Written for the January round of Bleach flashfic on LJ but I didn't finish it on time and it proceeded to explode until it turned into this.
Orihime is my fandom bicycle yes, yes?
Once, when Orihime had been a little girl, she had gotten a splinter lodged in her foot. It hadn't hurt terribly and it hadn't been much of an inconvenience but she couldn't help but pick at it, tearing away skin, until she had managed to dislodge it.
Her brother scolded her for it later, telling her that it would have worked its way out when her body was ready for it to be out.
Regardless, Orihime is secretly glad, even though the wound she had created hurt more than the splinter did.
He had been the only one to die.
Despite the fact she isn't fighting and is off in the background, Aizen targets her. He has always targeted her, ever since he had first become aware of her powers, and the fierce battle he was caught up in didn't change that.
She hadn't seen the blast coming for her, so wrapped up in healing the many wounded was she, and by the time she had realized it was too late.
When the blast doesn't hit her, when she knows she has been saved, she opens her eyes, expecting to see a tattered black cloak in front of her. She sees a white one instead.
Ishida's blood drops like molten rubies into the sand. "I'm sorry," he says, looking at her, and Orihime thinks he is talking to her. His eyes glass over. "Father."
Orihime never did find out who exactly he was apologizing to.
There wasn't anything left to bring back. Aizen had destroyed every last bit of him.
"I can't bring him back," Orihime chokes. "Without a body I don't know how to bring him back."
She dissolves into tears. Everyone tells her that it's okay, that it's not her fault, that she couldn't have done anything else.
Orihime wishes she could believe them.
When Ichigo touches her arm, she looks at him. The mask he had worn to defeat Aizen leers back at her. Orihime finds that she hates it.
He says her name but nothing else. He has never been any good at comforting. He has only been good for fighting.
She doesn't say anything back either. She doesn't have the heart to.
She had saved many. Across the blood red sand, Orihime had sent out her power in a wide arc, not bothering to determine if those she was trying to heal were already dead or not. Many that should have died returned to Soul Society completely whole and unharmed.
Ukitake thanks Orihime for all her help. When she bursts into tears at his words, he is dumbfounded and apologizes profusely.
Orihime accepts his apology, because that's the kind of person she is, but in the back of her mind she knows she should be the one asking for forgiveness.
"For me," she says as they make their way home. "Why for me?"
"He wanted to rescue you. You were his friend. He cared for you. We all do. That's why we came."
"No one should die for me."
A beat. Then, "I thought the very same thing while sitting inside that tower."
The only difference is nobody did dieat that time. She couldn't save him, one of her greatest friends, and that's the part that kills Orihime the most.
In the end, she had been even more useless than Urahara had claimed.
When they are back in the city, in the street, they say, "He died a warrior's death. He died honorably following what he believed is right. He would have wanted it that way."
Orihime bites her tongue, for their sake. She swallows her words of sorrow and anger until they are a black lump weighing deep inside her stomach.
She wants them to blame her. She wants them to hate her but because they don't, it makes her feel all the worse. In some twisted way, because they don't blame her, she feels like she is guiltier all the more.
The battle is over and done. They can go back to their lives, go back to the was and then, and pretend like what they had been through had never happened. It all seemed so useless in the end really. Nobody knew what had happened, save them, and it is hard to look back and imagine any of it had happened. Harder still because she knew it was real.
Orihime tries to pick up the pieces. Tries to piece back the puzzle that was her life before that fateful day her brother came after her. Before she discovered what she was and what she could do.
Orihime also tries to forget about her powers, that supposed gift.
She tries to be a normal teenager. A normal teenager who doesn't know about shinigami, or grand adventures, or unrequited love, or death and loss and heartache. Someone who doesn't know what it's like to lose and lose and lose.
There is an empty seat in the classroom this year.
Orihime thinks it will be so hard, oh so hard, to hear everyone wonder where Ishida has gone.
It is even worse when nobody notices at all.
It should have been Ichigo. It should have been Ichigo to leap in the way, to take the blast that was meant for her. He should have loved her enough for that.
That's how it plays out in her mind and Orihime hates herself all the more for thinking like that.
Weeks go by and slowly she feels herself disconnecting. She can no longer feel the attachment she once had with the other girls. They just don't know.
Orihime fakes smiles, fakes listening, fakes everything. It is strange to her that a year ago she had been an airhead, able to laugh at nothing and never connect anything. Now she has faced the world and experienced all its dark corners and ugly faces. She knows the deep dark truth of sacrifice and survival.
She knows what its like to survive.
She is quieter than ever.
"You don't seem like yourself anymore," says Tatsuki.
"I don't feel like myself anymore."
She had always pictured that each one of her companions brought a piece to their little group that made it a whole. Ichigo had been the power, Rukia the experience, Chad the stability, Ishida the brains, and she had been the emotion.
She made decisions based on what her heart told her to and didn't think about consequences. This got her into trouble sometimes, as some of the things she did was right but not necessarily smart.
Ishida had always been the one in their group to make sense of things. He had always made decisions with his head and not his heart. He had weighed consequences before acting and decided thereupon whether the consequences were worth it. This had gotten him into a lot of trouble too, because he valued others lives over his own and the consequence of losing his life compared to somebody's else was always worth it.
This is why he had died of course. He knew what stepping in front of her had meant. He had done it anyway.
She feels like an animal trapped inside a cage. She wants to rage and rage but instead she stands quietly, folding her regrets and her heartache like so many pieces of paper until they are a little tiny square she can hide under her heart.
"I'm sorry," she wants to say to them. Can't. "I'm so sorry for what I took away from you."
Even if she did say it, it wouldn't matter. Most wouldn't understand what she is talking about and the others wouldn't listen anyway.
Under the weight of her own armor, she is drowning. With all her guilt, all her defenses (for their sake and hers), she is drowning and she is unable to remove it to save herself.
She looks to Ichigo for help, for comfort, for something.
But he can't even look her in the eye anymore.
Chad can't help her either. He is too quiet, too stable, too unemotional to understand or comprehend.
Ishida, she knows, would have been able to understand. He would have looked at it with all his intensity, all his emotion, all his intelligence, like he used to do with everything else. Ishida could have helped her.
But he is gone, gone and over, and it's all her fault.
"I don't think I'll be going to school tomorrow."
"Why not? Do you not feel well?"
"…Something like that."
There are more school days and more.
"Do you still not feel well?"
"You're going to fail your class," Tatsuki warns.
"I don't care."
"What is wrong with you?" Tatsuki's voice rises in desperation. "Why are you like this?"
Orihime looks at her. She could say all sorts of things, explain everything, make her see. But Orihime knows Tatsuki would only feel sorry for her and that only makes Orihime feel worse.
"Nothings wrong," she says. "Nothing at all."
There is a splinter wedged deep inside Orihime's heart. Inside it, it holds all the memories, all the guilt, all the frustration in herself and what she was unable to do. Inside it she holds Ishida.
She knows that in time, perhaps, it would work itself out and barely leave behind anything but a small scar.
But then, Orihime was never very good with letting things lie.