Disclaimer: Kubo Tite owns Bleach. I just stalk Kubo Tite's characters.
Description: The magical beings who live in Orihime's hairpins consider love triangles and other abstract configurations. The humans briefly discussed are Orihime, Ichigo, Rukia, Ishida and Tatsuki.
No warnings. Spoilers for the whole manga until the Arrancar arc so don't read if you're not caught up.
As always, Dragonboy MT inspires my Bleach fanfic. You can see his marvelous rendering of Shun Shun Rikka at Deviant Art.
"If you liked Kurosaki-kun, it would be two girls against one guy, and we would win."—Orihime to Rukia, Bleach chapter 52 "Needless Emotions"
This is an exceedingly grim situation.Hinagiku folded his tiny arms and frowned. He was the only fairy among the remaining five who hadn't been weeping off and on all night. Think, think, think! Clear thinking and not strength of feeling was going to get Shun Shun Rikka out of this predicament.Orihime's solo shooter, Tsubaki, was still Missing In Action. Without this angriest, most masculine part of Orihime, the stability of Shun Shun Rikka felt unbalanced. Had Orihime lost more than her one offensive attack? Were the powers of the other fairies affected?
The predominant girliness of the night made Hinagiku suspect so. Tsubaki's mere presence would not have allowed for such a tearful display.
Orihime's once six-petaled flower now stood in a five-pointed shape. With his talent for symbolism, Hinagiku had figured out that five points meant the shape of a person--one head, two arms, two legs. The pentagram in books about magic (an area of the school library into which Orihime rarely wandered, Hinagiku noted with disappointment--otherwise he might have more to work with here), stood for the five-pointed human body wracked with human vulnerabilities.
"There is always the chance," Hinagiku offered, "that once Orihime wakes up from her restless sleep, Tsubaki will manifest himself again."
"But what if he's gone forever?" asked Lily in a tiny whine. The usually vivacious fairy was wearing her goggles over her face to hide swollen eyes. "How will we ever protect Orihime without Tsubaki?"
"Now, now, we must not make early assumptions," said Hinagiku. "It could be that as long as a person remains alive, so do all parts of that person. Orihime is still very much alive."
"Parts of a person can die," said Lily. "Orihime's grief over her parents died. Orihime's anger towards those girls who chopped off her hair died."
"Those instances describe the death of feelings," intoned Hinagiku, and he held up a finger the way he had seen Orihime's schoolteachers do. "We're not, in these cases, talking about the death of parts of personality. The death of some feelings does not presuppose the death of Tsubaki."
Lily frowned and looked like she was thinking hard; the other fairies looked merely confused. Hinagiku wondered if his argument against Tsubaki's demise was just talk to cheer them; the memory of Tsubaki disintegrating under the palm of that odd Shinigami-Hollow beast did not lead the logical fairy to a very optimistic conclusion.
"Ayame?" Hinagiku cast his gaze to the one fairy always the most hopeful among them. "Is there been any fluctuation in your time-space awareness recently? Even the slightest change?"
Ayame peered out briefly from her ladybug wings. "No," she said solemnly. The tears in her large brown eyes caught a glint of moonlight, and then Ayame covered herself with her wings again. Muffled sobs could be heard behind them.
"There, there," said Baigon. He was the patient-faced fairy who along with Lily and Hinagiku was responsible for Orihime's defensive shield. "Orihime has been through tough times before. Her shield can still protect her, and Captain Unohana said it herself--Orihime's healing powers are unmatched in the universe. You and Shonou have healed Tsubaki before."
"But… but…" Ayame's big-eyed face emerged from her wing coverings. "How can we heal Tsubaki if we can't even find him?" Her brown eyes despaired and her arms threw themselves around her healing partner, Shonou. Shonou waggled her green bird feet and patted Ayame's head.
"Ayame! You're--you're a mess!" Lily put her hands on her hips. "Why don't you stop crying and try to see if you can feel around for Tsubaki's presence with that time-space-whatever-you-call it sense of yours? "
"But… but…" Ayame looked guilty. "I don't even know what my time-space-whatever-you-call-it is supposed to do!"
"What?" All fairy eyes turned to the ladybug-shaped healer.
Lily raised her fists into the air, and for that moment it seemed to Hinagiku that she resembled Tsubaki before charging into the field.
"Hinagiku!" The tinny shriek that came out of Lily was definitely not like Tsukabi's, although it was certainly angry. "Ayame doesn't even know what you're talking about!Does anyone else here even know what you're talking about half the time? Didn't you say that Ayame had a time-space sense? Well, does she or doesn't she, and how is it supposed to be helping us find Tsubaki?"
Grim situation indeed, thought Hinagiku. They expect a course in quantum physics. How in the world am I supposed to think clearly with all these useless female emotions floundering about?
Orihime, meanwhile, was dreaming about Arrancar. Two were charging her at the same time. The slender, elegant-voiced one who had sliced so many wounds into Toshiro-san and the giant, round one who had felled Rangiku-san.
Orihime held her palms before her as if there still existed a Tsubaki to fire. But she knew he was gone; firing was futile.
Lights flashed, a deathblow roared in her skull, and Orihime woke up with her heart pounding. At least this dream's end had not been visually gruesome. All night, Orihime had been dreaming of gaping bloody holes, the Arrancar tearing into her friends, and so many wounds that she was too tired to heal. Her shoulders drooped in these dreams. Her healing shield cast a dim light.
Stop it, Orihime told herself. Everything will be alright.
For some reason the usual optimism did not rise in her chest. Without Tsubaki, it was as if there was no bravery in her soul. As for Kurosaki-kun himself, the usual epitome of bravery… why was he so distressed and believing he had failed everyone?
Another memory arose: Kuchiki-san, freshly healed from a mortal wound, her tiny face railing at Kurosaki and telling him to shape up and quit feeling guilty.
That should have been my line. Why can't I help him?
And Orihime dropped her head against her arm cast and, not for the first time that night, moistened it with tears.
"We're in love with him, you know," said Lily. "It's really hard to concentrate on finding your inner strength when the guy you love doesn't--"
"Affection!" Baigon declared in an unusually loud voice (although his face remained calm and stony). "Kurosaki-kun is our friend, and we admire him. Our feelings towards him are those of friendly affection."
"Oh please." Lily rolled her eyes. "The word affection means the same thing as love."
Hinagiku wanted to lecture Lily about connotative versus denotative meaning but restrained himself.
"What's wrong with being in love with Ichigo?" asked Shonou. The bird-footed fairy clasped her hands together. "He inspires us. He makes us want to be stronger. He led us into Soul Society like a prince on a noble quest and--" Shonou's eyes turned dreamy. "After his battle with Byakuya-kun, did you see how serious and handsome his face got when he heard that Kuchiki-san was in danger again? And how he rushed to save her even though he could barely stand?"
"He loves Kuchiki-san," Lily muttered, looking none too pleased with the idea.
"Of course he does," said Shonou. "Kuchiki-san gave him the Shinigami powers with which to save his family, and she changed his life forever. He is bound to her with--" Shonou's eyes glazed as she searched for the perfect overstatement."--garlands of devotion and ribbons and ribbons of love. He's indebted to her forever!"
"I wouldn't go so far as to say that!" insisted Lily. "I think he paid that debt when he rescued her from execution. I say all's even now."
Hinagiku held up his hands. "Please, our relationship to this boy hardly matters at the moment." The girliness was getting out of hand. All this Kurosaki-love would not be going on if Tsubaki were here.
The fairies fell silent in their infinite hairpin space. They watched as Orihime padded on bare feet to the kitchen and poured herself a glass of water. The sound of water rushing from the faucet depressed them further for some reason. Such a soft, inevitable noise, Hinagiku thought, and not all the cups of water in the world will quench our dear girl's longing. Water filled Orihime's glass, and the faucet did not shut off. The girl bent over the sink and sobbed.
Shonou, her arms still around Ayame's red wings, spoke in a clear voice: "Everyone, we have to face it. Orihime is grieving." She shrugged. "This could go on a while."
"Tsubaki…" whimpered Ayame.
"No, it's not Tsubaki she's grieving over," said Lily in a quiet voice. "She's trying to come to grips with the fact that her crush on Ichigo was a silly girlish dream. And the fact that the bond Ichigo has with Kuchiki-san is deeper than the one he has with her."
"Hold your horses!" Shonou's hands shot up. "Hime can't give up on loving Ichigo yet. Didn't Rangiku-san tell us that he's just a boy and can't recognize certain moments yet? Girls mature before boys, isn't that so? Maybe Orihime just needs to restore her faith in her silly dream and wait for Ichigo to--"
"Girls mature faster than boys?" Baigon turned to the one other male, Hinagiku, for confirmation. "Is this scientific fact or just something girls tell one another at giggling slumber parties?"
Hinagiku was about to lose patience. "PLEASE, everyone. Stop this now. Girlhood romance has absolutely nothing to do with restoring our battle readiness!"
The three females stared at the two males.
"On the contrary," said Lily. "I think that Orihime's Ichigo crush has everything to do with why she can't pull herself together at the moment. If she's a mess, then so ARE WE!"
It was true: Orihime's nighttime thoughts were never far from Kurosaki Ichigo.
Poor Kurosaki-kun. He's feeling defeated. He even … smells different?
It used to be that Orihime could congratulate herself for sensing in the boy what no one else sensed, even though she was certain that one day everyone would recognize Kurosaki's… awesomeness. Then after Soul Society, that realm of challenges where others had witnessed Kurosaki's marvelous bravery and determination, Orihime herself felt a little less special.
Everyone should love Kurosaki-kun. Why shouldn't they? I'm a horrible person for wanting to be the only one.
Hadn't it been only weeks ago that Orihime was trying to convince girls of the attractiveness of grouchy faces? The girls at lunch had been describing the charms of a certain pop star who plucked his eyebrows and had a face delicate as a girl's. "Eyebrows!" Orihime had squealed. "I like grouchy eyebrows! Long eyebrows that wiggle like silkworms! They make a face more interesting!"
"Don't you mean orange caterpillars?" Tatsuki had punched Orihime's arm. "Orange caterpillars and not white silkworms?"
Bending over the kitchen sink, her arm cast moist with tears and her pajama sleeve soaked with tap water from the still-flowing faucet, Orihime tried to remember if Kuchiki-san had joined in the laughter.
Kuchiki-san never really made fun of his funny face the way other girls do.
Orihime twisted the faucet handle shut.
"Oh no!" she spoke aloud. "Kuchiki-san can't like Kurosaki-kun! It would be too tragic because Ishida-kun likes Kuchiki-san!"
"Uh oh," said Lily. "Looks like we've got a love triangle here."
Baigon looked completely lost. "Explain please."
"Two girls liking one boy." Lily drew a V in the air. "And then another boy likes one of those girls." She made a slashing gesture through the V.
"In no way is that configuration a triangle," said Baigon. "I think you just drew the Big Dipper."
"Baigon!" Hinagiku felt the wrinkles in his face deepen. "Don't you ever pay attention in trigonometry? There are so many angles and triangles in that set of points Lily just gave us--look, it's not even humorous! Don't make me explain sine and cosine and tangent again. We tutored Tatsuki-chan yesterday until our brain hurt."
"Ahhhh," began Shonou in a dreamy, trailing voice. "Ishida-kun. He was so clever and kind in Soul Society, remember? And he made that beautiful dress for Kuchiki-san. Just the idea that he knew the type of dress she always wore--wasn't that observant of him?"
Lily clasped her hands together. "I've got it! Let's get Kuchiki-san and Ishida-kun together somehow? Invite them both over for tea? Orihime has never played matchmaker before--it just might be the new role to cheer her up."
The other fairies stared in obvious disapproval of the idea.
"What?" said Lily.
"You sly girl," said Baigon. "You want to leave Kurosaki-kun free for Orihime."
"And Orihime free to work on getting back her optimism," Lily said with conviction. "Don't humans talk about getting back their good spirits all the time? If Orihime cheers up, it will revive Tsubaki! Besides, helping people is just in our nature. Fixing up Ishida-kun will--"
"Nonsense!" Hinagiku spat. "Such feminine machinations never work!"
Baigon nodded in agreement. "Such things are not for us to decide. Besides, it's plain as day that Kurosaki-kun feels deeply for the little Shinigami girl, and to interfere with Kurosaki's emotions at the moment might be to endanger those he protects."
All the fairies fell silent at the obvious truth of Baigon's words.
Ayame, who had been leaning against Shonou's shoulder for a long time and not contributing to the debate, sat up and blinked. "Guys?" Her voice sounded awed, as if she had just received a revelation.
"What is it?" the other fairies began to ask. "Do you sense Tsubaki?" "Is your time-space thingie working now?"
"No, no, it's not Tsubaki." Ayame folded her hands in her lap and looked sad. "But I think I know what is bothering Orihime truly. It's the same thing that's bothering me."
"Ichigo!" Shonou gasped. "You do love him."
"She loves everyone," " Baigon observed dryly. "I think she loves Tatsuki-chan the most."
Ayame shook her head. "No, it's not about loving people like that. It's about healing their pain. Despite all the healing we were able to accomplish tonight--"
"I tell you, we worked so hard on Toshiro-kun," interrupted Shonou. "He should be resting but he's out on the roof doing Soul Society paperwork by moonlight! Patients really need to take care--" Shonou noticed the others staring at her with impatience and shut her mouth.
"Despite all the physical healing Orihime is capable of," continued Ayame, "she really can't fix other people's feelings. There was absolutely nothing she could do about Kurosaki-kun's sadness and insecurity. And she can't make Kuchiki-san fall in love with Ishida-kun. It's just not possible. Human emotions are beyond the reach of Souten Kishun, and we can not heal them."
The fairies watched as Orihime brought her water glass to the small, main room where Rangiku Matsumoto was lying on a spare futon. Orihime sat next to the sleeping Shinigami and sipped water, looking lost in thought.
"Rangiku-san is a good person for Hime to turn to," said Lily. "She's smart and strong and gives good advice. Maybe in the morning, when Rangiku-san wakes up--"
"No," said Ayame quietly. "Orihime doesn't need to rely on her or Kurosaki-kun or anyone. Orihime needs to find … needs to find…" Ayame's voice trailed off--as if she had the concept in her mind but the right word hadn't found her mouth yet.
"Orihime needs to find self-reliance," Hinagiku said.
Dawn's pink light washed over the sleeping Shinigami woman, but Orihime was still sitting on the floor in darkness. Orihime kept the blinds up on warm nights like this one, and morning had only begun to rise in the windows. She walked over to watch it.
I'm so tired.
The voices in her head were telling her that she, Inoue Orihime, was responsible for own happiness and that she should not be relying on other people, but Orihime was resisting the message--not out of tiredness or contrariness but because she really didn't believe it.
People need to depend on one another! We are all connected, right? The math goes like this--we're all ONE!Try as she did, however, to picture herself contributing to that one-ness, Orihime could not remember a time when someone had not arrived to rescue her. Sora snatching her in his arms in a place that smelled like blood and flowers and carrying her far, far away from where their parents were always shrieking…Tatsuki's smiling eyes after the school dismissal bell and Orihime's fear of scissors dissolving just like that… Ishida-kun's sharp voice ringing through the night just before the bombs exploded…
At the window framing daybreak, Orihime's body recalled the terror of what if. Shivering on her knees in the dirt, she had managed to say, "Thanks. If Ishida-kun didn't warn me, I--I--"
"No," Ishida-kun had said. "This is thanks to Inoue-san's special training…"
Orihime appreciated the memory. Even though she believed that there was nothing really special about her, it was nice to know that Ishida-kun didn't think of her as a liability in Soul Society.
How could she compare herself, however, to these real warriors, to Kurosaki-kun and the others whose swords slashed through doubt and whose faces seemed so full of fire and confidence?
Are they really … do they really have self-esteem?
At that moment it occurred to Orihime that maybe a lot of battle posturing was just that--an act. After all, hadn't everyone feared Sora in his Hollow form? The spikey hair and extended nails. That terrible mask of bone and teeth coming closer--
Sora, I love you.
Orihime, who could not fire a Tsubaki yet, who had no knowledge of Shun Shun Rikka, had thrown herself against the monster with her palms spread and her heart wide open.
Sora, I believe in you.
It wasn't self-esteem that had saved her; it was self-sacrifice. Not caring about being rescued, not caring about winning a battle. Feeling and pure faith distended past the confines of her physical body. Arms open, arms always open to love--
"Wow," Orihime spoke aloud against the windowpane. "I had all that faith in Sora. I should have it in myself, I guess. Since Tatsuki has it in me, since Ishida-kun does…since… everyone…"
She heard Rangiku-san stirring behind her and thought that she should begin making breakfast soon. Miso soup with cookie crumbles--maybe Rangiku-san would like that as much as last night's ice cream.
Ayame lifted her head, straightened her red wings, and seemed to be listening to a faraway sound.
Hinagiku felt the frown in his face lighten.
"What is it?" Lily asked, looking concerned. "Is your time-space whatever working now? You look like you have a buzz."
"No," said Ayame. "I still have no idea what my time-space thingie is--"
There was a collective moan of disappointment from all the fairies except Hinagiku, and when the moan died out, Ayame cocked her head and smiled broadly.
"I still have no idea how I'm doing this, but--"
"Tsubaki?" Hinagiku asked.
There was swell of hope in the infinite hairpin space, and that hope itself answered:
This fic is dedicated to me. My writing has been floundering since my fanfic editor and inspiration took a leave of absence. You have no idea how hard it was to write this little thing. Dialogue is a bitch (for me at least) and five fairies speaking in an administrative meeting? Gah!
Feedback, typo-catches, crits please.