Take Me Out

So if you're lonely
You know I'm here waiting for you
I'm just a crosshair
I'm just a shot away from you

-Franz Ferdinand

Orihime stared at the window, the voices washing over her. Something didn't feel right. They were gathered in Urahara's shop, conducting a strategy session post-battle. Orihime came, even though she knew she had little to add. They invited her to make her feel useful. In any event, something was missing, and she couldn't figure out what. Everyone was here. They had all found each other after the battle. She scanned the room, anxiously. And then it hit her.

"Ishida-kun!" she shouted, standing up from her seat.

Everyone stared at her and she turned bright red.

"I was just thinking it was odd that Ishida-kun wasn't here. Surely he felt all the Arrancar; their power is amazing," Orihime stammered.

"I heard he was out of town. Something about his father," Ichigo said abruptly.

"Oh," Orihime said, slumping.

Kurosaki-kun was lying to her and she didn't know why. Why was Ishida-kun hiding? She sat down and continued staring out the window. Ichigo gave her one more look before returning his attention to the conversation at hand.

After the meeting, Orihime slipped her keys into Rangiku's hands.

"I'm going to go for a walk. I need some air," she said with a cheery wave. "You and Hitsugaya-kun should go on ahead without me."

"Oi, who said I was going anywhere with her?" Hitsugaya muttered.

Orihime ruffled his hair and walked off, not sure where she was headed. She walked almost unconsciously, one foot after the other, her body knowing the way, even if her mind did not. Not until she was a block away did she realize she was headed towards Ishida's apartment. She blushed at her audacity, but her stubborn feet continued, her knock firm on the door.

"Who is it?" Ishida asked.

The lie was confirmed. Oh, Kurosaki-kun, why?

"It's Orihime Inoue," she sang out.

There was a long pause.

"May I come in?" she asked.

There was another pause. Orihime could wait, but she was afraid he wouldn't open the door. She couldn't feel the Arrancar any more, but who knew what other beasties lurked in the dark? Slowly, the bolt was turned and the door opened a crack, the chain still attached.

"Good evening, Inoue-san. You shouldn't be out alone, it's rather late," Ishida said quietly, echoing her thoughts.

"I had to run a last minute errand and I was in the neighborhood, so I thought that I would stop by and see how you were doing! I haven't seen you in school lately," Orihime said, leaning her face towards the small opening, peering up at Ishida.

"I haven't been feeling well," Ishida said stiffly, his face bright red.

Orihime nodded.

"You look a bit feverish. I can come in and make you some tea," Orihime offered, desperately trying to get in. "I have this special recipe—satsumas, eels and miso. If you add tofu, it makes a lovely soup."

"I'm not quite that ill," Ishida said, smiling slightly.

Orihime continued smiling and Ishida sighed.

"Very well, if you wish to come in so much," he said as he opened the door.

Orihime clapped her hands and launched herself at Ishida, her hands pressed against his cheeks.

"You are heated! Do you want me to get you a wet cloth? Germs hate being wet—they can't swim, so wet cloths are the best thing when you're sick!" Orihime said.

Ishida looked as if he were going to sink into the floor. Perhaps she was trying a little too hard? Perhaps Ishida had a good reason to be alone. But it made her sad to see her new friend hiding like this. She dropped her hands.

"The Arrancar have showed up, Ishida-kun. They're terribly strong. They're so strong, the shinigami have come from Soul Society to monitor them," Orihime said as she entered.

"I know," Ishida said, following her.

Orihime blinked.

"You do?" she asked, the wheels in her head turning.

Of course! That was why he was hiding. He didn't want to see Kuchiki-san. He was too shy, afraid of rejection, so he hid. Kuchiki-san would not let jilted lovers down gently. Or perhaps he did not want to stand between Kuchiki-san and Kurosaki-kun. Kuchiki-san could not help but fall in love with someone as susceptible to her will as Kurosaki-kun. Ishida knew this, so he stayed away, his love unrequited, but so noble. Oh, a love triangle! She loved love triangles. She sighed, clasping her hands to her chest. Her moment of revelation was only ruined by the sudden impact of Ishida's body against hers.

"I, I, I'm so sorry, Inoue-san. I didn't expect you to stop so suddenly," Ishida stammered.

"No, I must apologize, Ishida-kun. I didn't understand. Now, I have seen the light. I want to help you in any way possible. We are friends," Orihime said, turning around to face him, eager to communicate her pure intentions as fully as possible. "If there is anything, anything I can do, I will. I will not stand in the way of true love. I will help you!"

Ishida now turned an interesting mottle of red and purple. It almost looked like paisley. She grabbed his hands in hers.

"Have you ever had a girlfriend before?" she asked, her eyes bright with conviction.

"No," Ishida managed to sputter out.

This was his first love. Unbidden tears leaked from her eyes. He was a novice, unsure in the ways of wooing a woman. However, as Orihime knew, two were better than one in matters of the heart. Ishida-kun would surely win Kuchiki-san if Orhime were helping him. Never had she been blessed with such genius. She could bolster his confidence and perhaps, perhaps, she might make Kurosaki-kun jealous. She flushed at that thought. Such petty thoughts were beneath her. This was about Ishida-kun and his love!

Orhime leaned forward, brushing her lips softly against his. Ishida stiffened, his hands hanging limply in hers.

"Let's go on a date, Ishida-kun. Meet me tomorrow after school at the bubble tea café," Orihime said before dancing out of his apartment.

Ishida watched her retreating back with slack-jawed awe, ignoring the fierce hope that wormed its way into his heart.

Orihime sat at the table, anxiously sipping her taro milk bubble tea. Ishida-kun was never late, but she had been waiting for at least half an hour. Ishida-kun had returned to school, but he spoke to no one, ignoring them as he had done before. She glanced at her watch again, wondering if she should order another tea. She snuck a glance at the door and slurped the last bits of taro and tapioca.

"A pot of jasmine for me and whatever she wants," Ishida said as he slid into the seat before Orihime.

He placed his books on the table. Orhime leaned forward and grasped one of his hands in both of hers.

"I'm glad you're here," she said, smiling.

Ishida adjusted his glasses, shrugging.

"I was thirsty, so I thought it would be a good idea to have some tea," he mumbled.

Orihime nodded, not letting go of his hand. Ishida had to get used to this, showing affection in public. Girls liked that sort of thing. Although Kuchiki-san seemed to prefer shouting and fighting to canoodling. Orihime wrinkled her nose. Kuchiki-san would like holding Ishida's hand. He had lovely hands, slim and pale, with long, tapered fingers. They were callused, true, from archery and sewing, but that made them more interesting. Orihime brushed the tips of her fingers against his calluses. His one hand was still much bigger than hers—she needed two hands to hold his one. Ishida drummed the table with his other hand in a nervous staccato. Orihime frowned. They should be talking, that's what people did when they were on dates, right?

"Are you afraid of seeing Kuchiki-san?" Orihime asked.

She chastised herself silently. When would she learn to bite her tongue?

"In a way," Ishida said. "I, I made a promise."

Ishida-kun was so genteel, he was making promises to his beloved, at the cost of his own heart. Perhaps he felt that their love was not meant to be, because she was his sworn enemy, a shinigami? Orihime clutched Ishida's hand more tightly. He tried to pull back, but Orihime only clung tighter. He squeezed back.

"Yes, for something very dear to me, Inoue-san, I made a promise, even though it broke my heart to do so. I can't believe I'm saying this, but it's true," Ishida murmured.

He darted a glance behind him and rose suddenly.

"I should go. I must go. I just, I didn't want to leave you waiting, Inoue-san. I knew it would make you sad, so I came, but I must leave now," Ishida said, gathering his books.

"But your tea! You haven't even tasted it," Orhime cried, standing up.

"Don't worry about it, Inoue-san. I hope this is enough to cover the bill," Ishida said, leaving several bills on the table.

"Yes, I think, wait!" Orihime said, trying to wriggle her way out of her seat.

Ishida stalked off without another word.

Orihime stood by the archery shed, twisting a lock of her hair nervously. The familiar, dark head appeared out of the door and she smiled, standing in his path, her arms waving.

"Let's go see a movie, Ishida-kun!" she said, hopping up and down.

Silence was the only response from Ishida.

"I hear Kuchiki-san likes movies," Orihime continued lamely.

"Kuchiki-san?" Ishida asked, folding his gloves carefully as he replaced them in his bag.

"Yes. So I thought perhaps you'd like to go see a movie too," she added, nudging Ishida in the ribs.

Ishida remained silent.

"Well, I'd like to see Nana," she said. "I love Ai Yazawa."

Ishida began sparkling.

"I've wanted to reproduce her outfits. That competition dress in Parakiss is magnificent. I dreamt about it for a week when it first debuted. Yazawa-sensei has such a dashing sense of style!" he said, sakura petals suddenly swirling around him.

"Good, it's playing in the theater in Shinjuku in an hour. If we hop on the train, we'll make it," Orihime said as she clapped her hands.

Ishida followed her, walking in a cloud of sparkles and sakura petals. She had not seen such a spring in Ishida's step since the Vogue pattern catalog arrived last spring. Orihime was glad—things were starting to look up.

The movie theater was fairly empty for a Saturday. They managed to find center seats with no problem. Ishida was rapt from the first scene, clucking under his breath at the various changes in costume, noting other actors that would have been more appropriate.

"Shin, how could they pick an ugly Shin?" he asked.

However, something was not quite right. There was a reason people went on dates in movie theaters. She looked around. Couples throughout the audience were in various stages of cuddling and making out. Ishida took no notice, still captivated by the movie. Orihime rested her head against his shoulder, lifting his arm so it was wrapped around her shoulders. Better, but not quite right. A movement from the corner of her eye caught her attention. Of course! She lifted Ishida's hand and placed it firmly on top of her breast. His hand automatically cupped it and she gave him a pat on the knee. She could not help feeling a tiny bit smug. He was such a fast learner.

"Inoue-san?" Ishida asked in a quiet, choked voice.

"Yes, Ishida-kun?"

"What am I holding?" he asked calmly.

"My breast," she whispered in his ear.

Ishida squeaked and bolted up in his seat, keeping as many inches between him and Orihime as possible.

"Oi, if you can't handle the heat, maybe someone else will be man enough to step up to the plate. Otherwise, shut up!" an audience member shouted.

Orihime sighed. For the rest of the movie, Ishida refused to even look at Orihime. The moment the credits started rolling, he mumbled his goodbyes and ran out of the theater. The movie had not gone quite as she hoped.

After the sewing club meeting, the officers stayed behind to update the year's scheduled contests and events. There was discussion of a possible sale to raise money for a trip to a costuming convention in Osaka. As the post-meeting meeting wrapped up, the three officers gathered their books and prepared to leave.

"So is anyone hungry? I heard there is a great Indian buffet that just opened up," Orihime said looking at the two other officers.

Ishida tried running out, but Orihime had wisely stood in front of the only exit. They were only three stories up, but tongues would wag if Ishida took a dive. Diving out of windows was more Kurosaki-kun's style. One never knew with boys, there was something about being in high school. Sansam-kun's presence was not an obstacle. No, group dates were also a crucial part of the love lives of Japanese teenagers. Truthfully, Orihime could not imagine Kuchiki-san without Kurosaki-kun. So she merely planned for the inevitable. Her foresight amazed even her at times.

"Well, I'd love to, but I'm on dinner duty tonight and I've got little brothers and sisters waiting at home," the third officer said. "I'll have to take a rain check. You guys should still go."

"It's okay, Sansam-kun! We'll go another time then," Orihime said, waving at the retreating back of the third officer.

"Well, Ishida-kun, I think it's a date!" she said as she swung her bag.

Ishida followed Orihime, his face a picture of stoic calm.

Orihime leaned back with a sigh. Dirty plates covered the table. She was on her tenth plate—kheer, saag paneer, vindaloo, mango chutney, raita, salad, corn and sliced oranges all mixed together in one glorious mess. She happily dug in. Ishida had been lingering over his plate, fastidiously dipping the nan in the curry and licking his fingers clean, trying not to watch Orihime too closely. The waiters were hovering, amazed at Orihime's appetite, giving Ishida jealous looks.

"That was perfect," Orihime said.

"Were you very hungry, Inoue-san?" Ishida asked; his plate now spotless.

"A little. I skipped lunch today. I may have gone a little overboard," Orihime fluttered, looking down as the blush crept on her face.

"Oh, no, you should eat. If you don't eat it, they just throw it out," Ishida said, waving his hands.

The waiters frowned.

"Well, you know, if a growing girl doesn't get the proper nutrition, she'll grow up to be stunted. Look at Kuchiki-san. You don't want to look like her, although you don't really, so I suppose that's a sign that you should be eating," Ishida continued, darting nervous glances at the door.

The waiters brought a dish of gold-leafed cookies. Orihime started nibbling on one of them absently. Ishida picked one up, rubbing it between his fingers, the flakes of gold come off onto his skin.

"Is it really gold?" Orihime asked, looking down at her half-eaten cookie.

Flakes of gold lingered on her lips. Ishida rubbed his lip with his finger. Orihime blinked and finished her cookie. Ishida rubbed his lip again.

"You have…," the two of them said, reaching across the table, their thumbs brushing against the other's bottom lip.

"I like gold leaf," Ishida said as he withdrew his thumb, licking the leaf off.

Orihime watched, forgetting everything but Ishida's cool voice and the movement of his tongue against his thumb, the flecks of gold stark against the pink.

Orihime sat in her room, brushing her hair. Her plan to help Ishida was not going quite as she had expected. Ishida's reluctance was unsurprising. Something was wrong with her. Since their date at the Indian buffet, she had gone to Ishida's apartment a few times, but each time, she was greeted with silence. Ishida was also suspiciously absent from school. He was avoiding her. She was sure of it. Perhaps it was better this way. If she saw him, he would simply readjust his glasses and speak in that calm, quiet voice, cutting apart whatever explanation or excuse she had ready. She stared at the mirror, her hand moving mechanically.

"What's wrong, Orihime?" Rangiku asked as she walked into Orihime's room.

"Nothing's wrong, Rangiku-san," Orihime said, slipping the brush through her hair.

"You've been quiet these past few days. Even Captain's noticed, and when he's noticed, you know that something's up," Rangiku said, taking the brush from Orihime's hands.

Rangiku began brushing Orihime's hair and hummed softly.

"You can tell me what's wrong," she murmured.

"Well, it's silly, I'm always being silly in front of you, Rangiku-san," Orihime said, looking down at her hands.

"You're never silly, Orihime. No, that's not true. You're silly when you won't talk to me," Rangiku said, moving the brush in a soothing rhythm.

"Well, I was worried about Ishida-kun, and he's my friend, so I thought I would help him," Orihime said.

"Ah, the Quincy," Rangiku said.

"Yes, that's him. And I thought he liked Kuchiki-san and that he was too shy to tell her. So I wanted to help him practice with girls," Orihime continued. "But when I met with him in the café, I forgot about Kuchiki-san. And then I forgot at the movie. And dinner, I forgot at dinner! All I could think of was how nice Ishida-kun was. And how his hand fit so well in mine. He has a nice shoulder. And then the cookies. He likes gold leaf."

Orihime turned bright red at those words and fell silent for a few moments.

"Hmm," Rangiku said; the brushing becoming almost hypnotic.

"But he likes Kuchiki-san and I like Kurosaki-kun, so how could I think such things? And Ishida-kun knows. That's why he's staying away. Because he could see my treacherous thoughts," Orihime said, twisting suddenly to look Rangiku in the eyes. "Am I such a horrible person? That I could think of Ishida-kun like that? When Kurosaki-kun was supposed to be my number one?"

"Of course not, Orihime," Rangiku said. "But the heart is a treacherous organ. If only we could keep it in its place. Alas, it has that alarming tendency to jump about. So what will you do?"

Orihime stood up suddenly.

"Find him and tell him how I feel and apologize!" she shouted, running out of the apartment.

Rangiku shook her head and placed the brush back on the dresser.

Orihime banged on the door double-time with both fists.

"I know you're in there, Ishida-kun! Please let me in," she said, trying to keep the pleading out of her voice.

She was answered with silence.

"If you don't let me in, I will summon a bear and he will huff and puff and blow your house down!" Orihime shouted, the desperation showing through.

The door swung open suddenly and Orihime fell in a heap before Ishida.

"A wolf, Inoue-san, it was a wolf in the story," Ishida said. "Please, come in before you rouse the neighbors."

Orihime blushed and followed Ishida into his apartment.

"I had something I wanted to tell you and it couldn't wait. You haven't been in school, so I didn't know how else I could tell you," Orihime said, the words bubbling out of her.

"Well, you're here now. You can tell me," Ishida said.

Orihime wondered why he was being so rude, neither offering seat nor tea. Did he hate her so much?

"I wanted to help you with Kuchiki-san, and that was my intention at first—pure and good. But then, my mind became a villain in a drama, and I strayed from my plan. I thought not of Kuchiki-san and your love, but you. I thought of your hands, and your calm voice and your smile. I'm sorry, Ishida-kun. I have failed you," Orihime said, stammering at first, but her voice growing calmer, more sure.

Ishida stopped and adjusted his glasses. He looked down at her, his eyes locking with hers.

"Is that what you came to say, Inoue-san?" Ishida asked, a mocking tone creeping into his voice.

"You can laugh at me, if you want. I deserve it," Orihime said, squeezing her eyes shut.

"Silly Inoue-san," Ishida murmured before leaning forward to kiss her.

Orihime opened her mouth in surprise. Ishida wrapped his arms around her, allowing the kiss to go longer and deeper. She leaned against him, her breasts moving against his chest. His arms tightened around her and she sighed, pulling away slightly.

"But her dress was so cute! I was so sure," Orihime whispered, covered in confusion.

"Your shirt was cuter, Inoue-san, I made sure of it," Ishida whispered.

Ishida lowered his lips again and Orihime raised hers. There were no further words after that.