Karin's first twenty-four hours in Soul Society. AU future-fic. Spoilers through chapter 200. Gen
The afterlife is not what Karin expected.
For one thing, she had hoped it would be sunnier; the rain is getting old fast, and no one in this weird town of the dead seems to have an umbrella. Or a rain slicker. She's not particularly happy about her new outfit, either; Karin only wears yukata when there's a festival--she doesn't think there's going to be fireworks here any time soon--and she's already tripped over the damn sandals half a dozen times.
And on top of everything else, she's hungry, and lonely, and pissed off about having died in the first place.
(The last thing she remembers is a burst of energy slicing through the walls of the house, and a great roar as the roof came crashing down on top of them.)
She wanders in circles for hours, asking passersby if they've seen Ichigo, Yuzu, or even Goatbeard. No luck. Eventually she figures out that she's asking the wrong question and changes her tactics.
"Can you tell me where I can find shinigami?"
She's pointed toward a castle at the center of the city. It's a long walk. By the time she reaches the gates, her sandals have blistered her feet, and she's even crankier than she was before. At least the rain's stopped. And now she's finally getting somewhere: there's a clutch of all-too-familiar black-and-white uniforms standing before the gates. She marches up to them, ignoring the gasps of nearby onlookers.
"Hey, you! Shinigami!"
One of the shinigami turns and sneers in her direction. "Watch your mouth, kid. Don't you know who you're talking to?"
Karin's dealt with worse punks; even without her trusty soccer ball, she knows she can manage these. "I need you to help me find my brother."
"No can do. We don't organize family reunions. Official policy."
"His name is Ichigo. Orange hair, scowl, big sword. And he's one of you."
"Not Kurosaki Ichigo? He has a sister?"
"Two sisters." She crosses her arms over her chest. "And you'd better help me find Yuzu too."
"Fuck, there's two more of you?" The shinigami rubs the back of his neck. "Man, I do not want to be the messenger this time--Kuchiki-taichou is still unhappy about the last bombshell. Ah well. Come this way, Kurosaki. I'm sure there's something we can do."
Karin doesn't like the way the shinigami with the scarf is eyeing at her.
She tries to start a conversation for the third time. "You must be related to Rukia-san. I didn't realize she was a shinigami too, but I suppose I should have guessed. There's a lot I didn't know. Are you her father?"
The ends of his scarf seem to tremble, though there's not a breath of wind. "I am her brother."
"Oh. I'm sorry. But you understand, then, what it's like to have a sister. Ichigo's probably worried sick about me. And I should find my father and sister too-they were in the house when . . . well, they should be somewhere around here too. Wherever here is."
"Is that what you call it? And, uh, you wouldn't have something I could eat, would you?"
One dark eyebrow twitches. "You're hungry?"
"Are you sure?"
"I haven't eaten all day. Wouldn't you be hungry?"
Rukia's brother doesn't answer. There's not a single ripple in his composure, but Karin gets the curious impression that he would like to scream.
They're still staring at each other when a couple of shinigami arrive to take her away.
Her escorts explain that her case is being transferred to another division. "Sixth Division's short-handed these days, what with Abarai-fukutaichou away and all, so the Thirteenth has offered to help you instead."
Karin wonders if she's supposed to understand what they're talking about.
By the time they reach the house on the lake, Karin has decided to scream if she's asked to walk any further. (On an empty stomach, no less. Rukia's stiff brother didn't feed her a thing.) But once she's inside Karin begins to forget her complaints. There's something peaceful about the quiet home of the thirteenth division. The sixth division headquarters were equally hushed, but in a way that made Karin reluctant to breathe for fear of breaking the stillness. Here the silence feels restful, even serene, broken only by the murmur of the lake as it laps against the deck.
She listens to the water and waits.
After what feels like an eternity but is probably only a few minutes, an older man enters. His face is friendly, though weary, and his white hair swings with his haori as he sits down. He introduces himself as Ukitake-taichou, listens to Karin's tale, and proceeds to feed her tea and dango. When the first plate of dango is empty, he glances over her shoulder and a shinigami immediately appears with another.
He watches her eat with a thoughtful expression. "I apologize for the long wait, Karin-chan. My subordinates are investigating your situation, but it may take some time for all the information to be collected."
She's polishing off her fifth skewer of dango when one of his subordinates returns with a report. He scans it while Karin chews. When she's done, he says, "I have good and bad news."
"That's better than no news," she says and braces herself for the worst.
"The bad news is that reuniting you with your family is going to be more complicated than expected. You see, none of them are here at the moment."
"Not here? You mean they--"
"Survived the attack on your family's home; that's right. Well, for certain definitions of survive. According to our sources, your sister is currently being treated at Karakura's main hospital; she broke a couple of bones, but she's expected to make a full recovery. And she's in good hands."
Karin's not sure whether she should be relieved, distraught, or envious. "And the others?"
"I don't quite know how to put this, we've never had a situation like this before . . . Your brother, as you seem to have discovered at some point, is a shinigami. As such, his soul can leave his body. You've seen this?" She nods. "On the night your home was attacked, your brother's body was present, but his soul was elsewhere. So the authorities of the living world found his body in the wreckage, and to all extents and purposes it looks to them like he's in a coma. We're just not exactly sure where his soul is now. But he was almost certainly with Kuchiki Rukia, one of my subordinates, at the time, and she should report in any minute now."
"So he's okay?"
"We have every reason to believe he's fine."
"And what about Goat--er, my father?"
Ukitake's gaze drops to the report in his hand, then rises again to meet her own. "Well, that's also a bit complicated."
"Yes. Almost exactly like that. But more so."
"I don't think I'm following you anymore."
He explains. Karin nearly spills her tea on the tatami.
"So you're telling me that my crazy father is and always has been technically dead?"
During her first night in Soul Society, Karin dreams about her death.
She wakes from the nightmare with a squeal, the sort of noise that Yuzu used to make when she was frightened by a movie. Her hands are fisted in her sheets, and her heartbeat races. Everything happened so quickly that night; Karin shouldn't have had time to be scared. But she did. She was terrified at the moment she died.
Sleep suddenly seems unattractive. Karin tells herself that it's silly to be afraid--/You're already dead, moron/--but logic doesn't prove to be very reassuring. And morning's hours away. What is she going to do with herself until day comes? What is she going to do with herself when day comes?
Karin no longer cries, but she wishes she could.
She's still lying awake in the dark when she hears footsteps. They approach her room, pause, then fade away. Curious, Karin slides open her door and sticks out her head. She sees the unmistakable figure of Kuchiki Rukia disappearing around a corner.
Rukia's virtually a stranger to Karin, but she's still more familiar than anyone else in Soul Society. Karin walks along the deck until she finds the shinigami sitting at the water's edge, gazing up at the moon. In her shihakusho, she's transformed; she's older, aloof, and severely elegant.
"You should go back to sleep." Her true voice is husky, almost brusque; Karin likes it.
"No thanks." Karin plops down beside Rukia. "It was you who stopped outside my door, wasn't it?"
"My apologies. I didn't mean to disturb you."
"I was already awake." Karin dips her hand in the lake; the water's cold, but not shockingly so. She watches the water drip from her fingertips. "Ukitake-taichou said you would find Ichigo."
"I did. Or rather, I was with him when your home as attacked, so I knew where he was all along. We-we had our hands full. I couldn't report in until long after everything was over." She turns and looks at Karin; for the first time, Karin notices the bandages on Rukia's brow and wrists. "I'm very sorry we weren't there. So is Ichigo. I don't think he'll ever forgive himself. He wanted to come and apologize in person, but he can't leave the living world right now. He wants me to tell you that he'll come as soon as he can."
"And my father?"
"Kurosaki-san? Ah, yes. You must know now too. I was so surprised the day we found out. So was Ichigo. You would have laughed at the expression on his face. Your father is fine. Angry at himself for failing to protect you, but unharmed."
Birds are calling to each other in the surrounding trees; from time to time a shadow flits across the face of the moon. It's beautiful here by the lake, Karin thinks, but it's not home. She can't imagine living--or rather, existing--in this world for year after year. And she misses everyone horribly. Especially Yuzu. Karin hugs her knees to her chest stop herself from shaking.
"You shouldn't be scared," Rukia says after a while. "You have friends here. Taichou's taken an interest in you. That means something, even if you don't understand it yet. And you won't be alone. I don't know how much they've explained, or how much you've figured out, but we're at war right now. And everyone who can fight, but especially your brother and father, is needed for it. But when that's over, one of them will join you here. For good. They were already arguing about it when I left to report. They both want to be everything to everybody, but that can't work. They can't be torn in two forever. So one will stay in the living world to be with Yuzu, and one will come to Soul Society to be with you."
"I know. It's not ideal. It's not how things should be. But it's the best they can do. Most families never find each other in Soul Society." She checks the sky again, gets to her feet. "The moon's setting; I can't stay long. Is there any message you want me to carry?"
"Tell them I'm okay. And that I'll see them soon."
"I will." She adjusts the sword at her side and stands a little straighter. "It's probably not something you want to hear right now, Karin, but it's not so bad. Being dead." Her lips curve into something that's almost a smile. "I should know."
In the morning, Karin asks to see Ukitake.
"I know I have power," she says. "Tell me how I can use it."