A/N: I'll leave the setting free to a reader's speculation; I haven't read anything past manga # 8, and I'm not sure where this should be taken prior to that. I also apologize for the stream-of-consciousness formatting in the middle, which might make it hard to read. I hope you enjoy it anyway. :D

Diffuse Sky

It's raining when they finally finish their Math homework, Orihime's pencil all chewed down one end and Tatsuki sick of seeing numbers. They look out the window blankly for a moment, as if the sight would confirm the noisy rattle of the drain pipe across the roof. It's pouring, really, the sound more like hailstones than water. Tatsuki shuts her notebook with great force and sighs. Then she reaches for the remote control, and presses down the on button. The TV remains blank. "Aw, man! No cable!" Ordinarily she would have punched the couch in protest, but she catches Orihime's knowing smile and stops herself.

"You're not going home in that weather," She tries to subdue the warning tone. "It's too strong."

"I have an umbrella," Orihime offers brightly, and her eyes sparkle as if she is proud of herself for being so prepared. She reaches into her schoolbag and unfurls it. Tatsuki gapes. Not only is it covered with Hamtaro drawings, it hardly covers her head, small as it is. And parts of Orihime would definitely stick out past that umbrella's circumference. She shakes her head.

"Where did you get that?"

"Free from a stationery store."

Her dreamy smile, no doubt recalling the kindness of the storeowners who gave it without charge, is so gleeful that Tatsuki can't bear to pop her bubble. She rubs her head a little wearily. "Let's try to wait it out, at least."

"Okie smokie!" Orihime twirls on the spot for a moment, and when she stops moving her eyes are on the porch. "Let's sit there," She says cheerily. She even points. Tatsuki has half a mind to disagree, because staying outside might give her friend a cold, and there is the cable company to call because she really wants to watch that wrestling match later on. But Orihime has turned to look at her again, and she decides not to let her ask a second time.

"Whatever." They head outside. The sky is gray, the air is cool, and the wind makes Orihime's hair whip around her face. She brushes it back with one hand, eyes shut, enjoying the breeze. They sit down on the steps and look out at the rain in silence.

"We used to do this a lot before, didn't we?"

In reply, Tatsuki takes out the mp3 player from the pocket of her hoodie. She settles it between them and holds out one earphone to her friend. The other she hooks over her own ear. The music starts to play.

"It didn't use to be an mp3 player," Orihime giggles.

Tatsuki grins. "Nobody uses a Discman anymore."

Inseparable. I never see you two apart. Tatsuki, you're like some perpetual force field.

Not a force field, a dragon, she thinks to herself once. Blame it on the old fantasy books she is starting to read. Masked Rider is getting stale, and Orihime wouldn't fit there. Now if she were a princess, Tatsuki could be a knight, but that's not what she prefers, either. A dragon. Dragons can beat the knights as well as the villains, they breath torch-fire, they're unstoppable. That's what I want to be.

But not all dragons are good, she figures out later on. The princess sometimes resents being locked up in a tower. So she's safe. So what? How can prince charming ever get to her that way?

What prince charming? Did he still exist?

Orihime, do you still believe in prince charming? Of course.

She seems a little stupid, doesn't she? But she sure is hot.

She has her fist against his cheek even before his friend can reply, her burning anger magnifying the blow ten times over. It's almost as if she really could breath fire. Shut up! They're a foot taller, and much older. She turns and kicks, punches, kicks, swift, the motions that sensei praises her for. That's not the last time it happens. But whenever it does, she swears to herself, again and again, she won't let anyone make Orihime cry. And if they do make her cry, before she can stop them, she'll just have to make sure that they pay.

The first thing Orihime ever says to her is, Why is your cheek blue?

Tatsuki is surprised that the pretty girl with big eyes and a flower clip in her long hair would want to talk to her. She's usually with the boys, after all, playing tag, or sparring in the sandbox. And all the other girls think boys are worms. Or they're too busy braiding each other's hair. This one looks the sort especially. But Tatsuki decides she isn't really, not when she blinks those wide eyes and asks, Is it blue because you're half-alien?

Tatsuki tells her that it's because she got punched. The girl says Ouch and puts a hand up to her cheek, as if she could feel the blow herself. Did it hurt a lot?

Tatsuki says that it didn't. In fact, she says that often. Bruises make her tougher, scrapes can be fixed up with a band-aid. There's always some stretched muscle somewhere in her body, she's learned to sleep with the ache. She got into a bike accident once and broke two ribs. She knows what it's like to get really smacked in the gut – there have been many tournaments, not to mention fights. It doesn't bother her. Orihime thinks she should be more careful.

You're so lucky, Tatsuki, that you're so close to Ichigo.

She snorts. Why would any guy want to be called strawberry?

Tatsuki hardly considers him a guy. He's just something present and dependable, like a pair of old training gloves. Just Ichigo. Poker-faced, internally aching, but tough. Orihime's eyes are lowered to her feet and for some reason her cheeks are going pink.

Hey, don't say that. I think his name is cute.

His name, or him? But she decides not to say it aloud. Jeez, she sure has weird taste in guys.

Sometimes people give her funny looks. Especially when she's walking with Orihime. Is it her haircut, or her clothes? It doesn't bother Tatsuki, not really, because she's comfortable with her graphic shirts and cargo pants, and she doesn't feel like changing her hairstyle. Orihime probably doesn't notice. She's fine with that too. The shop lady raises an eyebrow when she takes her friend's hand. Tatsuki rolls her eyes. What they think doesn't matter. She knows the truth.

It's a different love. It's not romantic, and it sure as hell isn't perverted. She takes care of Orihime because other people might hurt her, and the optimism and genuine kindness that Tatsuki knows she has doesn't deserve that. And Orihime knows how to smile, and get others to smile, in a way that really comes from the heart. Tatsuki has been protecting her for so long that it's practically a reflex, like knowing when to raise her arm to parry a messy punch. It's friendly love, and it's love that allows them to sit in silence like this, in pure comfort.

But for how much longer?

"You think there'll be a rainbow?"

She gives Orihime a sidelong glance. Her playlist is down to its last few songs. Then it will go on loop.

She could say, no, why would they be that lucky? Or she could shrug.

But she grins and answers, "Yeah, probably."

"I think so too," Orihime gives a wide smile, showing all her teeth.

Maybe the weather is listening to the music as well, because as some slow notes play the rain clears, little by little, the drops starting to land separately, far from each other. Tatsuki stretches out her legs on the porch. Yeah, they used to do this a lot. She had just gotten her first CD player, and there had been nothing to do. The park was out of the question, the television shows were all repeat soaps.

That's okay, Tatsuki, it's never boring with you around.

She believes in the opposite, actually, but she's happy with the comment anyway.

There's always rain, after all. She can live with that, sneezing after running around the track eight times, despite the weather, for endurance. But when it ends she's always happy for the rainbow – no matter how girly that sounds. (Hey, Tatsuki doesn't have no sense of feminism at all. She does own a formal dress, and she does know the difference between lipstick and lip gloss, although she applies neither.) Orihime taught her to appreciate rainbows. They're a lot alike, Tatsuki figures, coming out vibrant even through a storm.

The rain stops. And Orihime removesher earphone and claps her hands together.

"Oh, it's beautiful! I love blue skies with rainbows."

That makes two of us, Tatsuki thinks, but I'd never say that aloud. She looks at Orihime, skipping on the wet grass, arms raised, laughing to herself, and suddenly she feels a twinge of sadness, although she's not sure why. I feel like I'm missing her, and she hasn't even left.

"Hey, you."


Don't change. Don't leave me behind. Don't stop smiling.

"Come on," She steps off the porch and puts her hand out, grinning. "I'll walk you home."

A/N: This is the only Bleach fic I ever had the inclination to write; the idea came to me last November, and I wrote most of it in March.Since then I have tried to rewrite this story over and over, because there were some things I couldn'tquite put my finger on, and I didn't know how to make the relationship sweet but platonic (which is how I picture their relationship). I still haven't cleared it up totally, but I guess the story would die if I pushed it too hard. Oh well.Idecided to post it anyway (now or never, I guess).

I also ruined all parallels to the title, because Diffuse Sky is related to why the sky is blue and not rainbows, but I really couldn't think of anything better. I apologize for any OOC-ness. I hope you enjoyed reading it anyhow, and if you did (or even if you didn't), please leave a comment. All reviews are very greatly appreciated. :D