Family Titles

The night was dark and the air was thick. Isshin Kurosaki paraded around Karakura town, invisible to most. His son, Ichigo, was off at Soul Society…again. Isshin found it his duty to take over for him. At least he could now that he was working on fully reviving his Shinigami powers. So far, it had been three nights since he started patrolling.

And since Karin was attacked.

It was one of the main reasons he started to pick up the patrol. Before, he figured some other Shinigami would take over for his son. This was not so. There was no one there to protect Karin from the beastly Hollow that tasted her reiatsu and decided it wanted more. Picking his daughter over his secret, Isshin revealed himself as the Shinigami he was and fought back the monster. He expected Karin to be at least a little surprised at finding out about his true identity, but she got right up and started yelling at him, demanding an explanation. Apparently, her time spent with Ichigo made her immune to the shock of finding out people were Shinigami. He'd had to explain most of what he knew.

Karin was strong. Strong-hearted and strong-willed. She took it well and promised not to tell Ichigo, but in turn made him swear to tell her brother at some point. Wistfully, he thought what a great Shinigami she would make. Maybe that would be the destiny of his family after all. They would all return to Soul Society. The curse of having a Shinigami father.

Isshin was broken from his trance by a strong reiatsu. He focused on it. An Arrancar. Near it was another reiatsu. Captain level at least. It was icy and sharp, bringing with it a stinging familiarity. He rushed over, but was still slow. "My shunpo isn't quite up to speed yet, it seems." He laughed at his own horrible pun.

The Shinigami's reiatsu was fading fast, he realized, but so was the Arrancar's. By the time he could see the fight, the latter's had completely vanished, leaving on the flickering of the former's. The Shinigami had been severely injured. Isshin made it the rest of the way over, thinking he should deliver whoever it was to Urahara's.

White was the first thing he saw. White blotched with red. A captain's haori and hair, both bloody. They belonged to a small boy. Isshin's stomach dropped. It couldn't be, could it?

The boy was unconscious, but easily recognizable as Toshiro Hitsugaya. From the look on Isshin's face, you would have thought he had seen one of his daughters laying there. He remembered this boy well. The child prodigy, the youngest member of Tenth Division…and now the captain of it, Isshin noticed, seeing the number on his haori. He chuckled darkly and smiled. "Looks like you took my place as Tenth's captain. I always knew you'd be great."

Carefully, Isshin picked up Toshiro, trying not to injure him further. He had to get to Urahara's. Toshiro's reiatsu was getting extremely weak. However, as he neared the shop, he saw no lights on and heard no one inside. The shop was empty.

Thinking quick, Isshin knew the Kurosaki Clinic was the only place left to go. He poured on the speed until he reached home, entering quietly so as not to wake his sleeping daughters. He placed Toshiro in the medical area and started to mend all of the wounds, going as far as to instill a little healing kido. Time ticked by slowly, but it was a happy moment when the young one's reiatsu started to build back up again.

"You've grown since the last time I saw you," Isshin whispered, a wistful smile tugging at his lips. "You're still a little punk, though." It was almost saddening to know how much older Toshiro had grown without him. Isshin still remembered the sulky little kid who would try to walk around Tenth Division with his head held high as if that would make him just as tall as everyone else. Isshin used to be his captain and had to stop some of his rowdier members from picking on the little one, whether it be for his size, his hair, or his eyes. It had quickly become obvious that Isshin favored Toshiro. No one teased him after that.

They'd met for the first time courtesy of Matsumoto. For the past year, she'd been talking about this odd little boy with amazing reiatsu. One of the main things she mentioned was how "absolutely adorable" he was. Once a month or so, she'd sneak over to the Academy to see how he was doing. It came as a shock to Isshin when she reported that he was a child prodigy, set to graduate that very year. She prayed that he joined their division. Then, on graduation day, her prayers were answered. Toshiro Hitsugaya became part of Tenth Division.

Isshin had to admit, the boy was definitely what one would call "cute." He also had a sharp wit and a sense of loyalty that won Isshin over instantly. Matsumoto bugged the boy almost constantly, acting too much like a mother hen for Isshin not to laugh. If he did something stupid, she was there. If something bothered him, she'd be the first to find out what it was. The same soon became true for Isshin as well. On occasion, Toshiro would call them annoying and get angry, but things were always mended right back up. They were like a family.

Then, Isshin had vanished right after Toshiro learned bankai. He was sent on a mission to the real world, but never came back. That night was still fuzzy to him. He remembered fighting a Hollow and then passing out, but what hadn't made sense was how he woke up in a gigai, zapped of his powers. He couldn't go back to Soul Society. After meeting with Urahara, though, they pieced together exactly what happened.

Central 46 had come up with a secret plan to exile him. He'd heard the threat often enough. Isshin was known for getting on their nerves and twisting the rules. He pushed them past their limits when he started inventing a new type of kido that exceed the limits of what they deemed allowable. That was what really sent them over the edge. However, Isshin was also a very loved captain. Central 46 worried that, like the Kiske Urahara case, others would have vanished with him if his exile was announced. They thought it better to do so in secret by sending him on a mission to the real world and then having one of their own follow to knock him out and seal his powers away.

Isshin made the best of it. He married his sweet Masaki and had three beautiful children which he loved very much. Now, Masaki was gone and his children were gaining what the traces of his powers had left for them. Ichigo was the strongest and was already dealing with much of Soul Society. Karin was on her way to following him. Yuzu…he had no idea what was in store for her. And now, Toshiro showed up. Isshin felt like he was slowly being dragged back to Soul Society, his family in tow.

A clomping on the stairs alerted Isshin to Karin's presence. He turned to her, still in Shinigami form, to see her dark eyes were filled with shock. She gasped, but not at him.

"Toshiro?"

Isshin glanced to his patient, then back to her. "Karin," he asked, "how do you know this Shinigami?"

Her face started to redden all of a sudden. "He helped us win a soccer game once and then he kind of saved me from a Hollow," she muttered, averting his eyes. "What happened?"

Isshin sighed. "I found him fighting a strong Hollow. He defeated it, but this happened in return."

She nodded. "Will he be okay?"

"Should be," the father answered. "Karin, why don't you go back to bed?"

Her eyes wouldn't leave the small captain for a full minute, but she eventually gave in and headed back up. Maybe she would be able to see him before he left.

Not an hour later, a groaning noise interrupted the quiet of the night. Isshin watched intently as two teal eyes began to open. He panicked for a split second, wondering how Toshiro would react to having his old captain not only be alive, but in the human world. When it came down to it, his best choice was to just act the way he usually did and hope for the best.

Toshiro squinted in the bright light. He saw a person above him. That person looked like…like Captain Isshin, but that was impossible. Captain Isshin vanished on a mission and was assumed dead. Toshiro had accepted that fact a long time ago. At the same time, his brain was still half-asleep. He couldn't stop himself from groggily asking, "Captain Isshin?"

The man above him smirked. "Nice to be remembered. How's it going, Toshiro?"

Toshiro started shaking his head. "I must be dreaming," he muttered. A pinch was felt on his arm. The small captain glared at Isshin. "What was that for?"

"To show you that you're not dreaming," Isshin retorted with his trademark grin. In response, Toshiro hurled a punch at Isshin, only to have it caught. Isshin kept grinning. "Just like old times, huh?"

The boy grabbed his hand back and moved away from the man. "No!" he shouted. "Traitor! You…We thought you were dead! You vanished!"

Isshin watched as the boy went through his mental breakdown. Then, when he was sure it would be safe to speak, he explained, "I never did so intentionally. Central 46 exiled me and sealed away my powers."

Toshiro sent him an icy glare that made the temperature of the room drop. "Liar," he hissed. "I'm not blind. I can clearly see that you are a Shinigami right now. Besides, there was never any announcement of an exile."

"That's because they did it in secret," Isshin explained. "And stop with the attitude, you little punk. I don't appreciate my house feeling like an icebox."

The "little punk" comment hit home. Isshin always used to call Toshiro that as a joke. This caused the boy's glare to disappear. "Okay, I'm listening."

"Do you remember how I always used to joke about how Central 46 hated me?" Isshin asked. He got a positive response. "It was true. As you recall, I would always stretch the rules, but only the little ones. They couldn't get rid of me because I wasn't technically breaking them and what I did wasn't dangerous. But then I started practicing a new type of kido and they found their excuse. They had me sent on a mission to the real world, Karakura town, in fact, and incapacitated me before sealing away my powers. It was only recently that I've begun to get them back."

"That doesn't make sense," Toshiro argued. "If they sealed your powers, how could you get them back?"

"Because my abilities were stronger than their seal."

It was silent for a few moments as the young captain tried to digest that. Finally, he asked, "Was it because of the new kido?"

Isshin nodded. "I knew you were smart."

"What kind of kido could be so strong that it could break a seal like that?"

Suddenly, Isshin grinned. "I think that's enough answers for today. No more until after you get some sleep."

"I'm not a little kid anymore, Captain Isshin!" Toshiro argued. "Stop treating me like one!"

"This has nothing to do with your age," Isshin defended, standing. "But you need your rest if you're going to recover. So, unless you go to sleep, I'm not going to give you a single answer. Goodnight, Toshiro."

Toshiro fought back the urge to say, "It's Captain Hitsugaya." Instead, he scowled and muttered, "Goodnight, Captain Isshin."

The older man chuckled. "Technically, it's ex-Captain Isshin, now. Or just Isshin."

"If you still get to call me a little punk, I still get to call you Captain Isshin."

Isshin's laughing could still be heard even after he left the area.

-BLEACH-

Morning rose and Isshin was the first one up as usual. He went downstairs to check that his patient was still there. He was happy to find that Toshiro Hitsugaya was sleeping soundly. Isshin couldn't help but smile. It reminded him so much of the little boy who was like a son to him. On mornings like this, Isshin would have sometimes given the boy a "surprise" greeting as he so often did to Ichigo now. Hm, maybe that was why the two were so much alike. He wondered if they'd ever met. Were they friends, even? After all, it was so hard for Toshiro to make friends, being the stiff he was. Isshin mentally sighed. This only showed that, while he knew a lot, he didn't know everything. This was one of those things.

The sleeping child began to stir, immediately grabbing Isshin's attention.

"Good morning, Shiro," Isshin greeted. "And how is the little punk doing today?"

"I was fine last night," he grumbled.

Isshin smirked. "You never were a morning person."

The boy got out of the bed and straightened his clothes, but quickly noticed his haori was missing. Before he even had the chance to ask, Isshin tossed it to him. He said, "I put it in the wash. I didn't think you wanted to walk around covered in blood."

"Thank you," Hitsugaya said awkwardly, slipping it on. He remembered the white fabric hanging over the man's shoulder the night before. "I saw you still had yours."

"They didn't seem to care if I returned it or not," Isshin remarked lightheartedly.

"Which reminds me," Toshiro said. "You still have to answer my questions."

They were interrupted by a pair of feet nimbly skipping down the stairs. Isshin turned to the honey-eyed girl coming down the stair, smiling brightly. "Yuzu!" he cried.

"Hi, Dad!" she greeted warmly. "I'm going to get started on breakfast, okay? I'm thinking of making eggs."

"Sorry, Yuzu," Isshin replied, a plan forming. "I think we're out of eggs."

"Oh," the girl uttered. "Then I guess I'll just have to go buy some! Bye, Dad!" She picked some money up off of the counter and left.

Toshiro gazed at Isshin curiously. His big teal-eyed look made Isshin want to laugh as he responded, "That's Yuzu, my daughter. She can't see spirits."

While Toshiro nodded sagely, it was hard to wrap his mind around the idea of Isshin having a daughter---or a family, for that matter---outside of Soul Society. While Toshiro hated to admit it, Isshin and Matsumoto (along with Hinamori and Granny, of course) were the closest thing to a family he had. Vaguely, the boy wondered if this was what it felt like to have divorced parents: one of them suddenly having this new family that wasn't your own.

Trying to wipe the thought from his mind, Toshiro brought the conversation back to where it was before. "So, what was that new type of kido?"

Isshin looked stern. "First," he said, "I want you to promise to never try it. We don't want you getting exiled as well."

"I won't," Toshiro vowed.

"Good," Isshin said. "Then I can tell you that it was supposed to be a combination between zanpaktou and kido. They temporarily became one entity, enhancing your power drastically. It was very much like bankai. The trick was, I noticed that when I used it, it would sometimes act as a sort of negative kido, reversing the effects of any other kido previously instilled. I never had the chance to perfect it, but I did get far enough to get Central 46 worried. However, when they sealed my powers away, they didn't know that my previous use of that ability would slowly reverse the effects until the seal was broken."

"But why?" Toshiro wondered. "Why did you want to do something like that?"

"Mostly?" Isshin asked, scratching the back of his head. "To see if I could. But there was another reason. Think of the possibilities, Toshiro. I could cut you with my zanpaktou…and heal you. A hit from it might paralyze you with a super-enforced binding kido. The natural abilities of my zanpaktou would be increased by double. I could cut down ten hollows with the time and effort it took for another Shinigami to take care of one. Now, if I had perfected it and combined it with bankai…"

"I can see why they would be worried," Toshiro agreed. Inwardly, he was making a gruesome comparison. Isn't that along the same lines of what Aizen accomplished? As far as the boy knew, Aizen never combined the two abilities, but he pushed them to their maximum limits, perfecting both kido and zanpaktou in a way beyond comprehension. However, that created another idea. If that was the situation, could it be possible that Isshin could potentially be level to Aizen? It was a scary thought.

Another person clomping down the stairs alerted both Shinigami. Toshiro wondered who it was. Was this Isshin's wife or did he have another child? To say he was shocked beyond belief when he saw Karin was an understatement.

"Hey, Toshiro!" she greeted. "You're up."

Toshiro stumbled back a step. "Karin Kurosaki?"

"What did you expect?" she asked. "I live here, after all. Hey, Dad, did Toshiro hit his head or something?"

"Dad?" Toshiro thought in a mixture of disbelief and horror. If Isshin was Karin's father and Karin was Ichigo's sister, then….Oh, man.

The father and daughter started laughing hysterically as it suddenly dawned on Toshiro that this was the father of Ichigo. Isshin Kurosaki. The same man that was currently putting his hand on Toshiro's shoulder and teasing, "You look like you swallowed a bug."

"What's wrong, Toshiro?" Karin laughed out. "You shouldn't be surprised by now."

The boy gripped his head. "You're right, I shouldn't. It makes sense after all. This is the source behind the Kurosaki craziness."

Isshin patted the boy on the shoulder. "You've got it, kid. Just don't say anything to Ichigo yet. We're still planning on how to tell him. You'd think he would have realized by now that something's going on with a reiatsu like his. Oh, well. He always was dense."

Toshiro shook his head. "Captain Isshin, you're a lunatic."

"Agreed," Karin said. "But what's with the whole 'captain' thing?"

Their ears were blown off by Isshin's booming laughter. Toshiro scowled, his face reddening a bit.

"He used to be my captain before I took over," the boy mumbled.

As it turned out, Karin could laugh just as loudly and obnoxiously as her father.

"Why is that funny?" the little boy demanded.

"I'm sorry, you're right," Karin answered, wiping her eyes. "It's just hard to picture, is all."

Toshiro muttered something unintelligible, but it sounded like a threat. This was only further proved by the rapidly dropping temperature.

Isshin ruffled the boy's hair. "Stop being so temperamental, little punk. We're just joking. You might want to try it sometime."

Toshiro wacked his hand away. "Or maybe you should try being more serious."

"No thanks. You have enough of that for the both of us."

"Hey," Karin suddenly asked, "where's Yuzu?"

"Getting some eggs," Isshin replied. An idea formed in his head. "Hey, Toshiro, want to join us for breakfast?"

"Actually," Toshiro said, "I think I should probably be going now. I need time to recuperate from the migraine I now have."

"So soon?" Isshin whined. "I haven't seen you in over twenty years and now you're just going to vanish?"

He shrugged. "I have other responsibilities."

Isshin sighed. "Oh, fine, but come back to visit, Toshiro."

Toshiro paused. "Maybe if I have time." Just as he was about to jump out through the window, he turned and smirked. "And it's Captain Hitsugaya now."

"Whatever you say, little punk," Isshin returned, grinning all the while.

"Bye, Toshiro!" Karin called.

Toshiro shook his head. Why was it that every Kurosaki had the inability to call him by his proper title?

He should have known that the answer was: because you don't call family by titles.

-BLEACH-

Both Yemi Hikari and Stelra Etnae suggested this one. Thanks guys!