A/N: Hello awesome humans! Sorry for the delay but here is Chapter 36! Please read my note at the bottom of the page for an exciting announcement! ^_^ Love you all!


Hinamori had been looking forward to Ryouta's winter festival since the season's chill had first settled in the air and thus far it did not disappoint. Campus was lined with all sorts of wintry spectacles, from colorful strung up lights to meticulously crafted ice sculptures. The organizers had constructed a handful of hot chocolate booths that were spaced out amongst the festivities, Momo helping herself to a cup on more than one occasion. The pond Hinamori and Hitsugaya had taken a tumble into several months ago had frozen over and been turned into an ice rink. Skate rentals had been set up by chilly looking volunteers who did their best to help overenthusiastic students pick out their proper sizes. Hinamori had given it a whirl and somehow managed not to fall flat on her face, though she didn't think she'd be trading her cleats for skates anytime soon.

The two saw several familiar faces as the evening wore on, grabbing a bite to eat with Renji and Ichigo, observing the ice sculptures with Yumichika and Ikkaku. The cue-ball was doing his best to imitate some of the posing figures with mixed results. Perhaps one of the highlights of the evening was running into Yoruichi and Urahara, both with cups of cocoa in their hands and smiles on their faces. Urahara apologized for his absence during Hitsugaya's birthday bash but promised him a free pancake meal in compensation.

"Good thing you play soccer," Momo had told Toshiro, jokingly poking him in the stomach before he could bat her hand away.

The evening wore on, the cocoa sitting warm and comfortable in her belly and despite the fun she was having Momo found her thoughts drifting more and more frequently to her mattress. She did her best to suppress a yawn though it burst through her lips undaunted, drawing a smile from Toshiro.

"Tired?" he asked her. Momo felt her cheeks flush.

"A little," she admitted sheepishly.

"Did you want to head back soon?"

Hinamori never got a chance to answer the question for the sound of someone hailing their names drew their attention to the snow dusted sidewalk. Hitsugaya and Hinamori turned in unison to see Orihime hurrying toward them, her long orange hair blowing in the wind, her brows furrowed in an uncharacteristically troubled expression. Momo felt Toshiro tense beside her, the young man clearly noting Orihime's worry. It was odd to see the girl alone and it was in that second that Momo realized why.

Rangiku was not with her. In fact, Hinamori hadn't seen Matsumoto all evening.

"Inoue? What's wrong?" Hitsugaya asked, voicing the question as Orihime came to a stop in front of them, nearly slipping on the ice in the process.

"Careful!" Momo exclaimed, reaching out and resting a steadying hand on the girl's arm.

"Thank you!" Orihime said gratefully, shooting Momo a brief smile before her lips flattened back into a tense line, as though concern itself was weighing them down. "Um, have you guys seen Rangiku?"

Momo's stomach tightened as Orihime's question confirmed her fears but she wasn't prepared to jump to conclusions just yet. It was very possible that the orangette was concerned about something personal and was merely seeking her roommate's advice… True Hinamori hadn't seen Rangiku all night, but she hadn't seen Hisagi either. Perhaps the two were just off drinking together and had lost track of time…she wouldn't put it past them.

"No, we haven't," Hitsugaya answered. "Where did you lose her?"

Orihime's eyes watered.

"At our apartment!" she wailed, looking as though she might burst into tears at any moment. Hitsugaya and Hinamori exchanged mystified looks.

"What do you mean?" Momo asked, trying to keep her voice calm and soothing while maintaining 'Masaki's' rasp.

"W-well she found this note on our door—" Orihime began but was cut off by a new voice hailing them for the second time in as many minutes.

"Hitsugaya! Hinamori! There you guys are, haven't seen you all night! Oh, hey Inoue."

It was Hisagi, the soccer captain hurrying toward them with a grin on his face, Kira at his side. Momo felt her heart sink. So much for her 'drinking with Hisagi' theory. Hisagi's smile faltered at the stoic expressions on their faces, one of his eyebrows raising in inquiry. "What'd I miss?" he asked, his gaze flicking from one sober face to another.

"Not entirely sure yet," Hitsugaya answered flatly. "Inoue was about to tell us."

Hisagi's eyebrows furrowed as he nodded, his frown deepening as his gaze rested on those in attendance.

"Wait, where's Matsumoto?" he asked, obviously having noted the missing member of the crew.

Hitsugaya sighed, gripping the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger while Hinamori resisted the sudden overpowering urge to facepalm.

"You were saying Inoue?" Hitsugaya asked pointedly, lowering his hand and fixing his eyes on her.

"R-right," Orihime stammered, giving her head a shake. "So Rangiku and I had gone shopping because there was this really pretty new pair of shoes she wanted to look at…"

The girl continued her story but at that moment Momo felt a light tap on her shoulder, distracting her from the conversation. She turned with a frown, surprised, and a little startled, to see Kira standing just behind her. Hinamori gave him an inquiring look, a little annoyed to have been interrupted from something so important. He reached forward, his fingers closing around her wrist.

"I need to talk to you," he mumbled, his voice just loud enough to touch her ears. Momo's frown deepened, her eyes flicking to where Orihime was still speaking. Whatever she was saying must have concerned the boys for identical furrow marks had formed between Hitsugaya and Hisagi's brows.

"Now?" she mouthed back. Kira nodded.

Momo's eyes narrowed. There definitely seemed to be something off about her friend. His usual upbeat attitude was muted somehow, his face pale, his eyes unfocused. This, more than anything else, had Momo stepping away from the group, brushing away Toshiro's confused glance with a brief wave of her hand.

"Be right back," she mouthed to him. He would be able to fill her in on everything Orihime had said when they got back. Maybe whatever Kira was going to tell her had to do with Matsumoto anyway.

Hitsugaya nodded slowly at her, but it was plain from the expression on his face that he wanted an explanation. Well Hinamori did too and hopefully Kira would be able to give her a good one.

Once the blonde seemed to realize Momo was willing to listen to him he turned and began to walk away, clearly assuming the girl would follow. She hesitated only a moment, turning to shoot one more glance at Toshiro over her shoulder. His eyes slid to hers and she gave him a brief smile before turning away and hurrying after Kira, feeling Hitsugaya's gaze on her until she was swallowed by the crowd.

The blonde was certainly setting a pace and Momo was practically jogging in order to avoid losing him amongst the throngs of festival goers.

"Kira!" she called, frustration churning in her gut. "Kira slow down! What's going on!?"

What was he thinking? One minute he was desperately asking to talk to her, the next he was practically running away. Hinamori's fists clenched, her frustration boiling into anger. If something was really wrong with Rangiku, she didn't have time for this.

"Kira if you don't tell me what's wrong right now I'm going back!" she shouted, ignoring the odd looks cast her way by those passing by. Izuru paused and turned back to look at her, his eyes oddly glassy. For a moment she thought he might be drunk but she had seen Kira intoxicated before and this…this was something different entirely. Before she had more time to dwell on it he was speaking.

"We're almost there," he told her before turning and beginning to walk away again.

"Almost where? I thought you wanted to talk!" Hinamori called after him before gritting her teeth in annoyance and following him anyway. What in the world was going on? The farther she followed Kira the more the crowd began to thin out and it wasn't long before they reached Ryouta's main parking lot. The place was nearly void of people, only the occasional straggler moving to or from their car interrupting the quiet.

Momo was beginning to get uneasy. Kira was moving toward a more deserted part of the lot, the shadows there stretching long and ominous across the sleeping vehicles. She knew she shouldn't have anything to worry about, this was only Kira after all. He was her friend. Her teammate. Yet even so, something felt off. Perhaps she was overly paranoid thanks to Rangiku's odd absence, and yet the alarm bells going off in her head nearly drowned out the sounds of winter festivities. Hinamori swallowed and glanced around, suddenly wishing there were one or two more people nearby.

"Kira I—" she began though paused as Kira had suddenly stopped beside a car that looked oddly familiar. She frowned, trying to recall where she had seen it before and though she could sense the memory drifting tantalizingly in her head, it refused to materialize from the cobwebbed recesses of her mind.

Kira was looking at her again, that oddly blank look in his eyes effectively creeping her out.

"Get into the car," he told her, his tone oddly flat. Hinamori went very still.

"W-what?" Momo asked stiffly, the alarm bells in her mind becoming a symphony of crashing cymbals.

"Get into the car," Kira repeated in an identical, monotonous tone.

"Get into the…? No," Momo answered, taking a step back. "What is wrong with you Kira? This isn't funny."

"I need you to get into the car," Izuru said again, beginning to move toward her.

"Stop it!" Momo told him, backing up further. "Stop, you're actually scaring me."

"Get into the car."

Momo turned to run and in that moment felt Kira's fingers close painfully around her arm. As blind panic descended on her mind a rush of muscle memory encased her limbs, moving her body like a puppet on strings as hours at Kenpachi's dojo paid off.

Reaching up and gripping Kira's arm she twisted her body, throwing the young man off balance and allowing his forward momentum to carry him over her shoulder and into the snow. He landed with a solid 'oompf' on the flat of his back, lying stunned for a few precious seconds. Before he could recover Hinamori was off and running again, her heart pounding in her ears like the incensed beat of a war drum.


"Don't move."

Hinamori felt herself freeze as the 'click' and ominously murmured words painted a vivid image in her mind of what was likely pointed at her back right now.

Slowly she turned and her fears were confirmed.

A man she did not recognize stood there, a sleek black gun in his hand, the barrel of which was pointed directly at her. He was a beefy man with a large mustache that devoured his upper lip and yet, with that weapon in his hand, he was the most terrifying thing Hinamori had ever seen.

"Get into the car," he growled, the words echoing Kira's like some garish broken record. Hinamori hesitated and the man's eyes narrowed. "Get into the car or she gets it."

Momo slowly allowed her gaze to drift to the vehicle, taking her first good look at the interior of the car. She had been too distracted by Kira to do so before but now she could just make out a girl's unconscious form in the backseat of the vehicle, nearly hidden in the deep shadows cast over it. Still, that curtain of ginger hair was unmistakable. Her heart fell into her stomach.

It was Rangiku.

She got into the car.


She was taking too long.

Hitsugaya couldn't stop his gaze from drifting in the direction Hinamori and Kira had vanished, the young man about thirty seconds from marching after them himself. He didn't like this at all. Orihime's story about the note had cast a shadow over an otherwise pleasant evening and now anxiety about Hinamori mixed with worry for Rangiku had created a concoction in his stomach that lapped like corroding acid against his insides. Orihime hadn't known who the note was from, nor had Rangiku told her what it said. Still, knowing Matsumoto's history, Hitsugaya had his suspicions. From the look on Hisagi's face, Toshiro suspected his friend did too.

The plan had been to wait for Hinamori and Kira to return before filling them in on the situation and going to look for Matsumoto. Now however it seemed two search parties might be in order.

"Where did they say they were going?" Orihime asked after another minute had dragged itself by.

"They didn't," Toshiro answered flatly, his patience strangled by his nerves. Orihime, perhaps sensing his mood, did not press the question.

Five minutes passed.

Then ten.

"I'm going to look for them," Hitsugaya grumbled, unable to stand still any longer. Hisagi nodded his head.

"I'll help," he said.

"Me too!" Orihime piped up. "Divide and conquer!"

Hisagi snorted before lifting up his cellphone.

"Stay in touch," he said. "I'll text Renji and the others. Maybe one of them have seen 'em."

Hitsugaya nodded mutely before turning and heading in the direction Hinamori had gone. There were people everywhere but he kept his eyes open for Hinamori's familiar bouncy gait or Kira's head of blonde hair. He didn't know why he felt as anxious as he did. Momo and Kira had more than likely gotten themselves caught up in some kind of festival activity and Matsumoto…well she was prone to doing her own thing.

Hitsugaya might even have been able to convince himself of that if not for the note.

He wished Orihime had been able to get a look at the scrap and by doing so cast some light on the current situation. The young man gave his head a shake. Thinking that way was pointless. Orihime hadn't seen the note, there was no point dwelling on what might have been. In all likelihood all three of them would show up and Toshiro would feel silly for ever having worried in the first place.

A buzz in his pocket alerted him to a new text and he pulled his phone out, a message from Hisagi blinking across the screen.

Ran into Renji and Ichigo. Have not seen them. Going to help look.

Hitsugaya sighed, shoving down the disappointment that rose in his chest. At least their search party was increasing. The more their numbers grew the sooner they'd find Hinamori, Kira…maybe even Matsumoto. At least that's what Hitsugaya was hoping.

Yet as the minutes ticked by with nothing to show for them but a few unsuccessful text updates, the worry in Hitsugaya's stomach began to take on the shape and temperament of a snarling jackal. He tried Hinamori's cellphone unsuccessfully, then Kira's, then finally Matsumoto's. All three of the lines went to voicemail and it was all Hitsugaya could do to keep from smashing the cellular device to pieces against the ice. He took a deep breath, trying to calm his frustration. Maybe now was a good time to meet back up with Hisagi and discuss next steps.

It was at that moment that his phone rang.

Toshiro had never looked at something so fast in his life.

Unknown Number… Unknown Number… Unknown Number…

Hitsugaya stared at the words blinking across his screen, dread uncoiling in his stomach like a viper from its hole. There was a chance it was Kazuo again, but at this point that was a chance Toshiro was willing to take. He clicked the 'Accept Call' button, adrenaline roaring in his ears.


"Toshiro," said the voice on the other end. It spoke his name with all the warmth of a striking adder, the tone a mix of honey and arsenic. "Happy birthday. I have quite the surprise for you."

It was all Hitsugaya could do to hold onto the phone, his heart freefalling into his stomach as ice coated his veins. He knew that voice. He had heard it almost every day for the past several months.


Hello everyone! Sorry this chapter was a bit delayed, life has been busy.

Sooooooo I'm working on something (part of the reason this chapter was late) and have been for the past several years! Right now I am doing my best to get the final drafts of my original novel all set and ready to submit to literary agents. Here's hoping it is accepted! Fortunately I'm stubborn haha. It took a few years of slogging through fog but after much introspection I've decided I want to write stories for a living. This is my passion and my joy. You all helped me figure that out and I am so incredibly grateful!

I will keep you all updated on the process and will have a personal website up soon with character information, maybe even a few snippets of content.

Thank you so much for your kind words and support. I do this for you guys! See you in Chapter 37!