Disclaimer: All credit for Bleach and its characters goes to Tite Kubo and assorted sidekicks.

Author's Note: Written in response to the following request from rose-of-betrayal on LiveJournal's ficondemand community:

"I want no spoilers. Completely. For the manga or otherwise. I want matchmaking smut and fluff, perhaps initiated by Chizuru or such, but if you want to cross out the 'matchmaking' part, feel free to. However, I have a taste for smut and I want to read it on this pairing. I've not seen enough of it, actually. Maybe a little bondage - but very, very light - is in order as well. :)"

Title: Ribbons and the Rain

Rating: M

Category: Romance

Pairings: Tatsuki/Orihime

Summary: Snarky Chizuru + prankster Orihime beleaguered Tatsuki.

Warnings: Girl/girl attraction.

Spoilers: Have attempted to avoid same. The outfit described is visible on the cover of volume 3 of the manga.

Ribbons and the Rain

Tatsuki should have known it was not a day to provoke Chizuru.

The flirt's mischievous grin and light stream of commentary had been missing in action most of the afternoon. Even now, as the two of them sat changing into their outside shoes, Chizuru glowered wordlessly at her laces. Tatsuki almost held her peace.

But then Orihime came bounding by en route to her sewing club. "See you, Tatsuki! Have a good evening, Chizuru!"

By the time Tatsuki looked up, all she saw was a swing of reddish hair vanishing past the wall of lockers.

Meanwhile, Chizuru sprang to her feet. "Of course I'll have a good evening—I'll be dreaming of you, princess!" she trilled after Orihime.

Any elaboration was cut off by Tatsuki's hand descending on her mouth.

Tatsuki's own day had been an accumulation of frustrations, and this was the final straw.

"Would you quit slobbering over Orihime already? Go find someone who wants your pawing!"

Chizuru twisted her neck inside Tatsuki's headlock and leveled a glare at the brunette. "I don't hearOrihimecomplaining."

Tatsuki returned the glare in full. "You're worse than the boys—eyeing her boobs, hanging all over her every chance you get."

Chizuru narrowed her eyes. She said smoothly, "I still haven't heard who appointed youthe judge of my behavior."

"I'm her friend—that's more than enough."

"'Friend' is not the same as 'watchdog,' Tatsuki." Chizuru tugged herself out of Tatsuki's grasp and pulled on her coat. She slanted a glance over her shoulder. "Sure it isn't jealousy you're feeling?"

Tatsuki spluttered.

"You may be best friends, but Orihime can still like people besides you." Chizuru stepped through the doorway, then turned. "Why make such a big deal about her boobs, anyway? Maybe you secretly want a good look at them yourself."

Tatsuki saw red. "You--!" She dove for Chizuru, but the other was already halfway to the sidewalk outside the schoolyard gate, where a city bus had pulled up. "So glad we had this little chat!" Chizuru caroled, and whisked into the vehicle.

"Arrrgh!" Tatsuki slammed the door of her locker, then kicked it for good measure.

Home from karate practice, Tatsuki eyed the phone. She had half a mind to call Orihime's hotel and tell her she wasn't coming over. Thick clouds had rolled in over Karakura district; their electric heaviness bore down on Tatsuki, giving her a headache.

Force of habit won out. After scribbling a note for her absent parents, she kicked her duffel bag into a corner of her room, bundled into her raincoat and was soon trekking her way across town to Orihime's temporary lodgings.

She exchanged nods with the clerk at the reception desk, stepped into the elevator and punched the fifth-floor button. The elevator was one of those polished-brass affairs; she stared her reflection in the eye and released an explosive sigh. That uneasy feeling was still in her stomach.

"Damn Chizuru."

Orihime opened the door as soon as she tapped on it. "Finally!" she declared. "I was beginning to wonder."

She'd changed into a tight black top and one of her "swirly" skirts—a dusky red one that clung to her thighs, then flared around her calves. Its rayon folds brushed Tatsuki as Orihime skipped back into the room.

The hotel suite featured a double bed, wide-screen TV, private bathroom and tiny kitchenette. Not for the first time, Tatsuki found herself wondering about her friend's extended family—who apparently saw fit to fund a lengthy stay in an upscale hotel, but weren't willing to take the (effectively) orphaned girl in.

She closed her eyes and fell back on the bed, relishing the slight bounce.

"Don't squash my project!" called Orihime from the kitchenette. Tatsuki cracked an eye open and surveyed the diorama reposing on the bedspread beside her. Orihime's depiction of a futuristic world involving mechanized rats was alarming enough that she quickly shut her eyes again and turned on her side. "Squashing it might be the kindest thing I could do, Orihime," she retorted.

Orihime sounded unruffled. "My leek bread's about halfway done. Mind if I leave you here while I run to the store? I want to pick up dessert makings."

"Knock yourself out," drawled Tatsuki. The bed was really quite comfortable.

"You look pretty knocked-out yourself. Sleep if you want to!" Orihime's voice came from the direction of the door; Tatsuki heard the doorknob turn, and said without stirring, "You've got your umbrella, right?"

There was no answer—Orihime was already gone. Tatsuki sighed, and turned onto her back again.

She emerged from sleep by stages. First came the sound of a gutter overflowing onto a nearby slant of roof, loud and sudden. Then the noise of crinkling plastic—probably a shopping bag being unloaded.

"Mm." Tatsuki stretched. Or tried to.

Something was holding her arms down.

Her eyes sprang open.

Strands of wide yellow ribbon were wrapped around her wrists and ankles; presumably they were tied to the legs of the bed.

"What the—Orihime!"

She got a giggle in response, followed by the sound of the refrigerator door shutting. Orihime came into view, looking extremely pleased with herself.

"I can't believe you didn't wake up! You must really have needed that nap. I called your parents to let them know you'd be staying over—it's after nine already—when I saw you so dead to the world I couldn't resist—I knew that ribbon from craft club would come in handy for something—"

In the half-lit room, it had taken Tatsuki a while to get a good look at the nattering Orihime. When she did, she broke in with a yelp. "Look at you! You're sopping wet! You mean to say you tied me up without even changing into dry clothes?"

Orihime nodded blithely; Tatsuki dropped her head back onto the bed with a groan.

The other plopped down on the bed beside Tatsuki. Orihime smelled of clean wet grass; her bangs were plastered against her forehead. A strand of damp hair came to rest on Tatsuki's bare forearm. Instinctively, she flinched.

Orihime's laughing gaze sobered as she leaned towards Tatsuki. "You aren't mad?"

"Mad? Of course not," Tatsuki responded too hastily. "Someone who didn't know you might think it was a bit kinky."

Orihime looked surprised, then blushed faintly. "Oh." She looked away, reached up with both hands to wind her hair into a thick rope.

Tatsuki blinked. Wet, Orihime's shirt hugged her curves as closely as a coat of paint. It was quite clear that she'd dispensed with her bra when she came home from school. Tatsuki could also tell that it must have turned chilly outside--

Wait. When had her eyes dropped to Orihime's breasts?

This was bad.

Tatsuki bumped her knee against Orihime's leg to get her attention. "Say, why don't you turn on the TV for me and change out of those wet clothes already—then let me loose. Knowing you, these knots are going to take some time to undo."

Orihime smiled down at her. "Oh no, I tied them in slipknots—shouldn't be long at all." The redhead slipped to her knees on the carpet and began fiddling with the knot. Presently, Tatsuki heard, "Oops."

"What?" she said to Orihime's rear, all she could see of her friend at the moment.

"Looks like I mixed up my knots. Sorry!" came the muffled voice.

"Then get changed first!" Tatsuki exploded. There was something unsettling about seeing her friend so—seal-sleek. Desperately, she wanted to dispell this feeling gathering in her own nipples, between her own legs. i I am /i not i like Chizuru or Keigo. Orihime is my /i friend, i not some object of lust. /i

"Okay!" Orihime was on her feet again, walking over to flip on the TV and the overhead light. Some of Tatsuki's tension evaporated. It was a rerun of the Don Kanonji show—the spiritualist's mellow voice proclaimed something about "whispers of the spirits." "Bo-ha-ha-ha," she murmured in response with the studio audience. If you could disregard the ribbons tying her to the bed, things felt just about normal again—

Until a topless Orihime crossed in front of the TV.

Tatsuki's mouth worked soundlessly as Orihime, clad only in neon green panties, bent over the dresser drawer. "Forgot my nightgown was in the wash," Orihime tossed over her shoulder. She'd toweled off; her hair was pinned up loosely on her head.

Damn. Okay. Chizuru has a point. Tatsuki's eyes traveled up and down her friend's body, revealed in profile. There was a lot to look at: the gentle coffee-colored cone of her right nipple, the sprinkling of freckles on her back, the half-exposed round of her buttock, the smooth skin in the hollow of her knee-joint. I can't help it, she admitted. I can't not want Orihime. I've wanted her for a long while, I think.

She ran her tongue over dry lips, looking away at last.

"There!" Orihime exclaimed at the same moment. "All set." Tatsuki flicked her eyes back—the other was now enveloped in ankle-length plaid flannel. Orihime's head emerged from the neck of the gown; she grinned at Tatsuki.

"Ribbons?" Tatsuki asked after a moment.

Orihime brandished a small pair of sewing scissors in her hand. She opened them, then paused. "Hmm…"she mused aloud. "Maybe this is the moment I should introduce you to that new Elsa CD…"

"Orihime," growled Tatsuki.

"And I've always wondered if you were ticklish..."


"Fine, fine." Orihime's hair hid her face as she bent to cut the ribbon around Tatsuki's right wrist. Another "Bo-ha-ha-ha!" resounded from the TV.

Tatsuki eyed at the curtain of hair screening Orihime's expression. To her surprise, the uneasiness in her stomach had settled.

"What did my parents say?" she asked, flexing her now free hand.

Orihime flashed a look at her. "Tell her not to forget to do her homework, and get to sleep on time, you hear?"

They both laughed at Orihime's impression of Tatsuki's dad. Orihime cut the loops around Tatsuki's ankles, then sat on the edge of the mattress to snip through the last knot.

For several long seconds, Tatsuki imagined catching the other's wrist as the ribbons fell away, pulling Orihime down on top of her, kissing smooth cheeks. The scene was set: a shared bed, the yellow light of the lamp, Orihime's hair dry and silky.

Instead, she lay still, just looking at Orihime; and Orihime looked back at her with half a smile, loosely clasping the scissors.

Then Tatsuki heard her own voice. "Guess this is the first time I've slept over at your place, huh? You better have an extra toothbrush!" She poked Orihime's arm. "And what about that leek bread?"

Orihime yelped; she shot up and dashed to the kitchenette. Tatsuki, stretching, followed after.

The only light in the room came from under the door to the hotel corridor and the scolding red digits on the alarm clock—11:43 PM. Orihime's slender shoulders pressed against Tatsuki's.

Outside, the rain had softened to a drizzle.

Orihime sighed and shifted in her sleep. After a while, Tatsuki sighed too. She turned, curled the same way as Orihime, and draped a friendly arm across the other's hip. After a moment, she nuzzled her face into the mane of hair in front of her. "Someday," she whispered.

Unseen by Tatsuki, the dreamer's lips curved into a smile.