Author Notes: Hello again, everyone! March 14 is White Day where guys return the favour to the ladies who gave them chocolates on Valentine's Day. White Day is celebrated in Japan and other Asian countries including Taiwan, South Korea and China.
This story continues from A Happy Valentine's Day so it will make more sense if you've read that one. Details on White Day were sourced from /blog/valentines-day-white-day-in-japan/ and /blog/march-14th-celebrate-white-day. Enjoy :)
Warnings: Fluff. And maybe a craving for chocolates by the end of this story too!
Disclaimer: Bleach belongs to Tite Kubo.
- Story Start -
Ichigo Kurosaki returned home from school and let himself in, removing his school shoes just inside the front door.
"Tadaima," he called as he moved towards the staircase.
"Ichi-nii?" Karin's voice floated out from the kitchen. "Ichi-nii, wait!"
"What?" Ichigo called back, taking the stairs two at a time.
"Onii-chan, wait!" That was Yuzu.
Karin darted out from the kitchen and raced up the stairs, ducking under Ichigo's arm and sprinting to the top before turning around. She stood there, arms flung wide to block his path.
"Wait. You must give her something in return," she said.
"Who are you-"
"Ah. Why should I-"
"She gave you honmei-choco," Yuzu's voice sounded from behind Ichigo.
"That doesn't mean-"
"She made them herself!"
"Well, that's her-"
"With red bean paste!"
Ichigo opened his mouth and closed it again. He stared at Karin and then he looked over his shoulder at Yuzu behind him, her arms also flung wide in case he decided to bolt downstairs. With a sigh, he tugged at Yuzu's arm, urging her up the stairs so that she stood on the landing beside her twin. With him standing three steps below them, they were at his eye level.
"No one's given you chocolates before, Ichi-nii," Karin started again.
"Well, Keigo Asano did last year, but that doesn't count. His chocolates were expired," Yuzu declared, wrinkling her nose.
"And furry," added Karin with a grimace.
"Do you know how many girls are scared of you, onii-san?"
"It's because you're always frowning so much!"
"So?" Ichigo folded his arms across his chest, giving them said frown.
They looked at each other, inhaled at the same time and turned back to him.
"But Orihime-nee-san is one of your closest friends!"
"And the prettiest girl in school!"
"She's not afraid of you!"
"She even made you honmei-choco!"
"Special honmei-choco with red bean filling!"
"You must give her something in return!"
"Which is White Day!"
They paused for breath, looking at him with big hopeful eyes, and in Yuzu's case, hands clasped under her chin.
Ichigo looked away and scowled, shoving his hands in his trouser pockets. If only he hadn't left that box on his desk after returning home from school that day. He had thought of saving the last two pieces for after dinner, but Yuzu had entered his room to collect his laundry and seen the box right away.
Suffice to say that the last two pieces ended up in someone else's tummy - two someones - and the twins now thought Inoue the greatest thing since sliced bread. Ichigo couldn't argue about that; Inoue wasn't just the prettiest girl in school, she was also the kindest and gentlest soul he knew. He couldn't help but be in awe of how cheerful and positive she stayed even after losing her beloved older brother and being all alone.
Not that she was alone, of course. She had him and Ishida and Sado and Tatsuki...
A hand was patting his hair. He turned to glare half heartedly at Karin, batting her hand away.
"I haven't forgotten," he mumbled. "Rukia suggested chocolates, but I don't know how to make them."
Karin and Yuzu exchanged excited looks which seemed to hold an entire conversation in them because they turned back to him, linked their arms through his and thundered back down the stairs, pulling him along backwards.
"Hey, stop! Where're you two going? I'm gonna fall!"
"I know how to make chocolates, onii-chan!"
"But I have homework due-"
"This is more important, Ichi-nii!"
With his schoolbag swinging wildly on his shoulder, Ichigo found himself being pulled out of their home at top speed. A small part of him wanted to dig in his heels and put a stop to this embarrassing foolishness. The other, bigger part of him was just grateful for their help.
To be honest, he had been worrying about tomorrow. He knew he was obliged to return Inoue's gift with something, but hadn't relished the thought of bumping into his classmates while buying chocolates or flowers. It wasn't like he could afford jewelry; that implied a certain degree of intimacy that wasn't there, and was out of the question on his modest pocket money anyway.
Lingerie was even worse. Ichigo felt hot and cold all over at the very thought of presenting Inoue with such a gift. She might be a gentle soul, but she also had a black belt in karate.
He had no intention of being flattened by the Healer of their group.
"Yuzu. Karin. At least let me put on my shoes first!"
- o -
Ichigo learned three things that afternoon.
The first was that their father was helping out at a neighbouring town's hospital and would only be back in time for dinner.
The second was that making chocolates wasn't difficult since he wasn't making them from scratch, but simply melting a block of sweet milk chocolate in a small saucepan and then pouring it into decorative moulds.
The third was that spending a couple of hours with Karin and Yuzu was... well, nice. Apart from brief mealtimes which were often interrupted by their father's childish antics, Ichigo couldn't remember the last time he had chatted with his sisters, what with his schoolwork, his part time occupation as Shinigami Substitute and his crazy adventures because of that.
Karin updated him on the progress of her football team, but Yuzu was more interested in quizzing him about Inoue - "She's just a friend!" - and when was he going to announce that they were dating - "We're not dating!" - and why hadn't he brought her home for dinner - "Because we're just friends!" - and so on.
They were also quite the taskmasters despite being four years younger, bossing him around and instructing him on what to do. Still, it was fun ... until he found out about the assumptions they had about him. It would have been almost amusing if it wasn't so horrifying.
"But why don't you ask her to be your girlfriend, onii-chan?"
Ichigo was carefully pouring a thin stream of melted chocolate into one of the small round moulds, having flatly refused to use the heart shaped ones Yuzu had set out. He didn't bother looking up as he answered.
"I told you. She's just a friend."
"But you like her, don't you?" Yuzu persisted in a wheedling tone.
Ichigo held the saucepan steady over the next mould.
"Yeah, as a friend," he repeated patiently. "The same way I like Rukia and Tatsuki."
"Still not ready to settle down then," Karin stated with a superior air.
Ichigo stopped pouring long enough to glare at her.
"Hey, I'm still in school!"
"Don't play innocent, Ichi-nii." Karin actually wagged a finger at him. "Yuzu and I have been hearing all sorts of noises coming from your room over the past few months, even late at night."
"Noises?" Ichigo repeated, his frown deepening.
The last time there was a ruckus in his room was when he had fought Sora, Inoue's older brother who had turned into a Hollow. Wait - there was also that time Renji and the others had crashed through his ceiling.
"What noises?" he asked, resuming pouring the chocolate.
"Heavy breathing for one."
The saucepan jerked, chocolate dribbling onto the counter.
"Bedsprings creaking for another," Yuzu added, wiping away the mess with kitchen paper.
Ichigo set down the saucepan and pressed his lips together, his face growing hot. Damn those Shinigami idiots, always using his room for those 'emergency meetings' and crowding his bed! It was a wonder it hadn't collapsed yet.
"It's not what you two think," he protested.
"How many girlfriends have you been bringing up to your room?" Karin asked.
"And what have you been doing with them?" Yuzu asked, eyes wide and cheeks pink.
Ichigo sputtered, his face growing even hotter.
"I haven't been doing anything with them! Wait - I mean I haven't brought any girl up to my room!"
Well, except for that time Inoue brought over some leftover buns from her part time job at the bakery, but the twins didn't need to know that. They looked unimpressed enough as it was.
"I saw Rukia coming out of your room to use the bathroom one night," Yuzu finally admitted.
Ichigo exhaled and shook his head. He had known it was impossible to keep such a thing secret for long. Besides, Rukia was a rule unto herself.
"You know she doesn't have anywhere else to sleep," he finally said.
"So she sleeps in your bed?" Karin's voice was a few notes higher than usual.
"And that's when you two make the bedsprings creak?" Yuzu's voice was almost a squeak.
"Of course not!" Ichigo almost shouted, his face as red as theirs. "She, uh, she sleeps in my closet."
"In your closet?" Yuzu's voice went so high the last word was soundless, but Ichigo was quite adept at lip reading.
"Hey, it was her choice, not mine."
"But she sleeps in our room now," Karin said, still with that suspicious frown on her face. "When she's here, that is."
Ichigo rubbed the back of his neck with one hand.
"Look, she sometimes needs to uh, leave early and doesn't want to disturb you two."
Karin and Yuzu exchanged glances and then understanding dawned in their faces.
"She's a Shinigami, isn't she?" Karin guessed.
Ichigo sighed and lifted the saucepan again. He might as well come clean with the whole thing.
"Yeah. Look, it all started when..."
- o -
Another hour went by before the girls were done grilling Ichigo, and were once again assured of his sterling character and Rukia's reputation. By then the chocolates were set and decorated - Ichigo having been bullied into painstakingly piping pink and white squiggles on them - and they had all enjoyed a cup of tea with castella, a Japanese sponge cake bought while they were out earlier.
"You two can't tell Goat Face any of this," Ichigo warned the twins as he closed the box and tied it with a white velvet ribbon.
"Don't worry, we won't," Karin said.
"But you'd better bring Orihime-nee-san home for dinner soon," Yuzu added with a sunny smile. She pushed aside Ichigo's hands and took over the delicate task of tying a pretty bow.
With those rather ominous words, Ichigo was ushered upstairs with his precious gift to attend to his homework, Karin cleared away the things and Yuzu started preparations for dinner.
- o -
The next morning...
As soon as Ichigo opened his eyes, he knew what day it was - White Day. He raised up on one elbow to peer at the white box sitting on his desk.
Despite what others might think, he wasn't stupid; he was well aware of Inoue's crush on him. He just didn't know why since he had never treated her better than any of his friends. Yes, he did like her, but as a friend. A good friend, and he didn't want to get her hopes up for nothing.
With a sigh, he got out of bed. Regardless of his feelings, he was still obliged to give her something in return. He just hoped it wouldn't complicate matters.
When he reached Karakura High, he found everyone in high spirits, just like on Valentine's Day. Brightly wrapped presents and flowers were being exchanged everywhere he looked, accompanied by blushes, stammered words, laughter and exclamations of thanks.
His gift to Inoue sat in the inner pocket of his school jacket where it would remain until after school. He didn't want a repeat of the rather public spectacle a month back. Not that he blamed Inoue for calling everyone's attention to the chocolates she had given him. That was just the way she was - impulsive, enthusiastic and acting with her generous heart rather than her head.
It was easy enough to hold onto his resolve when he entered the classroom and was greeted by his friends, Inoue among them. He returned their greetings, ignored their expectant looks, and was relieved when the teacher arrived.
It was trickier during lunchtime, when they were all gathered on the rooftop. Inoue's smile was brighter than usual, and the looks from the others soon turned to comments about Ichigo's apparent forgetfulness. Keigo's were blunt, Tatsuki's pointed, Rukia's exasperated, Ishida's subtle and Sado non verbal with raised eyebrows.
Ichigo didn't say anything.
Inoue was quick to defend him, saying that it was completely fine with her, and that she never expected anything in return, complete with embarrassed laughter and fluttering hands. Ichigo continued chewing on his sandwich, the box in his jacket pocket getting heavier and heavier with each passing second. He could tell from Inoue's flushed cheeks and overly bright eyes that she didn't believe a word she was saying. It was all he could do to keep silent instead of whipping out the damned box and handing it to her.
- o -
By the time the last class ended, Inoue's cheerful smile had turned brittle despite the bulging bag of presents beside her desk.
Ichigo on the other hand, felt like an utter jerk, pinned by heavy, angry glares from all sides that made his skin itch. He leaped to his feet the moment the bell rang, ready to bolt from class and go hunt down some Hollows. As his chair skidded backwards, Ishida, Sado and Renji's expressions changed from annoyed to curious, perhaps wondering if he had sensed something that they hadn't. Rukia even pulled out her cell phone to check the screen.
"Inoue," Ichigo said.
Despite the sounds of chatter and chairs being pushed back, Inoue looked over her shoulder at once, her eyes - her lovely eyes - wary yet hopeful.
Wait. Did he just think of her eyes as lovely?
He jerked his head towards the door and pretended not to notice the others staring at them. The girls looked like they were dying to squeal and some of the boys too, but for different reasons. Sado had one large hand clamped over a flailing Keigo's mouth, his other arm locked around his waist to keep him in place.
With a nod of thanks to Sado and a brief smirk at the hapless Keigo, Ichigo left the classroom, Inoue a step behind.
Once past the school gates, he shortened his stride to match hers. They were both quiet on the walk back, the usual comfortable silence between them strained and tense. Ichigo had no idea what to say to her, and while she glanced at him a few times, she didn't seem to know what to say either.
It seemed like only moments before they were standing at the gate to her home. Inoue turned to face him and smiled, a hint of uncertainty in her face.
"Thank you for walking me home, Kurosaki-kun," she said, polite as always.
Ichigo nodded, his eyes going to the heavy paper bag in her hand, overflowing with gifts. Now that they were alone, he felt nervous. Everyone agreed that chocolates were a suitable gift for White Day, but what if she didn't like them?
They were good; Yuzu had known what she was doing and they all agreed the chocolates turned out well, even his maiden attempt at decorating.
But Inoue's had been delicious.
Oh. Right. He had spaced out like an idiot. Before he could second guess himself, Ichigo reached inside his pocket, took out the box and held it out.
"Here," he said, feeling awkward. "For White Day."
"Ohhhh..." Inoue's eyes widened. She set the paper bag on the pavement, accepted the box with two hands and bowed.
"Happy White Day, Kurosaki-kun," she said. "Thank you so much!"
She straightened up, her smile now radiant.
In the blink of an eye, Ichigo's world tipped sideways, his feelings for her sliding from the comforting familiarity of friendship into something deeper, something... more.
It wasn't because of her looks because she had always been pretty, even when she was in elementary school.
It wasn't because of her smile because she always smiled at him each time she saw him.
It was just... the rosy flush on her cheeks, the quivering of her pink lips, the sheer joy pouring from her large grey eyes, and the way her breath hitched softly in her throat. All of it spelled out the undeniable fact that she had been waiting for his gift the whole time despite the numerous others she had received today.
It was his gift she had been waiting for.
It was him.
And instead of feeling uncomfortable or obligated or guilty, Ichigo was suddenly filled with an overpowering need to keep this girl safe, protected and happy. He felt that way about his sisters and his friends, of course, but for Inoue, this girl standing before him now and smiling at him, that need was both instinctive and primal.
Not because she was helpless.
Not because she didn't have a family of her own.
Not because she had given him chocolates.
But very simply, because he wanted to.
Ichigo started and almost face palmed. Oh God, he had spaced out again!
"I, uh, hope you like them," he said, his voice coming out deeper than he had expected. He cleared his throat. "I didn't know how to make chocolates, but Yuzu taught me. And Karin."
Inoue's eyes widened at that disclosure and her smile became - if at all possible - even sweeter. She looked down at the box in her hands and then up at him again, eyes bright. With trembling fingers, she pulled the white ribbon loose and lifted the lid, taking in the pink and white frosted chocolates with a look of utter delight.
"Hope you like them," Ichigo mumbled, his face feeling hot.
"I'm sure I will. They all look so pretty!"
Inoue hesitated for a moment before selecting a piece and placing it between her lips. Her eyes grew even shinier as she chewed.
"Why, it's delicious! Milk chocolate is my favourite!"
Ichigo almost sagged in relief. He shrugged, one hand going up to rub the back of his neck.
"I'm glad," he said.
"Thank you, Kurosaki-kun." Inoue's voice was as soft as her eyes. "And please thank Karin-chan and Yuzu-chan for me as well."
Without breaking eye contact, she closed the box and tied up the ribbon in a neat bow, making Ichigo blink. Then she bowed again and turned to open her gate.
Ichigo looked down and saw the paper bag.
"Wait, you forgot this." He grabbed the bag and held it out.
"Oh, how silly of me!"
Inoue reached for it and their fingers touched. Her eyes darted up to his as her blush deepened.
"I... I'll see you tomorrow, Kurosaki-kun."
"Yeah. See you, Inoue."
She smiled and went in, leaving Ichigo standing there and staring after her, wondering how could his whole world have changed with just a box of chocolates.
- Story End -
A/N: Thank you for reading! Please leave a review if you enjoyed. The sequel to this is A Happy Hanami Day :)