A/N:Well, this is the last part. WARNING: Unbetaed. I haven't heard from my beta for more than a month now. So it was either this or more wait.
Also, I apologize if it wasn't original enough for you. I tried to express all the drawbacks of this relationship and all the good things about it and I don't know whether I succeeded. It's a pretty long chapter, also...
The song I used is "My Body Is a Cage" by Peter Gabriel. I suggest you listen to it, because the words mean nothing without the voice of the performer and the melody. So do play it when the right moment comes, ok? Ok.
I apologize if there're parts that are lame or too far-fetched. Sorry. If you don't like, just don't say anything, k?
From that day on everything happened so quickly that Toushiro didn't even realize what was going on till he found himself unpacking at Ichigo's place. The apartment was much bigger than he remembered it to be, probably because he hadn't paid all that much attention to the surroundings during his first visit. It was a lot vaster than his own flat, lighter, mirthful even. The bedroom was painted a pale shade of blue, all furniture in matching colors and the bed itself was big enough to have two people losing themselves under the covers…
Or doing something else… Hitsugaya glanced at Ichigo (who was currently doing his best to make some room in the wardrobe for the smaller male) with the corner of his eye, a sly smirk tugging on the edges of his lips as he plotted silently his next move.
"Dammit!" the boy cursed dramatically, barely succeeding in keeping a straight face as he saw the carrot-top spin around, eyes wide with surprise. Attention caught. "I think I lost the ring somewhere around here…"
"Somewhere around here in the covers," Toushiro made a passable grimace before running his hands over the blanket as if in blind search "Will you come here and give me a hand with this?"
The carrot-top removed himself from his enticing activity and approached the smaller male, his tan hand scratching the back of his neck as he eyed the bed with innocent curiosity. The moment, however, he leaned over the sheets to take a better look, he was tackled down by Hitsugaya, both of them landing on the mattress with a small bounce.
"Mmm, I think I kindda found what I was looking for…" Toushiro purred as he straddled Ichigo's hips gracefully, a rare giggle rippling around him when he espied the mix of stupefaction and anxiety that was currently meddling with the carrot-top's face expression.
"Ok, this side of you still pops up when I least expect."
"I'm gonna count to three and if you don't start getting those clothes off yourself, I'll-"
"I might need some help with the zipper."
"Are you sleeping?"
A small grunt of discomfort left the white-haired youth's lips as Ichigo shifted a little, unintentionally pulling the edge of the covers down Hitsugaya's white shoulders and making the latter curl slightly to himself in an attempt to protect his body from the cold. The carrot-top chuckled slightly at the distressed frown that twisted the boy's brows and reached to run his fingers through the silky snow-colored locks.
"I was wondering" the strawberry continued as softly as possible as he propped himself on his other arm's elbow and peered over the drowsy figure. "Is there anywhere that you want to go? Anywhere in particular?"
Hitsugaya snorted, his mouth barely forming a patronizing sort of smile as he lisped almost unintelligibly:
"You're not skippin' university, Ichigo."
"It'll be just for awhile and I'll catch up wi-"
"No skipping. End of discussion."
"If you just think about it-"
"No. Now shut up. Three rounds is plenty I can take, now I need my fair share of sleep."
Ichigo sighed with slight irritation but wrapped his arms around the smaller male anyway, his nose burying into the welcoming sweet-scented neck. As he let himself slowly relax and drift to sleep along with the warm body pressed so firmly against his, he couldn't help but think that there were too many conversations that he wanted to have (and would) with Hitsugaya, despite the reluctance that his words were going to be met with.
The first three months and a half passed way too quickly for both of their liking. After a short argument regarding the matter, Hitsugaya eventually quitted his job at the café and instead used his free time (while Ichigo was out) to make unsuccessful tries to cook or steal Matsumoto from her workplace for excessively long walks in the park. Of the boy's check-ups in the hospital the carrot-top never seemed to hear as Toushiro did them alone and refused to talk about them. Every attempt of pressuring resulted in Hitsugaya evading the enquiries till the last moment possible and then suddenly switching his attitude completely by luring the strawberry in doing something much more pleasant than plain talk… under the covers. After the first few such incidents Kurosaki yield and reluctantly accepted the idea that his questions would always land on deaf ears… Or maybe it wasn't exactly that he surrendered and stopped asking… Maybe it was the fact that he didn't really want to know. Didn't really want to think about it. And the reason wasn't that he didn't care – because if anything, there was no doubt in his mind that he loved the short little blizzard with unhealthy passion and devotion – it was the cunningly deceitful image of perfection and happiness that Hitsugaya draped around the apartment with a sort of aristocratic ease, making everything outside the door seem unreal…
Under Toushiro's small hands the abode gradually transformed, losing its sense of time and tearing from the rest of the world so gently, so unnoticeably that Ichigo didn't even realize what was going on until it was too late. The place had turned into a warm, amiable and unbelievably sweet nook, full of more life and fondness than ever before, and it was all thanks to its new dweller. Upon his coming back from the university, the carrot-top would always find his beloved on the sofa, occupied with a thick book, or doing chores around the place with admirable diligence. The image was always so unbelievably touching in its peaceful ordinarity that the taller male completely abandoned ringing on the door-bell and created a completely different habit of his own. When he came back home, he sneaked inside the apartment and searched around for his white-haired prince, ever aiming for that one look of innocent surprise and affection that never failed to emerge on Hitsugaya's face when he saw the strawberry.
It was an unusually sunny Friday afternoon around October when Ichigo felt a new, utterly unknown type of fear for the first time in his entire life. He came home from university a bit earlier than usual, his temples throbbing with the first signs of headache. Kicking his shoes off and dragging his feet along the corridor, he reached the living-room's door and pushed it open, only to freeze on spot. The cream-colored curtains in the far end of the room were pulled back, letting the milky sunlight splash around the room in millions of sparkling rays, while the large, rectangular window was ajar, fresh air flowing almost bashfully inside. Hitsugaya was standing before the little table next to the left wall, clad in a pair of baggy pants and a white shirt, the sleeves of which were rolled up to the elbows, whereas the top two buttons on his chest were left undone to reveal few inches of flawless flesh. On the table itself, there was a tall, navy blue porcelain vase with a bouquet of large, nifty flowers tucked inside. In its gist there was nothing special about the scene, nothing original, shocking or unexpected. Yet there was a strange, undetermined kind of beauty in the simplicity of it all, such neat perfection, that Ichigo couldn't help it but surrender to the feeling as he felt a small knot of melancholic rapture form into the pit of his stomach.
Toushiro had reached forward, his slender pale fingers barely grazing against the frail petals, and there was that sort of sincere tenderness and affection in the simple touch which could easily break one's heart. The liquid-like light streamed through the glass behind him almost reverentially, enshrouding his slim form in its unblemished embrace… And then those eyes – so incredibly big and bright – lifting to meet the chocolate orbs of his beloved with mild surprise and warmth. Yes, his beloved… His beloved that could do nothing but stand there, downright struck with awe as he gazed at the person before him and saw faultlessness. Purity. Devastating beauty. It occurred to Ichigo then, that Toushiro had to be a fallen angel, a celestial being and, and now the heavens wanted him back. It couldn't be any other way. Because what cruelty could want to have this destroyed, what God would allow this sordid, vile sickness to-…
At that moment the carrot-top rushed forward, pulling the shocked boy against his chest and burying his nose into the tuft of white tresses.
"How can you ask of me to let you go…" he muttered, screwing his eyes shut. A small pained sigh tore from Hitsugaya's lips at that statement and he wrapped his pale arms around the broad back before him. Supporting the bigger, stronger of the two of them.
"Don't make me regret this, Ichigo." He whispered, anguish throbbing dulling in his voice. "I can't have this end yet."
The carrot-top withdrew just enough to look down at the shorter male and shook his head before leaning forward to press their lips together.
At times he found himself laying awake in bed, his arms wrapped around the sleeping pale form of the boy, and wishing that it was him who was sick, and not Hitsugaya. Then he wouldn't have to live afterwards… He wouldn't have to struggle to survive in a world without Toushiro, every single day, every single minute… Could he really? It was a question that he asked himself way too often. Sometimes he felt like dying just because of one single kiss that he had shared with those delicate petals that were the boy's lips, and what about… what about the day when… When it would all go to hell.
Of course, Hitsugaya wouldn't accept any drastic treatment. No experimenting. No chemo. Just pills, the occasional injections and some minor procedures to keep him going. It didn't matter how loudly Ichigo yelled or how fervently he begged, Toushiro had made up his mind about it. Dying with pride. What a sickeningly sentimental wish. Did it really matter once you were gone, how exactly you had walked the road? The final destination was all the same. So why wouldn't he slow down in his stride down the aisle?
The first night that Ichigo woke up and found himself alone in bed, he didn't give it much thought and went back to sleep, assuming Hitsugaya had gotten up and gone for a glass of water. His suspicion was aroused a couple of nights later when the event occurred for a second time. He dangled his feet of the side of the bed and stumbled his way out of the bedroom, his sleepy eyes barely making out the silhouettes of the furniture in the darkness.
"Toushiro?" he closed the door behind him and tottered down the corridor only to stop when he saw the bathroom's door wide open, the lights turned on. Shadowing his unadjusted eyes with his hand, he peered carefully inside only to have all signs of sleepiness leave his body, replaced by blood-freezing horror.
Hitsugaya was sitting on the tiled floor next to the sink with his back against the wall, his whole body shaking violently as his fingers dug into his sides with unspoken agony. Labored breathing was wheezing between his parted lips and he had lowered his head between his bent knees in apparent attempt to allay the nauseous dizziness that was quaking his world. Gelid sweat had dewed the wax-like skin on his face, sticking the white wisps to his temples and forehead despite the low temperatures in the bathroom. To say that Toushiro looked unbecomingly small and feeble would be an understatement… but one would not be wrong if they added brittle to the list.
Upon hearing the soft sound of the carrot-top's nearing, the boy looked up, his glassy orbs fixing on the taller male with difficulty.
"Ichigo…" he uttered, his dry lips barely moving as he spoke. "Why are you up?"
The carrot-top's heart fell in his stomach at those words, the air being forced out of his lungs much like it would if he had been punched in the guts. The look of care, of sincere, so stupidly selfless care that reflected in those jade pools gripped his chest in a painful grasp and he barely resisted the small broken sob that threatened to rip through his lips. In a heart-beat, he had rushed forward, dropping on his knees and cupping his beloved's face in his palms. The thin bones felt strangely fragile against his skin but he chose to ignore it, squeezing ever so slightly as to hint of the power of the feelings that were swirling inside him.
"You're getting worse, aren't you? The other day, today… Dammit, Toushiro, why didn't you wake me!"
The boy visibly flinched at the harsh desperation in the other male's voice and raised his trembling hand to Ichigo's wrists, trying to pray them away from his face.
"I didn't want to worry you." Hitsugaya whispered, the emotional burden falling on his shoulders like a heap of rocks and making his shaking grow worse sporadically. "I-I'm going to be fine… I just need a moment… Gods!" he clenched his teeth, eyes screwing shut before he curled to himself again, his face disappearing in his knees. "I-Ichigo, the cupboard above the sink…"
The med student didn't need any more instructions as he leapt to his feet, flinging the door of the cupboard back and rummaging frantically inside its content to pull out a small glass capsule with colorless liquid and a syringe set. Then he was on the floor before Toushiro again, fingers fumbling with the medication while he struggled never to let his eyes off the trembling frame. Before he had even had the time to prepare himself for the main part of the procedure, Hitsugaya had snatched the already full squirt from his hands. With one harsh movement, the needle was thrust in his leg, regardless of the pijama's bottom, the content forced inside his body with an unhesitant press on the top. Toushiro visibly tensed as the pain finally registered in his senses, then he pulled the syringe out, pale digits opening weakly around it and letting it clatter on he floor almost tragically. The sound seemed to affect him more than the medication itself as he slowly let out the breath he was holding and shuddered, a series of soft, unsteady pants rocking his body.
"Hey… Hey, are you alright?" Ichigo's strong hands wrapped around the shivering figure, pulling it away from the cold wall and against the strawberry's warm chest. Hitsugaya didn't protest – too weak to do anything but comply as he coiled to himself in the taller one's embrace, refusing to look up.
"I tried to… I tried to get the medicine on my own, but when I got here, I felt so-… I couldn't stand straight…"
"Shh, it's ok."
"It's not ok, Ichigo." The boy choked out, his body seemingly shrinking even more. "It'll only get worse from now on and you know it."
"I can handle it."
There was a small pause afterwards, Hitsugaya's unsteady fingers lifting to clutch the other one's arms with something that neared the verge of desperation as he shook his head.
"No, Ichigo." The boy whispered brokenly. "You can't."
The new medications that were prescribed to Toushiro worked for awhile. The side effects were much more evident than before and despite the boy's obvious efforts to make things seem alright, his body was gradually betraying him. He was tired all the time, weak, unable to concentrate and much more often than not Ichigo came back home to find his beloved fast asleep on the sofa. It wasn't long before their arguments started again – discussions about chemo, experimental treatment and whether the carrot-top should stop going to the university to spend more time with the enervated boy. On all matters Hitsugaya was unyielding – his resolution didn't falter once despite his physical feebleness and Kurosaki's growing frustration. The tension between them was slowly building up. With every new quarrel Toushiro seemed to lose another piece of his health, another precious bit of his strength, while Ichigo's anger was feeding off on his own misery and fear and at times he felt like screaming just because of that stubborn, weary look in the boy's eyes. The glint that was there when Hitsugaya repeated the same bloody words, every fucking time, the glint that never ceased to flicker no matter how faint its light was... It was pitiful really. Each refusal seemed to be yet another drop in the already brimming over cup that was the orange-haired bloke's patience, each "no" like a harsh twist of the dagger that was piercing his heart so viciously that it hurt to breathe, it hurt to wake up in the morning. At times he found himself losing the battle, giving in to his cruel, enraged side and yelling the way he never had in hopes to be heard.
It was one early evening in May when that happened for the very last time.
"What the hell is wrong with you? This can prolong your life!" Ichigo shouted, throwing his hands in the air as he paced back and forth in front of the sofa in which Hitsugaya was currently sitting. The boy sighed and looked up, forcing his slouched form to straighten up a bit as he faced his lover's demands for the umpteenth time, with very little to defend his own positions. Despite his efforts to reduce the visible effects that the sickness had on his body, the past few weeks his face had turned sickeningly sallow, the eyes deep-set and his whole expression was screaming of fatigue and weakness.
"We've already talked about this, Ichigo." He replied softly, wearily and the taller one froze dead in his track, turning ever so slowly to face the other male. As their gazes met – one strong and ardent and the other stoic but fragile like glass – something in the strawberry snapped and his features hardened, the desperation in his orbs quickly ebbing away, only to leave layers and layers of helpless wrath.
"Well, you don't seem to be listening, do you?" Ichigo whispered, venom dripping from his words as he took an almost threatening step towards the boy. "I'm begging you, and yet you keep refusing. Why? Why, Toushiro? There is NOTHING heroic about a death like the one you so wantonly seem to be craving for!"
Hitsugaya visibly flinched at the tone, his hands that had been resting peacefully in his lap now beginning to rumple the hems of his shirt as he forced the dry lump that had gathered in his throat down his gullet.
"This is not-… It's not why I don't want any serious treatment. I've told you before-"
"Oh, do remind me." Ichigo snapped, no traces of humor in the cold smile that twisted his lips. "I'm just too eager to hear it."
Hitsugaya's arms shifted, wrapping around his waist protectively in the painfully familiar manner that he seemed to resort to much too often lately. The shine of anguish in his teal orbs told it all - he already knew where this was heading. Their arguments had transformed in such well-rehearsed play recently, such a predictable unwrapping of the storyline that it was almost funny – in the most unamusing way possible. So why did it hurt worse with every single time it all reiterated? Was it because Ichigo was actually starting to mean what he was saying? Because if it was really so, then-
"I-… I don't want to die like this. Dependent on drugs and losing track of the world." Toushiro uttered hoarsely, his chest suddenly very heavy, very tight "I don't want to lose the last few months I could spend with you, being myself-"
"Do you hear what you're saying? Do you even realize what's coming out of your mouth?" The carrot-top exclaimed, shaking his head with something that vaguely resembled disappointment. Hitsugaya swallowed again, his fingers beginning to tremble now as he tried to force an understanding smile on his lips.
"Ichigo, I think we're both tired-"
"No, you are the tired one." The sharp, lifeless chuckle that ripped from the taller male's lips was like a slap in the boy's face. "You know why that is? But of course you know. Funny thing, Toushiro… I'm starting to think you actually like being sick."
Hitsugaya's eyes widened, his lips parting with shock as he recoiled in the sofa, shaking his head with disbelief.
"W-what? I-Ichigo, how can you-…"
"Because it's true, isn't it? You like being the martyr." The carrot-top flipped sarcastically, all remains of warmth peeling off his face as he added between clenched teeth "The poor, noble, self-sacrificing young man who despite everything, refused to take the bad, awful treatment."
"Please, don't talk to me like this." The boy whispered softly, helplessly, but Ichigo didn't seem to hear anything as he stepped forward, enunciating every word with underlined precision that was so perfectly aimed to hurt. Like it would make the carrot-top's own pain go away.
"But you know what? You're no saint. You're just a little coward. That's what you are – a selfish and goddamn stubborn coward." He hissed aggressively, gazing right back at the now watering jade orbs.
"N-no-…" Toushiro chocked out feebly but Ichigo shook his head and turned around, preparing to head for the front door.
"And maybe I'm not so willing to bear it anymore. Think about that for a change."
"I-Ichigo, please!" Hitsugaya called after the carrot-top, pushing himself on his feet only to cringe pitifully when the door was slammed shut behind the strawberry.
It took Ichigo about fifteen minutes of angry wondering about the streets to realize what he had said. Two equally powerful waves – one of regret and one of fear – washed over him and he spun around, rushing back to his apartment. Idiot, idiot, IDIOT! This was the one thing he knew he shouldn't say, the one thing that would make the shaky pillars of Hitsugaya's faith in their relationship crumble. And yet he had said them, he had pushed his luck in his goddamn desire to make the boy treat himself… Like that was ever going to work. How much time does an upset midget need to pack his stuff and leave?
The strawberry stormed inside his apartment and without thinking sprinted to the bedroom, only to freeze dead in his track as he flung the door back and was met with much more than scattered clothes and an opened sack.
"Toushiro!" he shouted with horror as his widened eyes landed on the unconscious form laying on the floor next to the bed. Rushing to the boy, he all but screamed as he pulled his mobile phone out of his pocket and forced his shaky fingers to dial the need number. "Hello? I-I need an ambulance…"
"So? Is he going to be alright?" as he uttered the question, Ichigo already wished he hadn't asked. The doctor folded his arms in front of his chest and took a step towards the standing carrot-top, the unreadable, composed look of a professional plastered on his face.
"He's stable. But I may have to have a word with you, Mr Kurosaki."
Something in the way the words were spoken affected Ichigo like a blow in the head, blurring his vision and withdrawing all the blood from his face. He felt himself nod, but the action was somehow distant, stiff, as though he was watching another person do it. Somewhere deep inside he knew where this was going, he expected it with a clenched, timid heart like a convict, anticipating his verdict.
He hadn't even realized how pitifully he had held to his last sparkle of hope till even that was extinguished by the competence of this man in white overall.
"He's getting worse much faster than we hoped. We're still running tests, but I think it's clear that he doesn't have much more left. What I find important for you to know is that I don't think all of this is only due to his sickness."
"What are you trying to say?" Ichigo uttered weakly, shifting his fingers a bit as he felt his palms start to sweat.
"Mostly stress. Emotional tension. Things possibly caused by the inability to resolve certain problems for a prolonged period of time, anxiety, maybe even fear. Have you noticed anything like that?"
Ichigo swallowed with difficulty, the crushing burden of guilt dropping on his shoulders as he nodded again:
"I might have a vague idea where this could have come from."
"Good, because it is vital that these factors are removed from his life as soon as possible. My most optimistic view is no more than three months as it is. At this rate it could get even less if things don't change."
"They'll change." Ichigo assured him, his brows furrowing with painful determination as he fought down the feeling of emptiness that was threatening to drown him.
It was funny how stubbornly Toushiro refused to let the carrot-top apologize and how tenaciously he claimed that their last argument had indicated that it was time for them to part. Convincing and begging didn't do the trick – it actually seemed to persuade the boy further that such measures were necessary – and the more Ichigo tried, the harder it seemed to get. Some statements Hitsugaya didn't even try refuting and instead spoke about duty and right and wrong – all things that managed to drive the strawberry up against the wall with frustration. Flowers, chocolates and visits by friends, who were well-informed about the situation (Matsumoto) only brought up a melancholic, slightly condescending smile on the patient's white face along with the ever so categorical shake of the head. If you love me, you will understand. What a plain lie, really, or maybe what a plain dream? Ichigo all but laughed at those thoughts. Did Hitsugaya really think sayings like this would drive him off? After all this time, the boy should've known better…
Ichigo kept trying with everything he had, again and again, till the very last moment of the smaller male's stay at the hospital. And when nothing seemed to work, the strawberry did the one thing that he could think of – he stood in the doorway in the day of Toushiro's discharging and refused to move.
"You can't do this. I will not let you go." Ichigo stated, blocking the door stubbornly despite the nurse's already unbecomingly loud yells. Before him and beside his bed stood a slightly baffled and incredulously looking Hitsugaya, clad in a pair of jeans, a green T-shirt and a thin jacket in his preparation to leave. "Do I have to repeat what I once told you? Leaving will not mean getting away from me."
"If you just think-" Toushiro tried but the taller male wasn't listening. Not really.
"I'll be there till the very last moment and you know it. Goddamit, Toushiro, I will not allow you to go. Not when I know that you don't want to!"
"No. You're the best thing that's ever happened to me." The carrot-top insisted, the decisiveness slowly dripping from his face to leave a look of pure desperation. "I will not have you leave if I can still be with you."
The room fell silent. Even the nurse had quieted down, suddenly feeling ashamed of her previous overreacting, and was now contemplating the scene before her with the interest of a woman who had been watching soap operas for too long. When Hitsugaya finally spoke up again, his voice was quivering just a bit at the end:
"I'll never know how you do this. How you manage to make it all so easy, while turning all my beliefs and principles upside down." He paused, a tiny smile making its way on his lips as he added in a whisper "Just… Take me home."
Ichigo spent a lot of time thinking about the past. It could be because it gave him reasons to keep going. Or it could be because the present was so much harder to bear.
He didn't really care. All he cared about was that it was a hot, humid August night and he was in the hospital again, wandering aimlessly between the dream and the reality while the rhythmical beeping of the machine next to Hitsugaya's bed remained the only thing to fuel his hopes for a miracle. Even now.
The carrot-top jumped, his eyes snapping open as the barely detectible whisper reached his ears. Leaning over the bed, he quickly scanned the ghostly pale face of his beloved in search for any signs of pain. When he found none whatsoever, he exhaled slowly through his nose and forced himself to smile reassuringly.
"Why aren't you sleeping?"
Hitsugaya shifted, his features contorting into a grimace when his hands pushed against the covers with honest difficulty, almost as if the blanket was made of layers and layers of lead instead of a thin sheet of linen. Ichigo immediately reached to help the boy sit up, adjusting the pillow behind the small frame for support. His tan fingers brushed against the small back and he clenched his teeth, trying not to think of how projecting the bones there had become. Instead, he opened his mouth to ask if Toushiro needed anything, only to freeze on spot when he saw the look in those jade pools.
No, no, no, noNONONONO!
As if reading the taller one's thoughts, Hitsugaya let a small, wheeze sigh rip from his chest and nodded. Over the past month or so the outlines of his face had turned impossibly sharp, his skin thin and breakable like paper and his lips were so white, they were barely visible against the sickeningly grayish flesh. There was hardly anything left from the once beautiful and exquisite body, scarcely any fragment of his former glow, any bit of his exotic delicacy. The stunning teal orbs were there though, if drained and devoid of their old blaze, they were still there and whenever Ichigo gazed into them, he saw nothing but perfection.
"It's time." The boy uttered and when the carrot-top shook his head, preparing to argue, Toushiro reached over and grasped the tan hand, giving it a feeble squeeze. "Don't… waste the little that we have. I need-… I need your help now."
"W-what?" Ichigo whispered, disbelief refusing to leave his face as he stared almost imploringly at the other male. What are you-…? Hitsugaya smiled condescendingly, his chest falling and rising as he spoke with obvious difficulty, his sentences torn by the need to breath:
"I've talked to the nurse, the doctor… about this. I can't… die in here. These walls, this ceiling… the smell… This can't be the last thing I'll feel before-"
"Don't talk like this."
Hitsugaya closed his eyes, his features relaxing for a moment.
"It's strange, isn't it?" he whispered, his voice sounding somewhat distant, almost as if he was reciting a poem. "The stars… That they'll always be there, and they'll always be shining, no matter what… No matter what happens to us."
Ichigo's eyes widened as he recognized his own words and it struck him hard, like a punch in the gut.
"You want to go there?" he choked out pitifully. "You want to-"
"I want to… go where it all started." Toushiro replied, a streak of decisiveness coloring his voice as his eyes fluttered open "Back when you didn't know… When time didn't pressure us." He turned to face the carrot-top, his lips twisting pleadingly. "I can't do it alone… I need you."
There was a small pause, during which both of them gazed in each other's eyes in search for understanding, in search for support for their own beliefs and hopes. Then Ichigo nodded, standing up and wrapping his arms around the small frame as carefully as he would treat an infant.
"C'mon." he whispered, stifling the pain that was oozing from the depths of his aching chest. "I'll help you get dressed."
By the time Ichigo pulled over to the side of the road on the very same spot he had eleven months ago, Toushiro's breathing had been reduced to a frequent series of shallow inhales and exhales. It had taken all of the strawberry's willpower not to turn around and drive right back to the hospital as fast as possible. Now it was too late to do anything other than oblige what the boy asked for.
"Come here." Ichigo whispered as he reached for the small form that was currently slumped weakly against the car's side window. The carrot-top wrapped his arms around the ridiculously thin waist and with almost no help from the other male, he pulled the boy into his lap, adjusting them so the white-haired head was supported securely by the broad chest. The top of the cabriolet was pushed back automatically with the well-known swishing sound and the sky was revealed, dark and perpetual as always. It wasn't nearly as clear as the night they had first come here and for some reason that upset Ichigo even more than the fact he had failed to resist his beloved's request.
"Are you still with me?" the carrot-top whispered, leaning a bit to place a chaste, loving kiss on the top of the silky white tuft. Toushiro sighed audibly, shifting feebly as he snuggled further into the other one's arms, eyes barely opened, barely seeing.
"Do you think… we'll see a falling star tonight?" the boy asked softly, and Ichigo couldn't help it but reckon that when the end approaches, one never fails to return to their purest, most innocently trusting side. A tan hand sneaked around their tightly pressed bodies to entangle with the pale fingers of the smaller one and squeeze lightly, reassuringly. You're not alone, he wanted to say, I'm here. I kept my promise. But what was the point of voicing this, really? It would make it all sound as though he had only kept his promise for the sake of keeping it, while in truth, he had no choice in the matter. No option. And not because conscious was whispering in his ear, but because right now, at this very moment, his heart was banging hard against his chest in one second, only to clench painfully in the next.
Duty. Right. Wrong. These words had no place here, not today.
"Yeah… We'll see one for sure." The carrot-top replied slightly throatily and he rather felt then saw Hitsugaya smile with timid relief at his words. "You want to make a wish?"
"It's very… important that I do. D-don't you…? Want to make a wish?"
"You already know what I would wish for." Ichigo whispered as he watched his beloved's tired eyes gaze at the blackness above in almost amusing seeking of the familiar blazing stripe. "What would you wish for?"
Something that could once be referred to as laughter but was now a mere shift of the few inches of air around them fell from the boy's lips.
"Idiot." He stated gently "If I tell you… it won't come true."
"I can promise you it will."
"You can't promise me that."
"I can promise you anything I want tonight."
They fell silent for a couple of minutes, the sound of Toushiro's unsteady breathing the only thing that cut through the quiet stillness of the summer night.
"Promise me something else, instead." The boy susurrated, squeezing Ichigo's fingers between his own with a startling sense of urgency. "Promise me..."
Hitsugaya swallowed with difficulty, his eyes screwing shut for a moment, only to open twice as weakly.
"Promise you'll be happy again… with somebody else. That you will, ultimately let go of the memory of me." His voice broke pitifully at the end but he kept going, his words assuming an uneven, quivering tone. "That you'll fall in love. That you will have a family to adore and take care of and maybe, just maybe, think of me… every once in awhile…"
"Damn, Toushiro, how can you ask me to-"
"Promise me." The boy insisted, his brows furrowing in a distant, pained expression as he struggled to gain control over his voice. "Promise that you won't deny my death when I'm gone and you will not lose your hope... That you will mourn for awhile… but that you will move on. Move on, and graduate… become a successful doctor, and always, always have a dream to follow." He paused, before adding in a chocked whisper. "Because sometimes… even the wildest dreams come true. I know that now."
Ichigo opened his mouth to say something but no words seemed to break through his clenched throat and instead he tightened his grip around the small figure, burying his nose into the white strands. Hitsugaya sighed at the feeling, reaching to run his fingers over his beloved's hand that laid on his own, pale one.
"I love you so much… so damn much." The boy whispered, a pained shudder shaking his frame as his insides were clutched by invisible, shriveled digits that clawed against his fray body and ripped the life from him crumb by crumb. Ichigo's arms enveloped the trembling Toushiro and he hushed and cradled the sick youth till the fit was stifled by the painkillers and he was able to continue: " I-I've never felt this way about anyone… A-and that made me a selfish, s-selfish person…"
"That's not true-"
"I didn't know when to stop… I dragged you into my personal hell… Deeper and deeper, till we came to this… " he shook his head when Ichigo tried to argue and turned into the larger arms to look into the pair of chocolate eyes with the burning intensity that once made the carrot-top's knees go weak. "And I will never be able to apologize enough." A bitter smile twisted the wax-like lips as he added pensively. "Maybe because I don't feel as sorry as I should be... Or maybe because I know that I couldn't have stopped it, no matter what I tried… It doesn't really matter why… does it?" He then shifted, adjusting himself to assume his previous position with the back of his head supported by the carrot-top's shoulder and slumped against the larger body. Falling silent. As he waited for his falling star…
Ichigo never found the strength to speak up first and so they stayed like this, the soothing veil of silence wrapping around them, protecting them from the rest of the sleeping world. The time ticked by, minute by minute, and Toushiro's body grew stiller and stiller into the gentle embrace till he was barely breathing anymore. Till he was barely feeling anything at all.
"You'll… h-hold me, right?" the boy uttered barely above whisper. "You'll hold me till… till I'm gone."
What a ridiculous thing to ask, really…
That was no question. The question was if Ichigo was ever going to be able to let go.
"I'm here. I'm with you." The carrot-top whispered, running his fingers up and down Toushiro's unmoving arms as if in a hopeless attempt to stir the life that was quietly leaving his system. Dammit, not yet… Not yet!
"You know… you know what my wish was?" the boy managed, his lips moving with such incredible difficulty that it was a miracle he could speak at all. "I wished… I wished that I could live… to see the sunrise with you…"
"You can make it. You can make it, Toushiro, just don't give up." Ichigo mumbled, finding the boy's cold hands and squeezing them between his own. "If you just try..."
"No… I can't… The star… There was no falling star…" Hitsugaya blinked, the edges of his mouth pulling into a weak smile. "Guess the charm doesn't… work twice."
"Shh, don't talk like this. Just a little longer. A little longer…"
"Our time… has run out, Ichigo…" he swallowed and for a moment Ichigo thought that he felt the boy's hand try and return the squeeze. "Don't be afraid…"
A small strangled sound tore from the taller male's lips as the irony of the situation struck him cruelly. He should've been the one to chase away the boy's fears. He should've been the one to support him in this moment… so why were the roles reverse? Why were things turning out so wrong?
"Don't go yet…" Ichigo choked out, biting his lower lip as he pulled the smaller body against his even tighter. "My love. My angel…"
"It's okay…"came the soft whisper "It doesn't… hurt anymore… I'm just… tired… So… tired…"
"A little longer. Just a few more minutes…"
"Oh, Ichigo…" this time Toushiro's eyes shone with something that resembled pity "I don't think I can…But… You will watch the sun rise for me, won't you? A-and think about… our good moments…"
"We can watch it together, if you just…"
"Tell me you love me." He breathed and Ichigo moved to press a small, gentle kiss on the cracked lips.
"More than anything." The carrot-top mumbled, shaking his head as he watched the relieved look that slowly spread across the boy's face. "More than anything in this goddamn world..."
Hitsugaya paused for a moment, a small smile twisting his mouth as he forced his hand out of the carrot-top's grasp and lifted it to the tanned cheekbone. His fading irises sank into the vivid chocolate orbs and he sighed deeply, a gentle hum starting to seep between his lips like a soft leaf rustle.
"My body is a cage…" Toushiro's voice was barely above a whisper, barely above a breath, the strange, now distancing smile still in place as he brushed his trembling thumb across the taller male's cheek. "That keeps me from dancing with the one I love…But my mind holds the key… " Ichigo 's hand snatched up, covering the cold, fragile palm on his face, and a small chocking sound left his lips.
"I'm standing on a stage…" the boy's teal orbs tore away, slithering across the dark, thick surface that was the night sky behind the carrot-top. "Of fear and self doubt… It's a hollow play…But they'll clap anyway…"
"Oh, God…" Ichigo's voice broke pathetically as he felt hot tears sting at the corners of his eyes. "D-don't…"
Toushiro's own eyes fell shut and his lashes trembled just a little as he tried to squeeze the warm hand that was currently clutching his own.
"Thank you, Ichigo…" he whispered. "For… letting me live my life so fully…"
"Dammit, w-why-" the carrot-top tried but was cut off as Hitsugaya's soft voice curled into the notes of the song again.
"Though the fear keeps me moving…" he swallowed with difficulty, his lower lip giving away a small quiver "Still my heart beats so… slow…" A sigh. And then… silence.
Silence. The loneliest, most heart-breaking sound. And the emptiest tune.
As he felt the hot tears finally spill and run down his cheeks, Ichigo couldn't help it but clutch the lifeless form to his chest, whispering his last question, his last inquiry to the deaf ears. Kissing the words into the chapped lips. Again and again.
Never to have them respond to them.
"Why… why have you never sung to me before?"
But Ichigo knew. He knew the answer…
For the first time, Toushiro was free from the pain.
And as he watched the endless sky before him, blossoming in warm colors, Ichigo couldn't help it but wonder: what would have happened if he hadn't made that wish 11 months ago?
I'd never know true misery. Or pure happiness., he thought, a small sad smile grazing his lips. Oh, how fate had its twisted ways of teaching people that the most precious things could break in a snap of the fingers, and how… and how nothing. Nothing, really. It didn't matter. Not now, not ever.
And then he remembered – the only words that seemed to make sense anymore. Maybe the only one that ever had, apart from the 'I love you' that felt like dry paper against his tongue now…
His smile turned a scintilla bitterer at the thought that, of course, they were Toushiro's… Of course. Everything seemed to belong to Toushiro now. If it was ever any different… And he closed his eyes, letting the familiar voice ripple in his mind and wash over him like a melancholic tide, preparing to ebb and leave him all empty, all alone. This time for good.
'And Que sera, sera, Ichigo. No regrets.'
No regrets. Never regrets.
A/N: Don't flame me.