Chrysanthemum

She sat up, her head throbbing. She couldn't remember what had happened; she merely felt short of breath. She lay in a green field, looking up at the sky. Where was she? She sat up and looked around, noticing how painful it was and yet... after she'd sat up, the pain had disappeared. She stood and breathed deep; it was difficult, but she managed, and she felt free, the pain completely gone. What had she been doing before she had been here? She remembered driving home, but nothing after that. She must have stopped by this park as she often did, and dozed off.

She liked it here. It was where she'd first seen him. The white-haired Shinigami; Toushiro. Toushiro Hitsugaya. He'd helped her win a soccer game at the field, back when she was in grade school. She had just graduated high school; she often wondered what had become of him. She'd only seen him a couple of times afterward.

She started to walk back towards home; she still lived at home with her sister and her dad, although her brother had moved out a while ago. She turned a corner and stopped in surprise, for there he was; he sat in the exact same place he'd been sitting when she'd met him those times. He looked up, and she wondered why he looked different; that's when she realized he wasn't wearing a Gigai, but dressed in the traditional Shinigami uniform, or Shihakushou. It was a black kimono with a white sash, and he wore the Captain's haori that denoted his rank.

"T-Toushiro?" she asked in shock. He stood up, smiling a rare smile, then walked over to her.

"Karin," he said. "I thought I might find you here."

She gave him a grin. "What brings you back to the world of the living?" she asked. "It's a pleasant surprise."

He looked away from her. "I... I'm here on business, but... I thought I might find you. Talk about old times... Urahara asked me to come."

"Ura...hara? Isn't he the guy that was helping Ichi-nii?" she asked, and he nodded.

"Would you... like to walk with me to his shop?" he asked. She gave him an odd look; this didn't seem like him, but she nodded anyway.

"Sure," she replied, and they began to walk."So, how is Soul Society these days?"

He looked at her and she felt a shiver run through her as she gazed into those alien eyes, eyes which she'd found intriguing from the first. "It's the same as ever," he replied, returning his gaze to the sky. "Ichigo set change in motion, but it will come slowly. Still... it is peaceful, and remains so, ever since Aizen was defeated."

She smiled. "That's good. My brother may be an idiot, but at least he's no slouch at protecting what he cares about."

"You are correct; Ichigo did everything he could. He never gave up until he had completed what he had come to do... at least that much can be said of him."

She nodded. "Yep! That's Ichi-nii for you." She placed her hands behind her head and realized she could breathe more freely now; she was probably just suffering from allergies or something. "I'm glad your world is peaceful, though." She was struggling with small talk; she'd never been good at it. She remembered Toushiro wasn't really big on it either, though, so she just returned to gazing up at the sky. They walked for a while in companionable silence, with her sneaking a glance every so often at him. She admired how confidently he walked, the calm expression on his face. He seemed older than he had; he'd obviously grown in the years since she'd seen him, which was odd, because she'd gotten the impression that it took those from Soul Society many hundreds of years to grow. She shrugged it off. Finally, after a while of walking, she began to speak again.

"How's Matsumoto-san been?" she asked him.

He allowed a small chuckle to escape his lips. "Just the same as ever," he replied. "Although Gin's death shook her, she's starting to return to her normal self. It's... refreshing," he admitted. "I never thought I'd miss her small annoyances, but when they were gone, I couldn't help but... expect them. Especially since... they were better than seeing her so down."

Karin nodded. "Yeah... it really takes a toll, when someone you care about dies," she said. "Our family was almost split in half when Mom died... dad never really did get over it. But then... maybe that's to be expected. He did give up everything for her, after all, even if he is a bit of a freak."

Hitsugaya just turned away, not answering, except for a small, "Yes..."

She gave him an odd look. She couldn't shake the feeling that she was missing something. "Is everything okay?" she asked him.

He looked at her and smiled; it wasn't an expression his face was used to, but she liked it when he smiled. "O-of course. There's... just a lot on my mind."

"I can understand that, you being a captain and all," was her response. She looked up at the sky, and chuckled. "I remember when I was convinced you were in grade school."

His eye twitched, and she laughed out loud. He sighed and shook his head. "At least your brother never got wind of that... I can't get any respect from him, anyway; if he'd heard about that, I'd never get anything at all."

She laughed again. "I dunno. Ichi-nii may be a jerk sometimes but I don't think he's that bad. Then again, maybe I'm biased; he is my brother after all. I wonder how he's doing..."

She didn't mention that she'd asked him about Toushiro when he'd gotten back. He'd teased her a bit, but not too much. "Will he be at Urahara's?" she finished, finally.

"Y... yes," Toushiro said, reluctantly. "He will. But... Karin..."

"Yeah?" she asked, giving him another strange look. What was up?

"Er... nothing," he replied. "Nevermind."

They turned onto a busy street, then, and she noticed cop cars hanging around. "Huh. Must've been an accident," she commented. There was a store window, with TVs showing news of the crash, but as she stopped to look at one, Toushiro took her hand.

"We should probably hurry," he told her, and she nodded, looking back at the TV. As they passed through the crowds of spectators,no one even semed to notice them. Not surprising for Toushiro; he was in his natural soul state, so the humans couldn't even see him, but she wondered why no one commented as she shoved past them. She caught a glance at the two cars that had been involved, but she didn't get a good look at them. Funny... one of them seemed like the same model as her car, the one she'd finally bought on her eighteenth birthday after officially obtaining her license. She was glad she hadn't been the one riding in it, especially since she noticed the several fire trucks and ambulances at the scene as they passed.

Finally, they were clear of the accident, and turned to a more deserted road. She could see Urahara's shop ahead, and Toushiro stopped.

"Karin..." he began. "Before we go in, there's... something I have to tell you. Something... important." He looked away, wouldn't meet her gaze.

"Yes?" she asked him.

"It's... it's complicated. But please... hear me out." He took a deep breath.

"When I was very young, much younger even than when I met you, I had a friend named Momo Hinamori. She was a student at the Shinigami academy, and I... I cared about her, very much. We were best of friends... maybe even more."

She looked down at the ground. Why was he telling her this? Still, she followed his request, and listened.

"I eventually followed her into the Academy, and then, much later, became captain of the Tenth Division of the Gotei 13; she was assigned to Fifth Division. She became Lieutenant of that division. I don't think I need to say who her Captain was."

He didn't; Karin knew enough from Ichigo to know which divisions the traitors had belonged to. Toushiro just continued.

"That man... he made her his, and then, when he faked his death, placed the blame on me, before almost killing her himself. At that moment... everything between us... was over." His voice was filled with anguish; Karin placed a hand on his shoulder to comfort him. He took that hand in his and still, he continued.

"I became involved in the hunt for Aizen, and the race to destroy him. And while Kurosaki Ichigo was away, I was sent to the world of the living, and there I met... you." He looked downwards. "In many ways, you reminded me of Momo, but... at the same time, you were so much more your own person. So independent; so strong, like your brother, but in... in your own way."

He seemed to be having a hard time saying the words, and he would not meet her eyes.

"I... in the few times I met you, I found myself coming to admire you, more and more, for that strength. More than I had ever admired Momo. Karin, I..." He swallowed. "I came to... to care for you. Maybe even... love you."

Her heart leaped into her throat. She couldn't believe that he was saying it, those words she had always dreamed of. She wondered if she was dreaming now; it seemed like a dream. She had always buried the things she felt after meting him again, putting them down to a girlish crush or hero worship. She had never imagined the words would come from him... but now, it was the most perfect thing for him to say. Still, she had to know.

"Why are you telling me this now?" she asked, confused. "I... I don't want to sound like I'm rejecting you... it's just... I have to know, Toushiro; after all these years, why now?"

Pain filled up his eyes, and his hand squeezed hers tightly, as though he never wanted to let go.

"Because... now was the only time I could. I couldn't abandon my duties and my men to come live with you in the human world, not like your father did. And I couldn't ask you to leave your own life to come with me. Now, though... you're free. I could come to you, and bring you back. Because... you're free now."

The words were said with such a bittersweet tone that she knew there was a meaning that she was missing. "What do you mean, I'm 'free'?" she asked.

"I... I mean..."

It was as if he couldn't bring himself to say it, but he didn't have to; two figures had exited the shop. One was dressed in green, wearing geta and a striped hat; the other was a figure she knew very well, with spiky orange hair and brown eyes. But something was wrong with her brother's face; there were tearstains on his cheeks, and those eyes, usually ferocious or gruff or confident, were filled with sadness.

"Ichi-nii?" she asked, worried, and the other man, the one in green, shook his head.

"Karin... there really is no 'good' way to say it. What Captain Hitsugaya means is..."

Ichigo cut him off. "Karin..." He took her by the shoulders, and it felt almost strange to have him touch her, as if he was too solid, too real, and she weren't quite there. "Karin, there was a car crash this morning. There..." Tears began to fall down his face again. "There were no survivors."

"We passed it on our way," she replied, beginning to be frightened. "What does it have to do with me?"

Calmly, Urahara pulled a mirror from his coat, and she took an involuntary step back at the sight of her reflection.

Hanging from her chest was what looked like a heavy chain, and she shook her head, touching for the first time what she suddenly realized her brain had known was there all along but was refusing to accept. She flashed back to the incident...

She'd been tired and not paying attention after her long shift, but she didn't really think it mattered because the roads were nearly empty at this time of day. That's why she didn't notice the little boy with his soccer ball that she'd been chuckling over had run out into the street. She swerved and lost control; she weaved into the other lane. The other driver couldn't stop in time - neither could she. The little boy hadn't been hit, but another car had hit her before she knew what happened. She'd felt something crushing her, and a pain as her head rammed into the steering wheel. Then, she'd felt absolutely nothing...

"I... I'm... dead?" she asked, almost disbelieving, but, in a way, almost relieved. Ichi-nii nodded, and Toushiro turned her to face him.

"The other Captains felt that you should have an escort into Soul Society because of how much your family has done for us. And... I volunteered to come, because I wanted to be the one to welcome you. I came to the human world... for you, Karin."

She looked up into his eyes, and felt the tears start to flow from her own eyes. "Really?" she asked, for once not caring about whether she looked weak with those tears coming down her face. "You came for me?"

He nodded. "I came for you," he affirmed.

She turned to Ichigo. "Is that okay?" she asked, almost worried.

He chuckled, having to wipe tears away. "My little sis could do worse than a Captain of Soul Society."

She turned back to Toushiro. "Thank you," she said. "I'd be glad... to go with you."

"It will be a hard road," he warned. "Not just the journey to Soul Society, but the one that comes after."

She nodded. "I know. I'm ready. I've never been one to shy away from danger."

He chuckled. "No, I don't suppose you have." He turned to the others, her hand still in his. "I'm assuming we'll see you again?" he asked dryly.

"Of course!" Ichigo promised, crossing his arms. "I'm still a big brother after all's said and done. You take care of her, Toushiro!"

"That's Captain Hitsugaya to you," he replied, but there was a tone of humor in his voice, and he continued, "and I swear that I will keep her safe."

"Good," Ichigo replied with a grin, "or I swear that I'll come kick your ass myself."

She rolled her eyes. "I can take care of myself," she protested, but her own voice held the same humor. "I'll see you later, Ichi-nii."

"Later," he replied. "Have a good trip!"

She turned to Toushiro, who gave her a hug, then drew his sword.

"I'll perform the K├┤nso now," he said. "I can't come with you... but I'll be waiting for you on the other side."

She grinned and crossed her arms. "Bring it," she said, and he smiled. Raising his sword, the pommel began to glow, and he stamped the seal onto her forehead. Her defiant expression gave way to a peaceful smile as her image faded, and he watched the Hell Butterfly carry her soul up to Soul Society, before turning and opening the Senkaimon and stepping through, ready to welcome the one who he had found to be worth waiting for to her new home.

-Fin-

A/N: This fic came about from a comment about my last HitsuKari fic made by DWR, and when Hitsu tells Karin, "I came for you." This was my interpretation of what he meant. Thanks, Angel.