UPDATE: I've turned this into a oneshot, as it works well on its own and I can't find the inspiration to continue it. Sorry if anyone was waiting for me to continue it.
The Lightning Struck Tower
Hitsugaya Toushirou, Captain of the Tenth Division of the Gotei 13, didn't really know what emotion to feel right now. Aizen was dead, through the combined efforts of nearly every Captain and Vice-Captain. The greatest threat to Soul Society since he had become a Shinigami, all those years ago, had been defeated. Gin and Tousen had fallen near the end of the battle. Aizen had lasted longer, but since Kurosaki had never been affected by his hypnotic Shikai release, the orange-haired substitute Shinigami had gotten lucky and delivered the final blow.
While wearing a Hollow mask.
That was something Toushirou would need to investigate later.
But now what? The Winter War, and the preparations for it, had consumed his life ever since he was sent to the human world to combat the rising Arrancar threat. So, now what? Could he go back to being the Captain with a semi-ditzy Vice-Captain? Could everything go back to normal?
No, he realized. That was impossible. Too much had changed. Too many had died.
At this thought, he glared down at the ground he was standing on. It was concrete, a sidewalk next to a road in Karakura. He was standing on the very edge of the curb, and cars were speeding past without noticing him. After all, very few living people could see a Shinigami.
He glanced at his sword, which was still dripping blood. It was not the blood of an Arrancar. It was not the blood of a traitorous former Captain. It was not the blood of a Hollow. Just looking at it made his heart clench in despair.
He shook his head and looked up from the ground, flash-stepping up to the roof of a building nearby. He tried not to remember what had happened only a few hours earlier. He was on a mission, after all. He had to watch out for remaining Arrancar, in case they decided to avenge their former masters. All of the Shinigami who could be spared were helping out with cleanup and elimination of remaining Arrancar, both in Karakura and in Hueco Mundo itself.
He glanced up at the sky.
"Please! Save Aizen-taichou!"
He cursed quietly and looked down at the streets below him. Whenever he looked at the sky, he thought of happy memories of her. He thought of his life growing up with Hinamori Momo. He thought of all the good times he spent with her, eating watermelon, running amok through some of the richer districts of Rukongai, working together as Shinigami.
"Of course, I know what Aizen-taichou's doing is bad, yet I still feel that he has some unfathomable reason for doing what he is..."
Now, all his thoughts were about the sad times, the desperate times, the horrible times...
He shook his head to clear his thoughts, to no avail. He glanced down at his Zanpakutou again. Blood was still dripping from the blade.
"Finally, I've found you. I didn't think you would be here..."
Hitsugaya had been facing down Gin shortly after Aizen's "death" when she arrived right between the two Shinigami. Her face was in shadow, but he knew the expression he would see on her face. Anger and sadness, a terrible combination.
"Stop, Hinamori!!" he shouted at her. He didn't want her to go against Gin. She was only a Vice-Captain, after all. "He's too strong for you! Back down and leave this to me! Hinamori!!"
She ignored his words and drew her sword. But then, something unexpected happened. He blinked in surprise as he saw Hinamori whirl around and rest her blade against his neck.
"...Hinamori...?" he mumbled, too surprised to think clearly.
"You're Aizen-taichou's murderer!" she shouted, glaring at him with tear-filled eyes as she threatened to slice his head off.
He took a deep breath and banished the thought, but it didn't work. Memory after memory poured over him, and as he went back through all the time he spent with her, he wondered, why didn't I see this coming?
The hints and clues were there, easy to see. It wasn't hard to guess, from his memories, what had happened. Well, as they often say, hindsight is twenty-twenty.
Hinamori had chosen to go, alone, to Hueco Mundo to save her former Captain. She was still convinced that he was being manipulated by Gin. She still believed that he was a good person, a victim of circumstance, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Nobody knew that she had left. She had used the Senkaimon to get to the human world, then simply waited until she sensed an Arrancar. By the time she had arrived, weak Arrancar were showing up on a daily basis to tire out the Shinigami in the human world before the final battle. She simply waited for one to appear, then slipped through the Garganta before it closed.
Hitsugaya wasn't exactly sure what happened after that, except that Hinamori had found her former Captain, and Aizen had somehow convinced her to share his point of view. He had somehow turned her away from Soul Society and took her into his own clutches.
"He probably used Kyouka Suigetsu," he grumbled to himself, naming Aizen's Zanpakutou, which could totally hypnotize anyone who saw him release it.
But, no matter how exactly it had happened, the main point was that it did happen.
And so, when Toushirou broke through the line of Arrancar surrounding Aizen, Gin, and Tousen, and attempted to stab Aizen right through the heart, he stopped short. His blade stopped a millimeter away from a fatal stroke.
Hinamori Momo stood in front of the traitorous Shinigami, her sword raised up in a defensive stance.
"You will not harm Aizen-taichou."
Hitsugaya clenched his teeth as he unconsciously loosened his grip on his sword. It slipped right out of his hands and clattered to the sidewalk. At that very moment, the storm clouds that had been looming in the sky all day finally let loose their contents. It was raining.
He watched numbly as the blood was washed off his blade by the cleansing rain. He watched as the red tint turned pink before fading entirely. He still couldn't tear his gaze from the blade, and he didn't even try. He just stared at it as tears fell from his eyes. He cried for the first time he could remember. His tears were hidden by the rain, so he could cry as long as he wanted to.
Kurosaki Karin was depressed. No, she was more than just depressed. She was devastated. She had promised herself that she would never cry again after her mother's death, but her current situation was definitely putting that resolution of hers to the test.
It all began earlier that day, when she was abruptly awoken early in the morning by a huge burst of reiatsu, spiritual energy. She had grown more and more attuned to it over the past several weeks, and by this point she was able to easily sense Shinigami or Hollows that were nearby.
So, naturally, she was startled when she felt such a massive flare. She focused carefully and sensed tons of Shinigami, all gathered nearby. Their reiatsu just grew stronger and stronger, until she was suffocating under the pressure. She sank to her knees and fought desperately to breathe. Finally, there was a quick flash of something even more powerful, before her body finally gave up and she lost consciousness.
She woke up around sunset, wondering what the hell was going on. All the reiatsu she had felt was gone, though she could still feel traces of it lingering through the city. She blinked and saw an unfamiliar ceiling. Wait...no...she did recognize it. It just wasn't the ceiling of her bedroom. She was in one of the rooms at the clinic.
She stood up and wobbled slightly. That huge burst of spiritual pressure still affected her. When she regained her balance, she left the room and went back to her bedroom, still curious about what had happened when she fell unconscious.
There was another burst of reiatsu, though it was much smaller and further away. She grabbed her soccer ball and left the house, running towards where she felt a Hollow showing up. Maybe she could do something about it. She felt rather useless after spending the whole day unconscious.
As she ran, she looked around. Karakura was, for some reason, completely empty and silent. There were no people around. There were no cars, bikes, pedestrians, nothing. She passed several buildings that were completely destroyed, ripped apart by the huge forces that had been clashing that morning.
She arrived and looked around for the Hollow that she had sensed. Suddenly, she felt it and looked up at the sky. There was a weak Hollow that looked like a gigantic snake floating in the sky. She smiled. This would be easy! She waited until the Hollow noticed her and started to descend. When it was within range of her soccer ball, she took a step back and lifted her foot to kick it right at the Hollow's face.
Yet another burst of spiritual energy caused her to trip and completely miss her kick. She felt like she was weighed down to the ground. She tried to lift her arms to push herself up, but it was too much. She could barely breathe now, and whatever it was that she was sensing was getting closer.
"So...you are Kurosaki's little sister?"
Karin put all her strength into rolling over to see who was talking to her. A young girl with long black hair in pigtails was standing before her, but she was dressed very strangely, almost like Ichigo was when he was a Shinigami...
But her clothes were white, and she was wearing some kind of sleeveless top.
Karin looked closer and realized that the girl had part of a white mask covering her left eye.
The girl glared at her. "I asked you a question, you stupid human." She vanished and reappeared right next to Karin. The girl reached down and pulled her up by her hair. Karin would have screamed, if she could still breathe. "What? Can't you talk? Or is my reiatsu a little too strong for you?"
Karin didn't say anything. She just focused on getting her feet under her so she wasn't being supported by just her hair. It was difficult to move with all the spiritual pressure weighing her down, but she managed it and stood up straight.
"Who the hell are you?" she demanded, glaring defiantly. She was not going to let this stupid girl push her around, no matter how powerful she was.
"Oh, you still have some fight left in you," the girl said with a cruel laugh as she glared at Karin. "Very well, I'll tell you who I am. I am Loly, an Arrancar. Now answer my question."
Loly yanked on her hair, and she bit back a scream of pain. "Yeah," she gasped. "I'm Kurosaki Karin. Why the hell do you care?"
The Arrancar's sneer changed into a look of absolute fury. She dropped Karin to the ground. "Your brother killed Aizen-sama," she growled. "He killed someone very important to me.
"I'm going to return the favor, but first..."
Loly held her hand out towards Karin's prone form. Karin saw a red, glowing ball of energy forming above her palm.
"Do you know what this is?" Loly said, glaring at the human girl who was lying on the ground before her. "This is called a Cero. If I fire this at your head, you'll be dead before you even realize what's happening. You won't feel any pain."
Loly sneered. "We can't have that, now, can we?" She changed her aim slightly and fired. Karin screamed in pain as the tightly focused attack obliterated her right shoulder and ripped her right arm from her body.
"I bet you're wondering why nobody's come running yet. Surely somebody can hear you screaming, right? Well, you probably noticed that your precious little town is completely empty already, so there will be nobody coming to your aid."
Actually, Karin was a little too preoccupied with the incredible pain to really care what Loly was saying, but she was in no condition to point that out as she gasped and cried in pain, clutching her mangled stump of a shoulder, which was leaking blood everywhere. Her arm lay several feet away in its own puddle of blood.
Loly leaned closer to the girl and sneered at her again. "Nobody's coming to save you, you stupid human. Nobody can hear you, because there's nobody here. This isn't even the real Karakura. The real one is somewhere else." She frowned. "I don't know why you ended up in the fake instead of being taken along with the real city, but that doesn't matter. It just makes it easier for me to have a little fun with you."
She charged up another Cero while Karin lay there, wishing for unconsciousness or death, or anything else that could stop the pain, but for some reason, the darkness would not claim her. She would not succumb to it, no matter how much she wished she could.
"You know, a Cero like this can be a little hard to control for an Arrancar at my level," Loly mumbled to herself. "It's so hard to aim, and so easy to miss my target." She fired it at Karin.
Karin cried out as her left leg was severed and more blood was added to the back of the puddle. Loly's mocking smile changed into a grimace. "I think, after I kill you, I'll break your chain of fate. I'll turn you into a Hollow, just like how I used to be. Maybe some day you'll break your mask off and become an Arrancar." Her grimace became a sneer again. Karin, who had gotten to the point where she was feeling dizzy and disoriented from loss of blood, idly mused that her killer seemed to be bipolar.
Karin blinked, and suddenly, for just a moment, her mind was crystal-clear. "Screw you," she gasped out through the immense pain and her clouded mind, "you stupid, ugly bitch."
Loly growled something incomprehensible as she charged up yet another Cero and grabbed Karin's neck with her other hand, holding the dying girl up in front of her. Karin was too far gone by this point. She was unconscious and almost dead, but Loly wanted to finish the job.
The Cero was fired at Karin's head.
It hit its target.
And suddenly, Karin's pain was gone. Her mind was clear, though it was still a little hard to breathe. She blinked and watched as Loly dropped what she was holding. It landed in a crumpled heap. Karin saw what it was and gasped.
It was her broken, beaten body.
Loly disappeared, reappearing inches from Karin's face. "Congratulations," she said with a cruel laugh. "You're dead, and well on your way to becoming a Hollow. Let me help you on your way, a little.
The Arrancar grasped the chain that came from the dead girl's chest and broke a large section of it off. Only a few links were left hanging from her chest.
"I'd give you a day, at most, before your chain erodes and you start your transformation," Loly said with a grin as she stepped through a rip in the air. "Have fun as a Hollow."
As she did, Karin felt a huge shift of reiatsu. Suddenly, there were people, vehicles, and noises in the air that had been missing until now. For just a moment, everything was normal. All of the people who had been shifted away were suddenly back. All of the damage from the huge battle that had caused Karin to go unconscious that morning was repaired. Everything was normal.
Then somebody screamed.
You really can't blame the young woman for screaming like that, nor any of the other people responsible for the subsequent screams, shouts and shrieks. What had started as a seemingly normal day for them, despite the fact that their entire town had been transported to Soul Society without their knowledge, had just taken a turn for the worse. They saw a horrible, bloody, dead body appear as if from nowhere. Those very few who had the stomach to look closer could see that the body was that of a young girl, though it was hard to tell, as her head was a mangled, bloody mess. Her right arm and left leg were separated from her body and lying in puddles of blood.
It began to rain.
Karin, unable to stand the sight of her dead body any longer, ran away into the city. The rain that hit her mingled with the tears that were falling from her eyes.
It was only the second time she had cried since her mother's death.
She saw a figure in the distance, one that she recognized, and kept running towards it. Finally, she reached the person she had been looking for. She was shocked, however, when she saw that he was hunched over, his emerald eyes shut tight. He was sobbing.
He never cried. He never showed more than the barest hints of emotion. She had only met him once or twice, but she already knew that much about him. She knew something bad had happened for him too.
"Toushirou?" she asked.
He looked up at her and she saw the despair in his eyes. "Kurosaki?" he mumbled. "What are you doing here?"
"I could ask you the same question," Karin replied. "What's wrong?"
Hitsugaya opened his mouth, then shut it, turning away from her. "Nothing important," he mumbled.
"No offense, Toushirou, but you're a horrible liar."
"Well, maybe I just don't want to talk about it!" he shouted at her. "Maybe I just want you to leave me alone!" He picked up his sword, which had been lying on the ground, and crouched slightly, before vanishing into thin air. Karin stared at the place he had been for a moment, then started running. She knew where he would be.
Hitsugaya stared at the ground. "Why did I come here?" he mumbled. "I used to come here to look at the sky, but that's the last thing I want to do now... All I can think about is her..."
Hinamori stood in front of him, glaring at him, her sword blocking his own.
"Aizen-sama was right about you," she said. "All of the Shinigami are corrupt. They're all evil. Aizen-sama is trying to make things better, but the Shinigami keep standing in his way!"
"Aizen-...sama?" Hitsugaya asked, unable to believe what he was hearing.
"And you, you're such a liar. You're evil, just like what Aizen-sama told me," she told him. "You don't even like me any more! Did you ever like me, even as just a friend? Were we ever friends? Were you ever there for me? No! But...Aizen-sama helped me. He told me what he was trying to do. He's just trying to make the world better! He's trying to help people see how good they can be!"
He kicked the nearby railing in frustration and collapsed to his knees, his Zanpakutou lying forgotten on the ground next to him. He pounded the ground with his fist. The concrete scraped his skin, but he ignored that slight pain as another wave of recent memories hit him.
"I will help make Aizen-sama's dream a reality, and if you're standing in his way..."
As she paused in the middle of a sentence, Hinamori lashed out with her sword. Hitsugaya barely blocked it, still too shocked to fight properly.
"...then I will not hesitate to kill you, Hitsugaya-taichou."
The fight was brief, but furious. Hinamori was definitely not holding back, but Hitsugaya couldn't bring himself to attack his childhood friend. She got in a few lucky hits, though they were all superficial cuts that barely affected him.
He glanced at the traitor, Aizen, while he was busy fighting. The bastard was smirking at him! Gin was laughing! Hitsugaya was furious now. He hated Aizen for hurting Hinamori, for toying with her, for turning her against everybody else. All of that rage boiled over in his mind, and for a moment, he saw Aizen's face in place of Hinamori's, and he stabbed the bastard right through the heart.
Only...he hadn't killed Aizen. The one he impaled was none other than...
He jerked in surprise as he was pulled back to the present. He looked up to see familiar black hair. He let out a quiet breath. "I thought I told you to leave me alone," he muttered just loud enough for her to hear.
"Yeah, but I often ignore what people tell me to do," Karin said, looking sad. Hitsugaya stared at her in confusion that slowly gave way to anger. What right did she have to be sad?! She wasn't the one who had lost someone close to her! Her heart hadn't been ripped out and torn to pieces!
His growing rage completely vanished when he noticed something. Karin was absently toying with a short chain that was attached to her chest. Hitsugaya stared.
Oh my God!
"You're dead?!" he exclaimed. Karin just raised an eyebrow at him.
"You just noticed?" she asked. "I thought you were a Captain!"
Hitsugaya just groaned. "Now I have to deal with your brother," he muttered. "He won't be happy that you've gone and gotten yourself killed... What happened to you?"
So she told her story to him, starting from the moment she woke up. His eyebrows traveled higher and higher as he listened to her. When she finished, he stayed silent for a moment, thinking.
"So, what happened to you?" Karin asked.
"Someone important to me...died today..." Hitsugaya mumbled to her.
"Oh," Karin said, looking down. She didn't want to make him feel worse, but it seemed like she had.
"I...I had to...I had to kill her..."
Karin blinked. "What?" she asked.
"I killed her because...she was my enemy... She betrayed me. She betrayed all of us. And I killed her."
Kurosaki Isshin sighed as he sat alone at a desk in his clinic. Karin had fallen unconscious when the real Karakura switched places with the fake one. For some reason, she was not affected by the switch, and remained in the real world as he did.
Only Shinigami, or others with large amounts of reiatsu, remained unaffected by the switch. He expected to remain behind, but Karin too?
Isshin was not the idiotic, utterly insane man that he often pretended to be. Sure, he had quite a large streak of insanity, and had no qualms about showing it, but he was also capable of being serious. He was, after all, a former Shinigami Captain. He had decided to lend his help to the battle, should the Shinigami need it. So, he had moved Karin's unconscious form to the Clinic and locked the door to the room she was in. After all, it wouldn't do for her to suddenly appear out of nowhere in an occupied room when the real Karakura town reappeared in the very same spot, especially her bedroom, since Yuzu shared it.
Then, he had gone to the battle, moments before Yuzu, the Kurosaki household, and the rest of Karakura was transferred into Soul Society. When he came back, Karin was gone...
He looked up at the familiar voice. It was the tenth division's Captain, Hitsugaya Toushirou. Hitsugaya-taichou was the first of the Shinigami visitors to figure out his true identity as a former Captain. Though he had long since left Soul Society when the white-haired prodigy became a Captain, it was hard to conceal his reiatsu to the point where a Captain would fail to sense it, especially since he had recently regained his powers. Fooling Ichigo was no problem, as the boy could barely sense reiatsu at all, but fooling someone as smart and powerful as the tenth division Captain was almost impossible.
"Hitsugaya-taichou," he replied to the Shinigami who now crouched on his windowsill. He recognized the tone the boy was using. He was there for serious business, not a nice chat. "What's wrong?"
"It's your daughter," Hitsugaya replied, eyes downcast. "She was attacked by a low-ranked Arrancar. She's...she's dead."
Just as he said this, Karin walked in to his office. She had the familiar chain hanging from her chest, though it was extremely short. He let out a breath.
"Hi...Dad," Karin mumbled. "Toushirou told me that you used to be a Shinigami and that you actually can see spirits, so...I decided I should come and tell you that...that I'm dead.
She was still surprised to learn that her father used to be a Shinigami as powerful as Toushirou, and that he could see spirits all along. He had easily fooled all three of his children into thinking that he was just a (relatively) normal person.
Isshin couldn't think of anything to say to his daughter, so she continued, "I just wanted to let you know...since...uh...you might not be able to identify my body. It's...really a mess...and..."
He stood up and walked around his desk to put his hand on her head, ruffling her hair slightly. "It's okay," he whispered to his daughter. "After all, it's not like you're gone forever. Death isn't really the end...just a new beginning..."
"Are you ready to go, Kurosaki?" Toushirou asked Karin. "You can't stay for too long, or your chain of fate will shatter completely and you'll become a Hollow."
Karin held back her tears by sheer force of will as she knelt on the ground. "Yes," she whispered. "I'm ready." She turned to face her father. "Bye, Dad. Say...say goodbye to Yuzu and Ichigo for me...okay?"
"I will," Isshin promised his daughter. "I promise."
Hitsugaya drew his sword and touched Karin's forehead gently with the butt of the hilt. The air around her began to glow, and she faded away. Hitsugaya spared one last glance at the girl's father before he left as well.
Once he was alone, Isshin settled back into his seat and shakily lowered his head to the surface of his desk, resting his forehead on his arms.
"Karin-chan," he whispered to himself, "I hope we meet again."
He took a moment to compose himself before standing up with a sigh. "Ichigo and Yuzu won't take this well..." he mumbled as he left his office.