A/N: Okay, so I shouldn't start another one when I haven't updated Pedestal in a while, but...who really cares. I can't get this one off my mind, so here it is.

This is set six years after the war with Aizen, and goes AU from the end of the war. That means Ichigo never gets his powers back, and nothing that happens after the war will be represented in this story.

Happy New Year! And please review...

Planning For Contingencies

Chapter One: Not Now

She hadn't been fast enough. The Hollow's claws cut through her skin like it was butter, ripping a hole through her stomach. Karin gasped, holding her hands over the wound, trying uselessly to staunch the flow of blood. In shock, too weak to move, she closed her eyes, waiting for the final blow that would end her life, take her soul.

It didn't come. Instead, she shivered with a sudden chill in the air. A tiny sliver of ice twinkled as it melted on her arm, and she looked up just in time to see the hollow, frozen in a block of ice, crumble apart and dissolve into nothingness.

"Damned nuisance," a deep, vaguely familiar voice complained.

"Tou—," she began, then coughed. She could feel liquid filling her lungs, and it was getting harder to breathe. "Toushirou."

He turned around, and those incredible blue-green eyes went wide with shock. "Kurosaki Karin!"

He was by her side in minutes, holding his haori over the gaping hole in her stomach and pressing down, hard. He mumbled a few words and a green light enveloped her, attempted to heal her.

She shook her head. It didn't really hurt any more. Everything was starting to get those fuzzy edges around it, like she was watching an old movie or looking through a frosted window.

"There's too much damage," she heard him say through her daze. "Hold on, Karin, I'm going to take you to Inoue."

He scooped her up in his arms, and she screamed as the movement jarred her wound.

"Shit," he cursed, starting to gently set her back down. "I'll have to bring her to you. You have to hold on!"

"D-don't," she whispered, grabbing his sleeve. "Don't leave, Toushirou! I don't want to die alone!"

"Shhh. You're not going to die!"

She coughed again, almost choking on her own blood. "Just because you say it doesn't make it true." She tugged on his arm, bringing him back to her. His eyes studied hers for a minute, and he conceded. He laid her head in his lap, and she intertwined their fingers. She'd always wanted to be this close to him.

"I was too late," he said, regret in his eyes. "I should have been faster. I should have gotten here sooner. I'm sorry, Karin."

She rolled her eyes. "You're not God, Toushirou, no matter how strong you are. You saved me from having my soul eaten by a hollow, you're going to be here to send me to soul society so it doesn't happen again, what more do you want?" She paused. "How do you look the same, by the way? It's been six years!"

He seemed to understand her need to talk about something else. "I'm not human, remember? You've grown, though."

Karin blushed. Even though he hadn't said it suggestively and her life's blood was flowing out of her as they spoke, she was still all too aware of his hand on her stomach, only inches away from her newly developed bust. Not that she was going to have a chance to take advantage of it.

They lapsed into silence for a few moments. Her body was becoming more and more numb, her breathing more and more labored. His strong fingers gripped hers, letting her know he was there, that he wasn't going to let go. "Toushirou?"

"Hmm?" he asked, idly stroking her palm.

"Is soul society a nice place?"

"It can be," he said after a moment. "But it can also be a scary place. It's not heaven, Karin. And there are plenty of bad people there who didn't do anything horrible enough to end up in hell."

"Oh." Well, at least he hadn't lied. "You should have lied."

"It's going to be ok—"

"I'm not going to make it, Toushirou. I'm dying!" she hissed, coughing again.

"I know."

"Oh. Then, what—"

"After . . . that . . . happens, I'm going to perform a konso on you. That's how you'll get to soul society." He gave up on stopping the blood flow, moving his free hand to brush her hair out of her face instead.

"Okay," she whispered, leaning into his touch.

"I have no idea where you'll appear. Wherever you do, just start walking. Walk to the lowest number district you can get to. If you're in a district over twenty, don't trust anyone, don't talk to anyone, and don't stop to rest. Just keep walking. Do you understand?"

She nodded, but his voice was starting to sound all distorted and far away.

"Once you get to the first district, you'll see the gates around the Seireitei. Now, this is very important. Make sure you approach the Seireitei from the west side! You need to get to the west gate, and to Jidanbou, the west gate keeper. Tell him your name, and tell him you're a friend of mine. Ask him to pass a message to me. Got it?"

"Hmmm?" His voice was so soothing. She was cold.

"Karin! You have to—"

"Just shut up and hold me," she whispered, snuggling deeper into his arms.

Then everything went dark.

Toushirou felt it when her soul left her body, would have known even if her soul form hadn't tapped him on the arm.

"Man, this is weird," she said, looking down at herself.

He turned her so she wasn't facing her own body, wrapped her in his arms. "I'm sorry, Karin. I better send you to soul society now."

"You have to tell Ichi-nii for me," she demanded, crossing her arms. "I know you guys have a way so that people can see you when they usually can't. You have to go to him. You can't just let him find my body."

Toushirou rolled his eyes. Like he hadn't been planning to already? "I will. Now, listen. You have to remember what I said. Stay out of the high-numbered districts, approach the Seireitei from the west side, give a message to Jidanbou. We'll be looking for you, but we could look for a hundred years and not find you. You have to find us, okay!" He gave her shoulders a little shake.

She glanced at him, dazed. "I-I'm dead."

"Karin! Did you hear me? Do you understand?"

"Y-yeah, geez, I understand. This is too weird, can I just go now?"

Toushirou nodded. Pulling out Hyourinmaru, he placed the butt of the zanpaktou to her forehead and pressed. "Goodbye, Kurosaki Karin."

A hell butterfly appeared, and she was gone.

He wondered if she'd heard a word he'd said.

Toushirou paced back and forth outside the Kurosaki clinic. Should he knock on the door? Should he just go through Kurosaki's window, like he used to? He paced until the door opened and Kurosaki Ichigo smacked right into him.

"Sorry, I didn't see y—Toushirou!"

Toushirou felt his hackles rise, but he ignored them. This wasn't the time. "Kurosaki Ichigo," he said, greeting the orange-haired teen. "I need to speak with you."

"What are you doing here? And in a gigai!" His face flipped from excited to serious in an instant. "What's happened? Is Soul Society in trouble? Is it Rukia?"

Toushirou shook his head. "Let's go somewhere private, and I'll explain."

He followed the teen up to his room. It hadn't changed much, although he didn't see the annoying stuffed animal anywhere in sight. He wondered whether Rukia had taken it back to Soul Society. Or maybe it was with Urahara Kisuke.

"Well?" Kurosaki demanded, flopping down on his bed. "Tell me!"

Hitsugaya propped himself on the windowsill, his favorite position. Closing his eyes, he just blurted it out. "I just performed a konso on your sister. I'm sorry, Kurosaki. She had a run-in with a hollow, and I didn't get there in time."

Ichigo started, but the smile didn't leave his face. "What? Yuzu's downstairs."




Ichigo's eyes went wide, like the thought that it could be her had never crossed his mind. "But . . . she can see them. She'd never . . . ." he trailed off. "Why didn't she run?"

Toushirou sighed. "There were children around. I think she was trying to protect them, even though she wasn't strong enough. She's your sister, after all."

Ichigo buried his face in a pillow. "I think I need to be alone right now," he mumbled, voice breaking at the end.

Toushirou started to step out of the window. He paused. "I'm going to find her, Kurosaki. I promise."

"Don't make promises you can't keep, Toushirou."

"I never do."