Disclaimer: The characters and setting of Bleach belong to Kubo Tite and his publishers.
Summary: Inoue Orihime and Ishida Uryuu discover a hitherto unexplored application of the scientific method.
A/N: Happy birthday, Deb, with love.
The kiss was an accident—completely and in every way an accident. Orihime had been the one to throw her arms around his neck, and she probably shouldn’t have done that, but she had been a bit excited, so that was excusable. Ishida-kun had turned his head at the wrong time, just as Orihime’s lips had been level with his own, and that was unfortunate but certainly not the result of any forethought or intent. So when Orihime’s lips met Ishida’s lips in what was clearly and unmistakably a kiss, it was obvious that the incident was no one’s fault.
Still, they leaped apart as if propelled by an electric shock.
Ishida’s fingers touched his mouth. “Did we just—“
“Sorry!” Orihime blurted.
Ishida was red too. He grabbed his jacket and his books and headed for the door. “I’ll get your lab report tomorrow,” he said hurriedly. “See you in class.”
Orihime pressed cold hands to her flaming cheeks. The afternoon had begun so well, too. Tatsuki had been hanging around the physics lab, where Orihime and Ishida were making up a missed experiment in time to turn in their final lab reports for the semester. Tatsuki wanted to talk, but Ishida wanted to get to business.
“Can the chit-chat, please,” he said, annoyed. “We’re trying to work here.”
Tatsuki draped herself over the lab table. “What’s the matter, Ishida? You trying to get rid of me?”
Ishida-kun had the snarly, fidgety look Orihime recognized as being the precursor to one of his truly nasty remarks. Orihime smiled fondly at him. Time to head him off at the pass. “Can I call you later, Tatsuki?”
Tatsuki held up her hands. “You too, Orihime? All right, all right, I’m going. I can take a hint.”
“Only if it’s applied with a sledgehammer,” Ishida muttered.
“Ishida-kun!” Orihime said, trying not to laugh.
Tatsuki rolled her eyes. “You are the crabbiest person I know. Have fun with Slavedriver-san, Orihime.”
“I will,” Orihime said, and she meant it. No one had been more surprised than Orihime when she and Ishida became friends. Ishida was prickly, touchy, edgy; difficult to please and easy to offend. He was also the most interesting and stimulating companion she’d ever had. Ishida-kun knew how to do practically everything—which he made sure everyone knew about, of course. He was also unfailingly kind and helpful. He would do anything for his friends—even if, like now, he complained while doing it. Orihime had even come to appreciate his deadpan and ferociously sardonic sense of humor. He made almost everyone else she knew seem dull in comparison.
He was also an excellent lab partner. “I’m sorry to keep you waiting, Ishida-kun. I’m ready now!”
Ishida looked sideway at her. “It’s about time.”
“We’re almost done. Just two more to go. I wish we didn’t have to do the same experiment five times.”
“It’s the scientific method,” said Ishida. “If you didn’t do it several times, how would you know the results were valid? What if the first time was the result of a fluke or an error? That’s why it’s important to test things. The experiment has to be carefully replicated to be sure you get good results.”
Orihime sighed. “You’re so serious about lab, Ishida-kun.”
“I just think testing things is important. It keeps you from making mistakes. You might go in to an experiment with a hypothesis, but then find that the results contradict your initial expectations.” Ishida straightened and pushed his hair out of his eyes. “There, Inoue-san, did you get those measurements? That’s all for the experimental data. Now we just have to write the report for this one, and then the final report.”
Orihime’s stomach reminded her that it was approaching dinnertime. “Let’s not do it here, let’s do it at my place,” said Orihime. “We can take all our notes and just finish our reports there, right? I’m hungry. Aren’t you hungry? We can get something to eat.”
Ishida looked hesitant. Orihime smiled pleadingly. “Please, Ishida-kun?”
He bit his lip, but followed her back home without protest. In fact, he didn’t say a word during the whole walk. Orihime chattered, but Ishida was silent. It wasn’t until they actually got to the apartment that Ishida spoke again, and that was only when Orihime found the bag left at her door.
“Sukimura-san must have cleaned out her cupboard.” Orihime pushed her way into the apartment, set down the bag and pulled out a bright pink plastic container. She opened it and cautiously sniffed the contents. “Mm, that smells good. I love curry.”
“People bring you their old food?” Ishida-kun sounded angry. He looked angry too, his normally pale face flushing slightly at the cheekbones.
“To be kind,” she explained. Orihime pulled out another jar, puzzling over the roman letters on it. “Olive paste. What do you think that is?”
“Inoue-san, that’s not kind. How is that kind? Because they’re giving you what they don’t want? Because they’re giving you what they would have otherwise thrown away?” Ishida’s face was redder now, and his voice was sharp.
Orihime put down the olive paste. “I don’t mind,” she explained. Why was he so angry? “I don’t have a lot of money, you know. And I get a lot of interesting things this way.”
“Things that ought to be in the trash!”
“I’m not like you, Ishida-kun,” she assured him. “I don’t mind people’s leftovers.”
“You should mind,” he snapped, and then bit his lip immediately and lowered his head, so his hair obscured his face. After a moment of strangled silence, he muttered, “You should want better for yourself.”
Orihime stared at him, bemused. Was Ishida-kun worried about her? That was unexpectedly warming, to know that he worried about her. Ishida-kun got angry when he thought things weren’t right, weren’t fair. And now he was angry on her behalf, because he thought people weren’t treating her well. He had such a kind heart.
Orihime reached out on impulse and laid her hand on his clenched fist. “You don’t need to worry about me, Ishida-kun, but thank you,” she said.
His hair hung over his face, but the redness seemed to have increased, if anything. Was he still angry? It was hard to tell sometimes, and Ishida-kun wasn’t very good about expressing his feelings. You sort of had to identify a spot that looked promising and then dig, if you wanted to know anything about Ishida. Orihime sighed and went back to unloading the box. “Let’s eat first and then finish our reports,” she invited. “We’ll have”—she pulled out another packet—“we can have rice balls with olive paste and curry.”
“Rice balls with olive paste and curry?”
“It will be an experiment. A celebration of the scientific method.”
Ishida’s thin lips turned up at one corner in a quick slanting smile
Orihime smiled too, hugely relieved that he seemed to be over whatever was bothering him. She hated it when Ishida-kun was unhappy. “We can try every combination of rice, curry and olive paste, and see which we like best.”
Ishida-kun opened the jar of olive paste and sniffed it cautiously. “I think I already know.”
“But you can’t know for sure unless you try it.” Orihime said. “And you have to try it several times. The experiment has to be carefully replicated to be sure we get good results.”
Ishida scowled. “Are you making fun of me?”
“You may think you won’t like olive paste, but we have to test that hypothesis,” Orihime continued virtuously. “What if the first time was the result of a fluke or an error? The results might contradict your initial expectations.”
Ishida groaned. Orihime giggled. It was going to be a fun dinner.
And it was. Ishida did not like olive paste, an hypothesis born out by repeated testing, most of it over his half-hearted protests. And then they had gone back to the final lab report, which had taken such a long time and been such an enormous amount of work, and it would have been a horrible chore except for the fact that Ishida-kun was there to do it with her. When they finally finished it felt like a miracle.
“We’re done! We did it!” Orihime crowed.
Ishida pushed his hair off his forehead, looking tired but pleased. Orihime, overflowing with delight, threw her arms around his neck.
And that’s when the kiss happened.
That had been hours ago. Since then Orihime had been sitting at her kitchen table thinking of it. She hadn’t been able to think about anything else. Orihime dropped her head onto the table. I can’t believe I kissed Ishida-kun, she thought mournfully. That’s not how I imagined my first kiss at all. What was worse, Ishida-kun had looked upset. What if he was mad at her? How could she have been so thoughtless? What if he was too embarrassed to talk to her tomorrow? What if he never talked to her again? What if he was so embarrassed that he changed his name and moved to another country?
The thought made her chest hurt. Orihime looked down at her lab notes with a sigh. She had practically ruined her friendship with Ishida, and she had ruined her lab notes as well. They were now covered with little scrawled comments. She must have been writing as she was thinking.
First kiss like that?!? My fault. Because I have too much fun with Ishida. Because I am an idiot. Ishida angry? Embarrassed? What if he moves to another country? No more kissing. Too confusing.
She underlined that last one twice. Ishida-kun was her very important friend. He was too dear to risk that friendship. She would go to school in the morning, hand in her lab report and pretend the whole thing had never happened.
Orihime didn’t sleep that night, thinking about Ishida, worrying about what he now thought of her. She had very carefully prepared what she was going to say when she saw him. It was a nicely worded apology with a fervent expression of how important their friendship was and how much she appreciated him and how she would never, never be so stupid again.
When she heard his voice the next morning it drove every word of her nice speech right out of her mind.
“Inoue-san, can I get your lab report? To turn in with mine?”
“Oh yes, of course,” Orihime stammered. She fished the report out of her bag, unable to meet Ishida-kun’s eyes. He reached out to take the report and when his fingers brushed hers she started and dropped it. Orihime scrabbled to pick the papers up, babbling apologies, and thrust the messy stack at him. “Here, Ishida-kun.”
“Thank you, Inoue-san.”
She looked up and started; he was much closer than she had realized. Ishida’s eyes were puzzled. How blue they were, blue as the sky just after sunset when the stars are coming out. Ishida’s lips parted and Orihime’s heart tried to stop in her chest.
“Here,” she blurted, shoving the papers into Ishida’s hands. “I—I have to go. To the toilet!” Orihime fled the room, trembling. What was wrong with her? Now she was being an even worse idiot than before. Ishida-kun was going to hate her. But she couldn’t look at him without remembering that her mouth had rested against his mouth less than a day ago. She could almost feel it, if she thought about it. But she wasn’t going to think about it! At all! Ever again!
She carefully avoided looking at Ishida’s mouth or catching Ishida’s eye for the rest of the day, but it didn’t help; every time she thought about that kiss her heart jumped, and somehow she couldn’t stop thinking about it. Orihime was never so happy to see the end of a school day. “Tatsuki, want to go home with me?”
“Sorry, Orihime. I’ve got to head to the dojo. Call me tonight, okay? Oops, almost forgot.” Tatsuki dropped a packet of papers in Orihime’s lap. “Ishida asked me to hand that to you,” Tatsuki said breezily on her way out the door. “It looks like a lab report. Didn’t you turn it in?”
Orihime unfolded the sheets. It wasn’t her finished lab report at all—it was her notes. Orihime’s heart raced; in the space of a moment she was sweating and her stomach was churning. “Oh, no, no, no,” she moaned. “Please, no…”
But there it was, all her confused thoughts and feelings down on paper for anyone to see. For Ishida-kun to see. Orihime glanced down at the paper again and then snatched it up, wavering between mortification and terror. And then her heart skipped a beat.
Ishida-kun had drawn a circle around “no more kissing—too confusing” and added a note in his own clear handwriting.
How can you draw a conclusion with so little evidence? That’s the worst sort of sloppy thinking. Haven’t you learned anything about the scientific method? There’s no way you can conclusively determine how you feel about kissing me without a much more extensive study. Further trials—thorough, painstaking trials—appear to be in order.
Orihime dropped her face into her hands. Maybe she should move to another neighborhood. Another city. Maybe she should change her name and move to another country. Now there was a good idea. Was it possible to die of embarrassment? Could she please, please die of embarrassment now? It would be better than ever seeing Ishida-kun again. She could never look him in the eye, knowing he had read this.
Knowing he had written this. Further trials? Please, oh gods, oh heaven, thought Orihime. Let me die now.
A throat cleared itself in the doorway. Orihime looked up. It was Ishida, of course, because once it starts the universe doesn’t stop until your humiliation is thorough and complete.
“You should never have read this!” Orihime cried out before she could stop herself.
“You gave it to me. It was bundled in with your lab report. How was I supposed to know?” Ishida walked into the classroom.
“When you saw what it was you should have stopped reading!”
“I couldn't,” Ishida-kun said. He took a step closer, and then another. Orihime felt a tightness in her stomach. She rubbed hands suddenly gone ice-cold and damp against her skirt. Ishida dropped into the seat next to her and regarded her seriously. “Are you upset?”
“I’m very embarrassed,” Orihime quavered. “I wish I was dead.”
Ishida’s quick slanting smile came and went. “I don’t. Wish you were dead.” Ishida’s voice sounded raggedy around the edges, like frayed black velvet. He cleared his throat. “Not when we’ve got an experiment to finish.” He leaned forward, slowly, very slowly. So slowly. But he didn’t stop leaning, not till their faces were so close that Orihime could feel his breath against her face.
“Now,” he suggested in his black-velvet voice, “would be a good time to continue your experiment. The results might contradict your initial expectations.”
There were two spots of red high up on Ishida’s cheekbones and his eyes were as bright as candle flames. Something, a hundred somethings, suddenly fell into place for Orihime.
Ishida-kun liked her.
Had he always lit up like this for her, Orihime wondered, and she had never noticed it before? They had been friends for a long time now. All that time, Orihime had been so busy loving Kurosaki-kun that she had taken Ishida’s presence for granted. But now, winging back through her memories, Orihime saw Ishida over and over again, always in the right place to give her what she needed. He just gave and gave, and demanded nothing from her. That was—amazing, really. It was glorious. He wasn’t kind because he was hoping to get anything out of her; Ishida didn’t know the meaning of the word investment.
Could she give too? She didn’t know. Her heart had been fixed on Kurosaki-kun for such a long time. She didn’t even want to like him anymore, but somehow she had never been able to stop. That love dragged on her like a soul-chain. But maybe this time she could break away. Maybe it was time to stop accepting other people’s leftovers, and find something that was all her own.
Because Orihime knew that she would hate herself for the rest of her life, if she couldn’t somehow get herself free to love Ishida.
She looked up at Ishida again. Something in her face spoke to him, and he stood abruptly. “Just forget all this, all right? I don’t know what I was thinking. Sorry, I shouldn’t have troubled you.”
Ishida smiled, but the light in his eyes was gone, extinguished like a blown-out candle. She couldn’t bear it. Orihime stood up and pressed her lips against his, just for a moment, very gently.
Ishida’s bag slid out of his hands and thumped against the floor.
“I think—I think I’d like to try that experiment,” Orihime said. Her heart was racing again. “But it might take some time. Some experiments take time. Can you wait?”
“I—I—yes,” Ishida stuttered. His eyes were glowing again. “Yes, I can definitely wait. I mean, I’ve been waiting. A little longer won’t make any difference.”
“Oh,” Orihime said. “Okay. So—thank you, Ishida-kun.”
He nodded, bit his lip. “So,” said Ishida. “I should get going, then.”
“Right,” Orihime said. “Me too.”
He headed toward the door. “Oh, Ishida-kun,” she called, and he spun around. Orihime blushed. “Your bag. You forgot it.”
“Ah, right.” He came back, bent down to grab the bag, and turned to go. But then he turned back. “How long?”
Orihime pressed a fist to her anxiously beating heart. “How long?
“Because I think we should re-create the experiment while we’re waiting,” said Ishida, dropping his bag again. “It’s the scientific method, right?”
Then he caught her up in his arms, and she was being kissed with all the seriousness and determination Ishida usually brought to lab assignments. That kiss did not feel anything like what she had imagined, or like what she had read in books. It was dizzying, that kiss; it was dazzling. And then it was over, and she was being set gently back on her feet, still in the circle of his arms. “Re-creating the experiment,” Ishida said breathlessly. “Further trials. Very important. To make sure it’s not a fluke, or a mistake.”
Orihime’s head felt muzzy. “How many trials?”
“That was three, right?”
“Are we going to keep count?”
Ishida’s voice was all frayed velvet again. “How about we lose count instead?”
Orihime’s heart skipped a beat. There was going to be a problem with this experiment, she thought. The problem was, kissing Ishida-kun froze every iota of her mental processing capacity. She couldn’t think at all.
But she could feel.
She felt wonderful.
Ishida’s fingers touched her lips, but his eyes didn’t leave hers. They were such beautiful eyes—blue as the sky at dusk, and just as full of stars. Orihime looked into them, and fell.