Karin groaned as she followed Ichigo.

"Why are we doing this again?" she asked glumly.

In the five years since the end of the war between Soul Society and Aizen she was now just a head shorter then him, much to his annoyance. She peered over his shoulder at the few shinigami walking past. The corridor they were walking through was long and…perfectly straight. She sighed.

"You need to get your badge, I already told you this," her brother replied.

She moaned loudly and slumped her shoulders. "This is so tedious though…"

"Hey, my first visit here was a lot worse."

Karin thought back on how much she had trained to finally get here. The moment she discovered the name of her zanpakuto. Yami Musha. She couldn't help but love the badmouthed warrior who never failed to give an accurate observation. It had been hard, but definitely worth it.

"Why do we have to talk to the Commander-General…? Isn't there someone else?"

"You've never even met him…"

"I know…I've only ever met six shinigami including you…" she sighed.

"Six? I know you know Urahara, Rukia, Renji, and me, but who are the other two?" he queried curiously.

"Um…what was his name…" Karin didn't want to admit that she remembered it very well. "…Hitsugaya…Toshiro…? And some woman with huge boobs…"

Ichigo tried to stifle a laugh but failed. "The midget?"

"Well, yeah…I guess you could call him that…" Karin mumbled.

"Hey, Ichigo!" a familiar cheerful voice called. Both siblings turned to see Matsumoto walking quickly toward them. She waved energetically. "What are you doing here?" she asked when she reached them.

"We came to get Karin here a substitute shinigami badge," Ichigo said proudly.

"Oh! So then you're going to see the Commander-General?"

"Yeah…"

"Have fun!" she said with a mischievous smile.

Karin and Ichigo watched her leave silently, wondering what she had been so happy about.

"What was…"

"Weird, yeah…" Karin finished Ichigo's sentence.

They continued on their way somewhat warily. Soon they found themselves walking through the large doors that led to where the Commander-General was seated. When they were close enough to hear each other speak both siblings froze.

"You…" Ichigo trailed off.

"Toshiro?!" Karin exclaimed.

He stared at them for a moment and then sighed. "It's Hitsugaya…" he murmured.

Ichigo gave him a strange look but didn't say anything.

"…You're the Commander-General? Since when?" Karin asked, crossing her arms over her chest.

"Yes," he affirmed, rubbing his forehead. "What is it you need?"

"Karin came to get a substitute shinigami badge…" Ichigo said, staring at the still-short shinigami.

Toshiro stood, walking around the table and coming to stand in front of them. He drew his sword and pointed it at Karin.

"H-Hey! What are you doing?!" Karin asked.

"You have to pass the test to get your badge," he explained wearily.

"I didn't take a test," Ichigo stated.

"You fought many high-ranking shinigami. Those fights added together qualified you."

"Fine! Let's just get this over with!" Karin said, drawing her sword.

"Um…should you guys do this inside…?" Ichigo asked.

Toshiro nodded and headed for one of the open windows. "Follow me."

Karin and Ichigo both used shunpo to follow him to a large dirt clearing. A few shinigami scurried away when they saw Hitsugaya, giving him wary glances.

"So…are we doing a 'serious' fight?" Karin asked.

"Use whatever means you want to in order to beat me. Try not to kill anyone though…"

"Great!" Karin smirked. She flipped her sword around, releasing her reiatsu. "Cover in darkness, Yami Musha!"

"Reign over the frosted heavens…Hyorinmaru," Toshiro said.

Karin was almost knocked over by the cold reiatsu. She felt like she was chocking on an icicle and she stumbled forward in shock.

"Were you…always this…freezy?" she asked between deep breaths.

"It's been five years."

Ichigo jumped back onto the roof of a nearby building and sat down. He glanced at the two fighters, his gaze lingering on Hitsugaya.

'Something's…different about him…' he thought, trying to figure out what it was.

The two fighters clashed in a flash of sparks. Karin made a quick undercut but Toshiro jumped back, easily dodging it. He pointed at Karin.

"Bakudou No. 4, White lightning."

Karin rolled to avoid the bolt of lightning as she prepared her own kido spell.

"Ye Lord! Mask of flesh and bone, all creation, flutter of wings, ye who bears the name of Man! Truth and temperance, Upon this sinless wall of dreams unleash but slightly the wrath of your claws! Hadou No. 33, Blue Fire, Crash Down!" she yelled, sending a mass of blue fire at Toshiro.

He swung his sword and created a huge wall of ice that blocked the spell. Karin cursed and jumped up after him.

'He can use kido spells without the incantation?' She thought as she landed on top of the wall, searching for her opponent. 'Not fair!'

Karin yelped when a large ice dragon barely missed her. She turned to block another strike with her sword. The ice dragon hit the ice wall and froze onto it as if it had never moved.

"Bakudou No. 1, Restrain."

She tried to pinpoint where the attack was coming from but he had hidden all of his reiatsu. Her arms were suddenly locked behind her back and she dropped Yami Musha in shock.

"Freeze over," Toshiro said, now standing in front of her.

Ice crawled up over her feet and up her legs. She struggled against the kido spell as the frost moved up to cover her waist and then her shoulders. Finally it stopped, leaving Karin unable to move in her icy prison.

"H-Hey! Let me out!" she spat, trying to move. Her lips were already turning a shade of blue.

Toshiro shook his head slowly. "You lose," he stated plainly, lowering his sword.

Karin frowned defiantly for a bit, but the cold eventually got the better of her. "A-Alright! Y-You W-Win," she admitted. "L-L-Let me out!"

He snapped his fingers and the ice shattered and left Karin standing there, shivering. She hung her head.

"I guess that means I don't get the badge," she murmured. She felt Ichigo shunpo behind her and put a hand on her shoulder.

"You did good Karin," he complemented, offering her a smile.

"Well "good" isn't good enough!" she snapped back.

Toshiro watched them for a moment and then sighed.

"Karin," he said, trying to get her attention.

She stopped arguing with her brother for a moment, staring at the shorter boy.

'I can't believe I got beat by someone shorter then me…' she thought absently.

He pulled one of the badges out of an unseen pocket and held it out. "I'll give you this on one condition."

Karin crossed her arms. "What?"

"You'll stay here and train. You're a very good fighter but there's more you could do if you just practiced here for a while."

Ichigo stepped forward. "Wait a minute, she can't just-"

Karin grinned and interrupted. "It's a deal."

"Karin!"

"Ichigo, I wanna get better! If I'm a good fighter then I can defend myself, right? You won't need to worry about me," she stated, trying to convince him.

"Dad's going to freak out…"

Karin waved her hand. "He'll be fine."

Toshiro tossed her the badge. She caught it, showing Ichigo proudly. The redhead sighed, rubbing his head.

"I'd like to stay for a bit today. I've got some people I want to see," Ichigo said.

Hitsugaya nodded and then disappeared. Ichigo could see him moving back to his office and in a few seconds the small Commander was going back in through the window.

"Hey, Ichigo?"

He turned to his sister, noticing her thoughtful look.

"Was he…always like that? I mean, I didn't know him very well but…the last time I saw him he was a lot more…energetic," she said while looking down at the ice wall.

"He used to flip out whenever anyone would call him Toshiro…I wonder what happened…"

Karin shrugged. "He didn't tell me where I'm supposed to stay," she said blankly.

"You can ask him later. For now, how about you come with me and visit some people?" Ichigo suggested.

"Fine…"

Karin followed her brother through the many streets of Soul Society, staring in slight wonder at the old fashioned structures and attire. A few people stared at them curiously as they passed.

"It's really different here…" she murmured, glancing at a restaurant.

"Yeah…the first time I was here it was a lot different…Everyone was trying to kill me."

Karin smiled. "Did Toshiro try to kill you?"

The redhead thought for a moment. "No…I don't think so…I believe he was one of the only shinigami who wanted to stop Rukia's execution."

"Really? Why?" Karin asked, suddenly curious.

"I think he figured out something that made him suspicious, but I don't know any details. I actually don't know him very well," Ichigo admitted with a shrug.

"…He was…nice to me when I met him."

Ichigo narrowed his eyes. "What's up with that anyway? You never told me you'd met him before."

The black haired girl grinned.

"We were playing soccer against these jerks and one of them injured my knee. Earlier I'd asked Toshiro to help us and he showed up. At first he didn't want to help but…He saw my knee and then he decided to play for us." Karin laughed. She was rather fond of the memory. "You should have seen their faces! He was running around in slippers, jumping over their heads and moving around like he'd played soccer since he was born. He let me make the winning goal…"

Ichigo crossed his arms and frowned.

"You don't…have a crush on him, do you?" he asked uncertainly.

"What!? No! I'm just thankful that he helped! If he hadn't been there the hollow that showed up would have killed everyone on that soccer field!" Karin defended, managing to not let a blush creep onto her face.

"…There was a hollow?"

"Yes! He killed it and then I asked him if he knew where you were…He said you were probably of somewhere working hard…and then got mad when I said he was pretty strong even though he was only in elementary school."

Ichigo chuckled. "How come you never told me about this?"

"Well…I didn't think you'd care," she replied, looking at the ground mischievously.

"Of course I care. You're my little sister."

"So who is it you want to visit?" Karin asked, changing the subject.

"I was thinking about going over to see Rukia first, and then maybe head over to see Renji."

She smiled, thinking back to when Rukia was staying with them. Or that time when Renji had shot her dad's hair off and left him bald down the center of his head.

"That's all?"

Ichigo looked up at the sky. "Hmm…Let's see…I don't really want to go near the 11th division," here he shuddered, "I guess they're the only people I want to see right now."

Karin shrugged.

"Doesn't matter much to me; it's not like I have anything better to do right now," she murmured with a yawn.

"So you don't have a crush on him?"

"Ichigo!" she hissed, punching him in the shoulder.

He chuckled, rubbing the spot where she'd hit him. "I'm gonna have a bruise there…"

"Deal with it," she growled, annoyed that he'd asked her again. For crying out loud, she'd just got her butt kicked by a midget! Of course she didn't like him!

"Fine, fine…"

For a while they simply walked in silence, enjoying each others presence. Karin had been training so much before this that she hadn't spent much time with her family. She wondered if Yuzu would cry when she found out she was going to be away for a while…Probably.

Karin remembered Urahara and how ruthless he'd been during her lessons. The first few weeks she thought she would die. By the end of the month her whole body was practically purple and she couldn't sit down after falling on her butt so much.

Kicking soccer balls at hollows wasn't enough, apparently.

Ichigo was probably the one she saw the most of, since he was already a substitute shinigami. They'd trained together a bit but that was all.

"Heeeeey! Ichigo!"

He smiled and waved at the short woman jogging toward them. She stopped just in front of them and grinned.

"Rukia!" Karin greeted happily.

"I heard you were going to be here," Rukia said, panting slightly as she moved a strand of hair back behind her ear.

"We were just going to see you," Ichigo explained.

"Oh?" Karin noticed how the shinigami could barely contain her happiness. "Well, then…why don't we all go to the Kuchiki Mansion and talk? I'm sure Byakuya won't mind."

Karin smiled. Rukia seemed to be getting along better with her brother. She was even calling him by his first name…

"Sounds good," the only male in the group agreed.

Karin followed behind Rukia and Ichigo as they chatted casually. Her thoughts automatically wandered back to her fight with Toshiro. She'd been careless.

Maybe if she had trained harder and learned how to use Bankai…No. He had a Bankai to, and somehow she knew it would be a lot more powerful then hers would be any time soon.

He was older! He had hundreds of year's worth of experience and she had what, five or six? How did Ichigo do it…? She wondered if he could beat Toshiro. Maybe.

She snapped out of her thoughts suddenly, staring blankly at the many people walking around her.

"Ahhhh, for the love of…"

She'd lost sight of Ichigo and Rukia. They'd been so immersed in their conversation and she'd been so engrossed in her thoughts that they hadn't noticed they'd been separated.

The young woman ran forward through the crowds, dodging around people as she searched for her companions.

Relief washed over her when she saw her brother's wild orange hair. Thank…whoever that he had such brightly colored hair! They hadn't even noticed she'd been missing…sheesh.

He was asking her about having a crush when obviously he had one of his own...Not that she had a crush on anyone, let alone Toshiro, in the first place!

She fell into step behind the two oblivious shinigami, determined to not let herself get distracted again. Stupid Toshiro…

"We're here. Try not to break anything Ichigo…" Rukia muttered the last part.

He seemed to ignore her comment as they entered the huge house. Karin stared at the large courtyard, awed at how…big it was. Rukia led the siblings down one of the many hallways to a spacious, well lit room. They sat down together.

"How've you been over here? It seems like it's been a while since I last saw you," Ichigo said.

"Not much has happened…except for Hitsugaya becoming the Commander-General. Renji's still working to beat Byakuya…" Rukia replied.

"Yeah, what's up with that? Is Toshiro really that powerful?" Karin asked.

Rukia blinked. "He beat the previous Commander-General…No one thought he would win but…" she shook her head. "I don't know."

Ichigo stared at her curiously.

"You don't know what?"

"Commander Hitsugaya…he…changed," she said quietly, looking at the ground in front of her.

"How?" This time it was Karin who spoke. She didn't know much about him…had he really changed that much since that time?

The female shinigami shook her head again. "I don't know," she suddenly smiled though it looked fake. "Let's talk about something else! How's Urahara?"

Ichigo ignored the sudden change of subject. "He's the same as always…you know him."

Karin frowned. "He's just cruel."

This caused Rukia to laugh and Karin watched as Ichigo looked at the shinigami with those…those freaking "I like you a lot" eyes. She hated that…when people would look at someone like that…like they really…cared.

It wasn't like she wanted to hate it. Maybe it was because she hadn't ever looked at someone like that. Maybe she was jealous.

"So Byakuya's doing good?" Ichigo asked.

"Well, he's a Captain, so he's busy all the time. But yeah, he's good."

"And Renji?"

"He's also well-"

Karin lost track of the conversation as her thoughts strayed yet again to a certain small, snowy haired shinigami. So he really had changed, huh? Was that a good or a bad thing? She thought back on how he'd helped her team win that soccer match.

One of the things that stuck out in her memories was when he'd sat staring at the sunset. It seemed like he was remembering someone special to him.

Karin's blood boiled at the thought and she felt like slapping herself for getting so upset over nothing. She did not have a crush on him! No way in heck!

"Karin!"

She jumped. Ichigo was waving a hand in front of her face. "Rukia was talking to you."

"Ah…sorry…Could you repeat that?" Karin requested, blushing slightly.

"She already has five times…" Ichigo muttered under his breath.

"You're going to be staying here in Soul Society for a bit?" Rukia repeated.

"Yeah. Toshiro wanted me to."

The shinigami looked surprised.

"Really? That's odd…"

"What? How's it odd?" Karin asked.

"…It's just that it doesn't strike me as something he would do," Rukia clarified, shrugging. Ichigo nodded silently.

"Well it doesn't matter now; I already agreed. As long as I stay here and train for a bit I'll be able to keep this badge," Karin stated, holding up the wooden object.

"Do you have somewhere to stay?" Rukia queried.

"Well, no, but…I'll probably have to talk to Toshiro again."

"If you can't find a place, you're very welcome here. I'm sure my brother wouldn't object," the shinigami offered.

"Thank you!" Karin beamed, happy that she had a place to go if there was no where else.

"Sure thing."

"It's getting pretty late and I should probably be heading back to the real world...Karin, let's get back to the first division and talk to Toshiro."

All three of the room's occupants stood.

"Oh, and you should probably call him Commander Hitsugaya instead of Toshiro…" Rukia suggested with a slightly nervous expression.

Ichigo grinned. "Yeah, sure. Thanks for chatting with us; it was nice to see you again."

Karin waved goodbye.

Rukia followed the two siblings to the entrance of the mansion, waving as they disappeared through the less crowded streets.

"Good luck…" she murmured.


Hitsugaya sighed as he scribbled his signature on another paper that required it. Slowly he pushed it to the right side of his desk where a tidy stack of also signed paperwork sat. His teal eyes stared at the unfinished pile that had become considerably smaller throughout the day, knowing it would just be replenished the tomorrow.

The work didn't bother him though.

In fact, it kept his mind off of darker thoughts. Things that sometimes scared him if he looked at them head-on.

The small Commander shook his head and reached for another document.

Falling asleep at his desk was something that occurred often nowadays, especially on quiet nights like these. He could remember a few times when Matsumoto had had to wipe black ink off of his face when there happened to be a paper under his head.

Speaking of Matsumoto.

"Caaaptaain!" she called happily as she practically bounced toward him. He wondered absently how she managed to not spill the tea she was carrying. "I made you some tea!"

"Thank you, but I don't need it right now Matsumoto…" he murmured.

His Vice-Captain watched as he went back to signing paperwork like a robot. She stuck out her bottom lip and set the tray she was holding down on top of the paper he was working on. Toshiro gazed up at her with a tired expression.

"Matsumoto…I don't have time for this," he stated, a hint of annoyance in his now dull eyes.

"Sure you do! You drink something and I'll work on the paperwork for you," she offered, stealing the pen from his hand. "I'm not taking no for an answer."

"I don't need help," he stated, standing up. Matsumoto grinned as she towered over him.

"You've said "I don't" three times now," she said, still smiling.

He held out his hand, silently demanding that she give the pen back. Again she stuck out her lip.

"Not too long ago you would've been so excited if I wanted to do paperwork!"

"That time is not now," he replied evenly. "Just-" he rubbed his forehead, frowning at no one I particular. "Just give me the pen back."

Matsumoto held it up above her head, smirking. "I'm taller then you. You can't get it back!" she taunted.

At one time he might have gotten angry and desperately try to get the pen back. Matsumoto hoped that maybe…just maybe she would get to see a glimpse of the old Hitsugaya.

Instead, he sat back down and stared at the half-covered paper.

Matsumoto exhaled softly in disappointment, lowering her arm.

"I'll give you this pen on one condition."

He didn't look up. "What?"

"You drink that cup of tea right now and I'll give it back as soon as it's all gone," she said, putting one hand on her hip.

Hitsugaya continued to stare at his desk for a moment before he reached out and took one of the cups of tea from the tray. Matsumoto smiled triumphantly as he sipped at it.

"See? It's not so bad," she said, moving around his desk to sit in the only other chair in the room.

He didn't reply. Rangiku leaned back in her chair as he drank the warm liquid. Before long he set the empty cup down and stared at her expectantly.

Matsumoto handed over the pen with a mischievous smile. He gave her a wary look as he took the pen and moved the tray off of the papers.

"I heard you asked Ichigo's little sister to stay and train here." Matsumoto commented with a raised eyebrow.

"She wants to be a substitute shinigami, but I don't think she's quite strong enough to take care of herself," he replied as he signed the paper and put it on the stack of finished work. "Especially since the hollows have been getting stronger."

"Hmm…so you're worried about her?"

She expected some sort of reaction...but again she was let down.

"You can put it that way."

Matsumoto watched as he finished up a few more documents. He yawned suddenly, his head tipping forward dangerously.

"Is something wrong Captain?" she asked with a sly grin.

"You didn't…" he murmured.

"I didn't do what?" she asked, still smiling.

She grabbed onto his shoulders, preventing him from slamming his head onto the desk. Carefully she stood up and pushed her Captain's chair out. She picked him up with a small amount of effort and headed for the door. The paperwork could wait.

"Sorry Captain," she chuckled.

She stared down at the small shinigami in her arms. Even though he was sound asleep he still looked troubled. Her lips curved down into a frown as she tried to think of a way to make him feel better.

How could she though when even sleep didn't free him of his worries?


Ichigo and Karin found themselves walking through the same passageway they'd walked down earlier that day. This time though, there were no people to walk past them; just the candle and moon light.

"You didn't have to come with me," Karin said, turning to look at her older brother.

"Nah, it's fine."

She could tell he wanted to get back home. Even Ichigo got tired.

Ichigo suddenly looked up, sensing a familiar reiatsu. Karin also stared ahead.

"Oh? Ichigo, Karin! What are you two doing here so late?" Matsumoto asked.

Karin stared at her blankly, wondering why she was carrying an unconscious Hitsugaya.

"Um…What happened to him?" she asked, pointing to Toshiro.

Matsumoto smiled innocently. "I drugged him," she stated.

"…Why?" Ichigo asked.

"I heard you're going to be staying here Karin!" Matsumoto said cheerfully.

"…Yeah."

"Why don't you come with me? I can show you where you can sleep."

Karin stepped forward slowly, not sure if she could really trust this person.

"If you've got everything sorted out, then I guess I'll be heading back," Ichigo declared, rubbing the back of his head.

"Bye Ichigo!" Matsumoto said, somehow managing to hold her Captain and wave at the same time.

"Bye," Karin said. She almost wished he could stay with her for a bit longer.

She watched as he moved off towards the gate between the real world and soul society.

"I just have to drop off the Captain in his room and then we can find you someplace to say," Matsumoto said as she turned down a side hallway. "I'm so excited that you get to stay here!"

"Yeah…it'll be interesting…"

For a while she followed the bubbly woman in silence. The moon had hidden behind the clouds, leaving only the candles to light their way.

"So…why did you…drug him?" Karin asked as she walked next to Matsumoto. The older woman's spirit seemed to dampen a bit.

"He was tired and wouldn't stop working. Sometimes…people just need to go to sleep or they'll feel terrible later. I can't count the number of times I've found him asleep at his desk…It's bad for him," Matsumoto explained.

"Oh…"

Another stretch of silence.

Matsumoto stopped in front of a simple door.

"Could you open that for me?" she requested.

"Sure." Karin reached out and opened the door, standing aside to let the shinigami through.

Matsumoto strode forward and lay Hitsugaya down on his bed, leaning down next to his ear.

"Good Night Toshiro," she whispered.

Karin watched as the woman quickly straightened and then exited the room, closing the door behind herself.

"Now that that's done we can get you a room. Let's see…" Rangiku thought for a moment. "The room in the west hall is to messy…the other one is being used for storage…Ah! I have an idea!" Karin was slight terrified as Matsumoto put her hands on her shoulders. "I have an extra bed in my room! You can sleep there for now!"

"Ah…Okay…Thank you," Karin replied.

She followed the older Woman two doors over.

"My room is really close to the Captain's," Matsumoto said quietly with a smile.

The room was pitch black when they entered so Matsumoto lit a candle and showed Karin the extra bed.

"It's not much but…It'll do for now."

"Thank you again," Karin said, bowing slightly.

The shinigami waved her hand, laughing. "Don't worry about it!"

Soon both women were settled down and Matsumoto blew out the candle.

"A good friend of mine used to sleep in that bed…" she murmured absently. Karin blinked.

"Who?"

"She was…" Rangiku suddenly stopped. The air felt tense as her hands clenched around her blankets. "Nothing. Forget I said anything."

Karin decided not to push the subject further. After all, she barely knew this woman. Somehow though…she knew she was trustworthy. She obviously cared for Toshiro a lot…maybe they were old friends or something?

Karin wondered if this woman was who Toshiro had been thinking of that day when he was watching the sunset. They did seem close…

Before she could really think on the subject she was pulled into a deep sleep.


Ahhh, I'm so terrible! I told myself not to start another story but I just couldn't help it! I simply fell in love with this idea and I actually have most of it planned out so hopefully I can actually finish this one. Hopefully.

This is my first Bleach story with an actual plot. And long chapters O,o This is one of my longest chapters ever. Yay.

I'm sure most people who read this can figure out who Matsumoto's friend was. And I made Hitsugaya a bit OC on purpose so bear with me. I don't really remember much from Bleach so please tell me if I made any mistakes.

I'd really, really appreciate it if you guys would review!