-ii. He was a lucky boy.
That was for sure.
Two broken ribs, dislocated shoulders, a cut above his eye, sprained wrists, fractured right femur, bruises all over his body and cut bottom lip – these were nothing compared to the crushing deaths of thirty two people. After two weeks in the hospital, he was allowed to recuperate at home. Orihime wheeled him out of the hospital. Ichigo, sitting on a wheelchair, looked up to the clear, blue sky.
It was a beautiful day, making him think that the day was solely made for him.
But he later realized: it was the year of funerals.
-iii. It was the first Sunday of a new month, a month after the accident that killed thirty two people and spared one second year high school student.
Yuzu and Karin waited for Ichigo; he had promised to accompany the twins to a grocery store. They decided to ride a taxi.
''This is expensive,' Karin said.
'Trains make carrying shopping bags difficult,' Yuzu replied.
Karin shrugged and got inside the car.
Thirty seven minutes later, the taxi stopped in a intersection. The light flashed green and the driver instinctively slammed his foot down on the accelerator. A large delivery truck which was trying to get across the street for the last minute slammed into the side of the taxi at full speed.
The driver did not feel anything.
i. He woke up with a jolt.
It was the same dream.
With a tired sigh, he sat up. The clock radio on the bedside table showed the time; it was only two o'clock. He gave another sigh, put his elbows on his thighs and grasped his hair in his hands.
He stayed in that position for a full minute before standing up and cutting across the room. He opened the door. The hallway was quiet and dark. Leaving the bedroom door opened, he stepped outside and wandered into the hallway. Gazing at the darkness before him, he walked quietly. He stopped and absently turned to his right. He lifted a hand and grasped a knob. He tested it and found it was unlocked. The hinges did not make a sound as he swung it open. A different darkness presented itself before him. Unlike the unlit hallway, the darkness inside the room was not caused by a mere absence of light. The room reeked of deep-seated loneliness that he could almost touch and grasp it in his hand. He stepped closer until he was standing in the doorway. It felt as though a hundred hands had emerged from the dark room, elongated and wrapped around him like veins. They were pulling him in, dragging him inside the darkness. Buzzing voices talked behind his ears, voices he could not recognize.
ii. Like paper, metal crumpled as the car rolled over twice before striking another vehicle, and together, the two vehicles hit a traffic light post.
Metal bent, bent, bent and creaked, creaked, creaked.
And then, silence, fine like silk thread, hung in the air.
Headlamps and taillights blinked rhythmically from the heap of twisted and tangled metals.
Ichigo, who sat in the passenger seat, tried to kick his door, and after several attempts, it moved. He pushed himself off the seat and fell on the ground facedown. He hissed a curse and shuddered; his ankle and knee had twisted upon his fall. With a groan, he rotated his head to the side, eyes and cheeks damp with blood. A strange, strong odor came from the vehicles.
Ichigo struggled to get up, crumbling every time he tried. A small bundle of fire at the back of the taxi had started which slowly grew in size. The odor became stronger, and right then, he recognized what it was: gasoline.
Panic seized him in a chokehold. He made another attempt to lift himself up and this time, he succeeded. He saw Yuzu's pallid face through the cracked window of the backdoor of the car; her face was streaked with blood. She reached out to him with a shaking hand and touched the cracked window. Her hand left a bloody handprint on the glass. Beside her, Karin was motionless, eyes half-lidded, her face caked with blood. She was sitting directly behind the driver.
Ichigo grunted, his injured ankle burning with pain. He told them not to worry, that he will get them out of here alive. The fire thickened and spread, zigzagging, following the trail of spilled gasoline. Ignoring the heat and clenching a bleeding fist, he shouted their names and pounded on the window while his other hand struggled with the door.
The half of the taxi was soon engulfed in fire. His heart raced faster. The flames rose higher, dancing ominously around the vehicles. But Ichigo kept pounding, tugging at the door and banging on the window.
Hands clamped hard on his shoulders; at the same time, the window he was banging cracked and broke. Someone started to drag him back and away from the taxi. Struggling, he fought those hands, screaming his sisters' names.
Everything was happening fast, but to Ichigo, everything seemed to be in cruel slow motion.
He continued to thrash about and scream, but the hands did not yield. With a vicious swear, Ichigo yanked his arm away. And as if on cue, the vehicles gave an ear-splitting explosion and soon, both cars were engulfed in fire. Nearby, people screamed and scrammed. Fire covered the entire crash area and the roadway, forcing the other cars into braking and skidding, darting into other lanes and blocking incoming vehicles.
Ichigo felt something was severed violently away from him. Bright lights, dancing lights, fading lights – he was watching the scene through a prism; lights reflecting, splitting into components. Then, they reconstructed with care, the pieces completed each other until an image was formed with jagged edges. It was ugly, this image.
But all he could do was stare at the fiery remains of the vehicles and scream with such desperation that people, who heard his cry, thought his mind had cracked.
iii. A hand was shaking him awake.
Ichigo opened his eyes. A shaft of sunlight filtered through a crack between the curtains, blinding him a little. He heard his name being called and turned towards the sound of that sweet voice. His brow wrinkled.
The girl watched him unfold his legs and sit up. He raked a hand over his messy bright hair. "What are you doing in my…" He frowned. "This is not my room," he concluded, seeing the flowery thin curtains covering the window, the cream-colored walls and shelves of stuffed animals. Across him, a neat bed was situated against the opposite wall, a familiar stuffed lion sitting on top of it.
Ichigo swallowed again.
Orihime sat down beside him on the bed where he had fallen asleep. "This is Yuzu-chan and Karin-chan's room."
Ichigo's fingers flexed over his knee. He looked around the bedroom; it was neat and clean, no layer of dust or cobwebs in sight. He recognized the bed where he sat as Karin's; the beddings were her favorite black and white cover that resembled a soccer ball.
It looked as if nothing had changed despite his younger sisters' absences. The room looked the same; Bostov was still on Yuzu's bed, and Karin's bed was still covered in her favorite beddings. The familiarity tugged at his heart.
Without a word, Ichigo stood up; Orihime looked up to him, quietly offering her support. But Ichigo was wrapped up in his grief and guilt that he did not notice. He started to leave but Orihime grabbed his wrist. Despite himself and the painful nostalgia, he felt his body react to her touch. Hot, electric, forbidden.
Against his will, he looked down at her. He was standing directly in front of her, giving her an obstructed view of his eyes, dark and blazing with complex, turbulent emotions. Her grip on his wrist tightened, not looking away from his heated gaze.
Silence filled the room, a silence so thin and fragile that with one movement, it will shatter. At the same time, it was thick with tension; it was like a rubber band being stretched to its limit or a volcano on a verge of erupting. One wrong move and the balance that kept everything between them sane and safe will shatter, plunging them both to a place where both heaven and hell will condemn them.
Ichigo felt his heart racing, pounding so hard as though trying to escape from his ribs. His body stirred, fierce heat coiling in the pit of his stomach as he watched her stare up at him. From his vantage point, he had the perfect top view of her full breasts. The two buttons at the top of her throat were still unbuttoned and her collar was opened, providing him a small glimpse of her cleavage. Swallowing thickly, he told himself to look away but his body refused to obey. Instead, he gazed at that patch of smooth skin. His eyes flickered back to her face; her lips were slightly parted as she breathed hurriedly, cheeks flushed, and her eyes were matching the heated look in his eyes.
Something thick, hot and electric was boiling between them, threatening to consume them.
"Breakfast is ready."
A new voice pierced through the thick, heated haze. Orihime visibly jumped in surprise while Ichigo simply looked at the doorway with a frown. Their mother was standing there, watching them with a blank expression on her beautiful face.
Orihime slowly retracted her hand.
Without another word, their mother departed. Breathing heavily, Ichigo stepped away and turned his body away to conceal his heated reaction. Ichigo was disgusted: he both hated and enjoyed her effect on him and the fierce and hot pulse of his desire. It throbbed, it ached. So much that he was shaking all over. Of all the women who could make him feel like this, why did it have to be his sister?
I'm a fucking monster. He'll burn in a special hell for this.
Shaking his head to get rid of his morose thoughts, Ichigo glanced over at Orihime; her hands were on her chest, her face was flushed and her breathing was shallow. She must have felt his gaze because she looked up and their gazes connected – for a second there, something hot and electric passed between them. Startled, Ichigo stared at her, wide-eyed but Orihime looked away, flushed.
Tugging at his collar, he asked her quietly, "Are you alright?"
"I-I'm fine!" she chirped quickly – too quickly – without looking at him and rushed out of the room. Frowning deeply, Ichigo shook his head and followed her.
iv. Keigo's melodramatic monologue was the only noise in the rooftop. He was whining about the same mundane things, but it was a familiar noise thus Ichigo tolerated it. He seldom tolerated noises, but Keigo was Keigo. He needed to make a noise to survive.
Mizuiro was busy with his tool of female conquests – his cell phone. Ichigo sipped his juice with a perpetual scowl on his face. Beside the scowling redhead was Sado. Across the gentle giant was Ishida, eating his meal. They did not notice the rooftop door swinging open; another male student had come in.
Keigo stopped in his speech, eyes widening at the scene before him. Ichigo, who despite his apparent disregard to Keigo's speeches, noticed the abrupt halt in Keigo's whining. Scowling, he looked up to the figure in front of him. His mood further darkened.
"What the fuck do you want?" he deadpanned.
"I heard you have a hot sister," Renji said with a grin. Ichigo scowled. Renji sat down next to the redhead, placing an arm around Ichigo's shoulders. "How hot is she?"
Ichigo roughly shoved Renji's arm off his shoulders. "Don't talk about her as if she's some piece of meat," he snapped, crushing his juice box. Renji shrugged and folded his arms behind his head.
"Everyone's talking about it. Ichigo's hot sister this, that. Those sort of thing."
"Everyone? You mean every fucking pervert?" Ichigo snapped sharply.
"Hey! It's not surprising that your sister became a hot topic," Renji drawled, rolling his eyes. "So, you were hiding her from us."
Ichigo threw the redhead a withering glance. "I don't see a reason to parade that irrelevant information."
"You mean you don't want us to see your hot sister."
"Stop talking about her like that," he growled, his eyes holding a spark of anger in them. Renji snorted but he knew when Ichigo was serious and was not.
"So, are you two the same age?"
"She's one year younger," he replied gruffly. "But we started school at the same time."
"Why didn't she attend the same high school with you?"
"She studied here for a year. She transferred when she was in the middle of second year."
"Why did she transfer?"
It was an innocent question but Renji noticed how the mood drastically changed.
"It's none of your fucking business," Ichigo growled with a hint of warning. Renji raised an eyebrow at Ichigo's strange reaction. Renji glanced cautiously around him; Mizuiro was busy with his cellphone but there was an obvious tension between his eyebrows. Keigo's cheerful babbling became forced and Sado – his expression was difficult to read due to his long, wavy hair that covered half of his face. Ishida stayed quiet and withdrawn.
Kurosaki Ichigo was an enigma. He was a strange student, strange because he was considered as a delinquent but he made good grades and was in their year's top 20. Renji was also aware that Ichigo was obsessively privy about his personal life. Sado was probably the only person who knew his life history with vivid accuracy. To some extent, Ishida, Keigo and Mizuiro were also well-informed.
What Renji knew about Ichigo were the following: he lived alone in an apartment, his father was deceased, and his sister lived with their mother. He was honorable, loyal to his friends, a good fighter, and only fought to defend himself and his friends. In a nutshell, Renji considered Ichigo decent, but very stubborn.
Ichigo stood up, a hand scratching the back of his hair. "Later, guys." He waved over his shoulder without looking at them. Keigo whined overdramatically at Ichigo's retreating back. The door swung shut behind the sullen boy. Pouting, Keigo turned to Sado.
"He's so grumpy today!"
Sado grunted quietly.
"Do you know why?" asked Keigo innocently. Sado shook his head. "I don't believe you! You know everything!" Keigo whined.
"Maybe," Sado replied simply.
v. Sado was not a good storyteller, but he listened very well. He knew what words to say and what not to say, and when to say them and when not to say them.
Every time he thought of Ichigo's story, it felt like it had happened to someone else. It was a strange tale; it was strange as spectral music and as sad as winter rain. Sado was not exactly the type of person who agonized over sad stories. He preferred music and cute things, those ordinary sorts of things. But every time he watched Ichigo gaze at the sky, searching for something far beyond, Sado would feel a vague sort of sadness. He could not grasp it, but it was there, wrapped around him like a passing breeze.
That's the kind of sadness Sado would feel.