Author's Note: This was written for the IchiRuki FC's Rukia's Bday Contest, for the theme of "The Us that is Not Us". I know, I know, I'm rusty. I'm sorry, but college ate my life. I really took this idea and ran with it.
It wasn't that I didn't exist,
but rather that the 'me' you saw
wasn't me at all
She had eyes the color of unrefined amethyst.
They were always unfocused. Her gaze was always blank, so blank that it seemed as though her eyes were really just two spots of paint on an artist's board of haphazard colors. Her irises were blown wide, like flowers that had overextended in their eagerness to touch the sun's light. Trauma, the doctor mused thoughtfully during his first round through the many patients of the sanitarium. Only traumatized people ever had those blown-wide irises, telltale from the fear that if they were to close their eyes, they would never waken again.
She was nameless. Many of the mental hospital's patients tended to be. Japan was just coming out of a war, and nobody had time to attach names to people. The government was trying to rebuild. The people were trying to dig enough graves to bury the numerous dead soldiers lost in their fruitless pursuit of glory on the battlefield. The doctors were trying to just keep people alive. Names didn't matter now. They never mattered after a war. You were supposed to start fresh, start anew. Life after death. The first seed after wildfire.
Who gave a fuck about names?
"The nurses will wash you today, unless you feel capable enough of doing it on your own," Dr. Tadashi murmured distractedly, marking a tick on his clipboard. The girl next door, some little sprite with wispy hair always done up in a bun, had refused nourishment for the past three days. He worried over her. She was fading into the patchwork—a ghost among ghosts. He didn't like that. He hated losing patients, even if they never so much as acknowledged him.
He was met with a neutral silence. He wasn't surprised in the least. She just stared at him from her position by the window, blank eyes open like windows out to catch the summer breezes. Something flickered in her pupils for a moment, something too insubstantial to be given a name. Hardly something worth noticing. All the same, Dr. Tadashi wondered what it could have been. He made a note about it on his clipboard, and smiled encouragingly at her.
She pushed a lock of hair from her forehead. It fell back into place. She made no motion to push it back into place again. The veins of her arms stood out in sharp relief to the white of her hospital gown.
"Well, then. The nurses will be around in an hour or so. Ring the bell if you need anything before then."
She tilted her head, bird-like.
He realized suddenly. That flash of something had been sadness.
He wanted to know her name. He felt it was vital.
She said nothing.
It wasn't that I never dreamed,
but rather that my dreams
had become the hints to my reality
She saw a bird hurtling through the sky as she kept vigil by the window. It was a lovely shade of blue, with a shock of red on its neck. She thought of a boy who liked blue very much, a boy with the ocean in his smile and the waves in his laughs that sounded close, even when they were really distant. She didn't remember his name, but she remembered that he had taken a knife to the throat. She remembered the splash of red.
She remembered crying.
She saw him in her dreams when the doctor finally left, the doctor with lines under his eyes and wrinkles on his high forehead. The doctor who saw her as a puzzle, a question with no answer. She saw the boy in blue with his sharp haircut and sharper gaze. In her dream, he was motioning desperately to her. His mouth formed little shapes that meant things, were supposed to say words that never made it to her ears.
These words, she knew, didn't exist. He had never said a single word to her when he was alive.
But his mouth kept moving, and his temple was covered in a light sheen of sweat. She took a step closer to him, the black of her hair swinging by her neck—tapping gently on the pulse it found there.
Everything was blue. The blue emanated from him. It painted her dream world.
He was on his knees now, and his face was contorted into something she'd never seen before. And this was how she knew it was a dream. Because no human face could ever make such an expression. She wanted to shake him by his perfectly starched dress shirt collars, wanted to grab the blue spots of color and shake them in her hands until her fingers turned blue or they exploded into a million answers to a million and one questions. She wanted to demand an explanation.
He bled orange.
The knife lodged in his throat was sudden, unexpected even. She shook from her position in front of his beseeching form. His hands were still outstretched in supplication. She closed his fingers, curled them gently down into his palm. Then she brought down his eyelids over his eyes.
He was bleeding orange. The blue boy had orange blood.
There was something important about that, she thought vaguely before she woke up to a nurse with a too-tight smile and an even tighter grip on her shoulder. Something about the orange.
It wasn't that I couldn't be fixed,
but rather that nobody
could fix me (only I could)
When he saw her next, she had just been carefully washed by the nurses on duty. Her hair hung damp around her shoulders, limp from where they clung to her collarbones. She was black and purple and white and green. Her teeth clacked together oddly. Her fingernails were blue.
He ordered the nurses to turn the temperature up in the room.
She kept shaking. The sound of her chattering teeth was the sound of a thousand miniature drums beating to their own rhythms. He brought a hand to her jaw. The sound stopped, but he felt the sound reverberating in her bones, her ribcage, her lungs, her pulse. Tat-tat-tat.
He let go. The drums began anew.
Shock, he thought. She was in shock, and her blood was panicking, going places where it need not go, and her lungs were taking too much air and not breathing enough of it back out.
He clamped on a pressure point with the base of his thumb, and caught her when she fell limply against him.
It wasn't that I couldn't remember,
but rather that I couldn't put
the pieces I had together.
She woke up to night.
A man she knew with jagged, black tattoos running across patches of skin had his back to her. His torso was bare. She reached out a hand because it felt right; it felt like she needed to reach him. He walked resolutely away from her. She became too tired to keep chasing after his retreating figure.
So she spoke. She said, "You don't understand."
And that was how she knew she had woken to a dream of a night. Because she didn't speak. She had lost that ability when she had lost her identity. Her voice was all wrong too, husky in some places, lilting in others, a jumbled mix of all the voices she'd ever heard in her too-short life.
The man with the sloped back and the proud red hair turned. "No," he said, and his voice was real, realer than anything else. "No, you don't understand."
She stared at him, not because his hair was red (it was supposed to be), not because his eyes were angry (she knew that was real), not because he was speaking to her and she could hear every word (he was still alive). She stared at him because his eyes were orange, and they were wrong, so very wrong.
They locked gazes. The heat of his orange, accusatory stare lit her on fire.
She burned. She burned until only her ashes were left.
And then she woke up.
What it was, was this,
waking up was too painful,
so I could only sleep on
He monitored her for two months after her collapse. On the exact day 8 weeks later, she spiked a fever so high that it hurt to touch her. She should have been screaming in delirium. She should have been dying. She should have become another ghost to haunt the corridors of his mind.
She did none of those things. She stayed quiet, barely moving as the thermometer's line climbed higher and higher. She was 102.7, 103.1, 103.8, then 104.1. She was that girl who flirted with death.
She was paler than marble except for two bright spots of red on her cheeks, blotchy and vivid. They said to him, I am still alive. They said, you still don't know my name.
They warned, you don't know my story.
What it was, was that I
abandoned my sense of self,
all my obligations, all my history
The tea scalded her throat, but even so, she didn't allow her fingers to tremble. "Brother, you asked for me?" She raised her eyes from the steam and focused on the spider silk scarf wrapped around her brother's elegant neck. She imagined the bobbing of his adam's apple, a vertical pendulum keeping steady time to his words.
"Yes. Stop this childish denial. You are a Kuchiki, and we do not run from anything—even if it will cause us great harm. Let your mind remember him. It is the honorable thing to do."
She leaned over the birch table to pick up the slim, elegantly elongated teapot from its place on a colored bamboo mat. Chrysanthemums floated lazily on the surface of the tea around the strainer, like water lilies bobbing on the surface of some small pond. She rolled up her sleeve and gently poured some into her brother's cup. His eyes were kind.
"I don't know what you are talking about," she responded quietly, setting the teapot down again. He left his filled cup alone, choosing instead to shake his head slowly—disappointed. Her fingers itched by her sides, so she wrapped them around her mug of still steaming tea. "Brother, please explain."
"I cannot," he murmured. The words reverberated deeply; they made ripples in the surface of her tea. She frowned and lifted the rim to her lips. She didn't want to speak.
Her tea tasted of oranges with a hint of spice. And this was how she knew she was still dreaming.
Chrysanthemums. And yet, she was drinking orange tea.
What it was, was that I
remembered enough to live,
but not enough to last
"My last name is Kuchiki," she whispered hoarsely, one year later.
He saw that her eyes were bright, like stars. Delusion, he thought. But he liked her like this, because it meant she wasn't yet a ghost.
So he nodded and smiled. "Your last name is Kuchiki."
Her answering soft curve of the lips was satisfied.
(He didn't have the heart to call her a liar).
What it was, was that you
had taken half of me,
the only half that mattered.
He was dead. And that was how she knew this to be another dream.
Dead men couldn't speak. Dead lovers spoke even less.
That didn't stop her from taking his hand though. And his hand was warm, warm like when they'd both been alive, taking the long route back home. And his smile was fond, affectionate like when he'd teasingly flicked her on the forehead when she was being ridiculously obstinate for no reason at all.
And the rain was the same rain. If she didn't look down, she wouldn't see the blood (red) mixing with the water to drain down the deserted street. And if she didn't look below his face, she wouldn't see the gunshot wounds on his chest, wouldn't see the ragged, torn edges of his uniform.
"Rukia," he called. His voice was soft in a way it rarely was.
She looked wistfully at him, his orange hair, the imprint of his stupid scowls of old, and walked out of their almost-embrace.
He always understood.
She closed her eyes and called his name.
It wasn't that I didn't love you,
but rather that I loved too much,
too long, too deeply.
He caught the name she murmured in her sleep and shook her awake.
"Who's Ichigo?" He asked, urgency running high in his voice. This name, it was important, he was sure of it. This name would solve everything.
She opened her eyes, but they no longer glittered. They were empty, violet pools.
She gave no answer.
And so it was that Dr. Tadashi came to realize that she would never give him that answer.
Trauma, his mind said.
He knew it was something else entirely.
She had eyes the color of unrefined amethyst.
They were always unfocused.