Disclaimer: Bleach belongs to Kubo Tite.
Summary: It's been three years since Ichigo gained his Shinigami powers, and the battle between Soul Society and Arrancar has grated to a stalemate. Karin's soul is separated from her body and her chain of fate is broken. But that doesn't mean she's dead...
A/N: I am so sick of battle scenes. Ugh...
And I'm sorry I wasn't able to make this clear through my writing, but Karin was battling her hollow since she broke her mask off in Hueco Mundo. She just wasn't aware of it until her mask completely disappeared in Urahara's shop. "A turmoil, both mental and spiritual, that she hadn't realized she had within her, suddenly dissipated." is the small indication of this.
I should have written Karin encountering her inner hollow when I had her materialize Shinketsuen. That was lack of planning on my part, and I apologize. Maybe I'll rewrite it.
EDIT: I have rewritten chapter 17. It's still probably not very clear, but at least I don't look like a fool that doesn't plan out her stories anymore...
Chapter 21 - Indefinite Leave
The simultaneous attacks executed by the blindfolded had hit their target head on. It made sense, in a diabolical way; once they were blinded, they could see. But the cumulative attacks hadn't been enough; Aizen's presence and spiritual energy was still tangible in the air.
Bending back into an offensive posture, Karin prepared herself mentally and physically for another attack. Suddenly, there was a flash of light that blinded the shinigami and arrancar even through their blindfolds.
"What's happening!" Karin cried out, ripping off her blindfold, only to shield her eyes with her red sleeve from the dazzling light that was coming from the area she had just attacked moments before. It was several heartbeats before she heard Urahara's voice answer, barely recognizable with the note of dread; Karin could never have imagined the shop owner capable of feeling dread, and it instilled fear into her.
"He's reaping the souls."
Karin eyes widened, and she protested, "But there shouldn't be enough spiritual energy…"
But she could not finish her sentence to deny the evidence both her eyes and her spiritual keenness was presenting her. The un-buried souls of Karakura nearby were being shredded to pieces. A living passerby that had come too close to Aizen had his very soul ripped out of his body, assimilated into the golden light that emanated from Aizen's hand.
Toushirou, realizing the situation, shouted, "He plans to sacrifice the lives of his subordinates as well!"
Everything clicked into place.
Karin and Ichigo simultaneously slammed on their hollow masks. But before they could attack, they discovered, to their horror, that even the blades of their zanpakutou were beginning to wear down into little spiritual particles that were slowly being drawn towards Aizen.
Immediately, as soon as Aizen had started to harvest the souls, Gin darted in front of Rangiku, pushing her as far from the harvester as possible. As his zanpakutou, shinsou, started to deteriorate, his ever-present smile wavered.
"Get away from here, Rangiku."
Rangikue, confused and torn, tried to stammer a question, but Gin cut in uncharacteristically, "The closer you are to the harvester, the faster your soul will be converted to spiritual particles. Go back to Soul Society."
But Gin turned away from her, walking towards the light of Aizen's figure. "It's what I chose. This is th'price I pay."
Rangiku grabbed Gin's white sleeve, finally able to coherently convey her anger.
"You think you can just leave like that!"
When Gin turned back to her, his face unsmiling but more like himself than he had ever been. Closing her slender fingers around his wrist, Rangiku pleaded, "It's simple, Gin."
And it was.
Staring at her zanpakutou deteriorating slowly but surely, Karin's red and black eyes widened and turned back to their normal color as her mask shattered into spiritual particles that were immediately vacuumed towards the light. Every second of hesitation was one more soul sacrificed. Karin knew this, yet she couldn't make herself move. Shinketsuen continued to be eaten away by Aizen's harvesting.
Finally tearing his eyes away from his crumbling zanpakutou, Ichigo turned his younger sister, his blindfold already untied and drifting away through the air.
With a tremendous effort, Karin willed her blade to stay whole, recalling the last few pieces of spiritual pressure that had broken away from her sword. With that, Shinketsuen materialized, his red hakama looking worn and raveled at the edges. But he was smiling.
"It's not snowing in the Hanging Gardens anymore. You know that?"
His voice echoed oddly. Karin nodded tightly, unable to speak.
The red hakama Shinketsuen wore continued to slowly deteriorate at the ends. Karin gripped her sword so tightly that she was sure she would have the imprints of the thread design on the hilt on her hands for the rest of her life.
"What are you hesitating for?" Shinketsuen demanded."You're fighting for the lives of others, Crybaby."
This hardened her resolve. She was fighting for others. Lunging forward and regenerating her mask, Karin's wings of flame flared a darker blood-red than ever, and Karin called to her comrades. They came to her side; Toushirou was a safe distance from her, but one comforting look from him was all she needed. She almost felt his determination flow into her.
All of the shinigami were armed with their bankai and materialized zanpakutou, the siblings also with their masks, while Neliel alone stood on the earth, armed with her four hoofed legs and lance.
They could not afford to deter their attack any longer; souls were shattering and being sucked into Aizen's now glowing figure. The blade of Karin's zanpakutou had been reduced to less than half its original length, its loss in metal blade supplemented only by flame.
"Aizen!" roared Toushirou, and as soon as he did, they attacked.
Several of the attackers were blasted back by Aizen's free hand, but Karin, Ichigo, and Toushirou persevered and poured all of their power to their oncoming attacks.
Grimly continuing to harvest the souls, Aizen's expression hardened and he smiled as Karin's own soul began to deteriorate with his ten foot radius. The man now seemed to be focusing all of his energy and power to harvest the souls.
Which meant he wouldn't be able to defend himself.
Karin was determined, even at the cost of her and Shinketsuen's spiritual matter, that she would destroy Aizen; no more souls would be sacrificed for an impossible dream to "reach the heavens."
Narrowing her eyes, Karin summoned all the flame she could, Ichigo and Toushirou doing the same with their respective powers.
Engulfed in blood-red flames, dark energy, and ice, the ex-shinigami was powerless to stop the onslaught of spiritual attack.
The light of soul particles faded, and the ex-shinigami crumbled away, the last to be sucked into the vacuum that he himself had created.
Breathing heavily, Karin looked around at the fallen passerby; passerby who no longer had souls. Her mask broke apart into pieces, and Karin looked down at Shinketsuen. Only the hilt and a barest hint of the blade was left of her zanpakutou. Shinketsuen's red form was nowhere to be seen.
She looked around frantically.
Ichigo, too, seemed to be at a loss for what had happened to their zanpakutou's materialized forms.
Then Karin heard a voice whisper in her head,"Quit being so noisy, damnit... I'm tired. If it starts raining again in here, I'm gonna kill you the next time I see you."
It was his way of telling her to stay happy, Karin realized. Weak with relief that Shinketsuen was okay, albeit tired and broken, Karin collapsed backwards through the sky, her stand in the air now gone without her concentration. To her surprise, she landed in sturdy arms. Looking up, she saw that it was Toushirou.
The silver haired shinigami smiled and held Karin from behind, his chest to her back.
"We did it." He said softly.
Breathing out and leaning her slightly smaller frame against Toushirou's body, Karin surveyed the surrounding casualties once more, and whispered, "So many people…"
Wrapping his arms around Karin's waist, Toushirou replied, "But we did it; there will be no more unnecessary sacrifices, and that's what matters. You did well."
Though Karin could feel Ichigo's gaze upon them, she didn't really care. She closed her eyes, ridiculously relieved by the last three words that Toushirou had said to her.
Toushirou turned Karin so she was facing him, and leaned in to kiss her. He whispered against her lips, "Yeah."
Ichigo stared at Toushirou and Karin slightly resentfully across the dinner table.
"So were you planning to tell me about how close you two had gotten any time soon?"
Crossing her arms defensively, Karin shot back, "We didn't particularly hide it or anything. Besides, we didn't have time to tell you, remember?"
The orange haired shinigami rolled his eyes.
Suddenly grinning, Ichigo reached out and ruffled Karin's unruly black hair.
"You're back safe. That's all that matters."
Karin stared at her older brother shrewdly.
"And when were you planning to tell me you had stuffed Kon into my body while I was gone?"
Pulling his hand back hastily, Ichigo was about to attempt to defend himself, when he was saved by Yuzu, who had come back to the table with a tray laden with steaming bowls of soup. Setting out the bowls, Yuzu said, "I'm glad you could come over for dinner, Toushirou-kun."
Toushirou's eyebrow twitched at how Yuzu addressed him, but the rest of the whole stinking Kurosaki family called him by his first name. Well, the rest of the family -
… except for Kurosaki Isshin.
Karin's father prattled at him, "Nice to finally meet you! I always had the faint inkling in the past few weeks that something was going on with Karin, and I never imagined that it would be a boy -"
Karin's foot contacted with her father's mouth. Returning back to the table as if nothing had happened, Karin took up her spoon and sipped. Sneaking a glance at Toushirou, who had started upon his food as if he had starved for weeks, Karin smiled and remarked to no one in particular, "It's good to be home."
Yuzu's answering smile was confused, but warm nonetheless. Even Toushirou paused in his shoveling food into his mouth to flash her a half-grin.
It was a happy ending, wasn't it?
"What? You're leaving tonight?"
Toushirou ran a hand through his spiky silver hairawkwardly and answered, "Yeah. Now that everything's over, I have to go back to the Gotei Thirteen. Take care of division stuff."
Spotting Karin's crestfallen look, Toushirou sighed.
"I am a captain, you know. I have responsibilities."
Karin replied in a low voice. "I know…"
He pulled her into his arms and said, "You know… you could come, with me. Leave soul candy in your body and just visit a couple of times."
She spoke into his shoulder, her voice muffled.
"Maybe." She doubted it. She was alive, and living people didn't belong in Soul Society.
She hated the idea of being a "star-crossed-lover" as Neliel had warned her earlier, before leaving through the Garganta to "beat some sense into those barbarians in Hueco Mundo."
But being star-crossed-lovers seemed to be the only choice.
Running the events of what had happened over through her mind seemed to be the only thing Karin had been doing these days. She especially seemed fixated upon what had happened after defeating Aizen, rerunning the course of happenings over and over again, whenever she had free time, and even when she was busy with homework.
When Karin had first gotten back into her body, the first thing she had checked was her hip. No tattoo on her real flesh. She had been relieved.
Ichimaru Gin and Tousen Kaname had been captured and imprisoned in Soul Society. Karin didn't especially care what happened to them, though Rangiku seemed to care very much. Well, at least about the silver-haired smiley guy, anyways.
Toushirou had stayed with the Kurosaki family for a couple of days, eating a distressing amount of food before leaving Karin in the real world to return to his shinigami duties.
And she hadn't heard from him since.
Life had returned to normal for Karin, punctuated every once in a while by the odd-hollow slaying and cleansing that she did for sport.
But through the few weeks after her comrades had left, something always seemed missing. She spaced off at school even more than she had before.
"Kurosaki! Kindly pay attention, will you!"
Apologizing absently, Karin turned back to the window, staring out at the sky. The teacher, giving her up as a lost cause, returned to her lecture on Japanese History.
Karin dribbled her soccer ball by herself, trying to take the edge off of her temper, which had gotten even shorter than before. Frustrated for a reason that she knew all too well, Karin kicked the soccer ball vehemently into the net.
"That stupid…" She muttered, picturing for the thousandth time that day, the silver-haired tenth division captain.
"You'd better not be talking about me." commented a husky voice, sounding both amused and irritated.
Whirling around, Karin saw Toushirou standing behind her, dressed in his twenty-first century clothes.
"What are you doing here?" After the words left her mouth, Karin winced at the tone of voice she had used.
Raising an eyebrow but otherwise ignoring her less-than-friendly tone, Toushirou replied, "The commander assigned me to Karakura; since Aizen is gone, there just isn't as much work to do in Soul Society."
Frowning, Karin asked dubiously, "Is that allowed? To send a captain out to handle small-fry hollows and soul burials, especially to a town with two shinigami already living in it?"
Looking irritated, Toushirou cleared his throat and said, "Okay, so maybe the commander bent the rules for me, but I still got the permission to come."
As the implications sunk in, Karin felt a grin start to spread across her face. Crossing over to Toushirou, Karin looked up into his face and asked, "So how long will you be watching over Karakura?"
Pretending to think, Toushirou looked up at the sky and said, "Oh, maybe an indefinite period of time? Until the next super-villain comes to plague the spiritual world, I guess?" Rolling his crystal blue eyes to look at Karin once more, Toushirou asked, "Your family still have a spare room for me?"
Karin answered by wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing him. She felt Toushirou smile against her lips before he kissed back.
It wasn't a happy ending, Karin realized. It was a happy beginning.
A/N: Thanks so much to the readers who stuck with me through this story! I love you guys!