The sky was a brilliant blue, not a single fluffy cloud in sight. I could feel the warm rays of the unobscured sun beating down on me, making my skin tingle. Time seemed to stand still, and I wanted this moment to last forever. Just me and him. I could feel his calloused fingers tracing the lines of my palm as I pretended to nap under the midday sun.
"Ne, Sora-chan?" He asked me, breath tickling my ear as he leaned closer.
"Mm?" I opened one eye and gazed into those deep blue orbs staring back at me, a mischievous smirk making theM sparkle and dance. His hair was a mess as always, azure locks tousled in a careless bedhead style. "What is it Aoi-kun?"
"If you put our names together, we become a blue sky."
"Hn, I guess so." I smiled and closed my eyes, thinking that was all he had wanted to say. He was always coming up with silly observations and jokes like that. I giggled to myself, thinking we were a blue sky in more than name. Peeking over at him, I blushed as I noticed how his hair mixed with my own white tresses because of how close he was. Like soft, wispy clouds blending into a perfectly blue sky.
"What?" I perked up, startled out of my thoughts.
"We'll always be together, right?" At this, I opened my eyes and sat up, running the hand he wasn't holding through my fine, white hair. Of course we'd be together. We had always been together. Our mothers were best friends, so we had been raised side-by-side since we were babies. I had always known Aoi and he had always known me. I couldn't imagine a future where he wasn't there.
"Of course. We're best friends. Of course, we'll always be together."
"Nn." I nodded, smiling at him. "Always and forever, Aoi. You and me."
"Yeah, always and forever. Promise." He grinned, showing off the little gap where he'd recently lost one of his baby teeth.
As soon as that last word left his mouth, the sky darkened. Black, angry clouds blocked out the sun and it started to rain. It was freezing rain that came down hard, making me flinch as each drop hit my skin. The warm, fragrant grass we'd been sitting on turned into cold mud, sucking us into the ground. Frightened, I reached for my friend. My hand closed around air, empty.
"Aoi? AOI?!" Looking around frantically, I couldn't see anything. It wasn't until the mud had dragged me down up to my neck that I saw something in the distance. Familiar blue hair was floating in the river. Was he swimming? I struggled and called his name again, straining my neck to get a better look. Aoi was in the river, but he wasn't swimming. His body was motionless, and the river was red. "AOI!" I screamed for him over and over, not believing what my eyes were seeing until the mud devoured me, seeping into my mouth and into my nose, his name frozen on my lips as I felt myself suffocating. 'Aoi…'
Screams woke me from a deep sleep. Gasping for air, it took me a few minutes to calm down from the nightmare. This was almost a nightly ritual for me. After getting my breathing under control, I pushed the covers off of me and headed for the bathroom. The shower hissed to life as I turned the knobs. After a quick shower to wash away the remnants of sweat and fear, I dressed for the day in my Karakura High uniform and started getting breakfast ready for myself. It was only me in the apartment. It's been that way for almost three years now. I never knew my dad, and Mom passed away a few years back after succumbing to ovarian cancer.
As I slip some bread into the toaster, I find myself reflecting on what woke me this morning. I've been having the nightmares for years now, ever since the incident. We had been so young, Aoi and I. We didn't understand how naive and helpless we were at the time. Every child thinks they're invulnerable, the heroes of their own little worlds.
We were 6 when Aoi went missing one night. It had been like any other day. We'd gone to my house to play after school. We couldn't go to the park because of the rain. Aoi was just going to run home and ask his parents if he could stay the night and pack a bag.
"Mommy, Aoi-kun isn't back yet. Can you call Auntie Rena?" 6-year-old Sora pouted up at her mother, slightly annoyed that he was taking so long getting back. They were supposed to be saving a princess from killer ninjas and building a pillow fort before bedtime.
"Sure, sweetheart. Dinner's almost ready. Go set the table while I make the call."
"Okay!" She could hear her mother in the kitchen as she went about placing the silverware and plates on the table.
"Are you sure? He left hours ago, Rena. Calm down, we'll find him." There was a slight not of panic in her voice that set Sora on edge. "Okay, yeah. Sora and I will start looking for him. We'll meet up near the bridge. Don't worry, we'll find him."
"Sora, grab your coat. Aoi hasn't been home yet. We're going to go look for him."
Everything after that had been a blurred rush for me. I remember running through the rain with my mother pulling me along, calling out for my friend. I had been the one to find him.
Sora was tired and shivering. They had been out here for a couple hours now, and still no sign of Aoi-kun. Her mother was trying to comfort Auntie Rena. Uncle Kaito was angry and yelling, making her mother and Auntie cry.
"Where are you, Aoi-kun?" She whispered to herself, looking down the bank at the swelling river. Something by the bank caught her eye, and she soon found herself slipping and sliding down the embankment to get to it. She'd know that shock of blue hair anywhere. A big smile lit up her face as she approached the boy. His head was laying in the mud, the water teasing his hair, making the strands dance like seaweed. "Oi, Aoi-kun, where have you been?" She giggled, as she got closer, relieved to have finally found her friend. She knelt down beside him and shook him. "Did you fall down and get hurt? You're always getting hurt, Aoi-kun." He didn't respond. Rolling him over, her smile trembled as her next words remained painfully stuck in her throat, choking her. Her breathing became labored as she started to hyperventilate at the sight. Aoi's sky-blue eyes were open and staring up at her, unseeing and frozen in fear. And there was blood on his shirt. So much blood. The rain had washed away a good amount, but his front was still stained with it, and she could smell it. It was the sharp, sour smell of pure terror. Her vision blurred as tears gathered in her violet eyes. Strangled noises were trying to escape from her clogged throat, building up until all of a sudden - "AAAAAAAAAAGH! AOIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!" Her scream brought the adults running to her side, Auntie Rena filling the night with her own screams as she caught sight of the boy's body laid out on Sora's lap.
I don't remember exactly what happened after that. Mom said I was in shock. I had to see a therapist once a week for years after Aoi was murdered, and I still had nightmares about what happened on and off ever since. We had moved soon after. Auntie Rena and Uncle Kaito blamed us for what happened, even though Aoi-kun and I had always walked home alone on occasion. It was 'an unforeseen tragedy' is what my therapist had called it.
We had ended up here in Karakura and had tried to start over. All my mother wanted for me was a normal childhood, not that that was really possible after that fateful night. Especially, when I started seeing the ghosts. I had only mentioned seeing them once to my therapist and then never again. It was just something that I learned was better being kept a secret. They always seemed to seek me out though. They were never scary to me, just sad and lonely. So I tried to make it a point to talk to them whenever I could, but outside the hearing range of others. No need to earn myself extra sessions with the shrink.
Yukimura Suzuha was a determined woman though. She worked hard to provide for us and make me happy. She had worked as a waitress at a few different establishments. She didn't make much, so our water and electric would get shut off from time to time. I didn't mind though. After a late shift, I'd stay up and wait for her to bring home leftovers, and we'd end up eating lukewarm chicken parmesan by candlelight. Even at the end, when she was lying in a hospital bed, her last words to me had been to "Find your happiness."
Sighing, I grabbed the toasted bread, smeared some butter on top and popped it into my mouth as I headed out the door. No sense in dwelling on such grim topics first thing in the morning.
I had just finished off my breakfast and was entering homeroom when something attacked me from behind.
"Sora-chan! I missed you! How was your weekend?"
"Orihime, I told you not to sneak up on me like that." I pouted at the strawberry-blond headed girl with her arms around my shoulders and her boobs pressed into my back, making me feel slightly self-conscious at my more moderate bust-size. They weren't nonexistent, but nowhere near Hime's level. I was kind of used to this morning greeting. After all, we have been best friends since I moved to Karakura. Orihime had told me we were destined to be friends, since I shared the same name as her beloved brother. We had gotten each other through a really rough year when I had lost my mom and she'd lost her brother. I don't know what I would have done without her during those dark time. Pushing the clinging waves of nostalgia aside, I looked around the classroom. "Where's Tatsuki at?" I questioned, asking after our other friend.
"She had morning club practice. She's probably on her way now. Here, try this!" Before I could protest, something squishy, spicy, and sweet was shoved into my mouth. I chewed slowly, knowing from experience that it would hurt her feelings if I spit it out or gagged.
"Let me guess." I gasped after forcing the horrible concoction down. "You made….spicy banana bread with...is that soy sauce and pork I taste?"
"Yeah! Wow, how did you know? You're amazing, Sora-chan!"
"Thanks, Hime." I gave a weak chuckle, feeling my stomach lurch in protest. For some reason, I was the only person Orihime felt the need to force-feed. Even Tatsuki had avoided this cruel treatment, claiming that she had to be careful about what foods she ate because of club. To be fair, I could have claimed something similar since I practiced at the dojo with her after school, but I just couldn't say no to my clueless friend. I listened to her telling me about her weekend and all her food experiments as I got settled at my desk. She had actually been gone for the past week. She hadn't told me exactly why, which was odd. The girl was practically incapable of keeping a secret. I had a sneaking suspicion that it had to do with a certain orange-haired delinquent though. Speak of the devil.
"Oi, Strawberry! Where were you last week?" I glared at him from across the room and he returned it. Kurosaki Ichigo and I have been enemies/rivals as long as Orihime and I have been friends. It all started when my mom enrolled me at the local dojo to learn karate. I had tried to make friends with him, me being the new kid and all, and he'd been rude to say the least.
Sora was standing alone, wishing her mother would come back and take her home. There were too many kids here. They were smiling and laughing, and it made her miss Aoi-kun. She looked around the room and paused when she saw another little boy standing by himself. All the other kids had grouped together, but the orange-haired boy seemed out of place. Sora quietly padded over to him.
"Um, hi. I'm Yukimura Sora. What's your name?"
"Kurosaki Ichigo." He answered without looking at her, his gaze boring into the hardwood floor.
"Ichigo-kun, do you wanna be friends? I just moved here and thought that maybe, if you want, we could -"
"Just leave. I don't wanna be your friend!" Little Ichigo finally looked at Sora, fixing her with a glare as he pushed the girl away, causing her to trip and fall over. The other kids saw and laughed at her. Her cheeks were bright red as she jumped back up and hurled her tiny fist into Ichigo's face. He cried out and held his hand to his nose, which was now gushing blood.
"I didn't wanna be your friend anyway, stupid Strawberry!" Her eyes glittered with unshed tears, too proud to give this jerk the satisfaction of seeing her cry.
"You're crazy! Stay away from me!" He yelled before running off to tell the teacher what she had done, conveniently leaving out the push and the mean words that had provoked her.
Snapping back to the present, Sora realized she had spaced out again and just barely caught the sharp retort of her rival.
"None of your damn business, Yukimura!"
"You make it my business when you get my best friend involved, baka!"
"I don't know what the hell you're talking about!"
"The hell you don't! I'm not stupid, Kurosaki. It's no coincidence that you, Hime, Ishida and Sado all went missing for a week. Where were you guys?"
"Um, excuse me." A small voice piped up from behind Kurosaki's stupid tall frame. Peeking out from behind him was the girl who had started attending our class a few months ago, Kuchiki Rukia. "I'm sorry. I had to deal with something back home and invited them to come with me for the week."
"Tch." I knew that was a lie, but it still kind of hurt my feelings that they hadn't included me. It had been a really boring, quiet week without Orihime. Tatsuki wasn't really available because of her club activities, so I had spent most of the week training at the dojo and talking to the ghost who wanders around Karakura Park. No offense to Tomo-chan. She was super sweet, but hanging out with dead people isn't my idea of a crazy awesome adventure. "Whatever. Just stop involving Hime in your 'outings', Strawberry. I don't want her catching your stupid."
"That's it! Let's take this outside! I don't care if you're a girl, I'll kick your ass, Yukimura!"
"Ha! As if you could!" Unlike Ichigo, who dropped out soon after our altercation, I had kept studying at the dojo. I was more than confident that I could take down the stupid Strawberry in a fight. "I'll humor you though if you want. We can settle this after school, and I can show everyone how pathetic you are." I cooed sweetly at him.
"Ne, Sora-chan, please don't fight with Ichigo-kun."
"Gomen, Hime, but Strawberry needs to learn his place."
"But he's stronger than you! You could get hurt!"
"It hurts that you have no faith in me, Hime." I give her my puppy dog eyes, and she sighs in defeat.
"Please be careful."