A/N: Here we go! I'm just on a roll lately! Though, to be fair, this is another one of those that I found from a million years ago, but I pretty much had to tear this one apart at the seams, and completely re-do it. I hope it's enjoyable!

Disclaimer: standard stuff.

"Ishida? Where are you going?"

He didn't quite know how to explain to his girlfriend that he was feeling a large swarm of monsters born of troubled spirits. How was he to let her know that it was a part of who he was to protect the town from them? On top of that, he was really quite clueless about the exact way to go about telling her that he was ditching her elaborately planned romantic dinner mostly because in the middle of that swarm, he felt the unique reiatsu of a beautiful, kind woman he had sworn to protect.

So he didn't.

She had been planning this dinner for a week. Everything had to be just so, and he had shown up promptly at six, dressed quite formally as she had insisted. Everything about the whole dinner was formal, right down to the table cloth. Their relationship had already been on the rocks, and he was giving serious thought to calling the whole thing quits. The whole thing felt contrived, and he was sure she hadn't shown any consideration for him. He was supposed to sweep her off her feet, but felt more like just leaving her to stand on them all by herself.

He stood up, slightly disturbing the carefully set table. "I have to go," he said. "Something's just come up."

He saw her little warning signs - her fists clenched in the slightest, her eyes narrowed, she shifted her weight just so. She was gearing up for a fight, but he was more than a little distracted. "Come up? What could possibly have come up?"

"Look, it's complicated, Yosue-san. I really must go." He reached the door and went for his overcoat before she could stop him. "I'll call you sometime later."

"If you walk out that door, Ishida, it is so over." She threatened. "I mean it. No more chances."

She was annoying him, and his temper was starting to slip as he tried to get away from her. Every second could be important right now. "I think I can live with that." He ignored her scandalized look as he rushed off.

When he saw her in the middle of the mob, it almost seemed as if she had everything under control. But then he saw her wounds, and how she could not even attack, because she had to focus all her efforts on defense. He willed his bow into existence, and his aim was perfect. The Hollow dissolved, and everyone involved stopped to stare at him.

And what a sight he made. He had been dressed in his best looking suit, and his perfectly tailored overcoat for Yosue's dinner, and he had wasted so much time on the woman that he hadn't even considered changing into his standard battle outfit. Inoue's jaw dropped as he stood there, wielding his bow of pure energy, the slightest of breezes playing with his hair.

One of the Hollow was smart enough to take advantage of Inoue's distraction, but before he could get far, he also found himself disappearing. They all rushed his way, hoping to overcome him with pure numbers, but Inoue managed to hold off the attack. Working together, the two of them more than met the challenge.

Afterward, he was walking her home, and he had to admit that after the heat of battle, things had gotten a little awkward. He had come to Tokyo almost four years before for his pre-med program, and he had no idea just how she'd gotten there, or why. He hadn't seen her since their graduation from high school, and it wasn't as if they had been the best of friends there. He had slipped off, and not told anyone of his plans. It was best, he decided, if his old friends forgot all about him. He was getting too close, and if the look on Inoue's face everyday when she saw Kurosaki said anything, he would only end up with his heart broken if he tried to stay.

The look in her eye spoke to the fact that she wanted to ask him why he had left, but she knew that was a topic for another day. They needed to figure out where they were now before they could understand where they had left off. He was struck by the depth of her forgiveness.

"Ishida-kun fought bravely, though I must admit, I was a little shocked that you showed up," Inoue began on the way to her place. "I just knew we would meet again one day, but it was still very unexpected."

"It was nothing." He kicked himself. Four years later, and he was back to the same old place. Had his self-imposed exile taught him nothing? He had known they would meet again one day, too. On good days, he imagined himself meeting her by chance in a café somewhere and sweeping her off her feet with his confidence and new-found charm (which he would admit to himself he had been lacking in when he was younger). On the not-so-good days he went the complete other way - he would meet her and her husband in the café, and she would invite him back for dinner so he could meet her children. Now he hated himself a little for being just as shy as he had always been.

"I see Ishida-kun has not changed," Inoue laughed, and it filled his ears. It was as beautiful as ever, perhaps even more so, enriched as it was by new life experience. "You look very nice. Where were you?"

He decided to go the honest route. "A dinner date."

"Oh no! You left for me! I'm so sorry." She looked so sad that he hastened to let her know that he held no grudge.

"Don't be sorry, Inoue-san," he began. He still was not very good at comforting girls. "You needed me. I don't care if we don't speak for the next hundred years. You will always be more important than some woman's silly dinner."

"You mean it?" She asked, eyes wide.

He blushed. How was it she still had the ability to make him do that? He held his ground. "Yes."

She threw her arms around him, her cheeks flushed from the chilly night air, her hair streaming behind her. He realized with the very little of his mind still able to think that perhaps he should put his arms around her as well, so it wouldn't get awkward. He couldn't ever remember feeling quite like he did in that moment.

They were at her door now. She had chattered the rest of the walk, informing Ishida about her life. She was studying to be an engineer, and though she was trying to be modest, she had admitted that she was in the top of her class. She had many friends, but she hadn't really heard from anyone he knew well enough to mention (always with the exception of Arisawa-san). She still lived alone, and he was delighted when he realized that she had talked about her life for some time, but had not mentioned a boyfriend. Not that it should have mattered, of course - he had shut that door a long time ago. Something in him, however, involuntarily leapt at the thought.

"Well, I'm glad I was able to see you home safely-"

"Oh, no, Ishida-kun, I haven't heard anything from you, yet!" she cried, startling him. "You must come in! I can make tea, and we can catch up!"

He knew he should have said yes. He should have accepted gracefully, and sat with her for as long as he could. After all, how long would it be until he would see her again? It never seemed to work like that for him, however. "I'd hate to impose," he said. "I don't want to be a bother."

He saw the wheels turning, and began to wonder if perhaps he had said something wrong. Women are all about subtext, and he could see her dredging something completely different than nervousness out of it.

"Oh, I'm sorry, Ishida-kun," she began. Her eyes were looking a little watery, and he began to kick himself. What had he said? "You're right - I've kept you much too long. I mean, it's all my fault, and you need to hurry home and patch things up! I mean, what if you've lost her? I've been terribly selfish, making you walk home with me. I walked really slow, too! You were probably worried sick about her the whole time, and there I was, being silly, telling you all that stuff you didn't care about. And making you come save me in the first place! I should have been stronger, should have been paying attention. Although they were being awfully quiet, I still should have been more alert, and not let them sneak up on me! I'm not anyone special, anyway, I mean, why bother catching up with me? I'm just someone you used to know, not someone you still care about-"

Later, when he told the story, he would talk of exasperation, and a burst of bravery, but to be honest with himself, he wasn't quite sure what compelled him to do it. She was just babbling, and it became painfully clear the more she talked that for some reason, she thought he really didn't care about her. Hadn't he made it clear that Yosue was nothing compared to her? He was afraid she really believed the things he said, and his first priority was making her believe otherwise.

He moved swiftly and as gracefully as always, and in the space of a heartbeat, there was no more distance between them. He'd kissed women before - the women at university seemed far less likely to go for the jock type. There was none of the nervousness that he had always dreaded might come during a kiss with Inoue. He simply didn't give himself time for that. Before he could over think the widening of her eyes, the shifting of her weight, the quick, sharp intake of breath, he was doing what he had never seriously entertained the notion of doing.

He was kissing Inoue Orihime.

Inoue Orihime, the goddess of his old high school. Inoue Orihime, the woman with extraordinary power, but too much mercy to wield it to its full capacity. Inoue Orihime, the kindest, smartest, weirdest person he had ever known.

And she was kissing him back.

It was so much more than any of the other kisses he'd felt. All the women he'd dated had been as cold and detached as he was, so kisses had always been a very dispassionate affair - something that society said was supposed to be done, but nothing with heat. This was anything but dispassionate. She was leaning into it now, bringing him into it in a way he'd never really kissed anyone. This was emotional, deep, and burning, and he loved every minute of it.

She pulled away, and all he could do was look at her, stunned. Her cheeks were still flushed, but he was quite sure that they were no longer cold. He saw that he had knocked her hairpins even more askew than they had been following the battle, and her ungloved hands had found their way to his back underneath his coat.

"Are you sure you don't want to come inside, Ishida-kun?" Inoue asked. She must have noticed his shocked look, and hastened to add, "not like that, you know! It's just, now that I've found you, I don't want to lose you again. Unless you've got more important business to attend to elsewhere."

"It's nothing, Inoue-san," he said, the seemingly simple statement laden with as much meaning as her's had been.

Her still slightly awed expression became one of happiness, and she walked in the door, took his coat, pointed him in the direction of the guest slippers, and began to talk about tea. If he hadn't looked closely, he wouldn't be able to notice any change in her demeanor from the walk home. However, he picked up on the slight, omnipresent blush, and the way it intensified when she met his eyes.

He sent a quick prayer to whichever god might be listening that he not screw this one up.