Title: The Fantastic Fate of Kurosaki Ichigo
Fandom / Pairing: Bleach, Ichigo/Rukia, Uryuu/Orihime
Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach, or the movie Amélie
Summary: One person can change your life forever.
Notes: This is an AR of sorts between Bleach and the film Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain.
On July 15, 19--, many miraculous events would take place at once. A Nanao Ise would quit her job to enter the flight attendant academy. That same day, Hisagi Shuuhei would walk out of his house and slip a little on the steps to the cemetery to lie flowers on his mother's tombstone. Across town, though, at the Ishida Hospital, one Kurosaki Ichigo was born, the fruit of ten hours' labor and a lot of screaming.
Kurosaki Ichigo was the first son of Kurosaki Isshin. A former captain of the guards in Japan's self-defense army, Kurosaki Isshin had gotten his license to practice medicine soon after resigning his post and opened a clinic in the lower level of his home in Karakura town. He hates cutting himself while shaving, when the water in the furo gets cold, and bicycle horns. He likes the sound of a syringe piercing a bottle of insulin, the smell of rubbing alcohol, and spreading Daddy's Love.
Kurosaki Masaki, Ichigo's mother, was a model before she married Kurosaki Isshin. She was spokeswoman for a brand of fizzy drunks before a severe run of bad luck came her way, leaving her employed as a cashier at a fashion boutique in Harajuku. She hates spiders, natto, and wearing lots of makeup. She likes the smell of fresh-baked cookies, the sound of rain on the roof, and doting on her three children.
Yes, three, for though Ichigo was their firstborn, Isshin and Masaki loved each other very much. So, three years later, Karin and Yuzu, twin girls, are born.
Ichigo is eight years old. He is just starting school for another year. His parents enroll him in a good elementary school nearby. There he meets the neighborhood children. One of them convinces him to begin taking karate lessons at a local dojo. Ichigo is not very good; he beats no one in sparring matches and cries when he is struck. However, when his mother arrives his tears dry miraculously and his sunny disposition is restored.
Young Ichigo is told that the kanji for his name means "to protect." With his bright hair and smile, he decides that he will protect mommy. All in all, Ichigo lives a good life. A loving family and good grades keep Ichigo's world full and bright.
Then, one day, tragedy strikes him.
Walking back from karate in the rain, Ichigo clings to his mother's side under the umbrella. She laughs and tells him she can't walk, so he lets go reluctantly. Ichigo then decides to go out and splash in the puddles, green raincoat and galoshes the only color in the street. Spinning and twirling, he laughs and tries to impress his mother. Suddenly, his foot catches on the edge of the sidewalk. Behind him is a normally docile creek swelled by rain. Ichigo cries out, the umbrella clatters to the concrete, and the world blacks out. When he finally comes to, the rain has stopped. There are bright, flashing lights and lots of people. He begins to cry, asking for Mommy.
Issin comes over, his expression sad. "Ichigo, do you know what happened?" Sniffling, the child explains what he remembers, lower lip trembling all the while. When he finishes, his father simply hugs him, long and hard.
"Ichigo, what do you know about Heaven?"
"It's where the good people go when they die."
"That's right. Mommy's in Heaven, now."
"Oh. When will she come visit?"
Isshin swallows. "No, son. She can't. It's...it's against the rules."
"Oh," he replies, breaking into fresh tears.
After his mother's death, Ichigo's world clouds over. He is alone with his father and sisters. Isshin, raiding the attic, finds an old poster-ad with Masaki's face on it. He frames it and hangs it up behind a curtain. On occasion, he'll talk to it. When Ichigo is older, he begins to ambush his son. His children all assume he's gone slightly mad with grief. Yuzu takes over the cooking and Karin cuts him down. Still, they see more and more their father losing himself to his work and to his loneliness.
Days, months, then years pass.
The world doesn't like Ichigo. It doesn't like his hair or how quiet he is or anything about him, really. Ichigo learns to fight albeit reluctantly. He graduates high school and is accepted into a prestigious medical school. The summer before his second term at university, his father punts him out of the house (literally) and tell him to get a job. Which is how Ichigo finds himself waiting tables at the Seireitei Tea and Sake Shop.
Today is July 26. In twenty-four hours, Kurosaki Ichigo's destiny will take a completely unexpected turn. But, right now, he has no idea what will occur.
Ichigo works with a rather varied cast of coworkers and regulars:
First, there is Shihouin Yoruichi. She owns the shop and works behind the bar, serving sake while the others serve tea. She's dark - "A foreigner," she admits - and much older than she appears. When she was younger. she led a special unit of the self-defense army. Now, however, she is content to lean on the bar and chat with Urahara Kisuke.
Urahara Kisuke is a longtime friend of Yoruichi. He, too, owns a shop, but spends most of his time at Seireitei. When asked why he doesn't spend more time at the Urahara Shoten, he whips out a rising sun fan and chuckles, saying, "Jinta can handle it. Well, Tessai and Ururu can."
Yoruichi likes warm sake on cold nights, preferably with a drinking partner. She dislikes dogs who bark excessively. Urahara likes piña coladas and getting caught in the rain (as well as the song), but he dislikes copyright laws.
Ishida Uryuu works at the gift counter in the front corner of the shop. His father owns and runs the hospital Ichigo was born in. Ishida, like Ichigo, had been kicked out and told to get a job. He put his sewing skills to use, making accessories for tea ceremony and for those who simply enjoyed tea and sake. His embroidery put the machine stitches to shame, and he arguably had straighter stitches than automated sewers. Ishida found his days spent behind a small counter, a register beside him, quietly sewing with a needle, thread, and a dangerous gleam in his eyes. He likes the way crosses look. He dislikes buttons.
There is also Arisawa Tatsuki, another server at Seireitei. She, in her younger days, would beat up Ichigo in karate practice. She still beats up people, but in martial arts competitions as a black belt. She likes the sound of her fist connecting, but she hates the sound of bone breaking.
Inoue Orihime is a regular at Seireitei. She is Tatsuki's best friend and comes to Seiretei to doodle and to keep her company. Inoue Orihime believes in fairies and princesses and strange legends about robot aliens. She also notices Ishida Uryuu, but she tells herself she doesn't. She likes cooking (though her tastes are strange). She dislikes comments about her bust, or people talking to her boobs as opposed to her.
FInally, there's Yasutora Chad. Ichigo and Chad met in junior high as Ichigo fought off a bunch of goons. They became life long friends after that, sharing lunches in silence on the school roof. After graduating from high school, Chad began touring with his band. He is currently a rock star signed to AvexTrax on a nationwide tour. Chad likes cute things, and so Ichigo finds himself petsitting more and more often. Chad dislikes hurting anyone or anything.
Ichigo comes home every night by train across town. After his father attacks him, they eat dinner.
"Ichigo, why did you get work so far away? Daddy wanted you to get a job, not abandon him to fend for himsef." He then takes several large bites of rice.
"We're right here, you know," Karin mutters. Karin and Yuzu are twins, though they look nothing alike. They are both in their frst year of high school, and virtually ignored by their father, who still talks to Masaki's poster in times of stress.
"Pop, you really aren't alone."
"Yes I am!" He stands and hugs the framed Masaki poster. "Oh, my dearest! Your son is so like you in so many waays!" He begins to cry and the three of them heave a long-suffering sigh.
Sometimes Ichigo climbs up onto the roof. "I like seeing the sky above me," he tells Chad one day. "Especially at night when I can see the stars." Ichigo notices little things, but he dislikes feeling useless.
Ichigo has never had a girl friend, mostly because breasts scare him. That, and he simply hasn't ever really noticed any. He thinks girls are pretty, yes, but he's never felt strongly enough about one to make anything of it. Mostly, he has lived a quiet life and takes his joy from simple pleasures:
The rush of a river flowing past.
The rustle of a page turning in a Shakespeare collection.
The snap of a chocolate bar.
There is the Dark Glasses Man. Because of a genetic condition, he cannot venture outside and must wear sunglasses all the time. He dresses in dark colors and often has his curtains closed in the daytime. At night, as Ichigo passes by the window, he sometimes sees the Old Man (Ossan, he call him) leaning on the window frame, looking at the stars.
Time has changed little in Ichigo's life. He is still attacked on occasion for his natural hair color (bright orange), how he dresses (punk), or just for the sake of it. He still climbs out onto the roof and counts the number of stars in the sky.
("Nine thousand, one hundred and ten," he mutters, and recounts because it's too high.)
Then, the night of July 27th, Ichigo is closing up the shop. As he sweeps, his mind wanders, thinking of everything and nothing. Mostly, though, he was thinking about how much he had earned today, with tips. He opens the door and moves to sweep the entryway. There's a scratching metallic noise and he stops. Somewhere, a cat yowls. Ichigo stops clearing the day's dust and looked up. The street was deserted, not a soul stirring in the concrete maze of alleys and roads and houses. A light flickers and then dies, and Ichigo turns back to the broom. He moves to push the dirt further towards the road and the metal sound repeats itself.
Setting the broom aside, Ichigo bends down and rifles through the small pile of dirt and unearths a metal charm. It's about the size of the palm of his hand, the heavy metal cool against his skin. It's strangely shaped, and when he flits it over he has to raise an eyebrow in disbelief.
It's a wild boar, eyes bloodshot with madness. Its tusks are large, almost comically so, and so white they glow even in the low light from the streetlamps.
He stands upright, one hand still holding onto the broom. He contemplates the ridiculous-looking charm for a long moment before pocketing it and continuing to sweep.
Later, as Ichigo walks home from the train station with the boar charm bouncing against his leg, he decides he'll try to return it to the owner.
The next day, on his first short break, he asks Yoruichi and Urahara if they recognize the charm.
"No, kid. Sorry," she says and hands it back to him.
Urahara whips out his fan and shakes his head.
"Damn," Ichigo shrugs and pockets the charm.
Yoruichi's brow furrows. "Try Byakuya, the florist. He's got a good memory for names and faces."
Three shops down from the tea shop is the florist. Each day there are beautiful baskets of flowers, and if a breeze blows just right the scent wafts into the tea shop. The shop is run by two men - Kuchiki Byakuya, a taciturn man with long, black hair and cold eyes, and Abarai Renji, a brazen young man with red hair and yakuza-style tattoos. The shop - Senbonzakura - was nestled in between two apartments, but did very well for it.
On his afternoon break, Ichigo went over to the florist shop and walked up the counter.
"Yo, Ichigo!" Renji greeted, wearing an apron and holding a watering can.
"Renji," comes Byakuya's voice from behind the cashier. He, too, wears an apron, but he also wears a white clip to hold back his hair.
"Ah..." Renji makes a mildly panicked face and continues to water the plants.
"Kurosaki, how can I help you?"
Ichigo stifles the urge to roll his eyes (it will just make things worse) and pulls out the boar. "Do you know whose this is?"
Byakuya takes the metal charm and studies it for a long moment. "Shibo Ganju," he says and hands it back. "He's bragged about it before."
That evening, Ichigo walks back to his home from the train station and takes a different path than he normally does. It's sunset - Yoruichi let him off early - and the buildings gleam a brilliant gold. He finds himself passing by the river, the concrete sides sloping into the green riverbank. There's a few wildflowers dotting the edges and the faint sound of laughter and that's when he sees her.
She's wearing a simple dress and has a book laid flat on her lap, the pages gleaming like everything else in sight. Here and now, she looks brilliant, like something ethereal, and Ichigo finds himself unable to move nor look away. She picks a flower and twirls it in between small fingers, sniffing it delicately. Then she sees him.
A strong breeze blows past; he can feel the way his clothes rustle in the air and the way it feels like his heart is pounding in his throat. She stands herself, the flower flying off and the book falling to the grass. Her dress ripples in the wind and her own heart starts to roar in her ears. The wind dies and everything is still and Ichigo walks away, unsure of just what has passed.
This is Rukia. Rukia grew up far, far away from the Kurosaki family. Her life was hard until she was adopted by a wealthy family. Despite having to leave everything and everyone she knew, she is here and mostly happy now.
Ichigo's family has an oddly subdued dinner that night. Karin is sleeping over at a friend's house, and Yuzu is off on a class trip, so it is just Ichigo and his father.
"You got new curtains for Mom's poster?"
"Hmm? Oh, no, I just grabbed some old ones." His father picks at his rice and sighs.
Ichigo takes a harder look at the curtains and spies a little strawberry in a corner - Yuzu made them.
"Say, Pops, what if you lost your protective charm and someone gave it back to you?"
"DID YOU LOSE MASAKI'S CHARM?" Isshin seemed to loom abnormally large in the dining room with the dark aura around him and that gleam in his eye.
"WHAT? NO NO!" Ichigo jumped to his feet, the chair clattering behind him.
"Oh, good, good. And don't even think about losing that." The glare he shoots him makes the air feel like lightning.
"Pops, that's not what--you know what, never mind. You want tea?" He straightens the chair and walks into the little kitchen, pushing Yuzu's stepladder aside.
"MASAKI, YOUR SON REALLY DOES LOVE MEEEEEE!"
Ichigo sighs and put the kettle on.
The next day, Tatsuki is giving Yoruichi a shoulder rub as Ichigo walks into work.
"Close the damn door, Kurosaki. You're making my stitches crooked."
"Yeah, yeah." Ichigo shuts the door behind him, the bell jingling in the quiet. Ichigo grabs his apron and a white marker, tying the first and then uncapping the latter. He starts to write out the day's specials on the plexiglass board while Tatsuki sees to a customer.
"What do you recommend?"
Tatsuki taps the pen on her lip. "I'd say the iced black tea with apple. You'll think you've died."
"So it's good?" Ogawa Michiru likes straight answers before tea.
"Well, it depends," she says, placing a hand on her hip.
"On where you end up."
"You mean heaven or hell?"
Tatsuki smiles mischievously. "Exactly. If you end up in the second--"
"It's no good at all!" Orihime pipes up, drawn away from her art board.
Tatsuki grins and turns back to Michiru. "I'll get you that tea in just a second."
"Tatsuki-chan, what time do you get off today?"
She thinks for a minute while shaking the tea. "Eight, why?"
"I wanted to cook you dinner - bacon soup with miso, eggplant a la mode, and fried fish pizza with sauerkraut sauce."
Tatsuki blanches. Yoruichi casts a lazy glance their way. "Inoue-san, please don't discuss dinner."
Ichigo caps the marker and goes behind the bar to wipe down glasses. "Can I get off early today?"
"Oh?" Yoruichi straightens, hands resting on her hips. "Hot date?"
"Tch, you're so boring, Ichigo. Fine."
Ichigo gets off work at his lunch break, the apron tossed into a box behind the bar carelessly. Before anyone can stop or follow him, he blends into the noontime crowds, resurfacing to barricade himself in a phone booth.
"Shibo, Shibo, Shibo..." His finger scrolls down the list of names looking for the right kanji. There are three names and three addresses, and Ichigo hurriedly scribbles them down on a scrap piece of paper before rejoining the flow of people past.
The first is a stately mansion, large and looming in the Western style. The nameplate declares the Shibo family, and the gates swing open upon his approach. He walks up to the door, the metal keychain bouncing against his leg with each step, cool against his skin even through the cloth of his pocket.
The doorknocker is a pair of lions, and Ichigo has a feeling that this isn't the right place. Still, he decides he's come this far and he may as well. Lifting one ring, he knocks twice. The sound echoes in the silence outside, and he steps back self-consciously.
The door creaks open and a small, shriveled old man answers. "Yes?"
"Uh," Ichigo replies intelligently; this is definitely not the right house. "I'm here about the...petition."
"The, uh, petition to relax Japan's gun laws."
"Oh I'm not interested. Would you like some tea or mochi?"
"No-no thank you. Uh. Goodbye," and he bows and half-runs half-walks away.
The next place is hosting a bachelorette party, Shibo Ganju in this case being an ill-named young woman. Ichigo finds himself being grabbed by ten pairs of arms on every part of his body. One hand strays too far and he yelps when it squeezes his...little self. After managing to break free, he escapes, unable to convince them that he is not, in fact, the male stripper they hired. Instead, he makes a dash for it, not stopping until the creepy, violated feeling ceases. (He runs for a while.)
The final address is a small house nestled in a quiet corner of Karakura. He knocks on the door and a medium-aged woman in a formal kimono answers, her eyes red and her face pale.
"Ah, I'm sorry to bother you, but I'm looking for Shibo Ganju?"
The woman's face crumples. "He passed away two nights ago."
"Oh, I'm so sorry."
"No, it's fine." She pulls out a handkerchief from one sleeve and dabs at her eyes. "Can I help you with anything?"
Ichigo pauses and shakes his head. "No, it's fine. I'll come back at a better time." He bows and turns away, walking out to the street and stuffing his hands in his pockets as he turns the corner.
The sun is setting before Ichigo finally finds himself in familiar territory. The light slants between the buildings and, once more, everything appears as if it's on fire. He pulls out the boar and turns it over and over in his hand, watching as the light catches it and glares off the surface.
"It's Shiba Ganju," comes a voice. Ichigo looks around, startled but trying not to show it. "Up here," comes the voice once more, and Ichigo cranes his head upwards. It is the Ossan, the man with the strange glasses.
The old man huffs. "You need some tea. Come up." And he disappears from the window. Ichigo waves for a moment before moving towards the door, the charm slipping back into his pocket. The Old Man opens the door and Ichigo sees he wears a voluminous black cloak and dulled black house shoes without soles.
"I am Kurosaki Ichigo," he greets, bowing fully at the waist.
"I am called Zangetsu." He dips his head politely, then steps aside to allow Ichigo inside.
After a long moment: "You're sure it's Shiba?"
"I've seen him pass by here with bags of tea with the Seireitei logo on them. He calls that his Bonnie-chan," Zangetsu explains, pointing to Ichigo's pocket. They move through a maze of rooms, swords on every wall surface. Some are crossed, some mounted, but all of them gleam. Zangetsu rummages through a drawer (above the desk are two rapiers, crossed) and hands Ichigo a piece of paper.
"Shiba Kuukaku and Ganju." Ichigo looks up at the taller, darker man. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." There's a pause, and Zangetsu, moves to the kitchen to fix tea.
Ichigo takes the moment to look at the walls around him, sword-covered walls gleaming in the dying light.
"Do you like them?" Zangetsu motions for Ichigo to sit at the low table, and the china rests on the surface with a clink. "I made them all myself."
"No," he replies, serving the brewed tea leaves. "There's a smithy in the temple. The priests let me use it." He stood and moved over to a table with a white cloth covering a sword. "This is an incomplete one." He hands the wrapped bundle to Ichigo, who undoes the cover carefully. It is a black sword, reminiscent of the broadswords of Europe. The blade is light and thin, but the hilt is unfinished.
"Perhaps it just needs some patience?"
"It will need a lot of patience."
"It'll be worth it." Ichigo takes a sip of his tea and stands. "The tea is good, but I have to be home for dinner." He moves to pull on his does but pivots and bows. "Thank you for your hospitality." He bows and lets himself out, the sun quietly disappearing behind tall buildings so that the first stars are visible on the far horizon.
Shiba Kuukaku's house, he learns the next day, is on the outskirts of town. It's very distinctive, with a sign held up by two fists proclaiming the residents standing outside. Ichigo isn't sure how to approach, so he climbs a tree and watches as the sun sets. He is dressed like he just came from work, which he did, and he curses as the clothes snag on the bark before settling on a mid-level branch. A busty, strangely clad woman walks out with a younger man behind her. The wind is blowing from them to Ichigo, so he hears every word they say.
"Ganju, would you relax?"
"But...but Bonnie-chan!" The last syllable devolves into a wail.
She sighs. "Look, I'll get you a new one as soon as I can. Now, stay here. I have a surprise for you." He obediently sits on the stump of a tree long gone as Kuukaku - Ichigo assumes she is Kuukaku - walks off. The sun falls below the horizon and Ichigo notes that he's seen an obscene of sunsets lately. Once the sky has darkened, a rushing noise follows, and then a resounding bang.
Fireworks splash across the sky, and Ichigo is, for a moment, caught off-guard, mesmerized by the beauty of fire in the night air. It's Ganju's quiet "Wow," carried to his hiding spot that Ichigo snaps out of it. Taking a chance and hoping his aim is true, Ichigo chucks the heavy boar at the side of Ganju's head.
It hits dead on, and Ganju is knocked off the rock. Swearing more violently than any kid his age should, he pulls himself upright and scans the tree line. Ichigo holds very still in the cover afforded him by the foliage. Ganju gets on his hands and knees to see what it is that hit him just moments before. His hands clasp around the metal and he dares to hope. Bringing it up to the light, it is Bonnie-chan, and he is convinced it was a kitsune that brought her back to him.
"Thank you, Kitsune-san!" he shouts into the darkness before taking off towards the strange-looking house. Ichigo watches the fireworks for a few moments more before climbing out of the tree carefully and heading home. All the while he is walking, Ichigo cannot name the feeling that seems to hold onto him so. It's not quite absolute joy, but it's nice, and he's not sure what to make of it. He slips off his shoes in the entryway and makes his way to dinner, calling out that he's home as he does so. Yuzu asks him why he's all dirty and Karin says he smells like tree and he just scowls at them in that way that lets them know he's glad they're there even while Isshin cries a river of tears in the background.
That night, Ichigo has a dream. He is up against a reflection of himself, but instead of fighting, he is peering into the mirror and listening to his strangely negative reflection recount his faults. "Partner," it says, and grins in a way he himself has never smiled. "Partner, what are you doing? You stupid, stupid kid. You're going to find yourself so very alone one day."
"That's not true," he manages, finding his voice. Nose pressed against the glass, he grips the gilt edges with white knuckles. "I have Chad and Yuzu and Karin and everyone!"
"Oh, Partner. You're so naive. Did you really think that would be enough?
"Stupid kid. You need more." It laughs and the glass cracks and he sits up in bed, the sunrise creeping over the horizon. He groans and rolls over, trying to eke out just five minutes more of sleep. His eyes snap open and he jumps out of bed, landing lightly on his feet, and creeps down the stairs. Quietly, so quietly, he takes down the poster of Masaki, pulls it out of the frame, and replaces the frame itself back behind the curtain. Rolling up the glossy paper, he makes his way back upstairs, dresses quickly, and steals out the door. The light is just creeping over the shortest of buildings as he dashes up the hill, the fastest but most arduous path to the train station. He passes between two hills, tall and blanketed with night-blooming jasmine. A breeze rustles past and it brings with it the sound of laughter. He stops running, not even winded, and listens. There, again, and he makes his way up the hill.
It is her again, the girl with the dark hair - Rukia - and she is once more dressed in a plain dress. She is pressing flowers into that book of hers when something - some movement - catches her eye. She stands up quickly and chases after it, book falling forgotten out of her lap onto the grass. She runs further and further until he can't see her anymore in the maze of concrete and houses. He is tempted to call out to her, but it's futile when she's so far away. Stooping down, he picks up the book, closes it, and tucks it under one arm.
Later, on his lunch break, he sits at a table in a quiet corner of the cafe and flips through it. The cover is embossed in beautiful gold color, the kanji spelling out Sode no Shirayuki. Inside, flower after flower, labelled and pasted in with care. Pressings of everything from wildflowers to rare flowers, every type and color and make, grace the heavy pages. Scattered between the flowers are drawings - really bad drawings - of rabbits and bears and of the two chasing one another. In the corner is a meticulously drawn animation, of a bear chasing a rabbit in circles. He's as taken aback by the sheer awfulness of the drawings as he is amused by the time put into the art and animation.
His lunch break over, he moves to wipe glasses and gets the rare pleasure of listening to Yoruichi and Urahara recount their younger days. He's pretty sure half their stories are made up, but no one can tell if he's smiling if he tilts his head the right way. (Cool-guy image to protect, and all.) Today's topic is about love, it seems.
"Oh, I remember the first person I ever loved that way." Yoruichi stretches out onto the bar, one hand propping up her head.
Urahara cracks out his rising sun fan. "Do tell, do tell. What was his name?"
"Her name was Soi Fon, and god, she was beautiful."
"Yoruichi, I didn't know you were into women."
"I'm into both," she purrs, and winks at him.
"Ah, love," he says, and snaps the fan shut. "It's such a fickle creature."
Yoruichi lets out a bark of a laugh. "Hardly. Push two people together enough, and they'll fall in love, no trouble."
(Ichigo wipes the same shot glass he's been wiping for the last few minutes.)
"Absolutely it works. How do you think I got Kenpachi to finally propose to Retsu?"
"Yoruichi, you're evil!"
She slides herself off the bar and straightens. "I try," she replies dryly. "Oh, and Ichigo?"
He starts. "Yeah?"
"I think that glass is dry now," and she winks at him. He blushes scarlet to his ears and grabs a wet glass.
He watches from behind the register during down time. Inoue Orihime is sketching quietly at her usual booth. Ishida Uryuu is sewing, like he always is, the fine needlepoint miraculously shaping itself into beautiful patterns of sakura and ume and jasmine blossoms. Ichigo sighs, and that's when he sees it.
Ishida surreptitiously glances at Inoue Orihime. Ichigo straightens slightly. A few minutes pass, and he looks over at her again. Ichigo begins to keep a rough tally. By the end of an hour, Ishida Uryuu has glanced at Inoue Orihime some 18 times. She, however, has looked at him but once the entire time, and it was only to complement his embroidery. Ichigo feels the hint of a plan begin to form in his mind, a plan so daring he can't even begin to imagine the magnitude of what he is about to do.
It makes him smile, full and wide, and Ogawa Michiru sees. "You look so much better when you smile, Kurosaki-kun."
He isn't sure how to reply, but she just smiles and turns back to her magazine. He furrows his brow rapidly, darkening his look moreso than usual.
"Ichigo, if you keep making that face, it'll freeze that way," chides Urahara.
"It already has," supplies Ishida, not bothering to look up from his needlepoint. Yoruichi snickers and Ichigo sighs.
"Could I get more peach tea, please?"
"I got it," Ichigo says, grabbing the carafe of peach tea. Approaching Inoue so that Ishida's view of her is blocked, Ichigo pours slowly and speaks softly. "Inoue-san, how do you feel about Ishida?"
"Ishida-kun? He's nice, I guess."
He clucks his tongue. "He's more than nice, Inoue-san. He makes sarcastic comments like that for a reason."
"Oh?" She looks up at him guilelessly.
He sighs, as if this is the most obvious thing in the world. "Inoue-san. He likes you."
"I like him, too."
"No, I mean--Just, okay, keep an eye on him, okay?"
She smiles brightly. "All right, Kurosaki-kun. And thank you for the tea."
Inoue Orihime likes her world as it is, so when she finds herself meeting Ishida Uryuu's eyes several times over the course of the afternoon, she can't help but ponder Kurosaki-kun's words. And if she dresses a little prettier the next day and does her hair a little differently, who could blame her?
That same night, Ichigo finds himself closing with Ishida.
"You have a hell of a crush on Inoue," he says while sweeping. Ishida pokes himself in the thumb with the needle and swears. Ichigo continues on, feigning ignorance. "But, man, I don't think it's a one-way street."
Ishida freezes. "Go on."
"Well," Ichigo says, and stops sweeping. "Think about it. Where does she always sit?"
"Right. Get it?"
Ichigo sighs a frustrated sigh. Grabbing Uryuu - "Hey!" - he sits him down in Orihime's usual booth. "Now do you see?"
"Figure it out, then." He goes back to sweeping, and when he's finished, exits. Behind him, Ishida is still contemplating Orihime's booth of choice.
He walks back home past Zangetsu's house. The dark man is leaning against his window frame, as he usually is. When he sees Ichigo, he beckons him inside.
"Why do you think she collects these flowers?"
Zangetsu gives him an flat look. "She likes flowers?"
Ichigo glares. "Fine, but why did she just run off?"
Zangetsu gives him another look. "She saw a rabbit."
"Oh fine, you know everything. I'm sorry I asked." He throws his hands in the air. "How will I give it back to her, then?"
Zangetsu smiles mysteriously. "Isn't that really just up to you?"
Ichigo sighs. "How's that blade coming along, Ossan?"
Zangetsu walks over to the wrapped blade. "It's in better shape than it was before. A little more swordlike. The shaft is strengthening. It still needs work."
"Ah," he replies, and closes the scrapbook.
He walks past the florist the next morning. Renji is misting the tulips as he passes. "Yo, Ichigo!"
"Renji." Byakuya voice carries from inside the store.
"Yo, Renji," he waves back, then enters the tea shop.
Orihime is marveling over Ishida's most recent productions. Ichigo notices that they're both looking nicer than they usually do, and it makes him smile secretively.
"Ichigo, what have you done now?" Tatsuki raises an eyebrow at him, and he goes for the usual surly look.
"I haven't done anything, I swear!"
She hits him with her towel. "Well, she looks happy. We'll see." She punctuates this with a glare and pivots on her heel to march off.
That evening, Ichigo pulls out a bag of candy Urahara gave him. ("Soul Candy," he said. "Straight from the Urahara Shoten!" And then he's whipped out the rising sun fan.) He sucks on one. His face puckers.
That night, dinner is a solemn affair. Isshin is oddly subdued. One could even say he had a cloud looming over him.
"Uh. Pops? What's wrong?"
Isshin mutely points to the curtain, which is closed.
"Is something wrong with...Mom?" It still tastes funny on his tongue even after all these years.
"SHE'S GONE, ICHIGO! OH MY MASAKI, WHERE COULD YOU BEEEEE?" He falls onto his knees sobbing in front of the empty frame, the curtain pulled aside.
"Dad got these photos, too," Karin adds, handing Ichigo an envelope. There are photos of Masaki with twin kittens, with small twin babies, with old and grey twins. There are monuments of Japan in the background of each.
"Maybe Mom's trying to tell you something?"
Ichigo rolls his eyes.
That next morning, his walk to the Seireitei is uneventful. Until he sees the posters - "LOST SCRAPBOOK. IF FOUND, PLEASE CALL." Normal people would have simply called and returned it to her. But Ichigo is not normal, and so he tears down the flyer and stuffs it in his pocket. At his first break, he borrows the phone in the back and dials.
"Senbonzakura, Byakuya speaking." Ichigo hangs up the phone. Suddenly he is having trouble breathing. Kuchiki Byakuya? Why the florist?
At his next break, Ichigo goes to the florist. Byakuya is on lunch, so Renji is working the cashier. Somehow, Ichigo is relieved by this.
"Yo, Ichigo. What brings you here?"
"I'm just wondering about something. Do you know a dark-haired girl who works here? About this tall, wears dresses a lot?"
"Oh, you mean Rukia? Yeah, she's here sometimes. Usually not. Byakuya doesn't like her working."
Renji shrugs. "I guess he just doesn't want people looking at his sister."
Ichigo's brain stops. "Sister?"
"Yeah." Renji looks at him like he's grown a second head. "Kuchiki Rukia, Byakuya's little sister."
"Oh," he replies faintly. "I, uh, think I found her book."
"The one full of pressed flowers? She's been going crazy looking for that thing."
"Is she here now?"
"Hmm? Oh, no, no. It's Wednesday; she's working at that haunted house over by the grocer. You know, Hueco Mundo?"
"Ah." He pauses. "Thanks, Renji."
"Come back again some time."
He tosses a wave over his shoulder and heads towards the ramen stand.
Meanwhile, in the teashop, Orihime and Ishida are working on a particularly difficult embroidery pattern together. Though her stitches aren't as perfect as Ishida's, their hands are oddly in synch. They keep catching each other's eyes and looking away bashfully, their cheeks stained with pink.
Yoruichi and Urahara share a look of understanding.
After work, Ichigo catches a bus to the haunted house. He walks up to the ticket counter, the weight of his shoulder bag strange after a week without. "Is Kuchiki Rukia working today?"
"Yes, but she doesn't get off until nine."
"Can I see her before that?"
"Well...There is one way."
Which is how Ichigo found himself folding his legs into a car too small to fit him, rolling into a dark room. Skeletons and axes fall around him, but Ichigo barely flinches. Then, out of the corner of his eye, a white sword appears, then a black sleeve and then a pale face, and then there she is, standing on the front of the car as it moves through the house. She raises the sword over her head. He meets her gaze and holds it even as she plunges the retracting prop sword into his heart. The strobe light flashes brilliantly and he flinches. When the spots clear from his vision, she is gone.
Later, when Rukia walks over to her bicycle, there is a note attached. "Tomorrow, the park by Karakura Middle School. Bring a 100 yen coin." Attached is a dried flower, the color faded with bleeding, and a drawing of a bear and a rabbit.
That night, Rukia finds herself unable to sleep.
"Do you want to meet her?" The rabbit looks at her earnestly.
"Did you see him?" she asks, rolling onto her stomach to face the page.
"Of course!" The bear looks smug. "He had us in his pocket." Here she whistles appreciatively and Rukia feels herself color.
"Is he handsome?"
"What does he want from me?"
"Idiot." The rabbit hits the bear in the face. "Of course not!" The rabbit turns to her. "He's in love."
"What? I don't even know him."
"Of course you do!"
"Since forever, in your dreams. Well, that and Byakuya and Renji know him."
The next day, Rukia finds herself in Karakura Park, by the middle school, waiting. She wanders around the clearing when she spots it - the rabbit. She gasps and runs towards it. It hops away, stopping to nibble on something occasionally before hopping just out of reach once more. She chases it to the top of a hill where there is a children's telescope. A dried flower is stuck to it. Pulling out the 100-yen coin, she inserts it into the slot and looks into the eyepiece.
Ichigo waves shortly, then slips the scrapbook into the basket of her bike.
Rukia gasps and ran down the side of the hill, trying to not break her ankle or her leg in the process. When she gets to the base, she sprints to her bike, through the trees and the playground. When she finally reaches her bicycle, though, he is long gone.
"Neechan, neechan." A small girl with her hair in pigtails and a sad look to her tugs on Rukia's dress.
"He said to look at Page 56." Then she turns around and runs off.
Rukia blinks and lifts Sode no Shirayuki from the basket. She turns towards the end and gasps.
There, pressed, is a simple marigold, and around it is a series of comics featuring her signature rabbits and bears. The bear says to the rabbit, "DO YOU WANT TO MEET?"
Ichigo finds himself once more at work, closing the shop. It's a quiet night and he's left with nothing but his thoughts. He walks to the train station, takes the train home, and sees the lights passing by through the window, too fast to count. He gets off at the Karakura station and then stops dead in his tracks.
Everywhere there are flyers that say, "WHERE AND WHEN?"
That night, Isshin is sitting with Karin and Yuzu on the couch when Ichigo returns home. It is so puzzling a sight that Ichigo almost leaves and comes back to make sure he's not in the wrong place. Nevertheless he blinks a few times. "What is this?"
"Mommy sent Daddy more pictures!" Isshin hands his son an envelope. Ichigo sifts through them - more twins, more cute things, and other doubled objects.
"Daddy wanted to show us," Yuzu cheerily supplies.
"Goat-chin ambushed us when we came back from Mina's." Karin looks less than thrilled, but Ichigo can tell she's secretly pleased.
The next day, Ishida and Orihime aren't working together. There's this tension in the air, and Ishida looks like he might lose it soon, though what effect that will have no one is certain. Orihime looks almost as though she expects something.
Suddenly, Ishida stands and strides over to the back room, as though he is getting more supplies. In truth, he is going into the restroom to calm himself down. Ichigo moves to refill Orihime's tea and "accidentally" spills it on her. She stands up quickly and gasps.
"Ah, I'm sorry."
"Orihime, you should go wash it out quickly," Tatsuki suggests, handing Orihime a towel. When Orihime turns around, Tatsuki smacks Ichigo's upper arm. He glares at her and rubs the spot she hit.
Orihime nods absently and makes her way to the restroom. She's so engrossed in finding patterns in the stain that she doesn't realize Ishida is in the restroom until she opens the door. He is patting down his face and she looks shocked. Then, in a blink, she's got him pressed up against the door, kissing him with abandon, tea stain be damned.
That same afternoon, Rukia wanders over her favorite pair of hills, the one with the sidewalk between them. She sits in the midst of the flowers and doodles when a white rabbit wanders over, a ribbon tied to its neck. Gently, she unties the ribbon and finds a note attached: "I work at Seireitei. Be there tomorrow at ten." Idly, she pets the rabbit, scratching it behind the ears. Just 24 hours and her life will change.
That evening, Chad comes by the tea shop, poster in hand.
"Thanks, Chad. I owe you one."
"Aa," the taller man replies. "They call me Poster Man, now." He pauses. "I'll do it again if you need me to."
Ichigo grins. "I don't think I will, but thank you."
That night, as Ichigo walks past Zangetsu's house, he waves. "Yo, Ossan."
"Ichigo," he calls, the perpetual calm in his voice almost unnerving. "Have you met her yet?"
"The girl you're in love with."
Ichigo sputters. "What? You're crazy, old man."
"Am I? Your heart beats faster when you're near her, you think of her all the time, she fascinates you."
"That doesn't mean anything!"
"It means everything."
There's a long silence.
"How's the blade coming?"
"It's being stubborn, lately." Zangetsu retreats into his home, and the window closes.
Ichigo's mood darkened as he walked home. He did not appreciate meddlers in his life, wizened as they may be. Still, the truth in Zangetsu's words stung, as little stock as he wished to place in them.
That night, as his family slept, Ichigo replaced the poster of his mother and snuck back to bed. Tomorrow at ten, he kept telling himself, and tried to ignore the way his heartbeat quickened.
Five til ten the next day and Ichigo finds himself unable to concentrate. Every time the door opens his head snaps up only to be disappointed. In the corner, Ishida and Orhime are chatting lightly. And if she leans a little too close and if he breathes a little too deeply, then there's really nothing anyone can say, is there? (And if their clothes are buttoned wrong, no one's going to say a word.)
Five minutes pass, then ten more. Rukia is now fifteen minutes late, and Ichigo is wiping glasses dry with the ardour of a man who hates spotted glass. As his stack of shining glassware grows, his expression darkens. Maybe she didn't get the note? Maybe she did and doesn't care? Ichigo decides it's not worth it if she's not going to give a damn. He sets the dried glass down a little harder than necessary and Yoruichi looks over at him.
"Kid, you waiting on someone?"
Ichigo glances up at her. "No," he bites out, and roots through the soapy sink for another tumbler. "Just stressed out when I realized how little time is left until my summer's over."
"Ah. You're in med school, aren't you?"
Urahara chuckled. "Couldn't decide so you just did what your father does?"
Ichigo tries hard not to pout. "No." (Yes.)
"Still, it's a tough course."
"I think I'm up to it. I like to help people."
Yoruichi raised and eyebrow. "Kid, you're going to need to be more convincing than that."
He looks Yoruichi in the eye, ceasing to search for glassware and straightening. "I love to help people."
Urahara and Yoruichi share a look and smile softly. "There we go," she says, and winks at him.
Just then, the door jingles and in walks Rukia, wearing a pretty yellow dress with daisies all along the hem and flat yellow sandals. She looks the same as she always does, save for the small purse hanging on her wrist rather than the book she usually has enveloped in her arms.
Ichigo freezes, the sound of his heartbeat is strangely loud in his ears. It is the moment, it is now. He dries his arm, the soft towel against his skin strangely magnified in his senses. His hands shake and he clenches his fists to keep them steady. He grabs the white marker and goes to write the day's specials on the plexiglass behind the table at which Tatsuki seats Rukia.
"What can I get you?"
"Jasmine tea, please."
The marker squeaks loudly and Rukia glances back at him. He pulls on his best surly expression and she turns back to the table. Reaching into her purse, she pulls out the note with the ribbon and the dried marigold, the petals having darkened to a brilliant orange color.
"Excuse me." She turns in the booth to look at him.
"Yes?" He plays it cool even as his hands shake noticeably.
"You sent me these, didn't you." It's not a question. There's a hint of a smirk in her eyes and her lips twitch enigmatically. He would say she was laughing at him.
"No, it wasn't me." He goes back to writing the day's special, the lines of his characters a little more perfect than usual.
She considers him, her eyes lingering on his hair. She holds up the flower to compare. "Yes, it is you." Then she turns around and twirls the dry stem between her fingers.
"Whatever," Ichigo replies, but he's fighting a smile. He moves back behind the bar to continue cleaning glassware. Tatsuki moves to serve Rukia the tea, but Ichigo catches her hand.
"Can you do me a favor?"
When Tatsuki serves the tea, she carefully slips a note into Rukia's little purse, just a scrap of paper. Later, Rukia leaves, her payment in coins on the table, and Ichigo feels himself breathe freely.
He walksto the train station that night, the streetlamps long since on and glowing brightly. Zangetsu's window is still closed, though he can see light behind the curtains.
"Stupid old man," Ichigo mutters, and kicks a can lying by the wayside. It arcs gracefully into the air and clatters to the ground far away.
That night, Rukia thinks to make a drawing on her way back to the Kuchiki house. She rummages in her purse and finds the sheet of paper, Unfolding it rapidly, she begins to sketch, but she flubs a line and so turns the page over. There is a time and a place. "Hitsugaya's. 8.30." It's 7.15 and she gasps when she sees this reflected in her cell phone clock. She catches a bus and barely makes it to the place on time, a little shop that looks set to close.
"Ah, you're here." A woman with long brown hair and a lot of cleavage smiles serenely. "Come in, come in." Rukia steps into the small shop and gasps. Everywhere there are cages of rabbits. Rabbit food lines one wall, and the center of the store, a cashier's station, is stocked with rabbit accessories and toys.
Behind the cashier, looking bored, is a young man with styled gray hair, almost too short to be behind the register.
"Hitsugaya-san, this is Rukia."
He straightens and raises an eyebrow. "You're Rukia?"
"You're the owner?" She shoots back.
Hitsugaya Toshiro smirks slightly and moves to a cage against the wall. He pulls out a cage and hands it to her. Inside is a medium-sized rabbit, orange with white spots (or, white with orange spots, depending). Its eyes seem to look right at her.
"What? I can't take this, I--"
"He's been paid for already. The buyer specifically requested that you have that one."
She blinks and smiles, full and radiant. Then, she bows and takes her leave, the rabbit cage swinging gently by her side.
Ichigo comes into work the next day in the afternoon, well after ten o' clock, and ties on his apron like he always does. Ishida and Orihime are making eyes at one another, and Ichigo makes a note to knock on the bathroom door before entering. Or the backroom, for that matter. Or the office. Or anywhere, really.
"Ah, young love," Yoruichi quietly remarks, glancing their way.
"It brings back memories." Urahara whips open his rising sun fan, and his eyes crinkle in delight.
"I just hope he doesn't hurt her," Tatsuki sets her tray down on the counter and sits on a barstool. The tea shop is empty; it's too hot for anyone, it seems.
"He won't," Yoruichi says with conviction. "He's a good kid. And he's liked her for a long time. Just trust him."
"I do, I do." She looks over at the two of them, huddled together, and a shadow of a smile crosses her features.
"Anyone interesting come in this morning?" Ichigo twists the rag to get the water out, shaking it open to straighten out the wrinkles.
"Chad was here earlier. So was that girl from yesterday, Ichigo." Tatsuki looks him dead on, her eyes darker than he's ever seen them before. "They left together."
"Ah," Ichigo replies neutrally, but the crushing weight of disappointment leaves hairline fractures along his heart, and he immerses himself with drying.
At that same moment, Chad and Rukia are walking in silence through Karakura Park. Chad has his hands stuffed in his pockets, and Rukia has her hands in front of her, holding onto the small purse she's carrying.
"What goes over flowers?" He asks suddenly.
"Over flowers?" She pauses. "Food?"
"What color lantern does the familiar pub have?"
"A burnt child--"
"Fears the fire," she finished.
"One can never tell..."
"If a prophecy will hit or miss."
"After the storm--"
"Comes a calm."
"Aa." Chad is quiet for a moment. "Abuelo told me that a person who knows idioms is a good person." He turns to face her and, for the first time, Rukia can see both his eyes. "Don't hurt him."
She blinks up at him, twice. "I won't."
Ichigo heads home at six, a short shift to make up for all the closings he's done of late. The sun dazzles and makes everything look like it's in high contrast, but he can't bring himself to care. Twice, he thinks he hears his name on the wind, but there is nothing and he continues on home. He slips off his shoes as he enters the house, calling out a greeting as he does so. The place is silent, and he finds himself growing suspicious.
"Pops? Yuzu? Karin?" He wanders into the kitchen, confused, when he sees the note on the fridge. He pulls it off and raises an eyebrow.
"Ichigo," reads his father's handwriting. "Masaki's poster returned to me, and I realized how much my PRECIOUS DAUGHTERS need me in this time of GREAT CHANGE. We're off to Kyoto for a few days - Yuzu made some food and there's money if you want to order in. Don't do anything I wouldn't encourage you to do anyway! LOVE DADDY."
Ichigo feels his eye twitch a little, but the feeling of accomplishment warms him slightly. Then he notices the finer print at the bottom; Yuzu's handwriting is there at the edge of the page, small and feminine.
"Ichi-nii, you got a package. It's on your bed." There's a little doodle of a citron that makes him smile.
Curious, Ichigo sets down the note on the counter and climbs the short flight of stairs to his room. There, on his bed, is a large brown box with a note attached to the top. Carefully, he pulls the note away and opens it.
"Idiot boy," reads the unfamiliar hand. "Don't close yourself off from the world. Go out there and get her before you're an old man trapped in his apartment. You aren't blinded by the sun, Ichigo. If you let this opportunity go, it is your heart that will be cold and metal like my blades." The note is signed with a stylized Z, and Ichigo realizes what the package must be. Still, he gently lifts the top away, unfolds the brown paper and lifts out the black blade. The handguard is a right-facing, four-armed cross, a small Z at the end of each arm. The metal shines in the afternoon sunlight, the black strikingly dark against the world around it. Ichigo is impressed, and sheathes the blade gently, laying it back in the box and moving the whole of it to his desk.
He makes his way to the roof, where he stands at the highest point and lets the wind run past him for a long time, feeling the warm air blow past him. When he finally steps down, he decides he should take a shower. The hot water is a comfort, and the physical aches of the day melt away as the heat seeps into his bones and muscles.
When he comes out, the sun is beginning to set, the rooms painted red-gold as the light slants in. Ichigo opens the fridge and pulls out the first thing he sees - a plate of homemade sushi, still as a roll. He lifts off the plastic wrap and selects a clean knife. He cuts up the roll into half-inch high circles as he keeps his mind carefully blank. If he thinks, he'll drive himself mad.
The knife pauses, and the voice of Zangetsu rings in his mind. "Go out there and get her!" the voice shouts, and he sets down the knife. He strides purposefully to the door and, as he slips on his shoes, opens it.
She is standing there, one hand raised to knock.
The shoe falls to the floor with a clatter and the silence rings. He steps aside and she moves in and he shuts the door and then it is them, alone. She reaches up to touch his face but he pulls her hand to rest over his heart instead. She curls her fingers against his t-shirt and simply looks at him. They stay like that until the sun disappears below the horizon, and the brilliant reds and oranges fade to muted blues and dark purples. Then, they move.
Later, it is August 21st. In Karakura Park, Kurosaki Isshin is playing soccer with his dark-haired daughter while the other sets out their picnic lunch. Karin launches the ball at his head and it connects. He falls over, dazed, and when Yuzu asks if he's okay, he shoots them his best smile and a thumbs-up despite the lump forming on his head.
Across town, Ishida Uryuu and Inoue Orihime share a bowl of ice cream. She wears a dress he's sewn himself, the neckline adorned with crosses made of ribbon. She gives him that smile he knows he reserves for him alone.
At the same moment, by the river on the grassy knoll, one Kurosaki Ichigo debates the shapes of clouds. Lying on her back with his stomach as a pillow is Kuchiki Rukia, a mottled orange and white rabbit curled up in sleep beside her, the tag on its collar reading "KON" in English letters. She insists the cloud looks like a bear and he insists it looks like a cloud, and just when it seems like he's winning, she kisses him and all his points fly out the window.
Then, he calls her a cheater and she tells him it's not cheating if it's good strategy. She settles back into the grass, continuing to use his torso as a pillow. He grumbles about it, but shifts to be comfortable. He takes a deep breath and she closes her eyes.
A strong wind blows past, taking with it flower petals and the scent of running water.
1. "One person can change your life forever." - Tagline for the Amelie movie.
2. Much love to himawari and jaina for giving me random ideas. Thanks to tenebris for yelling, "GO GO GO" at me around 1.30 in the morning.
3. Little late, but HAPPY HALLOWEEN EVERYONE. This is a Halloween fic. Get it? grin
4. I suggest you go see the actual movie. It's so, so, so good. Also, I cut out a few major subplots because they had no place in the Bleach world. (Although, if you have seen the movie, Ise Nanao was the landlady, Kyouraku Shunsui was her husband, and Ukitake Juushiro was the "hussy" he ran off with. You know what I'm talking about.)
5. Wordcount: 9600. I hate myself.
6. COMPLETELY UNBETA'D AT POSTING. Point out mistakes to your heart's desire. Also, everyone's a little OOC. Deal.