Last chapter!

Hitsugaya was crying. Tears that were even rarer than his smiles poured down his cheeks, forming puddles on his collar and sleeves. Karin reached out and placed a protective arm around him, and he fell into her, curled up like a baby, needing the comfort her arms provided.

"You know, there's nothing attractive about this," Karin chided. Hitsugaya responded by pressing his head against her neck. She stroked his hair gently.

"I need you," he pleaded. "I…I can't live without you. Please come back to me."

"What are you talking about?" she said with a laugh. "I'm right here!"

"I'm sorry," he sobbed. "I'm so sorry. It's all my fault! If only I hadn't waited as long as I did, if I had attacked before they pushed you through, you wouldn't be like this! I…I can barely recognize you." Karin looked down at her hands. They were white and rough, just like they always were. She touched her face. It felt normal.

"What do you mean, you can't recognize me?" she asked with concern. "Don't you know who I am?!" Hitsugaya wept even harder.

"You must be in so much pain!" he said in a strangled voice. "And the frostbite didn't help, ice only makes burns hurt more. Karin, I'm so sorry."

"Stop apologizing!" Karin scowled, getting angry now. "What the heck did you do?"

"Please," he begged. "Please wake up."

"I'm awake!" Karin cried, but suddenly found that she wasn't where she thought she was. She was lying on a soft white bed, covered in bandages. Hitsugaya was not in her arms, nor was he blubbering like a child into her shoulder. Her head spun slightly as she got her bearings.

"A dream?" she thought. "But it felt so real…Wait, why am I alive?"

"She's not awake," said a frustrated voice beside her. "She's just talking in her sleep again. Stop getting your hopes up, idiot!" Karin turned. Hitsugaya was sitting in a chair beside her bed, and she had to admit, she had never seen him look worse. His face was drawn and pale, like he hadn't eaten or slept well in quite some time. His right hand was red and cracked, as if it was healing from some terrible injury.

And then it hit her. Her dream! Her dream of hellfire and familiar ice. Hitsugaya hadn't sent Hyourinmaru after her to kill her! He had sent him in to save her! She grinned.

"No, this time, I really am awake," she said. The look of surprise on his face was priceless. Karin tried to laugh, but found it painful, so she stopped.

"Karin," Hitsugaya said cautiously, not daring to believe that she was actually awake.

"Yes Toushiro?" she said amused, beaming from ear to ear. But he seemed at a loss for words. Ignoring the immense pain that movement brought, Karin reached out her arm and placed her hand on his undamaged one.

"You saved me didn't you?" she asked kindly. Hitsugaya shifted uncomfortably.

"Well, I had help," he admitted. "Your father showed up at the last second. I can't believe I spent so many years in your home and never realized who he was. I guess it was natural, since I never actually saw him, but still." Karin looked at him curiously.

"He's a former taicho," he explained. "Your mother was his fukutaicho. You're technically a soul. Our relationship's legal now." Karin took a moment to process this, then smirked.

"What relationship?" she asked. "I thought I broke up with you?" Hitsugaya gasped, and Karin started to laugh again, stopping abruptly when she remembered how much pain it caused.

"Even after all this time, you still can't take a joke, can you Toushiro?" she teased, and Hitsugaya actually smiled. Karin felt warm all over, but it wasn't from her burns.

"But," she continued, "if you don't give me a kiss right now, I may really have to end it." Hitsugaya stared at her.

"Won't it hurt?" Karin remembered not to laugh this time, but it was difficult.

"I don't care," she replied. "Pain's not all that bad." Hitsugaya smiled again, then leaned over and kissed her as gently as he could. But Karin wouldn't stand for that and grabbed his head, pulling him closer, almost enjoying the pain she felt as she moved. The fact that she was alive to experience this pain was a symbol of her lover's undying devotion to her. She wouldn't trade it for anything.

Hitsugaya pulled back and they smiled at each other. Suddenly, Hitsugaya noticed something and gasped in surprise.

"Karin. Your face! And your hands!" Karin studied her hands. She didn't see anything but red, flaking skin, but Hitsugaya, who had spent the last two months at her bedside, noticed immediately.

"They're…healing," he said in amazement. Karin smirked.

"Yes Toushiro," she said as if explaining something to a very small child. "That's what happens to wounds over time."

"No!" Hitsugaya exclaimed. "I mean, they look a thousand times better than they did a second ago…" he trailed off as understanding dawned on him.

"I'm the Heavenly Guardian," he said, more to himself than to Karin. "All this time, I've been sitting here, afraid to touch you, when really, that's all you needed!" Karin was thoroughly confused, but Hitsugaya didn't stop to explain. As carefully as he could, he ran his hands over her body, and as he did so, Karin noticed a drastic reduction in the amount of pain she was in. The wounds didn't disappear all at once, but Karin knew they were well on their way to recovery. She thought she could even sit up now. Hitsugaya stared at his hands like he had never seen them before.

"How?" he asked. "I'm only supposed to be able to heal those who protect souls…"

"I do protect souls," Karin said, finally understanding the implications of what had just occurred. "I protect you." Hitsugaya gaped at her, looked down at his hands again, then threw them around her neck, holding her as close to him as he dared, loving the fact that every second of contact brought her closer to recovery.


"Toushiro?" Karin asked. They were cuddled up on her bed, Karin nestled between his legs with his arms wrapped around her, watching a movie. But neither of them was paying much attention. Karin had seen it a dozen times and Hitsugaya wasn't as entertained by blood and gore as Karin was; injuries were too much a part of his daily life to be considered exciting.

"Hmm?" he mumbled.

"What do you think love is?"

"Well, it's definitely not this," he replied, indicating the screen, where the main character had just disemboweled a swamp creature while his love interest screamed bloody murder as she was sprayed with slimy goo from the aftermath. Karin pushed him playfully.

"I'm serious!" she said with a grin, leaning her head back to look at his face. He smiled slightly, then kissed her quickly on the forehead.

"Why are you all philosophical all of a sudden?" he teased, ignoring the sounds of death coming out of the TV.

"I have to write a poem about it for school," she replied. Hitsugaya didn't know whether she was joking or not.



"You have to write a love poem?" he asked incredulously. "How lame." Karin chuckled.

"I know. My teacher's a hopeless romantic. We think it's because she can't get a date. My friend found her profile on an online dating site a few weeks ago." Hitsugaya shook his head in amusement.

"But anyway," Karin continued. "My assignment."

"So basically, you want help with your homework," Hitsugaya concluded. "You're just like Matsumoto, forcing me to do everything for her. Isn't that cheating?"

"No it isn't cheating!" Karin retorted. "And I am not like Rangiku-san. I don't make you do all of my work for me. I didn't ask you to write the poem for me, I just asked for help. And you never answered my question. What do you think love is?" Hitsugaya thought for a moment.

"Love isn't something that can really be described in words," he replied pensively. "It's more of a complicated mixture of feelings and actions. Just saying 'I love you' doesn't mean anything without the physical proof to back it up. You have to be willing to sacrifice everything for the other person. To be there for them even when they don't ask you to be. To protect them with your life. To stay by their side no matter what obstacles you face or what barriers you have to cross. I think that love can't be considered real until it's gone through a trial by fire. You know, really been tested. Something where both parties are faced with a difficult choice, and make their decision based on what's best for the other, even though it means tremendous self sacrifice. Love doesn't mean a thing if all it does is make you feel good." He finished and they both sat in silence, thinking about what he just said. Hitsugaya was amazed and slightly embarrassed that those words had actually come out of his mouth.

"Wow," Karin said impressed. "Who's poetic now?"

"Shut up!" Hitsugaya growled and Karin laughed. She looked back at the movie where the hero, drenched in muck and blood, was being embraced by his equally filthy girlfriend.

"I would go to hell and back for you!" he said dramatically as she melting into his arms. They kissed exaggeratedly and Karin hit the power button on the remote as the ending credits started to play.

"Trial by fire huh?" she mused, leaning her head back again. "Toushiro, would you go to hell and back for me?"

"Only if there are no swamp creatures," he replied, skipping her forehead and going straight for the upside-down kiss. Karin smiled at how different it felt to be kissed that way. In an amazing display of flexibility, she maneuvered her body around, flipped her head upright, and pushed Hitsugaya onto his back, all without breaking the kiss. As she felt her lover's arms snake around her back, Karin decided that for them, a trial by fire was unnecessary, but that if it ever came, they would pass with flying colors.

The End

Wow, I can't believe this story is over. This one was really hard to write. There were so many different emotions and it was much darker than the stuff I usually write, but now that it's over, I think this is one of my favorites.

Congrats to ShikallllTema for remembering the Heavenly Guardian bit. It had to be useful somehow right?

Thank you so much to everyone who reviewed this story. So many of you told me that this was your favorite story, or that this story turned you on to HitsuKarin that I almost cried for joy (scratch that, I definitely fangirl squealed audibly every time I read a review like that). Oh, and Tsukihime nee, I loved getting called Grn-chan, that was really exciting. I love you all to pieces. Thanks everyone!

Oh, and at the moment I'm fresh out of ideas, so if you want another story, some inspiration would be most appreciated. It doesn't have to be much, this story came from a one sentence suggestion from animalgun, and look what happened!

Sorry I rambled, thanks a zillion for reading!