I do not own Bleach or any of its characters.

Beta: lilarin


Author's Notes:

I began this back in July as a birthday present for my wonderful beta lilarin, but life got in the way, and I had to put it aside. Then I found myself unemployed again, with time on my hands. Frustrated from filing unemployment I went back to this story and finished it.

Ironically I got called for a job interview that afternoon and landed a job just two days later!

Happy belated birthday lilarin!


Chapter One

She sped up her pace as she noticed the doors closing, and cried out "Hold the elevator please."

A hand shot out just as the doors were about to slam shut. They paused, and then slowly retracted, and she exhaled a silent thank you as she pushed her way through the opening, smiling at the only other occupant.

The man, taller than her by almost a foot, and wearing a blue baseball cap turned backwards over his silver blond hair, simply nodded his head, barely acknowledging her presence.

The doors closed and the elevator lurched into motion. She stood a few feet away from him, and began to nervously straighten her blouse and then fiddled with the stray hairs that had fallen from her hairpins.

"You saved me," she said trying to break the uncomfortable silence that always seemed to prevail whenever the doors closed. "I have a job interview, and if I had missed that elevator I would have been late for sure."

"Maybe you should've left earlier," he replied. His face stared at the numbers on the keypad in front of him.

"Oh," she grew flustered by his answer and let out a nervous giggle. "I suppose you're right. I mean no excuses - that's my motto too - but still I appreciate you holding he door. Not many people would do such a thing, but you did and I really appreciate it."

"You talk a lot," he turned to look at her. His eyes were narrowed and his lips were turned down in a scowl.

"I'm sorry. I get like this when I'm nervous. My mouth starts going and then I can't stop…"

"That would explain why people don't hold the elevator for you. They don't want to hear you blabber on about nonsense," He looked back at the numbers once more.

She straightened her back and turned to stare at him, mouth open, ready for a quick retort, when suddenly the elevator made a loud screech and then came to a complete stop.

"Shit!" the man cursed as he pushed the buttons, trying to get the machine moving again.

"Oh no," she glanced down at her watch, "Of all the rotten luck."

She reached in her pocket and pulled out a scrap of paper. Looking it over she felt her frustration grow.

"This shouldn't be happening," she spoke more to herself than the other occupant. "Unexpected surprises will bring you good luck – this is unexpected, but…"

"Now what are you going on about?"

She jumped at the sound of his voice and replied, "Oh nothing…I mean it's just my horoscope for today. It always gives a fortune and today it said that unexpected surprises will bring me good luck."

"So did you expect this?" he glared at her.

"Well no, not really."

He laughed, but more sarcastically than friendly, and then commented, "Looks like your fortune is full of shit."

"I don't know," she shoved the paper back in her pocket. "Sometimes what looks like a bad situation is really something good in disguise."

"You really don't believe that load of crap do you?"

"What else should I do? I don't know how to fix the elevator…you wouldn't happen to know, would you?"

"The way this thing breaks down, I should," he said as he pressed the emergency call button again.

"So this happens a lot?"

He turned and glared at her, "I just said that didn't I?"

She clenched her hands at her sides and then released them slowly along with a deep breath. Attempting to remain cheerful she said, "What I should have asked was do you work in this building, since you say the elevator breaks down a lot."

He continued to stare at her and she fought the urge to squirm from the discomfort. Finally he spoke, "It's not really any of your business where I work."

"No," she stammered, "I suppose not. I was just trying to make polite conversation. I mean now that we're stuck here, for God only knows how long…"

"Last time was three hours," he cut her off.

"Three hours?" she squeaked.

"Time before that it took the whole weekend before anyone even realized someone was trapped inside."

"But you just rang the emergency button," she tried to keep her smile from slipping.

"Better than hitting my head into the wall," he shot back. "Either way the results would be the same."

"Oh no," she reached down and fished through her purse. Finding her phone she quickly unlocked it and dialed a number. When nothing happened she looked down and cried out in frustration, "There's no service in here. How can there be no service?"

"Something to do with the lining of the elevator," he replied and shrugged.

"But I need to call this person. I need to explain why I'm late."

"Ain't gonna happen," he shoved his hands into his pockets.

"But I really need this job," her voice rose as she felt the hysteria begin to build.

"Yeah you and about twelve million other people in this country," he looked straight ahead.

"You don't have to remind me," she shrieked. "I'm out there every day facing those odds."

"So why not give up?" he turned and looked at her.

"Because I can't," she felt a sob rise in her throat and shut her mouth. Closing her eyes she tried to think pleasant thoughts in an effort to regain her control.

Still she could feel his eyes on her and unable to stand it any longer opened her lids and peered at him.

"What?" she asked.

"Just trying to think of who might be advertising a position," he replied as he took in her appearance. "All I can think of is that private investigator. Heard his last secretary up and quit 'cos he's a real asshole to work for. But then you won't even get in the door in that get up…"

"What's wrong with my clothes?" she asked eying herself, growing increasingly more anxious.

He took in her light-blue, silk blouse and her cream-colored pencil skirt with matching blue belt. Her pumps, a respectable heel, were also the same shade making the ensemble coordinated and very professional in her opinion.

A small smirk graced his lips and he said, "Unbutton the top button."

"What?" she asked as her hand instinctively rose to cover her chest where the blouse lay open,

"You need to show a little skin," he stepped closer. "This outfit is way too uptight. In fact I think my grannie has a top like this."

"You're mean," she stepped back to regain a little distance between them. "And this outfit is very trendy."

"If you're ninety," he laughed. "I mean really," his eyes roved over her figure and rested on her rather large bust, "Why try to hide those. They're actually your biggest asset, literally and figuratively."

Her face grew red and she stepped forward. Without thought she reached out and slapped him hard across the face. He turned and stared at her, a teasing smile still on his lips, while she stood mortified, breathing in ragged gasps.

"I am a smart woman," she yelled when she finally could find her voice, "I graduated third in high school, and there were over 1,000 students in my class. So just because my breasts are bigger than most, does not mean my IQ is smaller."

His hands flew up in mock surrender. "Okay, okay, so you're touchy about your huge boobs…" She raised her hand again but he caught it easily with his hand. "No, no, not gonna let you get another slap in. The first was deserved, I admit that…"

"You are crude," she said, and then her face fell and she closed her eyes to stop the tears that threatened to embarrass her further.

"Just stating the obvious," he released her hand. "If you want to get ahead of all those other broads trying to get the position, you should use what you have."

She opened her eyes and glared at him, "I would rather not get the job if I have to rely on such methods to get it."

"Well then you better give one hell of an interview because all the others will be doing whatever it takes, if you know what I mean."

She held his gaze a moment more and then her bravado fell. Stepping back she leaned against the wall of the elevator and buried her face in her hands. She breathed deeply as she massaged her temples. He was irritating, but he was right, and she hated that fact.

"I am a damn good secretary," she whispered after a few moments of silence.

"Doesn't matter," he replied.

She looked back up at him.

"Well that's a load of dog doo."

"What?" he laughed. "Can't you even swear properly?"

She dropped her hands to her side. "I don't have to be as crass as you to make my point."

He smiled, "A lady with principles." He lifted his baseball cap, scratching his head he continued, "Well you don't see that every day." She narrowed her eyes and he smiled wider. "Principles won't fill your stomach."

"I know that," she replied.

"And they won't pay your bills," he pressed.

"Yes but they help me get a good night's rest at the end of a long day."

This made him laugh once more and he said, "Too bad. You would have made for some entertainment, at least the next time this thing gets stuck."

"I haven't lost the job yet," she stuck out her chin stubbornly.

"Really?" he asked. "Tell you what. I'll be your employer. Give me the interview and I'll tell you whether or not you'll get the job."

She eyed him suspiciously.

"Come on. We're stuck here anyways, might as well practice."

She thought it over and then decided it wasn't such a bad idea. "Okay, so Mr. … I don't know your name…"

"Does it matter?"

"Well I like to introduce myself…"

"Jaegerjaquez," he said.

"Is that French?" she asked momentarily distracted.

"Why does it matter?" his voice rose.

"No reason I guess," she refused to back down though and instead held out her hand, "Nice to meet you Mr. Jaegerjaquez. My name is Orihime Inoue and I'd like to tell you why I would be a valuable asset to your company."

He shook her hand and she then released him and reached down and took her resume from the envelope in her bag. Handing it to him she continued nonplussed, "As you can see I am highly skilled in office management and have worked for several companies…"

"So then why are you applying for a position in this shithole of a company?" he asked.

She blinked her eyes several times and sputtered, "What?"

"If you're so good why do you need this job?" he asked more forcibly.

"Well, it's just that…I mean the economy is such that…well I have always been a fan of mystery novels and private-eye movies…"

"Holy fuck!" he stood tall. "Is that really what you would say?"

"Well you just surprised me, and I don't do good with surprises like that…"

"You better learn," he remarked. "You would be amazed at how often the cops get called out because some pissed off ex-husband or other scumbag comes looking for revenge. That guy is a magnet for surprises."

"Oh," she bit her lip and looked down as she tried to collect her thoughts again. "Well surprises like that I can handle. I mean I'm used to dealing with bullies and drunks…"

"What are you some kind of sadist?"

"No," she waved her hands frantically on front of her face. "I just…I mean I…well my…oh never mind. Too personal, but believe me I can handle that stuff."

He sighed and then looked over her resume. "Pretty impressive," he said absently and then looking back at her said, "So why'd you get canned from your last job?"

"Oh, well that's a long story…"

"I got all the time in the world."

She chuckled nervously, "I guess you do. Well you see it was those funny principles of mine…"

"Your principles got you fired?"

"Sort of," she said. "Well truthfully yeah, they were the reason. But that's a good thing, don't you think? I mean a girl with principles is a real asset to a company because she's honest and trustworthy and reliable…"

"What'd your boss ask you to blow 'm?" he asked bluntly.

And then to her horror the tears that she had been trying to hold at bay began to fall.

"Ah shit," he exclaimed as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a hanky.

She took it and dabbed her eyes as she tried to stop the tears. In a shaking voice she explained, "I was good at my job, and we had a very professional relationship. But then his wife had a baby and she was tired and he had needs…or so he would tell me. And he didn't see why I couldn't help him out. He even promised me a good word with the big boss. But I'm not like that…I mean he was married…had a baby…and his wife…I knew her from the Christmas party…"

"So he fired you?"

She nodded her head.

"He said if I kept quiet he would make sure there were no problems getting unemployment. But I wouldn't have said anything. I couldn't do that to his wife…"

"Yeah but now he's fucking some other chick, with no principles and your job."

She wiped the last of the tears away and said firmly, "It doesn't matter. I am not going to compromise who I am for some loser like that."

He surprised her with a genuine smile this time and handing back the resume said, "The last gal that worked for him ended up sleeping with this detective that used to provide him information from time to time."

"Were they dating?" she asked intrigued. "I mean the private eye and the secretary."

"He was fucking her, but that's not quite the same," he winked. "Anyways, she stole a bunch of files and some money. It was the talk of the building for quite some time, but then a guy like that, sleeping with his secretary, kind of deserved it don't ya think?"

She shook her head.

"Yet you're still willing to work for him, knowing he's a complete letch?"

"Well I prefer to make my own decisions. After all, my principles didn't spare my reputation. The girls in the office still spread malicious gossip about me. None of which was true."

"Yeah but all these stories are fact," he peered at her with intensity in his gaze.

"Well I guess I'll just have to find out for myself…"

Suddenly the elevator lurched back into motion and she stumbled forward into his grasp. Once more her cheeks heated and she untangled herself with a muffled apology. When the doors opened they both stepped out with a sigh of relief.

Holding out her hand she said, "Thanks for the practice."

He took her hand in his and then remarked, "The bathroom is right over there. I suggest you freshen up. All that crying has made you look like a raccoon."

Her hands went to her cheeks and she gasped, "Oh gosh. Oh thanks. That would have been embarrassing."

"No problem," he replied. And then he headed off in the other direction.

She entered the bathroom and splashed cold water on her face and then took a few moments to touch up her makeup and reapply her lipstick. Then once last look in the mirror, and an affirmation spoken softly to encourage herself, she headed back out and down the hall.

Stopping at the door she looked up.

Pantera Investigations.

This was it. She breathed deeply and reaching into her pocket she pulled out her horoscope and read it once more.

Unexpected surprises will bring you good luck.

She needed good luck. Just this once she prayed it would go her way. Putting the scrap back into her pocket she gripped the doorknob and opened it gently.

The office was a cluttered mess. Papers were stacked in piles, and a fine layer of dust covered everything. Her eyes went to the desk where her potential employer now sat, his chair leaning back and his boots resting on the marred wooden surface. He smirked from beneath the brim of a blue baseball cap, now turned around.

"I take my coffee with extra cream and extra sugar," he said as she stood stunned, mouth opening and closing. "Unless of course I'm hung-over; then it's black and extra strong. I'll give you one week to figure the difference and then if you fuck up you're fired."

She still stood rooted in place.

"What?" he asked as he placed the chair firmly on the floor and rested his elbows on the desk in front of him. "I thought you were real smart, but you're standing there like a fucking moron with your mouth gaping."

"You are Pantera Investigations?"

He smiled wider, "In the flesh."

"And the interview?"

"Yeah, well I do prefer a little boobie to distract me while I listen to all that boring crap about qualifications and such, but I think I'll try principles for a change."

She let out a deep breath and said, "I just…are you serious…I mean I slapped you…"

"Well I'll try not to hold that against you," he rubbed his still red cheek. "So when can you start?"

"Right now," she hated to sound so eager, but hell he already knew how desperate she was.

"Good," he rose and came around from behind the desk. "Coffee pot is over there. I'm gonna check the messages and then get started. Damn elevator set me back some, but at least I don't have to do that interview anymore."

"Unexpected surprises will bring you good luck," she smiled as she placed her bag on the desk and went for the coffee pot.

"Yeah and none of that shit," he said as he headed into his office. "Principles are hard enough. Cut the cheerful crap. At least until I've had my second cup of coffee."

With that he closed the door and left her standing with an empty pot in her hand. It wasn't quite what she had expected, but it was a start.