What Tanabata is.
I come with fics!
An IshiHime, PG
Wish Upon a Star
A post-manga comedy, PG
Terror at Tanabata
In my next post today, there will be an IchiRuki Tanabata story (new) It's about a Tanabata Tryst.
In this post there's a very new IshiHime story. It's for Tanabata, trust me.
It gets more involved; stay with it. It's so IshiHime you could overload on IshiHime.
Soooo ... beneath the following cut is the rather long sequel to "Inoue-san, You're Coming With Me,"
All I Needed To Do;
Another Tanabata Story
Disclaimer: I don’t own the characters of Ishida and Orihime; Kubo Tite invented them.
Description: PG13. IshiHime. Slow-paced adventure, low-key romance. An answer to the ambiguous ending of Inoue-san, You're Coming With Me," The time setting is more or less around chapter 280 of the manga. It’s a little long--over 7000 words.
I’m impatient for an IshiHime reunion in the Bleach story. May Kubo-sensei write a better version of it. He always one-ups me right after I get ahead of myself and write these things.
Warning: Spoilers for Hueco Mundo arc
This fic was written for the celebration of Tanabata 2007, the Japanese festival about two lovers separated by the distance between Heaven and Earth.
Orihime opens her eyes. “We’re in Soul Society,” she says.
Ishida's voice is a whisper. “Yes, it would appear that we are.”
Ishida ignores the question. “Can you stand up? Are you okay?”
Orihime realizes that she’s pressed against Ishida’s body. She’s in Soul Society and in Ishida’s arms. Her eyes say “How did this happen?” but her voice says, “Oh I’m fine, fine.”
Ishida releases her and waits for her to assimilate her surroundings.
“I was running and running….” Her voice trails off, and she takes a deep breath.
Ishida is cautious. He doesn’t want to upset her. She may have died an unpleasant death. “We were in Hueco Mundo. Do you remember Hueco Mundo?”
Orihime looks skyward. The breeze fills her hakama and lifts her skirt. Except for sleeve hems that are burned and shredded and waving in the wind, her Arrancar clothing is immaculate. She bites her lip and thinks and thinks.
At one thought, she frowns. Then her face surrenders to sadness.
Ishida waits some more. Is there something wrong with her?
There are no sounds but that of winds stirring and Orihime sighing.
Ishida is patient but Orihime seems to have forgotten him. He wonders if she’s fallen into some kind of catatonia, but then she speaks.
“Hueco Mundo? The place where I killed everyone.” It’s a bitter voice. Since when has Orihime ever sounded bitter? “My friends came after me, and there was death and suffering and it was all my fault.”
“No, no,” says Ishida. “Nothing is your fault. If anything bad happened, it’s Aizen’s fault.”
Orihime closes her eyes and appears to strain her entire soul to receive Ishida’s absolution. It doesn’t work. When her eyes open, she looks as miserable as before.
“I was going to find the Seireitei,” Ishida says. “I can get a few questions answered there. Maybe I can convince someone to come help Kurosaki and the others.”
Orihime stands still, her head turned, listening for the judgement of her sins.
Orihime scans the horizon for her punishment.
Ishida attempts a cheery voice. “Come with me. You can see your old friends there.”
Orihime turns her face to him. She’s not crazy or in shock, just very sad. Her eyes reflect the blue sky, and she doesn’t look like she wants to go anywhere.
Ishida takes her hand the way one would a child’s, and she comes with him. “Maki-maki-san is there. Yachiru-san will be so happy to see you.”
Ishida is concerned about his powers. His reiatsu feels oddly inhibited, but maybe this is how it is with new souls. He knows that dead people can improve their strength and skill, because the Shinigami do. No doubt he’ll able to recover. But when? Just summoning a bow seems like it would take effort. Maybe Orihime’s powers have been diminished too, and her fairies are asleep inside her hairpins.
Even though areas outside the Seireitei walls can be perilous, Ishida can protect her. He is a Quincy here. He feels his Quincy power in the pulse of the hand holding hers. His bracelet dangles against that pulse.
Earlier, before Orihime ran into him, he’d tried to speed across the landscape to the Seireitei via hirenkyaku, but after a moment he realized he was drained. It was safer to conserve his energy in case he needed it against some danger. Ishida was going to have to walk to the Seireitei, but he hadn’t been distressed about it; he was dead and had all his Death to get there.
Now he has a different purpose. Behind the walls of the Seireitei, Inoue-san will be safe. Yachiru-san will make her smile. Maybe good news about the battle will break her out of her stupor. If only she could be assured that Kurosaki and the others were all right….
Ishida imagines that he should be sad. At least a little sad if not utterly devastated. He and one of his best friends have died fighting Aizen and who knows how the others are faring. His surroundings, though, are anything but sad. Brightness, brightness everywhere. Ishida pushes up his glasses and finds it amusing that he’s a ghost with glasses. Will he require a new prescription here? His powers are diminished so maybe his sight is too.
The open, cloudless sky so different from the eternal night of Hueco Mundo. There’s space and an absence of buildings, and Ishida feels pure relief to have escaped the corridors of Aizen’s palace. His own clothes are no longer ripped and bloodied but restored and gleaming white. And best of all, the beauty who walks beside him is Inoue-san, even if she is a traumatized Inoue-san, and she is holding his hand. The warmth of it, the very shape of it, the relaxed fingers cupped against his--
This feels right.
After a few miles of comfortable silence, Orihime asks, “Ishida-kun, are we dead?”
There’s no avoiding the truth. Ishida felt himself disintegrate when he was hit by a cero. There was no time to run away from it with both Nell and Inoue-san, so he threw them as far as his projected reishi could carry them. They surfed to safety, and he was hit. His death was not painful, but he could feel it. Particles of his human soul scattering in the wind and reassembling here, in Soul Society.
Inoue-san had to have died sometime later.
“I think we’re dead,” Ishida says softly. “But it’s not so bad, is it? We’ve been here before, so at least we know what to expect.”
The pair walk in silence for another mile. The terrain is hilly. A few cared-for trees grow here and there. The area has been cleared of weeds and underbrush; it’s not like the mini-jungle of tall, tangled thicket that surrounded Shiba Kakaku’s house, and it’s easy to pass across. Ishida feels tired, but he tries not to think about it. Someone within the Seireitei will explain it all.
“Ishida-kun, why are your clothes so nice but mine still look like they did before I died?”
It’s a good question. He approaches it like a logic problem; he needs more clues.
“How did your sleeves get burned?”
“I flew through some fire when you threw me.” Orihime holds up her tattered sleeves. “I felt the fire before throwing up my shield. The cero? I remember you--”
“I was a bloody mess,” Ishida says. “Maybe souls travel through something like a car-wash before coming here. Maybe you missed the cycle that mends your clothes.”
Ordinarily, that remark would’ve made Orihime smile. Her brows furrow deeper.
“I was running and running.” Her voice isn’t quite as tragic as earlier. “Las Noches is a big place and like a maze. I thought that there had to be a special room somewhere--maybe an alcove, a balcony, a little corner where I could find peace, where I wouldn’t feel guilty and ashamed, and it felt like if I ran far enough, I’d find that place. Honest, I didn’t want to die. But I guess I ran myself to death. And then I ran smack into you.”
Ishida processes her words. His ghost breath catches when a thought occurs to him.
“You ran yourself to death? That’s not possible. Nothing struck you? No one killed you?”
“I couldn’t breathe and I felt like I was going to faint and there you were.”
“Did you see a Shinigami? Did you get a soul burial?”
“Neither did I,” says Ishida. “I felt myself die, though. I felt lighter. I didn’t have my body anymore.”
“I didn’t feel a change,” Orihime says. “Still don’t, really.” The subject matter has engaged her and her eyes are livening. “I was alive as can be and then smack! There you were. I thought you were alive again.”
Ishida puts his chin in his hand. “We were souls in Hueco Mundo. The only Shinigami who could’ve delivered us to Soul Society were either injured or fighting. We should have been souls floating around Hueco Mundo like Hollow food, so why--”
“We’re not dead!” Orihime exclaims and throws her arms around him.
Even though it is the second time she’s pressed herself against him, the intimacy of the gesture startles him. He puts his arms around her because that seems like the right thing to do. He’s figured out the puzzle. He doesn’t know how to tell her, so he just tells her.
“Inoue-san, there are differences between the way you and I appeared here. I clearly died, but you--look at you. You look the same way you did when you were alive and….”
“I went through a barrier,” Orihime deduces before he finishes the sentence.
Orihime’s talent is barriers. Urahara-san said so. There must be a barrier between Hueco Mundo and Soul Society.
She escaped all by herself from Las Noches.
Ishida is aware of hugging her a little tighter to keep her from slipping back into that terrible world. Orihime has fallen out of danger and into his arms. She can escape danger as easily a kitten can pounce from a high place and land on its feet. She can go anywhere. She can go anywhere. At first, Ishida feels relief. She’s out now. Nobody’s prisoner.
Then a tiny fear shows up. He doesn’t know why it’s inside him. He’s never had this feeling before. Where is she going to go next? The question matters more than it should.
Bright sunlight and a light breeze. The day is beautiful. Ishida and Orihime embrace for a long moment. Ishida begins to feel uneasy about how his body is … responding to her closeness. Orihime, however, still clings to him.
When at last she pulls away, her hands slide down his bent arms and keep holding him by the wrists. She won’t let him go. “You’re dead, and I’m not.” As she acknowledges that strange fact, her eyes fill with tears. “That’s not fair.”
Ishida wipes a rolling tear away with his thumb. It doesn’t feel awkward to touch her face. “Don’t cry. You have a material body, and I don’t, but really, how are things different from a moment ago?”
The barrier between the Living and the Dead is pervious; Ishida learned that while fighting Shinigami here. Dead souls interacted with Living souls all the time.
Now, though, the differences between Inoue-san and himself seem foreboding.
Although they stand a foot apart and are still touching, there’s a barrier between them that Ishida can’t sense and Orihime can’t pass through.
Death, when the little boy thought of it, had to do with incense and flowers. Death was a sadness that happened at his father’s hospital. The boy didn’t think of the souls bobbing down the street as ever having died. The Dead seemed just like the Living, only the Dead could float into the air. Sensei’s arrows protected the Dead, and Ishida had yet to see a Hollow swallow a soul. Sensei taught him about Soul Society, the place souls belonged, away from the danger of Hollow, but as far as Ishida could tell, some souls didn’t want to go there.
After Sensei died, Death was a cruel and stupid Shinigami who didn’t come in time to save this good person. Death was an enemy. Sensei had said that Death was something warriors faced, and Ishida wanted to be a warrior. Facing Death, ipso facto he would become a warrior. Ishida held a contest with a Shinigami and stood surrounded by big-toothed ferocious Hollow.
Death was an orange-haired boy whose Life needed saving.
Death was losing his powers. His Quincy powers, dead as his father’s love for him. A life of books. A life of looking away from the supernatural and not looking out the classroom windows and not looking at the faces of his friends. A book was a good shield. He would have preferred his shield to be one of spiritrons blazing with the Quincy star, but he was resigned to living an ordinary human’s life. A long life lived with purpose and integrity. He kept his senses alert because he didn’t want to die young.
The romantic poets of England interested him for a while. They died young, and when Keats passed, Shelly wrote, "Peace, peace! He is not dead, he does not sleep --He hath wakened from the dream of life.” The sentiment seemed Buddhist; Ishida did not agree that life was a dream.
Then the dream broke open with the arrow shot by his father. The arrow that just missed his heart restored his power. His courtship of Death could resume.
Death, death, death. Ishida recognized many kinds of death. He had lived through the death of a grandfather, the death of his powers, the death of hoping that his powers could return. In Soul Society, he literally lived through Death as he ran through the corridors of the Seireitei with Orihime.
Hueco Mundo held a crueler version of Death: separation from friends. The first friends Ishida had ever had--they fell, one by one. He himself died and the others were probably dead by now too. They’d set out to save Inoue-san, and in the end, she saved herself. Shouldn’t he be glad? Or at least thankful that their battles and sacrifices hadn’t been in vain? Without the rescue team stirring up Arrancar and scaring Inoue-san half out of her mind, she wouldn’t have started running. Maybe she never would have found the barrier out of that horrible place. Maybe she never would’ve found the will to get out--
He looks at her and there she is, not dead. Sunlight in her long shiny hair.
After all, the goal of the mission was to rescue her. There was supposed to be nothing in it for him…. Ishida feels that tiny fear again. He’d had no selfish reasons for wanting to save her …least of all a barely conscious hope that she would spend more time with him in the realm of the Living.
There it was. The little hope had been there all along, and now it rankled. A little fear, a tiny regret.
He had missed her so much after Soul Society.
He had missed her so much.
“I need to go back,” she says. “Back to Hueco Mundo.”
“No!” Ishida’s had expected her to say that she was going to return to Karakura. “That’s ridicu--why would you want to do that? Do you still believe in that plan of yours? You shouldn’t risk it, Inoue-san. Aizen is too dangerous for you to fight alone.”
“It’s not the plan.” Orihime looks away. “It’s….”
It’s Kurosaki. She would travel across all boundaries in the universe to go back to him. For the first time, Ishida feels anger about her feelings for Kurosaki.
“I have to heal them,” Orihime says. “I shouldn’t have been running away from them in the first place. I was looking for peace from the guilt.” She looks around the landscape of Death. “I’ve spent enough time here. However wounded they are, I can bring them back.”
The wind. The sky. The quiet. Ishida doesn’t want to walk through this day alone.
“Please don’t be sad.” As Orihime says those words to Ishida, she does an amazing thing. She smiles.
A moment ago she was the powerless one, and now it’s his turn to feel lost. She’s consoling him. Since when did Ishida Uryuu need consoling?
“I’ll be back one day,” she says. “I’ll be back, and since I know my way around here, I’ll meet you in the Seireitei, okay? Who knows? Maybe Sado-kun and I can get to be Shinigami--everyone can be Shinigami! Oops, well not you, you never would want to be one, would you?” She is smiling and her sense of purpose has returned. She wants to go back to heal people.
“How can you be sure they’re not all dead already?” Ishida knows the question is cruel. His thoughts are flailing from one side of his mind to another. He needs a reason for her to stay. His heart is pounding.
“Ishida-kun, please.” She looks at him with a tenderness that makes his insides squirm.
Fear, guilt, a flush across his face reaching his ears. She knows, doesn’t she? That he needs her here, not just for company but because--
“Ishida-kun, they need me. I don’t know why, but while walking with you, I felt less afraid of dying. I was reminded that Death is just another barrier.”
“Is it?” Ishida doesn’t understand barriers. He tries to understand. Maybe being dead affects his understanding of everything.
“If they’re not dead, I have to heal them and fight with them. If they’re dead, I still have to go back. I have a plan to defeat Aizen.”
Ishida can’t help his expression. He must be wearing a face that’s angrily opposed to this noble idea, because her smile fades and she tries to justify her decision.
She looks Ishida in the eye. “I don’t belong here, you know that.” It’s her best argument.
He stares, hard, right back. “Why risk your life again?” he asks. “If you go back and die, I’ll look stupid.” It’s a pitiful argument, and her smile comes back.
“I wanted to save you,” he adds feebly.
“Ishida-kun, you have. You’ve rescued me from guilt.” Orihime speaks with a sense of perfect enlightenment that doesn’t surprise Ishida. During their adventures in Soul Society, she could pierce the quick of any situation easily. For all her ramblings, she figured things out.
“I didn’t kill them,” she continues. “You told me I didn’t, and because you’re you, I trusted you. I trusted you more and more the further we walked….” She flushes a little herself, smiling and looking down at her feet. “Holding your hand gave me some of your courage, I think.”
I don’t have any courage, I’m useless, I died trying to save you, please don’t leave me alone.
She takes a step backward.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m going now,” she says. “Thank you for giving me back my courage--that’s like giving me back my life.”
I want mine back too.
“Goodbye, Ishida-kun.” A last tender smile. “I love you, you know. I’ll see you again.”
She turns around, and Ishida closes his eyes because he can’t bear to watch her disappear.
Orihime’s voice sounds annoyed. Ishida opens his eyes, and she’s still standing there.
“What’s the matter?”
“I can’t do it. I can feel the barrier and see a little of what’s on the other side, but I’m stuck.”
“Stuck?” His voice is hopeful.
She turns around and looks determined. “It’s okay. I’ll figure it out… eventually.”
Ishida is stunned; he has no clue what to do next.
She answers his look. “Let’s keep walking to the Seireitei. One of the Shinigami there may know what’s the matter--maybe Captain Unohana can help me.”
Orihime takes his hand, just like that. Does she have any clue about she’s doing to him?
That was a pretty dramatic moment back there. She told him she loved him. The walk to the Seireitei could take days … and nights. Ishida feels light-headed. What did she mean when she said she loved him? Does she even realize that’s what she said?
“Are you alright?”
“Oh, fine,” Ishida mumbles, “Just … a little unsettled being newly dead and … a little tired from walking these hills. You must be tired too.”
“Some. But let’s keep going.”
They walk hand in hand as they were doing before. They walk until the bright blue sky turns a hazy blue-violet and their shadows grow longer.
Still no people. The hills turn into grassy fields. They haven’t been walking in silence this time. They’ve talked about the weather. About how in the Living World, it was starting to get cold, but here in Soul Society, it feels like summer. Ishida has taken off his cape. Orihime has ripped her sleeves off entirely, and she still looks like a princess in her Arrancar clothes. Ishida wouldn’t have expected the high-collared, sleeveless look to look so right on her, but since when has anything Inoue worn not looked right?
Neither claims to be hungry or thirsty, but Ishida decides to veer off-course a little to the southeast, where there are rocks and the sounds of waterfalls. At a clear pool, Orihime takes a drink with her cupped hands from clear pool and noticed coins.
“People wish here!”
“Hmmm these coins are from different time periods. I don’t recognize most of them.”
“I wish I had some money so I could make a wish.”
Before the two headed away from the streams, he feels the need to duck behind a large bush.
“Where did you go Ish--oh you’re peeing.”
Orihime follows his example. After she takes off her black stockings, she tosses them and they land not a meter away on a limb from Ishida.
He doesn’t know if he can bear the intimacy this time. In Soul Society, he didn’t feel for her this way or this much.
I’m dead. She’s peeing. I wish things would go back to the way they’re supposed to be.
Ishida, though, isn’t sure what “supposed to be” means. If anything, wandering around in a forest paradise with her should be a dream come true. But he’s afraid that getting too close to her might hurt. He’s afraid that the barrier will itself manifest and plain: you can’t be with her, you will never be with her, you’re dead, she’s alive, she and you are separated by the distance between heaven and earth.
She’s cheered up some. She’s much better. She can stand on her own two feet. Why does she keep taking his hand?
They walk back to the open meadow. Ishida forgets about “supposed to be,” and sometimes Orihime sways the arm connected to his and tosses him a smile.
She’s better. It feels right. Feels like they’re children. Feels like they’re very old souls reunited. And it feels like they’re lovers far away from the eyes of society and civilization.
After a few hours, it becomes clear that the Seireitei isn’t just around the bend. The horizon isn’t hilly, and there is no tall wall in sight. Ishida sees a scattering of houses near reflecting bodies of water.
“I figure we’re about ten kilometers away from a village,” he says.
He also figures that any battles in Hueco Mundo are long over, but he doesn’t want to mention them. Maybe no one will ever know what happened to Kuchiki-san, Sado-kun, and Abarai.
Kurosaki--as much as Ishida wants to believe that Kurosaki has escaped Hueco Mundo, the dumbass wouldn’t leave without his friends. Looking for them probably got him killed.
“Look at that one, Ishida-kun! That one looks just like a rose-ringed parakeet. There are parakeets in Soul Society!”
Although Ishida expects Orihime to be fretting about time and not being able to help her friends yet, she is chattering about this and that and pointing out birds.
“You seem pretty lively,” he says.
Orihime seems to have forgotten about going back to Hueco Mundo. She says, “I’m lively because I’m alive!” She laughs at herself. It’s as if the old Orihime is back--only with a little more self-awareness. “I feel so much better being around you, Ishida-kun, and being here where there aren’t monsters and fighting.”
So she hasn’t forgotten Hueco Mundo.
“We really should stop now--there’s no way we can reach the village before tomorrow.”
“Maybe I should practice going through a barrier--like my shield’s. I could pull it up and go through it and back like I’m caught in a turnstile. Maybe no one inside the Seireitei can help me; maybe this is something I have to do myself.”
“You really need to rest.”
“I need to help my friends.”
Why not be honest? If he can’t be honest with Inoue, there’s no being honest with anyone.
“I was concerned about them too, but….” Saying it won’t make it true. His voice lowers. “Inoue-san, they must be dead. I’ve been adjusting to the fact that they’ve lost their battles. It wouldn’t make sense that--”
“Of course it wouldn’t make sense. Nothing in that place made sense!” Orihime is adamant. “Kurosaki-kun--he must’ve taken advantage of the nonsense somehow. He’s lucky like that.”
She goes on to say that Kurosaki’s inner strength must’ve saved the day. He must’ve used whatever beast was inside him to defeat his enemies, and then he must’ve come back for Rukia and Chad. Abarai Renji could’ve helped him. Renji-san wasn’t injured, was he? Maybe the whole scenario is happening right now. She expresses nothing but pure faith in Kurosaki.
Ishida tells her that the last time he saw Abarai, the Shinigami was kneeling, unable to walk. A grim situation. How could’ve Kurosaki, assuming he’d won his battles, carry all his friends out of Las Noches?
“Kurosaki-kun will have found a way.”
Ishida imagines the bodies of his slain comrades left behind in that dark place. All four lying in blood and failure.
How to convince her?
“When Chad fell, I didn’t feel his reiatsu. When Kuchiki-san fell … hers was gone. Were you--” He can’t look Orihime in the eye. “Were you in a special room where you couldn’t sense these things? If not, you should’ve felt them die. And given the odds, Renji and Kurosaki--by now they should be--” Ishida can’t believe he’s saying these things. Does he really believe the entire rescue party is dead?
“I could sense them.” Orihime looks sober but not sad at all. “Not only could I sense them, but I could see Kuchiki-san. Something the Arrancar were doing to me allowed me to do that. Kuchiki-san … it was bad.”
Wincing, Ishida expects her to describe a scene that he doesn’t want to see, but Orihime says nothing further about Rukia’s death.
“Sado-kun and Kuchiki-san were alive when I was running,” she says. “I could sense them. Alive, just barely. And I’m sure they’re alive now.”
Ishida raises his eyebrows. Alive? Inoue-san is better at reading reiatsu than he is.
“I know, Ishida-kun. You’re wondering how I can be sure.”
Ishida lowers his eyes. His skepticism feels humbled by her radiant optimism.
“If they had died, I would’ve felt it.”
“My perception has been growing stronger and stronger with every step,” she says. “I’ve been sensing the Living World all this time, but now…. It’s just another barrier away, you know. It’s only a couple steps from here to there ….”
Ishida is confused. What’s stopping her from leaving?
“I just have to figure out why I’m blocked.” Orihime looks determined. “It has to be something inside me. Hutch-san told me something about faith once. If I’m going to face Arrancar--”
“No. Tell me you’re not going back to Hueco Mundo.”
“Okay, I won’t.” Orihime sits on the ground and takes off her sandals. “For right now I’m just going to look at the stars. I never noticed the last time--are the constellations the same in Soul Society?”
Ishida sits and looks at the sky with her. He locates Venus and from there he follows the stars he knows.
There are so many he doesn’t know.
The night is cool. The last time Ishida and Orihime traveled together in Soul Society, Ishida had hung a partition between them at night. They slept in their clothes, far apart from one another’s bodies.
Tonight she falls asleep in his lap. He covers her with his cape. They have not seen a passing soul all day, not anyone they could’ve asked for directions. All Ishida knows is that they have to keep travelling west. The Seireitei is there. He doesn’t know if it will take a day or a year to reach it.
Ishida doesn’t feel hunger or thirst, and he vaguely remembers Captain Ukitake saying that only those with very high spiritual power felt the need to eat and drink. Captain Ukitake had passed around candies and cakes to the hungry ryoka.
Maybe my reiatsu isn’t as strong as I think it is. Maybe I’m going to lose my powers again.
So far, being dead has felt like the after-effects of the flu. Vaguely aching joints and the dreamy confusion of fever breaking. Ishida can’t remember the last time he was sick. In spite of stupid people who see him a scholarly boy with delicate constitution, he knows he’s a fit and healthy warrior.
Or he was a fit and healthy warrior.
Something’s wrong with me.
If he decides that if he still feels this way in the morning, he will tell Inoue--she’s a healer, after all.
The image of Captain Ukitake spitting blood into a napkin floats through his consciousness, and Ishida falls asleep.
The conversation the following morning is about where do Shinigami go when they die? Orihime broaches the subject with some concern. Ishida considers the question academic and unanswerable. Someone inside the Seireitei can tell them. The villagers they meet today will very little about Shinigami, if anything at all.
“Do only humans come back here?” Orihime still looks sleepy-eyed. She’s tired. She hasn’t even gotten up to stretch or pee. “When I die, I come back here. Kurosaki-kun…”
Orihime continues. “I don’t think Kurosaki-kun will come to Soul Society after he dies. Because if Shinigami die and become Shinigami again, Urahara-san and everyone wouldn’t have been so worried about Kuchiki-san’s execution.”
Ishida knows that. Maybe Shinigami are the end of the line for souls. Maybe, like Hollow blasted into non-existence by Quincy arrows, Shinigami don’t die--they just disappear. He doesn’t mention this theory to Orihime, of course.
Orihime looks worried. “Shinigami don’t die and then pop up again outside the walls of the Seireitei. They have to go somewhere else….”
A terrible thought occurs to Ishida. It’s the first time he’s considered Kurosaki a love rival, and it’s the first time he’s felt triumphant in that contest. His soul and Orihime’s soul were meant to be together here in Soul Society. Look at us now, Kurosaki. She takes my hand without thinking about it.
Right away he’s ashamed of himself. Nothing’s happened between him and her. He has no right to feel proprietous of Inoue-san. Kurosaki shouldn’t be thought of as a rival in anything anymore. Poor disappeared Kurosaki….
He’s not dead, the bastard. If he’d died, Inoue-san would’ve had a serious conniption of grief.
“A heron!” Orihime observes. “We must be near water.”
The big bird startles at her voice, spreads his wings, and glides away.
It is at this moment that a male figure in modern clothes appears in the distance. The figure walks closer and closer, and Ishida and Orihime rise to their feet, expecting someone friendly. There are more friendly souls than malicious souls in Soul Society, aren’t there? Last visit, Ishida didn’t spend any time in sections of the Rukongai that were rumored to be violent and harsh.
“You look like a prince and a princess,” the man says when he’s a few meters away. “Did you two come out of a storybook or something?”
Orihime laughs. Ishida fingers his bracelet. He can still summon a bow if necessary.
“We’re new to the area,” Ishida says. “It was only yesterday that we died, and here we are … in fancy new spirit clothes.”
The man looks puzzled. “New spirit clothes?”
Ishida explains how he was bloody and ragged at the time of his death but was freshly clothed upon his arrival in Soul Society. He doesn’t say anything about Orihime because her being alive might be viewed with suspicion, fear or hatred here.
“Hmmm,” says the man. “I never heard of anyone coming back all shiny and new. The folks here say that you show up the way you died--with a leg chopped off or in your ugliest sports jacket.”
“It must be different for different souls, then.” Ishida wonders why his soul is special enough to be granted his hand-sewn, cherished Quincy clothes to wear in their restored condition. If he’d shown up at Death’s door in rags, it would’ve been alright. Ishida could’ve repaired the sleeves, could’ve sewn a new mantle.
“Either one of you elegantly-dressed souls see a woman with black hair? Small--about this tall and a little on the plump side?”
“You’re the first person we’ve met since we’ve been here.” Orihime looks at the man with sympathy. “Who’s the person you’re looking for? Your wife?”
“Yes,” says the man. “She was with me in the car so I figured we would show up together in the same place here. The locals say that people who die together do that. If people die separately--well, their souls might never find one another. Soul Society is a big place. No one looks for dead relatives; it’s too hard.”
“I hope you find her,” says Orihime.
The man’s eyes aren’t looking at Orihime; they’re looking past her for his wife. “She could be alive,” says the man. “We were never apart for twenty-six years…. She could’ve survived the accident.” The man’s face says he wishes this weren’t so. “It was a terrible accident. Three cars, a fire.”
“Oh well then she must be dead,” Orihime says brightly. “I’m sure you’ll find her.”
Orihime’s words give the man encouragement, and he smiles. “You’re a sweet girl. I’ve been walking for days now, but I’m not giving up yet.”
Orihime and Ishida bow politely as the man takes his leave. As he walks away, he says in a slow amazed voice, “Twenty-six years. Not a day or night apart for twenty-six years….”
Ishida and Orihime are less than an hour away from the village when she needs to sit down.
“I think I’m losing my powers.”
Ishida is alarmed. “I thought you said you were sensing things better, that you were feeling stronger with every step.”
“Emotionally stronger,” says Orihime. She plucks a dandelion-looking flower from the weedy growth of grass she’s sitting on. She blows the pods away. She looks like a vision, like a girl in a painting. “My body doesn’t feel so great. I think it knows I’m not supposed to be here.”
“The barrier. You said you could sense the barrier better.”
“It’s as transparent as glass to me,” Orihime says. “At this very minute I’m looking at that big wide corridor of Las Noches I running through.”
Ishida startles. She can see it? That’s frightening.
“But the thing is, Ishida-kun….” Orihime appears calm, resigned. “My arms feel light and tingly, but I know I’m not sick. It’s like the reiatsu that filled them is draining away. I’m so tired. The tiredness is worse than ever.”
Ishida sits next to her. “I feel the same way. Tired and … tingly.”
Their reiatsu draining away. Why? As a soul, Ishida shouldn’t be experiencing anything like this. When he came here last time--
“When we were here last time, we were spirit versions of ourselves, remember? Urahara-san had to convert our material bodies into reishi before we could enter here.”
“I’m not a spirit body,” Orihime says. “I’m my own body now.”
“Right. A human body is naturally out of place here. Your skin and bones are materials that the environment can’t recognize--your body is foreign, maybe semi-permeable, a barrier that reishi can’t easily pass through. But your soul, your reiatsu, is made up of the same stuff as your surroundings, and that part of you is being absorbed into a homogenous field of reishi.”
“Your human body acts like a gigai here to give you a human shape. But it’s a gigai that can’t hold you. Flesh and blood can contain your spirit in the Living World, but here, without the weight of the material world pressing against your spirit….
“My soul is floating away little by little,” Orihime concludes. “Does that mean I’m dying?”
“It’s just a theory.” Ishida feels uncomfortable. It’s just a theory but it’s also wishful thinking on his part. “It doesn’t explain why I’m getting drained as well. Unless I’m alive too….”
A breeze blows Ishida’s long hair in front of his eyes. He takes his glasses off and rubs his brow. He can figure this out.
What will happen to the balance of the worlds if Aizen has his way?
Karakura Town devastated and entire continents soon after. The souls would pour into Soul Society. The Shinigami would exhaust themselves giving soul burials and trying to fight a terrible foe at the same time. Or Aizen’s army will have entered the Realm of the King by then. Everything would be over. Aizen will have disrupted all the barriers, and Soul Society and all other dimensions would seep into Aizen’s world the way reiatsu seems to be leaving Ishida’s soul and Orihime’s body.
There’s no heaven for Ishida and Orihime here.
Ishida feels his tiny fear being smothered by sound reasoning.
Orihime really may be the one who can stop Aizen.
Because even if she dies and walks hand in hand with him to the ends of Soul Society, Aizen’s hand could reach into this place and eternity would lose its meaning.
Orihime can enter barriers; maybe she can put them up as well--the way she summons her shield. She says she has a plan; she’s a smart girl and maybe it’s a great plan.
Fine. He will somehow get her back to Hueco Mundo but he’s not letting her go alone. He’ll convince the higher-ups in the Seireitei that his soul needs to go back too….
But why the weakness and how to stop it?
He should’ve figured this out by now. Ishida’s deductive skills in the land of Death seem to be failing him. The weakness, the weakness. Will it destroy the two of them before they reach the Seireitei?
Then if feels like he’s a hard weight and the soul that is Ishida Uryuu is disintegrating.
Oh, so that’s what happens when a ghost dies. I’m blowing away like--
Orihime sits, slouching, exhausted among the dandelions.
Ishida wishes he could’ve figured out how to stop this reiatsu drain in time for Orihime.
He lies back on the grass, too tired to think or move. It’s high noon in Soul Society and another bright, unclouded day. Ishida closes his eyes against the sun’s glare. He feels so weak that he figures he’s going to slip into unconsciousness before his soul is all gone. Or this might be it; this might be his true death.
It doesn’t hurt. A mild, inconsequential ache in his limbs. Hot pressure behind his eyes. His lips dry and getting drier.
It could be worse. He could be alone.
Orihime is lying next to him, and he reaches for her hand.
He feels his reiatsu seeping into her hand. It’s strange. Is he going to dissolve into her body? His head is swimming and he feels a slow sensuous rush in his arms and legs. It feels nice. It seems natural that his reiatsu seeks hers instead of draining into the air. Maybe he’ll give her some strength? Maybe he will fill her tired soul as he dies?
This isn’t the way he had hoped to enter her, exactly, but he has no control over his spiritrons.
“You’re alive,” says Orihime.
No, I’m dying.
She must be stronger than him because she sits up. She touches his arms, his chest. She puts her hands on his cheeks and forehead as if checking for fever.
Ishida doesn’t fight enjoying this. Her hands are like velvet. The pricey kind. Not velour.
Don’t try to heal me. It won’t work.
“You’re alive, Ishida-kun. You really are. You’ve been alive all this time.”
He doesn’t believe her. She’s been a fantasy all this time. Not real, not his Inoue-san. He dreamed her up because he was lonely.
Orihime shakes Ishida by the shoulders. “Open your eyes. I can feel it. I’m sure of it. You’re alive.”
So? Alive or dead, he’s disappearing anyway. He wants to smile because it’s no big deal, this dying. Goodbye Inoue-san, I can’t say I’ll be back. I love you, by the way.
Orihime drops against his chest. She is pressing him like she was when she first ran into him. “I did this,” she says. “I made you alive again.”
When? He knows he died. “I could feel the cero,” he tells her in a far-away voice. “It broke me into a million pieces.”
“Look, Hutch-san put Tsubaki together from pieces. I did the same with you.”
Ishida puts his arm around her shoulder.
The new clothes. She did that. She restored his clothes. He’s convinced now.
“That’s pretty impressive, Inoue-san.”
Her face is close to his. He can feel his breath on his cheek. She’s going to kiss him, isn’t she? The story’s all backwards. The prince is supposed to kiss the sleeping princess.
Her breath moves across his face. Her cheek grazes his ear
Please. This isn’t appropriate. Don’t kiss me on the ear. If I’m dying I deserve--
“ISHIDA-KUN, GET UP!”
The shriek echoes through his skull, and he instinctively rises to a sitting position. He covers his ear with one hand so she can’t hurt it anymore.
She was so vulnerable days ago, but she’s really tough now. She’s sitting up, hands on his shoulders, frowning at him. Ishida has the feeling she’s going to spit in his face.
“I was scared so I just got out of Hueco Mundo,” she says in a voice that’s, thankfully, not too loud. “Then I was so sorry you were dead, so I made you alive. I--I don’t know why I brought the two of us here. Maybe I needed someone to be with….
“Not just someone,” Orihime corrects herself. “You.”
And then again she throws her arms around him. Ishida’s been touched more in the Realm of the Dead than he ever was in the Realm of the Living. That, more than believing he was dead, disconcerted him here. Was Inoue-san ever this affectionate with anyone before? Again, he forgets the issue at hand when breasts press against him.
“Maybe I knew what I needed.” She’s whispering because she’s close to his shriek-wounded ear. “I feel confident around you. You--you make me feel….”
Her mouth is so close to his. It’s the weight of Ishida’s tired face--that’s what it is--the weight of his face that makes him rest his cheek against hers.
“I wish I’ve figured this out sooner,” she whispers. At first Ishida thinks she’s talking about her feelings for him but she’s talking about her powers. “I could make you alive, I could pass through barriers, but now that we’re here… I don’t know if I’m strong enough to do anything.”
Did she even hug Arisawa-chan this much? He and Orihime are under trying circumstances but….
Her palm is pressed against the back of his head. She does something with her fingers, maybe a gentle rake through his hair.
He feels punch-drunk, and it’s an irresistible opportunity, so--
he kisses her.
He didn’t know it was possible for her to press any closer to him, but she does. Her lips part and both her hands sweep through his hair.
There’s no turning back.
A kiss means a lot. Even you’re at the end of your life. Even if there are going to be no more kisses.
When she pulls away, Orihime is wide-eyed with disbelief. “Ishida-kun … we … kissed.” Her face is red and she’s breathing with effort.
“I’m sorry, Inoue-san. Will you consider it a farewell? I didn’t want to die without ever having kissed….”
She stares at him.
“Not just any girl,” he confesses. “You.”
He doesn’t have time to be embarrassed and awkward because she is kissing him back. She’s better at it than he is. She’s less tentative, more enthusiastic. Ishida’s body feels strange and fevered but not like before--he’s not lethargic like before. She takes off his glasses. Her hair spills over his face. It’s softer than shantung silk, softer than chiffon.
They kiss for so long that Ishida forgets he’s dying. He has the strength to lift his arms and run his hands up and down the length of her back, to brush his fingers in and out of her hair, to learn how to kiss. He was always a quick study. He’s sorry he won’t have the time to learn anything else about his body with hers.
“Do you feel it?” she asks in most charming, embarrassed little voice.
“Uh?” Ishida’s forgotten how to form his lips into anything but kisses. Words don’t come.
“I mean, inside you, can you feel it like I can?”
Again, he thinks she talking about her feelings for him or maybe their insistent teenage hormones, but she’s talking about their reiatsu. He understands when he notices that his arms and legs don’t ache anymore.
“I can’t steal reiatsu from the air,” she says. “That’s just not one of my talents. It has to be you.”
His Quincy powers seem to have revitalized; his soul is harvesting reishi from thin air.
“We can go anywhere now,” Orihime whispers in awe.
“This is supposed to happen,” she continues. “Me with you. It’s the only way--”
Supposed to happen. I always thought that.
There is a long moment while Orihime stares into the distance and contemplates the mysteries of the universe. Then she looks down at him and asks, “Can you talk?”
“I need to have your permission to take you back. You want to go back to Hueco Mundo, don’t you? You want to help them as much as I do.”
Ishida nods. She’s right. That’s where they belong--looking out for their friends.
“So we’ll fight? We’ll fight together,” she says. “And if we’re not strong enough, we’ll die together so we can come back up here and you don’t have to keep looking for me all over the place.”
“We’re strong enough,” Ishida says. He’s found his voice.
“I know.” Orihime’s voice is low and reverent, as if she’s speaking before Truth itself. “It’s like I’ve been dying, little by little for so long. Even before I came here, I was dying.” She grazes his cheek with the back of her hand. “It’s funny, really. I had to come to the land of the Dead before I could restore my life. I found it here.”
It’s stupid thing to say but he believes it, so he says it anyway: “You’re my life too.”
The world around them fades to black, emerges in a white space, and they’re in Aizen’s palace once more.
They’re positioned on the cold floor the way they’d been lying on the soft grass a moment ago.
Ishida rises and helps her to her feet. He’s a warrior again. His senses are sharp. “Stay near me,” he says. “Don’t go off running anywhere.”
Her smile is slight but satisfied. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to lose you again.”
He thinks she’s talking about when he died, but then she adds, “There was always a barrier between us, don’t you think? This morning there was, but also long, long ago. Like you standing on one bank of the river and me other. I didn’t even go looking for you. Why didn’t I go looking for you? I should have journeyed to the ends of the universe and crossed every boundary in my path to get back to you. Why didn’t I do that?”
Ishida doesn’t quite know what she’s talking about, but he can play along. “Why would you need to do all that? I’ve been right here with you all along.”
She looks at him.
She touches his face. “There was never any barrier. We were in the same place. All I needed to do was … turn around and notice you.”
And that Ishida understands.