Sooo...This is basically what happens every time I have a writer's block (not with ideas, but with words). I get a whole bunch of other words in my head, and they become small one/two-shots, like this. I've been working on this for a while (along with one other), and I incidentally finished this just now. Don't worry - this won't become another "Melodies Unheard," where I start yet another super long story. I've purposely kept most detail out of the story just for that, so both major conflicts will be solved in the next chapter. As you will see, there were so many opportunities in this chapter for me to leave off at a cliffhanger, but I didn't, just to keep this short.

One more thing - a note on age/year: When Bleach was released in 2001, Karin was 11 years old. I've done calculations based on those numbers. A timeline is at the bottom (so I don't ruin the story) to clear up any confusion. Well, enjoy!

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


Matsumoto hummed as she followed Rin down the halls of the ever creepy-beyond-belief Twelfth Division. It was rather hard not to focus on the jars upon jars of entrails, or gape at the horrifying machinery, but she managed, knowing nothing good could come of it.

It was kind of a pain that the Soutaichou had come to her with the task of retrieving a very special gadget for him from this squad. She had been planning to go on her usual sake run when the Hell Butterfly had caught her. She had no problems skiving off work with her taichou, but she couldn't very well refuse a job from the Soutaichou.

"In here," Rin muttered, leading her into an unlocked room. "We keep all the prototypes in here."

She nodded cheerfully, happy that she was almost done and could maybe still catch up with Kyoraku-taichou, Hisagi, and Renji at the bar for about an hour. Maybe she could send them a message now and ask them to order her a dozen bottles to start her off, so she wouldn't have to wait when she got there. As she was contemplating the idea, Rin finished shuffling through the many boxes in the room and held out a small package.

"Here you go," he said as she accepted it. "Please tell Soutaichou that this is the latest design."

As she nodded, a small box on one of the shelves caught her eye. It was full of little white, plastic bottles of what looked like pills.

"What's this?" she asked him curiously, standing on the tips of her toes and leaning her head to peer inside.

"Those are a few special effect pills we're working with," he mumbled. "They're in their later designs, almost ready for use. Some are prepared, but others, we're simply testing right now."

"Oooh," she chirped, eying them in awe. "What kind of special effects?"

Rin tugged on his ponytail in thought. "...Sleep, truth, enhanced strength, enhanced reiatsu, though that one is not working yet...There are a few more that should be labeled on the bottles."

Shrugging, he made for the door now that the task they had come for was completed. Matsumoto was about to follow when her eyes landed on a small bottle, and she stared at its label. T1. T for...truth, right? The boy had mentioned it himself.

Her eyes slyly slid over to the door, and she found herself facing Rin's back. This was too easy. Smirking, she grabbed the plastic case and quickly pocketed it before following him out. Her taichou had a lot of spilling to do.

...

Kurotsuchi-taichou was grumpily doing the last of his paperwork when the annoying little form of the Tsubokura Rin boy burst into his office.

"Taichou!" he gasped out in alarm. "A bottle of time traveling pills has gone missing!"

.. ..

Toushiro was steadily getting through his own pile of paperwork. Matsumoto had failed to come in again, but that was all right, because the Soutaichou had sent him a message informing him that he was borrowing his lieutenant for a small job. The thought of Matsumoto frustrated beyond belief at having been ripped from her sake made him feel more than a little satisfied. Served her right.

He mechanically set aside the finished piece of work and reached for the next. Halfway through it, the door slid open.

"Taichou," his second-in-command sang out, bouncing in. In her hand was a plastic tray, on which rested a small cup of some steaming liquid. "I brought you some tea!"

Gleefully, she placed it on his desk in front of him. It wasn't abnormal for her to bring him tea from time to time, though usually it was to soften him up after skipping work again, so he dismissed the action.

Matsumoto, however, was on edge, ready to practically shove the drink down his throat herself. It was unethical and without morals, she knew, but – yes, she admitted it – she had spiked her taichou's drink. This was the only way she could get him to talk! For years now, she had watched him decay into a broken piece of himself. Ever since he had lost the most important person in his life...

"It's her birthday today, you know," she said suddenly, and watched sadly as he tried to hide his flinch. Of course he knew. There was no way her taichou could ever forget her, no matter how much he pretended. But even so, she couldn't help but clarify, "Karin, I mean."

He remained silent and still. There was no need for Matsumoto to tell him – he already knew. It was a day he still marked on his calendar, mostly out of habit, though no one knew that but him.

They had been such passionate lovers, and not for just a short time either. She was sixteen when the rough Kurosaki twin came to Soul Society for the first time, still a living human, much like Kurosaki's friends when they first invaded. Already, then, the two were friends, and it was steadily growing into something more. She wanted to train, and so she spent every summer break from school in his world, learning as much as she could. He taught her, too, though neither had the guts to ever speak up about their feelings during that time alone together. When she surely left again for her realm at the start of autumn and school, it always crushed him.

It was two years before they managed to come together as more than friends, and it was never anything spectacular. Just one day, they both decided they had had enough of their little game of dancing around one another, and they found themselves at dinner that night, holding hands and smothering pleased smirks.

What followed was the best five years of his existence. Their time together was well-spent, with her infiltrating his office every time she came to visit, tugging him away from his work. Slowly, more smiles spread out across his lips, though they were always just for her. They were happy, content. As she grew older, she matured into a wonderful woman, and he always found a thick lump forming in his throat whenever he looked at her – she was positively radiant, and so bewitching with her wicked smirks and saucy smiles. With that kind of attraction, it wasn't long before the two began exploring each other in new ways.

But, he should have known that that happiness would have shattered, that everything was too good to be true.

Three years had passed since they'd been apart, since she'd blown a fuse about him working too much and having no time for her. And he's gotten so mad that he'd shouted right back about how she never appreciated his hard work and only thought about herself. And somewhere during that rant, he'd started yelling some nonsensical words about how she was so rough and such a tomboy, and why couldn't she act like a normal girl for once?

He hadn't meant it, of course. He'd always adored how she was different, but he'd just been so lost in his anger that he hadn't even thought about what he had been snarling at his one and only. She'd recoiled at that, hurt and anger flashing in her eyes, and stepped away when he'd tried to step closer, rejecting his touch. Then, she'd run out, telling him he was an ass and she wanted nothing more to do with him. The next day, she left for the Living World without seeing him and hadn't come back since, and his pride hadn't allowed him to seek her out. And before he knew it, three years had passed since he and his beloved girlfriend had broken things off.

He still refused to admit to anyone that he had been in the wrong, or how much he missed her, each and every day. It was just too easy to lie to himself, to act like all those wondrous smiles of hers, which could light up an entire skyline all on their own and somehow always made his heart skip a couple beats, had never existed, had never brightened up his day. It wasn't hard for him to believe that the office didn't feel so empty without her joyous laughs drifting down the halls, always lingering and making his own lips twitch, or even the way she could get so loud when she was outraged, always getting so in his face with her cheeks flushed and her eyes flashing. He had himself convinced that didn't miss her kisses, her touches, her presence.

"Taichou...?" Matsumoto called out carefully. His eyes had glazed over so suddenly, and she'd been hoping that he was thinking about Karin and how much he wanted her still, but his face had been so frighteningly blank. He thankfully seemed to snap out of it at the sound of her voice.

"Ah, Matsumoto," he said, looking a little lost for a second, but pulled himself together when he noticed the tea on his desk. He coiled his fingers around the cup handle. "Thank you for the tea."

"You're welcome," she replied, holding her breath. She waited with anticipation as he, painfully slowly, lifted the cup to his lips. Soon, she would know how much he really missed Karin, how much he wanted her back. She needed that admittance before she could ever think to help him, and she so hoped this would work, so her deserving taichou could be happy again. She would make sure of it.

He blew on it lightly, making the steam whip off track, and then breathed in the sweet scent. Karin liked sweet things. With that last agonizing thought, he took a small sip.

Matsumoto, excited beyond belief to finally get the truth from her taichou, only cried out in surprise when he vanished.

.. ..

Four years ago.

Toushiro groaned as he stirred, a little surprised to find that he was on his back. Hadn't he just been drinking tea in his office chair?

"Matsumoto," he groaned, sitting up and rubbing his head. "Just what was in that tea?"

There was no answer. Blinking rapidly, he looked around, and found that he was quite alone. She was nowhere to be found. In fact, his whole office was nowhere to be found. He was sitting on soft dirt, the open sky above him, surrounded by trees and shrubbery. What in the world...?

"Where am I?" he wondered aloud, unsteadily getting to his feet and narrowing his eyes in suspicion. Crouching lower and preparing himself for any sort of unexpected attack, he started walking. To his shock, as he took in more of his surroundings, he realized that he was indeed still in Soul Society.

'What the hell is going on?' he thought in confusion.

Looking around, he was quite sure he was somewhere near the Tenth Division courtyard. Though surrounded by trees now, he could see a clearing coming up, and he could only assume he was nearing the training grounds. As he stepped out, he realized he had been right. But, there was something quite off...

A large pear tree stood off at the corner. Karin had planted it sometime during one of her visits a few years back, claiming his division was a little too boring and needed sprucing up. Though normally he would have argued against changing something so suddenly, she had looked so excited that he couldn't deny her, and everyone in his division had thankfully voiced their approval. They always used to climb up and watch the sky there together.

But it had been cut down only a few years ago. It had absolutely killed him to give the order, but they had gone without rain for too long one summer; it had become so weak that it looked as if it might fall over soon, and that had the potential to cause injury. Though Matsumoto had insisted that nobody minded keeping it up and simply avoiding it, he was the taichou, and he had to put safety before his personal feelings. He'd skipped work for the first time the day the Eleventh Division had walked in, rough grins on their faces and a humongous axe over Ikkaku's shoulder.

But, against all of reality, there it was, soaking in the sun in that same one spot he had grown accustomed to always seeing it in. Was this someone's idea of a joke? Grumbling, he strode over to it, placing his hand against the bark and giving it a push. It wouldn't budge.

"If Matsumoto thinks this is some twisted way to make me feel better," he growled under his breath. His head swerved in the direction of his office, ready to march there right now and demand answers from Matsumoto, who was probably still in there, laughing at her stupid idea to drug his tea, drag him out here, and then set up this whole stupid plan.

However, somebody else caught his eye first, and his breath hitched in his clogged up throat. It was just two shinigami standing out in the open, chatting with one another, but his mouth went dry as his heart picked up overtime. His eyes widened as he weakly took in the raven hair and deep blue eyes.

It was Karin.

It'd been three years since he'd last seen her, and yet, there she was, so strikingly beautiful and wonderfully familiar. He hadn't realized until now how much he missed seeing her in full Shinigami uniform, but the sight of it now was so welcoming, so perfect. And she was laughing! Kami, he had missed it – how could he possibly deny it now when the warmth spreading through his body was proof enough? She was talking to some shinigami he couldn't be bothered to remember right now; his eyes were only on her, roaming her hungrily, up and down.

He watched as she waved goodbye to her companion, a grin still lingering on her lips. When she turned to shunpo away, however, she looked up for just the briefest moment, and her eyes latched onto him. They widened, and a large smile split out across her lips.

"Toushiro!" she called out joyfully. And then she was running at him, and throwing her arms around him, and kissing every inch of him her lips could reach. He stopped breathing for a moment, relishing in the feel of her lips. His knees felt weak as he automatically wrapped his arms around her waist and returned the frenzied attack on his lips. They hadn't kissed like this in so long. Oh, how he had wanted this.

But, though he might have been enjoying himself, this – he could never have expected this of the girl who had avoided him for three years, the woman he had been pining over. What could have possibly made her react like this upon seeing him? He ripped his lips away from hers, though still kept her plastered to his body.

"Karin," he murmured softly in her ear, his voice low and concerned. "Are you all right?"

She pulled back her head, keeping her arms locked tightly around his neck and throwing him an incredulous look.

"Am I all right?" she snapped. "I should be asking you that, dummy! How the hell did you make it back here without a single scratch on you?"

Before he could even begin to process the strange words, she was kissing him again, moaning furiously. And this time, she slipped a hand under his clothing, running a hand up and down his chest. He felt his thoughts spiral, and his brain was too fried to protest as she tugged him along by his sash. He wouldn't have wanted to, anyway.

They ducked behind their tree.

.. ..

"Kami, Toushiro," she rasped, grinning widely. "You sure brought your A game today."

He flushed a little at that. Maybe he had been a little enthusiastic, but she was just so damn intoxicating, and so eager. He had been dreaming of this for a while now, and she had seemed to enjoy it, which pleased him.

Tightening the sash around her kosode, though it was still considerably loose and gave him a great view, she snuggled up to him. His arm was spread out underneath her, and she nestled into it as a make-shift pillow as she pasted herself to his side again.

"You know," she mumbled, "I still haven't forgiven you completely." Raising an eyebrow, he looked down at her. She was looking up at him defiantly. "You had us all worried, you ass. I know I said I would never forgive you, but I'm just glad you're back safe, so let's forget about the argument, okay?" She went a little red and turned away.

Toushiro, however, frowned. He had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. Back safe? He had never left. Yes, they had had an argument, but he had a feeling they were thinking of two completely different instances. The thing was, it all sounded rather familiar...

A sick feeling suddenly churned in his stomach. "Karin," he said, making her look up curiously. "What is the date today?"

She paused. "The twenty-third of April. Why do you ask?"

He shook his head. "No. I mean, what year?"

She sent him an odd look. "Did the mission make your brain go all screwy, Toushiro? You know what the year is."

Now he was sure they were both misunderstanding one another. What mission? His backside had been glued to his office chair for months.

"Please, Karin," he said firmly. "Tell me the year."

She frowned deeply, but still answered, "2012."

Groaning heavily, he placed a hand over his eyes. Something had gone terribly wrong.

Karin cupped one of his cheeks in alarm at the agonizing sound. "Toushiro? What's wrong?"

He didn't answer as his memories suddenly clicked into place. Suddenly, it all made sense. The mission she kept talking about, his coming back safely, her reaction to seeing him, and her words.

He remembered this mission. A year before their big fight, when he and Karin had first started getting very serious about each other, Soutaichou had called him in for a special mission. It was gruesome, something that he might not have come back alive from. But he had accepted; it was his job, after all, and he was prepared to face anything. He was to grab Hyourinmaru, and then depart immediately.

Karin hadn't been too happy. She'd heard right away, and she'd sought him out, kicking Matsumoto out of the office and slamming her hands on his desk top, demanding answers. They'd hurled words at each other, screaming. Looking back, it was one of their worst arguments, though it hadn't broken them apart.

She'd demanded that he refuse the mission, stay back and live, damn it! He'd tried to make her understand that, as a captain, he couldn't do such a thing. She'd gotten pretty nasty about that, going as far as to slap him across the face.

"You'll stay if you damn well want me around when you come back!" she had yelled. He had shaken his head sadly, cupping her cheek and mumbling an apology as he strode out the door. She'd yelled out to him that he not even bother looking for her after this, as she would never forgive him.

Well, he'd gone on the mission, and he'd survived it. It was some of the worst pain he had ever been in, spending every day of two weeks getting viciously attacked by hordes of Hollows and Arrancar. But he had powered through it, because nothing he faced could have been worse than seeing that heartbroken look on his lover's face as he had been forced to leave her behind.

When he had come back, he's been sent to Fourth Division immediately, his injuries serious and needing to be tended to. Halfway through the treatment, Karin had burst in, scanning the room before her eyes landed on his form.

"You idiot!" she'd screamed, scaring quite a few of the healers in the room – he was used to it. "Why didn't you tell me you were back?"

"Between getting sliced by a dozen swords and waking up just now, when exactly did you expect me to do that?" he had asked, attempting to sound amused to placate her, but still wincing as Hanatarou dabbed at a fresh wound. "Besides, I thought you said not to look for you?"

She had ignored that last part, instead seeking out Unohana-taichou for his report, sighing in relief when she heard that he was well enough to be allowed to return to his own quarters, though the most gruesome injuries required that he remain in bed. She'd personally taken him home, and then she hadn't left, instead choosing to stay and tend to him and make him comfortable.

Frequently, she would end up spending the night, so she could take care of any needs during the late hour. Soon, after he had healed, she'd gone back to her own quarters, but both had found the previous arrangement strangely lacking now. Going to sleep in each other's arms had been the most wonderful part of his days. They had missed each other's presence in the night, and it wasn't long after that when she had finally moved in with him, spending her time in his quarters when she was visiting his realm.

"You know," she had mumbled to him once, during his bed-ridden state, as she dabbed at his sweating forehead with a cool, wet towel, "I still haven't forgiven you completely. You had us all worried, you ass. I know I said I would never forgive you, but I'm just glad you're back safe, so let's forget about the argument, okay?"

It was the exact same words she had said to him just now, in the exact same fashion. The only difference was, she was saying them a week early, and to the wrong Toushiro.

He had no idea how this had happened, but he was fairly certain that he was in the wrong time. It explained why this Karin had been so excited upon seeing him, because – his throat clogged up as he admitted it – there was no way his Karin would ever act like this with him. Not anymore.

But how? His blessed genius mind immediately jumped to the only logical conclusion – his good-for-nothing lieutenant. How had he missed it? She had seemed so on edge when she'd come in, when she'd offered him the tea. Of course, there was something in the drink. The moronic woman had sent him back in time!

He was going to kill her.

"Toushiro!"

Her voice snapped him out of his memories, and he gaped at her, a little surprised to find her face hovering over his so closely.

"What the hell is the matter with you?" she growled. "Do you like freaking me out like this? It's not funny."

"...Sorry," he muttered, turning away his face. It seemed selfish, but it was so lovely to see her worked up like this about him. How could he ever have convinced himself that he could be fine without her? "Lost in thought."

She shook her head before grabbing his chin and pulling his face back to hers. Their lips met, and she gave him a deep, drawn-out kiss before pulling away and finally sitting up. She put her arms up and stretched delightedly, moaning in pleasure. The action made the kosode fall off her shoulder, and he eyed the exposed skin greedily.

"Have you gotten checked out by the Fourth yet?" she asked as she straightened up her clothing. Reluctantly, he sat up and did the same. It wouldn't do for someone to stroll along and find them.

"Yes," he decided. "They said I'm all right."

She beamed. "Great! Then, come on. You're taking me out to dinner."

It was the same thing they'd done when he'd first healed from his mission. The thought of reliving all of his most pleasant memories with his Karin...it gave him such pleasant chills. In that one moment, he decided he didn't want to tell her who he truly was. There was no need to complicate her life, and he needed this – he craved her so badly. He had one week to relish this, and he would make the most of it.

.. ..

Dinner was just how he remembered it – wonderful, pleasant, romantic. He and Karin went to a small restaurant in Rukongai and ordered a booth in the corner of the rowdy eating establishment. When he sat down, Karin took the seat next to him rather than the one across from him, squishing their bodies together. She couldn't stop kissing him and, just as had happened the first time, a rather uncomfortable waiter had to wait for her to get her fill of him for the time being before she even thought of placing an order.

"So, how did everything go?" she asked when their food was served. She twirled her cup in her hand, causing the drink inside to swish around.

"All right," he said cautiously. He had to be careful with what he said, or she would get too suspicious. "Just masses of Hollows and Arrancar that I had to fight off."

"And you didn't even get injured?" she asked in a low voice. When he dared to look over at her, she was gazing up at him in awe and biting her lip sensually, her eyes darkened with lust. She always liked strong men, so the thought of such a triumph made him ten times more attractive in her eyes.

"Of course I had a few scratches," he was forced to admit. It wasn't a good idea to make up a story too grand, no matter how much he liked the way she was looking at him. "But, nothing so big that the Fourth Division could not heal to be as good as new."

She nodded in understanding, and on the surface it seemed she had casually returned to her food. But, under the table, he could feel her hand rubbing his thigh up and down. He gulped. Now that he thought about it, this was also around the time where their relationship suddenly went through a new kind of heat, maybe because of how long it had withstood, or maybe because they had both matured so much. Either way, they had never been able to get enough of each other, and Karin was obviously experiencing this new type of interest.

He...Well, he couldn't deny that he wasn't enjoying the attention. He'd already gone through this phase with her, of course, but it had been too damn long since he'd been allowed to hold her and touch her so freely. Yes, he was definitely enjoying himself.

"Karin, we're in public," he reprimanded her, though his heart wasn't in it as he made no move to halt her daring hand. She smirked.

"We were in public this evening, too," she retorted. He'd always loved when she'd acted like a little minx with him, though even she didn't know that.

"At least there were no other people around then," he reminded her. His arm acted on its own and started running up and down her back. She practically purred in approval.

"This is more exciting," she whispered.

"Ummm...Excuse me?" They both looked up to see the waiter looking at them in horror, a blush on his face. He had obviously witnessed everything. "Will there be anything else?"

"No, thank you," Toushiro answered with as much dignity as he could. When he nodded and left, Karin burst into laughter.

"Oh Kami, his face!" she choked out. "That poor man!"

His lips twitched up as he returned to his meal.

.. ..

Four years later.

"Karin-chan, Happy Birthday!" Yuzu sang, throwing her arms around her sister, just as she walked in the front door.

"Back at you, Yuzu," she answered, grinning slightly. She pulled off her shoes, excited to be visiting her family after so long in her quiet apartment.

"Can you believe it?" her sister squealed. "Twenty six! Gosh, I feel so old," she joked, placing her hands against her cheeks in horror.

"If you're old, then what does that make me?" Rukia teased, suddenly popping up behind them.

Yuzu flushed. "I didn't mean it," she protested, pouting, and their sister-in-law just chuckled at her reddening cheeks.

Karin drifted into the living room, collapsing on the couch. Her family had long since stopped making such a big deal about birthdays. Well, she had never really liked partying just because it was so many years after her mother had done all the work and she came into the world. Her father had protested countless times, but all three of them had grown up and grown out of the tradition, though they still liked to be together.

"Ichi-nii here?" she called out. Rukia strode in after her.

"He's taking a phone call from Soul Society upstairs," she explained, settling down beside her. Yuzu quickly took the spot on her other side, and she found herself sandwiched pretty tightly between her two sisters. Not that she minded.

"Emergency?" she asked Rukia instead. Soul Society hardly called her brother nowadays.

"Matsumoto's in some sort of a panic, apparently," she replied, and then, biting her lip hesitantly, she continued, "Something to do with a pill from Twelfth Division and Hitsugaya-taichou."

Karin felt her face fall immediately, and Rukia and Yuzu pretended not to notice for her.

How long had it been since she'd heard that name? A few years, at least. After they had broken up, her family had been tactful enough to avoid bringing him up, knowing how much it pained her.

She still wasn't sure how it had ended. The day had started off like any other, with her sparring a bit with Renji and then showering back in the quarters she shared with Toushiro, wishing he was in there with her. When she'd stepped out of the house, however, she'd been met with a peculiar sight. It had been a bunch of his fangirls, attempting to peer through the windows and maybe catch sight of him inside.

'Silly girls,' she had thought with amusement. 'A true Hitsugaya fangirl would know he spends his entire day married to his office.'

That had been usually how she handled fangirl encounters, by laughing them off. She had thought it was hilarious how uncomfortable they made him, and she had known he was never the type to cheat, so she had nothing to worry about. And, as she'd been contemplating telling the group of admirers where he was just to enjoy watching him squirm, they'd caught sight of her, the house key in her hand. Whoa. If looks could kill. Well, she was used to that kind of treatment, too.

"Afternoon, ladies," she'd called cheerfully, going as far as to wave.

"Let's go, guys," one of them had grumbled, stomping away. The other girls had followed, disappointed glares on their faces.

"Leaving so soon?" she'd called after them playfully. The "leader" had swerved around and scowled at her.

"Don't make fun of us just because Hitsugaya-sama got lured in by your tricks."

She'd raised her eyebrows. Tricks? Well, that had been the first she was hearing of that.

"I honestly don't know what he sees in you," she had continued, eying the bemused Kurosaki with distaste. "You're not even that pretty, and everyone says you have a really foul mouth. Why couldn't he at least have picked a normal girl? At least then it would have been less embarrassing for us." Her friends had been nodding along with her in agreement.

When they'd stalked off, she'd taken a good look at herself. Was that true? Was she abnormal? Normally, she would never have let the words of a fangirl get to her, but she had been called abnormal more than once, and many of the girls at her high school used to sneer at her when she'd had just the slightest bit of mud on her clothes. She'd ignored them, of course – they were never worth her time – but their words had stung sometimes. With her head swimming with unease, she'd shunpoed to her boyfriend, wanting to spend time with him to get over the encounter. He had always been the perfect remedy.

But when she'd entered, he had been too immersed in his work to even acknowledge her presence for a while. She'd loudly cleared her throat, and he'd finally snapped his head up, looking around the room wildly, catching sight of her.

"Oh, Karin," he'd deadpanned, absent-mindedly going back to his papers. "It's just you."

She'd frowned. Just? "Come on, Toushiro," she'd said, ignoring the twinge of disappointment and pulling on his arm. "Let's go have some fun, or something."

He'd lightly wrenched his sleeve out of her grip. "Not right now, Karin. I have some work to do." He'd looked really stressed, and normally she would have left him alone when she knew he really meant it, but the words of those bratty girls had been stuck in her head. She'd wanted to prove them wrong.

"Toushiro, you're always working," she'd complained, ignoring how he'd pulled away and grabbing him again. "Come on."

"Karin, please," he'd retorted firmly. "There is a deadline I have to meet and -"

"Forget about the deadline," she'd cried. And though it had sounded completely ridiculous even in her head, she'd plowed on, "You never make time for me anymore!"

He'd stared at her, incredulous, and that had been where things went downhill. Soon, they'd been screaming at one another, making petty arguments that probably neither of them had meant. But then, he'd dealt that final blow.

"Why can't you just act like a normal girl for once!" he'd exploded, just like that fangirl, and it had felt like she had been slapped in the face. He was the one person she had never wanted to hear that from.

Stepping away, she had run from him, packing up her things and spending the night with Ichigo. The next day, she'd returned to the Living World, where she'd stayed ever since. He'd confirmed those deep fears she had buried in her subconscious long ago, because even Kurosaki Karin had insecurities. That was what made her most...normal.

She'd thought of him everyday for so long after that, wondering whether she should call him and make amends. Her life just felt so empty without seeing that spark of intelligence in his eyes or that roughness to his poorly used grin. And she almost had. Because the truth was, she would have easily forgiven him any day, but what he did – or didn't do – afterwards, broke her heart.

.. ..

Four years ago (again).

Karin nuzzled up next to him, unconsciously burying her head deeper into his bare chest in her sleep and tightening her hold around his waist over the covers. His eyes softened as he looked down at her, perfectly content with watching her snooze with moonlight whitening her creamy skin. A few beads of sweat still lingered, glistening under the light as they desperately clung to her skin. Yet another memory he was glad had been re-lived down to a tee.

When the two had returned to their quarters in the Tenth Division, kissing hungrily as they stumbled through the door backwards and kicking it behind them, he had been a little too preoccupied to really look around. But now, he could see evidence of his travels everywhere. His own room was entirely different, stirring his lingering memories.

Soccer posters hung on the wall opposite their bed. Karin had hung them there soon after moving in, when she'd been feeling a little too homesick. Then, she'd gladly taken over half of his closet, though Matsumoto, in her futile attempts to convince Karin to dress in a more feminine manner, had liked to complain that it still looked like it was just his clothes. Thankfully, his girlfriend had refused the offers of plastic make-up and stinky perfume, and he'd really admired that. Proofs of Karin living here were everywhere now, and he enjoyed basking in the nostalgia. The raw pain he would feel a year from this time, when he would walk into this same room in the future to find all the walls stripped bare and the closet half full, was still a rather fresh memory. He could never forget.

"Mmm," Karin moaned, stirring a bit as she was disturbed by the deep, pained gasp he breathed in. He stilled, keeping perfectly rigid until she drifted off again. His hand began to absentmindedly stroke her, sifting through her hair and rubbing her soft skin. She unconsciously hummed in appreciation, and he felt his shoulders deflate as he relaxed. Her presence had always done that to him.

And it hurt to remember that, soon, he would have to leave her again. An ache ripped through his chest at the thought of parting from her, but he knew that he only had a week to enjoy this, and then he would have to leave. He knew himself pretty well, so he could easily admit that when the Toushiro from this time finally returned from his mission, he would not be willing to share his woman, even with himself. Darn his possessiveness.

And now that he was thinking about it, how was he going to get back? Being in his girlfriend's presence had screwed up his logic, but now that he had a moment to think about it, he was in deep trouble. He didn't belong here, in this timeline next to this woman, but he was trapped, with no exact understanding of how, and no way to return. Damn Matsumoto.

Though he loathed to admit it – for multiple reasons – it was seeming like there was only one option. It had been an idea that had been at the back of his head all day, and the best time to act was now, when the world was asleep and unsuspecting. So, very carefully, he lifted Karin's arms off of his waist and slipped out of bed. Though she mumbled a bit, she didn't protest any farther, and he sighed in relief as he quickly pulled on his discarded uniform again.

Jumping through the open window, he glanced back one last time before shunpoing to the Twelfth Division.

.. ..

The division was in full swing when he arrived, workers hurrying about and machines whirring as they computed data. No one looked like they had any intent of stopping any time soon, despite the late hour approaching, and he felt rather envious of Kurotsuchi-taichou for a moment.

But, he couldn't let himself get distracted so easily. He picked up his pace, rushing to the taichou's laboratory – the chances of him being in there were far greater than him being in his office. And his intuition turned out to be correct. He found the scientist in his beloved, dark workshop, bent over a pile of papers and scribbling furiously. He tried not to look at the disgusting projects littering the shelves or the eerie mannequins.

"Kurotsuchi-taichou," he mumbled, bowing a little at the door in a display of respect.

"Hitsugaya-taichou," the man responded, though not bothering to face him. He sounded a little annoyed at being interrupted. "Aren't you supposed to be on leave at a mission?"

"Not exactly," was his reply. Kurotsachi scowled over at him, not appreciating the vague answer when he was so involved in some other work. He wanted straight-forwards replies.

"Explain," he snapped.

"You monitor the reiatsus of all shinigami stationed elsewhere, correct?" Toushiro questioned him instead. The man nodded impatiently. "Could you please look up the spiritual pressures at the location I was stationed at?"

"I've got enough work to do without doing favors for every little taichou that decides to skip his duties," Mayuri growled. "If you needed to know this, perhaps you should be there yourself."

"Kurotsachi-taichou, please," Toushiro insisted, gritting his teeth to control his temper with the man. This was the only way he could offer solid proof of what he was about to tell him. "Check the reiatsu levels and tell me what you observe."

Grumbling furiously, the man slammed his pencil onto his work and strode over to his array of computer equipment. His fingers swiftly flew over some of the keys, and the monitors they controlled suddenly lit up with charts and graphs. Some were elevated to high numbers, while others hung dangerously low. Toushiro gritted his teeth at the sight, remembering some of the horrendous battles they had faced.

"Satisfied?" Kurostachi hissed. He jabbed at the screens. "This is the data for your subordinates. From what I can see, some of them are nearing death. Is this all you wanted to see?"

"No." Toushiro shook his head. "There's one more thing."

"Well, spit it out!" Mayuri demanded.

"Can you see my data on there?"

Kurostachi took a second to process this question, and then his painted face twisted into anger.

"Are you trying to make fun of me, boy?" he inquired in irritation.

"Look closely," Toushiro urged, ignoring the 'boy' comment for the time being, in light of this greater problem. "Surely you can trust your own graphs?"

"Of course I can," Kurotsachi defended himself. "We'll see about this." Huffing, he peered closely at the numbers displayed on the monitors. "As I said, all I can see are your subordinates. There is no logical way your levels could be...on this...chart." His eyes widened, and he shoved his face straight at the screen, looking as closely as he could at that illogical piece of data, as if that would fix the problem. Then, he rounded on Toushiro. "Why are you levels on there, boy?" he asked anxiously. "You're clearly standing in front of me."

Behind that impatience, however, was a glint of excitement in his eyes at this new, interesting project, and Toushiro suppressed an urge to shudder.

"Taichou," he said gravely. "You may not believe me, but there are two of me, my being, living right now in this timeline."

"How?" the man demanded, stepping a little closer.

"You see, I come from the future" the ice taichou explained, ignoring the way his colleague's eyebrow shot up in skepticism. "My conclusions may not be one hundred percent accurate, but this is the best guess I can make. You see, I drank a cup of tea my fukutaichou offered me, and I suddenly found myself here, in this time."

"And just why are you coming to me?" Mayuri asked haughtily, eying him closely. "You may be free enough to go off gallivanting through time, but don't you know I have enough on my plate?"

Toushiro felt his rage spike – he worked hard, damn it – but he bit it back. It would not be a good idea to upset this man, who was obviously goading him on purpose. At least he seemed to believe him.

"I can make no other guess as to how Matsumoto would get such a device other than from your division," he argued instead. "It is my understanding that, four years in the future, you will create something that will enable me to shift through time, and that is my only way back."

Mayuri scoffed. "Just what do you hope to accomplish by telling me of this device, boy?"

Toushiro squared his shoulders in determination, his eyebrows puckered. "I need you to create it four years early."


So, Karin's a bit more cheerul than usual, but this is one of my takes on how she might be when she's matured a bit and finally realizes she doesn't need to bottle up everything. Next chapter will be up...whenever I get around to finishing it ^^' I've started the next chapters for all my stories, too (as well as this one), so it really just depends on the words I can come up with. I hope you liked this :)

Timeline:

2001: Karin is 11, and meets Toushiro for the first time (we all knew that ^^).

2006: Karin is 16, and goes to Soul Society to train.

2008: Karin is 18, and she and Toushiro finally confess and get together. They have a beautiful relationship for five years.

2012: Karin is 22, and future Toushiro lands in her time while his other self is on a mission.

2013: Karin is going on 23, and she and Toushiro have a big fight, causing them to break up for the next three years.

2016: Karin is 26, and at this time, Toushiro drinks the tea that sends him four years back in time.