A/N: Usual disclaimers apply. Completely non-canon, since I've different views of hos shinigami are gonna fight Aizen. It'll be a little more mature, but I'll try to retain the snarkiness of the original as best as I can

XxXxXxXxXxXxX

Summer.

Kurosaki Karin. Black-haired, dark-eyed, junior high school student, illegal shinigami.

Currently bored out of her mind. So was someone else.

:Girlie, I'm bored.:

We are not hunting hollows. I know you remember what he said about maintaining a low profile.

:But he also said we have to take on shinigami duties.:

It's not like we feel any hollow activity now, so shut up and let me work.

After the emergence of her shinigami powers, Karin often asked herself why she bothered. Her zanpakuto, Yuutsubame, was incredibly gabby and sarcastic. Considering how reticent she herself was, Karin wondered whether Yuutsubame was the mirror image of her soul and whether she could seal it away until she needed it in battle.

:Even if you could, you wouldn't.:

Wanna bet, fishface?

At least she wasn't lonely. Karin knew much better now how her brother had become more confident and more assured over the year – having someone to rely on in all situations was indeed comforting.

Briefly Karin mused over the personality of her brother's zanpakuto. She had yet to meet it, since Ichigo had run off to participate in the fight against Aizen Sousuke. He hadn't been at home for more than three days for months. Hitsugaya had told her that Ichigo was taking the position of temporary captain of the third. Ichigo had woven some lame-ass story about needing to "find himself" after being kicked out of school. The resulting row with their father had truly provided some fireworks for the entire neighborhood, but in the end Ichigo managed to get his way.

And now Ichigo was probably in another fight with arrancar.

Contrary to expectations, Aizen didn't launch a single attack, but was whittling away at Seireitei's defences via short spells of intensive warfare. The shinigami were becoming tired of battle: no matter how often they drove the arrancar back, more came. Just when the shinigami were getting into the stride of fighting, Aizen would cut off all attacks and seal off paths to Hueco Mundo. Then, just when the shinigami were beginning to recuperate, Aizen would start another round of battles.

He wasn't trying to cut them down. He was wearing away at their spirits.

Uttering a short prayer for her stupidly reckless brother, Karin pushed her homework away. It was too hot to work. It was too hot to think.

Her twin, Yuzu, came to the rescue. "Karin-chan, I need your help in the kitchen!"

"Coming!"

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Her father was sitting at the dining table, wrestling with tax forms. He looked serious for once, and Karin resisted the urge to pinch herself. It wasn't a crime for Kurosaki Isshin to be focused: witnessed the times when he had to deal with patients.

The ominous ripple of reiatsu caught Karin off-guard, but it was very faint. Stealing a glance at her father and sister – neither of whom felt anything – Karin shut her eyes and tried to let her senses take in as much as she could.

Arrancar. Four – five. And one incredibly strong pulse...

:GET OUT! GET OUT!!:

Before Karin could ask, Isshin suddenly tore into the kitchen, caught his girls up in his arms, and ran to the doors. Karin felt rather than heard the impact. Suddenly she was flying – Yuzu was shrieking – Karin realized her father had thrown both Yuzu and her out of the kitchen windows.

As she landed and rolled, she swore softly under her breath. "What the hell-" and was abruptly cut off by Yuzu's shrill scream.

Startled, Karin looked up. Her arms and legs were cut and bleeding. Her twin was sitting on the ground, equally torn up and bloodied. But neither cared about their injuries.

Their house had collapsed into rubble. Just as Karin got to her feet, more parts of the walls crumbled.

"No," murmured Karin. "No, no... dad? Dad? Daddy?!" She was shivering, she knew, but she couldn't make herself move. Yuzu was gasping for breath, hyperventilating, tears streaming and mouth working to give voice to her shock.

Karin shook herself. She had to get a grip. If it had been a cero that leveled the house, that meant someone was targeting the family at worst or they were in the crossfire at best. She struggled to get to Yuzu, not an easy task, since her mind was still fixated on the one occupant of the collapsed house.

"Yuzu, Yuzu, we have to get out of here." She tugged at her fair-haired sister, trying to get her up.

"B-but daddy... daddy..." Yuzu was too shell-shocked to make much sense. She couldn't move.

In the end Karin just pulled Yuzu to a corner which was not quite visible, then knelt in front of her twin. Enunciating each word clearly, Karin said, "Yuzu, I need you to be here with me. I need you now. I need you to be strong with me now." We'll cry later were the words she didn't say.

At her words Yuzu's breath hitched and her crying become gasped sobs. Her gaze focused on her brunet twin, then she nodded, as if she heard the unspoken words.

Karin inhaled and exhaled. "I'm going to leave my body for a while. It's hard to explain, but I will be here. I will protect you. You will need to protect my body."

"What?"

"I will become – like a ghost, but I can come back into my body. However I need you to take care of it, alright?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Alright?" Karin insisted.

"Alright!" Yuzu replied, though no less confused.

Karin took a badge out of her pocket and pressed it against herself. Pulling away from her physical form, she waited for Yuzu to freak out. Instead Yuzu merely hugged the limp form against herself, and then she looked at Karin – the shinigami Karin.

"Be c-careful," she said with a sniffle. Wiping her eyes with the back of her hand, Yuzu swallowed and tried her best to look resolute.

Karin bit back the question. It could be asked later – much later. She had to find her father's soul first.

"Why hello girls," hissed a deep voice nearby. Karin looked up into the sky.

An arrancar.

Yuu, what do you think?

:I think I say run.:

Karin gritted her teeth. "Yuzu, hide as best as you can. It won't come after you," she murmured, hoping that she was speaking the truth.

XxXxXxXxXxXxX

Hitsugaya felt the terror before he heard the scream. He restrained himself: he must not acknowledge it. The five arrancar Aizen had brought with him this time were far stronger than he had expected, and he must not be distracted... Except that it was the Kurosaki family in danger.

Shit.

Hitsugaya took a moment to marvel at his dwindling vocabulary, before he flash-stepped to the southwestern sector.

Too late, far too late. The Kurosaki house and clinic were demolished into rubble. He saw it from his vantage point. With a sudden lurch of fear and terror Hitsugaya dashed the last few hundred meters. As he neared the site he was thrown off his feet by a blast of reiatsu. It was familiar, oddly so, and he braced himself to face...

"Dad?" whispered Ichigo who had materialized beside him. The teenager had been much further away than Hitsugaya, at the North pillar. "Dad? Karin? Yuzu?"

There was no response. Hitsugaya had the presence of mind to rein in Ichigo's sudden rush forward into the rubble. The boy looked ready to haul the slabs apart with his bare hands. Kuchiki Rukia and Abarai landed nearby and the tall redhead was hauling Ichigo back from the collapsed building.

"No, no no no... let GO! Dad! Daddy, Karin, Karin, YUZU!!" Ichigo was shrieking. He was almost mad with grief, tears falling freely.

Who could blame him? Despite his prowess Ichigo was only a sixteen-year-old teenager. Hitsugaya steeled himself, his reiatsu scanning the area.

The arrancar responsible for the collapse emerged from nowhere and its claws scratched past Hitsugaya's right arm. The captain snarled and slashed, only to be blocked. It grinned toothily, its thin half-mask like a slipped choker about its neck.

Before he attacked again Hitsugaya shouted, "Keep him back!"

Abarai and Rukia understood immediately. Rukia put a binding spell on Ichigo before the teen could go bankai and unleash far too much reiatsu to assist. Hitsugaya knew Abarai would keep Ichigo down long enough for him to finish the job. He intended to do so fast.

"Gekido, Yuutsubame."

Hitsugaya almost tripped over his feet. It can't be.

The rush of water from behind Hitsugaya soaked the arrancar completely. Releasing his sword, Hitsugaya froze it and it splintered into glittering shards. Then he inhaled deeply before turning around.

Kurosaki Karin was there, breathing heavily, her body slumped against the wall where Yuzu was cradling it. Both girls were bleeding from various cuts. But they were alive.

They are alive.

Abarai released Ichigo, who sprinted to his sisters and hugged them both tightly. Yuzu wrapped her arms about Ichigo's neck, and Karin pushed herself out of it to stare at the fallen house.

"Wait a minute," Ichigo said suddenly, his face still blotchy with tears. "Yuzu, you can see me?"

"Yes. And Rukia-chan, and Hitsugaya-kun, and Abarai-san. And I suppose you're... you're the same as them, right?"

"No time for explanations," Hitsugaya interrupted coldly. "Kuchiki, Abarai, take Yuzu and Karin to Urahara's for treatment. Then when you're ready, all three of you should rejoin the battle. There are still four more arrancar out there with Aizen."

"Yes taichou!" Rukia caught Yuzu's hand with her own, while Abarai hoisted Karin's body and Karin's spiritual form over his shoulders. Karin didn't even struggle, which was something far too odd in itself. Ichigo followed at a brisk pace, assuring himself that his sisters were fine.

When he judged them to be far away enough, Hitsugaya coughed. "You should come out now."

"Yeah, I really should," said Kurosaki Isshin, his shinigami uniform fluttering. The ragged remains of his captain's coat was still tied over his shoulder. "Hitsugaya-taichou, thank you for your assistance."

"Kurosawa Shino," greeted Hitsugaya warily. "or should I address you as Kurosaki Isshin?"

"Isshin-san will do. I've been using that name for too long." The bearded shinigami rubbed his nose. "What do you reckon I should tell them?"

"How about the truth?" Hitsugaya was almost angry – not on his own behalf. "But you better do it soon before they accept that you're dead and gone. Else it'll be a double shock."

Isshin sighed. "I am dead, as far as my body is concerned. At least I died young and handsome."

"I have to return to my duties." Hitsugaya returned Hourinmaru to its customary position behind himself. He strode away as fast as he could, trying to find out why he hadn't just told Karin the truth immediately. He would tell her, eventually, that he had known before they did.

But he knew he would never tell her that the moment he saw her alive was one of the happiest in his long existence.

XxXxXxXxXxXxX

Karin tried to summon her emotions. They wouldn't come.

Yuzu had already cried herself to sleep, rocked by Ichigo. Her brother had looked stoic at first, but eventually gave in to the tears.

Karin herself had crept into a small room. No one bothered her, assuming she wanted some time alone. They were right, of course, but Karin was disgusted by her own inability to grieve.

Why is that?

For once her zanpakuto had no answer. Karin took a deep breath and snuck out of Urahara's store. Checking to see that there was no immediate danger, Karin sped to her home. To what had been her home.

Amid the rubble there was no trace of spiritual energy. Karin kicked at some smaller lumps, trying to locate her father's spirit, to send him on – or had Ichigo done so? No, he hadn't. He had followed them direct to Urahara's, and he had not left Yuzu's side.

Karin picked through the blocks, morbidly determined. She had to know. She had to know now.

And then she saw an orange and bright blue shirt pinned by some part of the fallen roof. She yanked it out with some effort.

It had just been washed yesterday.

"You shouldn't be out alone," remarked a cool voice. Karin didn't turn around, but waited for Hitsugaya to come up to where she crouched. The captain leaned down and said, "I'll see you back to Urahara's."

"Why can't I find him, Hitsugaya? I need to perform soul burial," Karin whispered.

Hitsugaya patted her on the head. "Come on, Karin, you've had a long day. We'll find him tomorrow."

"I need to perform soul burial," repeated Karin. Her large eyes were blank, and she realized Hitsugaya was looking at her oddly.

No, not oddly. Compassionately.

Hitsugaya brushed her dark hair from her eyes. "Come on Karin."

Numbly she followed as he led her back to Urahara's. Yoruichi and Urahara stood at the door, waiting. As they ushered her back into the house, no one commented that she was still holding onto the grimy orange-and-electric-blue shirt.

Ichigo was awake now, as was Yuzu. They sat around a low table, and Karin joined them. Hitsugaya glanced at the shopkeeper and Yoruichi. They nodded, and all three left the Kurosaki siblings alone. Ichigo was rigid, as was Yuzu, but Karin didn't notice. So wrapped up in her thoughts, she didn't even notice the fourth person until he spoke.

"Guess I'll have to wash the shirt again tomorrow."

Karin's head snapped up. Kurosaki Isshin leaned against the wall, dressed in shinigami robes.

"Hey, Karin. Sorry if I scared you."

The brunette looked at her father – her shinigami father – then pushed to her feet, before running to her father. Isshin opened his arms to embrace his daughter.

"Ahggh..." Isshin slowly sank to the ground, face a mask of agony. Ichigo was wincing with sympathy, and Yuzu had started to her feet.

Panting, Karin glared at her father whom she had just kneed in the balls. She tried to speak, found no words, before finally dredging up something from her fogged brain.

"Liar." She fled from the room, ignoring her brother and sister's call.