Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach or BtVS.
Prologue: 9 Years Ago
A six-year-old girl was walking home from the grocery. Her brother had to work late, and they were out of bread. Unfortunately, she didn't realize she had to make a grocery run until dusk had fallen. It wasn't a big deal really. The grocery was just around the corner from their apartment building, and they lived in a nice neighborhood. Little Inoue Orihime was afraid nonetheless. She didn't like the dark one bit, and, although there were numerous street lamps, there were still dark alleys that contained all sorts of horrible creatures from Orihime's imagination. The six-year-old clutched the bread tightly as she passed a particularly dark alley but stopped suddenly when she heard a voice.
"Are you all alone little girl?" The voice was soft and lilting, but something about it made Orihime freeze in terror. A tall, beautiful woman with long, dark hair appeared from the shadows of the alley. She wore a lacey gown of faded white. Her dark eyes were paradoxically both piercing and distant, as if all of her attention was focused on the child while she was also listening to something only she could hear.
The woman stepped closer to Orihime, causing the little girl to step back, her gray eyes wide. Orihime knew exactly what this person was the moment she saw her. It was almost instinctual. The idea came unbidden to her mind: This woman is a vampire. Orihime had no idea how she knew this but she was sure of it.
"Don't be afraid child. Mummy will take care of you." The woman smiled with a bit of manic glee.
Orihime gulped. She tried ordering her legs to run but as of now they could barely hold her weight. They had turned to jelly from her fear.
The woman walked toward the orange-haired girl, moving with a grace only the dead could achieve. She crouched down so she was eye to eye with Orihime. She lightly touched the side of the girl's face, and Orihime flinched. The vampire looked straight into her eyes, and for a moment a surprised expression crossed her face.
The surprise was quickly replaced with a smug, if not a little excited, look. The vampire bubbled and her smile practically shouted, "Take that world!" The vampire didn't say this, of course. Instead she brushed Orihime's hair back in a motherly manner. "Mummy won't hurt the little witch," the vampire said. Orihime was too frightened to contemplate her words or what she had called her. "The stars hum to Mummy. They sing of a tree that became a princess."
"Wha-" Orihime started to speak, but the vampire silenced her with a finger to her lips.
"Shhh…" The vampire became even more distant and began to sway. "The dead want the princess." She clutched her head as though she was in pain. "They call to her while Evil watches." The vampire's gaze sharpened as she turned to Orihime. "Evil is always watching princess. And the dead are rising." Her insane smile returned, and she started to twirl on the spot, as though an orchestra had suddenly struck up a waltz.
Seeing her chance, Orihime ran. She didn't care that she had dropped the bread or that she wasn't really looking where she was going. She just ran.
Buffy: Does it ever get easy?
Giles: You mean life?
Buffy: Yeah. Does it get easy?
Giles: What do you want me to say?
Buffy: Lie to me.
Giles: Yes, it's terribly simple. The good guys are always stalwart and true, the bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats, and, uh, we always defeat them and save the day. No one ever dies, and everybody lives happily ever after.
Buffy: Does it ever get easy?
Chapter 1: Lie to Me
Inoue Orihime, now fifteen, was quietly walking down a brightly lit street of Karakura Town with a big smile on her face. She and Tatsuki were finally going to watch that movie Orihime had been dying to see: Attack of the Blob People II: Total Annihilation. It never came out in theaters (Orihime could never figure out why) so she had rented it. The movie was in her purse which flopped about as she bounced down the street on her way to Tatsuki's.
Ordinarily, Orihime felt a little uncomfortable walking around town after dark, but the way to Tatsuki's was riddled with street lamps. Besides, the orange-haired girl's bubbly attitude wasn't going to be dissuaded by a little darkness, and Orihime was a veritable boy-scout as she was always prepared for anything.
The girl's walk was interrupted, however, when an arm shot out from the darkness of a shadowy side-street. The powerful arm gripped Orihime around the neck and lifted her from the ground. A hideous face emerged from the darkness with yellow eyes and a horribly wrinkled and disfigured face. The monstrous man growled with delight, showing his long, white fangs.
As the vampire lowered his mouth to Orihime's neck, Orihime swiftly kneed the creature in the groin, just as Tatsuki had taught her. The vampire dropped her to the ground and clutched his privates while moaning. Orihime took a moment to catch her breath before she began digging in her purse.
The movie, hair ties, tampons, and the other purse contents went flying as she rummaged through her bag. The vampire growled in anger as a feminine product hit him in the eye. Orihime sighed in frustration.
Meanwhile, the daemon had recovered and was sneaking up behind the girl when her hands closed on a spray bottle. She let out a cry of triumph before turning around and spraying the liquid right in the vampire's face. The daemon screeched as the holy water burned his skin. Orihime had returned to her purse and pulled out the stake that was just below her handy bottle of holy water. While the vampire was still dealing with his burns, Orihime used all of her strength and aimed at the vampire's heart. As she had gotten an A in anatomy class, Orihime didn't miss her target. She had just enough strength to get the tip of the wood to pierce the daemon's heart. Not bothering to remove her stake, Orihime stepped back and watched as the vampire turned to dust.
Satisfied, Orihime collected her things and continued walking to Tatsuki's house. She made a mental note to ask Tatsuki for a spare stake before heading home as she was sure her friend would have one. After all, Orihime knew that everyone carried around stakes and holy water to ward off the undead.
A couple weeks later
A couple weeks later
Matsumoto Rangiku and Inoue Orihime sat on the couch in Orihime's apartment. Orihime was painting Rangiku's nails pink. As she finished the last nail, a pensive look appeared on her face. "Rangiku-san?" Rangiku gave the girl her full attention. "I've been having weird dreams."
The shinigami sighed. "Is it the nightmare about the frogs again? Because if so this is more than just frog fear; it goes straight to frog terror."
Orihime shook her head. "No, I haven't had that one for a couple of days."
"No," Orihime said. "These dreams…well…Rangiku-san did you ever have an imaginary friend?"
Rangiku thought for a moment. "Nope. I don't think so."
Orihime looked embarrassed. "Well, I know it's odd for kids over five to have imaginary friends, but after Sora died, I..." Orihime trailed off. Rangiku nodded for her to continue. "I had an imaginary family."
Orihime flinched as Rangiku laughed. "That isn't odd, Orihime-chan!"
The orange-haired girl looked surprised. "It isn't?"
"Of course not!" Rangiku smiled at her friend. "It seems completely normal to me. I mean, you were all alone, weren't you?" Orihime nodded. "So what does this imaginary family have to do with you dreams lately?"
"It's the weirdest thing! See, I stopped believing in my imaginary family after I met Tatsuki, but lately I've been dreaming about them! They seem so real, Rangiku-san."
The shinigami mulled over this information. "When did the dreams start?" she asked.
"When I started training with Yoruichi-san before we went to the Soul Society to save Kuchiki-san."
Rangiku shrugged. "It might not mean anything, I suppose. You just might be wanting a family." A large smiled broke out on Rangiku's face and she embraced Orihime in a bone-crushing hug. "I'll be your family, Orihime-chan! And so will taicho!"
"No I won't," the young taicho yelled from the adjoining room.
Rangiku snickered and whispered, "Of course he will be, Orihime-chan! And so will Ikkaku, Yumichika, Renji…" Rangiku continued to the list the entirety of the Gotei 13, before adding "and of course your friends here! Like Kurosaki!" Rangiku smiled brightly, then, realizing the error of her words, looked at the hurt expression on Orihime's face.
Orihime was staring at her drying bright green nail polish morosely.
"I'm sorry, Orihime," Rangiku said, apologizing for bringing up the subject of Orihime's crush.
"It's okay, Rangiku-san." Orihime sighed. "I've accepted the fact that he'll never notice me."
Rangiku shook her head fervently. "You don't know that! He might come around!"
Orihime looked sadly at her friend. "No he won't." A tear escaped Orihime's eye. "I know he won't because…well…because I felt like I've experienced this before. You know?"
Rangiku just looked confused.
"I feel as though I've lived this scenario before. You know: always the friend but never the girlfriend?"
The female shinigami nodded. She understood what the girl meant. It was a situation that occurred a lot.
Orihime got a stern look on her face and said, "So, I've decided that I have a choice. I can spend my life waiting for Ichigo to notice me, or I can just get on with my life."
Rangiku smiled. "Good for you!" she said encouragingly.
Orihime slumped on the couch. "Well," she said tentatively, "I didn't choose yet." (1)
Scene from Chapter 227 (with some added bonus angst!)
Scene from Chapter 227 (with some added bonus angst!)
Orihime quietly followed Yoruichi into the underground training room of Urahara Souten. She was nervous. Yoruichi seemed distant. Usually she was kind to Orihime.
Why did Urahara need to see her? She didn't have Tsubaki, her only method of attack, anymore. Was that what he wanted to talk about?
Orihime's thoughts were interrupted by Urahara Kisuke who shouted loudly, "Good to see you, Inoue-san! Long time no see!"
Not knowing what to say to the overly enthusiastic ex-shinigami, Orihime simply replied, "Yeah."
Grabbing a bench, Urahara babbled, "Well, lately I've been looking at these guys only." Orihime attention was brought to the "guys" he was talking about. Renji and Chad seemed to be battling each other, training for the winter war with Aizen. "As expected I see flowers when there are women at the workplace…the atmosphere." Bringing the bench over, Urahara said, "Here, here, have a seat please!"
However, Orihime's attention was held by her two battling friends. "Sado-kun…Renji-kun…" They both looked exhausted, but they continued to fight. It hurt Orihime to know that she would never be able to fight like that. She would just watch her friends fight the good fight from the sidelines, healing them occasionally.
Suddenly, there was a loud crash. When the dust cleared, Orihime could see a bloody and beaten Chad lying in a crater. "Urahara-san!" Renji called. "He can't go on any longer! I'm gonna call it a day!"
"Sado-kun!" Orihime called, attempting to reach her fallen comrade.
Urahara put out an arm to stop her. "Tessai! Ururu!" he yelled at his staff. "Hit Sado-san until he wakes up."
Orihime looked at the shopkeeper like he was a madman.
However, behind Renji, Chad rose from the rubble. "Wa…wait…a sec…" he managed to say. "I…can…still…fight!"
Renji smirked at his opponent. "There's a limit for trying to be tough."
As Chad tried to stand, Orihime decided to find out what Urahara wanted from her. "Urahara-san? What did you want to talk to me about?"
Without turning to face her, Urahara said, "Just now, Matsumoto-san of the 10th squadron has come to this world. You're well aware of it, aren't you? The story of the 'Ouken.' The word should have spread to Madarame-san and them by now. It's a sudden situation and it was totally unexpected but, in any case, because of this, Soul Society and I have both decided to prepare for the upcoming war set for this winter. It's all out war. More blood will probably be spilt that ever before."
Orihime nodded. "I see," she said. "I also want to get stronger!"
"I thought so." Urahara sighed. "Then I will tell you, Inoue-san. I will have you removed from the war front."
His words shocked Orihime. Now she couldn't help at all? Was she to be totally left behind? "Tsubaki-" Orihime began, but Urahara interrupted her.
"Ever since he was injured from the battle with the arrancars he hasn't been able to recover, right?"
Orihime strained to hold back her tears. "Yeah. He was torn up so much…trying to heal him is like trying to find a splinter. I don't even know where to begin."
"Tsubaki is your only means of fighting. With him lost, I cannot allow you to participate in battle. That's obvious."
The man's words stung, but he was right. She could fight vamps with the best of them (but then again who couldn't do that), but when it came to helping her friends…Orihime had never felt more worthless in her life.
Chad, who had managed to get to his feet, came to her defense. "Wai…wait a sec, Urahara-san! Inoue is our comrade. She fought with her life in the Soul Society. Even Inoue herself is saying that she wants to get stronger. I can't just let you say things so simply!"
Orihime looked at her friend's determined face. She appreciated his words, but she didn't know if she agreed with him.
Urahara scoffed at the boy's words. "Isn't this just an emotionally based argument? Do you want Inoue-san to die?"
Chad became angry. "It's not that! Inoue has the power of shielding and restoration. That is very important during the war!" Orihime flinched. Was it so useful?
"We already know the protective power of the 'santen kesshun,' but I assume that it won't be useful for this battle. 'Soten kisshun,' we have the 4th squadron for that. This time, the abilities of Unohana-taicho and Kotetsu-fukutaicho's teams will be on the front line. For the gap that Inoue-san's absence will leave, they have the power to fill that gap many times over."
"But-" Chad protested.
"Leave it!" Urahara's tone was harsh. "I'm saying that a soldier who has lost his powers will only be a burden."
Rage flared in Chad. "Urahara-san!" he yelled, his voice booming throughout the underground training room.
Orihime, her voice sad, spoke up. "It's okay."
Chad turned to Orihime surprised. "Inoue?"
"It's okay." Orihime tried to smile at her friend, but she couldn't bring herself to.
All of the sudden, Orihime was no longer in the underground training room; instead she found herself in a small living room. It felt like she was reliving a memory, but she was sure she had never seen this place before. There were two people in front of her, a boy with dark hair and a short blonde girl. Orihime recognized them. They were members of her imaginary family, the same imaginary family she'd been dreaming about lately. The boy was Xander and the girl was Buffy, but why did everyone look so angry. She'd never imagined them fighting. What was this? Buffy started yelling at both her and Xander, and a feeling of guilt and depression took root in Orihime's stomach. "So let's go! All of us. We'll walk into that cave with you two attacking me and the funny drunk drooling on my shoe! Hey! Hey, maybe that's the secret way of killing Adam?!"
Xander, who had a hurt look on his face said, "Buffy…"
"Is that it?" the Buffy continued. "Is that how you can help? You're not answering me! How can you possibly help?" The girl calmed down. Somberly, she said, "So, I guess I'm starting to understand why there's no ancient prophecy about a Chosen One and her friends."
"Inoue!" Orihime's odd vision was broken by the sound of Chad's voice. The sadness was more apparent on Orihime's face now. The vision didn't really disturb her, but it awoke a deep sorrow within her.
"Thank you…Sado-kun," Orihime said, misery lacing her voice. "Thank you for everything, Urahara-san. I'm glad you could tell me directly." When Orihime felt like she couldn't hold the tears any longer, she exclaimed, "Please excuse me!" and ran from Urahara Souten.
(1) This was an actual quote from BtVS.