First hints off 'oddness'
Ichigo looked on in surprise as Suzu entered the classroom in her normal attire. She didn't look cold at all, where as the rest of the student population were already wearing their winter uniform. Winter Solstice was nearly upon them and the weather forecast foretold that the first snow was to fall this weekend. Yet there she was in her summer uniform and it looked like she didn't mind at all. "That frown will become permanent if you keep it you know."
Ichigo blinked as she took the seat behind him with an amused smirk gracing her plump lips. "Sorry?" he whispered. His voice sounded strangely in his ears.
"Are you feeling alright Kurosaki-san," she asked playfully, biting her lower lip to stop a giggle from escaping. "You look slightly lost."
Ichigo frowned again at Suzu's behaviour. She seemed slightly different from before. A little less closed off but still formal in her speech and mannerism. The playful and sarcastic comments were always paired with an almost apologetic air, like she was expecting retaliation from her actions. "I was just wondering how it is that you have not frozen to death yet," Ichigo muttered, feeling slightly embarrassed as he confessed this.
Suzu shrugged her shoulders, a distant look in her eyes. "Scotland was a lot colder in winter time. I am quite resilient to cold weather." She turned her head to stare out of the window. The raven head always turned silent and distant when she spoke of her home country. It made Ichigo curious as to what had made her that way and why had she come to Japan. She had been with them for four months now, from which three he had started to get to know her a little better, but Ichigo could honestly say that he didn't know her at all. He knew that she was born of the 31ste of July and that she was an orphan. She had lived and studied in Britain before coming here, but that was all. Nothing personal apart from hobbies and favourite topics of conversation. Nothing to explain the silver bells which still sounded whenever she moved or spoke.
They fell into a comfortable silence and Ichigo turned to look ahead when the teacher entered the classroom only to turn back in alarm when Suzu bumped against her table ever so slightly. She was staring out the window, green eyes wide in shock and fear and her lips slightly parted. The raven head was breathing heavily and promptly bit her lower lip to supress her emotions. Ichigo watched her blink rapidly as her eyes turned glassy from upcoming tears and he resisted the urge to show any type of awareness. His permanent frown kept others from seeing anything suspicious, so anyone looking at him wouldn't see the worry he felt.
Turning back towards his teacher, Ichigo paid little attention to the lessons. The orange head glanced outside to see if he could figure out what had shocked the raven head so, but he saw nothing apart from the fact that it had started to drizzle softly. Suzu wasn't making a sound and so the morning classes were spend in an absent silence. Ichigo still responded to any questions in a bored tone, which was a lot more then he could say for Suzu. She seemed completely gone from the world as she continued to stare out the window. At times Ichigo could swear she was ready to bolt from the room, but Suzu remained frozen in her seat.
At the sound of the first bell the raven head startled out of her thoughts, shot Ichigo a frightened look before standing stiffly. "Excuse me, Kurosaki-san." And she gave a little curtsy before walking out into the hallway. Ichigo stared after her, wondering if he should do something. But surly that wasn't his place. They didn't know each other that well and besides Suzu was a girl and he was a guy. And what did a guy know about a girl's business.
But she had seemed terrified about something. Didn't ordinary boy's turn into knights in shining armour when a girl was in trouble or scared? Then again, Suzu wasn't a Damsel in Distress and like Hell that Ichigo was a Valiant Knight! He might see ghosts and helped them, but they would haunt him otherwise. He protected his sisters because that's what big brother's did and he wouldn't have it any other way. The only other girl he knew well was Tatsuki and she wouldn't need saving… right?
"ICHIGO!" Keigo called from across the classroom. The orange head resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "Let's go to the roof."
"Have you looked outside?" Michiro commented from behind him, stepping around the taller boy and making his way towards Ichigo. Keigo sputtered slightly as he gazed out the window, before shuffling towards the seat next to Ichigo, leaning against the desk. "Have you seen Sado-san today?"
Ichigo's frown deepened. "Not at all now you mention him. He must have run into trouble again."
Michiro chuckled. "He's as bad as you are," the dark haired boy said and, while starting on his bento, turned the topic to the Winter Solstice. It had become a tradition for Chad, Tatsuki and Ichigo to go to the temple together the morning after the start of the New Year and the orange head wondered if he should ask Keigo and Michiro to join them. Tatsuki asked if she could bring Inoue, maybe he should do the same. Their small circle of friendship was growing and with that their reputation growing.
Not that it had changed much for Ichigo and Chad, they were still known as the rough ones. The ones who would fight no matter what. The fact that they would fight to help and protect others didn't seem to matter to the ones who they owed their reputation from. Ichigo didn't mind. A reputation like that kept most trouble at bay, apart from the gangs who either wanted them to join or put them in their place. Not that they ever succeeded. Chad was huge and seemed to have been made out of metal. Sure Ichigo had seen the Mexican hurt before, but the gentle giant always seemed not to mind.
Ichigo had been the pariah of Karakura town since he was younger because of his bright hair. It was why he joined the local dojo, so he could protect those he loved most of all. Not that it had mattered much, his mother had still died. He had still killed her. It was then that he had started to see the ghosts clearer, began to notice the difference between living people and dead ones. The rattling chain which hung from their chests and the sound of the wind which echoed when they passed. Which sounded almost like bells…?
The orange head quickly hid his shock and surprise at the realization. But it couldn't be. Everyone could see her, everyone could touch her. Chad had picked her up when she got hurt, Tatsuki commented fondly and full admiration about her fighting skills and he had heard Inoue complement her cooking while the girls ate their bento's. So it was impossible. Himura Suzu couldn't possibly be a ghost!
It had become foggy giving the streets of Karakura a mystic and spooky feel. Ichigo pulled his jacket a little bit tighter and readjusted his grip on his schoolbag. It would be getting dark soon and he couldn't help but feel a little antsy. The orange head had been in a state of near panic ever since lunchtime. Suzu hadn't returned to the classroom after lunch and no one had seen her leave the school. Ichigo figured she had locked herself into a bathroom or something and would show up with an apologetic smile, bowing low to ask for forgiveness. But she never showed up.
Tatsuki had confronted him at the last bell, nearly beat him and dragged him out of the classroom by his ear to ask what he had done to Suzu. Swearing he didn't know anything about what happened his best friend had made him swear (again) that he would go look for her. For that mystical girl who sounded like silver bells. It was this promise that found him nearly on the other side of the town, looking for their lost mutual friend. Because she was, wasn't she?
Ichigo looked at his watch. It was close to seven now, he would have to run back home if he wanted to be on time for dinner. The orange head sighed and turned in the direction to walk back towards his house when he noticed a figure in the mist. Whoever it was, the person was running recklessly through the streets, narrowly missing the streetlights and rails which separated the road from the sidewalk. Heels clicked with each step and long, wild hair swirled around the figure. The sound of silver bells suddenly filled the abandoned street and Suzu crashed into him.
"No," she cried in a panic, her usually bright green eyes blind in panic. She tried to push herself away from him, but Ichigo had already closed his arm in around her, pressing her soft body against him. "It's me," he said, trying to calm her down as she continued to struggle. "It's Ichigo. Don't be frightened, just breath. It's me, you're okay now." Her green eyes swerved around and grew wide as they focused in on his face. Ichigo nearly flinched back at the emotions which passed through them. Her body grew slack, relaxed and she inhaled deeply before she freed herself from his grip. He let her, feeling disappointment from the loss of warmth before he pushed the emotion away.
"Thank you Kurosaki-san," Suzu whispered her voice timid as she stood shivering in the cold night air. "I apologise for bumping into you like that. Please forgive me." She turned and froze, clearly unsure what to do now. Before she could stare off into the freezing mist for too long Ichigo dropped his bag and shrugged off his coat, holding it out for her. "Take it," he said bluntly and she turned back to stare at him blankly. "You must be cold. Want me to walk you home?"
Suzu blinked, her green eyes startled and confused, and quickly closed her eyes when she noticed she was gaping at him. "I… uh… thank you, but… won't you be cold if I take it?" Suzu gestured towards the coat. A bird cried out in the mist and Ichigo took that moment to throw it over her slim shoulders. "I'll be fine," he said with a shrug, trying not to shiver at the loss of warmth. "Come on." And he started to walk in the direction of his own house, when he realised he had told her he would walk her home. He had never been there before…
Suzu giggled like only girls could and Ichigo let the symphony of sound wash over him. "It's this way," she said with a small smile and pointed at the direction she had been running towards. Of course, Ichigo thought and he did his best not to grin sheepishly at her. It was so hard to remain his frowning, but otherwise impassive, face. Ichigo gestured with his arm as if to say 'lead the way' and followed after her, unaware of the small smile which played on his lips.
"So, where did you go?" Ichigo asked after a few minutes of walking in silence. "Hmm," Suzu said, clearly with her mind elsewhere. She tilted her head slightly towards him so Ichigo knew that she was listening. "After the lunch bell," the orange head explained. "I got quite an earful from Tatsuki since she seemed to think it was my fault."
She smiled apologetically at him, her eyes glistening slightly in the mist. "Sorry, I had to see a man about a dog," she muttered. This time it was Ichigo's turn to stare at her with his mouth slightly agape. What an odd thing to say. "A man… about a dog?" Suzu nodded while making an agreeing sound, the bells cheerfully chiming around her. "Are you sure you got it right?"
Green eyes stared up at him. "A dog is a dog isn't it?" she asked.
"The animal which walks on four paws has fur and a tail and floppy or pointy ears. They have those eyes which seemed to look right into your soul and they go from really small to really big. Related to wolves and…" Ichigo rattled.
"Yes, a dog," Suzu said slowly as if she were talking to a small child. "Are you feeling alright Kurosaki-san? Would you like your coat back? It seems the chilly air might have frozen your brain."
Ichigo waved her sarcasm aside. "Just wondering if it was the same," he muttered. "So a dog?"
Suzu nodded, her mischievous eyes focused on the road ahead once more. Had Ichigo been paying attention he would have noticed that they were actually moving towards his own home again after a slight detour, but Suzu was a good distraction. "Yep, that idiot," she said fondly while shaking her head and Ichigo wondered if the raven head was talking about the man or the dog. "So did I miss much?"
She was avoiding the subject which would bring Ichigo a little closer to finding out more about the raven head. Again. He was used to it by now and was content to fill the silence with meaningless talk about what she had missed. He knew better then to push for information. The orange head knew it was a lost cause and it could create a rift between them if he pushed for more. He wanted her close, to hear those silver bells forever. Okay, that was creepy…
"And Tatsuki and Inoue asked if they could ask you to our Winter Solstice gathering, so be prepared for their invites either tonight or tomorrow," he concluded.
"Is that something you do every year?" Suzu asked.
Ichigo looked at her with a smile. "It's become sort of a tradition which Tatsuki, Chad and I started. I asked if I could include Keigo and Michiro this year. Tatsuki agree if she could ask Inoue, who suggested you as well. Chad seemed fine with it and I thought, well why not?"
"Why not indeed," she muttered softly to herself and Ichigo wondered if it was the Winter Solstice which made her sad or the company. Suzu gazed up at him once more, her green eyes bright and a soft smile on her face. "I will await their invitation with anticipation and can let you know that I will accept. But promise not to tell them."
Ichigo nodded, his smile growing, not even knowing it was there. "I promise."
"Good," the raven head said with a smile of her own and she nearly bounced in place. "Ah, nearly home. Would you like to eat with me tonight Kurosaki-san?" Ichigo looked around and noticed for the first time that they weren't that far from his own home. His mouth nearly fell open when he realised that it was probably only two blocks away. The apartment building looked relatively new… and expensive. This couldn't be where she lived… unless her family was rich. "Well?"
"Umm, I guess," Ichigo muttered, still dazed by the building. "I'll have to let my family know that I'll be staying out."
Suzu giggled. "It's only a building you know. Come on, I have a phone inside that you can use."
It was quite modern inside and it seemed like not every apartment had been rented out yet. It was quiet and only from a few apartments shone light into the hallway. Suzu's apartment was at the top floor and looked out over Karakura town and towards the larger cities at the east. "On a clear day you can even see the mountains and you can get the best sunrises from the roof," she commented and opened the door. Ichigo suddenly wondered if this was such a good idea. If anyone ever found out that he had been in her apartment he would never hear the end of it. The orange head shook away the depressing thought and entered the warmth which was Himura Suzu's home.
Dinner with Suzu had been a fun affair Ichigo admitted to himself later. She was a great cook, tidy and had a great sense of humour even if she evaded personal related topics like the plague. He had learned a little bit more about the raven head. Unknown to her the living room told Ichigo a lot about Suzu, though still no clue why she sounded like bells. He did find out that she probably had a pet since there was a bird stand next to the balcony doors and there were a few snacks lying around which were definitely not for human consumption. The room was void of any pictures, but a large collection of books and films were placed on the shelves next to the television. Her kitchen was well equipped and she refused any help he offered her in preparing their meal.
All in all it didn't look like it should belong to a fifteen-year-old girl who lived on her own. Ichigo knew that Michiro relied on a cook and cleaner for his apartment and even if he had never been to Inoue's he had hear Tatsuki complain about her cooking habits more then once.
The next day at school it seemed nothing had changed. Suzu was quiet and private like always, but she seemed troubled and distant to everyone so Ichigo guessed it wasn't just him. Maybe it was about that man with the dog? The orange head still didn't understand the comment completely. Ichigo had asked his father about it. The doctor had calmed down instantly, becoming pensive while Yuzu had looked at him expectantly. They had started the Spanish Inquisition the moment he entered the house and wouldn't leave him alone until he had told them everything.
Ichigo had remained vague, wanting to keep the raven head's privacy, and had asked a little about the strange things she sometimes said. Isshin admitted to knowing some things about English humour and figure of speech. It seemed to be a way to remain vague about ones absence. The man had rattled on a bit about horse and dog races, but Ichigo had tuned out after that. It made the mystery, which was Himura Suzu, a little bigger. And why had she been running in the first place? She had looked positively terrified.
Inoue's soft tones reached his ears and Ichigo looked up to see Suzu hold up two thumbs and smile to brightly at the auburn head. The raven head started talking softly with her friend but the tension in her face remained.
The first snow did indeed fall that Saturday. Some of the girls stared at the white flakes in dismay, successfully blocking the exit of the building. Ichigo scowled, which meant nothing in his face changed, and resisted the urge to growl. "Why can't these girls just move already," he muttered in annoyance and watched Michiro work his charm on some girls, offering to share an umbrella. The orange head rolled his eyes at his friend and watched Keigo try the same, only to fail. Chad came to stand next to him. Ichigo contemplated asking the gentle giant if he could make a path for them when a loud "OY" echoed through the hallway.
Every face turned towards the sound. A very irate looking Himura was standing with her hands on her hips, her green eyes glowing under her fringe. Ichigo was proud of himself that he didn't flinch back in fear. "Get your arses outside and home already. It's only a bit of snow. You won't die the moment a flake lands on your skin." The orange head could see Tatsuki swelling with pride and hid a smile at the other raven head's words. Most of the girls who crowded the hallway immediately moved out of the way, pressing themselves flat against the wall to make room for the English girl.
Three girls stood their ground and the moment Suzu, Tatsuki and Inoue moved through the crowd they were stopped. Ichigo, sensing trouble, moved to intervene but Chad placed a hand on his shoulder. The gentle giant shook his head. "It is not your fight." Ichigo knew Chad was right, but he didn't like it.
"What gives you the right to make an order like that," the darker haired girl stated, her brown eyes cold and her head tilted upwards in arrogance. The clearly older girl looked unimpressed by Suzu. She sneered at the sight of the other girl's covered legs and arms, clearly irritated that a foreign girl had been given the right to change the way to wear their school uniform.
"It wasn't an order," Suzu said calmly, not a hint of her usual apologetic tone. She sounded impatient and annoyed, but with an air of authority. The raven head sounded older and even though she stated that she hadn't given an order, Ichigo knew that those three other girls would have been the first to leave if it had been. "It was a simple statement. No one would have been able to get home before the New Year because you refuse to get a little cold and wet. It's your own fault for not bringing proper gear when it was predicted it would snow this afternoon."
"Don't talk so condescending you foreigner. You are not welcome here, so take your pretty words somewhere else, preferably back to your own country."
A collective gasp echoed through the hallway and Ichigo had to fight with himself not to step forwards to defend Suzu. Tatsuki stepped forwards instead, wanting to defend her friend too, but Suzu turned to the raven head with a smile. "It's fine," she said. Inoue gasped suddenly and Ichigo watched Suzu move faster than he had ever seen anyone move, grabbing the wrist of the older girl before the hand could make contact with her body.
This time the older girl did flinch back at the stare Suzu gave her and she tried to move, only to be held back by the English girl. "I know exactly what sort of a person you are Kurkawa-san," Suzu hissed and a few girls started to whisper to each other, saying that Himura couldn't possibly know the older girl's name. "Thinking yourself better than anyone else because your father is in politics and your mother a descendent from the noble clans to the south. But let me tell you something. Your ancestors might have been someone but you are still nothing. Sure your road may be a little less bumpy because of who they were, Hell you probably don't even have to worry about paying the rent, but if you want to be your own person you had better work hard. The road you are going down now will be filled with hateful glares and scrutinizing eyes. They will whispered behind your back that you never did an honest days work. 'Who is she to tell us what to do', they will whisper because they know that no matter how hard they try no one will look at them. But if you decide to work, to not force people to respect you, you will be happier in the end. You will rise to the top and be proud of your own accomplishments."
The hallway was silent and the Kurkawa girl looked like she wanted to say something, her mouth opening before it closed again. "No," Suzu said as if reading the other girl's thoughts. "You won't be happy and you can take my word for that." She finally released the older girl's wrist, letting the Kurkawa girl stumble slightly. "Change those thoughts and ideas before it is too late Kurkawa-san. There are more people in this world then just us." Suzu bowed apologetically and stepped past the three girls, Tatsuki and Inoue following her both with an umbrella in hand.
Ichigo didn't know what to think anymore. The one moment Himura Suzu was timid and shy, had a wicked sense of humour and was a great cook, and the next she's commanding the senior high school bitch what to do and how to live her life. It was so strange; she went from the normal fifteen year old to a much older sounding person. For a moment it was like she was used to being obeyed instead of being submissive.
"Are you going out today?" Yuzu called from the kitchen.
The orange head turned to his younger sister who was finishing up breakfast. "Aa, I'll be joining the others at the temple for our New Years greetings. When are you, Karin and the old man going?"
Yuzu blinked up at him before looking thoughtful. "Usually we go a little later in the afternoon, but Karin said something about joining the football team afterwards so who knows. So," she added with a cheeky tone and a mischievous spark in her eyes. "Is Himura-chan going to be there too?"
Ichigo nearly chocked in his tea. She wanted to know about Suzu? What would his sister want to know about his classmate for? "What do you wanna know that for?"
His younger sister giggled. "Judging from your reaction she is. Will you ask her around again? I wanted to share a new recipe I found on the internet with her."
"And I have to invite her for that?" Ichigo asked scowling. "You do realise that she lives like two blocks from here. You could easily go and ask her yourself."
"Aw Onii-san," Yuzu whined slightly. "You see her almost every day and you never invite her around. She's already been here and she promised to come back when invited. It's been two months since her last visit and now is as good a time as any, ne?"
Ichigo rolled his eyes and sighed. "I will ask," he muttered. He quickly finished his breakfast before leaving the house. It was colder then he had expected, but the cold was refreshing. It cleared his mind from the constant ringing of silver bells. Not that he minded the sound, it seemed to calm him down, but it was now like he could no longer tell when Suzu was approaching, in the room or not around him at all. It was slightly frustrating.
The orange head snorted to himself. Slightly frustrating? No, slightly frustrating was the fact that he could see ghosts since he was a child and suddenly all those ghosts seemed to have disappeared. Slightly frustrating was the fact that the gangs in the neighbourhood hadn't bothered anyone in a long while. And also slightly frustrating was that even Karin seemed to notice that the ghosts no longer bothered them. She had even asked him about it, wondering if he could explain this sudden sense of freedom, finally admitting that she could see them (or at least know that they were there). Karin had always said that as long as you didn't admit anything they didn't exist either.
Only those things were slightly frustrating. Ichigo sighed softly as he slowed his march to the temple. He shook his head in an attempt to clear his head from his frustrations, his frown still deeply edged into his face. At first he thought it must have been a trick of the light or just a person also making his or her way to the temple, but the chill he usually felt when a ghost was near made the orange head pause and turn.
Another flash of something much brighter and a groan echoed slightly through the alleyway across the street. "Damn it, stop dodging already you ruddy codger. The pain of getting stabbed is nothing but a memory if you move on. Now let me do my job so the Darker Ones will pass on." The voice was eerily familiar and a flash of green almost confirmed her identity. Suzu sounded aggressive as she rattled on in English, the tone of authority the same she used only last week in school. Another flash of light, this time bright blue, and the foreign girl turned to step out of the alley.
Her green eyes focused themselves on him and widened in surprise when Suzu noticed Ichigo staring from across the street. Ichigo frowned as she grinned sheepishly. "Happy New Year!" she cried from across the street, moving fully out of the alleyway. She looked a little dishevelled, like she hadn't slept all night and was up running or something. The raven head was dressed strangely in big heavy looking boots made out of a strange kind of leather. Her uniform was replaced by dark, tightly fitted cargo trousers and a long sleeved shirt with a strange vest which reached till her knees. It was kept closed by a belt with an odd sort of crest cast out, what looked like, real silver and gold. Her hair was tightly bound into a bun. There were no colours in her outfit which made her look much paler then usual, even if she had lost a lot of colour since coming here.
Ichigo was sure she was more then a little surprised to see him standing there, but even so Suzu promptly burst out laughing. The few people who were already outside stared at her before moving away quickly. Suzu didn't seem to mind, cheerfully crossing the street and stopping right in front of him. Ichigo barely even noticed his face softening as the bells sounding around her made him relax again. If he had been more aware he would have stopped her the moment he realised what Suzu was going to do. The raven head pulled him down a little and she raised herself by standing on her toes, and kissed first his right and then his left cheek.
When she pulled away, Suzu had a slight blush on her cheeks and Ichigo could feel his face burning. "That this year may be a fortunate one for you, Kurosaki-san," she whispered. Ichigo was frozen in place and Suzu was already moving herself away from him, when he suddenly grabbed her hand. "T-that you… uhm… may be with us… uhm… have a fortunate year too, Himura-chan."
The raven head giggled as she watched Ichigo stutter, patted his hand which was gripping hers and turned away from the direction of the temple. "Want to walk with me? I need to change," she said with a soft smile. "Can't go looking like this, now can I?"
Ichigo blinked. Did she just invite him over to her apartment again? The orange head nodded slowly and followed her down the street. Maybe this year will indeed be a fortunate one…
A/N: Arigato everyone for reading and reviewing. I hope you all had a better Christmas then I and Happy New Years everyone! I wanted to finish this chapter last year (yup can say that now without it sounding weird) but a lot of things happened, which made it impossible. I hope you liked this chapter too. Next chapter will be another time skip and Rukia's first appearance. Till next time.