Believe in Dreams

Standard Disclaimer: all characters herein are the creative property of Kubo Tite. Also, I don't own the Quaker Oats Man … don't ask.

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So here it is. My tag for Copperheadfightingninja is complete. If you all are following along, this is my tag-back from her marvelous piece 'Love in the Ice' If you haven't read it yet … do so. She did an amazing job on that one-shot and deserves lots of cookies for all her hard work. Yeah, yeah, I know it only took you a few hours to write it and the idea came to you in a dream. That is still considered hard work.

I'm done rambling for the time being, honestly. So sit back, relax, and slip into the unusual and sometimes disturbing world of Orihime.

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Taking a deep bracing breath, she pressed her hands to the counter before her. Orihime had been planning for this moment for years now and she wanted to do this just right. She could feel her emotions bubbling up from deep inside where they had safely been stored, laying in wait for the time when they could be spoken. Laid bare and placed at his feet like an offering.

Licking her dry lips, Orihime leaned in close enough to kiss, her voice a breathless whisper in the quiet room. "I love you … Kurosaki-kun." Swallowing nervously as silence greeted her confession and she received no tender words back in reply. She pulled back hesitantly, nibbling on her lip as she observed the sight before her. If she was honest with herself, she would have been rather shocked to receive an actual response.

'Although, my bathroom mirror did fog up quite nicely this time.'

Humming an off key tune, she traced her finger through the condensation, drawing a scowling face beneath, I -heart- Kurosaki-kun. Laughing over her silliness, her long russet hair gently brushing over her shoulder as Orihime tilted her head at her written words. Her smile faded as she stared at her mirror in thought, swiping a cloth over the sign of her cowardice, erasing the evidence. She could confess to her mirror, birds, the tree at the park, and even the potted plant outside, but not to the one whom she most wanted to tell.

Sighing softly, she ran her brush through her hair before sliding her beloved flower pins in place. Turning from her reflection, Orihime walked to her front door, scooping up her school bag on the way. Straightening her spine as she pulled open her door on a fresh new day, maybe one day she would find the courage to tell him to his face.

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Warm golden rays shone over them like a gentle benediction as he took her small hand is his. The late afternoon sun painted flattering soft light on their hesitant unmoving figures. Swallowing back her nervousness and hoping her palm wasn't sweating profusely all over his, Orihime gazed up into his tender brown eyes. She felt her heart pound painfully in her chest as she shyly nibbled on her lower lip.

The breezy played with her long hair, lifting and swirling it around her head as Ichigo squeezed her hand lightly before turning to leave. Her breath seized in her chest, Orihime reached for him unthinkingly. Fingers extended, she could not lose this chance "Kurosaki-kun, I love you." She called out, her voice wobbly with emotion.

"Inoue?" She felt her breath seize in her chest as he slowly turned back to her, "Inoue?" Sighing softly, Orihime felt light headed when Kurosaki-kun's eyes met hers, "Inoue!"

With her fingers brushing the cool glass of the window, Orihime turned her head to the front of the class, "Huh?" She blinked her eyes rapidly, regrettably dispelling her daydream. "Did you say something Ochi Sensei?"

Shaking her head, her teacher drawled out sarcastically. "Thanks for joining us, the rest of the class in on page 286."

Blushing brightly as the class laughed good naturedly at her daydreaming ways. Orihime ducked her head, whispering as she opened her book to the correct page. "Yes Sensei." Sighing down at the pages before her, she truly felt let down. That dream had been so real.

Feeling the color recede from her cheeks, Orihime chanced peeking over her shoulder at the object of her fantasy. She gasped in surprise as Ichigo's warm brown eyes met hers and he grinned at her in commiseration, shaking his head in mock reproof.

Turning back to face the front, her entire face now glowing red, Orihime buried herself in her book as Tatsuki snickered teasingly behind her and Ichigo gazed at her bent back in confusion.

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Sitting under the shade of the towering tree, Orihime, Tatsuki, Rukia, and many of their other friend sat around the base. Their lunches spread out over their laps as quiet conversation, girlish giggles, tart comments and subtle putdowns were thrown around with the usual lack of restraint.

Picking at her lunch of bread, honey and red bean paste, Orihime gazed silently out over the surrounding courtyard, lost in thought. Oblivious to Rukia and Tatsuki's fond looks, she sank deeper into fantasy where the prince always arrived in time to save the princess or better yet, when the intergalactic pilot flew in at the last moment saving the captured experimental subject before the aliens could inject the deadly virus into her system.

'That was a good one.' Sighing contentedly as her vision took over, Orihime smiled happily as her eyes stared blindly ahead. Although, she did have a bit of trouble picturing Kurosaki-kun as an inter-dimensional galaxy freedom fighter. Even though, giggling softly at the image in her head, he would look fabulous in the skin tight uniform.

Most people didn't understand her desire to be beamed up by aliens or her longing to join a roving band of giant mecha robots. Tapping her chin in thought, Orihime had to admit that she already had been beamed up by aliens, sort of. They hadn't exactly been aliens and she hadn't been beamed up either. But, they had been strange enough in their own way and probably scarier than real aliens anyway.

Leaning back on her arms, the sun shining gently on her upturned face through the newly uncurled leaves, Orihime was unaware of her bread rolling off her lap or of Tatsuki reaching over to rescue it. Shaking her head, Tatsuki simply packed her daydreaming friend's lunch away, figuring she could eat it later. If she returned from her fantasy world before lunch period was over, that is.

Right now she was zooming along at high speeds …wait, Kurosaki-kun didn't have a space craft. Did he really have to have one? Tilting her head, Orihime giggled and figured it really didn't matter if he had a ship or not, simply because, he already had raced in and saved the day. Kurosaki-kun had heroically rescued her from the evil warlord's taciturn minion, who had threatened to slice her chest or crack her skull, all in search of her loyally beating heart.

But, Kurosaki-kun had arrived in the nick of time, leveling all opponents before him, she thought dreamily as her fantasy morphed into Kurosaki-kun the KO King. Clasping her hands to her chest, a blissful expression on her face, she watched him brace his rippling muscled arms on the ropes of the boxing ring. A trail of blood trickling down the side of his face, his eye black and swollen and sweat matting his bright hair to his forehead, testament to the hard fight he had waged and won. He roared out her name urgently before pulling in a deep shuddering breath he promptly called for her again.

Bolting from her spot in the stands, she raced down the aisle as angry hands tried to hinder her progress. Orihime stretched her arm out to reach for his battered body as he bellowed her name once again in triumph. Breaking free of the surging crowd, struggling to her brave knight's side, she held a hand to her mouth as her eyes widened in horror. "Oh no… behind you Kurosaki-kun." She screamed as gunshots echoed in the arena, her arms held before her as she ran to his heavily falling form.

Arriving breathless at his bleeding side, her hands moved tenderly over his bloody flesh as she gazed down at him, her heart breaking over his many injuries. Ichigo's eyes were soft and caring as they looked up at her, his breathing ragged. His hand was trembling from the force of his emotions as he stretched out to touch her face, gently wiping her flowing tears away.

"Orihime…snap out of it, that's the bell." Tatsuki's voice intruded harshly into her idyllic fantasy.

Sighing deeply in disappointment as the dream faded away, Orihime frowned down at her crumb flecked lap, regretful over yet another disrupted daydream. Shaking her head ruefully, she stood and gave an impatient Tatsuki a small embarrassed smile, rubbing the back of her neck self consciously "Sorry, kind of spaced out there." She laughed gleefully while accepting her discarded lunch from Rukia.

Chewing lightly on her lip as she slowly followed her friends, Orihime felt the weight of someone's eyes. Glancing around surreptitious, she raised her gaze to the rooftop, curious if a squirrel was stalking her. Coming to a standstill as her eyes met Ichigo's, she watched as he leaned negligently against the rail surround the edge. Lifting her hand, Orihime hesitantly wiggled her fingers at him, her lip trapped between her teeth.

He tentatively lifted his fingers from the top bar where they rested, returning her shy greeting with his raised fingers. Hearing Keigo call his name from behind him, Ichigo pushed off from the railing before pausing and glancing back down at Orihime's still figure. Letting his normal scowl relax, he graced her with a small smile as he nodded his head at her before turning and heading back to class.

She heaved a shuddering sigh as she watched him disappear from sight. 'Yeah, he should get going. It wouldn't be good for him to be late getting back to class.' Orihime thought, humming softly to herself as she brushed her hand over her skirt. Smiling widely as she let her mind play over that small smile Kurosaki-kun gave her before squealing quietly. It was a smile that he gave her when no one else was around. It was hers alone.

Skipping forward happily, her lunch sack bumping against her leg, Orihime stopped suddenly and tilted her head as a thought penetrated her fantasy fogged mind. 'Class…I'm the one going to be late for class.'

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Breathing deeply of the fresh afternoon air, Orihime threw her shoulders back as the cool spring breeze played with her hair. Glancing at Tatsuki walking by her side, she smiled at her best friend and asked about her plans for the weekend. Not receiving a reply to her inquiries, Orihime paused in her rambling speech and followed Tatsuki's eyes to a stationary Ichigo, leaning against the low wall beside the courtyard.

He straightened as they approached. "Hey Ichigo" Tatsuki called out to him, nodding her head in greeting as they walked passed.

Peeking over her shoulder, Orihime met his eyes and stammered. "Goodbye Kurosaki-kun, have a good weekend." She smiled sweetly up at him, not paying attention to her feet, or to the fact that they were veering off the uneven sidewalk.

Reaching out for her automatically, Ichigo grasped her arms tightly as Orihime tripped and began to stumble. Pulling her slender form upright, he shook his head in a friendly manner as he glanced down at her blushing face. "Inoue, watch out..." He trailed off when he realized just how close he had pulled her to him.

Swallowing thickly, a burning blush spreading over his own cheeks, Ichigo released her arm and stepped back from her, keeping his eyes on his feet. Kneading the back of his neck, he reiterated his early requested. "Just be careful…alright." He glanced up at her own bent head before returning his gaze to the ground.

Twisting her hands together, Orihime faltered in her reply, stumbling over her words. "Sorry, I'll try to pay better attention, Kurosaki-kun." She breathed out quietly, her long russet hair shielding her burning cheeks.

Rubbing his damp palms up and down his lower back, Ichigo breathed out heavily, curious over his frantically pounding heart. "You don't have to apologize, Inoue. I just don't want you to get hurt." Lifting his uncertain eyes to meet her equally timid ones, he gulped nervously as his hand found its way into his hair.

Smiling softly, Orihime smoothed her hands over her skirt agitatedly, pleating the fabric between her fingers. "Alright Kurosaki-kun, thanks." She laughed anxiously before clasping her hands together.

Blowing out a disgusted breath over her friends' collective denseness, Tatsuki grasped Orihime's arm and began towing her blushing friend down the sidewalk. Calling out over her shoulder to her other equally blushing friend, she shook her head, laughing. "Have a great weekend, Ichigo." Guiding her already daydreaming friend forcefully down the sidewalk, they walked off, leaving Ichigo watching their departing figures disappear down the street.

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Thankfully the employees at the local market knew her well, Orihime thought as she swung her bag from her hand. Laughing self-consciously as she meandered down the street, she remembered with a hint of chagrin how the manger had shook her gently from her flight of fancy in the frozen department. Shrugging her shoulders in puzzlement, it had been something about frightening a young mother with her erratic behavior.

She had been consciously trying not to slip into dreams while shopping. She tended to bring strange things home with her when she did. Although, she did catch herself asking that kindly looking gentleman on the front of the oatmeal container for advice, he looked like he would be a good and sympathetic listener. She had bought a container to sit on her counter, so they could continue their conversation later.

Smiling ruefully at her reflection in the store window, she really needed to try to stop daydreaming so much. Before she got hurt, that is. Tatsuki was forever warning her that someday her dreaming would bring her grief … like getting hit by a car… being carried off by pigeons… falling in the river. You know perfectly probable possibilities.

Sighing to herself as she turned from her reflection, she continued strolling down the street, her bag swinging at her side. Chewing on her lip, Orihime knew that she really didn't fantasize purposely. It just happened naturally, like thunder and lightening, and multiplying bunnies.

Glancing over at a small sage green car stopped at the curb, Orihime tilted her head in delight. It looked just like a turtle. A smile spread across her face as she breathed out in wonder…Mr. Turtle that is.

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Strolling down the nearly deserted street, Ichigo had gratefully escaped the stifling atmosphere of his house. He'd already had had his fill of his father's repeated questions on why his son was home, yet again, on a weekend night. His old man hadn't stopped nagging him about not having a date tonight, along with the fact that there wasn't any prospect for an actual date anywhere on the horizon. He had stomped angrily from the house after stomping repeatedly on his dad. 'Damn old goat.' If he could have some peace, maybe he could come up with a way to ask someone out. There was someone he had in mind, picturing an infectious smile and a bubbly personality. This someone even had a name, but there was no way in hell he'd ever tell his dad.

Running his hand over his face, Ichigo had wanted to ask her out for weeks now. Actually months, if he was going to be honest about it. Something had changed between them in Hueco Mundo, it was nebulous and he couldn't quite put his finger on what had happened. He wasn't certain if it was his feelings, or the way he looked at her, but something was different. What stood out most clearly though was when he had crashed through the wall of the fifth tower to see Ulquiorra looming over her small figure menacingly. Orihime's eyes had lit up with pleasure upon seeing him, she had been nervous and unsure, but she still was happy to see him. She knew that he had another fight to win, one that would be bloody and brutal, but she believed in him unreservedly. Ichigo knew in those moments that he wanted to have her always look at him like that… like her only hero.

He had felt swamped with guilt as he raced to her side. He had been careless and because of his relaxed guard, Stark had been able to recapture her right before his very eyes. Ichigo had wanted to kick himself for not taking Kenpachi's words more seriously. 'Grab the girl and haul ass.' How simple was that directive? But he hadn't followed through. Instead, he had argued with Zaraki before having the psychopathic captain spell out just what was important here. Battles weren't, protecting his hometown and getting Orihime to safety had been. And he had failed her … again.

Turning the corner, his hands tucked into his back pockets, Ichigo scowled down at the passing pavement. Kicking out at stone in his path, he wracked his mind still trying to find a way to approach Orihime and ask her out, without ending up looking like a bumbling fool. Ichigo had planned to ask her after school today, but Tatsuki had been with her. He hadn't taken the tomboys presence into consideration while waiting at the gate, hoping to at least ask to walk her home. He had already been nervous, wondering why he was doing this to himself when she had tripped. His resulting embarrassment at holding her close had completely deflated what little confidence he had built up throughout the day.

Blowing out a disgusted breath, all he wanted to do was ask her to the movies. It would be a great chance to spend some time alone with her. But in the same respect, he wouldn't be required to make an effort at stimulating conversation, which for him was about as close to perfect as possible.

Glancing up, he stopped at the sight of Orihime standing down the street from him. Furrowing his brow as he watched her talking enthusiastically to the back window of a stopped vehicle, he tilted his head at her in a fascinated wonder. Leaning heavily against a nearby telephone pole, Ichigo slumped there surveying her wildly flailing hands and excited expression and wondered just what kooky adventure her imaginative childlike mind had conjured up this time.

He watched her continue her conversation with a pigeon since the car window she had been speaking to so earnestly had pulled away at the light change. Feeling his lips automatically curve as he silently watched her talk to all and sundry around her, inanimate objects, small animals, and even confused pedestrians. Her cheerful enthusiasm and complete joy had a habit of spreading out to touch everyone around her. It was no secret that even he wasn't immune.

Pushing off of the pole, Ichigo rubbed the back of his neck nervously as Orihime obliviously drew near to him. This could be his perfect chance. They were alone now, no interfering friends, pesky fathers, or any other distraction, other than the woman herself. He could walk her home and ask her out. How hard could it really be? Taking a deep breath, he licked his dry lips before calling out to her, "Hey Inoue."

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Skipping happily down the park path, Orihime fluffed her layered gingham dress and frilly apron. Bending down to whisper a secret to her friend Mr. Turtle, gesturing with her hands, she tried to make him understand just how big her secret really was. Sighing dejectedly as he ambled off, offering her no response, she turned her attention to Mrs. Bird perched nearby.

Continuing down the pathway, in search of her one true love, Orihime smiled in wonder… and there he was. Leaning against a tree, Kurosaki-kun was waiting for her up ahead. He had found her in this extraordinarily colorful world inhabited by talking animals and dancing trees, she sighed happily as she watched him slowly straighten. She was quivering with fervent excitement… maybe it was time to tell him her secret.

Feeling her heart beat uncontrollably in her chest as he lifted his eyes to her and called out her name, "Hey Inoue."

A wide beaming smile spread over her face, here was her perfect chance, she thought as she breathlessly cried, "Kurosaki-kun." Feeling her heart trip crazily in her chest, she breathed out with a goofy smile, "…I love you."

Whipping his head up in surprise, Ichigo dropped his hand from his hair. "What did you say?" He croaked out as his eyes bugged dramatically.

"Huh?" Tilting her head at him in confusion as the street and passing pedestrians came back into focus. She blinked rapidly at the sight of her perfect prince standing before her on the sidewalk, for real, really real. Trying to remember exactly what had just happened, Orihime frantically searched for an answer as she stammered out. "I-I s-said … Kurosaki-kun, h-how are you?"

Standing frozen in shock, his heart pounding quickly, he stumbled over his words. "I thought you said … I mean I could have sworn that …" Shaking his head violently, Ichigo squeezed his eyes shut as he pressed the heel of his hand to his forehead, curious if there was something wrong with his hearing.

Gasping sharply and feeling color flood her cheeks, Orihime realized just what she had cried out as she dropped her chin to her chest in embarrassment. 'Oh, what a mess!' She silently berated herself. 'Start talking Orihime before Kurosaki-kun realizes that he wasn't hearing things. '

Her groceries swinging against her leg gave her a safe neutral topic, pulling in a deep breath, Orihime launched into her story from the market.

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Leaving off with trying to purge the words he thought he heard from his mind, Ichigo plunged his fingers into his hair. Searching for calm and attempting to quiet the racing beat of his heart. He pulled in a steadying breath as Orihime's rambling words washed heedlessly over him. Ichigo could have sworn that she had just cried that she loved him. There had to be something wrong with his hearing. He couldn't believe that Orihime, sweet, wonderfully naive Orihime was in love with him. That kind of thing didn't happen except in dreams. Although, if by some chance, she did have strong feelings for him, Ichigo didn't quite know how he felt about it. Rubbing the back of his neck, he knew that he liked her and genuinely cared for her. But love … love was in a different league altogether, one that he had given no real thought to.

Putting his jumbled thoughts on that subject away for now, he focused on her obviously embarrassed figure before him. There was no denying that she was completely flustered. From her wildly flailing hands, to her bright red face, along with the stammered words that spilled uncontrollably from her lips, and the fact that she wouldn't even try to meet his eyes. It was evident that Orihime was trying to hide something from him, something big, maybe as big as a slipped out confession.

Blowing out a breath, Ichigo decided to leave his questions unanswered. It was obvious that this was upsetting her greatly. He could ask her another time. And he would, because he was positive that what she said hadn't been 'how are you'. Gathering the scattered pieces of his mind from when it imploded earlier, he figured that he should really work at soothing his panic-stricken classmate, although, he really had no idea how to do that.

"Slow down a bit, Inoue. Did you just say that you were talking to oatmeal?" Ichigo asked, furrowing his brows in puzzlement.

Taking a breath, Orihime caught her lip between her teeth. Glancing up at Kurosaki-kun through her lashes, she attempted to calm her panicky beating heart. He was watching her with a baffled look on his face again. Although this time, she was pretty sure that it was because she admitted to having a conversation with a canister of rolled oats.

Deciding the best idea would be to change the subject before he started questioning her sanity. She swallowed around the lump in her throat and pointed out the obvious. "Well, as you can see, I was just out getting a few groceries." Orihime laughed nervously, holding up her bag. "So what are you doing tonight, Kurosaki-kun?"

Rocking back on his heels as he tucked his hands into his pockets, Ichigo glanced around for inspiration before figuring it was easier to stick with the truth. "I was actually looking for… you." He replied with his eyes glued to the ground.

"Me?" Orihime squeaked out in a breathless whisper. Shifting her eyes to the side as well, she licked her dry lips before asking, "Why were you looking for me Kurosaki-kun?"

Roughly clearing his throat, Ichigo scratched the underside of his chin as he glanced up at her. "Well… I was wondering if…" He dropped his gaze to stare at the tip of his sneaker as he scuffed his shoe against the concrete. "If you might like to … go out sometime." He asked quietly, cringing at her blank expression.

Shaking her head, Orihime pinched her arm, hard. "Alright, that stung." She stated positively before glancing over at Kurosaki-kun's confused expression. The daydreaming girl shrugged her shoulders and figured that it wouldn't hurt to be doubly sure. So she reached out and pinched him, too.

"What was that for?" He frowned down at her, rubbing at his abused flesh as he cradled his arm to his chest.

Scratching her head, she sheepishly explained. "Well, I wanted to make certain that I wasn't still dreaming. Then I thought that if you were dreaming that you asked me out, I assumed that you would appreciate it if someone pinched you to wake you up as well." She sent him a crooked wobbly smile as she self consciously fidgeted on the sidewalk.

Blowing out a breath, Ichigo relaxed his stance as he gazed down at the awkward and insecure girl before him. 'Did she really think that the only way I'd ask her out was if she was dreaming and if I was dreaming as well?' He wondered in amazement as he watched her lightly nibble on her lip, her cheeks delightfully flushed. Ichigo couldn't believe that someone as beautiful and friendly as Orihime could doubt herself… and her appeal to others.

Beginning to feel a little uncomfortable himself, Ichigo nervously kneaded the back of his neck as he waited to see if she would answer his question… hopefully in the affirmative. He relaxed his furrowed brows as Orihime lifted hesitant eyes to meet his. Letting the corner of his mouth curl up, he felt his expression soften as he gazed down at her blushing face.

Feeling her breath catch in the back of her throat, Orihime gawked unconsciously back at Kurosaki-kun. Her thoughts a tumbled mess as she stood in a petrified state of unbelief, trying to comprehend that Kurosaki-kun had just asked her out … her, Orihime Inoue.

Noticing that his eyes were shining down at her with a mix of concern and caring, she let a blissful smile break across her face as she sighed softly in delight. He was gazing at her just like in her dream from earlier…except that he wasn't bleeding, nor was he in boxing trunks. And he didn't even have sweat pouring over his sculpted chest, she pouted in disappointment.

Pulling in a quick breath as the ending of her dream came back to her. She whipped her head around, sending her long hair fanning out around her. Her eyes apprehensively scanned the surrounding area, picking over the shadowy alleyways and recessed windows.

"What are you looking for Inoue?" Ichigo asked quietly as his hand grasped her tense forearm.

"The gunman on the grassy knoll." She stated with complete conviction, absolutely certain that there was some immediate danger to Kurosaki-kun nearby.

"Huh?"

Glancing at his confused face for a moment, she returned to her surveillance of the area. "The man who shots you of course." Orihime whispered out, afraid to draw attention to them and give away their position.

Blowing out a bemused breath, Ichigo grasped her shoulder and gently turned her towards her apartment. Shaking his head, he thought at this rate they could be here all night. Getting Orihime moving down the sidewalk, her eyes still looking for her villain, Ichigo asked in puzzlement. "I'm going to get shot?"

Pursing her lips, Orihime stuck out her chin determinedly, poking her thumb into her chest. "Not if I have something to say about it."

Scratching his head, he glanced down at her serious face. "Did this happen in one of your daydreams or something?" Surely there had to be a somewhat rational reason behind her certainty of his impending shooting.

"Umm" Orihime replied, coming to a standstill in the middle of the sidewalk, a slender finger pressed to her chin. "You know what, you're right. It happened at lunch today." Nodding her head, she stepped off down the street again like nothing bizarre had just happened.

"I was shot at lunch… over what?"

Waving her hands before her, causing her groceries to swing wildly, Ichigo reached out and pulled the bag from her arm, not even interrupting her fractured explanation. "Not at lunch, well, I was at lunch …actually, you were in a boxing ring." Crinkling her nose, Orihime lifted bewildered eyes to his before continuing in bemusement. "I'm not really certain just why you were shot though."

Taking pity on his fatigued, imploded brain and her wildly, veering imagination, Ichigo gave Orihime an easy solution to any possible gunfire. "You could always shield me from any gunfire and even heal any potential injuries, you know."

Her eyes widen as a new fantasy sprung up, her hands flailed wildly in excitement as she breathed out in wonder. "I could leap in just like a super hero."

Tugging her back before she could step into oncoming traffic, Ichigo sighed resignedly at her new tangent. "Yes, I guess kind of like a super hero."

Blinking her eyes repeatedly, Orihime turned to him, looking his up and down. "You're like a superman yourself, Kurosaki-kun. You just need the right outfit." She surveyed him with a speculative gleam in her eye, making him distinctly uncomfortable under her measured gaze.

Grasping her wrist, Ichigo pulled her across the street as she continued to assess him. Reaching the opposite side of the street, he glared down into her quietly marveling eyes. "Quit picturing me in a cape, dammit." He ordered firmly, giving her a small shake.

Biting her lips guiltily, she smiled ruefully up at him, laughing. Rubbing the back of her neck, Orihime blushed at his wonderful scowling face, "Sorry, Kurosaki-kun, no capes."

Shaking his head despairingly, Ichigo glanced down into her sheepish eyes before specifying further, "No tights, either … or mask." He commanded forcefully as her face fell mournfully.

"B-but…" She whined quietly, clasping her hands together, staring up at him hopefully.

Suppressing a shiver of distaste, he scowled at her reluctant expression before demanding. "Put it from your mind, Inoue. Right now."

Spinning forward, she stuck her bottom lip out in an exaggerated pout and scuffed her shoe against the pavement. "Fine … be that way." Striding ahead, she grinned over her shoulder at him, intent on getting the last word. "You looked marvelous in a cape by the way." She giggled as she darted towards home. Rolling his eyes, Ichigo followed fast on her heels.

Leaning heavily against the stair railing leading up to her apartment, Orihime attempted to catch her breath, although, watching Kurosaki-kun scowling at her didn't help matters any. Pulling in a gasping breath, she tried to gain control her unmanageable giggles before she smiled brightly up at the frowning man by her side. "You are so funny, Kurosaki-kun."

Arching a brow at her, Ichigo twisted his lips in doubt at her prior claim. He didn't feel funny. However, he did feel more at ease with her, relaxed. He imagined her playful nature had taken care of any awkward tension between the two of them. Allowing him to fully loosen up around her and be more like himself without being self conscious and taking everything too seriously. Grinning as he watched her drag in a breath, he braced his arm on the railing beside her, looming unconsciously over her small figure. Ichigo watched Orihime closely as her laughter slowly faded and she gazed up at him with wide eyes as she became aware of their proximity.

"You never answered my question from earlier. And no, pinching me was not an answer." He stated firmly, tilting his head at her, waiting impatiently for her reply.

Lightly chewing on her lip, Orihime looked up at him tentatively as she whispered. "I really wasn't certain if you were serious or not."

Shrugging his shoulders, Ichigo responded, "There's a new movie out. I figured you might like to go see it." He frowned self-consciously, rubbing the back of his neck, wondering if it really was a good idea to further fuel her daydreams. "It's about a mechanical lizard or some huge extraterrestrial."

"That would be fabulous Kurosaki-kun … a giant alien mecha reptile robot." She sighed happily, pressing a fist to her chest as she gazed up at him with a bright smile. "It's just perfect, Kurosaki-kun. I would love to go."

Relaxing a bit, Ichigo wiped his sweaty palms on his jeans. Stepping back, he gestured for her to go up the stairs as he fell into step behind her. Standing outside her door, he cleared his throat as he returned her groceries to her. "Are you busy tomorrow night?"

Clasping her clammy hands around the strap of her bag, Orihime slowly shook her head. "No… no, I don't have any plans for tomorrow."

Scratching the back of his head, Ichigo stared at her door, not able to quite meet her eyes, "Well, how tomorrow at seven then?" He glanced at her quickly before dropping his eyes again.

Shyly lifting her gaze, Orihime tentatively smiled at him, "That would be fine."

Meeting her eyes, Ichigo hooked his thumb in his belt loop as he nodded his head at her, opening his mouth to say more. He snapped it closed when no other words emerged and stepped back. Gripping the post at the top of the stairs, Ichigo nodded at her again, "Alright, I'll see you then." He replied as he headed down the steps, taking them two at a time.

Licking her dry lips, Orihime tried to quell her nervously pounding heart, knowing that she wouldn't get much sleep tonight. "I'm looking forward to it Kurosaki-kun." She called down to him, clenching her hand around the railing.

Pausing at the bottom of the stairs, Ichigo glanced back up at her, feeling uncertain again, "About what you said earlier. I really could have sworn that you said …" Pinching his lips together, he dismissed his words with a wave of his hands, "Never mind, I'll ask you another time." He assured her as he met her gaze. Ichigo gave Orihime a soft, warm smile, the one that he reserved just for her before turning and started to walk away. Speaking clearly over his shoulder, Ichigo reminded her. "I'll see you tomorrow, Inoue." Glancing back for a moment, he grinned up at her, "Goodnight."

"Goodnight" Leaning forward on her arms, Orihime rested her chin on her crossed arms. Sighing softly, she quietly whispered at his departing figure, "Yes, Kurosaki-kun … I really do love you."

Humming to herself as she opened her door, Orihime thought it's a good thing that she believed in dreams, because you never knew when your dreams could become your new reality.

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A/N: Thank you to everyone who reads and reviews this short fiction. This completes my Eternal Tag Challenge… this time anyway. Let me know what you think… this was a small departure from the way I usually write, so your comments would be appreciated.

So you know what this means… *Grins* I'm sending this tag-back to my most wonderful anime daughter Copperheadfightingninja… *frowns at her* although she probably already has a tag-back ready for me… *pouts* xNocturnalxShadowx is up first though… so I still have time *Grins again*

Thanks again, I am, as always, grateful for your continued support and encouragement. You know who you all are … heartfelt thanks to all of you. –Rairakku Hana

revised- 6/22/09