Bleach Fan Fiction ❯ Not Crying ❯ One-Shot
Disclaimer: I don’t own Bleach or the characters of Inoue Orihime and Kuchiki Rukia.
Warning: This story contains mild spoilers for post-Soul Society chapters. It takes place just before chapter 230. Introspection, barest plot, no yuri (for those who were hoping).
"Even if you’re not walking the same path, having friends is a good thing."~Ukitake, chapter 230:04
Orihime was sitting up straight. Her hair wasn’t wet yet, and she was wondering if she should bother washing it. Untangling strands and having to comb little leaves out of her thick hair would take time, and she was exhausted and ready for bed after the day’s training.
"I’ve always wanted …" Rukia’s tone was not solemn, but the words made Orihime’s heart a little scared. "I’ve always wanted to tell you something."
"Hmmm?" Orihime tried to sound casual. She could not read Rukia’s expression because the sun was setting in Soul Society. Rukia’s head was a black silhouette against bright orange clouds. The orange made Orihime think of ….
"I’ve always want to say thank you." Rukia sank to her neck in the water and lay back her head, wetting her hair and ears. Ripples from the gesture spread in the pool.
"Thank you?" Orihime felt a tiny relief that this wasn’t about Kurosaki-kun. "What do you have to thank me for?"
"I never thanked you for coming to Soul Society to save me. I’ve always wanted to thank the others too--Chad, Ishida, Ichigo--but you know how males are when you try to express sincere emotions." Rukia laughed a throaty little laugh. "Especially Ichigo."
Orihime smiled without gladness. What sincere emotions had Kuchiki-san tried to express to Kurosaki-kun?
Becoming friends with Rukia this past month had been so different from how Orihime had gotten to know Tatsuki. Tatsuki and Orihime had bonded as children; there had been no rivalry. As hard as she tried to squelch her baser emotions, Orihime could not help but feel a nagging envy of her Shinigami friend.
Look at her. A vision of loveliness in the forest pool. Black hair floating like a halo around her small, perfect face. Divine. Of course, the "divine" part only made sense, Orihime reasoned, because Shinigami weren’t mortal. Technically, Orihime was composed of spirit whenever in Soul Society and not mortal either, but Kuchiki Rukia transcended spiritedness; she was nobility and deity and tiny-waisted grace and strong-voiced courage and a shining inspiration to all the men, dead or alive, who had fallen over themselves to rescue her.
"Ugh. My fingers are pruning." Rukia sat up and held her palm before her face. "We haven’t been in here that long, have we? I was ready to fall asleep and float away like a dead stick or something."
The girls bathed in the forests outside the Seireitei because Rukia claimed that bathing in the Kuchiki household was an ordeal. Her Nii-sama had peculiar affectations--ones unknown to other nobles--of providing fragrances and salts and colored soaps in the bathrooms. Servants attended bathers with drinks and meals, and Rukia insisted that a quick dip in a algae-filled pond was an infinitely less messy and tedious experience.
"It’s hard for me to keep track of time here," said Orihime. "Time seems a little different from the Living World. The moon is a little bigger. Nights seem longer and more important--even when I sleep right through them."
Rukia stood up and summoned an sphere of white light between her palms. The heat dried her wet body. "Anyway," she said. "Thank you for helping to rescue me. You took risks you didn’t have to."
Orihime stared at Rukia’s illuminated skin.
Are you in love with Kurosaki-kun? Do you have any idea how much he cares for you? Orihime had been wanting to ask Rukia those questions all week.
Does he belong with you because you’re both Shinigami? Orihime had never fully understood the concept of people belonging together. She knew love as a feeling owned by her own heart, not shared. Love had been shared with Onii-chan, but he was gone now. Families belonged with one another. Didn’t friends?
It wasn’t clear anymore where anyone belonged. After all, here was Orihime, a living person, hanging around in the Realm of the Dead. Heaven and Earth seemed to be mixing up.
Rukia put on her black robes, and Orihime dressed in her school uniform.
"I didn’t help much with the rescue," Orihime said as they sped toward the Kuchiki house. "I just got in the way most of the time. I’m the one who should be thanking you. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be getting so strong here. I wouldn’t be able to help in the upcoming war--"
"Shut up," Rukia laughed and took Orihime’s hand. She pulled the girl in a brisk shunpou through a grassy plain and over the Seireitei East Gate. "You said you were going to stop ragging on yourself. Attitude, Orihime. Without believing in yourself, you can’t maintain a fighter’s attitude, you know."
That was the problem. Orihime knew she didn’t have a fighter’s attitude. If she tended to knock herself down too much, how could she knock down an opponent? Comparing herself to others made her feel small. She admired everyone. Not just feisty-spirited-awesome Kuchiki-san but others who Urahara-san had deemed competent for the winter war.
Take Sado-kun. Before the first trip to Soul Society, he had trained with unwavering resolve--never once yearning for chips or pocky or complaining about how sweat made his knee-socks itch (Oh that’s right, thought Orihime. He doesn’t wear knee-socks, but surely something of his itched and still, he kept right on sweating without complaint). Often Orihime had asked Yoruichi if it was snack-time yet, and her black furry sensei had frowned.
Or do cats look like they’re frowning all the time? Am I reading too much into things?
Maybe Orihime shouldn’t be bothering to train now, period. Was Kuchiki-san over-estimating her? How about when Orihime had been roaming Soul Society with Ishida-kun? All Orihime had managed in those few days was to get Tsubaki injured. Ishida-kun had been so sharp and cool in evaluating every situation, taking no unnecessary risks. And what was he doing now? His powers were gone, so perhaps--properly assessing himself--he had graciously stepped aside?
I depend on other people too much. I need to depend on myself.
Friends depending on one another… Kurosaki-kun always doing the right thing come hellfire or blinding rain… He shouldn’t have to go it alone, but Orihime didn’t think that she could--
Rukia snapped her fingers in front of Orihime’s eyes. "STOP IT."
The girls were standing outside the Kuchiki house under a glistening quarter-moon.
"You’re doing it again," Rukia said. "You’re tired and worrying."
Orihime squinted, rubbed her temples, and tried to think of anything except how much she wanted to help Kurosaki-kun. Then she said a rude thing: "Kuchiki-san? I’m starving."
"Oh, I forgot!" Rukia took Orihime by the hand. "I’m sure we can find something in the kitchen. I’m so sorry. I forgot that you were human and needed to eat!"
The truth was that Orihime, being spirit, didn’t need to eat, but like all beings in Soul Society gifted with special reiatsu, Orihime craved food. She wasn’t used to foregoing meals like training Shinigami.
I need to be needed. In the empty and elegant Kuchiki dining room, after Rukia had gone to bed, Orihime ate pickles and rice balls in ravenous bites. Is it selfish of me to want to be someone who helps Kurosaki-kun?
Needing to be needed felt wrong. Eating food she didn’t need to eat felt wrong.
The cold food tasted delicious, though. Sweet and sour sang happy melodies on her tongue.
Rukia lay in the dark and looked at her past.
She had learned what true imprisonment was. The knowledge had come as gradually to her as the re-use of her zanpakutou. Imprisonment was not locked doors and restrained arms and a reiatsu-killing collar around her neck; it was the absence of hope.
I didn’t believe in myself in that tower. Damn it, I didn’t believe in Renji or Ichigo. And how was I supposed to believe that people who barely knew me, human classmates, would come to Soul Society because they believed in Ichigo?
Rukia didn’t know what it would take for Orihime to believe in herself. How could a girl who had such passionate admiration and faith in others be insecure?
Others in Soul Society saw a sunny, optimistic girl who picked flowers, slurped noodles, shot her offensive projectile with power and accuracy, and always had a kind word for everyone. Rukia wasn’t fooled, though.
She’s running away from her self-doubt with goofy fantasies and giggles. Not that she isn’t an amazingly upbeat person, but she doesn’t know herself. Not really. She’s scared to look inside herself. I was like that with my loud-mouthed confidence and telling everybody what to do. I didn’t want to see how …
Rukia turned to her side and curled her knees to her chest.
How much other people could care.
Ha. When I didn’t believe in Ichigo, Orihime did. She thinks there’s nothing Ichigo can’t do, and maybe she’s right.
Maybe she’s right.
When Orihime came to the room, Rukia was asleep, bare-legged in a light kimono, in the fetal position on the cover of her futon. Orihime’s futon was in a roll against the wall, and for a moment, Orihime considered putting her own blanket on top of Rukia so the little Shinigami wouldn’t be cold.
Then Orihime thought of something else. It would be a rude gesture. It would be a presumptuous, over-familiar one.
Orihime did it anyway.
Orihime wrapped her arms and her blanket around Rukia’s shoulders. People didn’t hug enough. Maybe it wasn’t right to impose a hug on an unconscious person, but wouldn’t she have healed an injured but unconscious person?
You were so tired. You fell asleep before you could cover yourself, you were that tired.
Sometimes before Orihime fell asleep, either in the Living World or in Soul Society, vague memories of Onii-chan stirred. Maybe she was thinking of him more lately because of Kuchiki-san’s odd and formal relationship with her Onii-sama? Orihime’s brother had always been loving, so physically affectionate, but the very idea of Rukia’s brother giving his sister so much as a light kiss on the forehead was … absurd to the point of being unthinkable.
Why so much distance between people? A distance like the one between Heaven and Earth.
Orihime breathed into Rukia’s hair.
Sometimes Orihime’s longing for physical connection filled her chest with grief and her eyes with tears. Tonight she was aware of the same longing but also of the fact that she was not crying.
So many nights she had wondered if tears, like rain, were what connected Heaven and Earth. So many nights she had wondered why she had to feel this pain and loneliness at all.
He loves Rukia.
Orihime’s last thought (although she would forget it later) comforted her: Kurosaki-kun isn’t the only one who needs me. Other people need me too. If I can help one of them, any of them, in the littlest of ways, it is enough.
Thank you to Finnigan Geist for encouraging my writing and catching my typos and amusing the hell out of me.