Title: Yoga Lessons
Disclaimer: The characters and settings of Bleach belong to Kubo Tite, the author, and his publishers.
Another disclaimer: It will rapidly become apparent that I have only the most cursory and shallow knowledge of yoga, for which my profound apologies to all you yoga enthusiasts. Please forgive me.
Summary: Yoga is good for relieving tension. Though not, alas, for Ishida. Ishida/Orihime; Matsumoto/teasing; Hitsugaya/paperwork.
Ishida Uryuu was a rationalist, but he had to work at it. He was always having to re-convince himself of his convictions. Today, for example, standing in front of Inoue Orihime’s door, he was trying to re-convince himself that visiting a classmate who housed shinigami was not at all the same thing as consorting with shinigami. He had promised Ryuuken he wouldn’t do any consorting. But Inoue-san was the only person that he could be reasonably sure of getting his assignments from. Exams weren’t that far away. It was important not to get behind if he had any intention of getting into To-dai. “My father was busy shooting at me so I could regain my powers” probably wasn’t going to fly as an excuse for poor marks.
So it was important that he keep up with his coursework, at least as important as regaining his powers. Ishida was convinced he could both fight a war and keep his top ranking—that didn’t even require a whole lot of convincing—and Inoue was the most logical person from whom to get his assignments. He wasn’t particularly close to any of his other classmates. There was no question of asking Kurosaki, and Yasutora inhabited a world where homework did not exist.
And Inoue, for all her flights of fancy and air of perpetual distraction, was pretty damn bright. Her ranking wasn’t that far beneath his, she was very conscientious and she always did her work. And sometimes Arisawa’s work too, he had noticed. Inoue was guaranteed to have the assignments.
And he knew her fairly well. I mean, they weren’t close. Not per se. But they were—they were comrades, certainly that was true. They had fought together. They worked surprisingly well together. She would be happy to help him. So Inoue wasn’t just a logical person to go to for his assignments—she was the only logical person to go to for his assignments.
It wasn’t that he wanted to see her. Certainly not. He had a very good reason for being here at her door.
Fifteen minutes ago it had all made sense. Now, however, with her door staring blankly back at him, Ishida was not so certain that this was a good idea. He had just about convinced himself to turn around and walk away when Inoue finally answered her bell.
“Ishida-kun!” Inoue exclaimed. Her face lit up—just as it did for everyone else—and she smiled hugely—just as she did for everyone else.
Ishida’s heart skipped a beat, as it did for no one else. “Inoue-san.”
Inoue’s voice was all eager warmth. “You’ve been out of school! I wondered where you were. Have you been sick? But you look very healthy! Except your face is a little red. Do you have a fever?”
“I—no,” he stammered, and cursed himself for the stammering. “I’ve been a bit—a bit ill”—that was very nearly true; being repeatedly shot in the heart by one’s father probably counted as some kind of illness, didn’t it?—“and I just wanted to know if you had the assignments. For this week. For math.”
“Well, well, it’s Ishida!” Matsumoto Rangiku, vice-captain of the Tenth and Inoue’s erstwhile roommate, suddenly loomed over Inoue. Ishida took a hasty and instinctive step backwards. There was something very off-putting about the vice-captain. She was so big, so golden, so glowing; there was something lion-like about her. Especially in the way she looked at Ishida, as if she was thinking about eating him.
“We’re in the middle of something, and it would be extremely unsatisfying to stop now.” Matsumoto smiled at him with a mouth full of man-eating teeth. “You don’t mind waiting, do you? Go sit down over there. Come here, Orihime-chan. Show me that last one again.”
Matsumoto drew Inoue away from the door, and before Ishida had time for a second thought he was inside Inoue’s apartment, swept along in the wake of Matsumoto’s overpowering personality. Inoue’s few pieces of furniture had been pushed up against the wall to clear space on the floor. The lone straight-backed chair held Inoue’s other roommate, Hitsugaya Toshiro, Matsumoto’s captain. Hitsugaya sat facing away from the women, apparently absorbed in paperwork. Ishida obediently folded his long legs into the sofa Matsumoto had indicated.
Only then did he realize that he had interrupted Inoue in the midst of a lesson. Yoga, evidently; on the floor lay two mats, side-by-side. Well, yoga was very good for building grace and strength, and it was good for relieving tension as well.
Why, then, did he feel so tense?
“Are you sure you don’t mind waiting, Ishida-kun?” Inoue asked. Worry pleated her eyebrows. Inoue was always worrying about people.
“I don’t mind, I have time,” Ishida hastened to assure her, and was rewarded with a return of the glorious smile. He didn’t have time, not really; Ryuuken would have a fit when he realized Ishida was gone. But now that he was here, actually sitting on Inoue’s furniture in Inoue’s apartment, he didn’t feel in any hurry to leave.
Inoue, assured that she wasn’t inconveniencing him, dropped to the mat and turned her attention back to Matsumoto. “This is a cow pose,” Inoue said. She was on her hands and knees, and she slowly lowered her midsection toward the floor in a sinuous stretch that seemed to start at the base of her spine and move all the way up to her neck. A tingle ran through Ishida in exactly the opposite direction.
The vice captain imitated the pose. “Like this?”
Matsumoto glanced slyly at Ishida. “You know, I don’t get down on my hands and knees for just anybody, Orihime.”
Ishida’s eyes widened.
“That’s not what I’ve heard,” muttered Hitsugaya.
Ishida’s eyes widened even more. He drew in a breath to offer a brief reproof—that was hardly the way to speak to a lady—but Matsumoto caught his eye and dropped him a slow, fluttering wink. Ishida barely swallowed an unmanly squeak and hastily looked away, whatever he had intended to say forgotten.
Inoue looked over at him. “Are you all right, Ishida-kun?”
He felt himself turning red. “Yes, yes, fine,” he said, a shade too loudly. “I’m fine. You go on.”
Inoue moved on: “This is the cat pose.” This one, Ishida was interested to note, was almost the opposite of the cow pose; now Inoue’s back arched toward the ceiling. “Now you alternate between the two, back and forth.”
She demonstrated—back slowly, slowly lowered, and then slowly, slowly arched. Once, twice. Three times.
Ishida, his foot tapping nervously, looked down at his interlaced fingers, listened to the scratching of Hitsugaya’s pencil. He felt odd, watching her do that. Strangely tense. And vaguely guilty. Like it wasn’t right to look at them when they were stretching. At least it felt like it wasn’t right.
Though Inoue seemed perfectly comfortable; she didn’t even seem to notice he was there.
So he guessed it wouldn’t bother her if he looked. And he was only looking. There was no harm in looking. Right?
Ishida risked a glance back at Inoue, only to meet Matsumoto’s eyes. They were alight with mischief. The vice-captain smiled a Cheshire smile at him and said, “Goodness, Orihime, I had no idea you were so flexible!”
Orihime surfaced from the stretch, looking flushed and pleased. “Thank you, Rangiku!”
The vice-captain’s voice was very innocent—as innocent as the cat that got into the cream, Ishida thought—but her eyes were dancing. “Is there anything more complicated we can do together?”
Ishida pushed aside the mental image that immediately arose and scowled at the vice-captain, whose smile went from innocent to something he definitely, definitely didn’t want to think about.
Orihime tucked a stray hair behind her ears. “Oh, well, of course, Rangiku, if you like. Let me show you the camel pose.” Orihime dropped to the knees and bent over backwards, her arms stretched out over her head, her hands resting between her feet and her hair trailing on the ground. The position put her breasts at the highest point of her body. Ishida realized that his mouth had dropped open just slightly and snapped it shut again.
Why was he here again? For the math assignments. Yes. Time to think about math. Scratch scratch scratch, went Hitsugaya’s pencil. Maybe he could ask the captain for a piece of paper. He could work some equations while he waited.
Matsumoto knelt down to imitate the pose, and the long fall of red hair was joined by a long fall of gold. Math trickled out of Ishida’s conscious mind like water from a sieve. “Is this right, Orihime-chan?”
Inoue craned her head sideways to look at Matsumoto, which dragged her red hair across the floor. “That’s perfect!”
The vice-captain turned her head and caught him looking again. Ishida immediately dropped his eyes to the ground, feeling the flush scald its way along his cheekbones.
Oh, this was ridiculous. He could use spiritrons to control his body, to perfectly control his body. Why was this one particular part of him so resistant to his control? Ishida shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Not that it was his fault. He dared any male with an intact reproductive system to sit here and remain, so to speak, unmoved.
Yet there the captain sat, his cold eyes fixed on his paperwork. Perhaps Hitsugaya hadn’t hit whatever the shinigami equivalent was to puberty. Either that or he had ice in his veins as well as his zanpakto.
The women were talking, Matsumoto’s throaty chuckle followed by Inoue-san’s gurgling laughter. Inoue-san was leaning against Matsumoto’s shoulder. Ishida searched desperately for something other than voluptuous women to look at and settled on the little shrine with its worn-down candles. He wondered who the young man was. Obviously someone Inoue was fond of. Ishida pushed down the surge of possessive irritation that rose at the thought. It had to be a family member, anyway.
Speaking of family, where were Inoue’s parents? What parent in their right mind would leave a girl who looked like that to fend for herself in a world of teenage boys? Or worse, to be influenced by someone as unreliable and irresponsible as Matsumoto Rangiku?
Inoue stretched to her full length and sighed luxuriously. Ishida shut his eyes and tried to think of things that weren’t erotic. Algebra. Buttons and their stupid annoying buttonholes. Bad grammar. Kurosaki. His father. There, that did it.
Until he opened his eyes and saw Inoue again, who was doing something that looked deeply immoral to stretch out her long legs. “Stretching is the most important part of a workout,” she chirped to the vice-captain.
Matsumoto imitated Inoue’s position. “Mmm, that feels good.” Matsumoto’s low, throaty voice scraped against something in Ishida’s psyche that had previously been impervious to suggestion, and he felt an unexpected rush of heat along every nerve in his body.
To Ishida’s left, there was a sudden sharp noise. Ishida’s eyes went that way instinctively, and then widened.
Hitsugaya’s pencil had splintered in his fist.
Ishida looked up in surprise and met Hitsugaya’s eyes. There was a faint sheen of sweat at the young captain’s hairline and a muscle was jumping in his jaw.
Hitsugaya flung a fulminating look Ishida’s way. “They do this every damn day,” he said, under his breath and through clenched teeth. Tossing the shards of pencil on the ground, Hitsugaya sprang to the windowsill in a single lithe, athletic movement. “You’re too damn noisy,” he snapped, his back still to the women. “I’m going to the roof.”
Inoue-san looked up in dismay. “Oh, Toshiro-kun, we didn’t mean to—“
“Call me captain!” hollered back Hitsugaya, already halfway up the fire escape.
Matsumoto rose out of the camel position to her full height and stretched. “Don’t mind him, Orihime,” she said lazily. Ishida, watching the thin black fabric stretch over the vice-captain’s chest, marvelled at the captain’s stamina. If he, Ishida, had to sit through this display every day, his head would explode. It might yet.
Why were they doing this? It was probably Matsumoto’s idea. Or maybe it was Inoue’s. Maybe she just liked yoga. But why was she doing this in front of the captain? Didn’t she realize what this looked like? Didn’t she realize that Hitsugaya was a guy?
For that matter, didn’t she realize that he, Ishida, was a guy?
Ishida sighed. Inoue didn’t think of him as a guy. She told him once that she thought of him the way she thought of Arisawa. That had been a blow to his ego. She had been stripping her shirt off at the time, so the full indignity of it hadn’t occurred to him till later, when he was capable of producing intelligent thoughts again.
Still, it could have been worse. Arisawa was her best friend. There were worse things to be compared to than a girl’s best friend. It was proof that Inoue thought of him kindly.
Ishida clung to that notion. It wasn’t much, but “not much” was so much more than “nothing.”
Ha. That should be the motto for his life. They could put it on his tombstone when Ryuuken killed him for breaking his word and associating with shinigami. And his death was imminent, because now Inoue was standing up too, and reaching up her arms—
Ishida stood abruptly. He needed to get out of here right now.
The vice-captain seemed to know that he was out of patience. And endurance. She looked him up and down with a wicked smile. “I’m feeling tired, Orihime-chan,” Matsumoto said. “You work me too hard. I need a drink.”
Inoue-san dropped her arms immediately, always eager to please. “Of course, Rangiku,” she said. “And I can get my notes for Ishida-kun. And maybe Ishida-kun would like a drink?”
Ishida sat back down, let Inoue fuss over him for a minute, accepted the third time she offered to get him a drink, and then watched out of the corner of his eye as she left the room.
Leaving him alone with Matsumoto.
“So, Ishida,” she drawled, draping herself over the sofa next to him and throwing one arm against the cushions behind his head. Her man-eating smile was back. Ishida pressed himself back against the sofa, trying to avoid touching her with his knee, except that put his shoulders into contact with her outstretched arm. His heart thumped once, twice, against his ribs.
Ishida glanced longingly at the door, but it was clear across the room. No wonder Hitsugaya had gone for the fire escape. It was just a few feet away; Ishida wondered if Matsumoto would have time to completely deflower him before he reached it.
Maybe he should just throw himself out the window.
Matsumoto leaned closer. The breeze from the window, caressing her skin in passing, wafted a warm scent to him—part sweetly perfumed, partly salt sweat, and all female. “Can I ask you something?”
Please don’t, Ishida thought fervently. He knew he wasn’t good with girls—wasn’t good with anyone, really—and the last thing he needed was to fend off the advances of a lioness. Besides, he didn’t like the way she looked at him, as if she was laughing at a joke only she knew.
He looked at her warily. But Matsumoto’s beautiful eyes, which just minutes ago had been filled with wicked promise, now shone with kind understanding.
“Orihime-chan is such a nice girl,” Matsumoto said. “Don’t you think so?”
“A nice girl?” he repeated blankly. That went without saying. Everyone who met Inoue thought she was a nice girl. People noticed it immediately. Well, almost immediately. After they noticed her face and her hair and her figure. “Of course she is.”
Matsumoto nodded wisely. “I thought so,” she said, tapping a long, tapered finger against her chin. She lowered her voice and leaned even closer to him, her mouth so close to his ear that he could feel her breath. “Listen, Ishida-kun. It’s important that you don’t give up.”
“Give up?” Ishida said. Ishida felt like he had been off balance since the moment he had crossed Inoue-san’s threshold. Every time he tried to have an intelligent thought he got distracted and it flew out of his head. Ishida tried to pull himself together, to make sense of this conversation. “I shouldn’t give up? Give up what?”
Matsumoto tilted her chin toward the window, to the little pot of flowers that rested on the sill. “See those flowers? They couldn’t grow at all unless there’d been a seed planted. And then you have to pay attention to it, you know, and water it and stuff. Sometimes it takes a while for seeds to grow. You have to be patient.” Matsumoto smiled at him, a wry, affectionate, big-sister smile, then reached out and ruffled his hair. Ishida was shocked. Nobody ever ruffled his hair, not even Ryuuken. “Hang in there.”
Matsumoto flung herself back against the arm of the sofa, and, freed from her overwhelming presence, Ishida managed to catch his breath again. Matsumoto looked at him from under her lashes. “I love these yoga lessons with Orihime-chan,” she said, apropos of nothing. “So relaxing, you know. We make a little time for it every day. Right about now.”
Inoue came back from her bedroom, biting her lip and looking dismayed. “I’m so sorry, Ishida-kun!” she said mournfully. “I thought I brought those notes home! I’m such an idiot sometimes. Maybe I should run back to school and get them? It would only take me a minute…”
That lock of bright hair had escaped her ponytail again and her eyebrows were pleated with worry again. On her windowsill flowers bloomed, each one of them seed-grown.
A seed was very small. A seed was not much. But not much was so much more than nothing. Because, with time and patience, seeds could grow.
They do this every damn day, Hitsugaya had said.
We make a little time for it every day. Right about now, Matsumoto had said.
Inoue was still speaking. “Well, it would take me a few minutes, I guess, but I really should have brought them home anyway, and then they would have been here for you! I’m so sorry, Ishida-kun, let me go back to school for them.”
Ishida opened his mouth before he could talk himself out of it. “That’s not necessary, Inoue-san,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to put you to any trouble.” He cleared his throat. “I’ll come back for them tomorrow. Right about now.”
Over her head he met Matsumoto’s laughing eyes. Be patient, she had said. Pay attention, she had said.
Ishida was willing to try.
Maybe he could get this seed to grow.