Author: afrai
Summary: Karin and Ichigo win their separate battles. A coda.
Disclaimer: These characters belong to Kubo Tite, who will give them a happier ending, one hopes.

Therein lies the denouement

She's spent so long preparing for this moment that its actual occurrence is almost an anticlimax.

Spirit parts like flesh under her sword. In the end, her brother's as easy to kill as any Hollow.

She stares up at him, blade in his heart, and watches his face flicker from white to pale -- and then there he is, her stupid noisy cranky orange-haired brother, no-one else. His eyes are tired and sane. She had never seen anyone else beneath the mask, but the look in his eyes hurts like dying anyway.

"Hey," he says.

"Ichi-nii," she says, her voice cracking pathetically. Suddenly she's ten years old and watching her brother dash away from her to save the world; she's five and sitting on the edge of the bed with her back to Ichigo and Yuzu, pretending not to listen to the story; she's fifteen and she's outgrown her big brother. This wasn't supposed to happen.

He tries to smile, though blood is already limning the curve of his lower lip. His hand lands heavily on the side of her head.

"... won, didn't I," he says.

"Ichi-nii?" Her nose is running and breathing hurts and this is wrong, this is bad; she can't see his face through the tears and she has to, because this is the last time. She has to see, so she can tell Yuzu, her father, everyone --

"... didn't kill you," says Ichigo, and he grins the way he used to, cocky, shit-eating, the kind of grin he had when he'd just sent a herd of bullies packing and thought up several snappy oneliners in the process. "Pull it out, Karin."

He doesn't say he's proud of her. He doesn't say he's sorry. Karin grips the hilt with shaking hands and pulls it out like her brother told her to, but he can't thank her anymore.

"Asshole," she tells him with what she can find of her voice, but it's breaking up, this is as far as she can go. Her head hurts like fuck and the world's a tear-blurred smear of black and red, night and blood, but that's okay. There's nothing more to see.