Liner notes: I love Bleach; it's my second favorite series behind Evangelion. The characters, the story, the emotions are all beautiful. I feel like I shouldn't be doing this since the series looks far from over and that I already have a backlog of projects. However, I'm not going to make this project long, maybe five chapters at the maximum.
There's a pairing I am particularly drawn to in the series: Ichigo and Orihime. I've been a fool for this pairing for awhile. To me, they seem tragic and Ichigo's anxious and grumpy nature conflicts with Orihime's bubbly, cheery personality. However, Orihime has a deep-rooted affection for him and even though the bloody fool is too thick to notice it, he still looks after Orihime. I know, it's just wishful thinking, but that's just me.
Anyway, here's my story and I should advise you that I'm going to be putting in a twist or two.
We should not shed tears.
for that will serve as a defeat of our bodies to our hearts
It is nothing more than proof
for it to be said that our hearts are things
beyond our ability to control
-Kubo Tite, Bleach Volume 7: Broken Coda
Track One: Welcome to Paradise
Side A: Breaking the Girl
Arisawa Tatsuki sighed as she got into the elevator in the dorm house. Karate practice had worn her out greatly and the tournament was coming up soon. High school had been one thing, but the skill of the opponents she took on now was brutal. She was forced to get faster, tougher, stronger, and smarter to overtake these new foes. It was hard, but that's why she loved it.
The elevator bell rang and Tatsuki stepped out as she sighed and ruffled her short, messy hair. The fluorescent lights lit the hallway in that soft, gentle glow with the expense of that annoying humming sound. Her sneakers made a slight squeaking noise as she tread down the marble floor.
Tatsuki swung her keys on the keychain she had in a bored manner as she came to her apartment. Sticking the key in, she turned it and turned the knob to get inside. To her surprise, the place was dark. Odd, usually Orihime had the place bursting with light by now and had the television on for background noise.
"Orihime?" Tatsuki wondered as she set her keys down on the counter and turned on the lights.
No response, the hell? Normally Orihime was noisy from either her clumsiness or just her personality. The silence was freaky, like a tomb. Tatsuki slid open the door into Orihime's room. Tatsuki clearly saw auburn hair peeking out from a sheet.
"You sick, Orihime?"
Strangely, the girl did not answer. That was odd for Orihime not to speak whenever Tatsuki asked something. Maybe she was sick. Tatsuki sat on the futon and shook her friend slightly. Again, the girl did not respond.
Tatsuki raised an eyebrow and brushed away Orihime's bangs, looking at her face. Not surprisingly, the buxom girl had a smile on her sweet face. However, trails of tears were also staining her cheeks. Tatsuki smiled, thinking Poor girl. The tomboy brushed away the stains on her friend's cheek.
But then, Tatsuki noticed how very cold Orihime's skin was. And further more, the auburn-haired girl was whiter than the sheet she lay under.
"Ori…Orihime?" Tatsuki turned Orihime over far too easily. Orihime was still lying serenely on the futon, that curious smile still etched on her lips. Tatsuki swallowed nervously and noticed that Orihime's chest was not rising and falling as it should be.
Tatsuki's thin fingers pressed against the junction of the jaw line and the neck, checking for a pulse. Sadly, she found none. The vein did not beat its cord or pulse, it merely stayed. Orihime's heart would never rise again.
At first, disbelief hit Tatsuki. No, there was no goddamned way this could be happening; this happening to bright, cheerful Orihime suddenly? No, no way, no fucking way. However, a different sensation hit Tatsuki's gut like a sledgehammer and she clasped her hand over her mouth as she made a mad dash for the toilet.
Tatsuki lifted the lid up and emptied the contents of her stomach into the toilet. However, she hadn't eaten since noon so all that came up was spit, bile, and acid. She vomited as badly as a drunk having too many drinks in one night. Mixed with the vile sounds were sobs for her dear, dear friend.
Tatsuki's throat clenched and nothing came up. Her mouth waited, but still nothing came. She lifted her head away from the toilet and sat against the wall, breathing hard and crying at the same time. Her sobs cracked her voice and she wept, by the gods she wept.
Please let this be a nightmare, please let it be a dream. Hell let it be some goddamned, fucking sick joke. But no, this was the worst. This was pure, raw, unforgiving reality.
Inoue Orihime…had died. It was as though her soul had fled her body of its own will. Nothing, not a mark, and an expression of neither pain nor sadness marked her countenance. Instead, there was that enigmatic smile. Why smile? Why smile when you were going to die?
Tatsuki breathed through her nostrils and swallowed, clenching her jaw and her eyes. Shakily, Tatsuki got to her feet. However, her legs were so weak that she was required to lean against the wall for support. Slowly, she walked to the living room where the phone was.
After what seemed like an age, Tatsuki came to her destination. She reluctantly picked up the receiver and looked at the numbers on it.
Tatsuki hesitated. She could see herself dialing the numbers, but her thumb didn't move. Dialing that number would truly make her admit what was real, that what lay not fifteen feet from her was real. The heavy feeling that had been sinking deep into Tatsuki's heart was sinking even deeper now.
She looked at the room where Orihime lie. Tatsuki's eyes turned glassy, but no tears fell. Tatsuki's tongue ran over her mouth in an attempt to moisten her lips but it was more of a nervous reaction. No, Orihime wouldn't want her to hesitate, not in the slightest. Slowly, Tatsuki pressed the buttons on the phone. It took her awhile, maybe about five minutes, but she still pressed them.
Tatsuki held the phone to her ear as waited as it rang on the other end.
"Emergency line, what's the emergency?" Tatsuki didn't answer as the woman spoke at the other end of the line. Tatsuki's eyes half-closed and she swallowed again. Saying things sure was easier than doing them.
"What's the emergency?"
"My…My roommate's not breathing."
"Are you sure? Have you administered CPR?"
"There's…She's…She's as cold as ice." Tatsuki clenched the phone, threatening to crush it "And…her heart's not beating."
"Oh…Oh, I'm…I'm so sorry, ma'am."
"Look, send somebody over."
"Alright, give me your address and I'll send someone right away."
Tatsuki managed to choke out her apartment number over the phone before she hung up. She sighed in a melancholy tone and headed towards Orihime's room once again. This time was harder than the first due to her knowledge of things she sure as hell didn't want to know about. The door was like a gateway into a different world and Tatsuki hoped that once she stepped through it she would go back to her own place.
It didn't happen. Orihime was still lying on the futon, white as a sheet and with that cryptic smile on her face still. Tatsuki sat next to the futon and looked at Orihime. The buxom woman was so beautiful, like a rare flower not seen by mortal eyes. Even now, she was beautiful, like a doll with milky skin. But that in of itself was painful.
Tatsuki slid her hand towards Orihime's and clasped it gently. Orihime was still as cold as ice, but the skin was becoming warmer. Silent tears fell from Tatsuki's eyes and stained the sheet.
"Or…Orihime…I'm sorry." she whispered "I…I…You…You didn't deserve this."
Tatsuki wept and she did not let go, even when the ambulance came to take Orihime.
The ride hadn't been long at all, maybe five minutes at the most. However, that was only in the perspective of the world. To Tatsuki, it seemed like an eternity. Noises became dull and the colors of the world became nothing but a void. It was just Orihime and her in that world devoid of sound and sight. But it wouldn't be for long. Orihime was right there in front of Tatsuki, her hand being held, but her "self", her essence was long gone.
The ambulance unfortunately came to the hospital and the paramedics opened the doors to let in the cool night air. The two of them in their jumpsuits slid the gurney out of the ambulance and started towards the doors. Tatsuki still refused to let go, like her hand was attached to Orihime's.
The gurney was wheeled into a morgue and set in the middle of the room. Tatsuki still held onto Orihime's hand firmly. The cold, sterile room contrasted with Orihime, the bleak metal and colorless walls being things that didn't suit the girl at all. Not like this, not like this.
Tatsuki found a chair at an abandoned desk and pulled it up. She still stared at Orihime as though she expected her to jump up at any second. Tatsuki just stared and stared and stared. Her gaze was unfocused, her eyes appearing hollow.
Tatsuki's attention was so focused on her friend that she didn't notice the doors to the morgue opened and a young man wearing glasses enter. His highly polished shoes clacked on the stone and his glasses reflected the dim lights slightly.
"Here." the man offered a can to Tatsuki, which startled her. Tatsuki looked up at the man and immediately noticed his dark hair, blue eyes, and his rather plain fashion of dress.
"Ishida, right?" Tatsuki opened the can and sipped it. Oolong tea, she recognized the taste immediately. However, a slight bit of curiosity now turned to Ishida's sudden appearance.
"Why are you…?"
"My father is the director here and I'm also looking for an apprenticeship."
"Oh. But did you see me?"
Ishida adjusted his glasses using his middle finger as always and his expression was still that stoic one he always had.
"Yes, I wasn't as surprised as you as I was about Inoue-san."
Further conversation between the two was interrupted as someone entered. Judging by the scrubs, he had to be a mortician.
"Damn I hate these late-night shifts, don't you?" he asked Ishida.
"I don't mind. I can work on no sleep for days."
"Say that when you get to my age."
The man had a clipboard in one of his hands with forms on it. Tatsuki didn't know exactly what they were, but she had a pretty good idea.
"Inoue Orihime, age twenty, graduated from Karakura First High School. Parents unknown and her brother died eight years ago."
The mortician began putting on a pair of rubber gloves, making Tatsuki glare hard enough to kill lesser people or someone too dumb to notice.
"Could you go home until tomorr-?"
Tatsuki clenched her free hand so tightly that she dug her fingernails into her palm and the bloodlust she gave off was so intense that it even scared the hell out of Ishida.
"GET OUT NOW!"
Without a second thought, the mortician was soon running for his life away from one Arisawa Tatsuki. Tatsuki grit her teeth and sat down again as a fresh wave of sobs and tears came from her heart once more. Ishida felt awkward being around a crying young woman, especially one like Tatsuki who was as tough as nails.
"It-it wasn't s'posed to be like this." Tatsuki clenched her eyes shut hard and crushed the can of tea she had. The contents spilled over and splattered onto the cold floor.
"Ori…Orihime wasn't supposed to go like that! She d-didn't deserve to leave all alone and in the dark." the can fell onto the floor "Sh-she was supposed to get married, have a mess of goofy, stubborn kids she'd spoil rotten, grow old and wrinkly and die with the one she loved." Tatsuki looked to Ishida, her tears pouring as freely as rain "N-n-not like this, not in some goddamned, steel room with some asshole wanting to cut her open like some slab of meat at the butchers. Not…not…oh God."
Incoherency claimed Tatsuki now and she lost herself to crying freely once again. Ishida was at a loss for words. This was not something he was used to, not in the slightest. However, doing something was better than just sitting down and watching.
"A-Arisawa-san, I'm sorry."
However, sometimes one has to be ready for quite the blowback. Tatsuki stood up and glared.
"Bullshit! Bull-fucking-shit you are! You didn't know her! You never talked to her like I did! Y-y-y…"
Tatsuki's knees failed her for the second time that night and she collapsed onto the cold floor. Ishida had a solemn expression on his face now and knelt next to Tatsuki who looked about ready to vomit again.
"Arisawa-san, how did Inoue-san die?"
Tatsuki still cried and managed to choke out a few words.
"A broken heart."
Beyond their knowledge, at least Tatsuki's anyway, was a spirit hanging near the young girl as Ishida attempted to consul Tatsuki. Orihime looked as she saw that the Chain of Fate was still attaching her to her body. However, a link somewhere in the middle of the chain snapped and severed the chain from Orihime.
The young woman picked up the length and examined it, sighing in a melancholy tone. There was no turning back now as the Chain of Fate was the ultimate decider of that. She smiled in a sad way and looked to her friends.
Yeah, she had wanted things this way, but looking at Tatsuki, looking at Ishida, and feeling her heart grow heavy made her think a bit. It was selfish, completely selfish. But, there was nothing to do about it now.
"Good evening." said a voice.
Orihime looked over her shoulder at a short, dark-haired woman in a black shihakushou with a white Captain's jacket over it. Memories of the Soul Society came to Orihime without hesitation.
"Um…hi." the girl said nervously.
"You don't remember me, do you?"
"Wait, let me think." Orihime scratched her head "Well, I know you're a captain and a Shinigami. Sorry, I can't place a name."
The older woman gave a motherly smile.
"Unohana Retsu, captain of the fourth division. I remember you quite well, Inoue-san."
"Yes, I was most impressed with your healing ability. I swear, you must have had even more potential than Isane back then."
Unohana noticed Orihime observing her friends and smiled as she always did. She set her sword on the ground and examined Orihime. Her eyes looked so sad and full of regret. It pained Unohana to see her like that.
"Are you here to take me to the Soul Society?" Orihime asked.
"Yes, but not in the usual sense."
"I told you, your healing ability intrigued me and everyone else in the Fourth Division. In fact, we want to scout you."
"Yes, you're being offered a place at the Shinigami academy. We want to study your abilities and perhaps even give you a seat."
Orihime did that sad smile she always did. Unohana tilted her head.
"Is something wrong?" Unohana asked.
"Retsu, Unohana makes me sound like an old woman."
A sob came from Orihime and tears came from her eyes, though not as swiftly nor as passionately as they did from Tatsuki.
"Am…am I a bad person?"
"I…Tatsuki-chan is crying her heart out over me and Ishida-kun doesn't know what to do. And what about Sado-kun or Keigo or Kojima? I-I…I'm nothing but selfish. I should-"
Orihime's distress was stopped momentarily as Unohana took the girl's head and held it to her heart. The shinigami's dull heartbeat was heard.
"Shush, it's alright." Unohana cooed like a mother "You're a good person, you're a wonderful person. But…you're too kind, too selfless."
"Orihime-chan, sometimes…it's alright to be selfish. You're not selfish if you're worrying about those two and everyone else."
"Am I?" Orihime's voice was barely over a whisper. Her eyes were still glassy and tears still fell. She listened to Unohana's heartbeat for comfort.
"Yes, you deserve to be a bit selfish." Unohana tilted Orihime's head to look at her eyes "I mean, you wanted this, right?"
"Thank you, Retsu-san."
Unohana stood up and brought Orihime with her. The latter of the pair looked at Tatsuki and Ishida and etched a melancholy expression on her face. Unohana's hand rested on Orihime's shoulder.
"Orihime-chan, we have to go."
"I know, Retsu-san."
Retsu drew her Minazuki and stabbed it into the air. Empty space twisted and swirled, becoming a set of shoji that opened to reveal another set. Orihime took one last glance at Tatsuki.
"Good-bye, Tatsuki-chan, Ishida-kun."
And so Orihime left the mortal coil, entering the world of the Soul Society
Two weeks later
The funeral had been hard on everyone. Tatsuki spent the past fortnight at her parents' house since she couldn't stand being alone in her apartment. She wept throughout the entire wake and she couldn't bear to see the cremation.
Everyone they had known had shown up. Every person from their class had shown up, everyone from Ishida to Chizuru. Keigo and Chizuru wept dramatically while Chad and Ishida put on glum expressions and bowed their heads.
Everyone said their prayers as Orihime's ashes were laid to rest. It was slow as everyone did it one by one and then left. Soon, Tatsuki, Chad, and Ishida were the only ones left. Ishida clapped his hands and prayed silently. Tatsuki just stood and looked at the Inoue family grave, her eyes glassy.
"It's odd." Chad broke the silence "I always thought that Inoue would be the last of us to go."
"…Yeah, I always did, too."
"I guess we never really do know what life is gonna throw at us. One person I'm surprised that didn't show up is Ichigo."
"…" Tatsuki dug her nails into her hand so hard she drew blood. Ishida finished his prayer and looked at the distraught girl. These past two weeks contained hardly a moment where she wasn't upset and crying.
"Arisawa-san, what did you mean that night?"
"…Orihime's heart was broken, shattered and she lost the will to live."
"Did she have a lover?"
"No, she never had a boyfriend or a significant other."
"Then how did she…?"
"Ichigo." Chad suddenly said.
"She had a crush on Ichigo for awhile, but he didn't see it."
"That bastard!" Tatsuki growled. The woman stomped the ground so hard it was liable to crack "That bastard just vanished without a single word, not to any of us. We could handle it, but it devastated Orihime. He meant so much to her, but he didn't give a goddamn."
Chad stepped forward, but Tatsuki's rather grievous aura was not something to be dealt with.
"What? You gonna gimme some bullshit like "He had his reasons" or "He'd be here"? That's garbage! All she wanted to do was be with him, be by his side, even if he didn't feel a thing for her. That was her wish. I told her time and time again to forget about him, to hate him, but she couldn't bring herself to do that. And now, she's gone and she's not coming back."
"If I ever see that bastard, I will rip him to shreds and make him feel ten times the agony Orihime did."
"It's getting late." Ishida commented "I'll walk you home."
"Whatever just get me outta here."
The three said their farewells and left Orihime's grave as the sun set on Tokyo.
Five figures walked up the hill towards the lone grave, two slightly shorter than the rest and one giving of an odd "clop" sound. The streetlights had come on and showed that the guests were the Kurosaki family, Urahara Kisuke, and Shihouin Yoruichi. All stopped in front of the grave and set incense in front. A blond girl kneeled.
"Urahara-san." she squeaked.
"What is it, Yuzu-chan?"
"How did she know Oniichan?"
"They…were through a lot together."
"Was she nice?"
"As sweet as you."
The sullen black-haired girl stepped up and prayed whilst standing. While Yuzu had been on the verge of tears, this girl's expression hadn't even changed. However, that appearance was just externally.
"Someone was really angry when they were here earlier." the girl closed her eyes "Oh, it was that one girl, Tatsuki."
"She always was an emotional one." commented the scruffy-chinned man standing next to Urahara "But any sort of anger is bad."
"She was angry at Ichi-nii."
"He's always pissing people off."
Urahara casually took off his hat and dusted it a bit. He didn't go to pray since he knew the truths of the world, but neither did Isshin or Yoruichi, who was in human form.
"She always…smiled." the olive-skinned woman commented "Like if she stopped smiling the world would end."
"Like Masaki." Isshin said in a melancholy tone "I think she would have been a good match for Ichigo."
"Yeah, she was a good kid, but she was too kind, too pure."
Urahara fiddled with his cane, observing the grave.
"Shinigami came the night she died, I think it was Retsu."
"Retsu? What did she want?" Isshin asked.
"Inoue-san had quite a powerful healing ability. It's cruel to capitalize on such a thing, but I guess it's better than Mayuri getting a hold of her."
"Yech, don't remind me."
Yuzu looked up at Urahara whose eyes were shadowed by his hat. Yoruichi was setting a pail of flowers in front of the grave, orchids.
"Um, Urahara-san." Yuzu squeaked.
"Oniichan is over there, right?"
"Yeah, what about it?"
"Will…Will he see Orihime over there?"
"And…what about…" Yuzu bit her lip "Mommy?"
Urahara's eyes met Yuzu's whose looked for an answer. He sighed and lowered his head.
"Honestly, I don't know. Your mother wasn't a shinigami, so it'd be hard to find her."
"But…he wants to see her, right?"
"Maybe, but…it's hard to explain."
Yuzu's further questions were stopped when Isshin placed his large hand on her head. Isshin's expression was stone-faced, almost sad.
"To think that she wanted happiness so badly that she went to the Soul Society." Isshin mumbled "Why couldn't you just take her there?"
"Risking another gateway was out of the question. The last thing I need is her obliteration on my conscience."
"She did it as to not be rude." Yoruichi said out of the blue.
"Huh?" both men quipped.
A stray wind swept Yoruichi's tied back hair against the night, ebony striking against black. Yoruichi's amber eyes gazed at the men.
"If she just left, it would have been rude to everyone she knew. So she died instead, giving everyone who didn't know closure."
"Even if it makes others angry and sad?" Karin asked without looking at Yoruichi.
"They'll meet her again, someday." Yoruichi answered "Besides, the longer she stayed away from him, the more it ripped her apart. And…I think she wanted him to herself."
Karin looked at the grave and half-closed her eyes.
"…I feel sorry for her, having to go through that." she said "But why did she let herself feel that?"
"Alright, enough of the angsty stuff." Urahara interrupted "Inoue-san wouldn't want anyone to be sad. She's…She'll be happy."
Yoruichi swore she saw sadness in Urahara's eyes. Isshin smiled without losing the look he had in his eyes.
"I wish her luck and happiness with Ichigo." he said.
"Well, I can't give them my blessing in the normal sense. Bwahahaha!"
Urahara did his grin and began walking away. Everyone followed, one by one until the only sign they had been there were the flowers Yoruichi had brought.
Side B: I Just Want to See His Face
Twenty years later
The sun struck against the white buildings of the Soul Society, rebounding to create a rather bothersome effect that made almost everyone squint. Shinigami that had been out the night before were returning to their homes and going to bed while everyone else was getting up. At the edge of the Soul Society was the Thirteenth Division headquarters. Everyone there was getting ready for the day and the Vice Captain, Kotetsu Kiyone, was heading towards the captain's quarter which sat on a lake at the back. The surface of the water was like a mirror as it was calm.
Kiyone strolled casually to the front door and slid it open.
Kiyone had gotten used to the fact that her captain could seemingly teleport without any sort of detection. His orange locks matched the rising sun's rays, but were lost to his odd, black coat that was like something a person would expect from someone from modern-day Tokyo. The sleekness of it oddly contrasted with Ichigo as well as the fact that is reached his ankle. His captain's jacket was clasped at his throat and trailed to his knees like a cloak.
Zangetsu jutted over Ichigo's shoulder, taller than he. Ichigo stood with his hands in his pants slits with the cuffs tucked into the heavy boots he wore, seemingly relaxed but tense as a coiled spring.
"You're always up early, Captain." Kiyone shook her head "I didn't know you came back."
"I snuck in while most of ya were sleeping."
"Yamamoto-sama kept you up?"
"Friggin' bureaucrats, it bores me."
The citrus-haired man scratched a scar on his face that was over his right eye and ran down to his chin. His tan eyes looked at his vice-captain.
"So, what's the four-one-one?"
"We're expected at the Academy to supervise."
"Damn babysitting. Can't they find a better use for us?"
"We're in times of peace. Besides, it's better than risking being killed by a Menos or worse."
Ichigo's coat and cloak swished as he walked away from his quarters, Kiyone following him. He hated doing this petty service jobs, but he wasn't a battle-hungry nutcase like Zaraki or useful at healing like Division Four. He silently admitted that Kiyone had a point that it was better than killing Menos by the dozen back in the day.
Ichigo responded with a nod as every single member of his unit bowed and addressed him by his official title. However, someone waiting at the door didn't; a Fourth Seat by the name of Kuchiki Rukia.
"Mornin' Rukia." Ichigo grumbled.
"Hey, you're early as always."
"More or less."
Rukia slid open the shoji and ushered Ichigo and Kiyone into the white environment known as the Seireitei. Walls as white as pearl stretched everywhere, making Ichigo squint his eyes.
"When does this thing start?" Ichigo asked Kiyone.
"Hmm, I guess we can walk, but the last thing I need to see is Zaraki."
"He couldn't find you if he had a map."
Ichigo flipped his captain's cloak over his shoulder and strolled casually through the Seireitei with the two women behind him. Shinigami bowed their heads humbly at the young captain's presence and gave lesser, but still respectful, gestures to the women.
The Soul Society had to change quite a bit after the war with Aizen all those years ago. Since three captains had left, they all needed to be replaced. Renji had taken the Fifth Division without question as he had already achieved Ban Kai and was without a doubt the most powerful Vice-Captain before being promoted. Rangiku had taken the Third Division after passing the test to do so. Most thought it was out of affection for Gin before he died.
The Ninth Division had been taken over by Shuuhei, though that was only recent as the Division itself had not officially had a Captain until then. The Twelfth Division had lost Mayuri back during the war for selling information to Aizen in exchange for test subjects. He was executed and his position given to Nemu who gladly accepted.
Recently, Yamamoto-taichou had retired, surprisingly placing his position to Shunsui who in turn placed his own the Nanao. Things were back on track until Ukitake passed away, which gave Ichigo his place.
Ichigo had arrived at the Soul Society for good twenty-two years ago. However, he refused to take any sort of position. He always said that being a captain wasn't something for him since he didn't like going through such large amounts of work and labor. He became a sort of reserve Shinigami for especially nasty Hollows due to his unique Ban Kai and that his Rei-atsu that surpassed even Zaraki's. After Ukitake died from his illness, Ichigo took his position out of honor.
Ichigo didn't exactly hate the Seireitei, but it wasn't like he held a lot of love for the place. It was alright. It was a bit plain, but it was okay. Only fleeting things were gone from the place: music, books, television, and those sorts of things. Things like that were quickly replaced and forgotten. But…there were things that could never be replaced and would be missed.
Ichigo had left behind more than a bit in that life he used to have decades ago. His father was a hassle and he knew Yuzu and Karin were strong enough to go on without him. Ishida understood as well as Chad, but it still sucked not having his friends around. He used to reassure himself that he'd meet them at some point in their afterlife, but even then it'd be ages until he saw them again. Ichigo became distant to the Shinigami in a way, not really considering them friends. He didn't mind, not at all.
The outer edges of the Seireitei gave way to the Academy, a huge establishment with constant classes and students. Some were the sons and daughters of the Nobles, others strays with some sort of skill with Kido. It was a strict, rigorous school where only the exceptional came out.
The size was large when compared to the colleges of Earth; several hundred-thousand. However, when considering that the entirety of the Soul Society had several billion denizens then…uh, yeah.
Ichigo didn't need to be asked who he was as the gates opened and eyes were already on him. Students murmured as they took notice of Ichigo's orange hair and his ostentatious sword.
"Geez, who the hell is that?"
"A Captain by that white garment. But that sword…"
Ichigo rolled his eyes and just strolled into the Academy as classes were changing. The crammed halls helped him blend in and not be noticed, although Kiyone and Rukia were nearly lost amongst the sea of bodies. Ichigo just went on ahead until the two caught up, even if he had no idea of where the classroom was.
"Oi! Wait up!" Kiyone yelled amongst the tangle of bodies and limbs.
Ichigo just strolled as calmly as he always did, hearing his Vice-Captain's voice but not listening.
"Wait up!" Rukia came barreling out of the crowd and almost tackled Ichigo to the ground.
"We're going to the sparring arena, not a classroom."
"Mock Hollow-training. They need a captain in case things get out of hand."
"Tch." Ichigo ruffled his hair.
Times of peace might not or at least inactivity might keep deaths down, but they were boring as hell and made even captains of the Gotei Thirteen do normal errands such as supervision. It was garbage, but Ichigo supposed that it was better than getting claws stuck in your gut.
Rukia was the guide for the Academy as Ichigo never so much as set foot in the place and had only seen it from a distance. Interesting place since it was different from Ichigo's own education, but it was still basically a high school. Old-fashioned architecture was always neat to look at, but all in all there were classes and gossip and all that other crap.
"Oi, Ichigo." Rukia snapped.
Ichigo stopped his observations as Rukia lead them outside until they came to some sort of large, ominous gate. Ichigo's brow furrowed as he looked at the huge structure.
"The arena." Kiyone explained "They bring in low-level Hollows and have the students do a few attacks on them."
"And why are we needed if they're low-level Hollows?"
"Better safe than sorry."
"I'm gonna hate that line for the rest o' my life."
The door Rukia had opened to the outside a moment before was now flooding with students in white haori and dark hakama. A older Shinigami was up front directing the students who were trying to look through the gate. Half of them looked eager, mostly guys who looked too hotheaded for their own good, while the other half, who were mostly girls and meek men, looked nervous and unsure. Ichigo just sighed and rolled his eyes, tapping Kiyone's shoulder.
"Wake me up if something that's actually interesting happens."
Kiyone just nodded while Ichigo just sat down in front of a wall and set Zangetsu on the ground. He hunched up his cloak and shadowed his eyes with it to shut out the light. The sounds of the world faded away and Ichigo was lost to his meditations.
A blank world, buildings with no signs and streets with no people is where two people were. Ichigo sat on the wall of a building, his eyes looking at the sky with graying clouds. Rain wasn't far off, but the clouds, bloated as they were, would not release.
"I thought I told you I hate rain." said a gravelly, gruff voice.
"I know and I hate it too."
Ichigo lay down, looking back as Zangetsu-ojiisan. The avatar was as grim as always and currently had his legs sticking through an open window while he sat on its sill. His amorphous, anamorphic coat whipped like a surrealist piece.
"Ichigo, you always let yourself be lonely."
"I'm not lonely."
"Running, even when I told you not to."
Zangetsu-ojiisan stood up and stepped towards Ichigo fluidly with his coat as wild as always. Ichigo paid no heed to him and kept staring at the gray clouds.
"You told me it rains here."
"Yeah, but only when you're sad."
Ichigo reached out towards the sky and seemed to attempt to grab the clouds that hung in the air. He kept his hand clenched as a fist.
"Has it rained here lately?"
"No, but it gets cloudy all the time. Clear days here are uncommon."
"Better than getting rained on."
Ichigo sat up and turned his torso to look at Zangetsu-ojiisan under his glasses. The old man looked at the clouds with his expression not changing a bit.
"Rain here is awful, but day upon day of iron clouds is just as bad. Rain has some soothing nature, but this just aggravates and creates tension."
"Stop it." Zangetsu-ojiisan struck Ichigo lightly with the back of his hand.
"What wazzat for?"
"You apologize too much. Whenever something happened when you believed it had to do with your power then you always apologized. Just whine, whine, whine."
Ichigo looked at the clouds again.
"What would happen here if I cried?"
"You might want to wake up and see what's happening."
Kiyone tapped Ichigo's shoulder to get him up. The orange-haired captain grumbled and stood to examine the situation. The gate was blown open and miniature craters littered the grass while a few students were being tended by Fourth Division Shinigami. Ichigo just shook his head.
"The Hollow's restraints were broken by a student and the thing started making a mess of things. Rukia managed to subdue the thing, but not without it causing some damage first."
"Wait, a student was able to break restraints that strong?"
"Yeah, she surprised everyone. Unohana-taichou's talking with her right now."
"Mind explaining why a Captain is talking to a student?" Ichigo placed his hands on his hips.
"Apparently this one is so good she's been promised a place in the Fourth Division already."
Ichigo raised an eyebrow and examined the wreckage littering the place. Anyone in the Fourth Division was supposed to be a weak fighter, but to break Hollow-constraining bonds was amazing for anyone who was a student. Ichigo had to see this.
"I'll be right back."
Ichigo started towards the inside of the school where he felt Unohana's reiatsu emanating from. Obviously this had to be important if a Captain was here as it was rare for Shinigami to talk to students until they graduated. Ichigo then heard voices.
"Look, you have to be careful in here. You're up against the sons and daughters of nobility."
"I know, Retsu-san."
"You may be talented, but you're an outside here even though you've helped us before."
Ichigo had a feeling that Unohana smiled instead of sighing.
"Too kind as always. You and he are actually a lot alike."
"Yes, though he's gruff."
"Who's gruff?" Ichigo asked as he opened a shoji.
The person with Retsu squeaked and seemed to vanish. Ichigo furrowed his brow and saw someone feebly trying to hide behind Unohana's small frame. The older captain smiled.
"Kurosaki-taichou, we were just talking about you."
"Oh? And why?"
"How about I have her tell you?"
Unohana extricated herself from the student's grip and moved away. Ichigo raised his eyes as he saw who it was. Auburn hair, brown eyes, and a body that would turn the head of any man or Shinigami.
Orihime just blushed, looking down at the floor.
"Um, hi, Kurosaki-kun."
Liner notes: Yes, curse me for doing a cliffhanger and a rushed ending if you want, but keep in mind that I don't have to do this fic. This is actually going to be a three part ficlet since I can't think up much more than I have and I don't think I need to.
I personally think this was one of the best pieces of writing I've done in awhile, at least at the beginning of the chapter. It hurt to write about Orihime in that light, but I also wanted to do it. Don't expect much in the way of action, mostly just angst and drama.