A/N: Okay, so I lost all patience and decided to start posting this story now. I can only hope you love it as much as Birgitt-sama does. Please regard me kindly...
Warnings: Angst ahoy! Obvious activity of the homosexual nature and the odd moment of odd humour.
Prologue: Call it Off
I won't regret saying this,
This thing that I'm saying.
Is it better than keeping my mouth shut?
That goes without saying.
Call, break it off.
Call, break my own heart.
Maybe I would have been
Something you'd be good at.
Maybe you would have been
Something I'd be good at.
But now we'll never know.
I won't be sad but in case
I'll go there everyday,
To make myself feel bad.
There's a chance I'll start
To wonder if this was the thing to do.
-Call it Off, Tegan and Sara
I woke up in the same fashion as I always did. Well, over recent months anyway. Sleep left me, my body started to wake and before my eyes could open, my mind had supplied me with images of him.
Of course I knew that when I eventually mustered the strength to open my eyelids and shift my body to roll out of bed, he would not be there. I could already feel the freezing fabric that covered his side of the bed. His old side of the bed. I hated having to remind myself of that fact every morning. It was getting really old, and I didn't want to deal with it.
Nor did I want to deal with the pain in brought forward, even after all this time. I pinched the bridge of my nose, where I felt my sinuses begin to sting with what I knew, if I didn't stop it soon enough, would be tears. At least the brief spurts of sleep I was achieving at the moment were dreamless. What was wrong with me? It had been months since...
How many months exactly?
The thought popped up unprecedented in my mind and I wondered why it hadn't before. For the first time in what seemed like an age, I flipped open my phone case and looked at the date. It happily told me that it was Tuesday the first of March, 2010. I forced my heavy body to sit on the side of the bed and promptly put my head in my hands, fingers massaging my eyes.
Wow, it's been almost six months. I let out a small, bitter snicker. And exactly one month since we last spoke. I tried not to think about how that was my fault. It was easier to blame him.
I looked around the floor of my room with bleary eyes, kicked my way through some rubbish, picked up some clothes I assumed to be semi-clean. I sniffed at the armpit of a white tee shirt and decided it would do - I'd just bung on some extra deodorant today. Pulling it over my head, I simultaneously rooted around for jeans and my favourite flannel shirt.
Once-black, now-grey skinnies were pulled on and I looked down to see they weren't so skinny anymore. Shit, if I lost anymore weight I'd look like a fucking holocaust victim - I needed to get back to the gym. Sure, Ichigo. Just add that to your fucking to-do list, along with working out what you want to do with your life and getting over that asshole. No biggie. I outwardly sighed and pulled on the shirt and a studded belt. Couldn't have my ass hanging out at work now, could I?
I walked up to my full-length mirror and briefly checked I was suitable - well, as suitable-looking as I could get - for my shift. My mirror presented me with the familiar image of a scrawny figure, bloodshot eyes complete with heavy bags, and my usual ridiculous hair. At least that still looked the same as ever. Bright orange, if a little dirty - I honestly couldn't remember the last time I'd showered - and pointing in all directions.
I quickly pushed a hand through it, more out of exasperation than an attempt to smooth it - God knows I'd given that up years ago - and collected the things I'd need for the day. In five minutes I was out of the door and only running marginally late. Pfft, as if Urahara would care.
Looking back, I don't know what I would have done without work during that time. It gave me a kind of routine - although the hours were a bit all over the place - and some sort of focus. Urahara Shoten, a small retro candy shop, was run by a middle aged guy who I'm pretty sure was always stoned… But he was good to me. He was lenient with my occasional - okay, maybe habitual - tardiness, and the pay was pretty good considering the guy only seemed to have enough money for one outfit.
As I approached the front of the store and began to fish around for my keys, the doors opened and there he stood, arms open as if embracing the air, with a beaming smile on his face and his typical hat 'n' clogs get up. I found myself rolling my eyes. Yeah, he was definitely stoned.
"Good morning, Kurosaki-san! And what a wonderful morning it is, if I do say so myself!"
Urahara's smile didn't falter as I rolled my eyes and pushed past him, through the store and into the staff room. If I was going to put up with that all day I needed coffee, and lots of it. As I set the small kettle to boil and spooned far too much instant coffee into a mug, my phone beeped and buzzed in my pocket. Wondering who the hell it could be, I flipped it open and went straight to my messages.
Hey baby. We haven't seen each other in ages, sorry I sort of fell off the radar for a while… You know how things are. I have a proposition for you, text back when you can xxx
I didn't recognise the number, but I knew it could only be one person. No one else had the guts to call me 'baby' and the only person I hadn't seen for a while, who used proper grammar in her texts… I quickly typed a reply.
Hey baby. You've got five before I gotta work. Spill.
I smiled. The muscles ached from under-usage, but it felt good to actually have a tiny bit of happiness warming the pit of my stomach. I poured the still-rumbling kettle and stirred my coffee as her super-fast reply came through.
We're going to start going for dinner. It'll make us see each other more. You working til 6? I'll meet you after xxx
The smile increased. Dinner with Rukia, eh? I could see how that could be fun. It really had been too long. Since the whole thing with Kaien, she really had fallen off the map. But then again, so have I. Since… I shook my head and typed with one eye open as I chugged my scalding coffee.
See you then sugartits.
The shift sped by pretty quickly - there were plenty of cleaning jobs to be done even if there weren't all that many customers - and I was once again left wondering how Urahara even made money. I shrugged. He probably deals weed on the side. With a small smirk on my face, I yelled good-bye to him over my shoulder and pushed open the doors. Freedom!
"Let's go get wrecked! I mean… Eat!"
I could have cried at the sound of that voice. It wasn't until that moment that I realised how much I had missed this woman. I hadn't known her all that long, maybe around two years, but she had become a massive part of my life. She was the sort of friend that, even if we didn't see each other for weeks or months, you knew would be there for you if you needed them. If you wanted to be left alone and mope, as I had been doing for the last month or so, she was cool with that too.
I smirked at her petite form, taking in her outfit - torn, high-waisted, bleached denim shorts with over-the-knee socks and baby pink Doc Martens on her tiny feet. The torn sleeves of her band tee revealed a peek of the deep purple lace of her bra and she still had that annoying bit of hair between her eyes that she could never get rid of. She looked, in a word, hot. I lazily walked up to her and threw an arm around her shoulders. I had to lean down to do it - she really is tiny - but it was worth it so I could rub my forehead against hers.
"Hey baby, long time no see. You look as stunning as ever."
I felt her nuzzle back slightly before grabbing my hand and twining it with hers. She pulled me along as she began to skip down the street.
"I wish I could say the same for you. You look like you need to eat a burger or twelve. On which note..."
A wicked smile crept onto her lips. She hadn't offended me in any way. I knew I looked like shit.
"… We're going to Seireitei! If we want a table we've got to hurry. So chop, chop."
I smiled at that. Seireitei was our favourite haunt - a trendy burger bar which served alcohol, and other substances if you knew who to ask. We hadn't been there for months. Around six months, actually… I gulped audibly and tried to avoid the barrage of thoughts that accompanied that amount of time. I felt Rukia tugging on my hand, and I looked down at her. She had a frown on her face that probably would have sent any other guy running. To me, though, it was just cute. I knew she was just concerned.
"Come on, we'll go get fed, wasted and you can come back to mine. We'll rant and smoke and it will be like old times."
She smiled softly and I squeezed her hand in return. I know to other people we probably looked like a normal young couple, holding hands and nattering away. But we'd never been like that with each other. That would just be wrong. I guess our relationship would be hard to describe to outsiders. You see, Rukia and I loved each other with all of our souls - we often surmised that we were the same person, as it was difficult to find anyone else as insane as the two of us - but not our hearts.
Our hearts belonged to other people. People who no longer wanted us.
I felt the familiar stinging in my sinuses and sniffed it away. Tonight wasn't about that, tonight was about Rukia and I. Speaking of which, I tuned back in to what Rukia was saying. She was ranting about her current fling - I called him that because I knew in three weeks he'd be out of the picture and replaced with a more handsome, funnier version - and how he was annoying her. I wasn't surprised. Everyone fell for Rukia, but she was incapable of falling back.
"Speaking of annoyances, how is Renji?"
I shuddered visibly.
"That bad, huh?"
"I ended it." Came what was supposed to be a blunt reply. But, as ever with Rukia, I ended up spilling more than I intended. "And now he won't shut up about how much he misses me and he loves me. Makes me sick in my mouth a bit."
"Gross." She replied. Ah, Rukia, I knew you'd understand. "I feel kinda bad for the guy, I mean, he's alright really… But after going through the exact same thing with Ishida," She paused to mimic my shudder. "I know how fucking annoying it is."
I smirked. I had wondered when the subject of Ishida would come up. He and Rukia had had a brief - and I mean brief - relationship a couple of months back and he would still not stop texting me about how distraught he was. I mentally shrugged. I knew it would never work. Rukia was wild, into drink and drugs and embracing her unstable mentality. Ishida was stuck up his own ass and probably the most sane - and by sane I mean mind-numbingly boring - guy I had ever met.
I'm amazed she had even gone there. But, in her own words, she had 'wanted to be normal for a while'. She had toned herself down around him - almost as much as with Kaien - to the point where when we would go out and get wasted, Ishida would blame me for her 'behaviour'. Apparently I 'made her crazy.'
Pfft, bitch is already off her rocker without me. All the more reason to love her.
"So what made you finish it? I thought you were dead into him. And vice versa of course."
"Yeah, I was at first… He just got a little too into it. It was kinda creepy, he'd keep stuff I'd left on his floor when I visited him and he made a calendar…"
I trailed off with a grimace, gesturing a square with my hands that was supposed to portray the freaky hand-drawn countdown Renji had made for my arrival.
"Then when I ended it, he acted like I'd broken up this big relationship. And he kept calling me his 'boyfriend'. Not only had I not agreed to that, but you know how much I hate that term."
She nodded wisely in return.
By the time we reached Seireitei, Rukia was once again rambling about her current fling - and the future one she was planning. It really was scary how similar our taste in guys was.
"You don't understand, Ichigo. When I say tattoos, I mean tattoos. As in, everywhere. As in, facial."
"He sounds buff as, baby. You should point him out to me."
I winked at her jokingly. I could never talk like this around anyone else without them thinking I was serious, and probably excommunicating me.
She was laughing as we entered the restaurant. As we ate I let her command the conversation as she wished - we talked about the guys she'd been seeing or wanted to see, guys in Seireitei, and of course after 'a bottle of wine each, please. He'll take red, I'll take white. House.' the conversation took a sombre turn to two particular guys.
Maybe I should explain. I know I've brought up the name Kaien a couple of times already. Perhaps I should tell you about him. If you haven't guessed already, he's Rukia's ex. Ex-fiancé. She always uses certain phrases and a certain tone of voice when talking about him and I'm afraid, being the good friend that I am, I can't help but speak the same way about him.
You see, when Rukia was with Kaien, she changed. And I mean to the extreme. She became this girl I didn't recognise - this girl wanted to get married and have children and live in a cottage in the countryside - whereas the Rukia I knew wanted to get out and see the world, learn new things and photograph every corner of the earth. Not limit herself to one guy, one house, once place. Even so, she believed she was happy.
Okay, so that was from an outsiders' point of view - my point of view. She couldn't see all of that herself, at the time. From the inside, well, I only have what she told me.
He lied to her. He promised her things. About them. About their future. She had to deal with threats from his insane ex-girlfriend, had to deal with her spreading lies about how Rukia had cheated on Kaien, done this and that with what's-his-face and what's-her-name. She had to regain his trust again and again but believed he was truly worth it.
What else could it be called, except love? Love is blind, after all. She couldn't see him lying to her, hear the false promises whispered in her ear, feel the fact that he had truly betrayed her, used her, until recently.
She had an, um, episode, you see. When she was with Ishida. It's what broke them apart, apparently, although I knew it would happen sooner or later. She went a bit more crazy than usual, took a few more drugs than usual, got a bit too unstable for Ishida. You want to know why?
Kaien had told her those four forbidden words. The words that no one ever wants to hear, let alone from the person they love so desperately.
"I never loved you."
Hell, who wouldn't break at those few words? I know that I would if I heard them from-
"Ichigo? You ready to leave?"
My head shot up and I realised Rukia was already shrugging on a leather jacket she had stuffed in her bag. I nodded and followed suit, standing and chucking some money in the general direction of the bill.
"I'm thinking pick up, then back to mine?"
I smirked and nodded once again. I was kind of relieved we'd be going back to Rukia's flat and not my insane family's home.
"Yeah, I'm going for a slash. Meet you out back."
"Forever the charmer…"
She sniggered as she waltzed up to the bar, and I retreated to the bathrooms.
I was lying on Rukia's kitchen floor, surrounded by empty beer cans, watching smoke unfurl from my mouth and rise to the ceiling, when Rukia finally vocalised what I knew she had been dying to ask all evening.
"So… How is the whole 'being friends' thing going?"
Even though I had expected - and perhaps even waited for - that question, it still felt like every single one of those words stabbed straight through my ribs and into what was left of my heart. I gulped audibly and sat up slowly. I raised my head to look at her - slumped against the cupboards, feet free from the Doc Martens and long socks and clapping together in a nervous fashion - before passing the joint to her and resting my head in my hands.
I massaged my temples and tried to think of how to tell her what I had done. I knew she'd find it hilarious, hell I still had to chuckle a little at my actions - or more accurately, words - but I was still rather reluctant to traipse through all the details. After all, I hadn't told anyone about it, and I knew Rukia would want to know ev-er-y-thing. She spoke again before I had the chance to, taking a long drag on the end of the God-knows-what-number blunt of the evening.
"Not good, I take it? I didn't think it would work. After all, I couldn't even think about being friends with Kaien after what he d-"
"I did something stupid."
She stopped at that. Paused. Took another long toke and puffed it out into my face. I didn't mind. I was used to it.
"Well, really, he did something stupid first."
"Still not using his name? Don't blame you." A third drag. "So what did he do?"
"You know Inoue?"
Rukia choked on the smoke that was trying to make it out of her lungs. I passed her a beer from the crate beside us. She opened it and chugged what must have been half the can before she looked up at me with wide eyes and large pupils. Her eyes not leaving mine, she bent back to grab the ashtray and placed it in front of her, stubbing out the end.
"You have got to be shitting me."
I could only shake my head and grab another beer for myself.
"He's got better taste than that… And a woman? Well," she tittered to herself darkly. "If you could call that little girl a woman."
I could only nod my head in agreement. It was ridiculously painful to talk about. It felt like, instead of a heart, there was a big fucking rock sitting in my chest.
"So wait… What was the stupid thing you did? Other than Renji."
Her snide smile and small laugh eased the weight on my chest a little and my mouth pushed up to match the shape of hers.
"I called him a filthy pedophile."
I was promptly covered in beer, nicely warmed and frothy having been expelled from Rukia' mouth, and then deafened by her laughter. After only a few seconds I found myself following suit, genuine laughter bubbling from me for what felt like the first time in years, tears springing to the corners of my eyes, hands shaking the beer off them and grabbing a tea-towel to wipe myself down. Having decided that I didn't really like being soaked in beer, I removed my shirt and chucked it in Rukia's face.
She threw the shirt over her shoulder, onto a counter, and resumed her laughing.
"Oh my god, I can't believe you called him a pedophile! That's amazing!"
She quieted down to a soft chuckle and I joined her, feeling lighter still.
"So what did he say to that?"
I paused and felt my muscles tighten as I sat up rather straight.
"He, ah, he didn't say anything. We haven't spoken since."
"And when was it that you last contacted the filthy pedophile?"
Her tone was now serious as if that were, in fact, what my ex was.
"Well it was exactly one month ago… So, the first of February."
"Well I must say, I'm proud you haven't fallen into the begging texts… Yet."
The last word was a whisper, but I still heard it.
"That won't happen, Rukia. You know... It's actually been kind of easier not talking to him."
I took another pull from my beer and looked up into her eyes. She was staying silent, waiting for me to continue. I knew I didn't have to hold back. Whatever I said, she would support me and hell, probably even agree with me.
I crawled across the small distance between us on my hands and knees, rested next to her on the counter. She dropped her head on my shoulder - soft, warm and comforting - and I rested my head on top of hers. Her arm curled around mine and I sighed, bringing my beer can to my mouth with my free arm.
"It's kind of easier to pretend he doesn't exist, you know? Like it never happened. Like I never fell in love with him, I didn't spend the last three years of my life with him, like… Like I never ended it."
I felt her arm curl tighter around mine and the tears I had been evading all day pool in the bottom of my eyes. My throat had clenched up during the last few words and I was having difficulty swallowing. My beer can returned to my lips and I chugged the remaining liquid in one. Problem solved, I continued.
"But either way, it feels like it's gonna hurt, you know? I try to forget about him, but I'm still going to see him in the street, maybe even with her." I spat. "I'm still going to hear people talk about him. You know he's the manager at that new café-bar place down the road from Urahara's? I have to walk past it everyday. But having him in my life as a friend… It just hurts too much. I have to watch him move on and enjoy his life - living in our flat, sleeping in our bed, while I can't, because I ended it."
"But, Ichigo… You know you had good reason to end it. It was the right decision. It wasn't working."
"I know Rukia, but I should have fucking made it work. I didn't try hard enough."
She cried as if she was in pain and I winced slightly. I knew what was coming.
"Don't you remember? The lying? The arguments? The amount of times you had to stay at mine to get away from him? Ichigo… You need to remember why you broke up with him."
"I know! I know I do! But it's so fucking difficult to focus on that stuff! You know what? People always told - not asked me - when I first broke up with him, how I must not love him the same way anymore. How I must love him as a friend now, not as my boyfriend. But… But that was never true. I loved him the same, Rukia, the exact same way, but he only started trying for us once I had already given up. I shouldn't have given up-"
Her hand struck hot against my cheek and I felt the tears spill over. My eyesight glazed as she quickly wrapped both her tiny arms around my torso.
"Are you trying to tell me you still love him?" She shook me a little. "Are you, Ichigo?"
I dropped my head to her shoulder and breathed in through my nose, taking in the scent of her sweet perfume mixed with marijuana smoke. I slowly wrapped my arms around her tiny frame, reciprocating her gentle gesture.
She held me tighter then. We rocked backwards and forwards, and she whispered an apology into my ear. Told me it would be okay, we'd get through this together. We always did. Told me I'd be staying the night, to roll another joint whilst she fetched my pyjamas - a ratty tee shirt and pair of boxers that I left at her flat when I used to stay over a lot. I set about rolling the final smoke for the evening, grabbed the ashtray, and walked dazedly to her bedroom.
She came in soon after, throwing the hole-ridden clothing in my face, and quickly stripping down to a tee shirt and tiny pants. I took the moment to observe her and marvel that, was I not gay, we would probably have a completely different relationship. This woman was truly beautiful in my eyes. I knew for a fact we would never hurt each other the way they had hurt us.
"What's the time?"
She muttered tiredly from my chest, where she was finishing off the joint. I flipped open my phone and stared at the black screen.
"Fuck knows, my phone's dead."
"Wanna charge it?"
Without waiting for an answer, she hopped up, barely missing my tee shirt with the still-lit blunt, and fished around for her charger - thank God we had the same phone - all the while giving me an excellent view of her ass. Ah, if only you were male. My reverie was cut short by a block of plastic with metal prongs landing on my chest, and I plugged it into the wall nearest my side of the bed.
Although, really, Rukia and I didn't have 'sides'. We just kind of curled up in a ball in the middle of the bed and moved around in the night, and she wouldn't chastise me if my morning wood happened to poke her in the back when we awoke in a mess of limbs. I attached my phone and chucked it into the corner of the room without looking at the clock. No matter what it said, I knew I wouldn't be at work on time tomorrow.
"Ichigo, wake up. It's three p.m. You need to be at work, like, three hours ago. Although..." She shifted a bit from underneath me. "You might wanna take some time to sort that out."
I shifted my eyes open. As feeling started to seep into my limbs I realised that I had a rather large boner and it happened to be digging into Rukia's thigh. I slowly pushed myself off her, not bothering to apologise - hell, she was used to it - and rubbed my eyes with my fingers.
"I think I'm gonna call in sick. I feel rough as shit."
I coughed harshly into my hand and felt the hot sting of smoke at the back of my throat. I crawled slowly over to the corner of the room where my phone lay, intent on phoning Urahara. He wouldn't care anyway.
"You are so lucky to have a pot-head for a boss…" Rukia muttered. "Thank God I have the day off. Maybe we should go pick up then come back he-"
She stopped talking. She must have seen my face.
"Ichigo? What's wrong?"
I couldn't answer her. I could only stare down at my phone as it so cheerily told me that I received a new message yesterday evening. That in itself was a shock, no one except Rukia, on the odd occasion, and constantly Ishida - bane of my life - text me during that time. But there it was, as plain as day, the number still saved under the nickname that he loved me using, and I loved calling him. The name I would shout as we argued. The name I would choke out when he made me cry. The name I would scream when we made love.
A/N: I hoped you enjoyed the little taster of what is to come! Reviews greatly appreciated.