AN: Wow, insane! I'm really glad everyone is enjoying the story. I know this has been a rather long story for me (I haven't written this much in a while, and I usually write things around 2000 to 3000 words tops) so it's amazing how much support it's gotten. I don't wanna keep you, so please enjoy the final chapter. :)

Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid…

No matter how many times she chanted it in her head, Karin found that her unspoken plea to be swallowed up by a hole and eaten by Hollow continued to go unanswered. While not her favorite way to die, she would much rather rest in some demon's belly than end up in Soul Society and come across a certain white-haired captain who she just unwittingly confessed her… something to.

Great, not only am I stupid, my vocabulary is that of a nine-year-old's.

She sighed heavily, looking up from the sink where she had laid her head down and into the mirror in front of her. What reflected back was a very distressed looking young woman, completely unlike the girl who had arrived a few hours earlier and was full of nervous but excited energy. That had been a girl who was anxious but comforted by the man at her side. Now though, she wasn't even sure she could look a certain Hitsugaya Toushirou in the eye without bursting into flames or—if he so chose—being frozen into a glacier.

But hiding in the girl's bathroom was not her idea of the perfect prom night, so, knowing that it was only a matter of time before Toushirou consumed all of his patience, she straightened herself up to face him and the rest of the world. She had a feeling he knew exactly where she was, but had chosen to give her some space out of respect for her awkward and most likely unwanted declaration (honestly, it was sort of scary how well he knew her). It was that, or he was just trying to prolong the mortification she was bound to face when they reconvened, and with any luck it'd only be him that she'd have to face.

C'mon, Karin, don't be like this! she cheered to herself, trying to shake off her nerves. You're no quitter! You're a Kurosaki! You know, half-shinigami, half-human and… a complete idiot. Banging her head against the counter with another large sigh, she couldn't help it as the shame rushed through her veins as it so enjoyed doing. But she knew she was being unfair, leaving her friend to his own devices, probably confused about her hot-and-cold attitude. Not to mention that the girls at this school were practically sharks, and if he were a weaker man, she doubted Hitsugaya would have stood a chance against them. She needed to get back out there, even if only to apologize and return home with her head hanging in disgrace.

Flicking her stare back into the glass, she noticed that a few wayward strands of hair had fallen from the knitted bun and she had unintentionally wrinkled her dress during her rush to solitude. Fixing herself one last time, Karin pulled herself together so that she could talk to the shinigami captain with some of her self-respect intact. Peering outside and looking down the corridor, she felt for his reiatsu, not surprised to find it close to an open air hallway nearby. Gathering up her courage, she made her way to that area slowly, being careful not to let the sound of her heels give her away. He'd probably sense her before then, but she didn't want another student inquiring about her or her now infamous incident. All that could wait until Monday, at least.

As she turned the corner, she spotted him leaning against the fenced boarding along the walkway, clicking through his phone carelessly. His clear, focused eyes drifted across the screen, one hand stuffed in his pocket while the other punched the buttons. How he managed to type an entire report on that small screen had always been a bit of a mystery to her, as she reminisced of a time when she would talk until he shut the small Soul Pager and then turn to glare at her with a rather off-putting look.

The old memory played back like a reel on a projector, bringing down an immediate flood of warm feelings from when she was a child as she looked at him with adoring eyes. Smiling a bit to herself, Karin didn't know how he had so easily calmed her heart, an act that only he could do. Even now with her confession hanging over their heads, he was giving her back that old fighting spirit, the same strength she used to kick around a soccer ball even on a bad leg and confront a Hollow that had once been a friend. Coming out of the shadows, she made a movement to catch his attention, but halted when another form came to stand in front of him.

Is that… Mai? she thought, frowning when she greeted Toushirou with a bright smile and her dark feminine grace, two things that always gotten her any man she wanted. She pushed herself back into the dark, watching the interaction with a combination of both guilt and dread. This whole night had been about getting back at this girl, and doling out a bit of justice for all those times she had taken the hate so as not to disrupt the delicate balance she had established with her teachers and classmates. Now though, it seemed as if Mai was going to try and take both the battle and the war in one full sweep. But, as much as she wanted to stop her, Karin didn't. Her gut was telling her that she didn't need to, not yet at least. There was a voice deep down telling her to trust him, to trust Hitsugaya to do the right thing, and every time she had it, she listened.

"I saw you standing out here by yourself. You don't go to Karakura High, right?" Mai asked, her question completely innocent despite the seductive look in her eye. Hitsugaya eyed her, more out of assessment than interest, wondering why there were so many cut outs in the already flimsy piece of cloth. Mistaking it for a flirtatious gesture, the redheaded girl moved so she stood only a foot from him, shooting him a 'come hither' look.

"I'm waiting for my date," was all he said, raising a brow at the girl that had now invaded his personal space. Not quite registering the detached tone of his voice, her reply was to shoot him a leer, a sign that might have made a younger man pleased with her attention but only served to bother him more. He has had the pleasure (or frightening experience, in some cases) of working alongside some of the most sought-after women in Soul Society, femme fatales who were as deadly as they were beautiful. Some high school chit didn't even come close.

Well, that's not quite true, he murmured to himself, sighing as he kept a leash on his ever-shortening endurance for this woman. While he certainly didn't want to rush her, Karin was taking an awfully long time. He was sure she was fine, but a part of him still worried, wondering if he should give in and go check on her. Without even looking at Mai, Hitsugaya pushed off the half-wall to find the raven-haired Kurosaki, but was met with resistance when a body attached itself to his arm.

"Now, really, is that any way to treat a lady?" she pouted, batting her eyes at him sweetly. It only made him glare harder. "Besides, I don't think your date is gonna be coming back anytime soon." She giggled, girlishly high-pitched. "After that scene she made, it'd be amazing if she was still on campus."

While his temper remained steady, Hitsugaya could feel the air around him freeze with his remaining good grace, turning the atmosphere into one more like a mid-January night than the current April one. The scantily clad redhead shivered at the obvious temperature drop but didn't ease up, instead moving closer as if to claim some of his heat.

I see that there are humans who have even fewer manners than Kurosaki Ichigo, he thought angrily, as he did his best not to toss the girl to the side and be on his way. In answer to her cowardly assumption, he shot her an angered glower, managing to keep his voice void of his internal strife. "You don't know anything about Karin."

"I know that she's not good enough for you," she implored, a mix of anger and sorrow on her well practiced face, one she'd obviously used often enough on men to appeal to their chivalrous side. A good actress, this one. If anything, she'd have a stellar career on one of those cheesy soap operas that Matsumoto liked so much. "Forget about her and come with me. There's no way that that tomboy could make you happy, not like I could. All she does is play soccer and study! What could someone like you possibly see in a child like her?"

I resent that, Karin thought with a twitch of her brow, watching the scene unfold. While she was very curious to see how he reacted, Karin had a feeling that Hitsugaya's already short temper was nearing its breaking point. But watching the little drama unfold had been comforting, to say the least. Although he might not feel the same way as she did, it was obvious that the ice prince was not so easily swayed by a pretty face either. It brought some warmth back to her bones, despite the sub-zero air he had magically created.

Straightening herself, she stepped into the moonlight, stalking towards them proudly and smiling the most regal smile she could muster. She would've liked to smirk, but that was much too in-tune with her usual self so she smothered it. Both of their attentions snapped in her direction, as she took in a rather wrathful-looking Mai and an equally pissed off Toushirou, though their anger stemmed from two completely different things.

"I think you're done for the night, Mai. Isn't it a little too desperate to try and steal someone else's date?" Karin taunted, trying very hard not to look arrogant at the other's expense.

"I don't know what you're talking about. Obviously he and I were just about to leave when you came in. As usual, your timing in impeccable," she shot back, looking as haughty as ever. While one would usually call the reigning queen of Karakura High as elegant as they come, in this light, she was as unsightly as a newly hatched Hollow. Some pity was starting to surface, and it was slowly starting to penetrate her hard exterior. Karin had only wanted to get even, not crush the poor girl's spirit.

"Besides," she interrupted, breaking Karin's partial daze with a condescending chuckle, "you and him look terrible together."

On second thought, some spirit-crushing sounded really good right about now.

"Is that so?" she asked, her voice sugary sweet to cover her disdain. "Then, let me ask you something, Mai, since you're so suited for each other. It shouldn't be hard to answer, after all, if you know him so well and everything." This time, Karin didn't bother to hide her smirk, as the other girl silently consented to the challenge. Not that she could blame her, of course. A woman's pride was most definitely her worst sin. With the sweetest smile on her face, Karin asked in a superficially sweet tone:

"Tell me, what's his name?"

And somehow, silence (and victory) had never tasted so sweet.

"Aww, man, that I felt good!" Karin sighed, stretching her arms high above her head as she walked side by side with Toushirou.

After leaving a rather horrified Mai behind to wallow in her defeat, Karin and Hitsugaya headed back into the hall to find Yuzu and see what her and Jinta were up to. They were met with the eyes of every person in the room, watching as they walked in, arm-in-arm, as if Karin hadn't just done one of the stupidest things of her entire high school career. Quickly deciding that she couldn't handle all the animosity and overly curious watching, she told her twin that she and Hitsuagaya were heading home early.

"But how are you getting there?" she asked, immediately worried and upset that they were cutting their homecoming experience short.

"We live about twenty minutes away, you know. We each have two legs, two feet and the physical capability to walk. I think we'll be good," she said, shrugging off the concern, but continued in a hush whisper. "Besides, how much trouble can I get into with a guy who can turn people into popsicles and yet still eats ama-natto with his granny? He's basically a teddy bear with ice powers."

Her only response was a reluctant nod from one and a frown from the other.

As they continued down the sidewalk, they walked alongside each other, keeping the pace slow but steady to match the style of her questionably high footwear. As they did, Karin struggled to remove her hair fasteners from the rather jumbled mess on her head. She slowed down to a halt as she realized just how many bobby pins were needed to keep her hair in place (since she had adamantly refused the use of hairspray or gel because she hated the feeling of product hardening her locks), and began feeling around her head for all of them.

"Here, let me do that. You'll hurt yourself." Pushing her hands away from her scalp so she wouldn't tear out anymore hair, the man with sea-colored eyes checked for all of the rebellious pins that refused to reveal themselves. For someone so powerful to treat her with such gentleness brought a flush to her face, and she realized that Toushirou hadn't brought up her confession even once since they'd been alone together. It was both relieving and crushing. While glad that she hadn't ruined a great friendship, she certainly hadn't gained what she wanted either. But to be honest, 'what she wanted' was a bit of a mystery still. As the last of them came out, her hair fell to her shoulders, a mess of old curls and kinked strands, looking more like a hot mess than the once lovely hairdo.

"I must look crazy, right?" she laughed, trying to lighten the mood with a little self-deprecation. She combed her fingers through it, hoping to tame her mane into something presentable so she wouldn't arrive home looking like she'd gotten into a fight… and lost.

"No," he responded, surprising her with his easy admittance as his calloused fingers joined hers while he assisted in her fruitless task. She couldn't help the shivers that traveled down her spine when he occasionally brushed against her ears or the back of her neck, making the brushing less of a job and more of an act of comfort. It was dangerous to think so, but after all she'd gone through tonight Karin was willing to let herself have this much.

When he finished, he turned back around and continued down the path to her house. She couldn't see his face, since she was too busy placing all the wires into her clutch, but if she had, then she'd notice that Toushirou had turned red from his rather unwarranted deed, silently berating himself for his conduct. Not wanting to fall too far behind him, she attempted to run a few steps to clear their distance, and somehow managed to make the second biggest mistake of the night.

When her heel caught a crack in the concrete, she lost her balance and crashed to the floor. Crying out when she hit the ground, she could feel the strange angle at which her ankle had been bent, as she felt the pain shoot up her leg and warmth rushed to the area.

Great, just what I needed, she thought, shaking herself at her uncharacteristic bout of clumsiness. She managed to un-wedge the shoe, cursing its existence in the first place and checking her damaged joint. It was only bruised, maybe sprained but nothing worse than that. She flexed her toes to make sure she could still move the limb before noticing another form crouch beside her.

"Is it all right?" Hitsugaya asked, knowing that his knowledge in this field was limited at best. While it was easy enough to judge his own wounds, another's were completely out of his expertise.

"Yeah, just a little hurt. I should be fine," she reassured him, watching as he stood up and held out his hand. Not wanting to do anything else to ruin her night, Karin took it gratefully and attempted to stand on both feet equally. "See, no prob—OW! Ow, ow, ow!"

He shot a heated glare at her, chastising her rash decision with those judging eyes of his. She wanted to return it with one of hers, just so she wouldn't look like a complete fool, but as she rested all of her weight on one leg and rubbed her hand along the other she couldn't really summon the will to do so.

"I had a feeling you were lying," Hitsugaya exhaled his annoyance into the air, not even bothering to look at her.

"Yeah, well, excuse me for being a klutz with pride," Karin snapped back, feeling herself become even more frustrated. Tonight was supposed to be about having fun, experiencing that clichéd high school adventure, and getting just a little bit of payback. Instead, it currently held the record as the event with the most mistakes she's ever incurred on herself. Before she could bark another retort to relieve more of her stress, Toushirou kneeled in front of her, offering his back.

"Well, get on," he ordered, using that authoritative 'Taichou' voice he liked so much. She just looked down at him dumbly, more stunned than anything else. He glanced back at her over his shoulder, his eyes sharp as if warning her not to push herself unnecessarily.

"Don't you think we'll look a little silly?" she couldn't help asking, even as she clambered to hold onto his broad shoulders. He hooked his hands beneath her kneecaps, hoisting her up before continuing their journey.

"I was thinking of carrying you bridal style, but I felt like you'd want to maintain some of that damned pride you hold so dear." The image flashed across her mind and she blushed, immediately grateful that he hadn't done so.

"Good call," was her only reply, as he carried her down the quietly lit roads. They stayed that way for a while, as she felt herself grow accustomed to the way he walked, how he tried not to jostle her around too much in fear that she might hit her leg against something. The care was almost unnoticeable except for the few times he'd walk around certain things, giving himself a wide enough berth for their frames. She absentmindedly wondered if she was heavy, but immediately shot the idea down. Toushirou was much more than he let on. It was pointless to worry about his ability when he was so aptly capable in just about everything he did.

"Hey, Toushirou?" she asked, her voice soft as she balanced her chin along the joint between his neck and shoulder.

"What is it?"

"Why'd you let me take you to prom?" It had been hanging over their heads since they'd left her home, but there never seemed to be a good time for her to breach the subject. With all the chaos she was inducing, she had forgotten about it until now. And she knew that when he dropped her off, she wasn't sure there would be another time she'd get to see him. A life of serving and protecting was the one he had signed himself up for, a complete 180 degree turn from her average, boring human life. So why had he stepped into her world, knowing that there was no need for him to?

"That's a very dangerous question, Kurosaki." Damn, she really hated enigmatic answers like that. With a scowl, she tried to get her head into his peripheral line of sight.

"No, it's a perfectly understandable one. And don't call me that. My name is Karin, Ka-ri-n."

"Your brother doesn't like us getting too close." He ignored the bit about her name.

"What does my brother have to do with this?" she spit back, livid over his blatant disregard for her question. "This is between you and me, no one else. You came with me tonight knowing that there was nothing to gain, and yet you spent the entire night playing the perfect escort. I even—kind of, almost, but not really—confessed to you! Don't try and avoid it now, Toushirou! I know you heard me!"

"Keep your voice down. You have neighbors, you know," he warned in a muted voice, as she realized they were now in front of her house and clinic. He carried her to the doorstep and set her down easily, watching her as she took off her heels so she could stand in her bare feet. Before he could turn back, she grabbed onto the perfectly pressed lapels of his blazer, locking her eyes with his.

"Look, Toushirou," she whispered, her voice and posture threatening in spite of their large height difference. "I know this might be news to you, but I'm human, and we humans need a little something called 'closure.' I don't have a millennium to wait for answers or decode you and your cryptic one-liners! I'll be long dead before then! I just need you to answer me this:

"Do you like me? As in, really like me?"

They were caught in a compromising stalemate, as she looked up at him with her unstable confidence, trying to grasp his answer. Unfortunately, those teal blue eyes were glacial in the face of her passionate declaration, giving absolutely nothing away. Hitsugaya was every bit the same as his zanpakutou, as he mercilessly brought down an opponent's every defense and parried each swing of their sword. And in a battle of wills, he had more than enough experience in hiding himself from the other, even one as close to him as this one; his words reflected that ability to perfection.

"Of course I like you." A flippant retort at best, partly insincere and completely dispassionate.

"No! Don't give me that neutral bullshit!" she yelled, not caring if she woke the whole block with her pleas.

This was the whole problem with their relationship. All Karin wanted from him was a bit of truth, for him to leave a part of himself with her that was tangible so she could hold onto it when he was away. When Toushirou had left all those years ago without even a word of goodbye, Karin had wondered if she'd only created him in her mind, a savior from another world who was her hero, ally and, most importantly, her friend. It had taken years for her to come to terms with the fact that Hitsugaya had all but left her behind without a backwards glance. To say that she'd been hurt was an understatement; she felt like she'd been taken advantage of. She'd given her friendship without receiving even a bit of his in return. Now, she wanted her well-deserved retribution, an explanation to ease that quiet suffering, if only to soothe her wounded spirit.

Pulling his face closer, stopping just inches apart, Karin continued, her voice a soft growl, "it's a yes or no question. I'm not asking for a confession here." Her voice broke at the end, embarrassingly clear in the cool night air but she kept pushing on as she always had. "Just, please, just this once…"

"Karin," he said, voice gentle as her head fell forward, looking defeated but trying not to show it. He grabbed her wrists, his grip tender but firm as he eased her hands from him. She could feel her limbs shaking, as he looked down at her with the saddest, most bitter eyes. Sometimes, she wished she couldn't completely come undone by him. She could practically feel his emotions, not needing to see them on his face. It was a painful trick she had taught herself to bring him closer to her. As he lowered her hands, she felt her head go up with the motion. It was so ironic how he could grasp her hands so intimately, and break her heart with so much care.

"I can't say it, Karin. You have to know that I honestly can't," he tried to explain, his voice sounding almost like he a prayer, respectful of her but begging for some understanding she wasn't sure she could give. After a moment, her response was to nod slowly, comprehension of their situation slowly but surely filling her.

"I get it," she said, stepping back from him, eyes darting past him to look over his shoulder, unseeing. "You can't give me a yes or no, but your answer is clear. I get it, I do..." Summoning what was left of her courage, Karin looked directly at him, struggling to put that brave face of hers on. This was it. She had come so far only to end up right back where she knew she would, at the beginning of their so-called friendship. And he would walk away again, only coming back when necessary for his needs and never just for her.

So Karin strained against her instincts, trying to ignore the protests of her muscles and put on that characteristic grin of hers. She didn't want their last memory together to be one full of melancholy, not when he had given her so much joy. Not just tonight either, but every instance she had been able to share with him had been a good one. It was only fair that she granted the shinigami those same uplifting emotions, especially if the next time they met she might not even recognize his face.

"No, Karin, I don't think you do." Hearing the slight hitch in his voice, she frowned, twisting her features to show her confusion. In place of what had once been his careful aloofness came a spark of fury, the kind he adopted when he was facing some sort of inner turmoil.

"What do you mean?" She tilted her head to the side. "Of course I do. Why would—"

He swallowed her words with his lips, his anger forcing his hand as he pulled the fiery Kurosaki close and into his arms. Kissing her was like drinking in clean air after a fire, tasting a morsel of food for the first time in years. It quenched something deep inside him, something he had been so afraid of acknowledging and even more terrified she'd find out about. But what he could never tell her was easily said with his mouth, as he felt the soft curves of her distinctly feminine body. He pulled his lips from hers, backing away slowly and extracting his traitorous limbs from her, lifting them to cup her face. Her eyes were trapped behind their lids, her freshly kissed lips parted for air, and he felt a deep thrum of guilt mix in with his pleasure.

"You misunderstand, Karin," he whispered, that deep tone of his velvet against her electrified nerves. She could only return his gaze with her squinted, almost sleepy one. Her head was somewhere else, distinctly clouded by the haze he had created around her. Karin always knew Toushirou was capable of magic, most especially on her, but this was something else entirely. Inwardly, she forced her broken concentration on what he was saying, dazedly watching as he talked, and the space between them nearly nonexistent.

"It's not a matter of whether or not I care for you, but of how much," he explained, his timbre so soft in her ears, as if he was singing a lullaby. "You are too young and too good for someone who has seen blood spilled and killed traitors with these very hands." He looked away, feeling the old shame that came with doing his duty. His bloody past went hand-in-hand with their newly acquired peace, a price he had been more than willing to pay but it didn't ease the pain any less.

"Not only that, but you and I both know I have too many enemies, and not nearly enough strength to protect you here in the Living World. If any of them were to find you, you could be used as leverage against a number of our squads."

That was definitely true as well. She was Kurosaki Ichigo's little sister, friend to a number of ranked shinigami, and now the almost-lover of the Tenth Squad's Captain. Just having an association with them was dangerous enough, but a bond as tangible as blood and camaraderie would eventually make her a target for other notorious characters. It had happened before to other people Ichigo was close to, after all; it wasn't unlikely that she too may be wanted by them.

"Plus," Toushirou continued, voice becoming stiff with the dignity his old age and position had given him, "if we did become lovers, it would be against every ethical rule in Soul Society. We could not be found out, or their punishment would be even greater than any enemy's." A defeated look met her eyes, filled with the regret he had never quite overcome.

At one point in his life, his younger self had promised to never allow someone he loved to get hurt, so sure his abilities and intellect would see him through. But Hitsugaya had failed miserably in his quest to do so. He wouldn't let that same fate happen to Karin, not when he had promised her brother and himself so many times that he'd look after her, keep her safe even from herself.

"Are you trying to say," she asked, as she felt something akin to indignant fury well up inside her, "that you're in love with me too, but rejecting me out of some misguided belief that you'll one day hurt me?" His silence was affirmation enough, as he turned his hardened gaze away, so sure of his reasoning. Using all of the strength she could muster, she swung her fist into a perfect upward arch, narrowly missing Hitsugaya's chin with an uppercut, as he stepped back with a look of surprise on his face.

"Who the hell do you think you are, Hitsugaya Toushirou?" she asked proudly, hands on her hips and the volume of her voice no longer under her once steady control. "I don't need you, Ichi-nii or anyone to protect me! I'm the daughter of a shinigami captain, sister of the man who killed Aizen, and I have enough reiastu to challenge seated members in any of your divisions! To say you're turning me down so you can 'protect me' is the same as saying you think I'm some sort of burden or something!"

"I never said anything like that!" he protested, his staunch and icy demeanor completely shattered by her words, leaving behind the raw and powerful energy of the prodigy. "I've never once considered you a burden. Trouble, yes, since you are a Kurosaki—" she glared at him darkly for that comment "—but never will I ever find you as some unwanted responsibility."

"Then take responsibility for this!" she yelled back, opening her arms in a wide gesture, an effort to show the weight of their relationship. "If I'm not some piece of baggage to you, then what am I? You say you love me, so show it. You say it's okay for me to love you too, so let me.

"I'm no child, Toushirou. I made my decision a long time ago... and it's you."

Shell-shocked and horribly ambivalent, a part of him wanted to scoff at her straightforwardness while another was completely entranced by her proposal. Her reasoning was so childish, so selfishly single-minded in its simplicity. Karin could (and did) completely disregard the laws of Soul Society, the rules of her own household, even his own sacrificial argument, and choose him over everything. She was so content to just let herself be in love with him, to forfeit everything she held dear on a whim, as if sure there would be no consequences, no regrets. It was doubtlessly the trait of a Kurosaki, the ability to make up for what she lacked in skill and to go on pure determination alone, as if endless endeavors would be enough to get to the end. Toushirou couldn't help but think that it was either very brave or very stupid.

When he made no move towards her but instead just looked at her with that half-hearted confusion in his eyes, Karin could feel her patience give way to that impulsiveness of hers. Without another thought, she crossed the space between then, threw her arms around her neck, and kissed him like he had done to her, in hopes of explaining all the things she could never say through the actions they were both much better at.

There was no finesse behind it, no experience to speak of, and somehow that made Toushirou's blood come alive, knowing that, for both of her lifetimes, he would be the only one for this amazing woman. Tangling a hand in her obsidian hair and wrapping an arm around her waist, he pulled Karin up and into his arms, supporting her much smaller frame to him and tasting that innocent desire she kept deep within. He could feel his resolve breaking, any protests completely disintegrating and making way for old dreams that he had forgotten about long ago. It was a shame that their kiss had to end so soon, her enthusiasm strong but her body limited.

"I have to go," he said as he pulled away, breathing heavier as he whispered. After she caught her breath, his arms still tight around her, Karin did her best to look him in the eye, her head finally registering the words. Her only reaction was to pout at him, her eyes resentful because it completely ruined her post-kiss high. Chuckling, he set her down, as she did her best not to look as shy as she felt, stepping back a little in her bare feet and tucking a piece of hair behind her ear. All he did was smile, leaning forward to press his lips to her temple with fond grin. "If I don't leave soon, your brother might find me out here corrupting you."

"I'm not that innocent," she snapped, but her tomato red coloring proved otherwise. Trying to appear unnerved, she crossed her arms over her chest and mumbled to herself. "Besides, I kissed you this time."

"So you did," he smirked, feeling very smug for no particular reason. "But that doesn't matter so much to me. After all, it seems that I'll be the one who will be in charge of stealing away that innocence of yours. I'm in no rush, though. I have another millennium for that."

Pushing all the right buttons, Toushirou could only bite back a snicker at the gleaming rebelliousness in Karin's face. He could feel her spirit pressure surge, impressive despite the boundary of her human body, and coursing with that undying spirit of hers.

That's my girl, he thought, as she stared him down without fear. Karin would make a fine shinigami one day, joining the ranks of her father and brother with relative ease. He could wait until that happened; he was happy to let her live a normal life until she was ready to join him in Soul Society. It seemed that everything had a way of working itself out in the end.

As if realizing how late it was getting and how long they'd been on her front porch, Toushirou knew it was time for him to head back. Without enough time for her to blink, Hitsugaya shunpoed his way in front of her, pecked her quickly on the lips, and was immediately down the street in an instant. Not quite getting what happened, she looked around for him and drew the conclusion that she had just been tricked out of a proper goodbye, again. Flushing, she cursed Urahara-san and his improved gigai, which provided his convenient escape. She vaguely missed the old ones that completely stopped the use of reiastu.

Sighing, she looked up at the moon forlornly, but it was as if her heart was floating out of her chest and into the sky. Karin knew that time for a shinigami was negligible. She didn't know when he'd be back; it could be days, months, even years, and yet for some reason, the thought didn't make her lonely anymore, didn't make her feel as if she was waiting on something that might not ever come. Turning around and heading back into her home, she couldn't shake the feeling that Toushirou had always been within her reach, just waiting for her to be ready to latch onto him. And this time, she had been more than willing to give her heart to him, knowing he'd be strong enough to protect it, and keep it safe from harm.

After all, no one could love her quite the way he could.


AN: A little 'meh' at the end, but I did enjoy the overall construction of the story. This was ridiculously long, right? Usually, if I'd have written this much, it would be 10 chapters or so. Haha. Thank you all for reading. I really hope you enjoyed, and thanks so much for sticking through all of it.

As for future HitsuKarin stories (because a few people had asked), I have them all planned out in my head but nothing actually written. I have two, one AU and one in the Bleach!verse, but the latter isn't as well-developed, so I'll most likely write the AU first. I hope you'll enjoy it. Well, as soon as I can get it out, of course. Haha.

By the way, reviews are always lovely! :D