To all the amazing reviewers and followers of the stories I've written thus far.

A special thank you to Blueberry Absinth, KandaSayori5076, KarinKurosakiHitsugaya913, theblueturtle6, Zekuran, and KazeNoSakura, for giving me the prompts for this piece. I didn't get to fit everything quite as you guys suggested, but I did my best. I blame the voices in my head. They take over and tell me the proper way for the characters to act. I would only assume the voice I label as Tōshirō is more of an authority on how the 10th division Taichō ought to behave than I could be. After all, I've neither the gorgeous eyes nor amazing white hair. I am, however, short.

I suppose this could be seen as a companion piece to fit into the storyline of Catalyst, although several months down the line. I tried my hardest not to spoil the rest of that story. I think I actually left more hints than I did spoilers. 'Cept for Karin. If you didn't have any inkling that she was going to become a Shinigami, I have failed as a writer. I'm not quite sure this truly fits the category of "fluff", because I've never been that much of a fluffy person. But I tried, honestly.

Bleach does not belong to me, although I will own up to any and all errors you might find in the story. (Review!)

This was edited on 12/22 slightly for grammar, spelling, general untidiness and inconsistencies. Doubt I caught them all. Point them out to me!



He had a very bad feeling about this.

Matsumoto had come dancing into the office mere minutes ago, absolutely ecstatic because she had heard from Kira, who had heard from Hisagi, who had heard from Renji, who had heard from Ikkuku, who had spoken to Yumichika, that there were orders to investigate an anomaly in the living world. In Karakura Town.

Why an anomaly - which on top of sounding vague, sounded like something the 12th should be dealing with - was being discussed with the 11th division confused Hitsugaya Tōshirō. Surely Mayuri could have sent a couple of his drones to the world of the living without all this fuss.

Then again, Tōshirō thought, this is Mayuri we're talking about. If his division members are anything like the man, they would require an escort. Preferably armed.

And from the way Matsumoto had babbled about all the shopping and sightseeing and more shopping she would be doing in Karakura, Tōshirō just knew he was going to be the one designated to oversee the mission. If there was anyone who could keep his overly enthusiastic fukutaichō under some semblance of control, it was him. Besides, he doubted anyone else was as interested as he was in protecting the majority of the 10th division's mission budget.

He could already predict who would be part of the team. Abarai, Madarame, Ayasegawa. Random members of the 12th division. Perhaps someone from the 4th, considering the amount of blood lust that could be generated among the members of the team.

Lovely.

He stared at his paperwork. It was mostly done, and he had finally caught up with Matsumoto's end of the work. Not that he considered any of the work her work anymore. It was more of… papers that required his signature, or papers that required a lieutenant or captain's signature. He sighed. If only the system wasn't quite this bureaucratic. There was too much paperwork, and everything needed to be in triplicate no less, and it could all only be sent out with the proper cover sheet...

He really needed a good secretary. Someone reliable, trustworthy, who could work with him to create an appropriate system. That way the important documents got to him in time, and the repetitive stuff, like weekly expenditure reports, could be filled out by someone else before he signed off on it.

Pity Matsumoto had a corrupting influence on everyone he attempted to recruit for office work.

Tōshirō knew that the only two people in the Gotei 13 who kept up with all the records were him and Ise Nanao. If only Kyōraku-Taichō didn't have a prior claim on her that spanned a good century… Although then he would probably have too much spare time on his hands if him and Ise-fukutaichō collaborated.

Spare time. That was a foreign concept to him.

Finishing the last piece of paperwork, he paused to grab a fresh sheet of paper and picked up his pen. By his estimates, he would be stuck in the living world for at least a week. Therefore, if he could at least complete part of the paperwork for next week now, he would have less to handle when he returned.

List of Weekly Reports. He wrote. All the predictable stuff – expense reports, budget reports, attendance – he could fill out most of the stuff now, and come back and sign off on all the essentials. He just had to make sure he had everything organized now…

"Taichō! Aren't you so excited?" Matsumoto squealed as she burst through the office doors again.

No, not really, he thought, but knew better than to express his opinion. Instead, he glared at her.

"Matsumoto! Are you going to finish this paperwork or not?"

She gaped for a moment, mouth opening and closing ineffectually as she grappled for words. "Uh," she finally started. "I need to make sure everything is prepared for the mission."

"Wait!" He yelled as she fled. "I haven't approved your participation yet!"

He was tempted, so very tempted to slam his head into the desk. Instead, he dug through the cabinet and pulled out the appropriate forms for being assigned to the world of the living.

He recognized a losing battle when he saw one.

***

He was glad he dressed warmly, and wrapped his scarf around him tighter as they stepped out of the senkai gate. It was an absolute blizzard outside, and while Hyōrinmaru did control the weather, Tōshirō wasn't about to abuse his zanpakutō just to ease the snow. Neither did his affinity for the cold help him in sub-zero temperatures unless he used his reiatsu, and he wasn't about to waste that on something as silly as personal comfort.

The group of them had to walk on air to get to Urahara's shop, because the snow had fallen so thickly that the only other alternative would have been to plough through. The 4th division attaché was being carried by a disgruntled Abarai. The poor kid had somehow never mastered any kind of Hohō whatsoever.

At least the front of the store had been shoveled free of snow.

He raised his hand to knock on the door when it suddenly slid open. The all-too-familiar face of one Urahara Kisuke peered down at him.

"Ah, Hitsugaya-taichō! We were expecting you, although I'm amazed you made it through in this weather. Isn't it lovely? All the snow fallin-"

Tōshirō knew the man was rambling simply because he took a perverse delight in watching them all standing out in the snow. "Can we just come in?" He interrupted.

The man smiled. "My my, where are my manners. Come in, come in. You all look frozen to death."

If looks could kill, Urahara Kisuke would have died a long, slow, and frostbitten death.

They all collected their gigais, and bundled up in the thick layers of clothing Urahara provided. Tōshirō felt like a marshmallow. Everything he was wearing was white… and puffy. A fleecy white scarf, a puffy white jacket, matching gloves, and equally puffy snow pants.

He looked ridiculous, and he highly suspected that Matsumoto had somehow contacted the shop keeper in advance to arrange for this particular outfit to be put together. After all, even his t-shirt underneath was white.

What happened to all the clothes he wore earlier that year? All the black stuff? It wasn't as though he had grown any, although not due to lack of trying on his part.

With everyone in their gigai and ready to go, all of them with the exception of Abarai, Rin and Hanatoro bade farewell to the shopkeeper and headed out. The wall of snow greeted them. It wasn't high enough that he couldn't see past it; There were a couple of inches before the snow came up to his nose, maybe. He held back, not wanting anyone to make a stupid comment about his height. At least he could take delight in knowing everyone else with their much longer legs were as trapped as he was by the falling snow.

"Taichō," Matsumoto began. "Can't you just-"

He knew what she was going to suggest. "No."

"But Taichō! Please? Snow's falling into my blouse." Why the woman was wearing a jacket that somehow managed to show cleavage in this weather was beyond him.

"Hitsugaya-Taichō! Please!" It was Madarame this time. "It'll take forever to dig our way through this."

"I don't care." He bit back.

"It's unbeautiful to shovel snow."

"There's no shovel anyway."

"Good, because I'm not shoveling. It's ugly."

"So dig. You have hands."

"Taichō! I'll buy you chocolate later-"

"Right! Hitsugaya-taichō, me and Yumichika will take you to that Toys R Us place…"

"Shut up!" The boy yelled. Reflecting inwards, he apologized to Hyōrinmaru for what he was about to do.

The three Shinigami with him fell silent, as Tōshirō tried to retrieve his soul candy with his puffy-glove-clad hands.

His efforts were all in vain, however, as a familiar reiatsu brushed against him seconds later. A gust of wind blasted the snow in front of them with such intensity that Tōshirō was forced to close his eyes and cover his face with his arms. When it was over, he looked around. A straight path had been created by the torrent of wind, and the snow that had once blocked their path had somehow been dumped directly over his subordinates. The only snow on him was the snow that was lightly falling right now.

The faintest of laughter echoed in his ears, and he turned.

"I'll see you at Inoue's house," he said to Matsumoto, before heading towards the shadowed figure standing at the other end of the walkway of snow.

"No fair!" He heard Matsumoto wail. "She's evil! Tell her that!"

"Who is evil?" Ayasegawa wanted to know.

"Uh, no one. Just.. Ahh! Snow got into my boobs."

"Your boobs? My head is freezing! And snow got into my ears!"

"That's because you're bald."

"Hair would have protected your ears."

"Shut up!"

"Besides, snowflakes falling into one's hair can be a beautiful thing."

Tōshirō tuned the voices out.

"Thanks," he said when he caught up to the Shinigami at the other end.

Kurosaki Karin grinned at him. "You're welcome. I've been practicing, can you tell?"

He smirked, as they fell into step together, heading towards her father's house. "I suppose."

She hit him. "That's an encouraging answer?" She asked incredulously.

He shrugged. "I try."

After a pause, he asked, "How did you know I'll be here?"

This time, she smirked at him. "You know how it is. With a captain is assigned to a mission in the world of the living, obviously we are informed. I mean, weren't you there when it happened?"

Right. Mentally, he slapped himself.

"And you?" He asked.

"What about me?" She asked innocently. "It's almost Christmas time. I'm spending it with my family."

"Ah," was his reply. He didn't say anything else.

"So, anomaly in reiatsu readings here, huh?" Karin finally asked, to fill in the silence.

"Something like that. We received new monitoring devices from the 12th. Loaded with new features. I'm supposed report how they worked in tracking the... anomaly down."

She nodded, and looked at him thoughtfully. "Yeah, but why you?"

That was an easy enough answer. "Matsumoto."

She grinned at that. "I thought so… But still, why them? It's all rather suspicious, isn't it? Especially when there are people much better suited for investigating anything weird in Karakura…"

There was something about the inflection of her voice that had him eyeing her suspiciously.

"Stop looking at me like that!" She chided, playfully hitting his shoulder. But her eyes were sparkling with some hidden knowledge. "Of all people, would I seriously be stupid enough to go to elaborate means to try and surprise you with something? I'm just saying, isn't it odd how things had been orchestrated such that the sōtaichō just had to send a whole bunch of Shinigami here, when Soul Society's now at good enough terms with Urahara-san that they should have just made the guy do the legwork for them? And what about Ichi-nii and Rukia-nee-chan? It's not like they do anything most days besides bicker. It's almost like someone planned this…"

For a moment, Tōshirō thought she would say more. Instead, she grabbed his arm. "Come on," she said. "Ichi-nii is still out with Keigo and Mizuiro doing something or the other. I doubt he's going to notice you're actually here until those two-" and Tōshirō knew she was referring to the two 11th division members "-show up at Keigo's doorstep again. So until then, why don't we get you back to my place, and do something about that ridiculous outfit."

He felt his face flush, but thankfully with how cold it was outside, his cheeks were already pink enough that Karin wouldn't notice.

"That'd be nice," he conceded. "But what do you have in mind?"

The girl looked at him with a scrutinizing eye. "Well, otou-san bought me a new jacket that I haven't worn yet, one of those generic, unisex black things, and matching black gloves. And I've a ton of scarves. I don't know about the pants, though. But I'll dig around. Maybe some of Ichi-nii's old stuff."

He wasn't sure if it was a good or bad thing that the two of them were the same size. At the very least, Karin chose to dress in boys clothes more often than not. She had once reassured him that the reason why, was because Yuzu had enough "girly stuff" for three girls. And after all, she laughingly said, her father wasn't beyond frilly aprons and pink, flower-print shirts either. Karin viewed her investment in clothing from the boys section as simply another means to balance her household out. Besides the fact that girly things were impractical, uncomfortable, and embarrassing.

But still, him wearing her clothes. At least it was new. He would never hear the end of it from Matsumoto otherwise. Actually, he wouldn't hear the end of it at all, if his fukutaichō found out he shared clothes with the girl.

"Wouldn't your brother figure it out?" He asked carefully.

The girl waved his question off with a dismissive hand. "This is Ichi-nii we're talking about. He barely looks at what he wears in the morning. If Yuzu doesn't pair up his socks when folding his laundry, he'll end up with mismatching socks every day of the week. It took him two months to notice Yuzu-chan got a haircut, and by then it had grown to the point where it was almost where it had been to begin with. He certainly didn't notice when Otou-san was going through one of his phases and wore the same shirt for three weeks to celebrate the autumn harvest or some nonsense like that."

"When you put it that way," he said with a half-hearted sigh. The girl beside him broke into a grin.

"Thought so. Come on," and she grabbed his hand. "Let's hurry back before this snow becomes even more ridiculous."

He allowed himself to be dragged back to her house.

***

Tōshirō was mulling over Karin's not-quite-cryptic message when he felt his fukutaichō's reiatsu at the front door. He could do nothing more than sigh, and turn to face the woman as she bounded into the room.

"Took you long enough, Matsumoto," he observed.

The woman had obviously not expected him to notice her presence, because she suddenly faltered, and tried to pull her arms back as though she wasn't about to attempt a tackle on him.

"But Taichō," she whined instead. "You left us there! With all that snow! How is that fair?"

"I had nothing to do with it," he pointed out.

"She's evil," Matsumoto persisted. "And I thought she would be happy to see me after everything I pla-" The woman caught herself midsentence, "-after all this time," she amended.

He didn't bother pointing out to the woman that the last time she saw Kurosaki Karin was, as far as he knew, three days ago. He sighed.

Every year. They tried something every year. Usually the surprise was something small, but occasionally Matsumoto would go to elaborate means to plan out something large, extravagant, and embarrassing. He had hoped with this last minute mission he would be left alone in peace, for once. It was annoying, to say the least, to find out that everything was a hoax for some ridiculous, drawn out scheme his not-quite-stealthy lieutenant had planned out.

And, much as he hated to admit it, a very tiny portion of him was glad to know that he meant enough to his 2nd in command that she would go to these measures to do something special for him.

Perhaps next year, he would have someone subtly inform Matsumoto that he simply wished for a single day of peace and quiet instead. Although by subtly, he thought, I think large sheets of paper, markers, and small words written in huge font might be required to get the message across. Or maybe he could pay someone to drug the woman throughout the duration of a week. He could handle a week without her. It wasn't like she helped that much with daily affairs anyway.

"Why don't you tell her yourself?" He asked. "She's informed me that we are invited for dinner, as is Inoue, Ayasegawa and Madarame."

The mention of food was enough to set Matsumoto squealing again about delicious cooking.

He didn't bother mentioning that while Yuzu's culinary skills were indeed excellent, Matsumoto was scarcely the best person to judge what was considered decent cooking. Neither did he bother mentioning that he was planning on taking up Karin's offer of nightly dinners, so long as he was forced to stay within the world of the living. Inoue Orihime's cooking really was awful. It was beyond his comprehension, how Matsumoto could stomach the girl's creations.

***

He watched in amusement as Matsumoto struggled with a string of Christmas lights. Somehow the woman had talked the Kurosaki elder into allowing her the use of his house for her planned event, not that it would have been hard to convince the man. After all, Isshin enjoyed a good party, and when Matsumoto was involved, so was sake, and if Kurosaki Isshin was half the man he used to be, the sake would have been enough reason for him to open his home to the woman. Tōshirō could only hope Matsumoto remembered that there were going to be children be present in the form of the Kurosaki children.

"You know, maybe if you just told her that you know the gig's up, she'll stop all this ridiculousness," Karin commented as she climbed up to the roof to meet him.

They were both several houses away, safely hidden from passersby in their spiritual form. And more importantly, Tōshirō mused, with how tightly they were shielding their reiatsu, they were safe from other Shinigami that might catch sight of them. Matsumoto, Kurosaki Isshin and Urahara and associates were the only people in living world who knew of his and Karin's secrets. While it wouldn't be much longer before the rest of the Shinigami figured out that Ichigo's little sister was a Shinigami, the two of them hoped to at least keep their other secret safe. Preferably indefinitely, or at least until Karin felt confident enough she could pacify her hot headed brother when he decided to abuse his zanpakutō's bankai every single damn time he fought.

"Mmhmm," he murmured in agreement, too lost in his own thoughts to reply.

That earned him a jab in the ribs that had him flinching.

"You weren't listening!" The girl beside him accused.

"If I told her I knew, she would just rope me in to plan this whole party so that I could "better plan out what I wanted"," he drolly. "Not that she'll listen to any of my assertions that all I want is to be left alone. She won't even let me compromise, I know, because I've already tried on three separate occasions. And when sake is involved, she becomes a hysterical task master."

"Fine," Karin conceded. "You were paying attention. But hysterical task master? Really? That's an interesting way of putting it."

He shrugged. "It's true. She gets over excited, starts waving her hands about, and her voice becomes even more sing-songy and breathy."

"Are those even real words? Have I corrupted you so much with my modern colloquialisms that you've finally seen the error of your ways and decided to not be a tight ass about proper speech-"

She received a slashing glare. "Oh shut up," he said.

The girl next to him bubbled over laughing, and would have fallen off the roof if he hadn't grabbed onto her arm at the last minute.

"My hero," she said breathlessly, leaning close to him and giving him puppy eyes.

It had been months since Kurosaki Karin entered his life in the most unexpected of ways. But she could still make him blush.

***

Perhaps Karin's playful suggestion to give Matsumoto some slack somehow wormed its way into his subconscious. That was the only reasonable explanation he could come up with to why he was clutching a shopping list in his hand, staring at the long aisles of the grocery store dubiously.

"Are you lost, little boy?"

It took all of his self control not to snap. Instead he glared at the clueless and overly helpful store clerk who had been "courteous" enough to kneel down so she was mostly eye level with him.

"No," he bit out.

"Ok... Do you need help?" she asked with a bright smile.

"No thank you," he managed. He turned heel and walked off with as much dignity as he could muster, leaving the woman sputtering behind him about rude children.

He glared at the shopping list in his hand. It was two pages long, and he knew that there was no way in hell he was going to carry it all back himself.

He sighed. Pulling out the mobile device he was issued, he navigated the menu until he pulled up the tracking map. Matsumoto was currently holed up in the shopping district. For once in his life, he sincerely hoped she was shopping for herself and not him. Her disappointment when she found him in Karin's clothes (not that he would ever tell her where the clothes came from) had been overwhelming. Her comments about his marshmallow attire had included the words "kawaii" and "chibi" and made him decide right there and then that she would never be allowed to pick his clothes again.

He pressed a button, and dialed.

"Taichō~!" the woman on the other end all but sang.

"You have ten minutes to get here," he told her. "Either that or I'm not buying any of this. There is no way I'm carrying all of this back myself."

"But Hitsugaya-Taichō! Isn't Karin-chan there to help you?"

He resisted the urge to roll his eyes. It didn't stop his voice from lowering in annoyance. "Contrary to your ridiculous romantic notions, neither of us feels the need to be constantly attached at the hip."

He was met with a scandalous gasp and incessant giggling over the phone. The boy was glad the woman couldn't see the blush that flooded his face as he realized where Matsumoto's mind had went.

"10 minutes," he repeated. He hung up before she had more time to protest.

10 minutes would be enough time to gather up most of the groceries, so Matsumoto would only be present for the checking out process. He turned to get a shopping cart, only to realize that the damn thing came almost up to his shoulders. It was with a sinking heart that he came to realize that there was a strong possibility that he wouldn't be able to reach any of the items on the top shelves of the grocery aisle.

It meant he would have to wait until Matsumoto arrived before they could purchase a good portion of the items on the list. It meant he might have to admit to Matsumoto that he was thwarted by his damn height. It also meant people would coo over him like he was her son again.

Damn Matsumoto.

***

"It's not funny!" he grumbled to Karin the next day. It was the day, and Tōshirō found both him and Karin exiled from the Kurosaki household. Going to Inoue Orihime's apartment wasn't an option either, as the red head hostess couldn't go five minutes without sneaking glances at him and bursting into giggles, before sobering up enough to offer him some of the ice-cream she was eating. Ice cream! In this weather! And topped with... he didn't want to know.

When he attempted to go "investigate the anomaly", every single one of his subordinates attempted to stall him. Matsumoto spouted nonsense about how her "darling taichō should take a break because he worked himself too hard in soul society, so please let her take care of the problem", Ayasegawa and Madarame blathered about how they "looked forward to a fight, and didn't want Hitsugaya-taichō to steal all the fun, if that was okay with Hitsugaya-taichō", Abarai made some vague mention of how he was sure "if the anomaly showed up again, that Urahara-san would let us all know, so just wait until we hear from him". And the two kids, Rin and Hanatoro just tailed around one or the other of the ranked officers and cluelessly tried to ease the tension with offers of cake and candy.

Idiots.

As such, him and Karin sneaked into the basement of Urahara Kisuke's shop with the help of one Shihōin Yoruichi, as everywhere outdoors was a mess of snow, ice, and brown slush. They were playing a not-quite-legal game of soccer with the special soccer ball the shop keeper had made the girl as a congratulatory gift a couple months back. With the reinforced ball, neither of them had to hold back in fear of having the ball explode on contact or rip at the seams from the reiatsu enhanced kicks they abused it with. But the soccer game was forgotten as the girl stood in front of him, neglecting the ball as she laughed over yesterday's events.

"I'm sorry," she claimed. "Really, I am. But why didn't you just leave it all to her. You should have known it would end in disaster. It's not like you're not been to the grocery store before."

"I blame you for that," he said. "What with you telling me to give her a break and all."

"Yeah, by telling her this party was pointless because the surprise is up. All this added effort to keep it a secret..."

"If I let her know I was onto her, she would just make it even more big and elaborate, because there wouldn't be a need to hide the glitter and fake snow from me."

Karin could only stare at him, wide eyed and open mouthed and gaping.

"What?" he said, feeling awkward at how she was gawking. "Do you know how hard it is to get glitter out of your hair?" He demanded

She burst into laughter again, and while he loved her laugh, and loved the knowledge that those genuine smiles of hers had become more of a daily occurrence only after her meeting him, it didn't change the fact that she was laughing at him.

She wasn't laughing anymore when he took the opportunity to steal the soccer ball that lay between them and scored a goal before she could react.

It was his turn to smirk at her sputtering protests.

At least she was distracted. He was glad he didn't have to tell her about how Matsumoto had piles upon piles of clothing stacked in a corner of Inoue's bedroom, badly hidden from sight behind a shabby curtain. There was not a single item of which he would have worn. After he somehow returned the majority of it, and put the money back into his division budget, perhaps he would surprise Karin at Christmas with a gift of clothes. There were some items that he thought she'd carry off better than him. They were also the things that he hadn't been able to find a receipt for.

As long as the girl promised to never wear them in front of Matsumoto, he decided. Much as she preferred acting like an airhead, she was sharp enough to notice if Karin showed up wearing something purchased for the 10th division captain. Tōshirō knew he'd never live down the humiliation of sharing clothes with Karin. Although the one piece pajama... thing that Matsumoto purchased covered in prints of a nauseating familiar pair of rabbits, complete with a hood and a bunny tail was going in the trash. Or maybe to Kurosaki Yuzu. He knew better than to suggest to the raven haired girl that she wear it. When she put her mind to it, her punches hurt.

***

"Well…" Karin said hesitantly, as Yoruichi informed them that the phone call for Karin had come, "Good luck," she said with a grin. "That's my cue to take my place hiding behind that god awful looking lamp that otou-san bought. Goodness knows the thing is big enough."

He had to smile at that, because he remembered when Kurosaki-taichō had purchased the aforementioned lamp. The thing was taller than him, and just as wide. It was covered in red and green gems, and was supposed to resemble a Christmas tree. The man had been beyond excited at having purchased the thing at a steal. Tōshirō remembered Karin's reaction to the thing. She was practically hissing in anger, especially because the thing had been placed in "the place of honor" in the center of the living room, and neither she nor Yuzu could see over or around it. Apparently the man hadn't been able to get his hands on a Christmas tree - one of the many western things that continued to puzzle the boy - and had decided the lamp was a good substitute.

"Perhaps you could wear a green sweater, and pair it with all the red sparkly stuff Yuzu owns," he suggested.

That apparently was the wrong thing to say, because the girl narrowed her eyes at him, and jabbed him square in the chest. "Just you wait and see," she threatened. "A couple of hours, and you'll regret making fun of the only ally you will have in that forsaken house."

But after all the time he had spent with her, he knew her better than to take the threat seriously. In a gesture that he could only describe as purely Karin, he stuck her tongue out at her.

That had her grinning.

"I'll see you in a little bit. Remember," she said warningly. "Act surprised."

She ruffled his hair, and ran off laughing before he could do more than scowl at her retreating form.

***

The phone call came for him an hour later. He answered it with an irritated, "Matsumoto, where are you? I'm at Inoue's apartment, and if you're not back in five minutes, I'm leaving without you. You know that the dinner is supposed to start soon. Don't tell me you're still shopping."

The pathetically unconvincing story Matsumoto had fed him the day before about the shopping list she had forced onto him was that the Kurosakis were hosting a early Christmas dinner, and wouldn't it be only polite for them to purchase the groceries for the feast, seeing how generous Kurosaki-taichō had been each time they entered the world of the living, feeding them every day without complaint? Except even if Tōshirō had been dense enough to not know Matsumoto had something planned, surely she didn't think he was stupid enough to believe Kurosaki Yuzu would require that much "junk food", as Karin called the crispy, fried potato slices, to cook a dinner for all the Shinigami in Karakura.

"Taichō," she sang, apparently unaffected by his icy tone, a dead giveaway that she had something up her sleeve. "Could you pick up some of those... juice things. In boxes? With the little sticks to drink it through?"

"You mean, juice boxes?" He asked, even as the chorus of voices in the background yelled "Juice boxes" at the poor woman.

"Yes yes," she said happily. "Juice boxes."

He sighed. At least he had predicted she would do this, and was already in the blasted grocery store waiting for the phone call. "What flavors?"

"Uhm… Purple?"

Again with the snickering in the background. He could hear Karin, that traitor!, telling Matsumoto loudly, "tell him to get apple."

She knew the apple juice was on the top shelf. She knew this because he had groused about it.

"I'll pick up the grape, that's purple," he quickly cut in before his 2nd in command could act on Karin's suggestion.

He picked up two 6-packs of the juice boxes, because it meant he would have two heavy objects to throw at people if absolutely necessary.

Matsumoto expected him there in twenty minutes at minimum. He would be there in under ten. Well, he thought, it's not called a surprise party for nothing.

***

His first thought, when he approached the house, was Oh dear god, is there a house under all those Christmas lights? The entire roof and front of the house was covered in strings and strings of Christmas lights. It was all off, but even in the darkness – night came pathetically early in winter – he could make out the outline of light bulbs jutting out from all directions.

Were they going to flip a switch, and burn his retinas with the lights before he entered, or were they going to somehow illuminate the entire street after the party and attract even more unwanted attention on himself. He prayed to the deities above that the lights didn't spell out some embarrassing message.

It was a different type of fear that gripped him as he approached the door. Was he imagining the shadows that shifted behind the Christmas light covered windows? Surely the idiots weren't stupid enough to be giggling and shuffling loud enough that he was really hearing them?

It was with trepidation that he gripped the door handle. It didn't occur to him until now that, unlike the parties Matsumoto had planned in Soul Society, this party consisted of several people who didn't feel recognize his authority as a captain. At least back in the barracks, he could quell a good portion of the Shinigami party revelers with a look. Here, he would probably be mobbed for his lack of holiday spirit.

He pushed opened the door. Silence and shadows greeted him. Fist curling around the plastic bags that held the damned purple drinks, he took a step into the threshold. Nothing. Carefully, he crept down the long hallway that led into the house proper. Taking a deep breath, he turned the corner that would bring him right in front of the living room.

And nearly tripped over the string that had been stretched across the hallway.

Crap.

He caught himself before he fell face first into the ground, but the trap was triggered, and a bucket of glitter was dumped over his head.

"SURPRISE!" Everyone cried.

The lights outside the house flickered on, although it was beyond him why anyone would have lights on the outside of the house if they meant to surprise him indoors.

The sudden explosion of red, blue, green and yellow lights left him partially blinded. The visual impairment was made worse when the power cut out immediately after.

There was a silence. Then a hissed, "You idiot, didn't I tell you that you were going to short out the power?" that had to have come from Kurosaki Ichigo.

There was the sound of grumbling and shuffling. Tōshirō could only assume someone went to fix the power.

It was just as well that they were standing in darkness. He was pressing his lips so tightly together that he could taste blood, and knew that he had lost control of his reiatsu, because the air outside the house wasn't nearly as cold as the icy chill that was suddenly seeping into all the corners of the house.

"Matsumoto," he bit out. It was a barely a whisper, but he didn't trust himself to say anything more than that.

The lights in the living came back to life in time for him to see the woman in question shrink back, and attempt to hide behind one Abarai Renji, who was desperately shoving the busty woman out from behind him.

"Taichō," she acknowledged. Her voice was barely a squeak.

"Why?" He managed to ask. "Why the glitter?"

The woman stared, not knowing what to say, and out of the corner of his eye, he caught a certain raven haired girl ducking back behind a certain hideous lamp.

Realization dawned on him a second later.

"You!" He all but yelled. "You?" He cried in disbelief. Glitter fell into his mouth as he spoke. It felt like a mouthful of sand. "How could you!"

"Happy birthday?" The girl in question managed from her hiding place.

"Right! Happy birthday, Hitsugaya-san!" And there was sweet Yuzu to save the day, smiling at him with those innocent, bright brown eyes.

"Happy Birthday, Hitsugaya-taichō!" Everyone else snapped out of their shock, and called out in an uncoordinated, jumble of voices.

The glitter continued to rain down on him, and tickled his nose. He swore he would exact revenge unlike Kurosaki Karin ever imagined possible, if the damned glitter made him sneeze.

He took another step forward, felt the brush of string against his shins again, and froze. But it was too late.

The cascade of fake snow dumped down, not just on him but everyone in the vicinity of the doorway.

"Karin!" He yelled before he could help himself. He dropped the damn plastic grocery bags, because throwing something heavy at her wasn't good enough. Oh no. He was going to physically go up to her and throttle-

"Wait!" And the boy faltered, because he knew that voice. Kurosaki Ichigo was attempting to push his way past his father. "How the hell does the midget-" and here Kuchiki Rukia soundly smacked the substitute Shinigami, probably on principle of using the word, "- know Karin?"

"Who doesn't know our lovely Karin-chan and Yuzu-chan?" Kurosaki Isshin cried jovially. "Everyone adores my two twin daughters that-"

The man was silenced with an elbow to the face, and suddenly Ichigo was right there, standing in front of the 10th division captain.

"What the hell, Tōshirō-"

"Hitsugaya-taichō," the boy in question supplied automatically.

"-When the hell did you get chummy with my sister?"

All of five or so months ago? In all honesty, Tōshirō had lost track of the time since Karin had come into his life. He only knew that it was a couple of months before the mess with that smug, brown-haired traitor…

"Ichigo!" Matsumoto all but screeched. "What the hell are you doing? The plan! You're messing up the plan!"

The door was still open behind him. Perhaps, if he could just sneak some Soul Candy into his mouth… he could make a dash for it. With shunpo, Tōshirō knew he could be halfway out of the town in no time.

But it was too late. His fukutaichō had simply had to open her mouth. "You're standing under the mistletoe with taichō!"

Karin – and there was no way he could ever mistake someone else for her – was the first to laugh. He assumed the dull thud was her body flopping onto the floor as she collapsed with her damn laughter.

At least Ichigo was flushed so red that his cheeks just about matched his lips, because Tōshirō himself was ready for the floor to open up and swallow him whole.

"Hitsugaya-san," and this was Yoruichi speaking now, amusement evident in the way her voice drawled. "I'm afraid you have to kiss Ichigo. Kisuke might have rigged the mistletoe."

At least when both Tōshirō and Ichigo fixed the shopkeeper with a glare, the smug smile on the man's face faded. His startled "Eep" was very audible.

One deep breath, and then a second. Then a third, as Tōshirō tried to breathe without coughing as glitter filled his lungs.

"Kurosaki," he said in his most authoritative I-am-Captain-here voice, "There's no way in hell I'm kissing you, so you're kissing me." And with an amazing amount of will power, he managed to get himself to point at his cheek. Because there was no way in hell he would ever kiss Kurosaki. At least not the Kurosaki standing next to him, and not until a very, very long time in the future.

The was yet another moment of utter silence, before the boy standing next to him managed a "What? No way. Nuh uh. Hell no!"

As Ichigo tried to step back, he found that his legs were frozen, and promptly fell over backwards.

Laughter rang out all across the room.

"Oh come on, Ichi-nii," an all too familiar voice called out. "Since you were so eager to get to him, the least you can do is give the birthday boy a kiss."

He still was going to make Karin pay for her betrayal of glitter and snow, but at least she was backing him up on this. There was no way he was lowering himself enough to kiss Kurosaki Ichigo. The sound of Karin's voice spurred the catcalls and teasing from the rest of the people crammed in the small living room, and it was only then that Tōshirō realized that there were a lot of people in the house, enough that they were packed into the kitchen and down the hallways. At the very least, there were more than just the Kurosaki family and the Shinigami he had come on this "mission" with. There were Kurosaki's classmates, and a couple of Karin's friends...

Just more witnesses to this sad, sorrow, humiliating affair of a birthday.

The party was quickly reduced to a cacophony of squabbling voices.

"Don't be such a baby," and that was Rukia.

Matsumoto: "Aw, Ichigo, but isn't Taichō cute enough to kiss?" (Ichigo: "No!")

Isshin: "Be a man and kiss the birthday boy already!" (Ichigo: "I'm going to kill you, you idiot father!")

Madarame: "Hehehehe, because he's not a man."

Abarai: "Wouldn't that mean it's only natural for Ichigo to kiss him then?"

Yumichika: "You really shouldn't sputter, it's quite ugly." (Ichigo: "Hey, what the hell-")

Inoue: "But," and the words were hard to make out past the giggling, "His face matches his hair."

Ishida: "We should really get Kurosaki a red outfit for Christmas to complement his hair." (Ichigo: "Ishida! You traitor!")

Isshin: "Excellent idea, boy! Make sure it has flowers, only manly men wear floral prints."

Karin: "Shut up you idiot!"

Yuzu: "Karin-chan! Be nice to otou-san"

Tatsuki: "Idiots. Come on Orihime, let's grab something to eat."

Rin: "Can we have the cake yet?"

Yuzu: "Ah, Rin-san, not yet! You can't touch the cake yet!"

Urahara: "Ah, so, Kurosaki-san, are you going to kiss the birthday boy or not?" (Ichigo: "No!")

Yoruichi: "Aw, has Ichigo never kissed someone before?" (Ichigo: "Shut up!") "Cause I can always show you…" (Ichigo: "No! Get away from me!")

And suddenly Tōshirō found his shoulders being grabbed, and his head swam as the Kurosaki boy, in his attempt to get the "damn thing over and done with", slammed his thick head against the side of his hard enough that the sharp crack could be heard from across the living room.

But his legs were free. Blessedly free!

"There!" Kurosaki cried, stumbling backwards and rubbing his forehead. "Done! Happy?!"

"Really, Kurosaki," the birthday boy said wryly, knowing it would be undignified to flee. He had the upper hand in the situation now, and he intended to milk it for all it was worth. "You're a horrible kisser. No wonder you were ashamed to kiss me in front of everyone."

The room broke into laughter again as Kurosaki Ichigo sputtered, and tried to spit glitter out of his mouth, and sneezed as the glitter that covered the 10th division captain scattered into the air and got caught in his nose.

Tōshirō took the opportunity to ease away from the mistletoe, far more wary this time around of booby traps and mistletoe. People started mingling then, and the distinctive voice of Matsumoto squealing, "Sake!" could be heard. The boy darted around the stupid lamp and snagged Karin.

"You!" He growled. But he found that he couldn't truly be angry at her, not when her eyes were dancing with happiness and her lips were curled up in that brilliant smile of hers.

"Happy birthday, Tōshirō," she said.

It was impulsive of him, and he was glad the stupid lamp was big enough to hide them both, but he wrapped her in a hug.

It was brief, but she was warm against him. And, he decided, although he would never admit it to anyone besides Hyōrinmaru (and even then only because his zanpakutō was bound to bring it up anyway), Karin sounded decidedly cute when she squeaked in surprise.

He was smiling before he could stop himself. "Ha," he said.

Her eyes flew wide open. "What?"

"You're covered in glitter," he pointed out smugly.

She shrieked and made to hit him, but he caught her wrist easily and pulled her into a hug again.

"Hitsugaya-taichō! That is inappropriate behavior between a taichō and a human girl!" She cried breathlessly as she pulled away from him.

"Good thing you're Shini-"

"Inappropriate behavior for a Taichō of the Gotei -"

"It's not like you're n-"

He stopped, because Kurosaki Ichigo was upon them.

"Tōshirō! What the hell are you doing to my sister?"

"Bye Ichi-nii!" The girl cried, and she was suddenly pulling the glitter-and-cotton-wool covered boy away from her irate brother. "Hitsugaya-kun needs to take a shower before he gets glitter everywhere."

As she pushed him towards the bathroom, Tōshirō whispered urgently to her: "Please tell me you've something normal for me to wear."

She laughed. "It's your birthday, you silly boy. Relax a little bit. And you have to wear the shirt, because Yuzu made it for you. I'll make it up to you later. Really. I hid all the amanattō in my room because that Rin boy kept trying to eat the sweet stuff before you got here."

He frowned. "It's going to take more than amanattō to make up for this."

"I've watermelon too. Really. And I made sure the glitter was green, at least." Her face softened a little bit. "It matches your eyes. But! Rangiku-san and Yumichika really wanted purple and then otou-san started pressing for red, which prompted Yuzu to suggest pink…"

He rolled his eyes and shut the bathroom door in her face.

Her laughter echoed in his ears.

***

He woke up the next morning in one of the private examination rooms in the Kurosaki clinic, because they had decided it wouldn't be safe for him to bunk in either Ichigo or the twin's rooms, and the only way he would step foot into Isshin's bedroom was if he had a death wish. The living room was trashed, and a good portion of the party goers were sprawled all over the living room, kitchen, and even the staircase. He wondered if he could make it up the stairs and change out of the ridiculous shirt Yuzu had made him - sea green ("Like your eyes!" the girl had squealed), and covered in silver sequins that spelled out "Birthday Boy" - without waking everyone up.

Were any of Ichigo's school mates even old enough to drink? He wondered to himself, as he eyed Keigo sprawled dangerously close to Tatsuki. Inoue was curled up on the stairwell, and Yasutora was propped up against the far wall.

He was well aware that his fukutaichō was half naked, with her skirt riding up her thighs and her… assets undoubtedly hanging out from her blouse. But what caused him to venture a cautious second glance was the fact that she was wrapped up in a string of Christmas lights were flickered red and green.

He cautiously stepped over Abarai, who was snuggling Karin's older brother. He wondered if both of them had somehow mistaken the other for the Kuchiki princess. The royal herself at least had enough sense to fall asleep on the couch, a blanket wrapped over her sleeping form.

"Hey," a soft voice said.

He looked up, and found Karin smiling at him.

"Are we the only ones smart enough to not touch the sake?" He asked.

The girl inclined her head towards the kitchen. "Yuzu-chan's making breakfast. And I think Urahara-san took Ururu and the loud red headed idiot home. Though I'm pretty sure Yoruichi-san is curled up in Ichi-nii's bed. She was laughing herself silly before I went to be, about how pissed onii-chan would be to find cat hair all over his sheets, or better yet, her naked."

That brought a small smile to his face.

"So," she ventured. "How does this party compare to everything else?"

He paused to think.

"It was… a party," he assented.

The girl arched an eyebrow and crossed her arms across her chest.

"You don't say," she said sarcastically.

"Acceptable," he allowed.

She narrowed her eyes at him.

"The fireworks were a nice touch."

She smiled at that. "Matsumoto said it was a tradition."

"I suppose," he said. "Though usually Hinamori..." His voice trailed off, as he remembered the last couple of birthday bashes the Shinigami had thrown him, and how the girl always appeared with her captain by her side. It made his gut wrench.

"Come on," Karin said, breaking his train of thought with a wicked grin that never failed to distract him. "I've both a film camera and a digital camera, and lovely permanent markers in neon and metallic colors set aside specially for this."

He nearly smiled, but caught himself in time. "Do you really think I'll resort to something that childish?"

"What if I told you I've been practicing all the higher level kidō spells that render targets paralyzed and unconscious."

He maintained his suspicious demeanor enough to ask, "Precisely how good are you now?"

"Enough that I bet we can move Ichi-nii and Renji into all kinds of compromising positions without them waking up."

"Whatever did Abarai do to you?"

She had to have practiced the innocent look she was wearing now. "Nothing," she said. "But Yoruichi-san may have paid me in advance for pictures."

"Yoruichi? Not Urahara?"

"Yoruichi-san promised me more of those drugs that the Onmitsukidō use if I got her compromising pictures of Ichi-nii. Urahara-san promised me a special mod-soul for me to use for general pictures for blackmail purposes. I made him seal that promise in writing. With all the details spelled out specifically."

"Will you really need one? I mean, in-"

She waved him off. "Yeah, but none of them know yet. And besides, it'll come in handy with Yuzu. And I want to see how many days it takes Ichi-nii to figure it out. There's betting pool between all the people at Urahara's. Want in?"

He smiled. "No thanks. But where's all the stuff?"

***

Late into the afternoon, as the early winter-sunset began to stretch across Karakura town, Tōshirō found himself sitting on the roof with Karin. Below them, the familiar laughter of Yoruichi echoed as Karin's kidō spells wore off, and the hung-over party-goers woke up in compromising positions, Christmas tinsel, permanent marker, and makeup.

He knew he didn't have to tell the girl next to him that in all reality, it was the best birthday he ever had.

He wondered if he had enough pictures to blackmail Kurosaki Isshin into helping him obtain his revenge on Karin. Green and silver glitter wouldn't be enough. Tōshirō knew he had a little under five months to plan. Perhaps he could rope Kuchiki Rukia into helping him procure bunnies of doom for the party.

He was very glad he had yet to throw the pajamas away. They were going to make for an excellent birthday present.


And there you have it. A drabble that I really should have put more time into writing. *hides* Sorry! I swear I was going to start writing it sooner. Then life happened. And I got my grades. And... you know it is when you get your end of quarter grades... But I got it done. Even if I did all in one day. :X I tried! Really. I did. And either way, let me know what you think! And please tell me what I can improve on.

Much, much love. Happy Birthday, to our favorite Shinigami Taichō. And Merry Christmas, everyone!