Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach. Also, I am new to this fandom and have only watched through ep.120 of the anime. So forgive me for any mistakes I've made regarding this universe. I'm just dipping my toes into the characters with this piece that amounts to little more than a writing exercise. Expect more simile and metaphor and introspection, as opposed to plot. Actually, it's just a piece of pointless romantic fluff. That being said, I hope you will enjoy my efforts...
Oh, the title is from a song by R.E.M.
Rays of sunlight pierced through the limbs of verdant trees, dappling the forest floor in a shimmer of gold coins. Nearby, a waterfall gurgled out its eternal song, light fracturing off the water like a cluster of diamonds. Butterflies flitted and dipped, specks of brilliant orange and marigold yellow shifting across a backdrop of wildflowers painted in pale ivory and wet, mossy green. It was a perfect symphony of light and sound, expertly conducted by the skilled flourish of Mother Nature's hand. Nothing was out of harmony here. Nothing was out of place. The tiny glade around the waterfall was secluded and private, disturbed by nothing and no one. Not even by the boy who stood on a rock by the water, a boy who was as straight and lean and silent as the nearby towering trees. A boy with skin the color of lucent ivory, as pale as the petals of the wildflowers; his hair as black as the obsidian rock beneath the stream. A tall, quiet boy with a determined frown on his face, the vertical lines of a scowl disrupting the natural harmony of his chiseled, youthful features.
The boy cupped his palms together; he tried to focus on the feeling, the energy within him. Always from the heart. He heard the distant echo of his dead grandfather's words; they seemed to be carried along the breeze, to whisper inside the spray of the gently crashing water. His spirit seemed alive here in this place where he had first taught the boy the rites of their clan. Grandfather, I'm trying so hard. He focused all that he had on the ball of energy in his hands; he saw the electric bloom of the blue orb spring to life. Saw it crackle and sputter away into nothingness, yet again. No! Please don't! The boy bowed his head, the long strands of the front of his hair covering his expression of defeat. He was never going to regain his powers. It was impossible. I'm sorry grandfather, thought the boy. I've disappointed you. Then, in a somber, listless gesture, the boy grabbed his book bag from the side of the rock, and he wandered from the glade, through the trees, away from sight...
...away from the sight of the other boy who stood watching silently from the brush. The boy with the orange hair and folded arms who followed, with a sigh, the progress of the other boy's increasingly hopeless movements.
The classroom was filled with a cacophony of sound: chattering voices, the slamming of books, the protesting screech of chair legs on the tiled floor. It was the period right before lunch, and the students were getting restless. In the midst of all this activity, Ishida sat at his desk, perfectly composed, talking to no one and reading nothing. The noise inside the room was nothing compared to the din inside his own head. The internal accusations, the repeated denials. Their volume growing louder, wiping out all other sound. All sound except this: his classmate Keigo practically shouting over the top of his head, "Hey, Ichigo! You'll come to the beach with us this weekend, won't you? Say yes!"
No answer. Suddenly, there was a dark shadow falling across the grimy beige surface of his desk. Ishida looked up to see Ichigo standing there, the light from behind his head encircling his spiky hair in a halo of fire. As usual, he ignored Keigo completely. Instead, he spoke directly to Ishida. "Ishida, come eat lunch with us today." There was something odd in the timbre of his voice, some unseen weight behind the casual invitation. Meanwhile, Keigo was fawning over Ichigo like an overly excited puppy, a dog panting for his master's attention. "Ichigo, c'mon! Chad, you'll come too, won't you? No? Why not? You guys..."
Keigo's whining speech faded off into the background as Ishida stared up at Ichigo's imploring expression. "Not today," he said quietly, turning his face toward the window. He did not look to see Ichigo's reaction. It doesn't matter, thought Ishida. We shouldn't even be associating with each other. Quincy and Shinigami don't belong together. Ishida waited, an unknown tension curling his fingers, but the shadow didn't lift from his desk. Suddenly, he felt a hand clutching at his wrist. The unexpected contact caused him to jump in his chair, the gravity of those five unfamiliar digits dragging his gaze back down to his arm. "Yes, today." Not an invitation this time, but a command. Ishida's eyes moved from Ichigo's hand, up his arm, to his determined, scowling face. A shiver passed through him, generated by that almost fierce look. Then he heard his grandfather's words, like a chastisement in the back of his head: Remember who you are.
Ishida suddenly jerked his arm away, the scowl on his face answering Ichigo's in kind. "I said not today, Kurosaki." There was a flurry of movement; the teacher had entered the classroom and everyone around them was hurrying to take his or her seat. Ichigo hesitated, seemed on the verge of saying something else, but then he turned and walked to his desk, settling in his chair like everyone else. Ishida looked straight ahead at the blackboard, his hands in his lap gently shaking. From behind him, he could feel Ichigo's piercing stare, his eyes burrowing through his skull like twin arrows of light.
Nightfall. High up in the sky hung a Titian blue moon, enveloping the world below in the deep, dusky haze of its sapphire embrace. Ishida was walking alone through the park, a new bag of thread dangling from his fingertips. Supplies for his sewing. His sewing, which caused all the other students at school to make fun of him. That, among other things: the fact that he was at the top of his class, and his (seemingly) snide refusal to associate with anyone else. Ah, how the crowds hated the loner. All the more reason to refuse Kurosaki's invitation, he thought to himself. His other friends wouldn't want me there. I ate lunch with them that one time, and it was a disaster. So it was all for the best, really. And Ishida, deep down, preferred to be alone.
Or at least that's what he told himself, time and again.
Around him, the branches on the trees lifted and swayed like darkened banners on the breeze. Nearby, a lone swing creaked back and forth idly, crying out its metallic falsetto in the night. His own steps were virtually silent. As were those of the one who was following him. Ishida closed his eyes, sighing to himself in quiet resignation. Yes, he knew this moment would come. The moment when those things, those creatures, would invariably be drawn to him, drawn to what he was. The hollows. He knew that their incessant craving for a strong spirit energy would eventually lead them to him. And that he would have to fight them...
...only he no longer had the power to fight!
All he had was a broken bow and a broken promise. Grandfather, I'm so sorry. There was the clip and clatter of insect-like limbs on the walk way behind him. Ishida turned to see a hollow, an enormous beast with multiple spindly legs and a scorpion-like tail, creeping towards him with deadly intent. It's blackened eyes glowed with the red energy of a lost, tainted soul. Poor, corrupted soul. Ishida did not hesitate. He did the only thing he could do in this situation.
He ran because it was the only thing he could do. His Quincy powers were lost to him, as lost as the once-human soul of the creature which followed him. The cross pendant on his wrist shivered and swayed in time with his rapidly retreating steps, the symbol flashing bright silver beneath the moonlight. No longer a weapon, but a worthless trinket. Meanwhile, he could here the ominous clacking of the hollow's legs, clicking along like tap-dancing spiders on the walk way behind him. "Come here, little boy," the creature whispered in its twisted, raspy voice. "Come here so I can devour you..."
Ishida crashed through some hedges, their sharp branches clawing at his arms, carving marks into his face. His heart pounded out a rapid tattoo of fear and anger and frustration. Why? Why did it have to be like this? It was not the way of the Quincy to run from a fight with a hollow. It was not the true way of his clan. And so, gritting his teeth, Ishida stopped, turned, and clasped his palms together and-
-a bright blue flame sprang to life in his hands. Yes! This! Now! It flared and sparked, the energy of his heart materializing into an arrow of pure, celestial light. Please! Yes! Just this once! He watched the arc of bluish energy as it wavered and bent, the form collapsing just as suddenly as it had appeared, scattering fractured jewels of light into the ether. No! Don't! Please! Gone. The arrow was gone. And Ishida was left standing there, shaking and alone, before the relentlessly pursuing hollow. Alone and powerless, with nothing but dust falling between his empty, unarmed fingers.
The word was little more than a whisper amongst the trees, a husky murmur carried on the high notes of the wailing wind. The scorpion tail lifted and fell in a lethal arc of slow motion, aimed right at Ishida's face. Ishida closed his eyes and waited. He waited for the blow that would finish him, the blow that would wipe the unbearable disgrace of his failure from the face of the earth. Wipe the shame that he put on the Quincy name from this place. He felt a rush of cold air blow the hair back from his face. And then: nothing. Silence. No attack came. He opened his eyes, to stare directly into another pair of eyes that were darkened by rage and determination and confusion.
"Why are you just standing there, you idiot? Ishida, do you want to die?"
Did he want to die?
Ichigo's sword was visibly straining beneath the weight of the hollow's tail. The Shinigami stood like a pitch-black wall between Ishida and the monster, his sword and body acting as a shield. He was holding the creature back, but his feet beneath his robes were sliding, were creeping incrementally through the grass. With a low, gravelly cry, Ichigo parried against the tail, the force of his move sending the appendage whipping back into the other direction.
Ichigo's face was a mask of unchecked anger as he whirled on Ishida. As if Ishida were his real opponent and not the monster behind him. "I said, what's wrong with you? That hollow almost got you. Why are you just standing here?"
"I...I can't. I've lost my-"
"-that's no excuse!" Ichigo interrupted. "I don't care if you have lost your powers; that's no excuse not to fight. That's no excuse to just give up."
"Kurosaki!" Ishida's eyes widened as the hollow came in for another pass. Ichigo didn't even turn around; he deflected the blow with his zanpakuto without even looking. His attention was still on Ishida. "Ishida," he said, his voice growing unusually soft. "Tell me what is wrong?"
You know. Ishida didn't answer. The two boys stared at each other, Ichigo's intense glare willing him to speak. Still, Ishida didn't answer. I can't answer you, Ichigo, thought Ishida. I don't know how to speak to you. Not anymore. Not since-
"Kurosaki, the hollow!" The dagger-like tail came down, and once again Ichigo parried against it. With an annoyed sigh, Ichigo turned away from Ishida, turned to face the hollow directly. The wind whipped his robes around him, the dusky material encircling him like a murder of ravens. "It's rude to interrupt someone's conversation like that," he commented to the creature. "And that tail of yours is becoming an annoyance, so..."
What happened next occurred too fast for Ishida to see. One minute, Ichigo was standing before the hollow, speaking softly. The next minute, the hollow's tail was lying on the ground, the scorpion-like appendage cleaved away from its body, and Ichigo was standing several feet away, balanced on a park bench. His eyes flashed with a fiery defiance; his mouth smirked in victory. He looked vibrant, almost happy. He looked-
-no, don't you dare think it! Remember who you are! Remember! Quincy and Shinigami do not mix...
In a whirl of blinding motion, Ichigo flew at the hollow, his sword cutting a crackling swath through the air like a black storm cloud of solid energy. The hollow shrieked out its final defeat as the zanpakuto sliced through its neck, neatly eviscerating it. The head fell away from the body, and it bounced once, landing in the grass a mere hands-span from Ishida's feet. Ishida stared down at its now empty eye-sockets, the red light of the devoured soul within forever extinguished. Go now. Be free lonely soul, he thought.
Another icy gust of wind and the surprising sensation of fingers on his face. Goddam you, Kurosaki, for being so fast. Ichigo was standing mere inches away. Ishida felt ambushed. "Ishida, there's blood on your face. Did it hurt you? I was so far away when I saw it coming for you. If it weren't for the bankai..." Ichigo was speaking in a hurried staccato, the words trailing off into nothingness as Ishida stared into his eyes. Those eyes, which held such concern for him. Why do you care so much? he thought. He suddenly remembered the sensation, the uncomfortable heat of that gaze as Ichigo had sat staring at him from the back of the class. The forceful command of his invitation. Those strong fingers, grabbing his wrist. Why did I reject him? he thought. Why do I always do the opposite of what my heart truly feels? Why?
"Don't touch me!" Ishida swatted Ichigo's hand; he stepped back, putting distance between them. Again, he thought. I'm doing it again. I'm pushing Ichigo away. But why?
For the pride of the Quincy.
"Ishida, talk to me. Tell me what's wrong."
"I don't want to talk, Kurosaki. And I don't need your help. Just leave me alone." The words were as frigid as ice. As cutting as the wind. Ishida turned away, so he wouldn't have to see Ichigo's face. So he wouldn't have to see the hurt and confusion he knew was there. All because of me.
And without another word, he turned and fled the park. Fled like he was being pursued by something far worse than a hollow.
Water crashed in a canopy of shattered glass over the rocks. Somewhere, an elusive solitary bird sang out its sweet soprano song beneath the sun-lit blanket of the trees. Will-o-wisps and wildflowers swayed like graceful dancers across the glade, moved by the gentle rhythm of the warm, sighing breeze. A grasshopper dove off a rock, barely avoiding being crushed underfoot by the boy who stood on top of it. A tall pale boy with a serious air, the determined expression on his face narrowing his eyes to tiny, insignificant slits. A lost boy standing in his school uniform, the jacket of which lay discarded on the grass nearby, his crisp white shirt sleeves and striped tie billowing out in the wind.
Focus. Pull it from the heart. Ishida concentrated all his energy into his hands. The cross symbol on his wrist shivered in the air. There was a small spark, a tiny flash, then...
Ishida heard his dead grandfather's words. A chiding voice on the wind, a chastisement swirling in the water: You are not concentrating! Where is your mind? Where is you heart?
Ishida remembered the incident with the hollow from the night before. Remembered his shame, his disgrace. I'm sorry grandfather. I can't. He remembered Ichigo's imploring face, remembered the concern he saw in his eyes. Ishida, tell me what's wrong. Ishida shook the image from his mind; he willed it away. No! Do not think of him! You will never be able to concentrate if you don't! With his mouth set in a grim, knife-like line of determination, he banished Ichigo from his thoughts, focused on the empty space between his hands, and...
Suddenly, he felt another pair of hands covering his own. Ishida was too shocked to react. He watched as a shining blue orb of light bloomed to life within his palms. It flared and glowed with a strength, with a vibrancy he hadn't felt in weeks. He could feel the intense spirit energy flooding through him, a circuitous current flowing through him from the press of that other body that stood behind him, from the grip of that other pair of hands closing over his own. The touch was electrifying: shaking his body like a live wire, striking him with the force of lightning. Ishida felt his heart pounding in his chest like thunder. It was like an arrow of light had been shot straight through his heart.
"Please let me help you. Use my spirit." A whisper by his ear, the feather-stroke of hot, intimate breath on his neck. Ishida shivered, but did not pull away. Not this time. Ichigo's voice: "One, two, three." Slowly, the two pairs of hands pulled apart, and the form of the bow and arrow grew clearer and more taut, outlined in a blindingly white, crystalline light. Ishida's expression turned ecstatic. "Ichigo! Look! It's holding!"
As soon as the words left his mouth, the arrow started to fizzle, to bend. "No! Don't!" Panic seized Ishida's hands, causing them to quake. "Ishida, look at me." There was the deep tenor of Ichigo's voice, commanding him again. Ishida ignored the mental accusations of his grandfather's voice. This time, he did what Ichigo told him. He turned his head, and meeting the other's eyes, it was like a second lightning strike. White-hot sparks of energy flared as Ichigo covered Ishida's lips with his own, the orange haired boy's resolve cutting through the grim, knife-like line of his mouth with the force of his passion, leaving nothing but velvety softness in its wake. Yes! Now! This! This is what I truly want! Ishida's heart leapt in ecstasy. Was it possible to feel set free and conquered, all at the same time? Was it possible for Quincy and Shinigami to co-exist, to care for one another?
Was it possible for him to get his powers back?
Was it possible to have this feeling, piercing him like an arrow through his heart, and still live?
He certainly hoped so.
Quincy do not fire arrows; they let them go. Ishida heard his grandfather's words once again. Together, he and Ichigo pulled the bow taut and fired an arrow up stream, cutting through the glassy haze of the waterfall, piercing the safety of water. An expression of triumphant delight covered Ishida's face; it chased away his grim look and morphed his pale features into something approaching beauty. He turned, and overwhelmed by his own feelings, he spontaneously reached up and kissed Ichigo again, melding their mouths into one.
He felt his body shiver, felt his skin crackle with an electric, unknown longing, as Ichigo pulled him into a full body embrace. Soon, Ishida was bent like his bow, yielding beneath the strength of Ichigo's arms, the ferocity of his kiss. I will bend, but I will not break. The kiss went on and on, ended only by the apparent need for air. Ichigo pulled his head back and said breathlessly, with the gleam of passion glazing his eyes, "Ishida, you're beautiful." Ishida merely stared at him and said nothing. Not because he didn't know what to say. Not because he didn't know how to say it. But because...
He was simply too dumbstruck by Ichigo's words to respond.
He watched Ichigo redden, saw him pull away. The other turned and said in the direction of the waterfall, as if he were addressing it and not Ishida: "You will come out with me tonight on patrol." Again, it was a command, not an invitation. That, along with the feeling of something more crackling underneath. Before this, Ishida's pride would have bristled at such a presumptuous request. But things were different now. Ishida's feelings had changed.
Now he was Ichigo's to command.
"Yes," was his whispered response. He saw Ichigo's profile, saw the happy smile adorning his face like the sun adorning the blue sky above. All because of me. Ishida watched him turn and walk, his step almost bouncing, toward the forest. Saw him pause to linger beneath the crow-black stand of trees. His eyes locked with Ishida's, his gaze burning with a blazing passion, with a promise of things to come. "Tonight," the Shinigami repeated. Then he darted off through the woods, vanishing from sight.
Ishida's heart was racing. "Tonight," he repeated to himself, to the empty air around him. Then he turned, pushed his glasses back up his nose, and stared determinedly at the waterfall across the way. He brought his palms together and saw the blazing arc of light spring forth between his hands. Saw it glow with the rejuvenated energy of his heart, with the power of his new-found joy. With love. Carefully, and with deadly accuracy, Ishida pulled back on the bow, aiming the arrow at the sky, aiming it at the top of the waterfall above the stream.
And just like his grandfather taught him, he let it go. Because Quincy arrows were not fired, they were let go, from the heart. Still, those arrows hit with a deadly accuracy. And Ishida knew he would not miss. Not now, not tonight. Be ready, Ichigo, he thought. Because tonight, I'll be aiming for your heart...
And on the pride of the Quincy, I will not miss...