EDIT: I didn't think I would receive so many reviews in such a short time on my amateur story, but I got many more than I ever would have expected, and for that I'm so giddy right now and jumping like an idiot, that I'm starting to think I don't deserve your kind words. Thank you for the reviews. And to my male reviewers, there is nothing wrong with the word 'cute'. To tell you the truth, I think it's 'cute' when you use it. (Plus, big toughy Chad cannot resist 'cute' things. I'm sure even he has used the word).

I edited this chapter so that the spacing would be better, because a lot of people pointed out (in other words, complained very nicely) that the paragraphs were too close together. I apologize for that. Or actually, blame it on the break line tag thingy and the fact that my web design teacher forces us to use it all the time. But, since I care about my readers, I fixed it. And it does look better. So thanks for the critique.

This is (hopefully) a cute story inspired by my recent cold. All I did was work, work, work, go to school, listen to music, watch and reread Bleach, and jot down a bunch of ideas for crazy fanfiction. Being a hard-core Ichihime shipper (although sadly I feel all alone in this realm), I gave it my favorite twist. I know, this could actually happen in a slightly alternate universe within Bleach, and if it could, it would be really, awfully cute.

This is post-Soul Society, and it should be happening right about now (if it could ever be possible), so the guys from Soul Society are already in their gigais living in the real world. But we don't have a messy, messy situation going on with the arrancar or the vizards. Right now, everything is as right as rain.

Disclaimer: Kubotite is the almighty creator and owner and I am just a humble follower who had nothing to do in her spare time and decided to have some creative fun with the characters.

---

Sick days, seven nights – by Deathberry15

"ACHOO!"

Tatsuki instinctively ducked as the first class of the morning was dismissed, and an explosive sneeze went off next to her. It was as if Orihime had been waiting for the class to be over to blow up like that, because she did look a lot like she had been painfully holding it in.

"Hey, you okay, Hime?" asked Tatsuki, eyeing her friend with concern. The red-haired girl's eyes had become watery all of a sudden, and her nose was almost as red as her head. Orihime only sniffled and gave a half-hearted smile.

"I think so. I'm probably just tired. I woke up from a really strange dream last night, and it took me a while to go back to sleep."

"Okay, if you say so," Tatsuki said as they joined the others walking down the hall to P.E. at the gymnasium. "What was the strange dream about?" she asked, hoping Orihime would become engaged into yet another one of her crazy, but generally amusing, talks about aliens and zombies and robots, which was for some reason what mostly invaded Orihime's subconscious during the night time. However, Orihime did not respond. She just kept walking at a very slow pace next to Tatsuki, her eyes glazed over as if she were far away. "Orihime?"

Orihime sniffled again.

"Are you sure you're okay?" Tatsuki asked again, this time placing a hand on her friend's shoulder to get her attention.

"Yes, Tatsuki-chan, I'm okay," Orihime nodded and gave a faint smile.

"You don't look so good."

"I told you, I might be a bit tired. That's all."

However, she shut her eyes and scrunched up her face in a very unladylike manner, and brought her hands to her mouth and nose. She was about to sneeze again. And because her eyes were closed, she couldn't see she was about to crash head-on into a wall. Tatsuki grabbed her shoulders and pulled her slightly back before she could collide, and just then Orihime sneezed so hard that not only did her body shake energetically, but so did Tatsuki's.

"What the hell was that?" Tatsuki asked, wide-eyed.

"Don't you mean 'Bless you'?" Ichigo said, passing by them just then.

"Thank you, Kurosaki-kun," Orihime chirped at him. Tatsuki rolled her eyes.

"Hime, pay attention. I think maybe you should go to the school nurse."

"Why? I'm okay."

"You don't seem okay. Your nose is really red now, and your eyes are puffy. And you're sneezing, like, atomically, so much that you were about to try to walk through a wall. Which, well, might be actually not so out of the ordinary for you, but I'm afraid that you would have also blown a hole into it with that sneeze."

"It's a bit chilly, that's all," Orihime replied, rubbing her arms.

"It's not, Orihime, it's actually as hot as hell. You're the one who's got chills," Tatsuki said, noting the goose bumps on Orihime's arms. "You should tell the coach that you're going to the nurse. It wouldn't be good for you to work out if you're coming down with something."

"I'm serious, Tatsuki-chan, I'm fine. Don't worry. If I were really feeling bad, I would do as you say."

---

"Okay, maybe I should have done as you said."

"Gee, you think?"

After having changed in the locker room, the girls had gone outside, and halfway through the class Orihime had started sneezing again, this time short sneezes, but one after the other, making her stop for nearly twenty seconds every five minutes. Rukia, who was her partner today, could only watch in awe as Orihime would be spastically shaking on the spot. Colds were something wholly new to her, and she thought it was actually kind of funny, but seeing Orihime's pained look, she didn't think it would've been very nice of her to laugh, so she only stared with wide eyes.

The coach had ordered her to sit this one out while the girls ran laps. Tatsuki, being quite fast, was done before anyone else, and after completing her mark, she went over to Orihime, who was still shaking.

"You worry too much, Tatsuki-chan. It's not that I don't appreciate it, but I'm okay. If it's really something, then it's mild and it should go away on its own."

"I don't think it's that easy," Tatsuki retorted. "Or mild at all."

"Tatsuki-chan, I don't get sick. You'll see. I just need some rest. I'm resting right now. I'll be fine in a little while."

---

By fourth period, Orihime had sneezed practically on everyone. She even very nearly sneezed on Ichigo, but much to both their relief (and thankfully for the sake of her mental health), she was able to aim away from him at the last second. She had also fallen asleep in the middle of a lecture, Tatsuki having had to nudge her awake before the sensei could notice, and she was shivering non-stop. She couldn't even speak properly, with her nose stuffed up as it was. There was no doubt about it now.

"I'b not sick."

"You're contagious. You need to be quarantined."

"You're exaggerating."

"Go home, Orihime. You're sick."

"I'b not sick. I'b find."

"When you add a 'd' to the word fine, you're not really fine."

"Bud I amb."

---

Next thing, Orihime went up to the sensei to ask permission to go to the bathroom; her nose was so stuffed up she was afraid she would asphyxiate. But when she opened her mouth, no words came out, and she just sneezed at the sensei. The woman looked very displeased and checked herself for any nostril emissions, while Orihime just stood beside the desk, looking completely embarrassed, hands over her face.

The sensei signed a permission slip and handed it to Orihime before the girl could say anything.

"Go home, Inoue-san. You're sick."

Orihime, having at least some common sense, noted the no-nonsense tone and grudgingly took the note.

---

The next two days, Orihime was still holed up at home, sick. Tatsuki really missed her friend even if she visited her everyday, properly armed with a surgical mask shielding her face, antibacterial gel hand wash, and a healthy supplement dose of vitamin C. Her mother was making chicken soup so that Tatsuki could take it over to Orihime next time she stopped by. She felt bad for her friend; living by herself and being sick was probably not good at all. Even if she had relatives, they couldn't be with her all the time. So Orihime had no one to take care of her. Just the previous afternoon, Orihime had been telling Tatsuki about the things she remembered her brother would do for her when she was sick, or what she did for him when he was. Even without her brother, Orihime seemed to be doing okay taking care of herself. But up until now, Tatsuki hadn't seen her get this sick. And it was a fact that Orihime could get some really crazy ideas. Who knows what home remedies she could come up with? Tatsuki feared for her friend's health.

---

"Ichigo, I need a favor."

Just before first period, Ichigo and his friends walked into the classroom, and Tatsuki was already there, giving Ichigo the biggest, freakiest, sweet smile.

"Really?" Ichigo said, dreading what she would say next.

"A big one," she added.

"How big?"

Tatsuki sighed. "It's about Orihime."

"Oh, that's big," Ichigo said with a chuckle.

"Oh, yes, when it comes to Orihime, they're as big as they can get," Keigo sang, appearing at Ichigo's shoulder with an idiotic smile, obviously referring to Orihime's full bust.

Ichigo rolled his eyes, flicked his fist backwards and delivered a swift punch right at Keigo's nose. "Shut up, Keigo, I didn't mean it in that sense, unlike you, because it's all you ever think about. Tatsuki, please continue before his perverted mind really starts running rampant."

Keigo mumbled something that sounded like "he's getting weirder every day", before sulkily going over to Mizuiro.

"Back to the issue," Tatsuki said, "I have karate after school. Someone's got to bring some chicken soup to Orihime."

Ichigo nodded. "Okay. Why me?"

"I just need you to deliver it. My mom's soup is really miraculous. And anyway, we're afraid she might try to make up a weird remedy of her own."

"Yikes. That's true."

Tatsuki smiled sweetly again. "So, would you, please?"

"Again, why me?"

Tatsuki slammed her hands down at her desk in a stubborn gesture. "Why not?"

"I'm not saying I won't do it, I'm just curious about why you thought of me in the first place."

"I didn't. I thought of so many others before I even considered cursing Orihime with someone like you paying her a visit when she's already not feeling well," she explained, giving him a disapproving look. "But no one else could."

"Oh."

"And you're the only one who does absolutely nothing after school, so you should be available, right?"

Sure, if being a shinigami and risking my life by handling hollows day by day in order to protect the people in the city counts as nothing, then yes, I suppose I do absolutely nothing after school, Ichigo thought sarcastically, but he wasn't about to say that out loud. Instead he just mumbled a "fine."

"Actually, the only other person available was Chizuru, but I would never do that to poor Orihime; we know how ugly that could turn out for her. Alone, in her flat, defenceless against that sex-crazed lesbian—"

"Okay, I get it." Ichigo shook his head. Bad mental image. Yes, poor Orihime indeed.

Tatsuki gave a shudder, obviously getting a bad image in her head as well. "Anyway, will you do it?"

Ichigo thought for a moment before narrowing his eyes. "Sure, why not?" Tatsuki smiled broadly.

"See? You are capable of being a nice guy."

"Whatever," he shrugged and sat down at his desk, just as Ochi-sensei walked in and greeted the class. Tatsuki still leaned toward him to whisper.

"Thanks, really, Ichigo. You know, for doing this," she said. "She's really doing badly, and hopefully this will make her better. Besides, you also have to consider that Orihime's got no one. I mean, when you get sick, your dad and your sisters take care of you. And heck, you live in a clinic, so even better. But Orihime… she's only got us, her friends. And my mom's chicken soup."

Ichigo nodded. He hadn't considered that. In a way, he could actually relate to that; he remembered missing for a long time his mother taking care of him whenever he got hurt of sick, how he didn't feel the same way about his father's care after she died. He eventually got used to it, and now there was nothing like Yuzu's home remedies when he came down with something. Orihime used to have a brother. She took care of herself now, as much as she could.

"Don't worry, Tatsuki. I'll deliver your mom's miraculous chicken soup to Inoue."

---

After school, Ichigo stopped by Tatsuki's house to pick up the soup, and then set off toward Orihime's house. She had moved to a nicer area now, and she actually lived closer to him too. Ichigo had only been to her old flat once (with a hollow order), but he still had to meet her new place.

The buzz of the intercom interrupted her stupor, and Orihime groaned. She didn't really want to get up; she was very comfortably nestled in her cozy couch, with blankets and pillows all around her, watching television and feeling like shit. But she supposed that was Tatsuki, on her daily visit, and she couldn't keep her friend waiting. With a sigh, she untangled herself from the blankets and walked to the window. The window was a convenient peephole; she could check who was buzzing before making her home presence known to unwanted visitors.

Orihime peered down and did a double take. Someone with spiky bleach orange hair was standing at the door downstairs, and it was definitively not Tatsuki. She gasped. What was Ichigo doing here?

He still hadn't seen her, but obviously he would know she was home, considering she was supposed to be holed up at home, sick. I'm not sick, she repeated stubbornly to herself. But I still manage to look sick. Even if she had already showered, she was wearing purple plaid pyjama pants, a white top, and black and grey striped socks; her hair was a tangled mess, there were dark circles under her eyes, and her nose was red from all the wiping and blowing. She needed to think fast. She couldn't keep Ichigo waiting downstairs much longer.

She was surprisingly quick for someone who was feeling as bad as she was. She first rushed to her room, grabbed a comb and a ponytail holder and fixed her hair quickly before looking out the window again.

"Hello, Kurosaki-kun. Hold on one second," she called down to him, her voice coming out shockingly drowsy and weak. She hadn't spoken out loud once since that morning, so she hadn't realized how bad her throat was doing. After hitting the buzzer button, she raced back to her room and managed to grab the first piece of clothing she could find (a green cardigan) and pull it over her head, spray on some flower-scented body splash, change her socks and moisturize. While Ichigo climbed up the stairs to her door, she went around her living room, picking up dirty dishes and glasses and crumpled balls of used tissues. Of course, by the time he was standing outside her door, she was out of breath.

"Hi," is all she could say. Ichigo gave her a lopsided grin, brow always furrowed.

"Hey, Inoue. I was afraid I might have woken you up."

"No, not at all, I was just… lounging around," she shook her head and tried to smile back, but she felt awkward. So instead she just stepped back to allow him to come in and gestured for him to do so. He kicked off his shoes and left them aside while she closed the door.

"How are you feeling?" he asked.

"Oh, good. I'm just great. Never better," she replied with forced cheerfulness.

"Seriously," Ichigo said. He glanced around at her apartment. In spite of the three unpacked boxes in one corner and some things that rested against the wall and yet needed to be hung on it, it seemed that Orihime was quite settled in.

Orihime crossed her arms over her chest. "I'm surprised to have you visit me. What brings you around?"

Ichigo held up the paper bag in his hand. "Tatsuki asked me to bring you her mom's supposedly miraculous chicken soup. Very good for when you're sick."

"I'm not sick," Orihime replied. Ichigo raised an eyebrow skeptically.

"Riiight."

"I'm not." But just as she was going to say something else, her eyes widened and she turned to reach frantically for the box of tissues. Pulling one out, she held it up to her face just in time as another sneeze exploded out of her. Ichigo flinched.

"Bless you," he muttered.

"Ow… thank you…" she mumbled almost unintelligibly, falling back onto the couch and holding her head.

"Do you have a headache?"

"I don't get headaches," she answered.

"Everyone gets headaches."

"I'm fine."

Ichigo watched her crawl back into her nest of blankets and pillows, and shook his head. Seeing as she wasn't about to move, he thought he might as well help her out a little bit, since he was already there. He showed himself to the kitchen and reheated the soup in the microwave, then went looking through the pantries in search for a soup bowl; he came across a shelf laden with tea boxes, and found the exact same brand he used for when he was sick: a blend of green tea leaves, peppermint leaves, chamomile and hibiscus. If it worked for him, maybe it worked for her also, so he pulled out a teabag and boiled some water in the stove.

"Where's Rangiku-san?" he said, coming back out to the living room while he waited for the water to boil. "I thought she was staying with you."

Orihime looked up at him from where she lay cocooned in the thick blankets. "Oh, she is. Occasionally, at least. I haven't seen her in a few days. She's probably busy. I suppose she's with the others."

"Yeah, I guess. She and Hitsugaya, probably, but I haven't heard of Ikkaku or Yumichika. I don't even know where they are staying, and I don't really care. And in the meantime, Renji practically lives in my house, and Rukia… well, Rukia does live at my house."

"Oh, right. She still does," Orihime said in a low voice. She proceeded to sneeze ten times. When she was done, she was teary-eyed, and she groaned in pain.

"That was completely uncalled for," she mumbled to herself. Ichigo shook his head.

"Are you taking any sort of medication for this?"

"I don't need any medication. I'm alright."

"Inoue, you really should stop pretending. You need medications, you need a doctor, and you need to make yourself better," he said, rounding the couch to stand in front of her. He pulled back the covers, so now she lay in a fetal position on the couch, exposed. She shivered.

"This is not remotely healthy. If you want to feel better, then you need to start taking care of yourself. Right now, I'm making you some tea to help you sleep, so I think you should go to bed and get some proper rest," he declared, bunching up the blankets and tossing them onto a chair. Orihime didn't move. Ichigo had to grab her by the arms and pull her up to her feet.

"Go to bed, Inoue. I'll bring you some chicken soup, in case you haven't eaten anything. Or if you've been eating what you make for yourself," he muttered that last sentence very low, and pushed her along toward her bedroom.

Orihime dragged herself very slowly toward it, and Ichigo went into the kitchen again to get the soup and the tea. He put the bowl and the cup on a tray and carefully brought it over to Orihime's bedroom. Upon entering, he was surprised to see it was actually quite normal, unlike what he would have imagined her room to be. He pictured pink and flower designs and stuffed animals everywhere; but her room was more sober, decorated with shades of purple, albeit it was still sort of girly and rather messy. Orihime was already climbing into bed, pushing off a large heap of clothing she had left on the bedspread, and snuggled under the covers. Ichigo turned on the bedside lamp and placed the tray upon the table.

"Well, here you go. Let's hope Tatsuki-chan's mom really cooked you a miracle-worker," he joked, picking up the bowl to hand it to her. Orihime smiled gratefully and reached out to grab it, but she froze suddenly and got a horrified look on her face.

"Oh God!" she exclaimed, and she leapt off the bed and raced toward the bathroom. Ichigo just stood there, dumbfounded, with the steamy bowl of soup still in his hands, but then he understood. A retching sound travelled through the half-closed door of the bathroom and reached his ears clearly, signalling yet another symptom Orihime was putting up with. A moment later, the girl emerged from the bathroom, looking twice as dishevelled and unwell as she had when he arrived.

"I guess you won't be having the soup," he said. Orihime climbed back into bed and pulled the covers up to her head.

"That's it. I'm calling my dad," Ichigo announced.

"What? Why?" Orihime asked, poking her head out. He only walked over to the phone and dialled his house.

"You need to have a doctor examine you. You're really bad right now!"

"No! I don't need a doctor. I'm fine. That was just something I ate for breakfast," Orihime retorted, trying to convince Ichigo to stop worrying.

"This is not fine. People don't sneeze non-stop, get headaches and throw up when they're fine. You need to see a doctor. He'll be here in no time," Ichigo said.

"But—"

"Face it, Inoue: you're sick."

---

Dr. Kurosaki Isshin arrived about fifteen minutes later, while Ichigo was still trying to get Orihime to eat, but she refused, afraid that it would only make her stomach more upset. After tackling his son to the floor when Ichigo opened the door for him, and quickly examining the patient, the doctor was ready to give a diagnosis.

"Yes, Inoue-san, what's afflicting you is a feisty, stubborn little virus, manifesting itself in either a violent common cold or a mild case of the flu," Isshin announced.

"In other words, you're sick," Ichigo interjected.

Orihime just shook her head.

"I don't get sick."

"Everyone gets sick, Inoue, even you, and there's nothing wrong with that," Ichigo said.

"I used to get sick. And that was just because my brother was there to take care of me. He's not here anymore, so I can't afford to get sick. Who would take care of me now?"

Ichigo and Isshin did not say anything, only looked at her. She was looking miserable, staring down at her hands on top of her lavender bedspread. Ichigo felt bad for her. What Tatsuki had said that morning was very true. Orihime had no one, only her friends.

"I was going to say," Isshin spoke up after that long pause, "that although this is nothing serious, it's important for you to take care of yourself in order to have a speedier recovery, and for you to feel better. I will prescribe some medications, and give you some instructions on what you should and should not do for the next few days. However, if having someone watch over you is the issue, then maybe you should come and stay at the clinic, and we can do that."

Orihime looked up in surprise. "Me? Stay at the clinic?"

"It would only be for a few days," Isshin replied. "Any virus or cold will eventually run its course and go away after a regular period of seven days, whether you do anything or not. But during that time we can keep an eye on you and provide you with anything you need."

"But I can do that here, can't I?" Orihime asked. She looked rather nervous at the suggestion.

"Yeah, but don't you want to be more comfortable? Don't you want to be taken care of and feel a little bit better while you wait for this thing to run its course?" Ichigo said, understanding what his father was offering.

Orihime was unconsciously wringing the bedspread in her hands now. Even if it was only for a few days, and it would make her feel better to have some full-time company, rather than being stuck at home alone and feeling wretched, the idea of "technically" living with Ichigo, under these circumstances, was not something that excited her at all. It would be weird.

"I wouldn't want to be a burden," she muttered.

"Burden?" Isshin asked, confused.

"Don't say that, Inoue. You wouldn't be a burden at all. My dad's right; what's a better place for you to stay in when you're sick than a clinic?" Ichigo said. "Besides, it's not like we're busy. And you'll be quite comfortable."

Orihime thought for a moment. She looked at Ichigo, whose trademark facial expression was unfazed, but something about him felt different. He had been like that toward her since the incident with the Arrancar, the ones that had nearly killed her and Chad and Tatsuki, and even him. Ever since that day at school, when he had wanted to apologize so badly, even when she told him not to. That moment, when Rukia had dragged him over to her so that he could tell her what he hadn't been able to say while he had been watching over her, sitting at her bedside at Urahara Shouten, waiting for her recovery. He had been genuinely concerned. He thought it was all his fault. He said he was determined to protect her, and that was enough for her. He seemed to be bent on protecting her, even if it was from a mere cold.

She gave him a faint, grateful smile. "Thank you. I will."

---

"YOU'RE STAYING AT HIS HOUSE!"

"Not his house, Tatsuki-chan. I'm staying at the clinic," Orihime spoke very softly into the phone, careful not to let Ichigo hear, since he was waiting for her to come out of her room; she had closed the door so she could change her clothes and pack some things. Dr. Kurosaki had already left, to get a room ready for her.

"Technically it is his house," Tatsuki replied, her tone gleeful.

"I know that, so please, don't remind me. It's mortifying enough as it is. He's waiting for me outside so we can go together!"

It was true; Ichigo had offered to wait for her and walk her to the clinic, considering she was definitively not well. He would carry her bag, and she would have to walk quietly with him, feeling she's been imposing too much on him. But he seemed totally fine with it, which made it even weirder.

Tatsuki sighed after a moment. "Wow… I only asked him to bring you the soup."

"What is that supposed to mean?" asked Orihime, frowning in confusion.

"I mean, he seems to be acting really nice toward you."

Orihime did not want to get any hopes up so she just dismissed her friend's comment. "You're reading too much into it. He seems normal to me."

"Nah, he's probably being nicer because you're sick," Tatsuki replied.

"I'm not sick, Tatsuki-chan. Would you stop saying that?"

"Would you stop denying it? Why else would you have accepted their offer to go to the clinic?"

"They were so nice, I couldn't just say no."

"You're really odd, you know that? It's exhausting to talk to you. Just get better, and don't do anything I wouldn't do. Oh geez, I sounded just like my mom right there. Get well soon. We'll talk later. And thank Ichigo for me, would you?"

"Thank you, Tatsuki-chan. We'll talk soon."

Orihime hung up and stepped out of her room. She grabbed her schoolbag and the duffel bag she had packed for these days. Ichigo, who had been looking over the little shrine she had for her brother, turned and motioned to take the duffel bag from her.

"Ready, then? Got everything? Okay, let's go."

They produced small talk during the walk to Ichigo's house, and Orihime would've been more like her usual peppy self, had it not been for the light-headed feeling she suddenly got, which could've been due to her current health state or the loud, fast-paced thumping of her heart in her chest. She was too nervous to do what Tatsuki had suggested once, and use it as an excuse to lean on Ichigo. Besides, they were almost there. She sighed. More than excited about the prospect, she only wished this would be over soon.

---

"This is such an exciting day! So many lovely guests, we should take advantage of the occasion and have some fun, Kurosaki family style!"

Ichigo sweat-dropped as he stared at his father in disbelief. The man was waving his arms around frenetically as he spoke to the people assembled in the living room. Ichigo and Orihime had just arrived, and Yuzu, Karin, Renji and Rukia were sitting down, or had been sitting down peacefully, until the two red-heads walked in, and incited Isshin to go into one of his bouts of hyperactivity.

"Goat chin is at it again. Please stop him," Karin whispered to her brother.

"Why don't we play charades and then have a bonfire in the kitchen?" Isshin announced.

"I'm begging you," Karin added, looking distraught.

"Daddy, no bonfires in the kitchen. We don't want the same thing to happen twice," Yuzu scolded her father.

"Aw, Yuzu, that only happened because it was the first time. And the fire department was really humorous about it. And now we know very well how flammable a camping tent can be."

Rukia, Renji and Orihime turned to the Kurosaki children and stared questioningly. Ichigo, Yuzu and Karin all sweat-dropped. "Don't ask," they said in unison.

"Oh, Kurosaki-san, thank you so much for including us in the fun, it is most gracious of you. However, we most regrettably must decline to that invitation, because of other issues we must attend to first," Rukia said in the disturbingly sweet voice she used with everyone except Ichigo and the others from Soul Society. Renji stared at her with his mouth open and a blank expression, this obviously being the first time he had ever heard her sound like that, and he was clearly dumbfounded. Rukia ignored his face and gave him a corny smile.

"Isn't that right, Abarai-kun? We must get going soon or we will be late," she said to him. Renji still looked astonished. She had to shove him and pull him along so that he would snap out of it.

"Wait. Where are you guys going?" Ichigo asked.

"Urahara Shouten. We have some business pending," Rukia replied in a whisper. Before Ichigo could inquire further, Rukia was dragging Renji out the door.

"Bye, Abarai-kun! Bye, Kuchiki-san!" Orihime called after her friends.

"Aw, too bad they can't stay. But we still can play. We have enough people!" Isshin exclaimed, pumping his fist in the air. "In this case, I think we should split into boys vs. girls! Battle of the sexes!"

The four remaining youngsters looked at each other.

"Come on, Inoue-san, I'll show you to your room," Yuzu chirped, suddenly getting up and gesturing for Orihime to follow, hinting very clearly that she wanted to get out of there. Isshin frowned in disappointment.

"I have homework to do," Karin declared, and slid off the couch and motioned to go upstairs.

Ichigo simply followed Orihime and Yuzu, considering he was bringing Orihime's bag. He felt bad for ditching his father like that, but that pity quickly dissipated when he heard him calling his children party poopers and complaining very loudly and dramatically to Masaki's poster. The man was decidedly pathetic.

They crossed the studio and walked through a door that connected the house to the clinic, through Isshin's office. They exited the office and walked down the hallway, headed for the private rooms. Orihime would be staying in the same one Chad had occupied (and escaped from) already months ago, when the whole issue about the supposedly cursed pink-cheeked parakeet had arisen.

Yuzu went around showing Orihime where everything was, and Ichigo stood by the door. There were already some pills and liquid medicines on the nightstand, along with a prescription note and instructions. Orihime was surprised at the hospitality, and how Yuzu considered every detail. She felt like she was in a hotel rather than a small town clinic.

"I hope you will be joining us for dinner, Inoue-san. We're having steamed salmon and kare raisu," Yuzu said when Orihime was ready to settle in.

"Join you for dinner? Like, at your house?" Orihime asked, sounding surprised.

"What's wrong with that?" Ichigo asked.

"Nothing! Nothing," Orihime waved her hands in front of her dismissively. "It's just that… I didn't know it was customary for you to have your patients as dinner guests."

"Come on, Inoue. You're not just a patient. I mean, you're also my friend. What, did you prefer to have dinner here, all by yourself?" he responded, and left Orihime to ponder over what the hell she was going to wear.

---

At 7:00 p.m., the family plus Orihime and Rukia, who had just gotten back, sat at the dinner table trying to eat dinner while enduring Isshin going on about a game he had come up with, which involved riddles for hints and finding something that was supposed to be hidden in the rice, and he was currently egging Rukia on for her to actually stuff her hand in her food to see if she had the hidden prize, while Yuzu scolded him for messing with her cooking to do crazy games.

"Okay, maybe we should all have had dinner in your room, and leave dad to eat alone," Ichigo said to Orihime.

"Whose bright idea was it to even let him out of his office while we eat?" Karin complained, and thwacked her father over the head as he leaned over to her to whisper a ridiculous riddle in her ear. "Bad dog! Stay!"

---

That night, Orihime slept like a baby, in spite of her suddenly sore throat, stuffed nose and aching body. She was relaxed and in a really good mood, mostly because she couldn't stop laughing to herself over the antics of the Kurosaki family. The truth is she had never experienced family dinner, or any sort of family get-together, like this one. When her brother was alive, it was just the two of them. The few relatives she had left were rather serious people, and with Tatsuki's family it was not even remotely as goofy and strange. No, this was priceless. Even more priceless was seeing Ichigo guiding her and Rukia through the insanity. It was funny to see him, so serious and cool, in the middle of all the madness. This was a side of Ichigo she hadn't seen yet. It almost made her not want to have to leave here ever. When else would she get the chance to feel like this again?

---

The news that Orihime had been admitted to Kurosaki clinic had already made it all over school, and rumors were going around about Orihime's possible ailing, ranging from common cold or migraine or "female" issues, to life-threatening illnesses. Everyone kept asking Ichigo what was so serious about it that she had to be hospitalized, and he constantly had to assure everyone that Orihime would be okay. In the meantime, Keigo and Mizuiro did not miss a chance at teasing him about having yet another attractive girl living with him, calling him a playboy and Keigo kept giving him kinky suggestions for "late night activities".

"Get your mind out of the gutter, you creep," Ichigo said, punching Keigo in the nose.

"Who knew this would cause such uproar," Tatsuki commented to Ichigo, as Keigo writhed on the floor in pain.

"Well, Inoue is obviously popular, and everyone here has nothing better to do than to gossip about even the stupidest thing," Ichigo replied.

"So, how are things going at camp Kurosaki now that you have a new addition?" she asked.

"Temporary addition, thank God. I feel like I'm being invaded by girls. In a situation like this, you would at least hope your father would bring some sort of balance to the equation, but no," Ichigo rambled. "He's the epitome of insanity. What sort of normalcy could you ever hope for?"

"It can't be that bad," Tatsuki said, thinking her friend was exaggerating. But knowing how Isshin Kurosaki was, it wasn't so strange to think Ichigo would have a tough time putting up with all that madness.

"It's hard to tell right now, though, considering it's only been a day," Ichigo added. "But I do hope she gets better soon, so she can go back home."

"Kicking her out so soon?"

"No, it's not that I want her to leave. But I think she might be feeling out of place."

---

When Ichigo came home, he was welcomed by a strange sight, which might just prove he was wrong, and Orihime fitted in just fine: she was sitting at the kitchen table in her pyjamas, with a thermometer in her mouth, sorting through boxes of tea, while Karin sat across from her reading a book, and Yuzu did the dishes.

"Hi, Ichi-nii," Karin said, barely looking up from her book.

"Hello, Kurosaki-kund," Orihime said, holding the thermometer in place; her voice sounded weird because her nose was still stuffy.

"Hi, onii-chan. How was your day?" Yuzu asked.

"Good, thanks for asking," Ichigo replied. He reached into the refrigerator for a bottle of water, but still looked oddly at them. "What are you guys doing?"

"I asked Orihime if she wanted some tea," Yuzu explained.

"And as of the last fifteen minutes, she still hasn't made up her mind," Karin added, eyes glued to the page.

"I'b sorry. I still don't know what I'b in the bood for," Orihime said apologetically.

Ichigo noted in his head how it had only been a day, and Yuzu was already referring to Orihime by her first name. They hadn't even spent the whole day together, considering Yuzu and Karin had probably just gotten back from school. Apparently Yuzu had taken a real liking to his classmate.

"Why don't you drink this one? It's good for when you have a cold, and it's the same one you have at your house," Ichigo suggested, pointing to the box of the same tea he had made for Orihime the previous day. She stared at it and then at Ichigo.

"How did you know?"

"I saw it yesterday when I went to your place. I even prepared you a cup of it," Ichigo said.

"You remembered!" Orihime exclaimed excitedly.

"It was only yesterday," Ichigo replied, not understanding what was so extraordinary about that.

"This one will be just perfect, then, thank you," she replied, and handed Yuzu one of the tea bags.

Isshin soared into the kitchen a moment later, and greeted Ichigo with a fantastic karate-like spinning kick, which knocked his son clean to the floor. There were a few seconds of loud struggle and cries of pain, and then Isshin got up with difficulty and took the thermometer out of Orihime's mouth and confirmed that her temperature was fine. Ichigo dragged his father back down to the floor, and they ensued in another round of punching and kicking, until Ichigo managed to get up and threatened the man with murder. Nothing out of the ordinary, but Ichigo and Karin had to sweat-drop when Orihime giggled amusedly at the scene.

After Orihime's tea was ready, Ichigo gestured for her to follow him to the living room, and they sat down to do homework. Usually, when he got sick, and he had to stay home, he hated spending that time when he felt so awful doing homework to catch up with everyone at school. But that's what he did, and that's why he got good grades. But Orihime was oddly eager about the prospect of doing homework. He guessed that it was just proof of how bored she really was right now.

"So, what did you do all day while we weren't here?" he asked as they settled down to get to work.

"I played cards with your dad."

"Really? How did that go?"

"I beat him ten times in a row. I don't think he liked that," she replied shamefully. "I saw him chuck the deck of cards in the bin; said they were unlucky."

"That's my dad for you. He's a drama queen."

"Then we started looking at baby pictures of you."

Ichigo choked on the gulp of water he had in his mouth. Coughing loudly, he felt the heat rising to his face, so much he turned an odd red color, which clashed terribly with his orange hair.

"You were such a cute little kid," Orihime continued cheerfully, oblivious to Ichigo's embarrassment. "There was one where you had your little butt hanging out of your pyjama pants, which I must say might just be the best."

Right now Ichigo really wished he had Rukia's memory chikan at hand, so he could use it on Orihime. But he didn't.

---

Ichigo would bring Orihime all the homework they had from the past couple of days. Sometimes they would sit down with Rukia, when she was around, and do it in the living room. Since all his friends were involved in some sort of club or other after-school activity (and Chad would lately disappear a lot to Urahara Shouten to train in secret), that was pretty much all Ichigo could do these days besides performing his shinigami duties. Even Rukia, who used to hang out with him more, was now constantly getting dragged away by Renji, and they would disappear for hours.

Ichigo felt weird hanging out so much with Orihime. He couldn't remember ever having any extensive, in-depth conversations with her before. But he found he was enjoying himself. She was genuinely funny and insightful, despite her flakiness, and it was nice to have someone to share other issues in his life, like the Arrancar situation and Soul Society, things which Orihime viewed from a perspective similar to his own, someone who genuinely understood what it felt like to suddenly be thrown in the middle of this supernatural conflict. Not that he really enjoyed talking about it, considering one recent encounter with the Arrancar had put Orihime, plus Chad and Tatsuki, in mortal danger, and he had been impotent to defend them. But they had been able to put that past them, facing new challenges, and it was good to have someone to talk about it with. Even if it was temporary, having Orihime around was actually a nice change in his constantly chaotic life.

---

Later that day, Tatsuki came to visit Orihime while the girl was taking a nap (or, in other words, gotten knocked out unconscious by a very strong antihistaminic). For some reason, though, when Ichigo opened the door for Tatsuki, she was out of breath, and struggling with another girl, who was now lying flat on the floor but trying to get back up, unsuccessfully, since Tatsuki was firmly keeping her down with her foot.

"She followed me! The little perverted homo-slut chased me all the way down here! Help me get rid of her, please. You can't let her in to visit Orihime," Tatsuki exclaimed. Ichigo frowned questioningly, but his confusion was cleared when he saw the girl on the floor was none other than Chizuru.

"No way in hell I was letting her in, anyway. I don't want her near my sisters," Ichigo said.

"You have sisters?" Chizuru asked gleefully. This time, it was Ichigo who stomped her down again.

"Get out of here, Chizuru."

"Kurosaki, don't be a jerk. I just want to see my lovely Orihime and make sure you're treating her right. Poor thing, so beautiful and yet so frail, lying in bed all day, the illness dulling her womanly features—"

"Out, Chizuru! Or I'll have to chase you away with a bat," Ichigo warned her. Tatsuki slid inside behind Ichigo, and Chizuru tried to do the same, but Ichigo planted his body squarely in the doorway, blocking her path. Chizuru tried to push him out of the way, tackle him, knock him out, or else find her way in, but there was no getting past him.

"You just want her all for yourself, you punkass!" Chizuru shouted bitterly.

"Sure, that's exactly it. Now get out!" Ichigo nodded.

"You don't deserve her, Neanderthal! She's way too good for you!"

Ichigo held out a fist, clearly threatening to hurt her if she didn't back off. Chizuru got the message and glared daggers at him before walking away, mumbling rudely under her breath. Tatsuki and Ichigo stared after her.

"I think she really hates you," Tatsuki said with a smirk.

"Who cares?"

"Well, I'd watch out if I were you. She really doesn't like competition."

"Competition?"

"Never mind. Forget it," Tatsuki answered.

"No. What are you implying?" Ichigo demanded.

Tatsuki continued to smirk and just headed in the direction of Orihime's room, leaving Ichigo to wonder what she had meant.

---

Ichigo and Rukia returned home in the middle of the afternoon, after taking care of a hollow, and Ichigo went around the house looking for his body, which Kon was wearing. After searching the whole house, he opted to take a look in the clinic, fearing something odd was going on most likely, and sure enough, he found the mod soul, in his body, sneaking toward Orihime's room. He was going to pretend to be Ichigo in order to get inside and do God knows what. Ichigo tackled him to the ground and recovered his body, stuffing the mod soul back into the lion plushie. And thus, Kon's brilliant plan to be reunited with his goddess was thwarted.

---

"What are you doing?"

Ichigo had walked into the living room to find Orihime, blanket wrapped around her body, chicken soup bowl steaming in front of her, bottle of pills and glass of water to one side, sitting on the couch with an open textbook on her lap and a notebook in one hand. She was scribbling across it very fast, her eyes reading quickly the paragraphs on the open page.

"Oh, I was waiting for you. We have to study. We have a test toborrow, don't we?" Orihime said, looking up at him long enough to acknowledge his presence.

"Toborrow?" Ichigo chuckled, stressing the word to note the way Orihime had pronounced it. "You're not going anywhere toborrow, Inoue. You need to take things easy, don't go overexerting yourself. You're still sick, you know."

"I'b not sick."

"Oh for crying out loud! If you say "I'b not sick" one more time, I swear I will—" he drew a blank. "Well, I don't know what I will do, but I'll think of something."

Orihime looked at him unfazed. She looked back down and her books and continued to study. Ichigo narrowed his eyes. So she was defying him, but he wasn't letting her. He swiftly snatched the books out of her hands. Orihime was slightly shocked, but she said nothing. Ichigo was quite pleased with himself.

"Do you want me to help you study?" Orihime offered with a smile.

"No!" Ichigo replied as if it were the craziest suggestion anyone could've made. What kind of offer was that? Who could be so eager to study? "You know what? Go to your room," he blurted in exasperation, point her in the direction. Orihime got up and stood defiantly in front of him, eyes narrowed, rewrapping the blanket around her body so it would trail, and grabbed the bottle of pills. She motioned to leave, but just then she turned to whisper in his ear.

"I'b not sick."

She dashed off before he could do whatever he said he would.

---

"What are you doing now?"

It was later that night, while he helped Yuzu store clean bedsheets in the clinic, when Ichigo caught Orihime in his father's office, going through the medical books.

"You told me not to study, so now I'b bored."

"So you decided to sneak into your doctor's office and go through his stuff while he's out?"

Orihime was leafing through a thick tome, and she apparently had come across something that disturbed her, because she looked very worried all of a sudden.

"What is it?" he asked.

"I fear for my spleen," she replied.

"Pardon?" he said, coming around the desk to stand next to her and see what she was reading.

"Maybe your dad made a mistake. Maybe he thinks I just have a cold, but there is the possibility that I have—" she squinted at the page, "Mononucleosis, a disease caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. It says here that besides the typical symptoms, there is also a risk of a swollen, ruptured spleen. What ab I gonna do?"

"Oh, so you're finally admitting that you're sick?"

She didn't answer. Ichigo stared in puzzlement at the girl who was now frantically skimming the section, looking for more information.

"Chill, Inoue. If you had Mononucleosis, my dad would know," he said to calm her down.

"Yes, but he could've misinterpreted the symptoms. A common cold or the flu has nearly all the same symptoms the mono presents: light-headedness, congested nose, headaches, sore throat, nausea, and so on," Orihime explained.

Ichigo didn't say anything. There was no point in arguing. He just listened as she started reading some information about it.

"It says here it's sometimes referred to as the kissing disease, because it is very easily transmitted by kissing," she said.

"Okay," he said slowly, trying not to sound annoyed. "Have you kissed anyone recently?"

Orihime blushed very slightly when she said 'no' in a very low voice.

"Then it's highly unlikely you've got this kissing disease or whatever," Ichigo said, pointing out the obvious. "Most illnesses are transmitted by contact, anyway, through kissing or any other sort of contact of bodily fluids," he added, surprised at how knowledgeable he sounded. Orihime still looked concerned, though.

"You really just have a cold, Inoue, trust me. If you had something like Mononucleosis, I'm pretty sure you would actually be feeling ten times worse than you do now."

"It's not just that, Kurosaki-kun," she said, putting the tomes back in their respective places. "I'b afraid I'b exposing you and your family to whatever it is I've got. Maybe it is just a common cold, but why should I infect you with it?"

"You're being overly dramatic. It's only a cold, Inoue. I think we'll be okay. Besides, my dad has to be there for you to check up on you and make sure you're getting better. And my sisters help him. It's not like we'd quarantine you."

"What about you, then?"

"What about me?"

"You don't have to be with me. You're only exposing yourself for no reason. Why do you?"

Ichigo looked surprised. She looked straight at him questioningly, eyes full of concern. He smiled at her reassuringly.

"Don't worry, Inoue. I'll be fine."

There was a pause during which she considered his reply thoroughly. "Okay then," she finally said, breaking into a smile. "Wanna go play baseball at the park?"

Ichigo sweat-dropped. At least she was back to her usual self.

"Get back in bed, Inoue. You shouldn't overtax your brain. You're sick."

"I'b not…" Orihime began, but cut herself off mid-sentence when she saw Ichigo's warning look. She shuffled out of the office and down the hallway to her room.

---

"Kurosaki-ku-uh…"

"Yes, Inoue?"

"I'b sick."

"You don't say."

It was the fourth day since Orihime had come to the clinic, and the sixth since she had gotten sick, and now it really seemed that she was being pummelled by this cold. She had spent the whole day in bed, complaining about her body aching all over and feeling light-headed. Yuzu had brought her some lunch earlier, but Orihime hardly ate anything. The antihistaminic had kept her asleep for a solid twelve hours since the previous night. She hadn't even woken up to greet Tatsuki, who had visited again after school.

Ichigo watched as Orihime slumped next to him on the living room couch. He put his book down and gave her a concerned look.

"Do you want me to go get my dad, see if there's anything else he can give you to make you feel better?" he asked.

Orihime closed her eyes and shook her head. "No, don't worry, it's find. I just needed to get out of bed for a bit. I'b exhausted to be lying there all day."

He nodded in understanding, even if she didn't see him. "Wanna study with me?" he offered as a joke. She just shook her head again.

"Would you like something to eat? You haven't had anything since breakfast." Another shake of the head.

"Well, you're a hard one to please, Inoue."

Orihime chuckled very slightly. But it almost seemed like she was falling asleep again, just sitting there on the couch.

"Do you want to go back to bed? Maybe it would be better for you if you did," he suggested.

"If I go back, I'b just going to get tied down again by the little people," she mumbled almost unintelligibly. Ichigo raised an eyebrow.

"Huh?"

"There were little people all around me on the bed, and they were tying me down. That's why I couldn't get up. I think they were under the impression I'm a giant."

"O…k…" Ichigo said very slowly.

"It's funny, cuz I don't feel like a giant. A giant would be the size of Jidanbou, right? Now, he's a real giant."

Ichigo looked dumbfounded. "Well, Inoue, sounds like you might have a high temperature. A fever might make you hallucinate, you know."

"I wasn't hallucinating. They were really there."

Orihime couldn't see him, but Ichigo was giving her the weirdest look.

"And I'm sure they don't look at all like those faeries that come out of your hairpins, right?"

"No, not at all."

Ichigo felt odd doing this. As she sat next to him with her eyes closed, he reached up a hand to her forehead, and she grinned. Her skin was very warm.

"I really think you're running a fever," Ichigo said, instinctively also touching her face just beneath her jaw, to feel her neck. She was definitively feverish.

"Your hand feels cool," she said in a very low voice, almost dreamy.

"It's because you're hot."

He chuckled inwardly as he said that. Obviously he meant that her temperature was high, but the connotation of the phrase could mean something entirely different. It was almost as if she had read his thoughts, because she snickered and said:

"Thank you. You're hot too."

Ichigo couldn't be sure if she was joking or being serious. Judging from her half-closed eyes, he really couldn't tell. But he had to laugh.

"Alright, Inoue, you're going back to bed. You're delirious. I'll go get dad and he can take your temperature and then give you something for it."

"Whatever you say, Kurosaki-kund. You're the boss."

Ichigo gave her a weird look as she giggled to herself, wondering what she meant by that.

"Come on. On your feet."

Orihime tried to get up but her arms and legs were shaking slightly, so he leaned forward and pulled her up by the arms.

"Now go to your room, young lady," he said in a mock scolding voice. Orihime smiled broadly and held on to his hands lightly.

"Only if you come with me," she said, her voice sounding very sleepy. Ichigo eyed her strangely. She was on the brink of talking nonsense. But before he could say anything else, she slumped toward him and he only caught her just in time, her body hanging limply as her arms wrapped around his waist. This was no joke; she was obviously very weak and wobbly.

"Okay, I guess I will come with you, there's no other way around it," he said, and now he proceeded to try to pull her upward again so that she could lean on him. Then he would be able to walk her to her room. However, she had really gone limp on him, except for her arms, which had a death grip on his waist, but in spite of it, her weight was dragging her down, so her clasped arms were now travelling halfway down his hips and her hands were now coming very close to his bu—

"Up, Inoue! Get up!" he shouted, and tried to pull her up to her feet. He only managed it halfway, and before he could figure out how it happened, they were both back on the couch, but in a quite compromising position. Her arms were now around his neck, and his hands were on either side of her waist as he had been trying to hold her steady. Not to mention, she was lying flat on her back, and he was right on top of her.

"Okay, this is not good," he muttered to himself. He tried to hoist himself up, but her arms were tightly holding onto his neck; she was mumbling something.

"Help. Need a little help here. Please. Somebody. Anybody," Ichigo was saying, loud enough for someone in the house to hear, but not so loud it would disturb Orihime.

"Can someone help…" he trailed off suddenly. Orihime had just nuzzled her face into the crook of his neck, and just as she had done so, she moaned lightly. Ichigo froze. This went on for what felt like minutes, but only a few seconds later, someone was approaching, the sound of muffled footsteps getting closer.

"My son, I understand she's a beautiful girl, but please. She's ill."

Swallowing hard, Ichigo gathered his wits and hoisted himself and Orihime up at the same time. He slipped one hand behind her back and the other one around her knees, and managed to hoist her up into his arms. He could now see his father, standing near the back of the couch, with an overly-dramatic appalled look on his face, his mouth wide open in partially-feigned shock.

"Dad, don't be a jackass. She's nearly passed out."

"Even worse. I didn't expect such behaviour from you. I thought I had raised you properly."

"Shut up already. She has a fever and she brought me down with her when she keeled over. Get the door. I'll carry her to her bed."

---

Ichigo walked into Orihime's room, as quietly as he could, which was not easy at all, considering he could not use his hands. He was carrying a tray with some dinner, which Yuzu had prepared for her. He offered to take it to her. He didn't expect her to be asleep. Even so, he entered very silently. She was indeed asleep.

Placing the tray on the bedside table, he stood by the bed, watching her. She was pale and her skin glistened faintly with a few beads of cold sweat. In spite of that, she looked peaceful. Ichigo found himself thinking back to the incident with the Arrancar. Orihime had gotten badly injured because of him. Back then, he had felt it was entirely his fault, that he had failed. He soon realized it was more important to get over it and work hard in order to never fail again. He couldn't fail her again.

He always knew it, deep down, but now he realized how beautiful she really was. He felt like a dork thinking that, but it was the truth. He wanted to protect her; someone as kind and caring as her deserved to be protected from any harm. Whether it was from an Arrancar attack, or a Hollow, or a mere case of the flu, he never wanted to see her in pain again.

Not knowing why, Ichigo decided to stay with her for a bit. He sat on the edge of the bed and propped a hand upon the mattress.

"SQUEAK!"

He jumped at the distinct sound only plush toys make, and frowned suspiciously. As Orihime stirred out of her sleep, clearly having been awakened by the noise, too, she found Ichigo groping the surface of the bed, near her legs.

"Kurosaki-kun, what—"

"Kon!" Ichigo exclaimed, his hand poking something under the covers. He lifted the covers enough to stick his hand underneath, and pulled out the stuffed lion.

Kon tried to wiggle out of Ichigo's grip, to no avail.

"MMPH! ICHIGOOOO! LET ME GOOOOO!" he squealed, swinging violently from his leg, which is what Ichigo was holding.

"How did you get in here? And what do you think you were doing in Inoue's bed, under the covers?" Ichigo hollered.

"I don't have to answer! You're not the boss of me!" the mod soul yelled in response.

"Aw, Kurosaki-kun, don't be too harsh. He's just a plushie," Orihime said softly, rubbing her eyes sleepily.

"He's a perverted plushie," Ichigo responded, walking to the door and literally kicking Kon out. The plush toy soared through the air for a split second before hitting the opposite wall, sliding down it with a yelp of pain. Ichigo didn't bother closing the door; Kon wouldn't get up for a while.

"Now that you're awake," Ichigo said, walking back to the bed and taking a seat again, "perhaps you could have some dinner. It's not Arisawa-san's miracle soup, but it's Yuzu's miso soup. It's good."

Orihime smiled, trying to prop herself up with the pillows. "Maybe a little bit later. I'm not really hungry."

"Inoue, you need to eat. It's important when you're sick to eat so you get your energy back."

Who knew he could be so paternal? But Orihime only sighed.

"I'b not sick, you know. How many times do I have to tell you?" It was Ichigo's turn to sigh.

"You are sick. And, I've also realized, very headstrong."

"I'b not headstrong. And I'b not sick either."

"Then what are you doing here?" Ichigo asked knowingly.

"I don't know. You brought me here," Orihime shrugged. Ichigo sweat-dropped.

"This conversation is really getting silly. We're not having it anymore."

"You started it."

"You know, for a sick person, you're very feisty."

"I'b not—"

"Let's not start that again."

Orihime groped for the box of tissues. She lifted a tissue to her face and sneezed. Again and again. Ichigo only stared. That was eight times in a row. When she was done, her nose was awfully red, and there were tears rolling down her cheeks.

"Ouch," she mumbled, lying back down. "I'b so tired of feeling like this, Kurosaki-kun. You have no idea. I want to go back to school, to the every day hassle. I don't mind classes or exams; I just want to go back to normal, instead of feeling like crap, lying in bed all day and stuffing myself full of meds."

Her speech was slurred, as if she was drunk, and Ichigo had to keep himself from laughing. But he knew what she meant.

"I keep saying I'b not sick because it's supposed to make me better. It's all in the mind; I'm telling myself not to be sick. I don't know, I was hoping it would work. But it hasn't."

Now he really felt bad for her.

"Well, that's precisely the reason why you have to also take meds and lie in bed all day. You can't rely on your psychological power alone. You really need to drive that virus out of you, and that's what meds do," he said. He patted her hand. "Don't worry, Inoue. I don't think you'll be feeling like crap much longer. You'll be back on your feet sooner than you think."

The antihistaminic kept her drowsy, so it was hard for her to keep her eyes open. But she still peered up at him through her lashes, a faint smile on her lips.

"Why are you being so nice to me?"

"Because I want you to feel better, and get better."

"Why?"

"What do you mean 'why'? You're my friend. I don't want you to be unwell."

She made a sound between a sigh and a chuckle. "I wish I could heal myself."

"But you can't. Not in this case, at least."

He patted her hand again, only this time, he also gave it a gentle, reassuring squeeze.

"And besides, I told you I would protect you."

"You're sweet."

She lifted her other hand to his face, her thumb tracing a line along his cheekbone. Ichigo was unable to move or speak, and instead drew in a breath of surprise, and his cheeks flushed. He looked down at her, as she stared up at him through half-closed eyes, with a satisfied smile.

"I really like you, Ichigo," she muttered in a dreamy voice. She was blushing slightly too. Next thing he knew, he watched her moisten her lips, as if she were going to kiss him. But before she could do it, he beat her to it. Lowering his face toward her, he pressed his lips to hers in a gentle kiss. He wasn't even thinking about it; he just did it. She tasted like mint tea.

After a few seconds, he stopped it. His heart was beating very fast and loud. Orihime drew in a sharp breath, then let it go very slowly, and she trembled. She wore a content look on her face. Ichigo licked his lips, a blur of thoughts crossing speedily through his mind, so much he could not make them out. He should just go, so she could go back to sleep.

"Get well, Orihime," he muttered, and lingered for a moment before standing up to leave.

---

Rukia moved away from the door. She had come looking for Ichigo, and unbeknownst to him, she was standing outside the door to Orihime's room, originally waiting for him to come out, but now just peering inside curiously like a little kid, since Ichigo had left the door ajar. She couldn't help but smile at the scene before her. But now she had to leave, lest Ichigo decided to come out just then and catch her red-handed.

"What?" Renji asked as soon as Rukia walked back into the Kurosaki living room. She was still smiling to herself.

"What is it?" he asked again, not appreciative of being left out of the loop.

"What are you so happy about?" But Rukia continued to smile and just ignored him.

"Fine, don't tell me anything," he finally added, crossing his arms stubbornly.

"I wasn't planning to," she replied with a shrug. Renji just glared. After a few seconds of sitting in silence, he huffed.

"Come on, just tell me! What's going on?"

---

"ACHOO!"

Tatsuki and Keigo lifted their arms above their heads nearly in unison, shielding themselves. This time, the explosive sneezing came from Ichigo. He sniffled.

"Sorry."

"Seems like you might be coming down with a cold too, Kurosaki-kun," Rukia said in her corny voice as they walked class 1-3 the next day.

"First Inoue-san, now you. Is there a virus going around or something?" Keigo asked.

"Of course. Viruses are transmitted by contact. He might've caught the same virus Orihime had," Tatsuki said.

"Then it could have been from prolonged contact with her," Mizuiro added.

"Ooh, what kind of prolonged contact?" Keigo asked eagerly, looking deviously at Ichigo.

"Don't be a jerk, Asano," Ichigo responded irritably.

"Come on, Ichigo, be honest. You've got the cold, which is clear evidence to support this theory. So spill! Did you make out with Inoue?"

"Shut up and die, Keigo."

But even as Ichigo glared and waved his fist threateningly in Keigo's direction, Tatsuki thought she saw him blush. And she saw Rukia, out of the corner of her eye, grinning as if she knew something the others did not.

---

I think Orihime is a lot like me, in the sense that I might just have a weird logic, and I'm hardly ever feeling anyway else but cheerful. That's me, peppy and optimistic. Therefore, I think Orihime might react sort of like me when she gets sick. I do everything that I'm not supposed to do, merely because I hate acknowledging that a stupid virus has found its way into my body and it's wrecking havoc. I refuse to let it hole me up in my house.

So basically this is based on a personal experience. I don't get sick often, but last time I did (besides this time), it was like I died and came back from beyond the grave and it had not been pleasant at all.

My parents always scold me when I say that I'm sick. They tell me not to say it, because I'm predisposing my body to get sick. Yeah, like it's going to listen to me anyway. My body always does what it wants, and if my throat wants to feel sore, it feels sore, and all I can do is deal with it.

This turned out longer than I wanted. I started it during the weekend, I thought I would actually finish it in one sitting, while I was still sick, to keep me inspired and on the same track. However, I've been busy and tinkering with this a lot when I got the chance to fine-tune it (I'm still sick, by the way), and finally, I've finished it. But I'm quite pleased with it.

Please review. Arigato!

-Nariko the Seer a.k.a Deathberry15