Last chapter :)

With the death of Aizen and the loss of their base in Las Noches, the Arrancar had fallen into lawless turmoil. Neither Gin or Tousen had been strong enough to reunite them. When the shinigami entered Hueco Mondo for their first raid after Aizen's death, they found Tousen's dead body covered in cero burns. Gin's was found in a similar state a week later. The infighting that resulted amongst the Arrancar and the remaining Espada only aided the shinigami in their purge of all of Aizen's creations. And finally, only one month after the death of Aizen, Yamamoto soutaicho officially declared the war over.

10th squad was having a party, and for once, Hitsugaya didn't protest. He felt that his subordinates deserved it and so, knowing he would hate himself later, he put Matsumoto in charge of organizing it. Needless to say, there was barely room to move in the office due to the sake bottles that overwhelmed even the paperwork backlog from Hitsugaya's stay in the living world (Matsumoto had quickly changed the subject and dashed from the room when he asked her about it, and his subsequent cry of "MATSUMOTO!" had earned him more than one nasty letter about the noise level in his squad). But right now, Hitsugaya was willing to overlook even that, as he was eagerly waiting for someone to arrive.

He felt her reiatsu before he saw her and his heart leapt involuntarily. Unconsciously, he ran a hand through his hair in a vain attempt to tame it and smoothed out the wrinkles on his haori. The door flew open and Hitsugaya had a brief glimpse of the largest smile he had ever seen before his vision was blocked by a mess of raven colored hair and his lips were practically stolen from him in Karin's enthusiasm to kiss him.

"I take it the meeting went well," Hitsugaya chided as Karin disentangled herself from him.

"Yamamoto soutaicho said that in recognition of my service to Soul Society, I'm allowed to visit whenever I want," she said happily. "Of course, it wouldn't have mattered either way, but still, it's nice to have permission." Hitsugaya smirked.

"Yeah, I wasn't particularly worried. After everything you and your brother did, the soutaicho would be crazy not to let you." Karin had indeed been included in more than one Arrancar extermination mission to Hueco Mondo over the past month. That, coupled with her assistance in the defeat of Aizen, made her one of the biggest heroes of the "Winter War", whose name stuck despite the fact that there hadn't really been much of a war.

"Besides," he added, "I would have come to visit you anyway." Karin beamed at him

"I know you would have," she replied before kissing him again.

"Taicho!" Matsumoto cried, throwing open the door. "It's time for the part…" Her voice trailed off as she took in the sight of the lip-locked Hitsugaya and Karin.

"Oh, well I'll just leave you two then." She winked at them and Hitsugaya flushed a deep shade of magenta as Karin snickered beside him.

"So, do you want to go to the party?" Karin offered.

"As if. I have no desire to watch my subordinates drink themselves into a stupor."

"But you're the taicho," Karin pointed out. "It wouldn't hurt you to socialize a little." Hitsugaya scoffed.

"Anyway," he changed the subject, "there's somewhere else I want to take you." Karin looked at him curiously, but no matter how much she pried, he wouldn't tell her. He simply took her hand and led her out of the overcrowded office.

They left 10th squad and walked through the streets of Seireitei. The eyes of every shinigami they passed were trained in on them, and Hitsugaya proudly attempted to ignore them. The story of Hitsugaya, Karin, and Matsumoto's defeat of Aizen was known by everyone in Soul Society, which led many to wonder how exactly Kurosaki Ichigo's sister ended up there in the first place. And how did she get so powerful? Rumors spread, and before long, almost everyone was convinced that there was something a little stronger than friendship between the 10th squad taicho and the new Illusionist. The fact that they were right didn't help improve Hitsugaya's mood. Karin seemed more amused by the rumors than anything, and although she saw no reason to hide their current status, she respected Hitsugaya's embarrassment and didn't proclaim anything out loud.

"I can't believe there's no snow here," Karin marveled. "It's even warm." Hitsugaya shrugged.

"The weather doesn't change much here. Anyway, we're here." Karin raised an eyebrow. They had arrived at the 5th squad barracks.

"Toushiro, what…?" she began, but before she could finish, Hitsugaya had knocked on a door.

"Come in," said a soft voice and Hitsugaya slid the door open. Inside was a girl with long, jet black hair, dressed in a white sleeping yukata. She was sitting in her futon cradling a tiny bundle in her arms.

"Shiro-chan!" the girl squealed and Hitsugaya actually smiled.

"It's Hitsugaya taicho," he corrected, but the smile never left his face. "Karin, I'd like you to meet Hinamori," he introduced. "Hoshi's mother. She finally woke up this morning."

"Oh, it's wonderful to finally meet you, Hinamori-san!" Karin said excitedly, sitting down beside her. "And to see that you're finally feeling better. Toushiro's been quite worried you know."

"Hitsugaya-kun, is this your girlfriend?" Hinamori pried. Hitsugaya blushed.

"I…ah…I guess so," he mumbled. Karin pushed him.

"Dolt," she teased, and Hinamori giggled.

"I want to thank you, Karin-san, for taking care of my son," Hinamori said sincerely. "I'm truly grateful."

"Ah, don't worry about that," Karin brushed her off. "It was fun. Really. Alright, so it hard at times, and babies really don't sleep, but I honestly loved it. Besides, Toushiro did half the work."

"You can come visit Hoshi whenever you want, ok," Hinamori said brightly.

"You know, you can give him a real name now," Karin told her. "We just called him Hoshi as a nickname." Hinamori shook her head.

"I like it," she replied happily. "It's sweet and cute and reminds me of everything you and Hitsugaya-kun went through to protect him." She beamed at Karin who smiled back.

"Oh then," she acceded.

"Oh, and by the way," Karin continued, "since you're such a talented illusionist, I was wondering if you wanted to train together sometime. I'd love to get some lessons from you." Hinamori nodded.

"Sure!" she consented. "I'd like that."

"Oi, are you going to come to Soul Society to see me or everyone else?" Hitsugaya ridiculed. Karin chuckled and kissed him on the cheek. He blushed furiously in response.

They spent a little more time chatting with Hinamori before Karin convinced Hitsugaya that he really should attend his party. Hinamori declined, saying she was still recovering, so Hitsugaya and Karin headed back to 10th squad by themselves.

"I can see why you care for her so much," Karin noted. "She's a wonderful person."

"Yeah, but man she worries me sometimes." Karin snickered.

"You sound like a protective older brother."

"Naw, she's older than me. But I admit to the protective brother part. Although, I haven't done a very good job of protecting her in the past." He squeezed his fist subconsciously, an action which Karin couldn't fail to notice. She reached out and pried his fingers open, forcing her hand into his instead.

"You protected Hoshi," she said sincerely. "That's good enough." Hitsugaya sighed and looked at her. How did he get so lucky to have her by his side? He really didn't deserve her. He squeezed her hand and gave her a small smile. They were still in public, but he didn't care. Who was he hiding this from? He leaned forward and planted a warm kiss on her lips. He felt Karin smirk satisfactorily before throwing her arms around his neck and kissing him back.

"Yeah," he agreed, gazing deeply into her eyes. "I guess it is."

The End

I really want to thank you guys. This story was harder for me to get through than any of my others since I really didn't enjoy it and I'm really not proud of how it turned out, but your amazing words of encouragement helped me through it, made me not hate it so much, and pushed me to post, even though I know I took a lot longer to put up chapters than I usually do, for which I apologize profusely. I promise to try not to do that in future stories, since I know how frustrating that is (I'm a reader too.) Anyway, thanks again a thousand times and I hope to see you again in my next story!