Title: How To De-Weed A Garden
Characters: Orihime, Tatsuki, Ichigo
Summary: Orihime will grow fruit here, with mud-stained hands and rusty tools...
Disclaimer; Bleach does not belong to me, nor do any of these characters.
There is a garden outside Orihime's tiny apartment. It isn't well tended, weeds and wild grass grow riotously everywhere, and some patches have turned brown with age and drought. She supposes that there must be some metaphor in that, as she hangs up damp clothes on the laundry line, but cannot for the life of her think what it could be. Maybe she will ask Tatsuki. Tatsuki is sure to know; Tatsuki knows a lot of things, like where to buy red bean paste cheaply and in bulk, which boys in class you shouldn't smile at, even if they smile at you and look sad when you don't, and which conductor will let you ride home for free if you smile at him.
Slowly, over the years, she has made this corner of town her home. It is all her: the wonky nameplate outside her door, the potted plants on her window sill, the shaggy mat outside her door that says 'WELCOME' in large purple letters…these things she can call her own, and not many other people are so fortunate.
Of course, the kitchen sink's tap leaks, the ceiling has started showing patches of damp and the window never does shut properly—which is quite the nuisance when it rains—but no one has everything they want. Then one sunny morning in April, as she is looking through the window out into the garden, she gets an idea. It is like one of those cartoon ideas, where a bulb pings into brightness above one's head. Of course, in typical Orihime fashion, she forgets about all the other banalities of life—like school, classes and tests—and immediately goes across to apartment 2-B.
Orihime's landlady is a tiny old woman with a face that is as crinkled as a raisin, and kind, dark eyes. And she is a kind person; she gave 2-A to Orihime at ridiculously low rent, and even helped her move into it after Sora died. Orihime still gets little shivers of sadness thinking about that time sometimes; she will curl into a lumpy ball with Sora's old sweater, put her head on the wobbly coffee table, and just be, until her breathing eases or she thinks of something important to do. That sweater is the only thing of Sora's that Orihime has allowed herself to keep. It still smells like him, like motor oil and sweat and woodchips.
Sora would do a lot of odd-jobs around town to keep them both fed and clothed. Orihime remembers very clearly how those first few years were for him—well, them, but mostly him. He would come home shaking from exhaustion and sometimes cold—they couldn't afford warm clothes back then—but he would still smile at her. He would put his head in her lap and let her stroke his hair, and say, "Did you have a nice day, Orihime?"
And Orihime would, obediently, tell him about her day and her friends and teacher-who said she was pretty-and the little goblin that stuck gum on her shirt and laughed at her, and she cried but then teachers let her have an extra tube of glitter powder for her drawing, and look, isn't it nice? She would pull it from her bag and he would laugh as shiny powder cascaded from the paper and onto his face, making him sneeze. He would smile his warm, rich Sora smile, and his eyes would grow heavy-lidded as she continued talking, and he would fall asleep, just as he was, head in her lap…
"Oh dear," the old woman says in her scratchy, paper-thin voice, "Orihime? Lost your keys again?"
Orihime laughs sheepishly, pressing her hand to the back of her head, "No, no, and don't worry—I found them, they were in my socks. I put things there for safe-keeping, you see."
"Ah…in your socks," the other woman says, still looking bewildered, "So—was there anything…?"
"Actually, yes, there is something else…"
Fifteen minutes later, after a baffling discussion about growing hallucinogenic plants and getting into 'bad company', Orihime obtains permission to use the garden. She is also in possession of the keys to her landlady's tool shed ("Used to be my husband's years ago, before he left me for a stripper and moved to Osaka…"). Shielding her eyes from the sun, she steps onto the porch. It is hard to say how large the garden is, but she vaguely supposes that it is a fairly large one for such a small house. She is no believer in procrastination, and there are some rusty old gardening tools in the shed at the back, so she sets to work.
The old, heavy lock on the shed door twists open with a reproachful shriek of metal against metal. The hinges are rusty as well. Inside are some of the largest spiders she has ever seen. She quickly spies a pile of tools in a corner of the shed-next to a pile of magazines that she is sure her landlady hadn't known about—and grabs them hurriedly, along with a pair of ugly yellow rubber gloves and a large sunhat. She heads to the front of the house again, and she is dismayed to note that the sun is almost vertically above her.
She starts first by getting rid of the weeds; it is harder than she had expected it to be. The weeds are rooted steadfastly in the ground, and the decades-old weed puller is a poor match for them. Sometime later, when it feels like hours have passed, but it is only really late afternoon, Orihime stops for a glass of water. She surveys her work as she drinks; nearly half the lawn has been de-weeded, but it is tiring business. Setting the glass back down on her kitchen table with a sigh, she begins again.
This time she ignores her aching arms and the sweat dripping down her forehead and the sides of her cheeks. She works steadily until the sun is less harsh on her back. Maybe she will even have time to buy some seeds today. Melons? Tomatoes? Or—
"Is this why you skipped out on school today?"
Orihime whirls around, completely surprised.
"Tatsuki!" She exclaims, beaming at the other girl happily, "You're here! Look what I've—I forgot about school again, didn't I!"
Tatsuki laughs. It is her special laugh, loud and fearless but very kind. "It's okay," she says reassuringly, "I covered for you…you were sick today, alright?"
"I was sick," Orihime repeats obediently, "So sick that they had to call an ambulance, but the paramedics were really aliens in disguise that want to abduct sick humans to experiment on, and—"
"Maybe you just had a fever," Tatsuki interrupts dryly.
"Okay," Orihime agrees, disappointedly, "I had a fever."
Tatsuki rolls up her sleeves. "Want some help?" She asks, and Orihime's face splits into a wide grin.
The next day, when Orihime goes to school, her classmates cluster around her desk, talking in loud, anxious voices. It takes a full ten minutes to convince them that she is fine and no, she would really prefer not to have a full physical exam from Chizuru, although it is kind of her to offer…and would Tatsuki please stop smiling like that?
Tatsuki just shrugs unrepentantly, still smiling, when someone comes up behind Orihime's chair.
"Oh, Ichigo." Tatsuki says, clearly surprised. Orihime turns around. There is a boy standing there with a scowl on his face and a shade of hair almost as absurd as Orihime's. But he is looking at her and not Tatsuki, and Orihime cannot see why, he is Tatsuki's friend, after all, and not hers. But she smiles at him warmly anyway, because she can tell that he is just as strange as she is and that is a good enough reason to be friends, anyway.
"It's Inoue, right?" He mumbles, looking at her left ear. She nods, wondering.
"You didn't come to school yesterday…"
His words should be a statement, but the higher tone at the end of his sentence suggests a question.
"Oh, yes," Orihime says brightly, and because it doesn't seem right to lie to this strange, scowling boy she adds, "I wasn't really sick, I started gardening and forgot about school."
Something in his face relaxes then, and he says, "Okay," and, shoving his hands into his pockets, he leaves. Orihime is watching him walk away when he suddenly turns around. "If you need notes," he says, more clearly this time, "My handwriting's not too bad."
"Thank you," She replies, still smiling. He nods slightly, and walks away. She forces her lips to turn down as she turns to look at Tatsuki.
"Well," Tatsuki drawls, looking back at her, "What did you think?"
"I think he's very nice," Orihime responds cheerfully, fiddling with her pencil.
"Really?" Tatsuki says, sounding incredulous, "He barely looked at you, and he was glaring the whole time."
"He offered me his notes," Orihime reminds her. Tatsuki snorts.
"You can borrow them off of me if you want,"
"Well…yes, and I probably will, but…his eyes. Didn't you see? They were smiling. He is a kind person, isn't he?"
Tatsuki is surprised. Orihime quietly marks this moment in her mind, to remember later.
"Yes," Tatsuki says quietly, "I suppose he is."
Later that day, in the evening after school, Orihime kneels in front of her picture of Sora.
"Today," she begins, "I met Tatsuki's friend. I think you would like him…"