Mairavu

Karin sat alone in her room. Yuzu and her father believed she was doing homework, so didn't question the loud music blaring from her room; that's how she liked to work.

But she wasn't doing homework. She was crying.

Why was she crying? She was tense. She was frustrated.

She was lonely.

Ichigo had left Karakura five years ago. He told her he left to stop the Hollows from coming, and Karin accepted it. The problem was that she had no way to contact him to tell him it wasn't working. The Hollows were still coming.

Ichigo knew that she knew about his "job", but he refused to disclose anything else. However, Urahara Kisuke was not as tight-lipped, and told her everything.

It had been five years since her brother left, so Karin had been fighting the Hollows alone for that long. At first, she had been rather defenseless; Ururu and Jinta had to take care of them alone. But even they were getting tired.

So, she convinced Urahara-sensei to teach her. She would need all the training she could get to stand a chance. She wasn't a Shinigami, but she did have the reiatsu of a high level captain from the Gotei 13. It definitely didn't start out that way, but the more she trained, the more reiatsu she built up. It wasn't normal, according to Urahara-sensei, but she had stopped building up reiatsu by the end of her training, and it remained steady.

She learned how to channel her reiatsu into different objects. Zanpakuto had their own energy similar to reiatsu, so giving objects similar levels of that power gave those objects similar characteristics of the spiritual swords. She also learned how to suppress her spiritual pressure to the point where it was almost undetectable. This also gave her the ability to sense reiatsu very easily and from great distances. Even in her room, she could feel Urahara, Ururu, and Jinta's spirit power. It was faint, because they were suppressing it, but she could still feel it. Urahara-sensei expressed how important it was that she suppressed her reiatsu whenever she could; the more she leaked, the more it would not only the Hollows would appear, but it would garner the attention of the Soul Society. They were quite unpredictable.

She had once asked Urahara-sensei if she could become a Shinigami, but once he told her about Ichigo's experience, she changed her mind. She either had to die and go to the Academy in Soul Society, or subject herself to the torture that Ichigo went through.

So, she stayed human, fighting Hollows with reitsu-charged wooden Kendo swords.

This, however, took up a lot of her time. She was kicked off the soccer team because she had run off too much to destroy Hollows. She had barely any time for her friends, so they slowly drifted apart. Her grades were slipping because she either got no sleep the night before, or didn't have the time for homework.

And she had no one to talk to. That was what was eating her. She was alone in this. She didn't feel comfortable enough discussing this with Urahara-sensei, Tessai, or Jinta. Ururu was too shy to talk much at all. She couldn't contact Ichigo and didn't want to trouble her family with things they wouldn't believe anyway.

She felt so alone.

Oh, she never let anyone see that, of course. She acted normal around everyone and put up such a front that even she sometimes forgot about her problems.

But when she just alone in her room like this, the weight of everything just came down on her, and she couldn't help but cry.

It was one of those days.


Hitsugaya Toushirou was not a man of many words. He liked the cold, as reflected in his demeanor. People were frightened of him, though it didn't bother him as much as it should. His closest companion was Matsumoto Rangiku. Matsumoto was a loyal fukutaicho, though terrified of paperwork. He could always count on her unbiased opinion and on her advice. At the surface, that's all it looked like, but he saw his lieutenant as a close relative.

He winced as his eyes drifted over a picture on his desk. He didn't know why he put it there, really. It only hurt him. It only reminded him of how weak he was.

He had almost killed his best friend, Hinamori Momo. Now, Matsumoto would be remiss if he didn't mention that it was due to a trick by the traitor, Aizen, but it didn't change how he felt. He was despicable; he needed to get stronger so he could protect the people he loved. He glanced at the clock and frowned, frustrated. He wouldn't have time to train in his cave today.

He sighed, running a hand through over his closed teal eyes. He wished Matsumoto would do paperwork; a taicho shouldn't be this overwhelmed.

He glanced up, noticing a hell butterfly drift through the open window of his office. He listened and stood, murmuring his acceptance. With a blur of shunpo, he was gone.


"Hitsuygaya-taicho, there have been an unnatural surplus of Hollow in Karakura. Kurosaki-fukutaicho left his hometown to spare it from these excessive attacks, so someone must have high enough spiritual pressure to attract all these Hollows. You are being dispatched to find out who is emitting this much reiatsu. Once you identify the human, you are to train him or her in reiatsu suppression, or any other technique you deem necessary. Do you accept this mission?" explained the Soutaicho.

"Hai," responded Hitsugaya quietly. He really wanted to know why he was being dispatched. The soutaicho glance up at him, and elaborated.

"The Special Forces are out on a mission, and I remember your problems with your considerable reiatsu. You are the best we have, and we need these attacks to stop." Hitsugaya nodded his understanding. "Urahara Kisuke will provide a gigai should you need it. You depart tomorrow morning. Kouun, Hitsuygaya-taicho."

"Arigatougozaimasu."


Karin doodled across her notebook, her mind wandering. Before leaving for school, she had felt powerful reiatsu coming from Urahara-sensei's store. It had disappeared as quickly as it came, but it was a cause for concern.

And it felt strangely familiar.

She grimaced, clutching her head. She was having a headache; she had a lot of those since Ichigo left. She hadn't mentioned it to anyone, thinking it was just from crying so much. The pain dulled, but didn't fade. She looked out the window again.

Her face showed no expression, even when she heard the terrifying howl of a Hollow. She calmly raised her hand, complaining about an upset stomach. Her teacher excused her, and she walked calmly out of the classroom, making a pit-stop at the girls' bathroom to pick up her carefully hidden Kendo sword, and used a few quick shunpo steps to get to the source of the shriek.

This Hollow seemed no different from the others; they all looked the same, now. It swung at her, and she dodged, not noticing the scratches the debris made on her arms. She ran quickly up the creature's arm, powered up her sword, and slashed through the mask. She jumped, landing neatly behind the disappearing Hollow. She started the trek back to school; walking back helped her concentrate on suppressing her reiatsu, she had learned.

She felt a high concentration of spiritual pressure to her right, and snapped her head, focusing on the roof of a building. She was so sure that she had felt this reiatsu this morning...

Suddenly, she was overwhelmed by the barrage of forgotten images from five years ago. A short white-haired boy with strange eyes. A taicho in the Goteijuusantai. Hitsugaya Toushirou.

She chose to ignore him, continuing her walk back to school. She couldn't help but glance back at him hopefully, imagining her brother was standing beside the taicho.


The hardened taicho didn't often see something that surprised him. Kurosaki Ichigo becoming a fukutaicho under Hisagi Shuuhei was the most recent.

A mere human defeating a Hollow so efficiently was something else. When he felt the Hollow's appearance, he quickly went to take care of it.

He was a little late, apparently.

When he had seen the human appear out of nowhere with a wooden sword, looking right at the Hollow, Toushirou had been too far away to even shunpo into position. He watched, frozen in horror, as the Hollow attacked. He almost didn't see the girl run up its arm, and he certainly hadn't expected her sword to do any damage. But the Hollow disappeared. He quickly tried to feel for her reiatsu, but it vanished into nothing.

Damnation.

He almost fell off the building he was perched on when she looked right at him. He somehow recognized her.

Kurosaki Karin, he suddenly remembered. He played soccer with her team five years ago.

A Kurosaki.

Well, shit.

He followed her hopeful eyes, confused.

He would just have to visit her.


Karin scowled as her father jumped towards her when she walked through the door. She swiftly punched him in the face, and he burst into theatrical tears and hugged the poster of his wife. She rolled her eyes and grinned, sitting at the table and starting her meal.

Nobody noticed her lifeless eyes as she played absently with her food.

She made a comment about some math homework and ran to her room, locking the door and turning up her music. She cried, frustrated at the Hollows, frustrated at her own weakness.

She did stop, however, when she felt that familiar reiatsu from the afternoon. She looked up and saw the captain perched on her window sill.

"Toushirou," she breathed, plastering that fake smile on her face. He didn't bother with that courtesy, and his expressionless mask never shifted. "It's been a while! How have you been?"

"Fine," he replied. "I saw you this afternoon."

"And I saw you," she responded with a smile. "What are you doing here, anyway?"

"The Soutaicho has noticed the amount of Hollow activity and sent me to investigate."

"But the Hollows didn't stop coming when Ichi-nii left. Why did you wait so long?"

Toushirou looked confused. "What do you mean? The Soutaicho just noticed. Do you mean...you've been fighting the Hollows on your own for five years?"

Karin shrugged. "Well, yeah. Who else was going to do it? I don't exactly have contact with Soul Society."

"Wasn't there another Shinigami stationed here?" he demanded.

"I never saw him."

"Who has taught you?"

"Urahara-sensei," Karin said, letting her fake grin roam free. "He was a very tough teacher, but I learned a lot from him. How long are you staying, Toushirou?"

"There is no set time limit for my mission," he responded slowly. His mask shifted when he saw her grimace. "Are you alright?"

"Headache," she responded, a half-smile drifting along her lips. "It'll go away soon. But I've got to sleep; I have school in the morning. I'll see you later, then?"

"I suppose," he sighed. He looked down at her as he stood, ready to leap off her window. "You shouldn't smile when you don't mean it."

"You should smile a little more," she rebutted. And he was gone.


Toushirou sat on the roof of the Kurosaki home. This young woman he just spoke to was not the carefree child he had played soccer with all those years ago. Sure, on the surface, she seemed the same. But Toushirou was the master of masking emotions; while he chose to show none, Karin chose to hide everything behind her usual demeanor. Her smiles looked real, but her eyes were so sad. He couldn't figure out why.

He had only been in her company three or four times, and didn't expect her to have such an effect on him. But she did; just speaking to her like this made him want to know more about her, though he hid it well.

He scowled and stood, making his way towards Urahara's.

He needed a gigai.

He almost stopped himself three times on his way there, thinking about Momo. He hadn't been strong enough to protect her, maybe something similar will happen to Karin. He shook his head with a small smile. Karin definitely could handle herself. He scowled. So could Momo. Well, she did until Aizen stuck his fangs into her and manipulated her.

Aizen was imprisoned and Karin was a human with amazing reiatsu and abilities. She would be relatively safe.


On her walk to school the next day, Karin pondered on Toushirou's words. How did he know that she was faking? No one else noticed. Not her family, who saw her every day, not the few friends she still had, not her teachers. Only Toushirou and Urahara-san. Urahara knew about her feelings, but he chose not to comment and let her deal. Sometimes, she was grateful, but sometimes...

She shook her head, clearing the thoughts from it. She had to focus; normally, the Hollows liked to come in the morning between the time she left for school and lunch time. If they didn't come then, they came after school or at night. Karin had her sword on her waist; everyone thought she trained early in the morning for a Kendo team. She sighed, rubbing at the back of her head; her headache was back.

She greeted Usaka Kazuya as she walked into school and made absentminded conversation about soccer. She smiled falsely at Toujoin Heita and Uehara Kei as she passed them in the hall on their way to class. Though upset that she was forced to leave the team, her soccer pals liked to discuss tactics with her as if she was still playing. It almost brought a real smile to her lips.

The teacher called for attention at the front of the class as Karin took her seat farthest from the front, closest to the window. The seat to her right was unoccupied; her soccer buddies sat in front of her and Yuzu liked to sit in the front of the class with her friends. Karin stared out the window, watching the leaves dance and listening to the wind sing, ignoring the teacher.

"...would you introduce yourself?" asked the teacher politely.

"Hai." Karin froze, her eyes snapping up. "My name is Hitsugaya Toushirou, but I would prefer to be referred to by my last name."

Their eyes met. His, somehow, held both amusement and annoyance. Hers were surprised; she hadn't expected him.

"Alright, Hitsugaya, you can choose your seat."

The empty seats were littered across the classroom, but there was no hesitation as he went to sit next to Karin. He gave her a very small and very brief smile.

"Ohayougozaimasu."

"Ohayou. My name is Kurosaki Karin."

"Nice to meet you, Kurosaki-san," he said politely, keeping up the facade.

She wrote him a quick note, relaying to him the times the Hollows liked to visit, and flicked it gracefully onto his desk. He snatched it and read it quickly, giving her a small nod.

School was relatively normal, despite the giggling girls crowding around Hitsugaya-taicho. She could see the appeal; he was unique. He had grown to the height of a normal teenager, instead of being stuck at the elementary-schooler height. The white hair and teal eyes were abnormal and held a lot of appeal. She could see the appeal, sure, but she wouldn't do anything as crazy as what the flirty girls were doing. It was borderline stalker behavior.

Lunch came before she realized, and she was glad the Hollows decided to wait a little while. She grabbed her bento and moved swiftly, as not to attract any attention, to the roof of the school. It was quiet, and a great place to think. She started her lunch in silence when she felt that familiar reiatsu again. She looked up and saw Hitsugaya-taicho a few feet from her.

"May I?" he asked. Karin shrugged. He took that as a yes and sat beside her, starting on his own lunch. "How have you been?" he asked awkwardly. She shrugged. "How's soccer?" he asked.

She tensed. "I don't play anymore."

"Why not? You love it, if I recall correctly."

"No time. Not with the Hollows," she admitted. Just letting out the truth to someone, just this little thing, had a big effect on her. She felt...lighter. Urahara-sensei was more of a teacher than a confidant. Ururu was too shy to talk about anything. She had no one to talk to about this...except Toushirou.

"Why are you so sad?" Toushirou blurted out. He closed his eyes and shook his head. "Gomenasai, you don't have to answer."

"No...it's nice to have someone to talk to about this. I guess that's the reason I'm so sad. I have no one to talk to about the Hollows. I mean, I know I have Urahara-sensei, but...since my mother died, I've kept all my problems to myself so I wouldn't burden my family. I feel...uncomfortable and weak when I admit there's something I can't handle. I've been fighting the Hollows alone for five years and because of that, I've lost soccer, I've lost a majority of my friends, I've lost interest in human things. I feel so detached from this society, and I don't know where else to go." Karin stopped for a breath, blushing. "Gomen, I didn't mean to unload on you like that."

"I asked," he reminded her. "Thank you for sharing this with me. It must be hard to hold in everything and have no one to talk to. I suggest you talk to your sensei; he has more depth than you think."

Karin nodded, going back to her lunch. Neither of them minded the silence, but they both noticed that something had passed between them in that moment.

"How did you learn to suppress your reiatsu?" Toushirou asked suddenly.

"Urahara-sensei taught me. I haven't needed to release all of it since. I hope I never have to; I don't know what I would do with it."

"How does your wooden sword do any damage to the Hollows?" he asked.

"I channel some my reiatsu into it. My turn!" she said with a rare smile. "Do you know if Ichigo is coming back soon?"

He hesitated. "I don't know," he admitted.

She nodded. She ate in silence, ignoring the pang of a headache in the back of her skull. Those came and went frequently. She clenched her eyes shut, trying to force the pain away to no avail.

"Karin, are you okay?" asked Toushirou.

"Fine. Headache," she responded shortly. It lessened with every second, but it didn't go away. It never did. She smiled brightly. "All better."

The rest of the school day was boring. When the bell rang, she rushed to the girls' bathroom to pick up her sword, and started the walk home. She looked longingly at the soccer field, and had to do a double take. There was Toushirou, dribbling a soccer ball by himself. He looked up at her, and waved her down.

"You need some practice if you haven't played in five years," he said softly.

Karin was grateful that he didn't say anything else and they just dribbled the ball back and forth. She was not prepared for the screech of a Hollow. She felt for the reiatsu, grabbed her sword, and used shunpo to get there quicker. She completely forgot about Toushirou and any help he could have provided; she was so used to being alone. Before she could attack, she saw Toushirou in front of her. Well, his gigai. Toushirou was actually in the process of defeating the Hollow.

Karin looked up at Toushirou as the Hollow disappeared. His five simple words gave the comfort she had needed for the past five years.

"You are not alone anymore."


Karin had decided to go to Urahara's shop that night and tell him about her feelings. Well, talk to him about her feelings; he already knew what she was feeling.

"Ururu? Jinta? Tessai?" she called as she walked in. She was greeted by all three, as her sensei stood silently in the doorway.

"Urahara-sensei? Can we talk for a moment?"

He nodded and led her into a back room. They sat across from each other in silence for a moment before she spoke.

"I feel lonely and abandoned," she blurted, letting her emotions take control for once. "Ichigo left and he didn't even think about me or how I would deal with the Hollows. I have no one to talk to about the Hollow stuff and it's so much for me to deal with and sometimes I just sit in my room and cry because I feel so lonely and—"

Urahara stood and sat beside his pupil, pulling her into a hug. "I'm sorry you've been burdened by this at such a young age. I wish the Hollows would just stay away. But you are not alone. I will always be here for you, Karin."

"Arigatou, Urahara-sensei."

Karin gasped, grabbing at her head. Another headache. But this one was different; the pain resonated in every part of her head. She was blinded; no, wait, she had closed her eyes. She couldn't think; the pain was all-encompassing.

"Karin, what's wrong?" asked her sensei worriedly.

"'Nother headache," she gasped. She clenched her eyes shut and didn't moan or scream, though she felt like her head was going to explode.

"Another? Karin, how many headaches have you had today?"

"Dunno. Four or five."

"Do you get a lot of them?"

"Every day," she groaned at the intensity of the pain. The headaches had never been like this.

"Why didn't you tell me earlier? Never mind. Lie down. Now."

Karin did as she was told, curled up in a ball, tears pouring down her cheeks. What was this pain? Why was she having such a bad headache? She groaned again as the pain increased.

"Karin, get a hold of yourself," Urahara whispered. "You're leaking reiatsu."

"I...can't...it hurts," she gasped.

Urahara brushed her hair back, at a loss. He knew that with her level of reiatsu, it was possible...but he didn't know that it could. The headaches though...

He sat, thinking, as Karin drifted into unconsciousness.


Karin...

She sat up. She was a in a sea of darkness, and she was falling.

Karin...

Who are you? she asked.

Karin...

What do you want from me? she asked.

Find me. I've been waiting for you.

Where are you?

Karin was suddenly in a different place. She was sitting on a mountain. On the side of a mountain. But she wasn't falling. The mountain was ridiculously tall. She was too afraid to look down, knowing she was above the clouds. She found the sky strange as it moved sideways. But she was the one who was sideways.

This was a strange dream.

She looked around and saw a dark shadow. She could only see its blood-red eyes.

"Who are you?" Karin asked.

"You know my name," a lady responded. Her voice was rich and unlike anything Karin had ever heard.

"Where am I?" Karin asked.

"We're in your mind," the woman explained. "You need to remember, Karin. You need to find me."

Karin started to fall, and anything she tried to grab onto disappeared. The fall seemed too short as she landed in a pile of boxes.

"Search," the woman said. "Find me." And she was gone.


Urahara Kisuke sat beside his pupil as she tossed and turned in her sleep. Her reiatsu wasn't being contained, but it wasn't being completely released. She was leaking.

Ururu brought him a bowl of cold water and a cloth. He dipped the cloth into the water and placed it on her fevered forehead.

He really hoped she would survive. She became very important to him.

"Urahara-san?"

Urahara looked up and saw the young taicho he was housing. "Yes?"

"Why is Karin here? Is she okay?" Hitsuygaya-taicho asked, concerned.

"She needed guidance," explained Urahara. "She is ill."

Hitsugaya went to sit next to Karin on her other side. He placed a cool hand to her cheek, and pulled away quickly.

"She's burning up," he murmured. "Will she wake?"

"No."

The young taicho looked directly at the ex-captain. "Will she live?" he asked.

"Why does it matter to you?" Urahara said nonchalantly.

"She...she is my mission," he lied.

"Yes. But why does her life matter to you?"

"Her brother would murder me if she died on my watch."

"I don't believe you," disagreed Urahara.

"She is...a very important friend to me," Hitsugaya admitted. "I didn't expect spending two days with her would do this, but she became very important to me."

"She has that affect," her sensei agreed fondly. "I don't know if she will live. But I hope so."


Karin was frustrated. She was looking for something, but she didn't know what she was looking for. She had spent days in this place, looking for something. For a woman. But how could she be in these boxes?

She closed her eyes, just wanting to sleep. But it never came; not in this place.

"What am I looking for?" she exclaimed.

"Search. You will find me."

Karin snapped. "I can't! I don't know what I'm looking for! I don't know who you are, and I just want to go home! I don't want to be here anymore!"

The boxes disappeared, and Karin was back on the side of the mountain, with the dark shadow and its unwavering red eyes staring at her.

"You are not ready," the woman sighed. "I'll see you later, Karin."

And Karin fell into darkness.


"Her fever's breaking," commented Hitsugaya.

Urahara smiled. "Good. She will sleep for a little while longer, then."

He tensed when he heard the all too familiar howl of a Hollow. He looked at the young captain, who hadn't heard it. He picked up Benihime and pressed on Hitsugaya-taicho's forehead.

"Hollow. High reiatsu. Go," he said simply. The taicho nodded and with a wisp of shunpo, was gone.

Urahara looked down fondly at his pupil. She had survived; good. She might have gotten her wish, then.


Hitsugaya Toushirou's mind was not on the battle. It was on the sick girl, lying helpless on the floor of a candy store. He hoped she would wake soon; life was boring without her. She had been asleep for three days, and he felt very lonely.

The Hollow took advantage of his opponent's distraction and attacked again. Toushirou couldn't dodge in time and took a hard hit to his ribs. He felt a couple snap and he gasped, unable to catch his breath. This was ridiculous. He was the Juubantai-taicho, damn it! He could defeat a Hollow with less reiatsu than he!

Ignoring the pain, he used a quick shunpo to get behind the Hollow. He took a swipe at it, but the Hollow swung harder and knocked him right out of the air. Toushirou stood, wiping the blood from his mouth. He would win; he wouldn't allow himself to loose.

The Hollow quickly lost both arms. Toushirou was determined to win, and with that, the mask was sliced in half and the Hollow disappeared.

He lay on the ground for a second, not believing the damage he took from such a low-level Hollow. He was such an idiot.

When he got back to Urahara's, Karin hadn't yet woken and his ribs were giving him some trouble. Tessai used a low level kido to fix his ribs, and Toushirou grumbled as the healer wrapped tight bandages around his waist. He wouldn't be able to move right in the gigai anyway; why make it harder?

He sat by Karin's side, waiting for her eyes to open. He didn't think it was possible to miss someone this much, especially with such short contact. But he did, and he felt ridiculous for it. He hoped she felt the same.

She mumbled something under her breath and turned in her sleep, and Toushirou let a soft smile break through his cold mask. She needed to wake up soon.


Karin almost cried in relief when she opened her eyes and found herself in her sensei's store. She sat up quickly, shaking her head to rid herself of the dizzy feeling.

"Karin!" She looked to her right and saw Urahara, smiling down at her.

"Urahara-sensei!" she gasped and burst into tears into his chest. His arms wrapped around her and held her close. "I'm so glad to be awake," she gasped.

"What happened in there?" Urahara asked.

"Now, sensei? Can it wait?"

"Of course. My apologies."

Karin stood, and stretched, grimacing at the tightness in her joints. She noticed Toushirou asleep against the wall on her other side.

"How long was I asleep?" she asked softly, looking down on the sleeping captain.

"Three days." He followed her line of sight. "He never left you for very long," Urahara-san commented. "He said you were very important to him."

Karin knelt down in front of him and tugged on his hand. "Hitsugaya-taicho, wake up."

His eyes popped open and he stood quickly. "Karin? Are you alright?"

She shrugged. "I'm okay."

His eyes softened. "How are you feeling?"

"Confused." She turned to her sensei. "I think I should stay over another night." She shivered; she didn't want to be alone.

He shook his head. "You should go home and rest. Your family must be worried."

Her eyes widened. "Kuso. I forgot about them. Yuzu will kill me."


Karin was somewhat correct; her sister was upset that she had been missing for so long, but was happier that she was home. Her father was his normal overexcited self.

"My dear Masaki! Our daughter has returned to us!" cried Isshin, hugging the poster of his wife.

"Irusinai, otou-san," grumbled Karin, but she was secretly smiling. Her father was purposefully stupid and annoying, but he provided necessary comic relief in her frustration.

The joked and fought a little over dinner, as usual, but she wasn't really paying attention. She was focusing on the reiatsu fluctuations coming from her father. Yuzu never fluctuated, but Urahara tended to when he was feeling powerful emotions. That meant that her father had been concealing his reiatsu for a long time. Which meant he had enough reiatsu that he needed to conceal it.

Which meant he was like her.

She decided to confront her father after Yuzu had gone to bed, which wasn't very long after dinner; Yuzu tired easily.

She went downstairs and stared at her mother. Gosh, she was beautiful. Her fingers brushed over her mother's cheek and Karin was startled out of her reverie.

"I miss her, too," she heard. She turned and saw her father, sitting in a chair at the dining room table with a glass of dark liquid.

"Otou-san," she started, sitting across from her father. "I love you."

"I love you, too, sweetheart. What's troubling you?"

"Otou-san, at dinner, I felt your spirit pressure fluctuate. Why is that? Normally, fluctuations only occur when you have a considerable amount of reiatsu. Which means you've been concealing it for a while. Please don't lie to me, otou-san."

Isshin closed his eyes, running a hand roughly over his face. "Karin, I have told no one about this. Ichigo found out by accident a little while ago. I have kept this secret for 25 years."

"No matter what you say, otou-san, nothing will change," Karin promised.

"I was a Shinigami, once," sighed Isshin. "Twenty five years ago, I was banished from Soul Society and most of my powers were sealed because I had started a romantic relationship with a human. With your mother. She could see me, and I hadn't known any human who could. She intrigued me, and before I knew it, I was in love. Romantic relationships with humans are expressly forbidden in Soul Society unless they are Substitute Shinigami or have died. But, when humans die and go to the Soul Society, they more often than not lose their memories. I was afraid I'd lose her. I knew the risks, and they were worth it."

"Thank you for telling me," Karin said, once she had come out of shock. "I love you, Daddy."

"I love you, too. Now, will you tell me what's been going on with you?" he asked softly, reaching across the table for his daughter's hand.

"Ichigo left to stop the Hollows from coming. Did you know that?"

"Yes."

"But they still come. Did you know that?"

"No. Well, I know they come, but not as often as they used to."

"They come every day, otou-san." Karin let the information sink in for a minute. "Urahara-senei's been training me. I suppress my reiatsu all the time. A captain from the Gotei 13 is staying with Urahara-sensei to help me. He's been here since yesterday."

The information seemed random, but not to Isshin. Urahara trained Karin in reiatsu suppression, the Soul Society just noticed the Hollows and ordered the captain to check out what was going on. The Hollows...

"How long?" he asked quietly, in almost a whisper, as if afraid to hear the answer.

"Five years."

Isshin closed his eyes tightly, letting his head fall into his hand. His daughter had been fighting Hollows for five years. On her own. With no one to confide in. Oh. Oh.

"Is this why you've been so sad?" he asked.

Karin's eyes widened. "I...I didn't think you noticed," she whispered.

Isshin scoffed. "Of course I noticed, honey. You're my daughter. And now that you know, if you need to talk, I'll be here for you." He was holding back his own emotions. He was so upset that his fifteen year old daughter had to deal with things beyond what a child her age had to. Like brother, like sister, he supposed.

"Wait. Do you know if Ichigo is coming home soon?" Karin asked hopefully.

"No," Isshin said with a heavy heart. The entire family missed Ichigo so much; it's difficult to understand unless you've experienced a sibling moving away with no possible contact.

"I love you, Daddy," Karin repeated, giving her father a hug and a kiss. Her father returned it in earnest.

"I love you, too, Karin," he said.

Once she left the room, he downed his drink, refilling it quickly, ignoring the tears pouring down his face as he thought about the unfortunate fate of his family.


Karin decided to skip school the next day; she had already missed three days of school and today was Friday. One more day couldn't hurt.

She decided to visit Urahara's basement and let out some steam. She smiled when she realized she could take a day off from Hollow hunting.

She snuck into the store through the back without alerting Jinta or Ururu, which was a miracle. Tessai must've been in front with Urahara.

Karin always hated the stupid ladder to go into the basement. It was way too long; it should be a slide.

Once she got down there, she went to a specific rock face where it was obviously dented and stained. She covered her hands in a thin layer reiatsu to protect them and took a deep calming breath before focusing on the tan boulder in front of her.

She was so focused on reducing the rock to dust that she didn't notice the pain in her knuckles, the new stains on the rock, or anyone come in. In fact, when the person who entered placed their hand on her shoulder, she was so startled that she turned around and socked him in the jaw.

"Kuso, Karin! Ugh, ow!" exclaimed Toushirou, as he sank to the floor, holding his face.

"I'm so sorry! I was training, and you came out of nowhere and I didn't know who you were, and I'm so sorry!"

"Well, I wanted to teach you kido, so might as well start now," he said with a grimace. "There are three different kinds of...fuck it, my face hurts. It's the same thing you do with your wooden sword, except focus on healing me and say 'keikatsu'. Your hands should glow. I'll explain everything after."

Karin nodded and closed her eyes, finding her center before whispering, "Keikatsu." Her hands glowed blue for a couple seconds before the light faded.

"Did I do it right?" she asked meekly.

"Yes," he said, stretching his jaw. "Now, let me explain. There are three different kinds of kido: healing techniques, which you just used, Bakudou, which are binding spells, and Hadou, which are offensive fighting spells. There are 99 different spells for each kind of kido, 99 being the hardest and the most advanced. Healing spells aren't really named or numbered, except for a few. Names don't even have to be said once you know what you're doing. I didn't really let you know what to do or how to channel your reiatsu, so I had you say the name of the spell. Your reiatsu figured it out, which is rare, but it tells me at least how much reiatsu you might have." Toushirou noticed that she wasn't making eye contact. "Karin?"

"I'm sorry I hit you, Toush," she whispered, finding the ground quite interesting.

The captain surprised himself by reaching down to her chin and tilting it up so his eyes met hers. He was frozen by her deep, gray eyes, which held the same surprise his did.

"It's okay, Karin. It was an accident." His hand fell limply to his side, still warm from her chin.

His feelings were ridiculous. Having so little contact with Karin gave him such happiness, but he didn't understand why. He cared for her like he cared Matsumoto, but even that description felt wrong. He wanted her to be happy, but it was more than that. The thought of Karin being upset, or her being hurt, brought a physical feeling of nausea. Just thinking about it made him sick to his stomach. It was similar to what he felt when he thought of Momo, though the self-loathing was missing. He shook his head, clearing it.

Toushirou quickly noticed her bleeding hands and took them into his own.

"Karin! What the...why didn't you stop?" he exclaimed, running a cool thumb over her knuckles.

She winced. "I didn't notice until I stopped."

He shook his head. "You could have broken knuckles." His hands glowed blue and the pain vanished quickly.

"Thanks," Karin whispered, looking back up into his eyes. "Toush," she breathed.

They were frozen on the floor of the training room, holding each other's hands, unable to move. The air was thick with tension; they were both afraid to breathe, let alone think. Their faces drifted closer and closer together, neither aware that they were moving. They were so close now that Toushirou could have counted the tiny faint freckles across her nose. Karin could barely breathe in anticipation. She had never had these kinds of feelings for anyone before. Their noses brushed against each other's, their lips barely millimeters apart.

And then their lips met, and everything stopped. Their hearts stopped. The world stopped turning. And it was just them, in Urahara's basement, kissing.

Toushirou's hand drifted to Karin's cheek, brushing a thumb against it softly as they broke apart.

"Karin," he sighed, pressing his forehead against hers, "we can't."

Karin tried to pull away in shock, but his hand moved to the back of her neck, keeping her close. "It's not that I don't want to. Because I do. I haven't felt like this for anyone as long as I've been alive. But—"

"—it's forbidden," finished Karin in a whisper, remembering the conversation with her father. "I have to be either a Substitute Shinigami, or dead."

Toushirou said nothing; the ache in his chest wouldn't allow him words. The thought of going the rest of his existence without her made him ridiculously depressed.

Karin was close to tears. She had had a crush on Toushirou when she was young, but now the she was older, it had blossomed into something much more. Love was too strong a word now, but very strong like seemed appropriate. She was so close, so damn close, and she still couldn't be with him.

Karin kissed him chastely, one last time. Her hand brushed against his cheek, taking him in.

"I need to go on a walk," she murmured, her hand falling from his face into his own. He kissed the back of her hand softly.

"Okay," he whispered. "I'm sorry."

"Me too."


Karin walked down the street to her house from Urahara's. She wanted to speak to her father; she didn't know what to do.

She was so conflicted and so confused, it was hard to see straight. She sat down on the curb, too confused to continue home. Too sad. She was feeling so many emotions at once that she couldn't think.

Her head snapped up as she heard the squealing of tires on the asphalt. There was a small car, with a terrified looking old lady inside, coming right at her. She was frozen, and screamed when the car hit her.

Then, she knew nothing.


Urahara's head snapped up, listening to something in the distance. He could feel something was wrong, and he was so sure he had heard a distant scream.

"Hitsugaya-taicho? Have you seen Karin?" he asked the captain.

Toushirou looked away. "She went on a walk."

The candy store owner stood. "Follow me."

Toushirou followed, confused, down the street as a crowd of people gathered around a wrecked car. He saw a little hand, a familiar hand, sticking out from under the wreckage. It took him a minute to process everything, but once he had, he sank to his knees in anguish.

Urahara took Benihime and tapped the captain on the forehead. "Go get her father, then go quickly to Soul Society and tell her brother. Go now!" he said quickly, without hesitation and without looking away from Karin's hand.

Once Hitsugaya had left, he placed the gigai against the wall next the car and went down to help his student.

"Karin! Karin, can you hear me?" he asked her, finding the rest of her through the metal parts.

Her eyes fluttered, and then went wide. She clenched her jaw, and Urahara saw she was holding back a scream.

"Urahara-sensei...where...Toush...?" she said softly, weakly.

"He went to get your father and Ichigo. Ichigo is coming home, okay? So stay with me. Your dad is coming, and Ichigo is coming."

"Ichi-nii...?" Karin whispered.

"Yes, your brother. I need you to wiggle your toes. Can you do that?" he asked, making sure she still had feeling in her body. Her toes twitched. "Good. Can you wiggle your fingers?" All her fingers twitched. "Good. Oh, look. Isshin is here."

Karin's father stood frozen at the sight of his daughter under this car. He went first to the lady, who had gotten out relatively safely and only had superficial wounds. His Karin, however, did not. The left side of her body was stuck under the car, and though she could still feel all her limbs, this was not good.

"Hey, Karin. What a mess, huh?" he chuckled weakly. "We're still waiting for the fire department to get this car off you. You can wiggle your fingers and toes, right? Good, good. Where does it hurt the most?"

"Knee...forearm...where's Toush?" she asked distractedly.

"Getting Ichigo. Did you hit your head?"

"Yes...ow...Daddy, I'm scared."

Isshin held back his tears. "It's okay, sweetheart. I'll get you out."

"I...don't think...so," she said, her breath wavering. "Tell Toushirou." She turned her head slightly to Urahara. "Tell Toushirou that I..."

"It's okay," Isshin interrupted. "He knows. I know he knows."

She heard the sirens and fought sleep. She bit back her cry of agony as the car was lifted off her, and as the paramedics lifted her onto the stretcher. She saw a flash of white and blond and demanded they wait.

She saw Toushirou and Ichigo approaching the ambulance. She looked to Ichigo, then to Toushirou. He nodded, and pushed Ichigo towards her.

Ichigo got into the ambulance and held onto his sister's hand as she cried.

"I'm so happy you're home," she sobbed, ignoring the pain she felt, as she stared at her brother. "I missed you so much. How much did Toushirou tell you?"

"Everything," Ichigo whispered. "Karin, you can't imagine how sorry I am."

She started to speak, but her eyes rolled into the back of her head and she started to seize. Ichigo, terrified, didn't let go of her hand as the paramedics pulled her onto her side and put a stick into her mouth to stop her from biting her tongue. The seizure was short, but felt much too long to Ichigo. He watched, helpless, as his sister fell into unconsciousness.

They arrived at the Kurosaki Clinic, and Isshin immediately went to work on her injuries, getting her prepped for an MRI. Ichigo watched the captain of the Juubantai sit in the waiting room, his head in his hands, and wondered what had happened between them while he was gone.

"Hitsugaya-taicho?" he asked, sitting beside him.

"Yes, Kurosaki-fukutaicho?" Toushirou looked up, and Ichigo was taken aback. The captain's face was tear-streaked, and he looked so defeated and sorrowful.

"What do you feel for her?"

Toushirou was so shocked by the question, but answered nonetheless. "I didn't know before how strong my feelings were for her. But this accident only showed how difficult life would be without her. I...I think I love her."

Ichigo nodded. "Good."

Toushirou raised an eyebrow. "Good?"

"Well, yeah. I know you well enough to know you'll take care of her. How could I say anything against it?"

Toushirou said nothing else, waiting for news from Isshin. Urahara came in with Ururu, Jinta, and Tessai to wait with them.

It was a long wait.


Karin was drifting in and out of consciousness, wanting to be awake, but afraid the pain would return if she was.

She was forced to wake when a stupid beeping noise wouldn't stop going off. She reached out a hand to turn off her alarm clock, but something was attached to it that stopped it from moving too far. She groggily opened her eyes and glanced at her hand.

An IV?

She shot up in bed, but thought better of it when a jolt of pain went down her side. The beeping on the monitor increased as she eased herself back down. She saw her father enter the room.

"Karin!" he cried happily. "Where does it hurt?"

"Side," she croaked.

She was grateful when he pushed a few buttons and the pain started to melt away. She was also grateful when a cup of water was pushed to her lips.

"Where are Ichigo and Toush and Urahara-sensei?" she asked quickly.

"In the waiting room. I'll let them in after I check your arm and your leg. You shattered quite a few bones."

She winced at that word, but allowed her father to poke and prod at the cast on her elevated leg and arm.

"Why were you in the street?" he asked quietly, as he poked at a particularly tender spot and she winced.

"I was on the sidewalk. That crazy lady hit me."

"Yes, but I thought you were staying with Urahara all day. Why did you come home so early?"

She started trying to remember. "Do you remember what I told you to tell Hitsugaya Toushirou before I went in the ambulance?" He nodded. "I wanted to get your advice about it."

He shook his head. "I can't tell you what to do regarding matters of the heart. You must be the one to decide."

Just then, a flash of yellow and white appeared outside her door. A smile, one of the first in a long time, appeared on her face.

"Ichigo! Toushirou!" she cried happily.

The both came in, smiling.

"Glad to see you awake," said Ichigo. Toushirou, of course, said nothing, but his eyes seemed misty and his mouth quirked up in a small smile. That was good enough for her.

"I'm only sort of glad to be awake." Ichigo looked confused. "Well I woke up and hoped I wouldn't see your ugly mug. But sadly…"

Instead of getting defensive and angry, Ichigo laughed. "I missed you, Karin."

Her eyes watered. "You have no idea, Ichi-nii, how much we all missed you."

He turned to the captain of the Juubantai, whispered something in his ear, and motioned to Isshin to follow, leaving Toushirou and Karin alone. He moved and stood beside her bed, thinking for a moment, before lying down next to her, holding her hand.

"Toush…" she started, but his lips quickly stopped her. He kissed her desperately, longingly, and passionately.

"I'm sorry," he whispered when they broke apart.

"Don't be," she said with a grin. He chuckled.

"What do we do now?" he sighed. She looked confused.

"I thought that was obvious," she said, placing her uninjured hand in his cheek. "I'm going to Urahara's as soon as I can to be a Substitute Shinigami like Ichigo."

"It's really dangerous," said Hitsugaya-taicho, knowing better than to say no like he wanted to.

"Then if I don't survive, I'll count on you to find me in Soul Society. I have enough reiatsu to be admitted into the Academy, so that'll make it easier."

"And if you become a Hollow?" he murmured against her hair.

"You know what to do."

The stayed there in silence, just holding each other, before they were interrupted.

"I never thought I'd see the day…"

Their eyes whipped up to meet the enormous chest of a tall woman.

"Matsumoto?" he asked. "What are you doing here? How did you find me?"

"My fellow fukutaicho thought that I should know. You know, in case you're banished."

"We have a plan," said Karin defensively, trying to sit up. "And who are you, exactly?"

"She my lieutenant," Toushirou whispered. "Matsumoto Rangiku, meet Kurosaki Karin."

"A pleasure," the busty woman said. "I suppose if anyone could thaw him out, it would be a Kurosaki."

Karin laughed loudly, but winced and gasped almost immediately. Her taicho's eyes widened into worry and fear.

"Karin, what's wrong?" She didn't answer, but instead pushed the button by her fingers a couple times.

"Laughed too hard," she said groggily. "These will make me sleepy." She placed her good hand on his cheek. "Go rest, Toushirou. I promise I will be here when you wake up."

He placed a chaste kiss on her lips. "I won't leave you, Karin. Don't worry, I'll be fine."

"Please, Toush," she murmured. "Please get some rest."

Once she was asleep, Matsumoto addressed her taicho. "You look like hell."

"Thanks. Do you have anything to report?"

"No, taicho. The Soutaicho asked me to check up on you and see if you've found any leads."

He ran his fingers through his hair, cursing his mission. "When you go back, tell him I've found the human and I'm teaching her reiatsu suppression, but it isn't moving very quickly." He glanced up and saw his fukutaicho looking nervous. "It's a half-truth. I have found her and I am teaching her."

"I've never seen you like this before," she said. "I've seen you with Hinamori Momo, but it wasn't as intense as this."

"I love her."

"What will you do?"

"She is going to train with Urahara to become a Substitute Shinigami as soon as she is able."

"And if she doesn't survive?"

"She has formidable reiatsu, so I will be able to find her in the Academy."

"And if she succumbs to the Hollow?"

He sighed. "She knows what I must do."

"Will you be able to?"

"I don't know," he whispered brokenly.

Matsumoto Rangiku looked at her captain for only a second before deciding she would do anything to keep that look off his face. He jumped when he heard the screech of wheels, and looked up.

His lieutenant was pushing another hospital bed up against the one where Karin was laying.

"You look like hell, Toushirou. Get some rest," she said, gesturing to the bed.

He placed a hand on her shoulder. "Thank you, Rangiku."

He curled up on the uncomfortable hospital bed facing Karin. He pushed down the bars on the left side of his bed and the right side of hers. He grasped her hand, and fell into a comfortable sleep.


Within the next couple days, Karin was finally allowed out of the hospital bed and into her room to rest. But of course, that was never her plan.

Toushirou disagreed with her plan and almost insisted that she rest a little longer. However, when he saw that she wasn't to be swayed, he decided to oversee her training.

Today was going to be the day she started the process of becoming a Substitute Shinigami.

Because Karin knew exactly what was supposed to happen, she wasn't as scared or nervous as Toushirou was. She was resigned to her fate, whatever it might be.

Toushirou carried her to Urahara's, using flash-steps to arrive without anyone's notice. They descended into the basement, and they sat in silence, holding hands, waiting for Urahara-sensei to show up.

Accompanied by Ururu, Jinta, and Tessai, Urahara immerged out of the shop and into the basement.

"Karin! How are you doing today?" he asked brightly. "Are you ready for the first lesson?"

She nodded solemnly, and shifted out of Toushirou's arms.

"Stand up!" cried her sensei joyfully.

Karin gestured with her good arm to her broken leg.

"Oh. Well, you'll stand in a bit, anyway," he said, still way to happy. He picked up Benihime, disguised as his cane, and poked her in the forehead. Her soul form drifted out of her body, and she stood on unsure and wobbly legs. She looked down, hesitantly touching her soul chain. She wouldn't have one very soon.

"How do you feel?" asked Jinta.

"Strange. I feel…stronger. But my leg and my arm feel so weird," she commented, poking her left arm.

"Splendid!" cried the excited candy shop owner. "I was hoping the first lesson wouldn't be too easy. Ururu?"

She faced Karin with a smile. "I'm going to chase you now. Please don't let me get you. You might die," she said quietly.

Karin's eyes widened a little as Ururu tried to "tag" her. She missed and hit a boulder, which cracked.

They ran around the basement until Karin's arm and leg felt normal. She looked over at Toushirou, who had moved to stand next to her sensei. His face was way too solemn, so she pranced over to him and kissed him hard on the mouth. He stood in shock for a minute before he responded. When they broke apart, his face was tinged pink and had a small, almost imperceptible smile on his face. But Karin saw it and considered her job done.

When she turned to apologize to Urahara-sensei, Tessai was standing beside her with an ax raised. She screamed in shock as he swung it down hard on her Chain of Fate.

"You scared the shit out of me, Tessai!" she grumbled, watching a link on her chain corrode. She looked up at Urahara. "Shattered Shaft?"

"Shattered Shaft," he agreed, and a hole opened up under herself and Tessai. She landed neatly, expecting the fall, and bowed low to Tessai.

He nodded and said, "Bakudou number 99: KIN!"

She was prepared to be bound, but unprepared for the strange feeling of it. She remembered Urahara's retelling of Ichigo's story, and decided to sleep.


Karin…

Oh. Her again.

Karin…

Her eyes opened and she found herself on the mountainside again. She saw the dark shadow, who repeated her earlier words as she fell into the pile of boxes.

Before she could even attempt to start looking, she was awoken by excruciating pain. Unable to stop herself, she cried out in surprise and agony.

"Karin? Karin, are you alright?" Hitsugaya-taicho called.

"The links are corroding," she replied hoarsely. "I was just about to start looking, too," she chuckled weakly.

"Aishteru," he whispered, his voice barely carrying down the hole.

"Aishteru," she replied, as the link finished.

She leaned back against the wall and drifted back into sleep. She awoke in the boxes, and she started to search. She took a deep breath and focused her reiatsu. She tried to feel for something familiar…something…

Her eyes closed, she reached blindly towards a box. Slowly, hesitantly, she laid her palm on the top of the box, before moving onto another and another.

A few hours later, she was awoken by the pain of her links fading. She gasped in discomfort, and huffed in frustration. She had been closer that time.

"Karin?"

"Toush?"

"How are you doing?" he asked softly. "I wish I could come down there."

"I'm okay. I got close that last time, but the link woke me up. How much time do I have left?" she asked in a whisper, almost afraid to hear the answer. It couldn't have been that long…

"Twelve hours," he responded tightly.

"Oh." Only twelve hours? "Hitsugaya-taicho?"

"Yes?" he asked, confused. She had only once referred to him using the formal version of his name.

"Promise me you won't let me become a Hollow. And if I do, you know what to do. Promise me you won't let me just run wild as a Hollow."

He said nothing for a while, hoping to hear her change her mind. The thought of the woman he loved becoming a Hollow was terrible, but killing her would mean he would die too. His heart would die. He didn't know if he could.

But he never could deny her. "I promise, my Karin."


In her mind, she had narrowed it down to fifty boxes, which was few compared to the infinite amount she had started with. She noticed the tops of the mountains were starting to crumble, and she knew she had little time left. She closed her eyes and held out her arm, taking a deep breath. She opened her eyes and in a flash, stuck her hand in the pile and came out with a box. It was red, like all the others, but this one felt different. It felt alive.

She opened it and saw the red hilt of a zanpakuto. She smiled and grabbed it, pulling it quickly out of the box.

She awoke at the bottom of the Shattered Shaft feeling refreshed and new. She looked down and saw herself clad in the traditional Shinigami garb with her zanpakuto tied to her obi sash. She jumped a little, using her reiatsu to stay in the air.

"Cool," she murmured. Glancing at Tessai and taking in his sleeping form, she decided to let him sleep and jump to the top of the ridiculous hole.

Only needing a single shunpo step, she was able to arrive in the basement. She landed soundlessly behind an agitated Toushirou. He glanced at his watch.

"Four hours," he mumbled. "You've got four more hours, Karin. Please don't make me do this. Please, Karin, mairavu." His shoulders shook as he wept silent tears. Jinta, Ururu, and Urahara were kind enough to pretend they hadn't noticed the strong captain break down.

"Silly, Toushirou," she whispered, her breath caressing his ear. His head whipped around, and he relaxed physically in relief.

Within the next second, she was in his embrace as he kissed her, his continuous tears wetting her cheeks. She kissed him back softly and soothingly, trying to offer what comfort she could give.

"Hey, you'll have plenty of time for this in Soul Society!" commented Urahara. "We have one more lesson, now. You have to find your zanpakuto's name."

"Can Toushirou do this one?" she asked her sensei sweetly. "Please?"

He gave in quickly and allowed the young captain to teach her.


Karin lay on the ground, sweaty and panting, taking advantage of her break. She was having fun fighting against Toushirou. He wasn't going all out, but neither was she. She still didn't know her zanpakuto's name, but she was getting close.

"Karin, you aren't trying hard enough," commented her sensei. She looked up at Urahara. "Why?"

"I don't need to," she said.

"You'll never get any better if you don't try hard enough," the Juubantai-taicho argued.

"I don't want to hurt you, Toushirou."

"Ah. Therein lies the problem. Fine. I'll fix it," said Urahara with a grin. "Nake, Benihime."

Karin's eyes widened as Urahara aimed at Toushirou. "Toushirou!" she cried. "Run!"

Why was her sensei doing this? Why was he trying to hurt her...her Toushirou? Anger built up inside. She called for her zanpakuto.

You're ready, it decided. Listen and speak my name.

"Gouon, Hikedamono!" she roared, and lashed out at her sensei. Urahara blocked with ease, and his shikai disappeared. Karin panted, confused. "What the hell?"

"You didn't want to hurt your boyfriend. So, I attacked him to see if that would help. It did. My job is done."

"Teme. I hate you," she growled, looking down at her shikai.

Normally, her zanpakuto was simple: it had a red hilt, a golden square cross guard, and a silver blade. Nothing fancy. But when she released her shikai, it changed. It became a black blade with red fire designs towards the hilt instead of a cross guard, and a red and black hilt. The blade wasn't as ostentatious as her brothers, but it had definitely grown in size. It was much wider and definitely longer. It had almost doubled in length; well, it felt like it had, anyway. She ignored Toushirou as he stared at her blade.

She smiled as her shikai disappeared and she placed the blade back into its scabbard.

"You'll train more at Soul Society," assured her…boyfriend. That seemed too light a term and fiancé definitely wasn't appropriate, though she wished it was. "We'll find out what you shikai can really do. And I'll help you achieve bankai as well."

"What am I supposed to tell Yuzu?" she asked him softly, drifting into his embrace. "Toush, she's my twin. I'm sixteen. How am I supposed to tell her that I'll be gone more than I'll be around?"

"I don't know," he whispered into her hair, wishing he had an answer. "We'll figure it out."

"Say it again," she mumbled.

"Say what?"

"What you called me before."

He thought for a minute before giving a small smile. He pushed a strand of hair behind her ear and leaned down. He whispered, "Mairavu."

She smiled so wide that it made up for all her fake ones in the past five year.


Apparently, Matsumoto was amazing at forging documents. So when Yuzu picked up the mail in the morning and a very official letter was addressed to her twin, she could only be excited.

Karin opened the letter slowly, just to bother her sister. And because she still had the use of one her arms. Her father had relented about her leg and allowed her a boot.

"Come on, Karin," she pleaded. "It's from Waseda High School. That's one of the most prestigious schools in Japan!"

Karin read it slowly, marveling in Matsumoto's genius. "It says that my grades and my soccer skills have been monitored since I entered middle school and they have not only a spot for me in the school, but on the varsity soccer team. And a full scholarship." She handed the letter slowly to her sister, almost afraid of her reaction.

But Yuzu didn't disappoint. "Karin! That's amazing! Congratulations! I'm so proud of you," she cried, hugging her twin. "You'll have so much work, though. And a lot of training. So you won't be able to call much. And the letter says that visitors distract for the workload, so you'll have to come home every now and then. Promise?"

"I promise," Karin replied, and her voice wavered.

"Don't cry, Karin! You'll be home before you know it! And then, you might even get into Waseda University! How cool would that be?"

"Pretty cool," Karin mumbled. She was going to miss her sister so much. "I'll miss you so much, Yuzu." She embraced her twin tightly, afraid to let go.

"I'll miss you, too, Karin."

Within the week, Yuzu had all her stuff packed. Of course, it was going into storage, but Yuzu didn't know that. Toushirou had left to Soul Society to talk to the Soutaicho about admitting Karin into the Academy. Ichigo and Rukia were preparing her for what she might face in Soul Society and the Academy.

"Everyone has heard of me, so they'll try to challenge you to see if you're as good as me. If you ever see Zaraki-taicho, run away."

"Always treat the nobles with respect; they're less likely to try to kill you in training."

"Always be a smart-mouth to Renji. I want to see what happens."

"Treat all the captains with respect."

"Punch Kuchiki Byakuya when you see him, would you?"

"Shut up, would you?" she snapped. "I'm nervous enough already without all your contradicting advice. Just…just leave me alone." She had been testy and irritable since Toushirou left. And now with all the conflicting advice, she was not only scared and lonely, but confused. Rukia and Ichigo left her in her room, feeling appropriately cowed.

She leaned on the window sill, looking up at the bright blue sky.

"Toush…where are you?"

"Right here, mairavu," she heard as he wrapped his arms around her waist and rested his chin on the crown of her head.

"Toush…I'm so nervous."

He scoffed. "Kurosaki Karin? Nervous? Never." He kissed the top of her head. "Karin, you are already a shinigami. You are going to the Academy, and you're powers are so great that you might be able to pass the exit exam within the first few days. You have nothing to be nervous about. You learned kido from Tessai, who was the captain of the Kido Corps. You will be amazing."

"You're so different from when you came here three weeks ago," Karin noted. "Will you go back to being cold?"

"Not with you. Never with you, Karin. You're too fiery for me to stay cold." She pinched his arm, and he chuckled. "You ready to go?"

She looked back at her room and nodded. "Race you to Urahara's?" she asked, and before he could answer, she disappeared in a haze of shunpo. He let a small smile grace his lips as he followed her, trying to catch up. Their shunpo steps were on par with each other's, and they arrived at the same time.

Karin said her appropriate good-byes and was released from her human body. Uarahara-sensei assured he would take good care of it and it would serve as her gigai when she would come back. Toushirou also shed his gigai and took Karin's hand.

Together, they stepped into Soul Society.


Epilogue

Matsumoto Rangiku was promoted to Sanbantai-taicho, and kept Kira Izuru as her fukutaicho. He was more than happy to do all her paperwork, and she was more than happy to let him.

Hinamori Momo never recovered from Aizen's betrayal. She is a permanent patient in the 4th Division hospital.

Kurosaki Yuzu never found out her siblings were shinigami. She stayed blissfully unaware until she married Hanakari Jinta. He refused to lie to her, and told her everything. She eventually forgave her family and loves to hear the stories from Soul Society.

Kurosaki Isshin never remarried, but he did give up his practice to work with Urahara Kisuke in his candy shop. He also helped him with his more devious plots, to the chagrin of his son.

Kurosaki Ichigo was promoted to Gobantai-taicho and chose Madarame Ikkaku as his fukutaicho. It took a lot of time to convince Madarame to leave the 11th Division, but he was eventually swayed. A few years later, Ichigo finally proposed to Rukia. She accepted, and they both live in the Kuchiki home.

Kurosaki Karin graduated from the Academy in three weeks. She immediately became a seated officer in the 9th Division, but was transferred to the 10th Division. She now serves as the fukutaicho in the Juubantai.

Hitsugaya Toushirou was sad to see his fukutaicho leave, though he was happy for her. Four three years, he did not have a lieutenant, though there were many viable applicants. Once she voiced her desire to join his division, Karin was transferred and became his fukutaicho. He proposed to her a few months later, and they live together in Seiretei. They visit Karin's family, as well as Toushirou's grandmother.

He never lied to her; everyone expected him to come back a changed man, but he was the same cold indifferent captain with little sympathy.

But never with her.


A/n: I am not Japanese. I am really not Japanese. So review and ask me if you missed a word.

I'm pretty sure you're all wondering what mairavu means. It's supposed to me "my love". I thought it sounded cheesy in English, so Google told me how to say it in Japanese.
Karin's zanpakuto is supposed to mean "beastly fire". It most probably doesn't, but I do like the way it turned out.
The Soutaicho tells Hitsugaya "Kouun". It's supposed to mean "good luck."
When Karin releases her zanpakuto, she says, "roar".

I think I addressed most of it, so please let me know if there's one I missed. Read and review!