Orihime in Hiding 16

Orihime in Hiding – Archer in the Shadows

Orihime rolled over in the pale pink sheets, pulling the rose colored comforter around her snuggly, smiling as she slept better than she had in two weeks.

Until she turned her head to the window, and the blinding sunlight hit her full in the face. She squinted, shielding a hand against the morning’s cheery glare. She slowly opened her eyes, sighing at the shade still open. She hadn’t pulled it down the night before, and she only dimly recalled going to bed.

She sat up quicker than she should have, a sudden pain shooting up her head to her temples.

“Ugh…”

It took a moment to untangle her legs from the bedclothes to reach the floor. At least the ache pounding through her head was tolerable, unlike the pain the last few weeks that had become increasingly debilitating, coursing through her neck until she’d wanted to black out.

She stood unsteadily and made her way to the window, seeing Renji standing at the garage with the lawn mower as she fumbled with the shade and pulled it down. She heard something from the neighbor’s house south of them that sounded remotely like a dog yipping.

She took small steps to the bathroom, her hand jangling the Hello Kitty pull on the bedroom door’s broken knob as she went. In the bathroom she hovered over the sink, looking at herself in the mirror, grimacing at her reflection. She smiled, running a hand through her hair. Her neck didn’t hurt. The blinding pain was gone. Now it was just a hangover.

“Hey, how’re you doing?”

Renji’s voice made her flinch, her fingers gripping the sink tighter. She focused on him in the doorway behind her.

“Okay. How’re you?”

“I really want to know, Orihime.” He watched her turn around and lean against the sink, one hand at the back of her head, fingers on the adhesive bandage under her hair. “How are you?”

She nodded slowly, looking to the makeshift bandage on his arm. “Better, I think. Thanks. How’s your arm?”

“Good,” he said automatically.

She stood straighter, smoothing the shirt she still wore from the day before. She looked down at her rumpled yellow and pink skirt. “I don’t think I should go to school today.”

He chuckled, shaking his head. “It’s past ten-thirty already. Go back to bed.”

“I think I will.”

He left and pulled the door shut behind him. She turned back to the sink and washed her face with tepid water for a moment, dried it, and then went back to her bedroom. She closed the door as best it would stay shut, not bothering to brace the waste basket against it as she had been during the last week to keep it from opening the few inches it always did.

Another door to fix, she thought tiredly, pulling off her shirt and skirt, draping them over the desk chair. She found her pajamas and put them on, and crawled back into bed, and to her dreams of friendly faces and blueberry donuts.

Renji went back down the stairs and out to the garage. He pulled the door down, hiding thoughts of the body beneath the clay. He hadn’t made up his mind yet about it. The metal band on the intruder’s wrist could be anything, or nothing.

He looked over the wet grass still shining in the sun. Too wet to mow, he’d decided. He glanced down at his arm.

It was a small lie he’d told Orihime, but necessary. The arm wasn’t all right; it had opened up several times since he’d gotten the injury, and had refused to even begin healing, primarily because the adhesive bandages kept shifting around when he moved.

He looked to the small furry object that kept bumping in and out of sight to his left over the southern neighbor’s six foot high hedge.

Jump. “Yip!” Jump. “Yip!” Jump. “Yip!”

He watched the small brown terrier bounce up and down, barking each time it saw him over the hedge, untiringly. The elderly neighbors were obliviously home. The dog had been jumping and barking for forty-five minutes, with only an occasionally “Down, Milk Dud,” from a wheezy old woman a few times. Renji didn’t bother to look over the hedges. He wasn’t about to stir up trouble over a cat-sized dog when he had other things neighbors may complain about him.

He went back into the house and turned the radio on in the kitchen. Mowing the grass was out of the question for a few hours, so he set his sights on something a little more pertinent.

He grabbed a can of soda from the refrigerator, listening to the pop tune coming from the radio, deciding Orihime was right; the station was easier on the ears than the twenty-four farm report. He opened the soda and drank half of it, feeling a little guilty for having insisted on the brandy last night for her.

It was necessary, he kept telling himself. Rukia would have a fit when she found out, but she’d have a fit if he hadn’t offered Orihime something before slicing into her neck.

He sighed, looking at the short length of thread and needle still on the table. Of course, he thought, Ichigo would throw a fit, too. Of the two, he’d rather withstand a fit from Kurosaki rather than Rukia. He’d learned she was more lethal. He steered his thoughts away from her, disliking the big brother mode as much as he was determined to stay in it.

He sat at the table and unwrapped the makeshift bandage of the torn towel from his arm, pulling at the parts that stuck to the edges of the laceration. It wasn’t bleeding, at least, not until he pulled the towel from it. Then it bled in a few places. It took a full seven minutes of frustration to thread the needle, and then the frail thread broke when he pulled a knot into the end.

He looked to the eight inches of thread left in the needle, searching his memory for locations of more thread in the house. Nothing came up.

He ripped open an alcohol pad packet and wiped off the skin around the sides of the cut. It wasn’t a happy-looking injury, he decided, having grown a bit jagged and dry along the edges. At least it wasn’t infected. He thought.

He started at one end, piercing the needle point into the skin on one side and then the opposite side, drawing the thread through, then paused.

How to tie it? How to draw the edges together?

Outside the small dog’s barking started again, this time a steady high-pitched ‘yip-yip-yip,’ and then there was a knock at the front door.

Renji forgot the needle and thread and went to the living room door, looking out the narrow side window, but unable to see directly in front of the door. His injured arm went to the hinge side of the door where the katana leaned against the wall.

He opened the door quickly, startling Leah into a sidestep.

She smiled. “Hi. Is Inoue home?”

He nodded, staring at her for a moment before it occurred to him to invite her in.

She looked farther into the room behind him. “Can I talk to her?”

“Come on in.” He opened the door and set the katana behind it as she stepped in.

She looked around the room, then back to him. “Is she upstairs?”

“Uh, yeah.” He shut the door and locked it, then saw her eyes go to the sword. Shit, he thought. Quick, think of something. Anything.

“Because she wasn’t at school today,” she said slowly, looking from the sword to him.

“Why aren’t you at school?”

“We had a half day today. In-service.” She slipped off her canvas shoes. “I thought maybe she wasn’t feeling well. You know…” After a pause she looked to the hall. “Where’s your Mom?”

“Uh, she’s,” he gestured to the kitchen, then shook his head. “Not here.”

“Shopping?”

“No.” He cleared his throat, looking over the purple and blue tie-dye shirt she wore, the hem ending in cuts of fringe. “She took my dad to the airport.” The second default answer, he thought, hating the words.

She hesitated over the next words. “I kind of wanted to talk to your Mom yesterday.”

“Why?” he asked pointedly, and then nodded. “Come on.”

She followed him into the kitchen, pausing at the doorway. “Well, Inoue’s been…Is she upstairs?”

“She wasn’t feeling so well this morning. She stayed in bed.”

“The headaches? Holy shit,” she said, her eyes resting on the thread and needle still dangling from his arm.

Renji looked down at the forgotten attempt at sutures. It was too late to hide it, so he grinned, shrugging. “It keeps coming loose.”

She crossed the room and picked up his arm, turning it to see the stitch he’d begun. Her eyes rose to his. “You didn’t go to the doctor, Renji? At all? Why not?”

“It’s not that bad.” He tried to pull his arm from her, but her fingers tightened.

“You can’t just let this go.” She turned his arm, holding it closer to the sink window, studying the open flesh. “Is Inoue okay?”

“Yes. Of course. Just a headache. She’s feeling better today, but was just tired.” He waited for her to believe him.

“Because she’s been having bad headaches at school.”

“And you didn’t say anything?”

She frowned, her hand tensing. “I was going to tell your Mom, but I never see her.”

He nodded. “You could have told me, Leah.”

“I was going to, but you got bit by this dog,” she said, tapping his arm with one finger. “What’s really going on around here, Renji?”

He sifted through the lies he’d prepared, none of them sounding even remotely workable, a little distracted by the green eyes she had pegged on him, his arm warm in her clutch. “Nothing.”

She looked back down at his arm. “I can sew this up if you want me to,” she said, her tone void of curiosity now.

“I’ll take care of it.”

She released his arm and pulled out the second chair at the table, and then looked over the assorted items still on the table. “Do you have any other thread? This stuff is too thin.”

“No, that’s all.”

She nodded. “Do you have any floss?”

She followed him up the stairs and peeked into Orihime’s half open bedroom door as he found floss in the bathroom. She looked at the form of the sleeping girl for a long moment, and then turned to see him in the hallway.

“Is she really okay?”

He nodded, and they went back to the kitchen.

She sat at the table as he found a can of soda in the refrigerator and set it before her.

“Thanks.” She snapped open the tab top and waited for him to set his arm on the table. “Why won’t you tell me what’s really going on here?”

He sat closer to the table, his arm lying near her as she ripped a piece of floss from the plastic dispenser. “Nothing is going on.”

She looked into the living room where she could see the sword by the door. “So that’s just the latest in home security?”

He glanced at the katana. The truth would be so easy right now, he thought. “That’s Charlie’s. He’s supposed to pick it up this weekend.”

“Oh.” She threaded the needle with floss, giving his arm a closer look. “Do you have any antiseptic, aside from the alcohol pads?”

“Uh, no.”

“Well, it looks clean,” she said, turning his arm to see the laceration better. “The alcohol is going to sting like hell.”

He looked to the packets on the table. “That bad?”

She nodded.

“Go ahead.”

“Are you sure?”

He nodded. He wasn’t ready for the sharp stinging that followed, but didn’t say anything when the damp pad touched the open wound.

“Sorry,” she murmured repeatedly, dabbing tentatively at the damaged area. “What did your Mom say about this?”

He unclenched his teeth. “She said to stay away from the dog.”

She shook her head, finishing with the pad.

He noticed she didn’t make a knot in the end of the floss she’d threaded on the needle. “Orihime said your mother is a nurse. Have you done this before?”

“Just once. On my brother, when he got into some barbed wire a few years back, and didn’t want my mom to know.” She opened another of the alcohol packets, eyeing him. “Who’s Orihime?”

For a few seconds Renji just returned her stare. He sighed. “I meant to say Inoue. It’s a sort of nickname. Gwen gave it to her.”

She nodded, then leaned over the table, her ponytail blocking most of his view of the arm, her knee bumping his. She mumbled “sorry” as she pulled his arm closer. She wiped the skin around both sides of the laceration with the alcohol pad and inspected the raw flesh for a moment. “You can’t keep telling me this is a dog bite, Renji.”

He watched her hesitate before sticking the needle through the side of skin he had attempted earlier and then to the opposite side, drawing the severed sides together carefully. “What would you believe?”

She laughed a little, tying the stitch snugly. “Are you serious?”

Yes, he thought. “No. That’s a joke,” he said, chuckling as she posed the needle for another stitch.

“Oh.” She cut the floss with the razor blade and did two more, gently wiping the skin with the alcohol pad.

“How long has she been having headaches?”

“A few weeks that I know of. She said she’d tell your Mom.” She glanced at him. “Did she?”

He nodded. “Last night.”

“Good.”

“Yeah, she took some strong aspirin stuff and was feeling better, but decided to stay home today.”

“That’s good.”

He watched her do a few more stitches, her fingers careful and soft on his skin. “How old are you?”

She paused for a second. “Seventeen. Inoue’s fifteen?”

“I think so. Or sixteen.”

She shrugged slightly. “They always put exchange students in the upper grades, to get the larger upper-class experience. She’s doing well in her classes, if that’s what you’re wondering.”

He nodded. “Mom says she’s a good student.”

She tied off the stitch, focusing on the tattoos that peeked out from his black head rag. “Are you in a gang or something?”

He knew he should have seen the question coming, but it caught him off-guard, perhaps because he was watching her lips move as she said it. “No.”

She nodded, pricking the needle into his skin for the next stitch. “What’s up with all the tattoos? Do they mean anything?”

He sighed. “They did when I got them.”

She looked to him momentarily. “Don’t they now?”

He nodded. “Yeah, they still do.”

For a moment she was quiet, tying off the stitches as they were completed. “What did the crossing-guard want?”

His arm flinched beneath her hands. “What?”

She pulled his arm closer again, watching him. “That crossing-guard from yesterday. She looked like she was trying to catch up with you.”

“Oh, that. Her. She said I crossed against traffic.” He waited to see if she believed him.

“No, you didn’t.”

“That’s what I told her.”

She leaned back over his arm, nodding, the scent of jasmine shampoo stronger as she moved. “She’s the one that got hit by the truck. Weird, huh?”

“Yeah. Weird.”

She finished the stitches and wiped both sides of the injury with another alcohol swab. He looked at it, the row of neat stitches crossing the red line effectively.

“Thanks.”

She smiled, then leaned closer, eyes on his arm before moving to his. “Why won’t you tell me what’s going on around here, Renji?”

“It’s a long story.” He was tempted to say more, maybe not everything, not yet, but more. He wasn’t sure why her rapt attention was so persuasive when she was clearly merely asking. “There’s really nothing to say, Leah.”

She bemusedly wiped the sides of the row of stitches. “Do you have any gauze?”

“No.”

“Bandages?”

He pushed the half empty box of adhesive bandages to her.

She lifted one eyebrow. “How about an ace bandage?”

“A what?”

She shook her head. “I guess we could use a clean sock. One that we can cut up.”

He nodded and left her alone in the kitchen to go upstairs. He looked in on Orihime momentarily. She stirred from her hibernation in the bedclothes, turning onto her back, but didn’t wake up. He found a sock in his bedroom bureau drawer and went back downstairs, his freshly mended arm feeling different after being closed.

He set the sock on the table. “Will that do?”

“Yup.” Leah took a razor blade and folded the sock over to cut the foot part off. “No scissors?”

Renji sighed. “I don’t know where they are right now.”

She nodded. The song on the radio ended and the deejay announced the news stories coming up at the top of the hour. Leah looked to the clock on the wall. Eleven-fifty.

“Do you think Inoue will be awake soon?”

He shook his head. “She was sleeping when I went up.” He looked over the tie-dye shirt. “That’s what you wear at Manic Groove?”

“Yeah.” She picked off the loose fuzzies of the sock edge and took two napkins from the holder. She folded them together so they were quadruple the thickness. “You really should get something better than this. I mean, if you’re not going to get any real medical attention.”

He watched her scrunch up the sock into a smaller coil. “I’ll find something soon.”

She pulled his hand closer, slipping the sock over his fingers to his wrist near one side of the injury. She placed the napkins over the stitches and eased the sock over it carefully, covering the length of arm snuggly.

Renji looked up at the radio as a news story was announced.

“… from Montcalm Middle School this morning, according to school officials,” the newscaster was saying. “The three gunmen’s attempts were thwarted when a school bus driver spotted the masked men hanging around the school’s rear entrance. Authorities have released few details, but what information we have been able to obtain indicates the gunmen were seeking one of two Asian foreign exchange students the school district is hosting at the high school, also on the same block as the junior high school. Names are not being released at this time. More details will be announced as they are made public.”

He looked to Leah’s attention on him, her hands stilled over his arm as the news story ended and a new one began.

“Is that what you’re afraid of for Inoue?”

“No.”

She nodded, smoothing the sock over his arm. “Because I heard what happened in Jasper.”

It took him a few moments to recall he’d told her he was from Jasper, and a few more to remember that there had been an earlier attempted abduction from the school there. It was as good as any excuse, he thought.

He sat back, nodding. “Sometimes. There seems to be a lot of them lately.”

She’d watched him as he said it, estimating the worth of his words, trying to gauge the truth in his brown eyes. She looked to the kitchen doorway as Orihime appeared there.

“Hey! I thought I heard you here,” she said to Leah.

The brunette girl stood and smiled. “How’re you feeling, Inoue?”

Orihime returned the smile as Leah gave her a quick, gentle hug. “Better. I missed school.”

“Yeah, well, it was only half day.”

“Oh, I forgot about that.” Orihime looked to Renji. “Ooh, she took care of your arm. That’s good.”

“Yeah, much better.” He stood up as Orihime leaned against the wall. “You’re sure you’re okay now?”

“Uh-huh.” Orihime looked from him to Leah and then back again. “Can she stay for lunch? I’m starving.”

“Oh, I’ve got to be at work in, oh, geez, soon,” Leah said, glancing at the clock. “Fifteen minutes. Hey, can you come over Sunday? We’ll make brownies with Meg.”

Renji noticed she’d looked to him when she said it, waiting for something, he could see. Testing, he thought.

“Well, I …” Orihime began, looking to him. “What do you think your mother would say?”

He was still looking at Leah. “Why don’t you and Meg come over here Sunday?”

Orihime nodded, pleased that the movement brought no sickening headache with it this time. “We could cook here. I’ll make curry to go on the brownies. Like the frosted brownies we saw in the book at class.”

Leah looked to her, nodding slowly, sizing up Orihime’s quickly tossed on pink sweatpants and matching hoodie, her hair quickly combed. “You sure you want company here? Feel up to it?”

“Sure.”

“Okay.” She looked to Renji. “Let us know if it’s not okay with your folks.”

He nodded. “Leave your phone number. I’m going back outside,” he said to Orihime, then looked back to Leah. “Thanks for everything.”

“Anytime.”

He nodded, then left out the back door.

Leah looked closer at Orihime as the girl found paper and pen to take her phone number. “Are you sure you’re okay, Inoue?”

“Uh-huh. Much better.” Orihime’s fingers went to the back of her neck, feeling the small bandage there. “Good to go.”

Leah wrote down her phone number. “Glad to hear it.”

Two minutes later Leah was hurrying down the sidewalk toward town. She was going to be late, she just knew it, but it was time well spent knowing Orihime was okay and feeling better.

She looked better, she thought, her eyes pain free and happier than they’d been the last few days. She hoped the time-clock at Manic Groove was a few minutes slow. She walked quickly, her mind weaving back to Renji.

No way that was a dog bite, she thought. And no way he was telling the truth about a few things. She just wasn’t sure which things. The gash in his arm was evidence of a clean, sharp sever, not a bite. She’d seen enough of her brother’s escapades to know that much.

The nervousness that had come with tending his wound was fading. She couldn’t believe he hadn’t found medical attention for it. At least it was clean, she thought, sighing. Her pulse skipped quicker, making her smile as she recalled his proximity, the same draw she’d felt other times in his presence. The deft smell of aftershave around him, a sense of strength she’d noticed from the first time she’d seen him a few weeks ago.

Idiot, she thought, trying to focus on the work awaiting her. Last time she’d thought about him she’d nearly chopped off a finger during prepping at the restaurant.

The sidewalk had more traffic than usual for the warm noon day, as school was out early. Her mind turned to the oddities surrounding the Smith address on Brooklyn-Pierport Street.

She almost stopped walking, her mind recalling where she’d heard the address before. The boy with the white hair, she thought. The boy who had come into the Cake Cottage a few weeks ago to ask for directions. The boy who was driving the truck.

Renji’s truck.

She remembered to walk again, and picked up her pace. What the hell was going on at that place?

“Sorry,” she said, dodging a figure on the sidewalk that had stopped walking in front of her, making her nearly run into him. She swerved around him and hastened on. A moment later she realized the figure had turned and was now at her side.

“Do you work at the Manic Groove?” he asked.

Leah slowed, but didn’t stop, looking to Ishida as he fell into step beside her. “Yes.” She took a better look at him. “Why?”

He realized she wasn’t going to stop, and hurried to keep up with her. “I was just there.”

“Oh?” She continued on. “Well, I hope you had a good meal.”

He followed. “My name is Ishida Uryû.” He would have bowed, but she hadn’t slowed down. “I think we have a mutual friend.”

She glanced at him as she walked, wary of most everything now. Renji’s suspicious nature was contagious, she realized. “I don’t think so. I’m late. Excuse me.”

Ishida sighed and matched her steps. “Orihime Inoue. Do you know her?”

Leah shook her head, the news story replaying in her mind. “I think you’ve got the wrong person.”

“Are you Leah?”

She stopped. He did, too, looking at her tie-dye shirt.

“I’m a friend,” he said, a thick accent to his words as he pushed his glasses further onto his nose. “I followed her from Japan. I think she may be in trouble.”

She looked him over carefully. He was on the slender side, with black hair and studious dark eyes, a determined set to his features, his tone solemn but not menacing.

“I saw you at the Pierport market with her last Sunday.”

Leah bristled at the mention. She knew Orihime had seen someone she thought she knew there, and he certainly looked vaguely like the figure she’d seen in the distance that day.

“I don’t know who you’re talking about.” She wished she’d gotten Orihime’s phone number. How many Smiths could there be in Brooklyn? she wondered. If Renji’s phone number is even listed in the directory, she added to that thought. I can ask Inoue about it Sunday.

“I think you do.” He nodded, watching her nervously tighten the blue scrunchie that kept her hair in a ponytail.

“I’m late.”

“My name is Ishida Uryû,” he said again, catching her arm as she moved off. She paused, looking to his hand. He released her. “I know where you work. I’ll be back tomorrow. In case you think you know her.”

“I don’t work tomorrow,” she lied.

“The waitress said you did.”

Leah moved off down the sidewalk. “She was wrong.”

Ishida sighed, watching her go.

Next Chapter

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~ by Miranda on January 25, 2010.

One Response to “Orihime in Hiding 16”

  1. 1st? AGAIN!

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