A/N: So...Um. It's been a while, huh? I'm also in the process of answering all the amazing and wonderful reviews you left me on the last chapter!
I'm hoping to get the next chapter out faster, but then I'm also aware that I need to a) finish this quarter, b) move back to the States, and c) move into my friends' apartment at the start of summer for college, which means buying things like a bed. So I'm hopeful, but vaguely optimistic? I mostly write this one on my phone, which is why updates come a lot (okay, I know, relatively speaking) than my other WIPs.
Anyways, now that you're all updated on what I'm doing with my life, on to the update!
(Usual Disclaimer applies)
There are two people at the school who would respond to "Strawberry." One is more inclined to glare, complain it's not his name, and possibly punch you as actually respond (if you're not his friend), and the other is a freshman, who prefers to go by "Ichi" because she thinks it's cuter and will ensure her the top spot in whatever she pursues in life.
One of those two has been missing for months, with three others. After sobbed explanations, no one asks which one they need to track down.
(They really needed to in the first place. They've been comparing notes on Kurosaki Ichigo, and on Ishida, and Inoue, and Sado for the past few months, after all.)
Tatsuki is just finishing her last set of cool down stretches when her phone rings. It's one of her classmates - Matsuda or someone that she's got a group project with, but that's due next week. If she needs help with citations for the fifth time this week, it can wait until after Tatsuki takes a shower.
That, it turns out, was a bad assumption to make.
Fifteen minutes later and Tatsuki has over thirty missed calls and over a hundred text messages from various people.
"Shit," she mutters. "What happened this time." At least, a small part of her thinks, at least it can't be as bad as Orihime missing, and Ichigo pushing everyone away, and Ishida worn and stressed and not paying attention in class, and Sado almost not even bothering to come to school, but worried and determined.
She starts with the most recent, and consequently most hysterical, voicemail from some girl in class 3-C that is, apparently, dating Yamada from the basketball team.
(Who knew that asshole was actually attractive? Or even had someone who'd go steady with him? Well, besides Mizuiro, but seeing as he's legitimately 80% of the school's gossip network, he doesn't count.)
"Arisawa-san, I - I hope you pick up soon. It's an emergency." The girl hiccups.
"I've left you some other voice mails, and I'm still sorry for getting your phone number off one of your teammates, and I don't know if you've heard them yet, but. But." Here the girl pauses, something not quite a hiccup catching in the back of her throat and she forces it down with a deep breath.
"I need help. Hideki-kun needs help. Hideki-kun was kidnapped and, and apparently the people are looking for Kurosaki and the rest of his friends. I, I know you're friends with Inoue-san and I think Kurosaki-san but can you tell them to call me back? Please? I'm going to try Mizuiro-san next, since you've not been picking up and I need to get a message to them."
Well. Double shit. Okay it wasn't as bad as the Orihime situation, but that doesn't mean it isn't close. And here Tatsuki was just thinking that the guy who challenged her the other day wasn't connected to her friends' insane lives, and just a stupidly strong, eccentric jerk.
In hind sight, the number of eye patch wearing jerks with bells in their hair is probably pretty small, even if he wasn't being followed around by a tiny pink haired demon child that would probably rule the world if she was introduced to Yuzu.
On the other hand, Tatsuki would really like to know what the Shinigami are doing back in Karakura. They've done enough damage to her friends and her town, and maybe some of that wasn't directly their fault, but a lot of it definitely was — the damage to her friends in particular. (She's really tempted to let Mizuiro at them in all his passive-aggressive fury. Which, last she'd listened to his different plans, included ordering the lot of them psychology books focusing on trauma and child soldiers. They clearly need the reference books on why these things are bad ideas.)
Still, being angry about it all isn't going to actually solve anything, so Tatsuki scrolls down to Orihime's phone number and dials.
(Ichigo is always hit and miss these days, on whether or not he'll pick up, and Orihime will know exactly where everyone is, anyways.)
"...I'm off fighting aliens or winning robot wrestling competitions, so please leave me a message after the beep!"
Of course, the one time she really needs to reach Orihime she doesn't have her phone on.
"Hey, Orihime. Just wanted to let you know I saw one of the Shinigami in town earlier this week — bell guy? — and that apparently someone's kidnapped Yamada, and whoever they are, they're asking for the four of you. Yeah, it's stupid and probably some plan of the Shinigami, since I don't think Hollows work like this based on what you told me, and I thought you'd like the warning that your phone is going to be ringing off the hook. Uh, let me know when you get back from wherever or if you've charged your phone, and hopefully this'll get sorted out easily."
Tatsuki really, really hoped this gets sorted out easily, or she's going to go pick a fight with a Shinigami or five (and probably lose, but if she's got surprise on her side she can get a few good hits in, especially since she can see them now.)
Orihime's phone lays on her nightstand, powered down, with a crack across the front screen until Monday morning. She doesn't turn it on until she's halfway to school on Monday morning, and by that point there's not nearly enough time to sort through all the messages she's been left.
(That they know they're going to be facing something is better than a complete ambush. It doesn't make them happy about it, especially with Shinigami being in the area and picking fights with Tatsuki.
Orihime is going to be the one sparring with Kenpachi the next time they see him.)
Aoi spent the rest of Friday evening trying to call all of Kurosaki-san's friends. She succeeded in getting in contact with Arizawa and Mizuiro, but neither of them have any idea where Kurosaki or the rest of the group is to pass on the message she was given by the creepy pink haired child.
It's not reassuring that their friends don't know where they are, what with Hideki-kun still missing.
(She tries very, very hard not to listen to the whispers between her friends, between her parents and siblings, in the back of her head saying that Hideki-kun is probably dead and she should call the police to report him missing.
She was told not to, and she's not risking Hideki-kun's life like that. Mrs. Yamada refuses to do the same for the same reason.
That doesn't mean it isn't hard to hold out, doesn't mean her imagination isn't giving her images of Yamada-kun's dead body, or how his eyes might look like Ishida-san's or Kurosaki-san's. It doesn't mean she wonders if the group that wants Kurosaki and the rest back won't break their own promises, anyways.)
Aoi goes to school on Monday with a heavy heart, make up attempted but doing nothing to hide the bags under her eyes or her over-bitten lip.
Her friends close ranks around her on the walk to school, which is something they haven't done all together since middle school, before half of them decided to start dating. She's sure they make quite a sight, eleven girls in high school uniforms packed tight and looking like they're protecting the Prime Minister instead of their friend.
(Aoi appreciates it, in the small corner of her heart that isn't worrying incessantly, or scared, or angry, or tired.)
They arrive a Karakura High School ready for whatever they might see — and mostly expecting Hideki-kun's body because none of them, not even Aoi, can see the Quartet going back to wherever they were, where they were injured and broken further.
(There might be a vain dream of a pile of bodies laid at the Quartet's feet, with Hideki-kun back and still whole, but, well, that's what a dream is, isn't it? Something in vain until you can do something to achieve it, and Aoi isn't strong enough, not in that way, not for this.)
None of the girls meant to come to school and walk into a confrontation between Kurosaki, Inoue, Ishida, and Sado and those people that had kept them away for so long.
And now that I've left you on a cliffhanger you probably hate me for, um... Please leave a review? (and feel free to speculate on how the next chapter is going to go down because I have vague ideas but nothing solid yet)