Her pen stopped it's scratching on the paper. That voice... could it be? After all this time... was it really him? She turned, half-afraid that it was all in her mind, or that it was really someone else, but... there he stood.
He looked older than the last time she'd seen him - maybe she shouldn't have been so surprised. He still seemed younger than her, albeit a bit taller, although she knew that he was many times older. He wore a black shirt and white slacks - she supposed he must like that combination, since he'd worn almost the exact same when she'd first met him, so many years ago. It set off his snow-white hair nicely. He still wore his hair spiked, she noticed - and then bit back a chuckle as she realized her onii-san still wore his spiked, too, despite having become (at least physically) an adult. She'd kept her own black hair cropped short, half because it was practical, and half because... maybe she wanted him to recognize her... if he ever came back. Her brown eyes met his, so strange - blue-green, with oddly-shaped pupils; a dragon's eyes. She couldn't keep the shock off of her face.
He smiled at her - a rare expression on his way-too-serious face. It was only a small, slight smile, but a smile all the same. "It's... been a while."
One of her colleagues had noticed her stop writing, and walked over to her. "Karin? What's going... um, who's this?"
She turned toward him. "This is Hitsugaya Toushiro-san. We were friends in sixth grade." She looked back at him, noting his slightly annoyed expression. He was still sensitive about the grade school thing, then? She chuckled. "Toushiro, this is my colleague, Kusanagi-san."
"It's nice to meet you," he said, in that calm voice she remembered so well. He shook Kusanagi-san's hand. "I'm sorry if I am interrupting your work."
She checked her watch. "I'm about to go on break anyway. Let's go." The look she gave Kusanagi-san dared him to question this statement - she almost wished he would, but Kusanagi-san had always been intelligent, and he waved her off. She led Toushiro outside, then down a path to a large expanse of green grass. They sat down, and looked up at the sky.
"It really has been a long time," she said, looking over at him. She was almost surprised at the strength of her feelings; she'd always thought time had dulled them, or that... maybe everyone was right, and it had just been a crush. But looking at him, seeing him now... her hand longed to snake out and take his. He looked at the sky as well.
"Too long," he said. "You've... changed."
She watched him, how... sad he seemed, and she wished she could make him smile again.
"Things change quickly in your world," he continued. "Almost too quickly."
She nodded. "Yeah," she said. "To us, it's been quite a while since all of that business with Aizen and the Arrancar. To you, it can't seem long at all."
"To most of us," he agreed. "But for me... it was always a long time." He seemed uncomfortable saying it, and he looked away from her. It had always seemed strange to her, how adult he seemed, how much older than her, despite how young he looked. She knew his physical form was a lie - that he could break out of that body any time he wished and show his true face. It wasn't all that different from his Gigai, except for the clothes, but she could feel the power radiating off that other him. And, in some way... she preferred that face to this one. He seemed just... so distant. Could it be that they'd only met those few times? She felt like she'd known him for years, and he'd suddenly come back to her.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"I... missed... the human world." He coughed, hesitated. "Maybe... more than that... I missed the humans that live here."
Her heart began to pound for no reason at all. She was a grown woman, now, but somehow, she felt as giddy as her middle-school self had that day when he had saved her from the Hollow.
"You... missed us? Who the heck would miss onii-san and all the trouble he got into? And, of course, I mean, Keigo was an idiot and always will be. I suppose I'd miss Orihime, she's nice to everyone and-"
"I did miss them," he said. "In a way. Your brother did more for Soul Society than anyone in several hundred years. He brought change. And maybe... change is a good thing. I don't know. But... more than any of them, I missed..." He stopped speaking, as if he couldn't continue.
Her heart beat even faster. "Um... how's Matsumoto-san doing?" she asked, changing the subject to get away from the awkward silence.
He chuckled. "The same as ever. She's the one who... told me to come here. Said I had unfinished business. You know... tomorrow is..."
"The day we met..." she whispered, surprised he remembered. "I... I remember that, but... I didn't think you would." Not after so many years, was the unspoken qualifier.
"Rangiku thought I should take some time off... spend it in the human world. See some old friends. I... looked for you, first."
"I waited for you."
Why did she say that? Was it because... of all the things he said... she'd waited for him to say her name? Was it because she wanted him to know she cared? It was probably a crazy hope, but... maybe she hoped that he cared, too.
He looked at her. "You did?"
She nodded. "I don't know why..."
"I should have come sooner," he said at the same moment.
They looked at each other, their eyes meeting once again, and she was lost in the strangeness of them... strangeness, and beauty. Once again, she couldn't hide her surprise.
"I guess... I always thought you'd forgotten," he confessed.
"Never," she told him. "Not you. I don't think anyone... could forget someone like you."
"Because I saved you?"
"Because I love you."
The words tore out of her before she could stop them, and she turned away, burning red. She could feel him staring at her, and she mentally cursed herself for her indiscretion. "I-I'm sorry. I... I have to go..." She stood, began to leave. Then, she felt his spiritual pressure and a hand on hers.
She turned. His Gigai lay on the ground behind them, and he stood there in shihakushou and haori. His eyes were so dead serious, filled with some emotion she couldn't read. He looked conflicted, but dedicated, and she turned back toward him completely, not sure what to say.
"Please... stay. I..." He broke off, then started again. "I came back for you."
She realized he still hadn't let go of her hand. His free hand took her by the shoulder, then, as if that wasn't enough, put both arms around her waist and held her close, and there was a fierce strength in the hug. She felt.... safe. Warm. Protected. She put her own arms around him, and something clicked in her.
"Stay like this. With me. I came back... for you. Promise me."
And then she looked up into those dragon's eyes and kissed him.