I do not own Bleach or any of its characters.

Beta: lilarin

Chapter Nine

(While listening to The Heart of the Matter by Don Henley)

She ran for the elevator doors just as they were closing. Her voice came in a breathless rush, "Please hold the elevator."

A hand shot out and grabbed the doors. They opened slowly just as she caught up and she stepped inside.

"Thank you," she smiled as she looked up at the only other occupant.

He leaned casually beside the control panel, head bent down, blue baseball cap obscuring his face. His ash- blonde hair teased around the edges of the well worn hat, and she suppressed a startled gasp.

"Oh my," she whispered and then began to fidget with her skirt.

She had thought she would at least have the elevator ride to brace herself for their meeting, but it seemed that fate was not on her side. She reached into her pocket and pulled out the scrap of paper with her horoscope on it. She read it once more, her lips moving silently.

Second chances come in familiar settings.

Putting the scrap back she once again straightened her skirt and top, and shifted her purse on her shoulder. He remained as he was, quietly staring at her. She looked straight ahead, but from the corner of her eyes she saw a slight motion of his hand and then the elevator came to a screeching halt.

Her hand flew to her chest and she turned towards him, her eyes accusing, "You did that."

"The elevator breaks all the time," he said nonchalantly.

"I saw your hand move," she stepped closer to where he stood. "You pressed the emergency stop button."

"Why would I do that?" he asked as he looked up. Blue eyes held her in a challenge.

"I have no idea," she wanted to look away, but refused to give him the satisfaction.

"So I guess we are stuck," he grinned.

"I can't stay here," she said.

"Got somewhere you need to be?" he crossed his arms and leaned his head back against the elevator wall.

He knew exactly where she needed to be, the classified had been tailor-made for her. Still, being alone like this, in such close quarters was unnerving.

"I have a potential job offer," she replied.

"Dressed like that?" he asked as he took in her floral print dress. The one piece outfit hung slightly off her shoulders and cinched at the waist with a wide leather belt, only to fall just above her knees. His eyes went lower as he observed her brown leather boots that reached mid calf.

She reached in her bag and took out another scrap of paper, this one from the newspaper.

"Secretary needed," she read slowly, trying to keep her voice from shaking. "Cannot dress like an old woman."

She looked up and he grinned. "Well I can't imagine my granny dressed like that."

She cleared her throat, "Auburn hair preferable, worn loose around the shoulders."

He stepped forward just a fraction and peered at her closely, "Yeah, I guess that passes for auburn."

She stared a moment more and then continued, "Must love cute fluffy bunnies, prefer the company of knights in shining armor, and enjoy dispensing advice even when unwanted."

"Not too sure about that last one," he stated.

"I agree," she looked up, "Which makes me question why I would want to work for someone as odd as this man."

"Tough economy," he shrugged, "people will do anything for employment."

"Maybe," she answered as she looked back at the paper. "Must stand on principles, and be willing to forgive her employer when he is being an ass."

"I like that last clause," he reached for the paper in her hands and looked it over. "I should remember something like that next time I place an ad. Maybe I would be able to hold onto my secretaries better."

She folded her arms and looked at him skeptically, "Forgiveness means nothing if the person in need of forgiveness is unwilling to change."

He handed her back the paper. "I'd have to agree."

"Really," she replied coolly.

His expression grew serious and she noticed his hands clenched tightly at his sides.

"Orihime, I was an idiot," he said softly.

She was unsure of what to say so she remained silent, her eyes still holding his.

"When you came in that day I was so confused. It was easier to push you away than deal with my feelings. So I took the easiest route. But honestly I wasn't even thinking. I mean once I started baiting you I couldn't stop. And I didn't want you to go, but I was scared as shit to ask you to stay."

Her heart skipped a beat. "You could have just told me that."

"No I couldn't," he said as he tucked the baseball cap more securely in place and then placed his hands back to his side once more. "I'm not some noble guy. Knights in armor - that's Kurosaki. I wouldn't even know where to begin."

"Ichigo isn't perfect," she replied.

"I know that," his voice rose slightly and she could see he was getting frustrated. "I just…I mess up everything I touch. I told you that before. I have no idea how to treat a woman like a woman. And you need a guy that respects you and your principles."

"So why the ad?" she asked.

"Because," he stepped closer, placed his hands on her shoulders, and stared into her eyes, "I want to be that guy."

Her eyes opened wider as her heart began to race even faster in her chest. He lifted a strand of her hair with one hand and began to rub it between his fingers. His voice softened and he said, "I've never wanted to change my ways for anyone else in my life – ever. But when you were gone, and I thought that you would never come back, I realized that being a selfish bastard only left me lonely and miserable."

She looked down as she tried to gain control over her own emotions. Here he was saying everything she had wanted to hear, but feared he would never humble himself to say. Now that he had opened himself to her, she was unsure of how to respond. So like the idiot she could be at times, especially when she was nervous, she lifted her gaze and blurted out the first thing that came to mind, "You really missed me?"

He stared at her a moment before the cocky grin lit his face once again. Dropping her hair he replied, "Hell you can't cook, but you sure can make a great pot of coffee. And no one else has ever gotten down the black coffee verses cream-and-sugar days as quickly as you…"

She swatted his arm affectionately, but she could feel her cheeks growing warm as she teased, "You can be such a jerk!"

He laughed loudly and then grabbed her close in a tight embrace. Holding her still in his grasp he whispered, "I don't ever want to be without you again."

She reached back and returned his hug. They stood quietly holding each other for several minutes before he said, "By the way - I told Kuchiki to fuck himself."

She pulled back and stared at him, "You didn't."

"Burned the file in front of him," he smiled slightly. "It was very dramatic."

She giggled at the image and his smile grew.

"I was gonna do it Orihime," he squeezed her shoulder and his smile faded again. "I was all set to give him the file, but in the end I couldn't. You were right. Ichigo couldn't help his past or how he reacted to his mother's death, anymore than Rukia could help that she grew up on the streets and was in trouble with the law…"

"Honestly?" she asked.

"The past is the past," he said. "And I realized something else."

"What was that?"

"About my old man," he started. "You were right. I had to reconcile my image of him to who he really was, and I had to let go."

She pulled him back into her arms and hugged him with all her strength. Finally letting her emotions win out she cried softly, "I didn't want to go. I really wanted to stay. But if I compromised myself and what I believed in, I wouldn't have been able to face myself in the mirror each morning."

His hands moved to her back and squeezed her tighter. "I'm so sorry."

"But in the end you did the right thing," she held on with as much enthusiasm.

"Your damn principles wore off on me I suppose," he whispered against her ear and she smiled.

"Is that such a bad thing?"

"I'll have to get back to you on that," he teased.

She pulled back just enough to look at him, "Kuchiki was mad."

"Beyond pissed," he grinned.

"Well we'll get through this together," she said.

"You really want to come back?"

She nodded. "I wouldn't have answered the ad, or come dressed like this…"

"This is a big improvement," he said as his hands fell from her shoulders, slowly coming to a rest at the small of her back. "Promise to dress like this all the time?"

"It's not very professional."

"If I want an old lady as my secretary, I'll call my grandma," he leaned in closer, his breath warm against her ear.

"Maybe we can come to a compromise," she tried.

"Haven't I given enough," he teased.

"You have yet to feel the torrent of my unwanted advice Mr. Jaegerjaquez," she teased back.

"Can I retract the ad?"

"Too late," she giggled.

His mouth made contact with the skin just below her ear.

"I guess I can live with your lectures," he moved along her jaw line until his lips found hers.

His touch was slow and deliberate and she moaned softly. The hands on her waist held her firmly in place as he continued his gentle assault on her mouth. Wanting more, she turned the tables and sought entrance to his mouth. He eagerly let her in and before she knew it he had her backed against the wall of the elevator, his hand moving past the hem of her skirt and slowly up her leg to take a firm grasp of her bottom.

Instinctually she pressed her own body against his and he lifted her leg just enough to show her how much he desired her. Somewhere in her mind she heard the warning bells. This was not the place to do this, she thought, but another part of her, the more vocal part of her conscience at the moment, encouraged her to take all she could get.

And she was just about to when the alarm bells went off again. Strange, she thought, they sounded so real.

"Shit," Grimmjow hissed against her swollen lips, "Looks like we've been discovered." She straightened and realized the alarm was actually coming from the elevator. "Guess I should release the emergency stop before the fire department gets called."

She nodded as she went about fixing her clothes and hair. Her heart was racing, and she felt as if she would die from embarrassment. Yet when the elevator started moving again Grimmjow stood beside her, his hands grasping hers firmly. He squeezed gently to get her attention, and looking down, said softly, "This may seem a weird time to bring this up, and though I've never thought about taking it slow with anyone before, if it's what you need …"

She squeezed his hand back, "I need to know that you will be open and honest with me, and that you desire more than just one night…"

"I want a hell of a lot more than one night," he stared unblinkingly into her eyes, causing her to gasp, "I want to make this work. But you know me. I'm not really good at romance and all that touchy feely crap. Well actually touching and feeling I don't mind…"

Once more her face heated up. "Touching is nice," she whispered.

He laughed loudly as the elevator came to a stop and the doors opened. A few people stood outside. Spying him, one of the men muttered something and then pushed past them to get into the elevator.

Grimmjow led her to the office, opened the door, and let her in. Closing it he took her into his arms again.

"Orihime…all those other women…I never loved them…you understand that don't you?"

She went completely still.


"I mean I cared but…not like you…not like this…" he stopped as he buried his face in her hair. "Shit I sound like some nervous teenager."

It was now her turn to smile.

"I love you too," she replied, saving him from further embarrassment.

He found her mouth once more. He was a physical man after all. She knew words would take time, and she was willing to wait. After all he had said they would take it slow, and slow meant a long time. And she knew one thing for sure; a long time was what she wanted from him.