A/N: This fic kind of came about when I was listening to one of my favorite songs. It's called "If You Want Me" and it's sung by Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard. The song is really awesome!
A/N for revised edition: When I originally wrote this story, people seemed to be missing its point by a long-shot. So, I consulted my wonderful beta, S. T. Nickolian, and this revised version came into being. I'm sorry to all of my readers about the confusion with the motivation behind certain events. I sincerely hope this version is much clearer.
Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach.
Ichigo ran down the blank, white corridors of Las Noches. He had to find her. He could feel her reiatsu, faintly. It was masked by stronger reiatsus, those of the shinigami and, even more overpowering, those of the arrancar. Underneath these crisscrossing auras however, Ichigo could feel a bright pulse of energy, one that was undeniably Orihime's.
Her reiatsu was getting stronger. Eventually, Ichigo arrived at the door where her faint reiatsu was the most potent. Ichigo tentatively reached for the door. He paused. Would Orihime be angry with him for waiting so long to come save her? The Soul Society had made him wait until the winter, when war was imminent, before allowing him to save his nakama. Orihime had been missing for three months, and Urahara had explained that time in Hueco Mundo progressed faster than time in the living world. To Orihime, she had been locked in this desolate world for an entire year. Ichigo didn't know if he was ready to face her. He hadn't been able to protect her, and she would feel as though he had left her here, alone.
Ichigo knew he had to face her sometime, however. Besides, his first priority was to get her out of here, whether she was angry with him or not. Ichigo took a deep breath and pushed open the door to Orihime's cell.
Inside, Ichigo saw the girl he had come to save. She was standing in the middle of the drab, dark room, staring out through a barred window at the constant moon that shone in Hueco Mundo's endless night. She was standing in a long white dress in a style similar to the arrancar. Her long orange hair seemed paler somehow, without its usual brightness. Ichigo assumed this was due to the bleaching moonlight.
Ichigo stepped into the room. "Inoue!" he called.
"Ichigo?" The orange-haired shinigami was taken aback. Orihime had never called him by his first name before. It was always Kurosaki-kun.
Orihime, still not turning her gaze from the eerie sky, asked, "Ichigo, is that really you?"
"Yes, Inoue," he replied. "I'm here to rescue you."
"I've dreamed that you've said that many times." There was a pause. "Are you another dream?" A knot formed in Ichigo's stomach. She had been waiting all this time for him to save her.
"Ichigo," she said before he replied. "I…I don't remember your face. What do you look like?"
Ichigo's stomach plummeted. How could he have left his nakama here for so long? She sounded like a lost and confused child. Ichigo walked toward Orihime, but his steps slowed when she began to turn around.
The first thing he noticed was how pale she was, as if she hadn't seen the sun for year, which, in reality, she hadn't. The next thing he noticed was the hole. In the center of her neck, there was a hole, just like a hollow's. Her eyes were no longer gray, but white, just plain white around tiny black pupils. He shivered as she turned her bleached gaze toward him. She no longer had her blue hairpins her brother had given her. In their place were two tiny, white pieces of bone in a shape reminiscent of her former hairpins. These remnants of her hollow mask shone in the pale moonlight.
"Ichigo," she said, her voice filled with sadness. "I'm cold." She took a step toward him, and the substitute shinigami took an involuntary step back. He flinched at his actions, but she looked…Her eyes seemed dead.
Orihime stopped. No tears filled her blank eyes, but Ichigo was sure she would be crying if she could.
"Ichigo, I came here to protect everyone, but…Ichigo…" She looked up at him, despair written clearly on her face. "…I'm ready to go home, Ichigo."
Something broke inside of him. Orihime had trusted him and he had left her in this place, he left her to die. Why? Why hadn't he come? Why hadn't he ignored the Soul Society's orders and come to save her on his own? Did he…did he doubt her? Did he believe that Orihime really could have betrayed them? And now…he felt sick just looking at her. It wasn't her change in appearance that disturbed him. It was her misery. Every inch of her screamed in emotional agony…in loneliness.
While these thoughts ran through Ichigo's mind, Orihime stood silently before him. She gripped her middle and shivered slightly. Her movement aroused Ichigo's attention. A lump formed in his throat as he held back tears at the pitiful sight before him.
Ignoring his instincts and her unnerving blanched eyes, Ichigo stepped toward the arrancar before him. Ichigo embraced his nakama, wrapping his arms around her shivering form. Orihime was cold. Her body radiated no heat. She felt like a…Ichigo hurt to think it…she felt like a corpse.
"I want to go home, Ichigo." Orihime's whispered words brought tears to the shinigami's eyes. She seemed so lost. He wanted nothing more than to take her back with him to the world of the living, but…her heart was gone. Happiness and joy had been ripped from her. In every respect she was a hollow now. And yet…even after her heart was removed, an act that usually turned every emotion into anger and bloodlust, Orihime still had no violence in her. Instead, the deed carved her out until she had nothing but loneliness…and the cold.
Rubbing her back comfortingly, Ichigo said, "It will be okay."
While still holding her in one arm, Ichigo's other arm went for his zanpakuto. Tears blurred the boy's vision as he gripped his sword. "You're going home…Orihime." Holding onto his nakama tightly, Ichigo thrust his sword through Orihime's stomach.
He heard her gasp, and a pain shot through him. His actions ripped something from him, but this wasn't about him, wasn't about his pain. This was about Orihime. He held onto her as blood from her wound soaked them both. Her blood was deathly cold, and Ichigo shivered. Her body started to become limp in his arms. He held her until he felt the cold corpse in his arms begin to disintegrate, and what was left of his nakama became dust on the floor.