A/N: Hello again my fellow IchiHime lovers! I'm here to present you with my newest story (obviously…)! It's just another lengthy one-shot, but I'm hoping you'll enjoy it! As always, please forgive minor errors and/or OOCness, as both are bound to happen!

Summary: Orihime's long-absent father stumbles back into her life, but his return is far from welcomed, and Orihime flees to the one place she feels safest: Ichigo.

Disclaimer: I obviously do not own Bleach….

Moving Forward

~ Fifteen Years Ago ~

Two-year old Orihime Inoue bit her lip, tears running down her small cheeks, as she curled into as small a ball as she could beneath the dining room table. She could hear her mother and father arguing again, screaming and cursing at each other over something that she didn't understand. Sora had gone out for some reason, and it had only been a few minutes after his departure that their mother had finally come home.

But by then it was too late, because her husband had worked himself into a drunken rage. She was supposed to have been home hours earlier, and he didn't seem too satisfied with her reasons for her tardiness.

With wide, terrified eyes, Orihime watched as her parents brought their shouting match closer to her hiding spot.

"You're lucky I don't up an' leave your ass!" Nanami Inoue exclaimed, shoving her index finger into her husband's face.

Shinobu Inoue smacked his wife's hand away and snarled, "You couldn't survive without me, you stupid bitch!"

Nanami smacked him for all she was worth and spun on her heel, storming towards the door as she called over her shoulder, "We'll just see about that!"

The door slammed moments later, and Orihime's eyes widened even more when she realized her mother had just left her alone with her father. Clamping her tiny hands over her mouth, she silently begged her brother to hurry home.

Anger still coursing through him, Shinobu let out a foul curse and slammed his fist down on the table.

The sudden shaking of her shelter caused Orihime to squeak in surprise, and then she cringed, squeezing her eyes shut.

Shinobu bent down until he could see his young daughter cowering before him. Glaring, he reached down and snatched her by the collar of her shirt. "An' just what the hell are you doin' down there, you ungrateful brat?"

Swallowing, Orihime remained limp as he hauled her up, and she mumbled, "N-nothing, Daddy…."

Her father's glare darkened and he tossed her aside as he spat, "Don't lie to me, dammit!"

Orihime cried out as she collided harshly with the linoleum floor, and as she pushed herself to her knees she looked up in time to see her father's hand descending upon her. The last thing she saw was the reflection of the kitchen light on his over-sized rings.

~ Present Day ~

Orihime sighed as the last few droplets of cold water rolled off of her chin. The chill of the water had helped, but not as much as she'd hoped it would. Her nerves still felt somewhat frayed – a result of the nightmare, she was sure – but the feeling did nothing to encourage her to go back to bed. She was afraid of what she'd see when she closed her eyes.

Still, I have a test tomorrow, she reminded herself as she turned off the tap and stepped away from the sink. I need to at least try and get a little more sleep. As if to reinforce her internal argument, her gaze flicked to the bedside clock as she stepped out of the bathroom; it was just a few minutes past two.

Determinedly she flicked off the bathroom light, but her hand hesitated as it hovered over the switch that controlled the hall light. It was the only other light she'd turned on after she'd woken from her nightmare, and once it was off, her apartment would be plunged once more into darkness.

Orihime's gaze shifted to her bedroom window, where the curtains were parted enough to let the sliver of moonlight inside, and for a long minute she was somewhere else. She was standing in a faint pool of moonlight, looking up at the eternally dark sky through a barred window. The window was too high for her to have realistically reached, anyway, so she wasn't really sure why it was barred.

Images from her most recent nightmare flooded her mind's eye again as the memory washed over her. Images of Ulquiorra's emotionless eyes; Loly's hate-filled sneer; Ichigo's lifeless body lying at her feet and staring blankly up at her; Ichigo falling, dead, from the top of a tower; and large, faceless, calloused hands each with two flashy rings adorning them as they reached for her.

Each image had filled her with a sense of panic and dread, and a heavy amount of hopelessness, but that last image particularly confused her. She didn't know anyone in Karakura with hands like those, and certainly none of the Espada or Arrancar that she had encountered had had hands like those. But despite her inability to place it, there was no denying that she was afraid – perhaps even terrified – of those hands.

An unexpected change in the spiritual pressure outside of her apartment startled Orihime out of her reverie, and her eyes immediately dragged up to the roof. Ichigo was there, she was sure of it.

Concern washing over her and pushing away her earlier fears, Orihime dashed to her bedroom window and pushed it open. Sticking her head out of the window, she did her best to angle herself enough to see the edge of the roof, and called, "Ichigo? Is everything alright?"

The mass of familiar, comforting spiritual pressure shifted, and Orihime heard a rustle of fabric a moment before Ichigo jumped off of her roof. As he came to land opposite her window, Orihime retreated inside enough so that it wouldn't look to passerby like she was contemplating jumping.

"I was gonna ask you that," Ichigo replied as she re-settled. He didn't need to see her look of confusion to know he ought to elaborate, so he added, "I saw your lights were on. It's gotta be after two by now, what're you doing up?"

"Oh," Orihime began, suddenly feeling embarrassed for being caught, even though she knew she hadn't done anything to actually be embarrassed about. "I'm so sorry! I'm fine, I just…had a bad dream is all."

His scowl seemed to darken for a moment, but he finally inclined his head. "Alright, well, you should try and get some sleep. Don't forget we have that test in the morning."

She smiled now and nodded. "I haven't forgotten! I was actually just reminding myself of that very thing before I noticed you were here! Do you get to go home now?"

"With any luck, yeah," Ichigo replied with a faint shrug. "Guess I'll see you tomorrow, then."

Orihime hoped that her brief, irrational, twinge of hesitation (or was it fear?) didn't show in her eyes as she plastered on a big smile. "Definitely!"

His scowl, which had returned to its regular intensity a minute ago, instantly darkened again, and she knew he'd seen it.

"Is something wrong?" Ichigo asked carefully.

Orihime shook her head, her smile fading almost entirely away, and she dropped her gaze from his as she quietly admitted, "No, not really, I just…sometimes it's hard to get back to sleep after a nightmare like that…but I'll be fine. Don't worry about me; you should try and get some sleep!"

He hesitated, hating leaving her alone when she was clearly more than a little uncomfortable, but also knowing that there just wasn't anything he could really do to help. I can't really stay…how the hell would I explain that one? At length, he said, "Alright. Get some sleep, and call me if you need anything, okay?"

She offered him a grateful smile and nodded again, saying, "Okay. Good night!"

Ichigo inclined his head a heartbeat before flash-stepping away.

They both knew she wasn't 'fine', and they both knew she wouldn't call.

Ichigo was leaning against the wall in front of the school the following morning when Orihime arrived. To the casual eye, he seemed relaxed, probably even unaware, as he rested with his hands shoved in his pockets, one foot propped against the wall, head back and eyes closed. But anyone who knew him knew that, in truth, he was probably only a handful of heartbeats away from breaking some unsuspecting idiot's face.

So Orihime was immediately concerned as she approached, and she altered her course to stand before him instead of continuing into the school.

His brown eyes opened slowly and his head lifted from the wall as she approached, even though she hadn't said a word. He'd been waiting for her, though he had no intention of telling her that. Instead, he stayed quiet until their eyes met and she came to a stop in front of him.

"Did something happen?" Orihime asked quietly before he could speak, her hands tightening over the strap of her school bag.

"No," Ichigo replied honestly as he studied her. She didn't seem unusually tired, and he couldn't decide if that was reassuring or worrisome. "You get any more sleep?"

Orihime blinked, and then smiled sweetly up at him. He was worried about me…I feel so horrible for worrying him again, but, it's nice to know he was concerned all the same, she thought as she gathered her response. Aloud, she said, "Yes. It didn't take me nearly as long as I thought, and I feel really refreshed this morning! See, you didn't need to worry about me!" She hesitated, and lowered her voice before she added, "But, thank you."

Should've known she'd figure it out, he reflected silently. I'm not always all that subtle. With a shrug, he pushed away from the wall and scooped his school bag up from the ground, slinging it over his shoulder as he said, "I'm glad. C'mon, we don't wanna be late."

She smiled brightly and fell into step beside him, automatically adjusting her pace so that he was half a step ahead of her. After a moment of companionable silence she started telling him about something that, in truth, she couldn't even have repeated if someone had asked her to.

But Ichigo listened anyway, not nearly as interested in the story itself as in what it was telling him: Orihime was alright, and at least for the moment, he didn't need to worry.

Orihime had to work later than she had initially anticipated, and so it was late by the time she stepped out of the bakery. Tatsuki was originally going to be walking home with her, but when Orihime had had to stay later, Tatsuki had had to back out. Orihime wasn't at all upset with her friend, as she understood that it was late, so she set off for home on her own. It was a good fifteen minute walk, but the night air was refreshing and the stars were twinkling beautifully, and Orihime intended to enjoy the scenery.

She was barely around the first corner when someone tapped her on the shoulder. Startled, Orihime's eyes widened and she turned around curiously as she came to a stop.

The man standing before her had been in the bakery earlier that evening, as well as the afternoon before, though Orihime had not been the one to take his order either time. She remembered seeing him as he paid and left, and she remembered when she'd seen him the first time that he had seemed somehow familiar to her.

That same feeling of nostalgic familiarity hit her again as she stared at him now, and this close, she was sure that she knew him from somewhere. Her stomach twisted a little as she studied his face, and she became wary – it didn't seem like a pleasant familiarity.

After a moment of awkward silence she realized she was staring and swallowed, hoping her voice was calm and stable when she asked, "Can I help you?"

The man scowled at her, and the lines on his face told her it was a common expression, before he finally answered her question with a question of his own. "You're Orihime Inoue, aren't you?"

"Y-yes, I am," she replied hesitantly. It was true that her uniform nametag bore her family name, and it wasn't impossible that he hadn't seen her and somehow remembered it, but she was sure there was no way he could know her given name. Unless, of course, her intuition was right, and she really did know him from somewhere. "Um, do you mind if I ask how you know my name?"

Something in his eyes flashed as his scowl darkened, and her stomach knotted tighter. It was a mean scowl. "Are you stupid?" he demanded harshly.

His tone, and his expression, had Orihime suddenly wishing she'd listened to Tatsuki's suggestion to call Ichigo and see if he was available to walk her home. Taking a half-step backwards, Orihime frowned slightly and said, "I'm sorry, sir, but I don't recognize you…is there something you want from me?"

"If there wasn't I wouldn't have come all this way, you empty-headed bitch," the man snapped in irritation.

Orihime had no idea why this man was so angry with her, or why he was insulting her, but the more he spoke – the more they interacted – the more the dread in her stomach rose. Something about this man instinctively frightened her, and at the moment she wanted nothing more than to get away from him. "I'd really appreciate it if you wouldn't talk to me like that. And I don't think I have anything for you, or any way to help you, so I'm just going to keep walking now."

She turned as the words left her lips, intending to head straight home – unless he was following her, then perhaps she would detour to a friend's house or Urahara's Shop – but before she could take a single step, the man's large hand wrapped firmly around her upper arm.

Orihime froze, eyes going wide – she hadn't expected him to touch her – and her eyes automatically looked down to the hand gripping her arm. When she did, a whole new wave of pure terror washed over her.

The hand on her arm was the hand from her nightmare.

And then, like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, it all came back to her. Something she had kept locked and buried in the back of her mind finally resurfaced, and the faceless hands from her nightmare were not so faceless anymore. That man, the man holding her firmly in place now, was the first monster she had ever needed rescuing from.

Her father.

Wide, terrified gray eyes trailed up and locked onto the cruel, hardened gray eyes of Shinobu Inoue. She swallowed again, prayed her voice would be stable, and said, "Please let go of me."

"I didn't track you down just to let you walk off like that," Shinobu growled.

Orihime took a deep breath, reminded herself that she'd faced much scarier beings than him, and did her best to return his glare. "I've remembered who you are, and I have absolutely nothing to say to you. Let me go."

"You little bitch," he snarled, tightening his grip and subsequently pulling her closer. "I don't give a fuck if you wanna talk or not; you're coming with me, Orihime."

What…what does he want with me? Orihime wondered silently. She hoped the fear swirling in her stomach didn't show on her face as she planted her feet and pulled back, against his grip. "I'm not going anywhere with you. Ever."

"What makes you think you have a choice?" Shinobu questioned darkly. "I'm your father, and you'll do as I damn well say, do you hear me?"

It was easy this time for her to match his glare as she said, "The only father I've ever had died nearly five years ago. You aren't anything to me."

Anger cut through his frustration, and Shinobu raised his other hand and backhanded her. "Disrespectful bitch!"

The rings covering his middle and pinky fingers sliced into Orihime's cheek, but even that didn't dull the pain of the contact from his assault. She couldn't help but cry out, just a little, as her head snapped to the side and the sweet, coppery taste of blood tickled the tip of her tongue. It seemed he'd split her lip, too, though whether he'd done so with one of his rings or with the assistance of her own teeth, she wasn't sure.

As his offensive hand lowered, clenched into a fist, he yanked her closer with the grip he still had on her right arm, and he growled, "You are coming with me. I'm taking you home, and you'll never see this stupid town again."

A very twisted sense of déjà vu washed over her then, and for a moment she could see Ulquiorra again as she stood in the dangai. And she was tired of being ordered to leave her home and never return.

Adrenaline surged through her system, and the lessons she'd taken from Tatsuki took over as Orihime twisted her arm, shoving him away and stomping on his nearest foot simultaneously. Her actions clearly surprised her attacker, as he released her arm immediately and cried out as pain seared through his foot. But Orihime didn't wait for him to recover. She spun on her heel and ran as fast as she could, hoping to put some distance between them quickly.

Behind her, Shinobu called out, "I know where you live, Orihime! You can't hide from me!"

Orihime came to a stop several blocks, and several turns, later. She was almost home now, but the words he'd called out to her as she'd run off were running through her head. What if he wasn't bluffing? What if he really does know where I live? He'd found her at work, it wouldn't be that hard for him to find out where she lived. And he'd probably already figured out which high school she was attending, though she doubted he'd try anything at her school – and even if he did, she knew she'd be fine.

Slumping back against the brick of the building beside her, Orihime's gaze traveled up to the stars once more. What do I do? she wondered, her thoughts a whisper even in her own head. She needed to go somewhere, at least so she could clean up her face, as she was sure she looked like a mess. Not to mention, now that the adrenaline had worn off, it was really starting to hurt.

Lifting one hand, she gingerly placed her palm across her cheek, and she hissed in pain as an immediate stinging sensation surged through her. She pulled her hand away, not surprised to see smeared blood covering a frighteningly large portion of her palm. With a sigh, she pushed off of the wall and turned once more towards her apartment.

If I can at least get there first, she told herself, I'll be alright. Then if he shows up, I'll be safely locked inside and I can call Tatsuki or Ichigo for help. Plus, I can clean myself up. It occurred to her that she could go to Ichigo's – his father was a doctor, he could treat the cuts on her face, and Ichigo would surely protect her – but she was reluctant to do so. I've been such a burden to him already…this doesn't have to be his problem.

Cautiously, she looked both ways as she approached the next corner. She didn't see any signs of her previously-absent-father, and she breathed a sigh of relief. If she could just make it two more blocks, she'd be home-free. He hadn't been chasing after her when she'd lost sight of him, and she'd taken the shortest route home, so she was probably going to be fine. With that thought in mind, she ran the next block, barreled around the corner, and was half-way down the final block, her destination in sight, when she registered what else was in sight.

She came to an abrupt stop, nearly toppling over her own feet, as she realized that her father was leaning against the railing that led up the stairs to her apartment. She wasn't nearly naïve enough to think it was a coincidence – which meant he really had been telling the truth.

He pushed to his full height, fury etched onto his face like a carving, both fists clenched tightly at his sides. "You stupid, insolent, little bitch. You really thought you could get away from me that easily?"

Orihime felt like she was rooted to the spot as he slowly approached. How did he get here before me…? It didn't really matter, but she just couldn't wrap her mind around it. Unless, of course, he'd had a car. The obviousness of the answer hit her over the head like a baseball bat.

"You'll pay for breaking my toe like that," Shinobu growled, almost close enough to reach out and grab her.

His words snapped Orihime back to reality, and she knew from the dark look in his eyes that the pain in her face would be nothing compared to what he'd do next if he got his hands on her. Fortunately, she'd had a lot of experience when it came to running from monsters, and apparently she'd managed to break one of his toes earlier.

"Stay away from me," Orihime warned, taking a couple of quick steps backwards.

His pace never slowed, though his fists seemed to clench tighter, and he replied, "Oh, I can't do that. Now don't make me chase you."

"I won't let you catch me, but you don't have to chase me," Orihime said, preparing herself to run. She didn't entirely want to run away – she was afraid of where he might hide if she lost sight of him – but she most certainly wasn't going to let him hurt her anymore.

Shinobu seemed bent on getting his hands on her, however, and his eyes darkened even more as he said, "Cooperate and maybe I'll forgive you for breaking my toe."

"Leave me alone and maybe I won't call the police," Orihime countered easily, keeping her gaze mostly on his hands. They were what scared her most about her father.

He mumbled something in irritation and sprung forward to grab her.

The moment his legs tensed for the spring, Orihime was off. She spun on her heel and ran as fast as she could down the street. A rush of air at her back indicated that she'd only just missed being caught again, and she mentally chastised herself. She should have run sooner.

"Not this time, you bitch!" Shinobu exclaimed. Pounding feet at her back told her that he had given chase.

Her heart was pounding rapidly against her ribcage in an all-too-familiar pattern, and her feet nearly slid as she abruptly turned a corner. She could still hear him behind her, and every now and then she felt another brush of air – once she even felt a light tug at her hair. He was too close; she couldn't stop to gather herself. If she so much as slowed her pace, he would catch her. She didn't want to think about what would happen if he caught her.

Her only thought was to get away from him – to find somewhere safe. But she wasn't sure where that safe place was.

Tatsuki's house was too far away, she knew she'd never make it that far, not at this speed. Ichigo was the obvious answer – he didn't live too far away – but she still hesitated to involve him in yet another of her problems. Chad was an option, but attempting to make it all the way to his apartment would be pushing it. And, ultimately, involving Chad would be the same as involving Ichigo. Uryuu was out of the question anyway – he lived farther away than Tatsuki. There was always Urahara's Shop, but there was no guarantee that they'd even be home, and if they weren't, she'd be caught.

Already she was starting to tire as she spun sharply around another corner. She could hear him breathing heavily behind her, but he didn't seem to have fallen behind any – whatever was motivating him seemed to be working.

Orihime bit her lip as she ran, and immediately regretted it when a sharp stinging reminded her that her lip had been split when her father had hit her. She was beginning to breathe heavily as her body reached its limit, and she rounded another sharp corner, forcing a little more speed into her pace when his fingers grazed her shoulder.

A moment later she realized that her feet had apparently decided where they were taking her without her consent. And as soon as the sign for the Kurosaki Clinic was in sight, Orihime forgot her reason for wanting to leave Ichigo out of it, anyway. All she could think about now was the monster chasing her.

Still, she couldn't just barge in, and she'd have to slow down when she got closer. If she wasn't close enough by then to at least be heard when she screamed, her whole flight would have been for nothing. And then the answer dawned on her like a light-bulb. She wouldn't use her powers on a human, but that didn't mean they were useless.

Get Ichigo! she silently begged, not caring which of her Shun Shun Rikka carried out the request.

Immediately, Shun'ou shot forth and raced ahead, surrounded in a golden light that was invisible to the man running closely behind Orihime.

Ichigo was sitting at his desk in his bedroom, attempting to focus on his homework despite the nagging feeling that had been growing inside of him for the past twenty minutes. His Combat Pass had been silent all night, there were no hollows, and he couldn't figure out what else could be wrong. At least not until Shun'ou shot through his partially-open bedroom window.

"Help!" Shun'ou cried as he raced into the room.

Ichigo's head immediately snapped up and over to the startling voice, and his eyes widened when he recognized the small creature. He sprang instantly to his feet, not needing to be told why the spirit was there, and he was unsurprised when Shun'ou altered course to follow him out of the room.

"Orihime's in trouble!" Shun'ou exclaimed unnecessarily. "She's just outside, but please hurry!"

He had a million questions, but there wasn't time for any of them, so instead he said, "Go back to her. I'm on my way." His voice was tight as he ran down the stairs and around the corner, but he wasn't concerned about worrying his family.

Shun'ou reversed direction as soon as Ichigo's words left his mouth, eager to do as he'd been told.

"Ichigo…?" Yuzu asked in startled confusion as her brother barreled past the living room, a severe scowl darkening his face.

Karin blinked, one eyebrow arched, and mumbled, "What's with him these days…?"

Ichigo ignored them both, and his father, whom he passed in the hall, pausing only long enough to throw open the door before disappearing outside. Judging from Orihime's spiritual pressure – how the hell did I not notice that before? – she really was 'just outside', for which he was grateful.

Shun'ou returned to her in record time, and even as Orihime adjusted her course (waiting until the last minute in hopes to throw her father off for a beat), the first twinge of relief ignited in her heart as the Kurosaki's front door was thrown open.

Shinobu either didn't realize, or didn't care, that someone had just emerged from the house Orihime was running toward, because as she slowed her pace to avoid crashing into the closed gate, his hand reached out, intending to yank on a fistful of her long hair.

Ichigo took the scene in in an instant, at the wrong angle to see the blood covering the side of Orihime's face, but close enough to see the panic in her eyes. And it didn't take a lot of effort to recognize the crazed, violent expression on the face of her pursuer. Anger coursed through him as the man reached out for her, and in two swift strides Ichigo was up and over the small wall that surrounded his family's property line.

Shinobu's fingertips were already surrounded by loose, auburn hair – though he didn't have enough to grab hold of it yet – when Ichigo tackled him unceremoniously to the ground. He cried out, both from surprise and pain as he collided with the unforgiving asphalt, and struggled awkwardly as the orange-haired teen forcibly rolled them away from Orihime.

Orihime stumbled to a stop when she saw Ichigo blur past her, a look of intense hatred on his face like she hadn't seen since they'd left Hueco Mundo. She heard her father cry out as they slammed into the ground, and she turned in time to see them roll several feet away. Relief and guilt flooded her then, and Orihime hit her knees as her eyes brimmed with tears.

She was safe. But she had done it again.

Before her tears could fall, Ichigo's voice drew her attention as he called out to her, "Get inside, Orihime!" The words were punctuated by his fist as it slammed into Shinobu's jaw.

But she couldn't move as she watched them half-wrestle, half-fight on the ground several feet away. Her eyes were wide, her breathing was still ragged, her lungs burned, her legs ached, her face stung, and her heart was still pounding erratically. She could only take solace in the fact that, for the moment, the tears had faded.

Shinobu cursed unintelligibly and managed to use a foot – the one with the broken toe, Orihime noted – to shove Ichigo roughly off of him. "Get out of my way, you little punk!" Shinobu spat as he pushed to his feet.

His glare shifted back to Orihime, and she swallowed heavily.

"You bastard!" Ichigo growled, yanking Shinobu back before he could actually take a step towards her. As he planted his fist in the older man's stomach, he added darkly, "Stay the fuck away from her!"

Shinobu turned, ready to resume their fight, and Orihime was still frozen in place. She watched in horror as he managed to land a punch to Ichigo's face, forcing Ichigo to release him and take a single step backwards. But Ichigo wasn't done, and he recovered quickly, grabbing and twisting Shinobu's nearest arm and tossing him bodily further away.

Ichigo took a moment, then, to glance back at Orihime. "Go on inside, I can handle him." As he spoke, his voice strong and reassuring, his eyes finally settled on the injured half of her face.

Though the cuts had stopped bleeding, there was still blood covering most of her cheek, trailing down to her chin. Some had even dripped, or run, down the side of her neck. Her lower lip was split and slightly swollen, and her cheek itself looked bruised.

The hollow within him stirred as his anger boiled over. He turned his head away, returning his attention to his opponent – mostly so that she wouldn't see the stray swirls of black that were trickling into his eyes. He set his jaw and clenched his fists, glad he'd left his Combat Pass in his room, so he was physically unable to run the man through with Zangetsu. "Go on," he said again as his opponent wiped a thin stream of blood from his mouth.

Orihime was hesitant. Not only was she not sure she even could comply with his request, she wasn't entirely sure that she should. She couldn't see his face, but she'd sensed the spike in his spiritual pressure when he'd looked at her. His spiritual pressure only ever spiked like that when his hollow was near the surface. What have I done?

Suddenly, a pair of strong, stabilizing hands landed on her shoulders, and Isshin's voice spoke from somewhere above and behind her. "Come on inside, Orihime. Let's get you cleaned up, okay?"

As Isshin half-pulled her to her feet, Orihime finally found her voice. "B-but, Ichigo-!"

"It's alright," Isshin assured her as he turned her and guided her past the now-opened gates. "Ichigo can handle himself."

She wanted to protest; she wanted to stay; she didn't want Ichigo to have to fight for her again. But her body was exhausted, her legs were still more like jelly than flesh and bone, and so she allowed Isshin to help her into the Kurosaki home. With every step she took a new layer of guilt settled over her, and all she could tell herself was that at least this time she hadn't gotten him dragged into a fight with any more Espada.

Yuzu met them in the entrance to the living room, her arms full of medical supplies she'd most likely borrowed from the clinic. She looked worried, but remained quiet as her father guided Orihime to the couch and prompted her to sit.

Karin joined them a moment later, saying, "I called the police, and I told them to bring an ambulance just in case. It looks like Ichigo's really pissed."

"Good thinking, Karin," Isshin praised as he began sifting through the items Yuzu had brought out. He turned his attention to Orihime after a beat and said, "Could you tilt your head a little, please? I need to see exactly how bad it is."

Orihime made what she hoped was an agreeing sound and turned her head, finding herself staring at a wall.

Her mind was still reeling from all that had happened in the past hour, and she found her tongue felt like a lead weight in her mouth. The only thing she could focus on was that she'd done exactly what she hadn't wanted to – she'd gone, this time literally, running to Ichigo for protection. Again.

She flinched, yanked out of her thoughts, at a sharp stinging sensation on her cheek.

"Sorry, sorry," Isshin said, pulling away quickly.

"It's alright…" Orihime mumbled, her eyes falling to her lap.

As Isshin moved to once again attempt to clean some of the blood from her face, he asked, "Can you tell me what happened?"

A lump formed in her throat, and she had to swallow several times before she was sure it had gone away. But when she opened her mouth to speak, Karin beat her to it.

"The police are here already! You should probably go out there so they don't arrest Ichigo."

Isshin sighed and set aside the cloth. He stood, but paused to look at Orihime and said, "You just wait here. The police will probably want to talk to you, but I'll talk to them first."

Orihime nodded mutely, wondering what in the world she'd gotten the Kurosaki family involved in as she watched Isshin stride from the room. She could only pray that Ichigo wouldn't get into trouble. And if he did, she knew she'd never forgive herself.

Ichigo stood up when the police car and ambulance arrived. He had managed to knock his opponent unconscious a couple of minutes prior, but he hadn't wanted to leave the man unsupervised until he had an idea of what was going on. His father was at his side by the time the first officer stepped out of his car, but Ichigo said nothing.

He hadn't gotten anything useful from the man on the ground at his feet, and he really wanted to go inside and check on Orihime, but he knew enough to know that he had to wait. On the bright side, he figured, he would probably have wrangled his temper – and his hollow – back under control by the time he actually got to see her.

Ichigo stayed back while the medics loaded the middle-aged man into the ambulance. He was certainly not in any danger of death – at least from anything Ichigo had done – but he was in need of a doctor. And Isshin had given a firm shake of his head when one of the medics had gestured to the clinic.

The officers talked to Isshin for a couple of minutes, and Ichigo waited impatiently for his turn.

When they were done with his father, they turned their attention to him, and Ichigo set his jaw. He wasn't sure how this was going to go, but so far as he was concerned, he hadn't done anything wrong. Hell, he'd been merciful. But he figured he should probably leave that part off when he talked to them.

The police were there for over half an hour, talking to everyone individually, and talking to Orihime and Isshin twice each. Orihime mechanically answered their questions to the best of her ability, altering a few little details (namely using Shun'ou to contact Ichigo), and promised to go in the following morning to sign an official report. She really wanted to ask what had happened to Ichigo – were they going to arrest him? Was he conscious? – but she held herself in check. To her mind, the less they focused on the Kurosaki family, the less she had to be guilty about.

Still, she was immensely relieved when Ichigo finally walked into the house as the police pulled away from the curb.

But her relief was almost immediately nullified by guilt and regret. The guilt she'd been fully expecting, as she had already been feeling it, but the regret was a bit less expected. It was obvious that her father had gotten in a couple of decent swings, as his cheek was scraped and bruising along his jaw.

Their eyes met as he walked into the living room, and for a long minute, the world seemed to freeze around them.

Concern, relief, a flicker of confusion, and something else that wasn't so easily definable settled in his eyes as he looked at her. The guilt swelled to new depths within her and tears once more rose to her eyes.

The world unfroze and Ichigo took a step forward.

Orihime made a choking sound, fists clenching the fabric of her skirt for an instant, and then she was on her feet and running again. She crossed the short distance of the living room quickly and wrapped her arms around his torso without a second thought. Her face buried in his shoulder, ignoring the stinging from the still-exposed wounds, Orihime cried, "I'm so sorry!"

Her voice was muffled by his shirt, but the entire Kurosaki family heard her words clearly.

Ichigo was tense for a moment, surprised at her reaction, but instinct took over and he wrapped his arms around her, holding her close. Jaw still tight, his eyes half-closed and he quietly replied, "It's alright, you don't have to apologize."

She was shaking against him as her tears poured down her face and she gasped for breath. "B-but I do! It's all my fault! Y-you got h-hurt because of me!"

Ichigo scowled, tightening his arms around her, and said, "It's not your fault, Orihime. And I'm glad you came to me; I only wish there was some way I could have been there sooner."

Orihime choked a reply, but it was too muffled and too broken to be understood. She sniffled against him, fisting his shirt subconsciously as one of his thumbs rubbed soothing circles over her back.

Voice quiet, Isshin spoke up, gesturing to the couch. "Ichigo, could you bring her back over here? I didn't get to finish cleaning her up."

"Don't exaggerate," Karin said, crossing her arms. "You barely even started."

Ichigo lifted his head (only then realizing that he'd lowered it to rest against hers) and nodded at his father. His words, however, were for Orihime. "Come on, let's sit down."

Orihime sniffled again and reluctantly took a half-step backwards. She looked up at Ichigo, a silent apology in her eyes.

He frowned at her and turned her enough to aim her at the couch, but instead of releasing her, he kept one arm wrapped around her as he moved forward. She went willingly, and when they reached the couch, he gently prompted her to reclaim her seat. Then he quietly settled on her other side, leaving the spot with the medical supplies open for his father.

Isshin quietly took his seat as well, reaching again for the cleaning cloth. He knew his son would ask all the questions that the rest of them were curious to know, so he said nothing as he set about his task.

Orihime flinched again at the initial contact, and Isshin mumbled an apology, but her attention was already diverted. Ichigo had wrapped a hand over one of hers, which had been resting in her lap. He squeezed her hand reassuringly, but when he didn't pull his hand away, she lifted her eyes to his once more.

"I'm sure you don't want to go over this again," Ichigo began gently as his thumb moved lightly across her knuckles, "but could you tell me what happened? Who was that guy, and what did he want with you?"

Confusion settled in her eyes. "No one told you…?"

Ichigo gave a half-shake of his head. "The police didn't tell me anything, and he wasn't exactly talkative."

Orihime swallowed but held his gaze and, ignoring the next sharp twinge of pain from her cheek, she told him what little she knew. "I-I don't have any idea what he wanted…he just said he was going to take me away. He approached me after I left the bakery…then I got away, and I thought I could get to my apartment before he did – he'd said he knew where I lived – but I was wrong. He was there, waiting for me, when I got there…."

She paused, partly to stop herself from flinching again, before she continued. "When I realized he wasn't going to take 'no' for an answer, I started running. I wasn't really paying attention…and I really didn't want to drag anyone into my problem, and I'm really sorry about all of this-"

Ichigo squeezed her hand again, cutting her off, and his voice was firm but quiet when he said, "You don't need to apologize, Orihime. I know you feel bad, but you shouldn't."

Orihime was quiet for a minute, partly because Isshin had begun cleaning around her lip, and her eyes smiled gratefully into Ichigo's.

Again, it was Isshin who broke the silence. "Forgive me for pushing, but, are you sure you don't know that man? It seems a little odd that a stranger would do all of this."

More confusion crossed Orihime's eyes, before she realized she'd jumped right into what had happened and left out the 'who.' "Oh, no, I'm sorry," she said quickly. Her speech slowed to normal, quiet, even hesitant as she added, "I do know who he is, actually…though it took me a minute to figure it out. He…he was – is I suppose – my…father."

Stunned silence filled the living room for a moment, and Isshin's hand froze as he reached for a clean cloth.

Then Ichigo's hand tightened again over Orihime's, and hatred flared behind his eyes as his scowl deepened. "That bastard," he growled lowly.

Yuzu, who had been silently listening on the other couch beside her sister, hesitantly asked, "That man who attacked you…is your father? But, I thought you didn't know your parents?"

Orihime's eyes clouded over and she let her gaze drop as she said softly, "I don't, not really. Sora took me away when I was really little because they were abusive, and I'd completely forgotten what he looked like. I didn't even recognize him tonight until he grabbed my arm."

After a beat, Ichigo, voice quiet and controlled, asked, "Which arm?"

She looked back up at him, thrown off by the question, and answered, "My right arm. I guess technically it was his rings I recognized first."

Isshin silently, and gently, pushed up her short sleeve to look at her arm. Ichigo's eyes flicked to her arm as well when the sleeve was rolled up. Neither were surprised to see the dark bruise already mostly-formed on her pale skin.

Orihime turned her head as well to see it, but she looked away just as quickly. "I guess that's why it hurts," she mumbled thoughtlessly.

Ichigo's voice was tight as he raised his eyes to his father and asked, "How much longer?"

"Just a couple of minutes," Isshin assured him as he returned to cleaning what he could. There wasn't much he could do about the bruising, or her lip. Redirecting his words to Orihime, Isshin added, "I'm going to put a couple of band-aids over these cuts, but you should definitely change them again in the morning. And tonight after you take a shower, if you were planning to do that."

"Okay," Orihime replied quietly, her free hand shifting and curling around the one Ichigo still had over her other. "Thank you, Mr. Kurosaki."

Isshin smiled as he carefully placed the first band-aid. "No need to be so formal, Orihime! Call me Isshin!" Without missing a beat, or turning his head, he called, "Yuzu, could you fetch a couple pain-pills and a glass of water, please?"

"Sure!" Yuzu exclaimed, leaping to her feet and quickly disappearing into the kitchen.

Karin stood as well and asked, "You want me to get rid of that stuff, Dad?"

"If you want to, sure," Isshin replied as he set up another band-aid on Orihime's cheek.

Orihime sat still, not even realizing her gaze had settled on her and Ichigo's joined hands, as Isshin finished patching her up. He was being as gentle as he could, considering her scrapes were surrounded by the bruise her father's backhand had given her, and she did her best to hide her discomfort.

Yuzu returned a minute later, standing beside her father, and held out the water glass and two pills. "Here you go," she said sweetly.

Orihime lifted her gaze, blushing ever-so-slightly when she realized where she'd been staring, and reluctantly pulled one hand free to take the pills. "Thank you, Yuzu," she said quietly. She popped the pills in her mouth and then quickly swallowed the water before handing the glass back to the younger girl.

"You're welcome," Yuzu said as she took the glass back. "Are you hungry at all? I could make you something, or we have some leftovers from dinner if you don't mind rice-curry."

"Oh, no, I couldn't," Orihime said immediately, her voice still soft but some of her usual tone finally beginning to seep in to her words. Her hand landed back in her lap, but she wasn't brave enough to return it to Ichigo's, as she said, "Thank you, though."

Yuzu frowned at her words, but it was Ichigo who spoke. "Have you had dinner yet?"

Orihime looked back at him, and when their eyes met, she knew she had lost. But she tried anyway. "Um, well, no…but it's okay, really."

Ichigo scowled at her response and shifted his focus to his sister. "Heat up some of the curry, and put a little wasabi on it."

"Wasabi?" Yuzu repeated.

"Eh? No, really, Ichi-" Orihime began, trying in vain to keep from inconveniencing them any further.

Ichigo looked back at her and his voice was strangely soft when he said, "We don't have any red bean paste, but you like wasabi, right?"

Her heart did a strange flip in her chest, and she couldn't help but smile softly as her free hand covered his and she said, "Yes. Thank you."

That indefinable emotion settled in his eyes again and he gave her hand another squeeze.

Yuzu had already disappeared back into the kitchen, so when she thought of a question, she had to holler, "What would she like to drink, Ichigo?"

Ichigo, who had turned to look towards the kitchen, looked sideways at Orihime with a raised eyebrow.

Softly, Orihime muttered, "Chamomile tea, if you have it…and maybe with a little honey?"

Inclining his head, Ichigo called back, "Chamomile tea, and put some honey in it."

"Okay!" Yuzu called out. Everyone could hear her moving around in the kitchen as she prepared Orihime's meal.

Isshin sat back a minute later, studying his handiwork, before he said, "Alright, I'm all done. I've got some extra band-aids if you think you'll need them, and don't be afraid to ask. I'm sorry there's not more I can do for your bruises, or that cut on your lip. But that should heal up soon enough."

Orihime turned her head and smiled gratefully at him. "Thank you so much for your help."

Isshin waved her off as he stood, grabbing a couple of supplies that Karin hadn't taken away, and said, "It's the least I could do!"

Ichigo shifted as if to stand, and Isshin none-too-gently put his hand to Ichigo's collar and pushed him back down. "The hell-?" Ichigo questioned.

"You won't need as many band-aids as Orihime, but that cut on your cheek should still get cleaned up," Isshin declared as he extracted a clean, damp cloth and lifted it to Ichigo's cheek.

"It's fine," Ichigo grumbled. Despite his protests, however, he stayed perfectly still as his father quickly wiped off the already-dry blood on his face.

As his father worked, Ichigo shifted his attention back to Orihime, and noticed her eyes were downcast again, with a familiar guilty light clouding them. Giving her hand a squeeze, he waited until she'd lifted her eyes to his before he said, "What'd I tell you about that?"

She stared at him for a moment, before smiling almost sheepishly.

Isshin pulled back after applying a single band-aid to Ichigo's face and loudly declared, "All done! Excuse me while I put the rest of this away." He departed from the living room in a rush, and Ichigo and Orihime quickly found themselves all alone.

After a long minute, Orihime mumbled awkwardly, "I guess Tatsuki was right…." At the confused look Ichigo turned her way, she dropped her gaze and added, "She was supposed to walk me home after work, but I was asked to stay later, and she couldn't meet me. She told me to call you, but I didn't want to bother you…." She trailed off, giving a bitter half-laugh.

"You're not bothering me," Ichigo replied quietly. "And if Tatsuki says 'I told you so' I'll pull her aside and have a little chat with her."

Orihime's eyes widened, and she waved one hand in front of herself as she exclaimed, "Oh, no, I'm sure she won't!"

Ichigo smirked, glad he'd finally gotten a typical reaction from her, and gave her hand another squeeze as he said, "I know."

She settled down when she realized he'd said it on purpose, and just as a smile curved her lips, Yuzu called out from the kitchen.

"Dinner's ready!"

Ichigo and Orihime had moved into the kitchen, Ichigo releasing her hand once they were standing, and he claimed the chair beside hers as she ate. Yuzu had made an extra cup of tea for her brother, so he nursed it slowly while Orihime ate. He was sitting on her other side this time, and he had a perfect view of her bruised face.

The bruise had darkened, and her cheek had swollen up a bit, though not enough to disturb her vision. She had four band-aids covering her cheek, all at interesting angles to avoid getting the sticky part over her open wounds. Her lip was still slightly swollen as well, and now that the blood had been cleaned off, he could easily see the split along the corner.

He looked away after a moment, not wanting her to think he was staring, and not particularly wanting to see her so beaten up. It was true that he'd seen her in worse condition – thankfully, nothing had yet to surpass the injuries she'd received from Yammy – but he hated it anyway. She was too precious, in his opinion, to ever be hurt.

It's probably a good thing I didn't know who the bastard was when we were fighting, Ichigo decided. It was bad enough he'd known that the man had hurt her (and it had been so hard to stop beating him when he'd lost consciousness), but if he'd known the rest of the story…. His fists clenched – one resting alone on the table top, the other around his mug of tea – as he thought about it.

As he glared at his half-finished tea, and Orihime pretended to be unaware of his darkening mood, the rest of the family gathered in the kitchen. Karin and Yuzu claimed their usual seats, sitting opposite Orihime and Ichigo, and Isshin leaned back against the counter behind his daughters.

Orihime swallowed her most recent bite of curry and hesitated, looking over at the twins and their father. It was obvious that someone – most likely Isshin – was about to speak, but she had no idea what they'd say. They hadn't seemed angry with her earlier, but maybe now that they'd had time to think about it…? Her gut clenched. The last thing she wanted was to upset anyone, let alone Ichigo's family. But of course I did, she reflected, her gaze dropping back to her meal.

Ichigo, too, had noticed his family's arrival – though not quite instantaneously – and he lifted his eyes curiously. He didn't have to look beside him to know Orihime had probably convinced herself that she'd crossed some sort of line; the dip in her spiritual pressure told him everything. "Are you just gonna sit there and stare?" he asked after a long moment of silence.

"I know this isn't my place," Isshin began, resting the heels of his palms on the countertop behind him. "But I'm sure Ichigo would agree with me on this…and I don't think it's such a good idea for you to be alone tonight, Orihime."

Orihime had lifted her head when he'd begun speaking, and her eyes widened a bit at his words, but she wasn't given the opportunity to respond before Ichigo jumped in.

"Tch," Ichigo began, shifting his weight before he added, "Obviously." He cut his eyes to Orihime then, and did his best to ignore the fact that his entire family was watching – listening – as he said, "You can stay here tonight if you want. Or, if you're not comfortable with that, I'll stay at your place."

Orihime had automatically turned her full attention to him when he spoke, and by the time he was done her eyes had widened drastically. In her mind, that idea held all sorts of awkward potential, and she most certainly didn't trust herself enough to risk it. "Oh, no, really, I'm okay! I'm sure I'll be fine, you don't have to do that for me! I don't live too far from here, and all I have to do is get inside and lock th-!"

"Orihime," Ichigo interrupted firmly. She fell silent immediately and he added, "Here or there. The company part is not up for debate."

"Ichigo!" Yuzu cried, sounding horrified. She picked up a napkin, crumpled it in her hand, and threw it at his head as she scolded, "What if she's uncomfortable having a guy alone with her in her apartment? Don't be so insensitive!"

Ichigo scowled at the napkin, which had bounced harmlessly off of his temple and rolled, half-unfolded, back onto the table. "I'm not leaving her alone," he said firmly, barely managing to catch himself before he accidentally cursed at his sister. His father was one thing, but with his sisters – and especially Yuzu – he tried to edit himself.

Before an argument could break out, Orihime quietly asked, "Ichigo…a-are you sure?"

The family returned their attention to her, and Ichigo's expression immediately softened. Inclining his head, he replied, "You shouldn't even need to ask."

Orihime swallowed, forcing back tears, and smiled back at him. When she was sure her voice was stable, she said, "I'm kind of afraid to go back tonight…but I don't actually have a change of clothes, let alone my uniform, so I guess I have to, huh?"

"Nonsense!" Isshin declared loudly, standing upright and holding his fists up in the air excitedly. "The girls and I will head over to your apartment – if that's okay with you – and we'll pick up some extra clothes!"

Ichigo was immediately on his feet, nearly spilling his tea as he cried, "No way in hell are you going through Orihime's closet, you freakin' pervert!"

"Oh, relax, son!" Isshin replied dismissively. "That's what I'm bringing your sisters with me for! I do have some decency you know!"

Ichigo ground his teeth together before finally grumbling, "Yeah, right," and sitting heavily back into his chair.

Ignoring the argument, Yuzu turned her attention back to Orihime and said, "We'd be happy to get some things for you! Let me get you a piece of paper and a pen, and you can just give us a list of things you want!" Then she quickly stood and darted out of the kitchen.

In a blur of activity, Yuzu returned with the paper and pen, and Orihime took a couple of minutes to list out the things she wanted and where to find them. Then she gave the list, and her key, to Yuzu, and Yuzu dragged her twin out of the kitchen, following an exuberant Isshin. A heartbeat later the noise was entirely gone, muffled by the solid thunk of the closing front door.

They migrated upstairs, to Ichigo's room, after Ichigo deposited her dishes in the sink (and valiantly ignored her offer to wash them). Predictably, when Orihime stepped into the room, Kon immediately launched himself from the desktop, on a collision-course with her chest.

"Orihime!" he sang as he sailed through the air, little plushy paws outstretched.

Orihime started, having forgotten all about him, and Ichigo's arm shot out, intercepting the lecherous mod-soul in mid-air.

Squeezing unnecessarily hard, Ichigo brought Kon up to eye level and ground out, "Could you at least pretend to have manners?" Forcibly unclenching his jaw, he turned back to Orihime and said, "I'll be right back."

Orihime watched as Ichigo spun, Kon still clenched tightly in his fist and crying something about the Valley of the Gods, and stomped from the room. She pulled her lip between her teeth thoughtfully, but regretted the action immediately as a sharp stinging sensation shot through her. "Owwie," she mumbled, releasing her lip. With a sigh, she turned and stepped further into the room.

She was still debating on whether she should sit on the edge of his bed, the floor, or his desk chair, when Ichigo returned and calmly shut the door behind him. She turned to him and noticed that Kon was missing. "What did you do with Kon?"

"I locked him in Yuzu's closet," Ichigo replied with a shrug. He cocked a brow at her then and said, "You know you could sit down if you wanted."

Orihime laughed awkwardly and mumbled, "Yeah, um, I just…that is, where did you want to sit?"

Ichigo grinned faintly and moved easily toward his desk chair. It wasn't the most comfortable piece of furniture he'd sat in, so he usually tried not to make his guests sit in it. "You can sit wherever," he said casually.

"Right," Orihime replied under her breath, before turning and carefully perching on the edge of his bed. All at once she felt a different sense of déjà vu, and she had to take a deep breath to push it away. That was a long time ago, she told herself. And it's over now.

"Orihime?" Ichigo asked gently, noticing her slightly-glazed-over expression.

The healer blinked and smiled sheepishly. "Eh, sorry. Did you say something?"

Ichigo shook his head.

Orihime caught sight of the band-aid on his cheek and frowned, the guilt returning. "I really am sorry…um, would you like me to heal that for you?"

Ichigo frowned at her and replied, "I'm not upset about it, so stop apologizing. And don't worry about that, either, it's not too bad."

"But…it wouldn't have happened if it weren't for me," Orihime mumbled, dropping her eyes to the floor and subconsciously clenching her fists in her skirt.

"You can't think about it that way," Ichigo said. "If you're going to heal someone, you should heal yourself."

Orihime raised a self-conscious hand to her wounded cheek, but didn't actually touch it, as she said quietly, "I can't…I have to go into the police station tomorrow and sign a report, and the cops saw me all bruised and cut-up. It'd be suspicious if I suddenly wasn't…."

Ichigo's scowl returned in force. She was right, of course, but he didn't like it. He was jerked from his inner grumblings, however, when she spoke again, her voice barely above a whisper.

"Do I look horrible now?"

His eyes snapped to hers, but she was still looking down. She looked so weak and fragile in that moment that his heart clenched painfully. So he stood up and crossed to her side, sitting down beside her – on the side with her bruises and scrapes – and, carefully, he used his index finger to tilt her chin up.

When their eyes met again he wasn't surprised to see the shining reflection of unshed tears swimming behind her lashes. All he wanted to do was reassure her that she didn't look horrible, and it never even occurred to him that he might make things – especially that night – rather awkward. So he smiled faintly at her before leaning in and, unwilling to cause her any further pain, opted to press a kiss only to the uninjured corner of her lips.

He felt her gasp against his lips, and he wasn't surprised that she was wide-eyed when he pulled back. Voice soft and gentle, he said, "You're still beautiful to me."

It wasn't until a single tear escaped, running down her injured cheek, that he realized he could have seriously screwed their relationship up in that moment.

Before he could say anything else, however, she brokenly whispered, "But…I'm such a mess…."

He reached up, hoping that her reaction meant he hadn't screwed up too badly, and very carefully wiped the tear away. "I won't say the bruises suit you, but they'll fade."

"Ichigo," Orihime breathed, her eyes searching his as she reached up and pulled his hand into both of hers. "Why…why did you kiss me?"

Ichigo subconsciously licked his lips as he fought with how best to answer her. Because I've wanted to for a couple of years? Probably not. Because I love you? There were probably better moments (like, oh, after you've been dating for a while?) to drop that one. Because I hate seeing you upset? Or hurt? Or crying? None of them felt right.

Clearing his throat, Ichigo prayed his words would come out right, and said, "Because I, uh…well, because I…." He cringed and clamped his mouth shut, refusing to make any more of a fool of himself than he already had. If he was going to honestly answer her question, he was at least going to sound like he had a brain when he did it.

Orihime giggled softly, partly at his adorable tongue-tied response attempt, and partly at the expression on his face when he shut his mouth, obviously attempting to re-gather his words.

For whatever reason, the soft, tinkling sound of her giggle eased the tension out of him, and he lifted his eyes back to hers before he said quietly, "I love you, and I hate seeing you upset, and I guess I was hoping to help you feel…well, not horrible."

Well, he reflected, at least I didn't list all of the reasons….

The laughter in her eyes had turned to shock at his words, and for a long moment, she felt like she couldn't breathe properly. He had said those words, and not only had he said them, but he'd said them so…easily. She had to replay his words, verbatim, three times in her memory before she could convince herself that she'd heard him correctly.

His nerves were taking over at her continued silence, and he unintentionally clenched his hand just a little, reminding both of them that she was still holding his hand quite firmly in her lap.

As Ichigo's eyes reflexively darted down to his captured hand, Orihime realized she hadn't said anything. She sucked in a breath, internally berating herself, and as his eyes snapped back up to hers at her gasp, she said, "Sorry, I…I wasn't entirely sure I'd heard you right, and then I…but that doesn't matter! What I mean to say is: Ichigo, I love you, too. That's why…I hate always burdening you with my problems, and being the reason you get hurt so much…."

His head was swimming a bit at her words, but he managed to play it cool and he shifted his hand so that he could capture one of hers and pull her closer. She leaned willingly forward, and he had brushed his lips ever-so-lightly over hers before he remembered why he hadn't kissed her properly before. At the last second, he shifted his head and pressed his lips to her forehead firmly.

Orihime blinked, slightly confused at his abrupt change of course – not that she minded the gesture – and she hesitantly asked, "…Ichigo?"

He pulled back to look in her eyes again and said, "I don't want to hurt you. With your lip split like that, I imagine it would kind of hurt if I kissed you, you know?" He was somewhat amazed he hadn't stumbled his way through that.

She smiled and squeezed his hand. "I guess you might be right…but how long does a split lip take to heal?"

Ichigo couldn't help but chuckle faintly at her slight-whine and he shrugged as he said, "Depends on the split. Lips heal pretty quick usually, but you've gotta factor in your bruise, so I'd say you'll wanna give it a couple days."

Orihime pouted cutely. "But I don't want to," she said.

He smirked and leaned close, letting his forehead rest against hers so that he could whisper, "I'm not going anywhere, Hime."

Orihime said nothing for a long minute as she smiled up at him, her heart doing a very complicated dance against her ribcage. When she did finally speak, she asked softly, "Can you come sit on my other side?"

Ichigo lifted a curious eyebrow but silently retrieved his hand and moved around her all the same.

A moment after he'd settled himself beside her once more, Orihime shifted and leaned into him, snuggling against his side and using his shoulder as a sort of pillow. He realized immediately why she'd asked him to move – her bruised cheek would have been pushed up against him if she'd tried this with him on her other side.

He allowed a small smile to curve his lips and curled his arm around her, mindful of the bruise on her arm. She fisted one hand in his shirt as her eyes fluttered closed.

They had barely begun to relax when the front door slammed open – or possibly shut – and Isshin's unmistakable voice called up the stairs: "Daddy's home! And we brought Orihime's things!"

Orihime laughed softly, and Ichigo groaned, half in embarrassment and half in irritation. Still, he heaved a sigh and said, "C'mon, we should make sure they got everything you asked for, and then you should try and get some sleep. We still have school tomorrow – unless you want to ditch?"

Orihime sat up and shook her head. "No, I really shouldn't, it's not something I need to miss school for. Um, but…where am I sleeping?"

Ichigo did his best to fight down the heat that immediately wanted to rise to his cheeks when he said, "You're sleeping here tonight."

"H-here?" Orihime choked, her face flushing crimson instantly.

"Yeah," Ichigo said. "Dad's designated the third bed in my sisters' room as Rukia's, so that's out, and no way in hell am I having you sleep on the couch. It's not that comfortable."

Orihime swallowed, a million thoughts of varying levels of appropriateness running through her mind, and she found herself asking, "But where will you sleep?"

Ichigo shrugged, pushing to his feet. "The couch, probably."

"But you just said it's uncomfortable!" Orihime argued immediately.

He held a hand out to help her to her feet as he said, "I'll deal."

Orihime was less than satisfied. "But that's hardly fair! I can't take your bed!"

"You can, and you will," Ichigo replied firmly.

Isshin laughed from the doorway, a medium-sized duffel bag hanging from one hand, and he said, "Don't be silly, son! That old couch is horrible for sleeping!"

Ichigo spun around to glare at his father. "And just where do you suggest I sleep, then?"

Isshin stepped into the bedroom, casually setting the duffel in front of the closed closet doors, and said with a grin, "Just pull out an extra pillow and share the bed. You're mature enough for that, aren't you?"

Both teens flared crimson as Isshin laughed himself out of the room. His still-laughing voice echoed through the door a heartbeat later as he called, "All children need to be getting into bed now! Tomorrow's a school day!"

Silence stretched for a long minute, until finally Ichigo awkwardly cleared his throat and said, "Uh, sorry about him…I'm convinced he took one-too-many bankais to the head…."

Orihime looked over at him, and her embarrassment faded to a semi-manageable level as she realized she wasn't the only one unsure of how to handle the situation. With a faint smile, which stung only slightly, she stepped toward her duffel. "It's your house, Ichigo, you should do whichever makes you most comfortable."

Ichigo stared at her as she knelt in front of the bag his father had deposited, which he could only assume was hers. He had no idea what to say to that. Because it sounded suspiciously like she wasn't necessarily vetoing his idiot-father's idea, and he didn't know how to handle that.

Orihime paused, the top of the duffel half-way unzipped, and turned her head to look over at him curiously. "Ichigo?"

He moved forward, still not sure what he was doing, and reached around her to slide the closet door partially open. Somewhat amazed at himself, he pulled out the extra pillow, tucked it beneath one arm, and then slid the door shut. He was half-way back to his bed, still feeling lost in some sort of daze, when Orihime's soft voice carried to his ears.

"Thank you," she murmured.

He turned to look over at her, feeling confused, and realized she wasn't facing him. Her attention was once again focused on the bag, and he realized all of a sudden that she hadn't wanted to be alone at all that night. His lips curved up ever-so-slightly, and he returned his attention to his bed.

He was still rearranging the pillows, and wishing he'd changed his sheets that morning, when Orihime moved behind him and quietly asked, "Um, where can I change?"

"You can change in the bathroom," he offered, turning to face her. "Or in here if you'd rather; I can change in the bathroom."

Orihime shook her head. "The bathroom's fine. I'll just step out and do that now, then," she replied.

He nodded, and she slipped out of his room with her pajamas in her arms. The bathroom door was open, so she knew it wasn't occupied, and she quickly stepped inside and shut the door. Then, with a morbid sense of curiosity, she moved toward the vanity and set the clothes on the counter before she finally lifted her gaze to the mirror.

She had to swallow heavily as she took in her injuries. Knowing and seeing the wounds on her face were two very different things.

Her fingers lifted hesitantly and traced, lightly, over her lip. It was a little swollen, though not horribly, and the cut didn't look as bad as she'd feared. But the bruise covering her face was worse. Her whole cheek was darkened, and half-covered in band-aids. Taking a deep breath, she reached over and rolled up her sleeve, to get a better look at her arm. The bruise there was equally dark, and it had obviously been caused by someone gripping her too tightly. She could only hope that her school shirt would be enough to cover it.

When she felt tears welling up in her eyes, she turned her back to the mirror and sucked in a deep breath. She was alright. Ichigo had saved her. And while she may not have wanted to involve him, she couldn't lie to herself and say that she actually regretted involving him at this point.

Still, she did her best to keep her back to the mirror as she moved around the bathroom, changing and doing what she needed to to get ready for bed. When her dirty work clothes were gathered in her arms, she stepped from the bathroom, glad to see that no one was waiting by the door. The lights in the hall and downstairs were off, but Ichigo's door was open and light still poured from within.

She tapped once on the doorframe to let him know she was there before stepping in, and Ichigo looked up from the floor when she entered. He was sitting on the edge of his bed, the comforter pulled back and the pillows lined up beside each other beneath the headboard. His elbows were resting on his knees, fingers laced together in front of him, as he lifted his head. He had already changed into blue sweatpants and a white tank-top style sleeping shirt.

"Make yourself comfortable," he said as he pushed to his feet and gestured to the bed. "I'm just gonna run to the bathroom before I turn out the light."

Orihime nodded, knowing her cheeks – or, at least, her uninjured cheek – were pink as her eyes strayed to the bed they would be sharing. It wasn't technically big enough for two mostly-full-grown people, which meant there would be no way to avoid bumping into each other.

Ichigo was nearly out the door before she remembered the question she'd wanted to ask. "Oh, what should I do with my clothes?"

He turned and reflexively glanced at the pile of fabric in her hands. "Yuzu usually does laundry after school," he said. "I'm sure she'd be happy to wash them for you. I'll put 'em in the laundry room tomorrow with mine."

Orihime swallowed, not pointing out that he'd just implied she would be there for at least one more night, and nodded. "Okay."

Ichigo disappeared down the hall a moment later, and Orihime deposited her clothes on top of her bag. Then she carefully removed her hairpins, setting them on his desktop beside his Combat Pass.

Self-consciously, she looked back down at her pajamas – she'd had the foresight, at least, to ask Yuzu to pick up her more appropriate pajamas, and so she was dressed in a pair of loose, pink shorts and a matching t-shirt. Unfortunately, the shorts were a little shorter than she would normally have worn around anyone other than Tatsuki, but at least the shirt was loose, though it rode up whenever she raised her arms even a little.

She turned her attention to the bed, then, and hesitated. Ichigo had told her to make herself comfortable, but did he want her to face away from him? Or did he want her to face him? And what if she rolled into him in her sleep?

The door clicked closed behind her, and Orihime started, turning her head as Ichigo walked up. "Didn't I say you could get comfortable?" Ichigo asked. She knew what he was really asking.

Barely resisting the reflex to bite her lip, she said, "Well, I wasn't sure which side you'd want, and…that is, um, which way should I face?"

Ichigo looked briefly at the bed and then lifted his hand to rest it on her back and lightly push her forward. "If you lay on your left side, you won't put too much pressure on your bruises."

"True," Orihime agreed, stepping toward the bed and trying to fight down the strange surge of disappointment. He was right, after all, and what did she really expect? They hadn't even established a relationship yet, let alone the kind of intimacy that was typically required for cuddling. And Ichigo certainly didn't seem like the cuddly type, either – though she did hope she could maybe give him cause to make exceptions once in a while. Eventually.

She settled herself onto her side of the bed as Ichigo moved around and climbed in on the window side. Their legs brushed together as they settled, and her face flared as her heart tripped. She was still sharing a bed with Ichigo, cuddling or no cuddling.

And as she pulled the comforter up over herself, attempting to settle against the pillow, something unexpected happened.

Ichigo shifted, and his arm wrapped around her torso, slipping beneath her bruised arm and curving over her stomach. He tightened his arm and hauled her effortlessly up against his chest, wedging his other arm beneath her neck so that she could use it as additional support. Pillow tucked beneath his own head, Ichigo let his body mold itself around hers as he relaxed.

Orihime sighed softly and smiled as she relaxed easily into his embrace. The disappointment fled her body as quickly as it had surfaced, and she knew without a doubt that, despite the terror she had felt earlier in the evening, she would sleep peacefully. Nothing could scare her with Ichigo's arms wrapped so tightly around her.

Before school the following morning Orihime had had to go to the police station to sign the official report, and Ichigo had insisted on going with her. It took longer than they had hoped, and the police had taken pictures, forcing Orihime to remove the makeup she'd applied to lighten the bruises on her face and arm. So by the time they were able to leave it was nearly lunch, and neither of them were in the best of moods.

The police had had no answers when Orihime had asked if they knew what her father had wanted with her. Shinobu had woken up on the way to the hospital, and he didn't seem to want to press charges on Ichigo, but he wouldn't give any explanation for what he was doing in town either. And he had disappeared early that morning, after being released from the hospital.

Orihime was willing to let it go as long as he didn't bother her again, but Ichigo was less forgiving. He wanted answers, and more importantly, he wanted to know that Shinobu would never be bothering Orihime again.

So after they'd rounded the corner from the police station, Ichigo asked, "Do you think you're up for making one more stop?"

Orihime tilted her head up to him curiously. "What are you thinking?"

"I'm thinking I want to talk to Urahara," Ichigo replied. "He owes us a few dozen favors, and it shouldn't be too hard for him to dig up the information."

"What information?" Orihime asked as they rounded the next corner, which aimed them in the proper direction for the shop.

"You want to know why that bastard showed up, don't you?" Ichigo asked pointedly.

Orihime pulled her lip between her teeth, cringed, and released it as she said, "Well, yes…I just hate to bother Mr. Urahara for something like this."

"You're not," Ichigo replied easily, giving her hand a light squeeze. "I am, and I don't give a damn about bothering him for this."

She wanted to argue his point, but the truth was that she found his response unnaturally amusing, and when she opened her mouth to respond, all that came out was laughter. It was light, and short, and it felt good. As she dragged in a breath to collect herself, she leaned into his arm, squeezing his hand, and said, "I'm sorry, I don't know where that came from!"

Ichigo was grinning, his eyes laughing with her, as he said, "It's alright."

They walked in silence for a few minutes, hand in hand, as they headed to Urahara's shop.

After they'd rounded a few more corners, Ichigo finally broached the subject that was on the tip of his tongue. And, in truth, he didn't know why he was having so much difficulty with it. "Orihime," he began, clearing his throat self-consciously. "I was wondering…do you, uh…crap, this is ridiculous. Will you be my girlfriend?" He cringed at the way he'd blurted it.

Orihime stared up at him for a moment, her lips twitching up in a smile. "Of course!" Leaning her head against his shoulder as they waited for a light to change, she added, "I had just sort of assumed we were already…well, I guess 'dating' isn't the right word, but…."

"Yeah," Ichigo replied when she trailed off, stepping forward as the light changed. "Me, too, I just…wanted to make sure we were on the same page, is all."

Orihime smiled brightly, though she cringed as her healing lip crinkled.

They silently rounded the final corner to Urahara's Shop, and their pace slowed as they approached the doors. It was always best to brace yourself before entering Kisuke Urahara's domain.

Ichigo released Orihime's hand as he took a step forward, sliding the door open and sticking his head inside. When he saw no one, he called out, "Oi! Is anyone here?"

"If you're going to open the door, you might as well go inside," a familiar, deep voice teased from behind them.

Orihime and Ichigo turned their attention to the newcomer, neither at all surprised to see a black cat sitting on the ground a few feet away, tail swishing idly side to side.

Ichigo grunted and said, "Is Urahara here or not?"

Yoruichi stood and began walking calmly toward the open door, saying, "I'd assume so, since the door was unlocked."

The teens waited until Yoruichi had passed before stepping inside the shop, and Orihime quietly slid the door shut behind her. They followed Yoruichi through the front, and when they were half-way down the hall, Kisuke's voice called out, "This way, everybody! You're just in time for tea!"

Tessai was setting down the final cup of still-steaming tea when Ichigo and Orihime stepped through. Yoruichi was already seated beside Urahara, who frowned thoughtfully as he watched his guests slip into the room.

Tessai's eyebrows rose as he looked up at their guests. "My goodness! Orihime, what happened to you?"

Orihime attempted an awkward laugh, her hands clasped in front of her tightly, and said, "Um, well, you see…eh heh, it's a long story…."

Ichigo stayed silent as Orihime claimed the spot beside him, and once she was settled, all eyes turned to him. It didn't take a genius to figure out why he was sporting a fresh band-aid on his face. "We were hoping you could help us with something," Ichigo began directly.

Kisuke met Ichigo's solid gaze from beneath the shadow of his hat. "I'm listening."

Kisuke agreed to look into the situation after Ichigo's explanation, and then the two teens took their leave. Their would-be lunch break was nearly half-over by the time they made it to school, so instead of heading to class, they made their way to the roof. As Ichigo reached for the door that separated them from their friends, Orihime pulled the uninjured corner of her lip between her teeth nervously.

Ichigo paused, sensing her hesitation, and looked over at her. "Changing your mind?" he asked quietly.

"No," Orihime replied, releasing her lip as she fiddled with the strap of her school bag. "I just…well, I'm tired of talking about it."

Ichigo released the doorknob and stepped back to her, lifting his free hand to cup her bruise-free cheek gently. As he ran his thumb across her smooth skin, he said, "I know. I'll tell them what happened."

Orihime smiled and reached up, covering his hand with one of hers. "Thank you for doing all this with me."

"Tch," Ichigo grumbled, leaning forward and pressing a kiss to her forehead. Lips brushing against her skin, he added, "I'll always be here."

After a long moment, during which neither spoke, choosing instead to simply breathe, Ichigo stepped back and once again reached for the door.

"Where the heck have you guys been all day?" Keigo demanded practically before they had even stepped out onto the roof. He was half way to his feet, juice box in one hand and the other pointing accusatorily in their direction.

"We had some things to do," Ichigo grunted as he led the way to the loose circle of their friends.

"What sort of things di-?" Tatsuki began pointedly, cutting herself off as her eyes landed on Orihime, who was quietly following Ichigo. She was immediately on her feet, and she moved right past Ichigo as she said, "Orihime! What happened?"

Uryuu and Chad looked over at Tatsuki's exclamation, and both men's eyes widened when they saw what had upset the karate champion.

Orihime laughed self-consciously and waved her free hand in a dismissive gesture. "Oh, it's not as bad as it looks, Tatsuki, I promise!"

Tatsuki leaned back and planted her hands on her hips. "Orihime."

"Tatsuki," Ichigo interrupted as he claimed his regular seat. He settled just a little closer to Chad than usual, making room for Orihime on his other side. When his childhood friend's eyes snapped over to his, he added, "Sit down, will you? I'll tell you what happened."

Orihime ducked past Tatsuki while she was distracted and quickly sat down beside Ichigo, tucking her legs beneath her properly.

Tatsuki took a deep breath and returned to her seat. To her right, Keigo was staring, open-mouthed and wide-eyed, at the bright-haired teens. To her left, Uryuu silently adjusted his glasses as they awaited an explanation.

Orihime spent another night at the Kurosaki household, and the following morning Ichigo went with her back to her apartment. She didn't put a lot of effort into talking him out of it, as she was a little worried of what awaited her at home. Fortunately there was no one lingering around her apartment when they arrived, and a quick survey told them that no one had been inside – with the obvious exception of Ichigo's family.

After depositing her duffel bag against a far wall, Orihime turned to Ichigo with a smile. "Thanks for coming home with me."

Ichigo stepped up to her, framing the left side of her face with one hand, and said, "You know you don't have to thank me, Hime."

Orihime pouted, about to argue, when his thumb brushed lightly across her lips. She swallowed, her argument dying in her throat, and lifted her hands to curl them into his shirt.

Though her bruises were still fairly apparent, the cuts on her cheek had healed enough to forgo the band-aids, and her split lip was almost a memory. And Ichigo was tired of holding back.

He bowed his head, inhaling a deep breath of the scent that was Orihime, before he finally closed his lips over hers. His free hand lifted and settled over her hip as their lips began moving together, and when Orihime leaned slightly into him, the hand framing her face slid back, tangling in her hair.

Ichigo angled his head as his tongue slipped out, tracing lightly along her lips, and Orihime's lips immediately parted for him. He swept into her mouth without hesitation, and her arms curled around his neck as she pressed herself into him. His own arms shifted, one hand splaying over her lower back, the other wrapped around her torso tightly.

Their tongues touched, tentative at first, before quickly gaining confidence and swirling along each other. Then Ichigo's broke from hers to explore the caverns of her mouth, drawing several muffled mewls from the girl in his arms. Her fingers buried themselves in his hair as she held on tightly, tilting her head to encourage him to deepen the kiss.

Orihime was practically butter in his arms by the time they pulled apart, gasping for breath. She loosened her hold on him just slightly and shifted so that she could rest her un-bruised cheek against his shoulder. Her eyes fluttered closed as she attempted to regain control of her breathing, her fingers subconsciously dancing along the exposed skin at the back of his throat.

Ichigo continued to hold her close as they breathed, his arms locked firmly around her. He couldn't deny that the kiss had set fire to his blood, but he refused to so much as mention it. He wanted to do things right, or at least as right as they could, and that meant making sure she understood how important she was to him before they took that step.

Still, there was no reason they couldn't take another small step in that general direction. Voice low and thick, Ichigo asked, "What do you want to do today?"

Orihime hummed an inquiry, too relaxed to actually speak.

Ichigo smirked and let his cheek rest on her temple lightly as he said, "We haven't actually gone on a first date yet. So I was thinking we should go to dinner, but dinner's a few hours off still. Is there anything else you'd like to do while we wait?"

A soft, happy smile curving her lips, Orihime said, "I'm not picky…I just want to spend the day with you. Oh, but, do you have to work?"

A satisfied grin on his lips, Ichigo replied, "I called her yesterday while you were taking a shower and took the weekend off. What about you?"

"I have to work tomorrow," Orihime replied. "When I called in yesterday, I only asked for yesterday and today."

"That's fine," Ichigo said. He opened his mouth to say more, but was interrupted by a rhythmic tapping at the door. Lifting his head enough to narrow his eyes at the door, he mumbled, "The hell?"

Orihime laughed softly and gently eased out of Ichigo's embrace as she said, "It's Miss Yoruichi."

Immediately feeling like an idiot, Ichigo sighed and started for the door. "Maybe Urahara figured something out."

Yoruichi stayed only long enough to deliver the information that Kisuke had come up with. It seemed Orihime's mother had died recently, and for whatever reason she had left a clause in her will declaring that her husband could only inherit her money (what little she had) if he could mend relations with their daughter.

To prove he had 'mended relations' with Orihime, he had to get her signature, and she had to 'agree' to move back to the town she'd been born in, which was where her father still lived. He would still not have access to the money until one year after Orihime moved back, in the hopes that that would be proof enough that they had truly mended their relationship. Of course, if she moved away before the year was up, he would get nothing.

So, naturally, their assumption was that he intended to force her to stay long enough for him to get his money.

After Yoruichi explained everything, Ichigo asked the burning question. "What about her father? I doubt he'd give up after just one try."

Yoruichi waved her hand dismissively. "I wouldn't worry about him," she said. She stood, then, and paused as her gaze landed back on Orihime. "But for what it's worth…I'm sorry we weren't able to help more."

"Oh, no! You and Mr. Urahara have already done too much! Please don't feel bad, I'm very grateful!" Orihime insisted, her hands waving around dramatically.

Yoruichi smirked and started for the door, saying, "If you say so. Well, I'm off; have fun, lovebirds!"

She was already out the door before Ichigo had recovered enough to respond.

Ichigo was still glaring at the door when Orihime spoke, coming to stand beside him as she said, "What if we go see a movie? I haven't gone to the theater in a few months, there's bound to be something good out, right?"

Ichigo blinked, redirecting his focus to the girl at his side, and after a minute he nodded and said, "A movie sounds good. Let's go see what's out."

Taking her hand in his, Ichigo led the way to the door.

~ Epilogue: Three Years Later ~

Orihime greeted him at the door with a light kiss and a smile. "How was class?" she asked as she stepped back, giving him room to kick off his shoes.

"Waste of time," Ichigo grumbled as he dropped his bag beside the door.

Orihime laughed softly, and walked with him toward their living room before she said, "I know you just got back, but I have to run to work. I'll be kind of late, so don't wait dinner for me."

Ichigo scoffed and snatched her around the waist as she turned to head for her purse. She squeaked in surprise, hands latching onto his shoulders as he lifted her off her feet and pinned her to the wall.

His lips covered hers before she could voice a half-hearted protest, and her legs lifted to wrap around his hips as she returned his kiss. Their tongues danced together sensuously, and Ichigo's fingers slipped beneath the hem of her shirt.

Orihime knew perfectly well where this kiss was leading, and though she by no means wanted to make him stop, she knew she had to. With extreme reluctance, Orihime tore her lips from his and gasped, "Ichigo-!"

"Shh," Ichigo murmured, his lips beside her ear, before he trailed his tongue teasingly along her earlobe. She moaned softly as his lips danced down the side of her throat, latching onto her pulse-point and sucking.

Her arms and legs tightened around him as he tortured her, and for a moment Orihime's thoughts scattered. It wasn't until his teeth grazed ever-so-lightly along the underside of her jaw that she remembered, somehow, what she'd been trying to say.

"Work," she gasped, her nails unintentionally scraping his scalp as her hand clenched when his tongue darted out once more. "I have to – mmm – go to work – ah!"

Ichigo pulled his lips from her skin, smirking, and deliberately ran his thumbs over her abdomen as his eyes lifted to hers. Her expressive gray eyes were half-lidded and clouded with desire, and his smirk broadened just a little. He leaned in until his lips were a hair's breadth from hers, and he whispered, "No you don't."

Orihime groaned, partly in reaction to the burning on her skin beneath his hands and partly because she really didn't want to go, and pulled her lips away from his again to say, "I really do. I'll be late if I don't leave – Ichigo!" The last part was said on a gasp when he rolled his hips forward, lips descending again on her pulse-point.

"No, Hime," Ichigo murmured against her skin, before once again lifting his head to look into her eyes. "You really don't have to go to work today."

She pouted, opening her mouth to argue, and then snapped it shut when she realized he seemed to be serious. At length, she asked, "What do you mean?"

His smirk returned and he leaned in for a light kiss before he said, "I called your boss this morning and got him to give you the day off."

Gray eyes wide, Orihime's hands shifted to hold loosely to the base of his neck and she stammered, "Wh-what? Really?"

"Really," Ichigo murmured, pressing a hard, chaste kiss to her lips. When he pulled back again he added, "Happy anniversary, Orihime."

Orihime smiled, leaned in and kissed him deeply, before shifting her hold on him into a hug and whispering, "Happy anniversary, Ichigo."

After a long moment, Ichigo stepped back, pulling her away from the wall, and gently set her back on her feet.

Orihime loosened her hold on him as her skirt fell back into place around her legs and looked up, giving him a curious look. She certainly hadn't expected him to pull away after he'd been so insistent a moment ago.

Recognizing the look buried behind her curiosity, Ichigo offered her another teasing smirk and said, "Don't worry, we'll get to dessert later."

"Eh?" Orihime questioned, her face flushing anyway.

Ichigo grabbed one of her hands and pulled her properly into the living room, guiding her to the couch. "Sit here," he instructed.

Orihime obeyed silently, watching him with curious, wide eyes. It was obvious, if he'd gone to the trouble of asking her boss to give her the night off, that he had some sort of plan. But the problem was she couldn't figure out what that plan could be, since he didn't have a habit of bothering with elaborate plans.

So she watched in wonder as he moved down the short hall to the entry and bent beside his school bag. A moment later he extracted what looked suspiciously like a DVD, stood, and turned back toward her. He saw her trying to get a glimpse of the movie casing and smoothly lifted it behind his back, clucking his tongue at her. "It's a surprise, Hime," he teased.

As he moved to the DVD player, turning on the TV simultaneously, Orihime asked incredulously, "Did you rent a movie?"

"Yeah," Ichigo replied easily, popping the disc into the player. "I thought we'd go old-school and do dinner and a movie."

Orihime hesitated, her eyes flicking to the kitchen, and asked, "You're making us dinner? Or are we going out?" He'd mastered breakfast a while ago, and she'd quickly learned to enjoy letting him take over the kitchen in the morning, but dinner wasn't his specialty.

Ichigo chuckled, knowing exactly what she was thinking, and as he turned back to the couch (remote in hand) he said, "No and no. We're staying in, and dinner should get here around six-thirty."

Now Orihime was thoroughly confused. It was just barely four o'clock.

Ichigo settled beside her, pulling her against him, and said, "Believe it or not, I found a place that was willing to let me call it in early and request a delivery time. So yes, I ordered for you, but I'm sure you'll like it. Now, are you ready for the movie?"

Orihime blinked up at him, inwardly amazed at the thought he'd put into their evening. He'd never been bad about important dates by any means, but his usual plans for their anniversary involved locking the door and turning off their cell phones – which she had never really minded, especially since he'd always been willing to go outside and do something if she'd asked.

With a smile, she leaned her head into his shoulder and said, "I'm ready."

It didn't take Orihime long to figure out what movie he'd rented, though it was a movie she'd only seen twice. Once in theaters, and once at a friend's birthday party a handful of months later.

It was the movie she and Ichigo had gone to see on their first date, three years ago to the day.

Another smile curving her lips, Orihime looked up at him and whispered, "Ichigo, I love you."

Ichigo angled his head and leaned down enough to capture her lips in a short kiss, before pulling back and whispering, "Love you, too, Hime."

They sat curled up on the couch through the entire movie, watching silently and enjoying each other's company. When the movie was over Ichigo disentangled from his girlfriend and crossed the living room to pop the disc from the DVD player. There was still a little over a half an hour before their dinner was scheduled to arrive, so the couple passed the time in light conversation.

Someone knocked on the door at 6:22, and Ichigo stood, asking Orihime to set the table as he headed for the door. He paid the deliveryman, took the packages, kicked the door shut, and made his way to the kitchen.

Orihime smiled up at him as she finished folding her napkin. "I wasn't sure if you'd ordered drinks, too, so I didn't pour anything."

"I figured the iced tea in the fridge would be fine," Ichigo replied, setting the two packages onto the counter.

Orihime quickly pulled out two glasses, extracted the jug of tea from the refrigerator, and filled the glasses. She had returned the tea and was turning back to the table, glasses in hand, when she saw Ichigo setting out the food on her plate. He moved out of the way as soon as he was done, and then set about putting food on his own plate.

He looked up when he was done, noticing that Orihime was standing beside her chair with wide, slightly teary eyes. She had set down their drinks, but hadn't otherwise moved.

"Hime?" he asked, confused by her reaction.

"It's…" she began, lifting her eyes from their food to meet his gaze and smiling softly. "It's the same meal we ordered on our first date. How did you remember?"

Ichigo smiled, reaching up to scratch the back of his neck and admitting, "Well, I had to look at the menu, and it's not exactly the same. They don't have exactly what you ordered before, so I ordered the closest thing they had. I know it's not the most romantic meal, but-"

Orihime crossed the table to stand before him, interrupting him as she leaned up and pressed a light kiss to his lips. Then she rested her head on his shoulder and wrapped her arms around him, saying, "It's not the food that makes the meal romantic, Ichigo, it's the sentiment behind it."

Ichigo wrapped his arms around her and held her close for a long minute, before chuckling faintly and saying, "Well, your sentimentally-romantic meal's gonna get cold if we don't start eating."

"Oh!" Orihime exclaimed, pulling back with a laugh and quickly returning to her seat.

They ate their meal in comfortable semi-silence, but as they neared the end, Ichigo felt his nerves creeping up. He dipped his free hand into his pocket for the hundredth time that day, but the weight of the small box in his hand only made him more nervous. And the time he'd told himself he was aiming for was rapidly approaching.

"Are you done?" Orihime asked, unaware of the growing nerves within her boyfriend, as she looked over at him.

"Hm? Oh, yeah, I am," he replied awkwardly.

As she stood, scooping their dinner plates into her arms, she asked, "Is everything alright?"

"Yeah," Ichigo assured her automatically. He managed a grin that he hoped wasn't obviously strained, and she seemed to accept it, because she smiled and turned to the sink. What the hell's the matter with me? he lectured himself as Orihime prepared to do the dishes.

She was reaching for the faucet, and the strange spell he'd fallen into shattered.

"Orihime," he said suddenly, pushing to his feet.

Something in his voice told her he wasn't about to ask if she wanted help with the dishes, so she pulled her arm back to her side and turned to face him. "Wha-?" Her eyes went wide and she cut herself off when she realized he was kneeling before her. Kneeling, specifically, on one knee.

"Orihime," he repeated firmly, holding her gaze with a familiar intensity burning in his eyes. "I love you, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you…. No, that's not right. I want to spend the rest of eternity with you. I need you by my side, and I have no intention of letting you think – even for a second – that I could ever survive without you. So it's time for me to ask…Orihime Inoue, will you marry me?"

As he spoke, he pulled a small box from his pocket and popped the lid open to reveal a simple, shining diamond ring.

Orihime's heart was beating so rapidly that she was amazed it hadn't burst from her chest, and she could barely breathe as tears clouded her vision and she shakily held her hand out as she stammered, "Y-yes, yes, of course!"

Ichigo pulled the ring free and lightly grasped her hand, slipping it easily onto her finger.

As soon as the ring was in place, gleaming brightly, Orihime's tears slipped free and her knees failed her as she threw herself into Ichigo's arms. He caught her easily, scooping her up even as his lips found hers. The kiss was passionate, and Orihime's fingers tangled in his hair even as he pushed easily to his feet.

"I love you," Orihime breathed when she pulled her lips away momentarily.

Ichigo pulled her lips back to his, rumbling something that sounded like, "Love you, too."

The dirty dishes were forgotten as Ichigo turned, his princess in his arms, and started toward the bedroom.

The End

A/N: Okay, okay, so I'm sure the 'violent parent returns' thing has been done a thousand times, but I had to take my shot at it anyway. Hopefully you enjoyed the story! I know it got all light and fluffy in the end, but I kind of wanted it to do that (especially since it was kinda dark and uncomfortable in the beginning…). Please review to let me know what you thought, and thanks for reading!