A/N: This is another one-shot written for a fangroup on dA. The prompt was "Back to School". Please read and enjoy!

Toshiro hadn't been expecting anything out of the ordinary when he'd appeared in the Human World on his day off. In fact, after he'd fit himself into his Gigai, he'd wandered towards the soccer fields. Since it was a Saturday, he assumed Karin and her friends would be practicing. Not that he had any intention of joining them...He just wanted to see if all was it should be.

However, the group kicking the black and white ball around was much younger than it should have been. No dark-haired teen was passing out instruction. In fact, when he sought out her reiryoku, he couldn't feel it anywhere near the field. Reacting rather hastily, he would have to later admit to himself, he moved quickly towards the Kurosaki Clinic. Knocking on the front door, he was greeted by the curious face of the younger twin, Yuzu.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, moving back so that he could enter. "Toshiro! We weren't expecting you."

Trying to be polite, he bowed his head slightly towards her before asking, "Where's Karin?"

"Karin? Oh, she left for college a few days ago! She said soccer practice started a couple weeks early, so she had to get there before most of the other students." Yuzu looked at him inquisitively, as though not sure why he wanted to see her twin. He and Karin had told her quite forcefully once before that they were just friends, so his concern was a little confusing.

"Oh," he said, his hands shoved deep into his pockets.

"Didn't she tell you?" Yuzu asked quietly, leaning towards him a little. When he didn't answer, she thought for a moment before exclaiming, "Maybe she forgot because of everything happening with Rukia! After all, she went into labor a week early, so we were all a little worried."

After another minute or so, Toshiro walked back out into the warmth of a mid-summer day. He hadn't realized that Karin would still have school, but he should have guessed. From what he knew of the Human World, getting a good job involved going to a good college. Karin had always been a powerful soccer player, so the fact that she was going to play for her college's team didn't surprise him, either. What did surprise him, though, was the fact that he hadn't been told she was leaving the area. Yuzu had kindly informed him where her sister was, but the fact that she was now a three hour bus ride away didn't thrill him. Everything had changed...and he didn't like it!

His day now a little darker, he found a grassy spot to sit where he could see the sky. Even staring up into the blue and white expanse didn't stop the ache in his gut. He hated when things changed like this...It meant that things were going to be different now, even though he'd liked them just as they were. Unable to stay seated, he pushed himself up. After walking around the city for an hour or two, Toshiro had only riled himself up. It's all her fault, he declared in his head, stopping in the middle of the crowded sidewalk. However, he didn't bother asking himself why the absence of one person was having such an affect on him.

Making a snap decision, which seemed to be the mark of the day, he took his Gigai to Urahara for safe-keeping before heading off in the direction Yuzu had earlier indicated. He was going to give Karin Kurosaki a piece of his mind!

After ten minutes or so, using Shunpo to move much faster than any human could follow, he found himself hovering over the college campus. He could once again feel the strong pulse of Karin's reiryoku, which both relieved him and angered him. While he'd been worrying, she'd been blissfully unaware of the turmoil her absence had caused. Now he just had to wait. After darkness had fallen, he watched her leave one of the buildings and come to a halt on the grass in front of it. Looking up, she seemed engrossed in the crescent moon high overhead. He could recall a time when the darkness had sent her shivering form into his arms, where she'd pleaded with him not to leave her. Then, she'd left him.

Dropping out of the tree he'd been perched in, he watched her head turn quickly in his direction. Shock registered on her features as he walked closer.

"Toshiro? What are you doing here?" As she asked, her face fell and her eyes widened, "Are Ichigo and Rukia alright? Did something happen?"

At her concern, his anger evaporated slightly, which led him to say, "No, they're fine, as far as I know."

"Thank goodness!" she exclaimed before her forehead puckered slightly. "Then...why are you here?"

It wasn't until the young woman actually asked the question that he had to think of an answer, which might have been why he responded with, "You left."

She blinked before saying, "Left? Well, yeah...Training started this week."

"You left." He couldn't help himself. For some reason, he seemed to be stuck on repeat.

Her eyes moved from one side of him to the other, as though she were looking for the right answer.

He sighed, his frustration showing through for a moment before he forced his face back to its normal blankness. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Was I supposed to?"

At that question, the logical side of his brain, which had been chained up under his anger most of the day, popped through and seconded her comment. Was she supposed to? He'd been expecting to see her today; he'd been expecting to express his annoyance when she started following him around again. But...was she supposed to? In that moment, his face went white and then flushed so red he was sure she could see it, even in the dark. Had Matsumoto been right all those years ago? Was he really stalking Karin Kurosaki? Before he could gather himself enough to use Shunpo, she reached out and touched his arm. Even through the dark sleeve of his uniform, he could feel her fingers.

"Thanks for coming," she muttered, not meeting his eyes. The fingers of her other hand caught his attention, however, before he could respond. They were rubbing the small moonstone he'd given her the night he'd found her awake and terrified of the dark.

Reaching down, he wrapped his own hand around hers. "You kept this?"

She stiffened, trying to pull it away from his. He didn't let her. Instead, he tugged her a little nearer.

His heart was very nearly in his throat when he said, "Karin, why did you keep the moonstone?"

She looked up at him sharply, "I...Well...I just brought it along out of habit. And that doesn't answer my question!"

She was getting flustered now, but Toshiro was on a mission. "Yes, it does. Why haven't you gotten rid of it?"

"It-" he could tell she didn't want to say anything, but also knew she was too much like her brother to not say something. "It still helps me sleep..."

"Is that all?" he asked, pulling it from her hand.

She reached out after the pearly rock, but he held it behind his back. "Give it back!"

"Why?" he demanded. "It's just a habit, after all."

"Toshiro, give it back now! It's not yours anymore, it's mine!" Since she was shorter than him by several inches, he was easily able to keep the stone away from her.

"But it's just a stone; and you're a big girl now," he knew he sounded mean, but his goading did have a purpose.

"But it's important to me! Now, give it back!" At her words, he allowed her to have it again. However, he didn't let her move away from him once she had it.

"Exactly," he said, his teal eyes watching her closely. "It's important, so if it disappears, you get upset."

She blinked a few times, gazing up at him with a rather shocked look on her face. "I'm...important? To...you?" Her voice faltered as she asked the questions.

The young captain knew his face was blank as she said it, and he sighed at how unsure she sounded. "Yes, Karin. You're important to me."

"But...You've always called me a nuisance and said I was annoying," she was obviously about as intuitive as her brother.

"When I looked for you earlier, and you weren't there, it felt like everything was slightly...off," he informed her, his heart asking her to understand what he could not say. "I don't like when things change without warning."

"So...you're just upset that your routine was changed?" her expression let him know the idea hurt a bit.

Shaking his head roughly, he grabbed her upper arms and placed his face inches from hers. "I came to the Human World on my day off to see you, Karin. If you following me around had ever truly annoyed me, I would have lost you without a second thought. If you weren't so dense, you would have-"

However, she didn't let him continue his rant, which was probably a good thing. More than likely, he would have just dug himself a hole. His thoughts stopped working, though, as her lips smoothed over his.

Bright teal eyes fluttered closed as she held him captive with only her lips. Her arms moved in his grasp and he released them, feeling her wrap both around his neck. Time passed, but neither of them cared.

When they finally parted, she told him, her gray eyes bright, "I'd almost given up hope that you'd come to your senses, kid."

He blinked as his brain tried to keep up with her words. "What?" he managed to say as her hands came to rest on his shoulders.

"Every time you'd come to visit, it was the same old, same old," she declared. "There you'd be, acting as though you didn't want to play with us, but would you be upset if we didn't need you? Most definitely! And then, if I didn't follow you around for a few hours, you'd sulk the entire rest of your stay. But did you ever once say anything about me being important or special? No...What was I to supposed to think, Toshiro?"

At her declaration, his eyes widened a bit. She'd been paying that much attention? Maybe he hadn't been giving her enough credit. Latching onto the last bit, he said, "So, you didn't tell me you were leaving for school because of that?"

"Partially...", she replied.

"Well, what was the other part?" he demanded.

"Me," was all she said, looking away from him and letting her hands fall from his shoulders.

"You?" he was getting even more confused, which wasn't good. Toshiro Hitsugaya didn't like being confused anymore than he liked being called a child.

"I didn't want to get hurt...""Did you think I'd hurt you?" Now he was upset again. He'd never hurt her! In fact, he'd protect her with his life!

"Not intentionally...". Before he could get anything else out, she informed him, "I like you, Toshiro. But I didn't want you to tell me to bug off if I asked you to come. I am a girl...No matter how much I don't seem like it sometimes. I didn't want you to," here she hesitated for a moment before finishing with, "break my heart just being you."

Needless to say, he was shocked. Had she just confessed to him? His chest hurt, but he ignored it, watching her face as he said, "You...like me?"

Her face was flushed, but she nodded, not meeting his eyes.

Making a decision, he wrapped both of his arms around her waist, which drew a yelp from her. Pulling her up against him, he stated, her eyes now staring into his own, "If nothing else, your absence today showed me how important you are to me. While I don't know yet what that means, I'm not averse to finding out. For some reason, Karin Kurosaki, you've become a very important part of my life, and I have no desire for that to end any time soon. Therefore, the next time you pick up and move somewhere," at this he leaned down and put his face on level with her own, enunciating so she couldn't misunderstand him, "tell me."

A small smile forming on her lips, she said, just before bringing his mouth down to meet her own again, "Yes, sir."

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