A/N: Thanks to Hakkyou no Yami, airi-07, nypsy, , saveme57 , thesearemyconfessions, BaS23 , PoeticNonsenseNinjaStyle, ShortFingerNails , AbaraiArekushisu , ChaosChronicler , Karaso, KrispyDonuts, MysterySky8, the0blind0writer, Chewie Cookies, ranipaki , for reviewing. Each and every comment makes my day.
I started a new Ichihime fic titled 'Words'. It's M-rated . . . . Those of you who are 16+, check it out!
This is still my priority though.
A Grand Reunion
Blood trailed from her lips onto the floor. It tasted of copper, and made her feel like throwing up again. Her powers were finally starting to come back to her. She could probably use low-level kido spells now, but would have to wait a while more for her zanpakuto to materialize.
She coughed again. The blood built up in her mouth, and she forced herself to swallow it. It was so unpleasant. . . How was it possible that a substance which flowed so freely inside her body would taste so terrible going back in?
She swallowed, and clamped her mouth shut.
She wouldn't let it come out, she would stop it, she would be fine, she would go back to normal, and the pain would stop. . .She prayed silently, her eyes closed and lips pursed.
No such luck.
It came back up her throat, and her mouth was full of it. She couldn't resist anymore. She opened her mouth and vomited out the thick red blood into the toilet.
Orihime was kneeling against the lavatory. Her knees were set firmly on the white tiled floor, and her hands pushed her hair away from her face.
Tears welled in her eyes, and she closed her eyes tightly.
She had been prepared for the return of her condition along with her powers. However, vomiting out blood is not something anyone can get used to.
That which had tormented her in Soul Society, and in Karakura, until she had at last lost everything to Ichigo. . . . The result of her run-in with that disgusting creature which had poisoned her, pierced her with its toxins, determined to kill, until her brother had saved her. . . .
But in the end, all had been in vain.
Her eyes stung, and she hastily rubbed them with the back of her hands, trying to stop the outflow of tears.
Hadn't she cried enough?
How many nights had she spent, weeping her eyes out until they were red and sore? The taste of her salty tears had dominated her mouth, and she knew nothing but depression.
Until her sorrow had evolved into resolve. Whereas she had cried before, she now trained. Her nights were no longer dizzy intervals of tears and headache, but of pushing limits and physical pain.
And thus began her hunt.
Suddenly, a sharp pain ran through her body. Her whole being shivered with a sickly feeling- familiar, and associated with dread. That pressure. . . It couldn't be. All the remaining colour drained from her face. She dragged herself over to the window, and with great difficulty, hoisted herself to look outside.
There was nothing there.
She could have sworn that she had felt it. . . Yes, there was no mistaking that horrible feeling that always preceded its appearance.
She couldn't face him in such a condition. She panicked. No Zanpakuto to fight with, she didn't have enough Spiritual Pressure for the effective Kido. . . . There was Ichigo, but this was supposed to be her fight, it had nothing to do with him at all. . . . .
As the feeling subsided, Orihime breathed a sigh of relief. Perhaps she still had time. . . .
Orihime picked herself off the floor. She dusted down her gray skirt, and wiped at her mouth one last time, examining her hands for signs of blood.
It was time for school.
Ichigo walked slowly, repeatedly checking the roughly-drawn map Orihime had given him. Even while considering that she had scribbled it in haste, it was a crappy jumble of drawings and nonsensical directions.
Coming across an apartment building which somewhat resembled Orihime's sketch, he took a chance and approached the entrance.
A slight movement caught his eye. He turned. Half-hidden behind a lamp post, a faint silhouette of a man hovered.
Surprised, Ichigo rubbed his eyes and checked again.
As he looked around for the man, it dawned on him that he must have been a soul. Ichigo resolved to tell Orihime about her so that they could perform a Soul Burial.
He entered the building and began to climb the stairs. The first floor, she had said. He approached the door and heaved a sigh of relief when he read the nameplate. He rang the bell.
A muffled voice floated through the door. "It's open!"
A little miffed, Ichigo turned the handle and pushed the door. It was, indeed, open. He stepped inside the hallway and closed the door behind him. It seemed like a standard one-bedroom apartment.
"Inoue?" He called out.
"Just a sec!" Came her reply, a little harried. She emerged from the kitchen, a piece of toast in her mouth and frantically running a hairbrush through her auburn tresses. The other free hand pulled up a sock, limping around until she finally got it all the way up.
His eyebrows went up at the sight of her. It was a miracle she hadn't fallen on her face yet.
"Sorry! Sorry! Sit down, Ichigo-kun, I'll just take a minute." She gestured towards the living room and disappeared back into the bathroom.
Ichigo stepped inside the living room. There was a low table and mats to sit on. Instead of sitting, he put his bag down and looked around.
It was so traditionally decorated. . . . There were so many flower arrangements, on the floor, on small tables in corners, in bamboo vases of varying colors. The window was open, so that light and heat filled the room. The wind blew placidly and Ichigo's nose was treated to an array of scents- subtle and pleasant- from the fresh flowers.
A large, kanji clock hung on the wall. If they didn't hurry up, Ichigo noted, they would be late.
A small photograph on a small, high table caught his attention. The table, like everything else, seemed antique, with exquisitely detailed patterns on the legs. But that wasn't what interested Ichigo. Feeling a sudden surge of curiosity, he got on his feet and walked over to where the table stood. The photograph, encased in a wooden frame, was of a young man and a younger, auburn-haired girl.
Ichigo picked it up to examine it closely.
They were both smiling; the man had one arm around Orihime. A green background surrounded the two and they seemed to be in a lawn of some sort. The sunny weather complimented the expressions the two wore.
Ichigo recognized the man's outfit to be something similar to what Orihime had worn when they had first met, but with a white haori over it.
"Ichigo-kun, I'm re-" Her voice trailed off and she stopped in her tracks as her gaze travelled to the picture in Ichigo's hand. He hastily replaced it. When she remained silent and wide-eyed, he decided to speak.
"Is that. . . . your brother?"
"Yes. That's Sora."
"I'm . . . sorry. . ." Ichigo lowered his head a little.
"No. . .It's not something you should apologize for. . ."
A question lingered on Ichigo's lips, but he bit it back into his throat. Orihime sensed an unspoken curiosity.
She smiled, as though reading his mind. "Aren't you going to ask me how it happened?"
Ichigo could see quite plainly that the smile didn't reach her eyes. Her lips were turned upward, but there was no sign of laughter on her face. Something else hid behind those probing, gray eyes. She had told him once before, briefly . . . about how she had trained when she died,
"No," Ichigo said firmly. It was none of his business, he told himself.
They stared at each other in silence.
"I'm not saying I don't want to know," Ichigo said, breaking the stillness. "I don't have any right to question you about that."
"But if talking about something's gonna give you so much pain. . . . I won't ask." He spun around and picked up his school bag. He turned back to look at her, his gaze softening. "So . . . I'll wait. Until you choose to tell me about it."
Orihime's hand rose to her cover her mouth, and her eyes widened in shock. She closed her eyes and gulped. Ichigo thought he saw tears welling at the corners.
Embarassed, he took a step towards her. "Oi, don't-"
Orihime, still clutching her mouth, pushed Ichigo aside as she ran past him. He dropped his bag.
"Hey!" Ichigo followed her out the living room, and saw that she had disappeared into the bathroom. An unmistakable noise resounded from the closed door a few moments later.
"Inoue!" Walking swiftly over to the bathroom door, he thumped on it. There was another retching noise, followed by silence. "Inoue! Are you alright?" He could hear deep, shaky breaths, and then the sound of a toilet being flushed.
Ichigo waited, sweat drops appearing on his forehead. What the hell was wrong with her?
After a few moments, the bathroom door opened with a click. It swung open to reveal her, slightly red-eyed and breathing hard.
"I'm sorry you had to see that. . . " She refused to meet his eyes.
"Are you okay?"
"I think I ate something funny last night . . . Don't worry, Ichigo-kun, its just food poisoning!" She gave a feeble sort of smile.
"Are you really-" Ichigo was cut off by a startled noise as Orihime ran past him to the living room. Checking the Kanji clock, she cried out. "We're late!"
In few minutes, Ichigo and Orihime were walking down the street at a decent pace. Ichigo downright refused to run and Orihime gave in without much protest, apologizing constantly for taking so much time and delaying them.
Eager to change the topic, Ichigo cut across her. "Nice apartment."
"Eh? Well, I wasn't too fussy about choosing. . . I took the first one offering a month-long lease. The real estate agent told me that most would only allow three-month leases."
Ichigo almost stopped in his tracks. "What's wrong with a three-month lease? How long do you plan on staying?"
Orihime giggled. "I don't plan anything. . . But I won't linger once my powers are back."
"Huh?" Orihime looked at him, but he was staring straight ahead. He didn't really look like he cared, but for the sake of making conversation.
"Why won't you linger? Aren't you the Soul Reaper in charge of Karakura?" There was a definite edge to his voice.
Orihime hesitated before answering. Just how much should she reveal?
Its best not to get Ichigo-kun involved. . . .
"I'm not, really. Usually such tasks are performed by low-leveled Soul Reapers. I requested a transfer to the Human World." She took a deep breath and looked up at the blue expanse, shielding her eyes from the sum with one hand.
No matter how different the two worlds were. . . .The sky was the same. Blue and eternal.
A constant reminder that she still had something she had to do.
"That's weird. Didn't you like it there?" Now he looked kind of perplexed.
With his eyebrows furrowed together like they always were, that permanent frown on his face, he looked confused. Orihime couldn't help herself. She giggled.
"What is it?" Now he looked curious. This was even more comical. Orihime let out a huge burst of laughter. Watching him look befuddled was fast turning into a hobby. "Your face is so- so. . . so funny, Ichigo-kun!"
"Huh? That's. . . .That's. . . Don't laugh at me!" Ichigo looked pissed, and the slightest red tint appeared on his cheeks. Orihime laughed even louder, and skipped ahead of Ichigo. Ichigo watched as she jogged ahead. "Hey! Wait up!"
Orihime paused and turned around. Ichigo couldn't help noticing that there was nothing but delight in her expression. Her hair blew behind her in the breeze, long auburn locks swaying so gently. "If we don't run now, Ichigo-kun, we're going to be late!"
She took off again, running lightly on the road. Ichigo, not wanting to be left behind, gave in and ran to catch up with her. She smiled as he did, but did not lower her pace. "Inoue- we look like a couple of idiots!"
She flashed him a reprimanding look. "Do you want to be late, Ichigo-kun?"
"I don't really care one way or the other. But I refuse to run like this to school." He stopped in his tracks and grabbed Orihime's arm. "Tell you what. . . .Let's walk till that corner, and then we can run."
Orihime mulled over his proposition before nodding. They set of at a slow pace.
"Hey, Ichigo-kun. . . "
"Summer Holidays are going to start soon, right?"
"Yup, today's the last day."
"Ehhh? I totally forgot!"
"Didn't you also forget to lock your front door?"
"Oh! But that was a mistake. I really, really forgot! I mean, I got home so late last night, and I was so sleepy-"
"Don't tell me you slept with you front door unlocked!"
"Ne, Ichigo-kun it doesn't matter anyway, since nothing happened!"
"You idiot! What if their was a burglar-or - or-"
"But last night was fun, right?"
"Huh? I guess. . ."
"The fireworks were so pretty!"
"Were they? I didn't notice. . . .What did you wish for, Inoue?"
For a fraction of a second, her expression fell dark. And then, she was the same, smiling as she answered, "If I tell, it won't come true!"
"You want it that badly, huh. . . ."
"I do." He voice was quiet.
Ichigo realised that he too wanted his wish to be fulfilled. It was strange that he hadn't thought of it until Orihime had spoken.
I want to be able to protect what I have.
He had failed once, but he wouldn't again. Now, he had the power to fight for them all.
They continued their chatter this way, running at regular intervals, making Ichigo grumble and Orihime giggle. But at certain moments, when she would laugh, or smile, or the breeze would toss her hair around, Ichigo would stare wordlessly. If Orihime had observed that recurring expression, she would have marveled about how a person could look so pleasant with a permanent frown on their face.
What the teacher was teaching on the board failed to register.
Orihime just couldn't concentrate.
Se moved around in her seat repeatedly, causing Ichigo to glance over many times. Her stomach hurt. A string of panicked thoughts dominated her head. What if she had to throw up again? What if-
Interrupting her internal monologue, as well as Ochi-sensei's lecture, causing the whole class to fall silent for a moment- Her cell phone beeped. Not that it was a cell phone, but she could make calls from it, but the correct term was- Oh, forget it. The phone was beeping louder now, and it was getting to her.
Ignoring the startled looks of her classmates, she rummaged around in her bag for the device. Her stomach was killing her; she thought she might die if this kept up. Not that she'd mind dying, but she still had something to do before she went.
She fumbled with the keys, and when she finally read the request, all hell broke loose inside her mind.
She jumped out of her seat and ran towards the door. Looking back at a pissed Ochi-sensei, she said, "Medical Room!" In a second she was gone, leaving her classmates in confusion.
"Ah-hem!" Ochi-sensei silenced the class with one scathing look. Looking around at the sea of excited faces, she said, "Now that no-one else seems to be having a medical emergency, turn your books to-"
Ichigo stood up then.
Without a backward glance, he ran. One decent thing Orihime had done was to leave the door open behind her.
He didn't bother to shut it, either.
Again, with an absolute sense of Déjà vu, Ochi-sensei looked at the class. They stared back at her.
Keigo waved his hand around with an intensity that surprised no-one. "Sensei! I have a terrible headache! I need to go to the med-"
The teacher brought an encyclopedia down on his head. "You're not going anywhere!"
"HUH? TEACHER FAVORITISM, I TELL YOU!"
Orihime could hardly run. This human body was weak and tired easily. It wasn't the first time she had felt its limitations. She popped more Soma Fixer pills into her mouth. Urahara had warned her that the Gigai Synchronization pills could be poisonous in large quantities, but right now she didn't care. No logic existed in her head. She could feel it, long before the request came. This was what she had waited for, the one Hollow she intended to finish.
It dawned on her that she could hardly fight. Kido. . .What could kido do? It wasn't enough. Nowhere near enough. This revelation did not slow her down- quite the opposite. She ran faster, with renewed energy. She would confront that. . .that thing.
Checking the co-ordinates on her phone, she turned left and was faced with a huge hill.
She turned around and immediately faltered. Why was he here? He came running towards her, out of breath. She hadn't sensed him follow her, her mind had been preoccupied. . . . He stopped.
"What- the- hell- is wrong?" Ichigo coughed out, in between breaths.
She never even considered asking him to come along. He had gotten hurt because of her carelessness before, and she was not an idiot to ask him to fight for her.
Besides, this was supposed to be her fight.
It was, simply, none of his business.
"Ichigo-kun. . . .Go back."
Throwing her a startled look, Ichigo's frown escalated. "Don't be an idiot! The Hollow-"
Thrown off by her harsh tone, Ichigo faltered.
"It's none of your business." Orihime refused to meet his eyes. Her whole body was shaking and tiny droplets of sweat had formed on her forehead. "Go back!"
There was a moment of silence as Ichigo stared at her trembling figure. Then-
"STUPID!" Ichigo shouted. He couldn't help himself. "It became my business when you gave me these powers! It's been my business ever since then! So SHUT UP and let me fight, DAMMIT!"
Before she could reply, a sickly feeling struck Orihime, and a sudden nausea built up in her body.
She doubled over in pain, all while trying to move forward, towards the direction of the Hollow.
"Inoue . . . ." An inexplicable fear began to dawn on Ichigo as he saw her struggle. "What the hell is wrong?"
She panted slightly. Raising one shaky hand to point towards the hill, she said, "There- A Hollow. . ."
As he glanced over the hill, Ichigo realized, with a jolt; this was the way towards the cemetery where his mother was buried. They had made the trip just recently . . . Had it only been a month? Climbing the hill, every year with his family . . . .
"I-Ichigo-kun?" He snapped back to the present and turned to look at Orihime. Her breathing was shallow and rapid- though she was upright; she was still clutching her stomach loosely.
"Let's go," He said suddenly, grabbing her arm and pulling her along. Delaying their journey would only increase the pain. He paused. "Can you walk?" He inquired.
She smiled. "I can run."
Surprised by her determination, but impressed, he nodded.
They began to jog up the hill at a fast pace, and for a while, neither of them said anything. The only noise was Orihime's light breathing, and tension was high in the air. She looked worn out, but her eyes held a fire Ichigo had never seen before.
And when they had climbed, they were surrounded by stone monuments. Tranquil in it's essence, the graveyard invoked silence. Ichigo found himself automatically seeking out his mother's gravestone, but stopped. He was there for another reason. He turned to Orihime. "Inoue-"
She was frigid, staring out at the distance, eyes locked at a particular point. A shock of terror ran through him when he saw her expression. He followed her gaze, and off to the side where the grass was green and empty of tombs, he saw a man.
Ichigo's eyes scrunched up in concentration. It was a soul, the same one he had seen this morning next to Orihime's apartment. His back was towards them now, and he was dressed in what looked like a black hakama.
And then, he turned.
Ichigo recoiled in shock when he saw his face.
The photograph in Orihime's living room. The dark-haired man.
It was him.
He smiled then, and the action was eerie.
Every instinct screamed at Ichigo to get away, to run.
Slowly, Orihime's hand rose from beside her, to reach out to the man, but stopped mid-way. She hesitated, anguish evident on her face. Her fist clenched and her hand fell to her side. Her fingernails dug into the white flesh.
"Orihime," Her brother said, his voice warm and welcoming. For second Ichigo almost relaxed, but something deep inside him went against the idea of letting his guard down.
"NO!" Orihime cried out in response to her name. "Don't . . . . I know it's you . . . DON'T HIDE BEHIND HIS FACE!"
She was shaking now, but her voice was like steel as she shouted at him. Ichigo had never seen her like this. He had never seen her shout. It was unnerving.
"Inoue . . . What-"
"Grand Fisher," she said, her voice finally breaking. "Come to catch me onto his lure."
The man, who was at this point, still smiling, changed. In a second, his expression transformed. His eyes opened wider and grew a hungry look, his mouth opened far too wide and his tongue slipped out and licked his lips. He bared his teeth.
"I came for one," His voice was throaty and deep. "But there are two of you . . . . looks like I'm in for a treat!"
His words made a shiver run down Ichigo's spine. "What . . . "
"You came, girl. I knew you would. But this guy-" His eyes darted over to Ichigo. "He can see me? How tasty . . . ."
"DON'T! It's me . . .FIGHT ME! LEAVE HIM OUT OF THIS!"
"It looks like there won't be much fighting at all . . . . You're still suffering from that time, and this one here is just a human," He mocked. "What can he do?"
"SHUT UP! And don't look like him! Don't . . . DON'T WEAR MY BROTHER'S FACE SO PROUDLY!"
"Oh, touchy . . . Fine, then . . . This is probably your last wish, after all."
The man spun around, and he his features distorted, his height shrunk, and his clothes changed.
When the transformation was complete, Ichigo was left speechless. Standing in front of them was a young, black haired girl.
Déjà vu hit him like a brick, and air sapped from his throat.
"You. . . YOU!" Now it was Orihime who was surprised, and Orihime who looked at Ichigo as he shouted.
Memories, memories Ichigo had tried so hard to forget, came back to him in a flood, causing short bursts of pain. "You . . . That night . . . Near the river . . ." He could hardly get the words out. "Six years ago!"
The girl looked thoughtful. "Six years ago? I don't remember that far back . . . ." Her lips twisted into an evil grin. "So you've seen me before . . ." Her smile escalated. "What did I do? Come on, tell me. I can't recall allof my victims, you know . . . ."
"MY MOTHER! You . . . . I. . . .MY MOTHER DIED THAT NIGHT!"
I'll start writing the next chapter when I hit 110 reviews. 76 people have me on alert, most of whom haven't reviewed yet. So this is your chance!
A few days back, I opened a pack of Oreos, ate half of them, and put the rest into a jar. The next day I opened up the container and bit it into one.
It was soggy.
I considered changing my username.