Hey there, lovely readers! Sorry I fell off the face of the earth there! I hit some major writer's block after that last chapter, but I'm back now with a better vision of where I want this story to go. I cannot thank you all enough for taking the time to read my story, especially those who have left such kind reviews or encouraged me through private messaging. Seriously, you guys are the reason I was able to kick myself in the ass and get back into the game with this story. I couldn't have done it without you :)

So yeah, this one's for all you amazing people out there who've stuck around waiting for me to get my shit together. 3

As always, I do not own anything from Bleach. 0% mine. Just my adorably angry OC :3

*Sora's POV*

I felt so stupid. What were you expecting? Some heartfelt reunion at the miraculous return of your long lost friend? Grow up, Sora. Pinching the bridge of my nose to keep the traitorous tears at bay, I scrounged some change from the bottom of my bag and fed the machine. The park was quiet. Not surprising, given the time of day. The riverbank Aoi and I used to cloud watch from wasn't too far away from here, actually. I shook my head to clear it of painful nostalgia. The sooner I found Rena, the sooner I could put Sakurai and the ghosts of my past behind me.

I grabbed the canned soda and turned back to where my companion was waiting. He was just as I'd left him, his head resting against the base of the tree, eyes shut against the midday sun. Stretched out like that, he reminded me of one of those lions at the zoo, basking in the heat of the day.

"If you're gonna stare -" I let out an embarrassing yelp as the seemingly unaware arrancar grabbed my wrist and pulled me down into his lap. One eye opened, he smirked as I squirmed, attempting to free myself. "Might as well get nice and close." Grimmjow purred into my ear. I could feel my face flushing a shade of red I wasn't sure even existed before. Kami, what did I do to deserve this torment?

"W-we aren't here to play around, Grimmjow! Quit fucking around." I put some distance between us by pushing his face away and avoiding eye contact. "Here. Now drink it and let's go." Finally succeeding in extricating myself from him, I tossed one of the drinks at him. He caught it with ease, that irritating smirk never leaving his face.

"Where to, Kitten?" He asked after chugging his soda down and tossing it towards the nearest trash bin. It went in perfectly. Aoi always loved basketball. I frowned at the thought and took a sip of my own drink, making a face when I realized I'd purchased my least favorite. It was too syrupy and sweet. Shaking it off, I looked back to my companion.

"Rena doesn't usually get off work until around 5:00. There's a place I need to go though. I haven't been there since Aoi died. It might help me...move on, if I can go back there and face my fears."

"Hn. Let's get going then." He muttered before slipping an arm under my legs and standing up. I let out a startled squeak at the sudden movement, and immediately started squirming, trying to get my feet back on solid ground. "Dammit, quit moving around, woman."

"Put me down! I'm not a child! I don't need to be carried around like one."

"Heh, could have fooled me. Look, you're pouting like one right now."

"Fucking asshole, I'm going to - FUCK!" Without warning, he dropped me on my ass. The shock of it had me speechless for all of ten seconds before I launched back up to my feet and tried to slap the hysterical arrancar in the face, only to be thwarted by his superior height and dodging skills. "You are the BIGGEST pain in the ass I have ever had the displeasure to meet, Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez!" I huffed, turning my back to him as I packed the pocky back into my bag and prepared to leave, trying to ignore the occasional snort from the laughing asshole behind me.

"What's the matter, Kitten? Does it hurt? Want me to kiss it better?" He teased before brazenly placing a hand on my recently bruised ass and giving it a firm squeeze. The fucking balls on this man. I wondered to myself in shock.

"Grimmjow, you have three seconds to get your filthy paws off of me before I separate you from a certain body part. 3, 2, -"

"Shit! Okay, alright. I got it." He quickly moved away, hands up in a gesture of surrender. "No need to bring out the claws." Chuckling, he tucked his hands into the pockets of his hoodie and gave me that big psychotic grin of his that only came out when he was really enjoying himself. I'd only really seen it a few times. It was usually reserved for when he was talking about fighting or in the midst of fighting, like when he'd come after me with Pantera that one time or when he was talking about his fight with Ichigo. I found it a bit unsettling that I actually found that grin of his attractive. Brushing off that particular revelation, I sent the unrepentant arrancar a warning glare before heading off in the direction of the river.

It was so strange being back in Sakurai. So much had changed since I'd been gone, yet it still felt so familiar. There were memories around every corner. It was easy to let my mind drift, getting caught up in the current of time. There was the candy shop Aoi and I would visit after school sometimes. I was halfway tempted to pop in to see if the old man who ran it was still there, or if someone else had taken over.

It wasn't all as I remembered though. Here and there, were shops that hadn't been around last time I'd been here. A new bookstore at the corner, and across from it, a cute pastry cafe, followed by a flashy shop advertising the latest smart phone. It was a bit disorienting. I hadn't even realized I'd stopped walking until I felt the warm pressure of Grimmjow's hand at the small of my back.


"Sorry. I'm fine." I reached back and took his hand, threading my fingers through his, anchoring myself to the here and now. "Let's go." Pulling him along, we made our way to the riverbank. I could feel the sweat dripping down the back of my neck as we got closer, and I was full on trembling by the time the river came into view. The steady pressure of Grimmjow's hand in mine, kept me from losing my shit completely.

Taking it one step at a time, I eventually made it to the riverbank, standing in the spot Aoi and I had spent countless hours playing and cloud-watching. Standing there with Grimmjow now, it felt like I'd never left. I could feel myself slipping, losing my grip on reality. My breathing began to quicken as I forced myself to look farther down the bank, to the place of my nightmares. The horror of it had tainted this special place that should have been full of happy memories. But the spot where Aoi had died appeared no different than any other area of the riverbank, and for some reason, that was my breaking point.

"This isn't right." I murmured, my hand slipping out of Grimmjow's as I staggered closer. It looks normal. How can it look normal?! The blood is gone. Of course it's gone, but it shouldn't look like this. Something terrible happened here! It can't - it's like nothing happened, but it DID! And it's my fault. Scenes from that night and Aoi's funeral plagued my mind, making me relive the terror of that horrible moment in this exact spot and throwing his death in my face over and over again.

"Are you scared, Kitten?" I hadn't even realized I'd fallen to my knees until his voice shocked me out of thoughts. He was behind me, his legs caging me in from the side and his arms locked around my midsection. My shivering body immediately sought the heat emanating from him, sinking back into him. The slight pinch on my uninjured side prompted me to answer.


"What are you scared of?"

"Being weak." I gasped, each struggled breath burning my air-starved lungs.

"Why?" His left hand moved from my waist, distracting me as his fingertips ghosted over my collarbone and caused a delicious shiver to run down my spine.

"Because then…. I can't…. protect the people….. I care about." Having him close and focusing on his questions and touch was helping to calm me down bit by bit. Slowly but surely, I was catching my breath.

"Do you think you're weak?"



"You said it yourself." I muttered, taking hold of his hand and moving it to my neck. "You could crush me at any time and I would be powerless to stop you...because I'm weak."

"Hn, that's true. But I won't. Do you know why?" That gave me pause. I really didn't understand why he had spared my life, not just once, but during every one of our encounters.

"Because you find me amusing?"

"Yes, but mostly because I like your strength of will. Strong women are very….attractive." He whispered the last bit into my ear, accompanied by a teasing bite.

"I'm not -"

"What is this?" He cut me off. His right hand had slipped under my dress and was now resting overtop of the stitches in my side.

"The injury I got from that fucking asshole, Arturo." I growled, getting irritated with his endless stream of questions and teasing touches, now that I had calmed down a bit. My stitches were still pretty sensitive, and this asshole was brushing his thumb back and forth, an inch shy of them.

"And what happened to Arturo?"

"I tore him to pieces with my zanpakuto."

"That doesn't sound like some weak ass shit to me. That sounds like you refused to be his prey, and instead, you became the predator." His hands returned to my waist and carefully picked me up, turning me around so that we were face to face and I was straddling his lap. There was no mocking smile like I had assumed. He had that serious look on his face like when he looked up at the sky, looking for answers. "I'm acknowledging you, Kitten. You'll never be better than me. I'll always be the best. But if you want, I'll train you to use that sword of yours so you can kick anyone's ass, if they try to fuck with you. Hell, if you can create gargantas, I could even teach you how to make ceros."

I was now blushing furiously, looking any and everywhere, except at my companion. I was embarrassed by yet thrilled at the fact that I had Grimmjow's respect. I was excited by the idea of having him helping me get stronger. With one finger under my chin, he tilted my head back towards him to meet those intense blue eyes.

"So what's it going to be, Kitten? You can't get stronger, if you're tied down by the past."

"I want to get stronger." I whispered to him. He smirked and pulled me tightly against him, running his fingers through my hair.

"Good girl." He purred into my ear. I could feel my insides turning into molten hot goo. "Now rest up. I'll wake you up when it's time. We'll go see that bitch, and then we're getting the fuck out of this shitty town. Got it?" He never got a response though. I was already drifting off, exhausted by the day's events and their emotional toll on me. The last thing on my mind as I slipped away was Thank you for being here, Grimmjow.

*Grimmjow's POV*

I may have preferred to fight my battles with claws and a sword, but that didn't mean I didn't recognize a battle of the mind. Every day in Hueco Mundo was a physical and mental struggle. Not only had I fought off other Hollows, but from day one it had been a struggle against myself, battling the mindless instinct to just devour everything and become a mindless eating machine. I'd fought my way to the top and then battled my self-doubt, the little part of me that was scared of devolving, of never achieving my ultimate form. I imagined it was no different than what I had seen play out in front of me a short while ago.

From the moment we stepped foot on the riverbank, I had felt Kitten retreating inside herself. She had been battling herself for years, just like I had. She was no weakling, I knew that. But this place was poison. I could see it eating away at her, dulling those sharp edges I enjoyed so much. I couldn't let this place destroy her. No. She was mine, and I protect what is mine. So I gave her a little push in the right direction. That's all she had needed. My Kitten is strong. The panther purred in agreement. She had a ways to go in learning how to wield that strength, but for now it was enough that she could acknowledge it for herself and feel confident in her ability to move forward.

With a tired sigh, I leaned back against the bank to stare up at the clouds, careful not to wake the woman sleeping against my chest. I'd come to enjoy this world's sky. It was so different from the one in Hueco Mundo or the artificial one inside Las Noches. This one seemed boundless- infinite. The clouds were a nice touch. They reminded me of Kitten's hair, fluffy and white.

A flash of a memory, two kids laying side by side under a bright blue sky. They were so close, blue and white tresses mixing together, painting a sky of their own on the ground. I liked that memory, but it was fleeting and replaced all too quickly with the one that had struck me when we'd first arrived. It had been the reason I hadn't immediately been able to snap Kitten out of her downward spiral.

The memories seemed to be coming more frequently and easily than before, but this particular one had been especially painful. It was the memory of my death as a human and my rebirth as a Hollow. I could now understand why Hollows aren't supposed to have memories from before their rebirth. To know how it feels to be happy and full and then to have that stripped away, turned into some hollow shell, always hungry, never satisfied - it would drive a lesser man insane.

I'd fought my own battle on the riverbank, and I nearly lost.

The rain was really coming down. The little boy was regretting leaving his friend's house without asking for an umbrella. It was too late to turn back though. He'd take the shortcut by the river, grab the umbrella he'd left behind there the day before and change clothes at home, before heading back to Sora, umbrella in hand.

The thought of his best friend made him smile. They had just celebrated her sixth birthday together at the zoo. It had been so much fun. She told him when they got home how grown up she was after having successfully ridden the train and gone to the zoo all by herself with no grown-ups. He'd laughed. He knew that their mothers had been following them the whole time. He'd caught sight of them at the lion exhibit, before they hid behind one of the food stands. Not that he'd ever tell Sora that. It made her happy to think she was an independent grown-up now.

He was getting close to the riverbank now. He could just barely make out their cloud-watching spot through the rain. The little boy ran towards it, looking around before spotting the umbrella closer to the river.

That's right. They'd been trying to fish something out of the river yesterday and had used his umbrella to bring it to shore. It had turned out to be an old boot, which had been disappointing until Sora declared it to be the boot of some fearsome pirate lord who had lost his right foot to a great sea serpent, which had sparked an impromptu battle of ninja versus pirate.

"Gotcha. Now it's time to head home and then back to Sora's."

"I don't think sssso, kid." A voice hissed from entirely too close. The boy jumped and looked around, trying to find the person in the dark. "I wassss waiting for the girl to come back. Ssssuch sssstrong sssspiritual pressssure from ssssuch a ssssmall thing. Ssshe would have been delicioussss." He had finally pinpointed where the voice was coming from, and stared in horror as the speaker made its way towards him...from out of the river. "You will do jusssst fine until I can get hold of her. You ssssmell like her. Sssshe hasss awakened your own sssspiritual powerssss. Yesss, I will feasssst tonight." The creature was now looming over the boy. It was a grotesque looking thing with the head of a snake, wearing a strange white mask. It walked upright on two legs that ended in bird-like talons. Its scaled arms ended in sharp claws.

The sight of the creature had frozen him on the spot in fear. He didn't even see the snake monster strike until it was too late. He only felt a fleeting moment of pain as the creature withdrew its claw from his chest. The next moment, he was watching his body fall face first into the mud, blood pooling on the ground, quickly getting washed away by the rain.

"What -" Looking down at himself, he could see a small chain attached to his stomach.

"What a tassssty looking ssssoul." The snake made a noise that could have been a laugh, the boy wasn't sure. All he knew was that he was dead now. The creature had killed him, and he was going to do the same thing to Sora, if he didn't stop him.

"I'll let you eat me, but you can't hurt my friend." Again, it seemed to laugh.

"No deal. I like it when they sssstruggle. I find it much more ssssatissssfying. No, the little girl will be mine assss well. What wassss her name again? Ah yessss, Ssssora."

"NO! No, no, no, no, NO!" The boy could feel everything boiling up inside him: fear, sorrow, despair, but most of all rage. This creature could not have his friend. He had to protect her. He needed to stop the snake monster somehow. But how could he? He wasn't strong enough. The monster would eat him and then it would go after Sora!

Clutching at his head, the boy screamed. The chain burned, bright and hot before cracking and disintegrating, leaving behind a gaping hole in the boy's stomach. He threw his head back and howled as a white mask settled over his face. The pain was gone, replaced only by a growing emptiness and a vague memory of what needed to be done.

"You will not have her." The newly made Hollow growled before launching himself at his enemy, ripping into its face with claws and fangs, swallowing down the disgusting flesh. He was so hungry, so empty. The other Hollow tried to fight him off, but no matter how it clawed at the smaller Hollow, he would not relinquish his hold. He did not stop until there was nothing left for him to devour. Walking away from the body of the human boy, the newly made Hollow created a garganta and stepped through, mumbling to himself his final, fleeting, human thought. "You cannot have her because she is mine."

I could never tell her about it. It wasn't her fault a Hollow had targeted her, or that our proximity had awakened enough spiritual pressure inside my human self to make me appetizing enough for consumption. That's how she would see it though. Stupid, foolish woman. The memory had brought on that itching, uncomfortable feeling again. I held Kitten tighter, leaning closer to scent her. As always, having her near calmed me.

"I've got you now, Kitten. And those sick fucks will never touch what is mine."

Sooooo many feels in this chapter. I wanted to address something a reader brought up to me real quick. They were asking me about why Sora is so angry like 24/7, what her deal with Ichigo is, and why she would sell out the Soul Reapers because hey, that's kind of fucked up. Well, Sora is a fucked up character. She's been through shit and definitely not in a stable mindset. And to be honest, I love that about her. She is so flawed as a character, but that just makes her journey so much more satisfying as she grows and learns from her mistakes. This chapter was so incredible for me as a writer because I get to see her making progress as a character. *sniff* My baby is growing up! So yeah, if you ever have questions about the characters or what's going on plotwise let me know! I love getting into the nitty gritty of this shit lol

Also, you guys are the best!

I was going to do the shout out thing for everybody like usual, but realized this story has accumulated a decent amount of awesome peeps following/favoriting/reviewing. My heart is an exploding, gooey mess for you guys. I'd totally take on a snake monster for you!

Hope you liked the new chapter! I'll do my best to fight on and get the next chapter up before you guys keel over from old age lol

Seriously, I'll try to do better about getting chapters out more frequently, or at least update you guys if I get major writer's block again ;P

See you next time!