A/N: First of all, this was written on a computer. Usually I prefer to write my stories by hand, then type them up. It's easier to proofread them that way, I tend to repeat myself less, and my grammar is more likely to be what I want it to be... That being the case I'm not extremely happy with the way this turned out but it's still alright. I hope you enjoy it in any case.
P.S. Please take the IchiHime songfic poll on my bio page, I just need a few more votes before the decision is made! Thanks for your time and have a nice day.
He choked down another glass of ice water. It didn't make his throat feel better, it ached and burned and he wished he didn't need to swallow or breathe ever again. In his haze he'd still had the presence of mind to take a fever reducing pain pill. But to his knowledge it hadn't done a single thing. He'd realized something was wrong the day before when his throat hurt and he felt dizzy. At the time he thought it was no big deal, but when he woke in the morning things were much worse. Normally his illness wouldn't have been a problem, but when he looked around no one was home. He figured he'd wait for his father to get back; reluctant as he was to admit it, having a medically trained parent had its benefits at times. And yet his father didn't come and he waited all day. It was already early evening and the family's outing without him seemed to be lasting forever when he needed help. Help, he scoffed at the word. How was it he could defeat enemies much smarter, much stronger than him and yet an illness, a tiny little bug, was getting the best of him?
He was pacing the kitchen floor but dizziness and fatigue overcame him and he sat down next to the fridge, intermittently opening and closing it depending on if he was having chills or getting overheated. How much longer are they going to BE? he raged. He never remembered feeling quite this sick although he was sure he had been at one time or another. The difference was that someone was there. He dropped his head back against the counter and wondered just how messed up a person could be if their fever got too bad. Maybe he should check what his temperature was now.
Pulling at the counter top he attempted to rise, and failed. He panted in surprise. Was it that bad? When had it gotten that bad? He inwardly cursed as it vaguely occurred to him that it was too late to leave to get help now, since he couldn't even stand. His eyes felt heavy and his head was buzzing but more than that his throat felt like it was full of barbed wire. He sat there trying to contemplate what to do, but nothing much was coming to mind as his head kept slowly drooping and he popped it back up. At this point his family would come home and find him asleep on the kitchen floor. Sleep was good for illnesses, but he couldn't ever remember having been knocked out from a fever before. Would it be ok, or...
Ichigo didn't want to scare his sisters if they were to come home and find him passed out, nor did he especially want to leave his fate up to some unknown time when his family might come back. But slowly, slowly, like mists seeping into his brain, a solution came to him. It would be an easy fix, too. That is, if he could make it to the phone.
Come on, he urged himself. Move like you mean it. Crawl like... like Kenpachi is after you. A vision of Kenpachi sliding around the floor like a snake sent him reeling as he entered his living room and leaned against his couch. No more prompting weird images when you have a fever.
He grabbed his cell phone off of the side table where he'd left it and scrolled to a rarely dialed but highly valued number. Of course it was granted all phone numbers in his phone were rarely dialed, but...
"Hey, Inoue," his words caught in his throat and he let out a pained groan.
"Is this Kurosaki-kun? Are you alright?"
He tried to respond but a weird croaking noise was all that came out, which sent his friend on the other line into a bit of a frenzy.
"Oh no, Kurosaki-kun are you ok? What happened?"
"Inoue," his voice cracked, "I'm fine." He shook his head. Stupid conditioned response. "Actually I'm not doing so great. I need your help. Can you come by?"
"I'll be right there! What's happened? What's wrong, Kurosaki-kun?"
Ichigo didn't want to talk any more, and his body agreed with him. The phone slid down to the crook of his neck and he listened to the panicked repeating of Kurosaki-kun? Kurosaki-kun! until the line went dead a moment later, and then everything was silent.
But in the back of his mind, right before he became unconscious, he thought he recognized that panicked cry from somewhere else. Wait, what had just happened? What was going on, why was in so much pain? Just where was he anyway...
Orihime didn't notice that her shoes didn't match as she ran down the street towards Ichigo's house. She'd called Tatsuki to see if she could get a ride there from her mother, it might be a few minutes faster; but when no one had answered she grabbed her apartment keys and shoved her feet in the first two shoes they fit into and was out the door. She was alarmed that the house was dark when she reached it. While it was true that she didn't come over often, whenever she did the place always seemed lively. She bit her lip and wished she would have left a message on Tatsuki's machine or bothered to tell anyone else where she was going, in case something had happened... He had called her for help, actually called her for help. She didn't know what was wrong so she didn't know what would be required of her... But if it was for Ichigo...
She knocked on the door tentatively. No noises came from inside the house. She rang the bell and waited. And waited. Nothing happened. She rang and knocked again, louder this time.
"Kurosaki-kun? It's me!"
When she received no answer and there was still no motion in the house she placed her hand on the knob.
Please let it be open.
Orihime sighed as she began to frantically check the windows. They were locked up tight as well. She searched around his front door for a key, sometimes people left them. She was getting more frantic by the second. If he needed her help, why wouldn't he let her in? Why did he sound injured on the phone? If he really was hurt badly, every second counted.
Orihime looked at the door and blinked in wonder.
Could I... reject the lock?
She hadn't ever tried breaking and entering before. Then again, she'd been able to walk right in to the Vizard's place and she wasn't exactly invited...
How would I break a lock? Cut it?
In a moment Orihime was pushing the door open lightly, jumping at the slight metal clink that came when the severed half of the deadbolt fell to the floor.
The house was dark except for the lights on in the kitchen. She peeked in. "Kurosaki-kun?"
The fridge was open, but there was no sign of him. She closed it and turned around to face his dark house. She sort of knew where things were but she wasn't very familiar with it. She ventured to the hallway and hesitated as she looked at the stairs that would lead to his room. She headed towards them when she heard raspy breathing coming from the living room. With a quick flick of a light switch she saw him there, sitting slumped on the floor.
"Oh my gosh!"
She rushed over to him and kneeled in front of him.
"Kurosaki-kun are you ok? What happened?"
He opened his eyes and looked at her but he wasn't there. He was in Soul Society and Hueco Mundo and the back streets of Karakura and the riverside where his mother had passed away. He was in every awful memory he had, memories where he was scared or confused or hurt or all of the above.
"Can you move?"
He did not reply.
Orihime called her fairies and struggled to get him on to the couch he was slumped in front of.
"Sorry... you're kind of heavy," she said shoving him at the side. "Er, no, I mean- I mean I'm not used to lifting Kurosaki-kun..."
She sighed as he settled on the couch and her fairies began their healing work. He wasn't looking at her anymore. He wasn't really looking anywhere in particular, he was staring at the ceiling with a tense frown and ragged breathing.
"Kurosaki-kun can you tell me what's wrong?"
"Get away from her! Leave her alone!" he rasped.
She didn't see any physical injuries. Cautiously she felt his forehead. Yup, he had a fever and a bad one at that. She hoped her fairies could heal a fever, she hadn't ever tried before.
"Stay here. Everything will be ok," she told him nervously, not sure if it was actually true.
"Byakuya don't say that. An older brother should never say he's going to kill..." he coughed and moaned. Orihime twisted her fingers nervously. She ran in the kitchen to find an ice pack. Luckily there was ice in the freezer, though no ice pack. She wrapped the ice in a kitchen towel with one hand while she picked up the phone and made a call with the other.
"Ishida-kun? Oh no, it's your voicemail. I really need to talk to you. Kurosaki-kun is really sick he... he's talking about things that already happened and... I think I should take him to a hospital but I can hear him talking about that, you know, I don't know what I should do..."
Orihime looked in the front room and saw him shivering on the couch.
"I'm going to get him ready to go to a hospital. If you get this message please call me back as soon as you can. I just don't know what to do."
She slammed the phone down and rushed in the living room to apply the ice. She had never been to a hospital except for the one Ishida's father ran, and it was a bit far. She wasn't sure how she'd get him there, not having a ride.
"Don't worry Kurosaki-kun I'll get you help. I need to find out where the closest hospital is... will you be ok if I'm in the kitchen for a minute?"
"I said leave her alone!" his voice was still hoarse but he was louder now. "Leave her alone! Why her, anyway? Why her?"
He cursed and moved his hand but lowered it again when it knocked into the barrier.
Orihime rushed to the kitchen and looked for the phone book. She spotted it on top of the fridge and reached for it. Grunting in frustration, she dropped backwards and looked for something she could stand on.
"Kurosaki-kun," she called, only halfheartedly wondering if he would answer, "where's your family?"
Silence came from the other room; and then, "Mom? Mom..? Why aren't you moving? Mom?"
Orihime ignored the shiver that coursed through her at the tone of his voice and quickly stood on a box and hefted the phone book.
H... H... Hospitals...
The nearest clinic was here, of course. Being that this itself was a clinic, there was not another nearby.
Orihime carried the phone book into the living room to check on him. He seemed calmer, he wasn't squirming as much and the sweat on him was starting to dry. Maybe her healing was working, she breathed a sigh of relief.
"Grimmjow what are you talking about? What did you do to her? Leave her alone!"
Orihime cringed at the name but kept reading off addresses.
"I came to rescue Orihime and I'm not letting a piece of trash like you stop me."
Orihime looked up at the mention of her name, her given name, but shook her head staunchly and reminded herself it was the fever talking. She needed to find the nearest hospital.
"She said I can't get hurt any more. I can't let you hurt me anymore. You can't hurt me anymore!"
Ichigo reached up, lightly this time, and touched the orange barrier.
"Thanks for saving me, Inoue, but... It's dangerous, so stay back."
This time he moved, actually looked at her. His eyes weren't all there, but he at least knew where in the room she was.
"You're calling me. I can hear you. I can hear you calling me. I need to stand up. Stand up, I- I will. I will protect..."
He tried to sit up. His head bumped against the barrier.
"Kurosaki-kun, lay back down!"
He reached back up to the barrier, pressing his fingertips against it and then his nails as he clenched his hand into a fist.
"Orihime I will protect you..."
"Kurosaki-kun," she got up to rush to his side, she wanted to prevent him from doing anything stupid. She wondered if she should have sealed him in a sphere instead of just putting a healing shield up. But she didn't think he'd be moving around, or trying to break out.
"Orihime I will protect you," he repeated.
It's the fever talking. It's the fever talking. Ignore it.
"Kurosaki-kun, lay still I really need to find-"
He half chuckled.
"What's with that face?"
"Kurosaki-kun, please lie still I need to find the nearest-"
The phone began to ring. Orihime sighed in frustration.
"Don't you move!" she said sternly as she ran back into the kitchen.
The phone flew off the receiver and to her ear. She barely remembered she wasn't at her own house.
"Hello- Kurosaki residence, hello?"
"Oh good, Inoue-san, you're still there." It was Ishida. Orihime had never felt so relieved.
"Ishida-kun, thank goodness. So far the closest hospital I've been able to find is almost seven kilometers away and I... It's far but I mean, I could, er-"
"Don't take him to a hospital. My father and I are on the way now."
Orihime sighed. "Oh good."
"Until we get there he can have a light blanket, but keep his forehead cool. Everything will be fine, we'll be there in a few minutes."
"Thank you," she said and placed the phone back on the receiver.
Orihime glanced in the living room and, seeing as he was behaving himself and being still, she decided to run up to his room to get a blanket. She blushed and tried to think of reasons why this was ok, her being in his room by herself; she was just getting a blanket... he was sick... it wasn't an invasion of privacy she was just getting a blanket...
She pulled the topmost blanket off of his bed- geez his bed smells like him- nononono, get the blanket and leave- and Orihime scrambled out of his room.
She draped the blanket over her shoulder, trying not to note that yes, it still smelled like him, and went back to the kitchen to fill a bowl with cold water.
"You can take a break, please," she whispered to her fairies as the orange glow faded. "Ishida-kun is on his way. He says you can have a blanket."
She spread the blanket over him as he stared at her blankly. She took the makeshift ice pack off of his forehead and dumped the ice in the bowl, wetting the cloth and replacing it.
"Ok, back to work," she said gently and touched her hair pins. The orange glow fired up once more and he sighed and turned his head towards her.
"Orihime, why did you run away?"
"Run away... I just uh... I'm sorry I went in your room to get a blanket. I mean because I wasn't sure where your linen closet was and I figured you'd have a blanket in your room, I didn't mean to go in your room, I mean I meant to, but..."
He squeezed his eyes shut as if his head hurt.
"Sorry. I'm back now."
His face relaxed and he turned to stare at the ceiling again.
"I know. I know you're back. We brought you back. I wanted to make sure you got back home."
He reached up and grabbed the cloth off his forehead and she gently pried it from his hands and put it back.
"It's better now."
"Kurosaki-kun you're not better. You're sick ok? But don't worry I can get you fixed up, and then Ishida-kun and his father will be here and he's a doctor, remember?"
"They don't need to come I'm fine."
"You're not fine."
"I will be fine."
"Kurosaki-kun!" Orihime sighed and kneeled down next to the couch. She couldn't tell if this was a lucid conversation or not. Was her shun shun rikka working on his fever? His forehead did feel cooler, but there had been ice on it. She reached under the healing shield to feel his forehead again under the cloth, and then moved her hand to his cheek and neck. It did feel less warm now but-
His hand shot up to grab hers and he pulled it away from his face, lowering it to his side as me put his arm back down. He didn't let go of her hand.
"Don't," he groaned, "it's warm."
A moment passed awkwardly and Orihime tried to pull her hand away but he allowed no give.
"Kurosaki-kun, my hand..."
"You know I've been thinking lately... not while I was sick... not just while I was sick... Actually ever since Hueco Mundo I've been thinking."
"That's over now, Kusosaki-kun, my hand-"
"This world is so messed up. It's so... messed up."
Orihime desperately wanted to say something. She didn't know what approach to take. Ask for her hand back again? Assume this wasn't a lucid conversation? Or assume it was?
"Don't apologize. What are you apologizing for; it's not your fault. It's messed up for you too. It's messed up for everyone, sometimes."
His grip loosened slightly and she promptly took advantage of it to free her hand. Unfortunately he just grabbed it again. At least it was in a more comfortable position this time. She inwardly sighed and told herself not to blush, not to read too deeply into it. He was sick. He didn't know what he was doing.
"There's so much bad. So many bad things happen. Whether you deserve it or not everything just..."
He sighed and let out a little cough and cleared his throat.
"It's not so bad now."
"My life. It's not so bad, right now."
Orihime squirmed on her knees uncomfortably. She'd never heard him complain before, not once. The closest thing she'd heard to him complaining was his occasional agonizing over his own supposed weakness. She supposed him saying his life wasn't so bad at the moment was the opposite of complaining; still, he was talking so strangely...
It's the fever. The fever, just ignore it. Ishida-kun and his father are coming.
"You'll be ok Kurosaki-kun," she reassured, giving him a smile even though he wasn't looking at her.
"I know. I know I will be. I figured it out. Just now, I think I have."
"You don't have to talk, you'll make your throat hurt-"
"Since there's so much bad... when you have something good... you have to hold on to it. You have to hold on to it, you know?"
Orihime sat back on her heels and stared at the door. Normally she would love to have a meaningful conversation with Ichigo, considering she was completely in love with him, but she didn't want to have him pour his heart out to her because of a fever.
"It's the good that makes it worth it. I mean, even though I lost my mom, if I had the choice between losing her or never having her in the first place... I'd go through it all again, no matter how many times."
Orihime was taken aback at this admission. It was very personal. She hoped he meant to share that with her. Hoped that he didn't mind that she'd heard.
"With my brother..." she looked up at him cautiously, he stared back. She swallowed and continued. "When I lost my brother I sort of wondered why... um, I was left living, you know... But then I met Tatsuki-chan and became friends with you and everyone and... So I can be happy again. That's what I tell my brother, when I talk to him. You're right, about the good things, I mean." Orihime blushed at her nonsense, only taking comfort in the fact that Ichigo probably wouldn't remember any of their conversation any way. She wasn't sure what she was trying to say or why she even bothered replying.
He turned back up to face the ceiling again.
"It's like sunshine."
Orihime frowned. He was talking nonsense again.
"S-sorry," Orihime said, trying to pull her hand away again, assuming her skin was too hot.
He brought his other hand to his forehead and rubbed the bridge of his nose, slowly closing his eyes.
"I want to hold on to you, Orihime."
"B- but you just said it was warm and with your fever it probably doesn't feel-"
"You don't understand. You're so... good. You're one of the good things I was talking about, Orihime. You're..." He swallowed and took a deep, halting breath.
"You don't need to talk you'll make your throat worse." The truth was, Orihime was upset. He didn't understand. He didn't understand the things he was saying and the way it was making her feel... he didn't know how she felt about him. He was just sick, just talking. It wasn't his fault.
"I want to keep you. In my life. I don't want to let you go, Orihime. I want to hold on to you."
Orihime dropped her face and rested her forehead against his uncovered arm. It's the fever talking. He doesn't know what he's saying. It's just the fever talking, calm down.
"That's just the fever talking," she said in a reassuring voice, trying to convince both of them of the fact.
"It's not. I'm getting better, I can feel myself getting better every second, Orihime. You're good with healing."
How was it that he had slipped so easily into using her given name? There had been no understanding, no permission, he just said it.
"I want to hold on to you, Orihime."
"Please... don't say silly things like that." She tried to keep her face from burning, tried to keep her voice from wavering.
"What I'm trying to say is-"
"Come on now Kurosaki-kun," she popped her face back up and tried to look happy. "No more talking. You won't remember any of this in school on Monday anyway."
"Yes, Orihime, I will, I-"
"It's just your fever," she said, her voice sounding just a little too insistently happy. She quickly took the cloth off of his head and dampened it again with her remaining free hand.
He looked at her face as she placed the cloth back on his forehead again. He cringed as she did so. She didn't know she was giving him a pleading look, and she didn't know he acknowledged it even though he didn't understand it. He licked his dried lips nervously.
"Maybe I'll just rest for a while?" he tried to smile at her.
She smiled again and pulled her hand away. This time he let her.
"Silly Kurosaki-kun. All tipsy and doesn't know what's going on from a fever. Don't worry, we'll get you better!" She pumped her fist in the air as she stood triumphantly. "We're half way there, since your fever seems to have broken a bit..."
She turned to walk back to the chair. She thought she heard Ichigo chuckle.
"Your shoes don't match."
She turned back to look at him, a huge blush across her face that he'd notice and she, until now, had not. But he just tilted his head back and closed his eyes, smiling.
Sunday seemed boring as Orihime spent it by herself pumping lots of vitamins in her immune system and grocery shopping for the coming week. Ishida Ryuuken had finally arrived and, though it was obvious he seemed a bit put out because Ichigo was, (in his opinion) almost completely healed, he took care of the boy until his family arrived home and they could all leave. He gave Orihime explicit instructions to go home and disinfect herself and try to stay healthy, strep throat was very contagious especially this time of year. She nodded and sent him a salute, at which Ishida Uryuu rolled his eyes behind his father, and went home. Everything had been quiet since. Everything was washed and cleaned and her fairies made her sit down to heal herself really quick, just in case she had become infected. But Orihime wasn't worried, she hadn't been ill since she was a child.
To tell the truth, Orihime had been thinking about what Ichigo had said to her all day. It was beautiful and she hoped he meant it. But she didn't want to hope too much. After all, when she'd left him last night he'd simply said "Thanks Inoue," with a bright red face. Obviously the fever was back. Yes, it had to have been the fever. I'm not lucky enough for it to have been anything else.
She sighed and settled into her pillow, completely ready to be taken to dream land. The last thing she thought about before sleep was just how warm his hand had been.
The morning came too fast and Orihime thundered to school completely ready to tell Tatsuki about her eventful weekend. Unfortunately she couldn't find Tatsuki before class, so she headed in that direction feeling a little defeated. She entered the classroom noticing that Tatsuki wasn't in there yet either, but someone else was...
"Oh, good morning Kurosaki-kun! Are you feeling better today?"
He jumped slightly at the sound of her voice and looked down sheepishly as she approached his desk.
"Yeah, I am, thanks to you. Good morning," he looked up and gave her a look that was both sly and at the same time more innocent than anything she'd ever seen from him, "Orihime."
Her heart jumped in her chest a little and she felt her face start to get hot. Maybe, just maybe she'd let herself hope at least a little. After all, he was a good thing in her life too... actually, one of the best.