Title: Reaching You
Pairing: Ishihime, IchiRuki
A/N: An entry for the Bleachness forum contest at LiveJournal in honor of Ishida's and Debbiechan's birthday.
His eyes narrowed in concentration as the needle pierced through the silk cloth with ease. Night had already fallen and the streets of Karakura were now deserted due to the heavy storm that had made its presence in the evening. The shop had closed an hour ago, and yet he could still hear the bickering of the two occupants that were still in the room. His eyes flickered warily to the door where they stood, still apparently in their heated argument. The young woman placed her hands on her hips impatiently as her own brow furrowed to match the agitated look of the other man before her.
"I don't need protection from you when I walk back home, Ichigo!" she growled as she grabbed her cloak and bag. "I don't understand why you always insist on this!"
The man rolled his eyes as he watched her place the cloak on herself. "It's very late and its pouring outside, Rukia. Besides, I...I mean, father was worried about you walking around alone at this time of night and especially with how things are in Karakura."
She turned to him, her brow raised slightly. "I'm not so weak that I cannot take care of myself. Its safe, Ishida is here," she added, turning to the man who quickly turned his attention back to the mending he was doing. "And besides, it's just a drizzle outside."
The room went into an awkward silence as the howling wind and pounding rain continued to beat against the walls, shaking the shop. Ichigo grabbed a cloth and threw it at Rukia. "Yeah, drizzle. Come on, we have to go."
Sighing heavily, she shook her head and walked towards the door. "Fine, if only just to be rid of you. Ishida, you will not be coming?"
The man turned his attention to her and shook his head. "I need to finish this last one and deliver it since they need it tomorrow morning. You and Kurosaki go ahead."
She nodded and turned to find Ichigo already opening the door and waiting for her impatiently. "Idiot..." she muttered as they disappeared into the night.
When the room went silence, Ishida finally drew in a deep breath. Welcoming the peace that now came with his solitude, his eyes turned back to the finished garment in his hands. His face softened as he fingered the intricate designs embroidered on it. Slowly, he brought the silk kimono closer, taking in the scent that still lingered within each thread. He swallowed as he pulled it away, his eyes filled with sadness as he slowly began to pack it. The rain had turned into a light drizzle yet thunder still rumbled in the distance, forewarning of another storm. As he walked down the cobblestone pathway, the lights of the houses slowly dimmed one by one as many began to resign to their slumber.
The only sound that echoed throughout the streets were the patter of the rain drops and the click of his shoes as he made his way to a house nestled closely to the forest just outside of the town. The lights were still on and he could hear the faint sound of pans clattering and low voices. As his footsteps approached the entrance, the screen door slowly opened and a young woman cautiously stepped out, her back towards him as she attempted to back out without notice. At the slight crunch of the leaves from his footsteps, she shook and turned swiftly to face him. A sigh of relief escaped her as her surprised face soon broke into a gentle smile. "Ishida-kun, how wonderful it is to see you!"
Ishida smiled softly and bowed. "Good evening, Inoue-san. I hope you are doing well this evening. I wanted to bring your kimono over early in case you needed any other alterations."
He watched as her smile faltered slightly. "Ah, thank you, Ishida-kun. But please, you need not be so formal towards me."
A tense silence lingered between them as their eyes gazed upon each other. The sound of the screen door opening suddenly behind broke them from their reverie and to the elderly woman, Natsuda, standing by the door.
"Inoue-san, there you are! What are you doing out here in this cold night? You will catch a cold and there is only two days until your wedd- Ishida-san! You are here! And is that Inoue-san's kimono??"
Ishida smiled at the jovial woman and nodded. "Ah, it was completed this morning and I was just bringing it early in case Inoue-san needed any other work on it." He watched as Inoue eyed the package hidden within his cloak before taking the package from him. "Congratulations, for your wedding." he said quietly. She looked at him and smiled gently. "Thank you, Ishida-kun..."
The woman nodded and opened the door. "Well, come in quickly before the rain begins to get worse again. My goodness, my nerves have been tested all night with how much the storm has been worsening. I shall make you both some tea."
Ishida shook his head, slowly taking a few steps backwards. "I really should be heading back. It is very late and you all must be exhausted as well..."
"Please do come in, Ishida-kun." Inoue's meek voice made him turn to her. "We haven't had a chance to talk for so long...and...well, perhaps I can try the kimono to make certain its fine..." she added hastily, her eyes pleading. Ishida swallowed and hesitated before nodding, surprised at how quickly a smile appeared on her face at his response.
He entered the house, realizing that indeed it had been so long since he had stepped foot inside. They used to play within the many corridors when they were children, but as time passed, the distance grew.
They were quickly seated at the table in the main room and left alone as preparations were started for the tea. Ishida pulled out the package from his cloth and placed it in front of Inoue. While she slowly unwrapped the binding, he turned to look around the room. There were still sounds beyond the walls that confined them, but between them not a word could be spoken more. Every once in a while his eyes turned slightly to look at her and turned away quickly when she looked at him. He could feel the beating of his heart growing rapidly and wished that he had been able to make some excuse to get out of this predicament.
When did this distance start?
When did it become impossible for me to even look at you without this strange feeling coursing through me?
"How is everyone? Kuchiki-san and Kurosaki-kun?"
Ishida turned to look at Inoue as the tea finally arrived and placed in front of them. "They are both well, and have been asking about you. They were at the shop this evening, bickering as they always do."
Inoue laughed softly as she took a sip from her cup. "Some things do not change. I have missed them so. Perhaps I can come visit you all as well tomorrow since it is the last day of the festival. It's been so busy here for the last few days that I have not been able to come out of the house much."
He nodded. "I'm sure everyone would be very happy to see you."
She smiled back as they finished their tea, talking briefly about her marriage to a wealthy merchant that lived in a nearby town. Her eyes twinkled happily as she spoke of old times and all the memories they shared with their friends, and Ishida found comfort in seeing for the first time all night, she was genuinely happy.
"The reason why I wanted to talk to you tonight was to say I never got to thank you..." she whispered as she placed her tea cup down.
"For what?" he questioned as she poured him more tea.
"For being there for me..." she swallowed, her eyes downcast. Ishida turned to look at her, his brow furrowed. She continued, her eyes glazing. "So many years ago, I was very heart broken after realizing Kurosaki-kun would never... Perhaps my actions afterwards were too hasty and filled with anger and hurt, but you always were there to help guide me through them. Because of you I was able to move on..."
He inhaled deeply as he watched her push aside the strands of hair that caressed her skin. "I never got to thank you for being that one person I could trust. The one person I..." She stopped, biting her lip and becoming silent. "I..."
"Inoue-san, are you done with your tea? We must make sure the fitting is perfect or poor Ishida-kun will have to make more trips back and forth." Natsuda entered and smiled, taking the kimono into her hand and turning to Inoue expectantly. Inoue nodded and rose from her table as she was taken to another room. Ishida drew in a deep breath and waited for her return, staring at the remnants of the tea.
"I never got to thank you for being that one person I could trust. The one person I..."
He rubbed his eyes softly in exhaustion, wondering what had caused Inoue's confession. It had been so long since it had happened, and it felt as if it was buried beneath many more memories that had ensued.
She had indeed moved on, but he had always sensed sadness in her eyes that never completely disappeared. Perhaps it was this reason that she had distanced herself so much from her friends at first, especially after her brother's illness took over. He swallowed, remembering when she first let them know of her intentions of marrying the man who had helped her family pay for much of the expenses that came with taking care of her brother. But in the end, he passed away and she was left with a burden she wished to keep away from others. She smiled, laughed, and appeared as happy as she could be. Everyone took her smile as a sign that she truly was happy. And as much as he wanted to believe that she truly was, her eyes always betrayed her. There were many emotions behind them that he knew were from the pain she had felt for many years and would perhaps never disappear. He attempted to be by her side whenever she needed it. He had to be, if only to be able to allow her a chance to smile...but it was something that had become a fleeting hope as the day drew near when she would part from them.
His thoughts were suddenly broken by the shuffling footsteps.
His eyes widened and his mouth remained slightly opened at the sight before him. The white kimono blended beautifully with her creamy skin, as well as accentuating her her orange lock of hair, which was tied loosely at the top for ease. Inoue looked around nervously, her cheeks a deep ting of pink as she gripped the fabric with her fingertips, her face completely glowing. Ishida swallowed, unable to take his eyes off her as Natsuda began giving Inoue instructions on the different accessories that she would need along with it. Inoue nodded shyly as a final nod of approval was made.
Ishida could feel his face growing hotter as he coughed slightly. "You look...very nice, Inoue-san..."
Inoue smiled gently as the woman attending to her chuckled. "Oh, she does indeed. She will make such a beautiful bride, don't you agree, Ishida-kun?"
Ishida bowed slightly. "Indeed." He continued to watch Inoue, whose eyes suddenly lowered as she played with the hem of her sleeves. After making certain that everything was placed properly, the woman escorted Inoue out to change back into her old clothes. When she returned, Ishida was packing his things. "It seems as a perfect fit. I'm assuming there is no more need for my assistance..."
"It is perfect, Ishida-kun."
Ishida nodded and got up. "Then I should take your leave. I'm very sorry as it is getting late..." He made to turn and leave as quickly as possible before her voice stopped him in his tracks.
"You will be coming, won't you?"
He turned to witness her pleading eyes. Swallowing with difficulty, he opened the door slightly. "I will try, Inoue-san. Both Kuchiki-san and Kurosaki will be attending and there will not be anyone to watch over the shop…"
Her lip trembled slightly, "It can be closed for one day, can it not?"
He sighed heavily before turning his back to her. "I will try, Inoue-san. I-I...really must take your leave now."
He stopped, his head hung slightly. "Are you happy, Inoue-san?" He said before he could stop himself.
Her lips parted, surprised at his words. "What? I..." she turned her eyes away from him. "I am..."
Then why do your eyes say otherwise?
"I see..." Drawing a deep breath, he opened the door. "Good night, Inoue-san..."
The door slid shut as her eyes turned downcast, her eyes misty as tears that had been kept at bay streamed down her cheeks.
"You went to see Inoue?" Rukia's eyes widened as she ignored the muttering of Ichigo behind her.
"Rukia, put those down," Ichigo yelled and gritted his teeth from behind as he watched her struggle with a few of the logs he had cut. Yet as always, he might as well have been talking to a wall as she picked up another one, most likely to annoy him.
Ishida nodded and leaned against the tree, watching the rushing water in the creek nearby. "Yes...I had to return her kimono."
"And?" she asked eagerly.
"Are you listening?" Ichigo growled as she turned to him innocently.
"Why of course, Kurosaki-kun. I'm even sure our neigboring villages heard your lovely dulcet tone from here."
Ichigo narrowed his eyes at her simpering voice, knowing that she was fully aware at how much it irritated him. He sighed as he watched her put the logs in a pile and begin to tie them as she had seen him do. He turned back in defeat to his work as she looked at Ishida.
"Anyways, Ishida, what did you say? What did she say?"
He heaved a sigh as he grabbed the pile she had been tying and put it to the side. "Nothing...I just congratulated her on her engagement and wedding..."
"Thats it?!" Rukia groaned, completely forgetting what she was doing. Both men turned quickly at the strangled cry to find her nursing her bruised hand, the bundle of logs she had been apparently trying to tie tumbling everywhere.
"Damn..." Ichigo muttered as he placed his bundle down and ran to her. He made to grab her hand but she quickly recoiled.
"W-what do you think you are doing?" she growled, and he was surprised to see a tinge of blush creep on her face. He pointed to her hand and shook his head. "You got hurt, didn't you? Let me see it."
She shook her head furiously and blocked it further from his view. "It is but a mere scratch. You make too much deal of it, Kurosaki."
Ichigo glared at her, to which she met with equal stubbornness. Ishida coughed slightly and turned away, knowing fully well that it was for the best that only one of them be in trouble with Rukia for the day.
Ichigo sighed. "Show me the hand now or I tell Sakura-sama who was it that broke her favorite water pot..."
Rukia gasped and narrowed her eyes. "You wouldn't..."
His expression confirmed though that he was not bluffing. She pouted slightly before holding her hand out hesitantly as he took it. Her palm was so small compared to his, her delicately smooth fingers contrasting his rough, worn fingers. He sighed when he saw the cut and shook his head. "Scratch indeed," he muttered as he pulled out his canteen and put water to clean the wound. She winced slightly but did not move as he bandaged her hand with a piece of cloth from his bag. Trying to distract herself, she turned again to Ishida. "You do know you need to talk to her..."
"There is nothing to talk about..." Ishida said quietly as he started picking up the logs she had dropped.
He heard her snort lightly before yelping at the sudden pressure on her hand from the bandage. "Men...never get the hint..." she muttered as Ichigo raised his brow questioningly at her. She chose to ignore this and sighed. "Don't wait until its too late, Ishida. That is all I will say in the matter." Ishida eyed her silently, lost in thought. Inoue's eyes still lingered in his mind...he had seen the pain, the frustration...and yet he could say nothing to comfort her. To let her know of what he felt. It was too late. Rukia watched him for a moment, realizing that she would not get another answer from him. Her eyes reluctantly turned to Ichigo as he continued to look at the cut on her hand.
There was an awkward silence that ensued until he heard a slight cough. Looking up, he could see her face was now turning red as she frowned. "If you are done reading my palm, can we go?" Ichigo blinked before realizing he still had a tight grip on her hand and quickly released it. Rukia's eyebrow raised at the sight of a cocky grin appearing on his face as he watched her in amusement when she began to get up.
"I've never seen you turn so red before, Rukia. Any particular reason?" he mused, a tone of smugness in his voice. Rukia could feel a vein beginning to pop on the side of her head, and Ishida quickly turned to look away as in the next moment, Ichigo lay on the ground in pain.
"None that I know of, Kurosaki," she growled before turning and walking away. Ichigo took deep breaths before he got up, trying to follow her as he avoided the excruciating pain. "Oye, wait up!" Ishida rolled his eyes and followed Ichigo as he limped behind her.
She halted near the edge of the forest, her eyes widened. "Inoue?"
Ishida's head turned to where Rukia was staring and found Inoue walking towards them hesitantly. His knees buckled as he watched Rukia run to her and embracing her. He frowned slightly when he noticed how weak she looked, as if she had not slept all night. His head hung with guilt at knowing that it was his words that most likely had been the cause of it. He felt someone approach him and found Ichigo staring at the girls as well as he stood beside him. "Rukia is right...don't wait until its too late," he muttered. Ishida gaped at him as he grinned slightly before walking over to greet Inoue. They spoke briefly before Inoue noticed Rukia's hand and gasped. "Kuchiki-san, what happened?!" Rukia sighed and shook her hand dismissively. "Oh, I just got hurt while helping these two with the logs. I was just insisting on Ichigo taking me to see his father since it hurts so much." She whimpered, pulling out a handkerchief to dab her dry cheeks. Ichigo snorted and crossed his arms. "Oh, now you complain about pain? When I say anything, you say its nothing."
She glared at him and yanked at his collar. "Yeah, I wasn't feeling the pain then, but now I am. So take me home, before I am not the only one your father will be tending to."
Turning to Inoue, she smiled and took her hands. "We will be back very soon, Inoue. I hope you will be here for a while."
Inoue nodded, smiling. "Yes, I plan to attend the festival tonight. Please go tend to your hand and Ishida-kun and I will join you very soon."
Rukia nodded and after they said their goodbyes, Ichigo and Rukia walked on ahead as Ishida and Inoue followed slowly from behind. There was a tense silence between them as they made their way through the thick mud that had been the result of the storm last night. Thankfully though the rain had ended early morning and the sun peaked through the clouds, allowing some warmth.
Before long they had made their way to town, walking idly through the busy streets and attempting to avoid any conversation that led to what had happened last night. Inoue talked animatedly to the many villagers that greeted them. Ishida watched as she smiled and laughed jovially with old friends and looked at the many new fabrics that had come to his shop. Ishida was relieved to see that she had become her old self again, but knew that deep down there was still many emotions and feelings that had to be resolved. As he locked his shop, they began walking to the inn where they were to meet Ichigo and Rukia.
"About last night, Inoue-san..."he finally answered, unable to take the unspoken pain that he knew she was still feeling.
She shook her head and rubbed her arms gently to fend off the cool evening air. "Please, Ishida-kun. It's alright. You are my friend and you are entitled to say what you are feeling..."
He nodded and pulled off his cloak, draping it gently around her shoulders. She looked at him in surprise, but he avoided her gaze and continued walking forward. She thanked him quietly, receiving a nod in return as the lights soon began to flicker on throughout the streets.
" I will miss all this," she sighed, staring at all the stalls and bright colors at each turn. The town was full of life as many vendors and merchants filled the streets with their goods and families perused the different entertainment activities that were set up. Inoue pointed to one particular game that they used to play as children, and Ishida could not help but smile.
Ishida's eyes turned to one particular stall and he motioned Inoue to wait for him. She eyed him curiously as he walked to the stall full of flowers, talking quietly to the woman. Inoue's eyes widened as he handed her a bouquet of flowers. "Because I didn't get a chance to get you anything for your wedding," he smiled softly.
"Thank you," she whispered. "These are my favorite..."
"I know..." he nodded, staring into her eyes.
"Don't wait until its too late, Ishida. That is all I will say in the matter."
"Inoue-san...I know I asked you this before, but I will so again. Are you happy?" he asked as his eyes turned to the crowd that had begun to filter into the courtyard where they were situated.
Inoue's cheek flushed. "Ishida-kun...yes, yes I am..."
She was taken aback when he turned to her, a look of frustration on hsi face. "Then why can I see nothing but sadness in your eyes."
"There is nothing wrong, Ishida-kun," she muttered quietly, her smile completely faded as she gripped the flowers tightly in her hands. "I am doing what makes me happy."
Ishida shook his head and pushed the rim of his glasses up. "Very well. I cannot force you to tell me what you are feeling, Inoue-san. But...know that I am here for you and will always be. I admit I cannot provide you with the comforts your new home can bring...but I can promise you my affections and my promise of protecting you always."
Inoue took a step back, her eyes widening. "I-Ishida-kun..."
"I leave the rest to you," he finished. "All I want is your happiness, and for you to smile as you once did."
He could see her trembling and unable to move from her spot. He immediately regretted being so straightforward, but time was no longer in his favor. He knew his friends were right, and if he didn't say anything now, he would always regret it. Small streams of tears washed over her eyes as she finally was able to find strength to move back more steps until she knocked into a person behind her.
"Inoue?" Ichigo raised his brow. "There you guys are, we have been looking all ove-"
Inoue's tear stricken face stopped him as she quickly ran past him and into the crowd. Turning, he saw Ishida shaking in anger, his fists clenching. "Ishida..."
"I'm going home, Kurosaki," Ishida muttered, his voice void of all emotion. "Please let Rukia know..."
Ichigo nodded and watched Ishida turn the opposite direction and disappear. Scratching his head in confusion, he sighed and looked to where Inoue had gone. "What happened?"
Inoue stared vacantly at the mirror in front of her as Natsuda fixed the veil on her head.
I admit I cannot provide you with the comforts your new home can bring...but I can promise you my affections and my promise of protecting you always.
Her eyes wandered to the flowers he had given her that were laying on the dresser.
know that I am here for you and will always be.
"You know," Natsuda sighed as she placed a pin in Inoue's hair. "You were only a baby when I took you and your brother in. And now look at you."
Inoue smiled as Natsuda's arm wrapped around her. "You are like my daughter. I hope you will find the happiness you have sought for so long and that this is where your heart is..."
Letting go, Natsuda rose as Rukia entered the room quietly. "It is time, Natsuda-sama. We must hurry as the rain has started again."
The elderly woman nodded and helped Inoue up off the seat. "Let us go, my dear. To start your new life..."
Inoue's eyes lingered on the flowers before Rukia walked over to her. "Inoue..."
"Let us go, Kuchiki-san," she whispered, taking her friend's hand for support as they left the room.
The room was dimly lit by a single candle in the middle of the room. Clothes lay unattended to and the shop had been closed all day. But he didn't care. He did not care anymore. He sat in the corner of the shop, staring vacantly at the window. It was very late as the sun had already set, and he knew that by this time she was already gone. She was gone.
He touched his forehead, the excruciating pain still lingering from the headache he had all day. Could he have done more? Was there anything he could have done. Perhaps knowing that she was content with her new life would be enough for him.
Sighing deeply, he picked himself up and grabbed the various clothing from the floor. There was no point in staying at the shop anyways since most had gone to attend the wedding. As he made to grab his bag, a soft knock on the door got his attention.
He frowned and looked at the time, wondering who would be there at this time of night. Walking over, he undid the locks and opened the door slightly. "The shop is clo-"
His hand fell limply to his side as his entire body froze. "I-Inoue..san..."
"Hello," she whispered with a soft smile. She stood before him, still dressed in her wedding attire. Although she was completely drenched from the rain, she seemed not to care as her cheeks turned a deep ting of red from both the cold and nervousness.
"May I come in?" she asked, slightly trembling from the cold. Ishida nodded and quickly got her a cloth to dry herself with.
"Inoue-san, what are you doing here?" he asked in surprise, realizing indeed that this was not a dream and she was very well here. "Your wedding..."
She turned to him. "I couldn't go through with it without finishing what I wanted to tell you that night you came."
Ishida shook his head in confusion, not understanding what was going on and why she was here. "Inoue-san...."
"I wanted to thank you..." she whispered. "I wanted to thank you for every memory, for every affection...for being that one person who always understood me and took care of me. And for being that one person who I could find myself being happy with, that one person I needed in order to be able to smile again."
Her hands gently rested on his chest as she rose her heels to reach his face, placing a gentle kiss on his lips. Ishida remained frozen as she slowly broke away. "You always told me to follow my heart," she whispered as he stared at her speechlessly. "I am now."
"This is very my heart is..." she smiled. "Where it has always been..."
"B-but your marriage..."
"It was called off..." she sighed. "Come what may, I couldn't go through with it...and if your promise still stands..."
Ishida's brow raised, "It has always..."
Inoue laughed in relief, "Then its settled..."
She wrapped her arms around him and within a moment, he tightly embraced her. "Are you sure, Inoue-san?"
"Orihime," she corrected him. "You must start getting used to that. And yes, if I came running through all this rain in my wedding dress, you better believe I'm sure."
He let out a low chuckle and held her tightly. "Yes..."
He reluctantly let her go and cupped her cheeks in his hands. His heart beat faster as the smile he had always yearned to see from her appeared on her face, and vowed to himself that he would never allow it to leave. He gently pulled her to him, their lips meeting with a unspoken promise of a happier future.
A/N: Yes, I am a cheeseball. Hope you enjoyed!