Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or any of its characters. Nor do I own Barbie. (But I changed that darn summary again).

He should have been there, he tells himself over and over again.

It's not his fault, she tells him over and over again.

But despite the desperateness laced in her words, he cannot let himself believe her. Rukia does not understand the regret he feels about what he has done.

Because he knows the truth. If he had actually cared for his family, enough to actually return home every once in a while, he could have prevented this.

But he is too late, and when he finally does return – expecting a kick to the head by his father, a sarcastic remark from his dark haired baby sister, and a welcoming one from her twin – he finds an empty house that looks as if it has not been lived in for a long, long time.

He heads straight to Urahara's. The shopkeeper allows him entry with his usual playful smile, so he knows something terrible has happened when that smile drops just when he asks for the whereabouts of his family.

.. ღ ..

There is an Arrancar attack late in the night. His father, caught off guard, is slain instantly. His sisters, hearing the commotion, rush to him and meet their doom at the age of sixteen.

Yuzu cannot see the attacker, and although Karin tries her best to protect her, her best is not enough. She watches her younger-by-three-minutes sister get murdered before her eyes. That, coupled with the sight of her father's mangled body, drives her to insanity.

The Shinigami stationed in the town arrives just then. He is very late, but has come just in time to save the Substitute Soul Reaper's last remaining family member.

Ishida Uryuu, who is one of the first on the scene, takes her to his father's hospital. She is admitted full-time after her condition is deemed dangerous to her safety.

.. ღ ..

He gulps in the cool morning air in order to calm himself down.

Inside, the nurse leads him to his sister's room. His throat constricts as he takes in the sight of her.

She is a beautiful young woman now, and she does not even realize it. Although her skin is white and glowing, her raven hair, which has grown to her shoulders, seems very unkempt. The nurse explains that she does not allow anyone near enough for them to tame it.

She is play feeding a small toy doll.

He meets with her doctors and psychiatrists, who try their best at explaining the situation delicately. He thinks this is not because the situation itself is delicate, but because his orange hair makes him seem a delinquent and they are afraid of upsetting him. A long time ago, this would have bothered him. But now, he is too afraid for his sister.

She has psychological trauma. Her young mind cannot handle the events that took place six months prior, when her family was shattered, and has receded into the depths of her brain's protection. In it's place, her mind's defense mechanism has brought her back to a time it deems "safe"; when her family was whole and happy, her mother was still alive, and they did not have to try so hard to hold themselves together.

She is sixteen years in body, but only four years in mind.

He feels tears come to his eyes. This is a fate worse than death. She cannot take care of herself; she is practically handicapped. There is no telling how her mental state can be returned to normal, and so he is left to take care of her as her new legal guardian.

.. ღ ..

He brings her back to Soul Society.

Many of the Shinigami want to object, but they owe so much to this young man that they bite back their protests.

He keeps her with him in the fifth squad barracks. The men eye her but do not make a move for fear of upsetting her brother. It is the first time he has been thankful for the awkward respect his rank as captain brings him.

His old Karakura buddies offer their assistance. He is grateful for this but declines. He may have failed her in the living realm, but he promises to use his own strength to protect her in the afterlife. His friends accept his reasons and wish him the best. There is only one who does not seem satisfied with his declining.

The white-haired genius captain of the Tenth returns every day. While the carrot top looks over his squad, the midget spends his time with Karin, supervising her play and even joining her for less degrading activities, such as painting (although he chooses to use a paintbrush, as opposed to her decision to use her finger).

He would not have thought it too strange – he is well aware that his baby sister had had some sort of friendship with the ice captain since the age of twelve, although he does not know how it happened – but he learns from the Tenth's bubbly vice-captain that the chibi has been staying extra late every night for the past few weeks to catch up on the paperwork he abandons during the "playdates."

His protectiveness kicks in and, after dropping his sister off at the eleventh to play with their vice-captain one day, he makes his way to the Tenth squad captain's office.

When he confronts the figure sitting behind the desk, he does not expect to hear a love confession.

The icy captain's heart has been melted by his fiery baby sister, and ever since he has heard of her condition, he feels the same regret the strawberry does at not being able to protect her.

Although his brotherly instincts demand that he bankai the shorty's ass, his new paternal side, which has been born from his time of looking after his kid sister, reasons that he really will not find another man such as the one before him; a loyal and trustworthy man who will sincerely care for his sister.

He knows Karin reciprocates. He might not have been home a lot for these past few years, but even he has not missed the tenderness in his sister's eyes that always appeared when speaking of him, or her giddiness after spending the day with him.

He reminds the taichou that it will be tough. Because of her condition, she no longer remembers him as one of her closest friends, but he insists that he is up for the challenge, if only to stay by her side.

.. ღ ..

Years pass, and his other family members have not been found. He always stays on the lookout for their reiatsu, hoping to feel it one day and find them miraculously in the Rukongai, but cannot look for them because he has to care for his equivalent of a child as well as his captain's duties.

The relationship between his sister and her suitor grows. She can now instantly recognize him in a crowd and has taken to calling him "Shiwo-nii," courtesy of her newly reinstated lisp and despite his many protests.

Ichigo is not alone in finding this amusing.

The Tenth's residential alcoholic loves to tease about incest, while the other Shinigami captains poke fun at his inability to continue his protests because of the teary puppy-eyed look she adopts every time he adds strictness to his voice. Truthfully, they are all rooting for him to succeed in courting her someday, when she has been released from her mental state.

Even the Soutaichou and Captain Kyoraku are rooting for him, even though the latter has been rather upset ever since Nanao taught Karin to refer to him as "Captain Perwert," while the other captains are convinced that the former is very fond of Karin because of her tendency to refer to him as "Gwandpa."

However, it is a surprise when the prodigy announces that he cannot wait any longer.

One hot summer day, he marches to the Fifth squad's office and requests that he be given her brother's blessing to wed her immediately. He does not care that there is a high chance he will spend the rest of eternity with a four year old wife who will never see him as a man as long as he is assured that she will truly be his forever.

Ichigo ponders this proposal for days but, after analyzing the depth of both Toushiro's feelings and the depth of the feelings Karin had held before her condition, he finally agrees.

The two are engaged, but only long enough for everyone to pitch in and finally convince Karin to stop referring to her fiancé as "Shiwo-nii." Once that task has been accomplished, the two are immediately married.

The ceremony is short and unusual. There is no kiss at the end, as that would be inappropriate with Karin's state, and there is no ring presented to the bride because Karin hates jewelry, and because a four year old cannot be trusted to not swallow such a small item.

They become husband and wife in name only. There are no passionate nights, no loving kisses, no romantic dates. Their relationship remains the same as it has been ever since her arrival in Soul Society.

She resides in the Fifth squad, as she always has. He still visits her everyday but always returns to his quarters in the Tenth by nightfall.

There is only one change in their relationship. Every evening, they will seat themselves in the gardens of the Fifth, and he will gently comb her hair as she sits still and allows it. It is enough to convince him that he has her trust and that, unconsciously, her old self still loves him.

.. ღ ..

"Shiwo!" he hears his wife's call, and he feels his lips quirk upwards as he turns to watch her run to him across the Tenth courtyard. It is time for their usual time together, and she has decided to come to his division.

She is wearing a light pink dress, which features puffy sleeves and very uncomfortable looking fabric, although she looks at home in it. Her hair is tied in two childish pigtails. He thinks she looks beautiful.

It surprises him to learn that, once upon a time, she was as girly as they come.

As she catches up, she throws her arms around him to pull him into an affectionate hug. He feels very embarrassed as his face is forcibly buried into her bosom, courtesy of the height difference between them that means he is shorter than his own wife, but cannot deny that he is enjoying himself. He might feel irritated when Matsumoto pulls him into the same suffocating embraces, but it is a completely different experience with the woman he loves.

It surprises him to learn that, once upon a time, she was as overly adoring and loving as her own father.

He pulls away from the hug, determined not to become crass towards a four year old, but his spouse does not appreciate the action. Her face scrunches up, and he is horrified to see the tears forming.

It surprises him to learn that, once upon a time, she was not afraid to cry.

A little guiltily, he decides that he appreciates her current mental state because it has caused her to open up to him, and he loves her that much more for it.

"Shiwo," she sniffles as her lower lip pouts outwards. "Hwug?"

Next, she simply holds out her arms, and he immediately steps back into her waiting embrace, taking the torture determinedly, if only to stop her tears. Secretly, he finds her crying face adorable.

He wonders if that makes him a sadist.

.. ღ ..

It happens one day while the two are walking through the streets of Rukongai. She tells him earlier in the day that she is bored with her toys, and he immediately offers to buy her a new one (truthfully, he will buy her the whole store if she asks, but even young Karin hates depending too much on others, so one is enough for her).

They are heading for the one toy store he always used to gaze at longingly during his life in the 1st District when they see her.

The young brown-haired Kurosaki sister passes by, looking as sixteen as the night she died and holding hands with a young male who looks her age. The two are laughing and have not noticed the raven haired woman gaping at them.

The shock is too much for his wife. She is not prepared for the sight of her beloved sister, who has driven her to insanity in the first place.

Clutching her head, she crouches down in the street and lets out a earsplitting shriek. Her body trembles as she continues to scream, louder and louder with each breath she takes.

He is afraid to touch her – she looks so fragile – but he still takes her into his arms (forcefully, because she is thrashing wildly, still clutching her head in pain) and scoops her up.

With one last look at the people in the streets, he realizes his sister-in-law is staring at them, terrified of her forgotten sister and the scene she is making, before he uses shunpo to carry his wife to the Fourth.

.. ღ ..

She awakens in a slightly familiar place. She feels as if she has been here in the past and is simply having trouble remembering.

Looking down at herself, she notices she is dressed in a light pink sweater with a picture of a lilac unicorn printed on it. Despite her disgust, she cannot shake the feeling that she chose to put it on this morning.

Observing the room around her, a few things pop out at her; the large bouquet resting on the bedside table next to her bed, the large number of smashed items on the floor, the white haired boy seated in a chair across the room, staring back at her earnestly -

Her yelp is cut off as she realizes she knows this boy.

"T-Toshiro..." Her voice is hoarse and feels as if she has not used it in days. She clears her throat and tries speaking again. "Where am I?"

A grim smile plays out onto her friend's face, although his eyes look at her with relief.

He tells her everything. The attack, the death of her family, the trauma, the playdates, the wedding...

He pauses at the story of their union, slightly heartbroken at the look of horror on her face at the revelation that she is no longer single, but continues to tell her the rest. The walk to Rukongai, the sighting of her sister, the seizure.

She has been unconscious for three days. During that time, she has had frequent seizures and kept the Fourth Squad awake with the loud shrieks, as well as her husband, who has not left her side even once. During her flailing, she has knocked over the majority of things in the room, explaining the shattered items on the floor. She sees a lamp and a glass that was most likely filled with water previously.

With each seizure, she has regained her forgotten memories, and the new ones she has made since her arrival in Soul Society seem like dreams she has woken up from.

He leaves her alone – the first time in three days – to process.

.. ღ ..

There is some part of her that is relieved that it was Toushiro waiting for her. Despite the long time - or so she remembers - it has been since she has seen him, her feelings for him are still very strong. But marriage is very different from having a childhood crush.

She wonders if she is expected to remain his wife, and then she wonders if that is what she desires. She cannot deny the happiness she feels at the thought, but the defiant feminist part of her is too pissed at having had no choice to fully appreciate the happiness.

All she understands now is that her brother has Hell to pay.

.. ღ ..

He is having lunch with Renji in his office when it happens.

His little sister, still wearing the ugliest sweater he has ever seen that she chose to put on that morning, barges in through the door and swings her fist in his direction. His Shinigami instincts help him to dodge, but there is shock on his face as his sister begins her rant.

"Married?" she shrieks. "Married, Ichi-nii? What the hell made you think I wanted to be married at sixteen? And what about this?" She grabs the front of her sweater and shoves the unicorn into his face. "How could you let me walk out into public wearing this?"

She is cut off when her brother, who becomes very emotional once the shock wears off, grabs her into a tight hug, effectively cutting off her airway and her ability to talk.

Slowly, her anger dissipates and she returns the hug.

They talk for a long time. Renji had tactfully sneaked out of the room soon after her arrival, and so neither have to be embarrassed about their previous display of affection.

He explains his sudden long disappearances in the past, his arrival back in Karakura, his discovery of his family's fate, his meetings with the doctors, his decision to bring her to the afterlife. He does not have to explain the rest because her husband has already done so. As she is reminded of this, the talk suddenly turns to the marriage.

"I figured you wouldn't mind," Ichigo replies, shrugging after she demands an explanation of his choice to give her away. "You're not sixteen, you just look like you are. Besides, you didn't have the guts to confess to the guy, so I just helped you along...but better."

She splutters, red-faced, but cannot deny that her brother's decision does not bother her. There are worse men out there, and she feels that even if she had had a choice, she would have accepted.

.. ღ ..

He sends his vice-captain out for the day. She does not kick up a fuss in surprise; she can see that her young captain needs to be alone.

He ponders Karin's whereabouts. No doubt she is with her brother.

He wonders if she is truly disgusted by this marriage. Will she want a divorce? His heart aches at the idea; it took so much courage to propose, albeit to her brother, and he feels that there is no other woman out there he would rather call wife.

But the choice is hers. He has taken care of her to the best of his ability up until now, and it is up to her to decide whether she still wants his care.

But what if she says yes? What if she does not want to divorce?

His cheeks tinge with red at the idea of her actually moving into his quarters...into his bed. The thought does not put him out, although the idea of a physical relationship with her is foreign and rather frightening to him.

But he asks himself whether he is ready to act as a husband - if he is ready to wake up every morning to her figure sleeping beside him, to choke down her cooking in order to keep her happy (because Kami knows the girl cannot cook), to hold her hand in public and comfort her when she is upset.

He has done so already these past few years, but somehow he feels that wiping her snot with his sleeve and reassuring her there is no need to cry because they will find her favorite doll does not count.

His time to think runs out when he feels her reiatsu approaching his office. His stomach flips when he hears the footsteps, his palms sweat when the door is opened, but his heart soars when he takes in her beauty.

She has changed out of the sweater she previously wore and is wearing a proper Shinigami uniform. It suits her so well, the black contrasting with her pale skin, making it glow more so than usual. Around her neck is a thin chain with a single charm: A delicate carving of a dragon. He gave it to her not long after their wedding, and he feels warm seeing her finally adorn it. Her hair has been tied in a tame ponytail. She looks like the fine young woman she is.

There is a pause. Neither speak, because neither is really sure what to say. Finally, she decides to break the tense atmophere.

"So, you couldn't knock off a few bucks for a ring?"

His shoulders relax as he recognizes the usual easy banter that existed between them during their years of friendship.

"I didn't tag you for a ring person."

"Yeah? Well, I didn't tag you for a pedophile." She smirks as she sees his scowl.

"Now I'm a pedophile? What happened to calling me 'Shiwo?'" What neither realize is that, in the near future, this will become her permanent name for him, and he will never utter a single word of protest.

This time, she scowls. She vaguely remembers some of her forgotten experiences and knows she has done a lot of stupid thing concerning this man - like turning Matsumoto on him more than once.

"Shiwo, you're so stingy. Poor me, stuck with you for the rest of my life."

They both realize the implications of her words at the same time. She mentally smacks her forehead; this is not how she wanted to tell him.

"Karin..." He is looking at her with wide-eyed wonder and sounds breathless. "Does that mean what I think it means?"

"I mean, I may not like jewelry, but that doesn't mean that a ring is out of the question. Yuzu always liked to fantasize about her wedding, so I've seen some nice ones in magazines..."

She continues to banter, trying desperately to backpedal the conversation. He is not listening. Instead, he slowly slides out of his chair and stalks over to her, still wide-eyed and unblinking. When he is standing directly in front of her, he reaches down and takes her hands into his own.

"Karin," he repeats more urgently than before. "Does that mean what I think it means?"

She sighs, knowing there is no way out of the situation now. She had so carefully thought of what she had wanted to say, but the words have left her because of her surprise in slipping them out accidentally.

"Yes," she finally replies, sounding weary. "I've thought about our situation and...I love you."

They are both taken aback by her bluntness. She had not expected to say it, and he had not expected to hear it – at least, not now, and not so suddenly.

Their eyes are locked, their breathing is shallow, their hearts are thumping in harmony. Neither says a word, and the silence stretches out as they stare at one another quietly, hands still joined. Suddenly, the ice prince's eyes soften, and she receives the biggest shock of her life; he is sending her the most loving, most sincere, and most tender smile she has ever received – not just by him, but by anyone.

"I love you, too," he replies, and she feels herself relax.

"Really?" she asks, and she finds herself suddenly laughing in relief. He joins in.


"You mean it?"

"I mean it."

And neither are sure why, but this brings about another peal of laughter. Soon, she is clutching him for support for she almost falls over from the amount of laughter, and he gladly wraps his arms around her.

.. ღ ..

They hold another wedding ceremony. It seems like an appropriate course of action, because Karin is very upset at not remembering her very own (first) wedding. He assures her he is perfectly happy spending all the money she wants – she is his wife and he wants to spoil her – but she refuses to take advantage of the offer – he is her husband and she respects him.

The wedding is short and sweet. All the guests ignore the glaringly obvious absence of the bride's father, who has not been located, and sister, who resides in Rukongai, still ignorant of the existence of her family. Despite their previous joking, there is still no ring exchange; she has decided that she really is not a ring person, and he honors her wish. However, there is a kiss.

"I do."

"I do."

The priest pronounces them husband and wife, and the two share their very first kiss. Somehow, since her recovery they have managed to hold off on locking lips, despite the temptation and desire to do so, because it is so much more special to experience it for the first time on this day.

It, just like the wedding, is short and sweet. He pulls away quickly because his colleagues are watching, but she loves it all the same. His lips are cool upon hers and, although she wishes for it to last longer, she knows they have an infinite amount of time to share more.

His vice-captain teases not about incest this time, but about their upcoming honeymoon. The two have decided to take the ultimate step after tonight, and she cannot resist the adorable blushes adorning their cheeks at the mention of the nights to come. Not to mention it distracts him from reminding her to finish the paperwork during his absence.

There is a dinner afterwards. As couples dance, the two remain seated, their hands joined under the table and affectionate smiles secured on their faces as their eyes remain fixed on each other. They sneak short kisses when they think no one is watching; he strokes her cheek, and she runs her hand briefly through his hair. They are truly a beautiful sight.

Even when she punches his arm for giving her a Barbie doll as a wedding present.

I hope no one is offended by the themes present in this story, since a relationship with a sort-of four-year old could be seen as pedophelia.

I've been trying my hardest to finish up the next chapter of Bite the Bullet, but I've been writing synthesis papers in English all week, and its sapping my creativity and desire to write.

On a brighter note, this is the longest piece I've written; over 4,000 words!