Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach, its characters, etc. etc.
By TYSON GRANGER
Her lips are softer than I imagined. Not that I imagined this situation or anything. In my wildest dreams I could scarcely have forecast my current predicament. Our legs are intertwined and our fingers linked as we lay on the cool summer grass by the waterfront. My black hair is spilled out unceremoniously on the green blades at my back, and somewhere in the back of my mind I know that this is not how I had imagined my first kiss.
Thinking back on it now, I am not sure I ever actually had imagined my first kiss. My concentration had always been reserved only for my quincy training and the duties that being the last of my proud race entailed. Romance simply was not a part of the equation. I never questioned the wisdom of those ideals, ideals forged by unwavering loyalty to the teachings of my late sensei. His memory kept me focused…my failure cementing my debt to carry on his legacy.
I wonder now if I am betraying his memory by lying with this beautiful woman not 24 hours before I am to depart to the world of the hated shinigami. Actually, even that thought is a fleeting one that disappears the second she replaces her uninjured hand softly from mine to my cheek. Her touch is feather-light, steady…while the texture of her fingers is coarse. She conducts her ministrations with a practiced ease, despite the hardness of her digits. Mine are not the only trained hands in this psalm of lovers, it seems.
Her bare knee rides up against my long, uniform pants. I wince as I think how the backside of this particular pair will require special care in order to remove the grass stains caused by her overwhelming onslaught of my lips and body. I am usually so neat and calm, serious to a fault. Grass stains are a bane upon my nature, and thus they annoy me to no end. The offending joint rides just a little bit further up, brushing the clothed inside of my upper thigh, and she kisses me with a fire that curls my toes.
On second thought, never mind grass stains. Let me just forget that little trifle as I lose myself in another soul-searing lip-lock. Her dark eyes are clouded as she pulls away momentarily and I lament the distance between us. It is dangerous to get caught up in such a passionate embrace and the look in her eye tells me that whatever thread of control she is clinging to is beginning to fail her. Luckily, my own self-indulgence will be limited by an overly-rational conscience. I have no desire to take things too far, no matter how wonderful it feels. Actually, I never planned for this to happen at all.
She leans and brushes her parched lips against the side of my mouth and then pulls away just enough. Her tongue, alluring and pink, darts out and wets the soft flesh. A shudder runs down my spine and I think that it might quite possibly be the most feminine act in which she has ever been caught. It is an impossibly attractive move, saved for me, alone. I savor the moment, and then the taste of her as I indulge in another breathtaking kiss.
When she pulls away, panting, lips parted breathlessly and eyes still clouded over, I tell myself that was the last one. My resolve is crumbling beneath this dark-haired beauty and her unbridled passion. How I managed to awaken this within her of all people is a mystery to all but her own heart and mind, but I cannot resist the pride I feel in knowing that it was me that brought it out. I can barely resist the inclination to see just how much of this new her I can draw forth. It is an urge both mental and physical, curiosity mingling with an undeniable craving that can only be described as the beginnings of a dangerous lust.
That is why our previous kiss has to be the last one. My eyes are glazing and my chest is heaving. Not even ten days of training with the sanrei glove managed to separate my lungs so completely from the precious oxygen needed for my body to properly function. I try to catch my breath in order to speak my protest, but somehow hers returns faster and her lips crash onto mine with the word 'wait' still dangling on the tip of my tongue. Said protest died shortly thereafter, and was set to be buried at a tearful memorial service the next morning. I am so sad.
Her free hand slides from my cheek down to the collarbone, brushing purposefully over my chest, down towards the hand nearest to her own. The possibility that she has sensed resistance only crosses my mind when that same hand slides down the exposed skin of my arm to my wrist and catches it in an undeniably strong grip. She pins my arm securely overhead in one deft motion, and I realize now that she has no intention of stopping just yet. Our lips never lose contact.
I can feel her casted arm roam precariously towards my other hand…it serves warning that she is not above using it as a restraint as well. I know how it would hurt for her to do so and make the chivalrous (not) decision not to test the unspoken threat. The free hand slides unbidden towards the trapped limb and my body betrays me to her. She catches the thin wrist with her loose fingers and 'forces' both my upper limbs into submission on the patch of green beneath them. I am surprised at how little the position bothers me.
In fact, the only word I can think of to describe her aggressive maneuvers is one I rarely use since I hate crude terms and slang alike. 'Sexy'. Ungodly so, I think. The shiver from before returns twofold and she finally releases my bruised, swollen lips. The smirk she gives me is predatory but uncertain…a paradox reflected in her clouded gems. She has never done this before, but she likes it and she wonders why. A bead of sweat rolls slowly down the back of my neck, tickling the tiny hairs along its path.
Faintly, I recall thinking something about putting a stop to…something. It eludes me now, as she leans down to hover her lips mere centimeters above my face. Instead, my mind wanders to the circumstances which lead to this blissful encounter. It was her voice, I think, that softened my beautifully-crafted defense, and her embrace that shattered it. I think back, and I close the gap between us. No one will ever accuse me of being incapable of multitasking.
I was exhausted, thoroughly. My hands and arm bled from the strain of continuous effort and the searing power of the quincy arrow combined with the added strength of the sanrei glove. It had been ten days since my training began. Ten grueling days of firing those luminescent strands of spirit power by that damned waterfall…at last, I had mastered my grandfather's artifact and obtained the power I would so desperately need in the Seireitei.
It would have been a miracle if I had made it home without collapsing with my body in such a depleted state. Nevertheless, I knew it simply would not do if I were to pass out somewhere along the sidewalk between the training ground and my destination. I kept that thought in mind as I wandered through the darkened, empty streets of Karakura Town. It was pitch save for the rare street light along my path. Its glow reflected off of the water and gave it an evanescent glow rivaled only by the light of the pale moon. On another night I might have stopped to enjoy the sight, but as spent as I was, I knew I would need my rest for the battle to come.
In less than 24 hours, I would find myself in the world of the shinigami. In less than 24 hours, I would engage in the fight of my life against the group of people that I had sworn to hate. And I would do it all at the side of Ichigo Kurosaki, my rival and enemy, in order to save one Rukia Kuchiki. Both of them were shinigami. I found I could hate neither. The irony of it was enough to make me want to puke. Not that I was not a fan of a good plot twist, but I had always preferred my own life to be more predictable. It was how I was.
Thoughts of Kurosaki aside, I had covered quite a bit of ground by the time I again took notice of my surroundings. I had passed the bridge that marked the approximate halfway point between the training grounds I had chosen and my home. I raised my gloved fingers to the bridge of my glasses and pressed them lightly further up my nose and continued on, thoughts of warm covers and soft mattresses luring me evermore to the comforts of my apartment. One night's sleep…that was all I needed. Then, Seireitei would have its proverbial hands full with the last of the quincy race they sought to destroy.
'Sensei,' I thought, pausing just a moment to peer out across the flowing waters, 'I will use your teachings and avenge you. The shinigami that failed to save you will know the power of the quincy, I promise you. And I'll do it fighting side-by-side with a shinigami, just like you dreamed.' Days spent with my grandfather, listening to his teachings and philosophies, flashed before my waking eyes. Even now, I remembered him so perfectly…his words, so clearly. I had disappointed him once, and now I finally had a chance to right that wrong.
"Ishida-san?" a familiar, feminine voice called across the moonlit darkness. My reverie was broken by the unexpected sound, and I started a bit before turning in the direction of the call. I had not expected to be seen by anyone at this time at night, let alone by someone I knew. She made no mention of my momentary surprise…that or she failed to notice. There was something in her dark brown eyes that told me the latter was more likely. I recovered from the slight shock admirably quick and pushed my glasses back up my nose to get a better look at her.
"Hello, Arisawa-san. I didn't expect to see you out this late," I greeted her a bit friendlier than intended, though my tone was neutral as always. I offered a small wave, hoping she would accept it and go about her business. I had no intention of stretching out this conversation any longer than I had to. It had already been a long night, and I needed to get home as soon as possible. Still, our class's resident karate prodigy was troubled, and it seemed I had been nominated to lend her an ear.
Tatsuki smiled sardonically and raised an eyebrow. "I could ask you the same, you know," she countered smoothly, though her voice failed to carry its usual, hard edge. Her ruffled, black hair waved with a light burst of wind that cooled my skin and gave me uneasy goose bumps. She turned away slowly, trailing her brown eyes skyward. Had she simply been sitting here stargazing? The idea just seemed so…so…unlike her.
If she had wanted to say anything further she refrained, choosing instead to remain seated in silence. My opportunity to escape had come much easier than anticipated. And yet…maybe it was the soft tone of her voice, or the troubled look in her eye…he found that he really did not want to leave anymore. At least, not before sharing a few words with the disturbingly sedate girl by the river…
"Ishida-san," her voice was distant and reserved…as if she was not sure whether or not I had left. I opened my mouth to respond, but Tatsuki beat me to it. Was she really speaking to me…or just speaking, using my name to help unlock her lips to release words she cannot say otherwise. It is not unlike being in a confessional, I imagine, and I have somehow become her confidant. The thought is not as appalling it should be.
"Ever since we met, I've protected her," she began, and I immediately gathered who she had meant. Inoue-san. The two had been inseparable since I had known them. "At first it was just other girls who were jealous of her…her beauty, her spirit…and then later there were guys, too. Perverts like Asano and Chizuru. She's so innocent; she doesn't even realize that she needs protecting."
As her voice drifted across the night air, I found myself moving silently to her side. She sat in the grass near the waterfront, eyes dropping from the sky to the moon's reflection on the flowing surface. I ignored the horrible threat of grass stains and sat down beside her, wincing at the offending cold on the seat of my uniform pants. I tried not to focus on the discomfort and instead on the small warmth that seemed to emanate from the pale girl to my right.
'On second thought,' I hesitated when I realized just how warm that thought made me, 'maybe I should focus on something else.'
"I always thought I would be around to protect her, you know?" she asked rhetorically, peeking over her shoulder to measure my visible response. I noticed, and nodded politely, then waited for her to continue. "Do you have anyone that you protect, Ishida-san?" My mind was immediately thrown back to my sensei…my grandfather…staring down five deadly hollows while I watched from behind a tree. I should have protected him that day and given my life to save his own, but I failed. I was no protector.
"Ah, no, Arisawa-san. I'm afraid I do not," my answer was hushed, shameful. But I refused to wallow in the self-pity that would have consumed me had I let it. My jaw hardened and my eyes likewise as I shifted my shoulders to face her a little more. "But you know, Arisawa-san, you don't always have to be the one to protect her…I imagine she is quite capable, and there are plenty of people who would keep her from harm, correct?" I wonder why I said it with such conviction, but she noticed immediately. Her eyes widened only slightly in recognition.
"You too, then?" she asked cynically, as if annoyed that she seemed to be the only one who wasn't going. I nodded again and she sighed, lowering her eyes to the small patch of grass between us. "I feel so useless…like I'm abandoning her when she needs me most. Do you know what that's like, Ishida-san?" Oh yes, I knew what it felt like…Tatsuki, I know better than anyone. But I couldn't say that. Not without revealing far more than I was willing to share.
Instead, I let my hand slide across the grass and placed it lightly on top of hers. She raised her eyes quickly and I tried hard not to flinch at the possible damage she could do to me if she so chose. Never mind that, I told myself. I had uncharacteristically submitted to impulse, and if I were to suffer for that decision I would at least do my best to comfort her. I told myself it was the chivalrous way of the quincy that made me do it. I believed it then.
"You most certainly aren't useless, Arisawa-san. I'm not sure what Inoue-san would do without you, honestly. Besides, what do you think she would say if she heard you say that?" I reasoned, which caused her to lower her head a bit sheepishly. Something told me I was on the right track, so I continued. "You do more than enough for Inoue-san…" I gave her hand a light squeeze, doing my best to give her a reassuring smile. Then, without thought or provocation, I said something that even I could not have anticipated.
"Maybe it's time…someone else looked after her," I suggested, tilting her chin up to meet her brown eyes as I spoke. "Just for a bit, ne, Tatsuki?" It never occurred to me that I had used her first name or that it could have been entirely inappropriate touching her face as I was. If I had, however, the look of realization and hope in her eyes at my unspoken offer was more than enough to make me forget. A light, almost invisible shade of pink tinted her cheeks as I pulled my free hand away. Beneath the dim glow of the street lights and the pale shine of the moon, Tatsuki Arisawa suddenly shimmered. How I never realized the extent of her beauty until that moment escapes me even now.
I swallowed a lump in my throat as the intensity of her gaze became even stronger. We seemed on the verge of something grand, or at least it felt that way. When she finally spoke, voice hushed, tender, and dead-serious, I knew I that no matter what words came out of her mouth that I couldn't possibly refuse her. Not with that look on her face…not with that look directed at me.
"Promise you'll look after her," she started, sliding her free hand out from beneath mine. Her fingertips brushed my cheek and if she were blushing then, I must have been three shades darker. Had I ever been this close to a woman? I knew the answer to that was a resounding 'no'. I pressed my glasses further up my nose as she leaned a little closer, entrancing me with her piercing gaze. I opened my mouth to breathe, trying not to show just how nervous her proximity was making me. I probably failed. Her lips were mere inches from my own.
"Watch over her…and bring her back to me safe…Uryuu," she whispered, gently placing her forehead against mine. I my mouth was agape, and I knew I must have seemed terribly foolish. Yet, as awkward as I usually am, I made no move to escape. Indeed, having her near was beginning to feel quite comfortable. It took me a few seconds to at last gather my thoughts…but at last, I was able to speak.
"On my honor, she will come to no harm." I placed my hand over hers, gripping it lightly. She has my promise, I will watch over Inoue-san for her while she cannot. Then, without another word, she tilted her head adorably and pressed her lips to mine.
Even now I cannot say for sure what provoked that sort of response in her. Maybe she was feeling desperate for Inoue-san's sake and thought that by kissing me I would be more inclined to keep her safe. It is also possible that she was feeling lonely, perhaps vulnerable, due to the fact that Orihime was leaving and she could not protect her. Both theories are certainly plausible. Or perhaps it was simply her way of saying 'thank you' for being there when she could not.
Tatsuki releases me after a final round of powerful kisses and slides from her position on top of me to lie at my side. Her breathing is as labored as my own, and for a few precious moments not a sound fills the air but her gasps and my own. It seems I have underestimated her self-control, but apparently not by much. I feel inexplicably drawn to her now. The urge to roll to my side and capture her lips once more is stronger than I could imagine, and so I do just that. The kiss is light and brings a small smile to her lips. A beautiful smile…the type you would never imagine her capable of. It ignites warmth in me that is indescribable.
"I never imagined…my first kiss would be with you," she mutters bashfully, and as insulting as the comment might have been, I only find her more endearing. The gorgeous, pink blush on her moonlit cheeks helps with that sentiment. Her brown eyes rise to meet my own, and once again her free hand brushes the skin of my cheek. She speaks softly…impossibly soft for the outspoken karate master… "Thank you, Uryuu…" It makes me want to kiss her all over again.
"No," I tell her, brushing her cheek in turn. "Thank you, Ar…Tatsuki." Her dark hair flutters a bit with the breeze and she narrows her eyes in a bit of confusion. I can see the 'what' forming on her lips but this time my words are quicker. "For allowing me …for trusting me to look after her. It makes me proud…" As the words leave my mouth, I suddenly understand.
The way she watches over Inoue-san, and the unwavering determination to protect…it's not just an obligation, but a choice she makes every day of her life. A choice that she takes pride in. 'The pride of the quincy,' my grandfather once told me that I had such a thing because of my desire to fight…my desire to protect. I see it now, reflected in her. She would have been a fine quincy, I think, and I smile as I do so.
"I've never seen you smile like that before," she says suddenly, her eyes mirthful in spite of the trouble that clouds them. "What are you thinking about?" Idly, I wonder if I will be getting any sleep tonight. Somehow, I don't think I'll mind.
"Aa…it's nothing…Tatsuki," I smile, placing my forehead gently against hers. I push my glasses back onto the bridge of my nose and then slide those same fingers to twine with the digits of her loose hand. "I should be going home, soon…" I admit quietly, though I make no move to leave. For a second she just watches me, smiling, and I feel all at once as if I am the most important person in the world. Without warning, a toned, feminine arm slings over my body. Her grin becomes a smirk and I realize there is no escape.
"Not yet…Uryuu" she whispers slyly, placing her lips over mine once more.