Disclaimer/Notes: More mushy, angsty, IshiHime fluff than you can shake a stick at! (Or...whatever you choose to shake. If, in fact, you choose to shake anything at all. ::weird mental images:: I'll shut up now.) This is placed somewhere after when Ishida returns from Soul Society without his powers and trains with his father, and when Inoue's Shun Shun Rikka are broken. IshiHime is pretty much my favorite Bleach pairing, and though I can't dream that this oneshot could ever do them justice, I hope it's enjoyable! Very, very small spoilers for some post Soul Society events are contained in this story.

What was it? A third wheel? No. That was a tricycle. Tricycles needed their wheels. Cars had four wheels, and they needed all those, too.

Fifth wheel. That was it. That was what she was, what she felt. A fifth wheel, rusted and useless, anchored to the back of a vehicle, left for years and years, unable to bear the burdens like the rest. Just waiting to be needed. Waiting...and waiting.

But who needs a fifth wheel?

To bear the burdens like the rest. That was what she wanted. Those under the burden always said that it was heavy. They said she was better off back there, on the sidelines. But she was different. She would have given everything inside of her to be of use. She would have done anything to be needed.

But she had to be honest with herself. It was what everyone else told her, too. She was superfluous. Unneeded. She could not fight. She hadn't the will to take a life.

She hated herself for hating herself for not being able to kill.

But killing was a horrible thing. It really was! Why did people need to kill?

Inoue Orihime did not realize she'd been crying until her blurred vision cleared. Her welled-up tears had spotted onto her gray-blue skirt, making funny looking dark polka-dots. She sniffed and laughed a little. She'd never much liked polka-dots. Frantically, she wiped at her tears, but as soon as she wiped the first ones away with her hands, more streaked down to take their place.

She didn't know why it hurt so bad.

She watched them in pain, watched them bleed. She was the helpless, useless princess who could only watch while others died around her. She wondered when she read all those crazy stories...

Didn't the knights know that the princess didn't want to be saved if it meant giving their own lives up?

Kuchiki-san was not helpless. Kuchiki-san was a princess, though. She was so beautiful. She fought along with the others.

She was not one to be protected, but one who protected.

Anything. Orihime would have given anything to be like Kuchiki-san, the one who Kurosaki-kun smiled around. She felt a warm cloth press in her hands, and she impulsively wiped her eyes with it. She held it there until the tears stopped, and only looked up when she heard a very funny sound. She blinked to clear her vision, lifting the handkerchief away from her eyes curiously.


"Ah...Hi. Inoue-san." He made very strange noises and moved back and forth on his feet like he needed to go to the bathroom.

"Do you have somewhere to go?" she asked softly.

It was his turn to blink. He was in the middle of pushing his glasses up over his eyes when she spoke, and he stopped, confused. "I had just come out go shopping. And...I saw you—"

Crying? "I'm sorry. It was silly of me! I had something in my eye."

Ishida cleared his throat, glancing all around before he awkwardly took a seat next to her. Orihime looked up, suddenly aware of where she was. The breeze smelled of life, of spring. The sakura trees were blooming, and stray petals floated on the air. She sat in the city park, at the huge fountain in the center. The rock that comprised it seemed older than everything else, weathered but still strong, as if the city had been built around the beautiful fountain. Water like liquid sky poured gently from its peak, winding down the intricate pathways.

She hardly remembered coming here. She'd really just needed some fresh air, and before she'd known it she'd let her thoughts get the best of her and that was never good. Thinking too much was never very good at all.

She looked over at Ishida and blinked. "Weren't you going shopping?"

"Ah..." Again, he pushed up those glasses. "That can wait."

"Do you need new glasses, Ishida-kun? You're always pushing them up like they're falling off. Would you like me to buy you a pair?"

He froze in mid-action, caught red-handed. He busied his hands by twisting them together in his lap. ", Inoue-san, thank you. They fit very well. I'm...more worried about you. You see, I saw you...crying, and I...I was worried if you were okay or not." His face looked very red. Was it cold out here? Orihime couldn't tell.

She grinned brightly. At least she hoped it was bright. "I'm always okay, Ishida-kun! Don't you ever worry about me." She looked at his face, and frowned. "You look very, very tired," she observed.

He turned away from her and she knew she'd said something wrong.

...It wasn't polite to say things like that, was it?

Once she and Sora had been at a neighbor's house and Orihime had asked why the woman's belly was so big. Was she going to have a baby? The woman got really red in her face. Sora had talked to Orihime for a very long time about not saying some things even if they were the truth, because they made people feel bad.

"I was rude," she said.

Ishida looked up abrubtly. "No! I weren't. You're right." He sat forward. "I've been very busy."

"Is that why no one has seen you very much lately?"

Ishida frowned. "Yes. I've been—" He caught up on that sentence, as if questioning the soundness of going any further. "Training," he finished softly. "Now...what were you doing here?"

"Thinking," she said.

"Ah...about what?"

"Princesses. And knights."

Ishida looked supremely confused. She told him so.

"It's just that—why would thinking about that make you sad?"

Inoue sighed. A stiff breeze tore through the air. "Have you ever thought about it, though? What if the princess doesn't care what happens to her? What if she just doesn't want to hurt anyone...or want anyone to get hurt? What if she just wants them to be safe?"

Ishida looked away for a moment. "Is that what she really wants?"

Orihime nodded.

"Well, then I suppose there's a problem if the knight wants to fight for her, isn't there?"

Orihime discreetly rubbed at her eyes and looked at the boy sitting across from her. "But...if someone dies..."

"It's a risk one must take if they're fighting for something they believe in," he said.

"I can't. I—I want to help." Inoue turned toward him abruptly. She didn't know the desperation in her eyes until she saw it reflected in his. "How do you do it? To fight like that...I can't! I wish I could fight for all the friends I have like you and Kurosaki-kun, but...I try, and I aim, and I fail. I'm useless. And now...Tsubaki is broken. And I can't do a thing."

Ishida had gone very, very quiet, and Orihime worried in the silence that suddenly draining her thoughts like that had been very horribly stupid. Ishida finally spoke, shattering her thoughts and sending them scattering in her mind.

"I know how you feel, Inoue-san...when you fear not being able to protect."

She blinked. "How can you?"

He smiled, a wistful whisper of one, and looked at her. "I should ask your question right back at you. You're one of the strongest of us, Inoue-san. Somehow, you're the smile that sets us all alight. That's more of a skill than wielding any kind of weapon. To smile no matter what..." He caught her gaze. "And don't think that you're useless. That's the farthest thing from the truth. In battle, medics are the most important commodity."

She blushed. "That's not true. Not if the people around them die! They can't protect; they can only try to heal the damage they should have stopped from happening."

"It would break you," he said, and there was pain in his tired voice.


He looked away. "I've seen how you hate to fight. I would shatter you. So if I can't ever do anything else...I hope I can make it so you don't ever have to. I can't speak for the others, but I'll..." his voice faded and he continued very softly. "I'll fight for you. If you'll let me, I'll fight. And you can do what you always do and make sure we're alive on the inside, because you're good at that. Okay? So...don't get sad about any of this."

She sniffed and smiled, staring intently at him.

"Um...what is it, Inoue-san?"

She smiled wider. "Thank you! And...I didn't know you could talk that much all at once!"

His own smile flickered very briefly across his face. "Glad I could help. I have to be getting back, though. I...I'll see you later, Inoue-san. There are some things I have to do."

Orihime grinned and waved him away, calling to him that he should get some sleep, too. "Oh, and Ishida-kun?"


"You're not useless, either, you know." Her eyes met with his, speaking all the words she didn't. I know. I know your powers are gone. I'm sorry.

His face registered shock, but he wiped it away quickly. "Thank you."

Orihime watched as his figure disappeared between the rustling leaves of numerous green trees. She only realized when he was completely gone that he had called her by her name. She smiled. Maybe fifth wheels weren't so bad, after all.

"I'll see you soon," she repeated quietly, standing to her feet with a smile. By then...we'll both be stronger. I'll be stronger. I promise.

Author's Notes: It makes me so sad that they didn't see each other in the manga, or meet once they had both made some progress. With feelings so similar about the loss of their powers, I wish they could have talked at some point. I guess it's undeniable—I'm a complete IshiHime fangirl. (grins) The manga/anime timeline isn't so strict as to completely rule out the possibility that they may have met, so...this story came out of my pondering. Please, Please Review? Was everyone IC? Was the story okay? If only to take a few seconds to say if you liked it or even hated it, I'd love any thoughts.