LATE UPDATE IS LATE! School is really to blame here, in all honesty. I've been so focused on my classes and homework, it's seriously taken a huge toll on my free time and my writing. This last part was really hard to write because my muse had disappeared and I found it hard to find a reason to finish it. (That is, aside from the reason just to finish it.) But here it is, and it's one less thing I have to do! I can't guarantee when the next update for Long Way Down will be (I.E., Cripplesaki fic), but it'll be the next thing updated because, well, it's the only story sitting in my queue.
He knew he had failed. Not just one thing, but many things. He failed as a teacher, as a mentor, and even as a man. He would grow disgusted with the way he treated Inoue Orihime, but he couldn't help but feel overwhelming warmth in his body at the mere thought of her.
He was in love with her.
Inescapable and immense, he could never seem to abandon those feelings he held for that auburn-haired student. To him, it was truly odd because he'd never felt that way around someone before and he never imagined he'd start feeling such a thing for a student of all people.
The first day he saw her, it hadn't been that much of a big deal. He noticed she was one of very few students with a hair color like hers. She looked lost, dazed, and confused, but most incoming students looked that way so he was able to casually brush it off.
But unexplainably, his mind kept wandering back to her, wondering what class she was in at the moment or what she was doing. Whether he was at school or at home, he thought about her constantly. It was only a matter of time after that first day for her that he grew this incredibly odd attraction towards her.
Of course, considering his status, he could only be thoroughly disgusted at his behavior and way of thinking. He'd let himself talk to her briefly in the halls, getting to know her only slightly. Ichigo even went as far as to request for her not to be in his class. If he was so insanely infatuated with her even when she wasn't around, he'd have no clue what would happen if she was.
The first time he found her, just by chance, was when he happened to go to the school shed to get something for another teacher. She was on the ground, red marks on her arms and legs, but most notably she had a rather large cut to her head and bruised lips. He could've went right by as if he hadn't even seen her, but that damned attraction had him kneeling down and assisting her in a heartbeat.
He couldn't stop talking to her ever since.
Ichigo tried to keep his cool when he could, but his false exterior, that of an unfazed, but disciplining teacher, was melting away into an awkward, gooey mess around Inoue Orihime.
But she was a student, and Ichigo spent many days after school, digging his fingernails into the armrests of his chair as he sat with his feelings.
The sun would set and students would leave, and he would still let himself sulk and suffer with that amorous feeling.
Don't fall in love with her any more.
The janitors would come and go and he'd sit in his dark classroom, nothing on his mind except her brilliant auburn hair and big eyes.
I've... I've fallen too in love with her.
That fateful day he found her yet again and he crossed that unforgivable line by kissing her, which inevitably led to something regretful. His thoughts, feelings, and actions led him down dark paths on which he could never return and he dragged her down with him.
Orihime didn't come to school for a few days, he found out from other teachers. It was no surprise, since he did rip her heart out. He wanted to do what was best for her, and that was breaking all relations off. He'd be damned if he let her life and reputation go down the drain because of his stupid actions.
Again, he tried to think about something else, anything else, but his mind kept flashing back to her. This is ridiculous, he told himself. I can't keep living like this. His feelings were a mess because of her absence and his harsh, cruel words. Not to mention her small, broken words, asking him why he made her fall in love with him. The feeling was reciprocated, but he never knew love could be this painful.
Ichigo had started with his lesson, despite his mind elsewhere. The class was full of his usual students, and all of them looked bored and zoned out. Vaguely, he wondered if Orihime would've paid vivid attention to the topic at hand. She was an avid learner and she just might enjoy the topic.
"In English literature, there are many ways to analyze text, and characterizing with archetypes is one-"
It was like a dream, really, to see the classroom doors slide open and reveal the student herself. She clutched her books close to her chest as she pulled at her bottom lip and took a few steps inside. All eyes were focused on her as Ichigo fell silent during the middle of his lecture. Why was she here? Inwardly, he was glad she was back at school, but she didn't have this class with him. He made a point to make sure of that.
"Um... My counselor changed me to this class because my other English Literature class got too full," she spoke quietly, handing the note to him. He took it tentatively out of her hands, their fingers accidentally brushing in the process. Both could feel that familiar shock with that small touch, and while Ichigo remained dumbfounded about it, the girl put on a heavy smile. "Where should I sit, Kurosaki-sensei?"
Feeling a flood of defeat at the way she said sensei around him had him merely glancing back at the lone desk in the back of the room. "There," he muttered before turning around and resuming writing on the chalk board. Soft mumbles and murmurs could be heard as she went to her new desk, and there were some particularly bad things being said that Ichigo would've preferred not to hear. He could only scowl in disgust at his students and how they whispered things that defiled her image.
Grumbling to himself, he knew this was going to be a long day; a long year, even. But this was her last year here, so once she graduated, they'd never see each other again.
But for some reason, his heart ached at the thought. Shaking it off, he couldn't believe he was thinking about such things in the middle of a lecture.
"... As I was saying."
"You should be going home, Inoue."
Orihime glanced up from her desk to find her English teacher standing a few feet from her desk, a nonchalant expression on his face. Raising her brows in surprise, she smiled slightly for him. He had been talking to her again lately, after a little over three months of saying the bare minimum to her. It was all school related and nothing else was discussed, but in a way, she was glad they were talking again after such a long time. However, Orihime still couldn't let go of her feelings for him.
"Just a few more minutes, Kurosaki-sensei, then I'll be done with my work," she replied in that innocent voice of hers. Ichigo had to roll her eyes at her, because her words were making no sense.
"You have all of winter break to work on it, you don't need to be staying here to finish it," he replied, moving to lean against a nearby desk. "I don't see your reason for staying here longer."
Humming softly to herself, she brought her eyes back to her papers. He was right; she didn't have to finish this all before she left. She had all of winter break to work on it, which was a little over a week and a half. But he was wrong in the sense that she didn't have a reason. Secretly, he was her reason.
"I do have a reason, sensei," she commented quietly, just above a small whisper.
"Oh? And what is that?"
She said nothing more and looked at him, flashing a bright smile towards his direction. He hadn't seen such a wide smile from her in such a long time, it admittedly startled him. "What are you doing for the holidays?" Orihime inquired, starting to gather up her papers. After resuming his composure, he looked at her quizzically.
"I'm going to spend Christmas with my dad and sisters," he spoke coolly. She was one of the few people he felt sort of okay with telling his personal plans. Orihime plucked up her papers and placed them in her bag. "What about you?" He finished.
"Oh, I'm going to spend it with Enraku and a big feast!" She chirped, standing up from her seat. "There's going to be banana rice curry and special mochi and pickle ice cream!" Ichigo's stomach just about plummeted at the sound of all those interesting meals, but one thing had him curious. His concern got the best of him and he pestered on.
"Enraku? Did you find yourself a boyfriend, Inoue?" While he was completely serious with his question, he wasn't feeling so good asking about it. Despite his status as her teacher and age difference of about 8 years, he really didn't want her to have another guy in her life.
So much for trying to get over her...
Blushing, Orihime shook her head. She thought it was odd he asked her such a question, especially after what both of them had gone through. "N-No, Enraku's my teddy bear. He'll be my company again this year." A dead silence fell between them for a few minutes until Orihime forcefully stuck her hand out to the man in front of her. "H-Have a good season, Kurosaki-sensei!"
Ichigo stared at her small hand, dumbfounded. For a split second, he replayed so many memories with her. How she used to smile at him with the most vivid grin he'd ever seen, how she would've kissed him with such passion, such love that it even surprised him, and how he crushed her feelings months ago.
This is fucking ridiculous, he thought to himself, swallowing thickly while he stared at that hand. She was offering just a handshake, yet he thought there was much more behind it than what met the eye.
Still, he found himself reaching his own, larger hand to hold hers, his eyes drifting from their palms and digits to look her straight in the eyes. It was nothing more than a handshake between the two, but he could still see that love and compassion in her eyes that he had seen months before. It was so intriguing and inviting, it made him want to chuck what little composure he had out the window and snatch her into a hug. But he couldn't.
Orihime let go, her eyes still wide with a smile that could knock any man out. "Ja ne," she spoke softly, turning on her heels to leave and within moments, she was out the door. Ichigo was left to himself, and his hand was still extended out to the place where hers used to be. He noticed that her warmth was still lingering on his skin, and he looked at it in deep thought. She was a definite first. Not only had he felt such feelings around her for the first time, but it was reciprocated and he was loved in return by a beautiful girl. He knew the problem here was the age gap and how she was a student of his, but there was something nagging at him on the inside to not let her go a second time.
Ichigo's hand fell to his side and he turned around with intentions to get his things and go. He had a lot to think about and he only had a little over a week to figure out what he wanted to do.
Returning, Orihime had mixed feelings about coming back. It wasn't that she didn't want to come back to school, but rather her heart swelled with feelings over her teacher, she wasn't sure she'd be able to handle seeing him again. Over the course of their winter break, she felt happiness, love, but also some despair as she replayed those harsh words of his from a few months ago. The particular phrase of, "You're just lonely, Inoue," kept ringing in her head and it just about brought her to tears at times.
However, Orihime would slap her cheeks lightly and tell herself to remember the better times, despite them leading up to that cruel cut-off. It wasn't right for her to be depressed over all this. She really just had a silly schoolgirl crush that managed to lead to something more for a short time. In the end, he made it clear he wanted it to end, and she needed to end it too.
Stepping into his class, which was her last class for the day, Orihime purposely kept her eyes glued to the floor. Whether it was out of embarrassment or a little bit of sadness, she couldn't say because she wasn't quite sure herself. She just silently let her feet guide her towards her desk in the back and silently took a seat. The rest of the class was animated and chatty, but she kept as the lone, silent one among the group.
"Oi, quiet down!" Ichigo's familiar voice boomed out, quieting the class. "I have an important announcement to make before we start the lesson." The level of severity in his tone had Orihime raising her head to look at her teacher, her brows arching in wonder of what was going on.
The class quieted and he stood at his desk, his hands firmly placed on the cool wood. "You've all been a good class, despite your noisiness," he started, instigating a few chuckles from students. Orihime didn't find the joke to be funny, nor did she find it to be a joke in the first place. She was too busy trying to quiet down her heartbeat, as it was too loud in her ears to hear her teacher properly.
Those lone two words sent daggers to her heart, and her eyes grew wide and prickled with tears. Still, she focused on Ichigo at the front, waiting for a possible explanation. The class grew rowdy again and threw their hands up in anger, sadness, a whole plethora of feelings and reactions to his news. While the other kids spouted words of concern, Ichigo took a split second to look at Orihime in the back of the room. She jumped in her seat because she was startled, but she saw nothing but seriousness in those beautiful brown eyes of his she's always loved.
"I talked to the headmaster over the course of winter break about it and its importance," he resumed, despite the class still loud with concern, but quieted again as he started talking. "So my resignation is already in and today's my last day." Sighs rang out through the classroom at his heartbreaking news, and one student in the front called him out on his sudden decision.
"Why are you quitting, Kurosaki-sensei?" The girl in the front row asked. Again, Ichigo's eyes drifted towards Orihime, making her heart race even faster, if it was even possible. She could see some warm feeling of his in those eyes, much different than the cold ones from that previous, dreadful day. It gave her an odd feeling of hope, but she couldn't particularly place why.
"Personal reasons," he started, his eyes never leaving hers. He kept silent for a moment before glancing out the window instead. "I'm quitting for personal reasons."
The class burst out in question again and Ichigo ignored them. He just began with his lesson, like every other day; like today wasn't a day where he wasn't leaving for good. Orihime found it hard to concentrate on her studies. They were even studying and analyzing old English literature, which she grew to love the longer she was in his class, yet her mind kept jumping back to his terrible news and all-too serious stare at her before.
Glancing out the window and at the falling snow, her expression softened slightly. This seems like Romeo and Juliet, except we're not dead, she inwardly commented, however, paused for another moment before finishing in her head. And he never loved me back. After giving it another thought, they weren't anything like the beloved couple Shakespeare wrote about. Orihime was just a part of another unfortunate tragedy, soon to be forgotten in due time.
The rest of the class period seemed to fly by, and before she knew it, it was already the end of the day. Normally she was okay with him being the last person she saw at the end of the day, but today it was just a curse. She'd never get to see him again after this.
That being said, she took her sweet time packing her book bag. Students all shuffled out after saying their last goodbyes to the teacher and Orihime was still sitting in the back of the room, finishing packing up. Although the more she packed, she didn't know if it was because she was ready to cry or because she was trying to savor the time she had left in his presence. It was probably a mixture of both, she mused.
Snapping her head up, because she knew that tone all too well, Orihime met gentle, brown eyes and a small, upset smile. For some reason, that only made her pack her items quicker and walk towards the front of the room, where she never broke eye contact with him. Orihime stood a few feet away from him, having an internal struggle on whether to continue looking at him or stare at her feet in embarrassment. She chose the latter, and clutched onto her book bag tightly as she had a staring contest with her school slippers.
"Thank you for being a good teacher, Kurosaki-sensei," she mumbled out, finding it hard to keep a rising blush at bay. "I am very glad to have been your student, even for a short while." The two kept in silence for a while. She wanted to continue talking to him, just to extend their remaining time, but she couldn't find any words. He wasn't saying anything either. Taking in a shuddering breath, Orihime realized her cheeks had grown wet and her lashes clung together.
She was crying.
She was startled and threw her hands up to her eyes, taking in another gasp. "I-I'm sorry, sensei! I don't even know why I'm crying!" Sniffling, Orihime wiped away her tears. She suddenly felt very foolish. How could she cry at this moment?
"You're crying because you're sad, dummy..." Ichigo scoffed lightly at her, using his left hand to pull her hands away from her face and his right arm to rub away her tears with his sleeve. In a way, he found her open, sincere tears to be endearing in away, but it still hurt him to see her upset nonetheless. "You shouldn't be sad, Inoue."
Sniffing quite loudly, she peeked over his sleeve with big, nervous eyes. "But you're leaving! A-And..." Orihime grew hushed and her cheeks burned a noticeable red. Ichigo could see her embarrassment, and he wished she wouldn't be so worried. "I'm going to miss you..." Her voice grew quiet, just barely above a whisper. She continued to look at the man in front of her, biting on her bottom lip as she waited for a reaction. She was inwardly proud with herself and how she managed to get out part of what she wanted to say.
Ichigo moved his hand and placed it on the top of her head, patting it lightly. She looked up to him, unintentionally giving him the biggest puppy eyes he'd ever seen. The words seem to get caught in his throat the longer she looked at him like that. "It'll be okay," he started slowly, trying to reassure her. "I'll be back soon." He paused, for dramatic affect or because he was growing nervous as well, he didn't know. "I'll be back for you."
If he thought her eyes were wide before, they just got wider now.
Ichigo's lips curled into a small smile, and he pulled Orihime forward so she crashed into his chest and into an awkward hug. "I'm quitting for you, Inoue," he told her, his voice surprisingly calm. Orihime squeaked in surprise and was immediately sent into a fit of worries, mumbling about how he couldn't do such a thing for her, but he hushed her so he could continue. "Look... I'm sorry for what happened a few months ago... Not of what we did, but what I did. I hurt you and I was never really able to live with myself after that." He loosened his arms around her so she could pull away and look at him. "So I'm making up for it now."
Orihime's face was twisted into something sympathetic and pained, and as much as it pained Ichigo as well to see her so distressed, he knew this would be best for her. It would be best for both of them in due time, and to top it off, they'd be happy this time. That is, if he still accepted her.
She pushed away from his chest to gain some space, her thoughts in a jumbled mess. What was she to say? Her teacher, her love had just apologized to her about his cruel, heart-breaking words from months ago, and was quitting as a way to make it up to her. She felt that it was all too much and she wasn't worth all the trouble, but her heart was inwardly soaring at how he said he'd be back for her.
"What are you going to do?" Was all Orihime managed to mumble out, her voice low so she wouldn't become a blubbering mess again. She had so many questions, but she wasn't able to actually form the words.
"I was thinking of trying my hand at some freehand writing or something," he replied. Ichigo reluctantly let her go and turned around to finish packing his bag, hoisting it over his shoulder once he was ready to go. "I'll be back after graduation," he mumbled out. In his head, his reasoning for picking a date after her graduation made sense. He had hoped she would focus on her studies properly until then, rather than have him on her mind all the time.
"I... I guess I'll see you then?" Orihime spoke quietly, still trying to wrap her head around all of this.
"Yeah... I guess so." He inwardly scolded himself, asking just why the hell he sounded so indecisive. Ichigo turned on his heels and made his way to the door. He had his hand on the doorknob, very intent on leaving, but something kept him back. Perhaps it was the presence of the woman he loved right behind him. Maybe it was the fact he knew she'd be upset over having to wait so long, even though she knew she'd see him again.
"Oh, screw this..." Ichigo murmured to himself, dropping his bag. He had planned to just leave and wait until later, but the thought of being away from her for so long affected him too. He turned around again and went up to Orihime, gripping her arms tightly as he pulled her to his chest. His lips crashed onto hers, moving frantically as if he wouldn't kiss her ever again, even though he knew he would in due time. She squeaked in surprise, but grabbed the front of his shirt to keep herself steady.
"K-Kurosaki-sensei!" She chirped out in alarm. Ichigo's hand dug itself deep into her auburn tresses and he pulled away from her slightly, eyes closed.
"It's Ichigo, Inoue... My name's Ichigo," he spoke in a low voice before resuming kissing her again. Officially, it was the end of the school day and he was no longer her teacher, but it was still risky to be seen kissing his former student while she was still in school. He hated to admit it, but he'd need to make this quick.
Shuddering, Orihime nodded stiffly as Ichigo pressed one last, light peck on her lips. "I-Ichigo." She said his name slow, as if she was testing it out. She could feel those tears prickling her eyes again, and she took in a sharp breath as to not cry. "Ichigo..." Feeling heartbroken over her sadness, Ichigo pulled her into a tight hug, one hand on the small of her back with the other cradling her head into his chest.
"I promise..." Ichigo mumbled into her brilliant auburn hair. "I promise I'll be back for you." Orihime sniffled into his shirt and nodded, biting her lip as to not make any sounds. "And when I do, I'll say those words you want to hear..." She nodded against his chest and grasped tightly the fabric that covered his back. She wanted to do so many things still; continuously thank him for everything he'd done, keep on kissing him, even whisper those words she reserved only for him.
There's a time and place for everything, she told herself. It'll happen when it happens.
Orihime had to reluctantly go of him and watch him leave. But as he left, even after he disappeared into the hallway, she still stared at the open door, hugging her midsection for comfort.
It wasn't goodbye. It was just a "see you later".