Title: Pocky Kisses
Word Count: 4513
Spoilers: Set post HM arc.
Much love to misumaru for cleaning up the OOC moments and general 'whut?'.
There were three more minutes of class.
The clock above Sensei’s head ran slow, the second hand taking minutes to click from one second to the next, and yet it still read the same time as Ishida’s watch. Funny that. Or not so funny, really.
Ishida had given up trying to concentrate on the lesson. It didn’t matter anyway – he’d have time over the weekend to catch up anything he missed now…
He had packed his belongings for a quick getaway. Everything was in a neat pile, ready to be swept into the bag that was already unzipped. If he could get to the door first, get into the corridor just a few seconds before it became clogged with hordes of escaping students, then he would be too far away for the others to catch him.
Ishida held a piece of torn paper in his hand, neatly folded, neatly passed to him in those brief moments when Sensei was looking elsewhere in the room. Where were you at lunchtime? it asked in Inoue-san’s careful lettering. Ishida would not turn to look at her. He would not be undone by five little words. He held the note, wanting to clench his fist, crumple the paper and throw away all the hurt and accusations it contained. Yet he did not; this note was from Inoue-san. She had written it to him and that made it more precious than the Quincy bracelet on his wrist.
Where were you at lunchtime?
The grim fancy of him telling her exactly where he had spent his lunch crossed his mind. He could see her horror; oh yes – I was hiding in a toilet cubicle the whole time because I’m too chicken to tell you about the weekend. Because if I tell you, that will make it real.
He had spent the time counting the holes in the punched ceiling tiles above his head, doing math, imaging patterns, ignoring the spit-balls stuck up there. He had spent the time ignoring the crude drawings of genitalia and wads of discarded chewing gum on the walls, spent the time ignoring the scrawl on the back of the door claiming that Mishiko in 3-D was “up for it”. He had spent the whole time hoping that Kurosaki and Chad would not come looking for him - and yet disappointed that they didn’t. Maybe they just didn’t miss him.
The bell rang. Ishida stood up, his careful plan executed swiftly, but immediately undone by a hand gripping his shoulder from behind – Kurosaki’s hand. The spark of reiatsu he felt, like an arc of static electricity, was unmistakeable. It appeared that Kurosaki had been waiting too; coiled tightly, ready to spring into action the moment the bell sounded. Here it was, the moment he was trying to avoid, Kurosaki was going to ask him where he’d been, and then it would all come out and –
‘Yo. Fancy coming over tomorrow?’
It was not the question Ishida had expected, but it still had the same effect. There was no way to avoid the question without being obscenely rude, and no way to avoid the things that answering would unleash. And Kurosaki deserved an answer, a proper one. Had Ishida ever been invited over before? The thought warmed him, did a little to ameliorate the neglect he had felt earlier. He dropped his bag and turned to face Kurosaki properly. ‘I can’t.’
The class filtered out, but the group that Ishida could almost call friends remained. Inoue-san, Chad, Kuchiki-san – even Asano-kun, Kojima-kun and Tatsuki-san – they all loitered behind Kurosaki, their movements pending on the conversation that played out in front of them.
Ishida sighed. ‘Because I’m being punished.’
He stared at Kurosaki, hoping that the look said everything he was unable to say in public, that it said He is making me suffer because I went to Hueco Mundo with you. There was a split-second pause before Kurosaki’s face registered that he knew exactly what Ishida was being punished for. The stare had worked. ‘Oh.’
‘But that’s not fair! It’s your birthday!’
Everyone turned to face Inoue-san, who was now looking shame-faced for blurting out a secret that wasn’t hers to share. She stood with her arms behind her back, a tilt to her head so she seemed to be both looking at the ground and Ishida simultaneously. ‘Sorry, Ishida-kun; I wrote it in my birthday book when we were in first year, and I kept it, so I knew…’
She remembered it was his birthday… Ishida shook his head. ‘It’s okay, Inoue-san.’
She lifted her head, her brows knitted, and her voice strong. ‘No it isn’t. It’s your sixteenth. It’s important. You’re supposed to have a party.’
‘Has Ishida ever had a party?’ Asano sniggered. He was thumped by Tatsuki-san. Hard.
Ishida winced, and then hoped that looked like it was because of Tatsuki-san, and not because of the memories that Asano had dragged up. Ishida had not had a party since his fifth birthday. It had been Ryuken’s idea; invite all the children of his important business associates. None of them were Uryū’s friends. They had come and eaten his cake and played with his toys and laughed and played with each other without once acknowledging he was there. After that disaster, parties became a “waste of time” and only for “stupid people”. It was easier that way.
But things had changed. He had dared to think that this year would be different. This year he had people he wanted to spend time with. More to the point, this year maybe there were people who wanted to spend time with him.
Trust Ryuken to spoil that for him.
‘Yes, well, the whole punishment thing.’
‘Can’t you have one anyway? It’s not like you live with your father.’ Trust Kurosaki to come up with that as an answer. He was never any good at following the rules.
‘He’s worked out that he can’t keep me away from you by force, so he’s using stealth. He’s dragging me away to Kyoto until Monday evening while he’s at a medical conference. It’s not even like he’ll be spending the time with me. I just get dumped out in the streets with a wad of cash to keep me amused.’ Ishida couldn’t help the sour taste in his mouth. ‘Apparently I’m supposed to be grateful for such a wonderful opportunity.’
Asano stepped forward. ‘Hang on a sec. You’re being taken to Kyoto, you get to miss school on Monday, and you get to do whatever the hell you want while there? How exactly is this a punishment?’
Because I’d rather be here…
Ishida pulled a pen from his shirt pocket, thankful that it provided him with an honourable way of avoiding Asano’s question. He opened his diary, poised to write notes. ‘Of course I will be bringing back Omiyage gifts for you all, probably Yatsuhashi sweets, Nishijin silk, Uji tea, Kurodani paper – the usual stuff. But is there anything special that any of you want me to bring back?’
The room was silent.
‘Are you sure? This is the only time -’
‘Pocky.’ Inoue-san blurted out, and then quickly covered her mouth.
Ishida was surprised. Not that Inoue-san would have the temerity to ask, but that it would be for something so ordinary. ‘Pocky? That’s hardly special…’ Not special enough for Inoue-san, who deserved so much more than a box of biscuits.
She shook her head. ‘Kyoto has Powdered Tea Adzuki Bean Pocky.’ She looked embarrassed. ‘I’ve never tried it.’
Ishida smiled. That beautiful flight of food fancy seemed far more like Inoue-san. He wrote Pocky - Inoue-san in his diary. Not that he needed to – “Powdered Tea Adzuki Bean Pocky” was already etched deep in his memory. He closed his diary, bowing to everyone. ‘Well, I must be off. I’d rather not give Ryuken a reason to cut off my allowance.’
No one seemed inclined to move. They all just stood there while he hoisted his bag to his shoulder, adjusted his glasses and took a step towards the door. ‘Well, I’ll be going now.’
Asano smiled and waved. ‘Have fun!’
The rest stayed quiet. Asano’s well-wishes would have to suffice. Ishida exited the room with a final wave, hurrying home to get ready for his father even as he wanted to run the other way.
He missed hearing Tatsuki speaking softly, forlornly, to the others -
‘There’s something dreadfully sad about buying presents for other people on your birthday.’
The weekend was just as awful as Ishida had expected.
It had started with Ryuken trying to make small talk on the train; you must visit the Golden Pavilion, the Ryōan-ji rock garden, the Gion quarter, the Philosopher’s Walk, the Iwatayama Monkey Park, this and that, blah, blah, blah.
Couldn’t Ryuken see he had a textbook? That Ishida would rather read that, or do anything else, than listen to him? But no, Ryuken would rather fumble at this poor, one-sided excuse for a conversation. Monosyllabic responses did nothing to persuade Ryuken to leave him alone.
And yet, as soon as they got to the hotel room, Ryuken was off to his precious medical conference. Ishida was left watching cable, wishing he were back in his meagre flat, or out in the streets armed with his spirit bow, rather than being cooped up in the hotel room, being bored to tears by game shows. There wasn’t even repeats of Kanonji’s Spirit Hunter to watch.
His actual birthday was the worst ever. It rained steadily. The temples were full of tourists. The Geisha and tea ceremony displays were tacky, and, to add to the insult, ruined by constant flash photography and ringing mobile phones. Ishida couldn’t find any fabrics he liked. He sat on some gum, which ruined his trousers. No one called or texted his mobile. But to top it all off, and he wasn’t sure what was worse - he couldn’t find Powdered Tea Adzuki Bean Pocky anywhere and Ryuken hadn’t bothered to wish him a happy birthday.
Monday morning came around and Ishida was no longer concerned with sightseeing. He hadn’t promised Inoue-san that he’d get her the Pocky, at least, not aloud, but he had to get it. He couldn’t fail on something like this. He was supposed to be reliable. Inoue-san was supposed to be able to rely on him. The Pocky was important. Far, far more important than the lacquered box for Kurosaki, the silk-covered books for Chad and Tatsuki-san, or the monkey-shaped netsuke he would surreptitiously pass on to Abarai-san. How could he possibly bring gifts for everyone else, and not Inoue-san? She’d forgive him, sure, but he should never put her in a situation where he had to take her forgiveness as granted.
He dashed along the streets he was beginning to recognise by sight, ducking into this sweet shop, and that tourist shop, but without success. Had it been discontinued? Or was it just that he was looking in the wrong type of shop? Come to think of it, nearly every store he had visited was so clearly aimed at tourists; it was not so surprising that he might be looking in the wrong places. He needed the help of a local.
He worked up the courage to approach random strangers, but it quickly deflated when the people he approached ended up being tourists like he anyway. This was hardly tourist season, and yet it seemed like nobody actually lived in the town. He thought to the group waiting patiently back in Karakura Town, sifting their personal histories to see if any of them had Kyoto ties he could utilise, but he drew a blank.
He had less than an hour before he had to meet Ryuken, and still no Pocky. As much as he hated it, he was going to have to ask for help. He was going to have to ask Ryuken.
Ishida thumbed his phone address book, dialled the number, and although he half expected Ryuken to ignore the call, Ryuken picked up after the second ring.
‘Uryū?’ His voice was low, as if he had taken the call whilst still in a seminar.
‘Your conference – is there anyone from Kyoto there?’
‘Well, yes. Why?’
‘Can you ask them where I can get Powdered Tea Adzuki Bean Pocky, please.’
There was a pause. ‘You’ve interrupted my conference for Pocky?’
‘I wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t important!’ Ishida growled.
‘Is it a girl?’
How did Ryuken’s mind work? Ishida says the word “Pocky” and his father manages to turn that into “girl”. Ishida gritted his teeth; now was not the time to antagonise him - Ryuken could hang up any time he liked, and Ishida would be left without Pocky. ‘Please?’
‘Hold on a moment, Uryū.’
Ishida could hear the muffled tones of his father’s voice resonate through layers of clothes as the mobile phone was pressed close to his chest. The phone was lifted free, the ambient noise coming down the line akin to listening to a conch shell. ‘There’s a place near here. Tanaka-sama says he will take me there before he drives me to the train station.’
His grip tightened on the phone. This wasn’t good. What if the store had run out? At least if it were Ishida doing the search he could move on to the next shop, keep looking. Ryuken had no motivation – especially if he thought it was “just Pocky”. ‘Please? Can’t you get me the address or something?’
Ishida could hear footsteps, and the sound of a door before Ryuken’s voice rose to its normal levels. ‘No Uryū, I can’t – not without risking offence to Tanaka-sama. Besides, if you say it’s important, then it’s important. I promise you’ll I’ll be at the train station, a box of this Green Tea Poc-’
‘Powdered Tea Adzuki Bean Pocky.’
‘A box of those in hand. Okay?’ Ryuken’s voice had gone hard. But Ishida had gained a promise. Those were rare, but inviolable. As much as he hated turning his fate over to his father, he felt secure that Ryuken would do as much as was humanly possible.
But now he had nothing to do but to kill time while he waited.
At least that textbook would be useful for things other than to avoid talking to his father.
Ishida could see Ryuken striding down the platform. That white hair and his attitude made people notice him and stand to one side. It was as if Ryuken could clear a direct path to where Ishida stood by pure willpower. But it made it obvious from a distance that Ryuken held no box of Pocky.
Ishida wondered why he bothered standing up. Surely something else was going to come along and kick his legs out from under him. Happy birthday weekend Ishida: You failed miserably.
A single nod to his father, and they boarded the train. This journey Ryuken seemed less eager to talk. A full half hour passed, Ishida resting his forehead against the glass, staring at the urban landscape gradually make way to rural greenery.
‘I tried four shops.’
‘I tried over twenty before I called you.’ Ishida didn’t mean for it to sound so harsh, but it silenced Ryuken for another ten minutes or so.
‘It’s probably a good thing, you know.’
Of all the stupid things to say. Issida lifted his head to glare at Ryuken. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
Ryuken arched an eyebrow. ‘You wasted your time in twenty shops for a packet of Pocky? That’s pretty pathetic,Uryū, even if it was for a girl. Besides, I’m not so out of touch that I don’t know what Pocky means.’
This he had to hear. ‘Please tell, Ryuken. I’m all ears; what does Pocky mean?’
Ryuken grimaced. ‘Don’t tell me that with all that time you spend with your head in books, that you don’t know about Pocky kisses.’
Ishida quickly turned back to watching the landscape. Of course he knew about Pocky kisses. He had read Midori Days and seen episodes of Oh my Goddess - it was so ubiquitous, like the whole “yawn and stretch” while watching movies. But it was still icky that Ryuken knew, and felt that it was fine to mention such things to his son.
And now he hated that Ryuken had.
That one comment had taken root and spread through his mind. It began to chant pocky kiss, pocky kiss, pocky kiss along with the clack of the train wheels. It was as impossible to destroy as a cancer.
Is that what Inoue-san had meant? Was this not about the Pocky? She had blushed after all when asking for it. Was this some backward, ultra-romantic way of her saying she liked him? Liked him like that? But of course she didn’t. So he had saved her. So what? He had nothing on Kurosaki. Everyone knew Inoue-san liked Kurosaki. It was nonsense. But if it was nonsense, then why had she blushed?
His thoughts went around from top to bottom like the train wheels that carried him home.
Pocky kiss, pocky kiss, pocky kiss.
He tried to break the rhythm with Hate my father, hate my father, but candy flavoured kisses kept weaselling back into his headspace.
The train pulled in to Karakura Town, and Ishida had to laugh. Where the clocks had moved interminably slow on Friday, it seemed like everything had to move fast now to catch up with the rest of the world. How much shorter was this train journey? How quick would his sleep be before he had to hand an Omiyage gift to everyone except the most important person of all?
His father stepped from the train first, clearing a path than Ishida could never had made on his own. They managed to get one of the first taxis, and they both slid into the back, shutting their doors at the same time. It was Ryuken, naturally, who spoke first. ‘It’s too late to cook.’
Ishida looked at his watch, the one that was now running too fast. ‘No it isn’t.’
Ryuken looked exasperated. ‘Look, I’m offering to buy you dinner. Do you want it or not?’
Logically, there was no reason not to accept; his budget would go a little bit further if he did, but Ishida couldn’t help but wonder how this would cost him in other ways. ‘Okay. I guess.’
‘Good. We’re going to La Guillotine.’ Ryuken looked Ishida up and down. He sniffed. ‘You’re not really dressed properly – you look like you buy all your clothes from the thrift store, but it’ll have to do.’
Personal insults – the cost was already kicking in. Ishida felt tired, small. ‘We could go somewhere else…’
Ryuken shook his head. ‘I’m not having my dinner spoilt by you, so suck it up.’
Ishida didn’t even like French food. It was pretentious – just like Ryuken. However, the thought of those extra Yen in his pocket kept him two paces behind Ryuken and remaining silent.
Ryuken pushed open the restaurant doors – and Ishida wanted to cry.
How could things be any worse?
He had seen them all; every single one of them - Inoue-san, Kurosaki, Chad, Kuchiki-san Asano-kun, Kojima-kun and Tatsuki-san – sitting together in the corner of the restaurant. And as soon as they caught sight of him they hid behind their menus. No birthday messages, nothing, and now this.
He turned to run, but Ryuken’s fistful of his shirt collar stopped him. ‘Where do you think you’re going, Uryū?’
‘Won’t your friends think it a bit odd that you’ve run from your own birthday dinner?’
He turned back to the table to see the others, not hiding from him, but pretending to hide from him; all stupid smiles and ducking dramatically behind those pieces of folded card. As if people really hid behind menus in real life.
‘Have fun, Uryū.’
Ishida heard his father’s footsteps move back towards the exit. ‘Wait… you’re not staying?’
Ryuken glared at him. ‘I said I wasn’t going to have my dinner spoilt by you. The same goes especially when you’re with friends.’ He paused. ‘The manager knows your ages, and he has my credit card details, so I’m not needed any more.’
Ishida didn’t know what to say. Luckily Ryuken didn’t seem to need to hear anything from him. He was gone before Ishida decided that a simple “Thank you” would have sufficed.
He turned back to his friends, all of their faces eager and expectant. ‘I don’t know what to say. Really.’
Asano-kun looked scared. ‘You’re not going to cry are you, Ishida? ‘Cause that would really suck.’
Ishida punched him, a light tap before Tatsuki could hit Asano-kun hard on his behalf. ‘No, I’m not going to cry, Idiot.’
It was then that he realised there was a place at the table waiting just for him. He sat down, and present after present, carefully wrapped in paper and ribbons, or boxed, except the one from Inoue-san which was wrapped in the exact type of silk he had tried to find in Kyoto – they were placed in front of him, one after the other. ‘How am I going to get these all home?’
All eyes flicked to Inoue-san. It appeared that the birthday surprises were not over yet. ‘What? Has he done something really flashy like book a limousine?’
Inoue-san shook her head. ‘Nothing like that. Don’t worry, Ishida-kun, you’ll find out soon enough.’
They ate three courses. They drank enough fizzy, sugary, caffeinated beverages that none of them felt like they would sleep for a week. They sang karaoke. Even Ishida - although it took a lot of prompting for him to make his way to the microphone. The other tables emptied out. The waiters straightened tables and turned chairs upside down, but their little corner kept going as if the clocks were perpetually stuck at nine p.m.
Then Kurosaki stood up.
‘Goat face might have relaxed my curfew for this evening, but he still gave me a time to be home. I know he’ll be waiting for me too. And it’s a school night.’
The party was officially over.
Kuchiki-san followed Kurosaki immediately, the two of them wishing Ishida well, although Kuchiki-san’s birthday greeting were done with a lot more grace and dignity.
As if the floodgates had opened, Asano-kun and Kojima-kun bolted, not willing to bend beyond the most perfunctory backslapping and bows. Chad, too, said very little, but Ishida expected nothing more. Tatsuki-san whispered briefly in Inoue-san’s ear, before she left as well.
Ishida was alone. Alone with Inoue-san.
The silly mantra that had been suppressed with all the talking, all the laughter, resumed its whispers; pocky kiss, pocky kiss, pocky kiss.
Ishida sighed. If only. If only he had that pocky. If only he could do something like that.
Inoue crossed her arms. ‘So your father called me today.’
‘How did he get your number?’
Inoue-san smiled. ‘The same way he contacted all of us; he must have some hold over Kurosaki-sama, because he snuck into his son’s room and took Kurosaki-kun’s mobile to get our numbers. Kurosaki-kun was not pleased let me tell you. Any way, between the two of them, they made sure we were free tonight, but without telling us the real reason for it until after you’d left for Kyoto. Your dad’s pretty sly.’
‘That’s one word for him.’
Inoue-san frowned. ‘You don’t like him much, do you?’
Ishida shook his head. ‘No.’
‘Why not? He seems to care for you a lot. I mean, he took you to Kyoto, he organised all this, he gives you an allowance so you can live in your apartment -’
Ishida waved his hand. ‘That’s all flashy stuff; stuff that other people can see so he doesn’t lose face. The reason why I don’t like him? It’s complicated. It’s definitely not materialistic.’
Inoue-san’s eyes filled up – whether it was with sadness or pity, Ishida couldn’t tell. ‘Can you promise me something, Ishida-kun?’
Of course he could. Of course he would. ‘What?’
‘Can you promise me that you’ll try? You never know when it might be too late…’
She wiped her eyes with the back of her hands, laughing. ‘Silly me. This is supposed to be a happy time.’
Ishida touched her gently on the shoulder. ‘It is a happy time.’
She nodded. ‘And it’s not over yet.’ She prodded him gently with a finger. ‘Your dad knows what you think of him by the way. He said when he called me today “don’t tell Uryū-kun, or anyone else about this. I don’t want him thinking I’m doing this for anyone else’s sake but his.’
‘What are you talking about, Inoue-san? What’s “this”’?
She grabbed one of the carry bags of presents, motioning to Ishida to pick up the other. ‘It’s outside.’
The mantra adopted the rhythm of their footsteps, pocky kiss, pocky kiss, pocky kiss. The car park was nearly empty; just a few bikes and cars that belonged to the restaurant staff. ‘What? I can’t see anything.’
It was cold outside. The weather had turned with the page of the calendar, and Ishida found himself shivering. He could see his breath, wisps of rolling vapour caught in the car park floodlights.
Inoue-san fished inside her pocket, pulling out a set of keys. ‘These are for you.’
She pointed to the brand new, blue Vespa LX 50 scooter parked in the far corner of the car park; the same model that Ishida had been eyeing in the motorbike shop window. ‘Happy Sixteenth Birthday, Ishida-kun.’
He felt tears prickling his eyes, and he didn’t bother trying to hold them back. He wouldn’t hold them back – he would never pretend around Inoue-san, not when she didn’t hide things like crying from him.
She thumbed a tear from his eye. She didn’t say anything, didn’t ask what was wrong, but didn’t ignore his tears either. She smiled. ‘There was something else your father said. He said to check the helmet before I left.’
Ishida was puzzled. Inoue-san shrugged. ‘I don’t know what he meant by that either.’
They walked over to Ishida’s new bike. He ran his hands over the handlebars, over the seat, before fumbling with the keys, trying to find the right one to open the storage compartment beneath the seat. With a click, he opened the lock and pushed open the lid.
Inside was one packet of Powdered Pocky kiss, pocky kiss Bean Pocky kiss, pocky kiss Pocky.
‘I believe this belongs to you.’ He pulled out the package and handed it to Inoue-san. She recognised the packaging immediately, squealing ‘thank, you thank, you thank you!’ as she hugged him, jumping up and down, making him jump with her.
She stopped jumping, but still looked as if her eyes were filled with sunbeams. ‘Thank you, Ishida-kun.’
He shook his head. ‘No thank you, Inoue-san.’
She stood there, just like that.
He placed his arms around her waist, and she did not break away. He bent down to her. Oh god, she was tilting her head up to meet him. He closed his eyes...
Who needed Pocky?