Disclaimer: Don't own Bleach.
April 2006 - Did some (major-ish) editing because the previous version was annoying me somewhat. Plus I was bored. P
Life was funny like that. She didn't rightly know when things had gotten so complex between them.
Perhaps it had been the increasingly drawn-out intervals between their meetings; the prolonged assignments that kept her away.
She wasn't stupid. She was well aware of how the higher ups frowned on her decisions of late. They'd tried to keep it subtle, tried to discreetly restrain her, but she knew it was all a farce; a petty excuse to distance her from the boy. And, perhaps… they had been right. After all, their two worlds were never meant to mesh.
But they'd gone about it all wrong. The scarcity of her time with him had made her treasure it all the more and, as it were, absence had also made her heart grow oblivious to the changes. So caught up in her own contentment that she had failed to notice when she'd over-stepped the boundaries.
She couldn't believe how blind she'd been.
It is funny how one tends to overlook all the little developments that mean so much in the long run.
She'd failed to notice how, even while making sarcastic jibes about her ignorance, the boy's frowning face would loosen and his eyes would crinkle in the slightest; how his hand would linger for just that much longer in her hair after giving it a mocking ruffle to emphasize his point about her pathetically small stature; how, even when it was obvious that he was exhausted from his day, he'd always be there to back her up when she entered his world on one of her assignments.
It was plainly written in the fact that he did these things of his own volition, and, had she been thinking hard enough, she would have realized that ultimately his pre-occupation with the spirit world was not as strong as he made it out to be; and that the primary reason for his insistence on keeping her safe was because…
He did it because…
Two long years it had gone on, with the occasional hollow-hunting visit to his world, she'd find him always making time to ensure that she emerged safely from every one of her encounters.
She'd merely grown accustomed to him, she thought.
Behind the stacks of compact disks in the second drawer his desk, the box of crayons that he'd given her the year before sat. The very set she'd shown an interest to when they'd entered the art store on one of their get-togethers all those months ago. She would draw with them during her infrequent visits to his room.
The boy was a terrible liar. She'd realized that when he casually tossed the colouring set into her surprised hands one day, claiming he'd found it in the clinic storeroom. It was his sister's and she no longer had use for it, had been the half-muttered, embarrassed reasoning that followed. She'd taken offence to his immediate brush off of her thanks, and to his claim that high-quality drawing materials would to improve her scraggly pieces of art. Still she'd been grateful, because the casing had been too new, the crayons in too good a condition to have simply come from a child's old collection. The boy rarely bestowed gifts on anyone at all.
Indeed, it was always in the little things...
It had taken far too long, in her opinion, before she started noticing the change. A two-dimensional view of the situation would have been that over the course of time, the boy had simply grown distant. Talking to him became an increasingly difficult task, and most of the time, he simply refused to meet her eyes when she did. She had given it no more than a passing thought at first, because it couldn't have been more than a phase; a fleeting stage in his adolescent life. They'd be making small talk, she'd turn the conversation more personal, and he would choose instead to walk on ahead before making a vague reply. Seventeen-year-olds did that all the time, for sure.
That's not it. He does it because…
She might have seen it sooner; she might have seen how much control he'd had to muster to simply be in her presence. But she hadn't. And that made her all the more despicable.
It had been selfish, it had been stupid, and it had been apparent to everyone but her.
Take care of him, Kuchiki-san. He needs you.
Nee-san! What on earth could you see in that loser when you have a stud like me?
That bastard? Keh! Of all the low-life scum to choose…
End all contact with him now, sister. It's distracting you…
The simple truth was that she hadn't wanted to see it coming. Denial to the point where denial was no longer possible, it had worked well. Till she started noticing the lingering glances he would cast her way when he thought she wasn't looking; till she saw the underlying emotion that burned in his eyes when he called her stupid for doing something to jeopardize her own safety.
His smirking calmness and his cool indifference… he'd absolutely lost them when a rogue hollow had almost torn her arm from her body. There hadn't been enough of the beast left to perform a proper soul burial after he'd been done with it. Sure, denial had worked well up to that point.
And then it had suddenly become too much.
She hated change. She didn't want things to change, to become awkward between them. The boy was young, centuries too young and though she would be hard-pressed to admit it to his face, he had become one of the most important people in her life. She didn't want to see him hurt on her account. No one should have to feel pain for the sake of another. What he wanted... no, what he thought he wanted, it simply was not possible. He knew it, and she knew it. Yet, as it was in all cases concerning him, pride would be the dooming factor in theirs. Pride, which led him to believe that rules were made to be broken by him.
He made his own laws, dictated his own life. And that… was dangerous.
Their ties should have ended there. It would have been the wise choice, yet she had chosen instead to continue to stay with him. The boy made her happy, and she found herself unable to pull away from that contentment.
She had lingered, torn between her duties as a bringer of death and her relationship with a human boy who had, once upon a time, risked his very existence to keep her alive. There was also the hope that he might eventually tire of her inability to return what he thought he felt toward her. Then she would be able to balance her attachment to both the physical and the spiritual.
And of course, they would always be friends…
Friends. If she had known the boy half as well as a friend should, then she would have understood that stubbornness was a trait that both of them shared…
It had been raining out that night.
He had emerged from the shower in his dark home attire to find her perched on his living room couch watching her favourite cartoon show. She supposed he'd been happy to see her, given the fact that she hadn't visited in over a month, but he'd masked his elation with some sort of sarcastic remark about her choice in entertainment as he sat his body down beside her.
She'd rolled her eyes and refused to comment. It had seemed normal enough.
He'd insisted on watching the news. She'd insisted on watching Chappy the Rabbit. And so they'd fought over remote. It had seemed normal enough.
She'd fallen back onto the couch, stretching the arm holding the device out as far as was possible away from his longer grasp as she tried to squirm free. He'd barred her movements by crawling over her and pinning the out-stretched arm down with one hand while the other tried to pry the gadget from her vice-like grip.
Normality ended there.
So caught up in their struggle, neither had noticed the awkwardness of their position until the storm outside caused the power to go out.
And so it was, in the inky darkness of the empty house, that she became aware of her growing unease. Twin breathing, made heavy by their previous tussle, became the only thing that permeated the silence of the room. It might have been her imagination, for she could not see his eyes, but she swore the intensity of his gaze was the reason the hair on the back of her neck started to prickle and rise. The quickened rate at which his heart started beating made her afraid.
She wanted to demand that he get off her, yet her voice wouldn't comply. Cool breaths on her face contrasted the warmth seeping through the fabric of her clothing from his body. Perhaps that was why she was suddenly finding it so hard to breathe, then again it might have been the strength with which he gripped her wrist overhead to render her immobile.
Air in her throat hitched when she felt him start to lower his head toward hers. Her eyes clenched her shut of their own volition. A part of her hoped, beyond hope, that she was simply experiencing one of her more irrational dreams, and that the larger portion of her that did not comply with that wish was not actually responding to her body's proximity to his.
A pointless thought.
The kiss was light, hesitant at first, and she would have drawn back in fear, had his free hand not moved to cup the back of her head. Time became somehow irrelevant; she did not know how long it was that his lips lingered where they were, before she felt the moisture of his tongue on her mouth. She almost felt her brain give out from the overload of emotion that followed. Shock, panic, dread, delight…
A shuddering breath, two, she'd held them in far too long, and the boy seized his opportunity. Ask her to pinpoint exactly when the kiss had gone from an innocent touching of mouths to what it was then, and it would have been a wasted effort. For when his tongue slid past her lips and his hand forced her head closer to his, the rest of the world could not have mattered less. She forgot her half-hearted attempt to push him away with her free hand. Instead, its fingers buried themselves into the fabric of his shirt for support.
Deep down, she knew it was wrong, that she shouldn't have been enjoying it. She knew she should have stopped him. She knew alot of things then, but none so seemingly right at that point as what she was incapable of doing.
She could not pull away.
The chill of air on her legs made her vaguely conscious of the uniform robes that had parted during their earlier battle over the television remote. The dark material lay bunched under her thighs and was somewhat uncomfortable, but became promptly forgotten when she felt his warm hand on her mid-rift. The sound of her surprised whimper was muffled by his lips on hers, as the caress of his fingers rose higher on her torso. Ever the observant one, she wondered vaguely when he had released her pinned arm. The forgotten television remote fell from her grasp when the boy's hand shifted higher still…
And just as abruptly, they were plunged back into light.
Chappy the Rabbit's flamboyant theme song pierced through the silence and brought her eyes flying open. A rude awakening it was but she was dazed for no more than a second. Euphoria, she found, was a feeling short-lived. Too soon pulled down from its pedestal and squashed by deep gut-clenching guilt than she could have ever prepared herself for. Despair would follow next. Despair and anger.
Because things had gone entirely too far.
It took all her strength to push the boy off her. Flustered, and very flushed, she readjusted her uniform with as much dignity as she could muster under the circumstances. He seemed in no better condition, if his similar colouring and immediate apologies were any indication. He was sorry. He didn't know what had come over him. Was she alright? Had he hurt her? Questions that kept coming; made more-so out of awkward embarrassment than any real regret. Irritably she swung round to face him, mind set on the task of telling him to shut up so she could organize her very unorganized thoughts.
But what she saw had had her almost running from the house…
Because in his eyes plain as day for her to see, not watered down by sarcastic playfulness or guarded by mocking cynicism, was everything that she had dreaded up to this moment. There was no indecision or regret, only absolute certainty, utter conviction. It was then that she had become painfully sure of the unbelievable dilemma she had pulled herself into.
The boy was… with her… he was…
And so when faced with someone who, when pitted against staggering odds could be driven by harsh determination alone, she did what any rational person would do to remedy her blunder (and it had indeed been a blunder). She attempted to talk him into changing his mind. He was, after all, young and… hormone-driven, surely whatever he thought he was feeling would pass. They were different people and what he thought he wanted was simply not possible. She could sense his annoyance steadily growing as she presented her, hopefully, logical reasoning for his actions while trying hard to calm her nerves. She grew bolder at his silence, more cruel. As she demeaned his… adolescent feelings, she tried her hardest not to be undone by the darkening of his gaze.
For as long as she'd known him, there had always been distinct point at which the boy's control would snap and his emotions got the better of him. She had always prided herself in knowing exactly when that was, because when she didn't, when she let her guard down, things like this happened. His moods were potent, they affected everything around him.
This time round, she would not be caught unawares again. When he finally fired back in anger, she was prepared. Ready for her words to be thrown back at her face. He was well aware of what he was feeling. He didn't care what anyone else thought of it. He wouldn't allow anyone to dictate his life but him.
She knew to scoff, because the boy was far too innocent. She told him so. Juvenile, childish, silly… It was tactic. To head off an increasingly uncontrollable situation, attack the source where it is most vulnerable. Hurt his pride, remedy the situation, and protect him in the long run.
But the angry retaliation she expected never came. She hated the unfamiliar because it left her lost and defenseless. So when he ignored her comment and instead rounded on her with eyes darkened with resolve. Her own widened in surprise and dismay.
It was at an early stage in her immortal life that she had learned that when a situation became too much to handle by oneself, the safest option was simply to defend and retreat. And flee she would have, had her pride not insisted that she keep her dignity in tact in the process.
She tried to keep her steps steady as stormed past him and headed for the door. She got as far as three strides, before his hand clamped down on her wrist. His eyes were deadly serious when he uttered his next daunting words.
Don't go. I think I lo…
Her eyes widened with each sound. She couldn't bring herself to let him finish. How her small frame mustered enough strength to pull itself from his grasp and shove his larger body away she would never know. She felt not unlike a cornered animal, utterly panicked and quite willing to do anything to escape its aggressor. Anything.
She breathed deep to calm her frazzled nerves but the boy's hopeful look nearly broke the cold façade she painted over herself. No matter, she knew what she had to do. For his sake. And hers.
Forcing herself to ignore the poorly masked hurt that entered his eyes at her rejection took a significant amount of will-power. What remained simply reasoned that if hurting him meant protecting him then she would do so unwaveringly. Perhaps now he would give up his impossible intentions concerning her. Perhaps now she would be able to do something she should have done a long, long time ago.
She would walk away.
It took only a moment for the pain in his eyes to morph again to anger. The fist that connected with the wall bled from the harsh impact. It was time to make her leave; certainly he was too angry to stop her. Before she exited the house, she allowed herself a last, lingering look back. In which time, she made sure that every inch of the boy would be etched into her brain, for that would very likely be the last she would ever see of him.
Ignoring the painful wrenching within her chest, she stepped outside and saw that the rain had stopped.
It wasn't definite when the tears came. She felt them only as the wind, made colder by lingering moisture in the air, blew on her face when she started to run. Thinking back to the last time she'd cried, she found only vague impressions from a time long since past. It seemed surreal, that she was now closing the door to what had become a significant part of her life, and she felt only the deep-seated need to get as far away as possible from the source of her anguish; her body pressed forward in response.
Perhaps the higher order had indeed been right in trying to pry her from his company. She should have listened, stayed away, anything to have spared her this feeling of utter… loss.
So immersed in her thoughts was she that she failed to notice the echo that her footsteps picked up, even when they gained in volume. The fact that she was being followed never registered, until a strong fist wrapped itself suddenly round her arm. The force with which her body was swung around nearly pulled her off her feet. Her own small fists unconsciously reached towards her assailant for support.
The boy's grip was strong; it held her in place, even when she began struggling to get free upon realizing who he was. When yelling at her to stop and listen to him proved itself to be futile, he forced her hard into the brick wall behind them, the suddenness of which left her momentarily stunned. So much so that she stilled in response.
With his sudden close proximity, her eyes focused automatically on a spot on the ground. It was silly and pointless, she knew. But she took perverse pleasure in the fact that the action annoyed him deeply and it was not until he brought himself to her eye-level and demanded that she look at him, that she slowly, defiantly, brought her gaze up. For what must have been the millionth time that night, she was struck by the intensity of his stare; it made her feel vulnerable, because it seemed to look right past appearances into her very soul. It aggravated her to no end. She felt what little fire left in her die out under their scrutiny, and tiredly, she told him to leave her be. Why had he come after her?
Her resigned inquiry was ignored. Instead, he reached up a calloused thumb to wipe the tears from her cheeks. Despite the deep frown, his reprimands, though hoarse and full of suppressed irritation, were delivered in a voice surprisingly gentle. He called her stupid, wondered out loud why she would torture herself by doing what she'd done. How long had she planned on running?
She opened her mouth to protest. She wanted to argue, to justify herself to him. And she had called him childish.
His caressing fingers on her cheek were despairingly soothing and she was hard-pressed to stop herself from leaning into his touch.
But really, what was she afraid of?
He'd told her on countless occasions that abiding by the rules was unhealthy. He wanted her to trust him. He'd urged her once, so long ago that he would never let her down.
Slowly, painfully, it all fell into place.
For all her pep-talks and inspirational speeches about believing in himself, about being strong and taking fate into his own hands, she realized that she had simply forgone her own advice. And for what purpose? Simply to hide the fact that even she, a hardened death god needed to rely on someone else on occasion? That she had abided by the rules of her world, imperfect rules, for so long that she didn't know how to live any other way?
A sudden surge of self-loathing washed over her and she found herself unable to hold his unflinching gaze.How could he still want to be near her after all she'd said and done?
That was the number of times he had ever broken a promise to her. This was the boy, no, the man who had defied all odds to deliver a death-bringer from death all those years ago; a woman whom he had known barely two months. And how had returned the favour today? By doubting him, by hurting him. She angrily blinked away the new onslaught of tears that threatened to break loose.
No more tears. No more mistakes.
The only foolish one among them had been her. Her, who had been so caught up in her own fear of falling that she'd failed to notice the safety harness that had always supported her. When everyone and everything had been against them, he had broken through it all for her sake. He would never let any harm befall those dear to his heart. She saw it clear as day now. The one she'd been trying to protect, it hadn't just been him.
She forced down a cynical smile. It was strange, being immortal. To think that you would somehow always have more time, to have never been able to truly seize a moment for what it was. Maybe he was not the immature one, maybe mortality made him wise.
The warm embrace her body was pulled into was comforting, safe. Would anything quite so good come from dwelling on the consequences? She doubted it. Maybe she would need to borrow some of that endless determination from him. She would revel in her defiance. Just as she savoured the warmth of his breath in her hair.
I won't let you go.
And perhaps, this was enough. For now, for him, maybe she could push morals and standards aside for that much longer. As her own arms came around his waist, she realized that indeed, she had been blind.
Teach me to see...