True Love and Swirly Skirts
Disclaimer: The character of Orihime is an archetype that belongs to the Ages; Inoue Orihime the schoolgirl was invented by Kubo Tite; I merely write fanfiction about those girls.
Description: Orihime’s love for Ichigo is born and keeps deepening. Where is it going?
Warning: MAJOR post-SS spoilers. This story has great affection for canon events and for Orihime herself, but it’s not (exactly) an IchiOri shipper's fic.
Do I love you because you’re wonderful, or are you wonderful because I love you? ~ from Cinderella by Rodgers and Hammerstein
No one at the clinic referred to her brother as “the body” or “the corpse.” The doctor on the phone said, “We have a young man here.”
At first Orihime thought that the doctor was referring to his assistant, a white-jacketed boy who was flipping through Sora’s wallet. The boy was no older than she was--maybe twelve or thirteen--and he had a funny scrunched up face.
Orihime understood that young man meant Sora when the doctor spoke the phrases “time of death” and “indeterminate storage.” The doctor was talking to someone at a … morgue? Sora wasn’t coming home with her (he’s dead, he’s dead, Orihime reminded herself), but the idea of his body being in such a cold, lonely place…. Orihime shivered and hugged her arms.
The funny-faced boy pulled little papers out of Sora’s wallet and called out phone numbers, street addresses, and names on business cards. “There aren’t any relatives,” the boy said. Not only did his face have a craggy, angry expression, his hair was bright orange and sticking out in all directions.
“Boys this age,” said the doctor, “do not keep Mommy’s number in their wallets.”
“No student I.D., no driver’s license.”
“A rail rider,” said the doctor. He was looking at Orihime under bushy eyebrows, and discomfort showed in his broad face. He hesitated before speaking again, and then he whispered loudly, “Ask the sister, Ichigo. There’s no helping it.”
That was how Orihime came to tell Kurosaki Ichigo her sad story. Even while grieving for her brother, Orihime worried about disturbing the funny-looking boy with the details. People always seemed so upset by them: Sora raising Orihime since she was three. The mother gone who knows where, and the father living, inaccessible, in California.
“There are no parents,” Orihime said, and the boy’s funny-looking face softened with sympathy.
The following days were lost in tears. Orihime had been crying since her brother was laid on the stretcher before the Kurosaki Clinic, and she did not stop. She sobbed, loudly, alone in her apartment. She wept, whimperingly, on the way to the grocery. Tears poured into the pot as she stirred noodles that she wouldn’t eat.
The state paid for the cremation and there was no funeral. The grandmother in Hiroshima sent a bigger check than usual that month--along with a phone card and a letter presuming that Orihime would come to live with her after the school year.
But Orihime stayed in Karakura. Why exactly, she wasn’t sure. During her less grief-numbed moments, she was aware of Tatsuki and the very territory of school--the classrooms, the bathrooms, the gym--being touchpoints she couldn’t surrender, even as she was letting go of grief for Sora.
When the grief left, so did the belief that she could love anyone as strongly as she had her brother. Tatsuki was gentle and funny and had it not been for Tatsuki’s hand leading Orihime out of guilt and self-loathing, Orihime knew that sorrow would have turned her a more guarded person. The crazy person driving the car killed your brother, Tatsuki would yell at Orihime’s face. You’re being pissed at him over some stupid barrettes had NOTHING to do with it. At those moments Orihime’s heart would swell with gratitude and the purest feeling that could not be anything else but love, but….
Tatsuki was not Orihime’s whole world as Sora had been. Sora had been there every morning and every evening--checking her homework, counting out her lunch money, holding her head over the toilet after that shrimpcake fiasco, being the hero of Orihime’s life in all ways.
A year after Sora’s death, Orihime’s big breasts grew even bigger and people stared. Orihime didn’t like being the tallest, biggest-breasted, most obvious thirteen-year-old in class--especially during volleyball. Self-consciousness, though, didn’t impede her enjoyment of physical activity.
Whack! It felt great to hit the ball. It felt great to be good at something and to feel like a winner every time she scored a point.
She wasn’t the slightest bit interested in boys, and maybe this was because of Sora’s hold on her or … maybe not. She wondered if something was wrong with her hormones. Was she was a freak who would develop an extra arm or leg before puberty was over? She asked this question to Sora at his shrine. The young man in the photograph smiled as always. Orihime smiled back. “I’m not normal, but I don’t care. Life is getting to be fun again.”
Three years after Sora’s death, a fifteen-year-old Inoue Orihime still lived alone and had learned to pay bills, wash delicates, clean windows, and bake cakes. She had made good friends and high grades in junior high. (In fact, she had proven herself exceptional at everything except baking cakes). She met each day with ecstatic expectancy and carried the reputation of being a ditz for what her art teacher called “a joyful, creative mind.” Orihime relished novelty. She thought that high school was going to be great fun.
On the day Orihime started first year at Karakura High, she spun pirouettes in the hallway and floated on happiness from classroom to classroom. She hummed too loudly during study period, but teachers didn’t have the heart to shush her.
“You’re going to have an aneurysm if you don’t calm down,” Tatsuki told her.
Orihime knew what an aneurysm was, but she didn’t think that a love for all the world would make her brain bleed. In fact, her brain felt pretty good. Love was a fortifying feeling.
Later on that thrilling fall day, after math class and before handicrafts club, Tatsuki was complaining about her friend Ichigo.
“He’s worse than ever. He’s hanging out with morons. I’ll bet he turns into a real delinquent in high school.”
“Really? Kurosaki-kun just has a grouchy face.” Orihime’s heart was still beating fast from the day’s excitement. “He won’t turn into a delinquent.”
“Maybe not. But Ichigo’s always had this don’t bother me delinquent attitude. Teachers here don’t put up with bad attitudes like in junior high. Ichigo’s attitude--it’s gotten so bad I don’t think he cares for anybody anymore.”
“No, it can’t be that,” Orihime said. She ran her hand over a patch of moist clover where the two girls were sitting, eating lunch. She patted the ground as if it were a cat and felt all her senses magnifying. The world was a wonderful, sensuous place. “Kurosaki-kun was so kind at the clinic when Sora died. No one’s really ever spoken to me so gently before.”
“Your dead brother was lying there,” said Tatsuki. “Ordinarily Ichigo doesn’t talk like a school nurse.”
“He’s a kind person,” Orihime insisted. “He’s kind and cares for people. I just know it.”
It was at that moment that the crush was born. From then on, every time someone mentioned Kurosaki Ichigo’s name, Orihime feel her senses surge like they did on the first day of school. Because Tatsuki lived on Kurosaki-kun’s street and had known him since forever, she mentioned him often. Orihime wasn’t used to flushing and keeping secrets from Tatsuki, so it wasn’t long before Tatsuki knew.
Soon all the other first-year girls knew too. Orihime loved to talk about how wonderful Kurosaki-kun was… Did you see him speak kindly to that little old man? Did you see him pay for Mizuiro’s lunch?
No one was impressed by her observations; Orihime saw the best in everyone. She even insisted that the snobby Ishida Uryuu was a nice guy.
Orihime talked endlessly about Kurosaki Ichigo but she couldn’t talk to him. Passing him in the hallways made her so flustered that she forgot half of the Japanese language.
“Guys are clueless,” Tatsuki said. “If you don’t tackle him with your boobs, he’s not going to notice you.”
Orihime giggled. “Noooooo, I can’t do that.”
“Then just start up a freaking conversation.”
It became a routine: Dreamy-eyed, Orihime would mention Kurosaki-kun, and Tatsuki, bored, would tell her that this crush wasn’t going anywhere unless she talked to the stupid boy.
Orihime would purse her lips. She would tell Tatsuki that next summer might be a better time to confess her love. Tatsuki seemed to stand it for as long as she could and then one day finally asked, “Why summer?” Orihime always made magical associations with places and times--maybe she believed something freaky about summer? That in summer her words would out because they weren’t so cold?
“I can wear a flower in my hair then,” Orihime said. “I can wear a swirly skirt.”
Tatsuki didn’t understand any of it. She figured that the crush would blow away like crushes other girls were having over a new pop star every month (the picture of Ichigo holding a guitar made her crack up). Orihime would just get over it….
Then came the dream.
The dream happened in the late spring. Tatsuki thought that maybe she was catching Orhime’s (Tatsuki didn’t call her best friend a ditz) creativity. The air was full of floral scents and Tatsuki had begun to see lovers in the clouds. Yes, in the clouds. Ghosts. Tatsuki had started to see ghosts. She decided to tell Orihime about this phenomenon, and of course Orihime showed no surprise.
“I had a dream about a ghost,” she said in a faraway voice. “Kurosaki-kun was there. You were there too.”
As it turned out, Tatsuki had had the same dream. Orihime then insisted that the dream had really happened.
Wanting to believe that shared dreams (and ghosts) weren’t real, Tatsuki said that Orihime’s mind had just made up a little horror show. The visions stemmed from the trauma of her brother’s death and feeling guilty about crushing on Ichigo and forgetting Sora. Yes, that made sense. It was a guilt dream! Orihime’s brother, upset by all of his sister’s crushy babble about Ichigo, turns into a monster. He comes to steal Orihime’s soul away. Ichigo appears with an over-sized sword and says that if Sora wants to get her, he will have to go through him first.
“What am I? Freaking Freud?” Tatsuki sputtered at the coffeeshop. “If this was a dream, then the chances of both of us having the same one… well, that’s impossible. What’s more possible is that Ichigo has some kind of magical power and there are ghosts, monsters, and all SORTS of bizarre things in the world.
Orihime blinked. Of course. Someone finally understood that.
Orihime’s mind had always imagined impossible possibilities. Her heart had always sensed different worlds, and for some weeks now, the veils between worlds had been slipping away. Strange events seemed to have become part of the regular curriculum at Karakura High.
The strange things had started happening with the arrival of the new student, Kuchiki Rukia. Although Orihime had sensed something different about the girl right away, it wouldn’t be until she talked to Kurosaki-kun--straightforward and without shyness--that she would know who Kuchiki-san really was.
Orihime liked the new girl very much. Who wouldn’t like a funny girl who curtsied, spoke in a funny old-fashioned way, and always seemed so sparkly? Kurosaki-kun seemed to pay a lot of attention to Kuchiki-san, and that fact did not bother Orihime. In fact, it seemed to relieve her (Some of the girls said that Kurosaki-kun had no interest in girls because he was the kind of boy who wanted to fall in love with a boy. Orihime didn’t know exactly what that meant, but she knew it might exclude her from the realm of his enchantment).
Then one day at lunch-time, the girls asked Kuchiki-san straight-out if she had feelings for Kurosaki-kun. “No,” the tiny dark-eyed had girl said, smiling too brightly. “No, we’re just friends.”
“That’s too bad,” Orihime said. “If you liked him and I liked him, then that would be two against one and the girls would win!”
Everyone laughed and Tatsuki patted her head, but in Orihime’s mind, the equation made perfect sense. Maybe if Ichigo was starting to pay attention to girls, it would only be a matter of time before he noticed Orihime. It would only be a matter of time before he knew that he and Orihime were destined to be….
Then Kuchiki-san disappeared. Disappeared like poof, like a fairy in a story.
No one else at the school, not even Tatsuki, seemed to remember that she had ever existed. Knowing that Kurosaki-kun must know what had happened, Orihime confronted him. She was less shy around the boy these days but just as in love with him. She wondered if the weird events of late had anything to do with her destiny with Kurosaki-kun.
That moment on the steps after school certainly seemed like a destined moment.
“You have to go get Rukia back,” Orihime said.
“You’re right,” Kurosaki-kun agreed.
In the blur of adventures that happened later, Orihime didn’t search for a destiny; all she knew was that Kurosaki-kun looked stronger and more dashing that she could have ever imagined. But from the moment that the Shiba cannonball had exploded in the skies over the Seireitei to the moment when Orihime, weeping, had fallen at the feet of a battletorn Kurosaki-kun, there was a feeling that she just couldn’t reach him.
There was a pleasant magic carpet ride back home, and when Orihime leapt off the carpet and waved goodbye to Kurosaki-kun, she had a twinge of premonition. Nothing, she told herself and smiled. Sado-kun nodded at her. Yoruichi the black cat blinked her yellow eyes. Orihime fingered the absurd lace rose on the shirt Ishida-kun had sewn for her and wondered why she felt a little sad.
Was it because the adventure was over?
After Soul Society, Kurosaki-kun seemed farther away than ever before. Maybe this was because Sado-kun and Ishida-kun were Orihime’s best “guy friends”, but Kurosaki-kun didn’t seem like a friend at all. Orihime could always tell what Sado was thinking even when he spoke nothing, and she knew that Ishida had lost his powers and was too proud to mention the fact to anyone.
Tatsuki, oddly enough, hadn’t questioned Orihime much after “the summer visit to the grandmother’s.” Orihime wanted to tell her about Soul Society but hesitated--there were just some things even Tatsuki couldn’t understand …like Orihime’s true love for Kurosaki.
“You’re only sixteen years old,” Tatsuki said one afternoon. She looked more annoyed than usual with Orhime’s Kurosaki-kun blabber. “How can you really be in love?”
“Juliet was only fourteen, right?” Orihime put one palm up and danced an Elizabethan dance with an invisible partner. Her class had begun studying Shakespeare’s tragic play. “And Romeo was very young too, right?”
Tatsuki snorted. “Right. Ichigo’s like Romeo. That’s a good one.”
Orihime smiled, but she knew that she couldn’t expect Kurosaki-kun to be pitching pebbles at her window anytime soon. He was too far away.
Far away. Eyes narrowed with worry. Shoulders more slumped than usual. Something strange was eating at Kurosaki-kun, and it wasn’t until the Arrancar attack that Orihime felt the malevolent presence. Was this fearful thing inside Kurosaki what was making him so sullen and distant? Orihime did not feel pain in her broken arm as much as in her heart. Who are you, Kurosaki-kun? Where are you, Kurosaki-kun?
Rukia was the one who brought Kurosaki-kun closer. In fact she dragged him by the ear to Orihime’s side and made him swear that he would protect Orihime “the next time.” Kurosaki’s face looked earnest and strong, and Orihime’s eyes filled with tears. Whatever he had been suffering, only Rukia had been able to fix it. Even as Orihime thanked Rukia for returning Kurosaki to his old self, her heart tightened with a strange feeling. Envy. Why couldn’t Orihime talk to Kurosaki-kun the way Rukia could?
Before the next round of terrible battles, Orihime confessed her confusion to Matsumoto. Envy was a bad thing. Decent people didn’t feel it so strongly. Rukia was a beautiful person, and Orihime didn’t want to feel anything negative towards the person who seemed so important to Kurosaki-kun. Smiling indulgently like the wise sister Orihime always wanted to have, Matsumoto told Orihime to have more faith in herself. “Ichigo needs both Rukia and you,” she said.
Orihime was far from convinced.
That very night, Rukia was injured. Horribly. An Arrancar had punched through her abdomen, and there was a hole inside Rukia as big as that creature’s fist.
As Orihime knelt by Rukia and summoned powers to heal her, Kurosaki-kun approached with light, tentative steps. Those old feelings surging because of his nearness, Orihime kept her hand held over Rukia’s form. It wasn’t a difficult healing. Orihime had speedily restored the other Shinigami, and now bandaged and low-spirited, they stood and watched Rukia under the golden aura of Orihime’s power. Kurosaki-kun knelt right there next to Orihime. She would’ve smelled his presence even if she hadn’t heard him approaching. He always smelled vital, pure, and confident. Even before Orihime’s powers had manifested themselves in the semblance of six flower fairies, she had learned to recognize his smell.
She glanced at him, expecting at least a glance of acknowledgement back.
His face was naked with emotion. Distress in eyes on the verge of tears. Lips struggling to keep from his mouth from gaping open. He was staring at Rukia like he loved her.
He was staring at Rukia because he did love her.
That’s when Orihime’s heart broke. Her heart that had always been full of sweetness and light cracked like a chunk of rock candy, and the splinters cut her soul.
Transitions are hard. They can feel impossible. Orihime knew this because she had lost Sora and her world had never been the same again. Her transition from the Living World to Soul Society had required one of Urahara-san’s strange devices. Dying, however, seemed easy and quick. Did the one who was dying feel pain? Orihime knew that those who died in the Living World went to Soul Society and she suspected that those who died in Soul Society were reincarnated in the Living World.
Souls didn’t really die--how could she believe that after what she’d seen? Nonetheless, she had always wept for those making the transitions. Going to a new world meant losing your old one.
She knelt on the floor of her apartment and wrote a note. Laundry, garbage, cooking….
Orihime didn’t think that Kurosaki-kun could ever have transitioned his love from Rukia to another person. She had seen his eyes, and she knew what love felt like. She herself never wanted to stop loving Kurosaki-kun. Her love felt as much a part of her as an arm or a leg. As much a part of her as… Sora had been?
She was leaving for Hueco Mundo, and she believed that she was going to be killed there. Her powers were needed somehow, but she knew what Aizen could do. She had seen for herself how he’d blithely ordered Captain Ichimaru to kill Rukia. Orihime knew the truth; her life at Karakura High, among her friends and all the touchpoints of the town, was over.
She knew this, and she also knew that she had to say goodbye to Kurosaki-kun more than anyone else. She might see her friends again, in heaven or in other reincarnations on earth, but would she still love Kurosaki after she was dead? She wanted to. Was her love for him about die along with her sixteen-year-old body?
Her face flushed when she entered his bedroom. It was an intimate place and she was alone with him, even if he was unconscious and she was invisible.
She took his hand and felt love heating her fingers. That surge of warmth that usually went to her cheeks went to the sleeping boy’s hand. She leaned forward to kiss him. Her tears touched his face but her lips didn’t.
She couldn’t say goodbye?
She smoothed the skirt of her school uniform with her palms. Maybe it wasn’t time. Maybe after the Winter War. Maybe after the eons. One day it would be summer and she would be wearing a flower in her hair and a swirly skirt.
She laughed through her tears. A girlish fantasy about a swirly skirt. It had been that once. Something that made her giggle in the schoolyard. Now it was something that smashed against her heart and made her throat tight.
It felt like when Sora had died.
It felt worse than when Sora had died.
When her brother had died, Orihime had not only grieved for him but for her own shattered life. It had been a way of living that she wept for then--a life in which Sora came home every evening and took care of everything.
Now Orihime was mourning all the lives she could have lived in Karakura. Mourning all the things she could have done here. She was leaving everyone behind. Going to Hueco Mundo to die. Was there anyway out of this? Was there any way she could stay and make Kurosaki-kun love her?
Impossible things were no longer possible?
She walked through the wall like a ghost and away from the Kurosaki house.
Thank you everybody. It was a good life. I had lots of fun.
The solid column of Negacion shone before her, and the sad-eyed Arrancar with the green eyes was waiting.
Orihime looked over her shoulder before she stepped into the light and, for a moment, she froze at the spot. She stood there--her love too heavy, a paralyzing weight.
Goodbye Kurosaki-kun, she whispered as her feet began to move.
I loved you so much. Goodbye.