Disclaimer: If it's got anything to do with Bleach, I don't own it.
Author's note #1: Presented for you consideration, five 'what-if' tales about Arisawa Tatsuki. Five experiences she might have had while struggling to deal with her spiritual awareness, estranged friends, and tumultuous life-but didn't.
This first chapter takes place directly after the events of Chapter 239, when Tatsuki punches Ichigo's head through a window.
1st Thing Tatsuki Did Not Do: Leave
I cut some cord
And I shouldn't have done it
And it won't forgive me after all these years
-Big Black Horse and a Cherry Tree
by K.T. Tunstall
She could feel his retreat more than see it; the thrice-damned tears gathering in her eyes drowned out her vision. They didn't matter. Nothing mattered. Everything that mattered had deserted her for reasons still frustratingly unknown.
Keigo was still limply hanging onto her arms, though it was obvious she wouldn't be running after him. Him. That…that…she couldn't find the words. How do you find the words for such a betrayal? How do find the words for a person who you looked out for nearly your whole life, only to have them throw it in your face? What rock do you look under? What hole do you dig?
Keigo and Mizuiro were herding her away from the scene she had made; it wouldn't be long before school administrators came and she got in serious trouble. It was a pointless, if considerate gesture. Dozens of students had seen her outburst and were probably talking about it right now. It was only a matter of time. Apparently, everything was.
The broken glass crunched under her feet as they led her away, as if mocking her efforts. She did not struggle. It was pointless to do so. Before she had noticed where they were taking her, they were already off of school property and, ironically, down by the riverside. Probably they didn't think anyone would bother them here. Keigo was pushing her to sit in the grass as the boys did the same.
"You know," Mizuiro was saying, "he's obviously just trying to protect us from something." His voice was timid and uncertain, not of his statement, but of his addressing her; he was nervous. Keigo too. She could see it in how they moved and glanced sideways at her, afraid to look at her directly, like a bright, burning sun. They were afraid of her uncharacteristic quietness and listless manner.
They should be afraid, she thought. My anger IS like the burning sun. She could feel it twisting in her heart, even as she sat unmoving. She could feel it tearing cords in her chest. Her response to Mizuiro was sharp. "Is that supposed to make me feel better?"
Keigo's stupid grin came back, but its nervous edge remained. "Well, at least we know that he's not acting like a jerk because he doesn't care about us."
The burning fire in her chest was evident in the heat of her words. She bolted to her feet to growl down at Keigo. "If he cared about me at all he wouldn't have said Orihime was none of my business." He flinched, but did not back away. "If he cared about me, he would've told me the truth after I almost lost my life at the dojo, instead of pretending like it never happened!" Mizuiro stood and tried to touch her shoulder, but she could not be calmed, and smacked his hand away. "If he cared about me he would've helped me become strong instead of giving me up for weak!"
"Tatsuki…" Her eyes bored holes into them, but both of them looked down, away from the fire they saw there. She felt a small pang of guilt, then, as she recalled that they were just deserted as she was.
"Enough," she said, calmer, but resolute. Her eyes were dry. She wouldn't give up one more tear to this wreck of a friendship. "Enough." She turned and began to leave the riverbank.
"Wait! Tatsuki!" called Keigo. "Where are you going?" They called, but did not chase her, or come close—she was a dangerous animal, a rampaging dragon. How could Ichigo ever have imagined they could look after her?
"Don't just walk away!" Keigo shouted, for the first time more anger than fear in his voice. That did make her stop. Yes, she thought, I guess they've had enough of that too. Slowly, she turned to face them. I will explain myself, but it will not change a thing.
"It's not just Ichigo," she said, struggling to reign in all the anger and sadness. "It's Orihime too. All this time, she's been lying to me too. After everything, after all the weird things, neither of them could just tell me. What could they possibly think of me, of my friendship, to keep up such a lie? Even after it nearly killed me?" Mizuiro and Keigo had no answer. They understood too well.
"Well, if they really knew anything about me, they would know I'd rather be dead than weak. And if all they can see when they look at me is someone too weak to know the truth, I'd rather be dead to them."
The boys looked at her with alarmed expressions. "What do you mean my that?" asked Mizuiro.
"All these months, my friends got closer and left me behind," she said quietly. "Now, I'm leaving them too."
It was not hard to convince her family to let her transfer to a distant school. Ever since the fire that had reportedly killed most of the members of her dojo, her parents had observed her becoming more depressed and distant, and had been waiting for something to give. Perhaps this would be a welcomed change for her.
"What about Orihime?" asked her mother. She knew the girls were close, but she had not seen the girl around in quite a while, and when asked about her Tatsuki had just shrugged.
This time as well she was met with another shrug. Looking down, her daughter said, "She's made new friends. I don't see her a lot anymore." Her mother frown, but said nothing. She suspected there was more to it, but perhaps digging deeper would just make it worse.
"What about that Ichigo?" asked her father.
Tatsuki scowled. "What about him?"
"Don't you hang out with him anymore? You were such good friends." Personally, he had always suspected his Tatsuki had a crush on the boy that she was no good at expressing without violence. Takes after her mother, he thought ruefully.
Her scowl deepened. "I haven't been friends with him in a long time," she said tersely. He hasn't been my friend in a long time, she amended in her mind. Her parents again exchanged dubious looks with each other, but said nothing.
"Alright, Tatsuki. We'll arrange for you to go. But you'll have to get a part-time job to pay for an apartment if you're going to school that far away." Tatsuki just nodded.
"Would you like to have some sort of get-together here with your friends before you go?" her mother asked.
"No," Tatsuki quickly shook her head. "In fact, please don't give out my new address when I get it."
This took her parents by surprise. "Why would you want that, dear?" asked her father.
"I just…I have some things to work out. With the dojo and everything. I have things I need to work through. And for that, I need to be away." Her parents knew the look in her eyes, and exchanged glances, thinking they understood the code: her two best friends had broken her heart.
It was true. Just not in the manner they suspected.
Ichigo, Orihime, and the rest of her rescuers returned just under six weeks later, triumphant if a bit haggard. As they returned to their homes in the wee hours, or at least the place they were to lay their heads and rest that night, they felt relieved; everything was right in the world again—all the pieces properly aligned.
Ichigo always had sucked at sensing reiatsu.
Upon their return to classes, Orihime was disappointed to find that Tatsuki was not in class, and Ichigo was puzzled—if slightly relieved. He still hadn't thought about what to say to her. Neither of them noticed when her name wasn't included in the roll call.
It wasn't until lunch—when Ichigo finally managed to corner Keigo and Mizuiro, who had been avoiding him—that he understood something was seriously wrong outside of what he had been expecting.
"Look, I know you've been avoiding me. I'm sorry for a lot of things," he said solemnly. "I understand I have a lot to explain, and I will—" he started, finding it difficult to speak when their faces were so sullen. "In fact, if you'll hear me out, I'll explain everything right now. Where's Tatsuki? She needs to hear this too."
If he had been making headway with the boys, this damaged it. "She's not here," Keigo said miserably.
Ichigo did not get it. "I know, she wasn't in first period. Where is she?"
"Who knows?" asked Keigo, bitterly looking away. The only thing he asked us to do was look after her and we couldn't even do that, he thought. No wonder he thinks we're weak.
"What Keigo means to say," Mizuiro stepped in when he saw Ichigo was not understanding, "is that she doesn't go to school here anymore. She transferred."
For a minute, Ichigo did not think they could be serious. But their faces did not look like those of men telling a joke. "Where?!" he asked in a frustrated tone.
Mizuiro almost looked apologetic. "She didn't say."
The situation was spiraling badly. Something like fear was chewing in his chest, and the only way to alleviate it was to shout. "How could she just leave without telling anyone where she was going?!"
Mizuiro and Keigo started at Ichigo with sad faces, which were worse than any snarky comments about irony they could have made. They didn't feel like being vindictive. There were too many negative feelings in the air already.
Ichigo tried asking around the school about where Tatsuki had gone to, but, to his frustration, everyone he talked to seemed to know less than Mizuiro and Keigo. Orihime tried visiting her house, but although Tatsuki's parents greeted her with warmth, they would not give her any contact information; they made it clear that Tatsuki had things to work out, and needed her space. Orihime suspected that they had made their own opinions on what the things were, but they could not possibly know the truth.
A few weeks later, Orihime was passing by the riverbank and saw Ichigo squatting in the grass, looking to the water. As if by a magnetic force, her feet turned her body to walk up behind him.
It was minutes before she broke the silence. "I can't sense Tatsuki like she told you she could sense me," she said. She wasn't sure why she said it, like an explanation and an apology wrapped into one. He hadn't asked, but she knew he wouldn't, and she couldn't let any such question stand between them.
For a long time, he did not respond, until finally in a low voice he said, "I can't remember what her reiatsu feels like."
Orihime didn't understand, but also didn't know what to say. When he wasn't forthcoming, she tried to prompt him, "I don't know what you mean, Kurosaki-kun."
Sitting in the grass with his chin on his knees, he gripped his elbows tighter. "If I could remember what her reiatsu feels like, I could look for her. I could find her," he said in a voice carefully even. "But I never paid attention to it. And now I just don't know."
Orihime stared at the water that twinkled and danced in the fading sunlight. Didn't it know how miserable the world felt? "Do you think she'll ever forgive us, Kurosaki-kun?"
Ichigo just stared at the flowing river. It was the same river Tatsuki had found him at on various occasions, but the rushing water from those times was forever gone.
Author's Note #2: I should probably warn everyone right now, these five what-if tales aren't going to be fluffy. But if you can tough it out until the epilogue, I promise you there's a shiny reward at the end.
Constructive criticisms are welcomed and encouraged. No matter when you find this story, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading!