Author Notes: Hello again, everyone, and Happy Valentine's Day!
I'm taking part in my very first challenge - Show Me The Love organised by fellow writer fanofthisfiction. Please hop over to her profile to read more about it and check out the other participating writers. I only ask that if you do read their stories, to please leave a review as a mark of appreciation.
As for my Valentine contribution, it continues on from A Happy New Year's Day so it will make a bit more sense if you've read that one. Details on Valentine's Day celebrated in Japan were sourced from /blog/valentines-day-white-day-in-japan/.
Appreciation: Thank you to fanofthisfiction for inviting me to her Valentine challenge!
Warnings: Fluff. And maybe a craving for chocolates by the end of the story :)
Disclaimer: Bleach belongs to Tite Kubo.
- Chapter Start -
Today was Valentine's Day.
Orihime Inoue walked to school with her school bag in one hand, large paper bag in the other and an excited smile on her face. She had woken up extra early this morning to make sure she didn't forget anything.
The shops she passed by were already open for business to cater for any last minute shoppers on this special day. As early as a month ago, they had started putting up huge, show stopping displays of chocolates designed to tempt the most hardened of hearts, the most disbelieving of disbelievers, and the most cynical of cynics, to part with their hard earned money.
As if anyone could resist, Orihime mused to herself as she walked down a row of such shops, bedecked with balloons, ribbons and decorations in every imaginable shade of pink, red and white. Even though she had walked past these shops every day to go to school, the displays still succeeded in catching her eye.
And since she wasn't a cynic by any means, she had given into temptation and bought some chocolates for herself over the past few weeks. Nothing extravagant or expensive of course; just a small indulgence, a sweet reward after she had done the dishes, or finished all her homework, or cleaned up her place.
After all, there were giri-choco or obligation chocolates for friends, colleagues, bosses, and close male friends. There were honmei-choco or certainty chocolates for one's boyfriend, lover, or husband.
So Orihime decided there were also chocolates one could buy for oneself whenever one felt like doing so. Of course, she had also bought giri-choco for Tatsuki, Ishida, Sado, Mahana, Chizuru and Michiru, each pack neatly wrapped and placed inside the paper bag she carried. She had felt rather gleeful visiting the shops late at night and taking her time to choose her gifts while the other girls had to make quick trips during the day to avoid bumping into each other at the same shops.
Unlike them, Orihime didn't have anyone to impose curfew on her.
For Ichigo Kurosaki though, she had decided to make honmei-choco. After all, he had enjoyed her red bean daifuku on New Year's Day and held her hand later that night, the memory of which still made Orihime smile whenever she thought of it.
She set to work yesterday afternoon after school. It wasn't all that difficult. She melted a small block of good quality, semi sweet dark chocolate and poured it into bite sized decorative moulds before dropping a small amount of red bean paste into each one. Once the chocolates were set, she removed them from the moulds and piped tiny flowers on them using orange frosting. Each chocolate was carefully placed in a white decorative box, nestled within individual paper casings, and the box tied with an orange ribbon.
(Last Christmas, Orihime had found that ribbon in the arts and craft shop Ishida frequented, and bought the entire roll once she saw it was the exact shade of Ichigo's hair.)
Making those chocolates had been easy and fun. It was finding the ideal time to present them to Ichigo that proved challenging.
As early as she was, Orihime still wasn't the first one in her class. Even before she stepped foot inside her classroom, she was bombarded with Valentine greetings and had boxes of gaily wrapped chocolate thrust at her. She returned the favour as soon as she set down her bag, exchanging chocolates with her friends amid squeals of laughter and thanks.
Soon, there was only one box left in her bag, but its intended recipient only arrived just before their teacher walked into the class. There was no time for anyone to catch his eye, no time even for Keigo to act out his usual antics.
Orihime sighed and stood up with the others to greet the teacher.
- o -
As soon as the bell rang for lunch, excited chatter broke out, competing with the sound of chair legs scraping on the floor and books thumped together. Lunches were brought out - sandwiches and juice boxes, bento boxes and cup noodles... even chocolates.
It was now or never, Orihime told herself firmly. Well... not never. There was still a window of opportunity after school, and if her courage still failed then, she also knew where Ichigo lived.
In fact, wouldn't that be the better option, away from all the prying eyes?
No, no, no! Orihime squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head hard. Stop stalling, she admonished herself. After all the life and death situations they had been in, after all the adventures they had had, what harm could a box of chocolates do?
So... no more hesitation.
No more procrastination.
No more second guessing.
She was going to give Ichigo Kurosaki her chocolates right now. Besides, she didn't think her nerves could take anymore suspense.
Rubbing her sweaty palms on her skirt, Orihime took out the small white box from her bag and looked up just in time to see him leaving the classroom.
Oh. Oh no. Wait!
If Orihime wasn't already in a butterflies-multiplying-crazily-in-her-stomach-and-hovering-on-the-edge-of-panic state, she would have realised that Ichigo was just heading for their usual lunch spot on the rooftop like he did everyday. Like everyone in their group did everyday, including her.
As it was, she jumped up and rushed to the door, ducking around her classmates with hasty 'Excuse me's' and 'Sorry's' until she was out the door.
By then, Ichigo was already about thirty feet away, almost reaching the staircase at the end of the hall.
It was only when a sea of faces turned towards her that Orihime realised she had called... hollered... practically shouted his name in the middle of a busy hallway with students spilling out from every classroom. She was also holding up the box of chocolates in one hand for all to see.
Ichigo spun around, his surprised gaze finding Orihime's face before traveling up her arm to the box she was holding like an advertisement for today's celebration.
Silence fell around them. Everyone seemed to be collectively holding their breaths except for Orihime who was breathing in shallow pants, entire body trembling and face awash with heat.
What on earth had possessed her to shout out his name like that?
"Sorry, Kurosaki-kun," she whispered. Slowly, she lowered her hand and her head to stare down at her shoes.
Her head snapped up to see Ichigo striding towards her. His long legs ate up the distance between them so fast he was standing before her in the space of six frantic heartbeats.
Orihime gulped. It was now or never. Clasping the box in trembling hands, she held it out and bowed.
"H-happy Valentine's Day!" she blurted out. "Please accept my chocolates!"
Ichigo's eyes dropped to the box and then up to her face again, his eyes disturbingly intense.
Orihime stared back. Her agitated senses flared, pinpointing where her friends stood - Tatsuki by their classroom door, Mahana and Chizuru behind her, Sado and Ishida a few feet behind Ichigo.
"Ahh... thank you. Happy Valentine's Day." Ichigo took the box from her and gave a slight, jerky bow in return.
Noise swelled in the hallway as some girls sighed and some boys grumbled.
Ichigo looked down at the box again, one long finger touching the orange ribbon before he looked up at Orihime, those eyes staring right into her very soul.
"Did you make them yourself?" he asked.
Orihime nodded. Her face, and her entire body felt so hot, she hoped she hadn't melted the chocolates by accident.
"Mm hm! I hope you like them! I even-"
"Iii-chii-go, you lucky devil, you!"
A body approached them at top speed and slammed into Ichigo's side, knocking the box from his fingers and sending it high into the air. Everyone's gazes snapped up as the box sailed higher and higher before it started to fall in slow motion.
Down, down, down.
Orihime's heart seemed to fall along with it until a large hand caught the box, long fingers closing protectively around it.
"Got it," Ichigo said, his lips tilting up in that almost smile of his.
Orihime gave a breathless little laugh of relief, somehow managing to blush even harder.
"Yosh! Ichigo saves the day!" Keigo crowed, thumping him on the back with a rather guilty expression on his face.
Ichigo glared at him.
"No thanks to you," he growled.
As Keigo flushed red and started sputtering excuses complete with flailing arms, Ichigo glanced around as if finally noticing the crowed gathered around them. His frown deepened and he turned back to Orihime, jerking his head in a silent invitation to follow him.
Orihime smiled and nodded. The crowd parted without a sound as she followed Ichigo, catching sight of a smirking Ishida, a nodding Sado, a still surprised Tatsuki, a shocked Chizuru and an open mouthed Keigo. Then they were walking - well, Ichigo was striding and she was just trying to keep up - towards the stairs that led up to the roof.
- o -
The rooftop was crowded, more so than usual. It was lunch break and with today being Valentine's Day, there were both established and hopeful couples occupying every bit of space which afforded any amount of privacy - from the coveted spot behind a tall stack of unused flower pots, to another spot behind a pile of broken desks and chairs, to the corner behind the stairwell door. Even the metal rail at the edge of the roof overlooking Karakura Town had students lining almost every inch of it.
It was breezy up here. Orihime tucked a strand of hair behind one ear and glanced around in dismay.
"Oh, it's crowded already."
Ichigo shrugged, his lips twisting wryly.
"No matter, I just wanted to get away from Keigo."
Orihime couldn't help a startled laugh although she should be used to Ichigo's bluntness by now.
An awkward silence fell. A few people turned to look at them, but Orihime's entire being - body, heart and soul - was focused on the tall, brooding boy standing before her.
"This will do," Ichigo said. He didn't seem to notice her nervousness or the fact that they were standing in the middle of an open space surrounded by fellow students. He looked down at the box in his hand and then he pulled the orange ribbon loose and lifted the cover.
"You made these?" he asked with a chocolate held between one thumb and one forefinger.
"Yes." Orihime didn't realise she had stopped breathing or that her hands were clasped under her chin.
Ichigo popped the chocolate into his mouth and chewed. Then he nodded, chewing some more and finally swallowing.
"It's good," he said.
Not "This is the best chocolate I've ever tasted!"
Nor "Where did you learn to make this?!"
Or even "Tell me your recipe so I can get Yuzu to make it everyday!"
But a simple, honest, straight from the heart Ichigo-style "It's good."
Orihime beamed at him, warmth welling up from her heart and flooding her entire body with happiness.
"Thank you," she managed. "I'm glad you like it."
"You added red bean paste, didn't you?" Ichigo asked, his eyes softening. "I should've expected that."
He popped another piece into his mouth, making a soft sound of approval as he chewed. When the third piece followed, Orihime felt compelled to say something even though she was about to burst with pride.
"Uhm... you'll spoil your lunch, Kurosaki-kun."
Ichigo raised his eyebrows at her, still chewing.
"Not happening. I can hear Keigo thundering up the stairs now."
Orihime automatically glanced at the closed stairwell door, sensing his hasty approach, followed by several familiar ones.
With a regretful, chocolate scented sigh that was like the sweetest music to Orihime's ears, Ichigo closed the box, looped the ribbon around it in deft movements and kept it inside his jacket pocket just as Keigo burst from the door, followed by Mizuiro, Ishida, Sado, Tatsuki and their other classmates.
"Ichigo, you didn't wait for us!" Keigo wailed in his usual dramatic fashion, arms flailing again. "Did you finish all the chocolates? I wanted some!"
"No. They're mine," Ichigo told him pointblank.
Behind Keigo, Ishida rolled his eyes.
"We tried to hold him back for as long as we could," he explained in a matter of face voice, Sado and Mizuiro nodding their agreement.
Orihime smiled gratefully at them and then at Tatsuki who appeared next with an iron grip on a pouting Chizuru's arm.
"Let's have lunch, everyone!" she said brightly.
They all sat down on the cemented floor in the middle of the rooftop, not boys in one group and girls in another like they usually did, but together in one big group. Orihime ended up beside Ichigo. He sat cross legged and she sat in the traditional seiza, but they were close enough that his knee occasionally brushed hers.
For once, Orihime had no idea what her lunch - red bean curry and rice - tasted like. She only knew she was smiling foolishly throughout her meal, enjoying the lighthearted conversation by the others and occasionally joining in, as well as sneaking a few glances at the orange haired boy beside her.
Now that she had another precious memory to add to the one of Ichigo eating her daifuku and holding her hand on New Year's Day, she promised herself she would make many, many more with him.
As many as she could for the rest of her life.
- Story End -
A/N: Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed it, please leave a review. The sequel to this is A Happy White Day :)