Day 7 Prompt: why are you full of rage? because you are full of grief.
When you spent your whole life fighting, what was there to do when you had nothing left to fight for? What purpose did Kurosaki Ichigo even have in this world anymore?
"Hey, bleached-hair kid! I'm talkin' to you, asshole!" Another faceless thug snagged his collar. Yet another nameless gang gathered to back up their cookie-cutter character of a leader.
He shouldn't be here. He didn't want to be here. But where else did he have to go?
Another meaningless scuffle. Another bruise, another scrape, more blood to be cleaned later.
Flurried fists and tiny pocket knives and screamed obscenities never seemed so dull before.
Other boys his age often picked fights with him. Had done so as far back as he could remember. All over trifling, inconsequential matters that seemed so laughable to him now. His hair, his attitude, his existence was all wrong.
Only now he had the strength to take them all on by himself. Only now did he choose to fight them for no reason at all.
Chad interfered in one of these fights once. For a moment, they were a team again. They fought side-by-side without the burden of death or the balance of the worlds looming over their heads. This was just a brawl on the street. Nothing more, nothing less.
Once Chad called an ambulance for all the knocked-out thugs, he offered to treat Ichigo out to some food.
Ichigo said nothing. Didn't even thank him. Just spat out coppery blood on the concrete and stalked off without looking back. Chad wouldn't chase after him or insist, he knew. Knew all too well how to take advantage of his friend's inherent kindness.
He never felt more disgusted with himself.
Time moved on. Everyone around him recovered. They all got over the horrors they'd just barely survived. Only he remained stagnant, falling behind, grasping at something forever out of his reach.
He never thought that saving the world would be so thankless.
Tatsuki once invited him to watch her karate team practice and give them a few pointers. None of the upperclassmen were all that stoked about it, but they'd heard about Kurosaki's reputation. One of them even challenged him to a fair match to test his skills.
He nearly refused. Until the guy went on and on about how Ichigo's only fighting experience came from fights in the street. How a punk like him couldn't possibly have learned the discipline or technique a real warrior possessed.
Tatsuki told this smug upperclassman off, stabbing him with reminders that he didn't even qualify for nationals last year. The upperclassman—Ichigo was never very good at remembering names—snapped something at her, and it was only then he stood up and accepted his challenge.
Ichigo took him down in a few minutes. Then another upperclassman claimed he cheated and demanded a match with him, and another one after that. Their pride as one of the top karate teams in the nation was staked on this.
Unfortunately, these guys were all weak.
None of them would last a day being a Shinigami.
They begged and begged him to join their team despite all their injuries. Despite how afraid of him they all were. To them, to normal humans, Kurosaki Ichigo was little more than a monster.
So he refused. Such things simply didn't hold his interest anymore.
And then they offered to pay him.
Ichigo hadn't had much need for money before. Though his father didn't make much running the Kurosaki Clinic, his family lived comfortably enough.
Now those bills waved in his face meant something else. Something new to latch onto.
With enough money, he could move far, far away from Karakura Town. He could leave everything behind. Go to a university where no one knew him. Start fresh. Start anew.
Ichigo could forget last year ever happened. He could finally forget her.
He took the deal, but made his own conditions as well. This much would only pay for the week. He wouldn't ever be considered an official member of the team, so they couldn't ask him to participate in competitions.
They were not comrades. They were not friends.
Word got out about Ichigo's "services" to the other sports teams at Karakura High. Soon enough, he found himself making weekly and bi-weekly contracts to help them out during practices.
It was a decent way to make money, he supposed. Looking into how much apartments cost outside the city, though, he knew it wasn't enough.
He'd have to find another job soon.
Ichigo was out with the track team when he spotted Ishida alone in the park. No, not alone. He couldn't sense the enemy, but the pocks in the grass and suspiciously trampled playground equipment more than spoke for itself.
He didn't know what he was going to do when he took off. Instinct never really left much room for rationale, after all.
He leapt high over Ishida's head, grunting in surprise when his foot connected with an intangible figure. The earth rumbled underneath as a plume of dust kicked up a few feet away.
Definitely a Hollow. A big one.
"What the hell do you think you're doing, Kurosaki?" Ishida snapped. His arms were extended before him, holding a bow Ichigo couldn't see anymore.
"What does it look like I'm doing? I'm helping you! The least you could do is thank me."
Idiot! I'm not going to thank you! The echo of her voice rang so unbearably clear in his mind. He wished he could cast it aside, wished the memory of her would not linger in every little thing he did.
Ishida's eyes flickered away, and he leapt a distance much wider than any normal human would've been able to cover. A fist-shaped crater bloomed before him. Ichigo raised his arms to block the debris flying past, choking on the dust swirling in the air.
As a habit, he reached behind him for a sword that did not exist anymore. Would not exist ever again.
Fate was once again the millstone, he the grist. It turned relentlessly, endlessly onward, further away from her and back again.
Powerlessness. Normality. Both synonymous with complacency.
Both equaled death.
"You're only getting in the way, Kurosaki! Just back off and let me handle this for once," Ishida yelled.
Ichigo watched him mimic pulling an arrow back, deliberate and steady. Watched Ishida fire that shot above his head. There was no fanfare, no sense of accomplishment to accompany it. He didn't even know where the Hollow was.
"Is it...dead?" he asked, his voice uncharacteristically soft.
Ishida lowered his arms. "Yes."
Silence weighed in the air far heavier than any reiatsu ever could.
"Hey, do you ever feel bad about the Hollows you kill?"
Ishida frowned at the question. "What do you mean?"
It was pointless to ask him this. It was pointless to continue.
"Quincies completely destroy souls with their arrows, right?" Ichigo clenched his own shirt in a fist. He had to stop talking. "Don't you ever feel bad that any random Hollow you killed might be some lost soul in pain?"
Ishida studied him for a wary moment then shoved his glasses further up his nose. "It can't be helped. If it comes down to saving a Hollow or an innocent soul, I'd choose the innocent one without hesitation. Surely you'd do the same, Kurosaki."
"I could save both of them." The words were so quiet, so riddled with hollow confidence. "I'd save them both without even thinking about it."
"Funny, you once said to me that you knew you couldn't protect everyone."
His friends didn't always have the right words to say. He couldn't expect them to understand.
"But I did save everyone! I saved Karakura Town. I saved the entire damn world as we know it. What makes you think I couldn't save two souls at once the way I am now?"
His chest ached. The strain was unbearable. He was drowning.
"Are you calling me weak? Do you think I'm so incapable of protecting anyone that you'd rather cast me aside than even let me try?"
Ishida looked away. "Quit putting words in my mouth, Kurosaki. I never said any of that."
"Oh yeah? I'm in the way? I should back off?" He trembled with directionless rage. "All of you guys think I'm some weakling that needs to be protected. That I can't fend for myself anymore. And I'm so fucking sick of it!"
"Uh, h-hey, Kurosaki, are you okay?" the captain of the track team asked behind him.
Any idiot would know he wasn't.
Ichigo turned away. "I'm fine."
The captain paled at the sight of his scowling face. "Um, you can finish your conversation with your friend—"
"We're not friends."
Ishida sucked in a sharp breath, but said nothing. Did nothing. Again.
Ichigo didn't turn back. How could he? They'd all turned their backs on him. It only seemed fitting he return the favor.
The wheel continued to turn.
Finals were a pain to deal with, especially with all those remedial classes he had to take for missing so much school before. Though difficult and boring, they weren't entirely unmanageable.
He hadn't really talked much to the others in a while. Better to distance himself now. Better they all learn to let him go so he'd have no further reminders of the last year. Of her.
It was stupid to think they'd ever go so quietly, though.
"Ichigo!" Tatsuki called to him on the street.
He stopped walking but refused to look back.
Several sets of footsteps scraped along the concrete behind him.
"You've been avoiding us for weeks now, Kurosaki," Ishida said. "But now that Finals are over, you can't hide from us anymore."
"I wasn't hiding from any of you. We're all in the same class," Ichigo replied, keeping his tone unaffected.
"You know that's not what we mean, Kurosaki."
Fate was cruel in each revolution. In each turning of the wheel, he would always be crushed under its power.
"Kurosaki-kun," Inoue piped up, her voice wavering just a bit. "You've been acting very strangely since...that day Kuchiki-san left."
Her name. The mere sound of it dragged him down when he'd tried so desperately to claw himself to the surface.
He hadn't said her name in months. Didn't even dare to think it.
"Ishida-kun and Sado-kun and Tatsuki-chan told me everything that's been happening with you. And...we're worried." Her voice bubbled and warped, and he was drowning again. "We don't know why you're pushing us all away, Kurosaki-kun."
They didn't know? They really didn't know why he couldn't bear to be near them?
"I can't stand the way you all look at me."
Such a disgustingly petty reason. Such a terrible excuse. When even he couldn't stand to look at himself anymore.
"Ever since I lost my powers, you've all been acting like I'm fragile and useless!"
"I can't stand it!"
"I don't want your pity!"
"I can't wait to get the hell out of Karakura Town so you all can finally leave me alone!"
The rain would follow him, though. That cursed rain would always follow him.
He was drowning. Why couldn't they see?
Tatsuki was the first to speak. "You've always been like this."
"...What the hell did you just say?"
Even now he refused to look at them.
"What, does being mad all the time make you deaf, too?" she snapped. "I said you've always been like this, Ichigo. You don't know any other way to express your grief outside of lashing out."
"Is that right?" Ichigo stood up straighter. "And what makes you think I'm grieving, Tatsuki?"
"Don't you dare act like I don't know you, Kurosaki Ichigo!" Her voice rippled through the water. "We've known each other for so long—we've been friends for this long—and you couldn't even bother to tell me what was going on with you from the beginning. I had to learn about all this Shinigami stuff after the fact! And not from you, either! From Orihime! From Chad and Ishida! But you didn't tell me anything! Not when you left to rescue Kuchiki-san, not when you went to save Orihime…. I know you're grieving because this is the exact same thing you did when your mother died!"
Ichigo finally whirled on them, eyes burning with so much fury it was difficult to look at him head-on.
Ishida stepped in front of her, arm outstretched like a shield. "So you've become the sort of person that would attack your friends over something like this? Do you think Kuchiki-san would be happy if she knew she'd left you in this sorry state?"
They kept saying her name so freely. As if she was so commonplace. As if his heart could bear that burden.
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"Didn't she tell you she'd be watching over you, Kurosaki? Do you think she'd approve of anything you're doing now? All your fights. Your rage. And for what?"
Ichigo gritted his teeth. "I don't need her approval! I don't need anything! I'm happy without her! I'm happy I'm finally normal!"
Ishida's usual calm demeanor cracked, and his face twisted into a scowl. "What you're doing isn't normal, Kurosaki! Constantly picking fights with strangers, ignoring all of us, butting into simple Hollow fights—"
Inoue sucked in a breath. Clearly there were some things the others hadn't told her.
"Does it make you feel strong, Kurosaki? Does it help you forget that, just for a moment, you aren't completely pathetic?"
Ichigo punched him square in the jaw. His glasses flew off. A sickening crunch sounded under his foot when he took a bewildered step back.
Inoue ran to him immediately. "Ishida-kun!"
Tatsuki grabbed his arm, tried to pin it behind his back and get him to submit. Ichigo wrenched his arm out of her hold and turned to shove her away.
Chad stepped in between them. There was that awful pity reflected in his eyes again.
Ichigo wanted to wipe it away.
Chad took blow after wild blow to the chest, to his stomach, each one more frustrated than the last. Blood dripped from the corner of his mouth, but he did not move. The pity in his eyes did not change.
Ichigo shoved Tatsuki to the ground when she tried to intervene again. There was yelling. So much yelling. None of it was enough to pierce through the rain. It wasn't enough to save him.
His hand suddenly bounced off an invisible barrier, bruising the knuckles and his pride all in one shattering blow.
"Kurosaki-kun…" Inoue muttered, her voice cracking.
She flinched when he glared back at her. That look on her face made him hate himself all the more.
It was the same look she wore when he first protected her with his Hollow mask. It was that look every other human threw his way.
"Please...stop this." Tears spilled down her face. Ishida wrapped a protective arm around her shoulders, and she folded into the embrace. "We're your friends! So please…."
Ichigo couldn't take it anymore. All his sorrow and grief and aimless rage collapsed around him and he screamed.
Chad caught him before he sank any further. "Ichigo!"
"I can't…. I don't…."
He couldn't breathe. He was drowning. He was dying.
A steady hand squeezed his shoulder, another placed flat on his back. They held him above the water. They lent him their strength.
The rain still echoed around him. He still struggled to stay afloat. But maybe now he would rely on his friends to protect his heart.
A single tear crashed to the ground as bright as a falling star.
Quiet mornings were practically nonexistent in Karakura Town.
"Maaaaan, I can't stand not talking about this anymore! Doesn't it drive you insane?" Keigo screeched while walking alongside Mizuiro.
Mizuiro scrolled through social media on his phone, only half-listening. "I'm not sure what you mean, Asano-san."
"Don't you 'Asano-san' me again, Mizuiro! I'm talking about all the weird stuff Ichigo and the others did a while ago! I mean, I know Ishida and Chad and all the others said it's better if we don't talk about that stuff with him, but c'mon! How're you not supposed to talk about ghosts and monsters and Shinigami after finding out they exist? It's impossible!"
"Considering your track record, I'm surprised you managed to hold out for this long."
"Now what's that supposed to mean? I can be sensitive to others' feelings!" Keigo insisted. "But it's been forever. Ichigo might be okay if I talk to him about it now."
"Don't make me second-guess myself, Mizuiro! I'm gonna talk about this so much, even I'll get sick of hearing about it!"
Mizuiro finally looked up. "Everything that happened to us was pretty unbelievable. Sometimes I want to believe it was all some weird nightmare I had. But...I don't really want to talk about it. There isn't much left to be said anyway. Not if reminding Ichigo of it all will just depress him."
At this, Keigo's enthusiasm deflated. "Well, yeah, I guess. But don't you wanna know what he thinks about Rukia-chan not coming to visit all this time?"
What a tactless idiot.
Mizuiro's smile was more polite than genuine. "I think she's the main reason he's been feeling down."
"What? So you're saying that they—"
"I'm not saying anything, Asano-san."
His cold facade nearly fell at Keigo's childish pout. Honestly, if he wasn't able to pick up on these things after all the time he'd known Ichigo, then there really was no hope for him.
Keigo didn't get a chance to talk to him until lunchtime.
"I wonder what Rukia-chan's up to."
Ichigo nearly spit out his juice. "What's Rukia got to do with anything?"
"I'm just saying, would it kill her to pop in and say hello from time to time?" Keigo flopped about on the floor like a fish. "Don't you think it's cold of her to not show her face even once since then?"
"It's not cold," Ichigo replied.
"She's not in charge of Karakura Town anymore, so it's completely normal for her to not hang around."
Keigo squinted up at him. "You don't miss her?"
More than anything.
"No reason to."
He rattled off the same bullshit excuse he always did whenever anyone brought this up. He always wanted this slow peace. He didn't need his powers anymore.
He didn't need her in his life.
Before today, when was the last time he'd spoken her name aloud? When did Rukia become someone who never left his mind?
Ichigo stared up at the sky. Dark clouds blurred through a once-clear blue.
A black butterfly fluttered past. His absent hand trailed after it, chased it in the hopes it would perch itself on his finger. It flew up higher, further than he could reach, and he slowly let his hand fall away.
Fate turned on relentlessly. It would not falter, would not pause even for them. He had wished, foolishly perhaps, that he could go back to the moment Rukia disappeared from his eyes. Go back just to tell her everything he could not say.
He loved her.
He loved her with every fiber of his weak human heart.
The wheel kept spinning. The butterfly grew more distant.
Rukia would not come back to him.
The wind picked up, and he finally turned away.
I wonder if I can keep up with the speed of a world you're not in.
A/N: The title is inspired by the source of the prompt, a quote from Anne Carson's Grief Lessons: Four Plays by Euripides: "Why does tragedy exist? Because you are full of rage. Why are you full of rage? Because you are full of grief."
It was also HEAVILY inspired by the Ichiruki doujin 17 Blank Months by RUI.
This is a week late, but I really wanted to take my time with this one-shot. This was a bit more experimental in terms of writing style, so let me know if this works at all lol.
*Crossposted to AO3.