note: Blatant (and sloppy) post-476 speculation.

even as your heart breaks

Orihime thinks she should smile. It is, after all, the time to celebrate; Kurosaki-kun has his powers back, Kuchiki-san and the other shinigami have arrived, and the bad guys—the bad guys have been defeated.

She should be happy, Orihime thinks. She should be…

Ishida-kun quietly asks her if she is alright. Fidgeting, she rearranges her skirt under her neatly tucked legs and nods. Across the room of Urahara-san's shop, Isshin-san and Kurosaki-kun argue, voices low but expressions heated, and the older-Kurosaki-san's face is for once serious, the lines set in his forehead deep and grim.

Orihime notices that Kurosaki-kun is still in his shinigami form even though the fight's finished, and she wonders at that, at the last seventeen months—

Kurosaki-kun's voice suddenly rises, and the entire roomful of people manage to catch the tail-end of his sentence; "I can't just let them leave, she's—she should be—"

He stops midsentence, face drawn and haggard, and Orihime is already rising to her feet, uncertain of what she should do but—Kuchiki-san is already there, a hand light on his arm, the white glove startling against the black of his shinigami robes. Orihime swallows and forces herself to sit back down.

"Ichigo," she can hear his name from across the room, low but loud in the quiet space, firm; an easy sound, natural and familiar even though Kuchiki-san hasn't been in Karakura for over seventeen months.

He stops; of course he stops, Kurosaki-kun has always stopped for Kuchiki-san. He is nice like that. Has always been nice, and that's one of the things that Orhime likes best about him, how nice he is, so why is her heart squeezing so?

Ishida-kun lays a hand lightly against her arm too, but Orihime barely notices.

"Inoue-san, you should head home and get some rest." Startled, she turns to find Ishida's worried face looking at her. Going home—she thinks that's a good idea.

She gets up, and Renji-kun glances up from where he's sitting in the corner with the other shinigami. He gives her a nod in acknowledgement but otherwise no one notices that she's stood; Kuchiki-san is still talking to Kurosaki-kun.

"I can take care of myself; if anything goes wrong someone will come tell you."

Kurosaki-kun turns until he's fully facing Kuchiki-san, while Isshin-san has long stepped back. The boy glowers at the tiny shinigami, but behind his glare Orihime can catch traces of concern tightening the skin at the corner of his eyes.

She swallows and doesn't stop moving even though she has to walk past the couple to get to the door, and when she finally reaches them it is Kuchiki-san who looks up and nods in goodbye—Kurosaki-kun's eyes never leave her face.

The air outside is cool, and Orihime takes a long, deep breath, as if she can smell the changing seasons on the wind. She stands in front of the Shoten for a few moments, shivering despite her sweater, reminding herself to smile because everything works out in the end.

There's a quick clatter of feet from behind her, and she turns, startled as Kuchiki-san throws open the door of the shop and bolts through it, anger written across her face. Kurosaki-kun emerges quickly after but doesn't immediately follow the fleeing shinigami.

Orihime waits for him to notice her, still standing quietly to the side.

"Geez, troublesome girl," he mutters. Like before though, there's no real annoyance in his voice.

She coughs, says "I suppose you're glad Kuchiki-san is back?" because it's too late to walk away unnoticed now, and too rude to leave without saying anything. A part of Orihime soars because she is standing here with Kurosaki-kun, and they're alone. Another part of her wants to run away anyways because she knows he isn't here because he followed her, or because he cared.

Oh, but he cares, it just isn't…it just isn't the kind of caring that Orihime is looking for.

He looks up to meet her eyes, startled at first but then relaxes, a wry smile barely softening his face. "Yeah, yeah I am."

Then he's scowling again, and his eyebrows scrunch as he says, "It wouldn't kill her to be more careful though, yeah? Riruka's lost somewhere in her and she's just gonna truck right back over to Seireitei."

Orihime's eyes widen. Before she can get a word out though, Kurosaki-kun starts again, "You'd think she'd want to stay regardless, right? I mean, it's been so long and—" he cuts himself off, but Orihime hears the catch in his voice; she notices the unhappy line of his mouth. And Orihime knows. She knows and she has known and her heart has been quietly breaking for a long, long time.

Kurosaki-kun sighs, and he is as oblivious as he's always been. "Anyways, I better go find her. Who knows what kinda trouble she's gonna get into."

He steps out from under the awning, pausing for just an instance before he shunpo's away, "Hey, it's stopped raining."

Then he's gone, running after Kuchiki-san like always.

Orihime doesn't cry, doesn't frown, but when she finally does smile, it is only with quiet, tired resignation.

note: First time writing Orihime! How'd I do? *nervous* Also, written to the community 31_day's prompt "even though your heart is breaking", and part one of my unrequited love challenge. Any feedback is much appreciated!