For the first time ever since they became close, they were sitting in silence.
And it wasn’t a comfortable one either.
There was this thick tension around them and she had no idea how to dispel it. A glance at her side showed that the white haired boy looked just as tensed as she was.
Once again, they were sitting on the small hill near the town, watching the sunset.
Gathering her wits, she softly spoke, her voice just a little above a whisper, “There’s a big battle coming, right?”
He nodded, before answering with the same volume, “Soon.”
“Will be at the very front line.”
She felt her breath getting shorter, “And you?”
The silence return, before he turned to face her with what she knew to be a reassuring but forced smile. Her older brother had given the same kind of smile to her many of times. The dread in her heart grew stronger.
“I think I’ll be a little safer than Ichigo will be.”
She felt tears starting to sting her eyes. He never used anyone’s given name, except when he was trying to console her or ease her worry. Just hearing him using his brother’s name showed how grave and dangerous the situation really was.
“But you’re still be in danger.”
He whispered back, voice low and soft, “So are thousands others. Including you, and your family and friends.”
There was that dreaded silence again.
“You remember what you told me here?” She almost chocked on her breath. “The day I show you this place?”
His smile could be heard in his voice, “That you need to believe Ichigo will always come back to you?”
She nodded mutely, hugging her knees tighter to her body. She looked at him, and grey orbs met teal, “Will you promise me the same?”
Teal eyes widened by a fraction.
“Promise me you’ll come back, Toshiro,” she continued, feeling rather desperate and not quite knowing why. “Promise me!”
Something warm caught her hand and she stopped herself to look at it. Her breath hitched when she found Toshiro’s hand holding hers in a gentle and reassuring grip. She look up to stare at his face, finding a gentle smile playing on his lips.
“Well, I would need someone I could yell at, wouldn’t I?”
She choked a laugh at the way he indirectly answered her, though she felt disappointment blossoming in her heart when he didn’t promise her, “You don’t really yell, Toshiro. The closest to it that you did was exasperated shout, which is not really counted. And I thought that was why Rangiku-san is your lieutenant.”
His smile turned to a grin, “Matsumoto would disagree with you. And I need to give her a break sometimes too.”
“I’m the next perfect target, am I now?”
His next words surprised her.
“You’re one of the few that I feel comfortable enough to drop my captain’s mask,” he confessed, his hand gripping hers tighter. “Truth be told, your brother is one of them too.”
“You should call him Ichi-nii,” she squeezed his hand back, “just for the heck of it. It would be worth seeing the dumbfounded expression on his face.”
He chuckled lightly, “Maybe someday.”
“Make sure that I’m in the vicinity and with a camera when you do,” she sent him a somewhat half-hearted smirk.
An amused smile was what she got as a response, “Do all sisters like to torment their brothers? Or is it just those whom I have the honour of meeting?”
Her chuckle was more genuine this time, “No. It’s only those who have an idiot for a brother.”
His smile softened again, “This suits you better. Laugh and smile are more like you.”
She blinked at him, realizing what he had been attempting to do. She had thought that he was just trying to avoid the topic completely, but it seemed that she was mistaken.
He was trying to lift her spirit.
“Thanks, Toshiro,” she smiled at him.
He smiled back and squeezed her hand, before looking back at the rapidly darkening sky, “I should leave soon. My division needs me.”
She did her best to mask her disappointment, but apparently it wasn’t enough. The warm hand around hers gave a little tug and she allowed him to pull her onto her feet. Her eyes widened and she turned to face him when she felt him taking her other hand.
He gave her a gentle smile, “I’ll come back to you.”
She felt something being pushed onto her hands and she looked down. Her already wide eyes widened even more when she found a silver necklace with a small, fragile looking snowflake made of the same material as a pendant.
Just as her attention shifted away from him though, she felt a warm touch on her forehead and a whispered, “I promise,” before a small gush of wind raised around her. She looked up just in time to see a flare of his white haori before he disappeared.
She kept standing there, looking at the spot she had last seen him. Her mind heavy with worry and her hand gripped the necklace tighter. The only thing that able to ease her troubled mind, even if only by a little bit, is the fact that he had given her his promise.
And she trusted him that he’d keep it.
Karin let out a shaky breath as she followed the rest of the family on the busy street, her hand unconsciously went to the necklace around her neck, gripping the pendant with trembling fingers.
There had been no news from a certain someone and it frustrated her. Especially since no one was telling her anything.
Ichi-nii was already back, even though he had gone into hibernation – she refused to think of it as being unconscious – for about a month. The official story that she had been given was that he had been involved in an accident and went into a coma.
She nearly scoffed when her father informed her that. It was not an accident that landed her brother in that condition. And she knew the real reason.
But he was fine now.
She had been going back from another soccer practice to found him standing in front of the house, as if he wasn’t just waking up for the first time after a month. His usual gang standing a little bit away, with Rukia-neesan standing right in front of him.
He had noticed her standing there frozen and lifted up his hand, giving her his usual greeting with a heartbreakingly familiar grin on his face. She had been torn whether to punch the idiot or hug him.
She had done both.
He had laughed and wrapped his arms around her, chuckling softly and ruffling her hair. She hit him for worrying her and shouted to not do it again, then proceeded to bury her face onto his chest again.
They had been interrupted when Yuzu came back from her grocery shopping. Her twin had dropped the bags in shock, before her brother found himself with an armful of sobbing and near hysterical younger sister. She stepped back and quickly wiped her eyes, letting her twin have her chance to steam off at their moron of a brother.
That was about a week ago.
And it was also the day that she found out her brother can no longer see spirit.
She still had mixed feelings about it, to be honest. She was relieved that Ichi-nii would not be running around saving people and endangering his life in the process anymore. But the melancholic mood that she now often found her brother in always made her wish he hadn’t.
After all, she knew that Ichi-nii had made some friends in Soul Society. Friends that he now could not meet anymore.
Friends like Toshiro.
She cursed quietly.
How she hate that any thought she had would always end with him.
A licker of movement at the edge of her vision caught her attention and she quickly turned her gaze, pausing in her steps.
There was nothing out of ordinary there. People walking across the street while some cars zooming through the road. A young woman was carrying her daughter while chatting on the phone. An old couple was walking slowly, hand in hand. There was also a group of small children running around, a teenager chasing them.
Somehow, though, she ignored all these, and instead focused her attention on a rather small figure walking slowly through the crowds.
White jeans, black sneakers and dark green hoodie, which was pulled over his head. None at all eye catching from the myriad of colors constantly moving as those who wore them moved.
But she couldn’t take her eyes away from the figure.
A hand ruffled her hair and she looked up. Her brother smiled indulgently at her, hint of amusement twinkling in his gentle brown eyes.
“Go on,” he told her softly. “You’ve been waiting for him, right?”
She opened her mouth, not at all sure what she was about to say. But he shook his head and gave her a light push on her back.
“Go to him, Karin. He’s probably just being his usual cowardly, self-deprecating self to get himself to meet you.” There was a fond smile on his face. “So go to him and beat whatever it was that was eating him inside for me, alright?”
There was flicker of something in his eyes, too brief for her to identify. A nudge on her back distracted her though, and with a grateful smile to her brother, she took off running.
Cars were honking when she unexpectedly crossed the road, and some of the pedestrians were shouting at her too. But she ignored it all, her mind focusing on the retreating figure who had made quite a distance from her during her short conversation with her brother.
She watched as the figure started, pausing in his steps before slowly turned around. Beautiful teal eyes and snow white hair finally came into view.
It was just like those cheesy romantic movies that Yuzu and their Dad loved to watch and, no, she was not kidding about it either. Maybe it was just her imagination too, but it seemed as if everything slowed down and everything but the two of them blurred.
Choking on a sob, she covered the few meters between them, before taking a leap into his arms. Her arms wound around his neck and she felt warm arms went around her waist.
“You idiot,” she managed around her sob onto his shoulder. “Why didn’t you visit me sooner?”
The arms around her tightened and she felt him buried his own face to the side of her neck.
She choked a laugh, “Sorry didn’t even cover it, you moron!”
Loosening her hold, she attempted to pull away from him. She was stopped though, when he refused to let go of her, keeping instead a firm hold on her waist.
“Not yet,” he murmured onto her shoulder. Her heart clenched when his voice trembled.“Just. Please, let me stay like this for a little while longer.”
Closing her eyes, she leaned her head back on his shoulder. She felt him breathe shakily and tightened her arms, letting the feeling of his arms around her sank in. There would be time for them to talk about what happened when he was away.
For now though, she was content to let him hold her close.
The long awaited reunion turned out to be emotionally exhausting for the both of them. She knew that the last month had not been kind to her white haired friend – for that was what they were. Friends. For now – but she didn’t know until then just how much.
He told her that he had been confined in the fourth division for about three days, before Captain Unohana finally caved in and released him from her care.
She had been so very tempted to whack him on the head when she found out how utterly stupid he had acted.
Instead of taking it easy like the fourth division Captain had told him to, he had trained to the point of exhaustion. If not for Rangiku-san discreetly following him, he would have been in that cave unconscious for hours – she refused to think days – before someone finally noticed him gone and sent a search party for him.
The third time Rangiku-san had to haul his stubborn ass to the fourth division, Captain Unohana had finally have it and had ordered him for full bed rest in the fourth division – and made sure someone was with him all the time – until he recovered enough. The usually gentle captain then had proceeded to kick him off, almost literally, to the world of living in an effort to get him to relax, complete with an order to stay there the whole day.
She couldn’t help but felt thankful to this Unohana person. Both for hitting some sense to her friend’s head and for sending him here.
When she asked him why, he had said, “I’m still too weak. If this goes on, I won’t be able to protect Hinamori. I’m the only male in our family, so it’s my responsibility to keep her and Granny safe.”
Just like that she lost whatever annoyance she had felt because he had not immediately went to find her. He had that same problem that Ichi-nii had, taking way too much responsibility onto themselves than is healthy.
And ended up hurting themselves in the process, be it physical or emotional.
His visits becoming more frequent after that, though she suspected that it was partly thanks to Rangiku-san. They fell easily back into their routine before the Winter War, as she was told what the official report had decided to call it.
This time though, they would go to the hill most of the time. Probably it was the solitude and peacefulness of the place that drew them in, especially now that the topic of their talk had become more private.
He finally told her about what his childhood was like and she was angered by the thought of cute little Toshiro being ostracized by the people in the village he used to live in. Afterwards she had asked him if he had any photos of him from when he was younger and begged him to show her when he said, unfortunately yes.
So it was only fair that she shared some stories about her childhood with him as well. And in exchanged of him showing some of his younger self’s photos, she had offered to show hers. The non-embarrassing ones only, mind you.
Yuzu was out with her friends – no doubt gossiping about her and Toshiro’s non-existent love story – and her father had once again gone for another business trip, something that made her had to frown. Her orange haired brother was sitting on the couch in the living room, absentmindedly changing the channel, when they came in.
He had taken one look at them, sprung off the couch, made some lame excuse and headed for the door. She frowned at his behavior and opened her mouth to call him.
Toshiro beat her at it.
“Why are you avoiding me?” The white haired boy asked, frowning at the physically older boy.
Her brother had turned around, an obviously fake smile plastered on his face, “Eh? Don’t know what you’re talking about, Toshiro. I was just waiting for someone to come back since I need to go.”
“Go where?” Toshiro had crossed his arms, an expectant look on his face.
She had decided to keep silent and watched where their conversation was going, standing a few meters away from them.
The orange haired male scratched his cheek lightly, “Well, that’s…”
“You’re avoiding me,” Toshiro repeated, his voice laced with sadness. There was silence for a few moments, before his face scrunched up as if in pain, “Why?”
The older sighed tiredly, running a hand through his unruly orange hair, “Toshiro, I… I’m not a shinigami anymore.”
“So what?” Toshiro gritted his teeth. “Neither is your sister and you don’t see her avoiding me!”
“It’s different, alright! She can still see you, know you’re here without you having to use gigai. I can’t. Not anymore.” A hint of sadness combined with acceptance had crept into her brother’s voice.
She had to bite back a gasp when Toshiro let a suspiciously sob-like growl before kicking her brother hard on his shin, sending him to the floor with a pained shout.
“You are an utter idiot,” the younger boy growled lowly.
His whole body shaking with suppressed… what? Anger? Sadness? Disappointment? She was not so sure herself. She caught the bewildered look her brother had and knew that he was just as surprised with Toshiro’s unusual lack of control on his emotion as she was.
“Toshiro…?” The older tried to reach out to him.
“You are a total moron, you know that, Ichigo?”
Both hers and he brother’s eyes widened at him using her brother’s given name. Ignoring the pain in his still smarting shin, the orange haired boy pushed himself up to kneel in front of the younger boy, who had held his head down.
“Wasn’t it you who told me that we’re supposed to share how we feel inside, be it happy or sad? Otherwise, we’ll all feel lonely and left out? You’re the one who taught me that, weren’t you? So why are you doing the exact opposite right now?!”
She watched with misted eyes as her brother seemed to deflate into himself, arms hanging limply at his sides.
“I can’t help you guys anymore, Toshiro,” he finally said. “I can’t see you and I can’t even watch out for you guys. I’m useless.”
Two small hands gripped the collar of the older’s T-shirt and shook him forcefully, “You’re not useless!”
Surprised brown met blazing teal. “So what if you can’t fight anymore? You think we care about your power? No, Ichigo! We care about you! Or do you think that our friendship is so shallow that we’ll just chuck you out of our lives the moment you’re not useful anymore?!”
“And anyway, you’re finally have a normal life. Do you know how much I wish that for myself? For not needing to fight and risk your life trying to save the world? You’ve done enough, Ichigo. Will you not trust us to keep you safe this time?”
Ichigo blinked in stunned surprise, before chuckling softly, “I can’t believe I got lectured by a boy who looks like he’s still in elementary school.”
Toshiro snorted as he released his grip on the older’s T-shirt, “It won’t be the first time now, will it?”
“Guess so,” Ichigo reached out a hand to ruffle the younger’s white hair. “Thanks, Toshiro.”
The boy huffed and ducked the hand, “Just, don’t shut us out, Ichi-nii.”
Her brother was stunned into silence for a few seconds, before a brilliant grin spread across his face. He then proceeded to smother the younger boy into a hug, ignoring the protest and half hearted struggle that greeted him.
The only regret that she had was that she didn’t have a camera with her.
“Where are you going, goat beard?”
Karin watched with a frown as her father attempted to sneak out of the house, her arms crossed in front of her chest. Her father turned around with a goofy grin plastered on his face.
“Karin-chan! Papa was just going out to meet some friends! So no need to wait up for dinner!”
She let out a growl and broke into a run, tackling her father onto the floor, “Oh no you don’t! Yuzu had told me to watch out for you before she and Ichi-nii went for grocery shopping. She said not to let you out of the house, especially when she had invited Toshiro for dinner tonight.”
“But Karin-chan,” her father whined, “Papa really needs to go.”
“No, he doesn’t! He will stay in the house even if I have to tie him up on a chair!”
When her father continued to whine at her, she had to frown. The old man was really trying to escape the house, and she had a hunch why. She had been wondering why her father’s so called business trip was always on the same day as Toshiro’s visits.
“Why are you avoiding Toshiro, Dad?”
The whining stopped, but before the conversation could go further, the door bell rang. Tightening her grip on her father’s sleeve, she marched to the front door, where she found her friend standing patiently.
“Toshiro! Come –” she trailed off when she saw him widening his eyes in shock.
She felt her father gently loosened the hold she had on him and looked up to see him smiling gently albeit a little remorsefully.
“Long time no see, Shiro-chan.”
If possible, the boy’s eyes widened further, “Ta- Taicho? What –? How –?”
Her father squatted down, gently taking the boy’s trembling hand, “I’ve told you it’s Papa, haven’t I? Let’s go in first and I’ll explain everything to you, alright?”
She bit her lip as she watched the two of them interacted.
She had heard her father and Ichi-nii talking about him being a former shinigami and had demanded that he told her, while marching into the room and shocking the two. So she had thought that maybe he didn’t have a good relationship with Toshiro when he had avoided the white haired boy.
But now she could see that she had been wrong. If anything, it seemed like the two of them had been rather close.
“Karin,” her father’s voice brought her out of her musing. “Could you get a glass of water for Toshiro, please? It seems like he’s gone into a shock.”
She nodded and, with a last worried glance to her friend who looked like he’s in a trance, quickly made her way to the kitchen.
When she entered the living room, she found Toshiro sitting on the couch with his legs pulled onto his chest, with her father kneeling in front of him, trying futilely to get him to open up.
She didn’t dare to interrupt them.
“Shiro-chan, look at me. Please?”
“No. You’re not real. Isshin-taichou is dead and you’re just my imagination,” she heard his voice shook. “I’m dreaming. This is only a nightmare. It’s all just a drea–”
He was cut off when he felt something warm wrapped around him. Bright teal eyes opened and the boy looked up, to see his former captain had him on his lap with his arms around his shaking body.
“Does this still feel like a dream, Shiro-chan?”
She put the glass of water onto a nearby table and silently making her way to her room.
There were things that her father and Toshiro needed to clear off between them, that much was clear to her. So she was going to respect their privacy and left them to have their way overdue talk.
It was well over an hour later when she heard a soft footsteps walking towards her room and she sat up from her bed, where she had spent the past hour staring silently at the ceiling. Turning to the door, she found Toshiro standing there and scooted over, patting the space next to her on the mattress.
He quietly made his way onto her room and gingerly sat down beside her.
If she noticed the slightly red quality of his eyes, she was not going to point that out to him.
“Did you have a good talk with Dad?” She asked softly, peering at his face.
He nodded rather jerkily, “I think so. You know,” he turned to face her, eyes slightly teary. “When I agreed to your sister about having dinner here, I was expecting some form of craziness, seeing that it’s your family. But this was definitely beyond even my wildest dream.”
She took his hand and squeezed it gently, feeling slightly reassured when he gripped her hand back.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
He took a rather shaky breath before starting, “He was my former captain, you know that? Drive me nuts almost everyday too. Refusing to do paperwork, goofing off the whole day with Matsumoto, having a habit of snatching me up and carrying me off somewhere to have some fun, demanding I call him Papa.”
She chuckled softly, “That sure does sound like him.”
He turned to her, causing her to do the same and stared at him questioningly. She blinked in surprise when he promptly dropped his head onto her shoulder.
“Toshiro?” She called him softly and felt him took a few gulps of air to calm himself.
“Then he just vanished,” he murmured shakily onto her shoulder and she raised her free hand to caress his hair comfortingly. “We didn’t know what happened to him and then he was declared dead a few days later. The next time I saw him was an hour ago.”
Not knowing what to say, she kept quiet, offering her silent support for him. For a few minutes they stayed like that, before he shifted and lifted his head away from her shoulder, a weak smile on his lips.
“Thanks,” he whispered at her, his grip on her hands tightening briefly.
“I was just returning the favor, Toshiro.”
She was cheered when he chuckled, albeit a little wetly, “Thanks all the same, Karin.”
“You’re welcome then,” she grinned, before standing up, tugging him along with her. “Now, come on. We better make sure the goat beard didn’t do anything weird and see if Yuzu and Ichi-nii are back.”
There were just about to step down the stairs when they heard the commotion from downstairs and the sound of someone crashing onto the floor.
She heard a laugh beside her and turned to see Toshiro chuckling heartily. He threw her a grin when he saw her questioning expression.
“I just remembered, Isshin-taichou used to randomly sneak-attack the division members all the time, including me. One would think that he would stop after I kicked him in the face the first time he did that to me.”
Grinning brightly at him, she tugged on his hand to follow her down, “That sounds like the beginning of a story. You have to tell me someday.”
He grinned back at her.
“It’s a date.”
Karin tapped her foot impatiently as she stood at the park, checking her watch every few seconds.
“He’s late,” she scowled.
She started and whirled around to see a white haired boy giving her an apologetic grin.
“Toshiro! Don’t do that! You almost gave me a heart attack!”
He just chuckled and she found herself unable to stay angry at him, “I’m sorry, but you’re making it so easy. I honestly wasn’t trying to sneak up on you. Forgive me?”
“Well,” she made a mock thinking pose, “there’s an ice cream stand over there.”
He played along and sighed mock resignedly, “I get it, I get it. Double chocolate in a cone?”
She just grinned and waved brightly at him as he walked towards the stand, coming back a few minutes later with two cones of ice cream with him. He gave her the chocolate one and sat down on the bench beside her before starting on his vanilla ones.
“Say, Karin,” he called after a few minutes of silence.
She turned to him expectantly, quarter of her attention still on the chocolate ice cream in her hand. She blinked when she realized there was a hint of pink staining his cheeks.
He fidgeted slightly, “Do you want to go steady with me?”
She blinked at him, eyes widening slightly. Did he really just…?
“I know that I’m a shinigami, and you’re still living. But I checked with the Head Captain and he said okay, so… Would you? Go out with me, I mean.”
There was another beat of silence before she launched herself at him, arms went around his neck and the ice creams laid forgotten on the ground.
“Toshiro, you idiot. I’ve been waiting for ages for you to ask me that. Of course I’d like to go out with you.”
She heard him gave an incredulous laughed before feeling herself being lifted up and twirled around. Clinging to his neck, she couldn’t help the laugh bubbling from her chest. When her feet touched the ground, she found her looking up at him face to face, twin smile lighting up their faces and their noses almost touching.
“I love you.”
“And I you.”