A Short Summer
Tatsuki suckers Ichigo into helping try out her newly renovated bike.
She was wearing her usual cut-off shorts that ended just below the knee, and her legs had already been browned by the sun. As she leaned over her old pink bicycle, lying partially dismantled on the verdant summer grass, her hair - longer than it had been before but still tomboyish - flopped over one eye. There were small sweat stains under her arms and her face glistened in the orange of the setting sun.
Ichigo approached slowly, not wanting to disturb her and earn a reprimand. He wondered what she was doing barefoot in her front yard, surrounded by an array of tools with grease stains covering her plain green shirt. She looked like a mechanic and Ichigo was surprised to find the image inviting, instead of mannish and unflattering.
Tatsuki looked up as he stopped in front of her. "Hey," she grunted, tightening the front tire. "Long time no see, Ichigo." It had been nearly a year since they had talked last.
"Yeah, long time no see." As his presence was acknowledged he squatted down so he could better observe what she was doing.
Sensing his curiosity, Tatsuki grinned. "It's my old bike back from when I was eleven. Ever since my other one broke - my dad ran it over -I've been wanting to bike everywhere. So I figured I might as well fix this one up." She shrugged, then fixed him with a piercing look. "Yeah, it's pink, but it still fits me. And don't even think of cracking a joke."
Ichigo grinned. "Wouldn't dream of it," he lied.
Tatsuki raised an eyebrow and stood, lifting up her bike and eyeing it experimentally. "I've fixed it up pretty well," she said, lowering the kickstand and rubbing her hands on her pants, adding more black smears to the once-blue fabric. "Now it just needs a test drive."
"Have fun!" the redhead replied, looking up and down the straight drive. The sunset cast long, diagonal shadows across the street, creating poetic patterns of orange and black. Tatsuki shuffled her bare feet against the grass, then walked her bike onto the sidewalk, pulling one leg over the tarnished frame.
Looking at the petite-framed, pink bike, Ichigo raised an eyebrow. "Not particularly..."
"Oh, come on!" She gestured to the footrests on either side of the back tire. "Just stand up there and hold onto my shoulders, it's not hard. Orihime and I used to do it all the time!"
But that was slender Orihime and a pair of eleven year olds, not lanky Ichigo and two fourteen going on fifteen-year-old teenagers. "I dunno, I don't wanna break anything..."
"You won't," Tatsuki assured him, patting the grimy white handlebars fondly. "This bike's a lot sturdier than it looks."
That was hard to imagine. But from their years of being off-and-on best friends, Ichigo knew that the mischievous twinkle in Tatsuki's eyes promised a lot of fun (as well as sometimes broken bones, but that had been just once when he was six, and he wasn't planning to repeat those circumstances anytime soon). He gave a long-suffering sigh. "Fine."
The bicycle was surprisingly firm as he mounted the footrests, one cautious step at a time. He was much taller than what was probably originally intended for the bike, and he felt conspicuous and top-heavy as Tatsuki righted the bicycle and began to pedal.
It wobbled and he found his faith in the contraption rapidly disappearing. "Tatsuki..." he muttered through gritted teeth as they took a mild turn off the driveway and began heading downhill. "Are you sure this is-" The bike hit a rock and jolted to the side as Ichigo's teeth clicked together painfully and he grabbed her shoulders as tightly as he could.
"Ow," the girl complained, shifting and further disrupting his balance. She began to pedal faster, and, in the midst of his adrenalin induced terror Ichigo felt a delightful coolness from the sensation of wind in his hair. As the ride grew smoother, he found himself relaxing, learning to lean with the turns and shift his weight to make it easier to stay poised.
"So," Tatsuki yelled over the rushing of the wind as they gathered speed. Ichigo tried not to be alarmed by the fact that she was barefoot, and that neither of her feet were touching the pedals at the moment. "Are you excited for school to start next week? We're finally getting out of this crappy junior high!"
"Yeah," Ichigo replied, and heard his words being carried away behind them. "But who's ever excited for school to start?"
"True," Tatsuki acknowledged, as she replaced her feet on the pedals. "Hold on, I'm going to stop now."
Ichigo felt his previous tension return, and he bent his knees slightly to present less of a dead weight as the bike stopped. They had reached the end of the street, but instead of turning back, Tatsuki headed right and kept going. The redhead wasn't able to see her face from his point of view, but he was sure she was grinning crazily.
"I forgot how much fun biking was," she commented as she began swerving lazily back and forth. Ichigo was shaken from side to side and began leaning against the turns, instead of with them. It was all he could do to stay balanced and he found he had no breath left for conversation. The last thing he wanted to do was fall at this breakneck, downhill speed. He prayed that the neighborhood commuters were finished returning home.
The street they were riding on led to another, and another, and just when Ichigo was beginning to relax for real, Tatsuki tried the craziest stunt of all. Picking up speed, she turned into a driveway and tried to make a loop. Ichigo could hear his heart pounding in his ears as they veered crazily - first to the left, then the right. And suddenly the momentum was too much, and he felt the bike losing traction. Grabbing convulsively, he had a death grip on Tatsuki's shoulders as they plowed front-tire first into the cool grass.
After a few minutes of stunned panting, Tatsuki disentangled herself from under the bike and released her hold on the handlebars. Flopping down into the grass, she turned to look at Ichigo, whose leg was pinned uncomfortably beneath the back tire. "That... was interesting."
Her grin was still as wild and reckless as ever as she stood slowly and tried to pat down the area where their crash had ripped up the sod. "Adrenalin junkie," Ichigo muttered, feigning anger. His leg had been scraped up by the footrest and his shoulders and head were throbbing where he had landed on the ground. The grass had only provided a marginal cushion. But at the same time, he felt an insane urge to grin as he looked at Tatsuki's smile and the damage they had caused to an unsuspecting citizen's front lawn.
Maybe the irresponsible teenage attitude his dad was always nagging him about had finally begun to surface.
That thought, and a furtive glance at the empty windows of the house, made the humor in the situation all the more evident. As he gingerly extracted his leg and stood, shaking out his shoulders and rubbing a rueful hand over the bump above his ear, Ichigo felt a strange urge to laugh.
Tatsuki giggled as she lifted up the bike, giving its bent front tire a shamefaced look. "My dad is going to wonder what I was doing the whole time I spent fixing it," she said, laughing a little more. "It looks the exact same as when I got it out of the garage three hours ago."
Ichigo snickered, and Tatsuki glared at him. "It's not funny! I spent a whole hour learning how to take the damn bike apart, and two hours putting it back together again!" As a gesture of her frustration, she had flung the bike back into the decimated lawn. But by the end of her speech, she was laughing again.
Ichigo chuckled too, and soon they were both seated on the damp lawn, getting their clothes wet and grass-stained as they laughed hysterically. Part of it was probably a release of the tension from the crash, but another part was the sheer humor of the situation.
As their hilarity finally petered out, Ichigo looked up at the house once more. "We should leave," he said. "Before a neighbor calls or something."
Tatsuki merely nodded, still giggling, so Ichigo rolled his eyes and lifted up the bike for her.
"Hey!" she called as he lifted up the pink bicycle - it was surprisingly light. "I'm not a wimp, let me carry that!" Grinning, Ichigo hoisted the bike even higher over his head. Tatsuki jumped in vain to reach it.
"I don't trust you with this anymore," Ichigo told her, trying and failing to act serious. His remonstrance fell flat, especially since he couldn't help the smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
Tatsuki reached for it a few more times, then rolled her eyes and shrugged. "Whatever," she grumbled, and glanced down at her scraped and grease-stained legs. "It would have been hard to carry it home with bare feet, anyway."
She didn't catch Ichigo's quick, mirthful smile - her head was turned the other way. "I know," he replied. "Besides, this is my way of saying thanks for the ride." Even though it had been a bad idea in the first place, and had almost ended in disaster, their tandem bicycle trip had brightened up what would have been a tedious evening walk.
Tatsuki had always been good for things like that.
My first and probably last attempt at writing this pairing. Comments?