summary. hold my hand and I'll take you there.
prompt. [tanabata] stars, hope, separation, reunion
note. for Tanabata Fest 2011/ thanks a lot, star for looking over this!
disclaimer. BLEACH © Kubo/ JULIET © Shakespeare
i. The temple grounds are teeming with people, so crowded that it is almost impossible to navigate through the swarms of people. Still, it does not deter Ichigo's sisters – particularly Yuzu – from plowing ahead. Ichigo follows them, his scowling face, imposing height and powerful physique intimidating several people, causing them to eye him cautiously whilst backing away, which in the process, provides him with space to walk through. Keeping an eye on his sisters, Ichigo maintains an inconspicuous distance from them. They are young girls in the brink of womanhood, as articulated by Yuzu one day, and the last thing they want is an overprotective brother hovering over them, scaring off potential suitors. Ichigo pointed out they are fourteen years old but begrudgingly, he agreed to keep his distance.
Usually, it was their father who'd take the girls to the festival, but there was an emergency: a car accident due to a faulty traffic system or something equally incredulous. His father made a quick phone call to Ichigo, who lives on his own, in an apartment near the local college, and told him to accompany the girls. He can stand crowds and festivals, but there are exceptions. And this is one of them. Nevertheless, Ichigo agreed.
Ichigo's idle stroll is interrupted when a hand brushes against his shoulder blade. Without thinking, he whips his head around and finds himself face to face with a pair of too-wide eyes which is peering up at him through sodden, thick bangs.
Violently, he shrinks back. "Shit!"
"Oi! What the hell was that for?"
A dark-haired young woman glares back at him. "The one and only," she retorts. She raises a brow. "What's wrong with you?"
He exhales, rubbing the back of his neck, "Nothing." Tatsuki narrows her eyes but does not pry.
"Who are you with?"
"My sisters," Ichigo replies, nodding towards the direction where the twins are standing in front of a takoyaki booth.
They start walking together. "This is a surprise. You hate Tanabata festivals."
"I don't hate them. I don't enjoy them. That's all." He corrects, but what she said is true. Through the years, he has gained unhealthy aversion towards the said festival. The story behind the festival does not bother him. What happens to him during the festival bothers him.
Ever since he was a kid, he feels like he is being watched and followed by something or someone unseen during festivals. He chalked it up to paranoia – as a kid, he was a favorite target of bullies because of his bright hair – and learned to ignore it. But as he grows older, the 'feeling' gets more intense. Every year, it gets closer, until it feels like it is now permanently perched on his shoulder or glued to the back of his head. And that feeling is intensely stronger this year, causing him to be constantly on edge.
"Then why are you here?"
"My dad had an emergency and asked me to go with them." Ichigo answers with a shrug, gazing off to the side disinterestedly. From the corner of his eye, a faded figure catches his attention: a girl with long, drenched hair hanging over her face, wearing a white dress. Transfixed, he stares at the strange figure, his steps faltering. All of a sudden, the noise of chattering and stamping footsteps disappear, replaced by a stagnant silence.
A hand tugs at his wrist, startling Ichigo. He flinches and jerks his hand away.
Ichigo blinks, trying to regulate his breathing. Slowly, the glowering face of Tatsuki slides into focus, as well as the background noise. "What the hell is your–" She stops when Ichigo turns to look at the area where he has seen the girl. The spot is empty.
"Are you okay? You're a bit pale, Ichigo." Tatsuki notices, looking up to him. He nods, breathing heavily. Suddenly, his heart is pounding violently against his ribs, making him dizzy. He starts to sweat, his perspiration cold. Ichigo fights the almost-insane urge to look again.
Don't look. A voice inside his head warns him.
… Or else.
"Seriously, I think you need to sit down. You're pale. And trembling." But Tatsuki's voice is drowned by another voice, a voice so sweet, so pure.
Come on. The sweet voice whispers. Look.
He clenches his fist until his nails hurt the skin of his palm.
Just one look.
Just one, he thinks feverishly.
Oh yes, just one look.
… Or else.
He almost gives in, but—
There is a strong pull — someone is yanking his arm. Ichigo blinks repeatedly, feeling unhinged. Several strangers are peering up at him, some in curiosity, and some in concern. He looks for a familiar face and finds Tatsuki's. She looks worried.
"Oh for Pete's sake," Tatsuki cuts off. "Let's go and find a place to sit. You're scaring me."
He swallows, and let Tatsuki tug him along.
Ichigo should have looked back. If he had, he should have noticed the same figure, standing on the same spot, watching him through sodden hair.
ii. They find a wooden bench with metal framework far from the crowd. From here, the noise from the main activity area is dulled. Ichigo sits down, his head bowed. His knees are trembling. He puts his hands on his kneecaps and squeezes. The trembling continues. Tatsuki is standing in front of him, arms akimbo.
"Are you sick?"
He gives a deep sigh before looking up to his friend. "I'm fine." Tatsuki raises a skeptical brow. "Just tired. That's all."
"Med school's pretty exhausting, huh?"
"Yeah," Ichigo half-admits as he leans back with a sigh. In truth, studying medicine is not as tiring as dealing with his eccentric Tanabata encounters. What happened several minutes ago is a frightening improvement from the usual things he has experienced in the past.
"Wait here. I'll get you something to drink."
Mutely, he nods, not looking up. With Tatsuki's footsteps fading, silence falls upon him like a heavy blanket.
What the hell was that? Ichigo muses. Is it a hallucination caused by fatigue? Ichigo shakes his head. It was too clear to be a hallucination. He is pretty sure that there is a girl. What about the pair of protruding eyes staring up at him? The last thought sends a shiver down his spine.
Get a grip! He tells himself angrily. He's a man of science. He's studying to be a doctor and doctors are supposed to be realistic. Ghosts don't exist. They are mere products of restless imagination.
Ichigo raises a hand to brush his hair back but he pauses, noticing that his thighs and knees are warm and wet. He narrows his eyes as he examines his lap closely. The wetness is spreading down his shins and feet. It is warm and viscous, and the smell is familiar. His palms and forearms are wet as well. Scowl deepening, he turns up his palms. What he sees make his eyes go round with shock and horror.
Long, thick streams of fresh blood fall between his fingers. Both of his hands are saturated in blood. Mind reeling, he stares, dumbfounded, at his palms. Fuck, where the hell all this blood is coming from?
Frantically, Ichigo wipes his palms against the wood of the bench. His hands leave red handprints, staining the wooden surface. When he checks his palms, no traces of open wound are found. His shirt, he later notices, is also blood-soaked, and in every passing second, the blood seems to get thicker until half of his body becomes completely soaked. It seems like there is an invisible someone bleeding profusely in his arms. Later, he spots a puddle of blood around his feet. When he moves his feet, his shoes make a sickening, squelching sound.
What the fuck is going on! Ichigo rages mentally, unable to think straight.
"Ichigo!" Tatsuki's voice jolts him back to reality. Relieved, he turns to the direction where she is coming from. However, his respite is short-lived. What if Tatsuki freaks out, assumes he's killed someone and calls police? This scenario does not sit well with him.
"Tatsuki, you've got to help me." He tells her as soon as she is within his reach.
"With what?" Her relax expression confuses Ichigo. He's covered in blood and isn't she supposed to freak out?
"With what?" he echoes in disbelief. "I didn't—" He could not say the word 'kill' so he says, "Hurt anyone. I don't know where all this blood came from—"
Tatsuki gives him a strange look. "Blood? Where?"
Stunned, Ichigo eyes her, irritated at her farce. "Where?" He seethes. "Are you blind? I'm—" He stops short upon seeing his hands.
"You're what, Ichigo?"
His hands are clean, devoid of red liquid. His shirt and jeans are spotless. There is no pool of blood gathering around his sneakers.
"Ichigo, are sure you're alright?"
What's wrong with me?
He is afraid of the answer.
iii. Later, Tatsuki offers to look for his sisters.
"Wait here. You still look sick and I don't want to be the one to piece you back together in case you fall into pieces." She stands up, still looking at him. She looks curious – Ichigo looks odd, preoccupied and somewhat – dare she say – terrified. He looks fatigued, and in short period of time, dark blemishes under his eyes have become more visible. So, she faces him and asks if he is going to be alright. But he doesn't answer.
Tatsuki pokes his shoulder. He starts and gives her with a wide-eyed gaze. Tatsuki is growing more and more concerned. "Are you sure you're okay? You look scared shitless."
A look of annoyance flits over his features. "I'm fine." He retorts.
"I'll call you once I found them. You have your phone with you, right?"
"Good, see you in a bit."
Ichigo watches her go, eyes heavy-lidded. He tries to find comfort in the distant sound of festival noise, a semblance of normalcy. Then, he looks at his hands. Was it just his imagination? What is happening to him? Grimly, he clenches both of his fists and looks up to the sky. His astronomy knowledge is limited but he manages to locate the star he's looking for: Vega, the fifth brightest star in the night sky. At the sight of the star, he starts to calm down.
She looks lonely.
"Yes, she does."
Ichigo jumps, cursing under his breath. Eyes wide, he looks around. His gaze falls on the girl sitting next to him. She wears a white dress with round neckline and is looking up to the sky. She has long, auburn hair – a shade darker than his hair color – and her long bangs frame her cheeks. Ichigo stares at her, bewildered by her sudden appearance. She must have felt his stare for she turns her head around to face him.
Upon seeing the girl's face, Ichigo's eyes widen a little. She must be some sort of a dream. For one thing, she is too beautiful. Her features are soft and kind, her eyes are brown and fringed with long lashes, and her skin is very pale. There is something pure about her stunning beauty, and that purity gives Ichigo a vague sense of loneliness.
Clearing his throat, he recomposes himself. He wants to ask her where she comes from, for he hasn't heard or felt her arrive, but it sounds rude even to his ears so he asks instead, "Who are you?"
She smiles as an answer, and Ichigo feels something raw and powerful pulls at his gut. The knot in his stomach tightens when her smile widens, and transfixed, he looks at her as she gazes at him with an odd expression – one that is sweet and predatory at the same time.
His cell phone rings, shattering the moment. He blinks away from her gaze and fumbles for his ringing phone. His fingers are shaky, and his heart is thumping furiously. His instincts tell him to run, run, run! but something is holding him back.
Don't look. That warning again.
Finally, he is able to get hold of his phone. He flips it open. "Hello?"
"Hey, I found them."
Ichigo keeps his gaze averted from the girl, though he still feels her stare, penetrating his skin, making his skin crawl for some reason.
"Alright. Where are you?"
"We're in front of a stall near the — Ichigo? Hello? Are you there? Why is it so noisy there?"
"What? It's not—"
"Where on earth are you? I can barely hear you! Who's crying?"
"Crying? What are you talk—"
"I can't hear you above the din of all that chanting, sobbing and wailing—"
"Oi, Tatsuki, are you there?"
Still, there is no response. He checks his phone and grimly, he realizes that the signal is gone. "Shit. What the hell's going on?" Ichigo looks around.
The beautiful girl has disappeared. All that is left is a thick, stagnant silence.
There is something remotely sinister, almost evil hiding in the silence. He needs to get out of here. Fast.
iv. Ichigo retraces his steps to find his way back to the heart of the festival. But so far, he isn't very lucky. Clutching his phone, he tries several attempts to call Tatsuki, but he has no suck luck.
Fighting back his panic and the raw fear that starts to gnaw at him, he plows ahead. Several times he has sensed he is near to his destination only to find himself standing on the same spot. Finally losing his temper, Ichigo kicks the trunk of the nearest tree with a vicious curse. But all it does is to hurt his foot which further aggravates him.
From the corner of his eye, he catches a movement. He turns around, and something white darts from behind a tree to another.
He chases after it. For roughly around five minutes of running, he arrives in some sort of a cliff. From here, he could see the town of Karakura.
"I've been waiting for you."
Startled, Ichigo turns to the direction of the voice. The speaker is the same girl of great beauty.
Narrowing his eyes, he asks, "Who are you?"
She gives him a sad look that makes his heart ache. "You know my name."
"Look, miss, I don't know you. We've never met before."
The sad look intensifies. "How could you forget me?" She murmurs softly. Raising fragile, long-fingered hands to her chest, she clutches the front of her dress. "I loved you with all my heart. I have loved you for so long."
For some reason, her claim makes Ichigo blush — and somewhere deep inside him, a throbbing ache starts to blossom. Aside from this ache, another feeling is forming. Jealousy. Jealousy for the person who has her heart.
"Look, lady," Ichigo says firmly, ignoring the strange feeling of jealousy. "You got the wrong person." Deep inside, however, a part of him wants to be that person – the person she loves with all her heart.
The girl shakes her head, her brown eyes shining with unshed tears. "It's me, my love." She pleads. "It's me, Orihime."
Ichigo is stunned. Wha—
She smiles, "Yes, my love. Like I promised, I waited for you. I never stopped waiting for you to come back."
Ichigo's mind is reeling. "I don't know what you're—"
"You made me wait for such a long time. But you're worth it." She smiles another captivating smile that enchants him. "Separated from you, my love, I was terribly lonely. But I never lose hope. I've waited for the day we will meet again."
"I'm not the person you're—"
But the girl continues to speak as though he hasn't spoken. "Did you forget? We made a promise."
"Promise me. You'll wait for me."
"I promise, my love."
"Good. I'll be back after five days with the boat I prepared. Then, we will sail away from this Kingdom, away from the King, your father."
"Oh, that means you'll be here to celebrate Tanabata with me."
"Yes, I'll be back on the eve of Tanabata. Thank you for choosing me, Orihime. I'll make you happy, I promise. Wait—"
"— for me." Ichigo whispers.
"But you never came."
The pregnant silence that follows is thick with something sinister, chilling Ichigo's blood.
v. Hearing his name, he snaps his head up. His eyes widen in horror. Suddenly, the beautiful girl's white dress is soaked in blood, from the corset down to the hem of her dress. Blood drips from the hem, making a puddle of blood around her feet. More blood oozes around her arms, hands and legs.
"When Tanabata arrived, I was so happy. I waited for you under the stars, watching people as they write their wishes and hang them on bamboos. But you didn't come as you promised. But I know that you will never abandon me. You loved me. That's why I didn't stop from waiting and weaving." She lifts her bloody hands, her eyes glazing.
Ichigo watches the ground beneath her feet turn into red mud.
"I looked everywhere for you." She starts to advance to him, her steps slow and graceful. Her every step produces wet, squelching sound. Ichigo wants to retreat, get away from her, run! – but he can't move. "And when I found you, I was overjoyed! At last, we will be together."
She stops in front of him.
"But you," her soft smile dims as she gazes at him sadly. "You've forgotten me. You forgot about your promise. I tried so many times to tell you but you ignored me. I felt so lonely."
With her bloody hand, she cups his cheek. Ichigo remains immobile, staring at her.
She is the most beautiful woman he has ever seen and he loves her fiercely. But she is a woman above his station, the daughter of Tentei, the Emperor. Thus, imagine his surprise when he finds out she returns his feelings with the same intensity.
But the King is not in favor of their union. He forbids them to meet. Orihime becomes despondent but he is not disheartened. He concocts a plan for them to meet and run away together. Orihime is overjoyed and agrees readily.
"Promise me. You'll wait for me."
"I promise, my love."
And thus, she waits.
Weaving cloth after cloth without stopping, until her hands bleed and the cloths turn red with her blood. And yet, she keeps waiting… weaving, and waiting, and weaving…
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Breathless, Ichigo's words tumble out of his mouth. "Orihime, I—"
Her fingers leave strips of red on his cheek. "Why? Why did you abandon me?"
"I didn't! I… I…"
Waiting for his answer, she peers up at him, and he realizes with a jolt – they are the eyes that has watched and followed him all his life.
"I died, Orihime."
Those eyes widen until they're almost protruding out of their sockets.
"I died, Orihime. I didn't come back because I died."
"No, no…" She starts to sob. She falls to her knees and cries so hard she is almost retching. Ichigo, meanwhile, remains standing, shaken. How did he— are those his memories? But he is alive and it is raining with severe thunder and lightning. Harsh gales and gigantic waves smash into the boat and it tips over; he struggles in vain against the waves, and then, there is darkness— the crying diminishes into sniffling, he notices. Slowly, she stands up again. Her eyes have returned to their original sizes, still bright and teary, and she is looking up at him, mesmerizing him with her beauty once again.
"Come with me, my love."
Ichigo jerks, realizing the weight of her words.
"Now that we finally found each other, we can be together forever. Like we promised to each other."
"Do you love me?"
"I do." He answers without hesitation. His answer makes her smile angelically.
"There's a place waiting for us. A place and time where we can be together. A place where no one can separate us."
Her smile, her beauty, the love shining in her eyes – Ichigo feels his heart throb with strong, almost violent emotions. He leans in and their lips touch for a long kiss. And this moment seals his fate.
"Orihime," he whispers against her lips. She blinks up at him, looking at him tenderly. "I'm sorry. I made you wait for so long."
Smiling, she holds up her hand to him. "Take my hand and I'll take you there."
vi. Yuzu, now twenty one, smiles and thanks the vendor. She hands the second cup of lemonade to her sister.
Karin thanks her and together, they resume their stroll. Children rush past them. Seeing them, Yuzu smiles nostalgically; she remembers her younger self, excited to write wishes and capture elusive goldfishes. Tanabata festival has always been her favorite festival as a child. Ironically, however, it is during Tanabata that she has lost one of the most important people in her life.
Yuzu pauses in front of a bamboo. From its branches, strips of rolled papers are suspended. Beside her, Karin stops and glances at her.
Karin's expression is soft as she speaks, "You're crying…"
"O-Oh! I'm sorry! I… I guess Tanabata festivals still have this effect on me."
Karin smiles in understanding. "Don't worry about it. You're entitled to get emotional every Tanabata." Yuzu giggles softly.
"Do you want to try it?" Karin asks, referring to the tradition of writing wishes. Ever since that day when their brother mysteriously vanished, Yuzu has stopped celebrating Tanabata. They still go, but Yuzu refuses to take part in the tradition of writing wishes. "Come on," Karin urges her.
"It's time to let go, Yuzu."
Yuzu's lower lip trembles.
"No matter how many years we wait, he's not coming back."
"It will get easier for you if you teach yourself to accept that fact. It's been years. Seven years, Yuzu."
"Let him go."
They stare at each other. Yuzu turns towards the bamboo, lifts a pen and writes down her wish.
Wherever you are, please, be happy, Onii-chan.
Around midnight, they watch as the bamboo and decorations are set afloat on a river.
vii. Somewhere, a soft voice sings,
Bamboo leaves flowing in the wind
Swinging by the edge of the eaves
Stars are shining
Like fine gold and silver sand
The voice then laughs gently.
"Oh, look at this. Someone wishes for their older brother's happiness."
Together, they look at the piece of paper.
"Are you happy?"
"Wherever you are?"
"Wherever I am."