Disclaimer: I make no claims of ownership regarding any of the characters, ideas, situations, etc., of Bleach (in this case, Ishida and Orihime). This fic is written for personal enjoyment, not for personal (financial) gain. Rock solid.

Happy Holidays

At night the world seemed even colder, Ishida thought. He cupped his hands together, pressing them to his mouth and blowing gently across the knuckles. Rubbing his hands in quick flexing circles, he tapped his feet on the cement, one and then the other; the noise was crisp and somehow hollow, resounding back off the flat, featureless faces of the buildings lining either side of the road. Ishida dropped his hands, tugging at his all-together-too-thin coat's sleeve to check the hands on his watch. Cold bit at his wrist and he stretched the cuff back into place.

The street was empty, lights turned out and doors closed for the settling of night. He wondered, not entirely comfortably, why it was waiting made his limbs feel unsettled, as if unable to remain still; he ignored with some great dignity the recognition that it was not waiting in particular he found anxiety-inducing but the precise identity of who he found himself waiting for at (nearly) midnight outside a gloomy little pawn shop. He massaged his hands again, exhaling a wisping stream of warm mist, and decided he would wait the thirty-two seconds left 'til twelve.

It was, of course, thirty-nine seconds later when Orihime rounded the corner and found Ishida adjusting his coat cuffs, glasses gleaming under the streetlights.

"Ishida!" She waved a hand in exuberant, sweeping gestures, a bright sleepy late-night smile curving her mouth.

Ishida started and dropped his hands. A small smile turned on his narrow face. "Hello, Inoue," he said, nodding his head as she jogged (nearly danced, her motions as effortless and youthfully light as she herself was) the small distance to him. She smiled up at him, wisps of ruddy hair curling around her face from the elaborate twist of hair piled atop her head. She smelled faintly of hair spray and scented candle smoke.

"Are you cold at all?" he asked, gesturing shortly at her long pale arms showing from the short sleeves of her uniform.

Orihime beamed in her brightly colored waitress uniform and shivered happily. "Freezing," she said, a warm note of cheer wrapped around her voice. "But doesn't it feel good, Ishida!" Another delighted little shiver, her face shining white in the dark.

Ishida was already shedding his coat, busying himself with righting the sleeves and paying as little mind as possible to the nervous tightening in his chest.

She blinked at him as he turned to tuck the coat over her shoulders, his face averted from hers and focused awkwardly on the spot of chipped cement by the heel of her left pump. A sweeter expression crossed Orihime's face, and then she stepped back to wriggle her arms through the sleeves. An inch or two of cloth exceeded her fingertips and she wobbled her arms at Ishida. "I'm a win-ter ca-ter-pil-lar," she sang, wrinkling her face into a comically serious grimace.

The corner of Ishida's mouth turned up and he adjusted his glasses to hide the red on his cheeks. "You need to remember to bring a coat to work with you," he chided without much sharpness.

Orihime wrapped the coat over her front. "But then I can't feel the snow," she protested. She lifted her palms, hidden by the long sleeves, as if to catch nonexistent snowflakes.

"It isn't snowing, Inoue," Ishida said. He brushed an imaginary spot of dirt from the coat, grazing the curve of her shoulder, and began walking toward the car. Her heels thumped the pavement as she followed, a double-sound to his single.

"Shh," Orihime scolded, popping open the passenger door. "You'll jinx it." She wiggled into the seat and drew the seatbelt over her chest as Ishida turned the key in the ignition, closing the door at his side.

The apartment complex Ishida made his home at shone a few scattered lights out to the street; his own was dark. He flipped the hall light on at the front door of his apartment, tossing the keys into a small bowl on a table inside the door. Orihime slipped out of her pumps and wriggled her toes with a hummed note of contentment.

Ishida nudged the door shut and bent over to tug off his own shoes. "There ought to be hot water left," he said, dropping his shoes onto the mat and straightening. "If you would like to take a shower," he added. He busied himself looking elsewhere; particularly anywhere Orihime was not.

"Thank you!" she cheered. He heard rather than saw her peel off his coat and settle it on the hook on back of the door. "I'll be as quick as rain, cross my heart."

He watched her walk (dance, really; lifting herself easily through the air as if floating) off to the bathroom, red-brown hair shining under the lights as she turned the corner, vanished through the bathroom door. Ishida felt a small smile round his mouth and then he rubbed his palms together, ducking to straighten her discarded shoes.

The sound of running water trickled out into his apartment as he moved into the spare (no, he reminded himself with a flush and sharp tightness throughout his body; Orihime's, for now, until she found her own place to stay and left him, alone again) bedroom. He brushed through the drawers as he had in the past when she asked him, tone blithe and smile innocent: her checkered blue-white pajamas; practical undergarments he refused to look at and lifted with pinched fingertips; gathering them neatly in his arms and knocking shut the drawers with his hip as he headed out into the hall again.

Ishida rapped his knuckles gently on the bathroom door. He cleared his throat. "Inoue? I've brought a change of clothes for, um, after your shower." His voice faded and he coughed. It was a moment before the door cracked open and a slick hand emerged, flopping vaguely about for the bundle of clothing.

"Thanks, Ishida," she said through the door, wedging the clothes carefully into the bathroom.

"Of course, Inoue." He nearly bowed, he was so discomfited, but managed to catch himself before he could wound his own pride facing that closed door and the sound of running water. Pretending he wasn't turning an even deeper red by the moment, Ishida retreated to his couch with a book to nurse to his dignity and keep his mind busy.

He had no intention of drifting into a light doze, book lowered to his chest and neck turned at what would inevitably be an awkward angle; but did, legs stretched out and glasses nudged down his nose. Sometime there in the lull of a light sleep, a warm, damp weight settled on the opposing end of the couch. A floral scent and the cushions shifting crossed his consciousness. He opened his eyes to the ceiling and lifted up on his elbows.

"Look out the window," Orihime said in a soft whisper. She smiled, skin a bright pink from scrubbing, hair a natural halo of long auburn hair shining around her shoulders. She traced patterns on the checkers over her knees, drawn to her breasts, and rested her head on the back of the couch.

Ishida checked his glasses and turned, craning a bleary look out the window where ghostly traces of white brushed against the glass.

"See?" she said, happily. "Now it's snowing." He watched the snow twirling down in silent pale arcs, and then the couch shifted, again, beneath him. Orihime wrapped her arms around his shoulders and brushed her warm, shower-damp mouth against his cheek. "See?" she said again, just as happy. He thought, perhaps, he did.