Orihime does not love Ichigo.
A shocking idea, I admit but one that after a bit of consideration seems to be holding water. But what about her teary, heartfelt confession back in Chapter 237 I hear you ask. Its bull. A passing infatuation. A self-indulgent, escapist adolescent fantasy.
The basic idea I've got is of resolve and motivation being directly connected to emotional bonds. Let's start by looking at Chad. The poor lad has had a rather dismal track record when it comes to fights so far but we've never questioned his resolve. He is Ichigo's friend and that emotional link has carried him through both Soul Society and Hueco Mundo without faltering, at least on an emotional level, even if he has been stopped dead by running into superior opponents. (As a sidebar I am also of the belief that Chad's fighting on Ichigo's behalf is what is limiting him. He will not reach his full potential until he finds a cause of his own worth fighting for).
Next up, Ishida. His motivations are a little murkier. There's good evidence that he has growing feelings for Orihime and it is for this that he went to Hueco Mundo, but his motivations for going to Soul Society. There's probably a mix of things, a growing friendship for Ichigo, a dislike of Shinigami in general and Renji and Byakuya in particular after their encounter and general ideas of fairness. But that was not enough to keep him fighting when he ran into a greater threat of Mayuri. That took the revelation that Mayuri was responsible for his grandfather's death and to make it worse, finding out he'd been tortured afterwards. For that emotional bond, Ishida unleashed the Quincy Final Form. The fact that he kept fighting until being completely disabled by Szayelaporro, which by this theory means that his feelings may not yet be strong enough to carry the day, but they are at least sincere.
Now for Ichigo, but with a warning. This part implies an Ichigo/Rukia pairing a bit and while its not the original intent the logic does seem to follow if you accept the premise. But onwards. Ichigo's bond to Rukia is quite obvious, but Kubo-sensei was kind enough to explicitly spell it out for us in Fade to Black. 'She saved my life. She changed my world.' As such Ichigo's resolve in Soul Society is undeniable. He will not allow anything to stop him (and in typical Shounen Jump Lead fashion he's not going to go around any obstacle, he's going to charge straight through them). He beats any opponent who crosses him, including Kenpachi, blocks the Sokokyu (a feat that many Captains would have considered impossible) and in the final battle not even his own inner Hollow can stand in his way. He gets taken by surprise but regains control and basically says, 'Sorry about that. Let's continue.'
Even Rukia's reactions in the arc is telling. Even while struggling with her own demons she puts the welfare of her friends ahead of her own. Even while powerless on every occasion she tells Ichigo to run, to save his own life. True this can at least partly because of her own guilt and lack of self-worth, but even before she learns she's under a death sentence she still tries to keep Ichigo safe. Even to the extent of pretending that she never cared about him at all.
Finally Orihime and her track record is not as impressive. Yes she followed Ichigo to Soul Society but once there she lacked the resolve to do anything but heal (well and mug a couple of shinigami for their clothes). Worse still when it comes to Hueco Mundo she is rarely ever more than a passive observer. In his fight with Grimmjow she does nothing even while Ichigo barely manages to hold his own. It takes Nel, a child (or so we all thoguht at the time) who had just met Ichigo to prod her into even just providing emotional support.
She doesn't do anything either when Ichigo can't even defend himself against Nnoitora. Again its Nel, a very new friend who has to step up to the plate and overcome her problems for that instance. It doesn't work, but the mere fact the effort is made, and the fear of Nnoitora that Nel overcame speaks of the bond that has sprung up in a short space of time.
Then the Ulquiorra fight. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. This was bad all around. There is a faint glimmer of hope when Orihime throws up her shield, but it ultimately amounts to nothing. (Though on that thought, even if she hadn't gotten the resolve to use Tsubaki, a battle where Orihime used her shield to protect Ichigo and allowed him to focus on taking the offensive would have been a thing of beauty). It sound really bad when you just say it like this, but even at the end when Ichigo lies bleeding and broken on the ground she is nothing thinking of how to save him (since that is well within her power). Instead she cries out for him to save her and in doing so awakens The Beast. Ishida loses an arm, everyone gets the crap scared out of them and Ulquiorra is forced to briefly become a doomed hero. (I may not like the ship, but at the end Ulquihime shippers may have been on to something)
By the logic displayed by the other major characters so far it is hard to argue that any but the most tenuous of bonds really exist between Ichigo and Orihime. Her actions are not those of who loves someone so much they wish they could live five lives so they could fall in love with the one they desire five times. I instead put forth that Orihime simply has a girlish crush on Ichigo that she has built up into the idea of a grand romance and Ichigo is a somewhat arbitrary choice to play the male lead. This is not a condemnation but something she has been culturally primed to do and if she had not been caught up in world shaking events it probably would have played out with a few broken hearts and all parties involved a little older and a little wiser.
Now the tricky part. What I am about to put forward here is more or less pure interpretation, more so that what I've written so far. It's not an interpretation that I'm going to insist on, but merely put forth to show that certain facts that at first glance run counter to this theory (and I do mean theory, not hypothesis) can in fact support it if looked at from a certain light.
The main kicker, at least as I see it, is that Orihime went with Ulquiorra to protect her friends (and primarily Ichigo) when he threatened them. The threat is certainly convincing since they had just been rather conclusively beaten, Ichigo especially and there ability to defend themselves is in question. She was thinking of Ichigo and trying to protect him, just like Rukia did when Renji and Byakuya took her away.
But the situation is actually quite different when you look at it. When Rukia left, with Urahara and company's past still a mystery as far as anyone new it was just a lone subsitute shinigami who been rather badly beaten and his powers taken away, a lone Quincy who'd gotten a slightly less brutal beating and two humans with strange and poorly understood powers. But after just before the Hueco Mundo arc the situation is quite different. We know about Urahara and Yoruichi, they have the full might of Soul Society on their side and new allies in the form of the Vaizard. Orihime has options that Rukia didn't.
Instead she chooses the same course of Rukia and this may be telling. She's seen the intensity of emotion that Rukia's dissapearance caused in Ichigo and she's admitted to being jealous of Rukia, wanting the same sort of bond with Ichigo that she has. Already primed with all these romantic ideals she chooses (probably unconsciously) to take the path of the tragic heroine in an attempt to provoke the response she wants, but it all winds up back firing rather spectacularly.
I do stress again, this is not a condemnation of the character, merely an attempt at trying to understand her better. The end result is rather unexpected conclusion but I think that if I'm right, it makes Orihime a far more interesting character and one you don't see all that often. Even when you do find such a character they tend to be antagonists in romance series rather than a sympathetic protagonists in a fighting series, a genre that tends towards the formulaic.
So what do you think? Agree? Disagree? Think I need my head examined?