Yay, new story! See, I promised to get it up fast. And no, I am not ignoring the poll. I have ideas in the works for both the second place winners, but this story bit me and held on tight, so I thought it deserved to get written first. I hope you enjoy it!
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or any of its characters. I only own my own characters and ideas.
Sometimes, there is a friendship so strong, it lasts multiple lifetimes. Sometimes, there is a love so powerful, it traverses universes. What happens to a shinigami when he dies? Can you really die again? Wasn't he dead to begin with? Is there a Soul Society for those that die in Soul Society? Or is life a never ending wheel, destined to revolve for all eternity, recycling dead souls into new bodies, with a new life, a new face, a new name? If you ask most residents of Seireitei this question, they would say that you got knocked around a bit too much the last time you sparred, and maybe you should go to 4th squad for treatment. No one has ever met a reincarnated soul. That's preposterous. But one can't help but wonder; where do those lost souls go?
"Oh my god, I'm so excited, I just can't believe it!" Hinamori Momo sang, running laps around the room and trying to pull on her new red and white uniform at the same time. "I start the Shinigami Academy today! Shiro-chan, aren't you excited for me?!" Said white haired boy simply groaned and pulled the blanket up over his head to drown out Hinamori's energetic chatter.
"Shiro-chan?" she repeated, pausing in the middle of tying her sash. "I said, aren't you excited for me?
"It's too early for this Bed-Wetter Momo," Hitsugaya moaned from his cocoon of blankets. "I'm going back to sleep."
"No you aren't!" she insisted, coming over to him and ripping the blanket off of him. Hitsugaya responded by rolling away from her and curling up into a fetal position.
"Baachan said she would make a special breakfast for me in honor of my first day," Hinamori told him, hand on her hip. "And I know you don't want to miss that!"
"There will be leftovers," Hitsugaya replied, still refusing to open his eyes. "Leave me alone."
"But don't you want to eat with me one last time?" Hinamori pleaded. "After all, I'm moving into the dorms starting today. I won't get to come home that often."
"So?" Hitsugaya grunted, giving up on any hope of more sleep and finally turning to look at her. "You say that like I want you to come home? I can't wait until you're gone! Then I'll have the room all to myself." Hinamori put on her best pouty face, but she wasn't really upset. She knew he didn't mean it.
"So you're not going to miss me at all?" she whined, batting her puppy dog eyes.
"No!" Hitsugaya stated firmly, sitting up and rubbing the sleep out of his emerald green eyes. "But since I obviously can't sleep with you making such a racket, I guess I'll join you for breakfast."
"Yay!" Hinamori cheered, running over to him and giving a hug.
"Get off me!" Hitsugaya growled, pushing her away.
"Breakfast!" called a voice from the next room.
"Hai!" Hitsugaya and Hinamori recited in unison. They headed out of their tiny bedroom and into the only other room in the house where their grandmother was bustling over a large pot of miso soup sitting over a fire.
"I've got miso, rice, smoked fish, red bean bread, oranges, and of course, fresh watermelon," she said cheerfully, placing food in front of them both. "Momo-chan, you look fantastic!" Hinamori beamed at her.
"Thanks Baachan!" she said happily. Hitsugaya was frowning at the food.
"Baachan," he said with concern, "how did you afford all this?" Although they lived in Rukongai's 1st district, the family was not exactly what you would call wealthy. They did alright for themselves on their Baachan's maid salary, but food was expensive. Hitsugaya in particular had a rather enormous appetite.
"Always the practical one," Baachan said lovingly. "But finances should be none of your concern. We're just fine." She smiled, but Hitsugaya could see the worry in her eyes.
"Besides," she continued to reassure him. "With Momo out of the house, that's one fewer mouth to feed. So why wouldn't I want to send her off with as extravagant a meal as possible! Not that you aren't always welcome back," she said with a laugh.
"See Shiro-chan!" Momo teased, pointing a chopstick at him. "If you came to the Academy with me, Baachan wouldn't have anyone to feed!"
"I'm not going, so shut up about it!" he demanded, ignoring the chopsticks sitting in front of him and attacking his food with his hands. "And stop calling me Shiro-chan!"
"Watch your language," his Baachan reprimanded. "And have you forgotten your table manners already? I didn't think I had raised such a slob." Hitsugaya glared at her. Hinamori giggled.
"Oh I'm going to miss this," she said wistfully.
He did not miss her. He did not miss her. There was nothing to miss! She was just his annoying, bed-wetting, easily excited older sister. Plus, she had only been gone for three days. He did not miss her.
Ok, give it up, he missed her.
He sighed. At least, when Hinamori was here, there was someone else around during the day. His Baachan had work. Someone had to clean the Kuchiki manor. And there were no other kids his age in the neighborhood. Oh sure, the people next door had a teenager, biggest stuck up you've ever seen in your life, and the family down the street had a whiny little two year old, but neither of them were Hitsugaya's idea of companions. So, left to his own devices, Hitsugaya did what he did best: walk. Ok, actually eating was probably what he did best, but walking came in at a close second. And I don't mean that he could just physically do it. It was more the distance that was impressive. He had been known to disappear for days on end, just wandering aimlessly. There wasn't a plod of dirt above district 60 that his feet hadn't trodden. But he had never gone below district 60. That was where Hinamori drew the line. But Hinamori wasn't around anymore, so Hitsugaya decided that district 61 would be a nice place to roam around in for a bit. And when that got old, there was always district 62.
So it was that Hitsugaya found himself on the border of district 77.
"Hey kid, get out of the way," snapped a drunk and rather beefy looking man as he stumbled out of a bar and right into Hitsugaya's path. "Why doncha' watch where yer going?"
"Get away from me you smelly old geezer!" Hitsugaya scowled. Ok, so not the smartest thing in the world to do, but hey, the man really did reek.
"What did you say brat?" the man scowled, revealing his yellow and rotting teeth. Hitsugaya almost gagged. Even if his family wasn't rich, they were still well cared for.
"I said," Hitsugaya announced defiantly. "That you're in my way." The man glared at him for a moment, then broke into a hearty laugh.
"Oh that's rich!" he howled, then stopped abruptly and swaggered forward.
"Ya know what I think?" he sneered, fumbling several times before finally managing to grasp the hilt of the sword at his waist. "I think yer smart mouth would sound much better if it wasn't attached to yer face no more!" It wasn't until the man had his sword raised high above his head that Hitsugaya realized that the man wasn't kidding.
"RUN!" shouted a voice, and before Hitsugaya realized what was happening, a hand had closed around his wrist and he was yanked away just as the sword swung down, barely grazing his unruly hair as it did so. The hand didn't stop pulling, and he followed it away from the scene and down several alleyways before he had a chance to look at the person attached to it. It was a girl, several years older than him, with shoulder length raven colored hair that was raged at the ends, as if she had cut it herself with a dull knife and no mirror. Her short brown kimono was horribly tattered and stained. The bottom was all frayed and there were multiple patches gracing the sides, but clearly not enough of them as there were still several holes in it and other areas that were so thinned out, he could see right through them anyway. She wore no shoes, but, even though they were running over sharp cobblestones and broken glass from countless sake bottles that even he could feel through his sandaled feet, she didn't appear to notice. The bottoms of her feet were that tough. There was an old and battered sword strung across her back, but Hitsugaya got the impression that it was more for show than anything else.
After they had been running for several minutes, Hitsugaya wrested his arm out of the girl's grip, and doubled over, gasping for breath.
"Stop…running," he panted. The girl looked at him quizzically.
"You're not from around here are you?" she asked, taking in his un-patched kimono, sandals, and lack of stamina. "Kids around here are a bit more…hearty."
"What about me isn't hearty?" Hitsugaya retorted, having finally caught his breath. The girl smirked.
"Oh, I don't know, the fact that you're so out of shape you can't even run for a few minutes without losing it." Hitsugaya scowled.
"Who the hell needs to run that much anyway?" he cursed. The girl chuckled.
"Definitely not from around her," she noted. "Was that the first time you've ever run for your life?" Hitsugaya stared at her blankly.
"What the hell do you mean, run for your life? Who's after your life?" The girl shrugged.
"Who isn't? So where are you from anyway?"
"1st district," he replied casually. The girl's eyes opened wide in shock and her jaw fell open.
"The heck? Then what on earth are you doing here?" It was Hitsugaya's turn to shrug.
"Taking a walk. Is that a crime?" The girl was still flabbergasted.
"I don't know what they teach you spoiled rich kids up there, but 77th district is not a place you just go for a stroll in!" Hitsugaya scowled.
"I am not a spoiled rich kid!" he insisted. He knew spoiled rich kids. Oh, did he know spoiled rich kids. Little nobles running around, thinking they were better than everyone else just because they had important titles attached to their names. What good was a title if it wasn't earned? The girl gave him an incredulous look.
"Alright then, if you say you're not a spoiled rich kid, prove it." Hitsugaya raised an eyebrow.
"I've got nothing to prove to you!" he stated flatly. "Besides, I didn't promise anything. I don't owe you a thing."
"I saved your life." Hitsugaya opened his mouth to retort, then closed it again. She had a point.
"So what do you want from me?" he asked grudgingly. The girl smirked.
"We're having a game soon. Will you play on our team?"
"Game?" Hitsugaya asked confused. He didn't play games. Games were for babies.
"Soccer game," the girl explained. "The ruffians from district 78 challenged us and we couldn't refuse. We've still got our pride. It's supposed to be four on four, but one of my teammates kicked the bucket last week, so we're down a man. I can't find anyone else who's willing to go out there, but seeing as you not only thought that district 77 was a nice place for a walk, but also picked a fight with a drunk five times your size, I think you might have the guts." Hitsugaya gaped at her. Maybe it was the way she pushed aside her friend's death so easily, like it was such a regular occurrence that it didn't even affect her. Maybe it was because she thought he wanted to come back here after everything he had seen. Or maybe it was because she assumed that he knew what soccer was.
"What's soccer?" he asked, deciding that the other things were just not worth getting into.
"Are you kidding me?!" the girl cried, slapping herself in the forehead. "I thought at least spoiled rich kids knew how to play soccer!"
"I told you, I am not a spoiled rich kid!" Hitsugaya shouted, but the girl wasn't paying any attention to him anymore. She was counting on her fingers and mumbling to herself.
"Haku is out, his leg's still broken, Izumi said he'd rather die than set foot in 78th district, Tomiko's been MIA since last Tuesday…"
"Oi," Hitsugaya said, starting to get annoyed at being ignored.
"Izumi then," the girl concluded, turning to leave. Hitsugaya was affronted.
"Oi!" he said louder. "I'm still here!" The girl turned back to him.
"Your point being?" she asked. What was this girl playing at?
"I thought you wanted me on your team," he reminded her. The girl grinned.
"Yeah, but that was when I thought you had at least heard of the game. There's no point in you playing if you don't know how."
"I could learn," Hitsugaya suggested. He didn't know what it was, but he liked this girl. She had a certain air about her that Hinamori never did. Like she meant business. Like she took what life threw at her and dealt with it, without wallowing in self pity. He almost felt like he respected her. Naw, that couldn't be. Hitsugaya Toushiro doesn't respect anyone but himself. But this girl was making a valiant effort.
The girl considered him with an amused look on her face. It seemed like she was sizing him up. Hitsugaya returned her gaze with a glare of his own, but that only seemed to increase the girl's entertainment.
"All right then," she said after a while. "But you'd better learn quickly. I'm not wasting my time on you if you just turn out to be a pansy."
"I'm no pansy!" Hitsugaya shot back. The girl grinned.
"I never said that you were," she replied airily. And with that she started walking away and Hitsugaya did the only logical thing he could think of and he followed her.
After they had been walking for several minutes, the girl turned to him.
"So what's the deal?" she asked as if they had been in the middle of a conversation. "You got a name or what?"
"It's Hitsugaya," he replied. "Hitsugaya Toushiro." The girl smiled at him.
"I'm Karin. I don't have a last name and I don't need one. Last names are for spoiled rich kids." Hitsugaya scowled and Karin laughed.
"At least this kid's amusing," she thought to herself.
Before you yell at me about Hitsugaya being OOC, remember that he is still a kid in Rukongai and that he was a total brat back then. This story is as much about Hitsugaya growing up as it is about his relationship with Karin.
Please tell me what you think of this. It's a very different twist on their relationship, but I think it will be fun to write nonetheless.