Tatsuki knew a fake smile when she saw one; the way the lips pulled up at the corners a little too high so they wouldn't sag so quickly, the laboured laughter. Forced. Tired. Wavering.

She knew them so well because she herself had been giving more and more of them lately.

It was Orihime who noticed first, asking quietly as she leaned over her friend's desk, "Tatsuki-chan, are you alright?"

Of course Orihime would notice. Orihime was her best friend, or at least she used to be. That summer, however, they had seen almost nothing of each other. The closeness seemed to have vanished without warning, leaving something missing.

People, Tatsuki knew, could drift apart as quickly as they were pulled together, but she didn't like the notion of not having Orihime close to her anymore. This was the girl who came to her for advice, cried on her shoulder, and whom she confided to in return. This was the girl who knew her better than anyone in the entire world. They couldn't just be drifting away

It wasn't fair.

But it wasn't fair to Orihime either, to hang on if the other wanted to let go. Did she want to let go? Tatsuki had no idea, and her head ached to think about it. She wasn't usually like this, and she had begun to scare herself.

The thought of losing Orihime was so… devastating that…


Orihime's hand ducked beneath Tatsuki's wispy dark bangs, a worried look coming over her face.

"Maybe you're sick…" she mumbled quietly. "Hey, answer me, are you alright?"

"Y-yeah," Tatsuki answered quickly, trying to control the blush spreading across her cheeks. "I'm fine!"

Orihime smiled at her – warm, comforting, and real. Just how she looked in memory.

Tatsuki tried to smile back strongly, knowing hers would seem pale and desperate in comparison, and felt them slip a little further…