She was surprised, at everything. At all the things that had changed after Hueco Mundo. At the way everyone had changed. Ichigo was the most noticeable, yes, but he wasn’t the only one that had changed. All of her friends had. Sado-kun, Ishida-kun, Tatsuki…everyone had changed. Even her. They could not go back to the way they had been. And she supposed this was not a bad thing at all. The changes were good. They were stronger now. Braver. That was never a bad thing.
But Kurosaki-kun was sad. He had lost a part of himself, a part of himself that had been there for so long, a part that had gotten stronger and stronger with time, until her had been so strong he had been able to defeat the monster Aizen had become. And it made her sad to see him that way, to see him moping around school, pulling away from all of them. She wanted to see him with a smile on his face, to see him cheerful and happy, not sad and lonely.
She went to him in class with a Bento box and set it on his desk. He looked up and gave her a slightly confused look. “Inoue?”
“I thought I would give you a gift,’ she said, blushing slightly. “To make you smile. You don’t smile enough, Kurosaki-kun.”
The barest of smiles crossed his lips as he opened it and examined the contents. “Thank you,” he said.
She nodded. “You’re welcome,” she replied. She wrung her hands slightly. “Tonight I’m making curry with sweet peas and then cupcakes for dessert. I got a job at a bakery and I’m practicing at home. Would you like to come over?”
He shook his head. “Yuzu is demanding I be at home. She says she wants more Ichi-nee time.” Orihime smiled at that; it did sound like something a younger sister would demand. “You could come over, though. She makes enough food to feed an army. And maybe she can help you with your baking. She’s a master at it.”
“Oh, I’d love the help!” Orihime said, her smile brightening. His sister was a fantastic cook; Kurosaki-kun had shared food before that she had made and she had found it to be delectable, better than her own food. If her cooking was that good she couldn’t wait to see how her baking was. “When should I come over?”
“I have club meetings after school but if you want to hang around just come home with me,” he said.
She nodded. “All right,” she replied before heading back to her seat. They made it through the rest of their school day and she waited for Ichigo to get through his meetings. She was surprised he was in clubs; he had always been so busy with Soul Reaper duties before, and then before that he simply hadn’t cared. She wondered at the change of attitude. When he was finished they began the walk to Kurosaki-kun’s home. She held her bag in her hands, swinging it slightly. “Why are you in the clubs?” she asked.
He shrugged, slinging his bag onto his back, resting his wrist holding it on his shoulder. “Figured I should do something normal for a change, since I’m…normal,” he said. “I mean, I’m not different anymore. Not special.”
“You are still special, Kurosaki-kun,’ she said adamantly without really thinking about it.
He stopped and looked at her, surprised. “I can’t see Hollows anymore, Inoue. I can’t protect people. I’m useless.”
“You are not,” she said, stopping to look at him and glare. “You are not useless and you are still special and I will not allow you to think of yourself as anything less than a…a…brave, selfless hero who sacrificed a lot to save the whole of the world! And people care about you, Kurosaki-kun, more people than you realize. People care deeply about you and want the best for you and wish you would see that.”
He stared at her for a moment and then a smile crept up on his lips. “You really do see the best in me, Inoue,” he said.
“I just wish you saw the best in yourself, Kurosaki-kun,” she said, looking down.
He hesitated a moment, then reached over and tipped her face up with his fingers. She stared at him with wide eyes as he leaned in and kissed her cheek softly. “With you around, I just might,” he said quietly before moving away. She blushed a bright red before hurrying after him. When she caught up, he rather hesitantly reached over for her hand, and she reached over and grasped his hand back, and they walked hand in hand the rest of the way to his home.
A few feet before they go to the door he dropped her hand and cautiously made his way to the door, motioning for her to stay back. “My dad’s an idiot,” he said. “He thinks because I don’t have my shinigami powers anymore I need to stay on top of my game with my regular self defense skills.” He opened the door and stuck his head in. “I have company!” he called out. “It’s Inoue!”
“Inoue-kun?” Isshin called out. Almost immediately he popped into the doorway and gave a startled Orihime a grin. “You’re very lovely looking today, Orihime.” Then he turned to Ichigo. “You have done well, my son!”
Ichigo rolled his eyes. “Let us in, then,’ he said, roughly shoving his father out of the way so he and Orihime could come in.
Isshin began to cry and moved over to a huge poster of a woman with red hair. “Our son has brought home a beautiful young lady, Masaki! One who is not a shinigami who he’s hiding in his closet! We should be proud of him. This is a cause for celebration! Yuzu! Bring out the good dishes!”
Orihime laughed at that and then caught sight of the woman in the poster and for a moment forgot to breathe. She knew that woman. Or at least had known her, long ago. Or not really known her, but had met her. She recognized the kind eyes and the warm smile, remembered how she wished that the nice woman had been her own mother, how she had hoped to meet her again someday.
She was snapped out of her thoughts by the sound of fighting to her side, seeing Ichigo and his father engaged in some horseplay to the side, with one young girl looking on impassively and another looking on in horror. “Father, we have a guest!” she was saying. Orihime guessed that was Yuzu.
Ichigo got his father in a headlock, his knee in Isshin’s back. “Behave!” he hissed.
“You have bested your father,” Isshin said, his voice slightly strangled. “Powerless and yet you manage to defeat me. You have done your father proud.”
Ichigo rolled his eyes and released his father, causing Ichigo to land on the floor with a thud. He looked over at Orihime and then nodded towards the stairs. “Why don’t we head towards my room?” Orihime nodded. Even after everything she had never been to his room aside from the one time she had gone before Hueco Mundo, and then she was trying to get her nerve to say good-bye, even though she knew he wouldn’t see her. She hadn’t actually looked around or explored. They went up the stairs and went inside, and she looked around a little. She was drawn to a picture on his desk of him when he was a little boy with the same woman in the huge poster downstairs. He came up behind her a moment later. “That’s my mom.”
“She’s very pretty,” Orihime said with a smile.
“I’d always thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world,” he said, grinning a little bit himself. “Dad having the poster up downstairs didn’t help with that.”
“It isn’t a bad thing to think of your mother as beautiful, if your mother is a good woman,” she said. “And I think your mother was.” She looked up and saw he was looking at her strangely, and she blushed. “I met her, once. Before she died.”
“I never knew that,” he said, a look of surprise dawning on his face.
She nodded. “I’ve known Tatsuki a very long time. You know how we met, right?”
“Something about your hair. It was cut?”
“Yes. Tatsuki vowed to protect me. But to protect me, she had to learn to fight, so she would go to classes. And sometimes I would go to the classes too, just to watch. And you were at them too.”
He frowned. “I don’t remember you there,’ he said.
“I wasn’t always inside. Sometimes I would go outside and sit on the grass and read a book or do my homework,” she said with a smile. “One day I was reading a book when I saw a lovely woman with hair as red as mine go towards the class. She stopped when she saw me, and she asked if I knew it was good luck to have hair like hers. I said no, I didn’t know that, and she said it was. People would say it was bad luck but it wasn’t. We were lucky, and that I should always remember that. And she said her son had red hair just like mine, and she thought I was adorable. And she gave me a big grin and I gave her one back she said she hoped I always wore a smile as much as possible because it looked quite lovely on my face.”
Ichigo shook his head and her smile grew wider. It wasn’t often she got to surprise him but when she did it was kind of nice. “I never knew my mom met you,” he said.
She nodded. “I always remembered her saying we were lucky. I mean, sometimes it was bad luck but mostly it was good luck. I’ve liked the good luck better. Though there hasn’t been as much good luck lately, I suppose.”
“She used to tell me we were lucky, too,” he said, picking up the photograph. “I stopped believing that after she died. I mean, in a way I was lucky. I would fight and never get seriously hurt. And through all of this, everything that’s happened, I’ve been pretty lucky. I’m still alive. All that happened was I lost my shinigami powers.”
“I would say that’s pretty lucky,” she agreed with a nod.
“And I have good friends,” he said, looking at her.
“You do,” she said, still nodding.
He set the picture down. “And I suppose there are a few of those friends who would be willing to stick around even if I do really stupid things like try and get my powers back, or if I never get my powers back and I live a boring life for the rest of my life, or…will just be there for whatever it is my life has in store for me.”
“There are some friends who would be willing to do that,” she said quietly as she stopped nodding and stared into his eyes. She took a step closer, deciding to be brave, to be bold. “And…maybe more than that, if you would be willing.”
He reached over for her hand. “Well, I would have to be an idiot to not at least be willing, and I decided to not be an idiot anymore, despite what certain people think,” he said with a grin. “So, maybe we can see what happens today, and see if we really are lucky like my mom thought?”
She nodded, a wide smile on her face as she laced her fingers in between his and stepped closer to him. “I would like that very much, Kurosaki-kun,” she said before he leaned in and pressed his lips to hers. It was a soft kiss, a tender kiss, but she had expected that. There was no need for passion just yet. If that was to come, it would come in time. And time was something they both had plenty of, she hoped…with a little luck on their side.