Sweet Success part 2: White Day

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

Following his sisters to the train station on the morning following his date with Orihime, Ichigo cursed under his breath as he thought back on last night's disaster. It should have been quite the milestone for him. He had finally found the nerve to ask Orihime out, and then spent the rest of the week bouncing between nervous anxiety and smug anticipation.

Only to have their date turn into a total bust, if you could actually refer to it as a date. The only word that came to Ichigo's mind was catastrophe …with a capitol R, for Rukia.

The one thing he hadn't counted on was the raven-haired shinigami that still claimed his house as her human world headquarters. Ichigo had thought that he'd been nonchalant and sneaky about his upcoming date, telling no one, afraid that his dad, or Rukia, or Rangiku, or even Renji would find out and give him no end of grief over the matter. As it turned out, of those listed, only his dad had been absent from the theater last night.

Letting loose another curse as he rounded the corner in his sisters' wake, he had completely underestimated Rukia's penchant for nosiness. Ichigo never believed that she would even notice, let alone, wonder why he was leaving the house. And then, to actually have the nerve to follow, calling Renji to tag along with her self-important mission was really too much, even for a busybody like her.

By the time he had realized that he was being followed, he had already nervously knocked on Orihime's door, only to be promptly been knocked down by an enthusiastic Rangiku. Someone -not that he was naming names or anything, but he was pretty certain their initials were Rukia Kuchiki- had called the busty lieutenant, who then dragged her icily irritated captain with her to Orihime's apartment. All in perfect time to ambush him.

Not one of them had even considered that he was alone at Orihime's, on a Friday night, dressed neatly –for him- and practically sweating bullets all because this was actually a fucking date!

No, they simply assumed that he was walking with Orihime to the theater to meet up with the others. The fact that it was a date never once crossed their feeble little minds. Was it really so hard of a concept for them to understand? It's not as if he was talking about astrophysics or foreign economics, but simply a date with Orihime.

Did none of them believe that he could actually get a date with her? Or did they merely doubt that he had the balls to ask her?

So, what should have been a chance for Ichigo to show the gentle healer that he was interested in something more that just friendship. He had been wondering if Orihime might start thinking of him as possible boyfriend material and not just that of a good friend. Instead, he got a circus, one that came complete with clowns.

Approaching the station, he came to a sudden stop and looked back over his shoulder, sensing a certain redheaded healer nearby. Ichigo felt like he should apologize to her for last night's fiasco. It hadn't been an ideal date. Hell, he wasn't even certain that it qualified as a date since he didn't even get to sit beside her, but had been trapped between a coldly disapproving Hitsugya and a popcorn munching Renji.

Wanting to talk to her while he had the chance, he glanced back over his shoulder, thankfully not seeing his sisters anywhere in sight. Ichigo definitely didn't want them to overhear his conversation. One little innocent comment made at home about him talking to Orihime, and his dad would excitedly swoop in -much like a hawk spotting its prey- and harass him to no end. That would be a nightmare of mammoth proportions.

Stopping himself from getting worked up over the imagined interrogation his father would perform, Ichigo focused on where he last felt his friend's reiatsu. He searched slowly Orihime's unique spirit pressure, her calming warmth drew his attention down the street and to a store that he had just passed a moment ago. A pastry shop. How appropriate.

Watching as Orihime slowly glided through the door, he couldn't help but grin over her enraptured expression as she stared at the sweet in her hands as if it was the Holy Grail. She looked like she was lost in a sugary glazed dream world as she headed straight into oncoming traffic.

Tch, here we go again …

Racing forward, Ichigo wrapped his hand around her thin arm before jerking her backwards, and directly into his chest. The feel of a soft, sweet-smelling woman in his arms had bright coloring climbing in his cheeks as Orihime squeaked in surprise before wiggling free of his unintentionally tight hold.

Releasing her with a confused shake of his head, Ichigo stepped back as his guileless friend stared up at him in a daze, and most likely wondering where he came from.

"Hey, Inoue."

A wide smile spread across her pretty face as she rocked back and forth on the balls of her feet, "Good morning, Kurosaki-kun!"

His mind blanked entirely when she smiled at him like that. Everyday it was the same. Orihime would probably be surprised to know just how much he looked forward to seeing it. That wonderful mega-watt smile of hers, the one he had fought so hard to protect, always seemed to make his day a little brighter; his heart beat a little faster, and his own lips curve into a little smile of their own.

Ichigo flattened his traitorous lips back into a straight line before they had a chance to curve into a full-fledged smile. Yes, he was happy to see her, but that didn't mean he was going to start grinning like some love-struck idiot every time he seen her. He had a reputation to protect, after all.

Awkwardly kneading the back of his neck, he wracked his brain for some kind of conversation before deciding to stick with the most obvious topic at hand. "So, what have you got there?"

"It's a brand new item. Doesn't it look so very delicious?" she inquired excitedly, holding up her glazed donut for him to inspect.

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't you supposed to eat it, instead of just staring at it?"

She looked down at the sweet in her hands with a thoughtful frown before quietly admitting. "I've been looking forward to this all week. What if it isn't as good as I imagined?"

Arching a brow at her statement, Ichigo felt his ego plummet to the bottom of his stomach. Instead of looking forward to their date, like he had been, she had been eagerly anticipating a new flavor of donut? Obviously, he rated below food on Orihime's scale of importance.

What a truly humbling revelation.

Ichigo watched as she timidly nibbled on the edge of her pastry. Chuckling over her awe-struck expression, he stood back as she happily wolfed down the donut before licking her fingers in an oddly tormenting fashion. He was spellbound by the sight of her fingers disappearing into her mouth one after another, as she practically moaned in appreciation of how yummy it was.

As if that wasn't bad enough, a small piece continued to cling to the corner of her mouth, hypnotizing him, tempting him, making him want to lick it off and see if it was a yummy as she said. Shaking that thought out of his head, Ichigo unthinkingly reached out to flick the distracting crumb away. His heart sped up at the feel of her breath rushing out over his fingers, and had him yanking his hand back with a muttered apology.

Nodding his head in the negative when Orihime asked if there was anything else on her face, Ichigo blew out a steadying breath, wondering where this fascination with her mouth had come from. Awkwardly looking around them, searching for something to say, he blurted out the first thing that came to mind. "I'm sorry about last night."

"Why are you sorry? It was a lot of fun." She stated cheerfully. Tucking a strand of flyaway hair behind her ear in an artless manner, Orihime smiled at his doubtful huff before answering. "It was. At least I think everyone had a good time, didn't they?"

"Tch, at least it wasn't all on my dime." Ichigo complained before jerking up his head, sending his friend a warning look when Orihime worriedly started to apologize. "Don't even go there. I invited you, remember?"

"B-but …" she stammered out before meeting Ichigo's serious gaze. Leaving off with her argument, Orihime twisted her fingers together before skipping on ahead. "I didn't get to thank you for last night."

"No problem."

Casually following her happily bouncing figure down the sidewalk, he contentedly watched her long hair swing from side to side with each step she took. Ichigo tucked his sweating hands into his pockets before asking. "So, are you game to try again next weekend? Maybe we'll have better luck this time."

Orihime came to a sudden stop, almost as if she had run into an invisible wall before turning around with questioning lift of her brow, "A second date?"

"Well, yeah."

"With Kurosaki-kun?"

"No, with Keigo." He deadpanned, rolling his eyes before declaring indignantly, "Of course with me."

Orihime laughed at his affected scowl before rubbing the back of her neck as a light pink blush spread across her cheeks. "Sorry, I guess I'm still having a hard time believing that Kurosaki-kun wants to date me."

Why wouldn't he want to date her? Wanting to ask what she meant by that, Ichigo glanced back over his shoulder as he heard someone calling his name. His sisters had obviously backtracked to find him when they realized that he was no longer behind them.

Thankfully, they didn't see the need to make any comment at finding him alone with his beautiful classmate. Instead, Yuzu eagerly talked about their planned trip, and their final destination, the Shin-Yokohama Ramen museum.

Finding out that the gentle healer had always wanted to visit the museum and that she didn't have any other plans for the day, Yuzu and Karin disregarded her protests and towed her down the street and into the train station. Rolling his eyes as his sisters practically kidnapping his friend, Ichigo slowly followed them into the dimly lit station, wondering if he should rescue Orihime, or not.

After a rough start where Orihime apologized repeatedly for spoiling their family trip, Ichigo somehow managed to convince her that she was more than welcome to join them. Surprisingly, mentioning that he was glad that she was coming along stopped her arguments completely, and left her speechless and blushing, instead.

The train ride passed quickly as he listened to Orihime and Yuzu talk about everything they wanted to see and eat while at the museum, a list that took up much of the forty-minute trip. What was left of the morning was spent companionably walking through the museum before they all headed down to the lower levels for the theme park and a chance to grab some lunch.

Groaning good-naturedly over Orihime's indecision of which of the eight shops she wanted to try, Ichigo took her by the hand and guided her to the first shop. After telling her that they could share a half order from each place if she wanted, the gentle healer's blinding smile was payment enough for the stomachache he was sure to suffer later. Although, he did plan to keep her from putting anything too questionable into their food.

Even with the need to keep a protective eye on the three females with him, Ichigo still found himself having a great time just doing nothing more than wandering around the highly imaginatively named Ramen Town. His enthusiastic companion had a lot to do with that. Orihime turned, what he thought would only be a boring family duty into something fun.

Thoroughly enjoying his time with Orihime, Ichigo didn't even put up much of a fight when she dragged him into a photo booth. Sitting side by side as the camera clicked, she directed each shot like some movie producer, having them cross their eyes, flex, and scowl. Although, when his friend imperiously demanded a smile, she ended up having to take matters into her own hands, and propped up the corners of his mouth with her fingers.

Later on, laughing at their black and white strip of silly pictures, Ichigo was too involved with teasing the blushing redhead about her scowl being much better than his to even notice the look his sisters' shared. Nor, did he see their subsequent nods of approval.

Straightening from his position as he watched Orihime bound through the door on the school's roof, Ichigo waved her over. "Hey, I didn't know if you got my message, or not."

"Since your little paper football hit me in the back of the head, I couldn't very well ignore it, now could I?" she teased as she playfully rubbed her head in mock reproof before coming to sudden attention and saluting him sharply. "Your orders were to meet you on the roof, ten minutes before lunch hour was over. Is that correct, captain?"

"Yeah, yeah, at ease, you fruitcake."

Giggling at his teasing, Orihime dropped her pose before tilting her head to the side, curiously asking. "What did you want to talk about?"

"I wanted to know if you had somewhere special you wanted to go for our date. We didn't exactly make any definite plans."

"Oh, that's right."

"So, any ideas?"

Swaying from side to side as she tried to think of something, Orihime faced him with a bright eager smile. "What does Kurosaki-kun want to do?"

"I asked you first. So, you have to come up with an answer."

"How is that fair?" Crossing her arms over her chest with a pout, she frowned at him worriedly. "I might choose something that you don't want to do."

"Good try, Inoue." Ichigo drawled out as he watched her chew anxiously on her bottom lip. His resolve to force her to make a decision shriveled up in the face of her obvious distress. Sighing, he searched his mind for something that she liked to do, wanting only to make her worried expression go away.

"If I remember right, you used to talk about the Tokyo Comedy Club. I think one of the comedians is performing in Shibuya this weekend." Smirking when she started her usual worry about the cost, he couldn't resist smugly putting a halt to her protests by stating, "And the show is free."

"But, do you want to go?"

"It sounds like fun." Shrugging his shoulders negligently, Ichigo arched a brow challengingly at his indecisive friend. "So, what do you say?"

"Yeah, it does sound like fun." Orihime admitted hesitantly, still uncertain if he really wanted to go or if he was only humoring her.

"I'll find out the particulars, and let you know what time we'll have to leave, all right?"

Nodding her head in agreement, she fidgeted shyly before stating. "Now that we've decided, I should really get back before Tatsuki-chan comes searching for me."

"Actually, there was something else I wanted to ask you." Ichigo slowly replied. Waiting for her to look up at him, he figured it would be easier to just come right out and ask her. "The other morning, when we went to the museum with my sisters, you said you were still having a hard time believing that I wanted to date you. Why?"

"Well, I …" Orihime trailed off helplessly. She was taken completely by surprise by his question, and didn't know how to answer without revealing her feelings.

Stepping closer, the substitute furrowed his brows as he watched varied emotions march through her eyes as she struggled to find an answer. "Yeah?"

The gentle healer felt her eyes grow wide when she realized just how close Ichigo was to her, and then, there was that look in his eyes. She didn't know why he was looking at her like that and continuing to get closer. "I …I …"

"You two had better not be up here sucking face."

"Tatsuki-chan," Orihime gasped out, her tone heavy with embarrassment as she spun around to face her smirking best friend.

"Heh, I don't hear you saying anything, Ichigo. By your lack of denials, I'm going to guess that was exactly what you were thinking about, wasn't it?"

"Shut up. I'm not saying anything because I don't want to embarrass Inoue any more than she already is. Something you don't seem to have a problem doing, though." Ichigo stated pointedly as he scowled at his interfering friend, feeling a telling blush creep over his face.

So what if he had been thinking about kissing Orihime. It wasn't any of Tatsuki's business anyway. Even though, he was pretty certain that the overprotective tomboy wouldn't see it that way. She took her position as the healer's self-appointed guardian damn seriously. He supposed that it was like in all the storybooks, you had to first get passed the dragon before you can get to the princess. Just his luck.

"I'm just teasing her, you prude. I'll be old and gray before you ever find balls enough to kiss Orihime." Tatsuki drawled out, giving her childhood sparring partner a once over, wondering -not for the first time- if it was possible that he was actually gay. "Although, you did surprise me when you finally asked her out. I honestly wasn't expecting that for at least a couple more years."

"Dammit, would you not broadcast it."

"What, are you embarrassed for people to find out that you're dating?"

"Not so fucking loud." Ichigo hissed. His eyes automatically scanned from side to side, looking to see if anyone was around to eavesdrop on them. "Of course I'm not embarrassed, but …but …"

Watching Ichigo flounder for an answer, Orihime swallowed back her own insecurities when she noticed Tatsuki's jaw tighten as her hand curled into a fist. She knew that her best friend was only worried about her. However, she didn't think Ichigo should be pressured to make their relationship public if he didn't want to, and it was pretty obvious that it made him uncomfortable to talk about it.

Figuring that she'd better come to Ichigo's aid before Tatsuki took offense at his stammering and pounded him. "We're super secret private eyes." She blurted out excitedly, ignoring the completely dumbfounded looks she was receiving. Orihime tapped her chin in thought before musingly admitting, "Actually, we're more like spies …super secret ones."

"So, the two of you keeping this under wraps is like a game or something?"

"Uh huh," Orihime nodded eagerly at her friend's statement before her expression slowly fell, "That's all right, isn't it?"

"Yeah, it's fine. You're not hurting anyone, after all." Tatsuki confessed with a small frown before peering closely at her friend's face, wanting to certify something, "Just as long as you're truly all right with it, too."

"Of course, it was my idea, after all."

Watching the two girls continue to talk, one animatedly and the other more reserved, Ichigo silently followed them down the stairs. He was grateful for Orihime's quick thinking, but he hoped that she realized that he wasn't embarrassed to be dating her. It was just that he really hated drawing attention to himself, and he knew full well what everyone would say if they found out.

For one, that he wasn't good enough for her.

Tch, no one has to tell me that. Ichigo was already quite aware of that fact. He just hoped like hell that Orihime wasn't agreeing to date him to try to spare his feelings. He would rather she just tell him that she only wanted to be friends, than have her date him out of pity.

Plowing his fingers through his short hair as he watched Orihime skip into their classroom ahead of him, Ichigo didn't really care for how she made him feel so vulnerable and uncertain of himself. It only made worse by the fact that he didn't know if she had any deeper feelings for him, or not.

Their second date turned out just as bad as their first. Actually, it was quite possibly worse, since their first date didn't involve blood and death. Not exactly romantic by anyone's standards. Last week, he had shinigami coming out of the woodwork, and this time –when he wouldn't have actually minded one or two showing up- there were none to be found.

Maybe, if Rukia and Renji had been there, he wouldn't have made them miss the comedy performance, or ended up sticking his foot in his mouth as badly as he did. Ichigo knew that he hurt Orihime's feelings when he told her to stay back with his body, and to leave the fighting to him.

Fighting hollows was dangerous work, and he couldn't chance her getting hurt. Besides, it was his duty as Karakura's deputy shinigami to take care of all these fallen souls, not hers. Ichigo knew that he was being obsessively overprotective, but it would destroy him if he failed another woman that he …never mind, that wasn't what was important right now.

His current dilemma of how to make Orihime understand –without him having to use actual confession type words- why he didn't want her to fight, was important. Ichigo just wanted to say he was sorry for being such an overbearing idiot. Although technically, there wasn't any need for him to seek her forgiveness, especially after the way Orihime had spazzed out, saying that she completely understood and she wasn't mad.

But, he knew better. Her eyes told him a different story. She didn't understand his reasons, at all. And, Ichigo didn't feel confident enough to tell her.

Swallowing thickly as he stared up the stairs leading to her apartment, Ichigo shifted the bag of take-out to his other hand. He hoped that bringing Orihime one of her favorite meals as a peace offering would help smooth his way back into her good graces. It was still strange to think of Orihime being irritated at someone.

Irritated was actually too strong a word. Disappointed would probably be a better choice. Although, in reality that word sucked too, since the person she was disappointed in, was him.

Lining his apology out in his mind, he wanted Orihime to have a better idea of why he didn't like her fighting, all without revealing his true feelings at the heart of the matter. Quite the tall order. Waiting nervously for her to open the door, Ichigo shifted from foot to foot only to freeze when the door slowly swung open to reveal his friend dressed in sloppy sweats and her hair up in a loose ponytail.

Orihime blinked at him in surprise, her hand automatically reaching up to touch her hair in self-conscious discomfort as she stammered out. "Kurosaki-kun, what are you doing here?"

Taking a deep breath, he held up the take-out bag with a sheepish smile, inquiring hopefully, "Hungry?"

She stared at him silently for a moment before fully opening her door with a warm, welcoming smile. "You have perfect timing. Laugh Hour just started."

"Whoever said that third time's a charm, surely had shit for brains."

That probably wasn't the answer Chad was expecting when he asked –what he thought was an innocent question- how his friend's date went the night before. The gentle giant was honored to be one of the two people who actually knew that Ichigo and Orihime were dating, but he was beginning to wonder if ignorance –in this case- wouldn't be better.

Glancing over at his irritated friend, almost afraid to pry and set Ichigo notoriously short fuse off, Chad merely hummed sympathetically in reply. That seemed to be all the substitute needed from him, because he suddenly began to disjointedly rant about –from what Chad could understand- Rangiku ruining his date at the mall the day before.

It seemed that the busty lieutenant remembered that Orihime would be out of school until April, so Masumoto decided that they needed to have a girl day. Regardless of any other prior plans the healer might have made in advance.

Since according to the blonde lieutenant, "It was only Ichigo, and seriously, how much fun can one have shopping with him along?"

Chad, along with several people also riding the train, looked at Ichigo in concern as he mimicked the soul reaper in a mocking falsetto voice before he started cursing her and her deplorable habit of showing up where she wasn't welcome. Figuring that it would be best to just let his orange haired friend get it all out of his system, he leaned against the rocking wall at his back and simply listened.

Waving goodbye to his beleaguered friend from his front gate, Ichigo felt like an idiot for unloading on Chad like he had. His best friend shouldn't have to put up with his bad mood. But, if he was honest, he didn't feel nearly as pissed as he did earlier. Maybe it wasn't such a bad thing, after all. Besides, Chad was a damn good listener.

Entering his surprisingly quiet house, Ichigo kicked off his shoes, planning to sneak up to his room while his luck still held. A cheerful laugh drew him back from the stairs and had him peeking through the doorway into the kitchen to see his dad sitting at the table, calmly reading the paper as his sisters talked near the counter. However, the person that captured his attention was the smiling redhead presently serving his father a steaming cup of tea.

"Oh, Kurosaki-kun, you're home."

Her bright smile drew him fully into the room and Ichigo was surprised just how nice it felt to be welcomed home by Orihime. Snapping out of a daze by what sounded suspiciously like a muffled snort of amusement coming from his dad, he glared heatedly at the raised paper before awkwardly answering his friend.

"Yeah, just."

"You're probably wondering what I'm doing here."

"Well …"

His blonde sister planted herself in front of Orihime, wooden spoon in hand, as she answered for the redheaded healer. "I ran into Orihime-chan at the store, and then invited her back to exchange recipes, Ichi-nii."

"All right …"

Karin jumped in next, demanding, "Why didn't you ever mention that Orihime is into sports, Ichigo?"

"Because …"

"She's staying for lunch, too."

"That's …"

"She's going to show me how to play this baseball-soccer combo that she invented."

"Huh …"

Feeling overwhelmed by his sisters' nonstop barrage, Ichigo arched a brow, questioning if he heard Karin right. Baseball-soccer, what the hell was that? Surely only Orihime's imagination could come up with something bizarre like that.

Realizing that his sisters and friend were no longer paying attention to him, Ichigo dropped into the chair his dad wordlessly kicked out for him. Glancing at his dad warily, the orange haired shinigami was surprised to see his normally hyperactive father calmly sipping his tea while watching the three girls companionably cook.

Ichigo was surprised to see how comfortable Yuzu and Karin were around his friend, with both of them clamoring for her attention. The three of them filled the house with simple conversation and laughter while they continued to work. Ichigo sat quietly, trying to pinpoint just who Orihime reminded him of as he watched her happily bustle around the kitchen, much like she belonged there.

"She reminds me of your mom."

Breaking out of his pleasant reverie by the sound of his dad's voice, Ichigo turned and arched a brow questioningly. "What are you talking about, old man?"

"Orihime-chan, she's a lot like your mother. Although, Masaki didn't quite have the imagination like your friend has." Isshin admitted with a chuckle as he continued to observe his daughters bond with the pretty redhead gracing his humble kitchen with her soothing presence.

Sighing happily, Isshin watched Orihime effortlessly avert a silly argument brewing between the twins with nothing more than a laugh, an irrelevant statement, and a funny pose. His daughters were as different as night and day, but somehow the gentle teen handled them both with ease. She had even taken on his son's perpetual angsty attitude and made him smile, and that was a miracle in and of itself.

"I approve of you dating her wholeheartedly."

Snapping his head around to stare at his dad in horror, Ichigo opened and closed his mouth before finally managing to croak out, "What?"

"Hmm, I'm thinking that two grandchildren would be nice, but I won't complain if you decide to have more."

Isshin would normally be concerned if one of his patients turned that particular shade of red and started to stammer uncontrollably. However, since this was Ichigo, it just meant that a little father/son bonding time was imminent.

Surely, this was his lucky day.

Ahh, White Day. The day Ichigo promised that they would finally have a real date, even if it killed him. Orihime would rather he left off that last part. Death and dating really wasn't a good combination, even if it included diner and dancing.

Knocking herself upside the head, Orihime hoped to smack her sudden silly obsession with alliterations out of her head. Although, the only conversation going on tonight was the one she was having with herself. All through diner, there was more uncomfortable silence than anything else. Ichigo hadn't been deep in thought all evening, and it seemed that he'd rather be anywhere but here with her.

Sighing glumly, she couldn't help but feel that they were drifting apart. That their friendship was growing strained and weakening. Orihime didn't know what to do anymore. She was finally living her dream of dating Ichigo, but for some reason, neither of them were as happy as she thought they'd be.

Stumbling backwards after running into Ichigo's tense back, the healer blinked in confusion when he just stood there, silent and unmoving.

"If you didn't want to go out tonight, you only had to say so, instead of sighing every five minutes."

Clasping her hands together, Orihime felt her heart pound uncomfortably as she tried to understand what she did to upset him. "Umm, Kurosaki-kun, I do want to go out."

"Yes, but did you really want to go out with me?"

"Of course." Orihime nodded in emphasis, her expression tense and worried. Watching Ichigo arch a disbelieving brow, she anxiously twisted her fingers before admitting, "I just didn't think you wanted to go out with me."

Blowing out a shaky breath, Ichigo dropped his chin to his chest, mumbling, "Sorry for making you feel that way, Inoue." Roughly kneading the back of his neck, he glanced up at her with an embarrassed frown. "This is some date, huh?"

Meeting his gaze, Orihime gently laid her fingers on his arm, quietly asking. "It's not over yet, is it?"

"No, it's not." He declared ruefully. "Come on then, let's go." Taking her by the hand, he towed her through the arcade's doors and into a nightmare.

Ichigo stared in horror at the wide-eyed group gazing back at them in unflattering disbelief. Dropping Orihime's hand quickly, he stepped to the side, knowing that it was already too late to pretend that they weren't together.

This was certainly the night of uncomfortable silences. Orihime glanced at Ichigo out of the corner of her eye before swallowing thickly as she bravely faced their speechless friends.

This just wasn't her lucky day.

Calm, try to stay calm. Ichigo kept repeating that mantra, knowing that Orihime didn't like loud voices or fighting. Unfortunately, his meditative refrain wasn't really helping to drown out everyone's surprise over them dating.

Taking it the best he could, he glanced at Orihime in concern. The substitute ground his teeth together as he watched someone possessively wrapped an arm around her trembling shoulders.

Chizuiro pulled her precious redheaded love close as she glared at Ichigo, steam practically pouring from her ears before demanding. "What have you done to my innocent Hime, you dirty beast?"

Whatever. Rolling his eyes at her, the orange haired shinigami crossed his arms over his chest as Tatsuki knocked the freak away from the redheaded healer. Belatedly regretting his decision to come here in the first place, he tried to make it back to Orihime's side before turning his back as Rangiku pranced up to him.

Determined that they weren't going to get a rise out of him, Ichigo wouldn't even let Uryuu's condescending frown of disapproval bother him. Although, when the smug bastard shoved his glasses up his nose with a muttered, "I honestly don't know what she sees in him." That almost gained him a trip to his dad's hospital.

"I'm surprised, Ichigo." Mizuiro sauntered up with a teasing glint in his eye. "I wouldn't think that there'd be anything for you to use as blackmail against someone like Inoue."

Not getting Kojima's joke, Orihime flailed her hand, feeling on the verge of tears as she cried. "No, you guys have it all wrong."

"How, Ichigo," Keigo begged with tears streaming down his cheeks, his expression clearly disbelieving, as he demanded, "tell me how, someone like you could ever get a girl like Orihime to date you?"

Chad reached out to hold onto Ichigo's tense shoulder. He silently offered his support, and wisely keeping his best friend from pummeling everyone in sight, especially Renji, who still hadn't stopped laughing at the predicament the substitute shinigami found himself in.

"I'm just curious why Orihime would ever agree to date an emotional retard with a bad temper when she could do so much better."

That did it!

Trying to shrug off Chad's hold, there was no way he was going to take that kind of shit from Rukia of all people.

"Because I love him, that's why!"

Time froze as those words echoed through the room. Everyone's eyes slowly shifted to stare at the gentle healer as they tried to make sense of what she had just said.

Her eyes grew unnaturally wide when Orihime realized what she had just accidentally confessed. Slapping her hands over her quivering lips, she met Ichigo's unblinking gaze for only a moment before turning with a sharp cry of despair as she raced through the gathered crowd.

A pair of dazed amber eyes tracked her erratic path to the door as sudden possessive warmth spread through him. With those few words from her lips, all his doubts and insecurities melted completely away.

She loves me!

Shaking free of his paralysis as he watched Orihime disappear outside, Ichigo pulled free of Chad's unintentional hold before following fast on her heels, leaving their stunned friends behind.

He wasn't going to let her get away, not when he had things he wanted …no, make that needed, to say to her, as well.

Blindly rushing from the arcade and hurriedly across the street, Orihime teetered unsteadily as a car slammed on their brakes. She could feel hot color flood her face as she bowed repeatedly in apology to the now shouting driver as she stumbled backwards out of the street and onto the relative safety of the crowded sidewalk.

Turning with a mumbled apology to those around her, she threaded her way through the crowd, making her way to the nearby community park. If she had been thinking clearly, the healer would have gone in the opposite direction, and retreated to the familiar security of her apartment.

The healer followed the winding paths deeper into the park, barely noticing the twinkling lights strung through the trees lining the path. Orihime couldn't help but worry about what Ichigo thought about her now.

The way she blurted out her confession in front of everyone definitely put him on the spot. For someone who doesn't like being the center of attention, this was sure to irritate the orange haired vizard greatly. He might even hate her, not wanting anything more to do with her, and then an evil alien empire might invade, spreading their diabolical plans for world domination through subliminal messages hidden in Doraemon or…

"That was quite the announcement back there."

Lifting her face from her hands, Orihime cautiously looked up at the sound of Ichigo's voice. Willing her racing heart to calm down, she tried to comfort herself with the fact that he didn't sound like he was mad at her. But, that could also be because he was being nice to spare her feelings.

Steeling herself for whatever Ichigo had to say, the healer quickly brushed her telltale tears away before pretending interest in the lights strung through the nearby trees as he came to a stop behind her.

"I thought it was the guys place to give girls the gifts on white day, not the other way around."

Sniffing back the last of her tears, she curiously peeked over her shoulder before quietly murmuring, "A gift?"

"Yeah, you saying that you love me …" he trailed off as a goofy smile pulled at his lips Awkwardly kneading the back of his neck, Ichigo felt like his heart was going to burst as he stared at Orihime's profile before admitting. "It was definitely unexpected."

In an uncomfortable scene reminiscent of their time right after Aizen's defeat, they stood in silence, neither one knowing how to say all the things they wanted.

What should I do?

Why won't she look me in the eye?

Does he hate me now?

How do I make this better?

Coughing awkwardly to break the agonizing silence, Ichigo pulled a small white box from his jacket's inside pocket. He took a deep breath as his fingers unconsciously tightened around the package before he slowly held it out to her. "Here …"

"What is this?" Orihime asked, her voice trembling slightly as she turned to reach out to take the box from his outstretched hand.

"Your white day gift." Ichigo answered her simply before dropping his gaze to watch her fingers trace over the red ribbon holding the box closed, muttering. "I've been arguing with myself all night, wondering if I could actually give it to you or not."


"Open it, and see for yourself."

"Oh …" She breathed out in awe when she opened the lid. Carefully lifting out a heart shaped locket attached to a sliver chain, Orihime blinked back sudden tears, whispering shakily, "Oh Kurosaki-kun, it's beautiful."

His murmured glad you like it almost went unheard as the healer let the pendant dangle from the chain as the tree's fairy lights played over the delicate filigreed surface. The necklace was so very pretty, and so completely unexpected that she was left speechless, unable to even thank him as she continued to stare at the dangling silver pendant.

Following Ichigo's mumbled instructions to open it, Orihime caught her bottom lip between her teeth as she concentrated on locating the clasp. Fumbling with the locket's catch for a moment, she held her breath as she carefully pried the two halves apart. Only to feel those stupid tears return as she stared at the cutout of the two familiar faces staring back at her from inside.

"T-that's a picture of us. The one we took at the museum that day." Orihime whispered as unshed tears burned the back of her throat and threatening to spill down her cheeks. Looking up at Ichigo in confusion, she helplessly held out the locket, desperately wanting to know what he meant by this.

"I'm not any good with words …hell, you already know that." Ichigo grumbled out self-depreciatively, kneading the back of his neck as his gaze strayed to the side. "What I'm trying to say is that …is that this half-assed dating thing isn't working for me."

"Oh …" Orihime answered tightly, "I see." Her hand spasmodically clamped around the locket resting in her palm as her shoulders curled forward protectively, trying to shrink into herself and wanting only to disappear.

Realizing too late how his statement sounded, Ichigo threw his hands up in the air with a frustrated growl. "No dammit, you don't see …because I'm even totally fucking this up."

"It's all right, Kurosaki-kun. I understand." Orihime assured him with a surprisingly steady voice, all the while feeling as if her heart was breaking, shattering, bleeding. She needed to get away quickly before the tears welling up in her eyes bubbled over and escaped.

Stepping backwards, the healer forced her mouth into a tight smile, not wanting to make him worry about her feelings. "Even if you don't want to date, I hope that we can still be friends."

Ichigo stared at her in disbelief before making a wild grab for Orihime as she tried to withdraw. Wrapping his fingers around her trembling hands, his breath rushed in and out raggedly as he reached out to tilt up her chin, forcing her to meet his fierce gaze.

Feeling like he was teetering on some unknown precipice, the orange haired teen swallowed, fighting against a wave of strong emotions before practically yelling in her confused face. "Are you totally blockheaded, or just fucking oblivious?"


Squeezing her hands between his, his eyes blazed down at her. "I don't want to just date you, dammit. I want something more, for you to be my girlfriend."

"Y-your …your …"

"Girlfriend." He supplied helpfully before slowly relaxing as Orihime stared up at him in absolute wonder.

"B-but I thought …and then you …" she pulled her hands free to flutter uncontrollably through the air before her brows puckered in thought, "your girlfriend, really?"

"Yeah, really."

"I'm really confused. I thought that you didn't like our dates."

"You're right. They sucked big time." He agreed readily. Cramming his sweating hands in his pockets, Ichigo roughly cleared his throat before continuing. "But, the trip to the museum, eating take-out while watching Laugh Hour, and even having lunch with my family were just fine."

"So, you're saying that we just suck at regular dating?"

"Yeah, we really fail when it comes to dating." Ichigo stated unrepentantly. Watching Orihime stammer in helpless confusion, he took a deep breath, finally finding his resolve. "The thing is, I …Iloveyoutoo." He declared in a garbled rush before swooping in for a kiss. Except, he managed to screw that up, as well.

Pressing his hand to his nose, certain that he just put it out of joint, the substitute watched in embarrassment as Orihime gingerly poked at her lips. Feeling like a complete idiot, Ichigo realized that he really needed to rethink the swooping in part, and he probably didn't need to use so much force the next time, either. That is, if she let him try again after his stunning failure to even get their first kiss right.

"You really love me?"

Glancing up at Orihime's shakily whispered question, Ichigo wiped his sweaty palms on his jeans. "Y-yeah, I do."

Obviously, he didn't have to worry about their second kiss, because suddenly Orihime launched herself at him, swooping in much like he had, and with possibly as much force as he used, too. It seemed that they were both in need of practice. Otherwise, someone was going to end up with a chipped tooth or a broken nose if they didn't curb their enthusiasm just a little bit.

"Hold on." He muttered against her lips as Orihime hesitantly tried to ease back. Tilting his head to the side a bit, Ichigo met her dazed brown gaze before staring at her moist lips, murmuring. "Let's try this."

He shifted carefully, moving his arm around her narrow back as his lips brushed over hers. Once, twice, a third time before they settled and clung. Orihime's fingers fluttered restlessly against his shoulder before he reached up to guide her hand to the back of his neck. Encouraging her to hold on, his breath hitched as she shyly threaded her fingers through his hair to tenderly massage his scalp.

Her soft sigh quavered over his lips and Ichigo felt an answering shiver travel through him as he scattered kisses over her face. Tipping her head back, Orihime stretched up to firmly press her lips against his, instinctively searching for more. Returning the pressure, he marveled at how fragile she felt under his hands, delicate, in need of gentleness.

"Was that better?"

Her eyes flickered open to see the man she loved staring back at her curiously. He just asked her something, didn't he? Something about being better, maybe?

"Oh yeah, much better."

"Good." He sounded smug as hell before nudging her chin up. "Although, it wouldn't hurt anything to practice some more, would it?"

Giggling softly at his eager tone, Orihime nibbled on her bottom lip before curiously asking. "What should we tell everyone?"

"Nothing," he replied shortly. Dragging his parted lips over her soft cheek, Ichigo grumbled. "They can mind their own damn business, for once."

"Umm," Orihime fidgeted slightly, her eyes darting over his shoulder before whispering. "That might be a little difficult, Kurosaki-kun."

"They're all behind me, aren't they?"

"Uh huh."

"Tch, the hell with them and their constant interruptions." He growled out in irritation before hesitantly tilting up her chin. Staring into Orihime's dazed brown eyes, Ichigo brushed his thumb over her satiny cheeks, feeling pretty damn dazed himself before quietly declaring. "If they haven't got a life of their own, let 'em watch us live ours."

Ignoring their nosey friends, Ichigo figured he had much better things to do than to yell at the peanut gallery behind them as he gently dropped kiss after kiss on his new girlfriend's soft lips. Orihime's breathy sigh pierced straight through him and had him tightening his hold on her slender figure as they lost themselves in this addicting new pastime, completely forgetting about their avid audience.

Jubilant shouts echoed from behind them as the two teens sank back into their kiss. Tatsuki, Rukia, and Rangiku shared a knowing look, quite pleased with the outcome of all their interfering. The three women sat side by side on a nearby bench, one with an unimpeded view of the entwined redheaded couple, and let loose a collective sigh of relief.

It had taken them plenty of time, but it was well worth it.

Success like this tasted pretty damn sweet.


A/N: Second part, complete! I'm sorry if certain parts seemed rushed or not as clear as they could have been, especially their individual emotions. For some reason, this chapter truly drove me nuts, absolutely bonkers in fact. In spite of all that, I hope that it was still an enjoyable read.

For those of you who reviewed the last chapter, I'd like to offer a special thanks to BleachFanJL, Fostersb, chuchootrain, xNocturnalxShadowx, Emuri, Enelya87, ReverIchihime, SheWhoDaydreams, and Maniz. Thank you all so much.

Thanks for reading, everyone. ~Rairakku