OHMYGOODNESS [flail splutter flail] You don't know how excited I am for Tanabata! Er, how excited I was... Although I'm still excited! I can't wait to see what everyone else has done, along with desperately, desperately hoping people will like this. Yes, I know it's horribly long. 25,000 words, seriously! I think this turned out good, but my only concern is that people would see the length of this right off the bat and say NOPE, too long, and ignore it. XD Gah, not lying, my heart is racing right now, lol. And I'm just typing this AN on the fourth! Yep, I'm writing this on the Independence Day and I'm already freaking out. Just... Wow, yeah, I'm ridiculously enthusiastic about Tanabata and this story, maaan. I was so excited that when I initially finished this, which was probably about a month ago, I printed out all the pages to physically edit them at school and stuff, lol. Around 45 pages, man!

Now for a bit of clarification and what could possibly be considered spoilers, I'm going to tell you now that my intentions for this story was to have a modern retelling of the Tanabata legend, with our Orihime being, well, Orihime, and Hikoboshi as Ichigo. You'll eventually see who the "meanie" is (or for a technical term, the protagonist), but I swear, he's doing it for her well-being! So if it doesn't seem to be connected to Tanabata at all in the story, it's meant to be Tanabata itself, to be honest, lol.

And for a whopping thank you to my amazing betas, le_cuivre & ombrenocturne! Copper was with me every step of the way, giving me insight and helpful tips on how to go about certain ideas! Nagi was also exceptionally helpful by reading through it all, although I accidentally forgot to show her the ending at one point, and also pointed out little errors and suggesting changes. XD I love you guys, you're so amazing and thank you for the help!

Obnoxiously long author's note is long! Go ahead and read now!


:::

No matter how far apart we are, I'll always keep you close in my heart.

:::

Sharp amber brown eyes observed the busy sidewalk as the rider kept watch of people passing by or other bystanders he wouldn't want to hit while on his route. Bright orange bangs fell over his eyes, a few strands sticking to his sweaty skin while he panted hard as he trekked over the large hill.

As his feet pushed the petals of his black bike, the boy with blazing orange hair wondered why he had to do this particular delivery. Working for his family's business wasn't bad, however, his father had a working car he used to drive to locations just as far as he was going or further.

So why was he forced to deliver all the way across town on his bike? A bead of sweat rolled down his cheek as he pumped the foot petals faster, barely making out his designated delivery spot over the horizon.

Damn... I swear, I'm going to kill my dad when I get home, he grumbled inwardly, his always constant scowl etching deeper onto his teenage features. He huffed, clearly out of breath while pushing his bicycle up the suspiciously large hill. It wasn't much longer until he was in front of the store he was to deliver their supposedly infamous, 'Kurosaki Prime Beef'.

As the boy wiped his forearm across his forehead, he tried to regain his breath after this incredulous journey. Glancing up at the title of the store while setting his bike against the building, he frowned further.

His father sent him on a long-distance delivery by bike to a dry cleaning store.

A dry cleaning store.

The only upside to this location was the fact he probably wouldn't run into any nosey, troublemaking black-haired and redheaded friends of his. Even after knowing them for years already, they still took any chance they had to make fun of him for delivering beef all across Karakura Town. But the fact this place was on the other side of the city already gave him a bad impression. He had better things to do on a Saturday morning than going around distributing slaughtered cow.

Gruffly grabbing a hold of the boxed beef, he sighed as he made his way into the small building, gripping the handle of his delivery tightly. A small bell rang as he opened the door, feeling a refreshing waft of cold air into his face while stepping in.

"Did someone order some Kurosaki Beef?" He called out awkwardly, kneading the muscles in the back of his neck as he glanced around the surprisingly empty shop. Even after all these years, he still found it hard to say the name of their enterprise. It just sounded so damn cheesy; yet another thing his dad was infamous for.

"H-Hai!" A small voice rang out from the back of the store, sounding similar to that of a child's. He raised an eyebrow and waited for the person to come out. Besides the sound of his own foot against the hard surface, soft pitter-patter noises were heard, making the boy wonder just where this child was at in this building complex.

Although, as the recipient ran out, he finally determined it was a girl and she wasn't so little. Oh no, she was far from small. The girl was a teen and appeared to stand a few inches shorter than he, from what he could determine with the counter between the two. She had bright gray eyes, sparkling with the catching sunlight. Her honey hair spilled over her shoulders and well past her waist, with two turquoise hairpins neatly pinning back her bangs.

Now her form was far from that of a child's. In fact, he could feel his cheeks growing slightly hot as his eyes quickly assessed her figure. She was petite, wearing a dark blue tank top underneath a white baby doll tee, and a pair of jean shorts hugging her hips. Much to his surprise, she was blessed with a generous chest, but her otherwise innocent expression made him think she wasn't one to flaunt what she had. The thought of making a good first impression to her passed his mind, but he quickly shoved it aside.

"Uh, you said you ordered from us?" He asked her, holding up the box of goods. The girl's eyes grew wider in surprise and she nodded, her lips puckering into a slight pout.

"H-Hai! We ordered from you," she blurted out, her own cheeks growing a faint shade of red. Silence swept between the two as they continued to look at each other, not quite sure what else to say.

"Um, your total is 815 yen," the bright haired boy told her, snapping them both out of their weird stupor. He stepped closer to the counter, placing the small box on the top. Upon getting closer, the girl seemed to fidget further and her features sported a darker red. Again, he raised an eyebrow, curiosity growing the more he noted her flustered state.

"O-Oh! Right!" She squeaked, ducking beneath the counter for a quick moment to return up with a small pink wallet. "815, 815..." She mumbled to herself as she dug through the coins. "Yatta, 815!" A small cheer erupted from her lips as she pulled out the necessary amount of change and thrusted it towards the boy. "Here's your money, Beef Man-san!"

Beef Man-san? What the hell kind of name is that?

"Kurosaki..." He told her, taking the money from her dainty hands. "It's Kurosaki Ichigo. Not Beef Man-san..." He told her, averting his eyes away. This girl was pretty, but she definitely acted like a child. Seeing someone his age with so much innocence and naivety was something he'd never seen before.

The girl tucked her hair behind her ear before grinning big and nodded, pulling the box into her other hand. "I'm Inoue Orihime!" She told him, still giving him a blinding smile. "Thank you very much for your delivery work, Kurosaki-san!"

Ichigo fought back a small blush as he shoved the money into his pocket, replaying her words in his head. Never before had he been thanked for his work like the way she thanked him. Nodding dumbly, he turn-stepped back towards the door, determined to leave now.

"Will you come back, Kurosaki-san?" Orihime inquired, her disposition as if she had just gained a new friend within moments. Stopping and peering over his shoulder, Ichigo shrugged.

"Only if you order more," he told her as he opened the door again, the small bell going off once more. But as he left the shop and hopped on his bike, part of him wanted to go back to that small dry cleaning store. Not because they would order more of his family's meat, but because the girl with the honey-colored hair piqued his curiosity. She was interesting to say the least and what was the harm of getting to know her?


Two weeks later, Ichigo had gotten another delivery order from the dry cleaning place. A weird half-smile, half-scowl mixed on his face, his thoughts unsure of what he should do once he got to there.

But why should I have mixed emotions about going back? He wondered. He would go, drop off the package, and leave.

Or was it perhaps the girl named Orihime stirred some interest in him?

Although unfortunately for him though, his father gleefully pointed to his bike when he asked to take the car to deliver. Did his dad just love seeing him suffer?

So as he pedaled hard up that god-awful hill towards the hardly known cleaning store, he was left out of breath again, muscles crying for him to stop and rest. At least he knew he was getting somewhat of a workout with these long trips.

Huffing and puffing, he made it to the shop in one piece, very glad the ride there was finally over. Just like before, he leaned the bike against the outside wall, pulling at the collar of his shirt to cool himself down.

Dammit, just get in and out. No freaking reason to be nervous.

The small bell chimed again as he cautiously opened the door, inwardly welcoming the cold, familiar blast of air to his face.

"Hello?" He called out to no one in particular, although he sort of hoped it would be the honey-haired girl again. "Anyone here?" Ichigo got silence as an answer and he raised his hand to his head, scratching the thick locks in surprise that there was nobody around.

A loud crash scared him silly, making him jump in suprise. It appeared to come from the back room and he could only step closer to the front desk, eyes wide in concern over who or what fell just beyond the nearby walls.

"C-Coming!" The voice of a girl rang out, clearly distressed. Ichigo clenched his hand into a fist, opening his mouth at first to say something back, but immediately closed it, dissolving the idea. It wasn't long until Inoue Orihime tumbled out of the doorway, stumbling on her feet unceremoniously. Her features held a small blush and a shaky smile as she laughed nervously. "S-Sorry Kurosaki-san," she quickly apologized, clapping her hands together in a request for forgiveness. "I can be kind of clumsy..."

Kind of clumsy indeed... He mentally agreed before handing her the box of meat. "Same price as last time," he told her stiffly, trying his darnedest to look straight on at her instead of averting his eyes like a stupid, shy kind of guy. He wasn't a timid type of person, dammit.

"Same?" She cocked her head to the side, rolling her eyes to glance at the meat. She puckered her lips again and furrowed her brows similar to the way he did with his. Was she trying to remember what the price was?

"8-" He was going to tell her before she snapped her head up with a determined look on her face.

"NO! I can do this!" She told him fervently, pointing her finger at him. "I will remember, don't you worry, Kurosaki-san!"

His jaw went slack at her enthusiasm. Was he doomed to be here all day while she tried to remember the price? Although it wouldn't be so bad if he was to be stuck here for a while... He definitely wouldn't mind staying a place that was far, far away from his insane father.

However after giving it more thought, he was sure it wouldn't take her very long. After all, she had remembered his name, saying it twice already.

"815!" She cheered, slapping her hands onto the glass counter in front of her with an exuberant expression on her face. "Is that right?" Ichigo could only nod, a small smile tugging at the corners of his lips.

Wait.

She was making him amused? Amused enough to smile? Even he knew that was a rarity.

Orihime ducked behind the counter again, rambling off about something he didn't quite hear. She popped back up like a jack-in-the-box, the familiar pink wallet showing itself. Ichigo saw her mouth move and heard her talking about something, but she was talking so damn fast he didn't catch a word of it.

"And here's an extra 450 yen for you!" Was the last part he caught, hearing the extra tinkling of coins falling onto the counter. He gaped at her, then to the change, then back to her.

"You're tipping me?" He blanched, noting the tip was another first for him. She responded him with a neutral face, her big gray eyes shining with both honesty and interest.

"Hai!" She told him defiantly, putting her small hands on the pile of coins and giving them another little shove towards the tall, lean teen. "You're doing good work, so you get a reward." Her eyes almost commanded he take it, but somehow it felt wrong for him to take her money like that, even if it was a measly 450 yen.

Ichigo stared at the pile of money in front of him, glaring at it. The constant scowl of his quickly replaced that tempting smile from earlier.

"I can't take your money like that," he scoffed, using a slender finger to pick apart the payment for the meat and the tip. He eventually parted the two and took the 815 into his pocket, a jingling resounding through the store.

"But you deserve it, Kurosaki-san!" She protested, pushing the previously returned coins back towards his looming figure. Ichigo scoffed again, taking all the change into his hand for a brief moment and making her think he was going to take it.

"I don't deserve a damn thing," he told her, shoving his fist full of money towards her ample form instead. He glared at her somewhat softly, his hand unyielding in front of her. "Take it." She glanced at his hand then back at his uncompromising brown eyes before pouting again, reluctantly taking it.

"... I guess you'll just get it later then," she spoke quietly, putting the coins back into her small wallet. Ichigo rolled his eyes, noting how she was stubborn when it came to the status of others. With her refusing to take back the money when she clearly worked in a somewhat rundown shop made him wonder why she cared for others, even strangers, more than herself.

Tch, yeah right... Not if I don't let you, he mentally thought as he shoved his hands into his pockets.

But as he glanced around the shop once more, he couldn't help but frown at her situation. She really worked at such a dilapidated store, yet forced positivity for the sake of others? Part of him felt pity for her, in a sense.

"So... what is it you do?" Ichigo asked, shifting his weight to one leg. Her face suddenly lit up as if it were her favorite topic of discussion.

"I'm a tailor!" She chirped while pulling the white box close to her, opening it cautiously as if it'd explode of sorts. "People come in and need help with their clothes, so I fix it right up!"

Although he was in a dry cleaning shop, he didn't quite think that was what she did. However, the thought of her constantly pricking herself with a needle didn't seem to go over well with him. She seemed to fragile, one that would easily bleed, and even after living with a butcher for a father, the sight or idea of blood didn't always sit well in his stomach.

The thought of his dad repeatedly whacking his favorite knife over raw meat made him nauseous alone.

Nodding dumbly while fighting an uncomfortable shudder, the boy looked towards the nearby clock, noting the time. He should probably get back again soon, but staying here didn't seem so bad either.

"Does that mean you're a cow herder?" She inquired sweetly, tilting her head to the side again.

"... Excuse me?" Clearly Ichigo didn't get the analogy.

"You deliver the meat; does that mean you chase the cows around too?"

The urge to bring his hand to his face in exasperation was great, but he held back the desire and sighed heavily instead, shaking his head with a fervent "No," spilling from his lips. Besides, what would be so fun about chasing around a dirty, smelly, huge cow? Clearly she was not one for enjoying normal animals.

"Aww, that's too bad," she whined softly, propping her elbows onto the glass counter. "Going after cows is enjoyable, you know?" Ichigo rolled his eyes again, leaning against the counter as well.

"I'm sure it is," he mumbled, finding her enthusiasm over the weirdest things to be absolutely baffling. "And skipping with squids is probably fun too." Ichigo tried to crack a mild joke, his voice laced with sarcasm.

He had expected a laugh, as if understanding the joke, but he got far from laughter. Instead, he heard a loud gasp and saw the girl throw her hands up to her mouth, eyes shimmering with excitement.

"You think so too, Kurosaki-san?"

Now was the time he brought his hand up to his forehead, resulting in a soft slap sound resounding through the room.

"Eh? Who is this Orihime?" A much lower voice called out from the doorway. Ichigo glanced up and met his eyes with smoky gray ones, brows furrowing slightly in concern. "A customer?" Orihime shook her head as she smiled, folding her hands together tightly.

"Ah, this is Kurosaki-san, Onii-chan," she quickly explained to him. "He's the one who's been delivering the beef." The man behind her, apparently this girl's brother, looked at the bright haired teen cautiously, as if he were more than he appeared to be.

"So he has..." Her brother commented as he stuck out his hand, brows slanting in a stern look. "Inoue Sora," he stiffly told Ichigo, watching him carefully as the teen did the same and took his hand, giving it a firm shake. "I'm Orihime's older brother."

Ichigo found it odd that this man was her brother, seeing as they looked nothing alike aside from the gray eyes. Retracting his hand and putting it back into his pockets, Ichigo gave the shop another quick glance. If her and her brother are here, does that mean she has parents somewhere too?

"Nice to meet you," he responded in just as much simplicity. His eyes averted towards the small girl next to this Sora character, seeing her slightly worried expression.

Why was she looking like that? Her own brows fell and she had a small frown upon her lips while her eyes sparkled a sad gray color, one that sort of reminded him of rain.

"See you later then?" He commented to her, breaking her from her slightly distressed state. She snapped out of her stupor and glanced to him, her expression much lighter now. A small smile crept to her face as she nodded, lifting her hand shyly to wave him goodbye. Ichigo raised his own hand as he left, not saying any other goodbyes either as he stepped out of the shop once again.

A sigh escaped the small girl as she continued to stare at the door, almost a sense of longing in her eyes and rose-brushed cheeks while half-wondering if he'd ever come back. The look in her eyes didn't go unnoticed by her brother as he took the small white box from in front of her.

"Making friends, Orihime?"

"E-Eh?"

Sora tried to smile and reassure his sister, placing his hand on her shoulder. "That's the second time you've ordered from them, isn't it?" Orihime's face grew redder and she began to flail her hands, garbles of words spilling from her lips.

"I-I ordered the first time because they looked good and respectable!" She told her quickly and loudly, trying to use dramatic hand gestures to distract him otherwise.

"And the second time?"

Orihime couldn't respond, but her face turned a whole lot brighter. Sora took note of this and smiled. It had been quite a while since he saw his sister so excited over someone. Perhaps he could make another call for her and talk to this young boy. He was suspicious because of his unruly, bright orange hair and sullen attitude, but he seemed to be kind to his sister.

"I think you should go for it, Orihime," Sora told her, patting her head reassuringly before going back to the back of the store to continue his work. Orihime squeaked and looked to him with a horrified expression, being very surprised that he of all people would let her call the boy again or something. Sora was very protective of her.

A ding of the bell on the door broke Orihime's embarrassed state and directed her attention towards the front. Putting on a bright smile, she focused her attention on the customer, bringing her back to her work.

"Ohayo, welcome to Inoue Dry Cleaning!"


"Ne, Tatsuki-chan... What's it like to fall in love?" Inoue's Dry Cleaning's bubbly young girl inquired as she propped her head on her hands, elbows resting on the glass countertop. Her friend, Arisawa Tatsuki raised a brow and shoved a nearby cookie into her mouth.

"You're asking me?"

Bringing her eyes downcast, the girl decided Tatsuki might not be the best to talk about her given situation, considering her response. "Ah, never mind then..." She mumbled, popping a cookie in her mouth as well before resuming the weaving of the small thread on a recent customer's request; a call to fix their jacket.

"Oh no," Tatsuki intervened, slamming her fist lightly onto the countertop, scaring the weaver for a quick moment. "You've got me interested now. Who's this guy I'm to beat up?" Orihime dropped her project upon hearing her friend's words and began flailing her arms.

"N-No, don't beat him up! I-I was just asking a question!"

"But you're not denying that there's a guy," Tatsuki blanched, looking at Orihime straight on. The honey-haired teen blushed hard and remained quiet, neither nodding nor shaking her head as an answer. The dark-haired friend cracked her knuckles, a horrified look on Orihime's face showing up as she did so. Tatsuki noticed her aghast expression and released her hands, letting them fall to the side. "Fine, just tell me about him." Although she couldn't promise to not beat this guy up later.

"He..." Orihime started, her cheeks sporting a faint red blush. Taking her lips between her teeth, she tried to sum up everything she's seen and noticed about him so far from the visits. "He scowls a lot and his eyebrows do funny things."

"... Funny things?"

"Uhn!" She told her fervently, a dead-serious look gracing her face. "They fold into a sharp V and he looks like he's always angry!" Tatsuki took another treat from the bag, holding back the bewilderment over her friend. She decided to be respectful and let Orihime talk about him, and the first thing she talks about is his eyebrows!

"That's it? This guy's just angry all the time?" Tatsuki asked, leaning her chin in the palm of her hand while she chewed on the cookie with the other. Orihime shook her head violently, her long, caramel locks following her wherever she went.

"Oh no, that's just the thing!" She cried, dropping the jacket to throw her arms into the air. "He's not really angry! He's really, really nice!" Upon noticing the incredibly random outburst, her face turned brighter and she dropped her hands as quick as she could.

Tatsuki watched her carefully, definitely noticing just how more animated she was when talking about this mystery guy. Perhaps he wasn't as bad as he sounded, putting aside the scowls and indefinitely arched eyebrows.

But it would be over Tatsuki's dead body when she let him think he could be with Orihime, if he did at all.

"And you think you love him?" She shuddered, unfamiliar with the word. Orihime turned an incredibly dark red, border lining purple, and Tatsuki started to worry she'd explode.

"I-I..." She swallowed thickly, placing the project back down for yet another time to bring her hands to her face and hide the blush. "I-I don't know..." She confessed, blowing out a sharp breath. "W-When I think about him, my heart wants to leap right out of my chest like it wants to run a marathon!" Puckering her lips into a distressed pout, Orihime's brows fell at the unfamiliar feelings. "And I must be thinking about him a lot, since my heart's been running nonstop..."

Tatsuki was surprised at this new development. She had known Orihime for years, watching her experience a few, very short-lived crushes, but her body language and general enthusiasm as she talked about this boy was much different than previous times.

"So what are you going to do?"

"Hmm... That's a good question, Tatsuki-chan," Orihime hummed, her wild outburst from a moment suddenly dissipated, replaced with an unusual frown and her face reading nothing but sadness. "Probably nothing, I would imagine." Continuing her pattern of stopping and starting her patch job, Orihime plucked up the jacket and weaved the thread through again as means of distraction.

"Nothing whatsoever?" Tatsuki inquired.

"It's just..." She paused, humming again, albeit a hint of confusion laced in the sound. "Our shop keeps me plenty busy. I really don't have time to think about boys."

Tatsuki frowned as well, knowing just how hard Orihime worked. However, this was the first time she voiced her concerns with family work versus personal life.

"I work hard for Onii-chan and I'm okay with that, but..." Orihime forced a small smile for her friend. "I can't help but daydream and wonder what other people my age do. Do they go on dates? Fly kites in the park? I imagine they do lots of fun things!"

Again, the martial-artist continued to frown, remembering every invite she'd given Orihime over the years; chances to go out on outings with friends, watch a movie or two. But every time she'd turn them down, telling her she needed to stay with her brother and help with the shop. It was the most important thing they had in their lives, besides each other.

"AH, GLOOM!" Orihime suddenly burst out, throwing her hands into the air. "I need to get rid of this gloom!" Tatsuki practically fell out of her seat at the impulsive explosion, her own hands going into the air instinctively as well to steady herself.

The girl threw her hands back down just as quick as she brought them up in the first place, blushing herself after pulling such an act after the eruption that could only belong to Inoue Orihime. Opening her mouth, Tatsuki prepared to say something back, but ended up snapping her jaw shut instead, remaining quiet. She had said so earlier when their conversation just started.

'You're asking me?'

She desperately wanted to provide some advice and guidance along with relief for her gentle friend, but the realm of love and other fluffy feelings still made her cringe and she hadn't had any experience in it otherwise.

"Ehehe, sorry, Tatsuki-chan..." Orihime muttered, giggling softly as she stitched. "I'm just a whole bundle of troubles, aren't I?" In return, Tatsuki gave her best friend a half-smirk, half-scowl and brought her hand to pat the top of her hand.

"You're no trouble at all, Orihime. Wild and spontaneous, yes, but not trouble," Tatsuki told her reassuringly, thumbing a strand of honey-colored hair from her face and off to the side. Orihime smiled brightly at her dear friend, appreciating her always kind efforts.

The two continued talking for what seemed to be hours afterwards, but the third pair of ears from the back room still couldn't let go of the girl's words. As ashen gray eyes swept past her small figure through the doorway, the heart of her brother grew heavy at this revelation – the new knowledge of his sister's sadness and loneliness.

Now... Perhaps now would be the best time to call.


"Moshi moshi, Kurosaki Beef."

As he groaned, he remembered he still had to beat up his father for naming their little shop such a lame name. Although, this was probably one of those things he'd have to let go of eventually. Harboring such anger over a stupid name for a shop wasn't healthy.

"Is this Kurosaki-san from the other day?" A lower voice inquired over the line, causing the teen to raise his brows.

"Uh, may I ask who's calling?" Ichigo asked in a low tone himself, wary of just who knew him by name. Not that he thought he had male stalkers or anything of the sorts, but he was still on edge anyways.

"Oh, this is Inoue Sora. Orihime's brother from the dry cleaning shop?"

With widened eyes, the bright-haired boy had to pull away and look at the phone bafflingly. Just how much meat did they like to order? At least, that's what he assumed they were doing yet again.

"So... You're placing another order then?" Ichigo asked, taking the notepad and pen from beside him. Once the writing utensil was situated in his hand, he was prepared to write down whatever this Sora person ordered, assuming it would be the beef for 815 again.

"Actually, no. I needed to talk to you about my sister."

"You wanted to talk to me about Inoue?" Ichigo asked, saying her name for the first time. Although he wished he would've referred to her as something else, considering the man he was talking to was an Inoue as well. Mentally taking note of how he should change that, Ichigo rolled his eyes and moved on.

Regardless, he didn't know what he wanted to talk to him about. He'd met his sister and they seemed to have a mutual connection, a good acquaintance type of relationship now. What exactly did he want to talk about relating to her?

"This may be an off thing to request, but would you be willing to court Orihime for an evening?" Sora asked in a soft voice, his tone wavering slightly with hesitation. It was a big, very odd question to ask someone who's only delivered meat to their store twice. However, from what he saw his last visit, he did seem like a good person to Orihime.

Ichigo could feel a heavy blush rising up his neck and into his cheeks. Did he just say what he thought he said?

"C-Court as in... D-"

"Date, yes."

Dammit.

He would admit it; she was cute with her long, luscious hair, those insanely huge, gray eyes, and not to mention her perfect hourglass figure. It was surprising there was never another guy, or maybe guys, at their shop whenever he delivered the meat, hovering and watching her work. Or maybe just watching her in general.

But did he really just mentally describe her looks with such detail, sounding like a freaking writer? Well, he did like to write... Dammit, no, that's not the point!

Partial stranger or not, he had a feeling this girl would be the death of him somehow, he just didn't know it yet.

"Um... What would this d-date entail?" Ichigo asked, forcefully telling himself he did not just fucking stutter. But then again, he was a guy who'd never considered dating much anyways.

"That's up to you," Sora's voice sounded more enthusiastic as he spoke. It seemed like he was genuinely happy for this shot at his sister's happiness and the wording of this boy's responses. It seemed like he was willing to take her out! "Either way, she seems to have taken a liking to you, Kurosaki-san."

Bringing a heavy hand to his eyes, Ichigo fought back a groan from escaping, although, he wasn't sure if it was a groan of amusement and interest, or of annoyance. As much as he didn't want to admit it, it looked to be the former in this situation.

Oh damn...

"I'll... stop by tomorrow or something then," Ichigo told him quickly, fighting the heavy blush rising in his cheeks. There was a driving force that kept telling him to go for it, take her on a date. He wanted to know what the hell that thing was.

"Oh great! Orihime is in your care then!" Sora chirped, his tone obviously insinuating he wore a big grin on the other side. "Talk to you then!" And just like that, he hung up. With shaky, sweaty palms, Ichigo found it terribly hard to keep his phone in his hands without dropping it onto the floor. Although his nervous stature wasn't his main concern, neither was it the fact he was to ask Inoue Orihime, recent customer of Kurosaki Beef on a date.

It was that his dad couldn't find out about this. Ever.


For some reason, whether it was nerves or just nice weather, Ichigo decided to walk to the Inoue's store. His posture was poor and hunched as he took slow step by slow step. He still couldn't get over the bomb his recent customer's brother had dropped on him; the idea of taking his customer out on a date.

Even as he thought about the word, his cheeks turned a dangerously dark red. Perhaps the idea of dating passed his mind in the past, but as of late he saw no reason to court ladies out. Hell, most of them ran off after seeing his scowl in the first place.

But she was different he noted while yawning, the action being a painful reminder of how he tossed and turn all night while thinking of how he'd go about asking her out. She was obviously far from normal, but it was in a way where it wasn't so odd. The only way he could describe it was interestingly comfortable. Her silly demeanor made her seem airheaded of sorts, but he still remembered the few times she seemed to drop her guard and let that smile melt; the most recent when she even frowned while looking up at her older brother. Maybe he did something she didn't like?

Either way, Ichigo reminded himself to keep focused on her. He was to ask her out, not her brother. Scowling a bit harder, the muscles in his legs wailed out to stop and rest for a moment, all this exercise to such a far away location unfamiliar to him.

Regardless, he paced himself and continued to walk with nothing but thoughts of her, all with that creeping blush. He needed something to keep him calm! He certainly couldn't walk in and start stuttering and blubbering nonsense like an idiot. Granted, his idea of her so far imagines her laughing at his troubles, albeit in an innocent way, meaning no harm. Still, his image didn't consist of acting like a nervous schoolboy.

Just like last time! Just get in and out with no freaking reason to be nervous.

That method seemed to work out pretty well, as his heart rate slowed down considerably with each step closer to the shop. After a while, it was almost like he was delivering meat again, no strings attached.

Although his heart leapt out of his chest upon finding himself in front of the shop, the question of the century spiraling around in his head.

How in the world am I going to fucking do this?

As if on autopilot, Ichigo swung the door open just like his previous visits, that small bell ringing in his ears again. He took slow, cautious steps towards the front desk, not too surprised to find no one there. After the first two times, it was obvious they worked in the back until someone new came in. At least, that was he inferred from his trips here.

"Just a second!" Orihime called from the back, her voice just a melodious as the bell from moments ago. The color drained from his face and he knew his hands were shaking now. So much for his earlier attempt to remain calm.

Seconds later, the girl in question came bounding from the back room, a bright smile on her face.

"Ohayou, welcome to Inoue Dry-" She started, but stopped upon seeing who it was. "K-Kurosaki-san?" She seemed suddenly horrified to see him here, her face dropping from a smile to an aghast expression. Her sudden change in attitude definitely gave Ichigo a sense of deflation, feeling bad for coming here in the first place.

Orihime wasn't so shocked to see him, per se. She was rather excited to see him here, especially on terms where he wasn't delivering meat. It was the fact she was in a plain pink tank top with gray banded shorts; in short, a very laid back outfit. Pouting, Orihime really wished she knew about his trip here earlier. In her eyes, it was bad to be so trivial over clothes, but she really wanted to look...cute.

"I-I wasn't expecting you here..." She breathed, bringing a shaky hand of her own to brush stray hairs behind her ears. She desperately wanted to look straight at him, eye to eye, but her heart had an idea of its own and kept her gaze elsewhere.

"Y-Yeah, uh..." His fists clenched, now pissed at himself for stuttering. He had a plan, dammit! "I'm not here on business." Orihime finally managed to look at him, a noticeable blush in her cheeks. When his eyes met hers, Ichigo felt his breath taken away and he inwardly yelled at himself for acting so stupid. Just ask her!

"Oh, you're not?" Orihime asked, surprised she didn't squeak out her words in embarrassment. Ichigo shook his head and shoved a hand in his pocket while the other went to his neck. He caught it sometimes, but more often than not, he didn't notice when he went to his neck to scratch at it or sorts. He also knew that he only did it in nerve-wracking situations.

"No... Well, not family related business," he told her quickly, reminding himself that asking her out could be considered business, since her brother requested it and all.

"Oh..." She pouted lightly, her eyes falling again.

And there it was, startling him a bit. Her downcast expression and change in attitude shining through, almost showing she was more than just an overexcited young adult.

"It's about..." Ichigo had to swallow hard first before finishing. "You."

Hearing it was about her sent Orihime jumping for a moment, definitely not expecting him to say he was here because of her. Her heart fluttered in excitement, but she told herself to not let her hopes bubble up too much. In her lifetime, she'd been through many things that crushed her hope and needless to say, she's learned her lesson to tame those dreams.

"M-Me?" Now she squeaked as she asked and the girl wanted to throw her hands up to her already burning cheeks in embarrassment. But as she looked up to him, she saw a small smirk playing on his lips, sending her heart into another frenzy of fast heartbeats.

"Yeah, well, you see..." Ichigo started, feeling part of his nerves dissipate, but at the same time, grow much stronger. How was he to ask her? Inwardly groaning, he knew he had a plan for all this, but he couldn't remember a thing for the life of him. Should he maybe bring up that her brother asked him to do this? No, I shouldn't... I wouldn't know how she'd take it anyways.

"... Yes?" Orihime asked again, her hope unfortunately rising higher with each pause he implemented between his words. Ichigo shook his head to himself, causing her to raise her brows in slight confusion.

"Did you want to go out?" He quickly blurted out, all his courage and guts in that lone sentence. His cheeks were definitely burning now, but what was most important was that he got it out in the open. Although, he felt a bit of relief and even wanted to laugh upon seeing her own face turn a dangerous red, border lining purple.

"Y-You're..." She started slowly, her words coming out exasperatingly slow. Ichigo felt himself plummet back to regret and embarrassment at her ghastly response. "A-Asking me out?"

"... On a date... Yeah..." There he went with the neck thing again.

Orihime had to prop her hands on the glass case to make sure she wouldn't fall down. The boy her heart had been going 'doki doki' over for the past few days, possibly weeks, just asked her a question she'd only imagined in her daydreams.

But she looked up at him cautiously, her heart suddenly weighed with worry and slight concern. There was one thing that could make this excitement quickly dissipate.

Ichigo noticed her sudden down expression and his own heart fell in pain. She wasn't going to outright reject him... Was she? As much as he didn't want to admit it, the more he thought about it, he sort of liked the idea of going on a date with her.

Regardless, he gave her a questioning glance, mentally asking her, what? What's wrong?

"... Y-Your brains didn't get taken over by the rainbow fish people, did it?"

Had it not been so out of character for him, he might have outright called her cute for having such a serious expression on while asking such childish question. Stifling a small chuckle, Ichigo brought his hand to cover his mouth and hide that threatening smile again.

"Um, no. I still have control of my brain, Inoue."

He saw a brighter color creep on her face at the mention of her last name. It seemed common to him, so why did she look so flustered over it?

"So, uh... Is tomorrow okay?" Ichigo asked, putting his hands into his pockets while a feeling of confidence suddenly surged through him. However, he didn't like how his levels of courage resembled that of a roller coaster.

"T-Tomorrow's perfect!" She squeaked, a huge smile spreading on her face. But upon realizing just how excited and quickly she responded, she brought her hands to her mouth, covering it as to not say anything else embarrassing. He smirked again though, seeming to accept her enthusiastic response. At least she didn't outright reject him and unfortunately deflate his ego.

"I'll be here around 7 then," he told her nonchalantly, his face feeling a bit... tingly from the smiling. Was it because he hadn't done it for so long?

Orihime nodded and held her hands close, cheeks burning a dark red. "H-Hai..."

No other words were said and Ichigo left. Unbeknownst to each other, both continued to have a little bounce to their steps, equally excited for the next day to come.


A small moan of happiness escaped her while her mouth moved, her hands curling around the delectable treat. Orihime sat at a small booth with her "date", cheeks bright as she continued to think of how lucky she was. Eating dinner with the boy she had a crush on definitely was a plus in her book! No doubt she'd keep this little event in her memory forever.

"So... Good!" She cheered with a mouthful, thoroughly enjoying her okonomiyaki. The delicious pancake had been stuffed with her favorite, more normal foods. Shrimp, mochi, kimchi, pork, it was all there. Another sound of excitement was heard from her small form as she took another bite with gusto. "Thank you, Kurosaki-san!"

Ichigo ate his own okonomiyaki while fighting back a small blush. Did she really have to make such noises while eating a simple food? Granted, he thought their meal was pretty good, but he didn't entirely think they called for moans of all things.

"No problem..." He told her nonchalantly before taking another bite of his veggie pancake. "Sorry it's not much though."

Orihime looked at him baffled, almost dropping her chopsticks. Ichigo had to stop eating as well to wonder why the hell she looked so aghast.

"What?"

"T-This is plenty, Kurosaki-san! It's more than I could ever ask for!" She said, eyes growing dangerously watery. She brought her finger to point at him, as if scolding him. "So don't you dare say it's not much!" Ichigo could only respond with wide eyes, surprised she was so adamant on this date.

Truly this was a woman of many emotions.

But as she melted her stern expression into a silly, smiling one, he didn't mind it in the least. She was just having fun and trying to reassure him that she loved what they were doing, even if it was just eating okonomiyaki.

Orihime grabbed another bite-sized bit of her dinner with her chopsticks, still smiling all the way. Why was it that her smile made him feel so... funny? He knew it was a lame way to describe it, but her demeanor was endearing. Dare he say cute?

He stopped his running thoughts of the heart-warming girl in front of him to notice bits of pancake crumbs sitting upon her face, nestling on the edge of her lips. Not thinking, Ichigo reached across the table, minding the plates of food, to brush the bits of crumbs from her mouth. It was weird, he noticed. Why did he feel such an interesting shock when his thumb swept over her fair skin? It wasn't a bad feeling of shock running through his fingers, nor was it good either. It was just plain intriguing.

Although he froze upon realizing what he was doing. Orihime looked back at him with just as wide eyes, her cheeks sporting a noticeable blush.

S-Shit, what have I done?

It didn't take long for Ichigo to retract his hand, keeping it to himself now. Orihime brought her own smaller hand up to where he just touched, even if it was just for a moment.

"S-Sorry..." He blurted out, suddenly finding his okonomiyaki incredibly interesting. While he focused intently on the food, Orihime watched him in amazement, surprised she hadn't gone into cardiac arrest already.

"It's... fine..." She breathed, still feeling his gentle touch on the corner of her lips. A smile broke out on her face, knowing with her it was definitely more than fine. "It's okay." He glanced back up, an unsure expression spreading on his face. All it took was a smile from her to feel a little better about what he did.

"So was there anything else you wanted to do after this, Kurosaki-san?" Orihime asked with another mouthful with her head cocked to the side in question.

"Well… I had hoped to maybe go to the park later and catch the sunset," he offered up as an idea. Although the surprised look on her face made him think she'd want to do something else. "U-Unless that's too weird for you." He really hoped she wouldn't find it odd, considering she was the literal definition of it.

But a warm smile grew on her face as she nodded slowly, her eyes shimmering with excitement. "That sounds great," she told him in that sweet voice of hers; the one that made candy look bitter in comparison. A small shudder ran through him while her melodious voice rang through his ears.

This dating thing... It could be something he could get used to. With her, at least. She was funny, cute, and she did her best to remain positive, which usually could end up being quite a feat considering he was the farthest thing from it.

Giving her another small smile, Ichigo thought something that hadn't crossed his mind in years, since his mother died.

This is... nice.


He hoped she wasn't too uncomfortable with his actions through the rest of the night. He was just trying to be considerate, always wondering if the things he was doing were considered "date-like". Even as Orihime rambled on about her day to him, before he picked her up, Ichigo couldn't forget what had happened back at the park.

It wasn't too much of a big deal, but the two had chosen a spot under a small tree. He remembers the grass cool against his fingertips. Orihime made sure she sat down appropriately, hoping her floral printed dress wouldn't rise too high up her thighs. He had wanted to laugh at her more or less adorable attempts, until he sat down first and then assisted her, holding out a hand to help her sit down without worries. Her hand was warm and soft in his, he recalls, another unexpected thing from her.

They sat a few inches away, far enough to give some personal space but close enough to barely feel each other's body heat radiating off their skin. She spoke of soft words about how pretty the sunset looked, but he wasn't entirely watching the sunset – he was watching her.

She didn't realize it until after a while later, as she had only glanced at him once. His soft smile and gentle eyes completely halted her talking, causing a bright red to spread over her soft cheeks. It was instinct and embarrassment that caused her to turn back and face the sunset again, mind racing for what exactly she was supposed to do now. The way he was looking at her sent an army of moths fluttering in her stomach alone.

A quieter sneeze cut off the embarrassed ramble in her head and she brought her hands to cover her nose, a noticeable shiver coursing through her small body. She hadn't thought about it before, but it was getting kind of cold now. And of course, she couldn't ever tell Kurosaki-san about that. He'd already done so much for her on this date, holding open doors and pulling out chairs, on top of other kind gestures. She certainly couldn't just outright tell him, "I'm cold!"

But he wrapped his arm around her frail shoulders and his hand encased the edge of her arm. Pulling her closer, he didn't say a word. He didn't know if he was going to stutter or felt that no words needed to be said. Regardless, he wanted to hold her closer so he acted on impulse.

Orihime didn't seem to matter much though, which was a relief to him. She even seemed to lean into his grasp, humming lightly in enjoyment showing she was clearly happy with where she was at.

Her skin was softer than he'd thought it'd be and her heat and smell made his brain go a bit fuzzy. Part of him wanted to get angry at how soft he'd gotten from her touch alone, but she just wasn't a person he wanted to get mad at. He couldn't explain it; he just couldn't stay angry at her.

"Thank you, Kurosaki-san..." She whispered quietly as she leaned up against his arm. Resting his head on top of hers, still hoping she wouldn't mind, he grunted in response. The moment seemed perfect in his eyes, definitely something he didn't see coming when her brother first requested he ask her out.

But as Ichigo returned more to the present, his eyes narrowed a bit while holding up the hand he previously used to pull her nearer back in the park. There was the issue of her brother... Or was he not really an issue? The boy still had mixed feelings about her brother, something just off about him that he couldn't put his finger on. First of all, what kind of guy would ask a random stranger to court his sibling out on a date? Usually the family reigned their flesh and blood back, telling them dating was bad, bad, bad.

What Ichigo knew for sure, however, was that he wanted to see her again. Sora or not, he'd figure out a way to meet with her again.

"Kurosaki-san?" Orihime questioned, bringing him out of his inner tirade. He glanced down at her and raised his brows.

"What is it, Inoue?" He questioned, definitely taking note of her curious, but slightly downcast expression.

"A-Ano... We're back at the shop," she told him quietly, pointing to reveal exactly what she was talking about. Just when did they get back to their dry cleaning store? He must've been thinking a bit too hard to notice their previous settings.

Damn... So we are...

"I, uh, hope you had a good time," Ichigo choked out, raising his hand to his neck to tenderly scratch at the muscles there. Orihime flashed him another brilliant, supernova smiles while nodding.

"Hai! I had the best time with Kurosaki-san!"

Her simple words seemed to inflate his ego a bit on top of reassuring him that he indeed do something right for once. Although her sudden fidgeting and nervous stature made him grow a bit heavy with concern. She did look sort of sick now... Was she not feeling good?

It wasn't that she was feeling sick, but her following actions showed otherwise.

Besides mumbling a mixture of a small "thank you" and "I'm sorry", Orihime stood on her toes and placed her hand on his firm shoulder to steady herself while she connected her lips to his cheek, a heavy blush settled on her cheeks. Inwardly, she scolded herself for being so forward while she pulled away.

"I-I'm sorry, Kurosaki-san," she stuttered, starting to dig in her purse for her keys. "I-I just wanted to t-thank you for a nice evening!" Orihime couldn't get over what she had been done and felt even worse considering he hadn't responded verbally or physically yet. "S-So maybe we can meet again soo-"

Ichigo had cut her off, something snapping inside him while he grabbed at her elbow, making her drop her keys. She looked up to him with big eyes, making him blush as well with just how huge and innocent they were.

"Kuro...saki-" Orihime breathed before Ichigo stopped her mid-way, pulling her into a kiss. She could feel her breath catch in her throat as his large, and very warm, hand held her elbow tightly, just enough to keep her close. Although Orihime hoped he realized she wouldn't run away or anything. Not from him.

She let her purse fall to the side, joining her dropped keys, to let her fine fingers grip the fabric of his shirt while she shyly kissed him back.

She had always daydreamed of her first kiss. She imagined it would be sweet, tender, a give-and-take kind of thing. She would give her love, all while hoping she'd get the same thing in return.

Needless to say, this was far better than Orihime ever imagined.

A small smile played on her lips as her digits held his shirt, subconsciously pulling him closer. She did her best to match each of his engaging kisses, moving just as he did. Inside her mind, she hoped she was doing it right.

Ichigo pulled away eventually, smirking at her half-lidded stare and rosy cheeks. It was a first for him too, but the sight in front of him was one he'd burn into his memories.

"You should go," he told her in a low voice, both hands resting on her shoulders. "You wouldn't want your brother to worry."

Right... O-Onii-chan... Orihime thought, albeit numbly. Those kisses of him made her brain plenty fuzzy and she had practically forgotten about her brother during the duration of that time.

"H-Hai..." She stuttered slowly, licking her lips while pulling away. How she wanted to say more, but with the kissing still fresh in her mind, it was like she refused to forget about it.

Ichigo bent down to grab her fallen purse and keys, still smirking a bit as he handed her the bag and placed the cool metal into her small hands, almost teasingly slow.

"W-Will I see you again?" She asked softly, the cold metal sending an involuntary shudder through her body. He nodded while shoving his hands into his pocket. Turning around, Ichigo made sure he threw a last smirk, definitely breathtaking to her, before leaving her for the night.

"I guess you'll just have to wait and see."


Orihime couldn't help but let out a harmonious sigh as she let her cheek squish into her palm, memories replaying over and over in her head. It had been a good amount of weeks since their first date and she had luckily gotten to meet up with him again, each time surprising her with something different. Part of her wanted to pick at his brain as to where he got all those amazing ideas.

Speaking of amazing, his kisses always seemed to make her faint from happiness. The way he always kissed her tenderly, as if he was treasuring her, made her warm with bliss. Her feelings appeared to grow with each "step", growing more loyal and devoted to him and his actions. She didn't know how it came about or why they grew so fervently, but she didn't question it. She was a firm believer of fate most of the time, and if fate wanted her to really like this boy, then she would.

"You done, Orihime?" Tatsuki snapped, growing slightly weary of only seeing her friend sigh and daydream. She had been here for a while now and hadn't gotten much from her bubbly friend word-wise.

"Eh?"

"You've been sighing for the better part of 20 minutes."

"E-Eh?" Orihime gasped in surprise. Had she really been ignoring her friend for that long? It was just so easy to get thinking about the orange-haired boy whom she spent a great amount of time with lately. Even now she found her mind drifting off, thinking about his bright hair and remembering just how soft it was to touch.

"Orihime!" Tatsuki broke her from her thoughts and hard. Orihime flailed and cried out multitudes of apologies. Tatsuki sighed herself, bringing her hand to her forehead in defeat.

"It's that guy, right? The one who looks like he needs anger management?"

"T-Tatsuki-chan!"

"Hey! I'm just simplifying what you told me before," she shrugged, making it logical in her eyes. "You said he looked angry, therefore I said he probably needs anger management." Orihime sighed again, rolling her eyes a bit. Although she didn't exactly agree with all of her friend's opinions, she still valued them, considering she was her best friend.

"He's not angry at all..." Orihime pouted, propping her elbows on the counter again. "He's... the farthest thing from it." It seemed like any mention of this boy at all seemed to veer her off track, ultimately leading her to go silent and ponder over her boy-crush.

Tatsuki groaned and rolled her eyes as well, amazed at the short attention span of hers. Well, Orihime was one to have a short attention span anyways. This boy-toy of hers just made it worse.

A loud ringing startled both of them, causing Orihime to throw her hands into the air in shock, while Tatsuki looked at her bewildered, eyes saying, "Really, Orihime?"

Mumbling out more apologies, she ran to the nearby phone to answer it. Her small hand reached to grab it, barely getting it on the last ring.

"M-Moshi moshi, Inoue Dry Cleaning!" She spoke quickly into the phone. Tatsuki watched her actions carefully and it didn't take long to guess who it was. As Orihime listened to the person on the other line, her eyes grew wide and her cheeks sported a noticeable blush. "A-Ah, Kurosaki-kun!" She chirped.

Rolling her eyes, she sighed as she waited for her friend to get off the phone. She was glad Orihime was so happy, and dare she say it, so in love, but the amount of words she got from her lately was minimal at most. Her eyes followed the girl's slim frame walking in circles while nervously tugging the phone cord. A smile would light up on her face followed by a pout while a faint laugh could be heard from the phone. It was a constant cycle and Tatsuki wondered if Orihime ever noticed she did it.

Sora stepped in a moment later and waved to Tatsuki, giving a small smile to the bright-haired girl's best friend. Tatsuki responded just the same and yawned shortly thereafter.

"Who's she on the phone with?" Sora asked, pointing to the gentle girl with a curious look on his face.

"It isn't hard to guess," Tatsuki retorted sarcastically. The elder brother glanced back at his sister, his smile now replaced with a downhearted stare, a tinge of anger in his eyes.

"Kurosaki-san, I presume?"

"Bingo."

"... Aren't you upset she's been so involved with him?" Sora asked curiously. Tatsuki sighed and shook her head.

"Not entirely," she started, propping her head up on the glass counter as she watched her companion. "Sure, I'm wishing I could talk to her more lately, but on the flip side..." Tatsuki stopped to point to her, showing him her huge grin. "I've never seen her smile like that as long as I've known her."

She had a point, Sora noted as he also looked at Orihime. She was generally a positive person, but he had to admit she was much more animated and practically glowing ever since he called for Kurosaki Ichigo to court her. He had assumed it was going be a one-date thing, never imagining it to escalate as much as it did. But like any other protective big brother, he wanted to keep an eye on her and this boy; more or less the boy.

"I guess..." Sora scoffed lightly, now glancing around the countertops. "Oh, before I forget... Has Orihime been working on a recent tailoring request? I don't see it around anywhere." Tatsuki's eyes grew wide, her mind shifting gears. Had Orihime really forgotten about her work? It really wasn't like her to forget her place in the shop.

"No, I haven't. She hasn't been working any anything all afternoon."

... I wonder if Kurosaki-san is the reason for her lack of work, Sora wondered.

Soon walking over to where Orihime was at, all the way he gesturing for her to put down the phone. Orihime's eyes grew wide upon seeing her brother and grew incredibly flustered.

"I-I'm sorry Kurosaki-kun, I'll call you later!" She quickly told the boy on the other line before hitting the 'end' button. Tatsuki had to roll her eyes again. She knew Orihime was going to get scolded by her brother, but she felt a little bad for her little 'boyfriend' on the other end.

Regardless, Tatsuki decided to duck out instead of staying here. Sora probably wouldn't appreciate her being there during one of his infamous 'family meetings' anyways. So quietly, Tatsuki left just as quick as she came.

Orihime did see her friend leave quite soon and frowned. Even though she didn't entirely talk to her much before, she did still want to talk to her now.

"Orihime!" Sora snapped her out of her thoughts with his stern voice. She glanced back up to him fervently, taking her bottom lip between her teeth.

"I-I'm sorry Onii-chan, I was just talking to-" He cut her off, crossing his arms across his chest.

"Kurosaki-san, I know. You've been talking to him all the time lately," Sora responded firmly. Orihime felt bad about talking about him so much as of late, but he was just such a nice person, it made her feel warm and fuzzy inside!

But the question of why he was so angry was still unanswered. Wasn't he the one who told her to go for it in the first place?

"O-Onii-chan, why do you sound so upset? Didn't you say I could be with him?" Orihime asked quietly, going for the direct method of asking instead of beating around the bush. Sora sighed and continued to look at her sternly.

"Just because I said that doesn't mean you can slack off on your work here," he told her. She raised her brows, just a bit confused as to what he meant. When she was home, she did her best to clean the clothes like she normally did!

"I've been keeping up on things though..." She pouted lightly, just reaffirming her suspicions. Her brother had no right to be mad at her if she had been doing her job.

"So that means you've finished your tailoring request for today?"

Orihime's eyes grew wide. She had a job to do? Sora's eyes narrowed as he read his sister's face, her expression speaking all.

"So you haven't. Did you even see it in your to-do box?" He asked in a low voice, moving to the side. He knew her well enough to know she'd go bolting to her little to-do box, the thing that Sora gave her to check every day to see if she had something to fix. But he had been right, Orihime noted after running to her adorable pink cube. There was a folded shirt with a pocket on the side. The garment looked pretty expensive too.

"I-I'm sorry..." She mumbled, carefully picking up the cloth. "I'll get to work on it right away." Sora nodded and let her back into the front room, his expression border lining anger.

"You'd better," he scoffed lightly, looking off to the clock. "The customer's coming back to pick it up in 15 minutes." Orihime gasped, almost dropping the delicate shirt. Never before had she been requested to stitch up something this intricate as a pocket on costly fabric in such a short time!

"Onii-chan, I-I can't do it in such a little amount of time!" She protested, putting down the shirt on the glass table. Sora was about to return to the backroom, but stopped short and looked over his shoulder to her. Somehow, his eyes told her if she didn't she'd get in very big trouble.

"You'd better. For one, I already told them you could do it, and two, they're paying us a fair amount of money for the rush job," Sora explained, shrugging. Orihime knew her brother wasn't all about money. It was that they both needed it to get food to eat and pay to keep the shop, also standing as the roof over their head. If it was a lot of money she was getting for this patch-job, how could she outright reject it because she selfishly 'couldn't do it'.

"H-Hai..." Orihime stuttered, turning back towards the front counter to work on the stitching, starting her weaving once again. How horrible she had been, thinking nothing but Kurosaki-kun. Now she felt sick for ignoring her work like she did. She was usually so good about it too and now she let down her only family member, her brother.

Letting out a small yelp, she found she had pricked herself on the needle and it had drawn blood. Her brows creased as she frowned, putting down the shirt as to not get blood on it. As she grabbed the first aid kit from under the counter, taking a Band-Aid out, Orihime felt this was going to be a long night ahead of her.


"Moooou, why do you have to make fun of me, Kurosaki-kun?" Orihime pouted, her gloved hands raised to her burning cheeks. Ichigo just smirked at her while he grabbed at her waist, pulling her closer together.

"Well, if you didn't make it so damn easy, I wouldn't do it so often," he retorted as if it was simple fact. She continued to pout, her brows folded together in distress. Ichigo took the open opportunity of her puckered lips to snatch a kiss, swiftly meeting hers with his. It was quick, Orihime decided, but still gave her shivers. They always did, those darn kisses.

"... You're mean," she sulked again, bringing a hand to clutch at his blue polo shirt. The bright-haired boy could see watery eyes, which meant tears, from the girl in his arms so he decided to back off. The last thing he wanted to do was make her cry.

"... Sorry," he numbly apologized, brushing his lips over the edge of her earlobe. He could see the blush spreading through her cheeks and down her neck at his small action. He always wanted to laugh at how she got so flustered over the littlest things. She just shook her head, her honey-colored hair brushing over his cheek and nose.

Man, there was that smell again; the one that made his brain go awkwardly fuzzy. Even if he wanted to think straight, he couldn't. She just smelled so fucking good.

But the insistent grip on his shirt made him look down and wonder just what this woman was going on about. Meaning, it was warm enough for shorts and she was wearing fuzzy gloves.

"What's the secret?" He asked, bringing a hand to rest on her knitted mittens. She only blushed harder, feeling his body heat radiate through the fabric and yarn.

"T-There's no secret," she told him quietly, burying her head into his chest as if hiding herself. He knew she was lying, just because she was no good at it. Not to mention it was so obvious she was trying to avoid his gaze. Casually, Ichigo lifted her hand from his shirt and held it in front of both of them.

By now Orihime looked up to see what he was doing with her palms and digits. But upon seeing the second hand go to remove the glove, she squeaked and stopped him by yanking her hand away. He looked at her with a mixed expression; one with curiosity, annoyance, worry, and so many other emotions that made her heart flip with guilt. It wasn't that she wanted to hide it, but she knew he would get angry when he did find out.

But as she stared at him, licking at her sudden dry lips, she knew she really didn't want to hide this from him. She never wanted to lie about anything to him. So she brought her hand back and allowed him to remove the glove.

So he did so, but also keeping note of her nervous stature. What was it she was so afraid of? He removed the glove, probably too painfully slow for both of them, until it slid right off. His amber brown eyes grew wide at the sight.

Orihime's hand was covered in bandages.

It was quite obvious he was going to go for her other hand, doing the same thing albeit much quicker. Her opposite had the identical bandages, her dainty fingers wrapped with small and big bindings.

"Inoue..." He started slowly, still aghast at the wounds on her hands. "W-What happened?" Orihime managed to glimpse at him for a fleeting moment before immediately looking back down.

"U-Um, work..." She spoke softly and simply, as if it was an everyday thing. She knew better, what had really happened. That patch job from the previous day needed to get done quickly and she overworked herself and pricked her hands multiple times during her stitching. Even that night she had a hard time sleeping due to feeling bad about missing work like she did. Sora was her only brother and she let him down.

"You got hurt from work?" He blanched, still amazed at her wounded hands. She could take all the time in the world to do her stitching, the precious weaving, and he still worked as the delivery boy for his father's beef. He always thought his job was more dangerous considering his father was clearly insane and he constantly wielded a butcher knife, but her hands seemed to show otherwise.

"Uhn... I-I'm okay though, really," she tried to reassure him, already sensing the stress in his voice. Ichigo scowled and his brows grew close together in frustration. Even if she was bandaged up, it still didn't sit well with him. His stomach was already churning with uncomfortable feelings, all while wondering if something else was up with her. She certainly didn't act as perky like she usually was.

Ichigo took her 'damaged' hand into his own, watching it carefully with tender eyes. What surprised Orihime next was when he brought it to his lips and began to place light butterfly kisses on her cloth-covered skin. Her cheeks grew red fast as she watched his actions, feeling her stomach flutter.

"W-What are you doing?" She breathed, unable to draw her eyes away from the scene. He glanced up for a second, his lips curving into a small, almost apologetic smile.

"... Making it feel better," he told her quietly before resuming kissing her small hands. She gasped lightly, in awe at his tender side. She'd seen bits and pieces of it over the weeks, but now it was practically a show and she loved it.

Smiling a bit herself as she fought back the tears, Orihime's hands started to tremble. Seeing as he was so close to it anyways, it didn't go unnoticed to the bright-haired boy. He looked back up to her, worried. Not to mention his stomach sank upon seeing her cry again.

"O-Oi, what's wrong?" He questioned. Orihime didn't respond and instead decided to let herself fall into his arms, stifling occasional sobs. Feeling frantic on the inside, he had no idea what to do with this crying girl. Only wrapping his arms around her shoulders, he let her cry. He was curious to why she was tearing up, but regretfully respected her privacy instead. They were involved together romantically at this point but he knew there were still things between each other they dared not to share.

Brushing back hair behind her ear, Ichigo tried to coo soothing words into her ear to relax her. "It'll be okay..." He told her quietly, hoping she'd calm down. Unfortunately for him, he didn't know what was running through her mind.

Orihime had to make a decision. Even if it had been only one day she'd forgotten her work, she felt like trash for letting her brother down. Even worse, she told Ichigo she'd call him back later and she never did. She really did treasure these feelings of hers, the ones that warmed her heart, but they also weighed a great ton. The choice was what gave her so much pressure.

But how could she choose? In any other situation before she met Ichigo she'd immediately say her brother, but now... Now she wasn't so sure.


He could still imagine her vibrant gray eyes and excited smile as he held his cell phone close to his ear, the dial tone ringing as he waited for her to pick up. Somehow, just calling her or meeting up with her once in a while just didn't seem to cut it. He wanted to hear her voice so badly.

"M-Moshi moshi?" Her voice cut through from the monotone ringing, surprising Ichigo a bit. He hadn't expected her to answer so soon but he was glad to hear her regardless.

"Hey Inoue," he breathed, a small smile tugging at the corners of his lips. A small gasp seemed to come from her on the other line followed by some unheard mumbling. Raising a brow on his own side, he called her name again. "Inoue?"

"K-Kurosaki-kun, w-what are you calling for?" Orihime asked, her voice suddenly muted with a whisper of sorts.

"I'm calling to talk to you, baka..." He responded in the same tone, grabbing a hold of his phone cord and tugging it lightly. Orihime remained quiet for a moment, only noises of broken hiccups or sniffles escaping through the line. The sounds were familiar somehow, making his heart flip in weird ways, but he didn't want to assume quite yet. "Is everything okay?"

"Kurosaki-kun, I-"

And she was suddenly cut off, a quick sound of her phone being dropped with yelling in the background. He had to pull it away as the noises were too loud, but his eyes grew wide as his scowl deepened, unintentionally gripping his phone tighter in his hand. Just what the hell was going on over there?

Once assuming there would be no more loud noises, he cautiously put the receiver back to his ear, his hands involuntarily shaking with some anger. Ichigo had to swallow thickly and ignore the loud heartbeat in his ears so he attempt to hear who was yelling on the other side.

"Onii-chan, please! I've never-"

Ichigo heard her yelling out to what appeared to be her brother, but he could only hear him talking in general, unable to make out the words. His hands gripped tightly into fists and he was completely ready to bolt it out of his house and run towards their shop.

"B-But I promise to do better! Just give me a chance!"

"..."

"N-No! Not that! P-Please, not that!"

"..."

A second later, sounds of the phone being picked up resounded through his ears and sobbing and sniffling could be heard through the receiver. Just the sound of her crying sent his heart and stomach on a rollercoaster.

"Kurosaki-kun, I-I... W-We..." Orihime started to speak, occasionally coughing to clear her throat although it wouldn't help much. She remained silent for another moment, more crying heard in the background until faint words were heard from her again, yet not directed to him. "I-I can't do it..."

By now, Ichigo was sitting on the edge of his seat, unknowing of how he had started to draw blood from the tight grip of his hands. He was pissed because he wanted to know who the fuck had the gall to make Orihime cry.

"Kurosaki-san," a stern, but quieter voice spoke.

Ichigo blanked and stopped breathing for a moment, immediately recognizing his voice.

Inoue Sora.

"What the hell did you do to Inoue?" He yelled out hoarsely. Receiving a silence in return only burned his anger further, as if adding fuel onto the fire.

"I did nothing to my own sister, I assure you," Sora spat bitterly, clearly irritated with the opposite party as well. "It's more you that's done something."

"I didn't do a damn thing to her!"

"Don't give me that, Kurosaki-san. You know what you did."

Ichigo stopped for a moment, recalling nothing negative he's done to Inoue. But somehow, he knew he'd have to deal with her brother sooner or later. He just hoped it wouldn't be the former.

It wasn't that he seemed like a bad person either. From what he got from her, he genuinely seemed like a good guy, but just as protective of his sister as he was for Yuzu and Karin, his own siblings. However, this situation seemed to be border lining overprotection.

"If I remember right, you're the one who told me to date her," Ichigo scoffed in return, pounding his fist onto his lap. "You can't have it both ways!"

"I told you to court her for an evening, not lead her on like you have," Sora yelled out. Ichigo's anger almost boiled over for a moment before he remembered who was also with Sora at the time. His face paled and his eyes went wide as he pictured Orihime crying on the side as she figured out her own brother called for him to date her. But dammit, it wasn't like that!

"I'm not leading her on, you asshole!" Ichigo quickly yelled out, his anger suddenly returning, still accompanied with the sickening nausea of Orihime crying because of him.

"Regardless-"

"Regardless my ass, you bastard! Let me talk to her!" He yelled, his voice getting sore over the argument

"... I don't care about your feelings whatever they may be concerning my sister but what I do know is that she'll only be hurt if she's with you," Sora responded, suddenly sounding calm and collected. His quick change in attitude only seemed to piss Ichigo off more. It wasn't that Orihime's lack of work would result in her being hurt, but as her only family, she'd definitely be sad over losing what little she had left.

"Now just wait, dammit, I won't-"

"Leave her alone."

And a click resounded in his ears, his heart beating a mile a minute as his hand tempted to release the phone and drop it onto the floor. Just how the hell did so much happen in so little time? They seemed just fine when they saw each other last, although Orihime seemed to be brooding over something she refused to talk about. As he scowled hard and brought his hand up to rest at his eyes, he inwardly determined her to be upset about her brother.

Only, he stopped when he noticed his hand bleeding a bit, indentations of his nails into his skin showing he had gripped his hand too hard during the phone call. He thought it was great; just another thing he had to take care of.

... Dammit...


Orihime didn't particularly like how tear-drenched her sleeves and pillow were after her bought of crying. Even hours after the phone call she still felt like a very sad, wobbly pile of tears! Her muscles were sore from sobbing, her eyes hurt from crying, and her sleeves were soaked with tears. Groaning to herself, Orihime decided to just let the dampness of her surroundings slide by, feeling too tired and weak to do put some dry stuff on. Besides, she just figured she'd start crying again soon anyways.

A heavy sigh escaped her parted lips as she rolled onto her side, scrunching her nose to prevent an oncoming sneeze from breaking out.

Had Ichigo really just gone on dates with her because her brother requested it? Her heart ached at the thought anyways, even though she knew in her mind that Ichigo was a good person and would never hurt anyone like that. However, she knew her brother was always truthful and protected her, just as an older brother would. As Orihime squeezed her eyes shut to fight back more stinging tears, she felt torn as to who to believe.

Tink.

Orihime raised her head slowly upon hearing the soft sound, the noise resembling that of something hitting her window. But as she glanced over to the outer wall, she saw nothing. ... Probably just a bug. She mentally noted before lying down again onto the pillow, a soft sigh coming from her lips.

Tink.

She had to look up again upon hearing it for a second time. Her dainty brows furrowed together as she sat up, staring curiously at her window.

Tink.

Now she knew for sure it wasn't any evil alien bugs and she stood up, albeit shakily, to head towards the window. Just who would disturb her so late at night? Even Sora was sleeping now, which she was relieved slightly relieved about.

Pulling aside her blinds, Orihime had to squint her eyes to determine just who or what was tossing things at her window. The lamppost down the street didn't give off much light, but she could faintly tell it was a masculine figure down in front of the store, standing quite tall as he waved a hand.

She probably shouldn't have opened it but she couldn't see. Her fingers toyed with the locks and panels of the window, soon pulling up the chilly wood and glass fixture. Sticking her head out a bit, she squinted again to get a closer look. The figure remained the same and she still couldn't determine who it was.

"Inoue!" He called out in a heavy whisper. She had been curious before but now she knew exactly who it was down below. Her heart started to race and she had to swallow thickly before calling out his name.

"K-Kurosaki-kun?" She asked in a same whisper, her fingers gripping the wood of the windowsill.

"Can you come down?" He asked softly, his tone sounding like he meant no harm. Should she go down though? Her brother forbade her from meeting with him anymore but the idea of sneaking to see him for just a few moments was awfully tempting, seeing as she was never much of a spontaneous person. But on the other hand, there was still the issue of him being asked by Sora himself to date her.

She wasn't sure if he could see it anyways, but Orihime bit her bottom lip as she nodded, swiftly, but quietly, closing the window again, putting the locks back into place. She buttoned her sweater back up as she slipped on her slippers, a growing blush making itself apparent the more she thought about meeting him.

J-Just talk to him about the first date, that's all... Orihime told herself in her head over and over, like a mantra. Deep inside, she felt Sora wouldn't mind if she heard the real truth. Even as horrible as she felt about practically betraying both of them in an odd sense, she thought she deserved to hear the facts. At least, she hoped she could without being labeled as conceited and selfish.

She took careful precaution as she tip-toed her way down the stairs, wincing every time the floorboards creaked under her weight. If it weren't for the age of their store, she wouldn't have to worry about making such a ruckus.

Regardless, Orihime managed to get her way back downstairs and to their front room, eyes dead-on the locks that separated her from Ichigo. Her hand couldn't stop shaking as she reached the doorknob, twisting the locks slowly and carefully while keeping her eyes on the handle and not at his figure just outside the door. She didn't need to look at him to know he was watching her with his stern, brown eyes.

The final click of the lock sent a feeling of anticipation and nervousness to her belly and she seemed to have an awfully hard time trying to open the door. Luckily and unluckily for her (she couldn't tell), Ichigo seemed to have that handled and opened the entrance. It was as if things had slowed down for her as she watched his actions, but everything seemed to happen so fast as well.

Orihime opened her mouth to say something but immediately snapped it back shut, unsure of what to say. Instead, she frowned and pursed her lips while folding her arms across her chest. She had wanted to look up at him but the recurring heartache from earlier made her keep her gaze averted.

"Inoue, I wanted to talk," Ichigo spoke quietly, lifting his hand to tenderly touch her shoulder. The gentle caress seemed so foreign now and she didn't particularly how it was so unfamiliar. Frowning again, she looked up to him with furrowed brows, eyes shining with disbelief and hurt. "And I wanted to see you," he finished.

"Ah... I see..." She could only respond, tightening her arms around her midsection. What else could she say? She was confused and torn on top of feeling like she could burst into tears at any moment.

But it seemed he didn't want to say anything right away seeing as he had taken her cheeks in his hands, cupping her face. In a swift move, he brought his lips to hers, giving her a slow, tender kiss. He made careful precautions as to not force both of them too far considering he was under the assumption she'd be upset.

Pulling apart, Ichigo eyes kept half-lidded as he rested his forehead on hers. "I missed you..." He told her in a quiet voice, his warm breath fanning over her lips. As much as she didn't want to admit it, with the rollercoaster of emotions she was on, she did too.

Tugging at his shirt with small fists, she let her eyes fluttered closed. "I... I missed you too, Kurosaki-kun." Smirking, he was somewhat glad to hear he wasn't one-sided with his feelings. Relishing in his warmth, Orihime pulled herself closer to him, sniffling back tears. "W-Why are you here?" She asked, finally asking the question.

And he pulled back at this point, looking at her with serious eyes. "You deserve the truth," Ichigo told her openly. For some reason, she had bad feelings about this and bolts of fear raced through her body. Eyes growing wide, she took her bottom lip between her teeth and gulped. She could only nod in response, fearing her voice would crack if she started talking.

The orange-haired teen led her to a nearby chair, motioning for her to sit while he told her this 'truth'. As she sat down, she never broke her stare with him and he gave her a small smile of reassurance. He pulled another chair close to hers, keeping quiet while the legs scraped across the floor. Both winced, hoping they wouldn't wake her brother above, but all seemed to keep still once they both quieted down.

"Your brother asked me to date you," Ichigo told her outright, taking her small hands into his larger ones. He could definitely feel her tense up at the bluntness of his statement and he squeezed her palms and digits in an attempt to calm her down. "It was just the first date though."

"T-Then all of it... I-It was out of pity?" She asked, amazed at herself for being able to say something at all. He brought her hands up and gave them a kiss, his lids covering most of his eyes.

"No, not at all; just the first... The rest was me... I really did want to spend more time with you," he told her in a low tone, a shudder going through her. Sighing lightly, he continued on. "He called me the day before I initially asked you out and I'm not going to lie, I was a fucking wreck. I didn't know what to do and I was honest-to-god nervous."

Orihime gave him a watery smile, stifling a small giggle at the idea of him being nervous. Cracking a smile of his own, he squeezed her hands again.

"So do you understand now? I didn't do it because of your brother. I did it because I... wanted to be with you," he told her, his voice cracking a bit. He was pretty sure he liked her more than a friend sense, but he was just too damn hesitant to actually tell her. In place of those words, he told her a much weaker version of it; one he wasn't too happy about. Again, he did think she deserved to know the truth. All of it.

She nodded and gave him a soft smile, her cheeks a bit red. At least she felt a bit better about the whole dating question, however, the nagging thought of having to choose still remained in her head.

"Thank you, Kurosaki-kun," Orihime told him quietly, genuinely thankful for him coming to talk to her and explain things. Even more so that he came while her brother was still sleeping. He smirked and nodded, letting himself lean forward to meet his lips with hers in a brief kiss.

"And thanks for listening," he responded in the same manner, lacing his hand through her thick tresses while pulling her forward further. Orihime hummed in bliss as she smiled into the kiss. Pulling his lips away, he buried his head in the crook of her neck, inhaling her scent.

"W-Will I see you again?" She asked quietly, returning the hug.

"Tomorrow?"

"It can't be during the day though..." Orihime pouted because as much as she wanted to see him during the day, she knew she'd get in big trouble for having Kurosaki-kun around.

"Tomorrow night then. After your brother goes to sleep, I'll come by again," he mumbled into her hair. She blushed and nodded again, finding it scandalous but very exciting to meet him when she really shouldn't be. Although she had one insecurity in which she tightened her hold upon thinking about it.

"You promise? You will come?"

"Yeah, don't worry. I promise I'll be here."

Orihime just hoped he would keep true to his words.


She proved to be silent throughout the day, doing her work as usual only without any additional comments. Sora noted it wasn't like she seemed sick or anything - just quiet. Sure, it was different and very unusual, but her disposition wasn't out of the ordinary. No sadness or frustration; merely silence.

Hm...

"Is everything okay, Orihime?" He asked nonchalantly, wrapping his arm around her slim shoulders. Glancing up at him, Orihime puckered her lips.

"Everything's fine, Onii-chan," she responded, slightly curious as to her brother's sudden concern. "Why do you ask?"

"Oh, you just seem quieter today is all." He commented, tucking her head under his chin. Orihime let her brows fall as she draped her arm across Sora's midsection, giving him a hug. She had a reason for being quieter, but she could never tell him why.

Orihime was still planning on meeting Ichigo during nightfall. Even now her heart pounded at the thought of the secret, scandalous meeting, but so far she seemed to do a pretty good job of hiding her nervousness.

"Just thinking a lot, is all," she told him, forcing a smile during the hug. Sora returned the embrace and patted her hair with his large hand. At least she wasn't lying to him about the many thoughts. She did feel sick at the idea of hiding things from her one and only family member, but her adrenaline rushed and blood pounding around Kurosaki Ichigo.

"...About him?" Was all Sora inquired, knowing very well neither one of them needed to specify who 'him' was. She remained silent, merely tightening the hug instead. He noticed her nonexistent response and patted her head, closing his eyes as he slowly began to assume she was actually sad over him. Even now he could feel some of her sister's angst over her newly lost love.

Now he was feeling some guilt, but he knew he'd get over it eventually in the same manner she'd get over him.

"It'll be okay, Orihime," Sora cooed to her softly, pulling her into a tighter, loving embrace. Orihime's eyes widened during the hug, wondering just what her brother was reassuring her for. Or perhaps...

Did he think she was upset about what happened with Ichigo?

Flushing, she was unsure of to hold onto the hug for a bit longer or let go feeling nothing but shame. Her eyes stung with tears and she had to swallow thickly before responding shakily.

"H-Hai..."

A soft sigh escaped the lips of the honey-colored hair girl as she sat by her window, eyebrows furrowed into a slanted 'V'. She could feel her cheeks burning with humiliation and some self-hate at how she was going against her brother just to meet the boy she was fawning over. Well, perhaps fawning was too weak of a word... But love... She wasn't sure if she could define it as such immense feelings, but the way her heart pounded said otherwise.

Orihime glanced back at the clock at the wall, noting the time. It was almost 11:30 and Ichigo still hadn't shown up. Deep down, she knew he was coming later to avoid her brother but at the same time, her heart ached to see him. For some reason, she hadn't been able to stand going so many hours without seeing or hearing from the boy. Her cheeks grew hotter at the idea of her always needing to be around him.

M-Maybe it is love...

Looking back out the window, Orihime saw bright, blazing hair came into sight. One Kurosaki Ichigo was approaching their shop and she suddenly wasn't sure what to do. Bolt down the stairs and meet him outside? Or perhaps wait for him otherwise? Shaking her head, she questioned herself as to why she'd wait. She desperately wanted to see him, so why would she be having second thoughts?

Grabbing a hold of her gray cardigan, seeing as it was chillier outside tonight, the graceful girl shrugged on the button-up sweater. Her feet almost automatically slipped into her flats and carefully and quietly, she left her room and began the hardest part of meeting with Ichigo.

Leaving the house without waking her brother.

Although her sibling could sleep like the dead, Orihime still took careful precautions to not be rolling down the stairs of sorts, although she almost did losing her balance. The entire way to the front door, where Ichigo was, was the slowest, tormenting time she'd ever felt. Inner anguish from both drifting from her family and how the boy she dearly desired was so close.

She could see him raise a hand to the glass, a smile mixed with excitement and relief on his face. Her cheeks flushed up in anticipation, her hand seeming to drift upwards as well closer to the nearby glass. It was like she was holding her breath when she reached the door, not breathing quite properly as her fingers grazed the small lock. Twisting the knob, the gears of the security device seemed to be awfully loud in her ears as she carefully unlocked the door. Her heart pounded in her chest as her palms and digits moved towards the handle now, opening the door just as slow as she did with the lock.

Releasing the held breath, Orihime could feel the chilly wind hitting her skin as Ichigo opened the door further from his side. He was a man on a mission; determined to see the woman that set his heart racing.

He took no hesitation as he palmed her face, fingers brushing over her fair skin. His lips made their way onto hers, kissing her with deeply. She scrunched her eyes as she fisted his shirt in her small hands, absolutely soaring with the way he made her feel.

"Ku-Kurosaki-kun..." She stuttered, pulling away from their kissing to regain her breath. A faint smile ghosted over her lips as she pulled him closer. "You're here..." Her tone was full of relief.

Smirking a bit against her lips, he kissed her again as he laced his fingers through her thick hair, mind going fuzzy from the insanely addicting smell. He could never put his finger on it, but she smelled positively amazing; something fruity, he guessed.

"You didn't think I would be?" He inquired softly, kissing the corner of her lips. Orihime could feel herself redden all the way down to her toes at the guilt, indeed wondering if he would show up or not. But he noticed her silence and immediately understood; no words needing to be said.

So he pulled away and rested his forehead against hers, smirking again at how they were both out of breath from the kisses. They weren't the best in the world, but the fact it affected them so much was something worth remembering.

"I'll always be here for you," he promised against her lips, his hands still caressing her cheeks. "I promise you..." She blinked leisurely in reply although her big gray eyes showed a quick flash of hesitation and worry before glancing down and away. Her instant gaze downwards had Ichigo pulling her lips into another kiss, inciting a quick squeak from the recipient. "I don't know what you're thinking, but don't," he warned softly. "It's only making you sad."

The tears started to sting at her eyes with his gentle words and she began to lean into his hands, his embrace. Letting her eyes flutter closed, she nodded and shyly let her arms wrap around his midsection. ...H-He's so warm... She thought as she pulled closer.

Part of Ichigo wanted to smile at her almost carefree actions towards him, but his other side made him want to scowl instead. Why would he frown in such a reunion, one may inquire? The fact that she was upset alone made his own heart twist cruelly, his stomach flipping with uncomfortable uncertainty.

"Come on..." He whispered, pulling back to place a light kiss on her forehead. "Let's get you out of here for a while." She looked up to him with some concern, her eyes almost asking if it was really alright.

"... Can we?" Orihime asked softly, holding back temptation to hug him tighter. He nodded gruffly and took her hands in his.

"I'll have you back before he wakes up," Ichigo told her as if he had already planned this all out. "Ah, do you have a key to get back in?" The teen nodded quickly before looking back at the front counter, a shiny gold key settled upon the clear top.

With adrenaline and nervousness pumping through her body, Orihime darted back towards the countertop to get the key. It wasn't a moment later she was back with Ichigo, her free hand held onto his larger one. Giving it a small squeeze, she hid her red face by her bangs as she tugged at her bottom lip, embarrassed for what was to come.

"Ready?" He asked in a low voice, one that sent shivers down her spine. Still not looking up, she nodded before pulling him out the door, now feeling anticipation. All earlier thoughts of her brother and what he would do if he found out about this all disappeared from her head.

Although it wouldn't be the best date ever, the exhilaration alone would make this one of the best nights in her life.


Orihime found all her worries to fly away with each kick, each stroke closer to the sky. Her inhibitions flew to the stars, eyes growing wider each time she pumped her legs back and forth. Who knew playing on swings could be such a relief?

Ichigo sat in the seat next to hers, watching her swinging form with a small smile on his face. She seemed enthusiastic enough, or at least not as stressed as she was earlier. If it was one thing he preferred, it was Orihime with a smile on her face.

Her swing began to slow down with her eyes never averting the starry night sky.

"Ne, Kurosaki-kun..."

"Hm?"

"Do you think the stars ever get lonely?" She asked in a soft voice, nothing but innocence in her question. Glancing from her to above back to her, he put a quizzical expression on his features. Scrunching her brows together, his head tilted to the side in question.

"What makes you ask that, Inoue?" Ichigo inquired out of pure curiosity. Although he knew very well stars didn't live lives or have souls, her thought process was always interesting to say the least.

Pointing to a particularly brighter one off to her right, she let her lips form into a small pout.

"They're so far apart..." She told him, bringing her index finger to point at another star further away. "I imagine the distance is saddening." She finished, kicking her legs again to gain slight momentum on her swing. He started to as well, occasionally catching himself in pace with her.

Humming in understanding, Ichigo kicked the grains of sand with his shoe, sending bits of the earthy substance into the air. Although the star analogy was on the more or less intriguing side, he still grasped her concept of being far apart from others.

"They're not close, but at least they're not alone," he shrugged as he inputted his two cents. In a way, he felt the same way around Orihime, at least as of late. Even with the newfound separation due to her brother Inoue Sora, he felt a forlorn, empty ache inside him. Although they weren't close to each other physically, he could still vaguely experience a warming feeling just at the thought of her.

Orihime was surprised he could come up with such beautiful words; almost brought a tear to her eye too. Smiling as she nodded, her features read agreement.

"Ehehe... It's kinda like us," she continued, keeping her voice quiet. The mention of the both of them gained much more of his attention and he never averted his eyes from her small form on the swing. "We want to be closer, but we'll always be far apart..." Raising a brow, he could only partially understand her words. "Onii-chan..." Was all she finished with, immediately sending a feeling of shock racing through Ichigo's body. Yes, her brother was the root of their problem.

"Inoue..."

But instead of keeping her head bowed and continue to cry, she looked up at him with blatant tears in her eyes, determined to smile despite what she was feeling.

"A-At least I'm not alone anymore though," she tried to speak without stuttering but was brought to no avail. Tears dripped down her cheeks and dropped from her chin onto her gray dress, making dark stains onto the fabric.

Ichigo was partially amazed at, one, how she could try so hard to smile despite her pain, and two, how he was sitting there without doing anything, at least at first. It wasn't a moment later something snapped inside him, feeling just as much pain as she was. He lifted himself from his seat and soon grabbed at the chain of her own swing, the slight movement causing her to glance up in surprise.

"K-Kuro-" She started to speak his surname when he lowered his head to hers, meeting her lips in a sweet kiss. Letting her watery eyes flutter closed, Orihime hummed in slight bliss as she shyly moved her lips against his. Even after doing this many times before, he still managed to make her feel like she was flying, as if detached from her body.

Cupping her cheek with his free hand, Ichigo carefully ran his tongue along her bottom lip, as if requesting permission. With burning cheeks, she fully complied by timidly parting her lips. Ichigo had no hesitation as his fingers shifted from her cheek to the deep tresses of her hair, thumb brushing by the shell of her ear. He entered his tongue into her moist cavern, thoroughly taking in her sweet taste while letting a groan ring out into the chilly, night air.

However, the dampness on his hands and obvious tears from earlier caused him to pull away, a concerned, albeit soft expression on his face.

"What's wrong?" He questioned, placing a tender kiss to her forehead while hearing another choked sob pour from her lips. She hiccupped and sniffled, making him note she really was upset about something.

"Kurosaki-kun, I-I..." She stuttered, finding herself unable to look him directly in the eye now. She kept her lashes lowered, her cheeks burning with shame. "W-We can't do this..." She fisted her dress in her hands as she tried to get the words out. "I-It's so hard a-and..."

Silently, Ichigo took her hands in his and raised her from the swing, bringing her to her feet. Once properly upright, he wrapped his arms around her slim shoulders and sighed lightly. He could feel her placing her small hands on his back, grabbing a tight hold on his hooded sweatshirt.

"Shh," he shushed quietly, trying to soothe her. Orihime sniffed into his shirt and he could feel the hot tears melting into the cloth. "It'll be okay," he tried to reassure her. "I promise you we'll get through this."

But part of her wanted to cry harder and ask, how do you know that though? Not all stories have happy endings. However, she didn't want to be a downer. She refused to be one because she outright knew it wasn't part of her character.

So as she nuzzled her nose into his chest, the girl inhaled her boyfriend's scent deeply, taking in the spicy smell. Soon her mind grew muddled and her thoughts meshed together. If it was one thing she really liked about her boyfriend, it was how he was always able to make her lose herself. She could mentally let go of her problems and worries temporarily. But even if it was just for a short while, it still felt good not to have to think about anything.

"You want to go to my place for a bit?" He offered, running a hand through her thick locks. "It's getting kind of chilly out here." She glanced up at him, her eyes wide with surprise.

"I-Is it okay?"

Chuckling a bit, he nodded and kissed her again on the forehead. "I live there, so I hope it would be." Orihime's cheeks burned with some humiliation at her silly question and she forced her eyes downwards. Pulling away, Ichigo quickly turned around and squatted, startling the girl by his sudden drop to the ground.

"K-Kurosaki-kun?" She squeaked, wondering just what he was doing.

"Hop on."

"Eh?"

"That isn't a word, Inoue. Hop on."

"B-But, I'm wearing a dress and I could accidentally flash people!" She explained hastily, mind racing for more excuses she could throw out.

Although the idea of that brought a dull blush to Ichigo's cheeks, he shook his head free of the embarrassment and persisted further.

"It's midnight; no one's going to see you. Or us, for that matter," he told her firmly, shrugging his shoulders. "So get on."

Orihime fidgeted in her spot for a moment, shifting her weight from leg to leg. Taking her lip between her teeth, she took a step closer, fingers trembling at the idea of getting ride back to his house this way.

"I-I'm warning you now!" She cried, lacing her arms around his neck from the back. "I'm very heavy!" He remained silent as he hooked his arms under her legs, hoisted her up. A squeak escaped her mouth as he rose so quickly and she held onto his neck tighter, burying her face into his back.

But he stopped and seemed to evaluate her weight for a moment before smirking to himself and blowing out a sharp breath into the air.

"Don't worry, Inoue. You're not as heavy as I thought you'd be," he told her, already imagining her face growing dangerously red at his words. He started to walk towards his house, knowing it wouldn't be too long until they got there.

Orihime, on the other hand, was actually border lining purple behind his back.

"Y-You've thought about my weight before?" She cried a bit too loudly into his ears. Scrunching his eyes, he decided to ignore her sudden level of outburst. Of course she'd be freaked to find of he's thought of her before – She was Inoue Orihime.

"Hm... Have I?" He teased, his smirk from earlier returning. Orihime burst out more cries of embarrassment as she further hid her face against his shoulder.

"M-Mou, don't tease, Kurosaki-kun!" She whimpered against his back, too much embarrassment flooding her system.

"You shouldn't make it so easy," he commented additionally, taking a sharp turn left. However, a quick thought passed his mind and curiosity welled in his being. "What about me?"

"Eh?" She repeated again, making his eyes roll.

"Have you ever thought about me before?"

A silence swept over the two and Ichigo didn't know whether to take it as a good thing or not. The air about them suddenly seemed full of awkward tension and he quickly felt bad for asking something so stupid.

"N-Never mind, sorry I as-"

"I have..." She blurted out, surprising him. He just about dropped her upon hearing her small answer but forced himself to keep her upright. Letting his girlfriend fall to the ground was definitely not a good idea in his book.

Keeping the blush at bay, Ichigo wanted to question further, but at the same time he didn't want to alarm the poor girl with his continuing interest. Clearing his throat, he decided to go for it. What else could he lose anyways?

"You... You don't say," he started slowly, building it up. "Uh, like what?" Humming into his shoulder, Orihime let her eyes flutter closed.

"Hm... Your eyes," she commented simply, sighing in content. Why was she feeling so sleepy all of a sudden? "So pretty and brown and..." The girl stopped for a minute, her brows furrowing together as if trying to think of another describing word. Alas, it was to avail and she had to repeat again, "brown." Ichigo couldn't help but smirk at her adorable lack of adjectives.

"Anything else?" He curiously prodded further as he started to see his home in sight.

"Your abs," she replied mindlessly, finding herself drifting off into a deep slumber. Ichigo blushed hard now at her answer, much further away from innocent compared to her last one. Even now, memories of their kisses and her dainty hands brushing over his midsection made him heat up incredulously.

"A-Ah... Interesting..."

But she didn't stop there; she mumbled a few last words into his hooded sweatshirt that made him both embarrassed and slightly turned-on in a freaky, weird way.

"I bet they can grate cheese... So tough..."

And he could feel her slump completely against his back, her cheek resting on the large muscles of his shoulders.

Damn... He inwardly groaned, just then arriving at the front door of his abode. Never had he thought she'd compare his abs to a cheese grater.

He didn't know how he could juggle both her and getting his own key out to let them in, but he managed to do it somehow. It all seemed to fast, actually. One second he was letting them in and another they were in his room, his familiar hard wood floors chilling his feet.

But what to do next? She was clearly sleeping now, but should he let her down on his bed or wake her up and have her go there herself? As much as he didn't want to wake her, he went with the latter and shrugged his shoulders, moving her head a bit to arise her from her slumber.

"O-Oi, Inoue. We're here..." Ichigo whispered, feeling her shift in her sleep. Why he stuttered as well, he had no clue. A soft moan escaped her lips as she raised her head to foggily look at her surroundings.

"... Kurosaki-kun's... room?" She asked groggily, bringing one of her hands to rub at her eyes. Nodding, although she couldn't see it, he started to crouch again and let her down. Somehow, it was saddening to feel her body heat disappear from his back.

"Yeah... Is that okay?" He inquired, turning around to face her. He immediately felt guilty for not taking her back home instead. That way she could've just slept away in her own bed. Groaning a bit, just seeing her so tired was making him tired now too.

Wordlessly, Orihime stepped closer to him and laced her arms around his stomach, pressing herself flesh up against him. His arms rose in surprise, shocked to see her being so bold like this.

"I-I'm..." She started mumbling against his shirt. "Scared..." Finishing, she squeezed him tighter, still feeling tears sting at her eyes even in her drowsy state.

Ichigo knew what she was scared about and he hugged her back in compliance. She didn't need to say anything to let him know she was upset.

"And I told you, it'll be okay," he tried to reassure her again, patting her head softly. He felt her shake her head at him and he looked down to her caramel-colored head in slight confusion.

"I-It won't be..." She started to cry, biting her lip to force back sobs.

"I swear, Inoue, I'll protect you."

He stern words, laced with nothing but truth, caused her to look up at him with soft, tear-filled eyes. His heartstrings were tugged at this disheartening sight and he narrowed his face in all seriousness. "I'll protect you no matter what."

And with that, he lowered his lips to hers, gently kissing her in assurance. Orihime, however, felt frozen now and could only receive his tender touches. Her mind was reeling in all their problems and she wasn't in the right mindset to give back to him everything he was giving her.

Nibbling at her lips, Ichigo held her hips in his hands and pulled her closer. He could tell she was hesitating and was sure as hell not going to keep forcing her if she was unresponsive. So instead of continue what he had started, he pulled away and looking down to her with stern, but soft eyes. She looked back at him with confusion in her gray irises, questioning him as to why he stopped.

"You're upset," he started bluntly, making her eyes widen.

"N-No, it's okay, we can-"

"We can't," he interrupted her, placing a finger to her swollen lips. "And we won't." Shifting his hand to her cheek, he let her lean in his palm while stroking her skin with his thumb. "Not when you're not the normal Inoue."

"Eh? Did... you want me to act like a normal me then?" She asked, referring to her more peppery self, the one who's smiled resembled sunshine. He shook his head again as he watched her blink temptingly slow at him.

"No... Don't force yourself," he commanded, his fingers twitching against her smooth flesh. "Otherwise we'll both feel bad." Nodding, Orihime understood what he was referring to and inwardly thanked him for being generous. Giving her a sad smile of sorts, he lightly chuckled. "It's just hard to see you this sad."

"... I'm sorry..." She quietly apologized. He pulled her into another quick hug in an attempt to reassure her.

"Don't be. Stuff happens and we just have to learn to adapt and make it work for ourselves."

Unable to stifle back a yawn, Orihime wondered just how Ichigo could be so philosophical. Even at their young age, he almost acted double his years and practically knew all knowledge of the world.

"Come on," he started to move her towards his bed, ushering her to sleep. "You can rest here for a bit before I bring you back, okay?" Orihime just nodded in response, unable to form two words together due to the fatigue. Wordlessly, she crawled onto his mattress and watched him with tired eyes, cocking her head to the side in question as to why he wasn't joining her. So far, he was just standing at the side of his own bed, just watching her.

"Kurosaki-kun?" She questioned, sluggishly patting the spot next to her. Giving out a small smirk, he climbed aboard and observed her small form fall onto the blankets, her long hair spreading out around her head like a halo.

"Try to get some sleep, okay?" He told her softly, brushing stray tendrils from her face. Like she was being commanded, her lids drooped and she immediately fell into slumber. It was true to say she had fallen asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow.

He could feel sleep tugging at his mind as well as he stared at her resting form, but he still smiled anyways. Such an incredible, generous, beautiful girl was close to him like this. And to think – not that long ago he was just delivering meat to her small shop; himself as a 'cow herder', as she would describe him, meeting with her, a weaver. Not so long ago she had tried to tip him for his delivery job, which now he realized was a kind thing of her to do.

But he realized his previous efforts had already been rewarded. He could keep a girl like Inoue Orihime by his side.


Perhaps it was instinct, or maybe it was her women's intuition. Either way, Orihime snapped right out of his bed, shooting straight up with wide eyes. It didn't take her very long to notice the very apparent sunlight bursting through the windows. Her eyes darted to his nearby alarm clock, the bright red numbers blaring the regretful time right at her face.

7:30.

Her brother usually woke up around 8, opening the store approximately an hour later.

Choking out a half-sob, half-gasp of worry, the bright-haired teen bolted off the mattress, paying no attention to the arm that had been casually used as her pillow. In her frantic state, she completely forgot about her sleeping boyfriend. Only accidentally hitting his arm made her remember the previous night's events. A groan escaped his lips as he rolled over and her heart practically stopped, fearing she'd woke him up.

But what was she to do? Wake him up? Leave a note? Slip away without saying anything? Her eyes grew wide with worry, mind and heart racing at to what she was supposed to do from here. If she ran to her place, she could make it back in 20 minutes tops, if she sprinted. Clutching her head in her hands, she fretted and tears stung at her eyes. She would get in trouble and would never be able to see Ichigo again, even more so than before.

"... Inoue?" A disgruntled voice came from her side. Snapping her head to the side, Orihime saw Ichigo awake looking confused as heck.

"K-Kurosaki-kun, I-I..." She couldn't finish her statement as she automatically remembered something. Her key! She had to find her key again! Frazzled, she dropped to the floor, vaguely recalling dropping it during their fervently fatigued kisses. Her cheeks grew incredibly warm as her fingers prodded the plush carpet, searching for the key back into her home.

A silence swept over them as Ichigo slowly but surely woke up, eventually glancing at the same clock she did before.

"S-Shit!" The tan boy cursed loudly into the room, jumping out of bed just as quickly as she did moments ago. It was as if he read her mind because he fell to the floor to search for the golden trinket. "Fuck! I'm so stupid!" He swore again, lean fingers roving over the ground.

"N-No, it's okay Kurosaki-kun," Orihime tried to reassure him although her heart was pounding loudly in her ears; so loud she wasn't sure she could even reassure herself. "You didn't mean to and-"

"Here!" He soon had a hold of the desired key and held it up in front of her, a mix of relief and guilt plastered on his face. She nodded and began to take it from his hand, her small dainty one touching his. Before she snatched the key from his hand, he grabbed a hold of her wrist and pulled her into a kiss. It was sweet, tender, deep, so many other amazing things Orihime wished she could define, but could only express through these caresses like these.

"I'm sorry," he breathed against her fair skin, capturing her swollen lips in a final kiss.

"Don't be," she told him in the same tone, relishing in the feel of his hand so close to hers. "W-Will I see you again?" Grudgingly, he had to release her and let her go, but he nodded anyways.

"I'll find a way," he promised to her, his brown eyes shining with nothing but truth. "I'll do whatever it takes to see you again." Orihime blushed and shook her head in understanding. She didn't want to leave, but she knew if she didn't get home before her brother awoke, she'd be in a world of trouble.

Standing up, she hastily made her way to the door, never averting her eyes from his.

"Ja ne, Kurosaki-kun..."

Something got caught in his throat it seemed, so he could only watch her exit out the door, unable to say anything. But as she disappeared out of his room, he couldn't help but feel she'd soon fade out of his life completely.


Although huffing and puffing, her breath coming out in short, rapid pants, Orihime managed to get home just moments before 8 o'clock. Her legs felt like lead, not wanting to move from the ground as she hovered her key towards the slot, unable to keep her hands from shaking.

The click of the gears and the bolts in the lock sent a shock to her stomach, her fingers clenching tightly around her little key. She made it home safe, but now what would stop her from feeling guilty about what she had done? She felt bad before and now she just felt worse.

Grief is the price she had to pay for love.

The deadbolt unlocked and she managed to smoothly get inside the small store, all quiet with nothing but her feet creaking the floorboards. But as she locked the door again from the inside, her eyes stung with bitter tears. What had she been reduced to? Hiding so much from her brother, her only family, was something she would have never done before.

Orihime had indeed determined she was in love with Kurosaki Ichigo, delivery boy of Kurosaki Beef.

Darting out her tongue to wet her lips, she prodded her feet over to the front counter, placing the little golden key back to its original location. Perhaps if she hurried, she could take a shower before work, unsuspecting to her brother. Although as she made haste up the stairs, the honey-colored haired teen felt like her blood was poison in her body, pins and needles attacking every inch of her skin.

Swallowing thickly while turning left to her bedroom, she could feel herself falling apart, her seams ripping and threatening to break loose. She didn't think she could hold out much longer. She wasn't one to lie in the first place, but now she found herself entangled in her own fibs and falsehoods, trying desperately to keep both parties, whom she loved dearly, happy when it was clear one side would have to lose; lose meaning she wouldn't be able to be around them any longer.

Her hands gripped clean clothes as she shuffled back to the bathroom, pulling her hairpins from their appropriate positions. She sighed, her body weary from running around so late in the night as well as the mental turmoil she experienced from this onslaught of unfamiliar thoughts.

"Orihime," Sora called out from her, startling the poor girl to the point of jumping in her place. Flushing, her big gray irises went to meet his and she shuddered, not particularly liking the look in his eyes. It was also unfamiliar and it made her a bit scared. "Would you mind coming downstairs after your shower?" He asked in a soft voice, a small smile on his face. "I have something I'd like to talk to you about."

"E-Eh? What about?"

"Oh, nothing big," he responded casually, pivoting his feet to leave. He purposely avoided her eyes so she wouldn't see his own fibs in his expressive gray irises. "Just come down whenever you get the chance."

Needless to say, Orihime took no extra time in her process of cleaning up. With an erratic heartbeat, she didn't know whether to be excited or horrified at his words. Every action of showering herself up for the day seemed to fly by so quickly, her thoughts suddenly full of Ichigo. Was he involved in this somehow? Was Sora going to scold her again?

Or worse, what if he had found out about the previous night?

Orihime started to shake as she zipped up her skirt and buttoned her top, paying no mind to brush her hair or wash her face. She immediately bolted from the bathroom, very frazzled looking with the hairbrush in her firm grip.

"O-Onii-chan, what was it you wanted to talk about?" She asked, clearly out of breath. He was at the front desk, turning around to face her with a smile. He could see that she understood that this was more of a bigger deal that he was saying it was.

"Sit down, Orihime," Sora spoke softly, motioning for her to sit on the nearby stool. Frazzled, she did as she was told and watched him carefully as he took the pink brush from her small hand. Her hard grip on the item didn't go unnoticed.

With careful, smooth strokes, Sora began to brush her caramel-colored hair, smiling faintly as he did so. "I've always loved your long hair," he told her in a calm tone, somewhat hoping it would reassure her somehow. She still shook noticeably, physically refusing to relax unless he told her the outright truth. Humming, he worked at a small knot at the back of her head. "Have you ever heard of Tokyo, Orihime?"

Fidgeting in her seat, she visibly nodded. "Everyone's heard of it, Onii-chan. It's the capital of Japan." Closing her eyes for a short moment, she seemed to imagine it in her head. "It's almost every person's dream to visit Tokyo once, since it's such a big city," she quietly commented.

Stopping his brushing, he released her hair from his hands. His smiled faded as he said the words that would change her life forever.

"Then I think you'd be happy to know we're moving there."

As if on cue, very much anticipated, Orihime whipped her head around and threw her hands to the air.

"W-What? W-When?" She cried, tears automatically welling in her eyes. "O-Onii-chan, I like it here in Karakura!" Sora remained silent as he handed her back the brush, knowing very well she wouldn't want him to comb her hair any more. "The people are nice here!"

"People or person?" He immediately snapped, intervening with an unintentionally harsh voice. Orihime jumped back, eyes growing wide with surprise that her brother would yell at her in such a loud manner.

"I-I don't know what you're talking abo-"

"You were out with Kurosaki-san last night. I'm not stupid, Orihime."

She instantly quieted, tears starting to run down her cheeks. What could she say? She already felt like her blood rushed backwards due to all the lies and dishonesty she was giving out, now her brother had caught on and quite quickly as well.

"I-I know you're not stupid, Onii-chan, j-just let me explain!" She sobbed, bringing her hands to wipe away gushing tears. Her gaze never wavered from his, inwardly hoping he'd see just how much she was hurting anyways from her expressive eyes alone.

"Kurosaki-san is a bad influence," Sora retorted quickly again, suddenly busying himself with the front countertop. "I don't care if I told you to go for it or not, we're leaving tomorrow."

Orihime wasn't so stuck anymore, although the pain in her heart was much greater. Before she knew she'd eventually have to pick between family and love, but now her decision had already been made by her own brother. It was too unfortunate that her pain rivaled none. Nowhere, no one she could meet would ever ache with this sadness as much as she had.

She practically tripped off her chair as she stumbled out of the front room and back up the stairs, taking no time to retreat to her room. Back with Sora, he could feel some shared sadness of his sister's, but was determined to think she'd better off with familial love rather than unfamiliar love. After all, it was all she'd ever known otherwise.


He wasn't much of a thinker anyways, so his new decision really didn't require much thought. Although in normal situations, people tended to think more about this particular thing. Ichigo wasn't normal though and neither was his situation relating to Orihime.

Ring.

So he was doing it the informal formal way. Since he couldn't exactly go to their dry cleaning shop to ask for proper permission without feeling like an ass by being chased off by her brother, he would call and request his idea over the line.

Ring.

Perhaps it wasn't the best way he could do it, but Orihime meant a lot to him and he wanted to show it. He also knew she'd appreciate it much more if her brother approved of all this.

"Hello?"

"Hi, uh... This is Inoue Sora, right?"

"... Yes." Was all he replied with, a tinge of bitterness stinging in his voice as he responded. Clearly he knew who he was talking to.

"I won't take up much of your time, Sora-san-"

Since when was he on first name basis? Sora wondered over the phone. He didn't recall telling this boy it was okay to refer to him in such an informal manner.

"-but I wanted to get your permission for something."

"Don't waste your breath, Kurosaki-san," her brother replied sourly, not even giving him a chance to finish his proposal.

"W-Wait, that's not fair!"

"Life isn't fair."

"Okay, what's really going on? You weren't this angry before!"

"Circumstances have changed. But thanks to you taking Orihime away last night, you've opened my eyes as to what actions should really be taken."

"You're not making any sense! Just tell it to me straight."

"Don't see Orihime anymore."

"Wait, you can't just tell me not to-"

The dial tone never ran so loudly in his ears before and his eyes were wide with shock. Ichigo felt like he had just been slapped and he was now unsure of whether of what to do. Sit around and rage? Head over to their shop?

Despite what her brother had told him in their short conversation, he felt he needed to go to Inoue Dry Cleaning. Something wasn't sitting right in his stomach, especially due to the open hostility Sora had given him moments ago. If he acted that way to the teen alone, what would he be like around his own sister? Just the idea of him yelling at such an innocent, frail girl as Inoue Orihime made him shake with anger.

Scowling, Ichigo slammed his bedroom door open and practically stampeded down the stairs of the Kurosaki home. He would go over to their store and for sure take Orihime away. She didn't deserve to be around such harsh family and he was still persistent to put his plan, his decision into motion.

He was gripping the door handle of the front entrance when his father called out to him.

"Ichigo!" He belted into the house from the kitchen. "Come here! We just got a super order of a million meats!" Ichigo could feel his hand growing tighter on the doorknob as his blood rushed, damn sure to get out of the house and help Orihime.

"Not now! I need to go!"

He was about to leave again when a large man came barreling from the kitchen and sent Ichigo to the floor by the means of a head butt. The man was largely built with black hair and a scruffy beard. Even now, he wielded a meat cleaver in his right hand while glaring at his son.

"You're going to deliver this meat, boy!" His father, Kurosaki Isshin, scolded him while waving the cleaver around in a dangerous fashion.

Narrowly dodging the swinging tool, Ichigo scowled and roared, "And what if I don't?"

"You're under house arrest-"

"Pfft, that's a stupid punishment."

"-and..." Instead of finishing, he just put the knife to his son's throat. Inwardly, he'd obviously never kill his son, but he still had to put fear into his heart. Adrenaline was what real men ran on was what he always said.

With a cleaver to his neck, Ichigo couldn't exactly say no, especially with such a dangerous look in his father's eyes.

"Just how much damn meat do I need to deliver?" Ichigo asked forcefully and quickly, wanting to get this job done.

"Just come and get it!" Isshin cried, running back off to the kitchen. "We got a lot of orders so you'll need to come back to the house and restock because you won't have enough space to hold it all." Rolling his eyes, the teen shoved his hands into his pockets and grumbled, stalking off into the kitchen.

"You've got to be kidding me. It won't fit in the delivery van?"

"Of course not!" His father responded gruffly, shoving a load of white boxes into his son's arms. "You're going to walk to all these places."

"What? Are you fucking nuts? I need to go see Inoue!" Ichigo roared, almost dropping all the orders. Isshin noticed this and flung his cleaver towards his son, brushing centimeters away from his head and back against the wall. He really hated his dad's terribly accurate aim.

"You're going to walk because it saves gas, Ichigo!" Isshin ordered, pulling out a new, clean knife out of nowhere. "Besides, I didn't get any orders from Inoue Dry Cleaning."

Rolling his eyes and spinning on his heels, Ichigo turned around, letting out a loud, "Fuck this!" He certainly didn't have the time to be fighting with his dad and he certainly couldn't see Inoue if his same insane relative threatened to kill him if he didn't deliver the orders. So as much as he didn't want to, he'd have to do his deliveries and quick.

Every minute that passed, Ichigo only felt worse, his stomach recoiling in awkward aches as well as some voice in the back of his head nagging to go see her now.

Letting out another hasty swear in his head, he kicked the door open and began power-walking to his destinations. He didn't know just how much longer Orihime could wait.


Never had Ichigo thought he would be out all fucking night delivering meat. For one, he hated his dad for picking then to make him deliver all that beef, and two, he hadn't gotten an ounce of sleep although he probably wouldn't have slept anyways due to constant thoughts of her.

So he hastily walked to her small store, keeping his hands in his pockets to avoid the small promise nestled in the fabric from moving too much. He didn't even think it was embarrassing or nerve-wracking. In fact, he thought it was her ticket out of what seemed to be like a hellhole. Maybe her brother was good to her before, but he certainly wasn't now and Ichigo couldn't live with her being in those surroundings.

Turning the corner of the all-too familiar street, Ichigo could see their small shop come into view. A slight feeling of relief settled upon his shoulders, mixed with some protective instinct rearing up in the back of his mind. He promised to protect her and he wouldn't back off on his promises. After all, his name stood for one who protects.

But he felt his stomach plummet as he dawned up the two new signs posted in the windows of their store. The first gave him some warning: "Closed". But the sign next to it was what scared him the most. It was this moment he felt such fear he hadn't felt since his mother passed on.

"For sale."

How could they be selling their shop? He just saw her yesterday and they were still living here.

Tentatively, Ichigo rose his hand to the glass door and knocked loud enough that the supposed tenants should be able to hear it. But all that greeted him in return was silence. Again, he knocked harder, fear rising higher into his heart. More silence sent him closer to that edge, the one that desperately dreaded living away from her. But surely they just had put that sign up as a joke.

"Inoue!" He yelled out, a small puff of white breath escaping in front of him. Two fists pounded at the door now, eyes stinging with something unfamiliar. "Orihime!"

Silence.

It was now he wished he could have noise; someone talking, a lawn mower, anything. Because there was a suspicious quiet that blared into his head, his erratically loud heartbeat in his ears made him want to fist his bangs into his hands. He wanted to scream to tell himself to shut the fuck up and listen for her voice.

"Flight 4A, Number 32 at 10:30!"

A girl's voice broke the deafening silence and Ichigo snapped his head up to meet dark gray eyes. She had short black hair and brows furrowed tightly while she panted hard, her skin glistening with sweat. It almost looked like she had run all the way here.

"W-What? Who are-"

"Flight 4A, Number 32 at 10:30!" She repeated again, bringing her arm to wipe away water droplets from her face. Ichigo's stomach twisted uncomfortably as he was unable to determine whether they were tears or sweat. "Go to the airport now!"

Suddenly it dawned on him that she was helping him even though he didn't know her. His large, fisted hands dropped to his sides as he pivoted his body to face her.

"Why..." He started quietly, his hands visibly shaking. "Why are you helping me?" He questioned, albeit a bit too forcefully. This stranger was doing him a tremendous favor, just alerting him she was to depart on a plane ride to god knows where. And here he was, standing there stupidly asking why. How had she known Orihime anyways?

But she smiled even though she was tired, fatigued and worn. Her eyes shone of pain mixed with happiness; a very interesting mix.

"... Because you've made Orihime happier than she's ever been."


He was weary, tired, fatigued, yet he still pushed himself. His feet hit the floor hard as he pushed himself to the limit and beyond to find her. Her, Inoue Orihime, the woman he fell in love with.

He tried to replace the images of her upset, crying face with her smiling, happier moments; the ones back when he first met her. It seemed to blend all together though, instead making a compilation of all her moments. The times he was with her when she was happy, times of sadness, and moments of rest.

He could feel his feet aching and throbbing due to the fact he hadn't stopped running since the previous day. It didn't matter so much anymore though because the only pain he felt now was from the thought of her leaving.

"Orihime!" Ichigo yelled out into the slightly busied airport, not caring whether people stared or not. He knew he looked like shit and he felt like it too but he needed to find her before she left.

4A, number 32, he repeated in his head, his amber brown eyes darting up to view the terminal numbers. Off to the right was terminal number 30 so he was close. Keeping pace, his heart raced and threatened to burst out of his chest.

He felt a mixture of relief and dread upon seeing 32 come into sight. She had to still be there. She needed to be. He still had things to say, things to do. He couldn't just let her go so easily like this.

As the teen abruptly stopped at 32, he could see his all-too familiar honey-colored head sitting off in a waiting chair, the black hair of her brother in the spot next to hers. Grinding his teeth, he refused to listen to her brother in this situation. No matter what he said or did, it was only Orihime and him in this situation and would not comply with her family's standards any longer.

"Orihime!" He yelled out a last time. The said girl spun around almost too slowly, as if time was purposely leisurely. Her eyes never looked so beautifully gray and her cheeks were brushed with a crimson red. Her previously puckered lips dropped into an exasperated stare, unbelieving to what she was seeing.

In suit, her brother looked back just the same as a scowl formed on his face. Just when he thought the teen couldn't follow her any further. Now he was just following her to the ends of the Earth.

Orihime stood up from her spot, ignoring her sibling's cries to stop. She already felt so bad about everything – the lies, the locked feelings, her sudden disappearance – things couldn't stand to get much worse.

"Kurosaki-kun!" She yelled back, running to him as best he could. Ichigo decided the distance wasn't being closed enough and took a few large steps to meet up with her quicker. Her petite form was pulled into a tight embrace, one that took the breath from her, and she couldn't help but let a few tears escape. She sobbed his name as she grabbed at his bright locks, gripping them as if she would never let go.

"Orihime," he mumbled her name, pulling her face back a bit to kiss her deeply. He hated kissing her like this. People did it this way when they knew they'd never meet again.

"H-How..." She stuttered between kisses, not being shy now with her actions. She knew in her heart they couldn't return to their fun, innocent times. She would have to take initiative now and be bold. "H-How did you find me?"

Yanking away again and hugging her instead, Ichigo replied, "A black-haired girl told me about you leaving. I was already at your place when she ran up to me." Orihime's hands moved from his hair to his shirt and she gripped that instead, pulling him closer. More tears stung at her eyes upon hearing her friend had told him. Tatsuki had always been faithful to her and it was immensely relieving to know she still had someone on her side.

Ichigo could see Sora stepping closer to the two of them and he stepped back a few in response, holding a protective stance.

"Give Orihime back, Kurosaki-san," Sora requested, keeping himself in monotone. They were going to leave soon anyways so there was no reason to get angry with his boy.

"Fuck off and give us a few minutes," Ichigo responded just as bitterly, holding Orihime close. Sora seemed unyielding with his footing and eyes, causing Ichigo to growl and roll his own irises. "It's a few minutes, asshole; you're not going to lose anything from it."

And surprisingly, the brother seemed to take it, Ichigo's request. However, he held up an open hand to indicate they had five minutes.

Tch... So he does have a heart...

Shaking his head, he realized he had to do what he had planned to do. The light box with heavy intentions still remained deep in his pockets.

So he shifted his hands to her shoulders, moving them apart from the hug. She looked confused and worried, quite a cute look he mentally added, although it was not an expression he wished to see all the time. A smile suited her better.

Giving her a soft smile of his own, he tiredly dropped to one knee, the other following it soon after. Again, it wasn't the traditional one knee down, but his legs fucking hurt and he didn't think Orihime would mind. He reached into his pocket to take out the small box and could visibly see her tense up in front of him as well as a gasp come from her lips. Had she already assumed what he was doing?

"Orihime, I know this is sudden," he started, fingers fiddling to open the box. "A-And I know you're leaving too, but I needed to do this before you left."

A sob left her lips as she threw her hands to her mouth, stifling other sounds from choking out. Her soft whimpers and noises in a sense started to deflate the boy and he found it harder to open the box.

"Y-You need to know how much you mean to me, Orihime. You can't leave without hearing this," he continued, eventually able to open the velvety box. Clumsily, he pulled out a simple gold band. It was nothing special but he knew she wasn't fond of fancy things. It was always the thought that mattered the most to her.

"K-Kurosaki-kun, n-no..." She stuttered quietly, unable to hold her hand back as he pulled it from her. His large hand encased hers so perfectly as he trembled to put the ring on.

Even then he could feel his heart officially starting to rip in two as she uttered words of rejection. "I-I can't stand the fact you're leaving," he continued to shake as he spoke. The ring went on perfectly and Orihime sobbed again once it was in its proper position. "But I want you to wait for me."

"P-Please don't do this!" she cried, clenching her left hand into a fist as he tenderly kissed the newly placed ring. They both knew how hurt they were over this and they couldn't bear it.

"I love you," he blurted out, rising to his feet again. Orihime continued to shake her head as tears welled in her eyes. He took her shoulders in his hands and kissed her again, moving his lips insistently against hers. She loved him so much, how could she pull away from this? She indeed was moved by his proposal and wanted to say yes, but she was leaving and she didn't know for how long. It could be for forever.

"Kurosaki-kun..." She mumbled against his lips, lashes fluttering away tears.

"Wait for me," he told her again, hot breath fanning over her lips. She mentally understood as she held her hands to his face, the warmth of his cheeks on her palms.

"Kuro...I-Ichigo..." She whimpered, finally saying his given names. Just the way she said it alone sent shivers down his back and he forced a pained smile onto his busy lips. "I-I love you too..."

"I'll come for you... So be patient."

"Flight 4A is now boarding. Those with tickets 1 through 30 please check in."

Orihime had to tear herself away from him, hurting immensely at this new separation. Ichigo's hands fell back down to his side, gripping into tight fists as to not grab her back into another hug. He feared if he reached out again, he wouldn't be able to let go.

Sora came up behind her and placed a shoulder on his sister's shoulder. He had witnessed the events in front of his sibling and managed to feel some pity for the boy as well as her heartache. Orihime couldn't seem to tear her big gray eyes away from his brown ones even though she knew it'd be even more difficult for both of them in the end.

"Once," Sora scoffed lightly, averting his eyes to the ground.

"H-Huh?" Ichigo questioned, having to break his eye contact with Orihime to look quizzically at him. Sora started to turn them both towards the gate while over his shoulder repeating,

"You can visit her once a year."

She showed up with a smile and left with a frown.

He arrived with beef and left her with a ring and a promise.

364 days of the year he would become lonely and forget, but he would only need one to fall in love with her all over again.

.

.

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