Well, it took me a while to write this, but here it is: the Ishida/Inoue fic that I wanted to get out. I like it. But then hey, I wrote it, too ;-p
Review if you like. No flames, please.
She giggled as her eyes alighted upon the picture, the same sentiment she always felt when she looked at it. Picking it up, feeling the heavy weight of the metal frame in her hand, Orihime sagged down onto a cushion and smiled.
That had been a month or two after Rukia had been rescued and they'd escaped from Soul Society back to Earth, when Ichigo had decided that they were safe and all deserved a break – they'd gone to an amusement park. Ishida had been dragged along (unwillingly, of course) by her, and therefore was not smiling in the group picture. But he wasn't frowning, either. His face was slightly turned away from the camera, a look of slight embarrassment and mild exasperation in his expression.
Orihime traced the glass lightly with the tips of her fingers, her smile never fading.
However, she couldn't dream all day; Orihime was supposed to meet her friends in a half- hour by the nearby park. Putting the picture back down slightly reluctantly, she started getting ready, methodically putting on a skirt and loose collared shirt, checking for keys and wallet and other necessities. However, every so often her eyes would be draw back to the picture.
Especially to him.
Ishida had changed, she knew, ever since their time in Soul Society together. His present relationship with Ichigo bordered on civility, maybe even friendship – though of course neither would ever admit a reconciled enemy – and they no longer fought against, but with.
That was the most obvious change. But not everyone looked at Ishida-kun like she did.
She noticed, now, when he was out hunting Hollows, how his hand would hesitate; how he would purposefully dodge and allow Kurosaki-kun the death blow, how he would silently observe all their battles with the understanding of one who has handed punishment and suddenly objects his position. He would take it all in behind his stoic exterior.
Because that was Ishida-kun, and he would never change. And she rather liked this about him too.
Orihime arrived at the park early and so sat on a park bench to wait out the time. Small pigeons approached her, calmed by her silence; she absentmindedly fed them with the remnants of her sandwich snack. If she wasn't mistaken, Rukia had convinced Ishida to come along this time, too…
The pigeons suddenly took flight in an explosion of white and gray.
The start of fright from the pigeons nearly caused her to keel over at the voice. "I – Ishida-kun!" she said, startled, as she turned around to face him, standing directly behind the bench in white pants and a white collared shirt – prim, almost overdressed, but never overbearing. Deciding not to question him about his stealth, Orihime continued, "I didn't even hear you approach! Why are you here so early? Want to sit down? Is anybody else with you?" Oh dear lord, she had started her pointless questions again.
"No…no, I can't stay long."
He said it, and they were regretful words, but his face held only the tiniest hint of it. Now that she looked closer, Orihime actually noticed that he appeared more at ease than she had ever seen him. His eyes were soft, no longer needing a mask of indifference (or any other emotion he used for cover), and he turned his face to the wind, to embrace it, as if he'd never felt it before.
"I – Ishida-kun?" She was lost for a second, but then indignation took over and spouted a quick reply. "But…I thought you were coming with us today! Aren't you going to come? It'll be more fun if you come too! I promise I won't let Kurosaki-kun hassle you all day, I mean, he'll probably be too busy with Kuchiki-san anyway, but…"
"I'm sorry I won't be able to come, Inoue-san," he said, and she was struck by how sorry he indeed looked, "but I just wanted to come to see you."
I just wanted to come to see you. The words echoed the steady thump of her heart, gaining acceleration by the second. Orihime, for all her excellent grades, had never been good at verbal prose, especially when it dealt with someone she loved very much.
And Ishida was smiling. Ever so slight, but still!
"Oh…well…thank you, I guess," she said, eyes on her feet. "I…eh…I wanted to see you too, Ishida-kun…"
There was silence for a second, and the wind blew her hair forward in a way that made her tuck it behind her ear self-consciously. She was acutely aware of Ishida's eyes on her, and it was making her mouth burn dry. "So…Ishida-kun…if you're not going to come today, then where are you going?"
"Somewhere," he replied vaguely. "And you can't come."
"I didn't ask to. If it's your business I won't pry," she said, feeling slightly stung.
Another pregnant silence befell the two, and Orihime just could not look him in the eye. She fiddled with her fingers before realizing they were being taken in someone else's.
Ishida-kun had moved close…so very, very close. So close she could practically feel the aura and sheer presence of him alone, and he disentangled her hand and brought one up to place a chaste kiss on the back.
Her face went red.
"I – Ishida-kun!"
"I didn't want to leave with only Kurosaki having done that," he said, seeming to take no notice of her sudden fluster. His hand dropped hers; his eyes were looking straight at her so Orihime felt compelled to meet his gaze. It always made her dizzy.
"…where…where are Kurosaki-kun...and Kuchiki-san…and Sado-kun right now?"
Ishida did nothing.
"…they're kind of late," Orihime said, glancing at her watch, "maybe they got lost, or maybe they forgot! You know, I should go home and call them, maybe they all can't make it like you, or do you think I should just look for–"
She had already started away before Ishida grabbed her arm, his cool skin gently easing the warmth of hers. "No. Don't go. They were…facing a Hollow."
"A Hollow? Then we should go help!"
"No." His grip tightened. "It's all right, they'll be fine. You forget, Kurosaki can do bankai, and Kuchiki has her power back. That's more than enough for any Hollow who enters this realm. It's only the rest of us that have to watch out."
His words made sense, and she stopped trying to run away. Ishida's grip loosened as his hand returned to its place by his side.
She turned to him.
"I…originally came to tell you something," Ishida said with what looked like a rueful smile (Orihime couldn't tell; she was still getting used to him smiling at all!). Then it faded as quick as it had come. "But now that I'm here, and you're here, I don't think it's a good idea after all."
"What? No! Tell me! It's okay, you can tell me anything! If it's a secret, I promise you that I'll keep it, and never tell anyone else."
He looked into her gently concerned face. "I know that. But…no. I won't tell you."
And she was surprised when he looked away. "Because…in life, there are some things that you just can't change, and knowledge of what should not be known is enough to alter any person's fate, based on their own personal options or choices. I don't want you to always…think of me. And I don't want to impede your future decisions by you knowing something that might hold you back."
Something about his face told her that what he'd had to say was very, very important. Enough so that he didn't want to hurt her with the contents of it.
"Ishida-kun, if it's that important, then you don't have to tell me. I'm sorry for prying."
"No." He looked off in the distance, at some point past her head. "Inoue-san, you know, you're one of the closest things to a friend I've ever had."
She was flustered by his words. "Oh…I am?"
"Yes. And for that I wanted to say thank you."
"Oh…but it's not just me, it's Kurosaki-kun too, and Kuchiki-san and Sado-kun, and Yoruichi-san too, and…all of them…"
His eyes were looking past her again. "I should go…I'm already on extended time."
"What?" The sudden comment took her off guard. "Already?"
"Yes. Goodbye, Inoue-san." Ishida paused for a moment, just studying her face. And then he gave her that small smile of his, the corners of his lips lifting ever so slightly, before he nodded slightly in her direction and turned to walk away.
"Okay, Ishida-kun, I'll tell the rest you can't make it! I'll see you soon!" She waved goodbye at him, and paused when he paused in walking.
His head turned to her, and his eyes were gentle once more. "…we'll meet again."
She could only stare off at him in confusion for a good minute, watching him walk off in the distance until his form was no longer visible.
The only thing that jarred her out of her trance was the sudden shouting of her name from her back – a shouting that sounded both desperate and frantic. She turned, and was met with the sight of a panting shinigami Kurosaki Ichigo and an equally winded Kuchiki Rukia.
However, they tugged at her arms; both started speaking at the same time, voices trying to rise over the others, so that she only heard snatches of the next conversation but enough to suddenly come to an unexpected, terrible realization.
"–was fighting a Hollow – come on, Inoue, we have to get back, Ishida's hurt really bad–"
"–blood everywhere, and if it hadn't been for Ichigo, we–"
"–Hollow reboundedhis arrow, and it got him in the chest–"
"–we think he might hold on; he's got Quincy blood and that might resist the wound, but we're not sure and we need your healing powers so let's go!" Rukia tugged sharply on her arm, but suddenly Orihime couldn't move.
"…Ishida-kun?" she said faintly, "Fighting a Hollow? No, no…that can't be right, he was here with me…just a minute ago, he was here…he couldn't have been…"
Ichigo and Rukia both were giving her these eye-popping looks, but neither stopped trying to pull her forward. "Come on, Inoue, what's the matter with you? Do you care if Ishida fucking dies or not? COME ON! We have to help him!"
She shook her head no. "Ishida-kun…he was here with me! Just a minute ago."
"You keep saying that! It isn't possible! I tell you, Ishida was fighting a Hollow with us! He was almost dead when we left!"
"He was…" her breath caught, "…what?"
"I said he was almost dead! Come on! Come ON, Inoue!"
Orihime was just staring at him, as if she could see right through his black robes, not moving an inch. Rukia had given up and just stood watching her.
"No…no, I can't stay long."
Hadn't she wondered why?
"I should go."
Hadn't she dimly wondered the next time she'd see him again?
It wasn't supposed to be goodbye…! It was suppose to be "see you later" or "see you tomorrow," but not "goodbye"…
The bridge of her nose pinched. Orihime knew she was going to cry, felt then like crying and crying and crying until she knocked herself out, but gathered herself up bravely. "Take…take me to I – Ishida-kun."
Something about her, something about her actions, the way she composed herself, told Ichigo and Rukia that it was already lost.
Now, her brother's picture was not the only one on her small personal shrine; she had obtained a copy of her group picture and cut Ishida out, as crooked as it was, because it was the closest picture she had of him smiling. And she couldn't cut out the one in her mind.
Orihime set in the two small sticks of incense and lit them, watching the smoke curl and dissipate into the air, waiting quietly until they had burned sufficiently enough. She sat to pray, closing her eyes to visualize him as she had seen him that last fateful day.
"...but I just wanted to come to see you."
She opened her eyes.
"…because, in life, there are some things that you just can't change…"
She turned her eyes to the picture, wishing he'd been looking at the camera.
"…where do souls really go?" she asked quietly, speaking to him. "Souls go to Soul Society, but people can die there too…like Aizen-san…and Quincy arrows are supposed to destroy a soul completely and instantly. So what happened, Ishida-kun?" She gave the picture a watery smile. "Not that I minded, of course. You looked so happy."
Maybe souls are never really destroyed or eaten, after all, she thought. Maybe there is another stage beyond Soul Society, where just the souls go, to be free and happy and certain in their existence. Maybe there, no one suffers.
Shinigami send souls to Soul Society, but maybe, maybe Quincys just took the shortcut and sent theirs straight to the higher place instead.
Her head had drifted down; she lifted it again. "I know you're happy, Ishida-kun," she said, smiling some. "Because you're probably with Aizen-san…and probably Kurosaki-kun's mother…and a lot of other nice people too…"
What had he said that day?
"I…originally came to tell you something."
She smiled a bit more and nodded, reaching up to take his picture down, tracing the glass as she had done on that day.
"And I don't want to impede your future decisions by you knowing something that might hold you back."
A single tear fell on the glass, but that was all she would allow.
"Ishida-kun…I love you too."
He had died and he had come to her, but it was a comforting thought to think that his last words had been to her and to her only. And now he was in a better place.
She'd never forget the words he'd told her, directly and indirectly, on that day when she had first seen him truly smile. Orihime hugged the picture to her chest and laughed a little. He was still with her, no matter what he said, and she knew it – in everything she did and would do, in all the people she would meet and love, in every decision of her life…the life that she would live, with no regrets, and with nothing holding her back.
"…we'll meet again."
She nodded, smiling. "We'll meet again, Ishida-kun…I know it."