Keigo's first thought when it happens is relatively straightforward.
Holy fucking shit did she just deck Ichigo?
His next thought was a little fatalistic. Tatsuki's going to go psycho on our asses.
But somehow, despite that thought, it is he, not Mizuiro or any of the random students milling around who pulls Tatsuki- Tatsuki the second strongest high school girl in Japan, who could kick Ichigo's ass five times out of ten- away, by the arms.
It's not so hard though, because she's gone limp and lifeless, like a puppet with cut strings.
Tatsuki shouts what he and Mizuiro have only whispered about, hinted at in the month Ichigo has been absent.
She's always been brave.
Keigo thinks he might admire that.
"Take care of her, Keigo, Mizuiro" he hears Ichigo say, and Keigo, for all his faults and flair for the dramatic, is Ichigo's friend and will do as asked.
It's all he can do, because he can't help Ichigo any other way.
"That was unexpected," Mizuiro manages as Tatsuki shrugs him off a minute later, staggering off, still fuming but somehow spent.
"Ya think?" Keigo replies, but lacks the usual loud energy. Now isn't the time for such things.
"Which one should we go after?" he asks, glancing at Keigo with such a confused look that it scares him a little. Because Keigo is the jester of the court, Mizuiro the smooth operator, but Ichigo is their ringleader, the strong one. Without him, decisions have to be made by someone.
Keigo glances down the hall.
Ichigo's back is like the Great Wall of China, and he moves like a dead man.
"Tatsuki," Keigo decides, and turns around. Ichigo has made a decision for them already. "I'm going after her."
Mizuiro pauses, and looks at Keigo with a bemused, half-admiring look. "You did good back there. I think maybe you should be one to go after her. I'll see you back in class."
Keigo stops and turns to look at Mizuiro, who is smiling that familiar "I know something you couldn't even begin to comprehend" smile, and decides to do as told. Mizuiro is also the smarter of the two of them, after all.
Ichigo's retreating footsteps echo in both their ears and reverberate in their hearts.
There are times when Keigo feels like a sidekick.
Today he knows he's not even that.
Keigo remembers a bright day, one of the scariest of his life. It's just him and Ichigo today, with Mizuiro with one of his girlfriends (damn that rat bastard to hell) and Chad having to go to a job or something.
He doesn't know where they came from but suddenly there are five guys with bad haircuts and sneers and clenched fists.
"Get back, Keigo" Ichigo says calmly, sure as day, and it sends the waves of panic away in an instant. "I'll handle this."
Keigo pulls away, not afraid for himself anymore because Ichigo is there to protect him.
No, now he's afraid for Ichigo, who's the one who can get hurt and bleed and bruise and maybe die.
He remembers that feeling today.
What the Hell is going on, Keigo wants to know. The monsters flying in the sky, the crazy bald guy and his sparkly friend who had swords and who fought some freakin' huge dude.
And then Ichigo disappears from school for a whole month and Chad only comes some days and has big bruises and won't talk about them and Ishida's gone too and now Orihime's missing? Then Tatsuki, strong and brave, goes nuts and punches out Ichigo.
Things are going to Hell and Keigo doesn't know what he's supposed to be doing. Ichigo does, Chad does, hell, even Ishida probably does.
There are real monsters around, and Keigo supposes Ichigo is the hero.
This is stuff out of a comic, like Spiderman or Batman or something.
Ichigo could be Batman, he thinks absently, walking down the hall. What does that make me? I'm not a Robin- that's Chad. And Ishida could be Batgirl I guess.
Was he not even part of Ichigo's world anymore? After all, Batman needs other superheroes, and Keigo is about as far from a superhero as you can get.
In fact, he doesn't even merit sidekick.
Tatsuki is on the roof, and it feels like a scene out of a corny romance manga, between the hero and his main love interest- the kind Mizuho would read, Keigo thinks.
But Tatsuki isn't that kind of girl and Keigo isn't the protagonist as he established already- he doesn't even rank sidekick anymore.
"I'm fine," she huffs slowly, without looking at him.
"Uh... I don't think so," Keigo replies, voice half joking, and he ignores the fact that this is Tatsuki, and Tatsuki is so much stronger than him (like a female lead in a comic, he realizes) and doesn't need the opinion of a non-sidekick character.
To his surprise, Tatsuki doesn't tell him to back off. "He's an idiot," she snarls, and Keigo realizes to his dismay her eyes looked quite pretty in their anger. "Why does he do things like this?"
"'Cause he's like Batman," Keigo found himself saying, and found his usual impulse to say whatever was on his mind kicking in at this inopportune time. Feeling like a fool but wanting to finish his analogy (ha, I did learn something Ochi-sensei!), he continued, "He's always charging off after the bad guy."
Tatsuki snorted but didn't dismiss his analogy. "Why can't he depend on us?"
"Batman works alone." Damn his mouth. "Except when he brings along Robin and Batgirl... which I guess could be Chad and Ishida."
Tatsuki chuckled a little at that. Keigo smiled ever so slightly, grateful his humor was actually helping for once. "I guess he could be," she said mirthfully, still chuckling. "What does that make you?"
Keigo shrugged, but it got him thinking.
Batman saves the world with Robin and Batgirl.
But Ichigo doesn't just save the world. He goes to school. He has people he cares about who aren't dead.
Who watches the Batcave when Batman is gone?
"Take care of her, Keigo."
Keigo smiled, a real smile that had Tatsuki looking at him strangely.
I figured it out, the smile said. Who I am in the comic.
"Come on." Surprising both Tatsuki and himself, he reached over and grabbed her hand, the one she had punched Ichigo with.
Blinking, she removed her hand from his and sputtered out, "What are you-"
"Your hand's bleeding." Keigo nodded towards the small lacerations caused by the glass.
"Do you want to bleed all over your desk while Ochi-sensei bores us to tears or do you want to go to the nurse's office and miss class?" he asked, grinning.
She blinked again, then laughed lightly, smiling beautifully. "Alright."
She took a step forward, past him, then stopped. "Hey, Keigo..." she turned towards him, a questioning look in her eyes. "Why are you doing all of this?"
Keigo smiled and said in reply, "I'm Alfred." She stared at him blankly, and he grinned roguishly. "Someone's got to watch the place while Batman's gone, make sure everything's running smoothly for when he gets back. That's me," he said proudly, thumbing his chest.
Tatsuki continued to stare for another moment, then laughed again, slapping his head affectionately. "You're such a dork," she murmured, shaking her head in bemusement.
Then she kissed him (right before, he swears he heard her murmur "I can't believe this..."), and it was soft and sweet and warm and right.
She pulled back after another moment. Keigo opened his mouth to say something, but then wisely shut it as Tatsuki gave him a Look.
"Well, come on then," Tatsuki said lightly, smiling mischievously. After a moment, she grabbed his hand and pulled him along, gripping his hand tightly in the softness of her own.
And suddenly being Alfred seemed to be a pretty decent occupation.
But no way in Hell am I serving Ichigo tea, Keigo thought.