Wooot, new story. Gonna warn you now though. It's going to be very, very angsty. Very sad. Soo... Just telling you now, so you can't say I didn't warn you. ;] Oh! And copper thought of the title, so kudos to her. :) Give her her props.
.disclaimer. I do not own Bleach and it's characters.
---3 Years Ago---
"Now… Let's all give a congratulations to this year's graduating class!" The crowd in the auditorium all burst out in jubilation, as they had taken the final step from childhood, into the world of an adult.
Excited chatter filled the large room, as friends and family exchanged their greetings and congratulations. But of all the smiles on the faces of the teens, the biggest was on the face of Inoue Orihime.
"Orihime! Congratulations!!" Arisawa Tatsuki praised her auburn-haired friend, giving her a light pat on the back.
"Congratulations to you too, Tatsuki-chan!" Orihime complimented her friend as well, quickly enveloping her into a hug. "Ooooh, I'm going to miss you so much." Orihime inhaled shakily as she spoke.
"So you've decided to go then?"
The healer nodded solemnly, releasing Tatsuki from the hug. "It'll be good! It's a wonderful opportunity, and I'm very fortunate to be able to study in Kyoto." Orihime twisted her fingers into various knots as she spoke. 'She's so nervous…' Tatsuki thought, giving her an awkward, yet soft smile, all while watching her ramble.
"I'm proud of you for making such a big step, although… What about Ichigo?" The martial artist inquired, her mind running through various scenarios in which Orihime actually said anything to him.
"What about him?"
"Orihime, you haven't told him… have you…?" Orihime shook her head in response, the vibrant smile on her face suddenly dropping to a frown.
"I haven't… I figured it'd only be burdensome information to him," she spoke quietly, almost making it inaudible for Tatsuki to hear. "It'll be better for him not to know… And it'll be good for me to forget for a while."
"It sounds like you're giving up on him, Orihime," Tatsuki's tone grew firmer, surprised her friend had kept her leaving such a secret to the person she cared most for.
"Oh no, I'm not!" The auburn beauty waved her hands frantically in front of her, reassuring her friend. "It's just… I can't help but feel so troublesome to him, which makes me feel suffocated because I can never say how I feel, so if I went away for a while, I might-" She was cut off.
"Orihime… Your flight is this afternoon. Ramble any longer and you're going to miss it," Tatsuki gave her a sad smile, and pulled her into another hug. "You didn't have to tell him," she mumbled into her ear, now feeling down about Orihime's soon departure. "I just imagine he'd be upset if he didn't hear it directly from you."
Orihime nodded into Tatsuki's shoulder, fighting back the tears. She was right. She knew Kurosaki-kun, and if any of his nakama would leave without clarifying reason, he'd definitely have something to say.
"Um…" She paused, taking a quick glance at the clock. "D-Do you think I'd have enough time to tell him now…?" The black-haired friend suddenly smiled as she heard her words.
Orihime's lips curved up into a nervous grin, as she ran off to find her orange-haired friend.
"I-CHI-GOOOOOOO!" Isshin exclaimed, promptly kicking his son square in the stomach! "You make daddy so proud! I can't believe a punk like you actually graduated!!"
"What kind of father thinks his son isn't going to graduate high school?! And I'm not a punk, dammit!" The orangette promptly yelled back, barely managing to avoid his father's fatal kick. Man, he'd gotten slow.
"Kurosaki-kun!" A breathless Inoue ran up to him, causing Ichigo to raise his eyebrows and turn his head in confusion as to who called him.
"You left your guard down!!" Isshin remade his stance, unaffected by the complete miss prior. Ichigo ended up getting punched in the arm, really hard.
Yup, definitely getting slow.
"Ah, Kurosaki-kun, I'm sorry! I called out for you, and then you got distracted, which caused you to get hurt!" The healer apologized, her breath uneven from running. He vaguely wondered how long had she been looking for him.
"Ugh… It's fine, Inoue. My dad's just being an ass, you didn't do anything," the shinigami replied, somewhat trying to reassure her.
Isshin silently cheered for a few moments from his direct hit, before rushing over to his son's side. "Ah, it's the lovely Orihime-chan, wanting to talk to my no good, rotten son!" The doctor wore a wide smile, his focus entirely on the small girl, still struggling to regain her breath. "Are you okay, Orihime-chan?" All of Ichigo's attention was suddenly directed to her, his eyebrows furrowing in concern.
"A-Ah, I think I just… ran too much is all…" she replied hastily, a somewhat painful expression in her eyes. Her hands were on her knees, trying to steady herself. "I'm fine…"
"If you say so! I'll just leave you two lovebirds alone to talk then!"
"Dad!! We're not-" And he was gone before he could finish.
Orihime laughed lightly, now standing fully erect. "Your dad is funny, Kurosaki-kun!"
"He's an idiot," Ichigo responded, feeling quite irritated at the man called his father. The healer only laughed more in response. "Oh, you were looking for me, weren't you?"
Her eyes got big for a moment and resolve flashed across her big, gray eyes. "Yes, I needed to tell you something…" She felt her heartbeat grow quicker, playing quite a fast tattoo against her ribcage. 'Has being nervous always been this painful?' She quickly thought, noticing the tight pain in her chest.
Ichigo's eyebrows arched further, his heart beating faster as well, only in odd anticipation.
It was of late that he became more aware of her. He didn't know what triggered it, but he just suddenly noticed her actions and tones more than before. So it was only natural that he felt anticipation more often now… Right?
Either way, he didn't mind it.
"Kurosaki-kun, I'm leaving…"
A few minutes passed without a word being said, and Orihime grew more concerned, wondering if telling him was the right thing to do. Ichigo was busy processing what she had just informed him of.
She was leaving…? Why would she leave?! All her friends were in Karakura, and goodness know there was so many colleges she could apply to in the area!
"…What? Inoue, why…?" Ichigo choked out. Why was she leaving? Why wasn't he informed sooner? … Why did he feel so sad about her leaving? No, she was a friend. Of course he'd be sad.
Orihime frowned, her cheeks heating up quickly. "I, um, got a really good offer for a college in Kyoto. Full scholarship and everything…" She stopped, daring herself to look into his brown eyes. His piercing, brown eyes… 'Maybe I shouldn't have told him.' She spotted so many emotions flicker across those chocolate brown pools, and her stomach flipped with guilt.
"And you didn't get any scholarships in Karakura?"
"Oh, I did, but I really liked the school in Kyoto… Kurosaki-kun, I'm sorry." She inhaled sharply, still feeling the guilt and pain wrack up in her chest. "But I wanted to tell you before I left."
"And you're leaving when?" He asked harshly, his tone louder and much angrier than he'd anticipated it to. She flinched back in surprise, and he quickly muttered an apology to her.
"My flight is leaving in a few hours, actually… I have to finish up here, go home to pick up my things, then I leave."
That struck a nerve in him. She knew she was leaving so soon, yet she still didn't tell him. Why hadn't she said anything? He couldn't understand her logic, her reasoning for not telling him. Multiple possibilities ran through his head, but each was stupider than the next.
"Inoue… Sorry, but I don't understand why," Ichigo spoke through his teeth, drawing in a deep breath after speaking. He looked into her deep gray eyes, and immediately saw her pain and sadness. Of course it was a hard decision for her to make. He was being no help by acting like an ass right now.
"It's a good opportunity. I hear it's beautiful there, and it's actually a good place to get away for a while, even if it's somewhat permanent for college," she explained, forcing a smile for him. How could she be so cruel? She shouldn't have told him… He appeared so angry now.
"A place to get away? Inoue, away from what?"
Orihime struggled to keep her fake smile up, as she felt her stomach drop. "So much has happened lately, I just need some time to think for myself. Think about school, think about life…" 'Think about you.' She paused. "I just need a breather is all. High school was tough work, I think trying something new would be good."
Ichigo crossed his arms, still disbelieving what she was actually saying. She's going to Kyoto, away from her friends that care about her, so she can get away. As far as he knew, her life was perfect.
Then he stopped, realizing what he was actually thinking.
As far as he knew…
Too bad he didn't know all that much about her. '… I'm such a selfish bastard.'
"So please don't think I'm doing this because I hate you or the others or anything, it's just a really good opportunity and-" She was cut off again for the second time within the last hour.
"Inoue." He spoke calmly, sticking his large hand out. He even curled his mouth up into a small smile, and her eyes went big at his sudden 180. "Congratulations… We'll all be waiting for you when you get back, okay?"
There were those tears again, threatening to fall while poking her eyes with tiny, invisible needles. She would have to have a talk with them later.
Her lips grew into a wide grin, and she took his hand in hers. 'It's so warm…' she noted, her cheeks flushing up as she shook it.
"Okay… Thank you, Kurosaki-kun. And congratulations to you too."
"Ichigo, you ass, you made us late!!" Tatsuki yelled at the orange-haired boy in front of her, the two of them hastily making their way into the airport. Her black hair was significantly longer, and flowed down to her shoulders, swaying lightly with the passing breeze. She still held the eyes of a fighter, and even after her best friend being gone for so long, she'd still desired to see her as soon as she got off her flight.
"If you hadn't taken so long to decide on your stupid clothes, I could've gotten here quicker!" Ichigo complained, trying to block out her yelling. Now was not the time he wanted to be pissed off.
"My clothes!? If you didn't drive slow like a granny, we would've been here on time!" she retorted fiercely, keeping her verbal stance. The orange-haired teen bit his tongue, quickly turning a sharp corner, hoping he'd been able to lose her.
No such luck. She caught on fast.
"I'm just being safe, dammit. Last time I checked, you don't want to die," he retorted, his anger levels rising. The shinigami shoved his narrow hands into his pockets, as his chocolate brown eyes darted from gate sign to gate sign. When were they going to get to her flight's gate??
"Oh! Here it is!" Tatsuki exclaimed, pointing a finger towards the correct exit, and narrowly avoiding poking Ichigo in the face. The martial artist gleefully hurried to the window, watching as the connector between the plane and the terminal latched into place. 'Only a few more minutes…' He thought as he stared at his violent friend, his heartbeat picking up in pace in anticipation.
He would lie and deny it to anyone else, that he missed her. At least, he told people he didn't miss her any more than her other friends.
But he couldn't lie to himself. Ichigo loathed himself for thinking such out of character things, but he knew feelings were a thing that couldn't be avoided. Sure, he accepted the awkward feelings, but it didn't mean he wasn't curious as to where they came from, and why they arrived with such ferocity.
He missed her. He missed her so damn much.
He missed seeing her smiling face, her beautiful gray eyes and melodious voice. The presence that had always been by him while in high school vanished, and it left a crude hole in his thoughts. Ichigo ran a hand through his soft orange spikes as he inhaled briskly. After all this time, he'd be able to see her again… His lips curled up into a subtle smile at the thought.
"Oi, Ichigo! She's here!" Tatsuki exclaimed once more, hearing voices from the terminal, and hearing the announcement of passengers now being departed. Ichigo swallowed thickly, trying to tug at his sudden too-tight collar for relief. 'She's here… She's really here…' Boy, he sounded like a broken record.
Person after person filed out of the exit, other family members and friends greeting them with smiles and hugs.
And then they both saw a faint blur of auburn, and Ichigo's heart beat even faster. "Inoue's here…" he mumbled almost inaudibly, to himself. People moved out of the way, and there she stood. Inoue Orihime.
And she looked more beautiful than he remembered.
She had grown a bit taller, and her figure had grown more as well. Her auburn hair was a bit shorter than he remembered it, falling down to her shoulders now, no longer down her entire back. She wore a light orange long-sleeved shirt that happened to hug her curves in all the right places, and a white skirt that ended about mid-knee. Ichigo drank in the sight in front of him, memorizing every inch of her body, vaguely comparing it to that of hers in high school. 'Wow…'
She had definitely matured over the last three years, but he still saw the same old Inoue he always knew.
It was as if time had slowed as he watched her finally notice them. A smile grew onto her face and she raised an arm into the air, waving enthusiastically.
"Orihime!" In seconds, Tatsuki was by the healer's side, giving her the tightest hug Ichigo had ever seen. "Thank god you're okay…" Ichigo was soon by the two, and had skeptically risen an eyebrow at the black-haired friend. 'Did something happen?' Was the brief thought that he thought, before casually shrugging it off.
"Tatsuki-chan, I'm fine. You don't need to worry so much," Orihime spoke in the same soft tone Ichigo remembered. Soon, her warm, gray eyes met with his, causing his heart to jump. "Kurosaki-kun…" She breathed out as she spoke. He inwardly swore to himself as he got lost in her eyes, as corny as it sounded.
"Hey Inoue…" Ichigo spoke calmly to her, the small smile threatened to grow wider. "It's good to see you again." 'Real good…' She grinned widely in return, her cheeks flushing up as well.
"It's nice to see you again too, Kurosaki-kun," Orihime brought her gaze down to the floor, her face heating up more. "I really missed both of you… You don't know how happy I am."
"Well, you're back, and that's what matters…" Tatsuki spoke gently, but in a happy tone as well. "So wipe those tears away before you start to worry this lunkhead here." Orihime laughed as she nodded in agreement, wiping away the salty drops away with her sleeves.
"Oi, Tatsuki, I'm not a lunkhead, damm-"
"You'd still be concerned if she cried though, right?" She asked, wrapping an arm around the small girl's shoulders. Ichigo didn't reply, as they all knew the answer anyway, and Tatsuki was only asking it to embarrass him.
Ichigo kneaded the back of his neck nervously as he looked at Orihime once more. "What do you say we go get your luggage?" The healer beamed at him and nodded fervently. Tatsuki began dragging her friend off to the baggage checkout, and Ichigo was left behind the two, left smiling at the one girl in particular.
It felt good to have her back.