Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach.
Spoilers: 424 sort of. I mean, there's not a whole lot to spoil there.
Note: This was based on my other piece, Change, but they are not connected, just use similar ideas.
The hilt in her hand felt so natural. Slowly, she let it slide across an imaginary foe.
"Little girls like you shouldn't play with swords."
Karin didn't so much as jump. It would look suspicious considering there was supposedly nothing there. Just another dumb ghost to bug her. Ever since Ichigo lost his powers, they'd been all over her and her rapidly growing powers. It was a total pain in the neck and she was tempted to swing the wooden katana at it like a fly swatter. Somehow, she maintained enough control to place the "weapon" back in the box she'd borrowed it from.
"Don't tell me you're trading in your soccer ball for that," the ghost continued. He was on her heels as she walked out the door.
"I love soccer," she said. "I'm the only girl on an all-boys team, but I just wanted to see what it was like to hold one."
"Those things are dangerous," he insisted. "You shouldn't—"
"I know!" she snapped, losing her slight monotone. "Just leave me alone. I can't deal with you right now."
Karin was in the process of stomping away with a huff when a girl her age waved to her. The girl was dressed in a kendo uniform minus all the padding. Her short hair was ruffled by the afternoon breeze's sweet caress. Karin headed her way.
"Oh, you don't have time for me, but you'll make some for her," the spirit man grumbled. He made a not-so-dramatic disappearance in a puff of supernatural smoke. Karin could care less.
"I saw you holding that katana," the girl stated. "You should try the sport. You look like you'd be a natural."
"Sorry, that's your thing," Karin replied. "I could never be as good as you, Yumi."
"You don't have to be," she said. "Although, I'd like to be able to teach someone who could see me for once. The downside of being a ghost. At least we can be friends, though."
Karin let her lips tilt upward a fraction at Yumi's comment. "Yeah."
Two years ago, Karin never would have thought she'd be friends with the dead. Then the Shinigami and Rukia came. Although she tried to keep her contact with the afterlife to a minimum, tom-boyish Yumi had grown on her and they became fast friends.
Karin tried not to look at Yumi's soul chain. When she'd met the girl, there were eight links. Now there were six. It might be years before Yumi ran out of time, but just seeing it reminded Karin that it was limited. Then, Yumi would have to go to Soul Society and Karin…well, she'd move on.
She was good at moving on.
Unlike Yumi, apparently, who decided to stop in the middle of the path. Karin almost went straight through her.
"Karin, who's that?"
"Who's who?" Karin asked. She looked to where Yumi's pale eyes were focused. Perched in a tree about ten meters away were a pair of feet, covered slightly by the edges of a Shihakushou.
"He feels weird," Yumi stated.
Karin nodded. "I think it's a Shinigami."
"But I don't want to go!" Yumi protested. "Not yet, anyway."
"Then keep walking," Karin insisted. "It's been awhile since any have come. I doubt he's here for you."
"But what if he's here for you?"
Karin furrowed her brow. Of course she'd considered it before, but…
"Don't worry about it," Karin assured. "But you can leave if you want to."
Yumi pursed her lips before whispering a quick, "Sorry."
As soon as the girl left, Karin strolled up to the tree, glancing at the Shinigami. She wasn't all too surprised to realize she recognized him. He was one of Ichigo's friends and she'd seen him around before they all left. After all, he wasn't very hard to spot. She opened her mouth and took a deep breath.
"What are you doing here, Toushirou?"
He didn't move. The jerk! He was ignoring her.
"Toushirou!" she called again. "Just because Ichigo lost his powers doesn't mean that I can't see you hiding in that tree up there."
The pair of feet vanished. Karin scowled at the spot. Fine. Whatever. It wasn't like she needed to know what he was doing. Probably just some stupid observational thing that they just had to send a captain on. All they'd find was that the Hollows were being taken care of and Ichigo was as powerless as he had been when they'd left. Really, she wasn't worth taking note of so why would he bother to—
"Do I know you?"
Karin couldn't help it this time. She jumped. She hadn't sensed him behind her at all. Then again, he could have simply hopped down from the tree and appeared in front of her like a normal person. Stupid Shinigami.
"Not very well," she admitted to whom she thought of as looking a bit like an elementary schooler. And, she realized, that because of Soul Society's slowed-down time, he still would. Unlike her. Well, that made her feel better about the situation. She turned around.
And was surprised to only meet the lower half of his face.
Once she managed to find his eyes, though, she saw that they were looking at her intently. His brain was struggling for some long-ago recollection. She sighed.
"My name is Karin Kurosaki," she introduced. "Ichigo is my older brother."
Comprehension dawned on his face. She could have sworn she heard him say something about Soul Society needing to update their files. He amended this with, "Sorry, I didn't recognize you."
"I don't care," she said. "Anyway, why are you here, Toushirou?"
Irritation flashed across his teal eyes. "It's Captain Hitsugaya."
"Eh, you're not my captain," she replied. "I'm not a Shinigami."
Shaking it off, he decided that he wouldn't bother. "And if you must know," he answered, in regards to her previous question, "it's a surveillance mission."
Called it. Karin held back a smirk. "How's that going?"
"Really, it's not my job to tell you."
Karin kept her eyes from narrowing. It was only an innocent question. He didn't need to be so snappy about it.
"But," he continued, "they sent me over on suspicion that the Quincy was exterminating too many Hollows and the current Shinigami representative may not be doing his job. The evaluation has to be made by a captain, as per new regulations. However, I sensed a strong reiatsu along the way and stopped to investigate."
She bit the inside of her lip.
And there it was.
"So, mystery solved," she responded. "Which means I guess I should let you be on your way."
A hand gripping her arm stopped her from leaving. "Not so fast."
She cursed. He was staring at her strangely now. "Look," she said, "I'm not going to go run off and start fighting Hollows or anything. That was Ichigo's job. Speaking of which, he's supposed to be picking me up soon and…"
He handed her something. It looked like…a walkie-talkie?
He was explaining before her mind had really caught up with the situation. "The device is hidden to normal humans. If you need to, that should let you communicate with Soul Society. Your reiatsu is high, which means there's a risk that it could jumpstart your brother's powers again. If he starts to see anything, you call."
"So you can take them away?" she growled, mood darkening.
"No," he answered, "so we can try to restore them. Your brother was one of our better warriors. Soul Society would want him back."
She looked at the device in her hand. "This seems awfully planned for a split-second decision."
"Fine," he admitted. "I was ordered to give it to you. I just didn't realize it was you when I sensed that reiatsu. You're close to him and have high spiritual awareness, making you a prime candidate for the job, although Soul Society was wary upon entering the decision."
"I'm the inside source," Karin muttered.
"Exactly." Toushirou nodded. "Any more questions?"
Karin thought for a second before remembering what she really wanted to know. When she opened her mouth, Toshiro expected some long, complicated question. Something that spoke of her inexperience. He listened carefully.
"…Why don't you look like an elementary student anymore?"
He was tempted to smack himself in the face. "I just gave you a form of contact with Soul Society as well as a huge responsibility and you ask me why I look older?"
She nodded. "Yeah. Time works differently in Soul Society, right? So you should still be shorter than me."
To his credit, he maintained composure. "Captain Kurotsuchi," he began, "is both our Twelfth Squad captain and the head of Research and Development. He is known for his rather…unorthodox experiments. At the moment, he was working on a chemical to stop muscles and bones from weakening with age. I happened to walk in at the wrong moment."
"You super-aged?" She was laughing now.
"It was an unfinished product and the results were unpredictable," he retorted. "Also, it is not 'super-aging.' I'm growing at the rate of an ordinary human."
"Am? As in present tense?"
Now she was irritating him. "He's supposed to be working on an antidote as we speak."
"Uh-huh," she replied. "You said 'supposed to.' Does that mean he's not in much of a hurry?"
Toushirou's face was reddening. "He said that it was not a top priority of his considering it would not become dangerous for years and…and I could stand to grow up a little."
Karin found humor in his frustration. "I don't see why you're so upset. Don't you get annoyed when people call you little?"
"That's not the point," he retorted.
"Oh? Then what—"
Karin glanced at the new voice. Her brother, Ichigo, was running toward them. He stopped right in front of her.
"Karin," he apologized, "sorry I'm late. I had to stay after today and didn't pay attention to the time."
"That's okay," she assured. Her eyes drifted back to Toushirou. He was still there.
"He has absolutely no reiatsu," the white-haired boy commented. "He really can't see me. Karin Kurosaki, don't tell him I'm here."
So even Toushirou hadn't wanted to believe it.
"You ready to go?" Ichigo asked.
Karin frowned. "Yeah."
"What's the matter?" he wondered as they walked away. "Was…was a ghost bothering you?"
Karin looked back one more time before Toushirou disappeared. "No, not really."
She slipped the device he'd given her into her pocket.
"Hey, Ichigo?" she asked. "Do you mind if I ask you a question? About Soul Society?"
The look on his face was a mix between pain and relief, if that was even possible. "Sure."
"Since you had captain-level reiatsu, I was wondering what the other captains were like?"
"That's an odd question," he stated. "I guess most of them were either eccentric or really stiff. Byakuya, Rukia's brother, was one of the stiff ones. So was Toushirou sometimes."
"Toushirou?" she repeated. "That's an interesting name."
"He was an interesting person," Ichigo answered. "He was…"
"Captain!" Matsumoto shrieked. She paraded through the division grounds until she found the person she was searching for working on a file. A picture of a young girl was taken out of it. "Captain, what are you doing? I don't usually see you looking at pictures of girls. Although, now that you're older…"
He brushed off her comment. "I'm updating this file."
"Hm…Karin Kurosaki," Matsumoto read. "Ichigo's little sister?"
"Yes, I…ran into her," he said. He wasn't supposed to tell anyone under captain level about the device he gave her.
"So why are you updating her file?"
"Why else?" he responded. "Because the person in it is…different."
He put the more recent picture in it.
"Oh, Karin is pretty!" Matsumoto exclaimed. "Hey, Captain…"
"If you say one more word, I'll freeze you where you stand," he threatened.
For one blissful second, he thought she would listen. A fit of giggles shattered his hopes. She ran out of the room, but not before shouting, "Hormones!"
Toushirou huffed and finished compiling the report. Karin Kurosaki. She was…not completely intolerable.
Especially now that he was taller than her.