My entry for Tanabata on FLOL. Enjoy and, as always, please review!


Though the grimy window was doing a good job of hiding much of the night sky from her limited vision, it was failing to keep the meager amount of cool air inside her temporary prison from leaking out into the warm night. Sweat trickled down her temple, taking a slow journey past her swollen eye, the tender bruise painting her jaw, down the column of her throat, before coming to rest at the valley of her breasts. She had no choice but to deal with the tickling sensation; there was no way for her to wipe it away.

Orihime fought the urge to once again pull at the rope securing her hands behind her back. Two days of fighting against the bonds that held her had produced nothing more than raw, bleeding wrists. A painful twinge shot through her numb fingers - results of the tightly wound bonds. She clenched her teeth around the rag that had been stuffed in her mouth hours ago and willed herself not to make a sound, no matter how painful it was. Her frantic gray eyes scoured the room, praying that she was indeed still alone in the desolate, run down house. As she panted against the cloth - which was probably covered in God knows what - she thanked the heavens that her moans of pain had drawn no unwanted attention.

A sparkle of reflecting moonlight coming from the table in the corner caught her eyes. She couldn't see their shape very well from her distance but, then again, she didn't need to see them to know what they were. Orihime cringed at the memory of her crying out for her hairpins that her beloved brother had given to her, and the man throwing them on the floor before violently stepping on them until they were nothing more than broken bits of metal. For the first time in her life she wanted to curse at someone, but the painful slap across her face had silenced her.

Her eyes wandered to the window once more. Nothing had changed in the few moments she'd been turned away, but she prayed every chance she could that she would see a familiar face, feel a familiar reiatsu. Pins and needles prickled through her left leg and she shifted her position on the dusty floor. Another breeze came in through the drafty wood she leaned against. Though the air was warm, she enjoyed the momentary caress against her overheated flesh.

A door slamming elsewhere in the abandoned house had her muscles locking up with fear. As her heart slammed against her ribcage, she struggled to get to her knees once more. Her legs protested the movement, but she knew it would be better to be in a position to avoid any thrown objects or angry fists flying her way.

Why? Why did she have to travel to her aunt's alone during their week break from school?

Why was it that the moment she left Karakura, she found herself in a situation she had no hope of getting out of?

She had already visited her aunt and left on her way back home when she was attacked, so she would not be looking for her. The broken remnants of her cell phone were floating somewhere down the river running beside town and she'd not been able to place any kind of mail or call before it was snatched from her. She was too far away from her friends for them to be able to sense her reiatsu fluctuating wildly in distress. The only spider's thread of hope she had was she'd not spoken to Tatsuki-chan - or anyone else for that matter - in over four days. Perhaps when they couldn't get up with her someone would come looking.

That's what she told herself every time his hand came across her flesh, every time he threatened her with more pain, every time he told her what he had planned for her. It had done little to alleviate the near suffocating fear he'd been able to induce.

Loud boot steps rang out in the darkened room, the weight behind them vibrating the very floorboards she knelt upon. He turned on the standing lamp in the corner. Only a small circle was illuminated in its weak glow; no light reached her huddled form by the window. His large body slumped into the single wooden chair standing by the table. The old legs creaked in protest, but amazingly held firm against their burden. Dark, cold eyes swept down her frame; their gaze holding no warmth or pity for the frightened young woman. The smell of days old liquor, cigarettes, and grease clung to his burly frame. Unidentifiable spots stained the front of the once blue shirt that refused to completely cover his rounded belly. He ripped the paper bag off a large bottle of dark brown liquid - that she could only assume was alcohol of some sort - and, without tearing his gaze away from her trussed form, down several long gulps of the murky liquid.

While Orihime was sure she neither wanted or needed the questionable drink in his hand, she couldn't stop herself from swallowing reflexively at the sight of the bottle with its condensation forming around the bottom. She'd been provided only the barest reprieve from her bindings once a day to take care of the necessities and quickly eat a meager meal provided for her. The sight of any cold liquid right then was a welcome feast for her eyes. His thick fingers came up to wipe the excess away from his lips; he belched loudly and settled back against the rickety furniture.

"Ya can stop looking at me like that," he drawled, his sudden speech making Orihime flinch. "I ain't gonna touch ya." The relief from that statement was short lived as a cold chuckle past his cracked lips. "Well, whatever they wanna do with ya after I turn ya over is their business."

A harsh cough wracked his frame, but the wicked smile never wavered. He leaned forward from his perch, resting his large upper body on thick knees as his head tilted during his study of her. Orihime scooted back in vain, trying to put as much distance between them as possible.

"Man, I didn't know what I was gonna do until your fine little ass showed up. See, I kinda owe some bad people a lot of money and ain't got the first cent to pay them back with. Deadline's coming up and I was about to skip town." He turned his mouth up in a grin. "Then you showed up, all sweet and helpful. You really were just trying to help me up weren't ya?" Try as she might, she wasn't strong enough to stop her tears from spilling over. "Almost makes me feel bad about turning ya over...almost."

He cackled once more and rose from the chair. She watched him carefully, making sure he wasn't coming over to her huddled position. He continued on into what she guessed was once a living area. A small TV was stationed on a box across from an older, worn down couch. The sound filling the otherwise empty house let her relax for the moment; he would be involved with his shows and would ignore her for a while more.

He'd already held her here for two days. Somewhere in her mind, she knew it wouldn't be much longer before he handed her over to the people looking for him. When that happened...she shuddered and forced herself to think of other things. Her hands ached terribly, but she began twisting them once more, trying to loosen the bindings holding her in place.

If only she hadn't stopped to help him that day.

She could practically hear Tatsuki-chan scolding her for being too careless, but she just couldn't help it. He stumbled before falling hard onto the asphalt of the street. His moans of pain tore at her heart and she rushed over to help him. The sense of helplessness she'd originally picked up from him was soon dashed aside. He had stared at her blankly for a moment before gripping her arms and forcing her down an alleyway. Before she was able to make a move to stop him, his large fist connected with the side of her temple, knocking her out.

She bit down on her gag as a fresh wound was created on her already torn up wrists. Blood trickled down her hands before dropping onto the dusty floor. As much as it hurt, she tried to use the new found slipperiness to her advantage as she continued to tug at the tight rope.

A loud ringing of bells from outside the pane of glass above her had her pausing in her task. In her disoriented state, it took her a moment to recognize the sound for what it was...a clock tower. She counted off the chimes silently as they rang through the city.

Midnight.

Another day of captivity had passed.

She shook away her negative thoughts and continued to try and free herself. She had to hurry back home to her friends. The last time she'd called Tatsuki-chan, they'd made plans to...

Sad, gray eyes peered through the cloudy glass into the night sky. She counted back through her mind, praying she was mistaken. Unfortunately, she wasn't.

If it was truly midnight, then Tanabata was over.

Images of her spending her favorite holiday with her brother and later her friends flashed through her mind. She could not remember ever missing a single year of attending the festival. Even when her onii-chan was terribly busy with work, he somehow always managed to make time to take her to the park. She loved the rare treat of getting to eat the food made at the stalls and seeing the colorful streamers decorating the roadways. Sora always made a big deal about hiding his eyes away while she wrote her wish down. When she was finished, he would take it and hang it from the bamboo tree for her. She could remember laughing at his stern face as he warned her that if she dared meet her Hikoboshi, he was going to have a few questions for him.

He made it a special time for the two of them and though he had been gone for a few years, she never missed the festival that Karakura had. Now, she simply went with Tatsuki-chan and her other friends.

That wouldn't happen this year.

For the first time since she could remember, she wouldn't get to write her wish down. She would miss wearing the colorful yukatas, the vendors selling food, the pretty decorations...but most of all, she wouldn't get to see Kurosaki-kun. There was no searching for his distinctive hair through the crowds as he accompanied his sisters for the evening, no way for a chance encounter to see her hearts desire on that special day.

As the rope opened up another section of her delicate flesh, silent tears poured from her expressive eyes. The dreams of a child seemed too foolish to worry about.

Her captor rose from the dingy couch, barely sparing her a glance as he grabbed another bottle from his paper bag and settled himself in front of the TV once more. She was tired, sore, and hungry; her body slumped against the wood as she gave into the need to rest.

There was no way of telling how long she stayed in that position, though she guessed it was at least a couple of hours as loud snores came from the direction of the living area. At first, she wasn't sure what pulled her from her rest. There was nothing she could see in the empty room that would have disturbed her. As her eyes roamed the dark surfaces, a familiar presence tickled at her awareness. It was only for a moment, but she felt hope swell in her chest.

Her sore legs protested the movement, but she forced herself to rise up on them. She stretched as far as she could to see over the rim of the window. The few street lamps working did little to cut through the dense fog covering the city. Her muscles shook as she held that position, willing anything in the outside world to move into her view. The feeling pushed itself on her once more, this time being clear as day. She rested her head against the glass and used what little strength she still possessed to flare her reiatsu wildly. She choked back her sobs while praying to anyone who would listen that it would work.

His loud, desperate voice was the first she heard calling for her.

Ignoring her snoring captor, she called back to him best she could around her gag. Her face pressed against the dirty glass as her body sagged in welcome relief. She didn't stop calling for him. Even when the snoring stopped and she heard the rustling of clothes behind her, even when he rose from the couch yelling at her to shut up and get away from the window. If anything, her desperate cries only got louder when the first view of their bodies stepped through the swirling mist.

The next few minutes passed in a blur of activity that she fought to keep straight. She felt her captors calloused hands grip her shoulders and throw her to the floor. Orihime curled on herself, trying to protect as much of her body as she could, but the blows never came. A crash sounded before a shower of glass poured into the room. Angry voices filled the empty apartment as well as the all to familiar sound of fists meeting flesh. Gentle hands removed her bindings before lifting her into a warm body. Sado-kun's low voice rumbled through him as he promised her she was now safe. Through her tears, she could see Ishida-kun standing protectively in front of them as he watched the madness before him unfold.

The harsh sounds of a fight, clipped curses, and a blur of orange hair was all she could register before the darkness of sleep took hold of her.

()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()

The grassy slope where she sat in the empty park was still damp from the morning's rain. Orihime didn't mind the stains she knew were embedding themselves into her paisley skirt; instead, she removed her sandals and allowed the plush grass to tickle the soles of her feet. The night air was cooler - thanks to the rain - than it was two days ago when she sat in that dusty, abandoned room. Her unbound hair tossed behind her, the auburn tresses dancing in the sudden wind.

Orihime wrapped her arms around her knees as she studied the bare park before her. Only a few of the street lamps were lit, casting long shadows down the empty walkways. The colorful decorations Karakura put out for the Tanabata festival were all but gone. The bamboo trees they placed around the park for everyone to hang their wishes on had been removed. Now, only a few forgotten slips of paper that hung on the park trees remained. There were no lingering smells of the various foods sold that night and all the streamers had been taken down.

There was no point in trying to picture what the park had looked like three days ago, but she found herself doing exactly that. The games, the food, the many people filling the area with their smiling faces...maybe she would have been able to talk Tatsuki-chan into wearing a yukata with her? She could have played some of the games with Chizuru-chan and her other class-mates. It would have been the same as it always had been, even without her onii-chan.

A frown marred her porcelain features as she took in the bandages covering her wrists. Hachi-san was kind enough to agree to help her restore her precious hairpins, but due to the extensive damage to them, it would take a few days before he was finished. For now, the simple antibiotic ointment and gauze covering the raw wounds caused by the rope was the best she could do.

A soulful sigh escaped her cherry lips as she leaned back to take in the picturesque view of the night sky. Two days cooped up in her lonely apartment was enough for her. She'd stayed inside and rested as Tatsuki-chan bade her to do. Many hot baths, home cooked meals from Tatsuki's mother, and re-runs of laugh hour had done well to restore her body. It was her mind that was refusing to stay silent, so she left the apartment for a walk to help clear her mind.

It seemed inevitable that she would wind up at the place occupying her thoughts for the last several days. She chastised herself many times, trying to force herself out of such a solemn mood, but her cheery smile refused to stay in place. She was just being silly now, wasn't she? Staying upset over something as trivial as missing a festival was something only a child would do. That's all it was; a silly festival based off of a silly legend. It was time she grew up.

"What are you doing out here alone so late at night?"

The deep rumble of that familiar voice startled her out of her musings. He stood just behind her, a shadow cast over his handsome features from the street lamp behind him. Her voice caught as she tried to answer his call; it was then she realized tears were streaming down her pale cheeks. Orihime turned back around, subtly bringing her hands up to dry her face.

"I didn't hear you come up Kurosaki-kun."

"Obviously. Sorry though, didn't mean to scare ya."

When she was confident all traces of her tears were gone, she looked back once more, smiling as she met his chocolate eyes. "What are you doing out so late?"

He arched one eyebrow as he came to sit beside her. "I asked you that already."

"Oh, well...I was just tired of being cooped up inside. I felt like I needed some fresh air." She smiled despite his probing stare. The look he gave her clearly indicated he didn't believe her. Orihime faced forward, watching the gentle sway of the leaves instead of facing his curious eyes head on. She absently rubbed her fingers across the bandages of one wrist, hoping that he didn't continue to quiz her reasons for being there so late.

"Does it still hurt?" His voice was low and filled with regret. She caught his eyes lingering on the white cloth covering her injured flesh. She'd seen that look on his face before, and didn't like when he felt like that.

"It just itches a little, so don't worry about it." The cheeriness in her voice was fake, even to her own ears.

The silence stretched between them once again, but it was comfortable. His spicy scent surrounded her, making her feel like she was truly back where she belonged. Her mind finally calmed down and stopped whirling with the depressing thoughts she'd been plagued with for two days as she basked in his presence. She wiggled her toes in the grass as the first real smile she'd had in days tried to make it's way to her face.

"Tatsuki was upset. She said you two haven't missed the Tanabata festival for years."

Just like that, her mood darkened once more. She raised her knees higher, resting her head and turning her face away from him. There was a pained look in her eyes that she was unable to hold back.

So her carelessness had hurt Tatsuki-chan as well? Her hands gripped her arms painfully, her fingernails leaving indentations along her otherwise unmarred flesh. She was the one who begged Tatsuki-chan all those years ago to go with her to the festival. If not for her childish enthusiasm, the karate champion would probably not care about the event.

A humorless laugh slipped free of her. "This is so stupid," she muttered to herself. Tears had once more filled her eyes; the urge to give in and just break down sobbing was so great. Orihime pulled her lip between her teeth, abusing the offending flesh as she desperately tried to hold it in.

"What?"

She took a deep breath, her chest heaving as more tears fell from her stormy eyes.

"What did you say Inoue?"

"I...I said it's just stupid," she finally answered, the unmistakable sound of her cries filling her voice. She buried her head into her arms, hiding her shame from his eyes. Her voice was muffled, but audible from the cradle of her trembling frame. "It's just a st...stupid st..ory."

A stupid story that she'd loved hearing her onii-chan tell over and over. A story that she'd daydreamed about many times, placing herself as the Orihime longing to see her Hikoboshi. The festival that she looked forward to every year...

Why did it have to hurt so much?

"You're right. It is just a stupid story."

Her breath caught painfully in her chest as the words left his lips. Her head whipped to him as the shock of hearing the very words she'd just said hit her so forcefully. He wasn't looking at her, but gazing out into the empty park with his frown pulling down on his handsome features. Orihime's mouth parted, but the words stuck in her throat.

She wanted to tell him it wasn't stupid, that it was something important to her, but she would only be contradicting what she'd already let fall from her lips. Her nails dug into her fragile skin in frustration. Why couldn't she ever properly say what she meant?

"I mean...I just don't get it."

She stared dumbly at his profile, a confused "huh?" falling from her lips.

"This guy says he loves her, right? Then why was he okay with being separated from her?"

He rose from his spot in the grass, absently brushing off his jeans as he stood. Orihime's eyes followed his lean frame, her mind coming to a complete halt as she listened to him. Even the tears in her eyes froze in their descent.

"He just goes on about his life, patiently waiting until he can see her on the one day a year they're allowed to meet?" He rubbed the back of his neck in frustration. "To hell with that."

He turned to face her and she felt the breath catch in the back of her throat. Determination filled his eyes as he gazed down at her. His face was consumed with that confident passion she'd seen him wear time and time again in battle.

"If I were Hikoboshi, I wouldn't care who it was...her father, the gods, any creature that dared lay their hands on her. There is nothing in this world or in any other dimension,"

Her hand rose automatically and slipped inside the one the vizard held out for her. His strong arms pulled her up gently, until she was standing face to face with him.

"That would keep me from my Orihime."

Her knees felt as if they'd give way, but his strong grip kept her standing. Wide gray eyes peered into his face, and she could see nothing but the truth etched across it. There was such conviction in his words; a promise made from his very soul that he would never retreat from.

Though tears trickled down her alabaster cheeks, they carried a much different emotion than before. As the night wind slipped between them, her lips tilted up in a smile that held every word she needed to say. The gentle look that filled his eyes belied the firm grip he kept on her hand.

"Come on, I'll walk you home."

Her heart still raced, her stomach was in knots, and she couldn't get her muddled mind to connect with her mouth the way she wanted. She simply held onto the hand that refused to let her go and followed him in silence.

But...that was okay.

This Orihime had the luxury of tomorrow.