Liner notes: This was actually supposed to be a one-shot story about Orihime and Ichigo. In many ways it still is, just divided and very long. Believe it or not, this work was actually completely done prior to its release and then released periodically.

In the way of plot, this story is unremarkable since there are no surprises and everything pretty much repeats itself over and over again. It's more like a song without notes. However, when something I do emotionally affects me, almost making me shed tears which in fact I haven't done for years, then…it's something more than just writing. But still, I always held those tears back, I never let them fall. Even in all the years I've lived, I don't remember ever shedding a tear. Anyway, let's get this record rolling.

XXXXX

If I were the rain

could I connect with someone's heart?

just as it can unite

theeternally separated earth and sky?

-Kubo Tite Bleach Volume 3: Memories in the Rain

Track Three: Come As You Are

Side A: Sweet Emotion

Rain still poured outside like it had been for hours. Everyone was inside except for the few Shinigami patrolling the streets. Trillions of droplets fell onto the Seireitei until it was soaked beyond compare.

But people were completely dry in their homes. Their shelters kept the rain away and its cold from piercing their skin to the bone. But sometimes the rain's cold can get in even if someone closes the doors and the windows.

Ichigo had come to rest on Orihime's chest, right on her heart. His right ear was pressed onto her clothes and he didn't move an inch. Orihime just held Ichigo, one arm resting above the small of his back and the other having its hand in his orange locks, stroking them gently.

Ichigo just blinked a few times and stared blankly at the window that had rain running down it. Odd patterns were cast on the floor because of the rain and were unwatched as the boy and the girl just lay comfortably.

"Why…" Ichigo said after the silence that had been in the room for the better part of an hour.

Orihime's eyes looked down at Ichigo, observing him even though he hadn't moved in the slightest. Ichigo cleared his throat because of his voice cracking.

"Why didn't you blame me for anything?"

Orihime continued to scratch Ichigo's head gently, tickling his scalp. She looked at him through her long eyelashes.

"There was nothing to blame you for." she answered after a minute of thought.

Ichigo looked upward towards Orihime's neck which was the closest he could get to her eyes without straining his own.

"Why don't you hate me?"

Again Orihime took her time to answer. Then again, it wasn't like they were in any sort of hurry. Hell, they had eternity to talk things through.

"Does a person who hates actually someone who could ever love? I mean, ever really love, love so much that it hurts?"

Ichigo closed his eyes for a moment.

"No, I guess not."

He craned his neck so he could look Orihime in the eyes.

"But why didn't you?"

Orihime closed her eyes in a contemplative manner like she was trying to find an answer. It came, but as something rather cryptic.

"People you like, people you love, you can't ever hate them, no matter how much you think you want to. And…when you try to, you feel awful and guilty. If I ever hated someone, really hated someone, I don't think I could forgive myself."

"You're too damn kind."

"So are you."

Ichigo made an odd noise that seemed to be a poor excuse for a chuckle and listened to Orihime's heart beating calmly: THA-THUMP, THA-THUMP, THA-THUMP. It almost sounded like it was anxious for something. No, it had been anxious for a long time. Ichigo lowered his eyes slightly.

"Why didn't you move on? Why didn't you forget me?"

Orihime sighed and licked her dry lips. However, no answer came forth from her mouth. She just scratched Ichigo's head and breathed for awhile. Ichigo's head rose as Orihime's chest did the same from her breathing. Silence dominated the room for several minutes with only the rain as noise.

Ichigo's heart was beating faster as was Orihime's. Ichigo knew the answer couldn't be bad, but his heart beat as it did.

"Because…I wanted that pain."

Ichigo propped himself up on his forearm to get a better look at Orihime. She was looking away for some reason.

"Orihime." the buxom girl perked up immediately at Ichigo's use of her first name "What do you mean?"

Orihime blushed and breathed out to calm herself.

"Because…there was no room to anyone else after I chose you. I wanted to remember every little bit of you, but whenever I did, there was pain."

Ichigo looked like he was about to say something, but stopped.

"But if that pain was all that could connect me with you, the only thing that could bind me to you, then I was happy."

"But…"

"Shhh…" Orihime placed her index finger to Ichigo's lips "I'm not done.'

Ichigo was about to say something else, but his gentlemanly side forced him to do otherwise.

"But that's what I thought back then. After awhile…I craved more."

Ichigo suddenly noticed that Orihime had taken on a bit more of a…seductive look. She turned him onto his back and cupped his face with her slender hands.

"I wanted to see you…Hear your voice…Touch you…" she stroked his slightly rough face "Smell your scent…" she sniffed him "And even…"

Ichigo took note of the fact that Orihime had bent her torso more to come closer to him. She was so close that her auburn hair was tickling his face. However, Ichigo's attention was most given to the fact that Orihime's lips were almost touching his own.

"Taste your flavor."

Suddenly Ichigo's eyes widened to about three times their original size and his heart started racing like a jackhammer.

"I…came here wanting to give you what wasn't yours. My body…my soul…my life. I wanted to give you anything you wanted."

"But I never wanted you to do that."

"I wanted to do it. My heart was already yours, but I was willing to give you everything else."

Orihime pulled her head away from Ichigo's to give him some breathing room as he looked like he was about to go berserk. Orihime rested her back against the wall and looked at Ichigo.

"Now it's your turn." she stated plainly.

"Alright."

"Why did you leave?"

Simple questions were always the hardest to answer, mostly because they were always so broad and a billion answers could be given. All were answers, but never a complete answer. Ichigo felt himself sweat a bit, bracing for the reaction.

"Because…I..."

Damn it, in the little over twenty years he had been in the Soul Society, Ichigo had never dwelled on this thought. Hell, even he didn't know why he left all those years ago. Screw it, the last sentence was an answer.

"I don't know."

Orihime tilted her head.

"Then what did you feel?"

"A desire to flee, a desire to run."

Ichigo bowed his head shamefully.

"And I don't even have something that I was running from. Maybe I just ran because I could, maybe I did it because I couldn't stand a buncha petty things, I just don't know!"

Despite Ichigo raising his voice, Orihime did not flinch. She scooted towards him and embraced him again, his head over her heart.

"Alright, alright, that's all."

"But…"

"Even if you ran, I caught you. I'm right here, so you don't need to be sad and you don't need to be scared."

Ichigo lowered his eyelids again and rested for a moment. He had one more query.

"Why me?" he asked.

Orihime smiled slightly and stroked Ichigo's hair. Ichigo swore he heard a chuckle coming from Orihime's chest.

"Because you're you."

"That makes no sense."

Orihime giggled which made Ichigo think she was making fun of him.

"Because you care, because you're kind, because you're honest, because you hate it when people get hurt, because…because it's all the reason I need."

Alright, that sort of made sense, even if it was Orihime-sense. Because he was who he was and that was all that mattered.

Neither Ichigo nor Orihime moved again for a few moments. Ichigo was probably the one least reluctant to move. He had gotten quite used to hearing Orihime's heart. It was…soothing.

"This is nice."

"What is?"

"This, just sitting here right next to your heart."

Orihime smiled but also seemingly squeaked when she felt Ichigo's arms slide to her thighs.

"My mother did this to calm me when I was a kid."

"She did?"

"Yeah, I loved it."

"What was she like?"

Ichigo smirked.

"A lot like you actually. You would've liked her."

He closed his eyes.

"She always smiled, was always kind, warm, and…"

"Have you visited her?"

Ichigo gave no answer except to wrap his arms around Orihime's waist.

"Kurosaki-kun?"

Sobs were heard and Orihime saw tears forming on Ichigo's eyes. Had Orihime known that Ichigo had not cried since his mother died, it would've made her heart skipped a few beats.

"Thank you, Orihime."

Orihime just smiled and held Ichigo to her heart.

"You're welcome, Ichigo."

XXXXX

Side B: Stairway to Heaven

Mornings after storms have a tendency to make everything look refreshed and clean. The air is crisp, the breeze cool, and the streets clean. Rain isn't always so bad because it shows something nice after it's gone.

However, Kiyone still had to do her little ritual of waking up her Captain only to be tricked into seeing that he had been behind her the whole time. She walked down the hall and eventually onto the walkway to Ichigo's room.

"Kurosaki-taichou." she said as she slid open the door.

No answer as always. No, it wasn't like always. Usually Kurosaki was behind her by now and gave her the same answer. Odd, where was he?

Kurosaki-taichou never left early without telling Kiyone and it wasn't like he took early-morning walks. Unless…yeah, that was a possibility.

Kiyone had remembered that her Captain had gone to the dormitories last night so maybe he was still there. But why exactly would he still be there? Maybe he and that girl had something wild happen the night before.

Kiyone blushed at such a thought and continued up the stairs to the dormitories. She slid the shoji open and then saw the sight of Orihime being held from behind by Ichigo while both of them lay under the covers of a futon. Blushing madly, Kiyone bowed faster than hell and said quickly:

"Sorryfordisturbingyousir!"

Kiyone slammed the shoji door shut, which awakened both Orihime and Ichigo. Ichigo propped himself up on his elbow and grumbled as Orihime just sighed and stretched.

"What was that?" said the former.

"Don't know."

The two stood, extricating their bodies from each other's grasps. Ichigo just looked out of the window while Orihime took a comb out and ran it through her long locks which had become somewhat haphazard from last night.

Ichigo looked over his shoulder at her as she hummed a tune and brushed her hair. He cracked a grin at how she could just go on without thinking twice and not dwell too much on things. It was a strength he wished he had.

"Ichi-kun?" Orihime raised an eyebrow at his observation of her. He smirked at her use of a pet name for him.

"It's nothing."

XXXXX

Kiyone paced nervously as she awaited her Captain to exit with the Shinigami student. Damn, Kiyone hoped that Kurosaki-taichou wasn't angry at her for "intruding". This would fly around in no time.

"Kiyone." the shoji slid open to reveal Ichigo with Orihime behind him.

Immediately Kiyone bowed in apology.

"Sorry!"

"Nothing happened, so stop that."

"Er, uh, right." the vice-captain scratched her head as both Ichigo and Orihime sweat-dropped.

"Did you have something for me?"

"Yeah, it came last night."

Kiyone reached into her sleeve and handed Ichigo an envelope with a sakura symbol on it. It had to be from Shunsui if it had that on it.

"You're dismissed."

"Yessir." Kiyone bowed and left.

Ichigo took off the ribbon sealing the envelope and unfolded the letter within it. As he did so, Orihime slid her hand along her hair.

"I'll have to go Ichigo, see ya.

"Wait." Ichigo grabbed Orihime's arm as she turned to leave. She blinked several times and saw Ichigo put the letter into his sleeve. He turned to her, his eyes bittersweet: "There's someone I'd like you to meet."

XXXXX

Orihime had scarcely agreed to Ichigo having her skip classes to come with him when he decided to Shyunpo the entire distance in a matter of seconds with her in his arms. Needless to say, it was a rather rigorous experience that was similar to being in a vacuum for a short period of time, being that it was so fast that not even air was felt.

They finally stopped outside a rather small house with a bamboo curtain over the entrance instead of a shoji door, like all other houses outside the Seireitei. Orihime turned her head over to Ichigo to get an answer from him.

"Ichi-"

"She lives here."

Orihime raised an eyebrow at Ichigo's sentence, but recalled the emphasis he placed on "she". She looked at the small house, realizing that to have the Head Captain look this up was pretty drastic. Then again, this must mean a lot to Ichigo.

Ichigo slid his hand towards, but hesitated a bit. However, he saw that Orihime had placed her own hand over his.

"Don't be apprehensive, because something can vanish in that instant."

"Sorry."

Ichigo let Orihime guide his hand and push the curtain to the side. Ichigo let Orihime in first and then ducked his head under the curtain as they entered.

The house was as small on the inside as it was on the outside. Just a living with what looked like a storage room or two to the sides. Orihime darted her head left and right.

"Are you sure someone's here?"

"Yeah, I feel her."

Before the two could debate any further, someone came in from the other room; a woman with long, brown hair. She hummed a tune while she fiddled with a blanket she held in her hands.

She finally opened her eyes and looked to Ichigo and Orihime. She smiled.

"Hello, Ichi-chan."

Ichigo swallowed as Orihime hid behind him. He sweated a bit.

"H-hello, Mom."

Kurosaki Masaki smiled like Orihime would and set the blanket on a shelf on the wall. She fiddled with her yukata a bit and then looked at her son.

"You're not surprised?" Ichigo asked.

"No, I knew you'd want to see me if you decided to follow in Isshin's footsteps."

Ichigo sweat-dropped at his mother's attitude as she observed him. She squeezed his biceps with her hand, feeling their tautness.

"Are you eating well?"

"Yeah."

"You're tall, but you're all bones." Masaki looked right into Ichigo's eyes and observed his face "You should smile more, but you grew up handsome."

"I guess." Ichigo rubbed the back of his head.

Masaki smiled at her son's humility and then decided to look around his back at Orihime who had buried her face into Ichigo's spine. Masaki tapped Orihime's head to end her attempt to hide.

"May I ask who you are?"

"Um, Inoue, Inoue Orihime."

"I figured my Ichi-chan would bring home a princess!" Masaki giggled as both Orihime and Ichigo blushed crimson.

Masaki managed to yank Orihime off her son and observe the young girl from head to toe.

"Hmm, nice wide, strong hips, narrow waist, actually quite an athletic build if you don't count these." Masaki proceeded to grab Orihime's bosom shamelessly which surprised Orihime and caused Ichigo to sweat so much he could have watered the plants outside.

"Mom!"

"Hee-hee, I couldn't resist!"

Did she and Dad's weird genes cancel each otherout when I was born?

Masaki let out her giggles for the day and motioned for her son and Orihime to sit. Ichigo just crossed his legs while Orihime sat properly. Masaki sat as well and looked at Ichigo and Orihime.

"Well, I think you two look nice. You're perfect."

"Th-thank you, Masaki-san."

"Call me Mother."

Orihime blushed as did Ichigo. His mother sure did want couples to work fast. Masaki looked at Ichigo.

"So, why did you come here?"

"I just wanted to see you is all. Ever since Kyouraku became Head Captain I've had him looking for you."

"You missed me?"

Ichigo lowered his head.

"Yeah, I…I've missed you. Yuzu, Karin, and Dad missed you just as much as I did."

"Are they happy?"

"The last time I saw them, yeah. Yuzu has become the homemaker, Karin is a tough girl, and Dad is…Dad."

Masaki giggled at Ichigo's answers. However, Ichigo looked different.

"It was tough though, for Yuzu and Karin because they were so young and Dad…he hated that he couldn't save you that night."

"Tell the fool that he needs to learn not to worry so much anymore now that I'm here, and you shouldn't either."

Masaki placed her hands on Ichigo's shoulders and then held him close.

"I love you, Ichi-chan, so you can come anytime you want if you need something. I'll make tea next time."

Ichigo's eyes felt like they were burning and his heart felt heavy. But, it wasn't an unpleasant sensation. He didn't hesitate in hugging his mother.

"Mom, thank you."

Masaki chuckled and then looked to Orihime who had faced the other direction to give Ichigo and his mother some privacy. The older woman put her hand on the younger one's shoulder and gave a bit of a tug.

"Hime-chan, you made a good choice in him. I know he won't hurt you, or make you sad."

"Thank you, Mother."

"And…you have my blessing."

Orihime blushed and widened her eyes while Ichigo just adjusted his posture a bit. Orihime bowed her head respectfully.

"Th-thank you!"

Masaki stood and helped both her guests to their feet. She gave Ichigo the sort of smile Unohana used when she was reprimanding her subordinates.

"Ichi-chan, get this young lady to class now. And I believe you have duties as a captain to fulfill."

"Er, right. Uh, let's go, Orihime."

Ichigo scooped up Orihime and walked out. But his mother followed and had one last thing to say.

"Hime-chan."

Ichigo stopped and Orihime looked over his shoulder.

"Yes?"

"Take care of him and make sure that he smiles every day for you." Masaki grinned.

"I will, I promise."

Orihime looked to Ichigo whose face was on its default expression. He responded after a moment.

"What?"

"Can you?"

Ichigo looked at Orihime's waiting face and a slight smile appeared on its own. It wasn't huge, just enough to know that he was smiling and not forcing it.

Ichigo looked to his mother and showed her the same smile.

"I'll come again soon."

Ichigo vanished in an instant to go towards the Academy. Masaki looked at the spot Ichigo had been a second ago and didn't lose her smile.

"Live happy, don't hesitate, and know that there is always someone to hold you even if you're in despair."

XXXXX

Liner notes: Huh, I noticed that the chapters in this little fic funneled, the longest being the first chapter and the shortest being the last. I've come to realize over the days I worked on this finale that this is actually not a bad story, just different. I've never done a slice-of-life fic, but it turned out good.

Yeah, you can whine that the poem at the beginning is overused and maybe that Masaki showing up is boring, but that poem is still good and Ichigo hearing some words from his mother would give him solace if nothing else would.

Anyway, I think I've learned something from this project and I hope I can apply to everything else I do.