Ok, first of all... this was supposed to be a one-shot. Then, when it got longer than I expected, I planned for it to be a two-shot. Now it looks like we're hitting a three-shot, a four-shot if I'm too eloquent with the last part. This story is... a lot different than anything I've written before. Much more emotional than anything I've written before. So, if you're not in for emotional stuff, just... yeah... Thanks for stopping by. Now, in the next chapter there'll be a lemon. I'm just telling you guys in advance. BIG HUGE THANKS to my AMAZING beta, Amanda, who I burdened with reading the thing.
I hope, I really, really hope you enjoy this story. If you're good and review, the next part will be up in a very short period of time. Otherwise, I'll probably post it after I'm done with the whole humongous thing. So it's up to you when you're gonna get more. Yeah, I'm evil. *sly glint in the eyes*
Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach.
Que Sera, Sera
Whatever will be, will be
The rain pattered gently on the cold morning asphalt, ran down the widescreens of the moving cars, slid along the gutters of the buildings and bounced from the passers-by's umbrellas in an almost challenging manner. People rushed down the sideways, hunched over and clutching the fronts of their jackets in hopes to keep the warmth in and the cold dampness out and away from their trembling bodies. The buses were overcrowded, the cafes full and every shelter was occupied with two times the number of men and women it could possibly take. The traffic jams were worse than ever, impatient drivers literally slogging the claxons, screaming profanities at the automobiles in their way. Karakura was soaking wet, ruffled and throbbing with the vexation, impatience and stress of its inhabitants. The tension was building with every person who left their home and joined the rumpus, almost always successfully charging the air with more and more unnecessary belligerence.
The door to café "Snow" flung back as Kurosaki Ichigo rushed inside, attempting to escape the rain that had managed to wet his hair and shoulders even in the short distance between his cabriolet and the front door. He stamped quickly on the already muddy doorstep, shaking off as many of the unabsorbed water drops as it was possible and looked up, scanning the place he knew like the palm of his hand with affection. A couple of people, mostly elderly men and women who, just as him, were regular costumers here, waved at him from their tables, instantly summoning a warm smile on his face.
It was strange how quickly the time had passed… Ichigo had been visiting this café every morning for a whole year now. A whole year, during which he had grown to love and cherish the priceless thirty minutes he got to spend on one of the small tables before the usual take-off for the university. The little habit had turned into much more than just a regular exercise to prompt his sleepy mind to begin working properly after a night of hard studying and almost no slumber; it was a needed ritual for a calm start of a smooth workday, a little indulgence that over an incredibly short span of time usually succeeded in summoning a bigger number of smiles on his face than the upcoming twelve hours of whatever...
Yes, "Snow" was a lovely little nook. The café was a diminutive, fondly built place, homey by definition and so unfitting with the rest of the buzzing, restless Karakura life that anyone who spent even a modicum of a minute here, would give up on the idea of elbowing on a queue in a second-rate coffee-shop ever again.
"Good morning, Ichigo." A tall, sultry waitress greeted with glee, scrambling the last few rows of somebody's order in her pad before tucking the pencil behind her ear.
"Good morning, Rangiku-san." The carrot-top replied, returning her smile for a moment before looking around himself in search of something. The woman's face immediately adopted a sly expression and she giggled under her breath.
"He's at the back, in the kitchen." She cooed condescendingly, a dreamy sigh escaping her lips for a second before her face became just a little bit more serious. "Pick a table and wait for him, ok? I need to get a couple of orders more and I'll be right there with you."
Ichigo's shoulders slumped and he grumbled something under his breath, probably grousing about having his intentions so easily unmasked, then took a place in the corner of the café, crossing his legs and fixing his eyes on the raindrops that landed in a steady rhythm on the thick window glass. As promised, a couple of minutes later Rangiku approached him again, humming a jolly tune to herself.
"What's it going to be today?"
"A rejection-killer, please?"
She laughed full-heartedly, completely ignoring the dejected expression on his face.
"Going to ask him out again, are we?"
"Like you have to ask," Ichigo murmured, propping his elbow on the table and resting his cheek in the back of his hand. "Do you still keep the count?"
Matsumoto beamed, leafing the pages of her pad swiftly till she found a tightly filled rectangle of numbers.
"With today, that makes fifty-four, Ichigo."
"Lovely. I wonder if he has a statistic of his own. I wouldn't be surprised."
Matsumoto pouted playfully, shaking her head with sympathy as she rubbed the outlines of her lower lip with the back of her pencil, her pale blue eyes never once leaving the young man in front of her.
"With the look you've plastered on your face, one would think you can't possibly go beyond this level of misery…"
"Just wait for it,"the carrot-top murmured, his mouth twisting to the side with distaste as he leaned back in his chair, his body going completely limp in the seat. "And while we're waiting for the ice prince to grace us with his presence, I'd like a cappuccino with lots of sugar and… have Toushiro pick the dessert."
"Pick the desert yourself, you lazy schmuck." Came an amused voice as a slim pale teen with bright jade eyes and a haughty smirk stepped beside Rangiku, his fingers combing his impossible white hair absently as he placed a thin square menu in front of the carrot-top. "Eight o'clock sharp, huh, Kurosaki? I thought you wouldn't be coming here in this weather."
Ichigo chuckled, straightening up in his chair.
"And good morning to you, too, Toushiro."
"It's Hitsugaya," the shorter male corrected with a mildly exasperated roll of his aqua eyes. "When will you learn to read the badge?"
"When will you go out with me?"
"That's not really an argument." Hitsugaya pointed out, his smile fading a little as he titled his head to the side, a sparkle of something somber reflecting in his eyes as he gazed down at the strawberry. "I thought we spoke about this."
"Fifty-three times," Matsumoto butted in, absently drawing carrots in her pad. Hitsugaya shot her a thunderous look, his lips pressing into a thin line as he reached to pinch her arm impudently, causing her to jump back with an indignant yip.
"Ow! That hurt!"
"That was the point! Now curb your overly curious self and go take care of the other customers."
With one last offended look, Rangiku spun around and strode away mirthlessly, leaving the two alone. After making sure she wasn't coming back any time soon, Hitsugaya turned to the other male and slid into the chair opposite him, a small sigh tearing between his lips as he crossed his arms on the table.
"Don't." Ichigo cut him off, raising his hand to stop the other one from continuing. "I've had enough of your excuses. I've had enough of all your random theories and explanations… I don't know what new idiocy you've come up with for today, but I want you to know… I would've stopped asking you out if, along all of your objections towards dating me, you didn't contradict yourself every step of the way."
"Then why do you look so guilty every time you turn me down, huh? One would think you'd have gotten used to it by now."
Hitsugaya's eyes widened ever so slightly, and his whole body seemed to tense with the next deep breath that he took, his slender fingers clenching into fists on top of the table.
"That's not true-"
"It's true and you know it." Ichigo retaliated mercilessly as he leaned forward, his hard eyes boring right into the suddenly very vulnerable teal ones. "Every time you say 'no' you look like your heart is going to shatter. Like your own refusal is hurting you even more than it hurts me."
Hitsugaya's orbs were impossibly wide by now, his lips slightly parted and the base of his neck flushed with an adorable pink color. Ichigo's gaze, so intense, so fucking intense, seemed to be very well-aimed, as it lanced directly through his chest, making the boy's whole body visibly shrink into the seat. Dammit… Damn it all! In a sad attempt to collect himself, Toushiro tried to say something but the words turned to ash in his mouth, the syllables crunching between his teeth, as the reason behind his unaroused argument burned its way up his suddenly very tight throat, and all he could do, all he could rely on was a helpless shake of his head to defy his opponent. Ichigo's features softened at the sight, and he sighed almost inaudibly, his hand sliding across the table till his fingers brushed against the boy's pale knuckles in a sort of timid comfort.
"What's holding you back?" the carrot-top murmured, his eyes lowering to follow his fingers' gentle brush against the flawless flesh of the white-haired teen's hand. "Because I can see… I know you want it."
Hitsugaya almost instantly averted his gaze, his thick lashes lowering to cast a gentle shade on his eyes as he shook his head yet again. His breathing felt peculiarly labored, his chest heavy as he tried to ease the tension in his muscles by inhaling and exhaling deeply. He knew what he had to say, he knew the words, he knew the consequences if he didn't say them but… but every time, every renewed discussion on this matter seemed harder than the previous and he wasn't certain how much more he could take.
"I-I can't…" he faltered, his tongue strangely parched and numb inside his mouth as he tried to form the sentence, to make it sound right. Resolute. Unyielding.
"Yes, you can!" Suddenly, Ichigo's hand now fully covered Toushiro's, making the boy's gaze snap back up with a modicum of horror deep inside the teal pools. "You can, just give me a chance-"
"You don't understand!" Hitsugaya shouted with something that vaguely resembled fear as he snatched his hand away from the gentle hold and jumped on his feet, his back now turned to the other male. A short silence hung between them, thick and palpable as cold resin. When Toushiro finally spoke again, his voice was incredibly soft, breakable, like a thin layer of ice that was threatening to crack any moment now. "You don't know… how wrong I am for you."
By now the growing frustration and irritation were beginning to get the best of Ichigo and he gritted his teeth, his hand that was still on the table clenching into a tight fist.
"Is this because you gave up on college? I don't care about that, Toushiro, I-"
A small bitter laugh tore from the boy's lips as he wrapped his arms around his waist, his shoulders hunching as though he was trying to protect his body from something.
"This has nothing to do with that."
"Then what is it! Tell me what-"
"Ichigo, please, just leave me alone," the boy choked out, his voice brimming with such incredibly sincere desperation that Ichigo recoiled startled and watched as the object of his affection buried his fingers in his snowy hair. "If asking me out is the only reason you come here every morning… I suggest you just stop. For both our sakes. Stop coming here. Just…. Stop."
"Toushiro…" The carrot-top's hand reached for one of the dainty little wrists, but Hitsugaya pulled back just in time and dashed out through the café's back door, disappearing from sight and leaving a completely smitten and rejected strawberry behind him.
The café was suddenly completely silent and as Ichigo's gaze slid from where the boy had disappeared and glissaded briefly along the faces of the other customers, he realized that all stares were now locked on him – some sympathetic, some accusing – and he gathered his hands on top of one another on the table, turning to contemplate them with a mix of anger and hurt.
"Ichigo…" A gentle voice uttered above him and Matsumoto's hand landed on his shoulder, squeezing lightly in some sort of a meek attempt to give him comfort. "It's not that he doesn't like you-"
"I know that, Rangiku," he snapped, his scowl deepening with the anguish that swelled in his chest. "I don't get it, though… I don't understand." He swallowed with difficulty, his jaw clenching for a moment as he added. "It seems that he really wants me gone from his life."
Matsumoto sighed and withdrew her hand from him, her own shoulders drooping.
"He thinks he's doing you a favor." She whispered, her eyelids falling to cover half of her pale blue orbs. "But if you really do stop coming here… I don't know what it would do to him. He's changed so much since he met you… He smiles more... And no matter what he says, I know that every morning he anticipates your arrival."
"It doesn't change what he says though…"
Matsumoto paused, her brows furrowing for a moment as though she was in deep thought, then she gasped, covering her mouth with her hand.
"Oh my God, Ichigo! I have the greatest idea!"
The carrot-top looked up, suspicion twisting his features as he saw the strange glow of conspiracy on the woman's face.
"What do you have in mind?"
When Hitsugaya finally dragged himself to his apartment on the second floor of a building a few blocks from "Snow", all he could think about was having a quick shower and crawling under the covers. He felt more drained than usual, the frustrating sting of guilt gnawing at his insides with every move he made. A part of him wanted to never have to deal with this again, never to have to face Ichigo again, but… While his mind toldhim this was the only way, his heart clenched painfully at the thought. What if the carrot-top really didn't show up in the café again? What if today really was the last time they saw each other?
He locked the door behind him and dropped the keys on the cupboard beside it, kicking his shoes off and making his way along the dark corridor, his right hand raising to rub against his brows. He headed straight to his small bedroom, turning the lights on and throwing his jacket to the nearest chair before collapsing facedown on the mattress. The scent of fresh flowers and water engulfed him, causing him to shiver with delight. The cool sheets felt emollient and soothing against his skin and he let himself get lost into the feeling, a tiny smile grazing his lips as he sighed with content.
His relaxed brows furrowed into a frown, all traces of happiness peeling from his face as the name emerged with startling clearance in his head. He could remember the first day he had met the strawberry, like it was yesterday… It had been quite a busy day, with more customers than usual crowding the tables, and he and Rangiku had been going out of their ways to manage with all the orders. Toushiro hadn't been feeling well and the more people he had to attend, the slower and the clumsier he seemed to become.
When the bell on top of the door tolled for the umpteenth time that afternoon, the boy could barely see straight. He grabbed as many empty plates and glasses as he could from one of the tables and turned around to see who had entered, only to run straight into them. If the fatigue hadn't been getting the best of him, maybe Hitsugaya could've succeeded in keeping his balance, but not at that moment. Everything he had been carrying crashed on the floor at the man's feet, shreds of glass and porcelain flying in all four directions and causing the white-haired boy to jump back with a small yelp.
"I'm so sorry! I'm so, so sorry," Toushiro mumbled, falling on his knees and beginning to gather the bigger pieces in his small hands.
"Hey, stop! You're going to cut yourself!" the man exclaimed, and a large hand shot forward, wrapping around Hitsugaya's narrow wrist, causing the latter to flinch and look up.
And that was it. At that second, at that very moment, the whole world collapsed, brought to pebbles and dust as Toushiro's jade orbs met the warm chocolate irises of the student crouching in front of him. The boy could not remember a time when he had blushed harder in his entire life. His hand started trembling uncontrollably and before he could realize what he was doing, he had involuntarily squeezed the sharp piece of glass he was holding. The small hiss of pain and the visible cringe made the taller male immediately let go and Hitsugaya dropped the shard, hefting his hand with its back downwards to see a generous amount of blood oozing abundantly from a gash that cut right across the whole length of the palm.
"Oh God…" Toushiro whispered weakly, blanching at the sight as his stomach lurched. He had never been able to withstand the sight of blood, not even his own, and at that moment, seeing the crimson liquid drip unhindered on the tiled floor nearly had him throwing up.
"Shit!" the man cursed, grabbing the boy's arm and pulling him to his shaky feet. "This looks bad."
"I-I'm fine," Hitsugaya stuttered, blinking his eyes shut in a vain attempt to chase the dizziness away as another arm was flung around his shoulders and suddenly he was being dragged toward the nearest table. The room tilted dangerously to the side, the walls throbbing and bending as though they were trying to break free from their confines and crush him. He could feel the hot moisture coiling around his hands, flowing between his fingers and trickling to the ground, and the sensation affected him like a blow to the head, blurring his vision and meddling with his balance. If he ignored the burning, stinging pain, if he didn't look at the wound, it really wasn't so bad, he tried to convince himself. It wasn't so bad, it wasn't-…
"Toushiro!" Matsumoto screeched, running by his side as the brown-eyed stranger settled him on a chair gently. "Ohmygodohmygod whatthehellhappened?"
"He's going to be alright," the man cut in, placing a small backpack on the table and beginning to rummage through it. "I'm studying medicine at the university, I can do first aid. No need for panic, just get him something sweet to eat and maybe a Coke? I think his blood pressure has dropped."
"Ay, ay!" Matsumoto saluted before dashing away at the speed of light, leaving the two alone.
"I'm-…" Hitsugaya tried, but his stomach lurched again, and he had to turn to the side to lean his forehead against the cold window in search of some mild relief. "Sorry…"
A small laugh rippled from across the table as he felt his hand being pulled towards the stranger with the chocolate eyes.
"I can't take your apology for real unless I know your name."
"Hitsugaya… written on the… badge…" the boy managed with difficulty, screwing his eyes shut again as he tried to steady his breathing.
"That's not the one. I want to know your first name." There was smile in the man's voice. A warm, genuine smile that seeped through Toushiro's skin and reached his bones, bringing a strange wave of alleviation to his protesting, frazzled body.
"Toushiro. Hitsugaya Toushiro."
"Kurosaki Ichigo," the med student replied as the smaller male felt something press against his wound to stop the bleeding. "What a greeting! I think I'm going to like this place."
As the last strings of the memory faded into distance, Toushiro barely contained himself from biting the pillow under his head with venom.
You know you have to forget about him… Because if you don't…
He closed his eyes, exhaling slowly, exhaustedly, and as he took the next deep breath in, the acceptance flew into his lungs along with the air, filling his chest with dull, bitter pain like nicotine plumes, slothfully poisoning his body. It couldn't have turned out worse. It couldn't have gone more wrong.
He should've taken a day off that distant Tuesday. He should've stayed at home with his favorite book, blissfully saving both of them the anguish, the misery, the stagnant, endless torment of never being able to be truthfully together. Or maybe if he hadn't taken so many glasses and plates all at once… Or if he hadn't run into Ichigo out of carelessness… Or cut himself that badly with those shreds... Or maybe, maybe… Gods… if he hadn't looked up and met those kind chocolate eyes, awash with so much warmth and tenderness...
Yes, maybe if he hadn't done at least… even one of those things, then maybe… Just maybe… that Tuesday afternoon wouldn't have turned into the breaking, crushing, point of his young life. Because that day was exactly this: a knitted web of fatal threads, connected to bring the catastrophic result: two hearts, so close, so distant, so in love. So ill-fated…
Hitsugaya was beginning to drift to sleep without notice when a strange noise gritted against his sensitive hearing, making him shift uncomfortably and groan. He frowned, murmuring something to himself, and was just about to press the pillow to the side of his head to muffle the sounds, when recognition sank in and he jumped in a sitting position, all traces of sleepiness gone.
"What the hell!" he exclaimed, scrambling off the bed and stumbling to the window to fling it back viciously. "Kurosaki! What the hell do you think you're doing!"
Two floors below, standing beside the opened door of his car, Ichigo beamed happily.
"I'm singing you a serenade!" he explained before shoving his head inside the automobile and turning up the volume of the song that was currently playing. Hitsugaya's face visibly adopted a pasty color, his eyes widening to the size of saucers as he surveyed the scene with shock and disbelief that forced a choking sound through his pale lips. The carrot-top merely grinned, waiting for the right moment of the melody before opening his mouth and catching up with the tune.
"I can be you hero baby, I can kiss away the pain!"
"STOP RIGHT THERE, KUROSAKI!" Hitsugaya yelled with horror and rapidly overwhelming embarrassment, as he leaned over the frame of the window and summoned the most earnest expression he could muster in hopes to pour some sense into the orange-haired man. Useless to say, his efforts proved to be thrown in vain as the taller male shook his head knowingly and continued, obviously very determined to show the whole neighborhood how incapable of singing he was.
"I will stand by you forever, you can take my breath away!"
"No, no, no, no, no! Stop, stop! What the hell is this all about!"
"Will you go out with me?" Ichigo shouted hopefully from his spot two floors below the other male and intertwined his fingers together in front of his body in the most sincerely imploring position possible. Hitsugaya pulled back, his shoulders drooping as he shook his head no. "That means you need a little more convincing… Dammit, I missed a whole verse… No problem, we'll play it all over if we have to."
"Kurosaki! You're going to get arrested for this!"
Ichigo grinned, shrugging carelessly.
"It'll be on your conscience, little one." He paused, taking a deep breath, and burst into the song again "I just want to hold you… I just want to hold you. Am I in too deep? Have I lost my mind?"
"You've definitely lost your fucking mind!" the pale youth choked out, burying his fingers into his snowy hair with terror as bright red color crawled up his neck.
"Well I don't care, you're here tonight! Go out with me, Toushiro!"
"It's Hits- Are you insane!" Hitsugaya screamed when the carrot-top reached to turn the volume up again, causing the whole car to visibly vibrate with the loud music that was playing. The light in several windows above the boy's head turned on and some woman threatened to call the police (a statement which failed to catch the strawberry's attention).
"I can be your hero baby! I can kiss away the pain! Give me one chance, Toushiro, one chance, or I'll spend the night here, singing till my throat runs raw or the cops come and get me. I will stand by you forever. You can take my breath away!"
Hitsugaya was at a loss. His cheeks were burning hot, his heart beating so fast that he thought it was going to burst… He had absolutely no idea whether to cry or to laugh… But he somehow ended up doing the latter. That's it!
"I'll go out with you!" he shouted over the frame of the window, his clear, rippling chuckle pouring from his mouth bountifully, freely, smoothly. And once the words were out in the open, he felt light, airy like a downy morning cloud and he laughed harder. "I'll go out with you, Kurosaki!" he repeated, his heart making a joyful flip as a group of butterflies exploded in his stomach, tickling his insides and smothering the worries.
"You will?" Ichigo exclaimed, the look on his face like the one of a child who's been told that Christmas has arrived earlier. Hitsugaya nodded, blinking rapidly as he felt some strange sting against his eyes.
"Turn down the volume, stupid, I'm coming right down!" the boy shouted and disappeared inside the house. Grabbing his things as fast as he could, Toushiro wiped a single tear from the corner of his eye and rushed to the door before he could change his mind. Not tonight, he thought as he ran down the staircase, a small smile twisting his lips, not tonight.
And finally, I'm not such a big fan of Enrique, but I asked a couple of people and they said: this is the song you need. So this is 'Hero' for you. :)