my long-running stories, because I was just so... motivated. Refreshed. And don't get mad at me y'all but at 2016 sometime, I was actually planning a ByakuyaxOC story which I started writing (but never uploaded) and it just helped spur me on even more. I don't really know why that story got me so fired up again, and I think it's kind of ironic how my Byakuya fic got me so excited about Bleach again, but it led me to have fun writing a chapter fo FEATHERS, and that's all I could've really asked for. I haven't written creatively or immersed myself in the Bleach universe in a long, long time so I apologize for being rusty.

2020 was a really, really rough year for everyone for various reasons. More than anything, I hope that you, as well as your loved ones, are safe and healthy. I hope that 2021 is a brighter year for everyone, and although I know it's pretty miniscule and insignificant compared to other things happening in the world right now, I hope this chapter helps with that. I hope this brings a smile to your face, no matter how small, and I hope that you have an absolutely absolutely wonderful start to the year.

Happy New Year, y'all. Thank you for being so patient and kind.


FEATHERS

CHAPTER TEN;

"The Nights That Cry"


I woke up with a gasp, my hands clutching at the blankets so tightly that they hurt. My pajamas stuck to my skin, drenched with sweat, only adding to the unbearable sense of suffocation and uncomfortableness that I felt. The sound of my heart was loud and frantic in my ears, the pounding creating a rhythm that only served to fall in beat with the headache angrily making its presence known in my skull. There was this feeling of overwhelming distress, of despair and disaster, desolateness and destruction. It made my stomach twist so terribly that I thought I would hurl.

From the foot of the bed, Patch stretched herself out, whining softly, having been woken up for the fifth time in the past seven nights by these haunting, blurred out dreams. Ever since that incident with Chris and the migraine, my nights were a sleepless mess, and I couldn't for the life of me figure out why. I spent a long time mulling over it, going over so many different possibilities and trying different remedies, but it was hard to fix something that you didn't even know was broken.

Patch's snout bumped softly against my forearm as I ran my hands down my face, trying hard to even out my breathing again. The moonlight hit her mismatched eyes in a way that made them glow, only emphasizing her concern. I threw my arms around her, pulling her closer, hands clutching at her fur. Alpha, from where he'd been sleeping by the door acting as a self-proclaimed bodyguard, perked his head up and watched silently.

"Thank you," I told them both with a shaky exhale, giving Patch one more affectionate squeeze before I let her go and stroked the fur around her muzzle and ears, smiling faintly when she licked at my hand softly. I breathed in deeply, let it out as a heavy sigh, and then swung my legs over the bed, padding over to the window. I swiped the curtains aside and opened it wide despite how chilly the autumn nights had gotten, welcoming the cold air as it rushed in and cooled off my overheated, sticky skin. When I inhaled this time, I felt the frosty bite in the air spread through my lungs, hoping it would let chase away the unease that had taken residence there.

A figure leaned face-down from the roof. "Can't sleep?"

It was so sudden that I jolted, my hand automatically reaching for the window as if to slam it shut. My muscles had tensed, seizing up all over again and putting to waste the calming exercises I'd just taken my time doing. It took just a couple of seconds before my mind truly registered the voice and the face hanging in front of me. "Rangiku?"

"Heya!" she greeted enthusiastically before smiling apologetically. "Sorry, I didn't think I'd startle you."

"It's not your fault," I told her honestly. She wasn't really even trying to hide her reiatsu—if I had just been less distracted, I would've known she was right there outside my window. "You… aren't going to sleep?"

She swung down from where she'd been on the highest rooftop, dropping silently to the tiles right outside my window, where she plopped herself down. She ran a hand through her wavy strawberry blonde locks to straighten them out, and propped an arm along the open window ledge. "Sometimes I think about it, but I know that if Taichou ever caught me, he'd give me the worst scolding of my life. Besides, you're so cute, I do want to keep you safe, y'know. Why, why? Does Taichou sleep during guard duty?!" Her voice turned so eager at the end, and it amused me a little how she was so hopeful to find him being lazy. Their entire dynamic was very unusual and fascinating.

"Wha—no, no, not even in a million years," I denied, my eyebrows furrowing together. He was way too serious for something like that, and we both knew it. Out of everyone I'd ever met, Toushirou was probably the most straight-laced out of all of them. Like, he for real acted like he was a grandpa. I was sure that right now, even though he wasn't technically on duty for the night, he was probably working somehow—scouting, paperwork, reports, tracking, something. I just knew it.

Rangiku's expression morphed from being playful to being concerned as she peered closer at me. She was so close that I could see the individual flecks of lighter blue in her beautiful azure eyes, the moonlight making them look like shards of silver floating in an ocean of aquamarine. "You've been looking pretty tired the past week, but you really don't look so good right now. Are you feeling sick? Why aren't you in bed?"

I shook my head, not wanting to worry her. "Just one of those nights."

"More like one of those weeks, it seems like," she knowingly corrected. When I didn't elaborate, she let out a thoughtful hum. "You don't really have to talk about it if you don't want to, but… I'm all ears if you want someone to listen."

"Why… would you do that? It's not exactly in your job description, is it?" It might've been because I wanted to continue hearing her voice, to have her stay here, to keep her warm and comforting presence with me, because although I already knew the answer, I asked her anyway. In that moment, I realized how shaken I was by these dreams I couldn't even remember—normally, I couldn't wait to be free of someone else's presence, preferring my own. It was so strange to me, craving companionship. It wasn't something I wanted to get used to.

"Hey, I'm more than just a Shinigami in the Gotei 13, OK?" she huffed, a teasing undertone entering her voice again. "You can think of me as an older sister! I've always wanted a younger sibling; I've already taken Orihime under my wing, but the more the merrier. It's nice to have people you can rely on, isn't it?"

I opened my mouth to reply, only to close it shut, realizing that anything that came out would've been insincere or a lie. When someone was being so forthright and genuine in their approach, it was hard to throw back a witty or snarky comment. And yet still, I couldn't bring myself to truly, fully, wholeheartedly put my trust in her by explaining my predicament. So instead, I remained silent as I turned my gaze up at the stars, though it was hard to find their shine even in a small city like Karakura. I squinted in hopes that it would make things clearer for me, but it didn't, not really. What was out of reach was simply too far out of reach. "... Why did you become a Shinigami?"

"Eh?" It was clear that she was taken off guard.

"You also don't have to answer if you don't want to," I murmured, not taking my eyes off the sky.

It took her a while. I heard her deep inhales and exhales, and her tensed muscles slowly relaxed again. "... Why do you think?"

It was during this time that my gaze fell. "To protect someone or something?"

"Bingo!" she exclaimed cheerfully. Yet when I glanced over at her, there was a soft, almost bittersweet smile on her face that contrasted so starkly with her tone just then.

This time, she was the one to look up at the midnight sea, her eyes seeing something farther away than even the stars. "When I was young, I thought that becoming a Shinigami and joining the Gotei 13 would give me all the power I needed to protect what I wanted to protect. I was inspired by a childhood friend, you see. At the time, it felt like the most natural course of action." Her voice was soft and laced with both fondness and melancholy, carrying a weight with them that seemed too heavy for anyone to fully carry.

I changed the topic just slightly, sensing the mood. "And now?"

"Mm, well…" she let out a tiny laugh, a hint of self-deprecation in it. "That's a hard question to answer. I want to think that I can protect more now with these powers than I could if I didn't have them, but… A part of me wonders…" she trailed off, and then shook her head ruefully. "I don't regret becoming a Shinigami and joining the Gotei 13, though. I can't possibly! There were definitely some times when things got rough and I got lost, but I think it was all part of the process to get me to where I am now."

This serious, introspective side of Rangiku was so new to me, but I had no complaints. It was easy to forget that everyone had their own past and their own worries—I often got so wrapped up in my own head that I didn't take enough notice. Like with my parents. Like with Chris. My breathing hitched slightly at the thought of him, images of his fading chain and the bitterness in his eyes flashing through my mind. I swallowed down the lump growing in my throat, hands clenching. "... When you got lost, how'd you make your way back?"

"For me… I had to just bring myself to remember all the things that have guided my way. When you're walking alone through an endless dark, it's hard to imagine finding the exit, right? When I would finally take the time to just breathe and remember, I would somehow stumble my way back on track again. It usually still took some time, though." A quiet giggle. The tenderness in her voice this time no longer had any sorrowful tints, filled to the brim with utter affection and gratefulness. Her lips were curled into a gentle smile, looking so at ease as she reflected back on those memories.

A contemplative hum escaped me as I mulled over her words. Things that guided my way—did I even have them? I didn't get lost often, both literally and figuratively, so I never had to seek aid in finding my path. Whenever I read about the "light" that people looked for, it was hard for me to truly understand, because I'd never needed to obtain it. The more I thought about it, the more frustrated I got; if I could just figure out why and what was the cause of these dreams, I wouldn't even have to think about complicated sentimental solutions like this. I mean, finding what would light my way? It just all sounded so ridiculously, falsely romantic—I couldn't bring myself to believe that it would help me.

As if sensing the shift in me, Rangiku grinned impishly up at me and wiggled her eyebrows. "I have some really wild stories about my time at the Spiritual Arts Academy and in the Gotei 13. If you're still not tired, do you want to hear some?"

Usually, I'd have this overwhelming itch to enter my art room after being woken up by unsettling dreams. Like always, it acted as a sanctuary for me, giving me something to focus on, something that gave me some semblance of peace. However, strangely enough, tonight I didn't have that urge. Besides, my interest peaked at her words. I raised an eyebrow at her. "Got any dirt on Toushirou?"

Her eyes practically glowed like the moon, her grin widening.


I smirked as I saw girls pulling at Jay's clothes, demanding him to strip so they could start working on the next cosplay costume. It was rare for my childhood friend to be genuinely embarrassed and distressed, and this was one of those times. Despite how friendly and easygoing he was, Jay was surprisingly shy about skin exposure and was traditional in this sense. It was actually pretty cute.

Rangiku, on the other hand, was having absolutely no issues with flaunting her voluptuous, glamorous figure after getting pulled into being a model. As a matter of fact, my smirk almost turned into a grin when I saw how hard Toushirou was trying to keep her under control and her clothes on, rather than off, much to the disappointment and dissatisfaction of our male peers. She argued with him every step of the way, pouting in an incredibly swaying manner. It was a wonder how the woman I spoke to last night and this one just a few feet in front of me, about to lift up the hem of her blouse, was the same person.

Preparations for the school festival were well on their way, and with just a bit less than a week and a half left, it was crunch time. Our class was thankfully right on schedule—we didn't really need to make too many costumes, and we managed to secure a lot of unused clothes from the drama club. A lot of the props were already finished, and we triple-checked to make sure we had two polaroid cameras, two regular cameras, batteries, and plenty of film. And although I had continuously gotten distracted when painting the landscapes, I had finished most of the backgrounds we would use for the shoot.

It was very peculiar—every single time I went to paint a landscape, my hands almost had a mind of their own, and not in the usual way where the image in my mind seemed to perfectly translate through my hands onto the canvas. This time, it was more like my hands knew what they wanted to paint. It was always the same landscape, and it seemed like all I could produce for the past few nights. Ever since my faded dreams started, I'd been wanting to paint this particular scene of a cave hidden deep within a forest, covered in greenery to the point where it was hard to discern whether it was really a cave or not. Wildflowers bloomed all around, and there were quite a few animals in the scene, too. It was at the foot of a medium-sized waterfall, the stream leading somewhere I didn't know. I wasn't sure where this image came from, but ever since it had entered into my mind, it had stuck like glue. I kept thinking about it to the point where I almost felt like it was turning into an unhealthy obsession, much like the faceless man I'd sketched a lot before meeting Toushirou.

Abruptly, a tingling sensation ran down my spine, sending the hair on the back of my neck to stand on end. Immediately, I whirled around to scan outside the window I'd been leaning against, my eyes narrowed. Unfortunately, all I saw were the same old sights with nothing out of place, though I hadn't counted on it. A grimace replaced my earlier smirk as I kept my eyes trained on the terrain, wondering just what that'd been. Lately, I always felt like a pair of eyes were on me, watching, observing, following my every move. It never felt like a malicious gaze, but it was disturbing and set me on edge.

"What is it?"

I jumped just a little at the sound of his voice, low and quiet and way too close to me. I leaned away from him, swinging my frown over. "Excuse me?"

He folded his arms across his chest. "You were so tense, you looked like a cat with its fur standing on end."

"A cat?" I repeated, almost offended. "Out of all animals, really?"

"What? What's wrong with cats?"

I stared at him with minor disdain. "I'm very loyal to Alpha and Patch."

He rolled his eyes, clearly done with me already after having to deal with Rangiku. "It's an expression, Tsubaki. Are you done avoiding the question?"

"I'm not," I muttered. I combed through the area outside once more and, coming up short, simply shook my head. "It's nothing."

"I can't protect you properly if you don't tell me when something's wrong," was Toushirou's flat, unconvinced reply.

"Can you find it in your big, warm, soft, lovely, giving heart to just trust me for once?" I clasped my hands together and tried to bat my eyelashes in a super exaggerated manner.

The look he gave me was of pure repulsion, and this time, he was the one who leaned away from me. "Something's up with you lately, Tsubaki, and I'm not a fan."

I dropped the horrendous act that made me want to crawl into a den and hide there for the next decade, settling for a grumbled, "Trust me, neither am I."

"... Matsumoto tells me you haven't been sleeping well," he began slowly. I could feel him eyeing me, though I didn't meet his gaze, my own eyes trained on said blonde. I hoped she could feel the way I was branding her as a total traitor.

"What, you worried about me?" I quirked an eyebrow at him, amusement clear in my tone.

"You're under my supervision," was his less than enthusiastic reply. There was a pause, and I watched him as he worked out what he wanted to say, only to wish, very quickly, that I hadn't given him the chance. He spoke hesitantly, knowing he was touching a delicate matter. "Does it have anything to do with the Plus?"

"His name was Chris," was my monotone correction. "And no."

He waited for me to elaborate, and when it was clear I wasn't going, let out a sigh. "You haven't passed by that area ever since."

"Wow, stalker much?"

Ignoring my jab, he said, "You should go, Tsubaki. You can't avoid it forever."

"Thanks for the wise advice, Gramps."

I could practically hear his eyebrow twitch, and he turned to face me more fully. "Listen—"

"I just—" I cut him off, whirling around to face him too, pausing when I felt that uncomfortable hitch in my breath and clog in my throat again. His turquoise eyes were steady as they met my wavering onyx ones, and I felt my hands tightening into fists at my sides. "I just need some more time, OK?"

He opened his mouth, looking like he was going to protest, but he got interrupted as Rangiku threw her arms around us happily, dressed in a maid outfit that looked a little too provocative to be realistic. She probably sensed the tension and was here to dispel it, although I glared daggers at her for tattling on me to Toushirou. For someone who never wanted her boss to find out the shit she was up to, she was awfully good at informing him of the most miniscule details that could have clearly been omitted.

"Look, look, isn't this cute?! Apparently this kind of thing is super popular nowadays, so we have to keep up with the trends, right?" She let go of us after grabbing our attention to twirl around, swishing the skirt dangerously high as she did so. I swore I heard the bated breaths held by the guys as they watched for their miracle to happen right before their very eyes.

"OK, stop, stop!" I clapped my hands decisively twice as I went over to her and practically slapped down the skirt. I scowled at her disappointed expression, refusing to let that get to me. "No more."

"But Yuzuru—"

"No buts," I told her firmly, leaning in closer to hiss, "especially after you told Toushirou. Should I let him know you dished out some of his own secr—"

She quickly clamped a hand over my mouth and laughed nervously. "Yes, ma'am! You are totally correct, there shall be no more twirling!" A wave of sad, short groans and grunts washed over the room, and she grinned at them in response, winking in a not-so-subtle manner.

"Why can't you listen to me like that?" was the bitter, barely audible mutter from Toushirou as he regarded the quick change in his lieutenant's behaviour.

"Princess, demand a stop here too, please!" Jay called out desperately, his voice so flustered and different from usual that the smirk automatically made its way back onto my face. When I looked back over at him, he was indeed, as he predicted, dressed in some strange feline costume—if you could even really call it that. He was even wearing a tawny headband with fluffy ears, and a tail that matched was attached to the shorts he got forced into. He was red from his neck to his ears, trying to hide as much of his exposed skin as he could—the cropped top wasn't really making it easy for him.

Rangiku and I shared a look and had to turn around and slap our hands over our mouths to stop from bursting into laughter right then and there. He just looked so ridiculous in that get-up, and he just seemed so helpless, it was too funny.

When I finally managed to gather my composure, I turned around and cleared my throat. I met his eyes squarely as I declared, "Continue."

His eyes widened as the girls squealed, and he mouthed, "You're going to pay for this" to me as vehemently as Jay ever could.

As a reply, I gave him two big ol' thumbs up and smirked.


When I got woken up again the next night, it wasn't because of my own dreams.

The loud, reverberating cries, low and high intermingling together in their own harmony, hit me with a force all at once, and I jolted up from my bed with my heart pounding even as the immense reiatsu pressed down on me. I was thankful that Alpha and Patch had decided to sleep with my parents tonight, because I didn't know how I was going to get through this trying to keep all of us alive.

Outside my window, formless bodies that blended into the night shifted, the only indication that the floating masks had any corporeal form at all. These Hollows varied in shapes and sizes, some of them stretching so high that they towered to the size of skyscrapers. Gilians, my mind put a name to them. Last time, there had been six average Hollows. This time, there weren't just a few, or even a dozen—they were coming like a surging wave, and whenever they let out their groans together, I could literally feel my bones tremble from the vibrations they created.

There was no way that all of these Hollows would have a chance to gather here unless they just suddenly, literally, appeared out of nowhere. Their spiritual presence as well had just unexpectedly spiked; one second, everything was normal, and the next, I felt as though someone had bodyslammed me and crushed me to my bed. It had come simultaneously with their howls, and had been startling to wake up to.

My mind whirled as I tried to figure out what the hell I was supposed to do in this situation.

Thankfully, Rangiku popped up at my window, sliding it open hastily, a stern expression on her face. "Yuzuru!"

"How did they all just appear out of thin air?" I asked her, once again feeling more curious than panicked. I grabbed her outstretched hand and followed her as she pulled me out of my room and wrapped an arm around my waist, pulling me with her as she jumped up to the apex of the roof.

She brandished her zanpakutou in front of her swiftly, a fierce glint entering her eye. "They must've followed the Gillians through the Gate."

"We need to get out of here," I told her, surveying the area. The entire property was going to be surrounded soon, and there was no way I was going to let the battle take place right in my own backyard with my entire family still here. With how huge these Gillians were, I wouldn't be surprised if they could just wipe out the house from where they were, only amplifying my desire to take this elsewhere.

The Shinigami glanced back at me with an unreadable expression on her face, but she didn't disagree. Instead, she wrapped her arm around my waist again, bringing me close to her side. My face unceremoniously got pressed into her chest, my arms automatically coming up to try and protest, only to get cut off. "We're going fast. Hang on tight!"

And without further ado, I felt the rapid sound of wind whistling by us. She was steady with her movements so that there was no unnecessary jostling, and albeit I knew she was strong, I was kind of impressed that she was able to carry me with so much ease. There were a few times when I felt slashing motions as she sliced her way through the Hollows that got in our way, but that only registered vaguely in the back of my mind.

What I focused on was their hissing, broken words.

"... Need…"

"Human... No… Hope…"

"You… Lives… To us…"

"Come… Come…"

"... The one… You…"

"Need. Need. Need. Need. Need. Need. Need."

"... Take… you... With… us…"

"You don't need to listen to them," Rangiku's voice, so close to me, disrupted my concentration, but it didn't reassure me in the least. My frown deepened as their words kept repeating themselves in my mind again and again. They resonated with what the previous Hollows said last time—it was clear that they wanted me for something, and yet they never specified what it was. There were no slips, no hints, no clues. It was frustrating—I didn't know what it was about me that made me special to them, that made them go to such lengths to capture me. I wasn't sure I'd ever heard of regular Hollows being so persistent and concentrated on a single target before.

A soft curse, and Rangiku skidded to a halt suddenly. She'd been trying to move to a less populated area, worried about the safety of the citizens, but the Hollows obviously weren't making it easy. As a matter of fact, it was like they could predict her movements—the swarm of Hollows that we'd just bumped into as she turned the corner of a high-rise building were undoubtedly lying in wait. Dropping down back to ground level, she released me and looked at me very seriously. "You've memorized the city layout, right? Run, Yuzuru. Run towards Kurosaki Clinic—it's the convergence point right now. Even if you can't, it's OK, just keep running, because we can sense you no matter where you are. We'll catch up quickly."

Instead of telling her that I already knew all this, I just met her eyes squarely. "Stay safe."

"These guys are small fry," she told me, giving me a big grin. "I'm really quite strong, you know? Now go, shoo!" she pushed me forward as she turned to the mass of Hollows rushing forward. I turned back around to see her flip her long waves over her shoulder and hold her zanpakutou out horizontally, swiping a hand along its blade. "Alright, Haineko, it's time. Growl."

My eyes widened in fascination as the blade immediately turned to ash.

"Girl…"

I shook my head and tore my eyes away, forcing down the draw I felt towards the released blade. I looked up and saw a Hollow lumbering on one of the rooftops towards me, and it reminded me that as much as I wanted to stay, I wasn't in any position to stick around here. So I began to run towards Kurosaki Clinic as a general destination, trying to be aware of all my surroundings as well as concentrating on the reiatsu flares. I could sense Rangiku's behind me, as well as a few others that, if I wasn't wrong, probably belonged to Kurosaki's friends. His light blue reiatsu was flaring some ways away, close to Toushirou's pure white reiatsu. From their locations, it looked as though they were trying to make their way to my house, only to realize Rangiku had taken off, so they were now redirecting themselves.

It almost made me want to laugh how we were all playing this game of Cat and Mouse and none of us seemed to know what the hell was really going on.

Whenever I sensed an incoming Hollow, I would change my route, the same as when I accidentally bumped into one. It definitely made trying to get to one of the Kurosaki gang or Toushirou harder, but I was just glad everyone seemed to be doing okay. Like Rangiku had said, these Hollows didn't seem to be particularly dangerous, just overwhelming in their numbers.

The hair on the back of my neck stood up and my gut wrenched. Sensing something wrong, I immediately rounded the next available corner, my eyes wide as I saw a blazing red laser fire past me where I'd just been. I'd clearly spoken too soon about the not-so-dangerous Hollows. Just like the name of the large Hollows had come to me earlier, so did their attack: Cero.

I let out a string of profanities under my breath as I took off again, trying not to get too shaken. Almost like that one Cero had set the rest of the Gillians off, I felt the air and ground rumble as they repeatedly blasted them throughout the town. They weren't always directed at me, but every time some kind of impact was made, I felt myself sway a little unsteadily. Thankfully, since they took some time to charge up, as long as I made sure to pay attention, I was able to deduce the trajectory of the flashes and dodge them accordingly.

What I hadn't anticipated as I ducked and rolled to avoid a Cero was the tree it toppled over right into a residential electric line, sending that tumbling down. I stared up at the snapped live wires and the wooden post looming over me, then glanced at the huge tree trunk that had fallen to block my path. A Hollow had been chasing me through the streets, so going back wasn't really a desirable option either. My mind crackled as I tried to figure out where I could position myself to escape damage or, at the very least, minimize it. I inhaled sharply, and, without letting myself think about it more deeply, whirled around to backtrack, putting in some faithless faith that I would be able to maneuver around the Hollow somehow. I'd barely taken a step when I heard the shout.

"Oi!"

A heavy presence appeared out of nowhere from behind me, a strong arm wrapping itself around my waist. Before I could even lift my head up, the person got us out of there quickly, carrying me away. The wind whipped at my hair, and through the loose strands of rosewood, I saw a strong jaw, a high nose, and a shock of bright orange hair.

I blinked.

Kurosaki Ichigo.


A / N:

This was more Rangiku-heavy than Toushirou-heavy, which was a REAL ride for me since it's been so long since I've gotten into Bleach, I kept wondering how Rangiku was like again or what she would say. I'm hoping that I didn't butcher her character too badly. I know I could've just made it so that Toushirou was on duty and then gave y'all more ToushirouxYuzuru moments, but... Honestly, I think it's important for her to develop her relationship with others, too. Even if I'm hella worried about keeping them in character.

Despite their small interaction, I hoped you enjoyed the ToushirouxYuzuru moment here! I also hope you're excited to finally actually see Ichigo show up HAHA.

LOTS OF LOVE AND THANKS TO;

lizyeh2000, TechnoDee, Lynxkitten, kris10oflegend, As Darkness Takes Over, theselfproclaimedgreatest7, kufq2akzenblihopLK, GatewaytoGehenna, petite anon, Reaper2908, AnimeFreak145, X Mika-Chan X, Inkwriter, Mina Luriya, INeedSleep, Flowerful. Mind , ChaoticMinds, DoesNotCompute, and scars from the sun

Thank you as well to everyone who favourited and alerted—it really does mean a lot to me!

Now, I'm going to do 3 rapid-fire responses! I'm sorry that I'm only doing 3 after so long—but it's nearing 4 AM here and I still gotta edit one more chapter for the "mass" update (; Please forgive me!

To Mina Luriya,

Thank you so much for your kind words and your reassurances! I'm so glad that you don't think Toushirou's getting butchered, but now I'm getting more and more worried about the other characters HAHA. Like gosh, I was scratching my head the entire time I was writing this chapter that had more Rangiku in it. It's been such a long time since I've engaged with Bleach in any manner, it's all so hard for me. Hopefully it went okay! I'm so glad that you like the story so far, though I'm not sure I totally deserve the praises. I'm also incredibly happy to know you like the Toushirou and Yuzuru moments, because honestly, I didn't really imagine Toushirou with someone like her at first, but the more they interact, the more fond of them I get and the more chemistry I feel? I just never know if that's just me as the author though LOL Despite the wait, I hope you're still with me and that you enjoyed this chapter! Happy New Year, and I hope that you, as well as your loved ones, are safe and healthy!

To Flowerful. Mind,

Aww, thank you so much, although I'm not sure I deserve such kind words! To be honest, I'm not a huge fan of mystery, so to try and write elements of it into my work is so hard HAHA I'm beyond happy to know you feel as though the character interactions are all natural rather than forced—I feel like that's such a high praise, and it makes my heart warm. I hope that this still holds true today, despite the years that have gone by! Writing Rangiku after so long was a real experience LOL Thank you for waiting so long for this chapter—I hope that it didn't disappoint! Happy New Year, and I hope that 2021 is a great year for you!

To ChaoticMinds;

I'm glad you think they have chemistry! Honestly, I felt like they didn't work out so well earlier on, but the more I write them (and the more they develop, of course) the more I remember why I made Yuzuru the way she is, and the more fond I feel of them. It makes me excited to think about where they could go! I'm glad you think she's relatable, too! I'm not sure I really ever intended this story to be a mystery, but it makes me happy that people are enjoying it HAHAHA As for all the questions you have… you'll just have to stick around to find out! (; Happy New Year, and I hope that everything has been, and will be, fantastic for you in 2021!

END OF REPLIES!

As I'm writing this, it's 5:30 AM and I've still got one other story to update, so I'll keep this pretty short and quick: there's still so much ahead of us, and if you're willing to stay with me through this journey... thank you. I'm excited for what's to come, both for this story and in the new year, and I hope that you are, too!

Once again, I hope that all of you stay safe and healthy. Please, please remember to take care of yourselves!

Enjoy the first day of this brand new year, everyone!

XOXO,
-EverlastingxSong-