Characters: Ishida, Kurosaki, Orihime, Ulquiorra
Pairings: None really, but hints for both IshiHime and IchiIshi (if you squint)
Rating: PG-13 (for violence)
Warning: Spoilers for Bleach 353, mention of mutilation,
Disclaimer: Bleach is not mine. This is presented for entertainment purposes only. No profit is being made or sought.
Story Notes: My take on chapter 353. My dissatisfaction with the neglect of Ishida -- especially in regards to his healing, or lack thereof -- knows no bounds. No doubt that has influenced this story. Ishida's POV.
Part 1 is here: http://community.livejournal.com/bleachness/269800.html#cutid1
You can only watch from a distance – one that seems to be pulling farther and farther away as the seconds tick by – as the wounded Espada begins to unravel. Your heart surges when you see him stretch his one remaining hand toward Inoue-san because your first thought is that he is threatening her – but no, it isn’t like that at all. It’s something altogether different, but before you can figure out just how, the creature is dissolving into dust or ash, his wing already whirled away by the dry wind of Hueco Mundo. It happens so swiftly that Inoue-san is left standing there looking bewildered, her hand still outstretched, still offering something that can never be accepted.
Behind her, Kurosaki looks stunned, and angry, and oddly wounded – as if his feelings are hurt by the Espada’s unexpected departure – but he’s standing up, his chest is whole and sound, and that horrible mask is gone. Both of them are alive, both of them are all right, and it’s so unlooked for that you want to sigh in relief.
Except that you can’t. You start to, but your breath catches halfway and you realize you simply can’t breathe that deep. You haven’t been able to fill your lungs with anything but short sips of air since Kurosaki – no, not Kurosaki, but whatever that thing was – shoved his sword through your gut and sent you flying to hit the rocks.
Even then it hadn’t hurt. Not really. At first you thought he’d turned and punched you in the stomach, which would have been a very Kurosaki-like thing to do, and for a second you’d thought Yes, yes, he’s still in there, if he’s hitting me then I know everything will be fine. It was only when you saw the black blade sticking out of your body as you went sailing backwards that you realized what had happened, what he had done. Hitting the hard surface of the dome hurt more than the sword blow had, and it took you a moment to pull yourself back together – as much of you as there was left, at least – and try to get up again. You stopped when you saw Kurosaki – no, that thing that Kurosaki had become – facing you with its blank-eyed mask, the cero forming between its horns, and you knew that this was how it was going to end. It bothers you that what might have been your last thought was of your father; that your brain’s final, ironic comment was At least I won’t have to go home and face Ryuuken in this condition. Really, death would be preferable.
But that’s not what happened – even though you still aren’t entirely certain what did happen, and why. Why did the Espada cut off the Kurosaki-thing’s horn and divert the cero? Why – and how – did the gaping hole in Kurosaki’s chest close up? Why did the Espada reach out to Inoue-san like that, and why—why did she reach back?
Too many ‘whys’ are in your head, whirling around like the dust devils you saw as the three of you raced toward Las Noches. Was that days ago, or only hours? Maybe it was years. You’re not sure, and really, it hardly matters anymore.
You know the drugs have stopped working – your arm has started to bleed again, and the sluggish seep of blood from your stomach is speeding up – but still, somehow, it doesn’t hurt. There are countless smaller injuries that ought to be complaining, but your body is strangely silent. You tell yourself that the anesthetic must have been stronger than the blood-staunching medicine, but the numbness creeping up your limbs tells a different story. Your head is reeling, your thoughts going dark then bright the way the power in your apartment sometimes flickers, and you can’t hold yourself up any longer. You realize you can’t feel either of your hands, and the irony of this amuses you so much that you would laugh if you could only get your breath.
Lost too much blood, you explain to yourself as your elbows give way and you collapse onto the ground. It seems to take you forever to fall, and when you hit, it isn’t hard but soft, like you’re keeling over onto your futon after a rough day. The strange stone seems to cushion you, but maybe it’s only the numbness lying between your body and the dome. You’re facing the sky, but you can’t remember if it’s the real one or not, and that troubles you. You don’t want a fake sky to be the last thing you ever see, so you turn your face just enough until you can see Kurosaki and Inoue-san. Both of them are still standing there, poised like figurines as the last ashes of the Espada dissolve in the air. Seeing your friends makes you feel both warm and sad.
I’m glad you’re all right. You meant to tell Inoue-san. You were waiting for the right moment – when she really would be safe, after Kurosaki had won and she could stop worrying about him, maybe for just a second. That was it, wasn’t it? You wanted her to be all right, and you wanted – just one moment. That was all. A moment where she’d turn and look at you, and really see you; and then you could tell her.
All you were waiting for was that right moment. It’s only now you understand that moment will never come. Not for you, at least. You wish—you really wish you’d just told her anyway.
There are too many things you want to say to him; mostly things like Stop fighting everything you see! Take Inoue-san and find Rukia, and Sado, and Renji and GO HOME. Find a way to get back and defend Karakura. Find a way to stop Aizen. If anyone can, it’s you, Kurosaki. It’s you!
But you know he wouldn’t listen to you. He never does.
You remember the way he looked at you when he came back to himself. When he saw Zangetsu. When he saw what he’d done. The expression on his face – it was horror, and shock, and fear, and denial, and you wish you’d never seen it. You wish you’d never seen him look at you that way, even though the revulsion wasn’t for you, it was for what he’d done. Still, you know that’s what he’ll remember. When he thinks of you, he won’t remember the two of you fighting off Hollows back to back. He won’t remember the guy who blew the floor out under Yammi and sent him howling down to the bottom of Las Noches. He won’t remember the guy who said he’d protect Inoue-san whether Kurosaki told him to or not.
All Kurosaki is going to remember is the guy he put his sword through. The skinny guy with glasses that he killed.
But you didn’t, you want to tell him. You want to say that the sword was nothing; that you’ve had worse – and recently, at that. You need to tell him It’s not your fault. Besides, it wasn’t even you. I know it wasn’t you.
You want – you need to tell Kurosaki that you forgive him; even though you don’t think there’s anything to forgive. It’s just that you don’t want him to look that way. You don’t want your death hanging over his head like that. You don’t—
You can’t. You can’t tell them. You’re not going to get the chance.
There’s something that tastes like bile in the back of your throat, and you understand that it’s regret.
Inoue-san, I’m glad you’re all right.
Kurosaki—Ichigo. It’s okay.
You wish you could have told the both of them. It hurts – it hurts so badly that you didn’t. That you can’t.