Dragons versus Dragonflies

by debbiechan

Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach or its characters, but sometimes I feel like Ishida and Orihime belong more to my own imagination that to one another. Hence, this fic. .

Description: Are Ishida and Orihime breaking up?

Warnings: Mild references to sex, WAFF.

Ishida was annoyed with Orihime. Orihime was angry with her husband. Tiny irritants--as innocent as cookie crumbs at first--had started to accumulate in the proverbial bed of bliss.

Take, for example, what occurred in the pair's literal bed one evening: Orihime had been bouncing her rear on the foot of the mattress as she combed her hair. Having learned long ago that frequent brushing was essential to maintaining shiny long hair but also having decided that counting brushstrokes was just too boring, Orihime sang Funiculi, Funicula (the same verse about "hark the soft guitar") exactly ten times before going to bed every night.

For months Ishida had found the ritual enchanting, but now, on the frequent occasions that he would come home after a long library cram session in anticipation of some important anatomy practical exam, Orihime's singing was just plain … grating.

"Please," he had dared to ask for the very first time that night. "Would you sing more quietly? My brain can't take music right now. For some reason, it--it bothers me."

In an attempt to relax the over-serious Ishida she called "Poopy-san," Orihime had only sung louder:

Ah me! 'Tis strange that some should take to sighing,
And like it well! And like it well!
For me, I have not thought it worth the trying,
So cannot tell! So cannot tell!

The sharp "please stop!" and deep frown on the Quincy's face had hurt Orihime's feelings, even as she whispered an apology.

Misunderstandings were frequent with Orihime; all in her circle knew that. The girl shot off sparks processing the world's information, and sometimes she made the most brilliant observations but sometimes she missed the point by the length of a light year.

The night of the interrupted Funiculi Funicula, Orihime had started to dwell on how different she and her Uryuu really were, and she decided that her scattered ways were cramping his beautifully logical, linear style. She decided to back off--a lot. She didn't smother him with kisses on impulse as she was passing his study desk. She didn't say "here, catch" and pitch oranges to him when returning from the market. She made love earnestly and often with him, but she no longer got up afterwards and pretended that the bed was a trampoline and if she landed on Uryuu whilst jumping he had to go to the hospital for "special boo-boo kisses."

Ishida didn't notice at first.

Then one day it annoyed him that she didn't stay home to annoy him but rather went out with a hoard of her male friends to a monster truck exhibition. It had never really bothered him before that Orihime flitted around with so many friends. He liked seeing her happy and relaxed, and he knew that while her mechanical engineering program was just as challenging as his biochemistry major, she wasn't committed to any particular vocation yet and needed to explore the world and its options. Maybe somewhere out there she found an escape from his own single-minded devotion to a future medical career.

Sitting alone in their apartment that evening, Ishida realized that this time she hadn't asked him to go. That was it. And now that he thought about it, she hadn't attempted to tickle him for some time. It wasn't just Funiculi, Funicula that was sung more quietly now, but the volume of something else had been lowered…. Her affection? His own importance to her happiness?

Then Ishida had put down his book and gone to the kitchenette only to find that Orihime had left out the mackerel stew and it was probably pathogenic by now and really, even though they took turns cooking, you didn't see him wasting food and finances, did you? And why was he the one who always did the laundry? (He had forgotten, of course, that he had insisted on doing it because sometimes Orihime brought home other people's clothes from the laundromat).

That night, smelling of pineapple beer and throwing her arms around her young husband, Orihime had sensed a palpable resistance in his shoulders. "I'm tired," he had said in a cold tone, and she knew that was true. Even though he was a Quincy and capable of drawing spiritrons from thin air to levitate to the top of the student union if he wanted to, there had been a tiredness of spirit in him lately. It wasn't just overwork, Orihime decided. The honeymoon was over, and she was at a loss on how to restore his enthusiasm for … her?

"Walk around naked," Tatsuki told Orihime over the phone.

"Actually," Orihime's voice was tiny and worried. "I used to do that quite a lot, but he got on my case about it."

"You're kidding."

"I answered the door once that way, and the bug exterminator man fainted."

As weeks passed, goodbye kisses between Orihime and Ishida became more infrequent, especially after Orihime took a juice-pouring job at a local spa and had to rise before dawn for work. Ishida didn't wake up until an hour later. Every morning, as pale light slanted through the blinds, Ishida would sit up, notice the absence of her body in the bed, and feel the high tide of an emptiness he had not felt for years.

Orihime, who was usually so sensitive, had no clue that her husband was missing her.

At last, sometime during the winter holiday season, before Orihime was preparing to pay a visit to Tatsuki's family back in Karakura and Ishida was set to attend a four-day symposium on global health issues, the Fight happened.

The couple had fought before, of course. Tiffs over whether the reception table centerpieces would be crepe paper dragonflies or Quincy crosses, over whether Orihime would be using the same public transportation to work as groping perverts, over whether Poopy-san would be attending the festival parade or staying home to sew. All disputes had been settled readily and with ease whenever Orihime stated her case (coherent or not) because Ishida simply melted to her will, always.

"He's not meltable lately," Orihime told Tatsuki.

She's not stating cases, thought Ishida.

The lack of disputation felt like a loss of intimacy to both of them, but since Orihime and Ishida had been going about his or her business without interference from the other, each expected to be happy. The disturbing feeling Orihime had was that her Uryuu didn't need her as much as he used to, and she needed to be needed. The disturbing suspicion Ishida had was that Orihime didn't need him as much as she used to, and maybe she might start (his mind always balked at the thought, but his heart felt it) needing someone else?

Add to the marriage that busy-ness and emotional detachment had reduced their sexual encounters by half since the semester started, and the stage was set: sexual frustration, if nothing else, was going to tear through the stage curtain.

"Here," Ishida said, handing Orihime a thick manila envelope as she readied to leave the apartment, "these are the catalogs I wanted Dr. Kurosaki to see." He watched her tuck the envelope under her arm. "Perhaps you should pack them inside your luggage so you don't lose them on the bus."

"They're only catalogs," she said. "He can find these things on the internet, can't he? Why are these so important?"

"I…" Ishida hated confronting his own neurosis. Orihime had chided him in the past about pushing all the latest medical technology and techniques on Kurosaki Clinic and its tiny staff. She said it was a little snobby of him to offer unsolicited advice on how to run a small town practice when he was only a medical student himself. "I earmarked pages with the best deals on simple equipment," Ishida said guiltily, "and circled items that I think will be indispensable for the neighborhood health clinic of the future."

"How thoughtful," said Orihime and smiled at him.

It struck Ishida that his own wife was being polite with him.

"If anyone makes an untoward remark at the bus station," he said, "remember what I said about looking fierce and unapproachable."

Orihime continued to smile. "Oh yes. If anyone says anything about my breasts, I will set Tsubaki upon him right away."

Ishida shifted his feet. "No need for violence."

Orihime set about gathering her gloves and scarf. "It really doesn't bother me, you know. These silly men are no threat to me, and the silly things they say about my being beautiful sometimes…." She pulled her long, shining hair out of the back of her coat. "Sometimes compliments make me feel appreciated."

Ishida felt stricken. Since when had his sweet, innocent Orihime started enjoying the attentions of degenerate flatterers? "What?" he asked. It was an expression of shock more than an actual question.

Orihime batted her lovely eyelashes in bewilderment. "What?"

The tension between Ishida and Orihime rang as if someone had plucked on an invisible wire between them. The off-note continued to resound through the small room. The young woman in the coat and scarf and the young man standing in thermal underwear both looked as uncomfortable as they felt.

It was Orihime who broke the silence. "I'm already late!" She gave Ishida a quick hug and a wet kiss and said, "I'll miss you." He thought, No you won't. Then she headed for the door and Ishida noticed that the envelope he had given her had dropped to the floor--it had slipped out of her hands while she was hugging him goodbye.

"Look," he said. "You already dropped it." Annoyed. Why was he always annoyed?

Orihime dashed to retrieve the fallen envelope.

"Never mind. It won't make it to the Kurosaki Clinic anyway. You're always forgetting things." His voice sounded cruel, even to himself.

"Why are you being so cranky? You got plenty sleep last night so you could get up this morning anyway to see me off." Orihime pushed the envelope into her shoulderbag. "Maybe you just haven't caught up. Go back to bed, alright? You've got three more hours until your first class."

"You're going to miss your bus. What's your deal with taking 4 a.m. buses anyway? The perverts are about at this hour." There as something in his face beyond disapproval--Orihime felt … contempt?

"I--I--" Orihime didn't want to leave him, but she knew she would be of no help if she stayed. He had already made it plain that all attempts to cheer him that had worked in the past--braiding his hair, singing loudly in his ear, her surprise tickle no jitsu--these things no longer exorcised Poopy-san.

"We're…." A revelation was dawning upon her. "We're breaking up."

"What?" He made a face as if something smelled bad. "That's just…ridiculous. Don't you know anything? Married people don't break up, they get divorced."

Orihime gasped.

"No, no--"" Ishida held up his hands, as if trying to stop an oncoming freight train of misunderstandings. "I'm not saying that we should get divorced; all I was pointing out was that you tend to use a high school lexicon for more adult things and--"

"So that's it. I'm like a high schooler." Orihime's face was starting to flush. "I lose things and I miss buses and I sing too loud and … and…" Her face that was about to turn angry became morose. "We don't fit together, do we?"

Ishida's mouth dropped open. "How can you say that? We--we would give our lives for one another!"

Orihime looked as serious as Ishida had ever seen her, even though her frown was not very deep. "Our lives?" She picked up her suitcase with one hand and adjusted her bag over the other shoulder. "Sure, Uryuu. We would risk death for one another once, but we live separate lives now"

She was out the door before she could burst into tears, but the moment was melodramatic enough--so melodramatic, in fact, that Ishida stood there appalled at her overreaction to nothing and would have gone after her except for his concern that they might start bickering in public. He had always hated the sound of arguing--the shallow logic and petty statements thrown around that only made matters worse.

She was already late for her bus. He would call her, he thought, after class, after she arrived in Karakura and her mood had been brightened by the company of old friends.

But when Ishida called, Mrs. Arisawa said that her daughter and Orihime had already gone out. Ishida felt the disappointment like a physical pain in his chest. He had been looking forward to whispered anxieties, declarations of undying love, maybe a sexy suggestion or two to console his aloneness. How could Orihime not have regretted her ridiculous statements and waited for his call? Why was she acting as if the reason they were living "separate lives" was his fault?

Ishida decided that he was not going to feel hurt and was instead going to wallow in being annoyed. Orihime had left the apartment a mess, and his registration for the symposium was early tomorrow. He felt tired, and it was hardly fair--her enjoying herself on the town while he scrubbed the wok and picked up clothes that she had tossed about while deciding what to pack at the very last minute.

Orihime, meanwhile, was on windy riverbank in scarf and boots, sobbing her heartbreak to Tatsuki who kept suggesting that they go find a coffeehouse somewhere.

"I feel too hot," Orihime said, touching her cheeks with her gloved hands. "This icy wind helps."

"Okaaay." Tatsuki hugged her knees and wished that her best friend's husband didn't have Quincy powers. She could beat up almost anyone else.

"He didn't do it," Orihime said. Her eyes were red and her voice was hoarse. "He didn't come after me. That's what the guys do in the movies. They run after the girl and--how can he be so mean? I think…" Her voice became a whisper. "I think I hate him."

"How can you say that, Orihime? You've never hated anyone in your life."

"I know." Orihime's face crumpled. "I love him so much that I hate him."

"Listen. Why does the poor guy have to be the one who does the running towards? I mean, Ishida is a gallant Quincy and all, but guys are clueless. Unless there's some deadly menace about to chop off your head, he's not going to swoop in and save the day. Why can't you run towards him?"

Orihime thought about the last time she had pounced on her husband with tickle no jitsu. Uryuu's face--it had looked so overwhelmingly annoyed.

"I'll tell you another thing I think is stupid," Tatsuki said. "Here you are complaining about how you have separate busy lives, and what do the two of you do the first time you get a break? Take separate vacations! Wasn't there a textiles museum or something you could have both gone to? An embroidery convention?"

Orihime raised her head and her gaze swept the breadth of the river to the other bank. Why don't people sit by the riverbank in winter? The water is just as beautiful as in the summer.

"I thought it was going to be simple," Orihime said. "I thought we were going to live happily ever after."

Ishida thought he should have taken the express train, but the bus had a much better student discount. In any event, he needed some time to prepare what he was going to say to Orihime.

It was the busy holiday season, and so he had to wait in the terminal for a cancellation; all highway buses to Karakura that morning were booked. A vendor stand was displaying red and green plushies holding armfuls of candycanes, and Ishida considered for a moment that he should buy gifts for the Arisawa family. No, none of these cheap factory plushies would do; Ishida himself could have crafted anything ten times better … if only he had thought about coming to Karakura with Orihime earlier.

It was stupid of him, really. All husbands, ambitious medical students among them, took proper family vacations, and who was a wife if not the most intimate family? At the symposium's morning brunch, some of the unmarried students had been complaining about missing the pleasures of home and indulgent moms, and Ishida realized that he was at a loser's convention. Three symposiums had been scheduled right through New Year's, apparently for international students and those too poor to return home every break.

She should have annoyed me into coming with her! Doesn't she understand that? Annoying me is her job.

For all Ishida knew, Orihime was somewhere singing merrily with shopping center carolers or plotting a divorce--he didn't know. All he knew is that he wanted to be with her.

He started to sift through the brochures he had snatched this morning to see which ones might interest Dr. Kurosaki. Global health issues were far from neighborhood health issues, but maybe the Shinigami medical man might like to lay some around in his office for--

One of the papers fluttered to the ground and when he bent to pick it up, he saw her.

She was in a group of passengers getting off a noisy bus. Her eyes smiled when she saw him, and acting as if she was not at all surprised to find him in the terminal, she walked slowly over to him.

Ishida stood up, his insides meltier than usual.

"I was going to come fight for you," she said. "I wasn't going to let the future come between me and you. You worrying about exams, me worrying about worrying you. I was coming to fight the future and win us back."

Surprisingly, the words made sense.

"I told Tatsuki that I wasn't cheering you up anymore, but she said that I was the same girl who could heal fallen warriors and cheer up even Ishida Uryuu." The smile she was wearing became slightly bashful. "The plan was for me to charge in during one of your lecture thingies and sweep you off your feet."

"Why is it like this?" he asked. "I fought monsters for you. I shouldn't be letting things like a bad mood or too much schoolwork come between us."

"Big bad dragons are easy to fight," Orihime said. "You know they're dangerous when they show up. It's the little bitty dragonflies that can surprise you."

Ishida raised his eyebrows and waited for Orihime to explain.

"You know I love dragonflies," she said. "I've always loved them. I loved to chase them on the river, and Onii-chan had that thing he did with dragonflies landing on his finger, and I love how many different colors they really have in their wings…" Orihime held up her index finger as if to make a perch for a dragonfly. She looked from Ishida's eyes to her invisible visual aid. "See, there are sooo many colors in their wings, and the light on the water and in the sky changes the colors too. That's why I made those dragonflies on the reception tables have rainbow wings, you know. The red dragonflies aren't even red--their bodies are orange and red, and the white parts have some black and really all the colors in them."

"And dragonflies mean…? Ishida was impatient for Orihime to enlighten him. "What do dragonflies have to do with…?

"We don't have dragons to fight right now, Uryuu. No one's life is in danger; no one's honor is at stake. But there are all sorts of little bugs like dragonflies that get on our nerves. You don't like my singing loud and I don't like your grumpy ways sometimes, but these aren't big old dragons, Uryuu. These are just little dragonflies."

For a moment, Ishida envisioned of a swarm of locust-like insects--rainbow-colored wings buzzing Wagner's Ride of the Valkyrie--descending on a humble, off-campus apartment.

Then Orihime touched his cheek. He had missed her. He had missed her poetic nonsense and her enjoying dragonflies.

He kissed her. His hands swept into her soft hair, and her arms clung around his neck.

People in the bus terminal sighed and smiled. A woman sitting on a bench elbowed the man beside her. "Why?" she asked. "Why can't we be like that anymore?"

When Ishida broke the kiss, he asked Orihime if anyone had made untoward remarks about her looks at any of the bus terminals. She looked puzzled and said "no." Then Ishida leaned forward and whispered many, many untoward things about Orihime's looks into her ear. She laughed into his scarf. He laughed into her shiny hair. Then the couple kissed again but by this time, people in terminal had bored of the scene and were watching the plushie vendor bat green pigeons away from his candy canes.

END

Epilogue: Ishida and Orihime did not live happily ever after, but they stayed with one another through a marriage that survived dragons and enjoyed dragonflies and lasted a very, very, very long time.