Ichigo stares out the window. He’s been doing that a lot lately. Orihime, Sado, Ishida and even Tatsuki have been doing their best to distract him, but his friends from Soul Society have been radio silent.
He can’t see spirits anymore.
Once, he would have loved this. Once he would have been relieved not to see spirits. Before Rukia. Before that idiot Renji, that weirdo Shinji, the nutcase Kenpachi…
Hell, he misses Yachiru, and that’s telling.
He’s gonna admit though, he’s not super upset that he can’t see Byakuya.
There’s no hollow side shouting at him constantly, no Zangetsu judging him. (Zangetsu’s a super judger. 24/7.) And he thought maybe it would be a relief, but he feels a bit empty. He’s crazy for being discontent with peace, but he doesn’t know what to do with himself. Sometimes it feels like he doesn’t know who he is anymore.
He sighs again.
It’s then that he sees a flicker of movement. War-honed reflexes have him whipping around to stare in the direction of the movement. And he sees it.
It’s big. It’s furry. And it’s sitting on a tree, outside his window.
His first thought is that he needs to fight. But then everything catches up to him, and he realises he has no sword. He can’t fight.
Then how can he see the hollow?
His brain analyses the question quickly. Is it a hollow? It’s making no violent moves, and of course, he can’t feel its reiatsu. So if he can’t sense reiatsu, he can’t see hollows. But he can see this… so what is it?
Yuzu, he thinks, would love it. It’s ginormous, rather squishy looking and covered in gray fur. Its belly is lighter coloured, long whiskers and a rather wet looking black nose, like a dog. But it’s the eyes that are downright weird.
It is staring at him with wide eyes, as if stunned. Like, this is the kind of blank-horrified face you get when you walk in on your parents having sex (according to Keigo anyway).
Then, as he watches, it’s mouth opens. It smiles. It looks kind of cute, he supposes.
Then its mouth continues to widen. It grins and that mouth stretches open, and open, and open…
That’s… kind of terrifying…
It stares back, gigantic, almost manic grin on its face.
He blinks his eyes, and when he opens them again, it’s gone. He looks slowly, carefully around, out the window, but all he sees is his new neighbour, the western girl, walking down the street. She looks up at his window (he curses… he probably looks like a creep, staring out of the window at her) and then gives him a wave, before continuing on down the road.
He doesn’t ask himself what she’s doing out this late. He simply avoids thinking anything that will make him realise he’s probably losing it, and goes to sleep.
He runs into her at the bus stop.
“Hello!” She says to him brightly.
“Hello,” he returns, blinking rather owlishly at her.
“You’re Strawberry, right?” She asks him. Ichigo is taken aback.
“Err, Ichigo, yes…” Ichigo corrects awkwardly.
“Yes, Strawberry,” she smiles, and it looks a little vacant. Ichigo rubs the back of his neck awkwardly. Why him? Why do the strange ones always happen to him?
“It’s a particularly lovely day,” she says, and he’s struck by the obscure Japanese she’s using.
“Your Japanese is very good,” he comments.
“Ah, not really. It’s quite terrible, you know?” she says in natural, flawless Japanese.
Ichigo stares at her.
“Can’t speak Japanese at all. But, I’d best be off. Goodbye Strawberry!” She says, again in flawless Japanese.
Ichigo does not quite manage to get his words working in time to reply, before she wanders off, muttering about nangles or something.
When he sees the creature out of his window that night, he resigns himself to the fact that he’s lost it. He’s going insane.
When it starts to grin (How does it even open its mouth so wide? And how can it manage to look both adorable and demented at once?!) he just calls his sanity a lost cause and waves.
It waves back.
Ichigo is sure his eyes mirror the stunned look he originally saw in its eyes. Once more, when he blinks, it disappears, and this time sleep is a long time coming.
His crazy neighbour is next to him again.
“Are you waiting for the bus then?” She asks him politely, airily.
He refrains from pointing out the obvious, since they’re sitting at a bus stop, and also refrains from asking if her hair is naturally that blonde colour. She doesn’t seem to require any reply.
“The cat bus is of course, far superior, but … needs must…” she says. He actually has no idea what on earth she’s talking about. At times her Japanese is so good (‘far superior’? No mere tourist is likely to know those words…) but then her mention of “cat bus” makes him think maybe she wasn’t lying when she said she wasn’t good at Japanese…
Ichigo realises this is starting to hurt his head and promptly stops thinking.
“Uh,” he grunts, and hopes it’s sufficient interaction. It seems to be. The bus comes, and he just wants to be home already, but today is not his day. As the bus lurches forward, his neighbour, Runa… no, Luna, sits next to him chattering excitedly about… tea kettles? and toads?
Ichigo is not liking his chances of sanity, and this is coming from him. Shinigami, yes, hollows, yes, a cat-owl-tanuki hybrid outside his window? A neighbour discussing the finer points of… firefly-powered trains and pixies? Ichigo silently resolves that as nice as she is, he’ll avoid her. He’s already got enough excitement in his life. Or… he did.
His heart sinks at the reminder.
And his day, this awful day, is going to get worse.
Because Orihime is getting on at the next stop. She waves at him excitedly and he manages a rather weak wave back in response. Ichigo thinks this exact moment may be inscribed on his future tombstone. He thinks if he could hear the hollow, it’d be cackling maniacally at him right now.
“Oh hello, are you a friend of Ichigo’s?” His neighbour, Run-Luna asks. Damn English letters.
“Yes! I’m Orihime…” begins the conversation and Ichigo can barely keep up, them chatting a mile a minute. He tunes in pretty quickly at hearing his name though.
“Great! We’ll come over to Ichigo’s house and cook together!”
He didn’t hear that. There’s no way he heard that, when he knows these two both have their own freaking houses.
He’s going to sort this out- he’s gonna set them straight…
Ichigo smells something coming out of his kitchen and wants to cry a little.
“You want to add frogs legs?” He hears Orihime ask loudly. Ichigo vomits in his mouth a little.
“They’d taste quite lovely. They’re good for seeing the future,” Luna says, as if this is all quite normal.
“Ah… I’m sorry, we don’t have any here. But we have some mochi?” Orihime suggests. Then he hears it.
“Are you here for the cat bus too?” Luna asks.
“The cat bus?” Orihime asks in confusion.
“Oh yes. Ichigo will be catching it soon. He can see him already,” Luna says. Ichigo is sitting in his living room silently mouthing “Cat bus?!”
“See who?” Orihime asks.
“…” Luna says some kind of word but it’s muffled. Ichigo assumes he can’t hear it properly from the kitchen, which is a little odd.
“Um, I didn’t catch that…” Orihime tries.
“Ah the translation charm can’t translate it,” Luna says, as if that helps. “Translation charm?!” Ichigo mouths.
“No mind, he’s here. Look outside the window- in the living room…” Luna says calmly.
Ichigo freezes and turns his head to the window. It’s there. The …owl-racoon-dog-cat thing- whatever it is, is sitting on the tree branch outside his window, looking vaguely stunned, as if it is the one surprised by him being in his own damn house.
He hears footsteps and sees Orihime run in to stand beside him, gazing eagerly out of the window. The moment she recoils in surprise, he knows she sees it.
“Kurosaki-kun…” she says, voice wavering a little. She has her hand lifted to the Shun Shun Rika.
“I can see it. It’s not a hollow,” Ichigo says, feeling the familiar helpless anger that he is so useless she needs to protect him now.
“Ichigo is quite right,” Luna says happily. “… is not a hollow,” She says, and that mumbled sound comes out. She looks annoyed. “Damn translation charm…”
“Why is it here?” Ichigo feels the need to ask a logical question, as opposed to Orihime quietly squealing “soft soft soft it looks soft…” beside him. The … thing…. Whatever it is… begins that slow grin.
“WAAAAAAAAA!” Orhime claps in excitement as its mouth grows wider and wider. Then it claps it’s hands in response. She jumps up and down. It grins wider still and jumps up and down.
The house shakes.
“Oops!” Orihime grins sheepishly.
“It’s here to call the cat bus for you!” Luna grins.
“And why,” Ichigo pauses, “Do I need the …cat bus?”
“To get your powers back, of course,” Luna chirps. He and Orihime freeze and turn to her.
“I can get my powers back?!”
“He can get his powers back?!” They ask in unison.
Luna turns to … the thing on the tree and … well there’s no other way to put this, she sort of makes a growling noise. This strange noise that reminds Ichigo of Chewbacca from Star Wars.
The creature grins wider and opens it’s mouth, absolutely bellowing into the night, like some kind of war call.
“Are you sure it’s not a hollow?” Orihime asks quietly, shaken.
Ichigo is not. But it’s kind of a moot point, because then they hear an answering roar.
“Is that…” Orihime seems lost for words. Ichigo understands… mainly because he thought Luna’s comments are a translation error.
But he is quite sure there is a CAT BUS coming towards them.
It begins with glowing lights at the end of his street, then a giant cat racing around the buildings, feet thundering across the pavement and causing trees to shiver as it blows past them.
It has 12 legs, he thinks numbly.
It bounds towards them with a demented grin and … (he sighs. Only Orihime could be clapping. Luna, the crazy woman, looks totally unflappable.) It bounds to a stop under the tree with the owl-dog-cat-racoon thing, which stares up at them and beckons them down. Luna immediately turns to walk downstairs.
Ichigo meanwhile is staring at the cat bus. It has rats for headlights. RATS.
“Come on Kurosaki-kun!” Orihime giggles (and maybe he’s not the only one missing an adventure but still…)
Then he sees the sign on the front of the bus change to with an airy ‘woosh’. The rats turn to stare curiously at the new location. He’s not sure what the destination was before, but now it reads “Zangetsu” and he’s sold. He rushes downstairs, feet clattering awkwardly, as he hurries after Orihime. Luna is already talking to … the thing… from the ground.
“Thank you, it really is much more convenient this way… yes, I know… well the blibbering humdingers told me… yes, it’s best to watch out for Nargle infestations…”
When she sees them coming, she pauses in her conversation and she, the …thing… and the cat bus all grin eerily. Ichigo wants to have second thoughts but… what’s that English saying? In for a penny, in for a pound.
One of the windows on the side of the cat bus lengthens, turning into a door and with a gentle smile, Luna thanks the… dog-owl-racoon-thing and clambers on. Orihime and Ichigo follow after her, somewhat tentatively. (Orihime pauses a second, runs back and throws her arms around the thing, which gives a deep, happy groan.)
Ichigo’s not going to lie… he wonders if he’s somehow imbibed drugs without realising it because he’s currently sitting on a warm, furry, breathing bench on a cat bus. He will never, ever be able to tell Ishida this story, he realises.
“The best view is up the front!” Luna explains, and he follows Orihime. He carefully keeps his balance as the cat bus starts to lurch ahead, but then moves more confidently to the front windows, staring out into the night. They’re going so fast the shops and houses are blurring past them and then they’re out further, less buildings around. He feels the breeze in his face and remembers the sensation of Shunpo, relaxing, feeling more at home. The night air is soft and warm, the cat bus an unusual sensation under him and then… holy hell, they’re running up a power line. Orihime is squealing and Luna appears to be… eating a carrot?
Ichigo gives up and turns back to the front of the bus, in time to see them leap to the ground. The bus seems to defy gravity though, because everyone keeps their seats easily.
Then, the cat bus stops.
The door widens.
Ichigo tentatively steps off…
“How did you get your powers back then?” Ishida demands.
Ichigo looks at Orihime.
“Came back overnight,” he says.
Then he discretely waves at the racoon-owl-dog-thing in the tree.
The last he sees of it are its white teeth gleaming in the night.