notes: written for the livejournal community. march 13, 2006!
disclaimers: i do not own bleach or any of its characters.
and there was no other
When they first met, Ichigo's first
thought of Sado was only how very big he was, which made sense. It was
the thing most people first thought of upon seeing the boy. Sado's
first thought was of Ichigo's bright hair – which also made sense, but
the entire length of the thought was the notion that such bright orange
hair looked as soft and cuddly to the touch as a golden retriever puppy he'd seen
Obviously, Sado has never told Ichigo this, and hopes to never accidentally spill it out. Unfortunately, it's the first thing on his mind every time he sees Ichigo. It's a good thing, he decides firmly, that he isn't so talkative.
Ichigo looked older than his age as it was, but Sado looked twice as old as anyone in their class. Keigo joked about the pair of them being able to go to any store and buying plenty of alcohol and cigarettes for them all (this was, of course, two weeks after meeting Sado and finally realizing that he was not going to be hung by his underwear upside down for lunch money). Ichigo scowls and reacts violently, either with a punch or shove, and Sado quietly shakes his head.
Keigo huffs and pouts to Mizuiro how very unfair it was to have two such thug-like friends and not have all the thug-friend connections. Behind him, Ichigo is reading an old book with knitted eyebrows, silently drinking in the words, and Sado is petting a mangy stray cat.
"It's Sado, not Chad." Sado complains, over and over again, but eventually gives up. Ichigo has a fixation with foreign pop culture, especially in his middle school years, and attaches rock star names to all of the stray animals that manage to find Sado wherever they are, walking from school, hanging out at Sado's tiny apartment, always trapped on tree branches just low enough so only Sado can reach.
Sado tries not to have favorites, but he is only human. The orange tabby cat that seems to live in Sado's backyard trashcan for one day of the week. His name is 'Ziggy Stardust'.
Still in her first week of living in the human world (and Ichigo's closet), Rukia stared critically at Sado for five minutes during a portion of their lunchtime and then later remarked to Ichigo, out of the blue, "I like him". Ichigo lifted an eyebrow at the utter randomness of the statement, uttered in the midst of the comfortable silence the two had grown used to while walking towards the clinic (enjoying the peace, for once) – and then joined in a second later, "I like him too".
Liking Sado Yasutora is perhaps the only thing Rukia and Ichigo have ever, and will ever, agree on.
Karin is disappointed when Tatsuki stops coming by the clinic so often, once Ichigo quits lessons at the dojo. And when Tatsuki befriends Orihime and stops coming by altogether (around the same time Ichigo begins to realize that girls and boys being friends is Weird and what does it look like when a girl comes up into a teenage boy's room?), Karin becomes something like mildly depressed. Tatsuki was almost like an older sister to Karin, which is much different from having a twin sister and a deal nicer than an older brother. So when Sado comes by the Kurosaki Clinic to meet with Ichigo, Karin is frustrated. Sado is, by all appearances, the farthest thing from a girl one could get.
As time passes, she stops noticing the lack of breasts on Ichigo's friend and more on the strong, yet oddly lithe hands that could pick up things as well as pet them; the dark, tangly mess of hair she imagines would be oddly comforting to run one's fingers through; the deep, baritone voice that is kind of soothing and, she muses, a good singing voice.
She promises herself never to tell anyone about these terribly embarrassing thoughts to any living soul in the world. (And, so, she confesses to Rukia.)
Ichigo cares about looking cool, no matter how vehemently he would deny it. His scowl is always just enough to be at least 'tough' and not constipated (to him, anyways), his hair stylishly ruffled and unkempt, and most importantly, his clothes have to look cool. It pains his very coolness when he sees Sado one weekend, clad in a rather busy print of bold pink dragonflies and some sort of yellow tropical flower on a bright blue collar-shirt base.
"Ichigo. Did you say you wanted to go to the mall?"
Think of something less crowded. Less busy! Where we won't see people we know— Ichigo knitted his eyebrows in what he hoped was an easygoing, casual way. "Ah—euhh– you know what, Chad, we always do what I wanna do. Do you have any ideas?"
Sado thinks for a minute, and, though Ichigo has not yet known him long enough to be able to tell, smiles. "I do, one thing." He silently turns, and Ichigo follows, already relieved that their footsteps were going the opposite direction of the Karakura shopping center. For one heart stopping moment, Ichigo thinks Sado is leading them to the cemetery – the last place Ichigo wants to go, not when he just went two months ago. But, no, Sado takes a different turn on the sandy road that thankfully diverts their path from the graveyards.
Ichigo then finds himself surrounded by a plain-like area, with knee-length grass and plenty of other forestry. It is the tiny sanctuary separated by the forest in the cemetery, and the river that sometimes haunts Ichigo's dreams.
Sado has bent down, and Ichigo kneels down next to him to see a tiny brown rabbit scurrying through the field, leaving behind a shadow of wind-blown blades. Dragonflies, the same deep red color of Sado's shirt, dance amongst the tallest – proudest? – of the flowers and grass.
Ichigo accidentally slides his foot over a smooth rock; the brown rabbit quickly scurries away. Somehow, he can feel Sado's disappointment, as heavily as if it was his own, though it's not seen or heard. And suddenly he feels terrible, and subconsciously moves lower into the grass as if to hide his burning red face with him.
"That was nice," Sado said later as they walked back down the road. Ichigo avoids looking at the other road, leading to the cemetery, as if his life depends on it.
"Yeah," Ichigo says vaguely. "Hey, do you want to go get some noodles? I think that Asano kid said something about meeting me at the food court."
"That Tatsuki girl sure is something," Isshin chuckles, after Ichigo has come home beaming and sporting a beautiful blue hue on his knee. After shooing Ichigo away upstairs to prepare the bath for himself and his sisters, Masaki takes the offered hand and wraps it around her waist, rests her head on Isshin's shoulder comfortably.
"She's a good girl, if a bit rough," Masaki sighed. "It's just…I just wish Ichigo could find a friend who wasn't someone to protect, like his sisters – or someone to try to surpass, like Tatsuki-chan. Just someone who was…equal. Who could protect him as well as he could protect them."
Isshin merely kissed the top of his wife's auburn head – her golden crown, he liked to say – and smiled into her hair. "You worry too much, Masaki."
"Your grandmother was a beautiful woman." Sado's grandfather told him many nights after supper, when they came out to their crooked porch to look at the night and the thin smoke rising from his cigar.
"She had a good head, eyes as clear as glass, and powerful arms. What arms! They could carry ten children and give each an ample amount of love and care, and still have enough left over for an old kicker like me. She even protected me. She saved my life, your grandmother." He looked down at Sado, and the clear old eyes shined with something a 7-year old couldn't possibly identify.
"Life is better when you've got an equal partner to watch your back, boy. To fight each other's battles – and help each other win. That's true strength."
"I wasn't ever jealous," Tatsuki said. "Ever!"
She recalls that gang incident under the bridge, and her last-minute aid. In truth (in guilt), she had been watching the entire time, from when one of the thugs threw the first punch, and very reluctantly ran in at the last second. She had been too caught up staring at Ichigo's fighting-- sloppy form, after years of rusting, but more powerful than any punch she could remember him throwing at her-- and Sado's sheer strength; and the looks on their faces as they stood back-to-back, breathing heavily, cuts and scrapes shared happily between the two of them, like it made the pain more bearable. They were smiling.
Tatsuki knows that could've been, should've been her down there with them. Boys.
He is silent and unmovable, and he is fierce and unrelenting. Together they are endless and they are unending, to be able to fight equally and for each other is so important, they can find it.
Sado is unmovable to the last moment, and then he is pushed by the unrelenting. He tries to forget his ragged breathing and to calm his lungs, but all he can feel is fire in his chest, fire in his throat, fire in the fists that can not hurt or help Ichigo, not anymore—
Sado does not have enough money to support himself and all the strays he befriends. Sooner before later, he and Ichigo find themselves in the back alley of Sado's house, staring down at the still body of tiny Iggy Pop, a skinny grey kitten that had looked too sickly to live very long anyways. Even with all his prior expectancy and dreaded fear for this moment, Sado still feels terrible. Ichigo is uncomfortable more than anything, but he also had had a slight affection for the cat he named.
"So," Ichigo clears his throat nervously. (Death has never been his smooth area.) "Should we bury him?"
"It was a her." Sado reminded him.
"Its name was Iggy Pop."
"You named her. Even after I told you it was a girl. And anyways, Iggy sounds like a foreign girl's name."
"Iggy Pop was— " Ichigo begins indignantly, but falters at the terrible blankness on Sado's face. He wishes he was someone else, even goofy Keigo, someone who had that innate ability to lighten things up even at the worst of times.
"There are these flowers my sister Yuzu always somehow finds in the field by the river." Ichigo mumbles. "They look really nice. And if you have a shovel or something…"
"Could we…you mean, at that field?" Sado says, surprised.
"Yeah." Ichigo tries, for Sado's sake, at a smile. This, more than anything, finally pulls Sado away from the sad picture of struggle and death in the body of a small, starving animal. He goes inside to get the shovel, feeling better, bit by bit.
"Do animals in the human world go to Soul Society too?" Ichigo asks gruffly one night.
Rukia looks up, so startled by the intrusion of their (for once) peaceful silence in the tiny bedroom. There is a thick pencil line where her hand slipped from surprise. She narrows her eyes at him at first, like it was a trap, and when realizing the sincerity behind the question, looks even more taken aback.
"Er," Rukia starts, "there is a fashion. We shinigami do not actually know where the animals' souls go – we have tried soul burials before, only to find that they have already swiftly departed, perhaps the moment their bodies have finished their mortal lifetime. Researchers and theorists in the 12th division think that perhaps animals, being so much smaller and less complicated and less full of human emotions and sins—oh, it is complicated!"
"Just answer the question," Ichigo said, sounding more curious than he would've liked.
"I think," Rukia forms the words slowly on her tongue, staring straight at Ichigo, "that animals go straight to a less complicated afterlife than ours. Simply a separate heaven, with no limbo or resurrection. Just peace for the soul. This is what I would hope, but it is much too simple for a real scientist's theory."
"Yeah." Ichigo says absentmindedly (but it's not; he's recorded every single word in his mind, and he hopes he doesn't forget too soon to tell). "I hope so too."
"I do hope foxes go to a separate heaven, at least." Rukia adds unhappily, more to herself than anything. Frowning, she studies the stark black line blemishing one of the long ears of her drawn creation.
Despite all unlikeliness, Sado does go out with a girl sometime in their last year of high school, much to the irritation of a Kurosaki(s). It is a plain, but pretty girl; polite, patient, forgettable. She had a thing for 'tall, dark, and handsome', apparently. Ichigo thinks she's silly and useless, of course.
"Of course you would, Ichigo." Keigo says, a true appreciator of all forms of the female sex. "All your girl friends are like Arisawa – and then there's Inoue! Sweet, sweet, Inoue, waiting on your oblivious, useless, selfish self!" Keigo finishes, all flustered and worked into a passion. Ichigo ignores him, and waits for Sado to come up to the roof for lunchtime, feeling annoyed and irritated for no real reason.
"So?" Ichigo says expectantly when Sado's dark mop of hair steps out from the shadow of the door.
"Ah?" He has to think a moment before realizing. "Oh. She was nice."
"How nice?" Mizuiro asks innocently, like a true expert.
"Nice." Sado took a bite of his soggy bread before starting again. "I think she said she'd like to go out again one day?"
"Hnn." Ichigo says simply, and drops it at that. Sado doesn't go out with her again.
Years later, after the last battle is fought, the last glimpse of death (before a lengthy peace, and even then only short interludes) has faded from memory, Ichigo asks Sado where he was while he was up there. And they both know what he means by 'up there' -- there, where all the limbs and trailing dust and ashes falling to the ground until long after those clear eyes had finally gone dull--
"Fighting." Sado says, his tall figure standing impassively in front of a patch of withered flowers. Dragonflies are flitting lazily around in the warm summer heat. He turns.
"Right next to you. You couldn't see?"
Even Sado forgets Soul Society before long, but a shinigami has an eternity to forget things that happened fairly recently, from their perspective. Shunsui does not forget Sado; and would like not to. There was a boy an old man could learn a thing or two from. He tells Ukitate about their meeting, and what Sado explained was his exact reason for being in a completely foreign world to save a girl he hardly knew.
"Friendship," Ukitake smiles wanly (he does not feel so well today). "It seems to carry Kurosaki Ichigo around by its wings."
They sit together on a cool autumn day, outside Ukitake's cozy shelter. Shunsui and Ukitake's two lieutenants would prefer the captain to rest, but Ukitake protests that it is a beautiful day.
"Yes," Shunsui agrees mildly, sipping from his wooden cup. "And trust. Complete and utter trust. That was something you could see in that boy, Ukitake, clear as glass." Shunsui grins at his frail companion.
Ichigo went through a phase – many middle-school boys do – where he considered himself something of a photographic genius. He went around everywhere snapping pictures with his father's old fish-eye lens camera, all 10 kilograms of it. He took a whole series of portraits of Sado standing next to random objects – a food can, a toothbrush, a stuffed animal (Sado's choice).
He was thoroughly embarrassed by it the following year, and immediately trashed the pictures in favor of his father's old Telecaster. ("Daddy's cool too, Ichigo! Check this Jimi Hendrix impression out!") Sado managed to salvage a few of the pictures. They are tucked away in an old photo album his grandfather handed down to him.
Ichigo admires Sado, more than anything. He knows that their friendship is based upon a mutual, equal respect – that it is fragile that way, without one or the other. It has never been that, in truth; anything but, more like. Ichigo knew who was stronger, when it came down to it. He was still protected.
Then, along came Rukia, and after her, Soul Society, Sandal-hat and Yoruichi-san and all of them; his head's still reeling from all of the faces he saw. The balance shifted. For once and at last, Ichigo is stronger. So why won't Chad meet his eye anymore; why does Rukia keep on giving him those severe Kuchiki Byakuya looks; and why does he feel so guilty?
"Please," Sado begs, for perhaps the first time in his life, "Train me, Urahara-san."
It's the only way, until he can stop feeling so much blood pounding around his ears from the shame, the humiliation; what else can he do, if he can't help or hurt? There's so much going on, and Ichigo is leaving him, not only him, but everyone far, far behind, and he wants to help, so badly it hurts and there are no dragonflies anymore, the season has passed. All he has left to do is train.
He will fight by Ichigo's side again.