Genre: Future!fic, shipfic, introspective
Warnings: Mentions of character deaths
Summary: Together, they would hope, and they would never fear anything again.
Disclaimer: Fortunately for everyone involved, I own nothing.
A/N: Another one of those 'I've shipped this forever, but never bothered to actually write it before' fics.
Dusk was just barely beginning to color the room purple, but Orihime was already asleep. She was lovely, that much was self evident. Back in high school, Uryuu recalled, even the boys who didn’t know her name had traced her figure with their eyes, all the girls watching on like vipers. They coveted that– the ripened swell of her breasts, the smile on her lips, the way her hips swayed in circles when she walked. They mentally reduced her to nothing; she was just another pretty air head to be fancied but never truly considered, the owner of a pointless existence. They were blind.
And who among them would have thought that these two could be so strong? Yes, the air head and the four-eyes: a sideshow to be pondered and summarily dismissed. So very few had ever seen them for what they really were. (Not that it mattered; Uryuu had already given up his desire to impress, and Orihime had never had such a thing in the first place.)
It was, he supposed, acceptable that they should slide out of sight and out of mind, only to have their memories revived occasionally as a subject of curiosity and gossip. They were two of the top students in their class, even in the whole school, the two who had always floated on cotton candy clouds over the tests that led others to despair. But they were not going to go to
college; in fact, they had barely even managed to graduate. Aizen had been like a hungry wolf, eating up most of their time and filling what measly scraps were left with exhaustion and fear. They had done their best; they felt they could hardly be asked anything beyond that. Even for Uryuu, former king of test-taking, the chance of passing the college entrance exams was as
remote as another galaxy.
So be it. They went to work at the only jobs they could find: the great unloved kingdom of minimum wage, refuge of dropouts and burnouts and nobodies like themselves. They worked two jobs apiece, full-time, and they hoarded every yen like beggars. Even Orihime, queen of daydreams, now had to forget about building castles in the sky; like every other living thing, humans needed to work from the ground up. And wasn’t it strange to think that the guys who had admired her every move in school would most likely not even spare her second glance now; to them, she would be just another failure of a person, left to forever wash dishes and refill bathroom soap dispensers.
People like that would never know that beauty was strength. Beauty was not the way she lay, unaware and pale; no, beauty was the fact that she would get up the next morning and do it all over again, without hesitation or complaint. (And Uryuu had to count himself guilty here too, because he had always imagined her to be the sort of soft, yielding person who gave up too
easily. Well, she was soft, soft of heart and soft of word, but like shoots of spring growth, she bent without breaking. She might not be forceful, but neither was she brittle.) Beauty was the little lacy collar of her nightgown, which she wore like a princess despite them fact she had dug it out of the discount bin of a store that was having its going-out-of-business sale.
One morning, Orihime told him about a coworker of hers, a man named Takeshi who lived in perennial misery. ‘He says he thinks about killing himself all the time,’ she said, ‘Because he earns so little that his wife left him, so now all the neighbors gossip about how he’s a bad husband and a bad father.’ Shame had a way of clinging to people like shackles around their legs. But Uryuu had coworkers too, and all he could think of was the old man who was still working well into his eighties because he had never managed to save enough for retirement. ‘Next time someone gives you that condescending look,’ he had advised Uryuu one day, ‘Piss in their mail box. People like that can’t stand even a little bit of trouble.’ And even if he wasn’t really
planning on taking that advice any time soon, the moral was the same. He held his head high now and resolved not to care if he were invisible or what people thought when they did notice him.(Oh, what folly it was to worry about the whims of people, especially when you were one of the very few among the living who knew where Hollows came from.)
And he endeavored to learn that resilience and flexibility that had come naturally to Orihime. He thought of the lilac, ever hopeful, ever climbing upward; he thought of bunches of purple blossoms and heavenly fragrance, of making use of the long-awaited springtime. The flower that banished unkind ghosts, that waited patiently from one summer to another, making do through the long winter beneath only thin twigs of wood.... He wanted to be like that too.
They had nobody to help them now, no one to save them or stop them from falling. Oh, they had their friends of course; Chad had extra space and had offered multiple times to let them stay with him free of charge. They refused. If it was worth having, it was worth having without owing to anyone else. They were poor, but they had resolved not to be desperate. If they no
longer feared the kings of Hollows, there was no point in fearing anything else either. And it was true that the day Uryuu went to see his father and tell him he didn’t want his money was the first time in long time he felt like he had breathed out. No, from the look on Ryuuken’s face, he was beginning to think that it was the first time either of them breathed out. All he had said was, ‘So be it,’ for once speaking without his usual snide tone. Those words had become a sort of mantra for Uryuu now, and kept on thinking, So be it, so be it.
And he, the son of a genius doctor and a genius himself, had to work to force down his pride now. (Always be polite, even when others are rude, because rudeness could cost you your job; never be above any task; like Orihime and the greenery, bend, bend forever and onward without being hurt– that’s a better kind of honor anyway.) How he now regretted his former air of superiority– once he had actually taken the time to look at it, it was only the end product of the fear and hatred inherent in being the last Quincy anyway. At that rate, he would have gone on forever without daring to tell Orihime he loved her for fear of embarrassment.
There was something intimidating about the hugeness and denseness of this part of the city, the rows and rows of sky scrapers like needles, or teeth of steel and glass. From the way they loomed outside the window, glaringly reflective in the daytime and covered with lights at night, it sometimes felt like this tiny apartment– even sharing one futon, they seemed to have a few centimeters of empty space in the whole room– was the one sanctuary of humanity in a world of metal and pavement. But whenever he caught himself thinking like that, Uryuu just laughed. Orihime had been held captive in a place that really was without life; this city was child’s play in comparison. And most importantly, she had won. In all of her soft humanness, Orihime was stronger than the desert; souls were stronger than those who feast on them; spunky red-haired girls were stronger than the Espada. (And maybe, just maybe, gods were not born but rather made....)
They accepted everything as if it were meant for them. Their first week living in the cramped little room, Orihime took a pair of scissors to all the old clothes she had outgrown, and the two of them sewed curtains and wall hangings to cover up the drabness of the walls. Orihime brought home empty sake bottles from the restaurant she worked at, and they filled them with
pebbles, carefully dried flowers, tiny origami cranes made from candy wrappers. They had found space for a small carp in a mega-size clear plastic juice cup. A fat gray pigeon had decided to build a scrap paper nest on the ledge outside the window, and Orihime named it Aiko– ‘little loved one’-- and fed it the scraps of her dinner. (And even though that was food that might be
put to better use, Uryuu never thought of trying to stop her; she liked the pigeon, even if it was a rat on wings.)
Orihime used to be a girl who cried all the time; she cried if she watched a sad movie or if she scraped her knee (which was often). She cried especially when Tatsuki wasn’t there to protect her and the girls who didn’t like her beat her up. Now, she only ever cried on Sundays, the one day of the week when she had some free time. She would look out the window without saying much of anything, and often she would end up with tears streaming silently down her cheeks. From the sad little smile she always had on her face then, Uryuu knew she wasn’t crying for herself; she had been through more than most people knew, and had presumably shed all the tears she could shed on her own behalf a long time ago. No, he was quite sure that now she cried for Yamamoto, for Ukitake, for Kira; she probably cried for the Espada, and Tousen and Ichimaru, and even for Aizen too. Uryuu knew better than to try to dry her tears; eventually he had reached the conclusion that knowing that you were alive while others had died was part of what made her so determined. So he let it be. (And so be it.)
So he had faith– that they would not break, that the money they had hidden away would eventually be enough, that the lilac would bloom. No, for the smell of her skin, the remembrance of her hand in his, the warmth of two people trying to sleep on a too-small mattress, he had more than faith. This small place was the shrine of beauty and strength. And so it was.