Author's Note: Disclaimer: I do not own any part of Bleach, the property of Tite Kubo
Warning: Spoiler through Bleach Manga Chapter 422
If I Were the Rain – Redux
Reunion Day One
Dessert at Aldo's
The large tables in the party room at Aldo's was crowded with Karakura Town High's most colorful subgroup, currently enjoying lunch. Conversations and debates raged, while platter after platter of antipasto, pasta dishes, and drinks were served up by a cheerful but harried wait staff. "Whew!," exclaimed Hikaru Nobu, wiping his brow with a spare towel. "What a lively group. If I remember correctly, they all used to be big tippers! He bustled away to get more bottles of wine.
Tatsuki glanced at the large wall clock and frowned. They should have been here by now. I know they had a lot of catching up to do, but even so….
"Tatsuki, where are Ichigo and Orihime? Weren't they coming?" Keigo interrupted her thoughts. I know why they're late! Ichigo, you filthy beast! Our princess is being defiled at this very moment, no doubt… His girlfriend frowned at his spacey expression, wondering suspiciously what he was thinking about. He usually only looked like that when…Oh. She suddenly understood who and what Orihime was to him, and gave him a tiny kick under the table. He glanced at her innocently, eyebrows raised.
By way of an answer, Tatsuki simply shrugged and shook her head. Well, if it were me, I wouldn't be worried about pasta. I would be sipping the wine of the lips, if you know what I mean. She snorted and thought about her friends' wretched love lives. Uryuu surreptitiously slipped his hand onto her knee and gave her a tiny squeeze. She barely caught a wink from behind his immaculate glasses, which always reflected the ambient light and hid his beautiful eyes. She smiled at him, and offered a bite of her Tiramasu. He consumed it slowly, licking his lips after swallowing the rich morsel. They shared a long look. It did not go unnoticed, and several pairs of eyebrows rose with the significant exchange.
Chad stood and started a slow clap. The others looked up in surprise before joining in the applause. Ichigo and Orihime stepped into the room's entry, hand-in-hand, both red-faced and smiling.
"Sorry we're late! We had some, ah, things to take care of, so please forgive us. The group murmured and heckled comments that deepened the blushes. "Oh, and ah, Orihime and I would like to make an announcement," Ichigo smiled at Orihime, and looked meaningfully at Tatsuki, "if you don't mind, that is," he continued.
"We'd like to have a short wedding ceremony during the banquet tomorrow." There was a hush, as the conversations ceased abruptly. The group seemed to be in shock. Tatsuki jumped up and ran to Orihime and hugged her. "Oh my gosh! I can't believe it!"
A riot ensued as people variously shouted, huzzahed, hooted, and burst into spontaneous cheers in place at their tables, while others sprang from their seats to congratulate the couple with hugs, pumping Ichigo's hand, and whacking him unceremoniously on the back.
"Tatsuki, we might need to add a few attendees to the banquet," I hope that's okay. It won't be that many, just Ichigo's family," Orihime shouted over the din.
"No problem at all! Oh, I am just so excited! This is fantastic! Tatsuki gushed, hugging her again.
"Will you be my Maid of Honor, Tatsuki?" she asked with shining gray eyes.
"Oh, I thought you'd never ask" she quipped. Just don't ask me to wear something too foofy."
"Ichigo!" Keigo shouted. "I never thought I'd see it happen. You have my respect, my man." He raised his closed fist to bump knuckles with his old friend.
Ichigo pulled Chad, Mizuiro, and Keigo to one side. "Guys, I need a little help, " he began. They whispered together a few minutes until they became surrounded and Ichigo was pulled away. Chad gave him a thumbs-up, and Keigo snickered behind his hand. Mizuiro began texting someone.
The group mobbed the couple and dragged them to their places at the table and excitedly began piling food on their plates and pouring wine for them, filling them in on all the news they'd missed earlier.
"Oh thank heavens, I am absolutely hungry," Orihime admitted. Her stomach growled loudly she poked a forkful of spaghetti carbonara into her mouth. Ichigo raked an enormous pile of mushroom ravioli onto his plate and snagged several garlic breadsticks for shoveling the mound of salad on yet another plate. He barely got halfway through the food when his beeper buzzed. He looked at it incredulously.
"It's Dad. He must have found out, somehow…Uryuu? What do you know about this?" he asked suspiciously as Ishida tried to hide his eyes.
"I might have let it slip to the administrator that you would be taking some leave time…" he said in a voice that was apologetic, but quite casual at the same time.
"Everyone - A toast!" Uryuu raised his glass in salute to the couple. "Here's to the marriage of Ichigo and Orihime! Love, and Long Life! " he intoned fervently.
"Hear! Hear! Long Life and Love!" responded a raucous chorus of voices, their glasses ringing.
"Nice dodge, Uryuu" Ichigo muttered. Ishida pushed up his glasses, nodded and drank from his glass, eyes twinkling.
Several women surrounded Orihime. Each one took turns inspecting her ring and gasping in awe of its beauty. One of them bent and whispered in her ear. She nodded excitedly and cleared her throat. "Ichigo, she said, "when we get back from the clinic, I need to do a little shopping, 'kay?" she said wiping her mouth delicately.
"Whatever you say, darlin'," he drawled, kicked back in his chair, smiling widely at her. Those within earshot exchanged smirks and elbowed one another. It was cloyingly sweet to see them together: she, so openly adoring, and he, so affectionate and attentive. They were a gorgeous couple, radiant with joy.
They visited with a few more friends before ducking out of the restaurant, giggling like children. They passed the maitre d' station, on the way out where the manager was doling out the generous tips to the elated servers. "Good-bye! Remember us next time you need a party! Congratulations to you both!" Called the smiling staff members who waved as they pocketed their rolls of bills.
The sun drenched the warm afternoon air. They strode quickly toward the bus stop. The bus was just approaching, and they laughed at the coincidence. Bouncing up the steps, they settled near the front of the bus. Orihime surveyed the stores up and down the street, pointing out the additions of her favorite fast food outlets, and expressing disappointment at the closure of some of her favorite shops. "Oh look! The noodle vendor has a storefront now. He must be doing really well!" Ichigo put an arm around her shoulders and took her hand.
"What?" she asked at the smirk on his face.
"Nothin'. Just you." he paused. I missed you, Orihime," he finished, in a quiet voice. He rested his forehead on hers, bumping gently. She gazed into his warm brown eyes and lost focus, eyes crossing at the proximity. He snorted at her antics. "You never changed," he said.
She smiled back at him, and leaned her head on his shoulder and sighed. "It's so good to be back home…with you," she said with her eyes closed.
"Hold that thought. Here's our stop," he said.
Life with Father
Before they could enter, the door swung outward, nearly knocking them flat. Isshin smiled broadly at them and pumped Ichigo's hand continuously before he smacked him soundly on the back, causing Ichigo to cough spastically. Babbling high praises of her beauty, vitality, and probable fertility, he grabbed Orihime and kissed her soundly on both cheeks with loud smooching sounds, and then smothered her in a bear hug until Ichigo wrenched them apart with dark mutterings about perverted old men copping a feel of innocent girls.
Finally his outbursts subsided to the ardent prayers as Isshin tearfully sobbed to the giant poster of Masaki, to whom he promised the production of many fine grandchildren as a reward for all the long years she had endured so patiently. Her wayward son had finally settled with a beautiful, accomplished, and healthy young bride, who looked to be ready to become pregnant immediately.
Orhime endured this with an embarrassed scratching of her head, and a brighter than usual smile. She'd told her brother of her plans and felt at peace. She could hardly begrudge this faithful widower his moment of joy as well. At last the praying and tears ended, and the three sat in the den with mugs of tea to discuss the wedding and their plans.
"Karin and Yuzu can come on the train if the wedding is late enough. I called them as soon as Ryuken called me," he admitted sheepishly.
"Wait, how did Ryuken know? We only told the gang at lunch today," Ichigo asked incredulously.
"That must have been whom Ishida-kun was texting during lunch," said Orihime. Ichigo nodded agreement.
"So, have you arranged for the officiant, and for your clothing?" asked Isshin.
"Oh, wait a moment. I have something for you. I can't believe crazy Daddy almost forgot about it." He disappeared into his room, and much banging and cursing ensued. Directly he reappeared carrying an ornate shallow chest bearing an ancient crest on the top. He set it reverently before Orihime.
"Masaki left this for you, Ichigo, for your bride. There's one for Karin and Yuzu, so don't feel awkward about taking it. Your mother was a remarkable woman, Ichigo. I think you will be surprised when you see this. Go ahead and open it, Orihime," he urged.
Orihime approached the chest with awe, as the men watched carefully. She slowly lifted the heavy lid. Layers of silk covered the contents, which she lifted delicately and set aside until at last, she uncovered the garment in the box. She held an antique silk kimono before them, sighing "Ohhhhh!" in wonder.
The garment was splendidly fashioned of heavy layers of richly embroidered fabric. The reflection of the deeply saturated brilliant pink hue shone in her gray eyes. The deep pink silk was embellished overall with thousands of cherry blossoms on serpentine branches scattered over the width and length.
A small purse with silk cord drawstrings spilled magnificent golden jeweled combs and pins of translucent jade, mother of pearl, and onyx. Beneath lay delicate silken undergarments in the same colors as those used in the design, meant to present layer upon layer of brilliant colors at the neck, sleeves, and train. The obi was a rich olive green with a black patterned reverse. The pattern was the crest on the lid of the box. The entire ensemble was worth a queen's ransom. Yet, it belonged to the Kurosaki family. Ichigo remembered his father's admonition to preserve and conceal the family history. Once again, he wondered at the legacy. There was much he had left to tell Orihime, but it could wait for another day. This was their story, and their day.
"Masaki wore this on our wedding day" Isshin spoke at last.
"Oh, Kurosaki-san, I don't know what to say! It's the most beautiful thing I have ever seen! I would be honored to wear it tomorrow. She bowed, and then she rose and kissed Isshin's cheek. He patted her hand, and smiled at her with such joy and love that Ichigo had to look away, lest the watering in his eyes betray the fullness in his heart. He too rose and embraced his father, expressing his thanks. They exchanged a look of understanding. His father nodded assent. Ichigo was free to disclose the family's history upon their marriage.
"Dad, there's one more thing – how do you feel about having a couple of houseguests, on a more or less permanent basis?"
"Isshin beamed. Does this mean I get to see your beautiful wife every day? With the girls away at school, I really miss having those pretty faces around the house."
They smiled at each other, and sighed in relief.
"Of course you're welcome here! The workmen are coming tomorrow to tear out the wall between the girls' rooms. It should be ready by the time you return…er, that is, you are planning on taking your beautiful, young, fertile bride on a short honeymoon, somewhere private and romantic, I presume?" He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively, and a vein popped on Ichigo's brow.
"Don't most couples do that, Dad?" he answered through clenched jaws.
"Just checking, son," he smirked.
"Well, check yourself, Dad. We're fine! We're just like everybody else."
Orihime blushed crimson and giggled at the unbelievably dysfunctional banter between father and son. She gazed with wonder at the kimono chest, and asked herself how it came to be in the possession of ordinary people. But then, Ichigo and Isshin are not ordinary men. I wonder what Ichigo will tell me about his family.
After discussing logistics and details for a few minutes, a horn beeped in the street. Orihime rose and excused herself, hugging Ichigo and dashing out the door to Tatsuki's car. "See you in a while, babe," she called, waving. Ichigo blushed as the women in the car "oohed" at the affectionate address. Isshin slapped him on the back and drew him back in the house.
"Don't worry, son. She'll be back before you know it Let's go call your sisters. And then, we need to have a little talk, hmmm? " Ichigo sputtered and jerked away, a shocked look on his face. His strangled reply to this suggestion was unintelligible, but Isshin simply said "It's not that bad, Ichigo – you can handle it. I promise I won't embarrass you any more than I have to. You're a man now, and a man has certain responsibilities towards his wife," he continued. I want you to be prepared to take care of that hot little woman."
Ichigo turned red, then purplish, and then white. The prospects of being a married man, living under the same roof with his father suddenly seemed less than rosy, after all.
Women Run Amok
Parking the car in the garage the girls entered the mall's plaza and headed for the purveyors of formal wear. "Can I swear you all to secrecy? I have a confession to make," said Orihime. "I have a dress waiting in the fitting room here. I bought it before the trip, hoping for this very outcome. I know, it was just a foolish, optimistic thing to do, but I've always loved this designer, and when I saw the dress last year, I just bought it and had it altered for me." The women gasped and clapped and squealed like teenagers. Oh Orihime, that's the most romantic thing I ever heard, said Mahana, wiping a tear. You never gave up hope, did you? Awww, they crooned. Kawaii. As they entered the Bridal salon, Orihime said, "Now we only get about twenty minutes here, because they just slipped us in between the other appointments, but I'm sure the dress will be fine."
The sales manager greeted them cordially and raked Orihime's generous curves with an appreciative but professional eye. "Oh yes, come with me, I have you in the larger room so your friends can all see your dress," she smiled knowingly. Orihime followed her into the smaller changing room while her friends arranged themselves around a small podium in front of large mirrors. A woman entered with a tray of champagne flutes and a bottle, and began pouring for them. They murmured appreciation and smiled gleefully at the sheer bliss of such romance and opulence.
Presently Orihime stepped out wearing the brilliantly white gown. She was a perfect vision of an impossibly beautiful princess in a fairytale castle. Crystals flashed here and there amid appliqués of lace on the sharply fitted sheer bodice and flared skirt. The gown appeared as though it had been created with a magic wand; her figure fit perfectly in the bodice, waist, and hips, and the train flowed away from a clever bunching of the dress below the derriere. The group was awestruck. No one spoke. Orihime was handed a tissue, which she used to blot happy tears. Her fondest wish was coming true; she would be a bride in less than twenty four hours. Ichigo would see her in the gown, vow to love her forever, and kiss her with the kiss of true love.
Chizuru fainted. The women fanned her and dabbed tears at the sight of her splendid form in the beautiful dress. The saleswoman sighed. "I have never seen a better fit in any of this designer's gowns. It's as if she made the design just for you."
"Oh, Ichigo's going to love it! He's going to be so surprised! Now remember, not a word about how I got this dress!" she warned. "I would be so embarrassed."
"Oh honey, don't worry about that. After tomorrow, nobody will ever question anything you did. You two were meant for each other, and we all knew it." Tatsuki said with an ironic smile. "Ichigo's gonna hit the floor! " they screamed with laughter and many jokes were made at his expense while the dress was repacked for the trip to the apartment.
Having made similar arrangements at the bakery, the florist and the tuxedo rental, Orihime and her band of confidants made the rounds of town, finalizing every detail of a beautiful wedding, completely coordinated and financed over the past four years by a hopeful romantic across the ocean, who never gave up her dream of being Mrs. Ichigo Kurosaki.
The final surprise stunned them all. The bridesmaid's dresses were fashioned in a forgiving fabric, in various colors and styles. Each woman selected a gown and accessories that suited her. Each hugged Orihime and praised her highly for her sense of style, her largesse, and most of all, for her foresight. There were two dresses left on the rack. "Whose are these, Orihime? asked Mahana. "Oh, for Karin and Yuzu, of course," she replied. The women howled with laughter.
The evening was just beginning. It was now time to go home and dress for the dinner and dance. Giggling and ecstatic, the women rode home completely elated at the turn of events. Who could have ever anticipated such a wonderful reunion?
My Blue Heaven
The travel arrangements for the honeymoon were not complicated. Ichigo had supplied an itinerary. There were complete contact details, pricing, and directions, as well as ticket information for trains. He somehow how brochures for the hotel, area attractions, and restaurants. All they had to do was make the phone calls and supply his credit card number. When Keigo asked Ichigo about it, all he said was "Well, I had been hoping she would be single and would come to the reunion. It's not like this is a new idea; I knew I made a mistake when she left the country. I just couldn't do anything about it yet."
All Chad had to say was "Really."
The men went to the tuxedo rental and were surprised to find a brochure with a variety of styles and colors had been suggested by the bride. They were impressed with the choices and quickly found suits that fit them. Having done this they traipsed into the jeweler to pick up the wedding gift and Orihime's wedding ring. Ichigo showed them a heart pendant fashioned of small but fiery diamonds. It caught the light and scattered it like stars. "Nice," said Chad.
The ring had been inscribed, and Ichigo inspected it, put it back into its box and gave it to Chad for safekeeping, along with the pendant in its gift-wrapped box. "You have my heart in your hands, Chad," said Ichigo quietly.
"Got it," said Chad.
Uuryu expressed his admiration of Ichigo's sense of style. "You surprise me, Kurosaki."
He seemed to be distracted. He gazed pensively at the engagement rings and bridal sets. They headed back to their respective homes to dress for the evening's festivities.