Summary: Tatsuki ponders about Orihime's and Ichigo's sadness after they're back from Hueco Mundo. Somehow, their sadness is related with one certain green eyed arrancar. Kinda prologue of 'Alive'.

Disclaimer: I don't own BLEACH. Tite Kubo does, and I envy him for that *sigh*

Random thought, I feel this one is rather deep and angsty…

I like Tatsuki. She is strong and independent, and just so lovable to write into.

The whole explanation Urahara and Yoruichi do is happened before they work on reviving the dead Espada within my main story 'Alive'. So it's kinda prologue to the main story. I want to make several stories from different perspective and characters to complete the whole story. The main idea is still lingered around Ichigo's and Uriya/Ulquiorra's friendship and maybe a bit romance of Uriya and Orihime??

Somehow, I detest the romance between Ichigo and Orihime (no offense to their fans, though), however canon their relationship to be. Orihime is just… well, I have to say… unfitted to be Ichigo's girlfriend. It's just …weird.


Arisawa Tatsuki walked home alone today.

Usually Inoue Orihime, her best friend since middle school, accompanied her home; since she was now living in an apartment nearby Tatsuki's house. But the reddish-brown haired girl didn't come home with her this evening, having to work overnight at her shop. Since graduated from high school, Orihime decided not to continue to the college; she had worked in a small boutique instead. The boutique was owned by a kind old woman named Yone Michiyo, and since she didn't have any family, she acted like a grandmother towards the younger woman. Tatsuki at least felt glad that her best friend found such nice company like her boss. She deserved that.

It was almost four years since Orihime's disappearing. Tatsuki knew that she was being abducted; but at that time, she didn't know by whom. After Ichigo and the rest of his comrades, including Ishida and Sado, managed to get her back alive, sound and safe, she began to demand some explanation. And it took her every last ounce of nerves to beat it out from Ichigo; since he always averted his gaze from her when she confronted her, saying that it didn't matter anymore; Orihime was safe after all.

Like hell she would back away without full portion of explanations! She almost lost her best friend forever, for god' sake!

And then, that prick of redhead interjected and offered a brief explanation. She remembered his name being Abarai Renji, one of Ichigo' shinigami comrades who coming to the school at that time. He explained to her briefly almost about everything; about shinigami, Soul Society, Aizen, Winter War… Tatsuki almost couldn't believe her own ears hearing that the ever-grande war was happened in her birth town, in Karakura Town!

Abarai then told her to settle down with that bit of information; at least until everything came back to normal. She complied wordlessly, still feeling rather dizzy after so much foreign terms and shocking facts being thrust into her average sized brain. She wasn't a stupid girl, but she wasn't overly brilliant though. It took her some time for her brain to adjust for this new information and her first reaction was to ask for more thorough explanation.

Abarai only shook his head and smiled tiredly at her. She almost hit him for teasing her… until she found that the older man had been injured for some time. She did a double take and gasped, realizing that almost every person within the small, humble shop of Urahara's was injured. Ichigo was somehow uninjured, she didn't know how; but she noticed his distant, gravely eyes looking far at nothing. Ichigo only did that when he was thoroughly sad. And he was almost never sad except when his mom died several years ago.

Tatsuki looked around and noted that both Ishida and Orihime sporting the same sad, distant eyes. Though Ishida's were a bit different, Tatsuki realized that Orihime' sad eyes were almost similar like Ichigo's: the sadness of losing someone precious.

She swallowed all of her curiosity and walked out the shop, leaving them to tend over their wounds. She noted Rukia's gaping wound on her stomach and Sado's broken arm; and suddenly she felt like retching. She didn't suppose that war could be so much worse.

Tatsuki was met by Urahara and a purple haired woman named Yoruichi a week after that event. They offered her their explanation, thoroughly, and she accepted gratefully. She learnt everything about the previous things that had been occurred, including Ichigo's true existence as a Vaizard. She was shocked, indeed; but she thought that Ichigo had been an abnormality since the first day he absorbed Rukia' shinigami power and became shinigami himself.

After they had done their part, it was her turn to ask questions. The first and only question popping in her mind was "Why both Ichigo and Orihime looked so sad after they're back from that Hue— what that is again?"

"Hueco Mundo," Urahara Kisuke corrected. He glanced at his lover silently, who in turn stared at Tatsuki with unreadable gaze.

"…Actually, we don't really know about that; since both of us didn't come to Hueco Mundo by ourselves. We just provided Ichigo-kun and friends portal to go to the dreaded place, in one mission to retrieve Orihime-chan home. You saw it by yourself, along with Keigo-kun and Mizuiro-kun." Urahara spoke mildly.

Tatsuki nodded, unsure. She caught Yoruichi' solemn gaze and remarked softly, "It was just—it looked like they were sad about something or rather someone. Did someone, aside the enemy, die back then?"

Both ex-shinigamis shook their heads no. "Only the enemies, Aizen co. and the arrancars. Some people were having injured badly though, almost mortally, if Unohana-san, Hachi-san, and Orihime-chan didn't comply with their healing fast. Komamura-taichou, Matsumoto, Hisagi, Kira, Hitsugaya-kun, and the rest of the Vaizard were wounded badly; Hiyori was the worst. She was …cut in half."

Tatsuki gasped, feeling horrified. Urahara grasped his striped hat with one hand tightly, covering the upper part of his face. Yoruichi somehow knew that he did it to shade his grave expression.

"…Ichimaru did it. Fortunately Orihime-chan came on the right moment. Not to mention, both Hachi-san and Unohana-san had done their best to keep Hiyori intact; so the next action was less difficult. Orihime-chan's power is surely phenomenal."

"Reversing of time and space." Yoruichi interjected solemnly. "God-like power, Aizen said. This was also the reason he abducted her in the first place. Though, it was turned out to be a totally different reason in the last time."

Tatsuki fumed inwardly. Some bastard abducted Orihime just because she had an unusual power; and he wanted to use it for himself, to ensure his position as a new god. What a jerk!

"Tatsuki-chan," Urahara uttered calmly, "If you're curious, why don't you ask them by yourself?"

Tatsuki looked at him incredulously. "How?! I mean, I can't do it without hurting them more. If I just bluntly ask them, do you guarantee they will instantly reply? I don't think so."

Urahara looked at Yoruichi gravely. The purple haired Shihouin only sighed and moved to sit next to Tatsuki.

"Listen, girl. It's just my guess, and to be told, I don't even have a right to talk about it; but I think Ichigo and Orihime feel rather guilty for doing something. At least Ichigo does. I don't precisely know about Orihime, though."

"Guilty? For doing what?"

"I don't exactly know. Injuring someone he was allying with… or maybe killing someone—"

"Yoruichi." Urahara cut in sharply. There was disapproving look on his face. "We don't have a right to say it like that. Not without their consent."

Yoruichi sighed heavily. "I know. But Tatsuki-chan deserves to know the rest of the facts. She is also their best friend."

Tatsuki looked back and forth between the shopkeeper and his lover arguing slowly about things she didn't know. She began to lose her temper and snapped.

"Just tell me already. After that, it depends on me to confront them or not about this particular matter."

Urahara and Yoruichi shared a grave look. And then Urahara sighed, facing her carefully.

"You know, Tatsuki-chan, except for mere hollows, Ichigo-kun has never really killed somebody before. Well, technically, a shinigami 'kills' hollows for the purpose of purifying their souls so they can back to Soul Society. So it really isn't counted as killing.

For the exceptional of Aizen's killing, which where he was helped by several other shinigamis and Vaizards, he has never killed somebody. At least not willfully. I've heard from Ishida-kun; after I pushed him rather overly to spill"—Yoruichi glared disapprovingly at him, which Urahara responded by smiling apologetically—"I knew, when he was in Hueco Mundo, in the middle of Orihime-chan's rescuing, he was confronted by some enemy, arrancars namely, who somehow had …odd connection to him. One arrancar even had this odd connection with Orihime-chan.

While Grimmjow Jaggerjaques, the Sexta Espada, maintained hostile action towards him, I do think Ichigo-kun looked at him as a rival. True rival, even, considering how eerily similar their behaviors were. They were similarly rude, brash, easy to provoke, having knack to pick fight every time, everywhere… somehow I think Ichigo regarded him in one way or another.

Meanwhile, with Ulquiorra Schiffer, the Cuarta Espada, I think Ichigo-kun regarded him as a worthy opponent aside from a rival. That boy kept improving himself to be so much strong, stronger so he could beat his every enemy and save Orihime-chan; particularly, so he could defeat Ulquiorra. The stoic arrancar had defeated him twice, and leaving him nearly died in each encounter. I suppose you remember Ulquiorra Schiffer." Urahara inquired pointedly.

Tatsuki gaped. "Remember?! I don't understand—"

"Do you remember your first encounter with arrancars in the park? The time when you had karate exercise with your teammates and ended up being fainted on the ground second after Orihime and Chad came to defend you? The small one with pale visage, tear-like markings, and brilliant green eyes was Ulquiorra Schiffer." Yoruichi explained bluntly.

Tatsuki vaguely remembered that moment. It was her worst moment in her entire life, aside from when Orihime suddenly disappeared. She remembered seeing two creatures emerging from the layers of dust and the crater that was suddenly occurred in the middle of the park. She remembered one being big, bulky, tanned man with brownish-orange hair and brows, skull-like mask on his lower jaw and a hole on his chest. He did kill almost entire people in the park, except for herself, just by sucking their spirit force—reiatsu, she recalled.

And the other one being a stoic, silent, ghostly pallid-looking man, with the most brilliant green eyes she had ever seen, raven hair, tear-like markings, and a skull-like horned half-helmet on his left head.

"…I remember. So it was him… Ulquiorra Schiffer."

"Yes. This Ulquiorra was ordered by Aizen to abduct Orihime-chan, whom at that time I sent for training to Soul Society. It was a false reason anyway; actually, I intended to move her from the upcoming battle, since she didn't have any mental to fight whatsoever. She is a gentle soul, you know about it personally, don't you?" Urahara remarked slowly.

Tatsuki only nodded affirmatively. Orihime was truly one gentle soul, if not the gentlest she had ever known.

"In Hueco Mundo, he became her caretaker. He provided her food, shelter, even protection when she was being bullied by other arrancars—"

"Bullied?!!" Tatsuki yelled angrily. "How—" She was cut off by Urahara's raised hand.

"Easy, Tatsuki-chan. Let me tell you more. Anyhow, Orihime-chan was often bullied there. And Ulquiorra, being her caretaker, protected her whenever he was around. They somehow formed some kind of …bound. However twisted it was; the bound was there.

I heard from Orihime-chan herself, the arrancar often asked her about things concerning human feelings, and most often, about the whereabouts of heart. He was curious in his own way about this particular matter, it seemed. And the moment he and Ichigo-kun clashed for the third and last time, he inquired Orihime about this 'heart'.

The battle was blazing and greatly catastrophic, according to Ishida-kun, Renji-san and the others. Ichigo-kun however was nearly dead after Ulquiorra released his Second Ressureccion—eh, you know what Ressureccion is, right?" Urahara prompted.

Tatsuki huffed. "You explained to me moments ago. Ressureccion is an arrancar's true form and power releasing. It's a contrary to shinigami's zanpakuto releasing. By releasing their zanpakutos, shinigamis gain the power from them and fight with it. Arrancars, however, regain their true forms and powers back by releasing their zanpakutos."

Urahara let out a goofy yet satisfied smile. "That's good, Tatsuki-chan! You've been quite adept at this whole thingy, ne?"

Yoruichi kicked her lover's shin. "Quit it, Kisuke. On with your story."

"Ouch, Yoruichi, you're so rude…"

"Scratch it."

Grumbling, Urahara settled back to his story.

"Ichigo-kun was …dead. Really dead, I tell you. And as a Vaizard, he has hollow within his soul and that hollow appeared due to the grave circumstances, aiding him in worst way ever. The hollow Ichigo-kun proceeded to defeat Ulquiorra and even intended to finish him off. Ishida-kun intervened though, saying that it wasn't Kurosaki's trait to kill his enemy however bad they were. The hollow Ichigo-kun ignored him and when Ishida-kun tried to prevent him for killing Ulquiorra, he stabbed him on the gut."

Tatsuki stared at him, shocked beyond belief. Ichigo turned into a hollow and stabbed Ishida? Never in a million times she could think about Ichigo being so …brutal towards his close friends and relatives.

"Wha—?! Ichigo did that to Ishida?!"

"Unconsciously. He was being controlled by his hollow at that time he didn't even remember a thing about stabbing Ishida-kun or beating Ulquiorra senseless. Anyhow, the fight was finally settled when Ulquiorra died after being mortally wounded by hollow Ichigo-kun.

Before he died and disappeared—hollows disappear when they die—Ulquiorra extended his hand to Orihime-chan and asked her his last question.

He asked her: 'Are you scared of me, girl?'"

Tatsuki deliberately held her breath. Orihime surely didn't tell her anything or everything about her condition during the abduction. She knew that her best friend didn't want to make her worried; but somehow she felt Orihime distant herself, even from her. And she didn't like it, a lot.

"…What did she answer?" she asked with strained voice.

Urahara smiled wistfully at her. "She answered: 'I'm not afraid' before she tried to reach his extended hand. They didn't even have a chance to touch each other except for a slight moment; because Ulquiorra has already died and his remnants was scattering away, carried by the wind.

It was so sad, though; especially when you heard it directly from Orihime-chan. Ichigo-kun, however, chose not to comment anything about it; but Ishida-kun told me that most likely, Ichigo-kun regretted killing the arrancar, even if it was unintentional. You see, both of them are somehow connected with this particular arrancar, emotionally at that. Ichigo-kun feels regret for killing Ulquiorra in worst possible way; while Orihime-chan feels sad and guilty for letting her caretaker die without giving him a chance to know what's the meaning of having a heart. It's so …sad, indeed."

Tatsuki stared at Urahara, feeling rather confused about the entire story. She turned her attention at Yoruichi, who had her eyes closed during the story; seemingly asleep, but she knew better than that.

"…So, you indicate that somehow Orihime …has some kind of Stockholm syndrome for her previous caretaker?" she asked slowly, unsure.

Yoruichi opened her golden eyes and looked at Urahara skeptically. Urahara sighed dejectedly.

"We don't know about that. Maybe, you can say it that way."

Tatsuki lowered her gaze to look at her lap. She didn't think it was appropriate. But she thought she could understand Orihime' situation. After all, it was her caretaker who died miserably in front of her eyes.

As for Ichigo, she thought she could understand it either. Ichigo, despite his rudeness and brash demeanor, was a kind person. Having his body being controlled by some kind of inner monster and finding that he had unintentionally killed somebody, even if it was his own enemy… it was sucked. It was so fucking sucked Tatsuki felt so awfully sad and also resentful at the same time.

"Anymore question, Tatsuki-chan?" Urahara lightly asked and when the raven haired girl shook her head no, he dramatically took out his fan and waved it playfully in front of her face.

"Nah, nah, nah, don't be so gloomy about that, ne? Trust me; everything will be alright …soon." There was a subtle hint of …something within his voice's tone that made Tatsuki truly looked up at him; only to find him already shade his visage using his white fan.

Yoruichi heaved her slender body into standing position and, pulling Urahara's arm, she walked towards the window of Tatsuki's room. They were coming in from the window, to be truth; and Tatsuki nearly had a heart attack finding two persons crouching on her window sill when she walked into her room that evening. Fortunately, the house was empty with her parents going to their relative's house; and nobody around, including her neighbors, was bothered enough to complain to her about her loud yelling.

"Come on, Kisuke. We have a lot more things to do for now." She turned at Tatsuki and smiled warmly. "Now, you've been told about everything you want and have to know. I pretend you're satisfied, girl."

Tatsuki slowly nodded. "...I guess so. Thank you for coming and explaining things to me, Urahara-san, Yoruichi-san."

Yoruichi smirked and leaped out the window gracefully, still pulling her lover with her. Urahara stumbled from the window, but he caught himself and composed his stance. After some quick waves at Tatsuki, he settled into fast shunpo, trailing Yoruichi closely.

Tatsuki watched those two shadows disappearing from her eyesight before sighing heavily and closed her window pane.

Somehow, the thorough explanation she had been so fervently to get her ears into was making her feeling more troubled than before.

It was true indeed when someone wise tell you this phrase: ignorance is utterly bliss.

But Tatsuki also knew; that sometime being ignorant was just a fool thing to do.