It is turning toward midnight when you feel a sudden shift in the air, not unlike the breath of a ghost bemoaning their passing. Your eyes drag across the walls and then the ceiling almost reflexively, attempting to pick a shape out from the darkness. You have grown accustomed to the lack of privacy, have learned to cherish those spare moments you cannot feel the hairs at the back of your neck rising with awareness or to whisper a soft apology upon entering a room and then waiting for their slip across your consciousness as they leave again—it’s second nature at this point and you are surprised you’ve mistaken it this time around. In the other bed your sister is sleeping soundly, enviably unaware, and the threads between the two of you pull taut, sing of blissful thoughts. The creak in the floorboards outside the door is loud enough you nearly jump right out of your skin.
There it is. He is back again, no doubt tired to his very bones. His feet would be dragging had he the opacity, shoulders bowed and eyes half shut. He will be yawning now, deep into his middle, drawn back to the body sprawled lifelessly on his bed.
This is not the first time you’ve caught him doing this, and this will not be the last.
He will only be half awake tomorrow morning, shadows drawn over his gaze, but you have come to reason this is far better than the alternative.
Being that he not return at all.
You count the steps it will take him to reach his bedroom door, burrow deeper into your blankets and imagine him falling backward into his body and blacking out far before ever connecting. You count the seconds until he begins to snore, what he never would have done ordinarily, and shut your eyes when they even out. They still sound softer than the ticking clock downstairs, still taper out like a lullaby and pull you easy into sleep. They remind you momentarily of the soothing tap of rain against rooftop, against windows and cement—they wrap around you the way arms would, the way he used to do when you were too young to make sense of the moving shapes in the dark and the empty chair at the kitchen table.
You start when you feel the mattress sink underneath her weight, but as her face nestles onto the pillow beside you the feeling of oneness overcomes you and you are out long before she ever whispers, “The house is whole again.”
It is an old, long abandoned habit, but it feels all too familiar when he ruffles your hair as he leaves for school. Yuzu bounces on the balls of her feet and plants a quick peck on his cheek when he ducks low enough to let her, and the smile that breaks across his face settles the air curiously.
Your heart feels too full for a moment, and you’re not sure what to do with that.
You can feel Yuzu absolutely beaming, you can feel the way her cheeks dimple and her fingers dance at the hem of her skirt.
You can feel her bursting at the seams with affection and it nearly drowns you, too.
You can’t stop yourself from returning his grin when he says, “I’ll see you guys after school.”
He has finished his breakfast today and his skin is glowing and he’d almost slept in and you think this is a good sign.
“Love you,” he says before he steps out to begin his day, and Yuzu has enough sense to respond for the both of you before he can slip away completely.
“Do you feel pain when the other one gets hurt?” someone asks—a lot of people ask, when they find out the two girls that look absolutely nothing alike are, in fact, twins.
The interest is gone as soon as you say no, and except for one brave soul who chances a pinch on your arm they all drop the subject immediately. Neither one of you reacts and Yuzu watches, brow furrowed, as your skin reddens just a slight. She presses her cool fingers to your skin and smiles reassuringly.
You don’t say a word, but one time your father mentioned sometimes twins are born with fissures in between them, through which traits fall and disappear or build and brim over to one side. In this way, you think Yuzu must have gotten all things good and pretty. She looks more and more like your mother did—or so you’ve been told—and she blinks wide and blind when you grimace at the phantoms over her shoulders. She balances talents on her fingertips and every day she becomes a lot like you think you might have wanted to be at one point.
But you have settled yourself in this fact. One time she slipped and fell off a bike and while your big brother hurried to comfort her you bit back the inexplicable pain in your side.
One time your heart pulled without reason to and you found her crying over a broken plate in the kitchen.
One time a boy kissed her without asking to and you felt bile rise at the back of your throat.
There were bruises on your knuckles and scratch marks on your arms when you came home and in between her fretting she choked out a, “Thank you,” and the next day everyone knew not to touch her without her say.
Your father tells you not to grow the way Ichigo has, he tells you not to fill the spaces he has carved into your family, not to lose the softness in your eyes—you recall a time your brother had coward at the first sign of conflict and a time he rose to the challenge like a chained dog let free, and imagine a fissure, in which all the things he used to be and never will be again has fallen through. You think if twins are born split down the middle, your brother must have been born whole, not a half the way you feel you are—not something meant to be fulfilled, not something constantly looking for the other like an incomplete circle.
You think he must have been cracked at the center once and has lost the ability to fill in the spaces.
You think this is not something worth becoming. You think this is something more painful than the gnawing in your sister’s heart when she turns her eyes to the vacant chair at the kitchen table or the burn on your cheeks when she cries big and loud.
You wrap your voice tight in your throat and nod around the lump it forms, try not to hide the marks when he comes home from school and do not lie when he asks where they came from.
He used to, about his.
Part of you thinks Tatsuki would have been a better big brother—or sister, whichever she feels will suit her best.
Her smile is sharp at the edges, like a knife, and her laugh ricochets off the walls like a bark and sometimes you catch yourself mimicking it without really thinking about it. She taught you how to kick a soccer ball proper and when you mention joining the team at school, she brightened up all around and showered you with encouragements. She is so open and honest about her emotions it is a violent contrast to what you’re used to. Her presence is brief in your home, most constant when he is still timid and pliant, but she leaves an impression behind you are eager to fill.
It is a good shadow, uncomplicated and comprehendible. You can stretch your hands within it and feel its pull like a handed down sweater. When the day comes that you can fit it onto yourself, snug on your shoulders, you breathe deep and content and know it will stretch easy and comfortable into the years.
You sometimes see her in town and the grin splits her face up and you think she’s getting prettier and prettier. There is no jealously attached to that thought. It is bright, clear and singular, clean cut and smooth; the small hope budding that you can grow that way, too, and then the acceptance that maybe you won’t.
You mention it to your brother and his eyes glance, as if recalling an image of her from earlier in the day or in class. “Yeah,” he says, not surprised at all. “Yeah, hard to believe, huh?”
A part of you thinks Tatsuki would make a great addition to the family, but it is jagged, ill-fitted, when you imagine her holding hands with your brother.
“Do you like her?” you ask as if to check, reeling.
“She’s my oldest friend,” he replies, not even considering the alternate meaning behind your words. “Of course I like her.”
Yuzu bristles, as if perhaps the threads between the two of you ran perfectly both ways, and wonders aloud, “Do you like, like her?”
“No,” he says immediately, brow furrowing. The very notion seems to roll over him, unnatural and unthinkable. “No.”
“Do you,” she continues, and this time you think she must be reading your thoughts, “have a crush on anyone?”
The look that crosses his face is enough answer—confusion, the clear drift of his eyes as he contemplates, and then blatant realization—before he looks away and the unmistakable rise of color in his cheeks gives him away completely.
“Nah,” he says, despite. He continues to finish his dinner and excuses himself quietly.
Yuzu turns wide eyes to you and in a blink you are both stifling your laughs behind your hands, giddy at this revelation.
You met her only briefly, back when they were both in middle school. She’d had short hair then, and is almost unfamiliar when Tatsuki points her out to you.
Too beautiful, you think as she approaches, all bouncing hair and friendly smiles. Way too beautiful for him.
Of course he likes her, there’s no way not to.
She greets you warmly, like an old friend after years spent apart. Her presence engulfs you just like an embrace, you can smell her perfume in the air and there is something so comforting about it you feel yourself drifting. Her hands move erratic, never still, and when she laughs it sounds just like golden bells, jumps up into your chest and makes you smile silly.
You are halfway through before you realize you’re already halfway in love, slipping and slipping between her words until you cannot untangle yourself from them.
“You are so pretty!” she tells you, and reaches out to touch the mangled ends of your inky hair so delicately you almost believe her. “Kurosaki-kun never mentioned how charming his sisters are!”
You haven’t even said much, have attempted and failed for coherency and mumbled your way through the conversation—she listens with wide, attentive eyes. She nods and hums and leans in close, a conspirator’s distance, to listen to your jumbled words. And then she smiles, soft and kind and so, so sweet. Like syrup, like honeycombs, like your favorite candy; you can feel your mouth water and your teeth ache and your throat grow dry and you understand everything.
Of course he likes her.
“You play soccer? I’d love to see a match!” she says honestly, and it strikes you immediately.
Something about the fullness of her lips, the glow behind her skin, the way her voice coils about you like sugar-spun clouds, it makes you light-headed and grounds you all at once.
“You should come over some time,” is the first real thing you say, and she and Tatsuki look upon you in surprise before a smirk crosses the latter’s.
Her face colors a pretty pink and she waves her hands frantically in the air. “I—I could never!” she exclaims, a nervous giggle attached to the end and this, too, rings terribly clear through you. “Kurosaki—Kurosaki-kun and I aren’t all that close, and… Well, I couldn’t possibly impose that way, and—”
Oh, you think. She is too good for him.
It is the first time you wonder if he is handsome.
There is no explanation for the color of his hair, you have caught the way his arms or legs glow in the sun and sometimes you think that it’s funny, other times unsettling. He is thin, with muscles jumping under his skin suddenly when he moves too quick or opens a jar for you. He is not as tall as your father, but still towers over you, has still surprised you with that growth spurt a couple summers ago. His eyes look like chocolate, your sister mentions while you wonder about it, and his jawline is sharpening.
But he eats your weight in food, he sometimes wanders back downstairs in the middle of the night and you hear him snapping at your father when he gets caught rifling through the fridge. He sleeps in late during the weekends, drags himself from his bed only when Yuzu begins to whine and call him lazy, and he sits at the table with a plate of soggy cereal, scowls grumpily at her scolding. He lets you try to comb the cow-licked hair on his head with your fingers and doesn’t even blink when Yuzu pulls the longer strands into a weird little pigtail, eats around the giggling and only spares a smile when she says, “You look lovely.”
He wears sweats on the weekends, and every now and then you can hear him practicing guitar in his room. When you peek in, he’s reading some complicated book lying at a strange angle on his bed, or he’s at his desk studying for some test next week.
Sunday, you pass by the open bathroom and find him at the mirror. He has just gotten out of the shower, with mind enough to change into a pair of pants in case either one of you decides to watch him. He is shaving, and you are always caught off guard by the realization that he is now closer to man than boy. It is jolting, disconcerting, and you watch, almost dumbfounded, as he painstakingly works around all these angles that are appearing more and more every day.
Yuzu is right. His jawline is defining and he is maneuvering it carefully, pressing the long fingers of his other hand to the skin and tilting his head a particular angle. His eyes follow the razor and not the naked skin it leaves behind. His Adam’s apple doesn’t bob when he moves over it, but you swallow nervously and touch your hand to your throat reflexively.
He glances, catches your eyes in the mirror and smiles. “Weird, huh?”
A chuckle escapes you, shaky. “I could never do that.”
“You don’t have to,” he says, rinsing off the razor and then starting on the other side. Tilts his head a different angle and copies the same motion. “At least, if you don’t want to.”
“You don’t either,” you mumble, and he smiles again.
“It’s a pain,” he replies, feeling about his skin for any missed spots. “It gets all thick and itchy, and I don’t look good with facial hair.”
“You care how you look?” you ask, and immediately think it stupid to. Of course he does, the girl he’s pining after deserves the best. He’d want a fighting chance, at least.
His smile turns sheepish. “Can you blame me?”
“No,” and there is a double-meaning there he doesn’t notice.
He leans down to wash his face, wipe his face dry and put away the shaving cream and razor. He flicks off the light and shuts the door behind him. “It’s tougher on girls,” he admits, scratching the back of his head, as if unsure of treading this topic. “But, I want you to know you don’t gotta do a thing unless you want to.”
You blink and then point to your leg. “If I never shave?”
“Wear shorts every day so they know.”
“I don’t wear perfume, either.”
“No, that’s non-negotiable.”
Your laugh blends with his and you think you’d never trade him for the world. His hand falls onto your head and musses your hair up gently.
The same part of you that thinks nobody deserves him thinks you cannot imagine him alone forever.
The same part of you that thinks he does not deserve her thinks he cannot have made a better choice.
Your heart swells the same way and you want to surround yourself with the both of them forever, want to feel that level of warmth on all sides at all times.
“They spend a lot of time together,” Tatsuki mentions offhandedly one day.
You ran into her on the way to the convenience store and she offered to buy you a popsicle for the hot weather, you are both sitting on the curb trying to finish them before they melt in your hands. She is wearing shorts, mismatched socks with a pair of scuffed sneakers and a sleeveless hoodie. Her hair is snipped short and wild and there’s a band-aid on her left knee, when you look too close you can see the tiny pricks of dark hair scattered lightly across her legs and she catches your gaze before you can look away quick enough.
She hums and runs a calloused hand across her shin lightly. “I only shave once a week, at best,” she explains flippantly. “I get lazy, you know?”
You don’t know. Nobody yet expects you to so you don’t, but Yuzu has begun to mumble her worries as you both get ready for bed and you can’t help but share in it sometimes. You cup your hand around your ankle and the hair is still thin, but undeniably there.
But you say yes, you nod understandingly and she doesn’t eye your own legs judgmentally.
You remember you want to be just like her when you grow up.
You remember why.
“I meant your brother and Orihime, by the way,” she circles back to the original topic. “They hang out a lot at school—outside of school, too, I think.”
Something flutters inside of you. Perhaps the secondhand hope you’ll see her, too. Perhaps the shadow of a crush, budding up inside of you before you can stifle it. You’re beginning to think you become infatuated too easy, at the first sign of awe. It rears up whenever Tatsuki grins a certain way, whenever you recall Orihime’s hair and eyes and voice, whenever a real pretty girl meets your eyes across your classroom.
You try not to wonder at the pattern there—perhaps you have the same taste as your brother, or your friend. Or boys.
“Does she like him?” you ask before you can dwell on that. You need the validation.
“She adores him,” Tatsuki mutters, but there’s affection attached to that. She brings her elbow on her knee and leans her chin on her hand, dangles the popsicle stick by her other fingers and sighs. “He’s all she talks about sometimes, head over heels.”
You read the joke on the stick for a second, and Tatsuki clicks her tongue.
“Right,” she says, moving her eyes to her own. “Forgot these had those.”
You feel young suddenly.
Right. She’s in high school.
“He likes her, too, I think,” you say, and then look down. “Well. I know.”
“Oh, yes,” Tatsuki replies around a tight smile. “That old song and dance. They’re both crazy about each other, really, and neither one f—even knows it.”
“Do boys talk about girls like this?” you ask, and she moves her eyes to the sky thoughtfully.
“Who knows,” she says distractedly. Or, disinterestedly. “But I know for sure Ichigo talks about her with Chad.”
You have met Sado before, and regret the initial alarm you’d shown the first time. He treats you, now, like you’re some breakable doll. Or a kitten. He smiles quietly down at you and Yuzu and does not approach until you do. Cautious, all the time.
“Oh,” you breathe, take the stick at both ends and snap it in the middle. “What do we do?”
“I’ve thought about it,” she says. “A lot. But they’ve been spending more and more time together and I didn’t cause that. So, I guess, it’ll come naturally.”
“He’s slow, though,” you mutter, and she laughs in agreement.
“I think,” she tells you, leaning back on her hands. “I think that’s what they need.”
“Since when do you play soccer?” you almost demand one night. He has come home late again, but more and more lately it is for completely different reasons. In fact, nothing about him seems the same anymore, but you don’t want to think about this too deeply.
There is a ghost in the air here, too, and just like Yuzu he blinks wide and blind when you glance over his shoulder briefly. You have taken to being more subtle about this, but sometimes he sees and sometimes it makes this sad look cross his face and it makes you heart twist tight and pained.
You are grateful Yuzu cannot feel your hurt the way you can hers.
“I don’t,” he says, slips past you to the fridge. He peers in hopefully and starts fishing out random items to make who knew what at this point. His appetite has become the way it was a couple years ago, insatiable and boundless. You hear the floorboards creaking outside in the hall again late at night, but for a completely different reason. “Just helping out.”
Part of you is envious, the way you used to be of Yuzu’s blindness. He has grown taller, and the muscles underneath his lean frame are more defined than you can make yours. He is so talented, even without the gifts he used to have, he is coveted by every sports club in his school they nearly beg on their knees for him. You wonder at that; you are successful in soccer but not to the point that he is, effortlessly. Even the uniform, which doesn’t even belong to him, the name on the back not even his, looks so fitting on him you feel a small twinge of jealousy you quell when he turns to look at you.
He dumps the food on the table and kicks the fridge shut lightly. “They pay me.”
“You have a job already,” you point out.
“A few more dollars won’t hurt,” he shrugs, and moves for the loaf of bread on the counter. You glance briefly at the table and none of the food there looks like it belongs in a sandwich.
“Boys,” you mutter, and he gives you an innocent look. “What is that?”
“We’re gonna find out.”
Yuzu finds you both eating his creation when she returns from the store and scrunches up her nose prettily. “What is that?” she asks, and you try to answer around your bite.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” he says with his mouth full.
“You have the same laugh,” she sighs when you both crack up, and then moves to pile the bags on the counter.
“Say,” you begin when Yuzu is out of earshot, washing the food down with the juice he’d poured himself. “Does…Inoue Orihime have a job, too?”
“Inoue?” he asks, poking the edge of a ruffled potato chip back into the safety of the sandwich. “Yeah, a little bakery in town. Went there once, it’s nice.”
The following question is stuck in your throat, you hum around another bite and nod very slowly. You watch him pick a fallen bit of bacon from his lap and pop it into his mouth and hide a smile. You settle for something much vaguer: “Is she nice?”
“Oh, yeah,” he says, setting down his sandwich to reach for a napkin. “She’s real sweet.”
“Like how?” you prod, leaning forward.
“Mm,” he contemplates, taking the cup you’ve slid over to your side and sipping. “I don’t know. She’s friendly and open-minded. Funny, kinda random and all over the place.”
You take another bite, waiting.
“And. Well. She’s sweet, you know? The sweetest thing. Always supportive and real caring. Compassionate, like she doesn’t care what you…what you do to her, she’s so empathetic, and. It’s like she feels other people’s pain, it’s strange and. I don’t know, I—she’s great.”
“She’s pretty,” you say lightly.
“Beautiful,” he agrees too quickly, and then clears his throat. “Or, you know. Everyone says so.”
“Does she have a boyfriend?”
“If she does, she hasn’t mentioned it.” He inspects his last bite with far more interest than it deserves.
“I’d be surprised if she didn’t,” you continue. “Looks to me they’d be throwing themselves at her feet.”
“They do,” he mutters, somewhat petulant. “Why are you asking me all this? You’ve met her already.”
“I wanted your opinion,” you say easily. “You have a better judge of character than me.”
“Well,” he says, wiping his hands. “She’s…the kinda person I wish I was.”
This catches you off guard.
“Oh, you know,” he sighs when he sees your expression. “She’s forgiving, and accepting and so caring. Just, a good person. Such a good person, like a ball of sunshine. Or, I guess like she has a heart of gold or something. She doesn’t hold grudges, and she loves people too much and, like. I know it hurts her but she looks so happy I kinda envy her, a little. I kinda. I don’t know. I wanna be like that. I wanna be that good a person.”
You breathe softly, chest filling.
His face is red, he is scowling at the table, but there is something in his eyes that makes you wonder. “I’ve known her awhile—or long enough, you know? But she always surprises me. She always has something new to teach me and I don’t get tired of her and I wanna know more. She’s interesting and funny and special and I like her, a lot. Too much—as a friend, I mean. Just a friend, I don’t. Yeah.”
You contemplate the sandwich, and then offer it up to him.
He eats it for you wordlessly.
“I like her, too,” you say, let him wallow in your words like the coward he sometimes still is. “Bring her over some time. She’ll fit right in.”
“I’m afraid of that,” he mutters.
You catch her on the way out one evening, as the sun is dipping real low in the horizon. She smiles blindingly and stops to greet you, voice tinkling like bells. Your brother is leaning, arms folded, against the doorway. He is not quick enough to hide the expression on his face when you glance at him slyly; there is something so tender and so gentle about his eyes, the fond little smile on his lips and the small tilt of his head, the secretive look he makes at her when he’s so sure she isn’t looking, and you catch it before he can smother it effectively.
“Crazy about each other,” Tatsuki had told you. “They look at each other like—hell, I don’t know. Like they’re the question and the answer, I guess. Like they put the stars in the sky, like they’re the most precious thing in the world—and the biggest idiots because they don’t notice.”
You almost groan, it’s so stupidly obvious now that you’re seeing it.
“You’re even prettier than last time!” she tells you, absolutely elated. “And Kurosaki-kun says your team is undefeated! That’s amazing!”
She is more excited for you than you are. It melts you, like butter, and you realize just what he means.
It’s like having the sun on both sides.
“I’ll save you something better tomorrow,” she says, reaching into her bag and holding out a paper baggie out to you. It is white and trimmed in yellow, folded at the top and with a logo you might have seen in town one time or another. “This is all I have, I’m afraid. I hope it’s okay.”
“Oh,” you breathe, and gingerly take the packet from her hands. It crinkles and gives and you unfold it to pull out the sweet from inside. It is sort of like a lollipop, a long white stick with a ball at the end. It is chocolate, a hard shell circled with an equally hard swirl of pink frosting and dotted lightly with pearly sprinkles. You hesitate, find her wide honey eyes watching you encouragingly, and carefully take a bite. It is sweet, almost creamy in taste, and you find the inside to be filled with soft white bread. “It’s good.”
“Cake pop!” she smiles, fingers spreading wide. “They just started making them! It’s really popular right now.”
“And you gave me all the left overs,” your brother mutters from the door.
She gives him a look and you feel a little out of place, as if you’re intruding on a moment. But in the next second she turns a brilliant smile to you and very gently touches her fingers to your hair again, longer this time and softer now that Yuzu has taken to caring for it, too. You feel your cheeks heat up by the time she pulls her hand away slowly.
“I’m proud of you,” she shares, leans in close enough only you can hear. A conspirator’s distance. “Kurosaki-kun talks about you like you’re the whole world—you and your sister, both.”
You are glad she tells you this, it’s as if she knows it’s what you need to hear. Your brother is so good at keeping his thoughts pinned close to him it’s sometimes hard to remember he doesn’t tell you nearly as much as you think he is. He has become so good at making you think you know more than you do and sometimes it puts you off in ways only Yuzu knows—listening from the other bed or maybe curled up with you in yours when it becomes too heavy for you to stand.
Orihime’s voice presses kindly to your ears and settles your nerves, soothes you back down and warms your chest.
When she steps back again, you are already a mess of emotions, strung up and yet so fulfilled you wonder where to start.
There is a gleam in her eyes. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” she tells you, turns to your brother and smiles, so sweet.
You look quickly, just to make sure he saw it, too.
You haven’t seen him smile like that in a long time.
You forgot he could make that face.
You come home and nearly backtrack when you see her following your brother upstairs. Peer around the corner to watch them disappear into his room.
Yuzu is in the kitchen making dinner and she meets your gaze, brows raised and an equally surprised look in her eyes. “She’s beautiful,” she hisses when you cross over to her.
“Do you think he deserves her?” you ask, honestly curious.
She contemplates that, pausing in chopping up some carrots. “I think he deserves to be happy. And if she can give him that, then they deserve each other.”
That night before bed, he leans down to let Yuzu peck him lightly on the cheek and before you can duck away he rubs his knuckles into your head and grins. Your father comments on his good mood and the smile turns almost sheepish before he disappears upstairs into his room. Dinner had been loud and eventful and he had walked Orihime home; when he’d returned, there had been a glow behind his skin and a shine in his eyes and he looked different.
It is dark, there are no ghosts tonight and Yuzu turns over in her bed to say, “The house is whole again.”
Tonight, he is snoring—lullaby soft, it eases you into a dreamless sleep. You have learned to coincide the nights he sleeps this deep as his best, spent and exhausted and happy. You don’t try to wonder why.
You, too, feel like you’ve been exposed to too much sunshine.