aoife_hime: ([misc] winter cap)
aoife_hime ([personal profile] aoife_hime) wrote on December 26th, 2010 at 04:37 pm
[fic] Request Fulfilled
Title: The Surprising Perception of 19th Century Authors
Fandom: Bleach
Rating: PG
Characters: Ichigo, Tatsuki
Summary: Things have changed since high school. It takes a Christmas Eve stroll down memory lane for Tatsuki to realize just how much.
Notes: [livejournal.com profile] cal_reflector requested Ichigo/Tatsuki & Christmas Eve. This is what resulted. It should be noted that I wrote this after having watched three different versions of A Christmas Carol AND re-read select excerpts of the book. I'm pretty sure this is far more serious than what you had in mind when you gave me the prompt. Still, I hope you enjoy it.

The Surprising Perception of 19th Century Authors

Ghost stories – typical ghost stories, ones that didn’t involve spiritual beings with god-like powers and ambitions even greater than that – reminded Tatsuki of sticky summer nights and flashlights, of the tingle of fear mixing with the stomach-twisting exhilaration of running away from something that flickered on the edges of her vision but was lost to the eyes of others, of biting back screams only to laugh about it later. Ghost stories reminded Tatsuki of staying up late and sneaking out the bedroom window. They reminded her of a racing heartbeat, sweat beading on her forehead, t-shirt sticking to her back, and dirt from the path streaking the backs of her legs and always giving away her illicit activities in the morning. Ghost stories did not, however, remind Tatsuki of Christmas.

Her assigned reading begged to differ.

Tatsuki sighed and let her copy of the Japanese translation of A Christmas Carol slip to the floor. Literature wasn’t really her thing, but apparently she’d had an aneurysm burst or something while choosing her elective course for the term because she had enrolled in a European Literature course. More surprising was that she had, for reasons unknown, remained enrolled in the course even after she realized she would never be able to keep up with the reading list (if she was honest with herself, it probably had to do with pride).

Most of her classmates had finished the book during the previous week, while Tatsuki was still secretly slogging her way through the third stave. This was convenient for her classmates, as it gave them plenty of time to do more important things, like plan for their Christmas dates. As far as Tatsuki was concerned, the brief holiday was perfect for catching up enough so that she wouldn’t fail the next exam. Which was why she was currently in her old bedroom at home wearing a sweatshirt over her pajamas on December the 24th instead of getting prepared for a party with the rest of her classmates.

With the threat of failure once again looming, Tatsuki picked up her book once more. A couple of the pages were bent back oddly from the fall and she took the time to straighten them, letting her mind wander as she did. She thought back to the night before when she’d still been in student housing and not in her own bedroom at home. In the hallway beyond her door, girls had rushed about, talking excitedly about where their boyfriends were taking them on Christmas and which scarf would look cutest with which coat. Tatsuki had simply rolled her eyes and turned up her music.

Even if she’d had a Christmas date with someone other than a dead Englishman’s creative work, she wouldn’t have been acting as ridiculous as those girls. Cute clothes and fancy dinners in hotels all seemed a little hollow, no matter how much good intention was behind them. As she settled back against her pillows, Tatsuki thought about what Christmas usually meant for her family: everybody getting decked out in Santa hats that smelled like the attic and made your skin itch if you wore them for too long (they always wore them for too long); her dad making bad jokes all day and trying to give some sort of blessing in English at dinner (and always failing miserably); her mother serenely asking whether or not everybody enjoyed the new sweet potato dish she’d tried cooking as if she already knew the answer and the question was a mere formality (and she did know – the new dish was always delicious). It was always just herself and her parents at home, celebrating the birthday of some long-dead man to whom she’d never really paid much attention.

Out in the alley next to her window, a cat hissed and caused something to topple loudly. Tatsuki woke with a start, completely disoriented. It took her a few moments to realize that she must have fallen asleep while attempting to read, which would explain why the book was once again on the floor instead of in her hands. The clock next to her bed read two hours later than it had been when she had last looked at it. Tatsuki groaned; at this rate, she would finish the book by next March and fail every exam for that class between now and then.

The sound of someone cursing filtered in through her closed window, followed quickly by what was probably the same cat as before, now yowling angrily. Curious, she looked down into the alley.

“Ichigo,” Tatsuki said, not loud enough to be heard by anyone but herself. In the pale moonlight, Tatsuki could just make out her old friend moving between light and shadow with little regard for either. It had been months since she’d seen him – graduation, it had been, since he’d been away mysteriously during summer vacation – and as far as she knew he was still living and working in Karakura. Her eyes tracked him as far as the end of the alley, until they lost him as he turned a corner.

Maybe it was the book that was influencing her thoughts, but before her old friend had a chance to continue down the alley alone, Tatsuki had grabbed an old pair of shoes from her closet and was climbing out her bedroom window in much the same way she had done as a child. Except this time she was chasing a friend and not a ghost.

“Hey,” she called out when she was only a couple houses away. Ichigo didn’t jump when she accosted him; the only sign of surprise was his slightly raised brow when he turned to face her as she closed the distance between them. When she finally caught up to him, her breath was coming out in dense puffs and her fingers and toes were starting to tingle from the cold. Her heart was racing just a little as well, but she wasn’t sure if that was from the short jog or something else.

“What are you doing here?” Alone, the first words he’s said to her in months were both frank and stark. There was something else there, though, something that Tatsuki thought sounded a bit warmer. It reminded her of how he used to greet his father: on the surface, annoyed and exasperated, but deep down happy to see him.

“You and that damn cat back there woke me up,” she said breezily. “And I realized I wasn’t sleepy anymore, so I decided to go for a walk.” Ichigo kindly didn’t point out that it was nearly midnight and people don’t generally go for walks at this time of night, perhaps because he didn’t want his words turned back on him. Without another word, he turned back to his route and kept walking. Tatsuki joined half a step later.

“Where are you going?” she asked after they’d walked a few moments in silence. Ichigo shrugged, and Tatsuki had to strongly rein in the urge to punch him in the shoulder. It was ridiculous, but Ichigo actually seemed to have gotten worse at communication since high school ended. She hadn’t thought such a thing was possible, but obviously miracles did happen. “Well, I’ll keep walking with you,” she decided, not giving him any option in the matter.

They continued in that way for an immeasurable stretch of time. Soon, Tatsuki’s fingers were losing sensation, even though she’d shoved them into the deepest recesses of her sweatshirt. She could feel her nose starting to drip, and every time a small gust of wind snuck down her collar, a shiver large enough to nearly upset her balance raced down her spine. Ichigo seemed fine, though, even though his coat looked too thin and his jeans had holes in each of the legs. Together, they walked past familiar places from their childhood: the green grocer’s, the barber shop, the park where kids played baseball after school. There were ghosts at each of the places, both actual spirits (the annoying but ultimately benign kind) and memories of life when times were simpler and didn’t include worrying about university grades, family responsibilities, and non-existent Christmas dates.

When they stopped, it took Tatsuki a moment to realize that they were in front of Orihime’s apartment. The lights were off and Tatsuki was a little ashamed to realize she didn’t know what her old friend was doing for the holiday or even where she was. She thought about the bubbly, emoticon-filled text messages she received from Orihime. Lately, instead of the five a day she had received when they’d begun university, Tatsuki was lucky if she heard from her friend a couple times every week. It was usually less than that. From the look on Ichigo’s face, she assumed that he was probably thinking the same thing.

A small lump appeared in Tatsuki’s throat, which she tried to swallow as discretely as possible. Everybody said that friendships change after high school, but she was only just becoming conscious that the seemingly indestructible bonds she’d formed here had somehow weakened in those few months since they’d all gone their separate ways. Somehow, Tatsuki found that those people with whom she’d survived life-threatening situations had been replaced by people taking the same physical education courses as her at university. The threat of failing a nutrition test was nothing compared to the threat posed by a hollow, and yet Tatsuki knew that most of her text messages these days were sent to classmates, not her high school friends.

“Sometimes I think,” Ichigo said quietly, “that everybody has forgotten this place.” His words hung in the cold night air, as sharp as shattered glass and somehow just as delicate. In that moment, Tatsuki realized how much he wanted to be with everybody, going to university and living the life of a college student. A part of him probably knew that that life would never make him happy – he was so much better at saving the world from invisible threats, after all – but it was still difficult to be the only one staying behind in the past when all of his friends were moving on into the future.

Though he was scowling in a familiar and almost intimidating sort of way, Tatsuki couldn’t help but think that the wrong response now would destroy him completely. She blew against her hands and stomped her feet a couple times in a vain attempt to warm them up before answering.

“I haven’t forgotten,” she replied casually, like she was making a remark about the weather. “It’s just hard to keep in contact when your friend always breaks his cell phone and forgets to check his email.” Without turning to face him, Tatsuki punched him lightly in the shoulder. Ichigo let out a slight ‘oof’ of surprise, but out of the corner of her eye, she thought she saw the corner of his mouth turn up.

“You look cold,” he commented after a few moments, as if realizing for the first time that she was standing around outside in December in nothing but a sweatshirt, pajama pants, and an old pair of shoes. “You should get home – I don’t want you to blame me for the cold you’re going to have in the morning.”

“I don’t get sick,” Tatsuki insisted. “But if I do, I’m definitely blaming you.” She grabbed Ichigo’s hand then, before she could over-think the action, because hers was nearly numb and his was warm from being inside his jacket.

He shrugged even as his fingers curled around hers. “Whatever.”

Ichigo was, in his own way, more of a ghost than any of those spirits were, Tatsuki thought as they slowly made their way back to her house. His scars, both seen and unseen, told the story of a boy who died when his mother did, of a teenager who sacrificed everything he was to save everyone he cared about, of a man who knew what to do with his life but couldn’t quite leave his childhood dreams behind him. Most people couldn’t see ghosts, but Tatsuki could. She could see each ghost that clung to Ichigo snugger than his shadow.

Inside someone’s house, a clock rang out midnight. The muffled chimes mixed with the sound of their feet against the pavement.

Maybe Christmas really was about ghosts after all.
 
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