Title: Tainting the Roses Red

Authorial Notice:

I must start by saying how sorry I am this took so long to update. Really, you have my sincerest apologies! It just wasn't happening for me and even now, I feel it is sub-par. Ack. I die.

Surprising news, we've been translated. Yes, I kid you not. There is now a link on my profile where you can enjoy this story in Chinese, courtesy of Yikouguan. There is also a link to my DA account that I promised about six months ago.

And in the spirit of the world not having enough HichiHime, I have a new one-shot out called If Dreams Die. Way different than my usual H/H. Feel free to let me know what you think :)

Lastly, I will be making a few major edits to this story in the future. Like condensing the first five chapters and most likely, rewriting them. I'm also thinking about renaming, because I want a title that fits the story and isn't so random. If anyone has any suggestions on this, I am very open to them.


Chapter Twenty-five

"Are you sure that's everything Rangiku-san?"

"Looks like."


Rangiku huffed, tossing an exasperated look at her captain, even though she couldn't technically see him through the wall. But, Orihime supposed, things like physics and the natural laws of the universe had never really done much to deterred the stubborn vice-captain before.

"I have to make sure I'm not leaving anything."

The irritated sigh that came from the living room contained all the long-suffering patience of a martyred saint. "Maybe it wouldn't be so difficult, if you didn't do so much shopping."

Orihime smiled, dropping down to check under the bed one last time. It would definitely be a lot less interesting in her apartment after they left.

"I don't see anything else, Rangiku."

She looked up to see Rangiku pursing her lips at the wall before dropping a hip down onto her suitcase. The seams stretched dangerously as the lock finally snapped closed. Orihime eyed it warily.

"Easy for him to say. Did you know he only owns three sets of clothes?"

Orihime blinked. "W-what, really?"

"His uniform, a formal kimono, and his human clothes."

"But… But then, what does he sleep in?"

Rangiku grinned and Orihime's eyes went wide. She waved her hands, trying to stop the words before they could actually spill out of the older woman's mouth. "Nevermind! Please don't answer that!"

Face heating, Orihime watched Rangiku shrug before hefting her case off the bed, taking a final look around the room.

"It's going to get sore if you keep rubbing it like that."

"Eh…? What?"

Orihime started, glancing to the hand perched at her neck that had been absently running over the faintly raised mark just on the other side of her shoulder. She hadn't even noticed she was doing it. Frowning at her fingers for betraying her thoughts, Orihime let her hand drop back into her lap.

It had been almost a week since they had returned from their battle against the yokai, and her powers still hadn't stabilized enough that she could use them properly. Something which had bothered Ichigo enough that he had managed to find any and every excuse to checkup on her over the last several days. Not that she was complaining. Orihime hadn't ever really needed an excuse to want to see him, so she had decided not to mind his little bouts of overprotectiveness.

A smile flitted over her lips.

She definitely didn't mind the goodbye kisses. Sometimes she wondered if he only came so that he could leave again.

Orihime shook her head, so lost in thought that she hadn't responded. Rangiku was watching her with half-lidded, laughing eyes and Orihime felt a splash of guilt. It didn't seem fair that she was the only one who had gotten her happy ending.

"Will you be alright?"

Orihime hadn't intended to ask or bring up sore memories, but as soon as she had thought it, the question was already slipping past her lips. Once it had, she found that she really was curious. After all, if things had gone differently, even a little bit, Orihime could have easily been in the older woman's place. Forever waiting and hoping to find her lost love again. It was a terrible thought, but part of her wondered if she would have handled herself half as well. Somehow, she didn't think she would have.

The moment stretched.

"I think so." Orihime couldn't see all of Rangiku's face, but the hand holding the suitcase tightened. "Gin and I… It's just what we are— were. Turns out, nothing ever changed. He never changed."

A smile curved her lips, one that told Orihime she was lost in her own memories. Then, at last she spoke again, soft enough that Orihime had to strain.

"But if he had, he wouldn't have been Gin. When you really love someone, you don't need them to change. Even when it hurts. What about you?"


Rangiku gestured and Orihime flushed, realizing her hand had once again crept up to her scar during the fit of guilt the other woman's words had inspired. Rangiku was so strong. She made things sound so simple that it always left Orihime feeling foolish and slow.

She swallowed. "I'm really such a terrible person sometimes."


"No, I am. You're right, if you love someone it should be for who they are, but I haven't done that at all. I didn't… Instead of trying to talk to—" Orihime hesitated, wondering how much she could reveal about Ichigo's hollow. He had said it was dangerous for people to know, and she really didn't want to get anyone in trouble, least of all him.

She took a deep breath and tried again.

"I do love Ichigo, but I was trying to pick and choose which parts to love, and…"

Rangiku tilted her head, patiently waiting for Orihime to finish her thought.

"I think I made a mistake. And that maybe there are parts of him that can't forgive me."

While she had been speaking, Orihime pulled her knees into her chest, hugging her legs.

Rangiku sighed. "You should tell him that. Orihime, that boy is crazy about you. He's too stubborn to stop loving you just because you made a mistake. Just tell him…"

Orihime nodded, still keeping her gaze trained on the floor.

"Now, let's see what you're wearing on this date of yours."


Orihime closed the door, breathing a sigh of relief or lonesomeness, she wasn't sure. She turned back to her room as the refrigerator kicked on, filling the silence of her small space with the electric hum.

Walking through the door, she made her way to the clothes Rangiku had picked out. She stared at them for a full minute before scooping them off her bed and into the hamper. Those things weren't her, she didn't want to play dress up anymore to get Ichigo's attention. Besides, she had a feeling he would like anything she wore.

Emerging from her closet in a simple blue dress, Orihime paused seeing the window by her bed open, the curtains fluttering in the breeze.

She didn't remember opening it.

Orihime stretched out her senses before remembering it was useless. She couldn't feel anything but vague impressions. It was disconcerting to feel so blind walking across her own room.

She reached the window and raised her arms to close it, glancing over her shoulder just to make sure she was still alone.

"That's dangerous, you know."

Orihime yelped, stumbling back from the feminine voice that sounded only somewhat familiar.

"Who's there?"

"Out here."

Ducking under the frame, Orihime gasped as she spied the branches of the tree that ran parallel to her window— or more accurately, who was in the branches.


"Took you long enough."

She blinked. "But… I thought you were…"

Swallowing back tears, Orihime could only laugh in response as the girl who had been her tutor smiled.

"Yeah, well, you do good work." She smiled again and Orihime couldn't ever remember seeing her look so at ease. "I wanted to tell you then, but it didn't seem like a good idea with all those soul types running around." Yuri scratched her head. "Anyway, I wanted to say thanks. You went through a lot to help me and I couldn't leave without saying that."

"You're going home?"

"That's right. By the way, I got you something."

Springing closer to the window, she reached out handing Orihime a familiar pink covered book.

"Oh, I have this one."

Yuri grinned. "This one's signed."

Orihime glanced down at the book, flipping open the cover to see kanji scratched in black ink.

Thanks for everything. I won't forget you. Yuri Kimiho…

For the first time, she realized she had never checked to see who the author was. She gaped at the book before turning back. "You wrote—?"

The tree outside her window was empty. Yuri was gone.

Orihime stood there staring until a knock at the door startled her out of her thoughts. She sat the book on her desk before closing the window, hurrying to answer the door.

Ichigo knocked again, wondering what was taking Orihime so long to answer when there was a clattering sound, signaling the locks on the other side were being flipped and twisted. At least she was locking it, though.

Shaking his head, he straightened as the door finally opened, revealing Orihime's shining face and bright smile. His eyes seemed to fall on their own, slipping down her body and over gentle curves before he could force himself to drag them back up where they belonged.

He cleared his throat.


"Ah! Yes, I just need to get my shoes…"

Curious, Ichigo tilted to watch her through the cracked door, shaking his head again as she stumbled over her own feet on the way to her closet.

After everything it had taken to get all those soul reapers out of the house, he was almost happy to have nothing better to worry about than his girlfriend's clumsy antics.

And that dress really did suit her.

Certainly does…

Ichigo's shoulders slumped, scowl slipping negligently back into place. No one asked you.

His frown deepened at the sarcastic laughter that echoed around his skull before retreating back into the recesses of his mind.

"Is everything alright?"

"Huh?" Ichigo blinked down to find Orihime standing in front of him, looking at him with thoughtful grey eyes. Smiling, he gave her a firm nod, taking her hand in his before reminding her to lock the door.

He pulled her behind him down the stairs, thinking about how surreal it seemed to be dating one of his closest friends. Not just anyone, but Orihime. A soul so innocent, so pure, that he couldn't have possibly done anything to deserve her. It was a strange and pleasant feeling to know that all he had to do to touch her was just to stretch out a hand, and more, that she actually wanted to touch him, to be touched by him.

When did that even happen? At what point had it become second nature to have her there beside him? After rescuing Rukia? Before that?

Of course, she had always been there, had always stayed close to his side, but now it was on a whole different level. And he wasn't sure how they had fit together so easily. He didn't know when he had started wanting it, but he did, desperately. Like he wanted air. It was as if there hadn't ever been any other path for him. As if it had been mapped out in the stars, eons ago, and they were just playing into the hands of fate.

Ichigo frowned, realizing that he was still pulling her and slowed his stride, letting Orihime catch up and walk beside him. He muttered an apology, feeling thoughtless for dragging her behind him. "You can tell me to slow down, you know."

"But you were thinking so hard..." He glanced back when she hesitated. "Ichigo-kun, about what happened—"

"Orihime, you don't have to keep apologizing."

She stopped and he turned, furrowing his brow as she heaved back on his arm.

"But… I only apologized to you, Kurosaki-kun. I-I think I need to apologize to…" She swallowed, apparently wrestling with her courage. "I think I should apologize to hollow you."

It came out in such a rush that it took his deficient brain a few seconds to process her request. "You're kidding, right?"

She shook her head, loose curls falling over her shoulders in a way that was almost hypnotic.

"We share a soul, you don't have—"

"But that's why I want to. He's part of you and I want to love all of you."

Ichigo was going to tell her that it wasn't something he needed, that he really would be fine if she didn't like his hollow- he sure as hell didn't- but the problem was, he wasn't certain he could speak around the lump forming in his throat.

He turned, looking out over the bridge that divided the river. After a few minutes, he cleared his throat, looking back at her where she waited patiently.

"Just to be clear, you know there's no way I'm going to let him out in the middle of a park." He almost groaned when Orihime looked surprised. She was going to kill him with all that misplaced trust of hers. "Look, just say it. He'll hear you, I promise."

"Oh, okay..."

Ichigo shifted while he waited, feeling absolutely ridiculous, but he had known as soon as she gave him that look, he wouldn't say no. Still, he jumped when she made a deep bow.

"W-what are you doing…? Stop that! It's not necessary, he knows, he knows!"

"But, Ichigo-kun…"

Her words dissolved as he physically adjusted her posture before taking her hand again and starting another brisk walk, and Orihime wondered if she had imagined the red tint coloring the top of his ears.

That hadn't exactly been the apology she had wanted to give, but she supposed it would have to do until she had the chance to give it in person. She could wait. After all, she thought, squeezing his hand tighter, she was already a waiting expert.

Ichigo turned over his shoulder to look at her, eyes questioning, but she only smiled back. His answering half-smirk sent a fissure of sparks through her belly, making her shiver. He really did have such a nice smile…

"You love me, huh?"

She blinked, startled, before her cheeks flushed at the heat in his eyes. "Y-yes."

Orihime watched, mesmerized as his smile only grew bigger.

"Good, then maybe you can stop trying to seduce me with that damn book."

She stumbled, fighting not to fall over from shock. He knew?

Ichigo used her hand to tug her closer, dropping his head to whisper in her ear. "Just remember, Orihime, payback's a bitch."

She yelped when his teeth nipped the sensitive skin, effectively jumpstarting every nerve ending in her body. "H-how long have you known?"

"Since Rukia let it slip back when you stayed with us."

"Ah…! That long?"

Ichigo's smile only widened in response. He looked incredibly pleased with himself.

"So embarrassing…"


"Hmm?" Orihime stopped, looking around for the owner of that voice before spotting a head of familiar short spikes. "Tatsuki…? Tatsuki! "

She squealed as she was enveloped in the arms of her best friend, seeing Ichigo stiffen out of the corner of her eye.

"It's good to see you. You look great!"

Orihime beamed at her friend's compliment. "When did you get back? You should have called so that we could meet you at the train."

"I wanted… to surprise you…" Tatsuki trailed off, finally noticing the intertwined hands of her two closest friends.

Her eyes narrowed, looking from their joined hands to Orihime's glowing complexion and finally up to where Ichigo stood, slightly behind Orihime's smaller form.

Her mouth fell open, then she snapped it shut, shaking her head. At last, a small, sugary smile curved her lips. "Ichigo…?"

"Hmm?" Orihime glanced up to see Ichigo appearing uncertain at the falsely sweet tone of Tatsuki's voice.


Orihime squeaked as Tatsuki made a dive for her boyfriend, latching on to his collar with both hands.

"What the hell, Tatsuki?"

"I thought I told you not to touch her!"

"You said not to hurt her!"

Crawling out from under the pile of wildly flailing limbs, Orihime fluttered her hands as Tatsuki landed harsh blow to Ichigo's jaw.

"I know exactly what you did to her, you bastard!"

"O-oh! Tatsuki, it okay, really…. Tatsuki! Tatsuki, I don't think he can breathe!"





Yay! At last, this is finished and only a little over a year later. My first completed fic!

Thank you so much to everyone that's followed along with this story. You've been so, so awesome as I muddled through this, trying to figure out what I was doing. Really, it means a lot!

Now, I only have one last request. If there was one particular moment you enjoyed in this fic, could you let me know what it was and maybe what you liked about it. That would really help me to continue improving my writing, and I would much appreciate it!

Thank you!