I'll admit, I came up with the summary first and I liked it so much I built a story around it. Random way to write a story, I know, but hey, something came out of it so I can't complain too much. It's not great, but I hope you guys like it anyway.
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or any of its characters. I only own my own characters and ideas. (Maybe I should get a more creative disclaimer. Hmmm…)
Hitsugaya was hiding his reiatsu. He wanted to surprise Karin, and what better way than sneaking up on her in the middle of a crowd of friends who couldn't see him? He smirked with vindictive pleasure.
Finding her was relatively easy. Even at twenty one years of age she still haunted the soccer field like nobody's business. It was funny how much of her life revolved around that field. That was where Hitsugaya had revealed himself to be a shinigami. That was where they had become friends. And that was where she had met him. Even now, over ten years later, Hitsugaya still couldn't bring himself to call that boy anything but him, accent included.
It had been an auspicious week. Only days after Hitsugaya had first met her they had been playing soccer on that very field when him had walked up and asked if he could join them. Him was two years older than Karin with long blond hair tied back in a pony tail. Him towered over Hitsugaya and, to this day, still teased him about his height. Hitsugaya had grown. Significantly. People said it was his due to his extended stays in the living world, but to Hitsugaya, the cause of his growth didn't matter. He was still shorter than him, so his inferiority complex was still firmly in place, although he would never actually admit that to anyone.
But what Hitsugaya hated the most about him was that him had stolen Karin's heart, utterly and completely. They had started dating about a year ago and Hitsugaya was instantly relegated to "best friend". Forget that he had saved her life more times than he could count. Forget that he endured lack of sleep, hours of overtime paperwork, and the ridicule of every shinigami he knew just to come spend time with her. No. Him was in a band. Him owned a motorcycle. And what was more important, him was alive. Maybe that was why Hitsugaya had refrained from saying anything about his repressed feelings for so long. It was the way it should be. A living girl like Karin shouldn't really have anything to do with a shinigami. Plus, Karin was happy. Who was he to intrude?
Hitsugaya turned a corner and there she was. His heart leapt involuntarily, until he noticed that her hand was tightly entwined with the hand of the tall blond man beside her. He scowled.
"Do they ever spend time away from each other?" he growled. "Well, at least him can't see me." As silently as a mouse, Hitsugaya snuck up behind the happy couple.
"Hikaru, you are such a jerk!" Karin said playfully. Him simply laughed.
"Yeah, but you know you love me," he teased. Karin grinned. Hitsugaya almost gagged, but he settled instead for reaching out and tickling Karin on her side. She had always been hopelessly ticklish, no matter how much she tried to deny it.
Karin screeched and jumped a foot in the air.
"How many times have I told you not to do that!?" she cried, whipping around to face Hitsugaya who was trying very hard to suppress a grin.
"Do what?" him asked. Karin balked. She glared daggers at Hitsugaya, whose smile, despite his best efforts, finally escaped its stronghold.
"Oh, so you just like screaming at random now do you?" him chided.
"I do not…" Karin began, but was cut off as him swept her into his arms and planted a firm kiss on her lips. Now it was Hitsugaya's turn to balk. He scoffed and turned around.
"I'll see you later Karin," he called back over his shoulder. Even if Karin had wanted to respond, she couldn't. Her mouth was busy.
"So much for spending time with her," Hitsugaya grumbled as he pulled out Hyourinmaru to open a senkai gate. He had worked himself to the bone that morning to finish his paperwork so that he would have a few free hours in the afternoon to be with her. But no. All her free time was eaten up by him. Hitsugaya wondered if it was just his imagination, but it seemed like every time he saw Karin nowadays, she was physically attached to him. He hadn't had a chance to speak to her alone in months.
As was inevitable, Hitsugaya had been forced to spend an awful lot of time with him. Oh him put up with him just fine. He didn't really have a choice in the matter. As Karin said, "Toushiro is my best friend and anyone who doesn't like it will feel my wrath." Everyone who knew Karin knew how dangerous her wrath was, and Hitsugaya was sure that him in particular had experienced it more than once. (He himself had had his arm broken not too long ago when she beat him to a pulp for missing her birthday party. He couldn't help it that Yamamoto had called an emergency captain's meeting at the same time. But Karin wouldn't hear excuses and Hitsugaya knew from years of experience that he had to take his abuse silently. He was sure 4th squad was still laughing about it.) But even though him was as cordial as him could be, there was still a tremendous amount of underlying tension between them. There always had been. But Karin was either oblivious or chose to ignore it. Either way, Hitsugaya found himself spending increasing amounts of time with him over the past ten years, until eventually him became an extension of Karin's anatomy, and if Hitsugaya ever wanted to see her, him had to be there. But, just once, Hitsugaya really wanted to speak to her, just her, without that obnoxious gangbanger present. He missed her.
Hitsugaya reached Seireitei and headed for the office, out of habit if nothing else. Matsumoto was asleep on the couch, but she woke up when she heard the door open.
"Taicho!" she exclaimed. "What are you doing here? Weren't you in the living world with Karin-chan?"
"Don't you ever sleep in your room?" he said by way of response. Matsumoto noticed his bitter tone.
"She was with Hikaru, wasn't she," she said knowingly. Matsumoto knew better than anyone else how much this situation was hurting her taicho. She had known for years that he was in love with Karin, and the fact that she was dating someone else ate away at his soul every day. It was all she could do not to hug him every time he got that forlorn look in his eyes; that look that said his heart was breaking and there was nothing he could do about it.
"Don't you ever get tired of being a light bulb taicho?" she asked with compassion.
"A light bulb. You know, someone who lights up what should be kept in the dark." Hitsugaya raised an eyebrow.
"It's a term for a person who hangs around with a couple," she explained. "I've also heard it's called a third wheel, but I can't for the life of me figure out where that came from."
"I don't know where you pick up this stuff Matsumoto, but I implore you to keep things like that to yourself," Hitsugaya replied, thoroughly annoyed. Matsumoto sighed.
"Forget what it's called taicho," she insisted. "You didn't answer my question."
"What am I supposed to say?!" he cried. "Do you think I like watching Karin hang all over that boy? Do you think I'm happy about it? Of course not! But what am I supposed to do?"
"You could tell her the truth," Matsumoto said seriously.
"The truth?" Hitsugaya asked confused.
"That you love her." There was silence for a while as Hitsugaya examined the floor.
"No," he stated soundly. "It's not fair to her."
"Why not?" Matsumoto asked urgently. "Don't you think she has a right to know?"
"She's happier not knowing Matsumoto!" he retorted. "She's got a boyfriend. She doesn't need my baggage! Besides…" his face fell and he turned away from her, "she deserves someone better than me." Matsumoto rolled her eyes.
"Oh please taicho," she said sarcastically. "When are you going to grow up and get a little self confidence?"
"It's not about confidence," Hitsugaya replied sourly. "I'm a shinigami. She doesn't deserve that. She deserves someone alive and whole, someone…"
"Like him?" Matsumoto interrupted and Hitsugaya paused.
"Yeah," he conceded. "Like him." And with that he stormed out of the office, not wanting to listen to any more of his fukutaicho's opinions. She gave advice in a way that made you want to listen to it, and at the moment, Hitsugaya wasn't in the mood.
He had just opened the door to his room however, when she appeared again.
"Taicho!" Matsumoto chanted. "Phone call for you!" Hitsugaya groaned. Work was the last thing he wanted to deal with right now.
"Can't you take it?" he asked in exacerbation, but Matsumoto simply grinned.
"Oh no, she asked for you specifically." Hitsugaya sighed.
"Fine," he caved and, as much as he didn't want to, headed back to the office.
The phone on his desk was off the hook and he grudgingly picked it up and brought it to his ear.
"Hitsugaya taicho speaking," he said as professionally as he could.
"WHERE DO YOU GET OFF?!" screamed the voice on the other end and, despite the fact that his eardrum was bleeding, Hitsugaya grinned. That was Karin's voice.
"What are you talking about?" he asked innocently.
"Oh, don't give me that crap Toushiro! How many times have I told you not to sneak up on me when you're not in a gigai? God, Hikaru must think I'm going crazy!" Hitsugaya's smile faltered slightly at the mention of him, but he brushed it off.
"And then you couldn't even do me the decency of sticking around!" Karin continued her ranting. "I thought we were going to hang out today!"
"Well, you seemed a little occupied," Hitsugaya replied coolly. He could almost hear her blush over the phone.
"Well, Hikaru's band is practicing right now so he's not around. So get your butt back here because I've got something to tell you!"
"I'll be right there," Hitsugaya assured her, trying not to sound as eager as he felt. Him was busy! Finally, he could talk to Karin alone, just the two of them like they used to. He shunpoed to the senkai gate, wanting to get to Karakura as fast as he could to maximize Karin's him-free time.
"I see you forgot your gigai again," Karin noted as Hitsugaya approached her. "I hate it when you do that, it looks like I'm talking to myself."
"Sorry, I didn't have time to grab it. We can just go somewhere where people won't see us," he suggested, then realized the implications of that statement. "Wait, no, I didn't mean…" but Karin cut him off by cuffing him gently.
"You are so clueless Toushiro," she teased. "But you're right. Come on." Karin led him to the river and towards the bridge. There was a little alcove in the base that was secluded enough for them to have a conversation, with the added benefit that they could see someone coming for miles. They had used this space many times before on Hitsugaya's previous visits, but they hadn't been there in a while. Him hated being in the shade, he said he found it too constricting, so when the three of them were together, which was every time Hitsugaya had been there in the past year, they had gone somewhere sunny. A small alcove under the bridge was anything but sunny.
"I feel like I haven't seen you in ages," Karin said, plopping down and leaning against the cold steel. Hitsugaya desperately wanted to ask whose fault that was, but he refrained.
"You haven't come around so much lately," she noted. Well, that was true enough. Every since she started dating him, he had been progressively avoiding her in increasing amounts. Being with the two of them together just hurt too much.
"I've been busy," he lied. Well, technically, it wasn't a lie. He was busy. He was always busy. But he was no busier than he had been before. He knew it was a poor excuse and that Karin would see right through it, but it was the best one he could come up with at the moment. Karin sighed.
"You don't like seeing me and Hikaru together do you?" she asked.
"No, that's not it…" he protested.
"Oh, don't lie to me Toushiro!" Karin yelled. "I'm so sick of it!" Hitsugaya was stunned.
"When have I ever lied to you?" he asked genuinely. Karin glared at him.
"It's not so much the lies you tell, it's the lies you don't." Hitsugaya didn't understand.
"What do you mean…?"
"What am I to you Toushiro!?" Karin shot at him. "Who am I in your life?" Hitsugaya checked. Who was she?! She was the most important person in the world to him. She was the woman he loved more than any other. He would die to protect her. He would give up everything he had just to see her smile. He would do anything for her. Anything.
"You're my best friend…" he said cautiously.
"I told you not to lie to me!" she screamed as Hitsugaya clutched his throbbing cheek.
"I'm not lying!" he shouted back. "You are my best friend!"
"Then look me in the eye and tell me you don't love me!" Hitsugaya froze.
"W…what?" he stuttered. "Why?" Karin sighed.
"Hikaru proposed," she said slowly, and Hitsugaya literally felt his heart crack in half.
"Oh," he said simply, trying not to display anything but mild interest. It seemed like all his years of suppressing his emotions had been training for this moment. "What…What did you say?" he asked, dreading the answer.
"I told him I wasn't sure," she replied and Hitsugaya felt the tiniest glimmer of hope. She turned towards him and stared him right in the eye. He had never seen her face look so serious before. There was a fire in her eyes that was different from the usual one. Like she was piercing directly into his soul with her gaze.
"Toushiro," she said earnestly. "I'm going to ask you again. What am I to you?" Hitsugaya knew that he was treading on very thin ice. One wrong word and he could lose her forever. But one right word…
"Why do you need to know?" he asked finally. Karin looked like she was going to hit him again, but luckily, she kept her temper in check.
"Do I really have to spell it out for you?!" she asked in frustration. "You are the single densest person I have ever met. Do you know why I started dating Hikaru in the first place?"
"Because you liked him?" Hitsugaya offered. Karin laughed derisively.
"Oh, don't get me wrong, I love the kid. He's a ton of fun and he's great to mess around with, but frankly, he's not exactly the kind of person I see myself being with for the rest of my life." She sighed. "The reason, Toushiro, that I said I'd be his girlfriend when he asked was because I was sick and tired of waiting around for you." Hitsugaya's eyes opened wide in shock. Did he just hear her correctly? Was she saying what he thought she was?
"I waited for you forever Toushiro," she continued. "All those years, you came by all the time and never said anything, never did anything, never thought that I might be interested in being just a little bit more than friends. But you never had the guts to ask. Hikaru did. And now the same thing's happening again. He proposed and I…"
"Why are you telling me this now?" Hitsugaya asked. "Why now, after all this time? Why didn't you do this when he asked you to be his girlfriend rather than his wife? It would have saved us both a lot of headache." Karin glared at him.
"I was waiting for you to be a man Toushiro. I was waiting for you to get off your sorry butt and do something. To take a stand. But I guess I have to be the man in our relationship."
"That's not fair!" Hitsugaya snapped, anger and grief welling up inside him. "How dare you say that?! You were happy! How was I supposed to know you wanted me to intervene? That doesn't make any sense!"
"Then are you?" Karin barked.
"Am I what?"
"Going to intervene?" They stared at each other for a moment. Karin had a harsh, steely look on her face, but her eyes said something else. They were pleading, begging even, and Hitsugaya knew how much she hated doing that. But he didn't need her minute display of weakness. His decision was already made.
"Of course I am," he stated soundly, and Karin's face lit up. "I'm not going to let to marry him. I can't let you marry him. I…I love you."
"You do?" Karin asked incredulously, but her eyes were alight with happiness. Hitsugaya nodded.
"Than prove it!" Karin smirked. Hitsugaya didn't know exactly what she wanted him to do, but he didn't care. Finally, for the first time in ten years, he was going to do what he wanted to do. He launched himself at her, throwing his arms around her as he pressed her against his chest, tightly, firmly. His lips found hers and ten years of passion and emotion flowed into the kiss he gave her. He felt Karin smile briefly against his lips and then she was kissing him back, just as fervently, just as hungrily. And somewhere in the back of his mind, Hitsugaya found himself remembering his conversation with Matsumoto.
"I'm no light bulb," he thought happily. "If I was, I would have illuminated this a whole lot sooner."
I fell in love with the term "light bulb" when I went to the mall with my very-recently-declared-couple friends, and I came back all traumatized, and someone asked me how it was being the light bulb. I think it's a great term, much better than third wheel, which frankly, doesn't really mean anything.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the story. And yes, it's a oneshot because I'm not in the mood to write a real love triangle fic at the moment, but I may someday if I get my act together.