You Are Not a Band-Aid, Ishida-kun

by debbiechan

Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach; Kubo Tite created the world and owns the rights along with Jump, Viz, and Perriot Studios.

Description: G. IshiHime. Drabble based on the prompt "Band-Aids." Implied IchiRuki romance.

Note: Because I'm a dork, I looked it up and yes, Band-Aids are sold under the brand name "Band-Aid" in Japan.

for Kia

Ishida gave himself credit for understanding Inoue-san. He knew that she preferred helping to being helped. That despite claiming to like new taste sensations, she tended to stick to familiar sweet and sour combinations. He understood that she was self-critical to a fault and needed reassurances.

What he didn't understand was why she wore Band-Aids on her heels.

While sitting at a coffee-shop table and sprinkling cinnamon into her melon soda, her flat-heeled slipper fell off her foot and she absently stepped back into it.

Ishida had seen many a schoolgirl sporting a flesh-colored rectangle where the back of an ill-fitting shoe would scrape skin. Sometimes pink and red wounds showed through the adhesive. Why did girls wear shoes they knew would hurt their feet? Why didn't they wear hose or those little socks with pom-poms?

Inoue-san was a healer. Couldn't she treat her own cuts and scrapes? Couldn't she resolve broken flesh to perfection in a matter of seconds rather than putting a Band-Aid on it?

Ishida wanted to ask, but he didn't want to be rude. Not that Inoue-san had a normal person's concept of "rude," but since the return from Hueco Mundo, she'd been extra-skittish. Her heart had been broken there.

"Ishida-kun!" She smiled brightly, and Ishida sat next to her with his ice coffee and cookie. He heard her feet drop her shoes under the table and slide back into them.

The metallic shimmer of the trendy shoe was probably due to some cheap fiber that unraveled and irritated girls' heels. Ishida guessed that the Band-Aid practice had something to do with suffering for fashion, but Inoue-san wasn't the type for that.

"The make-up assignments aren't very challenging. I'm sure you can finish them without my help." Ishida opened his bookbag and took out an algebra textbook. "I suppose the administration just wants evidence of our having invested the proper amount of hours into our education. We missed a lot of school when we were fighting Evil in Hueco Mundo."

Clack, clack. She was doing it again with her shoes. Dropping them off her feet. Swish. Soles on the coffee-shop floor. She slid back into them again.

"We don't have to study." Inoue-san sipped her soda. "Is that a gingerbread cookie?"

They talked about the spring crafts fair, about how those new wireless headphones got too much white noise, and she ate all his cookie so he bought her another.

"I'm such a pig, Ishida-kun." She broke the cookie into neat halves. "Here, have some."

"No, please. Eat all of it. I'm not hungry."

The bell at the door jingled and in walked two teenage girls wearing long floral-print skirts and sparkly slippers. The shoes on one girl were tinsel-silver. The pair on the other were Christmas-red.

"These little sparkly shoes that are in fashion…." Ishida was fully aware that he sounded gay. "I think they were designed to be worn with hose in the winter … with holiday dresses … not with bare legs."

Slim pink ankles in delicate slippers. It was a very feminine look--no wonder Inoue-san took to it.

He tore his gaze away from the girls' feet because it was bad enough showing an interest in footwear; he didn't want the other customers to think he was a pervert.

But when the girls dropped their bags at a far table, off came their slippers, and Ishida couldn't help but look. One girl rubbed her heel with her hand.

"Little ankle socks, " he said in a judicious little whisper, "would look fine with those shoes."

Inoue-san glanced at the girls and understood right away. "Do you suppose that anyone ever a gets a heel so infected that she has to have her foot amputated?"

"I don't think--"

"That's right. There would be a big thing on the news about it if that was happening."

"Inoue-san?"

"Yes?"

"Why--?"

She understood before the question was out of his mouth. "I could heal myself if I got a scrape there, but it's better to be on the safe side, don't you think? If you wear a Band-Aid on the spot first, then the shoe can't cut you."

"You use Band-Aids as a preventative to--?"

"Pain! It's better to avoid pain if you can help it, isn't it?"

Ishida looked at his hands curled around his glass. "No, it's not."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that sure, it's good to be safe but one shouldn't try to … cushion … oneself from experience."

"Oh." Inoue-san blinked. She had such pretty eyes. "You're not talking about shoes anymore."

She'd been so sad since realizing the extent of Kurosaki's feelings for another girl. Not that before Hueco Mundo she hadn't seemed full of the mournfulness of unrequited love, but Inoue-san learned some hard lessons there. That awful place hadn't dimmed her exuberance for life or sullied her innocence in any way, but she seemed more grown-up.

Did grown-up mean wary of love? That didn't suit Inoue-san at all.

"Some people are risk-takers." Her distant half-smile told Ishida that she was thinking of Kurosaki. "But you and I--" She snapped back to the present in a blink. "But we're not risk-takers, are we, Ishida-kun?"

"Well…." He wanted to say something philosophical and wise but nothing came to him. "Yes, we think before we act. That's us."

"Ha ha! But we know when to take decisive action!" She switched to fake-cheery mode and tapped one of the petals of her flower barrette with a fingernail. The place where aggressive slice-you-in-two Tsubaki lived.

She had to be faking that smile. Ever since Hueco Mundo, her face hadn't seemed the same.

Her face. The open wound her face was as she watched Kurosaki throw his arms around Kuchiki-san. The realization that came over it the longer the pair embraced. As if pinpoints of sharp, irritating sand had grown in her liquid, unblinking eyes.

She was babbling about algebra now, about how they didn't need to study hard but that doing all the assigned problems was good mental exercise. She looked like she was about to spin out of control. Her fingers were ruffling the textbook pages; she couldn't find the chapter she was looking for; her voice got higher and squeakier.

"Inoue-san." His voice was gentle. "I know that Hueco Mundo was terrible for you."

"Oh no no no, it's okay. I'm better now. It was all so intense there, but … but…." She flapped her hands. "Hey! Hanging around you has helped so much."

Great. He was a Band-Aid.

It was like she read his mind. "Ha ha, it was nothing--nothing a Band-Aid can't make better." She cocked her head at the girls who were rubbing their sore heels and winked. "It's not like I got gangrene or anything."

Better to be a Band-Aid in her life, though, than nothing at all.

"Inoue-san, a broken heart is not like a scraped heel. For one thing, it doesn't just get better--it learns."

Her smile faded. She lifted her eyebrows and put her hand over her heart. Her little curled fingers lay between two large round breasts. "My heart?"

"You shouldn't…." He didn't want to lecture her, but he was compelled to speak. The way he had when he stood over her after the bombs went off in Soul Society. Blood and burnt flesh all around them. Inoue-san weeping over her enemies' deaths. But Inoue-san should not be sad. "I'm sorry," Ishida said. "I don't know what to say to help. All I know is that when I have … sad feelings…I try to believe that they are teaching me something. If nothing else, then how to feel. I'm--" The confession fell out easily. "I'm grateful for them."

"You are?" Inoue-san's eyes grew moist.

"What's the matter!" Ishida's elbow slipped off the table and set the unsteady platform rocking. He clasped his knees around the single leg that held up the rickety little table to balance it, but it tipped worse. Inoue's soda dripped a little cinnamon-dotted green fluid onto its saucer (Why did she put her soda bottle on a saucer?)

"Ishida-kun!" A tear spilled out of her eye.

The plate under the melon soda kept rattling and Ishida stilled it with the tips of his fingers. "Are you okay, Inoue-san?"

She batted her eyes. "You're talking about me."

The blood roared in Ishida's head. His heart pounded in his ears. "I--"

"Your feelings about me. You're glad you have them."

The coffee shop was unduly bright. A cappuccino machine thundered. The laughter and buzz of patrons grew louder then faded.

There wasn't anything he could say. The truth was lying on the table with the cookie crumbs.

"You're the most unselfish, wonderful person I've ever known," she said.

Wait. That was supposed to be his line. He parted his lips but no words came.

Her eyes were wet but her lips were smiling. Ishida took this as a good sign. There was something about being caught in the light of Inoue-san's caring eyes that calmed him. How could anything be wrong as long as he was sitting here, being her friend?

"You're smarter than I am, Ishida-kun. You know when things are … real."

"Real?"

She waved her fingers back and forth between them to indicate … a relationship? Their honest friendship? Ishida couldn't help but notice that her thumb touched the tip of her breast twice during the gesture.

"You're not … you're not a Band-Aid, Ishida-kun."

It was amazing what she understood. It was even more amazing that he seemed to be following the crazy metaphor.

"I'm not a Band-Aid."

Her fingers were touching his. How did that happen? Their hands had met across the table surface crowded with paper napkins. Her fingers felt hot, slightly sticky from confectioner's sugar. He noticed spots of the sugar from the cookies were on her lips too.

"You mean so much to me," she said.

He wanted to buy her cookies every day of her life. He wanted the sugar on her lips to catch the light always. He wanted to kiss those sugary lips. He knew he was going to--maybe today. Maybe as soon as they left the coffee shop. Maybe as soon as they were away from people--under the flowering plum trees on her quiet street as he walked her home.

"I'm going to wear little ankle socks with these shoes, Ishida-kun. You have good ideas. You just watch. Little white socks with sparkly red shoes are going to be all the rage."

End