the stories he could tell
(Written for LJ: 20 souls)
Chad's mother was one-quarter Scottish, one-eighth Thai, three-eighths Japanese and one-quarter Portuguese. Chad's father was one-quarter Brazilian, three-tenths Japanese, two-tenths Chinese and one-quarter Mexican. He's got half the world swimming in his ancestry. He doesn't know what his grandfather was, but he knows the old man saw the world, every corner of it, before he decided to make a dusty street in a city that had forgotten its name his home.
Long, hot evenings watching the sky turn black together, he tells Chad about two-headed butchers and swimming lighthouses and banshees that laughed at bad jokes. He tells Chad about the country he was born in (Nigeria) and the country he grew up in until his parents died (Japan, the way Chad doesn't remember it), and about all the countries Chad will see one day.
Where are you from? The first year after they'd met, Ichigo asked this every week, first because he was curious and later just to see what Chad would say next. Chad runs through every place he remembers, and then starts again, and Ichigo tells him he's repeating himself.
Where did he come from? Everywhere and nowhere.
Chad's oldest possession is a postcard so old the cardboard has turned the colour of tea and the corners are dog-eared. It has a stamp from a country he's never seen, and ink so faded he can't even read the writing anymore. But he knows the story by heart; he's never had to read it.
On the other side, a picture of blue sky, bluer sea, green grass, and a row of statues. They face the sea, tall, rectangular heads older than memory and blacker than the night, and he knows their faces almost better than he knows his own.
He doesn't quite know who told him the story. He remembers a man's voice, a woman's laughter, strong arms holding him close. Someone telling him, like a fairy tale, once upon a time -
There was an island and there was a sea, and on that island lived shamans, beautiful and wise and powerful, who built for themselves great stone guardians to stand watch over the sea and protect all who passed the island. But as time passed, the seas grew rougher, men from the outside world came to disturb the peace of their home, and the shamans had to leave and wander the world, while their numbers grew fewer and fewer.
Finally, there came a time when there was only one left. He was old, and lonely, and far from the home of his ancestors, but he had not forgotten the magics of his people. Afraid that they would be lost when he died, he made himself a child, carved of black stone, and with his last breath, gave it life. And that child came to be knowing that that it had been made to protect those around it. It carried the secrets of the lost race of shamans, and would search the world until it had found someone to teach those arts to, that one day the shamans could return again to their island in the sea, and the child could join the guardians they had left there.
"- my black stone child," a voice would sing, and laugh. "Oh, my beautiful, beautiful black stone child."
So Chad knows stories don't have to be true to be important. This is why he is Orihime's most patient listener - she could talk for hours, wandering through a hundred different lands, but when she comes back, he'll still be there.
When his parents died, Chad thinks he went half-wild. He'd never been very tame to begin with – he remembers being the silent child in the playground the other children wouldn't go near, and how some afternoons he went home from school with blood in his mouth and sand scraped into his knees. His mother would tsk and clean his wounds and his father would pretend not to see, but later, when Chad was falling asleep, he'd sit by his bed and murmur low songs into his dreaming ear. And then they were gone, and Chad didn't have a reason to stop fighting and come home at all.
It was his grandfather who taught him to be human again. Chad never learns to smoke himself, but all his life, the smell of cigarette smoke calms him like nothing else will. He thinks he never learned because he could never find the exact brand – a green star on the box and a particular smell, of tobacco and nicotine, yes, but of burning grease and tea leaves too.
A rap on the knuckles. "That's not how you hit someone," his grandfather told him. Chad stared up and he smiled, lazy and warm like the sun. "First," he said, hunkering down to look the boy in the clear brown eye, "you learn why you should hit someone. Then when we're done with that, I'll show you how to make sure they don't get up again."
Chad buys his loud print shirts from a tiny shop tucked in the basement of Karakura's main mall. It's run by a little old lady who keeps an opium pipe she never smokes and props her shop door open with an antique sewing machine. She used to be a seamstress herself, she tells him, but now she just sources the clothes from all sorts of places. Warehouses, garage sales, thrift shops and abandoned attics, once from a garbage dump even, where someone had dumped a beautiful bolt of blue cloth covered in yellow dragons. Treasures everywhere you look, mustn't let them go to waste! Chad nods and buys the shirt with the dragons, though he never wears it.
On his hip, a scar, pale and puckered like a lopsided star, a reminder of being nine years old and fishing for guppies in a canal. He slipped and fell in, and would have drowned if not for a passing woman on a pink and orange scooter, who dragged him out and drove him home dripping wet and bleeding with a lemon yellow helmet on his head.
11. The neighbourhood he lives in isn't bad so much as it is shabby and run down and just enough out of sight that most people forget it's there at all. Maybe that's why the place is overrun by strays, feral, mangy things that spit and bite and keep the morning hours alive with their noisy rooftop battles. He knows he can't really keep a pet, he can barely feed himself some days; but sometimes he eats dinner sitting in his backdoor, and shares the scraps with the few cats and dogs tame enough to eat from his hand.
"We should form our own band," Ichigo says the year they leave high school. Chad stares at him for a moment, then points out, "We can't play." Ichigo grins, wide and awful. "So we can learn, can't be that hard. Look at the kind of crap they put out these days! No one's going to care so long as we look cool and pose a lot." Chad blinks at him. Ichigo gives it up when he begins to laugh, and flops back down on the grass. "Probably more fun to laugh at 'em," he agrees.
For years, Chad kept a broken transistor radio on his windowsill, where it collected dust and dead leaves and got rained on, and once a bird tried to steal the rusted antenna. His grandfather had bought it from a man with a mouth full of gold teeth and four fingers on each hand; somehow, he just never threw it away. Karin found it, one of those days when she decided she wanted to know where he lived and invited herself in. She shook it till it rattled, and fiddled with the dials, and finally gave it a battery from her MD player – it'd been running out anyway, she said. The radio squealed into life, and he blinked, and then it crackled "LALALA LALALALA - I JUST CAN'T GET YOU OUT OF MY –"
Karin slapped the off dial and scowled. He blinked again. "You hate that song?" he asked. "Yuzu plays it non-stop when she does her Math homework!" Karin all but snarled. "You're laughing," she added, annoyed, when he smiled. "Ah? No –" She dumped the radio back on the windowsill, and it stayed there for years after, until it felt apart from the rust.
Chad can't dance. This surprises no one, but it doesn't stop Orihime from trying to teach him anyway. "I know you can do it!" she tells him, flailing her arms and teetering on one foot. "You just have to learn to see the dancing music signals floating in the air!" He catches her when she finally loses her balance. "There," she says, beaming up at him. "I know you can do it, you're starting to get it already!"
He's spent his whole life listening, not speaking. It's not until his first child is born that he learns otherwise. His son is ten months old when his wife drops his son into his arms, squalling and screaming. "Tell him a story," she says, brisk, when he looks at her, half-alarmed, half-puzzled.
He's not sure he knows how. But he's spent a lot of his life listening to stories - the stories people tell and the stories they don't. He's not very good at passing them on to begin with, but he has time, years and months and even decades of it. He learns.
Ichigo finds seeing dead people an annoyance more than anything else. But Chad doesn't mind it so much. The dead are lonely, he likes listening, and it's not such a bad way to spend the darkest hours of nights when he can't sleep.
Chad's laugh is silent, so silent you would think he never laughed at all if you didn't know to see the signs. It begins somewhere in the corners of his mouth, and from the middle of his chest rumbles up to the back of his throat, almost too low to be heard, and it's like watching an earthquake shake a mountain.
He doesn't fall in love so much as he wakes up one morning and realises that he doesn't have to keep wandering anymore, because he's found the one still point in the world, immovable and sure, and that it's sprawled on his living room couch glaring blearily up at him.
His grandfather gave him a medallion the week he died. Chad wears it the same way the old man did, on a thin chain under his shirt, and of all the stories his grandfather gave him, this is the only one Chad asked for, and the only one he was never told. "Yours. Just yours," his grandfather had rasped and laughed, when Chad asked what it was. Callused fingers, wrapping his hands around the warm gold. "Never let it go."
Chad has a lot of promises to keep.
Chad knows: everything changes. All things, good or bad, end. Nobody lives forever. But sometimes, sitting by the river, standing on the school roof, walking down an empty road, he feels Ichigo beside him, and knows that there's someone at his back whatever happens - maybe that's a kind of immortality too.
And maybe forever doesn't look too bad.