I've edited this a bit ^_^ Hopefully it's better than before, or at least a little less awkward, but the changes aren't too big.

You ever have one of those ideas that just won't leave you alone? Well, this was one of mine :) Unfortunately for me, it came to me really late at night, just as I was drifting off to sleep. And anyone who's had an idea late at night knows there's a good chance you won't remember it the next day. So I stayed up until past one in the morning, quickly jotting down everything that came to mind. And now it's finally done!

I'm super excited that I get to share this with you on Valentine's Day! So, here's my own twisted little story of Cinderella, HitsuKarin style :D

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

Hitsugaya Toushiro was turning eighteen. And apparently, according to Matsumoto, that was just about the biggest event in the history of ever, which, she deduced through logic and reasoning, deserved the biggest party ever – despite the birthday boy's wishes, of course, since she always did what she wanted.

"It'll be fun!" she argued in the high school cafeteria. "We'll throw the biggest party ever, with food and music and dancing. Everyone will be talking about it for years!"

"No," he stated firmly, opening his lunch and carefully placing chopsticks full of rice in his mouth. After chewing slowly and swallowing, he added coolly, "I don't need the entire school's population trashing my house and getting the police called on us."

"That almost never happens," she whined with a pout. "We can keep it controlled."

He snorted in disbelief. "Knowing you, you'll be leading all the other guests to the sake. Do you remember what happened last time?"

She grinned sheepishly at his stern, sideways glance. So what if the last party had gotten slightly out of hand? It was all in good fun. So what if expensive vases had been smashed in rowdy games of catch, or that about fifty couples had locked themselves in his parents' bedroom at one point or another? Yes, his mother had never been comfortable with that bedspread ever again and had it burned to a crisp, but Matsumoto was sure she would think differently if she knew just how much love had blossomed that night because of her room.

"Besides," Hitsugaya continued coolly, "my parents will be out of town that weekend, and they're trusting me with the house."

"Your parents will be out?" Matsumoto exclaimed, brightening up. It figured that was all she'd heard. "That's great!"

"No," he countered. "That means the house will be spotless and unharmed when they come back, just the way they'll leave it."

"Sure, sure," she agreed easily, bobbing her head. "I'll hire a cleaning service after the party."

He scowled dangerously under his breath. She was blatantly ignoring him!

"There will be no party," he insisted, ready to drop the subject. "Stay away from my house."

"But you're turning eighteen," she cried. "You have to celebrate."

"Keeping you from destroying my house would be a greater achievement, in my opinion," he muttered.

Finally, her eyes flashed. "You know what?" she hissed. "That's it! I'm changing this to a surprise party." She crossed her arms, looking pleased with herself. "This way, you have no say in whether you get a party or not. You'll get one, no matter what."

He sighed in exasperation. "But I already know all about it," he pointed out.

She shrugged. "So what? It's not like it's impossible for someone to find out about their party beforehand. The invitations are gonna say it's a surprise either way. This way, you have no say or fault in the matter. Genius, right?"

He glared at her. "I still don't want one."

"Too bad," she sang as she bounced away. "You're getting one, anyway."

"Hey, wait–"

"This is going to be great!" she exclaimed happily, ignoring his protest. "I have to get planning right away. And the guest list will have to be sensational; after all, everybody has to celebrate this. I'm gonna invite anyone you've ever talked to!"

.. ღ ..

True to that statement, one Kurosaki Karin on the other side of campus ended up not receiving an invite. Not that she wanted one. She had absolutely no idea who Hitsugaya even was, and she didn't particularly care. All she needed to know was that he was some rich genius with a best friend who had the gift of a drool-inducing chest. She'd never so much as even seen them, though, especially since they were a grade above hers, and she always zoned out when the other girls talked about him in high-pitched giggles. Karin would never demean herself to such frivolous gossiping about men.

That all changed the day she walked in on her boyfriend kissing another girl, smack dab in the school courtyard with no intention of hiding it. The girl giggled when she caught sight of her, trying to rip their lips apart. He groaned in protest and tried to kiss her again, but she pointed out the tomboy gaping at them in fury.

"Oh, Kurosaki," he called out. With a boyish smile she had always thought to be charming, he cracked her young heart in two. "Didn't see you there. I suppose it's good that you're here, though. I needed to talk to you about...us."

The girl next to him snorted before clapping a hand over her mouth, pursing her lips to keep from laughing. A small crowd had gathered, and she could see students whispering to each other behind cupped hands. Many of them kept gesturing to her, and she resisted the urge to rip off each and every one of their fingers.

"You couldn't have done me the courtesy of talking to me first, Jiro?" she asked calmly, trying to keep in her seething rage. She refused to provide a show for these people.

"Well, I was going to," he said with a lazy sigh, "but I couldn't find you. Just be glad I didn't dump you over a text message."

Whispers broke out again, and Karin clenched her fists to keep from lashing out.

"We were just a small fling anyway," he went on with a chuckle. "I just needed someone to pass the time with. At least you got to be happy when we were together, huh? Lucky for you I was willing to take you despite your manly confession." Taking in her rigid posture, his grin widened into a smirk. "You didn't really expect this to last, did you? I mean, you were always such a...tasteless she-man."

The stupid new couple walked away hand in hand, stupidly laughing together, and Karin just let them go, shooting everyone a glare if they dared to send her pitying looks. She didn't pity herself, because it was her own fault for falling for him; she'd always thought she at least had better taste than someone like him. Besides, she might have let them go for the sake of keeping her cool reputation, but that didn't mean she wasn't reaching her boiling point inside. The anger needed to erupt, and it would be towards him.

A punch wouldn't suffice, she decided. She'd been in enough fights to know that didn't satisfy for long, and rather than a physical quarrel, she wanted to humiliate him like he had done to her and to make him regret all the words he had cruelly thrown her way. No matter how big or small her revenge, it didn't even have to be public. Her wounded pride demanded a small victory simply for herself as compensation.

Kurosaki Karin didn't take scorn lying face down. She would do anything to get back at the slimy weasel.

.. ღ ..

If anyone had told Karin that revenge would mean she would end up at Hitsugaya's birthday bash all dolled up, despite her rising anger, she would have laughed in their face. Yet, that was exactly where she had ended up.

She hadn't planned on it, especially when she'd seen the girls swooning over their names personally written on each card and the idea of Hitsugaya knowing who they were. She'd just rolled her eyes and gone on about her business.

But Jiro and his new girlfriend had gotten invites. It sickened her to know that Hitsugaya chose to hung around with people like them, but that had only been a passing thought, as revenge had been the most fresh and dominating thought in her mind. Wouldn't this party be the perfect place to get back at her ex-boyfriend? To show him that she didn't need him, and to maybe knock his socks off by dressing up and flaunting what he was now missing out on?

She was regretting the idea now.

Gazing into the full-length mirror hanging right outside the party hall, she turned from side to side, examining herself from all angles. She couldn't believe she'd worked up the nerve to wear something like this. Since she'd grown older, skirts weren't evil anymore, but this seemed like too big a step.

The dress itself was simple, with no elegant designs or intricate patterns. Instead, it was a soft, midnight blue, a color she'd always secretly admired on herself. What set her on edge, however, was that the garment was completely backless, with only one strap tied around her neck for support. The tightness and plunging neckline also made her cringe, as did the short length that barely made it past mid-thigh. She had slipped on black stockings that reached a little past her knees to hide her legs, and then she'd stolen pumps that matched the color of her dress to complete everything. Her short hair – which she'd cut to her ears again because of its convenience, even after growing it long in middle school – was straightened and framing her face. She hadn't even bothered to put on any make-up, except one lone smear of lip gloss. Yuzu had assured her she looked positively radiant as she'd left the house, but she wasn't so sure.

In fact, she felt so exposed, for she had never worn anything so revealing before. Even though her school uniform's skirt was mini like all the other girls', she'd always pulled hers down just slightly to cover a little more – not enough to be actually noticeable, but it had always made her feel less insecure to keep it that way. And here she was now, flashing her body for the entire school to see.

That particular feeling of discomfort vanished, however, every time she caught sight of Jiro dancing with his girlfriend in the room just beyond, replaced instead with a fresh wave of anger. He looked like he had no care in the world, as if he hadn't just trampled on her heart only weeks ago, and it fueled her rage nicely. She wanted to do this, if only for herself.

She hadn't done a very good job yet, though, as she'd only been peeking into the room and pulling back at the last second for the past half hour. Her courage fumbled constantly, fluctuating in its strength as she hesitated. It mirrored her astonishment from when she'd first laid eyes on the Hitsugaya home (it was a freaking mansion, and she hadn't realized they were so rich), and facing her jerk-ex in this dress overwhelmed much like the way the gigantic house had earlier; both required a grand amount of her courage, and both had made it so clear that she was entering into a world where she did not belong.

'But I can do this,' she assured herself, taking a calming breath.

Even so, chewing her bottom lip nervously, she only peeked back around the doorway into the party again.

.. ღ ..

Hitsugaya scowled as he strode down the large hallways of his home, angrily unbuttoning the top of his dress shirt and yanking his tie loose. Curse Matsumoto and her damn party. It was too noisy and crowded and rowdy, and he hated it.

It wasn't even his birthday yet, a fact that only fed his irritation; Matsumoto had planned the party so everyone would come over the night before, and right before midnight, they would count down to his birthday (this wasn't New Year's, damn it). Toushiro had been regretting letting Matsumoto go through with this party. He would do a lot to make her happy, after all, so he'd finally relented and let her carry on with her plans, but he wasn't particularly having a good time now. Dozens of couples had barricaded themselves in the bedrooms already, and the boy Matsumoto had assigned to keep people from going farther than the party hall was one of them – which meant he'd already walked in on too many heated partners.

'She's practically turning my home into a brothel house,' he seethed, steeling himself to give her a piece of his mind.

As he purposely marched towards the party hall, however, he came across a peculiar sight: a young girl, hunched over as she nervously peeked into the party from outside the door. The first thing that caught his attention was her back, as its entirety was completely bare.

He raised an eyebrow. "If you're looking for your boyfriend," he called snidely, causing her to whip around in wide-eyed surprise, "I suggest you try one of the bedrooms."

His smirk faltered when he saw her cheeks flame red.

"It's not like that!" she insisted heatedly, eyes lowering in embarrassment. "I didn't even come with anyone."

Toushiro's own eyes narrowed at that. Though he wasn't the most social butterfly in the school, he prided himself in always maintaining proper social manners, such as remembering the names and faces of anyone he talked to. But he didn't remember her, which meant he'd never met her, which meant she shouldn't have received an invitation and should only be here as someone's guest.

"What's your name?" he asked in suspicion.

She looked like she was contemplating answering – or maybe telling the truth – when she finally replied, "Karin."

He didn't know anybody named Karin. "Well, Miss... Karin," he tried out on his tongue. "Were you invited to this party?"

She sniffed haughtily and demanded, "Why do you care?"

"If you weren't invited, you shouldn't be here," he accused her instead.

"Who made you king of the world?" she countered with hostility, crossing her arms. "I'll leave when I want to."

Things suddenly clicked into place in his head: she didn't know who he was. He was sure she wouldn't be talking to him like this if she did, because it was, after all, his house. He wasn't quite sure how he felt about these turn of events. Cluing her in on the truth was bound to be awkward, and he avoided such tasking events like the plague.

"Listen," she called out to him. She jerked her thumb towards the party hall, rather irritated by his silence. "If we're done here, I'd like to get back to my–"

"Frightened stalking?" he suggested coldly, raising a rather cocky eyebrow once she flushed at the blunt truth.

"I was just about to go in!" she defended herself heatedly. With a scowl planted firmly on her face, she turned her head away and crossed her arms. "Why are you still here, anyway?"

"Miss, I really think you should leave if you're not an invited guest," he told her instead with a weary sigh. He would have been a little more annoyed at any other time, but this distraction was delaying his confrontation with Matsumoto in the middle of a noisy crowd, and he felt strangely grateful. "Besides," he continued in wonder as a sudden thought hit him, "how did you even get past the guards? They had a guest list of everyone invited and were checking off names as they handed in their personal invites; that was the point of those."

"The guards here aren't really that careful," she muttered with a roll of her eyes, and his ears perked in attention, wondering why she would say such a thing about his employees. "I just stole an invite. There was this girl in my class who got an invitation, and she was bragging so much that it was kind of pissing me off, so I sneaked into her shoe locker and nicked the card. The guards at the front gate think my name is Minami."

With a greatly amused smirk, he pondered over what a strange girl she was. He certainly hadn't thought anyone could go to such lengths for an invite, and wondered if he could even get her to leave if she had determination as strong as she did.

"Who are you, anyway?" she finally asked, scowling as she realized she had just given him an important piece of information that he could use against her. "I just told you a bunch of stuff about myself. I think I deserve to know who the busy-body is who thinks he owns the house."

He scowled deeply. "For your information, my name is" – he suddenly caught sight of a flash of red from inside the party hall – "Abarai Renji." The name slipped out on its own, but he made no move to retract it. "I'm one of Hitsugaya's closest friends, in fact, and I can get you kicked out of the house as soon as I want. So I think you had better tell me your intentions before I have to call security." 'What the hell am I saying?'

His lie seemed to work, for panic flashed through her eyes. "No, don't!" she cried, her voice an octave higher. "I just want to get back at Jiro, and then I'll leave – I promise."

He raised an eyebrow. "And what exactly did he do that you feel the need to go to such lengths?" he asked, regretting the question immediately after when her face fell drastically. He had never been adept at handling distraught women, and as she bit the inside of her cheek, he awkwardly attempted to comfort her before he had tears to handle. "You, um...don't have to tell me if you don't want to."

"I thought everyone already knew," she mumbled, her face twisting in shame for just a moment – enough for him to see. "Rumors travel fast."

"Karin...?" he said, his eyebrows scrunching in confusion. He wasn't the type to listen to rumors, or even believe in them, so he had no inkling of what could have made her so upset with the mere mention of it.

"Well, I guess it won't matter if one more person knows," she decided with a sigh. For the first time since it had happened, she fully relayed everything Jiro had put her through by whispering the contents of her break-up to a stranger in the empty hall. No matter what anyone might have advised her, talking about her problem did nothing to make the pain more bearable.

She didn't notice when Hitsugaya's eyes flashed dangerously at her story. He'd never much liked that slimy weasel Jiro; the two had once been partners for a class project and it had been all too apparent that he was the kind of man who crushed people in his way without second thoughts, but Matsumoto had seen their partnership as a sign of comradery and invited him tonight. He hadn't given the guest list much thought, hoping to be as distanced from the party as possible, but he felt himself scowl now at the thought of Jiro in his home after what he had done. No one deserved to go through what Karin had gone through, especially with only their first boyfriend.

"So, what are you planning to do?" he asked her, trying to control his own anger.

"I just want to show him that it was wrong for him to break up with me," she explained, wondering if that made her sound vain. The words 'tasteless she-man' drifted through her mind, and she instantly decided it didn't. "I don't ever want him back, but I want to make him regret everything he said to me. That's why I'm wearing this." She wrinkled her nose as she pinched the dress she had on.

Toushiro nodded, gazing down at the fabric in disapproval. Such vulgar clothing had never been to his tastes, but he could blatantly see she wasn't very comfortable in it, and the idea that they shared a dislike made him approve of her just a little more – enough to banish any thoughts of kicking her out. Maybe it was his strange ethics that always sympathized with dishonored girls, but, if anything, he wanted to help her.

"You're not getting anywhere by just standing out here, you know," he pointed out.

She clucked her tongue as she drawled, "I know. But it's not that easy."

"Of course it is," he rebutted with an eye roll. "It's so simple, you could not only make him regretful, but jealous, too."

Ignoring the perplexed look she shot him, he grabbed her by the wrist and dragged her into the party hall.

.. ღ ..

No one paid any mind to their entrance. Everyone was too busy with their own companions and the flashing lights made vision difficult, so when the party's honored birthday boy marched in with a struggling girl's wrist attached to his strong hand, not many gave it a second thought. Karin, however, was still trying her best to make things difficult for him.

"Hey, let me go," she protested, trying to pry her wrist away by twisting it, but that only seemed to cause more damage to her than effect him in any way. He forced her out to the middle of the dance floor before finally releasing his grasp, but then his hands found her hips.

"I don't do this for just anyone," he informed her coolly. "You should be thankful."

"Thankful!" she exploded, but before she could berate him any further, he pulled her closer, pressing his mouth against her ear.

"Jiro's right behind you," he muttered as low as he could with her actually being able to hear him over the music. She stiffened in his arms, no longer struggling as she tilted her neck to catch a glimpse behind her. Sure enough, Jiro was dancing with his girlfriend only a few people away, though he had yet to notice them.

At the moment, the two were simply swaying in place, holding hands lightly. Karin didn't even know how to dance and Hitsugaya had never enjoyed it much, so the two of them were rather awkward on the floor, surrounded by bouncing teenagers. They just continued to turn from side to side.

"What are you trying to do?" she asked cautiously.

"I simply want to help you," he answered honestly. "I hate men like him."

Karin looked him up and down, as if trying to analyze his intentions. She hadn't even planned to tell him about her problems, a little too ashamed and proud, but there was something about him – something respectful and securing. He didn't make her feel such a fool as she'd felt when it had happened to her, but rather, only vengeful and empowered. There weren't many men who could make Kurosaki Karin feel such a way, and now that she had found one, she rather liked it. She decided to trust him for the moment.

And in that moment, out of the corner of her eye, the raven-haired tomboy's eyes met Jiro's. He'd been turning his girlfriend when he looked up for the briefest of moments, and Karin made eye contact.

She didn't think as she reacted, as she lurched forward and wrapped her arms around her partner's neck, pressed her body flush against his, and buried her face in his shoulder, trying to tone down the heat growing in her face as she twisted herself around him. Toushiro gaped down at her, arms automatically encircling her waist and pressing her closer, but was instinctively aware this had something to do with her ex. He let her continue, ignoring the probable redness of his ears that always happened to him in situations he was unfamiliar with.

Karin peeked out of her hair, accidentally breathing in Renji's musky, delicious scent as she turned her head. To her satisfaction, she saw Jiro's eyes fixated on her, his lips parted as he suddenly recognized her as Karin. Karin, the girl he had called a 'tasteless she-man,' was here, looking extremely delectable in a dress he could never have imagined her in, which revealed that she actually was a girl under all of her layers of dirt and grime. He seemed to be the only one who had noticed her, and she was so pleased by the reaction she was getting; shock, dismay, regret.

Toushiro felt a nauseating twist in his stomach as he noticed the way Jiro was looking at her, up and down, in a new light. He told himself it was only because he found it disgusting that such a man only counted looks as the prime factor in a girl, and that it had nothing to do with the specific girl in his arms, rubbing herself so wonderfully closer.

And then the moment was gone. Jiro's girlfriend stopped twirling, so he looked away, and Karin pulled back.

"Let's get out of here," she breathed against his neck, and he nodded eagerly. The room suddenly felt entirely too stuffy for both of them.

.. ღ ..

The two rushed out of the ball, breathless from the dancing but happy all the same. Karin, at least, was smirking in satisfaction.

"Was that really enough for you?" he asked her incredulously, leading her out to the gardens. The two paused next to a flowing fountain, settling against it to rest.

"It was," she assured him. "I never wanted to do anything big, like embarrass him in public; I'm not him. This was just for me, and that look on his face was enough."

He smirked, proud of her decision. He was impressed that she was not the type of girl to assist in the spread of rumors.

"So, I should go, then," she said slowly, pointing towards the direction of the front gates.

He gazed at her sharply as she made to get up, blurting out, "Already? Why?" Despite how he cursed himself for sounding slightly desperate, at least it had succeeded in making her halt, though she gazed at him curiously.

"Well, I did what I came here to do," she pointed out. "And I said I would leave after."

"But you came all this way," he argued. "You should at least stay for a little while." The truth was, she seemed like the only person here he could stand to talk to right now. Not to mention, he was intrigued by her and what she would do next. If she left, he would have no choice but to go seek out a drunk Matsumoto, a meeting he was more than willing to put off for as long as possible.

"Renji, I don't know anyone here," she laughed.

"You know me," he countered.

"Not well." Even so, she was already sitting back down, almost absentmindedly. "What would we even do? You don't really want to go dance again, do you?" she joked, snickering when he grimaced.

"Of course not, but I really don't want to go back to that party. You saw how noisy and crowded it was."

She cocked an eyebrow at him. "Isn't Hitsugaya, like, one of your closest friends? You can't just up and leave."

He shrugged. "That guy won't miss me. He has a whole party, after all."

She pursed her lips and considered him before finally relenting. "All right. If I agreed to stay, what did you have in mind?"

"Well, it's a nice night. How about we stay out here for a while?" he suggested, patting the spot next to him until she scooted a little closer, a little smile growing on her face. The two stayed silent as they gazed up at the sky together, and Toushiro was painfully aware that he wasn't one to talk to people much and didn't quite know what to say.

It was Karin who finally absolved their silence by pointing up at the sky with a hearty laugh. "Don't those stars kind of look like you?" He followed her finger to a cluster of stars and tilted his head, trying to see what she saw.

"I don't see it," he replied icily, a scowl on his face.

"They do," she scoffed. "Look, they even have that wannabe rock star hairstyle of yours!" She burst out laughing at her own analogy, running a hand through his hair. "It looks so spiky and like you just woke up."

He growled and pushed her hand away, ignoring the way he felt goosebumps wherever she touched him. "All right, all right. I see it, so let go."

She snickered. "So you do know what your hair looks like."

"Well, that one looks like you," he countered. "It certainly has that stupid grin right."

She slapped his arm and disagreed heatedly, "It does not. You're just mad because even the stars know your scowl is practically your whole face. Maybe you should try smiling a bit – Hey, that one looks like a snake!" she cried, turning her focus on a different cluster of stars. He followed her gaze, and this time, he was happy to agree.

"Doesn't that one kind of remind you of the clogs Urahara-sensei wears?" he found himself saying before he could stop himself, joining in with her game so that she beamed before nodding enthusiastically.

"Yeah, yeah. If we could find his hat, then it would confirm my suspicions that he's a pedophile." She crossed her arms and nodded smartly.

He cocked an incredulous eyebrow. "How so, exactly?"

"Because then, even the stars version of him looks over boys and girls," she explained with a cackle. "He's always offering people candy and – Oh, my Kami! Look, next to the clogs. It's a piece of candy!" She laughed so hard she almost fell into the fountain, and, after narrowly rescuing her, he didn't have the heart to ruin her good mood by claiming that he thought the stars looked nothing like candy.

"Are you always this hyper?" he wanted to know, carefully letting go of her arm when he was sure she was all right.

She shook her head. "I think I just have energy left over from the dancing, you know?"

He shot her a side-along glance, an idea nesting in his mind. "If that's the case, I think I know a place that can mellow you down."

Slipping a hand into hers, he guided her through the gardens, straight into the thick groves of trees. Karin was awed by their incredible height, tilting her head back to see their tops much as a child would do, and he couldn't help but find it all very cute. Eventually, they reached a large, grassy clearing somewhere beside the mansion, which he confirmed as their destination.

"Hitsugaya and I come here when we want some peace and quiet," he claimed. "It's the best place to look at the sky." He regretted not having a jacket to lay down for her, but she didn't seem bothered as she stretched out on her back on top of the soft grass. He settled down beside her, tucking his hands under his head.

They stargazed together for a long time, just content with comfortable silence and the occasional discovery of a shape in the pattern of the star formations. Karin fell in love with the small, open area. It reminded her of the picnics she used to have with her family when her mother was still alive. This Hitsugaya person might not be so bad, she decided, if he found solace in a simple place like this. Renji wasn't bad, either.

Eventually, she turned on her side, propped her head on her fist, and genuinely smiled at the boy beside her.

"Thanks for showing me your secret spot," she murmured softly, letting her sincerity seep through as she reached out a hesitant, curled finger and lightly stroked his cheek once before pulling away shyly. He stopped breathing for a second.

"But, you know," she continued, her voice significantly more shrill, "I still have tons of energy left. Maybe it's just me, but I think we should do something crazy or fun. Or both."

"Like what?" he questioned cautiously, eyes narrowed in suspicion. He didn't trust her extra energy, especially if there was a chance it would lead him to the bottom of a fountain by the end of the night.

"Oh, I know!" She brightened up considerably as she scrambled to stand, and he followed suit. "You see, while I was outside the party hall, I saw tons of couples going upstairs."

He growled under his breath at the thought as they reached the house again. She led the way this time, following the path she had seen others take up the stairs.

"You know when you were a kid at a hotel, and you'd see all these closed doors and get the sudden urge to knock and run away?" She wiggled her eyebrows suggestively as they reached the first hall of bedrooms.

"That's what you want to do?" he scoffed, stupefied by her juvenile tastes. This girl was so unpredictable; he couldn't help but wonder how she had jumped from stars to ding-dong-ditch.

"You're telling me that you don't think it's gross, either?" she chided him, digging an elbow into his side as a way of persuasion.

They stopped outside a door and listened closely, making out the sounds of high-pitched giggles and love-struck moans while Karin faked retching noises. Normally he would have found that childish, but seeing as it was his own home, his own face might have mirrored her repulsion as identically as he felt it.

"Okay, this'll be fun," Karin said, snickering as she raised her fist and banged it against the door. They waited around the corner, after she had pulled him none-too gently down the hall, until the door rattled and swung open to reveal a growling boy.

He scoured the area for whoever had interrupted them and found no one, and as he shut the door and locked it again, they heard him grumbling under his breath, "When I get my hands on whoever that was..."

Karin chortled, burying her face in his arm. "Did you see his face?" she guffawed. "That was too funny. Let's do the next one. No, you do the next one!"

She pulled him along to the bedrooms around the other corner, banging on the same door again before sliding around the wall and smirking at the stream of profanities from the other side. He allowed himself to be pushed into trying the next one, and even a few more after that, though it was Karin who dominated her own prank. Doors shut and opened simultaneously, and different couples eyed each other warily, trying to figure out whether they had been the ones to knock.

Their grand finale to her game ended up being the same couple they had bothered first, though it was purely a mistake caused by her momentary lapse in memory. That was, apparently, three times too many, and the boy actually grabbed a shirt and ran out into the hall, ready to find the person who kept interrupting them while his girl waited for him impatiently.

"Run!" Karin hissed at him, gasping with laughter as they skidded around corners and ducked behind walls, and he had to cover her mouth as they hid so they wouldn't be found by their assailant.

"Thanks," she whispered into his ear, causing a shiver to run down his spine.

"That boy was entirely too offended," he grumbled.

She shrugged, less put-out by their chase between the two of them. "If that was you in there with a girl you really liked, wouldn't you feel the same?"

He imagined her face for the briefest of moments, for reasons he didn't understand, but then it vanished. 'So it didn't mean anything, right?'

"Hey, I think someone's coming," Karin suddenly whispered, pulling him out of his thoughts. They certainly did hear footsteps and held their breaths in anticipation, but then both made out a strange, accompanying whirring that sounded very much like wheels; a maid scurried by their hiding spot, humming as she pushed a cart stacked with gift-wrapped boxes ahead of her.

Karin waited until she had passed before asking, "What were those?"

"Probably birthday presents," he answered absentmindedly, craning his neck to see if anyone else was in the hallway. Karin, however, stared at the ground and bit her lip.

"Some of those were really big," she observed.

He heard the dreariness of her tone and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Hey, what's wrong?" he questioned her softly, noticing her sullen face.

"I'm not sure what Hitsugaya will think of my gift," she admitted, rubbing her arm with her other hand. "I mean, my family's not rich like his or some of the other people here. And this dress was so expensive, too..."

Her lips twisted in mirth. "I don't know why, since there's hardly any cloth. And I don't usually dress like this," she felt the need to clarify. "I actually borrowed most of this stuff from my sister, and then she taught me a shopping trick so I could buy the dress to wear tonight and return it tomorrow; I taped the tags to the inside of the dress – except they're on the bottom and keep scratching my leg!"

With an irritated scowl, she lifted the hem of the outfit, and he indeed spied the price tags constricted to the cloth via multiple pieces of scotch tape. He gazed up at her with an amused grin, and she burst out laughing at the bizarre situation.

"So now you know what a weirdo I am!" she exclaimed through her chuckles.

"It's not that strange," he defended her. "If you're not going to wear the dress again, it's smart shopping."

"I guess," she agreed happily. " But the problem is that I spent so much money on the dress, I didn't have enough to buy an expensive present like he's probably used to getting."

"Well, what did you get him?" he wanted to know.

Her cheeks sprinkled with red as she allowed herself to blush slightly. "Well, I heard he likes amanatto, so I bought him some from this family restaurant near my house. I used to go there all the time with my family when I was little, because my mom was close to the owners. We stopped going when I turned four, but I always remembered how good their amanatto was, and I thought Hitsugaya might like to try some. But that was probably stupid; I'm sure he's tried some made by all sorts of gourmet chefs, but I thought it would be rude to come without a gift."

Toushiro felt something in his chest just then, as he watched her blush over him and the present she had put so much thought into – probably more than anyone else who had come to the party (except maybe Matsumoto). It was a warm feeling that grew quickly, and to his mortification, he felt it reach his ears and cheeks, too.

"I'm sure he'll love your gift," he mumbled assuringly. "He does love amanatto a lot."

"You think?" A grateful grin accompanied her reply, but it soon vanished when she slapped her forehead at a sudden realization and groaned, "Oh, no. By the time he gets around to opening his presents and finding mine in all of the ones he has, they probably won't even taste good."

Her expression dissolved into helplessness, and he found himself desperately raking his brains for a solution to remedy it. A hand went to his chin in thought.

"Well...what if we find it now?" he suggested slowly. "I can give it to him for you, and then he'll get to taste them right away."

"Can we really do that?" she asked in wonder. "What if we get caught going through his gifts? Won't we get in trouble?"

He shook his head in amusement. "Just trust me."

Before she could protest, he grabbed her wrist and pulled her after him for the second time.

.. ღ ..

"Oh, Kami, we really shouldn't be doing this."

"Would you relax?" Toushiro chided her with a roll of his eyes. "I told you, this is perfectly fine."

Karin eyed him suspiciously. "Why do you have a master key for the Hitsugaya home, anyway?"

"Because he trusts his closest friends," he answered simply. That was actually true, though it didn't apply to himself. His parents had actually left him the key, in case there was any emergency during their absence.

It felt rather strange to sneak around in his own home, but Karin was convinced the consequences would be dire if they were to be caught trying to break into the room where all the presents were kept, so they had done just that. He saw no harm in playing along for the moment, and if it gave her peace of mind, then he was happy to do it. Though the door had been locked and she was too distrusting about the key, being the intuitive woman she was, he'd used the distraction of finding her gift to his advantage to escape all the awkward questioning. Now they were buried under piles upon piles of neatly wrapped gifts; there were so many of them, neither were quite sure where to even begin looking.

"Well, just pick a pile and start searching," he suggested, going for one near him. "What does yours look like?"

"It has snowflake wrapping," she remembered. Abashed, she revealed, "It was some we had left over from last year's winter."

"Hitsugaya loves the cold," he assured her with a shrug, and threw aside some presents. One of them made a huge crash as it hit the floor, and they both jumped.

"What was that?" Karin exclaimed, stepping closer to it.

"Cologne, from the smell of it," he decided, wrinkling his nose in distaste at the stench. Rather put out, he grumbled, "That's all people seem to give him. That, and clothes or something."

Karin laughed. "Well, I'm sure they just don't want to get him something he doesn't want."

"You think he wants those things?" he asked incredulously, causing her to laugh again.

"I'm sure something here would be a gift he'd like," she insisted, gazing around at the stacks as if something would jump out at her.

'Yes. Yours,' he thought in appreciation, more determined to find it, but Karin seemed to have become side-tracked as she went through the presents. She would pick up each one, inspect it from all sides and corners, and then shake it next to her ear in an attempt to decipher its contents.

"I think this one is cologne, too," she said, extremely amused. Tentatively, she sniffed the package before ripping her nose away in horror. "And it's stinky!"

He grabbed one near him as well. "Most likely a key chain of some sort," he guessed as he shook the tiny package. "It's jingling."

"Do you know if he's ever going to use it?" she asked, reaching for her next box.

"No," was his immediate response. "Nor is he going to use whatever is in this one," he promised as he weighed his next one in his hands. "If it's this heavy, I'm quite sure it won't be practical."

"Hey, I think this one is jewelry!" she cried out, snickering uncontrollably. "Sounds like a necklace, actually." She shook her head. "Now what do they think an eighteen-year-old boy is going to do with that?"

They found themselves temporarily forgetting their previous mission of locating her amanatto, too involved in trying to guess the many gifts he had received, each one seeming more bizarre than the last. Finally, as she was reaching for another, a box wrapped in snowflakes lost its balance and fell into her arms instead.

"This is my gift," she realized with a start. He paused while reaching for another box and looked over.

"This is it?" he asked for clarification. When she nodded, he reached for it. "All right. Give it to me and I'll make sure he gets it."

She hesitated, looking down at the package in contemplation, and voiced her thoughts, "Actually, I'm a little worried that he might not like it. It's such a simple dish, and it's just from a small restaurant."

Catching sight of her distressed eyes, he wasted no time in grabbing the present and ripping the paper apart. As she watched in shock, he opened it and grasped a candied bean from inside, popping it into his mouth without pause. She waited with baited breath as he chewed it slowly, thoughtfully, swallowing it with care, and then he let his lips twitch into a smile.

"It's good," he assured her, his words ringing with blatant honesty. She sighed deeply in relief before blushing and punching his arm.

"Who gives a damn if you like it?" she grumbled in embarrassment, looking at the ground. "That's for Hitsugaya to decide."

.. ღ ..

He eagerly led her up a flight of stairs, ignoring her inquiries.

"Renji, where are you taking me?" she whined when he failed to answer once again.

"I want to show you something I'm sure you'll enjoy," was his vague answer, and he refused to divulge more until they had reached their destination. He took her to the top floor of his family home, which was pretty high up. With her hand in his own, he guided her to one of the bedrooms, heading straight for the glass doors on the other side.

"This room has the best balcony," he informed her, pushing open the doors to reveal a breathtaking view of the gardens. Hitsugaya rather liked the awed gasp that escaped her at the sight. The other, larger fountain she had seen on her way in was sprouting magnificently, flashing different colors because of a light at the bottom. She counted multiple varieties of flowers, planted in beautiful patterns or twisting in vines, and trees were swaying in harmony with the night's wind, playing a soothing melody with their leaves.

"Whoever their gardener is, they should definitely get a raise," was all she could think to say, and Toushiro filed that away as a matter to discuss with his parents when they returned. "But why are we here?" she asked curiously.

"Matsumoto planned some fireworks for midnight," he explained. "I thought you might like the view better here."

Considering that, the first thing Karin did was snort. "They're treating his birthday like it's New Year's," she drawled, and Toushiro almost balked at how in sync their thoughts were with each other's. Why had he never met her before today?

"But you were right," she continued, grinning. "I do want to watch them from here." With an excited gleam shining in her eyes, she rushed up to the edge of the balcony, leaning out past the railing to see underneath it. Toushiro allowed himself a grin as he lazily wandered after her, making sure to keep a respectful distance from the young girl. He didn't quite understand the strange twisting of his stomach whenever he came near her, but he had an inkling of what it was, and he didn't want to do anything drastic, lest he scare her off; he was having the time of his life with her, and he didn't want it to end on a sour note.

(Meanwhile, Matsumoto was practically tearing her hair out in insanity at Toushiro failing to show up to the party and missing his own birthday countdown).

"Look, Renji!" she called out to him, excitedly pointing to the sky. His chest clenched tightly when the moonlight made her beam that much brighter. "It's those stars we said looked like you! You can see them even from here."

In response to her rapid gesturing, he strode to stand behind her, pulling his hands out of his pockets as he looked up to find what had her so overjoyed. It was, indeed, his stars, and she seemed to find that to be another hilarious event.

"You just won't leave me be," she joked, putting her hands on the rail and standing on the tips of her toes to get a better look. He rolled his eyes as he settled behind her back to ensure she wouldn't fall, placing his hands under her arms and on either side of hers on the railing. She paid it no mind as her eyes hungrily roamed the skies for more of the star patterns they had found, and he secretly grinned at her enthusiasm. She was such a passionate person.

Toushiro had never truly liked someone yet, the way men loved women. Matsumoto "fell in love" once a week, but he had vowed never to be the same way, so this was new to him: spending so much time with a girl and liking it, not to mention craving more. Though calling his feelings something so deep might be too big a jump, he had never felt his heart race for any other before, and with someone he had just met today, too. He would almost do anything to see her again.

'But what is love if not a big gamble?' he found himself thinking as he watched her gaze at the starry sky in adoration.

"Hey, look. That's the one that looked like a snake!" she exclaimed, pointing it out to him. She turned her head to grin in his direction and finally found that he was right behind her, grinning down just slightly. Her breath caught in her throat as both her smile and hand dropped, and she gaped up at him.

"It looks more like a dragon from up here," he decided nonchalantly, not making any signs to move away.

She nodded quickly. "Yeah," she agreed in a small voice, but then she forced a smile on her face and bobbed her head. "Yeah, it does."

The atmosphere stayed clear for now, as neither let themselves be bothered by their closeness. Instead, they found they appreciated the warmth of each other's skin. It was the middle of December, and though it hadn't snowed or gone below zero in their town yet, the air was still crisp, and Karin's scanty dress did nothing to protect her from such conditions. His front against her back was welcome, and the whiffs of her hair he caught when the wind blew at them was just as wonderful for him.

Toushiro wondered how far the two of them had progressed in just one night. He had certainly enjoyed himself, even without the undesirable alternatives, and her recurring laughter seemed like a good sign more than anything. He might not know much about girls and relationships, but even he had the sense to realize the fact that she wasn't pushing him away was a cause to be happy, like her way of egging him on.

Matsumoto had taught him that girls liked it when a guy made the first move, and also that girls liked it when the first move was something romantic or spectacular, to show they really cared. Toushiro had never been one for grand planning, but he had the girl of his dreams in his arms, and he had a growing desire to make the spectacular first move. So, uncertainly but with a steely determination, he lowered his lips and placed a small, delicate kiss on her bare shoulder blade.

Karin breathed in sharply at the sudden contact. She was quite sure she had just felt someone's lips, but there was no one behind her other than...

There was another kiss, this time on her shoulder.

"H-hey," she stammered, too frozen to turn her head and look him in the eye. She'd felt the strange air between them earlier, but thought that maybe by pretending it held no significant meaning, they could keep their strange new relationship intact. But he was...

Toushiro simply ran his lips up her bare arm in a flurry of chaste kisses. He meant absolutely nothing vulgar or seductive by it. To him, kissing was something sacred, an act to be shared with only one precious person, so when his mouth reached the middle of her upper back, it was nothing but a romantic gesture on his part, a message that he had chosen her. Perhaps Karin understood that, because she tried her best to keep her protests to a minimum, biting her bottom lip hard and keeping her eyes shut to let him continue as his hair brushed against her.

There was nothing but silence, save for the trees that sounded like waves and the gentle kisses leaving her skin. He explored her back, her shoulders, her arms, her neck, and through it all, they were hushed. His hands tightened around the railing little by little, but he never made a single move to step any closer to her body. Even in such an act, he kept a respectable distance.

And then, a firework erupted.

It soared through the night sky with a whistle, and when it had reached how far it could possibly go, it erupted with a boom, bathing them both in colorful light that outshone even the moon for a moment. It jolted them both to their senses, and Toushiro, who had been heading for the middle of her shoulder blades, jumped back abruptly. Karin felt his warmth leave her back, and the sudden change was an eye-opener.

Renji's mouth had roamed her, and she had done nothing to stop it. She'd allowed it. She'd enjoyed it.

Perhaps it had been from her shock in learning that an actual boy had any sort of interest in her. She'd never been shown such blatant affection from anyone before, especially not the romantic kind – even with Jiro, it had been she who had confessed, and he had just accepted lazily, as if it had been a bother – but it was a fact that she wasn't the type to let boys kiss her so intimately. She knew it had only been pure, but that didn't change how she felt her entire body heat up in embarrassment as yet another firework exploded.

"It's so late already? I-I should be going," she managed, meeting his gaze despite the situation. He appeared just as appalled as her, as if shocked he had such nerve in him, and that set her at ease more than anything.

She smiled. "It's all right," she assured him. "I'm not mad or anything. But it's already midnight, so I should really be getting back home."

"I'll...walk you to the gardens," he offered breathlessly, and she didn't have it in her to refuse when he seemed so desperate for her to agree.

They headed down the halls together, silent once again, but with only mortification in the air between them rather than the previous electricity. The gardens couldn't come fast enough, though they were both also painfully aware that, with each step they took, they were closer to saying good-bye. They could hear music still blasting in the party hall as they passed by it, the crowd still large and noisy, but they ignored such insignificant matters. When they exited through the front doors, they found that the fireworks were still erupting.

"They really are great," Karin commented, and Toushiro grunted in agreement, tucking his hands into his pockets. He walked her as far as the fountain, close enough to the gate now that she insisted she could make the rest of the trudge herself.

"I...had fun," she told him, determined to make the last moments special in light of all the good times they'd had that shouldn't be ruined by the ending.

His eyes softened. "I'm glad," he replied honestly before smirking. "Be careful going back, Minami."

She threw her head back and laughed at the reminder, and the tense atmosphere was no more. Toushiro had never considered himself one for comforting others, but with her, it was easier.

"I will," she agreed through her happy sigh, and her eyes were alight once again. "Thanks for showing me a good time, Renji," she whispered.

Without warning, her lips pecked his very briefly. So swiftly, in fact, that he almost didn't realize it until she was running off to the gates. His chest knotted in pain at the false name, wondering how it would feel to have her call him correctly, but he let the thought drift away for now. Instead, he watched her run down the garden path, her hair whipping behind her. He wanted the night to end happily.

Just before disappearing between the trees, she turned back to wave a hand over her head and called out, "Next time you see Hitsugaya, tell him I wish him a happy birthday, okay!"

He smirked, slipping his fingers into his hair as he watched her go. "Sure," he answered so softly that she couldn't have possibly heard him.

And then, he was alone.

.. ღ ..

When Karin returned to school the following week, the students were abuzz about the brilliant party they had all attended the previous weekend. Some girls were crying in the bathrooms because they had either missed it or had not been invited – she spied Minami among them, her eyeliner dripping down her face, and almost felt guilty – and the boys were in awe over the Hitsugaya mansion. Some of the new couples that had hooked up at the bash were displaying too much public affection to be possibly allowed in the school rules, and Karin wondered how many of these relationships would last the week.

However, the conversation would stop when she came into view. Many would turn away to avoid looking at her directly, while others would start gossiping once again. It took her some time to remember that her break-up with Jiro was still rather fresh news, and that her classmates had never gotten over it. Perhaps that was why they gaped at the face-splitting, ear-to-ear grin on her face.

The truth was that she'd spent the rest of her weekend day-dreaming about Renji, thinking back to how he'd been such a proper gentleman, how reserved, how unpracticed and unsocial, how wonderful. She'd closed her eyes at night and his face had appeared beneath the darkness. Once or twic, before she'd caught herself and blushed furiously, she found herself wondering how he might have looked when he'd been kissing her. Had his eyes been closed, or his lips fully puckered? But then she would practically burst into flames and halt such thoughts in their tracks before they got too far. Still, she could have sworn she could feel first-hand his soft, spiky hair brushing against her back.

Of course, all that girly nonsense was gone with the weekend. She'd returned the dress and Yuzu's things, and now her usual poker-face was in place, her bag carelessly slung over her shoulder and her skirt slightly lower than all the other girls'. No one recognized her, had even paid attention to her at the party, so her reputation as the sarcastic tomboy with the sharp tongue was still intact. That didn't mean she hadn't turned fifty shades of red when she'd walked by her mother's favorite restaurant and wondered whether she'd ever get the chance to bring Renji there and treat him to amanatto again, but no one needed to know that except her.

Her life was actually back to its normal course once again. On the way into the building that morning, she'd caught sight of Jiro watching her from the courtyard. He'd been the only one to see her that night, to learn what she was capable of beneath all of her boyish ways, and he'd been dumbstruck. His hands wringing, he'd ignored his calling girlfriend in favor of studying her intently, only to look away when their eyes had met. She'd allowed herself the briefest of smirks before flipping her head and strutting inside. And that was it. She was quite happy with her small, personal victory, and Jiro seemed like a fading memory. She had Renji to think of now, and she was quite content with remembering him instead.

The only problem was that she had no ways of finding him again. He had introduced himself as one of Hitsugaya's closest friends, but she hardly knew anything about the birthday boy,either. Hell, she'd been to his birthday party, and still had yet to learn what he even looked like!

She could have asked any other student, but that would introduce uncomfortable questions that she was not in any mood to answer. So Karin went about her day as usual, keeping a lookout for a flash or white hair or teal eyes. The school was only so big, after all.

By the time lunch rolled around, she had yet to find her mystery man again, and she wondered whether she ever would. Now that she thought about it, the school might have been a reasonable size, but it held what felt like an infinite number of students. She was glum as she picked at her food, earning the curious stares of her friends who dared not ask her what was wrong.

A small ruckus at the other end of the schoolyard suddenly caught her attention. It was a group of boys horsing around with one another, tossing a ball back and forth and tackling each other in a friendly manner. She recognized most of them as the boys from the football team; she'd paid it no mind in previous years, but now one of her own friends was a player, so she at least knew what some of them looked like. But it was the names that caught her attention.

"Hisagi, toss it to me!" an overbearing red head yelled with a grin. His friend smirked and chucked the ball with what seemed like all his strength. The red head caught it, but it also flew back and smashed against his gut, causing him to lose his breath for a moment.

Hisagi snickered. "Nice catch, Renji," he drawled sarcastically, and Karin's eyes shot to his direction so fast, she almost felt dizzy.

"Maybe Coach needs to know Abarai-taichou can't even make one measly catch," the boys continued to joke.

"Oi, oi," Abarai defended himself. "I'm killer with my feet, and that's what counts."

Karin was out of her chair in less than a second, and she shot across the yard with a speed she had never known herself to possess. Many students gasped as she ran past them, but her sights were on the chuckling red head. She wasn't quite sure if it was the anticipation racing through her body, but one second she was running, and the next, she leaped through the air and latched onto Renji's back. He cried out in shock as she tightened her legs and swung off him in a piggyback.

"Are you Abarai Renji?" she demanded.

He gaped over his shoulder at her. "Y-yeah?"

"And you were at Hitsugaya's party this weekend?"

"Who are you? What does me going to the party matter?"

"So you did..." she muttered under her breath. Meeting his bug-eyed gaze dead on, she asked him the most important question. "Have you met me?"

He gaped at her as if she was completely mental. "Not before now, no," he snapped as all of his teammates started grumbling in surprise.

"Karin," she heard some of her friends calling. A look back confirmed that they were all staring at her, appalled at her sudden behavior.

She sighed, letting go of Renji and angrily striding off. She didn't care that people probably thought she had gone insane. All that mattered was that the name she had come to adore didn't belong to the man it should, and now she had no clues to find him with.

Meanwhile, Toushiro, on the other side of campus, was going completely berserk trying to locate the mysterious Karin he'd met only a few days prior. Why didn't he ask her for her last name! He could practically club himself on the head for being so idiotic.

Matsumoto didn't understand his sudden frenzy to review all the girls' names in the school's class list. Normally, she would have squealed and clapped and teased him about wanting a girlfriend, but she was too miffed about his disappearance at the party to work up any glee over the situation. But she was curious, so she stuck close to him and watched over his shoulder as he furiously crossed off names and circled others. She soon discovered a pattern to his disorder: all the chosen girls had 'Karin' as a first name.

"Who are you trying to find?" she finally broke and asked.

"Just someone..." he mumbled, tugging at his hair as he realized he'd accidentally crossed off a name that should have been circled. Finally, he slipped out of his chair and wandered off, leaving his best friend to call after him. This was the second time he had done so; first, he'd gone to meet with all the girls in his own grade with the right name, and when that had come out empty, he'd moved on to lower grades. He just hoped that meeting the girls of his own age would be the last he would have to face of mindless shrieking and attempts to squeeze him into a choking hug.

"Excuse me?" he called out to a group of girls in the courtyard, cringing as they started whispering to each other in high-pitched squeals. He just stared down at his list. "Do any of you know an...Aoki Karin?"

One of the girls giggled and stepped forward, raising a hand. "That's me," she told him shyly.

He stared down at her in disappointment, shaking his head as he crossed the name off his list. "No, not you." He strode off, leaving her standing there in confusion.

As he was heading for the next name, he bumped into something rather large and solid, causing him to stumble back. Rubbing his head and grumbling under his breath, he gazed up at the block in his path, only to come face to face with a bushel of red hair.

"Abarai," he groaned, ignoring the way his heartbeat thudded at the sudden encounter with the boy who's name he'd stolen. The two had been teammates on the football team years prior, before he'd quit to become student council president instead, and the brutish captain was one of the guys invited to his birthday that he hadn't minded being there.

"Whoops. Sorry 'bout that, Hitsugaya-san," the boorish boy grunted, rubbing the back of his head sheepishly. "I'm just a little out of it. Something...really strange just happened to me."

"Just make sure it doesn't happen again," he brushed him off, flipping through the pages of his class list to find the name of the next girl.

"Yeah, sure," Renji mumbled, already walking off. "As long as that Karin chick doesn't go completely nuts on me again."

Toushiro immediately halted, dropping the list as he bolted towards his ex-teammate. "Wait!" he called out, ignoring the murmurs that broke out around him from the kids who had never seen him lose his cool. "Oi, Abarai. What did you just say?"

The red head's eyebrows scrunched as he thought back to what could have possibly caused such a reaction. "I-I was just talking about Karin," he spluttered. "She's this girl that completely went crazy on me for going to your party. Jumped on my back and everything."

Toushiro felt his heart thudding in his ears. "Do you know where she is now?" he asked, struggling to keep the hope out of his voice.

Renji shook his head. "She just walked off when I told her I didn't know her. I don't know where, though."

He felt his face fall along with his heart. "Oh." Trying to keep face, he just held his head high and grabbed onto his list from the ground, clutching it tighter than necessary. With dignity he had learned to maintain since his crawling days, he went off to the rest of his search. But, before he could get too far, Renji put a hand to his chin.

"Although..." he said thoughtfully, "I think one of her friends is on our team."

He whipped his head back around.

"Yeah, he's one of the rookies that came in this year after you left," Renji was saying. "He's got potential, though his kicks aren't as strong as the other guys'. I think, if he trains, he might be ready for next year–"

"Okay, focus, Abarai, focus," Hitsugaya interrupted. "What about the girl? The girl?"

"Oh, right." He grinned sheepishly. "Well, come to practice and I think you might be able to see her."

"I'll be there," he agreed immediately. And Hitsugaya strode off with a smirk planted firmly on his face.

Karin sighed and kicked her legs as she gazed out at the field. Kazuya had a practice match today, and since all of her friends were busy, she was the only one left to cheer him on. But her mind was on a different matter entirely; her gaze followed Renji on the field as he stole a ball from someone she couldn't be bothered to name, and her scowl grew.

She couldn't believe that the boy she liked so much had been lying to her! His name was practically all she knew about him, and that hadn't even been true. She wasn't quite sure whether to be angry with him or frustrated that she couldn't find him again.

Well, she had actually decided to be frustrated. After all, she didn't know the circumstances behind his fake name, and she'd learned in the short time they had been together that he wasn't the type to make up things without a solid reason, so she decided to trust in his decision and instead focus on trying to find him again. Of course, that wasn't turning out so well, since she had yet to come up with any new clues to help with her search.

As she was contemplating making a school-wide announcement on the PA system about "the mysterious white-haired man she'd kissed at Hitsugaya's party," she felt two strong arms wrap around her from behind. They were thick and muscular, and she shivered, almost as if her body recognized the touch. Hands twisted around her waist, and then she felt something familiar – a kiss pressed to her neck by cool, delicate lips.

She enjoyed it for the shortest time, and then reality kicked in.

"Hey, what the hell do you think you're doing, buddy?" she growled, trying to elbow the perpetrator away. Her yelp caught the attention of the boys practicing in the field, and Renji grinned as he recognized his ex-teammate, while Kazuya gaped as he noticed his boy-ish friend.

"Have you always been such a struggler?" a cool voice grunted in her ear, holding onto her tighter.

She froze as she recognized that voice, inhaling sharply at the breath on her ear. Her eyes shut tight as she tried to control herself, and then she slowly turned.

"Renji...?" she choked out, curling her fingers in to resist touching his face for proof.

That scowl she knew so well turned up into a smirk. "I suppose I should tell you that my real name is Hitsugaya Toushiro."

"You're Hitsugaya?" she squeaked weakly, pulling away to analyze him more closely. Her mouth opened and closed a few times, as if she couldn't think of anything to say to this news. But, of course, she was Karin, so her next words were entirely un-movie-like. "Um...Happy Birthday?"

He chuckled under his breath. "Thank you," was his answer, having expected her reaction. He stepped closer to her again, ignoring the crowd watching them. "You don't mind, do you?"

She hesitated, pondering over the question. Did she mind? Well, she couldn't deny she hadn't expected her mystery man to be the rich, well-known birthday boy that all the girls squealed over, but she hadn't minded when she'd learned that he wasn't Renji. She'd only just really wanted to see him, and now that she could, regret was the last thing she was feeling. Instead, her chest was swelling up with happiness, so what did it matter who he turned out to be? She'd never been the type of girl to judge based on something like that. She wasn't Jiro.

"No," she finally declared, closing the gap between them by stepping closer herself. "I don't mind, you idiot. Why would I?"

He breathed out deeply in relief, placing a hand over his heart. He had been so hoping she wouldn't find their situation too strange to continue their relationship, because when he'd first seen her on the bench, dressed in her wrinkly clothes and messy ponytail made grungy by the school day, he knew he would never like another girl as much as he liked her.

"But there is one thing I need to know before we go any further," he muttered. "Just what is your last name?" He sounded extremely pained, and she burst out laughing.

"Kurosaki," she answered softly. "I'm Kurosaki Karin."

He groaned, finally placing his arms around her waist, as he'd been wanting to do since they'd said good-bye. "I have been looking everywhere for you," he informed her wearily.

She smirked slyly. "Oh, really? And how do you know you've even found the right girl?"

He raised an amused eyebrow. "I'm not quite sure." He decided to play along, wondering where she was going with this. With her, he never really knew, and that spontaneity was one of the things he loved about her.

"Well, you know, Cinderella left behind a glass slipper so the prince could find her," she joked. With a hazy grin, she sidled up to him, placing a hand on his chest. "And, if you think about it, I left a kiss." His breath caught in his throat as he understood her implications, and then his lips widened into a sincere smile.

The entire boy's football team cheered as the two proved that they had indeed found the one they would never lose again.

Edit: Thank you so much, EvarNaux, for pointing out my mistake. It's fixed now :D

Finally finished! I hope you enjoyed my long Valentine's Day present to you; I had fun twisting the classic fairy tale. It's cutting it a little close, and I don't know about all the different time zones, but where I am, it's still the fourteenth of February, so I'm on time ^^