This story continues from the end of episode 132. I apologize for the lack of names associated to Karin's soccer buddies, but I was unable to come up with any direct name references when going through the old anime episodes. While I'm not sure they'd be making much of a comeback in future chapters, I would still appreciate it if someone were to enlighten me on their names, just in case.

I do use bits of Japanese here and there, mostly because it's what I'm used to hearing (from watching the Anime), and it sounds more natural than some of the words used in the English-dubbed version. I'll try and remember to post what new words mean, at the beginning of chapters. I struggle with Japanese, while my roommate struggles with English. Hopefully we've understood each other enough that my translations are accurate.

I own nothing but the plot, and am forever grateful to Tite Kubo for the creation of these amazing characters and awesome universe.

As always, reviews are greatly appreciated. I love any form of feedback. Much thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy this chapter.

This first chapter goes out to the amazing reviewers of my short story, Again, who had asked me to write more.


Taichō – Captain

Fukutaichō – Vice-Captain/Lieutenant

Shinigami – Death God/Soul Reaper

Gigai – Faux Body/Artificial Body

Gikongan – Artificial Souls

Arigato – Thanks


[C]

"[I]'m not an elementary student!"

Karin, startled by the intensity of his voice, took a step back. His eyes seemed to ice over. Although she could see how he was trying to control his temper, it was apparent that Tōshirō was close to losing the last shred of his self control. She hit a sore spot, she realized, and she really had no right to make fun of him. Not after he saved their soccer game. And especially not after he saved her life.

Behind her, the woman was giggling uncontrollably.

"Taichō! So you're more conscious of your age than how people address you, eh?"

Karin frowned as she looked back at the woman. Matsumoto Rangiku. Karin carefully filed the name away in her head. These were shinigami. They were the key to her brother.

Shamefaced, she turned back to Tōshirō. "Sorry," she said, not quite meeting his eyes. "I got carried away."

He didn't answer, opting instead to cross his arms and stare off into the distance.

Awkwardly, Karin looked at Matsumoto. The woman was still recovering from her giggling fit, and was flashing Karin a friendly smile. "Don't mind Taichō," she said. "He's sensitive about his age. He's the younges-" she started to say, only to be interrupted by a sharp, "Matsumoto!" from the boy.

"Sorry Taichō," she said, failing beautifully at any attempt at sincerity. "Since you took care of the hollow, I'm just going to go back-" She trailed off as a commotion broke out further down the soccer field. The three of them turned to look.

"Oh no, Kurosaki!" Karin's friends were back on their feet and standing worriedly over… Tōshirō's body? She squinted. The telltale mop of white hair, the black polo, the beige trousers. Karin was reminded of the moment s saw her brother leap out the window, garbed in the shinigami black. He had left his body behind, too. But Tōshirō had been standing next to her when the monster had appeared. Even if he had left his body, how did it end up way over there?

Beside her, she felt more than saw Tōshirō cringe. "Damnit," he cursed.

"Eh!" Matsumoto exclaimed. "Why is your gigai just lying there? What happened to the gikongan?"

"I don't know," Tōshirō said shortly. With Matsumoto staring intently at him, he sighed and added, "The hollow was about to crush her, and somehow I just stepped out of the gigai."

"Kurosaki!" The boys were jumping up and down and waving for her attention. "Oh, no! Maybe she hit her head too hard. She's just staring off into space… What if she lost her memory? Her big brother would kill us!"

"Augh!" Karin exclaimed. She looked helplessly at Tōshirō. "Help me here!" She hissed. "Can't you just jump back in and pretend you fainted, or something?"

He shot her a withering look. "Me? Faint? Who do you take me for?" He muttered.

"Well, you are just lying there, what are they going to think? It's not like they can see you!"

"Kurosaki! He's not breathing!" Someone cried.

"Oh no! They're going to say we killed him!" Another groaned.

"Wh-what? But it was obviously that… that… whatever caused that big hole…" The individual voices were lost in a cacophony of terrified groaning and wailing.

Cursing under her breath, Karin made her way over to the boys. The field was torn up, the ground uneven, and it didn't take more than a few steps before Karin stumbled, her bad knee giving way. With the adrenaline from the soccer match fading from her system, the pain was starting to set in. But instead of landing face first into the dirt, a hand was suddenly around her body, catching her before she fell.

"Be careful," Tōshirō said. His voice was nonchalant, but somehow Karin knew he was worried. "It wouldn't do for you to collapse in front of all of them. They all look up to you, you know."

Karin smiled in spite of the pain. "No, idiot. You're the one they look up to, now. You did save our game."

He shrugged as he helped her up, making a noncommittal noise in answer.

She was limping as she made her way up to the boys.

"What's wrong?" She asked.

"Kurosaki! He's not breathing! Do you think whatever made that hole hit him? Is he dead?"

"Hmmm," Karin said as she bent over the lifeless… Gigai? Was that what the redhead called it? She pretended to check his pulse. "He's fine," she told everyone. "I can feel his pulse."

"But.. But.."

"Eh. You were probably just weren't paying enough attention," she said, blithely. "Your fingers have to be right over one of his veins. It looks like he just hit his head really hard. But there's no blood, so it should be okay."

"Oh.. okay… But what should we do? Should we call for an ambulance?"

"Yeah! Doesn't he have that cell phone? Maybe we can call the police…?"

Karin blinked. "No!" she cried, a little too abruptly. "Don't do that!"

"But Kurosaki? Why? He's hurt!"

She frowned, and took a moment to glare at Tōshirō who did nothing more than stare at her stoically.

"I'll take him back home. My dad can fix him up!" She said brightly.

That seemed to satisfy her friends. Reluctantly, they bid their farewells.

"Tell him, when he wakes up, that he was amazing," they told her. "He really saved us! I didn't want to eat spaghetti through my nose… Tell him he can play with us any time! Think he can teach us how to play like him?"

"Yeah, yeah," Karin said, waving them off. She made a show of hefting the gigai up and was surprised that, while weighted, the body wasn't half as heavy as it ought to be. Experimentally, she scooped the body up bridal style, and found it wasn't too hard to carry. "Go home now!" She called out. "You know your parents are going to freak out if you don't go home soon! They knew we were playing out here. When it reaches the news that something happened, they're going to come looking for you."

That seemed to make all of them balk, and collectively they turned on their heels, running home.

"Well, that worked," she said more to herself than to the two shinigami by her side. Not seeing a point in juggling the gigai more than necessary, she bent over to set it down when her knee gave. The added weight of the gigai in her arms had her slamming into the ground knee first. The pain was blinding as it shot up her body. Karin wasn't sure how long she lay there, half curled over the gigai, grinding her teeth as she struggled not to scream.

She felt hands carefully lifting her up, and when the faint, flowery scent washed over her, coupled with the all-too-obvious feel of soft breasts pressed against her body, she knew she was being held by Matsumoto.

"Taichō?" Karin heard the woman ask.

"Yeah," Tōshirō said. Karin felt herself being lowered into his arms. "I'll take her back home." Opening her eyes, Karin saw that he was back in the body, her face perilously close to his own. She bit her lip, fighting the blush that threatened to flood her face. It wasn't often she found herself being carried by a strange boy, even if he was a shinigami. She didn't like how helpless she felt, either.

"Arigato, Tōshirō," Karin said faintly. "But I should be okay… if you just let me down."

Turquoise eyes flickered down at her for the briefest of moments. "Don't be stupid," he said in a low voice. "Your knee's swollen so badly that the circulation going to your toes is probably cut off. If you try pushing yourself, you're just going to make the damage worse. If I wasn't worried about someone seeing you flying through the air, I'd run you back in my real form."

"Oh," Karin said faintly. "Okay then."

She hoped he couldn't feel how rapidly her heart was beating as he made his way towards the house, Matsumoto trailing along in her shinigami form, chattering about an Ikkaku and Yumichika, whatever those were.

It occurred to Karin that despite the fake body Tōshirō was 'wearing', she could still feel the rhythmical beating of his heart.

[C]