A/N Inspired by Cella N's "10 Decisions and 1 Action". This is for everyone who supports the innocence of the Weaving Princess.
Story is set in the aftermath of the Winter War, after Aizen's death.
She's no traitor
Ukitake Juushiro – the Breath of a Promise
She stiffens her shoulders.
This reaction surprises Ukitake. He would have expected it from Hitsugaya Toushirou, Soi Fon, Kuchiki Byakuya… but not her. It is the first observation he notices after he regains consciousness as Shunsui rapidly explains how he is even still alive considering a Cero broke his spine and left a hole in his chest. The blood on his haori is testament to that. And to be brought back from the brink of death by her, who is only a child…
She is no longer a child. She has changed. Her eyes are proof of the haunting she experienced – is experiencing still – in Hueco Mundo. She is the first human to have endured and lived in that Hell and come back alive to tell the tale.
She has truly changed. The former Inoue Orihime would not have stiffened in his embrace, a hug of gratitude. The former girl he knew, so open and affectionate that even Soi Fon and Byakuya had been affected, would not tilt her head upwards to gaze at him in surprise.
Ukitake is greatly relieved when Orihime, a heartbeat later, relaxes in his arms, nestling into his hold, like fledgling finally coming back to its nest. He feels her weariness, which presses on her reiatsu, as it has never done before. He feels his collar become slightly wet, but he is too glad to care. That part of the girl he knew during her month-long training with Rukia in the Seireitei is still there, still here.
One fond memory he attaches to her resurfaces.
They had been alone having tea one afternoon, Rukia having left earlier to run some errand. They were talking about many things, but somehow the topic of his illness came up. Ukitake had so casually mentioned that he would die, like he was commenting about the weather, which he could easily do, easily does, because he has resigned himself to this fact. What he had not expected was the horrified, dramatic response it would provoke.
Tears and chiding not to think like that Ukitake-taichou. Her care and distress flooded him, enveloping him within the soothing ebb and flow of her warm, healing reiatsu alike yet so very different from Retsu's. But most of all he remembers her piercing crystal conviction, an earnestness which he thought only a lover would exhibit to her beloved.
"I will heal you, Ukitake-taichou. I know my powers are still too weak now, but I promise, I swear on my soul, that I will heal you one day so you will be well again. I will reject your illness so you can do whatever you enjoy without worrying about your health. … Please believe me, Ukitake-taichou!" He was stunned then, too shock to speak to hear this declaration. He will forever ingrain her following words, her eyes into his soul. "That is my goal… and the yardstick I will measure myself with. Only when I have achieved that, will I be satisfied that I am strong enough."
He was not being ingratiating or placating when he told her with a genuine, sincere smile that he believed her. Because he knows she will achieve that height in her abilities and give him that peace, that hope which he had long ago abandoned, whether it lasts only for a minute, an hour, a month or a year.
He will be waiting.
He had been horrified at Genryuusai-dono's pronouncement of her as a "traitor". Even now, the unspoken word leaves a foul bitterness in his mouth. He had shamefully done little to remedy that during the past month that she has been captured and held by Aizen a true traitor, but that will change. From hereon, he will fight for her. To make sure her voice, her version of events will be heard in court. To make sure her innocence is proven and that filthy word will not be chained to her name.
She has made a promise then.
He has made his now.
Zaraki Kenpachi – Venus, his Goddess of War
He couldn't believe it was her.
Had he not known and memorized her face before, he would not have attached the current one before him to her.
He could feel Yachiru actually going still and staring. Not crying, since nothing could practically make that brat cry, just staring, but the stillness is extremely odd for Kenpachi who has only known the pink-haired child to vacillate from excited to very hyper. Madarame muttered a quiet "Oh my God" to his left behind him, and his narcissistic third seat Yumichika breathing out a "Her hair…"
What a sight she was.
Because Yumichika was right. The tumbling waterfall of that unusual sunset hair has been cut short, slashed to a jagged shoulder-length silk flag. A dark bruise blossomed around her left eye, threatening to swallow whole her heart-shaped face. Formerly flawless skin at her arms, shoulders and legs are now stained by purplish-green bruises and cuts –
"It looks worse than it actually feels." So she finally speaks… and just like during that month of her stay with the Princess' (Kuchiki Byakuya) younger sister, her remarks are to reassure others, to reach past the pain and bring about some peace of mind.
For a bloodthirsty, warmongering creature like him, Zaraki Kenpachi found himself strangely seeking her presence. He made an exception of her, just like for Yachiru. For someone who disdained non-fighting and weakness, he had never once thought her weak. Strange, certainly, who wouldn't be with unique flying fairies which could heal and simultaneously wreak so much damage?
Kenpachi and the rest of the eleventh division are actually fully aware of how destructive and lethal said Weaving Princess could be – when provoked. All seated and unseated members had been present when she got into an argument with their Captain. As per usual, he had been fighting his squad rooting out the weaklings, he had said, and as per custom, he had sent for a fourth division member to heal the soldiers he had cut down. He hadn't expected Unohana to send her.
He had been about to deliver a final blow to the shinigami on the ground, already prostrate and unable to move when he heard a "Stop it!" He had continued of course, still under the thrill of blood and killing pounding in his veins, when an orange wall met his zanpakuto. The force of his attack was sent back at him through the reverberations in his sword arm, and the ground before him had exploded, sending sand from the training grounds into the air, creating a momentary dust storm.
When the dust settled down, Kenpachi had whirled around, determined to give the person who intervened a good cut down to size – literally – when he was interrupted by a pre-emptive strike.
"I said, Stop it, damnit! Did you not hear me?"
There was absolute silence following that remark.Everyone gazed in shock, even Kenpachi stared at the sight.
And what a sight it was.
Inoue Orihime had been standing on the highest spectators' bleacher on the training grounds with her hands on her hips, the sun behind her lighting up her hair into a flaming halo. And she did not even realize how beautiful she is when she's angry like that. A fiery, angry Goddess of War. That had been his first thought. The second was, she had damn fine legs. And lastly had been, "So you could actually swear, Princess?"
She had looked bashful then, blushing, returning to her human form. Kenpachi was inordinately pleased with himself that he had made her blush.
He had paid heed to her lecture afterwards about not killing those already too exhausted to fight back though he did make sure to scoff at the appropriate places. What does it matter? He had let the weakling off with a heavy punch to the shoulder when the man finally had the strength to shakily stand.
Kenpachi knew he was no good at comforting, but he had to say something. She had come healing all the war casualties, but is about to be taken away for imprisonment and later, interrogation.
There is something he had to do before she is taken away from him.
"Oi Onna." He saw her return his gaze with a patient, expectant one. He nearly lost his nerve at that same look of thoughtfulness and waiting. "You look tough with that new look."
A pause, and then she smiled.
There was exhaustion in it, but it was almost the same one she had given him after that memorable day at the Eleventh Division.
A radiant, beautiful smile.
As he watched her placed in shackles and taken away, his hand went briefly to his sword. This would require a different battle tactic, but Kenpachi is always up for challenges, especially if it involved her.
Grinding his teeth in anticipation as he felt his thumb bleed from the uneven edges of his sword, which he ran his thumb over, he grunted.
He's got work to do.
Soi Fon – Not a friend but not an enemy
She had no fond feelings for the ryoka. Not Kurosaki Ichigo or any of the male humans who had previously invaded the Seireitei to rescue Kuchiki Rukia, and certainly not for the female ryoka.
Yes, Soi Fon did not trust her. Her powers were too alien to be understood. Kurosutchi had expressed interest in her abilities, and that is never a good sign. So deceptively weak-looking, but so potent to be unleashed in the right or wrong way.
Just like the Hougyoku. Was it a coincidence that both of them came into Aizen's interest?
Soi Fon did not like her. She remained staunchly aloof and distant even during the month she came to train in the Seireitei. She thought her ditzy, clumsy, too affectionate, too caring, too persuasive, too –
Too much like Ukitake Juushiro.
Too much like Yoruichi-sama. Both of whom Soi Fon had the highest respect for.
Inoue Orihime had been nothing but kind and polite to the Second Division Captain.
Once, gratefully thanking Soi Fon continuously until the latter told her to shut it when the Captain had retrieved both the human girl and a tabby cat from a particularly high tree. Orihime's fairy shield had somehow broke while she was trying to descend, kitten in hand, from the tangling branches in her way. Soi Fon had thought she resembled her bumbling lieutenant, Marechiyo Omaeda.
Another time, Orihime had encouraged her to take some time to relax "it must be stressful to be leader of the CIA of Seireitei all the time". Soi Fon wasn't sure what the CIA was, but had coldly told her that the former is proud to serve the Seireitei with her duty and strength.
She had not expected the girl to take those words to heart.
During the interrogation which all captains and vice-captains, Kurosaki, the Quincy, the giant boy, Rukia, the Vizards, Yoruichi-sama, and that man Urahara Kisuke had been present for when Kurosutchi had strapped Orihime into a machine which could delve into past thoughts of the experimentee, she did not express fear or complaint though her eyes were wide with trepidation; Kurosaki was restrained and spitting obscenities in the background, Soi Fon saw everything.
was exposed to all the rush of emotions the girl had during the past month…
… and the memories of everyone she had kept close to heart to sustain and carry her through during her weeks – were they only just weeks? – with the Espada and Aizen.
She felt the ryoka's cheeriness in her goodbye to Ukitake and the eagerness to return and help her nakama during her sprint through the Dangai.
Her surge of protectiveness for Hitsugaya, Matsumoto and Kurosaki when the Fourth Espada threatened to kill her friends if she did not come quietly with him. It didn't matter anymore that Soi Fon, and Orihime, knew that it was a trap. Soi Fon may have been able to fight and kill the Quatro, but she knows Orihime cannot. That the human girl did not fight that way.
It was a disorienting experience, being tugged from one memory to another, like there was a hook behind her navel.
It was too intimate, too personal.
"Five lifetimes, and I would choose to fall in love with the same person…"
"What does this subject have anything to do with bread?"
"No, no Rangiku-san. It's pi not pie."
"Inoue, it's sweet."
"I thought Toushirou-kun would like ice cream considering your zanpakutou… well, I suppose Toushirou-kun is sweet enough that he doesn't need ice cream. (smile)"
Soi Fon saw each of the human girl's encounters with the Espada.
How she was forced to demonstrate her healing ability by returning Grimmjaw Jaegerjacques' arm. His return of the favour when he destroyed those two Arrancar girls, and his subsequent threat on her life when she refused to heal Kurosaki.
"Poor girl. She's jealous, and I don't even want what's hers. Poor girl. Poor, stupid girl."
That had been the female human's thoughts as she was being beaten, slapped and punched within an inch of her life by those two Arrancar girls, Loly and Menoly.
Soi Fon trembled with disgust and rage when she watched one Espada, Nnoitra, approach Orihime with a lick of the lips, stretching fingers and a "Pet-sama".
How Syazel Aporro had drilled the thunder into the tender temples of the screaming girl - Orihime's punishment by Aizen for when she tried to create a message carrier with a glowing orb from her Shun Shun Rika to send to her friends and Soul Society to tell them about how the Hougyoku has a will and conscience of its own.
Tousen had unflinchingly delivered stinging cuts to her back and thighs as additional punishment.
Soi Fon watched the harassment, questions and mind games during her interactions with her jailkeeper, the Quatro Espada.
"Sado-kun is not dead. Sado-kun is not dead." and fond images of the dark, giant boy defending Orihime's usefulness in the Winter War when Urahara had dismissed her out of battle.
The captain got the shock of her life when she heard her voice in the girl's mind, her directions to her squad during a training, which she was unaware the girl had seen, about when to strike an enemy as he is approaching. Orihime had been applying those same instructions, readying Tsubaki when Nnoitra was fast approaching with violent lusty intentions.
"Seven paces. And aim for the neck. That would sever the head."
Soi Fon could sense Kuchiki Byakuya's surprise when he came up in the girl's memories as well.
"Byakuya-san, were you ever… daunted by your choice… when pretending to be working for Muramasa? The hostility from the other Captains… Kuchiki-san's sadness… I'm sorry! I shouldn't have asked – "
"I had a promise I had to keep… to my grandfather. When there comes a time that there is something that only you can do, you would press on with it. The others…they will understand with time. But does it really matter what others think of you, if you know that what you're doing is right?"
The human girl had been reciting this over and over in her mind when she made the resolve to erase the Hougyoku's existence.
If none of this convinced Soi Fon, what came next would.
The girl's desperation, the fear, the helplessness as Kurosaki lay dead on the ground after Ulquiorra Schiffer shot a Cero through the former's chest.
"Kurosaki-kun, Kurosaki-kun, Kurosaki-kun, Kurosaki-kun"
"Ishida-kun! Oh Kami, his hand!-"
"What can I do? What can I do? What can I do? What can I do? What can I do?"
"Tsubaki!" "Onna, concentrate on me or I can't develop! ONNA! I can't – your hysteria – ONNA!"
"Orihime-sama!" (her Shun Shun Rika)
"What can I do?" What can I do? I'm trying, but what can I do?"
"Without Tsubaki, you are virtually without an attack. With a Fourth Division better specialized in healing, it would be better if you stayed out of this battle."
"I can't stay out of this, Urahara-san. What can I do? Urahara-san! Yoruichi-san! What can I do? What have you taught me that I can use?"
"What can I do? What can I do? What can I do? WHAT CAN I DO?"
Such was the crushing helplessness, despair, self-loathing, and sheer helplessness of that mental and emotional breakdown that Soi Fon felt that she was reeling and retching by the end of it.
She was shivering and retching on the ground, tears in her eyes when that whirlwind torture ended.
She had looked up to see Ukitake with his hand on his mouth, trying to keep his stomach down.
Rukia, Abarai, Hitsugaya and Matsumoto had looked sickened, shocked and just speechless.
Urahara Kisuke had for the first time in hermemory looked shocked and ashamed.
Kuchiki Byakuya had been wide-eyed and trembling as he gazed at the tired, prone girl, held standing up only by the leather straps of the machine.
The Soutaichou had an uncharacteristic pitying expression in his eyes.
Nemu, expressionless, emotionless Nemu, was actually looking scared.
For the love of the Soul King, Yachiru was crying!
And throughout all this, Orihime was unwilling to look anyone in the eye after such an examination, least of all Kurosaki, who was staring at her, mouth agape.
No one objected when Unohana-taichou, with an uncharacteristic sharp gaze at the Captain-Commander, said that Orihime required bed rest and no further questioning.
No, it was enough for Soi Fon.
She knows, knows for certain that the girl is no traitor. As she watches Orihime lean against Unohana-taichou with a sigh as they both walk out of the hall, she also knows that she will vote the human female innocent.
No, Inoue Orihime is not her friend, but neither is she Soi Fon's enemy.
Soi Fon is a battle-hardened, jaded warrior. Being on the offense is her strategy, but she has forgotten until today another vital lesson.
Invincibility lies in the defence.
Kuchiki Byakuya – Her Gift of Laughter
Has her hand always been so frail?
Kuchiki Byakuya was watching Orihime out of the corner of his eyes at dinner. He had volunteered his home for the human girl after her checkup with Unohana during the wait of the Soutaichou's verdict: whether she is guilty or not of being a traitor.
He is certain the verdict would be innocent. Had the members of Central 46 still been alive, he would not have had this level of certainty, but with just the Soutaichou to convince…
Even if there is difficulty, he would lend the strength of the Kuchiki Clan's name in Orihime's favour. Objections of the Clan members be damned.
As he watches the map of blue veins stand out prominently against her slim, delicate hands, were these really the hands that had healed him and the countless other Shinigami during that final surge which brought about the end of the Winter War in their favour?, he remembers evenings of bamboo flute duets and cups of honey, ginger tea.
During that month-long training she undertook with Rukia in the Seireitei, she had surprisingly become his daily Go partner in the times he could catch between leaving the Sixth Division and dinner. They had fallen into such a familiarity with each, surprising and unexpected as it was, but Byakuya never resented it, had, though he would never admit it, welcomed it. A friend, such an unexpected companion, who understood his loneliness so well.
He remembers how she had so effortlessly made him laugh, not a sardonic chuckle, but a genuine laugh.
"Has Byakuya-san ever tried to threaten to turn him into a hat?" That joke had been aimed at his fourth cousin, Sakujun, who coveted the title of Clan Head but had not the fortitude nor the character to uphold it; Sakujun, who was so fond of wearing beaver pelt fur.
"Although I can't help but think he would make a much better throw-rug. Just imagine Byakuya-san, if the rug gets dirty, you can take it out and beat it!"
Yes, she had returned the gift of laughter back to him.
This gift had been lost since Hisana's death, and embittered by the sting of Rukia's startling resemblance to her older sister, Clan duties, loneliness, and the stringent expectations he expected of himself – and of others. Kurosaki Ichigo may have brutally forced him to confront all these issues, but the reconciling and the healing, a process which is just as integral as recuperation is for a sick patient, has started and been guided along by this very same woman-child sitting at his dinner table.
There are no regrets in her countenance, simply extreme weariness. Such exhaustion may be expected of Byakuya and older souls like the Soutaichou, Ukitake and Kyouraku, but to see it so clearly in the eyes of a sixteen-year old child it's inappropriate to consider her a child anymore, but in terms of years, she is a child compared to his two hundred years, was wrong. That is the plain and unvarnished truth.
That investigative memory interrogation had been intrusive to the point of mentally violating and tarnishing her memories. He himself had shamefully not objected to it. Then again, he had not expected how much she took his words, his advice, his very person and those of her nakama so very much to heart. He would never have guessed that he would be the bedrock of her determination to erase the Hougyoku.
Now he can understand the toll that Hueco Mundo has placed on this valiant young healer.
He sees it when she without realizing cries when she bites into the flavoured, salty fish and rice, how the muscles in her cheeks tighten from the burst of spices in her mouth as they hit her tongue.
He knows all this because Hisana had once looked like that. When he had married her, their marriage feast and the dinners each night afterwards had provoked the same wonder and reaction from her. It had lessened over time, but never disappeared.
This old, nearly-forgotten memory had been stimulated by Orihime's unknowing use of the same words by Hisana. Byakuya had himself wiped the tears from her cheeks, quietly reassuring her to take her time to have her fill. She had gazed at him so gratefully and sadly with a tinge of embarrassment, so unfamiliar are these emotions on her features, but so achingly familiar on another dear face, that Byakuya had briefly thought that it was the ghost of Hisana sitting before him, and not Orihime, before saying, "I don't think I can eat another bite, Byakuya-san."
The use of honorific may have been different in the case of the two women, but Byakuya is surprisingly happy with the more casual form. Hisana had never truly bridged the divide between aristocrat and common folk; had loved him but remained forever mystified and grateful that he had fallen in love with her.
Orihime had unknowingly given him a second chance, and he wishes to do likewise. Kuchiki Byakuya would help her as she has helped him. He wants to see her laugh once more, the laugh that involved a slight tossing back of her sunrise hair and the exposing of her swan-slender throat, the laugh that took away all his tensions and uneasiness.
Because it is Orihime, he lends his shoulder as the silent support for her to lean into, and encourages her to cry into.
Because it is Orihime, who introduced laughter between him and Rukia, he memorises her reiatsu to pinpoint her location and prevent her from hurting herself during her nocturnal sleepwalking. He catches her just in time as she is about to fall into his koi pond that first night. He hears her whispering frantically, eyes glazed and one hand reaching out, "I can heal you. Wait! Wait! I'm sorry. Forgive me."
He comforts her with his silent presence when insomnia plagues her.
He does all this without fail, without questioning because he is deeply fond of her, because of all others, she is deserving of happiness and peace of mind.
And who knows, in giving him a second chance, maybe one day she will become his second chance?
A/N I did not expect that Soi Fon's would be the longest; I had originally intended that for Byakuya's. And yes, Byakuya's account does have reference to my other work 'Jealousy'.
What did you think? Did it work? Reviews and constructive criticisms please!
If I get enough reviews, I might continue with other perspectives from other characters. Hitsugaya and Matsumoto would definitely be my second favourites. Rukia and Renji would be interesting challenges although I must admit that I have not attempted anything with Ichigo and Ishida in any of my fanfics because I find them so defined already in the manga and anime as to be the hardest to capture.
Naturally I do not own Bleach, but if I did, Orihime would definitely more character development and background exploration. Wouldn't it be great if Bleach producers made a movie about her and providedher with a power upgrade? :3