I know this fic is a little overdue, but ever since I heard the news, I haven't been able to get the idea out of my head. I kept watching footage of the Japanese tsunami/earthquake, and felt the need to write something, to express what I felt—the complete disbelief at what I was watching, and how truly heartbreaking it was.
I Want To Hold Your Hand:
Ichigo doesn't know what's happened until he gets home and finds his dad sitting in front of the TV, the volume turned up as loud as it will go. He'd been arguing with Rukia about some stupid shit (maybe a math test, he can't remember) but his voice had faltered as they'd stepped inside, greeted by the frantic voices of news reporters coming from the other room. Ichigo had toed off his shoes, rolling his eyes at Rukia as he did so.
"Tadaima," he calls, dropping his book bag carelessly to the floor. "What the hell are you doing, Dad? You wanna turn it down a little, maybe?"
No answer. Ichigo glances at Rukia, who seems equally bemused, and then heads for the living room. Maybe his dad had a hard day at work, and he's passed out in front of the TV? Not the first time it's happened, although his dad vehemently denies he's been sleeping every time.
He finds his father on the couch wide awake, though, one hand pressed tightly over his mouth, eyes wide.
"Dad?" Ichigo says again, one eyebrow raised. "What's…?"
His voice died in his throat, however, at the look in his father's eyes: there's something in them that's…frightened. Haunted. Helpless. It's a look he's never seen before, and Ichigo feels his body go cold all over.
"Dad," he says again, but he can't get the words out, before his dad's on his feet and crossing to him in three brisk strides, arms folding tightly around him. Ichigo's aware Rukia lurking in the doorway, watching the two of them in confusion, but he can't pull from his dad's grip. And when he feels his dad's body begin to shake, feels a sob stifled in his shoulder, Ichigo's not sure he wants to pull away anyway.
"Dad," he says softly, as the faint sound of raging alarms and screams reach him from the TV, "what happened?"
They're lucky, is what the reporters will tell them later that night. Safe, and far away from the damage; lucky that the earthquake didn't hit; that the water didn't reach them; that they live in Karakura; that they have shelter and food.
That they're still alive.
It's like being in a dream, Ichigo will think later, when he's curled up in his bed that night, unable to sleep; wishing he could dream, slip away and disappear from this reality into another. Everything begins to blur, the longer he sits in front of the TV, watching in numb disbelief as the water swallows town after town, and clouds of billowing black smoke rise thick in the air from fires that won't go out. One hand is holding his father's, something he hasn't done since he was eight, after his mom died, at her funeral. Yuzu is curled up against Dad's chest, tucked under his arm, exhausted from crying. Karin is in Dad's lap, pale and silent—she hasn't said a word since she got home, and Ichigo prays to God, or whatever force is out there, that she can't feel the souls of all those who have died, that are still dying.
His other hand is holding Rukia's.
He's never held her hand before. Has wanted to, before this; it kind of sucks that this is how it finally happens, under these circumstances, and if he could remember how to, he might laugh.
Her skin is smooth, and cool to the touch, like he always expected; her fingers are slender, delicate—it surprises him, that someone who's been clutching a sword and battling evil spirits for hundreds of years can have such small fingers. She holds his hand tightly, and when he tears his gaze away from where the Prime Minister is giving a speech on the earthquake and tsunami, Rukia's face is pale, and she looks as afraid as he feels.
After they finally turn off the TV, unable to watch any more, everyone goes to bed. No homework, practically no dinner; one by one, they simply drift off to their separate rooms. Ichigo trudges upstairs, expecting to be alone, but hesitates at his bedroom door at the touch of a hand on his shoulder.
"Can I stay with you?" Rukia asks. She seems strangely small, standing in front of him in her rumpled school uniform, hands twisting anxiously together; she's always been petite, of course, but here and now, in this moment…it's like she's shrunk. Like that confident attitude that's always made her seem several feet taller has vanished. For the first time, she looks like the child, the high school girl that she's been pretending to be all this time.
Ichigo nods dully, and lets her in. He thinks she means the closet, so it's a shock when she crawls into bed alongside him, dressed in Yuzu's bright yellow pajamas.
"What are you—?" he starts, voice cracking nervously and heart pounding, until he realizes just how hard she's shaking.
"Please," Rukia murmurs, in a voice that sounds nothing like her. That's all she says, is "please", but that one word says so much. Ichigo shuts his mouth and folds his arms around her, like his dad did for him earlier, and holds her as close as he possibly can.
He doesn't sleep. He doesn't think she does, either, but they still don't talk. There's not much to say, if they already know what the other is thinking about. It means more simply to lie there, watching as the clouds shift in an inky black sky outside, clinging to one another—clinging to any semblance of sanity, of peace that they can still find.
It doesn't get any better the next day. The TV's on again when he wakes up, and more than anything, Ichigo wants to put his foot through it. He doesn't want to see the reporters with their blank expressions and monotonous voices, steadily rattling off the latest statistics: how far the water's traveled, the property damage, the…the death toll. He doesn't want to see the blank, dazed expressions on hundreds of refugees—the people who spent the night sleeping on cardboard on the floor of the Tokyo airport; the people who managed to evacuate their homes and towns before the water hit; the people who weren't so lucky, with dirty faces and clothes, with panic in their eyes as they babble helplessly to the cameras filming them, saying things that Ichigo never wanted to hear.
A woman wipes tears from her eyes and describes how she ran with her daughter to escape the water flooding the third floor of their apartment; how she had made it, but at some point, accidentally let go of her daughter's hand; how she still hadn't found her daughter yet.
Ichigo looks at his father, and at Yuzu and Karin, huddled together on the couch, and feels like he's going to throw up.
Rukia's still asleep upstairs. She passed out sometime around three in the morning, but Ichigo hasn't slept at all, and he restlessly paces around his house, then grabs his cell phone and starts calling people. Everyone. Anyone.
There's no answer from Keigo—Chad will tell him later that Keigo has relatives that live in the Miyagi prefecture who are unaccounted for, and Ichigo will have to put the phone down for a minute and kneel in front of his toilet, fighting the churning sensation in his gut. He gets a near-silent Ishida, who's staying with Orihime; neither of them wanted to be alone while this was happening. Mizuiro stammers his way through a five minute conversation, and then says he has to go, and hangs up before Ichigo can try to invite him over, or offer him a few empty words of comfort.
The day passes so goddamn slow. Saturdays normally rush by, but everything seems to be moving at an agonizing pace. It's the waiting that's killing him. The inability to do anything but sit on his couch and just…wait for the latest piece of news to filter in. His self-control is hanging by a thread, and for the first time in his life, Ichigo wants to go looking for a fight, for some asshole who's still got a middle school grudge, willing to beat the shit out of him for no reason at all. He wants something familiar to come back, to make him feel like there's something else in his life than obsessing over this; wants some way to release the fear, the pressure, the desperation that's rising slowly in him—like water, drowning him.
He needs something to hold onto.
"I hear the United States is sending aid," Ishida says later that night. Ichigo couldn't take it anymore—called his friends, invited them over, anything to try and break the monotony. He couldn't stand the idea of the three of them in their empty apartments, watching the tragedies unfold all by themselves. Orihime is with Yuzu and Karin, offering them a temporary distraction from the TV. Yuzu is playing with Orihime's hair, while Karin shows off her soccer skills for Orihime, whose smile, though lovely, is somehow more strained than Ichigo remembers it being. Rukia is sitting with them as well, though she occasionally glances toward the kitchen table, around which Ichigo, his dad, Chad, and Ishida are currently grouped.
"So is the U.K.," Chad adds. "I heard they already have people on the ground, helping us with evacuations.
Ichigo stares at his hands, clenching and unclenching them into fists. They're trying to be positive, he knows, but all he can think of are the reports he's heard about the nuclear power plants, that there's a risk of radiation exposure if the chemicals aren't properly contained.
Half his country's being ripped apart, and Ichigo can feel his heart breaking with it.
Orihime takes Rukia's guest-bed, set up in Yuzu and Karin's room. Ishida takes the other guest room, and Chad camps out on the living room couch. Rukia doesn't sleep in his bed tonight, Ichigo notes with a twinge of disappointment, but she does smile feebly at him, right before she slides the closet door shut for the evening.
At around two, Ichigo wakes—startled, both by a nightmare he can't remember, and the fact that he slept at all. He lies there, staring up at the ceiling with sweat cooling on his forehead and the back of his neck, until he hears what sounds faintly like singing coming from downstairs.
Ichigo's quiet as he sneaks out of his room: he doesn't want to disturb Chad, he just wants to listen. Chad's kneeling on the floor beside the couch; the pile of blankets they left him remains untouched, which means he hasn't gone to sleep yet. His hands are clasped tightly together, head bowed, eyes shut. The song he's singing is in Spanish, but even though Ichigo can't understand a word of it, he feels a chill slither through him, listening to a language that's mysterious, and beautiful; to the mournful note in Chad's deep, surprisingly gentle voice that tells Ichigo his often calm friend is on the brink of tears.
Chad finishes singing, and begins murmuring. The steady rhythm and reverent voice tells Ichigo it's a prayer; the way Chad chokes on his words toward the end of it tells him it's for Japan.
"Por favor, dios," Chad keeps whispering over and over again, and Ichigo hugs himself and holds back the sob he won't let himself release. "Por favor…"
He doesn't go back to bed. He's running on five hours, at best, for the last two days, but Ichigo can't make himself get up. He can't move. He sits slumped on the stairs, as Chad finally goes to sleep, listening to Chad's quiet snoring, to the creaks throughout his house, the click of the generator as it rattles to life. Ichigo takes deep, slow breaths, in through his nose, out through his mouth, until the night turns a faint, murky blue outside.
Ichigo guesses it's around five in the morning when he finally hauls himself to his feet, his body sore and his entire left leg asleep from sitting the same position for several hours straight. He unlocks the front door and slips outside—the first time he's left his house since Friday afternoon, and the cold morning air stings his bare arms and feet. Ichigo keeps walking, though, staring at the silent homes and buildings all around him and trying to imagine what could have happened if the tsunami had hit.
Everything he has—his home, his friends, his entire life—would be gone. Disappearing in the blink of an eye. He watched the waves swallow towns on the TV, knocking aside buildings as if they were nothing more than sandcastles, hundreds of cars as if they were toys; no matter what he does, he can't get the sound of people weeping out of his head, or Chad's murmured prayer.
Ichigo wanders blindly, his feet carrying him where they will, until he reaches the riverbank. The sky is still dark blue overhead, but rapidly getting lighter. It'll be dawn soon, he thinks, and settles himself down into the dewy grass, breathing cold air that stings his throat and lungs.
He senses her behind him before she even speaks. Ichigo's become so used to Rukia's reiatsu, pulsing and familiar; gentle, even when she's in the middle of a fight. And he knows how she thinks: even as he left his house earlier that morning, he already knew, subconsciously, that she'd follow. He doesn't mind, though. Ichigo didn't really want to be alone—he's afraid he'll disappear inside his thoughts.
Rukia, also barefoot and dressed in pajamas (though she had the forethought to grab a jacket) takes a seat beside him. She doesn't touch him, not yet, he notices with a surge of relief he can't exactly explain. Maybe because he feels unnaturally fragile, uncertain, and the slightest brush of her hand against his skin would be enough to completely undo him, as it usually does.
For awhile, neither of them speak.
"Can you believe it's already Sunday?" Rukia asks finally. Ichigo shakes his head and stares into the swirling river.
"Time flies when you're in hell," he says softly. It's supposed to be a half-assed attempt at a joke, but it doesn't sound nearly as funny when he says it out loud.
"Things are bad," Rukia continues in an even voice. "I haven't seen it this bad since World War II." She tucks her hair behind her ear, and turns to face him, peering intently into his face. "I'm sorry I've been so out of it the past two days. It's so much harder for you…I should have been there to support you."
Ichigo doesn't answer. He wants to tell her there's no need to apologize, that she doesn't always have to be so strong, but when he opens his mouth what comes out instead is: "It's weird to think about. What people up there are going through right now, while we're just sitting here."
He can't conceal the bitterness in his voice, and he knows Rukia's watching him closely. Ichigo digs his toes into the cold earth and bites at his lower lip. He's afraid to speak, afraid of what might come out of his mouth next, but he can't…he can't keep holding it in.
"You wanna know something funny?" he asks, and takes Rukia's silence as a yes. "Everyone in Soul Society thinks I'm, like, some sort of big damn hero…" His fingers curl out of habit, reaching for the hilt of his sword, even though he knows it's not there. "But…" It's getting harder to speak, to grit the words out, while trying to fight the tears that are already gathering in his eyes, threatening to spill over. "But…but then why couldn't…why couldn't I do anything to try and save those people."
A tear falls, and then another, and he can't stop. He hates himself for it, but the weight of the past two days comes crashing down on him all at once, and he breaks beneath it. He tries to speak again, and it comes out as a half-strangled sob, the tears falling steadily. Ichigo wipes his face with the back of his hand and gives a harsh, disgusted laugh.
"Some fucking hero I am."
Rukia doesn't say anything for a long moment, and Ichigo sits there, sniveling like an idiot, crying on the banks of the river like he hasn't done since he was eight years old. It's Rukia's hand touching his face that finally makes him stop, more out of surprise than anything else. He turns to look at her, just as the first rays of sunlight hit the water, and…and she always manages to catch him off guard with how beautiful she truly is.
Rukia smiles with tears in her eyes, and caresses his cheek.
"But you're forgetting what it really means to be a shinigami," she says softly, her thumb catching a tear at the corner of his eye, just as it begins to fall. "It's our job to defend against evil, true…and also to heal those in need when we cannot turn back the storm."
She turns away from him for a moment, gazing out across the river as the sun comes into full view over the horizon. The water shimmers with golden light and Rukia smiles again, crying as well. And in the curves of her face, Ichigo can see both the weary, hundred-year old woman, and the young innocent girl that he loves so much.
"There are going to be a lot of lost souls out there," she continues. "They're all probably very frightened. So, when the time comes…" Her hand finds his, their fingers intertwining, and she's so small—he always forgets. "We'll be there, as shinigami, to guide them on." Rukia sniffles, and then grins weakly and shrugs. "It gets better. It always does, somehow."
Ichigo stares down at their clasped hands, and grips hers tightly for a moment, silent tears still running down his cheeks.
"I'm scared," he whispers, so quiet he can barely hear his own voice. Rukia leans in and presses her mouth to his.
"I'm right here," she murmurs against his lips.
They sit on the riverbank, hands clasped, and wait: for someone to find them, for an unknown future; for the beginning of a new day.
I totally had the Glee version of "I Want To Hold Your Hand" on repeat the entire time I wrote this. Does it make anyone else cry, or am I even more pathetic when it comes to that show than I originally thought?
In memory of the thousands of lives lost.