Here we are. It's almost sad, really. But at the same time I am so relieved. I'm sure you are too.
Enjoy this last chapter!
Title: Secrets, Twists and Chaos; [Chapter 11; Moving Occasions]
Author: MeteorLeopard (HoneyBadger)
The teapot sat cozily in the middle of the round table, a steady ribbon of steam spiraling up towards the ceiling of Inoue's apartment. Watching her two best friends in the world interact, Inoue felt at peace. She took another sip, listening to their conversation about how their lives were progressing. Tatsuki had just handed a ticket to Matsumoto, saying that the busty fukutaicho had to come watch her in the finals of her karate tournament. That was where Tatsuki's life had taken her: to the top of the pile of karate champions. Sometimes Inoue felt that her own life was mediocre compared to that, but Rangiku had quickly reassured her that studying to be a doctor and gaining an internship with Ishida Ryuken - a notoriously difficult person to work with - was an achievement of epic proportions. Tatsuki sometimes teased her that her choice in clothing - which was still predominantly white and black - influenced her decision to become a doctor, wearing a white coat all the time. They'd all had a good laugh over that.
Conversation had now turned to Matsumoto's life in the Soul Society. "Apparently the soutaicho has been inviting Hirako Shinji to the captain's meetings lately!"
Tatsuki looked confused for a moment. "But… hasn't he been at the captains' meetings for the past three years already? You know, seeing as he is the elected captain of the Satellite Squad? It only makes sense for him to be there."
"Well, sure," Matsumoto agreed, "but the soutaicho has only recently allowed an official update to be sent to Hirako when a meeting is supposed to happen. Before, Shinji was always relying on Kyouraku and Ukitake-taicho to tell him when to arrive, which was a real pain for poor Nanao-chan to handle."
"Ah," Inoue exclaimed, "so the soutaicho has become nice!"
Tatsuki grimaced, remembering her encounter with the gruff old man about a year ago. "I wonder about that…"
"Well," Matsumoto shifted, lifting her cup of tea, "at least they're being treated like an official squad now. Mostly."
"Mostly?" Inoue blinked, wondering what her friend meant.
"Well yeah, they're still refusing to wear the shihakusho, aren't they?" Matsumoto took another big gulp of her tea, then sighed, scrutinizing it as though she wished it would transform into sake instead.
Tatsuki refilled her cup. "Well, Shinji does put the captain's haori on when he goes for the meetings but he tosses it as soon as he steps into the warehouse again. Karin told me he hates the thing. Says it itches." The girl grinned, remembering that moment. "But he also puts it on when he goes to the Soul Society in general. Something about appearance or so."
"Now that you mention it, I did see him wearing it when Nanao and I went for tea with Kyouraku and Ukitake-taicho. Shinji was there too, wearing the haori." Matsumoto tapped her chin.
"He was?" Inoue asked.
"Yes, and Hiyori-chan too. And Lisa-san too, which explains why Nanao-chan wanted to go." Matsumoto giggled behind her hand. "Nanao-chan is still so happy to see her childhood idol, even three years later."
"Three years is a long time," Tatsuki said, wistfully.
"Yes," Inoue agreed. "Anything can happen." She was stirring her tea, but her voice was taking on that determined, dreamy quality that it got when she was about to go off on a fantastical tangent. "Traitors can become friends, hatred can turn to trust and forbidden love can blossom!" She made an excited noise, pressing hands tightly against her cheeks. "Ah! It's so romantic!"
Tatsuki sent her friend a lopsided smile. "You're still gushing about them, even three years later." Tatsuki was smiling softly.
"Of course!" Inoue exclaimed, a fist clenched fiercely. "Friendship begun in light of a war, affection forbidden by the law, blossoming to love in its aftermath…" The girl sighed dreamily again, a blush on her cheeks. "It's so sweet!"
Tatsuki allowed herself a small smile. "I guess, if you put it like that. Makes me think that relationships between Shinigami and humans are not so impossible."
Matsumoto gave Tatsuki a sly nudge, a lecherous grin spreading across her face, mischief in her eyes. "Oh? Having trouble with a certain red-head, Tatsuki-chan?"
Tatsuki's cheeks instantly coloured bright red, embarrassment taking hold in seconds. "No! I just-"
"Don't be shy now, Tatsuki-chan!" Matsumoto gushed. Tatsuki's cheeks went redder. Matsumoto calmed a little, voice taking on a slightly more serious note an her smile becoming more fond than mocking. "Despite everything, you guys are still close, beating the odds, even if you're only friends... for now."
"Despite everything," Tatsuki agreed, a tint of melancholy in her voice, a blush on her cheeks from Matsumoto's insinuations. Tatsuki's mind briefly flashed to the visit she'd made to the Soul Society a year ago. She'd been invited by the soutaicho to represent the humans to discuss some matters concerning Karakura. The meeting had gone well, but what followed had not. An experiment gone wrong, so to speak. Tatsuki sighed, fingering her cup, then shook the dark memories off, perking up. "But it's not like I've been alone through all of this. I've had you guys, my friends." She smiled. "That's more than enough."
A warm feeling settled over their group, happy thoughts swimming about them contentedly.
A loud, screeching quack echoed around the apartment then and Matsumoto looked around, bewildered, while Tatsuki heaved a sigh, one hand massaging her temples. Inoue jumped up, grinning. "That doorbell sound always makes me smile!" Then she rushed to the door.
Sometimes she wondered why she was still here.
Nail polish. Mothers. Rising celebrities. Fashion disasters. Bargains. Mothers. Crushes. Overbearing parents.
These topics circled around the mouths of her friends, repeating themselves in various combinations to be reused again later. Sometimes she wondered what she could possibly have to say to them, these people who were genuinely nice but also so ignorant of anything beyond their spheres of interest. Like death. Never once had Yuzu heard them talk about death. Of course, they had no reason to. Most of them still had families that were intact. Untouched by such tragedy. Those who didn't never said much about it, immersing themselves in affairs of the living, as should be done by those still alive.
But that was the difference between them and her.
Yuzu shook her thoughts off. It was break time right now. The sun was out, the birds were singing, the trees rustled with a light summer wind and the dappled shadows fell softly onto her and the little group of girls that she sat with. Saya-chan had brought a blanket - a nice thick one with sturdy plastic lining the bottom so that the damp grass would not soak through the blanket and into their skirts. A sensible choice. Yuzu took another bite from the lunchbox she had made that morning in the empty kitchen.
Conversation had moved to the results from their last test. "Yuzu-chan," Mari-chan asked, turning happy eyes on her, "How did you do?"
"Me? Oh, well, alright." A smile, because it helped.
"Alright?" Ayame-chan asked, tucking her hair behind her ear. "Yuzu-chan, you always get the highest score though. Just alright?"
Yuzu nodded, still smiling, trying to laugh and make it sound like she was embarrassed. "Yes, well, I've been busy lately…" That was true. Helping former outlaws move planes of existence was a tiring job. "So I haven't had as much time to study."
Honestly, Yuzu could never quite reconcile her life. Her work clashed so often with her schoolwork. Her responsibilities clashed so often with her free time. At times, Yuzu wondered of what use an education would be to her. It wasn't like the rest of her family had much need of it. Yuzu now understood her brother and sister's slipping academics a lot more.
Why am I still here? The question had been sitting in her head for a few months now but had grown ever more insistent and nagging about a year ago.
"Ne ne, Yuzu-chan," Yumi-chan called, leaning over. "Your sister has been absent a lot, hasn't she?"
Another smile - a standard response - although her back stiffened. Yumi-chan was a natural gossip with no filter on her mouth and often did not mean the things she said to be mean. She truly didn't. So Yuzu tilted the corners of her mouth up, closed her eyes and said, "Don't worry, Yumi-chan. Karin-chan is doing fine. She just has a lot of things to take care of." As do I. Why am I still here?
"I'm not worried," one of the others said. Saya-chan. "Actually a bit relieved. Karin-san scares me a little." Saya-chan shyly poked at her lunch, head lowered, voice soft. Such a nice girl, but ignorant words.
"Me too," Yumi-chan admitted, and Yuzu was careful to keep her face passive as her fist tightened. Why am I still here? "She always looks too serious to approach, like she's got something better to do than talk to you. And she gets angry quickly too-"
Yuzu stabbed her chopsticks right through the blanket, ripping the sturdy fabric, slamming them into the ground. The girls fell silent immediately, a tense hush falling over the group at the dark look on sweet little Yuzu's face. Maybe it was because of the harsh words about her sister, or maybe it was to prove that Karin wasn't the only one who could get angry. Regardless, Yuzu chose her words carefully, speaking clearly. "Karin-chan is too busy to deal with you. And so am I." She looked up, resolve in her eyes and steel in her back. She stood then, brushing her skirt off and gathering her things. "I won't be coming back. Neither will Karin. I wish you all luck for your futures."
And she left the three girls sitting on the damaged blanket under the tree with their lunch boxes and good hearts and silly conversation. She walked away and smiled, wider and wider the further away she got. She'd never felt so free in all her life! She skipped right up to the locked front school gate, laughter bubbling beneath the surface. Easily, smiling, she jumped over it - all three meters high as it was-, giggling as she landed safely on the other side.
Vaguely, Yuzu wondered if she should move back in with her father. After all, it would make her life a lot simpler and the commute to work much shorter. And she wouldn't be spending so much time alone at home. She smiled as she thought, swinging her heavy book bag easily by one hand, skipping down the sidewalk and ignoring the curious glances from other pedestrians.
Yes, Yuzu decided, that's what she'd do. But first she'd stop by Inoue's house and let the older girl know what she was going to do. Tatsuki was probably there and maybe Yuzu could pick up her ticket for Tatsuki's last karate match.
The two lines of captains stood at attention, facing each other. It was progressing into the third hour of the meeting, and Shinji was remembering why he'd hated these things so much. It was a bit awkward having two lines of uneven numbers, but the soutaicho had come up with the ingenious idea - back when the old fart had still been resentful - of simply sticking Shinji on the end of the row of even numbers, meaning that he stood at the end of the line, directly beside the crazy scientist, which always made for a strained atmosphere given their mutual dislike of the other. Relations between the two - which had been relatively neutral - took a plummet just over a year ago when Mayuri had figured out that it must have been Toushirou who had stolen those amplification devices to use them to visit the Vizard. Luckily, the crazy man had no proof except his intuition, and the soutaicho had refused to act simply on that. The incident following that fiasco - an accident, Mayuri claimed - had simply cemented the Vizard's dislike of the scientist. The fact that Hitsugaya had been the intended target and Kurosaki's friend had been hit instead had been pure chance.
Right at that moment, the soutaicho was giving Mayuri a right old scolding and Shinji was loving every second of it. Apparently some invention had malfunctioned and blown three new recruits to smithereens. Serious business. Personally, Shinji didn't know what three new recruits were doing around such volatile experiments anyway, but refrained from commenting. This reprimanding from the soutaicho was first class entertainment, and Shinji could openly admit that he took pleasure in Mayuri's embarrassment. So he looked away and tried not to appear too smug lest the soutaicho turn on him next.
On Mayuri's other side, Toushirou was standing with a supremely bored look on his face. From the small glances that the youngest captain was shooting the scientist, Hitugaya was also enjoying Mayuri's embarrassment. Shinji caught Hitsugaya's eye and the two traded minute grins.
Finally the soutaicho moved on the Ukitake, asking for a brief on the 13th Division's state. Ukitake was brief, concise, and reported that all was well. When the soutaicho inquired as to Ukitake's health, the sickly man simply smiled and replied, "I am well at the moment. And in the times that I am not, I have my dear Kuchiki-san to depend on. She is a most excellent fukutaicho." Shinji wasn't sure, but he could have sworn that he saw Byakuya's lips twitch in pride.
With a nod, the soutaicho turned attention onto Shinji. He straightened and sent a grin at the old man. Things had been strained between them for a while, given the soutaicho's initial bitterness towards them, but that had worn away over time. Shinji was grateful. Now, three years later, things were beginning to look up.
"Hirako. Your report on the state of the Satellite Division."
"Yes," Shinji drawled, stepping forward, adjusting the haori draped over his shoulders. He began his report then, keeping it brief. He knew that by now most captains were itching to get out of the hall and back to the safety of their desks and squads. He himself couldn't wait to return to the World of the Living. Maybe Yuzu would bring a pie over later. What with the move happening soon, the Vizard's warehouse hideout was all but cleared out. He concluded with a report on the increase in Hollow activity in Karakura. "There's still so many people around with such high reiatsu…" Shinji tapered off, eyes on the ceiling, thinking. "The land's just getting richer and richer in reiatsu. It's getting dangerous, but we've dealt with it so far. And Hacchi seals us up when we're moving about so that we don't add to the situation, ya know? You've made arrangements to take our place from tomorrow?" Shinji asked, just to check. As expected, nods were received from all. They had gone over these plans so many times that there was really no need for him to ask, but Shinji liked to cover all his bases.
"Hirako-taicho," the soutaicho began, "what of your new recruit?"
Shinji smiled, remembering. "She's good. Coping well. Adjusting fine and so far there have been no complications in her condition." He sent a sideways look at Mayuri, a somewhat bitter look crossing his face. "No thanks to some people."
The scientist merely shrugged and tossed his hands up, uncaring. "It was not my fault. She should not have been standing there in the first place."
Shinji rolled his eyes, having heard that line from Mayuri many times before. It always left a bad taste in his mouth, knowing that the man bore no guilt for what he had done to one of Kurosaki's friends.
Komamura growled, making his dislike of Mayuri known. "What lies. You knew very well that the girl was standing where she was when you decided to push that button." Another growl ripped from the captain's jaws. "You disgust me."
Mayuri grinned, a glint to his eyes. "If it helps, I wasn't aiming for her."
A loud bang brought attention back to the soutaicho and the irritated expression upon the old man's face. Every captain bore a healthy amount of respect for the man even if they didn't particularly like him. The squabbling ended immediately and both Mayuri and Komamura stepped back into line. In his peripheral vision, Shinji caught sight of Hitsugaya's fists clenching and unclenching repeatedly. Hurriedly, Shinji turned back to the soutaicho and gave a short bow, saying, "That is all."
"Is there any more?" the soutaicho glanced around. "Nothing more to report?" For a second, there was silence, and Shinji allowed himself the fleeting hope that he might be allowed to leave and that Hitsugaya would be able to flee the hall and let off some steam elsewhere.
But then a hand rose into the air and Shinji fought back a groan. "I have something I need to discuss with you, Yama-jii."
All heads turned towards the newly instated captain of the 3rd Division, whose hand was still raised. The soutaicho regarded the captain solemnly, "Yes, Kurosaki?"
Standing opposite Soi Fon, Kurosaki Isshin grinned easily, adjusting his haori over his shoulders. "Actually," he said, "it's about my daughters."
Yuzu stepped from the senkaimon, drawing in a deep breath as she emerged from the space of white light. Smiling sweetly at the guards, who had learned her by name over the past two years, she walked off after greeting them briefly, completely overlooking the blush that crossed the younger one's face. "Idiot!" the older one hissed at his colleague as Yuzu strode down the street, out of earshot. "Do you have any idea who her family is?!" That quickly put a damper on any interest from the younger guard.
Yuzu was not as far out of earshot as the guards had believed however. A slight red blush was spread over her cheeks. It was always embarrassing when whispers started and Yuzu was still very shy about the attention she was starting to gather. Karin always told her to smile and see what happened, but Yuzu was too shy. Just because her twin had someone who was something like a boyfriend - both Karin and Hitsugaya refused to use that term, for some reason - didn't mean that Yuzu did or wanted. Not yet, anyway.
The buildings of the Seireitei rose around her as she walked and Yuzu smiled at those, because this was one part of her life that she was absolutely certain about.
"Oi!" a shout came from her right. "Yuzu!"
A small café was tucked into the side of the road. Two little tables stood out front, only one of them occupied. Yuzu's face lit up as she recognized the people. "Onii-chan!" she yelled and dashed over, coming to a skidding stop mere centimeters away from their table. "Renji-nii, Rukia-nee, how are you?"
The three Shinigami grinned at her. Renji clapped her on the shoulder. "Good to see you in your shihakushou again, Yuzu-chan."
Yuzu only just stopped herself from stumbling and grinned at the boisterous man. He was so similar to Ichigo sometimes… "Thank you, Renji-nii. By the way, I have a package for you from Tatsuki-chan." Yuzu fished around in her small backpack for it, finally withdrawing a sealed envelope and a small stack of coloured slips. She handed him the letter, sending him a grin along with it when she spied the hint of awkwardness about the red-head. Rukia sent her friend a much lewder grin and Ichigo elbowed Renji in the ribs. He batted them both off.
Yuzu presented each of the Shinigami with a coloured slip next. "Also, here are tickets for Tatsuki's upcoming karate finals. She really wants you all to come." They each took one and Renji gave his ticket a wry grin.
"Isn't it unfair though?" he wondered out loud. "Entering a martial arts competition designed for humans?"
Yuzu waved his concern off. "Tatsuki has always been good enough to get to the finals, even before the accident. Now her winning is just a given instead of a strong possibility." She smiled angelically while the others blinked at her logic. "Besides," Yuzu continued, "this is her last competition. She's moving tomorrow, you know that."
Rukia was the first to shrug it off while the two guys were still trying to puzzle out if that made it fair or not. "Anyway, Yuzu, what are you doing here? Isn't school still on?"
Ichigo snapped to attention with that. "Ah! That's right! What are you doing here, Yuzu?"
He seemed truly concerned about her school performance and for a moment Yuzu wondered if she should tell him. But then she remembered how long she had agonized over this decision, and steeled herself for the confrontation. "I quit," she said, and smiled. The others gaped.
Rukia ventured a question first. "What do you mean, Yuzu?"
"I quit," she repeated again, still happy, that same giddy feeling from before overtaking her once more. "I walked out during break. I've decided. I'm staying here this time. For good." She held up the 'peace' sign, a rosy blush decorating her young cheeks.
"Ah, I see." Again, Rukia was the first to recover. She smiled at the girl. "That's good, Yuzu-"
"Rukia!" Ichigo interrupted, his face pale, his look scandalized, horrified, shocked. "But, Yuzu, you can't just quit school!" Ichigo looked truly concerned, a deep frown on his face. "What will you do if you don't finish school? You won't have a job or make money and you'll starve and then-"
Rukia used the water jug to whack him over the head. Ichigo's face smacked into the table with a resounding thud. He rebounded, clutching the back of his head. "Ow! What was that for?!"
Rukia snapped at him, still clutching the jug. "Idiot! Like you're one to talk! You quit school as well."
"I was sixteen and-"
"You might as well have quit at 15, with the amount of days that you skipped!" Rukia retorted. Yuzu giggled, watching as Rukia gave her brother no room to bargain. She resolved to thank the girl later.
Ichigo was blinking, an unhappy look crossing his face and Rukia smiled.
"Onii-chan," Yuzu began, looking serious. "People go to school to learn and to get a certificate that will help them get a job to help them make money and live a good life. But, you see, I don't need that because, well, I'm not alive." A smile. A very cold smile. Ichigo gulped at the sight. "So I quit." She smiled more. "And that's that."
Ichigo nodded once, eyes wide. Then Yuzu grinned, relaxed her stance and suddenly she was sunny once more. Waving a goodbye to her brother and his friends, she bounced away down the road. Ichigo looked after her, a cold sheen of sweat on his brow. "Scary…"
"Yeah," Renji agreed, in a similar condition. "She's been spending too much time with Unohana-taicho."
"Well," Rukia said, "Yuzu-chan is the prospective eleventh seat of the Fourth Division, so it's only natural that she'd pick up some of her captain's habits. Especially after being Unohana-taicho's apprentice for so long…"
Shinji swept the haori off his shoulders and, with practiced ease, tossed it over his shoulder. "What a freaking-" A sandal slapped him in the face and he yelped.
"You're late!" Hiyori proclaimed loudly, shoving her foot back into his face. "You lazy slob!"
"Me?! I'm the lazy slob?"
"Yes, you are! You are the lazy slob!"
"I've just been standing in a meeting for four hours! For you! How am I a lazy-"
"You took too long, baldy! While you were gone we packed the rest of the boxes, including your junk!"
"It couldn't be helped," Shinji grumbled, shoving her foot from his face. "Kurosaki was going on about Yuzu-chan! I couldn't leave!"
Hiyori froze, interested, one hand pulling at Shinji's cheek now. "Yuzu? What about her?"
Karin appeared then, curious after hearing her sister's name. She had her hair pulled back and her sleeves rolled up and was covered in dust. "Yuzu? What about Yuzu?"
Shinji rolled his eyes at how similar the two short spitfires were. Although, Karin had grown in the past three years, so she wasn't quite as short anymore. "Isshin wanted to discuss her living arrangements or something. I wasn't really paying attention-" Hiyori slapped him again, tearing into him for not caring about his friends.
Karin rolled her eyes and shrugged. "I don't see how that's a problem. Yuzu's half dead anyway, so her having to stay in the World of the Living seems stupid, especially since she's already a Shinigami and working in the Fourth Division and studying under Unohana herself. She's also mostly alone at home since I'm here more and more while Ichi-nii practically lives in the Soul Society and otou-san already does." Karin rubbed a hand over her cheek, smearing dust across it. "Besides, we won't be here for much longer anyway."
"Yeah," Shinji rubbed his sore cheek. "Isshin wanted to make sure that when Yuzu-chan decided to move to the Soul Society permanently it wouldn't be a problem."
"Smart to bring it up in the meeting room with the other captains," Love piped up from his rock. "He'd have a lot of support if the soutaicho disagreed.
"Yeah," Shinji said, now rolling his shoulders, which were stiff from standing still for so long. "But old Yama-jii didn't seem to mind much. Said yes and everything really easily."
"Huh," Karin said, blinking. "Odd."
"He's getting softer," Rose agreed. "Perhaps in a few more years he won't mind us at all."
"He doesn't mind us now," Shinji disagreed.
"He doesn't mind you now," Hiyori corrected. "He still hasn't forgiven me for calling him an old fart." Some snickers broke out at that.
Shinji stopped then, looking around. "By the way, where is our newbie?"
"Redberry-tan said she's coming soon-" Mashiro started and then tumbled off her rock as a running shoe hit her in the face.
"Stop calling me redberry-tan!" an angry voice called from the entrance. Tatsuki stood with her hands on her hips, scowling at the green-haired girl.
"Owie," Mashiro complained, getting back up, gently prodding at the growing bump. "That hurt, redberry-tan-"
"I said stop it!" Tatsuki shouted again, stalking over to the group and scooping her shoe off the ground.
"But," Mashiro pouted, still holding her head, "You go all red when red-head-tan is around."
Proving the point, Tatsuki instantly went bright red. "S-shut up."
Mashiro laughed and then ran as Tatsuki proceeded to chase the girl around the room. Love was shaking his head, a small smile on his face. Shinji heaved a sigh and then looked around. "Where's Kensei?"
"He's in town," Karin answered, "getting lunch." She stilled for a second then, sensing for reiatsu, and let a grin spread across her face. "Oi, Toushirou!"
Heads turned towards the stairs leading into the basement where Toushirou was entering, hands in the pockets of his casual clothing. He sent an easy smile around the room and then dodged Hiyori's projectile sandal.
"Stop looking all cool and help us move boxes, shorty!" Hiyori yelled before stomping away. Toushirou rolled his eyes, now taking more care while crossing the room towards the other Vizard in case Hiyori decided to come back with a second attack.
"Hitsugaya!" Shinji said, sarcasm in his voice. "We thought you weren't going to show!"
Again he rolled his eyes. "Just because you sprinted from the meeting like the Hounds of Hell were on your heels doesn't mean the rest of us will."
"Think you're smart with your new sayings, ey?" Shinji was grinning widely. "Where are the others?"
Toushirou shrugged, coming to stand beside Karin. "Matsumoto says she's coming soon, but don't count on it. The same goes for Kyouraku, though perhaps Ukitake will get him here half-sober. I don't know about Kira and Hisagi, but they'll probably show when Matsumoto does."
"What about Ichi-nii?"
"Don't know. Maybe he forgot." That earned him a slap on the shoulder from Karin, which he simply returned with raised eyebrows.
"Well come on then," Shinji said with a sigh. "Maybe they'll all pitch up by the time we're done eating. We're doing a last sweep of the building before Kensei comes back with that lunch, and then we're moving, regardless of who's here to help or not." He went stalking off, his long legs carrying him across the rocks swiftly towards where the others were squabbling over yet another item's sentimental worth.
Toushirou heaved another sigh and Karin shoved him. "Don't pretend to be all tired and irritated, Toushirou, we all know you secretly like us."
He sent her a skeptical look, which she merely laughed at. She then ruffled his hair, like she always did. And, as always, Toushirou absently batted her hand away, silently asking with his eyes if that was really necessary and she grinned, silently replying that yes, it really was.
"So I've been recruited to move boxes today," he said, sounding rather resigned to his fate. "And the time before it was to pack those boxes and the time before it was to find those boxes."
"Yup, that's about right," Karin replied cheerily. She was brimming with energy, eager to begin this next step of her life. Toushirou had to smile at her, because her enthusiasm was infectious. "Hope you got all your paperwork done."
"No," he told her, already cringing at the piles waiting for him at his desk. "You're coming to help me tonight."
"Uh-uh, no way," Karin backed away. "Tonight is the party, remember? The infamous Satellite Squad - virtually unseen and unknown for the three years since its formation - is finally moving base to the Soul Society." She said that in an official-announcer-like voice, striking a pose of someone lecturing. Toushirou knew that she was merely quoting a line from Hisagi's newspaper. "Remember? Everyone has to be there."
Toushirou cursed under his breath and Karin sent him a concerned look. "You really forgot?" He nodded, a little wearily and Karin frowned. "That's not like you."
"Just tired," he muttered. Truthfully, he'd been sleeping terribly for the past few months, ever since the Vizard announced that they would be moving back to the Soul Society, as once unit. After the 'accident' of infecting Arisawa Tatsuki with a Hollow had happened - which Mayuri took no responsibility for - the Vizard had decided that moving to the Soul Society would be best. Like that, they would involve no other humans and Karakura's spirit levels had a chance of returning to normal. It made sense, it really did, but Toushirou had his worries nonetheless. It had been three years since the war, but that was a very short time frame for a Shinigami. While the other captains had begun to warm up to Shinji, the normal recruits would likely not be as accommodating.
And Karin was moving into this kind of environment. But she'd skin him if he told her that he was worried about that, so he kept quiet. Besides, his worries were silly. She was more than capable of handling herself. In fact, he should be worried about anyone stupid enough to cross her. So he didn't tell her.
Then again, he didn't have to. Maybe it was because they had spent three years together, or maybe just because they had grown so close. But she knew what he was thinking and then her face was pulling into a frown again and she gave him a shove. "Quit worrying. Your hair will fall out."
So he nodded and told her to stop being stupid, he wasn't worried, and she rolled her eyes and accepted his unspoken pledge to try.
Toushirou shoved her back and glanced at her from the corner of his eye. Karin had grown. She was now tall, her black hair was longer and she'd become stronger. She'd mastered cero a while back and was now working on increasing her abilities of Instant Regeneration. Toushirou thought her beautiful, but he wouldn't tell her yet, because she was still shy about such things. So instead he called her strong and brave and stupid, because those were compliments that she knew how to handle.
Toushirou often thanked his lucky stars that he'd grown too. A few times, Karin had come to visit him in the Soul Society and she'd caught him standing on his tiptoes while looking into the mirror. He admitted to being a bit smug whenever the issue of height came up, especially whenever Hiyori called him short and went stomping off because she knew that she hadn't grown an inch herself.
They were heading towards the scramble of bodies now. Toushirou caught a few snippets of angry voices laying claim to the rice cooker. Meeting these people - no, being abducted by these people - had been a momentous and somewhat unsettling experience. But really, that wasn't the moment that Toushirou counted as the 'turning point' of his life. No, his turning point was that silly Kendo match that Ikkaku had dragged him to. And everything after that was all just a big mess of chaotic twists and turns.
Karin was glancing his way. "If you're going to grin like that you have to tell me what's so funny."
And because Toushirou liked to tease her, even now, he answered, "A secret."
She slapped him upside the head. "Stop spacing out on me all the time, idiot. We have a home to move."
A/N: I hope you enjoyed this story! This is the end, the end, the end! Please, please, please leave a review!
About Yuzu and Tatsuki: I left it vague on purpose. How did Yuzu become a Shinigami? How did Tatsuki become a Vizard? I have answers for those and maybe, if the fancy strikes me, I'll write another separate story explaining these things. However, they simply didn't fit into this chapter without making it seem stilted and odd. In the meantime, imagine the stories for yourselves. I'd be glad to hear some of your ideas!
When I first began writing this story, I was still in High School. I have recently (after finishing High School) reread the earlier chapters and I cringed. But I am leaving it as it is. Call it a way for me to look back on my progress as a writer.
Another thing is that, in this story, Ichigo retains his powers, the soutaicho does not lose an arm as well as a whole host of other things that changed from the original manga. Basically, the war was over in my story by the time I'd reached chapter six. I put chapter six up long before Kubo wrote out the war in the manga. That's why there are unexplained inconsistencies. I am leaving those as they are too.
As for Yuzu dropping out of school, don't do that kids. Don't do that. She's a fictional character in a fictional story about a fictional world. Don't copy her.
And finally a HUGE thanks to all those who supported me in this! Every single review was appreciated and every single person telling me to continue this story is owed thanks because they are the reason that I finally got off my butt and finished this.
I hope you enjoyed the last chapter and that you are satisfied with the end.