eta: cover illustration by orin. I'm always thrilled when I inspire artists of her caliber:
Disclaimer: Rest assured that Kubo Tite didn’t write this fic. And I didn’t write Bleach; he did.
Description: R, IchiIshi, IchiRuki, IshiHime, IchiOri (Yes, there are some teenage love and sex issues in this one) A continuation of the story trilogy that includes “Real Sex,” “Pretend Love,” and “After You Died and Even Before That,” but it can stand alone.
Author’s note: In another fandom, I liked it when yaoi didn’t ignore canon girlfriends and wives. I thought it would be interesting for an IchiIshi story to look at the girls with whom Ichi and Ishi are often romantically associated. I’m afraid that I’m going to be hated by every fan who ships any one or more of the pairings listed in the above description, but I had a lot of fun writing this story. I hope you’ll enjoy reading it.
Warnings: R-rated sexual stuff in this section, boys kissing, references to het, soap opera romance, !drama, a little fluff. (NC17 sex in part two).
"Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps." ~ William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing (III, i, 106)
Ichigo had sex with Rukia and told Uryuu about it eight hours later.
He hadn’t planned to tell Uryuu. He went for a walk in the foggy early morning and swore to himself that he would resolve matters with Rukia and after that … un-do the sex deed or believe that it never happened. Uryuu wouldn’t have to know.
The stillness of the neighborhood had sharpened reality. A rolling white fog had erased that reality. Trees looked tragic. Across lawns of wet grass, the squish-squish of Ichigo’s shoes had never sounded so pitiful before.
Around and around the sleeping neighborhood he had walked, and he couldn’t shake the physical memory of cool little palms on his back and delicate feet hooked over his ankles.
Rukia. She’s going to HATE me.
An hour before the opening bell would ring at Karakura High, Ichigo found that he was heading towards Uryuu’s street. By this point, Rukia issues were tormenting him more than any possible Uryuu issues, and pretending that the previous night was a dream wasn’t working out so well. He craved Uryuu’s advice. Uryuu was so perceptive about people’s feelings. Uryuu would help him feel better.
He knocked at the door. Three loud thumps.
Uryuu appeared, bright-eyed and fully dressed. “You’re early, Kurosaki.”
“Yeah, well I’m not going today.” He avoided Uryuu’s eyes. “So I don’t have a reason for oversleeping.”
The boys sometimes walked to school together. Usually Uryuu left alone because the thought of missing the bell bothered him, and Ichigo slept as late as possible and headed out later.
Inside the apartment, Uryuu planted a light kiss on Ichigo’s cheek and paused, breathing on the humid skin. Then he backed away, looking puzzled.
Ichigo felt a twinge of uh-oh.
He didn’t like it when Uryuu was this perceptive. Did he sense Rukia’s reiatsu on him somehow? Ichigo had taken a long bath. No, no, not even Uryuu was that good at sensing spirit particles. He was, however, always good at sensing Ichigo’s mood.
“What happened, Kurosaki?”
Ichigo, throwing up his arms, walked to the couch. “Stuff,” he said with dramatic exasperation. “All kinds of stuff.”
Uryuu sat beside him and looked at the ceiling. “What stuff?” His body seemed tense, as if he was preparing himself for bad news.
Ichigo didn’t want to look at Uryuu either so he turned his face to the ceiling too.
Ichigo still lived at home and had yet to spend a full night at Uryuu’s. He and his lover met, of course, and every few evenings occupied themselves in Uryuu’s narrow bed. No one knew of their relationship (except for Urahara who knows everything), and for months it had been like this--the boys shadowing one another, studying together, and people remarking how good it was that Uryuu finally had a friend.
Last night Rukia had left the room she shared with Ichigo’s sisters and had ended up in Ichigo’s bed. In Ichigo’s arms. All night. Ichigo felt acutely conscious of this last fact because the actual sleeping together seemed weirder than the sex.
Little feet. Little cool hands.
“It was strange….” Ichigo ran a hand through his hair. “You know how you’re always telling me I should talk to Rukia and get things straightened out?”
“Not by a long shot.” Ichigo’s voice got quieter. “I started telling her about how much she meant to me … and then she kissed me--really, it was so strange--and before I knew it….”
Uryuu was being unnaturally still.
“I didn’t really want to, but I guess I’ve gotten used to certain things with you, and it was hard not to kiss her back because--well, you know how it’s always been between me and her. There’s trust there.”
“You had sex with her.”
Ichigo turned to read Uryuu’s expression, but Uryuu was still looking impassively at the ceiling.
“I suppose, Kurosaki, that you’re going to tell me that this was some sort of experimentation? That you wanted to know what someone else--a girl--would be like?”
Ichigo hadn’t thought of it like that; all he’d known last night was that he couldn’t stop himself. Rukia’s kisses had been as hard and passionate as Uryuu’s, and Ichigo had wanted to touch her slenderness--through her thin dress at first but then under it…. Had Rukia positioned his hands?
“I suppose this was inevitable.” Uryuu sighed. “You don’t think things through.”
“All I wanted was to resolve the relationship like you said.”
“What I said was that you owed her the truth. That you should tell her that your feelings for her didn’t go beyond friendship.” Uryuu’s voice was even, as if discussing a homework assignment. “Now you’ve messed things up with her even more.”
Ichigo felt relieved that Uryuu wasn’t having a fit of jealousy. “I haven’t messed things up with you, have I?”
A terrible silence followed the question.
“Uryuu?” A pang of pure fear.
“Maybe this is just the beginning,” Uryuu said. “You’ve discovered your sensual, passionate self and now you’re going to turn into a lothario. A champion athlete who runs around town showing off his sexual ban kai.”
Uryuu rose from the couch. Ichigo reached for him and just missed--his hand held air for a moment then fell to the cushion.
He’s just joking.
“I’m going ahead to school,” Uryuu said. He was walking too briskly across the room, and Ichigo was picking up on a pissy vibe. He wasn’t sure yet, though. Uryuu really hated being late for classes.
“Hey, don’t go.” Ichigo tried to make his voice sound casual. “You’re going to be waaaay early.”
Uryuu put his bookbag over his shoulder.
Ichigo talked faster. “Take the day off with me. We should clear the air about this and … and … you know, fuck like rabbits.”
Uryuu stood at the door. “Promise me one thing, Kurosaki.”
“What?” Ichigo would promise anything. Was the air going to be cleared this quick and easy?
“Don’t have sex with Inoue-san.”
The statement threw him. Ichigo felt the preposterousness of it knock him against the back of the couch. “What?”
“You heard me. Don’t have sex with Inoue-san. She’s our friend, for one thing. And you may not believe this but she’s someone who takes life seriously and she would be very hurt--devastated--if you were to treat her lightly.”
Ichigo was still reeling. “Why would I have sex with Inoue? Why in the world would she have sex with me?”
Uryuu’s face strained, and Ichigo couldn’t tell if his expression was sad or angry. He was upset--that was for sure.
“Kurosaki, she’s been in love with you since before Soul Society.” Uryuu swallowed and this time recovered his impassivity. “She’s in love with you.”
And with that, Uryuu left. Ichigo could hear him walking down the porch steps.
Ishida had to keep wiping his glasses because of the fog.
Neglecting a mild wooziness and the urge to vomit, he had taken the long way to school. He disliked being too early as much as he disliked being too late, but moving slowly through the white rolling mist felt too creepy and surreal, so he speeded up.
Like Kurosaki said he would, he arrived too early. He planted himself on a bench and immersed himself in his trigonometry book. Soon he wasn’t nauseated anymore. Students arrived in chatty, laughing groups. The noise-level around him increased, and Ishida scarcely noticed.
Then out of the buzz of voices, someone said “Good morning, Kuchiki-san!”
Ishida looked up.
Kuchiki-san was holding one book under her arm, and Ishida’s first thought was Good, that’s one spare copy she won’t have to ask the teacher for. (Kuchiki-san usually came to class without her books). She looked prettier than usual but Ishida told himself that it was his imagination making her so. She didn’t sport that glow that just-fucked women were supposed to have. In fact, there was no blush on her cheeks, her eyes looked dull, and she seemed to be talking in low tones….
Ishida froze. If he had been in a battle situation, he wouldn’t have been able to respond to an attack. His fingers lost feeling and dangled from his arms like icicles.
This is awful. How more awful can this get? She’s telling Inoue-san, and now Inoue-san is going to cry, and Kuchiki-san will be confused and….
Inoue-san laughed. Right away, her usual cascading series of giggles reassured Ishida. If Inoue-san was laughing then she wasn’t going to cry. She wasn’t broken hearted, and she had no clue about Kurosaki’s … dastardliness last night. Ishida knew Inoue’s fake, brave laugh, and this one wasn’t it.
Does Kuchiki-san know that Inoue-san likes Kurosaki and that’s why she didn’t tell her?
Ishida closed his eyes and grimaced.
What am I? A twelve-year-old girl? This is none of my business.
The bell rang, everyone took his or her seats, and Ishida preoccupied himself with trigonometry again.
When some time had passed and Kurosaki still hadn’t sauntered in, Kuchiki-san asked Sado in that deep, boyish voice of hers, “Where’s Ichigo?”
She always talks aloud in class like she has the right to. She never gets called on it either. Maybe the teachers think she’s a feeble-minded foreigner.
Kuchiki-san kept asking the same question at various points in the day and each time was answered with a shrug. Ishida made sure to avoid her at lunch so he wouldn’t have to answer with the truth, and then he decided that he’d had enough and left the schoolgrounds.
I should have seen it coming.
Kurosaki’s actions last night had been inevitable. Not just because Kurosaki was an impulsive horny bastard but because extreme circumstances had brought him and Ishida together in Hueco Mundo, and it only made sense that ordinary circumstances would break them apart. The Living World and its living girls.
Actually, Kuchiki-san was a dead girl, so Ishida supposed that gave her an edge with a boy who was a part-time Shinigami.
Pretty little Kuchiki-san.
She was noisy and pushy, and she had to be daring in bed. She wasn’t always tough, though. She had kind eyes and an enigmatic smile. Sometimes she would hold out her tiny hands to Inoue-san, and the two would reflect one another’s womanly benevolence.
Tiny, tiny hands.
Ishida saw those loving hands running through Kurosaki’s orange hair. She had been the perfect package of passion and gentleness, hadn’t she? She had orgasmed over and over the way women are supposed to, and Kurosaki had beamed with accomplishment.
Ishida’s steps slowed, and jealousy seemed to fuel lust when he considered Kuchiki-san’s slender body. An open mouth. Her body trembling.
Then Ishida blushed and the apparition dissolved. It felt adulterous to even think about someone that way. Apparently, though, for Kurosaki it had been no big deal to have sex with someone other than Ishida.
If we break it off quickly then we’ll be spared many pointless, painful encounters towards the inevitable.
Ishida’s pulse was quickening. He could feel himself becoming irrational and his brain working to reign in catastrophic thoughts.
Or am I wrong about this? Am I over-reacting?
Ishida stopped walking and took a deep breath.
Is it over-reacting to feel like I’ll never get past what Kurosaki’s done?
What was worse--forever arguing with the moron about his unfaithfulness or never seeing him again?
The heavy morning fog had cleared. The weather, still damp and overcast, lent solemnity to Ishida’s dilemma. The world, always teeming with spirit threads and a commotion of the living and the dead, seemed empty.
Millions of people go through this every hour. A love affair ends or it limps forward. Maybe it grows stronger when one partner is unfaithful. I’ve heard things like that. On a radio show, I heard that. I’m going to be fine. Everything will be alright whatever happens.
The sky was drizzling a light rain now. Ishida had managed to calm himself but another choice surfaced. This one didn’t give him anxiety, though, and he believed he could give it his full attention: Should he take an extended leave of absence from school or should he risk running into Kurosaki and having a pointless fight before thinking things through?
Maybe I need to get some distance.
Ishida knew where to get it.
He and his father had been on hesitant but healing terms since Ishida’s return from Hueco Mundo. A mutual respect, if never openly displayed, was growing between the two. Ryuuken had even made the astounding proclamation that he was going to try to be a better father. Those words were spoken without the barest trace of affection so Ishida hadn’t known what to make of them. Maybe Ryuuken’s grave, objective goal had nothing to do with Ishida. Whatever the case, Ryuuken didn’t call his son “stupid” any more. For a few days, father and son had lived together in Ishida’s family home--talking about battle strategies and the upcoming war, eating meals that Ishida prepared with ingredients he could never afford to buy when living alone.
It had been a tolerable visit. Ryuuken had given Ishida a key and said that he was free to return to his old room at anytime.
Those words had sounded more like a dare than a hospitable offering, but Ishida knew Ryuuken meant them.
He would go to his father’s to escape Kurosaki for a while. There was Urahara’s shop too, but he’d be teased relentlessly there. The shopkeeper’s trilling voice would say, “When a young man romances, foolishness isn’t so foolish anymore!” Urahara would spout parables about love and war. Distracting. At least Ryuuken gave Ishida his space.
So Ishida stopped by his apartment to phone Ryuuken and pick up some clothes, and lo and behold, there was Kurosaki.
The slack-jawed Shinigami apparently hadn’t moved from his spot on the couch for hours.
For someone who’s supposed to be a genius, I’m pretty stupid sometimes. Where ELSE would he be?
A lovelorn Kurosaki? Ishida felt a stirring of pity for him but then noticed that the idiot looked more grumpy than aggrieved.
“What are you still doing here?” Ishida walked towards the telephone. He figured that Kurosaki must’ve moved from his spot at some point during the day.
He had to have eaten. Raided my refrigerator like always. Sex gods need their energy.
“You left school early,” Kurosaki said.
What a brilliant observation.
Ishida spoke into the receiver: “This is Uryuu. Can you put me through to my father?”
“You’re going back over there? Why?” The line between Kurosaki’s pale orange eyebrows deepened. “Have you decided to live with him now?”
“I thought your father hated you. I thought he drove you crazy.”
“I’m going there for a short visit. He said I could come any--oh hello? Pardon?” Ishida returned his attention to the phone. The woman had been talking and Ishida hadn’t been listening because he’d been distracted by some talking muscled lump of stupidity on the couch. He asked her to repeat herself. She replied in her crisp receptionist’s voice that Dr. Ishida was with an important executive--should she ask him to call back after the meeting? “That’s alright,” Ishida said. “I’ll be at his house by then. Would you take a message please and let him know that I’ll be visiting? I’ll be in my old room. Thank you.”
“I don’t get it,” Kurosaki said.
Of course. He never gets anything.
“I need to think,” Ishida said. “If I’m at my father’s house where you can’t bother me, I’ll be able to do that.”
“What makes you think I won’t go over there and bother you?”
“Do you think he would let a Shinigami in his house? He puts up with our being friends because we saved one another’s lives in Hueco Mundo. If you show up at his door, one glare from him would burn you to cinders.”
Ishida intended those words to be the last ones he would speak to Kurosaki for a long while. Refusing to enter into any sort of argument, he turned to walk towards his bedroom and whoooooosh! A sudden but familiar warmth pressed against his back.
Kurosaki’s arms were wrapped around him.
Shunpou. He never does that outside of battle.
Ishida waited for Kurosaki to say something, anything--but he didn’t. He stood behind Ishida and breathed into his hair. Kurosaki’s arms were holding him loosely and his hands were folded on Ishida’s chest.
“What?” Ishida said. It was a curt word.
“I’m trying to think of what to say,” Kurosaki whispered, “to convince you that I love you.”
Ishida shook himself away. “Moron. I already know you love me. This isn’t about that, and there isn’t anything to talk about at the present moment. Maybe when I--”
Kurosaki caught Ishida again--from the front this time. He lowered his face against Ishida’s neck and kissed it.
Never a man of many words. Thinks he’s going to show instead of tell. It’s all pointless, though.
“Uryuu,” Kurosaki breathed into Ishida’s ear.
Ishida tried to tear himself away but Kurosaki only held him harder. With the next effort, Ishida managed to push away but Kurosaki caught him by the wrists. His grip pinched Ishida’s skin.
“Stop,” Ishida said. “I don’t want this.”
Kurosaki dropped one wrist but grabbed for Ishida’s crotch with an open palm.
Fabric caught between Kurosaki’s fingers as he rubbed roughly. “But you always liked it when I--”
“I’m serious. If this goes any further, I’ll have to whip out ginrei kojaku and blow off your hands.”
“Damn it, Uryuu!” He released Ishida. “First you say I’m going to seduce all the girls in our class, and now you act like I’m a rapist.”
Not a rapist. An uncontrollable sex machine.
Ishida walked to his bedroom and opened a dresser drawer. He could hear Kurosaki pacing and stating his lame defense in the other room.
“This is us we’re talking about, Uryuu. I’m still me and you’re still you. It’s not like I picked up someone off the street. This is Rukia we’re talking about. A special person.”
Kurosaki ranted and ranted but Ishida wasn’t listening anymore. When he had packed his small suitcase and walked back into the living room, his eyes met Kurosaki’s.
The orange-haired mess of emotions exhaled loudly. “You love me,” he said. His bottom lip was jutting out, and he looked more pathetic now than grumpy or incensed. “I love you, so what’s different all of a sudden?”
Ishida made his voice as clear as ice. “What’s different?” The sound reminded him of Ryuuken’s glacial tones when angry. “What’s different?”
Poor, clueless Kurosaki only stared.
“What’s different is that you had sex with someone else you love.”
And for the second time that day, Ishida made a dramatic exit from his apartment.
Ichigo didn’t want to go home because Rukia was there. He didn’t want to go to school ever again because Inoue was there and in love with him. He didn’t want to wander around Karakura alone with his misery because he wanted to act like a grown-up, but he wished that he had a cold, distant father who lived in a giant house.
And Uryuu thinks he’s so mature. All he did was go hide in his old room.
Ichigo walked into the Kurosaki Clinic “main office,” a small room where Dr. Kurosaki ate his lunch and watched television. It was afterhours in the clinic and near time for dinner in the house. Ichigo could be alone here at least one half-hour more.
Ichigo’s body hit the floor.
“Oh no, that’s not good at all,” said Isshin. “All I did was trip you. I didn’t have to hit you hard.”
Ichigo sat up. “I thought the clinic was closed.”
“It is. I thought I left my slippers here so--wait, what are you doing sneaking around your father’s clinic?”
Ichigo didn’t answer. He could usually avoid interrogation by keeping quiet until his father was distracted by something else.
Isshin was opening medical drawer after medical drawer. “My slippers, my slippers. The blue ones. You know, the ones Yuzu gave me for my birthday?”
The very idea of telling his father about Uryuu seemed as distant as the moon, but Ichigo didn’t think Isshin would be disapproving. He was never disapproving about anything.
“Is it a romantic problem?” Isshin was looking in the half-sized refrigerator now. “You know, girls like to be talked to. If you talk to her, everything will be all wonderful and you can have some gooood times in the sack again!”
Ichigo froze. Did he know?
“Don’t worry, Ichigo. I didn’t hear anything. I was fixing myself a nice little sandwich after having a dream that I was hungry, and I saw her tippy-toeing back to the girls’ room.”
Ichigo felt his whole body burn. He buried his face in his hands.
“Such a wonderful upfront girl. She must have thrown herself at you because you wouldn’t, isn’t that right? My gentlemanly son! Not too noble to refuse a beautiful girl, though.” Isshin opened the microwave door. “Oh, poor Rukia-chan. I can’t blame her--Kurosaki men are so handsome.”
“Please stop,” said Ichigo.
Isshin looked under Ichigo’s chair.
Ichigo wondered if this moment was the beginning of the end and if sanity was going to leave his life forever. Then he thought, miserably, that he would rather have his sanity leave than Uryuu.
“I suppose I will have to walk back into the house with my bare toes,” said Isshin. He rose, stretching to his full height, and put his hands on his hips. “And you, my boy who is now a man, you need to walk back there with your pride.”
“I know,” Ichigo whimpered. “I know that.”
Night had fallen, and Ishida’s bedroom window was a black rectangle. No stars, still the thick fog.
Is it possible that he’s still at my apartment?
Ishida threw himself on the mattress and hugged a pillow.
Stupid, stupid, stupid. He’s back at his house. He’s going to have sex with her again.
Ishida wondered if he hadn’t complicated the situation. If only he had talked or argued or had sex with Kurosaki today, he would still be a candidate for the moron’s affections.
Was it possible to love two people equally? Kurosaki seemed to have two steps on his ladder of priorities when it came to protecting people. First his family and then everyone else. Ishida wasn’t sure where he and Kuchiki-san stood on the ladder. Maybe Kuchiki-san, living in the Kurosaki home, was now considered “family,” whereas Ishida fell into the “everyone else” category.
The moron doesn’t have a category for … romantic partner? Sexual partner? Fuck buddy? Damn it, if I never figured out exactly how to categorize us, then Kurosaki didn’t even try.
Then there was the possibility that Kurosaki, in reflection of his apparent bisexuality, would want to have two partners, one of each gender. Ishida knew he wouldn’t stand for that. He was a Quincy. He didn’t compromise himself. He had his Quincy pride.
Then the thought struck him: She’s a Shinigami. He’s a Shinigami. It makes sense. They belong together.
Ishida turned his face to the ceiling, and although he knew that this sort of revelation called for tears, he didn’t cry. He began to harden himself to the idea that he and Kurosaki were finished.
It was Ichigo’s night to wash dishes and he was speeding through the job. So far Rukia hadn’t said anything about last night and thank GOD neither had Isshin.
Seeing Rukia at the dinner table had calmed Ichigo somewhat. She hadn’t looked dreamy and love-stricken at all. She had looked like herself. She ate three buttered dinner rolls before even sitting down and she scowled at Ichigo when asking him where he’d been all day.
Normal, all very normal.
The sisters, of course, were displeased about Ichigo’s ditching class. Isshin, as usual, didn’t care.
“Just wandering around,” had been Ichigo’s answer to Rukia’s question about where he’d been. It was true. His feet had walked in circles around the neighborhood. His thoughts had spun from Uryuu to Rukia to Inoue and back to Uryuu again. How he was failing them all.
I’m hurting my best friends…. I suck.
Even after the strange realization that there were three people who might be in love with him, Ichigo hadn’t felt the least bit of arrogance. He wasn’t worthy of anyone’s attention because he was such a lousy friend.
At least Chad wasn’t in love with him.
How could this have happened? I’m going to disappoint everyone.
Ichigo finished washing the dishes. Night fell. Rukia was reading a comic in a far corner of the living room.
He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t ask her to meet him under the moonlight so he left the house by himself.
She was a more significant presence once he was outside, though.
Cool palms, little ankles.
Last night she had been looking for something in his closet. A book or an alarm clock or some stupid thing she’d left there long ago. Ichigo remembered the look on her face. The look had said that she missed living in his closet.
At that moment, Ichigo had been stricken with the feeling that he missed her living there as well. They had been looking at one other with half-smiles, and out of nowhere had floated something Uryuu liked to say.
The particulars of time travel are as yet unknown to us so leave the past behind.
Ichigo had always liked that line--it resonated with significance like a line from Shakespeare, even though Uryuu meant it as a joke.
Why had he thought of it then? Maybe he needed the encouragement.
Last night Rukia’s face held the perfect open-ness that Ichigo had needed to initiate the conversation. Usually he couldn’t be bothered to speak very much about love-stuff with anyone but Uryuu, and as long as he’d known her, Rukia had seemed content to express her feelings for Ichigo by means of silent gestures. She didn’t like to talk about love either.
Her beautiful giant eyes last night--maybe Ichigo hadn’t read them right?
What had he said? Was it just “you mean so much to me” or was it something more? It had been part of his long-planned soliloquy to mention Uryuu. Uryuu had given him permission to tell Rukia about … whatever it was that he and Uryuu had. Uryuu called it “a relationship.”
Ichigo noticed that the moon was full. Maybe not quite full--oblong. One more little sliver of white would make it complete.
He lowered his head and looked at the sidewalk. It was less interesting than the moon, but Ichigo thought he deserved an uglier view on this walk. How could he have hurt Uryuu this way?
What happened between Ichigo and Rukia had been the expression of a relationship too. Ichigo was comfortable around Rukia. He felt glad around Rukia. On most days, he didn’t feel like he had to worry about her delicate feelings. She was tough. She understood him. He loved her….
Ichigo’s steps slowed and slowed until he was standing very still under a street-lamp. There would never be any forgetting what had happened.
It had really been wonderful, unhurried lovemaking. Ichigo had been surprised to find that Rukia was a virgin (how does one go a hundred Shinigami years without having sex?) and Rukia had seemed surprised that Ichigo actually knew what he was doing. It had not been passionate challenging sex like with Uryuu. It had not been wrought with resistance, competition, and helpless helpless need like with Uryuu.
With Uryuu, Ichigo was never sure if it was the last time or not.
With Rukia, Ichigo knew it was the last time.
She had pressed those cool palms so hard against his muscles. As if she was trying to push right through him. She had been so full of longing, and Ichigo had wanted to comfort Rukia with his hands, mouth, and soul.
Ichigo put his hands in his pockets and hated himself. He hadn’t walked far at all, and already he felt emotionally exhausted.
If she’s smart, she’ll come out here looking for me. She knows I can’t go to her. She knows what a coward I am.
Ichigo started walking again, into thick fog turned white by the moon, into the certainty that Rukia would never forgive him, into the fear that Uryuu would never forgive him. He couldn’t face either of them so maybe a boat would fall out of the sky and he would get in and go sailing to the other side of the universe to a planet where there were no such things as boyfriends and girlfriends.
The absurdity of that thought reminded of him of Inoue, and Ichigo felt even more depressed.
Then he turned a corner, and Rukia was standing in the white haze.
The sight should’ve terrified him, but she was so beautiful. Why wasn’t he racked with anxiety anymore?
“I know, Ichigo,” she said. It wasn’t an accusatory voice. “I really do understand.”
Ichigo didn’t have a clue what she was talking about so he stayed quiet.
“I’m not expecting you to deal with any of this right now.” She made a wry face---it looked like she was trying not to smile. “It’s probably not the time.” Her blush was plain even in the nighttime light. “I’m not ready either, Ichigo.” She looked away. “Maybe after the war--”
She looked back. The longer she looked at him, the more her eyes narrowed. She seemed to be trying to figure him out. Rukia not able to read his face? Rukia could always read his face. Things were getting stranger and stranger. Then the blush faded, and she looked whiter than the fog. She wasn’t going to get sick over what he had to say, was she?
“Rukia, I honestly don't think that this is ever going to work out. It’s not that I don’t care for you or that last night wasn’t--”
“Damn it, Ichigo, was it that bad?” She was already mad.
“No, you were the most beautiful perfect everything but….”
“I’ve been seeing someone else.”
“I’ve been having sex with someone else.”
Rukia’s eyes could not have gotten any bigger.
“I’m in love with someone else.”
At that declaration, Rukia took a deep breath and her shoulders rose.
Ichigo expected her to kick him in the face.
“Is it Inoue?”
Rukia, oddly enough, seemed disappointed in Ichigo’s response. What was it with all this concern for Inoue? Maybe Inoue was more in love with him than he thought. For a moment, Ichigo was distracted by the dread of having to go through this ordeal a second time. Did Inoue expect him to … resolve things too?
“Ichigo.” It was a commanding voice; Rukia had this way of snapping Ichigo to attention. "If it’s not Inoue, then can you tell me who?”
Ichigo looked at her. She looked back. He felt pained. She realized something. The blush returned, and her eyes blazed like suns. The truth was dawning and clearing away fog. She was so smart. She was so shiny-eyed and smart, but how could she possibly have guessed? How do girls figure these things out?
Rukia’s eyes said that she knew.
“I-Ishida?” She looked the way she did when she was about to kick him in the face. “ISHIDA?”
“Yes.” It was Ichigo’s turn to look away. He couldn’t bear the inferno of her sudden insight. “Since Hueco Mundo,” he continued. “When he and I were stranded in that Arrancar nest.”
“I figured.” She made a snorting sound. Her voice was rough. “What else was there to do all those months?”
“It’s not like that.”
“I know, I know. Ishida is my friend too.” A sarcastic little laugh. “Well, well, there goes another person who could’ve been matched with Inoue.”
Uryuu and Inoue? Ichigo was lost.
“Oh well, Ichigo.” Rukia’s voice was trembling. “You and Ishida, huh? That’s nice.”
Ichigo was certain that she was going to kick him this time. He looked up, prepared to take the blow, and he caught the enormity of the pain in her giant eyes.
“Really. I mean it. I want you to be happy. Maybe this is the way it’s supposed to be. Ishida, huh? Everyone thought he was--but you…I guess….” She was batting her eyes in confusion. “I’m glad you told me. Maybe you could have told me before last night, though.”
At that word, the emotion left her. Just like that and in the plain light of the moon. She wasn’t going to share the misery. All Ichigo had seen a moment before had been her naked face. Now it was as if a car window had rolled up, and the driver was pulling away.
Ichigo didn’t know what to say to bring her back. Should he even try to bring her back?
“I still live in your house,” she said. It was a matter of fact. It was a practical dilemma. “I need to find somewhere else to live.”
“My family wouldn’t want you to go.” Was that a whine in his voice? Rukia may have taken charge of her emotions but Ichigo felt like he was about to cry. “Stay. We wouldn’t have to make up some story if you just stayed.”
“I don’t know….”
Rukia had always been so much more mature than he was. Uryuu was the same way. Ichigo didn’t deserve either of them. They put up with so much nonsense from him, and yet they still loved him. Rukia, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Ichigo knew he wasn’t man enough to say the words aloud, but he surprised himself by saying them. “I’m sorry, Rukia. I’m so sorry.”
“I used to believe that things were going to be different for us. I used to worry that maybe you didn’t feel the same way about me that I--” He stifled a sob in his throat. “I want you to stay in the house. I want you to stay my friend.”
“Okay, Okay, don’t break down like a girl,” Rukia grumbled. “I won’t leave. There’s really no reason to. And everything’s going to be okay, Ichigo. Okay? This is us we’re talking about, remember?”
Hadn’t he said the same thing once to Uryuu?
Ishida didn’t go to school because Kurosaki was there. There was no way that Ryuuken, who left for work early and returned home late, could know about his son’s truancy.
Days passed. Ishida watched JNN. He went shopping for groceries and made dinners requiring lots of ingredients and preparation. He began to read a novel about Cortez and the conquest of modern-day Mexico. He did everything except decide what to do about Kurosaki.
“You’ve had a long enough grace period,” Ryuuken said at the table.
Ishida startled. Then he realized what his father was talking about.
“Look, I’ve been humoring the theory that you and the Shinigami boy needed to adjust to the Living World, but I never bought what that peculiar shopkeeper said.” Ryuuken picked up his chopsticks. “Over-exposure to Hollow reiatsu? Dangerous for a Shinigami perhaps but not a Quincy.”
It’s difficult to pull one over Ryuuken. Not even Urahara-san….
Ryuuken took a single gyoza from the plate Uryuu was holding out to him. “Anyway, you look recovered to me. It’s time to resume your training, don’t you agree?”
“Yes.” For the first time in his life, Ishida felt unenthusiastic about honing his Quincy skills and becoming more powerful.
“By the way, a girl stopped by my office today to ask about you.”
“The one you went to Hueco Mundo to rescue. Inoue--Inoue something.”
“Inoue Orihime? Why?”
“She said that you hadn’t been going to school and that you weren’t answering the phone at your apartment. I suppose she wanted to make sure you hadn’t been kidnapped by the enemy or something along those lines….” Ryuuken brought the homemade dumpling to his mouth. “These aren’t bad, Uryuu. Buy pork tomorrow.”
Ishida stared into his soup. He would have felt embarrassed and exposed if it weren’t for the worry about Inoue-san worrying about him.
What does she think is going on? Maybe I need to talk to her.
TBC in Part Two