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Cat's Cradle

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His life has never been more miserable.

Which is a record-winning statement, given that his life had never been exactly sunshine and rainbows.

 

Ichigo leaves the classroom as soon as the bell rings, no longer bothering with trying to catch any of his friends’ eyes. It’s not like they ever stopped for him. Not anymore. Heck, since he lost his powers he doubted they could still be considered friends. Not even his classmates try this hard to not talk to him.

He ignores the whispers, and he ignores the pitying looks as he vacates the premises on his own, scowl almost etched into his face and his shoulders so tense Ichigo's beginning to feel they'll get stuck like that.

His anger washes away as the soothing staccato of his steps –nowadays just a single set of footsteps – calms him down as usual. He doesn’t really like it, because whenever he’s not angry, he’s so inconsolably lonely that it physically hurts.

 

He doesn’t linger at school, but he doesn’t linger at home either. Both places are just reminders of everything Ichigo lost. Sometimes he’d skip school, or he wouldn’t arrive home and it didn’t really matter. Nobody seems to care either way.

Ichigo’s hands clench nervously at his side, as if desperately wanting to tear into something or grab a sword and-

He sighs, clutches his backpack harder and continues walking towards the graveyard.

He visits his mother a lot nowadays.

At least she can’t exactly brush him off. Ichigo likes to entertain the idea that she wouldn’t shun him either if she was still alive, but sometimes he can’t say that and believe it.

Because now that he didn’t have powers, and couldn't see spirits, there really was no use for him. No need to hang out with him. No reason to love him.

 

“Hey mom. It’s me again.” Ichigo says as soon as he reaches her gravestone. He replaces the flowers from yesterday, changes the treats he brought earlier and cleans the engraved stone even though it’s as clean as it can be.

Once he’s done, he sits down in front of her, as he had done so many times before. He doesn’t talk. He doesn’t really have anything left to say. He just stares, looking at nothing, waiting for the hours to pass so he can have an excuse to go back to his house, just hearing the occasional bird chirping, the wind blowing and-

A cat meowing?

 

His stiff neck actually cracks with how fast he turns to stare at a black cat sitting a couple feet away from him, staring right at him.

He meows again, and the sound is horribly uncute. It’s raspy, as if the cat didn’t really do it often, or as if he had damaged his vocal chords. The cat stands up and Ichigo stares, transfixed as the creature pawed his way closer to him.

He stops again, meows and stares at him with those unnerving silver eyes, as if gauging his reaction. Ichigo is hit by a sense of familiarity so strong that he flinches violently and ends up falling on his side.

 

He scrambles to sit back up, heart hammering in his chest and worried that he had scared the cat away.

To his surprise, the cat's still there, sitting patiently.

 

His life has reached such a low point that Ichigo almost bursts out crying at realizing that.

Still, he can’t help the sob that escapes his lips and as if that was his cue, the cat walks up to him and… lifts a paw to his knee?

Puzzled at this odd behavior, the sob becomes a quiet laugh. The cat immediately drops the paw and instead begins to nuzzle against him. Ichigo’s breath is stuck in his throat as he marvels at how warm the feline is, how soft his fur looks and he hesitatingly lowers a hand towards him, wondering if the cat would let him pet it.

To his eternal surprise, the cat nuzzles into his hands again, letting Ichigo run his fingers through soft fur and he keeps mewing at intervals. The cat is a little clumsy, overreaching and bumping against Ichigo’s hand which only makes Ichigo smile a little.

 

Ichigo is mesmerized by the cat, and he doesn’t even notice that it’s gotten dark and cold. He probably would have just sat there until dawn came rolling by, but the cat suddenly breaks out his claws and softly stabs his knee before darting away.

 

As if on cue, all of the heavy feelings he has managed to push away come crashing down and Ichigo is struggling to catch his breath when he sees the cat again.

He’s standing a couple feet away, tail twitching nervously and meowing with his hoarse voice… almost as if calling him.

Ichigo hesitatingly stands up, almost falling over at realizing his legs were numb and stiff and prickling him with a thousand needles. The cat goes up to him and just weaves soft circles around him until Ichigo regains feeling in his legs.

 

And then, calmly, slowly, Ichigo leaves the graveyard. Once he’s out he realizes that he has a couple dozen missed calls from Yuzu, he realizes it’s pretty darned late and he sees the cat scurrying away, well out of his reach down a small crack between the walls of the closest building.

He’s too worried about calling Yuzu back to remember to feel sorry for himself. He hurries back to his house.