Hopefully, if I wrote this correctly, this chapter has no specific POV, instead explaining both of their feelings at different times. And then, near the end, just both of them together.

Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or any of its characters.

She looks at him with shame on her face as his eyes narrow at her request.

"You want to talk?" he asks, incredulous. She reluctantly meets his eyes.

"Yeah. I...decided I, uh, made you wait long enough."

"How...thoughtful of you," he says bitterly, and has trouble keeping the hint of a sneer from his voice. She cringes as she hears it, but continues bravely.

"Do you want to sit?" she asks, patting the spot next to hers on his couch invitingly.

"It's my dorm. If I wanted to sit, I would."

A grimace impairs her face as she eyes his unchanging rigid posture, and she stops her patting, placing her hands in her lap a little uselessly. After a stretch of silence, she finally sighs, her shoulders dropping from the action.

"Fine, then. I wanted to talk to you about what you said at the graveyard. About how you..."

"How I like you?" His voice rings clearly in the otherwise soundless room, and he notices the way she jumps, wondering whether it's because of the sound, or the words. She nods with effort.

"Yeah. Did you...did you mean it?"

It is a useless question, just like the ones she had asked back at the grave site. Except this time, he does not bother answering it, and she does not bother asking again. Both know full well that he is not the type to kid about things, especially things as serious as this conversation.

"Stop stalling, Karin," he says, a little more roughly than he had intended. She does not look up, staring determinedly at her hands in her lap, her eyes narrowed.

'Damn it,' she thinks. 'And after I came so ready to confront him.'

He sees her curl her hands into fists in her lap, her shoulders hunching as her face puckers. It looks like she is scolding herself in her head. And after all that has happened, after all the grief and doubt and self loathing she has caused him from running away, he still wants to reach out and hold her, to comfort her and tell her that she need not answer as long as that is what makes her happy, as long as she not make that face of total despair in his presence...or ever.

He tightens the cross of his arms, digging his fingernails into his biceps in an attempt to prevent himself from doing just that.

'No!' he commands himself. 'I'm sorry, Karin, but I've already made my move. Now, it's your turn.'

And so he waits for her to pull herself together. After a few deep breaths, she finally looks up.

"Okay, so you meant it," she finally continues, and her voice is impressively more even than he had expected. "I knew that. But...I still don't know if I can accept it."

She eyes him expectantly, but he does not say anything, nor does his facial expression change. It unnerves her, because she does not want to be the only one contributing to this talk, mostly because she is not good with her feelings. But she knows that he has already said all that he needs to, and that it is her turn to deal with her feelings and his confession. Gulping slightly, she continues, looking at him but not really seeing him – it helps.

"Ever since Shiro died, I haven't so much as looked at other men. I realize some people might find it weird since it's been a year, but we were so close and...Well, I just haven't really thought about dating in a while. He was my first, and it hurt so much when – I knew from the beginning that he would die. I mean, he was always in the hospital, but I guess I never really thought about what would happen if he did. And I thought that you and I were on the same page..."

He watches sympathetically as she seems to stumbles over words, having troubles finding the right one. She looks nervous and slightly irritated as her lips fumble and she changes her mind constantly about what to discuss. She really is a mess right now, so different from before. The Kurosaki Karin he had known might have been bad at revealing her emotions, but she also didn't mince words. This one cannot do either.

"I thought we were friends," she attempts to continue. "I mean, you never even gave any signs that – how was I supposed to know – I really didn't expect your...confession. To me, it came out of nowhere, and maybe that's why I ran away that day. I really am sorry, but I've been thinking about it every day. I talked to Rukia-nee this morning, and I thought I had things figured out when I came here. But, maybe..."

She trails off, looking at him hopefully. He still does not say anything and she almost groans at his lack of responses. She really is on her own. Well, she has her explanation out of the way, so she thinks that maybe she can get through this.

"Okay, I was thinking about how things might be if we dated, and really...I don't think it would be a bad thing. But, there's still Shiro to think about. Kami, I wish you two weren't bothers – it would make this easier. It's just that, I can't let go of him just yet. At least, I don't think so. I've been trying to, you know I have, but I just can't. It always feels like if I look at or think of another man like the way I used to look at or think about him..."

She looks at him almost pleadingly.

"Please, Toushiro," she moans quietly, staring at him intently and wanting him to follow her train of thought. "You have to understand. How can I forget Shiro so easily? He was only just here, and you...you want me to just forget him? To leave him for another man?"

Her voice gets shriller and higher with each word, almost bordering on hysteria as she thinks about the implications of her words. He can't expect that of her. He can't!

"Don't you see? I loved him. I could never be with another man without feeling disgusted with myself, without somehow feeling like I'm...like I'm cheating on him."

Her face twists in silent horror at this last statement, and she closes her eyes in despair, willing herself to calm her emotions.

"Karin," he finally speaks, and his voice is so firm that she snaps her eyes open to look at him. However, she recoils at the glare on his face. "Stop kidding yourself," he hisses. "You have to accept the fact that Shiro-nii is dead."

She swallows loudly at his words, staring at him transfixed with her mouth slightly parted. Seeing the reaction she is having, he forces himself to stay collected, to be the calm one in the situation for her, to keep the nausea down he is feeling from the harsh admittance he has just made.

"What was all that counseling for?" he continues when he is sure he has a strong grip on his voice and can keep it even. "Every day, do you remember? You were in Kuchiki's office for an hour every day. Was that all a waste? It's been over a year, and he's gone – he's not coming back miraculously, so move on."

That is all he thinks he can say without his voice wavering, so he stops, breathing deeply through his nose and watching her carefully. He watches as the look of horror on her face twists, changing to defiance, to determination, and when she finally glowers at him, there is a furious fire blazing in her eyes, a fire he has not seen for a long time.

"Don't be such a hypocrite, Toushiro," she spits out harshly. "You're so full of shit! I wasn't the only one in that counselor's office. You were pining away for Shiro, too. And don't even pretend that you're still not moping! Why should you expect me to move on when you clearly haven't either?!"

The air rings with her accusal, a tension left hanging in the room. She is still scowling at him, still staring at him with that opposing gaze, as if daring him to rebuke her charges.

His answering approach takes her aback. He finally uncrosses his arms, letting them hang at his sides as he pushes away from the doorway, sighing. She watches defensively as he strides across the room, leaning away as he seats himself beside her on the couch, though he makes no move to come closer or touch her. There is no anger in his expression, only a cool look of resignation, as he turns to face her.

"Have to spell out everything for this woman," she hears him mutter, and is about to retort when he beats her to the punch. "Don't you see, Karin? I've been battling with my feelings for you for a year now. Me confessing to you, finally not feeling guilty about myself, only means that I have moved on, have accepted that he's not...coming back."

She stares at him with a gaping mouth, and when she finally speaks, it seems only one thing really registered in her mind.

"A year?" she squeaks out. He rolls his eyes – she would be the kind of girl to let the emotional words fly straight over her head. But she is watching him so intently that even he can't help but blush slightly, though he nods firmly.

"Yes, a year. Don't you think that after that long, finally telling you means I'm coping?"

"W-well, I, uh, suppose..." He sees the brief panic flash through her expression when she realizes one of her defenses has just crumbled. Though he knows he shouldn't be pleased, he cannot help but feel satisfied with himself – this surely means that she is one step closer to acceptance, and maybe even one step closer to him.

"Anything else?" he asks, and he is almost teasing now that the conversation has turned just the slightest bit in his favor.

She notices the tone, but decides not to call him out on it, instead focusing on desperately remembering her other many reasons for wanting to deny his feelings towards her. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she feels relief at the knowledge that he is moving on, however slightly. After all, he has been just as torn up about Shiro's death as her, and surely if he can move on, she can too, and stop feeling all this pain at the mere thought of him. But for now, she pushes the idea away, too focused on the dilemma present beside her on the couch, smirking.

"I-I don't think I could ever be with you without comparing you to Shiro," she grapples with her new argument. "A relationship wouldn't do either us a favor, Hitsugaya. I would only ever feel like I was trying to replace Shiro with you, and I could never be with you thinking that. You two are too alike."

He is no longer smirking, but he does look to be in disbelief. He only gazes at her in incredulity at the question, shaking his head.

"Look at me, Karin," he demands, and when she refuses to turn her head, he grabs her chin, and forcefully turns her head for her. "Look at me properly – maybe for the first time – and tell me again that we're the same."

And with the truth right there in front of her, she can hardly deny it. Her eyes rove over his face slowly, taking in each feature, and she observes features that are distinctly Toushiro, small differences from Shiro. The lack of laugh lines pops out at her, once again reminding her of the hardships he has been through because of so many others rejecting him, which she knows are the reason for her next observations – deeply set eyebrows that seem to be permanently fixed in a downward position, and a straight mouth that gives one the impression that the corners have never lifted into a smile.

This is truly a man that has been deprived of tender love throughout his life, except from the one person who is now gone. The rest of his family might have once been another solace, but she knows by now that he keeps many secrets from his parents, not wanting to badger them with his own problems, or out of fear of them seeing him as the inferior son. When one truly looks at him closely, as she has done, there is no doubt that he needs someone in his life to show him the care and affection he has lacked but deserves.

But she can hardly think of herself as that person. She keeps her own emotions bottled up whenever possible, so how could she be able to express passionate feelings for him? And with her mind and heart so frenzied right now, she is not even close to being up to the challenge.

'Ah, but Toushiro doesn't expect that of you,' a nasty little voice in her head betrays her. 'Not now, at least.'

And she knows this, too. He has never once told her that he expects her to change for him, to be someone she's not in order to act like a "properly" affectionate girlfriend. Besides expressing his infatuation, he has never glorified their feelings or characters, nor has he expressed a desire to be showered with tender emotions. He just wants her, as she is, as she always has been. But is she really enough?

She jerks away her chin from his hold, pulling him away from his amused gaze on her face, which had been making so many interesting expressions.

"Say...that we do go out," she begins, and he pulls back in surprise. Whatever she had been thinking, he had not thought anything similar to this had been in her head. "What exactly does that mean? I mean, what do you expect from me?"

To her surprise, he chuckles.

"I'm not expecting anything," he replies. "I just want you to be yourself."

"But what if I'm not good enough?" He hears the fear hidden beneath her questioning tone, and realizes this is her real concern. She has already lost a love once, and he has seen the pain and turmoil it has caused her over the months. She is afraid of getting close to another, and losing them too. He understands. He himself had felt that way towards her for a short time, afraid of losing her because of the way he is, so detached and unemotional. But it had been fear that had partly prompted him to confess – fear that he might lose her to another someday, should she move on suddenly and leave him behind.

Well, since he has already made it through this hurdle, he sees it as his job to help her through hers. So, he grits his teeth, biting back his embarrassment to say words that will make her feel better.

"You are enough. If I've told you that you're who I want, then there shouldn't be any question of that."

Even she cannot help but flush at his intensely burning eyes and his sentimental words, no matter how short his answer. She looks away, mumbling incoherent words, though he manages to catch "corny."

Scratching the back of his head, he coughs into the side of a fist awkwardly. There goes another argument down the drain.

"Is there anything else?" She instantly sobers up and looks over at him seriously, biting her lip in the process.

"...What will people think when they hear about this..us?" Her heart falls slightly as she notices his eyes gaze at her with disappointment, and a little bit of disapproval.

"That's weak," he says, and has the gall to actually shake his head. "I think we both know that you're just grasping at straws here, Karin. I've broken through all of your excuses, haven't I? You're just desperately looking for an escape route now, because you're scared of returning my feelings." When she doesn't answer, he just sighs, knowing she actually wants an answer to her ridiculous question. "Fine, be stubborn. But I'm not the kind to care about what others think of me. And this argument is weak because we both know that you're not the kind, either."

She nods in defeat, accepting his answer because he has only just repeated what the two of them have known this entire time. Though this has only just been put into words, she has known it too, and has tried to avoid it, which is why the revelation is not shocking at all: she is scared.

It's the truth. She's scared of what Shiro would think of her, was he here now, for switching partners so easily, to his younger brother no less. She's terrified of doing anything that would have ever gained his disapproval, ever hurt his feelings, ever changed his tender feelings for her. And the last one is the hardest to think of because, really, she will always love him, no matter how many more men come her way in the future.

But she knows that she needn't worry with Toushiro. He loves Shiro as much as she does, and actually admires her dedication to him. It is absolutely absurd to think that a male such as him exists, one willing to stand aside for so long while the woman he likes pines away for another. And yet, here he is, living proof.

"You know that I can never forget him," she states flatly, watching him carefully for his reaction. It is not a calculating or opposing gaze – she really just wants to hear what he has to say in reply. "Not completely. Can you live with that?"

And he gives her the most wonderful and correct answer he could have.

"I wouldn't expect you to," he assures her. "And really, I wouldn't want you to. I want the memory of my brother to live on in as many people as possible, rather than for him to be forgotten in even a year from now."

"You really wouldn't mind?" She eyes him shrewdly, disbelieving.

"Not if it gives me a chance."

"That's" – she sighs heavily "– noble of you."

He grimaces.

"Um, thanks. Does this help with any of your worries?"

She clears her throat.

"Actually, yes." She looks over at him, smiling gratefully, though it turns brittle at the ends after a moment. She runs her fingers through her hair nervously "I can't...give you an answer right now, Toush. I'm sorry, but I still need to think over everything, and decide carefully whether -"

"That's alright," he assures her, hurriedly. "Take your time."

Another grateful smile graces her features, and she places a hand over his, squeezing it tightly.

"Thank you."

The two stand at the same time, stretching a little awkwardly after their serious exchange of words. As she yanks at the sleeves of her shirt to smooth out imaginary wrinkles in order to keep busy, he strides over to the door, pressing his ear against it.

"I don't think there's anyone there," he says hesitantly, his eyebrows creasing with concentration. "They're probably still looking for you in the wrong place."

She smirks as she saunters over to him.

"Don't worry. I'll be stealthy. They won't even know I'm here."

"Right. Because that worked so well the first time," he cannot help but say with sarcasm. She punches his shoulder before opening the door a smidgen and peering out cautiously.

"Hmm. The coast is clear. Perfect."

He rolls his eyes and gives her a little push.

"Just go already."

A small laugh escaped her lips, and she nods, yanking the door open wider and stepping out. She looks left and right before sighing with relief at the deserted hallways. Just before leaving, however, she turns to him one more time, last minute uncertainty on her face once again.

"Are you sure about this, Toush?" she asks, biting her lip and looking down, her hands clasped behind her back and her toe scuffing the ground. "I don't know how long this will take for me. I have so much shit to work out, so it's hardly fair that you have to -"

"I can wait," he assures her, although a little firmly. "I will wait."

And he does. It takes a long time; days pass by, then weeks, then months, and still he waits for her, determined to show her his commitment. There is no question of him even sparing a glance at any other girl, ever straying his loyal eyes from her, ever thinking so faithfully of anyone but her.

She slowly goes back to her old self, her energy returning, her liveliness once again spreading cheer around the room. It takes a long time too, and many times, she finds that she is burying herself in schoolwork once again, although subconsciously, as this is her fall back setting when it comes to emotions.

He is around to remind her not to overwork herself, as she has been doing for so long, and she gladly takes his advice. Instead, he swallows his pride and tags along on whatever adventure she wants to have with him. He watches from afar, giving her space, but always observing with his arms folded and his back leaning against a wall.

The first breakthrough is when she drags him to the first soccer game she has been to in a long time, having been lucky enough to come upon two tickets – which she makes him pay for, despite it being her idea. As he moodily sulks in his aisle seat about the noise and stench, she goes crazy in her seat beside his, screaming profanities at the opposing team and chomping down on stadium food.

The second breakthrough is when she sneaks into his dorm room once again. This time, she is smart and, instead of racing through the halls, she clambers in through a window – scaring the bejeebers out of him, he might add, when she playfully grabs his shoulders and cries, "Boo!"

After she gets past the laugh attack (on anyone else, the snorting would have been considered unattractive in his eyes, but on her it is decidedly...cute), she makes herself at home on his couch, kicking off her shoes and setting her feet on the coffee table.

"Let's play a video game," she suggests.

"I don't play those."

"Ever?" she asks, incredulously, and seems even more surprised when he shakes his head. "Wow, you really did have a horrible childhood, didn't you? Well, good thing I thought ahead."

And she smirks as she reaches for the backpack she had discarded by the windowsill soon after climbing in, and pulls out game after game.

"I don't have a game console, eith -"

His reminder is cut off when she begins pulling out one from her bulging backpack, the smirk more pronounced. Seeing no reason to decline now, he sighs as he seats himself next to her on the couch.

Well, he's not sighing half an hour later, when the two are engrossed in their game, having a blast.

"Come on, come on," his crush chants as she edges her character farther into a large, creepy building. "Augh, there it is! Die, zombie, die!"

He snorts as her character is mauled by undead creatures, and she loses a life despite her previously stated superiority over him in gaming.

"Noooo..." she groans.

"Don't worry," he reassures her, going as far as to pat her back. "I'll avenge you."

And instead of being grateful for his generous offer of assistance, she sends him a glare.

"Screw you, Toush! I'm hungry."

"What do those two statements have anything to do with each other?" he asks her, amused.

"Nothing. I was just letting you know that I'm hungry. Come on, let's go get something to eat – my treat."

And he can hardly deny a chance to be treated by her for a change. The two toss aside their controllers and head for the window.

"Shh," she says as they jump over the sill, placing a finger over her lips. "We have to be quiet."

"I know," he whispers, rolling his eyes. "I'm the one who lives here, remember?"

She punches his arm before grabbing his hand and pulling him along with her. He stares at her in surprise, but when he notices that her own expression has not changed, he deduces that she sees nothing strange in the action, or may have done so subconsciously.

'This is a good thing.' Even more surprising is that he feels no guilt as he squeezes back. It feels...right. 'Shiro-nii would understand, right? He always wanted the best for me.'

But he is pulled out of his self-reassurance from a loud cry.

"Crap, we've been spotted!" Karin cries, pointing to a group of students staring over at them. Their stomachs twist as they catch sight of familiar pink hair. "Let's go!"

And the two race, hand in hand, through the campus, as Szayel runs after them, a determined look on his face and threats of expulsion on his lips.

"Kami, Toush," she pants as they finally reach the front entrance and book it down the street. They reach a row of shops, and stop on an alleyway to catch their breath, relinquishing the hold on each other's hands to place them on their knees instead, and bend over. "This is all you fault for choosing such a shit-ass university to go to. For all this trouble, you're paying."

He had seen this coming; it is so like her to not even think of apologizing for causing him so much trouble from the school, but instead find some way to pin the pay onto him. And of course, he agrees, because she looks radiant with red dusted across her cheeks from all the running and her eyes twinkling from all the "fun."

The two are merry through their meal of ramen, and then he walks her to her family home, where the rest of her family is waiting, having promised each other an evening together. When he drops her off at the porch, she is clinging to his arm, suffering from the worst laugh attack he has ever seen, obviously from a joke at his expense. She can hardly stand upright and her vision is blurred from the tears in her eyes, so he is struggling with supporting her.

"Whoa, thanks, Toush," she gasps as she dabs at her eyes. "I'll see you around."

And just before heading inside, she ruffles his hair. He smirks at the nostalgic feel of the action, because she has not done it in a long time.

He nods curtly and is walking down her driveway when he catches sight of a movement in one of the windows. When he turns, he finds Kurosaki Isshin smiling over at him and, when the man notices he has been spotted, he sends him a thumbs-up sign before abandoning his post at the curtains. With a peculiar yet strangely satisfied smile, he walks back to his own dorm, already thinking up excuses to avoid getting kicked out for breaking rules.

Her family is unsure of the exact cause of her sudden change, but they know it has something to do with the white haired young man constantly at her side. He is instantly welcomed into their home, into their family, into their good graces. She appreciates it, knowing this will make their new, though strange, relationship easier for her.

His family is unsure at first. He knows he has to tell them the news, and she insists on being there, because this involves her too, even if nothing has been decided yet. It is difficult for him to admit his feelings; doing it to her had been painful enough, but he has never shared much with his own family members – aside from Shiro, of course.

Gin's sly smile stays on his face, but Rangiku is unsure of herself, and of them.

"Are you really sure about this?" she asks them, her eyes flitting from his determined face to hers. "I mean, Shiro..."

They flinch at the mention, but stay strong.

"I care about him," he says, and his brows furrow, "and I've felt awful about myself for a long time. But I care about her too, and so I'm not holding back any longer just because Shiro-nii noticed how wonderful she is before I did."

She looks at him in shock, unwilling to take her eyes off of him, but still turns to the flushed young woman seated beside him on the couch, seeking her answer.

"I still can't let go of him," she admits, "but it's been a year and a half, and I have to deal with the fact that he's...gone. Hitsugaya-san," she adopts a formal tone and name in light of the seriousness of the situation, and leans forward in her seat, "please don't feel as if I'm taking advantage of Toushiro because he reminds me of Shiro."

The young mother looks appalled at her words, but stays silent, listening to her explanation intently. She sighs.

"In my opinion, the two are completely different, but they're both special. I...haven't made any sort of decision yet. Toushiro's made his feelings clear, and we've talked about this, but I need time. I promise to you that if I ever seek any sort of relationship with him, it will be once I've completely let go of my past with your other son, and only then."

It is a surprise when Gin suddenly starts clapping softly, the smile on his face bigger than ever.

"Very well said, young miss," he compliments, and then turns to his wife, taking her hands into his own. "What kinda more proof do we need that she's sincere?"

And so, with his encouragement, they gain the approval of the Hitugaya family.

Though they had agreed that they wouldn't worry about what others would say or think about them, it feels as if heavy burdens are lifted off of their shoulders at such genuine encouragement from both sides. With no worries for the thoughts of others around them, the two delve, shyly and carefully, deeper into their relationship.

On Christmas Day, they exchange presents, both unsure of what the other's reaction will be to their carefully thought out and picked gifts, which took hours and hours of thinking and searching to find.

She gives him a small, embroidered handkerchief. The design is very disfigured, as she had made it herself after buying a sewing kit and a book teaching the craft, but that makes it all the more special.

"Just in case I'm not around the next time you decide to punch a tree," she explains with a grin.

On New Years, they meet at the open soccer field near her childhood home. It is crowded with anticipating spectators, but the two eventually manage to find a secluded spot. They sit back to back, her with her knees pulled to her chest, and him with his legs folded. They gaze up at the sky, as anxious as the others waiting not too far away. As the clock strikes twelve, a shimmer explodes loudly in the sky, soon followed by another, and then another. Suddenly, the whole sky is lit with colorful fireworks, bathing them with their beautiful light. They hear a loud cheer of 'Happy New Years!' rip through the air, and she cannot resist twisting her torso and ruffling his hair a bit, informing him that her resolution this year is to accomplish a great feat by annoying him twice as much as usual, and laughing at his groan.

On Valentines Day, she presents him with a small box of delicately wrapped chocolate.

"I tried to make some myself," she mumbles, embarrassed, and scuffing her toe in the ground and making circles, "but the stove almost blew up, so I had to buy some."

"Who the hell messes up melting a slab of chocolate in a pot?" he jokes, attempting to lighten the air, though he finds her embarrassment very endearing. "You just take off the wrapper and boil some water."

She throws the box at him ad storms off in a huff.

On White Day, he makes it up to her. Rather than presenting her with a humongous bouquet of roses she would have snorted at and called 'cheesy' before setting them somewhere to wilt over time, he knocks on her door – thankfully her university has no ridiculous rules about male guests – with a basket of bletted quinces hanging off of his arm. After she gets past the surprise, she only smiles slowly and allows him entry. After an awkward moment, during which her roommate plants a sly smile on her face and eyes them with raised eyebrows until she leaves to let them be alone, he gives her his present.

Confused, she leads him to her kitchen as he requests, and he takes her by the shoulders and makes her sit in a chair at the table. The rest of the day is spent with her watching in awe as he first peels, then boils, mashes and bakes each quince to his satisfaction. After a long day in the kitchen, he wipes the sweat off of his brow and presents her with jars of quince jelly and jam, and even some quince pudding. Delighted, she makes them some tea, and the two seat themselves closely on her couch to enjoy her white day present. It is lucky for him that she is a tomboy with a bottomless pit for a stomach – that makes it easier to win her over.

A surprise awaits him at the end of the day. He helps her set all the leftover jars away, and just as he is about to leave, she grabs his shirt from behind and yanks him back through the doorway, shoving a large box into his hand.

"Homemade chocolate," she explains, and in response to his wary glance at her, she mumbles, "I practiced making some every day. Yuzu says this one is good."

Clutching the box very closely to his chest, he puts a hand on her cheek. When she dares to look up, he takes a strand of hair hanging over her forehead and tucks it gently behind her ear. A tense moment passes between them then, and both are vaguely aware of the electricity sparking in the air. As he moves his hand back to cup her cheek, they both think for just that moment that he is going to kiss her. And indeed, acting on that impulse, he leans forward.

Seeing this, her breath catches in her throat, and she screws her eyes shut, awaiting the touch to her lips. But instead, he leans their noses together, nuzzling hers slightly before leaning away again. He finally drops his hand from her cheek and walks away quietly, leaving her standing in the doorway, shocked and strangely disappointed.

On the first day of spring, he asks her to spend a day with him, and the two wander quietly and comfortably through the park, enjoying the view of the cherry blossoms blooming on branches high above reach. The two wander side by side, getting just an inch closer from time to time, their fingertips brushing slightly every once in a while.

"Aw, what a cute couple!" someone squeals at them from not too far away.

The two keep their hands firmly in their pockets after that, refusing to make eye contact for a while, confused by these strange feelings stirring within them. It takes some time for them to finally loosen up near the end of their walk, but as they go back to their easy banter, they find comfort in the other once again. The troubles and implications of hand holding are all but forgotten, and the two take their time in finally exploring them, at a time and date when they feel they are ready.

And then one day, when the pain that used to stab her heart at the mere mention of her ex-boyfriend's name goes away, when the guilt that wrenched at him after merely gazing at her for too long vanishes, when the two can visit their beloved Shiro's grave site without avoiding their eyes and mumbling only a few words, they leave the graveyard with small, shy smiles playing on their faces and their hands clasped together, tightly and proudly.

Neither plans to let go for a long, long time.



The End.

So near the end, I kind of went in chronological order in progressing their relationship over time, if anyone noticed; Christmas, New Year's, Valentine's, White Day (March 14), First Day of Spring (March 20-23), and then Shiro's death anniversary again (which happens around the time they are about to graduate, so May-June). Anyway, I tried to make their relationship a little deeper with each event.

And, oh my gosh, I'm finally done! And I don't think five months is too bad. I wanted to have this up yesterday, because then it would have been exactly five months, but, obviously, I didn't. Anyway, onto the usual sappiness one expects at the end of a story: thank you so, so much for sticking with me until the end, guys! I know the whole Jyuushiro x Karin relationship was unexpected, but I'm glad you gave this a chance. You guys are so sweet for alerting, favoriting (is that even a word?), and reviewing! Truly, I couldn't have done this without your support :D