Happy holidays everyone! This year I participated in the FLOL Holiday Gift Exchange and I was assigned to write something for Lady Orihime. :D So here it is, and I hope you enjoy it Lady O! Merry Christmas!

I'd also like to give a warm thank you to my beta, Madhvija. I hope you have a very merry Christmas and a fantasic new year. :D Here's to us working together for a long time to come!

It was a cold, dreary day in Karakura Town. Itwas the type of day that people generally used as an excuse to stay indoors and drink hot chocolate as they watched the dark grey storm clouds slowly roll over the town. It was this kind of day that Kurosaki Ichigo found himself aimlessly walking down the street.

His sneakers crunched against the gravel as he continued to make his way down the path towards the outskirts of town. As a gust of wind blew in his direction, he shoved his hands into his pockets and buried his face deeper into his scarf, hoping to keep as much of the cold air from touching him as he possibly could. His brow furrowed as he squinted against the brisk wind and continued on his way. His scowl, unseen to passers-by, deepened when people spared him a second glance as they passed.

'Why the hell am I outside in the cold anyway?' he wondered angrily. After a moment of deep thought he remembered the reason why he was outside, being stared at and freezing to death.

The crazy old man he called his father.

Kurosaki Isshin was up to his usual antics, attacking his son at random and demanding to know if he was ever going to bring a girl home. After several hours of putting up with his father's insanity, Ichigo managed to escape outside only to find that the weather had taken a turn for the worse.

He sighed heavily and looked up at the darkened sky, watching dejectedly as a large puff of air floated away from his mouth as he exhaled." Something began falling towards him, and it took him a moment to realize what it was. Snow. His frown deepened when a snowflake landed on his forehead, melting from his body heat.

It had been a year since the winter war. An entire year since all of the pain and suffering. The guilt he felt for all of the lives that were lost still weighed heavily on his conscience. He had been reminded time and time again that it wasn't his fault that the war had occurred but despite everyone's reassurances, he wondered what might have happened if he hadn't been there.

Would they have still died?

He pondered this for a moment before shaking his head roughly, trying to dispel the thoughts that were clouding his mind. He didn't have the time nor the energy to dwell on the past. This year, things would be different.

Ichigo continued on his way, ignoring the small shops that offered shelter from the cold. It was only when he noticed the absence of the usual crunching from the gravel road that he surveyed his surroundings. He found himself at a small park, just outside the city. A light dusting of snow covered the grass, the withered foliage became less noticeable as the snow continued to fall. It was eerily quiet. Usually families were at the park, the sound of children laughing as they ran around echoing in the air. Then he heard something in the distance…a rhythmic creaking that was accompanied by a faint flow of spiritual energy. His eyes narrowed and he followed the sound, his muscles tightening as the sound grew louder with each step he took.

It couldn't be him. He died back in Las Noches. He couldn't be back.

He hid behind a large oak tree, his back pressing against the rough bark. The creaking was the loudest at this spot; no doubt the source was on the other side of this tree. Taking a deep breath to steady his nerves, he peeked around the tree and his heart seized in his chest.

Orihime was perched on a swing, swaying back and forth, her eyes trained on the sky above. Ichigo cursed himself for being so paranoid; he should have known better. He turned to leave, not wanting to intrude on her privacy, when he heard her sigh. He glanced back and saw that she was no longer swaying slowly back and forth. Her gaze was trained on her feet, which were clad in knee-high boots, her small hands delicately curled around the chains that suspended her seat above the ground. Her cheeks were flushed a pretty pink from the wind and her auburn locks spilled over her shoulders, the strands mingling with the light pink fabric of the scarf wrapped around her neck.

Ichigo was captivated by her, from the shapely curve of her legs that were partially hidden beneath the boots and skirt she wore, to the black winter coat that emphasized her large chest. Her flower-shaped hairpins that were always present pinned her bangs away from her face and glinted in the faint light that managed to break through the clouds. Ichigo studied her face, concerned that her ever-present smile was missing. Her brows were furrowed slightly and the corners of her mouth turned down ever so slightly as she closed her eyes and sighed again before returning her gaze to the sky.

He couldn't help but wonder what she was thinking so intently about and why it bothered him that she wasn't smiling like she usually did. Since they returned from Hueco Mundo, he seemed to be more aware of her than he had been before. Of her presence, her smile, and the kindness she showered on everyone around her. His cheeks flushed when he remembered the time when they were in Hueco Mundo and he had just defeated Grimmjow. At the time he hadn't thought much of simply picking her and throwing her over his shoulder. He merely wanted to get her down safely and help his friends. But now he always became a bit flustered when he thought of where his hand had been resting as he carried her.

Turning to leave before she caught him watching her, he winced when he stepped on a twig, causing a loud crack to echo through the still air. He froze, his eyes widening in horror before he slowly turned around to see if she had noticed. He swallowed thickly as his eyes met a pair of curious gray ones and he felt his cheeks heat up in embarrassment. Orihime's cheeks flushed as well and her eyes widened in shock when she saw who was hiding behind the tree.

"K-Kurosaki-kun…" she whispered as she covered her mouth. She thought she had been alone. Never in a million years would she have suspected that Ichigo would be watching her!

Deciding that there was no use hiding from her any longer, Ichigo stepped out from behind the tree and walked towards her, stopping a few feet away. He lifted one of his hands in greeting, a weak smile on his face. "Hey Inoue."

"Ah, h-hello Kurosaki-kun!" exclaimed Orihime as she hurried to stand up, a bright smile on her face. She clasped her hands in front of her and gazed up at him. "What brings you here?"

"Err…well I was just walking around," replied Ichigo as he scratched the back of his head. He averted his gaze in embarrassment, his mind trying desperately to think of something to talk about. "How come you're all the way out here? It's pretty far from your apartment, isn't it?" he asked as he lowered his hand to hang at his side.

"Y-yes…" she murmured. She glanced up at him before quickly looking away, her cheeks a brilliant red. "I decided to take a walk and wound up here."

Silence filled the air, both of them sneaking glances at each other out of the corner of their eyes. Ichigo shoved his hands back into his pockets to try and resist the urge to wrap his arms around her small body. Her copper locks rustled gently as a light breeze brushed against them and she reached up to tuck a loose strand behind her ear. Snowflakes stuck to her hair and dusted her shoulders, indicating that she had been outside for quite sometime. Despite his concern for her health, a small part of him couldn't help but notice that the snow only seemed to intensify her good looks. Her eyes darted up and he held her gaze for a moment before she looked away shyly.

"Kurosaki-kun, do you like the snow?" she asked suddenly. Ichigo was taken aback by her sudden question and took a moment to think.

"I guess I do. At least until I have to shovel the sidewalk," he said.

Orihime chuckled at his answer before turning her back to him, her hands clasped behind her back. "I love the snow. It's so pretty." She held out her hand as a snowflake delicately landed on her palm, allowing her to see its unique shape before it melted. "Winter was my brother's favorite season," she said quietly.

"Inoue, I –" Ichigo was silenced when she turned to glance at him over her shoulder.

"Do you know why it was his favorite season, Kurosaki-kun?" she inquired. Ichigo shook his head and she lifted her gaze to the sky once again, a faint smile on her lips. "He loved how each snowflake was unique. Each one has its own special design… He loved the beauty of it all and even though it was cold, he would always build snowmen with me."

Unsure of what to say, Ichigo averted his gaze to the ground. She was sharing something incredibly personal with him and he wasn't sure how to respond. The sound of her shoes crunching against the fresh snow caught his attention and when he looked up, he was startled to find her peering up at him, a small frown on her face. His cheeks burned as he stared at her, her gray eyes boring into his amber ones.

He couldn't figure out why he hadn't noticed how beautiful she was before. Her cheeks were a deep pink, tinted from both the cold and her embarrassment. Her bangs hung in her face in such a way that it accentuated her large, expressive eyes as well as giving an air of mystery about her. And her lips. They looked so plump and soft that he couldn't tear his gaze away from them. There was a slight shimmer to them, perhaps due to lip gloss. He was so enthralled in wondering what it would be like to kiss her and feel her soft lips against his own that he wasn't aware of her calling his name until he felt her small hand rest against his forehead.

"Kurosaki-kun, are you alright? You don't have a fever, do you?" she asked, her brows furrowed in worry.

"Er…I…I'm fine, Inoue. Don't worry about me," he mumbled as he averted his gaze once again, his cheeks flaming.

"That's a relief. I was getting worried when Kurosaki-kun didn't answer me," she said cheerfully as she withdrew her hand from his forehead. In the distance, the clock tower chimed, signaling the time. Orihime gasped and checked her watch. "Oh no, it's almost five o'clock! Laugh Hour will be on soon! Ah, I'm sorry Kurosaki-kun, but I need to get going! It was nice seeing you!"

She smiled up at him before quickly walking past him, intent on returning home in time for her favorite show. She stopped in her tracks when she felt Ichigo's hand close around her wrist. Her brows furrowed as she gazed at him questioningly.

"Kurosaki-kun, what's -?"

Her eyes widened when he tugged on her arm, pulling her closer. She nearly lost her balance but felt a pair of strong arms wrap around her waist, holding her tightly. Her heart skipped a beat before speeding up and she swallowed thickly when she found her cheek resting against his chest. She could hear his heartbeat and her mouth grew dry at the thought of being this close to him. One of his arms was wrapped around the swell of her back, holding her firmly in place while the other was wrapped around her shoulders. His face was buried in her scarf and her knees grew weak when she felt his hot breath against her skin.

"K-Kurosaki-kun?" she squeaked.

Ichigo inhaled deeply, savoring the faint floral scent that wafted from the girl in his arms. She melded against his lean form perfectly, her soft curves complimenting his hard angles. Her breath tickled the side of his neck and a faint smile graced his lips when he heard her shakily exhale. Lifting his head, he withdrew his arm from around her shoulders and gently caressed her cheek with the pad of his thumb. Her eyes widened as they gazed at each other, her lips parted slightly in surprise.

His arm tightened around her waist as he lowered his head, pausing when he could feel her breath brush against his face. After a moment, he gently pressed his lips against hers and was amazed at how soft and pliable they were. He could feel her stiffen, but she slowly relaxed and responded to the kiss, moving her lips against his. Ichigo slowly pulled away, his breath coming out in a rush. Orihime's cheeks turned a brilliant red and she dropped her gaze shyly, her chest rising and falling rapidly as she fought to catch her breath. She looked back up at him and her breath was taken away again when she saw how his eyes had softened when he looked at her.

"K-K-Kurosaki-kun…" she stammered.

"I'm sorry Inoue…" murmured Ichigo as he closed his eyes and pulled her close, resting his forehead against hers. "I'm sorry it's taken me so long…"

"It's taken you so long for what?" she whispered. Her heart was beating so fast it felt as if it would burst out of her chest. Ichigo opened his eyes and smiled gently at her, causing her heart to skip a beat again.

"To realize that I…I love you, Orihime. I think that I always have. I just never realized it before…"

Orihime's eyes widened for a moment in shock before they softened and tears formed in the corners of her eyes. "Kurosaki-kun, I…"

"Call me Ichigo," he murmured as he brushed away a tear that rolled down her cheek.

"I-Ichigo, I…I love you too. I have for such a long time," she whispered as she smiled brightly up at him.

He smiled at her before cupping her cheek and leaning in for another kiss. As he did, the sun broke through the dark clouds, casting its rays on the small park below. Ichigo pulled away and they both looked up at the sky briefly before gazing lovingly at each other.

This year, things would definitely be different.