Ch 8. Blend into the Morning
Sometimes even Ichigo can admit that he's slow, because realization doesn't hit him till the middle of the night, when the whole world's asleep. And when it hit him, it hit hard, just about knocking the wind out of him.
There is no one to express his newfound and inconveniently delayed shock to. Only the alarm clock answers back gleaming red in the dark room.
He folds his arms behind his head, divulging both hands into the dense pillow. He tosses, turns to each side twice, pillow practically cushioned into his ears, before settling his head back against the bed. A quick sigh is exhaled. His eyes take up surveying the indistinct shapes in the room.
He is bringing a kid into this world. He, Ichigo, nineteen years old, naïve and brash, is bringing a kid into this world.
Next to him Rukia sleeps easily, her stirs of breath light against the pillow. This gets him slightly perturbed. Why does she get to sleep so soundly when he's wide awake? Is it really as they say? That pregnancy is hardest on the mother? Never mind the back aches, food cravings and crap like that. The fathers' troubles are being overlooked here. After all, aren't fathers the ones who'll be sent scurrying to the convenient store in the late of night, amongst other things, to accommodate those sudden and ridiculous needs to wolf down ice cream and pickles together?
Now considering his and Rukia's backwards relationship, it would come as no surprise if, by some ill joke, even the inevitable morning sicknesses were to be experienced by him, the father…alone! He's sure Rukia would do much better than him in any case!
Of course, it'd only mean that the world's alright when these are the only things left to worry about.
He turns to study her sleeping face, making out what he can in the dark.
The peaceful expression he wants to see isn't there.
Turning the other way puts him back to face the clock. Ten past four it glares. When he finally drifts off, a troubling dream is quick to come.
Ichigo dreams of rapidly falling snow, of a place with ice-capped mountains and cedars, and a solitary figure in the midst of that pallid landscape. Closer up, the figure turns into a woman clad in white, with blanched, butterfly sleeves and snowy colored hair to the waist. She stands tall, back to Ichigo, shoulders thin but sturdy enough to carry the burdens of this icy realm.
"This place is..."
The woman turns her head. Feral, maroon orbs light up against cold, ivory flesh. "You already know where this is," full red lips seem to accuse. Her voice is clear and cuts through bustling winds.
"Then you are..."
"That," she emphasizes, "that, you already know also."
The landscape carved around them is as beautiful as it is cruel. In all directions, the snow covered terrain stretches out with no end in sight. Even beyond the visible mountains there would seem to be more mountains.
"Shirayuki," she finishes for him.
"Heh. So this is the kind of thing Rukia sees," he beams.
"Idle conversation is needless," the other interjects. "Don't assume you are being welcomed here."
The smile dies from his lips. An interim of silence is allowed. He narrows his eyes. "This type of setting fits your personality, doesn't it, Sode no Shirayuki?"
"The cold preserves me," she retorts. The ends of her thick, silver hair flit pompously in the wind.
"That's fine with me. Now that we've met, I'd rather not stay. Mind telling me where the exit is?"
"Well that's good and all, since I don't really care. Anyway, about the exit? Where is it?"
"You're the reason for everything."
"Everything? What's this everything I'm being blamed for?"
"You've turned her into a disastrous sort of woman. One who abandons everything. Her sense of self included. All for a single, stupid man."
He clenches his fists. "I'll ask slowly this time…"
"The fucking exit, where is it?"
"Ichigo? What's wrong?"
His eyes jerk open to find the white of that snowy landscape gone. The surrounding darkness his eyes remembered before closing seems to have also acquiesced to dawn.
"What is it, Ichigo?" He hears his wife ask again.
"You weren't asleep?" he overrides her question with his own. Once upright, he turns his head only slightly her way.
"Because I heard you—"
"A bad dream?"
"Don't worry about it. Go back to sleep"
Contrary to his suggestion, she sits up with him in bed. "It's already light outside," she says looking out the split between the curtains.
He's taken aback by her little reluctance to rising too early in the morning. "You're not tired anymore, Rukia?"
"No." The covers on the side of her bed get flipped; moments later the curtains are drawn open and her front side is illuminated pink. "So pretty," she praises the outside world. "We miss this sort of scene countless times without even realizing it."
At that, the chattering of worries in his head simply stops.
She says things like that without knowing how endearing it makes her.
Laughably, there once were days they would have deemed such a statement dangerous. In fact, any exchange of words was considered risky. A single word could undoubtedly be followed by a single look, and then alas, something would ignite! For example, she could at one minute be explaining her obscured view of how a stinkin' cloud resembles a half-bitten strawberry (nothing remotely close to being a sexy topic), and at the next minute he'd be pouncing on her!
Avoiding each other altogether became the next best strategy (that, of course, failed too). Those were some long, painful days.
Completely grateful now, he easily gives up the bed's warmth and endures the chill of hardwood floor to join her side.
"What is it?"
"What does Sode no Shirayuki look like?"
"Like looking at the most beautiful landscape, somehow. But. It's the image of her hair that's engrained into my mind. Smooth, long and dark as midnight. Kind of a mystery."
"Black hair, huh?"
"Why do you ask?"
"Nothing, was just curious."
"She can also be a little difficult though." Rukia laughed softly.
They go back to watching the sun shimmer over the horizon, its domain spreading steadily. They watch the floating pastel clouds. They watch the skyline deepen from pink to purple, then burn red to orange. Together they watch until the entire world is lit gold.
Sunlight is fierce on their faces at the height of morning's ascent. He brings her burning cheeks into his hands and she complies by leaning in. Without breaking their kiss, they amble back to bed.
Afterwards, for the short while they fall back asleep, he allows himself a peaceful dream, of a different morning long ago, on that little green hill with the large clouds moving fast above it.
They've gone and crossed the line. There was no turning back. Definitely no way now.
The hardest part was facing each other. She was awake; he knew for sure. He didn't need to see to confirm it. There was no mistake in the feeling of sound consciousness on the other half of the bed.
And now with their backs to one another, shoulders stiff from fear of touching, the two of them were just putting off what had already begun to appear.
Sunlight that streamed in soft and gentle would soon become harsh and glaring.
They couldn't deny that day had arrived, the same way they couldn't remain staring the other way forever.
"It's morning," he said hoarsely. There was silence on her part. After a while he began to wonder if Rukia might try to ignore him indefinitely.
"I could tell without your informing me," she finally quipped, much to his relief. Then he felt the bed covers being lifted, causing him to turn around without thinking.
He caught glimpse of her bare back. "Look the other way," she commanded.
"Oh-sorry." It annoyed him how little control he had over the way his face burned up.
"My," Rukia started, but the rest seemed to blend into thin air.
"What is it," he said, still afraid to look her way.
"My skirt. On your side of the—I think."
He gave no immediate reply.
"I can't reach it."
All he could do was stare at the gray, pleated skirt now sticking out obtusely on the floor near his bed.
"My skirt. Don't make me say it again," she said weakly.
When his brain finally caught up, all the reply he could manage was something like a grunt. For a bit, his oafish fingers fumbled over the cold, slightly damp fabric. He relinquished it to her as soon as it was in his hands. Without looking.
"Thanks," she muttered.
Her clothes rustled as she put them on. Only when the sounds stopped did he dare look her way. This time it was she who couldn't look at him. "Ichigo," she began.
"I already know. Pretend this didn't happen, right?" He got up to dress himself.
"There isn't any other way," she said in a manner of regret.
"Probably not. But," he said, unsure of what was propelling him forward now. "Come with me for a bit. There's a place," he paused at the burning of his face again. "I want to show you."
"A place you want to show me?"
"We should go before everyone else wakes up."
"But I don't understand. Why now—"
"You don't need to. Just listen to me this time, Rukia."
After the long hesitation she finally nodded.
Reaching the top of the hill she started to understand why he brought her there.
At the peak of the green, rolling lands the sun cast warm, stray lights on them. More impressive, were the roaming piles of clouds the sun trickled through. The large, white bodies moved rapidly over them, causing light to flicker on and off of their faces.
Yes, she understood exactly why he brought her there. She would get caught up in the beauty of this world. She would not like to relinquish this feeling of warmth on her skin. Her thoughts were only confirmed when she let him kiss her atop of that hill.
Yes, she knew. He would try to sway her. There was no intention on his part for going back to the way things were.
AN: Okay, so I tried my best to not look back at this chapter before submitting it in. It's a bit sloppy but damn it, I've got to update it sometime. Hard to believe it's been a year now. I've seriously written bits and pieces of this in the last 12 months and didn't get anywhere. I keep changing it, then would lose interest or didn't want to deal with it at all due to time or lack of motivation. But! As I have always said, I will never abandon this indefinitely. So thank you for sticking it out with me!
---Jun 16, 2007