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

"Did you want something from me, Madarame, or do I have to fire you for wasting valuable time and only staring at me for the past..." He consulted his watch, perfectly polished and positioned on his wrist, "...five minutes instead of working?"

The man rubbed the top of his bald head sheepishly, even tugging on his tie a bit to show that he was uncomfortable. He had never liked suits, Hitsugaya knew, so he actually found it worth admiring that the man forced himself into one every morning for the sake of looking professional and keeping his job.

"Well, ya see, Hitsugaya-san," he began, scratching his chin and looking up at the ceiling, avoiding eye contact, "I've got a bit of a problem."

"I can see that," Hitsugaya replied, intertwining his fingers and resting his chin on top of them. It was his favorite pose behind his desk because it allowed him to gaze up at his employee through his lashes, giving a more narrowed and cold look to his eyes. "Would you please just spit it out so we can both return to crunching numbers?"

"Well, my uncle came by last night," he explained. "His daughter wants to go to the new circus coming to town this Sunday."

"And you need tickets?" Hitsugaya asked incredulously, wondering why he couldn't have just straight out asked if he needed money. It was nothing to be ashamed about. It wasn't as if being an accountant was the most glamorous job in the world, after all.

Ikkaku held out his hands in front of his chest and waved them quickly, answering in the negative.

"No, no," he added. "They already have two tickets. The thing is, he busted his knee chasing down a thug halfway through downtown a few days ago. The chief of police gave him time off, but he's pissed because it means that he can't take his daughter. So he came to me."

"And just why did you come to me?"

"Right after he left, if you can believe it, I got a call from the dojo I train at. They're having a kendo match this weekend – same day! I have to be there, so I can't take the little brat to her circus."

"I'm still not understanding why you're in my office, Madarame," Hitsugaya said, glaring up at him. They had wasted too much time already.

"Well, do ya think that maybe you could take her?" the chrome dome finally asked, looking a little nervous yet hopeful all the same. The request didn't really register properly at first. He blinked.

"Me?" he deadpanned. Ikkaku nodded slowly. "You want me, your boss, to take your little cousin – whom I have never met, nor heard of before today, nor even seen so much as a picture of – to a ragtag circus this weekend?"

"Well, when you put it like that...Oh!" Ikkaku's face lit up, and he suddenly started rummaging through the pockets of his dress pants. Hitsugaya watched in curiosity as he procured his wallet, then flipped it open eagerly. He fingered past many of the pockets filled with cards until he finally pulled out a small photo.

"There," he said, sounding satisfied. Hitsugaya curiously took the picture from him, looking down at the captured moment. It was undoubtedly Ikkaku, his hands seeming to be resisting tightening into fists, his eyes bugging wide open, and his mouth frozen comically in what was obviously a scream of pain. What caught his attention, however, was the little girl on his head. Her shocking pink hair dominated the picture, but what he really found so worthy of a second glance was the mischievous yet pleased look in her eyes as she chomped down on the bald man's head.

Hitsugaya stared at him with a blank expression. Did the man really expect this picture to convince him to spend his Sunday with his little devil of a cousin?

"Why exactly are you coming to me?" he questioned. "Don't you have any of your own friends?" The man turned a little red.

"Of course I do," he spluttered, a little embarrassed. "But Yumichika's going to be at the dojo with me, and Iba's being a complete a -" He cut himself off when Hitsugaya glared over at him, daring him to use such crude language while in his office. "I mean, he's busy." He grimaced at the toned down version of what he had wanted to say.

"And your uncle is perfectly fine with his daughter spending a day with a stranger?" he wanted to know, disbelieving.

"Oh, you're not a stranger," Ikkaku assured him. "I've told him all about you."

The young accountant narrowed his eyes, wondering exactly what his employee had said. He knew not all of his workers liked him very much for being so uptight, but he had never had a problem with Ikkaku before. The man was actually very loyal. So he sighed, putting down the picture on his large desk and rubbing his eyes with his index finger and thumb.

"If I agree to this," he said, glowering at him, "you'll finally go back to your work?" Ikkaku nodded happily. "And I won't be hearing from you for the rest of the day?" Another nod. He sighed. "Alright."

"Really?" Ikkaku asked, looking very excited. It didn't take long for him to grab the picture and practically bounce out of his office, beaming. "I'll tell Ojisan."

Hitsugaya groaned. There went his weekend.

'Well, I can always push her off to someone else.'

With that comforting thought, he finally went back to his paperwork and his beloved calculator.

.. ღ ..

Plan A: Matsumoto Rangiku, an irritating but dependable close friend from college.

"Oh, I can't, Hitsugaya. Gin's coming over this weekend and I haven't even bought any lingerie yet! He's seen me in everything I own! Which do you think is sexier on me: Black or purple?"

"M-Matsumoto, I don't think you should be asking me such a -"

"Oh, I'll just buy both! Nothing wrong with switching later in the night, huh? Thanks."

"But, listen, I really need -"

Beep. Beep. Beep. She hung up.

Result: Failed.

.. ღ ..

Plan B: Hinamori Momo, a beloved cousin who loved circuses and, as a bonus, children.

"We are sorry, but the number you are trying to call is not in service at this time. Please call..."

He slammed down the phone angrily.

'Damn Momo and her infinite mid-life crisis...es? Or is it crises?' He ran off to consult a dictionary.

Result: Failed.

.. ღ ..

Plan C: his last resort, Granny. The name pretty much spoke for itself.

"Oh, Shiro-chan, is it really you? Bless my heart, and you for calling."

"It's nice to hear from you, Granny. Sorry I haven't called in so long, but I've been busy."

"Oh, don't worry about it, sweetheart. I know my lovely little grandson has so much on his plate. I'm just so happy you called to chat. Did you need anything?"

"...No, nothing. Can't I call just because I want to talk to you? How's your back?"

"Getting better everyday," she answered proudly.

He hung up the phone an hour later in shame.

'I am a horrible person. I can't believe I almost did that.' He was horrified with himself.

Result: Failed. And depressed.

.. ღ ..

So, alas, he was left with no choice but to tag along with a sugar-high, pink-haired, preschool brat to a dainty little circus.

"And so the teacher said that my painting was the prettiest in the class, but then I heard her say the same thing to Haruhi-chan, and so I got really mad because Haruhi-chan had used my crayons, so I ripped up her picture and she started crying, and the teacher made me give her my picture," she blabbed on and on.

He had been fooled that morning when he had picked her up. Ikkaku had handed him the address to his uncle's house the last day at work with one last thank-you, and so he had set out that morning dressed in the only jeans he owned and a simple button-up shirt. Who knew what kind of mess snotty little kids made at circuses?

Who had answered the door had been one gigantic beast of a man; an incredible height, a crazed and spiked hairdo, a deranged grin, and mysterious scars going down his face, which he had probably earned from his job as a police man, though that thought had somehow managed to escape him in the moment he had first met Zaraki Kenpachi. The cast around his leg had done nothing to diminish his overbearing presence, which dominated a room so very easily, suffocating him. And they had been standing outside!

Well, to his relief at the time, his daughter had been the complete opposite – tiny and bubbly, a cute little thing. The first thing she had done was point to his hair.

"Shiro!" she had cried, excitedly. And from thereon, he had been dubbed "Shiro-ojisan," although he was hardly out of his teens. Well, unlike Matsumoto, he had never been one to care about how people perceived his age – as long as they thought he was older, not younger.

"You ready to go?" he had asked, perhaps a little more icily than he had intended. But she had beamed up at him anyway, nodding her head.


After hugging her father's neck one last time, she had leaped from the man's shoulder and followed him to his car, which had been parked on the street. After helping her buckle into the passenger seat, he had settled into the driver's side and the two had sped off, her still cheerily waving out the window to her father, who had been watching them from the front porch.

And since then, he had been constantly subjected to her blithering, nonsensical chatter about the drama of being a preschooler. Someone kill him now.

"But I didn't want to give her my picture because it was the prettiest in the class," she continued, "and Daddy told me that if anybody tried to make me do something I didn't want to do, I should give 'em the ol' one-two." She held out her fists and swiped at the air twice. "So I did -"

"We're here," he cut across her sharply. Putting the car into park, he quickly unbuckled his seat belt and ran around to get her. The quicker they got inside, the quicker she might shut up. After all, a circus was bound to be more interesting than chatting with him, he hoped. When he finally got her out and locked the car, she looked at him curiously before holding out her arms.

"What?" he asked, confused as to what she was doing. She didn't answer, only wiggled her arms. "Oh. Oh, no. You can walk by yourself, can't you?" She didn't answer, but her face puckered and she stamped her foot. Sighing in aggravation, he bent down and scooped her into his arms. She instantly brightened, wrapping her arms around his neck happily.

All throughout the walk to the event, he had to ignore calls of "What a cute little father and daughter." "He's kind of young, isn't he? The youth of today are out of control." "What has that horrible man done to his hair! And to force his daughter into his crazy fads? Tsk-tsk."

It was nothing worse than the jokes the kids directed their way when Yachiru insisted he buy her some pink cotton candy from the stands.

.. ღ ..

It wasn't really a circus. At least not the kind one saw in television shows or books or movies. Rather than a tent, the owners had rented out the town's small arena, used for matches for all different kinds of sporting events. Then, the inside had been set up to look like a circus, with safety nets above the ground and beams high in the air and colorful decorations. Rope had been used to create three rings in the ground, where the performances would take place. The top had been closed off so that it was easier to position spotlights on the performers.

But there were the usual acts, which was good enough for Yachiru. Soon after they settled into their seats (which were amazingly close to the front; Zaraki spared no expense for his daughter), the lights began to dim out. A ginger-headed man in a pressed tuxedo walked out to the center of the stage.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he called out into his mike, looking excited, "welcome to the Karakura Ring Circus! The name is Kon, and I will be your esteemed ringmaster for today." Yachiru giggled, munching on her fluffy candy, totally absorbed in the show. He simply sat rigid in his chair, waiting for the day to be over.

He had never really liked circuses. They were loud and noisy, not to mention pointless. Momo had dragged him to a few when they were kids, but he always ended up falling asleep in his chair halfway through and then had to listen to her complain on their way home.

"First up," Kon continued, a twinkle in his eyes, "we thought we'd put you all in the circus mood, so please welcome our clowns: Ryohei, Pinta, Donny, and Kazuya!"

The stadium erupted into cheers as the four rushed out in their ridiculous get-up. Yachiru shrieked with laughter as they threw pie, clubbed each other with plastic bats, and pushed themselves into a miniature car. Hitsugaya just sat there, stiff and straight-laced. That expression didn't change as "the Amazing Renji" came out with his trained monkeys to perform stunts. Nor did it become any happier as Tatsuki, apparently the strongest woman in the region, cleanly broke six wooden blocks with only her head.

"She's as strong as Otou-san!" the little girl next to him cheered in delight. He grunted.

However, the one time he actually paid any attention was halfway through the show, when Kon's smirk drew his attention.

"And now," he boomed into the microphone, "please help me in welcoming our acrobat; the amazing, the talented, the flexible Karin!"

The cheers were louder than ever, and some people even stomped on the ground in addition to their clapping and cheers. It sounded like a thunderstorm, and Hitsugaya could feel himself going deaf as the aforementioned woman stepped out.

She was dressed in a skin tight full-body suit of hot pink and glittering, lime green colors. Her short hair was up in a loose ponytail, and if he looked closely enough, he could see that her face was covered in glitter that shone under the arena lights. With her skinny frame and lithe form, he couldn't help but think that she seemed perfect for the job.

"Shiro-ojisan," Yachiru whispered suddenly, tugging on his shirt. "What's an a-kiro-brat?"

"An acrobat," he corrected. "And it's someone who does gymnastic stunts."

Yachiru nodded, although the far off look in her eyes suggested that she still didn't really get it.

With a small bow, the acrobat bounced over to the large pillar in the middle of the rings and climbed up speedily. As she did so, two men in black clothing quickly secured a large net under the beam balanced way high up in the ceiling of the building. The audience looked up as she finally reached her destination; a platform attached to the top of the pillar. She gave another small bow to rambunctious applause before hopping out to the rickety beam.

The audience watched with admiration as she twisted in the air, balancing perfectly and stealthily on a rickety beam. They gasped as she did back-flips, oohed as she stood on her hands and walked across the arena, and aahed as she bended in the most unnatural of ways. Even he had to admit it looked amazing, the way she seemed so poised, far above their heads with no support other than her own balance. Soon, she added rings and other trinkets, which she flipped through the air and caught once she performed some sort of miraculous stunt.

"Ooh. She's so bendy," Yachiru breathed, giggling and gazing up at the performer in awe. Once again, he grunted, though this time in agreement.

With a smirk, the acrobat jumped into the air once again, doing a back flip before landing rather firmly on the beam again. However, as they watched, a loud snap echoed throughout the arena. The performer's eyes widened as her body lost its balance and she fell forward. The pillar had broken in two!

A collective gasp went around the arena as they saw the young acrobat plummet to the ground below. They all watched with baited breath as she grit her teeth, positioned her body into a straight line and then cut through the air skillfully, controlling her movements to protect herself. When she came close to the safety net positioned below, however, it was obvious that she had no chance of landing anywhere near the middle. Yachiru whimpered a little as they saw her attempt to maneuver herself closer, but it was no use. She finally hit a little too close to the side and, although it broke her fall slightly, she also tumbled out of the netting, slamming into the ground below with a painful looking thud.

Kon ran out to her immediately, sweat pouring down his face and his eyes wide with worry and shock. A small group of people dressed in white ran out also, and he could only assume they were paramedics. Some of them looked alarmed, and he knew that couldn't mean anything good.

The arena was eerily quiet as everyone focused all of their attention to the commotion on-stage. The acrobat had not moved yet, still lying face down on the ground with her arms underneath her. He heard another whimper beside him.

"Shiro-ojisan?" Yachiru whispered, tugging on the sleeve of his arm but still looking down at the stage. There were tears pooling at the edge of her eyes. "Will Akirobrat-san be okay?"

"I don't know," he answered truthfully in a voice just as soft and low. Hesitantly, he placed his hand on her small head reassuringly. "But her friends are trying to help her, so I'm sure we don't need to worry." Yachiru nodded tearfully, smiling a little through her pouted bottom lip.

When her co-workers finally hovered over her, they were both on the edge of their seats, watching with rapt attention as they called out to her. The ringmaster's microphone was still dangling from his hand, so the entire thing was fortunately heard throughout the arena.

"Karin-san!" They saw a very young looking, black-haired paramedic call out to her. He looked absolutely traumatized, which wasn't really helping calm the kids in the audience. Some wails and sobs rang out through the silence as parents attempted to comfort their kids, and the little girl beside him fisted his sleeve even tighter. "Karin-san, are you okay?"

"...Shove off, Hanatarou," a gruff voice suddenly answered. Could it be?

He heard many people let out sighs of relief from around him as they saw the young acrobat begin to stir slightly, and he had to hold back one of his own.

"She's okay?" Yachiru asked, suddenly grinning. She finally let go of her death grip on his sleeve, balling up her hands and rubbing at the water in her eyes.

"Well, I don't know about that, but she's alive," he assured her.

The nurses checked her back for any spinal injuries and, when they found none, slowly helped her roll over. Next were the extremities. The audience members watched the workers examine her legs. As they did so, she slowly sat up, her arms in her lap. It was when they moved onto the arms that the trouble started. As they gingerly turned one over in their hands, the ringmaster stuck his microphone in front of her face.

"You gave us all quite a scare," he said, chuckling a little. "Are you alright, Karin-san?"

"Do I look alright?" she grunted, glowering at him. "I just fell fifty feet – Ow!"

She hissed when the paramedics moved onto her other arm. When he looked closely enough, Hitsugaya could see that it was swollen pretty badly and a little twisted.

"God damn it, that hurts!"

Observing her labored breathing and fiery eyes, he wisely chose to place his hands over Yachiru's ears, ignoring the clueless little girl's protests. It turned out to be a wise decision, because when one of the paramedics asked Karin to allow him to see her other arm, and she moved it just a little too fast for her bone's liking, she let loose.

"Mother f -"

.. ღ ..

The circus left town the next day.

He had to admit, it had actually been an event worth going to, though nothing beat that acrobat, in his opinion. After her little escapade, she had been led off to the back to have her injury treated – still cussing under her breath, he bet, if the way her lips had been moving so furiously was anything to go by. The rest of the show had gone on without a hitch, although Kon had a difficult time calming the anger aroused parents.

Yachiru, at least, had raved on about how great it had been in the car, and then to her father when they had arrived at her home. He had endured a painful thump to the back from Zaraki and finally gone back home.

And now, finally, the entire fiasco was behind him, and he was enjoying the start of his Monday with a fresh cup of coffee in a little coffee shop near his house. Ah, it was one good cup of Joe. He had always been a coffee drinker; Matsumoto joked that it was because he needed something to keep him awake at his boring as Hell job, but he actually liked its bitter taste, not being one for sweets. Well, neither would you if one of your uncles used to shove so much candy your way when you were a kid that you once got so sick, you vomited all over Momo's favorite party dress – during her birthday party, no less. She wouldn't talk to him for weeks.

Lost in his humiliating memories, he took a few sips of his hot drink and, as he was wishing he had thought to bring along the day's newspaper, something caught his attention.

"Give me the strongest cup of anything you have," someone grumbled at the counter. Someone short and female and oddly familiar. When she stepped aside to await her vague order, he finally got a glimpse of her face. Sharp jaw, dark eyes, cropped hair – it was, miraculously, the acrobat from last night's show.

But it didn't look like her. Without her extremely tight suit, she no longer looked as petite as she first had, instead appearing stocky in her cotton, white T-shirt and light blue running shorts. Without the make-up and glitter smeared on her, and her short hair loose above her shoulders rather than tied back, her face seemed rounder, tougher. But the biggest difference, of course, was the white cast tied around her right arm.

He was so absorbed in analyzing her that he failed to realize he had been staring at her rather intensely. But she did. Her eyes flickered to him, then to the empty seat across from him in his booth. She turned towards the kitchen, catching the attention of the woman scurrying to make her coffee.

"I'll be over there," she told her, pointing to his table. "Have someone send it over."

He watched with raised eyebrows as she marched over to him and slid into the seat across.

"Can I help you?" he asked coldly, trying to mask his surprise.

"You're that dude," she said bluntly. "From last night. In the crowds." The eyebrows went up higher.

"Are you telling me that you were able to pick me out specifically in an arena packed with hundreds of people?" he asked, challenging her. She snorted, obviously not feeling very challenged.

"It's not like that white hair of yours is hard to miss," she countered, smirking and letting her eyes graze over his locks. "Not to mention you were sitting right near the front, next to some little girl with bright pink hair. That tends to catch people's attention."

"Point taken," he relented. She narrowed her eyes.

"Hey, you're pretty hot," she observed nonchalantly. "Those arena lights really didn't do you justice."

Leaning back, he strummed his fingers against the tabletop, trying to think of something to say to that. Or just anything to say at all, to break the awkwardness he felt. He couldn't very well ask her why she was talking to him, for fear of sounding rude.

"So," she broke the silence, unaffected by her bold words. She placed her good arm on the table and leaned on it towards him, looking at him expectantly, "how'd you like the show?"

"Before or after?" he asked, smirking. She must have realized exactly what he meant because she leaned her head back and let out a bark of laughter.

"How about during?" she decided, grinning up at him slyly.

"I have to admit, a little amusing."

She scoffed. "So my pain is funny to you?" she demanded playfully.

"It was mostly just watching that ringmaster's face change color so fast until it matched his hair."

"Yeah, Kon is a dumbass," she said as she sighed through her snickering. "Okay, then how about after?" He put his hand to his chin, mock thinking.

"Was there even a show after you gave that amazing performance?" he joked. It surprised him, because he had never been one for joking.

"Hey, now you're a guy I could get used to talking to," she exclaimed, beaming up at him. Leaning forward, she patted his arm playfully.

A waitress interrupted them then. She carefully placed a hot drink in front of the young acrobat, bowing afterwards. Karin fished out her wallet and scrounged some change, having been unable to pay at the counter because of the vagueness of her order. Curling the fingers of her hand around the cup, she tilted it to her mouth.

"Ugh! This is horrible!" With a disgusted look, she ripped the cup away from her lips. With a determination set to her features, she popped off the lid, grabbed sugar packets from a bowl set at the edge of the table, and ripped open one, two, three, pouring them into her coffee steadily. Once finished with her task, she tasted it again. "Much better," she sighed happily, getting more comfortable in her seat now.

"That was certainly a lot of sugar," he observed, a little nauseated at the thought of how sweet her drink must be now.

"I like it sweet," she replied, instantly defensive. "Why? How do you take yours?"

Before he could protest, she leaned over and grabbed his cup, gulping down the relatively warm drink. When she pulled back, that same disgusted look covered her face, and her lips curled in distaste.

"Disgusting," was her review as she handed it back. He glared at her – he liked his tastes very much. Raising her own drink in a sort of toast, she muttered, "Well, to each his own, I guess. Name's Karin, by the way."

"Hitsugaya Toushiro," he grumbled, still a little disgruntled. "And I have a question for you."


"Why are you still here?" She blinked, gazing at him curiously from the top of her eyes as she took another sip. He clarified, "I meant, in the town. The circus left town this morning from what I hear."

She scowled. "Yeah, well, I told you Kon's a dumbass." She pointed to her cast. "I've got a little problem here, if you haven't noticed. Can't do my stunts."

"So they...left you behind?" he asked incredulously. Wow. Working in a circus was apparently serious business.

"Not permanently, of course," she corrected. "They got a sub for the next few shows they're doing. The route back passes through this city again, so they'll be picking me up on the way back. I should be fine by then, and we'll do one more show here before moving on. I have a few friends who live in this area, so, until then, I've been ordered to stay here with them and heal." She trailed off, sounding a little bitter.

Unsure exactly of how to console a brooding acrobat, he settled for silently draining the last of his coffee. With a quick look at his watch, he realized he was running a little late.

"Um, I have to get going," he said quickly, already getting out of his seat. "I need to be at the office in the next fifteen minutes."

She perked up, looking at him in interest. "Oh? What do you do? Some sort of corporate hotshot?"

"Accountant," he answered honestly, tossing his trash in a nearby garbage can.

Her face fell. "Well, that's a letdown. Who wants to go around seducing an accountant?" she grumbled under her breath, though he still heard her. With a roll of his eyes, he pointed to her cast. She seemed to get the message, and smirked wickedly. "Oh, trust me. My moves are so sexy, even a cast can't slow me down."

"Mm-hmm," he mumbled absentmindedly, clearly not believing her. "Well, I do have to get going, so -"

"I'll see you later?" she finished for him. He was taken aback. "When do you get off work?"

"...Five," he answered in a daze. She was so...forward. He hadn't really planned on seeing her again, but she was nodding at his answer.

"Cool. See you then."

He wandered out of the shop, a little bemused. Through the window, she gave him a playful little wave, looking amused at his confusion.

.. ღ ..

He hadn't expected that meeting her at five meant she would barge into his workplace, still dressed in her grungy clothes, and actively seek him out, waving at him animatedly from across the office.

"Let's get going!" she called out to him. He roughly pulled her aside, though keeping mind of her injured arm.

"How did you find this place?" he hissed. She shrugged.

"I just asked people where the most boring building on the block was, and they all pointed the way," she teased, snickering. He didn't appreciate it, only glaring at her.

"Sir, are you going to introduce us?"

To his complete irritation, their little exchange had caught the attention of all of his workers, and they were craning their necks, peering at them over each other. Some of them were eyeing Karin critically, some appreciatively. It was grating his nerves.

"Karin," he huffed as an introduction. They all waited, but he had no family name to present to them. Karin held up two fingers and gave a little salute as a greeting. Some stared at her in awe, their eyes traveling from her to him repeatedly. He had never even mentioned a woman in his private life before, much less invited one to the office.

"It's an honor to have you with us, Karin-san," one of his workers mumbled.

"Just how long have you two known each other?" another called out, sounding very curious. Toushiro groaned at their fascination.

"Oh, about a day," Karin answered casually, though she was being honest. Gasps and disbelieving mutters broke out across the room. Only Ikkaku seemed to understand the meaning behind her words.

"No way!" he shouted out, gazing at his boss in shock. "You picked up a girl at the circus?"

Toushiro scowled darkly in his direction as the murmurs got louder, but Karin didn't seem bothered.

"Not just any girl," she reprimanded. "You're looking at the best damn acrobat the Karakura Ring Circus ever had!"

Ikkaku's face looked as if it would forever be twisted into astonishment. "Wait, you picked up a circus performer?"

Needless to say, he pulled her out of there as fast as he could, with her chuckling evilly all the way.

Yay, this is finally up! The second chapter should be up later in the week.

So, this is to celebrate our favorite chibi taichou's birthday :D Happy Birthday, Toushiro! Another year older and still as short as ever ;)