In the meantime, I'm fond of this piece (except for my overuse of some fangurl Japanese). Tatsuki is one of my favorite characters. Ichigo, I've finally figured out, is hard to write because he's not introspective. And Kubo rarely shows us his thoughts. So I had to move to a little higher authorial omniscence from my usual comfort zone, and well, I pulled it off! Also the pic I drew of Tatsuki is one of my favorites, and I think most of my artwork sucks.
This story was written for the lovely community 20_souls . Check it out--there's some marvelous Bleach fiction there.
Two Fighters (or Twenty Truths About Ichigo and Tatsuki)
Canon based look at their relationship
Two Fighters (or Twenty Truths About Ichigo and Tatsuki)
Disclaimer: I don’t own Bleach, but that doesn’t stop me from playing with Kubo Tite’s world.
Description: This form for this story was assigned by the 20 Souls LJ community here: http://www.livejournal.com/userinfo.bml?user=20_souls
The story looks at the canon relationship between Kurosaki Ichigo and Arisawa Tatsuki from volume 3 of the manga to the beginning of the Arrancar arc.
Warnings: One frank reference to homosexuality, the f-word, and some mentions of violent scenes from the manga. SPOILERS FOR ALL OF BLEACH, of course.
“I met him when we were four. At the dojo we used to go to.”--Tatsuki, chapter 18:3
Although he had been running, holding his mother’s hand, all the way across the parking lot because he couldn’t wait to start the new adventure called karate, Ichigo froze at the building’s door.
“So many new friends inside,” his mother said encouragingly.
Ichigo opened his mouth to say he was scared but decided not to talk. His speech was a little slurry for his age, and most grown-ups didn’t understand what he was saying.
Masaki didn’t need to hear Ichigo say he was nervous to know he was. She bent over and picked him up, even though other mothers were always telling her that he was too big to carry around, and she stepped into the dojo.
Once inside, Ichigo jumped out of her arms and was right away surrounded by children. “Your hair!” “He’s glowing!” “’Kasan, the boy is orange!” Above the excited voices, parents could be heard admonishing their children to be polite.
One bright-eyed girl positioned herself in front of Ichigo and bowed with exaggerated formality from the waist. “Why is your hair so… ” She pronounced her next word with such perfect deliberation that the other children assumed she was much older than four. “Bakabakashii?”
“Huh?” Ichigo was not yet accustomed to getting attention for his bright hair. He shrugged. “My hair orange,” he said.
“Bakabakashii!” said the girl, and from her smile Ichigo could tell that, at least in this girl’s world, bakabakashii was not that bad of a thing.
He would not be able to remember the girl’s name for many months, but by his next birthday, Tatsuki-chan was his favorite person in karate class.
“Even at nine, he was still spoiled, still clinging to his mom like a baby chimp.”--Tatsuki, 18:16
Tatsuki didn’t care for Ichigo, really. She didn’t like crybabies, and Ichigo always bawled whenever he lost a fight--and that was often. The only thing she liked about him was his hair, because it reminded her of rock star hair. Tatsuki had assumed that Ichigo’s parents were very modern people who dyed their children’s hair glamorous colors, but when she found out that Ichigo had been born with orange hair, she wondered if he had been born a weakling too. She tried not to hold his crying against him. Maybe, like his orange hair, it was just something he couldn’t help.
Ichigo openly admired Tatsuki-chan because she was so confident, stronger than anyone else in the class, and each time she laid him down with a high kick in less than ten seconds, he burned with frustration. He didn’t cry because he wanted to make a scene or draw attention to himself; he cried because it would’ve been too hard to keep the feeling inside. The minute the tears were out, he felt better.
The karate kids assumed that Ichigo’s tears dried when his mom came to pick him up because even a crybaby didn’t want to look like a Mama’s Boy. Tatsuki was the one student who could tell that Ichigo was just overwhelmingly glad to see his mother. Kurosaki Masaki seemed super nice, always smiling and talking in happy tones. She had brown hair, not orange, but it was as shiny as hair in a shampoo commercial, and her face was as pretty as a movie star’s.
The minute Masaki appeared, Ichigo went from a scrawny ball of nerves over-exerting himself to keep up with the more accomplished kids to a loose-limbed, grinning happy kid. Mother and son held hands in the parking lot, and Ichigo didn’t seem to care if anyone saw.
For Tatsuki, being the best in karate was more important than anything, but it seemed that for Ichigo being with his mom was more important than karate.
“Mikami was saying that you talk to things no one else can see.”--Tatsuki, 18:6
Unlike other kids who giggled behind his back and made jokes about his hair, Tatsuki didn’t try to hide it when Ichigo puzzled her. She was rude and asked questions outright.
Ichigo appreciated this rudeness so much that he almost told Tatsuki the truth when she asked if he could see ghosts.
“Of course not,” he said, but she narrowed her eyes as if she knew there was more to the story.
Ichigo himself didn’t know what the truth was, exactly, so how could he explain it to anyone else? He had only recently realized that half of the people he saw day to day went unseen and unheard by everyone else.
It was difficult to tell live people from dead ones, except for the fact that the dead ones didn’t point at his orange hair and laugh.
“He didn’t show up at school for a while, so I went looking for him.”--Tatsuki, 18:17
Kurosaki Masaki’s death was the big story for a week at school, and then when Ichigo returned to classes, he was a celebrity of sorts among the third-graders. None of them had known anyone to lose a parent before, and the situation horrified and fascinated the children. “Did you really see it happen?” “Who is going to cook for you now?” “After the body is burned, do pieces of bone really look different from other ashes?” “Shut up, he doesn’t look inside the urn. Do you, Kurosaki?” Tatsuki kept expecting the boy to burst into tears at the questions, but she never saw Ichigo cry.
In fact, she never saw Ichigo cry ever again, in dojo or elsewhere. He fielded interest in his mother’s accident with curt words and a scowling look. He seemed more grouchy than grieving.
Some weeks later when Ichigo stopped coming to school, no one assumed anything beyond an ordinary absence due to a flu bug going around. Tatsuki had noticed Ichigo looking glassy-eyed for a while, but she was sure he wasn’t sick.
Tatsuki knew exactly where to look, and sure enough, he was there, pacing around with his backpack on as if intending to go to school. Ichigo didn’t come back to school for weeks, though. Mornings before school, Tatsuki would find him by the river where his mother died, and in some evenings after dinner Tatsuki would walk to the river just to see if Ichigo was still there, wandering as if looking for something in the grass.
He was always there.
If he noticed Tatsuki watching him those weeks, he didn’t say anything.
One afternoon in the video arcade, Ichigo got into a fight with an older kid who skipped school a lot. The story around school was that it wasn’t a fight so much as the guy made some wisecrack, and Ichigo kicked the jerk in the gut right then and there. The event was discussed with great seriousness in the dojo. The sensei reminded the children that in karate “there is no first strike.” Ichigo tried to justify his attack by saying that the guy had used one of the worst words known in primary school to describe Tatsuki-chan.
“What word was that?” asked Tatsuki.
“I can’t say it because it’s a bad word,” said Ichigo.
“Then tell us what it means,” said the other children.
Ichigo wasn’t really sure what the word “dyke” meant, but he knew it was only used by the bad kids at the arcade to describe girls who were ugly, mean, and somehow… not girlish?
Whatever the insult, the sensei said, it was not the purpose of martial arts to defend others from words. The only provocation requiring a physical response was a physical attack against oneself. The sensei went on to explain honor and self-defense in ways Ichigo didn’t really understand.
After class, Tatsuki insisted that Ichigo tell her what the insult was, so Ichigo did.
Tatsuki’s face relaxed into a smile. “Big deal. I hear that all the time. It just means that I’m like a guy. I don’t think that’s such a bad thing, do you?”
When Ichigo thought about it, no, it didn’t seem like a bad thing. In fact, what made Tatsuki so easy to be around was that she wasn’t giggly and incomprehensible like other girls.
“The reason I wanted to join a dojo in the first place,” Ichigo said, “was so I could protect people. I have sisters, you know. A big brother is supposed to protect his sisters.”
“Yeah, well, maybe they’ll be better at karate than you,” Tatsuki said. “Though I did hear you knocked the wind out of that guy in the arcade. I guess you’re getting better at kicking.”
Tatsuki always called Sado Chad, the way Ichigo mispronounced it, but she tried very hard not to pick up his other mispronunciations.
She thought Ichigo could do worse than being friends with Chad. Chad was one of those poor boys who hung around the arcade instead of going to afterschool “enrichment” classes, but his grades were very good nonetheless, and teachers seemed to like Chad because he was quiet and polite. Tatsuki approved of Ichigo’s other new friends too--they were a little ratty but harmless. She didn’t want Ichigo falling with a bad crowd and ending up in prison one day just because he was motherless and depressed and never made any decent friends.
As she caught herself thinking that, she let out a little snort. Maybe I’m a girl after all.
“The feeling was closest to loneliness when Ichigo outgrew me …when he defeated me for the first time.”—Tatsuki, 25.2:3
The fall just before Tatsuki felt Ichigo pull away from her, he and she were evenly matched. In height, in disregard for the phony expectations of the world, in secrets shared. Tatsuki, incensed over a pack of bitches who had cut off some poor middle-schooler’s hair, confessed to Ichigo that she would chop to a pulp anyone who so much as looked funny at Inoue Orihime--first strike or no first strike rule of karate. Ichigo told Tatsuki about lying beneath his dead mother in the street and thinking that the stream of blood running down his shoulder was rain.
Then winter break came, and when school began again in January, Tatsuki noticed that teachers expected the worst from Ichigo. It was because he was a boy. It was because he had orange hair. It was because he always wore that scowling face. Teachers liked Tatsuki and nominated her to be on the student disciplinary committee.
Tatsuki found herself segregated from Ichigo more and more during lunchtime.
Then one stuffy, overheated, boring afternoon in English, it occurred to her that the differences between boys and girls, which had seemed absurd but surmountable before, were … bakabakashii in middle school.
“What so great about him, Orihime?… A girl with boobs like yours could do better.”--Tatsuki, 2:4
When Tatsuki realized that Orihime had a crush on Ichigo, she experienced a moment of cold fear in her chest. No! Ichigo and Orihime would get all normal and lovey-dovey, and both of them would care more about each other than they cared for her!
Then she drop-kicked that fear right out of her heart. Oh let them. Ichigo was the last guy Tatsuki could see hooking up with a girlfriend, but if he ever did, Orihime was decent and sweet and beautiful. Didn’t Ichigo deserve the best?
“I’ve got soccer practice tomorrow afternoon,” she said one day to Orihime, “but Ichigo can walk you home after school. He’s only so-so at karate, but he can take on any bitches with scissors. I can ask him for you if you want.”
Orihime screamed, fell back on the brown grass and turned all the colors of the fall leaves. By the time she was finished spitting and giggling and protesting, Tatsuki was profoundly annoyed. “Fine, fine. You’ll just have to wait in the bleachers for me then. Or else join the team and learn a little something instead of waiting.”
Orihime and Ichigo? Tatsuki could not see it happening in a million years.
The first time Rukia sat on Ichigo’s bed he tried to tell himself it was just like when Tatsuki sat on it… no big deal. Try as he would, he couldn’t see Rukia the way he saw Tatsuki. They were similarly small-boned, dark-haired girls. They were both tough as nails and loud-mouthed about their opinions.
Rukia was a Shinigami, though. She was a dead spirit. Maybe that was it.
Rukia was sitting on Ichigo’s bed like she belonged there. Her ankles were crossed. Yuzu’s pajamas fit her perfectly.
A little growl of frustration escaped Ichigo’s throat.
Rukia looked up from her sketchpad. “What?” she demanded.
“Nothing.” Ichigo shook his head and looked away. He was never going to get used to a girl living in his closet and wearing his sister’s pajamas. He was never going to be able to see Rukia as just another Tatsuki….
Tatsuki would never wear checkerboard flannel pajamas anyway. She probably just sleeps in her underwear or--
“Gah!” Ichigo clutched his thatchy head. He was turning into a pervert like his dad!
Tatsuki had never experienced a reoccurring dream before. She was even suspicious of the concept--what sort of dim imagination must a person have to dream the same thing more than once?
Orihime liked to talk about her dreams. Girls did that. Tatsuki could remember Ichigo saying just last year: “Dreams? I don’t remember my dreams. Maybe I dream about very boring things, like walking to school or taking a nap.”
“You became friends with that girl. After that, you prayed for me less often … Then you entered high school, and Kurosaki Ichigo showed up, and you stopped praying for me altogether.”--Hollow Sora to Orihime, 5:14
Tatsuki had never seen another picture of Sora besides the one Orihime kept in a prominent shrine, and she knew very little about the dead brother beyond lore gleaned from a few years of listening to Orihime’s stream-of-consciousness babble: Onii-chan never cooked, Onii-chan wore a suit and tie to work, Onii-chan was kind. Still, Tatsuki knew it was him when she heard the creature speak. Something of the timbre of the voice, although male, coarse, and muffled behind a mask, was like Orihime’s voice.
Stranger than that, Ichigo’s voice was arguing with it.
And what the hell was Ichigo doing wearing a black dress and holding an over-sized sword?
Then, with whatever sense she used to predict where a vale tudo opponent’s leg was going to strike, Tatsuki knew that Ichigo’s sword was going to slice the creature in the face.
But Ichigo missed, and the bloody chunks that flew across Orihime’s living room were the creature’s hands.
The cries in the air belonged to Orihime and her brother, and Tatsuki felt them more deeply than she felt a claw of pain in her own shoulder.
Weeks later, when she and Orihime tried to piece together that night’s happenings, Tatsuki could not figure out what Ichigo was doing there and why Tatsuki could see him if she was supposed to be knocked out.
“Something is happening,” Orihime said, “to people who care about Kurosaki-kun.”
“Trust me, kissing a classmate is a big deal. What kind of books are you reading?”—Ichigo to Rukia, 15:3
When Rukia told him that the mod soul had kissed Orihime, Ichigo felt mortification, pure and horrible, possess his soul. He tried to banish the feeling by telling himself that things could be worse: the fool could have kissed Tatsuki!
He never stopped to consider why this was worse. Mortification, even when possessing a Shinigami soul, did not allow for serious reflection.
Reoccurring dreams were one thing, but this haunting feeling about Ichigo was quite another. Sometimes Tatsuki shook her head and wondered if she was obsessing about Ichigo because Orihime was. Every time the sun disappeared behind the clouds and Tatsuki felt the absence of stinging summer sun on her face and arms, she remembered a squeaky voice saying, “We were born because of Kurosaki Ichigo.”
Too damn freaky. Why was she dreaming about Ichigo going around fathering chirping midgets?
“Just walking and talking took up a lot of time.”--Ichigo, 68:5
Everybody showed up to see the fireworks, even Chad, and they all walked with Ichigo to the Onose River.
Even though Ichigo knew now that it was a Hollow, not a car, that killed his mother six years ago, the very idea of people walking alongside nighttime traffic made Ichigo nervous. Hadn’t Inoue gotten sideswiped by a car just a few months ago? Inoue had this habit of not looking where she was going and knocking over trashcans even when it was broad daylight.
Tatsuki was anything but clumsy, and even she had gotten hit by a car. Probably had her guard down after a big match. All that excitement over being in the Nationals and blammo! The car broke her arm.
The way Keigo was bouncing around like a monkey off its leash--how did someone so unbalanced ever manage to survive to teenhood anyway? The way Keigo contorted himself for attention and yelled crazy stuff was just begging for some festival drunk to come along and--
Fuck it, Ichigo thought. I’m worrying like an old woman. This is summer vacation.
Tatsuki and Orihime were already falling behind.
Ichigo fought the urge to hang back with them, to protect them if need be. They’re fine. We’re all fine. Let’s just be normal teenagers who have all the time in the world.
“C’mon, what’s wrong? Why are you looking at me like that?”--Orihime to Tatsuki, 68:12
Tatsuki felt like she was being left behind.
First Ichigo had pulled away, and now Orihime was … going somewhere?
She knew that the spirits that now populated her world had something to do it, and there was a feeling of dread in her stomach. Tatsuki thought: Please don’t die, Orihime. If a wonderful girl like Orihime were to die, she wouldn’t be one of those loser spirits that hung around annoying people. She would be off to heaven, and Tatsuki would never see her again.
“I’m just going to my aunt’s for a while,” Orihime said. “I don’t want to, but I have to. I’d much rather hang out with you.”
The firecrackers started banging and whistling. Clouds glowed red at a distance. “Already?” Tatsuki shouted. “But it’s not even dark yet!” And she ran towards the fireworks, away from the feeling of dread.
Look at him, she thought as she approached the gang and saw the back of Ichigo’s bright orange head. He’s like a safety light.
Tatsuki only crossed Ichigo’s mind once while he was in Soul Society. The week after Aizen ascended, when everyone was recovering, and it was plain that the eleventh division was the meanest, loudest, most rag-tag and belligerent of all the Shinigami divisions, Ichigo thought, If Tatsuki were a Shinigami, she would fit right in here in the eleventh. I can’t imagine any of these guys making her back down, not even Captain Zaraki.
Tatsuki worried like hell the whole time Ichigo and Orihime were gone. She was quite certain that, wherever they were, they were going to fall in love with each other. If they were going to do something like that, why couldn’t it happen with Tatsuki around? That way she could at least make fun of them.
Then, one afternoon at the arcade, Oshima mentioned that Chad had gone missing for days.
Then at the Tanabata festival, some of those sewing freaks were bemoaning the absence of their two best sewers, Inoue Orihime and Ishida Uryuu.
Tatsuki felt the absence of these people with some sense she didn’t know she had. They were just not here. Every time the sun came out from behind a cloud, and Tatsuki felt the summer heat sting her face and arms, she knew that Chad and the sewing guy were with Ichigo and Orihime. Wherever that was.
Something is happening to people who care about Kurosaki-kun.
“Yo, long time no see Tatsuki.”--Ichigo, 183:9
Ichigo was always out when Tatsuki stopped by his house or by the Kurosaki Clinic, so she didn’t see him again until the first day of school. He looked perfectly normal. He acted perfectly normal.
His dad had hung some goofy talisman on his shirt and there was some skull-looking thing hanging out of his uniform pocket, but other than that…. Why was I even worried?
Tatsuki felt dreary routine settle in her bones the very first few minutes of class. Same as it ever was, same as it would always be in English class….
Then Ichigo shot like rocket out of his chair and said something about having to go to the bathroom, and then Orihime had to go the bathroom, and so did Chad!
When Tatsuki looked out the classroom window, a Shinigami was running across the Karakura High School outdoor track. Giant unsheathed sword on his back. Bright orange hair.
Tatsuki turned to face the blackboard. Her breathing was shallow. Blood was pounding in her ears.
She expected the familiar routine of sitting and keeping quiet would calm her eventually, but it didn’t.
So, what the hell is this? Ichigo is a Shinigami? Does that mean he’s dead or what?
“Reporting from the twelfth division. Presence of Arrancar detected in East Karakura.”--message in Soul Society, 191:5
Tatsuki saw the whole battle. This time there was no dream-like quality to the horror she was witnessing. No doubt, no disbelief.
Around her, karate team members lay like slacker kids dozing in the afternoon sun. There was no blood--each gi was immaculately white--but Tatsuki sensed that each and every one was dead. She watched a breeze stir the short black hairs on Mirahara’s head. Look how whole his body is. Where did the soul go?
Tatsuki did not look any of her rescuers in the eye because she could sense their sadness, the heft of failure, how miserable and confused they were. Orihime had been depending on Ichigo who had been depending on some crazy power of his that had not worked this time.
When was the last time Tatsuki depended on anyone but herself?
A great wind blew across her soul. There was no resisting it. She closed her eyes and swore that she would never be powerless against Death again.
What happened to you? What happened to that little kid who never smiled? You used to be so lost and pitiful and wandering around looking for your mom by the river. Did you find her? What did you find that’s changed our whole world so much? It’s like you’ve opened a door and all this death is pouring out. Why is this happening?
For weeks now I’ve been seeing the stuff you see. The monsters, the annoying spirits. How did you stand it? No wonder you were so grouchy.
And what did you do to Orihime? I used to be the one who walked her home and protected her, and now she’s protecting me?
This crazy shit that’s happening in the sky--make it stop. If you can’t make it stop by yourself, then let me help you. I know I can help you, Ichigo. You’re not the only kid in the universe who feels helpless and alone. Whatever crazy power you’ve got that can fight monsters, let me share it.
I know I can help you, Ichigo. I’m a fighter. All I ever wanted was to help you fight the whole world.
My picture of Tatsuki that I like so much