8/15/08: I came back to read this… and I decided that I wanted to revamp this story. My writing style has changed yet again.

[Note: I noticed… that there weren't that many stories on Karin… So I decided to use some spare time to make one! Well, it's been three years since Ichigo became a shinigami; not much more to say. Enjoy!

Disclaimer: Oh, and just for the sake of tradition, Bleach isn't mine.]

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Chapter 1 - Karin's Life

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Homeroom was always dull. Though the class itself was lively, nobody in it was especially interesting or out of the ordinary, save for the fourteen-year-old individual who could see dead spirits.

As usual, the teacher took attendance, students chattered noisily, and one student paid absolutely no attention to any of it at all.

"Kurosaki Karin!"

Until her name was called. Reluctantly emerging from her half-comatose state, a girl with unruly raven hair flopped her hand lazily and yawned, "Here…."

The teacher's eyes lingered on the half-asleep student. He disapproved of her demeanor and her appearance, but it was better to fight one battle at a time. Preferably the easier one. Rapping his ruler on Karin's desk, he said, "Kurosaki… How many times do I have to tell you to wear the standard uniform to school?"

Propping her chin on her hand, Karin yawned again and groused, "I am wearing the uniform, Kusakabe sensei..."

At a skeptical look from Kusakabe, Karin shrugged.

"It's a mixture of the two standard uniforms. The pants are part of our phys. ed uniform. I'm wearing the shirt and necktie aren't I?"

Kurosaki Karin looked only mildly like a delinquent.

Her hair wasn't orange like Ichigo's, and despite its porcupinestic tendencies, it wasn't her shoulder-length black hair that made her stick out like a sore thumb in the classroom. It was her attire. In contrast to all the other girls in her class, Karin wore gray jogging-pants donated to the school by the Addidas corporation, the sleeves of her white collar-shirt rolled up and wrinkled, her red necktie loose and draped over her shoulder. Contrastingly, all the other girls, including Karin's twin, Kurosaki Yuzu, obediently wore gray skirts and jackets, their white shirts (for the most part) unwrinkled and their red neckties straight.

The homeroom teacher and Karin proceeded to engage in a glaring contest; Karin won, and the teacher gave up on critiquing Karin's uniform. For that day, at least. Heaving a long-suffering sigh, he went back to calling roll.

"Kurosaki Yuzu!"

Yuzu, with her honey-colored hair and innocent temperament, with considerable more enthusiasm than her twin, raised her hand and piped up, "Here!"

All the boys in the class muttered amongst themselves about Karin's contrary behavior.

"Polar opposite of Yuzu…"

"I still can't believe they're twins!"

"She's practically like a guy!"

In front, Karin rolled her eyes. Her keen ears could hear every word being uttered behind her. And actually, she didn't really mind so much. Karin knew she was different than Yuzu, and she did her best to balance out her 'yin of a fraternal twin' with as much 'yang' that she could muster on her part. What the boys said about her was actually comforting in a way. It satisfied Karin to know that the boys didn't think she was insipid or stupid like some of the other girls could be.

When Karin had been younger, the boys had first avoided her because of "cooties." Then they'd deigned to play with her because she was good at soccer. But come middle school, they'd started to realize that she was an oddity. She was the star of her school soccer team (and the only girl), though, so the boys didn't quite dare to ostracize her publicly.

"She's really flat too…"

Having heard enough, Karin perched her elbow over the back of her chair and turned to look at the two boys whispering from their seats behind her.

"Did you say something?"

The two boys shrank back in their seats and Karin smirked. It was almost funny to see how the back-talkers clammed up whenever she was right in their faces. It was too bad that the boys would grow up and mature come high school. Their reactions amused her.

Turning back to her desk partner, Karin asked, "Do you have your English notes, Midoriko?"

Midoriko had been her and Yuzu's friend since elementary school; she never tested Karin's temper and she was nice, even though Karin had the vague feeling that Midori found her a bit intimidating.

...

Throughout the school day, while she tuned out her teachers' lectures, Karin felt bits of spiritual pressure flaring up every once in a while. Each time, she knew it was either her brother's or one of his shinigami friends; she was getting better at being able to tell which spiritual energy belonged to whom these days. A particularly strong flare usually marked her brother. Any other minimal flares were usually those of Ichigo's comrades; they were probably trying not to attract attention and disrupt what they probably viewed as the 'human world.' Most of the battles were short in duration, but every once in a while, Karin felt noticeably longer battles, between a shinigami and what she'd once witnessed to be a humanoid hollow. Such battles always seemed more difficult and dangerous for the opposing shinigami, and the prolonged fights put Karin on edge, the spiritual pressures grating on her nerves. Unable to concentrate, Karin would stare out the window, imagining the battles…

"Kurosaki Karin! You seem to be done with your classwork. Come up here and solve this math problem for us."

…only to be picked on by irate teachers. It was lucky that Karin did quite well with her studies. In tests, she ranked in the top twenty of her school, the top five in her class.

...

As usual, Karin ran on cruise control during soccer scrimmage. With an ideal physique for weaving through the boys and setting herself up for the goal shot, getting past a goalie who's style she knew well should have been a piece of cake. But for the first time in several years, Karin missed a goal. Eyes glazed, she hit the ball from too much of an angle, and it glanced off the goal post. Staring at the hills visible behind the school, she didn't even notice her mistake.

"Kurosaki!"

Karin snapped out of her reverie at the coach's voice. Turning, she answered, "Yeah, coach?"

His face expressing something between worry and irritation, the coach asked, "Is something up?"

For a second, Karin looked confused, until she glanced at the score tally for the practice. Realization hit her, and she looked irritated, and even sheepish.

"Ugh… I missed the goal? Sorry, coach."

"Don't forget that we're aiming for the nationals this year, Kurosaki. Keep your head in focus."

Soccer was her passion, but Karin only heard half of her coach's talk. She found herself staring at the hills again. Somewhere over there, her older brother, Ichi-nii, was fighting again.

As she sat on the sidelines, absentmindedly tugging at the collar of her soccer jersey, Karin reviewed the shinigami situation for the umpteenth time.

So Karin knew. Ichigo knew Karin knew. And Karin knew Ichigo knew she knew. The list went on, ending with an unspoken agreement between them not to talk about it. The last time Karin had tried to ask her older brother about what he was doing, Ichigo had straight out denied everything.

But Karin still didn't know as much as she wanted to about spirit world. In fact, she knew next to nothing except that stagnant, fallen souls that had lingered in the human world turned into hollows, and that Ichigo sometimes disappeared for weeks at a time, usually coming back with triple the spiritual power he had possessed before he had left.

Even with her limited intelligence network on the workings of shinigami and hollow communities (greatly limited to what Karin's own two black eyes could observe) Karin did have a vague grasp on what Ichigo had been doing during his weeks of absence over the past several years. She had been aware of his shinigami training, and his escapades in the world of souls, then in the world of hollows and whatnot - but she kept quiet about it; Ichigo was obviously wary of his family's involvement with his shinigami-duties. For the last three years, though, she had been aware of the brief battles that had been occurring between the shinigami and the humanoid-hollows. It seemed pretty much like a stalemate, but Karin knew that Ichigo, even as a senior in high school, always kept up his guard, ready to charge off to battle.

That was how another day of school ended.

"See ya, Midoriko!" "Bye, Midori-chan!"

Waving goodbye to their friend, Kurosaki Karin slung an arm over Yuzu's shoulder and headed home. On their way out through the school gates, Yuzu inquired, "How was soccer practice, Karin-chan?"

Yuzu was always so caring. Karin hadn't even been thinking of what Yuzu would be doing in cooking club besides… well, cooking. Feeling slightly guilty, Karin replied, "It was alright. I'm sure you were at the top of your cooking club again."

Grinning happily, Yuzu nodded. "Well, it's the one thing I'm good at, so I work hard."

Karin snorted. "I don't know how you can stand cooking so many times a day."

No matter that they were twins, they were as different as night and day. Karin was, essentially, cynical, strong, and Karin. Her twin, on the other hand, was gentle, sensitive, and Yuzu.

Apart from the differences in their personalities, Karin was taller and with a boyish figure, while Yuzu looked far more feminine, despite her shorter haircut. Frankly, as boys quickly noticed, Karin also just wasn't quite as well endowed as her twin. On the other hand, the physical similarities between Karin and Ichigo were striking, further pronounced when Karin scowled (which was often).

While walking in comfortable silence with Yuzu, Karin felt the presence of a hollow once again. Karin kept her senses on alert out of pure habit; the last few years had taught her at least that much came in use for surviving in a city teetering on the edge of a hollow invasion. She also knew that Ichigo was busy with his last year of highschool. She surreptitiously helped with the weaker hollows whenever possible, always keeping a soccer ball in a net attached to her backpack. It was her weapon.

Presently, Karin stopped in her tracks, sensing a hollow nearby. Yuzu too, stopped and turned to ask, "What's wrong, Karin-chan?"

Karin tried not to take too long to come up with an answer; she didn't want to draw Yuzu's suspicion. "Nothing, I just remembered something I left at the locker rooms. Go ahead home. I'll catch up with you later."

When Yuzu hesitated, Karin waved her off, encouraging her, "Go on. Can't have the men in our house starving because I made you walk around with me."

Though puzzled - Karin seemed to be forgetting things quite often lately - Yuzu nodded and continued home.

Until she had made sure that Yuzu was out of sight, Karin pretended to walk back towards school. Looking back over her shoulder once more time, Karin saw that Yuzu had turned the corner. Immediately, Karin started sprinting in the direction she sensed the hollow. Unhitching the soccer-ball net from her backpack, Karin dropped the soccer ball to the ground and dribbled it to the area where she felt the hollow. Upon seeing the hollow, Karin thought, not for the first time, how grotesque hollows looked with their skeletal masks and mutilated bodies, whether they had animalistic limbs, slimy tentacles, or extra appendages.

Before the hollow could target her as a meal, Karin came to a stop with the dribbling, stepping on the soccer ball firmly and stopping its rotation. After a mere split second, in which the hollow had just noticed Karin's presence, Karin drew back her foot, aimed and kicked the soccer ball. Goals and their wide berth, even guarded by a goalie, did not begin to compare to hitting a live target.

She felt a slight thrill of exhilaration as she packed a fair amount of spiritual energy into the ball; it hit the hollow dead-on at the center of its mask, cracking it into pieces. Just as usual, the hollow's mask disintegrated with the rest of its body.

Karin grinned with almost feral satisfaction, retrieved the soccer ball, tucking it back into its net and hooking it back onto her backpack.

'Time to go back home.' Karin thought as she anticipated the dinner Yuzu was preparing. Defeating hollows made her hungry.

...

[Crystal: How do you like it?

I realize that I could have just made this into a one-shot, the way I ended this chapter, but I think I spent to much time developing the setting and Karin's character and outlook on life just to end it here.]

Now that I look back on it, a one shot like that would have made me angry if I were a reader. o_o