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Disclaimer: Bleach characters and environment belong to Tite Kubo.

Rated: T

Tell me You Love Me

Chapter 12

Double Date Part I

Seven Years ago at Karakura High

"His hair's … orange …"

That was the first thing that Rukia said the first time she laid eyes on Kurosaki Ichigo.

Renji had pointed him out to her at lunch time in the school grounds. He was telling her about his soccer practice and had merely pointed out another member of his team, who happened to be having his lunch with his own circle of friends.

She along with Orihime, Renji, Momo and Izuru were seated at the base of a tree, enjoying their lunch on a lovely afternoon at Karakura High School. They were the new kids in the school, starting their first year of senior year at Karakura High.

Rukia dipped into her bento with great energy as she was very hungry this afternoon. And so, she didn't take part in the conversation the rest of her friends were having.

"He's actually very good," Renji was saying, still talking about Ichigo.

"What did you say his name was again?" Momo asked, munching on some rice from her bento.

"Kurosaki Ichigo," he replied, after swallowing his food.

Momo frowned, thinking, with a faraway look on her face. "Where have I heard that name before?" she asked herself in a low whisper.

"What about you, Hime-chan? Have you heard that name anywhere before?" Momo asked Orihime who was digging into her lunch which was a concoction of the weirdest ingredients you can find, and which Rukia lovingly called her, "Kitchen Experiments".

Orihime turned to look at Ichigo who was seated a long way away from them. She stayed in that position for some time before Renji called out to her.

"O-Orihime? You okay?"

Orihime jumped as though she had forgotten for a second that they were all there with her.

"I've never seen him before," she said, a hint of red in her cheeks as she spoke, "but I think he has a funny face," she said, blushing madly at the end of the sentence.

This made Rukia focus her attention on the orange-haired boy again. When Renji had mentioned said boy, she had given him a cursory glance, like how one would look at a stranger who was crossing the street. That's all there was to it. All she noticed was his orange hair and she was too preoccupied by her bento to focus her attention on anything else.

So, when she looked back at him, and this time, really looked at him, she found him to be quite handsome. He had slightly tanned skin (no doubt brought about by soccer practices), a face with a scowl which she could see even from her distance, and lithe but strong-looking arms. His head was bowed down and his entire focus was pinned to his bento. And judging from his wide shoulders and lean torso, she guessed him to be quite tall. Although, still not as tall as Renji.

However, she couldn't see his eyes as they were cast down on his lunch box. So, taking in his appearance altogether, with the bizarre orange hair, the scrunched up eyebrows that gave him the scowl, and even the way his wide mouth moved as he chewed his food, made Rukia think about what Orihime said about him.

"I think he has a funny face."

Not to mention his name: Ichigo – as in – Strawberry.

Rukia started to laugh, completely agreeing with her best friend since childhood. He did have a funny face.

She earned the curious gaze of her friends as she did.

"What is it, Rukia-chan?" asked Orihime.

Rukia stopped laughing long enough to reply, "I think he has a funny face too," she said, coughing as her laughter stopped.

Orihime blushed more and stole a quick glance at the subject of their discussion.

"I think Hime-chan has a crush," sang Momo flustering Orihime even more.

"N-No, of course not, Momo-chan," she said, not meeting eyes with anyone as she said that.

Rukia sighed; Orihime was such a bad liar. Momo laughed at her denial while Renji chuckled. Izuru merely shook his head but when he caught Rukia's eye, smiled ever so slightly, as though secretly enjoying the joke.

"Who's that guy?" he asked, after a few seconds' silence. The group looked at the new arrival at Kurosaki's circle of friends, which was rather large. There was a brown-haired guy who was constantly babbling, sitting right next to Ichigo. Next to him was a small black-haired boy who had a constant smile on his face, and who seemed to be conversing with the brown-haired fellow. Next to him was a pale skinned boy with his hair hanging in curtains on either side of his face. He wore glasses and a frown, just like Ichigo. And just like Ichigo, he kept his eyes glued to his food.

There were a few girls in their group. They sat a little apart from the boys but constantly kept up the chatter with them.

The newcomer, however, was a rather large, muscular guy with dark skin and a mop of brown hair that fell into his eyes. He was taller and wider than any high school student Rukia had ever seen.

"Oh, that's Yasutora Sado," said Renji, recognising him, "people call him "Chad"."

"Holy Shit!" cursed Momo all of a sudden, startling all of them.

"What?" asked Rukia, shocked by her sudden outburst; Momo hardly ever swore.

"Now, I remember!" Momo exclaimed, "That's Kurosaki Ichigo and Yasutora Sado! Those guys are famous in Karakura for being delinquents!"

"That's dumb," said Izuru, jovially. Momo flashed him a look of anger.

"I-I mean," he said, backtracking immediately once he noticed how angry she was, "those are just rumours. And besides, Renji said that Kurosaki was a nice guy," he said, trying and failing in making his point.

"I think what he said was that Kurosaki was a good soccer player," said Momo, curling her lips as she spoke. She seemed to enjoy seeing Izuru cowering under her angry gaze. "Right, Renji?" she asked the red-haired boy.

"Well – " he started, but was cut off by Rukia, "Delinquent or not, what does it matter? It's not like we're his friends after all," she said, not understanding the situation.

"Rukia," said Momo in a severely patient voice that one would adopt with a two year old, "if Hime-chan is going to ask him out, we need to find out if he is the thug everyone makes him out to be."

At this, both Rukia and Orihime were dumbstruck. Hime-chan is going to - what now?

Rukia looked at Orihime in amazement. "You're going to ask him out?"

She was surprised because this would be the first time she was going to ask any guy out. It was like a stepping stone into the dating world, something they had both avoided since junior high when boys started to notice them.

"W-What? N-No! I – "Orihime just couldn't get the words out.

Rukia never quite understood the dating part of life. Why was it so important anyway? And besides, from all the stories she'd heard, dating in high school was just a cover for feeling each other up and getting the life's lessons on what to do once you get into a "real" relationship when you're older. Rukia never even considered going out with someone; she was sure she'd feel like a fool doing it. Maybe that's why it came as such a surprise to her to learn that Orihime was going to ask a boy out.

Life really was curious. Just a few short days ago, Orihime was nervous when boys showed her any kind of attention, and today, here she was, almost sounding like she really wanted to go on a date with a boy she knew nothing about. Rukia smiled at her.

"Go ahead," she told a wide-eyed Orihime, "Ask him out."

Orihime smiled a little shyly and gazed down at her lap, mostly to avoid the knowing looks on her friends' faces.

"What if he says he no?" she asked them, a little sadly, Rukia thought.

"He could also say yes," said Rukia, confidently. She had good reason to be after all; Orihime was very sweet and kind and for a fifteen year old girl, she was very beautiful. Any guy would be lucky to have her as a girlfriend.

Orihime lifted up her head and connected her grey eyes with Rukia's purple ones. "You think so?"

"I know so," Rukia replied. "Right guys?" she asked, looking at Renji, Izuru and Momo.

They all nodded in unison.

Orihime smiled.


After lunch was over, Rukia and her friends returned to the school building. In the end though, Rukia had to rush back to her locker because she had left a textbook behind that she needed for her next class. Realising that she was going to be late, Rukia slammed the door of her locker shut and turned around only to run into what felt like a brick wall. The impact made her stumble and drop her book. But before she could fall down completely, a pair of strong arms seized and steadied her.

The next thing she knew, her textbook was being handed back to her. She looked at the hand holding the book and followed it up to the face of a tall, handsome boy with dark hair and the most brilliant cerulean eyes. It was a beautiful mixture of Indigo and blue and the resultant colour was quite stunning.

"Wow," said Rukia, unable to look away from those eyes.

However, she did notice the eyebrows go up in surprise at what she just said. Startled, she took in his entire face and tried to cover up the momentary - er - admiration.

Did I just say "Wow"?

"I-I mean – what I meant to say was, I'm sorry," she said, taking a step back from the tall boy.

For some odd reason, her cheeks felt hot and she found she couldn't look at his face. She started to get very flustered at her reaction to him. She'd never experienced anything like it before.

"That's okay," said the boy, brushing off her apology with a wave of his hand. "You're Kuchiki Rukia, right?" he asked, taking a good look at her.

"Yes," she answered him politely. Why am feeling so - nervous?

"I'm Shiba Kaien," he said, holding out a large hand, "I sometimes substitute for the advanced Calculus classes for Obayashi Sensei," he said, smiling a smile that stretched from ear to ear.

Rukia found herself smiling back at him and shaking his hand. It felt so warm when she grasped it in a firm shake. She completely forgot about the fact that she was very much late.

"Oh, I only joined recently so …" she said, happy to know that they had a common ground where she could meet him again.

The final bell rang, making them both jump. "I guess we're late," he said, looking at his watch.

"I'm sorry," said Rukia immediately. She was, after all, the reason why they're both late.

"No worries," he said, and giving her one last smile, walked away from her.

Once again, Rukia felt the heat in her cheeks rise and it was only after he left that she seemed to realise the butterflies in her stomach. Supremely confused and yet happy at the same time, she gave herself a mental shake and walked in the direction of her classroom. She was in a daze, wide-eyed and blushing, hardly knowing where her feet were taking her, only to turn a corner and bump into yet another person. This time, she did fall to the ground … on her ass, to be precise.

"Ouch," she said, getting up and rubbing her backside gingerly.

"Watch where you're going, kid," said a gruff voice from somewhere near her. Rukia looked up to see an orange head and a familiar scowl.

Kurosaki Ichigo …

Rukia's ears prickled. Did he just call me "kid"?

"What did you say?" she asked, anger bubbling up in her voice and stomach. It was a completely different feeling from just a few minutes ago.

She narrowed her eyes at him. And for the first time, Rukia saw his eyes. They were an intense colour of amber. Somehow, they almost seemed to add a feminine quality to his delinquent-looking face. They were … soft; an expression quite opposite to his scowl.

"I said, watch where you're going, kid," he said, repeating the words quite obnoxiously back to her. "What's the matter, kid? You lost? Were you bringing that book to your big brother or sister?"

But his words grated on her nerves like a chainsaw. A vein popped up in her forehead as her anger reached an all-time high.

Ichigo didn't see the small fist come flying at him.

WHAM!

Upper cut straight to the jaw!

It knocked him flat on his back before he even registered what happened. He let out a grunt of pain as he clutched his aching jaw with his hands and through the ringing in his ears, he distinctly heard the words, "Strawberry moron" and "Kurosaki bastard" float into his head.

He sat up and looked around, with every urge to find the pint-sized junior-high-looking-girl who had the audacity to punch him, and teach her a lesson she'll never forget.

However, she was nowhere to be found. He rubbed his still stinging jaw and got to his feet, groaning in pain and frustration.

Who does she think she is? I won't rest 'til I find out who she is and get even!

Che, he thought, he should have seen that punch coming. But still, with her being so small, it wasn't entirely his fault. She was only half his size but he had to admit, it was still a good punch.

Damn …

Two days later …

"Rukia-chaaaaan!" Rukia heard Orihime's voice call out to her.

Rukia was on her way to the library to return a book when she heard Orihime. She pivoted and saw Orihime come running at her in full speed, highly excited about something.

"He said yes!" she yelled, even before she reached Rukia. Once she came to a stop, she was completely breathless. Rukia rubbed her back as she hunched over, trying to steady her breathing.

"He said yes," she said again, her entire face shining in the glow of exercise and happiness. "I asked Kurosaki-kun out and … and he said yes!"

"That's great," Rukia said, thinking it best not to mention that she had punched the man she had successfully asked out, right this very minute.

"Renji-kun was right," Orihime continued happily, "He's very nice once you talk to him; and so kind too. Rukia-chan, I can't believe he said yes!"

Rukia stared at Orihime. "Nice" and "Kind" were not words she would have ever associated with Kurosaki. Her pride still hurt from the way he called her "kid".

"I told you he would," Rukia said. She had to say something

"So, did you two make any plans?" asked Rukia, feeling obligated to ask about her and Ichigo's plans. She was new to this type of conversation and was only learning her way around it.

"Yeah," said Orihime, eyes sparkling in excitement, "We're meeting at the amusement park on Saturday evening."

Amusement park, thought Rukia, it was a good place to mingle and have fun. At least, it was infinitely better than going for a movie where you have to spend the entire time - not talking.

"Great," said Rukia, not knowing what else to say.

Then, Orihime hesitated. "Rukia-chan?" she asked, sounding nervous about something.

"What is it, Orihime?"

Quite suddenly, Orihime slapped both her palms together in a pleading way, and blurted out, "Can you and Renji-kun please come with us on Saturday?"

"What – like a double date?" asked Rukia. She had watched one too many TV shows where the best friends accompanied the heroine on her first date.

Well, what the hell?

"Sure," Rukia agreed. "But we have to ask Renji."

"Already done," replied Orihime. "He said he'd love to go."

Rukia felt something ominous creep up on her. She had punched the guy after all. What would he say if he saw her there with Orihime? Will he walk out on Orihime?

Nah … said a voice inside her head. He deserved it. And if anything, he's probably forgotten all about it by now.

Rukia sighed. "Fine," she said at last.

Rukia felt a curiosity to see if Kurosaki Ichigo was as "nice" and "kind" as Orihime makes him out to be. Renji was like a brother to her and it would be good to keep an eye on them as they went about their date.

Unbidden to her mind, came the image of Shiba Kaien. She found herself wondering how it would be to go out on a date with him. Then, she mentally cursed herself. A guy like him probably had a girlfriend. And she'd be an extremely nice person too.

Rukia sighed, sad, and walked back to the library.

"Whaaaaaaaaaat?" shrieked Asano Keigo to a supremely annoyed Ichigo. He was out on the field, next to the stands, warming up before soccer practice could start. Keigo, Mizuiro and Chad were with him as they decided to go home together after Ichigo's practice.

And right now, Keigo could not believe his ears when Ichigo informed him and the others that he had scored a date with the beauty of Karakura High School. In fact, he was in tears. As such, it was difficult to tell if he was happy or sad.

"Ichigo! You bastard! How could you? Did you even mention me? You're extremely handsome bachelor friend! Oh my God, Inoue-san! She is so hot! Not to mention, she is always surrounded by extremely hot girls and if everything goes well, you'll get to hang out with them – and so we'll get to hang out with all of you – "

Ichigo let him go on. Truth be told, he was taken completely by surprise when Inoue Orihime had walked up to him, sounding incredibly shy, and asked him to the amusement park this weekend. It was just a spur of the moment decision of his to accept her offer, and now, looking back at it, he wasn't sure if it was the right thing to do. She was cute and seemed sweet, but in all honesty, he wasn't looking forward to going out with her. He just didn't know why.

It was his first date and he didn't want to screw it up. And given the choice, he was sure he'd never walk up to a girl and ask her out. It was not his forte. He was feeling awkward already.

As he stretched out his muscles, he caught a flash of raven black hair in his peripheral vision. He turned for a closer look and caught sight of the midget who had punched him in the corridor a few days back. She was talking to his teammate, Renji, and whatever she was saying, was cracking him up, for he was laughing non-stop.

Was she Renji's kid sister?

"Hey, Chad," he said, eyes still glued to the petite girl, "Who's that?"

He tilted his head slightly in her direction. However, it was Keigo who answered.

"That's Kuchiki Rukia," he said, looking and sounding like a love-struck puppy, as he looked over Ichigo's shoulder at "Kuchiki Rukia". Ichigo shook him off and repeated, "Who is she?"

She definitely wasn't Renji's sister.

"That's the best friend of the girl you're going out with," said Keigo, looking at him like he were mad. "You didn't know that?"

Best friend of Inoue Orihime?

He felt something heavy drop into his stomach. Now, the punch made more sense to him. He'd called her a kid when she was the same age as he is. No wonder he got punched. And what a punch it was …

Damn it, he thought. He looked back at her, partly annoyed at himself, and partly intrigued by her. Now, she didn't look so much like the junior-high school student he thought her to be. It was her face that made him think that. There was a mixture of maturity and innocence in her face which he found fascinating. And her large eyes … which were a deep sparkling shade of purple were shining in her face as she talked to Renji. They managed to stop the breath in his throat.

She was … cute …

"Ichigo, you already have a date with Inoue-san. Sure you wanna keep staring at Kuchiki-san, too?" Keigo asked him, a sly look on his face.

Ichigo glared at him. Flustered, he rubbed the back of his neck and bid his friends goodbye. Kaien, the captain of the soccer team, was huddling up with the rest of the team on the field. Renji made his way over to them from the other side of the field.

His vision, however, was still on the little black-haired girl who was walking away, Keigo's words still ringing in his ears.

It was Saturday evening. Orihime could talk about nothing else but her upcoming date 'til the end of the weekday. Rukia, who was enjoying high school in her own way, had to be reminded yet again that she and Renji were accompanying Orihime and Ichigo on their date. She had met Kaien two more times in advanced Calculus classes, although she didn't get a chance to speak to him. But he had smiled when he saw her and she'd smiled back, feeling happier than she should be.

Byakuya and Hisana were going out on a trip together and would be back only on Sunday evening. Rukia would have loved to tag along with them and get some rest and relaxation while her brother and sister went about their business. Unfortunately, she had promised Orihime.

So, stayed behind at the Kuchiki mansion, on her own, and caught up on her homework most of the day, finishing just in time for the – "date".

Why the hell did I agree?

Orihime was nervous; nail-biting-stress-inducing-panic-stricken kind of nervous. It was her first date ever and she was also going out with a boy she liked. She just felt so much pressure and wanted everything to go well.

She started with her wardrobe. Orihime dressed up in a light pink coloured top and a long skirt with patterns in white and pink which was a darker shade than her top. She combed out her hair until it shined and pinned it to the sides with the hairpins which were a present from her late brother.

She wore modest shoes and was satisfied with her appearance altogether. She bid goodbye to a photograph of her brother and went to meet Ichigo.

Ichigo had his signature scowl back in place, and perhaps this was a good thing, for it masked just how nervous he really was. He felt – unprepared. He didn't have a clue on how to behave on a first date. And the fact that he didn't even know the girl to a certain degree made him all the more nervous.

Anyway, he managed to make it to the amusement park and waited by the entrance for her to show up. The area was crowded as always. People walked in and out of the entrance, sometimes knocking into each other on their way, and most others clutching prizes and snacks and other items in their hands, as they walked out.

And he also noticed that there were a lot of couples here. Every second he stood there made him feel like some kind of an idiot. He and the word "couple" did not belong in the same sentence.

However, the next thing he saw made him jump.

Jesus H Christ!

Kuchiki Rukia was walking toward him along with his date, Inoue Orihime, and behind them was Abarai Renji, his soccer teammate.

Just pretend you didn't see them and make a run for it, said a panicked voice inside his head.

He stayed where he was.

When they reached him, a silence persisted. Ichigo was looking at Rukia, thinking about his mishap and her punch; Orihime was looking at Ichigo, thinking about how handsome he looked in jeans and a tee shirt; Renji was looking at Ichigo wondering why he was staring at Rukia; and Rukia was looking at Ichigo – simply curious.

Ichigo didn't know why he felt his heart flutter at the sight of the raven-haired girl; all he knew was he liked it. Not that he understood it. He was too dense to realise why he was feeling happy to see her more than he was to see his date.

Finally, he looked at his date. He saw her smiling face and cheerful expression and had one thought:

This is going to be so awkward …

This chapter gave me a hard time. I still don't like it :( Watch wout for Double Date Part II.

Please review.