Word Count: 1,493
Summary: She's been everybody else's girl.
Author's Notes: Beta-read by the magnificent scuttlebutt. I'm still rather depressed over my good-as-sunk OTP, but I wanted to write something for Debbie. Happy birthday! And to everyone else: enjoy!
The Long Sit
There's so many boys in her life; he resents it. She has but to leave a patch of her soul unattended for the space of a glance and there they'll be, popping their stupid heads out like burdock and weeds, like prickly wildflowers. There's never none; there's never less. It's either 'this many' or 'this many more'.
There's nothing for it: Ishida stays silent, keeps his own counsel, forebears; but he loves her, he loves her, he loves her too.
Inoue-san is 15 when he first meets her, kind, sunny, easily distracted... and already smitten with Kurosaki Ichigo for years.
He doesn't even have the excuse of ignorance, see? He's known from the very first.
Ishida registers her as a constant presence in class and the school's stuffy corridors, but they don't trade words until the teacher seats them next to each other in the Handicrafts Club. Even then, he doesn't plan on speaking to her until he notices that, instead of mending the raggedy plush zebra she's been appointed, she's... doodling.
"That's quite the retro design you've got there... Inoue-san, is it?" His tone is not unkind, but she jumps as if he's accused her of burning the national flag, and flushes stoplight-red. "I'm not sure that you can sew an armor, though," Ishida continues, now smiling a bit in an effort to set the girl at ease. "Did you get lost on your way to the Blacksmithing Club?"
"Ehh? No!" she promises, still quite red. "I just, I have this friend, and I thought he might look good in a knight's armor... but I dunno how to use a hammer, really! I smashed Tatsuki-chan's favorite trophy to particles last time I was given one to hold!"
"Relax," he says, in equal measures amused and apologetic. "It's a fine drawing."
"You think so?" The girl beams, and it's like the sun has come to roost behind the membrane of her skin. "Well, then, let me fetch my recent art project -- we were supposed to draw our future selves..."
The orange-haired boy doesn’t feature in that particular dystopia, but he does in all the subsequent pictures she shows him. If he's not her boyfriend, he probably will be soon. Probably, he won't deserve it.
"Is that an airplane being attacked by a, uh, by a white --"
"A white shark -- yes, yes it is! Oh, good! Everyone else thought it was a goldfish eating steel-encased kibble! You're very impressive, Ishida-kun... Ishida-san!"
Someone to his left sneezes. A bird chirps. The draught stealing through the half-open window makes the confiscated paper-boat on the teacher's desk rustle and croak. Every object has a bolder outline than it did a minute ago, and an extra dimension.
She comes back from Hueco Mundo and of course her birthday's come and gone and she's 16 now, but she hasn't just grown up; she's grown old. Chipped and weathered are the contours of her face, her eyes subdued, her smile brittle like chaff around the edges.
A new boy has smuggled his way into her heart, but it takes a while for Ishida to pick up on his existence, never mind his identity. He just continues to attribute the fitful sighs and pensive looks to Kurosaki, until the day when Asano-kun invites them over for snacks and videogames.
"I’m lousy at this," Inoue-san moans, slamming her palm on her controller's every button and cross. "Ishida-kun will be the endgame! He's a natural!"
"Inoue-san, it really isn't so hard."
"Yes it is!"
"No, see here..."
"NOODLES!" Asano-kun blares the non sequitur at the top of his lungs, smothering both their voices. "I'll go help sis make them, and we will eat them and have great fun together! Just the three of us! Because who needs Ichigo, in the face of such glorious friends? WHO NEEDS HIM?" He doesn't seem to expect an answer as he flounces away in the general direction of the kitchen.
In his absence, the awkward silence of first dates and family funerals settles over the pair like a second ceiling. It is only intermittently broken by the sad crunch of Inoue-san's character being run over by a train.
"Ishida-kun, have you ever found yourself in a situation where a girl has been in love with you for a long time without you knowing?" she asks, out of nowhere. "And when she finally confesses it, it's too late and you can't be together? Have you?"
He thinks he knows what this is about.
"Some guys are less perceptive than others, Inoue-san, and Kuros-- the hypothetical guy in this scenario -- is the 'least' of that 'less'. The interested person would just have to --"
"Ulquiorra was in love with me!" she blurts out, and no, he doesn't know what this is about. "I didn't see it in time, and so I couldn't even hold his hand like he wanted, and Ishida-kun, I can't get it out of my head anymore! His eyes and his words... what if --? Do you think Hollows can ever be good?"
His shell-shocked body reaches out to comfort her while a horrible chill visits his neck and his left shoulder, like the exhalation of a ghost. Of a vampire.
She gets over Kurosaki through the combined forces of grief and time, by which all others are measured. Himura comes next (he has his predecessor's green eyes but none of his intensity), then Kojima (they part ways when she catches him flirting with an older woman), then Momohara (he tells her he wishes she were more serious and down-to-earth), and then, and then -- seems to Ishida that humanity could make a new Tower of Babel using only Inoue-san's boys.
He dates a number of people himself, in the meantime; being president of the student council has its perks. The kisses they give him are pleasant enough, but not dizzying or haunting like the one Inoue-san doesn't give him.
Arisawa-san finds out sometime between Ulquiorra and Kojima. What he calls 'forbearance' she calls 'surrender'. What he calls 'chivalry' she calls 'cowardice'.
They're 21 when he very nearly bridges the divide.
It's Inoue-san's birthday and she's invited everyone from her best friend Arisawa-san to the toothless old man she once bought a sack of potatoes from. Unfortunately, the amount of guests is positively proportional to the mess they leave behind, and Inoue-san's the one who has to restore order afterwards. Ishida -- like the gentleman he is -- joins her.
"No life-sized inflatable phone booth this year, at least," he says as he heaves a package off the floor.
"No boyfriend," Inoue-san responds.
This is a good moment; he wants to distill it into white fabric, sew it into a shirt and wear it to university, to work, to training, to bed. The air smells pleasantly of girls' perfumes and strawberry cake, and there is something very comforting in arranging these gift-boxes into long neat rows, as if it's Inoue-san's life he's putting back together.
"I could have sworn, though," Ishida ventures, at length, "that your boyfriend -- apologies, ex-boyfriend -- attended the party today."
"Yeah, 'course he did. Why wouldn't he?"
"Same old Inoue-san," Ishida muses aloud, unable to suppress a smile at the sight of her puzzled, blinking face. Casually as he can, he presses on: "Why did you break up with him?"
Laughter bubbles forth from Inoue-san's lungs like a fizzy drink. It spins and levitates in the air. "Oh, Ishida-kun, why do I break up with anyone nowadays?" She's stopped laughing, but dregs of a smile are still visible within the vessel of her lips; Ishida ponders them while he attempts to answer her question in his mind. Escalating rows? Unequal attention? Low self-esteem? High standards? "-- I got bored."
Ishida is flabbergasted; he can't even pretend not to be. "Well," he says, voice voluminous and strained. "I should hurry and break out the juggling props."
"Ishida-kun!" the girl exclaims, joyfully scandalized. "You never bore me! We've been through so much together, and you guys know me so well... we're in perfect sync!"
'You guys' is Ishida. Ishida is 'you guys'. He's pretty sure it's meant as a compliment, but it instantly transports him to a room in Soul Society, where Inoue-san pivots round and takes her shirt off. I thought I was with Tatsuki-chan, she explains.
Something she can't misinterpret, now. He closes his eyes and leans in.
The kiss is sabotaged when his right foot bumps hard against hers, causing Inoue-san to drop the gift-box she'd been carrying. The floor is suddenly strewn with jagged shards of china and glittering motes of glass, and the room is in chaos again and in disarray.
Nothing has changed.
She starts dating Matsuoka a month later, then Kato, then Kusama, then Honda, then Yamaguchi... and then... and then --
He will be the last, the very very last.
(He will be the endgame.)