Ichigo was tired. Tired, and slightly annoyed. The trip back from Heuco Mondo had landed them back under Urahara's shop. Inoue had turned to him and asked him to walk her home; the others had exchanged knowing looks. What exactly was going on? Ichigo hated being out of the loop. This was how he found himself at Inoue's door. She opened the door and as he turned to go, she grabbed his hand.

"Just for a moment? Come in, just for a little bit? There's something I wanted to say." Her cheeks were pinked and her eyes were downcast, and Ichigo's confusion increased.

As the door closed behind him he glanced around the room, Inoue's room. He'd never really noticed it before – feminine, he decided. Very feminine, just like Inoue.

"Kurosaki-kun," Inoue began, her cheeks growing pinker by the moment. "Um, I'd promised myself when I was in Heuco Mondo and I didn't think I'd come back that I'd do something. . ." IIchigo was all set to tell her (again) how foolish she was for going and not thinking he'd come get her when she stopped his words with her hand. "Please? This isn't easy." Nodding, he stopped, and waited. "Uh, d-d-do you think you could close your eyes for a moment please?" Ichigo felt vaguely alarmed. Inoue was staring stolidly at the floor and her cheeks were moving from pink to red. He stared at her a long moment, then closed his eyes. Two breaths later they shot open again in shock. Arms around his neck, softness pressed to his front and her lips were on his. Inoue was kissing him! She put, he noticed, the same enthusiasm into this as she did into everything she tried. Time stood still.

When she pulled back, Ichigo stood staring in slack-jawed amazement. Her cheeks had passed cherry-tomato red and were going for fire-engine. She stared and the floor and spoke again.

"I love you. I've loved you for so long I don't remember when I started feeling this way. When Ulquiorra collected me, and threatened our friends, threatened Tatsuki and the others I had to go. I knew you would be okay, but the others . . ." A glance upwards revealed a suspicious sheen in her eyes. "He told me I could say good bye to one person, and I knew that person would be you, Kurosa- . . . Ichigo. It was so hard to leave! I told you as you lay sleeping that I loved you, I almost kissed you, but I couldn't. And I promised myself that if I ever had the chance again, that I would do both . . . I know you must think I'm a foolish girl and I'm sorry but I'd made a promise . . ."

All through this Ichigo stared. It was crazy. Inoue loved him? There was no way he could get involved with someone. He was shinigami. Danger found him like iron filings found a magnet. People he cared about got hurt. It would never work. So why, he wondered, was he suddenly kissing her? This time it was his arms that wrapped around her and his lips that met hers. He leaned into her like a starving man at a banquet. Inoue tasted . . . different – but it was a taste that was addictive.

When they broke for air again the look of wonder and joy on her face did funny things to his heart, a tight squeeze and a little jump.

"Uh. Well. School tomorrow," Ichigo began "I'll pick you up at 8 Inou-"

"Orihime" she corrected with a smile that rivaled the sun for brightness.

"Orihime," he repeated. The name felt unfamiliar on his tongue, but good. "So 8 o'clock". That was one thing he knew that couples did, they walked to school together. Now he was going to have to find out what else couples, couples, did together. But he looked forward to finding out.