YAY! It's time for a celebration! Thirty Kisses is officially now 50 PERCENT COMPLETED! Oh, gee, wow, isn't that exciting? Despite the fact that it's been almost two years since I first started this story, I'm very proud of myself for reaching this point, considering I've never gotten more than a few chapters done for long-chaptered stories.

HOWEVER! I must greatly apologize considering the time it took me to post this chapter. I am very much sorry for taking so long to write this, despite me saying it wouldn't take long since I had it all planned out. Truth is, while I did have the general plan in my head, I didn't really know the details of how to make the plan work, so it took some time. But I'm not gonna throw out excuses. I guess I can't be definite on when I'm gonna post certain chapters, since my mind is everywhere all the time and nothing can be promised. I really wish I could try my best though to write more in shorter time.

New story stats: 143 favs, 138 alerts, and 456 reviews. Wow, two chapters ago, I had just reached 300 reviews, and now I dramatically passed the 400 mark. And the reviews have been amazing, I'm glad so many people have actually found the story to be -funny- cause, well, half of the time, I don't even aim for it, but yeah. And this story is a favorite of so many people. Haha, and yet, I'm still lazy with getting it done. :)

So, as for the chapter, as you know, it's a "special" one, being the half-time chapter of the story. But, uh, well, there's nothing really special about it. I hoped for it to be a lot better, but it didn't turn out that way. It's just another disappointing chapter for myself, but it does help lead a bit to where I plan to go with this story, I guess. That's all for me to say right now. Enjoy?

XV. PERFECT BLUE

This flood is slowly rising up swallowing the ground
Beneath my feet, Tell me how anybody thinks under this condition so
I'll swim as the water rises up, the sun is sinking down
And now all I can see are the planets in a row
Suggesting it's best that I slow down
This night's a perfect shade of dark blue
-'Dark Blue' by Jack's Mannequin

Ichigo giggled, walking through the doors of the café, with a frustrated Ryou following behind her. "Oh, lighten up, Ryou, it's just a little mud," she told him, somehow finding this whole situation quite amusing.

Ryou, on the other hand, wasn't so thrilled. "I'm actually surprised you're not running around freaking out, whining in that high-pitched voice of yours," he muttered, immediately walking up the steps to his room. "Not to mention, you're the idiot that got us in this mess."

"Hey!" She shouted out to him, quickly following behind him. "I'm not an idiot and it's not my fault! You're the one who knew about the broken piece, you should have said something before!" She knew she was right, which was a cool thing, considering she always made a fool of herself with Ryou's little remarks, but she was certain she made a good point. The fact was even proven as Ryou simply walked into his room without saying a word in reply. She sighed. "The only thing is, I have to take yet another shower."

"That you do," he said, once again, slipping out of his shirt, not caring much about Ichigo's presence.

Instead of her usual freakout, she just rolled her eyes. "Don't you have any modesty, whatsoever?" She still did turn a little red from the sight, considering she wasn't so comfortable with shirtless Ryou just yet, but she had already begun to figure that Ryou's habit of constantly stripping down--a statement more strong and dramatic than it really was--around her wouldn't die out anytime soon.

"Of course I do. But you've seen me do this numerous times already so I figured the shock would have worn off by now. If you have a problem—leave," he told her, pushing her into the bathroom. "Now, take off those clothes."

Ichigo's face turned a dark tone of crimson, hearing the words. Wrapping her arms around herself protectively, she walked backwards away from him. "N-nya!? No, no, no, no! I will not! I refuse to! Never! Never!"

Ryou just blinked at her, before raising an eyebrow in amusement. He finally formed a smirk, inching closer to her with each step she took backwards. Finally, her back hit the wall of the bathroom, as Ryou placed a hand on the tile near her face. "Never, hmm?"

She bit her lip, staring up at him, as his face neared closer. He wouldn't ... try anything, would he? Why did he have to be so close to her? She let out a small whine, shutting her eyes tight, quickly holding her hand up in front of her defensively. "No!" She shouted, pushing her hand forward.

"Argh!" She heard him say, as she opened her eyes and brought her hand down, seeing the blond hold his hands to his nose. "Gosh, Ichigo. What the heck did you do that for?!"

Well, she didn't mean to actually hit him. Still, she groaned, crossing her arms. "What are you talking about? You're the jerk that tried to put a move on me!" She shouted, filled with frustration at this point.

Ryou rolled his eyes, dropping his hands from his face to reveal a reddened spot on his nose from where she might have let her hand smack. "Seriously, Ichigo, you're such an idiot. Think about it. Why would I ever want to actually 'put a move' onyou?"

"Eh--" Her voice cutting off, as her eyes widened. She reached over, whacking him over the head, causing him to let out a wince. "What's that supposed to mean!? What's wrong with me, huh? Are you 'too good' to be attracted to someone like me now?" Her face was growing a deeper red from slight anger. After all, maybe she wasn't a top beauty or anything, but why would he make it seem like she was so below him in terms of worth.

He rubbed the top of his head, glaring down at her. "What are you going on about now!? What is it with women and never making themselves clear? Do you wantme to make a move on you now?" He rolled his eyes again, already turning around to walk out, not awaiting an answer from her.

"No, but you could at least--" She slammed a foot on the ground. "Hey, don't you walk away from me now!" she shouted to him, taking a bar of soap from the counter, throwing it at the back of his head, hitting successfully.

The hit caused Ryou to turn around once more, but he certainly wasn't happy. "Would you stop hitting me?! I didn't do anything to you, you baka strawberry!" He leaned down to grab the bar of soap from the floor and slammed it back on the counter. "Now, stop whining, hurry up and take a shower, cause I still need to take one too," he ordered, and once again, he wasn't waiting for an answer and stepped out, adding, "And be careful with that sliding door, it gets stuck every now and then," before closing the bathroom door behind him before she could speak up again. "Now the idiot gave me a migraine," she heard him mutter from behind the door, sensing him walk away, probably to take a tylenol or something.

Ichigo stood quietly for a moment, keeping her eyes on the door. It wasn't long, however, before she began to groan, waving her hands about through the air. "Ugh, he's a jerk! The master of frustration! The king of meanness! The ruler of pure torture! How was I even considering he was a nice guy!?" She kicked the wall out of anger, but hurt her foot in the process.

"Oww!" She winced, taking her foot in hand. As the minute passed, the red from her cheeks began to fade just as her mind began to relax. Finally, she let out a sigh, letting her body drop to the floor to sit against the wall. "I might have overreacted just a bit. Hmph, he's still a big meanie though."

At this point, however, Ichigo wasn't sure what to think of Ryou. It's not like he wasn't still that same sarcastic guy from day one, who teased her constantly, and considered her to just be a total idiot. Then again, over the past few hours, she had begun to see a difference in his character. He wasn't so bad to talk to, and if given a little push, he actually became kind of fun to hang around with.

She giggled, thinking on karaoke and photobooths, along with falling off the café roof. So far, the day had been quite adventurous and one wreck was happening after another, but she was enjoying herself.

Of course, losing Masaya wasn't exactly the highlight great moment of the day. And she still couldn't get why he had let her go because of Ryou. Maybe he wasn't the worst guy there was, but she didn't see why she'd have "feelings" for him. He was still a total jerk and even if he did only joke, she still did find him to be a pervert. So why'd she lose the person she loved just for what could only be a possibility?

What was Masaya thinking?

Realizing she was still covered in mud, Ichigo got back on her feet, stepping over to the shower. She turned the knob, letting the water pour out from overhead. She brought a hand under it to test out the temperature, quickly bringing it back out from the coldness. Taking a hold of the knob again, she tried to turn it to warm up the water, but then stopped.

"Huh?" She blinked, trying to turn the knob again, but it failed to budge. She pouted, letting it go. "Now that's not good. Ryou must've broken it earlier," she thought out loud. Now, of course, it wasn't like it was herfault. It was obviously that jerk's.

She made another attempt to turn it, but it failed once more. "Ryou!" She called out, as she continued pulling on the knob. However, there was no sign that he had heard her. That, or he was annoyed, and was choosing to ignore her. However, he really had no right to be, since he was the one who had been a perv, asking her to undress. "RYOU!" She shouted more loudly this time. Even if he was angry with her or whatever, he was his bathroom, so he should have been the one fixing it.

Suddenly, the bathroom door burst open and Ryou ran in. "Ichigo, what the hell—argh!"

"What do you think you're doing!? You can't just come running in here!" Ichigo shouted after having thrown a towel in Ryou's face.

He pulled the towel off, looking at her with eyes of shock and pure annoyance. "You're the one who called me in here!"

"Yeah, but you could've knocked first though! What if I was naked or something!?"

"If you were naked, you wouldn't have called me to come in the first place."

"Well, maybe I would've, considering I'd expect you to knock on the door first."

"Knock!? You were screaming for me, so it could've been an emergency! Damn it, Ichigo, I thought something happened to you!"

"Well, I—huh?" Ichigo stepped down from shouting, looking at the blond's angry face. It was probably the first time she had really seen him look at her with those kind of eyes, and wondered if maybe she had gone too far just now. But the way he had stormed in just now, had he been ... ? "Were ... you worried?"

Ryou blinked at her, as his face slowly changed to form a light tint of red on his cheeks. "That ... I ... of course not. I just needed to make sure you didn't go ahead and break something," he said, crossing his arms, glaring at her. "What'd you want anyway?"

Break something, eh? "Um ..." She gave a nervous laugh. "Well, the knob for the water, it kind of ... um ... well, it doesn't exactly turn."

Ryou sighed. "So you did break something."

"I did not!" She denied, pouting. "It was probably you from earlier today. It was already like that when I got here."

"If it was already like that, then how were you able to turn on the water?"

Hmm. Well, he certainly had a point there. Darn him for being a genius. "That's just—just fix it, Ryou!" She crossed her arms, realizing that she probably was the one at fault this time around, but trying her best to keep from admitting that.

He gave a sigh, along with rolling his eyes, revealing his usual annoyance of Ichigo's random moments of stupidity. Still, he moved past her, leaning over into the shower to take the handle in attempts to loosen it. "Geez, Ichigo, what the heck did you do to it?"

She didn't answer, not really having much to say as a comeback, knowing she wouldn't win. Instead, she simply stood to the side, watching him try to work the handle, still failing to make a change, before he finally stepped inside the shower in order to get a closer look at what needed to be done.

"Doesn't look like it can be moved at this point," he said with a sigh. "I'll go and call to get it fixed and then—Ichigo?"

Going into the shower behind him, she pushed him lightly to the side and took hold of the handle. "Aren't you supposed to be a genius and all? And you can't even fix a shower handle?"

"Well, there's a difference between science and bathroom appliances, Ichigo."

"If we both pull it together, we might be able to loosen it."

Ryou raised an eyebrow to that. "Teamwork, huh?" He gave a chuckle, grabbing the handle with her. "I guess it's worth a shot."

Ichigo nodded, a little surprise he agreed so easily with her. "Okay, on the count of three. One, two, three--"

The two began to pull to the side, using all their strength to move the handle, but it barely gave a budge. Even when Ryou let go, giving up on the plan, Ichigo continued to pull. But due to the moisture of water on the handle, it grew to be slippery, causing her to lose grip of the handle, falling backwards.

"Ichigo!"

She held her arms out as she fell, attempting to hold on to the sides to keep herself up, but when her hand landed on the door, it slid back to a close, as she fell against the back wall of the shower.

She gave a slight groan, rubbing the back of her head which had received a light hit. But the slight pain felt like nothing compared to her surprise when she saw Ryou kneel down in front of her, looking with worried eyes. "Are you hurt?" he asked in a soft voice.

She didn't answer immediately, and how could she? Was that even Ryou talking? It was his voice, but it definitely wasn't his usual tone. It was as though he had transformed into another being in just an instant. What about the sarcastic comments and the 'Gosh, Ichigo, you're such a clumsy idiot' and whatnot?

"I-I'm fine," she managed to let out, staring at this sudden kind-hearted Ryou. She knew she had seen that soft look before, but she couldn't place her finger on it. It was familiar and comforting, but somehow she sensed something was a bit off about--"Oww!"

He flicked her forehead, with a glare now replacing his rare look of worry. "You idiot!" Oh, there it was. "What did I tell you about the door!?"

Oh, that's right. It really wasn't the first time he looked at her like that. But remembering now, it always did end up with him really thinking of her as just an idiot who did pretty much everything wrong. That's what she had sensed coming. Same old Ryou.

"Door? What about--?" She watched him stand back up and pull on the sliding door handle. It didn't budge.

"I told you to be careful with it. It gets stuck sometimes. And guess what? Now we're stuck in here."

So now the door wasn't opening? What was with all these things getting stuck? And now they were stuck too? "Whaa!? No way! We can't!" She hopped back up on her feet in a surprisingly quick motion, immediately attempting to pull own the shower door. Fail. "No, no! This is a joke! How could we be stuck in here!?"

Ryou, of course, wasn't panicking as she was, and simply leaned back against the wall, arms crossed as usual, in his typical calm manner. "That's not the worst of it," he said, and before she could ask, he pointed down.

Looking to where his finger pointed, all she saw was water rising up around their ankles. "What, it's just water--" She stopped. Around their ankles? That didn't make sense for there to be so much water, unless the drain was clogged. Oh no. "The drain's clogged!?"

"Seems so."

"What are you so calm for!? We're gonna die in here, aren't we!?"

Ryou rolled his eyes at her. "We're not gonna die, Ichigo."

"Of course we are! We're gonna drown eventually, all cause you, despite having enough money, have been too lazy to get your bathroom fixed!" She groaned, looking around for something to just throw at him to make herself satisfied in this fit of anger. But the soap bar had been left outside and he was blocking the shampoo bottles.

During her distraction, another flick came to her forehead. "Relax, will you? Breathe a little."

Though the last thing she wanted to do was listen to his orders, she did take a deep breath, which did manage to relax her nerves a little, although ever so slightly. But she couldn't help but realize just how tired she was. It had already been quite a long day, even if it wasn't even sundown yet and maybe most of the running around and crazy stunts were done on her account, but all she had wanted now was a warm bath to relax her mind and take a break, but even now, it was more like her head was on the brink of explosion.

"How could you tell me to relax? This isyourfault!" Okay, so maybe she was exaggerating. It wasn't all his fault, though she couldn't see why he couldn't have fixed his bathroom much earlier if he had already sensed it was falling apart, especially him being a guy who was always on everything's case and keeping things in order. But then again, he made the day more of a hassle than it originally could've been with his kissing dares and so on.

Of course, she was the one who ended up agreeing to it, and even brought up the idea of actually spending the day together, but was that really it? Did she bring the mess of today upon herself?

"My fault!? I warned you about the door, Ichigo. And you're the one who broke the handle for the water, so don't go pointing fingers."

"Oh, so you think I just purposely tripped to close it? And I couldn't have broken it unless it was already in a condition that would have it be easily broken, so it's still your fault for not having it fixed earlier!" She shouted.

She took back considering not blaming him for everything. He was always like this, messing with her head and her life and then making her seem like the biggest idiot. What the heck was his problem anyway?

"And when did the water get up here so quickly!?" She looked down, feeling the water already very much above her knees. She couldn't have been complaining for that long, so in what time did it happen to get so high up? "Gosh, I just don't--"

She stopped, feeling a warm touch on her cheeks. She blinked her eyes, catching Ryou staring at her, holding her face in his hands. "R-ryou?"

There was that expression again. But somehow, it wasn't like before. She didn't sense that he'd flick her forehead or call her an idiot or anything of that sort. This time, he was just watching her, not as if he was worried like before, but just watching, almost as if she was all there was in his eyes at that instant.

The water was at her hips now, but she didn't even take the time to think about it. Her eyes were on Ryou now, whose expression still made her wonder. That wasn't the sort of look people just casually gave at any moment. It was the sort of look you'd only give to someone you truly cared about, something you lov—but no. What could she be thinking? This was Ryou.

She could feel her cheeks growing hot for some reason or other, which was odd, considering the water was pretty cold, and she should have been freezing right about now. It made her wonder if Ryou could feel the heat from the cheeks, but she couldn't really tell what he was thinking at the moment since all he did was stare at her without changing his expression.

She finally noticed just how close his face actually was to hers, which caused her to blush even more than she had before. Was he going to kiss her? It wouldn't exactly be a surprise since they did happen to be in the middle of a bet and all, and he had already kissed her—what--fourteen times already? This, of course, counting the time she had kissed him, which she still couldn't figure out what made her do so in the first place.

Oddly enough, thinking about how she had kissed him before, and seeing his face so close up at the moment, made her actually feel the need to kiss him now. Something she definitely would not do, especially after swearing so much that she wouldn't repeat past actions. But it wasn't exactly easy to resist with him so close to her right then, all the while as he looked at her with such soft eyes.

"D-don't look at me like that," she managed to choke out, since not being able to think straight. But his hands did not move and his face didn't turn away. "It's all still your fault, so don't think you can just turn things around on me and mess with my mind like you always do. Don't think you can just manipulate me with that face. It won't work! Because I hate you! I hate everything about you! I hate you! I hate--"

Despite her words, Ryou pulled her into a kiss. And as if she had been taken in by an instant, Ichigo didn't resist, only pulling him closer.

She knew everything she had just said was a lie, and even if she denied it, she knew she didn't want to resist. And she knew she didn't hate him. Oh, no, it was all far from hate, even if she did get annoyed by certain things he did and said. Exactly what it was she felt though, she didn't know. It wasn't love, that was for certain. Her feelings were far beyond anything similar to her feelings for Masaya, which was sweet and peaceful and just loving. With Ryou, it all somehow felt adventurous and unpredictable and just ... she suddenly really just wanted to be kissing him.

Feeling the water at her stomach, she wondered her feelings were just an effect of it—the water, that is. After all, she remembered back at the beach when they were swimming, he had kissed her and she hadn't resisted there either. But that hadn't been the only time, was it?

There were plenty of moments were she had given in to his kisses, thought about kissing him, and had even went ahead and done so. Time and place had nothing to do with it. It was just her.

But why?

Just then, a crack was heard, causing both to pull apart from one another. Turning to the shower door, they could see a crack in the glass, slowing growing within seconds. And that could only mean one thing.

Being a quick thinker, Ryou pulled Ichigo close to him and grabbed tight onto the water handle. "Hold on," he told her, just as the glass finally gave a louder crack and before Ichigo could even tell what was happening, the door had been broken and water poured out of the shower and into the rest of the bathroom.

She held onto Ryou close, as he held onto the handle tight, keeping them from falling out with the water. With her face kept against his chest, she couldn't see the whole scene, but soon enough, she heard the final swooshes of the water rushing out and then there was silence.

"Looks like it's open now," Ryou spoke, causing Ichigo to lift up her head to see the results. The shower door was completely gone now and the floor was completely covered with numerous giant puddles of water.

"Well, that's--" Ichigo turned red, moving away from Ryou immediately, having realized she had been holding onto him while he was shirtless. "T-that's a relief."

Ryou just snickered, pulling on the water handle which finally turned, stopping the water, probably having been loosened from Ryou having held onto it so tightly during the rushing water scene. "You caused quite some trouble here, Momomiya. The money for repairs will be taken out of your next paycheck, mind you."

"Nya!?" She shrieked with shock. "But I didn't do anything, you jerk! I told you, it's your fault for not fixing this sooner!"

He stepped out of the shower, casually, walking out of the bathroom. "I feel another migraine coming along. Must you screech so loudly, you little evil kitten?"

Ichigo gave a groan, following behind. "Don't you walk away from me! And who are you calling 'little evil kitten', you big meanie!?"

And so, for a good few minutes, the two went along arguing as they normally did. But no matter how many offensive comments they gave one another, Ichigo knew things were definitely different now, and that kiss had shown that.

So even if it was in his small, cramped shower which they did manage to escape from, she knew it was already too late for herself, even if she still couldn't understand what it all had meant. But she knew for sure, she had already sunk into the deep blue, which despite the title's sake, was far from perfect.

What had she gotten herself into?

-End, Part XV.

Blarghudfsdf. I don't know what to say. It was a very disorganized chapter, and I was having a lot of trouble figuring out what could have been going on in Ichigo's head. Most of it probably makes no sense, cause it really doesn't make too much sense to me. But I guess it kind of went okay. Maybe.

By the way, the general idea of getting stuck in the flooding shower was taken from an episode of "I Love Lucy", which I actually saw for the first time in some cheap Spanish soap opera that took the idea themselves, though they actually did a funnier and better job at it than I did.

Next chapter is "invincible; unrivaled". Interpret as you will. I have no hints, cause well, I don't really have the best idea of where to go now, though I do have some ideas, but they are bound to change. When will this next chapter come out? I really don't know. But hopefully, it will happen in less than six months. HOPEFULLY, it'll happen in less than two. We'll see.

Eh, back to the cliffhanging voice of d00m!? WHAT has Ichigo gotten herself into? WHO thinks Ichigo's just in denial and she really is in love with Ryou? WHEN will she just stop kidding herself and admit to that? WHY did this chapter end up going from what I planned to be fun and exciting to some crappy dramatic love mess? WHERE is Carmen Sandiego and those writing streaks I used to have that she keeps stealing from me? HOW long will I actually take this time around to do the next chapter despite my wishes to get it done quicker? STAY TUNED NEXT TIME, whenever I get around to writing it, for the sixteenth chapter of, dun dun dun, THIRTY KISSES!