These soul tickets, Karin decided, really needed to come with directions printed on them.
How exactly was someone – and a first time visitor like her, too – supposed to navigate their way through these streets when everything freaking looked exactly the same?
Where the hell am I? she grumbled to herself, looking around at the walls cluelessly and well aware of how much she must have looked like a tourist. Was she in First Division, or the Thirteenth? There really was no way of knowing, no matter how many turns she took; at one point she thought she’d been in the Fifth, for she saw a symbol painted over one of the buildings that she’d been sure was the Fifth division insignia, but then a very helpful shinigami had informed her she must have walked too far in the wrong direction, because now she was in the Third.
The said “helpful” shinigami had also proceeded to give her instructions that left her feeling more confused than ever before – if that was even possible – because she hadn’t seen any sign of people in the last thirty minutes and was finally allowing herself to panic just a teeny bit.
How did Ichi-nii ever manage when he first came here? she thought to herself helplessly. And why didn’t Urahara warn me about this when I said I wanted to come alone? Stupid bastard. I knew he was smiling too much, even for him.
Stewing in her rage (and fantasizing about how it might feel to wrap her hands around that shopkeeper’s neck), she rounded a corner and ran right into what could only have been a giant boulder.
It was actually a person.
She felt her breath get knocked right out of her when she fell, feeling a dull ache on her bottom when she landed on it in an ungraceful heap. "Oof."
The man she’d bumped into turned back stupidly, looking first at his surroundings, and then down at her when he realized whoever had bumped into him had fallen.
"Watch where you’re going, girl," he snapped, his finger deep in his mouth as he picked at his teeth.
She glared up at him, slowly picking herself back up while dusting her school skirt, and spat, “Why don’t you stop blocking everyone’s way, you big lug?”
Irritation flashed through the man’s eyes, who immediately took offense to her words and shoved his face into hers. “Watch what you say, or else you’ll regret messing with me, bi–”
With how powerful and commanding (not to mention husky) the voice that had interrupted them sounded, she was shocked to learn that the new arrival was quite…small. The man-boulder beside her immediately straightened up, however, and she noticed beads of sweat lining his forehead as he bowed clumsily.
"Hitsugaya-taichou! I didn’t see you there, sir!"
"Why aren’t you at the fukutaichou meeting?" this Hitsugaya demanded to know, narrowing his pretty cerulean eyes in a dangerous way that had Omaeda scrambling for an excuse.
Unfortunately for Karin, that excuse was her.
"I-I was on my way, sir," he explained, gesturing towards her wildly, "but this girl ran into me and had the audacity to not apologize. I was only teaching her proper respect for her superiors!”
Karin opened her mouth furiously, ready with biting words at the tip of her tongue, but Hitsugaya beat her to it.
"If you took your eyes off your food for one second and looked at your surroundings instead, Omaeda-fukutaichou," he said icily, advancing towards them, "you would notice that she is not your subordinate. She is not wearing the standard uniform for an officer or an Academy student, now is she?”
Omaeda’s wide eyes glanced down at her school uniform, realizing that his superior was right and that he had mistaken the girl for something she was not. Karin smirked, as she’d always enjoyed the sense of victory after winning an argument.
But the victory was short-lived, for Hitsugaya turned to her next, and said, “And you. Despite his mistake, Omaeda-fukutaichou is right, so apologize to him.”
Her jaw slackened, and as stupid Omaeda suddenly began grinning like a child in a candy shop, she demanded, “And why should I?”
"You did run into him," the silver-haired stranger defended himself. "I was watching this whole time. You might not need to practice respect for your superiors, but it is basic manners to apologize after bumping into someone."
"Yes, girl," the fukutaichou echoed smugly. "Basic manners."
Karin glared at both of them, taking turns to shift her heated gaze back and forth from man to child, before folding her arms stubbornly. “I don’t think so.”
Ignoring Omaeda’s spluttering protests and Hitsugaya’s strangely silent but slightly curious gaze, she marched back around the corner she had come from, muttering under her breath about how she hated Soul Society and everyone in it, and that if she ever found Ichi-nii, she would talk some sense into him about how awful this place was so that he might come home every once in a while.
The sound of almost silent footsteps from behind had her pausing.
"You’re disturbing everyone with your stomping," her follower stated coolly, and she groaned in exhaustion.
"Why did you follow me?" she demanded, whirling around for the full effect when her hands found her hips and she glowered at the boy.
Hitsugaya was unimpressed as he stared at her blankly. “I’m simply on my way back to my office, and I thought it would be best to make sure you don’t cause anyone else trouble.”
Me? Trouble? She was offended by the very notion that he thought she was some child who needed looking after, but rather than blowing up in his face, she decided it was best to simply shut her mouth, spin back around, and stomp away.
He followed after her, just as before, and despite his steady and composed pace, he managed to reach her side soon enough. She huffed when she noticed his icy expression from the corner of her eyes, but the silence that dragged on between them made it quite difficult to fuel her rage. Eventually, her stomping had quieted down to footsteps almost as light as his.
"Where’s the big guy?" she asked suspiciously, though she didn’t really expect him to answer.
"The fukutaichou meeting." He glanced at her just as she had at him – a side-along gaze. "He was quite offended, you know."
"Spare me," she sighed, unconsciously speeding up just a little, as if to get away from him. “He shouldn’t have been standing in the middle of the street, blocking everyone’s way, if he didn’t want people running into him. And it’s not like he apologized to me for making my bad day a hundred times worse. I was just minding my own business, trying to get to the Thirteenth Division.”
"Then you’re doing a pretty bad job," he stated, staring straight ahead at the approaching intersection. "This is the First division."
She cursed under her breath. Seriously, how does anyone find their way around? I honestly thought I was almost there.
At the intersection, she followed her usual strategy and blindly took a right turn, hoping it would possibly take her to where she needed to go. It was a shock when a hand suddenly wrapped around her wrist, tugging her lightly in the opposite direction. She turned back in surprise to find Hitsugaya watching her cautiously, as if she might explode again because of the physical contact.
"You’re going the wrong way," he informed her. "That path leads to one of the gates out of Seireitei."
She swore again, but didn’t bother hiding it under her breath this time. Using the direction he’d pulled her towards as an indicator, she started walking the opposite way. It wasn’t long before he fell into step beside her again.
"I’ll take you there," he offered, but it was in a final sort of way that left no room for argument.
Karin was a smart girl. She knew to pick her battles wisely and to take help when it was offered, especially when she was lost in a new dimension for the first time ever and had been blindly walking through the identical streets for the past two hours. Besides, an argument with that stupid-looking Omaeda might have seemed like an easy win, but even she could feel the raw power emanating from Hitsugaya, almost as a warning to not get on his nerves.
She accepted politely, wincing at the awkward silence between them when he simply grunted in response.
Even so, it seemed accepting his assistance had been a wise decision; he made his way through the streets expertly, navigating the paths with a poker-face, and where she would have made some blind turn, he walked straight on through with ease. Unlike her, he certainly knew where he was going.
Where he was going, however, was not the Thirteenth division.
She found that out like a slap in the face when he made a single detour, and they ended up on some almost deserted hill, with guards stationed nearby. The officers looked up when he approached and immediately dropped into deep bows, much like Omaeda had at the first sight of him.
"Hitsugaya-taichou!" they boomed. "How may we be of service?"
"Pull up a Senkai Gate," he ordered them, turning towards her. "This girl needs to go through."
As they bowed once again and scurried off to fulfill his request, Karin gaped at him. It was a foreign term to her, but she remembered Urahara and Tessai-san mentioning a Senkai Gate when they’d let her through to this world. At the very least, she had started to realize this was probably not the Thirteenth division.
"What the hell do you think you’re doing?" she asked her guide none too kindly.
He ignored her question. “You’re human, aren’t you?” His eyes flickered to the soul ticket she’d been clutching tightly in her hand the whole time. “One of Kurosaki’s friends, I presume?”
She hitched herself up and straightened her shoulders. “Actually, I’m–”
"Kurosaki is busy," he interrupted her. "He left for a mission in Rukongai this morning, but considering how stubborn you were with Omaeda, I assumed you wouldn’t believe me and didn’t tell you. Don’t worry. I’ll see to it that he gets a Butterfly about his visitor, and you can come back to visit when he’s returned – though I would prefer it if you do so with a supervisor."
Incensed by his decisions and his secrets and the fact that she had actually started to like the jerk while he helped her, she prepared herself to begin a heated argument.
He cut her down with a glare and a few sharp words. “We are all very busy with work, if you haven’t noticed. You being here right now would only cause everyone trouble.”
The guards returned to them just as her mouth fell open, not realizing they had walked straight into a very uncomfortable situation, and announced, “The Gate is ready, sir.”
"Good," Hitsugaya replied coolly, already turning to go. "See to it that she goes through. Even if she resists."
A very confused-looking shinigami had to practically push her through the Gate when she refused to budge, too busy seething and cussing at Hitsugaya’s retreating back.
Urahara’s stupid grin greeted her when she arrived back in his spacious basement.
"How was it, Kurosaki-san?" he asked gleefully, fanning himself as he did so. "Did you like Soul Society? That was quite a short visit."
She turned her deathly glare his way, and he almost stepped back at the fire he saw burning in her eyes. “You’re lucky I found someone else to be pissed at more than you!” she snapped. “I’ll strangle you tomorrow.”
He watched her stomp up the ladder and disappear into the shop, and heard her chew out Jinta when he made the mistake of throwing an insult her way. She was practically screaming bloody murder, a complete contrast to the childish excitement when she’d first crossed over that afternoon. He heard his own name in her tirade, but mostly she fumed about some mysterious shinigami and all the colorful ways she planned to murder him the second she returned to Seireitei. It was all very entertaining.
"My, my," he mused, hiding a sly smile behind his fan once again. "I wonder who the unlucky soul is."