I don't own Bleach or any characters from it.
A/N: Christmas fic! On Christmas for a chance! Kind of the Bleach equal to my Naruto Christmas fic, Under the Falling Snow.
Memories in the Snow
It was the last school day before Christmas. The snow as though stopped a few days before, and while some of it was still stacked in selected locations throughout Karakura town, it seemed like that would be the closest it'd get to a White Christmas.
Inoue Orihime couldn't help but feel down by that fact as she left the school building towards the school gates.
"Bye, Orihime! Merry Christmas!"
Ogawa Michiru said and waved as she left along with Kunieda Ryou. Orihime nodded back at her and raised her eyes to the Christmas tree the school had set in the middle of the yard. Gifts were stacked there for the needee and the students decorated it the day before. Even in the rain it gave her a warm and nostalgic feeling, which apparently wasn't hers alone.
As she looked back forward, her gaze fell on her friend and not-so-secret crush, the orange haired boy who unintentionally turned her world upside-down.
A moment later and his gaze turned from the tree to her, and soon afterwards, Kurosaki Ichigo nodded his farewell and went on home.
"I really saw it, I'm telling you! A dragonfly this big flew right by me!"
Orihime claimed over the phone; now comfortably in a warm sweater and a fluffy skirt, she knelt next to the small tree in her apartment, decorating it in front of the shrine in memory of her older brother.
"That's nice, only dragonflies can't be as big as your head, Orihime."
Arisawa Tatsuki replied from the other end of the line, busily fighting with the most recent homework assignment given to them.
"Then why are they called dragonflies!"
"Because they're bigger than flies, but not that big yet."
"But I definitely saw it!"
The redhead claimed, puffing her cheeks.
"Are you sure it was a dragonfly? It is kind of out of season…"
"Well, no, I, err… AAAH!"
Tatsuki cried out as she stood up, her pen falling to the floor. For a moment there was nothing but rustles, until…
"Orihime! Are you alright! What happened!"
"Ah, heh, heh, I fell down on the tree, and… AAAH! The star broke! I broke the star!"
Tatsuki sighed, half in relief and half in fear of what might happen later on.
"Are you really going to be ok like this? All alone…"
"Why? It's just the same as always…"
The comment made the short haired girl bite her lip, until an idea came to her.
"I know, you could spend Christmas with me and my family!"
The silence that followed was devoid of meaning.
"We already talked about it, Tatsuki-chan."
"I know, but still, look what just happened."
"…I could never bother Tatsuki-chan's family like that…"
Orihime said in a hushed voice, making her best friend shake her head.
"It's because you say things like that that we can't leave you alone like this…"
"I guess… thank you, Tatsuki-chan. Heh heh…"
Worry flared up once again as silent sobs soon replaced the forced chuckle.
"Onii chan bought me that star…"
A sigh came her way.
"Tell you what. Why don't we go looking for a new star tomorrow? Just the two of us. Would you like that?"
Half a smile rose to Orihime's lips.
"Un. I'd love that."
"Ok. So I'll go tell my mom we're having another mouth to feed; she'll be thrilled for sure. Don't be too late, ok?"
"Ok. Bye Tatsuki-chan… and thank you."
"Don't even mention it."
As the line went dead Orihime could only stare at the phone and the pieces of what was once a beautiful Christmas star decoration.
"I… better get going… get some stuff… I can't very much come in empty ended, can I? … I'll be going now… Onii chan…"
She said to the picture of her brother, not bothering with the mess she left behind. It would still be there when she'll get back.
It was the usual Christmas presentation downtown, making Orihime forget almost everything about her prior distress. Sights, sounds, smells and tastes all around her reminded her what time of year it was, and she couldn't help but get into the holiday spirit even if a bit. She did have quite a holiday evening ahead of her, and the next day she and Tatsuki had a date with the star of Beit Lehem. Now if only she could fine something other than fruit cake to offer her hosts for the evening…
It was in that lifted spirits, however, that she discovered memory lane was much harder to get out of than she thought.
The sudden cry out made her look.
Oh how she wished she hadn't.
There she was, a young girl of no more than eleven, in her cute yellow coat, her matching boots, gloves and ear-warmers, a look of delight in her eyes. She quickly made her way between the sea of adults, a smile on her lips, her light-honey colored hair shining in the many lights which filled the area.
"Onii chan teba!"
Orihime felt the world spin around her as she saw a younger version of herself run up to the designated target, a young man whose features turned warm at the sight of the girl, who seemed like a younger version of her own older brother… a live version of her own dead brother.
"Orihime, I told you not to wonder about too far!"
"Demo, Onii chan, they had that doll I wanted! You promised me one of those!"
The young man sighed in defeat and chuckled.
"I know, I know…"
He offered the girl his outstretched hand, which she happily took.
"So, shall we go get it then?"
And then suddenly the world went spinning around her as the memory faded. The reality of the girl's name actually being 'Yuzu' and the young man's hair being bright orange hit her just as he turned to face her, and their eyes met.
Before she could stop it, two tears slid down her cheeks, which she hurried to wipe. Face now flushed she grinned at him, trying to regain her composure.
Their eyes parted as Yuzu tugged at her brother's sleeve, looking at him with a questioning look in her eyes. He quickly looked back at his classmate, yet Orihime could no longer direct her eyes at them. She followed instead the flashes of light a toy nearby was emitting.
She bit her lip as she glanced at him for a moment. One last moment of peace, before…
"WHAT'S WITH THIS ATMOSPHERE!"
Kurosaki Isshin roared as he charged at his son, only to have his vicious plan thwarted as Karin grabbed both her father and sister, dragging them off down the street.
"No atmosphere left to discuss about, is there? Come on, Yuzu, we need to buy your doll, don't we?"
"Karin! How dare you break a father-son moment?"
"I'd call it an attempted homicide, and it's your fault for having the time to go shopping this late into the holiday! Come on, they might've already sold out while we wasted our time here!"
"Ah, but Karin-chan… Onii chan…"
"He doesn't want a doll, does he?"
"Well, no, but…"
Now far enough from the two teenagers, Karin slowed down her pace and sighed.
"You really are clueless, aren't you?"
Yuzu blinked, yet the diversion wasn't enough for their father to make an escape. Instead Karin's grip over his arm tightened so much he cried out in pain.
"AND WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU'RE GOING, OLD MAN!"
"But, Karin, did you see that girl's chest!"
That was enough.
"DON'T EVER COME NEAR US AGAIN! DON'T YOU DARE UTTER MOM'S NAME! YOU'RE DEAD TO ME!"
"That's my daughter, getting into the holiday spirit like that."
"I won't give Ichi-nii the chance to kill you…I'll do it myself!"
"Aaaah, Karin-chan, go back, we just passed the store!"
"And whose fault is that!"
"Don't look at me."
"The hell I won't, you pathetic Oyaji!"
The silence between the two teens continued all the way through the family's visit to the toy store and on the walk to the nearby park which was one of the few places where there was still snow. It was only broken once at the beginning, when the two girls and the man first left off.
"Come along?" He asked her, and wordlessly she followed, not really wanting to be alone after the little flashback she had. She found it difficult still to look at him, mainly because of her mistaking him for her own brother, partially yet still dearly because she just couldn't believe she let him see her cry. A part of her chuckled at the thought that had Tatsuki been there to see it, she'd have tried to beat him up for it, though both girls knew that the boy finally became strong enough to beat her. Orihime knew exactly how strong.
Finally she spoke, after long minutes of them sitting down on a bench with her shopping bags between them, watching his family throw snow back and forth at each other.
"You have a really nice family."
She felt him glance at her for a moment before leaning forward, intertwining his fists together as he watched the three people dearest to him despite anything he'd ever say.
"I can't argue about my sisters, but I sure wouldn't mind doing something about that damned Oyaji."
He felt relieved to hear her giggle in a non-forced way.
"But Kurosaki-kun really is a lot like his father."
"And I'm anything like that perverted old man how?"
He raised an eyebrow at her. She pointed a finger knowingly.
"Because! You both have scary faces which are actually very funny!"
A moment of silence fell as a snowball passed between them.
"I… really have… nothing to say to that."
She beamed at him, though he just looked away with worry etched on his frowning face.
"You really don't have to push yourself…"
"I'll go get us something to drink."
He said as he stood up, ignoring her confused look which followed him until she gave up and turned to stare at the snow fight. Having been hit, Yuzu was out of the game, cheering her sister in her fight against their father who had barricaded himself behind what he claimed to be an impenetrable snow fortress. The dark haired girl did her best to prove otherwise, and succeeded many a time.
With a sigh she leaned backwards, only to push the bags next to her off the bench. She jumped after them.
They didn't get far, however, as a hand stopped them in place, gently pushing them back. Looking up, all she could see was the offered can of warm cocoa before her face.
"You better be more careful with that, it's someone's Christmas present after all."
Ichigo said once she took the can, sitting down on the other end of the bags again. Uttering her thank you, she couldn't help but admire the look of peace on his features as he watched his family, though his brows were still twitched in the frown which became his trademark facial feature.
"Did Kurosaki-kun and his family decorate the Christmas tree!"
She asked happily, making him look at her rather harshly from the corner of his eyes. She ignored the gaze and looked at the can now warming her hands.
"Your Christmas tree must be really beautiful, with all different sorts of decorations…"
She blinked at him.
"That damned Oyaji's been too busy all week long now, we didn't get a chance to decorate it, and he wouldn't let us do it on our own. Went as far as hide the ornaments in a neighbor's place, the bastard…"
"So Santa-san won't have a place under which to put your presents?"
She asked in a rather childish way, and was rewarded with an equal reply.
"Oh he has a place to put our presents under alright, but if he wants it decorated he better be late, or he won't have a right to complain about it."
Her giggle caught him by surprise.
"Kurosaki-kun doesn't seem like the type to believe in Santa-san like that."
"And Inoue looks just like the person to wait up the whole Christmas night waiting for him with cookies next to the chimney."
Tears welled up in her eyes as she bit on her scarf.
"My apartment doesn't have a chimney…"
"I'm a Shinigami. Chado has armor for a right arm and Ishida makes energy arrows out of nothing. Your hairpins turn into six little faerie-bug beings with weird powers. I'll believe you even if you'll tell me Mizuiro is the Easter Bunny."
Though her laughter was indeed his intent, he remained serious, and the little traces of peace left his face. They were replaced with shadows of things she shouldn't ask about.
"More than believing though… Not believing in Santa Claus… would make this holiday even lonelier than it already is."
Orihime couldn't stop the memory of that time when Tatsuki told her that. When he took the day off of school… and all she could think about was the rain.
"When we were nine, his mother… died. Yes, when we were nine. He was still a goofy, clingy mama's boy. But… she died."
Ichigo's eyes narrowed as he looked at his family and knew exactly what it was that was bothering him. It wasn't that Karin was so violent in her attacks against their father. It also wasn't that Yuzu was standing alone on the sidelines cheering one or the other, occasionally glancing at him, making sure his soul wasn't eaten yet by the female demon sitting next to him.
No. None of those bothered him. Why should they? They were normal. That is, the normal he came to live with.
What bothered him were the glances his father kept sending to a spot next to Yuzu.
The shy smiles Karin would aim at the same spot until she realized it was empty and would then attack with more force than before.
The loneliness in Yuzu's stance, like she was trying to cling to something… someone… who was no longer there…
And the figure of his mother who would stand there, the aim of all said actions, as she'd turn to him and smile, a second before she'd disappear and he'd wake into the reality of her not being there.
Of her not being around for six years now… and counting.
He liked Christmas so much more… when she was still around…
He half jumped at the sound of Orihime's voice.
"I'm sure Santa-san will put tons of presents under your tree this year!"
She looked at him with so much determination and concern as she leaned over the pile of bags between them, he could only sigh as the image of the woman who shaped his life in both life and death disappeared completely.
"If we'll ever finish decorating the damned thing, that is."
Though he sounded distant, she smiled. He didn't try to push her away. If anything, he was trying to reconnect to the here and then. She wondered if she could ever do that like that.
"By the way, Inoue…"
She looked at him with a blank look and a bizarre smile, indicating she was caught unprepared.
"What's in the bags?"
She was grateful for the change of subject, not realizing he did it as much for himself as for her if not more.
"Ah, that's, just some presents, a book and a movie to pass time. I have too much to spare when school's out."
His eyes widened and he sat up.
"Time? …oh, Inoue… you're not going to… be alo…"
She suddenly cried out, making him fall off of the bench.
"Wh, what is it!"
He asked as he pulled himself up, staring at her in utter shock. She wasn't too far out not to appreciate the fact that for a precious few moments, he wasn't frowning.
"I forgot to buy a present for Kurosaki-kun!"
She said and covered her mouth, tears welling in her eyes. With a slight blush on his cheeks he sat back down, checking that none of the bags came down with him as he fell to avoid eye contact.
"You don't have to get me a present. Besides, I didn't get you anything…"
"That's not true!"
She claimed, now a mere inch from his face with the most determined and set-minded expression he ever had staring at him at such a close range.
"Kurosaki-kun protected my gifts! He bought me this delicious and warm cocoa to cheer me up! I… AAAH! MY COCOA!"
She shouted, falling to the floor next to where her can of cocoa fell, its content spilled.
"My cocoa… the cocoa Kurosaki-kun bought me…"
Her tantrum, however, ended before it began when a second can was offered to her, not yet opened.
Looking up she found him looking away, a slight blush on his cheeks. In the dim light, and in her storming emotions, she hated herself for once again confusing between him and her brother.
Accepting the offer, she then accepted the offered hand which pulled her up to the bench again. They sat down in silence as he looked at his family, her staring at the can between her hands.
"I… really am pathetic, aren't I?"
She finally asked, not minding him looking at her.
"I… have a nice apartment. My relatives take care of me. No problems at school. Good friends. Did you know? I was invited to spend the Christmas at Tatsuki-chan's place! Her mother is really nice to me, always taking care of me."
She turned to smile at him.
"It took her forever to convince me to come. 'But I'll be bothering you!' I said, and she with a stern face would hit me on the head and call me an idiot."
She laughed. He merely looked at her silently.
"So not only do I have somewhere to go to for Christmas, I also…"
Her hold over the cocoa can tightened. That's when he noticed how the slight shakings which rocked her body up until then became more and more violent.
"…I also got to spend such a nice evening with Kurosaki-kun and his family, and now… now, having this sort of conversation with Kurosaki-kun… I really am lucky, aren't I?"
It was when the tears started that she lowered her head so her bangs covered her eyes, her hairpins glowing gently in the moonlight.
"But I can't help it… I can't help it! This… this hole which just won't close in my chest! This emptiness! I… really am hopeless…"
"Don't say that."
He said quietly.
"Don't say that!"
It was now Ichigo's turn to look away, his eyes covered by the shades cast by his bangs.
"So what, now you can't even be happy about anything? You won't let yourself have fun just because it's wrong? Even such worthless pointless things which aren't supposed to make sense… You're pissing me off!"
She winced under his words, but before she could retort, his voice quieted down almost too much.
"This… isn't the first Christmas, is it? … since you lost your brother."
Her eyes widened as she turned to stare at him. As he raised his head a bit, she could see the darkness which settled over his eyes, and the distant look as though looking through the people now in front of him.
"I can tell. That sort of thing… it's easy once you've been through it. Especially… after a few times. At the start, you feel like nothing you do is ok anymore. Nothing you feel is valid. And then after a while you just feel like… it's your fault you got left behind."
He leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees as he interwinded his fingers, resting his face on them.
"But that's not true, you know? Thinking like that… is only your own selfishness, a selfishness you think you can allow yourself because you're alive. The dead can't die again. But for the living, to say 'I'm better off dead' is an almost everyday thing, so much that there isn't much value in it anymore. Even though you say that, and you might even feel that, you still have little choice but to go on living, right? You still sitting here is proof of that."
She looked down in shame, while he leaned back and looked up at the sky.
"So if you're going to be that selfish, go all the way. Instead of saying 'I'm better off dead' say 'I'll make the most of my life'. Instead of walking around with your head downcast, run around chasing the clouds. Even if you don't feel like it, because we're still alive, feeling bad about it is a selfishness we can't afford ourselves. Either that… or stop making empty promises."
"Is that… what Kurosaki-kun's mother would've wanted?"
His eyes widened for a moment before he shook his head.
"My Ofukuro would've told me I was an idiot and that I shouldn't think about such depressing things at such a young age or else I'd end up like my Oyaji."
Her giggle raised half a smile to his lips, which stood in an awkward contradiction to the still distant look in his eyes.
"But then again, she's not here to tell me that anymore, is she?"
She closed her eyes, and when she reopened them, Orihime looked up at the night's sky, spying for stars.
"My Onii chan bought this star ornament once. Every time, he'd lift me up to put it at the top of the tree. We never had such a big tree but I was still too short to reach. Even when I got bigger he insisted on lifting me, though I was too big at the time, he he… I… broke that ornament today. But it's ok really. Because Tatsuki-chan promised me we'll go buying a new one tomorrow. And because I went out looking for presents for Tatsuki-chan's family, I got to meet Kurosaki-kun's family."
Cries of victory came from Karin as she stood triumphantly on Isshin's unmoving body as Yuzu poked her father repeatedly with a stick in a frantic attempt to check for life signs.
"And… I guess because I got so depressed… I also got to have such a nice conversation with Kurosaki-kun."
She tilted her head as she smiled at him, making him smile in return as he stood up and stretched.
"Aaaah, talking for this long makes me feel like an old man. And now I'm thirsty, too."
He scratched the back of his head as she stood up, offering him the still unopened extra can.
"It's a bit cold now, but it should be better that way if you're that thirsty."
"Are you sure? You spilled yours."
She shook her head.
"This was supposed to be Kurosaki-kun's to begin with. It's my fault I spilled my cocoa."
Before he finished the sentence she pushed the can into his hands, looking at him with the same determined look from before, making him cower under the intense gaze.
"Well, if, if you put it like that…"
He raised his hand to hers, but the only thing he held was her hand as both raised their looks to the sky. The two stared in silent for a while, until he chuckled.
"Well, about damned time."
Snowflakes came down softly, as far as the eye could see. White began to gather on the ground around them, covering the marks of the recent Kurosaki family snow fight. It was beautiful, like a million stars falling down gently onto the Earth, covering it in a blanket before the new year.
"Kurosaki-kun's hand… is really warm."
His eyes widened as he stared at their joined hands, his now being gently held by both her hands. Movement at the edge of his eyes made him look up to find a mistletoe hanging off a fishing rack held by his father who hid in the bushes, both his sisters recording the event by both video and still images.
A vein popped in his forehead at them, and he was going to say something in the matter when he felt Orihime press her forehead against his hand. She closed her eyes and seemed content.
Not knowing what to do, and the mistletoe still jumping up and down above his head dangerously, he had to wonder where his father had gotten such equipment, as well as contemplate what to do next. Before he could reach a decision, however, the girl used her hold over his hand as leverage to pull herself up. The blood rushed to Ichigo's face and all he could do was utter nonsense as Orihime's eyes slide shut and she pouted her lips… and then pressed them firmly against his cheek. His eyes widened in relived surprise as she fell back to have her feet completely on the ground, looking at the can of cocoa between their hands.
"Thank you, Kurosaki-kun. I feel a bit better now."
He blinked as she went and took her bags from the bench, and turned to him again.
"I hope we could have a conversation like this again. I feel like I've really gotten to know Kurosaki-kun better this way."
She smiled at him and he did her the favor of ignoring the blush on her face. Hey, she ignored the one on his…
"Tell Tatsuki I said hi."
She nodded at him and was about to leave when she stopped, looking at the cocoa stain on the ground which was rapidly being covered with snow.
"I… think I'll be able to be a bit selfish now… in a way which Onii chan'll agree with."
Her gaze wondered to the bushes where his family still hid, and she smiled at them.
"Take good care of your sister, Kurosaki-kun. They look like they're worth it."
"Ah. They are. And for the record, so are you."
There was an awkward moment until he realized what he was saying, and both looked away at random points on the ground, blushing.
"That is, if, if I were to look at things from a big brother point of view! Not like I meant anything by it, not, not that if I did, that I…"
He stopped a second before he bit his tongue.
"Don't try so hard."
They exchanged a look filled with understanding before she turned away and began rushing off.
"Merry Christmas, Kurosaki-kun! Kurosaki-kun's family!"
"Don't fall down, Inoue!"
He called after her, earning him a smack on the waist from Karin.
"Really, Ichi-nii, you even had the atmosphere and all going your way."
"I am ashamed of you! From this day forward, you are no longer my son!"
"Does this mean you'll stop attacking me in my sleep?"
"Just because you're no longer my son doesn't mean you're no longer my disciple!"
"So I get all the hurt and none of the fun, eh?"
"Stop making the ridiculous pose in public!"
"You will have to make me… AAAH!"
"Don't mind if I do!"
The younger sister sighed as her brother and father went at it again, but all she could do was watch after the lone figure that had spent so much time with her brother rush off. Karin poked the back of her head, giving her a questioning look. Yuzu merely smiled back, deciding that like her or dislike her, at the very least she could very much relate to the large breasted girl who seemed so fond of her brother, and who her brother seemed so fond of in his own way in return.
It was later than expected when the doorbell rang in the Arisawa residence. Flushed and annoyed and more than a bit worried, Tatsuki practically flew to the door, feeling nothing but relief at the sight of Orihime at the door step.
Surprise soon followed, however, as the girl she invited to her house to cheer up seemed genuinely happy and upbeat as always as she floated around the house, giving the polite gifts to the senior members of the family, and the slightly more personal presents to those she was familiar with. When it came to her handing the last items to Tatsuki, along with the wrapped plushy was a rather chilly can of cocoa. At the raised eyebrow, all Orihime could do was smile, blush, and tell the truth.
"Kurosaki-kun said 'hi'."
And it was clear that it was to be once again a Merry White Christmas.