Orihime couldn't say she was full of regrets. What she had experienced, the wonderful people she had met, she would not give up for the world. There was remorse but she had come to learn that there always would be remorse with everything.

No longer could she view the world through the eye's of a fairytale enthused girl who believed in truly happy endings. No longer was she the girl overwhelmed and fraught with emotion. Under Ryuuken's hands, he had carved her into a woman filled with clear understanding and capability. Now, she could look at things with an adult's perspective.

She understood that life would never end completely happily. There would always be mishaps made along the way. There would always be a price to pay.

But she also understood the important things, the things she had overlooked. She understood the big picture.

Inside her house, she drops her bag with a sigh. It feels like forever since she had been home and actually been happy to be there.

Tomorrow she will go to school. She will go to school and try her best, and work hard. She will live life to the fullest and never let it trample her down ever again.

She will be happy.

She had hardly been home for more than an hour when the door is knocked upon. She is brushing her teeth and sticks her head out of the bathroom, blinking owlishly at the door.

The knock comes again, more insistent this time.

"Just a minute!" she tries to yell but it only comes out as a faint gargle from around her toothbrush.

Hurrying, she cleans up and rushes to the door.

And freezes in utter astonishment when she opens it to find Ichigo.

It could have been a minute or just a mere second that she stood there looking at him. It could have been an hour or a moment. It could have been an eternity or an instant.

She couldn't tell if time froze or moved forward rapidly. All she knew was that a bomb could have gone off and she wouldn't have noticed one bit.

She remembers finally how to breathe. "Kurosaki-kun…"

He looks at her and the look he gives her makes her throat feel tight and raw. It makes her feel wonderful and horrible at the same time.

"You're home," he says. "At last."

He opens his arms and obligingly, happily, she goes to him.

"Kurosaki-kun," she says and it feels like she will never grow tired of saying his name. "Have you been looking for me?"

His eyes slide to the window, hands in his pockets. Except for when she had first opened the door, he has not looked at her once. "I have been. I thought you needed some time alone but you never came back, so I went looking for you. To…to make sure everything was okay."

"Why didn't you come by here?"

"I did."

Orihime frowns, confused. "When?"


"Everyday? But I never saw-"

"I didn't knock at first but then you disappeared altogether. So I started knocking. Where did you go?"

"Somewhere," Orihime says evasively. She doesn't know what Ichigo would think if he knew where she had gone and what she had done. That small selfish part of her didn't want to share it either. Ryuuken and what he had given her was her's to keep in her heart and no one else's.

"You look different," he comments suddenly.

Orihime smiles at that. "Ifeel different."

"…I see."

At his words, she glances piercingly at him. She can feel something, like the day Ichigo fought Yammy and was defeated. Something dark and heavy. "Is everything alright, Kurosaki-kun?"

"Yes," he says. Then, "No. I…"

And he looks at her, finally looks at her, and in his eyes she sees exactly what she had seen in herself weeks ago.

And suddenly the pieces all fall steadily into place to form one big picture and Orihime understands.

Ichigo hadn't stopped looking her in the eye because he blamed her for Ishida's death. It was because he blamed himself. He had made an oath to protect everyone and bring them all home safely. He had been unable to hold that oath and now…now...

Inside his heart Ichigo has a splinter.

"Oh, Kurosaki-kun," she sighs.

"I," he's choking, crumbling, sinking under the weight of his guilt. "I wanted to say that…that…"

She goes to him then and he doesn't protest when she wraps her arms around him.

Forgiveness was the thing he needed and she relinquishes it without qualm. He is needy, needy; the poor star-eyed boy who believed he could save the world and everyone in it. Now he needs to become a man and realize that one person cannot save the world, that Superman does not exist. He must realize that sacrifices must sometimes be made and they are not always his to make.

As he shudders in her embrace, she smiles a small mysterious smile. She will help him remove his splinter, like Ryuuken did for her, and then she will help heal his wound. Together.

"I forgive you."

When she dreams, she dreams of Ishida.

- Fin. -