XXIV: PIECES OF A DREAMNow
It's raining again – pouring, actually. Buckets of water fall from the sky instead of normal raindrops, soaking everyone and everything and drumming on the roof of the small shop.
Inside, all is quiet, save for the soft rustling of pages being turned and the squeaking of a pencil being dragged on blank paper.
A tall, muscular boy who looks about twenty years old stands behind the counter, an open register on his right, several sheets of papers in front of him and a pile of coins and banknotes on his left. He copies a few prices and absentmindedly rubs his stiff neck, his attention unwavering.
There's something reassuring in the honesty of numbers. They're probably the only thing everybody can understand, a bridge between Soul Society and Earth. Renji often wishes he could remember the name of the old woman who taught him his numbers, so he wouldn't be tricked anymore – but he can't. Probably he never knew.
Still, what started out as a necessity soon turned into a pleasure – probably the only one he could ever get from Area 78.
He remembers keeping watch over his sleeping friends at night, when he tried calculation after calculation to stay awake – making up random numbers and summing, multiplying, deducting and dividing them.
Somebody taps at the front door, but Renji doesn't look up. "We're closed. " he says, lost in his own world of numbers.
The knocking continues. Renji huffs as he realizes he has copied twice the same sum. "I told you we're closed, are you deaf!" He finally raises his head, glaring daggers at the annoying bugger – and finds himself staring into a familiar pair of deep black eyes. Said eyes happen to be glaring at him with scorching anger – but that's a familiar sensation as well.
Renji stares and blinks as his brain slowly emerges from a fog of figures and registers the sight of Arisawa Tatsuki drenched to the bone.
As her scowls deepens, he finally shakes himself out of his stupor and rushes to open the door.
"What the Hell are you doing out here in this weather, you idiot!" he yells as he locks the door behind her. "Are you crazy or what?"
"I was caught in the storm." Tatsuki replies, crossing her arms to her chest and trying to look as dignified as possible – which isn't much when you're dripping all over the floor and looking every inch like a cat fallen into a barrel of water.
Renji mutters something about irresponsible teenage girls. "You're going to leave a puddle on the floor! Come with me!"
Shivering, she follows him into the storage room. Behind all the weird-shaped boxes and overly-colored crates, they have created what could be considered a small room: there's a futon on the floor near the wall, a chest of drawers against the other one, a solitary chair, an electric heater and a gas ring with some cutlery in the opposite corner. Grayish daylight comes in through a skylight high on the wall.
The red-head gestures toward the only furniture in his room. "My clothes are there, look if there's something that fits you."
Tatsuki looks uncertain. "But….won't you need them?"
Renji shrugs. "Tomorrow I'll go back to Soul Society. Those are human clothes."
Tatsuki isn't a girl who wears her heart upon her sleeves – yet, right in this second, an unidentified emotion flickers in her eyes, flashing on her face.
Renji isn't sure he wants to know what it was, so he clears his throat and beats a hasty retreat.
He goes back to his numbers, trying to finish his work, but, somehow, his mind always slips back on the black-haired girl in the other room.
It's incredible how she can distract him even with a wall and a closed door between them.
He glances at the wet footprints she left on the floor, half-wondering if Urahara expects him to mop them up, and then decides he doesn't really care.
Mechanically copying more sums, the red-headed Shinigami recalls the previous afternoon, when he said goodbye to the human friends. During his time on Earth, he started appreciating them – even care about them on a different level than duty.
Their parting had been really sad – more than he had anticipated. However, there had been the undisputed advantage of saying goodbye to Tatsuki in public. It had been rather easy to detach himself from her, to move on and discard his hopeless crush.
But now Tatsuki is here. With all her fire and her stubbornness and her pride and her temper and all the other things that make her simply herself – and simply larger than life.
She's here with him.
And Renji doesn't know what is going to happen.
The door opens and close. Soft footsteps reverberate on the floor. Renji doesn't look up – also because the final sum is wrong, but he can't find the mistake.
"Can I use the phone?" she asks politely.
Renji still doesn't look up. "Yes, but only for a short call."
Even though his eyes are still fixed on the paper, he knows she's rolling her eyes.
Tatsuki hauls herself up on the counter and grabs the phone, dialing a number. " 'Hime? Listen, I was caught in the storm… no, I've already found cover, I'm at Urahara's shop. However, I'm going to tell my parents that I'm staying at your place….Yes, I know it's not nice, but you know how they are…Yeah, I had enough of walking in the rain for at least a month…Can hardly wait to get a driving license, it wouldn't be so terrible now, would it? We're both so unlucky with our birthdays."
Renji clears his throat rather loudly and she rolls her eyes again. "Gotta go, Abapin here is starting to complain – as if he was the one to pay for the bill!" Tatsuki sighs dramatically. "Talk to you later. Thanks a lot, 'Hime, I owe you."
She hangs up, then picks up the phone again. "Mom? It's me. Listen, I'm at Orihime's. I'll stay here until tomorrow, since it's raining so hard…." she huffs "It's Friday evening, I have the whole weekend to study…Yes, don't worry, I'll come back home early….Say hi to dad for me. Goodnight."
Tatsuki hangs up and places the phone back on the counter. Renji is still scanning the list of numbers, searching for the elusive mistake. "I never took you for one who lies to her parents, honey." he remarks casually.
"And I never took you for one who listen to other people's phone calls, Abapin." she shots back.
"Aw, shut up! You're distracting me with you stupid phone calls!" he growls.
"What? The great Abarai Renji, undisputed genius at mathematics, can't solve a few sums?"
He opens his mouth to reply, but forgets to keep his eyes on said sums – and all the harsh words die on his lips. Tatsuki is sitting there, wearing one of his white shirts, hair still half-wet and messily sticking to her head. Mischievous black eyes, always dancing with fire, are staring straight at him and freezing him on the spot.
It's Urahara's clock that saves him from embarrassment – ringing that weird march that signals it's time to "draw the curtain", as the bizarre store-owner likes to put it. More prosaically, it means it's time to lower the rolling-shutter.
Renji walks out toward the shop's front door. "You said you're staying, right?" he says as he starts closing everything.
The girl mumbles a reply – when Renji turns around, he finds her scribbling on his papers.
"What the Hell do you think you are doing!" he shouts, crossing the room in a few strides.
Tatsuki ignores him. "You switched these two numbers. It was 18.50, not 15.80."
"No way," he grunts." I can't have done such a silly mistake!" he grabs the papers – and notices that in fact he has. Grumbling under his breath, he corrects the mistake and the final sum is absolutely perfect. He copies it down on the register and adds short note telling Urahara he should take better care of his accounts and it's a miracle the shop hasn't closed down yet.
Tatsuki chuckles. "Our teacher wouldn't have been impressed…"
"Oh, shut up! It's all your fault anyway."
"My fault? I certainly didn't write those chicken scrawls!"
"You certainly didn't mind those chicken scrawls when I graciously allowed you to copy my math test! See if I ever do that again."
Again, something entirely different flashes on her face. "Not like you could anyway."
Renji, too caught up in his own anger – in the turmoil of his soul – misunderstands. "Why not? You know I'm better than you at maths!"
Tatsuki sighs. "Must we always end up fighting?" she says, suddenly looking very tired. Or maybe she's not tired, she's merely – sad.
Renji opens his mouth, then closes it again. Silences stretches like a cobweb between them. Both the Shinigami and the human girl stare at each other, studying each other like opponents in a spar no one was willing to lose.
"Why are you here, Tatsuki?" he says, even if he's not very sure he wants to know the answer.
"Many reasons." she replies.
Renji starts losing his temper. "That's not an answer!" he comes closer, eyes flashing, although the high counter reduces a lot the height difference between them. "Why? I have the right to know!"
It looks like it's going to end in the usual way, as if nothing changed from their very first meeting – or their very first fight.
Renji's talking, no, more like shouting, but Tatsuki doesn't listen, doesn't hear. Behind closed eyelids, memories of the last months flow like a movie and it seems to her that her life – their lives until now have been going in circles, never straying from a path that leads nowhere but is deemed safe – maybe exactly because of that.
She sees all the signs they pretended not to notice, all the words they didn't say, all the opportunities they missed to break the odious circle and start another path – dangerous, unknown and without a definite end. It's against common sense – especially now, that it's almost too late.
But she's fed up with going in circles.
Tatsuki opens her eyes and kisses Renji fully on his lips. She clutches the edge of the counter, forcing herself not to touch him, not yet. What's going to happen now is entirely up to him.
And Renji kisses her back, fighting for dominance over the kiss as he wraps his arms around her waist and all but crushes her against his chest.
Tatsuki hugs him back, pulling him closer still, untying his hair and running her hands through it.
Time stops for them. There's no tomorrow, no parents and no superior officers – only this and here and now, because this night is all they have and deep down they both know.
This time, they won't waste it. They can't afford to waste it.
So, there's no complaints, no recriminations, no afterthoughts. They're both made of fire – and together, they burn.
Renji pulls her down from the counter and they stumble blindly through the shop and into the storeroom, to the corner that acts as "Renji's bedroom" and to his bed.
They make love just like they fight: fiercely, wildly, ardently, with all their souls. They don't take it slowly, nor gently – but it doesn't matter, it doesn't make it any less satisfying or less memorable.
Outside, it's still raining, a hundred thousand drops tapping and ticking against the walls.
Inside, a unique harmony created by two ragged breathing patterns, two wild heartbeats playing along with the soft whisper of their names.
Nothing else matters, only this song without a tune they make.
Then, the beat gradually slows down and fades into the background. The rain dancing on the rooftop is the only sound filling the shop as they lie entangled into each other's arms, both unwilling to let go. None dares to speak, lest they might break whatever spell has kept all rational thoughts under lock and key until now and reality manages to reach them through the barrier of raindrops.
Renji stares at the ceiling, his fingers drawing lazy circles on Tatsuki's shoulder. She has an arm haphazardly draped over his stomach and every slow breath she takes sweeps over his chest.
Tatsuki's gaze is lost somewhere between the chest of drawers and the electric stove.
Contrary to popular belief, Renji can appreciate a bit of peace and calm from time to time, but this kind of silence is rapidly getting to his nerves – or maybe the unwanted thoughts it brings are.
There's something unnatural in being quiet and silent when Tatsuki is around.
"Hey," he speaks up. "Whatcha thinking about?"
"Nothing. Everything. Don't know."
Renji kisses her and she kisses him back just as ardently. When they part, Tatsuki looks at him in the eyes for a moment, then turns away and lies back down. "Where're two idiots, Renji."
He tries not to look startled – for he was thinking just the same.
"One idiot and a half, with your height or lack thereo-OUCH!"
"Serves you right." she says, but she's smiling. "My size is perfect."
Renji smirks evilly, then reaches out and cups one of her breasts. "I quite agree on that, honey…"
At least 50 different shades of color wash over Tatsuki's face. "YOU PIG!"
This time, she hits him harder.
"OW! What, as if you didn't l…"
Whatever that "L" stands for, no one will ever now, for Tatsuki whacks him again. Flushing, she opens her mouth to reply, but a loud growling sound coming from her stomach stops her – and causes her cheeks to redden even more.
Renji laughs. "Looks like somebody made a lot of exercise, lately…"
His stomach growls in response and this time, Tatsuki's clear laugh fills the room. "So, also Shinigamis can get hungry from – exercising." she pokes him. "Interesting."
The red-headed boy rolls out of bed and puts his underwear back on. "Well, let's see if there's something left…"
Instinctively, he reaches for a rubber band to tie his hair again. Tatsuki, guessing his purpose, gently lays a hand on his arm – not really gripping, merely adding the faint pressure of a butterfly's wing. "Don't. I like the way you look with your hair down."
Renji carelessly drops the hair tie and shrugs. "Okay."
She smiles at him and follows his lead, putting on her knickers and the borrowed, oversized shirt.
As he checks his reserves of food, she starts laying the table without even being asked to.
"I fear there's not much – tea and biscuits is okay for you?" Renji asks a bit worriedly.
"It's perfect." she replies.
They eat together, trading smart remarks back and forth – faking a normality that doesn't belong to them, pretending a routine that never was and never will be.
Still, behind the curtain of rain, cut off from the world – both worlds – it's easy to play this game of make-believe. Much too easy. It shouldn't come so natural.
The whole situation should be awkward, but it's not.
They should feel guilty, but they don't.
They should regret this, but they can't – it's the only thing they'll ever have, so they have no intention whatsoever to regret it.
Still, it shouldn't come so natural.
Renji should not feel like kissing her again – he shouldn't give in to his desire so easily. He should not want her again.
But he does.
And Tatsuki kisses him back, this time slowly and tenderly – as if they had all the time in the world.
Renji hugs her close, raining soft kisses on her skin like the clouds outside spray the rest of the world.
That's all they do, at least for a long time – as if they were a normal couple.
Those kisses, however sweet and chaste, little by little awaken a soft, irresistible fire beneath their skin.
"Shall we go back to bed?" Renji says, holding out his hand to her.
Tatsuki simply grabs it and pulls herself up, following him.
He brings her closer again, kissing her neck, and she laughs, then breaks the embrace. Tatsuki sits down on the futon, her legs folded under her body, and starts unbuttoning the white shirt she's wearing.
Renji sits by her side and catches her hands in his own, effectively stilling them. "Let me…" he whispers, softly kissing her neck. Tatsuki tilts her head, exposing more of her skin, and drops her hands to her sides. " 'kay…"
Renji kisses her again, slowly pushing the first button through its buttonhole.
Tatsuki holds back a sigh, feeling his long, warm fingers barely touch her skin – but she can't possibly suppress a small, surprised gasp when Renji's lips follow his hands' trail, worshipping the tanned skin he just uncovered.
Another button undone, another tender kiss bestowed.
Tatsuki buries her hands into his hair and leans back onto the futon. His lips never leave her skin, only moving lower and lower. He lingers a bit on her bellybutton, dipping his tongue into the small crevice and making her giggle.
The last button is unfastened as well and he advances on her abdomen, kissing along the waistband of her panties.
Tatsuki pulls him up and covers his wandering lips with her own in a heated kiss.
However, this time they won't rush it. This time, they want to remember everything. Every touch, every kiss, every single feeling.
Renji is looking straight at her, making her heart beat faster, and Tatsuki struggles to keep her eyes open. Although all those sweet sensations almost overwhelm her, she doesn't want to miss anything.
But it's difficult, even more difficult when their bodies finally join again – it's even more intense than before, like the rushing downpour of a waterfall.
As her hands roam all over his body, Tatsuki wonders how is it possible that, for two times in a row, both found themselves perfectly following the very same rhythm, without a single word being spoken between them. It's like magic, really.
She grabs Renji's hand and intertwines her finger with her own, all the while placing butterfly kisses on his chest.
A light shudder runs through his body and he hisses out a deep breath. As he keeps on thrusting steadily into her, Renji marvels at this feelings that shoots right through him, reaching the very essence of his being.
He thought that making love when forced in a gigai would be awkward, that everything would be muffled, dulled – instead, it's proving to be absolutely overwhelming.
Renji thinks he can feel the fire of her – that very fire that first captivated him – somehow being passed on unto him through her touch alone. He can feel it tingling under his skin – especially wherever in comes in contact with her own.
It's only through sheer willpower that they manage to keep it slow – drawing out every single drop of pleasure, delaying to the very last moment.
Until their fire can't be controlled any longer and flares up – it's just too strong, too hot, too everything and it crashes unto them like a tempest.
Tatsuki arches her back and screams, holding on to him for dear life. Renji's grip on her thigh slips a little as he dissolves with her.
Then, there's only the rain – and deep breaths and slow kisses again.
They lie entangled in each other's arms again, only this time it's Renji who has an arm draped over Tatsuki.
She is the first to fall asleep. Renji stays awake for a while, slowly caressing her hair and trying to sort out his jumbled thoughts.
He's thinking that if the higher ups ever find out, they'll skin him alive and slowly roast him over a low fire. He's thinking that this night was one of the best times of his life.
He's thinking he's very glad he'll have to leave come morning, for he's damn afraid to face what could come next. He's thinking they truly are idiots and how much he wishes he could stay – if only for a little bit longer.
Little by little, he succumbs to sleep as well and all these thoughts fade away without a trace.
Tomorrow, they'll wake up to a bright, sunny day and pretend everything's just fine. They'll get dressed quietly and she'll politely turn down his offer to have breakfast together, saying she's not hungry.
He'll walk her to the door and they'll exchange an awkward farewell.
And right there on the shop's threshold, there will be a passionate, reckless, unplanned kiss – their last kiss goodbye.
Then, she'll walk out of his life and he'll go back to his world, both holding the memory of this night close to their heart.
With the break of day, the end will come – or maybe, in the long run, it will only prove to be a new beginning.
But they still can't know that.
Until then, they'll just sleep through the night, wrapped in each other's arms.
The End (?)
Author's note: At last, the end. I still can't promise a date for the sequel(s), but I promise you I'll write them.
I hope the ending was not too disappointing… Let me know what you think.
A huge thank you to all my faithful readers and my kind reviewers – your support meant a lot for me.