Sweet Success

Standard Disclaimer: all characters herein are the creative property of Kubo Tite.

-Five Lifetimes One Love Valentine Contest-


"Why am I doing this again?"

Grinning good-naturedly at her stalling best friend, Tatsuki rolled her eyes before pushing Orihime towards their homeroom. The black haired tomboy had spent hours yesterday convincing …wheedling …bullying the indecisive healer, until she finally gave in and agreed that she would finally let the volatile shinigami know how she felt.

"Honestly, it's not necessary for me to publicly give him valentine's chocolates."

Tatsuki supposed that was actually true. Even she had noticed the change in both her friends in the four months since Orihime had been safely returned from Hueco Mundo.

Ichigo had brought her home like he promised. His duty fulfilled. And then, he had practically dived into yet another fight.

Life, as they knew it, had gone on like normal …except the two of them were different around each other, calmer, more observant, and gentler. A different kind of friendship had blossomed between them, one full of respect, and understanding.

Tatsuki really couldn't have been happier at the development. For one, Orihime and Ichigo were now actually able to talk to each other without it turning into an awkward stammering blush fest. And two, their growing closeness had finally given her best friend the confidence to be herself. And in turn, it allowed her childhood sparring partner to relax his guard and open up to Orihime in a way that none of their friends could still believe.

"You did say that I didn't have to give it to him directly, that I could just put it on his desk, right?"

Obviously, Orihime still needed to work on the confidence issue. Wondering why it was such a big deal when they talked to each other all the time, Tatsuki sighed at the almost frantic tone in her friend's voice before letting her off the proverbial hook. "Yeah, that's fine, Orihime."

"Hey, Inoue."

Spinning around in surprise, Orihime stared wide eyed at her orange haired classmate that seemingly appeared out of thin air. "K-kurosaki-kun!"

Ichigo arched a brow at her loud and apprehensive greeting. It was so far removed from her normal good morning that he couldn't help but be suspicious, and gave in to the strange urge to tease her a little bit. "What you got there behind your back …valentine's chocolates?"

"Umm …" Orihime stared up at him, silently arguing with herself before slowly revealing the package she had hidden behind her. The healer clasped her hands protectively around the small bag as self-conscious color climbed in her cheeks, mumbling, "Yeah, it's for-"

"Ichigo, you sly dog you."

Pulling his attention away from the blushing girl before him to avoid the flying hug aimed at him from behind, Ichigo smoothly swept Orihime to the side, allowing his hyperactive friend to barrel past. He checked to make certain that the gentle healer was steady on her feet, and quickly yanked his arm from around her shoulders.

Feeling hot color stain his cheeks, he hoped that he didn't offend Orihime by touching her so familiarly. It had been purely instinct on his part. He had sensed a threat, and moved without thinking to protect her.

Kneading the back of his neck, Ichigo knew that it shouldn't be that big of a deal. They were much closer now, and much more comfortable with each other, but he still couldn't think of invading her personal space so cavalierly.

All right, that was a bald-faced lie.

He did think about it, but that was all he would allow himself.

Think about it, not act on it.

Taking his irritation out on the brunette crawling at his feet, Ichigo scowled darkly, shouting, "Dammit, Keigo …leave off already."

Staring up at his orange haired friend with soulful brown eyes, Keigo whimpered in confusion. "When did you get to be so popular with the ladies?"

Stealing a quick embarrassed glance at the russet haired girl beside him, Ichigo plowed his long fingers through his hair. He was hoping like hell that his energetic friend wasn't going to make a big scene over him and Inoue talking …on Valentine's Day …while she was holding a bag of chocolates. If Keigo even thought about putting Orihime on the spot with some ridiculous interrogation about whom she was giving candy to, Ichigo would pummel him into the floor so quickly he wouldn't know what hit him.

"Nice haul, Ichigo."

Confused by the admiration in Mizuiro's voice, Ichigo turned. Arching a brow at his normally tech-obsessed friend, he was surprised to see Mizuiro curiously sifting through a small stack of boxes, cellophane bags, and plastic hearts piled on his desk.

What the hell …

Blinking in disbelief, surely those weren't all for him. He never got Valentine's gifts. The substitute shinigami would have believed that there was some mistake if it wasn't for the fact that Chad was nodding towards a cluster of girls crowded in the doorway.

The excited group was whispering among themselves before they noticed him staring at them. Letting loose a flurry of girlish giggles and squeals, they scurried away, except for a few of the braver ones who smiled coyly at him before nonchalantly walking off. Ichigo was certain that his face was set in a mask of utter confusion, wondering just who the hell all those girls were.

"You got lots and lots of chocolates. That's really great, Kurosaki-kun." Orihime declared with a wide smile as she casually clasped the bag of candies behind her back once again.

"Orihime, what about …"

Grabbing Tatsuki's arm, the redheaded healer cut her off before she could say anything else. Silently imploring her best friend to just forget it, Orihime slipped around Ichigo's frozen form as she hastily tucked her own chocolates back into her bag.

Shaking her head at Tatsuki's urgently whispered questions, Orihime sent her friend a sheepish smile before dropping in her seat. She just couldn't do it. Sighing, she rested her chin on her crossed arms, and wished that she was braver. But, she figured after waiting this long to confess to him, she really didn't want her gift to get lost in the shuffle.

Besides, Kurosaki-kun already looks completely overwhelmed.

Glancing over her shoulder when she heard Ichigo call her name, Orihime turned to see him tucking the chocolates piled on his desk hurriedly into his bag, dull color staining his cheeks.

"Like I was saying earlier, before we were interrupted …" he paused with a scowl as the chime to begin classes sounded and their first hour teacher entered the room. Sending her an aggravated look, and receiving an amused giggle in return, Ichigo shrugged his shoulders and soundlessly mouthed, "Talk to you later."


Except later never came …

Ichigo silently groused as he walked home after school. He really had meant to talk to Orihime later, but this just hadn't been his day. He had no luck talking to her between classes, and even lunch hour had been taken up with a damn hollow alert. And now, when she usually walked part of the way home with him, she was nowhere to be seen. Poof. It was like she had disappeared into thin air.

And here he was stuck with Rukia, and there was no one to keep the petite shinigami from teasing him unmercifully. She seemed to take great pleasure in wondering aloud if his bad mood was because he hadn't received any chocolates from the girl he really liked.

Dammit, he was really beginning to wish that she'd just shut up and leave him in peace.

Valentine's day wasn't celebrated, or even known about in the Soul Society, but that didn't stop Rukia from learning all the nuances of the holiday. Namely the fact that girls generally gave chocolates to boys they liked.

Rukia let a wicked grin spread across her face as Ichigo's irritation grew. The raven haired shinigami was having a field day over the amount of valentine's gifts he had received. Opportunities like this didn't come everyday, after all. Who knew that girls found a bad-tempered scowl so attractive? It was alright, she admitted, but in her mind Ichigo's darkly brooding scowls couldn't compete with a goofy grin and tribal tattoos.

Maybe she would return home tonight for a quick visit, and bring a small chocolate gift with her. It would be perfect. Renji would have no idea of the symbolism behind it, actually he would probably be suspicious and wonder what prank she was trying pull on him. But, he'd eventually give in and eagerly accept her gift. Her scarlet haired friend had quite the sweet tooth, after all.

Blushing at her thoughts, Rukia forced herself out of the shojo manga playing out in her mind and back to the real world. She wondered where the best place to buy chocolates was, besides Urahara's. There was no way that she was going to chance anything that came from his store. She wouldn't put it past the devious storekeeper to put some sort of love potion or something like that in his candies. She wasn't that desperate …yet.

Wanting to distract herself, Rukia automatically went back to favorite pastime, harassing Ichigo. With his unexpected harem of fan girls and their lavish gifts, she had plenty of material to tease him over for a long, long time.

"However are you going to choose between all those girls? Maybe you-"

"Dammit, just drop it already."

Narrowing her eyes at Ichigo's scornful tone as he interrupted her, Rukia knew that he was especially irritated for some reason, but she couldn't quite put her finger on it. Maybe if Orihime had walked home with them, she would have been able to talk him out of his sour mood. Tapping her finger against her chin, she watched as the substitute shinigami beside her looked over his shoulder -yet again- seemingly searching for someone. Their absent friend most likely. He was probably worried about her, and barely containing himself from going to look for her. Ichigo just couldn't stop himself from being overly protective.

Even if that was the case, that didn't mean he could take his bad temper out on her. Straightening to her full height -admittedly it wasn't much, but you had to work with what you had- before she spun around and stomping into the house. With the darkly glowering redhead on her heels, her lips lifted into a wicked grin at the sight of Isshin and the twins standing around the kitchen.

Setting her bag down beside the table, Rukia watched as Ichigo tried to escape upstairs before turning to face her adoptive family.

"You'll never in a million years believe what happened at school today."


Escaping from the madhouse, commonly known as his home, Ichigo stalked down the sidewalk. Everyone in his family seemed to have made it their personal mission to get a rise out of him. First, Rukia, then his dad, and even his sisters …actually, make that sister. Yuzu had been too busy crying tears of joy -as she put it- to harass him about anything. Thank God for small favors.

When he had run into Tatsuki a few blocks back, he really thought that she'd dish out more of the same. Ichigo had to admit that he was damn happy to have been proved wrong on that account. His childhood friend had given him plenty of food for thought.

Walking with his hands in his pockets, he intuitively followed the high path beside the river. His steps slowly as his head lifted, sensing something in the evening air. Spying a familiar redheaded figure sitting on a bench down by the river, he felt a thread of anticipation race through him; heating his blood and making him feel reckless.

Practically leaping down the stairs leading to the waterfront, Ichigo didn't even question his eagerness to be in her company again. He was curious what Orihime was doing sitting out here alone. Normally, at this time of the day, she was at home studying as she ate her supper.

Approaching her from the side, she appeared lost in thought, not even noticing him as she sat hunched forward on the bench. With her chin cupped in the palm of her hand, and her long hair falling around her face, Ichigo was surprised to notice that Orihime looked small sitting there. So delicate. So lonely.

"Hey, Inoue."

Snapping upright and jerking her head around to stare at the person weighing so heavily on her mind, Orihime blurted out in surprise. "Kurosaki-kun …what are you doing here?"

Blushing brightly at her outburst, she pressed her fingers to her lips, feeling her heart race at Ichigo's sudden appearance. This just wasn't her day. He had been able to easily sneak up on her several times today, and that just wasn't normal. This popping out at odd times wasn't fair to a girl who more than likely had her heart shining clearly in her eyes for him to see.

If she wasn't careful, Ichigo would notice, and Orihime really didn't want to do anything to jeopardize this wonderful friendship that had grown between them, even if it meant keeping her innermost feelings to herself. With that thought at the forefront of her mind, she dropped her eyes, hiding the swirling, turbulent emotions therein from his curious gaze.

"I'm sorry, that was rude, Kurosaki-kun. Please, forget that I said anything."

Watching her face fall, Ichigo shook his head. Trust Orihime to worry over offending him. She couldn't even if she tried.

Playfully messing up her hair as he stepped around the bench, he grinned as Orihime automatically reached up to smooth the russet strand back in place. His breath seized in his chest as her warm fingers danced across the back of his hand. The innocent contact positively scorched his skin, sending unfamiliar tingles through his system.

"Don't apologize, Inoue." Ichigo commanded quietly as he dropped on the bench beside her. Unintentionally cradling his hand in the other, he continued to savor the residual heat left behind from her touch before snapping out of his sappy daze. Groaning at his idiocy, the substitute shinigami glanced at Orihime's down bent face and tried to assure her. "You know, it's not like I care if you ask me questions."

Staring out at the river, and not the beautiful girl next to him, he struggled to find something to talk about before deciding to just answer her earlier question. Orihime always listened to him complain without judging him, or making him feel like an idiot. With that kind of freedom, Ichigo had been able to relax around her, to be himself, without any artifice.

"I had to get out of the house. My dad was driving me crazy."

Ichigo glanced out of the corner of his eye to see Orihime continue to look forward, a small smile playing on her lips as she murmured in sympathy. She was used to him complaining about his dad. After all, it was almost a daily occurrence that he and his dad fought over some ignorant thing or other.

It had taken him a while to be comfortable enough to discuss his family with her. Ichigo always felt awkward that she didn't even have a family, and here he was bitching about his. But, her soft smiles of understanding and the amused giggles that slipped out when he did blowup at something his family did to annoy him –usually his dad- Orihime let him know that it was alright, and that she would willingly listen to whatever he had to say.

Taking a deep breath, and releasing the tension he hadn't even realized that he was carrying, Ichigo closed his eyes, grateful for Orihime's calming presence. Amazed that his normally chatterbox of a friend was being so quiet, and thereby forcing him to come up with conversation, he tried to remember what else had driven him from his home.

"And then my sister wouldn't stop laughing at me …" he muttered with a frown as he remembered how Karin had almost laughed herself sick at the fact that he'd been given chocolates. Ichigo grinned at Orihime's vexed murmur, "that wasn't very nice of her" before he slouched back against the bench.

Unthinkingly stretching his arms along the back, he brushed his fingers against her shoulder, feeling the smooth texture of her thin coat. Wanting to move his hand …not wanting to move his hand, Ichigo tried ignore the fact that he practically had his arm around one of his closest friends …his stunningly beautiful friend. He furtively watched her from the corner of his eye, looking for any signs that Orihime was uncomfortable or even aware of his move.

Not noticing any change in his friend's disposition, other than her red cheeks, Ichigo attempted to relax and enjoy her nearness, simply blaming the change in her color on the cold. He dropped his head back, staring blindly at the cloudy sky before continuing with his litany of complaints.

"And it goes without saying that Rukia was the instigator of it all, as usual."

Ichigo felt his companion instantly tense under his fingertips at his statement. Lifting his head, Ichigo turned to look at his friend. Watching as Orihime huddled further into the collar of her coat, whispering 'oh' quietly in reply; he wondered if he had offended her by griping about the midget shinigami.

After all, Rukia was her good friend, too. He just wished that he understood the daydreaming healer better. Orihime and her feelings had always been a great mystery to him. He could never tell what she was really thinking.

Damn, maybe an apology was in order.


It goes without saying …it goes without saying …it goes without saying …

Orihime closed her eyes as the painful phrase kept repeating in her mind. She was fully aware that Rukia was an important person in Ichigo's life. The raven haired shinigami had literally changed his whole world, and he in turned had changed all of theirs.

So, why am I always so insecure when Ichigo brings up her name in conversation?

Rukia was one of her dearest friends. She loved her. Honestly, she did. Orihime knew that she had the bad habit of comparing herself –generally unfavorably- to the petite soul reaper, and it really wasn't fair, to either one of them. Their strengths were on opposite sides of the spectrum. She was the healer and cheerleader, while Rukia was the warrior and mentor. Different gifts, but they complimented the other perfectly. And together, they supported and encouraged Ichigo, equally.

This was all she ever wanted …to be useful to him.

It was beginning to not matter to her if Ichigo never learned of her feelings. These last few months had been magical. In the time since he had stormed the white halls of Hueco Mundo to rescue her and bring her safely home, he started to seek out her company more often. Talking to her and including her in his everyday life, a deeper, more comfortable relationship began to develop between them. Orihime couldn't be happier or more grateful for the change, and she really didn't want to do, or say, anything to upset the status-quo.

Sighing over her silly train of thought, she scolded herself for spacing out completely with Ichigo sitting beside her. She really was a rude person. Orihime curled her fingers around the rough edge of the bench before turning to face her scowling friend, stammering out an apology at the same time as Ichigo muttered his own.

They both looked at each other, surprised by their simultaneous apologies. "What are you apologizing for now?" Ichigo demanded, arching a brow in confusion.

Orihime blinked at him before blurting out the first thing that came to mind. "What are you apologizing for?"

"Well, I thought that you were mad at me for griping about Rukia." Ichigo answered quietly before seeing the truth in her surprised eyes that it hadn't been the case at all. Blowing out a breath in relief, he tilted his head to the side before prodding her. "You're turn."

"My turn …" she cautiously repeated before her expression brightened as his meaning became clear. "Oh right, why I said I was sorry."

"Yeah," he drawled out slowly, watching her smile before shaking his head in familiar exasperation, "but you're supposed to actually answer the question, Inoue."

"Oh, sorry-"

"Don't keep apologizing, just answer me already."

"Sor-" she trailed off with a stilted laugh as Ichigo scowled darkly at her automatic apology. Orihime ducked her head, blushing slightly before muttering, "I don't know why."

"You don't know why?"

"Not really …maybe because I was being rude."

Orihime watched wide eyed as Ichigo growled loudly and let his head fall back, cursing in frustration up at the darkening clouds.

"You, Inoue, are the least offensive person I have ever met." Turning his head to the side, resting his cheek against his outstretched arm, he dryly stated. "And trust me, I know plenty of rude people, myself included."

"You are not rude, Kurosaki-kun." Orihime declared firmly, pounding a small fist into her palm for emphasis.

Wanting to laugh at her angry little face, Ichigo rubbed a hand over his mouth before sitting back up. "Then explain this to me. Why, after seeing all that chocolate on my desk this morning, was my first thought to throw it directly in the trash?"

"You don't like chocolate, but I thought …"

Cutting her off with a sigh, Ichigo ran his hand over his hair before stating. "It's not that. I love chocolate, but the intent behind it is meaningless. They're strangers to me."

Furrowing her brows, Orihime licked her chapped lips before nonchalantly asking. "So, if say, Rukia gave you valentine's chocolates, it would mean something?"

Not understanding the true purpose of her question, Ichigo rolled his eyes as he muttered darkly, "That bunny obsessed midget wouldn't give me chocolate. She'd eat it all herself."

"But …"

"What I'm trying to say is this, how can these girls say they like me, when they don't even know me?"

Twisting her fingers together in her lap, Orihime nibbled on her bottom lip before quietly replying from the heart. "Maybe they thought that this would be a way of getting your attention, and hoping that you would finally notice them."

Arching a brow at the strange, almost wistful tone in her voice, Ichigo disregarded it before he got distracted. His eyes bored into her soft brown ones as he continued. "They're still saying that they like a stranger. The only thing they know about me is my image."

Orihime sat there silently. Watching as her crush tried to explain his feelings to her, left her speechless and floundering in unfamiliar waters.

"All right, let me put it this way …" Ichigo turned fully towards his confused friend. Leaning on the arm he had stretched along the back of the bench, he unintentionally caged her in before trying to further clarify his point. "Let's say that you were the one to give me chocolates."

That got her attention. Orihime quickly snapped her eyes up to meet his, stammering, "M-m-me?"

"Yeah, you." He answered with a good-natured grin. "That would mean something to me, because you are my close personal friend."

"Y-you wouldn't find it weird?"

"Why would it be weird?" Ichigo asked in confusion. "I think that it would be obvious. To receive chocolates from one of your nakama shows that they think of you in the same way you think of them. That you hold a special place in their lives."

"A special place in their lives …" Orihime repeated quietly to herself, wrapping his words around her like a warm blanket before shyly glancing up at him. "Is …is that really how you feel, Kurosaki-kun?"

"Well …yeah." He answered hesitantly before kneading the back of his neck. "I don't make friends as easily as you do, so the few that I have are important to me."

"That's not true. You have lots and lots of friends." She gestured grandly, emphasizing just how big lots and lots really was before scolding him sweetly. "You shouldn't sell yourself so short."

"There's a difference between acquaintances and true friends, Inoue. I'm talking about Chad, Tatsuki, Renji, Rukia, Keigo, Mizuiro …hell, even Ishida …" Ichigo paused to lick his lips before glancing directly into her eyes, whispering, "and you."

Wordlessly staring at each other, their bodies involuntarily leaned in, closer, almost touching. Fierce brown eyes, softened to warm amber as Ichigo fell into Orihime's gentle gaze and he impulsively lifted a hand, wanting to brush his fingers over her flushed cheek. Drawing closer, his eyes drifted shut.

A sudden gust of wind howled through the deserted park and snapped them both back to awareness. Jerking back to their original positions, facing front, they awkwardly looked everywhere, but at each other.

An uncomfortable silence descended on them as Ichigo tried not to focus on what almost just happened. His poor mind couldn't even begin to fathom the fact that they had almost k-k-k …

Dammit, it was only a four letter word. And two of the letters were even repeated, so that should have made it easier for him to say. Obviously not. Roughly kneaded the back of his neck, he scrambled to find the friendly compatibility that they had shared earlier before their almost k-kiss.

Taking the coward's way out, Ichigo sat up and glanced around at the gloomy encroaching darkness. "It's getting kind of late, Inoue. How about I walk you home?"

Orihime was quiet for a moment, not really wanting to leave this magical place quite yet. Besides, she really didn't think her legs would hold her. They seemed to have turned completely to jelly a few minutes ago.

With butterflies tumbling madly in her tummy, Orihime peeked up and met Ichigo's equally timid gaze before asking. "Can we stay a little longer? It's such a nice night."

Ichigo looked up at the mist shrouding the streetlights and shook his head, curling his lip in disbelief. "Uh huh, it's cold and starting to drizzle. And you call this nice?"

"Yeah."

Orihime answered him dreamily as she pulled the collar of her coat up further. Ichigo glanced down at her curiously, and settled back against the bench. It wouldn't kill him to be patient and wait until she was ready to go home. Feeling her shiver slightly, he couldn't help but wonder if her thin coat was keeping out the cold.

Watching her from the corner of his eye as she huddled deeper in her coat, Ichigo swallowed thickly before once again stretching his arm out along the back of the bench. He darted his eyes down to see if his move made Orihime uncomfortable before he closed the distance between them.

"Are you warm enough?"

Sheltered from the wind in the curve of his body, Orihime blushed when she thought about how close they were sitting, but privately enjoyed the warmth radiating from her friend. Lost in pleasant imaginings, she was pulled from her daydreams when Ichigo playfully tugged on the ends of her hair, waiting for her to answer him.

"Umm, y-yes …this is nice." She timidly admitted, ducking her head to avoid his gaze. "Actually, it's always nice when I'm with you, Kurosaki-kun."

"You really mean that?" Ichigo demanded as he sat upright, feeling his heart race at Orihime's quietly spoken words. At her jerky nod of affirmation, he felt the corner of his mouth kick up in a smug grin as he settled back, murmuring. "That's good. I like being with you, too."

Sitting in comfortable silence, side by side, and almost touching, the two of them sank into their individual thoughts, neither realizing just how similar their dreams really were.


Walking her home later on, Ichigo kept his hands tucked into his pockets as he watched his friend animatedly discuss her favorite movie. They had companionably talked about random things at first, until he mentioned a new movie that was coming out next week. Orihime had eagerly joined him in expressing her desire to see it as well, before she began listing her favorites.

Ichigo listened attentively as the gentle healer counted off her top ten on her fingers. Nodding his head in agreement with several of her choices, it never ceased to amaze him just how much they had in common. Their personalities and temperaments were so different, but they still seemed to be in sync in so many other ways.

"You know, we should really do that sometime."

Pausing with her mouth open, Orihime blinked at the orange haired man beside her as she mentally reviewed their prior conversation. "Do what, Kurosaki-kun?"

"What we were just talking about, going to see a movie."

Hurrying to catch back up to his side, she glanced up at him in confusion. "But, we just went last week …remember?"

"I know that, but it was with Tatsuki, Uryu, and Chad." Turning his face away, seemingly paying close attention to not running into the crowd outside the pachinko parlor, he casually asked. "Is there something wrong with just the two of us going for once?"

"Just the two of us?" Orihime felt her heart trip unsteadily as Ichigo nodded yes. Licking her lips, her eyes dropped to the ground as she answered him slowly. "I-I wouldn't mind, but don't you think that people will get the wrong idea and think it's a date."

He froze at her words, feeling his heart clench painfully. Ichigo looked to the side, and wondered if it was too late to backpedal and make a joke out of it. Opening his mouth with the intention of laughing off his invitation, he bit back an awkward chuckle when Orihime started wildly flailing her hands and stammering.

"If people think it's a date, they'll tease you …and you might get all embarrassed, and then you won't want to hang around me anymore." She trailed off mournfully as she twisted her hands together. "I really don't want to do anything to make you uncomfortable."

Swallowing thickly, Ichigo felt a goofy grin tug at his mouth as he stared blindly at the sidewalk. It wasn't that Orihime was embarrassed to be seen with him, but more that she was concerned for his comfort. That was so like her.

Tilting his head down to better see her face, he quietly asked. "Would it be so bad if it really was a date?"

"A date …" Orihime whispered shakily before pleading for clarification, "with Kurosaki-kun?" She blinked in astonishment as Ichigo nodded his head in the affirmative. She stared up at him with a dazed smile, mindlessly rubbing the newly stinging spot on her arm before seeking further assurance. "Are you asking me out?"

Kneading the back of his neck in uncertainty, he stopped in the middle of the stairs leading to her apartment. A self-conscious smile curled his lips as he awkwardly answered. "Yeah, I suppose I am."

"Wow …you're much braver than I am."

"Huh? Was that meant to be some kind of answer?" Ichigo demanded in puzzlement, wondering if he somehow missed the part where she agreed. She was going to say yes, wasn't she?

Dropping her eyes to her locked door, Orihime fumbled with her key, mumbling in embarrassment. "Sorry, I didn't mean to say that aloud."

"You don't have to answer me right now. Think about it if you want." He assured her as his stomach churned with nerves, hoping that she wouldn't take too long to give him an answer … preferably a positive one.

Staring at the orange haired substitute shinigami in thought, Orihime bit her lip before hurriedly opening her door. "Hold on …I have something for you." Orihime stated resolutely before kicking off her shoes and disappearing into her dark apartment.

Returning with a small cellophane bag tied with a small pink bow, she darted her eyes up to meet Ichigo's before thrusting the package at him.

Ichigo arched a brow, still wondering if he missed something, namely her agreeing to their date before asking. "Is this supposed to be your answer?"

"No"

"Your answer is no?"

"No, my answer is yes."

"You just said yes to going to the movies, right?"

"Yes." Orihime firmly declared as her heart pounded unsteadily in her chest. Holding the chocolates out to him, her smile was wobbly as she fought back a blush. "Happy Valentine's Day, Kurosaki-kun."

Carefully taking the bag from her trembling hands, Ichigo turned the small bundle over in his hand before curiously declaring. "I was beginning to wonder when I'd get my chocolates."

"Huh?"

"Tatsuki told me earlier that you made homemade valentines chocolates for me, and I was just curious if I'd ever get them or not."

Orihime stood there with her mouth hanging open in disbelief before unconsciously repeating. "Tatsuki-chan told you?"

"Yeah," he answered distractedly as he carefully opened the bag and plucked at small chocolate heart from inside. "She said that you wimped out this morning." Ichigo murmured with a grin before popping the candy in his mouth.

"I did not wimp out." Orihime pouted huffily. Crossing her arms across her chest, she lifted her chin, turning her face away as she muttered under her breath about sneaky traitorous best friends. "I just figured that you already had plenty of chocolates and I didn't want to be responsible for you getting a cavity."

"Uh huh" he murmured sarcastically as he dug another candy from the bag, this time a small chocolate ball dusted with green tea. Letting the chocolate melt on his tongue, he closed his eyes to better savor the rich, syrupy sweetness. Ichigo glanced down at her familiar, blushing face before smiling sincerely in appreciation.

"Thanks for worrying about my health, Inoue, but these are really good. It would have been a real shame to miss out on them."

Biting the edge of her lip, she practically melted into a little puddle of Orihime goo at his feet, thinking that there should be a law against him having such a charming smile. Willing her poor heart to calm down as her blush spread, sending hot color over her entire face, she whispered. "I'm really happy that you like them, Kurosaki-kun."

"So, what movie do you want to go see?"

"Umm …" Orihime stood there in a daze, unable to keep up with Ichigo changing the subject. She knew that he was asking her a question, but she couldn't seem to get her brain to engage and actually answer.

"No suggestions? I'd say something other than a horror or action film. I think we see enough of that in real life already." Ichigo declared with a roll of his eyes. Pleased when Orihime return his grin with a smile of her own, he searched his mind before asking. "How about that new comedy we talked about? It's supposed to be a good one."

"Yeah, I'd like that." She breathed out dreamily as a pretty pink blush stained her cheeks.

"Friday night sound good to you?"

Shaking herself out of her preoccupation, Orihime stammered anxiously. "B-but that's only four days away."

Ichigo glanced at her uncertainly, wondering if he was moving too fast for the gentle healer. "What's wrong, do you already have plans?"

"N-no," she stuttered out, knowing that she'd never be able to wrap her mind around going on a date with Ichigo in only four days. For that, she'd need about two weeks for the truth to fully sink in, and then another two months to actually believe it.

"We can go a different time if you like. Maybe Sunday afternoon or …"

"Friday's perfect!" Orihime blurted out loudly before slapping her hands over her mouth, horrified by her outburst.

"Are you sure?" He asked curiously, concerned that she was just being her normally agreeable self. Watching Orihime nod her head eagerly, Ichigo straightened to his full height, tilting his chin at an arrogant angle. "Alright, Friday it is."

Orihime nodded again in agreement as she continued to press her fingers to her lips, trying to hold back a squeal of abject delight.

"I'd better get home, otherwise my old man will spaz on me for being late."

Tucking the bag of candies in his coat pocket, Ichigo hooked his thumbs in his belt loops and shuffled his feet awkwardly. "Thanks again for the chocolates, Inoue."

"You're welcome." She smiled shyly up at him from behind her fingers. Slowly dropping her hands as she scuffed her sock covered foot against the concrete landing, Orihime fidgeted for a moment before wishing him a Happy Valentine's day.

"You too." He replied quietly before ducking his head. Shoving off from the railing and turning towards the stairs, Ichigo stopped on the top stair, glancing over his shoulder at Orihime's nervously fidgeting figure. Feeling a small grin tug at his lips, he headed down the steps, murmuring, "See you tomorrow."

"Goodnight …"

He paused on the bottom step, his hand clutching the metal banister as Orihime's whispered farewell reached him. Tilting his head back up, Ichigo had no control over his smile that grew at the sight of the gentle healer leaning over the railing above him. Her long hair was swinging free and dancing around her face in the evening breeze as she smiled happily down at him. Feeling his heart trip in his chest, he negligently waved goodbye before turning quickly and making his way through the misty night towards home.

*

Watching him disappear into the darkness, Orihime clutched her hands to her chest, feeling her poor heart trip. She would have thought that this was all a dream, except the pinch she had administered earlier assured her that this was real, and Ichigo really had asked her out.

Figuring that she should get inside her apartment before an excited squeal escaped, Orihime glanced in the direction Ichigo had gone one last time before skipping happily indoors.

*

Sliding his hands in his pockets, Ichigo fought against the urge to thrust a fist in the air and shout in celebration. Today was truly awesome. He couldn't wait until he was alone in his room so he could play back tonight in his mind. He especially wanted to remember Orihime expression when she questioned if he was really asking her out. If he hadn't been so damn nervous, he probably would have laughed at her wide dazed eyes and the way her mouth had fallen slack.

Shaking his head as he turned down his street, Ichigo was pretty certain that Orihime had pinched herself, as well.

*

Taking a chocolate from the tray on the counter, Orihime restlessly wandered around her apartment as she nibbled on the candy. This was the best day of her life. Spinning around happily, holding her arms wide as she stumbled around her furniture. She dizzily dropped to her knees, swaying from side to side, caught in a wonderful dream.

Flopping on her back, Orihime stared up at the ceiling. Tatsuki was probably waiting at home near the phone, wondering impatiently if the seeds she sneakily planted bore fruit. What a truly wonderful best friend she had. Licking a smear of chocolate off the side of her finger, she would definitely have to thank Tatsuki-chan later.

Who knew that today would turn out quite as amazing as it did.

*

Taking another chocolate from the bag before tucking it back into his pocket, Ichigo definitely didn't want his family, or Rukia to find out about these. He would never hear the end of it if they did, and he really wished to keep this a secret between Orihime and himself for the time being. It wasn't anyone else's business, but theirs …and most likely Tatsuki's, too.

Biting into his piece of chocolate, Ichigo enjoyed one last minute of quiet before he went inside, still finding it hard to believe that today turned out the way it did.

*

Two people, in different parts of town, but they unknowingly shared one identical thought …

Success had never tasted quite as sweet as this.


A/N: Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

I hope you enjoyed the gooey sweet fluffiness. This is part one of my fic for the FLOL Valentine contest. So, that means you can expect the companion piece a month from now on White Day.

I hope that you all enjoy your day in whatever manner you choose to celebrate it. Have a great one! ~Rairakku