Orihime dies on a windy day in early August. The car, it comes out of nowhere.
Her mother, Mimi, she was this long-legged thing, tall and lean with a belly that was currently, is, rather full of baby. Too full, baby too big, belly too big and she worries that she’s about to pop, can feel the pain, the contractions, her body saying it’stime, her body saying getitout.
The clinic is close enough that she doesn’t have to drive, can heave and pull herself along the sidewalk, force her way up streets and avenues. She’s a big girl, old enough to fend for herself, independent enough to be stubborn and she worries for the baby, but she worries more for herself.
She pulls herself across the steps, up and over, pounds on the door like a dying woman, like she’s hungry and these people will feed her. A woman (too beautiful) answers the door, all wide, doe eyes and long fingers that clench Mimi’s pale arm and drag her through the door.
Mimi shakes off the drugs that the woman attempts to push through her spine, her belly, her mouth.
“They’ll make it easier,” and the woman, she has a voice like liquid honey and Mimi wants to drown in it.
“No, I want it natural,” and she grits her jaw shut, contractions tearing at everything below her chest.
The woman rocks back on her heels. “You want to hurt?”
Mimi lets loose a wail that claws out of her chest, scrapes across her teeth as it pulls out of her jaw. “Yes,” she screams, “I want to die.”
“Don’t die yet,” the woman says and she presses a cool hand to Mimi’s sweaty forehead. “I want to give you a baby.”
“I don’t want one!” Mimi wails, sobs into the air.
“My name is Masaki,” the woman puts on a paper apron, grins at her with two rows of perfect teeth. “And that’s too damn bad.”
Ichigo’s first ever crush was on a girl named Sastsa Torou and she was an exceptionally unremarkable girl.
Thin as a dime, small as a mouse and dark like nothing he’d ever seen in his entire four years of being alive. This girl, she liked juice boxes and morning cartoons and she ate like a horse. Ichigo was rather smitten with her due to her aversion to dolls and other girl-like games.
“I think we should get married,” he tells her one sunny afternoon in preschool.
“Okay,” she replies. “But you should wear the dress. Those things itch like cockroaches.”
They get divorced three days later on account of her not liking Transformers.
Orihime’s first crush was on Ichigo.
Well, not technically, it’s just everything she felt for anyone else sort of paled in comparison afterwards.
She feels it’s hardly worth noting.
(Just for the record, Orihime’s last crush was on Ichigo too).
They saw each other three times before they would ever actually meet.
The first time was in a supermarket.
Masaki stares down boxes of cereal and Ichigo, he’s rattling around in the child’s seat of the trolley, pulling packets off the shelves. He’s too little, so little and Masaki doesn’t see the damage.
Orihime is maybe four paces behind, enclosed in her brother’s tired arms. She sees the boy with red hair like firelight and arms like wax candles and wonders if Sora, if he’d get mad if she put this boys fingers in her mouth like she did to the other boy at kindergarten. (For the record, he had yelled so hard about the inappropriateness of such an action that Orihime’s head had dropped off and rolled down the corridor of their tiny home; rather like in that American film Indiana Jones.)
The boy turns around in the trolley seat and glances back at Orihime. He stares forever and she worries that he’s stuck that way.
At one stage he purses his lips, leans forward in the trolley and waves an open palm-full of fingers in her direction. Masaki glances up, following the gaze of her son to the tiny girl and the tired boy that clings to her ever tightly.
Masaki smiles, “You have a beautiful daughter.”
Sora gave up correcting people a long time ago, instead rocks backwards, smiles and says, “Thank you, you’re son lights up the aisle.”
Masaki laughs, thanks him back and says, “Maybe we should arrange a playdate. My baby seems to like yours. It could be love.”
They don’t though, and it isn’t yet.
The next time they are both seven years old and in a sandbox at a local park.
She asks if she could possibly borrow his bucket.
He says no.
Thing is, Ichigo answers the door.
“Please,” she whispers, mumbles, chokes out between her teeth. “Please.”
Thing is, fifteen minutes ago he’d been getting ready for school, tying his shoelaces (all by himself) and brushing his teeth. Fifteen minutes ago, the only time he’d seen blood was on his dead mother and the spider that a boy at school had squashed.
This girl, she’s tiny, thin shouldered and thinner waisted, frail in every essence of the word and she looks like one of Yuzu’s dolls, with the way her cheeks are lit up from beneath the skin, the way her lips are pulled tight and her eyelashes are too thick to be anything but one whole. She’s tiny, but what’s more is that she’s hunched over, carrying a boy who’s maybe three times her size on her back.
“Please,” she says again, and the blood from his open head wound is dripping into her hair, down her forehead and into that space between her eyes. “Fix him,” she mumbles. “Please.”
“Dad!” Ichigo yells, and he leans closer, tries to grab the boy’s arm out from over hers, but she won’t let him, she backs off and he can see where her body shakes like an earthquake, ruptures itself and wraps around him. Maybe she’s trying to hide him, heal him, Ichigo doesn’t know, but what he does know is that she can’t stand up for much longer.
Isshin’s at the doorway in an instant, smiles and glee until he sees the girl, sees the boy sprawled across her. “Jesus,” he whispers and the smile wipes clean from his face, drops down his collar and he’s leaning over, reaching for the boy as the little girl backs further and further away.
“I’m a doctor,” he tells her. “I’m here to help.”
The girl whimpers, clenches her eyes shut so tight that Ichigo, he worries that maybe she’s trying to force them back into her skull. Lock them away, those honey-dipped irises.
“I broke him,” she says, a voice half way between whispers and hysterics. “Fix him.”
“I’ll try,” Isshin replies, and he leans down, close to her. “But I can’t if you don’t let me.”
The little girl shivers, shakes and wracks her body, but she passes him over, lets Isshin pull him off her and run him into the back room, into the clinic.
Her eyes tug open and Ichigo stares forever, absorbs her ripped dress, her bleeding legs, arms, torso, takes in the way the boy’s blood is dried and clumped in her hair, the way her face is like porcelain and her eyes like hell.
“I’m sorry,” he says.
The girl shrugs, says, “Me too.”
Sora dies within the hour. Ichigo doesn’t know what to say, but he sits next to her whilst she cries.
Ichigo will never, ever asks Orihime out on a date.
Rather, they hit seventeen and hormones and lust and maybe it is love, it makes Ichigo crazy, makes him feel things for anyone and everyone and with Orihime, it all starts with them making a mutual decision to be at one place at the same time and they take it from there.
“I think he’s lying,” Orihime concludes, leans close as Ichigo shoots her a resigned look.
“You’ve said that about every new character we’ve seen.”
“Well, yes,” she says, “but I’m almost certain that this man’s left eye spasms every time he says something. It’s not normal, he must be nervous.”
“Inoue,” he leans back on the sofa, the bowl of popcorn shifting on his legs as he moves his thighs. “It’s The Ring, I’m pretty sure everyone’s nervous.”
She sighs, concludes that he justdoesn’tgetit and shuffles back into his out-slung arm. She digs a handful of long fingers into the bowl, digs out popcorn and shuffles it into her mouth. It’s all burnt and maybe this is romance in action (she thinks it tastes undercooked if it’s not burnt. Thinks that maybe Ichigo doing this for her, burning all the popcorn is a sign of his seduction.)
(Just for the record, Rukia will tell her later that it’s just a sign of Ichigo being a useless cook.)
“It’s not very scary,” she says, but she can feel Ichigo’s pulse racing through the flimsy fabric of his t-shirt, can feel the ba-dum-ba-dum-ba-dum of his heart.
“No,” he mumbles, burries further down into the sofa.
“Liar,” she whispers, and she picks up his arm, presses her lips to the inside of his wrist.
“Hey,” he says and he pulls her up to face him, cups a big hand around her cheek and leans in. Gentle and firm and it’s no more than a swift instance of lips on lips and his are chapped, hers like charcoal from the bitter popcorn.
It’s probably their first real kiss (might not even be that) and it’s not what Orihime imagines, no fireworks or singing animals, but it sets her heart a flutter, leaves dragonflies beating against the walls of her stomach and all she can think is how she won’t let this be the last.
If Ichigo were to be frank, the whole thing was a disaster.
Orihime had the idea that they’d been together (dating? Going steady?) for almost a year now and maybe it was time that she got to meet the family like, officially.
Yuzu undercooks the dinner, Karin interrogates Orihime the whole evening and Isshin, he makes lewder comments than normal. By the time dessert rolls around, Ichigo’s pretty sure even the goldfish painting in the hall is laughing at him.
The worst part of all is that Isshin recognizes her.
Ichigo’s stormed up the hall, Karin having made one comment too many and maybe he’s got murder in his eyes, is all angry-big-brother instead of the one that’s usually hanging around, instead of the one that usually forgives too easily.
Orihime, she wanders out onto the balcony, enjoying the commotion, that family thing that she’s, that she’s really never had.
Isshin follows in the shadows, sake bottle in hand as he takes a swig.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t save him,” he tells her and he leans back against the house, watches the way her hair spirals off her face as she spins around, watches how her eyes widen and her lips strain over her teeth.
“I don’t blame you,” she says.
“Then who do you blame?”
“What makes you think I hold anyone responsible? It was an accident.”
He clicks his tongue, holds the bottle in loose fingers and grins down at her. “The mere fact that you said I don’t blame you. If you wanted me to believe you, you would’ve said I don’t blame anyone.”
She doesn’t say anything for a few moments, leans backwards onto the fence and puffs out her cheeks, lets her eyelids flutter shut and the breeze ruffle her thin dress.
“Growing up,” she whispers, “all the little girls I knew had dolls. Sora would never buy me one, they were expensive.”
Isshin doesn’t say anything, but he manages to move forwards a little. Focus tired eyes on her sleepy form.
“Most of them broke in some way or another. Falling out of windows, getting thrown against walls,” she shrugs. “I didn’t have a doll, so instead I broke my brother.”
Isshin, maybe he doesn’t know what to say right away, strokes his beard and tosses the bottle into the trash can not two feet away. “It’s hard to lose someone you love,” he says. “But it’s easy to force accusation where it doesn’t belong.”
“Don’t blame yourself,” he says. “You’re not as pretty when you wallow.”
“I could fall in love with him,” she tells her brother’s headstone. “But you can’t tell him.”
“It’s a secret.”
Tatsuki thinks Ichigo’s sort of a tool, so when Orihime says she wants the three of them to have dinner officially she’s not quite sure what to think.
Orihime trundles off to the bathroom halfway through the meal and Tatsuki takes the chance by the balls.
“Break her heart, I break your spine,” she says. She thinks it’s an excellent judge of how threatening she can be that Ichigo never takes up the challenge.
They have sex.
Orihime concludes that it’s weird.
So does Ichigo.
That probably doesn’t explain why they do it again two hours later.
“Are her breasts soft? I imagine they would be, gentle and big and well, and more than a handful,” Kon laughs, chuckles deep in his soft-padded voicebox and Ichigo, he’s two seconds away from tying him to the back of the toilet again, but Rukia’s beaten him to it, kicked him across the room and shoved him in Ichigo’s underwear drawer.
“That teddy bear really shits me,” she says and she’s all scowls today, clenched fists and eyes no bigger than slits.
Ichigo’s inclined to agree.
“I mean, just because Orihime’s a hot piece of ass-“
He groans, burries his face in his pillow and tries to close his ears to Rukia’s cackle, the way she fingers the hair just above the neckline of his t-shirt.
“You’re lucky,” she whispers and she’s leaned in close, breathes into his face. “You both are.”
The first time Orihime saves Ichigo, they’re both more surprised than they should be.
He’s been fighting the hollow for hours, long swishes of his sword and his long legged leaps are causing every muscle to ache, throb and cramp. He needs to lie down, he needs it to be over.
The hollow cackles somewhere in the distance, moves in closer to eat the unconscious, chained up child sprawled across the floor and Ichigo leaps in for the kill, all arms and sword and even him, even his body is sharp around the edges.
He doesn’t see the tentacle crawling up behind him, not until Orihime’s grabbed the sword from his hands and sliced the hollow’s extra limb off in too swift of a motion. Too practiced and too natural and Ichigo stares until his eyes bleed.
“I’m not just the damsel,” she’ll say later. “Can be a hero too.”
Ichigo never says he loves her vocally.
Orihime doesn’t care and she doesn’t.
He says it every time he looks at her.
Orihime wakes up one morning and just, she knows.
“Ichigo,” she says, and she rolls over, leans close and presses her lips to the side of his neck.
She reaches forwards, pulls one of his hands off the bed and clenches it tight around her stomach. She kisses him again, this time hard on the mouth. “There’s something growing inside me.”
“What?” he pulls himself up, shoots her a questioning glance. “Is it something to do with the fairies? Should I be worried?”
“No, stupid,” she says, “a baby.”
“It’s her wedding day, Ichigo, try and at least pretend to be happy.”
He grimaces at the mirror, at where Orihime lays sprawled on the bed, glowing and blissful and just so her.
“I’m losing a daughter to a jackass, what have I got to be happy about?”
“You’re not losing a daughter,” she whispers, pulls tired limbs off the bed and moves over to where he stands, tugging at his tie. “You’re gaining an asshole.”
He sighs again, watches as her nimble fingers dance across the fabric of his dress shirt.
“You can’t protect her forever,” she says, leans up to kiss him. “She needs to make her own bad decisions.”
Ichigo wanders over to the sofa in the corner, leans down and stretches out over it, pulls Orihime down with him and kisses her forehead. “She doesn’t need to get married,” he says. “We never got married.”
“She’s not us,” Orihime whispers, but she’s smiling, a tight little thing that tugs at the corners of her mouth.
“No, she’s both of us. We made her.”
Orihime doesn’t reply, but she moves in closer, presses tight against him and let’s loose a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding in.
“Do you…” he starts, and he hesitates, stumbles over the words. “Do you ever regret us not getting married?”
Her smile, he doesn’t see it, but he knows it’s there, can feel it and he knows it’s more natural, pulling broader and wider than before.
“We didn’t need to.”
Orihime dies on a windy day in early August. She’s fifty-four years old and people will say for decades that she died too young.
Ichigo wouldn’t know, he dies three days after her.