Title: Back to Back
Warning: Shounen ai
Disclaimer: Not mine
Themes used: #14 (radio-cassette player) and #15 (perfect blue)
Ishida's apartment is so tiny that Ichigo would never have known about his spare storage room if it hadn't been pointed out to him first. It's not so much a room as a cupboard, a poky, dusty little place where Ishida keeps all of his secret treasures.
It's a sign of the trust Ishida places in him when he opens that door and shows Ichigo what lies beyond it. To most people, it's just a cupboard full of junk, but to Ishida, it's something special, and the most important object he owns is a battered old radio-cassette player.
Ichigo hasn't seen one in years, not since CD's took over the market and sent cassette tapes the way of the dinosaur.
Ishida doesn't own a CD player. He has a TV that sits in a corner of the sitting room, but he never turns it on. Ichigo doesn't know how Ishida stands all that silence. He didn't think he'd be able to cope with it. It'd probably drive him insane. Then again, he does live with one of the noisiest families in Karakura.
Ishida seems to like his quiet, for the most part, and although they may not always see eye-to-eye, Ichigo doesn't much like begrudging Ishida what he wants. Often the pair of them will sit without speaking, him with his nose buried in a book and Ishida engrossed in whatever project he's currently working on.
If it's embroidery, then he'll occasionally hum under his breath as he stitches, and if it's knitting, then he'll occasionally mutter instructions to himself from one of his handicraft books over the steady clack-clack-clack of the needles.
It's just something that Ichigo has grown used to over time. He never calls in advance whenever he goes to visit Ishida's place, but Ishida never complains about that. Besides, he doesn't even have a telephone. He can't afford to pay the bill.
Ichigo still doesn't really know anything about Ishida's private life. He never asks and Ishida rarely tells. He might let slip a couple of details here and there, but nothing too important. Ichigo knows that Ishida and his father don't have a very good relationship, and really, that's enough. He also knows that Ishida supports himself, more or less, with the money that his grandfather left behind.
He's not well off financially, which explains why the apartment is so cramped. It isn't run-down or anything like that, though, because Ishida takes pride in keeping things neat, practical and aesthetically pleasing. He makes his own curtains, he makes his own cushions, he makes his own lace throws. Ishida likes things that are attractive and he likes them to serve a purpose.
His kitchen is almost as tiny as his storage cupboard, but it's always sparkling clean. It isn't cluttered with unnecessary things or anything like that, just the bare essentials. Ever since Ichigo began visiting, though, the number of bowls and pots has been steadily growing. It's mainly because Ichigo tends to bring food with him whenever he calls.
Ishida didn't like that at first. He's never wanted anyone to see him as some sort of charity case, but Ichigo merely smacked him as he told him to stop complaining and start eating. He'll always have some excuse waiting whenever Ishida asks questions. He'll say that his sister made too much dinner again and that he didn't want it getting wasted, or that his father was annoying him and that he wanted to eat someplace peaceful.
They both know the real reason why Ichigo does these things. No matter how hard Ichigo scowls, he can't hide the truth. He hates seeing people sad and lonely.
Anybody else would probably pity Ishida, but Ichigo doesn't. He never pities anyone. Instead of offering shallow reassurances and flowery sympathy, he drags people to their feet, brushes them off and points them in the direction where they're supposed to be going. He stands by them, protects them, supports them. He never says anything out loud, but Ishida knows that if he's ever in trouble, Ichigo will help him out in an instant. It's just the type of person that he is.
Before Ichigo came along, Ishida never had any friends. He's always been a loner after all, but Ichigo doesn't like that. It's why he always tries to include Ishida, even if it's just a little thing like eating lunch together on the roof of the school. Before Ichigo came along, Ishida was never included, but now, things have changed. He's changed. He isn't as bitter as he once was. He doesn't hate as much as he used to either, and it's all thanks to the loud-mouthed, bright-haired Shinigami who opened up his eyes and literally kicked him free from the chains of his past.
Ishida owes a lot to Ichigo and he knows it. There isn't much that he can offer up in return, other than his trust, but to Ichigo, that's the most important gift a human being can ever give. That's why he watches as Ishida brings out a cloth and gently wipes the tape recorder, cleaning away the dust that's been covering it over time.
It's old, even for a tape recorder, and Ichigo can tell that it wasn't purchased recently. His suspicions are confirmed when Ishida tells him that it belonged to his late grandfather, and although it's a clunky, awkward thing, to Ishida, it's worth its weight in gold.
As Ichigo stares, Ishida begins to talk. He tells Ichigo things that he's never told another living soul, and Ichigo listens. Ishida tells him about his father's disapproval of the Quincy, and the supernatural in general, and still, Ichigo listens. He learns that Ishida's father tried to keep him and his grandfather apart, that he didn't want Ishida wasting his time by trying to do a Shinigami’s work.
He also learns that Ishida ignored the warnings and snuck off to see his grandfather anyway. He liked to hear the stories and songs his grandfather had to share, and that's when he reaches out for the cassette player in front of him.
He pushes the 'play' button, and Ichigo hears the sound of an old man's voice. Ishida eventually explains that his grandfather used to record himself reading a book out loud. He'd give Ishida the tape and Ishida would listen to it late at night whenever his father forbid him yet again from having anything at all to do with his grandfather.
Ishida has a small box full of these cassettes. They're the only things he has left to remember his grandfather by, and Ichigo understands just how precious they must be. That's why he gently takes hold of Ishida's chin and tilts his face so that their gazes can meet. His free hand carefully removes the glasses from Ishida's face and places them down on the floor beside the tape player.
Ishida's eyes are full of sadness and regret, but even so, they're still a perfect shade of blue. Ichigo can't remember ever seeing them so honest and open before, and he watches, entranced, as a single teardrop slides down Ishida's cheek.
Ichigo finds himself leaning closer and closer until his lips finally meet Ishida's in a bittersweet kiss that's full of salty sorrow. He knows that Ishida will never erase those cassette tapes, but maybe over time, he'll come to rid himself of those regrets, and when he does, Ichigo will be there, waiting. Together, they can rewrite and start again, and then there won't be any more sadness, because together, they can do anything, as long as they're standing back-to-back against it all.
The first time Ichigo saw Ishida's eyes, they were hollow and full of loss, but now they're full of promise as they shine with the rest of the tears that refuse to be shed. Ichigo doesn't speak, but that's okay. He knows that Ishida understands. He always does.